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Divided We Stand

Divided We Stand
New book about the 2020 election.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Trump Channels Nixon on Investigations

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

Well, I think it’s bad for the country. The only thing that bothers me about timing, I think it’s a very bad thing for the country. Because it makes the country look bad, it makes the country look very bad, and it puts the country in a very bad position. So the sooner it’s worked out, the better it is for the country.
  What I’ve done is, I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department. But for purposes of hopefully thinking I’m going to be treated fairly, I’ve stayed uninvolved with this particular matter
In 1973, Attorney General Elliott Richardson resigned rather than carry out Richard Nixon's order to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox.  A 2/12/76 UPI story in the NYT:
Mr. Richardson describes the events of Oct. 20, 1973, in the current issue of The Atlantic Monthly. 
On that day, the special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, refused to accept a compromise and said he would go back to court to obtain White House tapes. Mr. Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William D. Ruckelshaus resigned rather than follow orders to dismiss Mr. Cox. 
Mr. Richardson recalls that the first thing Mr. Nixon said when he entered the Oval Office to resign was a reference to Leonid I. Brezhnev, the Soviet leader. 
“Brezhnev would never understand it if I let Cox defy my instructions,” the President declared.

Coffee Boy's Importance

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

After he flipped, the Trump gang derided him as a coffee boy.  NYT reports that he was much more:
During a night of heavy drinking at an upscale London bar in May 2016, George Papadopoulos, a young foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, made a startling revelation to Australia’s top diplomat in Britain: Russia had political dirt on Hillary Clinton. 
About three weeks earlier, Mr. Papadopoulos had been told that Moscow had thousands of emails that would embarrass Mrs. Clinton, apparently stolen in an effort to try to damage her campaign. 
Exactly how much Mr. Papadopoulos said that night at the Kensington Wine Rooms with the Australian, Alexander Downer, is unclear. But two months later, when leaked Democratic emails began appearing online, Australian officials passed the information about Mr. Papadopoulos to their American counterparts, according to four current and former American and foreign officials with direct knowledge of the Australians’ role. 
The hacking and the revelation that a member of the Trump campaign may have had inside information about it were driving factors that led the F.B.I. to open an investigation in July 2016 into Russia’s attempts to disrupt the election and whether any of President Trump’s associates conspired. 
If Mr. Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I.and is now a cooperating witness, was the improbable match that set off a blaze that has consumed the first year of the Trump administration, his saga is also a tale of the Trump campaign in miniature. He was brash, boastful and underqualified, yet he exceeded expectations. And, like the campaign itself, he proved to be a tantalizing target for a Russian influence operation.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Dems Have Candidates to Ride a Wave

“There’s no illusion about the storm that’s coming,” said Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma, invoking last month’s governor’s races and last week’s Senate special election. “If you had any doubts, they were wiped away after New Jersey, Virginia and Alabama.”
From Texas to Illinois, Kansas to Kentucky, there are Republican districts filled with college-educated, affluent voters who appear to be abandoning their usually conservative leanings and newly invigorated Democrats, some of them nonwhite, who are eager to use the midterms to take out their anger on Mr. Trump.
Federal Election Commission filings show that if a wave crashes on the Republican House majority in November, as many have predicted, Democratic surfers will be on their boards to catch it. Nearly a year out from the election, Democratic candidates have filed in all but 20 House districts held by Republicans. By comparison, Democrats in 80 districts do not have a Republican opponent for their seat.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Americans See Strong Partisan Conflict

 In Defying the Odds, we discuss polarization in the 2016 election.

From Pew:
Americans are far more likely to say there are strong conflicts between Democrats and Republicans in U.S. society today than to say the same thing about blacks and whites, the rich and the poor, and other social groups.
An overwhelming majority (86%) of Americans say conflicts between Democrats and Republicans are either strong or very strong, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. By comparison, 65% of Americans see strong or very strong conflicts between blacks and whites, and 60% see them between the rich and the poor.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Roy Moore and Shame

 In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's character.   In Alabama, accused child molester Roy Moore ran for the Senate with the support of sexual harasser Donald Trump.

