• Who Was It? (Day 2)
• Soft Coups in American History
• Delaware Goes to the Polls
• Booker's 2020 Strategy: When They Go Low, We Go Lower
• House Republican Leadership Wants to Punish Members Who Buck Them
• Trump Could Hit China with New Tariffs Soon
• Today's Senate Polls
Donald Trump is livid beyond belief about the presence of a mole in the White House who wrote the op-ed in the New York Times that said the staff was trying to sabotage him at every turn. If the mole gets caught, it won't be pretty. As a consequence, just about every potential turncoat (or the relevant spokesperson) said: "It's not me." These include (with their comments):
- Mike Pence ("Our office is above such amateur acts")
- James Mattis ("It was not his op-ed")
- Mike Pompeo ("It's not mine")
- Sarah Huckabee Sanders ("The media's wild obsession with the identity of the anonymous coward is recklessly tarnishing the reputation of thousands of great Americans who proudly serve our country and work for President Trump")
- Dan Coats ("From the beginning of our tenure, we have insisted that the entire [intelligence community] remain focused on our mission")
- Kirstjen Nielsen ("These types of political attacks are beneath the Secretary & the Department's mission")
- Steven Mnuchin ("He feels it was irresponsible for @nytimes to print this anonymous piece.")
- Jeff Sessions ("Sessions did not write the piece")
- Ben Carson ("The Secretary did not write the op-ed")
- Ryan Zinke ("Neither the Secretary nor Deputy Secretary Dave Bernhardt wrote the piece")
- Alexander Acosta ("The Secretary does not play these sophomoric Washington games")
- Melania Trump accused the author of "sabotaging" the country
- Rick Perry ("Hiding behind anonymity and smearing the President of the United States does not make you an 'unsung hero'")
- Wilbur Ross was appalled by the piece
- Gina Haspel's press secretary said no, it wasn't her
- Robert Wilkie ("Neither Secretary Wilkie nor anyone else at VA wrote the op-ed.")
- Mick Mulvaney ("Mulvaney did not write the op-ed")
- Jon Huntsman ("Anything sent out by me would have carried my name")
- Sonny Perdue ("Perdue did not write the op-ed")
- Betsy DeVos ("[DeVos] is not a Washington insider and does not play Washington insider games")
And there you have it. It must have been a little mouse. Although it is worth noting that some of these denials are not exactly denials, in that they leave a little (or a lot of) wiggle room. Dan Coats' statement, for example, or Wilbur Ross'. Further, if we imagine that the op-ed was penned by an underling, and then forwarded to the Times under their boss' signature, then practically none of these denials are actually denials. If, for example, Jeff Sessions had someone write the op-ed for him, then it would technically be true that he "did not write the piece," even if he had everything to do with it getting published. (V)
Nearly everyone is confident that, at some point in the relatively near future, the author of the notorious New York Times op-ed will be outed. Recalling that Deep Throat was not outed for more than three decades, maybe they are being overconfident. On the other hand, Deep Throat didn't do his own writing, and thus didn't leave behind a whole bunch of linguistic clues, so maybe they are correct.
At the moment, based on the aforementioned linguistic clues, Mike Pence is currently the #1 suspect among denizens of the Internet. There are a few phrases in the letter that are characteristic of Pence's speeches, like "off the rails" and "cold comfort." Particularly getting a lot of attention is the word "lodestar," which literally means "a star that leads" (usually referring to the North Star), and more generally refers to leadership of any kind. That particular term, which is somewhat archaic, is a regular part of Pence's vocabulary, while it does not appear in the public writings of any of the other prime suspects. That seems pretty open-and-shut, but the problem is that leakers are generally clever enough to identify and incorporate the linguistic peccadilloes of their colleagues so as to obscure their own identity. Meanwhile, Pence would have to be pretty dumb to leave behind such an obvious tell. If (V) had been the author, for example, he would have made sure to excise any instances of "pooh-bahs," "pillorying" people, or scientific terms. If it had been (Z), there would be no "muckety-mucks," "presumablys", or references to 1980s comedic films. Those things would all be dead giveaways. In other words, the smart money says that "lodestar" is a deliberately-planted red herring.
The Huffington Post took a different approach to the problem, interviewing Times employees (who were not involved with the op-ed) to get their opinions. The results: Barron Trump, Karen Pence, Don McGahn, Brett Kavanaugh, Nikki Haley, Robert Wilkie, James Mattis, Pence, someone in Pence's office, Vermin Supreme, Mattis again, Larry Kudlow, Trump's butler, and McGahn and Pence again. Perhaps not everyone from the Times who responded was taking this exercise seriously. Still, the leading candidates produced by this "study" are Pence, Mattis, and McGahn.
