• Pompeo Announces Iran Policy
• Pence Threatens North Korea
• Blankenship Wants to Sink Morrisey's Ship
• Sanders Supporters Are in Disarray
• "Drain the Swamp" Set to Be a Major Theme of 2018 Midterms
• Nathan Gonzales Moves 19 House Races Toward the Democrats
Let's start by taking a look at a picture of Donald Trump:
This is not a posture that Trump adopts very often; the picture comes from the Cabinet meeting where the President was responding to the news that Michael Cohen's offices has been raided. As we have pointed out before, crossing one's arms is an inherently defensive gesture, rooted in a primal instinct to protect the most vulnerable parts of the body. Whether he intended to or not, the President was clearly signaling that he was feeling exposed.
The point here is that Trump wears his emotions on his sleeve, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. And this weekend, there were two pieces of particularly unfriendly news about him and his campaign that broke. The first is that the FBI had an informant who talked to people in his campaign, and the second was that members of his inner circle met with folks close to the governments of Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates during the campaign, ostensibly because those nations offered their assistance (which would almost certainly be illegal). Making things worse is that one of the Trump representatives at the meeting "forgot" to mention it when he spoke to Congress about his involvement with the campaign, while another member of Team Trump held a follow-up meeting in the Seychelles, which are in the middle of the Indian Ocean, a 3-hour flight from Nairobi, and an excellent place to meet someone if you were trying to avoid scrutiny from U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
One or both of these stories clearly has Trump very, very upset, and presumably feeling vulnerable once again, because he unleashed an absolute Twitter storm on Sunday. It was a torrent of accusations, and demands, and falsehoods that was unhinged even by his standards. Among the barrage was this:
I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes - and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 20, 2018
Whatever Trump thinks, this tweet does not make him seem innocent. Quite the opposite, in fact. Beyond his obviously defensive reaction, it is worthwhile to recall an old aphorism about the law that we last mentioned just a few days ago: When the facts are on your side, argue the facts, when the facts are not on your side, argue the law. This seems to be a similar situation; it's instructive that nobody on Team Trump has challenged what the informant discovered, merely the manner in which it was discovered.
In any event, Trump is rapidly moving towards "constitutional crisis" territory. First, by getting involved in active Justice Dept. investigations. Second, by effectively announcing to the world that the FBI, etc. are effectively politcal shills who are in the bag for the "deep state," Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and a host of other evil-doers. There are only one or two other presidents—Dick Nixon, maybe LBJ—who would have even considered mucking around in an ongoing DoJ investigation, and none who would have publicly thrown the DoJ, FBI, CIA, etc. under the bus. So, it's uncharted territory. The fact that Trump is ordering these actions publicly, via Twitter, is just the icing on the cake.
All of this has put Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein into a very tight situation. Actually, truth be told, the person who should be feeling the heat right now is AG Jeff Sessions, who—although he recused himself from the Russia investigation—should step up and tell the President he's crossed a line. But Sessions has demonstrated, multiple times, that he is a member of kingdom invertebrata, so he's going to hide behind his recusal and let his underling dance. The problem for Rosenstein is that, on one hand, Trump and the Republican members of Congress want answers, and they want them now. What they particularly want, of course, is the name of the informant. The FBI really, really doesn't want to give it out, because if it becomes public, that person could be placed in jeopardy. It would also make it harder to recruit future informants, and to retain the services of informants already on the payroll. Now, it's possible that under normal circumstances, this highly classified information would nonetheless be shared with the members of the House and Senate intelligence committees and with the President, with the understanding that they keep it to themselves. But given the Nunes memo, and the Trump administration's demonstrated inability to keep secrets secret, the FBI simply doesn't trust their colleagues in the Capitol building and in the White House.
To summarize, then, Rosenstein has his boss (Trump) and his sort-of bosses (Congress) twisting his arm at the same time that he's trying to protect the integrity of the DoJ in general and of the Russia investigation in particular. Yesterday, then, Rosenstein, Trump, and FBI Director Christopher Wray met and agreed upon a rather vague deal. Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz will "review" Trump's allegations, while Chief of Staff John Kelly will get together with intelligence and law enforcement officials and some members of Congress to "review highly classified and other information they have requested."
