Sunday, March 18, 2018


A story in The New York Times tells us that Scott Pruitt has big ambitions. How big? Big enough that the headline in the print edition is "Perched Atop E.P.A., Pruitt Plots '24 Run," and it's not a reference to a run for senator or governor (although one of those may come first):
In the past year, Mr. Pruitt has emerged as a hero to President Trump’s supporters for his hand in rolling back environmental rules at an agency long disliked by farmers, the fossil fuel industry and the far right....

Now, people close to Mr. Pruitt say he is using his perch as Mr. Trump’s deregulatory czar to position himself for further political prominence — starting with a run for office in his home state of Oklahoma....

Mr. Pruitt’s national profile has soared. He has appeared on the cover of the prominent conservative magazines National Review and The Weekly Standard. And Mr. Trump has privately praised some of Mr. Pruitt’s more controversial proposals, such as his idea to stage “red team, blue team” debates of climate-change science....

The endgame, say people who have spoken with Mr. Pruitt, is a possible run at the presidency in 2024 or later.
He's laying the groundwork:
Last year, Mr. Pruitt made two trips to Iowa, a key campaign state in presidential elections, to talk about his agenda....

Behind the scenes, Mr. Pruitt has spent time with major political donors. Last year he met with Foster Friess, a Republican fund-raiser, and with investors connected to Sheldon Adelson, the party megadonor, according to meeting records obtained by The New York Times. He also met with Steven Chancellor, an Indiana coal executive and Republican fund-raiser, according to documents obtained by the Sierra Club and published by Politico.
It's possible that he's just planning a run for Senate in 2020 (assuming that the octogenarian incumbent, James Inhofe, retires). Or he could get into the governor's race this year.

But I find it plausible that he'd like to be president.

And although it's left unstated in the story, I wonder if he's thinking about a presidential run earlier than 2024. I don't think he'd run against Trump in the primaries (unless there's a Democratic rout in 2018 and Trump tacks leftward after the Dems retake Congress, a scenario I don't think is plausible -- I think Trump would remain affiliated with Fox News and congressional Republicans, who would go into saboteur mode while demanding a restoration).

The 2020 scenario for Pruitt is a run if Trump doesn't seek a second term, because he's resigned, he's been removed from office, or he's chosen not to run again, for reasons of unpopularity or health. I have my doubts about those scenarios, too, but if one of them happens, I think it's unlikely that GOP primary voters will seek a return to normalcy -- the angriest among them (the largest bloc) will want someone who'll avenge the loss of Trump and own the liberals the way they believe Trump did. Pruitt's an ideal choice. As a signal to GOP voters that he's conservatively correct, he's done everything short of wringing a spotted owl's neck on live TV. (Someone who did that would have the nomination locked up by Super Tuesday.)

The Times article tells us that there's some skepticism about the pace of Pruitt's deregulatory efforts:
Some former E.P.A. chiefs noted that Mr. Pruitt’s unusual speed at attempting to dismantle regulations could mean that those efforts might not stand up to later legal challenges. “The policies he’s pushing play very well in his home state and with the base — but you can’t do them overnight,” said Christine Todd Whitman, who headed the E.P.A. in the George W. Bush administration and before that was the governor of New Jersey. “They’re getting rushed out. I don’t think the homework is being done. It makes for good sound bites, but they might not stand up legally.”
But that's perfect for Pruitt if he wants to run for president. If the changes are upheld in court, he wins. If not, he can say he's been thwarted by "activist liberal judges." Stab in the back! Molon labe!

A lot of people believe that if Trump goes down in disgrace it will shame Republican voters, who'll turn to more traditional Republicans in the future. But Pruitt is a traditional Republican now. He's what the party was becoming long before Trump. What GOP voters might say they don't miss is Trump's narcissism and lack of policy focus. They'll want a lean and hungry culture warrior who's more devoted to the Cause than to himself. That could easily be Pruitt.

I don't know if he could win a general election, but doubts about that didn't prevent GOP voters from picking Trump in 2016. So, yeah, this guy has a real shot at the nomination.


In The New York Times, Michelle Goldberg urges former Trump appointees to go public with the truth about the White House:
Since the beginning of this nightmare administration, we’ve been assured — via well-placed anonymous sources — that a few sober, trustworthy people in the White House were checking Donald Trump’s worst instincts and most erratic whims.... Through strategic leaks they presented themselves as guardians of American democracy rather than collaborators in its undoing....

Increasingly, however, the people who were supposed to be the adults in the room aren’t in the room anymore.

... if from their privileged perches these people saw the president as a dangerous fool in need of babysitting, it’s now time for some of them to say so publicly.
She singles out Rex Tillerson:
“Rex is never going to be back in a position where he can have any degree of influence or respect from this president,” my Republican source said. Because of that, the source continued, “Rex is under a moral mandate to do his best to burn it down.” That would mean telling the truth “about how concerned he is about the leadership in the Oval Office, and what underpins those concerns and what he’s seen.”

... If Tillerson came out and said that the president is unfit, and perhaps even that venal concerns for private gain have influenced his foreign policy, impeachment wouldn’t begin tomorrow, but Trump’s already narrow public support would shrink further. Republican members of Congress like Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, might be induced to rediscover their spines and perform proper oversight.

Why would whistleblowing by Tillerson (or any other departed Trump staffer) influence public opinion in a way that other Trump revelations haven't? We might imagine that the information in Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury caused a deterioration in Trump's poll numbers, but that's not true. The first excerpt from Fire and Fury, with many of the book's most alarming revelations, was published by New York magazine on January 3. Trump's poll numbers at that time, according to the Real Clear Politics average were 40.4% approval, 55.9% disapproval. His poll numbers now? They're up slightly: 41.1% approval, 54.2% disapproval.

