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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Threatens North Korea with "Fire and Fury"
      •  Kelly's Main Challenge May Be Trump's Tweets
      •  Justice Dept. Agrees that Ohio Can Purge Inactive Voters
      •  Pence Hires Top Strategist
      •  Heller Gets Primary Challenger
      •  Anti-Trump Independents Are Starting to Organize
      •  Trump Endorses Strange
      •  Trump Organization May Be Pursuing Casino in Asia

Trump Threatens North Korea with "Fire and Fury"

At an event at his Bedminster, NJ, golf club, where he is on a 17-day working vacation, President Donald Trump threatened North Korea by saying that if it makes any more hostile moves toward the United States "they will be met with fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before." "Fire and fury" certainly has a nice ring to it, much like the "shock and awe" campaign in Iraq, although the latter didn't work out so well in the end.

Trump's remarks were triggered by a report that North Korea has managed to miniaturize a nuclear warhead that can fit its missiles, which are thought to be able to reach most of the United States. Trump has a long history of threatening people he deals with, and probably does not realize that that strategy won't work with North Korea. If Kim Jong-Un is rational—and no one knows if that is the case—then he realizes he is in a lot more powerful position with nuclear weapons than without them. If he is not rational, anything is possible.

Trump almost certainly does not fully grasp what Korean War II would mean. It is true that he could order a nuclear strike on Pyongyang, but the consequence of that would be the destruction of Seoul by North Korea's conventional artillery pieces, which are lined up just north of the Demilitarized zone. It would take days for the U.S. to destroy the thousands of weapons along the 160-mile DMZ, by which time millions of South Koreans would be dead. Needless to say, South Korea, a key U.S. ally in the region, is not keen on a war with North Korea. Nor is Japan. Nor is China.

Late Tuesday, the North Korean government released a statement that talked about lobbing a missile at Guam, which is only about 2,000 miles away from Pyongyang. It's not clear that this threat—which came to light not long after Trump hurled his invective—was related to the President's words. The statement made no reference to Trump, which is unusual if it was meant as a response to him. However, even if Kim was already thinking in this way before The Donald spoke up, then Trump's remarks certainly did not do anything to help the matter.

Ultimately, if the President wants to avoid an ugly armed conflict then he really needs to clam up and get realistic about his options. To start with, China is not going to solve this problem for him. While they are certainly concerned about North Korean misbehavior, they are even more concerned by American entrenchment in the region. So, they are likely to play both sides of the street until the cows come home. Similarly, the recently announced U.N. sanctions against North Korea are merely a first step, and a fairly anemic one. George W. Bush and Barack Obama made the mistake of putting too much stock in this particular tactic, since China and Russia invariably do not live up to their obligations, and since North Korea isn't really affected much by sanctions anyhow. The only way the sanctions mean anything, as former Sanctions Director for the Obama-era State Dept. Richard Nephew observes, is if they are the first step in opening negotiations with Kim. Only by engaging him directly can the U.S. hope to manage this situation without a war.

Sec. of State Rex Tillerson and Sec. of Defense James Mattis both recognize that diplomacy is the United States' best option, and have been trying to make progress on that front. The President's bluster on Tuesday certainly did not help them in their efforts. It's not surprising that the members of Team Trump are on different pages, as The Donald has made this personal, and he does not like to back down when confronted by another bloviator. He's made clear on several occasions that he's not interested in negotiating. On the other hand, back in 1999 when this was Bill Clinton's headache, Trump said he would "negotiate like crazy" with the North Koreans. In any case, Tillerson and Mattis will now be stuck with the unenviable task of making both Kim and their boss see reason, with millions of South and North Korean and possibly American lives hanging in the balance. (V & Z)

Kelly's Main Challenge May Be Trump's Tweets

The President is in denial, of course, but there is no question that Twitter does him more harm than good, as he shoots himself in the foot over and over and over. Just this week, two more examples of this came to light. The first was the news that Trump's tweet announcing the ban of transgender soldiers from the military was issued in a fit of pique, as he grew frustrated with White House lawyers as they told him he probably couldn't ban such soldiers. Which means that, yes, we have a Trump transgendered troops Twitter tantrum. Say that five times fast.

The second issue, which occurred Tuesday, was a Presidential retweet of a Fox News Story. That, in and of itself, is not controversial since The Donald retweets Fox all the time. The problem here is that the story was, according to U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, based on classified information that someone leaked to the press. Ergo, Trump is not only drawing attention to information that's supposed to be secret, he's also unknowingly endorsing leakers' behavior.

