Harry Reid says Senate Democrats may end the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, plus conservatism after Donald Trump (More)

“We’re going to be able to get judges done with a majority”

So announced retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid in an interview with Talking Points Memo:

“I really do believe that I have set the Senate so when I leave, we’re going to be able to get judges done with a majority. It takes only a simple majority anymore. And, it’s clear to me that if the Republicans try to filibuster another circuit court judge, but especially a Supreme Court justice, I’ve told ’em how and I’ve done it, not just talking about it. I did it in changing the rules of the Senate. It’ll have to be done again,” Reid told TPM in a wide-ranging interview about his time in the Senate and his legacy.

“They mess with the Supreme Court, it’ll be changed just like that in my opinion,” Reid said, snapping his fingers together. “So I’ve set that up. I feel very comfortable with that.”

Reid was referring to the 2013 Senate Rule change that eliminated the filibuster except for legislation and Supreme Court nominees. That passed on a party-line vote of 52-48, using a parliamentary maneuver that avoided the traditional two-thirds requirement to change Senate Rules.

FiveThirtyEight’s forecast has Democrats a 3:1 favorite to win a Senate majority next month. The model has 51- and 52-seat majorities equally likely, and a 53-seat majority as likely as a 50-seat split. But it gives a less-than-1% chance for Democrats to win a 59-seat majority, and it’s not even remotely possible for Democrats to win 60 seats.

Thus Schumer must either convince Republicans to join Democrats in a cloture vote and allow a floor vote on Clinton’s Supreme Court nominee(s) – with Republicans who vote for cloture knowing they’re all-but guaranteeing confirmation – or end the filibuster altogether. I can’t imagine Schumer agreeing to leave the Supreme Court shorthanded, so Clinton’s nominee(s) will get a vote, one way or the other.

“It’s their least bad option”

Kevin Drum thinks all of that makes it somewhat more likely that Senate Republicans will hold hearings and confirm Merrick Garland during the lame-duck session:

On the one hand, they’ve said they won’t, and their base (i.e., talk radio) will go ballistic if they renege on that promise. On the other hand, in the real world (i.e., not talk radio) they know perfectly well that Garland is the best they’re going to get. If they hold out, Clinton will nominate someone more liberal, and Harry Reid has already promised that if they go into endless obstruction mode, Democrats will nuke the filibuster and confirm Clinton’s choice.

So here’s where this leaves them. If they break their promise, they’ll be tarred as feeble RINOs who pretend to be conservative but crumble at the first sign of Democratic opposition. If they keep their promise, they’ll … be tarred as feeble RINOs who pretend to be conservative but always have some lame excuse for losing. We don’t control every branch of government. What could we do? What a bunch of whiners.

In other words, talk radio is going to scorch them no matter what happens. This means that if they’re smart, they’ll go ahead and confirm Garland. It’s their least bad option.

I agree that Garland would be Senate Republicans’ least bad option …

“Any party and political movement that nominated this man must have serious problems that extend all the way down to its roots”

… but I’m not sure they’ll be ready to face that in November, because both the GOP and the conservative movement are dangerously disconnected from reality. And that’s the assessment of the right-wing American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Strain:

The operative question facing the conservative movement is where it goes from here. The first step on that journey is to acknowledge the size of this failure. It is, if you’ll forgive me the word, huge. A failure this massive cannot be dismissed easily or lightly. The path to repair and good health is not easy. Any party and political movement that nominated this man must have serious problems that extend all the way down to its roots.

It will be necessary to name those problems. Some of them are individuals, including Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Rush Limbaugh. Some of them are structural; for example, organizations that make money by whipping the GOP base into a fury, and the process by which the GOP nominee is selected. And another problem is the GOP primary base’s decision to nominate this man in the first place. Those voters have agency, and they should not be exempt from the healthy criticism that will be necessary for the conservative movement to move forward.

Strain offers a de rigeur rejection of conservatives becoming “liberal light,” yet argues:

It goes without saying that conservatives should expel the silliness: Enough with the gold standard, enough with illiterate arguments that the “real unemployment rate” is 40 percent and that inflation is out of control, enough with arguments that individual income tax cuts will always pay for themselves. A corollary is that GOP politicians need to be more discerning about who they turn to for advice. Real economists should be advising leaders on economic policy.
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Conservative policies need to reflect values with which all Americans can identify and that conservatism properly understood holds dear: a preferential option for the vulnerable, putting their needs first; and a spirit of community, calling people to shared sacrifice and recognizing that mutual dependence and obligation are healthy.
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Conservatives should offer an agenda of empowerment, unafraid of using limited but energetic government to encourage work and earned success, to increase the independence and freedom of Americans in all walks of life, and to support the best aspirations of our citizens. The conservative agenda should not attempt to micromanage the economy or the lives of Americans, it should not require new bureaucracies or large net increases in outlays. It should not look to government to solve all of society’s problems. But it should recognize that public policy is vitally important, and that the tools of government can and should be prudently and cautiously used to offer people a hand up, and to make their lives better. The hard work of creating this agenda should proceed without delay.

