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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

Another Flynn Appointee to the NSC Is Sent Packing

When Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn (ret.) was appointed to be the National Security Adviser, he brought Kathleen McFarland, formerly a Fox News commentator, to join him on the National Security Council, despite her having almost no expertise in the area. Now that Flynn has been shown the door, the new National Security Adviser, Herbert McMaster, is getting rid of McFarland as well. She is expected to be appointed ambassador to Singapore, far away from Washington, where she can't cause any trouble. The Senate has to approve her nomination, but there is no reason to think Republicans will object to the appointment.

Slowly but surely, McMaster is reorganizing the NSC to be the way he wants it to be, with everyone on it having expertise in some aspect of national security, or at least a job title that covers national security. For example, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry is a member, even though he has almost no national security background, but in his new job, he is the one in charge of storing and securing America's nuclear weapons. (V)

Will Trump Ask Congress for Authority to Wage War in Syria?

Donald Trump's decision to fire Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian air base is already having political fallout. While there hasn't been a lot of criticism of Trump's decision so far, many in Congress don't want him to have unlimited power to wage war in Syria without an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) approved by Congress. Such an AUMF might carefully define what the president may and may not do. For example, bombing yes, sending in troops, no. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has said: "I would be glad to get an AUMF for Congress," but other senators might not be so accommodating, and there could be considerable debate in the House and Senate should Trump ask for an AUMF. On the other hand, if Trump escalates the situation in Syria without an AUMF, he will be risking criticism from Republicans who think that the decision to go to war, with or without a formal declaration, is a power belonging to the legislative branch of the government, not the executive. (V)

Assad: Should He Stay or Should He Go?

Several members of the Trump administration appeared on the weekend talking head shows, and all were asked about the President's larger plan for Syria, particularly whether or not he hopes to cashier Bashar al-Assad. "[I]n no way do we see peace in that area with Assad as the head of the Syrian government," said UN Ambassador Nikki Haley. Meanwhile, Rex Tillerson declared that Trump has not changed his position (which is/was that al-Assad should remain in place), and explained that he is, "hopeful...we can navigate a political outcome in which the Syrian people, in fact, will determine Bashar al-Assad's fate." Later, when asked about these seemingly contradictory positions, Herbert McMaster insisted that there really was no contradiction, since the U.S. wants al-Assad gone, but doesn't want to be the ones who do the job.

At this point, it's unclear exactly what the administration's policy is, or if they even have an actual policy. If McMaster's version is correct, then Haley and Tillerson both butchered it pretty badly. Taken as a whole, their statements certainly don't do much to allay the perception that the missile strike was launched without much thought as to the long game. And, at very least, it's yet another instance of high-ranking members of the executive branch who don't appear to be on the same page. (Z)

Slight Majority Supports Bombing of Syria

We predicted that Donald Trump's approval ratings would improve following the bombing of Syria, and that appears set to happen. A new HuffPost/YouGov survey reveals that a majority of Americans—albeit a slight one, at 51%—supports the bombings. The poll also found that 32% were opposed, and 17% had no opinion.

This is the good news, such as it is, for Trump. Now the bad news. First, 51% is not all that great a number following a dramatic exercise of American military might. By way of comparison, Ronald Reagan's decision to bomb Libya was approved by 85% of Americans, while George H. W. Bush enjoyed approval ratings in the low nineties after launching the Persian Gulf War. Further, as with all things Trump-related, the numbers were sharply divided by party. Among Trump voters, 83% supported the bombings; among all other voters, it was just 40%. So, the maneuver may serve to shore up the President's base, at least temporarily, but it's not going to win him many new fans. (Z)

State Department Staff Preparing for Cutbacks

Donald Trump's proposed budget slashes funds for the State Dept. drastically, and employees there are beginning to prepare for the worst. Everyone expects the department's environmental and cultural programs to be hit hard. Special envoys who focus on everything from climate change to LGBT issues worldwide are also going to be reduced in number. People involved with human rights fear their days are numbered.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has until September to write a comprehensive plan about how the State Department should be restructured. However, his plan may not be carried out in its entirety because Congress also has a say, and some bureaus are popular with senators or representatives who will fight to preserve them. Nevertheless, a fairly major restructuring, with more emphasis on fighting terrorism and less emphasis on "soft power" is likely. (V)

Trump Is Threatening the 2020 Census

The census is a massive undertaking, with hundreds of thousands of employees and years of planning required to pull it off. The modern census asks many questions besides how many people are living at your address. The census is supposed to count everyone in the country, including undocumented immigrants. However, given Trump's hard line about undocumented immigrants, many of them are probably going to refuse to cooperate and thus be undercounted. In addition, legal immigrants may be afraid to take part for fear that the government will think they are undocumented and deport them. A major undercount in any state may reduce the number of representatives that state has in the House as well as funds for programs that send money to the states based on their population.