Does Goldberg think Tillerson's word would carry more weight because he's more respected than Michael Wolff? As Vanity Fair's Tina Nguyen notes, he isn't respected by Trumpers. Nguyen notes
the generally ecstatic reception in MAGA-land to the news that Mike Pompeo, the hawkish, Harvard-bred director of the C.I.A., would be replacing Tillerson as secretary of state. “It’s the revenge of the nationalists,” Posobiec told me. “I wouldn’t say he’s like an America First guy,” he conceded, “but he was a Tea Party guy, and he’s definitely more of movement conservative.”

Bannon responded to Tillerson’s ouster by texting a reporter, “Come on dude!!!...end of the globalists !!!”
The worldviews of the deplorable rank-and-file might not be as well developed as Bannon's or Posobiec's, but the deplorables know one thing: An enemy of Trump is their enemy. Anyone who openly turns against Trump will become the Antichrist in MAGAland -- and, therefore, in the right-wing media.

No Republican officeholder would dare to cross the MAGA hordes, so Tillerson revelations won't lead to increased congressional oversight -- at least not before the next Congress is sworn in.

I'd love to find out what Tillerson knows. Maybe he'll start leaking. But no act of forthrightness on his or any ex-Trump aide's part is going to save us from this president as long as Republicans control Congress. Republicans will never put country over party. It would be political suicide.

Saturday, March 17, 2018


Our petty tyrant president had Andrew McCabe fired last night, a little more than 24 hours prior to his scheduled resignation, which was to take place on his 50th birthday. It's widely believed that this act of vindictiveness has cost McCabe his entire pension. I believed that when I woke up this morning. I imagine the president also believes it.

But as CNN reported prior to the dismissal, it's not exactly true:
As a law enforcement officer covered by the Federal Employees Retirement System, known as FERS, McCabe is set to receive an annual pension payout calculated at a special "enhanced" rate and available at the early age of 50....

If he were to be fired before Sunday, it appears likely McCabe could be docked his pension until he hits another, later age milestone.

... per federal rules, McCabe may not be able to draw an annuity until a date ranging just shy of his 57th birthday, and as late as his 62nd. That could put the value of his uncollected pension in the realm of a half-million dollars.

On top of that, McCabe could also lose his law enforcement boost....

Under the rules of FERS, that means he could be left with the standard multiplier of 1% on top of his years of service, down from the 1.7% enhanced rate for law enforcement.
James Gagliano, a former FBI special agent who's now a CNN analyst, acknowledges that McCabe will take a hit:

But it takes a lot to strip an FBI agent of his pension altogether:

This was a nasty thing to do. It could have a chilling effect on other law enforcement officials who are investigating the president (although I think Trump is much less likely to target you this way if you haven't been singled out for a series of Two Minutes' Hates on Hannity's show).

But McCabe should be able to make up the difference. James Comey's book advance was in the neighborhood of $2 million -- McCabe's should be in the mid-six figures. McCabe still ought to be employable for more than a decade, at a fairly high level.

I think Trump wants to believe he left McCabe on the verge of destitution. He didn't. McCabe will come of out of this in better shape than Trump probably realizes.

Friday, March 16, 2018


The victory of Democrat Conor Lamb in a solidly pro-Trump Pennsylvania congressional district is -- of course! -- bad news for the Democrats. Politico has the story, under the headline "Democrats’ Civil War Flares After Lamb’s Upset Win."
Conor Lamb’s triumph in Trump country is being heralded by conservative Democrats as a major victory in their ongoing turf battle with the far left — and an object lesson on the kind of candidates the party needs to promote and win to take the House in November.
Lamb is "an object lesson on the kind of candidates the party needs to promote and win to take the House in November"? That's what this lead paragraph says -- but that's not what we're told in subsequent paragraphs. We're told that Democrats should run some Lamb-like candidates. And both progressives and moderates seem to agree.
For the Blue Dogs, Lamb’s successful center-left campaign is proof that the Democratic Party’s “big tent” mentality is still a winning electoral strategy, despite an aggressive push from liberals for candidates that more closely adhere to the progressive purity made popular by the likes of Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

But while liberals have praised Lamb’s win in Pennsylvania, they’ve also been quick to caution that his message shouldn’t be copied by Democrats across the House map.
So Blue Dogs believe in a "big tent" -- i.e., a party open to lefties and centrists -- while liberals think Lamb's approach "shouldn’t be copied by Democrats across the House map" (that is, in every district), even though they're happy that Lamb won. Sounds to me as if everyone's basically in agreement.

A direct quote:
“[Lamb] didn’t run on an identity politics, one-size fits all message,” said Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), co-chairman of the Blue Dog PAC, the fundraising arm for the conservative Democratic coalition. “He ran on the Blue Dog message.”
If Schrader thinks "one-size-fits-all" is bad, it would seem that he thinks the Blue Dog might be inappropriate in blue districts. I agree.

And then there's this pair of quotes:
Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, a Rust Belt Democrat who ran against Pelosi for leadership in 2016, [said,] “At the end of the day, ... I hope that whoever our nominees are, we let them be who they are. And run the kind of races they think is best for their district.” ...

“People [who] say this is the direction all of us should take are kind of missing where the energy is coming from,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. He mentioned issues such as universal health care, the minimum wage and regulating Wall Street as being especially important to base voters.
There's disagreement here, but Ryan says that candidates should run with district-appropriate messages, while Grijalva says centrism isn't "the direction all of us should take." They're both saying that there's more than one ideological route to victory, and it depends on the district. Works for me.

