Monday, July 31, 2017


New White House chief of staff John Kelly has fired Anthony Scaramucci, and Kelly is already becoming a figure of myth in the Beltway:
The abrupt decision signals that Kelly is moving quickly to assert control over the West Wing, which has been characterized by interpersonal disputes and power struggles during Trump's six months in office.

The retired Marine general, who was sworn in Monday morning, was brought into the White House in the hope that he will bring military-style discipline to Trump's staff. He has been fully empowered by the president to make significant changes to the organization, White House officials and outside advisers said.
Charlie Pierce, justifiably, is concerned:
... during his brief time running the Department of Homeland Security, Kelly was charged with implementing not only the president*'s Muslim ban, but also unleashing ICE to conduct terrifying raids all over the country in furtherance of the president*'s race-baiting rhetoric regarding immigration. As to the first, last January, Kelly stated that the Muslim ban was not a Muslim ban, but it was. He also stood by the ICE raids. On this issue, he and the president are flat-out running buddies. Kelly is a good soldier and, in this administration, that worries me.

Frankly, I don't want this president* to project competence in office. The only thing slowing our slide toward an authoritarian government is the fact that the president* is so bad at it. I don't want the message to be coherent if the policy is destructive and retrograde. If the president* starts performing the role of The President without throwing himself into the orchestra pit three times a show, then the theater-critic wing of America's punditocracy may decide that Kelly has made a silk purse out of this particular sow's ear. It will not be true, but it might be something you can sell.

But if that happens, we can guess what comes next:

Right -- if Kelly does impose discipline on the White House, he'll start getting great press -- hell, the Boss may already be jealous of the press Kelly's getting today. If Kelly gets the trains to run on time, he'll be on the covers of the dead-tree magazines Trump still values. He'll be praised for being the person who finally made Trump "presidential." Next stop: Trump's doghouse. Nobody makes Trump "presidential" except Trump, according to Trump.

But White House discipline isn't Trump's only problem. His most significant problem is that he can't get anything done that requires the passage of an actual bill, in part because the congressional GOP is in a state of war between the ultras and the ultra-ultras, and mostly because the president of the United States understands policy about as well as I understand irregular verb forms in Urdu.

What this means is that, very soon, Trump will fail at something. When this happens, his delicate psyche will have a desperate need for someone to blame who is not named Donald Trump. Trump reportedly blamed Kelly's predecessor for the failure of Obamacare repeal, as if Reince Priebus was responsible for the obvious moral bankruptcy of every GOP health care proposal, and as if Trump's inability to weigh in on the legislation and unwillingness even to cheerlead it more than half-heartedly was Priebus's fault.

This is going to happen to Kelly soon. He's going to be the scapegoat for a failure in the very near future, because someone has to be. I give his honeymoon six weeks -- tops.


A Bloomberg story on John Kelly, the new White House chief of staff, is headlined "Ivanka, Kushner Give Kelly Support That Priebus Never Got."
President Donald Trump’s daughter and son-in-law, senior advisers with unfettered access to the Oval Office, supported Kelly’s selection as chief of staff after losing confidence in Priebus, said an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity....

“Trump doesn’t really like to delegate. He likes to be accessible,” said David Cohen, who teaches political science at the University of Akron in Ohio and is writing a book about White House chiefs of staff. “The number of people who have walk-in privileges to the Oval Office is unlike anything we’ve seen in the modern presidency.”

Trump’s daughter and son-in-law have committed to work with Kelly to create more order around the president, a White House official said. While it’s unlikely that the walk-in privileges of Trump’s children will be curtailed, other senior officials may lose their direct line to the president.
So is that the main reason Jared and Ivanka prefer Kelly to Priebus? Because, under Kelly, only they will be allowed to sip Cristal in the VIP Room walk into the Oval Office unannounced, whereas, under Priebus, all sorts of rabble got to do that?

Well, membership in the Trump should have its privileges, I guess.


Establishment Republicans have agreed on a talking point regarding Donald Trump, and they're now whispering it in the ears of elite journalists at every opportunity. The message: Trump has nothing to do with us. This message is being retransmitted by Tim Alberta at Politico:
Looking around Trump’s inner circle, there is communications director Anthony Scaramucci, a political novice who in the past donated to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton; chief strategist Steve Bannon, who used Breitbart to try and burn the Republican Party to the ground; National Economic Council director Gary Cohn, a lifelong Democrat; director of strategic communication Hope Hicks, who has zero history with GOP politics; and Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, a pair of self-professed Manhattan progressives. Of Trump’s closest advisers, only Mike Pence has any association with the Republican Party.

This no longer seems accidental. Trump has, since taking office, consistently referred to Republicans as though he is not one himself—it's invariably “they” or “them.” Unlike past presidents of his party, Trump entered the White House with few personal relationships with prominent Republicans: donors, lobbyists, party activists, politicians. This liberated him to say whatever he pleased as a candidate, and, by firing Priebus, Trump might feel similarly liberated. The fear now, among Republicans in his administration and on Capitol Hill, is that Trump will turn against the party, waging rhetorical warfare against a straw-man GOP whom he blames for the legislative failures and swamp-stained inertia that has bedeviled his young presidency.
It's also being transmitted by Matthew Continetti on the New York Times op-ed page:
By firing Mr. Priebus and Mr. Spicer and hiring John Kelly and Anthony Scaramucci, President Trump has sent a message: After six months of trying to behave like a conventional Republican president, he’s done. His opponents now include not only the Democrats, but the elites of both political parties.
And by Molly Ball at The Atlantic:
With Priebus out, the only traditional conservative remaining in the administration’s upper ranks is the vice president, Mike Pence, leading many on the right to fear that Trump will now openly turn on the GOP and begin pursuing an agenda antithetical to his party’s traditional principles.
And by Joe Scarborough:

Some of this may express a legitimate fear among GOP establishmentarians that Trump will now work with Democrats to pass a moderate agenda. (Trust me, that won't happen. Trump is too addicted to Fox and right-wing memes to move to the center.) But mostly, I think, it's an effort to give Republicans an alibi when the Trump presidency crashes and burns.

Yes, I know: I told you yesterday: that Republican candidates (especially non-incumbents) are boasting about their ties to Trump. This is the new version of the old establishment/Tea Party split. It creates tension within the party -- we saw that in the health care fight, when it was difficult to construct a bill that was mean enough for the ultras, even though nearly everyone else just wanted to sign on to something, anything, that would check the "Obamacare repealed" box. On the other hand, the split gives Republicans two brands to sell to two different publics, and that's worked well for the party up to now.

In the past, hardcore GOP voters turned to the right-wing media and heard endless fulminations about death panels and Benghazi and the New Black Panthers and Barack Obama's Kenyan Muslim anti-colonial socialist leanings. Then, on Sunday, there were Lindsey Graham and John McCain on the chat shows selling pre-Tea Party, less Fox-inflected Republicanism to less-rabid voters. The GOP was like a company with an elite brand for upmarket consumers and a bargain brand for the masses. As election time approached, David Brooks and Ron Fournier and Chuck Todd could pretend that the lunatics hadn't taken over the GOP asylum, while the not-yet-named deplorables got plenty of red meat on talk radio and Fox -- and both sets of voters turned out to vote.

It's happening again. In deep-red states and districts, insurgents will run as Trump zealots, while the message in the elite press will be, if necessary, "We Republicans aren't responsible for the actions of those vulgarians in the Trump White House."

