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Trump's Approval Is Up, but He Still Trails All the Major Democrats

A new ABC News/WaPo poll has Donald Trump's approval rating up to 44%, his highest ever with this poll, up 5 points since April (a range that is entirely within the margin of error, or course, so it's possible his approval hasn't actually moved all that much at all, and he's been at 42% all along). His disapproval is 53%. Even if we assume that the 44% is legit, this is the worst showing of any post-WWII president at this point in their terms. Not only is Trump's approval the lowest, but his disapproval is also the highest:

presidential approval

Nevertheless, not everything is coming up roses for Trump. The poll also showed him losing to the Big Five, as follows:

Candidate Democrat Trump
Joe Biden 55% 41%
Kamala Harris 51% 43%
Elizabeth Warren 51% 44%
Bernie Sanders 51% 45%
Pete Buttigieg 48% 44%
Generic socialist 46% 46%

The above numbers are for all adults. Among registered voters, Trump does slightly better, but he still doesn't beat any of these folks. What is slightly embarrassing for Trump is that he is running even with a "generic socialist" (while losing to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), an actual—Democratic—socialist).

The top five issues for the voters are: (1) the economy, (2) immigration, (3) health care, (4) foreign policy, and (5) gun violence. As long as the economy keeps humming along nicely, it will work in Trump's favor. However, if the country falls into a recession, it will be tough for Trump to win reelection since that is his ace in the hole. (V)

Biden Sort of Apologizes

Joe Biden did the unthinkable on Saturday: he apologized for working with segregationist senators decades ago. Whether it is sniffing women's hair or working with out-and-out racists in the Senate, Biden doesn't normally do apologies. But he badly wants to win the South Carolina primary, where 60% of the voters are black, so at a campaign stop in the Palmetto State, he semi-apologized, saying: "I'm sorry for any of the pain or misconception that I caused anybody." He also noted that the Senate was full of segregationists, so it was hard to avoid them. After all, when you can put on a blindfold, throw out a tennis ball, and probably hit a segregationist senator, what's a guy to do? Then he went on to trumpet his record on civil rights and, just in case any of the people in the audience weren't aware of it (say, kids under 3), he pointed out that he served under the first black president. It is pretty obvious that the apology was not heartfelt and Biden still thinks he did nothing wrong, but he has been under so much pressure to take back his earlier remarks that he felt forced to swallow his pride and stop doubling down on the issue.

Many politicians, especially Biden and Donald Trump, see apologies as a form of weakness because you are admitting you did something wrong, and the weak get eaten. But Biden also realized that his comments about working with former senators James Eastland and Herman Talmadge were going to follow him for the entire campaign unless he made some kind of apology. Now that he has performed the magic ritual purification ceremony, he hopes the issue will go away. (V)

Centrist House Democrats May Face Primaries

The election of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has inspired progressive Democrats around the country to challenge moderate incumbents in a number of races. It could lead to a battle for the Party's soul. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and DCCC Chairwoman Cheri Bustos (D-IL) are definitely against anyone primarying an incumbent Democrat, especially a moderate one who just flipped a red district. They strongly fear that running left-wing candidates in districts that have traditionally been Republican is a suicide mission.

Two of the progressives' top targets are Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY). The argument against Cuellar is that he has sold out to big corporations. The argument against Engel centers on his votes for the No Child Left Behind law, the 1994 crime bill, and repeal of bank regulation laws. Other Democrats who may end up with primary challengers include Reps. Diana DeGette (CO) and David Scott (GA), and Sen. Ed Markey (MA).

After Ocasio-Cortez's upset victory over Joe Crowley, none of the threatened Democrats are laughing off the challenge. On the other hand, the circumstances of her victory can't be reproduced elsewhere easily. Basically, a young Latina beat an old white man in a very blue district full of young Latinos. Knocking off a sitting member of Congress is not so easy, even when the circumstances are right. In 2018, only two House Democrats were beaten in primaries, so the progressives have a steep hill to climb. (V)

