• Economy May Help Republicans in November
• Could Anthony Kennedy Save Dean Heller?
• Poll: Lamb Leading in PA-18 Special Election
• Cohen's House of Cards Is Falling Apart
• Nunberg Testifies Before Grand Jury
• Trump to Cabinet Secretaries: Stop Embarrassing Me
• Milwaukee Wants the 2020 Democratic National Convention
While Donald Trump is famous for his golf-playing, his real avocation seems to be painting himself into corners. He jumped upon the chance to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, primarily because no other president has done so, and Trump loves to do things that his predecessors would not or could not do. However, someone seems to have communicated to the President that he's taking a big risk here, and that Kim might just be using him as a prop to make a statement to the world. Consequently, the White House announced on Friday that Trump would not hold the meeting unless North Korea makes "concrete and verifiable actions" toward denuclearization, something they claim Kim has promised to do.
With this White House, it's never 100% certain whether they are playing word games, or they really don't grasp the nuances of language. But what Kim has actually promised, for whatever a promise from him is worth, is to stop conducting nuclear tests. That is far from the same thing as denuclearization. The United States, for example, stopped conducting nuclear tests 40 years ago, but it still has a large stockpile of nuclear arms. For Kim, it's not a huge problem to stop testing, but it's highly unlikely he would promise to get rid of the nukes he does have, and it's nearly impossible that he would live up to such a promise. To borrow a phrase from The Godfather, nuclear weapons are the key for Kim. They are the tool he uses to promote himself to both his own people and to the world as a serious player in world affairs. So, if Trump insists on such a commitment, he's not likely to get it, and if he does get it, he shouldn't believe it. At the same time, however, Trump has already hung his hat on this Kim meeting. Further, he really, really wants this feather in his cap, regardless of the risks or costs. In fact, he's probably already clearing a space on his shelf for the Nobel Peace Prize he expects to win. And as we know, once Trump gets an idea into his head, like having a military parade or using tariffs as a weapon, he does not generally back off. Point is, either the White House is going to have to back off its demands, or else will have to back off its commitment to meet with Kim, and neither of those outcomes will make Trump happy. Hence, painted into a corner.
Further, even if Trump does somehow end up with a meeting on terms he can tolerate, his problems don't end there. Slate's Fred Kaplan has written a prescient analysis in which he observes that a meeting with Kim presents a real opportunity, but a very high-risk one. If this were an important job interview, a football game, or a dissertation defense, the participant(s) would spend weeks and weeks in preparation in order to maximize their chances of success. In the case of a meeting with North Korea, Trump should be trying to soak up every bit of information, insight, and expertise he can lay hands on. He should meet with experts about Asian geopolitics. He should talk to everyone who has dealt with the North Koreans at any point, starting with Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton (both of whom undertook post-presidency trips there). He should study briefing books day and night. The problem, of course, is that Trump has little use for others' experience or expertise, little use for reading, little interest in talking to Democrats, and little interest in preparation of any sort. He prefers to wing it, an approach that has often served him very well. However, there are some times when winging it won't get it done, and this is one of them. If a coach's game plan for the Super Bowl was to "wing it," he'd be fired. And a meeting with Kim Jong-Un is maybe just a bit more important, and a bit more fraught with consequences, than a Super Bowl.
And if the situation weren't already sticky enough, there are also the hurdles that will present themselves if Trump does have his meeting, and if he does manage to come away with some sort of agreement. Whatever the President might negotiate, he will need the backing of America's allies, and maybe even some of her not-so-allies (ahem, China). These countries are going to be none too enthused about trusting North Korea, nor about trusting Trump, for that matter. It is at these times that a president needs to be good at twisting arms and getting the world's leaders on his side. Barack Obama was not an overwhelmingly successful foreign policy president, but this is part of the job he was very good at. Trump, on the other hand, does not have that particular type of charisma. He also has a State Department that is both threadbare and hamstrung, and a Secretary of State whom the world knows the President does not like or respect. And then there is the small matter of the tariffs that Trump just imposed this week, tariffs that have aggravated nearly everyone. Xi, Merkel, May, Macron, etc. are going to be particularly disinclined to work with him now.
