• Trump Hits Russians With Sanctions
• Latest Russiagate Developments
• Trump Is Slipping with Some Key Supporters
• Farenthold Resigns from Congress
• Charlie Cook Has New House Ratings
• Larry Sabato Has New Gubernatorial Ratings
When Donald Trump says that he wants to change China's behavior, it appears that for once he really, really means what he is saying and is not going to change his mind. First, he came up with tariffs on $3 billion worth of Chinese imports, then $50 billion, and now $100 billion. The U.S. imports over $500 billion worth of products from China, so he has plenty of room to up the ante. In contrast, China imports only $130 billion worth of products from the U.S., so China can't match Trump's tariffs dollar for dollar. China can retaliate in various other ways, though. For example, it holds $1.2 trillion worth of U.S. bonds. If it began selling them, the dollar would nosedive, which might be good for exports but would embarrass Trump, who, in his heart, is a 17th century mercantilist. China could also take geopolitical steps, such as militarizing the South China Sea or even threatening to take over Taiwan by force. If the Chinese army were to invade Taiwan, Trump would be in a real pickle, with few options.
As escalation continues with neither side wanting to give in, the stock market is getting nervous, with the Dow Jones index dropping 572 points yesterday. Such drops have become common of late, and then on days when there is no news, it tends to rebound. However, at some point the rebounds may stop and all the motion could be in the downward direction. Trump seems to understand this and said there may be short-term pain, but he is determined to force China to change its ways.
One thing he is adamant about is stopping its practice of requiring American companies to give Chinese companies their advanced technology as the price for being allowed to sell products in China. For example, if Boeing wants to sell airplanes to Chinese airlines, China requires it to transfer key technologies to Avic, a Chinese firm that China wants to become a major aircraft manufacturer to compete with Boeing and Airbus. So far, Boeing has been willing to do this. Trump thinks this is a huge mistake and wants to get China to stop requiring technology transfer as the price of admission to the Chinese market. It is very unlikely that China will change its "Made in China 2025" policy, so we could be in for a long and bumpy ride. China has a huge advantage here, since President Xi Jinping doesn't have to worry about the stock market, unhappy companies, angry farmers, or reelection. He just gives orders and they are obeyed. Trump is not (yet) in that position. (V)
Note that the headline says "Russians," and not "Russia." Although the Trump administration is clearly capable of setting its sights on an entire country—say, China (see above)—on Friday it chose to target 17 Russian government officials, a state-owned weapons trading company, seven oligarchs, and 12 companies affiliated with those oligarchs with the most aggressive anti-Russia sanctions to date. That includes Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, who allegedly has ties to Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and banker Sergei Gorkov, who met with First Son-in-law Jared Kushner at Trump Tower in New York in December 2016.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin tried to emphasize that these sanctions are a bigly deal, declaring:
The Russian government operates for the disproportionate benefit of oligarchs and government elites. Russian oligarchs and elites who profit from this corrupt system will no longer be insulated from the consequences of their government's destabilizing activities.
The Secretary also said that the administration is focused on oligarchs because it does not want to hurt "the Russian people," who are apparently more likable than the Chinese people. He did not explain, however, why the sanctions appear to be carefully drawn so as to not target Vladimir Putin directly.
So, what is going on here? Clearly, Trump felt enormous pressure to act. His advisors were urging him to do something more substantive about the Russians, especially given how willing he is to unleash his fury on the Chinese. Congressional Republicans were also pressing the President to do something, and had even passed a bill requiring that a list of misbehaving Russian oligarchs be punished. At the same time, Trump is definitely feeling the Russiagate-related heat (see below), and presumably wants to be able to talk about the "strong" measures he's taken against the Russkies, both on Twitter and when he holds his rallies.
That said, it is just as clear that Trump does not want to step directly on Putin's toes. Is that for reasons related to the well-being of the United States? Like, for example, that Trump somehow thinks that Russia is more dangerous than China, and has to be handled more carefully? Possible, but if that's it, then he's almost certainly wrong. One of those nations has 144 million people and the world's twelfth-largest economy, and the other has 1.4 billion people and the second-largest, so it's not even particularly close. Both have enough nuclear weapons to destroy the United States, so that's not it. However, it is possible that Trump's fear of Putin is more personal, like maybe Vlad has some juicy kompromat, or else some other leverage over The Donald. Only the President knows for sure what his concern is, but it is likely that—even without Putin and/or Russia as a whole being targeted—a response is coming soon. Probably not a release of the potential kompromat, though—if Putin does have it, he would not want to give up his leverage quite yet. (Z)
Sanctions aside, the Russiagate situation continues to develop at a brisk pace. To start, special counsel Robert Mueller has acquired search warrants for five telephone numbers linked to Paul Manafort. These warrants were issued just two weeks after former Manafort associate Rick Gates turned state's evidence, so the timing certainly suggests that Gates has given up some useful dirt.
