Monday, February 19, 2018


Writing for the Daily Beast, Mike Barnicle says that President Trump won't defend America.
... Tuesday, ... Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats informed the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee that “frankly, the United States is under attack.”

... The president, Donald Trump, did nothing. This is the first time across all the dust-covered years of our history, centuries filled with courage and honor, that the elected commander-in-chief chose to tweet instead of plan to defend the country.

Tuesday became Wednesday and the Senate used the time to prove ... that even an overwhelmingly popular policy—allowing thousands brought here years ago by their parents—could not gain approval....

The president, Donald Trump, did something. He poked and prodded open wounds. Pulled at scabs of intolerance and resentment....

Then on Wednesday, a school door opened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida.... Within minutes, hallway floors were slippery with blood....

The president, Donald Trump, said nothing....

On Thursday, a nation’s eyes filled with tears....

The president, Donald Trump, appeared on TV. He forgot to use the word “gun.” ...

Friday ... in Washington, Robert Mueller ... announced the indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian business outfits for conspiring to conduct cyber-warfare against the United States....

The president, Donald Trump, ... began to tweet, an activity that would consume him most of Friday, through the weekend and nearly all Sunday morning. His tweets became increasingly deranged.

He ended the week having done nothing to defend the country.
I disagree with Mike Barnicle: Trump did many things this week to defend the country. The country he defended, however, isn't America.

I don't mean that he defended Russia (although he did that as well). I mean that he defended the nation of FoxNewsistan. He defended the nation of Wingnut America.

Wingnut America thinks the answer to any problem with guns is more guns. By means of diversion and deflection -- talk of mental health and the FBI's failings -- Trump held the line for the cause of gun absolutism. (His aides are telling us now that he's prepared to back a tightening of background checks, but trust me, the ultras in Congress will block passage of any such legislation, and Trump won't do a thing to challenge them.)

Wingnut America is deeply suspicious of immigrants, and would be perfectly content (if not delighted) to see all the Dreamers deported. Trump and the hard-liners in his party did what Wingnut America wanted done this week on immigration.

And Wingnut America wants Robert Mueller, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Christopher Steele, Susan Rice, Samantha Power, and every Trump-Russia reporter at CNN, NBC, The New York Times and The Washington Post to go to prison for (imaginary) collusion with Russia, not Trump or any of his current or former aides. Trump continues to make defending Wingnut America on these grounds his #1 priority.

So Trump really is an American patriot -- just not for the America most of us live in.


David Frum wonders whether the White House is doing nothing about Russian interference in the 2016 election because the president and others in his party want more of the same this year:
To what extent does President Trump—to what extent do congressional Republicans—look to Russian interference to help their party in the 2018 cycle?

Most observers predict a grim year for the GOP in 2018.... A little extra help could make a big difference to Republican hopes—and to Trump’s political survival.

Nothing has been done in the past 15 months to prevent that help from flowing. You have to wonder whether the president does not privately welcome that help, as he publicly welcomed help from WikiLeaks in the summer of 2016.

Trump’s own tweets reveal that among the things he most fears is the prospect of Representative Adam Schiff gaining the gavel of the House Intelligence Committee from the clownish present chairman, Devin Nunes. How far would Trump go to stop a dreaded political opponent, inside the law and outside?
Digby says she finds this puzzling:
I get that Trump is an imbecile who has no idea how politics are supposed to work. He learned everything he knows from watching TV. But other Republicans must know that it would have been so much better if they had at [least] pretended to be alarmed by this election interference and had put on a show to indicate that they were on top of the matter. But it really doesn't seem so.
But then she solves the mystery for herself.
They're all obviously more than willing to fight any attempts to stop another round of interference because they seem to be very sure that they are the ones who will benefit. And they have recognized that they can literally say anything and deny everything and their voters will not challenge them.

They already cheat with their vote suppression efforts and lies about voter fraud. If foreigners want to help them win elections by pushing out propaganda and stealing their opponents' proprietary documents and private correspondence, what's the problem? It's all for a good cause, amirite?
Republicans would be concerned (or at least would appear to be concerned) about Russian electoral interference if they felt that a significant percentage of the electorate was concerned -- or, to be precise, if they felt that the portion of the electorate that that they care about was concerned. Republicans generally don't care about the concerns of non-Republican voters -- they've gerrymandered their House districts, and many of their states are blood-red, so they don't need to trouble themselves with what the rest of us think.

