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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Let Them Eat Hermes

Great way to sell tax reform, Mnoochie.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin's wife Louise Linton is facing a backlash for an Instagram post -- later deleted -- that touted the couple's wealth.
The post began with a glamorous photo of Linton stepping off an official government plane on a trip to Kentucky with her husband, who was there to discuss tax reform with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and visit Fort Knox.
Dressed in all white and carrying a handbag and silk scarf, the Scottish-born actress and producer tagged a series of luxury designers, including Hermes, Roland Mouret, Tom Ford and Valentino.

"Great #daytrip to #Kentucky! #nicest #people #beautiful #countryside #usa," she wrote.
Instagram user Jenni Miller, a mother of three from Oregon, took issue with the post, commenting, "Glad we could pay for your little getaway. #deplorable"

A Trump Supporter's Second Thoughts

Julius Krein at NYT:
I supported the Republican in dozens of articles, radio and TV appearances, even as conservative friends and colleagues said I had to be kidding. As early as September 2015, I wrote that Mr. Trump was “the most serious candidate in the race.” Critics of the pro-Trump blog and then the nonprofit journal that I founded accused us of attempting to “understand Trump better than he understands himself.” I hoped that was the case. I saw the decline in this country — its weak economy and frayed social fabric — and I thought Mr. Trump’s willingness to move past partisan stalemates could begin a process of renewal.
It is now clear that my optimism was unfounded. I can’t stand by this disgraceful administration any longer, and I would urge anyone who once supported him as I did to stop defending the 45th president.
Far from making America great again, Mr. Trump has betrayed the foundations of our common citizenship. And his actions are jeopardizing any prospect of enacting an agenda that might restore the promise of American life.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Why Recruitment Matters

So far, Democrats have a big recruitment edge in the 2018 elections for the House.  At FiveThirtyEight, Seth Masket writes:
Why do we see such a strong relationship? It’s not precisely that the number of candidates causes a party to win more seats. After all, there are only so many House seats in play. What a large number of challengers does create is a better recruitment environment. If there are several challengers from whom to choose in a particular race, a party can pick the strongest nominee. 
Political science research suggests that the recruitment of high-quality candidates explains a good deal of election outcomes — if a party can convince a large number of skilled and experienced candidates to run for office, those candidates tend to do better and the party tends to win more seats. Indeed, the recruitment of quality candidates helps explain the development of the incumbency advantage in 20th century American politics. Finding strong candidates was Newt Gingrich’s approach prior to the 1994 Republican landslide, just as it was Rahm Emanuel’s strategy for 2006.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Incompetence Update

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's approach to governing.

Bannon is gone. Kelly is in place, for now.  and chaos reigns.

At The Washington Post, James Pfiffner writes:
[C]onsider Trump’s efforts to repeal and/or replace the Affordable Care Act, which first failed to make it through the House before a second attempt passed, and then failed twice to pass the Senate. In urging Congress to act, Trump changed his position at least five times. The shifting positions and responsibility showed the lack of a coherent approach to policy and an inability to coordinate with Republicans in Congress.

Many other White House misfires reveal general dysfunction. Trump’s skeptical attitude toward NATO was opposed by his vice president and his national security team of McMaster, Mattis and Tillerson. In his Oval Office meeting with Russian diplomats, Trump revealed sensitive intelligence received from Israel. Trump wanted to dump the nuclear deal with Iran, but Mattis, Tillerson and McMaster disagreed. Trump’s tweets declaring a ban on transgender service members caught the Pentagon by surprise. Trump did not discuss his Aug. 8 threat that North Korea would be met “with fire and fury” with Mattis, Tillerson, McMaster or Kelly. After Tillerson said that Americans should “have no concerns about … the rhetoric of the past few days,” Trump tweeted that U.S. forces were “locked and loaded.”
These disconnects between Trump, his White House staff and Cabinet members seem to validate Republican Sen. Lindsey O. Graham’s quip to The Washington Post: “I don’t believe Trump colluded with the Russians, because I don’t believe he colludes with his own staff.”

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Sasse on Charlottesville

Sen. Sasse on Facebook: "I doubt that Donald Trump will be able to calm and comfort the nation in that moment. He (and lots of others) will probably tell an awful combination of partial truths and outright falsehoods."

Friday, August 18, 2017

Bannon Out

Daily Beast:
He’s out.
Late this week, President Donald Trump began telling senior staffers and outside confidants that he intended to sack Steve Bannon, the nationalist firebrand and White House chief strategist who helped steer Trump’s chaotic presidential campaign to victory.
Two Trump administration officials told The Daily Beast on Friday that the president has said that he wanted Bannon “out” and “gone” this week.
On Friday afternoon, they made it official, with chief of staff John Kelly informing Bannon of the change in direction.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Honoring the Confederacy Is Honoring White Supremacy

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's relationship to bigotry.

On March 21, 1861, Alexander H. Stephens frankly explained the basis of the  Confederacy, of which he was vice president. 
The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.