It might not work in 2018 or 2020, but in the long run, what's left of the GOP will get a do-over. The press won't hang Trump around the party's neck for a generation, even though that's what the GOP deserves.

Sunday, July 30, 2017


On Friday, Steven Pearlstein of The Washington Post wrote this:
Remember this day, July 28, 2017: The day Donald Trump became a lame duck president. More significantly, the day the tea party revolution ended and Washington began the return to “regular order.”
This would be news to Republicans, who seem determined to make our politics even Trumpier. The Hill reports:
President Trump’s approval rating might be stagnant nationally, but he still enjoys strong support with many of the GOP primary voters who will decide crucial Senate primaries ahead of the 2018 midterm election.

So Republican candidates in states that Trump carried in November are beginning to hammer their opponents as unfaithful supporters of the president to gain an edge in their primaries....

Support for Trump has become the defining issue in Alabama’s upcoming Senate primary, where Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.) and his allies are pummeling Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) for critical comments he made about Trump during the 2016 primary.

The attacks, levied by Strange’s campaign and allies like the Senate Leadership Fund, which has earmarked up to $10 million to support Strange in the bid to permanently fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s former Senate seat, have so far dominated the race....

In Michigan, former Trump state campaign co-chairwoman Lena Epstein has made her support of Trump a key part of her primary bid. Barring any long-shot bid by musician Kid Rock, Epstein has a clear lane as the pro-Trump candidate in the race thanks to her campaign experience.

She’s campaigned as an unabashed supporter of Trump — she signs emails to her supporters as “2016 Trump co-chairman," called for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign because of Trump’s disappointment in him and regularly promises to support Trump’s “America First" agenda.
AP finds more evidence of conservatives rallying to Trump:
To the American Conservative Union, the three Republican senators who blocked the stripped-down repeal bill that failed in the wee hours Friday are “sellouts.” A Trump-sanctioned super political action committee did not rule out running ads against uncooperative Republicans, which it did recently against Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev....

“If you look at competitive [House] districts, swing districts, or districts where Republicans could face primary challenges, this is something that will be a potent electoral issue,” Republican pollster Chris Wilson said of his party’s health care failure. “I don’t think this is something voters are going to forget.”

One such challenger has emerged. Conservative activist Shak Hill, a former Air Force pilot, plans to run against second-term GOP Rep. Barbara Comstock in a competitive northern Virginia district.

Hill told The Associated Press that Comstock, who voted against a GOP House health care repeal bill in May, “has failed the moral test of her time in Congress.”

The leaders of other groups, such as Women Vote Trump, have begun to court primary challengers to punish those members of Congress deemed insufficiently committed to President Donald Trump’s agenda.

“I expect that we will get involved in primaries,” said the group’s co-founder, Amy Kremer. “You cannot continue to elect the same people over and over again and expect different results.”
Some of this could be suicidal -- replacing more moderate incumbents with hardcore Trumpers in swing districts might lead to defeats where the incumbents could have eked out victories. But it's possible that some of these Trump loyalists could win, and thus push the GOP Congress in a more pro-Trump direction.

I think both things could be true. Even without primary challenges, I think the GOP Congress could become Trumpier, because it will be easier to beat swing-district Republicans, who are generally more moderate.

I believe Democrats will do well in the midterms, at least in House races, but it's far from certain that they'll take control of the House (they're unlikely to take the Senate). The House survivors of the GOP midterms will be from redder, and therefore more pro-Trump, districts.

Maybe this will change if GOP voters finally get fed up with Trump, but I'm not counting on that. I'm predicting now that his Gallup numbers won't slip this week, even though everyone believes last week was terrible for him. To Trumpers, failure just reinforces the God Emperor's claims of sabotage by the media and the Deep State.

So the deplorables still maintain a lot of control our politics. The GOP propaganda machine and the GOP's work to neutralize Democratic votes continue to be effective. And as long as money in politics works the way it does now, Republicans in Congress will be Kochites and teabaggers. So the Trump/Tea Party era isn't over -- not by a long shot.

Saturday, July 29, 2017


Reince Preibus has been defenestrated, and tales of his tenure as White House chief of staff are coming out. You probably already know about this one:
President Trump reportedly once summoned former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus to kill a fly in the Oval Office during a meeting, according to a Friday report.

A source told The Washington Post that once during an Oval Office meeting, a fly began buzzing around Trump’s head, distracting him. Trump eventually summoned Priebus and told him to kill the fly. As a senior White House staffer, the chief of staff would not ordinarily be tasked with such matters.
And this one from Priebus's last moments on the job:
When Air Force One touched down Friday afternoon at Andrew's Air Force base, Priebus, senior policy adviser Stephen Miller and social media director Dan Scavino all loaded into a Suburban. But moments later, Miller and Scavino hopped out of the vehicle, and as word trickled out about the chief of staff's ouster, reporters inched close to snap photos of Priebus, who sat alone on the rain-soaked tarmac. Priebus' vehicle then pulled out of the presidential motorcade, which proceeded along to the White House without him.
We're regularly told that Donald Trump could become a totalitarian dictator. While I don't think he would have any qualms about becoming one, I don't think he has -- what's the word I'm looking for? -- the will to be one. A genuine tyrant in his situation would see opportunities to seize and consolidate power and would take full advantage of those opportunities. Trump doesn't do that.

The problem isn't that he's too lazy. He expends a tremendous amount of energy rebutting critics and seeking out the adulation of worshippers. And he puts a great deal of energy into ridiculous games of dominance and submission, like the ones he played with Priebus. He prioritizes being a petty tyrant rather than concentrating on being a real tyrant.

Yes, I know: His administration has cracked down on immigrants. He gave a speech to cops yesterday in which he flippantly endorsed rough treatment of arrestees.
“When you see these towns and when you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just see them thrown in, rough, and I said, ‘Please don’t be too nice,’” Trump said.

“Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over, like, don’t hit their head and they’ve just killed somebody, don’t hit their head, I said, ‘You can take the hand away, OK?’” he added.

His remarks received significant applause.
Repression appeals to Trump. He's hired a lot of people who are eager to repress.

But he's willing to move them out of key positions when he thinks it will help him accomplish something he really cares about. As attorney general, Jeff Sessions is prepared to give the federal government's OK to repressive policing. Trump likes that -- but he's willing to fire Sessions in order to end Robert Mueller's investigation of him and his campaign. John Kelly was a fierce advocate of Trump's immigration crackdown as homeland security secretary -- but Trump just removed him from the position and made him chief of staff.

Other things just matter more to Trump than ruling America with an iron fist. He wants to be surrounded by subordinates who prostrate themselves before him. He wants Russiagate to go away. He wants to trash-talk -- but, so far, not truly repress -- the media. (He's not Putin. Media outlets aren't being forcibly nationalized and journalists aren't being murdered.) And he wants to make speeches in front of adoring crowds who tell him he's magisterial and witty and really getting those liberals and elitists to shed tears.

He wants to spend all of his time feeling like the ultimate dominant male. If he devoted less time to that, he really might be able to get the whole country to submit.

Friday, July 28, 2017


News from The Hill:
President Trump has said privately that he wants to appoint "a general" to replace White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, The New York Times reports.

