Tuesday, September 19, 2017


I know we're all enjoying the Robert Mueller news. But if we're waiting for the 34% to 40% of America that backs Donald Trump to come to its senses, the news makes that less likely, not more. Imagine being a Fox-watching, Limbaugh-listening, Breitbart-reading conservative and learning about this:
Paul J. Manafort was in bed early one morning in July when federal agents bearing a search warrant picked the lock on his front door and raided his Virginia home....

The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, then followed the house search with a warning: His prosecutors told Mr. Manafort they planned to indict him, said two people close to the investigation.

The moves against Mr. Manafort are just a glimpse of the aggressive tactics used by Mr. Mueller and his team of prosecutors....

“They are setting a tone. It’s important early on to strike terror in the hearts of people in Washington, or else you will be rolled,” said Solomon L. Wisenberg, who was deputy independent counsel in the investigation that led to the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in 1999....

“They seem to be pursuing this more aggressively, taking a much harder line, than you’d expect to see in a typical white-collar case,” said Jimmy Gurulé, a Notre Dame law professor and former federal prosecutor. “This is more consistent with how you’d go after an organized crime syndicate.”
If you're a Trumper, this (plus the leak of this) confirms everything you've ever believed about the ruthlessness of the "deep state" campaign to take down Trump. Even many Republicans -- yes, Roger Stone excepted -- eventually acknowledged that Richard Nixon was unfit to be president. The Trumpers, by contrast, will never come around. Certainly not after this.

They already believe that they were right about wiretapping, even though it was Manafort, not Trump, who was the target of a FISA wiretap warrant. I'm sure they'll never believe the timing of the Manafort wiretap warrant's renewal was anything but suspicious:
US investigators wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort under secret court orders before and after the election, sources tell CNN....

The government snooping continued into early this year, including a period when Manafort was known to talk to President Donald Trump....

A secret order authorized by the court that handles the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) began after Manafort became the subject of an FBI investigation that began in 2014. It centered on work done by a group of Washington consulting firms for Ukraine's former ruling party, the sources told CNN.

The surveillance was discontinued at some point last year for lack of evidence, according to one of the sources.
The FBI then restarted the surveillance after obtaining a new FISA warrant that extended at least into early this year.
It was reinstated during the year when Manafort ran the Trump campaign for a few months, and it continued after Trump was elected? No Trumper is ever going to believe that that was anything other than Obama vindictiveness against Trump.

Trump's fan base, of course, has already claimed vindication:

Richard Nixon resigned in the summer of 1974. Throughout that year, he had job approval ratings in the mid- to high 20s, according to Gallup. Shortly before he left office, he was at 24% approval. In the fall of 2008, George W. Bush had job approval ratings in the 20s, according to most polls; some showed his disapproval rating in the 70s.

I don't think Trump will ever go that low, even if he's impeached and convicted. Not even Charlottesville could push him past a Gallup floor of 34% approval; he's mostly been at 36% to 38% for the past several months. I think he'll leave office right about there. For about a third of the country, he'll remain a hero, in a way Nixon never was (except to Roger Stone) after Watergate, and in a way Bush wasn't by 2008. America is going to be living with Trump cultists for the foreseeable future.

Monday, September 18, 2017


I'm no fan of "Ten Commandments judge" Roy Moore, who's probably going to be the next U.S. senator from Alabama, but I'm inclined to let this slide:
While making the case for unifying the electorate, a candidate for Alabama's open Senate seat ended up saying something pretty divisive.

Roy Moore, a former chief justice on the state Supreme Court, was speaking against racial, political and other divisions at a rally in Florence, Ala., on Sunday when he inserted two words that have been historically used as slurs.

“We were torn apart in the Civil War — brother against brother, North against South, party against party,” he said. “What changed?

“Now we have blacks and whites fighting, reds and yellows fighting, Democrats and Republicans fighting, men and women fighting,” Moore added. “What’s going to unite us? What’s going to bring us back together? A president? A Congress? No. It’s going to be God.”
"Reds and yellows" is not what we should be calling Native Americans and East Asians these days. On the other hand, as Ed Kilgore notes, this is, in all likelihood, a phrase Moore conjured from a non-racist memory:
As perhaps the vast majority of adults in Alabama understood immediately, Moore was alluding, consciously or unconsciously, to this timeworn children’s song...

Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight / Jesus loves the little children of the world.
Ed's a Georgian, and I'm betting he was raised knowing that hymn. I'm a lapsed Catholic originally from Boston, but I knew it as the introduction to "Everything Is Beautiful," one of the more serious songs performed by the musical comic (and now right-wing crank) Ray Stevens. This song was a plea for racial harmony, and it was a big hit during my childhood. Only later was I informed that the first few lines were from a Protestant hymn.

I'm also going to cut Moore some slack because I recall the benediction delivered by the Reverend Joseph Lowery at Barack Obama's first inaugural in 2009. Lowery, a hero of the civil rights movement, was 87 years old at the time; near the end of the benediction, he said this:
Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around — (laughter) — when yellow will be mellow — (laughter) — when the red man can get ahead, man — (laughter) — and when white will embrace what is right.

