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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Pitches Saturday Morning Twitter Tantrum
      •  It's War Between Trump and Bannon
      •  Revelations in Wolff Book Have Been an "Open Secret"
      •  About That Trump Economy...
      •  About Those Tax Bonuses...
      •  What's Next for Al Franken?

Trump Pitches Saturday Morning Twitter Tantrum

Since the Michael Wolff book hit, Donald Trump's Twitter account has given off the general impression of a wounded tiger, alternating between licking his wounds and lashing out at anyone who dares approach. The trend continued Saturday morning, as the President unleashed a string of tweets culminating in this tripartite defense of himself:

There is so much here, it is hard to know where to start, but:

  • Russian collusion, of course, has neither been disproven or proven at this point. However, the fact that four people in Trump's close orbit have already been indicted argues against "hoax."

  • Trump apparently does not realize this, but Ronald Reagan was a very poor comparison to draw. It is true that Democrats questioned the Gipper's mental capacity while he was in office. It's also true that he was later diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease, which may have begun manifesting itself in the first or second year of his presidency, and was certainly affecting him by the end of his second term. In other words, Democrats questioned his mental fitness...and were absolutely correct to do so.

  • Do you know who often proclaims their stability? Crazy people. Do you know who often proclaims their intelligence? Stupid people. Do you know who often brags about their stability and their intelligence? Crazy, stupid people. So, just because the President proclaims himself a stable genius doesn't make it so.

  • Meanwhile, the tweets not only got people talking about Trump's intellectual acumen, they also make the subject a legitimate topic of discussion and analysis. That, as CNN's Chris Cillizza points out, is not a smart position for any politician to put themselves in.

  • If winning the presidency on your first attempt is evidence of genius, then the list of geniuses includes...Barack Obama, Trump's hated rival. And 2016 wasn't actually Trump's first attempt, anyhow—he formally ran for president in 2000, and hinted at a run in at least three other elections, starting in 1988. Perhaps he has forgotten that; memory loss is often a symptom of cognitive decline.

Presumably, tweets like these make the President feel better, but otherwise they do him more harm than good. Surely, there is not a single person in the land who read these and changed their mind about Trump's fitness for office. Meanwhile, for someone who has spent his adult life as a master of publicity and self-promotion, it is remarkable that he does not seem to realize that he just sold another 100,000 copies of Wolff's book. (Z)

It's War Between Trump and Bannon

Since the publication of the Wolff book, which is chock full of truth bombs from the mouth of Steve Bannon, Donald Trump has been on the warpath against his former campaign manager and strategic adviser. Initially, the President's response was to call Bannon a loser and a liar and to make clear that he has no further influence in the White House. Later, Trump said that Bannon cried when he was fired. And since then, Trump has lit into his onetime ally on Twitter, often repeating these same slurs. One example, among half a dozen or so:

There was little question that Trump would develop some sort of insulting moniker for Bannon, since that is The Donald's stock in trade. But "Sloppy Steve"? That's the lowest of the low fruit, and must have taken 10 seconds to think up. He couldn't take a few minutes, or maybe ask Jared Kushner, and come up with something better? Like "Bannon the BS Cannon"? Or "Uneven Steven"? "Deceivin' Steven"? "Mushy Bannon-a"? "Skeevy Stevie"?

In any case, Trump has once again shot himself in the foot as a result of his tendency to fire from the hip. Bannon clearly did not foresee the response to his remarks, and in particular that they would turn his financial backers, the Mercers, against him. He doesn't want to lose his position of influence and notoriety, and so he was ready to eat crow and to beg The Donald's forgiveness. Several outlets have obtained copies of the apology that Bannon was set to issue, in which he calls Donald Trump Jr. a "patriot" and says that Junior "did not knowingly meet with Russian agents." The letter also disclaims Wolff's entire book as a pack of lies, and part of the ongoing "witch hunt by the left."

As much as Bannon enjoys his position of influence, and his access to the Mercers' money, however, his ego is apparently even more important to him. Once the President dragged Bannon's name and reputation through the mud, the apology was spiked, never to be issued. And so, the person in the very best position to help Trump by cutting off Wolff at the knees will remain silent, and Wolff's bombshell claims will go uncontroverted. (Z)

Revelations in Wolff Book Have Been an "Open Secret"

While a few people have come forward to dispute select portions of Michael Wolff's book, the main claims have been met with a deafening silence. Now, The Atlantic's James Fallows has decreed that the book is truthful, and that its main themes have been "an open secret all along." He also excoriates the GOP members of Congress for failing to do anything:

Who is also in on this open secret? Virtually everyone in a position to do something about it, which at the moment means members of the Republican majority in Congress...They know. They could act. And they don't. The failure of responsibility starts with Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, but it doesn't end with them. Every member of a bloc-voting majority shares responsibility for not acting on their version of the open secret. "Independent" Republicans like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski share it. "Thoughtful" ones, like Ben Sasse and Jeff Flake. Those (in addition to Flake) who have nothing to lose electorally, from Bob Corker to Orrin Hatch. When they vote as a majority against strong investigations, against subpoenas, against requirements for financial disclosure, and most of all against protecting Robert Mueller and his investigation, they share complicity in the open secret.

Fallows makes the salient observation that Congressional Republicans were roused to aggressive action by far less egregious issues, as long as the perpetrator's last name was Clinton.

And Fallows is not the only insider to come out and affirm the essential accuracy of the Wolff book. Michael D'Antonio wrote a biography of Trump, and so interacted regularly with The Donald over a period of several years. D'Antonio says he cannot confirm or deny specific details to which he is not privy, but he can say the general portrayal of the President rings true.

