• Trump Accuses Obama of Ordering Wiretaps
• Russia Problem Is Not Going Away Any Time Soon
• Obama's First Address Watched by More People than Trump's
• Trump is Already Doing Fundraising for 2018
• Democrats Are Using a New Tactic to Get Trump to Release His Tax Returns in 2020
• White House Considering Use of Military Force Against North Korea
Politico and other sources are reporting that President Donald Trump was fit to be tied when he learned that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had recused himself from investigating the connection between the Trump campaign and Russia. Sessions recused himself due to enormous pressure. Democrats were calling for his resignation because he lied to the Senate under oath. Republicans were merely calling for him to avoid being part of any investigation of the Trump-Russia connection. But to Trump, this was a de facto admission that Sessions had done something wrong. After all, if he had done nothing wrong, why did he have to recuse himself? And one of Trump's most fundamental principles is never, ever, under any circumstances admit that you or any of your associates were wrong on anything. Adding to Trump's fury is the fact that the timing of this newest scandal denied him a victory lap after his address to Congress.
According to insiders within the leakiest White House in memory, Trump's anger was reportedly something to behold, easily the worst outburst of his young administration. "Nobody has seen him that upset," said one source, while another said there were, "a lot of expletives." Trump is frustrated by many things these days, including the hostile media, the non-stop leaks, the difficulties in getting things done in Washington, and his feeling that he's not getting enough credit for his successes. He's also complained that senior White House staffers, "just keep getting in their own way." There are also reports that Trump gave Chief of Staff Reince Priebus a dressing down, and forbade Priebus from traveling to Florida this weekend, though this is disputed by Priebus.
A little White House dysfunction—or even a lot—is not unheard of in the annals of U.S. political history. There was a fair bit of infighting in the administrations of the younger Bush, Carter, Nixon, LBJ, JFK, and FDR, among others. However, it is extremely unusual for the squabbling to be this loud and this public so quickly. Trump reportedly likes a backbiting, survival-of-the-fittest management structure. Well, he's certainly got one. (V & Z)
So much for the notion that Tuesday's address to Congress marked the emergence of a "New Trump." On Saturday, The Donald was back to his old ways—hopping onto Twitter at an early hour to make outrageous declarations. In this case, it was making accusations that Barack Obama ordered the phones at Trump Tower to be wiretapped during the 2016 election:
Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
As per usual, Trump has offered zero evidence in support of his charges. The story—or, perhaps more accurately, conspiracy theory—appears to have originated with right-wing talk show host Mark Levin, and then was picked up by Breitbart (aka Donald Trump's go-to news source). A spokesman for Obama flatly denied the charge, saying that, "[N]either President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false." Some GOP Senators—Ben Sasse (R-NE), Lindsay Graham (R-SC)—have also come out and said Trump had better come up with proof now that he's made such outlandish accusations. And even if Trump had not ventured into the world of alternate facts many times before, this story would be hard to believe. There would be limited upside to tapping Trump's phones, and enormous risk, politically, in getting caught doing so. No president wants to be called "Nixonian," and spying on your political opponents is as Nixonian as it gets.
Of course, those of us who live in the real world are trying to make sense of what is going on here. For some, this is even more evidence that Trump has some sort of mental illness. This is certainly possible, and it wouldn't be the first time the occupant of the White House was mentally incapacitated in one way or another (Reagan, Coolidge, Wilson, Pierce, etc.) Another possibility, one favored by those who think there may be method to the madness, is that Trump makes outlandish statements whenever he wants to deflect attention from unpleasant headlines. Maybe so, but does this really add up? In this case, does Trump really help himself by supplanting "Sessions talked to Russians" with "Trump makes wild, unsubstantiated, possibly paranoid claim about wiretaps?" Trump's base does not appear to care about what Sessions does, and for everyone else, it would seemingly be better for the negative attention to be on the Attorney General than on the President.
Let us, then, suggest a third possibility—one that, in some ways blends the other two together. It is evident that Trump has poor control of his emotions. This makes some sense; he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and has had a life full of wives, business partners, employees, television co-stars, and the like kowtowing to him and to his moods. He's never really been in a position where he needed to learn emotional control. Beyond that, Trump sees himself as being in competition with Barack Obama (see, for example, the debate over the inauguration crowd). Putting it all together, the sequence of events seems clear: Trump is angry right now (see story above), he was given negative information about Barack Obama (whom he resents), and he lashed out. In fact, given the hour at which these tweets generally issue forth, we may even be able to paint a more detailed picture: Trump retires for the evening in a sour mood, tosses and turns, and finally jumps out of bed and uses Twitter as a release. If this assessment is correct, then it's not mental illness, but it's not planned out, either. And in support of this thesis, it's worth noting that an hour after slamming Obama, Trump was back on Twitter to rip into another perceived rival, namely Arnold Schwarzenegger:
Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't voluntarily leaving the Apprentice, he was fired by his bad (pathetic) ratings, not by me. Sad end to great show— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
If there's a politically wise reason to squabble with the Terminator, it escapes us as to what it might be.
