Sep. 24

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It's Trump vs. the NFL, NBA, and MLB

The first rule of successful bullying is "don't pick on someone who is able to fight back." President Donald Trump, who does have some experience in this area, seems to have forgotten that, since he decided this weekend to take on athletes and sports executives who have thick skin, money, and a public platform that is arguably equal in reach to The Donald's.

Trump's first foray into this area came on Friday, when he decided, during a speech in Alabama, to slam NFL players who "disrespect our flag." The President got a pretty good response with that one, and he's clearly gotten his cell phone back from Chief of Staff John Kelly, so he decided to double down on Saturday:

If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL,or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect....

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017

...our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU'RE FIRED. Find something else to do!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017

While he was at it, Trump also decided to take on the NBA's Stephen Curry, whose Golden State Warriors were going to meet this weekend and discuss whether to make the traditional championship visit to the White House:

Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team.Stephen Curry is hesitating,therefore invitation is withdrawn!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017

There may literally be no worse way to word this. If Trump claimed that no invitation was offered, then at least he could say he technically wasn't snubbed. Or, if he waited until the Warriors officially told him "no thanks," then at least he could argue they were being rude or childish. But by confirming that the invitation was out there, and then preemptively yanking it, Trump has made clear that he was indeed snubbed, and then responded in a rude and childish fashion. One begins to wonder if Trump has ever taken the high road in his entire life.

Now, as we noted yesterday, it's not much of a surprise that Trump waded into this particular corner of the culture wars, as this subject touches on a lot of hot-button issues for his base. Perhaps the most important one of those, however, is race. As CNN's Chris Cillizza points out, Trump is blowing enough dog whistles here that the Willie Horton ad of 1988 is starting to look kind of tame by comparison. The owners of the league's sports teams are overwhelmingly white (with former NBA star Michael Jordan the only black majority owner among the United States' three major sports leagues). Meanwhile, a majority of the players in the NFL and NBA are black (70% and 77%, respectively). All this talk of the "privilege" of playing in the leagues, and how (mostly black) players should stay in their lane, and how (mostly white) owners should exert control over players who fail to do so is not much different than when Ronald Reagan railed against lazy "welfare queens." In fact, it's not so different from the verbiage of Southern segregationists during the Civil Rights movement, who said that black folks should just be happy with what they have. It also means that Trump has now had stronger words for the (mostly black) athletes of the NFL and NBA than he had for the (entirely) white supremacists of Charlottesville.

Again, Trump's mistake here is that he chose targets with the ability to fight back. And the response has been swift. The Warriors, who apparently are familiar with the high road, issued a statement:

In lieu of a visit to the White House, we have decided that we'll constructively use our trip to the nation's capital in February to celebrate equality, diversity and inclusion—the values that we embrace as an organization.

Meanwhile, individual players on the team spoke out, with Curry noting that the whole situation is "surreal," while wondering, "why he feels the need to target certain individuals, rather than others," and opining that, "That's not what leaders do." Many of the Warriors' NBA brethren also sounded off, most notably superstar Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James:

U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain't going! So therefore ain't no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!

— LeBron James (@KingJames) September 23, 2017

We know that Trump is obsessed with ratings and other measurables, so he will presumably be very unhappy to be attacked by James, whose 38.4 million Twitter followers barely trail Trump's 39 million (and, when fake accounts are discounted, James actually leads Trump). Even unhappier for the President is that James' tweet has already been liked 1.2 million times, while Trump's best number is a little over 600,000.

And it wasn't just the NBA that fired back at the President. MLB catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first baseball player to take a knee at a game; a bold move for a famously conservative sport. Maxwell, who is black, comes from a military family, and is well known for his patriotic feeling. On Saturday, he placed his hat over his heart and looked at the American flag as he kneeled, so there was zero question that the gesture was meant specifically for Trump. And in case there was any doubt, Maxwell made his views clear via Twitter:

Inequality is being displayed bigger than ever right now as our president shows that freeedom of protest and speech is not allowed..

— Bruce T Maxwell (@bruu_truu13) September 23, 2017

This now has gone from just a BlackLives Matter topic to just complete inequality of any man or woman that wants to stand for Their rights!

— Bruce T Maxwell (@bruu_truu13) September 23, 2017

The protest also appears to have reached the college ranks, as NCAA men's basketball champion North Carolina announced Saturday that due to "scheduling issues" they will forego their White House visit, as well.

Arguably the loudest response, however, came from the direction of the NFL, which had dozens of players speak up. Selected examples, from Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, Bills running back LeSean McCoy, and Lions tight end Eric Ebron:

The behavior of the President is unacceptable and needs to be addressed. If you do not Condemn this divisive Rhetoric you are Condoning it!!

