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

Omarosa Was Telling the Truth about the Hush Money

It is not terribly surprising that Donald Trump and his former "Apprentice" protégé Omarosa Manigault Newman bonded so well, at least for a while. They have much in common, including a sharp tongue, a love of the spotlight, and a willingness to bend the truth when it suits their needs. The latter being the case, it was at least possible that Manigault Newman was fibbing when she claimed that, after getting fired from the White House, she was offered a $15,000-a-month job with Trump's reelection campaign in exchange for her silence. Late Friday, however, the Washington Post laid its hands on the actual offer (and the accompanying non-disclosure agreement). So, it was no fib.

This creates at least two obvious problems for Trump. The first is that it gives credence to whatever else Manigault Newman has to say in her book, which will be out Tuesday. After all, why would she be paid $15,000 a month in hush money if there was nothing to hush? Adding further credence to her words is the fact that Trump blasted his former assistant on Saturday, calling her a "lowlife." Personal attacks, of course, are his usual MO when he's feeling threatened (see Hunt, Witch).

Probably the bigger problem, however, is this: A pattern is now evident. That is to say, former aide John McEntee was fired and physically escorted from the White House, just as Manigault Newman was. And he got a job with...Trump's reelection campaign. Former Trump bodyguard Keith Schiller departed under hazy circumstances, and got a job consulting on security for the 2020 Republican National Convention. Schiller's salary for this service is...$15,000 a month.

In short, it certainly appears as if Team Trump is using campaign jobs and campaign money to buy the silence of potential whistleblowers. At best, this is ethically questionable. At worst, it is illegal. And it certainly complicates the narrative as regards Stormy Daniels (nee Stephanie Clifford) and other paramours whose silence was purchased. At the moment, Team Trump would have us believe that the offer made to Manigault Newman (and the ones accepted by McEntee and Schiller) are 100%, totally legitimate campaign expenditures, while the payments to Daniels and Karen McDougal, coming just weeks before the election, weren't remotely campaign-related. It is rather hard for both halves of that to be true.

Today, Manigault Newman will be on "Meet the Press," and the smart money says that she plays at least one of the recordings she made of Trump. So, she's likely to be in the headlines again on Monday morning. (Z)

Charlottesville Back on Deck Today

There are many events in American history worth commemorating, from the first Thanksgiving, to the signing of the Declaration of the Independence, to the Battle of Gettysburg, to Rosa Parks' refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala. bus. The ugly clash between white supremacists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Va., which happened on August 11 and 12 last year, would not seem to be on the list. However, the white supremacists have decided that there is no better time to hold a second "Unite the Right" rally, and so they will be back today. Where, of course, they will be met with counter-protesters.

It's not quite clear how many folks will be demonstrating. The Neo-Nazis, etc., have, in the permits they filed for their event, estimated a turnout of 400 people. However, experts say—in a shocking turn of events—that white supremacist activists are prone to exaggeration, and also tend to be rather cowardly when they know they are going to be challenged. So, the real number of right wingers is expected to be much smaller. Meanwhile, the number of counter-protesters is even less predictable, but could be 1,000 people or more.

It's very possible, of course, that this ends up as much ado about nothing, and that there is no "Unite the Right, Part III" next year. On the other hand, it's also very possible that we have a repeat of last year, and that violence breaks out in the streets. If so, Trump will get a second opportunity to decide whether or not he thinks virulent racists are "fine people." And on the same day that Omarosa Manigault Newman is going to go on TV and declare that yes, indeed, Trump really is a racist. Could be interesting. (Z)

Chris Collins Will End Re-Election Bid

Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY), known best as the first sitting member of Congress to endorse Donald Trump, was accused this week of engaging in extensive insider trading. Initially, he pledged to fight on, and said the charges against him were fake news. However, he's now had a change of heart (translation: The NRCC leaned on him), and decided to drop out of the race.