Democrats Actually Agree on Something

There are endless news stories about how the Democrats are hopelessly divided on whether to abolish private health insurance, make college free for everyone, or otherwise move sharply to the left. But there is actually one major issue on which pretty much all of them agree: foreign policy. On Iran, all of them like the deal Obama made. On Saudi Arabia, none of them want to cozy up to Mohammed Bone Saw. None of them favor Donald Trump's tariffs. All of them are disgusted about how Trump is treating Mexico. All of them want to restore good relations with America's allies in Europe and the Pacific. All of them want to make up with the CIA. The result is that the presidential contenders don't talk so much about foreign policy because there is no daylight between any of them (well, we're not sure what Marianne Williamson's foreign policy is, other than that she is pro-love). (V)

Trump Is "Inept," "Insecure," and "Dysfunctional"

Actually, the Democrats probably agree on all of those things, as well, but they're not the ones who said it. No, this is the assessment of the UK's ambassador to the United States, Sir Kim Darroch. Excerpts from his reports to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office were leaked to the Daily Mail and published over the weekend.

Because Darroch's words were not for the eyes of the general public, and because part of his job is to be frank, he pulled no punches. Among his observations:

  • "As seen from here, we really don't believe that this administration is going to become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional, less unpredictable, less faction-riven, less diplomatically clumsy and inept." (Summer 2017)

  • "For a man who has risen to the highest office on the planet, President Trump radiates insecurity..." (Summer 2017)

  • "As is standard at these rallies, the language was incendiary, and a mix of fact and fiction—hard to reconcile with [vice-president Mike] Pence's remarks about governing for all Americans." (Summer 2019)

  • "[Trump's] claim, however, that he changed his mind because of 150 predicted casualties doesn't stand up; he would certainly have heard this figure in his initial briefing. It's more likely that he was never fully on board and that he was worried about how this apparent reversal of his 2016 campaign promises would look come 2020 [at the next election]." (Summer 2019)

The Daily Mail's agenda in publishing these memos is clear; they are strongly pro-Brexit, Darroch is strongly anti-Brexit, and they want him to lose his job ASAP. In that, they are probably going to succeed. Although the British government is not apologizing, and places all the blame on whoever the leaker is, and not on Darroch, the ambassador was already a short-timer (ending his service at the end of year), and is now all-but-certain to be recalled once a replacement for Prime Minister Theresa May is chosen. The Brits have no real choice; even if Darroch's done no wrong, his position vis-à-vis the administration is badly compromised.

Sunday afternoon, the White House said it had no comment. They really ought to check with the President before saying such things, because he most certainly did have a comment (was there really any doubt he would?). His response, late Sunday: "The ambassador has not served the U.K. well, I can tell you that. We are not big fans of that man...I can say things about him, but I won't bother." British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, for his part, said that the memos do not reflect the position of Her Majesty's government, and that "We continue to think that under President Trump the US administration is not just highly effective, but the best possible friend of the United Kingdom on the international stage." Sure they do. (Z)

What Will Trump Do Now That Iran Has Violated 2015 Nuclear Deal?

After Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the deal Barack Obama had negotiated with Iran, Iran revved up its centrifuges and started producing lots of enriched uranium, which can be used in nuclear weapons. It has now passed the limit of what the deal allows. This puts Donald Trump on the spot. What can he do about it?

He can try to negotiate a new deal, but it probably wouldn't be any different from the old one. Of course, he could tell his base that it was much better and be hailed as a hero for standing up to Iran. But, of course, there is a chance that Iran won't play ball with him.

He could also increase sanctions on Iran, but sanctions take a long time to work, if ever, and Iran would probably keep announcing how much more uranium it had enriched, just to make him look bad. Further, the sanctions are already about as strong as they can get; at this point the Trump administration is not only targeting the country, but also the assets of its leaders. There's just not much more blood to be squeezed from that particular stone.

The third option is military action, with or without the blessing of Congress. If this just consisted of drone strikes with no Americans getting hurt, it might work as a political strategy. However, Iran could fight back in a different way, for example, by blowing up a bridge or a dam or something else in the U.S., killing Americans in the process. That might force Trump to start an out-and-out war with Iran. If many Americans are killed in that war, Trump will have some explaining to do to the voters in 2020. He doesn't have a lot of good options, and his administration is divided on what he should do. (V)

Women's Soccer Team Wins World Cup

The intersection between sports and politics dates back a very, very long time, from the formation of the Olympics in the 1890s (created to promote world peace, but also to keep well-to-do athletic types from having to compete against the working class), to the racial overtones of the two bouts between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling in the 1930s, to Jackie Robinson in 1947, to Muhammad Ali's refusal to submit to the Vietnam War draft in 1967, and so forth. Typically, U.S. presidents have stayed largely above the fray (with the occasional exception, like when Richard Nixon drew up a play for the Washington football team). Not anymore, though.

