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Michael Barone - Partisan lines are holding

Amid the turmoil of the first month of the Trump administration, with courts blocking his temporary travel ban and his national security adviser resigning after 24 days, the solid partisan divisions in the electorate — modestly changed in 2016 from what they'd been over the previous two decades — remain in place.

That's apparent in roll call votes in Congress. Republicans have almost unanimously supported administration policies and appointments (except for withdrawn Labor nominee Andy Puzder). Democrats have almost unanimously opposed them, casting more "nay" votes on the president's Cabinet nominees than they have at any time in memory.

The same thing is apparent in polls. Past new presidents have enjoyed honeymoon periods, with many opposition party voters giving them approval. Not so with Donald Trump. The RealClearPolitics average of recent polls shows him with 44.9 percent approval (he received 45.9 percent of the popular vote in the November election) and 49.5 percent disapproval.

Even the ban on travel from seven Middle Eastern countries elicits a similar response in the polling — though a 57 percent majority, according to a Fox News poll, rejects the belief held by many liberal columnists and some federal judges that it amounts to the "Muslim ban" that candidate Trump briefly advocated and backed off from more than a year ago.

During the 2016 campaign, it was widely assumed that many Republicans would not vote for Trump. Some college-educated Republicans didn't, but their numbers were offset by non-college-educated whites who had previously voted Democratic. Many Trump voters have qualms about their candidate, but for the moment, at least, they're sticking with him.

They're also standing by the party he affiliated himself with belatedly in life. Public opinion is more favorable to the Republican Party than it has been in years. That's not because Democratic voters like it more but because Republican voters who previously had some reservations about it have rallied to its standard.

Meanwhile, Democratic politicians and, it seems, a large majority of Hillary Clinton voters remain totally disinclined to compromise with the candidate most had assumed she could easily beat. Some style themselves "the Resistance," as if they were Frenchmen opposed to the Hitler-allied Vichy regime. In private conversations and on social media, they speculate about how soon Trump will be impeached.

They seem to assume that vitriolic — and sometimes even violent or vulgar — opposition to Trump will turn around a critical mass of voters. That's possible, if he is seen as producing bad results, but there's little evidence it's happened yet.

In the process, Democrats are abandoning the advantage that an opposition typically has in off-year contests, the fact that its candidates can adapt to local terrain while the president's party is tethered to his persona and record, which may be unpopular as his actions reduce his appeal in one or another segment of the electorate.

That's what Democrats did in 2006, with Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean's 50-state organizational efforts and the recruitment by Rahm Emanuel and Chuck Schumer of moderate candidates in previously Republican-leaning congressional districts and states. Today's Democrats, in contrast, seem bent on defeating in primaries incumbents and challenger candidates who make any bows to Trumpism.

That's high-risk, given the political map. The Senate seats up in 2018 were filled in Democratic 2006 and the Obama re-election year of 2012, and Democrats hold 25 to Republicans' nine and have a chance to gain only two. Democrats must defend five seats in states Trump carried by double-digit percentages and five more he carried more narrowly, plus three more Clinton won by only 2 to 5 percent.

In the House, Democrats need a net gain of 24 seats for control. But thanks largely to demographics, with Democrats clustered in central cities, Trump carried 230 congressional districts, compared with Clinton's 205.

Democrats are talking of targeting the 23 Republican-held districts carried by Clinton, 15 of which have large numbers of college-educated whites. They'll have a test run in the April 18 special election to fill the Atlanta-area seat of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price; previously heavily Republican, it gave Trump only a 1.5 percent margin.

But will the rage exhibited in the streets of Brooklyn and Berkeley reverberate in Buckhead? It's certainly not likely to help the 12 incumbent House Democrats defending districts carried by Trump.

Currently, both sides are sticking with the approach they employed in 2016. Events can change attitudes, but at the moment, it looks like uphill sledding for the side that lost narrowly — but decisively — in November.

(Syndicated columnist Michael Barone is senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner, is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.)

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Susan Estrich - Enough about the shoes

That the two most prominent women in the Trump administration should be caught up in a controversy about shoes tells you (if not our new leader) how far we have to go.

In a world threatened by ISIS, in a nation of immigrants wondering who will next be deported, is Kellyanne Conway's endorsement of Ivanka Trump's shoes really worthy of a federal investigation, really enough to hold up her security clearance, really deserving of the millions of words that have been written about it, most of them fairly vicious?

In case you're not a follower, Nordstrom, the department-store chain known for its great shoe department, announced that it would no longer be carrying Ivanka Trump's line of shoes because of slow sales. Some people questioned whether it was poor sales or partisan politics that led to the decision. One of them was her father, who took Nordstrom to task in a tweet (what else). And the top woman in the administration, who reportedly was brought on to manage the campaign at Ivanka Trump's urging, defended her sponsor and her shoes on Fox News.

