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Political Wire logo Bharara Considered Taping Phone Call With Trump
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Mueller’s Team Says It’s Very Busy This Week
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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Gone Wild
      •  Deutsche Bank Loaned Trump $2 Billion
      •  Trump Administration Wants to Strike Back at Student Loans
      •  Trump 2020's Advantages
      •  O'Rourke's Launch Goes Well in Some Ways, Not Others
      •  A Not-so-average Joe
      •  What Is Going on With Steve King?

Trump Gone Wild

It is not easy these days for Donald Trump to make headlines with his Twitter behavior. After all, he's shocked and outraged people so often that nearly anything he might do is old hat. Nonetheless, on Sunday he managed to easily clear the high bar he's set for himself, sending out nearly 30 tweets, some of them pretty far out there.

If we were to try to embed all of Trump's Sunday tweets, or even just the most wild ones, it would take up three or four screens worth of scrolling. So, we'll just give a summary of the day's output:

  • To start, Trump slammed Saturday Night Live (once again), and over the course of two tweets threatened to have the show investigated for its failure to live up to the fairness doctrine. What Trump apparently doesn't know is that: (1) The fairness doctrine was killed by the FCC in 1987, and (2) If it was still on the books, Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, etc. would not be possible. In addition, it appears to have escaped Trump's attention that this week's SNL...was a rerun.

  • Trump also laid into the Steele dossier, Hillary Clinton, and the "witch hunt" over eight different tweets, claiming that the Democrats are trying to "steal" an election (whether he means 2016 or 2020 is unclear). It was during this run that he blasted John McCain, who is unable to respond by virtue of being deceased. Meghan McCain is able to respond, and did, which Trump responded to by retweeting a tweet about how much people hate the McCain family.

  • Minutes after suggesting that SNL should be taken off the air for being unbalanced and portraying only one viewpoint, Trump called—without irony—for Fox to reinstate Jeanine Pirro, who is not exactly known for her evenhandedness or her fairness. Although Fox News is not confirming it, it appears that they have suspended (or possibly even canceled) Pirro for some particularly Islamophobic remarks that raised the hackles of advertisers. Her show has not been aired for the past two weekends, and her Twitter account has been silent since March 10. Over the course of the day, Pirro was favored with about 10 presidential tweets.

  • The President also voiced his support for Tucker Carlson, who is known for saying...well, racist things. At the same time, Trump suggested that the time has come for Fox to fire Arthel Neville, Leland Vittert, and Shepard Smith. Those three, along with Chris Wallace, are among the few on-air personalities at Fox who can legitimately be regarded as journalists.

  • There were three tweets on border security, including a retweet of a vaguely racist tweet from conspiracy theorist Jack Prosobiec, best known for his promotion of unhinged theories about the death of Seth Rich.

  • Trump also retweeted a "news story" that implies Rep. Ilhan Omar (DFL-MN) is about to be recalled by voters in her home state. In truth, members of Congress are not subject to recall elections.

  • There were several tweets about how popular Trump is both nationally, and in the state of Pennsylvania in particular.

  • There were two St. Patrick's Day tweets. Erin go bragh!

  • There were several tweets about how great things are going for the U.S. economy, and in among them an incongruous tweet blasting General Motors for shipping jobs abroad.

Part of what made the performance so noticeable, and perhaps so shameful, is that it happened against the backdrop of the New Zealand shootings. It is true that Trump did offer a very cursory statement of support for New Zealand shortly after the news first broke. However, he might have followed that with a tweet or two denouncing white supremacy, or Islamophobia, or hatred in general. Failing that, he might have remained silent out of respect for the 50 victims, whose deaths came at the hands of a man who viewed Trump as an inspiration. But instead of saying something helpful, or at least saying nothing at all, the President decided to spend the day (and, in fact, the weekend, since there were also 19 tweets on Saturday) airing grievances and settling scores.

Trump's behavior was so outlandish, even by his standards, that it prompted some rather strongly worded commentary from observers. George Conway, spouse of Kellyanne, and famously no fan of the President, tweeted this:

There were quite a few headlines along the same lines. A sampling:

In short, everyone noticed that this was an unusual weekend, even by Trump's standards, and quite a few pundits think it says worrisome things about the President's mental state.