Normally, when a U.S. team wins a worldwide sports competition, the team gets invited to the White House. Even winners of national competitions, such as NCAA football champion Clemson Tigers, get invited. Sometimes these guests get the blue ribbon treatment; other times they are served fast food hamberders. During Barack Obama's presidency, there were occasional instances of athletes (Matt Birk of the NFL's Baltimore Ravens, Tim Thomas of the NHL's Boston Bruins) refusing to participate. However, Donald Trump has taken this to the nth-degree. It started with the President's decision to wade into the middle of the controversy over kneeling NFL players, in an effort to score points with the base. Thereafter, he engaged in wars of words with athletes in various sports, sometimes disinviting entire teams from the White House (the NBA's Golden State Warriors, for example), other times welcoming partial delegations that were noticeably short on black and Latino players (MLB's Houston Astros, for example).

The latest story on this front involves the U.S. Women's World Cup team, who yesterday won their second championship in a row, beating the Netherlands 2-0. The star of the team is Megan Rapinoe, who (like the football players) tends to kneel (or otherwise protest) during the national anthem, who thinks women's players should be paid the same as men's players, and who is a lesbian. None of those things is likely to get her on the White House Christmas Card list. If that were not enough, however, she and the President have been taking potshots at each other for the last couple of weeks. Rapinoe fired the first salvo, responding to reporters' questions about a possible White House visit by saying: "I'm not going to the f*****g White House. No. I'm not going to the White House. We're not gonna be invited. I doubt it." Trump, of course, has a hard time letting such things pass without comment, and so he responded with this rambling series of Tweets:

If you grasp the connection between a soccer championship and black unemployment, then you are cleverer than we are. Rapinoe (who is white) did not respond directly to this after Trump sent it, but her girlfriend Sue Bird (who plays in the WNBA) penned an essay for the Players' Tribune entitled: "So the President F*cking Hates My Girlfriend."

In case the President hadn't been poked in the eye enough prior to the start of yesterday's game, well, Rapinoe ended up scoring the first (and decisive) goal. After the game, she reiterated that she's not interested in a White House visit, and said she didn't think any of her teammates were, either. One of those teammates, Ali Krieger, concurred, saying she refuses to "respect a man that warrants no respect." Oh, and while various outlets (including Fox News) were reporting on the result, and on the presentation of the championship trophy, the spectators (who were about 1/3 American, 1/3 Dutch, and 1/3 French, because France was hosting the tournament), chanted "F*ck Trump" in unison.

The team is not averse to visiting D.C., incidentally. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has invited Rapinoe to visit the House of Representatives and Rapinoe accepted. If the entire team visits the House and skips the White House, this will become a news story in itself. Trump could withdraw the invitation that he made via Twitter, in hopes of sparing himself a PR black eye, but that would produce a backlash with people saying that when a men's team wins a championship, they are invited but when a women's team does, they are not invited. Late Sunday night, the President was hedging his bets; when asked if an invite would be extended, he said "We haven't really thought about it. We'll look at that." Either he forgot his tweets from June 26, or he's conceding he doesn't think about things before he sends them out. Whatever the case may be, Trump has backed himself into a bit of a corner, which he's very good at doing. (V & Z)

DOJ Assigns New Lawyers to Case about Census Citizenship Question

As the Trump administration fights a fight it is unlikely to win, there were new developments late Sunday. After a series of legal setbacks and PR embarrassments related to the citizenship question that Team Trump wants to add to the census, the Dept. of Justice said that the lawyers who had been handling the case have been removed, and they will be replaced by a team from the Civil Division's Consumer Protection Branch. Because if there is one thing that the citizenship question is designed to do, it's protect consumers.

