• Trump's Inexperience Is Going to Cause Him Trouble Settling Disputes
• There Will Also Be Battles in Several States
• Graham: 99% of Senators Believe Russians Interfered
• More States Consider Circumventing Electoral College
• Trump Fires Back on Foundation
• The Four Most Undersold Stories of the Year
• Kim Jong-un Sensing Opportunity
One of president-elect Donald Trump's selling points during the campaign, especially the primary campaign, was that he was self-funding so no donors owned him. But in the end, that's not what happened at all. A full 38% of the people he has already selected for high-level posts donated money—lots of money—to his campaign. The extent to which he is stocking the top of his administration with big donors is completely out of the ordinary. Normally big donors get cushy jobs as ambassadors to pleasant European countries, not cabinet positions. It is also noteworthy that Trump repeatedly attacked Hillary Clinton for giving donors to the Clinton Foundation access to her (although in many cases they would have gotten access by just asking) and yet he is rewarding his donors with not only access, but powerful positions in government. Here is a list of some donors who got a good return on their investment.
- Todd Ricketts (deputy secretary of commerce): The
Ricketts family, which founded TD Ameritrade and owns the Chicago Cubs, gave $16
million to Republican candidates this year. Ricketts personally donated $64,000.
In previous cycles the Ricketts family donated $26 million to Republicans.
- Linda McMahon (head of the Small Business
Administration): The wrestling magnate who twice ran for the Senate and
was crushed both times found a different path to power this year. She gave $6
million to a pro-Trump superPAC. She and her husband are also the largest donors
to Trump's personal foundation.
- Andrew Puzder (secretary of labor): The CEO of
the parent company of Carl's Jr. and Hardee's fast food chains gave $160,000
to a Trump superPAC and $600,000 to other Republicans this year. The secretary
of labor is supposed to defend the interests of working people. Puzder is about
as strongly opposed to working people as one can get.
- Steven Mnuchin (secretary of the treasury):
Mnuchin personally gave $425,000 to Trump's campaign, and as finance chairman
he raised almost all the money Trump got. So he clearly understands money, hence the
job at treasury.
- Rebekah Mercer: Mercer didn't actually get (or
want) a job, but her very close friend Steve Bannon got the job of chief
strategist in the Trump administration. Did the $22 million (of her father's
money) she gave to help Republicans help land him the job? Probably. Then there was the $2
million her father gave to Trump's superPAC.
- Peter Thiel: Thiel gave $3.3 million to Republican candidates this cycle. That got him a spot on the transition team, where he is helping to select other appointees. As a billionaire venture capitalist, he is probably not interested in a lowly cabinet job, but helping select the officers is enough reward.
Many of the appointees are completely unqualified for their jobs other than their role as big donors. It is a development without precedent. (V)
What Donald Trump doesn't yet know, but will soon discover, is not only that many policy questions are difficult, with downsides to every possible decision, but that his cabinet will often be divided and he will be expected to solve the problem. None of his cabinet secretaries have any allegiance to the departments they will run, so there will be no institutional battles—for example, education wanting to create more charter schools and treasury not willing to pay for them. Instead, the problem will be that just about every cabinet officer is a millionaire or billionaire and used to having his or her way. So the battles will be one high-powered secretary wanting something that conflicts with what another high-powered secretary wants, with Trump having to make constant decisions and saying "no" to someone for whom "no" is a dirty word not to be used in that person's presence.
As an example that is likely to come up quickly, Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson has close ties with Russia and wants the sanctions imposed after the invasion of the Crimea taken down so Exxon can drill for oil in Russia. Secretary of Defense-designate James "Mad Dog" Mattis is an expert on world history, has firm views on maintaining global stability, and is little interested in Russian expansionism. Tillerson and Mattis will undoubtedly come into conflict quickly if both are confirmed, and Trump will have to make a difficult decision that pits one secretary against another.
