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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

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.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Weak, Weak, Weak

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's personal qualities.

He wants to be John Wayne, but what he is is “Woody Allen without the humor.” Peggy Noonan, to whom we owe that observation, has his number: He is soft, weak, whimpering, and petulant. He isn’t smart enough to do the job and isn’t man enough to own up to the fact. For all his gold-plated toilets, he is at heart that middling junior salesman watching Glengarry Glen Ross and thinking to himself: “That’s the man I want to be.” How many times do you imagine he has stood in front of a mirror trying to project like Alec Baldwin? Unfortunately for the president, it’s Baldwin who does the good imitation of Trump, not the other way around.

Hence the cartoon tough-guy act. Scaramucci’s star didn’t fade when he gave that batty and profane interview in which he reimagined Steve Bannon as a kind of autoerotic yogi. That’s Scaramucci’s best impersonation of the sort of man the president of these United States, God help us, aspires to be. But he isn’t that guy.
Maureen Dowd:
But after all his bragging about being a great negotiator and closer, it is President Trump who can’t get it done. He couldn’t even close the deal on a pathetic, bare-bones health care bill, ineffectually bullying Lisa Murkowski, a Republican senator from Alaska, and failing to win over John McCain, who gleefully had his revenge for Trump’s mockery of him as being a loser because he was captured in war.
Trump can’t get it done for his pal, Putin, either. In fact, the biggest legislative accomplishment before Congress leaves for August will have been passing new sanctions on Russia because lawmakers don’t trust their own president. Talk about weak.
Congressional Republicans are losing their fear of Trump, making ever more snarky comments about him. North Korea is shooting off missiles and the White House is flustered. The generals are resisting Trump’s tweet edicts. The mortified leader of the Boy Scouts had to apologize for the president’s suggestive and partisan speech.
And what could be weaker than that?
 As mentioned earlier this week, Trump has other weaknesses, too.

He is physically weak.  He needs a golf cart to carry him distances that a fit person could easily walk. He does not exercise. He gorges on junk food.  And he is fat.

These things matter because the presidency requires physical stamina.  Someday, Trump will have to deal with a crisis that will require intense work and round-the-clock attention.  It is reasonable to ask whether an out-of-shape 71-year-old is up to the job.

He is intellectually weakHe does not read books.  His ignorance of history is comical.  His ignorance of policy is appalling.

True, presidents have staffs to sweat the details, but a chief executive still needs a certain level of knowledge to do his job. Trump does not have it, not even close. And as for staff?  One word: Scaramucci.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Trumpcare Dies, Again

Matt Flegenheimer, Jonathan Martin, and Jennifer Steinhauer report at NYT:
The closing argument was a curious one: Vote yes, Republican leaders told the holdouts in their conference. We promise it will never become law.

After seven years of railing against the evils of the Affordable Care Act, the party had winnowed its hopes of dismantling it down to a menu of options to appease recalcitrant lawmakers — with no more pretenses of lofty policy making, only a realpolitik plea to keep the legislation churning through the Capitol by voting to advance something, anything.
 They ended up with nothing.
Mike Allen:
McCain's maverick moment ... Amazing CNN video gives a second-by-second breakdown of the wee-hours death of the Republicans' health-care repeal plan, one of the most dramatic moments in Senate history: "1:29 a.m.: Senator McCain reenters the chamber. ...
"McCain waves his hand to get the attention of the Senate clerk, pauses for just a moment, and gives a dramatic thumbs-down. ... Audible gasp on the Senate floor, and then commotion. ... Republicans like Senator Marco Rubio stare in disbelief ...
"Senator John McCain turns around and walks back to his chamber desk, all alone."
Watch it; will give you chills.
P.S. Axios' Caitlin Owens emails me: "Heard at House [Republican] conference meeting [yeseterday] morning, this was the reaction to the health care bill: 'Lots of Senate blaming. Lots of McCain blaming. But a surprising number of members [standing] at the mike in conference blasting Trump.'
"One called him an 'embarrassment.'"

Friday, July 28, 2017

Trump Is Weak

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's personal qualities.

Peggy Noonan:
The president’s primary problem as a leader is not that he is impetuous, brash or naive. It’s not that he is inexperienced, crude, an outsider. It is that he is weak and sniveling. It is that he undermines himself almost daily by ignoring traditional norms and forms of American masculinity.
He’s not strong and self-controlled, not cool and tough, not low-key and determined; he’s whiny, weepy and self-pitying. He throws himself, sobbing, on the body politic. He’s a drama queen. It was once said, sarcastically, of George H.W. Bush that he reminded everyone of her first husband. Trump must remind people of their first wife. Actually his wife, Melania, is tougher than he is with her stoicism and grace, her self-discipline and desire to show the world respect by presenting herself with dignity.
This article does a terrific job of exploring Trump's moral and emotional weakness.