Because Collins had already qualified for the ballot, dropping out is not quite as simple a matter as it might otherwise be, but it is doable. According to New York law, he has three options. First, he could arrange to die, although that seems a bit drastic. Second, he can get nominated for some other office. Unfortunately, no town in New York elects dogcatchers (although Duxbury, VT does). He could be nominated for town clerk somewhere in New York, though. Third, he can move out of state. Since the Congressman already owns a house in Washington, D.C., and also one in Florida, he will probably choose option three and become the latest New Yorker to retire to Florida. If he does, the chairmen of the eight counties in the district will meet this week to pick a new candidate.

All in all, this is good news for the GOP and bad news for the Democrats. NY-27 is the most Republican district in the Empire State, at R+11. That's potentially reachable in a blue wave, particularly if the incumbent loses a few extra votes due to being a crook. However, a non-crooked Republican can probably hold it, especially since the Democratic candidate (Nate McMurray) has virtually no money on hand, and has not run a great campaign. On the other hand, McMurray has been campaigning district-wide for months and if the GOP county chairmen pick a state senator or state assemblyperson who is unknown to 95% of the voters in the district, McMurray will be better off than running against an extremely wealthy incumbent congressman. So the seat is still in play, though Collins' departure probably moves it from "Toss Up" to "Leans Republican." (Z)

Today's Swamp News, Part I: Wilbur Ross the Grifter

On becoming president, Donald Trump assembled the wealthiest cabinet in U.S. history by a longshot (even if we account for inflation). The problem is that the road from "merely wealthy" to "ultra-wealthy" is littered with the potential for unethical and/or illegal behavior. Most presidents-elect, wary of this reality, make sure their cabinet picks (especially the rich ones) get vetted very thoroughly. By contrast, Donald Trump's vetting process was, by all accounts, about as thorough as the one used by the local McDonald's when hiring new french friers.

We note all of this because it is hardly surprising that skeletons are being found in the closets of some of Trump's richest cabinet secretaries. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross has already been caught with his hand in the cookie jar at least twice, once for lying to Congress during his confirmation hearings (about his financial ties to Russia), and a second time for, in effect, insider trading (he dumped his stock in a shipping company when he found out a critical article was being published in the New York Times). Now, Forbes magazine—hardly a bastion of left-wing activism—has published the results of a months-long investigation into Ross' business career. They say he may have bilked his business partners for as much as $120 million.

Generally speaking, when people try to steal that much money, they do it in one fell swoop (for example, the hackers who stole $100 million from the Bangladeshi Central Bank/NY Federal Reserve), or they do it using the same basic scheme over a long period of time (for example, Bernie Madoff's ponzi scheme). By contrast, Forbes accuses Ross of operating on the margins, pilfering a million here, and a million there, as the opportunity presented itself, over 40 years.

Forbes' investigation began as a result of a lawsuit filed by private equity manager David Storper, who used to work for Ross, and who claimed that his former boss robbed him blind to the tune of $4 million. That suit was settled two weeks ago, with the terms sealed, so we'll never know for sure what happened. However, many of the folks that Forbes talked to—21 of them in total—made similar claims, in each case involving several million dollars. There was also near-unanimity on the type of person Ross is:

Those who've done business with Ross generally tell a consistent story, of a man obsessed with money and untethered to facts. "He'll push the edge of truthfulness and use whatever power he has to grab assets," says New York financier Asher Edelman. One of Ross' former colleagues is more direct: "He's a pathological liar."

Hard to imagine why Donald Trump felt a sense of kinship with Ross.

In any case, it's improbable that there is this much smoke, and no fire. It's possible that one or two or even five former business partners are angry and are willing to tell tall tales, but probably not 21 of them. With that said, you don't conduct business in this way for nearly half a century without getting very good at avoiding landmines. Further, holding people accountable for their misdeeds is not a strong suit of the folks currently in power in Washington. So, as Michael Cohen (not that one) observes in a Boston Globe op-ed entitled "The biggest creature in the swamp? Wilbur Ross," it is highly unlikely that the Secretary will ever pay the price for his misdeeds (unless some state AG picks this up). As long as he doesn't embarrass the administration, it's pretty much all good. (Z)

Today's Swamp News, Part II: Who's Really Running the VA?

Part of cleaning up the swamp, as Donald Trump promised to do, was supposed to be getting rid of grifters and lobbyists and other sorts of people who use their public service to enrich themselves. Another big part of it was transparency, a subject that Trump was borderline obsessive about while Barack Obama was still in office:

These are just three exemplars chosen from among a couple dozen.

