Tag: Donald Trump

Bad Night for the GOP

I try not to read too much into off-year elections but last night’s was a debacle for the GOP. The Virginia governor’s race was a wipeout and, as of this morning, the state legislature may tip to the Democrats. At minimum, Virginia Democrats will now have veto power for the first time in over 25 years and had their biggest night in four decades. The New Jersey governorship and New York mayoral race went against the GOP. Other state legislative races and mayoral races went against the GOP. It was bad night for them, a clean sweep by the Democrats.

Trump’s popularity hasn’t changed that much since election day. He’s still got most of the GOP behind him and most of the Democrats against him. Moderates have shifted against him but he’s still polling in the high 30’s, lower than election day but not drastically so. I’ve noted before that Trump’s performance in 2016 was terrible. It was the worst performance in a post-incumbent election in American history (i.e., an election where a two-term incumbent President is retiring). Now we’re seeing what would have happened had his opponent not been almost equally despised. With a meh candidate, Virginia shifted almost five points to the Democrats, enough for the gubernatorial election to become a rout and the legislature to tip. The Democrats won young people by nearly 40 points, a huge shift from 2012 and even 2016. An advantage of even a tenth that size would have given Clinton the election.

Here’s another thing: the Democrats are not popular. Their approval rating is the lowest in their history. So this was not a stampede toward Democrats, much as they’d like it to be. This was a backlash against Trump without the tempering influence of Clinton hate.

The implications of this for the GOP have to be frightening. Without Clinton as a foil, Trump’s unpopularity could completely sink the party. Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen solid conservatives like McCain and Flake leave the party. Now we’re seeing decent Republicans run out of office because people hate Trump so much.

If this keeps up, the Republicans will be dead in the cities, dead in the suburbs and only alive because of rural support. We will see a shriveled husk of a party devoid of conservatives, devoid of moderates and comprised entirely of Trumpist populism. This would be a party unable to stop the Democrats from going Full Metal Socialist. Their only accomplishment would be ranting on raving on Sean Hannity’s show, which is apparently now the apotheosis of political achievement for Republicans these days.

Trump is not going to change course in response to this election. His response to the election was to immediately stab Gillespie in the back and I’m sure he’ll stab every Republican if he feels the need. He’s not a Republican. He only used them to vault into office. If the Democrats take Congress, he’ll claim credit then happily sign off on single payer healthcare as long as it had his name on it (as shown by his spineless deal on DACA).

Yeah, it’s just one election. We’ll see what happens next year. And, come 2020, the Democrats are going to need an actual Presidential candidate, who might be a fiasco in his or her own right. But you can’t help but be alarmed by where this is going. In 2016, Warren Meyer said the Republicans had chained themselves to a suicide bomber. It may turn out that it just took a bit longer for the bomb to go off.

First Indictments Down

It’s Manafort and Gates:

Paul Manafort and his former business associate were indicted on Monday on money laundering, tax and foreign lobbying charges, a significant escalation in a special counsel investigation that has cast a shadow over President Trump’s first year in office.

Mr. Manafort, the president’s former campaign chairman, and his longtime associate Rick Gates, surrendered to the FBI on Monday. The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, said Mr. Manafort laundered more than $18 million to buy properties and services.

“Manafort used his hidden overseas wealth to enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the United States without paying taxes on that income,” the indictment reads.

Mr. Gates is accused of transferring more than $3 million from offshore accounts. The two are also charged with making false statements.

“As part of the scheme, Manafort and Gates repeatedly provided false information to financial bookkeepers, tax accountants and legal counsel, among others,” the indictment read.

Right now, this is a little less than a giant conspiracy to enthrone Trump. This is about what we expected: Manafort concealed his work for a Russian puppet, tried to hide the money and has now gotten burned. But, as far as I can tell, most of the charges are for things that long pre-date his association with Trump.

That having been said, this is a big deal. The supposed swamp-draining President’s former campaign manager is facing very serious federal charges. This would explain why the Administration suddenly decided to make a big deal about the Uranium One deal and call for Mueller to step down. I suspect more is coming, but it may be quite some time. Manafort was fairly long-hanging fruit, his misdeeds discovered quickly. We’ll see what else comes out.

The Clinton Files

Remember the Steele dossier? Sure you do. This was the file that Buzzfeed ran back in January detailing a mix of rumors and innuendo about Trump’s ties to Russia. At the time, it wasn’t clear where this came from. The dossier was compiled by Christopher Steele working for a company called Fusion GPS. But who hired them to compile that dossier?

