Donald Trump really loves tariffs, and has for at least 40 years. However, he hates losing, and the polling numbers we're seeing these days (more below) suggest he's in deep trouble. That trouble will get worse—maybe a little, probably a lot—if the economy tanks, and so on Tuesday, Trump backed down his Chinese tariffs, at least a little bit, announcing that the next round of duties imposed would take effect on Dec. 15, and not Sept 1.
The President's stated purpose for the delay was that he didn't want people to feel the pinch during the Christmas holidays. That may well be true, and is politically astute. Voters are unforgiving if they cannot afford that toy for junior. On the other hand, if the tariffs are going to tank the economy, then postponing it for a few months means the effect will hit at the height of election season. That's not so politically astute.
And indeed, there is much evidence that the tariffs do threaten to derail the economy. The Dow Jones and other indices have taken several serious dips since Trump announced the latest round of tariffs, and they rallied when Trump announced the tariff postponement. That said, Wall Street remains very skittish, in large part because they realize that laying out a plan for what will happen with the tariffs in the next six months is a nearly surefire sign that there won't be a trade deal with China anytime soon, which means the trade war is here to stay.
In addition to the economic turmoil, the President has another headache on his hands, namely the ongoing unrest in Hong Kong. Some, including many in the Chinese government, think the United States is behind it. Who knows how true that is, but what is much clearer is that Xi Jinping is getting ready to crack down harshly, and Trump has no plan for what to do. "The Hong Kong thing is a very tough situation. I hope it works out peacefully. I hope nobody gets hurt. I hope nobody gets killed," he said. If things spiral out of control, it would be a very bad look for the White House, whether the U.S. gets more directly involved or it looks the other way, and would even further inflame tensions between the U.S. and China. That is particularly true if Taiwan is the next target, as many fear will be the case.
In short, the administration may be on the brink of its first full-blown foreign crisis. This one would even tax a skilled diplomat like Richard Nixon or Franklin D. Roosevelt, which means it's way, way above the pay grade of Trump and the other folks in the White House right now. (Z)
Stacey Abrams, the recently defeated Democratic candidate for governor of Georgia, has annnounced her current plans for 2020: She's going to work in battleground states to make sure voter rights are protected against things like Voter ID laws and other types of disenfranchising behavior that disproportionately affects minorities. Inasmuch as that is a pretty big task, and inasmuch as Abrams said she would announce by Labor Day (19 days from now) if she was going to run for president, Tuesday's announcement effectively means she's not going to join the two-dozen-strong Democratic presidential field.
This is a very shrewd move by Abrams. Given that election irregularities may have cost her the race against Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA), she has some expertise in this area, as well as ample credibility. Working on this project will let her help the Democratic Party in a palpable way, while also allowing her to network with many of the Party's pooh-bahs. She also avoids a potential second electoral defeat in three years; candidates who lose twice like that are often perceived as damaged goods. And finally, this will allow her to stay above the presidential fray, not stepping on any toes, should the eventual Democratic nominee decide that a young, black, dynamic, female candidate might balance their ticket nicely. She might be the only Democrat in the country who could plausibly be paired with any of the three leading presidential candidates (we would definitely be in a brave, new, Y-chromosome-free world, of course, if the Party ran a Warren/Abrams ticket). (Z)
Jeffrey Epstein is dead, to begin with—there's no doubt about that. However, the circumstances of his death continue to raise questions. At worst, there is a conspiracy afoot, and many corners of the Internet are obsessed with rooting it out. More likely, however, is that we're looking at garden-variety incompetence, as a man who tried to commit suicide several weeks ago should not have been removed from the watchlist so casually and so quickly.
We still don't know what really happened (and may never know), but the New York Times is reporting that the two guards who were in charge of Epstein's unit were so overworked due to staff shortages that they fell asleep and didn't check on him for 3 hours. As a corollary to Occam's Razor, never assume malicious intent when mere incompetence will explain the facts.
It was AG Bill Barr who had ultimate supervisory responsibility for what happened. In other words, the buck stops with him. Indeed, the Epstein suicide bears some similarity to what happened with Hillary Clinton and Benghazi, a subject that got just a wee bit of attention from Republicans. That said, there is one major difference, namely that Clinton had no indication that the Benghazi situation was about to go south, while Barr could absolutely have foreseen what happened with Epstein.
