Dem 49
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GOP 51
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New polls:  
Dem pickups vs. 2012: (None)
GOP pickups vs. 2012: (None)

Trump is Pro-States' Rights--Except When He's Not

As a candidate, Donald Trump was a big supporter of states' rights. As president, he addressed the governors and told them to "make the states the laboratories of democracy again." However, in practice, it turns out that he is only interested in this lab work when the labs give him results he likes.

In a number of cases he hasn't liked what the states are doing so much. Some recent examples include:

  • States that refuse to cooperate with the feds on immigration and won't round up undocumented immigrants
  • States that have legalized marijuana
  • States that have cracked down on predatory practices used by student loan companies
  • Governors who demand that their state to be exempted from coastal oil drilling, as Florida was

In short, when a state deviates from federal policy and does something that Trump supports, the state gets nothing but praise from him for acting boldly. But when a state opposes his administration, it often gets sued.

Yet another issue where the federal-state conflict is about to explode is on concealed carry gun permits. Some states allow people to carry concealed weapons, while others forbid it. The NRA and Trump want a federal law that forces every state to recognize as valid a concealed carry permit issued by any other state, even one that has very lax standards for issuing the permits. By and large, the states oppose this, wanting to determine their own laws on the subject and not have some other state effectively force upon them something that their own legislators have forbidden. The argument for reciprocity is that concealed carry permits are like driver's licenses. A person with a Texas driver's license can legally drive in California, so why can that person not carry a concealed gun in California with a Texas permit? (V)

Trump is Pro-Business--Except When He's Not

As a candidate, Donald Trump was a big supporter of business, bragging about his financial acumen and his enormous success in the private sector. As president, he has sometimes put that pro-business philosophy into action, slashing regulations, supporting the GOP's massive tax cut (even though he had little to do with getting it passed by Congress), and claiming responsibility for job creation at every turn (even when such claims were dubious).

However, as CNN's Matt Egan observes, there are some very clear limits to Trump's pro-business stance. Attacking a major, publicly-traded corporation is guaranteed to make that corporation's stock price plummet, and is all-but-guaranteed to spook the market as a whole. For that reason, it is almost unheard of for a president to publicly lambaste a corporate titan, even if that titan is being sanctioned (e.g., Wells Fargo). Trump, on the other hand, has blasted many of the biggies at one point or another, from Ford to Apple to Goldman Sachs. And this weekend, of course, it was Amazon.

Similarly, nearly every economist has concluded—and every recent president has agreed—that trade agreements are usually good things, and that overly-aggressive use of tariffs is very risky, as that can quickly blow up into a trade war. Few phrases send chills down most presidential spines more quickly than "Hawley-Smoot," (or, sometimes, "Smoot-Hawley"), the ultimate example of a protective tariff that boomeranged back on the United States (thus greasing the skids as the country sank into the Great Depression). Trump, by contrast, wields tariffs like they are Colt .44s, and he has no compunction about pulling the trigger.

Should there be any doubt on these two points, we all received an object lesson on Monday, when the Dow plunged 459 points (which was actually a rebound from the day's low of minus 758 points) on fears of an emergent trade war between the U.S. and China. There were also concerns that Amazon is about to be hit with regulations that will...well, will do something, but who knows what? So, their stock was particularly hard hit, with a loss of 5% of its overall value, or about $35 billion in total. And Amazon took the tech-oriented NASDAQ with it; Monday's 3% loss means that index is now in the red on the year.

It is quite clear that, as with states' rights (see above), Donald Trump's pro-business stance has some pretty clear limits. First of all, his political needs clearly outrank his concern for the U.S. economy. If he has to choose between what his advisors tell him is best for the economy, and what he thinks will please his base, he goes with the latter every time. Hence, the destabilization (and possible cancellation) of NAFTA, the game of chicken with China, the abandonment of the TPP, and so forth.

It is nearly as clear that Trump also places his personal needs above the health of the economy. As we, and others, have noted, his attacks on the Jeff Bezos-owned Amazon are not particularly about pleasing the base, but about lashing out when he's angry about negative coverage in the Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post. Whenever Trump blasts Amazon, billions in stock value is lost, some of that held by his supporters. Clearly, he doesn't care. In fact, a particularly concerning possibility is this: Not only does he not care, but he may very well be pleased to see an "enemy" corporation's stock price take a dive. Trump is badly wounded by the Post's coverage (no matter how much he may dismiss it as "fake news"), and we've also argued that he's jealous of Bezos' vastly greater, self-made financial success. It is not at all implausible that when The Donald turns on Fox News or the Fox Business Channel, and sees that AMZN is down 75.35, he says something like "good!" or "that will show them!" And if our supposition is correct, it means that the country is now in the historically unprecedented position of having a president who actively roots against the economy he is supposed to nurture and grow. (Z)

White House: "Shulkin Resigned"; Shulkin: "Actually, I Was Fired"

David Shulkin is no longer the VA Secretary—everyone can agree on that. But how he got to this point is less clear. Shulkin insists he did not resign, and would not have resigned, "because I'm committed to making sure this job was seen through to the very end." He says he did not know the axe was going to fall until he got a phone call from Chief of Staff John Kelly, which was promptly followed by a Trump tweet. The White House says that Shulkin absolutely resigned, although they admit that there's no resignation letter.