Turns out: the Clintons.

Marc E. Elias, a lawyer representing the Clinton campaign and the DNC, retained Fusion GPS, a Washington firm, to conduct the research.

After that, Fusion GPS hired dossier author Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer with ties to the FBI and the U.S. intelligence community, according to those people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Elias and his law firm, Perkins Coie, retained the firm in April 2016 on behalf of the Clinton campaign and the DNC. Prior to that agreement, Fusion GPS’s research into Trump was funded by a still unknown Republican client during the GOP primary.

The Clinton campaign and the DNC, through the law firm, continued to fund Fusion GPS’s research through the end of October 2016, days before Election Day.

So no deep state. No Obama coup. Just the Clintons up to their usual shit, trying to smear their opponent. The Clintons have a long history here, highlighted by things like Alma Powell’s struggles with depression suddenly becoming news, Newt Gingrich’s first divorce morphing into him serving papers to his sick wife, Bush’s DWI arrested coming to light days before the 2000 election, the sudden interest in Jeremiah Wright, Bernie Sanders’ 40-year old essays, etc., etc. The curious thing was that they couldn’t get the media to bite. As I noted in post above, this dossier was shopped around to the media but they refused to run it because so little of it could be verified. Some of it has since been verified (the conversations with Russian officials) but not the more dramatic allegations (financial ties, peeing hookers).

This is just a reminder that while Trump may be a dumpster fire, his opponent was hardly a shining bastion of decency and decorum. The Clintons spent real money trying to get dirt on Trump and then tried to shop around a file containing spectacular but unsubstantiated allegations. They tried to shop around a file so speculative that the media, all of whom hated Trump, refused to touch it. Do we have any doubts as to what Clinton would be doing right now where she in office with the powers of the FBI, NSA and CIA at her disposal?

Another Gold Star Feud

One of themes I keep returning to on Twitter is this:

Yes, the media has it in for Trump and will happily blow up even minor gaffes into major crises. Our entire media-political establishment has gotten twitchy and panicky about everything.

But, good Lord does Trump make it easy for them.

I have no idea what was said on the call between Trump and the family of La David Johnson. A Democratic Congresswoman says he said some dumb things and couldn’t remember the soldier’s name. The family has vaguely confirmed this; the Administration has vaguely denied it. I suspect that the family — like most Gold Star families — would rather keep politics away from their tragedy. If forced, I would guess that Trump tried to say something nice but bungled it — i.e., intended to commend Johnson’s bravery but it came out wrong. And now, being Trump, he’s refusing to let it go.

As I said in my post on empathy, part of the job of the President is to make them feel like their concerns are being listened to. Bill Clinton was probably the best I’ve ever seen at this but most Presidents have at least some ability to look people in the eye and make them feel like they care. Trump is able to speak to people’s fears and prejudices, which is probably why he won. But he can’t speak to their higher aspirations, their hopes, their dreams … or their very real sorrows.

This is who he is. We shouldn’t act surprised anymore.

Trump Dumps On Iran

After weeks of hinting at it, Trump finally geeked:

President Donald Trump on Friday threatened to pull out of a deal freezing and reversing Iran’s nuclear program if Congress and US allies do not agree to strengthen it, as he unveiled a tough and comprehensive new policy toward the Islamic Republic.

“As I have said many times, the Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into,” Trump said in a major speech at the White House.

In effect, Trump put the agreement in limbo without killing it off entirely as some backers had feared. But his strategy risks setting off a chain of unpredictable consequences that could end up derailing the deal anyway and eventually raise the risk of war between the US and Iran.

By decertifying the deal, Trump has sent it back to Congress, who can decide to get rid of the deal, remake the deal or send it back to him, at which point he can break it.

A few things to get out of the way: Trump is completely full of shit when he says Iran is violating the deal. The IAEA and every partner in the deal — including the United States — has confirmed that they are in compliance. They had done things we don’t like, such as continuing their missile program. But none of that violates the deal. In fact, the EU has already rejected Trump’s assessment and said they will continue to comply with the deal (EU companies are already doing billions in business with Iran).