Bannon Speaks

Bannon spoke to Robert Kuttner of The American Prospect, then made the ridiculous claim that he didn't know it was an interview.
Contrary to Trump’s threat of fire and fury, Bannon said: “There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it. Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.” Bannon went on to describe his battle inside the administration to take a harder line on China trade, and not to fall into a trap of wishful thinking in which complaints against China’s trade practices now had to take a backseat to the hope that China, as honest broker, would help restrain Kim.
“To me,” Bannon said, “the economic war with China is everything. And we have to be maniacally focused on that. If we continue to lose it, we're five years away, I think, ten years at the most, of hitting an inflection point from which we'll never be able to recover.”
Bannon scoffs at officials who disagree.
“Oh, they’re wetting themselves,” he said, explaining that the Section 301 complaint, which was put on hold when the war of threats with North Korea broke out, was shelved only temporarily, and will be revived in three weeks. As for other cabinet departments, Bannon has big plans to marginalize their influence.

“I’m changing out people at East Asian Defense; I’m getting hawks in. I’m getting Susan Thornton [acting head of East Asian and Pacific Affairs] out at State.”

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Racists Cheer Trump

Rosie Gray at The Atlantic:
White nationalist and alt-right activists are cheering President Trump for defending white-nationalist protesters and placing equal blame on counterprotesters for the violence that ensued in Charlottesville this past weekend at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.
“Really proud of him,” the alt-right leader Richard Spencer said in a text message. “He bucked the narrative of Alt-Right violence, and made a statement that is fair and down to earth. C’ville could have hosted a peaceful rally — just like our event in May — if the police and mayor had done their jobs. Charlottesville needed to police the streets and police the antifa, whose organizations are dedicated to violence.”
Spencer said he didn’t necessarily view Trump’s remarks as an endorsement of the protesters’ goal; the Unite the Right rally was held to protest the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue. “He was calling it like he saw it,” Spencer, who was one of the leaders of the protest, said. “He endorsed nothing. He was being honest.” Spencer held a press conference in his office and home in Alexandria on Monday in which he said he did not believe Trump had condemned white nationalists in his comments on Monday, in which the president said “racism is evil” and specifically called out white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan. Trump made those remarks after intense criticism for failing to specifically condemn white-nationalist groups in his initial response.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Trump Retweets

Trump Twitter is the best Twitter.

AP reports:
President Donald Trump appears to have mistakenly retweeted a message from one of his critics saying "he's a fascist."
Trump deleted his retweet after about five minutes, but not before the message sent to his 35 million followers racked up a big response.

Mashable reports:
The president gave a subtle nod to the so-called alt-right by retweeting a post by Jack Posobiec, a Trump supporter and far-right conspiracy theorist who was behind the "Pizzagate"scandal and disrupted a performance of "Julius Caesar" over the summer.

He also allegedly came up with the fake "Rape Melania" viral photo that smeared protesters and launched the #DumpStarWars hashtag after claiming that Rogue One contained anti-Trump scenes.

At Axios, Alayna Treen reports:
President Trump retweeted a meme of a train crashing into a human embodiment of CNN Monday morning, with the words "FAKE NEWS CAN'T STOP THE TRUMP TRAIN" above it. The tweet was later deleted.
Timing: The retweet comes three days after a car drove through a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing a woman and injuring many more. Trump clashed yesterday with CNN reporter Jim Acosta, telling him "I like real news, not fake news. You're fake news."

Monday, August 14, 2017

Old South, Meet New South

In Defying the Odds, we discuss economic and social trends underlying partisan shifts.

Reid Wilson, Justin Redman, and Sumner Park write at The Hill that the New South (Virginia, Georgia, and the Carolinas) is becoming more Democratic as a result of economic change.
Collectively, the four New South states produce almost two-thirds of the nation's tobacco crop. But since peaking at 1.9 billion pounds in 1978, the amount of tobacco the nation produces, and the number of farms producing it, have plummeted.

Forty years ago, there were more than 60,000 tobacco farms in the New South, which produced 1.2 billion pounds of crops. In 2012, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, there were just 2,478 tobacco farms in those four states, producing 492 million pounds.

The decline is even more pronounced in the textile industry: Nationally, employment in textile mills has fallen from about half a million in 1990 to just 109,000 workers today, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Almost 60 percent of the textile jobs in America are located in the four New South states — but the number of jobs in those states has fallen by almost half just since 2005, according to the Census Bureau.

As a consequence, rural counties in the New South are shrinking. Forty-one percent of North Carolina towns lost population between 2010 and 2016, according to the UNC Carolina Population Center.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Trump and Charlottesville: "Many Sides" and "Best Regards"

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's relationship to bigotry.

Yesterday, a Charlottesville rally by supporters of Nazism and the KKK resulted in disaster when a driver deliberately smashed into counter-demonstrators, killing one and injuring many others.  Jennifer Rubin writes about Trump's reaction:
When he belatedly spoke up, all he could muster was a vague tweet (“We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Let’s come together as one!”) and then a despicable statement evincing the kind of moral equivalence Republicans used to denounce. (“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.” In case you missed that, he repeated, “On many sides.”) In yet another tone-deaf tweet, he declared, “Condolences to the family of the young woman killed today, and best regards to all of those injured, in Charlottesville, Virginia. So sad!” Sad?? His stilted, off-key lines betray his lack of empathy and failure to comprehend the gravity of the moment.

Natasha Bertrand at Business Insider:

The founder of the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi and white supremacist website that considers itself a part of the alt-right, celebrated the fact that Trump "outright refused to disavow" the white nationalist rally and movement.
"People saying he cucked are shills and kikes," wrote the founder, Andrew Anglin. "He did the opposite of cuck. He refused to even mention anything to do with us. When reporters were screaming at him about White Nationalism he just walked out of the room."
"Cuck" is short for "cuckservative" — a portmanteau of "cuckold" and "conservative" used by the alt-right to describe white Republicans "who are participating in the displacement of European Americans," according to white nationalist Richard Spencer.
When Trump tweeted earlier on Saturday that "we ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for," Spencer, who attended both days of protests, replied: "Did Trump just denounce antifa?"
Antifa is short for antifascist organizations.

