Kerry Seeks to Preserve Iran Deal

The former SecState is engaging in some shadow diplomacy.

Via BoGlo:  Kerry is quietly seeking to salvage Iran deal he helped craft.

John Kerry’s bid to save one of his most significant accomplishments as secretary of state took him to New York on a Sunday afternoon two weeks ago, where, more than a year after he left office, he engaged in some unusual shadow diplomacy with a top-ranking Iranian official.

He sat down at the United Nations with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to discuss ways of preserving the pact limiting Iran’s nuclear weapons program. It was the second time in about two months that the two had met to strategize over salvaging a deal they spent years negotiating during the Obama administration, according to a person briefed on the meetings.

With the Iran deal facing its gravest threat since it was signed in 2015, Kerry has been on an aggressive yet stealthy mission to preserve it, using his deep lists of contacts gleaned during his time as the top US diplomat to try to apply pressure on the Trump administration from the outside. President Trump, who has consistently criticized the pact and campaigned in 2016 on scuttling it, faces a May 12 deadline to decide whether to continue abiding by its terms.

Kerry also met last month with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and he’s been on the phone with top European Union official Federica Mogherini, according to the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal the private meetings. Kerry has also met with French President Emmanuel Macron in both Paris and New York, conversing over the details of sanctions and regional nuclear threats in both French and English.

Recognizing that I think it is in the interest of the United States for the Iran deal to remain in place, this is wholly inappropriate.  Former officials should not be trying to influence specific foreign policy actions, and should not be undercutting the sitting government. It is an example of violating norms that could have long-term consequences.  It is simply not acceptable to have a former administration official trying to preserve that administration’s policies in opposition to the sitting president.

“It is unusual for a former secretary of state to engage in foreign policy like this, as an actual diplomat and quasi-negotiator,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a foreign policy expert at the Brookings Institution. “Of course, former secretaries of state often remain quite engaged with foreign leaders, as they should, but it’s rarely so issue-specific, especially when they have just left office.”

I think this understates the situation.

I would note that this is the kind of thing that will embolden further norms violations by this administration and its supporters.  It is not helpful.  Further, if the goal is to keep the Iran deal in place, the person who needs persuading is Donald Trump, not the other participants.  Indeed, this kind of activity could easily persuade Trump to withdraw just to rub it in Kerry’s face.

FILED UNDER: US Politics, World Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Michael Petry says:

    I find myself on both sides of the argument. While I recognize the potential problems created, I tire of the “violating norms” argument as it seems there are two choices for Democrats wrt violating said norms.
    1) they can respect the rules and conventions and accept the negative policy consequences, then watch Republicans violate the same norms when roles are reversed.
    2) Violate the norms and accomplish the policy goals and take blame for doing so.




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  2. @Michael Petry: Based on what I know about democratic governance, and the breakdown thereof, I am convinced that if both parties embrace norm-breaking we are in very serious trouble.

    I also question the notion that “Violate the norms and accomplish the policy goals and take blame for doing so” is a real option. For example, how does Kerry’s action accomplish the policy, if the way the policy is going to be blown up is via Trump’s own unilateral decision?




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  3. I think former Cabinet officials have as much right as anyone else to speak out about the actions of their successors, but I agree that there’s something unseemly about someone in Kerry’s position to be working behind the scenes with foreign governments to counteract the position of the sitting President. I also think it has the potential of being counterproductive.

    That being said, it seems clear to me that Trump has made up his mind on this issue and that, by this time next week we’ll be writing blog posts about Trump’s decision to withdraw from the JCPOA and what that means going forward. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think I am.




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  4. Dave Schuler says:

    I think former Cabinet officials have as much right as anyone else to speak out about the actions of their successors, but I agree that there’s something unseemly about someone in Kerry’s position to be working behind the scenes with foreign governments to counteract the position of the sitting President.

    It’s worse than unseemly, Doug. It’s illegal. I think the Logan Act should be repealed; if anyone thinks that CEOs of large companies aren’t conducting foreign policy they have an oddly narrow notion of what foreign policy is and what those CEOs do. But it is on the books and Kerry’s actions fit the definition of what’s illegal if anyone’s do.




