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Takeaways from Trump's Speech in Phoenix

The Hill has a list of the seven biggest takeaways from President Donald Trump's speech in Phoenix yesterday. They are:

The latter point is the key one. While many commentators and pundits, including conservative ones, say he is unhinged, his base just laps it up (at least to an extent, but see below). Among the conservatives who were dismayed by the speech are Jennifer Rubin, Susan Wright, and Mark Thiesssen. Trump enjoys himself most when speaking to whipped-up friendly crowds, and really doesn't care what anyone else thinks. It is just who he is.

Mike Allen over at Axios said his speech was one of the most divisive and deceptive attacks on the media in presidential history. Allen singled out Trump's comment that it was the media that fanned the flames of racist protest by trying to erase "our" heritage. Allen also made a short list of takeaways:

While there is some overlap between the lists, each one also has some unique points. There was so much to choose from, after all. (V)

Phoenix Rally Dominates the News

While some analysts are doing postmortems of Donald Trump's Phoenix performance as a whole, many more are zooming in on specific areas of interest and/or concern, as the speech dominated media coverage on Wednesday.

To start, a number of observers noted that HUD Secretary Ben Carson almost certainly broke the law on Tuesday night. The Phoenix speech was unquestionably a campaign event for the President, a fact made clear not only by the tone and tenor of his remarks, but also by the fact that the costs of the event were paid by his re-election committee. When Carson addressed the crowd, he was introduced as "The Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Dr. Ben Carson." The problem is that this implies endorsement of Trump, not by private citizen Ben Carson, but by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Hatch Act forbids officeholders from engaging in electioneering of any kind while acting in an official capacity. In fact, Carson's predecessor Julian Castro got in trouble for doing exactly the same thing when he endorsed Hillary Clinton during an interview conducted in his office. The good news for Carson is that it's largely up to the President and or the DoJ to enforce the law. Don't hold your breath waiting for them to do so.

Another subject of much interest was the size and nature of the crowd that Trump drew. After all, if the President is going to obsess about it, then he should expect others to do so, too. Jenna Johnson has attended 170 Trump rallies as a reporter, and she noticed something on Tuesday that should terrify Trump the candidate and Trump the reality star: The base is getting bored. Not only was the turnout for the Phoenix rally fairly middling, but large segments of the crowd ultimately tuned The Donald out, either fiddling with their phones, or wandering around the venue, or even leaving early. As we and others pointed out yesterday, these rallies are really the same old, same old every time: Complaints about the media, jabs directed at the members of Congress, policy statements that don't come to fruition, some general bluster, a few shots at Barack Obama and/or Obamacare, promises the wall is still coming, and lots of exhortations to "trust me" and "believe me." There's a reason that "The Apprentice" presented a new challenge to contestants in every episode, as opposed to having them come up with a marketing plan for Trump steaks for the 14th time.

And finally, once the most specific and/or outrageous of the President's statements had been parsed, it was time to return to the address for a deeper reading. The passage that has been getting particular attention for the insights it offers about Trump's psychology is this one:

Now, you know, I was a good student. I always hear about the elite. You know, the elite. They're elite? I went to better schools than they did. I was a better student than they were. I live in a bigger, more beautiful apartment, and I live in the White House, too, which is really great.

The message here is clear, whether Trump realizes it or not. He's 71 years old, has had a successful career in business and in media, and is now the President of the United States of America. And yet, he still worries in his heart of hearts that he's a loser. He resents those who looked down on him and his family, and wants desperately to prove to them and to himself that they were wrong to do so. Of course, if he has not come to grips with this in the last half-century, he never will. He's going to be chasing his tail in this particular way for the rest of his life, and no success, no achievement, no amount of praise or braggadocio will ever fill the void, it would seem. No president has ever spent so much time and energy trying to convince his supporters of his own greatness, his own brilliance, his own enormous success. And that's before we get into the fact that the presidency generally comes with more failures and setbacks than successes, which makes the unending sales pitch all the more difficult. It's just another way that Trump really is not in the right job, even as he uses these rallies to try to convince himself and his base otherwise. (Z)

What's Going on with the Arpaio Pardon?