"Clearly President Trump is condemning the real haters: the SJW/Marxists who've attacked our guys," said one commenters on the far-right, pro-Trump subreddit called r/The_Donald.
"Marxist" and "SJW," or social justice warrior, are terms frequently used by the far-right to describe liberals.

"So glad GEOTUS called this bulls--t out for what it really is," said another commenter, using an acronym to refer to Trump that stands for "God Emperor of the United States.'""Trump comments were good," said another Daily Stormer commenter. "He didn't attack us. He just said the nation should come together. Nothing specific against us. He said that we need to study why people are so angry, and implied that there was hate... on both sides! So he implied the antifa are haters."

The commenter continued: "There was virtually no counter-signaling of us at all. He said he loves us all. Also refused to answer a question about white nationalists supporting him. No condemnation at all. When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room.
Really, really good. God bless him."

Saturday, August 12, 2017

"Focus of Evil"and "Maybe Putin Is Right"

Trump's affection for Putin seems to be infectious.

Paul Lewis and Adithya Sambamurthy report at The Guardian:
Roy Moore, the controversial former judge and a leading contender in Alabama’s Senate race, has said “maybe Putin is right” and “more akin to me than I know” given the Russian leader’s stance on gay marriage.
In an interview with the Guardian’s Anywhere But Washington series, Moore also said that Ronald Reagan’s famous declaration about the Soviet Union being “the focus of evil in the modern world” might today be applied to the US.
“You could say that about America, couldn’t you?” he said. “We promote a lot of bad things.” Asked for an example, he replied: “Same-sex marriage.”

When it was pointed out to Moore that his arguments on gay rights and morality were the same as those of the Russian leader, he replied: “Well, maybe Putin is right.” He added: “Maybe he’s more akin to me than I know.”
There is growing concern among Republican elites about the rising popularity of Putin among some conservatives. The party’s leaders remain steadfastly opposed to Putin, and recently forced Trump to reluctantly pass new sanctions against Russia. But the rank-and-file’s stance appears to be softening; polls suggest that Putin’s favorability ratings among Republicans have steadily increased in recent years.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Political Warfare

At Foreign Policy, Jana Winter and Elias Groll report on a May 2017 White House memo titled "POTUS and Political Warfare.  From the memo:
While the attacks on President Trump arise out of political warfare considerations based on non-kinetic lines of effort (as discussed below), they operate in a battle-space prepared, informed and conditioned by cultural Marxist drivers.
This is nuts. In The Art of Political Warfare (University of Oklahoma Press, 2000), I explain how political figures ranging from Robert Michels to Gary Hart to Lee Atwater have borrowed ideas from the military.   The "political warfare" metaphor, I argue, is extremely useful -- provided that we remember that it a metaphor and not a literal description.  The closing chapter of the book starts with an epigraph from Robert Frost:
All metaphor breaks down somewhere. That is the beauty of it. It is touch and go with the metaphor, and until you have lived with it long enough you don’t know when it is going. 
 I discuss the techniques that armed forces use to break down resistance against killing.
The key is to depict the enemy not as a fully rounded human being but as an evil force who deserves attack, or at least as a mere target whose fate is unimportant. Political figures rarely go that far in "dehumanizing" opponents, and they should not, lest they provoke actual violence.

Trump and the GOP Own Obamacare

Talking to service members (!) a few weeks ago, Trump expressed a cynical attitude toward health care:
I've been saying that -- Mike, I think you'll agree -- for a long time. Let Obamacare fail. It will be a lot easier. And I think we're probably in that position where we'll just let Obamacare fail. We're not going to own it. I'm not going to own it. I can tell you, the Republicans are not going to own it. 
-- Donald J. Trump: "Remarks at a Luncheon with Servicemembers," July 18, 2017. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.
From Kaiser:
A large share of Americans (78 percent) think President Trump and his administration should do what they can to make the current health care law work while few (17 percent) say they should do what they can to make the law fail so they can replace it later. About half of Republicans and supporters of President Trump say the Trump administration should do what they can to make the law work (52 percent and 51 percent, respectively) while about four in ten say they should do what they can to make the law fail (40 percent and 39 percent, respectively). Moving forward, a majority of the public (60 percent) says President Trump and Republicans in Congress are responsible for any problems with the ACA.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Democrats Come Back

Republicans have a daunting geographic advantage in 2018. But Democrats have a passion advantage.

Thomas Edsall at NYT:
After decades of getting out-organized and outspent in battles to control state legislatures, Democratic strategists have woken up to the importance of defending against Republican gains at the grass roots.
The anger and fear provoked by the advent of President Trump have led to explosive growth for progressive advocacy groups determined to oppose the president’s agenda and, crucially, to elect Democrats to local office — groups like Indivisible, Run for Something, Emerge America and Color of Change.
The number of Democratic candidates filing for office at all levels of government has surged; the trickle of money into liberal grass-roots programs has become a flood; and turnout in post-2016 Democratic primaries has reached record levels.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Very Unwisely, A Trump Aide Takes on Mitch McConnell

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump and congressional leaders.

