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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Decertifies Iran Deal
      •  Trump Prepares to Fiddle While Obamacare Burns
      •  Trump Changes Course on Puerto Rico...Again
      •  Soldiers in Niger? What Soldiers in Niger?
      •  Team Trump Plotting Path to Re-election
      •  Will Democrats Repeat McGovern Debacle in 2020?
      •  Democrats Thinking Senate Majority in 2018

Trump Decertifies Iran Deal

Early Friday morning, Donald Trump made official what has been expected for over a week: He's decertifying the Iran nuclear deal, which means he has decided that they are not in compliance with the pact. That puts the matter in the hands of Congress, which has three basic options. The first would be to do nothing and maintain the status quo, a move that would presumably result in Trump canceling the pact altogether. The second would be to re-impose sanctions on Iran, a move that would be tantamount to Congress tearing up the pact themselves. The third would be to impose additional conditions on Iran, which is the approach that Trump called for in his factually dubious address on the matter on Friday. The problem here is that Iran would certainly reject additional conditions, which means that this option would result in them tearing up the deal. So, whichever path is traveled, it likely ends with the pact dead, and Iran resuming its nuclear weapons program.

Trump's strategy here is somewhat unclear. One possibility is that he wants to travel down path #3, and cause Iran to kill the deal. That way, he will have "delivered" on his campaign promise (sort of), and will be able to point to the Iranians as the bad guys. The other plausible explanation is that he's being extremely unrealistic, and that he actually thinks the Iranians will kowtow to him, or else that a return to harsh economic sanctions will be better than what we have currently. As noted already, the former is certainly wrongheaded; the latter isn't much more plausible. The sanctions worked in the first place only because the U.S. partnered with other major countries—particularly the UK, China, and Germany—to impose them. The international community, however, strongly favors the continuance of the pact, and the European powers already announced that it is "not up to any single country to terminate" the deal. So, their cooperation with a new round of sanctions is not likely. And without them, the sanctions are meaningless.

It is worth noting that Trump's actual promise to his supporters was that, "This deal if I win will be a totally different deal. This will be a totally different deal." He regularly touted his skills as a negotiator, and made clear he would put together something better. It is very difficult to see how this situation ends with something better in place, and even if it does, it will be Congress that takes the lead. Trump has not talked to the Iranians, nor tried to set up a summit with them, nor traveled to Iran, nor done anything else that might have allowed him to negotiate with them. So, while he is trying to set himself up to claim victory on this particular pledge, it will be a falsehood, regardless of what comes to pass. (Z)

Trump Prepares to Fiddle While Obamacare Burns

On Thursday, Donald Trump took steps to cut Obamacare off at the knees. And on Friday, he took to Twitter several times to make sure everyone knew whom to blame. Among his missives:

Trump's attempt to put the ball in the Democrats' court is nonsense, of course. If he can't come up with a plan that he likes, how are the Democrats supposed to do so? Further, it is not generally the job of the minority party to come up with legislative initiatives; there is a reason that the president is sometimes called the "legislator-in-chief." And if he really wants the Democrats' plan for healthcare, well—he's got it. It's called "Obamacare." Or, if he prefers, the blue team would also be happy to talk to him about Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-VT) single-payer idea.

No, Trump has no interest in actually talking. And there is no doubt that the program is going to head steeply downhill from here if Trump is able to follow through on his plans. The Congressional Budget Office has already announced that, thanks to the President's moves, they expect premiums for Obamacare plans to be 20 percent higher than they would have been by 2018, and 25 percent higher by 2020. His decisions will also increase the deficit by $6 billion in 2018, $21 billion in 2020, and $26 billion in 2026. 7 million people will lose the subsidies that allowed them to get insurance; it's unknown how many will be unable to make up the difference themselves.

What Trump is gambling on here, of course, is that when Rome burns to the ground, he'll get credit for delivering on his promises, and someone else will get the blame for the consequences. In that way, his approach here is identical to his approach on the Iran deal (see above). And it's even more likely to blow up in his face. Poll after poll makes clear that the majority of Americans (anywhere from 60% to 75%) hold Trump and the GOP responsible for making Obamacare work (or making it fail). And that's before anyone actually loses their coverage, a development that will surely cause the numbers to skew even worse against the administration. And it's not just poll respondents; a great many Congressional Republicans fear blowback in 2018, and have warned Trump not to destroy Obamacare. On Friday, to take one example, Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) said, "Barack Obama is a former president. President Trump is the president. He is Republican. We control the Congress. So we own the system now."

