• Trump Speech Earns Mostly Negative Reviews
• The Government Is Running on Empty
• McMaster Becoming a Case Study in the Price of Working for Trump
• Trump's Base Appears to Be Eroding
• Special Election in Montana is Thursday
• Omaha Mayor's Race Shows Democrats What Not to Do
• The 2020 Democratic Field Figures to Be Very Large
• California Democrats Are Split
• Study Evaluates First 100 Days of Trump Media Coverage
Yesterday, President Donald Trump read a 33-minute speech from a teleprompter in front of the assembled heads of 55 Muslim nations and the Saudi royal family. The original speech was written by Stephen Miller, who also wrote the Muslim ban memo, but was clearly heavily influenced or edited by Gen. Herbert McMaster, Trump's national security adviser. It was a complete reversal of everything Trump has been saying about Islam for years. Last year, Trump said: "Islam hates us." He also often talked about "radical Islamic terrorism" and goaded Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for not using the phrase. Yesterday, he said "We are not here to lecture—we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship." He sounded like he had only the greatest respect for Islam, which, if true, would make him an extremely recent convert.
Trump did give the leaders of the Muslim countries some marching orders, though. He told them to pay attention to the terrorists and extremists (not "radical Islamic terrorists") and to "Drive them out of your places of worship, drive them out of your communities, drive the out of your holy land, and drive them out of this earth." He didn't mention his two Muslim travel bans at all.
Trump's long-time strategic adviser, Roger Stone, wasn't impressed: at all. He said that Trump was too influenced by his Egyptian-born Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Habib Powell, a Coptic Christian. Stone thinks that the blue-collar workers who voted for him are going to see him as the third Bush administration, and if they wanted that, they would have voted for Jeb Bush in the primaries. (V)
On Sunday, Donald Trump was put in a very difficult position of his own creation. On one hand, he could hardly look the leaders of the Muslim world in the eye and slam their religion. On the other hand, sizable portions of both his base and his administration hopped aboard the Trump express because of his overt Islamophobia. It may well be that nobody could have threaded the needle that the President was trying to thread on Sunday. Certainly, the initial response suggests that he didn't do it very successfully, since it wasn't just Roger Stone who had critical things to say about the address.
To start, the people who understand the Muslim world said the speech was unconvincing, and would do little to assuage concerns about Trump. Former Jordanian Justice Minister Ibrahim Aljazy, for example, was disappointed about the lack of policy details, as well as the failure to emphasize democracy and the rule of law in combating terrorism. Hamed Mousavi, a professor of political science in Iran, was similarly underwhelmed. "[The speech] will be met with deep skepticism in the Muslim world because Trump has been hostile and offensive to Muslims," he said. He also observed that the arms deal Trump consummated with Saudi Arabia will make it difficult to pressure Riyadh to rein in Wahhabism, the fundamentalist flavor of Islam that dominates that country and that is the source of much terrorist activity. Karim Makdisi, an associate professor of international politics at The American University of Beirut, focused particularly on Trump's verbiage about Iran. "Trump's vitriolic attack on Iran was matched only by his lavish praise of the Saudi king," said Makdisi. "Given the bitter Saudi-Iranian regional conflict that includes both proxy wars and sectarian baiting, this shift may potentially lead to yet further violence and instability."
The response back home was not much better. The primary criticism, coming from both sides of the aisle, was that Trump did not do enough to promote democracy and to denounce human rights abuses. "We have to stand up for what we believe in," said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), while Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) said that if Trump really does plan to overlook human rights issues, "I think that would be a terrible abdication of our global leadership when it comes to advocating for people who are the subject of persecution." Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said it would have been a very different speech if he were the one doing the talking. "I'm much more forceful and open and vocal about criticizing, whether it's Egypt or Saudi Arabia for its human rights record."
That's not to say that the speech was universally panned, however. Breitbart was effusive in its praise, declaring that Trump—unlike Barack Obama—"addressed Islamic terror directly." The author who wrote Breitbart's analysis is currently peddling a book he wrote about the Trump "revolution," however, so he may not be the most objective source. Other right wing media were also positive, albeit in a more restrained fashion. The National Review, no friend of Trump, called the address "pretty good," while RedState said it was a "solid performance." Not exactly five-star reviews, but at this point, Trump will presumably take what he can get. (Z)
The Saudis treated Donald Trump like a king, but in a week he will be back in the same old Washington, where the knives will be out and waiting for him. He is so distracted by the consequences of his firing of James Comey and the subsequent appointment of Robert Mueller as a special counsel that he is increasingly isolated and unable to bring the government up to speed. As a businessman, he is supposed to know that hiring good managers is the key to success. About 90% of the high-level jobs in his administration are still unfilled, and it is getting harder and harder to find people willing to take on a job in a poisonous atmosphere that shows no signs of abating. Potential employees are probably wondering at this point: "Is he still going to be president in a year? And what happens to me if he is not?"
