Ground Rules for Politics Nerds

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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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Two More Days

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Two more days is when the fun begins. I hope. Here’s the plan:

House Democrats plan to use their new majority to vote through measures that would reopen nearly all of the shuttered federal agencies through the end of September, at funding levels Senate Republicans have previously agreed to. Those spending bills contain scores of priorities and pet projects for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

The Democratic proposal holds out one exception: The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees border security, would keep its current level of funding, with no new money for a border wall. The plan would also extend the department’s budget only through Feb. 8, allowing Democrats to revisit funding for key parts of Trump’s immigration policy in a month.

“The President is using the government shutdown to try to force an expensive and ineffective wall upon the American people, but Democrats have offered two bills which separate the arguments over the wall from the government shutdown,” read a joint statement from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the likely next House speaker, and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Trump wants to meet with congressional leaders Schumer and Pelosi, McConnell and McCarthy, tomorrow for a “briefing” on border security.

Officials from the Department of Homeland Security will brief the top two leaders in each party in the House and the Senate.

“Border Security and the Wall “thing” and Shutdown is not where Nancy Pelosi wanted to start her tenure as Speaker! Let’s make a deal?” Trump tweeted Tuesday.

It’s not clear whether this “briefing” will be televised the way that last White House encounter was.

The thing is, he had a deal about a year ago that would have given him $25 billion for his wall, and he turned it down. Jim Newell wrote last March:

Rather than spending spring break stewing in the White House over what might have been, Trump could be lounging in a lawn chair by the border right now, sipping iced tea, watching as contractors erect the prototypical barrier of his liking. He could have fulfilled one of his core campaign promises to his base, a promise that not any generic Republican president would have prioritized.

And all he had to do was accept a 10- to 14-year path to citizenship for children of undocumented immigrants brought to the United States at a young age.

That deal has been on the table for more than a month now: Trump gives Democrats a path to citizenship for 1.8 million Dreamers; Democrats give Trump his full $25 billion wall funding request. The Trump administration balked at this clean trade when the Senate was negotiating immigration in February and again in the weeks before the omnibus. The master dealer always wanted something more, be it sharp cuts to family-based immigration or enhanced interior enforcement. Democrats were willing to blow money on Trump’s vanity project, handing him a political victory, but they were never going to secure Dreamers’ future by agreeing to the sharpest tightening of legal immigration levels in decades or selling out other undocumented immigrants.

Chuck Schumer made the original offer in January 2018, but got slammed for giving away too much to Trump. And then when Schumer gave up on the deal, he got slammed by immigration advocates.

This weekend Miz Lindsey was on the TeeVee saying he was sure the Democrats would make a new deal that give Trump $5 billion for his wall in exchange for protections for Dreamers. But I would be surprised. I suspect, or at least I hope, that Pelosi and Schumer are no longer thinking in terms of making any deal with Trump, but rather are looking to box in Mitch McConnell in the Senate. Mitch can either put the House bill up for a vote or have the shutdown hung around his flabby neck.

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Happy New Year

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Or, at least, maybe it’ll be a less awful year than the last one.


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Incompetence, Thy Name is Trump

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These are all from this month.

Ryan Cooper, The comical incompetence of President Trump

Steeve Chapman, Trump’s Incurable Incompetence

Max Boot, Trump can’t do anything right — even his coverups are incompetent

John Brennan, Brennan on Trump’s Tweets: He’s ‘Incompetent,’ Knows ‘the Walls Are Closing In’

Hmm, there may be a theme here …

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The Strange Tale of the Former Casino Owner Who Can’t Play Poker

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Days into a partial government shutdown that has left tens of thousands of federal workers furloughed, President Donald Trump and his close allies have begun feeling more confident about the political perch they occupy.

In their eyes, a prolonged stalemate will likely fracture voters along traditional partisan lines, and the ultimate outcome will be a debate waged largely on the president’s terms. Increasingly, they see an upside in forcing likely incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi to have to spend the first days, if not weeks, of the next Congress engaged in an argument over border wall funding rather than her preferred agenda: a mix of sweeping ethics and election reforms and congressional oversight. And they continue to believe that a conversation around immigration and border security is in the president’s best political interests.