Roy Moore has angered me many times. He'll anger me many more times. He'll do it deliberately -- his religiosity is clearly, in large part, an effort to induce liberal tears.

I don't think he said "reds and yellows" to offend anyone -- which makes the phrase a rare utterance for him. So I'm going to take more offense at his call for theocracy than I am athis racial language.


This was not a good moment for the otherwise Trump-skeptical Emmys last night:
Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer got a turn on one of Hollywood's glitziest stages Sunday night. And he used it to laugh about the falsehoods he told the American people in an attempt to rehabilitate his image.

... inherent in Spicer's appearance Sunday night was an acknowledgment that he sold the American people a bill of goods from the White House lectern. He essentially admitted to blatantly misrepresenting President Trump's inauguration crowd size, and he and those assembled all had a good laugh at it.

CNN's Brian Stelter asks, "Why did the Emmys help Sean Spicer rebrand?"
... he is hitting the speaker circuit, landing consulting gigs and looking for a potential TV commentator job. He will be a visiting fellow at Harvard Kennedy School's Institute of Politics this fall.

Many Democrats and some anti-Trump Republicans are offended that Spicer -- who peddled misinformation on behalf of his boss -- is being embraced by institutions like Harvard.

"Harvard and the Emmys based on 7 months lying in the WH," former Obama foreign policy adviser Ben Rhodes tweeted. "America is not exactly a meritocracy and false equivalence trumps reality."

... The MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell commented that the Emmys "helped Spicer pump up his 'lecture' fees, which is all that matters to him now."

While many of the objections came from liberals, some conservatives also made arguments against the skit.

"I know people who were offered opportunities to lie for Donald Trump and quietly declined. Harvard & The Emmys calling the wrong folks," former Jeb Bush spokesman Tim Miller tweeted.
And Spicer wasn't just warmly embraced during the broadcast:
Both sources who spoke with CNN on Monday morning marveled at the way Spicer was mobbed by Emmys attendees both at the awards show and at the parties afterward.

"He could barely eat at the Governor's Ball, he was so popular," one of the sources said.
As you can see:

But why should we be surprised? Yes, the entertainment industry has been harshly critical of the Trump administration -- but at the same time, entertainers, especially comedians, seem to imagine that individuals in Trump World are no more harmful than the fictional versions of themselves.

Melissa McCarthy's impersonation turned Spicer into a harmlessly absurd bully -- and then the Emmys turned Spicer into Melissa McCarthy. The Saturday Night Live version of the odious Kellyanne Conway portrays her, in the words of one culture critic, "in a weirdly sympathetic light," as "one part put-upon mother figure, and one part victim of Stockholm Syndrome. As a viewer, you’re set up to feel bad for how Conway has to put up with this blowhard, as if she didn’t a choice."

Melania Trump is regularly portrayed as her husband's victim, or even as his prisoner. Candice Bergen was on Bravo last week wearing a "Free Melania" sweatshirt -- a now-widespread comic trope that's also essentially the message of "The Arrangements," a short story by the novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which was published in The New York Times Book Review last summer. I might have sympathy for Melania myself if I hadn't watched her defend her husband's birtherism:

Trump is reckless, ignorant, vicious, and dangerous -- but, for some reason, his underlings are often treated as worthy of sympathy, especially if they seem to have been mistreated by him.

Also, Trump doesn't wield his power in predictable ways, so media figures want to cozy up to anyone who seems capable of decipher his thinking. Thus, while Steve Bannon is so nasty and unlikable that no one feels sorry for him, he was mostly deferred to by Charlie Rose on 60 Minutes earlier this month, apparently because Rose wanted Bannon to solve the mystery of our new political order.

On Spicer, I'll give Lauren Duca the last word:


This showed up at the Daily Caller last night:
Tucker: Trump Thinks TV More Accurately Reveals The Public’s Beliefs Than Polls Do

Fox News host and Daily Caller co-founder Tucker Carlson says President Trump told him that television programming is a more accurate reflection of the public’s beliefs than polling is.

“I know that he watches a lot of television. I know because I’ve talked to him about it at length, that he’s really interested in television, both the mechanics of it — he knows a lot about ratings and lighting, and producing and guest booking,” Carlson said on “The Jamie Weinstein Show.”

... Carlson told Weinstein that Trump “believes that television is a pretty clear window into what people care about.”

“He believes that television producers, especially of highly rated shows, understand what the public is interested in — what it fears, what it wants, what it loves. And so TV programming in some ways is a more accurate reflection of the public mood than polling,” Carlson said. “That’s his view, he said it to me. And that’s one of the reasons he watches a lot of television. Whether that’s true or not is an entirely debatable point, but he believes if you want to know where the country is, watch TV.”
Oh, okay -- Trump isn't just an old man addicted to his TV remote. He's doing research! As president of the United States, he's staying in touch with the pulse of the people by ... um, watching TV along with them. And not top-rated sports and entertainment programs, but, y'know, Morning Joe, which ordinary people don't watch. He's doing this to become better informed about regular Americans, the same way guys used to say they read Playboy to become better informed about politics and jazz.