Seen in that light, decertifying it like this is pure stupidity. The Iran deal is far from perfect but if we abrogate the deal, that does not restore sanctions. It makes it more likely for Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon as they can now resume nuclear research, knowing it will have no effect on whether the US imposes sanctions or not. It also undermines our attempts to negotiate with North Korea (or any country that decides they want a nuke) because they now know that the US will simply back out of a deal even if they are in compliance. This is why almost everyone within Trump’s Administration opposed this move. But one of the running themes of Trump’s presidency is his hatred of Obama and his determination to undo anything Obama did, whether it was a good idea or a bad one. And so … the deal has to go, no matter what the consequences.

Part of this also goes back to Trump’s deluded belief that he’s a great deal-maker, a reputation that his career and the first nine months of his presidency show to be undeserved. As a businessman, his method of making deals was to stiff contractors and milk companies for money while driving them into bankruptcy. He thinks that’s how deals work: Trump does well; everyone else gets shafted. That’s why he sees NAFTA and TPP and Iran as bad deals; because the other side got something too. Real businessmen (and competent Presidents) know that good deals benefit both sides.

And if his history as a businessman weren’t evidence of his lousy deal-making ability, his Presidency has cemented it. With a Republican Congress, it has been highlighted by a failure to fix or repeal Obamacare, a total cave-in to the Democrats on DACA, a failure to reform the budget and a pending failure on tax reform. I realize that his defenders will blame the establishment, the GOP Congress, “the Deep State” and the establishment. But Trump has shown, repeatedly, that he is unfamiliar with policy and has no desire to learn, which makes negotiation impossible. The Republican Party — like all parties — has factions. Uniting those factions requires leadership from the top, which Trump is unable to provide. He expects deals to just sort of … happen.

The result of this decision will not be a better deal. It will be either the resumption of Iran’s nuclear program or a war. Such is the price we are paying for electing this vacuous egotistical idiotic hamster.

And to think what we could have had.

Update: One key point: the Iran deal would have been much more secure had it been made into a treaty and sent through Congress. That may not have happened, of course. But this serves as yet another illustration of why Obama’s Law of the Phone and a Pen was such a terrible idea.

The Weinstein Affair

So last week, the story broke that Harvey Weinstein, one of Hollywood’s biggest hitters, has been sexually harassing and abusing women for decades:

An investigation by The New York Times found previously undisclosed allegations against Mr. Weinstein stretching over nearly three decades, documented through interviews with current and former employees and film industry workers, as well as legal records, emails and internal documents from the businesses he has run, Miramax and the Weinstein Company.

During that time, after being confronted with allegations including sexual harassment and unwanted physical contact, Mr. Weinstein has reached at least eight settlements with women, according to two company officials speaking on the condition of anonymity. Among the recipients, The Times found, were a young assistant in New York in 1990, an actress in 1997, an assistant in London in 1998, an Italian model in 2015 and Ms. O’Connor shortly after, according to records and those familiar with the agreements.

Since the story broke, Weinstein had made an unconvincing defense of his behavior, the Weinstein company has fired him and his lawyer has quit. Reactions are ranging from outrageous “everyone knew” to absurd “no on knew”. I can’t judge what other people knew or didn’t know. But it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that Weinstein was not only a sexual predator but allowed to get away with it for decades. This is, after all, the industry that once gave child rapist Roman Polanski a standing ovation. This is, after all, the industry, that blacklisted Rose McGowan for speaking out on sexism. This is an industry that has made a chilling phrase — the casting couch — into a joke. I guarantee you that Weinstein is not unique or even that unusual. This is just the tip of a loathsome iceberg. And the reaction we are seeing from his company his co-workers is not a response to his behavior but a response to the revelation of his behavior.

Naturally, this being 2017, everyone is trying to find a political angle. Weinstein was a big donor to Democrats, so … something. I think that’s a bit rich coming from the party that nominated and elected Donald Trump to the White House. But in any case, Weinstein’s misbehavior means nothing as far as politics goes. There are plenty of rich people who donate to political parties and there may be three or four who don’t have some pattern of abusive behavior in their past. If you want to hit the Democrats for their hypocrisy on Trump, Weinstein should not be who you talk about. You should talk about Ted Kennedy. Or Chris Dodd. Or Bill Clinton. Or John Edwards. Or Mel Reynolds. People they have elected to public office and blindly supported through multiple allegations of misconduct. You should talk about the way they disparaged victims like Juanita Broaddrick and even willing partners like Monica Lewinsky. You should talk about their ties to Jeffrey Epstein.

