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270 Electoral votes needed to win This date in 2012 2008
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GOP pickups vs. 2012: FL IA MI OH PA WI

Trump Names Communications Team

President-elect Donald Trump yesterday named his four-member communications team. The four people and their functions are:

  • Sean Spicer: Press secretary
  • Jason Miller: Director of Communications
  • Hope Hicks: Director of Strategic Communications
  • Dan Scavino: Director of Social Media

The functions are misleading. All four are formally "assistants to the president." They will all report to Chief-of-Staff Reince Priebus, meaning that none of them is the boss of the others. What they will actually do remains to be seen. Most likely Spicer will hold briefings for the media and Scavino will be the tweetmaster. Since Hicks is Director of Strategic Communications, presumably Miller will handle nonstrategic communications, whatever they may be. More than likely, all of their functions will evolve over time, though.

Another key appointment announced yesterday is Kellyanne Conway as counselor to the president. That title could mean anything, but most likely her job will be to try to prevent Trump from doing politically disastrous things. However, to really do the job well should would need to take possession of his Android phone and Trump is unlikely to give that up voluntarily. Speaking of phones, if Trump continues to use an unsecured device while in the White House, it could be hacked. Or at the very least, in 2020, his emails could become a major campaign issue. (V)

Trump Says He Is Still "Draining the Swamp"

One job Donald Trump's communications staff will have is to make sure everyone on Team Trump is on the same page, message-wise. Given The Donald's shoot-from-the-hip style, that may not be so easy. On Wednesday, for example, former Speaker Newt Gingrich declared that the President-elect was planning to abandon the phrase "Drain the swamp," because while "cute," it had outlived its usefulness. Then, on Thursday, Trump (without naming Gingrich) tweeted that, "Someone incorrectly stated that the phrase 'DRAIN THE SWAMP' was no longer being used by me. Actually, we will always be trying to DTS."

What happened here? It's unlikely that Gingrich went rogue, and on top of that, abandoning the phrase makes a great deal of sense, since it's taken on some rather significant ironic overtones. This leaves us with only one plausible explanation: Trump plans to phase out "drain the swamp," but that news was not for public consumption, which Gingrich probably should have known. Judging by job titles, it will likely be Hope Hicks' job to remind everyone which information is for public consumption, and which is to be kept on the down-low. (Z)

Trump Weighs In on U.N. Vote

The United Nations Security Council was scheduled to vote Thursday on a resolution condemning settlement activity in Israel's West Bank. Leading up to the vote, the Obama administration had not yet decided which way to vote. The Israelis, of course, oppose the measure and they also know what side their bread is buttered on these days. So, they called Donald Trump to enlist his support. He promptly complied, taking to Twitter to urge a veto of the measure. The Donald also called Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, whose nation currently holds one of the 10 temporary seats on the Security Council. Al-Sisi persuaded the Council to postpone the vote until next year.

Needless to say, this sort of meddling is unprecedented. There can only be one president at a time, and in deference to that fact, presidents-elect are generally very scrupulous about not stepping on their predecessors' toes prior to Inauguration Day. Not Trump, who has presumed to weigh in on domestic policy, begin negotiating contracts, deal with foreign leaders, and otherwise behave as if he is already president. Now, this is a short-term problem that will resolve itself in roughly four weeks. But Trump may be unwittingly laying the groundwork for a longer-term headache for himself, since the other part of the custom is that outgoing presidents keep their opinions to themselves after leaving office. A great many Democrats want Obama to take the lead in anti-Trump efforts over the next four years, and Trump's failure to observe protocol may give Obama cover to be far more outspoken than is normally the case. (Z)

Trump Wants More Nukes

Donald Trump had a busy day on Thursday, when it came to speaking out on difficult foreign policy issues that are fraught with peril. Not only did he wade into the middle of the Israel situation, he also took to Twitter to comment on America's nuclear stockpile:

The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.

It's often hard to understand the thought process behind Trump's proclamations. However, two things are worth noting. First, inasmuch as no country has used nuclear arms in 70 years, the world already seems to have come to its senses regarding nukes. Second, the United States already spends more on its nuclear arsenal than any other country in the world. That's a total of 6,970 warheads, which are—depending on whose estimate you believe—enough to destroy the world somewhere between 15 and 600 times. There's not a lot to be accomplished by building more; as one expert puts it, "At a certain point, you are just making the rubble bounce higher."

The question that is now being bounced around is, "Can a tweet start an arms race?" Trump's declaration may have been triggered by Vladimir Putin, who declared earlier in the day that he wants Russia to strengthen its nuclear arsenal (7,300 warheads) as well. However, he says such things on a near-weekly basis, so who knows if he means it? Or if Trump means it, given that he's already flip-flopped on nuclear policy several times? At very least, it's probably time to move the Doomsday Clock another minute or two closer to midnight. (Z)

Obama Orders Registry System Dismantled

While Donald Trump is clearly willing to step on Barack Obama's toes, Obama is also willing to step right back. On Thursday, he ordered the complete dismantling of the system that was created after the 9/11 attacks to track foreign visitors from hostile countries. Inasmuch as all but one of the countries subjected to the registry are majority Muslim, it de facto became a list of young, foreign-born Muslim males in the United States.