Obviously I'm simplifying, and obviously these people have some significant disagreements. In addition, we don't know whether genuine progressives can surprise us by doing well in centrist districts. There will be mismatches, probably in both directions, and those will be missed opportunities. There'll be some bitter fights, like the progressive challenge to Dan Lipinski. But what I'm seeing is Democrats largely agreeing to disagree. This is not a civil war -- we may have one in 2020, when only one person can be the presidential nominee, but I don't see one taking place now.


David Brooks, to his credit, believes that President Trump is immoral, and that his immorality is infecting the Republican Party:
Trump is a revolutionary figure not because he changed the G.O.P.’s position on trade or international engagement. He’s morally revolutionary....

Trump ... asked the Republican Party to accept the proposition that it doesn’t matter if your leader is a liar, a philanderer and a narcissist. It doesn’t matter if he is cruel to the weak and bigoted toward the outsider. What matters, when you’re in a death match in which the survival of your nation and culture is at stake, is having a bastard in charge who understands and is tough enough to win.
Needless to say, Brooks is telling us this in order to prepare us for a critique of the Democratic Party.
The question of 2018 is whether the Democrats will follow suit.
Really? Does it seem likely that Democrats are going to sell their souls to a corrupt, treasonous pathological liar and sexual predator who knows less about government than a high school freshman who's getting a B in civics? Please explain, David.
The question of 2018 is whether the Democrats will follow suit. The temptation will be strong. In any conflict the tendency is to become the mirror image of your opponent. And the Democrats are just as capable of tribalism as the Republicans, just as capable of dividing the world in self-righteous Manichaean binaries: us enlightened few against those racist many; us modern citizens against those backward gun-toting troglodytes. Listen to how Hillary Clinton spoke in Mumbai last weekend.

There’ll be a tendency this year to nationalize each of the congressional races, to focus on Trump and not the country’s actual problems, to push the tribal hot buttons that excite the passionate Resistance in the great culture war.
So, to David Brooks, being a progressive ideologue is as awful as Donald Trump's business malfeasance, personal amorality, political recklessness, scorched-earth assaults on enemies, and contempt for the national interest. Treason, larceny, sexual assault, and character assassination are the moral equivalent of wearing a pussy hat.

But Brooks thinks Conor Lamb might save Democrats from plunging into the moral abyss.
... Conor Lamb’s victory in Pennsylvania this week gives at least a glimmer of hope that the Democrats may go the other way.

... He campaigned in a way designed to bridge divisions, not exacerbate them.

... He embraced issues that grabbed from each political persuasion, for universal health care, against the tax cuts, but also for fracking, against the assault weapons ban, skeptical of the $15 minimum wage. He opposed both Nancy Pelosi and Paul Ryan in congressional leadership races.
In his failed run for a Georgia congressional seat last year, Jon Ossoff did many of the same things. He refused to embrace single payer and rejected tax increases on the rich. He said he was not a fan of Pelosi. Yet Brooks never wrote about Ossoff. Ossoff lost, obviously, but the party's embrace of Ossoff as well as Lamb gives the lie to the notion that the Democratic Party is on the verge of conducting Stalinist purges of moderates and launching a jihad against the American heartland. Brooks needs for that to be true -- otherwise, his entire thesis collapses.

Brooks believes that Lamb is morally extraordinary because he didn't sink to the Trumpian gutter:
[Lamb] emerges from a serious moral tradition. He is a Catholic who attended a parochial school run by the Christian Brothers....

Now it’s obvious that you would run to the center as a Democrat in a heavily Republican district. But it’s not obvious that you would keep your integrity in such a tight campaign. It’s not obvious that you would put real but unsexy issues like opioids first, above the cable TV symbolic ones. It’s not obvious that you would be restrained by democratic norms, when the president comes into your district and shreds them.

Moral character is always the same essential things. Putting a higher love, like nation, over a lower love, like party. Going against yourself — feeling that urge to lash out with the low angry insult, and instead rising upward with the loving and understanding response.
According to Brooks, a Democrats needs serious religious training in order to avoid behaving like Donald Trump. He tells us this even though ity's impossible to name a Democrat currently in electoral politics who acts remotely like Trump. Who would? I know Philippe Reines says they all should, but you have to be a moral monster to do that, and Democrats running for office just aren't like that -- yes, even the ones who don't go to church.

Also , note that Brooks believes that you can either care about opioids or be a committed progressive -- it's impossible to be solidly left and care about your community. That's preposterous.

The overt message of this column is that the Democrat didn't act like Trump in the Pennsylvania special election -- both sides didn't do it. The subtext is that both sides might, because Democrats are potentially as bad as the worst person who's ever been president, and the worst party that's ever had this much power.

Thursday, March 15, 2018


Last weekend I read about President Trump's dinner with Fox News commentators Jesse Waters and Sebastian Gorka, and I also read that he was planning to make a lot of personnel changes -- but it didn't seem as if he was planning to raid Fox News to fill the vacancies he intended to create. I had a theory about that:
The reason Trump doesn't just hire Fox pundits for the White House is that he thinks of Fox as the outside world. He doesn't see it as a sycophantic media operation that's essentially a part of the GOP -- he sees it as America. It's the voice of the people. Sean Hannity and Steve Doocy and Pirro and Watters and even Gorka, who used to work for him, are all emissaries from a Main Street America where nearly everyone loves him. He wants them right where they are, reporting back to him from that glorious country.
I was wrong about that. Since then, he's hired Larry Kudlow (not a Fox host, but his CNBC show may as well be on Fox) to head the National Economic Council, he's chosen Heather Nauert, a former host of Fox & Friends, to replace Steve Goldstein, a top State Department aide who was fired on Tuesday (she's been working at the State Department but had no previous diplomatic experience), and he's reported to be considering Pete Hegseth, a co-host of Fox & Friends Weekend, to take over the Department of Veterans Affairs.