From Politico Playbook:
THIS IS STUNNING. Mitch McConnell is the lynchpin to whatever Donald Trump wants to get done on Capitol Hill. Sure, health care did not go as the White House wanted it to. They might get there in the future, they might not. But McConnell is not going anywhere for a very long time, he commands respect from all Republican senators and controls the Senate floor. Remember, his Senate Republican Conference notched Trump’s biggest legislative victory so far: the confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch. What McConnell said was not terribly controversial, and there are many Republicans in and around Trump that admit his view of what he could get done was probably a bit too rosy. Remember, Trump said health care would be easy, and the law could be repealed immediately. McConnell never said that. Capitol Hill is hardly ever in unison but dumping on McConnell is seen as confused a strategy as the administration could employ.

THE WHITE HOUSE did not respond to a request about whether Scavino’s statement was representative of the administration’s position on the top-ranking Senate Republican.

GOP Edge in the House and the Senate

In Defying the Odds, we discuss congressional elections as well as the presidential race.

At FiveThirtyEight, David Wasserman explains why Republicans have an advantage in both chambers of Congress.
This is partly attributable to the nature of House districts: GOP gerrymandering and Democratic votersclustering in urban districts has moved the median House seat well to the right of the nation. Part of it is bad timing. Democrats have been cursed by a terrible Senate map in 2018: They must defend 25 of their 48 seats1 while Republicans must defend just eight of their 52.

But there’s a larger, long-term trend at work too — one that should alarm Democrats preoccupied with the future of Congress and the Supreme Court.
In the last few decades, Democrats have expanded their advantages in California and New York — states with huge urban centers that combined to give Clinton a 6 million vote edge, more than twice her national margin. But those two states elect only 4 percent of the Senate. Meanwhile, Republicans have made huge advances in small rural states — think Arkansas, North and South Dakota, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana and West Virginia — that wield disproportionate power in the upper chamber compared to their populations.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Trump Sleaze, August 2017

Trump's Mar-a-Lago hires foreign workers and uses a legal loophole to get away with it. David A. Fahrenthold and Lori Rozsa report at The Washington Post:
Late last month, the club placed an ad on page C8 of the Palm Beach Post, crammed full of tiny print laying out the job experience requirements in classified ad shorthand. “3 mos recent & verifiable exp in fine dining/country club,” the ad said. “No tips.”
The ad gave no email address or phone number. “Apply by fax,” it said. The ad also provided a mailing address. It ran twice, then never again.
This was an underwhelming way to attract local job-seekers. But that wasn’t the point. The ads were actually part of Mar-a-Lago’s efforts to hire foreign workers for those 35 jobs.
About a week before the ads ran, the president’s club asked the Labor Department for permission to hire 70 temporary workers from overseas, government records show. Beside the 35 waiters, it asked for 20 cooks and 15 housekeepers, slightly more than it hired last year.
To get visas for those workers, Mar-a-Lago, like other businesses that rely on temporary employees each year, must first take legally mandated steps to look for U.S. workers.
That includes placing two ads in a newspaper.
Typically, this attempt to recruit U.S. workers is a ritualized failure. Its outcome is usually a conclusion that there are no qualified Americans to hire, justifying the need for the government to issue the visas.
At The Washington Post, Jonathan O'Connell reports on Trump's DC hotel:
Since Trump’s election, the Trump International Hotel has emerged as a Republican Party power center where on a good day — such as July 28 around 8 p.m. — excited visitors can watch the president share intimate dinner conversation with his just-named chief of staff, John F. Kelly, and be the first to brag about it on social media.

This is nothing Washington has ever seen. For the first time in presidential history, a profit-making venture touts the name of a U.S. president in its gold signage. And every cup of coffee served, every fundraiser scheduled, every filet mignon ordered feeds the revenue of the Trump family’s private business.

Monday, August 7, 2017

"Never Trumpers" Saved the GOP Senate Majority

In Defying the Odds, we write:
Was Trump responsible for the Republican victory? It is possible that he helped the GOP by spurring turnout in key states, but it is unlikely that he deserves the main credit. He lost the aggregated popular tally nationwide, and his share of the vote was generally smaller than that of Republican Senate candidates. Table 5.2 displays the results for the ten states that RealClearPolitics listed as “tossups” or “leans.” Only in Indiana and Missouri did Trump get a greater share of the vote than the GOP winner. In Nevada, he won a larger percentage than Heck, but both lost the state.
At The Hill, Reid Wilson writes of Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Ron Johnson (R-WI):
The two incumbents triumphed and Republicans retained their narrow Senate majority because of the occasional voter who showed up to cast a ballot for Trump, but also because of “Never Trump” voters. This group leans Republican in any given election, but they could not bring themselves to cast a ballot for the party’s brash presidential nominee.
In Pennsylvania, Toomey won reelection by 84,000 votes, while Trump carried the state by 44,000.

Democrats typically run up the score in the Philadelphia area, and both Clinton and Toomey’s opponent, Katie McGinty, followed the same playbook. Clinton beat Trump in those eight counties by a combined 647,000 votes. But McGinty beat Toomey in those counties by just 456,000 votes, a difference of 190,000 votes — more than twice Toomey’s statewide margin of victory.

Toomey outperformed Trump in Philadelphia and in the four collar counties that surround the city. McGinty received fewer votes than Clinton did in all eight counties that make up the Philadelphia media market.
In Wisconsin, Johnson won by a margin of 99,000 votes, while Trump carried the state by just 23,000. Like Toomey, Johnson overperformed Trump in the state’s most populous region: He won more votes than Trump did in all 10 counties that make up the Milwaukee market.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Mooch Memo

Before the abrupt end of his tenure as communications director, Scaramucci wrote a not-bad memo on strategy for the office.