The reason for the change is anyone's guess. Maybe the previous lawyers are being punished for all the legal defeats, as well as for (apparently) prematurely declaring last week that the matter was at an end. Or, perhaps they have told the president there is nothing more they can do, and the new team is willing to tell him what he wants to hear. Or, it could just be that the administration thinks that having a new set of eyes looking at the problem will afford some new insights. In any event, since printing of the census has begun, the clock is ticking. (Z)

Amash Doesn't Rule Out a 2020 Run

Rep. Justin Amash (I-MI) is the only (former) Republican member of the House to lambaste Donald Trump. He got so much blowback for this that he decided to leave the Republican Party. Yesterday, he appeared on CNN's "State of the Nation" and told Jake Tapper that he hasn't made his future plans yet, but he hasn't ruled out a run for president on the Libertarian ticket. If he did run, he would give NeverTrump Republicans who can't stomach the Democrats an outlet for their vote. If he improves on Gary Johnson's totals from 2016, he could cost Trump Michigan and several other states that were very close last time.

Significantly, Amash said: "I'm asking you to believe that we can do better than this two-party system." That suggests that he would prefer more than two parties, which would be consistent with running on the Libertarian ticket. On the other hand, running for president is a huge undertaking and doing it just to spite the president, knowing that you won't win, is asking a lot from anyone.

While Amash is the only Republican with the fortitude to go after Trump in public, he has said that high-level Republicans have thanked him privately for doing what they are too cowardly to do themselves. After Amash declared his independence on July 4th, Trump tweeted that he was the "dumbest and most disloyal" man in Congress. Condolences to Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY): you're no longer #1. (V)

Senate Update

The Democratic presidential primary is sucking up all the oxygen, so there is hardly any news about the Senate races, even though they are enormously important. Bernie Sanders can promise the moon, but if Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is Senate majority leader on Jan. 20, 2021, Sanders won't get even a small wedge of green cheese. In fact, if McConnell demands the right to appoint half the cabinet and fill all the Supreme Court seats that become vacant, there is little that any Democratic president could do about it because McConnell could simply refuse to confirm any nominee for any position.

The Democrats have some good news and some bad news with respect to the 2020 Senate races. The good news is that only 12 Democrats are up for reelection vs. 22 Republicans. The bad news is that most of the Republicans are up in deep red states like Idaho, Wyoming, and Nebraska. If the Democrats win the White House, they need a net gain of three seats to make it to 50, in which case the veep will have something to do all day, namely break ties in the Senate. Below we highlight what are likely to be the five most competitive Senate races. If you click on the Click for Senate link in the blue bar above the map, that will take you to our Senate page, with information about all 34 Senate races.

  • Alabama: Doug Jones looked like dead meat until God decided that child molester Roy Moore should try again for the job he barely missed that came open because Jeff Sessions foolishly gave up a lifetime job in the Senate for a short stint as AG. Moore is no sure bet, since the entire Republican establishment will attack him viciously until Election Day. However, they don't want to take sides beyond their support for ABM (Anybody But Moore). In a multiway Republican primary, the not-Moore vote could be fragmented and Moore could come out on top. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL) is already in, and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) is likely to join him despite not actually being from Alabama (he only has to live in the state for one day to qualify). Former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, who has no political experience, has also entered the race, on the theory that "Hey, it worked for Donald Trump." Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) may return for a second go-round, having finished third in his party's primary in 2017. If Sessions decides he wants his old job back, he probably could get it. Jones' only chance is that a difficult GOP primary produces a newly flawed, damaged, and broke Roy Moore as the GOP nominee and that black voters and suburban women pull Jones over the finish line.

  • Arizona: Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) was appointed to John McCain's seat in 2018 after she lost the race for Jeff Flake's seat. Democrats smell blood in the water here, and will give her a very tough fight. The blue team avoided a primary by pressuring Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) into not running. Consequently, the Democratic nominee will be a former astronaut and naval aviator who saw combat in the Gulf War, Mark Kelly, who is also the husband of former representative Gabrielle Giffords. If you combine war veteran with astronaut, you get someone who will command a lot of respect in a state full of veterans. It should be a close race, but remember that McSally already lost a Senate race in a conservative state to an openly bisexual woman with no military experience, and now she faces a veteran whose military/space record is as strong as hers.

  • Colorado: Colorado is turning blue and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) is going to be one of the Democrats' top targets. The blue team has won every presidential, senatorial, and gubernatorial race—except Gardner's race in 2014—since 2008. The Democrats don't have a clear candidate yet, so there will certainly be a primary. Three of the representatives are Democrats and there are plenty of current and former statewide Democrats who might be interested. For example, John Hickenlooper, the previous governor, is running for president. As soon as he drops out (which is probably imminent), he might decide the Senate is not a bad consolation prize.