I was clearly confused by reports of White House jobs that seemed unlikely to be filled by right-wing TV personalities. I guessed I missed a couple of obvious points: Trump can't fill every job with people from the TV; many people on TV don't want to give up the money and job stability (which might explain why Judge Jeanine doesn't seem to be on the short list to replace Jeff Sessions -- though who knows?); and Trump has probably been restrained by aides from hiring too many TV personalities. But Trump seems to be overcoming that last problem by simply firing everyone who tries to prevent him from doing whatever he wants. So maybe it will be an all-TV White House fairly soon.


Philippe Reines, who's been an adviser to Hillary Clinton for many years, is offering election tips to Democrats who hope to beat Donald Trump in 2020, some of them clearly based on Clinton's failure to close the sale in 2016. I think some of Reines's advice is a bit dubious:
●Go high when you can. But when he goes low, take advantage of the kneeling to knock his block off.

●Don’t apologize. Ever. Not over money you took from Harvey Weinstein. Not even for attacking the pope. In fact, proactively attack the pope. Your kid is a shoplifter? You’re proud of them for exposing inadequate security.

●A lot of industries are going to want to hedge their bets. Don’t declare you won’t take money from lobbyists. Take cigarette money. Counterfeit your own.

●Swing at every pitch. Trump never says, “I’m not dignifying that with an answer.” He has no dignity. He leaves no attack unanswered. I spent 15 years recommending ignoring stupidity. “It has no legs. Don’t give it oxygen. There’s no pickup.” I was wrong....

●Boast. Gloat. About your accomplishments. Your biceps. Your everything. You didn’t co-sponsor; you got it done on your inevitable path to Mount Rushmore.

●Don’t wait for post-debate polls. You won. It’s obvious. Everyone saw. Say it onstage....

●Don’t hire anyone who says they’d rather lose than stoop to his level. If you say it, get out of the way for someone living in the real world.
Okay, I get it: To beat Trump, act just like him. But I think that's an absurd strategy. You'll never out-Trump Trump, and you can't fake being like that -- either your personality is Trump-like or it isn't. Besides, you're not competing for the voters who like Trump's personality -- you're competing for the people who find it repulsive, or at least queasy-making, some of whom voted for him anyway in 2016.

I agree that the Democrat running against Trump can't become the butt of his jokes. But there are other ways to respond when Trump attacks. When Trump went after him, Barack Obama didn't get in the mud or turn into a chest-thumping blowhard. He didn't respond to every birther moment. He maintained his dignity, with a touch of swagger. He didn't send out all-caps tweets when he released his long-form birth certificate -- he just did it, and then delivered a deadpan, subtly devastating anti-Trump monologue at the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner.

Oh, and there was the death of bin Laden right after that. Mic drop!

Trump got the last laugh five years later, though we don't know what would have happened if Obama had been able to run against him. We can guess that he wouldn't have behaved like Trump -- he would have continued to act like the adult in the race, but with a significant amount of cool. He might have made Trump seem desperate, flailing, and out of control. Bill Clinton did that to George H.W. Bush in 1992 -- it's hard to remember now, but in 1992, for all the questions about his past, Clinton came off as both charismatic and mature, an appealing young candidate with a lot of good ideas and the right temperament to get the job done.

What worries me about the 2020 Democratic aspirants is that I'm not sure who among them has the charisma and the presence to face down Trump without getting in the gutter with him. I don't know what charisma is, but Obama has it, Clinton had it in his youth -- and few Democratic contenders have it now.

Joe Biden has an oddball appeal, but does he engender trust or is he just seen as a figure of fun? Bernie Sanders inspires a lot of people (and infuriates some others), but can he keep his head when he's under attack the way Obama does, and the way Clinton did in his prime?

As for the rest of the men who are considering a run ... I'm not so sure. The women impress me, and I'm sure they impress a lot of you, but I worry how the general public will feel about them. There are dudebros in the electorate (including the Democratic electorate), and there are other voters (of both genders) who still have problems with educated, forthright white-collar women, women who don't smile a lot and try to make everything nice. I hate that there are still voters who might find Elizabeth Warren or Kirsten Gillibrand or Kamala Harris "harsh" or "shrill" or "pushy," but they're out there.

Can any of those women go head to head with Trump and make 51% of voters in states with 270 electoral votes like them instead of Trump? I think they'd try to do it without losing their dignity, or playing by Philippe Reines's rules. I just hope it would work.

I worry that the best candidate to beat Trump would be another Obama. I hope I'm wrong, because I don't see one in the candidate pool.


President Trump delivered a fundraising speech in Missouri last night. This anecdote from the speech is getting a lot of attention:
President Trump boasted in a fundraising speech Wednesday that he made up information in a meeting with the leader of a top U.S. ally, saying he insisted to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that the United States runs a trade deficit with its neighbor to the north without knowing whether that was the case.

“Trudeau came to see me. He’s a good guy, Justin. He said, ‘No, no, we have no trade deficit with you, we have none. Donald, please,’” Trump said, mimicking Trudeau, according to audio obtained by The Washington Post. “Nice guy, good-looking guy, comes in — ‘Donald, we have no trade deficit.’ He’s very proud because everybody else, you know, we’re getting killed.

