Wednesday, August 21, 2019

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Peak Trump: Another News Cycle Chock-a-Block Full of the Shocking But Not Surprising

The Economy

Contradicts a day-old White House statement that a payroll tax cut is not under consideration….

…While he floats measures to forestall recession that don’t seem like to happen.

WashPost; “On Capitol Hill, Republicans and Democrats are scratching their heads at yet another Trump effort they say is likely to go nowhere.”

Denies weakness in the economy, while blaming the Fed for weakening the economy.

Faces criticism of his modus operandi from Establishment Republicans.

WSJ: “Veterans of previous administrations questioned the White House’s publicly floating various policy proposals to address the economy. ‘It’s not a particularly coherent economic and political strategy,’ said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former chief economist for the White House Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush. Mr. Holtz-Eakin, who doesn’t think a downturn is imminent, criticized the ‘sort of public floating of these weird ideas.’”

My take:  Politically weak presidents in divided government (who lack sway over the opposition party) don’t have very many tools in the toolbox or arrows in the quiver. 

New tax cutting, via legislation or executive action? From DOA to unlikely.

Getting a near-term China deal that creates an economic boom?  Hard to see.

Jawboning the Fed into submission? Possible but neither definite nor determinative.

Trump is beginning to look a bit like the president he least wants to emulate, Bush 41, the last incumbent to lose re-election.

*Struggling to talk about the economy in a way that balances optimism and a concern for those who are hurting and worried about the future.

*Floating policy ideas that are some combination of unlikely to help and unlikely to happen.

*Talking in a way meant to inspire confidence that in fact undermines the confidence of both consumers and business.

*Presiding over policymaking and re-election apparatuses in a way that lets factionalism and strategic differences lead to paralysis, instead of decisive action. 

*Seeking lots of advice, but in the end, relying on his own instincts and those of a small group of advisers.

*Believing that, in the end, the Democrats will nominate someone too weak to beat him, even if the economy is struggling.

Gun Safety

Lets the NRA set his gun safety legislative agenda.

Waffles on guns in a way that encourages congressional Republicans to downplay the prospect of Senate action.

Gets called wishy-washy, even by allies.

Politico: “’I don’t want to over-read this,’ said Michael Hammond, legislative counsel for Gun Owners of America, which opposes new gun restrictions. ‘He likes to make the person he’s speaking to happy, so he says what they want to hear.’”

My take:  The prospects of new, significant gun safety measures are at their low point since El Paso and Dayton.  Trump has never been afraid of letting the NRA flaunt its political influence over him.  History suggests that Republican presidents can get away with ignoring national public opinion in favor of gun safety measures.  There is no doubt that voters in California and New York support gun control more than voters in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan do.  Donald Trump is a lot more focused on the latter than the former, and the NRA knows that. 

The onus is now on congressional Democrats and the Gabby Giffords and Mike Bloombergs of the world to change the dynamic and force action.  That means either winning over Hill Republicans, including Mitch McConnell, who aren’t inclined to act unless Trump makes new gun safety measures his passion (and even then…), or making Republicans, including Donald Trump, pay a price in November 2020 for failing to act. 

History would not encourage wagering big on either proposition.  But history changes.  But probably not this time, on this issue.  The best evidence: Donald Trump is entirely craven on gun issues and has better political instincts than he is usually given credit for.   He isn’t beholden to the NRA as much as he is obsessed with getting re-elected.  He’s not standing on principle in backing off of new gun safety measures; he’s being briefed on polling data and seeking a route to 270 electoral votes.

Foreign Policy

Expresses a desire to help out the Russians by getting them back in the G-7/8.

My take: Still one of three biggest Donald Trump mysteries – why he HEARTS Putin so very, very much.

Cancels trip to Denmark because he can’t buy Greenland

My take: This episode is a mini-but-full lesson in how Donald Trump conducts foreign policy with countries ranging from the biggest and most powerful to those who are more modest players on the international stage.  Chaos, personal pique, unorthodox thinking, disregard for norms, comic appeal, head-scratching tweets, and actions that consume the Gang of 500 while being of no concern whatsoever to real Americans.

Says American Jews who vote for Democrats show “either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty”

My take: Insulting Jewish voters is one of those rare cases where the conventional wisdom isn’t off base.  The president is acting crazy on this, not crazy like a fox. Trump’s comments on American Jews were not only wrong and offensive but politically toxic.

Criticizes a Squad member — Rep. Rashida Tlaib — questioning the authenticity of her emotions when talking about her failed attempt to visit Israel.

Said Trump: “Yesterday, I noticed for the first time, Tlaib with the tears.  All of the sudden, she starts with tears, tears. . . . I don’t buy it for a second, because I’ve seen her in a very vicious mood at campaign rallies, my campaign rallies, before she was a congresswoman. I said, ‘Who is that?’ And I saw a woman that was violent and vicious and out of control.”

My take: The media is getting this one incorrect; criticizing The Squad is still smart politics for a president whose main twin goals are to stoke divisions within the Democratic Party and make the Democrats of his choosing the face of the opposition for 2020.  It might be ugly and wrong, but unfortunately, it is likely politically effective.


Benefits from an edge with rural voters, driven by cultural appeals.

Top sports story: His place in Dodgers history already secure, Clayton Kershaw eclipses Sandy Koufax

Top business story: Walmart sues Tesla over solar panel fires at seven stores

Top entertainment story: Apple Card Launches in U.S. With 3% Cash Back on Apple, Uber Purchases

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Tuesday, August 20, 2019

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Old and New

Something old:  The president used two Monday tweets to call for a Fed interest rate cut.

Something new: The White House is reportedly considering a payroll tax cut (except that it denied in a formal statement that it is considering a payroll tax cut).

My take: The administration is still largely in “don’t worry, be happy” mode in its  public economic messaging, not wanting to spook American consumers or businesses any more than they already are. 

But by purposeful or accidental leak, the White House clearly signaled Monday (with major Washington Post, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal stories) that it is looking to have options to juice the economy as much as is necessary in time for November 2020.

The president must know that relying on jawboning the Fed is not enough to protect himself politically. But getting House Democrats to go along with tax cuts of any sort, even the type of payroll tax measures they typically support, is going to be next to impossible.

The important point is that the chief question has now moved from “Will there be a 2020 recession?” to “What does the White House think it can do to head off a 2020 recession?”

Something old: Economists predict a looming recession.

Something new: More say it will happen in 2021 than in 2020 now.

My take: This notion – the recession won’t kick in until after the president is, theoretically, safely re-elected – is probably driving White House rhetoric as much or more than any actual belief (despite Kudlow happy talk) that there are no real economic storm clouds on the horizon.

Something old: Planned Parenthood at odds with Trump administration.

Something new: Planned Parenthood withdraws from Title X funding.

My take: The issue of a reduction in reproductive and health services now moves from the theoretical and legal to the actual.  Real patients, especially in underserved areas, will now almost certainly have more limited access to not just abortion and birth control, but all of Planned Parenthood’s services.  This is clearly a public policy issue for those who support the organization, but it is too soon to say how big a deal the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee can and will make of this fight.

Something old: Elizabeth Warren deals with Native-American heritage claim.

Something new: Elizabeth Warren draws a rally crowd of 12,000 in Minnesota Monday night.

My take: I’ve lost track of the number of consecutive days it has been over which Warren has gotten nothing but positive coverage. As Donald Trump demonstrated in 2016, crowd size is often an actual indication of grassroots support. Warren seems to be leading the field in inspiring passion in progressive voters, and that is a metric that seems fuzzy but in fact could be determinative.  Ask yourself what it would take for Joe Biden to draw 12,000 people under any circumstances.

Something old: Bernie Sanders campaigns with a pop culture celebrity (Susan Sarandon).

Something new: Sanders’ celebrity pal seems to take a shot at Elizabeth Warren’s past Republican affiliation.

