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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Defends Flip-flop on China Currency Manipulation
      •  What Happened to "America First"?
      •  Trump: Tax Protesters Were Paid
      •  Has Trump Found God?
      •  Frontrunners for 2020 Democratic Nomination
      •  The Return of the Kennedys?
      •  Trump Easter Egg Roll Scheduled for Today

Trump Defends Flip-flop on China Currency Manipulation

Donald Trump used many different bugaboos during the campaign to get his supporters riled up—Mexican immigrants, Muslims, Hillary Clinton, the media. One of the biggest was China, whom The Donald blasted for their trade policies, their "theft" of American jobs, and, of course, their currency manipulation. He's now switched course, particularly on the latter point, and on Sunday he took to Twitter to justify himself:

This response is rather reminiscent of Trump's declaration when the AHCA failed: "Who knew health care was so hard?" Though Trump may be late to the party, everyone else recognized that the price of getting tough with China was less help with North Korea (for example, we wrote about it two months ago).

Trump's difficulty is that while he (and most of his staff) are foreign policy amateurs, the North Korea situation is getting trickier by the day. As Politico's Josh Meyer reports, foreign policy experts are nearly unanimous in their agreement that the unwillingness of the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations to get tough with the Chinese banks and businesses is what has allowed North Korea to progress as far along the nuclear path as they have. Although North Korea is under strict U.N. sanctions, they use a complex network of shell companies to gain the raw materials and cash that they need. These shell companies are facilitated by the Chinese. So, the time is likely coming, sooner ar later, when Trump (or his successor) will have to turn the screws a bit on the Chinese government.

The other end of the spectrum, of course, is to ignore the Chinese entirely and to invade North Korea. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, former defense secretary William Perry explains the problems with that approach. To start, while it is unlikely right now that North Korea would be able to bomb the United States, or to launch a nuclear warhead at anyone, they would certainly toss a few conventional bombs at South Korea, with devastating loss of life. After all, the distance between Pyongyang and Seoul, a city of 10 million people, is only 120 miles. Over time, a combined South Korean and American force would undoubtedly bring an outmanned and outgunned North Korea to its knees, Perry says, but as the North Korean regime became increasingly endangered, their actions would get increasingly desperate. For example, they might not be able to get a nuclear warhead to South Korea (or the U.S.), but they might well detonate one or two or three amongst the troops of an invading army. Once again, devastating loss of life.

Add it all up, and Trump's best (and maybe only) path forward appears to be putting more pressure on the Chinese without putting so much pressure that they balk. It will take some very skilled diplomacy, indeed. Here's hoping the President and his staff are fast learners. (Z)

What Happened to "America First"?

As recently as April 4, Donald Trump reiterated one of his signature campaign slogans: "I don't want to be the president of the world. I'm the president of the United States. And from now on, it's going to be America first." Since then, his administration has bombed Syria and Afghanistan, engaged in some saber-rattling with North Korea, endorsed NATO, and played nice with the Chinese. In other words, a 180-degree reversal (among many). So, what happened?

The Guardian's David Smith delves into that question, and he offers up with several answers. First, the mercurial Trump is very influenced by cable news, and as Fox News and others began offering coverage that argued for intervention (in Syria, for example), he went along. There's also the rise of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, who are concerned about both the world and their father/father-in-law's reputation, and have been pushing him to abandon the isolationism of Steve Bannon. Finally, there's the fact that things look a lot different from inside the Oval Office.

The upshot is that, at the moment, Trump's foreign policy looks very much like that of a conventional Republican. As Axios's Jonathan Swan points out, Trump's declarations in the past week or so could easily have come from the mouth of George H. W. Bush. With The Donald, of course, things are subject to change on a moment's notice. But it's certainly possible that he (or those around him) have realized that isolationism is not viable in the 21st century, and that funding NATO, the TPP, involvement in the Middle East, etc. were not charitable endeavors, and instead were past administrations' means of putting America first. (Z)

Trump: Tax Protesters Were Paid

It's been at least a week or two since President Trump floated a conspiracy theory, so we were overdue. And on Sunday, he did not disappoint, going on to Twitter—naturally—to declare:

This is, of course, nonsense. It would be impossible to organize and fund tens of thousands of fake protesters around the world, and to keep the scheme a secret. Nor does it explain why three-quarters of Americans say they want to see the returns—are they being paid, too? Still, the audience for this tweet is Trump's base, which wants desperately to believe that he's the target of a vast, liberal, "deep state" conspiracy. So, the tweet presumably did its job. (Z)

Has Trump Found God?

