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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

As I’ve noted before I seldom read books about contemporary politics or current affairs. When I open a virtual or physical book it’s almost always history and generally in the distant past. But I’ve been devoting a lot of time recently to reading a number of recent books for a project I’m planning. One of those I just finished is Ronan Farrow’s Catch and Kill.

I wanted to recommend it to you because I found it exceptionally good.

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For years I’ve been talking about the phrase, the title of an article by Slate’s Will Saletan: The GOP is a failed state and Trump is its warlord. Like a good poem I’ve come back to it again and again and found new levels to its meaning. The key point Will was getting at was that the fractures in the GOP, its ungovernability, institutional breakdown and extremism had made it possible for an outsider to wrest control of the whole thing by ruling only a chunk of it.

This dynamic was presaged in the Republican House from 2011 where the Republican caucus was dominated by three or four dozen hard-right lawmakers who eventually lead Speaker John Boehner to resign in despair and relief. Paul Ryan succeeded Boehner because this ‘Freedom Caucus’-plus faction lacked anything near the numbers to win a House leadership race. But they didn’t have to and perhaps didn’t even want to. They could run the party from outside the leadership. Trump’s innovation was to ape this faction and take over the party from the populist right. He was characterologically in tune and quickly made himself ideologically in tune. There was some hard going at first and breakage underneath the tires. But everyone else eventually fell in line for the same reason the party’s far-right wing got its way in the House.

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We’ve known all along that it wasn’t Trump who is on trial in this Senate exercise but the Senate itself and particularly its Republican members. The last few hours have witnessed their convicting themselves more clearly than I could have anticipated. A short time ago news broke that Sen. Murkowski was a vote for no witnesses.

This matched with a flurry of new statements from Republican Senators explaining or justifying their votes. Last night, retiring Sen. Alexander said that all the charges against the President had been proven. But they were only “inappropriate” not wrong or impeachable. Sen. Sasse told reporters that Alexander spoke for him and other Senators. Then a few moments ago, Sen. Rubio seemed to concede that the charges were not only proven but that they were in fact impeachable but that it was still best not to convict. “Just because actions meet a standard of impeachment does not mean it is in the best interest of the country to remove a President from office.”

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Let me share with you some thoughts about polls and how they relate to the impending Democratic presidential primary process.

Let me start with some core assumptions. First is that I think Bernie Sanders has a range of electoral vulnerabilities that makes President Trump’s reelection far more likely if Sanders is the nominee. I think this is the case because he supports a number of policies that just are not popular and are tailor made for attacks disqualifying him with the general electorate. There’s also a history of identification and left cultural politics that are also tailor-made for the kind of attack ads that can disqualify a candidate.

But there’s at least some problem with my reasoning. As I’ve told you again and again, people discount polls at their peril. They are imperfect and they measure a fluid reality. But they are one of the key metrics that allow us to step outside our assumptions, personal milieu, region, ideology and see what the whole country actually thinks.

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I want to flag this again. Yes, Alexander says no witnesses. But the real thing in his statement is that he says that all the House’s factual claims have been proven. He doesn’t contest any of them. He just says it doesn’t matter or is no more than inappropriate. Actually, if you concede all the accusations are true there really isn’t any reason for more witnesses. But Alexander’s core concession is the tell here.

What is most significant, telling in Sen. Alexander’s statement rejecting witnesses and evidence is really not the part on witnesses. I’m shocked that so many people were thinking there was actually a chance he was going to support holding a real trial. In his tweet storm he writes, straightforwardly enough, that “there is no need for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven and that does not meet the U.S. Constitution’s high bar for an impeachable offense.” He’s willing to stipulate to all the claims. So really, what is the point of witnesses?

It’s as though he’s entering a pleas of nolo contendere on behalf of the President and stating that the offense simply doesn’t matter. He is willing to stipulate to all the House Manager’s factual claims. They just don’t matter. He later says that Trump’s action were “inappropriate” and no more. It is really as simple as this: he did it but it doesn’t matter.

I’ve said many times that it’s the Republican Senate rather than Donald Trump who is on trial in this exercise. That seems confirmed by everything we’ve seen so far. Nothing we’ve learned from Lev Parnas or John Bolton in recent days adds anything material to what we know about President Trump’s actions. Yes, we have an even higher level of proof or confirmation. But when a fact is already obvious and indisputable it’s pretty hard to prove it more.

What we have seen is more and more evidence or at least a clearer and clearer illustration of what Senate Republicans will accept from President Trump. No real trial. No witnesses. Open arguments that using state power to coerce foreign leaders to sabotage U.S. elections is fine and indeed proper.

To my mind, Democrats have done a good job on this.

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One day later Alan Dershowitz is having to walk back his novel theory that a U.S. President can solicit foreign interference in a U.S. election in his favor if he believes his reelection is in the national interest.

Much of the commentary about the witnesses question has assumed that there are a half dozen or so so-called Republican moderates up for reelection in November and that the outcome of the trial will be determined by whether members of that group break ranks and call for witnesses. But new reporting suggests that just the opposite is closer to the case.

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The argument given a few moments ago about quid pro quos from Alan Dershowitz was so disingenuous and willfully bamboozling that I think it’s important to briefly unpack it. Dershowitz argued that with many foreign policy decisions a President is both advancing the national interest and also looking to his personal political fortunes. That cannot be an impeachable offense, he argues.

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