Political Animal

Millennials Are Stepping Up to Run for Office

In the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections, the focus is primarily on house, senate and governor races. But it is important to keep in mind that across large swaths of the country, state legislatures are pretty much a sea of red.

On that front, here is some good news from the folks at Run for Something:

There are 6,066 state legislative races on the ballot this fall, and Democrats have more than 5,300 candidates running. We’re contesting nearly 80 percent of all Republican seats, while Republicans are barely contesting half of ours. Nearly half of our candidates are women — more than twice as many compared to Republicans. And more than 1,100 are candidates of color, which is four times more than the Republicans have running.

That sounds a lot like what is going on in congressional races. But here’s where something new and exciting is happening:

We have almost 700 Democratic millennials, candidates aged 18–34, running for their state legislatures this year, in 46 states across the country.

Currently millennials of both parties make up barely 6 percent of all state legislators; we have a chance to nearly double that this November. This cycle marks a once-in-a-generation chance to dramatically change the makeup of our government, make a direct impact on local and state policy, and ultimately change the direction of our collective future. Millennial state legislators are setting themselves up for long careers in public service — they’re both the future leaders of our party as well as the right-here, right-now folks who are laying a path forward for our country.

The authors provided a chart of what that looks like in each state.

That is the result of a partnership between Run For Something and the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC). We’ll have to check in after November 6th to find out if these efforts are successful in turning that sea of red into more diverse shades of yellow and blue. But here’s one thing we already know: the next time someone tells you that (a) millennials are slackers when it comes to politics, or (2) Democrats aren’t working to develop the next generation of leaders, you’ll be armed with information to the contrary.

The Saudi Coverup May Be Trump’s Worst Crime Yet

Many of Donald Trump’s crimes have been committed in plain sight, like his fraudulent Trump University and his naked efforts to obstruct the Russia investigation. He famously bragged about sexually assaulting women. But until now there hasn’t been a whiff of murder in his past.

Trump couldn’t be more obvious about the fact that he does not want the world to conclude that the Saudi government sent a kill team to Istanbul to torture and chop up an American resident who was simply visiting their consulate to obtain papers he needed to get married.

His killers were waiting when Jamal Khashoggi walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul two weeks ago. They severed his fingers and later beheaded and dismembered him, according to details from audio recordings described by a senior Turkish official on Wednesday.

Mr. Khashoggi was dead within minutes, and within two hours the killers were gone, the recordings suggested…

…A team of 15 Saudi agents, some with ties to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was waiting for Mr. Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate the moment he arrived, at about 1:15 p.m. on Oct. 2.

After he was shown into the office of the Saudi consul, Mohammad al-Otaibi, the agents seized Mr. Khashoggi almost immediately and began to beat and torture him, eventually cutting off his fingers, the senior Turkish official said.

“Do this outside. You will put me in trouble,” Mr. al-Otaibi, the consul, told them, according to the Turkish official and a report in the Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak, both citing audio recordings said to have been obtained by Turkish intelligence.

“If you want to live when you come back to Arabia, shut up,” one of the agents replied, according to both the official and the newspaper.

As they cut off Mr. Khashoggi’s head and dismembered his body, a doctor of forensics who had been brought along for the dissection and disposal had some advice for the others, according to the senior Turkish official.

Listen to music, he told them, as he put on headphones himself. That was what he did to ease the tension when doing such work, the official said, describing the contents of the audio recording.

Since there are audio recordings, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman didn’t have any real alternative but to confess, but instead he came up with the cockamamie alibi that the kill team had gone rogue and was not acting on his orders or with his knowledge. That this was preposterous didn’t prevent him from the argument. Amazingly, President Trump repeated the claim on Monday as if there was some plausibility to it, but the cover story has fallen apart as quickly as it was concocted.

Three of the members of the kill team are members of Mohammed bin Salman’s security detail and another has accompanied the crown prince on trips to Paris, Madrid, Houston, Boston and the United Nations in New York City.

Perhaps the Saudis know they’re in real trouble since they sent the American government $100 million yesterday. But whatever happens for here, we’ve now been exposed to a president who aspires to be an accessory to murder after the fact.

The New York Times editorial board sensibly notes that Trump is obviously lying when he claims that he doesn’t know what happened.