— Richard Sherman (@RSherman_25) September 23, 2017

It's really sad man ... our president is a asshole

— Lesean McCoy (@CutonDime25) September 23, 2017

Does anyone tell trump to stick to politics, like they tell us to stick to sports? Smh.

— Eric Ebron (@Ebron85) September 23, 2017

But at least the NFL's owners were with Trump, right? Not so much. A dozen of them have issued statements opposing his comments. "President Trump's remarks were divisive and disrespectful to the entire NFL community," said Buffalo Bills Owners Terry and Kim Pegula, while Packers CEO Mark Murphy lamented that, "It's unfortunate that the president decided to use his immense platform to make divisive and offensive statements about our players and the NFL," and San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York declared that, "The callous and offensive comments made by the president are contradictory to what this great country stands for." NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who doesn't do anything unless he thinks he's got the support of the great majority of owners (aka his bosses), also produced a statement, in which he said, "Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities."

This is going to be a big story for at least another day or two, and very possibly for much longer than that. First, because it is unlikely that Trump is going to let the matter drop. By the time the sun rises in D.C., there is every chance of a tweetstorm originating from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Actually, it already started Saturday night, presumably right before Trump had his bedtime cocoa:

Roger Goodell of NFL just put out a statement trying to justify the total disrespect certain players show to our country.Tell them to stand!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017

Beyond that, today is NFL football day, which means that Sherman, McCoy, et al. are going to have the nation's attention (and better ratings than "The Apprentice" ever got). There have been calls for every NFL player to take a knee before today's games. Some of them surely will, and it is very possible many of them will. Maybe even all of them. Well, not Tom Brady. But no matter what happens, people will be talking about it on Monday. (Z)

Trump Continues War of Words with Kim

Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un have maintained their intercontinental pissing contest throughout this week, with Trump threatening North Korea before the United Nations (Monday), and then Kim calling Trump a "frightened dog" (Wednesday), then Trump threatening Kim again (Thursday), and then Kim blasting Trump as a "mentally deranged U.S. dotard" (senile old man) and promising to detonate a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean (Friday). Trump may or may not know what a dotard is, but he certainly can't let something like that pass either way, so he returned fire via Twitter on Saturday:

Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at U.N. If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won't be around much longer!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017

First of all, the "Rocket Man" bit was corny on its first usage. Now in its sixth day, it's only going downhill. Meanwhile, Trump is undoubtedly the only president in U.S. history to blithely threaten the slaughter of 25 million people without a second thought.

In any event, a new poll suggests that this kind of posturing may not be the political winner that Trump thinks it is. Only 37% of Americans trust Trump to handle the rogue nation, while 72% trust America's military leaders. Only 23% favor a preemptive strike against Kim, while more than two-thirds oppose. 75% think that economic sanctions should be the administration's primary course of action. It is clear that much of the base likes the saber-rattling, and they may be all that matter, though even among them, it there is evidence they prefer the President rely on economic sanctions and his military advisors, as opposed to, say, Twitter. (Z)

What About Puerto Rico?

Hurricane Harvey hit Texas and Louisiana very hard, and Hurricane Irma did the same to Florida. However, the hardest-hit place in America is almost certainly Puerto Rico, which has been devastated by Hurricane Maria (with an assist from Irma). The entire island has lost power, which may not be restored for months. Potable drinking water is in short supply. In some cities, 90% of the homes have been leveled.

After Harvey, Donald Trump was in Texas on the ground twice, and moved quickly to secure funding for the victims. After Irma, he went to Florida once, and also threw his weight behind emergency relief. With Maria, by contrast, the President proclaimed Puerto Rico a disaster area four days ago and then...nothing. No visit, no money, no meaningful support of any sort so far. His silence has been particularly noticeable, given how much time he's found to talk about, say, what NFL players should be doing.

What is the difference between the three situations? After all, the people in all three places are all U.S. citizens. It's true that Puerto Ricans can't vote (at least, not when they are on the island), and it's true that Florida is a swing state, but Texas is as red as it gets, as is Louisiana. So, this doesn't seem to be about vote-getting. Is the President suffering from hurricane fatigue? Maybe. Or, is it more that he cares when white folks suffer, but not so much when brown folks do? That is certainly how it looks to many; the left-leaning Daily Beast has gone so far as to describe Maria as Trump's Hurricane Katrina. Could be; certainly the optics aren't very good. On the other hand, maybe distracting attention from Puerto Rico is why he's taking potshots at the NFL. (Z)

Details of Trump's Tax Plan Leak Out

Speaking of distractions, Donald Trump has a tax problem. Namely that he wants to give money back to rich people, but his base is made up of a large number of not-so-rich people. His ideal situation (and the ideal situation for the GOP in general) is to slide the tax cut in under the radar. The rich folks will know they're paying less, and hopefully the poorer folks will be none the wiser. This being the case, it's possible that all the NFL talk and NBA talk is a strategy to deflect attention from his tax plan, which began to come into focus on Saturday.

