Mar. 04

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Trump Doubles Down on Trade War

The fact that America's allies, much of his administration, much of the Republican Party, and nearly every economist on the planet has lined up in opposition to Donald Trump's plan to slap a big tariff on steel and aluminum is not deterring the President whatsoever. In fact, in his usual Saturday morning tweet storm, he aggressively returned serve:

The United States has an $800 Billion Dollar Yearly Trade Deficit because of our “very stupid” trade deals and policies. Our jobs and wealth are being given to other countries that have taken advantage of us for years. They laugh at what fools our leaders have been. No more!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 3, 2018

If the E.U. wants to further increase their already massive tariffs and barriers on U.S. companies doing business there, we will simply apply a Tax on their Cars which freely pour into the U.S. They make it impossible for our cars (and more) to sell there. Big trade imbalance!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 3, 2018

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross has already made the television rounds to peddle the notion that Trump's actions won't actually hurt the American consumer...that much. He observed, for example, that the steel tariff would only increase the cost of a car by about $175, which he called "trivial." That might be a fair point, but for the fact that he's a member of the same GOP that just tried to explain to us all how a $1.50/week tax cut is life-changing money.

In any event, with most presidents it is possible to understand where their policies are coming from, even if we find those policies to be disagreeable. Trump is so mercurial, and so inconsistent, that we are invariably left to hazard our best guesses as to what is driving his actions. So, here are some theories as to what might be going on here:

Again, all of these are just theories. Only Trump truly knows what is in the mind of Trump. Odds are good that at least one of these, and very possibly more than one, is correct, however. (Z)

Trump Begins Raising Funds for 2020

For a fellow who pooh-poohed the importance of money when his fundraising tally was hundreds of millions of dollars behind Hillary Clinton's, Donald Trump is certainly taking money seriously as he begins preparations for the 2020 election, having used this weekend to launch a massive fundraising operation. He gave a speech to megadonors at Mar-a-Lago on Saturday evening, and is building a network of "bundlers," who will shake down their friends and associates for small-to-medium donations, and will be rewarded with things like dinners with the President. Team Trump also sent out a massive e-mail blast.

Generally, starting a fundraising blitz on the heels of a drama-, embarrassment-, and scandal-filled week is not how it's done, but Trump plays by his own rules. There may be some wisdom in it, actually. For a man who likes to project strength, he actually spends a fair bit of time playing the victim, and making his base feel sorry for him. Whether it's the "fake news," or Obama "deep state," or the Robert Mueller "witch hunt," or any of a dozen other supposed injustices, real or imagined, Trump is very good at triggering his supporters' defensive/protective instincts. And that may very well get them to open their wallets.

The 32-question survey that Team Trump sent out to potential donors is of particular interest, as it is clearly meant to gauge which issues will really get their blood boiling in 2018 and 2020. Among the questions:

One might describe a few of those questions, such as the last one, as just a tad bit leading. Anyhow, it would appear there's a good chance we're going to start hearing a lot more about making English the official language of the United States, Sharia law, and how university professors are evil brainwashers who should nonetheless be armed. (Z)

Trump Says He Will Dodge Russiagate

As things head downhill (yet again) at the White House, Donald Trump is digging in his heels on Russiagate. He is telling anyone and everyone who will listen that: (1) He's done nothing wrong; (2) Whatever happens to anyone else, he's not going to get into trouble; and (3) That the American people are beginning to accept his narrative that it was the Democrats who colluded with Russia, and not the Trump campaign.

Needless to say, these sentiments reflect a concerning blend of paranoia, ignorance, and delusion. He may very well believe some or all of this, in the same way he believes that he had a larger inaugural crowd than Barack Obama, or that he actually won the popular vote, or that he's actually worth $15 billion. However, even if he really didn't do anything in terms of colluding with Russia, he seems unable and/or unwilling to accept that he may well be responsible for the actions of his underlings, and that he is definitely at risk of getting hit with an obstruction of justice charge. Similarly, there is zero evidence to suggest that public sentiment on Russiagate is turning against the Democrats. In fact, given how often Trump feels the need to bring these things up, one wonders if he's not trying to convince his staff as much as he's desperately trying to convince himself. (Z)

This May Be Why Hope Hicks Quit

Speaking of Russiagate and Donald Trump, he's been told to stop speaking about the matter, except with members of his legal team. However, he's a motormouth who badly needs validation and who just can't control himself. So, he's in the habit of talking about the subject whenever he wants, in front of whomever happens to be present. To use his own counselors' words, he has repeatedly crossed a "bright red line," over and over, particularly as regards former staffer and confidante Hope Hicks.

