Wednesday, August 7, 2019

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Fit to Print

The New York Times – flawed, battered, targeted, antiquated – is, like the Little League World Series, the Iowa State Fair, and In-N-Out Burger, one of America’s greatest institutions. 

What it does well, it does better than anyone in the United States, maybe the world. 

It is fashionable on the left now, and on the right forever, to bash the paper.  It is also the case that serious people on the left and the right couldn’t live without it. 

The Times’ international and national security coverage often tells members of the executive and legislative branches more than they learn from official briefings.

David Sanger, for example, frequently shares more about the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs than is on offer anywhere else.

Another thing the Times does better than anyone else is present an op-ed buffet that is informative and thought provoking.  In recent years, it has admirably diversified the range of opinions and contributors it presents.

Here are three columns on one day that will blow and expand your mind.  You might not agree with any or all of them, but they scream out to be read and considered.

1. Susan Rice: Barack Obama’s national security adviser: “When the President Is a Bigot, the Poison Spreads: The consequences ricochet around the world and embolden our adversaries”

My take: Reasoned, passionate, principled – the case against Donald Trump, arguing that his domestic behavior infects and destroys America’s place in the world.  I would like to see Rice on a debate stage with the president, reading this piece aloud to him in full and then hearing his rebuttal.  Required reading for every Democratic presidential candidate and Trump national security official.

2. Ross Douthat: “The Nihilist in Chief: How our president and our mass shooters are connected to the same dark psychic forces”

My take: Among the elements that gives Douthat-on-Trump such credibility is that he is never reluctant to say where he agrees with the president.   Conservatives who look forward to the end of the Trump presidency are most effective in sharing ideas when they maintain a rational stance and run headfirst into the truth.  Required reading in the Pence and Kushner households.

3. Tom Friedman: “How Trump and Xi Can Make America and China Poor Again: The trade war is heading in a dangerous direction for the whole world

My take: Like Douthat, Friedman gives Trump credit where it is due – America had to change the terms of the long-running economic relationship with China.  But most of this column is a master class on the world’s most pressing problem right now (and there are a LOT of problems right now).  Trump and Xi have no easy way out of the current predicament.  The economies of both nations, and the world, depend on Trump allowing Xi to preserve “face,” and Trump is, uhm, not a specialist at that most important of Asian rituals.  I don’t have an exact count of the number of columns Tom Friedman has ever written, but my hat is off to someone who can maintain this level of excellence for so long.  Required reading for the president, Larry Kudlow, and everyone in Beidaihe.


In other news:

On tap Wednesday: The president travels to Dayton and El Paso; Joe Biden gives a touted speech in Burlington, Iowa at around 2:30pm ET on “confronting the threat of white nationalism in this country, defeating Donald Trump, and the battle for the soul of America”; Senate Republicans will continue to look to pressure Mitch McConnell on gun safety legislation without appearing to pressure Mitch McConnell on gun safety legislation; Democrats will continue to look to pressure Mitch McConnell on gun safety legislation while very much appearing to pressure Mitch McConnell on gun safety legislation; McConnell and AOC, as predicted and predictable, continue their long-distance feuding.

Trump to Ohio, Then Texas

Regarding the president’s visit to Dayton and El Paso, Reuters has this extraordinary (and largely meaningless) blind quote:

“A person regularly in contact with Trump and the White House said the Republican president understood that some of his rhetoric may have gone too far and could jeopardize his chances for re-election in November 2020.”

“’He recognizes that, in a lot of ways, he is playing with fire and walking a tightrope,’ the source said.”

The Washington Post has these two extraordinary (and related) points:

“Trump could face [an] outpouring of frustration as he visits Dayton and El Paso. The White House declined to provide details of the president’s schedule.”

“Whaley, the Dayton mayor, said she planned to meet with Trump on Wednesday and would ‘absolutely’ tell him ‘how unhelpful he’s been.’”

Per the New York Times: “Mr. Trump told aides to explore whether he could achieve some gun measure — possibly background checks — through executive action, according to two people briefed on the discussions. However, Mr. Trump expressed a desire to get some form of political concession from his critics in exchange for doing so, according to the people briefed.”

“The only senior Democrat in the two states, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, told a talk radio host on Tuesday that he would not be present for Mr. Trump’s visit.”

“Mr. Trump said on Twitter on Tuesday that he would meet with emergency medical workers, law enforcement and victims of the shootings in the two cities. But it is not clear whether he will speak extemporaneously in either city, a circumstance that in the past has caused him to stray from prepared remarks on sensitive topics. Taking questions before he left for Pittsburgh last fall, Mr. Trump provoked fresh anger when he observed that the shooting might have been stopped earlier had an armed guard been posted at the synagogue.”

Republican Congressman Mike Turner, who represents parts of Dayton and has an “A” rating from the NRA, came out Tuesday for a ban on military-style weapons and a red flag law.  His press release says he plans to discuss these measures with the president during his visit to Ohio.

Late Tuesday night, the president dipped on the tightrope and got into a Twitter war with Beto O’Rourke.

My take:  Cable and broadcast TV – and media Twitter – will cover the visits largely through the prism of the protests, while watching to see if anyone publicly or privately confronts the president.  The Trump White House, befitting its TV producer boss, is actually pretty good at advance work, but this trip, in the face of such bloodshed and anger, will be a real challenge.  Most of the day will surely look like a sadly normal one of an American president consoling communities in grief.  That should get covered. So should the abnormal events that occur because of the rage that exists in these two cities over the president’s words, actions, and inaction (so far) over a concrete gun safety response to these twin tragedies.

The Most Important Story on the Planet

We all know the reasons Trump can’t easily back down in his war with China; the Wall Street Journal has a smart look at why Xi can’t easily back down either.

My take: With trade negotiations slated to resume in September, both leaders face a choice about what, if anything, to do this month to ratchet down the tension.  It is easy to track the market gyrations, but slightly harder to tease out the impact on the real economy.  Just a week or two ago, White House officials could imagine riding out the storm for several more months.  The latest spate of economic data suggests the political and substantive threat is more immediate.  The successful passage through the House of the new North American trade deal would buy the administration some time, but in the current climate, that does not feel particularly likely or imminent.

Democratic Nomination Fight Remarkably Stable

Polls suggest Biden is ahead nationally and in key early states; the Big 4 (Biden, Warren, Harris, and Sanders) is still the Big 4; and Buttigieg is the only one still positioned to make it a Big 5.

My take: August will be filled with fundraisers in the Hamptons and on Nantucket for many of the candidates, and the Iowa State Fair for most.  There will also be plenty of scrambling by those hopefuls who have yet to meet the DNC’s debate requirements.  Between the shootings, China, and whatever other news erupts, it is simply difficult for any of the prospects – in the Big 4 or outside the Big 4 – to dramatically alter the contours of the race or their place in it.  The winner of that reality is Joe Biden. His experienced team smartly knows how to consolidate his two greatest assets (his lead in the Democratic horserace and the poll-boosted perception that he is the most likely to beat the incumbent) in the context of that undynamic dynamic.

Top sports story: Greinke wins Astros debut despite allowing 5 runs

Top business story: Walgreens to close 200 US stores

Top entertainment story: Motion Picture Academy Elects David Rubin Its New President

Big Four


Grassley at Denison fundraiser calls on gun owners to support ‘red flag’ laws, other measures to curb mass shootings.

2020 Democrats to talk gun safety in Iowa after shootings.


Harry Reid on Trump’s 2020 odds: ‘I’m pretty damn worried’.

South Carolina

Booker to give gun policy speech at 2015 church slaying site.

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