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Analysis and perspective about what's happening in the political realm.

An Open-and-Shut Violation of Campaign-Finance Law

t is a strange turn of events when a president famous for denouncing “fake news” is discovered to have entered into an agreement with a media organization to finance the concealment of very real but politically unfavorable newsworthy information. The Wall Street Journal reports that Donald Trump entered into an explicit agreement with the chairman of American Media (AMI), David Pecker, to help his campaign by buying off women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump. AMI came through: It paid Karen McDougal $150,000 to “catch and kill” her account of an affair with Trump. She did not know at the time that the background agreement between AMI and Trump existed, but was instead told that in addition to compensation for the exclusive rights to her story and an option for columns on fitness and health, she would be the featured model on two magazine covers.

The deal that Trump reached and executed with AMI violates federal campaign-finance laws. AMI made an illegal corporate in-kind contribution to the Trump campaign, and the campaign and Trump share in the liability by accepting this illegal support. As open-and-shut cases go, this one is high on the list. But this is...

The Rocky Trump Transition Is Headed To Netflix, Thanks To Barack Obama And Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis’s book The Fifth Risk, out last month, criticizes the transition between Barack Obama and Donald Trump’s federal governments as dysfunctional and, as a consequence, deeply dangerous for the country and the world. Obama, it would seem, concurs.

The former president and his wife, Michelle Obama, have signed a multi-year agreement with Netflix to produce TV shows and movies. And as Lewis announced on Katie Couric’s podcast (audio, at 01:02:50) today (Nov.1), that could include a series based on his book.

“He’s optioned the book to come up with a series for Netflix to help people better understand the government,” says Couric, to which Lewis responds, “Yes, it’s just as a civics lesson.”

(This doesn’t mean the show will for sure happen, but that Netflix and the Obamas have exclusive rights for some period to develop the show. Netflix, the Obamas, and Lewis’s publisher, W.W. Norton, have not responded to requests for further details.)

Lewis and his beloved quants are, of course, rich fodder for Hollywood. The Big Short, based on his book about the lead-up to the financial crisis, and Moneyball, based on his book about a...

Partisanship Runs Deep In America - Even Among ‘Independents’

In voting, it doesn’t really matter which party you register with on paper.

Besides, 18 states don’t even register voters by party. What really matters is what political scientists like myself call your “political identity” – your psychological attachment to a political group, such as a party or an ideological movement.

That’s why political scientists ask people, “Generally speaking, do you think of yourself as a Republican, a Democrat, an independent, or what?”

Our goal is to find out how you see yourself – essentially, which team are you on? This is how many people make sense of the political world.

American Independents?

According to the Gallup polling firm, the identity that people choose most often is actually “independent” – not Democratic or Republican. In 2017, 42 percent of Americans chose this label – up from the low 30s just 14 years ago, in 2004.

However, three-quarters of these “independents” admit, when asked, that they lean toward favoring the Democratic or Republican Party. Judging by how they vote or what they think of national political leaders, the truth is that these “leaners” really are partisans rather than independents. Apparently, many people who like to think of themselves as independent-minded and free...

Analysis: Why The Anonymous Op-Ed Sets A Dangerous Precedent

The New York Times recently published an anonymous op-ed from a “senior official” in the Trump administration. In the op-ed, the unnamed author describes President Donald Trump as “impetuous, adversarial, petty, and ineffective.” He or she depicts a White House in which the author – together with like-minded colleagues – work to undermine the president’s “half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless” decisions.

A tweet from the president, in what appears to be in reference to the op-ed, asked: Treason?

Some commentators, making clear that they had difference of opinion with President Trump’s policies, nonetheless, condemned the author for writing the piece – and for working to undermine the decisions of a sitting president.

Steven Pike, a former diplomat in both the Obama and Bush administrations, for example, wrote that the legal remedy for a genuinely incapacitated president involves the use of the 25th Amendment. As Pike observes, if the author believes the president is genuinely not up to the job, then the available recourse is to follow the Constitution, not to “improvise.”

Regardless of its legality, as a scholar who studies political ethics, I would argue the decision to write this op-ed is likely unethical, and could set a dangerous precedent.


What John McCain’s Death Means for Republican Control of the Senate

John McCain’s death will deprive the Senate of one of its longest-serving members, its leading military hawk and champion of interventionist U.S. foreign policy, and a Republican who regularly sought—and often struck—significant accords with Democrats.

But in the short term, the loss of the Arizona senator and elder statesman is likely to bolster the GOP’s majority in the chamber, as well as its party unity.

McCain had not voted on the floor since December as he underwent treatment for brain cancer in Arizona—an absence that reduced the already narrow Republican advantage of 51–49 to a single vote. Governor Doug Ducey, a Republican seeking reelection this fall, will name McCain’s successor, who will serve until a special election is held in 2020 to fill out the remainder of his term. McCain had won a sixth term in 2016 that goes until 2022.

Ducey has said little about who he might pick, and his office said over the weekend that the governor would wait until after McCain is buried on Sunday to announce his selection. But he is required by Arizona law to pick a Republican, and that fact alone should make it easier...