The upshot is that, for the second or third time in as many months, a harsh spotlight is on the AG, including from some Republican members of Congress, and from some in the right-wing media. Donald Trump would hate to lose such a loyalist, particularly after being so unhappy with the former AG, Jeff Sessions. On the other hand, the President hates to look bad even more, and if the heat does not die down, he may decide he has no choice but to swing the ax. Recall how quickly Alex Acosta was swept from office just a few weeks ago. If Trump's cabinet ultimately does find itself dis-Barred, that would mean that Epstein, a sex offender and trafficker of adolescent girls, would be responsible for the fall of two cabinet secretaries in less than a month. (Z)
Yesterday, we ran a series of items in which we tried to make the point that the current iteration of the GOP has little identity, beyond being the party of Donald Trump. And one side effect of that is that it's not so easy to recruit good candidates for office, as few people (if any) have the President's rather unique ability to unify people around his message. This is illustrated by two high-profile Republicans who are making noise about running. What these two fellows have in common is that they are both mini-Trumps, and they both have virtually no chance of winning.
Let's start in New Hampshire, where it is getting more and more likely that former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski will run for the right to challenge Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). David Bossie, president of Citizens United, is enthusiastic about the possibility, and has commissioned a poll that shows that Lewandowski would lead the Republican field if he was to announce a run. The President is also reportedly keen to have Lewandowski run, and it's entirely possible that an official announcement will be made when Trump holds a rally in the Granite State on Thursday.
If Lewandowski does run, he will be a very weak candidate. First, note how carefully Bossie crafted his poll: while Republican frontrunner status is likely, Lewandowski would only start with the support of about a third of the state's GOP voters. That's not a great position. There was no polling of a hypothetical matchup with Shaheen, because Bossie knows Lewandowski would get trounced. Bossie is arguing that a full-throated Trump endorsement would buoy Lewandowski's hopes in the state, but not so fast. Trump's approval rating in the state stands at 40%, while his disapproval is at 57%. Even if every single person who approves of Trump throws their support behind Lewandowski, the would-be senator would still need a sizable number of voters who don't approve of the President. That's not too likely to happen if the two men are joined at the hip.
On top of all of this, Lewandowski has some serious baggage. To start, there was his alleged assault of a female reporter. Although the charges were dropped, that does not mean that voters have forgotten the incident. Lewandowski also has a habit of making controversial statements, and he has a long (and sometimes questionable) history as a lobbyist, which could come back to haunt him. Finally, although he's lived and worked in New Hampshire for a fair portion of his adult life, and although he has a house there now, he's spent considerably more time outside the state, and he grew up in Massachusetts. That makes him something of a carpetbagger, which will turn off some voters.
Way on the other side of the country, meanwhile, is Arizona, where the fellow who is talking about running is...former Arizona Diamondbacks (and Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies) pitcher Curt Schilling. Unlike Lewandowski, he never had a formal role with the President's campaign. His mini-Trump status comes in a different way, as Schilling is rather notorious for posting racist and anti-Muslim tweets to Twitter, and for calling for violence against journalists. Sound familiar? As a bonus, Schilling also ran his post-baseball business (a video game company) into the ground, leaving the state of Rhode Island out of luck on a $50 million loan it had provided to encourage him to move his operation there.
Trump, who does not exactly help make his case that he's not a racist with endorsements of people like Schilling, is thrilled about the possibility of a run by the former pitcher:
Curt Schilling, a great pitcher and patriot, is considering a run for Congress in Arizona. Terrific! @foxandfriends— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 13, 2019
It is not clear if Schilling would run for the House or for the Senate. The last time he talked about a run for office, he was eyeing Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-MA) seat, but if he tried to take on Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) in 2020, he would never get the support of the GOP establishment. So, he might have to settle for a House seat, if he did run.