Donald Trump has made quite clear that he's ready to pardon Joe Arpaio (see above). In fact, the White House has already prepared the paperwork, and even has a list of talking points, with an eye toward softening the blowback. If and when Arpaio is pardoned, expect to hear a lot about his 50 years in law enforcement and military service, coupled with liberal use of phrases like "he was just enforcing the law" and "he was working to keep people safe." Things like the deplorable jail conditions, the reluctance to investigate sex crimes, the misuse of funds, the racial profiling, or the $141 million Maricopa spent defending and settling lawsuits filed against "America's toughest sheriff" will go unmentioned.

If Trump is so close to pulling the trigger, to the point that he essentially told his Phoenix audience that a pardon was coming, what's the holdup? There are two theories floating around, and there's likely some truth to each of them. First, we know that Trump is very good at misdirection; steering attention away from an unpleasant story (e.g., Russiagate) by giving everyone something different to talk about. Second, everyone in the White House knows that Trump is going to take a beating when and if he gives Arpaio his pardon (hence the prepackaged talking points). So, the President's advisors are telling him to wait until the sentence is actually announced. If it's a slap on the wrist—say, probation or a fine with no jail time—then a pardon may be unnecessary (or, at least, could be pushed into the future). The upshot is that if the court throws the book at Arpaio, and then something worrisome comes out of special counsel Robert Mueller's office or the Washington Post, then that is when we should probably expect to see a pardon issued. (Z)

Email Surfaces about Possible Contact between Trump Campaign and Putin

Last year, when the emails of the DNC and John Podesta were all the rage, Donald Trump often talked about how he loved leaked emails. He even encouraged the Russians to hack and leak Hillary Clinton's emails. This year, he is not so fond of leaked emails. Especially not since congressional investigators have now found an email from Rick Dearborn, a top Trump campaign aide who is now deputy chief of staff, relaying information about someone who was trying to contact Vladimir Putin. The email suggests the person was from West Virginia, but is not more specific about the details.

The email was sent in June 2016, just about the time that Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort met with several Russians close to Putin. It is not clear if the Dearborn email is related to that meeting. What is clear though is that the Russians were actively trying to contact and work with the Trump campaign and that their efforts were definitely noticed. No doubt Dearborn is going to spend some time talking to Congress and Robert Mueller in the near future. (V)

Health-care Reform May Not Be Dead Yet

Several senators are not yet willing to accept that health care reform is dead. But the situation is pretty desperate and desperate times, as they say, call for desperate measures. So, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has decided to try something a little nutty. They're going to hold public hearings, where experts on the issue will share their expertise, and politicians from both parties will have a chance to weigh in. Then, the committee will try to craft a bill that senators on both sides of the aisle can get behind. The two senators leading the effort—Patty Murray (D-WA) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN)—are describing this as "bipartisanship." We're still waiting to hear back from the reference librarian, but this appears to be an archaic term that fell into disuse several Bushes ago.

At the moment, the committee is setting its sights fairly low. They are focused primarily on stabilizing the insurance exchanges, with the idea that it might be bad news if tens of millions of Americans lost their health insurance. If this actually goes somewhere, however, who knows what might come of it? We could even end up in a situation where the grown-ups in Congress actually start to get things done, and to improve on that 10% approval rating, while telling the Ted Cruzes and Mark Meadowses of the world to shove it. There's always the possibility of a Trump veto of whatever the members cook up, but at this point, between the Democrats and Jeff Flake and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and a handful of others, we're probably getting close to having 67 senators who would love nothing more than to override The Donald. In fact, at least one count has 12 GOP senators ready to stand with the Democrats against Trump, up to and including impeachment. (Z)

The Seven Senate Seats Most Likely to Flip Next Year

The Hill loves lists, so it has published a list of the sevem Senate seats most likely to switch parties next year. From most endangered to least endangered, the seven senators are:

While it is hard to rank them exactly, most other sources more or less agree, with the possible exception of Manchin. Although his state is very strongly Republican, it has been like that for years, yet Manchin has managed to win statewide election five times due to his personal popularity. There is a brutal battle going on for the Republican nomination between Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV) and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, with more entrants possible. The primary winner could end up bloodied and broke against a fresh and well-funded Manchin in the general election, so despite the statewide lean, Manchin is far from dead meat.