Still another way to examine the question: Sports books are laying odds on the author's identity. The top five candidates, with their implied odds in parentheses: Pence (30%), Betsy DeVos (23%), and Mike Pompeo, Steve Mnuchin, and John Kelly (all 15%). Here again Pence emerges as the leader, for what it is worth. We shall see if things change over the weekend. (Z)
While it is very unusual for a president's underlings to (partly) seize the reins of power, it is not unheard of. There aren't any publicly-known instances from the 19th century, even though there may have been cases where underlings should have done something (Franklin Pierce's spending most of his time in an alcohol-induced haze, Grover Cleveland's jaw surgery). There are at least three well-known instances from the 20th century, however:
- Woodrow Wilson, 1919-20: By the time Wilson started his second term,
he was an elderly man by the standards of his day (61), and the pressures of waging World War I,
then negotiating the peace, and then traveling the nation advocating for the League of Nations
broke him. He suffered a massive stroke in October 1919, and spent most of the rest of his
presidency secluded in the White House, with his wife Edith Wilson and his aide Joe Tumulty
acting as "gatekeepers." What is known now is that the First Lady was effectively running the
country for much of that time.
- Richard Nixon, 1974: Late in Nixon's term, as his paranoia
and his abuse of alcohol grew out of control, Secretary of Defense
James Schlesinger and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger instructed White House
staff and the Joint Chiefs that any emergency orders from the president (particularly those that involved nuclear
weapons) be approved by them first.
- Ronald Reagan, 1988: The details here are less clear-cut, but late in his term, the Gipper was clearly not in good mental shape. Aides assumed it was despondency over the Iran-Contra scandal, but it's now presumed that he was manifesting early symptoms of the Alzheimer's Disease that would eventually take his life. In any event, invocation of the 25th amendment was seriously discussed, and although chief of staff Howard H. Baker Jr. decided it was not warranted, it is generally understood that he and some of the Cabinet officers chose to take certain decisions off of Reagan's plate and handle those decisions themselves.
In each of these cases, the perpetrators had considerably better excuses than the author of the Times op-ed (and anyone else who is a part of the "resistance"). For Wilson, there was no mechanism in place for removing a president who was still alive, had committed no crimes, and refused to cede power willingly. In Nixon's case, the end was nigh anyhow, and Kissinger/Schlesinger only infringed on presidential authority in a limited way. In Reagan's case, his term was reaching its end, and he had always been a hands-off president, anyhow. This just made him a little more hands off.
With that said, none of these folks was blame-free. Edith Wilson and Joe Tumulty could have gone public with the situation, and allowed Congress—whose province this clearly is—to decide what to do. Indeed, it's not impossible that something like the 25th amendment (though it would have been the 19th amendment at that point) could have been adopted very quickly. The 26th amendment, for example, was added to the Constitution in just over 3 months. Wilson and Tumulty actually feared that very possibility, in fact, and conspired to give the public and the Congress a false impression of how good the President's health was (including a fake newspaper interview—that's right, actual fake news).
Nixon's and Reagan's underlings, of course, did have the 25th amendment at their disposal (it was adopted in 1967). An amendment that, incidentally, has error-correction mechanisms built into it. In other words, if it is improperly invoked, Congress can step in and reverse the decision. In all three of these cases, however, the people in a position to take action were unwilling to rock the boat as much as would have been necessary. Further, there is little question that they did not want to threaten their privileged positions of power.
The same applies here, except to an even greater degree. That is to say, the author of the op-ed clearly has options. If Trump is really as bad as the mole claims, then this is exactly what the 25th amendment was meant for. And if the support for removal just isn't there, then the mole(s) could resign in high-profile fashion, and spill their guts on national television. How tenable would Trump's presidency be if, say, Mike Pence or James Mattis quit and then went on Fox News and said, "I am sorry to have to do this, but I have seen it with my own eyes for the last two years: Donald Trump is mentally and emotionally incapable of serving as president,"?
But that, of course, is not what the author did. Instead, he and his allies have appointed themselves a law unto themselves. Clearly, the "resistance" wants to have their cake and eat it, too. After all, while the mole disapproves of some aspects of Trump's leadership (mostly temperament and his lack of adherence to conservative principles), he also approves wholeheartedly of other steps the president has taken (tax cuts, deregulation), and apparently is unbothered by things that went unmentioned in the op-ed (tacit approval of white supremacists, draconian anti-immigrant policies). The author (and his allies) recognize that any step they take against Trump may end his bad behavior, but will also bring an end to the goodies that they like.
In fact, the real question is: Why was the op-ed written in the first place? Assuming that Trump really is paranoid, unhinged, etc., then this is only going to make those tendencies worse. Meanwhile, exactly how did this make the situation better? The answer is, it did not. The goal could be to bring Trump down, except that if that is the endgame, there are better ways to do it (the aforementioned Fox News appearance leaps to mind). No, the only way this makes sense is if the author is trying to hold onto power (and onto the goodies that Trump provides), while giving himself (and, to an extent, the GOP) cover for when the Trump presidency ends, and the consequences begin. "Hey, we did our best under the circumstances," they will say. "You know how pesky that Constitution is, though!"