Digby is right: Republican voters don't care about any form of electoral cheating that benefits Republicans. Their textbook example of rigged democracy is any contested election won by a Democrat. A Republican victory is categorical proof that the election in question wasn't successfully rigged.

They acknowledge that the 2016 presidential election was rigged, but they think it was rigged in Hillary Clinton's favor. She was defeated only because of their valant efforts to overcome the rigging. The election wasn't just rigged in her favor by the Russians and the FBI -- it was rigged by the media (which thwarts democracy every time a negative story about a Republican is published), by fraudulent voters (Republicans can never definitively demonstrate voter fraud, but they're certain it's out there), and by the very existence of a social safety net (giving citizens "free stuff" is, in Republicans' eyes, a distortion of democracy, because voters are helpless to vote against Democrats once they've benefited from government social services, which doesn't explain how Republicans have won so many elections in recent years, even in poor states like West Virginia).

Republicans equate democracy with Republican victories. When they don't win, they believe there is no democracy. They won in 2016, so whatever got them to victory is democratic by definition. Of course they aren't upset about Russian interference.

Sunday, February 18, 2018


Ross Douthat thinks we can't find middle ground on guns because both sides are full of moral zealots:
The reason that mass shootings aren’t leading to legislative action is that we have a chasm between two sweeping moral visions, one pro-gun and one anti-gun, that is now too wide to be easily bridged by incrementalism.
No, that's not why mass shootings aren't leading to legislative action. Those of us who support gun control would take any crumb we can get at the federal level -- a few months after the Sandy Hook massacre, we were willing to declare a small victory if we could get the Manchin Amendment, which expanded but did not fully universalize background checks for gun purchases, even as it loosened restrictions on interstate gun sales and made it specifically illegal for the federal government to maintain a gun registry. But even that was too much gun control for congressional Republicans. After the Las Vegas massacre, we would have settled for a bump stock ban, but Republicans said no again.

So how does Douthat characterize what he regards as an anti-gun moral fervor on the left?
The anti-gun moral vision regards America’s relationship to gun ownership as a kind of collective moral madness, a love affair with violence, a sickness unto death. Liberals increasingly write about gun ownership the way social conservatives write about abortion and euthanasia — it’s a culture of death, a Moloch devouring our children, a blood sacrifice to selfish individualism.
Many people on the left feel this way. But to some of us, gun ownership seems like a culture of denial of death. The gun culture insists that massacres are rare, that gun fatality totals are misleading because they include suicides (as if suicides aren't tragedies), and that "freedom" trumps all, even the mass slaughter of children. The gunners don't seem to revel in death as much as they deny that guns have anything to do with death.

And while mass murderers are certainly selfish individualists, the wider gun culture isn't really about individualism at all. It's about tribalism: the belief that gun cultists and their allies are the true Americans, and everyone else -- liberals, non-whites, Muslims, aliens, and even law enforcement and the government -- are the traitors within. The gunners don't believe we're in a war of each against all -- it's all of them against the rest of us.

One reason they can't accept responsibility for gun massacres that is that they see themselves are a force for absolute good -- yes, even when they're out in a field shooting beer cans with AR-15s. They believe that every gun sold makes America freer, and every sale thwarted brings us closer to tyranny.

It's impossible to compromise with people who think that way.


A billionaire GOP donor apparently just noticed that Republican gun policies kill people:
A prominent Republican political donor demanded on Saturday that the party pass legislation to restrict access to guns, and vowed not to contribute to any candidates or electioneering groups that did not support a ban on the sale of military-style firearms to civilians.

Al Hoffman Jr., a Florida-based real estate developer who was a leading fund-raiser for George W. Bush’s campaigns, said he would seek to marshal support among other Republican political donors for a renewed assault weapons ban....

Mr. Hoffman announced his ultimatum in an email to half a dozen Republican leaders, including Jeb Bush and Gov. Rick Scott of Florida. He wrote in the email that he would not give money to Mr. Scott, who is considering a campaign for the Senate in 2018....

“I will not write another check unless they all support a ban on assault weapons,” he wrote. “Enough is enough!”
I'm impressed that Hoffman won't give to Scott in what's likely to be a tough Senate campaign against the Democratic incumbent, Bill Nelson -- or I would be impressed if I could find any evidence that Hoffman had given to Scott in the past. I see no contributions from Hoffman to Scott in Florida records or at Project Vote Smart. (Scott is a billionaire who put $90 million of his own family's money into his two successful gubernatorial campaigns.)

