Rothman At-Large

How a Biden-Harris Ticket Could Wallop Trump -- If 'Middle-Class Joe' Truly Lives Up to his Name

August 11, 2019

Donald Trump, the traitor-crook-racist in the White House, is already running as if we’re in the thick of the 2020 general election.


Trump’s henchmen have revved up their fundraising machine to give him a head start. And even if the Democrats nominate a reincarnated George Wallace, Trump campaigners will still try to smear the Dems as socialists. So it’s been said, and I agree.


A brilliant thinker like Elizabeth Warren would be copacetic if electability weren’t Criterion #1, but the best anti-Trump defense would be, yes, exactly what some have already called for: a Joe Biden-Kamala Harris ticket.


How might this and other actions unify the Democrats before it’s too late? What follows is in the realm of “could and should” rather than “will.” But an old Biden friend just may be reading this column—I won’t go into the details—and I fervently hope she passes it on to him.


I’d remind them both that the “Never-Biden” movement is alive and well among certain young and progressive Democrats. Even arguments about Trump and global warming—Biden isn’t perfect but is much less of a threat to Planet Earth than the coalhead in the Oval Office—aren’t working. Wounds from the explosive Democratic National Committee memos still fester. That’s what the Russians wanted in leaking the memos via WikiLeaks, and that’s what they got. In matters such as hiring, financial arrangements and strategy, the Clinton’s people controlled or at least unduly influenced the DNC even before the primary results were in.


Countless Sanders boosters now think that the Clintonites, not Trump and the Russians, were the real villains who stole the last presidential election. And they’ve transferred their hostility to Biden, an establishmentarian like Clinton.


I myself voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primary and emphatically believe that the DNC stacked the deck against him, as the just-given links shows. But I still cast my ballot for Clinton in the general election. And I’ll do the same for Biden next year, if he’s the Democratic presidential nominee, despite my preference for a more progressive candidate and my worries over a gerontocracy. Polling results could change overnight, but for now, one survey shows Biden would beat Trump 54 percent vs. 41 percent among registered voters—leaving the other Democratic candidates in the dust. I don’t think name recognition explains it all. Pragmatism, please!


Without Biden or an equivalent, if one exists, Democratic prospects may suffer outside liberal bastions like California, New York and Massachusetts. The “socialist” smear, alas, might work in, say, Georgia and even Virginia, where too many rural voters won’t distinguish between Sanders-style Democratic Socialists and the Stalinist or Venezuelan variety. “Biden” is a comforting enough name to banish or at least substantially mitigate such fears.


Here, then, are seven friendly suggestions for the ex-VP—at least right now the most likely Trump-slayer.


Number One: Get Harris as a running mate ASAP, months before the convention, because you two complement each other so well. You’re a white male born one year after Pearl Harbor. She’s a 54-year-old woman of color and a generation younger. Given your history with Barack Obama, you’re more likely to pick up nonwhite votes than most Democratic candidates. But there’s no such thing as too many. In a close election—where you can sway only so many of Trump’s Kool-Aid drinkers—you must increase friendly voter turnout to the max.


Kamala Harris also will help you among younger voters and others who’ve taken such a bad economic shafting, in part because traditional Democrats didn’t push back hard enough against the Republicans’ billionaire-optimized policies in areas such as trade and student loans.

Will Harris go along with being your running mate? For now, I doubt it. But keep chipping away. Just like the Sanders people, she needs to consider the possibility of an even crazier and crueler Trump in his second term; imagine America under a real dictator, not just an aspiring one. Biden and Harris—stronger together! Among your big strengths is your appeal to working people. Harris isn’t so warm and fuzzy but is a street fighter who could help you tear Trump apart.


Number Two: Practice, practice, practice for the debates with Trump in the general election—even some of your friends said recently that you aren’t as quick on the draw as when you were younger. Set aside enough time in your schedule to duel with a Trump surrogate.