A big part of the mystery, incidentally, is that there was no obvious trigger for the outburst. Normally, an emergent scandal, or some particularly unfavorable news coverage, or a bad performance by an underling, or a lengthy weekend of golfing at Mar-a-lago will lead to something like this. But none of those things were particularly true this weekend, and none of the pieces linked above has a particularly good answer to the question (though a few outlets have noted that he was clearly watching Fox News for at least part of the time). That leaves us with a few theories that present themselves: (1) Trump was more bothered by New Zealand, and his role therein, than he's letting on; (2) He thinks the shoe is about to drop on one of the many fronts on which he is exposed (e.g., the Mueller report), and he's terrified; or (3) The cheese really is slipping off the cracker. Trump is 72 years old, under a lot of strain, and has shown considerable evidence of cognitive decline. Maybe we're closer to an invocation of the 25th Amendment than anyone thinks. (Z)

Deutsche Bank Loaned Trump $2 Billion

Speaking of the various strains upon Donald Trump, here's a big one reported by The New York Times on Monday. According to their sources, Deutsche Bank has loaned Donald Trump more than $2 billion over the last 20 years. In order to secure those loans, Trump often misrepresented his net worth, and used somewhat questionable tactics with bank employees, like giving them free trips to Mar-a-Lago in exchange for their support.

Needless to say, neither the muckety-mucks at Deutsche Bank, nor at the White House, had any comment on this story (unless Trump's tweetstorm, see above, is itself a comment). However, there are two things that can be said with confidence at this point:

  • Deutsche Bank is the most notoriously shady international bank in the world, and has been linked with extensive money laundering operations. Generally speaking, wholly legitimate businesspeople and businesses avoid it, because of its less-than-stellar reputation.

  • Trump most certainly has not paid off all of that $2 billion, and very possibly still owes most of it. This puts the bank in an awkward situation, but also raises the possibility that he could be compromised in one way or another.

It is widely assumed that special counsel Robert Mueller has been looking into this. And if he hasn't, several House committees, starting with the Committee on Financial Services, chaired by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), will be sure to pick up the slack. So, whatever truth is to be discovered here will presumably see the light of day, eventually. (Z)

Trump Administration Wants to Strike Back at Student Loans

If that headline had been exactly the same, except with 'Obama' in place of 'Trump,' it would have almost certainly referred to some sort of effort to make student loans more manageable for students and parents. But with the current administration, it means something nearly the opposite. This weekend, news broke that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, wants to slash the budget for the Obama-era program that forgives student loans for those who go into public service. Because if anyone is sensitive to how hard it is to pay for a college education, it's Betsy DeVos, who was born with roughly five silver spoons in her mouth. Meanwhile, the administration also wants to impose a cap on the total amount of money that students can borrow: $57,500 lifetime.

From a public policy perspective, there is some justification for capping loans, since easier loans make it easier for schools to raise tuition. However, these two policy initiatives, taken together, would serve to significantly limit upward mobility for millions of students. For private schools, where an undergraduate education can easily run $200,000, $57,500 is something of a drop in the bucket. And that is before we consider graduate or professional school, which can double the tally. Even if one spends their whole career at public schools, $57,500 is not enough to cover four years of undergraduate education, much less the five or six years that has become the norm (nor, once again, graduate school).

The administration observes that the cap is only on students, and that parents would still be free to borrow until the cows come home. However, many parents cannot qualify for loans, for one reason or another. Further, it is quite common to find parents unwilling to aid in their children's educational goals, perhaps because of estrangement, or perhaps because Mom and Dad want Junior to major in business, but Junior wants to major in philosophy. (Z) personally experienced this during his undergraduate years (Z Sr. didn't approve of fancy book larnin') and he hears it all the time from his students, including as recently as 90 minutes before writing this item.

Anyhow, the upshot is that if Team Trump gets its way, private universities will become more elitist and un-diverse, public universities will be forced to do more and more with less and less, an undergraduate degree will become unattainable for a certain percentage of students, and a graduate or professional degree will become unattainable for an even larger percentage of students. Given that the U.S. already has a shortage of, for example, doctors, this would not seem to be a wise course of action. Of course, if we kick 20% of the population off the insurance rolls by killing Obamacare and not replacing it with anything, then maybe those doctors won't be needed after all.

