• Trump May Have Broken the Law Twice Over the Weekend
• James Mattis Keeps Popping Off
• Bad Numbers for Trump, Part I: Voter Preferences
• Bad Numbers for Trump, Part II: Approval Rating
• Trump vs. Fox News Is Fake News
• Madeleine Westerhout Mystery Is Solved
• More Dirty Tricks from Georgia Republicans
Nero (allegedly) fiddled while Rome burned. George W. Bush partied with John McCain in sunny Arizona while Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans. Last week, we speculated that Donald Trump might have canceled his trip to Poland, and the accompanying wining and dining, to avoid a similar sort of bad optics. Turns out we were wrong. Sorry about that.
In fact, Trump not only spent the weekend at one of his clubs, he also got in at least a couple of rounds of golf. It is truly remarkable that he either has so little self-discipline, or so little concern about offending his base, that he couldn't skip the links for one lousy weekend. The President got a fair bit of criticism for that, including some shade from across the pond. London mayor Sadiq Khan, who loathes Trump (and the feeling is mutual), was in Poland for the ceremonies commemorating the start of World War II that the President was supposed to attend. "He's clearly busy dealing with a hurricane out on the golf course," Khan observed drily.
And that was not the only way in which Trump took an opportunity to demonstrate leadership and instead turned it into an unforced error. Over the weekend, he marveled at the size of Hurricane Dorian, observing that, "I'm not sure I've even heard of a category 5 [hurricane]." This, of course, is consistent with Trump's belief that every challenge he confronts is historic, unprecedented, etc. The first problem is that this sort of observation, bordering on braggadocio, is a bit tacky when people are dying and homes are being destroyed. The second problem is that the United States has actually suffered four category 5 hurricanes...since he took over the Oval Office. It certainly gives the impression that the President doesn't take much notice of any tragedy that does not harm him personally. And since Mar-a-Lago has weathered the last few hurricanes just fine, those incidents fell promptly off his radar, it would seem.
And that wasn't the end of the controversies, either. Trump also took to Twitter on Sunday to claim that Alabama was among the states in Dorian's path:
In addition to Florida - South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated. Looking like one of the largest hurricanes ever. Already category 5. BE CAREFUL! GOD BLESS EVERYONE!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 1, 2019
This was a bit odd, since nobody else (e.g., the National Weather Service) was saying that Alabama was in danger, and since a Florida-Alabama-Georgia-Carolinas path would be very unusual. So, reporters asked the President for confirmation, and he insisted that "Alabama is going to get a piece" of the storm. At that point, they ran with the story. This made Trump look silly, since Alabama was not, in fact, in the hurricane's path. It also forced the National Weather Service to send out a prompt correction:
Mollified, Trump apologized profusely, and admitted that he should not be so careless on Twitter, since he needlessly frightened millions of Alabamians. Oh, wait. That's not what happened at all. No, once Trump was caught in his error, he became angry and blamed the media for reporting fake news. That would be the same fake news that was based on the President's own tweet.
In short, you could hire Hollywood's best screenwriter, ask him or her to write a sequel to Dr. Strangelove, demand that a scene be included in which President Muffley botches the response to a hurricane after getting bad advice from John Bolton, er, Dr. Strangelove, and that screenwriter probably couldn't do better than the reality show that unfolded over this weekend. Contrary to our headline, even George W. Bush is sitting at home right now saying, "C'mon man. What were you thinking?" At least W. only blundered once or twice, instead of putting up a triple. But will this lousy weekend hurt Trump at all, the way it hurt Bush? Probably not, since nothing ever does. (Z)
One legacy of the Trump presidency will be a clear answer about whether or not Richard Nixon was right when he said, "[W]hen the president does it, that means that it is not illegal." Donald Trump has either approached, or run right across, many legal red lines, and time will tell if he pays a price or not. This weekend, he added two additional felony-level offenses to the (potential) list.
