Political Animal Blog

Quick Takes: Your Friday Roundup of Republican Failure

* Rich Lowry laments that Republicans might be losing momentum.

If Trump turns out simply not to have any interest in legislation, it likely won’t augur a period of strong congressional governance, but of drift and perhaps outright failure.

Capitol Hill is dependent on Trump, not just to sign bills, but to lead. Republican don’t need him merely to be president; they need him to be a good president, which means that in his busy days he must find a little time for Congress.

* I was reminded of what Grover Norquist told CPAC back in 2012.

We don’t need a president to tell us in what direction to go. We know what direction to go…We just need a president to sign this stuff. We don’t need someone to think it up or design it. The leadership now for the modern conservative movement for the next 20 years will be coming out of the House and the Senate.

The requirement for president?

Pick a Republican with enough working digits to handle a pen to become president of the United States.

I’ll leave it for you to come up with the punch line about whether or not Trump’s tiny digits are enough to get the job done.

* The Trump administration barred a bunch of news outlets from a briefing and that is serious. But I agree with Josh Marshall.

Don’t get me wrong. As I wrote a month or so ago in a similar context, it is far preferable to have a President and a White House who believe in democratic and American values. But we don’t. It is best to recognize that fact and act accordingly. Whining is never a good look for journalists, for myriad reasons. Not least of which is that it plays into all the tools that authoritarians mobilize against a free press and American values. As I also wrote in that post, the answer to attacks on journalism is always more journalism. The most consequential reporting being done right now isn’t happening in the briefings. It’s happening with the ‘anonymous sources’ that President Trump says need to stand before him for retribution.

* Trump told the CPAC crowd today that people were so excited to hear him speak that “there are lines that go back six blocks. I tell you that because you won’t read about it.” He’s right. You won’t read about it. Because it didn’t happen.

This is not a huge story – nor will it come as a surprise to anyone. But the lengths this man will go to in order to feed his ego with lies are truly astounding.

* Alexandra Petri has a delightful summary of Trump’s speech today at CPAC.

President Trump’s Conservative Political Action Conference speech included everything that was good and nothing that was bad. It is a shame, he said during the speech, that the fake media is always citing “sources” to tell stories that are not favorable. In keeping with these new guidelines, I will cite no sources whatsoever when I tell you how wonderful this speech was.

Her “breakdown of a Trump speech” chart might come in handy for future reference.

* Finally, can you tell I’m a little punchy after a week of covering all this nonsense? It’s clearly time for a break – and a little reminder from Amos Lee.

Advice For the Resistance: Don’t Just Mobilize… Organize

Back in 2008 when I became curious about what was happening in the Obama campaign, I learned that Marshall Ganz was the man who was responsible for the organizing efforts known as “Camp Obama.”

Most of the six regional Camp Obamas held so far have been lead by Harvard Professor Marshall Ganz. Coincidentally, Ganz began his political career 43 years earlier at a seminary right across the street from the weekend’s training. He and fellow Harvard undergraduates had driven from Boston to join Freedom Summer. Expecting to find a late night strategy session in progress when they arrived, they instead walked in on a raucous “preach off” among young civil rights activists. And so began a lifelong career in applying story telling, emotion and faith to politics.

I became so intrigued by what I heard about/from Ganz that I actually walked through an on-line course from Harvard’s Kennedy School, where he has been teaching the principles of organizing for the last 30 years. So it should come as no surprise that I’ve been wondering what kind of advice Ganz would have for the resistance movement that has sprung up since the election of Donald Trump.

Today, John Judis published an interview with Ganz on exactly that topic. It might come as a surprise to some folks that – as we prepare for the election of a new DNC chair tomorrow – Ganz completely dismissed the idea that we should look to the Democratic Party to lead that movement.

There are a couple of places to look for instruction on this. For one thing, the rise of the conservative movement didn’t happen through the RNC [Republican National Committee]. Conservatives successfully created a more or less coherent network of organizations linked to local, state and national politics, which is a traditional form of effective political organization in the U.S…

The point is that it didn’t happen through the RNC. It happened through movements and movement organizations structured outside that could develop a coherent or at least semi-coherent strategy. If you go back to the civil rights movement, there was the Leadership Council for Civil Rights, it was everybody from the Urban League over to SNCC, and it lasted for a number of years.

Here is the key message about a successful resistance movement:

Many Democrats confuse messaging with educating, marketing with organizing. They think it is all about branding when it is really about relational work. You engage people with each other, creating collective capacity. That’s how you sustain and grow and get leadership. That’s how you make things happen. Organizers have known this for years. But then Green and Gerber at Yale showed that face to face contact with a voter, especially if relationally embedded, increases voter turnout.

It is critical to move from mobilization to organizing.

The action in purple and red states has to be old fashioned organizing. There is an article in the Nation by Jane McAleevy that is really good. She distinguishes between organizing and mobilization, and she talks about Wisconsin and all this mobilization that took place, but that when it got down to the base, the capacity to defeat Governor Scott Walker wasn’t built. It’s like organizing a union.

When you are organizing a union, a workplace, you have got to organize who’s there. One of the troubles with the progressive groups is that they respond to those who already agree with them, but don’t have much incentive to actually go out and build a base by persuading and engaging and converting those who don’t. If you are organizing a union, you have to do that, because that’s how you win. Now ignoring all these red and purple states is like pretending you don’t need them to win, but you do. That takes organizing. it’s intense, it’s relational.

Personally I’m sorry that Judis seemed more interested during the interview in the past (i.e., Bernie vs Hillary) and his own views about the need for Democrats to get away from identity politics. I would have appreciated hearing Ganz expound on the particulars of how you move from mobilization to organizing. But it struck me that the story Andrew Cockburn told (and I summarized here) about how the group TOP went about organizing in Harris County Texas fills in a lot of those details.

