Donald Trump? Sorry history says, “Not gonna happen.”

August 24, 2015

At the moment he is soaring in the stratosphere and I hate to be a kill-joy but if history is any barometer, Donald Trump will soon be falling back down to earth.

First, no businessman has ever been elected president.  And there is a very good reason. People in power have always made the laws that govern business purposely gray, not black or white.  From the emergence of the guilds in the Middle Ages, to modern day regulators on Wall Street, rulers have expected their merchants to break the law so that they will have power over them and keep them at their mercy.

Ask the IRS to fill out your tax return for you and they will laugh.  They aren’t paid to help you get it right, they are paid to catch you when you get it wrong.

The odds that the Donald has made legal mistakes in his many deals and bankruptcies is almost certain.  The odds that he has run into the Mafia, while operating in New York and Atlantic City, is also quite likely.  And before he becomes president, we are going to meet those people.  We will know their names.  And the people who trusted him and invested in his projects and lost money? We will get to meet them as well.

Second, all presidents held prior elective office or were prominent generals who served for years in government.

Why?  Because this is how candidates are vetted, they run for Congress or the Statehouse.  They serve under the watchful eye of a superior in government.   Remember businessman Herman Cain?  The year before the last presidential election he captured the headlines much like Trump.  According to Pew Research  Cain earned more press coverage than any other GOP contender.  His rally in South Carolina was the largest political event of the GOP primary season.  But before he could move into the White House we began to hear allegations of sexual harassment from women who had worked with him and his numbers fell.

The unproven allegations against Herman Cain were not nearly as bad as the stories we could confirm about other prominent political figures but those stories had been out on the table for a long time.  We don’t like surprises.  We like time to think things over.  The examination of Donald Trump has not even begun.  The American people can be forgiving.  They once elected a man who openly admitted to fathering a child out of wedlock. But before any of us get to vote we will want to know every wife, every girlfriend and we will want to hear their stories in detail.

Third.  Finally, there are those pesky polls.

Oh, you thought the polls were good?  Yes, he is leading among Republican voters.  But those same polls show a very disturbing problem.  He loses to Hillary Clinton in Ohio and Pennsylvania and only beats her in Florida.  And he loses to vice president Joe Biden in all three states.

Now here is the kicker.  Donald Trump ridiculed Rand Paul’s poll numbers among the GOP but Rand Paul consistently, for months now, has been beating Hillary Clinton in those same battleground states including Pennsylvania.  And now, other GOP candidates have joined Rand Paul in beating Hillary in Ohio as well.  Trump calls Jeb Bush boring but “boring Bush” is beating Hillary Clinton in all three swing states and Trump is not.

What does it mean?  It means that the Democrats know their real challenger and it is not Donald Trump.  They have taken out national ads against Rand Paul.  They have made no secret that they would love for Trump to win the GOP nomination and if he can offend a few more general election constituencies on his way to the GOP coronation, well, all the better.

There is one thing still in the Donald’s favor.  He claims that his most qualifying trait for chief executive is his ability to negotiate with an opponent, in this case the Chinese or the Mexicans or Iran.  His bestselling book is entitled “The Art of the Deal.”

In fact, this is the one common denominator of all American presidents.  They honed their skills in adversarial positions against a live opponent.  We have never had an artist president, a Vaclav Havel.  Our presidents have all been tested in combat.  25 presidents were lawyers, including Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama.  12 presidents were war time generals.  They have argued in court or run for office or fought on the battlefield against an opponent.

Could it happen?  Could businessman Donald Trump actually win?  Well, yes, that’s what makes history so compelling.  But the odds are long.  And remember, this time he is negotiating for your vote.  Be careful and remember, he calls it the art of the deal.

 


Jimmy Carter: He never told a lie

August 20, 2015

Jimmy Carter held a press conference today, announcing details on his growing battle with cancer.

“I will never lie to you,” Jimmy Carter said back in 1976.  And so far, he never has.

The dignity, humility and integrity of Jimmy Carter is best illustrated by what he hasn’t done.

