• Bad Numbers for the GOP
• Donald Trump Needs a Brain Test
• Donald Trump Is a Liar
• Trump's Life in the White House
• Arab League Condemns Jerusalem Announcement
• Jones Desperate to Rally Black Voters
• Please Pardon Our Dust
Paul Manafort and Rick Gates will be in court Monday to chat with the judge about things like bail, and whether or not they are a flight risk. Given that they are currently among the star witnesses for the prosecution, special counsel Robert Mueller is eager to show the court that they must be kept in the country at all costs. To that end, his team filed documents with the court that were made public on Friday, and that show just how exhaustive the investigation has been.
By the numbers, Team Mueller has collected over 400,000 documents from the two men, much of which are dross, but over 2,000 of which have been tagged "hot." Of the total, at least a third are financial in nature. The special counsel has also, in the course of executing 15 different search warrants, taken possession of 36 laptops, phones, thumb drives and other electronic devices. Clearly, it pays to conspire with foreign agents. At least, it pays until you start working for Donald Trump.
Of course, Manafort and Gates are not the only targets of the investigation; they aren't even the only star witnesses who have flipped. And when you add whatever Mueller's gotten from Michael Flynn, and George Papadopoulos (whose fiance says he was in constant touch with the campaign, and was no "coffee boy"), and the Trump family, and the others the special counsel has looked into, the amount of information must be staggering. Anyone who thought their secrets were going to remain secret should probably be rethinking that conclusion. (Z)
The leadership of the Republican Party has made a very clear strategic decision: Focus on short-term gain at the risk of long-term pain. This is reflected in their aggressive manipulation of the SCOTUS approval process so as to get Neil Gorsuch a seat, their support for Roy Moore in order to gain a single Senate seat, their efforts to repeal Obamacare, their attempts to pass a wildly unpopular tax bill, and their willingness to take a hatchet to Social Security and Medicaid to pay for that tax bill. Presumably, they are hoping that one or more of these things will be true: (1) GOP and independent voters will eventually forget all of this, or (2) GOP and independent voters can be distracted in November of 2018 and 2020 by some other issue, like uranium deals or fake news, or (3) The economy will boom, and that will cause many other wrongs to be forgotten, or (4) By the time the pain inflicted by these decisions comes home to roost, it will be another generation of Republican politicians left holding the bag.
We won't know for sure whether the gambles being made by Donald Trump, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), et al. will go south until November 2018 at the earliest. However, the numbers that pollsters are seeing at the moment are certainly not promising for the GOP. To start with, only 37% of voters identify as Republicans right now, compared to 44% of voters who see themselves as Democrats. That's where the blue team has been, give or take a point or two, for several years. However, it's the lowest that the red team has been at since George W. Bush's second term. Further, the gap between the two numbers is as big as it has been in close to a decade (excepting a brief seven-point period in 2015). For decades, it has been the case that Democrats lead the Republicans in party identification, but it has also been the case that if the GOP can keep the gap small, they win elections, since Republicans vote more reliably than Democrats do. Conversely, it has also been the case that when the gap grows too big, more than three or four points, the GOP gets slaughtered at the polls. So, seven points is definitely not good for them.
There is also evidence that Donald Trump's base, in particular, is not holding firm, no matter what the President says. Comparing the results of the Pew Research Poll from mid-February (when Trump reached his post-inauguration high) to those from late November, his approval has fallen among every group that powered his electoral victory. That includes Americans in general (-7 points), Republicans (-6), men (-5), whites (-8), voters over 50 (-9 points), white evangelicals (-17), and whites without a college education (-10). That number among the evangelicals has to be particularly worrying; those folks are not likely to vote for a Democrat, but they are exactly the people who are willing to invest their vote in a third-party candidate or to stay home in order to send a message.
It's a long time until November 2018, of course, and an eternity until November 2020. It's possible that the tax bill, if passed, could turn things around a bit. However, that's far from a slam dunk, and the smart money says it does more harm than good. Meanwhile, there are lots of things on the horizon or potentially on the horizon that could make a bad situation worse: the election and seating of Roy Moore, some sort of violence prompted by the move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, a stock market/economic downturn, the Mueller investigation. It's hard not to be bearish on the GOP right now.(Z)
Ok, you probably already knew that. But now someone with the appropriate credentials is saying it openly. He's Ford Vox, M.D., an Atlanta neurologist who has written extensively about brain injury. He groups what is publicly known into three categories:
- Language and executive dysfunction: Vox observes
that "the president's speech patterns are increasingly repetitive, fragmented,
devoid of content, and restricted in vocabulary." Repeated, excessive use of
words like "fantastic" and "terrific" might make for good rallies, but they are
also signs of reduced fluency. Interview transcripts are particularly
instructive in this regard, as they lack the non-verbal cues that elide over
some of the President's shaky communication skills. When you read those
transcripts, such as
from the Wall Street Journal, significant portions are barely
- Dysfunction of social cognition and behavior:
Trump shows little concern for the thoughts and feelings of others (more below),
which could be a product of personality and privilege, but could also be a sign
of cognitive decline. His impulsivity and lack of inhibition is particularly
concerning; often, when someone who can't stop themselves from saying or doing
the wrong thing, it is because they are really and truly unable to stop
themselves from saying or doing the wrong thing. In many such individuals, the
frontal lobe of the brain has deteriorated significantly. As Vox points out,
"Such frontal impairment often does not stop at troublesome communication, but
has physical manifestations such as childlike facial expressions and physical
restlessness, both features we see in Trump."
