• Progress in Korean Talks
• When it Comes to Trump Interview, the Ball Is in Mueller's Court
• Pence to Tour "Wall Construction"
• Trump's EPA May Roll Back Fuel Efficiency Standards
• Trump Vote Prompted by Cultural, Not Economic, Issues
• Senate Polls Mostly Coming Up Roses for Democrats
Last night, the White House Correspondents Association held its annual dinner. The event is supposed to be a celebration of the First Amendment and an acknowledgment that the Fourth Estate plays an important role in democracy. For the second year in a row, Donald Trump chose not to attend, which would seem to suggest at least one of the following: (1) He does not value the First Amendment, or (2) He does not think the Fourth Estate has an important role to play in democracy, or (3) He is thin-skinned, and cannot tolerate the ribbing that presidents get at the annual event. Perhaps it is all of these things.
That is not to say that Trump's presence wasn't felt, though. Several high-profile members of the administration did attend, including Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, Kellyanne Conway, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders. And, of course, the President doesn't have to be there for people to roast him. In fact, whether he realizes it or not, his absence allows them to really unload on him in a way that would be much more difficult if they had to actually face him. The headliner was comedian Michelle Wolf, and she took no prisoners. Among her targets:
- Donald Trump: "Good evening, here we are at the
White House Correspondents' Dinner; like a porn star says when she's about to
have sex with Trump, 'Let's get this over with.'"
- Mike Pence: "Mike Pence is what happens when
Anderson Cooper isn't gay."
- Ivanka Trump: "There's also, of course, Ivanka.
She was supposed to be an advocate for women, but it turns out she's about as
helpful to women as an empty box of tampons. She's done nothing to satisfy
women. So I guess like father, like daughter."
- Conway: "You guys have to stop putting Kellyanne
on your shows. If you don't give her a platform, she has nowhere to lie. If a
tree falls in the woods, how do we get Kellyanne under that tree? I'm not
suggesting she gets hurt. Just stuck. Stuck under a tree."
- Sanders: "I actually really like Sarah. I think
she's very resourceful. But she burns facts and then she uses that ash to create
a perfect smokey eye. Like maybe she's born with it, maybe it's lies."
- Hillary Clinton: "It is kind of crazy the Trump campaign was in contact with Russia when the Hillary campaign wasn't even in contact with Michigan. It's a direct flight. It's so close."
A number of Trump insiders, including Conway, walked out during Wolf's set. Even some members of the media, such as Maggie Haberman, suggested that maybe the comedian went too far.
Meanwhile, over at the Trump rally in Michigan, "too far" was the order of the night. A Trump rally, of course, is like a Trump tweetstorm—over the top, rambling, and caustic. In case there was any question about his views on the First Amendment and the Fourth Estate, the President began with a harangue against the "dishonest people" in the media and the "phony Washington White House correspondents thing." Other subjects that came up:
- Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT): Trump is still smarting
over Ronny Jackson's withdrawal from consideration as VA Secretary, and although
a great many members of Congress expressed concerns about the nomination, the
President blames Tester for what happened. Following a string of tweets on
Saturday morning that blasted the Senator, Trump
told the crowd
that "what Jon Tester did to this man is a disgrace," and said that the concerns
raised about Jackson were "vicious rumors" designed to "destroy a man." The
President also issued a threat: "I know things about Tester that I could say
too. And if I said them, he’d never be elected again." Uh, huh. This is what is known, in
technical terms, as "a lie." If Trump actually has dirt on Tester, what exactly
is causing him to hold back? His sense of decorum? His unwillingness to attack a
member of Congress? His discomfort with dirty tricks? None of these things have
ever stopped the Donald before, and there's no reason to believe they would now,
particularly when the party in question is a senator that Trump dislikes, who is
running in a race that Trump and the GOP desperately would like to win.
- Impeachment: Trump
the crowd that if the GOP does not retain control of the House, then the
Democrats will likely impeach him. He may be right about this, and he may not
be; it depends heavily on what is in Robert Mueller's final report. Unlike the
GOP, the blue team is unlikely to pursue impeachment proceedings unless they
have some reasonable chance of success
at the actual impeachment. Conviction in the Senate is unlikely unless Mueller finds something devastating.