The president, the Times reported on Thursday, has so far focused on Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly as a potential replacement....
An ABC story lists Kelly among ten people Trump is considering to replace Priebus. In addition to Kelly, there's another general:
Retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg: Currently the chief of staff and executive secretary for the National Security Council, Kellogg already spends a lot of time around the president. He was also an important adviser to the president during the campaign and one of the first senior military officers to endorse Trump. He has earned the trust of a president who likes to be in the company of generals.
Yes, Trump "likes to be in the company of generals." As Jeet Heer of The New Republic notes, Trump also likes to be in the company of New York-area douchebags such as Anthony Scaramucci:
The New York douchebag thrives throughout the tri-state area, particularly in New Jersey and the outer boroughs of the city proper. Usually white, he is belligerent, garrulous, ruthlessly competitive, and excessively confident in his persuasive abilities. He is also hypersensitive; the smallest perceived slight will trigger a full-scale defense of his pride. He demands to be respected at all times.

To the extent that the New York douchebag has politics, he tends to be a fiscal, hawkish conservative: reliably Republican, in other words, but only socially religious (if at all). He believes in his right to make loads of money without paying much taxes, advocates manly military responses to defend the pride of the U-S-A, but doesn’t want to ban abortion or roll back gay rights. Indeed, he will defend those rights if the issue affects a family member, for he professes to value blood relatives above all else.

Trump is the quintessential New York douchebag.

... Trump is clearly happiest in the company of his fellow tri-state douchebags. During the campaign, he spent a great deal of time around figures like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, two exemplars of the species....

Now that Scaramucci is in the White House, Trump has a fellow douchebag he can commune with.
Indeed, we learn from Mike Allen at Axios that Trump enjoyed Scaramucci's New Yorker tirade:
... at the moment, Scaramucci is empowered: We're told the President loved the Mooch quotes. But President Trump doesn't like being upstaged. "Mini-me" can't forget the "Mini" part.
Don't upstage the Douchebag in Chief, but otherwise, be as much of a douchebag as you like.

All this has me thinking about the famous column Stewart Alsop wrote during Watergate: "The Phony-Tough Meet the Crazy-Brave." Alsop's description of the phony-tough would seem to apply to Trump and many of the foul-mouthed people who've worked for him, including Scaramucci:

It was Alsop's theory that the phony-toughs in the Nixon White House had a mancrush on G. Gordon Liddy because he was crazy-brave, and thus they let him run amok.

But Trump doesn't seem to be bringing any Liddys into his administration. He seems to think the phony-tough guys he knows are crazy-brave. Most of these phony-toughs are white-collar pseudo-thugs -- foul-mouthed lawyers and moneymen. As for the generals, Trump may have mancrushes on them, but he doesn't seem to relate to them on a visceral level. He has an eight-year-old boy's admiration for their bravery, and an eight-year-old boy's understanding of it. The generals are sane-brave. Trump seeks out craziness in the phony-toughs he thinks are real toughs.

Trump's preferred business partners, especially those of the Slavic persuasion, should probably be part of this discussion. But a full picture of Trump's relations with those folks will probably require a large number of subpoenas. So I'll leave it at this.


I didn't expect to wake up to this:
A months-long effort by Senate Republicans to pass health legislation collapsed early Friday after GOP Senator John McCain joined two of his colleagues to block a stripped-down Obamacare repeal bill....

The decision by McCain to vote no came after weeks of brinkmanship and after his dramatic return from cancer treatment to cast the 50th vote to start debate on the bill earlier this week. The GOP’s ‘skinny’ repeal bill was defeated 49-51, falling just short of the 50 votes needed to advance it. Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski also voted against it.
Let's not give McCain all the credit for this. Anti-repeal activists fought fiercely. Democratic senators hung tough. And the two other Republicans who voted no showed courage.

And yet that wouldn't have been enough if McCain hadn't voted the way he did. And why did he even need to think about this vote? According to one recent poll, GOP health care proposals poll poll at 6% approval in Arizona. (And that's a survey in which Donald Trump has a not-terrible 47% approval rating.) But the unpopularity of the legislation doesn't matter. The junior senator from Arizona, Jeff Flake -- touted as a principled maverick in today's David Brooks column -- dutifully voted yes, and also dutifully tried to wrest a yes vote from McCain on the Senate.
Eventually, Flake was dispatched to talk to McCain.

He obliged, walked over to McCain and asked Graham to move over one seat. But McCain did not acknowledge Flake, focusing instead on Murkowski and Collins.

That left Flake, one of the most polite members of the Senate, leaning into the conversation uncomfortably with a pained look on his face, as if he had to tell his father that he had run over the family dog with his car.
Forty-nine Republicans voted yes on this massively unpopular bill. And I'm nearly certain that the number would have been fifty if McCain had had just a blood clot on the brain -- my ninety-year-old mother recently survived one of those -- rather than a glioblastoma, a particularly virulent form of cancer.

If he were healthy, McCain wouldn't be up for reelection until 2022, when he'd be 86. This was likely to be his last term, regardless of his health. And yet it took until now for him to make a serious break with his party -- a break he could have made just by staying in Arizona and not voting to allow consideration of the McConnell bills in the first place.

And despite his multiple denunciations of the process this week, he apparently came close to voting for the bill anyway:
Senators had no idea where McCain would land throughout much of Thursday, saying he vacillated in his position as the chaotic day unfolded. They had heard rumblings of three “nos” as early as Thursday afternoon, and one Republican insisted that the GOP could have secured McCain’s support had the vote been held earlier in the day.
The colleagues who joined him in a news conference, Lindsey Graham and Ron Johnson, warned that they might vote no and then acquiesced. They still have careers they want to maintain. John McCain doesn't -- yet this vote was a near thing for him. The same goes for Capito and Heller and other people who wrung their hands throughout the process and voted yes anyway.

Death saved the ACA from Republican partisanship. I'm not sure there was anything short of death that could have done this.

Thursday, July 27, 2017


To be fair, government-sponsored glorification of our own Dear Leader pales compared to what was seen in North Korea in the era of Kim-Jong-il...
In his first match at Pyongyang Lanes, Kim bowled a perfect 300, according to state-run news media.... But that is nothing compared with the five holes in one and 38 under par that Kim reportedly shot in his maiden round of golf....

Of course, in a closed, isolated nation like North Korea, it is difficult to separate the milk of fact from the crème of fiction. Some accounts had Kim shooting 11 aces, not merely five.
... and what's seen now, during the rein of his son...
Teachers in North Korea have been issued with a manual that requires them to instruct their charges that Kim Jong-un was a prodigy who could drive at the age of 3 and was winning yachting races at just 9....

"At the age of 9, Kim Jong-un raced the chief executive of a foreign yacht company who was visiting North Korea at the time", the books claim, adding that he overcame the odds to claim victory.
But thirty-foot putts? Seriously? I'd say we're definitely taking steps in that direction.


I'm starting to understand why President Trump won't fire Jeff Sessions -- Senate Republicans' threat not to consider a replacement this year might be sincere, though I'm sure they'd ultimately rubber-stamp one.

But why can't the president fire Reince Priebus? There's no chance that a constitutional crisis would ensue. And the president clearly has a favorite for the job, even though he just gave that favorite another job: Anthony Scaramucci, who's already rumored to be Priebus's likely successor. Instead, we get Scaramucci publicly trying to motivate Priebus to quit, because -- again -- tough-guy Trump won't issue a pink slip.
White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci said Thursday morning that a tweet he sent the night before about leaks was not a veiled threat to chief of staff Reince Priebus.

