• Stock Market Takes a Dive
• Ford Announces Layoffs
• Trump Slams Medicare-for-all in Op-ed
• Is the Donald Trump Show Getting Old?
• Kavanaugh Story Lingers On
• Politico: 209 House Seats Leaning or Firmly Democratic
• Today's Senate Polls
When the cat is away, as they say, the mice will play. Given the "America First" program of Donald Trump, which involves other nations (supposedly) doing more to keep the world safe, and the United States doing less, it is to be expected that some of the world's bad actors will take the opportunity to infringe on American sovereignty. This appears to be what happened in the case of Jamal Khashoggi, whose disappearance has been major news across the world for the last two days.
Khashoggi is a former member of the Saudi (state-run) media who left the country in 2017, and was granted residency in the United States. From his new home in Virginia, he became an outspoken critic of the Saudi government, and of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in particular (also, for that matter, of Donald Trump). Khashoggi has served as a columnist for the Washington Post for the last year, and has also written for or appeared on other media outlets. Seeking to be married to a Turkish woman, he visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to acquire some necessary documents. He has not been seen since. The Saudis claim Khashoggi left the embassy shortly after arriving, and that they have no idea as to his current whereabouts, but the Turkish government says he was killed while inside, possibly after an attempt to kidnap him and spirit him back to Saudi Arabia went south.
Assuming that the Turkish government has the right of it, Donald Trump has quite a mess on his hands. There is, first of all, the general problem of allowing other nations to commit evil acts without recrimination, which sets a bad precedent and sends a problematic message to the Syrias and North Koreas of the world. There is also the specific problem of allowing a foreign government to lure a resident of the United States into a trap and to kill him. If that is indeed what happened, the voting public and the Congress are not going to be happy. Even Sen. Lindsey Graham, who may be Trump's staunchest ally in the Senate, and who badly wants to be AG, declared that "there would be hell to pay" if the Saudis did indeed kill Khashoggi.
The difficulty for Trump is that he really, really does not want to confront the Saudis, much less sanction them or otherwise punish them for their deeds. Among the reasons he does not want to do this:
- Saudi Arabia is the linchpin of the administration's Middle East strategy (such as it is). In
particular, Team Trump is counting on them to keep the pressure on Iran, to help fight ISIS in
Syria, and to twist the arms of the Palestinians.
- The nation is also significant to his economic program, as negotiating the
of billions of dollars in arms to the Kingdom of Saud was one of his (very) few achievements in
economic diplomacy. It's true that the deal was already in place before Trump became president, and
so is not really his to claim, but it's also true that regardless of who really deserves credit, the
President wants to keep Saudi money flowing into the U.S. economy.
- On a more personal level, Saudi Arabia is one of the very few nations where Trump is more
popular than Barack Obama was. And that, of course, is very important to the President.
- Also on a personal level, Trump and his son-in-law have
business interests in the Middle East, and hope to have more once this whole presidency thing is
over. In fact, Kushner regularly speaks to the Crown Prince on the phone about...well, nobody knows,
because Kushner often does not use an official state department phone line, which means nobody is
taking notes on his conversations.
- Trump just doesn't do confrontation, in general. Sending Chief of Staff John Kelly to fire some cabinet secretary or other underling is viable, but Kelly can't really be dispatched to go read the riot act to the leaders of Saudi Arabia.
In view of these concerns (some might call them conflicts of interest), Trump is currently taking something of a "sweep it under the rug" approach. When pressed by reporters about Khashoggi's disappearance, the President said, "I am concerned about it. I don't like hearing about it. And hopefully that will sort itself out." The careful reader will notice that statement is just a tad less forceful than what Trump has said recently about the Federal Reserve Bank, Christine Blasey Ford, or kneeling football players. Perhaps all three are bigger threats to the U.S. than the autocrats who run the Saudi government. Anyhow, this situation is well on its way to becoming yet another major headache for Trump, on top of all the others he already has. (Z)
In addition to the not-so-good news from the direction of Saudi Arabia, there was also not-so-good news from the direction of Wall Street, as the stock market stumbled badly on Wednesday, sinking 832 points. That's the third largest drop by points in history (though far from the largest drop by percentage).
