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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Incompetence Update, Economics Edition

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's approach to governing The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

The U.S. posted its biggest monthly budget deficit on record last month, amid a 20 percent drop in corporate tax revenue and a boost in spending so far this fiscal year.

The budget gap widened to $234 billion in February, compared with a fiscal gap of $215.2 billion a year earlier. That gap surpassed the previous monthly record of $231.7 billion set seven years ago, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
On the advice of a media pundit turned adviser, Trump picked another pundit for a job requiring actual expertise.

Eamon Javers and Jacob Pramuk at CNBC:
Earlier this week, Trump spoke to National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow. The president had seen a column in The Wall Street Journal, co-written by Moore, with the headline: “The Fed Is a Threat to Growth.” In it, Moore argued that the “last major obstacle to staying on this path [of economic growth] is the deflationary monetary policy of the Federal Reserve.”
Trump asked his top economic advisor whether he had seen the column. Kudlow replied that he had and “liked it a lot.”

“Why isn’t [Moore] the Fed chairman?” Trump asked rhetorically.
After Kudlow answered that the Fed board had two openings, the president asked his advisor to talk to Moore about one of the posts. Kudlow asked whether Moore was interested, and he said he was. Trump offered Moore the Fed board job, which will not become official until he goes through a vetting process.
I first started writing about Moore in 1997. Four years before, President Clinton had raised the top tax rate to 39.6 percent, and supply-siders had insisted this would without question cause tax revenues to drop. This prediction was a necessary corollary of supply-side economic theory, which holds that tax revenue moves in the opposite direction of the top tax rate. The prediction was spectacularly wrong — revenue not only rose, it rose much, much faster than even the most optimistic advocates of Clinton’s plan had predicted.
...
He is capable of writing entire columns that contain no true facts at all. He made so many factual errors he achieved the rare feat of being banned from the pages of a Midwestern newspaper. He has sold his policy elixir to state governments which have promptly experienced massive fiscal crises as a direct result of listening to him. He believes what he calls “the heroes of the economy: the entrepreneur, the risk-taker, the one who innovates and creates the things we want to buy” should be lionized, and that the idea that a recession might be caused by anything other than excessively high rates on these heroes defies “common sense.” He was pulled into Trump’s orbit during the 2016 campaign and co-wrote a ludicrous hagiography of Trump and his agenda. By all appearances, Moore opposes mainstream fiscal theories because he simply doesn’t understand them.
Conservative economist Greg Mankiw:
A couple of weeks ago, I gave a talk at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. I said that, although I am not a fan of President Trump, I have to give him credit for making good appointments to the Fed. I was thinking about people like Jay Powell, Rich Clarida, and Randy Quarles.
Then today the president nominates Stephen Moore to be a Fed governor. Steve is a perfectly amiable guy, but he does not have the intellectual gravitas for this important job. If you doubt it, read his latest book Trumponomics (or my review of it).
It is time for Senators to do their job. Mr. Moore should not be confirmed.



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What We Already Know Is Damning

In  Defying the Oddswe discuss Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

Rosalind S. Helderman and Tom Hamburger at WP:
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has concluded his investigation without charging any Americans with conspiring with Russia to interfere in the 2016 campaign and help elect Donald Trump.
But hundreds of pages of legal filings and independent reporting since Mueller was appointed nearly two years ago have painted a striking portrayal of a presidential campaign that appeared untroubled by a foreign adversary’s attack on the U.S. political system — and eager to accept the help.
When Trump’s eldest son was offered dirt about Hillary Clinton that he was told was part of a Russian government effort to help his father, he responded, “I love it.”
When longtime Trump friend Roger Stone was told a Russian national wanted to sell damaging information about Clinton, he took the meeting.
When the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks published documents that the Democratic National Committee said had been stolen by Russian operatives, Trump’s campaign quickly used the information to its advantage. Rather than condemn the Kremlin, Trump famously asked Russia to steal more.
Even after taking office, Trump has been hesitant to condemn Russia’s actions, instead calling the investigation a “witch hunt” and denouncing the work of federal investigators seeking to understand a Russian attack on the country he leads.

Incompetence Update, March 2019

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's approach to governing The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.


John Hudson and Josh Dawsey at WP:
The source of the confusion was Trump’s reference to “today.” No sanctions had been announced Friday, leading analysts to assume the president was referring to a round of sanctions imposed Thursday by the Treasury Department.
In fact, Trump was referring to a future round of previously unknown sanctions scheduled for the coming days, said administration officials familiar with the matter. The officials declined to specify what those sanctions would entail.
The move to forestall future sanctions represents an attempt by the president to salvage his nuclear negotiations with North Korea in the face of efforts by national security adviser John Bolton and others to increase punitive economic measures against the regime of Kim Jong Un.
The confusion created by policy differences inside the administration was compounded by the president’s imprecise tweet.
When asked to explain the tweet, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders simply noted that “President Trump likes Chairman Kim, and he doesn’t think these sanctions will be necessary.”


