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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Wants a Rematch
      •  What Did Trump Agree To?
      •  Be Careful What You Wish For, GOP, You Just Might Get It
      •  White House Morale Is in the Gold-Plated Toilet
      •  Trump Fed Up
      •  NRA Is Getting What it Paid For
      •  Jason Lewis Sticks to His Slutty Guns

Trump Wants a Rematch

The poet and essayist George Santayana once observed that, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." He was thinking in terms of decades or generations, and not, say, hours. Nonetheless, we are less than 100 hours removed from the biggest fiasco of Donald Trump's tenure, and yet the President seems condemned to repeat it. On Thursday, the administration announced that it has invited Vladimir Putin to Washington for another summit this fall.

This seems like a very bad idea for the administration, for a number of reasons. First of all, the optics of scheduling summit II while still being buffeted from the fallout from summit I are very bad. Second, is there really any reason to think that the rematch will go better for Trump? Putin is still much better at this than the President is, and it's not like Trump learned something on Monday that the entire planet didn't already know. Third, summits with Putin have the unavoidable side-effect of putting the Mueller investigation, collusion, election meddling, etc. back on the front pages. Polls show that this is a losing issue for the GOP, and so giving Russiagate a bunch of extra air right before the midterms is, shall we say, not the sharpest tactical move.

So, how can we make sense of Trump's thinking? Some theories that are floating around:

  • The Power of Positive Delusion: Trump generally assumes that everything he does is a home run, and when it comes to summit I, Sean Hannity and a few others have been pleased to fuel that perception. It's certainly possible the President really thinks he scored big-time, and he wants to score again.

  • Hubris: Alternatively, Trump may realize that he blew it on round one, but his supreme (over)confidence may be telling him it can't possibly happen twice in a row.

  • Counter-narrative: Maybe Trump doesn't actually intend to meet with Putin, but by putting it out there that he has no fear in doing so, he hopes to signal that nothing really bad happened, that he has nothing to be embarrassed about, and there's nothing to see here. Of course, the same basic reasoning led Richard Nixon to hire special prosecutor Archibald Cox, and we know how well that worked out for him.

  • Trump is a Russian Asset: In the past, this notion was so dangerously close to a conspiracy theory that it was hard to include it in any sort of serious commentary. However, his actions have now crossed a line such that it's at least plausible that the Russians do have kompromat on him, and so do have the power to exert influence upon him. If that is the case, then a pre-midterms meeting could be something Putin insisted upon.

Whatever Trump's plan is, he didn't exactly handle the announcement of the invitation very well. Specifically, he didn't bother to tell Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, which is roughly equivalent to deciding to separate families at the border and not telling the Secretary of Homeland Security. Coats learned the news from NBC's Andrea Mitchell. He laughed, asked her to repeat herself to make sure he heard correctly, and then said, "Okaaaay. ... That's going to be special." In short, some of Trump's appointees are now pretty much in a state of open rebellion against him.

And they are not the only ones. GOP Senators understand the risks that the President is taking, and the costs that might be paid in a year where Trump is not on the ballot, but several of their colleagues are. So, there is much Senatorial pressure upon the Donald to abandon plans for another summit, with Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV), John Cornyn (R-TX), and Roy Blunt (R-MO), among others, suggesting that Trump should cool his jets...ideally for a year or two.

Of course, none of this means anything until Putin accepts the invitation, and he apparently has not done so yet. If and when he does, however, get ready for the fireworks to fly. (Z)

What Did Trump Agree To?

Speaking of Monday's summit, the Russians insisted on Thursday, once again, that Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin made some "important verbal agreements." This includes, allegedly, an extension of the Obama-era New START and INF agreements (which limit nuclear arms), and some sort of consensus on Syria.

There is one small fly in the ointment, however: Nobody in the U.S. seems to know what Trump agreed to. The heads of the intelligence agencies are in the dark. The Cabinet officers, most obviously Sec. of Defense James Mattis, are in the dark. Gen. Joseph Votel, who heads U.S. Central Command, and thus is responsible for Syria, is in the dark.

