Monday, April 1, 2013

Ginsburg and the Senate

Over the weekend, I had a Salon column arguing that Ruth Bader Ginsburg should retire at the end of the current Supreme Court term (with retirement taking effect upon confirmation of her replacement). Today, I did a follow-up looking at where the votes would fall in the Senate.

A few more thoughts...first: I don't understand the objections that this line of thought is insulting to Ginsburg, or what I think is a related argument that SCOTUS should be above politics. I think that's a real misunderstanding of the Court. It's true that Supreme Court justices don't, and shouldn't, simply vote the way that Members of Congress vote on issues. But yes, absolutely, the Court is and is meant to be "political" and a part of the US democracy. And during an era in which the polity is highly partisan and polarized, it's no surprise that the Court is, too. Not only no surprise, but it's basically what we should want. The idea that the Court should be the same regardless of what voters want is anti-democratic -- and, given the Constitution, unrealistic.

When it comes to the Senate...there's some possibility that there could be some real difficult calls for individual Senators. One thing I didn't talk about is the Democrats; it's likely, but not certain, that they would stay united -- but that means that any individual Democrat who wanted to sink a nominee, presumably before she was named, could do so. It's probably also the case that several Senate Democrats would probably prefer that they can duck any SCOTUS fight, even if the party as a whole might welcome it.

On the Republican side, I can imagine a couple of things. To the extent that Barack Obama is more popular than Congressional Republicans, they might collectively want to make the whole thing go away quickly -- especially since the potential for Akin moment would be thought to be fairly high. But there aren't too many Republicans who would want to be the ones who case the winning vote for a Ginsburg replacement; even in Maine, that's something that could potentially draw a tough primary opponent.

Granted, all of this is mostly speculative at this point. But if it does happen, it's going to be an enormous story, and deservedly so. Might as well start thinking about it now.

Next in Line, Again

I like some of David Frum's advise to Democrats about 2016 and dislike some of it, but I'm afraid I'll mostly have to nitpick his premise. Yeah, it's the old next-in-line fallacy:

Hillary Clinton came second in the nomination fight of 2008. If she were a Republican, that would make her a near-certainty to be nominated in 2016. Five of the past six Republican nominees had finished second in the previous round of primaries. (The sixth was George W. Bush, son of the most recent Republican president.)

Democrats, by contrast, prefer newcomers. Six of their eight nominees since 1972 had never sought national office before.
I've written about this before several times (most recently here), but it's just not a very useful comparison. Republicans simply have happened to have had far more cycles with fairly obvious nominees than have Democrats. We don't know how a Democrat with a profile similar to Bob Dole's in 1976 would have done, because we just haven't really had any, for a variety of reasons.

Put it this way: on the one hand, the 2012 cycle sort of confirmed the "next in line" theory...if, that is, we conclude that Mitt Romney was the runner-up in 2008, which is sort of true but also sort of not true (by some measures, the Huck had a better argument for having come in second). But at the same time: does anyone really think that Rick Santorum will be an easy winner in 2016? If we don't think so, then we clearly don't believe that finishing second has any magic power; we might, for example, think that George H.W. Bush's vice-presidency was far more important in 1988 than were his 1980 primary wins. And once we loosen the definition of "next in line" to simply mean the most logical nominee of those who make it to Iowa (or something like that), then we find that Democrats are pretty much just as likely to select that candidates as are Republicans.

(Okay, minor nitpick on the count, too, those "six" nominees who "had never sought national office before."  Assuming we're ignoring renominations of sitting presidents, I count McGovern, Mondale, and Gore as having previously sought national office, while Carter, Dukakis, Clinton, Kerry, and Obama had not. Even if Mondale's quickly aborted presidential run doesn't count, which I'm fine with, surely the vice-presidency is a national office).

The big Republican win for next-in-line is John McCain, who had very little going for him other than having been the runner-up in 2000. But there's not much more to it, really.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Rachel Maddow, 40.

No shortage of good stuff today:

1. Really, just stop saying "weapons of mass destruction." Spencer Ackerman explains.

2. How will the GOP fight against ACA in the states play out -- if it succeeds? Ezra Klein with a good column on it.

3. Matt Yglesias points out some basics of politics and economics.

4. Excellent column by John Sides about ideology and 2012 (and the future). My position on this: Republicans don't need an ideological adjustment to win the presidency, but they do need reform if they're going to be able to govern successfully.

5. But see also: Eric Schickler responds to John, and then John responds back to Eric. Quick point: John says that "Republicans had no problem winning presidential elections even when the Democratic advantage in party identification was much larger than now." Yes and no...there is that long stretch (9 elections) in which Democrats win unless Ike is on the ballot. Overall, I think it's possible that Democrats have taken a small but real edge, but also possible that the parties are still even and there's just some sorting around among what people call themselves...I haven't seen anything that convinces me one way or another.