He has other weaknesses, too.

He is physically weak.  He needs a golf cart to carry him distances that a fit person could easily walk. He does not exercise. He gorges on junk food.  And he is fat.

These things matter because the presidency requires physical stamina.  Someday, Trump will have to deal with a crisis that will require intense work and round-the-clock attention.  It is reasonable to ask whether an out-of-shape 71-year-old is up to the job.

He is intellectually weak. He does not read books.  His ignorance of history is comical.  His ignorance of policy is appalling.

True, presidents have staffs to sweat the details, but a chief executive still needs a certain level of knowledge to do his job. Trump does not have it, not even close. And as for staff?  One word: Scaramucci.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Mooch's Day

In Defying the Odds, we discuss some of the people around Trump.

The 1937 report that laid out designs for the modern White House staff said that aides should have "a passion for anonymity."

Jennifer Rubin writes:
Since Anthony Scaramucci came on board as White House communications director, he has created such tumult that one might pine for the calm, cool, collected days of Sean Spicer.
He has repeatedly attacked Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, accusing him of leaking or creating an atmosphere of leaks. (The fish stinks from the head down, as he said.)
He suggested that his financial disclosure form was leaked and threatened to call in the FBI and the Justice Department. In fact, that form became public automatically, hence the term “disclosure.”

He told Politico himself that he would fire assistant White House press secretary Michael Short. The process dragged on for hours until the aide quit. Scaramucci then blamed the press for a leak.
To cap it off, he spoke to the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza on the record, disparaging chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon in obscene terms; browbeating Lizza to get the name of the person who mentioned a dinner that he, President Trump, former Fox News executive Bill Shine and Fox News host Sean Hannity attended; threatening to fire everyone on the communications staff; and impugning Lizza’s patriotism. And he predicted Priebus soon would be fired.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

GOP v. Media

In Defying the Odds, we discuss polarization and GOP attitudes toward the media.

Almost half of Republicans say they are in favor of courts shutting down media outlets that publish inaccurate or biased information, according to a new survey.
Forty-five percent of Republicans in the Economist-YouGov poll said courts should be able to shut down media outlets, while 20 percent of Republicans are opposed the idea.
Just 18 percent of Democrats said they would favor the notion, while 39 percent of them are opposed to it.
A majority of Republicans also said they support fines for media outlets that put out biased or inaccurate news reports.



Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Democratic House Challengers


At Brookings, Michael Malbin looks at 6-month fundraising numbers for House candidates.
As of the end of June, 209 Democratic challengers had registered with the FEC and raised at least $5,000. That more than doubled the previous high mark since 2003. In 2009, the Republicans had 78 challengers with at least $5,000. The early GOP challengers in 2009 foreshadowed the party’s regaining majority control. The question is whether the same will hold true for the Democrats in 2018. 
Chart showing number of House challengers with greater than $5,000 as of June 30th, by party, from 2003-present. Democrats in 2017 have 209, more than twice the second-largest group, which were 78 Republicans in 2009.
The number of challengers at six months is truly remarkable. And the candidates are not simply bunching up in a few primaries. Yes, there is some doubling up: six Democrats have filed so far against John Faso in New York’s 19th congressional district. But there is also a good spread. So far, 105 different Republican incumbents have Democratic challengers with $5,000. At this same time in 2009, only 50 of the Democratic incumbents were up against challengers with $5,000.
So the Democrats are putting themselves in a strong position to take advantage of a national tide in their direction, if there is one. This is important. No matter how strong a tide may be nationally, congressional elections are decided in districts. The party riding a wave cannot win in a district unless it puts up a credible candidate. You cannot beat somebody with nobody. Finding a credible candidate has to come first

Monday, July 24, 2017

Spicey's Deal with the Devil

After Sean Spicer humiliated himself to work for Trump, he found himself  "layered" by someone ever more obsequious.  He left his job.  He will never get back his good name.