  • Maine: Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) belongs to a vanishing breed that once roamed New England like the buffalo in South Dakota: a somewhat moderate Northeastern Republican. She is personally popular in the state, but Democrats hate her with a passion because she talks like a moderate all the time but votes like a conservative Republican nearly always. They already have raised $3 million for her opponent. Moderate Republican women, meanwhile, may look askance at Collins' vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh. For all of these reasons, she is the Democrats' #1 target, assuming she doesn't decide (at the young age of 66) to throw in the towel (which has been rumored). The list of potential candidates is long and there could be a multiway primary.

  • North Carolina: North Carolina is trending purple (Barack Obama won it in 2008) so this is going to be a competitive race. But first the Democrats need to find a candidate, which won't be easy, because the Tar Heel state is a particularly exhausting one in which to run. It has many big media markets and very close elections, which means that it's necessary to do endless fundraising on top of endless campaigning. There are currently three Democrats representing North Carolina in the House (G. K. Butterfield, David Price, and Alma Adams), but all three are in their seventies, which is a bit old to start a Senate career, and all three come from deep blue districts (D+17 in all three cases), which means they have a job for life in the lower chamber. The Democrats have two statewide elected officials, AG Josh Stein and Gov. Roy Cooper, but neither one is interested. One factor that could matter is that Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) will face Garland Tucker III, a wealthy investment banker, in a primary and could end up bloodied and broke before the general election even starts.

In addition to these races, Kansas, Montana, Texas, and Kentucky could become competitive. If Kris Kobach is the GOP Senate nominee in Kansas and former governor Kathleen Sebelius is the Democratic nominee for the open seat, Sebelius would probably be the slight favorite. In Montana, once Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT) gets this stupid idea of being president out of his head, he could run for the Senate against Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) and probably have even odds. Same in Texas, just replace "Bullock" with "Beto O'Rourke" and "Daines" with "Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX)". In Kentucky, Mitch McConnell's unpopularity (worst approval rating in the Senate) may catch up with him one of these days, particularly if the Democrats convince Marine Corps veteran Amy McGrath or Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) to run. If the Democrats can find a strong challenger to Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), the Hawkeye State might also become competitive. (V)

Monday Q&A

Lots of census-related questions, for obvious reasons.

What does "commencing" the census really mean? Is it well defined, or could Trump have the administration do unimportant tasks associated with it, or even send out one form, in order to say it's been commenced, then keep fighting for the citizenship question to be added without worrying about the deadline? D.C., San Francisco, CA

As we have learned so many times in the last half-decade or so, an enormous portion of what the federal government does is governed by custom and past precedent and the expectation that people will do the right thing. So, "commencement" of the census is not spelled out in any particular detail in federal law.

With that said, the census is an enormous undertaking, one that requires not only that vast amounts of printing be done, but also huge amounts of computer programming. Further, tens of thousands of temporary employees have to be hired and trained. Commencing the census just a little bit is like firing up the RMS Titanic for a journey of one inch. Put another way, if the administration is not making a good faith effort, it should be obvious.

There's one other consideration here. If Team Trump drags the start date out for too long, they run the risk that the commencement and administration of the census will end up in the hands of a Democratic president. Add it up, and the administration is best off finding a way to get done what it wants to get done in time for the census to commence at the correct time.

I saw comments on a story about the citizenship question on the census from multiple people (presumably white) who say they will refuse to participate in the census if there is not a citizenship question. Are there any polls that indicate if this is a significant phenomenon? Might this tactic backfire on the Republicans? G.W., Oxnard, CA

There are no polls on this because while some folks are saying this, nobody takes the threat seriously enough to pay the costs of commissioning one. The Internet is full of paper tigers, and we have no doubt that the vast majority of the people who say they will skip the census (kind of like the people who say "I'm leaving the country if X is elected") will lose the courage of their convictions when: (1) faced with the possibility of a fine and jail time, and/or (2) presented with the logic that allowing themselves to be undercounted would work against their own self-interest.

Could Trump game the census by how he follows up missing households? Say the "right" kind of people return 90%, but the "other" kind of people only return 70%. The Census Bureau then sends five crews to each census tract to count the stragglers, and quits after the first 10 times they "miss." The Census can say they made an equal effort to every tract, while missing the ones they do not want to count. D.B.Y., White Lake, MI

As a practical matter, this would be difficult to do. The Census Bureau has a very well developed set of procedures for making sure that as many people get counted as is possible. Any substantial change to those procedures would be very obvious, and groups like the ACLU would be all over it.