My take: Sanders eschews negative campaigning and he genuinely likes Warren. But under the normal rules of nomination politics engagement, even in a multi-candidate field, the Vermonter will at some point have to draw some sort of contrasts with Warren or risk being overwhelmed by her rising star. 

Was Sarandon freelancing or floating a trial balloon?  My Sarandon sources are on summer holiday, so I can’t answer that this morning. But it does seem clear that Sanders’ most logical negative frame to try to put on his Bay State rival is that she is not as true blue a progressive as he is – and her past GOP status is a potentially potent, potentially viral way to encapsulate the distinctions between them.

Something old:Trump waffles on background check measure.

Something old:Schumer and Pelosi assail Trump for his waffling on background check measure.

My take: Reporters are understandably trying to read the tea leaves on what will happen in September.

Here’s the Washington Post: “Trump’s campaign commissioned a poll on guns after this month’s shootings, and his political advisers warned him that there is little support for significant action among Republican voters, and even some Democrats…”

“’He is going to be very careful,’ said one person close to the president, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. ‘He isn’t inclined to do much right now.’

“’I can’t think of a single time he has really pushed Republicans to do something they weren’t going to be doing anyway,’ said Brendan Buck, who served as a top aide to former House speaker Paul Ryan.”

And the New York Times: “White House officials insisted that Mr. Trump would shift back again toward supporting more aggressive legislation in the fall, when lawmakers return from their August recess. But they also said Mr. Trump had sounded less aggressive in private over the past week in discussions about possible gun legislation, a change that coincided with the N.R.A. mounting a full-court press.”

Status quo ante: significant new gun safety legislation will only happen if the president takes on a bold, aggressive, and detail-focused role on a project that will alienate some of his base. 

Donald Trump dreams of the votes of suburban women in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin — but he has nightmares about losing the support of gun owners

Something old:Anthony Scaramucci takes his new anti-Trump stance to TV.

Something new: Anthony Scaramucci takes pen to paper, writing an op-ed for the Washington Post on why he turned against Trump.

My take: One of the potential game changing 2020 dynamics is if a serious contingent of prominent Republicans publicly abandons Trump’s re-election. Scaramucci suggests he want to lead that counter-movement. Doing so would require him to take on a bold, aggressive, and detail-focused role on a project that will alienate some of his base. 

The current betting is that Scaramucci is just slightly more likely to successfully pursue this gambit than Donald Trump is to sign a background check law in the Rose Garden with a smiling Nancy Pelosi standing behind him.

Something old: Another House Democrat comes out for impeachment.

Something new: This time, it is the #4 member of the leadership, Ray Lujan, who has a lot of influence over the House freshpersons he helped elect as DCCC chief.

My take: One the one hand, at some point, if enough House Democrats back impeachment, Speaker Pelosi will have no choice but to declare what Judiciary Chairman Nadler is already doing to be impeachment hearings.  On the other hand, if a careful roadmap and calendar isn’t put in place soon, we will be too close to the Iowa caucuses for Pelosi to give up and give in, given her strong, data-backed belief that impeachment could guarantee Trump’s re-election.

Pelosi’s best friend in this is the likelihood that the Democrats would have to win their current court battles to compel the testimony of key witnesses for any impeachment proceedings to go forward. 

One of the few areas of agreement between Pelosi and the president: they don’t mind at all if the wheels of justice grind sloooooowly on these cases.

Top sports story: On this date: Tiger Woods wins third straight major

Top business story:Apple is spending $6 billion on original shows and trying to beat Disney+ to market

Top entertainment story: James Corden Signs Deal to Host ‘Late Late Show’ Through 2022

Big Four


Warren apologizes for heritage claims as Democratic presidential contenders woo Native Americans in Sioux City.

Michael Bennet banking on moderation in age of Trump.

New Hampshire

Gas prices still falling in northern New England.


Las Vegas Monorail hits snag as Sisolak says no to plan.

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Monday, August 19, 2019

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Present and Future

As America slips from mid-August to late-August, the humidity creates that familiar feeling of suspended animation.

The Era of Trump is often said to be characterized by chaos, constant change, and presidential careening. 

The reality, until and unless a Martian invasion or some other paradigm-shifting event take place, is that news on this Monday morning is typical pure déjà vu all over again, as the political philosopher Yogi Berra once said. 

The fact is, in the Era of Trump, the more things stay the same, the more they stay the same.


The present: President Trump, in Sunday night comments before leaving from New Jersey, as usual, talked up the “Trump Economy,” suggesting everything is just fine.

My take on the future: If the economy gets worse, it would seem that Trump will either have to change his policies or change his rhetoric.  We know he will never change the latter, so re-election might hinge on changing the former….leading to…

The present:Trump’s top political team, on the Sunday shows, as usual, talked up the “Trump Economy,” suggesting everything is just fine.

My take on the future: Despite the personnel chaos that defines much of the president’s government, especially in national and homeland security, Trump’s top economic team has been remarkably stable.   Steven Mnuchin, Mick Mulvaney, Peter Navarro, and (more recently) Larry Kudlow have been calling the economic shots for some time.  If Trump won’t change his rhetoric, and he can’t really change his policies (he’s got no big agenda and the House wouldn’t pass one if he did…), then, like the owner of a failing sports team, the only option might be to start replacing the coaching staff.  But that doesn’t seem likely either, since Mnuchin, Mulvaney, Navarro, and Kudlow all seem to like their jobs enough to have learned how to be good courtiers in the Trump court.  Which means the one big, substantive play the White House has going now on the economy is…

The present: Once again, the push-me-pull-you trade war-slash-negotiations with China.  Tariffs might or might not go on or off, the next round of talks might or might not be scheduled for the fall, Huawei might or might not get a reprieve on doing business with the U.S.

My take on the future: There is an inherent tension between the politically popular rhetoric that Trump has long used to excite voters in his base and beyond (bashing China as an economic outlaw whose actions are destroying America) and the goal of making a deal with China, which, if it happened, would implicitly deem the Chinese trustworthy partners and would by definition involve some compromise that would take the edge off of the notion that Trump was uniquely able to negotiate the deal of the century.  Trump talks like he is playing the Chinese, but at some point before November 2020, absence some hard-to-see-now breakthrough deal, it is going to feel to a lot of voters like China has played Trump.  Which means the president is going to need a scapegoat, in the form of…

The present: Fed Chair Jerome Powell, whose Friday Jackson Hole appearance at the big annual Fed meeting is at this writing likely to provide the marquee moment of the week.  Powell remains a bigger scapegoat for Trump than does Xi Jinping.  One of the few essential reading articles online today is this Wall Street Journal piece on how Powell balances all the equities in his life, including the constant criticism from the president.

My take on the future: Yes, Powell wants to protect the Fed’s independence; yes, Trump’s trade policies make formulating Fed policy more challenging; yes it is often hard to discern the difference between a Goldilocks economy and a slowly-sputtering one.  But it seems that, despite Powell’s good-faith pledge to be his own man, Trump has successfully jawboned his Fed topper into keeping rates low and lower, powered in part by the fact that Trump has something no cloistered Fed chair has, which is…

The present: The most important words in the world of Wide World of News today are from a New York Post column deconstructing Trump’s Thursday New Hampshire rally, which quotes a rally attendee thusly:

“’You really feel he’s talking to you,’ says Nick Isgro, 38, who drove almost three hours from Waterville, Maine, with his 14-year-old son.”

“’He’s the most powerful man in the world, yet he doesn’t feel out of reach. He feels like he’s one of us.’”

My take on the future: Depending on whom the Democrats nominate to take on Trump and how well positioned that person is to beat the incumbent, the words of Nick Isgro are either (a) the best explanation of why Trump will win re-election, or (b) the best explanation of why Trump is in a bubble so blinding that he will think he’s winning up until the moment he loses.  Evidence that the answer could be (b) in the end is that the president is increasingly turning on one of his most important allies…

The present: Once upon a time, Donald Trump attacking Fox News would have definitively been a man-bites-dog story. But he does it so much now (when he doesn’t like a segment, a host, or a poll), that it has become dog-bites-man, as evidenced by the relatively restrained coverage his Sunday night disparagement of Fox gets this morning.

