• Mnuchin May Get the Blame Next
• Trump Is Home Alone on Christmas Eve
• Trump May Have Ruined a Kid's Christmas
• McCaskill: GOP Senators Believe Trump is Nuts
• Interesting Facts about the 2018 Election
• Democrats Toyed Around with Dirty Tricks in Alabama Senate Election
Black Voters May Be the Difference Makers
Trump’s Frustration with Mnuchin Rising
Trump Says Shutdown Will Continue Until He Gets Wall
Trump Did Not Visit Troops at Christmastime
Trump Questions Child’s Belief In Santa Claus
After the stock market had another bad day, with the Dow Jones index closing at 21,792—its lowest point in 2018—Donald Trump had to blame someone, so he blamed Jerome Powell, his own appointee to head the Fed:
The only problem our economy has is the Fed. They don’t have a feel for the Market, they don’t understand necessary Trade Wars or Strong Dollars or even Democrat Shutdowns over Borders. The Fed is like a powerful golfer who can’t score because he has no touch - he can’t putt!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 24, 2018
Actually, a better choice might have been Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, another of his appointees (more below). On Sunday, Mnuchin, who is currently vacationing in Mexico (because after the wall is built it will be hard to get in), issued a statement saying he had talked to the six biggest banks and they all have ample liquidity. The market interpreted his remarks as: "Hmm, maybe they have a liquidity problem, otherwise why did he bother to check?" In general, when something is really not a problem and no one thinks it is a problem, you don't make an announcement that it isn't a problem. If the White House were to make an announcement out of the blue saying: "No radioactivity has been detected in Los Angeles," people would flee the city in droves because the mere fact that there was an announcement implies there potentially was/is an issue there.
What Trump completely fails to understand is that a lot of the market volatility is indirectly due to Powell, but not in the way he thinks it is. The past three fed chairs (Janet Yellen, Ben Bernanke, and Alan Greenspan) all have Ph.D.s in economics. Academic economists all believe in the theory of rational markets. It is a core principle of economic theory. According to this theory, the price of stocks reflects the collective wisdom of all the people interested in buying or selling them. If the markets move up, that must be due to some piece of news that has caused some investors to become more positive. If they move down, there must of been negative news. Consequently, economists with Ph.D.s tend to at least pay attention to the markets because they believe the markets are telling them something about the economy.
In contrast, Powell is a lawyer and banker and not an economist. As a banker he knows that markets move up and down at random due to herd psychology and other mysterious forces not related to the economy. As a consequence, he doesn't really care whether they go up or down. He believes that paying attention to them, let alone trying to control them, is not part of his job description. His job is to keep inflation under control. If Trump wanted someone as Fed chair who worried about the markets, he should have picked another academic economist with a Ph.D., like Yellen or Bernanke.
The markets are closed today for Christmas, but will be open again Wednesday. The S & P index is already technically in a bear market (off 20% from its recent high) and if it continues on down, it might pick up momentum and continue on down for a while. Since WW II, bear markets have lasted an average of 13 months. If this one does that (which is a wild guess since each one is different), that would take us into January 2020, just before the Iowa caucuses. It is a given that with the Democrats taking over the House in a week, no major legislation will be passed until 2021 at the earliest, so the only thing Trump will have to run on is the tax cut and the economy. It is possible for the stock market to crater without taking the economy with it, but don't count on it. So if 2020 starts and the markets and the economy are in the toilet, Trump has a problem. And "Vote for me because it is Powell's fault" is too long to fit on a bumper sticker. (V)
As we noted recently, members of the Federal Reserve Board, including Chair Jerome Powell, can be removed from their posts with "cause." Previous presidents have interpreted that pretty strictly, and would not have considered canning one of the governors unless they did something borderline illegal. Donald Trump, by contrast, has no problem with stretching the rules to their breaking point. So, if the economy continues to head downhill, and if Trump decides Powell should take the blame, it is likely the President will invent "cause," even if it is as dubious as the "national security" concerns that justified his trade war with China. After all, it's not a problem until the Senate says "no."
It is also possible, however, that Trump will conclude that he can't fire Powell. Or, perhaps even more likely, he might decide that two fall guys are better than one. And so, he is reportedly considering the possibility of firing Steve Mnuchin. Actually, that has been rumored for several months now, but Mnuchin's (apparent) blunder in announcing that the nation's banks are fine, liquidity-wise (see above), has apparently moved his head considerably closer to the chopping block. In fact, if the market has another dismal day when it reopens tomorrow, that might be enough to do it right there.
