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Trump Continues to Ignore the "Grown-Ups" in His Cabinet

Many people expected President Donald Trump to have a presidency somewhat like that of Ronald Reagan. Reagan picked his cabinet carefully and for the most part let them run their departments without too much interference from him or anyone else. Since Trump knows almost nothing about governing, picking "terrific people" and then leaving them alone could have worked terrifically, but that is not what has happened so far. He is constantly meddling in their affairs, starting with not allowing any of them to choose their own deputies or undersecretaries.

This week it got even worse when Trump abruptly dropped the decades long U.S. commitment to a two-state solution in the Middle East without even discussing the matter with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. He also says things and does things without consulting the few experienced people in the cabinet—Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, and CIA Director Mike Pompeo, a group called "the grown-ups." Tillerson and Mattis, in particular, have spent all their time in office so far cleaning up the mess Trump leaves behind when he talks to foreign leaders. They have been traveling around the world to calm foreign leaders and reassure them that America will honor its commitments.

Another problem for the grown-ups is Jared Kushner, who sometimes acts like a shadow secretary of state, causing problems for the real secretary of state and others in the State Department. It is not surprising that foreign leaders are wondering who is in charge. (V)

Priebus Is "All In" on Trump

During the campaign, Reince Priebus—like many members of the GOP establishment—did a careful dance with Donald Trump, moving closer when the poll numbers rose, and keeping his distance when they dove. Now, however, Priebus is chief of staff, and there's no walking both sides of the street any more. This weekend, he has embraced Trumpism in two very obvious ways.

To start, when appearing on "Face the Nation," Priebus declared that Trump should be "taken seriously" when he says that the press is "the enemy." Priebus then launched into a harangue about inaccurate news stories, and also blasted the use of anonymous sources. This despite the fact that his boss has relied on anonymous sources many times, particularly when he was peddling falsehoods about Barack Obama's birth certificate.

Later in the same interview, Priebus was asked about Michael Flynn, and expressed consternation that the General lost his job. "[T]here's nothing wrong with having a conversation about sanctions," Priebus said. "And there's nothing wrong about having a conversation about the fact that the Obama administration put further sanctions in place and expelled some folks out of the United States." To grasp the amount of spin going on here, one need only imagine what Priebus would have said if he was still GOP Chair, and the person talking to Russia was Hillary Clinton or one of her lieutenants. Hint: He would not say, "There's nothing wrong with it."

Donald Trump demands loyalty from his underlings, and he's getting it from Priebus. Priebus' problem is that, one day, he'll need to find a new job. The positions he took on Saturday are not going to make that any easier. (Z)

Keep an Eye on Mike Pence

CNN's Joshua Spivak has an interesting op-ed about the one person that Donald Trump cannot discard: Vice President Mike Pence. Nearly everyone else in the executive branch serves at the pleasure of the president, and can be fired at a moment's notice. Given how quickly Trump's moods can shift, it means that a Steve Bannon or a Reince Priebus or a Sean Spicer could be in today, and out of a job tomorrow. Pence, by contrast cannot be fired.

Of course, it is possible to ignore the VP, just as it is possible to ignore non-fireable family members like Jared Kushner or Ivanka Trump. However, the modern vice presidency has become fairly integral to the functioning of the executive branch. Further, Trump may have a particular need for Pence as a tie-breaking vote, or as a liaison to Congress, or both. So, ignoring him is not a great option. Meanwhile, Pence undoubtedly aspires to be the next GOP presidential nominee, so he has much motivation to play ball with The Donald, and to put himself front and center as much as possible. The point is that while we tend to focus on the inner circle, we should not overlook the guy who could become the most important insider of them all. (Z)

Trump Retreats from Governing, Goes Back to Campaigning

It has not been a great week for Donald Trump. He had to fire his national security adviser, watch a cabinet nominee withdraw to avoid being formally rejected by the Senate, and deal with endless questions about his dealings with Russia. So to get his mojo back, he hit the campaign trail and held a rally yesterday at the Orlando-Melbourne Airport. Trump clearly is far more comfortable whipping crowds into a frenzy than he is dealing with foreign leaders who ask him about policy issues that affect them and about which he often knows nothing, or proposing detailed plans for legislation that he wants. While presidents are as entitled to relaxation as anyone else (maybe more), one can't help but feel he held this rally to escape from governing, with all of the pressures and tradeoffs that go with it.

