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270 Electoral votes needed to win This date in 2012 2008
New polls: (None)
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GOP pickups vs. 2012: FL IA MI OH PA WI

Cabinet Secretaries Are Battling Trump Aides over Appointments

Several cabinet secretaries were under the impression that they could pick their deputies and other subordinates. They are now discovering, to their surprise and chagrin, that Donald Trump's advisers want to name these people. As a result, the hiring process has slowed to a crawl, with fewer than three dozen of the top 550 Senate-confirmed jobs filled. Furthermore, if the Trump aides get their way, many secretaries will end up fighting top people in their own departments, which will lead to chaos, backbiting, leaks, and more problems.

The key problem is that most of the secretaries have held top executive positions in business and are used to picking their own lieutenants and believe they are quite capable of doing it. Furthermore, they want people who are competent and who are loyal to them. The Trump aides see complete loyalty to Donald Trump as the first, maybe the only, requirement. As one example, Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin has clashed with Trump aides over the #2 and lower positions at the treasury. So far, basically all the positions there are still open. As another example, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wanted to compensate for his total lack of foreign policy experience by appointing Elliott Abrams, who served in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, as #2. However, the White House vetoed Abrams because he was not a Trump supporter during the campaign.

And to make this into a true three-ring circus, the White House is divided. Reince Priebus wants to have a big say in appointments, mostly to make sure most of the appointees are experienced people whose primary loyalty is to the Republican Party. Trump's aides have other ideas. Then there are the secretaries. So some of the battles involve the secretary, Priebus, and the Trump aides.

As if this weren't enough, Trump has installed campaign officials in newly created "White House adviser" positions atop many of the departments. Few of them have any experience in the area the department works in, and most of them are in over their heads. None of this bodes well for a smoothly functioning administration down the road. (V)

Pay-for-Play Remains Alive and Well with Trump Administration

During the campaign, Republicans in general, and Donald Trump in particular, attacked Hillary Clinton mercilessly for selling access to herself and her staff while she was leading the State Dept. This would appear to be yet another of case of "do as I say, not as I do," because members of the Trump administration have embraced the practice with gusto. On Thursday, for example, a public records request resulted in the release of 7,500 pages of e-mails between newly-anointed EPA administrator Scott Pruitt and his good friends in oil and gas industry, produced while he was in his old job as Oklahoma Attorney General. Most egregiously, Pruitt took an anti-fracking regulation letter written by Devon Energy, had it retyped on Oklahoma letterhead, signed it, and sent it to the Secretary of the Interior. Observers are now wondering exactly how Pruitt will be able to protect the environment from the pocket of Big Energy.

Similarly, the largest individual donor to the GOP is Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. Today, at his request, Adelson will be granted a one-on-one meeting with Vice President Mike Pence. This, of course, is a privilege that is not generally available to those of us who have not donated $80 million to the GOP in the last year. It's more evidence that Team Trump seems to have rather novel understanding of what it means to "drain the swamp." (Z)

Trump Overturns Protections for Transgender Students

Late in Barack Obama's term, his administration issued a directive to schools that they were to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms that they felt most comfortable using. Jeff Sessions, the new attorney general, was not a fan of this rule. Betsy DeVos, who is hardly a social justice warrior, favored retention of the new rule. The two secretaries could not come to an agreement, so they went to the White House to settle the matter. President Trump (or, maybe, shadow President Bannon) sided with Sessions. So, just like that, the protections are gone.

Inasmuch as there has not yet been a single instance of transgender bathroom rules leading to trouble, this was a solution in search of a problem, and—quite obviously—a purely political move. Trump's base, particularly the social conservatives, was thrilled by the news. LGBTQ rights, civil rights, and human rights activists were not, but they're not part of the base, so no skin off Trump's nose. It should be noted that schools will still be allowed to protect transgender students if they choose to do so, so those trans students who are enrolled in schools in San Francisco, or Los Angeles, or Philadelphia, or New York City can likely rest easy. Trans students in most of the South or the Midwest, not so much, at least in the short term. In March, however, the Supreme Court will consider a case about this very issue. Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Anthony Kennedy have all been supportive of LGBTQ rights, in general, so Sessions and Trump could find themselves reversed in just a few months. (Z)

