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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Continues Foreign Policy Reality Show
      •  Trump Administration Makes Further Assaults on Obama Legacy
      •  Kobach Blows It Again
      •  GOP Whales Are Floundering; Small Fish Are Picking up the Slack
      •  Tillerson May Be Wise to Resign Now
      •  Trump Declares Emergency in Mississippi
      •  We Have a Winner

Trump Continues Foreign Policy Reality Show

Yesterday was Saturday, which is Donald Trump's prime Twitter day. This week, he decided to use the social media platform to conduct a little foreign policy, and to build upon his remarks (threats?) from Friday:

We can be confident that these came straight from The Donald, given the time of day, as well as the fact that the other person who tweets from Trump's account—Dan Scavino, Jr.—knows how to thread tweets, while the President does not. Trump's lack of tech savvy results in his using ellipsis, as is the case here, instead of threading.

In any case, there are two ways that we might read Trump's cryptic statements from the past couple of days. The first possibility is that this is more reality-show star bluster, and that Trump doesn't actually have anything in mind when he says, "only one thing will work." Normally, one would not suspect that a President of the United States is completely full of it, but this is the same man who did not actually have a "secret plan to defeat ISIS," or a "terrific" replacement for Obamacare, or tape recordings of his meetings with James Comey, despite his statements to the contrary. So, it is entirely possible that this is much ado about nothing.

The other possibility is that Trump is laying the groundwork for an attack on North Korea, since that would seem to be the "only one thing" that hasn't already been done. We pointed out yesterday that wars do not happen in a vacuum, and that they invariably follow a months- or years-long buildup of tensions. The adjunct to that observation is that every president who oversaw a major war in the last century or so was preparing for that war long before it came, and quite often spent months priming public opinion. Woodrow Wilson, for example, publicly lamented the harms being perpetrated upon the poor Serbians and the honorable British, while Franklin D. Roosevelt gave Americans several earfuls about the terrible things that the Japanese were doing to the Chinese. Trump's rhetoric of the past few days could well be intended to build consensus in favor of a strike against Kim Jong-un.

If it's option 1—he's just blustering—it's hard to see how this will be helpful for Trump or for the United States. He might think he's throwing a scare into China with the "crazy" act, but they are unlikely to set their North Korea policy based on a few tweets. And if it's option 2, we can only hope that someone impresses upon him how disastrous an attack would be. No matter how well planned, or how much force was applied, millions of South Koreans would die at the hands of the thousands of conventional missiles that North Korea has stationed along the demilitarized zone. Domestically, huge swaths of the populace would rebel against the President; much of Congress would likely do so as well. There's also the non-zero chance that the generals—who have been increasingly willing to publicly share their disagreements with the president—would refuse to follow his orders.

It's also worth noting that Trump's argument about North Korea is somewhat dubious. Getting nuclear weapons—both for tactical and symbolic purposes—has been essential to the Kim family for years. It is all-but-impossible that the United States could forestall the process; the best case scenario is to slow it as much as possible. For all the supposed failures of the Bushes, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, the peace (albeit a delicate one) has been maintained, and the North Koreans are only just on the cusp of being a nuclear power. There probably weren't a lot of better outcomes available. Anyhow, perhaps we will learn what Trump's game is sometime this week. Or perhaps we won't. (Z)

Trump Administration Makes Further Assaults on Obama Legacy

On Friday morning, the Trump administration took the first step in rolling back Obama-era rules regarding employers having to pay for their employees' contraceptives. Next week, Team Trump is expected to overturn Obama EPA regulations designed to combat global warming. In between these two maneuvers, Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin launched yet another offensive against Obama's legacy, announcing plans to roll back several Wall Street regulations imposed by the 44th president.

Among the rules that would be overturned are ones that require publicly-traded companies to disclose the "pay gap" between executives and workers, that forbid companies from "testing the waters" with potential investors before issuing an IPO, and that cap private companies at $1 million a year in crowdsourced funding. The goal of all of these rules was to curtail bad behavior by corporate actors, but Mnuchin says, "The U.S. has experienced slow economic growth for far too long," and that changing the rules will, "harness American ingenuity and allow small businesses to grow." Inasmuch as the U.S. GDP grew between three and five percent during each of the last seven years of Barack Obama's presidency, the argument that his policies were hindering economic growth seems tenuous. But the Secretary's gotta say something to justify his plans. (Z)

Kobach Blows It Again

Kris Kobach is Secretary of State of Kansas and, perhaps more consequently, the vice chair of Donald Trump's Commission on Election Integrity. In the latter capacity, Kobach's stated mission is to eliminate voter fraud in the United States (which essentially does not exist, at least not the type he's supposedly focused on). His real mission is to stop as many members of certain groups—minorities, women, poor people, students—from voting as is possible. It is not a coincidence, of course, that these groups skew heavily Democratic. Kobach's true agenda is supposed to be a secret, though pretty much everyone who is paying attention knows what is going on. Not helping things is that Kobach, as he goes about his labors, has proven to be...well, kind of incompetent.

