Sunday, August 11, 2019

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Cause of Death, Cause of Conspiracy Theories

Jeffrey Epstein’s “apparent suicide” and the mysterious and troubling circumstances surrounding his death (or “apparent death”) are horrible for his victims, horrible for justice, and horrible for America.

They are good for those who need to provide August news, information, and infotainment content.

There are the conspiracy theories and there are the parallel legitimate, skeptical questions about Epstein’s “apparent suicide.”

Donald Trump, Joy Reid, and a cast of thousands across the political spectrum agree that conspiracy theories should be considered.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (“We need answers. Lots of them.”), Rudy Giuliani (“What does the word suicide mean in the phrase suicide WATCH?”), and a cast of thousands across the political spectrum agree that they are many unanswered questions that need prompt, authoritative explanations.

Voice of reason and skepticism, Marco Rubio: “While scrutiny of Epstein’s apparent suicide is ‘warranted,’ Rubio said, he added: ‘the immediate rush to spread conspiracy theories about someone on the “other side” of partisan divide having him killed illustrates why our society is so vulnerable to foreign disinformation & influence efforts.’” 

Voice of skepticism and reason, Democratic Florida Congresswoman Lois Frankel: “There are a lot of very powerful people who wanted to see this man dead. So was it really just a suicide? Was it just negligence by the officials who had custody of him? I don’t know, but I definitely think it needs to be investigated.”

The New York Post has an anonymous and compelling account from a former Metropolitan Correction Center prisoner who says a suicide is not plausible.

The Washington Post: “People close to Epstein, noting that he seemed recently to be in good spirits, were surprised by reports of suicide, according to one person familiar with their discussions Saturday, and expressed concern about the possibility of foul play.”

“Two law enforcement officials said there were no early indicators of foul play, but they noted that the FBI investigation was in its infancy.”

“’We don’t have an indication of that right now,’ one law enforcement official said of the notion that someone may have killed Epstein.”

The Washington Post columnist Harry Littman has theories and facts, without resorting to conspiracies:

“If he was not on suicide watch, it would be astonishing. Yet if he were on suicide watch, his death would be virtually inconceivable…. The BOP’s suicide prevention protocol entails, first and foremost, human eyes on the prisoner 24 hours a day. It also requires a strict deprivation of anything — shoelaces, sheets, pillowcases — that could possibly be used to hang oneself. It also requires disabling anything that could be used to tie a noose — vents, sprinkler heads, etc…. Is there a video of Epstein’s cell at the crucial time? There should be, and it will reveal exactly how and when Epstein killed himself.”

My take: Government officials often call for thorough, prompt, and transparent investigations in cases of public controversy.  For a variety of reasons too obvious to type, this matter absolutely needs a fast and unambiguous explanation.  Unfortunately, for many, the fact that the two main investigations will be overseen by Bill Barr’s Justice Department will cast a significant cloud over whatever conclusions are reached.

Unless, of course, Barr announces early this week that Putin, Trump, and the Clintons all conspired on a Friday night conference call to have Epstein murdered.  That is likely the only outcome that will satisfy the conspiracy theorists.

Biden’s Lead and How He Could Lose It

This is the headline on the essential reading Washington Post story: “Democrats fret in Iowa: Can Biden beat Trump? If not Biden, then who?”

Summarizing Biden’s recent wave of gaffes:

“Most of the missteps are minor, but they risk adding up to an overall picture of a politician whose sharpest days are behind him — an image seized by Trump at every opportunity, and one the president would probably mention unceasingly should Biden be the nominee.”

“On Saturday, he said he met with Parkland students while he was vice president, even though the Florida shooting took place a year after he left office.”

“In his speech Thursday at the state fair, Biden bungled a line and said, ‘We choose truth over facts!’ He initially referred to former British prime minister Theresa May as one of her predecessors, Margaret Thatcher. And speaking before a Latino and Asian group, he argued for challenging students in underserved areas — but briefly appeared to conflate whiteness and wealth.”

Then with one voter quote and mini anecdote, the shiv is inserted:

“Such episodes give some Democrats pause. As Arlene Davis, 67, a retired schoolteacher from Indianola, waited to hear Biden speak the other night, she panned his candidacy so far, especially his debate performances.”

