Friday, September 20, 2019


For anyone wondering what the GOP response to the Trump whistleblower story will be, here you go:

First, shooting the messenger: Co-host Steve Doocy says,
How does this stuff leak out through the intelligence community, where it winds up in the pages of the big papers, like The Washington Post and The New York Times?
Trump's pre-William Barr acting attorney general, Matthew Whittaker, is brought out to give the answer: It's the Deep State.
This is a clear example of someone that's part of the Deep State, someone part of the Deep State and the intelligence community, taking advantage of this whistleblower procedure and then trying to create this firestorm. I think it is completely overblown, where this person who clearly disagreed with whatever the position the president did take in this conversation wanted to get that out there. Their version of world politics was different, and they disagreed with the president whatever he said, and so they're trying to get that out, and they get it to The Washington Post and they get it to Congress, doing exactly what they intend to do by this story running.
Also this, from Senator Josh Hawley:

I'm not sure, Bill, what the actual facts are, and maybe we'll find out over time, but it looks to me like another Deep State attack, I mean, another bureaucrat attack, bureaucratic attack, on the president. We have seen this over and over and over in this administration from anonymous sources deep inside the bureaucracy. Frankly, it has been an unprecedented attempt by the bureaucracy to resist the policies of a duly elected president of the United States. So, we'll see the facts actually are on this over time, but so far, I have to say I'm not impressed.
(Key word: bureaucracy. Someone must have focus-grouped that.)

And from Senator Marsha Blackburn:

You're never going to see the attacks stop. The left is not going to give up because they cannot even accept the fact that they lost. They lost the 2016 election. Hillary Clinton is not president. Donald Trump is president, and in 2020 he will win reelection, and we know that he is going to continue to make certain that our allies understand they're our friends, those that are coming to negotiate with the United States know that Donald Trump is going to walk away from a bad deal, he's not going to make a bad deal, he's walked away from them already, and certainly we have found out how bad the JCPOA that was with Iran, the Iran deal as people call it, how bad that was for the U.S., and Harris, you know what? We wouldn't be having these issues with Iran right now if we did not have that Obama-era JCPOA that gave them more cash and more leverage and the ability to enrich that uranium.
Apparently she didn't get the talking points -- she just did her own version of highlights from a Trump campaign rally speech. (I'm not sure what Iran has to do with any of this, unless she knows something we don't.)

So there you go. These messages will carry the day with Trump's base, and will probably bamboozle a significant percentage of swing voters -- this won't cause Trump's approval to move by even a point. In Congress, Republicans will stonewall this, and the Trump-corrupted courts will no doubt back up the White House's own stonewalling. So there'll be no consequences for the president.


Is this terrible? Of course it's terrible.

It's not terrible the way it would be if, say, Maureen Dowd were writing it. She'd have really leaned into her personal distaste for Elizabeth Warren. Brooks pretends his own distaste is just an imaginary exit-poll result:
Many pundits predicted that Warren was too much the progressive regulator in chief to win a general election. Indeed, her personal favorability remained low. But the election was about Trump....
Warren wins and Democrats pull off a congressional sweep. Then a strange thing happens:
After that election, the Republicans suffered a long, steady decline. Trump was instantly reviled by everyone — he had no loyal defenders. Only 8 percent of young people called themselves conservatives. Republican voters, mostly older, were dying out, and they weren’t making new ones. For the ensuing two decades the party didn’t resonate beyond its white rural base.
Does anyone really think that will happen? Not Trump's post-presidential unpopularity, but the decline of the GOP. I agree that Trump ought to be reviled even by the people who love him now, if the George W. Bush, Paul Ryan, and Newt Gingrich are appropriate models to go by. Yet I suspect that Trump is a special figure on the right, more important than even Saint Reagan. If he's defeated, he'll be the right's top martyr, and his defeat will be the ultimate stab in the back.

But it's the GOP's decline that makes no sense to me. Do you really think the party will just go away quietly? Do you think a billionaire class that's enjoyed decades of getting 100% of what it wants on taxes and regulations won't find some way to revive the party that's unabashedly on its side? Do you think the plutocrats won't find a way to reconstitute the GOP the way they did after Bush's defeat, when the Tea Party rebranded Republicans while carrying forward the same old resentments on guns, abortion, "big government," and race? Also, do you think Republicans won't find a way to resume winning elections through anti-democratic means?

Brooks imagines the Warren administration destroying itself. He savors his portrayal of Warren's aides as evil meritocratic villains:
The American educated class celebrated the Warren victory with dance-in-the-street euphoria. In staffing her administration, she rejected the experienced Clinton-Obama holdovers and brought in a new cadre from the progressive left.

The euphoria ended when Warren tried to pass her legislative agenda. One by one, her proposals failed in the Senate: Medicare for all, free college, decriminalizing undocumented border crossing, even the wealth tax. Democratic senators from red states, she learned, were still from red states; embracing her agenda would have been suicidal. Warren and her aides didn’t help. Fired by their sense of moral superiority, they were good at condemnation, not coalition-building.
A recession hits in 2021, and now, in Brooks's scenario, we're talking about "the failure of two consecutive presidencies." (My guess is that rank-and-file Republicans will never regard the Trump presidency as anything other than a complete success.)

Brooks writes that "the nation had three political tendencies — conservative populism, progressive populism and moderate liberalism." Ultimately, moderate liberalism wins, because it's really Amurricun.
Moderate liberals had a basic faith in American institutions and thought they just needed reform. They had basic faith in capitalism and the Constitution and revered the classical liberal philosophy embedded in America’s founding. They inherited Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’s millennial nationalism, a sense that America has a special destiny as the last best hope of earth.

Progressives had much less faith in American institutions — in capitalism, the Constitution, the founding. They called for more structural change to things like the Supreme Court, the Electoral College and the basic structures of the market. Trump’s victory in 2016 had served for them as proof that racism is the dominant note in American history, that the founding was 1619, not 1776. They were willing to step on procedural liberalism in order to get radical change.
Evil progressives stole the Democratic Party from moderate liberals, but in the final reel, the heroic moderates win it back (cue stirring John Williams music). The secret weapon: thrifty, hardworking immigrants.
With the Republicans powerless and irrelevant, the war within the Democratic Party grew vicious. Progressives detested moderate liberals even more than they did conservatives. The struggle came to a head with another set of Democratic primaries in 2024.

The moderate liberals triumphed easily. It turns out that the immigrant groups, by then a large and organized force in American politics, had not lost faith in the American dream, they had not lost faith in capitalism. They simply wanted more help so they could compete within it.

By 2030, progressive populism burned out as right-wing populism had. The Democrats became the nation’s majority party. This party ran on a one-word platform: unity. After decades of culture, class and demographic warfare, moderate liberals defined America as a universal nation, a pluralistic nation, embracing all and seeking opportunity for all.

In a wildly diverse nation, voters handed power to leaders who were coalition-builders not fighters. The whole tenor of American politics changed.
None of this will happen. Brooks believes it will because he's never seen the flaws in his own party. If Democrats -- from whatever wing of the party -- win in 2020, they'll have to fight harder to stay in power than they did to gain power. The corporatist GOP will do every nasty thing imaginable to regain control. But Brooks doesn't see the nastiness, the way a fish doesn't see water -- he's been immersed in it for years.