Number Three: Don’t overdo, but be more of a showman—you’re running against a reality-TV veteran, after all. Is it true you can do a bunch of push-ups? Then, yes, actually follow up on your challenge for the obese Trump to compete with you in public. Hey, Donald, can’t you beat “Sleepy Joe”? If Trump keeps turning you down, use his video clip or tweet in campaign commercials. Ridicule him—your taunts will ring true. His followers may or may not care. But you’ll energize the people on your side. Please—something visual for the cameras! Worry less about dignity and more about results. You’ve already made it clear in other ways that you’re far more “Presidential” than Trump. While you’re at it, get serious and tell how Trump’s malevolent school lunch agenda threatens the physical fitness of K-12 children.


Number Four: Bring your environmental policies closer to the Green New Deal vision so beloved to progressive Democrats—the same for policies in other areas, such as racial and criminal justice. You needn’t go all the way, but you can keep an open mind in exploring the feasibility of the individual items on the progressives’ agenda. If you don’t compromise more, then too many progressives and other skeptics—including those in crucial states in the Electoral College—will dismiss you as just another “corporatist.”


Guess who in effect helped put Trump over the top in 2015? Nonvoters, simply by not voting. Many just couldn’t understand the difference between the two major parties or otherwise didn’t care about the election. Democrats need to tack left in appropriate ways and take stronger stands to clarify the distinction even if the old GOP is now the wacky Trump Party. The venerable word “Republican,” alas, still carries enough brand appeal to conceal the party’s true nature and the authoritarian mindset of its current leader.


You can be green and otherwise progressive without the “socialist” smear sticking to the extent it would with your Democratic rivals. This is like Nixon and China. He was freer in 1972 to warm up relations because he was familiar to voters as a prominent Cold Warrior. You’re not a Nixon, blessedly; but you are a traditional Democrat with more friends in the business community than someone like Harris or Warren. So you’ll better cope with Trump’s “socialist” bilge.


Number Five: At the same time, while considering more drastic health care reforms in other respects, stick to your guns and avoid calling for the immediate abolition of private insurance. Too many union members and other voters are benefiting from gold-plated insurance plans.


Number Six: Don’t abandon your union friends in other ways. Fight for the right to organize, rolling back efforts in the other direction. Unions are or should be among the biggest poverty-reducers in existence. If more money went to workers through a better distribution of rewards, that would help the S&P in the long run. Employees could better afford new automobiles and washing machines. In a related vein, pick up Elizabeth Warren’s idea of imitating Germany and even having union members sit on the boards of large corporations.

Number Seven: Act like a genuine “Middle-Class Joe.” The millions in book royalties I can understand. What I can’t is allowing your relatives to try to peddle influence using the B word. You yourself may be clean. But the “optics” will still get in the way, as shown by the past Ukrainian activities of your younger son, as reported by the New York Times. Politico also made quite a fuss over the influence-peddling issue.


Hire Richard Painter, the former White House ethics lawyer from the George W. days, to scandal-proof your family. Imagine what Trump will do if you aren’t sufficiently proactive.

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Mitch the Snake: How to Defeat Mitch McConnell, The Second Evilest Man in Town

July 17, 2019

How to defeat Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the second-evilest man in town—Donald Trump’s main enabler? The cause gained even more urgency Tuesday when McConnell denied that Trump was a racist despite clear evidence such as his bigoted smears against four nonwhite Congress members.


Here’s my suggestion. Democrats should out-McConnell the Senate majority leader at the gut level in a way highly customized for Kentucky. Amy McGrath, the ex-fighter pilot who has just begun her campaign against him, should hit still harder than she is now. She should start with a good counter-slogan. McConnell’s people already have unveiled a YouTube saying, “Amy McGrath: Too Liberal for Kentucky.” Democrats should fire back with: “Mitch the Snake: Too Crooked for Kentucky.” Merely portraying McConnell as an enemy of progress isn’t enough. Draw the voters in with vivid—and accurate—language.