Are we going to start hearing this on a regular basis? That Trump's TV addiction is really a populist's attempt to stay populist, and a media professional's attempt to stay on top of trends in his old field? Is this going to be like all the talk we heard during past Republican presidencies about how Reagan and George W. Bush weren't stupid at all, as snooty elitists insisted, but in fact had a unique, intuitive populist genius developed through non-elite means?

It would also seem that Trump's interest in "highly rated shows" is a tad selective. Saturday Night Live and Stephen Colbert got big ratings boosts when they began attacking Trump. American Horror Story got excellent ratings after suggesting that Trump's election would be one of the horrors depicted in the current season. MSNBC passed Fox in prime time ratings this year on the strength of anti-Trump coverage. (The lack of mentions in Trump's Twitter feed suggests that he rarely watches Maddow at all.)

Trump isn't staying connected to the public via TV. He's slacking off. He's half-learning things that he should be learning from briefing books. And he's hoping to get a fix of his favorite drug -- good publicity about himself.

Sunday, September 17, 2017


The New York Post's Page Six claims that women are flocking to a Manhattan plastic surgeon in order to be transformed into the president's favorite daughter.
A New York plastic surgeon says that since the 2016 Republican primaries, he has seen a deluge of patients who want to look like Ivanka Trump.

Dr. Norman Rowe says that since last summer, up to 50 clients have asked him to give them the Ivanka look — which he describes as widened cheekbones, a slender nose and large eyes.

Dr. Rowe says that patients can spend between $30-40,000 to achieve the look with temporary fillers and Botox, or $45-50,000 for what he calls the “Permanent Ivanka” — a version achieved with cheek implants and rhinoplasty. “I never saw [anyone drawing inspiration from Ivanka’s face] before the primary,” said Rowe, “since the summer of ’16 . . . [it’s been] maybe four a month; one a week.”
It's odd that Dr. Rowe is saying this now, because in March, when Allure asked him to comment on a report that Ivanka surgery is popular in China, he denied seeing a similar trend in his practice:
While there haven't been any recorded reports of Ivanka Trump–inspired cosmetic enhancements Stateside, New York City–based plastic surgeon Norman Rowe says he's seen a number of clients request procedures to create Westernized-looking features. "I don't see too many patients, including Asian clients, asking for cosmetic procedure to make them appear like a celebrity—except for patients who want noses like Megan Fox or lips like Khloé Kardashian, for example," Rowe tells Allure. "I do have Asian patients who see me for the creation of Westernized eyelids, though. This is a very popular procedure that is requested."
But now he says Ivankaplasty has been a trend since last summer. Go figure.

Rowe is pretty good at getting his name in the papers. Here he is in the Post talking about women who get plastic surgery before going to Coachella. Here he is telling the local ABC affiliate about one of his specialties, a procedure that gives women enhanced breasts for 24 hours -- he calls them "Instabreasts." If that doesn't suit you, according to ABC, Dr. Rowe can give you "vacation breasts" that are augmented for two to three weeks. The Daily Mail interviews Dr. Rowe about a penis enlargement technique that he claims can be done in ten minutes -- it involves an injection of the patient's own blood. Yeah, this guy knows how to get attention.

He's also been the subject of this New York Daily News story about billing practices:
Ann Winters got what she considered was a crazy medical bill the day her three-year-old son Brendan needed stitches to his lip after taking a fall at home.

The entire procedure took 60 minutes in the emergency room at Lenox Hill Hospital. The “explanation of benefits” that arrived soon after showed the doctor had charged $50,000....

Then she got a second “explanation of benefits” showing that her insurer had actually paid the entire $50,000. The insurer had initially pegged the customary cost for the procedure at $2,660....

... the physician in question — Dr. Norman Rowe — says the $50,000 the insurer paid him for three stitches was just a billing error.

“My billing staff caught the error shortly after the insurance company paid my office $50,000,” Dr. Rowe wrote in an email. “My office returned the $50,000 to the insurance company and has only been paid the customary amount for the patient’s care.”

But according to a March 2011 letter to Winter from Winter’s carrier, Healthnet, Rowe initially refused to accept the $2,660 as full payment and said “he was going to bill you for the unpaid balance.”

Stating that its policy is “to pay any additional amount as necessary,” Healthnet paid the rest.

It’s not clear exactly when Rowe paid back the insurer, though the recalibrated bill doesn’t show up in Winters’ Sept. 30, 2010 explanation of benefits.

In the months in between, she’d complained to the state Insurance Department (now the Department of Financial Services), which looked into the matter.
As my late mother would say, this guy's an operator. Forgive me if I don't trust him when he says Ivanka surgery is all the rage in Manhattan.

Saturday, September 16, 2017


So I assume you know about this story from The Wall Street Journal:
A U.S. congressman contacted the White House this week trying to broker a deal that would end WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s U.S. legal troubles in exchange for what he described as evidence that Russia wasn’t the source of hacked emails published by the antisecrecy website during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The proposal [was] made by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R., Calif.), in a phone call Wednesday with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly....

