Friday, March 31, 2017


Sean Hannity has been a shameless Donald Trump bootlicker, so this seems like a surprise:
Fox News host Sean Hannity sided with the Freedom Caucus on Thursday in its feud with President Trump, saying he didn’t think the conservative lawmakers were at fault for last week's failure of the GOP healthcare bill.

“Now, in my opinion, it’s not the Freedom Caucus that's responsible for the GOP failure in this case to repeal and replace ObamaCare,” Hannity, a vocal supporter of Trump, said on his prime-time program.

“Now, this legislation was flawed from the beginning. It was created behind closed doors. Not one single member saw the bill until it was rolled out. And that made it a disaster,” he said.

... In rare criticism of the president, Hannity said that Trump's anger was “misplaced.”

“Now I don't know who's telling the White House to focus their anger on the Freedom Caucus, but I do think it's misplaced," Hannity said. "Because the Freedom Caucus, I've talked to them, they want to make a deal, and they want the win for the president and the country.”
It's very mild criticism. But it's unexpected. Or is it?

On further reflection, I'd say we should have seen this coming. The important thing for Hannity -- and Fox in general -- is to stay in sync with whatever its audience believes True Conservatism is at any given moment, and to hate whatever the audience hates. Fox's audience hates Obamacare with the fury of a thousand suns. If Fox's audience could beat Obamacare to death and then burn the corpse while urinating on it, that's what would happen.

The Ryan/Trumpcare bill was way too much like Obamacare for True Conservatives' tastes. Even Trump's imprimatur couldn't change his fans' minds. So rejecting it is a shrewd move for Hannity.

Now, here's the thing: If Donald Trump thinks he can salvage his presidency by turning his back on the ultras in his party while making deals with Democrats and Republican centrists, the right-wing media is going to turn against him -- even Sean Hannity. A serious infrastructure plan? Big government! Shoring up Obamacare? Socialism!

Donald Trump was the embodiment of all that is good, in the eyes of the Fox audience -- until, in that audience's eyes, he showed inadequate hatred for Obamacare. Sean Hannity is too much of an opportunist not to see that.


At PoliticusUSA, Jason Easley quotes Rachel Maddow:
Mike Pence had been the head of the Trump transition. As such, he would have been intimately involved with the selection and vetting process for a job as important as national security adviser. Nevertheless, Vice President Mike Pence has professed absolute ignorance of any of the scandals of any of the foreign payments, contacts and all the rest of it surrounding Mike Flynn. Pence was the leader of the transition. As leader of the transition, he was notified in writing by members of Congress about Flynn’s apparent financial ties to the government of Turkey. The transition was also apparently notified twice by Flynn’s own lawyers about his financial relationship with the government of Turkey, but nevertheless, Vice President Mike Pence says he has no idea about any of that.


Vice President Mike Pence claims he had absolutely no idea about that despite him being notified about on the record multiple times and it being a matter of considerable public discussion. Mike Pence’s role in the Mike Flynn scandal is flashing like a red beacon for anyone who sees him as the normal Republican in this setting.
Easley adds:
... there is no way that Mike Pence didn’t know what was going on with Russia. The White House’s attempts to firewall off Pence from the rest of the scandal make no sense and will not hold up under investigation.

If Donald Trump leaves office under a cloud of scandal, the investigations, criminal and political, will continue. The Russia scandal won’t go away after Trump is gone. Mike Pence sold himself to Donald Trump when he became his running mate. Pence is deeply involved in this administration.
Logic and the facts may dictate that conclusion. But it's quite likely that logic and the facts won't drive what happens if the scandals surrounding Donald Trump ultimately bring him down.

If Trump and some of his associates fall, the Beltway will -- as the saying goes -- want closure. D.C. will want to reassure itself that the system works and that the limited number of bad apples were discovered and purged. Insiders will want a comforting narrative -- maybe even a familiar narrative. And what could be more familiar, especially to old-timers, than the a sociopath president being forced out of office in favor of an earnest, seemingly guileless Midwesterner who appears to be as dumb as a box of rocks?

Mike Pence will get to be Gerald Ford in this narrative because the Beltway will want him to be Gerald Ford. Even though, unlike Ford, he'll have been with the sociopath president since the campaign, he'll be portrayed as a hayseed innocent corrupted against his will by a shady slickster, someone he loyally served only because he felt his country was calling him to serve.

Recall the headlines about Pence after Trump's Access Hollywood tape broke: "Trump's Shocking Crude Comments on Women Leave Pence Reeling"; "Mike Pence 'Offended' and Praying for Donald Trump's Family Amid Crisis Over His 2005 Lewd Comments." Oh, poor Mike Pence! This must be awful for him! (Not awful enough for him to leave the ticket, but whatever.)

Mainstream Republicans will embrace Pence because they'll assume he can professionalize the all-GOP government. Trump voters will accept him because he remained loyal. The mainstream press will finally have the old-fashioned Republican Daddy it craves. No one's going to want to be told that the crooks haven't all been purged. They'll just be so happy to tell us we're back to normal.


Peggy Noonan, you may be surprised to learn, is generally skeptical of Donald Trump -- not skeptical enough, but I'll give her credit for never being completely won over. However, I don't think she quite understands Trump's voter base:
It amazes me that in his dealings with the health-care bill Mr. Trump revealed that he has no deep knowledge of who his base is, who his people are. I’ve never seen that in politics. But Mr. Trump’s supporters didn’t like the bill. If they had wanted a Republican president who deals only with the right, to produce a rightist bill, they would have chosen Ted Cruz. Instead they chose someone outside conservatism who backed big-ticket spending on infrastructure and opposed cutting entitlements, which suggested he’d be working with Democrats, too.
They didn't want a president who'd deal with Democrats. They hate Democrats. A lot of them hate Republicans, too, or think they do, although most of them never vote for any other party. Yes, a certain percentage of them voted for Barack Obama, and those voters might have been enough to put Trump over the top in key states, but they were a tiny minority of his voter base.

Ultimately, what they wanted was for Trump alone to dictate the terms of the bill, using his magical, superhuman deal-making arts. He told them, "I alone can fix it." That's what they believed.

They wanted entitlements saved and they wanted infrastructure, which to an old Washington hand like Noonan sounds like liberalism, but to them it was conservatism, because Trump talked about it all in the same speeches in which he attacked Hillary Clinton and denounced CNN and insulted Mexicans and promised to bomb the shit out of ISIS. It's the mirror image of the trick libertarians like Gary Johnson use: Say you're anti-war and pro-weed, and certain dumb lefty kids will think that you're left-wing even as you talk about abolishing the Social Security and eliminating federal student loans.

More from Noonan:
Whenever I used to have disagreements with passionate pro-Trump people, I’d hear their arguments, weigh their logic and grievances. I realized after a while that in every conversation we always brought different experiences to the table. I had worked in a White House. I had personally observed its deeper realities and requirements. Their sense of how a White House works came from news shows and reading, and also from TV shows such as “House of Cards” and “Scandal.” Those are dark, cynical shows that more or less suggest anyone can be president. I don’t mean that in the nice way. Those programs don’t convey how a White House is an organism demanding of true depth, of serious people, real professionals. A president has to be a serious person too, and not only an amusing or stimulating talker, or the object of a dream.
I don't think Noonan is completely off base here, and I'm pleased that she wants a president who's a grown-up. (I don't have nearly as much respect for the emotional maturity of the president she worked for as she does, but I'll grant that Ronald Reagan was a Gibraltar of emotional stability compared to Trump. I'll also grant that most of the people Reagan appointed to run the country had relevant experience and were grown-ups.)

But when Trump supporters imagine what a president ought to be, I don't think they're imagining dark satires like House of Cards and Scandal. I think they imagine something from completely outside the world of politics. I think they imagine Trump as a biker ...