To start, Iran had a little rocket mishap this weekend, which they admitted to on Monday. However, Trump—and anyone with access to Twitter—knew what happened long before the Iranians made the announcement, thanks to this presidential tweet:
The United States of America was not involved in the catastrophic accident during final launch preparations for the Safir SLV Launch at Semnan Launch Site One in Iran. I wish Iran best wishes and good luck in determining what happened at Site One. pic.twitter.com/z0iDj2L0Y3— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 30, 2019
This is clearly some passive-aggressive gloating, but that is not the main problem, per se. The main problem is that this image is almost certainly from a military satellite, since the resolution is so good. So, if the Iranians did not know the U.S. has a very-high-end satellite watching them, well, they know now. Further, the image that was posted appears to be a photograph of an iPad taken by an iPhone. You can see the iPhone flash near the center of the photo, and you can see the reflection of the person taking the picture (presumably Trump) right below that. In other words, the image very probably came from a classified security briefing, and the President almost certainly leaked highly classified information in an effort to rub the Iranians' noses in their setback. Trump insisted he did nothing illegal, which is technically true, since he has the power to declassify anything he wants. However, if any other federal employee had done this, they would be out of a job, and would likely be looking at a stretch in a federal prison. And one wonders if there's not some federal statute out there that he might have managed to run afoul of during that sequence of events.
Meanwhile, if that were not enough, Trump was right back at it when talking to his aides about the border wall. His instruction to them, in short, was to do whatever it takes to get the wall built, and that if they break any laws in the process, he will just pardon them later. This offer, if genuine, would absolutely be a violation of federal law, as it would be tantamount to using pardons as a form of bribe. The President did not deny that he said this, but he did insist that he was "joking," which tends to be his go-to excuse whenever he crosses a bright red line like this. That answer will undoubtedly keep the heat off while he's in office. However, there is a very good chance that a court will be taking a long look at obstruction of justice charges, or at the legitimacy of Trump's other pardons, or both, at some point in the future. And in that hypothetical court case, well, such "jokes" are not going to be helpful for Trump's defense. (Z)
Former Marine Corps general and Secretary of Defense James Mattis has a book to sell. And, as a consequence, he's doing a lot of interviews about his career in the military and afterward. In his latest, with CBS News on Sunday, the General said that he disagreed with Donald Trump on many things, but that the straw that broke the camel's back was the decision to withdraw from Syria. Mattis feels that troops are still needed there, and that ISIS is far from being defeated.
We remain unimpressed with Mattis' behavior here. As we wrote last week, he continually suggests he has criticisms of the President, and he hints at the substance of those criticisms, but he refuses to go much further than that, framing his semi-silence as a matter of duty and of honor. As reader C.R. wrote in to point out after we posted the previous item, it's not so much "duty" or "honor" that's causing Mattis to be circumspect, it's his $250,000-a-year pension. Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice says:
Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.
Our view is that if Mattis has real, legitimate concerns, he should share those and dare the administration to punish him. It's true, $250,000 is a lot of money, but Team Trump may fear the optics of a court-martial like this, and might let it go. Further, Mattis has many other sources of income (book royalties, seats on corporate boards), and it's likely that the next administration would pardon him if he was found guilty in a court martial and restore the lost pay. So, the risk is not so great, particularly if his loyalty is to the Constitution above all else. Alternatively, Mattis could just wait until Trump leaves office, and then write his book.
Instead of taking either of these approaches, however, the General seems to be trying to have his cake and eat it, too. He says just enough to keep people listening to/watching his interviews, and thus buying books, but nothing that could get him in trouble, nor anything that is particularly useful for the voting public. Taken as a whole, it looks an awful lot like Mattis' duty is to himself and his bank account, and not to the American people or to the office of the president. And the generally unsavory nature of all of this is going to make it easy for Trump to attack Mattis as a malcontent and someone who is not a team player. (Z)
There have been a couple of Donald Trump vs. Democrat matchup polls, in the last week, one of them a national survey (from Quinnipiac) and one of them a survey of Michigan (from EPIC-MRA). Here are the results:
|Candidate||Dem. %||Trump %||Net||Dem. %||Trump %||Net|
No incumbent has fared so poorly against his hypothetical opponents at this point in the process since the age of polling got underway about 80 years ago. These figures also comport pretty well with our general sense of the election, as it stands at the moment. That is to say, Biden is the most "electable" candidate, but his margin over Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is fairly modest. As with most elections featuring an incumbent, it's shaping up to be a thumbs up/thumbs down on Trump, with the identity of the challenger not actually mattering all that much. And, if the current situation holds, Trump would certainly lose to any candidate the blue team puts up. Yes, Marianne, you can hope. (Z)
And now, let's look at Donald Trump's reelection chances in a different way. Morning Consult has been tracking the President's approval, by state, on a month-by-month basis. That means that their data serves as a form of tracking poll. And here is how he's done, since taking office, in all of the potential swing states (states he won in 2016 are colored red, states he lost are colored blue, and Maine is beige because that state's EVs were split):
|State||Net Approval, Jan. 2017||Net Approval, Now||Change|
One is reluctant to make pronouncements about Trump's unelectability, given what happened in 2016, but such a slide is simply not survivable for a man who won an election by the thinnest of margins, especially since most of the worst downturns are in states he won. Note also that he's down 18-20 net points of favorability in the three states where he eked out victories by less than 80,000 votes total (Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania). If he cannot reverse these trends, at least to some extent, then it points to the same thing as the numbers in the previous item: he will lose to any candidate the Democrats put forward.