Finally, there is the domestic politics aspect of all of this. If Trump does somehow manage all of the challenges outlined above, and everything works out as well as could possibly be hoped, the end result is going to look very much like...the Iran nuclear deal. That would, of course, be the deal that Trump lambasted as "the worst deal ever made." If Trump tries to stick with that position, and at the same time to peddle an extremely similar deal with North Korea, it's going to require some political acrobatics that even FDR or Abraham Lincoln would find daunting. Add it all up, and Trump absolutely has an opportunity here to score a major victory, one that would be far and away the biggest of his presidency. But the road is fraught with peril, and it's hard to imagine how Trump might navigate all of the potential pitfalls. Ah, well—as Harry S. Truman said, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." (Z)
Yesterday's news that the economy
313,000 jobs is certainly good news for the Republicans. But even better news is how voters
feel about the economy in the ten states that Trump won where a Democratic senator is running for reelection.
In all of them, far more people feel the economy is better now than it
was a year ago than the number who feel it is worse. In seven of them, a majority feels the economy is
better now than a year ago, and in the other three, it is almost a majority. Here are the
To make it even worse for the Democrats, in all these states except Pennsylvania, more than half the voters approve of the new tax law. In Pennsylvania, it is an exact tie. In short, the Republican strategy of giving the vast majority of the tax cuts to the very rich and big corporations but a small amount to ordinary people looks like it worked. When Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) touted a secretary who was happy that she got an additional $1.50 per week, many people made fun of him. But if the secretary is really happy with her $78 per year and doesn't care that big corporations got tens of billions, Ryan may have the last laugh. (V)
A strong economy could help the Republicans in November (see above), but a vacancy on the Supreme Court could help even more. Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) has predicted that Justice Anthony Kennedy will hang up his robes in the summer and the vacancy that his retirement creates will make GOP voters fearful and drive them to the polls in November. However, there are a couple of things wrong with this theory:
- Kennedy may not retire. Justices don't normally like to retire close to an election for
fear of politicizing the selection of their successor. Kennedy surely cares about his
legacy and doesn't want it to be about how he turned the Court over to the conservatives
for a decade. If he were planning to retire, he surely could have done it a year ago,
when it would have been less controversial.
- McConnell's dilemma. If Kennedy were to retire in the summer, it would create a problem
for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). If he tried to ram through the confirmation
of the new justice before the election, it would create a huge firestorm. Successful
confirmation of a young conservative justice by a margin of 51 to 49 along party lines
would enrage Democrats, and rage is a great motivating factor for voting. On the other
hand, if he delayed confirmation hearings until after the election, there is a danger the
Democrats might take control of the Senate and vote down Trump's nominee and also his
second and third nominees until the McConnell Rule (no SCOTUS confirmations in the 4th year
of a president's term) kicked in.
- Conservatives vs. leverage. Conservatives would be demanding confirmation before the election out of fear that the Democrats might win the Senate. However, Republican strategists would want to delay confirmation until after the election to keep Republican voters motivated to go to the polls. This conflict between conservatives interested in a Supreme Court majority and strategists and GOP candidates interested in winning an election could boil over and cause trouble with Republicans fighting other Republicans.
In short, Heller may be hoping that Kennedy saves him, but it is very premature to actually count on it. (V)
Yet another poll shows that Conor Lamb (D) is leading Rick Saccone (R) in next Tuesday's special election in PA-18. This one, from RABA Research, has Lamb ahead 48% to 44%. It is his biggest lead yet. The district is R+11, Trump won it by 20 points, and the Republicans have poured $9 million into the race, so a Democratic victory here will shake the Republican Party to its core. If districts like this one, which is full of blue-collar Trump supporters, aren't safe, which districts are?
There has been much speculation, incidentally, that Donald Trump's tariffs are, in part, designed to help Saccone win the election. The thought process would be something like this: Pennsylvania is steel country, tariffs will help the steel industry, and so tariffs will help Saccone. There are two problems, however, if this is indeed the President's thought process. The first is that PA-18 is suburban, and no longer has strong ties to steel. The second is that Lamb has embraced the tariffs, too, so Saccone can't use them as a wedge issue, even if he wanted to.