Each step of the census process has political landmines, from where advertising dollars are spent to what kinds of questions are asked. For example, should there be questions about immigration status or about sexual orientation?

In 2020, for the first time, people will be asked to respond online, raising security issues. It could be hacked. People might be afraid to supply personal information online, knowing that it could be hacked. If the data are ultimately skewed because people refuse to respond or because the data are hacked, it could have a huge impact on representation, on how federal funds are distributed, and on myriad decisions by private businesses that use the census data. (V)

Trump Reportedly Planning Pivot to Center

It would seem that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, being Democrats as they are, are willing to see what Republicans are not: The Freedom Caucus is a lost cause. Reportedly, they are pushing Donald Trump to take a more centrist tack as he tries to reboot his presidency. According to inside sources, The Donald is on board, as is Chief-of-Staff Reince Priebus. Steve Bannon's feelings are less clear, but it is safe to say he is opposed. Nobody has asked the opinions of Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who would need to be a part of any such plan.

Now, as with any Trump-related rumor, one should take this with a mountain of grains of salt. Anyone could be leaking this, for any reason. And even if there is truth to the rumor, the mercurial Trump often turns on a dime, so it could cease to be true at any time. With that said, let's play along and imagine that the White House really is pondering this. As a tactical matter, it is a sensible choice. Trump has few deeply-held political principles, if any—he just cares about winning. And, in general, the Blue Dogs (moderate-to-conservative Democrats) are an easier nut to crack than the Freedom Caucus. However, as he has done with NAFTA/Canada/Mexico, Trump has put himself in a disadvantageous position when it comes to working with the Democrats. They have much to gain by resisting an unpopular president, and so he's going to have to give them something juicy to curry their support. It could well be that to get to that level of juiciness, he will have to veer further left than GOP representatives and senators will be willing to go. So, if this is really the plan—and, again, we are skeptical—he's going to need those much-vaunted negotiating skills that have thus far not shown themselves since he's been in office. (Z)

Democrats May Use Trump's Own Taxes to Fight Him on Taxes

After failing to reform the healthcare system, Donald Trump's next target is likely to be tax reform. It is a contentious topic with many options, all of which have strong supporters and opponents. If Trump has learned anything from the AHCA debacle, it is that he can't count on the House Freedom Caucus for anything. So maybe he will try to enlist the Democrats instead to get a tax reform bill through Congress (see above).

However, Democrats know that any bill that can get most Republicans behind it is going to give large tax breaks to the wealthy, something they oppose. To preemptively fight the bill, even before it has been conceived, they are going to use his own tax returns against him, a kind of financial jiu jitsu. The Democrats' point will be that until Trump releases his own tax returns, they can't tell if his proposed changes to the tax system are intended to improve the lives of Americans or primarily the life of Donald Trump. Since it is very unlikely Trump will release his tax returns, they have an excuse for not helping him with the tax bill (in addition to the "excuse" that the Democratic base wants to oppose Trump on absolutely everything). So chances of Trump making a deal with the Democrats on taxes are pretty low. (V)

McConnell Recruiting Romney for Possible Senate Run

While Mitch McConnell knows that the 2018 senate map heavily favors his party, you don't get to where he is without always making sure to cross all your t's and dot all your i's. And so, to make sure that the red, red state of Utah is covered, the Majority Leader has had preliminary conversations with Mitt Romney about a possible run.