If anybody knows exactly what this hastily-negotiated agreement means, they are not saying. All parties involved declined to answer questions Monday afternoon. It's pretty clear that Rosenstein, et. al. are doing their best to buy time, in hopes that Trump's anger subsides (or, at least, is directed elsewhere). At the same time, Team Trump—with Rudy Giuliani, who was all over TV on Monday, taking a leading role—is trying to undermine the integrity of the FBI (and, by extension, Robert Mueller), and perhaps get their hands on some of the evidence that could eventually be used against them. We shall see which side wins out and, in particular, what Trump does if Horowitz comes back with the finding that the FBI did nothing wrong. (Z)
Since Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal, the world has been waiting for an announcement of what the administration's new policy is. On Monday, we got it, courtesy of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who threatened the Iranians with the "strongest sanctions in history" unless they agree to a list of 12 demands. Among other things, the Iranians must:
- Release all American hostages they hold
- End support for the Houthis in Yemen
- Withdraw from Syria
- Stop supporting Hezbollah
- Stop threatening Israel
- End their missile program
- Allow nuclear inspectors "unqualified access to all sites throughout the country"
It's true that the United States (and much of the rest of the world) would love to see all of these things come to pass. It's also true that Pompeo might as well add "cure cancer," "count to infinity" and "pay for the Mexican wall" to the list, since those things are about as realistic. These things are the foundation that the current regime in Iran is built upon, and to agree to all of them (or even some) would be courting disaster for them. Meanwhile, U.S. sanctions will work only if backed by the other great industrial powers. France, the UK, and Germany are unlikely to support such an unrealistic policy, and Russia, China, and India definitely won't. Trump is all but inviting the other nations to stick with the existing nuclear deal, and to tell the United States to pound sand.
Of course, there is another possibility. It may well be that Team Trump is setting an impossible standard, knowing that Iran will balk, thus giving pretext for an invasion. If that's the plan, it would have NSA John Bolton's fingerprints all over it. It would also be an utter disaster for the administration, both diplomatically and politically. Perhaps they have forgotten how unpopular the Iraq War was, and that one at least had some international cooperation and the threat that Saddam Hussein already had weapons of mass destruction. If the U.S. tries to hit Iran unilaterally, and on the pretext that the nation could maybe, possibly, some day have WMD, we will quickly learn if it's possible for a president's approval rating to drop into the single digits. Alternatively, it is possible that the U.S. will ask Israel to bomb Iran and take the heat, just like in 1981. (Z)
Theodore Roosevelt once advised that the best foreign policy was to speak softly and carry a big stick. The Trump administration does not seem to have gotten the memo, because while they may be waving their big sticks around, they certainly aren't speaking softly. It wasn't just Mike Pompeo and Iran on Monday, it was also Vice President Mike Pence and North Korea.
At this point, administration officials are reportedly growing pessimistic that the summit with Kim Jong-Un will happen, despite the fact that Donald Trump badly wants it. To that end, it would appear that Team Trump has decided the best way to deal with Kim is to threaten him. In a Fox News interview aired Monday, Pence said: "There was some talk about the Libyan model last week, and you know, as the President made clear, this will only end like the Libyan model ended if Kim Jong-Un doesn't make a deal."
Let us recall that the "Libyan model" goes something like this: Moammar Gadhafi agreed to abandon his nuclear program, got sanctions against his country lifted, saw his regime collapse, and was killed by U.S.-backed rebels. So, reminding Kim of what happened in Libya is probably not the way to go, since it would seem to be an argument against working with the U.S. Although what Pence was presumably trying to suggest, in not so subtle terms, is that Kim can work with the U.S. or he can end up dead—his choice. It's not entirely clear how the administration might make good on that threat, nor how they might guarantee Kim's fate would be different than Gadhafi's were he to give up his nuclear program.
We shall see how this turns out; maybe the Trump administration is playing three-dimensional chess when all the rest of us can see is a game of checkers. However, there aren't too many leaders in the world that would respond well if another country threatened to kill them, and Kim seems particularly likely to take such verbiage badly. (Z)
Coal baron and former federal prisoner Don Blankenship came in third in the West Virginia Republican senatorial primary. Rather than slinking off and licking his wounds, he has come out fighting, and wants to run for the Senate on the Constitution Party ticket. If he can pull that off, it would almost certainly guarantee the defeat of his nemesis, West Virginia AG Patrick Morrisey, and would mean that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) would be reelected.
