Fair and Unbalanced

Mike Littwin

"The pump don't work 'cause the vandals took the handles."


If you watched John Hickenlooper deliver his State of the State address, you didn’t have to look very hard for the Trump effect.

It was as obvious as, well, Hickenlooper himself.

In an alternative world, the one many of us expected to live in, Hickenlooper might not have made it to this year’s big speech. Hillary Clinton would be president and Hickenlooper would probably be in Washington preparing for a new job, maybe one needing a Senate confirmation hearing, in which case he’d have had the opportunity to introduce the Hickenlooper “giddy up” to a whole new audience.

It was comforting, in its way, to see Hick back in his familiar, if not always convincing, we’re not Democrats, we’re not Republicans, we’re Coloradans mode.

He made his career as the quirky guy who doesn’t go negative, who offers Colorado as a striking contrast to Washington dysfunction and division, who pretends, even after all these years, to being an accidental politician. It’s part act and it’s part Hickenlooper.

But it’s certainly far more Hickenlooper than the partisan attack dog he played during the 2016 campaign, in which each shot he took at Donald Trump seemed painfully forced. But give him credit, it worked, in its way. He wrote a book, got a lot of favorable press and made Clinton’s vice-presidential short list. I’ve even seen him mentioned as a 2020 presidential candidate on the theory that the Democrats will have to nominate someone.

The only thing that went wrong for Hickenlooper was that Clinton forgot to win. Let’s just say I doubt James Comey will be over for dinner any time soon.

But that wasn’t the only visible Trump effect. The people — or at least those in the Electoral College — sent Trump to the White House to either remake Washington or simply to wreak havoc. I’m thinking it’s more havoc than revolution, or maybe you missed the Trump news conference, but the point is the same. As Hickenlooper noted early in his speech, we just suffered through a terribly divisive campaign that leaves us with “a new administration and Congress seek(ing) a different relationship between the federal government and the states.”

“Different” would be an understatement. The relationship will be radically different, and even that’s probably an understatement. But the subtext was clear: Washington was moving in one direction and Colorado would keep going in another. History, Hickenlooper said, has its eye on Colorado.

And while history may be more agnostic about Colorado than Hickenlooper would have it — my guess is that California will get most of history’s attention here —you get the point. There will be a blue-state resistance to Trump, just as there was a red-state resistance to Obama. It will play out in Obamacare, where state Senate Republicans already want to eliminate the troubled Colorado health care exchange even as the GOP Congress attempts to eliminate the whole law. Meanwhile, Hickenlooper pointedly said in his speech that health care was a right and not a privilege. Watching the audience, it seemed like this very obvious concept was the most controversial idea in the room.

While most of Hickenlooper’s speech was about the things that are grounded in bipartisanship, if not in actual agreement —money for highways, money for rural broadband — it was also about things that have nothing to do with Washington, like a return of the hospital provider fee debate and the fact of our longstanding fiscal thicket. Yes, it’s a continuing embarrassment that Colorado can’t extricate itself from our fiscal straightjacket, but that’s a column for another day.

On this day, what’s clear is that Trump’s EPA will try to turn around rules on the environment that Colorado will and should resist. And that the new Interior Department will be ready to reconstitute policy on public lands, policies that Colorado also will and should resist. There’s more. Education, housing, a long list.

But mostly, there’s health care reform. In Washington, the fight is about repeal and replace. The problem for Republicans is at least twofold. One, they don’t have a replacement now. Two, they’ll never find one that allows them to keep the so-called good things about Obamacare without also needing to come up with a way to pay for them.

But let’s assume that Congress will just settle for repeal and delay and that the system, thus crippled, will collapse into itself and that both sides will blame the other. That would mean that in 2018, and no doubt in 2020, we’ll be voting on this all over again.

Meanwhile, what would happen in Colorado to the many thousands of people who could well lose their insurance? That’s not going to be an issue for this session. The Colorado Health Exchange is not immediately doomed. Obamacare may be doomed, but the dooming will take a while. But when Hickenlooper tried out the old saw about states being the laboratory of democracy, we’ll assume he means to set up shop in Colorado.