From Buzzfeed:
Communications Plan
July 30, 2017
Priority #1 - Improve the Culture
This is the key—everything is possible with a good culture, nothing is possible without it
a) meet with media members (MSM, conservative media, and new media), where possible, on their home turf to build bridges and foster better working relationships. WH should leave old grudges behind, but never forget.
b) meet with WH and cabinet communication staff to seek constructive input and convey that good ideas are welcomed regardless of the source. This should be an ongoing modus operandi, not an isolated initiative.
c) Implement a series of professionalizing initiatives immediately. For example, no WH communication staffer goes home without returning all calls, emails, and texts. People may not like our answers—but they should always be treated professionally and respectfully (obviously, this starts with the new Director of Communications)
d) Recognize good work in a consistent and formal way. Establish a meritocracy where real contributions to Comms are recognized. Make it clear that horn tooting and denigrating colleagues is unacceptable
e) No more threats about leaking and internal game playing - anyone who takes actions that do not serve the President will be dismissed - period. We will eliminate the bad eggs and send a powerful message to the remaining staff that well-intentioned mistakes are acceptable, but misconduct is not.
f) Upgrade talent incrementally - prioritize culture. New communication staffers must make others better/more effective. We need to be a great team, not a collection of talented individuals with their own agendas.
g) Reach out and collaborate with Cabinet, Congress, the RNC, and surrogates and validators throughout the country. People want to help POTUS succeed, but they need to feel welcomed, appreciated and empowered. Comms, justifiably or not, has a reputation as fiefdom that is difficult to work with. We need to improve the quality and quantity of interactions between Comms and its various constituents.
Priority #2 - Comms is a Customer Service Operation—POTUS is the Number One Customer
-before undertaking new and creative initiatives, Comms must more effectively handle the daily/weekly blocking and tackling of a WH Comms shop
a) Comms needs to be structurally re-organized to serve its various customers
-a group dedicated to serving as a PR department for POTUS and his family members. Comms need to humanize POTUS and burnish his image. For example, POTUS is the best golfer to serve as President. Perhaps, we embrace it with a national online lottery to play a round of golf with him….or a charity auction. POTUS has a funny and irreverent side which was shared with the electorate during the campaign
-a rapid response group dedicated to handling hot issues/crises to insure more effective responses while enabling Comms to stay on point/message and conduct normal operations (i.e. the Clinton White House Lewinsky model).
-a strategy group to work cooperatively with colleagues throughout the WH to develop communication strategies and specific executable plans that are coordinated with Cabinet officials and the Hill for a select group of important issues/initiatives
-Responsibilities need to be clearly defined for certain important roles—managing relationships with the Hill, Cabinet comms, and surrogates/validators. Clear structure will provide better performance and accountability.
b) The media is an important Comms customer
- POTUS can choose to fight with the media, but Comms can not.
-Comms should seek to de-escalate tensions with the media.
-Comms will continue to challenge stories that are unfair/untrue, but also express appreciation for good and fair coverage. Comms can be strong without being combative.
-Comms should establish a constructive “complaint box” for the media to make complaints. Where possible, Comms will seek to make changes that make sense. Regardless, relations with the media will improve if their complaints are welcomed and considered
c) Cabinet members and their staff are customers too.
-Comms sets the message, but cabinet members will better serve POTUS if they are supported and treated like members of POTUS’s team.
-Comms talent throughout the administration has been underutilized. This can be remedied by sharing information freely, soliciting input, treating colleagues professionally, and coordinated empowerment
d) Surrogates/validators are important customers. They need to be serviced, supported, and coordinated better.
e) All Comms actions/decisions need to be evaluated through one and only one prism —does it help POTUS. To this end, I will lead by example and make sure that my overall conduct, tweets, internal and external comments meet this standard
Priority #3 Make the News—We Go First
a) Execution is everything!!! Diagnosing the problems is easy- fixing it will be hard work.
-Comms needs to be run like a news channel with producers, scripts, and narration
-there needs to be clear individual responsibilities, accountability, and a complete dedication to the team/excellence
-Comms needs better players at many positions. We will give existing staff the opportunity to raise their games, but expect to make changes in a considered, no/low drama way
-Comms should not fix things that aren’t broken; but should move quickly (without rushing) to fix things the numerous things that are
-Comms should assess and evaluate all work product and processes. “This is the way it is done” is not an acceptable explanation. Communications tactics and strategies should be evaluated based upon measurable metrics.
-Comms needs to act as a gatekeeper/air traffic controller over all external communications from the small (i.e. email blasts) to the large (i.e. cabinet member appearances on Sunday shows). To do this, Comms must be super responsive. For example, Cabinet members need to be well-informed, well-prepared, and fully supported in a timely manner (i.e. not on the morning of an appearance)
-Comms needs to do a much better job anticipating media follow-up and reaction. If we say X, they will ask Y. We need to be prepared for Y. Most Ys are predictable. It is Comms’ responsibility to be ready with a response and to have surrogates prepared for the inevitable Ys.
b) the refined Roger Ailes theory- we exercise influence over the news cycle because POTUS and the government make news—(i.e. do things on a daily basis that matter). An effective Comms shop will dictate the news of the day on most days.