Whatever Schilling does, he's not going to win, and he could actively harm the GOP. He has much in common with former Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio (in fact, the two are friends). And even conservative Arizonans grew tired of that brand of politics, booting Arpaio from office, and then handing him a humiliating third-place finish when he tried a Senate run. There's no reason to think Schilling would do better, sports fame or not. And then, consider that Schilling constantly issues forth with the kind of hair-raising statements that Donald Trump gets away with, but no other politician does. He would make Todd "legitimate rape" Akin's campaign look like a walk in the park. All of this could serve to taint the Arizona GOP as a whole, and also to block a stronger candidate from running.
This is an issue that is going to come up a lot in the next year or so: As the GOP tries to save those Congressional seats that are being left open by retirements, or to steal a few seats back from the blue team, how are they going to find candidates that can appeal to the President's base, but can also pick up the additional votes needed to win an election? As you will recall, the Electoral College does not weigh in on Congressional races, so losing to one's opponent by 3-4% will not get it done. (Z)
Given that this isn't even a presidential election year, there are an awful lot of presidential election polls these days. Let's take a look at how Donald Trump is doing against the leading Democrats this week nationwide (SurveyUSA and IBD/TIPP), as well as in Texas (DMN/Emerson), North Carolina (Civitas/SurveyUSA), and California (KGTV-TV/SurveyUSA):
That is a grim collection of data for Trump. There is just no other way to slice it. A few specific observations:
Running even, or nearly even, in state polls may be enough for Trump (more below). But he can't put on a full-court defense everywhere, and he can't overcome a gap of more than 4-5 points. Further, if the Southern states are in serious doubt, it is likely that most or all of the rust belt states are goners. (Z)
Clearly, Donald Trump is not doing too well against the leading Democrats, polling wise. He's also not doing too well on his own merits. In the last 10 days, five different polling houses have asked respondents about the direction the country is headed: Rasmussen, Politico/Morning Consult, Economist/YouGov, Reuters/Ipsos, and Harvard-Harris. Here are their findings in one chart:
|Pollster||Right Direction||Wrong Direction||Net|
This is about as grim as the chart in the previous item. A presidential reelection bid is largely a referendum on the incumbent, and right now the voting public is not happy. Trump can certainly overcome some of this. There are undoubtedly some voters who think that the country is on the wrong track, and that the only solution is even more Trump. On top of that, and probably more significantly, Trump 2020 is counting on his ability to gin up the base, and to create higher enthusiasm among his voters than among the opposition's voters. After all, if you get 75% of your 42% to the polling place, that's more than if the other side gets 60% of their 50% out to vote.
However, even if these factors break in Trump's favor, they can only carry him so far. It is inconceivable that he can win if 60% of the voting public believes that the nation is headed in the wrong direction when they cast their ballots on Nov. 5, 2020. (Z)
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) won't be campaigning for the next two weeks. She won't be in Washington taking care of her day job, either. No, consistent with her military obligations, she will be performing her mandatory annual active service, participating in training exercises in Indonesia.
Is this bad news for the Gabbard campaign? Maybe not. She's not making much headway right now, anyhow, and the spate of stories about her suspension of her campaign (every outlet had an item) will probably win her more brownie points than going to Iowa and eating fried corn on the cob would. Undoubtedly, once the Representative returns to her campaign, her speeches and interviews will be chock full of reminders of where she was and what she was doing. This is not to say that her service is a charade, because it's not, merely that it will probably have equal or more PR benefit compared to actually campaigning.
There is someone who is very disappointed about this, however, and it is...Joe Biden. Gabbard has set her sights on Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), which helps Team Biden, because it takes a serious rival down a peg while allowing the former VP to keep his hands clean. Reportedly, the Biden campaign is working behind the scenes to help get Gabbard qualified for the next debate. Whether it works, we do learn one thing from all of this: Biden is nervous about Harris.
The technique the Biden campaign is apparently employing, as we have pointed out before, has a not-so-printable name that it acquired during the Richard Nixon years. And Team Biden is not the only one allegedly doing it right now. The NRSC is paying for billboards in Colorado, Georgia, Maine and North Carolina, in an effort to help lower-tier Democrats in their races against the blue team's frontrunners. As with the Biden campaign, this tells us at least one thing: The GOP is nervous about those four states, all of which are currently in Republican hands (those of Cory Gardner, David Perdue, Susan Collins, and Thom Tillis, respectively). (Z)