On the other hand, Hoffman gave more than $1 million to Jeb Bush's Right to Rise PAC for the 2016 presidential campaign. What kind of gun policies did he think he was supporting with that money? When Jeb was running for president, he boasted about his A+ rating from the NRA during his time as governor of Florida, a reward for his vigorous efforts on behalf of gun absolutism:
As governor, Bush signed a law requiring the state to replace land that is lost to development and since 2006, the state has added 159,000 acres open to hunting. Another law created a $5 million fine for anybody that tries to create a registry of legal gun owners in the state. And he touted "castle doctrine" and "stand your ground" laws that allow people to defend themselves with lethal force.
How oblivious was Hoffman to Bush's gun pandering? Well, it may be a coincidence, but Hoffman wrote a $5000 check to Right to Rise on the day Jeb tweeted this:

Why did thishappen now? The Pulse nightclub shooting in Hoffman's home state didn't give him pause? My guess is that he didn't find the victims relatable -- hey, they were just a bunch of Hispanic gay guys, right? Las Vegas? I bet Hoffman doesn't like country music. Parkland? Now we're talking. I bet he looks at the victims and survivors and thinks they could be his grandkids.

I probably shouldn't be so harsh. If this is a road-to-Danascus moment for a wealthy GOP donor, and if other plutocrats are inspired by his example, that's a good thing. But how could the problem not be obvious to him until now?

Saturday, February 17, 2018


Robert Mueller's indictment describes quite a plot: Russians making reconnaissance trips to America to refine their understanding of our political system and the ways it's vulnerable to propaganda, the use of fake identities and stolen Social Security numbers, the elevation of every candidate who threatened Hillary Clinton -- Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Jill Stein -- and the online denigration of all of Trump's enemies, the use of fake offline political theater, like the scheme to construct a mock-jail meant to house a fake Hillary Clinton for an event in Florida....

Obviously, we have two problems: We need to determine how much involvement the Trump campaign had with this plot and we need to prevent the Russians from doing this again and succeeding. For now, punditry outside the right-wing media swamp generally acknowledges all this. But terrible mainstream takes are coming, so get ready.

I'm predicting that soon we'll be told by at least one mainstream pundit that the lack of action on the part of the White House should be blamed on Democrats and liberals -- our determination to find Trump administration crimes is making the White House dig in its heels and refuse to act on Russian election sabotage. Because we keep trying to portray Trump as an illegitimate, criminal president, he won't do the right thing. If we'd just stop, he'd be more likely to acknowledge that there's a threat to America and take action. So, really, the lack of action is all our fault!

How soon will we see this take on -- just a hunch -- the New York Times op-ed page? I give it a week, tops.

Friday, February 16, 2018


Is it Sean "Always Be Closing" Hannity, who responded to today's indictments with this?

Is it Kayleigh McEnany?

Or is it Jim Hoft?

Examples, Jim?
Several of these online groups were pro-Hillary and even HELD RALLIES for Hillary.

United Muslims of America was NOT pro-Trump.

Oh yeah, United Muslims of America. As the Daily Beast reported last fall:
Using the [United Muslims of America] account as a front to reach American Muslims and their allies, the Russians pushed memes that claimed Hillary Clinton admitted the U.S. “created, funded and armed” al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State; claimed that John McCain was ISIS’ true founder; whitewashed blood-drenched dictator Moammar Gadhafi and praised him for not having a “Rothschild-owned central bank”; and falsely alleged Osama bin Laden was a “CIA agent.”

... After an American admirer of ISIS massacred 49 people at an Orlando nightclub in June 2016, the community quickly created an event titled “Support Hillary. Save American Muslims!” that presented Clinton’s name in an Arabic-style font.

The fake United Muslims of America page was quick to point out Clinton was “the only presidential candidate who refuses to ‘demonize’ Islam after the Orlando nightclub shooting,” and boasted that “with such a person in White House (sic) America will easily reach the bright multicultural future.”
Yeah, I'm sure that last bit was totally meant as pro-Clinton outreach and wasn't in any way intended to inflame right-wingers, just as I'm sure the pro-Sanders material Kayleigh McEnany cited was totally sincere and not an attempt to dissuade progressives from voting for Clinton in November 2016.

I'm stumped. To me it's a photo finish.


The Washington Post's Elise Viebeck tells us that students who survived Wednesday's massacre in Florida are demanding action on guns:
In the familiar aftermath of America’s latest mass shooting, something new stood out: This time, the kids who survived the rampage on Wednesday were demanding to know why the adults who run the country had not done more to prevent it....