Even better, according to Politico, Trump’s people think that the shutdown fight will distract Democrats from investigating Trump. Of course, these are the same people who managed the recent war zone visit fiasco. Being able to walk and chew gum at the same time is, one suspects, beyond their comprehension.

What hand is Trump holding? Especially when polls tell us the public blames Trump for the shutdown, the public disagrees with Trump’s funding ultimatum, and the public does not support building the bleeping wall. And even a writer for the right-wing Washington Examiner admitted that “border security and the migrant caravan, were big losers with critical voting blocs, and largely responsible for the late-breaking Democratic wave that swept Republicans from power in the House.” So, basically, this is what they’re betting on.

Dems are callling Trump’s bluff.

House Democrats — increasingly convinced they’re winning the shutdown fight with President Donald Trump — are plotting ways to reopen the government while denying the president even a penny more for his border wall when they take power Jan. 3.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her top lieutenants are considering several options that would refuse Trump the $5 billion he’s demanded for the wall and send hundreds of thousands of furloughed federal employees back to work, according to senior Democratic sources.

While the strategy is fluid, House Democrats hope to pass a funding bill shortly after members are sworn in. They believe that would put pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to follow suit. And they’re confident that their political leverage will only increase the longer the shutdown lasts — a notion that some GOP leaders privately agree with.

Indeed, the specter of a lengthy shutdown could hurt Trump’s already damaged image more than it would Democrats — especially because he claimed ownership of the crisis two weeks ago. Democrats believe the shutdown battle — combined with the volatility in financial markets and special counsel Robert Mueller closing in on Trump — exacerbates the appearance of a cornered president acting out of his own political self-interest instead of the needs of the American public.

See, for example, Taxpayers Are Subsidizing Mar-a-Lago’s New Year’s Eve Party Despite Trump’s Shutdown. See also House Dems Beef Up Legal Teams For Various And Wide-Ranging Trump Probes.

I also agree with Paul Waldman:

So the only answer may be for everyone, Democrats and Republicans alike, to ignore President Trump. Act as though he doesn’t exist and this has nothing to do with him.

By which I mean that members of Congress should shut their ears to Trump’s tweets and threats and fulminations, pass something that House Democrats and Senate Republicans can live with, and then dare Trump to veto it. Because I doubt he has the guts.

Why would Republicans go along with this?

This plan of shutting out the White House requires only one person’s cooperation: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. If he were to decide it’s the best way forward, he and Nancy Pelosi could work out the details in an afternoon. Fortunately, McConnell is utterly unemotional and completely cynical. He doesn’t particularly care about whether Trump is happy, or whether the president gets a “win.” McConnell’s only real concern is maintaining his own, and the GOP’s, hold on power in the Senate. If he decides that the best way to do that is to end this shutdown and dial back the state of permanent crisis, that’s what he’ll do.

I don’t think we’re there yet, though, and I say this because the Official Republican Party Weathervane, Miz Lindsey Graham, is still vowing “No wall money, no deal.”

Even so, it should be beyond obvious, even to members of Congress, that Trump cannot be reasoned with and cannot be dealt with.

The only way to deal with Donald Trump is to not do deals with Donald Trump. The private sector has learned this; when will Congress?

For his entire career, our dealmaker in chief has relied on a not-so-secret technique for extracting supposedly good deals: He agrees to a given set of terms and then, at the last minute, reneges on them.

He has done this to small businesses around the country, refusing to pay for cabinetry, catering, real estate commissions, and other goods and services after they’ve already been delivered. His companies have also filed for bankruptcy six times, helping him wriggle out of bills. Given this reputation, it’s hardly surprising that vendors and lenders alike ultimately learned it was wiser not to do business with him at all, rather than count on him to keep his word.