The possible “deal”—a term used by Mr. Rohrabacher during the Wednesday phone call—would involve a pardon of Mr. Assange or “something like that,” Mr. Rohrabacher said. In exchange, Mr. Assange would probably present a computer drive or other data-storage device that Mr. Rohrabacher said would exonerate Russia....

A Trump administration official confirmed Friday that Mr. Rohrabacher spoke to Mr. Kelly about the plan involving Mr. Assange. Mr. Kelly told the congressman that the proposal “was best directed to the intelligence community,” the official said.
This is a big deal. Alert the president!

Actually, no -- the president wasn't alerted:
Mr. Kelly didn’t make the president aware of Mr. Rohrabacher’s message, and Mr. Trump doesn’t know the details of the proposed deal, the official said.
Amazing -- not only is the president of the United States so easily excited, so easily led astray by pro-Russia fifth columnists, that his chief of staff believes he has to be shielded from information like this, as if he's a giant toddler, but the staff openly acknowledges to a major newspaper that this information has been concealed from the president.

Do Kelly and his subordinates think they can conceal the concealment from Trump? Do they think he'll never find out that he was never told about this?

Who knows? We recently read this:
... Mr. Trump does not have a web browser on his phone, and does not use a laptop, so he was dependent on aides like Stephen K. Bannon, his former chief strategist, to hand-deliver printouts of articles from conservative media outlets.

Now Mr. Kelly has thinned out his package of printouts so much that Mr. Trump plaintively asked a friend recently where The Daily Caller and Breitbart were.
So maybe Kelly won't include any stories about this in Trump's press packet. But wait -- what about TV? Kelly has acknowledged to the media that he can't prevent Trump from watching copious amounts of television.

I imagine this as a bad sitcom episode -- Kelly urging a White House maid to vacuum in front of Trump's TV as the Fox & Friends weekend crew begins talking about the Rohrabacher story. I don't think it'll work, though, and that also seems like a sitcom -- "Lucy! Why didn't you tell me Dana Rohracher was here?" Hilarity ensues -- or maybe John Kelly's resignation.

Friday, September 15, 2017


This is amusing:
The California State Assembly on Thursday passed a bill that would require all presidential candidates to release their tax returns prior to being placed on the state’s ballot.

The bill, called the Presidential Tax Transparency and Accountability Act, passed the state Assembly on a 42-18 vote and will now head to the state Senate for a concurrence vote before being sent to the governor for his signature.
You'd think this would force President Trump to come clean, assuming it passes the state senate and is signed by Governor Jerry Brown. But there's less to the bill than this summary suggests.

If you take a look at the text of the bill, you'll see that it specifically limits this requirement to presidential primaries:
SB 149, as amended, McGuire. Presidential primary elections: ballot access....

6883. (a) Notwithstanding any other law, the Secretary of State shall not print the name of a candidate for President of the United States on a primary election ballot, unless the candidate, within a reasonable timeframe established by the Secretary of State, files with the Secretary of State a copy of every income tax return the candidate filed with the Internal Revenue Service in the five most recent taxable years.

(b) If the candidate has not filed his or her income tax return with the Internal Revenue Service for the tax year immediately preceding the primary election, he or she shall submit a copy of the income tax return to the Secretary of State within five days of filing the return with the Internal Revenue Service.
Donald Trump is an incumbent president with extremely high approval ratings within his party. How likely is it that he'll even have a serious primary challenger in 2020, assuming he's still in office and decides to run?

And if he does have a primary challenger and still has no intention of releasing his tax returns ("Sorry, folks, this audit is taking forever!"), he just needs to obtain ballot access for a stand-in candidate who does release his or her tax returns, and who promises to ask any delegates he or she wins to vote for Trump at the convention. This candidate could be anyone -- it could be someone who's legally changed his name to, say, Ronald J. Trump, just to be sure the voters understand the "vote for me if you want to vote for him" premise.

The bill doesn't cover the general election, presumably because, as Ballotpedia notes, "California state law stipulates that 'the secretary of state shall cause the names of the candidates for president and vice president of the several political parties to be placed upon the ballot for the ensuing general election.'" In other words, California doesn't claim the right to bounce the major parties' general-election candidates from its ballot. I imagine there'd be a GOP lawsuit if the state tried.

And would it matter? Trump's not going to win California anyway. Of course, the GOP would want someone running in his place, in the hope of turning out voters for any winnable downballot races. Ballotpedia notes that California has a "sore loser" law, which says that a candidate who runs in a primary and loses can't run under a different party banner in the general election. However, sore loser laws have generally been seen as not applying in presidential elections; Roseanne Barr, a failed candidate for the Green Party nomination, appeared on the 2012 California ballot as the presidential candidate of the Peace and Freedom Party.

So if California were able to keep Donald Trump off the general election ballot, Ronald Trump could probably run as an independent -- and his electors, in the unlikely event he won any, could agree in advance to give the Electoral College votes to Donald.

So I think we'll have to find another way to get at those tax returns.