The Alabama election, in particular, should suggest to Republicans that there’s still a role for shame and, more important, that there might yet be a reservoir of virtue left in their party. Yes, turnout in the African American community helped defeat Moore. But the other side of the turnout equation was vitally important, as thousands of conservative voters echoed the moral revulsion of famous Alabamians such as Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R) and basketball great Charles Barkley by staying home or submitting a write-in ballot. Had all those write-in votes been cast for Moore instead, he’d be on his way to Washington.

Also noteworthy was the failure of former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon to turn the Moore campaign into some kind of experiment in the politics of working-class resentment. Bannon — inexplicably touting his Ivy League credentials in Alabama — was sent packing even as Moore was invoking God’s will in refusing to concede. Conservatives should take heart that Bannon’s incoherent stew of white nationalism and wacky economic populism did nothing to help Alabama conservatives overcome their misgivings about Moore.

Shaming and scolding, obviously, are not the only answer to our dysfunctional politics. Conservatives who oppose the politics of people such as Moore and Bannon will have to make a better case than disgust. Nonetheless, if sensible conservatives want to reclaim the GOP, they need to stop responding to small-minded, un-American resentments that have nothing to do with politics or government and everything to do with crackpot notions of social revenge. They can begin by returning three important words to our national lexicon: Shame on you.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017


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

Paul Nehlen, the alt-right guy and Bannon pal running again in a primary against Paul Ryan, has gone full Nazi.

Allison Kaplan Sommer  at Haaretz:
Several other examples of Nehlen’s increasingly combative rhetoric and quest for “white nationalist street cred” were detailed in a recent HuffPost article. Huffpost reported: “On Dec. 8, Nehlen used Gab, a micro-blogging platform used primarily by white nationalists, to repost a drawing another user had made for him. The drawing showed a puny Ryan, seen as the anti-Trump, next to a buff 'Chad' Nehlen. (Chad is an alt-right term for a fit alpha-male womanizer). In the accompanying text, Nehlen is described as having redpilled on globalism, RR and JQ.”
Redpilled, a reference to the Matrix movie trilogy, is used to describe an awakening to white supremacist teachings. RR stands for race realism, and JQ stands for the Jewish question, the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that Jews have undue influence over the media, banking and politics.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Russia: The Lights Were Blinking Red

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

Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima and Greg Jaffe at WP:
The events surrounding the FBI’s NorthernNight investigation follow a pattern that repeated for years as the Russian threat was building: U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies saw some warning signs of Russian meddling in Europe and later in the United States but never fully grasped the breadth of the Kremlin’s ambitions. Top U.S. policymakers didn’t appreciate the dangers, then scrambled to draw up options to fight back. In the end, big plans died of internal disagreement, a fear of making matters worse or a misguided belief in the resilience of American society and its democratic institutions.
One previously unreported order — a sweeping presidential finding to combat global cyberthreats — prompted U.S. spy agencies to plan a half-dozen specific operations to counter the Russian threat. But one year after those instructions were given, the Trump White House remains divided over whether to act, intelligence officials said.
“I thought our ground was not as fertile,” said Antony J. Blinken, President Barack Obama’s deputy secretary of state. “We believed that the truth shall set you free, that the truth would prevail. That proved a bit naive.”'
In an effort to bring Trump around, officials presented him with evidence of Putin’s duplicity and continued interference in U.S. politics. But the president’s recent public statements suggest that he continues to believe that he is making progress in building a good relationship with the Russian leader.
This month, Trump noted that Putin, in his end-of-year news conference, had praised Trump’s stewardship of the U.S. economy.
“He said very nice things,” Trump told reporters.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Politicizing Christmas

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's character

Sunday, December 24, 2017

"You all just got a lot richer."

 In Defying the Odds, we discuss the tax issue in the 2016 campaign.  

Kathryn Watson at CBS:
President Trump kicked off his holiday weekend at Mar-a-Lago Friday night at a dinner where he told friends, "You all just got a lot richer," referencing the sweeping tax overhaul he signed into law hours earlier. Mr. Trump directed those comments to friends dining nearby at the exclusive club — including to two friends at a table near the president's who described the remark to CBS News — as he began his final days of his first year in office in what has become known as the "Winter White House."
 S.V. Date at Huffington Post:
President Donald Trump’s falsehood-rich style appears to have come back to bite him as he brags about his only major legislative accomplishment.

Having passed tax cuts that provide modest help to most Americans, Trump and GOP leaders are finding that most Americans just don’t believe it.