Jennifer Rubin:
For young, ambitious men and women in Washington and elsewhere, Spicer is an object lesson. Ambition and yearning to be in the “know,” in the center of power (what C.S. Lewis called the “inner ring“), can lead one to cast aside principle, values and simple decency. Lewis described the impulse to be an insider:
And you will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into the cold outer world. It would be so terrible to see the other man’s face—that genial, confidential, delightfully sophisticated face—turn suddenly cold and contemptuous, to know that you had been tried for the Inner Ring and rejected. And then, if you are drawn in, next week it will be something a little further from the rules, and next year something further still, but all in the jolliest, friendliest spirit. It may end in a crash, a scandal, and penal servitude; it may end in millions, a peerage and giving the prizes at your old school. But you will be a scoundrel. … Of all the passions, the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things.
Ultimately, bargains with devils never work out. Spicer didn’t last — and now look at him. The brief months in the West Wing, the ultimate inner ring, leave him pitied, mocked, disgraced. No, it was not worth it. It is never worth it. “To a young person, just entering on adult life, the world seems full of ‘insides,’ full of delightful intimacies and confidentialities, and he desires to enter them,” Lewis warned. “But if he follows that desire he will reach no ‘inside’ that is worth reaching.” If nothing else, perhaps Spicer’s ruinous journey will serve as a warning to others.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Gingrich and Pardons

In  Defying the Oddswe discuss Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign.

Face the Nation, October 13, 1996:
SCHIEFFER: Should--should President Clinton say flatly that he will not pardon anyone involved in Whitewater?
Rep. GINGRICH: You know, I--the notion that we're sitting here talking about whether or not a president of the United States would pardon people directly implicated in his potential breaking the law--I mean, it's so bizarre that I don't have a good answer for you. The Constitution provides for a very clear right of the president to pardon. Now it also provides for the Congress a very clear right to investigate a president. So I would guess that Clinton, in the end, will not pardon anybody because I don't think the country would tolerate it. I mean, I don't think he can buy Susan McDougal silence or Webb Hubbell silence with a pardon, because I think you'd then have just an outrage from the whole country. So...

Pardon? Indictment?

In  Defying the Oddswe discuss Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign.

President Trump has consulted his legal advisers about the possibility of pre-emptively pardoning his associates — and possibly even himself — to undermine the Justice Department’s Russia investigation, The Washington Post reported Thursday night. But on Friday, John Dowd, Mr. Trump’s new personal lawyer, denied to BuzzFeed that any such discussions had taken place.
... 
The only limitation explicitly stated in the Constitution is a ban on using a pardon to stop an impeachment proceeding in Congress, and the only obvious implicit limitation is that he cannot pardon offenses under state law.
But some legal scholars think a president cannot pardon himself, either, because it would be a conflict of interest.

In August 1974, four days before Mr. Nixon resigned, Mary C. Lawton, then the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, issued a terse legal opinion stating that “it would seem” that Mr. Nixon could not pardon himself “under the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case.”

But she did not explain what transformed that principle into an unwritten legal limit on the power the Constitution bestows on presidents.

Other legal specialists have come out the other way. In a 1998 House Judiciary Committee hearing about the proposed impeachment of Mr. Clinton, for example, Representative Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican who is now the chairman of that panel, stated, “The prevailing opinion is that the president can pardon himself.”

There is no definitive answer because no president has ever tried to pardon himself and then been prosecuted, which would give courts a chance to weigh in. If Mr. Trump did purport to pardon himself, and was later indicted anyway, it could create an opportunity for the Supreme Court to resolve the question.
Charlie Savage reports at The New York Times:
A newfound memo from Kenneth W. Starr’s independent counsel investigation into President Bill Clinton sheds fresh light on a constitutional puzzle that is taking on mounting significance amid the Trump-Russia inquiry: Can a sitting president be indicted?
The 56-page memo, locked in the National Archives for nearly two decades and obtained by The New York Times under the Freedom of Information Act, amounts to the most thorough government-commissioned analysis rejecting a generally held view that presidents are immune from prosecution while in office.
“It is proper, constitutional, and legal for a federal grand jury to indict a sitting president for serious criminal acts that are not part of, and are contrary to, the president’s official duties,” the Starr office memo concludes. “In this country, no one, even President Clinton, is above the law.”

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Trump Abuses Commissioning Ceremony to Play Politics

In Defying the Odds, we explain that the 2016 campaign was a race to the bottom.  Trump is lowering the bottom.

Ashley Parker and David Nakamura report at the WP:
Speaking aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford, Trump extolled the virtues of the “wonderful, beautiful but very, very powerful” nuclear-powered warship — “We will win, win, win,” he said, “we will never lose” — but also decried the budget compromise known as sequestration, which requires mandatory and corresponding military and domestic cuts.
Trump promised to try to restore higher levels of military funding but also urged the crowd of about 6,500 — many in uniform — to help him push this year’s budget, in which he said he will seek an additional $54 billion in defense spending, through Congress.
“I don’t mind getting a little hand, so call that congressman and call that senator and make sure you get it,” he said, to applause. “And by the way, you can also call those senators to make sure you get health care.”
But Trump’s brief appeal created a potentially awkward tableau at a commissioning event intended to be ceremonial — a commander in chief offering political remarks, and what could even be construed as an order, to the naval officers he commands.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Bullock PAC