Unlike presidents who followed him he has not made millions off of interviews or speeches.  Or taken speaking engagements from companies who needed influence.  He hasn’t used his Foundation to trade influence for money.  He hasn’t taken bribes in return for influencing policies for friends.

Unlike many of the most recent presidents he hasn’t used the courts to block researchers or writers from accessing his presidential papers.  He has been accessible.  He simply has nothing to hide. I interviewed him the year after he left office.

Unlike the last three Democrat presidents who preceded him, he did not have sex with young subordinates on his own White House staff.

What is striking is that there has not even been a single charge of impropriety.  One can disagree with his political views but one cannot find anything wrong with his character.

Jimmy Carter followed Richard Nixon into the White House.  Nixon, who was caught in a lie over the Watergate Scandal, created what was called the Imperial Presidency.  His new White House Secret Service uniforms looked like Prussian police officers.  By contrast, President Jimmy Carter insisted on carrying his own bags when he got off Air Force One.

Secret Service uniforms at the Nixon White House.

Secret Service uniforms at the Nixon White House.

It is said that Jimmy Carter redefined the post presidency.  Most early presidents were careful to retire and stay out of the limelight.  There were exceptions. Ulysses Grant got involved in tawdry business deals with his sons and probably would have gone to prison if he had not been a former president.

In more recent times, Coolidge, Truman, Eisenhower, all kept the tradition that held, former presidents were seldom seen and never heard.

Carter changed all of that.  Determined to be useful, he volunteered with Habitat for Humanity and helped build houses for the needy. There he was, the former president, on a rooftop, pounding nails in the sun.  The media couldn’t resist.  He showed energy and compassion and his Carter Foundation impacted the world.

Jimmy Carter’s political rise was a Cinderella story.  He was a candidate for president who showed up in Iowa the year before with a 2% recognition factor.  That doesn’t mean that 2% of the state supported him, it means only 2% even knew who he was.  But by the summer of 1975, right where we are now in the presidential cycle, Jimmy Carter stunned the nation by winning the important Iowa presidential summer straw poll.  It thrust him into the nation’s limelight where he has remained ever since.

It is hard to explain the euphoria that accompanied the Carter election as president.  He was a Democrat who publicly identified himself as a “born again” Christian.  Which put border states into play and reshuffled the electoral college numbers as Republican evangelicals crossed over to support him.  It forever changed the strategic map of American politics.

His family was a hoot.

Lillian Carter, the president’s mother, was a huge personality, well ahead of her time.  Outspoken and courageous in her political views, Lillian was a Southerner who spent her life exposing racism.  A world traveler, a nurse, a former Peace Corps volunteer to India, she became a delightful bon vivant of the Carter First Family.

His sister, Ruth Carter Stapleton, was a well dressed, good looking, faith healer.

His brother, Billy Carter, was the personification of the old Southern country boy.  When Carter won the Iowa Caucus reporters descended on his tiny gas station in Plains, Georgia where Billy held court with a beer can in his hand.  “My sister is a faith healer,” Billy said. “My brother thinks he’s going to be president.  I’m the only sane one in the bunch.”

It was an exciting and compelling time of hope.  America was coming out of Watergate and corruption.  There was hope that this president could restore integrity to the White House.  He did that. But the economy sagged, Islamic terrorists seized power in Iran and the Soviet Union threatened the end of the world.  American turned to Ronald Reagan.

The Soviet threat is gone now, but the economy still struggles as American finds its new place in a post industrial era and unfortunately, the corruption is back.  The IRS, the Veterans Administration and other agencies are tainted.  The front runners for both parties include a Republican who openly brags that “I buy politicians and they do what the hell I tell them to” and a Democrat who is trying to survive charges that she offered her power for sale to even foreign buyers.

Jimmy Carter’s press conference today was a reminder that at least once, in recent American history, someone held power without corruption.

Jimmy Carter and Doug Wead, 1979.

Jimmy Carter and Doug Wead, 1979.


