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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  The Curious Case of the Alabama Hurricane
      •  China, U.S. To Talk Trade in October
      •  Mike Pence, Diplomat
      •  House Judiciary Committee Wants to Know More About Trump's Pardon Offer
      •  Sarah Huckabee Sanders Is Writing a Book
      •  A House Democrat Retires

Note: we have repeatedly said that's it's still early in the cycle and much can change. To back that up, at the bottom of the legend box to the right of the map there is a link "This date in 2015." Clicking on the year takes you to our page on today's date in 2015 so you can see what we (and others) thought of the presidential and other races back then. From that page, you can use the "Previous report" and "Next report" links to go forward or backward in time. The Senate link on those pages also works. You can also just edit the address bar to put in a specific date (also for other years back to 2008, although we didn't post every day in every year).

Particularly interesting is Sept. 7, 2015 (tomorrow 4 years ago) in which we ranked the Republican candidates and explained our ranking (wipe egg from face). But our view wasn't all that different from the consensus view. If anything, we had Donald Trump higher than the majority of pundits. By going forward and backward in 2015, you can see how the 2016 election developed and why we keep saying "things can change." While we are a bit embarrassed by what we predicted back then ("Trump would be crushed by Clinton"), at least we are willing to own it. While history doesn't repeat itself (exactly), sometimes current news is (in the immortal words of Yogi Berra) déjà vu all over again.

The Curious Case of the Alabama Hurricane

It really should have been a minor error. When Donald Trump tweeted that Hurricane Dorian was going to hit Alabama, in addition to Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas, he was clearly in error. That's plausible for a hurricane that originates in the Gulf of Mexico, but not really for one that originated in the Atlantic Ocean. The U.S. Weather Service quickly corrected the misstatement, so as to forestall unnecessary panic in the Yellowhammer State. Trump could have tweeted something very simple thereafter, like "Oops--strike Alabama from the list, and if you're a resident of Florida, Georgia, or the Carolinas, be safe." Alternatively, he could have said nothing and allowed the erroneous tweet to disappear into the ether. After all, he managed to crank out nearly 100 other tweets over the course of the Labor Day Weekend.

Of course, even a minor correction is not Trump's style. Nor is it his style to let it go when he feels he's been publicly corrected (and thus embarrassed) by his underlings. And so, he has managed to convert a total non-story into a five-day (and counting) saga that, if you tried to write it into a movie script, the audience wouldn't buy. Most obviously, and most notoriously, Trump showed a map to reporters on Wednesday that had been clumsily altered with a Sharpie in order to "show" that Alabama really was in the hurricane's path:

Someone has drawn a black mark on the map
that extends the otherwise white outline of the hurricane's path. One can hardly imagine something more amateurish.

Nobody, including Trump, seems to know who altered the map. What Trump is certain about, however, is that the doctored map is the "correct" one, and he's continuously defended that. That includes calling a Fox News correspondent into the Oval Office to read him the riot act about "correct" maps, which Trump did on Thursday. It also includes dispatching subordinates to defend the administration's alternative facts, most obviously Rear Adm. Peter Brown, who said it was he who first suggested to the President that Alabama could be affected.

Any other administration (well, with the possible exception of the George W. Bush administration) would have moved on from this whole mess days ago. There is simply no political benefit to Trump here. His base is not impressed by phony hurricane paths. If he wants to rail against fake news, there are multiple opportunities for the President to cook something up on a daily basis. And there's no ongoing major embarrassment that this major embarrassment is distracting voters' attention from.

On the other hand, Alabamagate is working to Trump's detriment, in at least a couple of ways. First of all, the whole thing is so ridiculous that it's turning him into an object of derision and mockery. Yes, he's derided and mocked all the time, but this is at a different level, kind of like the derision and mockery after the (rather similar) inauguration photo business at the start of his term. In addition, with people still facing the possibility of a hurricane hit, or else picking up the pieces after having already been hit, this is a time for presidential leadership. Obsessing over a tweet from five days ago, and whether or not it was correct, makes Trump look small and self-centered.

