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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Our Long National Nightmare Is Over (For Three Weeks, at Least)
      •  Stone Indictment Is Bad News for Team Trump
      •  Invisible Primary Claims Its First Victim

Our Long National Nightmare Is Over (For Three Weeks, at Least)

On Friday, in a 180-degree change of course, Donald Trump announced that he would sign the appropriations bills passed by the Democratic-controlled House. With that promise in hand, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) brought the bills up for a vote in the Senate, where they passed. Trump applied his signature Friday night, which means that the government will resume normal operation, and the Dept. of Homeland Security will be funded for three weeks while Republicans and Democrats try to hammer out a compromise on border security. The President warned that if something doesn't get done in three weeks, he may either shut down the government again (or, at least, DHS), or declare a national emergency.

Trump gave a speech on Friday, and also sent out a series of tweets in which he insisted that he did not back down. For example:

It is hard to know what caving would look like, if not this. He played chicken with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) over the State of the Union address and folded within just hours. Then, a day later, he reopened the government on the exact terms the Democrats demanded. From where we sit, the only way he could have surrendered more completely is if he also agreed to personally detail Pelosi's car, free of charge. Trump didn't even get an agreement to deliver the State of the Union address on the usual date; Pelosi—who is apparently calling all the shots right now—says they'll determine that once the government is reopened. Or, as an anonymous former Trump staffer put it, "I'm assuming Nancy Pelosi will be giving the State of the Union now, since she's running the country."

Of course, it is not our opinion, nor those of anonymous former staffers, that matter in this little drama. No, the key is the right-wing media's take. First, because Trump revels in their praise, and shrinks in horror at their (rare) criticism. Second, because he (rightly) perceives them as a barometer of how the base is feeling. And the response from that quarter was pretty brutal. Some examples of the commentary, headlines, and tweets:

  • Fox News: "To this point, the president's base has stayed with him. He hasn't started to eat into his base. Those folks believe that he is fighting for them and fighting for this wall. That's why whatever he says today, he's not going to be able to get it back with persuadable voters, necessarily. He has to make sure that what he's doing here does not cost him with these core supporters, who will think that he's betrayed them if he's capitulating."

  • RedState: "This is not a good look if Trump is serious about getting the money for the wall. Already last evening he was showing flopsweat by floating a "down payment" idea. This is called "negotiating with yourself," and it is what desperate people do...I really hope that Trump knows if he backs down on this that a lot of his base voters might have urgent business on November 3, 2020, like taking a dump or something, and not bother to vote."

  • The Gateway Pundit: TRUMP CAVES! Ends Shutdown with NO BORDER WALL--Pelosi's SECOND BIG WIN This Week--VIDEO PELOSI DANCING

  • Daily Caller: TRUMP CAVES: President Will Temporarily Reopen Government With Zero Funding For The Wall

  • Breitbart: Trump 'Got Rolled' -- 'A Victory for Nancy Pelosi'

  • Mike Cernovich: "Trump is a broken man. It's over for him."

  • Ann Coulter: "Good news for George Herbert Walker Bush: As of today, he is no longer the biggest wimp ever to serve as President of the United States."

  • Erick Erickson: "Donald Trump caved to Nancy Pelosi on shutdown, now the wall will never be built."

Though they're not a right-wing outlet, the New York Daily News' cover certainly captured the general tenor of the day:

Cave Man

It should be noted that some of the right-wing punditry is closing ranks around Trump. For example, Bill O'Reilly tweeted: "Political chess game continues. President Trump reopens government—a good thing. Gives Dems three weeks to make a border security deal. Reasonable. Advantage Trump today." Clearly, Bill's no longer in the "no spin zone." Then there is Laura Ingraham, who weighed in with this: "Trump's re-opening the gov't fostered such goodwill!" Still, Trump hasn't been lambasted by so many of his ostensible supporters since...well, maybe ever. Though the day he ordered airstrikes against Syria probably came close. In any case, it's probably a good thing he signed the bills before his Saturday-morning review of the media coverage of his administration, because he might have changed his mind (as happened back in December).