Court filings related to the warrants declare that the phones are, "not the subject of either of the current prosecutions involving Manafort." The current prosecutions involving Manafort have to do with his dealings with Ukraine, so that presumably means the phones have nothing to do with Ukraine. The only other Manafort-related issue that Mueller has been approved to look into by Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, as far as we know, is whether Manafort "[c]ommitted a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian government officials with respect to the Russian government's efforts to interfere with the 2016 election for President of the United States." This suggests that unless there is some third, currently unknown, Manafort-related issue, Mueller is using the phone warrants to investigate collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. And he was able to convince a court that there's enough smoke there to justify his looking for the fire. So, this looks to be pretty bad news for Donald Trump.
Beyond that, CNN reported on Friday that Trump advisor Joseph Schmitz attempted to find Hillary Clinton's 30,000 deleted e-mails—despite there being zero evidence they still exist—on the "dark web," the seamy underbelly of the Internet where considerable criminal activity takes place. Schmitz decided he had found them, and tried to get the FBI and other government agencies to look into his "discovery." The FBI was unpersuaded that a man with no background in computers or computing had been able to find something that likely does not exist, particularly when much more skillful hackers (e.g., Wikileaks) had come up empty, so they did not seriously pursue the matter. For any other administration, this revelation—key advisor wanders into shady corners of the Internet in search of dirt to be deployed against an opponent—would likely be big news. With this administration, it's just a minor blip on the radar.
In any event, the President is clearly nervous about Russiagate, and is trying to decide what to do. His instincts tell him to get into a room with Mueller for an interview, and to bully the Special Counsel into submission. After all, Trump's done that at many a deposition before. His lawyers' instincts, on the other hand, tell them that Mueller would eat Trump alive. The current middle ground between the two positions is that The Donald is currently planning to move forward with the interview, but that he is—in something of a shocking development—preparing for it with his lawyers. That's better than winging it, but not much, since the two remaning members of the team—Ty Cobb and Jay Sekulow—have little experience in this area. Still, it looks like Mueller may get the interview he wants, though as with anything in TrumpWorld, that could change at any minute. (Z)
In many ways, Donald Trump is like no president that has come before him. However, there are some realities of the office that even he cannot escape. One of those is that, over time, some supporters become disillusioned as the idealized candidate they voted for becomes a real president who cannot possibly live up to all those expectations. So it is with Trump, who seems to be holding pretty firm with his base for the moment, but is in the process of losing some pretty important movers and shakers.
To start, there are the Kochs and their well-heeled political network. They are displeased with many things right now. Among them are the tariffs, the failure to do anything to protect the dreamers, and Congress' spending money like a bunch of drunken sailors. The Kochs are also somewhat incredulous that the GOP hasn't done more in 18 months of controlling both houses of Congress and the White House, and have even begun considering the possibility of working with the Democrats on some issues.
Then there is the commentariat, where a few high-profile folks are abandoning ship. Preeminent among them, at least this week, is Ann Coulter, who once wrote a book about what a great president Trump would be, but has begun calling him a "shallow, lazy ignoramus," and describing herself as a "former Trumper." One wonders exactly what she saw in the last two years, or she failed to see in the 70 years before that, that made this change in perspective possible. Whatever it is, it's possible that Coulter really feels this way, or it's also possible that she's just read the way the winds are blowing and decided that the quickest way back to the top of the bestseller lists is to write an anti-Trump book. Either way, not good for the President. Tucker Carlson and Grover Norquist are other outspoken conservative media figures who have expressed significant disenchantment in recent weeks.
Finally, there are the evangelicals. Later this spring, 1,000 prominent evangelical leaders are planning to meet with Trump at a "summit." Their major concern is the consistent news of immoral behavior by the President, including extramarital affairs with porn stars and Playboy models. Note that it is not the behavior itself that bothers them—"There wasn't any kind of illusion of piety," acknowledges Johnnie Moore, who is helping to organize the summit. No, their concern is that the behavior might keep "values voters" away from the polls, and they want to know how Trump plans to address that problem. It's hard to imagine what the answer to that question is; it's not like he can retroactively go back and keep his pants on.
In any case, the GOP is working with a thin margin when it comes to 2018, and probably an even thinner margin in 2020. If things continue along this course, "thin" could well become "zero," because all the folks listed above have enormous influence with the base, and with the donors. (Z)
Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) resigned from the House yesterday. He had already said he would not run for reelection in his TX-27 district, which runs along the Gulf Coast including Corpus Christi and the area immediately north of there. But now, he is exiting immediately. He has been accused of sexual harassment and more and the heat got to be too much, so he just quit.
