The Weirdness That Is Rudy

Trump Maladministration

Among the more surreal things that have happened this weekend is Rudy Giuliani moving his lips. Here he is explaining why Trump is not guilty of obstruction of justice:

“A president firing somebody who works for him, if he does no other corrupt act other than just fire him, can’t obstruct justice because that’s what Article Two of the Constitution gives to him solely. Not Congress. Not anybody else. If, for example, a president said, ‘Leave office, or I’m going to, you know, have your kids kidnapped,’ or, ‘I’m going to break your legs.’ Obstruction—I prosecuted a lot of obstruction cases.”

Whatever you say, Rudy.

Rudy got on the Sunday bobblehead shows to complain about the Buzzfeed story that Trump ordered Michael Cohen to lie about the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations. Then Rudy admits the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations continued until Trump was elected.

Seemingly using the opportunity of the disputed Buzzfeed story, Rudy Giuliani is now conceding a maximal version of President Trump’s attempts to get a multi-hundred million dollar payday from Vladimir Putin for the length of the 2016 presidential campaign. Giuliani quotes Trump saying that negotiations for the Moscow Trump Tower deal were “going on from the day I announced to the day I won.”

During the time Trump was singing Putin’s praises on the campaign trail and getting Putin’s help with hacking and information campaigns, Putin was dangling a few hundred million dollars in front of Trump.

But that’s okay, Rudy says, because he is 100 percent sure that Trump didn’t tell Cohen to lie to Congress, although he can’t say for sure what discussions Trump and Cohen might or might not have had about the Trump Tower project or Cohen’s congressional testimony. And, anyway, since there was no deal in the end, it didn’t matter.

The defense lawyer characterized the Trump Tower Moscow letter as an “active proposal” that did not constitute a deal or a business. He compared it to the proposals under consideration by his security consultancy, which continues to develop lucrative contracts abroad while he represents the president for free, drawing ethics criticism, since since foreign governments may see him as a conduit to the Oval Office.

“It’s like my business,” Giuliani said. “I make proposals to do security work, probably got six of them out right now. If you were to ask me what countries am I doing business in, I’d just tell you the two I’m doing business in. Not the other six, because I may never do business there.”

Putin’s dangling of a few hundred million dollars in front of Trump had no affect on Trump’s campaign, I assume. Or on the Republican platform.

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Stuff to Read

Trump Maladministration

Trump is making a public announcement this afternoon and is expected to make some kind of offer to the Dems to end the shutdown. Why he couldn’t just do that in a meeting … well, it’s Trump. He just wants attention.

You may have been following the Buzzfeed story about Cohen being ordered to lie to Trump, followed by a statement from the Mueller investigation that the Buzzfeed story contained inaccuracies. Josh Marshall had some interesting observations on this (may be behind paywall):

There have been tons of stories, a number of which seem to have been erroneous or significantly incorrect. Mueller’s office has felt no need to correct them. The answer here has to be that this claim was so damning, so specific to the legitimacy of the presidency that Mueller or his overseers felt it was necessary to correct the record.

This is a case where it’s important to remember Rod Rosenstein’s role in overseeing the investigation. Rosenstein should know all relevant major details of the investigation. As far as we know he has steadfastly resisted any attempts to meddle with or interfere with the probe. But if a story like this is out there, this damning to the President and is in some material and significant way wrong, it quite plausible to me that he would have insisted the Mueller’s office release a statement. It’s equally plausible that the decision was Mueller’s.

Marshall goes on to present an argument that the story possibly came from leaks in the Southern District New York office, not from Mueller’s team.

We don’t know what’s really being disputed here. Maybe the idea that Trump explicitly told Cohen to lie is just totally bogus. But my sense is that it’s not quite that clear cut. The dispute about facts and I suspect the breakdown in the sourcing of information likely stems from the relationship between these two offices – New York US Attorney’s Office (SDNY) and Mueller’s office – different propensities to leak, different levels of knowledge of the case, different strategies about what they’re investigating.

Buzzfeed, meanwhile, is standing by its story. The story may turn out to be substantially true, although if Mueller’s team says there are inaccuracies there must be something wrong.

Other Stuff:

Politico ran a story last week documenting that at least half of Americans still don’t know that Trump was never a self-made successful businessman.

Large swaths of the public believe the Trump myth. Across three surveys of eligible votersfrom 2016 to 2018, we found that as many as half of all Americans do not know that he was born into a very wealthy family. And while Americans are divided along party lines in their assessment of Trump’s performance as president, misperceptions regarding his financial background are found among Democrats and Republicans.