If Hickenlooper does have political ambitions extending beyond 2018 — when he’ll be term limited out of office — this is where he could stake his claim. In his speech, he said Washington was a threat to Colorado health care and that he “will fight for a replacement plan that protects the people who are covered now and doesn’t take us backward.”

What was funny is that in making his case, Hickenlooper said the last thing we want in Colorado is for Washington to tell us what to do about healthcare, which is sort of what Republicans have been saying about Obamacare for years. What Hickenlooper meant, of course, was the new Washington, the new president and the new reality. Giddy up.

Photo of Gov. John Hickenlooper by Allen Tian/The Colorado Independent




Donald Trump’s first news conference in nearly six months  — and the first since his stunning November upset victory — was, as you’d expect, a disaster.

Just not for Trump.

It was a disaster for the press, sure. It was certainly a disaster for anyone who believes the dignity of the office counts for something. But for Trump, it was everything he could have hoped for, and not only because he got the chance to publicly double down on likening U.S. spy agencies to Nazis.

In fact, if there’s any lesson to be taken from the day — other than the value in future presidents-elect bringing their own cheering sections along with them — it’s that Trump should do these things weekly.

There’s nothing short of a rally that allows Trump to be so, well, Trump-like. And, let’s face it, being Trump-like is, for better or worse, what made Trump president. And, from Trump’s perspective, news conferences hold so many advantages. You don’t have to even leave the building. You do the news conference, you bring along your staff to jeer reporters, you get an intern to stack a bunch of papers on a table (like so many Trump steaks) as a prop to symbolize all the paper you needed to work out a phony ethics deal with lawyers, you do a you’re-fired joke with the kids and then you break for lunch.

The long-anticipated news conference was set up to be your standard politician-under-fire affair, with the president-elect being forced to explain an alleged scandal involving alleged blackmail and alleged Russian hotel sex, to explain how he could possibly avoid conflicts of interest, not to mention something called an emolument, without actually selling a company he’ll never part with, and, finally, to defend his billionaire cabinet choices and his anti-science science appointees.

I mean, it was all there. And in the end? It was Trump – the fake news impresario –accusing the media of promulgating fake news (Buzzfeed’s decision to print the unsubstantiated Trump dossier gave him the opening) and getting into a shouting match with a CNN reporter who dared to try to ask a question. “You’re fake news,” Trump told CNN’s Jim Acosta.

It’s the new normal, but what else could it be? Trump has terrible poll numbers, the worst in modern times for a president-elect about to take office, but they don’t bother him. He won.

Trump is making promises he can’t keep. Mexicans paying for the wall. Simultaneous Obamacare repeal and replacement. No conflict of interest if he gives the company to the boys to run. None of this bothers him. He won.

This exchange between NBC News’s Hallie Jackson and Trump was probably the most significant of the day. She asked if he would finally release his tax returns in order to clear up where he might have conflicts of interest, particularly where they might involve Russia.

“You know, the only one that cares about my tax returns are the reporters, O.K.?” Trump said. “They’re the only ones who ask.”

“You don’t think the American public is concerned about it?” she asked.

“I don’t think so,” Trump said. ”I won.”

And so it is that Trump replays that victory — the one in which he lost the popular vote by 2.8 million — at every public event and will do so for the foreseeable future. That’s what you do to avoid answering questions about, say, whether your people had contact with Russian emissaries during the campaign. Trump was asked the question. He just didn’t answer it. The people aren’t interested because, you know, he won.

What he did say was that the salacious bits in the so-called dossier — which wasn’t a dossier at all, but rather unsubstantiated oppo-research collected by an agent working for Trump’s opponents during the campaign — couldn’t be true because, as Trump said, he’s a well-known germaphobe. Was that a punch line? Was it just the kind of thing that our president-elect says?

What Trump does do is to accuse, with no evidence, the nation’s intelligence agencies of leaking the dossier, which, he bizarrely claimed, was what they did back in Nazi Germany, while accusing CNN of publishing the dossier, which it did not.

And in a remarkable piece of business — an SNL-style piece of business — Trump explained why he’d never be caught in that kind of situation. Not because of the sex. But because someone could be watching.

