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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  McConnell's Daring Plan Worked
      •  Syria Strike Raises Many Questions
      •  Trump's Strike in Syria Helps Putin
      •  He Who Lives By the Conspiracy Theory...
      •  It's Civil War in the Trump Administration
      •  Study: Obamacare Not in a Death Spiral
      •  Democratic Turnout Might Improve in 2018
      •  Governor Trump, Jr.?

McConnell's Daring Plan Worked

When Antonin Scalia died unexpectedly in February 2016, everyone was expecting Barack Obama to get his third Supreme Court pick. Instead, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) grabbed the seat from out under the Democrats' noses. The right-wing media, which never much cared for McConnell, now see him as a great man. That the Senate may cease to function for years is a small price to pay for having a conservative justice on the Supreme Court for decades. When McConnell's obituary is written, this incident will be one of the highlights of his long career. All of a sudden, in the eyes of conservatives, he has been transformed from a villain into a hero by getting Neil Gorsuch confirmed to the Court yesterday.

Needless to say, the Democrats don't see things that way. They have to hope that Ruth Bader Ginsburg doesn't die before 2021. If Anthony Kennedy retires before then and Republicans continue to control the Senate until 2021, then Republicans will still have a 5-4 majority, possibly with a more conservative justice replacing Kennedy.

On the other hand, Congress is so polarized and partisan now, that it can't get much worse. If the Democrats capture the Senate, House, and White House in 2020, which could happen if Donald Trump's popularity continues to nosedive, they could try to get even in 2021 by abolishing the filibuster for legislation (assuming it is still in effect then). Then they could "pack the court" by expanding it to 11 (or 12, or 13, or 15) justices, and let the Democratic president appoint them. No constitutional amendment is required; Congress determines the number of justices simply by passing a law saying how many there are. Historically it has varied from 7 to 10. Republicans would howl to the moon but Democrats would say: "You started it by stealing Merrick Garland's seat." It wouldn't be pretty but it isn't pretty now, either. (V)

Syria Strike Raises Many Questions

Shooting off a few dozen missiles is easy; what comes next is the hard part. A lot depends on how the other players in Syria react. James Hohmann at the Washington Post poses a lot of questions about what happens next:

  • Does Trump plan to deploy more than just tomahawk missiles?
  • Does Trump fully understand the risk he has just taken?
  • What is Trump's goal now?
  • What does this mean for the fight against ISIS?
  • How do the strikes affect Trump's relationship with his (former?) buddy, Vladimir Putin?
  • Will Iran wade more deeply into the Syrian conflict now?
  • Will Congress vote to authorize military force?
  • Will Democrats give air cover to Trump?
  • How will conservatives who opposed Obama's efforts to bomb Syria react?
  • How will Trump sell his own reversal from "strikes are bad" to "strikes are good"?
  • Was Trump really a hawk in dove's clothing all along?
  • Will the alt right, which is largely isolationist, back Trump?
  • What effect, if any, will the strikes have on Trump's refugee ban?

It is obviously too soon to know the answer to any of these questions, but sooner or later (probably sooner) we are going to find out what is going to happen and how Trump will react. Maybe he has a clever long-range plan for Syria, but more likely, he has no plan at all. (V)

Trump's Strike in Syria Helps Putin

From Russia's point of view, having the U.S. get bogged down in an unmanageable conflict far from home is good news, according to a piece in Politico. One thing that Vladimir Putin is genuinely worried about is NATO, and the U.S. strike is not popular with the European left or right, thus increasing its anti-Americanism, and thus indirectly reducing support for NATO. If Trump wants to go further and put American boots on the ground, it will be very tricky, since Russia already has boots on the ground there. Furthermore, if the U.S. gets involved in the internal affairs of a sovereign country, it will be much harder for Trump to criticize Putin's invasion of Ukraine, another sovereign country. And finally, what is Trump's end game? To replace Bashar al-Assad with a coalition of al-Qaeda and ISIS? There aren't a lot of "best case scenarios" for the U.S. in Syria, and that is good news for the Kremlin. (V)

He Who Lives By the Conspiracy Theory...