In any event, the important long-term question is whether or not these outbursts are going to hurt Trump, politically. Undoubtedly the base is happy to hear Trump say nasty things about Obama—his place of birth, his inauguration crowd, his supposed wiretaps—facts be damned. But there surely must be some segment of the populace, the ones who were voting against Hillary Clinton more than they were voting for Trump, that is feeling a sense of buyer's remorse these days. (Z)
When it comes to the tensions between Barack Obama and Donald Trump, the former president is not entirely free of responsibility. This week, the New York Times reported that in the final days of the Obama White House, the outgoing president and his staff took steps to widely disseminate what was already known about Russian involvement in the election. Their goals were twofold: (1) to make sure that something like this never happened again, and (2) to make sure that the incoming administration was not able to make the matter disappear.
On the latter point, Team Obama appears to have been successful. Every passing day seems to bring more confirmed contacts between people involved in the Trump campaign and Russia. Former national security adviser Michael Flynn was forced to resign due to his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also spoke with Kislyak twice. Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner talked to him. So did Trump advisers Carter Page and J.D. Gordon. Kislyak met Trump last April when Trump gave a foreign-policy address. Kislyak was also invited to attend the Republican National Convention. Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort once worked for the Russians.
The obvious question is: "Why have so many of Trump's close associates talked to Kislyak, not to mention other Russians, and what did they talk about? Could this be related to a remark Donald Trump, Jr., made in 2008: "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia." President Trump has said he has no deals with Russia, but this appears to contradict what Trump, Jr., said, unless the Trumps have rid themselves of Russian money since 2008. But that brings up the question of to whom they sold their assets and why did they sell them. Until all these questions have been answered, the issue of the Russian connection is not going to go away. (V)
Speaking of the competition between Donald Trump and Barack Obama, the ratings are in for The Donald's Tuesday address, and they are good but not great. He attracted 43.4 million viewers, compared to 52.4 million for Obama's first address. That means that Trump came up about 20% short of his predecessor. Further, the U.S. population is larger today than it was in 2008, and it's easier for viewers to watch online, so there's a case to be made that Trump's numbers are more like 25% or 30% short of Obama's. In any event, it's not good news for someone who has made clear he is very interested in television ratings.
Still, it's all about spin in Washington, particularly these days. Trump did outdraw the Academy Awards, as well as Obama's final State of the Union address, so if he does make reference to the ratings, he will probably compare himself to one of those things. Unless, of course, he just claims that the ratings for Obama's first address were inflated by all the undocumented voters in California who were watching. (Z)
At the Four Seasons Resort, just down the road from Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, the President addressed a room full of top Republican donors and asked them to step up and donate to the Republican Party and candidates so the Republicans can get 60 seats in the Senate in January 2019. Trump didn't talk much about policy with the donors. He was relaxed and tried to entertain them. Trump implied that he would campaign hard for Republican candidates in 2018.
Some of the donors were skeptical, though. Although the Democrats face a tough map, with 10 incumbent Democrats running in states that Trump won, the donors know that the president's party generally loses seats in both the House and Senate in the midterms. They also know that Trump's approval rating during his first two months in office is the lowest ever, and the midterms offer voters a way to say "I don't like the president." (V)
In 19 states, state legislatures are considering bills that would require candidates for president and vice president to release their tax returns, typically for the past five years, to qualify to be on the ballot. In states where the Republicans control the state legislature, the bills are not going anywhere, but in those states where the Democrats are in charge—notably California—they have a good chance of passing.
If they pass, they will certainly be challenged in court. The Supreme Court has a mixed record on whether states can impose requirements on candidates to get on the ballot. The Court has upheld filing fees and signature requirements in the past, but this is a wholly different matter. Still, the Constitution gives the states a fair amount of leeway in running their elections, so it is not clear how these laws would play out.