Oh jeez, not this again:
Senate Republicans are trying to build momentum for a last-gasp bill to replace the Affordable Care Act, swearing that they are once again just a few votes short of delivering on their seven-year pledge.
Could this really happen? New York magazine's Margaret Hartmann thinks it's possible:
... something shifted on Thursday. After making a presentation at the GOP caucus lunch, Graham said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “encouraged everybody to jump onboard,” adding, “I can tell you this if we had a vote right now we would get 47, 48 votes.”
If they want to do this, it has to happen by the end of the month, after which they'll need 60 votes, not 50, for repeal. It's a tight squeeze. But they're going for it.

This is about more than Obamacare. In the near term at least, it's also about control of the president. He's cheating on Republicans with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, largely because he can't manage to cut any deals with Republicans and he wants to be with a party that will do the things for him that his party won't do.

How bad is the bill? This bad:

GOP voters still want it to happen:
According to the latest POLITICO-Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health poll, a key finding shows the Trump administration's messaging on health care is clearly resonating with the party's base.

The poll asked 1,016 U.S. adults to review and score 10 top priorities for Congress through the end of the year. Fifty-three percent of Republican respondents said taking action to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act should be an "extremely important priority," while 26 percent of Republicans said it should be a "very important priority." Only 16 percent of Republicans said ACA repeal should not be a priority for Congress....

Among Republican respondents, repealing Obamacare was the most critical priority, outpacing other concerns like tax reform (34 percent said that the issue was "extremely important") and building a border wall (28 percent thought it was "extremely important").
Will this be the extra motivation Republicans need to inspire them to put aside their differences? Will they do it to win Trump back? Don't assume it can't happen.


Yesterday I speculated that there might be anti-DACA protests during President Trump's upcoming tax-overhaul publicity tour. I still think that's possible -- but it's probably unlikely. I suspect Joe Scarborough is correct:
[Sean] Hannity, [Steve] Bannon and [Steve] King are about to learn the same lesson that Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton, Jeff Zucker, Mika Brzezinski and I discovered in 2016: With Trump, it is never over. His base will stick with him no matter what — no matter how loudly and how often the other self-styled leaders of that base take to Twitter or talk radio or any other platform to bleat that Trump has betrayed them....

If Trump’s political career is ever brought to an abrupt end, it won’t be because a few right-wing carnival barkers found themselves unable to pressure the president into adopting a policy position....

... that Trump base is not going anywhere now.... Trump’s base is Trump’s base, period....
As Thomas Edsall noted yesterday, Republicans are particularly likely to stick with a politician they like after a deviation from partisan orthodoxy:
Many Republican voters, including self-identified strong conservatives, are ready and willing to shift to the left if they’re told that that’s the direction Trump is moving.

Michael Barber and Jeremy C. Pope, political scientists at Brigham Young University, reported in their recent paper “Does Party Trump Ideology? Disentangling Party and Ideology in America,” that many Republican voters are:
malleable to the point of innocence, and self-reported expressions of ideological fealty are quickly abandoned for policies that — once endorsed by a well-known party leader — run contrary to that expressed ideology.
Those most willing to adjust their positions on ten issues ranging from abortion to guns to taxes are firm Republicans, Trump loyalists, self-identified conservatives and low information Republicans.

The Barber-Pope study suggests that for many Republicans partisan identification is more a tribal affiliation than an ideological commitment.
(Which might also explain why Ronald Reagan cultists -- i.e., all Republicans -- forgive the Gipper for legalizing undocumented immigrants, raising taxes, running up huge deficits, and selling arms to Iranian ayatollahs.)

To win this kind of GOP voter loyalty, I think you first have to perform Republicanism effectively -- you need to embrace Jesus and guns and the flag and the military and white farmers and white blue-collar workers and traditional gender roles and the notion that the South really should have won the Civil War. You need to denounce "political correctness" and multiculturalism and professors and big cities and people who buy at Whole Foods and drive Priuses. In defining this dichotomy between good people and evil people, you can add a few personal touches -- well, a lot of personal touches if you're Donald Trump.

Or if you're Kid Rock. I've been mildly obsessed with Kid Rock's possible Senate run, and this is why I think attention is justified: If Barber and Pope are right, Republicanism is primarily performance -- do the act and you win. Trump does a supercharged version of the act -- and so does Kid Rock. I don't know if he can get elected, but he's going to win the primary in a landslide.

But isn't hatred of liberals and Democrats a significant part of the act? Trump is palling around with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. Why is he getting away with it?

I think it's because we see Pelosi and Schumer at the White House. They're not pressuring Trump on their turf -- they're seen as supplicants invited to his house. He's not caving to them! He's practicing -- say it with me, boys and girls -- the Art of the Deal!

And if there are any doubts about Trump's ultimate loyalties, he can just do a gaggle with the media, as he did yesterday, and play all the hits: bothsidesism in response to neo-Nazis, climate change denial, Iran-bashing, attacks on Susan Rice for unmasking. Ul.timately, Trump won't cooperate with Democrats on very many issues, but he theoretically could if he continued to beat his chest every day or two in a pleasingly Republican way.

Republicanism: It's largely an act. You can hold the base forever if you put on an effective show.