My take on the future: More often than not, when the president lashes out at a person or entity, there is a method to his (apparent) madness.  The current iteration of Fox News is likely to continue to disappoint the president as we move towards Election Day, and his venting is likely to be based on actual expressions of counter-productive (or, at best, useless) frustration and not some strategy.  And things will only get worse for this relationship if Trump gives in to public opinion on….

The present: The major gun safety measures under consideration, which are broadly popular and rate higher than the public’s view of the president’s handling of gun issues.  It makes perfect political sense for the president to work really hard, master the details, lead delicate negotiations, and muscle into place some legislation that can win support from Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell and a healthy majority of the America people.

My take on the future: It makes perfect political sense, unless you consider that it will require the president to work really hard, master the details, lead delicate negotiations, and muscle into place some legislation that can win support from Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell and a healthy majority of the America people.  Doing all that would require there to be a real fire lit under the president, an incentive to reach deep for the fierce urgency of now, which is less likely to happen when the odds on favorite to be his general election opponent remains…

The present: Joe Biden, who still leads in every national and state poll, but the signs of weakness within his own party continue to crop up, such as his questionable online fundraising, continued praise for bipartisan cooperation, and his falling numbers in the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll:

“Former Vice President Joe Biden is viewed positively by 34% and negatively by 38%. A survey taken in January 2018 found Mr. Biden was viewed positively by 54% and negatively by 22%.”

My take on the future: It remains easy to catalogue all the reasons why a Biden nomination seems unlikely, and yet his rivals continue to have their own recurring problem. Exhibit A: Warren, Sanders, and Buttigieg still having trouble cracking the code for more African-American support in South Carolina and beyond.  Until another candidate does that, Biden is the man.

Which means, after several months of huffing and puffing: President Trump and his economic team are still talking up the economy, getting stymied by the Chinese, and talking down Jerome Powell, while the incumbent is still talking down Fox News and reveling in his MAGA-mad base and the apparent weakness of both the Democratic frontrunner and the Democratic field, both pronounced enough in Trump’s mind that he likely doesn’t really feel he needs to push for gun safety in September, because, well, that would be hard and politically risky.

You let me know if any of this changes.  And I will do the same for you.

In other news:

Politico says DC-based diplomats make Trump the favorite for re-election.

An déjà vu moment, this one sad and tragic: an all-too-familiar major attack at an Afghan wedding, in the midst of what are supposed to be final-stage peace talks.

Top sports story: Jets’ Gase blames self for Williamson’s torn ACL

Top business story:The $1 billion-hop across the pond and the other airline routes that make the most money

Top entertainment story: George R.R. Martin Says HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’ Ending Won’t Influence Future Novels

Big Four


Health officials warn of spike in hepatitis A cases in Vegas.

South Carolina

Sanders’ criminal justice plan aims to cut prison population.

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Sunday, August 18, 2019

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In the words of Wonka:
Hold your breath
Make a wish
Count to three
Come with me
And you’ll be
In a world of pure imagination
Take a look and you’ll see
Into your imagination
We’ll begin with a spin
Traveling in the world of my creation

What we’ll see will defy explanation


Hong Kong and Portland are relatively calm.

U.S. consumer spending fades as a balm?

Trump lacks a clear recession killer.

The Post and Times profile StephenMiller.

Dan Balz’s portrait of Trump’s standing is grim.

Elizabeth Warren’s chances ain’t slim.

Monday, Native-Americans and prez candidates meet.

While Dick Cheney sits in a Trump fundraising seat.

Democratic candidates’ donations code cracked.

Douthat explains a recession’s impact.


Hong Kong and Portland are relatively calm.

Portland law enforcement appears to have done a great job dealing with the protests and counter demonstrations.  After a Saturday break, Hong Kong’s freedom fighters are back at it.

My take: News coverage generally does not make it clear if time is on the side of the  Force of the Hong Kong rebels or on the side of the Beijing Empire’s Death Star.  If the choice is to bet on freedom or propaganda, an American president might choose the latter, but history always wagers on the former in the end.

U.S. consumer spending fades as a balm?

Washington Post looks at how the world economy now relies on what props up 70% of America’s economy – the wallets of Uncle Sam’s relatives.

My take: The story suggests consumers might well follow business investors in pulling back over both real-world uncertainty and a run of worrisome headlines.  But at a time of bubbles and anxiety, the two sustaining constants have been U.S. consumer spending and America serving as a safe-haven magnet for foreign investment. A recession might be on the way, but consumers will be among the last to walk away from the punch bowl.

Trump lacks a clear recession killer.

The New York Times view: trade wars–>business pull back–>consumer confidence decline.

My take: Trump can make short-term moves and send distracting tweets to try to day-trade away the instability and uncertainty caused by his trade war with China.  But it is a mortal lock that Labor Day will come and go with no signs of substantial DC-Beijing progress and the North American trade deal still in limbo.  If the president’s re-elect hinges on the state of the economy in 2020 (and it largely does), and the state of the economy hinges on his striking one or both of those deals, the White House is going to need a faster boat to outrun the sharks.

The Post and Times profile Stephen Miller.

White House immigration aide gave an interview for the Washington Post version, while stiffing the Paper of Record.

My take: On this relatively slow news day, it is worth digesting both of these pieces.  For fans and foes of Miller, who have read previous bio stories, there will be much familiar here.   But there are interesting tidbits in both treatments, including Miller pushing back after the Post story went online, denying bad blood between him and Jared Kushner.  Explored in both stories but not fully explained on a psychological and practical level: how Miller got and retains such influence over the president.

Dan Balz’s portrait of Trump’s standing is grim.

Dean of the Washington press corps is both incredulous and scathing in covering the waterfront of the presidential week.

My take: Far be it from me to annotate the master. Balz speaks for the Gang of 500 as well as anyone, so read the whole thing yourself.  The headline sums it up well: Trump has one playbook, and very few plays left in it

Elizabeth Warren’s chances ain’t slim.

Fresh poll shows Massachusetts Senator closing the gap with Biden on who is best positioned to beat Trump. 

“In a new Economist/YouGov poll, 65% of Democratic voters said Biden would ‘probably beat Donald Trump’ — unchanged from June. But the number saying the same thing about Warren jumped 14 points since then, to 57%, the highest of any other candidate.”

My take: Watch this space.  Nothing is propping up Biden’s frontrunning horserace number as much as his electability lead. If the latter disappears, the former is deeply endangered.

Monday, Native-Americans and prez candidates meet.

Iowa forum to include Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Marianne Williamson, Steve Bullock, John Delaney, Amy Klobuchar, Julián Castro, and Bill de Blasio.

My take: Headlines rarely come out of these multi-candidate issue forums. But these are where buzz and connections can be made under the radar.  Warren put out her longest policy plan to date last week on Native American issues, perhaps in part to defuse the heritage controversy that remains one of the biggest red flags regarding her readiness for scrutiny under the brightest of spotlights.  So while her appearance will likely get the most attention, the other prospects face the same, bigger challenge: breaking through doing the quiet work of winning over key elements of the Democratic tapestry.

While Dick Cheney sits in a Trump fundraising seat.

Star-studded Jackson Hole Monday donor confab reportedly also features Liz Cheney, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, Mick Mulvaney, Ronna McDaniel, Tommy Hicks Jr., Todd Ricketts, Brad Parscale, and Kimberly Guilfoyle.

My take: This remains one of the most under covered stories of the 2020 cycle. Team Trump is building a fierce double threat fundraising juggernaut, with small-dollar prospecting (Parscale and Kushner) and big-dollar wrangling (McDaniel, Kushner, nearly the entire Bush-Cheney-Romney-McCain firmament) combining for major coin.  Not clear how much this event will raise, but, given the lineup, safe to say it will be a lot.