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  5. Michael Petry says:

    @steven l. Taylor you make good points. I think it’s probably more useful from a policy standpoint in ignoring the norms and conventions for things like judicial confirmations.
    Also, there’s probably a discussion to be had on if all the norms and conventions should continue.
    However, in any estimate this particular one should be observed. Is there any role for a private citizen to play in encouraging his former counterparts to more effectively lobby his current government?




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  6. @Dave Schuler:

    Fair point, but as several people have pointed out in the past, only two people have ever been charged with a violation of the Logan Act, which has been on the books in one form or another since the beginning of the Republic and some legal analysts have expressed doubts about whether or not the law is even constitutional. The two people charged with violating the act were charged in 1802 and 1852 respectively and were acquitted in both cases, although I am unaware of the exact circumstances of their respective cases.




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  7. Todd says:

    I would note that this is the kind of thing that will embolden further norms violations by this administration and its supporters.

    If we still lived in normal times, I would agree with this statement. However, Republicans in general, and the Trump administration specifically have shown over and over again that norms mean absolutely nothing if they stand in the way of their desired goals.

    I really am conflicted about my feelings on this type of issue. I greatly lament the fact that there seem to be fewer and fewer “adults in the room” when it comes to our politics. But at the same time, Democrats can’t keep limiting their own policies because they still care about norms that Republicans no longer acknowledge … at least as applying to themselves.

    When/if we again have a Republican party that cares about the process of governing, then we can go back to expecting Democrats to always color inside the lines too.




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  8. Tyrell says:

    Is Kerry working for someone, or some shadow group? Could it be that Trump sent him to do this to get the Iran leaders softened up and open to some changes and modifications?
    I was not enthusiastic about the agreement, but it is probably the best that Kerry could do considering who he was dealing with. It gives the US and the other countries legitimate authority to take action if needed.
    Secretary Kerry: “bamboozled”. Also, “flambeaued, flummoxed, , shaked and baked, parched and starched, hung out to dry”.
    He should have read “Art of the Deal” and “How To Negotiate For a New Car”




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  9. JKB says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    That’s hardly the breathless observation about the Logan Act you made regarding Flynn. At least, you tempered your passive aggressive call for indictment. But then, wasn’t openly working to oppose the sitting administration but rather reportedly had discussions regarding future developments a mere weeks before the administration he represented took office.

    As it stands, if it is true that Flynn discussed the future of American sanctions against Russia related to Ukraine and the possibility of a deal to bring them to an end, then there is a potential that Flynn violated Federal laws including the Logan Act, a law that has been part of the United States Code for 218 years that forbids private citizens from negotiating with representatives of a foreign governments that have an ongoing dispute with the United States. A violation of the act is classified as a felony under Federal law and could result in jail time if convicted. While there has been a long history of private citizens being accused of violating the act, there has only been one person indicted for violating the act, and that happened in 1803.

    People remember the calls against Flynn and see the support for Kerry’s blatant violation. Every bit works to support the corruption of the government in administration of the law by having different standards depending on party affiliation.




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  10. @Doug Mataconis:

    I think former Cabinet officials have as much right as anyone else to speak out about the actions of their successors,

    I absolutely think he should be free to speak out, but that isn’t what we are talking about here. Indeed, I would encourage him to speak, although 45 and his supporters wouldn’t listen.




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  11. @Todd:

    If we still lived in normal times, I would agree with this statement.

    The problem is: my statement is only relevant because we are in abnormal times. If both sides are actively working to tear down the foundations of the system, that foundation will be torn down. It won’t mater that “they started it.”

    But at the same time, Democrats can’t keep limiting their own policies

    BTW–I didn’t say anything about policy goal limitations.




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  12. @Tyrell:

    Could it be that Trump sent him

    Nope.




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  13. Moosebreath says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    “The problem is: my statement is only relevant because we are in abnormal times. If both sides are actively working to tear down the foundations of the system, that foundation will be torn down. It won’t mater that “they started it.””

    The problem with that argument is that there is no neutral referee sending the Republicans to the penalty box for breaking norms. If Republicans break norms to gain advantage, and Democrats follow norms even if it hurts them, then over time Republicans end up far better off.