In the Justice Dept., the heads of the anti-trust, civil rights, criminal, and civil divisions are yet to be nominated, let alone confirmed. At Homeland Security, there are no chiefs for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and TSA. In the Education Dept., which has 4,400 employees, the only confirmed officer is Secretary Betsy DeVos. The same is true for the State Dept. and all the others. In all, 500 of the 557 positions requiring Senate confirmation are empty, with little chance for quick appointments and confirmations. Trump feels under attack from the media, Democrats, and even some Republicans. Who knew governing was so complicated? (V)
When he accepted appointment as National Security Adviser, Herbert McMaster came with a stellar resume and a reputation as someone who is willing to speak truth to power. The Economist, for example, was ecstatic when he was tapped. However, as the subhead of that piece notes, "His boss remains the same." And as McMaster tries to do his job while serving as one of the public faces of his boss, his credibility is taking a big hit.
Last week, for example, McMaster was in the room when Trump let the Russians in on Israeli intelligence he should have kept to himself. The general defended Trump, declaring that what the President said was, "wholly appropriate to that conversation" and "consistent with the routine sharing of information between the president and any leader with whom he's engaged." It is hard to believe that McMaster really buys any of what he's selling. And if he does, then his assessment is at odds with that of every other security and/or intelligence official who has weighed in on the situation. In other words, either the general is being dishonest or he doesn't know what he's talking about. Neither jibes with the reputation he brought with him to the White House.
Things have not gotten better for McMaster this weekend. Appearing on ABC's "The Week" on Sunday, he was asked whether the President had called James Comey a "nut job" in the now-notorious meeting with the Russians. "I don't remember exactly what the president said," McMaster replied, which seems to be at odds with his certainty earlier in the week when discussing the same exact conversation. He also opined: "I'm really concerned about these kind of leaks because it undermines everybody's trust in that kind of an environment where you can have frank, candid and oftentimes unconventional conversations." Apparently, the general has forgotten that Trump implied that he was recording what happens in the White House, and may choose to release those recordings as he sees fit. Needless to say, you can't have it both ways; threatening to leak the contents of private conversations, and then complaining when others leak the contents of private conversations.
The upshot is that McMaster, rather than sounding like an independent voice of reason, is sounding more and more like Sean Spicer—spinning furiously, and unconvincingly, to try to cover for his boss. And we all know where Spicer's reputation stands these days. (Z)
The developments of the past week are taking a toll on Donald Trump's support. A new Reuters/Ipsos poll, taken mostly before the appointment of Robert Mueller, shows that 38% of adults approve of Trump and 56% disapprove. Among Republicans, 23% disapprove, up from 16% last week. When a subsequent poll conducted after the Mueller appointment comes in, it might get even worse.
Political professionals see it as worrying when any president is below 85% support from his own partisans and alarming if it falls below 80%. Trump is already below that and dropping. Trump has said (correctly) that all the polls predicted that Hillary Clinton would win, and they were all wrong, so he is not concerned. Of course, the polls showed that Clinton would get millions more votes than he would, and that did indeed happen. What they missed is that he would eke out victories in three Midwestern states by under 1%.
At this point in Barack Obama's presidency, his approval rating under Democrats varied from 88% to 93%, about 10 points better than Trump's. What many Republicans worry about is that if Trump's approval falls much more, he will become a liability to members of Congress up for reelection in 2018, in which case they will be willing to openly oppose him and he will get nothing accomplished. (V)
Due to vacancies in the House, there are several special elections coming up in the next few months. There was a jungle primary in Georgia in April in which Democrat Jon Ossoff beat 17 Republicans but missed the 50% mark, forcing a June runoff. But this week, on Thursday, we will have a real Democrat vs. Republican faceoff for a House seat. The special election is in Montana, a very red state, but one with populist tendencies. The two candidates are as different as can be. Greg Gianforte (R) is a billionaire technology entrepreneur who ran for governor in 2016 and lost. In his campaign, he avoided supporting his party's nominee for president and didn't even appear with him when said nominee appeared in Montana. He thinks he has learned his lesson and is now a gung-ho Trump supporter.