Thursday, September 14, 2017


Here it comes:
Barrasso Requests CBO Score on Sanders’ Single-Payer Health Care Bill

Today, U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) called on the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to provide a full cost estimate of Senator Bernie Sanders’ (D-VT) single-payer health care bill, S. 1804.

In a letter to CBO Director Keith Hall, Barrasso highlights how Senator Sanders’ bill is not only a government takeover of health care, but would also put financial burdens on the American people.

“It is being sold as a new health system paid for completely by the government, with no restrictions and at no cost to the patient. Of course, such a system would be anything but free for the American taxpayer... As the country engages in a serious debate about how best to reform our health care system, it is imperative that the public understand the cost of Senator Sanders’ Medicare-for-All proposal,” wrote Barrasso.
This morning, the Republican Party tweeted this:

That number appeared in a Washington Post editorial a couple of months ago:
... the government’s price tag would be astonishing. When Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) proposed a “Medicare for all” health plan in his presidential campaign, the nonpartisan Urban Institute figured that it would raise government spending by $32 trillion over 10 years, requiring a tax increase so huge that even the democratic socialist Mr. Sanders did not propose anything close to it.
Can Sanders rebut this? Can Democrats? We didn't have to find out in 2016 -- but if Sanders had won the Democratic presidential nomination, we would have found out.

Polls showed that Sanders had a double-digit lead over Donald Trump in 2016, and a lot of people think that's all you need to know to decide who should have been the Democrats' nominee. But we never heard any of the GOP's attacks on Sanders in 2016. As I've said before, I think a lot of them would have fallen flat. (He honeymooned in the Soviet Union? No voter under the age of 40 ever lived as an adult in a world that contained the Soviet Union.) This? I don't know. I don't know how good proponents will be in single payer/MfA's defense.

We'll see more attacks like this in 2018, and we'll find out how voters react to them. If they cut into support for single payer or Medicare for All, and if they hurt Democratic candidates in 2018, then we'll know that we can't assume Sanders would have coasted.


Democratic congressional leaders say they've cut a deal with President Trump to enshrine DACA in law in exchange for border security, but no wall at this time. Trump said on Twitter this morning that there's no deal, but he also expressed great sympathy for the Dreamers:

This can't be making Trump's most passionate supporters very happy.

And here's the thing: He'll be on the road meeting those supporters face-to-face very soon:
President Trump is planning a 13-state travel blitz over the next seven weeks to sell his tax reform plan to Americans....

The tour is expected to include several states that Trump won in 2016 and where Democratic senators are up for reelection next year....

Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania are among the states Trump is expected to visit.
So what happens if people -- maybe overt alt-rightists -- show up at Trump speeches ready to protest DACA? What happens if would-be attendees show up in anti-DACA T-shirts? Will they be turned away, perhaps forcibly? What if attendees start anti-DACA chants while Trump is speaking?

This may not happen -- hero worship might override cultural-nationalist anger -- but it seems like a real possibility to me. I recommend laying in a supply of popcorn.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017


Politico's story "Teflon Don Confounds Democrats" is disheartening, but I think it's misleading.
Data from a range of focus groups and internal polls in swing states paint a difficult picture for the Democratic Party heading into the 2018 midterms and 2020 presidential election. It suggests that Democrats are naive if they believe Trump’s historically low approval numbers mean a landslide is coming....

The research [was] conducted by private firms and for Democratic campaign arms....

[Trump] is still viewed as an outsider shaking up the system, which people in the various surveys say they like, and which Democrats don’t stack up well against.

... no single Democratic attack on the president is sticking — not on his temperament, his lack of accomplishments or the deals he’s touted that have turned out to be less than advertised, like the president’s claim that he would keep Carrier from shutting down its Indianapolis plant and moving production to Mexico....

Many of the proposals Democrats are pushing fall flat in focus groups and polling.

The call for free college tuition fosters both resentment at ivory tower elitism and regret from people who have degrees but are now buried under debt. Many voters see “free” as a lie — either they’ll end up paying for tuition some other way, or worse, they’ll be paying the tuition of someone else who’ll be getting a degree for free....

Medicare-for-all tests better, but it, too, generates suspicion. The challenge is that most voters in focus groups believe it’s a pipe dream — they ask who will pay for it and suspect it will lead to a government takeover of health care.
I see that one of the firms that conducted this research is Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, whom I respect. So I take it seriously. But I don't think it means Democratic electoral efforts are doomed.

Pollsters are getting these results, and yet Democrats are winning special elections, at least at the state legislative level:
On Tuesday night, Democrats flipped two Republican-held state legislative seats -- one in Oklahoma, one in New Hampshire -- that Donald Trump carried in the 2016 election.

That makes six turnovers from Republican to Democrat in contested state House and Senate races so far in 2017 -- and 26 out of 35 races (at the state legislative and congressional level) in which the Democratic nominee has overperformed Hillary Clinton's showing last November. (Worth noting: Republicans have yet to flip a Democratic-controlled seat so far this year.)
It's likely that the typical voter is still skeptical of the Democrats and wary of their promises. But I think the electorates in these special elections have been far from typical. I think Democrats are motivated to vote right now, and Republicans are unmotivated. If that's the case, it could be true that Democrats aren't well loved overall, but the voters who do like Democrats are turning out in bigger numbers than usual.