A CNN poll earlier this month found that only 21 percent of respondents believed they would be better off under the tax plan, while 37 percent believed they would be worse off. Another 36 percent thought they would not be affected much either way.

In reality – at least until the individual tax cuts expire at the end of 2025 – the vast majority of families will benefit from the cuts, although not necessarily that much for the typical middle-income family. While the overall benefits skew toward the wealthy because of the dramatic 40-percent reduction in the corporate income tax rate, some 80 percent of taxpayers will see a tax reduction next year, according to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, while 5 percent will get a tax increase and the remainder will see little difference.

That disconnect is not surprising to Neil Newhouse, a prominent Republican pollster. “The data you’re seeing is measuring voter reaction to the Trump-GOP tax plan, and neither of those brands is scoring particularly well right now,” Newhouse said. “Voters are responding less to what’s actually in the tax plan and more to who’s taking credit for it.”

Saturday, December 23, 2017

How Trump Sees the Third World: AIDS and Huts and a Place Called "Nambia"

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's character

Michael Shear and Julie Hirschfeld Davis write at NYT about a June meeting on immigration:
Forty thousand had come from Nigeria, Mr. Trump added. Once they had seen the United States, they would never “go back to their huts” in Africa, recalled the two officials, who asked for anonymity to discuss a sensitive conversation in the Oval Office.
As the meeting continued, John F. Kelly, then the secretary of homeland security, and Rex W. Tillerson, the secretary of state, tried to interject, explaining that many were short-term travelers making one-time visits. But as the president continued, Mr. Kelly and Mr. Miller turned their ire on Mr. Tillerson, blaming him for the influx of foreigners and prompting the secretary of state to throw up his arms in frustration. If he was so bad at his job, maybe he should stop issuing visas altogether, Mr. Tillerson fired back.
Tempers flared and Mr. Kelly asked that the room be cleared of staff members. But even after the door to the Oval Office was closed, aides could still hear the president berating his most senior advisers.
In September, Adam Taylor reported at WP:
As President Trump spoke to African leaders at the United Nations on Wednesday, he made not one but two references to a country called Nambia.
“Nambia’s health system is increasingly self-sufficient,” Trump said approvingly at one point.
Unfortunately, there's a problem — good health care or not, Nambia doesn't exist. And so the U.S. president's laudatory comments about a nonexistent country swiftly invited ridicule online, with many suggesting that Trump had created an entirely new nation by combining two existing ones — Zambia and Namibia.

Friday, December 22, 2017

WH Political Shop and RNC: Turmoil

 In  Defying the Oddswe discuss Trump's role in the party system.

On November 29, Jonathan Swan reported at Axios:
The Trump White House stands at the doorstep of the 2018 midterm elections with no serious political operation. It's been a slow-moving train wreck, from the botched health care effort to the handling of Roy Moore's candidacy. And the man in charge of the political office, Bill Stepien, is seen by administration officials and conservative leaders as a non-entity — a situation senior Republicans blamed on Jared Kushner, who put him there.
  • When I texted a senior figure at a powerful conservative outside group to ask him about Stepien, he called back and admitted he needed to Google his name before responding.
  • "Nobody knows what the f--- he's done or is doing to advance the president's agenda politically," a senior administration source told me. "There's no follow through on initiatives."
  • Stepien seems to have little sway over the RNC chairwoman, Ronna Romney McDaniel. She often deals directly with the president and White House chief of staff John Kelly.
  • "Stepien's not the guy you pick up the phone and call," said a leader of a conservative outside group. "It just seems like the office is a non-entity. At most they monitor things. It's a completely passive operation."
At NYT, Maggie Haberman reports on a tense White House political meeting:
The initial meeting included Mr. Trump; Mr. Stepien; John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff; Kellyanne Conway, the White House counselor; and Hope Hicks, the communications director. Also in attendance were Corey Lewandowski, Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager, and Brad Parscale, both of whom are advisers to America First Policies.

Mr. Lewandowski aggressively criticized the Republican National Committee, as well as several White House departments, five people briefed on the discussion said. He told the president that his government staff and political advisers at the party committee were doing little to help him, three of the people briefed on the meeting said. He pointed to, among other thinned-out departments, the Office of Public Liaison.