The narrative of Trump as self-made is simply false. Throughout his life, the president has downplayed the role his father, real estate developer Fred Trump, played in his success, claiming it was “limited to a small loan of $1 million.” That isn’t true, of course: A comprehensive New York Times investigation last year estimated that over the course of his lifetime, the younger Trump received more than $413 million in today’s dollars from his father. While this exact figure was not known before the Times’ report, it was a matter of record that by the mid-1980s, Trump had been loaned at least $14 million by his father, was loaned at least $3.5 million more in 1990, had borrowed several more million against his inheritance in the 1990s after many of his ventures failed, and had benefited enormously from his father’s political connections and co-signing on loans early in his career as a builder.

This is the interesting part:

What happens when Americans learn of the president’s privileged background? In a 2018 survey, we provided half the respondents the following question, which was intended to impart Trump’s biographical information: To what extent were you aware that Donald Trump grew up the son of wealthy real estate businessman Fred Trump, started his business with loans from his father, and received loans worth millions of dollars from his father in order to keep his businesses afloat?

What happens is that there is a substantial drop in approval for Trump, especially among Republicans. There is less of a drop among Democrats because they didn’t like him, anyway.

The larger point is that Trump’s many business failures and dependence on his wealthy father were well known before Trump announced for president in 2015. We didn’t know how much Trump was dependent on his father before the Times expose, but there are reports of Fred bailing out his boy Donald when he was about to crash going way back. But little of that got into news stories about Trump, especially not television news.  People heard about Trump’s many divorces but not about the fact that he was a massive screwup at business who got money showered on him by his father.  How many election cycles do we have to go through complaining that political news coverage simply doesn’t do the job of providing voters with the information about candidates they need to know?

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Republicans, This Has Gone on Way Too Long

Trump Maladministration

So Mr. Military Stable Genius declared this nearly a month ago:

President Donald Trump has ordered staff to execute the “full” and “rapid” withdrawal of US military from Syria, declaring that the US has defeated ISIS.

“We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning. Planning for the pullout is already underway, a US defense official and an  administration official told CNN.

This was reported five days ago: U.S. Equipment, but Not Troops, Begins Exiting Syria in Chaotic Withdrawal.

This was reported today:

ISIS has claimed responsibility for a deadly explosion that killed US service members in the Syrian city of Manbij on Wednesday.

US service members were killed in the attack, according to a tweet from the spokesperson for the US-led coalition Operation Inherent Resolve.

“U.S. service members were killed during an explosion while conducting a routine patrol in Syria today. We are still gathering information and will share additional details at a later time,” the tweet said.

The original decision to send troops was questionable, IMO, but once troops are deployed they shouldn’t be un-deployed on a whim without a carefully thought-out plan that minimizes risk to troops and allies.

 

The number one topic on the evening MSNBC bobblehead shows was Trump’s desire to withdraw the U.S. from NATO.

Senior administration officials told The New York Times that several times over the course of 2018, Mr. Trump privately said he wanted to withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Current and former officials who support the alliance said they feared Mr. Trump could return to his threat as allied military spending continued to lag behind the goals the president had set.

In the days around a tumultuous NATO summit meeting last summer, they said, Mr. Trump told his top national security officials that he did not see the point of the military alliance, which he presented as a drain on the United States.

Trump is too stupid to grasp that what other nations spend doesn’t impact what the United States spends. He seems to think that because they are spending less, we are spending more. He also doesn’t grasp that NATO leaders, who head representative democracies, cannot by themselves change spending levels. Budgets are the work of legislatures. Of course, he doesn’t really grasp how the U.S. government works, either. But one does wonder if his obsession with NATO isn’t coming from Vladimir Putin.

One would like to think that if Trump does get up one morning and tweet a withdrawal from NATO, Congress would block him. However, Congress has been helpless to stop him from wrecking everything else.

Greg Sargent writes,

The New York Times has an alarming new article documenting the economic damage that the shutdown is beginning to inflict. White House economic advisers are now acknowledging that it’s putting a greater damper on growth than previously anticipated. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers are furloughed or working without pay, and thousands of government contractors are sidelined.

With the economy already taking a hit from Trump’s impulsive and unpredictable trade war (anyone else noticing a pattern here?), economists warn that a damper on economic confidence could soon follow, possibly pushing the U.S. economy into contraction.

Considering that the economy was the one thing Trump had to brag about, you would think that he would be having second thoughts about continuing this farce. But he is now entirely surrounded by butt-kissers who encourage his worst impulses and tell him what he wants to hear. The crew at Fox News is telling him his shutdown plan is working to bring the Democrats to their knees. Indeed, yesterday he tweeted the result of a Quinnipiac poll that said 54 percent of Americans agree there’s a “crisis” on the southern border. Perhaps nobody told him about this part:

Quinnipiac finds that even larger majorities don’t believe the wall Trump wants will be effective in addressing that crisis. Voters say by 59-to-40 percent that a wall is not necessary to protect the border; they say by 56-to-43 percent that a wall won’t be effective in protecting the border; and they say by 55-43 percent that a wall will not make the United States safer.