“How are we allowed to buy guns at the age of 18 or 19? That’s something we shouldn’t be able to do,” Lyliah Skinner, who survived the shooting, told CNN.

Guillermo Bogan, who is home-schooled but has friends at Douglas High, said the alleged shooter’s age shows the selfishness of the gun industry.

“Some people will just do anything for a dollar,” Bogan said at a midday vigil for the victims. “There should be a background check — are you mentally ill or are you not mentally ill? And clearly he was mentally ill.”
Why is this happening? I have some thoughts below. But it's clearly taking place:

And it's not just kids:
Mother Lori Alhadeff lost her daughter Alyssa Wednesday after Nikolas Cruz, a 19-year-old man, killed 17 students at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. In an interview with CNN Thursday she screamed into the camera demanding President Donald Trump do something.

“How? How do we allow a gunman to come into our children’s school?” Alhadeff asked. “How do they get through security? What security is there? There’s no metal detectors. The gunman, a crazy person, just walks right into the school, knocks on the window of my child’s door and starts shooting, shooting her and killing her!”

She then turned her anger to the president.

“President Trump, you say what can you do?” she asked, responding to Trump’s statement earlier. “You can stop the guns from getting into these children’s hands! Put metal detectors at every entrance to the schools. What can you do? You can do a lot! This is not fair to our families and our children go to school and have to get killed! I just spent the last two hours putting the burial arrangements for my daughters funeral, who is 14! Fourteen! President Trump, please do something! Do something. action! We need it now! These kids need now!”
We were told during the 2016 campaign that Trump's supporters took him seriously, but not literally. I think these people are taking Trump seriously and literally.

Trump campaigned as a man of action. He claimed he could cut through government bureaucracy and sclerosis. Among the many problems he promised to solve was violence in America.

Conor Friedersdorf remembers the promises, although he believes that only the gullible fell for them:
In his inaugural address, Donald Trump declared, “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.” He knew it would not. We know it did not.

“I’ll be able to make sure that when you walk down the street in your inner city, or wherever you are, you’re not going to be shot,” he declared during the campaign. “Your child isn’t going to be shot.” He has not been able to make sure of that––ask any parent whose children were caught up in any of the recent school shootings.

Trump gave those credulous enough to believe him false hope.

“The crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon come to an end,” he vowed at the Republican National Convention. “Beginning on January 20, 2017, safety will be restored.” But safety was not restored that day. Neither crime nor violence ended.
Friedersdorf thinks only the rubes took Trump at his word. I don't believe that. I think a lot of Americans, including many who didn't vote for Trump, expected him to be a can-do CEO-style president who'd bark orders and get something done, even if it wasn't necessarily what those voters wanted. Even the most committed Trump skeptics knew he was selling a Trump presidency as one of action rather than gridlock and dithering.

Charlie Pierce also believes that everyone apart from the most deluded deplorables was on to the con:
... he supercharged a politics in which sincerity already was a sucker’s game, a tactic to be derided and mocked. Because of that, nobody expects him to mean what he says, because that would mark you as a sap who believes that politics can be a constructive endeavor....

... he laid the groundwork for his insincerity long ago, in all those rallies where people pretended to believe that there would be a big beautiful wall that Mexico would pay for because, to do so, was to strike back at the monsters in their heads. They were bound to him by insincerity and fantasy.
Trump voters may have told reporters during the campaign that they weren't really certain he'd get the wall built, but they truly believed that his passionate talk about the wall and other hot-button issues was a sign that he'd fight like hell for them. They told the rest of us that he would. They're still telling us that. Every time a big-city reporter wanders into a rural diner, they say he's getting the job done. That must be what they're telling their warier neighbors.

And those neighbors have now looked at Wednesday's carnage and are saying, Yeah, Mr. Can-Do? Show me.

Some undoubtedly see Trump as what he is, the lead Republican standing athwart a mass murder scene yelling "Stop -- no gun control." Others see him as a man who promised to make all the bad things go away. They want action now. And when he and his fellow Republicans fail to deliver, they're likely to remember.

Thursday, February 15, 2018


The Anti-Defamation League has learned that Nikolas Cruz was affiliated with a white supremacist group.
A spokesperson for the white supremacist group Republic of Florida (ROF) told the Anti-Defamation League on Thursday, February 15, that Nikolas Cruz, the man charged with the previous day’s deadly shooting spree at a Parkland, Florida, high school, was associated with his group....

[Jordan] Jereb, based in Tallahassee, is believed to be the leader of ROF....

