Dem 49
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GOP 51
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New polls:  
Dem pickups vs. 2012: (None)
GOP pickups vs. 2012: (None)

Trump Knows It's No Hoax

It has been obvious to anyone watching that Donald Trump's public behavior has grown more outrageous in the last month or two, and at the same time that his attacks on Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the "witch hunt," etc. have grown more frequent and more shrill. Meanwhile, insiders report that behind the scenes, he's more sullen and is given to brooding. Now, thanks to reporting from the Washington Post, we have a better idea of exactly what the problem is. Trump convinced himself, long ago, that he did nothing wrong vis-a-vis Russia (or vis-a-vis anyone or anything else). However, he is not nearly so confident that his son, Donald Jr., is in the clear.

Trump Sr. is right to be worried. When it comes to the infamous Trump Tower meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya, the President might still have plausible deniability. After all, it hasn't yet been proven that he knew about it before the fact (though he almost certainly did). For Trump Jr., there is no deniability. He sent e-mails about the meeting, helped set up the meeting, went to a planning meeting before the meeting with Veselnitskaya, and then attended the meeting itself. Junior's only defense, at this point, is that the meeting wasn't intended to collect election information from the Russians, and so does not qualify as conspiracy. That defense is, at this point, looking deeply tenuous.

If push comes to shove, it is unlikely Senior would allow Junior to go to the Big House, and he would issue a pardon. However, that would also be effectively an admission of guilt, and would make it all-but-impossible for congressional Republicans to continue to stick their heads in the sand. Or, depending on the timing, and what happens with the midterms, it would give cover to a Democratic-controlled House to commence impeachment proceedings. So while a pardon is certainly on the table, since we're talking about a federal offense, the political costs would be catastrophic.

All of this does suggest a possible endgame. There has been some scuttlebutt that when and if Robert Mueller has Trump Jr. dead to rights, he'll make a deal with the President: Resign, or I will bring charges. It is conceivable that Trump Sr. might take the deal, and not just to save his son. One is still left with the impression that the Donald doesn't really like being president. Further, Trump must know that he's at risk of a crushing defeat in 2020, something that will not look good. Accepting a "the presidency for my son" deal would allow Trump to escape the White House, to leave office "undefeated," and to spend the rest of his days lamenting how unfairly he was treated, and how great things would have been if only he had been allowed to remain (in other words, something like what Dick Nixon did after leaving office).

The only possible fly in this (very speculative) ointment is that the Constitution makes it very explicit that a president can be tried for crimes once he has left office. New York State will elect a new attorney general in November, and the winner could decide to indict Trump for various crimes, including money laundering. That would virtually guarantee the AG's reelection down the road. Even if Trump pardoned himself on the way out the door, presidential pardons don't count for state crimes. And Trump can't make a deal with the New York AG because no one even knows who it will be yet (the primary is Sept. 13). (Z)

This Is Why Trump Hates Judges, Part I: Mueller's Investigation Is Legitimate

One of the main arguments made by current and former members of Team Trump is that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has grossly overstepped the legal bounds of his authority, and that parts (or all) of the investigation should be shut down. The foundation of this argument is that Mueller's activities violate the Constitution's appointments clause—that because he was neither appointed by the President nor confirmed by the Senate, the scope of his powers is very limited.

On Friday, Judge Beryl Howell said that she's not buying it. Actually, she's the third federal judge to make that determination, but her ruling is a fair bit more weighty for two reasons. First, she is Chief Judge for the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, which means she is about as close to a Supreme Court justice as it gets without actually being one. Second, because her ruling was particularly thorough, clocking in at 92 pages.

It's not so easy to reduce a complicated 92-page ruling to just a few sentences, but the main thrust is that the appointments clause argument does not hold water. Howell observes that Mueller is acting, in effect, as a deputy of Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein and of (recused) AG Jeff Sessions, and both of them were appointed by the President and duly approved by the Senate. Further, she says there is much legislation authorizing and empowering special counsels, and Mueller's activities also fall in the scope of those laws. So, members of Team Trump who are looking for a "Get Out of Jail Free" card are going to have to look somewhere else. (Z)

This Is Why Trump Hates Judges, Part II: DACA Must Be Reinstated

Beryl Howell's ruling wasn't the only legal setback for Donald Trump this week. It's not even the only one to come out of the D.C. Circuit. Also on Friday, Judge John Bates (a George W. Bush appointee) ruled that the Administration must fully restore the Obama-era DACA program. Team Trump has just 20 days to decide whether to appeal and to ask for a stay of the ruling.