The first big question that this turn of events raises is: Why now? How did Trump go so quickly from sticking to his guns to capitulating? Some possibilities:

  • Reading the Tea Leaves: The votes held in the Senate on Thursday, along with the tense GOP-only luncheon, made clear that there were serious cracks in the foundation of Trump's support. Specifically, it is possible that someone—Mike Pence? Mitch McConnell? Lindsey Graham?—got the President one-on-one and did their best Barry Goldwater impersonation, telling him that he wasn't going to win this thing, and the time had come to fold his hand.

  • Timing: If Trump was planning to surrender anyhow, Friday was the best possible time for it. First, because the Roger Stone and "Trump caved" stories serve to blunt one another and drown each other out, and second because Saturday is the deadest day of the news cycle (see Massacre, Saturday Night).

  • Unknown Intel: Perhaps someone that Trump trusts on these matters—Mike Pompeo? John Bolton?—advised him of some possible threat against the United States that the intelligence pros are aware of, and warned the President that if that threat does somehow come to pass while the government is shut down and national security is weakened, it could be the end of his presidency. For example, what if ISIS somehow managed to down an American passenger airliner at a time when the TSA, air marshals, etc. are spread thin? That would be the political equivalent of a nuclear bomb landing in Trump's lap.

  • 3-D Chess: Team Trump may have concluded that a "national emergency" is his only way out of this (more below), and set in motion the necessary chess moves to give them as much political cover for that as possible. "We tried to give the Democrats a chance," Trump & Co. may be getting ready to declare in three weeks.

  • Taking His Medicine: Alternatively, it could also be that Trump realizes he painted himself into a corner, and concluded that he might as well put as much distance as possible between the bitter medicine of surrender and next year's elections.

Only the President knows for sure, but it could be any of these.

The second, and more important, question that this turn of events raises is: What next? Here are the four basic possibilities, as we see them, listed from most to least likely:

  • Congress Finds a Compromise: As part of Friday's agreement, the two houses of Congress will form a committee to try to hammer out a compromise on border security. While not all of the appointees have been identified, they are pretty much all members of the two chambers' appropriations committees, and none of them is an immigration hawk (i.e., no Mike Lee or Mark Meadows). At this point, Trump needs something to take back to the base. However, the Democrats are still strongly opposed to the wall, continue to hold most of the cards, and just learned that they can hold firm, while the President cannot. The dozen or so folks on the committee are going to have to try to carefully massage this, with a proposal that includes some of the measures that Democrats are ok with (x-rays, drones, more border patrol officers), and yet something that Trump can point to and call a wall. Maybe he and his base will buy into Rep. Steny Hoyer's (D-MD) verbiage about how $5 billion in high-tech devices represents a "virtual wall," but probably not. It's probably going to have to be some actual, new wall—maybe slight improvement and expansion of existing fencing.

  • Trump Declares a National Emergency: If Congress doesn't throw Trump a bone of some sort, this is not such a bad option for him, politically. He declares the emergency, which he and his base can celebrate as "strong" action. Then, the Democrats sue, and the matter gets tied up in the courts for...who knows how long? If the President can stretch it out, then the situation could remain in stasis for months or years. It would be bad for him to run for reelection in 2020 with no wall, and even worse if and when SCOTUS ruled against him. However, those things would be in the future, and in the present he'd be a "winner" and "strong" and the government would stay open, so that he wasn't taking any further political damage. If you don't know by now what Trump's choice is when he has a chance to goose his present-day popularity at risk of suffering major negative consequences down the road, you haven't been paying attention for the last two-plus years.

  • Shutdown v2.0: In theory, this is still on the table, but it's a real longshot. First of all, most of the government is now funded; the only thing that Trump can still theoretically shut down is the Dept. of Homeland Security. That would be really bad optics, at best, and if there happened to be a security incident during a second shutdown, it would be disastrous. On top of that, Trump tried everything in his bag of tricks during the first shutdown—threatening, giving speeches from the Oval Office, photo-ops at the border, deploying Fox News, etc.—and none of it worked.

  • Trump Forgets About It: There have been quite a few issues where Trump made a big scene, accomplished what he wanted in terms of the base, and then basically dropped the issue. When was the last time he talked about Muslim Travel bans, for example? Or the true capital of Israel? That said, this is the least likely option only because Trump has invested so much political capital in the wall, and has made it so central to his political and personal identities, that he really can't walk away.

