The Trump Referendum

Trump Maladministration

I don’t want to even read about the Kavanaugh hearings. We all know that every Republican will vote to confirm the clueless anti-labor, pro-big money in elections, anti-reproductive rights establishment dweeb, so what’s the point? If I’m wrong I’ll be delighted, but in the meantime let’s talk about something more cheerful.

Today the FiveThirtyEight nerds upgraded the Dems’ chances of retaking the House to four out of five, or 79.5 percent. It had been five out of seven for awhile. Four out of five is the best odds they’ve given the Dems this election cycle. Trump’s approval also is moving into the “getting worse” column, but it’s not yet quite as bad as his all-time worst.

The Senate, alas, probably is out of reach.

Possibly as a sign of the times, a local car dealership ran a television ad telling people to come in and buy a new car before Trump’s tariffs raise the prices. I only saw it once; maybe people complained. But if even “normal” folks in Trump Country get a clue that his policies are raising the cost of living, that’s going to hurt Republicans more than a hundred political ads.

Scott Clement and Dan Balz write in WaPo that the midterms are shaping up into a referendum on Trump.

Two months ahead of the midterm elections, Democrats hold a clear advantage over Republicans in congressional vote support, with antipathy toward President Trump fueling Democratic enthusiasm, even among those in the party who stayed home four years ago, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds.

The survey also points to broad unrest and frustration with the political system generally. More than 6 in 10 Americans say Trump and the Republican Party are out of touch with most people in the country. While Democrats fare better, a narrower 51 percent majority also judged them out of touch.

The new Dem Party rallying cry — We’re not as out of touch as they are!

Ironically, the GOP’s weak position comes even as 58 percent of Americans say the economy is excellent or good, tying ratings from January as the most positive marks in 17 years.

We can quibble over what constitutes “good.” All the talking heads on the teevee keep saying the economy is “good,” so it must be “good,” but that doesn’t mean that the sort of “good” it is makes any difference to most people. The cost of living is heading up; wages, especially for blue-collar workers, are going down. That’s “good”?

Greg Sargent writes,

new Post-ABC News poll strongly suggests that this kind of talk from Trump is only hurting Republicans, particularly in many of the GOP-held districts that Democrats need to win to take the House: It finds that a solid majority of voters wants a Democratic-led House to act as a check on Trump. And it finds a big swing in this direction since July.  …

… Notably, the Post-ABC poll also finds that by 60-34, voters want a Democratic-controlled Congress to act as a check on Trump as opposed to a Republican-controlled Congress that will support Trump’s agenda. This is up from 52-38 in mid-July, a swing of 12 points toward wanting a check on Trump. (Previous polls have found that majorities in the competitive House districts want this as well.)

What’s more, the new Post-ABC poll suggests that the anti-Trump backlash we’ve seen throughout this cycle among suburban, college-educated and independent voters is running strong: According to the cross-tabs, college-educated whites want a Democratic-led Congress as a check on Trump by 62-34, and suburban voters want the same by 58-37. Independents want a check by 63-27.

In other news: Bob Woodward has a new book out, or about to be out, and this one’s about the Trump Administration. It sounds as if the entire White House staff does little else but try to manage Trump.

A central theme of the book is the stealthy machinations used by those in Trump’s inner sanctum to try to control his impulses and prevent disasters, both for the president personally and for the nation he was elected to lead.

Woodward describes “an administrative coup d’etat” and a “nervous breakdown” of the executive branch, with senior aides conspiring to pluck official papers from the president’s desk so he couldn’t see or sign them.

Again and again, Woodward recounts at length how Trump’s national security team was shaken by his lack of curiosity and knowledge about world affairs and his contempt for the mainstream perspectives of military and intelligence leaders.

At a National Security Council meeting on Jan. 19, Trump disregarded the significance of the massive U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula, including a special intelligence operation that allows the United States to detect a North Korean missile launch in seven seconds vs. 15 minutes from Alaska, according to Woodward. Trump questioned why the government was spending resources in the region at all.

“We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told him.

After Trump left the meeting, Woodward recounts, “Mattis was particularly exasperated and alarmed, telling close associates that the president acted like — and had the understanding of — ‘a fifth- or sixth-grader.’ ”

Also: Recent tweet by Trump slamming Jeff Sessions just adds to Mueller’s obstruction of justice case.

