Reviews | Is Trump the Democrats’ secret weapon?

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Bret Stephens: Hello, Gael. I was moved by Ketanji Brown Jackson’s remarks last week after his Senate confirmation: “In my family, it only took one generation to go from segregation to the Supreme Court. What a resounding affirmation of what is possible in the United States. And how depressing it is that only three Republican senators can bring themselves to vote for her, if only on the principle that every president deserves to have qualified candidates confirmed. What happened to the recognition of the possibility that we can respect and admire people with whom we also disagree?

Gail Collins: Bret, every time we talk, I experience that.

Brett: Same.

Gael: But you know what has become of our politicians. There are many people to blame for the death of bipartisanship in the judicial selection, but I will never forget that Mitch McConnell refused to vote on several Barack Obama candidates.

Brett: I will resist the urge to dwell on Harry Reid’s filibuster of George W. Bush’s candidates. The big question is how we move forward. I don’t think we can last as a republic if no president of either party can even appoint judges or staff executive power unless he also has a majority in the Senate. Your thoughts?

Gael: I tend to resist predictions that we can’t survive those predictions – we’ve survived a lot, after all.

Brett: Fair point. We beat Germany twice. What is a Ted Cruz, more or less?

Gael: But this kind of perpetual partisanship is certainly not good for the country. I guess the world will look to Alaska to see how the regular public reacts — of the three Senate Republicans who voted to confirm Judge Jackson, Lisa Murkowski is the only one to be re-elected this year.

Brett: Murkowski also faces a major challenge from a Republican opponent backed by Donald Trump, meaning she showed real political courage by voting for Jackson. More than can be said for a group of GOP senators retiring at the end of the year who could have usefully demonstrated principle and independence.

Gael: Murkowski aside, I suspect Republican candidates this fall will run on a generally Trumpist line, which will make matters worse. Do you disagree?

Brett: Not clear yet. Our colleagues on the information side Shane Goldmacher and Jonathan Martin reported last month that some of the leading candidates Trump originally favored — like Senate candidate Mo Brooks in Alabama and gubernatorial candidate David Perdue in Georgia – not doing well in the polls. Trump also crosses paths with Republican incumbents of the governor’s office like Doug Ducey in Arizona and Pete Ricketts in Nebraska by opposing their favorite candidates, or at least favoring those they dislike. On the contrary, Trump could prove to be the Democrats’ secret weapon this fall by splitting the party or supporting candidates who cannot win the general election. That’s how Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock were able to win their Georgia Senate races last time out.

Gael: I noticed Trump went ahead and withdrew his support for Brooks, saying he was outraged that Brooks said it was time to stop obsessing over the 2020 election and move on. to something else.

Brett: Trump is like John Cleese’s Basil Fawlty character in “Fawlty Towers”, except upside down: you must mention the war. Or at least the “stolen election”.

Gael: Still, I bet Trump might have ignored it if Brooks weren’t also far behind in the polls.

Brett: We’ll see. Right now, the generic poll is leaning Republican, but that could change if the Supreme Court votes to overturn Roe v. Wade. This could change even more if Ukraine manages to defeat Russia with American help. What else do Democrats need?

Gael: Democrats must look for ways to improve the country. One is to reduce health care costs, which would include cracking down on waste and government funding of expensive drugs like insulin. Another is to reduce the deficit with a tax on the very rich.

Brett: The administration seems to take your advice on both counts, although I’m not sure that will help them much by November. I’d like to see them get ahead of a few impending pushes that will play into the hands of the GOP: the expected push of migrants at the border; the sharp increase in the cost of living; and the next wave of Covid. The last is actually related to the first: The administration can help moderate Democrats by expanding something called Title 42 to expedite deportations of migrants as a health emergency measure. As for inflation, how about a sales tax holiday for necessities and other basic goods for the next 12 months?

Gael: Here’s a proposed deal: a sales tax exemption for commodities combined with a tax hike for the wealthy.

Brett: I always oppose tax hikes, but it’s not the worst deal. And the question of immigration? The administration doesn’t seem to know what it’s thinking, according to a fascinating piece in The Times last weekend.

Gael: Well, another way to think about it is that the administration knows there is no right answer. Any immigration policy will be unpopular on one side or the other — except for Biden’s much-much-appreciated stoppage of building that stupid Trump wall.

Brett: A wall that I reluctantly concluded should be built, even as we do more to increase legal immigration.

Gael: Oh wow, Bret, you hit the wall! Better than going over the wall I guess, but still…

Brett: I bet some of our readers are thinking, “Both things are possible.”

A wall will not prevent people from coming here legally and overstaying their visa. But it will save some of the most vulnerable migrants from taking terrible risks to cross the border while denying right-wing nativists one of their most powerful political problems.

Gael: And serve as a great symbol to the rest of the world that the days of celebrating our country as a nation of immigrants are long gone. Sigh.

Brett: We are and must remain a nation of immigrants. I just arrived legally.

Gael: It is certainly important not to encourage illegal immigration. But it is equally important — in fact more important — to increase the number of immigrants we welcome into the country. Given the very low birth rate in America, we need to attract all the volunteer workers we can.

Brett: Totally agree on this point. Countries that stagnate demographically will eventually stagnate economically. Our Hispanic population is incredibly talented, energetic and diverse, we have plenty of room to grow and we’re lucky to have Mexico – the country where I grew up – as our neighbor. Anyone who doubts me on this should wonder what it’s like for Ukraine to have Russia as a neighbor.

The case I would present to the administration is to establish three principles for immigration: that it must be legal, that it must be safe and that it must be compassionate. They must take care of the first point to guarantee the other two.

Gael: No problem there, but there’s a long leap between a commitment to legal and compassionate immigration and – oh, God, that wall. Sorry, still confused. Let’s move on.

Brett: The other big national story last week was the Justice Department’s failure to win its case against four men accused of conspiring to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan. What do you do with it?

Gael: Basically, you have a bunch of dumb right-wing guys talking about Governor Whitmer’s Covid restrictions and talking about removing it. And a real question as to whether they would have done anything other than hang out over lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings if an FBI informant hadn’t become one of their leaders.

Brett: It’s a fine line between, uh, trap and hate, to fit an old saying.

Gael: This kind of case always begs the question of how far our investigators can go to expose the jobs of anti-government crackpots. Imagine what it’s like to spend months, sometimes years! – pretending to be best friends with paranoid idiots.

Brett: My wife and kids know that feeling.

Gael: Sooner or later, you might be tempted to get things done – and then perhaps create a crime that otherwise would never have happened.

I’m not an expert on this, but I understand how very careful the country has to be in monitoring enforcement.

Any final thoughts from your side?

Brett: Given the notoriety of this case, it is a real black eye for the government and especially for the FBI. Inducing stupid people into potentially criminal behavior and then prosecuting them in a highly politicized way is the kind of thing that fuels precisely the kind of conspiracy thinking these people were preyed upon in the first place.

Gael: During this time, I was kind of obsessed with what would happen if Russian psycho-hackers managed to find a way to take our power grid offline. Imagining what that would be like gives me the kind of chills I had as a kid in Catholic school when nuns would spend hours warning us that the end of the world could come any day. Then we had to go home and practice hiding in the basement with our parents.

Brett: The good news is that the Russians didn’t even manage to shut down the power grid in Ukraine, so they might have a harder time against us. Maybe the end of the world isn’t near after all?

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