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      •  Assessing Donald Trump's First Year
      •  Stories to Watch in 2018
      •  People to Watch in 2018

Assessing Donald Trump's First Year

As the calendar turns from 2017 to 2018, many outlets are taking the opportunity to assess Donald Trump's first year (well, first 345 days) in office. A selection:

Left-leaning Commentators:
  • Michael Grunwald, Politico, Donald Trump Is a Consequential President. Just Not in the Ways You Think.: "The most consequential aspect of President Trump—like the most consequential aspect of Candidate Trump—has been his relentless shattering of norms: norms of honesty, decency, diversity, strategy, diplomacy and democracy, norms of what presidents are supposed to say and do when the world is and isn't watching. As I keep arguing in these periodic Trump reviews, it's a mistake to describe his all-caps rage-tweeting or his endorsement of an accused child molester or his threats to wipe out 'Little Rocket Man' as unpresidential, because he's the president. He's by definition presidential. The norms he's shattered are by definition no longer norms. His erratic behavior isn't normal, but it's inevitably becoming normalized, a predictably unpredictable feature of our political landscape."

  • Eugene Robinson, Washington Post, Trump's first year was even worse than feared: "We knew that Trump was narcissistic and shallow, but on Inauguration Day it was possible to at least hope he was self-aware enough to understand the weight that now rested on his shoulders, and perhaps grow into the job. He did not. If anything, he has gotten worse. By all accounts, the president spends hours each day watching cable news, buoyed by the shows that blindly support him — 'Fox & Friends,' 'Hannity,' a few others on Fox News — and enraged by those that seek to hold him accountable. His aides have had to shorten and dumb down his daily briefings on national security in an attempt to get him to pay attention. Members of his Cabinet try to outdo one another in lavishing him with flowery, obsequious praise that would embarrass the Sun King...To understand how deviant the Trump administration is, consider this: Since its founding, the nation has treasured civilian control of the military as a restraint on adventurism. Now we must rely on three generals — Trump's chief of staff, his national security adviser and his secretary of defense — to keep this rash and erratic president from careering off the rails."

  • Paul Waldman, The Week, Republicans' absurd revisionist history of President Trump's first year: "[T]here's an entire generation of Republicans who are going to be tainted by their support for Trump. They'll have to endure questions about his tweets, and about his lies, and about Russian collusion. If Trump loses a re-election bid and winds up one of the most disgraced presidents in history — one of the more likely conclusions to this whole bizarre episode in American political history — Democrats will never let Republicans forget it. He will have degraded the party, if not permanently, then at least for some time to come. The immediate result could be a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress in 2021, one that will move with extraordinary speed to undo everything Trump did and inaugurate a new age of progressive policymaking."

  • Michael Duffy, Time/PBS, Assessing President Donald Trump's first year in office: "Well, this is a party that is literally cracking open in the president's first year, over everything from trade, to taxes, to spending, to foreign policy, and who should be in the Republican Party and who should lead it. They're fighting about all of that. And for President Trump, who used to be a Democrat, you know, to be sort of presiding and—now, he didn't start this war. It started five or six years ago. But he stoked it. And he stoked it in the campaign. And that just constantly is a—reduces the influence of all the Republican institutions while they fight about this. So that's just a weight on his ankles. And I don't think that goes away anytime soon, and it will probably get worse—probably get worse."

  • Alyona Minkovski, Salon, The harmful effects of Trump-era policies: "Trump's accomplishments in the White House in his first year are making life worse for many Americans...Immigration policies have already separated families and made travel and work more difficult for many people. [The] Trump administration's travel ban affects people from six Muslim-majority countries, legal immigration has been slowed and arrests of non-criminal undocumented immigrants surged by 250 percent, according to government data. Trump has also legitimized hate by saying there are good people on 'both sides' after a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville. Meanwhile, FBI statistics show that hate crimes are on the rise with increases in attacks based on race."