Donald Trump has turned into a real theologian in his first 100 days in office, appearing on Christian television channels, hobnobbing with religious leaders, and invoking God left, right, and center. He asked for God's blessing for Neil Gorsuch, and asked for it again before bombing Syria (though the Lord prefers fire and brimstone to Tomahawk missiles), and asked for it yet again in the war on opioids.

There have certainly been presidents who took a religious turn once they moved into the White House (Abraham Lincoln being an obvious example). So, is Trump one of them? Surely not. To the extent that he's Christian at all, it's a very unconventional version of the religion that he adheres to. The church he attended as a young man, and where he was married and his parents were buried, was pastored by Norman Vincent Peale. Best known for his bestseller The Power of Positive Thinking, Peale preached a doctrine that was about 40% religion, 40% pop psychology, and 20% entrepreneurialism. Peale's critics, at various times, slammed him as a "heretic," a "cult leader," "blasphemous," "dangerous," and "corrupt."

A better explanation for Trump's religious turn is that it is, of course, political. His rise to power was driven, in large part, by evangelicals. Tossing in a "God bless" here and a reference to "the Lord" there is no skin off his back, and it keeps them happy. Trump biographer Gwenda Blair observes,"He's a transactional guy with humans, and it's no different with God—it's all about whatever is to his advantage with regard to his supporters, and referencing God is exactly and only that." Of course, for this whole arrangement to work, the evangelicals have to be willing to overlook Trump's habit of breaking the 4th, 7th, 9th, and 10th commandments (keep the sabbath, adultery, false witness, and covetousness) on a regular basis. Thus far, they've been happy to do so, and there's no particular reason to believe that is going to change. (Z)

Frontrunners for 2020 Democratic Nomination

NBC News has compiled a list of the likeliest contenders to carry the blue team's banner in the 2020 presidential election. Here's how the have it:

  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA): If she can win re-election in 2018, she'd delight young people and progressives by running

  • Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ): He is charismatic and he is black, so he may have the best chance of rebuilding the Obama coalition

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT): He may be the most popular politician in America, according to polls, but he'd also be 78 on Election Day

  • Martin O'Malley: Perhaps the former Maryland governor learned something during his failed 2016 bid, but odds are he'll fail to inspire once again

  • Sen. Al Franken (D-MN): Smart, loquacious, and a leader of the anti-Trump faction in the Senate, he's also a progressive and a Midwesterner, which could allow him to unite the competing factions of the Democratic Party

  • Joe Biden: The former veep has name recognition, and blue-collar voters love him, but he'd be 77 on Election Day

  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY): A younger version of Elizabeth Warren, in many ways, has also been a leader of the anti-Trump faction, though her more conservative past may haunt her

  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo (NY): He's got a solid resume, though it's been almost 100 years since a New York governor won the White House, and he's got a lot of enemies

  • Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA): She's a rising star in the Democratic Party, but will she rise that quickly?

  • Gov. Dan Malloy (D-CT): Party insiders, including Barack Obama, love him, but he has a very low national profile

  • Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO): Blue-collar roots, comes from a swing state, but both gubernatorial elections were close

  • Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA): Has taken the lead in fighting the Trump administration, but he is unknown outside the Pacific Northwest

  • Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-VA): His advantage is that he's the ultimate party insider, his disadvantage is that he's the ultimate party insider

  • Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT): He's very young (47 on Election Day), and a foreign policy expert, but sometimes forgets to pay his taxes

  • Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL): A Midwesterner and a decorated war hero, but has some scandals in her past

  • Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH): Another progressive Midwesterner who might be able to unify the party, but he's kind of bland

  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN): She's very popular in Minnesota, but she may get lost among other similar, but higher-profile, candidates

Needless to say, lists like these should be taken with a truckload of grains of salt. After all, at this point in their respective processes, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump weren't even on anyone's radars, and George W. Bush and Barack Obama were barely so. (Z)

The Return of the Kennedys?

IrishCentral—yes, that's a real site—has an item observing that with the Democratic Party in flux, and experiencing a bit of a vacuum when it comes to leadership, the time may be ripe for the Kennedys to resume their mantle as the first family of American politics. Currently, there are several Kennedys making headlines. Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA), grandson of RFK, was one of the leading voices against the AHCA. Chris Kennedy, son of RFK, is running for governor of Illinois. Ted Kennedy, Jr., is strongly considering a run for governor of Connecticut.