See also The shutdown is intractable because Trump’s wall is ridiculous and Republicans know it and Has the GOP retreated into a world of make-believe? The shutdown debate will tell us.

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Mr. Military Strikes Again

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Trump’s quickie trip to Iraq yesterday would have been a comedy of errors, except that some of the errors could have consequences that are not so funny.

How many ways did he screw up? Let’s start with a small matter.

Video footage and the written report of Trump’s visit with service members in Iraq showed the President signing “Make America Great Again” hats and an embroidered patch that read “Trump 2020.” …

… Department of Defense guidelines say that “active duty personnel may not engage in partisan political activities and all military personnel should avoid the inference that their political activities imply or appear to imply DoD sponsorship, approval, or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign, or cause.”

The questions arose because the hats, emblazoned with the President’s signature political slogan, appeared to be brand new and because there are rules against military personnel participating in political activities while in uniform.

The White House and the military establishment are taking the position that no rules were violated because they say so. Apparently it wasn’t a violation because the troops had purchased the hats themselves. Where? From the post PX? Is Trump making money selling Trump merchandise through the millitary?

Well, of course, the troops have lots of money now to pay for MAGA hats.

Trump also told the troops, falsely, that they hadn’t received a pay raise in 10 years before he took office (they’ve received one each of the last 10 years) and that he’d secured for them a pay raise of “more than 10 percent” (service members will see a 2.6 percent pay bump in 2019, up from 2.4 percent in 2018). “We had plenty of people that came up,” began the president, “they said, ‘You know, we can make it smaller. We can make it 3 percent. We can make it 2 percent. We can make it 4 percent.’ I said, ‘No. Make it 10 percent. Make it more than 10 percent.’”

This next screwup is more serious.

Though the trip had reportedly been planned for weeks, Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi was invited to meet the president only two hours in advance, and was unable to make it to the event. The two leaders spoke over the phone instead, and the prime minister later said that the meeting was canceled because of a disagreement over how to conduct the session.

It gets worse:

President Donald Trump‘s surprise trip to Iraq may have quieted criticism at home that he had yet to visit troops in a combat zone, but it has infuriated Iraqi politicians who on Thursday demanded the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

“Arrogant” and an “a violation of national sovereignty” were but a few examples of the disapproval emanating from Baghdad following Trump’s meeting Wednesday with U.S. servicemen and women at the al-Asad Airbase.

See also:

Sabah al Saadi, the leader of the Islah parliamentary bloc, called for an emergency session of parliament “to discuss this blatant violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and to stop these aggressive actions by Trump who should know his limits: The U.S. occupation of Iraq is over.”

The Bina bloc, Islah’s rival in parliament and led by Iran-backed militia leader Hadi al-Amiri, also objected to Trump’s trip to Iraq.

“Trump’s visit is a flagrant and clear violation of diplomatic norms and shows his disdain and hostility in his dealings with the Iraqi government,” said a statement from Bina.

Yeah, that went well. But what else could have gone wrong? Oh, yeah. The Moron in Chief not only revealed on his Twitter account that a covert SEAL team was deployed in Iraq, he posted photos of the team. Now the whole world knows what the SEALS look like.


The president’s video posted Wednesday did not shield the faces of special operation forces. Current and former Defense Department officials told Newsweek that information concerning what units are deployed and where is almost always classified and is a violation of operational security. …

… The pool report went on to say that Trump paused to take a selfie with U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Kyu Lee, who said he was the chaplain for SEAL Team Five, based out of Coronado, California. The chaplain said Trump told him: “Hey, in that case, let’s take a picture.”

After Air Force One left the Iraqi airspace, Trump posted a video to his Twitter account of his time spent with American forces during his visit to Iraq. Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA,” plays over the video and shows the president and the first lady posing for pictures with service members that appear to be from SEAL Team Five. The special warfare operators are dressed in full battle gear and wearing night vision goggles.

The video cuts to team members shaking the president’s hand before cutting to other special operations personnel and support troops.