On Monday, when Turkey had already leaked considerable evidence of a hit, Mr. Trump was behaving like a royal apologist. “Just spoke to the King of Saudi Arabia who denies any knowledge of whatever may have happened ‘to our Saudi Arabian citizen,’” he wrote on Twitter. A bit later he told reporters, “The denial was very, very strong,” adding: “It sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers. Who knows?”

Actually, he probably does, if American spy agencies are doing their job.

Despite this, on Tuesday Trump complained that the Saudis were being treated as if they were “guilty until proven innocent.” He knows full-well that they’re guilty and yet on Wednesday he suggested that he had not yet asked Turkey for the audio tapes or received any verification that they exist.

This isn’t fraud or assault. It’s covering up a murder on behalf of the murderer.  That’s ordinarily a very serious crime. It’s probably the most serious crime Trump has ever committed. And he’s doing it in plain sight.

We’re Voting in the Eye of the Russia Investigation

In this era of fragmented and social media, I think people live in the present more than ever, which is why I don’t think the Russia investigation is going to have much of an impact on the midterm elections. After winning convictions against Paul Manafort and securing his cooperation around Labor Day, the special counsel’s office has kept their promise to maintain a low profile while the public is voting.  As a result, the president has almost completely dropped the topic and there has been little news to report.

It’s difficult to know which party this will benefit the most. There have been indications that the electorate is more engaged on other things and that the Democrats were doing better when talking about issues like health care than about Russia.  Perhaps they’re benefitting because their candidates aren’t beating a drum the voters don’t really want to listen to.

On the other hand, if the electorate isn’t thinking about how Trump’s campaign chairman, deputy campaign chairman, national security adviser, and personal lawyer have all been convicted of crimes and are cooperating with investigators then there has to be some advantage in that for the Republicans.

There is something wrong with the way this is playing out. If you’re familiar with hurricanes, you know that inside the eye things are calm but that this gives a false assurance since the winds will shortly return, often with even more force than before.  By agreeing to go silent for the election season, Robert Mueller is dutifully avoiding overly politicizing an investigation that should be impartial and fair.  But he’s also creating an artificial and temporary environment where people are debating politics without thinking about the biggest and most consequential issue before them.  Watergate was a Category 5 political hurricane, and the Russia investigation is at least as big.

We’re all inside the eye now, but if you look carefully you will see that the winds are still swirling. On Friday, Paul Manafort will be back in Judge T.S. Ellis III’s Eastern Virginia courtroom. He’ll be wearing a dark green prison jumpsuit instead of one of his extremely expensive tailored suits because Judge Ellis has denied his lawyer’s request that he be exempted from appearing in prisoner’s clothing.

At the conclusion of Manafort’s Virginia trial, the jury was unable to reach a verdict on some of the charges against him, which means that the government has the option to try again in front of a different jury. They’ve promised not to do that if Manafort cooperates to their satisfaction, but Judge Ellis finds this arrangement strange and wants to discuss it in the Friday hearing. According to him, the government seldom takes more than four months to decide whether to recharge on hung counts and he wants to know why this time should be different.

In the meantime, Manafort has already met with Mueller’s prosecutors several times as he seeks to earn favorable treatment at sentencing. There’s a Nov. 16 deadline in the Washington DC case for the prosecution and defense to issue a joint report to the Judge. So, not long after the election, we’ll learn the extent to which Manafort has been cooperative.

There has been a little bit of news trickling out of late from Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen. He, too, has been spending quite a bit of time with Mueller’s prosecutors, and now he has reportedly changed his party registration to “Democrat” and pledged to campaign against Trump’s reelection. On Sunday, he was back on Twitter:

According to Vanity Fair, he’s spent more than 50 hours talking with the special counsel’s people and prosecutors from the Southern District of New York, and he’s done this despite still not having a formal cooperation agreement.

So, even though we haven’t been reading about the Russia investigation much over the last six or seven weeks, it is still churning across our political landscape doing untold damage to Trump’s presidency.

We’ll wake up after the midterms and find out what’s left of this administration, but we’ll have elected a new Congress to deal with the clean up without having really considered the issue when casting our votes.

A Reckoning With Racism is Inevitable

Immediately after the 2016 presidential election, a great debate ensued about whether Trump voters were motivated primarily by racism or economic anxiety. Initially those who took a position were arguing from their own perceptions and assumptions, but eventually the political scientists and researchers were able to study the data and consistently concluded that racism was the more significant factor.

