Trump’s smoking-gun summary
Republicans face a choice: follow the course of honor or continue in servitude to an unethical president

OPINION — We now have the smoking-gun summary, the most incriminating White House document since Watergate. Even with ellipses and maybe redactions for national security reasons, the reconstruction of Donald Trump’s July 25 conversation with newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is chilling in its specificity.

Instead of subtly alluding to Joe Biden or hinting that a little private help might be appreciated, Trump instead bluntly instructed Zelenskiy, “There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great.”

2020 Democrats may dream big now, but reality will bite them later
Maybe it’s time Warren, Sanders et al admit their plans are aspirational rather than legislative blueprints

OPINION — The bidding war that has defined the Democratic presidential race reached its apogee of absurdity earlier this month when Bernie Sanders had to explain that, no, he had no plans to erase voters’ credit card bills.

Questioned about his proposal to wipe away $81 billion in personal medical debt in a New Hampshire interview, the Vermont socialist told the Concord Monitor and “I don’t believe we wipe out credit card debt. You want to buy… a yacht, and you go in debt, hey, that’s your decision.”

Moderation in the Trump era? Democrats, it’s futile
What’s the point of careful issue proposals when Trump will just bellow that they’re coming for your cars, air conditioning and straws?

OPINION — The tone of the letter from the Columnists’ Guild I’m expecting any minute now will be as stiff as the old-fashioned stationery it’s printed on. It will note that I am “derelict in your duties” and “an embarrassment to the profession of opinion slingers” because I’ve failed to write a single column loudly lamenting the Democratic Party’s lurch to the far left.

We have all read versions of this column written by skittish liberals, nervous centrists and panicked never-Trump Republicans: “Don’t the Democrats understand that many voters like their employer-provided health care plans and will rebel over being forced into a rigid ‘Medicare for All’ system? Eliminating criminal penalties for crossing the border illegally would be an invitation for immigration chaos. And do Democrats really believe that Americans will sacrifice their lifestyles to comply with the extreme provisions of a Green New Deal?”

Unlike Joe Biden, I was a pro-busing Democrat in 1972
And the issue upended my bid for Congress that year

OPINION — A long time ago — in fact, the same year that Joe Biden ran for the Senate as a precocious 29-year-old — I sought a Michigan congressional seat as an even more precocious 25-year-old.

The cause that propelled me into a Democratic primary and a quest to become the youngest member of Congress was my fierce opposition to the Vietnam War. But the issue that upended my congressional race is one that unexpectedly has contemporary relevance — federal court-ordered busing.

Running for re-election the Trump way — with half the country against you
President’s Orlando kick-off could be the high point of his re-election campaign

OPINION — When Donald Trump declares his candidacy for a second term Tuesday night in Orlando, the line of supporters fighting to get in will stretch from Disney World to the Everglades.

Many people are already saying that Trump is such a favorite for re-election that all 23 Democrats will withdraw after they make fools of themselves criticizing the Greatest Economy in World History during next week’s debates. Already, there is a huge movement to repeal the 22nd Amendment so Donald J. Trump can be anointed as President for Life.

The GOP’s secret roadmap to undermine the 2020 census
Somehow gerrymandering is not enough for the Republicans any more

OPINION — Thomas Hofeller was always precise about the pronunciation of his chosen profession. He correctly called it a “gerrymander” with a hard “G” rather than the far more common usage that makes rigged political mapmaking sound reminiscent of “Jerry Ford.”

Hofeller, who died last August, was the most artful and devious Republican cartographer of his generation. The sweeping Republican legislative and gubernatorial victories in 2010 gave him a vast canvas on which to jigger the voting districts — and produced the widespread theory (disproven in 2018) that the Democrats would never win back the House in this decade.

What Justin Amash can teach Nancy Pelosi
When it comes to impeachment, congressional Democrats are missing the point

OPINION — At worst, Justin Amash will be the answer to a trivia question about which House member bucked a president of his own party to call for impeachment. At best, Amash will someday be hailed as prescient in trying to save the Republican Party from being Donald Trump’s devoted, yet unprincipled, enablers.