Of course, this may not be over yet. Congressional Republicans might follow their own advice, and take some action of their own accord. For example, making the subsidies a matter of law as opposed to a presidential prerogative. In addition, 18 states, led by California and New York, have already announced plans to sue the administration in federal court on Monday morning, with an eye toward resuming the subsidies. If they win, they might actually be doing Trump a favor by saving him from himself. (Z)

Trump Changes Course on Puerto Rico...Again

On Thursday, President Trump—apparently aggravated by a report on a conservative news program that the Puerto Ricans brought their woes upon themselves—used Twitter to suggest that he would be cutting off support to the island in the near future. This despite the fact that there remain severe shortages of water, food, electricity, and other basic needs. On Friday, however, he was back on their side (apparently), tweeting:

Again, to refresh everyone's memory, here is what he tweeted just 24 hours earlier:

The two tweets are saying things that are, quite literally, polar opposites.

How to make sense of these very different responses? Four theories, not necessarily mutually exclusive, suggest themselves:

  • Trump is so mercurial, or so inconsistent, or so mentally compromised that what he said/did yesterday literally does not have any connection to what he decides what to say/do today.

  • His decision-making is guided entirely by today's news. If the headline is "Trump not harsh enough on Puerto Rico," he does one thing, and if it's "Trump too harsh on Puerto Rico," he promptly does the opposite.

  • Someone else with access to the account—Dan Scavino, Jr., maybe—is empowered to make policy declarations on the President's behalf without actually checking with him.

  • He's toying with the people of Puerto Rico, for his amusement, or for political gain, or some other reason.

Perhaps there are other theses that do not immediately occur. Whatever the case may be, it is difficult to envision an explanation that reflects well on the President and his leadership. And if that were not enough, news broke late Friday that some of the water that the federal government is distributing in Puerto Rico comes from a hazardous-waste-contaminated Superfund site. One hopes that was not deliberate. But even if it was an accident, oversight responsibility here lies with the EPA. And given the folks that Trump has put in charge at that agency, and the number of positions that still remain vacant—like, say, the assistant administrator for solid waste and emergency response—the blame here surely lies at the President's feet. That is, after all, where the buck stops. (Z)

Soldiers in Niger? What Soldiers in Niger?

One week ago, four American soldiers were killed after being ambushed by ISIS in Niger. The details—including why the soldiers were there in the first place—remain hazy, but bureaucratic errors appear to have played a role. In fact, the phrase "chaos and confusion" has been used by a number of insiders, who spoke to reporters off the record. The reason that things are not clearer is that nobody in the administration is saying anything. That includes Donald Trump, who is generally eager to do a little patriotic virtue signalling by meeting with the families of those who lost their lives, or at least tweeting a message or two. But the guy who finds time for 10-20 tweets a week about the NFL alone has maintained radio silence on this matter, the single greatest loss of military lives since he became president.

It's certainly true that sometimes American servicemen die, and that sometimes the details must be kept classified for national security purposes. However, even if mission information has to be kept closely guarded, it is generally the case that the sacrifices of the dead are honored. That's not really happening here, which has people wondering if a cover-up of some sort is underway. Indeed, the incident bears a striking resemblance to the death of NFL-player-turned-soldier Pat Tillman, who turned out to have been killed by friendly fire. It's also got some people talking about Benghazi again, which of course was held over the heads of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for years. It's not possible to reach firm conclusions yet, but it's a story that bears watching. (Z)

Team Trump Plotting Path to Re-election

Given what's happened this week—and, indeed, since he was inaugurated—thinking about a reelection bid might be putting the cart before the horse. Nonetheless, Donald Trump likes to predict a landslide victory in 2020, and to retweet those who agree with him on this point. That's just for show, however, as he and his team are aware of the reality: His path to victory is narrow, and is going to rely on putting together just the right combination of states.

It's fair to say that in 2016, most of the breaks went The Donald's way. He ran against the most reviled Democratic candidate in recent history (and maybe ever) in Hillary Clinton, who in turn erred enormously in assuming that the Midwest was in the bag when it was not. The late-breaking Comey revelations helped Trump, and the Russians may have done so as well. These things, in turn, allowed Trump to capture fully two-thirds of the 2016 swing states. To put a finer point on it, there are nine states where the margin between Clinton and Trump was less than 5% (listed from most pro-Trump to most pro-Clinton):