While an interesting story, "Romney for Senate" has to be considered a very, very long shot. To start with, there's the small matter of Orrin Hatch (R), who—though 83 years old—has indicated he plans to run for an eighth term. While he notes that "things change," the seat belongs to him until he decides otherwise. Beyond that, Romney would be 71 years old on Election Day 2018, and he'd be seeking election to a body where it takes 15-20 years to gain real power. Does he really want to spend his golden years holding town halls, raising money, and keeping his mouth shut while serving as the junior member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry? The supposed "opportunity" here is that it would give him a platform to speak out against Donald Trump, but—by virtue of his presidential run—he's already got that. Add it all up, and this is not much more likely to come to fruition than Secretary of State Romney. (Z)

What Does Georgia Election Mean for GOP?

Much attention has been paid to the question of what the election for HHS Secretary Tom Price's former seat means for the Democrats. The general notion is that if Democrat Jon Ossoff wins in the solidly Republican district, it bodes well for the Democrats' chances to win the +25 or so seats they need to flip control of the House of Representatives in 2018. Less attention has been paid to the Republican side of the election, but now the New York Times' Jonathan Martin has an interesting piece on that subject.

The primary is jungle-style, such that there are something like a dozen Republicans running for the seat. Nearly all of them are embracing pragmatism and flexibility, Trump-style, rather than presenting themselves as inflexible ideologues. There is little identification with the tea party, and none of the GOP contenders have said they will join the Freedom Caucus. A lot of them are quoting Ronald Reagan's maxim that it's better to get 80% of what you want than 0%. It's a very limited data set, obviously, but the implication is clear: The far right appears to be in decline, which could be good for the Republican Party, and—if the trend continues—may even allow Congress to get things done again, at some point in the future. (Z)

Bannon's Bible

No, it's not the actual Bible. It's not clear that he even owns one of those (if he does, nobody better tell him that Jesus was Jewish). In fact, the book that informs Bannon's entire political philosophy and worldview is The Fourth Turning, a 1997 work by two amateur historians, Neil Howe and William Strauss. It lays out their generational theory, which argues that American history unfolds in roughly eighty-year cycles (aka, four generations). They propose that each four-generation cycle ends with a crisis that burns the system down and rebuilds it anew. Thus far, they argue, the United States has experienced the "crisis" phase three times, culminating in the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the Great Depression. It's been about 80 years since the Great Depression began, so Howe and Strauss predict that a fourth crisis is imminent.

Howe's and Strauss' books are very popular among a wide swath of people, both liberal and conservative (Al Gore, for example, is also a big fan). They are also pseudo-historical nonsense. The theory relies, first of all, on the notion that entire generations of Americans have an "essence"—for example, that the generation that launched the Revolutionary War, the generation that fought World War II, and the Millennial Generation are all characterized by "rising civic engagement, improving behavior, and collective confidence." Needless to say, reducing entire generations to a few broad tropes, and then suggesting that those tropes apply only to those generations, is just plain silly. Howe's and Strauss' theses are also essentially unprovable, and unsupportable with evidence. They are also overly-deterministic. For example, how come World War I and the Vietnam War don't count as "crises"? (Correct answer: They don't fit the 80-year pattern). Similarly, how will we know the fourth "crisis" when we see it? Some adherents say it was 9/11, others say it was the financial meltdown of the Bush years. If it is not immediately evident what THE crisis is, then it means that just about anything can be shoehorned into the theory. After all, "80 or so years" gives about 7-10 years of leeway on either side, and the United States has never had a 15-20 year period in which there were no crises whatsoever.

In short, then, it's lousy history. But if you want to know what makes Steve Bannon tick, then this is the book to buy. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr09 Trump and Xi Met, Talked, and Accomplished Nothing
Apr09 U.S. Carrier Group Headed to North Korea
Apr09 Bannon and Kushner Are Forced to Promise to Be Nice to Each Other
Apr09 Tillerson Is Kushner's Understudy
Apr09 Gerrymandering Isn't the Only Problem with the House
Apr09 Burned Out on Coal
Apr09 Anti-Trump Bar Opens in New York
Apr08 McConnell's Daring Plan Worked
Apr08 Syria Strike Raises Many Questions
Apr08 Trump's Strike in Syria Helps Putin
Apr08 He Who Lives By the Conspiracy Theory...
Apr08 It's Civil War in the Trump Administration
Apr08 Study: Obamacare Not in a Death Spiral
Apr08 Democratic Turnout Might Improve in 2018
Apr08 Governor Trump, Jr.?
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