Newsweek also says that no one at the Pentagon or White House will return calls regarding this incident. Well, maybe their faces were partly obscured by their helmets.

Trump seems to think he deserves combat pay for the excursion.

Trump confirmed to reporters this week that safety was one of his concerns in traveling to Iraq. “I had concerns for the institution of the presidency because — not for myself, personally,” he said. “I had concerns for the first lady, I will tell you. But if you would have seen what we had to go through, with the darkened plane, with all windows closed, with no lights on whatsoever, anywhere — pitch black. I’ve never seen it. I’ve been in many airplanes — all types and shapes and sizes. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Poor baby. Maybe you should have paid another doctor to say you can’t fly on darkened airplanes because of bone spurs.

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Merry Christmas!

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So Much Winning, Christmas Edition

Trump Maladministration

We have just had the worst Christmas Eve trading day ever. So much winning.

Earlier today, Trump tweeted this.

Somehow I don’t think our problem is the Federal Reserve.

Emily Flitter writes for the New York Times: Stocks Close in on Bear Market as Trump and Mnuchin Fuel Christmas Eve Drop.

Wall Street extended its losses on Monday as President Trump continued to lash out at the Federal Reserve and an unusual weekend statement about the health of America’s financial system by Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, unnerved investors rather than calming them. …

…  Mr. Trump has become increasingly focused on the idea that the Fed chairman, Jerome H. Powell, is to blame for the markets’ slide after the central bank raised interest rates last week and indicated that it might keep doing so next year given signs of strength in America’s economy.

Stocks, already falling before Mr. Trump’s tweet, dropped further right after even as investors were still trying to interpret Mr. Mnuchin’s late Sunday statement.

The Treasury secretary said he had contacted the chief executives of six major banks to ensure that their operations were running smoothly, and that they had “ample liquidity available for lending.”

Although the assurance came during a rough run for stocks in the United States, analysts and economists have not cited a lack of cash for lending as a significant reason for the downturn.

Washington officials typically make such assurances only at times of financial crisis.

Instead of soothing investors, Mr. Mnuchin’s comments, along with Mr. Trump’s attacks on the Fed, added to a nervousness already running high as the stock decline continued to accelerate.

Paul Waldman:

When the new year begins next week, President Trump will have an acting chief of staff, an acting secretary of defense, an acting attorney general, an acting EPA administrator, no interior secretary, and no ambassador to the United Nations. The officials originally in all those positions have either been fired or have quit in various measures of disgust or scandal. His former campaign chairman, deputy campaign chairman, national security adviser and personal lawyer have all pleaded guilty to crimes. His campaign, his transition, his foundation and his business are all under investigation. The United States’ allies are horrified at the chaos Trump has brought to our foreign policy. The stock market is experiencing wild swings as investors are gripped with fear over what might be coming and what Trump might do to make it worse — a situation alarming enough that the treasury secretary felt the need to call up the CEOs of major banks to assure them that everything is under control.

And, oh yeah, the government is shut down.

This, my friends, is exactly what we were afraid of when Trump somehow managed to get elected president two years ago. This is what we warned you about.

So much winning.

Meanwhile, the government shutdown is expected to last into the new year, a shutdown that is happening because a bunch of Fox News and talk-radio hosts criticized the president for not being tough enough in fighting for his ludicrous border wall. Trump, always deeply insecure and eager to feed his base’s endless rage and desire for conflict, responded quickly to the accusation of weakness. “He spends ever more time in front of a television, often retreating to his residence out of concern that he is being watched too closely,” reports the New York Times.

I’d make a Captain Queeg joke except that we’ve been in Captain Queeg territory for quite a long time already, and it doesn’t seem to matter.

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Your Move, Republicans

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The Republicans got big irresponsible tax cuts, plus Gorsuch and Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court. But how long are they going to stand aside and watch Trump flounder and bluster out of their control?