Thursday, September 19, 2019


Marianne Williamson gets a lot of media attention every time she debates or makes a controversial statement, but it's not helping her -- according to Real Clear Politics, she's at 0.4% in the Democratic primary polls. Over at FiveThirtyEight, Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux tries to understand why Williamson's campaign is tanking, but she doesn't quite get it:
Something about Williamson’s unconventional candidacy ... has certainly sparked voters’ curiosity....

But the more voters learned more about her, the less they seemed to like her. According to an analysis by my colleague Nathaniel Rakich, Williamson’s name recognition is up, but her net favorability ratings are down. She now actually has negative net favorability, a dubious honor she shares only with mayor of New York Bill de Blasio and former Rep. Joe Sestak. And her failure to resonate with an audience that might have been receptive to her message — “spiritual but not religious” Americans — also reflects the difficulty of reaching a group that’s defined largely by what it’s not.

According to the Pew Research Center, about one-third of Democrats identify as “spiritual but not religious” — an amorphous identity that has a lot in common with Williamson’s nondenominational spiritual practice....

But perhaps unsurprisingly, the vast majority are not churchgoers, nor do they necessarily have a strong sense of communal identity or group cohesion. And here we run into the hurdle that makes outreach to the less-religious and the non-religious perennially tricky for Democrats: It’s hard to marshal a group that doesn’t think of itself as a group....
Thomson-DeVeaux is looking for Williamson's problem in the wrong place. It's not that she shares a spiritual identity with people who aren't used to thinking of themselves as a group. Her problem is that she talks about government like a Republican.

Williamson claims to have left-wing positions, but her best-known statement as a presidential candidate is this:
... if you think any of this wonkiness is going to deal with this dark psychic force of the collectivized hatred that this President is bringing up in this country, then I'm afraid that the Democrats are going to see some very dark days.
Democratic voters have a range of belief (and non-belief) systems, but we share one conviction: Government has to do stuff. When Williamson warns that we must combat "dark psychic forces," what she's saying is the New Age equivalent of the right-wing notion that "thoughts and prayers" will stop gun massacres. The same is true when she says that "the power of the mind" can change the course of a hurricane.

Democrats don't think societal problems can simply be prayed or meditated away. When Williamson invoked "dark psychic forces," she was talking about water contamination in Flint, Michigan. Democrats don't believe positive energy is the solution to that problem -- we think the solution is to fix the damn infrastructure and punish the people responsible for poisoning Flint's citizens. When there's a hurricane, we think the solution is to improve our disaster response, while doing something serious about the climate change that's making hurricanes worse.

It's no wonder that Republicans such as Ross Douthat are fascinated by Williamson -- her message is highly compatible with that notion that limited government and prayer will make America better, and than government programs won't. Democrats don't think that way. Even the ones who are religious want laws to make life better for ordinary citizens. Williamson may claim that she's a progressive, but whether or not she realizes it, she talks like a Republican. That's why she's losing.


A Fox News poll released last night is the latest survey to show all the leading Democrats beating President Trump nationwide:

But there's even better news when you dig into the numbers. The survey tells us that voters seem quite eager to vote next year.

In 2015, the "Extremely" number was never higher than 32% -- in fact, the number was never higher than 49% during the entire election year of 2016.

But it's the crosstabs that are the best news for the Democrats: 61% of women are extremely interested in the election, as opposed to 57% of men. Among non-white women, 65% are extremely interested. For Democrats, the "extremely interested" number is 65% (the GOP number is 60%). Democratic women: 67%. Suburban women: 66%. (Rural whites: 53%.) Clinton voters 68%, Trump voters 61%. Liberals 70%, conservatives 54%. Democratic primary voters: 67%.

I know -- it's one poll. Polling subsamples have huge margins of error. Still, these are good numbers. It looks as if the right groups are pumped up.

In a follow-up question, in which 62% of respondents say they're "extremely" motivated to vote in the 2020 presidential election, there are similar good numbers in the subsamples: women 65% (men 59%); non-white women 69%; Democrats 69% (Republicans 63%); Democratic women 73%; suburban women 67%; Clinton voters 72%; liberals 73% (conservatives 59%). This is good news.

Oh, and one more thing: Respondents are asked how they feel about "changing the health care system so that every American can buy into Medicare if they want to." This is very popular -- 68% are in favor, 24% opposed. But a complete switchover to Medicare for All ("Getting rid of private health insurance and moving to a government-run health care system for everyone") isn't unpopular -- it's at parity: 46% in favor, 48% opposed. If there's more polling like this, it might be a sign that this position, shared by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, isn't the electoral millstone a lot of observers think it is. And a public option, Joe Biden's position, is very popular.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019


Am I wrong to be a tad skeptical about these numbers?

First, the registration numbers. You get 45,000 registrants and you hold the event in a venue with a capacity of 7,500?
[The] rally in Rio Rancho was held at the Santa Ana Star Center at 3001 Civic Center Circle on September 16, 2019. The Santa Ana Star Center is a multi-purpose arena with a capacity of 7,500 for concerts and events like the rally Trump hosted. The venue was packed and thousands more had to stay outside in the overflow crowd to watch the rally on a large screen. Heavy has reached out to the local police department for an official crowd size estimate. The city told local news KRQE earlier in the day that they were expecting 12,000 to 15,000 total.

The capacity of the Pit is 15,411 for basketball, up to 13,480 for concerts. Tingley's capacity is 11,571. Why not book a bigger hall? Scared of empty seats despite this massive interest?

And if 94% of the 45,000 registrants were from New Mexico, that's approximately 2% of the total population of the state. Is that plausible? (New Mexico is a physically large state, but it has fewer residents than Brooklyn -- just over 2 million.)

Do we really believe that 31% of the registrants are on the voter rolls as Democrats? New Mexico is a blue state these days, but Democrats make up only 46% of registered voters. (Republicans are 30%; 24% are in minor parties or have no party affiliation.) That's a massive amount of crossover in a state that elected a Democratic governor last November by a 57%-43% margin, and where even a Republican poll shows that the Democrat who flipped the seat in the state's 2nd Congressional District is leading a likely opponent by 3. (The Democrat, Xochitl Torres Small, won that seat in 2018 by only 2.)

I suppose it's barely possible that all this is true -- that 48% of the registrants for this event were female and 40% were Hispanic. (The latter is barely plausible -- 47% of the state is Hispanic -- but again, that's a lot of crossover, given that nationwide polls show roughly two-thirds opposition to Trump among Hispanics.)

If Parscale is massaging the facts, who's the intended audience? The president, who probably can't absorb numbers at all (but does like to exaggerate them)? Insiders like Jared Kushner, who might fall for a whole mess of numbers, even if they don't pass the smell test? Credulous reporters like Politico's Gabby Orr, a former Murdoch journalist who's done a lot of Parscale puff pieces? The rest of the media, which might fall for this "Hey, Trump could win New Mexico" nonsense?

Trump & Co. probably like Parscale's insistence that the map can be expanded, and are no doubt willing to pay him handsomely to fulfill that promise. But in this case, he won't.


On the subject of the Israeli election, Haaretz reports:
Netanyahu crony admits cameras at polling stations was bad idea

Likud lawmaker and Netanyahu loyalist Miki Zohar said his party was damaged by its failed attempt to pass a law allowing parties to film voters in polling stations, “out of belief that there is voter fraud in polling stations in Arab towns.”

“Without a doubt, the cameras campaign came back at us like a boomerang,” Zohar said, adding that Joint List leaders took advantage of the campaign, seen as an attempt to intimidate voters, and capitalized on it to increase Arab voter turnout.
So the political tactics of America's Republican Party don't always work. (Now we need to make them fail in America.)