Kobach's first object lesson in the Peter principle came early in Trump's term, when he demanded voter data from states in such a clumsy fashion that most of them—either for political, ethical, or legal reasons—told him to shove it. He's since been caught using a private e-mail account for commission business, has made claims about the results of the 2016 election that even Republicans laughed at, and was discovered to be on staff of at least one organization that has been labeled a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Kobach's latest screw-up, however, may be the coup de grâce. He wrote a report pushing for the Trump administration to "promote proof-of-citizenship requirements." Then he was photographed holding a copy of the report while meeting with the President. The eagle-eyed folks at the ACLU read the portions that were visible, and went to court to acquire a copy of the report. Kobach tried to keep things secret, to the point that he was fined $1,000 for misleading the court about the content of the documents the ACLU wanted, but eventually he was forced to give up the goods.

The argument that Kobach and others who claim massive voter fraud have always made is that there are certain individuals who are casting multiple votes in elections, as opposed to the single vote to which they are entitled. Requiring proof of citizenship would not do anything to stop that kind of fraud (which, again, basically doesn't exist). However, it would make it harder for some people to vote in the first place. Say, poor people or minorities, for whom the costs—in both money and time—of getting the right paperwork may be prohibitive. In short, then, the ACLU thinks—with some justification—that they now have the "smoking gun" that proves what Kobach and his commission are really up to. The voting public and the GOP base may not care, but this is exactly the kind of thing to which the courts pay a lot of attention.

Incidentally, the one type of voter fraud that may exist is the selling of absentee ballots. But there is no one, including Kobach, who has the slightest interest in looking into that question, perhaps because ending such fraud (if it does exist) would not be likely to confer an advantage to either party. So, we just don't know. (Z)

GOP Whales Are Floundering; Small Fish Are Picking up the Slack

Recently, we noted that the big donors who fuel the Republican Party have been closing their checkbooks, unhappy with the lack of progress being made by a GOP Congress and a GOP president. However, aided by several personal appeals from Donald Trump, the Party is doing quite well on the small donations front, having collected $40.3 million this year in donations of $200 or less. That's the Republicans' best number in a decade, and far outpaces the $25.1 million in such donations that the DNC has collected this year.

On the whole, of course, this is good news for the GOP. They have tended to struggle with small donors, and so any progress on that front is positive for them. Further, the best thing about small donors is that they can be tapped again and again, both for money and for volunteer labor. So, the list that the Party is compiling right now is worth its weight in gold.

Now the bad news. First, small donations to the parties are always much more limited than small donations to individual politicians—the $40 million the GOP has collected this year is dwarfed, for example, by the $250 million that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) collected last year. And on that front, individual Democrats (Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama) have consistently outpaced their Republican counterparts (Trump, Mitt Romney, John McCain, etc.). Further, it is unclear as to the extent to which the GOP is truly exploiting a new funding source, as opposed to this merely being powered by Trump. It could be that once a more mainstream Republican becomes the Party's standard-bearer, the money will dry up. Finally, it's well within the realm of possibility that the small donations incentivize bad behavior by the President. He's likely aware of things like, "When I insult the 'Rocket Man,' we collect $1 million in the next 24 hours." That might be good for the financial bottom line, but maybe not so much for the country or the Republicans' long-term prospects.

It is also the case that it's a bit hard to compare the DNC and RNC totals because the DNC currently has no real standard-bearer (Tom Perez doesn't count), and because most Democrats have been giving to specific candidates (mostly those trying to steal GOP seats in Congress), and to activist groups like the ACLU. We won't really be able to judge how the two parties' fundraising is going until next year's midterm elections are in full swing. (Z)

Tillerson May Be Wise to Resign Now

Not too many things remain secret in Washington these days. But even by that standard, the worst-kept secret in town may be that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is a dead man walking. The question is not "if" his head will roll, the question is "when." It's widely understood that he's trying to hang on until the one-year mark, and then he'll be outta there.

