• Trump Apparently Rationing His Anti-Obama Executive Orders
• How Close Is the "Rexit"?
• September Jobs Report Is Poor
• Trump Approval Hits Record Low
• Trump Slams Virginia Gubernatorial Candidate
• Democrats to Play a Little Dirty Pool Next Year
In 1898, tensions between the United States and Spain were high due to several issues, most notably Spain's handling of the ongoing rebellion in Cuba. There was talk of war, but President William McKinley preferred to pursue a diplomatic approach. He sent a ship, the USS Maine, to Havana as part of that effort. When the vessel exploded, probably due to an accident, it was enough to make things unravel, and the U.S. was plunged into a war with Spain.
In 1917, tensions between the United States and Germany were high, thanks to the ongoing war in Europe and to other provocations, like the 1915 sinking of the RMS Lusitania, which claimed over a hundred American lives. President Woodrow Wilson, re-elected in 1916 on a peace platform, wanted to pursue a diplomatic approach to the crisis, and arranged for the construction of a special telegraph line from Washington to London to Berlin. When German foreign minister Arthur Zimmermann was caught using the telegraph line in an attempt to convince Mexico to attack the U.S., a declaration of war followed soon after.
In 1941, tensions between the United States and Japan were high, primarily over Japanese aggressions in China (then an American ally). President Franklin D. Roosevelt tried diplomacy, then got a bit more aggressive, freezing Japanese assets in the United States, halting exports to the island nation, and otherwise trying to put pressure on them. The Japanese, students of history as they were, sensed that a war was coming. Noting that Spain and Germany got fairly little mileage out of their respective "straws that broke the camel's back," the Japanese decided that they would prefer to get more benefit from theirs if a war was going to happen anyhow. Hence the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
The point of this brief history lesson is this: Wars do not happen in a vacuum, or by surprise. Each time the United States has ended up in an armed conflict, the outbreak of hostilities came after months or years of things building to that point. However, once tensions are at or near their breaking point, it can be something fairly small that tips the balance. Say, a naval accident, or an intercepted communication. With this said, we now present Donald Trump's remarks on Thursday night, as he prepared for his quarterly dinner with America's top military brass:
Trump: You guys know what this represents? Maybe it's the calm before the storm.
Reporter: What's the storm?
Trump: It could be ... the calm, the calm before the storm.
Reporter: Iran? ISIS? What storm, Mr. President?
Trump: We have the world's great military people in this room, I will tell you that. And uh, we're gonna have a great evening, thank you all for coming.
Reporter: What storm, Mr. President?
Trump: You'll find out.
Nobody knows what exactly the President meant by this, and on Friday, the White House declined to clarify. Is Trump merely indulging his showman's instinct for creating drama? Is it an attempt to distract from one or more of the unpleasant news stories in the headlines? Is he laying the groundwork for the announcement of some sort of military initiative in the Middle East, or Asia, or somewhere else? Nobody will say.
The one thing we can say, however, is that many people are scared to death by Trump's casual declaration, as well they should be. It is highly unlikely that North Korea (or any other unfriendly country) attacks the United States entirely preemptively. However, if they become persuaded that an attack against them is imminent, they may choose to do as the Japanese did, and try to seize the initiative. Similarly, if Trump insists on maintaining a heightened state of tensions with North Korea (or Iran, or any other country), then things that otherwise might pass without much notice could become a prelude to war. Imagine, for example, that a U.S. plane conducting reconnaissance over the Korean DMZ next week mysteriously blows up and crashes. Accident? Mechanical failure? Military assault? By the time we are able to answer that question—if we are ever able to answer it—it could be too late. In short, Donald Trump—whatever his actual purpose is—is playing with fire here, and one can only hope that his senior advisers can impress upon him that he really needs to be more careful. (Z)
Given the lack of progress on most fronts, one of Donald Trump's only sources for "wins" is executive orders. For those, he doesn't need Congress, or the U.N., or acquiescence from a foreign leader, or favorable reports from the CBO, or anything else. In theory, Trump could have already overturned all of the Obama-era executive orders that he (or, more accurately, his base) does not like, but then he'd exhaust his supply of easy wins. So, he's been moving slowly.