But on the other hand...
While Boris Johnson has been mostly making headlines for his struggles against Parliament, new YouGov polling reveals that the ongoing Brexit chaos hasn’t adversely affected the PM’s favourability figures - which are, in fact, slightly higher now than they were when he first moved into Downing Street.

Currently 38% of Brits say they have a favourable view of the Prime Minister, compared to 54% with an unfavourable opinion of him, giving a net score of -16.

This is an improvement from the net score of -21 he received when the same survey was conducted on 23-24 July, just as he had been announced as having won the Conservative Party leadership contest and would therefore be the next Prime Minister....

Since becoming Prime Minister, Johnson has experienced a boost of 21 points among Conservative voters (from a net score of +29 on 23/24 July to +50 now) and a 16 point increase among Leave voters (from +30 to +46).
The good news: Johnson's still underwater. The bad news: He's far more popular than Labour's Jeremy Corbyn (21% approval, 70% [!] disapproval) and he has a higher approval rating than the Liberal Democrats' Jo Swinson, who's not nearly as well known (26% approval, 38% disapproval).

The struggle continues.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019


Here was the lead item in this morning's Politico Playbook:
THIS POLITICAL PICKLE has come up in conversations with several Democratic sources over the last few days: If House Democrats impeach President DONALD TRUMP and he loses, they fear they could get blamed for a political hit job. If they don’t impeach him and he wins, they fear being blamed by the Democratic base for not doing enough. Best-case scenario: Dems are left hoping they don’t impeach him and Trump loses on his own.

It's understandable that Democrats might worry about blame if they don't impeach and Trump wins reelection. And I don't think it's completely unreasonable for Democrats to worry that Trump might use an impeachment effort to rally his base, as well as some undecideds, the result being another Trump victory -- after all, polls still show that voters are wary of impeachment.

But we're being told here that some Democrats think impeachment might work as intended, and they think that would be a bad thing.

We all know Trump can't be convicted in the Senate. We know that the point of impeachment is to highlight Trump's crimes, his violations of his oath of office, and his general unfitness to be president. Its purpose is to hold him accountable.

So what some Democrats are saying, according to the Playbook's authors, is that if Democrats do this successfully -- if they make it clear to the American public that Trump should not be president -- and if the voters agree that Trump is unfit and express that opinion at the ballot box, that would be problematic. Remember, this is a president that 60% of the country doesn't want reelected, according to a CNN poll earlier this month. Some Democrats are saying that if an impeachment effort reaffirms this widespread popular disgust with Trump, that's an outcome that should be avoided.

What the hell is wrong with these people?


The House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing today, and it's already clear that it will be a bust.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler slammed the White House Monday for blocking 2 former aides from testifying before the committee and placing "unprecedented limitations" on former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski ahead of his appearance Tuesday.

... The House Judiciary Committee is trying to step up investigations in order to determine whether to recommend Trump’s impeachment for obstruction of justice and abuse of power.

... White House counsel Pat Cipollone said in a letter to Nadler Monday that having worked previously as senior White House aides, former Staff Secretary Rob Porter and former Deputy Chief of Staff Rick Dearborn were "absolutely immune" from congressional testimony.

Cipollone said in a separate letter that Lewandowski would be free to discuss his work on the Trump campaign and matters that have already been made public by Mueller, but not any other additional communications he may have had with Trump, the New York Times first reported.
Remind me again: What's the point of all this? Is it the fantasy that committee Democrats will wrest an acknowledgment of Trump wrongdoing out of a reluctant witness, in a scene straight out of a Perry Mason rerun? Instead, what Democrats get is stonewalling, defiance, or noncompliance. The so-called impeachment investigation proceeds at a crawl. The no-shows and refusals to answer questions on advice of counsel make Democrats look weak and helpless. Yet they keep doing this.

This isn't Charlie Brown falling on his face because Lucy whisked away the football just as he was about to kick it. This is Lucy announcing the night before the attempted kick that the football will be whisked away, after which Charlie Brown still tries to kick it, leading to the inevitable faceplant.

Democrats, at least don't give Corey Lewandowski this satisfaction:
If Corey Lewandowski goes forward with a run for the Senate in his home state of New Hampshire — which he's seriously considering, a spokesperson says — he'd be the first in Trump's inner circle to test those coattails.

... “Corey will use [the hearing] as part of the campaign. He will be confrontational to the Democrats. He will be totally loyal to Trump. And he will be playing to the right wing of the party who need to unite behind him in a primary," Thomas Rath, former attorney general of New Hampshire and adviser to several GOP presidential candidates, tells Axios.
Lewandowski is using these hearings to launch his New Hampshire Senate campaign. This is his kickoff rally. He's going to be recalcitrant and obnoxious and Trumpian, and as a result he'll increase his lead in GOP primary polling. (On the other hand, he trails the incumbent, Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, by 10 in general election polling.)

Why provide Lewandowski an opportunity to rally the faithful -- and, no doubt, follow up with a rousing appearance or two on Fox? Why give him that satisfaction?

Announce at the last minute that you're taking his testimony in private. Deprive him of footage he can use in his campaign -- and regain some dignity in the process.


UPDATE: As I was saying...

Monday, September 16, 2019


CNN reports:
The US has told at least one US ally in the Middle East, that they have intelligence showing that the launch was “likely” coming from staging grounds in Iran, but they have not shared that intelligence yet....

A US official separately tells CNN that the US has assessed that the attack originated from inside Iran. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.
So it's war then? Hard to tell:
President Trump said Monday that he wants to avoid war with Iran, a day after warning that the United States was "locked and loaded" in response to attacks on Saudi oil facilities.

“Do I want war? I don’t want war with anybody,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office Monday afternoon during a meeting with the crown prince of Bahrain, later adding: “We have the strongest military in the world.”
Trump might back down, or possibly he'll launch one strike for show and then get bored. Or he might go for it. There's reason to be concerned.

To get us out of this, we may have to rely on -- God help us -- Trump's buddy and adviser Tucker Carlson. Carlson said this on his show back in June:
Since 9/11, the U.S. has spent trillions of dollars and thousands of American lives trying to remake the Middle East in our image. It's sad to say it out loud, but we have to, it hasn't worked. Many of us thought it would, but it hasn't.

By every measure, our foreign wars have ended in dismal failure for the United States, however noble their intentions and some did have noble intentions.

Donald Trump was one of the rare Republican politicians honest enough to admit this. He said it out loud three years ago, and promised not to repeat the same mistakes if elected President and partly because he said that he was elected President.

Now something fascinating is happening. The very people, in some cases, literally the same people who lured us into the Iraq quagmire 16 years ago, are demanding a new war, this one with Iran. The President, to his great credit appears to be skeptical of this -- very skeptical.

... in Washington, there are no real consequences for being wrong. And as a result policymakers are. They make the same mistakes again and again, and it's certainly not just Lindsey Graham.

At "The New York Times" left-wing warmonger Bret Stevens is also calling on America to sink the Iranian Navy. Many on the left are for it. John Bolton cheers him on from within the White House. Bill Kristol nods with approval from outside the White House.

None of these people will admit their actual intentions.
(Yes, he called Bret Stephens a "left-wing warmonger," and said "the left" wants war with Iran.)

