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Should You Blame Al Franken For Donald Trump's Rise?

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 8/03/2016 Jason Linkins

Last week, I tracked every single thing that every single pundit suggested was responsible for the rise of GOP front-runner Donald Trump. But, like the Constitution, it's a living document.

Here's a recent addition: Minnesota Sen. Al Franken begot Trump, a wrong idea from the National Journal's Josh Kraushaar.

Off the top, you think you sort of know where this argument is headed: to a lame disquisition on the nexus of celebrity and politics. But no, that's not the argument at all!

Kraushaar drills down on the fact that Franken, who joined Congress late because of the vagaries of the 2008 Minnesota election, became the deciding vote in the Senate supermajority. And then we're off to the correlation-equals-causation races, in which Franken's vote enabled Obamacare to pass (as did many other votes), which in turn created resistance to President Barack Obama's agenda (which was already in place because of the stimulus bill and the administration's plan to provide homeowner relief), which -- yada yada yada -- gave us Trump.

Briefly, here are some of the wrong things knit up in this premise:

"President Obama didn’t face any real resistance in Congress to start his presidency."

This is basically the load-bearing beam of Kraushaar's entire premise, and it's howlingly wrong. As Carl Hulse and Adam Nagourney reported for The New York Times in 2010: "Before the health care fight, before the economic stimulus package, before Obama even took office, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader, had a strategy for his party: use his extensive knowledge of Senate procedure to slow things down, take advantage of the difficulties Democrats would have in governing and deny Democrats any Republican support on big legislation."

This was all subsequently confirmed by Robert Draper's reportage in his book Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives.

"Without a Democratic supermajority, Obama would have been forced to negotiate with Republicans..."

Oh, honey. Obama and former Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) spent many, many months burning through that brief Senate supermajority, trying to win over Republicans. Many of the concessions granted to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), former Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and others (including other Democrats), are actually still in the Affordable Care Act.

I've never been sure what else Obama was supposed to do here, other than just not attempt to enact a major plank in the Democratic Party's platform. By the way, maybe go ask former Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) what the consequences of working in bipartisan fashion are.

"The notion that Obama was fated to face an intransigent Republican opposition has always been off-base."

Actually, it's pretty much a known historical trend that midterm elections tend to run against the party in the White House. (This is why many presidents feel like they have to act on their agenda right away, before the electoral resistance that's baked into the cake arrives.)

"That’s where Al Franken comes in. If it weren’t for 312 voters in Minnesota, Obama’s ambitions would at least have been curtailed by legislative realities, and the trajectory of his presidency would have looked much different."

When the Affordable Care Act was passed, it did require 60 votes in the Senate. But not the vote on the amendment bill. That was done via reconciliation, and it passed when the Democrats didn't have 60 votes.

But, I digress. Another way of looking at this is that thanks to 312 voters in Minnesota, lots of people who might otherwise have died are alive.

This is preferable to, say, the alternate reality, in which Obama would have run for re-election on a platform of not accomplishing any of his major agenda items for the sake of being able to say that he was really getting on with all of the people his coalition voted out of office in 2008.

In the end, Kraushaar never really gets around to explaining how the deciding Obamacare vote that Franken didn't actually cast led to Trump. This conclusion is literally tacked on at the end, as if he suddenly remembered that he had to work Trump in there somehow.

But hey, here's how Obamacare's passage maybe gave rise to Trump. It's been six years or so since then, and the Republican Party has followed a very specific process.

First, they convinced their base that Obamacare was going to ruin America. Then, they promised to stop it -- repeal it, defund it -- without ever accounting for the fact that the president was never going to veto his own legislation. During this time, they made additional promises that they were going to come up with something much better to replace Obamacare.

Then they failed to do any of these things, and voila! The GOP base is angry at establishment Republicans and now they want Trump.

That's how you should write a column on how Obamacare paved the way for Trump. The whole point of Kraushaar's piece was probably just to make Obamacare supporters feel guilty about keeping poor people alive and out of debt. Nah, sorry, didn't work.


Jason Linkins edits "Eat The Press" for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost politics podcast "So, That Happened." Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below. 

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