See also It’s Week 4 Of The Shutdown. Americans Still Think Trump Is To Blame.

The one person who could put us all out of the shutdown misery is Mitch McConnell, who continues to refuse to allow the Senate to vote on bills that would end the shutdown. McConnell is up for re-election in 2020; maybe he’s afraid of the base. But the Louisville Courier-Journal is calling McConnell a gutless wonder for not standing up to Trump. The Lexington Herald-Leader is reporting that the shutdown is hurting people in Kentucky, especially rural people.  Trump’s trade wars have hurt Kentucky also. And Kentucky now has fewer coal jobs than it did when Trump took office.

Every Democrat in America needs to be talking to rural folks in Kentucky about why Trump and McConnell are doing them no good. And next time a Democrat runs against McConnell, let it be someone who isn’t conflicted about what he or she stands for, okay?

Update: See also The Gravedigger of American Democracy.

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Pleased to Meet You …

Trump Maladministration

So the guy who owns a restaurant in the neighborhood that does catering had the Clemson U football team as dinner guests at the bleeping White House, and they got a self-serve buffet meal of cold chain restaurant fast food. Mr. Moneybags paid less than $3,000 for this. I feel bad for the young men, who may have assumed a White House dinner involved sitting down and being fed a proper meal. From the photos of the event it appears the young men had to eat standing up.

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A Conspiracy So Immense, II

Trump Maladministration

Peter Baker in the New York Times:

So it has come to this: The president of the United States was asked over the weekend whether he is a Russian agent. And he refused to directly answer.

The question, which came from a friendly interviewer, not one of the “fake media” journalists he disparages, was “the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked,” he declared. But it is a question that has hung over his presidency now for two years.

If the now 23-day government shutdown standoff between Mr. Trump and Congress has seemed ugly, it may eventually seem tame by comparison with what is to come. The border wall fight is just the preliminary skirmish in this new era of divided government. The real battle has yet to begin.

The polls (CNN, ABC-WaPo) say the public is blaming Trump and the Republicans for the government shutdown much more than they blame the Democrats. Republicans in Congress must be grateful Trump is pulling this stupid stunt just after an election and not before it. But now that we’re in longest-shutdown-ever territory, the situation is becoming increasingly perilous.

Do read this analysis at WaPo about how we got into this mess. Apparently just about every Republican in Washington begged Trump to not start a shutdown.

In the weeks leading up to December’s deadline to fund the government, Trump was warned repeatedly about the dangers of a shutdown but still opted to proceed, according to officials with knowledge of the conversations.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told the president that he had no leverage and that, without a clear strategy, he would be “boxed in a canyon.” He tried to make the case to Trump that even if Pelosi and Schumer were interested in cutting a deal with him, they would be constrained from compromising because of internal Democratic Party pressures to oppose Trump’s wall, these officials said.

Then-House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) talked with Trump by phone for 45 minutes the day before the shutdown, warning that he saw no way to win as he paced in a Capitol hallway just outside a conference room where House Republicans were meeting. Then-House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) warned about the perils of a shutdown during the Christmas season.

Inside, some of the more hard-line members urged a showdown over border wall funding, arguing that Trump’s core supporters would revolt otherwise. But McCarthy asked, “Tell me what happens when we get into a shutdown? I want to know what our next move is.”

It seems to me that it would be to the Republicans’ own advantage, long term, to put an end to this mess and open the government now, before we get any closer to the 2020 election. It would stop the erosion of their poll numbers and send a signal to Trump that he can’t get away with the Crazy Lone Ranger act. And for their own sakes they had better do it before the real fireworks start.

But where is Mitch McConnell? Has he lost his nerve? Is he holed up in some Kentucky road house disguised with a fake mustache and crying into his bourbon? Maybe he thinks public sentiment will turn on the Dems eventually, but so far that’s not happening.

Or, maybe he’s decided to let Trump hang himself. Also a possibility.

Cries for the Dems to negotiate kind of ignore the fact that Trump isn’t offering them anything. For example,

Exasperated, a small group of Republican lawmakers tried to determine a way out last week. Led by Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), they met Wednesday in Graham’s office with White House legislative affairs director Shahira Knight and senior adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner to discuss a broader immigration deal that could include protections for undocumented children in exchange for $5.7 billion in wall funding. …

… But the president said no. Pence then told Graham and Alexander that Trump appreciated their proposal but was not interested in re-opening the government until the Democrats were willing to negotiate on the wall.