Anyhow, "draining the swamp" is one of many promises that Trump has not exactly adhered to. And just as his administration has more than its share of grifters and opportunists, it is also notable for its lack of transparency. The latest on that front comes from ProPublica, which just published the results of a study into the Veterans Administration. According to the many dozens of VA staffers whom ProPublica interviewed, the agency is effectively under the command of three men: Bruce Moskowitz (physician for ultra-wealthy Palm beach residents), Ike Perlmutter (chairman of Marvel Entertainment), and Marc Sherman (lawyer). VA employees know well that when any of these three men sends them an e-mail telling them to "jump," they must promptly reply with "How high?" And inasmuch as all three men operate out of Palm Beach, and are members of the President's golf club, they are known as the "Mar-a-Lago Crowd."

Trump is not the first president to rely heavily on unofficial advisors. That's a tradition that dates back at least as far as Andrew Jackson's Kitchen Cabinet. However, it is very unusual for such men to be given so much direct authority. Especially these three, who, in addition to not having undergone any sort of confirmation, have never served in either the government or the military. Needless to say, nobody is going to say "boo," unless the Democrats gain control of the House and decide to make an issue of the matter. Meanwhile, it is now a bit clearer why Trump was so eager to nominate Ronny Jackson—someone whom he knew to be very willing to take orders—as VA secretary. (Z)

Realignment Was on Full Display in Ohio Special Election

One can never be sure about these things until they are over, but it certainly appears that the American political system is in the middle of a realignment, as some long-standing Democratic constituencies move into the Republican fold, while some long-standing Republican constituencies make the opposite journey. The most evident trend at the moment is the movement of blue-collar workers in the red team's direction, while well-to-do suburbanites shift in the blue-team's direction. The former move, in particular, would be truly historic, as blue-collar workers have been the backbone of the Democratic Party for as long as there has been a Democratic Party.

Now that there has been time to look closely at the data from Tuesday's primaries, it is clear that this particular trend was on display during the special election in OH-12. During the career of Pat Tiberi (R), whose resignation necessitated the special election, he could count on 70% of the vote in wealthy Delaware County, and 55% of the vote in suburban Franklin County. His would-be Republican successor, Troy Balderson, took barely 50% of the vote in Delaware and only 33% in Franklin. On the other hand, in more rural counties—Morrow, Richland, and Muskingum—Balderson improved on Tiberi's numbers by 2% to 9%.

This shift explains why the election in OH-12 was so close, and—most likely—will be close again in November: OH-12 has more wealthy suburbanites than it does rural and/or blue-collar residents. And so, a district that has been in Democratic hands for a grand total of 2 years since World War II may soon be purple, or even reliably blue. Of course, there are also districts where the opposite is true, and blue-collar/rural folks outnumber well-to-do suburbanites. However, there are fewer of those not already in GOP hands, which means that the overall impact of realignment appears to favor the Democrats. (Z)

Paul Ryan Nears the End of the Line

It's not getting a lot of attention yet, but Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) is nearing the end of his political career. In less than five months, he will go from being one of the four or five most powerful people in the country to being a civilian. In view of this, the New York Times' Mark Leibovich has penned a profile entitled "This Is the Way Paul Ryan's Speakership Ends."

The article is really excellent (even if the accompanying drawing of Ryan is godawful) and is worth reading in its entirety. However, there are two questions that are central to the piece. The first centers on Ryan's legacy vis-a-vis Donald Trump. Leibovich hints at three possible interpretations. The first, which is the Speaker's preferred way of thinking, is that he fought the fights he thought he might win (usually in private), and he dodged the fights that were not worth fighting, either because they were too trivial or were unwinnable. This might be called the "principled realist" school of thought. The second possibility, considerably less friendly to Ryan, is that he is a sellout who was willing to sacrifice party and country for the tax cut he so desperately wanted. And the third way of looking at things is that Ryan is a coward, a nerdy policy wonk who prefers to remain in the shadows and who lacks the backbone to stand up to a bully, particularly one willing to air dirty laundry in public. Any of these three theses might be on target, but in truth, they probably all have some validity.