In a last-ditch effort to stave off a humiliating defeat, Kellyanne Conway flew to Allegheny County to campaign for Saccone on Thursday. Trump is coming today. Vice President Mike Pence has already been in the district. The Republicans are clearly giving it their all, but we won't know until Tuesday evening if that is enough. (V & Z)
When it comes to the $130,000 paid to porn star Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about her relationship with Donald Trump, it's rather significant exactly where the money came from. If it was money from the Trump campaign, or was a de facto donation to the Trump campaign, then it is illegal, because it was not reported. Consequently, Trump lawyer Michael Cohen has argued that the money was paid by him, of his own volition, without promise of recompense from Trump or his staff. When Cohen first came up with this, it was hard to believe—not too many lawyers write $130,000 checks as a favor to their clients. Since then, other details—like Cohen's complaining to friends that he hasn't been repaid yet—have introduced even more doubt. And on Friday, Cohen's story took three more hits.
The new revelations, in no particular order, are these. First, to come up with the $130,000, Cohen took a loan against his own house. That is the action of someone who is not only expecting repayment, but is expecting it soon. Second, when negotiating with Daniels, Cohen used his Trump Organization e-mail address. That is the action of someone who is working in an official capacity, and for Donald Trump. Finally, the law firm that is now representing Cohen in regards to Stormygate has also represented Trump and the Trump campaign in the past.
In short, then, the line between Cohen's payment and Donald Trump is getting very, very blurry. And the blurrier it gets, the closer we get to a situation where Trump, or some other member of his campaign, committed a criminal offense. (Z)
Former Trump aide Sam Nunberg, who may or may not have some dirt on his former boss, spent much of the early part of the week raging against the machine, and telling anyone and everyone with a camera that he was going to ignore Special Counsel Robert Mueller's subpoena. But as it turns out, in Nunberg's world, "No, way!" actually means, "Yes, sir!" because he showed up as ordered on Friday. The apparent source of Nunberg's irritation was that his time was being wasted; it would seem someone got out their calculator and showed him that a few hours in front of the grand jury is less than a few weeks sitting in a federal prison.
It is not yet known exactly what Nunberg said, or whether he has fulfilled his obligations. There is a very good chance, however, that Roger Stone—the GOP activist who seems to know an awful lot of things before the general public does—was a major topic of conversation. It would not be a surprise, in fact, if Stone is the next high-profile person to get "invited" for a chat with the grand jury. (Z)
Last month, at the instigation of Chief of Staff John Kelly, four cabinet secretaries were reportedly called to the White House for a lecture on optics, and how they needed to stop embarrassing the administration with high-priced first-class travel, expensive furniture purchases, and other behaviors that are the polar opposite of draining the swamp. The list is exactly what politics-watchers would expect: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt. The only mild surprise is that Steven Mnuchin, who also has a taste for expensive travel on the government's dime, didn't get a talking to.
It would seem that Zinke did not fully grasp what he was told, because news broke on Friday that his office is getting brand-new $139,000 doors. The old ones leaked, it would seem, and that's apparently a problem that demands a six-figure solution. Zinke claims he knew nothing about the outlay, and he's probably telling the truth. But as a high-ranking government employee, particularly one who just got the lecture he got, it was his job to know. He should have communicated to every single person in his department that big expenditures require extra scrutiny. And when it's Zinke's personal office, he should be asking exactly how much money is being spent on repairs, precisely because of the optics of the situation. Put another way, the buck stops with the Secretary, and ignorance is no excuse.