To take another example, Mattis is very hawkish on Iran. He doesn't trust the Iranians at all. Tillerson will surely smell oil there and have a very different view. Is Trump going to tell a four-star general that he is wrong? Mattis is not likely to take that lightly. Then there is the matter of Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, also an Iran hawk. Is Trump going to have the cabinet vote and then tell Tillerson "It's two against one so you lose?" Presidents are constantly given conflicting advice by cabinet members, generals, political advisers, and more. Usually they try to make up some general policy and stick to it consistently, but that is not Trump's style at all. (V)
When Gov. Pat McCrory (R-NC) finally conceded defeat in the North Carolina gubernatorial race, the North Carolina state legislature almost immediately passed two bills stripping the incoming Democratic governor of much of his power. He will now spend at least 2 years in office facing a legislature with enough Republicans to pass bills and then override his vetoes of them. There are also other states in which the governor faces a hostile legislature that has the power to pass bills and then override his vetoes of them. To see how that works out, the best example is Missouri, where outgoing Gov. Jay Nixon (D-MO) faced a legislature in which Republicans had more than two-thirds of the seats in each chamber. There, the legislature overrode 96 of his vetoes. Some were minor, like exempting yoga classes from sales tax, but others were major, like voter ID laws. His strategy was to try to pick off individual legislators to prevent overrides. In 283 cases, he succeeded.
Two states where the opposite situation arises are Massachusetts and Maryland, both of which have Republican governors and huge Democratic majorities in the state legislature. This has often worked out to the governors' advantage. In particular, when the legislature passes a bill to spend some money on a popular project and the governor vetoes it but the veto is overridden, the governor can say "I tried to stop it" but he also gets credit for the popular project. One state where the legislature could override vetoes but doesn't is Louisiana. The tradition there is not to override vetoes, even when the votes are there. So When Gov. John Bel Edwards (D-LA) vetoes a bill, it generally stays vetoed, despite large Republican majorities in the state legislature. (V)
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) sat for an interview with CNN on Tuesday, and opined that nearly all of his Senate colleagues believe that there was Russian involvement in this year's presidential election:
There are 100 United States senators. ... I would say that 99 percent of us believe that the Russians did this, and we're going to do something about it. It's just not in our backyard. [Russia's] doing it all over the world, not just the United States. They're interfering in elections in democratic countries' efforts to self-determination all over the world.
This point of view puts the Senate at odds with Donald Trump, who insists that the Russians had nothing to do with the election. The problem for him, if Graham is correct in his assessment, is that the Senate has the means to look into the matter, with or without the president's consent. So, it looks like this is not going away on January 20. (Z)
This year's election results, with one candidate winning the popular vote comfortably, and the other winning the presidency, have shone an uncomfortable light on the Electoral College. While it is unlikely that a constitutional amendment is forthcoming, the National Popular Vote Compact is potentially a viable workaround. As we have noted several times, it calls for states to pledge their electoral votes to whoever wins the national popular vote. If 270 states' worth of electoral votes sign up, then bam!—the Electoral College is circumvented. Thus far, 11 states with 165 electoral votes have committed.
For those who favor the plan, the last few weeks have brought some good news, albeit with a significant caveat. The good news is that legislators in Connecticut (7 EVs), Pennsylvania (20), Ohio (18) and New Mexico (5) have promised to bring the measure up for consideration in 2017. If all four were to join the compact, their 50 electoral votes would bring us to 215 that are committed. The caveat is that Ohio is the swingiest of swing states, and Pennsylvania isn't too far behind. Turning their back on the Electoral College would be ceding power to other states, which seems improbable. So, don't add those 50 electoral votes to the total quite yet. (Z)
President-elect Donald Trump agreed to shutter his family foundation last week, the first (only?) step in reducing his conflicts of interest. Apparently, he is not happy with coverage of the story, because he took to Twitter to slam the media on Tuesday in a series of tweets:
I gave millions of dollars to DJT Foundation, raised or received millions more, ALL of which is given to charity, and media won't report! The DJT Foundation, unlike most foundations, never paid fees, rent, salaries or any expenses. 100% of money goes to wonderful charities!