State Trump % Clinton % Margin EVs
North Carolina 49.83% 46.17% 3.66% 15
Arizona 48.67% 45.13% 3.54% 11
Florida 49.02% 47.82% 1.2% 29
Wisconsin 47.22% 46.45% 0.77% 10
Pennsylvania 48.18% 47.46% 0.72% 20
Michigan 47.5% 47.27% 0.23% 16
New Hampshire 46.61% 46.98% 0.37% 4
Nevada 45.5% 47.92% 2.42% 6
Minnesota 44.92% 46.44% 1.52% 10

The numbers make clear that Trump has very little margin of error. He's got 34 electoral votes to burn from the 2016 map, and a loss of just 1% of the vote across the board would flip Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan and their 46 EVs—more than enough to send Trump to defeat. He's got relatively few pickup opportunities, and the ones he does have control only 20 EVs among them. As a practical matter, he likely can afford to lose only one among Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, states that gave Trump an average margin of victory of just 0.71%. And the list above doesn't even include Ohio and its 18 EVs, which Trump won by 8 points, but which might also be in doubt now that Gov. John Kasich (R) is leading the GOP opposition to the President.

The upshot is that it's a tough map for any president running for re-election, particularly a president whose approval rating is in the 30s. Team Trump knows this, so they are paying close attention to five elections that will take place in the next 14 months, in hopes that will give them a read on how the political winds are blowing, and will tell them where to invest their resources. They are:

  • Virginia Governor: Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) vs. Ed Gillespie (R), November 7, 2017. Virginia wasn't close enough in 2016 to make the list above (Clinton won by 5.5 points), and the state's voters already rejected the Trump-like candidate Corey Stewart for the more establishment Gillespie. If Gillespie somehow ekes out a win, then Team Trump will entertain the notion that maybe Virginia is in play. However, the Republican is behind in the polls, by double digits in most cases. Further, this is probably too big and expensive a state to campaign in to be aiming for a longshot win. Much like Hillary Clinton would have been better off ignoring Georgia, Trump would probably do well to forget about Virginia.

  • Florida Senator: Sen. Bill Nelson (D) vs. Gov. Rick Scott (R), November 6, 2018. Scott's entry into the race isn't confirmed yet, but is expected. This contest might be the most instructive of all, since Scott is a Trump disciple, and since Florida is so large and controls so many EVs. Further, it will be interesting to see if Latinos turn out in big numbers, and in particularly if the election is affected by an expected influx of Puerto Ricans.

  • Pennsylvania Senator: Sen Bob Casey (D) vs. Rep. Lou Barletta (R), November 6, 2018. Barletta is another Trump clone whose signature issues—anti-immigration, anti-trade pacts—are the ones that helped The Donald win large swaths of the white, male Rust Belt vote. This race, then, will afford some clue as to how thoroughly the so-called Obama-Trump voters remain in the President's camp.

  • Michigan Senator: Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) vs. Kid Rock (R) or Rep. Fred Upton (R), November 6, 2018: As Michiganders realize that they might actually elect a rock musician with no political experience and no college degree to the Senate, Kid Rock is sinking in the polls. So, he might call off his plans to run, which were never firm, anyhow. But whether it's him or Upton or some other Republican, this will be another test for how loyally the Rust belt white working-class voters are sticking with Trump.

  • Minnesota Governor: Unknown Democrat (D) vs. Unknown Republican (R), November 6, 2018: Gov. Mark Dayton (D) is retiring, which makes this one something of a free-for-all. From Trump's vantage point, it's also something of a hybrid of Virginia and Michigan: a bit of a longshot, and one that will only be in play if things are going very well with the Obama-Trump Rust Belters. Working against Trump is not only the state's long history of voting Democratic, but also the fact that an unusually high number of Minnesotans voted third party in 2016. The general expectation is that many of those will be returning to the Democratic fold in 2018 and 2020.

The best case scenario for Trump is that he gets a mix of good news (say, in Florida and Minnesota) and some bad news. But it's also well within the realm of possibility that all five of these races break decisively against the Republicans, especially since three involve an incumbent Democrat, and a fourth involves a Democratic officeholder who is merely trying to move up to the next rung on the term-limited ladder. If the GOP does go 0-for-5 and the races are not close, then Team Trump may be at a loss as to what to do. Are there any other sports leagues he can attack on Twitter? (Z)

Will Democrats Repeat McGovern Debacle in 2020?

On the flip side of the "Trump has a narrow path to victory" item above is a piece Alan Greenblatt wrote for Politico entitled "Are Democrats Headed for a McGovern Redux?" He fears that the divides in the Democratic Party, coupled with their anger at Donald Trump's far-right governance, might cause them to nominate a far-left candidate. Like, say, Bernie Sanders. This, in turn, could play right into the President's hands, as he runs a Nixon-style identity-politics campaign, and scores a landslide victory in 2020.