Of course Strain compares his new ‘conservatism’ to a strawman of liberalism in arguing that government should not try to “micromanage the economy” or “solve all of society’s problems.” His broad strokes aren’t merely “liberal light.” They’re mainstream liberal-progressive ideas …

“A steady diet of fringe theories masqueraded as news”

… and they’re anathema to the right-wing infotainment industry, as Business Insider’s Oliver Darcy and Pamela Engel explain:

“Here’s the thing: Trump didn’t come out of nowhere now,” Obama said Thursday. “For years, Republican politicians and far-right media outlets have been pumping out all kinds of toxic, crazy stuff.”

Obama went through a litany of conspiracy theories that have been pervasive throughout his presidency. The movement doubting his birthplace. Fears he wanted to “steal everybody’s guns.” The idea he wanted to “declare martial law.”

“I say all this,” the president said, “because Donald Trump didn’t start all this. Like he usually does, he just slapped his name on it, took credit for it, and promoted the heck out of it.”

The president had a point. Trump’s rise was no accident; rather, it was a natural outgrowth of a growing and influential faction of conservative media that for years fed the Republican base a steady diet of fringe theories masqueraded as news.

They argue the wingnut media have near-monopolistic control of what the GOP base hear and believe, and quote GOP strategists who think their party’s leaders should refuse to appear on Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and others on the wingnut fringe.

“The conservative information sphere has long been full of lies”

But their colleague Josh Barro says that won’t be enough:

Donald Trump has been helped by a conservative-media environment in which there is no penalty for being wrong all the time, for being openly bigoted, or for being obviously doomed to failure in a general election.

I just want to note that the Republican Party cannot be fixed through the taming of its most committed members’ favorite media outlets. The popularity of figures who fill Republicans’ heads with disinformation – people like Sean Hannity and Alex Jones and Matt Drudge – is mostly a symptom of the problems in the party, not a cause.

Conservativism’s deeper problem, Barro argues, it that it’s built on a foundation of bullshit:

If they look honestly enough, they will realize the conservative information sphere has long been full of lies. The reason for this is that lying has been the most effective way to promote many of the policies favored by donor-class conservatives, and so they built an apparatus to invent and spread the best lies.

For example, wealthy conservatives favor lower taxes on themselves for the obvious reason that this lets them keep more wealth for themselves. This is sensible enough from a perspective of self-interest and a defensible idea under some moral systems (Ayn Rand’s, for example) but it is not a compelling electoral argument.

So, conservatives built a network of think tanks and magazines and pressure groups funded by wealthy donors whose job was to come up with arguments that would sell the donor class agenda to the masses.

Barro cites think tanks concocting numbers to explain how tax cuts would boost revenue and reduce deficits (the “dynamic scoring” myth), or to dismiss scientific evidence for climate change (the “global warming pause” myth), and argues that Trump simply dumped the phony math:

Trump’s contribution to conservative messaging has not been the introduction of widespread lying. Rather, it has been his realization that you don’t have to just lie about what the donors want lied about, and you don’t need a fake model, because nobody’s paying attention to the numbers anyway.

You don’t need an elaborate approach to “dynamic scoring.” You can just say, “I’ll make us so rich,” and mutter some nonsense about the trade deficit, and you can convince approximately the same set of voters.

You don’t need a clever replotting of climate data when you can just say the whole thing is a conspiracy invented by the Chinese.

More’s the point, Barro argues:

The trouble with establishment conservatives’ complaints about new conservative media is that they’re not really committed to an honest politics, just to a differently dishonest politics.
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Conservative elites might hope to put the lies back in their box, where the subject matter of the lies is developed by wealthy donors (establishment ones, not the Mercers) who care mostly about taxes and not the restoration of overt racism – and where the quality of the lies becomes less embarrassingly low, so it’s not so hard to go defend them on cable news without feeling like an idiot.
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A fact-full environment wouldn’t just stop candidates from running on a platform of bombing ISIS to take the oil and getting Mexico to pay for the wall so we can beat China and be so rich. A fact-full environment will also be very inhospitable for ordinary Republican policy platforms of the sort advanced by Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush.

Bush’s promise of 4% growth wasn’t more honest than Donald Trump’s promises, it was just more artful.

If Republicans want to tell the truth and win elections, they’re going to have to advance different policy ideas – and that’s why they lie.

Quite apart from the proudly-bigoted, conspiracy-driven swamp of the wingnut right, there’s an equally bullshit-based disinformation industry of well-funded think tanks and interest groups. Mainstream conservatives have parroted that disinformation for so long that many of them now believe it, as shown by Strain contrasting his “conservative” vision with an imaginary “liberal agenda” where government is “the solution to every problem,” “micromanaging the economy [and] the lives of Americans.”

So while it’s true confirming Merrick Garland would be Senate Republicans’ least bad option, I’m not convinced most of them are capable of that kind of realism. Their party has been marinating in bullshit for decades, and expecting them to slough that off on November 9th seems … unduly optimistic.

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Photo Credit: J. Scott Applewhite (AP)

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Good day and good nuts