Democratic candidates’ donations code cracked.

New York Times looks at how and when the Big 5 (Biden, Warren, Sanders, Harris, Buttigieg) has raised the most money online in 2019.

My take: After you finish the Miller profiles and Balz, read this clever story, which tees up one of the biggest pending questions of the third quarter – how will Biden and Kamala Harris do with online donors?

Douthat explains a recession’s impact.

New York Times opinionmeister paints the portrait of what is to come if the economy tanks.

My take: Time-capsule-worthy Douthat essay. Clever, well reasoned, tells you something you didn’t know – and at once dismissive of and dismissing of Donald J. Trump.


Top sports story: Little League World Series 2019: How to watch, scores, schedule, results, with first four teams eliminated
CBS Sports

Top business story: U.S. set to give Huawei another 90 days to buy from American suppliers

Top entertainment story: ‘Good Boys’ Eyes Best Original Comedy Opening of 2019


Big Four


2020 Democrats are stepping up their courtship of Native American voters. Here’s why

New Hampshire

New Hampshire veterans seek to intervene in POW Bible lawsuit


Light rail could save the city from perpetual Project Neon-like traffic

South Carolina

Greenville’s a rare exception as local sales taxes have spread to most SC counties

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Saturday, August 17, 2019

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They Said It

“We have nothing to fear about a recession right now except for the fear of recession.” — Bank of America’s Brian Moynihan

“The volatility makes a difficult investing environment. It seems to be equal parts people feeling they need to be in motion and people feeling paralyzed.” — Justin Wiggs, managing director of equity trading at Stifel Nicolaus

My take: To paraphrase Jeb Bush and FDR, the only thing we have to fear, apparently, is a Chaos President.

“If you’re an American Jew and you’re planning on voting for Donald Trump because you think he is pro-Israel, you’re a damn fool.” – Tom Friedman

“The only person who won and got what they wanted was Trump. No one else was happy about it.  He goes over the top in attacking them, and Israel goes over the top in responding. And then you force even hawkish Democrats to jump to their defense.” — Aaron Keyak, a Democratic strategist who works with pro-Israel groups, on the controversy involving Representatives Omar and Tlaib

“The obvious winner is Donald Trump, of course, who tweeted after Israel announced its flip- flop that ‘Representatives Omar and Tlaib are the face of the Democrat Party, and they HATE Israel!’ Here, nakedly expressed, was his actual goal: Not to protect an American ally from politicians traveling in bad faith, but to yoke mainstream Democrats to their political fringe, as he has been doing, very effectively, for weeks.”

“Joining him in the winners’ circle are Ms. Omar and Ms. Tlaib. Say Israel had allowed them, per the original plan, to visit. The upshot would have been a week of bad headlines. But Israel has gotten that tenfold anyway, and the congresswomen managed to come out looking like martyrs.”

“The losers? Pretty much everyone else.” – Bari Weiss

“If Israel doesn’t want members of the United States Congress to visit their country . . . maybe they can respectfully decline the billions of dollars that we give to Israel.” — Bernie Sanders

“In our hyperpartisan world, the friend of my enemy is my enemy, and to the extent that Democrats look at Trump as the enemy, if they see Israel or the Netanyahu administration as operating hand in glove, that gives them real pause.” – Democratic pollster and long-time student of U.S.-Israel relations Mark Mellman

“What is the one mantra of the pro-Israel organizations for 30, 40 years? It’s congressional support. Presidents have their own views, but Congress is the core. So to pick a fight with members of Congress, which is going to force half of Congress to rally to their defense, is really foolish.” – Bill Kristol

My take: Although there is understandable hand wringing over this past week’s events, the strong bipartisan American support for Israel in Congress and in the country is not going to be broken by Trump and Netanyahu.  Election politics for both men and intra-Democratic Party tensions suggest more volatility ahead.  But this is one area where the New Normal will almost certainly be overtaken by the Old Normal once new leaders are in place.

“After careful review of all investigative information, including complete autopsy findings, the determination on the death of Jeffrey Epstein is below — Cause: Hanging. Manner: Suicide.” —  New York’s Chief Medical Examiner Barbara Sampson

“We are not satisfied with the conclusions. The defense team fully intends to conduct its own independent and complete investigation into the circumstances and cause of Mr. Epstein’s death.” – Jeffrey Epstein’s lawyers

My take: Too much of the information about the circumstances of Epstein’s death is coming out via leaks and written statements.  It is in the public interest for federal, state, and local officials to put out more information more quickly and more transparently. Attorney General Barr, or his designee, needs to step up and become the Norman Schwarzkopf of this public trust emergency.

“If he is truly contemplating this, then this is final proof that he has gone mad.” —Soren Espersen, the Danish People’s Party foreign affairs spokesman, on Donald Trump’s Greenland gambit

My take: Res ipsa loquitur.

Important to Know

“Civic leaders and law enforcement are bracing for several groups of protesters to take to downtown Portland on Saturday for a planned right-wing rally and left-wing counterprotest that have been advertised for weeks.  Two Florida men with large followings in the right-wing movement are holding an “End Domestic Terrorism” rally Saturday at 11 a.m [PT]. in Tom McCall Waterfront Park.”

“An organizer said he expects up to 1,000 people show up for the event, which seeks to draw like-minded people from around the country as a show of force against self-described anti-fascists, or antifa.”

“Rose City Antifa, Portland’s homegrown, amorphous band of anti-fascist activists, is calling on supporters to turn out in opposition to the rally.” (The Oregonian)

My take: Portland law enforcement has had plenty of time to prepare for this event. Let’s hope this is a day about the First Amendment, denunciations of hate, and no viral video.

“Elizabeth Warren now favourite to win 2020 Democratic nomination.” (Ladbrokes Politics)

My take: What do the Brits know that Mike Donilon does not?

“The next big catalyst for the stock and bond markets will likely come next week when Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell is scheduled to speak [Friday] at the central bank’s annual retreat in Jackson Hole,” Wyoming. (Wall Street Journal)

My take: Powell seems to have largely accepted his role as presidential piñata.  The thin mountain air has sometimes in the past caused Fed officials to make news at this event that they would not commit elsewhere. So brace yourself.

House Democratic Leader Steny “Hoyer personally pleaded with Netanyahu on Wednesday to allow Omar and Tlaib entry.” (Washington Post)

“Even the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful and assiduously bipartisan pro-Israel lobbying group known as AIPAC, has split with the Netanyahu government on its decision. AIPAC typically backs Israel no matter who is in power, but its view is that while presidents and prime ministers come and go, support for Israel in Congress is essential.” (New York Times)

“If Bibi wins, he plans to pass a law banning his own indictment on corruption, and then, when Israel’s Supreme Court strikes down that law as illegal, he plans to get the Knesset to pass another law making the Supreme Court subservient to his Parliament. I am not making this up. Israel will become a Jewish banana republic.” (Tom Friedman)

My take: As I said above, the center will hold – eventually. But for the duration of the run of the Donald and Bibi Show, expect more turbulence.

Top sports story: NFL preseason Week 2 takeaways: Up-and-down night for Giants rookie QB Daniel Jones

Top business story: Trump says Apple is spending ‘vast sums of money in the U.S.’ and he’s having dinner with the CEO

Top entertainment story: Peter Fonda Dead at 79 After Respiratory Failure from Lung Cancer

Big Four


 U.S. Rep. Steve King takes to Twitter to respond to Republican, Democratic criticism over his rape, incest comments

New Hampshire

Soldier-dentist becomes citizen after ACLU suit


A campaign to save Debbie Reynolds Drive

South Carolina

Hate crimes on rise in SC. But there’s no state law against them

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Friday, August 16, 2019

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The Friday Wide World of News Quiz

1. President Trump’s most imprudent idea of the last seven days was

a. Buying Greenland.
b. Encouraging Corey Lewandowski to run for the Senate.
c. Thinking he had a handle on trade talks with China.
d. Breaking all precedent and tradition and encouraging Israel to block two members of the House of Representatives from visiting the country.