“In those (hotel) rooms,” he said he warns those who travel with him, “you have cameras in the strangest places. You can’t see them and you won’t know. You better be careful or you’ll be watching yourself on nightly television.”

Trump did make news by finally admitting that it was probably the Russians who hacked the DNC computers in a bid to help Trump win the election, but he dismissed it as no big deal, saying, “If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what folks, that’s an asset not a liability.”

The press has spent a lot of time now trying to figure out how to cover Trump, how to fact-check him in real time, how to challenge his Trumpisms, how to deal with his tweets, but the problem is there seems to be no good way to cover Trump.

Take his bizarre point that he turned down a $2 billion business deal from Dubai over the weekend. He offered this tidbit to show that he’s out of the deal-making business, even though he insists he doesn’t have to be — that, if he chose, he could run his business and still be president.

Now it might leave you wondering how it is that the $2 billion deal was even being discussed, but you don’t wonder. And there’s no way to successfully fact-check. Either it happened — which is strange enough — or it didn’t happen, which would be even stranger.

But how much stranger does it get than Russian sex and Nazis? Just wait for the sequel to find out.


Photo illustration by DonkeyHotey, Flickr: Creative Commons

Littwin: Obama offers up a warning, Trump a tweet


Barack Obama’s ultimately optimistic farewell speech may be remembered as the most depressing moment of his presidency.

He ended the night by bringing the Chicago crowd to its feet with his long-ago trademark line, “Yes, we can.”

And then: “Yes, we did,” as if it to say the promise had been kept.

But what we did, of course, was to repeal and replace Obama with Donald Trump, the anti-Obama, and nothing Obama could say — no warning about the hard work of keeping a democracy, no plea for a way through our present bout of class and racial division, no case against the ravages of income inequality — could change that one inarguable fact.

As Obama left the stage — and, if the polling is right, as somewhat more than half a nation wept — the news of the day was that U.S. intelligence agencies had informed both Trump and Obama that Russia may have “compromising personal and financial” info on Trump and that Trump’s people may have had contact with Russian intermediaries prior to the election.

That changes everything. Or it changes nothing. The information is unsubstantiated, and the intelligence agencies are investigating the matter. But here we are.

And here we’re almost certain to remain.

It’s headline material everywhere, of course. And as if to ensure that, BuzzFeed irresponsibly published the uncorroborated dossier, put together by a British operative for opposition-research groups. The information has apparently been out there for a while, but James Comey didn’t announce it and the media didn’t publish it, and, now that we’ve seen it, do we really think that Russians have Trump sex tapes with which to blackmail him?

There are other possibilities. The Russians could have copies of Trump’s tax returns, which presumably contain any number of Trump embarrassments. Or the “scandal” could amount to nothing more than a Comey pre-election warning to Congress that there were Hillary Clinton emails to investigate. It’s all so strange, but so is Trump’s insistent embrace of all things Putin.

What we do know is that Trump, in advance of his long-awaited news conference, took to Twitter to call the whole thing a “political witch hunt,” which I think he’s used before. Meanwhile, Trump spokesperson Kellyanne Conway said that Trump was “not aware” of being informed, which, as I may have tweeted, could mean that Trump isn’t actually being briefed even when he is being briefed.

It wasn’t the only news to compete with an Obama farewell that he once must have thought would be a celebration. The Washington Post released a letter that Coretta Scott King had written back in 1986 calling for the rejection of Jeff Sessions’ nomination as federal judge, saying he would “irreparably damage” her husband’s work. A Republican Senate did reject him then. Now, Sessions is sailing through his committee hearing, and this Republican Senate will no doubt approve his nomination as attorney general.

Meanwhile, Dylann Roof was sentenced to death for the massacre at the Emanuel AME church, a terrible reminder of both the limits of justice and the limits of progress and of the many speeches Obama has made following too many gun deaths.

But Obama wrote this speech with history in mind. He used his farewell as a warning, as Washington famously did with his, as Eisenhower famously did with his. Obama’s warning was of autocrats and demagogues threatening American democracy. He mentioned Trump only in passing, and not critically, but you didn’t have to read very far between the lines to know that Obama was talking about Trumpism and how to survive it.