Rand Paul appears on Daystar Christian TV

July 31, 2015

Daystar, one of the premier Christian television networks, carried by Comcast, Time-Warner, Direct-TV, Dish, featured Senator Rand Paul on its flagship program yesterday.  Senator Paul led the effort to get a bill before the Senate to block government from funding Planned Parenthood.  Taxpayers give the organization $500 million a year.

Rand Paul also called for Hillary Clinton to refund the money Planned Parenthood gave to her.


The Collapse of the House of Cards: How the video series imploded, can it come back?

July 7, 2015

It was too good to be true.  The American version of House of Cards, as in the case of its British predecessor, was so unique in capturing the real life atmosphere and attitudes of Washington politics that it soon developed a cult following in this very jaded city.

Much of Washington laughs at Hollywood’s naive attempts to capture its elusive character, or lack thereof, but soon after the arrival of House of Cards a holy hush descended on the city with whispers of “have you been watching?”  One could see glimpses of Atwater, Axelrod, the Clinton’s, the Bushes, Panetta, Sununu, Ben Bradlee, Mary Matalin, Jim Carville, Katherine Graham and on and on the list goes.  But alas, the third season appeared and the very hubris that comes to all men of power in Washington, so ably captured by this theatrical drama, came to the producers themselves.  The third season retained its compelling drama but it knack for accuracy – the very thing that made it a masterpiece of art meets reality – collapsed before our eyes.

The one scene that symbolizes this disheartening fall better than any others, has the White House Chief of Staff driving one of the president’s political allies to the airport.  Huh?  The White House Chief of Staff is a chauffeur?  Boy did they get that wrong.  In fact, so relaxed is Remy Denton that he usually stands around the Oval Office waiting for something to do.

In the first three seasons I would often pause the show to tell my children real life stories.  “Yes, that sort of thing actually happened. This famous public figure was bisexual.  President Bush, Senior typed many of his own notes. Lee Atwater would only smoke on Thursdays to prove that he had power over the habit. This reporter slept with that Senator and actually flaunted it.  So and so runs a non profit and takes money from companies who depend on her husband’s decisions as Chairman of the Oversight Committee.”  But in this third season I was more often than not, pausing the show to tell them why it would never happen that way.

Let’s start with the cabinet meetings and work our way back to the Chief of Staff. These cabinet officers who meet with president Frank Underwood, lined up like little choir boys and girls, lacking personality or opinion, are in fact, prima donnas, Lords and Ladies of enormous ego and power.  They rule departments with hundreds of thousands of employees.

The Secretary of Interior, for example, traditionally arrives at work in her chauffeur driven limousine which parks in a private underground garage.  The Secrtary takes a private elevator to the floor of her office and walks down a long corridor to get there.  The walk is purposeful, designed to humble the visitor.  Looking down from the wall on this stunning corridor are magnificent oil portraits of her predecessors.  She knows very well that her own face will be haunting her successors for generations to come.  The building she presides over is only the headquarters, one of thousands, yes that’s right, thousands, in her vast domain.

I remember working late at the White House one night and as I was passing by the basement West Wing a breathless staffer came running up to one of the Secret Service Stations just inside the door.  Two limos were outside, their engines running.

“What time does the Secretary need to be back in the morning?” the harried staffer asked.

“The guard looked at his colleague nearby and said in an irritated and puzzled voice, “The Secretary of what?”

I giggled to myself as I passed by.

In “The Secretary’s” domain, whether it was State, or Defense, or any one of many others, the boss was simply known as “The Secretary.”  As in, “The Secretary wants this on his desk tomorrow morning.” But at the White House, simply throwing out the title “Secretary” shakes down no thunder.

Above all of those Lords and Ladies of the Cabinet is the Chief of Staff to the President of the United States.  He is not shown as their boss in the flow chart but believe me he is in position.  There is no oil portrait of him.  But there should be.

Now, I have known several Chiefs of Staff.  I have never seen one stand around the West Wing with nothing to do.  He is surrounded by clamoring aides and administrative assistants. And I have never known of one to drive a donor to the airport.  Not when he was in power.  It is not that he is so prideful as much as he doesn’t have the time.