In highly visual TV commercials and campaign rhetoric, Democrats should exploit to the max the image of McConnell as a creature in the Washington swamp. Be as corny as needed. Just strive for results.


Do not call Mitch McConnell a “Turtle Man” based on the famous weak chin. He can’t help the chin. But McConnell can help the trickiness, manipulation and other negatives that have made him loathed even by many Republicans in Kentucky—despite Donald’s Trump’s popularity there. “Snake,” thus, fits, especially if the Democrats show a cartoonish Mitch Snake slithering around in a swamp and covered with slime. We can even hear him hiss. One or more of the Democrats’ many Hollywood friends could help make the Mitch Snake a masterpiece.


Yes, snakes at times can aid farmers and others, such as by killing mice and other rodents eating crops. I’ll not brook cruelty to snakes in real life. But our Mitch Snake can be a menacing, venomous killer. He can be treacherous, too. Bible-toting Kentuckians know which creature tempted Eve with an apple: a serpent. The sobriquet of “snake,” in McConnell’s case, even carries the Donald Trump seal of approach in a sense. Consider Trump’s warm reaction to McConnell’s harsh treatment of a fellow participant in the great healthcare debate, a Democratic senator the President said he liked.


“This guy’s mean as a snake,” Trump said of McConnell’s hopes of crushing West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin “like a grape” in the 2018 election. “I like it, though, Mitch,” the President said, according to a former presidential aide’s book. Then Trump patted McConnell on the back—twice.


Now, just what to mention in the commercials? As McGrath realizes, she’ll lose with a direct attack on McConnell for speaking out against impeachment. Never mind that Trump is a bigoted crook, sexual predator and aspiring dictator. To many voters in states like Kentucky, it just does not matter that Trump isn’t Mr. Rogers. For better or worse, Trump enjoys a high popularity rating in Kentucky even if it isn’t at its peak.

But without taking on Trump directly, McGrath can home in on the bugs that do count—in ways that focus on McConnell’s serpent-level treachery in the context of the well-being of the average Kentuckian.


Taxation of the wealthy and the corporations in which they own stock: Tell what the super-rich have done with the tax breaks that McConnell helped push through Congress (after having uttered the usual platitudes in favor of lowering the national debt). The money hasn’t gone toward job creation to the extent promised–the rich have lived it upthrough stock buybacks and in other ways. Go graphic with pictures of the Koch brothers and of billionaires’ yachts. Taxes, healthcare and Social Security should be the main show in the Democrats’ campaign against the snake. Amy McGrath has already gone after McConnell on those issues and others, but still could step up her attacks by way of the snake commercials. Remember, Kentucky is an affordable media state, just right for experiments of the kind proposed here.


Healthcare: Point out that when all is said and done, McConnell and most other Republicans don’t want good, comprehensive coverage despite all the misleading rationalizations to the contrary. As is usual, the Mitch Snake is the leading obstructionist. Say it in the most visual way! Show sick Kentuckians—oxygen masks, crutches, the whole works—begging for the Snake to care. The money would be there with appropriate taxation of the rich.


Social Security: Again and again, the 79-year-old Mitch Snake has been gunning for it. Actually we should be increasing, not decreasing benefits–through means ranging from heavier taxation of the rich to higher contributions that the well-off make to Social Security. But the Mitch Snake hisses out all kinds of misleading excuses against this. Put a cash-strapped Social Security pensioner on camera, someone likable who worked her rear end off before retirement, and tell of her on-going struggles. Social Security, like it or not, is a major source of retirement money for countless Americans, especially in poor states like Kentucky. Remember, Social Security is not a handout—recipients have paid for it.


The pension crisis and the Mitch Snake’s related nepotism: Joining President Trump in showing contempt for the American worker, the McConnell-led Senate confirmed the starkly underqualified Gordon Hartogensis as head of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. A major pension crisis could devastate the retirements of tens of millions of working people, and Hartogensis lacked and lacks the government and management experience to deal with the ongoing crisis. He is simply a lucky startup millionaire who retired at age 29. But who cares? Hartogensis’s brother-in-law is Mitch McConnell. Let’s see TV commercials with his name: make voters care. Who comes first? The Snake’s family or workers with pensions?