Throughout his meteoric rise to power, Donald Trump has been an eager purveyor of conspiracy theories. Whether they be about Barack Obama's birthplace, or three million undocumented immigrants voting for Hillary Clinton, or doctored inauguration photos, or wiretaps, they have been enormously beneficial to the president when it comes to cementing his base.

The problem with conspiracy theorists, though, is that they are not terribly rational and some of them are absolutely freaking crazy (note: that is a clinical term). Now, the conspiracy winds have switched direction, and are blowing against Trump rather than with him. The new theory, which has alt-right sites, Wikileaks, and conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones and Mike Cernovich in a tizzy is that the chemical attack in Syria was a "false flag" operation. That is to say, it wasn't the work of the Syrian government, it was the work of the deep state (in other words, agents of Barack Obama). According to this line of "reasoning," volunteer rescue workers in Syria known as the White Helmets, with funding from liberal Jewish billionaire George Soros, staged the attack in order to trick Donald Trump into making a colossal blunder. The conspiracy theorists have yet to work Hillary Clinton's e-mail server, the Illuminati, or fluoridated water into the equation, but give them a little time.

The emergence of this theory suggests that when it comes to Trump, the alt-right is becoming disenchanted, or growing suspicious, or both. Politically, that bodes ill for The Donald, who has little margin of error with which to work. Though the conspiracy theorists are small in number, they command the attention of a large number of Trump voters. During the campaign, they effectively served as his propaganda arm, free of charge. If they have now lost interest in the President, or have turned against him and decided that he's just "one of them," that is a harsh blow, indeed. (Z)

It's Civil War in the Trump Administration

It is not a secret that Donald Trump prefers an adversarial command structure, which has certain advantages, most obviously that it makes him the only person to whom everyone is loyal. And this approach can work in the White House; for example, FDR utilized this style of management with great success. However, it does not seem to be working particularly well for The Donald, inasmuch as insiders have described what's going on in the executive branch—77 days into the Trump administration—as a "civil war."

The most obvious expression of this civil war is taking place at the very center of power, literally just feet from the Oval Office. The three most important people in the administration are Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, and Jared Kushner and none of the three can stand the other two. Bannon is clearly having his wings clipped, and whether or not it is true that he almost resigned last week (accounts vary), it appears that he has concluded that the power struggle is "unwinnable" against a member of Trump's family, and that he is only hanging around to be an advocate for the alt-right for as long as he can before his head gets lopped off. "Bannon will likely be gone soon," said one Trump confidant on Friday. Meanwhile, Priebus is loathed by the alt-right, and has taken a lot of the blame—sometimes fairly, sometimes not—for some of the administration's highest-profile failures, most notably the AHCA. It is entirely possible that Bannon and Priebus will be cashiered at the same time, with the demise of each serving as a sop to the faction of the other. In other words, the irritation of the alt-right over Bannon leaving the White House might be soothed if Priebus follows him out the door, that of the GOP establishment over Priebus' exit might be eased by the axing of Bannon. In any event, Kushner is the only one who should be sleeping easy at night.

It's not just the White House that's bleeding, however. In fact, there is a sharp divide emerging in virtually every federal agency (at least, the ones that have been staffed). On one side are the cabinet secretaries and the GOP veterans they have hired to help run the departments. On the other side are the Trump supporters who got on board early and supported him throughout the campaign—"originals," they call themselves. According to a reporting from Politico, this has paralyzed many agencies, where chaos, backbiting, and constant leaks to the press reign supreme. There is no esprit de corps, and no spirit of cooperation. "You're always watching your back," said one insider who ultimately quit his post. "It doesn't bode well for a cohesive team to be successful toward a common goal. How can you when people are looking over their shoulder to see if they have a knife in their back?"