A complicating factor is that if the Supreme Court rules that states may not impose requirements on candidates other than those explicitly stated in the Constitution (which for the office of president are that the candidate must be 35 and a natural-born citizen), it will have a hard time later allowing states to impose extra-constitutional requirements on voters (such as having a photo ID card). Either the states have a lot of leeway to determine candidates and voters or they don't. It is hard to have it both ways. (V)
North Korea is getting dangerously close to becoming a nuclear power, if they are not there already. This is a real dilemma for the Trump administration, one that is not helped by the general lack of experience with foreign affairs that characterizes this particular White House. Past administrations have largely relied on China to keep the North Koreans in check, but that may not be viable for Team Trump, given their already poor relationship with the Chinese. This being the case, consideration is reportedly being given to utilizing military force and/or overthrowing the Kim Jong-un regime.
While neither of us is an expert on East Asian affairs, one of us (Z) is a historian, and past experience would seem to argue that this is a very unwise line of thinking. The U.S. has not had great success with overthrowing leaders whom we did not like: Deposing Saddam Hussein, Mohammed Mossadegh, Ngo Dinh Diem, Jacobo Árbenz, and Salvador Allende, among others, ended up making the respective situations worse rather than better. Meanwhile, North Korea largely lacks conventional military targets—it's essentially Pyongyang dropped in the middle of Afghanistan. The big difference between North Korea and Afghanistan is that as the U.S. struggled to gain control of the Korean peninsula for the second time in 70 years, they might get a nuke or 10 lobbed at them. Not to mention at South Korea or Japan or even China, which could destabilize that entire part of the world. So, we can only hope that such talk is not serious, and that the administration's cooler heads prevail. In that respect the fact that the secretary of defense is a general (James Mattis) could be important. (Z)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Mar04 Trump Mocks Schumer for Eating Donuts with Putin
Mar04 Evidence Against Sessions Mounts
Mar04 Pence: "No Comparison" Between My E-mails and Hillary's
Mar04 So Far, Tillerson Is an Invisible Secretary of State
Mar04 Trump Working to Raise Money for 2020
Mar04 How Midterms Differ from Presidential Elections
Mar03 Sessions Recuses Himself from Investigating Sessions
Mar03 Pence Used Private E-Mail Account
Mar03 The Fight for Trump's Brain
Mar03 Supreme Court Weighs In on Gerrymandering
Mar03 Yemen Raid Yielded No Intelligence
Mar03 Ohio Secretary of State Said that 82 People Voted Illegally
Mar03 McMaster Was Rebuked by the Army in 2015
Mar02 Sessions Looks to Be in Deep Trouble
Mar02 Handicapping Trump's Promises
Mar02 NYT: Five Takeaways from Trump's Speech
Mar02 CNN: Six Takeaways from Trump's Speech
Mar02 The Hill: Five Takeaways
Mar02 USA Today: Six Takeways
Mar02 Response to Trump Speech is Largely Positive
Mar02 Graham Wants a Law Requiring Presidential Candidates to Release Their Tax Returns
Mar02 Conway Looks Likely to Get Off Scott Free
Mar01 Trump Addresses a Joint Session of Congress
Mar01 Trump Signals Openness to Amnesty
Mar01 Betsy DeVos Steps in it Again
Mar01 Banning Reporters from a Press Conference May Be Illegal
Mar01 FBI Was Going to Hire Christopher Steele
Mar01 Trump's Management Style Is Unchanged
Feb28 Trump to Address Congress Tonight
Feb28 Trump and Ryan Are on a Collision Course
Feb28 Does the U.S. Really Need More Military Spending?
Feb28 Trump in Prime Form on Monday
Feb28 Wilbur Ross Confirmed for Commerce
Feb28 Spicer Says There Is Nothing Further to Investigate about Trump-Russia Ties
Feb28 Bush Calls Media "Indispensable to Democracy"
Feb27 Dewey Defeats Truman at Academy Awards
Feb27 Governors Don't Agree on ACA Replacement
Feb27 Leaked Report Says Millions Will Lose Health Care under GOP Plan
Feb27 Democrat Wins First Post-Trump Election in a Landslide
Feb27 More Embarrassments for Spicer
Feb27 Democratic 2020 Candidates Compete To Be Most Anti-Trump
Feb27 Navy SEAL's Father Wants an Investigation
Feb27 Donald Trump May Appear at White House Correspondents' Dinner, After All
Feb26 DNC Elects Tom Perez Chairman
Feb26 Trump Administration Extremely Understaffed
Feb26 The Retail Backlash Has Generated Its Own Backlash
Feb26 Don't Like It? Bury It
Feb26 Trump Won't Attend the White House Correspondents Dinner
Feb26 Kuwaiti Government to Spend Up to $60,000 for a Party at a Trump Hotel