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  14. @Moosebreath: I understand your point and will admit that I do have an especially good answer at the moment. Indeed, I am still thinking it through.

    Still, I do know that if all players stop playing by the rules, then there will be no game left. We all know this dynamic from playing in the yard with our friends.




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  15. teve tory says:

    McConnell decided to come up with a new rule. If a SCOTUS position came open, and the Other Side was president, they wouldn’t vote on the nominee. Result: a SCOTUS that was still somewhat right-wing, instead of one that would have been somewhat left-wing. If somehow the Dems take the majority by 1 or 2 votes, RBG or Kennedy or Breyer almost certainly aren’t going to be able to hold out 3 more years, and Trump gets a nominee.

    Do the Dems respect the old norm and give Trump’s nominees (probly all Jay Sekulow recommended) votes, or invoke the brand-new McConnell Rule?




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  16. Franklin says:

    Going to have to agree with Taylor’s analysis here.

    Elections matter, and should matter. America f’ed up and is paying the price. I can only hope that there’s enough sane people left to recognize that.

    BTW, anyone want to talk about Scott Pruitt?




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  17. Moosebreath says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    “Still, I do know that if all players stop playing by the rules, then there will be no game left. We all know this dynamic from playing in the yard with our friends.”

    I think you need to find a better answer than that. @teve tory‘s example is one of many I can point out where Republicans have gamed the system in the last few decades to give them such strong and illicit advantages that the fact that Democrats are in control of no branches of government in spite of getting more votes for President, Senate and House is not considered noteworthy.

    There are worse possible results than the current status quo ending. It’s not just a game.




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  18. @Moosebreath: On the one hand, yes, there is a lot more to say, but on the other the basic logic is sound (why all participants start to defect and ignore established rules because the other participants can’t force them not to, the basic system falls apart). While politics is not a game (it ain’t beanbag, as the saying goes), the notion of a system with rules is both accurate and apt.

    Look, if it is simply power, then forget democracy and rules. That is where we could head if we aren’t careful. And yes: McConnell violated a serious norm–but if that violation is validated by another norm violation, and the new normal is “anything goes” then we will all suffer for it.

    At a minimum, we are a moment in which we should at least consider what the consequences might be. If the Democrats decide to just be the center-left version of the guys who break the rules and don’t care, then we will have two parties seeking to further tear democracy to shreds.

    This isn’t about policy, this is about the fundamental nature of the system, and it matters.

    Keep in mind, too: Trump lost the popular vote, and it is possible that his bad behavior in office, even in a time of a good economy, will lead to the GOP losing the House, at least (and the GOP has the structural advantages in keeping control). That occurrence would mean that it is possible to convince enough voters that the current GOP path should be shunned. If the Dems just decide to play by the current GOP rules, what is the incentive for those many of those voters to vote Dem?

    I concur there is more to say (and to think about) on this topic. But, if much of the damage that has been done to our politics is the result of norm-breaking, much of which has been by the Reps, then why in the world would the solution to those problems be more norm-breaking?

    To be direct: if you really do think that the GOP has behaved poorly, and that they have done damage to our system, then it is foolish to encourage the Dems to double-down on that behavior.

    Of course, if you think the GOP has been smart in its behavior, then I understand your position.




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  19. michael reynolds says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    This strikes me as wisdom. Strange as it is to think, the Left is now the keeper of the eternal verities. The threat to the Constitution and our behavioral norms comes from the Right. This is the time when we should double down on the Constitution and notions of basic civility, honesty, and integrity. The pigs want us to join them in the sty, let’s not.




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  20. teve tory says:

    But breaking a norm isn’t ‘throwing away all the rules’. It can be a proportional response. In game theory, if one party always chooses the Golden Rule, that party loses. Winning strategies involve taking the high road in general as the default, but being willing to retaliate if transgressed upon.




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  21. Moosebreath says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    ” But, if much of the damage that has been done to our politics is the result of norm-breaking, much of which has been by the Reps, then why in the world would the solution to those problems be more norm-breaking?”

