Aug. 13

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Trump Condemns Violence in Charlottesville but Doesn't Mention Who Started It

The city of Charlottesville has decided to take down its statue of Robert E. Lee. This is an entirely justifiable decision, inasmuch as: (1) Lee fought to preserve white supremacy, (2) The city has a sizable minority population, among them thousands of black students, and (3) Lee had no connection with the city. The jettisoning of the Lee statue has a lot of alt-right folks and white supremacists angry, so the KKK and other groups decided to hold a protest this weekend. Things turned quite ugly; most disturbing was an incident where an apparent white supremacist plowed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one person and injuring more than a dozen others.

Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe has already declared a state of emergency, and under the circumstances, a presidential statement was clearly called for. Donald Trump obliged, condemning the violence "in the strongest possible terms." However, he pointedly refused to say who might be responsible for the violence, and instead blasted "hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides." This is, to be blunt, reprehensible. If there was ever a group worthy of criticism, something Trump is generally happy to dole out, it is white supremacists. And if ever there was a time for that criticism, it was Saturday. And yet, once again, Trump hedged his bets, declaring that those who stand for white supremacy and those who stand against are morally equivalent. This is a clear dog whistle; Trump knows he got elected—in part—due to the votes of racists, and he doesn't want to alienate that part of his base. The comparison to the last billionaire-populist to make a serious run at the White House, Ross Perot, is striking. On a regular basis, the Texan told his mostly white audiences that, "If you hate other people, I don't want your vote."

Yes, Trump's game is clear, and he's being slammed from all sides for playing it. A sampling of headlines:

And here's what some of the politicians had to say:

The only high-profile politicians to make statements, and follow Trump's lead in not taking sides? Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III. A rather predictable list.

What most of the Washington elite—outside of Trump, Cruz, Pence, and Sessions—realize is that refusing to take sides is not only wrong, it's bad politics in modern America. Which group of voters is larger? White supremacists, or people who might consider voting Trump, but are worried that he's a racist (or, at very least, a racist-enabler)? Clearly there are more of the latter, and Trump would do well to try to win them over, rather than push them further away. And that's before we consider the fact that the white supremacists are angry people who are never going to be satisfied, and whose support is always tenuous. Already, former Klansman and current racist David Duke has condemned Trump's remarks, tweeting: "So, after decades of White Americans being targeted for discriminated [sic] & anti-White hatred, we come together as a people, and you attack us?" Then, he added: "I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists." And finally: "White Americans are so afraid to speak out that we've allowed our country to be invaded and our children to be propagandized by marxists." Trump didn't respond or condemn Duke in any way. Nor did he have anything to say about the presence or speech of white supremacist Richard Spencer.

At this point, it's crystal clear what kind of man and president Trump is. What you see is what you get. That's not going to change. (Z & V)

Bannon on Thin Ice

One person who was presumably pretty happy with the way things played out on Saturday is White House Senior Adviser Steve Bannon, since he's a rabble-rouser, and an alt-righter, and, well, a racist. However, his job is reportedly in jeopardy once again, as it reportedly has been several times before. Clearly, Bannon is like a cat; the question is whether or not he has used up all of his nine lives.

As was the case the previous times that Bannon was in danger, he's being frozen out from high-level meetings, his enemies are circling him like sharks, and Donald Trump is frustrated with his propensity for self-promotion. There are two new factors, however. The first is that Trump suspects Bannon is behind a lot of the leaks that are coming from the White House (which is probably correct), and is furious about it. The second is that John Kelly, who hates Bannon, is now available to be the hatchet man. Trump hates to fire people directly, but is happy to let others do the dirty work for him.