Right-leaning Commentators:
  • Marc A. Thiessen, Washington Post, The 10 best things Trump has done in his first year in office: "The record of achievement suggests that, despite the noxious tweets and self-inflicted wounds emanating from the White House, Trump has the potential to become one of the most consequential conservative presidents in modern American history. The question is: Does all this good outweigh the bad?"

  • Matthew Continetti, The National Review, Personal eccentricity, political conventionality: "The year since Donald Trump was elected president has not been without accomplishment. The investiture of Justice Neil Gorsuch and several lower-court judges, the successful campaign against ISIS, the rollback of intrusive government regulations, the approval of the Keystone and Dakota XL pipelines, the precipitous reduction in illegal border crossings, the decertification of Iranian compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, withdrawal from UNESCO, and the ongoing boom of record employment and stock-market prices cannot be denied. But those Trump supporters who assumed his election would inaugurate an era of economic nationalism and a rewriting of the rules of the liberal international order have been disappointed so far. The paradox of Trump is that this most idiosyncratic of men has proven to be a rather conventional Republican president."

  • Paul Bedard, Washington Examiner, Year One List: 81 major Trump achievements, 11 Obama legacy items repealed: "With the passage of the GOP tax bill this week, the Trump administration has scored 81 major achievements in its first year, making good on campaign promises to provide significant tax cuts, boost U.S. energy production, and restore respect to the United States, according to the White House. And along the way, President Trump even outdid his own expectations and slashed at least 11 major legacy items of former President Barack Obama, including cracking down on the open border, slowing recognition of communist Cuba and effectively killing Obamacare by ending the mandate that everyone have health insurance or face a tax."

  • Carrie Sheffield, The Hill, Conservatives packed 2017 with victories — push 2018 even further: "While political correctness had reared its pernicious head in abundantly manifested ways, the corresponding bombastic, overheated political rhetoric of the past two years needn't overshadow our discourse in 2018. The political sea change that was Donald Trump in 2016 created an opening for solutions-oriented conservatives to unabashedly show American voters how limited government, competitive markets and robust but realistic foreign policy will make us freer, safer and and more prosperous."

  • Charlie Spiering, Breitbart, Top 12 MAGA Moments in Donald Trump's First Year as President: "President Donald Trump had a successful first year, but there were moments when his supporters felt particularly vindicated about their decision to vote for him. Those moments are 'MAGA moments,' when it was clear that Trump was keeping his promise to Make America Great Again."

  • Richard Baris, Rasmussen Reports, Trump's First Year Accomplishments Compiled In Shockingly Long List: "Looking back on President Donald Trump's first year in office, he has compiled a shockingly strong record and long list of accomplishments. As was also the case with his rise to the presidency, President Trump has broken several records for a first-year commander-in-chief and fulfilled many of his key campaign promises. Now, that's not to say he hasn't had failures and it's not to mask the fact that many of these accomplishments were unilateral. But it is also true that President Trump has faced an unprecedented level of never-ending obstruction throughout the year. He was the first president in memory to be deprived of the 'honeymoon' period after Inauguration Day and, frankly, opposition at times has risen to levels that could arguably constitute downright treason."

  • Liz Mair, U.S. News and World Report, The Trump Presidency: A Success Story: "What would you say if I told you that Donald Trump is one step away from securing a legacy as the most successful first-year president ever? On one level, it sounds crazy. The president has spent year one mired in controversy over crazy tweets involving alleged face-lifts of TV stars, horrifically ignorant and ill-advised comments about white nationalists, alleged personal profiting off the presidency, supposed interference in criminal investigations and the connections of multiple members of his campaign and administration team to Russia—and more. But when it comes to actual policy accomplishments tied to pledges he made on the campaign trail, Trump is actually doing pretty well—whether you like the results or not."