... or as Rambo ...

... or as whatever the hell he's supposed to be in this image:

Trump fans don't want him to be a president -- they want him to be an action-movie hero. They want him to transcend politics. No, that's not quite accurate -- they want him to kick politics' ass. They want him to leave politics bleeding to death in an alley. And many of them, although probably fewer and fewer every day, still think that's possible.

They're delusional. They're children. That's why they voted for him.

Thursday, March 30, 2017


Donald Trump on Twitter about an hour ago:

Donald Trump in The Art of the Deal, page 53:

Donald, I can smell the desperation from here. And you have no leverage.


Until now, I've believed that Donald Trump could hold on to his base even if his presidency continued to be a miserable failure. He'd do it the way he's always done it: by expressing anger at the people his base hates. He wouldn't have to get much done -- he could just point to the occasional hiring decision by a big company, or an ICE raid here and there, and insist he was winning. And the base would believe him. In between real or imaginary victories, he'd just keep pouring on the hate.

But he's flirting with disaster now. I say this not because Obamacare repeal failed (that can be blamed on Paul Ryan), or because the Muslim ban is blocked in the courts (that can be blamed on evil "activist" judges), or because he's mired in the Russia scandal (that can be blamed on the "Deep State" or the "lying" media). He could survive all that with his base support intact. What he can't survive is this:
President Trump effectively declared war Thursday on the House Freedom Caucus, the powerful group of hard-line conservative Republicans who blocked the health-care bill, vowing to “fight them” in the 2018 midterm elections.

In a morning tweet, Trump warned that the Freedom Caucus would “hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast.” He grouped its members, all of them Republican, with Democrats in calling for their political defeat — an extraordinary incitement of intraparty combat from a sitting president.

Trump can get away with failure. What he can't get away with is picking a fight with True Conservatives, especially in defense of a bill they hated. Very few people are taking Trump's side at the traditionally Trump-friendly Free Republic:
... this is the third time this month Trump has threatened conservatives in the HFC. At first I was willing to concede Donald was playing mind games, 3 D chess, doing a head fake, or call it what you will.

But now? Well, if Trump wants to slide on into bed with the RINO's then he's on his own. I can not support him.


Sounds like DJT lost it ...


The Freedom Caucus is NOT the enemy. Trump needs to figure out that he is on the wrong side of this issue and stop threatening the one group who saved us all....including him....from a big disaster.


... I am a Constitutionalist and trump is ready to burn it. Stand strong Freedom Caucus....


I do like a lot of the EO doing away with Obama policies. He has made other decisions that I like. However, this scolding is tuning me out too. Someone who likes Dems more than conservatives must be whispering in his ear. Karl Rove was about to go on Fox News to say how Freedom Caucus was going to tear apart the R party. I turned the TV off....
Yes, Trump is getting backup from Rove -- and that's going to alienate the base even more:
Republican strategist Karl Rove on Thursday criticized the conservative House Freedom Caucus for recently helping sink GOP healthcare legislation.

“The Freedom Caucus did [President Trump] a grave disservice by killing the process of this bill, moving this bill forward,” Rove said of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) on Fox News’s "America’s Newsroom."
Rove might have been a wingnut hero fifteen years ago, but now True Conservatives regard him as an establishment RINO consultant-class sellout.

And if that isn't enough, Trump appears to backing down on his trade promises:
The Trump administration is signaling to Congress it would seek mostly modest changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement in upcoming negotiations with Mexico and Canada, a deal President Donald Trump called a “disaster” during the campaign.

According to an administration draft proposal being circulated in Congress by the U.S. trade representative’s office, the U.S. would keep some of Nafta’s most controversial provisions, including an arbitration panel that lets investors in the three nations circumvent local courts to resolve civil claims. Critics of these panels say they impinge on national sovereignty....

The U.S. also wouldn’t use the Nafta negotiations to deal with disputes over foreign currency policies or to hit numerical targets for bilateral trade deficits, as some trade hawks have been urging.
True Conservatives now regard trade hawkery as a right-wing litmus test. This is not going to go over well.

Trump can survive as long as base voters stick with him. He's had them up to now -- even in the mostly terrible new Public Policy Polling survey, in which he's at 40%-53% job approval and 41%-53% personal approval, he has the continued backing of nearly 90% of his voters. That number is going to drop fast if he very visibly abandons the current principles of Fox/talk radio/Breitbart conservatism.

One unfortunate consequence of all this: If Trump does slink off into the sunset after one term, wingnuts will tell us that the GOP has to become even more dogmatic and intransigent than it's been for the past couple of decades, because (they'll say) True Conservatism still hasn't been tried.


The New York Times reports:
U.S. War Footprint Grows in Middle East, With No Endgame in Sight

The United States launched more airstrikes in Yemen this month than during all of last year. In Syria, it has airlifted local forces to front-line positions and has been accused of killing civilians in airstrikes. In Iraq, American troops and aircraft are central in supporting an urban offensive in Mosul, where airstrikes killed scores of people on March 17.

Two months after the inauguration of President Trump, indications are mounting that the United States military is deepening its involvement in a string of complex wars in the Middle East that lack clear endgames....

Mr. Trump’s tough statements before coming into office, and the rise in civilian deaths in recent American strikes, have raised questions about whether the new president has removed constraints from the Pentagon on how it wages war.

... since Mr. Trump’s inauguration, the United States has stepped up its long-running drone campaign against the Yemeni branch of Al Qaeda, believed to be the organization’s most dangerous.
We're told that the increased involvement represents a carrying out of policy changes that began at the end of the Obama administration (though apparently no one in the Trump administration has attempted to reverse those changes). And everyone involved now swears that the rules of engagement haven't been changed.

Yet here we are. Also:
... since Mr. Trump took office, his administration has advanced some arms deals for coalition countries, while approving the resumption of sales of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia, according to an American official familiar with Yemen policy.

Mr. Trump’s more muscular approach has been hailed by Gulf leaders, who felt betrayed by Mr. Obama’s outreach to Iran and who hope that they now have an ally in the White House to help them push back against their regional foe.
And then there's this:
Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson has decided to lift all human rights conditions on a major sale of F-16 fighter jets and other arms to Bahrain in an effort to end a rift between the United States and a critical Middle East ally, according to administration and congressional officials involved in the debate.

Mr. Tillerson’s decision comes as the Trump administration looks to bolster Sunni Arab states in the Middle East and find new ways to confront Iran in the Persian Gulf.
Now let's go back to 2016 and recall the many times we were told that Donald Trump was to Hillary Clinton's left on foreign policy.

Here's GOP operative and frequent MSNBC guest Steve Schmidt, speaking to Chris Matthews in May:
One thing we know as we get ready for a general election contest is that Donald Trump will be running to the left as we understand it against Hillary Clinton on national security issues. And the candidate in the race most like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney from a foreign policy perspective is in fact Hillary Clinton, not the Republican nominee.
Here's Maureen Dowd, in a May column:
On some foreign policy issues, the roles are reversed for the candidates and their parties. It’s Hillary the Hawk against Donald the Quasi-Dove....

[Trump] can sound belligerent, of course, saying that he would bomb the expletive-deleted out of ISIS and that he would think up new and imaginative ways to torture terrorists and kill their families.