"In light of the leak of my financial disclosure info which is a felony. I will be contacting @FBI and the @TheJusticeDept, he tweeted Wednesday night, adding, "#swamp @Reince45."

Scaramucci was referring to a story published by Politico, which reported that the new White House communications director continues to profit from the sale of his hedge fund SkyBridge Capital. The financial disclosure forms, however, are publicly available, notes the Politico report, which links to them....

Asked if he was accusing Priebus of leaking, he told CNN, "I am not. I am saying senior officials are working on this together."
I didn't watch it, but Scaramucci's appearance on CNN this morning was apparently bizarre:

My guess is that Trump doesn't just want Priebus to quit, after which he'll give Scaramucci his job. First Trump wants Scaramucci to break a sweat auditioning for the job.

Trump feels he's being mistreated and disrespected by leakers -- so to soothe his delicate psyche, he wants someone to be publicly, grovelingly deferential to him. Scaramucci can't just replace Priebus, he has to prostrate himself before Trump (via Trump's favorite medium, cable news), and then he can get the job, after he's salved the wound inflicted by Preibus and other alleged leakers on Trump's tender emotional flesh.


Wednesday, July 26, 2017


President Trump's ban on transgender troops seems to have several origin stories, but the Daily Beast tells us that some of the impetus came from people who still seem to be fighting old battles in the culture war:
According to White House sources, Vice President Mike Pence has been pushing hard for this kind of policy shift in the military, as had senior officials such as chief strategist Steve Bannon....

Another White House official underscored to The Daily Beast how Trump’s latest announcement would play well “with his base” and social-conservative and Christian-right leaders, some of whom—including Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, who remains close with this White House—have advised the president and administration for months to pull the trigger on killing the Obama-era directive.
Mike Pence? Ralph Reed? These people go way, way back -- back to the days when putting an anti-LGBT referendum on a ballot was seen as a surefire way to increase Republican turnout. Those days are gone, a cultural shift that seems to have escaped notice at the White House:
Here is how one administration official justified the move in a quote given to Axios’s Jonathan Swan:
This forces Democrats in Rust Belt states like Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin to take complete ownership of this issue. How will blue collar voters in these states respond when senators up for reelection in 2018 like Debbie Stabenow are forced to make their opposition to this a key plank of their campaigns?
Really? Even Heidi Heitkamp, a Democratic senator up for reelection in 2018 from a very conservative state (North Dakota), isn't sweating it:

Republicans -- and not particularly moderate ones -- are criticizing the ban: Senators John McCain, Joni Ernst, Richard Shelby, and Orrin Hatch, as well as Ken Buck in the House.

I don't want to downplay the contribution of Bannon, who, unlike Pence and Reed, seems to live in the present. When Bannon edited Breitbart, the site regularly targeted transsexuals:
World Health Organization Report: Trannies 49 Xs Higher HIV Rate” A December 2015 article by Austin Ruse, using a slur for transgender people in the headline, argued that a public health study on sexual health in the transgender community was actually a warning about “how dangerous it is to become ‘transgender.’” The site called it a rebuke to “the ‘transgender’ narrative that is sweeping American culture.”
Bannon employed Ben Shapiro, whose shtick includes publicly baiting transsexuals. Bannon also employed Milo Yiannopoulos, who once outed a transsexual student during a campus speech. And on a Breitbart radio show in 2016, Bannon himself attacked Target for its stance on restroom use by transsexuals:
The program’s host, Stephen Bannon, contended that rather than being inclusive, Target is “trying to exclude people who are decent, hard-working people who don’t want their four-year-old daughter to have to go into a bathroom with a guy with a beard in a dress.”
This may be Bannon's own loutishness. It may also derive from a belief that transsexual-bashing appeals to the empathy-challenged young yobs who read Breitbart and back Trump. And Bannon may also be seeking to emulate homophobic Eastern Bloc role models such as Vladimir Putin.

But the other drivers of this policy seem to be living in an earlier era.


We're regularly told that Donald Trump is ideologically malleable, and therefore he's likely any day now to reject conservatism and have a love-in with Democrats on infrastructure or health care or taxing the rich, just because he'll do anything to score a political win.

So it's odd that he's never shown us any evidence of liberalism as president, while he keeps making moves like this:
President Trump on Wednesday said he would ban transgender people from any military service.

Trump made the announcement, which would represent a major shift in military policy, on Twitter.
Chris Hayes makes a good point:

And a prediction:

But why isn't he trying to do things that will win him favor across the political spectrum, especially given his alleged ideological fluidity and past centrist ideas?

The answer is that fighting Fox-style right-wing ideological wars is Trump's happy place. Remember, he's an angry man, and right-wingers practice a politics of rage. So he feels at home among conservative culture warriors. Also, angry right-wing rank-and-file voters love him. He craves adulation. He wants to be regarded as a demigod. If he were to endorse a mildly New Deal-ish infrastructure plan or a sincere effort to patch up Obamacare, he'd broaden his appeal, but at most he'd get golf-clap praise from moderates and liberals. But if he throws raw meat at the right, the response is cult worship. That's what he wants.

He'll never tack center or left. He may not be a bone-deep conservative, but he has a bone-deep addiction to being idolized by conservatives.


You know what happened yesterday. Charlie Pierce recounts the first part:
... the ugliest thing to witness on a very ugly day in the United States Senate was what John McCain did to what was left of his legacy as a national figure. He flew all the way across the country, leaving his high-end government healthcare behind in Arizona, in order to cast the deciding vote to allow debate on whatever ghastly critter emerges from what has been an utterly undemocratic process. He flew all the way across the country in order to facilitate the process of denying to millions of Americans the kind of medical treatment that is keeping him alive, and to do so at the behest of a president* who mocked McCain's undeniable military heroism.

... he got a standing ovation when he walked into the chamber, and that was all right, and then he cast the vote to proceed. And then, having done so, he climbed onto his high horse and delivered an address every word of which was belied by the simple "yes" he had traveled so far to cast.
Vox's Tara Golshan takes up the story:
“I will not vote for this bill as it is today,” McCain said on the Senate floor, after voting to proceed to debate “to allow debate to continue and amendments to be offered.” He castigated the bill’s secretive process and called for the Senate to “return to regular order” in the Senate.

Six hours later, McCain voted for the Senate’s health care bill.

Technically he voted on a senate procedural matter — on whether or not the bill satisfied budget rules. But it was not lost on any senator on the floor Tuesday night that their vote was an yay or nay on the Better Care Reconciliation Act itself.
McCain was the deciding vote to sustain a process he railed against, then he voted to advance a bill he'd derided. The lofty country-over-party speech was contradicted by grubby party-over-country votes.

Some in the press acknowledged the contradiction. Others just ladled out praise:

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Salena Zito explained the disconnect between Donald Trump's fan base and skeptical reporters this way:
... the press takes [Trump] literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.
Zito's argument was that the Trump fan base connected with Trump at a level that was somehow deeper than literal truth -- it didn't matter whether Trump promised a wall he was unlikely to build or lied about unemployment statistics under President Obama. It didn't matter whether he'd really be able to wipe out ISIS in a couple of months or give every American better health insurance for less money. All that was emotionally true to the fans, even if it was literally false.

