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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  G19 Plus Trump Comes to an End
      •  Maybe Putin Was Telling the Truth
      •  Paul Ryan Finds Excuse to Hide
      •  Latest Trump Official to Face an Ethics Complaint: Tom Price
      •  Trump Approval Rating Upside-Down in the Worst Sort of Way

G19 Plus Trump Comes to an End

Donald Trump faced another major foreign policy test, and he thinks he passed with flying colors. He got in plenty of "America First" rhetoric, and had some good one-on-one meetings with various world leaders. He is also, observers agree, getting more comfortable interacting with his peers on the world stage. Granting him these few, small victories, however, the overall assessment has to be that it was actually a pretty dismal and deeply concerning performance.

To start, "America first" is another way of saying "international cooperation last." And the lack of American leadership was palpable over the course of the past few days. Trump didn't actually achieve much in terms of advancing American interests, and wasn't even a part of the most important conversations that were taking place during the gathering. He even became the first U.S. president to decline the opportunity to give an address on the closing day of the summit, thus wasting a chance to connect with a worldwide audience.

Beyond the general inefficacy of the trip, there were also plenty of specific missteps, big and small. The consensus is nearly universal now that Vladimir Putin took Trump to school during their much-anticipated meeting on Friday. For example, the Washington Post's Masha Gessen writes:

Despite the friendly tenor of Mr. Putin's relationship with George W. Bush and the offer of a "reset" made by Barack Obama's administration, Mr. Putin never achieved his objective—until now. His fourth American president has given him exactly what he wanted: respect, camaraderie and freedom from criticism.

This outcome is exactly what would have been predicted prior to this week, so that it came to pass is hardly a surprise.

Team Trump also fumbled a few times on Saturday. For reasons that remain unclear, the President was unable to make it to one of his meetings on time, and so he sent Ivanka in his stead, which left her seated between China's Xi Jinping and the U.K.'s Theresa May. This is a major breach of protocol; if a president is unable to attend such a meeting, the expectation is that he will send the secretary of state and not his daughter. "Yes, it stuck out," said one high-ranking European official. "The very fact that his daughter is senior adviser smacks of the kind of nepotism not seen since John F. Kennedy named Robert F. Kennedy as attorney general."

The White House also gave itself a black eye with a pair of press releases on Saturday. In one, they celebrated Trump's meeting with Xi, identifying him as leader of "The Republic of China." Xi is the president of the People's Republic of China, while it is Taiwan that claims status as the Republic of China. This is actually quite an insult to Xi, somewhat equivalent to describing Benjamin Netanyahu as the Prime Minister of Palestine. And in case the administration had not done enough to communicate that they are fuzzy on the specific details of Asian governments, they followed the Republic of China press release with one that referred to Shinzo Abe as "President of Japan." Abe, of course, is prime minister. That error is not as big a deal, but it certainly serves to underscore the general perception that the administration has a shaky grasp on world affairs.

And there, in the end, is the rub. Donald Trump has no diplomatic experience, nor do most of the senior officials in the state department (not to mention, of course, all the posts that remain vacant). Nor do they seem to have any particular interest in learning. It's clear, at this point, that meetings like the G20 summit are a chore to the President, and will only be accommodated when absolutely necessary. It's been a while since the U.S. had a leader for whom foreign policy was truly a forte (George H. W. Bush?), and that streak is going to continue at least through 2020. (Z)

Maybe Putin Was Telling the Truth

You don't write a headline like that very often, given that Vladimir Putin treats the truth like he's allergic to it. During his Friday meeting with Donald Trump, as we noted, the Donald brought up the Russian meddling in the election, and Putin denied it. That much is agreed upon. What happened next is the big question, as Putin says that Trump accepted his denial, and Trump (via Secretary of State Rex Tillerson) says he did not. Whom to believe?

On Saturday, we got some indirect evidence that it is Putin who has the right of it. Both Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin and NSA Herbert McMaster were asked about the Putin-Trump meeting, and they both equivocated. "We are not going to make comments about what other people say," said Mnuchin, while McMaster added that, "What the president and Secretary Tillerson charged us with as they came out of meeting is what we are going to do going forward."

That's rather far from a full-throated endorsement of the President's version of events. And, in the end, it's easy to believe that Trump deferred to Putin. For all of his tough talk, Trump is—depending on how friendly you are to him—either a softy or a coward when it comes to getting tough one-on-one. Indeed, the man who made "you're fired!" his personal catchphrase actually hates to be the one to swing the ax, and generally passes that duty off to underlings in his real-world business dealings. And if he's not willing to get tough with a mediocre employee, then how can he possibly be willing to stare down Vlad Putin? (Z)

Paul Ryan Finds Excuse to Hide

Speaking of politicians who are not exactly overflowing in the courage department, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has announced a new policy: No more town halls. He says he's happy to talk to constituents on the phone, and that he will still meet with business leaders, but that he does not want to be a part of a "screaming fest." Said the Speaker:

[W]hat we have found is there are people who are trying to come in from out of the district to disrupt town hall meetings and not have a civil discussion, so what I have been doing is looking for new and creative ways to interact with my constituents in a civil way...

This is an exceedingly convenient explanation. One wonders exactly how Ryan knows that it is not his own constituents who are unhappy about his health-care bill. Similarly, one wonders if his constituents are reading between the lines when Ryan says he won't meet with them but will meet with business leaders. That might help voters to understand exactly to whom it is that Ryan answers. (Z)

Latest Trump Official to Face an Ethics Complaint: Tom Price

Every left-leaning legal and ethical advocacy group in America is currently going through the records of every member of the Trump administration with a fine-toothed comb. Now, the Campaign Legal Center thinks they've found something on Sec. of HHS Tom Price. According to a complaint filed on Friday with the Federal Election Commission, they believe he spent $40,000 of his campaign money to promote his candidacy for the Trump cabinet. If true, that's a no-no.

Price has weathered seemingly more serious charges before this, most obviously that he invested in companies that stood to benefit from his actions as congressman. That would seem to be the very definition of corruption, and yet Price shrugged off the well-documented charges with nary a scratch. So it seems unlikely that a moderate-level violation of campaign finance law, even if it can be proven, will bring him down. On the other hand, Al Capone avoided prosecution for murder, racketeering, bootlegging, and a host of other serious crimes, but ended up being imprisoned on tax evasion charges. So, who knows which of these arrows being fired by the ethics activists will actually find its mark? (Z)

Trump Approval Rating Upside-Down in the Worst Sort of Way

Donald Trump continues to pull dismal numbers in Gallup's tracking poll of his approval rating. At the moment, 37% approve while 57% disapprove. That is a form of being upside-down, though one that is true of any president who drops below 45% approval or so.

No, Donald Trump is a worse kind of upside-down, one that we haven't seen in quite a long time. There is now a larger percentage of people who would like to see him impeached—47%—than approve of the job he's doing. This is pretty grim for someone who is still supposed to be in a honeymoon period. That said, it does not in any way make it likely that he actually will be impeached, at least not until such point that special counsel Robert Mueller comes up with something juicy. That 47% is almost entirely Democrats, and neither Trump nor the Congressional Republicans who would have to adopt articles of impeachment cares what they think. Meanwhile, that 37% is almost exclusively Republican voters, many of whom would react badly if their champion was sent home to New York. So, at the moment, Trump's historically-poor numbers are just a curiosity, and nothing else. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jul08 Presidents Meet; Advantage Putin
Jul08 Another Day, Another Strange Tweet from Trump
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