On Friday, following a couple of particularly chaotic weeks for his administration, Trump decided to dip into that supply, and issued a rollback of Obama's policy regarding birth control. Consequently, business owners would be able to refuse to cover their employees' contraception costs if the owners have a "moral objection." It is fair to wonder if, for example, devout Catholic employers should have so much influence over their non-Catholic employees' private lives. It's also fair to ask if it is possible to identify actual moral objections, as opposed to employers who see a way to save themselves a few bucks. In any event, the American Civil Liberties Union saw this coming from a mile away, so they've already got their lawsuit ready. It's going to be a while before we know if Trump's executive order is actually going to take effect. Not that he particularly cares; he's already got what he wanted, which is an ability to tell evangelicals that he "fought back" against those liberals and their pro-choice agenda.
Next Tuesday, Trump appears set to dip into the supply again (it's been a really bad couple of weeks). The plan is to overturn Obama's single-biggest new EPA rule, which imposed limits on greenhouse gas emissions with an eye toward combating global warming. As with the birth control rollback, there was no question this was coming eventually, it was only a matter of when Trump would choose to do it. The Donald says that rules like this kill jobs and stifle the economy to no good end, since—in his view—global warming is a hoax. There is considerably less basis for a lawsuit here, since setting EPA policy is the President's prerogative, but we will see next week if someone—say the Attorneys General of the blue states—give it a try. More probably, the only way this will rebound on Trump and the GOP is at the ballot box. Some Republicans think that, given growing acceptance that global warming is a real thing (particularly after the hurricanes), this is a battle the Party is doomed to lose. Time will tell, but in any case, the President's version of "thinking long term" is considering what might happen next week. He has little concern about the price his party might pay years or decades from now. (Z)
There is an almost-universal consensus that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is a short-timer. He doesn't like his current job, which he's not very good at, anyhow. He doesn't get along with Donald Trump, and has already said and done things that would have gotten him fired in most administrations. Tillerson managed to survive "Firing Day" yesterday, but the "Rexit"—as they call it—is coming. The only question is whether we're looking at days, weeks, or—at the outside—months.
We are already close to the point that we can describe Trump's cabinet as the most dysfunctional in American history. The only real competition is probably Andrew Jackson's cabinet, who all resigned because their wives couldn't get along, and maybe the corrupt group of fellows who worked for Warren Harding, and caused him to declare, "I have no trouble with my enemies. I can take care of my enemies in a fight. But my friends, my goddamned friends, they're the ones who keep me walking the floor at nights!" Anyhow, given the not-normal dynamics of the Trump administration, it is not-normal things that are keeping his team intact for the moment. From the President's end, there is little question that he would like to be rid of several of them, including Tillerson, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and chief economic advisor Gary Cohn. However, Trump—a man whose catchphrase is "You're fired"—doesn't actually like to fire people. He is also sensitive to appearances, and doesn't want any more turnover so early in his term.
From the other side of the equation, there are clearly high-ranking staffers who are staying in their jobs for less-than-optimal reasons. A lot of them don't want to be "quitters," and see the one-year mark as the dividing line between "I chickened out" and "I took my best shot." Some of them have pet projects, like tax reform, that they want to shoot for before making their bow. And there are reportedly a number of historically unprecedented "alliances" (for lack of a better word) that are keeping people on the job. For example, unhappy Chief of Staff John Kelly has implied to the President that if Tillerson goes, he also goes. Similarly, there have been numerous reports of a three-man "suicide pact" between Tillerson, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and Defense Secretary James Mattis. In essence, if one of them goes—through termination or resignation—they all do.