Well, that's how a lot of journalists approach John McCain. He's their Trump: They don't care if his deeds don't match his words. They regard his pronouncements as deeply serious -- who cares if they're literally contradicted by his acts?

You don't have to be a deplorable to be gulled by a politician who's all talk. The Trump base and the Washington press corps just have different heroes.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017


Mitch McConnell got his motion to proceed passed by an eyelash today, and now Obamacare is really on the line. How excited is the right-wing media?

At Fox, it's huge news!

(See that "Senate health bill clears test vote, aided by McCain" in the lower left, in tiny type?)

Breitbart? Equally thrilled!

(Note the "Donald Trump Praises Senate Vote as ‘Beginning of the End’ of Obamacare" in the lower left corner, again in tiny type.)

The health care vote is the 12th-ranked story at Gateway Pundit, while the only health care story on the Daily Caller front page (ranked 14th) is "Senate Repeal And Replace Bill Doesn't Pass Budget Rules."

Wow, the conservatives are really proud of what they're doing, aren't they?


Erick Erickson reports on some really tough talk in the Executive Branch:
“If he can get treated that way, what about the rest of us?” one of the President’s Cabinet secretaries asked me with both shock and anger in his voice. I am told reports about Rex Tillerson (not who I talked to) are legitimate. He is quite perturbed with the President’s treatment of his Attorney General and is ready to quit. Secretary Mattis (also not who I talked to) is also bothered by it. They and other Cabinet members are already frustrated by the slow pace of appointments for their staffs, the vetoes over qualified people for not being sufficiently pro-Trump, and the Senate confirmation pace.

In fact, the Cabinet secretary I talked to raised the issue of the White House staff vetoes over loyalty, blasting the White House staff for blocking qualified people of like mind because they were not pro-Trump and now the President is ready to fire the most loyal of all the Cabinet members. “It’s more of a clusterf**k than you even know,” the Cabinet secretary tells me about dealing with the White House on policy. It is not just Tillerson ready to bail.
Really? Then bail. Why are you waiting -- do you think the situation might get better? Do you think Trump might evolve and mature?

But the Cabinet isn't the only place where subordinate Republicans grumble about their leader's imperious excesses but won't do a damn thing in response. Here's Lindsey Graham chatting with a Bloomberg reporter and displaying the typical Senate Republican reaction to Mitch McConnell's shut-up-and-eat-your-mystery-meat Obamacare repeal strategy:

Senate Republicans are also upset about Trump's manhandling of Attorney General Sessions, or so we're told by McClatchy's Lesley Clark:
President Donald Trump is getting a bitter Washington lesson when he messes with Jeff Sessions – you don't pick a fight with one of the Senate's guys.

It's a lesson that could cost him politically in a Senate where he badly needs Republican support for his lengthy agenda, starting with healthcare on Tuesday.
But they don't sound all that upset:
“That’s what he does, I don’t think he means harm with those tweets,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said of Trump.

But Hatch added, "I’d prefer that he didn’t do that. We’d like Jeff to be treated fairly."

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, agreed.

”I guess we all have our communication style and that’s one that I would avoid,” Tillis said, adding that the Russia investigation by an outside special counsel should proceed without interruptions: “The fewer distractions we have, the faster the investigation can proceed and the less confusion the electorate has to deal with,” he said.

”Sen. Sessions is showing the independence I expected of him and that’s a healthy thing,” Tillis said.
As I told you on Friday, Noah Rothman of Commentary wrote this about the congressional GOP:
Republicans in Congress ... have to summon the courage to state publicly what they so freely tell reporters on background. If they are so concerned that the norms and traditions that have preserved the rule of law in this republic for 240 years are in jeopardy, they must say so. And they must say what the consequences will be for Trump, his associates, and his family if he goes too far....

Republicans may dislike the prospect, but it’s fast becoming time for them to start saying the “I” word if only to save the president from his most reckless impulses.
But they won't, and Lindsey Graham and the other critics of Mitch McConnell's legislative process (Susan Collins apparently excepted) won't tell him that they refuse to let the process move forward until they have some idea of what the hell they're voting on. And Tillerson and Mathis and whoever Erick Erickson's source is (I assume a fellow Georgian in the Cabinet, Tom Price or Sonny Perdue) won't tell Trump to take the Cabinet job and shove it. As much as they grumble, they all accept the lash. They'd really, really like to stand up for themselves -- no, seriously, they would -- but for now, all they do is grumble and acquiesce.


Peter Baker of The New York Times writes this, under the headline "Trump White House Tests a Nation’s Capacity for Outrage":
After six months in office, Mr. Trump has crossed so many lines, discarded so many conventions, said and done so many things that other presidents would not have, that he has radically shifted the understanding of what is standard in the White House. He has moved the bar for outrage. He has a taste for provocation and relishes challenging Washington taboos. If the propriety police tut tut, he shows no sign of concern....

By now, it takes more to shock. After all, this is a president who refused to release his tax returns or divest from his private businesses, who put his son-in-law and daughter on the White House staff, who accused his predecessor of illegally tapping his phones without proof, who fired the F.B.I. director leading an investigation into the president’s associates and who has now undercut his “beleaguered” attorney general in public. When he talked politics, jabbed the news media and told stories about Manhattan cocktail parties before tens of thousands of children at the nonpartisan National Scout Jamboree here in West Virginia on Monday, it was hardly surprising.
But it's clear that people are shocked and outraged. We've been outraged since Trump became a birther political figure, and especially since he entered the presidential race with an appeal to raw bigotry. We're outraged at his sexism and crudeness and self-dealing and utter contempt for laws and norms that have kept the country intact. Many us of have marched in the streets in outrage. Forty-two percent of us think Trump should be impeached -- that's not a sign of outrage?

Baker, on some level, knows this. He even quotes some people who've expressed outrage at Trump's behavior. But, channeling Trump, he also dismisses the outraged as "propriety police" who "tut tut."

The problem isn't that the nation lacks a capacity for outrage at this moment. It's that one subgroup within the nation -- Republicans -- has the exclusive right to decide when outrage can be acted upon.

Republicans have made it abundantly clear that non-Republican outrage must be contained and neutralized. There won't be "widespread" condemnation of Trump's thuggish Boy Scout speech because Republicans won't condemn it. There'll be no effective congressional response -- no "constitutional crisis" -- if Trump fires Jeff Sessions and Robert Mueller because Republicans will stand in the way. Republicans won't allow any checks on the Trump family's self-dealing. And when it's finally proven that the Trump campaign worked with the Russians to spread stolen emails, Republicans will shut down any effort to punish the president.

Republicans stuck with Trump all through the 2016 campaign, despite one outrage after another. Then Republican voters voted for outrage.

So they decide. The rest of us don't count.

Monday, July 24, 2017


Donald Trump's fans think he's the toughest guy on the planet, and he's best known for a TV show on which he regularly fired people -- but firing people is something he's too lily-livered to do as president. Jonatham Swan reports:
A much-discussed question at the top of the White House: just what magnitude of indignity would it take for Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to resign?

President Trump knew that appointing Anthony Scaramucci as communications director would humiliate Reince, who fought hard against it....

Trump also knew that inserting a line in the press release saying Scaramucci would report directly to the President — doing an end-run around Reince — was perhaps an unendurable public humiliation.