However, for a lot of people, one group has been excluded from that conclusion. Conventional wisdom would have it that people who voted for Barack Obama and then supported Donald Trump could not have changed as a result of racism. The thought was that voting for a black man exempted them from racism.

Based on my own experience and what I’ve learned about racism, I never embraced that assumption. To me, it is a misunderstanding that rests on the idea that people can easily be sorted into categories of being either racist or non-racist. To get beyond that view of racism as a binary issue, take a few minutes to watch Jay Smooth talk about how that prevents us from having a meaningful conversation about racism.

I had previously avoided discussing all of that when it comes to Obama-Trump voters because we hadn’t seen any data that backed up my skepticism with the conventional wisdom. But as Zach Beauchamp reports, that void has now been filled.

The existence of [Obama-Trump] voters has served as evidence that the most plausible explanation for what happened in 2016 — that Trump’s campaign tapped into the racism of white Americans to win pivotal states — is wrong. “How could white Americans who voted for a black president in the past be racist,” or so the thinking goes…

A new study shows that this response isn’t as powerful as it may seem. The study, from three political scientists from around the country, takes a statistical look at a large sample of Obama-Trump switchers. It finds that these voters tended to score highly on measures of racial hostility and xenophobia — and were not especially likely to be suffering economically.

In order to understand our current political environment, that raises the question of why people who voted for Barack Obama were receptive to Trump’s racist appeals. Both Beauchamp and Kevin Drum attempt to answer that question, but the most plausible reason comes from the former when he states that, “racial issues became the key political dividing line in a way they were not in either 2008 or 2012.”

Trump kicked off his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants rapists and vowing to build a wall between the US and Mexico. He vowed to ban Muslims, and described black life in America as a hellscape of violence and poverty. Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign was not nearly so overt, which means it was less likely to attract voters who held latent racist and anti-immigrant attitudes.

Clinton, for her part, positioned herself as a champion of racial justice. While Obama’s rhetoric on race was typically post-racial, positioning the country as more united than divided, Clinton got out front on issues like police violence and immigration. There are plenty of valid reasons for this — Clinton was more worried about failing to turn out minority voters, Obama was more worried about alienating skittish whites, and there was no way to respond to Trump’s campaign without tackling race head-on.

Issues that were important in 2008 included the financial collapse and getting out of the Iraq War. Romney’s wealth and his remarks about 47 percent of the population being freeloaders dominated in 2012. In 2016, Trump put racism and xenophobia front and center. Clinton, knowing she would need to engage the so-called “Obama coalition,” addressed the issues directly.

We also can’t ignore the fact that for the eight years of Obama’s presidency, right wing news outlets dished out a steady stream of racist appeals to their viewers in order to provide congressional Republicans with the fuel they needed to obstruct anything the president tried to accomplish. That included a certain media personality launching himself onto the political stage by reviving the whole birther movement.

All of the above contributed to the 2016 election being a referendum on race, with people being compelled to take sides. Just as Karl Rove drove conservative voters to the polls in 2004 by getting gay marriage on the ballot in as many states a possible in order to tap into homophobia, Trump put racism and xenophobia on the ballot.

While those were pretty blatant, this kind of thing has been the go-to strategy for Republicans for decades. Nixon’s Southern Strategy combined with his claim of being a “law and order” president was followed by Ronald Reagan’s dog whistle announcement of his presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi and George H.W. Bush’s Willie Horton ad.

I say all of this because it is past time for liberals to understand what is going on. We have been too quick to buy into the idea that Democrats are the ones that puts so-called “identity politics” or “cultural issues” on the table, and that if candidates only tamped down their discussions of those issues and highlighted others, we could all just get along. The truth is that it has always been Republicans who want those issues front and center because they assume that their predominantly older white evangelical voters are motivated by racism, xenophobia, sexism and homophobia.

The question for liberals isn’t whether or not to prioritize these issues, it is whether or not to respond when, for example, a candidate announces his presidential campaign by calling Mexicans immigrants drug dealers and rapists. It would be unconscionable to stay silent under those circumstances. So we are going to have this discussion one way or the other. Perhaps it’s time for Democrats to do it on their own terms rather than always responding to Republicans.