But it won't be quite that easy for Blankenship, even if he gets the Constitution Party's nomination. West Virginia has a "sore loser" law that says a candidate who loses one party's primary can't run in the general election on another party's ticket. He plans to do it anyway, which undoubtedly means a court challenge to the law. If he wins the case, Morrisey will have a tough time with both a Republican and a Democrat swinging away at him. He has enough problems already dealing with the charge that he is a carpetbagger, since he grew up in New Jersey, went to college there, and ran for the U.S. House in the Garden State. In contrast, Manchin was born in West Virginia and never lived anywhere else until he was elected to the Senate at age 63. (V)
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) came out of nowhere in 2016 and nearly defeated an experienced and well-known politician who had her eye on the White House since, well, since she lived in it. He did this by being authentic and by proposing ideas that the Democratic establishment thought were too radical. To everyone's surprise, they were much more popular than anyone had expected.
After Sanders' loss to Hillary Clinton, some of his top operatives formed a movement, "Our Revolution." Its purpose was to keep the flame alive, help other progressive candidates, and possibly prepare for a Sanders run in 2020. Politico talked to dozens of people about how well it is going and wrote up an article about it. In short, it is not doing as well as the organizers had hoped. Some of the highlights of the investigation include:
- Some board members think its president, Nina Turner, is using her position to gear up for her own 2020 run
- The board recently vetoed her choice for chief of staff, someone who praised Donald Trump on Fox News
- Fundraising has plummeted, despite having access to Sanders' much-coveted email list
- As a result of poor fundraising, the group created a PAC that would allow Sanders to help raise money
- A board member resigned last month, saying the group was not responsive to Latino issues
An even bigger problem is that the group does not have a great record in getting progressive candidates elected. In the Virginia gubernatorial primary last year, it supported Tom Perriello. The group promised Perriello that it could raise between $150,000 and $300,000. It raised $50,000 and Perriello lost to centrist Ralph Northam.
Our Revolution sat out some races in which a moderate Democrat defeated a conservative Republican, which can be seen as a victory for the left, albeit a small one. Races skipped include those of Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) and Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA). In two other races last week, a genuine progressive triumphed in the primaries. These were John Fetterman in the Pennsylvania lieutenant governor's race and Kara Eastman in a House race in Nebraska. Our Revolution didn't back either of them. In other words, the organization has gotten on board with a fair number of losers, and has failed to climb on the wagons of a bunch of winners. That is not a recipe for having a meaningful impact.
Also causing trouble is the suspicion on the part of some board members and Sanders' supporters that Our Revolution's president, Nina Turner, is in it in order to raise her own profile and potentially make a presidential run herself in 2020. She hasn't done the full Sherman on this, even though she would be the longest of longshots. All these issues may be teething problems of a new organization, but it is also possible that the star power of a candidate often doesn't transfer to others. (V)
The headline seems to be not much of a revelation, right? Of course there is going to be talk of "draining the swamp" from the vast army of mini-Trumps running for office in November. There will be, that is true, but in an interesting case of turning the tables, the blue team is getting ready to make that theme a centerpiece of their pitch as well.
There's little question that voters on both sides of the political spectrum feel that Washington is too beholden to lobbyists, and super PACs, and corporate money, and the like. Hence the success of outsider candidates on both sides of the aisle in 2016. But 18 months of Trump have given the blue team some extra ammunition to use on this front: the many and varied missteps of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, the furniture budget of HUD Secretary Ben Carson, the first-class flights favored by about half a dozen members of the administration, the sale of presidential access by Michael Cohen, and so forth.
The Democrats aren't just pulling this out of thin air, either. They have polling that suggests that their economic message (undo the tax bill, higher minimum wage, etc.) is more effective when paired with an anti-corruption theme. So, get ready for a large number of electoral contests where the Republican and the Democrat spend time arguing about who wants to drain the swamp more. (Z)
There are two general ways to predict which party will control the House in January. What might be termed the macroeconomic way is to look at the generic House poll, state of the economy, popularity of the president, and other factors. The microeconomic way is to look at each House race and try to predict each one separately. Only a few handicappers do the latter, including Charlie Cook, Larry Sabato, and Nathan Gonzales, because it is a lot of work and requires understanding the local politics of 435 separate races.