Why does this matter, beyond the fact that the whole story mildly enhances the aura of dysfunction that engulfs the Trump White House? Well, the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 gives the President the right to choose a temporary successor for a cabinet officer who "dies, resigns, or is otherwise unable to perform the functions and duties of the office." Note that "is fired" is not on the list. What this means is that it is not clear upon whom authority devolved when Shulkin left. Is it the next person in the line of succession, namely Shulkin's deputy Thomas Bowman? Or is it the person Trump appointed acting Secretary, namely Robert Wilkie?

Naturally, the Trump administration is going to proceed with the belief that Wilkie assumed leadership of the VA when Shulkin left. And given the questions that have been raised about Trump's nominee, Dr. Ronny Jackson, Wilkie could be acting secretary for months. During that time, it is not at all clear that Wilkie's actions will actually have the force of law. With some other president, that might not matter so much, and everyone might just look the other way. But with this president, well, you may have heard that there may be one or two organizations out there looking to sue him and to make problems for him wherever possible. So, this is almost certainly headed for the courts, which means yet another legal headache for Team Trump. (Z)

The "Stormy" Effect Is Not Much Effect at All

A new Harvard CAPS/Harris poll shows that the interview Stormy Daniels (actually, Stephanie Clifford) did with Anderson Cooper on CBS' "60 Minutes" hasn't moved the needle much on Donald Trump's approval rating. Nevertheless, it did have an effect. As a result of Daniels' interview, and also that of former Playmate Karen McDougal, who alleges she had an affair with the President that lasted nearly a year, Trump's approval has gone up with men (to 53%) but down with women (to 35%), an enormous gender gap. The weighted average approval is 44%.

Meanwhile, Trump and his fixer, Michael Cohen, filed papers in a Los Angeles court yesterday to try to get Daniels' lawsuit out of court and into private (and secret) arbitration. Daniels wants to fight the case in court, in public. (V)

Trump Brags That His Approval Rating Is Now Higher Than Obama's

Whenever Donald Trump sees any good news on the polling front, he gets it onto Twitter so fast that he throws into doubt Einstein's postulation about humans (or anything else) not being able to move at the speed of light. So it was on Monday:

If memory serves, Obama is Sad! And also a Loser! And not even an American, either. So, outpacing him should not be much of an accomplishment. In any case, though, even a glance at the tweet should make one at least a little bit suspicious. First, because the Washington Examiner is not exactly a fount of quality journalism. Second, because the tweet (actually, the re-tweet) is not a link to an actual story, it's a link to a picture of a headline. This makes it rather difficult to click through and read the actual story.

If you do manage to find the actual story, which is here, you learn that there are quite a few qualifiers to this news. To wit:

  • The gap between the two men is four points, which is essentially within the margin of error
  • Even the Examiner admits that the overall trendline favors Obama
  • It's only one day
  • Out of about 400 so far
  • It's only one poll
  • And the polling house is, naturally enough, Rasmussen Reports

Rasmussen, of course, is notorious for their sloppy work and their pronounced Republican house effect. They are, in fact, so problematic that some polling aggregators won't use their numbers any more (in 2016, we offered a Rasmussen-free option, for the same reason). And even if one is not familiar with the various analyses of their work, a glance at their website makes clear how much they are in the bag for Trump. Consider this graphic comparing Obama's approval rating with that of Trump:

Rasmussen Obama v. Trump

Given the position of the Trump icon versus the Obama icon, one might be forgiven for thinking that Trump started out far ahead of Obama, and that Obama has been converging on Trump recently. The color coding at the top doesn't help much, as it's so small that it is hard to tell which one is which. But, of course, the blue line is Obama and the green line is Trump. It is possible to glean this with a careful examination (and a mouse-over), but the graphic is clearly designed to mislead those who do not look carefully.

In the end, what it boils down to is this: Trump is having a mini-renaissance in his polling numbers, particularly if one examines the data selectively and applies fairly low standards. But the notion that has pulled ahead of Obama is a fiction. For the record, Trump's approval ratings in the last dozen major non-Rasmussen polls, dating back to March 21, are: 44, 38, 39, 41, 39, 39, 43, 39, 45, 42, 44, and 40. Compare that to Rasmussen's 50, and it is pretty clear which number is the outlier. (Z)

Trump Will Appeal Decision in Summer Zervos Case

Former "Apprentice" contestant Summer Zervos filed a lawsuit against Donald Trump in New York state court that says he defamed her by accusing her of lying when she alleged that he groped and kissed her. State Supreme Court Justice Jennifer Schecter ruled that the case could go forward. Trump's attorneys—Marc Kosowitz, Christine Montenegro, and Paul Burgo—have now filed an appeal claiming that the state courts have no jurisdiction over the case. They also argue that a defamation charge cannot be grounds for a lawsuit because it was done during a campaign! The first point—which court or courts can be used—is a technical legal question, but the claim that candidates are free to defame anyone they want it as long as it is part of a campaign is virgin territory.