But he says that in most cases he would rather do the art of the deal than shock and awe.
Here's Dowd's Times colleague Mark Landler, writing in April, when Ted Cruz still seemed to have a chance at the Republican nomination:
Neither Trump nor Cruz favors major new deployments of American soldiers to Iraq and Syria (nor, for that matter, does Clinton). If anything, both are more skeptical than Clinton about intervention and more circumspect than she about maintaining the nation’s post-World War II military commitments. Trump loudly proclaims his opposition to the Iraq War. He wants the United States to spend less to underwrite NATO and has talked about withdrawing the American security umbrella from Asia, even if that means Japan and South Korea would acquire nuclear weapons to defend themselves.... Thus might the gen­eral election present voters with an unfamiliar choice: a Democratic hawk versus a Republican reluctant warrior.
Here's The Washington Post last March:
Donald Trump outlined an unabashedly noninterventionist approach to world affairs Monday, telling The Washington Post's editorial board that he questions the need for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which has formed the backbone of Western security policies since the Cold War....

Speaking ahead of a major address on foreign policy later Monday in front of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Trump said he advocates a light footprint in the world. In spite of unrest abroad, especially in the Middle East, Trump said the United States must look inward and steer its resources toward rebuilding domestic infrastructure.
Here are Judy Miller and Doug Schoen, writing for Fox News in June:
Unlike Mrs. Clinton, [Trump] has opposed arming Syrian rebels. In his isolationism and reluctance to use force to secure American goals, Mr. Trump resembles Democratic presidential aspirant Senator Bernie Sanders more than he does Hillary Clinton.
The Nation's William Greider wrote a piece in March titled " Donald Trump Could Be the Military-Industrial Complex’s Worst Nightmare." A July column by The Guardian's Simon Jenkins was titled "At Least President Trump Would Ground the Drones."

Most of these geniuses would say that they were merely taking Trump's own words literally. But they were shrugging off all the talk about taking Iraq's oil and bombing the shit out of ISIS. Also, when they heard Trump say that he "wants the United States to spend less to underwrite NATO" and when he "talked about withdrawing the American security umbrella from Asia," they didn't recognize that those were pro-Putin positions, not dovish positions.

All this was boiled down to a message a disturbing number of voters believed:

That message didn't just come from Putin's useful idiots on the left. It came from the mainstream media. Thanks a lot, folks.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017


The New York Times reports on a war between two kosher pizzerias in Brooklyn, which has now gone to a religious court:
Two pizza restaurant owners, both Orthodox Jews, have become entangled in an only-in-Brooklyn lawsuit, not in an august courthouse, but in an obscure hall of justice known as the Rabbinical Court of Borough Park, which hears cases in a simple room above a synagogue on a residential block.

At the center of the battle are not prices or sauce recipes, but cryptic interpretations of holy law set down in ancient Aramaic thousands of years ago. Both sides have invoked rules dictated by the Torah and the Talmud, as well as a cookbook’s worth of interpretations of kosher rules and certification standards.

Armed with their arguments, the two pizza sellers appeared last month in rabbinical court, known as a beth din. There, things proceeded like a Hasidic People’s Court, with the judges — three rabbis — dressed in traditional all-black garb, facing the litigants.
The litigants are Basil Pizza & Wine Bar, an upscale restaurant offering specialty pizzas, and Calabria, which opened across the street and is much more casual but has offered very similar pizzas. Daniel Branover, owner of Basil Pizza, felt his establishment's identity was being coopted -- so he went to the beth din.
While some may see this as mere capitalism, Mr. Branover considered it a violation of Talmudic law on unfair competition by a new nearby business — in Hebrew, hasagat gevul.

So he sued in rabbinical court, claiming a case of “one business hurting the livelihood of another business.”

... “They did everything that was against Jewish code, and that’s the reason I went after them,” said Mr. Branover, whose partner at Basil, Clara Perez, said that Calabria’s owners had stealthily debriefed employees about Basil’s most popular pizzas and how to make them. She also accused Calabria’s owners of poaching customers while they waited outside for Basil’s tables to clear.

... Beth dins are better known for mediating and adjudicating religious bills of divorce, kosher certifications and conversions to Judaism. But on occasion, they also rule on more enigmatic points of Jewish law, such as claims of ruinous competition.

... Cases have plaintiffs and defendants, and proceed in Hebrew, with witnesses, evidence presentations, questions from the rabbis and cross-examinations.
The court ruled for Basil Pizza, and Calabria was ordered to alter its menu. But that's not why I'm bringing this up. I want you to try to explain to me the difference between this court and the court that inspired this Breitbart headline in 2015:

An Islamic Tribunal using Sharia law in Texas has been confirmed by Breitbart Texas. The tribunal is operating as a non-profit organization in Dallas. One of the attorneys for the tribunal said participation and acceptance of the tribunal’s decisions are “voluntary.”

Breitbart Texas spoke with one of the “judges,” Dr. Taher El-badawi. He said the tribunal operates under Sharia law as a form of “non-binding dispute resolution.” ...

El-badawi said the tribunal follows Sharia law to resolve civil disputes in family and business matters. He said they also resolve workplace disputes....

Breitbart Texas asked what happens when there is a conflict between Sharia law and Texas law. El-badawi said most of the time, the laws are in agreement. When pushed further he admitted that, “we follow Sharia law.” However, he explained, “If the parties are not satisfied with the tribunal’s decision, they do not have to accept it and they can take the matter to Texas civil courts.” He did not say what the social ramifications of rejecting the “judge’s” decision would be.
In fact, when this article appeared, the tribunal "had been a registered nonprofit in Texas since 2012," as Dallas's D Magazine reported. Nevertheless, the Breitbart report set off a wave of anti-Muslim hysteria, as local elected officials rushed to express support for a bill in the state legislature banning the use of foreign law in court rulings (which was already prohibited).

In fact, the tribunal never sought to supersede U.S., state, or local law. Snopes quoted the tribunal's own website:
Conflicting problems within American Muslim society may range from personal and family matters such as marriage and divorce, as well as disputes among community members and those in positions of leadership. The courts of the United States of America are costly and consist of ineffective lawyers. Discontent with the legal system leads many Muslims in America to postpone justice in this world and opt for an audience on the Day of Judgment.

It is with this issue that Muslims here in America are obligated to find a way to solve conflicts and disputes according to the principles of Islamic Law and its legal heritage of fairness and justice in a manner that is reasonable and cost effective. These proceedings must be conducted in accordance with the law of the land; local, state and federal within the United States. Through effective mediation and arbitration, decisions can be made that are stipulated in the Shari’ah and adhering to the binding, ethical and legal code that exists within this country with the final approval of the relevant courts and judges.
(Emphasis added.)

I wrote about this at the time, and noted that you can find Jewish and Christian as well as Muslim faith-based courts in America. I noted the existence of Texas's Metroplex Mediation, and quoted from itswebsite:
Metroplex Mediation provides Christian mediation services aimed at facilitating settlements for parties involved in a broad range of legal, personal, and financial disputes, including family, church, business, trusts, probate, real estate, personal property, oil and gas, contracts, intellectual property, personal injury, interpersonal matters and others....

When one of you has a dispute with another believer, how dare you file a lawsuit and ask a secular court to decide the matter instead of taking it to other believers! Don’t you realize that someday we believers will judge the world? And since you are going to judge the world, can’t you decide even these little things among yourselves?...If you have legal disputes about such matters, why go to outside judges who are not respected by the church?...Even to have such lawsuits with one another is a defeat for you. (1 Cor. 1-7a)
Your right-wing uncle probably still believes that there's some town in Texas where the U.S. legal system has been replaced by sharia law. But when this kind of mediation happens among Texas Christians or Brooklyn Jews, right-wingers don't utter a peep of protest.


Here's The New York Times on the Trump administration's claim that coal can make a comeback:
Many fossil fuel executives are celebrating President Trump’s move to dismantle the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. But their cheers are muted, because market forces and state initiatives continue to elevate coal’s rivals, especially natural gas and renewable energy.

In coal’s favor, there is the new promise that federal lands will be open for leasing, ending an Obama-era moratorium. Easing pollution restrictions could delay the closing of some old coal-fired power plants, slowing the switch by some utilities to other sources....