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Lindsey Graham on a Hot Tin Roof

Trump Maladministration

For years I’ve heard that Lindsey Graham was John McCain’s “best friend” in the Senate. Does it mean anything that Miz Lindsey wasn’t invited to be a speaker at the funeral? He did give a Gospel reading, so maybe I’m reading too much into that. But don’t miss Dana Milbank’s “Rest in peace, Lindsey Graham.”

Graham remains alive and well, but after serving for two decades as Robin to McCain’s Batman, Graham buried whatever remained of his own reputation for iconoclasm even before his partner’s funeral.

On Tuesday, Graham took a seat on the couch of “Fox & Friends,” President Trump’s favorite show, and sealed his transition from apostate to Trump apparatchik.

“Word of caution to the public,” he said. “A lot of people try to convict President Trump. Don’t be so fast. I have seen no evidence of collusion after two years.” Having echoed Trump’s no-collusion line (as if that were the lone issue), Graham, a former military lawyer, picked up Trump’s attack on the justice system: “Plenty of corruption at the Department of Justice and the FBI. Should be stunning. Not one Democrat seems to care.”

Graham also has withdrawn support from Jeff Sessions. Graham isn’t as crazy/stupid as a lot of other wingnuts; he’s more calculating than crazy. Apparently he’s adopted Trump as his new “batman,” looking ahead to his senate re-election campaign in 2020. But if Trump goes down, Graham might also.

Well, as Brick said in the Tennessee Williams play about the cat and the roof, “Mendacity is a system that we live in.” That could be Lindsey Graham’s motto. He should have it needlepointed on some throw pillows.

In other news, the Kansas Supreme Court has created a wrinkle in Kris Kobach’s gubernatorial bid.

A grand jury must be convened to investigate whether Republican gubernatorial candidate and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach intentionally failed to register voters in 2016, the Kansas Supreme Court has ruled.

The court’s one-page opinion offered no explanation behind the ruling, which addressed Kobach’s appeal of a lower court’s order to summon the grand jury, the Lawrence Journal-World reported.

The high court’s ruling, released Friday, stemmed from a petition first filed in 2016 by Steven Davis, a Lawrence resident who accused Kobach of intentionally choosing not to process online voter registrations and preventing qualified residents from voting in the 2016 election.

Kobach really does have a bug up his butt about blocking the Wrong Sort of Person (Democrats? Nonwhites? Anyone under the age of 40?) from voting.

Following up on the last post about the NAFTA mis-negogiations, the Toronto Star reporter, Daniel Dale, is saying that he did not get the quotes of Trump talking smack about Canada from the Bloomberg reporters. But that means the leak came from someone else in the room.

Maggie Haberman of the New York Times tweeted:

… which comes under the heading of “Evidence That Trump Is Even Dumber Than He Seems.” What did he possibly think he could accomplish by insulting Canada?

Update: Here’s one more — Paul Manafort’s daughter has filed to officially change her name. That’s cold.

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Another Trump Fail

Trump Maladministration

Trump blew the Friday deadline for sending a revised “just don’t call it NAFTA” deal to Congress. As explained a few days ago, if Trump’s going to get a new NAFTA deal before the new Mexican president is inaugurated, he needed to get something to Congress to approve by yesterday. And he didn’t.

The sticking point appears to have been some Trump tough talk about Canada that leaked out. A “just don’t call it NAFTA” deal could still be salvaged if he can get the complete text of a final deal — not a preliminary one — to Congress by the end of September, this article says. But if he can’t get Canada on board he can kiss that off. It’s unlikely Congress would approve a “half NAFTA” deal, and the current president of Mexico has indicated he wants Canada in on the current deal.

Daniel Dale wrote for the Toronto Star:

Trump made his controversial statements in an Oval Office interview with Bloomberg News on Thursday. He said, “off the record,” that he is not making any compromises at all with Canada — and that he could not say this publicly because “it’s going to be so insulting they’re not going to be able to make a deal.”

“Here’s the problem. If I say no — the answer’s no. If I say no, then you’re going to put that and it’s going to be so insulting they’re not going to be able to make a deal … I can’t kill these people,” Trump said of the Canadian government.

In another remark he did not want published, Trump said that any deal with Canada would be “totally on our terms.” He suggested he was scaring the Canadians into submission by repeatedly threatening to impose tariffs on imports of Canadian-made cars.

“Off the record, Canada’s working their ass off. And every time we have a problem with a point, I just put up a picture of a Chevrolet Impala,” Trump said. The Impala is produced at the General Motors plant in Oshawa, Ont.

Bloomberg agreed to the off-the-record request. Nobody has said how the Toronto Star got the quote. But then the box of rocks for brains in the White House tweeted:

Pretty much confirming that, yeah, that’s what he said.