Around the same time, the Daily Beast reported this:
A source familiar with the conversations told The Daily Beast that, in recent weeks, [Carlson] has privately advised Trump against taking military action against Iran. And a senior administration official said that during the president’s recent conversations with the Fox primetime host, Carlson has bashed the more “hawkish members” of his administration.

... In recent weeks, he has questioned whether war with Iran would be “in anyone’s interest.”

... During a Monday night segment devoted to the recent attack on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, Carlson invoked the faulty intelligence leading up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Fox News host compared Pompeo’s “misplaced certainty” that Iran attacked the tankers to former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s now-discredited claim that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

“We’re still paying a price for that,” Carlson said.
This could pose a serious dilemma for Trump, considering what he's hearing from the other people he trusts the most:
... his advisers on Fox & Friends, the Fox News morning show that shapes his worldview, are urging him to take military action against Iran....

“I think this cannot go without retribution,” said Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade on Monday.

“They have provoked us before,” co-host Steve Doocy chimed in. “Think about the tankers they have seized, they shot one of our drones out of the sky, and now it looks like this, even though the Houthi rebels are saying, ‘Oh we did it, 100%.’ Yeah, right.”

“The drone attacks, extremely disturbing from a security standpoint: What stops it from happening here?” Kilmeade added. “We have to keep the Strait of Hormuz open, and we’ve got to protect the world’s oil supply.”
Who'll win this battle for Trump's heart and mind? It's horrible to be rooting for Carlson, who, unlike the other two, is not just a right-wing hack, he's a white supremacist right-wing hack. But alas, he may be our best hope.


Democrats are being warned that relitigating Brett Kavanaugh's appointment to the Supreme Court would be bad for them politically.

(@clairecmc is Claire McCaskill, who lost her Missouri Senate seat just after the Kavanaugh was confirmed.)

Democrats didn't regain the Senate in 2018, though they won a large number of seats in the House, and did very well in state and local races. And yet there's fear if Kavanaugh becomes an issue again, even though polls in 2018 showed that a plurality of Americans disapproved of his confirmation (scroll down here).

Meanwhile, Republicans position themselves on the wrong side of public opinion on multiple issues, even when the numbers are overwhelmingly against them:

That's from a new CBS News poll. Only 16% of Americans think climate change is not a problem, and only 18% think it doesn't need to be addressed -- which is the Republican Party's position.

We're told that Democrats need to run away from unpopular positions -- in favor of reparations or eliminating private health insurance, for instance -- and maybe that's true. But why is it true -- or to put it another way, why isn't that true for Republicans?

The Republican Party's position is that no gun law should be tightened -- despite the fact that universal background checks have support approaching 90%, as do red-flag laws, while an assault weapons ban and even gun registration have the support of large majorities of Americans. How do Republicans get away with this?

Approximately three-quarters of Americans support hiking taxes on rich people. Republicans are unalterably opposed. How do they get away with that?

I think it's because Republican voters hear a simple, clear message from the news sources they trust every day: The people opposing you are Democrats. To get what you want, vote against Democrats. Vote for Republicans. And so all the people in the tiny minority who support maintaining the gun show loophole and keeping taxes low on the rich and doing nothing on climate change turn out to vote. Other conservatives who don't agree with these extreme positions also turn out, because the tribal solidarity gets them pumped up. Add in Democratic voter suppression, gerrymandering, and the Electoral College, and Republicans win.

Mainstream news sources, by contrast, tell Democratic voters that the problem is the system, or Washington, or gridlock, or Congress. Many lefty news sources say both parties are equally to blame for our problems. What's rarely heard is this message: It's the Republicans. Vote them out and things will be better. So it's hard to turn out voters who oppose Republican policies, and hard to keep them focused on the goal of keeping Republicans out of office.

Democrats need the slack to be able to endorse ideas that don't have widespread support. As it is, they're at risk when they endorse mildly unpopular ideas, while Republicans aren't at risk when they endorse extremely unpopular ideas. That's where we are as a nation.

Sunday, September 15, 2019


Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly's new book, The Education of Brett Kavanaugh, will be published on Tuesday. In The New York Times, Pogrebin and Kelly reveal some of what they learned about Kavanaugh, including this:
During the winter of her freshman year ... [Deborah Ramirez] and some classmates had been drinking heavily when, she says, a freshman named Brett Kavanaugh pulled down his pants and thrust his penis at her, prompting her to swat it away and inadvertently touch it....

We also uncovered a previously unreported story about Mr. Kavanaugh in his freshman year that echoes Ms. Ramirez’s allegation. A classmate, Max Stier, saw Mr. Kavanaugh with his pants down at a different drunken dorm party, where friends pushed his penis into the hand of a female student. Mr. Stier, who runs a nonprofit organization in Washington, notified senators and the F.B.I. about this account, but the F.B.I. did not investigate and Mr. Stier has declined to discuss it publicly. (We corroborated the story with two officials who have communicated with Mr. Stier.)
The president of the United States is not taking this well. He's proposing that the Justice Department should treat the work of these reporters as a crime:

But please note what Trump thinks is the purpose of this revelation:
They want to scare him into turning Liberal!

They are trying to influence his opinions.
What's Trump getting at? I think he's arguing that this is an attempt to do what a lot of right-wingers (including Trump?) believe was done to John Roberts. Here's a column that appeared at Glenn Beck's Blaze in 2015:
Has Supreme Court Justice John Roberts been blackmailed or intimidated?

... Justice Roberts and the Supremes upheld Obamacare - again...

Is it impossible to believe that Obama and his socialist cabal that learned from Saul Alinsky that “the ends justify the means” would hold something over a Supreme Court justice’s head?

... I think the Obama Crime Family meets with ... Justice Roberts and they offer both a carrot and stick. They threaten to expose something terrible like an affair, or corruption, or malfeasance, or immorality that would shock the nation, ruin their career, destroy their legacy, cost their marriage, destroy their relationship with their children and leave them unemployable by any respectable law firm or lobbyist. That’s what’s behind door number one.

Or if you see the light and vote Obama's way, they get to continue playing national leader and hero, their legacy is untouched.... That’s what’s behind door number two.

Which would you choose?
The author of that column was Wayne Allyn Root -- a guy who once argued that Barack Obama never attended Columbia University, then argued that he attended after applying as a foreign student. After the Charlottesville white supremacist rally, Root theorized that the killers of counterdemonstrator Heather Heyer were "Probably paid actors & infiltrators hired by Soros." Root was the opening speaker at a 2018 Trump rally, and he was recently thanked by Trump when he wrote that Israelis see Trump as like "the King of Israel" and "the second coming of God."

When Root wrote about Roberts, he didn't propose a specific theory, but others, at sites such as Spookd Blog and Liberty Born, have asserted that Roberts was being blackmailed because there were questions about the process by which he and his wife adopted two children in the early 2000s. I won't bore you with the details, but one news report claimed that the children were adopted in Latin America, though it's now understood that they were adopted in Ireland. It's been claimed that the adoptions were in violation of Irish law. The Drudge Report claimed in 2005 that The New York Times was looking into the adoption.

Oh, and by 2018 the conspiratorialists were "reporting" that John Brennan and James Clapper were in on the blackmail that led to Roberts's decision to side with Obamacare supporters. The sourcing, as you'd expect, is somewhat less than airtight.
Tapes released by Federal Judge G. Murray Snow — preserved on a Whistleblower Soundcloud page — show real estate billionaire Timothy Blixseth explaining Brennan and Clapper’s surveillance program to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and detective Mike Zullo. The existence of this surveillance program has been corroborated by Wikileaks’ “Vault 7” release and by the public comments of former CIA and NSA contractor Dennis Montgomery, who says he worked on the program for Brennan and Clapper....