What is a bit surprising about this list is the high place for Flake. Normally an Arizona Republican wouldn't have much trouble getting reelected, but Flake has chosen an unusual path: Running against a president of his own party. He is first going to have to win a tough primary and then face all the voters, with some of them angry with him for attacking Trump. This is such an unusual situation that it is hard to put odds on this race. (V)

Trump Voters Think White Christians Are the Most Oppressed

A new PPP poll gives insight into why Donald Trump has been so hesitant to condemn white supremacists. When asked which racial group is most discriminated against, 45% of Trump voters said it was whites, 17% said Native Americans, 16% said blacks, and 5% said Latinos. That flies in the face of reality, but Trump seems to understand how his base thinks. When asked which religious group faces the most discrimination in America, 54% of Trump voters say it is Christians, 22% say Muslims, and 12% say Jews. The strong view of much of Trump's base that the victims in society are white Christians means that his comments that "many sides" were to blame for the violence in Charlottesville aren't going to hurt him. This is what they believe, too.

Another thing the poll revealed is that among all voters, 39% support having Confederate monuments in public places and 34% oppose them. But when PPP looked at Trump voters, they supported Confederate monuments by a staggering 71% to 10%. So when Trump says things that outrage urban elites and the New York Times, he knows what he is doing if his sole goal is to keep his base happy. Once it is understood that he is playing only to his base, a lot of his behavior makes more sense.

There is a possibility things may change now, though. Trump, after all, was a rich kid from New York who knows zero about rednecks in the deep South who feel victimized by a changing America. Former strategist Steve Bannon was his guide to their thinking. Now that Bannon is outside the tent pissing in, the President may be getting his information from Chief of Staff John Kelly and his daughter and son-in-law much more now. They certainly don't feel victimized and have a completely different view of the world from Bannon. (V)

Second Poll Shows Moore with Huge Lead over Strange

A second poll has now confirmed what the first poll showed: Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore has a huge lead over Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) to be the GOP nominee in the election to replace AG Jeff Sessions. The poll gives Moore 50% to Strange's 32%. The first poll had Moore ahead 51% to 32% in the Sept. 26 runoff.

Although Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump are not best friends right now, one thing they do agree on is that Strange must win the runoff. There are three reasons for this. First, Moore is a complete loose cannon and might vote against bills that Trump and McConnell want because they are not conservative enough. Second, if Trump and McConnell throw everything they've got at Moore and he wins anyway, it will show all Republicans that having Trump against you doesn't mean so much. Third, Moore is so extreme that the Democrat, Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney, might actually have a small shot at winning the general election. Expect millions of dollars to be poured into this race by McConnell and Trump's allies to try to take down Moore. (V)

Republicans Accuse Virginia Gubernatorial Candidate of Being a Traitor to His Race

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northan (D-VA), who is running for his term-limited boss' job, wants to take down the Confederate monuments in Virginia. In a pair of tweets, the Republican Party of Virginia helpfully pointed out that Northam's great great grandfather owned eight slaves as late as 1860 and said he "turned his back on his own family's heritage." Northam's response was swift: "I feel fine about turning my back on white supremacy. How does @EdWGillespie feel about the president's position?"

Former delegate David Ramadan (R) tweeted at the Republicans: "Have you lost you minds—who is in control of your twitter act?" In other words, even in the heart of the Confederacy, some Republicans realize that effectively calling someone a traitor to his race is not a smart idea. After Ramadan's tweet, the Republican Party removed its initial tweets and apologized. (V)

Hidden Messages All the Rage These Days

Last week, the entire Presidential Committee on the Arts and the Humanities quit in protest of Donald Trump's policies and behavior in general, and his handling of Charlottesville in particular. On their way out the door, they hid a message in their letter of resignation: The first letter of each paragraph spelled out R-E-S-I-S-T.

Like the Arts Committee, Berkeley professor and State Department science envoy Daniel Kammen has also decided to resign, for much the same reasons. And apparently he liked what he saw in last week's resignation, because the first letters of each paragraph in his resignation are also an acrostic:


Needless to say, it's an unusual situation when the members of a presidential administration are falling all over one another, not only to see who can resign first, but also with the greatest amount of creativity, and with as many layers of criticism as is possible. (Z)

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