This is not the worst points (or percentage) drop of the Trump presidency; the #1 and #2 entries on the "largest drop by points" list both happened in February of this year, when the market dropped 1,175 and 1,033 points (on Feb. 5 and Feb. 8, respectively). However, yesterday's drop has investors particularly spooked. Why? Take a look at this table of some of the worst downturns in stock market history:
|October 1907||The Panic of 1907||The downturn sent the U.S. economy into a severe, year-long recession|
|October 29, 1929||Black Tuesday||The first domino in the chain of events that plunged the U.S. into the Great Depression|
|October 19, 1987||Black Monday||The great crash produced (ostensibly) by Reaganomics; another year-long recession|
|October 11, 2007||Black Thursday||The Bush II-era downturn that sent the U.S. into a two-plus-year recession|
In short, when bad things happen in October, people take notice, given how many times in the past such downturns have presaged a serious recession or a depression. The phenomenon even has a name (actually, two of them). It's called the October effect, or sometimes the Mark Twain effect, with the latter inspired by a line from Pudd'nhead Wilson: "October. This is one of the peculiarly dangerous months to speculate in stocks. The others are July, January, September, April, November, May, March, June, December, August, and February." Twain knew a little something about the matter, since he managed to blow more than one fortune with his poor investing skills. As his quote somewhat suggests, nobody is quite certain if there really is something particularly bad about October (September, for example, has also had a number of very damaging downturns in the last 100 years). Nonetheless, with the stock market, perception is often reality, and if investors get spooked by a downturn in October, particularly one coming after a long bull market, then a recession could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If so, then yesterday's downturn would slot into the above list nicely as "Black Wednesday," which is fortunately still available.
Donald Trump, for his part, is spinning things furiously, describing Wednesday's downturn as "a correction that we've been waiting for," while at the same time blaming everything on the Federal Reserve, which he says has been acting "loco." Those two statements are mutually contradictory; either this was supposed to happen or it wasn't. At least he did not blame Christine Blasey Ford or kneeling football players, though the week is still young. (Z)
The stock market downturn wasn't the only unhappy economic news for the country and the President on Wednesday. Ford Motor Co. has taken a beating this year, with its stock down 29%. The company's leadership blames Donald Trump's tariffs, which they say have cost the auto maker $1 billion. In response, Ford plans to lay off 12% of its workforce worldwide, or about 24,000 people. It's not clear how many of those folks will be Americans, though one not-so-good sign is that Ford has already furloughed the staff at its facility in Claycomo, Mo., which makes passenger vans.
It is a fair question whether Ford's woes are really the result of the tariffs. After all, it is rare that corporate bigwigs respond to a downturn in business by pointing at themselves and saying, "Yep, we're doing a poor job and, to be frank, we're not all that smart, either." In particular, the automaker's product line has lagged behind their competitors in terms of adapting to new developments in the market, like self-driving and electric cars. Still, the tariffs certainly didn't help the company's bottom line. And when one of America's most iconic corporations is flailing around and laying people off and blaming Trump's tariffs, it's going to be very hard for him to make the case that his policies have invigorated the U.S. economy and/or helped save workers' jobs. (Z)
Clearly, Donald Trump was making all kinds of news on Wednesday. In addition to the foreign affairs and economic situations, he also "wrote" an op-ed for USA Today slamming the Democrats, in particular their "Medicare for All" plan. Who knew that the issue had reached critical mass to the point that it demanded a presidential response?
In any event, the editorial was—brace yourself—chock full of taurum stercore, as the Romans might say. Or, to quote the Washington Post's assessment, "almost every sentence contained a misleading statement or a falsehood." Just to pick a few pieces of the lowest-hanging fruit, consider these three bits from the op-ed:
The Democrats' plan means that after a life of hard work and sacrifice, seniors would no longer be able to depend on the benefits they were promised.
The new Democrats are radical socialists who want to model America's economy after Venezuela.
Democrats will seek to slash budgets for seniors' Medicare, Social Security and defense.
It should not require one second of research for anyone who follows politics to figure out that while the Democrats may indeed try to cut defense spending (the very last point), there is no Democrat who says they want to emulate Venezuela (just because someone calls themselves a socialist does not mean they want to model one of the world's least-effective socialist states). Similarly, Trump seems to forget which party it was that created Medicare and Social Security. These are the sacred elephants of Democratic politics; threatening them would be political suicide for a member of the blue team (and not so healthy for a member of the red team, either). Anyhow, for a more thorough, point-by-point evisceration of the piece, click on the WaPo link, or take a look at the pieces from Politifact, FactCheck, NPR, or NBC News.