With that said, your question (and the ones above) make clear the extent to which the administration has already won. For three years plus, Trump has waged war against facts, against data, against truth. He's invented millions of "illegal" Clinton voters that did not exist, not to mention hundreds of thousands of inaugural attendees. He and his administration have denied the overwhelming scientific evidence of climate change. He's personally called into question the United States' entire intelligence-gathering apparatus, along with its conclusions. He has said things, and then claimed he never said those things (see the item above about the women's soccer team for the latest example). He's lied over 10,000 times.

The census is the single most important act of data gathering that the U.S. government undertakes. Although it is a very difficult job, and requires the involvement of huge numbers of people of all political stripes, nobody has ever seriously doubted that the Census Bureau did its best job to get things as correct as possible. Until now, that is. Even if the President never gets his question on the census, he's succeeded in introducing doubt into the whole process, on both sides of the aisle.

Consider, for example, that it's currently expected that Texas will gain two seats once the next census is complete. Let us imagine, however, that the Lone Star State gains only one. In that case, the Breitbarts and Sean Hannitys of the world will claim that "illegals" in other states were overcounted, and the Democrats stole a seat in the House. They may have no evidence for this, but evidence no longer matters. On the other hand, imagine if Texas ends up with three new seats, instead of two. The conspiratorial thinking probably won't be as loud, and may even be more reasonable, but in any case, some people will wonder if there were undercounts in California or Nevada or New Mexico.

In short, whether Trump hangs on another week (see next question) or another two years, or another six years, the damage he does is going to linger on long after he's gone.

Did Donald Trump cancel Mike Pence's trip to New Hampshire because he plans to resign this month? Would that explain the uncharacteristically (if blandly) statesmanlike July 4th speech his valediction? The positive jobs report and recent stock market highs—with economic clouds on the horizon—allow him to leave on the highest note possible. He would have 15 months of holding rallies for Pence and basking in the adoration of his base, which will be all the stronger if the economy tanks. He would have 15 months of Pence's pardoning power if the Democrats went after him. He could sign an executive order on the census citizenship question which, though unlikely to succeed, would be the perfect symbolic bookend for his presidency. And best of all, for him: it would catch everyone off-guard, a fitting end for our reality-TV president. Are the stars aligned? C.N., Hempstead, NY

Richard Nixon resigned the presidency on August 8, 1974. It is fair to say that, as late as August 1 or so, nobody was aware of what was about to happen. It's entirely possible that Nixon himself didn't know for sure until August 7, when then-Senator Barry Goldwater paid a visit to the White House and advised the President that he would be convicted if impeachment proceedings moved forward.

In short, anything is possible, and if Trump decides to chuck it all, it will probably happen quickly. However, if we're going to follow Sherlock Holmes' advice, and craft our theories to suit the facts, then we would suggest your theory doesn't quite work. Recall that Pence was in Air Force Two, ready to head to New Hampshire for a one-day trip. He wouldn't even have been away overnight. But then he was summoned to the White House and told to be there immediately. That kind of urgency is not consistent with "Mike, I want to let you know I'm quitting in a week or two."

A theory that suits the facts much better is that someone (probably not Trump himself) had concerns about the President's capacity at that moment. Recall that there was some definite strangeness coming from the Donald last week—the unexpected reversal on the census question, his inappropriate behavior (bringing his daughter along to meetings) at the G20, arguments with multiple members of the administration, a bunch of unusually rambling (even for him) tweets, and so forth. It's certainly possible that someone (Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney?) suspected that a stroke was underway/imminent, or that some sort of medical procedure might soon be necessary. We shall see if we ever find out. After all, Grover Cleveland's cancer surgery remained secret for 24 years.