Jereb said that Cruz was associated with ROF, having been “brought up” by another member. Jereb added that Cruz had participated in one or more ROF training exercises in the Tallahassee area, carpooling with other ROF members from south Florida.
AP adds:

The Republic of Florida website is here. I can't help noticing a fixation on sex and fertility. This is on the ROF homepage:

And of the "10 Codes of ROF," two invoke sex:
2. Allegiance to your race

We pledge our uncorrupted hand to people of European lineage and those who consider themselves our allies. There are those outside of the white race who we will inevitably consider allies, But we must not sexually mix with them or pretend that we have no differences....

5. Sexuality and Partnerships

I will treat women (Or men if your a woman) with respect, Especially those who are acting in official capacity. If I ever engage in recreational sex I will use contraceptives. I will not have sexual relationships outside my Race, Engage in Bestiality or Pedophilia, Or Homosexuality....
(Emphasis added.)

And here's one of ROF's "infographics":

And here's another:

We know that Cruz was expelled from the high school where the massacre took place. One story we've heard is that his anger was directed at an ex-girlfriend and her subsequent boyfriend:
Nikolas Cruz, 19, had been expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for "disciplinary reasons," Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said, but he insisted he didn’t know the specifics....

Student Victoria Olvera, 17, said Cruz had been abusive to his ex-girlfriend and that his expulsion was over a fight with her new boyfriend.
I don't know what Cruz's motive was, but I won't be surprised if we learn that he was horrified by sexual and romantic "race mixing" at the high school, and possibly on his ex's part. (Remember, Cruz is his adoptive parents' name; he appears to be non-Hispanic white, and clearly thinks of himself that way if he hung out with the ROFers. Or could it be that she's ethnically Hispanic or otherwise "non-European," and he hates himself for once "race mixing" with her?)

Mass shooters frequently begin by killing wives, girlfriends, ex-girlfriends, or mothers. I'm guessing some rage of that kind was involved in this, and possibly some racial rage as well.


By the way, here's another ROF "infographic":

Surprised? Me either.


This morning, President Trump responded to yesterday's school shooting in Florida with this tweet:

On the right, I don't expect this argument to catch on. It's one thing for conservatives to say that Muslims ought to do a better job of reporting potential terrorists in their midst (even though many do just that); it's another thing to scapegoat white, culturally conservative communities this way. (In fact, Nikolas Cruz was on authorities' radar -- he'd been expelled from his school after bullets were discovered in his backpack, and he'd even been reported to the FBI by someone who'd seen a YouTube comment from him that said, "I'm going to be a professional school shooter.")

I don't think there'll be much objection to Trump's tweet from his fellow conservatives, but I don't think this will join the repertoire of canned conservative excuses for gun violence -- that is, unless school shootings start happening on a regular basis in communities of color. Then it'll be all their fault.

I see a lot of people posting this cartoon on social media:

But this really isn't what's happening anymore. As Chris Hayes said on his show last night, the NRA has won -- many of its most recent propaganda videos aren't even about guns anymore, because it has so little left on its wishlist with regard to gun policy. In the wake of massacres, the media doesn't even bother to stalk Wayne LaPierre the way it did after Sandy Hook -- everyone knows that the NRA will just double down and express no remorse. And everyone knows that all Republican officeholders (and a certain number of Democrats) will do whatever the NRA asks.

Now when there's a mass shooting, the group that must be protected at all costs is the Republican Party. Republicans' first thought is blame-shifting. Even the "thoughts and prayers" tweets are blame-shifting, or simply trolling -- they know that they'll be attacked for the empty gesture by Democrats and liberals, and then they can say Democrats and liberals hate God, while conservative preachers argue that none of this would be happening if we hadn't taken prayer out of the public schools and if we hadn't legalized abortion, because (in their view) that makes us all insensitive to the value of life.

Blaming the mental health system (even as Republicans defund mental-health initiatives and attack Obamacare) is another way of shifting blame away from themselves. And now Trump has found a new one, even if it's unlikely to catch on.

Have Republicans effectively shielded themselves? Are they safe now? I hope not. Get out and vote in November.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018




There are a couple of new polls out today. One seems like good news for the GOP:
Republicans have erased the Democratic advantage on the generic congressional ballot in a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll that, for the first time since April, also shows President Donald Trump’s approval rating equaling the percentage of voters who disapprove of his job performance.

Fully 39 percent of registered voters say they would support the GOP candidate for Congress in their district, while 38 percent would back the Democratic candidate. Nearly a quarter of voters, 23 percent, are undecided....