Who knows, for sure, what causes Trump's need to always be right, and to never, ever back down? Clearly, there's something going on here that is squarely in the realm of dysfunction, where it's some form of narcissistic personality disorder, or pseudologia fantastica, or sociopathy, or a form of compulsion, or something else. However, the real lesson here is encapsulated in the famous quote from the 19th century politician Henry Clay, who said, "I had rather be right than president." In Clay's case, he meant that he would prefer to be on the morally correct side of an issue than the politically expedient side, if he had to choose. In Trump's case, on the other hand, it's a more literal description. He cares about being "correct" and about never backing down more than anything, even his own political fortunes. That, in turn, implies that if he has a choice between backing down on some firmly-established position, or losing the election, in 2020, we know which he will pick. For example, the trade war with China (more below)... (Z)

China, U.S. To Talk Trade in October

For those who hope for economic peace between the United States and China, there was some good news on Thursday. Talks between American and Chinese officials have been scheduled for early October. Maybe they can sing a few choruses of "kumbaya" and figure this whole mess out.

But probably not. To start with, while meetings have been scheduled, they haven't been held yet. Taking note of how many times things like this have fallen apart in the past three years, it is wise not to count one's chickens before one's eggs hatch. Further, the Chinese are more than willing to play the long game, especially since that increases the odds that Trump will be unseated, giving them a better negotiating partner. Xi Jinping would need some pretty juicy concessions if he's going to back off the trade war.

And that brings us to a third problem. Donald Trump has given absolutely no indication that he understands that business and diplomacy are not the same thing, and that what worked in his previous career will not work in this one. He thinks that because the United States is the bigger and richer country, it can strong-arm the Chinese into a deal that is almost entirely on American terms. That's not the case, but Trump is an old dog, and not likely to learn any new tricks. He also does not like to back down, show weakness, or otherwise admit that he misconstrued a situation (see above). So, it is unlikely that there is room for an agreement that will be acceptable to both sides.

Since saving face is extremely important to both sides—and for Trump it is maybe the only thing that matters—it is possible that there will be an agreement, but one that doesn't amount to a hill of (soy)beans. For example, China could agree to buy a million tons of soybeans next year (vs. 21 million tons in 2017) in return for Trump delaying some tariffs until an unspecified date in the future. See, easy! Everybody wins. Or as Shakespeare put it: "It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." (Z)

Mike Pence, Diplomat

Vice President Mike Pence is touring Europe right now and it's not going well. He made a lot of the wrong type of headlines by choosing to stay in Doonbeg while visiting Ireland, since Doonbeg is not very close to Dublin (where Pence's meetings were held), but is very much a Trump-owned golf course. Then, during those meetings in Dublin, Pence committed a huge diplomatic faux pas, praising Prime Minister Boris Johnson and affirming the United States' support for Brexit. This is Diplomacy 101 stuff; anyone in Pence's position should know that: (1) the relationship between England and Ireland is fraught, even at the best of times, and (2) Brexit is a particularly divisive issue between the two countries. He has nothing useful to add to that. The Irish were furious; they felt Pence had humiliated them, and one commentator went so far as to characterize Pence's visit thusly: "[It's] like pulling out all the stops for a much-anticipated visitor to your home and thinking it has been a great success until somebody discovers he shat on the new carpet in the spare room." By the time Pence touched down in Reykjavik for his next national visit, the Icelanders had decided that they would poke Pence in the eye before Pence could poke them (or could soil their carpets). So, they made sure he was greeted by lots and lots of rainbow (i.e., pro-LGBTQ) flags.

We mention this sequence of events for two reasons. First, we often get questions about how electable Mike Pence is in his own right. We even answered one of them in the most recent Q&A, and said we don't think he's got a prayer of being elected. What's been unfolding in Europe is proof of concept; he's simply not a very talented politician. It's true that he was elected to the House of Representatives several times, and that he was also elected governor of Indiana, which would seem to suggest he has some serious political chops. However, the two districts he represented were very red (R+11, R+18), and even then he did not achieve victory until his third run for the House. Meanwhile, in his gubernatorial run, despite Indiana's red hue, he failed to claim a majority of the vote, and in fact won the Indiana governor's mansion by the narrowest margin in half a century (49.5% to 46.5%). It is also generally believed that if he had run again, he would have lost (which is why he eagerly accepted the #2 slot on the Trump ticket). Point is: If even the voters who know him best are not so sure about Pence, then it would be very difficult for him to succeed on a nationwide basis (with Trump being an admitted exception to the general rule). Pence's shaky performance as VP, both his slipups and his obvious pandering to Trump (which makes Pence look weak), are not going to help his chances.