One attendee, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the discussion was intended to be private, said Mr. Lewandowski took pointed aim at the political operation led by Mr. Stepien. Another attendee insisted that Mr. Lewandowski lashed out at nearly every department but the political shop.
Alex Isenstadt at Politico:
Among GOP leaders, however, there is widespread concern heading into 2018. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said privately that both chambers could be lost in November. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has told donors that he fears a wave of swing district Republican lawmakers could retire rather than seek reelection.
During a conference meeting last week, House Republicans listened as the past five chairmen of the party’s campaign arm addressed the political environment. One endangered lawmaker said his main takeaway was that incumbents should spend little time worrying about Trump or the White House and focus only on controlling what they can. Another person who was present came away with the impression that if lawmakers didn’t shore up their political standing now, they shouldn’t expect the national party to be able to save them down the road.
 Josh Dawsey and Robert Costa at WP:
Kelly has occasionally grumbled about the RNC and its chairwoman, Ronna McDaniel, advisers say. A number of senior advisers in the White House say that the RNC is not doing enough to defend the president and that its communications and political operation need to be improved — with more Trump loyalists installed. Meanwhile, they complain that Bob Paduchik, a Trump ally at the RNC, has suffered slights there.
 In turn, the RNC often finds itself at the whims of a president that can reverse on a dime, as he did in the Alabama special election for U.S. Senate that was won by Democrat Doug Jones this month. McDaniel has told officials at the RNC that her members are sometimes at odds with the White House. And the RNC was particularly frustrated by Alabama, where Trump agreed for the group to pull out of supporting Republican firebrand Roy Moore’s campaign but then backed Moore and forced the RNC to reverse its stance.

Several White House officials said that they do not expect major changes at the RNC and that Trump continues to praise McDaniel in private. But there is talk of putting more Trump people at the organization or trying to take more control.

An RNC spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Tax Rollout: Glitches Ahead

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the tax issue in the 2016 campaign.  

The Affordable Care Act was unpopular to begin with, and the glitchy rollout made things much worse for the Democrats in 2013.

The unpopular tax cut bill that Congress passed this week could meet a similar fate.

On Monday, PenSoft, a provider of payroll services to small- and medium-size companies, delivered its 2018 software to thousands of customers — just in time for it to become out-of-date.
“There is a misperception that as soon as that bill is enacted, I hit an easy button and the software is updated,” said Stephanie Salavejus, chief operating officer of the Virginia-based company. “But I have to get those formulas from the IRS. I am sort of in a holding pattern.”
The chaos is likely to take months — and perhaps longer — to sort out as the IRS begins writing the rules governing the law’s implementation. The agency has already said it doesn’t expect the tax tables helping employers decide how much in federal taxes should be withheld from workers’ paychecks to be ready until mid-January, allowing them to be implemented in February.
“The IRS will be working closely with the nation’s payroll and tax professional community during this process,” the agency said in a statement.
But some tax experts are also concerned about the IRS’s ability to quickly address the mounting concerns. The agency has been attacked by Republicans for years and has seen its budget cut repeatedly, leading some to question whether it will be up to the task. When the IRS’s former commissioner, John Koskinen, stepped down last month, he blamed Congress for underfunding the agency.
“I don’t know how the IRS is going to enforce this stuff. They have to write regulations, give guidance to taxpayers. They are probably going to feel the brunt of this more than anyone,” said Willens, the tax attorney.
Any delay could sow doubts among taxpayers, many of whom, polls show, are already suspicious of the legislation’s benefits.
“Some employees are going to be anticipating that in their first paycheck in January, they are going to see this big tax cut, and that is not going to happen,” said PenSoft’s Salavejus. “There is still a lot of work to be done.”

Considering the complexity of the code and the breakneck speed with which Republicans rewired it, loopholes, drafting mistakes and unintended consequences in need of fixing are bound to pop up in the months ahead.
As the New York Times reported at the time, the months following enactment of the 1986 tax bill revealed “hundreds of mostly minor drafting errors . . . with more being found each week.” But to address the present-day problems, the GOP will need the help of at least nine Senate Democrats to address them, since Republicans there won’t have the benefit of the fast-track rules they used to pass the tax package with a bare majority. And as Democrats revealed Tuesday, they’re in no mood to help Republicans out of any messes they made.
“Given how intransigent they were on [a technical corrections package] for the Affordable Care Act, I’m skeptical Dems would bail them out of their mistakes,” a Democratic leadership aide said in an email.