The Democrat is a folksy singer, songwriter, and banjo player named Rob Quist who dresses like a cowboy and got Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to campaign for him. Quist constantly criticizes Trump's policy positions, but doesn't criticize him personally, because he knows Trump won his state by 20 points. He is trying to win over conservatives and libertarians with a populist message that often works in Montana. The two-term governor of Montana, Steve Bullock, is a Democrat and his predecessor, Brian Schweitzer, was also a two-term Democrat. Democrat Max Baucus was elected to the Senate seven times from Montana, so Democrats with the right message can win in the Treasure State. If Quist wins, despite all the money Gianforte has spent, it is going to send a shock wave through the House. Polls have been all over the place, giving Gianforte as much as a 15-point lead or Quist as much as an 8-point lead. (V)
The numbers will not become official until later this week, but we already know that Democrat Heath Mello failed in his effort to become mayor of Omaha, Neb., losing to Republican Jean Stothert by about six points. The congressional district that covers most of Omaha is R+4, so Mello appears to have underperformed the average Democrat, and failed to take advantage of the rising tide of anti-Trump sentiment.
What went wrong for Mello, who at one point seemed headed for victory? Well, for starters, he got Bernie Sanders to stump for him, which turned off Nebraska voters who don't have much fondness for a big-city leftist. Further, although consistently pro-life during his career in the Nebraska legislature, Mello softened his stance late in the campaign, which allowed Stothert to slap him with a "pro-choice" label. This alienated pro-life voters that might otherwise have voted for Mello, while doing little to sway pro-choice voters. The overt involvement of the DNC and Chairman Tom Perez was also a turnoff; like Sanders' visit, it made Nebraskans feel like big-city outsiders were trying to tell them how to run their city.
In short, Mello—responding to pressure from Democratic honchos—ran the kind of campaign that would have been apropos to New York City or Chicago, but not to Omaha, Nebraska. Tip O'Neill famously pronounced that, "All politics is local," and it would seem that Mello learned the hard way that the former speaker was right. For what it is worth, the next Democrat who will step up to the plate—Rob Quist (see above)—seems to have taken note. When Tom Perez offered to come to Montana to campaign, Quist said, "thanks, but no thanks." On the other hand, he is campaigning with Sanders right now, so maybe not. (Z)
In 2016, there was a vacuum at the top of the Republican Party, which led to a field of presidential candidates that was almost unprecedented in size. Now, there's vacuum at the top of the Democratic Party, one that may even bigger than that afflicting the GOP in 2012. This being the case, the list of possible presidential contenders is lengthy, particularly since the blue team is smelling blood. Politico has taken a shot at trying to impose order on everything, organizing the many plausible candidates by their case for the presidency:
- The Populists: Bernie Sanders, Sen.
Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Joe Biden are the three most able to claim this mantle. If he runs, Sanders likely has the
advantage among the members of this group; otherwise it falls to Warren.
Biden, given his age and liabilities, is a dark horse.
- The Heartlanders: These are the individuals whose
case will rest on being able to compete in red states. Gov. Steve Bullock
(D-MT), the only two-term Democratic governor in a red state, has the advantage,
followed by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).
- The Candidates with Experience: These people will
build their case around having been governors of big, blue states for two terms,
and having solved problems and built consensuses. The favorite here is Gov.
Andrew Cuomo (D-NY), followed by Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO). And though he will be
82 in 2020, don't count out Gov. Jerry Brown (D-CA), who has been signaling a
possible fourth run at the White House.
- The Brawlers: Donald Trump won, in part, due to
his ability to throw punches, lots and lots of them, both in person and on
Twitter. Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) is particularly known for his Twitter magic,
while Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-VA) is an old hand at getting down and dirty.
- The Muckrakers: Some candidates will base their
campaign on having done battle with Donald Trump in the halls of Congress. Sen.
Mark Warner (D-VA), the highest-ranking Democrat on the committee looking into
the Trump-Russia connection, is in this category. So is Sen. Al Franken (D-MN),
who has earned attention for asking very pointed and erudite questions of
Trump's nominees. Of course, Warren has also battled Trump very publicly.
- The Commanders in Chief: The extent to which a
candidate's foreign policy chops matter to voters depends on what is going on in
the world at the time, but it seems safe to say that this will be a subject of
interest in 2020. If Biden runs, this is his hill that the other candidates will
try to knock him from. If he doesn't, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Rep. Tulsi
Gabbard (D-HI) have solid foreign policy resumes.
- The Climate Hawks: After four years of a Trump-run
EPA, environment and climate change could well be at the top of the list of
Democratic voters' concerns. The candidates best positioned as environmentalists
are Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA), aka "the greenest governor in the country,"
and Cuomo, who has worked hard to curtail fracking in his state. Brown
is also very green.
- The Reproductive Freedom Fighters: If Planned
Parenthood goes the way of the dodo, or Roe v. Wade does, it could play
right into the hands of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) or Sen. Kamala Harris
(D-CA), who both have impeccable pro-choice credentials.