Let us hope that the House of Cards can comeback in its Fourth Season.  Having teased us with greatness, like so many newly elected presidents, we now want it badly. If we can’t have it in real life, lets have it in art.


Why I support Rand Paul and why he reminds me of Ronald Reagan.

June 30, 2015

For the first time since Ronald Reagan we have a political figure who is not just running for office to seek personal power but one who is actually leading a popular movement.   I’m talking about Senator Rand Paul who leads a diverse array of young people, free market conservatives, African Americans and Internet Geeks in what can best be described as “The Give Us Back Our Freedom Movement.”

Not since Ronald Reagan has a Republican attracted so many Independent and Democratic voters.  His ideas transcend partisan politics, like his recent tax proposal which as he puts it, “blows up the tax code.”  It’s no surprise that he usually does better than any other GOP candidates when pitted against Hillary Clinton in national polls.

Young people support Rand Paul because he is the only public figure who talks about the corruption of the current economic system.  Regulations create contrived monopolies for some companies and keep new ones out of the marketplace.  Government subsidies favor Democrat or Republican corporations depending on who is in power.  The result?  The rich get richer and the poor get poorer no matter who is president.

Socialist solutions call for more government run businesses.  The US Post Office comes to mind.  Paul favors a  return to free markets and supply and demand.  Many young people like that.  They want a chance at the American Dream.

Most of his following comes out of his strong support of the U.S.  Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Many African Americans support Paul because he would reform the criminal justice system and make justice color blind.  While Democrats like to reminisce about their Civil Rights victories of the past, Rand Paul has picked up the torch and reclaimed the Republican lead for the first time since Abraham Lincoln.

Internet Geeks like Rand Paul because he is the Archangel of Internet freedom, standing with his flaming sword and trusty filibuster should the FCC or any other government agency make good on their promises to tax and regulate the digital age.

Evangelical Christians like Rand Paul because he is a born again Christian, himself, and he fights for their right to freedom of worship.  Paul would end foreign aid to countries that execute women who are, themselves, the victims of crime and Christians simply because of their faith.

Gays like Rand Paul because he is a fierce proponent of personal privacy and the dignity of the individual.  His opposition to government intrusion and eavesdropping are already legend.

His opponents say he can’t win because of his father’s sometimes controversial ideas.  Actually, I like his father’s ideas but presidents were never elected because of their fathers.  Reagan’s father was an alcoholic.  So was Bill Clinton’s stepfather.  Barack Obama’s father walked out on him when he was two years old.  Abraham Lincoln’s father used to chase down runaway slaves for a living.  He would sometimes beat them before returning them to their master.

If this were a contest about who had the best dad, Rand Paul would do quite well.  He can be proud of his dad’s great career in congress.  But in fact, this is a contest about who has the best ideas to run the country and at the moment Rand Paul is a fountain of ideas.

Foreign Policy?  Rand Paul sees Israel as one of American’s most important allies.  In 1978 I served as vice president of Christians and Jews United for Israel so that is no small point for me.

The biggest knock on Rand Paul is his reluctance to go to war.

Yes, he is slow to send in the same troops over and over.  American soldiers now experience the highest divorce rate in history and, as a result, the highest rate of suicide as well.  Rand Paul cares about these families, the soldiers, but also the children.

And yet, Rand Paul was one of the first public figures to call for a Declaration of War against ISIS.  Perhaps more significant, Rand Paul would not have armed ISIS in the first place.  Two years ago he was trying to block the U.S. Senate from transferring arms and vehicles to Syrian rebels.  “It could fall into the wrong hands,” he warned.    Two years later, American equipment raced across the Middle East with black ISIS flags waving, slaughtering Christians and Muslims who opposed them.

When Reagan stuck his toe in the Middle East in 1982 it resulted in the death of 241 marines.  He immediately withdrew our forces, deciding that it was not in America’s security interest to be involved in the region.  Nobody called Reagan an isolationist.