In the new poll, 47 percent of voters approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while the same percentage disapprove.
Politico concedes that this survey is friendlier to the GOP than other recent polls (as its polls tend to be). Meanwhile, Public Policy Polling releases a new survey that's not so good for Republicans, though it's somewhat better than earlier PPP surveys:
Democrats have a solid 49-41 lead on the generic Congressional ballot, although that’s down a shade from December when it was 51-40....

Trump has the highest approval rating we’ve found for him in a long time this month, with 44% of voters approving of him to 50% who disapprove.
But don't Democrats need an overwhelmingly unpopular Trump to have a shot at victory in the 2018 midterms? Republicans do have a built-in advantage, because Democrats are clustered in big states and big cities, and House districts are gerrymandered. But enthusiasm matters. PPP notes that Democrats are "also benefiting from an enthusiasm advantage- 65% of Clinton voters say they’re ‘very excited’ to vote in the election this fall, compared to 58% of Trump voters."

In the current Real Clear Politics average, Trump's job approval is still underwater by 11.7 points: 41.6% approve, 53.3% disapprove. (February polls from Quinnipiac, Reuters/Ipsos, Marist, and Gallup all show Trump with a disapproval gap in the double digits.)

By comparison, do you know what President Obama's gap was at this point 2010, nine months before his party lost 63 House seats and 6 Senate seats? On February 14, 2010, Obama's RCP numbers were positive -- 47.6% approval, 45.3% disapproval. And yet this was a month after Democrats lost a special Senate election in Massachusetts. Republicans have a built-in gerrymandering advantage nationwide, but that shouldn't have helped them in a Senate race in Massachusetts. But they had a big enthusiasm advantage. Most polls show that Democrats have one this year, and also that strong disapproval of Trump exceeds strong approval. (In a Quinnipiac poll released last week, 47% of respondents disapprove of Trump strongly, but only 30% approve of him strongly.)

Obama's numbers were only slightly underwater -- 45.6% approve, 49.4% disapprove -- on Election Day 2010, according to RCP. Trump, by contrast, has had a double-digit disapproval gap every day since last May. If that doesn't change, Democrats are still looking pretty good for 2018.


The signs are still bad for Republicans.


Many observers have noted that the Trump team's handling of the Rob Porter scandal is terrible -- a more competent administration would have been out in front of the story and would have contained it quickly, not allowing it to stay in the headlines for a week. Now a Trump lawyer has taken another scandal, one that was slipping down the memory hole, and has brought it back to the front pages. Why?
Michael D. Cohen, President Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, said on Tuesday that he had paid $130,000 out of his own pocket to a pornographic-film actress who had once claimed to have had an affair with Mr. Trump.

In the most detailed explanation of the 2016 payment made to the actress, Stephanie Clifford, Mr. Cohen, who worked as a counsel to the Trump Organization for more than a decade, said he was not reimbursed for the payment.

“Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly,” Mr. Cohen said in a statement to The New York Times. “The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful, and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone.”
Do we really believe Cohen would do that out of the goodness of his own heart? And if Cohen says he wasn't reimbursed by the Trump Organization or Trump campaign, does that rule out reimbursment by Trump himself?

Also, as Orin Kerr points out, Cohen didn't exactly say that he personally paid all the money, despite how news reports are characterizing his statement:
Yesterday Cohen made this statement admitting the bulk of the story. "In a private transaction in 2016," Cohen said, "I used my own personal funds to facilitate a payment of $130,000 to [Daniels]. Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with [Daniels], and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly."

... Does Cohen actually say he paid the $130,000 out of his own pocket? ... All Cohen says is that he used his personal funds to "facilitate a payment of $130,000."

... if it took Cohen a few hundred dollars to set up an entity to pay Daniels, and to wire someone else's $130,000 to her, then he would have been using his own personal funds to faciltate that payment.
Why did a Trump loyalist want to get America talking about Stormy Daniels again? Why did he do this with a statement that raises more questions than it answers? It's another example of incompetent crisis management in Trump World -- unless Trump World believes that this sort of chaos is actually helping Trump. Hey, his poll numbers are up since the Stormy Daniels story broke, aren't they? Do the Trumpers think the president needs more scandals, because more scandals equal more mainstream-media outrage, and MSM outrage builds loyalty among Republican voters?

Or maybe incompetence is the simpler explanation. I can't figure it out.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018


A survey from Priorities USA, a group affiliated with the Democratic Party, confirms that the public is somewhat less averse to President Trump and the GOP than it was a few months ago:
According to internal polling by the super PAC, President Trump's approval rating climbed to 44 percent in the first week of February, compared to 53 percent who disapprove. That mirrors Trump's improving position in public polls.