What “negotiation”? Trump hasn’t put anything on the table. Offering Dems a broader immigration deal in exchange for wall funding would be a negotiation. Trump isn’t negotiating.

Anyhoo — today news media are making a big deal of the fact that Trump confiscated the interpreter’s notes after a meeting with Putin in Hamburg, in 2017:

President Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, including on at least one occasion taking possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructing the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials, current and former U.S. officials said.

Trump did so after a meeting with Putin in 2017 in Hamburg that was also attended by then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. U.S. officials learned of Trump’s actions when a White House adviser and a senior State Department official sought information from the interpreter beyond a readout shared by Tillerson.

The constraints that Trump imposed are part of a broader pattern by the president of shielding his communications with Putin from public scrutiny and preventing even high-ranking officials in his own administration from fully knowing what he has told one of the United States’ main adversaries.

I was thinking we already had heard this, but I was confusing the 2017 Hamburg meeting with the 2018 Helinski meeting. But in the process of trying to straighten out what I thought I remembered, I came across a Business Insider story from July 2018 — National security experts warn Trump is behaving more and more like a ‘controlled spy.’ Going back to the last post, in which the Smart People class seem to be just now catching on, I suggest we need better Smart People. The ones we have are two damn slow.

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What I’ve Been Saying About Trump and Russia

Trump Maladministration

Back in March 2017 I wrote a post titled “Why the Trump-Russian Connection Is a Big Deal (and It’s Not the Election).” I speculated, based on circumstantial evidence, that the real issue was that Trump was being controlled, possibly blackmailed, by Putin, and that Russian influence is steering Trump’s nonsensical foreign policy.  To this day I find people, including lefties, who are certain the whole collusion thing is just Hillary Clinton’s excuse for losing the 2016 election, but we’ve moved beyond the election a long time ago.

So now the New York Times is reporting that after Trump fired James Comey, the FBI initiated an investigation into whether Trump was secretly working on behalf of Russia. It makes interesting reading but it tells us little we didn’t already know, except for the investigation itself. At Lawfare, Benjamin Wittes writes an intellligent analysis asking “What if the obstruction is the collusion?” In other words, the obstruction case and the collusion case are all tangled up together and are not two separate things. Which is what I’ve believed all along.

Martin Longman writes,

It’s frustrating because Wittes’s piece is essentially a giant mea culpa– on behalf of himself and on behalf of the media in general. It’s at once a recognition and an apology for having gone about the analysis of the Russia investigation the wrong way from the beginning.  Its basic insight is that the Russia investigation has never really been bifurcated into collusion and obstruction of justice components, but has all along been primarily a counterintelligence investigation with criminal components.  To go just a bit deeper, Wittes seems to be realizing for the first time that Trump’s efforts to obstruct the investigation may be little more than an element of the underlying problem, which is that Trump has been working on the behalf of Russian interests all along.  For this reason, his obstruction is just as much about protecting Russia as it is about protecting himself.  Or, in other words, the Obstruction Was the Collusion.

To be sure, there is some genuine news in the New York Times piece. We learn about specific events at specific points in time. We learn how investigatory decisions were made and what prompted them. But the central revelation, as shocking as it may be, really should not come as a surprise. The American intelligence community suspects that Donald Trump is compromised by the Russians.

Seriously. Is that so hard? I realize the smart people who get listened to may have to be more cautious about making accusations than I do, but to act as if this is the first time he’d thought of it is kind of shocking.

See also Aaron Blake at WaPo:

The Times outlined a number of other events that played into the obstruction case and could have fed further suspicions about Trump’s motivations, including his pro-Russia and pro-Putin campaign-trail rhetoric and his public request that Russia try to obtain Hillary Clinton’s emails. The GOP also altered its platform on Ukraine in a more pro-Russia direction.

What hasn’t been outlined, though, are the proposed back channels between the Trump team and Russia.

A month before Comey was fired, The Washington Post reported that Trump ally and Blackwater founder Erik Prince had proposed such a secret channel of communication between Trump and Moscow at a January 2017 meeting in the Seychelles with a Putin representative. The FBI was also presumably aware at the time (because it monitors the calls of Russian officials on U.S. soil) that then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak had told his superiors in Moscow that Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, had proposed a back channel during the transition period. (The Post reported this shortly after Comey’s firing.) …

…For similar reasons, Trump’s meeting with Putin in Helsinki last year has also raised eyebrows. He met privately with Putin for two hours, with nobody but interpreters present, and apparently nobody in the American government really knows what they discussed. Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats even seemed to express concern about the lack of information. “I’m not in a position to either understand fully or talk about what happened in Helsinki,” Coats said afterward. Why Trump would need to keep things so under wraps has always been curious.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that Trump is innocent but too stupid to avoid stumbling around and doing things that make him look guilty.