The most quoted part of the speech will probably be this, and the threat is clear enough: “Our Constitution is a remarkable, beautiful gift. But it’s really just a piece of parchment. It has no power on its own. We, the people, give it power — with our participation and the choices we make. Whether or not we stand up for our freedoms. Whether or not we respect and enforce the rule of law. America is no fragile thing. But the gains of our long journey to freedom are not assured.”

My guess is that history will treat the speech well, just as it is likely to treat the Obama presidency well. Far too much is made of the risk the Trump presidency presents to Obama’s legacy. It’s the risk to millions of vulnerable Americans that matters.

If Trump and the Republican Congress repeal Obamacare and replace it with a system that fails to keep us moving toward universal healthcare coverage, that won’t be Obama’s failure. If climate change is ignored and women’s and gay rights are set back, if immigration reform is rejected and millions are forced to live in the shadows, that will fall to Trump and the Republican Party.

And yet. And yet.

As Obama walked away Tuesday night, the loudspeakers were blaring Springsteen’s “Land of Hope and Dreams,” but, whatever the lyrics say, hope seemed to be on indefinite hold, and our dreams, if we’re very lucky, would prove to be just a passing fever.


Photo of then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2007 by Joe Crimmings via Flickr Creative Commons


That sound you hear is alarm bells going off across this vast land of ours. Get used to them. They’re going to be ringing for at least the next four years.

It wasn’t so long ago that the great concern was that the press would somehow “normalize” Donald Trump by presenting him as a clearly offbeat but colorful leader whose style of governing might be eccentric and a touch autocratic but hardly a danger to the democratic project.

There was one glitch in this theory: Donald Trump himself. Trump, of course, refuses to be normalized. How could anyone have missed that?

It’s easy enough to predict that the Trump years will be drama-filled. He wouldn’t have it any other way. But just as predictable is the drama that will face those who bought into the lesser-of-two-evils argument when voting for Trump. How long will they stick by their guy?

I mean, Trump vs. Clinton is over. Trump vs. Obama will end momentarily. And soon it will be Trump vs. whatever enemy he latches onto next. Nixon’s enemies list will be a fond memory of a more innocent time when enemies were at least predictable.

For Trump, it doesn’t have to be the intelligence agencies, although that feud certainly has legs. It could be Trump’s not-exactly-presidential-sounding tweet slamming Arnold Schwarzenegger for his sad, weak ratings on Celebrity Apprentice. It’s all part of the package.

What’s clear now that the closer Trump actually gets to the Oval Office, the scarier the idea of Trump becomes and the louder the alarms get. As I said, get used to them. Noise-reducing earphones won’t help, unless they now come in twitter-reduction mode, too.

On Election Day, someone asked me whether Trump could win. I said that it was quite possible, but that it was unimaginable. Now, we’re seeing what unimaginable looks like. The only thing stranger than a Trump presidency is the idea that his first before-he-even-gets-to-be-president presidential crisis is the Russian hacking story.

A normalized – or normal – president-elect would have said the idea that any foreign actor, but particularly Russia, would attempt to sway a U.S. election by hacking prominent Americans is something that, you know, will not stand. He doesn’t have to mean it. He doesn’t have to cash in his Russian bonds or whatever dealings he has with them. He just has to say it.

Instead, in the hours after the humiliating (for Trump and those people who voted for him) Senate hearing on hacking in which intelligence chiefs said (or would have said, if entirely honest) that Trump is a paranoid loon and in the hours before his big intelligence briefing on hacking, Trump managed to tell The New York Times that this whole thing was a “witch hunt,” proving at least two things:

One, he doesn’t know what a witch hunt is.

Two, it doesn’t matter what evidence Trump receives on this, he will not back down on his embrace of Vladimir Putin and Julian Assange.