“... So, he’s proud. I said, ‘Wrong, Justin, you do.’ I didn’t even know. ... I had no idea. I just said, ‘You’re wrong.’ You know why? Because we’re so stupid. ... And I thought they were smart. I said, ‘You’re wrong, Justin.’ He said, ‘Nope, we have no trade deficit.’ I said, ‘Well, in that case, I feel differently,’ I said, ‘but I don’t believe it.’ I sent one of our guys out, his guy, my guy, they went out, I said, ‘Check, because I can’t believe it.’

‘Well, sir, you’re actually right. We have no deficit, but that doesn’t include energy and timber. ... And when you do, we lose $17 billion a year.’ It’s incredible.”
First, I think Trump would dispute the notion that he "made up information." Yes, he admitted he "didn’t even know" what the U.S.-Canada trade balance is. But to Trump, that doesn't mean he was making stuff up. Read this part of the anecdote again:
I said, ‘Wrong, Justin, you do.’ I didn’t even know. ... I had no idea. I just said, ‘You’re wrong.’ You know why? Because we’re so stupid.
Other people, if they'd attained the job of president of the United States, would sit down and learn the facts about U.S.-Canada trade before discussing the issue with the Canadian prime minister. But Trump doesn't need facts. He has theories. And they're Trump theories, so they're always right.

One of those theories is: Every American leader who's ever dealt with foreign trade is an idiot who allowed America to be screwed, because none of them were Donald Trump. Only Trump could have prevented America from being screwed by Canada (and every other country on the planet) all these years. That's why Trump was certain that we have a trade deficit with Canada, even though he'd never looked it up. He had to be right, because everyone who's come before him has been bad at dealing with trade -- "we're so stupid" as a country that we've let all these non-Trump people do the job until now.

Trump doesn't need facts -- he inevitably grasps the truth because, as he never tires of telling us, he has a very high IQ:
Trump's always been the world's leading gladiator when it comes to IQ smackdowns.

In 2016, he challenged London's mayor, Sadiq Khan, to compare IQ tests after Khan dismissed Trump's take on Islam as "ignorant."

Trump has also boasted that he has a higher IQ than George W. Bush, Barack Obama, George Will, Karl Rove and the entire staff of the Washington Post. Lest he missed anyone, Trump has also issued blanket warnings to those who might question his intellectual chops, as he did in this Twitter post from 2013:

And why does he have a high IQ? Great genes!

So of course he was right. And he was right without checking first. In fact, if you have to bone up before a trade meeting with another head of state, that proves you have a lower IQ than Trump, and therefore you have genes that are inferior to his!

Of course, Trump wasn't right:
Here’s our actual trade deficit with Canada:

For the past three years, we’ve had a trade deficit in goods with Canada of about $20 billion, mostly because we import lots of oil and natural gas from them (about $70 billion in 2017). But that’s only tangible goods. We export a lot of services to Canada (financial services, computer services, etc.), and as a result we’ve been running a total trade surplus of about $5 billion. This is what Trudeau was talking about. It has nothing to do with timber, and the number $17 billion doesn’t show up anywhere.
I have a few theories about this part of the anecdote.

Maybe the entire anecdote is a lie. Or maybe no one was ever sent to confirm Trump's theory. Or maybe someone was sent, and he felt compelled to give Trump what he wanted, so he pulled up numbers from before the last three years, when the U.S. did have a trade deficit with Canada. Or maybe Trump actually absorbed this information years ago, probably from a segment on Fox and Friends, rather than intuiting it from the idea that every non-Trump figure in the U.S. government has allowed America to be screwed, and he's relied ever since on this outdated information he half-learned, and never bothered to check the current facts.

It's also possible that he has some vague understanding of the current facts but literally doesn't believe that services exchanged across borders count as international trade.


There was another odd anecdote in Trump's speech:
He accused Japan of using gimmicks to deny U.S. auto companies access to their consumers....

“It’s the bowling ball test. They take a bowling ball from 20 feet up in the air and drop it on the hood of the car,” Trump said of Japan. “If the hood dents, the car doesn’t qualify. It’s horrible,” he said. It was unclear what he was talking about.
A number of people have said on Twitter today that they've searched for this and can't find any likely source for it. I also tried and failed. Here's the problem: There weren't right-wing email forwards in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when angry white guys were upset about "Japan Inc." Maybe someone will come up with a poorly mimeographed penny-stock newsletter from that era that includes this dubious tale. But I bet that's how old it is, and I bet it's just folklore Trump heard from some guy he knew during the Poppy Bush era.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


We're regularly told that Democrats are out-of-touch coastal elitists who don't understand the heartland -- but I see that the a GOP strategist has expressed contempt for the Republican candidate who (apparently) lost yesterday's special election in western Pennsylvania:
An anonymous Pennsylvania GOP strategist told The Washington Examiner they had a very specific complaint about [Rick] Saccone: His moustache was disgusting.

It’s a porn stache,” the strategist said.
The strategist is referring to this:

Do you remember the period in Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign when she decided to make an overt play for the white working-class vote? The most memorable moment was a Saturday night in April when she was photographed drinking boilermakers in a bar called Bronko's in Crown Point, Indiana. If you've forgotten, let's take a trip down memory lane. Note the patron in the white shirt.

In Real America, that's not a porn stache -- it's a perfectly respectable workingman's facial accoutrement. That guy's grandfather probably had the same mustache when he came over on the boat after the long journey from Lodz. Only a latte-swilling elitist would mock that mustache! (And I'm guessing that the same is true for Rick Saccone's grandfather, who might have been on the same boat with some of my ancestors.)