Meanwhile, from a political perspective, this seems to be a curious set of choices and curious timing. Again, there is something of a public policy justification for this, though the administration hasn't really made it, in part because their real goal is to (partly) patch the hole in the budget wrought by the tax cut. Anyhow, absent a heck of a PR push from the White House, it is going to be pretty easy for the Democrats to get students to the polls in 2020 by arguing that "Donald Trump doesn't care if you get an education." And that is where the curious timing comes in. Was there any worse week to announce these plans than the week after a scandal that highlighted the extent to which a high-quality college education is much more available to the ultra-wealthy? Very curious, indeed. (Z)

Trump 2020's Advantages

Yesterday, we had an item about some of the problems that Donald Trump will face when and if he stands for reelection in 2020. In short, some of the red states he won are trending purple, and some of the Midwestern states he won just elected a bunch of Democrats. Neither of these things is good news for him, since he would prefer not to have to defend the Texases and Georgias of the world, and he'll have to work even harder than in 2016 to win over the Wisconsins and the Michigans of the world.

However, as The Guardian points out, Trump also has some things going for him in 2020. He's going to have vastly more money in his war chest. His team has also gotten serious about data, and his people have built a world-class analysis and polling operation for him. The campaign will also be able to deploy a vast army of volunteers, perhaps as large as 1 million strong.

In short, Trump 2020 looks much like Clinton 2016: an awful lot of built-in advantages, but a tricky electoral map. Of course, Clinton didn't know quite how tricky her map was, whereas Team Trump presumably has a greater awareness of the states in which he's vulnerable. On the other hand, Clinton was willing and able to stay on message, whereas Trump gotta Trump, which could render most of that Big Data rather irrelevant. In the end, the conclusions of today's Trump-positive article and yesterday's Trump-negative article are pretty much the same: The personality of this particular candidate (and the cult of personality it has given rise to) is so hard to account for that it's difficult to know what will happen in 2020 until it actually happens. (Z)

O'Rourke's Launch Goes Well in Some Ways, Not Others

When Beto O'Rourke officially announced his presidential run, he got a whole bunch of publicity—far more than, say, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), despite the fact that she basically announced twice. He also raised a whole bunch of money: $6.1 million in the first 24 hours. That's enough to impress even Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

At the same time, O'Rourke also helped illustrate exactly how the target on your back grows geometrically in size once you're in the race. To start, the GOP attack dogs were unleashed with all their fury. Project Veritas Action, which is 100% a sham, but one that has an audience among people who want to hear nasty things about liberals, re-posted a video to YouTube claiming that O'Rourke illegally sent campaign funds to undocumented Honduran immigrants. Fox News reported that the candidate favors third-trimester abortions. The RNC sent an e-mail to donors reminding them that O'Rourke was arrested for burglary while in college (true; he hopped a private fence late on a weekend night) and accusing him of making money on shady land deals while serving on the El Paso City Council (less true; he may have been insensitive to residents who were being hit with eminent domain claims, but there's no evidence he pocketed any money). The RNC also fired off this rather tasteless tweet:

The purpose was twofold: to remind voters that O'Rourke isn't Latino, and that he once had a DUI arrest.

As the barrage of attacks was coming in from the right, O'Rourke was also compelled to apologize for at least two mini-scandals of his own making. First, he made a few jokes last week about how his wife is raising their kids, and how he "helps sometimes." Some folks found that sexist, and so O'Rourke said he regretted his words and that he wouldn't make those jokes again. In addition, Reuters dug up something from the candidate's teenage days, namely his contributions to a hacking (and creative writing?) site many years ago. One of his stories, written under the pseudonym Psychedelic Warlord, was penned from the vantage point of a murderer. Anyhow, O'Rourke is sorry about that, too, and said, he was, "mortified to read it now, incredibly embarrassed...whatever my intention was as a teenager doesn't matter."

And finally, there were also some attacks from the left, as well. The Atlantic, for example, published a piece about how O'Rourke's views on fiscal issues were rather more centrist in the past than they are today, and that voters may not forgive him for being a political chameleon. Slate, which, it should be noted, could very well change its name to "Bernie Sanders Fan Club," wrote two very critical pieces, one headlined "Beto 2020 Has No Reason to Exist," that points out that O'Rourke's platform is rather thin, and one headlined "It's Not All About the Money," that points out that O'Rourke is good at raising money, but that his platform is rather thin. So, they're covering all the angles. New York Magazine, which is clearly in search of a Pulitzer, ran a hard-hitting article about how O'Rourke likes to climb on tables and countertops when speaking at events, and that it looks silly. And The Hill which is itself a little right-leaning, nonetheless had a piece quoting many (mostly unnamed) Democratic strategists, who were unimpressed by O'Rourke's lack of substance, his perceived sense of entitlement, and his less-than-graceful campaign rollout.

