• Judge Challenges Mueller on Manafort Case
• Trump Speaks to the NRA
• Pruitt Reimbursed Himself $65,000 from Former Campaigns
• DHS Ends Protections for 90,000 Immigrants
• Unemployment Drops Below 4%
• Rosen Leads Heller by a Hair in Nevada
Rudy Giuliani's remarks on Wednesday—that Donald Trump reimbursed his fixer, Michael Cohen, on the installment plan, but Trump didn't know what Cohen was up to—seem to have angered the President. Yesterday, he said that Giuliani "needs to get his facts straight," while noting that Giuliani started only a day before he went on Sean Hannity's program to deliver this bombshell.
The real problem is that what Trump and Giuliani are trying to do is find some plausible sequence of events that doesn't involve either Trump or Cohen breaking some law. According to Trump, he never had a one-night stand with porn star Stormy Daniels (really, Stephanie Clifford), but his fixer, Michael Cohen, unknown to him, paid her $130,000 to keep quiet about an affair that never happened. Then Trump decided to give Cohen $35,000 per month for general problem solving (with no reporting needed on what he was doing), and none of this had anything to do with the election. William of Occam, who formulated Occam's razor, is probably rolling over in his grave now.
Giuliani messed up this already dubious story by clearly suggesting the payment was related to the election (which would make Trump guilty of failing to report it), so Trump felt compelled to correct him, adding that the whole thing is a witch hunt. On Friday, Giuliani tried to clarify his remarks, adding that the payment was simply to spare Melania Trump some embarrassment and had nothing to do with the election, despite occurring just before it. As Trump and Giuliani keep making statements about what happened and why, the story gets less and less plausible by the day, bringing to mind Sir Walter Scott's famous line: "O, what a tangled web we weave. When first we practise to deceive." (V)
In an Alexandria courtroom yesterday, U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis held a hearing related to the bank-fraud indictment of Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort. The judge grilled Mueller mercilessly. He clearly told the truth when he said: "You don't really care about Mr. Manafort's bank fraud ... What you really care about is what information Mr. Manafort could give you that would reflect on Mr. Trump or lead to his prosecution or impeachment." Needless to say, the 77-year-old Reagan appointee hit the nail on the head.
Legally, Mueller is within his charter, since he is authorized to pursue any crimes he discovers while working on the Russian interference case, but the judge seemed skeptical. Manafort's attorney, Kevin Downing, urged the judge to throw the whole case out. The judge did not make a decision on that yesterday, so the trial is still set for July 10. However, no matter what happens in Virginia, Manafort will also go on trial, with different charges, and a different judge, in D.C. (V)
For the third time, Donald Trump spoke to the National Rifle Association's annual convention, and for the third time, the speech was really just a pro-Trump propaganda address. 'Propaganda' is a word that should be used carefully, as it carries pretty heavy negative connotations, and its definition is somewhat amorphous. Nonetheless, the two key elements of propaganda are emotional appeals and distortion of the truth, and Trump's Friday address—like all of his appearances before the faithful—was full of both.
In the category of "emotional appeals," Trump played to the crowd. One of the lines that got the most attention was his declaration that, "Your Second Amendment rights are under siege, but they will never, ever be under siege as long as I'm your president." Since, the last we checked, he is currently president, that makes his statement internally contradictory. Still, NRA members give money when they think their guns are threatened, and give money when they think their gun rights are being protected, so Trump went for the two-fer. Another great way to drive people into a frenzy is through a straw man argument, and Trump is so good at those he could go into the scarecrow business. Among the ones that he came up with on Friday: "We are going to have to outlaw, immediately, all vans and all trucks, which are now the new form of death for the maniac terrorists. Right?" The parallelism doesn't hold up, of course; vans and trucks have a great many legitimate purposes, and are rarely used for a nefarious purpose. The types of devices that Democrats do not like—semi-automatic and automatic guns, bump stocks—have few legitimate purposes (particularly in the hands of civilians) and are much more frequently used for a nefarious purpose. Anyhow, Trump not only got his logical fallacy out there, he also squeezed in a bonus reference to maniac terrorists. So, it's another two-fer.