All of this, obviously, is not good. Trump's staff should still be in a honeymoon period—the depression, disgust, exhaustion, frustration, etc. are supposed to wait for the dog days of year two, three, four, etc. With that said, this is a problem that is obviously going to work itself out. And the endgame is clear enough—the people who volunteered for the Trump campaign in its early days are, by definition, outsiders. Most have little to no experience in governing, and limited policy experience. Since they are "senior advisers," and not secretaries or undersecretaries, the balance of power is also weighed against them. And so, in a process that is already underway, they will be pushed to the margins until they quit, are fired, or are just glorified note-takers. The time will come, sooner rather than later, that Trump will be left with an executive branch that looks not much different from the one that would have been built by a Jeb Bush or a Mitt Romney. This will be an abrogation of his promise to "drain the swamp," but that promise was just about as realistic as building a wall and getting Mexico to pay for it. (Z)

Study: Obamacare Not in a Death Spiral

Developing a viable health care plan is very, very hard as the GOP just learned. It's not necessarily impossible, though—according to a new study from Standard & Poor's, Obamacare is stabilizing, and looks like it could very well be viable long term.

The study focused on the Blue Cross plans offered in the three dozen states that established insurance exchanges since Obamacare became law three years ago. Most insurers cut their losses steeply in 2016, will break even this year, and will show a profit (albeit a small one, in many cases) in 2018. "Economically viable" is, literally, the opposite of "death spiral." "[W]e are seeing the first signs in 2016 that this market could be manageable for most health insurers," the report says. This affirms the analysis performed by the Congressional Budget Office, which also found that the insurance exchanges were relatively stable.

Needless to say, this information—not to mention the fact that more than half of Americans now support Obamacare—is not going to please Donald Trump and his colleagues in Congress. The situation is still within Trump's power to build up or destroy, though; the S&P report acknowledges that the exchanges are "still in critical care" and need time to improve, noting that insurance companies are much more likely to try and make them work if they believe they are in for the long haul.

If negotiations over Ryancare v2.0 continue to go nowhere, as seems likely, Trump has to at least think about trying to co-opt and improve Obamacare. "It was broken, and I fixed it" would not exactly be truthful, but it would be a compelling narrative that Trump could pitch, and plugging the holes in the current system (which moderate Republicans and Democrats would likely support) would almost certainly be more doable than building a whole new system. Such an approach would also allow Trump to tell the Freedom Caucus to shove it, which he would undoubtedly find satisfying. (Z)

Democratic Turnout Might Improve in 2018

Democratic turnout in midterm elections is generally very poor. Minorities and young people especially don't show up to vote. The huge Republican wins in 2010 and 2014 were direct results of this effect: Republican turnout was normal and Democratic turnout was way down from the previous presidential election, allowing Republicans to make huge gains in Congress. An analysis by the New York Times' Nate Cohn of some early signs suggests that maybe 2018 will be different. Cohn starts by noticing that Democrats are very energized right now, as indicated by marches, town halls, and other public events. Also, Democrat Jon Ossoff, who is running for Tom Price's seat in Georgia, has raised $8.3 million, whereas $20,000 would normally be pretty good for a Democrat in that district; 95% of that money is from out of state.

Cohn also looked at the partisan composition of a few special elections that have been held already this year. In state senate district 10 in Delaware, 48% of the voters were Democrats (vs. 46% in the 2016 general election). In the Iowa state senate district 45 election, 58% of the voters were Democrats (vs. 41% in the 2016 general election). Two special elections don't give a lot of data, but Cohn concludes that if Democrats can keep up their enthusiasm until Nov. 2018, they may not be wiped out again, as they were in 2010 and 2014. (V)

Governor Trump, Jr.?

We're less than 100 days into the Trump presidency, and Donald, Jr. is already thinking about his political future (which he assumes he has). When asked about his plans, he turned up his nose at the idea of being mayor of New York City or "just one" of 100 U.S. Senators. Presumably, that also means that the House of Representatives and New York state legislature are off the table. Instead, he's got his eye on the governorship of New York.