A new chief in Big Sky country: Montana Gov. Steve Bullock has hired a new chief of staff: Tom Lopach, who was the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee's executive director in the 2016 cycle. It's a homecoming for the Montana-born Lopach, who previously was Sen. Jon Tester's chief of staff. Still, Democrats nationally are taking notice of Bullock bringing aboard a seasoned veteran strategist.
Bullock (who won re-election in a state Donald Trump carried by 20 points last year) launched the Big Sky Values PAC this week, giving him a vehicle to pay for more political travel and to help other Democrats. He recorded an interview for Thursday's "Pod Save America" episode. He was also the focus of Jonathan Martin's New York Times look at the Democrats' pragmatic governors. And he'll kick off the Aspen Institute's "Divided States of America" half-day forum at 9:30 a.m. MT Monday.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Scandal Update, July 20

Peter Baker, Michael S. Schmidt And Maggie Haberman at The New York Times:
President Trump said on Wednesday that he never would have appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions had he known Mr. Sessions would recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation that has dogged his presidency, calling the decision “very unfair to the president.”
In a remarkable public break with one of his earliest political supporters, Mr. Trump complained that Mr. Sessions’s decision ultimately led to the appointment of a special counsel that should not have happened. “Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else,” Mr. Trump said.
In a wide-ranging interview with The New York Times, the president also accused James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director he fired in May, of trying to leverage a dossier of compromising material to keep his job. Mr. Trump criticized both the acting F.B.I. director who has been filling in since Mr. Comey’s dismissal and the deputy attorney general who recommended it. And he took on Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel now leading the investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s election.
Mr. Trump said Mr. Mueller was running an office rife with conflicts of interest and warned investigators against delving into matters too far afield from Russia. Mr. Trump never said he would order the Justice Department to fire Mr. Mueller, nor would he outline circumstances under which he might do so. But he left open the possibility as he expressed deep grievance over an investigation that has taken a political toll in the six months since he took office.
Asked if Mr. Mueller’s investigation would cross a red line if it expanded to look at his family’s finances beyond any relationship to Russia, Mr. Trump said, “I would say yes.” He would not say what he would do about it. “I think that’s a violation. Look, this is about Russia.”
Ben Protess, Jessica Silver-Greenberg And Jesse Drucker at the New York Times:
During the presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump pointed to his relationship with Deutsche Bank to counter reports that big banks were skeptical of doing business with him.
After a string of bankruptcies in his casino and hotel businesses in the 1990s, Mr. Trump became somewhat of an outsider on Wall Street, leaving the giant German bank among the few major financial institutions willing to lend him money.
Now that two-decades-long relationship is coming under scrutiny.
Banking regulators are reviewing hundreds of millions of dollars in loans made to Mr. Trump’s businesses through Deutsche Bank’s private wealth management unit, which caters to an ultrarich clientele, according to three people briefed on the review who were not authorized to speak publicly. The regulators want to know if the loans might expose he bank to heightened risks.
Separately, Deutsche Bank has been in contact with federal investigators about the Trump accounts, according to two people briefed on the matter. And the bank is expecting to eventually have to provide information to Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel overseeing the federal investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia
Mike McIntire, also at The New York Times:
Financial records filed last year in the secretive tax haven of Cyprus, where Paul J. Manafort kept bank accounts during his years working in Ukraine and investing with a Russian oligarch, indicate that he had been in debt to pro-Russia interests by as much as $17 million before he joined Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign in March 2016.
The money appears to have been owed by shell companies connected to Mr. Manafort’s business activities in Ukraine when he worked as a consultant to the pro-Russia Party of Regions. The Cyprus documents obtained by The New York Times include audited financial statements for the companies, which were part of a complex web of more than a dozen entities that transferred millions of dollars among them in the form of loans, payments and fees.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

One Reason Why Tax Reform Is Hard: Congress Lacks Institutional Memory

In  Defying the Odds, we discuss the issues of the 2016 campaign, including taxation.

Congress may soon take up tax reform.  Very, very few of its members have any firsthand experience with how hard it is to pass.  The last comprehensive tax reform passed 31 years ago, in 1986.

In the House,11 current members (5 R, 6 D) of the 115th Congress (2017-18) served in the 99th (1985-86). Thirteen senators (7R, 6 D) served in the 99th Congress.  Of this total, 5 were in the Senate at the time, while 8 were in the House.