In any event, time will tell if "save
the President from impeachment" motivates Republicans to get to the polls in the
- Natalia Veselnitskaya: Responding to this week's
news that Veselnitskaya, of Trump Tower meeting fame, has much closer ties to
Vladimir Putin than previously known, the President
that the Russians had leaked that information in order to punish him for
newly-imposed sanctions on them. He might be right about this, though that
doesn't change the basic fact that high-ranking members of the Trump campaign
met with close associates of Putin during the campaign.
- Border Wall: The administration has been somewhat obsessed with border security this week because of the caravan of Central Americans who are en route to the U.S. in an effort to escape political persecution. On Saturday, Trump mischaracterized the Democratic position on border security as being in favor of "open borders and crime." He then warned that the next time the budget is up for consideration, in late September, he would be willing to shut the government down if money is not allotted for the border wall. Trump, of course, will likely forget he said this by the time he rolls out of bed today. However, if he does follow through, that could blow up in his face. Voters are not pleased to have the government shut down, while such a move would do more to remind immigrants who are citizens to get to the polls than would $50 million in Democratic ads.
The crowd loved everything it heard, even chanting "Nobel! Nobel!" in support of the idea that Trump deserves the Nobel Peace Prize thanks to his efforts in Korea (more below). Exactly how much it helps to drive folks who are already in your hip pocket into a frenzy is an excellent question, however. (Z)
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un and South Korean leader Moon Jae-in have been meeting in the DMZ between the two nations this weekend, and they appear to have made a great deal of progress in thawing their icy relationship. Kim has agreed to stop all nuclear tests, to allow foreign visitors and journalists into the country, and to change North Korean time by half an hour so that it aligns with South Korean time.
When it comes to American politics, the situation in Korea raises three questions. The first is: How much credit will Donald Trump claim? This is also the easiest question to answer, because he is already jumping six moves ahead, and setting himself up to claim all the credit:
KOREAN WAR TO END! The United States, and all of its GREAT people, should be very proud of what is now taking place in Korea!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 27, 2018
There's an old saying about putting the cart before the horse, but apparently the President hasn't heard that one.
The second question is: How much credit does Donald Trump actually deserve? Undoubtedly some, but probably nowhere near as much as he is trying to claim for himself. We do not know, and probably won't know for a long time, exactly how much of this was driven by Moon's machinations. We also do not know, and may not know for a long time, exactly what Kim's motivations are. However, there is evidence that North Korea's nuclear test site has physically collapsed due to previous tests and that they are literally unable to conduct any more trials. If that is true, then all of these developments have less to do with Trump or Moon, and more to do with dumb luck.
The third question, and the one that matters most, is: How much credit will voters give Trump? We'll have a slightly better sense of that once the President meets with Kim, something he says will happen in the next three or four weeks. But the road ahead is fraught with peril. As British foreign policy expert Doug Saunders observes, Moon has expertly manipulated the situation to his own advantage. He will get credit for figuring out the "big picture," which is the easy part, while the Trump administration will be left to work out the nitty-gritty. And, as they say, the devil is in the details. If Trump somehow manages to bring this weekend's agreements to fruition, he'll have to share the credit with Moon. And if he cannot, he'll get most or all of the blame. It's not a no-win situation, but it does seem to be a situation where no bigly win is possible. And that's before we consider the likelihood that any successful deal will involve the sort of economic concessions that the President has blasted in past.
If peace does come to the Korean peninsula, it will be the greatest accomplishment of Trump's presidency, even if it turns out he deserves only a small portion of the credit. And he would almost certainly win the Nobel that his base has already put in his trophy case. However, there are a lot of land mines on the road between where we are today and peace in Korea, which is why it was probably unwise to declare the Korean War to already be over.