The odds are pretty good that between this, and the first-class plane tickets, and the fiasco in which Florida was exempted from offshore drilling without the President's approval, and the $300 million no-bid Puerto Rico rebuilding contract given to Zinke's friends, that the Secretary is out of chances. In fact, ironically enough, it is probable that the main thing saving his job is optics, namely the bad optics of terminating yet another high-ranking official so early in Trump's term. The smart money says, however, that Zinke does not make it to the halfway point, and that he's gone by the time 2019 starts. (Z)
The Democratic Party hasn't even put out a request for bids yet, but already one city, Milwaukee, is trying to snare the 2020 Democratic National Convention. One of its strongest arguments is that Hillary Clinton lost Wisconsin in 2016 because she never even set foot in the state, but if thousands of Democrats show up in 2020 for the convention, Wisconsin may turn blue again. Another point is that there has never been a Democratic convention in Wisconsin, and the last one in the Midwest was in 1996 (in Chicago).
Once the Request for Proposal goes out the door in the spring, it could take a year for the DNC to make a choice. Phoenix, Atlanta, and Columbus, OH are expected to make bids, and other cities might as well. The arguments here are the same as Milwaukee's: a convention in Arizona, Georgia, or Ohio may help swing the state.
The DNC has to consider the political implications of holding the convention in a given city, but also the logistics, including airline connections, number of hotel rooms, as well as the size and nature of the convention hall. Finally, the weather (Phoenix in July?) and the cost also play roles. So, Milwaukee may be the first one out of the gate, but it is by no means a done deal yet. (V)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Mar09 Trump Accepts Meeting With Kim
Mar09 Manafort to Go on Trial in Virginia for Bank Fraud in July
Mar09 Trump: Cohn's a "Globalist"
Mar09 Sarah Huckabee Sanders Is in the Dog House
Mar09 Kirsten Gillibrand Wins Big in Texas
Mar09 Poll: Five Senate Democrats Would Lose if Election Were Held Now
Mar09 Poll: Trump Would Lose if Election Were Held Now
Mar09 Richard Painter May Run for Franken's Seat
Mar08 Trump Expected to Impose Tariffs Today
Mar08 Stock Market Has a Shaky Day
Mar08 Mueller Is Looking at Attempt to Set Up Back Channel from Trump to Russia
Mar08 The Excuses Have Already Begun in Pennsylvania
Mar08 The Exodus from Puerto Rico Keeps Growing
Mar08 Trump Administration Sues California
Mar08 Sex and the President
Mar08 Sex and the Governor
Mar08 Sex and the Mayor
Mar08 Sex and Smokey the Bear
Mar08 Poll: Trump Is the Worst President Since WW II
Mar07 Texas Primaries: Democrats Did OK, Not Great
Mar07 Another One Bites the Dust
Mar07 Nunberg Goes Wild
Mar07 McCarthy May Become House Republican Leader if Democrats Win the House
Mar07 Conway Violated the Hatch Act Twice
Mar07 Lamb Won't Be Slaughtered in Pennsylvania
Mar07 Americans Don't Want Tariffs on Steel and Aluminum
Mar06 Key Court Case on Voting Rights Starts Today
Mar06 Thad Cochran to Resign April 1
Mar06 Sam Nunberg Will Refuse to Comply with Mueller's Subpoena
Mar06 Cohen Complained about Non-Payment
Mar06 Next Tuesday's Special Election in PA-18 Could Be the Canary in the Coal Mine
Mar06 Trump Pumps Up the Trade Pressure on Canada and Mexico
Mar06 Washington Passes Net Neutrality Law
Mar05 McConnell Opposed Better Election Security in 2016
Mar05 Mueller Is Casting a Wide Net
Mar05 Trump Officials: Tariffs Are on Course
Mar05 DACA Deadline Is...Today
Mar05 Jeff Flake: Trump Will Be Challenged in 2020
Mar05 The Decline and Fall of the House of Bush
Mar05 Democrats Are Declaring War--on Other Democrats
Mar05 Oscars Once Again Get Political
Mar04 Trump Doubles Down on Trade War
Mar04 Trump Begins Raising Funds for 2020
Mar04 Trump Says He Will Dodge Russiagate
Mar04 This May Be Why Hope Hicks Quit
Mar04 Would-be Strongman Pays Respects to Actual Strongman
Mar04 Deficit May Be on Its Way to $2 Trillion
Mar04 Florida Bans AR-15s...for 15 Minutes
Mar04 Man Commits Suicide Outside of White House