Clinton 232
image description
Trump 306
image description
Click for Senate
Dem 48
image description
GOP 52
image description
  • Strongly Dem (182)
  • Likely Dem (18)
  • Barely Dem (32)
  • Exactly tied (0)
  • Barely GOP (91)
  • Likely GOP (45)
  • Strongly GOP (170)
270 Electoral votes needed to win This date in 2012 2008
New polls: (None)
Dem pickups vs. 2012: (None)
GOP pickups vs. 2012: FL IA MI OH PA WI
TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  "Alternative Facts" Are the New Normal
      •  Trump Aides Find First Weekend Worrisome
      •  Trump Temporarily Silences Park Service
      •  Trump Invites Netanyahu to the White House
      •  Donald Trump, Defendant-in-Chief
      •  Conway: No Tax Returns, Ever
      •  Zuckerberg 2020?
      •  Women's Marches in Pictures

"Alternative Facts" Are the New Normal

On his first day as White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer told easily disproved falsehoods about the size of the inaugural crowd. When NBC's Chuck Todd confronted Kellyanne Conway about this on "Meet the Press," she said: "You're saying it's a falsehood, and they're giving—our press secretary, Sean Spicer, gave alternative facts to that." At that point, Todd pointed out that there are no "alternative facts," saying "Alternative facts are not facts; they're falsehoods." Aaron Blake of the Washington Post discusses this exchange and a memo circulating on social media that purports to come from someone who worked in a previous administration and makes three points:

  • The new normal is lying to the press and not giving them a chance to ask questions
  • Trump's goal is to solidify his base, which believes everything he says, the rest be damned
  • The goal of proposing "alternative facts" is to confuse people and make them think there is no such thing as truth

If we come to a situation in which large swaths of the country no longer believe there are actual facts and that everyone is entitled to have their own facts, a discussion of news, events, and reality itself becomes impossible. This appears to be what the administration wants. We are not quite at George Orwell's "War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength," but Spicer has held only one briefing so far.

This would have been unthinkable with any previous administration. When Condi Rice and Dick Cheney said that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, they were saying this was the one and only truth, not one of a whole set of possible truths, each of them equally valid. What they said wasn't true, but they were not negating the concept of truth itself, as Spicer and Conway appear to be doing. It is hard see what is at the end of this road, but it is already clear that if Trump or some member of his administration is caught with his hand in the cookie jar, Spicer is just going to come up with "alternative facts," which Fox News will present as the real facts (as opposed to the not-real facts).

It is likely that Spicer's "alternative facts" are going to change the way journalists operate in the next four years. In the past, they attended White House briefings and reported what was said there as news. That may no longer be the case. Instead, journalists may have to spend a lot more time digging for the actual facts, which involves a lot of investigative reporting. It's not as easy as sitting down at a press conference and just taking notes, but Spicer's behavior makes this change all but inevitable. (V)

Trump Aides Find First Weekend Worrisome

As FDR demonstrated, there is no more fruitful time for a president to get things done than during his first 100 days in office. Enthusiasm and momentum are high, weariness on the part of the staff is low, and the public is expecting action. This being the case, key members of Donald Trump's have expressed off-the-record frustration that he is squandering this opportunity by allowing himself to become distracted. They are particularly irked by his attempt to rewrite his personal history with the CIA, and by his obsession with the size of the crowd at his inauguration.

It is not a good sign for the administration that we're less than a week in, and there are already high-level leaks. Certainly, some members of Team Trump—Sean Spicer, Kellyanne Conway—are on board with his approach, but clearly some of them are not. Advisers, consistent with their job title, expect to advise and to be listened to, at least sometimes. If they perceive that they're just wasting their time, frustration will set in, and either the leaks will grow more frequent, or there will be resignations. The same dynamic could well play out with Trump's cabinet officers; most of them are the type of people who did not sign up to be glorified office boys. Thus far, Trump has shown no inclination to adjust his approach or his personal style, but he's also had no particular motivation to do so. Now that he's in the big chair, that has changed. The big question is: Will he change, as well? (Z)

Trump Temporarily Silences Park Service

Donald Trump is allowed to say whatever he wants on Twitter. His new employees, not so much. On Friday, whoever is running the National Park Service's Twitter account ran afoul of The Donald's latest bugaboo by tweeting the pictures that compare the size of Trump's inauguration to the size of Barack Obama's. The NPS was compelled to temporarily suspend their tweeting, and ultimately to publicly apologize to Trump.