The situation his departure creates is complicated. Since Farenthold had already announced he was not standing for reelection, multiple candidates in both parties filed to run for his seat. The primary was held in March, with a runoff on May 5. It is too late to hold a special election on May 5, so Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) has two choices. He could call a special election for Nov. 6, 2018 (with a runoff in December), with the winner serving until early January 2019. The main problem with that strategy, other than the bad optics, is that TX-27 was badly hit by Hurricane Harvey and if the district has no representative until December at the earliest, it could have an impact on constituents who need someone advocating for them in Washington. The other option is to call an emergency election on any Tuesday or Saturday. Abbott has 8 days to decide what he will do. (V)
Election guru Charlie Cook has come out with new ratings for competitive House races. Here is his breakdown of the most competitive races:
The color coding indicates the incumbent party. What is most striking the large amount of red, meaning most of the competitive races are Republican seats. In particular, there is not a single blue entry in the "Lean Republican" column. In other words, not one Democrat is in real danger of being defeated. Actually, there is one open seat, PA-14, that is "Likely Republican" (not shown above) due to the new Pennsylvania map. But Cook doesn't have even one actual Democrat in serious danger, and only one in mild danger.
In contrast, 50 Republican seats are potentially competitive, of which 27 are toss-ups or lean Democratic. If the Democrats win all the "Lean Democratic" seats and half of the "Toss-up" seats, they will net something like 15 of the 24 seats they need to capture the House. That's not enough, so they have to win either most of the "Toss-up" seats or some of the "Lean Republican" seats. (V)
While the Democrats face a very difficult Senate map, with 26 seats up vs. 9 for the Republicans, the gubernatorial map is the reverse, with many more Republican-held seats than Democratic seats up this year. In all states but Vermont and New Hampshire, governors serve 4-year terms, so the other governors elected this year will have the power to sign or veto redistricting bills after the 2020 census. That means that a blue wave this year could have major implications for the make-up of Congress from the 2022 election to the 2030 election.
Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball has come out with new ratings for all the governor's races, as shown below.
The prediction here is Democratic pickups in New Mexico, Illinois, and Maine, but no Republican pickups anywhere. However, three key Republican states (Florida, Michigan, and Nevada) are toss-ups due to the retirement of the term-limited Republican governor. The only Democratic seats that are rated as toss-ups are Connecticut and Colorado. Three key states where the Republicans are favored, but it is not a done deal, are Iowa, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The latter is especially iffy due to the victory last week of a Democrat for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the victory in January of a Democrat in a special election for the state senate in a very red district. (V)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr06 Trump Fires Back at China
Apr06 Pruitt's In Deep Trouble...Unless He's Not
Apr06 Republicans Are Trying to Rewrite the Budget Bill Retroactively
Apr06 Trump Picks an Enemy in the West Virginia Senate Primary
Apr06 Paul Ryan's Congressional Race Is Very Strange
Apr05 Trump Refuses to Back Down, Says There Is No Trade War
Apr05 Trump: "We're Leaving Syria"; Everyone Else: "No, We're Not"
Apr05 Trump Continues to Hammer Amazon
Apr05 Trump Is Not a "Target" of Mueller's Investigation at the Moment
Apr05 Roger Stone Under Increased Scrutiny
Apr05 Trump's Infrastructure Guru Is Quitting
Apr05 NRCC Has Tough Choices Ahead
Apr05 Fourteen States Still Use Insecure Voting Machines
Apr04 China Is Ready for a Trade War
Apr04 Trump Will Use the Military to Guard the Border
Apr04 The Book Behind Trump's Policy Decisions
Apr04 Rosenstein Approved Mueller's Investigation of Manafort
Apr04 Mueller Sends Someone to Jail
Apr04 Democrat Wins Judicial Election in Wisconsin
Apr04 Republicans Are Getting Nervous about McCain's Health
Apr04 Three-quarters of Americans Say Major News Outlets Report Fake News
Apr04 O'Rourke Is Raking it In
Apr04 Leftist Candidate Has Huge Lead in the Presidential Race
Apr03 Trump is Pro-States' Rights--Except When He's Not
Apr03 Trump is Pro-Business--Except When He's Not
Apr03 White House: "Shulkin Resigned"; Shulkin: "Actually, I Was Fired"
Apr03 The "Stormy" Effect Is Not Much Effect at All
Apr03 Trump Brags That His Approval Rating Is Now Higher Than Obama's
Apr03 Trump Will Appeal Decision in Summer Zervos Case
Apr03 Woman Sues Trump Campaign
Apr03 Esty Won't Run for Reelection
Apr02 Trump: No DACA Deal
Apr02 With the "Adults" Gone, Trump Is Calling His Own Shots
Apr02 China Declares (Trade) War Against the U.S.
Apr02 Abe Having Buyer's Remorse
Apr02 Russian Hacker Is Extradited to the U.S.
Apr02 Who's the Leaker? Kellyanne Conway, Apparently
Apr02 Rep. Elizabeth Esty Under Fire for How She Handled Harassment Problem
Apr01 Trump Really Hates Amazon
Apr01 Do As I Say, Not As I Do
Apr01 How Big a Win Do Democrats Need to Take the House?
Apr01 The Interview that Should Have Republicans Worried
Apr01 Buttigieg for President?
Apr01 Gun Rights Advocates Are Becoming Unhinged
Apr01 Eric Trump Is Highly Questionable
Mar31 Senate Democrats Have to Choose Between Defense and Offense
Mar31 Pruitt's Head Could Roll Next
Mar31 Jackson's Confirmation No Sure Thing
Mar31 Today in Muckraking...