Many of the points that Ganz made were similar to the distinction Al Giordano laid out back in 2009 between activism and organizing. Here is how he defined the latter:

It is based on attainable and quantifiable goals (be they small, as in, “put a stop sign in the neighborhood,” or be they large, as occurred last year: elect an underdog as president of the United States). Here’s a simple yardstick by which to measure: If it doesn’t involve knocking on doors, making phone calls or otherwise proactively communicating with people demographically different than you, it’s not organizing. If it doesn’t involve face-to-face building of relationships, teams, chains of command, and, day-by-day, clear goals to measure its progress and effectiveness, it’s not organizing. If it happens only on the Internet, that’s not organizing either.

Because organizing means working from the ground up, it takes time and doesn’t put it’s leaders in the spotlight. But perhaps the threat is real enough at this point that people will be willing for forego their egos to actually get the work done.

Trump Knows How to Make Enemies, Not Deals

You would think that someone who wrote, “The Art of the Deal” would know a thing or two about how to wield the tools of both power and diplomacy. But as we saw during the campaign, whenever Donald Trump is challenged or threatened, he’s a one trick pony. All he knows how to do is demonize and belittle in an attempt to dominate.

We’ve seen the same thing from Trump since he was elected. Remember how he compared our intelligence services to Nazis? His latest target is the FBI. Here are a couple of his tweets from this morning.

If you didn’t know how our government works, you’d never guess that he is the guy in charge. He sees this as a battle for dominance between himself and the departments that are meant to be resources for his administration.

It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out how people who are proud of what they do and committed to their work are likely to respond to something like this. While it’s true that some might cower in fear and become compliant, for the most part it only fuels their anger and resistance, creating a deeper divide.

But that’s how Trump operates. And it’s why he continues to focus on demonizing those who challenge/threaten him politically – be it the media or Democrats or voters who protest. He is feeding the polarization – making any real deal-making impossible. I am reminded of what Ezra Klein wrote recently.

In the aftermath of Trump’s election, I spoke to top liberals terrified that Trump would outflank them, and quickly. If he had given a conciliatory inaugural address, named some compromise candidates to key posts, filled his administration with competent veterans of government, and began his term by working on an infrastructure bill that Chuck Schumer could support, he would be at or above 60 percent in the polls, the media would be covering him positively, and the Democratic Party would be split between those who wanted to work with Trump and those who wanted to resist everything he did. In that world, Trump might be a big fan of America’s political institutions right now.

Liberals aren’t afraid Trump will outflank them anymore. He launched his presidency with a series of speeches, appointments, and executive orders that have made him radioactive among congressional Democrats. He’s running an understaffed, inexperienced government even as he provokes our enemies and alienates our friends. Trump is burning both political capital and time. It is significantly less likely now than it was a month ago that he will be able to replace Obamacare or pass a tax reform bill…

It is easy to imagine Trump, in a year, cornered in his own White House, furious at the manifold enemies he blames for his failures, and cocooned within an ever-smaller and more radical group of staffers and media outlets that tell him what he wants to hear and feed his grievances and resentments.

In the real world, the art of deal-making is central to the presidency – be it running the federal bureaucracy, working with Congress, or dealing with foreign policy. Trump’s dependence on demonization as a way to dominate means that – contrary to all the promises he’s making – he won’t be making a lot of deals. From civil servants to members of Congress to foreign leaders, they’ll have to decide whether to bend in compliance or join him in a battle for dominance.

This approach to the world is probably what leads to the kind of personal grievance we hear from Trump about China. Obviously he’s had a lot of experience working in that country to further his business interests. To use an Eastern metaphor, Donald Trump is truly a product of the West with his dependence on yang – the light, masculine, overt form of dominance. But in Eastern cultures, there is a more obvious preference for the yin – the shadow, female, covert form of dominance. Given the one trick pony nature of how Trump approaches these conflicts, it is much easier for the yin to figure out how to manipulate the yang. In other words, it is very possible that Trump got played…and knows it. He would be at a complete loss to figure out how to deal on those terms.

That provides both a note of caution for how the United States might get played by China during the Trump administration as well as a potential lesson for those who oppose him. The president is incapable of dealing with a yin approach to power. I suspect that is at least one of the reasons why he never figured out how to deal with Michelle Obama.

The Right Wants No Dissent

Republican lawmakers are less fond of public protest now that it’s not the Tea Party doing the protesting. In Arizona, the Senate just passed a bill that would “would open up protests to anti-racketeering legislation, targeting protesters with the same laws used to combat organized crime syndicates.”

The same bill would “allow police to seize the assets of anyone involved in a protest that at some point becomes violent.”

A Florida Republican introduced a bill that would make it easier to run over protesters with your car without being legally liable. North Dakota and Tennessee Republicans have done the same.

In Minnesota, Republicans are pushing a bill that would allow the police to charge protesters for the cost of policing their rallies and marches.

Not to be outdone, Mississippi Republicans want to make blocking traffic a crime punishable by a $10,000 fine and five years in prison.

There are also a bunch of bills coming out of states like South Dakota, Colorado, and Oklahoma aimed at greatly stiffening penalties for interfering in the operation of pipelines.

So far, none of these bills have become law, and most of them are unconstitutional. But they indicate a certain mood.

And I know that mood is shared by our new Attorney General, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III.

As Hunter S. Thompson might say, “that crazy f*cker is gonna come down on us like million-pound shithammer.”

Without that stolen Supreme Court seat, it’s going to be a bit harder to ease the pain.