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Columns
Other view: Here comes the GOP blood bath

Republicans like to point out how disastrous President Barack Obama’s tenure was for the Democratic Party. During his presidency, Democrats reached new lows in state legislative, gubernatorial and congressional seats. More than 1,000 state and federal seats moved to the GOP. And though many prefer to blame James Comey or Russia, there can be no question that Democratic losses in 2016 were compounded by an inept Clinton campaign team that ignored the plight of working-class Americans in the Rust Belt, focusing instead on people who looked and thought just like they did.

Donald Trump was able to connect with voters with whom he had nothing in common largely because the Clinton campaign left a vacuum on the other side of the aisle, which Trump gladly filled. Nonetheless, throughout 2016 I maintained my opposition to Trump for three reasons, two of which are increasingly, worryingly relevant.

First, I did not think Trump could beat Hillary Clinton. When it came to the popular vote, of course, he did not, but thanks to roughly 70,000 people in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, he won the presidency.

Second, I thought that Trump, even if he won, would be deeply destructive to the national fabric and to the conservative ideas I support.

Third, I strongly believed that Trump lacks moral character and that he sets a bad example both for my children and for people of faith.

Unfortunately, while I was wrong about my first concern, I am increasingly worried about the latter two. Trump’s evangelical Christian supporters often told me that whether we liked Trump or not, we needed him to save the Supreme Court. My response remains that four years of Clinton appointing judges, while awful, would be nothing compared with a generational wipeout of the GOP. Watergate may have turned Charles Colson from hatchet man to pastor, but the defense of President Trump is turning a lot of pastors into hatchet men. Few people come away from Trump’s orbit without compromising their characters.

A Republican reckoning is on the horizon. Voters are increasingly dissatisfied with a Republican Party unable to govern. And congressional Republicans increasingly find themselves in an impossible position: If they support the president, many Americans will believe they are neglecting their duty to hold him accountable. But if they do their duty, Trump’s core supporters will attack them as betrayers—and then run primary candidates against them.

Through it all, voter dissatisfaction has been growing. Trump’s core might stand with him, as he claimed, even if he killed someone in the middle of the street. But would those 70,000 voters who put him in the White House? As the president acts more irrationally and his Twitter rantings become more unhinged, will he draw more people to himself and his party than he will repel? I suspect not.

The president exudes incompetence and instability. Divulging classified information to the Russians through bragging; undermining his staff’s defense of his conduct through inane tweets; even reportedly asking the FBI director to suspend an investigation of a former adviser—all these strike me not so much as malicious but as the ignorant actions of an overwhelmed man. Republicans excuse this behavior as Trump being Trump, but that will only embolden voters who seek greater accountability to choose further change over stability. The sad reality is that the greatest defense of the president available at this point is one his team could never give on the record: He is an idiot who does not know any better.

It is becoming ever clearer that Trump has the potential to cause more damage to the Republican Party than Obama did the Democrats.

Trump still thinks he stands in contrast to Clinton, when in reality, for voters watching the chaos unfold, he stands in contrast both to a more level-headed Vice President Pence and an unknown generic Democrat—neither of whom constantly reminds people of their incompetence. Unless Republican leaders stage an intervention, I expect them to experience a deserved electoral blood bath in November 2018.


Columns
Other view: The work to be done

This appeared in Sunday’s Washington Post.

President Donald Trump had two responses to last week’s appointment of a special counsel to take over the Russia investigation—one unbecoming, the other somewhat reasonable.

“The entire thing has been a witch hunt,” Trump declared at a Thursday news conference, denying that there was any collusion between his campaign and Russian operatives seeking to disrupt the 2016 election. “I think it divides the country.” That is rich coming from a man who has exacerbated national divisions for political gain, and whose abrupt and unnecessary dismissal of FBI Director James Comey spurred the appointment of a special counsel.

But, the president later said, “we have to get back to running this country really, really well.” Putting aside that Trump has not yet run the country well, there is some wisdom there.

It will take time for special counsel Robert Mueller III to conduct a fair investigation, particularly if he is to be appropriately thorough, examining any financial connections Trump has to Russia and any pressure the president put on the FBI to drop its investigation. Meanwhile, the revelations of the past two weeks demand that the House and Senate intensify their own Russia investigations. Congress has a new charge: considering whether the president committed obstruction of justice, which only lawmakers are empowered to decide. Yet they, too, will require time if they are to assess the issues Congress is uniquely suited to probe—any noncriminal misjudgments and ethical lapses by Trump and his circle, not to mention how to prepare the country for future Russian cyberattacks.