Add it all up, and it seems likely that the status quo will hold until the end of this year (with the caveat that Trump is impetuous, and so you can never be sure). But, once we reach the new year, another wave of high-profile departures seems inevitable. (Z)
The government has issued its September jobs report, and it's worse news than expected. Analysts had no doubt that fewer jobs would be added than in previous months, thanks to the devastation wrought by the hurricanes. What they did not guess was that the economy would actually lose jobs—33,000 of them—which is the first time that has happened in seven years.
Presumably, this news won't be making its way to Donald Trump's Twitter account. There is good reason to believe that it's a temporary recession, and that things will bounce back as people rebuild from the hurricanes. And it remains the case that unemployment is low; just a tick above 4%. However, in the President's ongoing competition with his predecessor, Trump just took a big hit. He was already lagging behind Obama in jobs created (1.4 million to 1.2 million), and this setback, coupled with the low unemployment, means he will not be catching up. So, The Donald is now in the unpleasant position of having owned the jobs numbers, over and over, while his only possible outcomes are "worse than Obama" and "far worse than Obama." It's never easy to come after a president whose term was economically prosperous (as George H. W. Bush can attest). (Z)
Donald Trump's approval rating was trending upward a few weeks ago, which was interpreted as a positive response to his handling of the hurricanes in Texas, Louisiana, and Florida. Now, it has cratered again, to its lowest point since he took office. The AP, which does its measurements on a weekly basis, now has him at 32%. The 20s are uncomfortably close, and with them Richard Nixon's record-low Watergate-level approval ratings (around 25%). That is not good for any president, particularly one who is in his first term and is overseeing a generally solid economy (the September jobs report notwithstanding; see above).
There is, of course, no way to know for sure why Trump took such a rapid dip. Was his bounce illusory? Will we one day speak of a "hurricane bounce" the same way we speak of a "convention bounce" during election season? Or, is he being punished for his ham-fisted handling of Puerto Rico? For his cabinet dysfunction? His handling of North Korea and/or Iran? Something else? Could be because Saturday Night Live is back, with Alec Baldwin's devastating impersonation. Maybe it's because of Las Vegas, which isn't Trump's fault, but voters have a funny way of blaming the president for things.
Whatever the case may be, it is pretty clear that Trump's ceiling is somewhere around 40%, and that he's only going to achieve that under the best of circumstances. This means that we're presumably headed into brand new territory—since approval ratings have been compiled (the Truman years), no president has gone into the midterms (or a possible re-election campaign) with so many Americans unhappy with his performance. How things play out, then, is anyone's guess. (Z)
President Trump has many and varied headaches of various sorts, and one of those is the current governor's race going on in Virginia. If Democrat Ralph Northam defeats Republican Ed Gillespie—and Northam has double-digit leads in most polls taken of the race—it will be interpreted (somewhat correctly) as a referendum on the administration. Further, a Democratic governor/AG combo in a state so near to Washington could become a source of a lot of unpleasant lawsuits or arrest warrants (ahem, Paul Manafort).
These things being the case, Trump would prefer that Gillespie prevail. And to that end, the President took to Twitter to try to work some of his magic:
Ralph Northam,who is running for Governor of Virginia,is fighting for the violent MS-13 killer gangs & sanctuary cities. Vote Ed Gillespie!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 6, 2017
It is hard to believe that anyone not already voting Republican would accept this uncritically. What Trump is trying to highlight is that Northam voted in favor of "sanctuary cities" in Virginia, a purely symbolic gesture since the state doesn't actually have any. Northam, like 100% of politicians in America, is not "fighting for the violent MS-13 killer gang," especially since MS-13 has a limited presence in Virginia. In any case, Trump could not save Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) in a state that is pure Trump Territory. It's unlikely he will be able to rescue a middling Republican in a blue state like Virginia. (Z)
Politics makes strange bedfellows, as they say. It's already abundantly clear that Breitbart and their recently-returned chair Steve Bannon are going to support Republican candidates for Congress next year who are extreme, and outside the mainstream, and who will be a real pain in the rear end for the GOP. Now we learn that Bannon isn't the only one, as the Democratic Party is looking to give support to many of those same candidates.