But even if the Korean War formally ends with the leaders of South Korea and North Korea signing some piece of paper, that doesn't mean Kim will abandon his nuclear weapons. He knows what happened to Libya when it gave up its weapons (regime change). He also knows what happened to Iraq when it was discovered there weren't any nuclear weapons in the first place (regime change). He also knows that nuclear weapons are the only thing blocking the one thing he really, really doesn't want (regime change). So the real test for Trump will not be getting the leaders to sign some piece of paper ending the Korean War, but eliminating Kim's nuclear weapons. (Z)
There is much about special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation that is not known, and so we cannot be sure exactly what big or small items he still needs to check off his list. However, we do know he has not talked to Donald Trump, and that he would like to do so. The real question is exactly how much that matters to Mueller.
Legal experts are in general agreement that if Mueller wants to force the issue, he can compel Trump to testify, just as Bill Clinton was compelled to testify 20 years ago. And there are some clear upsides to having a chat with the President. The special counsel would be able to hear, from the horse's mouth, why former FBI director James Comey was fired. Since that incident is at the heart of the obstruction case, it would be a nice piece to add to the puzzle. Further, Mueller wants to be able to present his investigation as being as thorough and complete as is possible. And finally, there is a good chance that Trump might slip up, and say one (or many) things that make the case against him stronger.
On the other hand, there are also some good reasons not to talk to Trump. Most significantly, the President would almost certainly drag his feet and would tie up the process in the courts for months before the Supreme Court told him he had to talk, probably in a 9-0 ruling written by Neil Gorsuch. That's extra weeks and months that he might be fired, that Congressional Republicans might fire some more preemptive PR shots, and that witnesses and accomplices' memories might "fade." Mueller probably also prefers to issue his report as far away from the elections as is possible, so as to avoid accusations that he's politically motivated. And beyond the extra time, there are also legitimate questions about how much value a Trump interview would have. He's forgetful, and meandering, and would undoubtedly be coached to the hilt. He might also frequently invoke his Fifth Amendment rights. Mueller has also spoken to many people around the President, and he has plenty of testimony from Trump himself in the form of public statements, tweets, and the like. So, the Special Counsel may already have most of what he needs.
Mueller has proven to be a shrewd operator, and he's undoubtedly been turning all of these things over in his head. He's also got to make a decision, one way or another, fairly soon. Whatever it is, we shouldn't be too surprised. (Z)
Vice President Mike Pence has something on his "to do" list this week, besides calling the White House to make sure the President is still alive. He's going to travel to Calexico, Calif., in order to inspect "progress" and receive a briefing on construction of Donald Trump's border wall.
This is, of course, nothing more than a photo-op. What Pence will be inspecting is repairs to the existing wall. This portion of wall, and the repairs being done, were funded long before Donald Trump ever became president and so have nothing to do with him. No new construction is taking place. This is just another chapter in the administration's efforts to create the illusion that they are getting a wall built, and at the same time a sign they are very nervous that the base will punish them in the midterms for a lack of progress. (Z)
The EPA, as it exists under Donald Trump, does not like regulation, and does not like anything Barack Obama did. At the same time, the Administration does like to keep the corporations happy. So, it is hardly a surprise that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has taken steps to roll back Obama-era targets for fuel efficiency.
There are actually two issues in play here. The first is federal regulations, which currently decree that cars and trucks in the United States must get 50 miles per gallon by 2025. Pruitt says he plans to "freeze" the targets at some less ambitious number, but he hasn't said what that number might be. Even some car manufacturers, notably Ford and Honda, are not happy with this, but others that have invested less money in fuel-efficient technology welcomed the announcement.
The second issue is eco-friendly California. They were granted a waiver by the Obama administration and allowed to impose even tougher standards than the federal ones. And because California has roughly 11% of the country's population and 15% of its money, their standards end up becoming de facto national standards, as it is impractical for most auto manufacturers to build "California" cars and "non-California" cars. While Pruitt is a big fan of federalism when it comes to states setting their own rules for abortion or gay marriage or voter ID, he's not such a big fan in this case. "Federalism doesn't mean that one state can dictate to the rest of the country," he said. In any event, it's not clear whether or not the Trump administration can cancel California's waiver.