- Dysfunction in memory, attention and concentration: Trump could just be a liar (again, more below) that is very good at convincing himself of his own falsehoods. But his dishonesty could also be a sign that he struggles to keep things straight, and he can't actually remember what is true and what is not. His recent return to Obama birther claims and his newly-discovered theory that the pu**ygate tape is a forgery are particularly instructive.
Vox also spends much of his article grappling with the ethics of this kind of armchair diagnosis, and ultimately concludes that remaining silent is more problematic than saying something. He also makes clear that he is not saying that Trump does have a debilitating brain injury or disease, merely that it is more likely than not, and the possibility is certainly compelling enough that it's time to look into the matter.
Though Vox does not specifically point them out, there are really two distinct reasons that Trump should heed the doctor's advice. The first is that if he really is impaired, he's in a job that is too important to be done by someone not in full command of their faculties. The second is that even if he is not impaired, the perception that he might be will make it much more difficult for him to do his job. Foreign leaders and the American public both need to have confidence that the President is playing with a full deck. Trump has promised to undergo a full physical in January, as is customary for presidents. If that happens, then it will be an opportunity to conduct the necessary neurological tests and to answer these questions. And if no neurological tests are conducted, or if those results are not released, then there are going to be a lot of questions as to why. (Z)
Ok, you probably already knew that, too. But Bella DePaulo is a social scientist who has studied lying extensively, producing several books on the subject, like The Hows and Whys of Lies and Behind the Door of Deceit: Understanding the Biggest Liars in Our Lives. She has written a very interesting op-ed for the Washington Post in which she declares that she's never seen a liar anything like Donald Trump in her 20 years of studying the subject.
DePaulo's observation applies to both the quantity and the quality of Trump's lies. The quantity is well known; in his first year in office Trump has averaged about six lies a day, though recently that number has been closer to nine. And those are just his public lies; only his staff knows what happens when the cameras are off and the phone with Twitter is in the pocket. DePaulo says this is more lying than she's ever seen from anyone, in all the folks she's studied.
What is really, unusual, however, is the quality of the lies. Generally speaking, people tend to tell self-serving lies ("I wasn't speeding, officer!") about half the time, and they tend to tell kind lies, often called "little white lies," about a quarter of the time ("That shirt looks very nice on you!") That is a ratio of about 2 to 1. In Trump's case, however, he tends to tell self-serving lies about two-thirds of the time, and he tells kind lies about 10% of the time. That's a ratio of 6.5 to 1, which is the worst that DePaulo has ever seen. Even more unusual, however, is that most people are loath to tell cruel or mean lies ("Your wife is cheating on you!"); those tend to constitute only 1-2% of all lies for the average person. Not for Donald Trump, however, where fully 50% of his lies are meant to inflict harm on a person or group. Either he really does have a brain problem (see above), or else we now have statistical evidence that he's an unusually nasty person, or both. (Z)
Saturdays are often slow news days, which means more pieces with a broad focus, whether on Donald Trump's neurology, or his psychology, or his daily life in Washington. In the latter group is a lengthy profile co-authored by the New York Times' Maggie Halberstam, who is about as dialed in to the Trump White House as anyone (though the President publicly derides her as part of the "fake news," he's privately willing to talk to her, as are other White House staffers). It's worth reading in its entirety, but here are some of the highlights:
- Trump watches 4-8 hours of TV news a day; Fox for comfort, and MSNBC to get fired up
- His first tweets often come before he's actually gotten out of bed
- He drinks 12 Diet Cokes a day
- He hung maps of the states/counties he won in 2016 on the walls of the White House
- He thinks the presidency is something he has to "win" and campaign for every day
- He yells a lot, sometimes at whomever happens to be in the room, like the cleaning staff
- He is highly dependent on Chief of Staff John Kelly, calling him up to a dozen times a day
- He thought that calling the Russiagate investigation a "witch hunt" was masterful political move
- He never, ever gets tired of seeing his name in headlines
- He really does not seem to distinguish between "lies" and "true stories I don't like"
The overall impression is a president who is in a thick bubble of his own creation, and one that is only getting thicker. This perception is affirmed by a recent incident in which Trump walked out on a private conversation with Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, who is as much of a sycophant as anyone not named "Hannity," because she dared ask him about Robert Mueller. Generally speaking, "bubble" and "successful presidency" do not go together, as Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon could attest, if they were still alive. (Z)
On Friday, leaders of most Arab nations signed a resolution declaring their opposition to Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and to move the U.S. embassy there. The document specifically declares that the U.S. has "withdrawn itself as a sponsor and broker" of any possible Israeli-Palestinian peace, that Trump's move "deepens tension, ignites anger and threatens to plunge region into more violence and chaos," and that they will ask the U.N. security council to pass a resolution on the matter. The latter request certainly isn't going to come to fruition, since the U.S. has one of the 15 seats on the council. However, at Friday's meeting at the U.N., it was clear that the room was 14-to-1 against the United States.