c) Comms must control who gets on the air/talks to the press….always. We want our people talking to the press. We just want it to be coordinated and effective. Comms should arm and empower our people. Comms is a service operation (not the bad cop)- we want our people to look better/succeed.
d) Comms needs to better explain how POTUS’s actions are helping Americans. For example, deregulation is an abstract concept to most voters. We need to illustrate, with real life examples, how lifting burdensome regulations produces jobs
e) Comms needs to start earlier (chronologically). Tomorrow will be won today. Tomorrow morning is too late.
f) Every Comms message needs to have a nexus to Make America Great Again and jobs
g) Comms needs to equip POTUS with opportunities to make many more positive announcements The ratio of positive to negative is out of balance, and the responsibility to correct this lies with Comms. There are achievements/wins throughout the government that go unpublicized. Comms should help POTUS convey a Reaganesque “happy warrior” image by sourcing and packaging these wins. Comms should study the ratio of “good,” “neutral,” and “negative” communications from POTUS and help move the ratio towards the “good.”
h) Comms should use Kellyanne Conway more. She has consistently been the President’s most effective spokesperson, and she provides a direct link to the President’s historic electoral victory.
Priority #4 - Fill the Content Void
a) to quote Obama Director of Communications,Dan Pfieffer, “there is an insatiable appetite for content” and “traditional news outlets don’t have the resources to produce the amount of content that the internet requires on a 24/7 basis”
-in addition to written word production (i.e. speeches, talking points, and press releases), the WH should vastly increases the amount of visual, video, and graphical images that it produces to communicate our message(s).
-for example, Comms could produce short (3-5 minute) videos with selected visitors to the WH
b) comms need to identify and engage a broader network of surrogates/validators to make TV appearances, write op-eds, etc. The traditional media has a significant (albeit finite) amount of tonnage. Either we fill it, or they will
c) POTUS should regularly provide op-ed pieces to major publications. The op-eds will (almost always) produce the story of the day, and POTUS will be setting the terms of the discussion. Op-eds provide a vehicle for him to articulate his policies and ideas in a well-reasoned, thoughtful and persuasive way. Most Presidents have used op-eds sparingly to maximize effect. But, the media world has changed, and POTUS should write frequent op-eds to advance his agenda (and use adversarial newspapers to his own advantage).
d) People are fascinated by the lives of their Presidents and the operation of the White House. POTUS is the greatest TV star in history. Comms should produce video content that constructively operates as “The President Donald J. Trump” show. Obama scratched the surface of this. POTUS should take it to the next level.
e) Rather than traditional press conferences, POTUS should take questions from real citizens via Facebook live and/or other social media platforms.
f) Comms should consider a range of ideas including a modernized fireside chats where POTUS sits with a Cabinet member (and/or senior government official) to discuss the relevant issues. Perhaps, Sarah or Kellyanne could act as a moderator. These videos should have running times of between 15-20 minutes.
g) text polling should be evaluated as a means to produce engagement. Obviously, the polling topics would need to be carefully considered.
h) find ways to connect POTUS with Presidential history to capture the importance, power, and grandeur of the office. Perhaps, Comms could produce “this day in Presidential history” videos.
-There is an inherent challenge in flooding the zone with content while broadcasting a focused message. However, the audience and mediums for each objective are quite different. For traditional media outlets, Comms needs to do a considerably better job at producing a focused daily message that is reinforced and coordinated throughout the day.
Priority #5 - Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
a) “it’s the economy stupid” should be “it’s the Trump economy.” The media (and the voters) will make POTUS own the economy (which is doing very well) if it goes the other way, so he should own it now. Comms needs to emphasis the economy early and often
b) The message should be that businesses are investing more and creating more jobs because they have confidence. The source of their confidence is the election of a successful businessman to the Presidency. Obama bred uncertainty amongst the business community. Trump breeds confidence. Confidence=more jobs. Would the stock market have galloped from election day to year end 2016 if HRC had won? Of course, not.
c) Comms will coordinate with Commerce, Treasury, State, etc to identify a steady stream of examples of the Trump administration providing support to small and medium size businesses. POTUS can take credit and publicize these wins (big and small) while complimenting the great work of people in various departments/agencies.
d) Every positive piece of economic data needs to echo throughout the Comms eco-system, and Comms needs to find ways to connect positive economic data to real people. The growth in new jobs is life changing for every day Americans. Comms needs to bring a spotlight to these people/stories
e) When the media or Democrats attack POTUS, Comms should pivot to the economy. For example, real Americans do not care about palace intrigue in the White House. POTUS is leading and fostering an economy that makes their lives better. That’s what real people care about.
Scaramucci To-Do List
-meet with General Kelly
-meet with Hope Hicks, Josh Raffel, Michael Anton, and Dina Powell and anyone else who you believe should be a top priority.
-meet with Steve Bannon (I want his insight and help. He presumably has an opinion on how Comms can operate more effectively)
-meet with heads of the various networks and leading journalists (like Maggie Haberman) to build a better relationship and solicit their input on how we can better work together
-meet with Directors of Communications from prior administrations (no need to re-invent the wheel on certain matters, particularly basic blocking and tackling stuff)
-meet with Ryan Lizza (not to litigate the past—to reset for moving forward)
-meet with leading Republicans who, whether for or against POTUS, have valuable insights to impart Newt Gingrich and Karl Rove are at the top of this list
-meet with Speaker Ryan, Leader McConnell and their respective Comms teams