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Behold the Art of the Deal

Trump Maladministration

So this happened.

President Trump slammed his hand on a table and stormed out of a White House meeting with congressional leaders on Wednesday after Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said she would not fund a wall along the southern border, dramatically escalating the confrontation over the government shutdown.

Stunned Democrats emerged from the White House meeting declaring that Mr. Trump had thrown a “temper tantrum.” The president’s allies accused Democrats of refusing to negotiate. Then he tweeted that the meeting was “a total waste of time.”

Yeah, you’d think after his masterful performance speaking to the nation last night the Dems would be ready to cave. (/sarcasm)

One of Trump’s many shortcomings that this episode has revealed is that he doesn’t grasp the concept of leverage. The only leverage he has is over Republicans who fear the wrath of his base. Over Democrats, he has none, according to the polls.

This is from the nerds at FiveThirtyEight — Trump Has Lost Ground In The Shutdown Blame Game.

Look at the polling data, and you can see why Trump (or his advisers) thought a high-profile move like a national address was needed. We’re currently on Day 19 of the shutdown, but Trump’s efforts to pin the blame on Democrats aren’t working, according to three pollsters who have conducted at least two polls in the two and a half weeks since the government first closed. Rather, polls show that Americans are increasingly blaming Trump.

The bag of tricks he employed as a real estate grifter isn’t helping him now.

President Trump has long said that keeping opponents off balance is the best way to win a negotiation. But nearly three weeks into a partial government shutdown, his usual playbook doesn’t seem to be working.

In his fight for a section of border wall, the president has dispatched aides to negotiate with lawmakers only to undercut their offers. He has declared a “crisis” at the U.S.-Mexico border but abruptly dropped a talking point about an influx of terrorists after it was proved false. And he has vacillated between threatening to declare a national emergency and professing to prefer a negotiated deal with Democrats.

On Wednesday, a day after delivering a prime-time Oval Office address to add gravitas to his public appeal, Trump abruptly walked out of a private meeting with lawmakers at the White House.

A “total waste of time,” Trump fumed on Twitter, lending credence to Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer’s accusations that the president is prone to “temper tantrums” when he doesn’t get his way.

Trump’s approach is a hallmark of a president who eschews strategic planning and preparation in favor of day-to-day tactical maneuvering and trusting his gut. But as he digs in against an emboldened Democratic opposition, Trump has found that his go-to arsenal of bluster, falsehoods, threats and theatrics has laid bare his shortcomings as a negotiator — preventing him from finding a way out of what may be the biggest political crisis of his presidency.

Apparently storming out of meetings is a trick that has worked for him in the past.

But, according to Jay Goldberg, who was Trump’s lawyer from 1989 to 2014 and handled two of his divorces, the president has reason to believe that walking out could be effective.

“He crafted that approach, it’s one he owns,” Goldberg said. “He has a tendency to argue, and if he is not satisfied he will leave the room, disappear, doesn’t come back and the people are on edge wondering where he is. And then when he feels it is the appropriate time he comes back.”

Goldberg said that Trump once attended a protracted meeting to reach a divorce settlement with his first wife, Ivana Trump. After hours of talks, he disagreed with the amount of alimony she wanted, and the two sides couldn’t agree. So Trump stood up and left.

“Everyone was looking for him because without his presence a deal couldn’t be done and he was gone for two hours and we didn’t know where he was,” Goldberg said. “When he came back, the other side was so concerned if they didn’t make a deal he would walk away again.”

In this case the walking out worked, because Ivana really did want a divorce. But Trump’s walking out had no effect on Pelosi and Schumer because he has no leverage. The only thing Pelosi and Schumer want from him now is for him to back down on the bleeping wall and allow the government to open. He’s backtracked on “deals” they thought they had with him too many times to trust him. And he hasn’t offered them anything.

Some GOP senators recognize that Trump needs help with the deal making thing and are trying to come up with one.

According to CNN, just after Trump’s abrupt departure, GOP senators — including Lindsey Graham, Lisa Murkowski, and Susan Collins — met in Graham’s office to discuss a path out of the second longest shutdown in U.S. history. The crew discussed a deal that would include Trump’s preferred $5.7 billion for the border wall, with a heap of policies that would encourage Democrats to sign on to get to the 60 votes needed, including the preservation of DACA, a change to H2B visas, and a boost to the Temporary Protected Status program, which allows nationals from crisis-affected countries to work and live in the United States for up to 18 months.