Democrats tend not to be single-issue voters, but if there is one issue (besides abortion rights) where they come close, it's the environment. Meanwhile, a lot of Republicans—particularly the college-educated suburbanites that the blue team is trying to court—consider themselves to be liberals on the environment. In other words, if Pruitt and Trump are trying to hand the Democrats a wedge issue they can run on in the midterms, they're doing a pretty good job of it. (Z)
We've had a little more than 500 days to reflect on Donald Trump's surprising victory over Hillary Clinton, and to parse the data nine ways to Sunday. A solid consensus is emerging in response to the question of "what happened?" And that consensus, which we've noted before, is that Trump voters were motivated more by cultural issues and the fear that they are being left behind than they were by economic issues.
One addition to this emerging body of scholarship is a new paper by University of Pennsylvania political scientist Diana C. Mutz. She compared a selection of voters between 2012 and 2016, and finds that, "change in financial well-being had little impact on candidate preference," and that Trump voters were motivated by "issues that threaten white Americans' sense of dominant group status."
This is also the basic argument of an upcoming book by longtime journalist and academic Bill Schneider, Standoff: How America Became Ungovernable. He's been covering politics since 1976, and in the book he traces the development of a massive cultural divide that developed over that time between what he calls "Old America" and "New America." Old America privileges tradition, religion, guns, isolationism, "street smarts," and whiteness; New America favors progressivism, the environment, gender and racial equality, globalism, education, and diversity. Trump, observes Schneider, did not invent this divide, he merely capitalized on it.
Assuming that Mutz and Schneider have the right of it—and they are far from the only ones to reach these conclusions—it suggests a pretty clear roadmap for the Democrats in 2018, and even more so in 2020. In short, they should be focused on flipping the college-educated suburban Republicans who agree with the blue team on cultural issues, if not economic issues. Meanwhile, the blue-collar white workers who were the Democrats' bread and butter for generations are probably lost. To put that another way, the blue team should be building a platform primarily around environmentalism, DACA, women's rights, protections for LGBT Americans, gun control, and the like, and not worrying quite so much about a $15/hour minimum wage, tearing up trade agreements, and so forth. Or, to put it even more simply: Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-VT) program does not appear to be a winner when it is up against the hyper-populism of Donald Trump. Of course, if the stock market tanks and there is a recession between now and election day, all bets are off. (Z)
It's still early in the midterm process. Most states still haven't held their primaries yet, and even in those that have, there is lots of time for things to change. With that said, the Democrats have to be pleased at how the Senate polls are looking.
To start, one of the most difficult holds for the blue team will be Missouri, which went for Donald Trump by 18 points. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) is a battle-tested veteran of two terms in the upper chamber, while her Republican opponent—Josh Hawley—is not being helped by his tendency to put his foot in his mouth, or by the fact that Gov. Eric Greitens (R) is enmeshed in a truly reprehensible sex scandal. The newest poll of the race has McCaskill up by 4 points, 48% to 44%, and every poll taken this year has put her in the lead.
Then there is the race to replace Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), which will pit former governor Phil Bredesen (D) against Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R). Trump took the Volunteer State by a staggering 26 points, but Bredesen currently has the upper hand in the Senate race. This week's poll, by Mason-Dixon, has him up by 3 points, 46% to 43%. And, like McCaskill, he's come out on top in every poll conducted this year.
The Democrats also got good news from Arizona recently. Because the Grand Canyon State holds its primaries very late (August 28), the Republican candidate won't be known for months. While the same is theoretically true for the blue team, they have effectively coalesced around Rep. Kyrsten Sinema. ABC/Predictive Insights ran a poll with Sinema up against each of the potential GOP candidates, and learned that she is currently headed for a romp, with the extent of the romp dictated by whomever the Republicans settle on. If it's Rep. Martha McSally, Sinema has a 6 point lead (48%-42%). If it's former state senator Kelli Ward, the lead jumps to 10 points (50%-40%). And if former Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio gets the nod, Sinema leads him by a stunning 26 points (59%-33%). The fact that the former lawman and current convicted felon is doing that poorly in a red state should be a strong message that the time has come to drop out.