That is, Democrats only recently found themselves on the other side of this problem.
Republicans refused to work with them on a package of technical corrections to Obamacare — a once-routine bit of legislative business after the passage of a major bill. Instead, a dispute borne of some sloppy drafting and the subsequent confusion over a four-word phrase in the law touched off a fight that went all the way to the Supreme Court. It involved who could qualify for federal subsidies to help people afford insurance under the law, and as The Washington Post's Paul Kane wrote in March 2015, a ruling against the administration could have undermined the financial viability of the entire program (the Court found 6 to 3 in favor of the law’s defenders).

The tax bill appears littered with potential potholes, suggesting Republicans will have plenty of patching to do next year. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Tex.) has acknowledged as much in recent days, telling reporters on Friday, “I can’t imagine any major undertaking like this that doesn’t require technical corrections in the future.”

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

"Against Trump" People Who Have Flip-Flopped

In  Defying the Odds, we explain that Trump has renounced the conservatism of Ronald Reagan.

David Frum at The Atlantic:
In the spring of 2016, National Review published its “Against Trump” issue.Twenty-one prominent conservatives signed individual statements of opposition to Trump’s candidacy. Of those 21, only six continue to speak publicly against his actions. Almost as many have become passionate defenders of the Trump presidency, most visibly the Media Research Center’s Brent Bozell and the National Rifle Association’s Dana Loesch.
As a survival strategy, this is viable enough in the short term. But let’s understand what is driving it.
The conservative intellectual world is whipsawed between distaste for President Trump and fear of its own audience. The conservative base has become ever more committed to Trump—and ever less tolerant of any deviation. Those conservative talkers most susceptible to market pressure—radio and TV hosts—have made the most-spectacular conversions and submissions: Mark Levin, Tucker Carlson. With reason. The same day that Cooke launched himself into Jennifer Rubin, another contributor to the National Review special issue, Erick W. Erickson, announced that he had lost his Fox News contract. Erickson had precisely followed Cooke’s advice, conscientiously seeking opportunities to praise Trump where he could. That halfway support did not suffice for his producers.
[Jennifer] Rubin stands on that embattled center-right. She is not quite alone. Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations stands there, as does the true-hearted remainder of the National Review 21: Mona Charen, Bill Kristol, John Podhoretz. You’ll find others at the Niskanen Center (Jerry Taylor, Brink Lindsey), and holding the faith from the Evan McMullin–Mindy Finn independent presidential ticket. A few brave the adverse comments on social media: Tom Nichols from the academic world; Seth Mandel at the New York Post’s editorial page; veteran broadcaster Charles Sykes. Joe Scarborough keeps the faith on morning TV. There are more, and I do not mean to slight anyone by omission. Others would wish to stand there if they economically could.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Tax Bill Gets Even More Unpopular

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the tax issue in the 2016 campaign.  

Jennifer Agiesta at CNN:
With the House of Representatives set to vote on the Republican tax reform bill Tuesday before sending it to the Senate and then the President's desk for signing on Wednesday, the plan faces growing opposition and a widespread perception that it will benefit the wealthy more than the middle class, according to a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS.
Opposition to the bill has grown 10 points since early November, and 55% now oppose it. Just 33% say they favor the GOP's proposals to reform the nation's tax code.
Related: Full poll results