Trump wants to believe he doesn’t need Canada.

Days of high-stakes talks between Canada and the US have faltered, failing to yield a revamped North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) before a Friday deadline set out by Washington.

On Saturday morning, Donald Trump tweeted: “There is no political necessity to keep Canada in the new NAFTA deal. If we don’t make a fair deal for the U.S. after decades of abuse, Canada will be out. Congress should not interfere w/ these negotiations or I will simply terminate NAFTA entirely & we will be far better off.”

The next question is, can he do that? Unlike the Paris climate agreement, NAFTA is legislation passed by Congress. And for that reason, it appears Congress could block him.

Under NAFTA rules, Trump can unilaterally withdraw from the agreement by giving Mexico and Canada six months’ notice. But Congress also has a say, since it ratified and implemented the agreement through legislation. Congress can fight to keep that legislation — the rules governing the way that the US trades with Mexico and Canada under NAFTA — intact. It can also pass new laws designed to boost its own authority over trade agreements. It may even be able to pass a law that preemptively eliminates Trump’s ability to unilaterally give Canada and Mexico notice of withdrawal.

If Congress was able to pass any of these bills, Trump would be in a tough situation. He’d risk a rupture with huge swaths of the GOP if he vetoed the bill. And if they formed a veto-proof majority, he’d be neutered by his own party on one of his key policy priorities.

And Republicans don’t want NAFTA to end. They really, really don’t; their corporate backers and armies of lobbyists are striving mightily to keep NAFTA alive. Democrats are said to be more ambivalent (I question that), but even those who don’t love NAFTA don’t want it to end abruptly because of the chaos that would cause.

Seems to me Trump is setting himself up for a cascading and catatrophic fail. Without Canada, he’s probably screwed with the “just don’t call it NAFTA” project. Congress could very well decide not to approve a “half NAFTA.” Mexico might even decide to withdraw from the preliminary agreement without Canada, in which he wouldn’t even have a side deal. If he tries to withdraw unilaterally, Republicans in Congress are going to have to choose between the corporate donors/lobbyists and Trump.

I believe Trump would lose that one, although it’s hard to say. How much political capital does he have right now? The events surrounding John McCain’s death have highlighted how abnormal he is. Polls are not exactly doing in his direction. More bombshells from the investigations will go off. But enough congressional Republicans may want to hang in with him until after the midterms that they won’t want to cross him on this.

From my Facebook friend Jeff Tiedrich:

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The Id in the White House

Trump Maladministration

Among the several deranged things Trump tweeted this morning was this:

I have no memory of Lester Holt getting caught “fudging” any tape. Trump appears to be refering to the May 2017 interview in which Trump admitted he fired James Comey because of “this Russia thing.” NBC News has the entire, unedited video online.

It’s kind of fascinating that the Id in the White House brought this up today, more than a year later. Greg Sargent writes that people around The Creature believe he is vulnerable to impeachment on obstruction of justice charges, and I bet someone tried to explain to him why what he said to Lester Holt would become Exhibit A.

Naturally, in the Creature’s tiny mind, the facts must be re-arranged so that he never said it.

I believe I’ve already said that I doubt the House Democrats, assuming they take over the majority next year, will make a serious attempt to impeach Trump as long as there’s no chance he would be removed from office by the Senate. Nor should they, until enough Republican senators are on board with getting rid of him. But they will do everything short of that to destroy him politically, starting with releasing his tax returns. Heh.

The minions and toadies trying to protect The Creature are worried that he is not prepared for what’s likely to come at him from a Democratic House:

President Trump’s advisers and allies are increasingly worried that he has neither the staff nor the strategy to protect himself from a possible Democratic takeover of the House, which would empower the opposition party to shower the administration with subpoenas or even pursue impeachment charges.

Within Trump’s orbit, there is consensus that his current legal team is not equipped to effectively navigate an onslaught of congressional demands, and there has been broad discussion about bringing on new lawyers experienced in white-collar defense and political scandals.  …

… Still, Trump has not directed his lawyers or his political aides to prepare an action plan, leaving allies to fret that the president does not appreciate the magnitude of what could be in store next year. …

… One adviser recalled recently telling Trump, “They will crush you if they win. You don’t want them investigating every single thing you’ve done.”

The article goes on to say that Trump hasn’t seemed to have accepted the probability that the Dems will re-take the House. But we know it worries him, because he’s such a totally unfiltered id. His finances may be hidden, but whatever goes on in his psyche is as obvious as a wart on a nose.