Amash’s decision to endorse impeachment was prompted (as he tweeted) by being a rare legislator who actually read the Mueller report. And as a dedicated libertarian who has been a longtime Trump critic, this lonely position fits Amash’s political persona.

Trump’s Gold-Plated, Monogrammed Presidency
Imperial presidencies of Johnson and Nixon look like the good old days compared to Trump

OPINION — In the late 1960s and early 1970s, there was a mournful chorus of warnings about the dangers of what historian and former John Kennedy aide Arthur Schlesinger called “The Imperial Presidency.”

Schlesinger wrote in 1973, as Richard Nixon twisted slowly, slowly in the wind, “The constitutional presidency — as events so apparently disparate as the Indochina War and the Watergate affair showed — has become the imperial presidency and threatens to be the revolutionary presidency.”

If Trump had been a master builder instead of a malevolent tweeter
Why is infrastructure week always followed by can’t-pay-for-it week?

OPINION — Imagine an alternative universe where Donald Trump understands words like “presidential” and “emotional self-control.” In that science fiction world, the 45th president’s Tuesday meeting with the Democratic congressional leadership would have served as a model for his entire administration.

In case you missed this rare moment of calm and comity, Trump put tantrums and tumult aside for 90 minutes to discuss infrastructure. The result: an agreement on the broad outlines of a $2 trillion plan to upgrade roads, bridges, airports, broadband and probably Pony Express relay stations.

Biden’s path to 2020 is strewn with cautionary tales
Trying to make sense of the former VP’s run? Here’s what to read

OPINION — When Joe Biden finally declared for president, it marked a record-setting 32-year gap between his first hat-in-the-ring moment and his latest.

It would be like Franklin Roosevelt first trying to be president in 1900 when his cousin, Theodore, was on the GOP ticket as William McKinley’s running mate. Or JFK (as an 11-year-old) seeking to oppose Herbert Hoover in 1928.

In his White House drama, Trump’s favorite word is ‘acting’
Any random anti-immigration zealot who sets foot in the DHS cafeteria may be drafted for a top position

OPINION — Henry Ford, famous for both revolutionizing the auto industry and his anti-Semitism, declared more than a century ago, “History is more or less bunk.”

Donald Trump doesn’t even think history is that important. He remains a bit shaky about whether anything of significance ever occurred before the world was graced by his presence on June 14, 1946.

Forget the fundraising money. Democrats are jockeying for a different kind of capital
A presidential primary race should never be confused with a quest for moral and political purity

OPINION — Sixteen years ago, at the beginning of the last wide-open Democratic presidential race, John Kerry and John Edwards vied to wow the media with their first-quarter fundraising prowess. Edwards narrowly won the spirited early 2003 competition by raking in $7.4 million, much of it from trial lawyers.

The campaign finance boasts of Edwards and Kerry soon were silenced by a little-known former Vermont governor. Iraq War opponent Howard Dean, harnessing the potential of online fundraising for the first time, corralled what was then a stunning $7.6 million in the second quarter.

Some post-Mueller advice for Democrats: Watch ‘Jaws’
‘Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water ...’

OPINION — “Jaws” movie posters can go a long way toward explaining politics after the release of the William Barr letter that maybe — or maybe not — accurately summarizes the Mueller report.

Republicans may have been lulled into a false sense of security about Donald Trump’s legal jeopardy, especially with the continuing federal investigations in New York. Eventually most of the Mueller report will be released (or leaked) — and it could hit with a bombshell if Barr baldly misrepresented its contents.

Trump’s latest self-inflicted wound: Medicare cuts
Attacking Medicare is about as popular as a national program to confiscate kittens

OPINION — Donald Trump’s political problems are almost all rooted in his personality.