It is clear that most liberals are seeing one presidency—a total disaster—and most conservatives are seeing another—a smashing success. There is no reason to think that perceptual divide is going to disappear anytime soon. The only thing that (most) people seem to agree on is that whenever Donald Trump leaves office, he will be leaving an office and a government that has been permanently transformed. (Z)

Stories to Watch in 2018

The change of years is also an opportunity for various outlets to look ahead to 2018, and to try to read the tea leaves of what's coming next. That includes NBC News, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Brookings Institution, The Observer (UK), Fox News, NPR, the Wall Street Journal, and Forbes. Here's an executive summary, with a few additions from us:

  • The Economy: The Republicans have bet big that the economy will boom in 2018 thanks to their tax plan. Anything less—whether that's the status quo being maintained, or a downturn (which is coming, sooner or later)—will be a big blow to Donald Trump and the GOP.

  • The Tax Cut: In a related story, the GOP is hoping that their tax cut, which is currently very unpopular, will grow on people once they see more money in their paychecks and/or their refund checks. History, and the evidence, are both against them.

  • Bipartisanship?: Congress will need to set a budget, and presumably do something about the Dreamers, and something about health care. Reconciliation is off the table, since it can be used only once per year, and was used to squeeze the tax bill through the Senate. That means that, like it or not, the GOP is going to need some Democratic votes. A big question will be how aggressive Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and the rest of the congressional Democrats will be, knowing they've got a base that has been roused to action and that loathes the President. A government shutdown (and, thus, a failure of bipartisanship) is very possible.

  • Trade Wars: Trump has signalled an intent to impose punitive tariffs on some countries or imports, and to (maybe) kil NAFTA, while the GOP tax plan is actively designed to suck capital out of other countries and bring it back to the United States. Don't expect China, Canada, and Mexico, among others, to take this lying down.

  • Donald Trump's Approval Rating: The economy has been very good so far, which should have pushed the President's approval rating way up. It hasn't. Trump has gotten himself involved in controversies, scandals, and squabbles at a rate completely unprecedented (and unpresidented), which should have pushed the President's approval rating way down. They haven't. For almost the entire year, he's hovered somewhere in the vicinity of 40%. By the end of 2018, we should know with a fair degree of certainty if The Donald has the highest floor and lowest ceiling of any modern president, and if there's simply nothing that can move him far off of a 40% approval in either direction.

  • Turnover in the White House: Already, the Trump White House has had more turnover than any in recent memory, and perhaps any in history (hard to compare directly between the much smaller staffs of the 19th century and the mega-bureaucracy of today). More change is coming. Some changes in the behind-the-scenes staff are already known (deputy national security adviser Dina Powell is leaving) and others are suspected (political director Bill Stepien is likely going to get some supervision). There is also little chance that the current cabinet will remain intact for another year. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is likely to leave (or be relieved), and it would not be a surprise if AG Jeff Sessions, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Defense Secretary James Mattis, or Chief of Staff John Kelly decided to throw in the towel. The whispers are also growing louder that Jared Kushner is a short timer.

  • The Midterms: At the moment, the midterm elections—which will be held on November 6—are the story of 2018. By all indications, a Democratic wave is building, and it could hand the blue team control of the House and maybe even the Senate. But if a week in politics is a lifetime, then it means there are approximately 46 lifetimes between now and Election Day.

  • Special Elections, Primaries and Retirements: We cannot know for certain what will happen in the midterms until the votes are counted on November 6. However, there will be some very useful clues throughout the next 10 months, as we see what kinds of candidates are winning their parties' respective nominations, who is winning special elections, and which members of Congress will throw in the towel and step down. Key events in the next few months include the February 27 primary in AZ-8 (to fill Republican Trent Franks' former seat), the March 6 primary in Texas, the March 13 special election in PA-18 (to fill Republican Tim Murphy's former seat), the March 20 primary in Illinois, and the six Tuesdays between May 8 and June 26, when a total of 21 states will hold their primaries.

  • Voter Suppression: From Donald Trump's voter fraud commission on down, the GOP is doing what it can to stop Democrats from voting (the latest strategy, incidentally, is trying to take away the vote of anyone who does not show up for jury duty). Democrats and civil rights organizations like the ACLU and the NAACP are pushing back through the court system. The situation may well reach its denouement in 2018, and the icing on the cake—one way or another—could be a SCOTUS decision in Gill v. Whitford, which asks the justices to consider the legality of partisan gerrymandering, and of a mathematical formula for identifying "illegal" gerrymanders.