Anyhow, as with the Roger Stone story (see below), this matter presumably enters into a holding pattern for at least a short while. (Z)

Stone Indictment Is Bad News for Team Trump

Republican dirty tricks guru and Donald Trump intimate Roger Stone was arrested in an FBI raid early Friday morning, not too many hours after a grand jury indicted him on seven felony counts. There was every chance that the story would be fleshed out much more during the day on Friday, and indeed it was.

Now that the indictments have been made public (they were kept secret until Stone had been arrested), certain secondary questions have been answered. For example, one of the felony charges is witness tampering, and the witness in question is radio host Randy Credico, whom Stone tried to stop from talking to Congress. However, the key part of the indictment, and the portion that everyone is talking about, is this, which addresses Stone's interactions with Wikileaks (a.k.a. "Organization 1"):

After the July 22, 2016 release of stolen DNC emails by Organization 1, a senior Trump Campaign official was directed to contact STONE about any additional releases and what other damaging information Organization 1 had regarding the Clinton Campaign. STONE thereafter told the Trump Campaign about potential future releases of damaging material by Organization 1.

This implicates not one, but two members of the Trump campaign: The person who contacted Stone, and the person who directed the senior official to contact Stone. Since special counsel Robert Mueller's indictment goes to great pains to avoid providing any identifying information about the person who gave the order, it was presumably someone who was very high up in the campaign (and thus could give that kind of order), and someone who has not yet been indicted (so, no Paul Manafort). The obvious candidates are the members of the Trump family, with the President himself as candidate #1 (or, probably more accurately, individual #1). Meanwhile, CNBC is reporting that the person who received the order, and thus served as the intermediary between Stone and the campaign, was Steve Bannon. If CNBC is correct, that would add additional credence to the notion that Trump himself gave the order, since very few other people, if any, were in a position to tell Bannon what to do.

So, the central charge of the indictment is very bad for Team Trump. The timeline that is coming into focus is none too good, either. By the time Stone was contacted about Wikileaks, it was already publicly known that the Russians had hacked the DNC and given the information to Wikileaker Julian Assange. Thereafter, not only did the Trump campaign ask Stone to talk to Wikileaks on its behalf, but Trump himself called on Wikileaks to hack Hillary Clinton (July 27), and raised questions about Hillary Clinton's health after a currently unknown person who was in touch with both Assange and Stone suggested that Trump do so (August 15), and then mentioned Wikileaks more than 160 times in the span of a month (October 10 to November 8). In short, we don't know everything that Mueller knows, but there is—at very least—overwhelming evidence that Stone not only contacted Wikileaks on the campaign's behalf, but that he established a line of communication between the two entities that reached all the way to Trump himself. If true, that would make Trump guilty, at the very least, of both violating campaign finance laws, and conspiring to violate campaign finance laws. Depending on how clear the chain from Russia to Assange to Stone to the Trump campaign is, it could also be part of a grand conspiracy with the Russians.

Stone, for his part, is in deep doo-doo. It is clear that Mueller does not trust him, given the secrecy surrounding both the indictments and the early-morning raid. Stone made bail Friday, but it's likely that by the time he got home, sizable quantities of evidence (including his computer) had been seized. He's also drawn the same federal judge, Amy Berman Jackson, that Paul Manafort did. Jackson did not hesitate to toss Manafort in the hoosegow, and she surely won't hesitate with Stone, either, if she thinks it's called for. His arraignment is Tuesday.

Stone, of course, is deeply exposed here. He lied to Congress about his interactions with Wikileaks, and Mueller has proof, some of it contained within the indictment. Stone announced late Friday that he will not testify against the President, suggesting he's willing to go the G. Gordon Liddy route and take his secrets to prison with him. That would be consistent with the Nixonian pose that Stone struck for reporters on Friday:

Stone adopts Nixon victory pose

Stone is a well-known Nixon fanatic; he even has a tattoo of Tricky Dick's face on his back. He's also a fan of Frankie Pentangeli, the Godfather, Part II character who chose suicide over betraying Don Michael Corleone before Congress. In fact, as the Mueller indictment explains, Stone tried to evoke Pentangeli in his (unsuccessful) efforts to pressure Credico not to testify before Congress. All of this is to say that maybe Stone really will keep his lips zipped, regardless of the consequences. However, we cannot know exactly how serious he is until prison ceases to be an abstraction, and he's actually staring at years or decades in the clink. Further, it's possible that Mueller doesn't actually need him to sing like a canary, and already has all the evidence he needs. We will presumably know more on Tuesday. (Z)

Invisible Primary Claims Its First Victim

There have been a few candidates that were rumored to be running for the Democratic nomination in 2020, or who hinted they were interested, but then took themselves out of the running. Billionaire Tom Steyer, who is using his money on a quixotic quest to get Donald Trump impeached pronto, is the most obvious example. However, none of the candidates who actually declared a run, or who formed an exploratory committee, had dropped out.