If we've learned anything so far about this President, it's that in real life he actually hates saying "you're fired." So what might it take for Reince to quit?
"In real life he actually hates saying 'you're fired'": Chris Cillizza concurs:
Donald Trump's most famous line is "You're fired," which is funny because, as president, Trump has repeatedly shown that he doesn't actually like to fire people.
Cillizza lists the many ways Trump has tried to tell Jeff Sessions to make himself scarce, none of which have inspired Sessions to resign:
Trump wants Sessions gone. But he doesn't want to swing the proverbial sword. He wants to make Sessions' life so uncomfortable that Sessions throws up his hands and walks away.

Sessions ... told reporters -- in the papal plural no less! -- "We love this job. We love this department, and I plan to continue to do so as long as that is appropriate."

What does Trump do in the wake of that statement? Ramps up the rhetoric against Sessions so there can be no debate between reasonable people that Trump wants his attorney general to go do something else. But he doesn't do it to Sessions directly; he does it via a serious of public statements and leaks.
Why doesn't he just fire Sessions? He's the freaking president. If he wants someone gone, he should man up and issue the pink slip. Oooh, but I don't like firing people! Well, grow up, crybaby. Do something you don't like doing for once in your life. Otherwise stop whining about the fact that these people are still around.

Sessions clearly wants to stay, but Politico's Tara Palmeri says Priebus is constrained by a self-imposed milestone:
Reince Priebus took the punishing job of President Donald Trump's chief of staff with the idea that he would stick it out for at least one year.

Six months in, with one of his top allies in the West Wing — press secretary Sean Spicer — on his way out, Priebus is in defensive mode, his role diminished and an internal rival hogging the limelight....

Despite frequent reports his position is in jeopardy, Priebus hopes to finish out his year, according to people close to him.
And according to CNN's John King, the same goes for Rex Tillerson:
Among those who viewed the President's public rebuke of Sessions as unprofessional, according to several sources, is Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former Exxon-Mobil CEO.

Tillerson has a growing list of differences with the White House, including a new debate over Iran policy and personnel. His frustration is hardly a secret and it has spilled out publicly at times. But friends sense a change of late.

For weeks, conversations with Tillerson friends outside of Washington have left the impression that he, despite his frustrations, was determined to stay on the job at least through the end of the year....

But two sources who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity over the weekend said they would not be surprised if there was a "Rexit" from Foggy Bottom sooner that that.
What's with staying on the job a year? Are Priebus and Tillerson 22-year-olds who need to stick it out until that one-year anniversary to show future employers that they're not impetuous? Priebus was head of the RNC. Tillerson was CEO of ExxonMobil. It's okay, fellas. You can just leave. You'll find work again, trust me. I'll give Tillerson credit for at least considering a resignation. Priebus, what's your problem?

But the Trump administration is full of simpering lickspittles. We saw this in June when Cabinet members lavished Trump with on-camera praise, as if at gunpoint. Since Friday we've seen new communications director Anthony Scaramucci repeatedly expression his love for the president:

We have this nearly North Korean "op-ed" from Mike Pence:
In the first six months of this administration, President Donald Trump has fought every day to deliver on his promises to the American people. At a historic pace, this president has taken bold action to restore prosperity, keep Americans safe and secure, and hold government accountable.

President Trump has signed more than 40 bills and nearly 40 executive orders on everything from health care to energy, infrastructure and more.

While the previous administration turned to federal agencies to enact its agenda, President Trump has signed more laws to slash through federal red tape than any president in American history and has saved businesses up to $18 billion a year in costs....

President Trump inherited an economy that would barely budge – but under his watch, American businesses small and large have already created more than 800,000 new jobs since January. Company after company is responding to the president’s agenda with optimism – investing billions of dollars in American jobs, American workers and America’s future.

As the father of a United States Marine, I couldn’t be more proud to serve alongside a president who cares so deeply about the men and women of the armed forces of the United States of America....
And even First Son-in-Law Jared Kushner felt compelled -- or was ordered -- to inject a paragraph of Trump bootlicking into his statement to congressional committees about his interactions with Russians:
It is also important to note that a campaign's success starts with its message and its messenger. Donald Trump had the right vision for America and delivered his message perfectly. The results speak for themselves. Not only did President Trump defeat sixteen skilled and experienced primary opponents and win the presidency; he did so spending a fraction of what his opponent spent in the general election. He outworked his opponent and ran one of the best campaigns in history using both modern technology and traditional methods to bring his message to the American people.
Does anyone in this administration have any self-respect?


Right-wing media outlets are crowing about a new poll showing Kid Rock (aka Robert Ritchie) with a lead over Democratic incumbent Debbie Stabenow in the 2018 Michigan Senate race. The poll is from a previously unknown firm called Delphi Analytica.
To gauge Ritchie’s chances in a hypothetical general election matchup, Delta Analytica conducted a poll from July 14-18 of 668 Michigan residents. Of respondents who stated a preference between Debbie Stabenow and Robert Ritchie, 54% stated they would vote for Ritchie while 46% said they would vote for Debbie Stabenow. These results could indicate that Ritchie is a popular figure in Michigan, Debbie Stabenow is unpopular, or some combination of concurrent trends. The relatively large, 44%, number of undecided respondents may be due to the early stages of the campaign.
Yes -- if you include the undecideds, the numbers are: Undecided 44%, Rock/Ritchie 30%, Stabenow 26%. That seems to be a lot of undecideds for a poll featuring a well-known incumbent and a well-known celebrity challenger.

But that's only one reason to be suspicious of the survey. We're told this:
In our quest for open and transparent process, we have included a subset of our raw polling data. We have stripped off race, educational qualifications and other social behavioral questions to protect our proprietary polling information . You can download the file here Raw Data
I went to the file and it really is, or appears to be, raw data. And I mean raw: It's just a list of interviewees ID'd by gender, age group, preference, and residence. It would be nice to get even basic crosstabs -- preferences broken down by race, gender, age, income -- but no luck. In addition, 78 of the respondents -- more than 10% -- aren't ID'd by gender or age, and others are ID'd by gender but not age. So 44% of the respondents gave no answer and 10% wouldn't give basic demographic data. and yet they're counted in the final results?
Amateur hour.

Delphi has announced a couple of other polls. One was conducted "in the Midwest region," though there's no indication of which states were surveyed. This poll, of Democrats, has a seriously implausible result:

In our Poll among Democrats in Midwest, approximately 50% thought none of the current democratic hopefuls have any chance of beating President Trump in 2020.

21% trusted former Vice President Joe Biden to take on Trump — while Elizabeth Warren, who represents the pro-Bernie populist wing of Democrats, had 14% support.

Interestingly, more people think Mark Zuckerberg has a higher chance of defeating Trump than former democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. This is a tremendous fall from a grace for a candidate who was the nominee for the party just few months back.
Trump has the worst poll numbers of any president at this point in his term, and yet half of Democratic respondents think none of these candidates could beat him in 2020? Even I'm not that gloomy.

And no, it isn't because the Midwest has become more and more pro-Trump since November -- a legitimate poll in Michigan in late May had Trump's unfavorable rating at 61%.

And even though Bernie Sanders isn't a Democrat, he seems serious about running as one in 2020. Why isn't he included? Because the folks at Delphi know it would strain credulity if a guy who still engenders a tremendous of goodwill among a large portion of the Democratic base fell short?