Trump has already filed papers for his reelection campaign in 2020, which allows him to start collecting money for it now, but it is unprecedented for a president who has been in office for only a month to be out on the hustings campaigning for a race that is nearly 4 years away. One theme of his reelection campaign is already clear: "The media is the enemy and all they do is publish terrible fake news about me." He's already predicted that they won't tell the truth about how many people attended Saturday's rally; for the record, the local police force estimated the size of the crowd at 9,000. (V)

Trump Travel Costs Skyrocketing

During the campaign, Donald Trump laid into Barack Obama's propensity to travel, take vacations, and/or play golf, describing the situation as "unbelievable!" The Donald also pledged that, if elected, he would "rarely leave the White House because there's so much work to be done."

As with so many other things, Trump is singing a different tune now that he's actually in office. He has been away from Washington, D.C. for three consecutive weekends, and does not appear to have any intention of changing his habits anytime soon. The issue, which has conservative watchdogs foaming at the mouth, is that all this travel is very expensive. Exactly how much is not clear, because the White House isn't telling, but the Palm Beach Sheriff's department says they spend $60,000/day just on overtime when the President is at Mar-a-Lago, while the NYPD says they spend $500,000/day in total when Trump is in New York. And those figures don't include Trump's four adult children, all of whom have their own details.

The lessons here are: (1) protecting the First Family is really expensive, and (2) it's both naive and unfair to expect the president to live like a hermit, ensconced in the White House. Which means that partisans on both sides should stop making an issue of this, including silly web sites like the Obama golf counter. (Z)

Trump's Pick for Navy Secretary Reportedly About to Withdraw

Philip Bilden is a veteran of the Army Reserve, and a wealthy banker who worked for nearly two decades for private Hong Kong equity firm HarbourVest. His appointment as Secretary of the Navy was thus something of a head scratcher, since his only apparent qualification for the job is that he's donated a lot of money to the Republican Party (and to the U.S. Naval Institute). It would seem that Bilden's lack of familiarity with the Navy, and his inability to disentangle himself from his financial commitments, have both become significant problems, as he is reportedly on the verge of withdrawing his name from consideration.

After the news broke, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer took to Twitter to angrily denounce the media's reporting: "Those people would be wrong. Just spoke with him and he is 100% commited [sic] to being the next SECNAV pending Senate confirm." We shall soon see whether or not Spicer is being truthful. Meanwhile, if Bilden does jump ship, it means that the Trump Administration will have lost a White House Communications Director, National Security Advisor, Secretary of Labor, Secretary of the Army, and Secretary of the Navy within the first month. Not a great batting average. (Z)

Milo Yiannopoulos Will Be Keynote Speaker at CPAC Conference

The annual CPAC conference is the top event for conservatives every year. Normally the main speakers are top-ranking Republican politicians. This year, the keynote address will be given by white nationalist and anti-Semite Milo Yiannopoulos, who writes for Breitbart News, and is close with senior adviser Steve Bannon. The choice is significant because up until now conservatives have kept their distance from Donald Trump and his staff, whom they don't see as conservatives at all. The choice of Yiannopoulos suggests that their desire to get close to the seat of power is more powerful than their distrust and dislike of a president who rejects many of the principles they care deeply about. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb18 Senate Confirms Pruitt
Feb18 Business and Politics Keep Colliding
Feb18 Ryan's Tax Plan Is Running into Trouble
Feb18 Veteran John McCain is Back at War--with Donald Trump
Feb18 Russian Headache Getting Worse for Trump
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Feb17 Trump Holds a Chaotic News Conference
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Feb16 Bannon v. Breitbart
Feb16 Anyone's a Candidate for Office These Days. Anyone.
Feb15 What Did the President Know and When Did He Know It?
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Feb13 Trump Beats Voter Fraud Drum Again, and Again
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Feb13 Conway Knows Exactly What She is Doing
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