How many of these 1986 veterans serve on the tax-writing committees?  Sander Levin still serves on House Ways and Means.  The Senate Finance Committee has a larger contingent: Ron Wyden (ranking minority member), Bill Nelson, and Thomas Carper, as well as Republicans Orrin Hatch (chair), Charles Grassley, and Pat Roberts.

Senate party leaders Charles Schumer and Mitch McConnell were present for the 1986 tax reform (McConnell in the Senate, Schumer in the House).  Neither Speaker Paul Ryan nor House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was serving at that time.  Ryan was still in high school.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
House members of the 115th Congress who served in the 99th:

Republicans

Don Young, (AK)
F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (WI)
Harold Rogers (KY)
Christopher H. Smith (NJ)
 Joe L. Barton (TX)

Democrats

John Conyers Jr (MI)
Steny H. Hoyer (MD)
Marcy Kaptur (OH)
Sander M. Levin (MI)
Peter J. Visclosky (IN)
Jim Cooper (TN)
Senators of the 115th Congress who served in Senate during the 99th Congress:

Republicans

Democrats
Orrin G. Hatch (UT)
Thad Cochran (MS)
Charles E. Grassley (IA)
Mitch McConnell (KY)
Patrick J. Leahy (VT)



Senators who were serving in the House at the time:

John McCain (AZ)
Pat Roberts (KS)
Richard C. Shelby (AL)

Thomas R. Carper (DE)
Bill Nelson (FL)
Charles Schumer (NY)
Ron Wyden (OR)
Edward J. Markey (MA)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Trumpcare Dies

By announcing their opposition, Mike Lee and Jerry Moran killed BCRAChris Cillizza at CNN:
Part of the pivot by the White House -- and McConnell -- to the idea of "repeal then replace" is because they need to say something following such a consequential defeat at the hands of their own party.
But, there's very little chance that such a plan will work. After all, the reason that congressional leaders did "repeal and replace" was because their initial idea of "repeal then replace" wasn't going anywhere. As CNN congressional reporter Phil Mattingly tweeted Monday night: "Your weekly reminder that repeal only, then replace, was the original Hill GOP plan. It was deemed un-passable. Hence repeal/replace."
And, if you thought the Congressional Budget Office report on the proposed Senate bill was bad, take a gander at the numbers on the idea of repeal then replace.
... 
On Monday afternoon at an event touting "Made in America" week, President Donald Trump said this about the health care legislation: "We're getting it together and it's going to happen. Right, Mike (Pence)? I think."
The truth is he had no idea -- of the vote count or the policy debate. The idea that Trump was going to get on the phone with, say, a noted policy maven like Ohio's Rob Portman and offer a convincing case for why Portman needed to be for the bill was laughable. Trump didn't know or seem to care about the particulars. He just wanted to sign something and declare victory.
Trump's lack of knowledge was brutally exposed when, even as he was dining with seven senators last night, Moran and Lee stabbed the bill in the heart.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Trump v. Flake

Another example of how institutional interests create friction between congressional Republicans and Trump.  Out of personal pique, he is willing to put a marginal GOP Senate seat at risk.  Alex Isenstadt reports at Politico:
The White House has met with at least three actual or prospective primary challengers to Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake in recent weeks, a reflection of Donald Trump’s strained relations with the senator and the latest sign of the president’s willingness to play hardball with lawmakers who cross him — even Republican incumbents.
Flake, a longtime Trump critic who refused to endorse the president during the 2016 campaign, is one of a handful of undecided Republican votes on the Obamacare repeal effort. He’s also one of the most vulnerable Republicans up for reelection in 2018.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Obamacare Beats Trumpcare

As the U.S. Senate continues to debate their plan to repeal and replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act, the latest Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll finds the public souring on the effort with a growing majority opposed to the plan.
This month’s poll finds 61 percent of the public now hold an unfavorable view of the Congress’ plan, up slightly from 55 percent in June. The opposition is also growing more intense, with 44 percent of the public now viewing the plan “very” unfavorably, up from 38 percent in June. In contrast, relatively few view the plan favorably (28%), including just one in 10 (9%) who view it “very” favorably.

At The Washington Post, Philip Bump has the latest WP-ABC poll data:

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Fake Tocqueville Rides Again

In  Defying the Odds, we discuss the conservative media.

Breitbart has an article attacking a papal adviser.  At one point, it quotes Tocqueville.
And in one of the most famous passages of that same work, the Frenchman described what he believed to be the source of America’s “greatness” (his term).
I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers – and it was not there . . . in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce – and it was not there . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution – and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.
This quotation is fake.  As I have been pointing out for 22 years, Tocqueville never wrote any such thing.  Many politicians -- including Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Ben Carson -- have used the fake quotation. Hillary Clinton alluded to it in her acceptance speech.