    If Republicans get advantages by norm-breaking, and pay no cost for doing so, then what is their incentive to stop? I can only imagine a few possible directions:

    1. Republicans decide on their own to stop norm-breaking, in spite of paying no cost for having done so. This strikes me as unlikely in the extreme, even though this is the direction you seem to want to go.

    2. Republicans pay a price for norm-breaking from their own members and decide not to continue to do so. While this would be my preferred result, I simply do not see it happening. It did not happen when Republicans stole a seat on the Supreme Court after Scalia died. It did not happen when Republicans shut down the government in 2013 (or 1995). It did not happen when Republicans stole several seats in Congress from mid-decade redistricting last decade. It did not happen when Republicans shut down the Florida recount in 2000 by bringing in their supporters to stage the Brooks Brothers riot and got backed up by a party-line vote by the Supreme Court, who acknowledged they were acting politically by specifically saying their ruling should not be used as precedent in any future case. Instead, in each case, Republicans stayed loyal to their party, and suffered no significant electoral harm from their actions. So why exactly should we expect Republicans to suddenly show moral character and start doing it now?

    3. Republicans pay a price for norm-breaking by losing a few rounds to Democrats who gain advantage by norm-breaking. This strikes me as a possible future direction. It may lead to short term harm to the country, but hopefully after a few rounds of tit-for-tat, we can establish new norms with the parties realizing there is an incentive to live by them.

    4. Republicans continue to gain advantage by norm-breaking, while Democrats continue to lose out by refusing to break norms. This also seems like a likely future direction, but one which has serious disadvantages (even ignoring the issue of which party’s politics are better for the country’s future) by giving a concrete example of why violating norms is the way to succeed, with no price paid for doing so.




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  22. Tyrell says:

    @Franklin: Elections do matter and more people need to vote, but the trends seem to show that it won’t happen; probably just the opposite. And the primary system may need to be looked at. Look at the Sanders fiasco.
    People are fed up on both sides. Maybe time for a third party movement. Maybe some new Democrat candidates that are centrists, common sense, who stand for the working people instead of special interest groups and big government.




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  23. @teve tory:

    But breaking a norm isn’t ‘throwing away all the rules’.

    If we start a cycle of tit-for-tat, which will involve escalation, yes it can (and will).

    It can be a proportional response. In game theory, if one party always chooses the Golden Rule, that party loses. Winning strategies involve taking the high road in general as the default, but being willing to retaliate if transgressed upon.

    It depends on what game you are playing. Not all games have the same rules or the same payouts.

    If you want to put it those terms, how about let’s assess what the structure of the game we are playing is, and what the payouts are, or are not? You are making a lot of assumption that may not be warranted.

    For example, it is unlikely that there will be a perfect reciprocal action for the McConnell/Gorsuch move (in fact, there likely won’t be–so what is the move to fix that?). I

    If we get to the last year of the Trump presidency, and there is a SCOTUS vacancy and a Dem majority in the Senate, then maybe an exact tit-for-tat makes sense. This scenario is unlikely, however.

    What I am reacting to is an argument being made by some that escalation of an already deteriorating situation is a solution, and I think that history of democratic breakdown suggests otherwise. If neither party respects the rules of the system, then the system will cease to exist at some point.




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  24. @Moosebreath:

    If Republicans get advantages by norm-breaking, and pay no cost for doing so,

    It might be a good idea to wait until the 2018 and 2020 elections before you make that kind of assumption.




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  25. @Moosebreath: @teve tory: Part of what I am suggesting is that if Dems/Dem supporters start treating elections as “now or never” or as some ultimate zero-sum game, then we are approaching a very dangerous place.

    Look, as I have written numerous times, there are profound flaws in our democracy that advantage electoral minorities which create less-than-fully representative outcomes. Trump is president because of one of them (the Electoral College). But, if there is a chance for a democratic (note the small “d”) corrective (at least a partial one) by focusing on repudiating the negative aspects of the current administration, then that is good for the country’s long-term health.

    If all one wants is a Democratic version of Trump’s GOP because one thinks it will get them policy outcomes they like, then one really doesn’t care about the nasty aspects of the current ruling party nor of the norm violations. All one cares about is that certain policies aren’t being implemented.