Delphi has one more garbage poll -- a survey of the upcoming Senate special election in Alabama to fill the seat formerly held by Jeff Sessions. What's suspect about this one is that, according to Delphi, only Republicans are surveyed -- but they're asked to choose from four Republican candidates and a Democrat. What's the point of that? There's going to be a party primary first. The Democrat won't be on the Republican ballot.

The Delphi Analytica website is reported to have gone up a month and a day ago. The site includes no information about the firm. The firm has no other Web presence except a post at Medium linking to the Kid Rock survey. And yet Delphi's results have been cited by the Daily Wire, Gateway Pundit, InfoWars, Twitchy, Red Alert Politics, and the American Mirror. In the right-wing information bubble, the result of the Kid Rock poll will become accepted fact.

Kid Rock is now a credible candidate in the right-o-sphere. Money and more conservative-press coverage will follow. All thanks to a poll that's almost certainly fake news.

Sunday, July 23, 2017


In The Washington Post, Ed O'Keefe and Dave Weigel report on Democratic efforts to change the party's image:
Completely sapped of power in Washington, top leaders of the Democratic Party now believe that the best way to fight a president who penned “The Art of the Deal” is with an economic agenda that they plan to call “A Better Deal.”

The campaign-style motto, panned by some liberal activists as details began to trickle out ahead of the Monday rollout, is designed to revive a party desperate to win back at least some control next year. The push comes months earlier than most campaign-year sales pitches begin — an acknowledgment of the need to shore up public opinion of the Democratic Party in the faster pace of modern politics.
Wait -- modern politics moves faster, so Democrats need more time to shore up their image before the next midterms? That makes no sense. Shouldn't it be the opposite?
... some lawmakers, aides and outside advocates consulted on the new agenda said that it is expected to focus on new proposals to fund job-training programs, renegotiate trade deals and address soaring prescription-drug costs, as well as other issues. It is also expected to endorse long-held Democratic principles, including “a living wage” of $15 per hour and already unveiled spending plans for infrastructure that would expand broadband Internet access into rural counties.

The rollout comes as Democrats continue to struggle to sell a coherent message to voters. In a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, 37 percent of Americans said that the party “currently stands for something,” while 52 percent said it “just stands against Trump.”
Some of this is good. Some of it is small ball. It generally seems worthwhile. I do think it would help Democrats to make clear to non-politics junkies that they have ideas beyond anti-Trumpism.

But if Democrats have an image problem, so do Republicans. In fact, Republicans have had an image problem from years -- and yet it never seems to hurt them. Take a look at some numbers from the Post/ABC poll, collected by Polling Report:

Just before a wave election gave control of the House to Republicans in 2010, they had only a 40% approval rating. It was down to 39% in September 2012, but they held the House. And when they seized the Senate and had more big gains in House races in 2014, it was with a 33% party favorable rating (and a 56% unfavorable rating) a month before the elections.

So you don't need across-the-board adulation to win midterm victories -- or at least you don't if your party has mastered a few dark arts, including collecting dark money, gerrymandering, and suppression of the other guys' votes.

O'Keefe and Weigel quote some explanations for Democrats' woes that seem far off base:
Many Democrats have watched with frustration for years as Republicans in Congress neatly packaged their policy proposals with catchy slogans and sleekly produced online videos fronted by younger, telegenic lawmakers crisply delivering campaign promises.

During the 2010 congressional campaign cycle that swept Republicans backed by the tea party into power, they were led by rising stars, including future House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and future House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). As House Budget Committee chairman, Ryan starred in online videos that broke down complex plans into simple sound bites. More recently as speaker, Ryan and his caucus have embraced the “A Better Way” agenda that includes conservative proposals to revamp poverty programs, health care and taxes, plus a hawkish national security stance. Last year, the plank was seen as a way to distance congressional Republicans from Trump.
No, that's not your problem, Democrats. The average American voter is not a political obsessive and therefore has no bloody idea who Kevin McCarthy is or what "A Better Way" is. The average American voter is not sitting around watching Paul Ryan's online propaganda clips in between cat videos.

If the public has more of an impression of what Republicans stand for, it's because Fox News and talk radio act as nonstop conduits for Republican ideas and the rest of the media generally gives GOP figureheads spouting those ideas respectful attention. Maybe GOP president candidates haven't received much respect from the mainstream media in the last couple of cycles -- though John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and even Chris Christie would have been media favorites running against Hillary Clinton -- but Republicans in day-to-day news coverage get respect across the media spectrum. Democrats, by contrast, are portrayed as irremediably evil on the right, to an extend that probably exceeds the negative coverage of Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and their caucuses in the liberal (or allegedly liberal) press.

These are Democrats' biggest problems. Their own messaging problems are secondary. They may as well work on what they can change, but what's hurting them most is what isn't in their control.

I still think they'll win back the House in 2018 and hang on to many contested Senate seats. One reason for hope is that the GOP isn't getting much accomplished in D.C., and many GOP base voters are likely to blame congressional Republicans rather than their God Emperor Trump. Over at Gateway Pundit, Jim Hoft seems to be organizing the circular firing squad:
Do-Nothing Congress Reaches 200 Days Today with Obamacare and Massive Taxes Still In Place!

... There is no synergy between the House and President Trump since before the election. Initial observations would suggest that Speaker Ryan and his Congress are not behind the President. Speaker Ryan and his House may even be against the President.

The new Republican President wanted to pass tax cuts, repeal Obamacare and build a border wall in his first 100 days. But no matter how hard President Trump and his team worked, the Republican Congress was not going to work with him. They instead announced their own 200 day plan because they knew better.

It soon became clear that Ryan’s Congress was not going to play ball. They were getting nothing done and taking time off. They were not interested in helping President Trump reach his 100 day goals, they appeared to want him to fail. They were going to show him who was in charge....

What has Congress acheived?

* Obamacare is still in place and crushing Americans with huge insurance premiums and deductibles.
* The US tax code has not changed and Americans and American companies remain shackled with some of the highest taxes in the world. (The President proposed massive tax cuts that nearly all Americans are in favor of and yet nothing to date from Congress. They know better!)
* The US infrastructure is still broken. US Airports are worse than some third world countries.
* The President has removed many of the Obama era regulations but Dodd-Frank is still in place.

... Failed Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blew their first 200 days and accomplished nothing material.
If the conventional wisdom in the Republican bubble is the Bizarro World notion that Trump is a great president but the GOP Congress doesn't have his back, then Republicans are going to start primarying their own, and maybe failing to turn out for their incumbents in November. The crazies have been fighting with the ultra-crazies in D.C., so why not in the midterms? We can only hope.

Saturday, July 22, 2017


If this Mike Allen report is correct, Donald Trump has found the meaning of his presidency: It's all about ... himself.
When President Trump makes more changes in his West Wing (insiders suspect August or September, but who knows?), any new faces are likely to be in the mold of Anthony Scaramucci, age 53, the pugilistic Wall Streeter known as "Mooch" who was named White House communications director, beginning Aug. 15....

The President is building a wartime Cabinet, for political and legal war....

One West Wing confidant says Trump really might dismiss [special counsel Robert] Mueller. So POTUS needs "a group that can fight through what could end up being something quite amazing."

"We're going to see out-and-out political warfare, and not over ... Medicaid," the confidant said.

... As Matt Miller, the MSNBC contributor and former Obama Justice Department official, tweeted after the revelation that Trump was digging dirt on Mueller and contemplating pardons: "Takeaway from the Post & NYT pieces is we are headed for certain crisis. Trump just will not, cannot allow this investigation to go forward."
Lincoln had the Civil War. FDR had the Great Depression and World War II. LBJ had the Great Society and Vietnam. George W. Bush had the aftermath of 9/11.