For coal executives, however, optimism and expansion plans remain guarded. Regulatory relief could restore 10 percent of their companies’ lost market share at most, they say — nowhere near enough to return coal to its dominant position in power markets and put tens of thousands of coal miners to work.
But that really might be enough for Trump fans. Remember, they believe in anecdotes, not data. We point out statistics indicating that crime in the U.S. is at historic lows and they say, "What about all those murders in Chicago over the weekend?" We quote studies showing that immigrants commit fewer crimes than the native-born and they say, "What about that illegal guy who committed that rape?" We say that the Trump administration really isn't bringing jobs back and they say, "What about that announcement we just heard saying hundreds of jobs are being added?" (In most cases, these are personnel decisions that were made long before Trump was elected.)

A few coal jobs will be saved, a few coal jobs might even open up ... and still the long-term trends won't change significantly at all. But the Trumpers don't care about facts. They believe anecdotes. Trump feeds them anecdotes. Fox feeds them anecdotes. And they respond on cue. So, years from now, they really might believe he saved the coal industry, even as it's still dying.


From a Washington Post profile of Karen Pence, wife of the vice president:
In 2002, Mike Pence told the Hill that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side, either.
Which reminds me of something we learned about the marriage of David French, the National Review writer who was briefly under consideration as an anti-Trump candidate for president last year. French, also a Christian conservative, was was deployed to Iraq in 2007 as a military lawyer.

I'm not mocking monogamy. But in the modern world, women and men have to be able to interact in a non-sexual way, or we can't function as a society with gender equality. Mike Pence, as a politician, is going to work with women. David French's wife, Nancy, is a writer who's collaborated on a number of books, including a couple written with men.

Conservatives never stop complaining that Muslim societies have extreme restrictions on women. Many right-wingers insist that Islam is incompatible with Western values, citing, among other things, the differences in gender relations. So what's up with the Pences and the Frenches? They seem to be living in a way that's incompatible with Western values, too.

I say it's their right to do as they please -- but shouldn't their conservative compatriots be talking about these marital pacts the way they talk about sharia law? Shouldn't they be calling the Pences and the Frenches un-American?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017


There's so much going on today that you might have missed this:
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi hasn’t gone Washington. At least not yet.

But her schedule this week in D.C. gives the first tangible signs that she might eventually leave office early to work for President Trump. She pushed a children’s initiative with the Trump administration on Monday, moderates a “Women’s Empowerment” panel Wednesday with the president and first lady and is expected to take a role in helping combat the nation’s opiate-addiction crisis.

Bondi for months has been rumored to be considering a job with Trump, but she has steadfastly refused comment. But she became slightly more vocal Monday after bringing fellow Floridians and former football greats Tony Dungy and Derrick Brooks to Washington to meet with Trump, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson.

“I am working on some special projects with the White House,” Bondi, whose term expires in 2019, told POLITICO Florida on Monday without elaborating more.
As you probably know, in 2013 a group connected to Bondi's reelection campaign, And Justice for All, received a $25,000 contribution from the Donald J. Trump Foundation shortly after Bondi's office decided not to join a New York State lawsuit against Trump University. Politifact concluded that this wasn't a quid pro quo, but the only basis for that conclusion seems to have been the word of a Bondy political ally, who insisted that she asked for the contribution before she was aware of allegations against Trump U.
Bondi ... referri[ed] all questions to Marc Reichelderfer, a political consultant who worked for her most re-election effort.

Reichelderfer told AP that Bondi spoke with Trump "several weeks" before her office publicly announced it was deliberating whether to join a lawsuit proposed by New York's Democratic attorney general. Reichelfelder said that Bondi was unaware of dozens of consumer complaints received by her office about Trump's real-estate seminars at the time she requested the donation.

"The process took at least several weeks, from the time they spoke to the time they received the contribution," Reichelderfer told AP.
We have only Reicheldfelder's word on the timing of all this, and we have only his word that she was unaware of the allegations until just before she decided not to join the lawsuit. But she's skated on this, and that's good enough for the Trumpers.

If she does "take a role in helping combat the nation’s opiate-addiction crisis," she'll apparently be working under another shady character who's inexplicably unindicted:
President Trump plans to announce later this week that he has picked the New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to head up a drug commission devoted to the opioid abuse problem....
It's the Trump way, I guess.


It's been reported for a while that the Trump administration has put off its infrastructure push until next year, which means it may never happen at all. But Axios's Jonathan Swan says that infrastructure may happen next -- in conjunction with an effort to change the tax code:
The Trump administration is looking at driving tax reform and infrastructure concurrently, according to a White House source with direct knowledge.

It's a major strategic shift - infrastructure was likely going to be parked until next year - and is only possible because of last week's healthcare debacle.

President Trump feels burned by the ultra conservative House Freedom Caucus and is ready to deal with Democrats. Dangling infrastructure spending is an obvious way to buy the support of potentially dozens of Dems, meaning he wouldn't have to bargain with the hardliners....

Trump needs fast victories and infrastructure is something that's big, flashy, and potentially bipartisan.
Yes, this is potentially bipartisan. But should Democrats cooperate with Trump on anything at all? And could a bill that's actually good get through a Republican Congress and be signed by a Republican president?

I've accepted the notion that Democrats, as a rule, shouldn't cooperate with Trump, even on infrastructure. The decision on infrastructure is made easier by the fact that the Trump administration's proposal seems terrible, as Ron Klain noted in November:
First, Trump’s plan is not really an infrastructure plan. It’s a tax-cut plan for utility-industry and construction-sector investors, and a massive corporate welfare plan for contractors. The Trump plan doesn’t directly fund new roads, bridges, water systems or airports, as did Hillary Clinton’s 2016 infrastructure proposal. Instead, Trump’s plan provides tax breaks to private-sector investors who back profitable construction projects. These projects (such as electrical grid modernization or energy pipeline expansion) might already be planned or even underway. There’s no requirement that the tax breaks be used for incremental or otherwise expanded construction efforts; they could all go just to fatten the pockets of investors in previously planned projects.

Moreover, as others have noted, desperately needed infrastructure projects that are not attractive to private investors — municipal water-system overhauls, repairs of existing roads, replacement of bridges that do not charge tolls — get no help from Trump’s plan. And contractors? Well, they get a “10 percent pretax profit margin,” according to the plan. Combined with Trump’s sweeping business tax break, this would represent a stunning $85 billion after-tax profit for contractors — underwritten by the taxpayers.

Second, as a result of the above, Trump’s plan isn’t really a jobs plan, either. Because the plan subsidizes investors, not projects; because it funds tax breaks, not bridges; because there’s no requirement that the projects be otherwise unfunded, there is simply no guarantee that the plan will produce any net new hiring. Investors may simply shift capital from unsubsidized projects to subsidized ones and pocket the tax breaks on projects they would have funded anyway.
But what if Trump is so desperate for a win that he'd jettison this plan and go along with a real infrastructure plan? Some Senate Democrats released one in January:
A group of senior Senate Democrats on Tuesday unveiled their own $1 trillion plan to revamp the nation’s airports, bridges, roads and seaports, urging President Trump to back their proposal, which they say would create 15 million jobs over 10 years.

The Democrats said their infrastructure plan would rely on ­direct federal spending and would span a range of projects including not only roads and bridges, but also the nation’s broadband network, hospitals run by the Department of Veterans Affairs and schools....

Democrats said they would pay for their program by closing tax loopholes, an oft-stated pledge by both Democrats and Republicans. They did not specify which tax loopholes would be used.
There's the rub. Both Republicans and Democrats support closing tax loopholes in theory, but in practice, Republicans are much more concerned about giving more and more tax breaks to the rich. They're not going to close a loophole used by corporations or the rich unless they're also providing a comparable (or even more generous) tax cut.

