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GOP Support for Trump Rises After Racist Tweets

TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Racist Tweets Remain at the Forefront
      •  Trump Announces ICE Raids Were a Success, Announces New Asylum Policy
      •  Conway Officially Defies Subpoena
      •  Pence Emergency Probably Won't Be Explained
      •  Biden Shifts Gears...
      •  ...And So Does Buttigieg
      •  Presidential Year Turnout May Not Favor Democrats in 2020

Racist Tweets Remain at the Forefront

In an entirely foreseeable turn of events, the dominant story of the day on Monday was the racist tweets that Donald Trump sent out on Sunday, aimed at "the Squad" (Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY; Ilhan Omar, DFL-MN; Ayanna Pressley, D-MA; and Rashida Tlaib, D-MI). The President, of course, dug his heels in. The other members of his party had a wide variety of responses. And Democrats were uniformly outraged.

Trump, for his part, doubled down on his remarks. Actually, it was more like tripled down. His conversation with reporters on Monday was an exercise in pure, unmitigated gall. Among other things, the President said that: (1) he sees nothing wrong with his remarks, "because many people agree with me;" (2) the congresswomen he targeted "hate our country;" (3) Omar, in particular, supports al-Qaeda and "hates Jews;" and (4) the women he targeted are the ones who owe him an apology. And to make sure everyone knows where he stands, Trump took to Twitter late in the day to reiterate his views:

These were just part of the last round of tweets; the President was actually on the social media platform all day long sending out tweets about how right he is, and how wrong and evil the members of the Squad are.

Such overt racism would seem to be unwise, politically. However, Trump also used Twitter to brag about the shrewd strategy he is deploying:

It is true that his words have (at least temporarily) papered over the differences in the Democratic caucus and have caused them to embrace the congresswomen. Is that to the detriment of the Party, however? We don't see it. By attacking them so viciously, he engendered sympathy for the Squad. Democrats (and some Republicans) are not rallying around the policies that the congresswomen embrace, they are rallying around them as individuals who have been unfairly maligned. It is hard to imagine that because, for example, blue dog Rep. Dan. Lipinski declared Trump's tweets to be "far out of line of what is acceptable," he will be permanently tarred as a lefty pinko commie in the minds of voters.

There were a fair number of Trump loyalists who came to his defense on Monday. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who once slammed Trump as a "race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot" appears to have changed his mind, and told Fox News that the congresswomen were not worthy of an apology because they are America-hating, terrorist-loving, anti-Semitic communists. Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-LA) essentially agreed, and offered to "pay for their tickets out of this country if they just tell me where they'd rather be." Acting Director of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli, who knows what side his bread is buttered on and is also a racist, said he didn't see anything wrong with the President's tweets. Marc Short, who is Mike Pence's chief of staff, insisted that Trump could not possibly be racist, because Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao is not white. He didn't mention the possibility that her appointment may have been some how related to an attempt to curry favor with her hubby, who just happens to be the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnel (R-KY). House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) concurred that "the President is not a racist," and said that Trump was just venting some of his frustrations after a long weekend. Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) opined that people misunderstood Trump's tweets, and that when the President told the Squad to go back to the places they came from, he just meant they should go back to their home districts.

Other members of the GOP did their very best to avoid the mess that Trump generously created for them. Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Richard Shelby (R-AL) literally fled from reporters when approached for comment. Others gave vague, fairly noncommittal responses. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), for example, called the tweets "a mistake, an unforced error," while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said he would wait until Tuesday to comment. The wishy-washiness also managed to make its way across the Atlantic, where both finalists for the British premiership said the tweets were wrong, but refused to say that Trump is a racist.

