Friday, September 20, 2019

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Friday Stakes

President Trump is scheduled to hold a joint press conference with the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison at 11:45am ET.

The exact questions the president will be asked are not clear, but it seems to be a mortal lock that he will be queried on two topics: a whistleblower’s reported charge that Trump had improper dealings with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and what the U.S. plans to do about its charge that Iran was responsible for the attacks on Saudi oil assets.

On the latter, the Associated Press says, “The Pentagon will present a broad range of military options to President Donald Trump on Friday…In a White House meeting, the president will be presented with a list of potential airstrike targets inside Iran, among other possible responses, and he also will be warned that military action against the Islamic Republic could escalate into war.”

The Wall Street Journal reports, “The Pentagon is considering sending additional antimissile batteries, another squadron of jet fighters and added surveillance capabilities to the Middle East to shore up the military’s regional presence in the wake of the attack last weekend on Saudi Arabia’s petroleum industry, U.S. military officials said.

“The measures under consideration also include a commitment to maintaining the presence of a U.S. aircraft carrier and other warships in the Middle East for the foreseeable future, the officials said.”

Essential reading: David Ignatius’ column on Trump and Iran, which says,

“For U.S. officials, one message is that the Iranians are much more militant and risk-tolerant than American analysts had believed. Another is that the Iranians have correctly assessed that President Trump doesn’t want war and are taking advantage of that perceived weakness. The more Trump talks about his desire for a diplomatic solution, the more Iran seems ready to attack. That’s a dangerous dynamic.”

Also essential reading, with many of the same themes: Bret Stephens’ New York Times column. (“Trump may have the rhetorical impulses of Bob Dornan, but the Iranians have noticed that he has the strategic instincts of Dennis Kucinich.”)

My take: Trump’s indecision and Iran’s provocative behavior are a toxic mix.  Many of Trump’s unorthodox methods seem to represent a real threat to America’s security and the stability of the world order – when they are really just sideshow.  This situation is different. It is dangerous and almost no national security official in either party (including in the administration) has much confidence that the president understands the gravity of what is at stake – or how to finesse a truly tough set of interrelated problems.


On the former, even as news organizations report more on what the whistleblower charges are all about, and even as – especially as — Trump tweets a defense and Rudy Giuliani goes on TV to give a contradictory and confusing performance, it isn’t really known yet publicly what happened here, how serious it might be, and what happens next.

By the end of his extraordinary performance on CNN, Rudy said this extraordinary thing:

“The reality is the president of the United States has every right to say to another leader of a foreign country, ‘you got to straighten up before we give you a lot of money.’ It is perfectly appropriate for (Trump) to ask a foreign government to investigate this massive crime that was made by a former vice president.”

So, although the actual whistleblower charges are not known publicly, the president’s attorney is already going with a classic Team Trump defense: the president might have done it, but it wasn’t illegal or improper.

And the New York Times adds this: “Mr. Trump regularly speaks with foreign leaders and is often unfettered. Some current and former officials said that what an intelligence official took to be a troubling commitment could have been an innocuous comment.”

My take: There are a lot of moving parts on this story, especially on Capitol Hill, but there really isn’t much to discuss until we learn more about what the whistleblower said.  There will be a big build up to the president’s press availability, but the likely result will be more confusion, rather than clarity.  Congressman Schiff, the Democratic head of the Intelligence Committee, is getting a fourth chance to make a first impression on this one.



The new Fox News poll is filled with bad news for Team Trump, along with a handful of numbers that are encouraging for the White House.

My take: All Republican strategists want the president to talk about and work on the economy.  They look at polls like this and slap their foreheads and roll their eyes and wonder when and if things will change.


Kamala Harris’ shift in focus to Iowa gets skeptical treatment in the Washington Post and Des Moines Register.

My take: As I wrote yesterday, as hard a road as Harris has in moving up in Iowa, insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. While all of the top candidates have had strong moments in Iowa, local Democrats say that no one has caught fire there yet.  Harris’ third-quarter fundraising totals are likely to reinforce the notion that she is not going to be the money candidate in this field. So she is trying to be the momentum candidate. Which requires her to first be a message candidate. So she is back to where she started: her absence of a clear message will be just as problematic in Iowa as it was nationally.


Pete Buttigieg has started criticizing Elizabeth Warren for a lack of directness on her health care plan.

My take: There are three main ways that Warren’s time in the barrel could commence. The media could do it (in the works but not happening anytime soon, it seems). The Republicans could do it (but they are saving their best opposition research to make mischief later). Or a Democrat could do it. Team Biden is mulling how to take Warren on on health care in a more robust fashion; Buttigieg is Biden’s beta test.


Bernie Sanders has a million donors faster than anyone ever.

My take: This is a grassroots achievement that Sanders is justifiably proud of. It has real meaning. And/but it does nothing by itself to solve his Warren problem.  While it is somewhat clear what Biden and Buttigieg will do if they eventually need to take on Warren more directly, that puzzle is more difficult for Sanders (and Harris) to solve.


Top sports story: Yankees clinch 1st AL East title since 2012

Top business story: American Airlines canceled more flights than any US carrier in July: ‘It was a tough summer for us’

Top entertainment story: Judge Sides With Michael Jackson Estate in ‘Leaving Neverland’ Dispute


Big Four


Iowa Democrats propose ‘satellite’ caucus system to replace virtual caucuses in 2020.

Democrats shift 2020 strategies as Iowa draws closer.

New Hampshire

Sanford takes his first 2020 campaign trip to New Hampshire.

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