It is possible that Trump knows what the Russians are talking about, that he's shared that information with some of his underlings, and that everyone is keeping it a secret for now. That is potentially reasonable, except that when you have so many high-ranking officials (who also have the appropriate security clearances) publicly admitting they have no idea what's going on, it certainly doesn't seem to be the correct explanation. At the very least, it makes it look like the administration is badly disconnected and disorganized. Another possibility, of course, is that the Russians are lying. And a third is that Trump honestly doesn't know what he agreed to, either because he forgot or because he wasn't listening carefully. With any other president, that would be a ludicrous suggestion, but Trump famously wings it at these things, and is constantly pictured with no paper/pen in his hands for note-taking purposes.

There does appear to be clarity on one thing, however: That the administration will not be making the proposed "trade" wherein Special Counsel Robert Mueller goes to Russia to interrogate the 12 spies he indicted last week, while a group of Russians come to the U.S. to interrogate 11 Americans they've accused of conspiracy, including former ambassador Michael McFaul. The Senate voted 98-0 on Thursday in a resolution condemning the plan, and Team Trump appears to have bowed to reality and abandoned the scheme. At least, for now. However, their waffling has still done some damage—now, America's diplomats cannot be 100% sure that the administration is committed to their safety and their right to diplomatic immunity. (Z)

Be Careful What You Wish For, GOP, You Just Might Get It

It is now crystal clear that the Russians meddled in the 2016 election, and that they (and probably other hostile powers) are very likely to do it again in future elections, including 2018. In case there was any doubt on this point, the first official hacks of the midterms have been announced: Microsoft said on Thursday that it helped three (unnamed) congressional candidates to identify and defeat hacking attempts earlier this year. Given this track record (not to mention the price Donald Trump is paying for ignoring it), one might think that everyone in a position of power would be doing everything possible to prevent a recurrence.

And, unfortunately, one would be wrong. Yesterday, a spending bill came before the House that would have allocated an additional $380 million for election security. That money would not have done much for 2018, but might have had a meaningful impact in 2020. However, it's a moot point, because the expenditure was voted down, 232-182, with just a handful of Republicans breaking ranks to vote with the Democrats. This would, of course, be the same Republican Party that just gave out 1,300,000 million dollars in tax cuts, primarily to corporations and wealthy people. Compared to that, $380 million is a drop in the bucket, but it's also apparently a bridge too far for the House GOP.

But just because the Congress—and, for that matter, the White House—are not taking this matter seriously doesn't mean that nobody is. The Justice Dept., led by Donald Trump's favorite Deputy AG, Rod Rosenstein, announced plans on Thursday to keep the public informed of any election interference that comes to their attention. "Exposing schemes to the public is an important way to neutralize them," said Rosenstein.

At least a part of the reason that Republicans—the elected ones, at least, since Rosenstein is a Republican, too—are pooh-poohing Russian interference is because they don't want to undermine Trump. But, given their anti-democratic efforts to take the vote away from many millions of Americans through voter ID laws, reducing polling place hours, and other chicanery, it is also fair to suspect that they don't mind the idea of getting a little extra help from Team Vlad. If this is indeed their thinking, however, they are being foolish. Politico Magazine's Garrett M. Graff points out that election meddling is here to stay, since it's a low-risk, high-reward form of trickery. However, there is no particular reason to expect that Republicans will always be the beneficiaries, particularly in 2018.

Graff's reasoning is really quite simple, and boils down to two main points. The first is that Russia does not support the Republicans, per se, what they support is weakening the U.S. by throwing its political system into chaos. Electing Trump was an excellent way to do that, which meant being pro-Republican in 2016. However, there is every reason to believe that the Russians' goals in 2018 will be better served by a divided government, with a Democratic-led House constantly feuding with a Republican-led Senate and White House, and nothing getting done. That points to pro-Democratic meddling.

The second point is that Russia isn't the only country that is likely to be up to dirty tricks. And the country most likely to join the party (and to be skilled enough to have an impact) is China. They too would like to sow a little disorder. Further, they are angry with Trump over his tariffs, and are currently looking for ways to strike back. If Xi Jinping is willing to openly target red states with his counter-tariffs, why wouldn't he also be willing to target Republicans with his covert operations?

In short, it is clear that—at the moment—Republican officeholders don't think election meddling is a big deal. There is certainly an irony that a party and a president that have been so obsessed with election fraud that didn't exist (in the form of undocumented immigrants casting millions of votes) has been willing to essentially ignore election fraud that actually does exist. However, in four months or so, the GOP could be singing a very different tune. (Z)

White House Morale Is in the Gold-Plated Toilet

Midterm elections always trigger a mild White House exodus, as the general understanding is, "Exit now, or else you're on board through the general election." Given the general unhappiness of so many people in the current administration, the 2018 midterms were likely to trigger a particularly large exodus. But now, after this week's fiascoes, the departures are likely to begin much earlier.