  • The 2020 Presidential Election: Each presidential cycle, the campaign starts a bit earlier. The Democrats will have a huge group of candidates, probably even larger than the GOP had in 2016. Meanwhile, Donald Trump is certainly going to draw at least one serious "traditional" Republican challenger (Gov. John Kasich, R-OH?), who is going to face an uphill battle trying to take down a sitting president. Both circumstances argue for an early, running start. Meanwhile, Trump himself is already holding campaign rallies. In short, the 2020 presidential election is already underway, and it will heat up as the year unfolds.

  • Russiagate: In theory, Robert Mueller has as much time as he needs to investigate whatever it is that he wants to look into. In reality, he's going to have to come up with the goods sometime before the calendar turns again, at risk of being fired on Donald Trump's orders, or else cut off at the knees by Congressional Republicans. According to reporter Carl Bernstein, the President's lawyers are already telling him what he wants to hear about Russiagate in a desperate attempt to keep Trump from shooting himself in both feet by terminating Mueller.

  • North Korea: It is clear that both the United States and North Korea would prefer to avoid a hot war. It is also clear that neither side is much interested in diplomacy. One of these two inclinations is likely going to have to give in 2018, and it could well be the former. On Sunday, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen opined that the U.S. is "closer to a nuclear war with North Korea" than it has ever been.

  • Iran: Donald Trump refused to certify the Iran nuclear deal at the last deadline in October, and kicked the can to Congress. Congress, in turn, kicked it right back. Another deadline looms (January 20), and Trump has not generally been the type of president to swallow his pride and backtrack. Meanwhile, mass protests in Iran are entering their fifth day.

  • Venezuela: Venezuela has both oil and an unstable government. The U.S. would like the oil, and would like to be rid of the unstable government. The President has threatened to invade; the leaders of the other South American countries would prefer he did not. Of course, Donald Trump takes his own counsel on such matters.

  • The Unknown Unknowns: Most of the items above are known knowns (there's going to be an election in November), or known unknowns (something is going to happen with the economy, we just don't know what). But of course, some of the biggest stories of 2018 will not be known until they happen. At this point in 2017, who knew a Democrat would claim a Senate seat in Alabama, that people would finally start to take sexual harassment seriously, or that Michael Flynn would lose his job and then turn state's evidence? Those, of course, are three of the biggest stories of the year.

An old Chinese proverb (or curse) says, "May you live in interesting times." For better or worse, we've got 'em in 2018. (Z)

People to Watch in 2018

Whether Donald Trump admits/knows it or not, Time's Person of the Year designation is not an "honor," per se, it's a judgment of impact, for better or for worse. Further, there is supposed to be some significant shift in newsworthiness. The Donald Trump of 2018 is likely to be the same Donald Trump we saw in 2017, and so unless he lobs a nuke at Kim Jong-Un, he's not really a candidate for the title. With those ground rules in mind, here are 10 people who could take a major step forward in their importance to American politics in 2018:

  • Vice President Mike Pence: In the last hundred years, the record for most tiebreaking votes cast in the Senate by the vice president is nine—a total compiled by Thomas R. Marshall (of "five-cent cigar" fame) over the course of 8 years, 1913-21. Mike Pence has already cast six, and the GOP's margin of error just shrunk by one Senator. The Veep should leave Marshall in the dust this year, and he could begin to challenge the all-time champions, John C. Calhoun (31, from 1825-32) and John Adams (29, from 1789-97). Of course, ties happened much more easily when those men served, given how many fewer senators there were back then. Meanwhile, a lot of Republicans are going to need a high-profile member of the government to appear at their rallies, but will want to avoid the toxicity of Donald Trump. So, Pence figures to be a very popular fellow on the campaign trail in 2018. Finally, depending on how things unfold, it's not impossible that he finishes the year as the President of the United States.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT): Neither the Senator nor anyone at the DNC will say it openly, but he's currently the frontrunner for the 2016 nomination. That means he's got a target on his back, whether he likes it or not. He's also going to have to show, during the midterms, that he has some coattails and can help power candidates to victory. Health is also a question for someone who turns 77 in September. Add it up, and Sanders has a chance to put the Democratic nomination firmly within his grasp this year. He also has a chance to become yesterday's news.