On the explosive tapes, Blixseth walks Arpaio and Zullo through the details of the program on a computer screen. At one point, the three begin pulling up specific names of targeted individuals....

“John Roberts, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, was hacked,” Blixseth tells Arpaio and Zullo.
I don't think Trump has a detailed knowledge of right-wing conspiracy lore (I don't think he has a detailed knowledge of anything), but I wouldn't be surprised if he believes at least the outlines of the Roberts blackmail story. It's hard to see how the adoption story could have changed Roberts's vote. Charlie Pierce, in 2015, hinted at a much more believable explanation for why Roberts voted the way he did:
Purely as a political matter, Chief Justice John Roberts did the Republican party great good yesterday when he laughed the absurd King v. Burwell out of the Supreme Court. Now, the various Republican candidates can rouse the fury of The Base without ever having to present an alternative. And, also, by ruling the way he did, Roberts blunted the edge of any Democratic attacks about the future of the Court itself.
I think that's why Roberts voted to uphold Obamacare in 2012 as well. In that year in particular, the hope of getting rid of Obamacare was seen as a great turnout motivator for Republican voters. Roberts, I think, voted to keep the law in place for that reason -- he wanted Republicans, not Democrats, to express their outrage at the polls.

But Trump, I think, believes someone put the arm on Roberts, and is trying to do the same to Kavanaugh. Though if the Kavanaugh story is out already, how can The New York Times and the rest of the Liberal Crime Family blackmail him with it?

Saturday, September 14, 2019


The Washington Post's Julie Zauzmer notes that for an evangelical hero, Donald Trump sure says "goddamn" a lot.
... on Thursday night ... he joked about “goddamn windmills” while talking with House Republicans in Baltimore about energy policy....

Trump has been urged in the past to cease using this particular word. A state senator from West Virginia, Paul Hardesty, told Politico in August that he got calls from three constituents after one Trump rally alone. He wrote a letter to the White House: “Never utter those words again.”

At that rally, the president had told a North Carolina crowd about the Islamic State, “They’ll be hit so goddamn hard,” and had recalled warning a businessman, “If you don’t support me, you’re going to be so goddamn poor.”
This matters to evangelicals, at least in principle.
“I certainly do not condone taking the Lord’s name in vain. There is a whole commandment dedicated to prohibiting that,” said the Rev. Robert Jeffress, a Texas megachurch leader who is one of Trump’s most outspoken evangelical advisers and supporters. “I think it’s very offensive to use the Lord’s name in vain. I can take just about everything else, except that,” when it comes to off-color language.

... Timothy Jay, a retired psychology professor[, has] made it his business for 40 years to be the world’s leading expert on swear words.

“I’ve done surveys where I ask people: What’s the most offensive word?” Jay said. “Some [religious] women would say the word ‘f---,’ but they wouldn’t say ‘Jesus Christ.’ Some of my interviewees have said, ‘We could say ‘f---’ and ‘s---’ at home, but we weren’t allowed to use profane language.”
So evangelicals are more upset by profanity (taking God's name in vain) than obscenity (vulgar words referring to sex or excretion). And yet they love Trump. So maybe this doesn't really bother them?

On the other hand, maybe this isn't a big problem for Trump because most evangelicals don't know that he frequently says "goddamn." If you don't watch every Trump speech, you might never hear him say it -- clips in which he says "goddamn" aren't likely to be highlighted on the news. They certainly won't show up on Fox or on religious broadcasts.

So Democrats, where's the supercut? I don't mean a supercut of all of Trump's cursing -- "bomb the shit out of them" and so on. Those supercuts already exist. I mean just a supercut of Trump saying "goddamn."

Don't make it fun or entertaining. Make it seem deeply disturbing. Make it seem like a warning to God-fearing people about Trump. Maybe the "goddamns" themselves should be bleeped (but only partially, so the use of the word is still obvious).

Spread the supercut around on Facebook. Target it to evangelical voters in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Maybe wait until fall 2020.

If you dissuade just a few of these voters from voting for Trump again, it's worth doing. Isn't it?

Friday, September 13, 2019


Here's Greg Sargent in full Eeyore mode:
The question isn’t merely whether Biden has the stamina for a grueling campaign, or whether Biden will be able to handle debates with Trump.

It’s also whether Biden or indeed other Democrats are prepared for the massive onslaught of absolutely brutal and distortive attacks that Trump and his propaganda apparatus will wage on this particular front — attacks that you can be certain will include all sorts of shamelessly propagandistic media manipulation and outright disinformation tactics....

For a taste of what this will look like, watch the disgusting video that the Trump campaign released after Hillary Clinton fell ill in 2016. It juxtaposes terrorist imagery with footage of Clinton coughing, stumbling outside her campaign van, and even a shot of a frail Clinton struggling to climb stairs. This whole line, as Media Matters documented, was heavily amplified by right-wing media.

That will look like video of a knitting session compared with this time, which will likely include full-saturation levels of deliberate disinformation. Look at this distorted video of Nancy Pelosi slowed down to look drunk, and imagine distorted videos of Biden’s rambles.

We might even get deepfakes — ultra-sophisticated computer-altered videos — done by somebody, somewhere, making Biden look even more frail, committing verbal stumbles he never actually committed.

Such things will be spread widely across social media, with the help of platforms not self-policing adequately, and shared with tens of millions of people via the Twitter feed of the president of the United States.
Sargent is correct -- but the right will attack whoever is the nominee in a devious and underhanded way, exploiting any potential weakness, and probably using deepfakes to bamboozle the voters.

Will there be deepfakes suggesting that Biden is in frail health? Sure. The deployment of the distorted Nancy Pelosi video makes that clear. But recall that the video was identified as doctored almost immediately after it was released. It was thoroughly discredited. It hasn't done any damage to Pelosi. She's still Speaker.

Sure, Republicans will try to deepfake a Biden health video, if he's the nominee. If it's Elizabeth Warren instead, the deepfake probably won't concern her health -- she's far too vigorous. Instead, it will probably "show" her admitting that she used her descent from a Native American ancestor to advance her career. If the nominee is Bernie Sanders, it will "show" him lavishing praise on Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro (whom he's actually denounced) or expressing some other implausibly excessive opinion more suited to Stalin that to a believer in Denmark-style democratic socialism.

These fakes will be quickly debunked, although some in the GOP base will still believe they're genuine. The originals will be unearthed. Participants will affirm that the audio is fake. There'll be other video of the faked moments that doesn't show the allegedly incriminating details. The fakes won't work.

(My pet theory is that the real risk of deepfakes is not that we'll believe videos that aren't real, but that we'll stop believing in inconvenient videos that are genuine. For instance, pro-cop conservatives will denounce every police brutality clip as a fake -- and many people will believe them.)

The reason for concern, in Biden's case, is not that he'll be subject to dishonest attacks on his health -- it's that he'll seem unhealthy in real time. Republicans won't need to frame it -- we'll see it. Republican attacks won't matter as much as the raw video.

Or maybe a large percentage of our aging population won't care, the way 46% of the public didn't care that Trump admitted to felony sexual assault on a genuine video.