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Threats to Working Class Whites

In  Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's positions on immigration and affirmative action.

At The New York Times, my colleague Fred Lynch writes of two forces that have propelled Trump by creating unease among working-class whites:
First, high levels of legal and illegal immigration, as the Harvard economist George Borjas’s recent book emphasizes, have produced wage losses among some poor and working-class low-skilled native-born workers. Wealthy whites and corporations were often the winners. It’s the old story of costs and benefits of building America on the backs of cheap immigrant labor. 
For more than a hundred years, these split labor markets have often pitted native-born workers (mostly white, sometimes unionized) against successive waves of cheap-labor newcomers (usually of different ethnicity or culture or both). Economic competition fuels ethnic antagonism — and nativism, racism and the like.
 There has been very little scholarly or public attention paid to a second policy trend that intensified the antagonism born of this ethnically split labor market. In the 1990s, affirmative action’s original mission to right past wrongs against African-Americans was transformed into an expanded list of preferences in the workplace and in higher education for immigrant subgroups (for example, Hispanics, Asians or Pacific Islanders).

Friday, August 4, 2017

Trump Calls

In  Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's positions on immigration and foreign policy.


Greg Miller reports at The Washington Post:
President Trump made building a wall along the southern U.S. border and forcing Mexico to pay for it core pledges of his campaign.
But in his first White House call with Mexico’s president, Trump described his vow to charge Mexico as a growing political problem, pressuring the Mexican leader to stop saying publicly that his government would never pay.
“You cannot say that to the press,” Trump said repeatedly, according to a transcript of the Jan. 27 call obtained by The Washington Post. Trump made clear that he realized the funding would have to come from other sources but threatened to cut off contact if Mexican President Enrique PeƱa Nieto continued to make defiant statements.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

"Someone On Board Knows English"

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's comments on immigration.

CNN reports on an immigration exchange between reporter Jim Acosta and White House aide Stephen Miller:
"The Statue of Liberty says, 'Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.' It doesn't say anything about speaking English or being a computer programmer," Acosta said. "Aren't you trying to change what it means to be an immigrant coming into this country if you're telling them that you have to speak English?"

Miller responded that as a requirement to be naturalized, "you have to speak English," and continued, "so the notion that speaking English wouldn't be a part of immigration systems would be very ahistorical."
He went on: "Secondly, I don't want to get off into a whole thing about history here, but the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of American liberty lighting the world. The poem that you're referring to was added later (and) is not actually part of the original Statue of Liberty."
Lazarus originally wrote the sonnet, entitled "The New Colossus," to raise funds for the statue's pedestal in 1883. The sculpture itself, which sits in the New York Harbor and was visible on the path to the immigration checkpoint at Ellis Island, was a gift from France to the US.
Ronald Reagan, October 28, 1985
Just a few hundred yards away, there's a second island, Ellis Island. Between 1892 and 1954, nearly 17 million immigrants to the New World passed through the Ellis Island checkpoint. Most immigrants moved through the checkpoint in a few hours to begin their new lives in America and freedom. And I like to picture the scene as a boatload of immigrants leaving Ellis Island for New York, they pass Miss Liberty and crowd the rails to gaze. Someone on board knows English, he reads and translates the inscription that the statue bears, words that have proclaimed the meaning of America for millions of immigrants, for shiploads of returning soldiers in two great wars, for every family that has ever visited that glorious statue. And those words: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost, to me. I lift my lamp beside the Golden Door." Well, many of those immigrants remain at the rails until Miss Liberty is lost in the fog. It would be no surprise if some shed tears of joy.

Trump's Flip-Flop on Affirmative Action

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's comments on affirmative action:
Late in 2015, Scalia was still alive and he suggested in oral argument that affirmative action programs might place some African American students in too-demanding programs. “I don't like what he said,” Trump said when a reporter asked him about the comment. “No, I don't like what he said. I heard him, I was like, 'Let me read it again' because I actually saw it in print, and I'm going -- I read a lot of stuff -- and I'm going, 'Whoa!’” On Meet the Press, he said: “Well, you know, you have to also go free market. You have to go capability. You have to do a lot of things. But I'm fine with affirmative action. We've lived with it for a long time. And I lived with it for a long time. And I've had great relationships with lots of people. So I'm fine with it.”

On Tuesday, Charlie Savage reported at The New York Times:
The Trump administration is preparing to redirect resources of the Justice Department’s civil rights division toward investigating and suing universities over affirmative action admissions policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants, according to a document obtained by The New York Times.
The document, an internal announcement to the civil rights division, seeks current lawyers interested in working for a new project on “investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions.”

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Somebody Is Trying to Raise Doubt About Kelly's Loyalty to Trump

Two recent leaks about General-turned-DHS-Secretary-turned-WH-chief John Kelly suggest that somebody wants to plant doubts about his loyalty to Trump.

Shimon Prokupecz and Pamela Brown at CNN:
New White House chief of staff John Kelly was so upset with how President Donald Trump handled the firing of FBI Director James Comey that Kelly called Comey afterward and said he was considering resigning, according to two sources familiar with a conversation between Kelly and Comey.
Both sources cautioned that it was unclear how serious Kelly, then the secretary of homeland security, was about resigning himself.
"John was angry and hurt by what he saw and the way (Comey) was treated," one of the sources said.
Comey learned of his dismissal on May 9 from televisions tuned to the news as he was addressing the workforce at the FBI office in Los Angeles, law enforcement sources said at the time. Comey made a joke about it to lighten the mood and called his office to get confirmation.