In November, the same survey found his approval rating at 40 percent, with 54 percent disapproving.

The group’s survey also showed the Democratic Party’s generic ballot advantage had shrunk, with 46 percent preferring Democrats to 42 percent for Republicans.
Priorities argues that Democrats need to start talking about the economy:
For much of the past year Democrats have debated Republicans on tax reform and the Republican efforts to dismantle and sabotage the Affordable Care Act. When that debate was being waged, voters overwhelmingly sided with Democrats. In the last few weeks, Democrats turned their attention to other issues while Trump has continued to promote his economic policies, and Trump’s numbers have incrementally improved as a result.... While still on track for a successful November, the extent of Democratic gains will be blunted if Democrats do not reengage more aggressively in speaking to the economic and health care priorities of voters.
There are a few problems with this analysis.

First, it's not as if Democrats spent all of 2017 fighting Trump and the GOP on the economy and Obamacare exclusively -- they attacked him on everything. If his numbers were lower in 2017, it's not because Democrats had a laser focus on kitchen-table issues.

Beyond that, how do Democrats focus voters' attention on the Affordable Care Act now? It's not under a direct threat of elimination the way it was in 2017.

And on the subject of taxes, some of the people who gave Trump bad grades in 2017 did so because he and congressional Republicans couldn't pass a tax bill. Once the bill was passed, a certain percentage of voters, inevitably, were happy. Democrats can't say anymore that Republicans can't get anything accomplished.

After that, Republicans did a better-than-expected job of selling the bill. They took credit for 2017's share of the long-term recovery and said it was all Trump's doing. An ongoing series of well-publicized bonus announcements has helped to reinforce the notion that Trump and the GOP are improving the economy.

One reason this is working is that it fits a narrative a lot of Americans are inclined to believe: that someone outside of politics can do a better job than a career politician, especially if he's a businessman. Americans love this idea -- it's believed across the political spectrum. (Here in deep-blue New York City, voters gave three mayoral terms to Mike Bloomberg because they believed it.)

I don't think Democrats should try to tell people who are feeling better about the economy that what they really should feel is anxiety. That's not going to work. Democrats should point out the problems -- layoffs are still happening, raises aren't, the stock market is uncertain, and cuts to needed programs are inevitable if Republicans keep both houses of Congress -- but they should expect people to want to feel good about current conditions, if that's what they're feeling now, until those conditions change.

I think Democrats should emphasize whatever Republicans are doing that's clearly not working -- they'd be crazy to try to focus on bad-mouthing the economy this week instead of talking about the Rob Porter debacle. Beyond that, Democrats should talk about what they'd do about problems that aren't being addressed -- education costs, the opioid crisis, and so on.

The GOP has effective messaging on the economy. Democrats can't fully neutralize it right now. They need to wait and see what happens between now and November, and in the meantime they need to talk about other subjects, because the public really doesn't like Trump, however much people feel good about their economic situation.


The New York Times has hired conservative (but anti-Trump) ex-Wall Street Journal opinion writers Bret Stephens and Bari Weiss in the past year, and now The Washington Post has responded in kind:
The Washington Post today announced Megan McArdle will be a columnist for the Opinions section starting March 1. In this role, McArdle will write columns with a focus on the intersection of economics, business and public policy.

“Megan offers one of the liveliest, smartest, least predictable takes on policy, politics and everything else, from the history of washing machines to essential rules for living,” said Fred Hiatt, Editorial Page editor for The Post. “We’re excited to share her perspective and her distinctive voice with our readers and to deepen our coverage of economic and financial topics.”
What do we regard as McArdle's most appalling hot take? Perhaps your choice would be the column in which she recommended training children to rush mass murderers:
I'd also like us to encourage people to gang rush shooters, rather than following their instincts to hide; if we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun, these sorts of mass shootings would be less deadly, because even a guy with a very powerful weapon can be brought down by 8-12 unarmed bodies piling on him at once. Would it work? Would people do it? I have no idea; all I can say is that both these things would be more effective than banning rifles with pistol grips.
My pick would be the column in which, after a horrendous fire in England, she argued that not installing sprinkler systems in public housing might be justified on cost-benefit grounds:
Maybe sprinkler systems should be required in multifamily dwellings. It’s completely possible that the former housing minister made the wrong call. But ... safety regulations come at a cost, which may exceed their benefit. Such calculations have to be made, no matter how horrified the tut-tutting after the fact.