What we expect he will do—although any predictions about Trump, from anyone, us included, should be taken with a barrel of salt—is try to destroy his opponent one way or another. He could find some flaw his opponent has and make the entire campaign about it. Can you imagine a campaign that revolved around an email server? Actually, probably you can, but if someone had asked you in 2015 what will the 2016 campaign be about, chances are "email server" would not top the list. Could 2020 be about Biden's 1988 plagiarism, Warren's divorce, Sanders' honeymoon, Buttigieg's husband? We're not going there, but Trump might. He might have to. He has nowhere else to go. (Z)
Given that Donald Trump has attacked Fox News and its personalities several times in the past few weeks, and that some of those Fox News personalities have fought back, there have been many stories about how the former best buds have now fallen out (like this one, this one, this one, this one, and this one), and how the relationship between the President and his onetime favorite news channel has turned sour.
Don't believe it. Certainly, there are some Fox personalities that Trump could do without (Shep Smith, for example), and he also doesn't like any non-negative coverage of Democrats. However, the channel did just hire his former press secretary, and he's still full of praise (and giving of his time) for folks like Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro. Politico's Jack Shafer, who tends to be pretty sharp in his media analysis, suggests that the Fox-Trump "beef" should be viewed through the lens of the President's former career as a wrestling star. That is to say, "wrestling" with the cable channel provides some useful summer entertainment (and a nice distraction from adverse headlines), but there's no real substance behind it.
On top of that, it actually serves both Trump's needs and Fox's needs if people perceive an adversarial or semi-adversarial relationship. That perception makes it less likely that positive Fox coverage of the President will be attributed to them being "in the bag" for him. However, until such time as he stops giving so freely of his time to Fox (and nobody else) and he stops tweeting praise for folks like Hannity, then you should assume the channel is as much "in the bag" for him as they've always been, and that he knows it. (Z)
Last week, Donald Trump fired his personal assistant Madeleine Westerhout. Technically, she "resigned," but she did so after being told she had no job anymore, that her access to the White House had been revoked, and that all of her computer passwords had been changed. Her sin was spilling some Trump family dirt to a reporter, off the record, which somehow got back to the President.
We now know what the dirt was. Apparently, Westerhout said that she was closer with Trump than his own daughters are, that the President is particularly not-close with daughter Tiffany (so much so that he would struggle to pick her out of a crowd), and that he doesn't like to be photographed next to Tiffany because he thinks she is fat.
Trump did not deny that Westerhout said these things, but he did deny that she was telling the truth, insisting that, "I love Tiffany." So, we have a "she said, he said" situation, here. Of course, the "he" in this situation has told more than 12,000 lies since becoming president, was reluctant to give his name to his son in case the son grew up to be "a loser," and has admitted that he wanted Marla Maples to get an abortion when she got pregnant with Tiffany. So, we have a pretty good guess as to whether or not Westerhout was telling the truth when talking to that reporter. (Z)
Georgia, as it urbanizes and modernizes, thus attracting highly educated workers from other states, is slowly turning purple, and may one day be blue again. The state's Republicans are doing everything they can to delay the arrival of that day. The headlines have been full of reports of shady behavior from GOP politicians, from Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) on down, and of strange anomalies in the state's 2018 election results. Anomalies that Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R-GA) says he has no interest in investigating, incidentally.