In addition, there is the question of Pence's status on the 2020 GOP ticket. It is true that Trump has already said he's not changing running mates. However, it is also true that the very worst thing a Trump underling can do is embarrass the administration, and Pence is doing that. Further, it is true that the rumors of tensions between Team Trump and Team Pence are getting louder and more frequent. Finally, it is true that Trump tends to get enamored with shiny objects, kind of like a cat does. A different VP, whether someone historic like the first woman of color to be on a national ticket (e.g., Nikki Haley), or someone that Trump just likes and trusts more than Pence (e.g., Ivanka) would be a very shiny object, indeed. So, the odds are growing that Pence becomes the first sitting VP to be cut loose for the reelection campaign since Henry Wallace in 1944. (Z)

House Judiciary Committee Wants to Know More About Trump's Pardon Offer

Last week, it was reported that Donald Trump had told his underlings to do whatever it takes to get the border wall built, and that if that meant breaking the law, he would pardon them. When this became public, the White House did not deny that Trump had said that, but insisted that it was just a joke, and this was a non-story. The House Judiciary Committee, particularly its chair Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), is not so sure. So, the Committee has subpoenaed the Department of Homeland Security for notes from the two meetings where Trump reportedly made the offer.

This story has gotten relatively little attention, largely because there hasn't been much to report beyond what was revealed last week. However, Trump is more exposed here than he probably realizes. Legally speaking, it doesn't matter at all whether or not the pardons were actually given, only that they were offered. Further, even if he thought it was a joke, what actually matters is what his underlings heard. If they believed it was a straight offer, then that would be enough to make it an illegal bribe. And, as you may have heard, Nadler & Co. are also looking into other incidents of corrupt or illegal behavior on the part of the President. So the odds are, sooner or later, Trump is going to get badly ensnared in Nadler's net. (Z)

Sarah Huckabee Sanders Is Writing a Book

Sarah Sanders, fresh off of her resignation as Donald Trump's press secretary, has been a busy (Hucka-)bee. She took a job at Fox News, unveiled a new website, and is trying to land consulting gigs through a firm founded by former members of the Clinton administration. On Thursday, Sanders announced her latest project, a book to be published shortly before next year's election.

According to the press release, the book will talk about Sanders' experiences "fighting" for Donald Trump. So, the odds that it will be anything other than an advertisement for Trump 2020 are approximately zero. The odds that you will need to buy crayons in order to make use of the book, on the other hand, are a tad higher. In any event, the real story here is that Sanders is doing everything that is necessary to build a post-Trump political career. So, she's not going away anytime soon. (Z)

A House Democrat Retires

Republican members of the House have been dropping like flies. Democratic members, by contrast, have largely held firm. Only three of them had announced their retirement prior to this week, and in one of those cases, the retirement was due to serious health issues (Jose Serrano), while in another it was so the candidate could run for the U.S. Senate (Ben Ray Luján). Late Wednesday, however, Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA) became the fourth Democrat to throw in the towel, and the second (joining Dave Loebsack) to be done just because she's done. She said she wants to live and work in San Diego, not Washington (and who can blame her?). Her district, CA-53, is D+14, is not likely to be in play, and several promising Democrats have already hinted at runs.

Even with Davis' retirement, the GOP has still lost significantly more members thus far, 15 to 4. And nearly all of the Republicans who jumped ship did so because they are done with politics, not because of health or runs for some other office. In the next month or so, we should get a sense of exactly how long the list will grow. First, because the deadlines to file for office are coming up, and retirees have to allowed their preferred successors time to put together a campaign. Second, because next Tuesday's election in NC-09 could send a chill down the spines of the entire GOP House caucus, if Democrat Dan McCready wins in the very red district (R+8), or even if he loses in a close contest.

On that note, North Carolina has ended early voting in the district due to Hurricane Dorian. Since Democrats had already cast more early votes than Republicans in the race, and since Democrats are more likely in general to make use of early voting, that decision presumably favors Republican candidate Dan Bishop, at least a little bit. On the other hand, the state's Democrats are very eager to win the seat, and North Carolinians are used to casting ballots in the midst of hurricane season. The optics of Donald Trump holding a rally on the eve of the election, given his Dorian-related fumbling (see above), should also be interesting. Anyhow, we will know how it all turns out in just a few days. (Z)

We'll get back to the Q&A as soon as possible. Switching to the new front page was more work than you might think.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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