Since the midterms, Trump has already lost five top-level officials: UN Ambassador Nikki Haley (who announced her departure before the midterms), AG Jeff Sessions, Chief of Staff John Kelly, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and Defense Secretary James Mattis. That would be a pretty rough year (much less six weeks) for most presidents. Meanwhile, Mnuchin, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have all been rumored to be in danger in recent weeks. With Trump sitting in the White House with nothing to do besides rage about the economy and the shutdown and the wall, the odds are better than not that at least one of these folks finds themselves out of a job in the next week or two. (Z)
With Melania and Barron down in Florida and most of the White House staff home with their families, Donald Trump spent Christmas Eve all alone in the White House, tweeting. When the world is raging all around you and you have lost control, that is a natural reaction, of course. If King Lear had an iPhone out on that blasted heath during the storm, he would have been tweeting like mad, too. At 6:32 p.m., Trump sent out this:
I am all alone (poor me) in the White House waiting for the Democrats to come back and make a deal on desperately needed Border Security. At some point the Democrats not wanting to make a deal will cost our Country more money than the Border Wall we are all talking about. Crazy!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 24, 2018
After that tweet went out, someone clued in Melania that her husband was all alone, so she boarded a government plane for the 3-hour trip back to D.C. so she could be with him on Christmas Day. The image of Trump hunkered down in the White House all alone conjures up images of Richard Nixon at the end, walking the halls and talking to pictures of previous presidents while completely drunk. Of course, Trump is nowhere near the end yet and he is a teetotaler, but the idea of the most powerful person in the world isolated and ranting is scary, to say the least.
Actually, Nixon isn't the only image that the tweet conjured up for people, as the tweet was roundly mocked on social media. Quite a few folks noted that what we have here is a lonely miser on Christmas Eve who cares about money above all else, treats his employees badly, and has alienated former friends with his sharp tongue. Maybe you see where this is headed? Let's just say that nobody will be surprised if the President gets a visit from several ghosts tonight (although he doesn't have a dead former business partner to set everything up, as Ebenezer Scrooge did).
While he was (presumably) waiting for the First Lady to return, Trump continued tweeting, incidentally. The other one that raised more than a few eyebrows was this:
I am in the Oval Office & just gave out a 115 mile long contract for another large section of the Wall in Texas. We are already building and renovating many miles of Wall, some complete. Democrats must end Shutdown and finish funding. Billions of Dollars, & lives, will be saved!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 24, 2018
Many people are unclear as to whether or not he gave out a contract for a 115-mile segment of wall, or he gave out a wall contract with so much fine print that is 115 miles long. Others do not see how Trump's claim could be true, since he does not have authority to award contracts by fiat from the Oval Office all by himself. And still others wonder: If wall construction is ready to move forward (especially on a 115-mile segment), then why was the shutdown necessary?
In any event, the President's raging against the machine is particularly noticeable right now, but it's also the new normal. Earlier this week, the New York Times' Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman, who are about as dialed in as anyone in the media, had a profile of life in the White House these days based on interviews with 30 staffers and other insiders. In short, it's not good. An instructive passage:
At the midpoint of his term, Mr. Trump has grown more sure of his own judgment and more cut off from anyone else's than at any point since taking office. He spends ever more time in front of a television, often retreating to his residence out of concern that he is being watched too closely. As he sheds advisers at a head-spinning rate, he reaches out to old associates, complaining that few of the people around him were there at the beginning.
Mr. Trump is said by advisers to be consumed by the multiplying investigations that have taken down his personal lawyer, campaign chairman, national security adviser and family foundation. He rails against enemies, who often were once friends, nursing a deep sense of betrayal and grievance as they turn on him.
"Can you believe this?" he has said as he scanned the torrent of headlines. "I'm doing great, but it's a war every day."
"Why is it like this?" he has asked aides, with no acknowledgment that he might have played a role. The aides, many of whom believe he has been treated unfairly by the news media, have replied that journalists are angry that he won and proved them wrong. He nods in agreement at such explanations.
In other words, Trump is feeling like he's the victim here, and he's surrounded by people who tell him he's right to think that way. So, all of this is surely going to get worse before it gets better. (V & Z)
Warning: Spoiler alert re: Santa Claus.