Energy: McConnell says that coal must be “part of our country’s energy future.” Huh? Despite global warming? And even though the coal industry is contracting? The long-term numbers don’t lie. Only McConnell does–in suggesting that there’s hope here. McGrath should tell where the real possibilities are, in alternative technologies such as solar.


Health-related environmental issues: Needless to say, the Snake opposes strong environmental regulations. Get Kentuckians on camera who are dying of pollution-related diseases. Talk about the Snake’s campaign contributions from polluters. Tell the voters how hazardous the Snake is to their health.


The Mitch Snake’s contribution to government gridlock and the decline of the legislative branch: McConnell is so much of an obstructionist that of the 127-plus most recent Senate votes, just 21 related to legislation. The Mitch Snake focused the Senate instead on rubber-stamping the Trump Administration’s appointments. Forget about meaningful legislation to deal with trifles like the heathcare crisis or Russian cyber attacks. In the words of U.S. Senator Tina Smith, the Mitch Snake has “transformed the Senate into little more than the Trump administration’s personnel office, the place where good ideas go to die.” Impeachment, as I see it, would be at the top of the list of good but Mitch-doomed ideas. Alas, Mitch sees the Republican party as his employer and Donald Trump as a CEO to be protected—especially given Trump’s appointments of the Snake’s relatives. Not just Hartogensis. McConnell's wife, Elaine Chao, is secretary of transportation.


Nationally, Democrats love to play up other issues, important ones, such as abortion and equal pay for women and LGBTQ rights, and in fact, fund-raisers should press these buttons in countrywide fund-raising campaigns against the Snake. But in a conservative rural state, such arguments won’t take the McGrath campaign very far and might even hurt it.


What will work in a rough-and-tumble place like right-leaning Kentucky can be learned from the late Roger Ailes, the satanic media genius who created Fox TV and helped more than a few troglodytic politicians with his brilliance as a political consultant. I abhor the distortions and other sleaze that Ailes made a hallmark, but he was right on target with his punch-to-the-gut approach. I’d rather this not be true. But Kentucky is Kentucky, not gentler, more progressive Vermont or Minnesota. McGrath needs to learn from Ailes’s effort on behalf of an ambitious young politician to defeat a veteran senator.


“Do you want to look nice, or do you want to win this thing?” Ailes said in urging the pol to go negative.


The client listened to Ailes. He signed off on commercials that did not simply tell how the incumbent was missing Senate votes to make remunerative speaking engagements. Instead the commercials showed humans and dogs hunting for the AWOL Senator. The Ailes client benefitting from this visceral, cartoonish approach was none other than Mitch McConnell, and the commercials were a major reason why he reached the Senate.


If McGrath wants to fend off potential Democratic primary opponents like Kentucky Sports Radio owner Matt Jones, she needs to go after McConnell to the fullest—in line with Ailes’s advice to “win this thing.” She should demonstrate what she’ll do in the general election. McGrath should play fair and stick to the facts in context, but a negative campaign, please, without the least shyness about name-calling, especially when so many people already despise the Snake. Nice, ethical opponents deserve respect, but neither adjective fits McConnell.

In some ways, the Snake is even more evil than Trump, who, despite his carnival-barking talents, so often comes across as a half-sentient mix of man and beast. The senator earned a B.A. in political science and later a law degree, so he should know how much damage he is doing to the American system through his protection of Trump against impeachment. Former House Speaker Paul Ryan, once Trump’s main enabler, is gone. McConnell remains. Now’s the time to defang the Mitch Snake by giving him a dose of his own medicine.

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Oblige Trump. Impeachment, Please.