Fred Barbash and Deanna Paul at WP report that federal judges have ruled against the administration at least 63 times since 2017.
Two-thirds of the cases accuse the Trump administration of violating the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), a nearly 73-year-old law that forms the primary bulwark against arbitrary rule. The normal “win rate” for the government in such cases is about 70 percent, according to analysts and studies. But as of mid-January, a database maintained by the Institute for Policy Integrity at the New York University School of Law shows Trump’s win rate at about 6 percent.
Seth Jaffe, a Boston-based environmental lawyer who represents corporations and had been looking forward to deregulation, said the administration has failed to deliver.
...

Some errors are so basic that Jaffe said he has to wonder whether agency officials are more interested in announcing policy shifts than in actually implementing them. “It’s not just that they’re losing. But they’re being so nuts about it,” he said, adding that the losses in court have “set regulatory reform back for a period of time.”
Contributing to the losing record has been Trump himself. His reported comments about “shithole countries,” for example, helped convince U.S. District Judge Edward M. Chen in San Francisco that the administration’s decision to end “temporary protected status” for hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Central America, Haiti and Sudan was motivated by racial and ethnic bias.
At least a dozen decisions have involved Trump’s tweets or comments.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Attacking a Hero, and Getting Away with It

While Trump’s nonstop effort to mar the late senator’s memory should surprise no one, the response of McCain’s Republican Senate colleagues to Trump’s posthumous onslaught is both telling and disgraceful. The barons of the Senate live in fear of the president and his base. When Trump told Iowans in early 2016 that he could stand on New York’s Fifth Avenue “and shoot somebody” and still not lose voters, he knew of what he spoke.
Senator Lindsey Graham, McCain’s “best friend” and a naval reserve officer, is the most obvious case in point. Graham would only offer up tweeted mush in defense of his one-time “Amigo”: “As to @SenJohnMcCain and his devotion to his country: He stepped forward to risk his life for his country, served honorably under difficult circumstances, and was one of the most consequential senators in the history of the body.” We are comforted.
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And yet politically, who can blame Graham for going full weasel?
The polls tell the story, namely that embrace of Trump is a surefire way to defuse a prospective GOP primary. To illustrate, in 2017 Graham had one of the highest disapproval ratings in his home state of any senator, 40%. By January 2019, Graham’s disapproval numbers had dropped to 32%.
Playing Trump’s hatchet man at the Kavanaugh confirmation clearly paid off for Graham, and with McCain lying soundly in the grave, their friendship could lie there too. Said differently, if Graham could stand idly by as Trump trashed McCain, it was a green light for others to do the same.
Robert Costa, Josh Dawsey and Seung Min Kim at WP:
By attacking McCain, Trump allies said Thursday, the president is stoking his supporters’ rawest emotions and suspicions about the GOP’s political elite.
“You’re talking about a group of people who have felt powerless and voiceless for many years until President Trump came along, and they’re going to be loyal to him. It’s part of the fabric of their life,” said Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R), who has run Trump-style insurgent campaigns in his state. “To those people, McCain was the embodiment of a lifetime career politician.”
Mike Shields, a Republican consultant who has worked with Trump’s political team, said Trump is tapping into how “a significant number of voters in this country have seen politicians that lie to them, make promises, are disingenuous, who are basically not themselves. They aren’t real. When the president does things like this, he is real. There’s a currency for that.”
And there is an audience. On social media, Fox News and other conservative-leaning platforms, Trump’s searing critiques of the late senator are acceptable to many rank-and-rile Republicans.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Trump v. Distinguished Attorney, a Deceased War Hero, and the Truth

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's character.   The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.