2. Team Trump’s central plan to deal with a possible recession in 2020 is

a. Work on new legislative proposals that could win bipartisan support and boost the economy.
b. Develop executive action that could boost the economy.
c. Successfully negotiate a big trade deal with China.
d. Deny, deny, deny.

3. The most important dynamic in the Democratic presidential nomination fight is between

a. Biden and Warren.
b. Warren and Sanders.
c. Warren and Harris.
d. Biden and a candidate to be named later.

4. Despite his various, sometimes contradictory statements, President Trump is most worried about running against

a. Joe Biden.
b. Kamala Harris
c. Elizabeth Warren.
d. He really has no friggin’ idea.

5. The international situation that most threatens to become a full-blown crisis is

a. North Korea’s continued missile tests.
b. Hong Kong’s continued protests.
c. The Taliban’s continued peace talks with the U.S.
d. Kashmir.

6. The quote that has the best chance to go down in history is

a. “Trump will not be president forever. The people of Israel who care about preserving US-Israeli ties might want to remind their prime minister of that obvious fact” – Michael McFaul
b. “When the economy turns down, one of the important resources we have is policymakers’ credibility. Ludicrous forecasts and economically illiterate statements have dissipated the credibility of the president’s economic team. It’s banana republic standard to deny the statistics, bash the central bank, try to push the currency down and lash out at foreign countries” – Larry Summers
c. “I don’t want a boring president either, but I’d like to have a president who is competent again to do the job” – Michael Bennet
d. “Whether you love me or hate me, you’ve got to vote for me” – Donald Trump

7. Ghislaine Maxwell is in

a. Manchester-by-the-Sea.
b. Florida.
c. Europe.
d. Los Angeles, eating at an In-N-Out Burger.

8. The president will blame any 2020 economic downturn on

a. The Fed.
b. The media.
c. The Congress.
d. China.

9. The best description of Trump’s New Hampshire rally remarks is

a. “His speech was at times a greatest hits album of favorite lines, replaying the 2016 campaign against Hillary Clinton and bashing the news media, Democrats and America’s allies in Europe. Typically rambling, veering on and off script seemingly at random over an hour and a half, he repeated points he had already made earlier in the evening as if he did not remember already making them.”

10. Elizabeth Warren has sustained her astonishing run of purely positive press coverage because

a. Her poll numbers continue to rise.
b. She isn’t making any errors.
c. She is now the media’s favorite candidate.
d. None of her Democratic rivals are coming after her.


1. c and d.
2. c and d.
3. d.
4. d.
5. d.
6. d.
7. d.
8. a, b, c, and d.
9. a.
10. a and d.

In other news:

Make sure you read all the way to the end of this essential Washington Post story on the president, the economy, and 2020.

Key quotes:

“Privately, however, the president has sounded anxious and apprehensive.”

“He’s rattled. He thinks that all the people that do this economic forecasting are a bunch of establishment weenies — elites who don’t know anything about the real economy and they’re against Trump.”

“Administration officials are not actively planning for a recession because they do not believe one will occur, and they worry that making such plans would validate a negative narrative about the economy and precipitate a crash, according to people involved in internal discussions.”

Make sure you read all the way to the end of this essential Wall Street Journal story on the president, the economy, and 2020.

Key quotes:

“While he reacts to economic developments on Twitter, Mr. Trump has been privately assuring advisers that he isn’t bothered by recent drops in the stock market, according to two people who have spoken to him lately.”

“The White House has already taken steps to reassure political allies about the state of the economy. Its Office of Intergovernmental Affairs invited state and local officials to an off-the-record call next Tuesday with National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow and other senior administration officials to discuss the economy.”

Make sure you read all the way to the end of this essential New York Times story on the president, the economy, and (implicitly) 2020.

Key quotes:

“Officials said they remained hopeful that the economy could still meet the administration’s growth targets if they continued their deregulation efforts, if Congress passed a new trade deal with Canada and Mexico, and if some kind of agreement was reached with China.”

“Outwardly, administration officials have been sanguine. A senior administration official said in an interview on Wednesday evening that analysts and investors were ‘going overboard’ on recession fears. The administration points to economic data underscoring the strength of the American consumer, like retail sales numbers released on Thursday morning. The figures showed consumers spent at a hotter pace in July than expected, driven in part by a sale for Amazon Prime members.”

My take: The fundamentals of the economy are neither as strong as the White House says/thinks they are nor as weak as the last 48 hours of press coverage suggests they are.  The single most important thing an American president can do to be a good steward of a good economy is to foster an environment characterized by stability, consistency, and predictability.  The trade war with China, the conflicts with Congress and the Fed, and Trump’s erratic behavior are the Unholy Trinity that are the very model of modern major instability, inconsistency, and unpredictability.  Kudlow, Mulvaney, Kushner, Parscale, and Mnuchin are not James Addison Baker, 3d.

More digits from the new Fox News poll that the president, Kamala Harris, and Bernie Sanders won’t like, and Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren will.

Correction: In Thursday’s edition, I became the first journalist to misspell “Lewandowski.” I regret the error. I was so concerned about getting the “a” right that I messed up the “i.”

Top sports story: Earnhardt Jr., wife OK after Tenn. plane crash

Top business story: JP Morgan says new US tariffs will test China’s ability to prop up its economy

Top entertainment story: Disney Sets New Record as ‘Toy Story 4’ Hits $1 Billion

Big Four


Iowa becomes 11th state in US to allow sports gambling.


Nevada demographics, family tie a boon for Booker.

South Carolina

‘A heavy lift’: Religious black voters weigh Buttigieg’s bid.

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Thursday, August 15, 2019

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The Fundamentals

Much of Thursday is in suspended animation until President Trump speaks at what is likely to be a memorable rally scheduled for 7pm ET in beautiful downtown Manchester, New Hampshire, at the very place at which he appeared on the eve of his New Hampshire primary win in 2016, and again on election eve that November.

There literally might not be a venue in America that makes Trump feel more MAGA-y than the SNHU Arena at 555 Elm Street, right across the way from El Rincon Zacatecano Taqueria (pro tip: have the guac).

In one of his worst political moments ever, in September of 2008, during a financial crisis brought on by more than a big Dow drop, John McCain infamously said, “The fundamentals of our economy are strong, but these are very, very difficult times.”

For many Americans, economically and politically, these are indeed very, very difficult times.

But how about the fundamentals of our economy?

Wagering on what Donald Trump will say at any event is more foolish than Mike Pence betting on a cricket match, but it seems safe to say that the president will give his own, extended version of “the fundamentals of the economy are strong” tonight.

Arguing against that position: trade wars, including uncertainty over tariffs and unratified trade deals; massive debt and deficits; weakening Asian and European economies; uncertainty caused by Brexit and other populist-driven dynamics; Hong Kong protests; tepid American business investment and manufacturing; the waning sugar high of the Trump tax cuts.

Beyond what we would normally view as “fundamentals,” there are the “meta fundamentals” of the Era of Trump that ALWAYS show weakness in the eyes of the Gang of 500 and the International Masters of the Universe whose decisions impact the economic outcomes that drive headlines: Trump’s iconoclastic and chaotic behavior (the only certainty is uncertainty); Trump’s war with the Fed; Trump’s war with Democrats; Trump’s poor won-loss record to date on striking challenging international agreements.

And the Washington Post makes this important point: “But unlike during the Great Recession, global leaders are not working in unison to confront mounting problems and arrest the slowdown. Instead, they are increasingly at one another’s throats.”

And this: “Several White House officials have become concerned that the economy is weakening faster than expected, but they are not working on proactive plans to change its course.”

Two questions:

Where could one most sensibly place the blame for the lack of world unity?

Can mere words counteract all this?