In other words, Trump was pretty much raked over the coals by every outlet from the center to the left of the political spectrum. Probably more concerning to him, though, is that the right-wing sites, including Fox News and Breitbart, basically ignored the piece. Meanwhile, also getting raked over the coals was...USA Today. Quite a few commentators pointed out, quite rightly, that Trump's title does not entitle him to publish whatever he wants, and that regardless of the author, it is irresponsible for a newspaper to print things they know to be...well, lies. It's true that USA Today is not exactly a font of great journalism, but even the McDonald's of newspapers still has certain minimal standards to which it should adhere. (Z)
Speaking of Fox News not giving Donald Trump the coverage he wants, the President got some very bad news on that front Wednesday. The cable channel has been in the habit of giving Trump's rallies wire-to-wire coverage. However, the ratings have sagged quite a bit, to the point that they are considerably lower than Fox's regular primetime programming. To that end, they are going to stop airing most of Trump's rallies.
It's hardly surprising that it's come to this. Trump has been doing a lot of rallies, and long ago they basically turned into a collection of greatest hits—Hillary, Obama, the deep state, Robert Mueller, Pocahontas, etc. That can't help but get boring after a while. "The Apprentice" didn't even duplicate plotlines for two consecutive weeks, much less 90 consecutive weeks. Plus, it takes a lot of energy to summon up the kind of anger he tries to cultivate, so it's really got to get exhausting for regular viewers.
In any case, Wednesday's news is a double whammy for the Donald. On a personal level, there are very few things he cares more about than ratings. It has to be embarrassing for him that the one outlet he cannot slam as "fake news" has just announced to the world that his ratings are way down. On a political level, it is not good for him to lose his free three-hour commercials, particularly just as midterm season is looming. As much as he likes to campaign and hold rallies, there's probably some wisdom in dialing back the schedule a fair bit, so they become "events" again. One thinks, for example of FDR's famous fireside chats, which were very effective, in part because Roosevelt limited them to 2-3 per year (to be precise, one every 4.6 months). (Z)
Although Donald Trump was back to dominating the headlines on Wednesday, his newly-seated Supreme Court justice has not been forgotten. On Wednesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray appeared before the Senate Homeland Security Committee, and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) took the opportunity to ask a few off-topic questions about the additional investigation the Bureau conducted into Brett Kavanaugh's background. Wray admitted that he was operating under strict limits imposed by the White House, but then argued that a limited scope is commonplace for investigations like this. Perhaps Wray is speaking truth, though it's fair to wonder: If "limited scope" is the normal procedure, then why was it necessary for the White House to say anything at all? Another fair question: Assuming this is indeed normal procedure, is it appropriate to conduct an "ordinary" examination under such extraordinary circumstances? At this point, it is hard to see how Wray can make it to the end of the 10-year term to which he was appointed.
Meanwhile, when it comes to the formal complaints that have been lodged against Kavanaugh, for conduct unbecoming a judge (during his post-Ford testimony), the buck-passing has continued. Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson, from Kavanaugh's former home circuit (Washington DC) punted them to Chief Justice John Roberts. Roberts has now passed them on to Judge Timothy M. Tymkovich of the Tenth Circuit (which is based in Denver, Colorado). Presumably, someone will eventually be found who is willing to give them a look-see. Someone should check to see if Rachel Mitchell is available. She, by the way, is getting slammed back home in Arizona, for allowing herself to be used as a tool by Senate Republicans.
In the end, the longer Kavanaugh remains in the headlines, the worse it is for Trump and the GOP. A new Politico/Morning Consult poll is out, and Kavanaugh is underwater, with 40% approving of his confirmation, and 46% unhappy about it. Democrats, of course, are very upset (78% disapprove/11% approve), Republicans are very happy (73% approve/12% disapprove). No surprises there; the bad news for the GOP is that independents break pretty strongly against the confirmation (47% disapprove, 34% approve). Also bad news is that 77% of Democrats now say they are "very motivated" to turn out for the midterms, which is the highest number this particular poll has recorded. That's higher than the 68% of Republicans who say the same. Given that there are more registered Democrats than Republicans, this is not a good combo for the GOP, which is why the House appears to be slipping away from them (see below). (Z)
Charlie Cook is the guru of micro-level (i.e., seat-by-seat) analysis of Congressional elections. However, Politico is now trying its hand at that approach, and in their assessment of all 435 House seats, they have determined that 209 seats are either leaning, likely, and solidly Democratic (compared to 200 for the GOP). That sounds pretty even, except that they believe that 68 Republican seats are in play while only a half dozen Democratic seats are in play. If the Democrats can net 9 seats out of these 68, they will win control of the lower chamber of Congress on Nov. 6.
The ratings are based on polling and extensive discussions with insiders and analyses of historical trends. Also playing a role in the evaluations is funding. In particular, the NRCC has cut off funding in some districts, which means it believes the district is lost and it is not worth throwing any more money down the rat hole.