More important than the details though, is that the appeal to the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court could take months to decide, which potentially buys valuable time for Trump. On the other hand, it is not certain that the case will be put on hold while waiting for the appeal, so maybe it doesn't.

While we are on the subject of women and Trump, Karen McDougal has sued the parent company of the National Enquirer to get out of her nondisclosure agreement. The company replied yesterday with a 199-page document claiming a First Amendment right not to publish a story, so it was within its rights not to publish hers, even after paying her $150,000 for it. (V)

Woman Sues Trump Campaign

As if the lawsuits from Summer Zervos, Stormy Daniels, and Karen McDougal weren't enough to keep Donald Trump a bit worried, a new woman has filed suit, although this time technically against his campaign. Jessica Denson has sued to nullify a nondisclosure agreement. Denson worked in Trump's campaign and did Hispanic outreach, and she claims her superiors harassed her and discriminated against her. The case will be heard in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan. The danger of all these lawsuits for Trump is threefold. First, if everyone is allowed to speak freely, heaven only knows what they might say. Second, one or more of the various lawyers involved might get to depose him under oath, possibly putting him in a situation where he could commit perjury, a serious crime that got Bill Clinton impeached. Third, and on a similar note, a lawyer or two might win the right to conduct discovery, and who knows what they might find? (V)

Esty Won't Run for Reelection

Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-CT) has announced that she will not retire from the House now, but she also won't run for reelection. Her problem is that her former chief of staff abused and harassed one of her other staffers, she knew about it, and did nothing for three months. Then she wrote him a letter of recommendation and gave him severance pay. Republicans have called for her head on a pike. By retiring but not resigning, she spares the Democrats a special election and gives potential Democratic candidates plenty of time to get ready for the primary. However, her district in Northwestern Connecticut is D+2—a swing district—so it also gives Republicans time to prepare a run as well. All in all, this is a win for the Republicans because beating an incumbent in a D+2 district is difficult but winning an open seat in one is more doable. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr02 Trump: No DACA Deal
Apr02 With the "Adults" Gone, Trump Is Calling His Own Shots
Apr02 China Declares (Trade) War Against the U.S.
Apr02 Abe Having Buyer's Remorse
Apr02 Russian Hacker Is Extradited to the U.S.
Apr02 Who's the Leaker? Kellyanne Conway, Apparently
Apr02 Rep. Elizabeth Esty Under Fire for How She Handled Harassment Problem
Apr01 Trump Really Hates Amazon
Apr01 Do As I Say, Not As I Do
Apr01 How Big a Win Do Democrats Need to Take the House?
Apr01 The Interview that Should Have Republicans Worried
Apr01 Buttigieg for President?
Apr01 Gun Rights Advocates Are Becoming Unhinged
Apr01 Eric Trump Is Highly Questionable
Mar31 Senate Democrats Have to Choose Between Defense and Offense
Mar31 Pruitt's Head Could Roll Next
Mar31 Jackson's Confirmation No Sure Thing
Mar31 Today in Muckraking...
Mar31 McDougal Payment Becoming a Problem for Trump
Mar31 Trump's Businesses May Be Exposed
Mar31 Poll: Young People Don't Like Trump
Mar31 McCabe Raises Almost $500,000 in One Day
Mar30 Sessions Will Not Appoint a Special Counsel to Investigate the Justice Department
Mar30 2016 Exit Polls Were Off
Mar30 Polling Numbers Looking Up for Trump; Everything Else, Not So Much
Mar30 Trump Toying with Having no Chief of Staff or Communications Director
Mar30 Trump Implies Wall Construction Has Begun
Mar30 Daniels' Lawyer Won't Be Able To Depose Trump Right Now
Mar30 Atlanta Will Bid for the 2020 Democratic National Convention
Mar30 Gov. Scott Walker Will Call Special Elections After All
Mar29 Another One Bites the Dust
Mar29 Mueller Plays Another Card from His Hand
Mar29 Trump's Allies Are Starting a Campaign against Mueller
Mar29 Judge Allows Emoluments Case to Go Forward
Mar29 Appeals Court Orders Wisconsin to Hold Elections for Vacant State Legislature Seats
Mar29 Stormy Daniels' Lawyer Wants to Depose Trump
Mar29 Former Disney Star to Work in the White House
Mar29 Joe Arpaio, One-Trick Pony
Mar28 Trump Wants the Pentagon to Pay for His Wall
Mar28 Two More Top Conservative Lawyers Say No to Trump
Mar28 Can a President Be Indicted?
Mar28 Trump Strikes His First Trade Deal
Mar28 Republicans Are Taking Nothing for Granted in AZ-08 Special Election
Mar28 Rick Scott Getting Close to Announcing; Already Has Baggage
Mar28 What Goes Up Apparently Must Go Down
Mar27 Takeaways from Stormy Daniels Interview
Mar27 Trump Ignores Daniels
Mar27 Daniels Expands Her Lawsuit to Include Cohen
Mar27 What Is Gates Telling Mueller about Trump?
Mar27 Does Team Trump Really Threaten to Rough People Up?