The group of senators then sent the idea to Trump adviser Jared Kushner, who believed that if he presented a plan that included the wall money that could pass in the Senate, his father-in-law would consider the deal. And according to NBC News, the president seemed amenable to putting DACA in the negotiating mix.

It’s possible Democrats would take that deal. However, that was yesterday, and I haven’t heard any more about it. Meanwhile the Creature has taken his one-man dog and pony show — no dog, no pony, just show — to McAllen, Texas, where residents are asking, “What crisis?” And he’s still making noises about declaring a national emergency, which I suspect would only dump us even deeper into consitutional crisis territory.

More:

Trump, in reality, was never a peerless or even a particularly skillful dealmaker, and many of the most significant business transactions he engineered imploded. Instead, he made his way in the world as an indefatigable self-promoter, a marketing confection and a human billboard who frequently licensed his name to buildings and products paid for by others.

In Trump’s professional life, his inept dealmaking often came home to roost in unmanageable debts and serial bankruptcies. In his more recent political and presidential life it has revealed itself through bungled, hapless efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act; forge a nuclear agreement with North Korea; wage trade wars with China, Mexico and Canada; retain control of the House of Representatives; turn military and diplomatic strategy on its head; lay siege to sensible immigration policy; and, now, force a government shutdown to secure funding for a prized project — a wall along the U.S.’s southern border.

He just had a press conference that demonstrated how out of his depth he is.

Over the course of roughly 15 minutes, Trump poured scorn on several groups of people — including Democrats, the media, and undocumented immigrants. For the second-straight day, he also undercut the case he’s trying to make that the situation at the border warrants a national emergency declaration.

Democrats, according to Trump, don’t give a damn about crime or about evil people with knives cutting people up. And they’re crazy.

“They’ve been taken over by a group of young people, who frankly, in some cases, I’ve been watching, I actually think they’re crazy,” he said. “They have been taken over by a group of people that don’t care about gangs, they don’t care about human trafficking and drugs — they don’t care about anything.”

Trump also showed off his skills at press relations.

Asked by a reporter to specify at which point in history he thinks a crisis on the southern border began, Trump instead went on the attack against the press.

“Look, you can all play cute, and I’d say 80 percent of you are possibly in cooperation with the opposition party,” Trump said. “I mean, the whole thing is ridiculous.”

Trump singled out NBC. At one point, seemingly out of nowhere, he described the network as “maybe the most dishonest reporters of all time.”

So now he’s floundering around trying to act tough to please his base. That’s really all that he wants; to get something so he can brag to his base. He has no end game. He has no clue what he is doing.

 

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Mueller Drops a Clue

Trump Maladministration

This just in:

Paul Manafort shared Trump campaign polling data with an associate tied to Russian intelligence during the 2016 campaign, prosecutors alleged, according to a court filing unsealed on Tuesday.

The accusations came to light in a document filed by Mr. Manafort’s defense lawyers that was supposed to be partly blacked out but contained a formatting error that accidentally revealed the information.

Accidently, you say? Right.

In one portion of the filing that Mr. Manafort’s lawyers tried to redact, they instead also revealed that Mr. Manafort “may have discussed a Ukraine peace plan” with the Russian associate, Konstantin V. Kilimnik, “on more than one occasion.”

Investigators have been questioning witnesses about whether Russia tried to influence the Trump administration to broker a resolution to hostilities between Russia and Ukraine. Various “peace plans” were proposed, including at least one that called for the lifting of American sanctions against Russia. Mr. Manafort and Mr. Kilimnik had worked closely together for years on behalf of Russia-aligned Ukrainian interests.

Prosecutors have also accused Mr. Manafort of misleading them about his contacts with senior administration officials, about a payment from a pro-Trump political action committee made to cover his legal expenses, and about how he and Mr. Kilimnik tried to influence the testimony of witnesses to ward off criminal charges.

Manafort’s lawyers blame a faulty memory.

Meanwhile, remember Natalia V. Veselnitskaya? She was the Russian lawyers with ties to the Kremlin at the infamous Trump Tower meeting? She’s back in the news.

Natalia V. Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who in 2016 met with Trump campaign officials in Trump Tower, was charged on Tuesday in a separate case that showed her close ties to the Kremlin.

Ms. Veselnitskaya, a pivotal figure in the investigation into Russian interference in the presidential election, was charged by federal prosecutors in New York with seeking to thwart an earlier Justice Department investigation into money laundering that involved an influential Russian businessman and his investment firm.

The money-laundering case was not directly related to the Trump Tower meeting. But a federal indictment returned in Manhattan seemed to confirm that Ms. Veselnitskaya had deep ties to senior Russian government officials and rekindled questions about whether the Kremlin tried to use her as an intermediary to Donald J. Trump’s campaign.