In any case, neither of the mustaches above is a porn stache. This is a porn stache:

It's hard to compete with the original, but Geraldo's comes close.


Democrat Conor Lamb leads his Republican opponent, Rick Saccone, by 641 votes in a special election conducted yesterday in Pennsylvania's 18th congressional district, a district Donald Trump won in 2016 by 20 points. As voters went to the polls, Politico noted that the GOP had largely abandoned what we've been told will be the party's main talking point in this year's elections:
Republicans backed away from their signature tax-cut law in the final days of a closely watched special House election in the Pittsburgh suburbs — even though it's the very accomplishment on which they had banked their midterm election hopes....

For the weeks of Feb. 4 and Feb. 11, roughly two-thirds of the broadcast television ads from Saccone’s campaign, the Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC and the National Republican Congressional Committee mentioned taxes, according to a POLITICO analysis of data from Advertising Analytics. For the week of Feb. 18, that dropped to 36 percent, and to 14 percent the week after. Since the beginning of March, tax ads have been essentially nonexistent.
Greg Sargent adds:
In the race’s final days, much of the GOP’s messaging appears focused not so much on the Trump/GOP tax cuts, or even on Trump’s tariffs, but rather on immigration, crime and Nancy Pelosi. An outside group allied with the House GOP recently launched spots slamming Democrat Conor Lamb as a “Pelosi liberal” and for allegedly supporting “sanctuary cities and amnesty for illegals.” The National Republican Congressional Committee has recently released ads that slam Lamb, a former prosecutor, as soft on gun traffickers. A super PAC allied with Trump has an ad that mentions the tax cuts but talks more about “Pelosi liberals.”

... Indeed, last week, Dave Weigel and Josh Kraushaar both reported that Republicans had previously aired ads touting the tax cuts but cycled them out of the messaging, because, as Kraushaar put it, they were “barely moving the needle in the district’s working-class confines.”
As the voting began, Fox News analyst Chris Stirewalt criticized the Republican approach, even as he predicted a Saccone victory:
... it is ... remarkable to see a party that has held both houses of Congress for more than three years still talking like it’s 2010.

... Campaigning with the president’s eldest son Monday night, Saccone said Democrats hate America and God. Not a good look under any circumstances, but hardly the kind of closing argument that we were told to expect from Republican candidates this year.

The conventional wisdom in Washington was that the key to midterm survival for Republicans is to focus on the booming national economy and the role of the GOP in making it that way....

Instead, in Western Pennsylvania we have heard from Saccone, Donald Trump, Junior and Senior and others that this election is about good old American carnage®.

... herein we have the challenge for Republicans: How do you tell people in the same breath that your policies are working, but that America is teetering on the brink of failure? If peace and prosperity aren’t good enough to run on, what would be?
The tax cut has just taken effect, and its impact for most Americans is small. That may be why ads touting it aren't motivating GOP voters. But I think there's more going on.

I think Republican voters are so conditioned by the fearmongering of Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media that they can no longer respond to positive messaging. What matters to them is "owning the libs" and finding new enemies to smite. (Or even finding old enemies -- as voting began yesterday, the right-wing press had spent several days treating Louis Farrakhan, of all people, as a significant ongoing threat to the Republic, rather than as a doddering old racist -- he's 84 -- who didn't have much national influence in his prime and has even less now.)

The right-wing media message is echoed by the president, who boasts about his accomplishments but really rouses the crowds when he attacks kneeling football players or Chuck Todd or Hillary Clinton, or when he promises a wall to keep out rampaging hordes of gangsters and a flood of drugs.

Never mind how the rest of us feel about the state of America today -- Republican voters are said to be pleased with the president's performance in office. And yet it's unimaginable that they'd ever respond to a modern "Morning in America" ad....

... or even to a new version of this "George W. Bush wants to keep us safe" ad from 2004:

Only anger and fear seem to move Republican voters. Even motivated Trump-bashers are more optimistic. Democratic voters ultimately want positive change. I think GOP voters only want revenge.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


On the radio today, Rush Limbaugh said that President Trump is finally hitting his stride:
I think Trump is on a roll. I think he’s gaining confidence, and now, “To hell with it!” He’s putting Trump people, people he likes, people he believes in, people who understand him, people who like him and that he likes. He’s putting them in key positions in his inner circle. It’s a positive.
So what prevented him from doing that before? Well, it was a problem anyone would have, according to Limbaugh:
You ever done this? I have. Pretend that you’re running for president, pretend that you win, but nothing else about your life changes. Just one day, you’re out there doing what you do, and one day you decide to run — and you win. Now you have to pick a secretary of state. Now you have to pick a secretary of commerce and on down the line. You’ve gotta pick somebody to lead your Council of Economic Advisors. You have to pick somebody to go over to Commerce. You have to pick somebody at the Food and Drug Administration and the EPA and all this.
I've never done that, but go on.
How many of you know anybody who is expert in any of those areas? So since you don’t, and since most of us wouldn’t, where would you go? Who would you rely on for advice? Who would you go to find people to staff your cabinet?

... at some point you do have to rely on people that you trust to make recommendations to you to put people in your cabinet. When that starts happening, that’s when it can all go wrong. What if you’re asking people who don’t want you to succeed?

What if the suggestions you’re getting are not the best fit for you? Say you’re relying on... Pick. I don’t care who it is. You’re relying on somebody to advise you on picking a secretary of state, and what if that person really thinks you have no business being president so you need somebody in there that’s gonna actually run foreign policy for you since you’re such a dodo bird. What if Trump was relying on somebody to give him advice? Not just secretary of state, but any other position?
If you're running for president, why the hell are you taking advice from people who don't think you belong in the Oval Office? Either you're such a terrible candidate that most people with any appropriate knowledge think you're unfit, or you've made no effort to find people who really know what they're doing.