(A 2015 Democratic infrastructure budget amendment would have paid for $487 billion in infrastructure "by closing a number of corporate tax breaks that allow some major companies to escape paying taxes or stash profits overseas." It was, of course, killed in the Senate by Republicans.)

I'm not sure I believe the Axios story -- remember, this might be a rumor floated by one White House faction even though other factions aren't on board. That happens all the time in Trump World. But if the Trump administration really does shift its attention to infrastructure, I think Democrats should remind everyone that they have an infrastructure plan without seeming desperate to meet with Trump about it. I don't think they should support a bill that's overwhelmingly like the Trump proposal -- but I'm not sure it's the worst idea to fight for a bill that sticks to their principles.

My guess is that congressional Republicans would bottle up any bill that seemed like a win for Chuck Schumer, out of fear of primary challenges in 2018. So it would probably be moot in any case.

It also seems to me, judging from this Axios report, that the Trump team is planning to entangle infrastructure in the rewriting of the tax code. The tax portion of this will be extremely difficult for the Trumpers because the reported savings in the health care bill were supposed to pay for massive tax breaks to the rich and corporations. The plan was to pass a tax bill through reconciliation, which means it would need only Republican votes (Democrats couldn't filibuster it in the Senate) -- but now the giveaways to the swells will have to be smaller.

Unless the Trumpers think Democrats will agree to huge tax breakls for the wealthy in return for infrastructure. That's a terrible deal, and I'm sure they wouldn't go for it.

If the Axios story is right, I suspect we'll either get the bad Trump infrastructure bill, which Democrats shouldn't support, or we'll get some consideration of a Democratic proposal, but it will get entangled in the politics of taxation. So maybe it wouldn't be a bad thing for Democrats to talk to Trump -- on their terms, promoting their proposal. Yes, you don't want to give Trump a win. But Democrats are highly unlikely to get Trump and congressional Republicans to support a good deal. So as long as they resist bad deals -- and they seem inclined to resist -- then a little openness to dialogue might not be a terrible thing. Put the Democratic proposal out there, articulate Democratic principles, watch them get rejected -- then run on that.

Monday, March 27, 2017


The Atlantic's David Graham thinks Donald Trump is well positioned to move to the left now, in the wake of the repeal-and-replace disaster:
... what if ... Trump dodged a serious bullet on Friday, setting him up for a recovery? If that’s the case, Friday might even have perversely been the best day of Trump’s presidency so far—or at least the point where he hit rock-bottom, allowing him to turn things around.
Graham imagines that Trump could salvage his presidency by returning to what he espoused during the campaign:
... Looking forward, post-health-care tension threatens to drive a wedge between Trump and Paul Ryan’s agenda, which is in many ways anathema to the Trump coalition.

Start with the bill in question. Trump had promised during the campaign to repeal and replace Obamacare “immediately” with something that would avoid mandates but maintain popular provisions that prohibit discrimination for preexisting conditions and allow people to stay on their parents’ insurance plans until 26. He also planned to make coverage available to anyone who wanted it, and to not touch Medicare and Medicaid.

... Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan ... were always an odd pair; they disagreed on a range of fundamental issues, especially entitlements (Ryan wants to cut them; Trump promised to preserve them)....

... a split with the speaker might be the best thing that could happen to Trump in political terms, freeing him up to pursue the deficit-bloating spending agenda he laid out during the campaign, rather than the far more austere and fiscally conservative one that Ryan desires.
Graham, to his credit, doesn't believe Trump actually will move left.
If the past is precedent, Trump won’t do that. The AHCA debacle showed that Trump has little handle on the way Capitol Hill works, and minimal interest in learning. As a general rule, he lacks discipline. Moving to take advantage of the moment would also require a unified, concerted effort from a White House that has shown little ability to act in that way....
But just describing this as an opportunity for Trump to return to the agenda he laid out in his campaign (better benefits, lots of infrastructure projects) misses the point.

Trump's agenda was never anything more than sucker's bait. As a businessman or a politician, Trump doesn't promise what he'd really like to deliver -- he promises whatever will reel in the marks. Whatever Trump said during the campaign about Obamacare or Medicare or Medicaid or infrastructure should be taken as seriously as we take Trump University promotional material. As Trump frenemy Mark Cuban said:
“He’s like that guy who walks into the bar, and will say whatever it’ll take to get laid. Only in this case he’s not trying to fuck some girl. He’s trying to fuck the country.”
You can ask why Trump doesn't just bust the budget and actually try to give people what he promised -- after all, it's the government's money, not his. But I think he's so used to shortchanging his buyers (selling them a lousy "university," selling them tasteless steaks) that he can't even imagine delivering on his promises anymore. He's already closed the sale -- he can go hold a "campaign" rally anytime he wants and bask in the adulation of a large crowd of deplorables. But more important, he's in this not for the public, but for himself and for the members of his economic class -- making sure that Trump, his family, and his friends get paid is Job #1. And as for the politics of it all, his gang is the right, or at least some portion of it, while his enemies are mostly the left. He learned that from Fox News -- it got him to the White House. So no, don't hold your breath waiting for him to reach out to ordinary people.


The Donald Trump administration didn't come into office holding out an olive branch to Chuck Schumer and the rest of the Democratic Party, and The Washington Post's Fred Hiatt finds that baffling:
For weeks there has been [an] obvious question for Stephen K. Bannon and President Trump: Why are they driving Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer into the arms of the implacable opposition?

... Trump’s behavior from Inauguration Day on left Schumer no choice. More important, what’s bad for Democrats isn’t necessarily optimal for Trump — especially if his and Bannon’s goal was to blow up both parties and forge a new working-class, nationalist majority that can carry Trump to triumphant reelection in 2020.

... if Trump had begun his administration by seeking a bipartisan infrastructure bill, Schumer would have had no choice but to cooperate, and might well have welcomed the chance.
Hiatt just can't figure it out:
... Why didn’t Trump start with infrastructure and cooperation?

One possibility is that he didn’t because he couldn’t, temperamentally. He couldn’t control his jeers and insults, and Bannon couldn’t control them either, so before the administration could even choose its first priority, the decision was essentially made for it: Democrats had been alienated and Trump had to start with initiatives that he thought could pass with only Republican support....

Another possibility is that the more conventional Republicans inside the administration — Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Vice President Pence — argued for more conventional Republican goals and won.
Or maybe the notion that Trump and Bannon ever really wanted to "blow up both parties and forge a new working-class, nationalist majority" is completely specious.

If you really believe that Bannon is some sort of closet centrist, consider this Politico story about tensions between the Trump Treasury Department and the Bannon wing in the White House:
Conservatives inside and outside Treasury say the new secretary, former Goldman Sachs banker, movie producer and Democratic donor Steven Mnuchin, is assembling a team that is too liberal and too detached from the core of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” platform of ripping up trade deals, gutting the Dodd-Frank banking rules and generally rejecting “globalism” in all its forms.

On one side is a less ideological faction, mostly aligned with Mnuchin, that includes National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn and deputy national security adviser Dina Powell — three former Goldman executives — alongside first daughter Ivanka Trump and to some degree her husband, Jared Kushner. All are seen as having a more favorable view of international trade deals and existing relationships with foreign counterparts and a more measured approach to revamping financial regulations On the other side are more populist and nationalist forces, led by senior adviser Steve Bannon and top policy adviser Stephen Miller.

Already, critics note that Mnuchin has selected another Democratic donor, Craig Phillips, for a top position within the department. He told senators at his confirmation hearing that he supports parts of the controversial Volcker Rule, which prohibits banks from making some bets with their own money — an anathema to conservatives who want to scrap stricter banking laws....