Comey, who took Kelly's call while traveling back from Los Angeles to Washington, responded to Kelly by telling him not to resign, one of the sources said.
Vivian Salama and Jill Colvin at AP 
But after being confirmed as part of Trump's Cabinet, Kelly also tried to moderate some of the president's hard-line positions, even as he publicly defended them.

Kelly and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, another retired general, were also said to have been deeply frustrated with the rollout of Trump's refugee and immigration ban, and made clear to associates that they were not involved in drafting it or aware of its details around the time that Trump signed the original order. Both moved swiftly to address gaps in the measure, with Mattis asking that Iraqis who helped U.S. troops be exempt and Kelly clarifying that green-card holders would not be affected.

Nonetheless, Kelly launched a particularly robust defense of the order to lawmakers and reporters, which was welcomed by the White House.

Mattis and Kelly also agreed in the earliest weeks of Trump's presidency that one of them should remain in the United States at all times to keep tabs on the orders rapidly emerging from the White House, according to a person familiar with the discussions. The official insisted on anonymity in order to discuss the administration's internal dynamics.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Tuesday in Trumpworld

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's personal qualities, especially the dishonesty that seems to rub off on those around him.

Flying home from Germany on July 8 aboard Air Force One, Trump personally dictated a statement in which Trump Jr. said that he and the Russian lawyer had “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children” when they met in June 2016, according to multiple people with knowledge of the deliberations. The statement, issued to the New York Times as it prepared an article, emphasized that the subject of the meeting was “not a campaign issue at the time.”
Over the next three days, multiple accounts of the meeting were provided to the news media as public pressure mounted, with Trump Jr. ultimately acknowledging that he had accepted the meeting after receiving an email promising damaging information about Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help his father’s campaign.
The extent of the president’s personal intervention in his son’s response, the details of which have not previously been reported, adds to a series of actions that Trump has taken that some advisers fear could place him and some members of his inner circle in legal jeopardy.
Trump apparently got the line from Putin himself.  NYT, 7/19/17:
Describing a newly disclosed informal conversation he had with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia during a dinner of world leaders in Germany this month, Mr. Trump said they talked for about 15 minutes, mostly about “pleasantries.” But Mr. Trump did say that they talked “about adoption.” Mr. Putin banned American adoptions of Russian children in 2012 after the United States enacted sanctions on Russians accused of human rights abuses, an issue that remains a sore point in relations with Moscow.
Lawyer Jay Sekulow is either clueless or dishonest.  The Week:
On June 12, Sekulow told George Stephanopoulos that the Times' June 11 report was "incorrect," and "the president didn't sign off on anything. He was coming back from the G-20, the statement that was released on Saturday was released by Donald Trump Jr. and, I'm sure, in consultation with his lawyers. The president wasn't involved in that." He then told CNN's New Day that "I wasn't involved in the statement drafting at all, nor was the president." On June 16, he told Chuck Todd on NBC's Meet the Press: "I do want to be clear that the president was not involved in the drafting of the statement and did not issue the statement. It came from Donald Trump Jr."
Emily Steel reports at NYT:
The private detective at the center of a Fox News article about the death of a young Democratic aide claims that the White House and a wealthy Trump supporter urged the network to publish the article as part of a scheme to blunt speculation about the president’s ties to Russia, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday.
Rod Wheeler, who was hired by the family of the aide, Seth Rich, to look into his death, filed the lawsuit against Fox News and its parent company, 21st Century Fox, accusing the network of fabricating quotes from him in an article on Mr. Wheeler states that the network was aware that he had not said the statements yet it published them “with reckless disregard for their truth.”
The network later retracted the article, saying it did not meet its standards.
In the suit, Mr. Wheeler, who is a Fox News contributor, asserts that he was a pawn in a broader plan by the White House, a Trump supporter named Ed Butowsky and Fox News to “shift the blame from Russia and help put to bed speculation that President Trump colluded with Russia in an attempt to influence the outcome of the presidential election.” The lawsuit, alleging defamation and racial discrimination, was filed Tuesday morning in the United States District Court in the Southern District of New York.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Social Liberalism On the Rise Among Democrats

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the Sanders candidacy and the liberal drift of the Democratic Party.

At Gallup, Lydia Saad reports on aggregated poll data:
The increase in social liberalism has not been universal, but has occurred mainly among Democrats. The percentage of Democrats describing themselves as socially liberal increased fairly steadily from 36% in 2001 to 53% 2015 where it has since held.

The increase in social liberalism in the U.S. seen since the early 2000s is the result of increasing liberalism among Democrats, and particularly among white, more-educated and older Democrats. The changes by age mean that various age groups of Democrats are now in greater political alignment. However, the changes by education and race have widened the divide on social issues between Democrats with and without college degrees, as well as between white and black Democrats.
This doesn't necessarily mean Democrats are at odds with each other. Indeed, despite the widening gaps along race and education lines, 89% of Democrats supported the Democratic Party's nominee for president in 2016. However, as Democratic leaders debate how to redefine the party post-President Barack Obama these data suggest that moving any further to the left on social issues could risk alienating Democrats with lower levels of education.
Those are the kinds of voters President Donald Trump might try to attract in a second-term bid, particularly if his GOP base is faltering. On the other hand, with most of these lesser-educated Democrats describing themselves as moderate on social issues rather than conservative, that would be a hard sell.