In case we did not already know this, the incident makes clear that with President Trump, no target is too small, no snub is too inconsequential. On the other hand, we are also reminded that the U.S. government is a massive bureaucracy, with many employees who do not care for Trump, who have many, many ways to push back against the White House. In general, civil service employees at or below the pay level of GS-15 cannot be fired on a presidential whim, while those above can be. Nevertheless, GS-15 civil servants, all of whom make more than $100,000, are senior employees who know a lot about how the government works and have access to information (e. g., unemployment numbers), before their political-appointee bosses do. Leaks from this level are likely to become common. This is all likely to be a source of endless frustration for Trump. (Z)

Trump Invites Netanyahu to the White House

Yesterday, Donald Trump called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and invited him to come visit in early February. No doubt the politics of the Middle East will come up in their discussions, but so will the subject of the U.S. moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Such a move would infuriate the entire Arab world as no other move could, and would probably make peace in the region impossible for years, if not decades. Trump may or may not understand this, but Netanyahu certainly does. Unfortunately, Netanyahu, like so many politicians, is more concerned about how such a move might affect his political future than minor matters like war and peace. (V)

Donald Trump, Defendant-in-Chief

The Republicans have almost total control over two branches of the federal government. The exception is the judiciary, which is supposed to be above politics (hah!), and is also populated by a large number of Democratic appointees. This being the case, the courts (and other justice-administering entities) are really the only place that opponents of Donald Trump can fight back against him and succeed (in Congress, Democrats can fight back, but largely they can only delay the inevitable).

As we have noted, a slander suit was filed against The Donald early last week, while Friday saw him targeted for his very first ethics complaint. On Monday, he will be sued again, this time in his capacity as President of the United States (the other suit is against him as a private citizen). An all-star team of legal scholars, Supreme Court litigators, and former White House ethics lawyers will file documents on Monday arguing that any payment Trump's businesses receive from foreign governments after January 20 is a violation of the Constitution's emoluments clause, which forbids government officials from receiving titles, gifts, or fees from foreign governments.

This is a thorny legal issue, and the plaintiffs certainly have a case. So too does the defendant (Trump), who will argue that market-rate payments are legal, and that the Constitution only prohibits anything in excess of market rate, since the excess would be a gift (and potentially a bribe). It could get even trickier if, as is likely, the case gets to the Supreme Court. A Trump-appointed justice might have to recuse himself from the case, which could lead to no-decision and the appellate court ruling thus binding. Congress could theoretically resolve the issue by granting a Trump a waiver (which the emoluments clause specifically allows), but the members may be sensitive to appearances, as it may look like they are effectively sanctioning bribes. Actually, they might actually be sanctioning bribes in that case, regardless of whether or not that is their intention.

The upshot is that we're going to hear a lot more about this, because the issue is not going be resolved easily. We're also going to see a lot more lawsuits, given the blue team's limited options, as well as the enormous number of opportunities that Trump presents. He may well spend as much time giving depositions as he does holding rallies. (Z)

Conway: No Tax Returns, Ever

Making the rounds of the Sunday morning news shows, Kellyanne Conway was interviewed on "This Week," and was asked about Donald Trump's tax returns. During the campaign, of course, he promised to release the returns once his audit is complete. More recently, however, he has said that there would be no release, and that nobody cares. Conway reiterated this position on Sunday, declaring that, "We litigated this all through the election. People didn't care."

This declaration would seem to be an example of those "alternative facts" that Conway talked about earlier in the day. For those of us who prefer non-alternative facts, it is evident that people do care. To start, there's the fact that every presidential candidate since 1972 has released their returns; presumably they had a reason for doing so. The fact that the issue came up, again and again, during and after the campaign, would also seem to be evidence that people care. So too is all the polling on the issue, such as last week's CNN poll, in which 73% of all registered voters, including 49% of Republicans, said they wanted Trump to release his taxes. The White House petition asking Trump to release his taxes, which now has nearly a quarter of a million signatures, also suggests that people care.

We've already seen enough of his returns to know the dirty secrets that lie within: He's not as rich as he says he is, he pays very little in taxes, and he gives almost nothing to charity. So, he's not exactly keeping the public in the dark. The odds are also pretty good that he won't be able to keep the returns hidden forever. We still don't know who leaked the several pages of Trump's return that became public; that person—or some other leaker—could very well provide more at some point. Or, if and when Trump runs for re-election, it's likely that at least one state will pass a law requiring tax form disclosure in order to appear on the ballot. His best call might actually be to release the returns now, so that the story begins the process of receding in the rear view mirror. Of course, his best call would also be to stop talking about the size of his inaugural crowd, so it's not like we should have any expectation that he thinks in terms of normal political tactics. (Z)

Zuckerberg 2020?

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg couldn't run for president last year because he was only 32. In 2020, he will be 36. Problem solved. Facebook recently issued new non-shares that would allow him to donate or invest his holdings but still control the company. Most interesting is that the SEC filing specifically said that he would still control the company even if he were "serving in a government position or office." He probably doesn't have deputy secretary of agriculture in mind. Furthermore, he recently made a trip to Waco, TX, on the kind of "listening tour" that presidential candidates do early on. So, speculation about "Zuckerberg 2020" is already starting.