Bates' reasoning was the same as we've seen from other judges, but—as with Beryl Howell's ruling—is coming from the court directly below the Supreme Court. The Judge said that, while Trump is free to set federal policy, his decision was "arbitrary and capricious" and the administration failed to "give a rational explanation for its decision." The Justice Dept. has not yet indicated whether it plans to abide by Bates' decision or to keep fighting. (Z)

Panel Member: There Was No Voter Fraud

Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap was one of four Democrats on Donald Trump's now-dissolved panel that was looking into alleged widespread voter fraud during the 2016 election. He grew so frustrated with the panel's operations that he eventually sued for documents that were not being made available to him. The lawsuit, which is still pending, produced its first surrender of documents just a couple of weeks ago. That allowed Dunlap to not only speak out, on Friday, but to back his claims with evidence.

Most obviously, Dunlap says that the panel found no voter fraud at all, and that the "substantial evidence of voter fraud" that co-chair Kris Kobach promised never existed. The Secretary also points out that the committee's labors were set up to reach pre-ordained conclusions. For example, he pointed to a draft report from November of last year that had headers like "Improper voter registration practices" and "Instances of fraudulent or improper voting," followed by huge blank spaces, as the committee tried to find some actual material for those sections. In the end, says Dunlap, the committee was "the most bizarre thing I've ever been a part of."

Needless to say, those who are convinced of widespread voter fraud (read: Trump's base) are not going to change their minds, regardless of the evidence (or lack thereof). However, Kobach is currently running for governor in Kansas, and it's possible this whole fiasco could become an anchor around his neck. The latest poll has him and his main GOP rival, Gov. Jeff Colyer, in a dead heat, with each attracting 32% of the vote. The primary is on Tuesday. (Z)

LeBron James Tweet Not Working Out So Well

Donald Trump made his swing through Ohio on Saturday, and he held a rally in Columbus. As is usual for these things, the President was full of bluster and bravado, most notably bragging about how he "destroys" the careers of Republicans who say bad things about him. However, the big story of the day was not the President's campaigning, it was the fallout from the anti-LeBron James tweet he sent Friday night.

As a reminder, here is the original tweet:

Even when Trump sent this, it was pretty clearly an unwise decision. First, because most black athletes (particularly in the NFL) are somewhat anonymous, and it's fairly easy to impugn them as whiny ne'er-do-wells who are only looking for attention. James, by contrast, is one of the most famous athletes in the world (with, it should be noted, nearly as many Twitter followers as the President). Even those who dislike James cannot deny that he's very sharp. Further, it is well known that he is deeply involved in community service. In fact, the offending interview was conducted because James just opened a school for underprivileged children in his hometown of Akron.

The second reason this was an obvious miscalculation, from the beginning, is that Trump doesn't particularly follow the sports pages. He likely knows that when James left Cleveland 8 years ago, people in Ohio were very angry. This was primarily because of "The Decision," a self-involved, hourlong, televised announcement of James' plans to "take his talents" to Miami. It was, in short, a huge PR blunder. James has (repeatedly) apologized for that, however, and this time around he left town in a much less damaging fashion. Further, this time he leaves having given the people of Cleveland a championship. Point is, James is departing with vastly less ill will than last time, and so little (or no) visceral anger for the President to tap into.

On Saturday, Twitter users had time to fully explore all the implications of Trump's tweet. Most obviously, it did not escape attention that LeBron James and Don Lemon, both of them "dumb," are also both black.