Two-thirds see the bill as doing more to benefit the wealthy than the middle class (66%, vs. 27% who say it'll do more to benefit the middle class) and almost four in 10 (37%) say that if the bill becomes law, their own family will be worse off. That's grown five points since early November. Just 21% say they'll be better off if the bill becomes law.
Jacob Pramuk at CNBC:
Forty-seven percent of those surveyed said they disapprove of the similar bills passed by the House and Senate, the Monmouth University poll released Monday said. Only 26 percent of respondents said they approve, while 19 percent had no opinion and 8 percent wanted to wait to draw a conclusion until they saw a final bill.
For Republicans, the survey is just the latest in a string of dismal public opinion polls on the GOP tax plan. In a separate poll out Monday, the CNBC All-American Economic Survey found that 70 percent believe their taxes in the next couple of years will either stay the same or increase.
 Casey Tolan at The San Jose Mercury News:
More than half of California voters, 51 percent, oppose the tax bill, and just 30 percent support it, a poll released Monday found. Most believe only corporations and the super rich will benefit — not them.
But opinions are sharply divided along partisan lines, with 67 percent of Democrats opposing the bill and 60 percent of Republicans supporting it. It could become a defining issue for California members of Congress in next year’s hotly contested midterm elections.
“Democrats are tending to believe what the Democratic leadership are saying,” said Mark DiCamillo, the director of the poll, “and Republicans are believing what their leadership is saying.”
The poll, conducted by the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies, surveyed 1,000 California registered voters between Dec. 7 and 16.
 The Berkeley poll found that just 17 percent of respondents believed that the bill would be good for California, while 52 percent said it would be bad for the state.
And only 20 percent of state voters say they think they’ll personally benefit from the bill, compared with 40 percent who think it will harm their finances. People at every household income level, from less than $20,000 to more than $100,000, agreed it would be bad for them.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Evangelicalism Is a Big Casualty of the Trump Era

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's character.   In Alabama, accused child molester Roy Moore ran for the Senate with the support of sexual harasser Donald Trump.

At Politico, Tiffany Stanley writes of Jen Hatmaker, an evangelical author who came out against Trump.
“This year I became painfully aware of the machine, the Christian Machine,” she wrote in April on her blog. It was Good Friday, a somber day for Christians to observe the crucifixion of Jesus. Hatmaker wrote that she understood now the machine’s “systems and alliances and coded language and brand protection,” not as the insider she had long been, but “from the outside where I was no longer welcome.” During the election season, she added, the “Christian Machine malfunctioned.” It laid bare the civil war within her Christian community.

Indeed, the white conservative Christian electorate—and its overlap with the old-guard religious right—has supported a thrice-married adulterer who bragged about sexual assault. It has excused leadership blunders and nativism and white supremacy. It has rallied around Senate candidate Roy Moore in the face of multiple allegations of sexual abuse of minors. It has also brought low many of those evangelicals who dared to question its judgment. A recent survey found that white evangelicals are now more likely than the average American, or any other religious group polled, to excuse politicians’ immoral behavior. Even the Southern Baptist Convention’s Russell Moore, who leads that denomination’s public policy arm and was perhaps the most famous Never Trump evangelical, was forced to go on a kind of apology tour after the election in order to keep his job. He said he was sorry if his criticisms had been too broad; he didn’t mean to criticize everyone who voted for Trump.
 Julie Zauzmer and Sarah Pulliam Bailey at WP
Discomfort with the term “evangelical” began in some quarters with the Moral Majority in the Reagan years, which helped make “evangelical” synonymous with the Republican Party. Ever since, evangelicals have disagreed with each other about mixing faith and politics.
Such debates intensified last year when President Trump was elected with the overwhelming support of white evangelical voters after a vitriolic campaign that alienated many Americans. Most recently, after Senate candidate Roy Moore drew strong majorities of white evangelicals in Alabama despite reports of his pursuit of teenage girls when he was in his 30s, some Christians across the country said they weren’t sure they wanted to be associated with the word anymore.
Laurie Goodstein at NYT:
The editor in chief of Christianity Today did not have to wait for the votes to be counted to publish his essay on Tuesday bemoaning what the Alabama Senate race had wrought.
Whoever wins, “there is already one loser: Christian faith,” wrote Mark Galli, whose publication, the flagship of American evangelicalism, was founded 61 years ago by the Rev. Billy Graham. “No one will believe a word we say, perhaps for a generation. Christianity’s integrity is severely tarnished.”
The sight of white evangelical voters in Alabama giving their overwhelming support to Roy S. Moore, the Republican candidate, despite accusations of racial and religious bigotry, misogyny and assaults on teenage girls, has deeply troubled many conservative Christians, who fear that association with the likes of Mr. Moore is giving their faith a bad name. The angst has grown so deep, Mr. Galli said, that he knows of “many card-carrying evangelicals” who are ready to disavow the label.
The evangelical brand “is definitely tarnished” by politicization from whatever side, Mr. Galli said on Wednesday. “No question about it.”

Sunday, December 17, 2017

December Signs of a November Wave

Mark Murray at NBC:
Fresh off their victory in Alabama’s special Senate election, Democrats now enjoy their largest advantage in congressional preference in nine years, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, signaling a dangerous political environment for Republicans entering next year’s midterm elections.