The second big question that Leibovich raises, in his own words:

Are Republican leaders so unwilling to condemn Trump because their voters support him so vigorously, or do these voters support Trump so vigorously because so few Republican leaders have dared condemn his actions?

It's a very interesting question to consider. There have been a few high-profile GOP critics of Trump, but pretty much all of them—Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), and John McCain (R-AZ) and Gov. John Kasich (R-OH)—are about to join Ryan in exiting the political stage. Maybe we will get an answer if the Mueller investigation continues to go against the President (who is now as widely disliked as Dick Nixon was when he resigned). It's also possible we'll get an answer if the GOP takes a beating in the midterms. On the other hand, it could be that no serious anti-Trump movement ever emerges within the GOP. After all, George W. Bush was brutally unpopular by the end, and yet his Party stuck by him. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Aug11 Sarah Huckabee Sanders Slams Omarosa Manigault-Newman's Not-Yet-Published Book
Aug11 Manafort Trial: Judge's Errors, Mystery Conference
Aug11 Trump Uses Market Pain to Get His Way around the World
Aug11 Unfortunately, Market Pain Doesn't Work with North Korea
Aug11 Judge Holds Roger Stone's Aide in Contempt of Court
Aug11 Trump vs. NFL Enters Year Two
Aug11 National Republicans Want Trump to Endorse Martha McSally
Aug11 Cruz Is Getting Nervous
Aug10 Devin Nunes: GOP Has to Keep the House to Protect Trump
Aug10 Pence Announces "Space Force" Proposal
Aug10 Kobach's Lead Is Cut in Half
Aug10 Morrisey Is Struggling against Manchin
Aug10 Democrats Still Don't Get the White Working Class
Aug10 Time for Pelosi to Go?
Aug10 Bill Nelson Claims that Russians Have Penetrated Florida Voter Registration Systems
Aug10 "Chain Migration" Is Alive and Well
Aug09 Takeaways from Tuesday's Elections
Aug09 Gates' Testimony Concludes, Bank Fraud Likely to Be Next Up in Manafort Trial
Aug09 Michael Cohen Isn't the Only One with a Tape Recorder
Aug09 China Makes Tit-for-Tat Official
Aug09 Trump Administration Hits Russia with More Sanctions
Aug09 As Many as 66 Republican Districts Could Flip
Aug09 Why Trump Wants to Talk to Mueller
Aug09 Republican Congressman Is Charged with Securities Fraud
Aug09 Republicans Are Worried about Losses in State Legislatures
Aug09 Which Trifectas Are Within Reach for the Democrats?
Aug08 Overall, a Solid Night for the Democrats
Aug08 Gates Continues to Dish on Manafort
Aug08 Next Round of Tariffs on Chinese Goods Revealed
Aug08 Cohen Is Under Investigation for Tax Fraud
Aug08 Trump Has Raised $135 Million, Much of it for His Reelection
Aug08 Corporations Have Discovered the Democrats
Aug08 Nearly Half of Republicans Want the President to Be Able to Ban News Outlets
Aug07 Gates Levels Manafort from the Witness Stand
Aug07 Trump Reinstates Some Sanctions on Iran
Aug07 Trump Endorses Kobach
Aug07 Big Tech Declares War on Alex Jones
Aug07 Trump Scorches Jerry Brown
Aug07 West Virginia to Introduce Smartphone Voting App
Aug07 Karl Rove: Trump Shouldn't Be Talking about a Red Wave
Aug07 There Was a Small Blue Wave in Tennessee Last Week
Aug06 Trump Throws His Son Under the Bus
Aug06 Trump Doesn't Seem to Get It
Aug06 CIA and NSA Know What Trump and Putin Discussed
Aug06 Four States Will Hold Primaries Tomorrow
Aug06 How Is the "Year of the Woman" Going?
Aug06 Biden Leads in 2020 Presidential Polls
Aug06 Takeaways from the First Week of Manafort's Trial
Aug05 Trump Knows It's No Hoax
Aug05 This Is Why Trump Hates Judges, Part I: Mueller's Investigation Is Legitimate