The folks who take the Palestinian side of the argument have not exactly shown a tendency to back down, especially when provoked. Nor has Donald Trump, and that is before we consider how his base would respond to the the optics of him appearing to bow to the wishes of a bunch of Muslims. Given these things, and given that far more diplomatic presidents, backed by robust State Departments and competent secretaries of state, have failed to resolve this matter, it is now impossible to see how this administration will ever be able to make any progress in this area. (Z)
In a state where many white voters are evangelicals, there are only so many white votes to be had for a pro-choice Democrat like Doug Jones, even if he is running against an accused child molester. The key to victory, then, is going to be black votes. Though Jones is not himself black, he did prosecute several high-profile racist murderers and send them to jail. If any white guy was going to have crossover appeal, then, it should be him. However, Alabama's black voters are not sold; both polls and one-on-one interviews speak to a general lack of enthusiasm for his candidacy.
Jones is pulling out all the stops to try and get black voters to the polls. Every black Democratic politician who will not also aggravate white voters (in other words, no Barack Obama) is canvassing the state on Jones' behalf, among them Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL), and former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick. If Moore cannot close the deal—a moderate Democrat with a significant pro-civil rights record running against a fringe candidate with serious baggage—then the blue team is going to have to rethink their red state strategy. Either they are going to have to swallow hard and run pro-life candidates, or they are going to have to—gasp!—run a black candidate, or maybe both. (Z)
Due to Al Franken's resignation, there will be two Senate elections in Minnesota in 2018. We are trying to adapt the map to show both of them. In the process of changing the code to handle this, a bug crept yesterday and the map showed strange colors for a short while. We're working on it. Sorry for the inconvenience. (V)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec09 Yearbook Inscription Partly Not Moore's Writing
Dec09 Trump Rallies in Florida
Dec09 Dina Powell Will Leave White House in January
Dec09 Democrats Looking Under Rocks for Competitive House Races
Dec09 Special Election for Conyers Seat Won't Be Until Nov. 2018
Dec09 Democrats Will Restrict Superdelegates in 2020
Dec09 Trump Asked RNC Chair to Omit 'Romney' from Her Name
Dec08 Looks Like There's More to the Trump Tower Story
Dec08 Tax Bill Hits Rough Waters
Dec08 Franken Will Quit
Dec08 Dayton Might Appoint His Lieutenant Governor as a Placeholder
Dec08 Report: Trent Franks to Resign from Congress Just Ahead of a Scandal
Dec08 Congress Kicks the Can a Short Distance Down the Road
Dec08 Trump's Approval Falls with Every Demographic Group
Dec08 Trump to Get Physical
Dec08 Roy Moore, Historian
Dec08 Arpaio "Seriously" Considering Senate Run
Dec08 Vonn Will Represent the U.S., Not Trump
Dec07 Democrats Call for Franken to Resign
Dec07 Bredesen Will Run for Senate
Dec07 Flynn Told Business Associate that Sanctions Would be Ripped Up Immediately
Dec07 The Sausage Machine Has Been Turned On Again
Dec07 Fallout from Jerusalem Decision Begins
Dec07 Trump Slurred His Speech
Dec07 Time Person of the Year:
Dec07 Democrats Try but Fail to Impeach Trump
Dec07 Conyers III Not Likely to Be Your Next Representative from Michigan
Dec06 Report: Mueller Subpoenaed Deutsche Bank for Trump Financial Records
Dec06 Russiagate Plot Thickens Some More
Dec06 Tax Bill Looks to Be an Albatross around the Republicans' Neck in 2018
Dec06 Conyers Resigns Effectively Immediately
Dec06 God's Plan for Mike Pence
Dec06 Trump Will Move Forward on Jerusalem
Dec06 Polls Say Moore, Jones Are Leading in Alabama
Dec05 Trump Formally Endorses Roy Moore
Dec05 RNC Back in on Moore, Too
Dec05 Another Woman Produces Evidence that Roy Moore Knew Her as a Teenager
Dec05 Supreme Court Allows Muslim Ban 3.0 to Go Into Effect Temporarily
Dec05 White House Lawyer Told Trump in January That Flynn Lied
Dec05 Can a President Obstruct Justice?
Dec05 Tax Bill Is Likely to Be Close to the Senate Bill
Dec05 Americans Don't Like the Obamacare Mandate--Until Someone Explains What It Is
Dec05 31% of Republicans Want a Different Nominee in 2020
Dec04 Feinstein Thinks Mueller Is Building an Obstruction of Justice Case against Trump
Dec04 Did Flynn Wear a Wire?
Dec04 Differences Will Have to Be Ironed Out between the Senate and House Bills
Dec04 McConnell Backs Off Position that Moore Should Drop Out of the Senate Race
Dec04 Bush is Back
Dec04 CBS Poll: Moore Ahead by 6%, but Don't Believe It