Again, though, we can't declare Bannon dead yet. He's Trump's main conduit to the populists, alt-righters, and racists in the base (three populations that overlap a lot), and Trump clearly cares a lot about keeping their support (see above). Further, canning Bannon would infuriate Rebekah and Bob Mercer, who are key donors to the Trump campaign (essentially, Trump's answer to the Kochtopus). Finally, if Bannon is cut loose, nobody knows what kind of fury he might unleash on The Donald, perhaps after reclaiming his place at Breitbart. The President might once again reach the same conclusion that LBJ reached about J. Edgar Hoover (whom Johnson loathed): "It's probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in." (Z)

Republican Representative Is Holding a Ticket Lottery for His Town Hall

Many Republicans have discovered that holding town hall meetings with constituents can lead to angry crowds asking hostile questions. One way to avoid this situation—in fact, the most popular one—is to hide and not meet constituents at all. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) is trying another way: asking constituents to submit their questions in advance and then holding a lottery to determine who gets an invitation to attend. The congressman's website says that people will be selected at random, but it isn't hard to imagine that the nature of the question will play a (big) role in determining who gets in. After all, why would they need to submit their question in advance if that was not the case? This could be a technique to get a large crowd that is friendly and keep opponents out. Depending how it goes, other Republicans may emulate Fitzpatrick later. (V)

The 86 Million Reasons Trump Can't Win a Battle with McConnell

Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell got into a spat last week, hurling insults at each other. Trump may think he damaged McConnell, but if he does, he is very wrong for 86 million reasons. Each reason is one of the dollars McConnell's super PAC spent in the 2016 election helping Republican senators. Many of the current incumbent GOP senators got a chunk of that $86 million, and are no doubt grateful to McConnell for his help. Trump didn't provide any funds to any senator's campaign. Tweets are nice but a check for, say, $3 million is a lot nicer. Few, if any, senators are going to side with Trump over McConnell in this or any future arguments between the two. (V)

RNC Has Adopted Bernie Sanders' Fundraising Approach; the DNC Hasn't

In 2016, then-candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) raised vast amounts of money from small donors. The RNC learned from this. The DNC didn't. In the first half of 2017, the RNC pulled in $75 million to the DNC's $38 million. But more importantly, the RNC raised $33 million from small (under $200) donations. The DNC raised only $21 million from small donations.

Small donations are a kind of measure of voter enthusiasm. People who make small donations can make additional ones later, and these are often the people who will knock on doors and help the party or candidate on the ground. Someone who cuts a check for $2,700 to a candidate can't donate any more, and is probably not the kind of person who will do grass-roots organizing.

How did this happen? The Trump campaign (and now the RNC) had a message of hope: Make America Great Again. People responded. After the Sanders campaign ended, the Democrats didn't have a message of hope. Hillary Clinton and the DNC just tried to scare people using Trump as a boogeyman. It didn't work.

One tactic that Sanders pioneered and Trump quickly emulated was thanking individual donors. Trump once thanked a woman who gave $6 and said it was a big sacrifice for her, but she believed in his cause. The DNC emails tend to have subject lines like: "Tell the Senate Republicans to show us the bill" (about health care). Negative emails like this don't work as well as positive ones where the donor can feel he or she is part of the larger cause. Sanders understood that. So did Trump and the RNC. The DNC doesn't seem to have that down pat yet, though a lot will depend on the candidate they end up with in 2020. A Barack Obama, for example, certainly understood the value of "hope." So much so he made it his slogan.

Of course the party fundraising isn't the entire story. For the Republicans, there are numerous super PACs funded by billionaires. For the Democrats, there are organizations like and numerous resistance groups to which some Democrats are redirecting their money. (V)

Trump Hotel Turns a $2M Profit

Donald Trump's new hotel in Washington D.C. is at the point in its life cycle that it would be expected to lose money. Certainly, that's what the Trump Organization anticipated, as they projected a $2 million loss this year. Instead, however, the hotel is bringing in money hand-over-fist, having profited $2.1 million in the first four months of 2017 alone.

Much has been written about the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which Trump would be violating if any of the profits are due to representatives of foreign powers paying above-market rates. If the profits were coming from American customers that had business with the government, that too would be a problem. Of course, these things are only a "problem" if someone—the Justice Dept., for example, or Congress—decides to look into the matter. Thus far, they are not interested. Maybe Robert Mueller will look into it. (Z)

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