Also, too: Let’s all not watch the speech tonight. Boycott! Drive down the ratings! Teach the networks a lesson!

Stuff to read:

Paul Waldman, No one in the Trump administration has any credibility left.

Greg Sargent, The real national emergency is the threat of Trump’s collapse.

Eric Levitz, Why Tucker Carlson Plays a Critic of Capitalism on TV.

Dahlia Lithwick, Why Men Find the New Congresswomen So Frightening

David Atkins, Republicans are Selling Their Future on the Whim of a Tyrant

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The Dictator Who Can’t Dictate

Trump Maladministration

The Ego That Ate America may be completely gumming up the government through his irrational demands for a wall, but what’s remarkable is how little in charge of anything he actually seems to be.

For example, Trump’s decision immediately pull out of Syria has been effectively countermanded by John Bolton, who has laid out conditions for a pullout that pretty much resets Syrian policy back to where it was before Trump’s announcement. So who’s in charge of foreign policy, again?

Were it not causing so much harm to people, the government shutdown would be a joke. Republicans owned the Senate, House, and White House for two years, yet Trump couldn’t get his wall funded. Now he’s grandstanding to force House Democrats to give it to him.

Greg Sargent points out that there’s only one man protecting Trump — Mitch McConnell.

President Trump would almost certainly not be able to continue shutting down the government over his megalomaniacal border wall obsession if it weren’t for Mitch McConnell. The Senate majority leader is refusing a Senate vote on the bills that House Democrats have passed funding the government — shielding Trump from possibly having to veto a bipartisan measure reopening it, which would be politically disastrous for him.

There’s a plan afoot to pressure McConnell.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) tweeted over the weekend that Senate Democrats should block any and all measures in the Senate that are unrelated to funding the government until the Senate votes on reopening it. Since then, several progressive groups and a handful of Democratic senators have endorsed the strategy.

However, it may take a few days for this strategy to have any impact.

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Ground Rules for Politics Nerds

Trump Maladministration

It used to be that no one who wasn’t a politician focused on a presidential election until the year of the election. It used to be that many voters didn’t pay much attention to presidential elections until the party conventions. Of course, it also used to be that once an election was over, people grumbled for a few weeks if their candidate lost but then moved on. Now, it appears a lot of people aren’t done processing 2016, and at the same time people on the same side are already unfriending each in squabbles over who the Democratic nominee should be in 2020. In the last election we didn’t get nearly this crazy until the fall of 2015, not bleeping January.

I would like to propose some ground rules for political discussions to keep things sane. I don’t expect anyone to follow them, but what the heck. In no particular order:

Rule: The most important thing to demand right now is a fair, open and transparent nomination process. A lot of people are not going to get their first choice for the nomination, but if the process is seen as fair I believe most will acccept the result.

If, however, it appears there’s a thumb on a scale somewhere, or that the elites are manipulating the process to get their favored candidate, or if some candidates don’t get equal time in the debates or in media, the Democrats can forget about unity. See Chris Smith, “Democrats Don’t Like to Be Told Who to Vote For.”

Rule: Bringing up — factually — a politician’s voting record or positions on issues is not out of bounds and is not “attacking” that politician. We’ve already seen a blowup in media because David Sirota brought up Beto O’Rourke’s record of accepting donations from the fossil fuel sector. This was greeted up a bunch of headlines screaming that Bernie Sanders was trying to “kneecap” O’Rourke. One, Bernie Sanders had nothing to do with any of this; and two, since when is a politican’s actual record out of bounds? See Luke Darby, “No Democrat Deserves a Free Pass Just Because They’re Not Trump.”

Rule:  “Better than Trump” is too low a bar. Who we nominate matters, because even if the Democrat wins, a disappointing administration will just allow the Crazy Right to make a comeback. This puts together the two rules above. Stifling legitimate criticism of a potential — bleeping O’Rourke hasn’t even declared yet — candidate because he might be the nominee is a recipe for ultimate failure. As Luke Darby wrote (link above),

Even when the pragmatic, centrist choice defeats the hardline right-winger, that’s not necessarily a long term win. Look at Emmanuel Macron in France: his victory over the racist Marine Le Pen of the borderline fascist Front National party was seen as a huge stumble for a string of far right victories in Europe. But Macron’s policies have only exacerbated deep problems in France, and national protests have rocked the country since his administration decided, among other things, to cut taxes on the wealthy and raise them for everyone else by implementing a new gas tax. Macron is now so unpopular that many in France are calling for him to resign instead of finish his term.