The Putin bromance is well established. And the fact that The Washington Post revealed intelligence sources had evidence of celebration in the Kremlin on Election Day certainly only strengthened the bond. When people ask why Trump embraces a man who is America’s enemy, the answer is too obvious: He’s not Trump’s enemy. Meanwhile, Trump is pretty sure the witch-hunting intelligence agencies are undermining him because, well, I’m assuming it’s because he thinks the Russian story undermines his “landslide” victory.

I don’t want to be a hypocrite here. I’ve got my own concerns about the CIA and the NSA and the FBI. Our history here is, to say the least, problematic.

But what about Julian Assange? Is there anything less normal than Trump (along with Trump apologists Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter) embracing Assange? Here’s what Trump said about Wikileaks in 2010: “I think it’s disgraceful. I think there should be like death penalty of something.” Assange was once the poster boy for international anti-Americanism – once defended only by true lefties – and now he gets prime time love from Hannity. As columnist Michael Gerson wrote of this kind of party-think, what he calls “political tribalism”: “Trump is good. Assange helped Trump. So Assange is good.”

Of course, it gets weirder. Trump, who once tweeted that we should “get on with our lives” rather than investigate any interference in the election, is now tweeting that Congress must investigate how NBC got hold of an intelligence briefing meant for him. And weirder still, and in irony beyond irony, Julian Assange also sent out an angry tweet about, yes, the NBC leak story.

And even after his big intelligence briefing, when all the evidence was laid out before him, Trump still couldn’t quite bring himself to say the Russians did it. He did say that whoever did it – Russians, Chinese, the 400-pound kid–- the hacking had no effect on the election. Of course it didn’t.

The real story here is not the hacking and it’s not the leaking and it’s not the Russians and it’s not Assange. The story is all Trump, who knows more than the generals do about ISIS and now knows more than the CIA about hacking. And he’s going to be the president in just over a week.

You may remember that Trump said last week that there were things he knew that others didn’t know about this hacking issue – and about hacking in general – and that he would reveal all on Tuesday or Wednesday. There was no reveal, of course. It was just something he said, like about Mexicans paying for a wall.

This is what Trump does. It’s what President Trump will do – the same assault on the truth, except with the stakes so much higher. Alarming? Very. But it’s not as if we weren’t warned.

Flickr photo by Scott Ellis.


As we gratefully leave 2016 behind and warily entertain the idea of political life in 2017, we in Colorado must ask ourselves two basic questions:

What the hell just happened?

What the hell’s gonna happen now?

To answer either, we need to take a close look at the role Colorado played in the country’s weirdest political year since at least 1968. The year of The Donald proved, if nothing else, that everything most of us thought we knew was entirely wrong. And though it still feels too soon to try to digest much of that, the calendar has its own peculiar logic. We used to say that the future was now. Well, now we may get the future and the past together in one strange Trumpian blast.

As Trump shocked everyone by winning the presidency, Colorado was both entirely predictable and entirely unpredictable. The predictable: Trump lost in Colorado. He had to lose Colorado, even against the not-particularly-popular Hillary Clinton. Colorado is too educated, too urban, too demographically difficult for Trump to have won, particularly in a high-turnout presidential election year. On the other hand, Trump was supposed to lose in a lot of places that he did win, starting with the swing-state sweepstakes. While Trump won narrowly in many of the swing states, and thus the Electoral College, Colorado stayed consistently blue.

The unpredictable: How about the Colorado delegation’s mini-walkout at the Republican Convention? How about the Ted Cruz delegate sweep? How about the Trump charge that Colorado’s caucuses were rigged? How about the Gardner-Trump Twitter feud? How about the Darryl Glenn endorsement, un-endorsement and re-endorsement? How about Jon Keyser’s dog?

On the Dem side, how about the Hamilton Electors’ attempt at revolution (and the bizarre attempt by Secretary of State Wayne Williams to get one “faithless elector” indicted)? How about Morgan Carroll getting clobbered by Mike Coffman two years after Coffman had clobbered Andrew Romanoff? (I have no idea why or how Coffman became invincible, but the question now is whether he’s ready to give that invincibility a try in the 2018 governor’s race.) How about John Hickenlooper’s shocking near-veep experience, and what it teaches us about drinking fracking solution?

Should we look closer? Can you stand it?