Greenblatt attempts to qualify his piece with a number of caveats, but even then, the piece is a pretty shoddy bit of analysis. We might easily raise a dozen objections, but we shall limit ourselves here to the four biggest ones:

  • Democratic Disunity: Many pundits are taking it as a given, these days, that the Democratic Party is split into two hostile factions: The Sanders progressives and the Clinton moderates. There's some truth to that, but the phenomenon has been grossly overstated. We should recall, first of all, how much convergence there was between factions on things like the minimum wage and on trade pacts, and this year on single-payer healthcare. A new study affirms this, demonstrating statistically that there is greater consensus among Democrats right now than there is Republicans. And beyond that, the proof is in the pudding. This year, Democrats have been delighted to unite behind both progressive candidates and moderate candidates whenever they had a chance to rebuke Trump.

  • Approval Ratings: To carry off his argument, Greenblatt suggests that Nixon's approval ratings weren't much better than Trump's, noting that Tricky Dick was "in the 40s" at the start of 1972. Not much better than "in the 30s" Trump, right? Except that Nixon was at 49% then, while Trump is around 35% right now (and holding pretty steady). That's 14 points. Further, by Election Day—which is what actually matters—Nixon had risen to the low 60s. That's approaching double Trump's current rating, and in politics, the difference between a 35% approval rating and a 60% approval rating is like the difference between a Ford Pinto and a Lamborghini Countach. This fact alone makes Nixon and Trump an apples to orange hair comparison.

  • Identity Politics: No doubt, Trump has gotten much mileage out of identity politics. However, there is zero chance that such techniques can have the same salience they had in 1972, when the Civil Rights movement had just wound down, Black Power was still in effect, and a great many voters had grown up in the pre-segregation era. Put another way, how many people who did not vote for Trump in 2016 are going to switch their votes in 2020, now that they know his views on the black folks? It's not like he just bought his dog whistle this year.

  • Democratic Agenda: This may be the most important angle that Greenblatt overlooks. In his first term, Nixon—who tended to talk like a conservative but act like a liberal—co-opted an enormous chunk of the Democratic platform. He reformed the welfare system (in a left-leaning direction), liberalized the treatment of drug addicts, oversaw the creation of the EPA, expanded civil rights protections (most notably signing Title IX), and ended the Vietnam War (albeit after dragging his feet for three years). Plus, he had enormous foreign policy successes (particularly normalizing relations with China), which tends to be the one area where presidents can accrue bipartisan kudos. Point is, the Democrats were kind of stuck with a far-left candidate, because Nixon had robbed them of most of the things that a more mainstream Democrat might have run on. Trump, by contrast, has accomplished very little. There's no indication that is likely to change, and in particular that he's likely to start passing legislation that makes Democrats happy. If he does sign any major pieces of legislation into law, it's likely to be things like tax cuts for the rich or maybe a border wall, which will most certainly not be co-opting the blue team's platform.

There is no question that there are many similarities between Richard Nixon and Donald Trump, in terms of their personalities, their style of politics, and even their political environments. But we should not let that little parlor game cause us to fall into sloppy parallelisms when it comes to an election that is still three years away. Until we see who the Democratic candidate is, and see exactly how fully the Party unites behind that person, we should probably not pay attention to Chicken Littles when they declare that the sky is falling. (Z)

Democrats Thinking Senate Majority in 2018

In contrast to pessimists like Alan Greenblatt, quite a few movers and shakers within the ranks of the Democratic Party are taking a look at the 2018 landscape, and are liking what they see (assuming they can keep the Russians at bay). In fact, things are going so badly for Donald Trump and the Republicans that the blue team is even hopeful that, just maybe, they can even retake the Senate next year.

For this to happen, the most probable (and, really only) scenario is as follows. First, the Democrats would have to hold all of the 25 Democratic and independent seats that are before the voters in 2018. This is pretty doable; no Democrat has yet announced their retirement, and incumbents win at a 90% clip. Add in the fact that the GOP is having trouble with its recruitment, and that the party that holds the White House tends to do poorly in midterms, and that 90% may be more like 95% or 98%. Second, the blue team would need to flip both of the most vulnerable GOP seats, namely Arizona and Nevada. Also doable; Dean Heller (NV) is pretty close to a dead man walking, and not-too-popular Jeff Flake (AZ) is going to have to fend off a challenge from the right in the form of tea partier Kelli Ward, and then pivot to the center. Third, the Democrats would have to pick off at least one additional Senate seat from a deep red state. This is certainly the longest shot of the three conditions. Their best chances are Alabama (where the arch-conservative Roy Moore may be too much for moderate Republicans to swallow), Texas (where the blue team has a solid challenger to Sen. Ted Cruz in the form of Rep. Beto O'Rourke), Tennessee (where the retirement of Republican Bob Corker creates some uncertainty), and Arizona (where the possible resignation or demise of Republican John McCain could open up the possibility of a two-fer in the Grand Canyon State).