Needless to say, the blue team will not coordinate with the hated Bannon directly. However, there are lots of ways they can influence Republican primary contests. For example, purchasing ads for or donating money to the right-wingers, taking a cue from the Russians and using Facebook to do their bidding, providing voter data to outsider candidates, and so forth. The Democrats have done this before, for the benefit of Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), for example. This time, they're already taking a close look at Kelli Ward (AZ), Danny Tarkanian (NV), and Josh Mandel (OH), among others. The best case scenario for the Party is that unelectable candidates advance past the primary stage, to become the next Todd Akin or Christine O'Donnell. Failing that, the Democrats will be happy doing some damage to the establishment candidate and/or forcing them to drain their coffers and/or compelling them to veer rightward. In the end, it's a pretty bad time to be a Democrat, but a pretty good time to be a Democratic strategist. (Z)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct06 Republicans Scrambling on Gun Control
Oct06 GOP's Money Spigot Is Drying Up
Oct06 Trump May Kill DACA Deal
Oct06 Trump Wants Senate to Investigate "Fake News"
Oct06 Trump Is Shaping the National Conversation
Oct06 Nobel Peace Price Will Be Announced Today
Oct05 Senate Panel: Russia Meddled in the Election
Oct05 Cabinet Dysfunction Goes Public
Oct05 Trump Is Losing the Senate
Oct05 Trump Speaks, Wall Street Freaks, White House Dekes
Oct05 Report: Mueller Is Looking at the Steele Dossier
Oct05 Arpaio Pardon Sustained
Oct05 Rep. Tim Murphy to Retire
Oct04 Trump Just Can't Help Himself
Oct04 Kennedy's Questions Suggest He May Vote to Ban Gerrymandering
Oct04 Bannon Fires a Gunshot Across Trump's Bow
Oct04 Pence's Chief of Staff Wants to Purge anti-Trump Republicans
Oct04 Collins to Reveal Future Plans Next Week
Oct04 Murphy Holds Double-Digit Lead over Guadagno in New Jersey
Oct04 Kushner Apparently Likes to Make Bad Situations Worse
Oct03 Las Vegas Attacked; Nothing Will Change
Oct03 Facebook Is Scrambling
Oct03 More Contacts between Trump's Associates and Russians Revealed
Oct03 Ivanka and Jared in More Hot Water
Oct03 Tax Reform Is Getting Harder
Oct03 Could DeVos Become the Next Tom Price?
Oct03 Trump Backs Limit on Abortion after 20 Weeks
Oct02 Trump Cuts Tillerson Off at the Knees
Oct02 Trump Administration Losing the Battle on Puerto Rico Messaging
Oct02 Trump vs. NFL Continues into Another Week
Oct02 Kasich, Murkowski Unhappy with GOP
Oct02 SCOTUS Reconvenes; Big Decisions Loom
Oct02 Data Collectors May Have to Give Up the Goods
Oct02 Democrats Honing Messaging for 2018
Oct01 It's Trump vs. Puerto Rico
Oct01 Trump Has Bad Week; Plans Distraction
Oct01 Trump Insists Strange Benefited from His Endorsement
Oct01 Even Trump's Family May Be Fired
Oct01 Pence Will Romance Kochs
Sep30 Price Crashes and Burns
Sep30 First Analysis of Tax Plan Says It Helps the Rich
Sep30 FBI Director Sworn in; Nobody Shows Up
Sep30 Bernie Supporters Won't Challenge Democratic Senate Incumbents
Sep30 DOJ Wants Facebook Information about Anti-administration Activists
Sep30 Sinema Will Challenge Flake in Arizona
Sep30 Hurricane in Puerto Rico Could Affect U.S. Elections
Sep30 Poll: Moore 50%, Jones 45%
Sep29 Lobbyists Take Notice of the Tax-Reform Plan
Sep29 The Tax Plan Creates a Giant Loophole for Wealthy Professionals