It's generally agreed that some of the folks who are new to their jobs—NSA John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, most obviously—will be loath to resign, regardless of how unhappy they are. But nearly everyone else, particularly anyone whose job touches on international affairs, is a candidate to beat a hasty retreat. According to insiders, nobody particularly wants to jump ship this week, and then face a barrage of questions like, "Is this about Russia?" and "How did you feel when the President said he believed Putin?" But once the heat has died down a bit, a high-profile resignation or two looks probable. (Z)

Trump Fed Up

There is no cow so sacred that Donald Trump isn't willing to make hamburger out of it. And so, it was entirely in character for him when, on Thursday, he went where no other president has gone and openly criticized the Federal Reserve Bank.

It is obvious to anyone not named Trump exactly why presidents are not supposed to meddle in the affairs of the Fed. First, because if the U.S. economy and the dollar are seen as subject to political machinations, it lessens confidence in both and weakens both. Second, because if the U.S. economy and the dollar are seen as subject to political machinations, it opens up multiple cans of worms in terms of corruption.

Trump, of course, is not concerned about these things, and so he let fly in an interview with CNBC: "I am not happy about it ... I don't like all of this work that we're putting into the economy and then I see rates going up." Apparently recognizing that he was walking on thin ice, the President promptly shifted into defensive mode: "Now, I'm just saying the same thing that I would have said as a private citizen. So somebody would say, 'Oh, maybe you shouldn't say that as president.' I couldn't care less what they say, because my views haven't changed."

That last part is not actually true. When Trump was a real estate investor, he did favor low rates, since low rates make for easier and cheaper loans, even for folks who have filed for bankruptcy four or five or six times. When Trump was a presidential candidate, however, he complained about low rates, suggesting that the Fed was deliberately acting to help President Obama keep the economy booming (and unwittingly admitting that the Obama economy was actually quite good). Now that Trump is a president, he's back to being a fan of low rates.

The motivations on both sides of this equation are clear. Trump knows (probably because someone told him) that the higher interest rates make for a stronger U.S. dollar. Most presidents would not root for a weak dollar, but the Donald is not most presidents. A strong dollar means American products are more expensive, and that means that reducing trade deficits—the administration's current project—is much harder. Trump acknowledged this directly: "Our currency is going up, and I have to tell you it puts us at a disadvantage."

From the standpoint of the Fed, well, Trump thinks they are out to get him, but they are not. They raise interest rates as a means of managing inflation, which is something that happens when a bunch of money gets dumped into the economy all at once. Like, say, when the government gives out a $1.3 trillion tax cut. So, if the President is looking for someone to point the finger at, there may be a much more apropos and accessible option than the Federal Reserve. (Z)

NRA Is Getting What it Paid For

Maybe the NRA was a conduit for Russian money in 2016, and maybe it wasn't. We don't know (though we bet Mariia Butina does). What we do know is that the organization is a gun lobby first and foremost, and that they sensed in Donald Trump a candidate who would be particularly malleable, and particularly open to doing their bidding. They have not been disappointed.

The latest news, which is flying under the radar a little bit, involves plastic guns. Not fake guns, mind you, but real, working guns made from plastic (except for the metal firing pin). Recognizing that this could be a real security issue, the Congress (remarkably) passed a bipartisan measure in 2013 that regulates such guns. The 2013 measure, which was the third version of the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988 (signed into law by Ronald Reagan), was not as strong as it might have been, but it was something. And under the terms of the bill, the government promptly forced an organization called Defense Distributed to remove from their website detailed plans for how to make a plastic gun using a 3-D printer. The organization's leader, Cody Wilson, promptly sued.

Wilson is, at best, a kook. He describes himself as a crypto-anarchist, free-market anarchist, and gun-rights activist, though any time he sits for an interview, he gives meaningless, meandering answers that suggest he's not all there. At worst, he's a terrorist. He's made the sort of lists that wouldn't make your mother proud, including "The 15 most dangerous people in the world" and "The five most dangerous people on the Internet."