June 5, 2019

Our “extremely stable genius” loves to depict himself as a victim of witch-hunters. Impeachment? Bring it on! That’s what Donald Trump has said. Although Trump has been sending off mixed signals, I still believe that he pangs for impeachment.


But what if witch-hunters and friends came up with a well-crafted impeachment strategy for the here and now—mixed with a good, actionable vision for the 2020 campaign?


The key is to make a solid case for impeachment in the Democratically controlled House while expecting that the Senate Republicans almost surely will fail to follow through. Be proactive. Vaccinate the voters ahead of time against Republican lies and excuses. Then use this outrageous stubbornness—the GOP’s protection of the odious Trump—to the Democrats’ advantage in 2020 in congressional as well as presidential campaigns.


Ahead I’ll discuss the most promising areas for an impeachment inquiry. Then I’ll tell how the full impeachment process could work politically.


For those insisting on a legalistic approach to impeachment, keep in mind that Special Counsel Robert Mueller contradicted both Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr and refused to say Trump did not obstruct justice. Mueller has broached the obstruction question in 10 instances, and hundreds of former federal prosecutors now believe that Trump would indeed face “multiple felony charges” if he were not in the Oval Office. For example, with the Russian investigation mainly in mind, Trump fired FBI director James Comey. He also tried to get rid of Mueller himself. Those are examples of starting points with which countless legal experts and voters would feel comfortable.


With an official impeachment inquiry underway, Democrats would stand more chance of obtaining the court rulings and documents they need to prove what would surely be the underlying crimes. Questions abound on matters like the bromance between Trump and his good buddy Vladimir Putin. Chances are excellent that congressional investigators will discover money laundering on behalf of Putin’s pet oligarchs.


Just by doing their jobs, congressional Democrats may also discover tax evasion, fraud and other crimes happening domestically—if we go by New York Times reports on the Trump family’s massive tax dodges in the past. And the results could be lethal to Trump as a candidate even if he is not prosecuted while in the Oval Office.


Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist in the White House, is a right-wing nut, but in speaking to journalist Michael Wolff for a book titled Siege: Trump Under Fire, he was dead on. “In the book,” as summed up by the Daily Beast, “Bannon predicts Trump’s presidency will fall after investigations into his finances reveal to his supporters that he’s not some incredible self-made billionaire, but a crook. ‘This is where it isn’t a witch hunt—even for the hard-core, this is where he turns into just a crooked business guy, and one worth $50m instead of $10bn,’ Bannon is quoted as saying. ‘Not the billionaire he said he was, just another scumbag.’”


Those facts and more could come out as a daily TV production, not only a written report. The hearings could take place while Democrats kept pounding away on bread-and-butter issues such as healthcare and wealth and income distribution, along with the increasingly saleable climate change.


Yes, many of Trump supporters live inside the Fox News bubble. But in spreading the results of their investigation, Democrats can still reach The Base through massive, well-targeted spending on programs on other networks likely to appeal to Trumpish demographic groups. They can also try social media.


Other targets of the Democrats’ pro-impeachment campaign could be:

  • Nonvoters–the real ones who elected Trump. Motivate and anger them. So many of them are young or poor and distrustful of the political system. An aggressive investigation of Trump could help win many of them over.
  • Independents upset over Trump’s abuses of the system–and open to many of the same arguments.
  • Democrats who feared the ugly discord that impeachment could spread. The revelations from the hearings could make this issue less relevant.

By enlightening the citizenry about both Trump and his senatorial stooges in one swoop, Democrats can weaken the GOP before the 2020 election, when 22 of 53 Republican Senate seats are up for grabs. A loss of just several seats would give the United States a Democratic Senate, and presumably the House would remain blue.

Meanwhile, the more mud oozes out about obstruction, Russia and the rest, the more likely Trump will regret saying he’d love impeachment. In some of his latest mixed signals, he refers to impeachment as a “dirty, filthy, disgusting word.” May the Democrats work hard to make this his overwhelming sentiment!

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