Gonzales has just released his latest predictions, and he is changing 19 ratings, all of them favoring the Democrats. He now has 68 Republican-held seats as being competitive, compared to only 10 Democratic-held seats. This discrepancy foreshadowed earlier wave elections, such as 2010, when he had 68 Democrats as vulnerable and only 11 Republicans. In that election, Republicans picked up 63 seats. Here is Gonzales' new map.
Two races in which Gonzales had Democrats as likely to win have moved to solid, namely Ami Bera (CA) and Charlie Crist (FL). Two races that leaned Republican are now toss-ups: Rod Blum (IA) and Conor Lamb (PA). Three races have been moved from likely Republican to leans Republican: Bruce Poliquin (ME), Steve Pearce's open seat in New Mexico, and Dave Brat (VA). Josh Gottheimer's race in NJ-05 has moved from tilts Democratic to the stronger leans Democratic. In addition, 10 races that were solid Republican are now rated likely Republican. That doesn't mean the occupant of the seat is about to lose his job, just that it is not a foregone conclusion any more that he gets another term just for showing up. (V)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
May21 Stone to Be Indicted
May21 Three (or Four) States Will Hold Primaries This Week
May21 The Trade War Is on Hold
May21 Europe Thinks the Current State of the U.S. Might Be the New Normal
May21 Young Voters Might Actually Show Up This Year
May21 GOP Appears to Be Foundering on Key Issues for Young People
May21 Tax-Law Supporters Are Helping Republicans
May21 Help Wanted--But Not if You Worked for the Trump Administration
May20 Another Meeting at Trump Tower
May20 Prison Reform Bill Could Pass
May20 Ryan Can't Do His Job Any More
May20 Trump Nominates Robert Wilkie for VA
May20 The 800-Pound Trump in the Corner of the Room
May20 Why Michael Avenatti Is a Big Threat to Donald Trump
May20 Royals Get Married, Trump Becomes Part of the Story
May19 Trump Claims Conspiracy "Bigger than Watergate"
May19 Discovery Can Proceed in Summer Zervos Case
May19 Manafort's Former Son-in-law Flips
May19 School Shooting in Texas
May19 Trump Tried to Get the Post Office to Double Amazon's Shipping Rates
May19 House Freedom Caucus Kills the Farm Bill
May19 China Offers to Cut Trade Surplus by $200 Billion
May19 Trump Likes Cox
May18 The Plot Thickens Around Cohen's Bank Account
May18 Giuliani Keeps on Keepin' On
May18 Avenatti: Two More Women May Have Gotten Hush Money from Trump
May18 Bolton Is trying to Take Trump's Nobel Prize Away from Him
May18 Paul Ryan Has a Mess on His Hands
May18 White House Demands Apology
May18 Who Can Call Trump Directly?
May18 Candidates for Office in Florida Are Already Campaigning Hard--in Puerto Rico
May17 Senate Committee: Russians Helped Trump
May17 Steve Bannon May Have Tried to Suppress the Black Vote
May17 Trump Discloses Payment to Cohen
May17 Giuliani Says Mueller Told Him a Sitting President Can't Be Indicted
May17 EPA Suppresses Report
May17 Trump May Cut Planned Parenthood Funding
May17 Senate Votes to Protect Net Neutrality
May16 Pennsylvania Goes to the Polls
May16 About that Meeting with Kim...
May16 Today's Trump Intrigue
May16 Manafort Will Not Avoid Trial in D.C.
May16 Democrats Are Beginning to Find Their Theme for the Midterms
May16 Pence Is Deeply Involved in the Midterms
May16 Hawley May Be Squandering a Winnable Senate Race
May16 Preet Bharara May Run for NY Attorney General
May16 McConnell Not Ready to Go Nuclear
May15 Four States Hold Primaries Today
May15 Both Parties Stunned by Trump's Move to Rescue ZTE