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  26. Moosebreath says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    “It might be a good idea to wait until the 2018 and 2020 elections before you make that kind of assumption.”

    So, your response is that the history of Republicans not paying a price for norm-breaking means nothing because this time it will be different.

    “But, if there is a chance for a democratic (note the small “d”) corrective (at least a partial one) by focusing on repudiating the negative aspects of the current administration, then that is good for the country’s long-term health.”

    I see next to no chance of getting there unless the Republicans have an incentive to change what has worked so well for them for so long (and your failure to respond to my point about Republicans repeatedly violating norms in the last few decades and not paying any price is duly noted). What specifically do you have in mind to get them to change, since you are rejecting Democrats responding in kind?




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  27. @Moosebreath:

    So, your response is that the history of Republicans not paying a price for norm-breaking means nothing because this time it will be different.

    I am not sure what you mean.

    What I mean is that voter response in these elections, as well as the nature of the campaigns run, can give us some important information about what voters will react to.

    Again: the economy right now is quite good and Republicans have a number of structural advantages that increase their odds of winning (especially Congress). If Dems can win, then that will be a signal that some of Trump’s nonsense (and the GOP’s) is backfiring.

    your failure to respond to my point about Republicans repeatedly violating norms in the last few decades and not paying any price is duly noted

    Good Lord. Note away. (It isn’t as if you have responded to all of my points, either).

    Yes: there are some serious, long-term problems here. But I am not convinced that tearing everything down is the solution. Perhaps I will change my mind over time.

    I expect that I will write something (probably several somethings) on this for posting. We can resume the conversation at this time.




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  28. Todd says:

    I want to clarify my position on this issue a little bit. Despite my previous comment, I think I am actually more in agreement with Steven Taylor’s argument, than against it. Since our system functions more on tradition and norms than most people realize, we really can’t have all sides totally abandon long-term term stability for the sake of short-term political gains. What we do need to put a stop to though is the piling on (by the supposedly left leaning mainstream media) when Democrats commit even minor transgressions, while Republican sins (often much more egregious) are often written off as “well that’s to be expected from them”.

    I was one of the few on this page’s commentariat who though there was at least some legitimate criticism and concern when it came to Hillary Clinton’s private email server. But none-the-less, the obsession that the press had with that issue during the election campaign is exhibit #1 of the ways that Democrats are held to a (often ridiculously) higher standard.




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  29. Todd says:

    Also, on this Iran deal issue, this morning we have this: https://www.outsidethebeltway.com/trump-team-conducted-dirty-ops-against-iran-deal-officials/

    Kind of puts the whole kerfuffle about Kerry’s actions in perspective. No?




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  30. @Todd: To be clear, I am not arguing that the Dems should abandon hardball politicking, but I am seeing a lot of what Brendan Nyhan is calling “Flight 93” thinking about the election–that is a dangerous place to go.

    I think that it would be useful for the Dems to adopt a strategy of protecting allegedly cherished norms (like freedom of the press) rather than decided playing dirty has worked for Trump, so let’s do it too. Again: I will try and flesh out what I mean more thoroughly in a longer post than I am likely to be able to do in a comments conversation.




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  31. @Todd: That is pure authoritarian behavior, and is what we should be seeking to discredit.

    What I am sincerely afraid of is that if the opposition does take a serious tit-for-tat approach (or worse, “they put one of yours in the hospital, you put one of theirs in the morgue”) to this kind of behavior, where will we end up?

    Somebody has to say: this is not not acceptable in US politics and campaign and govern accordingly.




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  32. teve tory says:

    If all one wants is a Democratic version of Trump’s GOP

    I think that’s a false choice. The GOP doesn’t give a shit about norms. What I’m arguing is that the Dems can’t stick to them religiously. They should by default, but not strictly, or they’ll get steamrolled.




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  33. teve tory says:

    What I am sincerely afraid of is that if the opposition does take a serious tit-for-tat approach (or worse, “they put one of yours in the hospital, you put one of theirs in the morgue”) to this kind of behavior, where will we end up?

    In many game theory situations, tit-for-tat (with the default being benevolence) teaches your opponent to behave. But the retaliation has to be proportionate, it can’t be escalatory.