Take Trump’s recent White House meeting with evangelical leaders, for example.

US President Donald Trump, facing scrutiny for hush money payments to a porn star and a former Playboy model, pleaded with evangelical leaders for political help during closed-door remarks on Monday, warning of dire consequences to their congregations should Republicans lose in November’s midterm elections.

“This November 6 election is very much a referendum on not only me, it’s a referendum on your religion, it’s a referendum on free speech and the First Amendment. It’s a referendum on so much,” Trump told the assemblage of pastors and other Christian leaders gathered in the State Dining Room, according to a recording from people in the room.

“It’s not a question of like or dislike, it’s a question that they will overturn everything that we’ve done and they will do it quickly and violently. And violently. There is violence. When you look at Antifa — these are violent people,” Trump said, describing what would happen should his voters fail to cast ballots. “You have tremendous power. You were saying, in this room, you have people who preach to almost 200 million people. Depending on which Sunday we’re talking about.”

Never mind that the violence part is nonsense. Never mind that Al Gore got into all kinds of trouble for making campaign phone calls from the White House, and here Trump was holding a campaign rally in the Oval Office. Let us put that aside. What’s fascinating about this is that it tells us what’s weighing on Trump’s psyche. He’s afraid. He wants his buddies the evangelical leaders to affirm his fear and make the scary things go away.

He showed us another glimpse into the Twilight Zone in his head by claiming to the evangelical leaders he had “got rid of” the Johnson Amendment, which bans churches from endorsing candidates.

“Now one of the things I’m most proud of is getting rid of the Johnson Amendment,” the president said, according to NBC News. “That was a disaster for you.”

But the law actually remains in place after an attempt to kill it last year was unsuccessful.

He did sign an executive order last year that eased enforcement of the Amendment, and maybe he thinks that was all it took to “get rid” of it.  I wanted to draw one of those consequence trees about what this claim might be telling us. At the top it would ask if Trump truly believed his executive order got rid of the Amendment. If Yes, that would lead to the conclusion he is mentally impaired; if No, he believed no one in the room would notice he was lying. And what conclusions might you draw from that? And that he was in the Oval Office urging evangelical leaders to break the law?

For some previews of Trump’s continuing psychological meltdown, see No Matter How Bad It Gets, Trump Will Never Give Up.

U.S. President Donald Trump makes motorboat noises. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque – RC1D94FA7CB0

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This Is How It’s Done

Trump Maladministration

Oklahoma state government has been run by the fracking industry in recent years. But maybe not for long. The state’s teachers got tired of being underpaid and seeing the education budget cut, year after year, to provide tax cuts for the energy industry. And they struck back.

They promised to make lawmakers pay for refusing to finance broader investments in education with larger tax hikes. “We got here by electing the wrong people to office,” Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, told the New York Times in April. “We have the opportunity to make our voices heard at the ballot box.” Hamm and his fellow gas giants (almost certainly) made an equal and opposite vow — that those few Republicans who held the line against tax hikes of any kind would not regret their bravery.

Last night, Oklahoma’s GOP primary season came to an end — and the teachers beat the billionaires in a rout. Nineteen Republicans voted against raising taxes to increase teacher pay last spring; only four will be on the ballot this November.

I say this tells us that the right issue really can be used as a wedge to pry corporate-captured legislators out of their seats.

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NAFTA: Dead or Alive?

Trump Maladministration

Here’s a transcript of the bizarre phone call between Trump and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on the whatever-it-is they’re negotiating to maybe replace NAFTA. It’s fairly obvious that Peña Nieto wasn’t really talking about replacing NAFTA and is also looking to include Canada in the whatever-it-is they’re negotiating, which Trump is not. Trump, for his part, seems mostly eager to have a trade agreement he can call something besides NAFTA.

This has to do — they used to call it NAFTA. We’re going to call it the United States-Mexico Trade Agreement, and we’ll get rid of the name NAFTA. It has a bad connotation because the United States was hurt very badly by NAFTA for many years. And now it’s a really good deal for both countries, and we look very much forward to it.

After which, Peña Nieto said,

…the first reason for this call, Mr. President, is, first of all, to celebrate the understanding we have had between both negotiating peace on NAFTA, in the interest we have had for quite a few months now to renew it, to modernize it, to update it, and to generate a framework that will boost and potentiate productivity in North America.