Asked about the shoes, Conway said that she thought the shoes were stylish and comfortable, that she sometimes wore them herself, and that women should buy them online.

Of this, a federal case is being made. Seriously.

I understand, as every story finds a present or former Hill staffer to point out, that one of the first things you learn when you jump in the so-called swamp is that you are not supposed to use your official position to endorse private interests. What makes this rule so amusing, of course, is that there is nothing wrong with accepting millions of dollars (through the proper committees) from private interests and then doing their bidding in legislation worth far more. We call that "fundraising." It is actually the first thing you learn when you go to work for an elected official. You can return favors every day of the week when doing official business, so long as you don't flaunt the fig leaf that one thing has nothing to do with the other. But speaking up for Ivanka Trump's shoes? Stop the security-clearance process for that woman!

The White House is always a trap for those who enter it for the first time. Remember Hillary Clinton's dust-up with the travel office, when as first lady she dared to suggest reorganization of the office, which catered to the every need of the press corps. And poor Vince Foster, may he rest in peace, who I think virtually everyone can finally agree was not the victim of some inside conspiracy but of the humiliation that can be heaped on newcomers who do not know how the game is played. Of course, Conway may be new to the White House, but she is an experienced political player: if she could get this man into the White House, she is not going to be stopped in the shoe aisle. Nor should she be. Not over shoes.

Of all the things that people in this administration have said and done, Kellyanne Conway's endorsement of Ivanka Trump's shoes has got to be among the least important and the least deserving of attention, let alone investigation.

I remember the day that we found out that our boss, Geraldine Ferraro, was going to be the Democratic nominee. One of the first things she asked was that Pam go to a particular shoe store in Georgetown to buy her a few pairs of her favorite, most comfortable pumps. Off went Pam. Later, I was repeatedly quizzed by reporters about those first hours, and I always left out the part about the shoes. We were already dealing with so many questions about lipstick and the rest. We knew these types of questions were sexist, but it was 1984, and we thought we were doing pretty well. Thirty years later, and we're still talking shoes.

(Susan Estrich is a professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California Law Center. A best-selling author, lawyer and politician, as well as a teacher, she first gained national prominence as national campaign manager for Dukakis for President in 1988.)

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Pat Buchanan - Anti-Putin paranoia here is astonishing

Among the reasons Donald Trump is president is that he read the nation and the world better than his rivals.

He saw the surging power of American nationalism at home, and of ethnonationalism in Europe. And he embraced Brexit.

While our bipartisan establishment worships diversity, Trump saw Middle America recoiling from the demographic change brought about by Third World invasions. And he promised to curb them.

While our corporatists burn incense at the shrine of the global economy, Trump went to visit the working-class casualties. And those forgotten Americans in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, responded.

And while Bush II and President Obama plunged us into Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Syria, Trump saw that his countrymen wanted to be rid of the endless wars, and start putting America first.

He offered a new foreign policy. Mitt Romney notwithstanding, said Trump, Putin's Russia is not "our number one geopolitical foe."

Moreover, that 67-year-old NATO alliance that commits us to go to war to defend two dozen nations, not one of whom contributes the same share of GDP as do we to national defense, is "obsolete."

Many of these folks are freeloaders, said Trump. He hopes to work with Russia against our real enemies, al-Qaida and ISIS.

This was the agenda Americans voted for. But what raises doubt about whether Trump can follow through on his commitments is the size and virulence of the anti-Trump forces in this city.

Consider his plan to pursue a rapprochement with Russia such as Ike, JFK at American University, Nixon and Reagan all pursued in a Cold War with a far more menacing Soviet Empire.

America's elites still praise FDR for partnering with one of the great mass murderers of human history, Stalin, to defeat Hitler. They still applaud Nixon for going to China to achieve a rapprochement with the greatest mass murderer of the 20th century, Mao Zedong.

Yet Trump is not to be allowed to achieve a partnership with Putin, whose great crime was a bloodless retrieval of a Crimea that had belonged to Russia since the 18th Century.

The anti-Putin paranoia here is astonishing.

That he is a killer, a KGB thug, a murderer, is part of the daily rant of John McCain. At the Munich Security Conference this last weekend, Sen. Lindsey Graham promised, "2017 is going to be a year of kicking Russia in the ass in Congress." How's that for statesmanship.

But how does a president negotiate a modus vivendi with a rival great power when the leaders of his own party are sabotaging him and his efforts?