The President either does not understand, or chooses to ignore, all of the problems that he creates with his loose lips (and it's not just sinking ships). First is that every non-lawyer he talks to becomes a potential witness and/or source for Robert Mueller, one who cannot hide behind lawyer-client privilege. So, Trump is harming himself with his lack of discretion. At the same time, he is also harming those he speaks to. These conversations inevitably translate into a need for (expensive) lawyers, and a greater likelihood of getting hauled before Congress and/or the special counsel. Further, depending on what Trump reveals, his staffers could well be put in the uncomfortable position of choosing between being disloyal to him and committing perjury.

In this context, the departure of someone as fiercely loyal as Hicks begins to make sense. Not only was she protecting herself by leaving, she was protecting Trump from himself. The day she spent before the House Intelligence Committee surely served to underscore that—while she fell back on executive privilege that day, she certainly knows that won't fly forever. She's not in the clear yet, of course, but at least by leaving she knows she won't learn anything else compromising. (Z)

Would-be Strongman Pays Respects to Actual Strongman

Generally speaking, a president should not joke about the possibility of being a dictator. It's like joking about having a bomb at the airport—even if the remark is meant in jest, it's never taken that way (especially once you get taken away). One might suggest that joking about being a dictator is particularly gauche for a president that has shown serious strongman tendencies, like trying to undermine the news media, attempting to disenfranchise opposition voters, calling for opponents to be thrown in prison, and trying to organize vast military parades.

Clearly, Donald Trump does not agree, as he was caught on tape this weekend speaking approvingly of China's President Xi Jinping's maneuvers designed to keep himself in power for the rest of his life. "He's now president for life. President for life. No, he's great," Trump said. "And look, he was able to do that. I think it's great. Maybe we'll have to give that a shot some day." Again, by all evidences, Trump was joking. Kind of. We hope. (Z)

Deficit May Be on Its Way to $2 Trillion

The nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) has crunched the numbers now that we know a bit more about the GOP tax bill and the Trump administration's budget, and they have reached some sobering conclusions. By next year, the deficit could hit $1.1 trillion, while it could hit $1.7 trillion within the next decade. And if Congress extends the tax cuts that are currently set to expire in seven years, a $2 trillion deficit is probable by 2028, along with a national debt in excess of $30 trillion.

These numbers are just estimates that the CRFB has put together as a stopgap until April 9. On that day, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is scheduled to release its analysis, which is more thorough, and uses more sophisticated projection techniques. Assuming that the CBO's report echoes that of the CFRB, or is even more pessimistic, then it will be very bad news for the GOP heading into the midterms. Every Republican who tries to brag about the tax cuts is going to get a response that involves the phrases "$1.1 trillion," "exploding national debt," and "almost entirely for the benefit of corporations and the ultra-rich," in some order. (Z)

Florida Bans AR-15s...for 15 Minutes

The Republican majority of the Florida legislature is in a tight spot these days. On one hand, there's enormous pressure on them to do something about guns in response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings, especially since Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) is clearly planning to make a Senate run where one of his key planks will be moderate-level gun control. On the other hand, there are a lot of Second Amendment zealots in the Sunshine State, and Florida Republicans have been among the most eager accepters of NRA money. This laid the groundwork for the strange day the state senate had on Saturday, when they approved a ban on AR-15 guns by a voice vote. Then, at the urging of several Republican members of the chamber, they held a roll-call vote 15 minutes later and the measure was defeated by a vote of 21 to 17, with all 15 Democrats joined by two of the GOP colleagues in supporting the bill.

In view of this...confusion, there is going to be another vote held on Monday, when the Senate is back in regular session. Normally, when passing new laws, the standard is not "best two out of three," but these are the times we live in. Three Republican votes would have to flip in order for the measure to pass, which seems improbable, but who knows? (Z)

Man Commits Suicide Outside of White House

Saturday morning, a man approached the White House, waved a gun around, fired a few shots, and then shot himself in the head. He was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital shortly thereafter. Thus far, nothing is (publicly) known about the shooter or his motivations. The Trumps were not present for the shooting, as they were at Mar-a-Lago, as is generally the case during winter weekends. They will return to the White House, as scheduled, later today. (Z)

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