The nonstop lying and boasting that have led to a credibility canyon seemingly flow from the president’s fragile ego. His vicious temperament when crossed produces the torrent of below-the-belt Twitter attacks. His apparent inability to trust anyone beyond his immediate family has produced outrages like Jared Kushner’s dubious security clearance. And Trump’s own tough-guy fantasies are probably connected to his hero worship of Vladimir Putin and his avuncular affection for the murderous Kim Jong Un.

With both parties awash with cash, maybe campaign reform isn’t so quixotic
Republicans may need to rethink their knee-jerk opposition to HR 1

OPINION — After months of polls, focus groups and strategy sessions, Michael Bloomberg came to the obvious conclusion — unlimited money cannot buy a presidential nomination in 2020.

Yes, the news stories talked about competition from Joe Biden and the difficulty that a moderate would have in surviving the Democratic primaries. But Bloomberg implicitly conceded that even a billionaire’s bankroll would not be enough to dominate simultaneous March 3, 2020, primaries in California and Texas.

Michael Cohen proves that a bad person can be a good witness
Trump’s former fixer dropped more breadcrumbs than Hansel and Gretel

OPINION — There was something sad and delusional about Michael Cohen’s insistence during a riveting day of testimony before the House Oversight and Reform Committee that he remains, despite it all, a “good person.”

During his 30-minute opening statement, Cohen declared, in a passage that came close to defying the internal logic of the English language, “I have lied. But I am not a liar. And I have done bad things, but I am not a bad man. I have fixed things, but I am no longer your fixer, Mr. Trump.”

What did the president do and when did he do it?
Russia investigation outcome approaches

OPINION — Both CNN and The Washington Post ran stories Wednesday stating that Robert Mueller will deliver his secret report to the Justice Department next week or soon thereafter. While prior predictions of Mueller’s schedule have had the accuracy of a Revolutionary War blunderbuss, the latest timetable makes intuitive sense.

Mueller must be keenly aware of the errors that James Comey made with his interventions during the 2016 campaign — and March 2019 is far from the 2020 Democratic primaries, let alone the presidential election. William Barr, whose work with Mueller dates back to the late 1980s, is now installed as attorney general. And, of course, Democrats are wielding the gavels in all House committees.

Sam Ervin took down Nixon. We’re still waiting for his heir
Maybe Nancy Pelosi needs to appoint a small select committee modeled after Watergate

OPINION — It is easy to imagine an undiscovered Samuel Beckett play entitled “Waiting for Mueller.” On stage, faithful Democrats vacillate between stubborn hope (“He should be here”) and fatalistic despair (“He didn’t say for sure that he would come”). In the end, they just wait, day after day.

Whatever Robert Mueller’s internal timetable (seers like Rudy Giuliani have so far been comically wrong in trying to predict it), the investigation will face new pressures with the virtually certain Senate confirmation this week of William Barr. For the first time, Mueller will be supervised by a legitimate attorney general — rather than an acting Donald Trump factotum — who has avoided any promises about releasing the full report.

That might as well have been Trump’s concession speech
What we learned from the State of the Union: the president is still a one-trick pony

OPINION — Donald Trump’s next State of the Union Address will be delivered in the shadow of the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. It will be a time when the spirited race for Democratic nomination will offer more drama than the president’s tricks and tweets.

And if the Democrats win back the White House, that 2020 speech will have been Trump’s last State of the Union, since defrocked presidents, even ego-mad ones, rarely make the inaugural year trek to Capitol Hill to read their own political obituaries.

The last JFK aide is dead. But the silent generation still has something to say
Three greats are gone. They weren’t exactly flashy

OPINION — It is a futilely human failing to try to find some larger pattern in the groupings of deaths in the obituaries. But I could not help being struck by the juxtaposition of three men — all in their 90s — who died within three days of each other earlier this month.

There is no obvious linkage among them (a former senator, a retired newspaper columnist and a leading sociologist) other than public lives of sufficient prominence to warrant major obits. But taken together, their careers serve as a reminder of some of the democratic values of the late 20th century that have badly eroded in this era of vitriol and venom.