... When it comes to many regulations, it is best to leave such calculations of benefit and cost to the market, rather than the government. People can make their own assessments of the risks, and the price they’re willing to pay to allay them, rather than substituting the judgment of some politician or bureaucrat who will not receive the benefit or pay the cost.

Grenfell Tower, of course, was public housing, which changes the calculation somewhat. And yet, even there, trade-offs have to be made. The government spends money on a great number of things, many of which save lives. Every dollar it spends on installing sprinkler systems cannot be spent on the health service, or national defense, or pollution control. Would more lives be saved by those measures or by sprinkler systems in public housing? It’s hard to say.
The New Republic's Jeet Heer writes:

The press is the child who finds a pile of manure under the Christmas tree and optimistically says, "There must be a pony somewhere!" The manure pile is the contemporary Republican Party; the pony being sought is a future post-Trump party that's hawkish and fiscally conservative but is house-trained and able to maintain good manners in the presence of decent, well-bred people. The editors of the Times and Post opinion sections don't seem to care that every Republican in government is either a Trumper or a soon-to-be-retiree, and that the GOP voter base is besotted with Trump -- there simply is no #NeverTrump GOP anymore. The editors also seem to have overlooked the fact that a significant percentage of what's awful about the GOP predates Trump: its choice of Ayn Rand as a guiding spirit, its undying faith in plutocrats and deregulation, and its reliance on Fox News to generate both publicity and ideas. No matter -- opinion writers will be hired as if the party will someday be a good-faith participant in the process of governing. Our top editors don't understand that that won't be the case at any time in the foreseeable future.

As I've said many times, when 2020 comes around the media's distaste for Trump won't necessarily result in positive coverage for his Democratic opponent. I expect the press to all but beg John Kasich to run, or Mitt Romney (who'll be a Utah senator by then). If either of these guys runs third-party, the media's energy will be directed to the "insurgent" campaign, not to the Democrat's. Trust me.


This morning on NPR, Rachel Martin talked to Stephen Moore of the Heritage Foundation about the Republican approach to the budget and the rising deficits that are certain to result -- and, maddeningly, the tax cut signed into law by President Trump (whom Moore advises) was never mentioned once.

In a separate segment, Steve Inskeep talked to reporter Tamara Keith about the White House's debt-drenched budget proposal. Inskeep did mention the tax cuts -- but he also described the (obviously correct) belief that Republicans run up debt when they're in charge and then demand austerity when Democrats are in charge as a "conspiracy theory." Here's what he said to Keith. Notice how he weighs the "conspiracy theory" and then dismisses it:
Okay, so let's figure out if there is some larger strategy here, which is -- it's widely felt in some circles that there is. First, Republicans would pass a big tax cut, the deficit gets much larger, and then you say, "Oh wow, we need to cut government." I mean, that the fear, the conspiracy theory. But I think you're telling me that the White House is not even interested in the cutting-government part for the most part.

I wish the Republican approach to the budget, which as Jonathan Chait and others have said has been consistent for decades, were clear to average Americans: Republicans want tax cuts for the wealthy and hate the social safety net, so they cut taxes and run up debt whenever they're in power, then demand belt-tightening whenever Democrats are in power (because the debt they've increased is so high). But even if only a partial truth is getting through, that might help Democrats.

I'm seeing more and more reports (including the first one linked above) that acknowledge the hypocrisy without explaining its purpose. The narrative is that Republicans are free spenders when they're in charge and then demand cuts to social programs when Democrats are in charge because they want to be mean to Democrats, not because they have a long-term goal of forcing social spending cuts. The narrative also says that Republicans spend more than they take in when they're in charge not because they want to induce a debt crisis, but because they like to spend like drunken sailors, just the way they say Democrats do.

I don't think it's a bad thing if Republican voters think spending is excessive now because Republicans are spendthrifts. Republicans in government may be utterly cynical about deficits and debt, but Republican voters aren't. They hate deficits and debt. Even the partial truth in the media narrative will probably inspire a number of them not to turn out to vote Republican in November.

I'd like Democrats to find a way to run issue ads attacking incumbent Republicans for running up the debt. The ads should be completely separate from Democratic campaign ads, and should come from separate groups. They should use Republican-style language and say nothing about the election or the Democratic candidate. Just ratfuck the Republicans with their own rhetoric about fiscal restraint.

That might help get Democrats elected, because GOP voters aren't in on the GOP scheme.