It is our wish, Mr. President, that now Canada will also be able to be incorporated in all this. And I assume that they going to carry out negotiations of the sensitive bilateral issues between Mexico — rather, between Canada and the United States.

These two are not on the same page. Note that throughout the call Trump addressed the President of Mexico as “Enrique,” whiel the President of Mexico called Trump “President Trump” or “Mr. President.” Annoying.

Note also that Peña Nieto is a lame duck. President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador will begin his administration on December 1. What he thinks of Trump and NAFTA I do not know, but according to the BBC, the Trump Administration is anxious to get the deal done before December 1.

Negotiators want to agree a deal before the newly elected Mexican president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, takes office in December. He has been reluctant to continue Enrique Pena Nieto’s police of opening up of Mexico’s energy sector, which could complicate negotiations.

In order to meet that deadline, the Trump administration must present Congress with a deal at least 90 days in advance – meaning the deadline is this Friday.

However, Mr Obrador said on Monday that the two-way agreement with the US was just the first step in a new treaty.

“We’re very interested in it remaining a three-country deal,” he said. “The free-trade agreement should remain as it was originally conceived.”

Charles Pierce:

Coming on the heels of the magnificent achievement of getting half the legislature to agree to kill the Affordable Care Act, which occasioned a White House hootenanny and came to nothing, and the towering diplomatic triumph with North Korea, which occasioned a brief burst of optimism and has come to nothing, we have a New Trade Deal With Mexico.

There will be a week or so of celebratory tweets and self-glorifying bloviating of all sorts —much of it, I’m ashamed to say, aimed at deflecting attention from the extended obsequies in Washington for John McCain this weekend. But Canada still has a vote here, and so does the Congress. My guess? NAFTA essentially will be back, rebranded under the TRUMP logo, and another great victory will be proclaimed.

The Los Angeles Times editorial board published today:

President Trump’s announcement Monday that he was replacing the North American Free Trade Agreement with a deal just with Mexico was, like so much of what comes out of the White House, as much posturing as policy.

For starters, there is no deal with Mexico, at least not yet. There’s a “preliminary agreement in principle” by the two sides to update certain provisions of NAFTA, but Mexican officials said multiple times Monday that they have a non-trivial precondition: Canada must be on board too.

Trump and other administration officials didn’t acknowledge as much Monday. Instead, Trump threatened to slap tariffs on more Canadian goods if our neighbor to the north didn’t accede to terms in short order.

Second, if Canada does join in, the deal would look a lot like the old NAFTA regardless of what it’s called. The changes agreed to by Mexico resemble what the Obama administration was pursuing through the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a trade deal with 11 mostly Asian countries that Trump abandoned — just with fewer partners.

So, basically, Trump jumped the gun, announced a “deal” before there was one, and will submit some pile of papers to Congress to approve this week so they can squeak something through before the deadline. They must anticipate that once Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in inagurated, all negotiations will be off, so this is their last chance to replace NAFTA with something not called NAFTA, even if it’s pretty much the same thing.

Kevin Drum analyzes the “deal” and finds it vague. And it’s all about cars.

Note that nothing in this deal has anything to do with milk or lumber or fisheries or financial services or anything else. It’s just a couple of smallish changes to the section of NAFTA about cars. That’s it. That’s all that Donald Trump cares about. Plus he wants to rename the treaty because everyone hates NAFTA. I recommend MENGA, the Make El Norte Great Again Treaty.

There’s nothing in this “deal,” as far as it goes, that ought to be objectionable to Canada, Kevin Drum says. It’s entirely possible that Canada might sign on to it this week before the deadline. But it doesn’t actually replace NAFTA; not even close.

Trump is already calling the deal that isn’t a deal “the largest trade deal ever,” which is too stupid and pathetic to even qualify as hyperbole.

This is my new favorite photo of Trump, btw:

U.S. President Donald Trump announces an agreement with Mexico on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) at the White House in Washington, U.S., August 27, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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DNC Re-Arranges the Sofa Cushions

Trump Maladministration

In what might be tentatively called a “step in the right direction,” the DNC has voted to strip superdelegates of some of their power, but it hasn’t gotten rid of them entirely. As I understand it, the superdelegates will no longer be allowed to vote on the first convention ballot, but can vote in subsequent ballots.

They did not say they would stop the practice of counting superdelegates as part of the delegate total while the primaries are ongoing, which gave us graphics like this in 2016:


Establishment Dems still refuse to see why that bothered people.