Add it up, and there is nothing that Donald Trump is going to be able to do in order to undermine the Wolff book. He threatened to sue, and all that did was attract attention and cause the book to be issued earlier. He attacked his attackers, particularly Steve Bannon, and all that did was attract attention, and stop them from clarifying or refuting their remarks. He flew off the handle on Twitter, and all that did was attract attention, and cause everyone to spend the entire (otherwise slow) weekend news cycle talking about Trump's mental stability. Undoubtedly, the conversation will continue on the Sunday morning political talk shows. The wise thing for the President to do, at this point, would be to clam up and let the furor die down as quickly as is possible. Of course, that is not what he is going to do.

As an aside on the book, probably the most succinct desccription of the book came from Chris Weigant, who described it as: The Wolff who cried "Boy." (Z)

About That Trump Economy...

As he has defended himself this week, Donald Trump has also been playing up his accomplishments, particularly as regards the economy:

This is just an example; there are at least half a dozen other presidential tweets on this subject in the last week, all of them referencing "25,000."

Of course, when we look at things more carefully, the story is more complicated. Starting with the stock market, it is not surprising that Trump has fixated on that 25,000 number. In part, because it's nice and round. In part,because using the index skews the evidence in his favor, in the same way that "The Last Jedi" looks like a more successful movie because it has made $600,000,000 while "Gone With the Wind" made "only" $200,000,000. In other words, it's not a surprise that the Trump stock market has reached the highest level in history, because that happens for pretty much every president (except Jimmy Carter). But comparing the Trump Dow Jones index to that of FDR, or of Ronald Reagan, or even that of Barack Obama is really comparing apples to oranges.

Helpfully, CNN has compiled a chart of stock market performance under the last century's worth of presidents. It shows increases by percentage (rather than by the Dow Jones index), which allows a direct apples-to-apples comparison. Here it is with Barack Obama and Donald Trump highlighted:

Stock market in presidents' first year

It is true that the market has done well under Trump, growing 27% in his first year. It is also true, however, that the market did better in Obama's first year, growing 33%. Meanwhile, it is clear that Obama inherited a market that was on a downward trajectory, and that turned around during his first few months in office. For Trump, on the other hand, the trajectory has been consistently upward.

When it comes to job creation, the story is almost exactly the same. Here's a chart of job creation during Trump's first year in office:

Stock market in presidents' first year

Trump has overseen the creation of an average of 171,000 jobs a month since taking office. That's good, although the slight downward trend toward the end of the year is a little worrisome. It also lags Barack Obama by a little bit, who averaged 187,000 jobs/month in 2016 and 226,000/month in 2015. Meanwhile, under both Trump and Obama, wages have been pretty stagnant, essentially tracking inflation.

Taken as a whole, then, the U.S. economy is doing just fine right now. But there is little evidence that Trump has had any impact whatsoever. He has not driven things to new heights, as he claims, nor has he wrecked the economy, as his opponents feared. It's not a big surprise that one of the least effectual presidents in a century has effectively just stood by and watched as things took their course. (Z)

About Those Tax Bonuses...

Another thing that Donald Trump has been bragging about in the last week, as he tries to minimize the damage done by the Wolff book, is all the companies that have been giving out bonuses or wage increases thanks to "his" tax cut:

The list maintained by the Examiner is updated on an ongoing basis, such that the number has now grown to 100.

Again, though, the devil is in the details. And when we look at things more closely, the gilding comes off the lily. Only a small fraction of America's corporations have given out such bonuses/wage increases, and they have used only a small fraction of their tax windfalls to do so. Further, an unusually large number of businesses that have given extra money to their employees just so happen to be under government scrutiny right now, among them AT&T, Wells Fargo, and Sinclair.

Add it up, and the tax bonuses/wage increases clearly don't represent any meaningful redistribution of wealth. In fact, what they look more like is a PR campaign, one designed to cheaply but very visibly show how "helpful" the tax cut has been. Meanwhile, Wall Street analysts expect that the vast majority of the tax windfall will go to dividends, stock buybacks, paying down corporate debts, and acquiring additional assets. Note that list does not include "hiring more employees" or "paying better wages." (Z)

What's Next for Al Franken?

Al Franken ended his Senate career this week, resigning his seat after being accused of inappropriate touching by several women. The question that many people are asking now is: What's next for him?

Franken is only 67, and has shown no signs of slowing down or considering retirement. He also made a point of observing "there's still work to do" in his resignation letter. He remains a gifted orator and a policy wonk, and he's still popular with many Minnesotans. On the other hand, not only is he connected to the toxic issue of the day, there is visual evidence of his malfeasance, namely the picture of him joke-groping LeeAnn Tweeden. If he associates himself with a specific candidate, or perhaps even a particular cause or initiative, that picture could end up plastered everywhere.

At very least, he's probably going to have to go away for a year or two or three. It may also be the case that his future lies in some sort of political television show, either a talking head-type program like "The McLaughlin Group" or a work of political satire like "The Daily Show." Either of those would draw on both his political and television backgrounds, would allow him to keep speaking out, and at the same time, would not taint anyone (other than the network that aired his program, perhaps). Time will tell; the only thing that appears certain is that he will never again hold elective office. Just like Mitt Romney was washed up after losing in 2012. Oh, wait... (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan06 Grassley Wants to Shoot the Messenger
Jan06 FBI Opens New Investigation into the Clinton Foundation
Jan06 Wolff Admits He Flattered His Way into the White House
Jan06 How do Jared and Ivanka Feel about Wolff's Book?
Jan06 Tillerson Says He Has Never Questioned Trump's Mental Fitness
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