The GOP did get one bit of slightly good news on the Senate polling front. In Nevada, where Sen. Dean Heller (R) is in the fight of his life against Rep. Jacky Rosen (D), a Nevada Independent/Mellman poll this week has Heller up by a point. Mellman has a slight Democratic house effect, so it might even be 2-3 points. Of course, that's within the margin of error, but at least it means that Heller is not a dead man walking.
At the start of this cycle, the grim map for the Democrats—with them having many seats to defend, including almost a dozen in states that Trump won, while the GOP has very few seats to defend—made it almost unthinkable that they might retake the upper chamber. If Tennessee and Arizona are really in play (and possibly Texas), they have more than a puncher's chance. Election Betting Odds has it at 40% (and 67.4% for the House), which seems about right. (Z)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr28 House Intelligence Committee Issues a Report on Russiagate
Apr28 Judge Throws Out Manafort's Civil Suit
Apr28 Ryan Fires House Chaplain
Apr28 Montana Senate Race Heats Up
Apr28 Some Republicans Stock Up on Red Meat
Apr28 Meehan Resigns from Congress Immediately
Apr28 Texas Voter ID Law Is Back On
Apr27 Judge Kimba Wood Appoints a Special Master in the Michael Cohen Case
Apr27 Pompeo Confirmed
Apr27 Senate Judiciary Committee Passes a Bill to Protect Mueller
Apr27 Another Bad Day for Pruitt
Apr27 Trump Wants to Get Rid of the Electoral College
Apr27 Democrats Are at Each Other's Throats (Again)
Apr27 Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball Changes 15 House Ratings
Apr26 Macron Delivers État de l'Union Speech to Congress
Apr26 New Allegations about Ronny Jackson Emerge
Apr26 Senate Republicans Want to Smooth the Path for Confirming Trump Nominations
Apr26 Most Voters Haven't Seen Pay Boost from Tax Cut
Apr26 Cohen to Plead the Fifth
Apr26 Republicans Are Running a Pro-Mueller Ad on Fox News
Apr26 A Worrisome Poll for Trump
Apr25 Democrats Get Mostly Good News in Yesterday's Elections
Apr25 Federal Judge: No DACA? No Bueno
Apr25 Supreme Court Appears Split Along Ideological Lines on Texas Gerrymandering Case
Apr25 Trump Pivots 180 Degrees and Praises Little Rocket Man
Apr25 VA Nominee is a Dead Man Walking
Apr25 Pelosi Rejects Litmus Tests
Apr25 The Dow Jones Is Grumpy
Apr24 Pompeo Is Approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Apr24 Jackson Nomination in Trouble
Apr24 Trump Is Using His Cell Phone More to Evade Kelly
Apr24 Two Key Elections Will Take Place Today
Apr24 Six-Term Republican Congressman May Be Kept Off the Ballot
Apr24 GOP Midterm Campaign May Be Built Around Ghosts of Clintons Past
Apr24 Mueller Has Not Contacted Natalia Veselnitskaya
Apr23 Clyburn: If Dems Fail to Take the House, Leadership Should Resign
Apr23 Trump to Get One-Two Punch from Macron, Merkel This Week
Apr23 One Person's Denuclearization Is Not Another Person's Denuclearization
Apr23 Two Cabinet Nominations Hang in the Balance
Apr23 What Is Trump's Favorite TV Network? Hint: It Is Not Fox News
Apr23 Being President for Fun and Profit
Apr23 Senators Are Working on Election Security
Apr23 McCaskill Has a Slight Lead over Hawley in Missouri Senate Battle
Apr22 Kim: No More Nuclear Tests
Apr22 Trump Defends Cohen
Apr22 How Helpful Will Giuliani Be?
Apr22 More Skeletons Emerge from Pruitt's Closet
Apr22 Greitens Indicted, Hawley Flailing
Apr22 Romney Finishes Second at Utah GOP Convention, Will Face Primary