Along with the boss, all the president’s women and men (except for the ones talking to the Washington Post, as above) are trying to talk the world out of crediting the negative fundamentals and into looking elsewhere.

For instance, Politico: “Trump administration officials strongly reject the notion that the U.S. is heading for a recession. They say that continued strong jobs and wage growth will overcome any slowdown caused by uncertainty over trade. And they continue to maintain that Trump is working hard to overcome long-standing cheating by China on trade.”

“‘There is no recession coming,’ a senior White House official said on Wednesday. ‘The consumer is way too strong as are jobs and wages. I just don’t buy it.’”

The Wall Street Journal news department provides this additional backup: “The good news is that the U.S. isn’t confronted with severe excesses to unwind, as it was in the mid-2000s with the housing boom or the late 1990s with tech-stock gains. Because of that, some economists said any downturn might be mild.”

“[W]ith unemployment low, incomes rising and household saving rates higher than in the late 1990s or mid-2000s, many consumers are in better shape to weather a storm.”

When McCain uttered his famous words, meant to reassure, they ironically had the opposite effect, both for his political standing and on the economy. 

Trump, of course, can’t come off of vacation and change the fundamentals with one MAGA rally.  And he will probably exacerbate most of the meta fundamentals when he opens his mouth. 

The Wall Street Journal, in its lead, we-told-you-so editorial, deviates from its cold-headed and clear-eyed view of the occupant of the Oval Office by offering advice that will never be taken: “The key to avoiding the worst is to restore a sense of policy calm and confidence. [HA!] Stop the trade threats by tweet. [HA!} Call a tariff truce with China, Europe and the rest of the world while negotiations resume with a goal of reaching a deal by the meeting of Pacific nations in November.” [HA! HA! HA!]

What’s a man whose job security depends on turning around perceptions about the economy actually going to do about all this, besides tweet about China?

Get out the Jiffy Pop and the Mike and Ikes for tonight’s potentially historic Granite State rally.

While you wait, you can monitor markets (non-U.S. trading is mixed at this writing), and, per the Wall Street Journal, wait for this data to unspool and watch the Dow (over)react:

“Investors will look to fresh U.S. economic data for further indication about the strength of the economy. The Commerce Department will publish July retail sales data Thursday, after June saw the fourth consecutive uptick in American spending, a sign that consumers are a source of strength in the U.S. economy.”

“The Labor Department also will release second-quarter figures on productivity and costs, showing whether a recent increase will continue, and the Federal Reserve will give new figures on industrial production in July.”

Also: Walmart earnings.

In other news:

New Hampshire rally subplot: What will Trump say about Corey Lewandowski?

Extraordinary quotes from establishment Republicans who oppose U.S. Senate bid by former campaign manager in a Politico rocket.

My take: It seems like Lewandowski wants to run.  It is hard to imagine Trump won’t support his guy running if his guy wants to run. If his guy wants to run, he will be favored to win the Republican nomination to face Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen. Shaheen, like most incumbents in Purple States, always worries about her re-election.  Shaheen is a worrier.  There are reasons for her to worry about a Lewandowski candidacy.  First and foremost: if he is the nominee, it is more likely funds will flood the state in the fight over those four electoral votes.  But my guess is she isn’t too worried.

Jeffrey Epstein

The Washington Post: “Among the bones broken in Epstein’s neck was the hyoid bone, which in men is near the Adam’s apple. Such breaks can occur in those who hang themselves, particularly if they are older, according to forensics experts and studies on the subject. But they are more common in victims of homicide by strangulation, the experts said.”

My take:It is bad for America for any of this to be coming out by leak. The country needs a thorough, FAST public accounting of what happened.  The Posts (Washington and New York) have a lot of credibility, but they are not official organs.

Fox News poll: Trump close to record-high disapproval rating.

POTUS drops to near-Fox record 43-56 on approve/disapprove.

President’s approval for response to El Paso/Dayton at 37%; 46% percent say he has made the country less safe from mass shootings. 

59% of voters say they are unhappy with the way things are going in the country.

My take: It is better than even money that Trump will attack the Fox poll on Twitter and/or at the New Hampshire rally.

The Economist/YouGov poll: Biden, Warren tied nationally.

Biden       21
Warren    20
Sanders   16
Harris        8

My take: Warren remains more popular with voters than she does with the Gang of 500; Harris remains more popular with the Gang of 500 than she does with voters.  At some point, voters matter more.  At some point, Harris’ straddle between left and right might have to end, some Democratic strategists say, and she will need to make an argument against Sanders and Warren from the right (because she surely won’t outflank them on the left).

Post and Courier poll: Biden has big South Carolina lead.

Biden:       36
Warren:    17
Sanders   16
Harris       12
Buttigieg    5
Booker       4

My take: At some point, Biden’s Democratic rivals need a plan to overtake him. His poll standing here is growing, not shrinking.  August isn’t the time to try to head him off, for obvious reasons. But as Yogi Berra said in a slightly different context, it gets late early out there.

Hickenlooper reportedly ready to ditch presidential run for Senate bid.

My take: Good news for Chuck Schumer and for those who want to topple Mitch McConnell. Impact on the presidential race: nil.

Latest on Philadelphia shootings here.

Latest on Congressman Steve King here.

Top sports story: Avenatti filing: Nike OK’d payments to Zion, more

Top business story: Alibaba’s Joseph Tsai to buy Brooklyn Nets in deal valuing team at record $2.35 billion, media reports

Top entertainment story: Talent Agencies Cancel Emmy Parties Amid WGA-ATA Standoff

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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

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Without Leverage

Trump’s Apparent Indifference to Hong Kong < China’s Indifference to Trump

There are lots of articles you can read right now on your screen of choice about the U.S. president’s relative silence on the fate of the protesters in Asia’s World City, who are no longer shutting down the airport, but whose thirst for freedom and for support from the outside world continues to burn powerfully.

Typical is Politico: “Lawmakers and government officials across Washington, including some of President Donald Trump’s top advisers, are growing increasingly alarmed about the unrest in Hong Kong. One person, however, seems less concerned than most: Trump…..To date, Trump has said relatively little on the Hong Kong crisis, sparking criticism that he is more worried about getting a trade deal with China than supporting movements for democracy.”

And/but if Trump said more, there is no indication it would have a tangible impact on Beijing’s behavior.  For instance, see Tom Friedman’s latest column, and this New York Times news analysis suggesting the U.S. now has little influence on the behavior of leaders throughout Asia.

My take: The Chinese Communist Party cares as much about what Donald Trump thinks about the protection of legal and human rights in Hong Kong as Miley Cyrus cares about what David French thinks about her split from Liam Hemsworth. Which is to say: not at all.

Markets Rally on Trump China Tariff Reprieve

Delay until December pleases traders and establishment voices, such as the Wall Street Journal editorial board.

Says said ed board: “The wiser heads in the White House want calm lest they damage broader economic confidence. It’s notable that Administration sources leaked that one reason for the tariff reprieve was that U.S. negotiators had a productive call with chief Chinese trade negotiator Liu He.”

My take: Donald Trump cares as much about what the Wall Street Journal editorial board thinks about his tactical use of tariffs as Joe Biden cares about what Rachel Maddow thinks about his chances of winning the Democratic nomination. Which is to say: somewhat. 

House Democrats “Pressure” McConnell on Guns

Press conference intended to force Senate action, as Trump talks to Democratic Senator Chris Murphy.

And/but there is no indication the Kentuckian will change course.  That will require pressure from Trump, the American people, and a large number of Republican Senators who have previously opposed gun safety measures.

My take: Mitch McConnell cares as much about what Steny Hoyer and House Democrats think about how he should run the Senate as John Bolton cares about what the State Department bureaucracy thinks about….anything. Which is to say: not at all.

Follow-up on Trump’s Enemies List

Thank you all for the many responses to Tuesday’s list.   Here are clarifications and explanations in reply to the most frequent suggestions I received:

1. James Comey wasn’t on the list because he is on his own Trump list that is a lot more cosmic than a mere enemies list.