In Trump's case, of course, both of these things were true. And if Michael Wolff is right, he didn't expect to win and everyone around him was gobsmacked when he did win, and no one had any idea what to do at that point, except maybe Chris Christie, who'd been working on staffing a Trump administration. But Christie was in conflict with Jared Kushner and warned Trump about hiring Mike Flynn, so he was canned. He at least was a well-connected, reasonably savvy political pro who seemed to have Trump's best interests in mind (if in a pathetically sycophantic way). But the one pro who was working on this was let go, because YOLO.

But that's perfectly normal -- hey, you and I would do the same thing! But you and I wouldn't run for president, and if we did, we'd try a lot harder to do the job right.


Rex Tillerson is out:
President Trump has ousted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and plans to nominate CIA Director Mike Pompeo to replace him as the nation’s top diplomat....

Trump has selected ... Gina Haspel — the deputy director at the CIA — to succeed [Pompeo] at the CIA.
And I can understand why many people think this is a reasonable suspicion:

But I don't buy it:

Conceiving and executing a succession shuffle like this within 24 hours, in response to a Cabinet head crossing what the president regards as an uncrossable line, would be hard for even a normally competent administration. It's certainly beyond the capacity of these bumblers. That's why I think this must have been in the works for a while. I'm more inclined to think that Tillerson knew he was going to be canned, and the statement blaming Russia for the nerve gas poisoning in England was the work of a man who had no motivation to continue toeing the administration line. Or he was planning to quit and our overgrown eleven-year-old president decided to preempt that. ("You can't quit, you're fired!") I assume the real story will be leaked soon enough.


An Axios report suggests that President Trump might not be invited to engage in his favorite non-TV, non-golf leisure-time activity this year:
President Trump recently said he plans to eventually spend four to five days [a week] campaigning for Republican candidates ahead of the midterm elections. But the reality is that out of the 23 most vulnerable House Republicans, only two candidates said they would accept Trump's help — and neither were especially eager about it.

... Axios called all 23 Republican congressmen and their campaign representatives in districts that Hillary Clinton won in 2016 ... and asked whether they would want the president to campaign for them in their district.

* 14 didn't respond, four said they didn't want him, one dodged the question, two had "no comment," and two — Reps. Dana Rohrabacher of California and Carlos Curbelo of of Florida — said they'd be happy to have Trump's support.
That's harsh -- but remember, Trump hasn't been asked recently to campaign in places where Hillary Clinton won -- he's been asked to campaign in places (Alabama, Pennsylvania's 18th congressional district) where he won in a blowout.* If recent trends hold, the idea of inviting Trump to light-blue and purple districts won't even be seriously debated -- he'll be welcome only in districts that are very red but surprisingly competitive.

Or maybe he'll be welcome only in places where Republicans are overwhelming favorites. That way he can come in, perfunctorily endorse the GOP candidate, and talk about himself for an hour. After that, everyone can pretend that his appearance secured victory.

Trust me, he'll insist on going somewhere. He enjoys it too much. They'll send him wherever he can do the least damage.

*Yes, I know -- technically, he didn't campaign in Alabama for Roy Moore, but he did make a pseudo-campaign appearance just over the border.

Monday, March 12, 2018


Josh Marshall thinks we're going to hear Stormy Daniels talk about Donald Trump's kinks, which he suspects won't be good for Trump:
In many ways, having sex with a porn star is on-brand for Donald Trump. He spent decades playing up a reputation as a billionaire playboy. These stories ... play to the tough guy, dominant and hyper-masculine image he likes to portray....

But Daniels apparently says something different. I’m told that in her 60 Minutes interview with Anderson Cooper Daniels suggests that Trump, how to say this, likes it when women aren’t nice to him, treat him in perhaps denigrating ways.

I think that would be very much off brand for Trump.
Marshall follows up:

I understand the temptation to believe that something about Trump will eventually be disillusioning for the deplorables. I just don't think this is it.

I think they'd be disillusioned if they learned he'd had sex with a child (at least I hope so); I think most of them would be nonplussed if one or more of his former bed partners turned out to be a man. (For Trump, gay sex would definitely be off brand.)

But if he's a submissive? I think the deplorables will rationalize that. Most will just tune out the details, loudly insisting that what he does in the bedroom is his business. The ones who think about will either say it's fake news or insist that it doesn't matter that he playacted as a submissive because he was clearly the one in charge, because he's the billionaire who decided what would happen and she was just a porn star taking orders. They'll claim to be worldly-wise and tell you that a lot of powerful men are sexual submissives because it relieves the tension of being in charge all the time. (That idea is modern folklore, isn't it?) They'll say that he was in charge all along, like the God Emperor he is!

I don't know what the truth is. Daniels told In Touch in 2011 that their sex was "textbook generic." On the other hand:
According to 2009 emails between political operatives who were at the time advising Daniels on a possible political campaign, the adult film actor and director claimed that her affair with Trump included an unusual act: spanking him with a copy of Forbes magazine....

The campaign consultant who wrote the email ... tells Mother Jones that Daniels said the spanking came during a series of sexual and romantic encounters with Trump and that it involved a copy of Forbes with Trump on the cover.
That report didn't go viral.