According to reports from GOP insiders, the current plan is to reduce the number of tax brackets from seven to three, to slash the top rate from 39.6% to 35%, and to cut the rate on small businesses from 35% to 20%. The complete plan is expected to be unveiled Wednesday. If the details that leaked on Saturday are correct, then the Democrats and the House Freedom Caucus are going to be "no" votes, since each of those two factions has deal breakers that the Trump plan does not accommodate. The only thing we can really say for certain is that, very soon, Trump is going to learn that repealing Obamacare is a snap compared to changing the tax code. (Z)

Republicans Still Working on Obamacare Repeal

Speaking of the Obamacare repeal, it is—like Jason Voorhees, or a cat on life number seven, or velour track suits—not quite dead yet, despite what you might have heard. Although Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) are clearly unhappy with the Cassidy-Graham-Heller-Johnson (CGHJ) health-care bill, neither has quite pulled a Full Sherman when it comes to stating their intention to vote "no."

This being the case, efforts to tweak the bill are ongoing in an effort to somehow get those senators' votes. In fact, Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) are even taking a shot at getting Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), because why not? The only "no" they do not appear to be pursuing is Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). At the same time that the senators work behind the scenes, Donald Trump is putting his Twitter skills to use, trying to put pressure on the trio—Murkowski, in particular. The drop dead date in Saturday which, depending on how much one cares about "normal order," is either an impossibly short timeframe, or else plenty of time. (Z)

Trump Hedges His Bets With Strange

Donald Trump would like the interim tag to be removed from before Sen. Luther Strange's (R-AL) name, since the President knows that the Senator follows the party line faithfully when he votes, while a loose cannon like Roy Moore may not do so. That said, there's nothing Trump dislikes more than being associated with a "loser," and polls suggest that Strange is about to become one. And so, while the President campaigns for Strange, he's also begun to hedge his bets. During his speech in Alabama on Friday, Trump told the crowd, "I'll be honest, I might have made a mistake [in backing Strange]." The Donald also claimed that, even if Strange loses, his support has allowed the Senator to make up a 25-point gap in a manner of weeks. This is nonsense; Strange has never trailed by anything close to that, and besides, polls make clear that only 20% of Alabama GOP voters are considering Trump's opinion as they make their choice.

The upshot is that Trump knows his candidate is likely to lose, and may lose bigly. That will look bad for the president, first because of his general disdain for losing, and also because it will deprive him of much political capital (from an already rapidly-dwindling supply). "You don't need Trump to win elections," will be the lesson for 2018 candidates, and many of them may become less enthusiastic in supporting him. In view of all of this, it's not a surprise that Trump is distancing himself from Strange. As the Washington Post's Avi Selk and Amy B. Wang point out, preemptive strikes of this sort are common for The Donald. His preemptive disinvite of the Golden State warriors (see above), his dissolution of his two CEO councils, his decision not to attend the Kennedy Center honors or White House Correspondents dinner—all were clearly calculated to spare the President from embarrassment. It's not surprising that a politician should do this, particularly one as image-conscious as Trump, but it does make clear that no matter how he might posture, The Donald is well aware that he's not nearly as popular as he pretends he is. (Z)

This Could Be Awkward

On Thursday, new FBI director Christopher Wray will be installed. It is customary for the sitting president to attend the ceremony, along with all living former FBI directors. This raises the distinct possibility that Donald Trump, James Comey, and Robert Mueller will all end up in the same room together.

None of the three men have, as yet, confirmed their attendance. All three are local, though; Trump and Mueller due to their current employment by the federal government, and Comey due to his year-long appointment to the faculty of Howard University. It would be something of a snub for Trump to skip the ceremony, especially given that his relationship with the FBI is already quite rocky. On the other hand, for all his bluster, he actually hates awkward interpersonal conflict. Likely, he will hope that Mueller and Comey decide they have something better to do, and—if they do not opt out—then he will find a convenient reason he simply cannot be present on Thursday. Perhaps there's a ribbon at a Wal-Mart grand opening that simply must be cut by a president. (Z)

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