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270 Electoral votes needed to win This date in 2012 2008
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Trump Considers a Major Shakeup

An irritated, angry President Donald Trump is reportedly considering a major shakeup of his team, according to Mike Allen of Axios. One source said Trump is frustrated and angry with everyone. It is even possible that Trump might get rid of everyone except two people who know nothing about governing: his daughter Ivanka and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Sources say that Trump is also unhappy with his hand-picked cabinet of millionaires and billionaires, but firing and then replacing a cabinet officer is a much bigger lift than getting rid of, say, Steve Bannon, because it requires one or more pesky Senate confirmations. Nothing is likely to happen this week in terms of a shakeup, though, since Trump has to find a new FBI director and prepare for his first foreign trip this week. (V)

Flynn Subpoenas Could Lead to a Constitutional Crisis

The Senate Intelligence Committee has subpoenaed documents from former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, but it is up to the Justice Dept. to enforce the subpoena. What happens if Attorney General Jeff Sessions refuses to enforce a valid Senate subpoena? Or, looking forward a little bit, what if the Senate subpoenas Donald Trump's "tapes" (meaning digital recordings, since actual tape recorders vanished years ago) of his conversation with former FBI Director James Comey and Sessions refuses to cooperate?

Mark Gitenstein, who once worked for Watergate committee chairman Sen. Sam Ervin, said that in theory, the Senate could hold the person being subpoenaed in contempt, have him arrested, and lock him in the basement of the Capitol. But nothing like that has been done in 150 years. It could spark a real constitutional crisis, pitting the legislative branch against the executive branch. That would definitely be uncharted territory. Maybe the Supreme Court could referee the fight, but maybe it would prefer to stay out of it. One thing Congress could definitely do if Sessions refused to enforce its subpoenas is impeach and convict him. It is worth noting that if Session did do this, he would be violating not only the law, but also his promise not to get involved in the Russia investigation. So, he'd be exposed on numerous levels.

Up until now, nearly all Republicans have supported Trump through thick and thin. Many people wonder if there is anything Trump could do that could cost him support in Congress. Refusing to enforce a Senate subpoena might just do the trick, though, since Congress does not like to surrender its power to the executive branch voluntarily. (V)

Few People Approve of Comey's Firing

A new NBC/WSJ poll released yesterday found that only 29% of Americans approve of Donald Trump's decision to fire former FBI director James Comey. In addition, 38% disapprove and 32% have no opinion. That is a very high percentage of "no opinion" for such a high-profile issue. Among people who had seen or heard a lot about the matter, the approval/disapproval was 33%/53%. As expected, there was a strong partisan split, with a majority (58%) of Republicans approving and a majority (66%) of Democrats disapproving. The same poll showed that 78% of Americans want to see an independent commission or special prosecutor look into the matter of Russia's interference with the election. (V)

Former Intelligence Honchos Slam Trump

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has spent much of the last week making clear how unimpressed he is with Donald Trump. On Sunday, while appearing on CNN's "State of the Union," he doubled down, declaring that, "I think in many ways our institutions are under assault both externally—and that's the big news here is the Russian interference in our election system—and I think as well our institutions are under assault internally." When asked if he meant that Donald Trump was wrecking the government, Clapper confirmed that was his exact meaning. Undoubtedly, some angry tweets will be coming soon.

Also on Sunday on CNN, Former CIA Director James Woolsey, who served under Bill Clinton, ripped Donald Trump's decision to fire James Comey. "I find this whole thing, this whole week, to be very troubling for inchoate ways and inchoate reasons," he said. Woolsey also said that it would be difficult for Trump to find a replacement director who is (1) willing to take the job, (2) has the respect of the FBI establishment, and (3) can get confirmed by the Senate. Woolsey may be right about this, though there certainly seems to be no shortage of people willing to sit for an interview. (Z)

A Special Prosecutor Is a Dumb Idea

David Frum is a Republican, and he makes a strong case that appointing a special prosecutor to investigate Donald Trump's firing of James Comey is a bad idea. Not because he wants to let Trump off the hook, however. His point is that a prosecutor's job is to look for crimes and prosecute the people who committed them. Suppose a prosecutor is appointed and discovers that Vladimir Putin definitely interfered in the election, but that he did it with the help of Russians for his own purposes, with no Americans involved. A prosecutor would thus conclude that no Americans had broken American laws so the case is closed.

Frum argues for a independent commission established by Congress to investigate the matter and report on what happened. The focus would be on discovering the whole story, not on prosecuting anyone. The model might be the Warren Commission, which investigated the assassination of John F. Kennedy. If the commission discovered any Americans who broke U.S. laws, it could recommend that a special prosecutor be installed with the specific purpose of prosecuting them, rather than trying to get the truth out.