CPAC Opens with an Identity Crisis

The CPAC conference, which opens today, is the premiere showcase for conservatives to talk, listen, and plot strategy. It is used to splits between Main Street conservatives and Wall Street conservatives, between neocons and isolationists, and between libertarians and religious conservatives. But this year, a new divide has shown up and is threatening the very identity of CPAC: principled conservatives vs. power-hungry conservatives. Many conservatives have key principles that they regard as the core of their very identity, such as support for free markets and free trade, reforming Social Security and Medicare, embracing small government, and freedom of speech and religion. They are suddenly finding themselves in conflict with many Trump supporters and Trump administration staffers who hold rather different ideas on these topics. These conflicts are going to play out at the conference, in which grassroots supporters, both pro- and anti-Trump, battle for dominance. One casualty already was the invitation-turned-disinvitation of white nationalist and anti-Semite Milo Yiannopolous, but the divisions aren't far beneath the surface. It could be a contentious conference. (V)

Trump Continues to Sink in Polls

A new Quinnipiac University poll released yesterday shows Donald Trump with a 38% approval rating and a 55% disapproval rating. He is now 17 points under water, his lowest since entering the oval office. The assistant director of the poll, Tim Malloy, said Trump "is sinking like a rock." Malloy added that he gets slammed on honesty, empathy, levelheadedness, and the ability to unite the country. Even his strong points, leadership and intelligence are sinking to new lows. Quinnipiac also found that 52% of voters trust the media more than they trust Trump, while a mere 37% trust Trump more. While Trump is not up for re-election until Nov. 2020, historically, the president's party loses seats in Congress in the midterms, and the less popular the president is, the worse his party does.

In contrast to Trump, Vice President Mike Pence is above water—barely—with 41% approving and 40% disapproving. (V)

Kellyanne Conway Benched

Kellyanne Conway was ubiquitous on the talking head shows for the first few weeks of the Trump administration. During that time, she embarrassed her boss many times, with her unethical sales pitch for Ivanka Trump products, her talk of the "Bowling Green massacre" that never happened, and her insistence that Mike Flynn had the President's "full confidence" just hours before Flynn was cashiered. There is also suspicion within the White House that she's been leaking dirt about White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer in an effort to improve her standing at his expense. Ultimately, high-ranking members of the administration decided she was "off message" and doing more harm than good, so she has been ordered to take a television-free "cooling off" period. She did not appear on anyone's airwaves for a week after that disastrous Flynn interview, and has since been limited to very Trump-friendly shows like Sean Hannity's.

The real question, at this point, is whether or not she will make a return to her previous level of prominence. Generally, those who are sidelined by Team Trump remain sidelined (see Christie, Chris; Lewandowski, Corey). Meanwhile, some hosts are so disenchanted with Conway that they have no further interest in booking her. For example, Joe Scarborough of "Morning Joe" said, "She goes out and lies, and you find out about those lies a couple hours later," while his co-host Mika Brzezinski concurred that, "[I]t's not worth the interview." The increased visibility of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who could supplant Conway as Trump's point person for women voters, is also not a good sign for Kellyanne. In short, the guess here is that she's on her way out the door. (Z)

Perez and Ellison Agree Not to Interfere in Primaries

Yesterday the two leading candidates to run the DNC, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and former labor secretary Tom Perez, agreed not to have the DNC interfere in primaries in favor of one candidate or another. This agreement is a victory for Ellison and for the supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). It is especially relevant for the 2018 Senate elections. Since senators represent entire states, which means they need votes in cities and on farms, the Democratic establishment typically recruits and supports somewhat centrist candidates who can win statewide. Often they are challenged by progressive candidates on the left. If the agreement holds, the DNC will not interfere and let the chips fall where they may.

On paper, this works fine, but in practice, after a bitter, divisive, ideological primary, the party often doesn't heal and supporters of the losing candidate are then faced with a choice of a Democrat they don't like (and may have worked very hard to defeat) and a Republican they like even less. Some voters don't like voting for the "lesser of two evils" and stay home or vote for a third-party candidate, which ultimately helps the Republicans. On Tuesday we (again) had an item about how Hillary Clinton lost because Democratic turnout was way down compared to 2012 after a bitter and divisive primary. During the general election campaign, Sanders worked his heart out for the party and for Clinton, but that wasn't enough to heal the open wounds. The Democrats now have to hope there won't be too many bitter primaries in 2018 that reduce their already small chances of retaking the Senate. (V)

Democrats' Hopes to Retake the House Lie in Suburbia

Gallons and gallons of ink and billions of pixels have been devoted to the Democrats' problems in the Rust Belt, but for control of the House, that actually may not be so important. The Democrats' future may lie in suburbia. Look at Orange County, CA, formerly one of the most reliable Republican counties in the country, having voted for the Republican in every presidential election from 1936 to 2012. In 2016, it changed its collective mind and went for Hillary Clinton by 9 points.