As for the mainstream media, they appear bent upon the ruin of Trump, and the stick with which they mean to beat him to death is this narrative: Trump is the Siberian Candidate, the creature of Putin and the Kremlin. His ties to the Russians are old and deep. It was to help Trump that Russia hacked the DNC and the computer of Clinton campaign chief John Podesta, and saw to it WikiLeaks got the emails out to the American people during the campaign. Trump's people secretly collaborated with Russian agents.

Believing Putin robbed Hillary Clinton of the presidency, Democrats are bent on revenge — on Putin and Trump.

And the epidemic of Russophobia makes it almost impossible to pursue normal relations. Indeed, in reaction to the constant attacks on them as poodles of Putin, the White House seems to be toughening up toward Russia.

Thus we see U.S. troops headed for Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, NATO troops being sent into the Baltic States, and new tough rhetoric from the White House about Russia having to restore Crimea to Ukraine. We read of Russian spy ships off the coast, Russian planes buzzing U.S. warships in the Black Sea, Russians deploying missiles outlawed by the arms control agreement of 1987.

An Ohio-class U.S. sub just test-fired four Trident missiles, which carry thermonuclear warheads, off the Pacific coast.

Any hope of cutting a deal for a truce in east Ukraine, a lifting of sanctions, and bringing Russia back into Europe seems to be fading.

Where Russians saw hope with Trump's election, they are now apparently yielding to disillusionment and despair.

The question arises: If not toward better relations with Russia, where are we going with this bellicosity?

Russia is not going to give up Crimea. Not only would Putin not do it, the Russian people would abandon him if he did.

What then is the end goal of this bristling Beltway hostility to Putin and Russia, and the U.S.-NATO buildup in the Baltic and Black Sea regions? Is a Cold War II with Russia now an accepted and acceptable reality?

Where are the voices among Trump's advisers who will tell him to hold firm against the Russophobic tide and work out a deal with the Russian president? For a second cold war with Russia, its back up against a wall, may not end quite so happily as the first.

(Syndicated columnist Pat Buchanan has been a senior advisor to three presidents, twice a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and the presidential nominee of the Reform Party in 2000. He won the New Hampshire Republican Primary in 1996.)

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Jim Hightower - Put food policy back on the table

During the farm crisis of the 1980s, an Iowa farmer asked if I knew the difference between a family farmer and a pigeon. When I said no, he delighted in explaining: "A pigeon can still make a deposit on a new John Deere."

That's funny — except, it really wasn't. Worse, the bitter reality of the tractor joke is still true: The farm crisis has not gone away, though hundreds of thousands of farm families have. The economic devastation in farm country continues unabated as agribusiness profiteers, Wall Street speculators, urban sprawlers and corrupted political elites squeeze the life out of farmers and rural America.

Remember last year's presidential debates? Trump and Clinton talked about the needs of hard-hit working-class families, veterans and coal miners among others. But, hellloooo, where were farmers? Indeed, where was the multitude of producers who toil on the lands and waters of this country to bring food to our tables? All went unmentioned, even though economic and emotional depression is spreading through their communities, thanks to bankruptcy-level prices paid by corporate middlemen. In the past three years, farm income has declined steadily, plummeting 12 percent in just the last year. But these crucial-but-endangered food producers were totally disappeared by the political cognoscenti.

Actually, the farmer has long been forgotten in America's presidential discussion. In a New York Times op-ed, Professor A. Hope Jahren reported on the discovery she made when reading through transcripts of past debates: "Farm policy hasn't come up even once in a presidential debate for the past 16 years."

That's Bush-Kerry, Obama-McCain, Obama-Romney, and Trump-Clinton! Not one of them mentioned the people who produce our food. Jahren notes that the monetary value of farm production alone is nearly eight times greater than coal mining, a declining industry whose voters Clinton and Trump avidly courted.

This disregard for farmers and food policy is not only irresponsible, but also politically inexplicable when you consider that food is far more than economics to people. Purchasing food has become a political act that takes into account cultural, ethical, environmental, and community values. This was confirmed last March in a national survey published by Consumer Reports showing that huge percentages of shoppers consider production issues important:

— Supporting local farmers: 91 percent

— Reducing exposure to pesticides in food: 89 percent

— Protecting the environment from chemicals: 88 percent

— Providing better living conditions for farm animals: 84 percent

Unfortunately, no matter what We the People want, most of the political class willingly surrenders farmers, and food itself, to industrial agribusiness. That would be that ... except for one thing: You! Far from surrendering to the "inevitability" of a corporatized food future, the great majority of Americans continue to push forward with the alternative future of a local, sustainable, humane — and tasty — food system that benefits all.

The ongoing battle for our food future pits the agri-industrial model of huge-scale, corporate-run operations against the agri-cultural model of sustainable, community-based family farming. The big money is with the global goliaths of corporate ag, but the grip the giants once had on the marketplace has been slipping as consumers and farmers (especially younger producers) are making clear that they prefer non-industrial food. One measure of this is the contrasting fortunes of biotech vs. organic production.