With a single insult-filled morning tweet, tapped out from the White House residence before 8 a.m., the president extended his dispute with Conway’s anti-Trump spouse, George, into a bewildering second day. By the afternoon, Trump had complemented it with new attacks on a dead man: the late Republican senator and war hero John McCain. Speaking in Ohio, Trump declared that he “never liked [McCain] much … [and] probably never will.”
From RealClearPolitics:
 At a speech Wednesday at a tank factory in Ohio, President Trump took a moment to talk about his feud with the late Sen. John McCain. 
"I gave him the kind of funeral that he wanted, which as president I had to approve. I don't care about this. I didn’t get thank you. That's ok. We sent him on the way, but I wasn't a fan of John McCain," Trump said. 
He also noted: "John McCain received the fake and phony dossier. You hear about the dossier? It was paid for by Crooked Hillary Clinton. And John McCain got it. And what did he do? He didn’t call me. He turned it over to the FBI hoping to put me in jeopardy."
 Linda Qiu at NYT:
Senator John McCain did obtain a copy of the so-called Steele Dossier, which outlined a range of often salacious but unproven misdeeds by President Trump and his associates — and he did turn it over to the F.B.I. — but this occurred after the 2016 presidential election. The information provided by Christopher Steele, the former British spy who compiled the dossier, had already reached F.B.I. agents investigating Mr. Trump in September, and he met with agents in October.
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Mr. Trump did authorize facets of Mr. McCain’s funeral arrangements, namely the use of military transportation, military pallbearers and band support. He also ordered the flag to be flown at half-staff at the White House and other public buildings — after pressure from his own staff, veterans groups and lawmakers.
But other elements of Mr. McCain’s funeral were not up to Mr. Trump. The senator was lain in the Capitol Rotunda, a decision approved by Congress, and his Washington memorial service took place at Washington National Cathedral.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Brazil Nuts

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's dishonesty and his record of disregarding the rule of law.  In our forthcoming update, we bring the story up through the 2018 election.

Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Carrie Dann at NBC:
When historians look back on the Trump years, they will wonder why the president of the United States cozied up to some of the most authoritarian, controversial and brutal leaders in the world.
On Tuesday, Trump held a joint press conference with Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro, who has been accused of making homophobic, misogynistic and anti-gay statements.

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It’s hardly a first:
  • Last month, Trump came to Kim Jong Un’s defense over the death of American Otto Warmbier, saying: “I don’t believe that he would've allowed that to happen.”
  • Back in 2017, Trump praised the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte for combating illegal drugs. Duterte’s method: extrajudicial killings.
  • The Trump administration has rolled out the red carpet for Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman, who has authorized a campaign against dissenters, one of whom was Jamal Khashoggi.
  • Oh, and there’s Vladimir Putin.
Remarks by President Trump and President Bolsonaro of the Federative Republic of Brazil in Joint Press Conference

Bolsonaro: "In conclusion, may I say that Brazil and the United States stand side by side in their efforts to ensure liberties and respect to traditional family lifestyles, respect to God, our Creator, against the gender ideology or the politically correct attitudes, and against fake news."

Trump: "You look at the networks, you look at the news, you look at the newscasts — I call it “fake news.”  I’m very proud to hear the President use the term “fake news.”  But you look at what’s happening with the networks.  You look at what’s happening with different shows.  And it’s hard to believe we win."

Rick Noack at WP:
During a news conference with right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, Trump said: “I also intend to designate Brazil as a major non-NATO ally, or even possibly — if you start thinking about it — maybe a NATO ally. I have to talk to a lot of people, but maybe a NATO ally.”
This might be an interesting suggestion — if Brazil was located somewhere between Greece and Britain. NATO stands for North Atlantic Treaty Organization and is a European-North American alliance, which is in many ways tailored to the two regions. To add Brazil, Trump wouldn’t just have to “talk to a lot of people,” but he would also need to get all NATO member states to agree to change Article 10 of the alliance’s 1949 founding treaty, which states that only European countries can join, besides Canada and the United States.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Racial Ideology

In Defying the Odds, we discuss  social divides and the leftward drift of the Democratic Party.     The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

Eric Kaufmann at NYT:
Amid the uproar over the Ralph Northam blackface photograph, a Washington Post poll asked Virginians if he should remain governor. The results were striking: Only 48 percent of whites felt that he should stay in office. That percentage was exceeded by the nearly 60 percent of black Virginians who thought Mr. Northam should remain.
In another survey, part of my own research, I asked Americans whether President Trump’s wall is racist. White Democrats overwhelmingly said it was, virtually no Republicans did — and minorities placed in the middle.
We find this pattern across numerous issues. And taken as a whole, it reveals something about the United States in the Trump era: The country is not divided by racial conflict, but by conflict over racial ideology. This is a crucial difference — and it is also grounds for optimism.
Race pertains to communities defined by ancestry and physical appearance. Racial ideology turns instead on race as a political idea. Questions like “Should Northam resign?” or “Is the wall racist?” divide voters today by ideology far more than race.
“White” is a description of a person’s race, whereas feelings about whether whites are privileged or whether diversity makes the country stronger are part of a person’s racial ideology.
Liberal whites — not minorities — are setting the tone on these issues.
Since 2012, white liberals have moved considerably left on questions related to race, reflecting both a campus- and online-driven cultural awakening that has accelerated in response to Mr. Trump. On the American National Election Study’s scale measuring how respondents feel about a group — white liberals are warmer toward minorities than their own racial group.