It's certainly possible, then, that the Democrats could take the Senate in 2018, particularly if an anti-Trump wave sweeps the country. The question is: Do they really want it? Their dream scenario, as outlined above, is 51 seats. Maybe, if Red Sea-parting style miracles take place, they might get to 52. But the GOP has helpfully spent the last nine months giving us an object lesson in how hard it is to get anything done with such a thin margin of error. A caucus that has both Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) may struggle to agree on much of anything. And even if they do, such legislation would probably die in the House (if the Democrats don't take that back, as well), or else when it reaches Donald Trump's desk. Really, the only thing they can reasonably hope to do is obstruct. They are already doing that pretty well with 48 seats, and without opening themselves up to charges that, "You had control of the Senate and you didn't do anything with it."

On the other hand, certain kinds of obstruction—say, Trump cabinet or Supreme Court appointments—are far easier with a majority. Further, whatever party is in the majority controls the committees, and with that comes all sorts of juicy perks, like the ability to launch investigations into things like violations of the emoluments clause. And, with 51 votes, the blue team could even kill the filibuster, if that's how would-be Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) decided to play it. It's an interesting discussion, but of course the Democrats are just going to do everything they can to retake the upper chamber, and then happily deal with any headaches that entails. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct13 Trump Starts Gutting Obamacare
Oct13 Trump Threatens to Cut Off Puerto Rico
Oct13 Trump Threatens NBC
Oct13 Gerson Eviscerates Trump
Oct13 Nielsen Nominated for Homeland Security
Oct13 Did Trump Fail Econ 101?
Oct13 Feinstein Draws a Serious Challenger
Oct12 Is the Cheese Slipping Off Trump's Cracker?
Oct12 Foreign Affairs Are Going Poorly
Oct12 Trump Comfortable with Vacancies
Oct12 Trump Is Fumbling Puerto Rico Badly
Oct12 McConnell Feeling the Heat
Oct12 Skeletons Emerge From Moore's Closet
Oct12 Democrats Worried About Russian Hacking Redux in 2018
Oct11 Trump vs. NFL Continues; Trump May Be Winning
Oct11 Trump Feuding Openly With Tillerson
Oct11 Pruitt Makes It Official
Oct11 Obamacare Fight May Finally Be Over
Oct11 Page Will Plead the Fifth
Oct11 Are the Democrats Too Old?
Oct11 Eminem Blasts Trump
Oct10 New E-mail about Russian Meeting Appears to Exonerate Team Trump
Oct10 Babysitting Donald Trump
Oct10 Pence's Indianapolis Stunt Cost at Least $240,000
Oct10 Cotton's Star is...Rising?
Oct10 Iran Does a Little Scimitar Rattling
Oct10 Feinstein Will Run for Reelection
Oct10 Do the Democrats Have a "Harvey Weinstein" Problem?
Oct09 Trump Picks Fight with Corker
Oct09 Pence Stages a Little Political Theater
Oct09 White House Publishes List of Immigration Demands
Oct09 Starr Predicts Indictments
Oct09 Bannon's List of Targets Is Expanding
Oct09 Roberts Has Some Interesting Thoughts About Gerrymandering
Oct09 Culture Wars, for Fun and Profit
Oct08 Trump Continues Foreign Policy Reality Show
Oct08 Trump Administration Makes Further Assaults on Obama Legacy
Oct08 Kobach Blows It Again
Oct08 GOP Whales Are Floundering; Small Fish Are Picking up the Slack
Oct08 Tillerson May Be Wise to Resign Now
Oct08 Trump Declares Emergency in Mississippi
Oct08 We Have a Winner
Oct07 Trump Suggests "Storm" Is Coming
Oct07 Trump Apparently Rationing His Anti-Obama Executive Orders
Oct07 How Close Is the "Rexit"?
Oct07 September Jobs Report Is Poor
Oct07 Trump Approval Hits Record Low
Oct07 Trump Slams Virginia Gubernatorial Candidate
Oct07 Democrats to Play a Little Dirty Pool Next Year
Oct06 Trump to "Decertify" Iran Deal