Whatever the risks might be if we choose Biden as a nominee, there'll be risks in choosing any of the alternatives. No matter what, the GOP smear machine won't rest.


I think New York magazine's Eric Levitz has a point:
Would You Leave Joe Biden Alone With Trump?

The Democratic frontrunner cannot speak in complete sentences when he is feeling tired or defensive. And 90 minutes of debate is enough to make him tired. And a reference to something that he said about race in the 1970s is enough to make him defensive.

These were my three main takeaways from the Democratic Party’s third presidential primary debate in Houston on Thursday. And they’ve left me rather apprehensive about the prospect of the Democrats sending Joe Biden into battle against Donald Trump next year. A three-hour debate can be tiring. But a 14-month campaign would seem considerably more so. If Biden can’t keep his talking points straight for an entire evening, what shape will he be in after running the gauntlet between today and his televised showdowns with the president next fall? And if a pointed question from an ABC News anchor can reduce him to spasms of anxious blather, how well will he hold up when Trump comes after his family?
I'm an Elizabeth Warren fan who nevertheless thought Biden did a decent job of defending healthcare incrementalism in the opening moments of last night's debate. I'll admit I turned the TV off before the now-viral moment Levitz is talking about, which is being mocked for incoherence, for a supposedly outdated reference to a "record player" (but hasn't vinyl been making a comeback for years now?), and even for racism.

Levitz says we need a better debater going up against Trump. I'd wholeheartedly agree -- if I didn't remember 2016.

Here were the polls in the aftermath of the first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in 2016:

Go to Wikipedia and scroll down for the numbers on all three debates. Clinton won every debate overwhelmingly.

In the end, what good did that do her?

I think Elizabeth Warren would beat Trump in every debate. She's getting good notices for last night -- she deftly interwove the political and personal; she had energy and a command of the facts.

But there's a large percentage of the electorate that doesn't want a smart president, especially a smart woman. I'm not sure a smart man would do better. Too much of the electorate distrusts intelligence. To those who like him, Donald Trump comes off as a backslapping, gregarious Big Man on Campus. That's a type Americans have always gravitated toward. Poll respondents might acknowledge that Warren debated better, but their gut reaction might be that they liked Trump more.

Or at least that's what might happen if 2016 is a model. At this point, I don't think it is. I think much of the public (though not the persistent 40% of his base) sees Trump as an unhinged guy you cross the street to avoid. In that case, any decent Democrat might outpoll him on Election Day, perhaps even after weak debates.

I think Biden's gaffes humanize him in the eyes of many voters. Some of them liked the fact that Trump wasn't polished and now like the fact that Biden isn't. Polish is what elites have. They don't like elites.

I don't know what will work in 2020. I'm just not sure that nominating a bad debater is a guarantee of defeat for the Democrats. It could conceivably work out better than nominating a good one.

Thursday, September 12, 2019


Ted Cruz says what a lot of Republicans are thinking.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) warned on Thursday that congressional action to stop gun violence would not stop mass murders, would demoralize the nation, and could elect Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) president.

Speaking at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast, Cruz was asked about background checks and discussions between the Trump administration and a bipartisan group of Senators.

Cruz warned that any such action could cost Trump re-election. "Republicans abandon the Second Amendment and demoralize millions of Americans who care deeply about Second Amendment rights, that could go a long way to electing a President Elizabeth Warren,” he predicted.
After this summer's wave of mass shootings, some people have expressed surprise that the NRA -- weakened, under investigation, and generally in disarray -- still seems to hold sway over the thinking of the president and most elected Republicans on the subject of guns. It's the money, right?

I don't think it is the money. I think Republicans are afraid that the NRA worldview has been internalized by so many of their voters that it functions on its own as a check on any Republican who might dare to vote for gun control legislation. I think if the NRA ceased to exist tomorrow, this no-retreat, no-surrender approach to gun laws would still hold sway with a large number of the party's base voters. And even GOP base voters who may not care that much about guns want to see the liberals squirm every day. Vote on a liberal priority and you're doing the opposite of what those voters want.

Of course, support for some gun control measures, such as universal background checks and red flag laws, approaches 90% in the country as a whole. Even majorities of Republicans support these measures, according to some polls.

But Republican politicians fear the wrath of the 10%. Do they need to? If these voters are generally conservative, where are they going to go? They won't vote for most Democrats in any case, though they may stay home. On the other hand, some of these Republicans might win a few votes if they moderated their stances on guns, or at least on the most popular gun proposals.

But they don't dare. They're afraid of their base. And they'd be afraid of their base even the NRA closed up shop.


This is classic Trump: Tear up a deal with great fanfare, denounce it as the worst deal ever made, then, after a long period of denunciation, make moves to replace it with ... essentially the same deal.
President Donald Trump has left the impression with foreign officials, members of his administration, and others involved in Iranian negotiations that he is actively considering a French plan to extend a $15 billion credit line to the Iranians if Tehran comes back into compliance with the Obama-era nuclear deal....

The deal put forward by France would compensate Iran for oil sales disrupted by American sanctions.... In exchange for the cash, Iran would have to come back into compliance with the nuclear accord it signed with the world’s major powers in 2015. Tehran would also have to agree not to threaten the security of the Persian Gulf or to impede maritime navigation in the area. Lastly, Tehran would have to commit to regional Middle East talks in the future.
John Bolton opposed this move, but now he's gone, so Trump can make moves toward a headline-grabbing photo op with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani. Nobel, here we come!

Except they won't give Trump a Nobel Peace Prize for, in effect, replacing the furniture he broke. They might give a Nobel to Emmanuel Macron for setting this in motion. That's going to tick Trump off.

But then he gets to complain about being cheated out of a Nobel. The base will love that!


For years we've been told that Donald Trump has no fixed ideology, and we should expect him to tack to the center, or even to the left, if he thinks it will win him more adulation and votes. On domestic issues, that's always wrong. He won't give us a real infrastructure program because Democrats would actually like one -- Chuck Schumer would praise him and vote for the bill. Trump can't have that. His base wants liberal tears. (Not to mention the fact that Mitch McConnell will never sign off on a real infrastructure program because it would send the signal that government can do good things.) The same is true on guns -- I see that we're back to arguing that the president's position on gun regulations is unclear, but he won't agree to new gun laws because his base demands that he continue owning the libs on this issue.

However, on foreign policy, he actually has some leeway. Here's why: Sometime in George W. Bush's second term, it became clear that even the GOP electorate was turning against the Iraq War. In the Obama/Tea Party years, Republicans pretended that they'd never liked Bush or the war. Ron Paul and then Rand Paul had begun forging a viable alternate Republicanism that made room for skepticism about war. This strain of conservatism had always existed, but in the decades-long Reaganite backlash to Those Damn Hippies and their anti-war tendencies, it had been pushed to the margins. To be a good Republican, you had to love war because -- again -- liberal tears.

But in recent years, Democrats and liberals have become less reflexively anti-military. Sure, we hated the Iraq War, but we supported other interventions. We like the troops. And now we're more bellicose toward countries such as Russia, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Syria than the Republican president is.

And now one of Fox's top hosts, Tucker Carlson, preaches (however cynically) a Paulite foreign policy. This week he proclaimed that John Bolton is "a man of the left." And he's one of the people President Trump clearly turns to on foreign policy.

I don't think the Trump base has a consistent foreign policy worldview. I think they'd still cheer on a Reagan/Bush demonization campaign aimed at a swarthy foreign foe. But they're also embracing Carlson's skepticism about war and intervention. Meanwhile, Democrats are against stupid wars, but not against intervention altogether.