Well, none of them had dropped out as of Thursday, that is. On Friday, however, well before most candidates had even declared "it's on!," former West Virginia state senator Richard Ojeda (D) declared "it's off!" As a Latino, a military veteran, a Southerner, and a populist, he checked a lot of boxes, which is what persuaded him to throw his hat in the ring. However, the odds were poor that someone on one of the lower rungs of the political ladder, and from one of the smaller states in the union (and one of the reddest), could get traction. In fact, while a fair number of presidents served as state legislators during their careers (including, of course, Barack Obama), none of them made the jump directly to the White House. Ojeda saw the light; his announcement noted that, "I don't want to see people send money to a campaign that's probably not going to get off the ground." So that's one down, forty or so to go. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan25 Shutdown Inches Closer to Either Resolution or "National Emergency"
Jan25 Shutdown's Effects Grow More Serious Every Day
Jan25 Roger Stone Arrested
Jan25 Cohen Subpoenaed by the Senate Intelligence Committee
Jan25 Koch Network Won't Back Trump in 2020
Jan25 NBA Champions Visit President
Jan25 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Pete Buttigieg
Jan24 Cohen Postpones Testimony Due to Trump's Threats
Jan24 Trump Announces He Will Deliver the SOTU Speech as Planned—Or Not
Jan24 Buttigieg Is In
Jan24 The Conservative Take on the Democratic 2020 Primaries
Jan24 Kansas Republicans Are Scared of Kobach
Jan24 Why Is There No Liberal Federalist Society?
Jan24 Judge May End Stormy Daniels Lawsuit
Jan24 Thursday Q&A
Jan23 Senate to Perform Some Bipartisan Kabuki
Jan23 Giuliani Is in the Doghouse
Jan23 SCOTUS Gives Trump a Win and a Loss
Jan23 Judge Refuses to Make Ruling in NC-09
Jan23 Small Donors Are Playing a Big Role in Campaigns These Days
Jan23 Senate Could Change Confirmation Rules
Jan23 Trump Loses Weight on the Photoshop Diet
Jan22 Trump Administration Doesn't Quite Know What to Do with Martin Luther King Jr.
Jan22 Kamala Harris Makes it Official
Jan22 Biden/Beto 2020?
Jan22 Reports of RBG's Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated
Jan22 Giuliani Tries to Walk Back His Words, Yet Again
Jan22 Pompeo, Staff Hate One Another
Jan22 Trump Tell-All Leaks
Jan21 Giuliani Defends Trump, Attacks BuzzFeed
Jan21 Trump Fails to Drive a Wedge Between Schumer and Pelosi
Jan21 The "I'm Sorry" Primary Is Beginning
Jan21 Democrats Need to Focus on Midsize Cities
Jan21 Initial House ratings
Jan21 Trump's Base May Be Starting to Erode Slightly
Jan21 Monday Q&A
Jan20 Trump Makes an Offer That Everyone Can Refuse
Jan20 Women March Nationwide, But in Smaller Numbers Than in 2017 and 2018
Jan19 Cohen Soap Opera Takes Some Twists and Turns
Jan19 Trump to Speak to the Nation Today
Jan19 Pelosi Says Trump Put Her in Danger
Jan19 Second Trump-Kim Summit Is On
Jan19 President Hogan?
Jan18 Tit, Meet Tat
Jan18 Cohen Plot Thickens
Jan18 Trump Surprised by Barr-Mueller Friendship
Jan18 Giuliani Tries to Walk Back Collusion Remarks
Jan18 Rep. Tom Marino Resigns
Jan18 Schumer Recruits Gallego for Arizona Senate Race
Jan18 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Jay Inslee