I think our side would find this revelation very amusing -- after all, we've taken the most salacious sex rumor about Trump and altered it in this direction already. Recall what the Steele dossier said:
According to Source D, where s/he had been present, TRUMP’s (perverted) conduct in Moscow included hiring the presidential suite of the Ritz Carlton Hotel, where he knew President and Mrs OBAMA (whom he hated) had stayed on one of their official trips to Russia, and defiling the bed where they had slept by employing a number of prostitutes to perform a 'golden showers' (urination) show in front of him.
Steele's dossier says the prostitutes urinated "in front of him." It doesn't say (as so many of us do) that they urinated on him.

The deplorables hear these rumors and don't care. Anything they hear about his sex life, as long as it's with an adult woman (or more than one), they'll just shrug off. They're not going to let the foundation of their belief system collapse over a little S&M.


In The Washington Post, Anne Applebaum warns us that leaders often get a pass on corruption if they combine it with populist demagoguery:
The former Venezuelan dictator-president Hugo Chávez won office on an “anti-corruption” ticket and then proceeded to rob the state on a massive scale, using government contracts to keep friendly business executives on board, turning the civil service and the state oil company into machines for rewarding supporters, even buying a luxurious plane from the ruling family of Qatar for his own use.

... During its previous turn in power, Austria’s “populist” Freedom Party proved far more corrupt than the mainstream politicians it had denounced while out of office. After his death, it emerged that the party’s leader, Joerg Haider — more famous for his nods and winks to Austria’s Nazi legacy — was doing shady deals from Libya to the Balkans and beyond. Viktor Orban, the “populist” Hungarian prime minister who won in 2010 by denouncing the corruption of his opponents, has since directed European Union funding to business executives who support his party (among them a childhood friend), and helped to enrich numerous relatives, above all his son-in-law. (Sound familiar?) Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party also ran an anti-elitist election campaign in 2015 and has spent two years populating the civil service with friends, cousins, nephews and uncles of politicians.
Applebaum says these leaders get away with it in large part because they're populist demagogues.
If those had been “ordinary” politicians — social democrats or earnest liberals — they would have been run out of office by disappointed supporters who voted for efficient and effective government. But Chávez remained in power for 14 years before dying in office; his successor is still there. In Austria, the resurgent Freedom Party has just joined a new government coalition. Orban has been Hungary’s prime minister for nearly eight years, and Law and Justice’s support seems to be holding steady in Poland.
One reason?
Unlike social democrats or earnest liberals, these politicians were never trying to appeal to the good sense of voters, they were never selling efficiency and effectiveness, and their voters don’t expect it from them. In a recent speech, Orban declared that Western Europe had caused the “decline of Christian culture,” and he described Hungary as “the last bastion of Christianity.” If you are emotionally moved by that declaration, why should you care if his son-in-law is getting rich?
If a leader really succeeds at persuading the people that he's defending them again the forces of barbarianism and chaos, he can get a pass on his bad deeds even from those who aren't the obvious targets for populist appeals. Recall the Post's recent story about the high levels of support for Vladimir Putin among Russia's young people, including the non-pronvincial young:
Rather than dwell on Putin’s crackdown on his opponents, young Russians draw a sense of personal liberty from those freedoms they do enjoy — a mostly open Internet, an open job market and open borders. Many of them reject state TV as propaganda but nevertheless repeat its central tenet — that Russia needs Putin to stand up to U.S. aggression. And perhaps most important, these Russians seem shaped by a collective history they never knew — by fear of a return of the crisis-stricken 1990s or the stifling Soviet era.

“We already know everything about him,” Pavel Rybin, 20, who is studying event management, said of Putin. “If now the people elect him again, everything will be quiet and calm.”

... [Dmitri] Shaburov, the 18-year-old entrepreneur, recently moved from the countryside to Kurgan.... His latest venture is called “crowd investing,” and he said he was hoping to move to Moscow to take advantage of the greater opportunities in the capital.

He said he realizes that Russia offers its citizens fewer freedoms than Western countries do — and that Putin may have something to do with this. But he prefers to focus on the freedoms he does have, such as being able to start a business and traveling abroad.

“There are jobs. You can do whatever you want. You can travel wherever you want,” Shaburov said. “The borders are all open before you — and this truly makes me happy.”

Shaburov said he has watched [opposition leader Alexei] Navalny's videos highlighting apparent government corruption. He said he is upset to see officials steal public money in broad daylight and “grandmothers and kids” dragged from Navalny rallies by the riot police. But this is no time for an untested leader like Navalny, he said, given Russia’s tumultuous history.

“Making a change could lead to the collapse of the country,” Shaburov said. “If we look back and see what happened in the past, it’s better that everything continue as it is now.”
Applebaum's column is written as a warning about President Trump. She thinks his supporters are unlikely to expect honesty from him the way they might from an ordinary politician.

But what should save us is the fact that Trump isn't very good at persuading anyone outside his base that he can protect us from the forces of evil. He asserts that he can, and the deplorables believe him, but the rest of us (including a few of his own voters) aren't buying it.

He's not really a strongman. He's too capricious and too needy. Read the interviews with those pro-Putin youth and it's clear that they regard Putin as a force for stability. Would anyone other than the most blinkered Trump zealots ever describe him that way?

Think about the Trump campaign speech that took place over the weekend. A successful autocrat would rally his supporters that way as a means to an end: solidifying his power base and manufacturing the appearance of a national consensus. For Trump, rallying the faithful is an end in itself -- he does it because he craves the personal validation. He seems emotionally weak. He doesn't appear to be in control of the levers of power and he doesn't appear to be in control of himself.

Appelbaum's warnings are worth heeding. Because Trump is a populist demagogue, his base won't object to his corruption. But the rest of us aren't impressed or intimidated by him. He may get away with the corruption, but we should be able to get him on something.