I'll add a caveat: It's probably easier right now for Democrats to win state legislative elections than congressional elections, because the national party (and the national right-wing noise machine) are less likely to weigh in during local races. At the state legislative level, Republicans can't effectively run against Nancy Pelosi or Hillary Clinton or evil Kenyan socialist Barack Obama.

In general, Democrats may be making a mistake by trying to win voters over with specific proposals. That's not how Republicans do it. Average Americans don't vote Republican in large numbers because they want huge tax cuts for rich people, or because they want Planned Parenthood driven out of business. Most Americans, even GOP voters, don't support those things. Many (most?) Republican voters aren't on Team GOP for specific positions on issues. They're on Team GOP because they see the GOP as the party of non-elite, mono-ethnic Norman Rockwell American culture, and because they've been trained by the GOP to despise the Democrats as the party of taxes, intrusive government, multi-ethnicity, and cultural weirdness (electric cars, rap music).

Democrats don't need policies to be a team voters are excited about. They need a Big Idea, an easily digestible elevator pitch of an idea that's broadly appealing. "The people vs. the powerful" used to work for them, but corporate overlords have been squeezing the middle class since the 1970s, and especially since the Reagan-Thatcher era. No one knows how to stop the rich from taking more and more of the pie -- this is a problem throughout the First World -- so it's hard for Democrats to sell themselves as the people who can make it happen. (I've come suspect that it can't happen now unless class-conscious ordinary itizens literally make the rich fear for their lives or fortunes.)

And yet Democrats aren't Trump. And Trump, far from having Teflon, is mired at a roughly 37% approval rating. Democrats will do fine in 2018 -- though I wish I knew how they could do better.


The New York Post sent Maureen Callahan to Hillary Clinton's Manhattan book signing yesterday. Callahan's piece on the event is titled "Hillary Clinton’s Book Signing Was as Insufferable as You’d Expect."

With a headline like that, I expected to read about new depths of boorishness and contempt. But Callahan's evidence for the "insufferable" charge is scant:
Among the enduring criticisms of Hillary Clinton: Her sense of entitlement is limitless. She’s tone-deaf and doesn’t understand the average American — nor does she care to. Her greed is insatiable.

Add to this a gaping lack of self-awareness, and you have all the ingredients for the New York City launch of Hillary’s nationwide book tour Tuesday morning (also primary day, not that Hillary — who maintains she’s still here only for us — cares about that either).
"Also primary day"? What does that have to do with anything? The polls here were open yesterday from 6:00 A.M. to 9:00 P.M. No one was prevented from voting by (voluntarily) attending this event. No voting location was commandeered for the signing. Was Clinton supposed to involve herself in the local election? This was a New York City primary. Chappaqua isn't one of the five boroughs. Bill de Blasio was on the ballot, and he's a former Clinton campaign aide who dawdled before endorsing Clinton for the 2016 nomination, but Clinton's support for de Blasio, or lack thereof, wouldn't have made much difference -- he won the primary by 60 points.
Hillary’s attendees were willing to follow any directive. There were many, and here, in part, were the written instructions:

“A limited number of wristbands for entry will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis with purchase of the featured title at Barnes & Noble Union Square. Hillary Rodham Clinton will sign copies of her new release, What Happened and the 2017 illustrated children’s edition of It Takes a Village, no exceptions or personalizing. She will sign up to two books per customer, one of which must be What Happened. No other books or memorabilia please. Posed photos or selfies will not be taking place . . . Book purchase and wristbands are both required to meet the author, no exceptions. Customers without wristbands will not be allowed to participate in any capacity.

In other words, everyone was here to serve two purposes: To make sure “What Happened” debuts at No. 1 on the bestseller list and to line Hillary’s pockets.
I am shocked, shocked, to learn that someone would hold a book signing in order to sell more books.

As for the restrictions, I see similar ones in place for this George W. Bush book signing in February:
Would-be buyers will need a wristband to secure a place in line.... Customers may purchase up to three copies of the book. A wristband and receipt, showing proof of purchase, are required for the admittance to the book signing.
And here's a warning notice from another Bush signing:
There will NOT be an opportunity to take photographs during the signing.
Bush was a president. Hillary Clinton was a First Lady and a major-party presidential candidate. Both are under Secret Service protection. Both are likely targets of people with violent intent. There shouldn't be people swanning into their signings without scrutiny. And allowing in stray bits of memorabilia is not in the commercial interests of the bookstore or the security interests of the author (what is that thing you say you want signed?).