  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY): If Sanders falters, then the Democratic mantle is—at the moment—most likely to fall to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). The rising star, however, is Gillibrand. Although she currently has a lower national profile than Warren, she's 17 years younger (68 vs. 51), she appeals to both the moderate and progressive wings of the Party, and she's emerged as the leader of the #MeToo movement among members of Congress. Oh, and she's battled Donald Trump, which thrills the base. At the moment, the highest payout available for Sanders to win the presidency in 2020 is 20:1, while for Gillibrand it's 50:1. At those numbers, put $100 on Gillibrand.

  • Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA): Nunes has spent much of the last year dealing with an ethics inquiry, which has been resolved in his favor. He's now ready to resume his management of the House Intelligence Committee's Russia probe, and he's signalled that he will be Congress' #1 cheerleader for Donald Trump and its #1 critic of Robert Mueller. That may not sit well with all the wealthy old-school Republicans in his R+8 district, where a lot of folks are going to be paying higher taxes thanks to the tax bill Nunes voted for.

  • Chief Justice John Roberts: Anthony Kennedy, as the current swing justice, remains one of the two or three most powerful men in Washington. But what happens if Ruth Bader Ginsburg can no longer serve? Then Roberts becomes the swing justice, and in a term filled with momentous decisions. Undoubtedly, the prospect makes conservatives giddy, but not so fast. Roberts' institutionalist tendencies (he doesn't want the Court to seem hyperpartisan), as well as the past history of swing justices, both suggest a leftward movement is possible, and even likely.

  • Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ): To the extent that any one person is a linchpin of Democrats' hopes for retaking the Senate right now, it's Sinema. With the victory of Senator-elect Doug Jones (D-AL), they blue team needs one seat to make it a 50-50 tie, and two seats to render the tie-breaking vote of Mike Pence moot (assuming the Democrats can remain unified). The easiest seat for the Democrats to take is the one currently held by Dean Heller (R-NV). The next easiest is the one being vacated by Jeff Flake (R-AZ). If Sinema can take that one, in a fairly red state, then it suggests a wave or semi-wave in which the Democrats held serve in the states they are defending, and also took Nevada. Ergo, Sinema is the linchpin.

  • Sen. John McCain (R-AZ): One of the lions of the Senate is entering the winter of his career. He may hold on until the end of the year, but the odds are that he does not. If he passes away, or is forced to resign, then it will set off a frenzy in Arizona. Almost $200 million was spent on last year's Pennsylvania Senate race. If both Arizona Senate seats are open, a total of $300 million or more pouring into the state is not out of the question.

  • Mitt Romney: If Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) retires, Romney will run for and win his seat. If Hatch does not retire, Romney may still run for and win his seat. If he is elected, Romney will: (A) Become the leader of congressional NeverTrumpers and a huge thorn in the President's side, (B) Start laying the groundwork for a 2020 presidential run, or (C) both of the above.

  • Chancellor Angela Merkel: In theory, the President of the United States is the leader of the free world. Donald "America First" Trump doesn't seem to want that job, however, which means that it defaults to Merkel. She does not like Trump, and is furious over his decisions to withdraw from the TPP and the Paris Accord, and his declaration that Jerusalem is the real capital of Israel. It's probable that someone connected to Merkel leaked the information that the Chancellor had to lecture Trump on the basics of European trade several times when they met back in May. It's also probable that Merkel is going to be less circumspect in her criticism of and her opposition to The Donald in the next year.

  • Rex Tillerson: Tillerson's head is likely to roll, he doesn't like Trump, and the feeling is mutual. If any administration insider is likely to respond to a termination by going on all the talk shows and dishing dirt, it's T-Rex.

And so ends another year in American politics. Thanks for reading, and see you next year! (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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