So there's no clear course of action that Trump must avoid because it will please Democrats and liberals. He can drop bombs and he can make deals. If he drops bombs, the base will think he's a macho man. If he makes deals, the base will think he's the alpha male of dealmaking.

That gives him a surprising amount of leeway -- so expect a lot of (inept) dealmaking.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019


The cruelty is the point.
A 12-year-old Bahamian girl was separated from family at a South Florida airport after fleeing the destruction of Hurricane Dorian and was sent by U.S. Customs officials to a Miami Gardens shelter for abused or abandoned children.

Kaytora Paul, 12 — accompanied by her godmother — had flown from Nassau to West Palm Beach Sunday night after being evacuated from the hurricane-ravaged Abaco island. However, when the two landed in Florida, U.S. Customs and Border Protection transferred them over to Miami International Airport and ultimately separated the pair because the woman wasn’t the child’s biological parent, the girl’s mother, Katty Paul, told the Miami Herald Tuesday.

Officials also refused to give the girl’s biological aunt, who had come to pick her up at the airport, custody....
And no, this isn't likely to be rectified quickly:
The mother, although having arrived in Miami on Tuesday, can’t pick her up. Paul was told she had to go through the process of applying to be her daughter’s sponsor with HHS. In order to get custody of her daughter, Paul would have to collect documentation that would prove she’s her mother — like a birth certificate, government identification as well as proof of address. In the past, this process has taken anywhere from weeks to months.
Trump defenders, who routinely overlook the legitimate risks to migrants in their home countries, have argued that migrant family separations are the fault of parents rather than the Trump administration -- if the parents don't want to risk separation from their children, they shouldn't make the journey in the first place.

But what's their argument here? That if the Pauls didn't want this child separated from family, they should have lingered on a devastated island where they have nothing? They shouldn't have been born in a hurricane-prone location in the first place? They should have been born white and European?

Ultimately, I blame Republican voters, because nothing of this nature ever stabs at their conscience.

I know, I know: My intemperate response to this is our real problem. I'm helping to destroy America because I can't disagree with political opponents without being disagreeable. So I guess I'm the bad guy here.


A lot of people seem to believe that John Bolton will blow the lid off the Trump administration now that he's been fired. Here was Lawrence O'Donnell last night:
Lawrence O’Donnell said newly fired national security adviser John Bolton just might become “one of the richest authors in history” if he writes a tell-all book about working inside the White House of President Donald Trump....

“John Bolton is in a position to write and deliver the most explosive Trump book ever, which means it would be one of the bestselling books in publishing history,” O’Donnell said....

O'Donnell said:
“Tonight, in their New York offices, major book publishers are probably staying late, trying to calculate how many millions of dollars they can offer John Bolton now if he can deliver an inside-the-Trump-White-House book that will hit bookstores in the final months of the presidential campaign when such a book would have maximum sales potential.”
In The Atlantic, David Frum is urging Bolton (and other former Trump national security aides) to talk:
Men such as Rex Tillerson, Jim Mattis, H. R. McMaster, and now John Bolton have all had important pre-Trump careers—and all have post-Trump reputations to consider. Yet even after the unhappy culmination of their work for Trump, they have all continued to protect him. They know he is unfit for the job—morally, intellectually, psychologically. But they keep silent....

Their duty is to speak.

... as national-security officials, all have been party to decisions that exposed fellow Americans to the risk of their lives. Much less is asked of any of them now. They are asked only to risk their quiet retirements—their after-careers of speaking engagements and seats on boards of directors. Is that so dear?

Speak! Speak! Tell the truth, all of it—not just adjectives and conclusions, but the actual details of the self-dealing by Trump, of the security risks he presents, of his inattention and ignorance. Speak so that people feel it, so that people understand it, so that people can do something about it while there is time. “History isn’t kind to the man who holds Mussolini’s jacket,” Ted Cruz reportedly told friends in 2016. Cruz was right.
Frum's Atlantic colleague Graeme Wood suspects that Bolton will speak out:
Most Trump appointees have left quietly, and have begun murmuring their discontent only after a decorous interval. Bolton’s dismissal has come after an unusually long prelude of disrespect.... Bolton might not observe the same period of silence. In talking to his former associates, I heard many marvel at his energy. He wakes up before dawn to plot against his adversaries. He accepts every invitation to write op-eds and go on television to ridicule those who disagree with him. Trump has, in firing Bolton, made an enemy of a man incapable of rest and letting grudges go. Tomorrow morning he will wake up and start plotting, as he usually does. It’s 3 a.m. Do you know who your ex–national security adviser’s enemies are?
But if Bolton decides to talk, will it matter? What will happen if Bolton writes a tell-all book and it's timed for the election, as O'Donnell suggests?

On his show last night, O'Donnell compared the potential impact of a Bolton book to that of Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury and Bob Woodward's Fear. How did those books affect the public's opinion of Donald Trump?

Fire and Fury was published on January 5, 2018. On that day, according to the Real Clear Politics average, 40.4% of Americans approved of the president and 55.9% disapproved. Once the book had been out a month, Trump's numbers were 41.5% approval, 54.5% disapproval -- the approval number was still low, but it was a point better than it had been at the time of the book's publication, and the disapproval rating was a point less. Fire and Fury appears to have had no negative impact on public perception of Trump.

Fear was published exactly a year ago, on September 11, 2018. How did that book affect public opinion? On the day of the book's publication, Trump's RCP numbers were 41.0% approval, 53.5% disapproval. A month later? They were 43.2% approval, 53.0% disapproval. There was a two-point gain in approval.

Bolton can speak out, but it won't matter. Trump's approval rating changes slightly depending on immediate circumstances. It drops when he's been particularly distasteful, as he has been for the past couple of months. It dropped when there was a long government shutdown. It rose after the 2017 GOP tax cut was passed.

But books don't have much impact. For the most part, critical books about Trump are read by people who already dislike him. They don't move the needle.

It would be nice to learn what Bolton has to tell us, even if Bolton is a mad neoconservative warmonger. But the public's perception of Trump won't change as a result.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019


I'm told I tweeted the wrong thing today:

Some responses were a tad harsh:

I shouldn't have said "war-averse." Trump is averse to starting new wars.

It's not because he's a dove. I think this is correct:

But I think the generals tell him that every new war he's considering will be difficult -- months if not years of combat, lots of American deaths, with an ongoing military presence ultimately necessary. And I'm sure Trump thinks: I can't even have a nice quick war in a shithole country like Venezuela? Or Iran? Aren't they Muslims in Iran? Aren't all Muslim countries primitive?

I also wonder if he doesn't want to start a war because he knows that servicemembers who fight and die in wars are regarded as heroes. They're seen as braver than he's ever been. I know he gives out the occasional medal to a servicemember, but can he tolerate a lot of them fighting and dying and stealing all the glory that rightfully belongs to him?

Or is it just that a war would become more important than the president who started it? After all, it would lead the news every day, rather than whatever Twitter beef Trump is having with a nonwhite female member of Congress or liberal actress.

And, of course, Trump believes the myth of himself that was created by The Art of the Deal. He thinks he can smooth-talk his way to brilliant foreign policy outcomes (even though he's been a complete failure at this since his inauguration). If the generals say he can't drop a few bombs and win a war over a weekend, maybe he can negotiate a peace agreement over the same period of time (without, of course, reading any briefing materials, because that would be hard). Nobel Peace Prize, here we come!