You really found Trump's 4th of July speech unremarkable? No one finds it remarkable that the President was trying to give a military history lesson but at the same time is so woefully unaware of history so as to put airplanes and airports nearly 130 years out of context? No one finds it remarkable that the media outlets are praising this mangled mess of a speech as commendable, simply because everyone thought it would be so much worse? Has the new normal for Presidents now sunk to the expectations for a 10-year-old boy who is bumbling his way through a school report that his parents clearly wrote for him and who is given a passing grade simply because he showed up to class? On a day that is supposed to highlight the intellectual prowess of Jefferson, Adams, Madison and Hamilton, the bravery and dedication of George Washington, a day that recalls the soaring speeches of Lincoln and FDR in our darkest hours that the standards for American Exceptionalism are now just showing up for a half-assed attempt. I don't find that unremarkable, I find it frightening. D.E., Lilitz, PA

Trying to be as even-handed as we can is a tricky business. There is no doubt it was a mediocre speech, full of clumsy, Warren Harding-esque language. We almost expected to hear that "America's present need is not heroics but healing; not nostrums but normalcy; not revolution but restoration."

Anyhow, when we wrote the original item, we thought we'd hit the right balance between "It was bad, but it wasn't that bad." And we specifically didn't mention the airports line because it seemed like a bit of a cheap shot. He doesn't prep for his speeches, his reading skills are not great, he probably has shaky vision, and it was raining. Our instinct, at the time, was to give him a little bit of a break. Everyone has a slip of the tongue once in a while, and when he said "Our army manned the air, it rammed the ramparts, it took over the airports," he surely meant "it took over their ports."

That said, you may have a point that just because the speech wasn't venal and possibly illegal (potentially violating the Hatch Act) does not mean it did not communicate concerning things about the President. At the very least, laziness and a lack of preparation. More substantively, perhaps, ignorance and a poor grasp of American history. And, at worst, some sort of significant cognitive impairment (see the answer above).

So, maybe we should have been a little more critical than we were. At least the slip-up and your question allow us to share some of the better memes that have been making their way around the Internet this weekend:

Airport memes

I keep thinking that, one day, four Republican senators will finally get fed up enough with Trump to stop a lot of it by declaring themselves Independents (or Democrats) and caucusing with the Democrats. They could make a deal with Schumer about what he would and would not do, and of course each would have a deciding vote on anything that the Democrats wanted to pass. Would this actually work, or is there some flaw I haven't noticed? Could it actually happen? Which senators would be most likely to take this course of action? M.S., Cupertino, CA

Would this work? Certainly, if four Republicans agreed to caucus with the Democrats. They don't even have to change parties, technically. State Sen. Simcha Felder (D-NY) caucused with the Republicans in the New York State Senate for six years before finally joining his own party's caucus in 2019.

Could it happen? No chance. Senators are, by their nature, cautious folks. Only three of them have flipped like this since the turn of the century; expecting four of them to do it all at once is like expecting to look up in the sky and see a pig that is flying because it's riding on the back of a unicorn. Even those senators who had no further concerns about their political career (Bob Corker, Jeff Flake) refused to flip. It's not entirely clear that folks like Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Susan Collins, or Cory Gardner even disagree with the administration all that much, and to the extent they do, their plan is undoubtedly to ride out the storm until things return to normal.

Nancy Pelosi has been saying she is waiting for a strong case to begin impeachment proceedings. Do you think she has been waiting for the Epstein case to begin? There have been rumors for months that a case was in the works (from the Southern District of New York). If the current case showcases Epstein's links to Trump, and provides additional evidence, linking Trump, could this provide the evidence she wants? B.S., Huntsville, AL

It is true that Jeffrey Epstein is a very sleazy character and, now that he's been indicted, his sleaziness is all over the headlines right now, and will remain so for many months. It's also true that Donald Trump has a longstanding relationship with Epstein, and that one sexually predatory billionaire may have facilitated sexual predation by the other billionaire.

As we often point out around here, impeachment is a political decision. And politically, being associated with a sexual predator who preyed on children is about as bad as it gets. But with that said, impeachment is also a legal decision, at least to an extent. Back in the 1990s, then-speaker Newt Gingrich had the politics and the sleaziness working for him in the Bill Clinton impeachment, but he didn't really have the law on his side. The Speaker pushed forward anyhow, and lost. Pelosi knows this; she had a front-row seat for it, as she was already in the House at that point.

The Trump-Epstein relationship may have involved some very sordid things, but they will be hard to prove, and they necessarily happened outside the bounds of Trump's job as president. Further, unlike Newt, the Donald has Fox News to cheerlead and propagandize on his behalf. So, this would be playing with fire for Pelosi. If and when she decides that impeachment is the right course of action, she's got much better charges to move forward with than the Epstein stuff. Gingrich & Co. rolled the dice on a cigar and a stained dress because that's all they had to go with.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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