2. The Clintons weren’t on the list because Donald Trump doesn’t hate the Clintons at all — he likes them. If it weren’t for the Clintons, Trump wouldn’t be president.  Hillary, in particular, served and serves as a useful foil for him.  Rather than being on his enemies list, the Clintons are on his “thank you” list (along with another of your suggestions, The Squad).

3. I am pretty sure Donald Trump has not given John Kasich half a second thought in a long, long time.

4. Some of you suggested I misspelled the name of former White House economic adviser Gary Cohn on the extended list.  While Trump is not all that fond of Cohn any more, the name on the list was, in fact, that of New York Mets play-by-play announcer Gary Cohen. It could not be learned by press time why the president has developed such negative feelings towards the broadcaster.

5. Jeff Bezos might well belong on the list. That requires more reporting.

6. The president loves Don Lemon so much he wants to BE Don Lemon.

Top sports story: Sale eclipses Pedro as fastest ever to 2,000 K’s

Top business story: Retail stocks surge after tariffs for clothing, footwear delayed

Top entertainment story: CBS, Viacom Reach Long-Awaited Merger Agreement to Reunite

Big Four


Busy week of campaigning in Iowa shows how style, enthusiasm differ among Biden, Warren, Buttigieg, Harris, Sanders.

In Iowa, Pete Buttigieg releases new policy to help rural America.

Governor backs wind industry but will listen to concerns.

New Hampshire

Sanders looks to reclaim leader status during two-day swing through N.H.

Sanford mulls GOP challenge to Trump, heads to N.H.


Court rules for US in fight over Nevada plutonium shipment.

South Carolina

GOP lawmakers try to fast-track an SC abortion ban. Critics say they’re being sneaky.

Dreadful heat, humidity invade South as misery continues.

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Tuesday, August 13, 2019

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The List

According to Wikipedia, “”Nixon’s Enemies List” is the informal name of what started as a list of Nixon’s major political opponents… The official purpose, as described by the White House Counsel’s Office, was to ‘screw’ Nixon’s political enemies, by means of tax audits from the Internal Revenue Service, and by manipulating ‘grant availability, federal contracts, litigation, prosecution, etc.’”

Here’s the list:

1. Arnold Picker
2. Alexander E. Barkan
3. Edwin Guthman
4. Maxwell Dane
5. Charles Dyson
6. Howard Stein
7. Allard Lowenstein
8. Morton Halperin
9. Leonard Woodcock
10. S. Sterling Munro, Jr.
11. Bernard T. Feld
12. Sidney Davidoff
13. John Conyers
14. Samuel M. Lambert
15. Stewart Rawlings Mott
16. Ron Dellums
17. Daniel Schorr
18. S. Harrison Dogole
19. Paul Newman
20. Mary McGrory

(Test your cultural literacy by identifying all twenty without the use of Google or Bing.)

(Yes, I’m proud that my father outranked Paul Newman.)

In honor of Anthony Scaramucci’s newly minted feud with the president, here is the current, semi-official “Trump’s Enemies List.” (Subject to change by noon.)

1. Anthony Scaramucci
2. Jeff Zucker
3. Barack Obama
4. Jerry Nadler
5. Robert Mueller
6. Rosie O’Donnell
7. Tony Schwartz
8. Adam Schiff
9. John McCain (RIP and/but still and forever on the list)
10. John Brennan
11. Bill de Blasio
12. George Conway
13. Michael Avenatti
14. Gloria Allred
15. Peter Strzok
16. Paul Ryan
17. Michelle Obama
18. George W. Bush
19. Mike Bloomberg
20. Seth Meyers

It is hard to make this list, because Donald Trump is both endlessly transactional and, in his own way, forgiving.

A good way to make the list is to have a negative trait that Trump shares and, thus, detests. Another good way to make the list is to demonstrate that you are not intimidated by Trump. Yet another: go on TV and say accurate, negative things about Trump. Finally, you can make the list if you simultaneously project disdain for Trump and make it clear you see what the emperor is wearing.

Not on Trump’s list but would be if he were paying closer attention: Gavin Newsom, Nancy Pelosi, Gary Cohn, the entire political and White House reporting teams of the New York Times, every general who served in the administration, and two people who currently work in the West Wing.

Although my sources have high confidence in the authenticity of this list, email me your additions, corrections, and amplifications. If the material warrants, I will publish an updated version tomorrow.

In other news:

Trump Administration Backs Changes in Rules on Endangered Species and Green Cards

My take: These are important policy moves that sharpen the differences between the two parties and remind everyone about the stakes in the presidential election. Liberal headline writers implicitly cast these steps as bad policy and bad for Trump’s re-election chances. Team Trump does not agree with either part of that analysis, and takes comfort in the press’ coverage, which it considers out of touch. Vegas odds makers now have that wager at even money.

25% Tariff Man

The Wall Street Journal looks at the raised US tariffs on products from China through the eyes of one American company.

My take: With economic forecasts for the US trending more bearish for 2020 and no trade war off-ramp apparent for Trump right now, this feature story is the single most important piece of content you can consume today if you want to anticipate the environment in which the president will run for re-election. A weakened economy will obviously make four more years less likely, but the corollary is of greater importance: no president in more than one hundred years has ever lost re-election with a strong economy. Getting out of his China pickle is both vital and difficult for Trump. We have not seen this movie before, so we don’t know how it ends.

Harris for the Hawkeye People

Both the Wall Street Journal and Politico look at Kamala Harris’ Iowa bid.

Quoted in Wall Street Journal:

“I can feel the momentum,” Ms. Harris said in the interview. “I really feel like the people of Iowa have been very interested and responsive.”

Quoted in Politico re overtaking Biden, Warren, and Sanders:

“There is a piece of it that is literally about name recognition,” Harris said. She talked about building an Iowa foundation for her campaign by “laying layers.”

“I’m happy with where we are,” she said. “I don’t want to be popping early.”

My take: The old mantra is still true about how to win Iowa. Organize, organize, organize and get hot at the end. Surely the Harris campaign would be happy to beat expectations in Iowa, knowing that winning outright will be tough. Harris can get hot at the end, to be sure, but it is an open question if she will organize enough to be in a position to do well enough to beat expectations, let alone win.

The reality for Harris, though, is that beating expectations in Iowa won’t be enough if all she does in New Hampshire is the same thing. Can she be the Democratic nominee if she simply beats expectations (without an outright win) in both of the first two states? History suggests no. But given the composition of the field and the fact that we are in a post-historical time, the answer could be “yes” (but I doubt it).

What Comes Out of Joe Biden’s Mouth

There is a long look at Joe Biden and gaffes in the New York Times that is the kind of process story that hard-working real voters certainly do not have time to read. But it is important you know that the Times is fully supportive of the Biden-gaffes-are-a-national-crisis meme.

My take: I will write it again – Biden’s lack of a future-oriented theory of the case, his overreliance on the electability argument, and his temper are far graver threats to his candidacy than gaffes, which, his staff correctly points out, are largely priced into the stock by voters.

Harry Reid Wants to Get Rid of the Senate Filibuster

New York Times op-ed calls for change Silver Stater had resisted.

My take: This is NOT a process story, although it has all the appearances of being one. The former Democratic Senate leader is now on the cutting edge of a change in the party’s center of gravity that is at once surprising and inevitable. If a Democrat beats Trump, this debate will be among the first and most important that occurs after Election Day. But despite the efforts of Reid and others, this discussion will likely remain an inside game, not a voting issue next November.

Essential Reading

James Stewart’s unique and compelling New York Times account of his recent interactions with Jeffrey Epstein.

My take: This isn’t the most remarkable facet of this extraordinary piece, but it caught my eye. Stewart takes the position that if a source who speaks on background dies, a journalist can unilaterally put everything on the record. Is that really Times policy?