It also bothers me that no one seems to remember that Clinton did not win enough pledged delegates to secure the nomination on the first ballot in 2016. I keep reading that she did, but she didn’t. She needed 2,383 delegates to win the nomination and went into the convention with 2,220. She had the nomination on the first ballot because she had nearly all of the superdelegates. If the new rule had been in place in 2016, I assume the DNC  would have just quickly run the second vote, and nothing would have changed. But it’s odd to me that history has been rewritten so quickly, including by the usually careful Vox:

They [superdelegates] will get to take part in subsequent rounds of voting, but historically, that wouldn’t have mattered: The Democratic nominee has been settled on the first ballot of every convention since the 1970s.

Superdelegates and their power within the Democratic Party has been an issue eating at progressives since the 2016 election, when Sanders supporters complained that superdelegates skewed the nomination unfairly toward Clinton. (Superdelegates did not decide the Democratic nomination for Clinton — she got more votes than Sanders and won the pledged delegate total.)

With this rule change no doubt Clinton would have had the nomination on the second ballot in 2016, but not the first. It would have gone to the second ballot.

However, I think the important thing is that the superdelegate totals are not counted by anybody before the convention. And the superdelegates should not be pledged to a candidate in advance, although I admit that’s probably not enforceable. That’s why this is a half measure that might not prevent another party meltdown in the future.

This was bizarre:

Perez and other delegate reform supporters succeeded in weakening the establishment opposition by giving it more time to protest. But the opposition made one final push, picking up on a theme that the Congressional Black Caucus had aired last month — that to take away the votes of black superdelegates was to effectively suppress them.

Um, aren’t most of the superdelegates white?

The unofficial leaders of that faction, former party chair Don Fowler and California DNC member Bob Mulholland, are white.

Of course they are. This was bullshit.

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John McCain, 1936-2018

Trump Maladministration

I confess ambivalence. RIP, Senator.

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Has the Endgame Started?

Trump Maladministration

Frank Rich says so:

It is important to remember that the unrelenting lockstep loyalty of the feckless GOP leadership and the party’s base to Trump are not indicators of his fate. An occasional outlier in the Jeff Flake vein aside, Nixon’s party was wholly loyal to him too. Like today’s Vichy Republicans, they remained loyal despite the indictments of Cabinet members and aides as close to Nixon as Manafort, Cohen, and Michael Flynn have been to Trump. They remained loyal after the nation was riveted by the devastating Watergate hearings of the summer of 1973, which portrayed all the president’s men as counterparts to the mobsters seen in the previous year’s Hollywood hit The Godfather.They remained loyal even that fall, when Nixon’s firing of the special prosecutor in the “Saturday Night Massacre” attempted to blowtorch the Constitution and the rule of law.

As a counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during the 1974 impeachment inquiry pointed out in a Times op-ed piece ten days ago, Nixon’s defenders routinely dismissed Watergate investigations as a political “witch hunt” intended to reverse the Democrats’ 1972 electoral defeat. As late as the end of July 1974 — less than two weeks before Nixon’s August 9 helicopter departure from the White House lawn — most Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee voted against all articles of impeachment. Many Republicans on the committee continued to support him even after the August 5 release of the “smoking gun” tape revealing that Nixon had ordered a cover up of the Watergate crimes.

The kicker, of course, is that Democrats controlled both houses of Congress at the time. But they still needed Republican votes in the Senate to remove Nixon from office. When a delegation of Republican senators led by Barry Goldwater told him that the Senate would vote to convict him, Nixon resigned the next day.

Trump, unlike Nixon, is out of touch with reality. He doesn’t know how to count votes, and he believes he can defy the law with impunity. (Nixon, a lawyer, could only lie to himself about his criminal exposure up to a point.) But, whether Trump recognizes it or not, the fact remains that his main and perhaps only hope for clinging to office is that Republicans hold the House in November.

It’s unlikely that Democrats in the House will seriously try to impeach Trump as long as there is no possibility the Senate would convinct him. And unlike a lot of people, I agree that impeachment alone is kind of pointless. If Trump is impeached but not removed from office, he and his supporters would take that as a vindication, and his position would be stronger than ever.

In short, don’t directly attack the beast if you aren’t sure you can kill it with one blow. But if the Democrats take the majority in the House, they can do the one thing that I suspect would destroy Trump — release his tax returns.

Nonstop congressional investigations will attempt to illuminate every dark corner of an administration in which the kleptocracy extends from the Trump family to most Cabinet departments. Those close to Trump, both in his family and in his immediate circle, will fear for their futures, both legally and financially. The GOP and the Trump Organization alike will be on the ropes, and in full panic.