6. And I don't know if anyone cares, but: my brother: not a moron.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

March 31, 1973

Just a short segment today, with one big development.

Ehrlichman and Haldeman (in California) talk to Kleindienst about the Gray nomination, which they all agree is dead, and about cooperation from Justice on Watergate -- but on the latter, Kleindienst talks about some sort of independent counsel (a three-judge panel) running the prosecutions.

Back in Washington, Dean is continuing to tell his story to his lawyer, at Shaffer's Friendship Heights apartment. And that's not all: Jeb Magruder, having failed to talk his former assistant out of telling the truth to the Ervin Committee, decides the jig is up and hires a lawyer, too. Of course, he doesn't know about what Dean is up to, but he did feel it was urgent; Magruder's lawyer is at a convention in Bermuda, so that's where Magruder flies to (I think it's on this Saturday; the narrative from Emery isn't quite clear, other than he's definitely behind Dean).

Of course, while Magruder is certainly a threat on both Watergate and the cover-up, the big difference is that Dean knows the extent of Richard Nixon's involvement in the cover-up -- although, for now, he has only his word.

Sunday Question for Liberals

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the legislative progress on guns and immigration?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

The conservative push in GOP Senate primaries over the last several cycles: a net plus or net minus for conservative policy outcomes?

Saturday, March 30, 2013

March 30, 1973

It's a travel day: Nixon, Haldeman, and Ehrlichman are off to the Pacific White House. Which means, alas, no more tapes during the following week. Before they leave, however, we do get Nixon and Haldeman talking. And elsewhere, it's a very busy day.

Jeb Magruder spends the day chasing after his former assistant, Robert Reisner, who he now learns from the Washington Post has been subpoenaed by the Ervin Committee. Alas for him and them all, to no effect. Reisner, by the way, checks in during the day with Fred Fielding, who works under Dean at the White House -- and Fielding, according to Reisner, basically tells him to tell the trust. Magruder, on the other hand, tells him over the phone "Everybody else is cooperating...If this gets out of hand, they're going to impeach the president." But Reisner lets him know he's going to tell the truth, specifically about the Gemstone meetings.

Nixon also retreats on testifying, with a new offer to allow the White House staff to testify to the Ervin Committee in some "informal" arrangement. It's not a complete surrender, but it is a major modification of the position they've been pushing all through March, and shows that the pressure of the last few weeks is getting results.

But the most important thing today, by far, is that John Dean decides to get out. As the president heads for California, John Dean secretly meets with a lawyer, Charles Shaffer, in a marathon five hour session. That day, and over the weekend, Dean spills most of the story to Shaffer (although Dean says that he still waited a week before involving the president and pre-Watergate Plumbers material). Shaffer immediately sees just how much trouble Dean is in, and begins preparing to cut a deal with prosecutors.

Before they left, Haldeman and Nixon discussed Ervin Committee maverick Republican Lowell Weicker, and then the general situation:


President Nixon: I want you to get the [goods?] on Weicker. I think we've got to play a tough damn hard game on him. And he is not a strong man.
President Nixon: Have they done the checking on his financial statements and everything?

Haldeman: As best we can, yeah.

President Nixon: Is his income tax being checked yet, or have we got our man [presumably the new IRS director Donald Alexander] in yet?

Haldeman: We nominated him, but he isn't confirmed.[...]


Haldeman: It's funny. Boy, the raw human stuff keeps -- as you grind people against the wall, it starts coming out. Mitchell -- that's why I was not so sure you ought to have Ehrlichman in with Dean. I don't know whether this is true, but Mitchell says that Dean doesn't trust Ehrlichman, he thinks Ehrlichman is maneuvering to --

President Nixon: Sink him?

Haldeman: -- sink Dean. Now, Dean thinks that Mitchell and Magruder are maneuvering to sink him. That's what he tells me.

President Nixon: I don't think Ehrlichman is maneuvering to sink anybody.

Haldeman: No, I think Ehrlichman will maneuver to keep himself clean.

President Nixon: You're damn right he will, and everybody does.

Haldeman: And he should.

President Nixon: Everybody --

Haldeman: As long as he doesn't pull anyone else in, and I don't think he will. And I don't think John has --

President Nixon: John wouldn't do it at the expense of somebody else.

Haldeman: No, sir.


The point of the first part of this is that Nixon only really knows one way to "play the game," and he's entirely blind to the danger to himself over it. Not that Lowell Weicker was going to ease off at any rate, but that the more Nixon revealed himself to be willing to abuse the powers of his office in vindictive assaults, the less anyone cared to stick with him when things got rough.

And on the second part...Ehrlichman has been out to sink the CRP people, Mitchell included, for months. Just striking that Nixon and Haldeman either can't see that, or don't want to see it.