In politics, a week is a long time, but it would take a fairly significant change in the national climate to save the House for the GOP at this point. In particular, suburban women are moving rapidly away from the Republicans and no one expects that motion to change in the next month. This alone puts over a dozen incumbent Republicans in deep trouble, including Reps. Mike Coffman (R-CO), Kevin Yoder (R-KS), Jason Lewis (R-MN), and Barbara Comstock (R-VA).
There are bright spots here and there for the GOP, but Politico believes the GOP House is crumbling before its eyes. It would appear Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) showed some foresight when he announced he was going to lay down his gavel at the end of the term. Better that than to have it wrested from your hands by the voting public. (V)
It's a lot of blue today. Ohio and the regular election in Minnesota have been basically over for months. Wisconsin and the special election in Minnesota are close to that point, too, if they're not already there. Connecticut and Massachusetts were never really in doubt, of course. (Z)
|State||Democrat||D %||Republican||R %||Start||End||Pollster|
|Connecticut||Chris Murphy*||57%||Matthew Corey||42%||Oct 03||Oct 08||Quinnipiac U.|
|Massachusetts||Elizabeth Warren*||56%||Geoff Diehl||31%||Oct 01||Oct 07||U. of Mass.|
|Minnesota||Amy Klobuchar*||60%||Jim Newberger||32%||Sep 30||Oct 04||Marist Coll.|
|Missouri||Claire McCaskill*||44%||Josh Hawley||45%||Sep 27||Oct 07||Ipsos|
|Minnesota special||Tina Smith*||54%||Karin Housley||38%||Sep 30||Oct 04||Marist Coll.|
|Ohio||Sherrod Brown*||54%||Jim Renacci||36%||Oct 04||Oct 08||Suffolk U.|
|Wisconsin||Tammy Baldwin*||53%||Leah Vukmir||43%||Oct 03||Oct 07||Marquette Law School|
* Denotes incumbent
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct10 House Republican Ads Are Nasty and Misleading
Oct10 Majority of Americans Oppose Kavanaugh
Oct10 Beware the Narrative
Oct10 An Embarrassing Tweet, Even by Trump's Standards
Oct10 Category 4 Hurricane Hits Election
Oct10 Missouri Judge Blocks Part of Voter-ID Law
Oct10 Today's Senate Polls
Oct09 Trump Is Not Planning to Fire Rosenstein Right Now
Oct09 Trump Apologizes to Kavanaugh on Behalf of the Nation
Oct09 Trump Spars with Taylor Swift
Oct09 Has the GOP Lost Women Forever?
Oct09 Watch Out for the Mob
Oct09 Donnelly and Braun Debate Each Other
Oct09 States Switching from Insecure Voting Machines to Other Insecure Voting Machines
Oct09 Debating the Debates
Oct09 Today's Senate Polls
Oct08 Winners and Losers from the Fight over Kavanaugh
Oct08 Trump Will Reportedly Meet with Kim Again
Oct08 Times' Reporting on Trump's Taxes Isn't Finished
Oct08 Candidates for Whom Trump Has Held Rallies
Oct08 Charlie Cook's House Ratings
Oct08 Republicans Rule
Oct08 As Maine Goes, So Goes the Nation
Oct08 Booker Launches His Presidential Campaign
Oct08 Today's Senate Polls
Oct07 Kavanaugh Is Confirmed
Oct07 Brett Kavanaugh in Historical Perspective, Part II
Oct07 About Those Unemployment Numbers
Oct07 Trump Administration Pulls Out of Iran Treaty
Oct07 This Week's Senate News
Oct07 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Michael Avenatti
Oct06 Kavanaugh Nomination Advances to a Vote
Oct06 Trump Jr. Slams Manchin
Oct06 Brett Kavanaugh in Historical Perspective, Part I
Oct06 No Nobel for Trump
Oct06 Charlie Cook Changes Gubernatorial Ratings in Four Races
Oct05 Senators Begin Processing the FBI Report
Oct05 Kavanaugh Critics Mount Final Push
Oct05 Heitkamp Will Vote against Kavanaugh
Oct05 Kavanaugh Is Closing the Enthusiasm Gap
Oct05 Democrats Will Use Republican Tactics If They Win the House
Oct05 Keith Ellison May Step Down from the DNC
Oct05 Cook Political Report Changes Ratings in 12 Races
Oct05 Today's Senate Polls
Oct04 Swing Senators Condemn Trump over Ford Remarks
Oct04 Right-Leaning Media Work to Discredit Ford
Oct04 Today's Kavanaugh Revelations
Oct04 McConnell Moves Forward With Kavanaugh Vote
Oct04 Trump Probably Won't Be Punished for Tax Offenses