It is obvious to the general public that the President's tweeting is not productive; between 60% and 70% of them believe that he should knock it off. It's also obvious to the General. That is, John Kelly, the new White House Chief of Staff. He's already conceded that he will never get the President to turn off the Twitter, so his goal is "pushing the tweets in the right direction," which means reducing the amount of troublesome content, and also limiting as much as possible the occasions when major policy statements and other decisions are announced via the social media platform. Presumably, if there is anyone who can have success in this area, it's a four-star Marine Corps general with a clear, strategic plan. On the other hand, many others have failed in this mission before, including the President's children, and it's not like Kelly can be in Trump's bedroom at 4:00 a.m. every day to take his phone away. So, this might just be a Sisyphean task. (Z)

Justice Dept. Agrees that Ohio Can Purge Inactive Voters

Ohio has been purging voters from the rolls if they fail to vote for 6 years. Civil rights groups have sued over this, claiming it violates the National Voter Registration Act. The Obama administration Justice Dept. sided with the civil rights groups and filed support briefs on the case. However, there is a new sheriff in town now and the Justice Dept. has switched sides and now supports Ohio. It filed an amicus brief on Monday saying that Ohio is within its rights to purge voters after 6 years of not voting. It should be noted that neither the law or the facts have changed, just the personnel in the Justice Dept.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) said that the purge is, "essential to conducting an election with efficiency and integrity." Civil rights groups maintain there is no valid reason to purge voters who have a legal right to vote, even if they haven't exercised that right recently. The Supreme Court has agreed to take the case. It will be Justice Neil Gorsuch's first opportunity to weigh in on the contentious issue of voting. (V)

Pence Hires Top Strategist

Anyone who thinks Vice President Mike Pence is not thinking intensely about his political future is smoking something and inhaling lots of it. Pence just hired top Republican campaign operative Nick Ayers, a 34-year-old Georgia native. This doesn't mean Pence is working out the details of his 2020 campaign already, but it unambiguously means that Pence (58) definitely has no plans to go gentle into that good night after Trump ceases to be president, whether that be in 2018, 2021, or 2025.

Right now Pence has to walk a tightrope. He has to be loyal to Trump to avoid Trump unloading on him. He will also need Trump's base to get behind him when the time comes. On the other hand, he has to keep his distance from Trump so that he isn't tarred by any of the scandals. This is where having a team member like Ayers around to give advice could help. Pence needs to make decisions about how much to get involved in legislation, especially bills on which Trump and the congressional leadership may not see eye to eye. And if Pence wants to think further out, there are some hypothetical questions he might need some advice on. Sample question: Should I pardon Trump? Right now that is completely irrelevant, but there may come a day when it is not. Having a sharp political operative around as a sounding board can't hurt. (V)

Heller Gets Primary Challenger

As if Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) didn't have enough problems being the only Republican senator up for reelection in 2018 in a state Hillary Clinton won, he just got a new one: a primary challenge from the right. Danny Tarkanian, a perennial (losing) candidate, yesterday announced that he was going to run against Heller in a primary. Tarkanian supports Donald Trump's policies and has attacked Heller for being insufficiently supportive of Trump. Heller didn't exactly dismiss Tarkanian, but pointedly noted that his track record in running for elective office is 0-5. Tarkanian does have one asset, though: He is the son of popular former UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, who led the school to its only championship in that sport.

Danny Tarkanian is about to become the best friend of Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), the Democrats' choice to oppose Heller. Due to Tarkanian's challenge, Heller is probably going to have to move to the right, as well as support Trump more, in order to win the primary. Then he is going to have to say he didn't mean any of it and move to the left and oppose Trump to win the general election. In politics, all kinds of strange stuff happens, but Heller's path to another term in the Senate is increasingly narrow. (V)

Anti-Trump Independents Are Starting to Organize

This may not be the beginning of a new party, but you never know. A group of 13 independents who don't feel they fit into the Trumpian Republican Party are joining forces and starting to organize as a political unit. They will meet this weekend in Philadelphia in a kind of mini-convention to get briefings on campaign mechanics, polling, hiring, and donors. George W. Bush's chief strategist, Matthew Dowd, will be there, as will Reed Galen, John McCain's 2008 deputy campaign manager. Is it a prototype for a new party? Time will tell.

The group has already raised $750,000 and is hoping to raise $10 million. A number of potential candidates for senator and governor are also interested. Historically, attempts to form new political parties don't get very far, but with so many Republicans unhappy with the way Donald Trump is reshaping the Republican Party, it is at least possible that this time the story ends differently. (V)

Trump Endorses Strange

In view of the news that loose cannon Roy Moore is leading in polls of the August 15 primary election to choose a replacement for now-AG Jeff Sessions, the GOP establishment is closing ranks around its preferred candidate, Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL). That includes Donald Trump, who endorsed the Senator on Tuesday, tweeting:

That's "complete" and "total." No fractional endorsements, here.