Fifty percent of registered voters say they prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress, versus 39 percent who want Republicans in charge.
Harry Enten at FiveThirtyEight:
Democrat Doug Jones’s stunning victory in Alabama on Tuesday should send a shiver down the spine of GOP elected officials everywhere. Yes, Jones likely would have lost the special election for a U.S. Senate seat had his Republican opponent, Roy Moore, not been an extremely flawed candidate. But Moore’s defeat is part of a larger pattern we’ve seen in special elections so far this year, one in which Democrats have greatly outperformed expectations. If history holds (and, of course, it may not), the special election results portend a Democratic wave in 2018.

There have been more than 70 special elections for state and federal legislative seats in 2017 so far.1 We’re interested in each of those contests, naturally, but we’re also interested in what the races tell us about the national political environment. To measure that, we compared each special election result to the partisan lean of that state or district2 — how we’d expect the state or district to vote in a neutral environment (i.e. an environment in which a Democratic and Republican presidential candidate would tie 50-50 nationally).

So, in a neutral environment, we’d expect each special election result to match the partisan lean of that state or district. Instead, Democrats have outperformed the partisan lean in 74 percent of these races.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Oppo at EPA

Rebecca Leber, Andy Kroll, and Russ Choma at Mother Jones:
Using taxpayer dollars, the Environmental Protection Agency has hired a cutting-edge Republican PR firm that specializes in digging up opposition research to help Administrator Scott Pruitt’s office track and shape press coverage of the agency.
According to federal contracting records, earlier this month Pruitt’s office inked a no-bid $120,000 contract with Definers Corp., a Virginia-based public relations firm founded by Matt Rhoades, who managed Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. Following Romney’s defeat, Rhoades established America Rising, an ostensibly independent political action committee that works closely with the Republican National Committee and Republican candidates to mine damning information on opponents. Other higher-ups at Definers include former RNC research director Joe Pounder, who’s been described as “a master of opposition research,” and senior vice president Colin Reed, an oppo-research guru billed as “among the leaders of the war on [Sen. Elizabeth] Warren.”
This for-profit consulting firm offers a variety of public relations services such as digital strategy, political consulting, and media relations. According to its website, Definers’ clients include Fortune 500 corporations, political groups, and nonprofits. In the past, both Marco Rubio and John McCain used their services, and since the 2016 election so has Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.). The client list for America Rising includes the RNC, Republican candidates such as Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Penn.), and super-PACs such as the Mitch McConnell-linked Senate Leadership Fund and Karl Rove’s American Crossroads.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Trump and Russia. Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

It’s been two weeks since Michael Flynn, the former general who briefly served as Donald Trump’s White House National Security Advisor, pleaded guilty in federal court to lying to the FBI about his communications with Russia. As part of his plea agreement, Flynn is now cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
With this in mind, Donald Trump made some news this morning from the South Lawn of the White House.

REPORTER: About Michael Flynn, would you consider a pardon for Michael Flynn?
TRUMP: I don’t want to talk about pardons for Michael Flynn yet. We’ll see what happens. Let’s see.
That “yet” qualifier sure stands out, doesn’t it? Indeed, I wonder what Flynn himself will think when he hears this. It’s almost as if the president were sending a message to his former aide, effectively saying, “No matter what the special counsel’s office is telling you, I still have pardon power.”

Earlier in the same Q&A, there was also this exchange:

REPORTER: Mr. President, when did you find out that Michael Flynn lied to the FBI? When did you find out?
TRUMP: What else is there? You know the answer. How many times has that question been asked?
Nearly a year into his presidency, Trump continues to reject the evidence that Russia waged an assault on a pillar of American democracy and supported his run for the White House.
The result is without obvious parallel in U.S. history, a situation in which the personal insecurities of the president — and his refusal to accept what even many in his administration regard as objective reality — have impaired the government’s response to a national security threat. The repercussions radiate across the government.
Rather than search for ways to deter Kremlin attacks or safeguard U.S. elections, Trump has waged his own campaign to discredit the case that Russia poses any threat and he has resisted or attempted to roll back efforts to hold Moscow to account.
His administration has moved to undo at least some of the sanctions the previous administration imposed on Russia for its election interference, exploring the return of two Russian compounds in the United States that President Barack Obama had seized — the measure that had most galled Moscow. Months later, when Congress moved to impose additional penalties on Moscow, Trump opposed the measures fiercely.
Trump has never convened a Cabinet-level meeting on Russian interference or what to do about it, administration officials said. Although the issue has been discussed at lower levels at the National Security Council, one former high-ranking Trump administration official said there is an unspoken understanding within the NSC that to raise the matter is to acknowledge its validity, which the president would see as an affront.
 U.S. officials declined to discuss whether the stream of recent intelligence on Russia has been shared with Trump. Current and former officials said that his daily intelligence update — known as the president’s daily brief, or PDB — is often structured to avoid upsetting him.
Russia-related intelligence that might draw Trump’s ire is in some cases included only in the written assessment and not raised orally, said a former senior intelligence official familiar with the matter. In other cases, Trump’s main briefer — a veteran CIA analyst — adjusts the order of his presentation and text, aiming to soften the impact.
“If you talk about Russia, meddling, interference — that takes the PDB off the rails,” said a second former senior U.S. intelligence official

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Epic Takedown of Vote-Fraud Conspriracy Theory

In Defying the Odds, we discuss congressional elections as well as the presidential race.   In Alabama, accused child molester Roy Moore ran for the Senate with the support of sexual harasser Donald Trump.

In a Twitter thread, TV and film writer John Rogers executes an epic takedown.

If Soros were going to fix the election, he would have to know in advance how many fake votes he'd need. Jones won by 20k. So if he were really behind by 20k, that means Soros shipped in at least 40,000 votes. It would take at least 800 buses to bring that many people into the state, which would involve dozens of bus companies. Then he would have had to distribute the 40k fake voters to precincts all over the state, and provide them with convincing identification to meet the state's strict requirements -- and do the whole thing without a single person noticing or leaking.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Trump, Bannon, and the GOP After Alabama

After Trump slut-shamed Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday for having the temerity to call for his resignation over allegations of sexual harassment, early Wednesday morning Trump was busy disassociating himself from the stench of Moore’s humiliating defeat in a haze of deflection. To be precise, at 6:22 a.m. Eastern time, our commander-in-chief tweeted, “The reason I originally endorsed Luther Strange (and his numbers went up mightily), is that I said Roy Moore will not be able to win the General Election. I was right! Roy worked hard but the deck was stacked against him!”
Numbers went up mightily? Decked stacked him? Trump may as well have said that he was for the Iraq War before he was against it. Apparently, Trump forgot, no one forced him to back Moore. In the run-up to Tuesday, Richard Shelby, Alabama’s senior senator, announced that he would not vote for Moore, while Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former senator, refused to say for whom he cast his ballot. The fact is that in a single cycle in a single state, Trump backed two losing candidates.
If Trump is the face of the Republican Party then Bannon is its soul, and therein lies the Republicans’ dilemma. In these polarized and polarizing times, the Republican base grows ever angrier, making the GOP primary playbook ever more likely morph into a roadmap for driving over a cliff come November. Whether the Republicans can do anything about that remains to be seen.
 Jones’s win is a reminder that running statewide is not the same thing as running for Congress but with more money and a louder megaphone. Rather, it is about speaking to a larger population with varied concerns. Nuance still matters, and being normal counts.
During the Obama years, the Democrats forgot these rules and saw their party get hollowed out, losing control of both houses of Congress as well as governorships and state legislatures aplenty. Hopefully, the Republicans will get a grip soon enough. Just don’t bet on it.
Philip Bump at WP:
 Using data from Pew Research and the Census Bureau, we put together this look in 2015 at how the country will change by 2050.
Older — but less white and, importantly, less religious. In other words, it will in significant ways look much less like the voters who supported Roy Moore than those who supported the Democrat, Doug Jones. Two-thirds of Jones’s support was nonwhite. Six-in-10 Jones voters were women. In fact, about a third of Jones’s support came from black women alone.

 Many Republican leaders have seen this demographic problem coming for a long time. They probably didn’t expect it to emerge so soon, and in Alabama. It’s not their party’s fault that it happened where and when it did, but it’s a reminder that it may start happening more and in more places.
One more word of warning for the GOP. Moore’s electorate was much less diverse than Trump’s — and even with that slightly-more-diverse electorate, Trump lost the national popular vote by millions of votes.