Trump really might not get us into any new wars -- but it's not because he's a good person or a peace lover. He's a terrible person and a would-be warmonger. Fortunately for us, warmongering is not instantly rewarding in the way Trump would prefer. That's all that's preventing a new war.


For more than a year, I've been telling you that Donald Trump Jr. will be a serious candidate for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024. Suddenly that idea is all the rage -- Rick Wilson says Junior will win the nomination in 2024, and now McCay Coppins has a cover story in The Atlantic arguing that Junior, and not Ivanka, is President Trump's natural political heir.

But now that everyone's talking this way, I'm not so sure. I agree with Coppins that Ivanka won't carry on the dynasty, much as Daddy would like her to. She's completely out of sync with the GOP. Coppins writes this about the 2016 campaign:
Ivanka kept her distance from the uncouth rallies in places like Reno, Nevada, and Toledo, Ohio. While Trump riled up the country with Muslim-ban proposals and Mexican-rapist panics, she perched herself on a higher plane, where she just wanted to talk about the issues that really mattered to her, like affordable child care and the gender pay gap. Campaign staffers grumbled that Ivanka’s policy preferences were more closely aligned with Aspen weekenders than Rust Belt voters. “People started to realize this wasn’t about Trump’s vision,” one former aide told me. “It was about Ivanka’s ability to feel comfortable in her New York circle.”
Junior connects with the base, according to Coppins. A couple of days ago, I mentioned a rally in Kentucky at which Junior drew only 200 people to a venue with a capacity of 7,000. But if Coppins is to be believed, that was an anomaly:
As the 2018 midterm elections approached, Don decided to get serious about politics....

At the University of Georgia, more than 2,000 young Republicans lined up to hear him speak. At the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland, he was swarmed by fans clamoring for selfies and autographs. Charlie Kirk, the founder of the student organization Turning Point USA, recalled a summit in West Palm Beach that featured conservative A-listers such as Tucker Carlson, Greg Gutfeld, and Jordan Peterson. Don drew a bigger crowd than any of them.

... the stump was where Don really shined. Taking the stage to wild applause from riled-up MAGA-heads, he riffed and ranted and cracked jokes about gender identity....

By November 2018, Don had appeared at more than 70 campaign events across 17 states—and powerful Republicans were abuzz. “I could very easily see him entering politics,” Senator Kevin Cramer told me. “I think his future is bright,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Newsmax’s CEO, Chris Ruddy, told me he’d personally encouraged Don to run for office; Sean Hannity called him “a born natural leader.” Senator Rand Paul went so far as to say that Don was one of the best Republican campaigners in the country. “If you can’t get the president,” Paul told me, “he’s a close second.”

... Cramer ... spent 15 minutes in a phone interview gushing to me about Don’s “accessibility” and “irreverence” and gift for “connecting” with voters. But when I asked him about Ivanka, he paused. “She’s a little bit harder to get,” he replied, politely. “Her faith prevents her from traveling on the Sabbath.” Charlie Kirk was similarly careful when we spoke. While all of Trump’s adult children were helpful to the cause, he told me, “I can honestly say that outside of his father, Don is the No. 1 most requested speaker, and he brings the most energy to the conservative base.”
But Coppins describes a family dynamic in which Dad continues to praise Ivanka (even as he calls his daughter and her husband "New York liberals") while treating Junior with contempt.
His attitude toward each of his adult children on any given day is shaped by how they are playing on cable news. Ivanka tends to draw rave reviews, while Don’s are more mixed, with the president muttering things like “Why did he say that?” and “He doesn’t know what he’s doing.”
Coppins thinks Dad has been warming to Junior lately, though he doesn't present much evidence. It seems likely to me that Trump would try to sabotage his son's moves into politics. Remember this:
When fans began calling on [Junior] to run for mayor of New York City—and Don responded with a bit too much enthusiasm—his father quickly shut it down. “Don’s not going to run for mayor,” he said in an interview with Sean Hannity.
Ivanka would probably try to sabotage Junior as well:
... as Don’s visibility grew, the cold war between him and Ivanka intensified. Now that each had their own teams of allies and advisers, they had grown paranoid that the other’s henchmen were planting damaging stories about them in the press. A few days before the midterms, McClatchy published a story under the headline “Trump Kids on the Campaign Trail: Don Jr. Wows, Ivanka Disappoints.” Ivanka’s camp was enraged, and suspected that Don was behind the story. Later, Don confronted Ivanka over rumors that her team was undermining him in off-the-record conversations with reporters. “Tell your people to stop trashing me to the media,” he said, according to someone familiar with the conversation.
George W. Bush was his family's unloved son and he became president -- but he was mentored by Karl Rove, who believed in him more than his own family did. Dubya liked himself, even if his family didn't. I think Don Jr. has an inferiority complex. Instead of imagining himself as president, he's looked into running for office in the Mountain West, according to Coppins. By Trump standards, that's aiming low.

So while I think Junior should be a contender for the 2024 Republican presidential nominee -- he's stupid, he believes in conspiracy theories, and he's consumed with right-wing rage -- I question whether he'll run, or win if he does run. Dad will never willingly pass the scepter to him. He feels sabotaged within his family. His ego isn't as massive as his father's (or his sister's). I'd almost feel sorry for Junior if he weren't such a horrible person.

Monday, September 09, 2019


The president tweeted this a few hours ago:

There's just one problem: As The Washington Post's Philip Bump notes, no recent public poll shows Trump above 88% among Republicans. All of the latest polls show him in the mid- to high 80s -- which seems impressive enough -- but Trump feels the need to bump that number up even more.

As CNN's Daniel Dale has noted, Trump has a habit of boasting in numbers -- and inflating those numbers, even when the correct numbers are already boastworthy. He does it with unemployment statistics and drug price declines. In his business career, he did it with the number of floors in his buildings.

Now that he's president, reporters actually fact-check him in something close to real time, then report on exaggerations like this. But he still keeps exaggerating.

Why is Trump bragging about his favorability within his party? Presumably because he now has three challengers for his party's presidential nomination. It might be embarrassing if one of them were to register a significant vote percentage against him -- but that clearly won't happen. Somewhere between 84% and 88% of Republicans approve of the job he's doing. And yet four state parties are canceling their nominating contests so Trump won't have to run against these three guys.

Wouldn't it be more impressive if he beat these candidates overwhelmingly? But Trump would rather be seen as too scared to run than as the guy who wiped the floor with his challengers.

This is the same president who insisted for an entire week that he correctly reported risk to Alabama from Hurricane Dorian, simply because he couldn't bring himself to acknowledge error. This was a function of Trump's desperate need to be admired -- but he seemed less worthy of admiration than if he'd simply admitted the mistake and moved on. Instead, the people he's trying to impress have spent a week laughing at him -- or worrying that he's too unstable to be entrusted with the nuclear codes.

We know that Trump craves approval -- but the things he does to win approval inspire disapproval. He insists on a ridiculous hairstyle and an embarrassingly fake skin tone so people won't think he is what he is -- a 73-year-old man with something less than a full head of hair. Has he not noticed that many balding septuagenarians have been respected and loved throughout history despite making no effort to conceal their age? Why does he do this?

Trump is not just a narcissist -- he's an inept narcissist. More people might like him if he didn't do so many preposterous things in an effort to make people like him.