The system has been defunct for roughly 10 years, and never led to the identification of a single actual terrorist. However, there has been noise about President-elect Trump reviving the database as a means of fulfilling his promise to create a Muslim registry. Obama's actions make that slightly more difficult, while also sending a crystal-clear message as to where each of the two political parties stand on this issue. (Z)

Heitkamp Likely to Remain in Senate

Heidi Heitkamp said yesterday that she is likely to remain in the Senate, despite rumors that Donald Trump would name her secretary of agriculture. Putting her in that position would have so many advantages for Trump. First, she adds a woman to a cabinet with few of them. Second, she adds a Democrat to a cabinet with none of them. Third, her Senate replacement would virtually certainly be a Republican. Fourth, she is from a state with many farms and is reasonably knowledgeable about agriculture.

However, even if she remains in the Senate, she will face a tough reelection fight in 2018, most likely from North Dakota's sole House member, Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND). Nevertheless, she is the Democrats' only hope of holding the seat, so if she is not selected for an administration position, the Democrats have at least a fighting chance to hold North Dakota. (V)

Governors' Races Are Key to the Democrats' Future

While attention is already being focused on the 2018 Senate races, 38 states are holding elections for governor in the next two years, all but two of those in 2018. The key to the Democrats' future may lie in seven of those races. These are large states where a Democratic governor could veto partisan Republican gerrymandering of the House in 2020 or, in one case, could accomplish Democratic gerrymandering (Illinois). The states with the most important gubernatorial races coming are are Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin. If the Democrats were to win them all, they could easily increase the number of seats they have in the House by 10 or more. Here are the current congressional districts, largely heavily gerrymandered:

Governors races

It is a bit early to see who is going to be running in them, but here is a quick rundown:

  • Florida. Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) is term limited and there will be huge battles in both parties' primaries. After the 2010 election, Republicans controlled 19 out of the 25 congressional districts in this swing state that went for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. Court decisions have changed the map somewhat, but Republicans still control the state legislature. The list of potential candidates is tentative but very long for both parties.

  • Illinois. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R-IL) is not term limited and will likely run again and fund his own campaign again. However, Democrat J.B. Pritzker is a billionaire who could match him dollar for dollar and then some. Other candidates include Bobby Kennedy's son Chris Kennedy and some others.

  • Michigan. Gov. Rick Snyder (R-MI) is term limited, giving the Democrats a shot at this normally blue state that Donald Trump won by 0.2%. Even if Michigan loses a House seat in 2020, as expected, Democrats could pick up several seats if they can stop a Republican gerrymander.

  • Ohio. Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) is term limited and every Republican office holder in the state is going to try to replace him. Democrats don't have any obvious candidates in statewide office. Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley might run or possibly former attorney general Richard Cordray.

  • Pennsylvania. Gov. Tom Wolf (D-PA) will probably run for reelection, giving the Democrats an advantage in this large state. If Wolf can get reelected, the heavily gerrymandered map would change radically in 2020, giving the Democrats several more seats.

  • Virginia. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-VA) is term limited. Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D-VA) is running, but he won't be alone. The Republicans are likely to have half a dozen or more candidates in the mix. The election is in Nov. 2017.

  • Wisconsin. Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) is not term limited and might try for a third consecutive term. Knocking off a sitting governor is never easy and the Democrats don't have any obvious prospects. Several state senators might try for it, but none of them are as well known as Walker.

Nov. 2018 is a long way away and the national climate could have a big influence. If the country is doing well and people are happy, the Republicans are likely to do well. If the country is in the toilet, it will be a tougher climb for the Republicans to hold these blue to swing states. (V)

Mustache Cost Bolton the Secretary of State Job

Donald Trump is a TV star and strongly believes people should look the part they are playing. Apparently, John Bolton does not look like a secretary of state due to his mustache, so he didn't get the job. After all, how could a person with a mustache represent America to the world? Except for maybe these secretaries of state (listed with the presidents they served):

secretaries of state

Recent secretaries of state, including Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton, and John Kerry, did not have mustaches, though. (V)

Carter Only Former President to RSVP for Trump Inauguration

It is customary to invite all former presidents (well, the living ones) to presidential inaugurations. It is also fairly customary for them to accept the invitation, regardless of partisan affiliation, unless their health does not allow extended travel. Barack Obama, for example, had a full set of living ex-presidents for his first inaugural. This year is not business-as-usual, however, and at the moment only Jimmy Carter has committed to attending Donald Trump's inaugural.