“For conservatives, Mnuchin is a missed opportunity because he is not conservative. He will not drive the kind of tax reform we want, nor will he be strong on fixing Dodd-Frank,” [a Republican] donor [said].
Did you follow that? It's true that Bannon's views on trade are neither liberal nor mainstream conservative -- but on changing the tax code, eliminating the Volcker Rule, overturning Dodd-Frank, and generally "revamping" (i.e., gutting) financial regulations, the supposedly "populist" Bannon is to the right of Trump's Goldman Sachs contingent. On these subjects, they're seen as liberals. Bannon doesn't just disagree with them, he disagrees with them in a mainstream conservative way -- i.e., a Paul Ryan/Koch brothers way.

So Maybe Bannon doesn't really give a crap about infrastructure, especially infrastructure paid for in a way Chuck Schumer might endorse. Maybe Bannon just talked about that because he assumed it was a stick to beat Democrats with. And when he found out that Republicans in Congress were lukewarm to the idea, he agreed to the (probably permanent) postponement of the infrastructure bill without complaining, without urging Breitbart to embarrass congressional leaders on the subject, and without trying to harm the leadership with leaks to the rest of the media.

Hiatt speculates that Trump didn't do outreach to Democrats because Reince Priebus and Mike Pence "argued for more conventional Republican goals and won." Well, maybe Bannon did that too. And maybe Trump responded to that because he's been a Fox News junkie for years and years.

Bannon's alleged post-partisanship is utterly phony. He's a "populist" because he's a racist, and because he believes "champion of the working stiff" is a good market niche for him (and for Trump). But all of Trump's top advisers are ultimately Republicans. Unless they believed they could negotiate the terms of a Democratic surrender, they were never going to do inter-party outreach.


Wake up and smell the working-class blue-collar heartland populism:
President Trump plans to unveil a new White House office on Monday with sweeping authority to overhaul the federal bureaucracy and fulfill key campaign promises ... by harvesting ideas from the business world and, potentially, privatizing some government functions.

The White House Office of American Innovation, to be led by Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, will operate as its own nimble power center within the West Wing and will report directly to Trump. Viewed internally as a SWAT team of strategic consultants, the office will be staffed by former business executives....

The innovation office has a particular focus on technology and data, and it is working with such titans as Apple chief executive Tim Cook, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Salesforce chief executive Marc Benioff and Tesla founder and chief executive Elon Musk. The group has already hosted sessions with more than 100 such leaders and government officials.

... Benioff [said], “I’m hopeful that Jared will be collaborative with our industry in moving this forward. When I talk to him, he does remind me of a lot of the young, scrappy entrepreneurs that I invest in in their 30s.”
Strategic consultants! Silicon Valley ties! Jared Kushner as "scrappy entrepreneur" who'd be worthy of venture capital! I can feel the dirt under my fingernails already. Donald Trump really is a blue-collar billionaire!

Seriously, folks -- if an announcement like this had been made by President Hillary Clinton, even if it didn't involve her daughter or her daughter's husband, can you imagine the contempt with which it would have been met, especially by liberals who chide the Democratic Party for abandoning the heartland? It would have been said that after a populist election, in which the two candidates who energized voters were Trump and Bernie Sanders, the president was turning to technocrats to solve America's problems. Waving their well-thumbed copies of Hillbilly Elegy, the pundits would have said that President Clinton had completely misunderstood the message voters were sending in 2016 -- they'd say she was turning to the same bubble-dwelling coastal elitist meritocrats who'd gotten us into this mess and driven the white working class to a state of despair and widespread drug addiction. They'd say that especially if her office was doing this:
The office will also focus on combating opioid abuse, a regular emphasis for Trump on the campaign trail.
But we won't hear many pundits say that America needs hope for the less well off, not "disruption" of government functioning. Maybe a few will say that a pampered scion who vacations in Aspen might not be the best choice to deal with the opioid problem in white working-class communities. (We're also told that Kushner will be working with "an official drug commission devoted to the problem that will be chaired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie," even though the two hate each other. Yeah, that should end well.)

The rest of the team really seems rooted to the soil:
Kushner proudly notes that most of the members of his team have little-to-no political experience, hailing instead from the world of business. They include Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council; Chris Liddell, assistant to the president for strategic initiatives; Reed Cordish, assistant to the president for intergovernmental and technology initiatives; Dina Powell, senior counselor to the president for economic initiatives and deputy national security adviser; and Andrew Bremberg, director of the Domestic Policy Council.

Ivanka Trump ... will collaborate with the innovation office on issues such as workforce development but will not have an official role, aides said.

Powell, a former Goldman Sachs executive who spent a decade at the firm managing public-private job creation programs, also boasts a government pedigree as a veteran of George W. Bush’s White House and State Department. Bremberg also worked in the Bush administration. But others are political neophytes.

Liddell, who speaks with an accent from his native New Zealand, served as chief financial officer for General Motors, Microsoft and International Paper, as well as in Hollywood for William Morris Endeavor.

... Like Kushner, Cordish is the scion of a real estate family — a Baltimore-based conglomerate known for developing casinos and shopping malls. And Cohn, a Democrat who has recently amassed significant clout in the White House, is the hard-charging former president of Goldman Sachs.
Wake me when the populism starts.

Sunday, March 26, 2017


The New York Post's Salena Zito says that Donald Trump's low approval ratings don't matter. Why?
Because in American politics, geography is everything.

Live in an urban, minority or college setting, and Donald J. Trump is underwater in the polls in a big way; he gets a frosty 29 percent approval rating in the cities, 35 percent approval in the urban suburbs, in the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal survey.

But, live in the second ring of suburbs outside the cities, or the exurbs or the third and fourth rings that comprise rural America, and the president gets a 53 percent to 59 percent job approval rating in the same poll.
In a country where you can lose the popular vote by nearly three million and still be deemed the election winner, she has a point, regrettably -- but when she tries to hammer that point home, her assertions begin to be contradicted by simple grade-school math. She writes about a Pennsylvania voter named Don Brick:
In addition to cultural attitudes, Brick also represents the issue of geography. He is from one of the Democratic counties in Pennsylvania — Westmoreland — that went big for Trump.
Did Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, go big for Trump? Yes -- by a margin of approximately 50,000 votes out of 175,000 cast.

But is it reasonable to call Westmoreland a "Democratic county"? The fact is, as you'll see if you check the county-by-county Pennsylvania results at U.S. Election Atlas, Westmoreland County hasn't chosen a Democrat for president since 1996. And even then it was a squeaker, with Bill Clinton getting 44% of the vote and Bob Dole getting 43%. (Ross Perot got 11%.)

When I pointed this out on Twitter, Zito responded:

She's technically correct -- Westmoreland County has approximately 245,000 registered voters, and Democrats have a whopping 8,000-voter advantage over Republicans. But it's not even a majority: There are 28,000 voters with other registrations.

And this is moot if the county hasn't voted Democratic in a generation. It reminds me of a lot of Southern locales where conservative white voters retain Democratic registration even though it's been decades since they actually voted for a Democrat.

Zito goes on to write:
If you’re looking toward the midterms in 2018 and hoping Trump will be a drag on a House congressional seat, it’s more important to know how folks see the president in northeast Ohio or Scranton, Pa., than in Boston or Baltimore or Philadelphia.

Why? Because here in Ohio’s Mahoning Valley, there was a 21-point shift in support from Barack Obama toward Trump in the 13th Congressional District held by Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan. Ryan didn’t lose, but a once-solid Democratic seat is now vulnerable in the 2018 midterms.
Tim Ryan "didn't lose"? He sure didn't -- he won in 2016 by a 68%-32% margin. That means he's "vulnerable"?

In Zito-land, I guess it does.