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  34. Todd says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Unfortunately, we are in a position where that “somebody” will have to be whatever percentage of Republicans who still care about the rule of law and the actual foundations our country was built on. I am not they type of person to make overly dramatic pronouncements about future events. But I do think with this upcoming mid-term election, if the Republican party does not suffer real electoral consequences as a result of their actions (specifically in relation to the shredding of norms … and in some cases actual laws) we probably already are past the point of no return. For instance, if the Republicans somehow manage to hold the House in November (and then continue to protect the President from accountability for his own likely crimes), I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that it’s pretty much game over for the American experiment as we knew it.




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  35. Moosebreath says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    “What I mean is that voter response in these elections, as well as the nature of the campaigns run, can give us some important information about what voters will react to. ”

    We already know how Republican voters will react. They are currently giving Trump roughly 90% support. They did not turn away from Republicans in 2016 in spite of all of Trump’s norm breaking (and Hillary’s campaign was very specifically couched in the argument that they should), as well as refusing to hold hearing for Merrick Garland. They did not turn away from Republicans in 2014 after shutting down the government. They did not turn away from Republicans following the mid-term redistricting in the 2000’s. They did not turn away from Republicans following Bush v. Gore. They did not turn away from Republicans following all of Newt Gingrich’s norm breaking.

    But since you believe this time it will be different, Democrats would be responsible for the death of our democracy if they respond in kind. Nuts to that.




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  36. Moosebreath says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    “Somebody has to say: this is not not acceptable in US politics and campaign and govern accordingly.”

    Republicans have been given many chances to police their own. They have failed time and again.




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  37. Todd says:

    Okay, on rereading my previous comment, it is “just a bit” hyperbolic. We did come out on the other side of the civil war after all. But still, these are interesting (and not in a good way) times we live in.




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  38. @teve tory:

    In many game theory situations, tit-for-tat (with the default being benevolence) teaches your opponent to behave. But the retaliation has to be proportionate, it can’t be escalatory.

    1) The “some” in your statement is important–as it notes that pure tit-for-tat does not always work. I still question if that is the game being played.
    2) Tatting certain tits take the game into a new realm: such as hiring PIs to dig up dirt on people doing legitimate jobs. Some tats destroy the game.
    3) Preventing escalation is quite difficult–and that’s the point.




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  39. @Moosebreath:

    Republicans have been given many chances to police their own.

    Where did I say anything about Republicans policing their own?




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  40. @Steven L. Taylor:

    Tatting certain tits take the game into a new realm: such as hiring PIs to dig up dirt on people doing legitimate jobs. Some tats destroy the game.

    I realize that that should be “Titting certain tats…” etc– 😉




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  41. BTW: I think that we need a Dem win in 2018 and in 2020, lest that not be clear–and because I think we need a shot across the bow in regards to these norm violations.




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  42. teve tory says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: “3) Preventing escalation is quite difficult–and that’s the point.”

    Sure, but that’s life. McConnell’s acting with impunity because he doesn’t think there’ll be any consequences. Voters don’t care about Senate procedural norms, so if Senate Dems let him get away with it then they lose and why wouldn’t he keep doing it? If a guy robs a bank and the cops shrug it off you might bet that’s the end of it and he’ll come around, but I’ll bet differently.

    But if Dems do play all Golden Rule and, accordingly, get trampled, at least I’ll get some entertainment outta the deal when Trump, selecting from tv as usual, appoints SCOTUS Justice Greg Mathis.




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  43. Moosebreath says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: @Moosebreath: @Steven L. Taylor:

    ““Somebody has to say: this is not not acceptable in US politics and campaign and govern accordingly.”

    Republicans have been given many chances to police their own.

    Where did I say anything about Republicans policing their own?”

    First, it’s the Republicans in power now. They are the only ones who can “govern accordingly”.
    Second, if you think Democrats fighting back is not acceptable, then how else is is Republican conduct going to change?

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    ” I think that we need a Dem win in 2018 and in 2020, lest that not be clear–and because I think we need a shot across the bow in regards to these norm violations.”

    As the old saying goes, hope is not a plan.




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  44. Moosebreath says:

    Can someone release my comment in moderation?