The latest news is that Georgia's GOP muckety-mucks are engaged in what might be described as systematic abuse of process. Following in the footsteps of Kemp, who did the same thing when he was Georgia's secretary of state, Raffensperger and executive secretary of the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission David Emadi (R-GA) are giving out subpoenas to political opponents like they are candy. That includes people who have criticized Kemp, Raffensperger, or Emadi; liberal activist groups, civil rights groups, and get-out-the-vote activists (particularly those who focus on minority communities). The subpoenas are issued without evidence of wrongdoing, and not a one has produced a conviction, so the subpoena campaign's purpose certainly appears to be intimidating Democratic voters.
This sort of behavior is not so easy to fight back against, since courts are leery of interfering with the work of elected officials, and it's very hard to prove that Raffensperger, Emadi, et al., are acting in bad faith. That said, the hackles of Georgia's Democratic voters are raised, and the eyes of many heavy-hitters (e.g., the ACLU, Common Cause, the NAACP) are laser-focused on the Peach State. So, there's a good chance that the apparent campaign of intimidation, and the other shenanigans, will backfire on the Georgia GOP. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec31 Trump May Have Broken the Law Twice Over the Weekend
Dec31 James Mattis Keeps Popping Off
Dec31 Bad Numbers for Trump, Part I: Voter Preferences
Dec31 Bad Numbers for Trump, Part II: Approval Rating
Dec31 Trump vs. Fox News Is Fake News
Dec31 Madeleine Westerhout Mystery Is Solved
Dec31 More Dirty Tricks from Georgia Republicans
Sep02 New Tariffs Kicked in Yesterday
Sep02 Trump Backs Off Background Checks
Sep02 Independents Think Trump Has a Better Economic Plan Than the Democrats
Sep02 DNC Opposes the Iowa and Nevada Virtual Caucuses
Sep02 Other Democrats Are Beginning to Go After Warren
Sep02 Dates of Fourth Debate Have Been Announced
Sep02 McCready Leads in NC-09 Special Election
Sep02 Shimkus Won't Run in 2020
Sep02 Republicans Line up to Primary Chris Collins
Aug30 Anarchy in the U.K.
Aug30 Trump Cancels Poland Trip
Aug30 Ghosts of Trump Administration's Past
Aug30 Trump's Personal Assistant "Resigns"
Aug30 Judge Won't Fast-Track Tax Return Lawsuit
Aug30 Is Something Rotten in the State of Georgia?
Aug30 Friday Q&A
Aug29 Biden Answered Questions from Black Reporters for an Hour and a Half
Aug29 Two New Polls: Biden Is Back on Top
Aug29 Only 10 Candidates Qualify for the Third Debate
Aug29 Another Candidate Bites the Dust
Aug29 Johnny Isakson Will Resign at the End of This Year
Aug29 Trump Thinks of a New Way to Support Our Troops
Aug29 GOP Pulls Out all the Stops in NC-09
Aug28 Trump Barely Even Trying to Avoid Conflicts of Interest Anymore
Aug28 FEC Rendered Toothless
Aug28 The Farmers Aren't Happy
Aug28 Deutsche Bank Clearly Has Trump's Tax Returns
Aug28 Trump Derides Republican Challengers as "Three Stooges"
Aug28 Warren May Still Have a "Pocahontas" Problem
Aug28 Wednesday Q&A
Aug27 Trump Barely Even Trying to Tell Plausible Lies Anymore
Aug27 Rough Day for Biden
Aug27 Obama Announces Anti-Gerrymandering Initiative
Aug27 Democrats Target State Legislatures
Aug27 Kennedy May Mount Senate Bid
Aug27 Rep. Sean Duffy to Retire
Aug27 Sarah Huckabee Sanders Launches Website
Aug27 No Patriots at the White House
Aug26 Trump Bumbles at the G7 Meeting
Aug26 DNC Votes Down Single-Issue Debates
Aug26 Trump Wants to Cut Social Security and Medicare in His Second Term
Aug26 Trump Could Pocket Millions If Interest Rates Go Down