With that said, not all Republicans held their tongues. Here's a pretty-close-to-exhaustive list of GOP members of Congress who either tweeted or verbalized their disapproval: Sens. Susan Collins (ME), Joni Ernst (IA), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Rob Portman (OH), Mitt Romney (UT), Tim Scott (SC), and Pat Toomey (PA), and Reps. Don Bacon (NE), Susan Brooks (IN), Tom Cole (OK), Anthony Gonzalez (OH), Will Hurd (TX), John Katko (NY), Peter King (NY), Paul Mitchell (MI), Pete Olson (TX), Chip Roy (TX), Lloyd Smucker (PA), Elise Stefanik (NY), Mike Turner (OH), and Fred Upton (MI). That's 7 senators and 14 representatives, who are to be commended for speaking out, even if some of them did hedge their bets a little. For example, the notoriously spineless Romney was asked if the tweets were racist and said: "You know, a lot of people have been using the word and my own view is that what was said, and what was tweeted, was destructive, was demeaning, was dis-unifying, and frankly, was very wrong." The careful reader will notice that the Utah Senator did not actually answer the question. And, in any case, 7 of 53 GOP senators is 13% and 14 of 197 representatives is 7%. Yet again, there is no question that the modern GOP is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Donald J. Trump, Inc.

As to the Democrats, their only point of contention was exactly how to express their disdain for Trump's rhetoric. The Squad, for their part, held a press conference, with Ocasio-Cortez saying that America "belongs to everyone," Pressley declaring that "we will not be silenced," Omar accusing the President of embracing the "agenda of white nationalists," and Tlaib observing that "we know this is who Trump is." Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) plans to pass a resolution condemning the President (full text here). Not surprisingly, some Democrats want to go further. Rep. Al Green (D-TX) and an undetermined number of co-sponsors will introduce articles of impeachment.

Obviously, the articles of impeachment aren't going to go anywhere, and Green is introducing them as a form of protest. With that said, as a thought exercise, is there actually something impeachable here? We would argue that there is a case to be made. Trump, like all presidents, took an oath to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." This is the same Constitution that begins "We the people..." and whose 14th Amendment guarantees equal protection for all Americans before the law. Trump has made very clear, including with the recent tweets, that he regards himself as the president of some Americans, and not all of them. That being the case, he has violated his oath, which—according to various federal codes—is grounds for removal from office and/or imprisonment.

Again, that's just a thought exercise. There's zero chance Trump gets removed or, for that matter, suffers any sort of serious recriminations for all of this. We shall see when the latest furor dies down, though this is likely to remain a big story today. That's particularly true if Trump wants it to remain a big story, either because he truly believes it works to his benefit, or because it creates a convenient distraction from other stories. (Z)

Trump Announces ICE Raids Were a Success, Announces New Asylum Policy

So, what story might Donald Trump be trying to distract people from? How about this weekend's planned/threatened ICE raids? The President spent some time on Monday bragging about how well they went, and how many immigrants were rounded up. The only problem: nobody in the targeted cities can find evidence of a wide-scale roundup, which is not something that is easy to hide.

Consistent with the theory that the President is trying to distract the xenophobes in the base in any way he can, he also took time on Monday to announce an executive order that, if implemented, would make it extremely difficult for refugees from Central America to request asylum in the United States. It's a little tricky, but it's based on the idea (recognized by the U.N.'s refugee agency) that refugees must request asylum in the first "safe" country they reach. The new order from the Trump administration declares that Mexico is a "safe" country, and that anyone from Central America who crosses Mexico must therefore request asylum there, rather than in the United States. Since it is rather difficult for refugees to get from Central America to the United States without crossing Mexico (unless they conveniently happen to own a yacht), Trump's new policy would allow the U.S. Border Patrol to turn away pretty much everyone from Nicaragua, Guatemala, etc.

Mexico is furious about this development, of course. Further, the order is going to be challenged very promptly in court where, once again, Trump's tweets will likely come back to haunt him. Recall his frequent tweets about how awful, and crime-ridden, and full of gangs Mexico is. This one, for example:

That runs contrary to the declaration that Mexico is a "safe" state, which is defined by the U.N. as "countries in which refugees can enjoy asylum without any danger." So, by all indications, the new executive order is roughly as toothless as this weekend's ICE raids. Which, again, would certainly explain why Trump might want to create a distraction with some nasty tweets. (Z)

Conway Officially Defies Subpoena

When Richard Nixon's house of cards began to fall apart, Watergate figure and plumber G. Gordon Liddy volunteered to stand on a street corner and to be gunned down so that he could be used as a fall guy, and one who could not answer questions or be subjected to cross examination in court by virtue of being, well, dead. Nixon did not accept the offer, of course, and Liddy is still alive today, mostly retired, but appearing occasionally as a guest on—you guessed it—Fox News.