The latest on the coming shutdown: Several hours ago the House dutifully passed a bill giving Trump his $5 billion on border wall funding. It is now with the Senate. Under current Senate rules it needs 60 votes to pass, which it will not get. Trump is calling on Mitch McConnell to kill the filibuster and pass the thing with a simple majority. So far, it doesn’t appear Mitch is willing to do that, assuming he could get the 50 votes. Trump is promising a “very long” shutdown. This would be very unpopular with the public and a disaster for the Republicans.

The stock market went down again today.

Yesterday Putin released this statement:

“With regards to the victory over ISIL, on the whole I agree with the president of the United States.”

The Russian leader expressed skepticism, however, that the United States would follow through on Mr. Trump’s pronouncement, noting that the government had similarly pledged to pull out of Afghanistan by 2014 but still stations forces there.

“We don’t see any signs yet of the withdrawal of U.S. troops,” he said. “How long has the United States been in Afghanistan? Seventeen years? And almost every year they say they’re pulling out their troops.”

Right on cue, today Trump announced we were withdrawing half our troops from Afghanistan. Martin Longman pointed out that candidate Trump was calling for withdrawing from Syria at the same time he was trying to close the Trump Tower Moscow deal. Can he be more obvious? However, I also heard the theory that perhaps Trump thinks he can use the money saved by reducing deployments to build the wall.

The Associated Press is reporting that Trump decided to withdraw troops in a phone call with Turkish President Erdogan.

The Dec. 14 call came a day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu agreed to have the two presidents discuss Erdogan’s threats to launch a military operation against U.S.-backed Kurdish rebels in northeast Syria, where American forces are based. The NSC then set up the call.

Pompeo, Mattis and other members of the national security team prepared a list of talking points for Trump to tell Erdogan to back off, the officials said.

But the officials said Trump, who had previously accepted such advice and convinced the Turkish leader not to attack the Kurds and put U.S. troops at risk, ignored the script. Instead, the president sided with Erdogan.

Right now, Erdogan is probably kicking himself he didn’t ask if he could invade Greece.

What I think: As much as I believed the original deployments to Afghanistan and Syria were a bad idea, I also think that withdrawals need to be negotiated carefully and with the interests of many alliances in mind. Trump’s capricious acts are, I fear, doing long-term damage also.

Frank Rich:

The beginning of the end of the Trump presidency came and went a long time ago. I have never wavered from my oft-stated convictions that (a) Trump will not finish out his term, and (b), the end will be triggered by a presidential meltdown that forces the Vichy Republicans in Washington to mount an insurrection — if only to save their own asses, not the country. This week was a big step toward that endgame, and surely one of the most remarkable weeks in American history.

We have a president of the United States who is moving to shut down the government at the same moment that he is inviting America’s adversaries to breach its defenses. The withdrawals in Syria and Afghanistan, combined with the exit of the last top administration official who aspired to serve the national interest rather than Trump’s, invites hostile moves against the United States from ISIS, Russia, China, North Korea, and the Taliban. This has even grabbed the cynical Mitch McConnell’s attention: He has declared himself “distressed” by Mattis’s resignation, a major step in rhetorical escalation in a party where Susan Collins’s pathetic periodic expressions of “concern” are what pass for criticism of an outlaw president. Marco Rubio’s words were stronger, a move to protect his viability for another presidential run, but more outrage from more GOP leaders will follow. What will move them is not necessarily Trump’s hara-kiri isolationist agenda but the damage his behavior both abroad and at home is inflicting on the financial markets. The sheer uncertainty of a chaos presidency is pushing the Dow to its worst December since the Great Depression. McConnell and his humiliated departing peer Paul Ryan have tolerated Trump’s racism, misogyny, and nativism, his wreckage of American alliances, his kleptocracy, and his allegiance to Vladimir Putin. They have tolerated as well his con job on the coal miners, steelworkers, and automobile-industry workers of his base. But they’ll be damned if they will stand for a president who threatens the bottom line of the GOP donor class.