The great mission -- the great cause -- of Donald Trump's presidency? Saving his own ass.

Sorry, you got suckered, Trump fans -- and I don't mean just the Joe Sixpacks with axle grease under the fingernails. I also mean the mainstream Republicans who thought Trump was as likely as Scott Walker or Jeb Bush to sign all those Kochite bills. It was obvious even before Mueller came on the scene that Trump was more interested in grabbing cash and wallowing in the glory of being president than he was in any agenda, whether it was the congressional GOP's or the one he put forth on the campaign trail. But now he's not even pretending that he's going to try to be president. "Make America Great Again"? He's not even going to make the attempt. It's all about him, not America.

The counterargument is that the investigations have forced him to go to the mattresses. Well, Bill Clinton spent a long time under investigation, and he managed to do his job anyway. His ability to shift focus from his own defense to his job responsibilities was described as "compartmentalization," and was sometimes talked about as if it was a mental illness. But he continued doing what we paid him to do.

Trump can't do that -- frankly, he couldn't do it even if he weren't under investigation. But now it's being openly acknowledged: You won't have a president for the foreseeable future, even if you think we've had one for the past six months. Trump has other priorities.


Yesterday, in a Fox News story, a U.S. general accused The New York Times of publishing a leak in 2015 that recently allowed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to escape:
In a wide-ranging interview moderated by Fox News' Catherine Herridge, [General Tony] Thomas, who leads the Special Operations Command, said his team was “particularly close” to Baghdadi after the 2015 raid that killed ISIS oil minister Abu Sayyaf. That raid also netted his wife, who provided a wealth of actionable information.

“That was a very good lead. Unfortunately, it was leaked in a prominent national newspaper about a week later and that lead went dead,” Thomas said....

Thomas appeared to be referring to a New York Times report in June 2015 that detailed how American intelligence agencies had “extracted valuable information.”

”New insights yielded by the seized trove – four to seven terabytes of data, according to one official – include how the organization’s shadowy leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, operates and tries to avoid being tracked by coalition forces," the Times reported.
This morning, a retired colonel followed up on this story on Fox & Friends -- a program to which the president of the United States devotes more undivided attention than he does to his intelligence briefings. A tweet, unsurprisingly, followed:
President Trump on Saturday morning alleged The New York Times “foiled” a U.S. attack on an Islamic State leader, suggesting the paper has a “sick agenda” that hurts national security.

... Trump's early Saturday allegation may have been prompted by his TV viewing habits.

Frequent Fox News guest Tony Shaffer, a retired Army Reserve lieutenant colonel, discussed [the] allegation on “Fox and Friends Saturday,” saying the New York Times leaked information they should not have released publicly.

... CBS News editor Stefan Becket first made the connection on Twitter between the Fox News segment and Trump’s tweet.

The 2015 New York Times story that Fox is harrumphing about is "A Raid on ISIS Yields a Trove of Intelligence" by Eric Schmitt. At that time of its publication, Fox News was so incensed by the leak that ... it published its own summary of the story, with a link to the original Times story.
A raid last month by American commandos on the home of an ISIS leader in Syria turned up a trove of valuable information, reportedly including the role played by the leaders’ wives, who sometimes acted as couriers in delivering information....

The trove also yielded important information on ISIS financing, contact networks and tactics.

According to the New York Times, information collected during the raid also shows how ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi stealthily conducts his business.

Among other tactics, the paper said, al-Baghdadi’s wife and other spouses of key ISIS leaders played an important role in passing on information to each other to give their husbands.
How appalled was the rest of the right-wing media by the publication of the leak? Breitbart was so appalled that it also published a version of the story, with a link to the Times original:
In a recent Delta Force-led raid against an Islamic State cell in Syria, American troops were able to extract a treasure trove of information related to the terror group’s leadership and financing structure, officials told the New York Times Monday.
As did the Daily Caller:
The U.S. has new information on how ISIS operates and how its leadership avoids being tracked by U.S. intelligence thanks to a May Delta Force commando raid....

“In the recent raid on Abu Sayyaf, we collected substantial information on Daesh financial operations,” John R. Allen, coordinator of the coalition against ISIS, reported to the New York Times. “And we’re gaining a much clearer understanding of Daesh’s organization and business enterprise.”

Umm Sayyaf, the late terrorist leader’s widow, has also been providing U.S. investigators with information about the militant group’s operations.
Oh, and:

But in 2015 and 2016 it was the Obama Pentagon, which presumably doesn't count, according to the right, because they were all traitors.

Friday, July 21, 2017


Noah Rothman thinks congressional Republicans' inability to deal with President Trump is a failure of imagination:
If the 2016 presidential election cycle demonstrated anything, it was that Republicans suffer from a crippling lack of imagination. That ordeal should have established that the unprecedented is not impossible. Even now, Republicans seem as though they are trying to convince themselves that their eyes are lying to them, but they are not. The tempo of the investigation into President Trump is accelerating, and a nightmare scenario is eminently imaginable. Only congressional Republicans can avert disaster, and only then by being clear about the actions they are prepared to take if Trump instigates a crisis of constitutional legitimacy.
Even though he's a conservative, Rothman believes that Republicans have to make clear to Trump that impeachment is on the table:
Republicans in Congress must stop comforting themselves with the notion that the worst cannot happen. They have to summon the courage to state publicly what they so freely tell reporters on background. If they are so concerned that the norms and traditions that have preserved the rule of law in this republic for 240 years are in jeopardy, they must say so. And they must say what the consequences will be for Trump, his associates, and his family if he goes too far....

Republicans may dislike the prospect, but it’s fast becoming time for them to start saying the “I” word if only to save the president from his most reckless impulses. The longer they tell themselves that the unthinkable is impossible, the more likely it becomes.
The problem isn't that Republicans lack the imagination to foresee an all-out Trump attack on the rule of law. It's that they can't imagine what would be so terrible about that -- it wouldn't have an obvious direct impact on them. It wouldn't take money out of the pockets of their donors. Their voters would cheer.

That's really all that matters. Who cares about the preservation of institutions and norms that hold the country together?

It's been obvious all year that Republicans have no abstract notion of what would be best for the country, and would have no interest in implementing such an agenda if they could devise one. All they want to do is check off items on the wish lists of Randian plutocrats, Christian-conservative theocrats, and Fox/talk radio revanchists. How else to explain their near-universal willingness to deprive tens of millions of people of health insurance, to slash non-military programs, and to hand the country over to an arrested-development bully who knows less about governance than a smart eighth grader? Some of this would hurt some of their voters, but would delight others. The cuts thrill their donors. And if the result is blood in the streets, who cares? It won't reach the tidy homes of GOP officials themselves. Their lives will go on as usual.

Elected Republicans seem incapable of taking seriously any concern that doesn't personally touch them, their donors, or their base. Torture? The only Republican who seems at all troubled by it is John McCain -- because he was tortured. Same-sex marriage? Rob Portman is a rare Republican who came around on this issue -- because his son is gay.

So how can we expect them to care about the rule of law? Will its erosion hurt them personally? Will it hurt the Koch brothers? Will it hurt the retirees in the diner in their district who still wear their Make America Great Again hats? No? Then none of it matters.