Trump, Jr. speaks like someone who is very, very spoiled, either due to being born with a silver spoon in his mouth, or due to the fact that his father took a giant and historically unprecedented shortcut to the White House. The mayoralty of New York and the U.S. Senate are far from trivialities, and it is a rare officeholder indeed who starts his career with a governorship (although Gov. Bruce Rauner of Illinois did it). In any event, if Trump, Jr. does decide to make a run of it, he's going to lose bigly. New York has elected exactly one Republican governor in the last 40 years, and that one—George Pataki—did not have a last name that is utterly toxic in a blue, blue state. Surely, Junior will think better of this plan before throwing his time and money down a rabbit hole. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr07 U.S. Attacks Syria
Apr07 Nuclear Option Is Triggered
Apr07 R.I.P U.S. Senate, 1789-2017
Apr07 Former Ambassador to China Warns Trump about Negotiating with China
Apr07 Nunes Temporarily Steps Down from Role in Trump-Russia Probe
Apr07 Trump Is Looking at Combining Infrastructure with Healthcare or Tax Reform
Apr07 Border Wall Is Making America Smaller
Apr07 Texas Would Be Negatively Affected by a Border Adjustment Tax
Apr06 Bannon Removed from National Security Council
Apr06 Whither Steve Bannon?
Apr06 Senate Is Considering Rules Changes to Silence the Minority
Apr06 Xi Jinping Will Meet Trump Today
Apr06 Border Wall Runs into Another Problem
Apr06 Tone Deafness, Thy Name Is Trump
Apr06 Ossoff Pulls in Over $8 Million for Special Election in Georgia
Apr06 Ladbrokes: 56% Chance Trump Will Not Finish First Term
Apr05 McConnell Says He Has the Votes to End the Filibuster for SCOTUS Nominations
Apr05 How Congress Used to Work
Apr05 Gorsuch Could Ensure Republican Control for a Generation
Apr05 Spicer Blames Horrendous Poison Gas Attack in Syria on Obama
Apr05 Americans Happy that the AHCA Didn't Pass
Apr05 NAFTA Could be the Next AHCA for Trump
Apr05 Two Democrats Win California Congressional Primary
Apr05 National Archives Advises Trump to Save All His Tweets
Apr05 Trump Stumbles in Public Appearance
Apr05 O'Reilly Could Be in Trouble, After All
Apr04 At Least 41 Democrats Will Vote Against Cloture on Gorsuch
Apr04 White House Is Trying to Revive the Healthcare Bill
Apr04 Trump Officially Kills Internet Privacy
Apr04 Blackwater Founder Tried to Create Secret Trump-Putin Connection
Apr04 Former Trump Adviser Met with Russian Spy in 2013
Apr04 Bannon Keeping an Eye on Georgia Election
Apr04 Bidding Closes Today on the Border Wall
Apr04 Trump Donates His First-Quarter Salary to the National Park Service
Apr04 Trump Can Draw Money from Trust at Any Time
Apr04 Science Doesn't Unite Liberals, Conservatives
Apr03 Donnelly Backs Gorsuch
Apr03 Trump Says U.S. Can Handle North Korea Alone
Apr03 Kasich Is Acting Like a Candidate While Claiming He Is Not
Apr03 Rooting for Failure
Apr03 Why Can't Republicans Find Massive Voter Fraud?
Apr03 Far-Right Sharks Are Circling the White House
Apr03 How Much Does Trump's Security Cost?
Apr02 Republicans Are Split on Tax Reform
Apr02 Uniqlo Threatens Trump
Apr02 Chinese Acquisition of U.S. Financial Company Raises Questions
Apr02 Poll: Americans Want an Independent Commission to Investigate Russia Ties
Apr02 Trump Blasts Chuck Todd
Apr02 Mark Cuban: Trump Isn't Smart Enough to Have Colluded with the Russians
Apr02 Fox Stands With O'Reilly