One of the government functions that is not affected by the shutdown is NORAD's annual tracking of Santa Claus. Pretty hard to describe that function as "essential," but it basically doesn't cost anything (because volunteers do most of the work), and while voters might tolerate park rangers or IRS middle managers getting stiffed on their paychecks, it is politically unwise to mess with kids' Christmases. Donald Trump apparently did not get that memo, however.
The NORAD tradition dates back to 1955, when an ad for the Colorado Springs location of Sears included a number that kids could call to talk to Santa. There was a typo, however, and the number printed actually rang through to the Pentagon hotline at the local military base. The same hotline that was pretty much only to be used when the president ordered a nuclear attack. On the day the ad was run, the phone rang, and Col. Harry Shoup answered it with trepidation, thinking that the Russkies had finally made their move. Then he got irritated, thinking the questions about Santa were a joke by his staff. When he finally realized what had happened, he did his best Claus imitation, and both a nuclear and a Christmas crisis were averted. From that incident comes the custom of NORAD not only tracking Santa Claus, but also fielding phone calls (and, now, e-mails and tweets) from children looking for updates on his whereabouts. Well over a thousand volunteers from around the country band together to make sure every inquiry gets an answer.
In view of Donald Trump's empty calendar (see above), someone had the idea that it would be a good idea for him and the First Lady to take a few phone calls. Kind of a win-win: Give him something to do, give a few kids a lifelong story about how they got an update on Santa from the President of the United States, and get a good photo-op (for a President who could stand to generate a few warm fuzzy feelings these days).
The fly in the ointment, of course, is that while things like this are a layup for nearly any other president, they are just not Trump's forte. In particular, he's not good when young children are involved. Yes, he has five kids, but they were primarily raised by their mothers and/or nannies, and so he's actually very awkward around kids. Predictably, the President managed to step in it. Connected with a seven-year-old caller, Trump asked, "Are you still a believer in Santa? Because at seven it's marginal, right?" Inasmuch as the child was calling the NORAD Santa tracker, it's safe to say that yes, he is still a believer in Santa. Or, at least, he was until about 7:00 p.m. on Monday night.
When even Fox News is reporting on the President's slip-ups, you know it's not good. Meanwhile, one wonders if Trump's staff will learn its lesson and stop putting him in these situations. It's been a long time since there's been a chief executive that was so very bad at them. One thinks of Gerald Ford, except his reputation for being awkward in personal interactions was a television creation, and not based in reality. To discover a president who was actually comparable, we probably have to go back to Herbert Hoover. He also managed to step in it on a regular basis. It's probably not a coincidence that both of the businessman-presidents were pretty poor at the things that come naturally to the political pros. (Z)
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) is finishing up her service in the Senate with a bang. In a wide-ranging interview with CNN, McCaskill said of many of her GOP colleagues: "Now they'll tell you, if it's just the two of you, 'The guy [Trump] is nuts, he doesn't have a grasp of the issues, he's making rash decisions, he's not listening to people who know the subject matter.'" But in public they support him because they are scared of being primaried.
McCaskill also said that Democrats must focus on getting things done for white working-class voters, not pie-in-the-sky projects like free college. She also suggested that Democrats should be cautious of bright shiny objects like Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). McCaskill concluded by saying "The rhetoric is cheap. Getting results is a lot harder." That said, playing it nice and safe did not exactly work out so well for Hillary Clinton. (V)
Election guru Charlie Cook and his team have dug up 50 interesting facts about the 2018 election. Here are a few of them:
- 49.7% of eligible voters didn't vote
- Donald Trump was mentioned in 16% of all congressional ads
- Democrats mentioned health care in 54% of their ads
- The biggest Senate winner was Mazie Hirono (D-HI), whose margin was 41%
- The smallest Senate winner was Rick Scott (R-FL), who won by 0.12%
- The congressional races cost $5.2 billion
- Six states now have two female senators: AZ, CA, MN, NV, NH, and WA
- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) didn't run any TV ads at all
- Democrats won the popular vote for the House by 8.6%
- Of the 43 districts Democrats flipped, 30 of them (69%) have a Whole Foods Market
- Of the 50 GOP-held seats with the highest Asian populations, Democrats flipped 27
- There will be 36 new women in the House; 35 are Democrats
- In the new House, 90% of the Republicans are white men while 38% of Democrats are white men
- Republicans won 22 of the 43 districts decided by 5% or less; these are top targets in 2020
- John Katko (NY-24) will be the only Republican in a district with a PVI of D+1 or bluer
- Democrats didn't lose a single gubernatorial seat; Republicans lost six of them
- There are now nine female governors, up from six
See the article for the others. (V)
While Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) was successfully running against Roy Moore, there were a few Democrats who were engaged in Russian-style dirty tricks on his behalf, according to new reporting from the New York Times. They created fake Facebook profiles for fictional Alabama conservatives, and tried to encourage third-party votes. They also tried to arrange for Russian-affiliated Twitter accounts to "follow" Moore on Twitter, thus raising questions about the connection between the Judge and Donald Trump and Vlad Putin.