Another problem with a special prosecutor is that he will be judged in the media by how many people he sent to jail, not whether the whole truth came out. If a prosecutor managed to send Carter Page, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, and a few other small fry to jail, the media would proclaim the prosecutor successful, even if all the big fish swam merrily away unscathed. (V)

Schumer Proposes Trade: FBI Director for Special Prosecutor

Apparently, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) did not get David Frum's memo about a special prosecutor's being a bad idea. In view of last week's events, and the difficulties that Donald Trump will face in getting a new FBI Director approved, Schumer is floating an idea on The Hill: That the Senate should not approve any nominee to lead the Bureau until Donald Trump agrees to the appointment of a special prosecutor to look into the Russia matter.

Schumer is likely just putting on a show here. If the Republicans decide to support Trump's nominee, then there's nothing the Democrats can do to stop them. And if there are a handful of Republicans who want a special prosecutor appointed, they can join with the 46 Democrats and 2 Independents to make that happen, without getting the FBI Directorship involved at all. So, anyone who hopes that an Archibald Cox clone is going to be on the job by the end of the month is bound to be disappointed. (Z)

Mike Lee Backs Merrick Garland for FBI Director

When it became clear that a new FBI Director was needed, a few Democrats floated the name of Merrick Garland, President Obama's failed SCOTUS nominee. It's hard to believe they were serious, but now they seem to have an ally from the other side of the aisle: Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT).

There is, of course, no way this is actually going to happen. Given Donald Trump's well-established loathing for anything and everything Obama, he wouldn't consider Garland for dogcatcher, much less FBI Director. Meanwhile, Garland would never give up a lifetime appointment to the nation's second most important court so that he could go work for someone who fires FBI directors at the drop of a hat.

Still, some Democrats are taking the possibility—and Lee's support—seriously. And those individuals, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), are—quite frankly—being stupid. Mike Lee's game here is clear. First and foremost, he wants to replace a liberal with a conservative on the critically important D.C. Court of Appeals. That would change a 7-4 liberal majority into 6-5. One more death or resignation in the next three years, and the GOP takes over. At the same time, there is probably nobody outside of Hillary Clinton who would have less credibility with conservatives when it came to getting tough with Trump. FBI Director Garland could report that he had found ironclad proof that Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump conspired together, in person, to rig the election, and then celebrated their partnership with $100 million in bribes and a night of cavorting with Russian call girls, and Breitbart and Fox would promptly claim that the documents were forged by the same guy who faked Obama's birth certificate. Feinstein, Cummings, et al. would be wise to drop the matter promptly. (Z)

Up to 300,000 People May Have Been Disenfranchised in Wisconsin

The AP is reporting that by one estimate, 300,000 eligible voters in Wisconsin lacked a valid photo ID at the time of the 2016 election. Voters who showed up at the polls with no ID were allowed to cast a provisional ballot, but that would only be counted if they showed up with a valid ID within a few days.

Many voters are unaware that the law is very specific about what constitutes a valid ID. The AP story cites cases of people showing up with out-of-state drivers' licenses, expired licenses, Social Security and Medicare cards, and other forms of ID, none of which are valid as voter ID in Wisconsin. Student IDs are valid, but only if they have a signature on them and a 2-year expiration date.

A study by the NYU Brennan Center in 2006 estimated that as many as 21 million voting-age U.S. citizens did not have a valid government-issued photo ID and an additional 4.5 million had a valid ID but it didn't have their current name (think: recently married women) or address on it.

The courts have taken a mixed view on voter-ID laws. If the law is clearly narrowly targeted to exclude groups of voters who usually vote Democratic, the courts sometimes object. Otherwise, they take the view that the elected state legislatures are within their rights to set voting laws as they wish. (V)

The Kennedy Name Isn't Enough Any More

Bobby Kennedy's son Chris is a multimillionaire and is running for governor of Illinois against Gov. Bruce Rauner (R-IL). So Democrats are overjoyed, right? Actually, no. In fact, quite a few of them want him to drop out of the race altogether. There are two problems with Kennedy. First, he has an abrasive personality and has lashed out at Democratic groups and the media repeatedly. Second, being a multimillionaire probably won't cut it in a race against billionaire Rauner. Many Democrats think it takes a billionaire to beat a billionaire and they have one in J.B. Pritzker, venture capitalist and brother of former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker. If Kennedy decides to stay in the race, Illinois Democrats will have a very, very expensive gubernatorial primary in 2018. (V)

Brooks Expected to Announce Senate Run Today

When Jeff Sessions was approved as attorney general, his vacant Senate seat was filled when then-governor Robert Bentley appointed Luther Strange to the seat. He will have to face the voters later this year in a special election. But before he gets to the general election, he is likely to have to deal with Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) in a primary. Appointed senators have a so-so track record of being elected on their own and the very conservative Brooks is well-known in Alabama, so Strange was his work cut out for him. The primary is Aug. 15 and the general election is Dec. 12. (V)

Did Tim Allen's Show Fall Victim to a Liberal Conspiracy?