If the Democratic establishment insists on trying to crown another favorite candidate, like it did Clinton in 2016, then no one should be surprised if we see a repeat of 2016 on Election Day. And as embarrassing as that will be for the Party, it’ll be much worse for the rest of us.

Martin Longman argues in “Winning Is Everything But Still Not Enough” (which is a response to a Paul Glastris feature, “Winning Is Not Enough“) that the Democrats must put an end to the pattern of losing majorities as soon as they gain them; think the gains of 2006 and 2008 followed by the 2010 midterms. Think of eight years of Barack Obama in the White House (during which time the Democratic Party lost a net total of 13 governorships and 816 state legislative seats, and Democrats lost 12 and 64 seats in the U.S. Senate and House, respectively), followed by the election of Donald Trump and Republican majorities in the House and Senate. Winning is not enough.

If the Dems take back Congress and the White House in 2020, how do they build “robust and sustainable majorities like the ones they enjoyed in the 1930s and 1940s”? The answer, seems to me, is for the party to aggressively promote policies that will make people’s lives tangibly better. No more incrementalism or “pragmatism,” which is code for not doing shit. No more negotiating with ourselves to placate the Right. No more running on appeals to loyalty, or personality, or bromides and vague promises to “fight for you.” Candidates, tell us what you want to do, and if you are elected,  bleeping do it or at least get bloodied and bruised trying.

With that in mind, right now we’re months away — probably more than a year away — from the time that most of the electorate will start to focus on the 2020 presidential election.  This is exactly the time for activists and politics nerds to bring up the records of people who are considered possibilities and discuss, rationally and factually, if this is someone we want to be president some day. Yes, they are all better than Trump, but so is a can of soup. The candidate’s record will come out some day; better now than later. Let’s not nominate a pig in a poke.

Rule: Please, never, ever go around demanding “vote blue no matter who.” And this time, let us get through the primaries and choose a nominee before calling for everybody to unite behind whatever candidate you think should be nominated.  Assume that nobody owns the nomination until he or she actually has it.

Rule: On the other hand, badmouthing potential candidates because of their personalities or age or campaign style or speaking voice or because you think they are boring needs to be out of bounds now. Those are your biases showing. You are not a bleeping representative sample. Expressing concerns, okay; insults and bashing, no. I hope we still understand the difference.

Rule: Let’s not debate electability. Liz Warren is already being slammed for not being electable. Yeah, people didn’t think Donald Trump was electable, either. And in 2016 Hillary Clinton ran ads in the primaries warning voters that if Bernie Sanders were nominated instead of her, Trump would be president, because she was electable and Sanders wasn’t.  Notice how that worked out. We all coalesced around John Kerry in 2004 because we thought his war record would innoculate him from being called soft on terrorism, or whatever we were concerned about. We weren’t thinking in terms of who do I want to be president?

The fact is, the “electability” experts are more often wrong than right (see Matt Taibbi on this point). We are about to go through a messy and dynamic year. None of us knows what will happen. Nobody knows where voters’ heads will be this time next year, never mind in November 2020. It’s a huge mistake to try to choose a nominee based on how marketable we think he or she might be in the general rather than on who we want to be president, because electability is not something we can know.

And please, candidates, after 2016 I hope you will be smart enough to not run for the nomination on the argument that you can beat Trump but your opponents cannot. That’s not something we can know. 

If we have a fair and open nomination process on a level playing field, the person who wins will be electable. The vanity candidates and lackluster campaigners will fall away. Let the primary process show us who is electable and who isn’t, not our biases.

Rule: Polls mean absolutely nothing now. Please stop posting polls on social media showing that your favorite candidate can win; these just cause frutless arguments. Please don’t make a bleeping big deal about poll numbers at least until the primaries have started.

Rule: Let go of 2016. This applies to Clinton and Sanders supporters alike.  Clinton will not be a candidate, and former Clinton supporters need to stop tearing the party apart with their incessant badmouthing of Sanders and his supporters. Sanders supporters need to stop expecting that 2020 will be a vindication of the hopes that were dashed in 2016. Sanders might not run, and if he does run he might not do as well as he did in 2016. Nobody knows what will happen. Don’t get too emotionally invested in only one outcome.

Rule: Try to avoid being manipulated.  (Note that a lot of the opinion pieces in media about candidate “electability” are nothing but attempts at manipulating your opinion.) Democratic and media elites will be doing their best to jerk our chains to get behind a their candidate. Don’t fall for it. Make up your own mind. Think about what you want in a presidential candidate. You have a right to ask for what you want, especially if it’s not what the elites want to give you.

Okay, that’s my list. What’s yours? Add to the comments.

Harper’s Weekly, 1857, “At the Polls.” We see that politics were so much more genteel when white men ran everything.

 

 

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