In any case, the Justice Dept. fought the case with all they had for five years. Yesterday, however, it was announced that the Trump administration had decided to settle. Not only will Wilson be allowed to re-post his gun schematics as of August 1, but he will also get a check from the government for $40,000 to cover his legal expenses.

Wilson has promised that the gun plans will be reposted at the stroke of midnight on August 1. And while the original document that got him in trouble was for a pistol, he suggested that he has now worked out the details for an AR-15. That is, the same kind of gun used in the Las Vegas and Parkland shootings. While the Undetectable Firearms Act is still in effect, this will make it much easier for evil-doers to subvert the Act. Particularly concerning are the facts that (1) All of the equipment and materials needed can be acquired cheaply (less than $1,000), and by anyone (including, say, felons and the mentally ill), and (2) Plastic guns are particularly difficult for metal detectors and other security measures to identify.

Public safety advocates, then, are horrified. But the folks at NRA headquarters undoubtedly had a celebration on Thursday night, and probably set aside another $50 million for Trump's reelection campaign (or at least asked their buddy Vlad if he had some spare change.) (Z)

Jason Lewis Sticks to His Slutty Guns

And now we move from real guns to metaphorical ones. Rep. Jason Lewis (R-MN) was already facing a tough re-election campaign in a purple district when CNN reported, on Wednesday, about his lengthy history of misogynist remarks on the radio show he hosted for five years. He was a particular fan of the word "slut," and regularly reflected on which women qualified for that status, and how unfair it is that it is no longer OK to use that label.

Given that we now live in the #MeToo era, and that he's facing an EMILY's List-backed female candidate (who almost beat him in 2016), the revelations appeared to drive a stake through the heart of Lewis' political career. It was within the realm of possibility, in fact, that he might resign. But no, he's decided to double down, and declared on Thursday that he stands by his remarks, that he was "paid to be provocative," and that he believes all the non-slut women in his district will continue to support him.

From a purely tactical standpoint, this was probably the correct move. The number of male politicians who admitted to this behavior, apologized for it, and then were able to resume their careers without penalty is very small (in fact, it's really one guy, who just so happens to live in a nice house on Pennsylvania Avenue). So, for Lewis to embrace his (ugly) past was probably a more viable path for saving his political career than apologizing for it. But, in the end, either option likely ends with his defeat on November 6. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jul19 Trump Administration Does Damage Control...Badly
Jul19 Is Russian Meddling Overblown?
Jul19 White House Considering Russian Proposal
Jul19 MS-13 Scare Tactics Are Working
Jul19 The Kneeling Isn't Going Away
Jul19 Rep. Jason Lewis Is in Hot Water
Jul19 California Will Remain a Single State
Jul18 Takeaways From the Trump-Putin Summit
Jul18 Trump Says He Misspoke
Jul18 Russian Arrested, Charged with Conspiring Against the U.S.
Jul18 Mueller Asks for Immunity for Five Witnesses
Jul18 Trump Fundraising Going Well
Jul18 GOP House Members' Fundraising Going Not So Well
Jul18 Roby Wins Runoff
Jul17 What Just Happened?
Jul16 Trump Summits with Putin Today
Jul16 Trump Describes EU as a "Foe"
Jul16 Gowdy: No Rosenstein Impeachment
Jul16 Rand Paul "Concerned" About Kavanaugh
Jul16 California Democrats Turn on Feinstein
Jul16 An Interesting Wrinkle in Mississippi Senate Races
Jul16 South Korean Conservatives Burned by Trump
Jul15 Making Sense of Friday's Indictments
Jul15 Trump Points the Finger at Obama
Jul15 Making Sense of Trump's U.K. Visit
Jul15 Kavanaugh Confirmation Fight Heating Up
Jul15 Pence Family in Turm-oil
Jul15 Today in Irony...
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Jul14 House Republicans Preparing Articles of Impeachment against Rosenstein
Jul14 Cohen Plot Thickens Just a Bit More
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Jul14 Wilbur Ross: Mistakes Were Made
Jul13 Foreign Policy, Trump-style (Part I)
Jul13 Foreign Policy, Trump-style (Part II)
Jul13 Strzok Battles with GOP Members of the House
Jul13 Spicer: Manafort Was a Key Player
Jul13 Dershowitz: SCOTUS Could Overturn Impeachment
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