Monthly Archives: February 2016

Super Tuesday: What to Watch For

In the Republican primaries and caucuses, the big question is who, alongside Donald Trump, will be left standing.  Trump is in no danger whatsoever of being knocked out of the race this Tuesday; the only question is who among the others will give him any serious competition beyond this point, and who among them will even still be in the race at all.
Politico story.

On the Democratic side, neither Hillary Clinton nor Bernie Sanders can be expected to be eliminated, but the big question is how viable Sanders will look after Tuesday, as a serious contender for the nomination at Clinton’s expense.  Hillary did decisively better than Bernie in South Carolina, in a primary that was largely a competition for African American votes.
Politico story.

Chris Christie Endorses Trump

This is just the latest turn of events that I would have confidently and authoritatively told students was never going to happen:  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has endorsed Trump for president.

I remember a time when Christie was the darling of the Republican establishment.  Remember the establishment?  They’re the Republicans who are utterly horrified by Trump’s candidacy and are counting on those Republicans who are not wingnuts to band together to stop Trump.  They’re the ones who are calling on Kasich to step aside for Rubio.  Indeed, Christie was surely one of the ones whose voice in the chorus they were counting on.  But nope, Christie isn’t into blending into any chorus.

Esteemed associates, I have taught American Government on and off for 30 years now, and these are absolutely the strangest political times I have ever seen.


Democrats’ Words Come Back to Haunt Them

What do Vice-President Joe Biden and U.S. Senator from New York Chuck Schumer have in common?  As Senators, at times when there was a Democratic majority in the Senate and a Republican president, both made remarks to the effect that the President in his last year should not appoint a Supreme Court justice, and if he did, the Senate should not confirm such nominee.

What does this mean?  Essentially, it means that when you’re in the political scene long enough, you can expect to be on both sides of every debate at different times.  One of the most basic sentences of Washington commentators’ lexicons is, “His words have come back to haunt him.”

Even so, the Democrats are claiming the moral high ground as they fight Republican obstructionism in the Senate over Obama filling Scalia’s seat.  Meanwhile, good luck to Obama in finding someone who will take the job.  One factor:  Any Republican whom he nominates to the bench can expect to face total ostracism from fellow Republicans for accepting.

Politico story:



Bernie Sanders *IS* a serious contender for the Democratic nomination


This time last year, the media experts (the same ones who didn’t think Donald Trump stood a chance) were saying that Hillary Clinton was the sure winner of the Democratic nomination.  Guess again!

From Politico:
From the Huffington Post:



Late-Breaking News

As we saw while going through the Constitution, when a vacancy opens up on the Supreme Court, the President nominates a new justice and the Senate needs to confirm the nominee by a simple majority vote.  As we also noted, though the Constitution does not say a word about political parties, political parties play an enormous part in the way things work–now more than ever.  The framers at Philadelphia in 1787 might well have assumed that the president would appoint a justice based on who was the most qualified and virtuous, and that the Senate would confirm the nominee as long as they agreed that the nominee was qualified and virtuous, but:  NOPE!  The Court right now is divided between conservative justices appointed by Republican presidents and liberal justices appointed by Democratic presidents, and each party wants to control the Court ideologically for the next generation to come.  So…what will happen if a vacancy opens up on the Court now?

Well, it has.  Right in the middle of the current Supreme Court year, when the nine justices have already heard a number of the cases that they will soon be ruling on, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who was appointed by Reagan, has just died.  What does this mean?  It means that if Obama successfully appoints a liberal justice now, the Court will have five liberal justices and thus a liberal majority.

Unfortunately for those who would like to see that happen, any justice whom Obama appoints will have to be confirmed in the Senate, and the Republicans have a majority there.  In fact, a staff member of one of the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee has just tweeted this comment:  ““What is less than zero? The chances of Obama successfully appointing a Supreme Court Justice to replace Scalia?”  And, as a link below shows, the Senate Majority Leader has announced that he thinks the confirmation vote should wait for the next president.  (Wow!)

It looks as if the current season will probably conclude with just eight justices.  But the new court session starts next October while Obama is still president, so you can expect Obama to try to fill that vacancy.  Most likely, he will appoint a justice who does not have a clear paper trail of opinions that are either conservative or liberal, one who he hopes will be liberal but about whom nobody knows for sure–and one whose qualifications are good enough to put Senate Republicans on the defensive if they don’t act.  So far, Obama hasn’t been very successful at getting even a few Republicans in either chamber to work with him on very many things, but this will be interesting to watch.

It should also be noted that, when a president appoints a justice and hopes that justice will tow the ideological line, it sometimes backfires.  When the elder Bush was president and the Democrats had the majority in Congress, he appointed David Souter of New Hampshire to the Court, hoping he’d be conservative.  Surprise!  He was consistently liberal in his rulings.  So even if Obama gets the Republicans in the Senate to consider a nominee, there’s no guarantee.

This will be an interesting saga to watch, this last year of the Obama presidency.

Times article

Politico article

Also in Politico

NPR Report

Any thoughts?  Feel free to comment.



The Republican Party Establishment in Crisis

Last year around this time, the national political experts were saying that Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Marco Rubio were the only three Republicans with a realistic chance of winning the nomination.  They regarded Ted Cruz as the same kind of minor candidate as Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, and they regarded Donald Trump as relevant only for comic relief.  In other words, they assumed that the nominee would be an establishment Republican, not one of the wild fanatics who would run by vilifying and discrediting the Republican establishment.

Well, fast forward to now: Walker isn’t in the race anymore, Trump and Cruz are the frontrunners, and the Republican establishment is in crisis.  That crisis expresses itself in two forms: (1) they’re debating which of the two crazies is worse, and (2) they are wishing that the four establishment candidates–Rubio, Bush, John Kasich (governor of Ohio), and Chris Christie–would winnow themselves down to one whom they can all rally around.

As you will be hearing me say in class, I truly do not know whether what we’re living through this season is a temporary abnormality or a permanent transformation of the party system and the political culture.  But, as I post this on the day of the Iowa caucus, here are some fresh articles from Politico.  I strongly encourage bookmarking Politico and checking in with it regularly.

“GOP Braces for a Post-Iowa Collision” by Alex Isenstadt

“Has Trump Killed the GOP?”  by multiple authors

“What’s Going to Happen on Monday?”