It  apparently started many years ago. In his 1940 farewell speech (Congressional Record, September 11, 1940, 11902.) , Senator Henry Ashurst (D-Arizona) attributed the first several lines of that passage to Tocqueville, then offered the last line as his own summation. Barry Popik has pointed to even earlier sources -- but not Tocqueville.  Sherwood Eddy used it in a 1941 book on the American dream, and Eisenhower quoted it (without attribution to Tocqueville) in 1952 speech.

Again, Tocqueville did not write it.

There Are No "Former" Russian Agents

Ralph Peters, late of Army Intelligence, writes that American intelligence officers really do retire, unlike their Russian counterparts.
We also have robust firewalls between intelligence agencies, the rest of government, the private sector, the media, NGOs and so forth. In Russia, there are no firewalls. You can be a businessman, a propagandist, a human-rights lawyer (I love that one) and a spy simultaneously. You can be a billionaire cruising the Greek islands on your mega-yacht, but if Putin’s dogsbody rings your cell with a task, vacation’s over.

Russia is, in the end, Putin Incorporated.

But when we know that a Russian has formally worked as a “former counterintelligence agent” — as we learned Friday about an additional person present at the now-famous meeting last year between Trump family members and Russians promising dirt on Mrs. Clinton — we can mentally drop that "former."

And to claim that a meeting with the Russian equivalent of a mob lawyer and a “former” Russian counterintelligence officer is business-as-usual for any American political campaign is utterly untrue.

(Yes, the Clintons have had more ugly connections than there are rats in Manhattan. But shabby as they are, the Clintons never sought campaign collusion with Russian intelligence agents. The Clintons prefer being bought over being fooled.)

Friday, July 14, 2017

"A faith that makes losing a sin will make cheating a sacrament."

In  Defying the Oddswe discuss Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign.

After media scrutiny forced Donald Trump Jr. to reveal the email chain that showed President Trump’s top advisers met with a Russian lawyer to gain information about Hillary Clinton from the Russian government, the Trump camp adopted the retroactive spin that Trump Jr. had actually shown admirable transparency about this meeting. Trump Jr. went on Sean Hannity’s show to do damage control, leading the president to exult: “He was open, transparent and innocent.”
But this new scoop from NBC News will make that posture a lot harder to sustain: [a previously-undisclosed Russian-American lobbyist took part in the collusion meeting.]
...
The Associated Press has identified the lobbyist as Rinat Akhmetshin. It is not yet clear what the significance of this is, in terms of what it says about what exactly transpired at the meeting. Trump Jr. has dismissed the meeting as insignificant, because no “meaningful information” came of it, but this news invites more scrutiny of that claim. As NBC News notes, such matters will be of great interest to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and congressional investigators.
Jennifer Rubin goes after my former party:
Out of its collective sense of victimhood came the GOP’s disdain for not just intellectuals but also intellectualism, science, Economics 101, history and constitutional fidelity. If the Trump children became slaves to money and to their father’s unbridled ego, then the GOP became slaves to its own demons and false narratives. A party that has to deny climate change and insist illegal immigrants are creating a crime wave — because that is what “conservatives” must believe, since liberals do not — is a party that will deny Trump’s complicity in gross misconduct. It’s a party as unfit to govern as Trump is unfit to occupy the White House. It’s not by accident that Trump chose to inhabit the party that has defined itself in opposition to reality and to any “external moral truth or ethical code.”
 Michael Gerson:
The ultimate explanation for this toxic moral atmosphere is President Trump himself. He did not attend the meeting, but he is fully responsible for creating and marketing an ethos in which victory matters more than character and real men write their own rules. Trumpism is an easygoing belief system that indulges and excuses the stiffing of contractors, the conning of students, the bilking of investors, the exploitation of women and the practices of nepotism and self-dealing. A faith that makes losing a sin will make cheating a sacrament.
... 
C.S. Lewis posited three elements that make up human beings. There is the intellect, residing in the head. There are the passions, residing in the stomach (and slightly lower). And then there are trained, habituated emotions — the “stable sentiments” of character — which Lewis associated with the chest.
In the realm of political ethics, voters last year did not prioritize character in sufficient numbers, during the party primaries or the general election. Now we are seeing the result. “In a sort of ghastly simplicity,” Lewis said, “we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Tracy Sefl's Oppo Experience Is a Lot Like Mine

In  Defying the Oddswe discuss opposition research.