It seems strange, but the biggest loser of 2016 could be Cory Gardner, who incautiously made an enemy of Trump, assuming, as we all did, that Trump would/could never win the presidency. There was Gardner-as-Rubio-surrogate calling Trump a buffoon. There was Gardner walking out on the GOP convention/Trump coronation. There was Gardner as Colorado defender wondering how Trump could handle Putin if he couldn’t even figure out the Colorado convention (a point very much still worth considering). And then there was Gardner, having refused to vote for Trump, on the losing side — a place he has assiduously avoided in his career —now having to figure out how to get on Trump’s good side before Trump exacts revenge. So far, Gardner has been busily attacking an outgoing Obama, pretending that Trump’s victory never happened. It worked for Gardner on that federal personhood bill, but I’m thinking that was so 2014.

Another loser was Hickenlooper, who has spent his entire political career pretending not to be a politician and particularly pretending not to be a Democratic politician. But in 2016, he went from effective nonpartisan to laughably ineffective attack dog on Trump. It was painful to see his tweets, which were so un-Hick-like, but, hey, they got him that surprise veep interview. He was never going to get the vice-presidential nod because environmentalists would have walked out on Clinton, but he was there, and pretty certain to have gotten a Cabinet post if he’d wanted one (and it seems he did). Instead, he helped deliver Colorado to Clinton, and for his reward he gets another two seasons of a split Colorado legislature, with Republicans having held on to their one-vote Senate majority.

OK, Darryl Glenn. Do not blame Darryl Glenn for being Darryl Glenn. He warned the GOP what they were in for, calling himself an unapologetic Christian, constitutional conservative, pro- life, second-amendment-loving veteran who thought the biggest problem in Washington was that Republicans were too quick to cave. That’s a losing resume in purple-state Colorado, and everyone knew that except the Republican primary voters who nominated him. Of course, he was worse than that. The national Republicans deserted him. He never put together a workable campaign. The Russians were so unmoved they didn’t even bother to hack Michael Bennet. The miracle is that Glenn came within six points of Bennet, which showed just how vulnerable Bennet actually was. (Bennet was a putative winner, if you think getting six more years in dysfunctional Washington is winning.)

Of course, the Senate race was a GOP disaster even before Glenn won. The Republican establishment couldn’t find a viable candidate to run against Bennet, and when they finally settled on Jon Keyser, well, you know what happened. The quality of some recent GOP candidates — Dan Maes, Tom Tancredo, Ken Buck, Bob Beauprez, Bob Schaffer, to name but a few — has been a problem, but the party hope is that by the end of 2017, they’ll have viable candidates in line to run for the open governor’s seat in 2018. (Some guesses: Mike or Cynthia Coffman, George Brauchler, Wayne Williams, Walker Stapleton, John Suthers.) They’d better get someone viable because Colorado Republicans have won only one top-of-the-ballot race since 2004.

It’s too early to tell how 2016 will have turned out for Ken Salazar. He was, you might remember, Clinton’s choice to head up her transition team, and might have ended up as her attorney general or something if Clinton hadn’t forgotten to win. Blame Comey or the Russians or the media if you like, it doesn’t help Salazar now. Instead, he is the leading Dem candidate in the 2018 governor’s race, if he runs — which was, Democrats thought, a sure thing before the Clinton offer. And now? Salazar will have to decide whether the magic still holds for a moderate Democrat in a state party that has definitely moved left. I’m told that Cary Kennedy plans to run whether or not Salazar gets in. Mike Johnston wants to run. Joe Salazar will probably run as a Bernie-style progressive. If Ken Salazar doesn’t run, would Ed Perlmutter be tempted? It could get crowded on both sides.

Before you think too hard about it, remember that Prop 108 passed in November, and assuming it is implemented by 2018, it will mean that unaffiliated voters can vote in primaries without proclaiming a party choice. Some of the unaffiliated are true independents; some just aren’t joiners. The idea is that independents could bring either or both parties closer to the center, but no one really knows.

What we do know is that the unexpected is possible in 2017 — after all, it follows 2016, when we learned that even the impossible was possible.


Image created with Google Deep Dream Generator