It is hard to say how well this mud will stick to O'Rourke until the campaign is in full swing. However, the facts we already have from the five days since he declared suggest four preliminary conclusions: (1) There's clearly a lot of enthusiasm about his candidacy, as judged by the money that's rolling in; (2) The GOP is obviously nervous about him; nobody else got the full attack dog treatment when they declared; (3) O'Rourke's critics might be wasting their best ammunition more than 18 months before the election; and (4) The candidate is clearly willing to take ownership of his past mistakes and current missteps and to apologize for them in a fashion that seems genuine. This is a pretty rare attribute among top-tier politicians (though Sanders is another who is generally willing to own his screw-ups, as is Joe Biden). It is likely O'Rourke realizes that if you own the dirt/skeleton/scandal, the story tends to wither. Imagine if, for example, Hillary Clinton had fully owned that the e-mail server was a bad idea, instead of hemming and hawing about it for 12 months, and thus giving it a constant supply of oxygen. Maybe 2016 would have turned out quite differently. (Z)

A Not-so-average Joe

Speaking of Joe Biden, he's not even declared yet—well, except for a few seconds on Saturday before he corrected himself—and yet the target on his back is already getting bigger and bigger. On Monday, Politico observed that contrary to his blue-collar, working-class image, the former Veep is actually kinda loaded these days. His bank account was not terribly fat during his Senate or White House days, but since then he's been sitting on corporate boards and collecting hefty speaking fees, and he also wrote a bestselling book. Biden's exact net worth is known only to himself, his wife, and his accountant, but since he recently bought a $2.7-million vacation home, he's clearly doing ok.

The question that the article raises, of course, is whether voters will buy the "I'm just a regular-guy with a lunchpail" pitch from a fellow who has a seven-figure vacation home. Again, it's hard to predict, but working in Biden's favor is that he really was a man of fairly modest means for the vast majority of his life. Beyond that, there's a long history of politicians who were quite well off, but nonetheless managed to convince everyone they were well-attuned to the concerns of blue-collar voters, from Andrew Jackson to Franklin D. Roosevelt to Lyndon B. Johnson to the fellow in the White House right now. So, Biden's pitch has more than a puncher's chance. (Z)

What Is Going on With Steve King?

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) is, to be blunt, the most openly racist member of Congress. And he's made that clear so many times that he nearly lost his recent re-election bid to an unknown Democrat, and then he managed to get himself stripped of his committee memberships, leaving him with not too much to do while he's in Washington besides wander the halls of Congress. Well, that and produce a number of outlandish and often offensive social media posts.

This weekend, he was at it again, posting this to his Facebook page:

Civil War

Clearly drawing inspiration from Donald Trump's veiled threat that there will be violence if he is removed from office, King's post celebrates the possibility of a second Civil War. It would seem that he did not look all that carefully, since Iowa is included among the mamby-pamby, pinko-Commie, don't-know-which-bathroom-to-use blue states. Or, since he regards himself as an honorary Confederate, maybe he did look carefully, after all. Although if he thinks there are no liberals with guns, he might want to pay a visit to Oregon or Vermont sometime.

So, is there method to King's madness? Maybe the Congressman knows that he's going to face a major primary challenge, and—if he survives that—a stronger Democratic opponent in a presidential year, and he's doing everything he can to gin up the base? Possible, except that he deleted the above post once it began to produce a lot of the wrong kind of headlines. And this is at least the third or fourth time since the new term began that he's put himself in that situation. That leads us to an alternate explanation: King is, to use a term from poker parlance, "on tilt." His career is likely almost over, he's angry that he's been frozen out of Congress, and he senses on some level that his worldview is about 20 (or maybe 120) years out of date, making him something of a modern-day Archie Bunker. So, he's lashing out. Kind of apropos, on some level, since the fellow he's emulating spent the weekend doing the same thing, perhaps for the same basic reasons (see above). (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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