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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Pledges to Save Jobs--in China
      •  Giuliani Backtracks, Again
      •  Some Republican Senate Targets Are Fading Fast
      •  How to Be the Next Trump
      •  Trump Administration, "Saturday Night Live" Have Something in Common
      •  Key Supreme Court Rulings Expected Soon
      •  Chafee May Rise from the Ashes

Trump Pledges to Save Jobs--in China

For a change of pace, instead of railing about how China is stealing American jobs, yesterday Trump publicly worried about America killing Chinese jobs. Specifically, the Chinese company ZTE shipped critical chips to North Korea and Iran and was sanctioned by the U.S. for doing so. As a consequence of losing access to the U.S. market, ZTE shut down, causing jobs—in China—to be lost. Trump now wants to bail the company out.

But it is even worse. The CIA has long believed that ZTE telecommunications equipment comes equipped with hardware and software to spy on its users and report back to China. For this reason, cybersecurity experts have argued that ZTE products should be permanently banned from the U.S. If Trump now relaxes the sanctions, the Chinese will presumably once again be able to spy on Americans. In short, Trump is apparently now trying to save Chinese jobs and help China spy on Americans. At the very least, this is unusual behavior for a U.S. president. Of course, if Trump is merely using ZTE as a bargaining chip to get major concessions from China in other areas, it could be a brilliant ploy, but it might be best to reserve judgment until those concessions surface. (V)

Giuliani Backtracks, Again

Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani is an unwavering Trump supporter, is generally good on TV, and is willing to say whatever it takes to sell the party line. The President likes all of these things. What the Donald does not like, however, is underlings who embarrass him. What the Donald likes even less is underlings who make him look guilty of bad behavior. So, an underling who embarrasses Trump and makes him look guilty of bad behavior is really aggravating.

This, of course, is what Rudy Giuliani has done—twice. The first occasion came when "America's Mayor" went on Sean Hannity's show and said that yes, of course Trump knew about the $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels (aka Stephanie Clifford). That admission not only all-but-confirms the affair, but it also raises the strong possibility that Trump committed a crime. Oops! That mess still hasn't been cleaned up.

The second occasion, meanwhile, came just a few days ago, when Giuliani told the Huffington Post that the President personally blocked the planned merger between AT&T and Time Warner. Giuliani said this because he was responding to news that Trump fixer Michael Cohen had collected $600,000 from the telecom giant, and he (Giuliani) wanted to make clear that it was not a bribe. The problems are that (1) If Trump did intervene in the merger, that would be pretty serious interference with the business of the Dept. of Justice, and (2) The administration has already claimed that Trump was not involved in the decision to block the merger. This forced Giuliani to change his story; now he says the President did not personally block the merger.

In short, since he joined Trump's legal team two weeks ago, Giuliani has made an awful lot of the wrong kind of headlines. Given his age (73), and these rather serious errors, and the fact that his personality seems to be so different than it was in 2001, and the very noticeable head injury he suffered in 2016, some folks have raised an entirely reasonable question about Rudy: Is something wrong? Giuliani says that such questions are "extremely insulting," while close friends say that this kind of freewheeling, shoot-from-the-hip style has been his calling card for decades. This may all be true, but if Giuliani does not rein it in pronto, he may learn—as Anthony Scaramucci did—that there's room in the White House for only one brash, unfiltered New Yorker who says whatever the heck comes into his head. (Z)

Some Republican Senate Targets Are Fading Fast

Ten Democratic senators are running for reelection in states Donald Trump won. Initially, Republicans were licking their lips at the possibility of picking up 10 Senate seats, which would give them 61 seats in the Senate. That would be enough to invoke cloture on any bill, making it possible to pass legislation without first getting permission from Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough (who determines what is and what is not allowable on budget reconciliation bills). That hope has now turned to dust. Republicans might yet pick up Senate seats, but not 10 of them, because five seats are now steep climbs for them. Here is the story on them:

  • Michigan: This was never really a big target and now it isn't a target at all. It is true that Trump carried the Wolverine State, but only by 11,000 votes (out of 4.5 million). If Hillary Clinton had gotten even a quarter of Jill Stein's total, she would have carried the state. The filing deadline has passed, and the best the GOP could do was find a couple of unknowns who have never held public office before. Neither party will spend any money here, and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) might just save what she has in the bank for 2024, in case she gets a serious opponent then.

  • Pennsylvania: Trump's margin here was larger than in Michigan—44,000 votes (out of over 6 million)—but Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) is a good match for the state. The Republicans do have a serious candidate in Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA), who is expected to coast to an easy win over his opponent in tomorrow's primary. Barletta's problem in the general election is that Casey connects well with blue-collar workers, and he has the power of incumbency as well. Then there's the fact that the recent special election in PA-18, a blue-collar district outside Pittsburgh, was a disaster for the GOP. A Democrat, Conor Lamb, won, even though Trump had won the district by 20 points in 2016. Neither party is spending money in the state and Casey is expected to win easily.