It certainly looks as if President Trump wants Paul Ryan humiliated -- or does it?

Here's a story that's getting a lot of attention right now:
President Donald Trump tweeted a message on Saturday encouraging his followers to watch Judge Jeanine Pirro's show, who opened her show immediately demanding that House Speaker Paul Ryan resign.

The Fox News host kicked off her show, Justice With Judge Jeanine, with her "Opening Statement" segment, which called for Ryan to step down after the GOP's health care bill failed to gain enough votes to continue.

"Paul Ryan needs to step down as speaker of the House," said Pirro, beginning her show. "The reason? He failed to deliver the votes on his health care bill, the one trumpeted to repeal and replace Obamacare. The one that he had seven years to work on. The one he hid under lock and key in the basement of Congress. The one that had to be pulled to prevent the embarrassment of not having enough votes to pass."

"But this bill didn't just fail," she continued. "It failed when Republicans had the House, the Senate, the White House."
Here's the tweet that preceded that by about ten hours:

But if Trump wants to bring Ryan down, why is The New York Times reporting this?
In his private conversations, the president has remained supportive of Mr. Ryan, declining to join in his advisers’ frustrations over how the bill was handled in the House. One adviser described him as still “smitten” with Mr. Ryan.

“I want to thank Paul Ryan. He worked very, very hard,” Mr. Trump said on Friday. “I will tell you that. He worked very, very hard.”

Mr. Trump’s praise for Mr. Ryan seemed to owe, at least in part, to the fact that the speaker had repeatedly kept him informed throughout the negotiations. Mr. Ryan was also exceedingly deferential to the president, casting him for days as the consummate closer and a winner of the highest order. “The president gave his all in this effort,” he said on Friday. “He’s really been fantastic.”
So does the Times have it wrong? Is Trump pretending to be "smitten" by Ryan while not-so-secretly trying to stab him in the back?

I have my doubts about that tweet. It's long been known that Trump doesn't write (or dictate) all of his own tweets. It's possible to determine whether a Trump tweet came from an iPhone or an Android phone by looking at it in Tweetdeck, and it's widely believed that Trump's more inflammatory tweets have been posted on an Android device, while staffers have written the more staid tweets on an iPhone.

But The Guardian noted earlier this month that very Trumpy tweets are now being posted from an iPhone -- at the time of the Guardian story, Trump hadn't used an Android in eleven days, for any kind of tweet. (There'd been pressure on Trump to give up his Android phone, a very insecure Samsung Galaxy S3.)

Well, the Pirro tweet is from an Android device.

But it's true that Trump is using an iPhone for very Trumpy tweets:

So maybe some of the tweets Trump doesn't write are now being sent via Android. Trump aides know that we know the old pattern. Maybe they're trying to mix it up.

That Pirro tweet sure doesn't look like a Trump original. It has no anger. It has no exclamation points. The airtime of the show is carefully rendered as "9:00 P.M." -- the way you'd write it if, unlike Trump, you were used to having your copy read and marked up by professional copy editors.

Trump didn't write that.

It's possible that he' turning against Ryan -- as the Times story notes, " Mr. Trump is also known to grow angrier over time, particularly if faced with public embarrassment."

But I believe Trump has been "smitten" with Ryan. Think about how self-conscious Trump seems to be with regard to his utter lack of policy knowledge. Now think about Ryan's M.O. as a congressman: He's the Great Explainer, the guy who comes to you and says, with a bashful chuckle, "Yeah, this stuff is really complicated, but heck, I'm a nutty policy wonk, so if you have any questions, just ask me." That's the message that bamboozles so many Beltway journalists -- why wouldn't it bamboozle Trump? It would be reassuring -- don't worry if you don't understand it, because it's really only nerds like me who can understand all these crazy details.

The Times story says that Ryan has flattered Trump (“He’s really been fantastic”). And it goes on to tell us that Ryan knows how to echo Trump, a skill mastered by generations of ambitious corporate strivers before him:
On Friday, Mr. Ryan was quick to adopt Mr. Trump’s favored rationale during the health fight, arguing that Republicans had been doing Democrats a grand favor by dismantling President Barack Obama’s health law in the first place and that Democrats would eventually suffer the consequences.

“I’m sure they may be pleased right now,” Mr. Ryan said, but when they see “how bad” things get, “I don’t think they’re going to like that, either.”
So my conclusion is that Trump still likes Ryan -- and somebody else wrote that tweet.

Saturday, March 25, 2017


This morning I've been reading a lot of inside-baseball stories about the failure of the Trump/Ryancare bill. One message that's repeated in many of the stories is that the events of the past few weeks were like an anecdote from Donald Trump's book The Art of the Deal, except that this didn't have a happy ending for Trump, because things in Washington are, in some vague way, different, or Trump's commitment to victory was different, or some combination of the two.

But it seems to me that Trump's biggest problem, apart from his staggering ignorance of the bill's nuances and health care in general, is that for all the respect he gets as a dealmaker, he has no go-to move when he can't bedazzle you or scare you. Here he is failing to dazzle:
One [moderate Republican], Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.), attended meetings at the White House and praised Trump’s style, saying the president clearly “knows Jersey.” But, he added, the bill would harm his constituents who rely on Medicaid and there was nothing Trump could say to persuade him otherwise.

“He’s got this wit about him that I enjoy,” Lance said, “but I’m a ‘no’ vote.”
And then there were members of the Freedom Caucus, particularly Mark Meadows, whom Trump tried and failed to intimidate:
Freedom Caucus members were eager to hear from Trump on Tuesday when he arrived at the Capitol. But when he rose to address the GOP conference, the president made it clear there would be no further modifications, and said he expected Republicans to rally around Ryan's bill.

Then Trump made a mistake. After singling out Meadows and asking him to stand up in front of his colleagues, Trump joked that he might "come after" the Freedom Caucus boss if he didn't vote yes, and then added, with a more serious tone: "I think Mark Meadows will get on board."

It was a crucial misreading of Meadows, who has been determined to please both the White House and his conservatives colleagues on the Hill. Upon assuming the chairmanship of the Freedom Caucus earlier this year, Meadows was viewed suspiciously by some of his members who worried that the North Carolina congressman is too cozy with Trump and would hesitate to defy him. Meadows campaigned extensively with Trump last fall and struck up a relationship with White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who communicates with him almost daily by text. Meadows knew the health care fight would be viewed as a test of his independence from Trump, and the moment the president called him out, he was boxed in.

"That was the biggest mistake the president could have made," one Freedom Caucus member told me. "Mark desperately wanted to get to yes, and Trump made it impossible for him. If he flipped after that he would look incredibly weak."
If you feel you're answerable to someone other than Trump, Trump has no idea how to win you over. The moderates are more afraid of swing voters in their districts than they are of Trump campaigning against them or recruiting primary challengers for them. The Freedom Caucusers don't want to alienate their purist fellow members, and they know that a lot of their voters assess legislation based on what they glean from talk radio, purist websites and pundits, and far-right groups like the Heritage Foundation. They're more afraid of crossing those folks than they are of crossing Trump.

Some reporters will tell you that Trump was really good at this sort of thing when he was in real estate, but this is different:
[The] president [was] in a constant state of negotiation. He remarked to friends and aides that it did not feel much different from his real estate transactions.

“It’s the same thing,” he said Wednesday in the Oval Office. “Really, it is.”

Yet the man accustomed to acting unilaterally as a Manhattan developer faced a series of new and uncomfortable challenges.
But in his real estate years he sometimes had the same problems: If he hadn't charmed you, couldn't intimidate you, and wasn't the person you felt you were answerable to, you could scuttle his deals.
Through Trump’s rise, fall and rebirth, there was one major real estate project that he tried to keep.... It was a deal of genuine magnitude and would have put him atop the New York real estate market. And he screwed it up.