See also Trump Organization Could Face Criminal Charges From Manhattan D.A. And keep in mind that Trump could face more prosaic political issues, such as the fact that the so-called “deal” with North Korea is about to backfire.

Back to Frank Rich:

If there is a shocking upset GOP victory in November, then all bets are off: America is in worse trouble than we already think and possibly in an existential fight for survival.

But the more plausible scenario is that Trump, even if he has to be pushed kicking-and-screaming by Ivanka and the possible jailbirds Donald Jr. and Jared, gets out of Dodge. As with Nixon, his administration is most likely not to end with impeachment but with a self-pitying and self-justifying resignation in which Trump lashes out against both Republicans and Democrats, declares another ersatz “win,” and flees.

And then, of course, most likely President Pence will pardon him for federal charges, but that would leave the possibility of convictions on lots of lovely state and New York City charges. However, when dealing with a personality as unstable and deluded as Trump’s, it’s possible he wouldn ‘t resign but would have to be removed from office and then, forceably, from the White House. Kicking and screaming.

Right now, Republicans in Congress are holding firm in support of Trump. But they held firm in support of Nixon, too, until they didn’t.

But when this White House collapses, it will happen fast. As the Washington reporter Elizabeth Drew, who covered Watergate for The New Yorker, would conclude, “In retrospect, the denouement appeared inevitable, but it certainly didn’t feel like that at the time.”

Martin Longman:

The one thing I don’t think is helpful is to continuously talk about how the Republicans in the Senate will never convict Trump even if the House impeaches him with the support of the American people. They will certainly be reluctant to do so for all the reasons I’ve already suggested, but it will really come down to the facts of the case.

If Trump is proven to have actively coordinated with the Russians despite all his denials, and if the people who were responsible for this are willing to attest to what they did, then Mike Pence is going to look like a very attractive option. To be honest, Pence is much better liked and a better ideological fit for congressional Republicans than Trump. The reason they stick with Trump is because their own ineptitude weakened them so much that Trump was able to take over their party, and now they can’t win without his supporters. They’re caught in a vice.

In the end, after they’ve taken their losses despite sticking with Trump, the remaining senators are not going to be eager to go into 2020 with Trump as their champion. Since they don’t like or trust him anyway, if they can’t win with or without him, it’ll be far preferable to lose without him. There is a limit to how much shit they will eat to defend a man like Trump, and if the evidence comes in and it’s strong enough, there will be enough Republican senators who will choose removal over arguing that Trump should remain in office despite having done what he was accused of doing and then lying about it for two years.

I agree with this also. Keep in mind that Trump’s hard-core base is not in love with the Republican establishment.

The typical Trump supporter had complete disdain for all of Trump’s establishmentarian rivals for the nomination, and that contempt extended (and extends) to the Republican leadership in Congress. They have never liked Mitch McConnell and they especially hate Paul Ryan for abandoning Trump after the Access Hollywood tape came out. They don’t support Republicans in Washington except in the very limited sense that they rely on them to protect the president and enact his agenda.

On the other hand,  polls show that Trump is costing the Republians big in the suburbs, especially among the college-educated, country club class, and even more especially among college-educated women.

That’s why a blue wave in November is essential, and if it doesn’t materialize, we’re doomed. But if it does, then the denouement will not be far behind.

Update: More acceleration — Trump’s CFO is flipping.

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We Haven’t Hit Bottom Yet

Trump Maladministration

I want to talk about something Paul Waldman said yesterday — “…  that Trump got within 100 miles of the White House to begin with represents a massive failure of the system.” Yes, the entire system, public and private. And all political parties. Ain’t nobody innocent.

The system has been dysfunctional for a long time. The Obama Administration was like a coat of nice paint covering rotten wood; it was “normal” enough to help us all maintain the fiction that the system still worked, even if the Republican Party was obstructing getting anything done. I say we haven’t hit bottom yet because there are still too many people who think the system is fine and just needs some more paint. And a lot of those people are Democrats.

I’m not saying that both parties are just alike and just as guilty. Republicans have been wallowing in the rot, but Democrats have been entirely too accommodating to it. For the sake of civility, you know.