Writing for CNN, Julian Zelizer argues that Tillerson should not wait, for two reasons. The first is that, given his de facto lame duck status, the Secretary is going to be totally ineffectual for his remaining time in office. Foreigh leaders won't take him seriously, since any relationships they develop with him, and any agreements they make with him, will likely be for naught. Meanwhile, Trump will continue to use his underling as a political prop of sorts, supporting him or humiliating him as needed. We've already seen instances of the latter, as recently as last week, when Trump used Twitter to throw dirt on Tillerson's negotiations with the North Koreans.

The second reason for Tillerson to resign, per Zelizer, is that a principled resignation presents him with his very best opportunity to do good. Many other secretaries have resigned in protest of their boss's policies; from William Jennings Bryan's opposition to Woodrow Wilson's aggressive posture leading up to World War I, to Robert McNamara's rejection of Lyndon B. Johnson's Vietnam strategy, to Archibald Cox's rebellion against the Watergate-era corruption of Richard Nixon. Anyone who is watching the administration surely has to be worried about Trump's foreign policy, but if one of the most inside of insiders were to defect and to blow the lid off of what is really happening, it could prod Congress to action. Repeal of the War Powers Act leaps to mind; that is the basis from which Trump would likely claim authority to, for example, attack North Korea.

And if Tillerson does not move quickly, he may yield the moral high ground. The general presumption is that the Secretary's job is safe for a while longer because Trump dislikes the optics of losing yet another high-ranking member of the administration so early in his term. Not so fast, argues CNN's Stephen Collinson. He observes that Trump—or, more likely his advisors—could reach the conclusion that a lame duck Secretary is doing so much harm that it's better for the President to take his lumps sooner rather than later. Further, the impetuous Trump could—at any point—force Tillerson to walk the plank just because that's what his gut tells him to do. If Tillerson tries to call out Trump as a jilted firee, as opposed to a principled resigner, his words may well fall on deaf ears. (Z)

Trump Declares Emergency in Mississippi

Hurricane Nate made landfall in Mississippi and Louisiana on Saturday night. It is nowhere near as powerful as Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, so it is unclear how damaging it might be. Still, whatever harm is done, the good people of those two states will have the federal government's assistance, since Donald Trump preemptively declared a federal emergency before Nate ever touched down.

Naturally, the difference between this response and the administration's slow-motion response in Puerto Rico is striking. The charitable interpretation is that Trump learned some valuable lessons on the island, and determined not to make the same mistakes again. The less charitable way of looking at things is that Mississippi and Louisiana are red states that gave Trump electoral votes and campaign donations, and Puerto Rico is not. It's also possible that it's some combination of both of these things. We will likely never know, though the Washington Post is probably looking into it nonetheless. (Z)

We Have a Winner

Quite a few politicians, Republicans especially, but also many Democrats, are in the thrall of the NRA and other gun lobbies, not to mention Second Amendment zealots (particularly the 3% of the population that owns 50% of the guns in the U.S.). This creates something of a dilemma after a mass shooting, since these politicos don't want to aggravate their base or their big-time donors, but they also don't want to appear heartless. This being the case, we tend to see the same sorts of responses every time, to the point that they've become clichés. There are the flabby attempts to show empathy, e.g. "thoughts and prayers." That's generally followed by declarations that we should not "politicize" such incidents. Then come the attempts to deflect the blame from guns, with pronouncements about how "you can't fight evil," and how we really need to be focusing on mental health, and how "guns don't kill, people do."

Such sentiments are rather meaningless when deployed over and over and over, and are really quite insensitive to the victims and their families. And almost invariably, at least one or two politicians take it a bit too far and really step in it. This time, it is Sen. John Thune (R-SD) who took home the gold medal. Interviewed about the Las Vegas massacre on MSNBC, the Senator offered up some of the usual platitudes about how we don't want to politicize the tragedy, and how we have to wait until all the facts are known. Then Thune went where few others would go. "I think people are going to have to take steps in their own lives to take precautions," he said, "To protect themselves. And in situations like that, you know, try to stay safe. As somebody said—get small." In other words, what happened in Las Vegas is kinda the fault of the victims, because they didn't do their best to make themselves into poor targets. Not coincidentally, Thune has collected $852,000 over the course of his career from the NRA, which is definitely getting its money's worth. In deep red South Dakota, he won his last election (2016) by 43 points, and he will continue to have his Senate seat for as long as he wants it. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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