Rand Paul has made it clear that American must clean up its own messes.  So he will do what has to be done in the Middle East and elsewhere.  But I proudly support a man who thinks before he shoots. Someone who won’t get us into messes in the first place. “The soldier more than anyone else,” wrote Douglas MacArthur, “prays for peace.”


Rand Paul is right about ISIS and his opponents have become hysterical

June 11, 2015

“If you are afraid of being lonely don’t try to be right.” – Jules Renard

Lost in the recent GOP debate is the fact that Senator Rand Paul was the first public figure to call for a declaration of war against ISIS.  He did so because he said they represented a threat to the United States.  So why are so many of the other GOP candidates attacking the Senator?  What’s their beef?

The real irritant to the other GOP contenders is that Rand Paul would not only go to war with ISIS, he would have blocked the creation of ISIS in the first place.  Three years ago Rand Paul warned that American arms to Syrian rebels would would almost certainly end up in the hands of Islamic radicals.

And Rand Paul was not the only one.

Micheal Shank, a board member at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution warned as early as 2013 that we were setting up another Middle East war with an even more vicious enemy.  Warning about the Syrian rebels Shank said, “Regardless of the vetting procedures in place, the sheer factionalized nature of the opposition guarantees that the arms will end up in some unsavory hands. The same militant fighters who have committed gross atrocities are among the best-positioned of the rebel groups to seize the weapons that the United States sends to Syria.”

Shank gave an historic litany of how the same policy had worked in the past. “Arming one side of Syria’s multi-sided and bloody civil war will come back to haunt us. Past decisions by the U.S. to arm insurgencies in Libya, Angola, Central America and Afghanistan helped sustain brutal conflicts in those regions for decades. In the case of Afghanistan, arming the mujahideen in the 1980s created the instability that emboldened extreme militant groups and gave rise to the Taliban, which ultimately created an environment for al Qaeda to thrive.”

In a chilling description of the horrors that were to come, Shank profiled the type of warrior on the ground in Syria and what we could expect.  “When you lift the curtain on the armed groups with the most formidable military presence on the ground in Syria, you find the Al Nusra Front and Al Farough Brigades. Both groups are closely aligned with Al Qaeda and have directly perpetrated barbaric atrocities. The Al Nusra Front has been charged with beheadings of civilians, while a commander from the Al Farough Brigades reportedly ate the heart of a pro-Assad soldier.”

The U.S. Senate and the administration, both lavished with money from the arms lobby, ignored the warnings.  Getting rid of the weapons – even if meant giving them away and even if mistakes were made – assured that more could be manufactured and sold.

A year later, in September, 2014, the United States was still arming the rebels.  Over strenuous objections from the Turkish government  President Obama airdropped ammunition, grenades and rocket propelled grenade launchers to Syrian rebels.  Senator Rand Paul was one of the few voices of reason but there were others warning that yet again, we may be giving the enemy the bullets they will use to kill our men.  Almost immediately the airdrop was picked up by Islamic radicals and their videos showed the event to the world.

Within two years of Rand Paul’s warning ISIS emerged from the petri dish of the Syrian civil war and raced across the Middle East in American made tanks and Humvees destroying cities and Christian communities that traced their unbroken heritage back to the apostle Thomas.  Today, Senators who scoffed at Rand Paul’s warnings two years ago now bristle with indignation calling any question of their failed policies as “unpatriotic.”  Meanwhile the embarrassed Obama White House complains to media outlets that they should stop using videos that show American tanks racing across the deserts with black ISIS flags flying.

Senator Rand Paul recognizes that there are unintended consequences to American actions and that America, itself, should clean up its own messes.  And so he immediately called for the war to destroy ISIS. There is no doubt that their use of social media makes them dangerous even on American soil.  Nevertheless, Rand Paul’s political enemies, shamed by their own actions, now seek to force a different narrative.  Paul suggests that a little humility is in order.

Senator Paul has made it clear that he will commit America troops to defeat her enemies.  He has called for an increase in the Defense Budget.  But he has also made it clear that he is deeply concerned about the lives of that same tiny percentage of men and women are being sent back to war, over and over again.  Their suicide rate is astronomical and closely mimics their divorce rate, the result of the longest wars – and therefore the longest separations among military families – in American history.  And the children of those soldiers are now being raised in broken homes.