It's not just Orange County. The most vulnerable House Republicans all over the country tend to be in well-educated suburban districts with above-average Latino populations and no rusted-out steel mills. A recent Pew poll shows that among college-educated voters, Donald Trump has a 38% approval rating and a 61% disapproval rating. Trump did better than that with these voters on Election Day, but that may have been due to his tremendous emphasis on Hillary Clinton's many flaws. That worked in 2016, but focusing on her flaws is not a formula for hanging onto the House going forward.

The Nate Cohn article linked to above concludes with a note that just as white working-class voters in the Rust Belt were ignored in 2016 until they roared loudly on Nov. 8, well-educated suburban voters in well-off districts like those in Orange County may be ready to respond in the same way in 2018. (V)

Travel Ban Hurting the Tourist Industry

Donald Trump has promised to drive the U.S. economy to new and higher levels. If he does so, one sector that apparently won't be along for the ride is tourism. Predictably, Trump's travel ban has resulted in a precipitous decline in the number of searches for airplane flights to the United States (which is usually a good predictor of summer tourist traffic). According to a study by, the number of flight searches dropped from 61.5 million/week during Barack Obama's final days in office, to 56 million/week during Trump's first days in office, to 50.9 million/week after the travel ban was ordered. This will, of course, weigh most heavily on states that rely on tourist revenue (Florida, California, Texas, Hawaii, New York composing the top five). That's three blue, one red, and one swing state, for those who are counting.

The study looked at a total of 122 countries, and found that the number of searches fell in 94 of them, including China, Japan, nearly all the European countries, and all of the majority-Muslim countries. There is one nation that witnessed a 90% increase in the number of flight searches, however. That nation was...Russia. Exactly what that means is anyone's guess, though the Russians are probably correct in guessing that there won't be a travel ban on them anytime soon. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb22 Trump Lays Out Plans for Mass Deportations
Feb22 Trump Denounces Anti-Semitism, Sort Of
Feb22 Trump and McMaster Don't See Eye to Eye on Key Issues
Feb22 McMaster Will Require Senate Confirmation
Feb22 Trump's Streak of Falsehoods Has Lasted 33 Days
Feb22 Town Halls Becoming a Real Hornet's Nest
Feb22 Yiannopoulos Resigns from Breitbart News
Feb22 Protest Trump by Withholding Taxes?
Feb21 Trump Picks Lt. Gen. McMaster as the new National Security Adviser
Feb21 New Travel Ban is Coming
Feb21 Milo Yiannopoulos Disinvited from CPAC Conference
Feb21 More on the Election Results
Feb21 Republicans Lose Some Top-Tier Senate Candidates
Feb21 Kansas State Legislature Rolls Back Income Tax Cuts
Feb21 Britons Don't Want Trump
Feb21 Trump Golfs, Tries to Hide It
Feb20 Trump Administration Plans to Speed Deportations
Feb20 Another Day, Another Non-Existent Terrorist Attack
Feb20 Trump Searching for New National Security Advisor
Feb20 Trump about to Discover that Dealing with China Isn't So Easy
Feb20 Could Trump Jail Reporters Who Publish Leaks?
Feb20 Why Should America Trust You?
Feb20 Impeach President Bannon Signs Appear around the Country
Feb19 Trump Continues to Ignore the Grown-Ups in His Cabinet
Feb19 Priebus Is All In on Trump
Feb19 Keep an Eye on Mike Pence
Feb19 Trump Retreats from Governing, Goes Back to Campaigning
Feb19 Trump Travel Costs Skyrocketing
Feb19 Trump's Pick for Navy Secretary Reportedly About to Withdraw
Feb19 Milo Yiannopoulos Will Be Keynote Speaker at CPAC Conference
Feb18 Senate Confirms Pruitt
Feb18 Business and Politics Keep Colliding
Feb18 Ryan's Tax Plan Is Running into Trouble
Feb18 Veteran John McCain is Back at War--with Donald Trump
Feb18 Russian Headache Getting Worse for Trump
Feb18 Could Mark Sanford Tell Trump to Take a Hike?
Feb18 Score Settling Continues as Trump Administration Staffs Up
Feb17 Trump Holds a Chaotic News Conference
Feb17 Harward Says, No Thanks
Feb17 Trump Names Alexander Acosta to be Secretary of Labor
Feb17 Mike Dubke Chosen as Communications Director
Feb17 Publications Are Offering Ways to Provide Tips Anonymously
Feb17 Chaffetz Gets to Work
Feb17 Current Wall is Full of Holes
Feb16 Puzder Withdraws Nomination
Feb16 Trump Picks Harward for NSA
Feb16 Who Told Flynn to Talk to the Russians?
Feb16 What Is Pence's Role Now and Going Forward?
Feb16 Trump Says Palestinian State Not Needed
Feb16 Trump Rambles in Press Conference