Friday, June 21, 2019

The Guns of June

As Friday dawns, the dominant story is President Trump’s reported last-minute decision to nix a set of military strikes against Iran to retaliate for the downing of an American drone.

My take: Trump has been transformed into a “normal” president at a tense moment. All the typical dynamics of a commander in chief facing a crisis situation are on display in real time.

Consultations with advisors who are split on how to proceed. Briefings for foreign allies and members of Congress, most of whom simultaneously want to be supportive and/but have their own points of view about what Trump should do and how he should do it. A Pentagon systematically providing detailed retaliatory options while pointing out the risks of action and largely warning against it.  A public whose lack of serious engagement makes divining its wishes and will impossible.

The difficulty in predicting and analyzing Trump’s actions, as the New York Times points out, comes in part from the president’s propensity to simultaneously talk tough but be hyper cautious about using military force.

Outside of national security decisions, Trump thrives in chaotic situations and does not shy away from taking risks. He typically assumes he can try some gambit and pull back if it doesn’t pan out.  He can’t do that here.

His critics, including just today, Peggy Noonan, have warned that Trump and his administration are not prepared to be tested by a true national security crisis.

Reuters says Trump reached out to the Iranians and suggested talks to defuse the situation but did not get an affirmative reply.

Yet he called the strikes off anyway, a fact the administration was happy to confirm to the media.

Here’s where that leaves us:

1. Trump is ambivalent. He wants to strike Iran to send a message but he doesn’t want to strike Iran out of concern about the unpredictable forces that would be unleashed.

2. Trump is getting a green light from his hawkish advisors and some US allies; a blinking yellow light from the media and some members of Congress; and a red light from several Democratic presidential candidates and the little voice inside his head.

3. The world – the markets, the presidential race, the relations with Congress, the G-20 – is basically on hold until Trump either goes through with the strikes or makes it clear he has found an off ramp.

Trump’s philosophy is to only use force if someone can explain to him how the three or four steps AFTER he acts will go his way.

Iran is not Syria, where Trump used air strikes in the past with results that were among the high points of his presidency.

Trump will now spend Friday morning watching the reaction to his go/no-go decision.  The tone of “Fox and Friends” could decide this.

So we wait.

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Biden’s Weekend Test

Frontrunner has a series of South Carolina events that will demonstrate if he can put the race story behind him.

My take: Nothing that happened Thursday (Biden’s phone call with Senator Booker, his meeting with some members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the talking points his campaign sent allies, the continued criticism from his presidential rivals) provided a sense of Biden’s prospects to get this narrative out of the conversation (as he did with his Hyde Amendment reversal).

As the AP points out, race and abortion rights will be front and center in South Carolina for the next 72 hours, as Biden attends a series of events with his rivals:

“The former vice president’s strengths and weaknesses will be on display this weekend when he joins virtually every other White House hopeful in South Carolina.”

“Biden will make appeals to African Americans, including at a closed-door meeting with black leaders on Friday afternoon. And after sparking a fury this month by saying he didn’t back federal funds for abortion — only to quickly reverse his position — he’ll appear before abortion rights activists at a Planned Parenthood forum on Saturday.”

The concentration of media on the ground in South Carolina all weekend will be massive, including many television cameras.  There will almost certainly be a moment in which Biden has to address both his comments about working with racist Senators in his past, and, implicitly, the larger question of his fitness to be the party’s nominee in 2020.

Previously, when Biden has faced big on-camera pressurized moments in the context of presidential politics, he has fallen short more often than he has succeeded.

The challenge is clear and the stakes are high. The only questions are, when does the moment come?  And will it be at a place and time of Biden’s choosing?

Roy Moore Runs for Senate in Alabama

Washington Republicans, including the president, aren’t happy.

My take: It is tough to measure how big a threat Moore will be to get to and win a runoff in a crowded primary field.  The voters will ultimately decide.  But when Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump want the same thing to happen in the Republican universe, that thing usually happens.  The price for the party of Moore being the nominee would be great. They could lose the contest to the incumbent Democrat, but the prospect that Moore would infect the national Republican brand is the far more serious threat.

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Top sports story: USWNT completes a perfect group stage with a 2-0 win over Sweden
Yahoo Sports

Top business story: Global factory output falls, global economic outlook darkens
Wall Street Journal 

Top entertainment story: Writers Guild calls off negotiations with Association of Talent Agents

Big Four


Des Moines Register

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg hires 30 more Iowa staffers.

New Hampshire

On the Trail: During Concord stop, former AG Holder criticizes Biden on segregationist comments.


Data shows aging, more diverse Nevada population.

South Carolina

Joe Biden wins 2020 support from these SC mayors.

SC’s population has doubled over the past 50 years, but its demographics hardly changed.

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