Tracy Sefl at The Washington Post:
I confess I quickly learned that the day-to-day reality of opposition research wasn’t always quite that tidy. Here’s why: When people are invested in your candidate, they want to participate. They have ideas, suggestions, “hot tips.” Phone calls to the main line of the campaign get routed … to research. Generically addressed letters and emails get routed … to research. Friends of friends of your second cousin’s neighbor’s mail carrier somehow get your mobile number. (I never saw a serial killer-style missive written with letters cut from a magazine, but some came close.) However strange the source, everything was read, every voice mail listened to. Occasionally, a staffer might fall prey to a blocked number and be trapped listening to a long, fantastical story, offering only benign “mmhmm”s while colleagues offered sympathetic looks. You might even say researchers, however maligned, are unfailingly polite.
...
As the extraordinary news unfolded this week of the meeting Trump Jr. had with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya last June — and especially after he released the astonishing email chain showing that he agreed to the meeting after being told he could get documents that “would incriminate Hillary” as “part of Russia and its government’s support” for Trump’s father’s campaign — a friend and I checked our consciences. “If someone ever reached out to us like that, we’d have … called our lawyers. Called the FBI. Right?” “Without question.” The prospect of responding the way Trump Jr. did is out of the realm of possibility, improbable, absurd. Meeting with a Kremlin-linked attorney for the purposes of receiving incriminating information about an opponent? Um, yes, that seems shady. It would never have happened in any campaign I’ve worked on, or any of the best ones I’ve worked against.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Inaccurate Spelling of "Inaccurately"

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's way with words.  He and his underlings have made many mistakes.

Oppo and the Media

In Defying the Odds, we discuss opposition research in the 2016 campaign.

At The New York Times, Jonathan Martin uses the Kremlingate story to reflect on the relationship between oppo and the media:
The back-and-forth between news source and reporter over opposition research can recall adolescent flirtation: initial awkwardness, then apprehension over whether there is mutual interest — and neither party wants the world to find out the details of the courtship.
A reporter would rather not be identified as being spoon-fed information. Most sources do not want their dirty work to splash back on their candidate or party. So both parties have an interest in keeping a story’s genesis under wraps.
Typically, a campaign or government official approaches the journalist. This often begins with a request for anonymity, or in the parlance of the business, “No fingerprints.” The more sensitive the information, the more likely the pitch is made in person or on the telephone. Most political actors — not, apparently, Donald Trump Jr. — fear creating an email trail, at least before guarantees of anonymity have been offered.
After a reporter agrees not to reveal the identity of the source, the reporter and his or her editors or producers will confer about whether they are interested in pursuing a story about the material on offer.
If the news organization is interested, there is one last issue: how to identify the source. References can be made to “a rival candidate’s campaign” or more obliquely “a source familiar with the dirt” or even the bare-bones “sources say.”
Two things.  First, reporters often ask campaigns for the information.  (I have seen it happen.) Second, if the oppo consists of primary-source documents, reporters will often cite the dox without saying who pointed them out.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Donald Jr. Knew He Could Collude with the Russian Government

In  Defying the Odds, we discuss Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign.

New York Times:
The June 3, 2016, email sent to Donald Trump Jr. could hardly have been more explicit: One of his father’s former Russian business partners had been contacted by a senior Russian government official and was offering to provide the Trump campaign with dirt on Hillary Clinton.
The documents “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” read the email, written by a trusted intermediary, who added, “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
If the future president’s elder son was surprised or disturbed by the provenance of the promised material — or the notion that it was part of a continuing effort by the Russian government to aid his father’s campaign — he gave no indication.
He replied within minutes: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
Four days later, after a flurry of emails, the intermediary wrote back, proposing a meeting in New York on Thursday with a “Russian government attorney.”

Donald Trump Jr. agreed, adding that he would most likely bring along “Paul Manafort (campaign boss)” and “my brother-in-law,” Jared Kushner, now one of the president’s closest White House advisers.
Earlier in The New York Times:
Before arranging a meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer he believed would offer him compromising information about Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump Jr. was informed in an email that the material was part of a Russian government effort to aid his father’s candidacy, according to three people with knowledge of the email.
The email to the younger Mr. Trump was sent by Rob Goldstone, a publicist and former British tabloid reporter who helped broker the June 2016 meeting. In a statement on Sunday, Mr. Trump acknowledged that he was interested in receiving damaging information about Mrs. Clinton, but gave no indication that he thought the lawyer might have been a Kremlin proxy.
Mr. Goldstone’s message, as described to The New York Times by the three people, indicates that the Russian government was the source of the potentially damaging information. It does not elaborate on the wider effort by Moscow to help the Trump campaign.
There is no evidence to suggest that the promised damaging information was related to Russian government computer hacking that led to the release of thousands of Democratic National Committee emails. The meeting took place less than a week before it was widely reported that Russian hackers had infiltrated the committee’s servers.