Meanwhile, on the "distortion of the truth" front, Trump was in rare form. He's averaging about nine lies a day these days, and thanks to Friday's address he had filled his quota by lunchtime (with room to spare). As per usual, he bragged about the size of the crowd: "This is your record crowd, you know, all time record crowd." And, as per usual, this was not true. The NRA regularly drew more during the Obama years, for obvious reasons. Trump declared, "Chicago has the toughest gun laws in our country. They are so tough," trying to make a point that gun restrictions equate to violence and crime. This "fact," one of Trump's very favorite to cite, is not true—Chicago once had very tough gun laws, but they have been relaxed, while other places (particularly California) have gotten much tougher. The argument the President is making is even more dubious; the link between guns and crime is hard to measure; the only thing that is clear is that criminals get guns if they want them, regardless of the law.
The distortion of truth that got the most attention, however, was this: "Kanye West must have some power because you probably saw, I doubled my African-American poll numbers. We went from 11 to 22 in one week. Thank you, Kanye, thank you." There are two small kernels of truth in there: Kanye West did say some flattering things about Trump, and there was a shift of 11 to 22 points. However, that shift was in one poll (Reuters-Ipsos), a poll whose methodology is so questionable that many news organizations refuse to use its results. Further, the shift was only among black men, and there's zero evidence that West had anything to do with it.
In any event, the crowd loved what Trump had to say. The value of rousing the true believers into a frenzy, however, is a little less clear. Just six months until the answer to that question begins to reveal itself. (Z)
Another day, another story about EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's questionable behavior. This one results from an analysis CNN has done of Pruitt's two campaigns for attorney general of Oklahoma. It appears he may have reimbursed himself $65,000, without clearly indicating what the reimbursements were for. Normally, campaigns pay for campaign expenses directly, even things like renting cars or the candidate's meals on the campaign trail. This is generally done using a campaign credit card, so there is no doubt what is a campaign expense (for which campaign funds can be used) and what is a personal expense (for which they may not be used). Pruitt basically erased the line, paying for things himself and then having the campaign reimburse him, making a proper accounting impossible.
The former general counsel of the Federal Election Commission, Larry Noble, said of Pruitt's way of doing things: "This is useless reporting. There's no way of telling if this a personal expense ... You couldn't do this on the federal level. It's illegal." Noble said that Oklahoma rules are similar to federal rules, making it unclear if Pruitt obeyed the law. In any other administration, the large number of shady things Pruitt has done would have caused him to have been fired long ago, but Donald Trump likes him, and what's a little corruption between friends? (V)
On Friday, the Trump administration announced its latest decision on Temporary Protected Status, announcing that 86,000 Hondurans would lose their protections in 18 months. That gives these folks, most of them residents of the United States for a decade or more, 18 months to find a different way to stay (visa, marriage) or else to leave. The Hondurans join 262,500 Salvadoreans, 58,800 Haitians, 14,800 Nepalese, 5,300 Nicaraguans, and 1,050 Sudanese in suffering this fate. That's just shy of 370,000 people, or about 90% of all the folks in the country who have protected status.
Since there is clearly no element of humanity or empathy that goes into these decisions when they are made by the Trump administration (most likely, at the impetus of Stephen Miller), then that makes this a purely political decision. Let us consider it on that level. On one hand, Team Trump is desperately trying to signal that it is "tough" on immigrants, with crackdowns like on refugees from Honduras and other nations, and Muslim travel bans, and photo-ops at the Mexican wall that is not actually being built. Is the base buying it? Time will tell, but the odds are good that many of them want to believe so badly, that they will take even the tiniest anti-immigrant action as a sign of major progress.