  • Wisconsin: Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) is one of the Senate's more liberal members, but she is popular in the state and the Republicans have a nasty primary going on between state Sen. Leah Vukmir and businessman Kevin Nicholson. As in Pennsylvania, Trump's victory in 2016 was very narrow and Democrats have won a special election in a district they had no business winning. The mere fact that no U.S. representative is trying for a promotion says that none of them are willing to risk a (safe) House seat for a long-shot Senate bid.

  • Ohio: Trump's margin here was much larger than the three states listed above (450,000 votes) and the GOP has a U.S. representative, Jim Renacci, as a candidate, but the odds on him winning are still very low. The problem is that Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) was Trump before Trump on blue-collar issues, like tariffs and trade. He is also tight with the unions and a tough campaigner. Renacci is a more traditional Republican and has always supported free trade, so we will see a reversal of present-day Washington here, with the Democrat supporting tariffs and the Republican supporting free trade. Given the demographics of Ohio, Brown will get the better of that.

  • Montana: Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) has a bullseye on his back because Trump attacked him for sinking the nomination of his personal physician, Ronny Jackson, as head of the VA. But Montana has a lot of veterans and Tester is going to say that his top priority is having a competent person running the VA, not someone with no experience. Tester is also seen as a "regular guy," an organic farmer who can fix his own tractor. The Republicans hope that state Auditor Matt Rosendale wins the primary, but even if he does, Tester is the clear favorite despite the state's Republican lean.

The other five states where incumbent Democrats are running are a much bigger problem for the Democrats. The toughest fights for the blue team are in Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, West Virginia, and Florida, probably in that order, with Indiana and Missouri vying for the Republicans' best shot at knocking off an incumbent. (V)

How to Be the Next Trump

Donald Trump is sui generis, no doubt about that. Nevertheless, current and future politicians are probably taking note of things that may be different in the future as a result of his campaign and presidency. Axios has compiled a short list of things to keep in mind.

  • Many voters are sheep: If you had asked any politician or political scientist if it was possible for a party to change course on a dime about everything it stands for, the answer would have been "no"—until Donald Trump came along. In 2012, Mitt Romney was preaching about the evils of Russia and deficits and the virtues of free trade. Oops. That is now the virtues of Russia and deficits and the evil of free trade. The voters didn't care.

  • Money is overrated; authenticity isn't: Actually, we kind of had a hint at this during the Democratic primaries in 2016. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) didn't have as much money as Hillary Clinton, but he had a lot more authenticity and while he wasn't able to grab the brass ring, he came surprisingly close for someone who was basically unknown when the show started. In the general election, Clinton outspent Trump by a large margin, but he came off as authentic and she came off as completely stage managed. It matters.

  • Companies can be bullied: Trump has called out companies for outsourcing jobs and they have been quaking in their imported boots. A hit from the White House can cause stock prices to drop, so companies do pay attention when the president goes after them on something the voters care about.

  • Unpredictability goes a long way: Absent Trump's wild behavior, North Korea might not have returned hostages and agreed to talk. If Hillary Clinton had been president, they would feel safe that she wouldn't nuke them just because it would get her a lot of publicity. With Trump, they can't be sure. How far it will get him is something else, but being completely unpredictable does have some merit when the other side has no idea what you will do next.

  • Anyone can run and win: Old rule: Only governors, senators, and generals can be elected president. New rule: TV stars can be elected president. If anyone had seriously mentioned Oprah Winfrey or Mark Cuban as possible presidential candidates in 2012, people would have been calling 911 to send the men in the white coats. No more.

Of course, history rarely repeats itself and just like 2016 wasn't 2012, 2020 is probably not going to be a rerun of 2016. (V)

Trump Administration, "Saturday Night Live" Have Something in Common

The Daily Beast has a brief, but interesting piece about the leakers in the White House. Apparently, their motivations are numerous: settling scores, venting frustration, trying to give the public an accurate sense of what's going on in the White House, trying to win policy debates, and trying to achieve their goals by bringing public pressure (i.e., Fox News) to bear on the President among them.

Perhaps the most interesting thing, though, is the steps the leakers take to protect their identities. Virtually all major media outlets have set up different ways of submitting information anonymously. The New York Times, for example, gives tipsters the option of using WhatsApp, Signal, encrypted e-mail, anonymous postal mail, or SecureDrop. However, many insiders fear that they will still be recognized by telltale stylistic clues, like characteristic word choices, or idiosyncratic grammar/spelling, or the like. In other words, the same kinds of clues that allow everyone above the age of six to guess with 99.9% accuracy which tweets Donald Trump wrote and which one he didn't. In order to get around this, many White House tipsters have gotten in the habit of trying to impersonate their colleagues' writing styles, so that if someone tries to figure out "who wrote this?" they will guess wrong. For example, Sarah Huckabee Sanders might submit leaks written in the style of John Kelly, or Stephen Miller might submit leaks written in the style of Jeff Sessions, or Ivanka Trump might submit leaks written in the style of Jared Kushner. The possibilities are endless.