Top sports story: NCAA amends ‘Rich Paul Rule’ amid blowback

Top business story: Taco Bell-parent Yum Brands’ CEO Greg Creed to retire, to be replaced by COO David Gibbs

Top entertainment story: Apple Releases ‘The Morning Show’ Teaser

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Monday, August 12, 2019

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The 2020 Democratic Presidential Candidate Thumbnails

Joe Biden

Best news: It will be very difficult to pierce his poll-driven edge on “electability” – and Democratic voters want electability so very much.

Worst news: His focus on electability makes it even more unlikely that for the first time in his long political career he will develop a vivid, accessible theory of the case about what Joe Biden’s America and American economy would look like.

Elizabeth Warren

Best news: Continues her unbroken months-long run of positive coverage focusing on her vivid, accessible theory of the case about what Elizabeth Warren’s America and American economy would look like, on her bevy of policy proposals, on her strong early-state organization, and on her rising poll numbers.

Worst news: Until and unless Sanders’ floor of support drops lower or he leaves the race, she has a mathematical problem in overtaking Biden; until and unless Harris’ floor of support drops lower or she leaves the race, she has a mathematical problem in overtaking Biden.

Kamala Harris

Best news: As she increasingly finds her candidate rhythm, appears more like the Goldilocks candidate to the Gang of 500 and many voters looking to combine charm, steel, ideological flexibility, and electability.

Worst news: Still has a lot of boxes to check, with over-scheduling for campaign and fundraising travel threatening to leave her a tired and error-prone candidate.

Bernie Sanders

Best news: Underestimated by a poll-obsessed pundit class and political press corps, who largely don’t realize he is for the first time this cycle thinking about how to develop a second act.

Worst news: Will have a hard time generating a second act.

Pete Buttigieg

Best news: Offering something different on many levels than the other members of the Big 5, meaning his eerily consistent campaign trail performance can allow him to find new converts while working the retail side of the house.

Worst news: It is hard to imagine his getting better press coverage than he already got, and he still faces a lot of wholesale challenges to build support outside his current demographic backing.

Amy Klobuchar

Best news: Strong Wing Ding speech and the absence of a non-coastal candidate in the Big 4 suggests she has a window to get some Iowa traction.

Worst news: Still challenging to differentiate herself enough from the frontrunners to eat into their support.

Cory Booker

Best news:  The media is practically begging voters to get him into a higher tier.

Worst news: The same limitations that held him back before the current meta boomlet are still in existence.

Michael Bennet

Best news: Strong recent performances position him to theoretically be one of the main beneficiaries if Biden collapses politically.

Worst news: Struggling to simultaneously be himself and cadge the attention necessary to draw media coverage and get into the next debate round.

Andrew Yang

Best news: Finally getting some credit for his unique ideas and bio.

Worst news: The winning aspects of his style and presentation make clearing the electability and commander-in-chief hurdles a lot harder.

Beto O’Rourke

Best news: The tragedy of El Paso gets him off the trail and a fresh hearing from the media.

Worst news: His failure to develop a tangible rationale for his candidacy continues unabated.

Steve Bullock

Best news: Consistently demonstrating confidence that Montana voters and Iowa voters care about the same things.

Worst news: The disadvantages caused by his ridiculously late state are never going away.

Julian Castro

Best news: Earnest, wise-beyond-his-years, and consistent presentation continues to wear well.

Worst news: No sign of a breakthrough after stringing together two strong debates.

Kirsten Gillibrand

Best news: Continues to aggressively search for a way to move up.

Worst news: Absence of tangible signs of progress hurts her deeply with the media filter.

John Hickenlooper

Best news: Improved comfort on his stump speech and media interviews.

Worst news: Hasn’t found a compelling way to sell his resume.

Bill de Blasio

Best news: Fearless.

Worst news: Mocking by home state press corps and elites infects everything he tries.

Tulsi Gabbard

Best news: Clearly being treated and looked at differently after debate performance.

Worst news: Any real success will be met with additional scrutiny of her controversial foreign policy record.

John Delaney

Best news:  Has been somewhat normalized as a candidate nationally, while still reaping the benefits of his early start.

Worst news:  Not normalized enough to have changed the paradigm.

Jay Inslee

Best news:  Making as strong a bid as anyone to fill the “governor” slot.

Worst news:  Emphasis on climate change is still viewed by many as a gimmick rather than a crusade.

Marianne Williamson

Best news: Finally has demonstrated to many the applicability of her life’s work to being president.

Worst news: Her style makes moving from the fringe to the main event very tough.

Seth Moulton

Best news: Obstacles have not dampened his fighting spirit.

Worst news: Just too many obstacles.

Tim Ryan

Best news: Dogged and confident

Worst news: Debates gave him a great shot to be part of the discussion – and has little to show for it.

Tom Steyer

Best news:  His bank account.

Worst news:  Still shut out of the narrative.

Joe Sestak

Best news:  Strong campaign skills for a person just entering the fray.

Worst news: Difficult to discern a 360-degree rationale.

Epstein News

Danny Cevallos: “The safest bet is that Jeffrey Epstein died by suicide.”

“The Bureau of Justice Statistics report noted that suicide rates are even higher for jail detainees who had not yet been tried, like Epstein. Such detainees are seven times more likely to kill themselves than convicted prisoners serving their terms in prison.”

“According to news reports, Epstein was not on suicide watch when he died, but even if he had been the outcome might have been the same. A study by the U.S. Marshal Service found that about 8% of suicides in correctional facilities occurred even though an inmate was on suicide watch. According to the report, the vast majority of suicides (more than 90%) are hangings, with the second most common being drug overdoses.”

New York Times: “On Sunday, the Bureau of Prisons offered no explanation for why Mr. Epstein was left alone and not checked on.”

WashPost: “The Federal Bureau of Prisons did not respond to repeated messages seeking comment.”

“Corrections officers had not checked in on Epstein for ‘several’ hours before he was found hanging in his cell Saturday, a person familiar with the matter said, just one in a series of missteps in the hours leading up to his death.”

“Officers should have been checking on Epstein, who was being held in a special housing unit of the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City, every 30 minutes, and, under normal circumstances, he also should have had a cellmate, according to the person familiar with the matter and union officials representing facility employees.”

“But a person who had been assigned to share a cell with Epstein was transferred on Friday, and — for reasons that investigators are still exploring — he did not receive a new cellmate, the person familiar with the matter said Sunday night. That left Epstein, who had previously been placed on suicide watch, alone and unmonitored — at least in the hours before his death — by even those officers assigned to guard him.”

WSJ: “Attorney General William Barr is taking a hands-on role in the investigation, asking Deputy FBI Director David Bowdich to brief the deputy attorney general every three hours.”

WSJ ed board: “The death by apparent suicide of the politically connected financier couldn’t have been scripted better to undermine trust in law enforcement and the prison and legal systems.”

WashPost: “According to people familiar with the investigation, authorities have had trouble locating Maxwell, who is believed to be living abroad.”

New York Times: “Through his spokesman, Mr. Wexner declined repeated interview requests and to answer questions as to why he did not contact the authorities about the claims that Mr. Epstein had misappropriated his money.”

In other news:

Joe Biden New York Times op-ed: “Banning Assault Weapons Works”

Robert Samuelson: “Most economists aren’t yet predicting a recession, but they’re drifting in that direction.”

Hong Kong cancels flights as protesters swarm.

Top sports story: Orioles’ upset of Astros one of biggest in 15 years

Top business story: Automakers trim production as market weakens – but hope to avoid wholesale cuts of a decade ago

Top entertainment story: Box Office: ‘Hobbs & Shaw’ Beats ‘Scary Stories,’ ‘The Kitchen’ Gets Burned

Big Four


Warren wows in Iowa as candidates’ sprint to caucuses begins.

At Iowa State Fair, Republican Bill Weld touts bid to unseat Trump.


Democrats have rolled out a virtual caucus for 2020. Here’s how it’s supposed to work.

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