Let's look at a case study in how conspiracy theories get started. To begin, consider these four facts:

  1. Tim Allen is one of the most outspoken conservative actors in Hollywood, and an avowed Trump supporter. Recently, he said that being a Republican in Hollywood right now is, "like [living in] '30s Germany."

  2. Allen also plays a conservative character, "Mike Baxter," on the ABC sitcom "Last Man Standing," which gets respectable ratings (it's in the Nielsen Top 60, but barely).

  3. Bob Iger, president of Disney (and therefore ABC), is Jewish, and has vaguely hinted that he might run for president as a Democrat in 2020.

  4. Allen's sitcom was canceled by ABC last week.

When news of the cancellation was announced, it did not take the right-wing media long to connect the dots and to suggest that the actor is victim of a conspiracy. Breitbart, World News Daily, HeatStreet, and Fox News all had stories, and all but WND observed that "Last Man Standing" is ABC's second highest rated comedy, and that a show that successful could only be axed due to ulterior motives on the part of Bob Iger. This has given rise to a number of online petitions excoriating ABC and/or insisting that the show be returned to the airwaves to avoid a boycott.

Let's look at this with a more critical eye, however, beginning with Mark Twain's observation about the three types of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. Nielsen ratings are, of course, a statistic, and are prone to being used in misleading ways. Such is the case here. It's true that Allen's show was the second-rated comedy on ABC last season, behind only "Modern Family." It's also true that ABC only has between six and eight comedic shows (depending on your definition), and the "Last Man Standing" ratings were only a tiny fraction better than the comedies "The Middle," "Black-ish," and "The Goldbergs." If the ball had bounced just a little bit differently, Allen's show could easy have finished as ABC's #5 comedy. It's also the case that there are four networks, and at least six or seven different types of shows (besides comedy, there's also reality, drama, newsmagazine, sports, and fantasy/sci-fi). So, as already noted, "#2 comedy on ABC" equates to "the #56 show on TV." Point is, "Last Man Standing" is a solid performer, but not a smash hit, and not an irreplaceable asset.

Then, we consider a few facts about the business of television (as chance would have it, one of us, Z, lives just three miles from the contractually-defined center of the entertainment industry). To start, TV shows get more and more expensive as they go on, as anyone and everyone involved gets raises. This problem is magnified when a show starts with someone who was already a major star (Allen), and thus could command a big payday from the beginning. In many cases, in fact, a show only makes it to a fourth or fifth season because the production company expects to make its money back on syndication rights (aka reruns, which essentially require 100 episodes, or about five seasons' worth of programming). "Last Man Standing" already made it through six seasons, so the syndication line has already been crossed. That being the case, an additional season offers no future windfalls for the producers, or for ABC (which does not own the show).

At the same time, while the current ratings are strong, the show's viewership skews fairly old. When considering the 18-49 demographic that advertisers care most about, the show drops to #76 in the Nielsens. So, with costs going up and advertising revenues somewhat middling, the show is unlikely to pay for itself in the present, either. No current profits and no future profits is a dangerous place for a show to be. Then we consider that ABC just announced the return of "American Idol," which does attract younger viewers, and which requires 2-3 hours of week of primetime real estate, and it was obvious that "Last Man Standing" was actually "Dead Man Walking."

It's not impossible that Allen's politics played some small role in the decision, though it's worth noting that "The Middle" also features an outspoken conservative star—Patricia Heaton—and it survived for a ninth season. In the end, what really happened here is that a TV network engaged in some business as usual, trying to squeeze as many dollars as it can out of its prime time airwaves. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
May14 Trump Supporters Are Standing by Their Man
May14 What to Watch for in the Comey Story
May14 Comey Furious with White House
May14 Trump Likes to Make Secret Recordings
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May14 Super PAC Money Flooding Special Elections
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May12 Sessions, Trump May Be in Serious Legal Trouble
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May12 Trump Picks Kris Kobach to Be Vice Chairman of the Voter-fraud Committee
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May10 Trump Fires Comey
May10 Flynn Subpoenas Issued
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