Trump might have a point here, but for two things. The first is that when the shoe was on the other foot, he was mercilessly critical of the Clinton Foundation, with no acknowledgement of the good work that organization does. He's therefore in no position to complain when he gets the same treatment. The second problem is that Trump is hardly being truthful here. He hasn't given anything to his foundation in close to a decade, and the money did not go to 100% to charity, since at least some of it was used for things like political donations and buying full-length portraits of The Donald. Indeed, generally speaking, Trump is best served by keeping the Foundation out of the headlines as much as is possible, since there's every chance the political donations are going to come back to haunt him in the form of an investigation from the New York Attorney General's office. But this is not the sort of thing he thinks about when he gets out his Android. (Z)
It is time to look back at the year, and various journalists are doing so. Aaron Blake of the Washington Post has an interesting list of stories that got less attention than they should have:
- A Red America: While most of the political world
focused on the presidential and Senate races, hardly anyone noticed that
Republicans control the states by a wide margin. A record 33 governors are
Republicans. In 25 states, the Republicans control the governor's mansion and
also the state legislature. They also control 68 of the 98 partisan legislature
chambers (Nebraska has a nonpartisan unicameral legislature). A lot of real
power is vested in the states, and there, the Republicans dominate.
- The Democrats Have a Thin Bench: Because the
Republicans control so much of state governments, Democrats don't have a lot of
strong candidates for the U.S. Senate and governorships. Only 16 states have a
Democratic governor (one is an independent) so that means fewer Senate
candidates. It is a real problem for the Democrats going forward.
- The Decline of the tea party: In 2010, the tea
party was big news. It isn't any more. When many tea party members were elected
to Congress, they talked all about reining in federal spending. Now Donald Trump
wants to spend a trillion dollars on infrastructure and the tea party isn't
going to be able to stop him (assuming he really means it).
- The Supreme Court: What should have been the biggest story of all was no story at all. During the campaign, the Democrats hardly talked about their golden opportunity to flip the Supreme Court for decades by having Hillary Clinton nominate a young liberal to replace the late Antonin Scalia. The issue was hardly mentioned. It should have been issue #1. Any taxes Trump cuts can be raised the next time the Democrats are in charge, but Supreme Court justices can serve 30, 40, 50 years. If Trump nominates a young Scalia, nothing will really change but if Ruth Bader Ginsburg retires or dies, Republicans could have a majority for decades to come. In retrospect, she should have retired in 2012, just after Obama won reelection and still had political capital, but didn't. Now she has to try to stay alive for at least four years. Even if she hangs on, swing justice Anthony Kennedy, who is 80, could retire and be replaced by a reliable right-wing justice, turning the Court into a dependable right-wing institution for years to come.
In short, the media missed the boat on quite a few major stories this year. (V)
Thae Yong-ho was a high-ranking North Korean diplomat prior to defecting earlier this year. And he has a sobering prediction about his former boss, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un: Kim is using the uncertainty created by Donald Trump's ascendancy to fast-track his nation's nuclear weapons program. Thae says that while the eyes of the world are on China and other places, Kim will be, "racing ahead with nuclear development after setting up a plan to develop it (nuclear weapons) at all costs by the end of 2017." Thae also believes that no amount of military or financial pressure will deter Kim, since the nukes are key to the image of strength he wants to portray to the world and to his countrymen.
When it comes to this particular issue, North Korea is a very different kettle of fish than any other country in the world. For the eight countries that are currently nuclear (the U.S., Russia, France, UK, Israel, India, Pakistan, and China), the enormous costs of lobbing a nuke at an enemy are a huge deterrent. Their economies would be disrupted by being cut off from international trade partners, while their population would be devastated by the inevitable counterstrike. But North Korea has virtually no international trade, and so would suffer relatively little economic disruption after launching a nuclear strike. It also has very few dense urban areas (as illustrated by this famous picture of the Koreas at night), and so few "good" targets for enemy nukes. If Kim really does join the club by the end of 2017, it's going to demand skillful and creative diplomacy from the Trump administration. Of course, given his penchant for relying on friends and acquaintances, maybe Trump will dispatch former "Celebrity Apprentice" contestant and current friend of Kim Dennis Rodman to deal with it. (Z)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
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