The horrible truth is that … in his perverse way … Donald Trump was kinda right on the Pussy Tape. He was wrong that women let you grope them if you’re rich and famous; they merely bear it in silence. No, it’s everyone else who let’s you do it. It’s fellow politicians, it’s political followers, it’s fans, it’s producers, it’s actors, it’s the press, it’s the media. Until that changes, powerful men like Weinstein and Trump and Clinton will do whatever they are allowed to do.

Willet for the Fifth

One of the few bright spots for the Trump Administration so far has been his nominations for the judiciary. Gorsuch has worked out well so far and other conservative justices are joining the ranks. To be fair, Trump is mainly working from a list produced by the Federalist Society. But that, in itself, shows a bit more wisdom than we’re used to seeing: he’s recognizing that he’s not a legal expert and should defer to those who are.

This week, he nominated Justice Don Willet, chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, for the Fifth Circuit. It’s a great choice. While Willet’s court doesn’t deal with criminal matters, his decisions on civil matters have shown a libertarian bent. He’s also one of the more popular accounts on Twitter, where he stays away from hot button issues and mainly posts about history, the law and occasional humor. He has an inspiring
life story
, having been adopted, raised by a single mom and become the first college graduate in his family.

My only reservation is his lack of experience in criminal matters, which I think is something badly lacking in our judiciary. But hopefully he will bring the libertarian tendencies to that as well. We’ll see.

All the President’s Tweets

This weekend, Puerto Rico was whomped by Hurricane Maria. The entire island is without power and a humanitarian disaster is unfolding. By yesterday, the internet was aghast because Trump, while sending out numerous tweets about his ongoing feud with two sports leagues, hadn’t tweeted about Puerto Rico. They claimed he was ignoring the problem.

He wasn’t:

Large amounts of federal aid began moving into Puerto Rico on Saturday, welcomed by local officials who praised the Trump administration’s response but called for the emergency loosening of rules long blamed for condemning the U.S. territory to second-class status.

In northwest Puerto Rico, people began returning to their homes after a spillway eased pressure on a dam that cracked after more than a foot of rain fell in the wake of the hurricane.

The opening of the island’s main port in the capital allowed 11 ships to bring in 1.6 million gallons of water, 23,000 cots, dozens of generators and food. Dozens more shipments are expected in upcoming days.

Further reports detail that FEMA, the Coast Guard and they Navy are all on scene and helping as best they can. Congress needs to step up to the plate now by passing an aide package and waiving or repealing the Jones Act which drives up the price of goods on the island to benefit American shipbuilders.

So why was everyone on Trump about it? Because he hadn’t tweeted about it. Our political culture has become so engrossed in the 140-character emissions of our President while he is sitting on the can that we’ve lost the ability to look any further.

The President did eventually tweet about it, noting Puerto Rico’s bad infrastructure and debt problem. He got bashed for that too. I wouldn’t have said that but it crossed me less as “blaming Puerto Rico for their problems” and more of “explaining why the situation is so dire”. But I’m known to be generous in interpreting the words of Presidents because (a) I’m a bit outraged out and have been for about ten years; (b) I’m a bit of a contrarian at times.

Look, I don’t like the way the President tweets garbage. And I do think he should have used the medium to voice support for Puerto Rico and to call on people to donate to organizations helping out. But there’s a line to walk in how we respond to him. We can’t confuse Trump’s twitter feed with the government. Trump clearly sees Twitter, at least his personal account, as entertainment and a way to rile up his base (the official POTUS account tends to be more mundane and tweeted out support for Puerto Rico on the 20th). We’re going to exhaust ourselves if we continually flip out over what the President has tweeted about and what he hasn’t. And we really REALLY need to reign in this pathological need to assume the absolute worst about everything he says or does. There’s plenty of bad to go around. We don’t have to start inventing stuff.

I’ve been as bad as anyone about this. So I’m probably going to simply start ignoring Trump’s twitter feed. It is utterly devoid of substance and has no function beyond stirring up partisan bullshit. Knowing me, I probably won’t keep to that promise for very long. But this Twitter business is getting unhealthy.

Trump’s Deal

So, here’s the thing. Yesterday, Trump, during intense negotiations over the debt ceiling, basically caved into the Democrats:

President Trump struck a deal with Democratic congressional leaders on Wednesday to increase the debt limit and finance the government until mid-December, blindsiding his own Republican allies as he reached across the aisle to resolve a major dispute for the first time since taking office.