Then, there was the "Where exactly are your priorities?" angle. For example:

Others could not help comparing the school that James just opened with another, less high-minded school:

Another theme was "LeBron is more successful, even as you define success, than you are, Mr. President":

As bad as the things that were being said, however, was some of the people who were doing the saying. Of course, Trump's enemies weighed in:

But so too did some usually Trump-friendly members of the media:

Particularly rough, however, was getting blowback from the fellow referenced in the original tweet. There is a famous story about Michael Jordan being asked, while he was a player, about always staying out of politics. "Republicans buy shoes, too," was his reply. This may be apocryphal (depending on whom you ask), but it nonetheless captures the general truth that His Airness kept his political opinions to himself. Until Saturday that is, when he issued a statement declaring that "I support L.J. He's doing an amazing job for his community."

Even worse than getting Michael Jordan to speak out against you, however, is this: Melania Trump also spoke up, issuing a statement of support for James in which she said he is "working to do good things on behalf of our next generation." It seems unlikely that the President and the First Lady even talk to each other anymore, but if they do, things are going to be a little tense this weekend.

Now, all of this may seem like making a mountain out of a molehill. Maybe, but we are giving it extra attention because sometimes molehills-turned-mountains end up mattering. The example that comes to mind is from 1884 when, late in the presidential campaign, a pro-Republican speaker addressing a crowd of New Yorkers denounced the Democrats as the party of "rum, Romanism, and rebellion." This had the effect of reminding a lot of working-class Irishmen about all the things they disliked most about the GOP and its candidate, and as a result, they turned out in unusually high numbers. Republican candidate James G. Blaine lost the state of New York by just 1,149 votes, and with it the election.

As we pointed out yesterday, the purpose of Trump's tweet (and his trip to Ohio) is to try to help swing a very close special election to the Republican candidate in just two days. There's no question that the base will vote for the fellow Trump supports, but they are not the ones who will decide the election. It's the fence-sitters (and very possibly, Democrats in Columbus who might otherwise have stayed home). And it is fair to wonder if Trump's tweet will rouse a few thousand folks to vote Democrat who otherwise would not have, either because they still have warm feelings about James, or because Trump's tweet had the effect of reminding people of some of the things that bother them most about him. (Z)

Time to Stop Covering Trump Rallies?

Chris Stirewalt—who works for Fox News as a politics editor—appeared on the cable channel on Friday and shared some interesting and unexpected thoughts. He thinks, first of all, that the media should stop covering Donald Trump's rallies:

We should stop having reporters at those Trump rallies. Everybody should stop having reporters penned up like veal in the back of those things for the president to use as a prop, and then some of the reporters exploit that for their own personal benefit...[T]his is not helping anybody. Get out of the hall. Leave the cameras, get the reporters out of the hall. Quit letting him use you as a foil.

Stirewalt also said that it's time to stop covering White House press briefings, describing them as "counterproductive" and "showboat theater."

Let us start by observing that this discussion is entirely academic. There is no way the media, and in particular Stirewalt's employer, are going to stop covering these events. The high-minded reason is that it is part of their responsibility to cover whatever the President does. The more venal reason is that his behavior generates ratings and pageviews.

With that said, it is an interesting hypothetical question to consider. On one hand, Stirewalt is right—Trump absolutely uses the press as tools—not only as props, but as (in effect) unwilling propagandists. Further, there is little substance to anything said by him (or by White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders) when they speak in front of the press. On the other hand, as with kneeling football players, Trump is going to use the press as a prop regardless of what they do. If they were to stop showing up to his rallies, then the line would just turn into, "Look at this, the elitists of the 'fake news' can't even be bothered to find out what our movement is really about." And the presence of the press—which, like Trump, has a platform—does have the effect of reining in his worst impulses. If it was just him and 10,000 faithful in a room, with no critical observers, one can only imagine what he might say. Time to nuke Iran? Time to throw all immigrants out of the country, documented or not? Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton will be arrested tomorrow morning? The NFL is permanently disbanded? Anything's possible. (Z)

Former Representative: Trump Wants the Democrats to Win

Steve Israel represented New York as a Democrat for eight terms, from 2001 to 2017. He has written a very interesting op-ed in which he argues that Donald Trump is deliberately blowing the midterms, so that the Democrats will take back the House, and will give Trump a foil (and an excuse) for the next two years. This, concludes Israel, is the only rational explanation for some of the President's recent declarations, like his threat to shut down the federal government right before the midterms if he doesn't get funding for his border wall. It is also, Israel thinks, the only hope Trump has for reelection in 2020.