The promised "miracle" of genetically altered crops, introduced in 1994 by Monsanto, turns out to have been ephemeral. The prices of corporate-altered seeds have skyrocketed, yields from those seeds have not met expectations, planting GMO crops has forced farmers to buy more pesticides, and consumers overwhelmingly oppose GMO Frankenfoods. Thus, fewer farmers are using the biotech industry's product: U.S. farmers cut their plantings of GMO crops by 5.4 million acres in 2015, and sales of GMO seeds fell by $400 million.

Not only does consumer demand for organically produced food keep going up, but such major producers as General Mills and Kellogg are switching to greater use of organic ingredients. As of last June, the number of America's certified organic farms was 14,979 (up by more than 6 percent from a year earlier), and sales of organic products zoomed up by 11 percent to $43.3 billion in 2015, about four times more than the growth in conventional food sales. This rise would have gone even higher, but the demand for organic is now outstripping the supply! Consumers clearly want to buy more, thus creating good opportunities for new organic farmers — and a bright future for agri-culture.

(Jim Hightower has been called American's most popular populist. The radio commentator and former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture is author of seven books, including "There's Nothing In the Middle of Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos" and his new work, "Swim Against the Current: Even Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow".)

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E. Scott Cracraft - What wrong with Canada's health care system?

President Trump, along with a lot of GOP members of Congress and state officials, rode to power, at least in part, on a promise to get rid of "Obamacare." Now, many are having second thoughts. Why? Because, except for some problems here and there, Obamacare is working and the GOP has not articulated a replacement plan that addresses the same concerns that brought about the Affordable Care Act (ACA). And, polls show that the reforms brought about by the ACA are much more popular than the Right would have Americans believe.

Obamacare and Medicaid expansion (in spite of opposition to expansion by many state-level conservatives) resulted in over 18 million American who lacked health insurance now being covered. While many of these may have voted for Trump, they won't like losing their coverage. Even conservative members of Congress are aware of this. Now, those who were ineligible for insurance can get it.

The ACA is far from perfect. It IS quite confusing for the ordinary consumer. But, it is not "socialized medicine" as many charge. It is actually capitalist medicine with a few needed checks and balances on the health care industry and those checks are far from enough.

There is no public option in Obamacare. There was one in the original plan but the insurance lobby made sure that was not included in the final version. So, most American health care is still in the hands of powerful interests who have more to gain from denying care than providing it.

Actually , the U.S.A. already has "socialized medicine" for some people. What is military or veteran health care but a government operated system? And, what is medicare but a "single payer" plan. So, already, there is a bit of "socialism" in our health care system.

Over the decades, the opposition to any rational health care reform has changed. In the 1940s and 50s, the American Medical Association was at the forefront of opposition to any changes in the system. This was while the U.S. was actually helping a conquered country, Japan, built a national health care system! Today, though, more and more health care professionals are disgusted with our current system and would like to change it.

Today, the biggest opponents of real health care reform are Big Insurance and "Big Pharma." Since they are largely responsible for our health care fiasco, this writer never understood why they even got a place at the table.

One of results of the ACA keeping health insurance within the private sector is that the legislation is confusing. The interests opposing even these mild reforms have used this complexity to disseminate disinformation about Obamacare such as the supposed "death panels" for grandpa.

What is needed is a single-payer system like Canada. Of course, the "medical/industrial complex" disseminates disinformation about that, too. In the 1990s, when the Clintons tried to reform health care, the insurance lobby hired an extreme right-wing Canadian to campaign about how awful Canada's system is.

In reality, most Canadians, even that country's Conservative Party, accept the Canadian health care system as a matter of right. This writer has Canadian friends and family who seem very satisfied with their system. Conservatives like American conservatives are considered "fringe" in Canada!

Of course, there are always those who complain about some detail, but overall, Canadians like their system and certainly don't want OUR system. As for waits for elective, non-emergency procedures, they do exist in Canada but they exist here, too. Nor, is the Canadian system "socialized" medicine. The insurance may be socialized but doctors can remain in private practice. Also, drug prices are so much lower in Canada that many Americans go to Canada to fill prescriptions.

America has some of the finest medical professionals in the world. We also have the best medical technology. Until Obamacare, however, we had one of the worst health care DELIVERY systems in the democratic, "developed" world. And, it is still not that great. Virtually all modern democracies and even some "developing" countries have national health plans, single payer or at least a public option. We need to catch up with the rest of the "civilized" world.

(Scott Cracraft is an American citizen, taxpayer, veteran, and resident of Gilford.)

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