The agreement would avert a fiscal showdown later this month without the bloody, partisan battle that many had anticipated by combining a debt ceiling increase and stopgap spending measure with relief aid to Texas and other areas devastated by Hurricane Harvey. But without addressing the fundamental underlying issues, it set up the prospect for an even bigger clash at the end of the year.

Mr. Trump not only accepted the spending-and-debt plan advanced by Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leaders, but also aligned himself with them on immigration. A day after rescinding President Barack Obama’s program protecting younger illegal immigrants on the grounds that it went beyond a president’s authority, Mr. Trump said he wanted to work with Democrats to legalize the program.

“We had a very good meeting with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer,” Mr. Trump told reporters after the Oval Office session without mentioning that Mr. Ryan and other Republican leaders had also attended. Regarding the immigration program, Mr. Trump said, “Chuck and Nancy would like to see something happen, and so do I.”

Mr. Schumer and Ms. Pelosi pressed for a three-month deal to keep the government running and raise the debt ceiling along with the hurricane aid to give Democrats leverage later this year when other matters, including a longer-term government funding deal, could be negotiated between the two parties. By ensuring that all the pending issues converge at the end of the year, Democrats hope a longer-term agreement on fiscal matters could include immigration, health care and any number of other issues.

So instead of siding with the Republicans to push for an 18-month debt ceiling hike that would push the issue past the 2018 elections, Trump decided to deal with Pelosi and Schumer to put us on the path to yet another fiscal crisis in December. I’m normally one for compromise. That’s how government has to work. But when you compromise, you should get something. Trump’s gain was a Harvey relief package that was going to pass anyway. He didn’t get immigration reform or a Wall or tax cuts or anything else. But he gave the Democrats the crisis they need to force their issues to the floor in December. Mainly, as far as I can tell, so that he could boast about having made a deal.

Here’s the thing. For years, Republican leadership have been pilloried and blasted for making deals with Obama. The debt ceiling deal, the fiscal cliff, the sequester — the deals that cut the budget deficit in half by keeping spending flat for six years. These were supposedly the actions of “RINOs”. Yet these deals were way more favorable to conservative interests than the one Trump just cut. And yet the same people who blasted Republicans for “giving in” to Obama are praising Trump for bypassing Republican leadership.

The revelation I have had since 2016 … and a big reason my blogging has tailed off … is because I’ve realized that a lot of people don’t really care about issues. They care about identity. And nowhere is this more distilled than in the ongoing presidency of Donald Trump. The support for Trump is not based on issues or philosophy or conservatism. It’s based on one or both of two Cults of Personality: one based on worship of Trump; the other based on hatred of Obama. Cutting deals, no matter bad they are, is suddenly OK.

DACA in Danger

So this happened:

The Trump administration on Tuesday formally announced the end of DACA — a program that had protected nearly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children from deportation.

The Department of Homeland Security will stop processing any new applications for the program as of Tuesday and rescinded the Obama administration policy, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
“I am here today to announce that the program known as DACA that was effectuated under the Obama administration is being rescinded,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Tuesday at the Justice Department.

Trump has given the program six months to live and challenged Congress to replace it. He has, however, undermined that a bit by saying he might “revisit” the issue if Congress fails to act. DACA originally passed the House but fell five votes short of breaking a Senate filibuster. So Obama enacted it by Executive Order.

First of all, I think this demonstrates yet again how dangerous rule by Executive Order is. Thanks to DACA, about 800,000 individuals came forward to gain status under it. They provided the government with tons of documentation on their location, how they came into this country illegally and so on. But because DACA was passed with the stroke of a pen, it can now be undone with one. And so now these people are more vulnerable deportation because they tried to do the right thing.

And that brings to the second point, which is how cruel and pointless this policy is. DACA isn’t an amnesty. It grants legal work permits to people who came into this country as minors, have not broken the law and are either in school, have graduated school or are in the armed forces. On balance, they add to our economy. Cutting them out of the workforce would impose billions in compliance costs, estimated to be along the impact of a few dozen new regulations. These are the kind of immigrants — working, law-abiding, serving — that we want. And now they are in danger of being sent to countries they have never lived in so that can Trump can pander to the nativists.

The gripping hand however is that … Trump is right in one respect. DACA is something that Congress should do, not the President. They’ve been screwing around with this legislation for 16 years. I don’t know that this kind of deadline will make them do their damned job (although the fiscal cliff and debt ceiling games of chicken worked). But they need to stop playing around. It’s time to make DACA permanent. And it’s time to do it through the proper legislative process.