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  45. teve tory says:

    But it’s all academic, probably. The odds are the Dems are not going to retake the Senate.




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  46. An Interested Party says:

    I have some questions for Steven: If the Democrats were to somehow gain the majority in the Senate in the fall, would it be inappropriate for the Dems to refuse to consider anyone for any Supreme Court vacancies until after 2020? Would this be an unnecessary escalation of the tit-for-tat war? It seems to me that Democrats would be foolish not to follow McConnell’s lead…




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  47. @Moosebreath:

    As the old saying goes, hope is not a plan.

    I am now at an utter loss as to your goal/point: if you think winning in 2018 and 2020 isn’t the goal (more than a hope, anyway), I am not sure what you are arguing for.




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  48. @Steven L. Taylor: In other words, I don’t see how winning elections isn’t part of this discussion.




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  49. @An Interested Party: I will be honest as to having mixed feelings on this topic, although I lean towards not following in the Reps footsteps. I think that the timing would matter (i.e., when the vacancy occurred relative to the 2020 election timeframe).

    I do not have a cut and dry response to that question at this time.




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  50. @teve tory: BTW, for the record, I never asserted the Golden Rule as the recommended behavior. And I do think that tit-for-tat leads to an eventual death spiral that we should wish to avoid.

    And with that, let’s pick this up after I write something else on the subject–as I understand your position and I don’t think this is progressing in any meaningful way.




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  51. Moosebreath says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    “I am now at an utter loss as to your goal/point: if you think winning in 2018 and 2020 isn’t the goal (more than a hope, anyway), I am not sure what you are arguing for.”

    I am saying that hoping that people who have voted for Republicans over the last few decades in spite of them violating norms left and right, and which has given them advantages over the side which has not done so, will suddenly decide to vote against them because they have violated norms is never going to work. In order to get them to see why violating norms is a bad idea, they need to feel the effects of losing because the other side violated norms.




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  52. @Moosebreath: If Democrats cannot win either at least one chamber, or the presidency, then at least for the short term this whole discussion is moot.

    The trends in the special elections, along with GOP retirements suggest there is some chance to take the House.




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  53. Moosebreath says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Now it’s my turn to be confused. I thought this was a discussion of means (specifically whether it is a good idea for Democrats to violate norms in response to Republicans doing so), not goals. Whether the Democrats take over a chamber of Congress or the Presidency is one way of measuring whether the means were successful, though I understood you to be arguing that even if the Democrats win, they may do so much harm to the country that it is not worth it (which I understood to be a major item of contention between us).




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  54. @Moosebreath:

    though I understood you to be arguing that even if the Democrats win, they may do so much harm to the country that it is not worth it

    I am not sure where that is coming from, save that if, as a general principle, our politics becomes one of norm-destruction (tit-for-tat) then we are going to further erode, and eventually destroy, our democracy.




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  55. Moosebreath says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Yes, exactly. Whereas my view is that fewer norms will be destroyed by tit-for-tat responses than by the current status quo where Republicans feel empowered to destroy norms at will without repercussions.




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  56. @Moosebreath: That’s fine, and you are entitled to your position. The more I think about this, however, is that I see no long-term utility in tit-for-tat.

    Again, I am sure I will write more about this as time permits.




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  57. @Moosebreath: Tit-for-tat is, by definition, ongoing norm destruction.

    If the Dems win the House (and the presidency in 2020), those will be consequences that do not require tit-for-tat.




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  58. teve tory says:

    Tit-for-tat is, by definition, ongoing norm destruction.

    Absolutely not. It’s limited, proportional response to transgression. An eye for an eye. Someone transgresses, you punish them proportionally, and then go back to the default, which is benevolence. At least that’s what it means in game theory.




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  59. @teve tory: You are making two assumptions that are utterly unwarranted:

    1) That there is a clear tit for the given tat.
    2) That there will be no escalation.

    Since it is nearly impossible for the tit to be symmetrical to the tat, escalation is inevitable. This escalation is compounded by the time between the titting and the tatting.

    And, again, game theory has more than one game to explain and predict behavior: you may not be correct about what game is being played.




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  60. When has “eye for an eye” ever actually been just that?




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