Time will tell who the G. Gordon Liddy of the Trump administration is, but one excellent candidate is Kellyanne Conway. It's entirely possible that if the S.S. Trump eventually hits an iceberg and sinks, she'll go down with the ship (something that the captain certainly won't do; "women and children first" be damned). Put another way, if you had to bet on someone who has two years at Danbury Federal Prison in their future, you would have to like your chances with Kellyanne. When husband George Conway came to visit, they could have some nice conversations about the true meaning of racism, since George just published an op-end in the Washington Post entitled: "Trump Is a Racist President."

On Tuesday, Conway took a small step down that path, officially ignoring the Congressional subpoena that commanded her to appear before Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and the House Oversight and Reform Committee that he chairs. Cummings has given her 10 days to comply (which she won't do), and then says he will hold her in contempt and take the matter to court.

Our guess is that a lot of the folks who are digging their heels in, like former White House Counsel Don McGahn, are just waiting for the courts to give them cover, so they can say to Trump or to others in the GOP that they were left with no choice but to testify. Conway, on the other hand, may remain loyal to Trump to the bitter end, even if it means some time in the hoosegow. It could be a while until we find out, though, as the last person to defy a congressional subpoena (Barack Obama's AG Eric Holder) managed to drag things out for nearly two years. (Z)

Pence Emergency Probably Won't Be Explained

Because the Fourth of July holiday fell on a Thursday, and because the headlines thereafter were dominated by Donald Trump's speech/parade, it effectively gave the administration four days to dump any information that they preferred to sneak in under the radar. It was during that time that the White House delivered the long-awaited explanation for why Mike Pence had to cancel his trip to New Hampshire, and hurry to the White House, a couple of weeks ago.

So, what was the explanation? A "security issue" in New Hampshire. That certainly could be true, and it could be that the administration knows something that they cannot or will not share with the rest of us. However, there are also at least three problems that cast doubt on the credibility of that explanation. First, why did it take two weeks to come up with that answer, given how vague and non-specific it is? Second, why was it necessary for Pence to not only cancel his trip, but to hustle to the White House? And third, how come law enforcement in New Hampshire has no idea about what the issue was?

An alternative explanation that has circulated is that the Pence emergency was related to a fire that broke out on a Russian submarine, killing 14 Russian sailors. It's true that the fire did happen around the same time that Pence canceled his trip, and it is also true that the disaster caused Vladimir Putin to change his schedule at the last minute. However, the cause-and-effect relationship between "Russian sub on fire" and "Mike Pence is needed at the White House" is not entirely clear, so most experts discount this explanation.

In the end, the administration appears to have said all that they are going to say. So, if neither of these explanations is the truth, then we're just going to have to wait for a leaker, or else for the wave of tell-all memoirs that are sure to hit the shelves once the Trump presidency is over, for a more correct explanation. (Z)

Biden Shifts Gears...

Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden, who may not actually be worthy of that title anymore, had intended to run the Hillary Clinton 2016 playbook, and treat primary season as a coronation. That largely meant putting things in cruise control, with the primary goal being to avoid any costly mistakes. And so, for at least the first three months of his campaign, Biden focused on fundraising. He made relatively few public appearances, offered virtually no policy ideas, and behaved as if the other Democrats in the field largely didn't exist.

Now that the former VP is slipping in the polls, however, he and his team have concluded they are going to have to start running an actual campaign. Not only did Biden semi-apologize for his flattering comments about his former segregationist colleagues, he's also been scheduling more media appearances, and has started punching back when Democrats (most obviously Sen. Kamala Harris) take shots at him.