There may come a time when a Trump endorsement, like a George W. Bush endorsement circa 2011, does more harm than good. But in Alabama, the President is still around a 55% approval rating, which is better than all but a handful of states for him. So, Strange will likely benefit from Trump's support. If none of the three leading Republicans—Moore, Strange, and Rep. Mo Brooks—clears 50% next Tuesday, then the top two will have a runoff in September for the right to represent the GOP in the general election in December. (Z)

Trump Organization May Be Pursuing Casino in Asia

The Trump family desperately wants to be in the casino business. They were once in the business, in Atlantic City, but then their establishments cratered (along with much of the rest of the city). They've tried to get their foot in the door in Las Vegas, but Sheldon Adelson has put a stop to that. Now, there are reports the Trump Organization is thinking about a casino in the "Las Vegas of Asia," Macau.

If this is true, it's rather problematic for two reasons. The first is that Eric Trump, who is running the family business while pops is away in Washington, has been unequivocal that these kinds of projects were off the table. "In light of politics," he told Fox News, "we've said 'Hey, listen, we're not going to expand anymore internationally. We're not going to do any new international projects.'" So, if the news is accurate, then it would mean that young Eric was lying. Not exactly a first for the family, but there it is.

The second problem is that, of course, Macau is a part of China. Between the South China Sea, and North Korea, and the Paris Accord, etc., the relationship between the Trump administration and the Xi administration is already hairy enough. If we add to that the numerous additional layers of conflicts of interest that a Trump Macau would bring, well, the possibility simply boggles the mind. It would also mean Trump is playing a rather high-stakes game of chicken with the Constitution's emoluments clause. For that reason alone, it's hard to see this moving forward. Unless, of course, he plans to be out of office by the time groundbreaking begins. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Aug08 Trump Goes after Blumenthal
Aug08 Debt Ceiling Could Give Us Trump's First Real Crisis
Aug08 Why Did Mueller Impanel a Grand Jury Last Week?
Aug08 Nesterczuk Withdraws
Aug08 Moore Leads in Alabama Senator Primary
Aug08 SCOTUS Will Hear Ohio Voter Purge Case
Aug08 Peter Thiel Appears to Have Jumped Ship on Trump
Aug08 The Strange Saga of Nicole Mincey
Aug07 Rosenstein: Mueller Can Investigate Any Crimes He Discovers
Aug07 Pence Issues Pro Forma Denial of Any Plans to Run in 2020
Aug07 What Has Trump Done?
Aug07 August Could Be a Rough Month for Trump
Aug07 Whither Anti-Environmentalism?
Aug07 As Candidate, the President Colluded with a Foreign Power to Influence the Election
Aug07 Mazie Hirono Flew Even Further than McCain to Vote Despite Her Cancer
Aug06 Sanctions for North Korea
Aug06 What Might the Final Grand Jury Report Contain?
Aug06 Mueller's Microscope Is on Flynn
Aug06 Does Trump Want to Be Impeached?
Aug06 The Four Anti-Trump Camps in the GOP
Aug06 Trump Could Have a Challenger in 2020
Aug06 Miller May Become Communications Director
Aug05 What Does Mueller's Grand Jury Mean?
Aug05 This Is the Kind of Thing Mueller Is Looking For
Aug05 House Republican Staffers Made a Secret Trip to London to Try to Contact Steele
Aug05 Trump Claims Credit for Jobs Report
Aug05 Polls Have Bad, Worse, and Worst News for Trump
Aug05 The Obama-Trump Voters Were Actually Republicans
Aug05 Did Heller Make a Deal with McConnell?
Aug05 Manchin Is Now Isolated
Aug05 Kid Rock Outpolls Stabenow
Aug04 Mueller Impanels a Grand Jury
Aug04 Trump's Conversations with Foreign Leaders Have Leaked
Aug04 Trump May Change the Balance of Power between the President and Congress
Aug04 Democrats Have a Problem on Many Issues with White Working-Class Voters
Aug04 Poll: 80% of Voters Disapprove of Republicans' Plans on Health Care
Aug04 Senate Won't Recess During August
Aug04 Trump May Fire U.S. Commander in Afghanistan
Aug04 Gov. Jim Justice Switches to Republican Party
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Aug03 Trump Condemns Sanctions Bill but Signs It Anyway
Aug03 Trump Wants to Reinvent Immigration
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Aug03 Trump's Potential Six Crises
Aug03 Two Phone Calls, Two Lies
Aug03 Beware the "Race Traders"
Aug03 Mueller Hires a Specialist in Fraud and Bribery
Aug03 Democrats Lead on Generic Congressional Ballot
Aug03 McGrath Declares With Quite the Commercial
Aug03 New Air Force Ones Likely to Be Repurposed Russian Planes