Perhaps this kind of chicanery is inevitable when a chief executive adopts a leadership style rooted in antagonism and backbiting between his underlings. Of course, it's not like Trump does not know a little about impersonating others for benefit of the press, since he used to "leak" flattering information about himself to the press under the pseudonyms "John Barron" and "John Miller." And the Donald got the idea from his father Fred, who preferred the pseudonym "Mr. Green." So, when White House staffers leak to the press, all they are really doing is honoring a time-honored Trump family tradition. (Z)

Key Supreme Court Rulings Expected Soon

The Supreme Court has finished all the oral arguments for this term and the justices are busy writing their opinions, which will be released in the next few weeks. Five of them stand out as having major political implications. Here they are:

  • Partisan gerrymandering: The Court long ago said that racial gerrymandering violates the Constitution. This year they have to decide if partisan gerrymandering is allowed. In Wisconsin, the Republicans did the gerrymandering; in Maryland it was the Democrats. Now the Court has to decide what to do about it, if anything. One problem facing the justices is that Potter Stewart is dead, just when he is needed. Stewart once said that he couldn't define pornography, but he knew it when he saw it. Gerrymanders are like pornography. To ban them, you first have to define them, and that is the hard part. That said, the Wisconsin case has some ideas on that subject that just might fly with the justices.

  • Wedding cakes: A gay couple asked a Colorado baker to bake them a wedding cake and he refused, citing his religion. He claimed that baking a cake is a form of speech and the First Amendment clearly says you don't have to bake cakes that you find immoral. If the justices rule that baking a cake is speech, there will be a flood of cases in the coming years in which people try to define cutting hair, serving dinner at a restaurant, selling flowers, sewing a wedding dress, filling dental cavities, and a million other things as protected speech.

  • Sports betting: Betting on baseball games, tennis tournaments, horse races, and other sporting activities is illegal everywhere in the U.S. except Nevada. The Court could change that by ruling on a New Jersey case and stating that betting is allowed anywhere. The next step, of course, will be to allow betting on political races, so we won't have to keep noting that Paddy Power (an Irish bookie) is offering 15/8 odds that Donald Trump will be impeached. We will be able to cite good ol' American bookies.
    Update: This morning the Supreme legalized sports betting nationwide.

  • Free speech and abortion: Pro-life pregnancy centers in California don't like the idea that they are required by state law to post information about where women can get free or low-cost abortions. They also don't like the fact that if they do not employ any medical professionals (which they usually do not, since their goal is to talk pregnant women out of getting an abortion), they have to post a sign stating that they do not employ any medical professionals. The Supreme Court will soon rule on whether the state laws requiring these postings is constitutional.

  • Muslim travel ban: The administration's ban on people from seven majority-Muslim countries entering the country has been challenged in court and as usual, Anthony Kennedy gets to make the call. The law is probably on Trump's side on this one because the president does have a strong mandate in foreign affairs, including immigration. Still, it is a hot potato.

Any one of these could cause a firestorm and the combination of the five could set off a really big one, energizing one party or the other in November by reminding everyone how important the Supreme Court is, and by implication, how important control of the Senate is. (V)

Chafee May Rise from the Ashes

In 2006, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) toppled then-Senator Lincoln Chafee by hitting him from the left. Rhode Island was basically purple for decades, but had turned blue by the early 2000s, such that even a moderate Republican incumbent like Chafee wasn't safe. Since then, Chafee has switched parties (twice), served as governor of his home state, and run a not-very-successful presidential campaign.

Given the former senator's age (65), and how very badly his presidential bid went, it appeared that his political career was over. But maybe reports of his political death were premature. It seems that some Rhode Islanders find Whitehouse to be a little too right-wing for their tastes, particularly when it comes to his votes on military matters. So, an effort to draft Chafee to run for his old seat has emerged, and he says there's a 90% chance he'll toss his hat into the ring. For this run, Chafee's base would be Bernie Sanders' political network, and so what we would have is a situation in which a former senator will try to reclaim his seat by running to the left of a senator who dethroned him by running to his left. Clearly, the Rhode Island of 2018 is not your father's Rhode Island.

There is every reason to think that the Whitehouse-Chafee race could get pretty ugly, as the two men each try to make a case that he is the true lefty, and that he is the one who hates Donald Trump the most. This isn't likely to put the seat in play for the GOP, however. The Republican bench in Rhode Island is thin, Hillary Clinton won the state by 16 points, and Bernie Sanders won the Democratic primary by 11 points. In other words, the Ocean State is now pretty much San Francisco East. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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