Going forward, the only power that could save Trump from the abyss are Senate Republicans, and he’s done a fine job pissing them off lately. See What should worry Trump most: Republican allies are turning on him and Trump Is Spoiling his Own Jury Pool in the Senate. And see also this:

President Trump is presently working on almost all fronts to justify his removal. For Republican senators, nothing is more damning that his foreign policy decision-making. It’s highly doubtful that this will factor into any actual articles of impeachment, but his impulsiveness and cluelessness and doubtful loyalty are going to at least privately give the senators comfort that they’re justified in pulling the plug.

But hold on — today it was announced Ruth Bader Ginsburg had cancerous growths removed from her lung. She is expected to recover, but damn, not another Trump Supreme Court pick. Please.

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Get Ready for a Shutdown

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Yesterday Greg Sargent wrote that House Republicans were doing their best to save Trump from himself.

As the New York Times reports, now that Democrats have refused Trump’s demand for $5 billion in money for his border wall, Republicans are “casting about for ways to choreograph a compromise that would protect Mr. Trump’s ego and still be broadly acceptable.” …

… Democrats aren’t his only obstacle: The GOP-controlled House has refused to vote on a measure containing the $5 billion Trump wants, because many Republicans are uncertain it can pass. But Trump’s insistence that “we will win on the Wall” is a key tell that this is really just about Trump winning.

Indeed, the need to create the impression that Trump isn’t losing is driving the latest developments. Senate Republicans offered Democrats a deal in which $1 billion of border money would be treated as a “slush fund” for Trump, which presumably could maybe sort of be used toward a wall. Democrats rejected it for that reason. The White House has also vaguely said Trump will somehow find wall money elsewhere.

That latter idea is in keeping with another one of Trump’s claims — that the military will build it, funded by the renegotiated NAFTA, which is meant to show that Mexico is paying for it, after all. But this math isn’t close to credible, and it’s highly likely that Trump can’t find wall money legally without congressional approval, which Democrats won’t grant. So now Republicans are talking about trying to pass a short-term funding bill without the wall money that would kick this battle into the new year, so Trump can say he’ll pick up the fight again.

In one way or another, these ideas are all about saving face for Trump. Congressional Republicans are basically in the process of negotiating his surrender.

Well, it was all for naught. This is today:

President Trump said Thursday he would not sign a stop-gap spending bill if it didn’t include money to build a wall along the Mexico border, sending large parts of the federal government lurching towards a shutdown on Saturday.

His comments came after an emergency meeting with House Republican leaders, where Trump first revealed he would reject a measure passed in the Senate the night before. That measure would fund many government agencies through February 8, but it would not include any new money for a border wall.

CNN reports that Senate Republicans are having cows.  Those House Republicans who are still in Washington and haven’t left for Christmas break are struggling to put an amendment into the bill that gives Trump his $5 billion. But no one thinks it could pass the House, never mind the Senate. Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman:

Even if this does somehow pass the House, it’s D.O.A. in the Senate. What’s more, looking forward, it’s not like the president is going to be able to get the House to fund the wall once all those newly elected Democrats come into Congress after the new year and Pelosi is the speaker. So what is he thinking?

The answer may be: not much. Which is to say that Trump doesn’t really have a plan here, he’s just reacting out of frustration. And he’s also being pushed by one of the forces he’s least able to resist: the right wing of his own party.

Sargent and Waldman point out that over the past couple of days the Right Wing Intelligensia, people like Limbaugh and Ingraham, have been complaining about Trump backing down on wall funding. They add:

What we see in these situations is not the right pushing Trump to do something he doesn’t want to do, but the right encouraging him to follow his urges, even when they’re politically foolish and are likely to ultimately fail. The more sensible people around him are no doubt saying, “We just don’t have a choice here: There aren’t enough votes for the wall, and you’ll get blamed it a shutdown happens. How does this end well for you?”

Part of Trump understands this. But another part of him doesn’t want to believe it. And the right speaks to the latter part.

So, he’s going to self-destruct.

In other news, as of this afternoon Jim Mattis is out as Secretary of Defense. Trump tweeted Mattis would be leaving at the end of February.

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