One wonders what the author's plan is, if and when he is outed. If he thinks he will be lionized as a conquering hero, he is going to be disappointed. The base will see him as a traitor, the left will see him as a coward and a collaborator, and there's even a chance that he could be prosecuted. The next week is going to be interesting. (Z)
Those rebels in Delaware held an odd Thursday primary last night, and it was entirely drama-free. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D) learned that her opponent/victim will be Scott Walker. No, not that one; this one is a local businessman. The governor's office and most statewide offices are not up until 2020. And in the one race that people were watching, Sen. Tom Carper (D) crushed a challenger from the left, in the form of Kerri Evelyn Harris, 65% to 35%.
By the time people cast their votes on Thursday, a narrative had developed that, just maybe, Carper might be the latest establishment candidate to go down in flames. In part, this was because of the "surprise" pick the state's Republicans made for their Senate nomination in 2010 (Christine "I'm not a witch" O'Donnell). Mostly it was because an outspokenly progressive woman of color was challenging an entrenched older white man, which seemed to follow the same basic pattern as we saw with Alexandria Ocasio Cortez in New York and Ayanna Pressley in Massachusetts. The only problem is that the fundamentals of their respective constituencies are very, very different:
|Alexandria Ocasio Cortez
|18.4% white, 49.8% Latino, 11.4% black, 20.6% other
|33.7% white, 26.5% black, 21.6% Latino, 11.1% other
|Tom Carper/Kerri Evelyn Harris
|68.9% white, 21.4% black, 8.2% Latino, 1.5% other
In short, it is evident that outspoken progressives can score upsets in deep blue districts, particularly if the white incumbent is not a great demographic match for his constituents. However, there is very little evidence that such candidates can win in other kinds of districts, even with Donald Trump in the White House. (Z)
Michelle Obama famously once said: "When they go low, we go high." However, many Democrats believe that bringing a water pistol to a gunfight isn't a good strategy, and we are starting to see how that may play out in 2020. In 2016, Donald Trump broke just about every rule, which thrilled his base and got him elected. Now the Democrats are starting to think that breaking the rules might work for them, too. Case in point: Yesterday Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) released confidential emails that discuss Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's views on racial profiling. Releasing them violated Senate rules. But rather than claiming it was a staffer's error and he was sorry, Booker said he did it intentionally, he knew very well it was against the rules, and he dared the Republicans to expel him from the Senate (which he knows won't happen because it takes a 2/3 majority to expel a senator).
In short, Booker was playing to the Democratic base that thinks that when Trump breaks all the rules and their side doesn't, they lose. In other words, his message to the Democratic primary voters was: "I'm going to fight back and I don't care what rules I break or who doesn't like it."
It is clear that the 2020 Democratic primary is already in full swing. Different candidates are latching onto different themes and testing them out. Several clearly stand out already:
- Cory Booker: I'll fight like hell against Trump and I'll break any rule I have to in order to win
- Elizabeth Warren: This administration is totally corrupt and a fish rots from the head down
- Kirsten Gillibrand: When men abuse women, they must be taken down, period
- Bernie Sanders: Let's force Amazon and Wal-Mart to pay their workers properly
- Tom Steyer: Trump should have been impeached yesterday
- Kamala Harris: We've got to fix the criminal justice system
- Eric Holder: I can bring back the Obama years
It is going to be a very crowded field, so each candidate is going to have to find a special angle to separate himself or herself from the field. Expect more candidates to get the message soon. (V)
The leadership of the House Republican caucus has had it with members who vote their consciences or vote the way their constituents want them to vote. From now on, it will be "follow our orders or else" if a proposal now in the works is adopted. One of the changes would require the House steering committee to review a member's committee assignments if that member bucked the leadership. In addition, committee chairs who voted against any leadership plan could be stripped of their gavels. Finally, any member who signed a discharge petition would be subject to punishment.
In effect, the Republicans want to turn the House into a parliamentary system, in which members serve at the pleasure of the party leadership and are expected to be 100% loyal to the leadership, their own constituents be damned. One group that is unhappy with the proposal is the Freedom Caucus, which frequently opposes the leadership and often gets its way. So far, it has done this with impunity. If the new proposal passes, Freedom Caucus members could all be punished for not kowtowing to the leadership. They are not likely to take that lying down, however. No action is expected until after the midterms, and then the proposal will be back in play. (V)
The period for public comments on Donald Trump's proposed new tariffs on Chinese exports expired at midnight, so he could impose them at any time now. China has already made it clear that if he does, it will retaliate immediately. This could lead to an all-out trade war. It would also raise prices in the U.S. for a huge number of goods and cost millions of Americans who work for companies that export to China their jobs.
Trump's plan is levy tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods imported into the U.S., but if China retaliates, which is a virtual certainty, then Trump wants to put tariffs on all $500 billion worth of goods the U.S. buys from China. China can't respond in kind because the U.S. exports far less to China than it imports. But there are many other things China could do, including dumping dollars on the foreign exchange markets, manipulating its currency, and more.
However, if Trump does something rash, it could spook the markets, and Trump is unlikely to do that before the midterms. After the midterms, however, all bets are off. (V)
|Kevin de Leon (D)
* Denotes incumbent
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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