The deal involved Manhattan’s West Side Yards, a sprawling, 77-acre tract abutting the Hudson River between 59th and 72nd Streets and at the time the largest privately owned undeveloped stretch of land in New York City....

Trump’s plans for the property included office and residential space; a new broadcasting headquarters for NBC; a rocket-ship-shaped skyscraper that would have been the world’s tallest building and cast shadows across the Hudson River into New Jersey; and a $700 million property tax abatement from the city as an incentive to build it. The $4.5 billion project -- which Trump called Television City -- would have been New York’s biggest development since Rockefeller Center....

With the property, financing and plans in place, a large part of what Trump needed to do to make Television City a reality was to bring together different stakeholders: locals (like the late actor Paul Newman) who wanted parks and a less imposing development, and a mayor, Ed Koch, who had his own outsize personality and who was trying to balance the city’s redevelopment with the needs of the area’s longtime residents.

Had Trump appeased these interests, he might have made the project a reality. Instead, the author of “The Art of the Deal” quickly became entangled in an epic, only-in-New-York round of public fisticuffs with Koch in the spring and summer of 1987. The brawl devolved into name-calling -- and ultimately helped doom a deal that could have had vastly different results if Trump chose different tactics.

After learning that Koch was going to turn down his request for the $700 million abatement for Television City, Trump dashed off a letter to the mayor.

“For you to be playing ‘Russian Roulette’ with perhaps the most important corporation in New York over the relatively small amounts of money involved because you and your staff are afraid that Donald Trump may actually make more than a dollar of profit, is both ludicrous and disgraceful,” he wrote to Koch.

Koch wrote back to Trump, warning him to “refrain from further attempts to influence the process through intimidation.” Koch then held a press conference, during which he released the letters and said he wasn’t going to give Trump the abatement.

Trump doubled down, holding his own press conference and calling on Koch to resign. The battle played out in a carnivalesque stream on TV and on the front pages and gossip columns of newspapers.

Koch said Trump was “squealing like a stuck pig.” Trump said Koch’s New York had become a “cesspool of corruption and incompetence.” Koch said Trump was a “piggy, piggy, piggy.”

Trump said the mayor had “no talent and only moderate intelligence” and should be impeached. “Ed Koch would do everybody a huge favor if he would get out of office and they started all over again,” he noted. “It’s bedlam in the city.”

Things quieted down for a little while, and then Koch announced that he would zone the Yards for a project about half the size of what Trump wanted for Television City. Koch also gave NBC tax breaks that persuaded it to stay put in Rockefeller Center.

Trump promised that he would eventually build Television City “with or without the current administration” in City Hall. But he never did.
Koch was a man with an ego and a gift for self-promotion equal to Trump's. He wasn't charmed by Trump or intimidated by him. Koch was willing to cut deals, but only up to a point. As The New York Times reported at the time, Koch
said he could not offer Mr. Trump a deal that was so generous that it would have antagonized all the other corporations that have remained in the city. And, the Mayor added, he could not empty the public treasury just to assuage the network and the developer.
So NBC got a tax break to stay in the city, and Trump was left to stew.

The legend notwithstanding, Trump as a developer didn't always win -- far from it. You could beat him then if you cared about your interests more than his. And you can beat him now the same way.

Friday, March 24, 2017


We had a big win today, but Joan Walsh expresses a fear that a lot of people share:
It’s unlikely the GOP will return to health-care-reform legislation this year. (“It’s enough already,” Trump told a reporter Friday afternoon.) That doesn’t mean the fight over Obamacare will wind down, necessarily, but that it will move into the shadows. The Republican plan now, Trump told reporters, is to wait for Obamacare to “explode.” Similarly, Ryan predicted, “The worst is yet to come with Obamacare.” In all likelihood, what that means is that the GOP will now occupy itself with sabotaging the law. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, an ardent Obamacare critic, is perfectly positioned to do just that, via small regulatory actions that will attract considerably less attention than a legislative battle. The administration has already begun that work—for instance, by canceling millions of dollar’s worth of prepaid television advertisements for the Obamacare enrollment period.
Sabotage as Plan B? That's plausible -- but what would Republicans do then? They'd be putting themselves in the same position they were in when they decided to repeal and replace Obamacare as their first order of business this year: They'd have to concoct a plan that could get through both houses of Congress, and that wouldn't be universally hated.

They couldn't do it this year, even with seven years to ruminate. They're not going to be able to do it in the future. Jonathan Chait states the problem flatly:
It is not possible to write a bill that meets public standards for acceptable health-insurance coverage within the parameters of conservative ideology.
This doesn't mean that the sabotage of Obamacare won't take place. But if it does, it means that Republicans will be the dog the caught the car, got run over by it, recovered, and decided to chase it again, with no more idea of what to do once they caught it than they had in the first place.


Gabriel Sherman of New York magazine says that the big winner in the health care trainwreck may be Steve Bannon:
The failure to repeal and replace Obamacare would be a stinging defeat for Trump. But it would be an even bigger defeat for Paul Ryan, who has all but staked his Speakership on passing this bill. And in the hall of mirrors that is Washington, the big winner to emerge out of the health-care debacle could be Steve Bannon. That’s because Bannon has been waging war against Ryan for years. For Bannon, Ryan is the embodiment of the “globalist-corporatist” Republican elite. A failed bill would be Bannon’s best chance yet to topple Ryan and advance his nationalist-populist economic agenda.

... According to a source close to the White House, Bannon said that he’s unhappy with the Ryan bill because it “doesn’t drive down costs” and was “written by the insurance industry.” While the bill strips away many of Obamacare’s provisions, it does not go as far as Bannon would wish to “deconstruct the administrative state” in the realm of health care....

Whether or not the bill passes, Ryan has been weakened, the pro-Breitbart Freedom Caucus has been emboldened. It’s hard to see how the Republican health-care civil war hasn’t been a boon for Bannon.
So Bannon might get what he wants as a right-wing bomb-thrower and gadfly: the downfall of Paul Ryan. But what is Bannon getting as a top government aide to the president of the United States -- someone whose job is presumably crafting policy and laws?

Ross Douthat, of all people, makes some good points:

We all know that the president is stupid, incurious, and unwilling to bone up on policy. I think most of us have been thinking that Bannon, by contrast, is stupid -- evil, yes, but not stupid. We've been assuming he reads (although his reading includes books that are staggeringly racist and melodramatically apocalyptic). We've assumed he has policy ideas, even if they're awful. But what are his ideas -- apart from the idea that America's greatness is inversely proportional to its median melanin level?

Where is the populist/nationalist health care plan? Will there be a populist/nationalist plan on taxes, or will that be outsourced to Ryan and the GOP leadership as well? (So far, it seems as if that's what's happened.)

And if Bannon is really the guy behind the legendary (and now vaporware-y) infrastructure plan, why is the White House alienating every Democrat and creating an environment in which power might shift to the Freedom Caucus, which will almost certainly see infrastructure as wasteful, budget-busting government spending?

Bannon is clearly less stupid than his boss. But he seems to have few detailed policy ideas and he seems to know nothing about how you build coalitions in Washington. And why would he? He built a career at Breitbart on pure rage and resentment, which is something you can do when you're an outsider shaking your fist at the people in power. But that's not good preparation for being in power.

If he chose to, Bannon could be a European-style nationalist/populist, with a program that combines racism with government social programs for the Volk. But ultimately he's a standard-issue Republican whose hatred of liberalism is rarely if ever superseded by the paleoconservative populism he's glommed onto as an excuse for his deep-seated racism.

And he knows nothing about government. So when it comes to running the country, the two most powerful people have no idea what the hell they're doing.