- The Civil Rights Fighters: Democrats need the
votes of a disproportionate number of female voters (hence the Reproductive
Freedom Fighters). But they also need the votes of minority voters. Sen. Cory
Booker (D-NJ) likely has the edge here, though his past words and actions are a
bit fiscally conservative for the tastes of many Democrats. Murphy and Harris
have some bona fides, having fought back against Trump's Muslim bans, while
McAuliffe can note that he restored voting rights to 150,000 voters in
Virginia, many of them black. Of course, Harris could possibly deliver both women and
- The Woodrow Wilsons: Wilson was a private citizen in 1910, then governor of New Jersey in 1911, then president of the United States in 1913. So, these are people with a little bit of experience in governance, but not so much political experience that they are old news or have major baggage. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) is one possibility, while would-be Virginia governor Tom Perriello is another (the election is later this year).
As with any piece like this, written over 1,000 days before the election, it must be noted that the list is very, very tentative. There is all kinds of time left for a Bill Clinton or a Jimmy Carter or a Donald Trump to emerge from nowhere to capture the nomination. And really, the more important element of the list may not be the names of the candidates, but instead the possible angles for running against Trump that are already presenting themselves. (Z)
Four-term senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) hasn't decided if she wants to run for a fifth term in 2018, but a surprising number of Democrats would prefer she retire. The problem isn't her age—at 83, she is the oldest member of the Senate—but her reputation as a careful moderate in a state party that is arguing whether Donald Trump should be tarred and feathered or drawn and quartered. Feinstein has fought against her party's liberal base for decades, but the voices saying that it is time to replace her with someone more like California's junior senator, Kamala Harris, are getting louder. Her job approval has dropped 7 points to 49% in the past year. At a town hall meeting last month in liberal San Francisco, a city of which she was once mayor, she was yelled at by the crowd. Her campaign adviser, Bill Carrick, said that she is totally comfortable where she is and this is not the first time she has seen protesters.
Meanwhile, the same split between moderate Democrats and leftist Democrats was also on display at the state Democratic convention in Sacramento this past weekend. One of the orders of business was electing a new chair, with a candidate supported by Bernie Sanders vying for the top job with a more moderate Democrat. The moderate, Eric Bauman, won by 60 votes out of 3,300. While Democrats didn't want to view this as relitigating the Democratic primary all over again, that is what it felt like to some of the attendees, with Bauman having the support of the vast majority of the Democrats in the state legislature, the unions, and the local Democratic Party pooh-bahs. The loser, Kimberly Ellis, was supported by Sanders' organization. (V)
Harvard Kennedy School's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy has carefully examined the first 100 days' worth of media coverage of Donald Trump's presidency. Their main conclusion—and you may want to sit down and brace for a shock before you read any further—is that it has been overwhelmingly negative, "setting a new standard for unfavorable press coverage of a president."
More specifically, Harvard's readers judged 80% of all Trump coverage to be negative, with NBC and CNN leading the way among U.S.-based outlets with 93% negative coverage. The least negative source examined was Fox News, but even they ran more negative than positive stories (52% to 48%). And the American outlets were actually somewhat restrained compared to their European counterparts. Germany's ARD was negative a staggering 98% of the time, and they (along with the BBC and the Financial Times of London) were much more likely than the Americans to question Trump's basic fitness for the presidency. Trump got negative coverage on all issues, but did particularly poorly on immigration (96%/4%), health care and Russia (both 87%/13%), and international trade (84%/16%). His "best" issue was the economy, where only 54% of stories were negative. It's worth noting that in all of this coverage, the main source is Trump himself (65% of the time, his own words are used).
The real question, of course, is whether this evidence supports Trump's belief that the media is biased against him, and that he's being targeted by a witch hunt. To an extent, it does, the study's authors conclude. However, they also point out that Trump has received three times the coverage of any other president at this point in his term, which means that he—with his Twitter- and media-focused approach—is culpable as well. Further, the media's major bias is not anti-Trump, they say, but pro-negativity. The Shorenstein Center has been doing this analysis for four presidencies, and two of Trump's predecessors also suffered from negative overall coverage in their first 100 days: Bill Clinton got 60% negative coverage, while George W. Bush got 57% (in fact, Clinton had a net negative score for all 32 quarters of his presidency). The only exception to the rule is Barack Obama, whose coverage was only 41% negative in his first 100 days. In the next 100 days, however, the media returned to form, giving him 57% negative coverage. And that's only four presidents; if Shorenstein were to look back at the coverage of, say, Abraham Lincoln or Harry S. Truman, the numbers would be ghastly. So, while Trump may have a point, it's not much of a point. (Z)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
May21 White House Is Exploring Ways to Hamstring Mueller
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