At the same time, Team Biden has also been working on some actual policy ideas (this lag is actually in contrast to Clinton 2016; her website was full of policy proposals from Day 1). And on Monday, he unveiled what will surely be a centerpiece of his campaign (and very probably the centerpiece), namely his healthcare plan. He calls it "Affordable Care Act v2.0," which pretty much tells you all you need to know about his approach. Biden wants to keep the centrists calm, and to reiterate his connection to Barack Obama, by working to fix problems with the current system as opposed to throwing it overboard and shooting for something more radical like Medicare-for-All.

It will take a while to see how well Biden v2.0 (and ACA v2.0) play with voters, but there is little question that the second round of debates in a couple of weeks are going to be very important for him. If he delivers another flabby, passive performance, then he's going to start looking an awful lot like Jeb!—all suit and no substance—and a narrative will start to crystallize. That said, this isn't Biden's first rodeo, and he knows he needs to come out punching next time he's on stage. So, expect him to do that. (Z)

...And So Does Buttigieg

Given that Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend) is young and charismatic, and that his election to the White House would break a glass ceiling (first openly gay president), it was plausible that he might catch fire among the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. But as we have pointed out a couple of times, the cross-tabs of the various polls and the response he got after the debates suggest that is not actually going to happen.

Team Buttigieg has been paying attention, and clearly sees the same thing. And so, the Mayor has tacked sharply center-ward in the last week or so. In interviews, he has been critical of Medicare-for-all and free college tuition, suggesting that neither proposal is sensible, or likely to make its way through Congress. He's also trying to "get right" with black voters (who tend to be centrist), and has announced a suite of proposals meant to address systemic racism, including reforms to the criminal justice system, the creation of "health equity zones" (special, extra training for doctors and nurses who treat people of color), and loans for small businesses owned by minorities.

It's hard to say exactly what the Mayor's overall strategy is here. He may be betting on Biden's demise, and could be trying to position himself to pick up as many of the pieces as possible when that happens. Alternatively, he may envision that this eventually comes down to Biden, himself, and one of the left-wing candidates (e.g., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-MA) and he wants to position himself as the "compromise" option—lefty enough for people who really don't like Warren, but centrist enough for people who really don't like Biden. (Z)

Presidential Year Turnout May Not Favor Democrats in 2020

Generally speaking, presidential election years favor Democrats because presidential contests tend to get low-engagement voters to the polls, and those folks skew disproportionately Democratic. However, Donald Trump has broken many of the "rules" of how politics are supposed to work, and a new analysis by the New York Times' Nate Cohn argues that this may be another case of that.

Cohn looks at the question from many different angles, and it's really worth reading his whole analysis. However, the executive summary is this: Trump excites such passions that he personally draws a disproportionate number of low-engagement voters to the polls. This looks to be particularly true in the Rust Belt, which happens to be the location of four critical swing states (Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Ohio).

With that said, Trump supporters should not get out their party hats quite yet. Cohn is by no means predicting another victory for the Donald. He's just saying that the outcome of this particular election is going to be harder than usual to predict, because usual models of presidential election turnout won't necessarily apply. Beyond that, it is worth noting that while Trump was not on the ballot in 2018, he was absolutely whipping his base with all his might, and the Republicans collected roughly 10 million votes fewer than the Democrats. And finally, there is some anecdotal evidence that even the lefty Democrats are going to grit their teeth and fall into line behind the Party's candidate, regardless of who it is. CNN's Dean Obeidallah visited the annual Netroots convention, a gathering of progressive activists last week. He reports that the mantra there, which was even chanted by the crowd at various points, was "Vote Blue, no matter who." He specifically asked a crowd of 100 people if they liked Joe Biden as a candidate, and was met with a tepid response, but then asked if he would get the crowd's votes if he was the nominee, and received a near-universal "yes." So, the blue team might not get a turnout bump, but they might get a "no defections" bump. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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