Hillary’s advertised arrival time was 11 a.m., which came and went. Hundreds of people were penned in on a top floor, with thousands more waiting outside in 80-degree heat.
Clinton could have been more punctual. But come on -- "80-degree heat"? It was a very nice day here yesterday, if mild for September. It wasn't Riyadh in July. And "Hundreds of people were penned in on a top floor"? I know this Barnes & Noble -- it has plenty of room for "hundreds." "Penned in"? On the subway at rush hour you get "penned in."
Finally, just before noon, the crowd erupted, chanting “HILL-AR-EE! HILL-AR-EE!” as Clinton sauntered in, casually absorbing the adulation, giving the crowd her patented smile and royal wave.

Amid wild applause, Clinton made her way up to a raised platform, and then . . . she sat down and started signing. No hello to the crowd, no thanks for the hours of waiting — let alone decades of support — no apology for or acknowledgment of being an hour late, or losing the most consequential election in American history. Not a single word. She just started signing.
A few words would have been nice, but this sounds like a description of yet another George W. Bush book signing:
Lines weaved in an out through the stacks, and anyone hoping for a personal message from the Prez was out of luck. The book you spent cash-money on was not necessarily the book that you were going to leave with. Bookstore employees and Secret Service personnel kept the signing going with machine-like efficiency so that conversation with the man, who shook hands and referred to people as "Buddy," was brief.
So nothing out of the ordinary, really. Oh, except for the pizza Clinton bought for fans who waited overnight to get books signed. (Callahan didn't mention that.)

This is the Murdoch press. The mainstream press piles on Hillary, but these folks set the demonization standard, for her and every other Democrat.


You probably know that Steve Bannon has said that he wants to be Trump's "wingman":
Steve Bannon left the White House because the Trump administration "needed a wingman outside" and now wants to help get allies of President Donald Trump elected to the Senate, he said Tuesday at a global investment conference.

Bannon delivered a keynote address in Hong Kong on the subject of "American economic nationalism, the populist revolt and Asia" at an event organized by Hong Kong brokerage firm CLSA....

"I left the White house because Trump needed a wingman outside, helping candidates for the Senate," Bannon said, according to a global investor who attended the talk.
But here's what this means to Bannon in the case of Alabama: Breitbart is promoting the guy running against Trump's candidate as if he is Trump's candidate. Remember that Trump endorsed Luther Strange in Alabama's special Senate election. Breitbart prefers former "Ten Commandments judge" Roy Moore. Breitbart is not just running stories in praise of Moore -- it's describing Moore as the true Trump candidate:
The Cavalry Arrives in Alabama: Pro-Trump Forces Align Behind Judge Roy Moore as ‘Swamp Monster’ Luther Strange Suffers

... The Great America Alliance, an organization that hosted a number of events backing President Donald Trump last year in his successful bid to defeat Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton, is hitting the ground in Alabama with a bus tour for Judge Roy Moore and a series of events and television ads to back up the top conservative candidate. This development is yet another crushing blow to the failing campaign of Washington establishment-backed Luther Strange....

In a press release announcing the bus tour and television ads, Andy Surabian—until a couple weeks ago a top Trump White House official who previously served in a senior Trump campaign position during last year’s election—lit into Strange and praised Moore.

... “In order to truly drain the DC swamp, we must reject Mitch McConnell’s hand-picked yes-men in favor of those who truly back President Trump’s America First Agenda. Judge Moore has proven to be a fearless leader for Alabama and we are confident that he will never buckle in the fight to help President Trump Make America Great Again.”

... Surabian, the ex-White House aide for President Trump who is now a senior adviser to the Great America Alliance, added in an exclusive quote for Breitbart News that Strange must be defeated for Americans to succeed in draining the swamp and achieving the Trump agenda.

“Big time lobbyist Luther Strange is the exact type of swamp monster that Trump supporters across the country and throughout Alabama want vanquished from Washington, D.C.,” Surabian told Breitbart News.
And even though White House legislative director Marc Short reaffirmed Trump's support for Strange yesterday, the Breitbart story insists that Trump "has ... withdrawn his support for Strange for now."

That's Bannon's idea of being a wingman and helping to "get allies of President Donald Trump elected to the Senate": He decides who's pro-Trump, not Trump.

This is the same Breitbart that ran the following story on September 11:
9/11/2017: Trump, Pence, Mattis, Sessions Fail to Name ‘Radical Islamic Terrorism’

On the sixteenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, Islamic terrorist attacks, President Donald Trump did not once mention the terms “radical Islam” or “Islamic terrorism” during a commemoration ceremony at the Pentagon.

Those phrases were also not mentioned in speeches today by other Trump administration senior officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Instead of naming the enemy, Trump seemingly went out of his way to use other descriptors in his speech, including “terrorists who attacked us,” “barbaric forces of evil and destruction,” “horrible, horrible enemies,” “enemies of all civilized people,” and “enemies like we’ve never seen before.”

... The uniform lack of the mention of radical Islamic terrorism from the administration Monday comes after previous reports that H.R. McMaster, Trump’s embattled national security adviser, has petitioned against using the phrase.
There are currently three follow-up stories on the Breitbart front page attacking Trump and his subordinates for this.

Bannon and his fellow Breitbartniks believe in Trumpism -- but they reserve the right to define what Trumpism is, and sometimes it's the opposite to what Trump himself is actually doing. They think they're more Catholic than the #MAGA pope.