The country’s business cannot stagnate in the meantime. That means Trump must stop expressing and acting on his undeserved sense of self-pity. It means that Democrats will have to talk about something other than impeachment in the coming weeks. And it means that congressional Republicans will have to face the task at which they have so far failed: governing responsibly.

The country’s health-care system is on the verge of crisis, induced in large part by Republican refusal to administer the system properly. The availability of crucial federal subsidies the government promised to health insurers remains in doubt, because of administration and congressional bungling. Meanwhile, Republicans’ ham-handed effort to rewrite federal health policy—which requires tweaking, not a destabilizing overhaul—has only stoked more uncertainty among the insurers upon which the system relies.

So yes, the president and Congress need to focus on running the country. And running it well, for a change.


Columns
Stapilus: The conspiracy problem

Fictional dramas and thrillers employ conspiracies regularly—they’re a good device—but actual, significant, real and successful conspiracies are a rare thing.

In American history, only a few have managed to achieve their purpose, even a limited purpose, before coming unspun. The Lincoln assassination conspiracy was one; the 9/11 conspiracy was another. Most others you might think of either weren’t really conspiracies, or very significant, or didn’t work out. And the Lincoln conspiracy only halfway succeeded; most of the targets were just injured or hurt not at all.

Conspiracies are hard, because they rely on total secrecy (you know what happens when you start sharing your secrets), a good plan, a short time frame, discipline and a tight organization. And other things. The elements seldom come together, and hardly ever when more than a very few people are involved. Conspiracies involving large groups spun out over a long time hardly ever work. When they’re tried, they usually collapse and fail. If someone tries to sell you such a thing, be highly skeptical.

Turning now to the saga of Alex Jones and Chobani.

Jones is the host of the program Infowars—the title always struck me as an unwitting acknowledgement it is waging war on actual information—which peddles conspiracy theories. Most are national and many explicitly political, but Jones ran into problems when he zeroed in on Twin Falls and one of the food processing companies with operations there, Chobani.

Chobani, which makes yogurt, was founded in New York by businessman Hamdi Ulukaya. The name Chobani descends from Turkish and Persian antecedents. Ulukaya himself is a Turkish immigrant and has spoken out about refugee problems. He has followed up with meaningful action, employing more than 300 refugees as employees. (And he and Chobani have been honored for their efforts.)

For people of a certain persuasion, all this may be enough for a bit of a side-eye.

All this also was, naturally, grist for the conspiracy-minded. In April, Infowars reported: “Idaho Yogurt Maker Caught Importing Migrant Rapists” and said its employees had led to a “500% increase in tuberculosis in Twin Falls.” A big conspiracy was afoot.

And Jones said he would come to Idaho for a reckoning, for reporting that would, “show the Islamists getting off of the planes.” Challenged on all this in a lawsuit filed by Chobani, Jones declared stoutly, “I’m choosing this as a battle. On this I will stand. I will win, or I will die. I’m not backing down. I’m never giving up. I love this.”

Yeah. Well. That was so last month. Here’s what he said, in settling a Chobani defamation lawsuit, this week:

“During the week of April 10, 2017, certain statements were made on the Infowars Twitter feed and YouTube channel regarding Chobani, LLC that I now understand to be wrong. The tweets and video have now been retracted and will not be reposted. On behalf of Infowars, I regret that we mischaracterized Chobani, its employees, and the people of Twin Falls, Idaho, the way we did.”

From what I’ve seen, Ulukaya and the Chobani people have too much class to gloat. At least in public.

So allow me, right here, to do that on their behalf. And offer the reminder that in the real world, actual attempts at conspiracy tend to come undone, in ungainly ways, all on their own, without any help from Alex Jones.


Mailbag
Letter: Representatives aren't representing us

Representatives aren’t representing us

Dr. Bruce Belzer, president of the Idaho Medical Association, plus several other doctors from Idaho have warned us about the Republican health care bill and how it will be terrible for the Idaho residents. Reps. Labrador and Simpson voted for the bill but they opted out for themselves!

I would like to urge all the Republicans to think about how you will vote next time!

Are you for Idaho and its people, or are you for representatives who put themselves first and not Idaho? I think we need get rid of the old and get some new fresh faces to represent us here in Idaho!!

Carolyn Baird

Twin Falls