On the other hand, these 370,000 people have probably made a friend or two during their time in the United States. Not to mention work colleagues, neighbors, and relatives. This network of folks could well be driven to the polls if they feel that someone they know personally is being scapegoated or persecuted. Meanwhile, there are tens of millions of immigrants and descendants of immigrants in this country, and opponents of the administration are going to suggest to them, over and over, in ways both subtle and not so subtle, that Team Trump hates them. On balance, then, this issue appears to be a loser for the President, politically. His base has little room to grow, while the anti-Trump vote has plenty of room to do so. (Z)
Last month, for the first time in almost two decades, the United States' unemployment rate dropped below 4%. Donald Trump, of course, promptly took to Twitter to crow about the news:
JUST OUT: 3.9% Unemployment. 4% is Broken! In the meantime, WITCH HUNT!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 4, 2018
Trump also added a passage on the subject to his NRA speech (see above):
African-American unemployment has reached another all-time, in history, record low ... And the same thing with Hispanic American unemployment, which is also at the lowest level in history—unemployment, lowest level in history. And women's unemployment—women, many women—is at the lowest level in almost 20 years. Think of that.
It's not surprising that Trump is riding the news as hard as he can. Any political adviser who told him otherwise would be guilty of malpractice.
That said, Trump is not likely to get much political gain out of this development. People don't vote based on the unemployment rate; if anything, they vote based on whether they (and their family members, and maybe their friends) are actually employed. There was a time when unemployment rate was a crude, but somewhat useful, barometer for measuring how well the working- and middle-classes were doing, and thus how happy they were with the people in power. However, there are some complicating factors that make that 4% not terribly meaningful, particularly these days:
- Nothing's Changed: One big problem for Trump is
that on the day he took office, unemployment was at 4.7%. The drop to 3.9% over
18 months is pretty trivial; it's not like he has overcome 10% unemployment
(as Barack Obama did). Even more trivial is crossing the 4% barrier, since
unemployment has hovered at 4.1% since October. That means that in the last six
months, unemployment has dropped by about 0.15%—not exactly the stuff of
landslides (or of beating back Democratic tidal waves). And all of this is
before we consider the fact that unemployment numbers are compiled through a
form of polling, which has a margin of error. It's entirely possible that the
unemployment rate hasn't actually changed at all since Trump took office, or
even that it's ticked up a little. Whatever the case may be, 4% is a shiny round
number, but other than that it's not too meaningful.
- Wages: If we could go back to the days when
prognosticators first started using unemployment figures as a tool (the 1930s),
we might well persuade them that a more useful measure is wage growth. After
all, someone who loses his or her job as an architect and ends up working at
McDonald's isn't likely to be a happy camper. Similarly, someone with consistent
employment but stagnant wages is likely to grow increasingly frustrated with
their failure to thrive. Today, wage growth numbers are compiled, but they
rarely make headlines. If wages were indeed the preferred indicator, rather than
employment, we probably wouldn't get getting many Trump tweets, since wages have
remained level through his entire term (roughly 2.6%/year growth, which
basically tracks inflation).
- Job Type: In a related point, unemployment numbers
don't track what kind of jobs are being done (except in a very, very crude way).
In particular, they have nothing to say about the "gig" economy—working as
a delivery driver for GrubHub, or a taxi-for-hire for Lyft or Uber, or a dog
walker for Rover. These jobs are easy to get, and are a common option for folks
looking to avoid being jobless. But they come with few or no benefits, are often
part-time, and in general the folks who take them are using them as a stopgap.
Put another way, when it comes to voter happiness and to judging the health of
the job market, the difference between 7% unemployment vs. 4% unemployment + 3%
gig employment is pretty small.
- The Baby Boom: Unemployment figures only consider
those who are working, or who want a job. Thanks to the aging of the baby
boomers, one of the major reasons that unemployment figures are so low right now
is that a lot of these folks are leaving the market entirely. In fact, that was
more significant to the drop below 4% this month than anything else. Employers
added 164,000 jobs, but 236,000 people left the market. Undoubtedly, most folks
who retire are pretty happy about it. But it's unlikely that they would reward the party
in power just because they happened to turn 65 (or otherwise decided the time
- Culture: We've also noted the large number of studies that suggest that voters these days, particularly Trump voters, are motivated much more by cultural/values issues than by economic issues. Employment, of course, is an economic issue.