For example: A couple of days ago I ranted about white-collar crime. Later the same day Matt Yglesias published a post that covered the same points in more detail. And then Eric Levitz wrote,

In 1991 The New Yorker’s Mark Danner wrote the following elegy for the American republic:

Perhaps the most disquieting legacy of Iran-Contra, in which extremely serious political crimes were exposed and then left largely unexorcised, is a kind of pervasive moral lassitude, in which charges that the integrity of the 1980 Presidential election was compromised with the help of the Iranian government evoke an almost bored reaction. It now appears that the charges will be left to linger, unanswered and uninvestigated, because no one with any power sees it to be in his personal political interest to confront them. The dictum that we live in a nation of laws can also be understood ironically-that ours has become a nation only of laws. For laws without the will to enforce them and confront the consequences remain simply words on paper.

Trump’s immediate Republican predecessor reaffirmed Danner’s insight, by overseeing the systematic violation of both domestic and international laws against military torture — while Trump’s immediate Democratic predecessor did so by refusing to bring any of that criminal conspiracy’s masterminds to justice.

This culture of elite impunity has not been confined to the political realm. America’s economic elites avail themselves of its benefits even more routinely. The 2008 financial crisis revealed myriad acts of financial and foreclosure fraud — almost none of which was criminally prosecuted. Barack Obama’s Justice Department explicitly endorsed the principle that some individuals and institutions are simply too economically powerful to be bound by criminal law, when it decided not to prosecute HSBC for laundering hundreds of millions in drug money.

Meanwhile, America’s garden-variety plutocrats escape punishment for white-collar crimes on a daily basis, and pay only a small fraction of the taxes that they owe Uncle Sam. Our government has responded to this well-known phenomenon by spending orders of magnitude more on punishing misdemeanor immigration offenses than policing white-collar felonies, and making international cooperation on combating tax havens one of its lowest diplomatic priorities (far below, say, making life-saving pharmaceuticals more expensive for people in the developed world).

Few American voters fully grasp the extent of the rot, or understand how it happened, but they feel it instinctively. They know the system doesn’t work for them. They just don’t understand why, and neither party explains it, because both parties — to differing degrees — are in on it. So it was that the blatantly dishonest and corrupt Donald Trump, who should have been in jail years ago, got away with painting Hillary Clinton as “crooked.” While I do not believe she ever did anything indictable (although it wouldn’t shock me to learn otherwise), voters instinctively knew that Clinton would have protected the system and do nothing to clean it up. Because if you have power, you don’t have to do anything illegal to benefit from the corruption; the system will reward you for protecting it. And, unfortunately, she lacks Donald’s Trump talent for salesmanship. He got away with pitching himself as a reformer because the network television news (never mind Fox News or talk radio) lacked the guts to tell the truth about him. So here we are.

Democrats intend to use corruption as a midterm campaign issue. I question whether that will work for them, especially if the same old establishment faces (Pelosi, Schumer et al.) are delivering that message. And, again, I’m not putting Pelosi and Schumer in the same pot with Duncan Hunter. But they’ve both been in Washington a long time. They may not be in bed with the corruption, but they are certainly on a cordial first-name basis with it. Meanwhile, the urban professional class — the people not left behind by the global economy — continue blindly to defend the Democratic Party establishment and fervently believe that racism alone made Trump president.

That’s why I say we haven’t hit bottom yet.

As far as the Trump Administration goes, I don’t think it’s hit bottom yet, either. But it’s falling faster now.  What went on with Manafort and Cohen on Tuesday was just a start. (FYI, National Enquirer publisher David Pecker was just granted federal immunity. )

Trump isn’t going to be impeached and removed from office until the Republican Party wants him gone. If the GOP goes down in flames in the midterms, that could happen. But assuming the Dems at least take back the House, here are some more things they could do. Paul Waldman:

* Use their control of the Ways and Means Committee to obtain and release Trump’s tax returns so that we finally learn what he has been hiding.

*Hold hearings on the ways Trump is personally profiting off the presidency and potentially violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause.

*Mount a serious, comprehensive investigation into the Russian attack on the 2016 election and the Trump campaign’s cooperation with that attack.

*Investigate accusations of wrongdoing that have been leveled at Cabinet officials such as Wilbur Ross and Ryan Zinke.

*Demand answers from the administration on the decision-making process and effects of controversial administration policies, such as adding a citizenship question to the census, relaxing rules for power plant emissions, making it easier for private “universities” to scam students, and tearing children from their parents’ arms at the border.

In other words, bleep civility. Bleep reaching across the aisle. They’ve got to be as hard on Trump as the GOP has been on Hillary Clinton and every other Democrat they’ve tried to destroy.

Beyond that, see also Charles Pierce, Elizabeth Warren Just Laid Out an Indictment of Our Political System in All Its Corruption and Sleaze.

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