It's a very interesting thesis, but it's also full of holes. First of all, Israel starts with the assumption that Trump is "rational." Whatever the President is, he is not "rational" as it is conventionally understood. If so, there would not be a budding trade war with China, among other things. Further, we now have copious evidence that Trump is entirely unable to prioritize long-term gain over short-term pain. There is no way he would pursue a strategy keyed toward 2020 that involves a huge defeat for his party (and for himself) in 2018. And finally, someone has surely pointed out to Trump that if the Democrats retake the House, they will gain subpoena and investigative powers. Think of how upset he is when their hands are tied, and then think how much worse it will be once they are untied. Oh yes, and there is that little matter of the Constitution's Art. 1, Sec. 2, Clause 5, which discusses impeachment. In short, Trump may very well lose the House (and maybe even the Senate), but he's simply not capable of doing it deliberately. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Aug04 China Threatens Retaliation if Trump Imposes More Tariffs
Aug04 Manafort's Accountants Testify
Aug04 Democrats Are Hoping for a Blue Wave, But Are Experiencing a Green Wave
Aug04 Trump to Visit Ohio Today
Aug04 Trump Slams LeBron James
Aug04 Butina Connected with Trump Campaign
Aug04 Manhattan Madam Met Mueller
Aug04 FBI Can't Keep Top Computer Security People from Leaving
Aug03 Coats: The Russians Are Coming
Aug03 The Trumps and the Nazis, Part I: Don Jr.
Aug03 The Trumps and the Nazis, Part II: Don Sr. (and His Base)
Aug03 Not Many Surprises in Tennessee Primary
Aug03 Last Bellwether Election Is Next Tuesday
Aug03 Why Has Congress Ceded All Its Power to Trump?
Aug03 RNC Tells Donors to Drop the Koch Network
Aug03 The Democrats Are Having an Identity Crisis at an Inconvenient Moment
Aug02 Trump Demands that Sessions Fire Mueller Right Now
Aug02 The Manafort Trial: Day 2
Aug02 Manafort Is Facing Long Odds
Aug02 Senate Rejects Proposal to Beef Up Election Security
Aug02 Trump Continues to Chip Away at Obamacare
Aug02 Cruz Could Be in Real Trouble
Aug02 Koch Network Pushes Back Against Turning Point USA
Aug01 Facebook Shuts Down Disinformation Campaign
Aug01 Manafort's Trial Gets Underway
Aug01 Trump Wants to Give a Tax Cut to the Rich
Aug01 Trump Attacks the Koch Brothers
Aug01 Trump's Former Right-hand Woman Says Trump Knew about Meeting with Russians
Aug01 Giuliani Keeps Shooting His Client in the Foot
Aug01 Kelly Will Remain Chief of Staff until 2020
Aug01 Cuomo Leads Nixon by 30 Points in New York Democratic Gubernatorial Primary
Jul31 Giuliani: Colluding with Russia Is Not a Crime
Jul31 North Korea Situation Deteriorates; Trump Likes His Chances with Iran, Though
Jul31 Rand Paul Supports Kavanaugh
Jul31 Manafort's Trial Begins Today
Jul31 Koch Brothers Will Not Oppose Heitkamp
Jul31 Kelly Is a COSINO
Jul31 Sessions Announces "Religious Liberty Task Force"
Jul31 Trump to Get the "All the President's Men" Treatment
Jul30 Trump Tweets, Part I: Government Shutdown
Jul30 Trump Tweets, Part II: Robert Mueller
Jul30 Trump Tweets, Part III: The Press
Jul30 States Struggling with Election Security
Jul30 Johnson May Mount Senate Bid
Jul30 Ginsburg: Five More Years
Jul30 Avenatti Says Trump Should Take an Intelligence Test
Jul29 Trump Wages War Against the Fourth Estate
Jul29 Judge Says Lawsuit Over Citizenship Question on Census Can Go Forward
Jul29 The Problems with Trump's Collusion Story
Jul29 Who's Going to Win the Midterms? Television Broadcasters