Monday, July 10, 2017

Donald Jr. and the Scent of Collusion

In  Defying the Odds, we discuss Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign.

Mike Allen at Axios:
On Saturday, N.Y. Times had disclosed that the Trump Tower meeting last June with "a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin" had been convened by Don Trump Jr., the president's eldest son, and included son-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
A day later, the bombshell: The meeting was not primarily about adoption policy, as Trump Jr. had suggested in a statement. Don Jr. had been "promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton."
The NYT's Maggie Haberman pointed out on Twitter: "This meeting took place at a pivotal moment for Trump, winning Indiana but facing delegate slog prospect."
Under the for-history headline of "TRUMP TEAM MET RUSSIAN OFFERING DIRT ON CLINTON," The Times says: "The accounts of the meeting represent the first public indication that at least some in the campaign were willing to accept Russian help."
Scott Bixby reports at The Daily Beast:
But the Trump team’s initial strategy of dismissing the Veselnitskaya meeting as an introductory chat about adoption quickly evolved to speculating something far more sinister: that the president’s most trusted advisor, the chairman of his campaign, and the man in charge of running his extensive business interests were all duped by the Russkis, the result of a nefarious Democratic operation meant to use Kremlin operatives to sink the Trump campaign.
“We have learned from both our own investigation and public reports that the participants in the meeting misrepresented who they were and who they worked for,” Mark Corallo, spokesperson for Trump’s outside counsel, said in a statement released a few hours after the original New York Times story published.
“Specifically, we have learned that the person who sought the meeting is associated with Fusion GPS, a firm which according to public reports, was retained by Democratic operatives to develop opposition research on the president and which commissioned the phony Steele dossier,” Corallo continued, referring to the strategic intelligence firm hired by anti-Trump Republicans, then by Democrats, to do opposition research on the candidate.
If it were a setup, however, why did they never use it during the campaign?

Sunday, July 9, 2017

People Trust Media More Than They Trust Trump

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's use of mass media.

Mike Allen at Axios:
A stark poll by Survey Monkey finds that 89% of Republicans view President Trump as more trustworthy than CNN, and 91% of Democrats think the opposite. Among all adults, trust for CNN is 7 points ahead of Trump. Among independents, CNN wins by 15 points....
Asked whether they trust Trump or the WashPost/NYT more, the newspapers won by 9 points among all adults. Asked about Trump vs. ABC/CBS/NBC, the networks were judged more trustworthy by an 11-point margin. Republicans had a similar disproportionate trust in Trump.
The online poll of 4,965 adults, taken June 29 to July 3 (error estimate: +/- 2.5 points), found:
  • 33% of Republicans say they get their news only from Fox.
  • 64% of all adults disapprove of Trump's use of Twitter (89% Dems, 38% Republicans).
  • Describing his tweets (all adults): undignified 47% ... mean 34% ... entertaining 26% ... presidential 7%.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Kamala Harris 2020?


In Defying the Odds, we discuss the early stages of the 2016 campaign, when many candidates were unknowns.  It is already time for the 2020 unknowns.

Matt Flegenheimer writes at The New York Times:
Like the Senate newcomers Barack Obama or Marco Rubio before her, Ms. Harris — a 52-year-old former prosecutor with a profane streak, a lawyerly aversion to “false choices” and an affection for the rapper Too Short — has insisted that national aspirations are far from her mind. 
Like those men, she has not exactly ruled out the possibility, either. 
Unlike those men, she is not a man, a fact that has figured prominently in her introduction to mass audiences in a recurring (and highly rated) television series: Senate Intelligence Committee Hearing Into Possible Trump Ties to Russia.
Calbuzz is...skeptical
Weeks before the imperious Queen Kamala took office – relying as she does on bad advice from the craven whisperers around her — we warned that this shallow narcissist would start looking in the mirror and seeing a future president. 
Old-school political reporters used to say there are two kinds of pols: work horses and show horses. Take a wild guess which of California’s two U.S. Senators is which 
While it’s true that her recent smart, aggressive and gone-viral questioning of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was rudely interrupted because, well, she’s a black woman, the bottom line on Harris is this: (with apologies to Gertrude Stein and the fine people of Oakland) There’s not much there there. Nor does it help her cause that her long-ago lover, former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, has openly suggested she wouldn’t be where she is today if it weren’t for him. (“We had been very close” — wink-wink, nudge-nudge — Brown wrote in a kissy-kissy Chronicle column two weeks ago. 
Once she’s represented California for a couple of terms and can show some policy and political chops, Harris may well be someone to take seriously. But for now she’s just the flavor of the week among the big brains in the Beltway.