Having a president who will consider the consequences of his actions and who will only commit to war with deliberation just might be what the nation needs.  Let us defeat ISIS.  But let us not create another one.


Marco Rubio: A Demographic on Steroids

May 14, 2015

Senator Marco Rubio spoke for the Council on Foreign Relations yesterday, staking out his position as the GOP super hawk, announcing that he would not be afraid to go to war.  Presumably, he will have to compete with Senator Lindsey Graham for that role.  And they both will have to find a suitable target.

Recent polls show him climbing.  A Quinnipiac Poll has him tied with Rand Paul for second place in Iowa, behind Scott Walker.  And a recent Bloomberg poll has him second only to Rand Paul in New Hampshire.

He is a fascinating candidate popular with the media.  I call him a “demographic on steroids.”

First, he is Hispanic and that is the wave of the future for this country.

Second, he is from Florida, a key battleground, must win, state for any Republican.

Third, he is a Roman Catholic, with an LDS heritage, who regularly attends a Baptist church.  Believe me, that is a highly evolved creature perfectly fitted for a modern, GOP primary process in an age of the Fox News Channel.

And finally, although he is young, he is the insider, big business, Wall Street, money alternative to Jeb Bush.  In fact, Rubio’s people are right now telling donors that a dollar given to Jeb Bush is a dollar given to Hillary Clinton since Bush will never win a head to head contest with her.  The national media and major corporations will never allow three of the last five presidents to come from the same immediate family.  Bush, we are told, is only insurance in case Hillary slips.

These above are the four major positives of a Marco Rubio candidacy.  But he has one major negative.

Marco Rubio, like most of the other candidates in this race, has no raison d’etre.  There is no purpose in his candidacy other than naked ambition.  For too many candidates in this race it is all about them and not the voter.  Hillary Clinton says, “Vote for me I am a woman.”  Marco Rubio says, “Vote for me I am Hispanic.”  Even Scott Walker’s argument says nothing about what he would do.  Walker says, “Vote for me I am a governor.  I know how to be an administrator.”  It is meant to contrast the ineptitude of the current president.

But being a governor is a pretty empty argument.  Jimmy Carter was a governor.  If you know how to run things well and you take the country in the wrong direction you will only get us there quicker.  The missing piece is the direction.  Where are you taking us?  Why should we vote for you?

This may be why Senator Rand Paul is now leading these early swing state and battleground state polls.  He is a fount of ideas.  Young people have a reason to vote for him.  African Americans have a reason to vote for him.  Born again Christians have a reason to vote for him.  Waitresses have a reason to vote for him.  He doesn’t just raise the defense budget, he shows how he will do it while balancing the budget.

Marco Rubio needs a popular purpose to his campaign, something more than protecting insiders who are gaming the system, something with appeal to the masses.  Their are signs that he is trying to develop that.  He is using the word “conservative” a lot these days but an appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations  is not the best place to make that argument.  As a candidate, he will have to come up with at least one cut in spending to justify the label.  Something he hasn’t yet been able to do.  Watch for him to distinguish himself in the debates.  Not with flash but by avoiding  self mutilation.  And see how his money helps him survive the early crush of negative ads.

Finally Marco Rubio must convince Jeb Bush to drop out of the race and quickly.  Otherwise he is locked into a huge battle in Florida.  The GOP is not likely to nominate a candidate to contest Hillary Clinton if he can’t carry his own home state in a GOP primary.   The same goes for Jeb Bush.  The two will be locked into a death struggle in Florida, like the Russo-German front in World War Two.   This drains money away from Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.  They could conceivably win some of those contests and still lose Florida and get knocked out.

But then, last month Jeb Bush was beating Marco Rubio.

Most bets are that Marco Rubio will not go away early.  If he doesn’t win himself he will likely be asked onto the ticket by the winner.  Either way, Marco Rubio will be around for a long time.


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