For lots of billionaires, the takeaway from 2016 is "If he can be president, so can I." Of course, dipping a toe in the political waters doesn't make anyone a full-fledged candidate, but at this point a Zuckerberg run can't be dismissed as absurd. Stranger things have happened—recently. Zuckerberg has never publicly stated which party he belongs to or how he voted in 2016. It is even possible that he could run as an independent, taking advantage of the people's disgust with both parties. Could a billionaire independent get any votes? Well, Ross Perot got 19% of the popular vote in 1992, and Zuckerberg has access to a vast trove of information about what people are thinking and what they care about that Perot didn't have.

But billionaires aren't the only ones gearing up for a 2020 run already. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) is also hard at work preparing a run. By testifying against Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) at Sessions' confirmation hearing, he endeared himself to progressives. By voting against importing prescription drugs, he made himself more acceptable to conservatives. Booker is much younger (47) than Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who is 75, or Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who is 67. He is more charismatic than Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and better known than former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley, who ran for president for a few minutes in 2016 (or so it seemed). At this rate, by 2019 the Democrats' field could exceed what the Republicans' field was in 2016. (V)

Women's Marches in Pictures

The human mind is not great at handling large numbers. For evolutionary reasons, we can distinguish small quantities accurately—say, the difference between five and seven—but we don't easily grasp the difference between, say, 10,000 and 125,000. So while we all know that Saturday's women's marches were very large, we don't really perceive how large from merely reading numbers on a paper (or a computer screen). For that reason, it is well worth looking at the stunning images captured on film yesterday; CNN has a good collection, as does the New York Times.

The efficacy of small protests—a few hundred people—is debatable, but when they are this large, they matter. What these pictures are, put succinctly, is permission. The John Lewises and Cory Bookers of the world can push back hard against the administration, and these images tell them they will be rewarded and not punished. Normally, a high-profile snub like skipping the inauguration would be a tough call to make, politically. So would an extended filibuster or weeks (or months? or years?) of a Supreme Court nominee. When the opposition is this substantial and this motivated, however, the call is much, much easier. So, as much as Donald Trump does not like the protests personally, what he should really be worrying about is how they complicate his life politically. (Z)

Email a link to a friend or share:

---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan22 Massive Protests All over the Country
Jan22 Does Trump Deserve This?
Jan22 The Left Will Rise Again?
Jan22 Five Takeaways from the Inauguration
Jan22 Trump Visits the CIA and Boasts about Himself
Jan22 Trump vs. the Media: It's War
Jan22 Justice Department Says Kushner Is Allowed to Advise Trump
Jan22 Can You Plagiarize a Cake?
Jan22 Now, When Trump Deletes Tweets, He May Be Breaking the Law
Jan21 Donald Trump is Inaugurated
Jan21 The Trump Administration Gets Underway
Jan21 Protests are Numerous, Mostly Peaceful
Jan21 First Ethics Complaint Filed Against Trump
Jan21 What Will Trumponomics Be Like?
Jan21 How to Know If America Has Been Made Great Again
Jan20 Trump Will Inherit a Deeply Polarized Country
Jan20 Trump Starts with Half an Administration
Jan20 Trump to Get the Nuclear Launch Codes Today
Jan20 What Kind of Man Is Trump?
Jan20 Trump Plans Drastic Budget Cuts
Jan20 Mnuchin Doesn't Toe the GOP Line During Confirmation Hearing
Jan20 Obamacare Is as Popular as it Has Ever Been
Jan20 Yellen: Economy Near Maximum Employment
Jan20 How Did this Happen? (Part I)
Jan20 How Did this Happen? (Part II)
Jan20 Trump's Victory: A View from the White House
Jan20 Strange Presidential Transitions
Jan20 Discount for Political Wire
Jan19 Trump Taps Perdue for Agriculture; Cabinet Is Now Complete
Jan19 Pruitt Faces Withering Fire; Admits Climate Change is Man-made
Jan19 Price Says Stock Purchases Were Legitimate
Jan19 More Questions Arise About DeVos
Jan19 Dozens of Democratic Representatives Now Boycotting Inauguration
Jan19 Five Areas Where Democrats Could Make a Deal with Trump
Jan19 Why Not Al?
Jan19 Canada Gets Its Own Trump
Jan18 At Least 18 Million Would Lose Health Insurance If the ACA is Repealed
Jan18 GOP Representatives Getting an Earful about Obamacare
Jan18 DeVos Has a Rough Day
Jan18 Trump Unready for a National Security Crisis
Jan18 New Poll: Trump's Approval is Deep Under Water
Jan18 Woman Sues Trump for Defamation
Jan18 Trump Doesn't Like Tweeting?
Jan18 Obama Commutes Chelsea Manning's Sentence
Jan18 Inaugural Concert Lands Sam Moore
Jan17 Trouble for Trump Appointees
Jan17 Trump Has Been Trying to Do Business in Russia for Decades
Jan17 Trump's Opinions on Russia Have Shifted
Jan17 Trump, Price, and Hatch Don't Agree on What the ACA Replacement Should Look Like
Jan17 White Supremacists No Longer Hailing Trump