Everyone seems to be in agreement that this operation did not have any actual impact on the election. Where they do not agree is the question of why the Democrats did this. The GOP says that the blue team really was trying to influence the election, and just wasn't good enough to get it done. The Democrats say they were just running an experiment, so they could better understand the Russians' activities and how to countermand them. We will likely never know for sure, although all of the Democratic operatives involved in the matter are now running for cover.
In the end, however, it is naive to think that both parties aren't gearing up to engage in these sorts of cybertricks. In fact, it would be political malpractice if they weren't doing so. If the muckety-mucks at, say, the DNC know that the Russians (and the Chinese, and the Iranians, and who knows who else) are up to no good, and that the RNC is also running a cyber operation, they have no choice but to fight fire with fire, just to keep the playing field as level as is possible. The same, of course, is true for the RNC. Voters might not like to know about how their party's sausage is being made, but the sausage has to get made nonetheless. Of course, the voters themselves have the power to neuter these kinds of shenanigans. It is as easy as not taking cues from Facebook or Twitter when it comes time to cast one's ballot. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec24 Trump Fires Mattis
Dec24 Syria Withdrawal Is Official
Dec24 What Will 2019 Bring?
Dec24 Americans Don't Want Trump to Pardon His Associates
Dec24 Nonvoters Didn't Vote Because They Don't Like Politics
Dec24 Connie Schultz Will Leave the Carrot Cake in the Fridge
Dec24 Monday Q&A
Dec23 Shutdown Enters Second Day
Dec23 Economy Having a Bad Month
Dec23 Trump Is Thinking about Firing the Fed Chair
Dec23 Syria Withdrawal Began with a Phone Call
Dec23 A Mueller Mystery
Dec23 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Sherrod Brown
Dec22 Government Shuts Down
Dec22 Sanders: All of America Wants the Wall
Dec22 Supreme Court Hands Trump a Defeat
Dec22 Ruth Ginsburg Had Surgery for Lung Cancer
Dec22 Russia Actively Tried to Compromise the Midterms
Dec22 Gallup To Cut Back on Political Polling
Dec22 Bettors Think Trump Will Be Impeached
Dec21 Mattis: I'm Out
Dec21 Trump Changes Course, Won't Sign Short-term Funding Bill
Dec21 Meadows to Federal Employees Who May Not Get Paid: You Signed Up for This
Dec21 Trump Administration Will Lift Sanctions against Deripaska's Companies
Dec21 Ethics Officials Told Whitaker to Recuse Himself, but He Refused
Dec21 Perez Axes the Kiddie Table in 2020
Dec21 Should the Democrats Use Ranked-Choice Voting in 2020 Primaries?
Dec20 Trump Wants to Pull Out of Syria Immediately
Dec20 Shutdown Averted--For Now
Dec20 Michigan Power-Grab Partially Fails
Dec20 Cummings Is Already Sending Out Letters Requesting Information
Dec20 Trump Signed a Letter of Intent on Moscow Project during the Campaign
Dec20 Paul Ryan Bids Farewell
Dec20 No Sanctions for Kavanaugh
Dec20 Kasich Doesn't Think He Could Beat Trump in a Primary
Dec20 South Carolina GOP May Skip 2020 Primary
Dec20 Thursday Q&A
Dec19 Trump's Wall Collapses
Dec19 Washington Decides to Do Something Different, Passes Bipartisan Crime Bill
Dec19 Trump Foundation to Dissolve
Dec19 Flynn Sentencing Postponed
Dec19 Trump Launches Reelection Machine
Dec19 Will Trump Cooperate with His Campaign?
Dec19 McSally Wins by Losing
Dec19 Republicans Want to Create an ActRed
Dec19 Could Kansas Be a Senate Battleground in 2020?
Dec18 Republicans Are Waiting for Guidance from Trump over the Shutdown
Dec18 Much Drama on the Michael Flynn Front
Dec18 Takeaways from the Report on Russian Interference