In this year's midterms, and in 2020's presidential elections, the GOP is going to grab onto just about anything that they can, since they have been struggling to find issues to run on. There's no downside to them making a big deal about unemployment figures; the Democrats would do so if they were in power, too. However, there is relatively little upside, as well; if there were, the Democrats would not be the party that is out of power. (Z)
A new PPP poll of the hotly contested Nevada Senate race has Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) ahead of Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) by a margin of 44% to 42%, making it a statistical tie, since the margin of error is 3.9%. This poll agrees with other polls on this race. The poll also found that 51% of Nevadans were unhappy with Heller's performance, and only 29% approved of it. Heller is the only Republican running for reelection in a state Hillary Clinton won, and is generally considered to be the most endangered Republican senator up in 2018. (V)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
May04 Trump Tries to Quell the Storm(y)
May04 Giuliani Revelation Blindsided Trump's Legal Team
May04 Lessons Emmet Flood Could Try to Teach Trump
May04 How Long Will Sanders Last?
May04 California Gubernatorial Race Casts a Long Shadow
May04 House Chaplain Unresigns, Dares Ryan to Fire Him
May03 More Turnover on Trump's Legal Team
May03 Giuliani: Trump Repaid the $130,000 to Cohen
May03 Caputo Has Some Scary Words for Trump
May03 Trump Claims Absolute Immunity in Emoluments Lawsuit
May03 Pruitt Under Review--Times 10
May03 West Virginia Senate Candidate Uses Fake Photo in Ad
May03 Corker's Distaste for Blackburn Could Hand the Democrats a Senate Seat
May03 Democrats Win a Bellwether Race in Florida
May02 Trump May Not Understand His Legal Jeopardy
May02 Things Are Tense Between Team Trump and Team Mueller
May02 Rosenstein: I Won't Be Intimidated
May02 Bornstein Turns on Trump
May02 This Week in Scott Pruitt Corruption
May02 Rubio: Workers Get Little Benefit from Tax Law
May02 No Tax Cut? GOP May Run on Impeachment
May02 Outsider Upends Indiana Senate Primary
May02 Trump Has Told over 3,000 Lies While in Office
May01 New York Times Has Mueller's Questions for Trump
May01 Trump's Campaign Has Paid Michael Cohen's Legal Fees
May01 White House Staff Not in Agreement About Trump's Intelligence
May01 Trump Was Warned about Jackson
May01 Lawsuits Piling Up at a Furious Pace
May01 Richard Painter Will Challenge Tina Smith for Al Franken's Old Senate Seat
May01 Ideological Warfare Erupts in Republican Special Election Primary in Ohio
May01 Millennials Are Moving Away from the Democrats
Apr30 Congressional Leaders Are Worried about Trump's Impact on the Midterms
Apr30 Democrats May Make a Play for Rural Districts
Apr30 Jackson Likely Won't Get His Old Job Back
Apr30 More Fallout From Wolf's Performance at Correspondents' Dinner
Apr30 Trump to Speak at NRA Convention
Apr30 Tenuous Financial Situation May Force Cohen's Hand
Apr30 Harris Running the Dean-Obama-Sanders Playbook
Apr29 Trump Rallies; Correspondents Dine
Apr29 Progress in Korean Talks
Apr29 When it Comes to Trump Interview, the Ball Is in Mueller's Court
Apr29 Pence to Tour "Wall Construction"
Apr29 Trump's EPA May Roll Back Fuel Efficiency Standards
Apr29 Trump Vote Prompted by Cultural, Not Economic, Issues
Apr29 Senate Polls Mostly Coming Up Roses for Democrats
Apr28 Natalia Veselnitskaya Has Worked with Russia's Top Prosecutor
Apr28 House Intelligence Committee Issues a Report on Russiagate
Apr28 Judge Throws Out Manafort's Civil Suit
Apr28 Ryan Fires House Chaplain