Needless to say, one Congressman and two would-be governors is pretty far removed from the situation in the early 1960s, when the family had a president, an attorney general, and a U.S. Senator simultaneously. And certainly the name does not have the political magic it once did. Still, if there's any clan that can displace the Clintons at the head of the Democratic Party, the Kennedys are it. (Z)

Trump Easter Egg Roll Scheduled for Today

Yesterday was Easter, which means that today, by tradition (since 1876), the White House Easter Egg Roll will be held. Of course, the Trump White House tends to be a little disorganized, and so they did not begin their planning in a timely fashion. This being the case, they are expecting a crowd of only 21,000 people (compared to 37,000 last year). Trump also has difficulty getting A-list stars to appear at his events, so while last year had Beyoncé and several NBA stars and Frozen actress Idina Menzel, the headliners this year will be the Martin Family Circus, a six-person family band from Nashville that will be driving to the ceremony in an RV. And despite what "Saturday Night Live" would have you believe, Sean Spicer will not be appearing as the Easter Bunny. Once was enough, it would seem. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr16 Protesters Around the Country Demand to See Trump's Tax Returns
Apr16 White House Sweeping Conflicts of Interest Under the Rug
Apr16 Trump Actually Has Delivered on Some of His Promises
Apr16 The Kushner-Bannon Civil War Is Still Raging
Apr16 Tillerson on the Rise
Apr16 Bipartisan Group of Senators Pushing to Revive Glass-Steagall
Apr16 Nearly $500,000 of Trump's Campaign Funds Have Gone to His Companies
Apr16 North Korean Bomb Bombs
Apr15 Russia Intrigue Just Keeps Mounting
Apr15 North Korea Situation Seems To Be Deteriorating
Apr15 U.S. Will Not Name China as a Currency Manipulator
Apr15 Trump Keeps Badmouthing the Dollar
Apr15 White House Will Not Make Visitor Logs Public
Apr15 Re-election Bids Are Attracting Lots of Money
Apr15 Trump Says He Can't Be Sued
Apr15 Trump Gets Burned by Regulations
Apr14 U.S. Drops MOAB on Afghanistan
Apr14 Suburban Voters Have Had It with Trump
Apr14 Trump's Base Has Had it With Trump
Apr14 Virginia Governor's Race Turns Into a Referendum on Trump
Apr14 Business Leaders Trying to de-Bannonize Trump
Apr14 Maybe Rumors of Bannon's Death Are Greatly Exaggerated
Apr14 Tax Reform May Not Follow the Ryan Blueprint
Apr14 Sanders: Trump Will Be a One-term President
Apr14 Prof. Who Called the Last Eight Presidential Elections Says Trump Will Be Impeached
Apr13 Tillerson Receives a Chilly Reception in Moscow
Apr13 Trump Now Wants to Do Healthcare Before Tax Reform
Apr13 Trump May Be Sick of Bannon
Apr13 Trump Now Likes NATO
Apr13 Trump Plays into Kim Jong-Un's Hands
Apr13 United Airlines, Wells Fargo, and the Democratic Party
Apr13 Coffman: Spicer "Needs To Go"
Apr12 Republican Estes Wins Special Election in Kansas
Apr12 Spicer Goose Steps in It
Apr12 Nunes Was Apparently Making Things Up
Apr12 The Infrastructure Bill Could Fail Just Like the Healthcare Bill
Apr12 Trump Falsely Claims He's Created 600,000 Jobs
Apr12 There Is An Easy Way to Get Trump's Tax Returns Released
Apr12 California May Move 2020 Primary to March
Apr12 Collins May Run for Governor of Maine
Apr12 Christie Calls for Government to Forbid Overbooking of Flights
Apr11 Neil Gorsuch Sworn in as Associate Supreme Court Justice
Apr11 Merrick Garland Could Get Revenge
Apr11 What Has Trump Done So Far?
Apr11 The Wall Is Going from Bad to Worse for Trump
Apr11 Federal Judge Overturns Texas Voter ID Law--Again
Apr11 Trump's Travel Expenditures Are Skyrocketing
Apr11 Trump Wins Pulitzer Prizes
Apr11 Democrats Are Already Working on 2018 House Races
Apr11 Cook Moves Two Special Elections towards the Democrats