While there is still time for the other presidents to send in their RSVPs, it's unclear whether any of them will do so. The 92-year-old George H.W. Bush is already out for health reasons, while the younger Bush has held Trump at arm's length following The Donald's unrelenting attacks on Jeb Bush. For Bill Clinton, the decision is even trickier. If he comes, Hillary would presumably have to join him. All cameras would be on her, looking to capture her reaction to every word in Trump's inaugural address. That would be unpleasant for her, and would probably make Trump none too happy, either. On the other hand, if the Clintons opt out, it will look like sour grapes. "It would be petty, they have to suck it up," says one Democratic insider. "[Hillary] has to go as a former first lady. She will sit prominently."

The ex-presidents are not the only source of inauguration attendance related drama; as with the Republican National Convention, Trump is having difficulty attracting entertainers willing to perform at the event. A veritable galaxy of stars has already turned The Donald down, including Elton John, Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, Kiss, Celine Dion, Kanye West, and Andrea Bocelli (who was considering the invitation until negative feedback from fans caused him to decline). Thus far, the only acts confirmed are America's Got Talent contestant Jackie Evancho, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and the Radio City Rockettes. Evancho is only 16 years old, but the Rockettes are 91, and the Choir has been around for 169 years. Given how this seems to be skewing, maybe they should see if Beethoven is available. (Z)

Ivanka Trump Flies Cattle Class on Low-Cost Airline

Ivanka Trump flew from JFK to San Francisco yesterday, and an irate passenger began screaming at her: "Your father is ruining the country." She took it calmly and the airline, JetBlue, removed the offensive passenger.

What is noteworthy here is not so much that a passenger was unruly (happens all the time) or that Trump was graceful when attacked, but that she was flying cattle class on a low-cost commercial flight. Round-trip flights JFK-SFO on JetBlue start around $725, depending on the exact days, whereas Delta's flights start around $1,025. Ivanka's father owns a 757 that is quite capable of flying nonstop from JFK to SFO, and doesn't subject the passengers to annoying comments from strangers. Even if the 757 was in use yesterday, all airlines have relatively comfortable first class sections, but Ivanka chose not to use that class of service for some reason. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec22 More Evidence that Trump Won in the Final Week
Dec22 Trump Not Draining the Swamp Any More
Dec22 Obamacare Enrollments Reach Record High
Dec22 Trump Team Considering Tariff via Executive Order
Dec22 Trump Reveals Jobs Plan
Dec22 Republicans Will Target Red-state Democrats before Confirmation Hearings
Dec22 Corey Lewandowski Starts a Lobbying Firm
Dec22 Poll Shows Democrats Don't Want Clinton to Run Again
Dec22 Ellison Faces More Problems
Dec22 Trump Sons Removed from Nonprofit
Dec22 HB2 Lives On
Dec21 DeVos Has Contributed to 17 Senators Who Will Vote on Her Confirmation
Dec21 Democrats Want Tillerson's Tax Returns
Dec21 Drama Surrounds Trump's Last Few High-Profile Appointments
Dec21 Trump Probably Can't Sell D.C. Hotel Without Losing Money
Dec21 Ross Will Make Trade Policy
Dec21 Republicans' First Defeat Could Be Defunding Planned Parenthood
Dec21 Clinton Beat Trump By 2.864 Million Popular Votes
Dec21 Trump Sons Disclaim Involvement With Fundraiser
Dec21 O'Reilly Shows His True Color
Dec20 Trump Wins the Electoral College
Dec20 North Carolina's HB-2 Bites the Dust
Dec20 Vinnie Viola to be Secretary of the Army
Dec20 More Data on Why Clinton Lost
Dec20 Bill Clinton: Comey and the Russians Did Hillary In
Dec20 An Early Look at the 2020 Democratic Field
Dec20 Why Michelle Obama Won't Run for Office
Dec20 Why Republicans Suddenly Love Putin
Dec20 Are Trump's Sons Already on the Take?
Dec19 It's Election Day Today
Dec19 Trump to China: Keep the Drone
Dec19 Congress Could Demand Sanctions against Russia but Trump Could Refuse
Dec19 Conway Denies that Trump Had Contact with Russia
Dec19 Brazile Contradicts Obama, Says Russia Kept Hacking Until the Very End
Dec19 Fact-Check Trump's Tweets in Real Time
Dec19 Nate Silver: If Comey Had Kept Quiet, Clinton Would Have Won
Dec19 Comedian Says He Has Unreleased Apprentice Footage
Dec19 Trump Taps Mick Mulvaney for Budget Director
Dec19 Ghosts of Administrations Past Coalescing Behind Tillerson
Dec19 Trump May Not Take Action Against Russian Hackers
Dec19 Trump Reveals Some Details of His Plan for His Businesses
Dec19 Trump Grill Gets Fried
Dec19 North Carolina GOP Smacks New Governor
Dec19 Montana House Seat in Temporary Limbo
Dec18 Trump Taps Mick Mulvaney for Budget Director
Dec18 Ghosts of Administrations Past Coalescing Behind Tillerson
Dec18 Trump May Not Take Action Against Russian Hackers
Dec18 Trump Reveals Some Details of His Plan for His Businesses
Dec18 Trump Grill Gets Fried
Dec18 North Carolina GOP Smacks New Governor