“’I was extremely disappointed. I expect more of him. He was uninspired,’ she said. ‘He’s trying to ride Obama’s coattails instead of blazing his own path to distinguish himself from others. Gee, it was nice he was vice president. However, he is not vice president now, and if he wants to stand out, he has to do it soon, on his own two feet.’ Davis added: ‘I want to know what he thinks, not what he did with Obama. That’s why I’m here.’”

“But Biden’s appearance that evening evidently did not convince her: Halfway through, she took out her phone and began playing a card game.”

And this, on Biden, from Alan Feirer, the Democratic party chairman in Madison County, “There is starting to be a real fear that he cannot hold his own in the debate against Donald Trump.”

Steve Bullock and Tim Ryan seem most eager to make something of all this (so far), with Ryan saying, “This is such an important election, and we’ve all got to be at our best. We all can’t make mistakes because with the right-wing noise machine, they take something like that, and they put up a false equivalency, making him and Trump sound like they’re the same.”

However, Politico suggests and reflects the current Gang of 500 view of Biden’s gaffes: they are priced into the stock of the frontrunner’s lead.

David Axelrod captures the exact state of play quotily to the Associated Press: “He has been durable.  The question is whether that durability is because we aren’t fully geared into the race or whether there are inherent strengths there.”

The Wall Street Journal, in a story about Trump’s wavering support from older voters, has this money quote:

“’Right now, I’m a Biden man, but the only reason I am is because, according to all the polls, he could beat Trump,’ said David Freund, a 65-year-old truck driver in Fort Wayne, Ind. Mr. Freund said he has voted for both Democrats and Republicans but is put off by Mr. Trump’s attitude.”

The Washington Post also found what the New York Times and others have in Iowa: “In surveying nearly half of the state’s 99 Democratic county chairs this week, there was widespread agreement that Warren has the most formidable organization.”

My take:  Watch the Biden gaffes, sure, but keep another eye out on the short fuse.  Recall that in his 1988 campaign, Biden famously snapped at a New Hampshire man who challenged his academic credentials (“I probably have a much higher I.Q. than you do, I suspect.”).  Gaze at the video of that chilling past-could-be-prologue moment here.

Biden, whose White House-era love affair with the media is largely over, has lashed out at inquisitive reporters and provocateurs on several occasions recently, including with one “Don’t be a wiseguy,” weekend jibe in Iowa.  Some of these moments have gone semi-viral.  If he keeps at it, one could go super viral and seriously damage his campaign. Biden will almost certainly be told about this paragraph, but it probably won’t make him less likely to keep losing his cool. 

It might, in fact, make him more likely. 

Given Donald Trump’s own propensity to suddenly bite a head off, his criticism of such Biden outbursts is and will be rich and hypocritical, but make no mistake: the president will try to take advantage of these moments big league.

But, eye on the ball, when evaluating the most likely reasons Biden could lose his lead:  lack of a message about the future>losing his temper>gaffes.

Top sports story: Mets rally again, down Nats for 8th straight win

Top business story: Elizabeth Warren unveils gun control plan that pushes for higher taxes on firearms and bullets

Top entertainment story: Universal cancels ‘The Hunt’ release

Clarification: The spelling of “Warshington” in Friday’s edition was not a typo, but rather a stylized rendering of the way some people pronounce the name of the city that John F. Kennedy described as having “Northern charm and Southern efficiency,” which, in the view of many, is the second-best JFK quote (after the one about Jefferson dining alone).

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Saturday, August 10, 2019

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The State of the Democratic Nomination Race

Friday night in Iowa, at the annual Wing Ding dinner, with the state’s key Democratic activists and many national reporters in attendance, nearly two dozen candidates for president gave boiled down versions of their stump speeches. 

Not one of them tried to explicitly make a dent in Joe Biden’s lead – or even tried to make news. 

Some of them gave better talks than others, but none used the moment to shake up the race. 

I watched the whole event.  It was so devoid of news that even the Iowa and political press could barely be bothered to file stories on it – and many of those pieces that were published led with the moment of silence for the week’s gun victims or with the mere fact of the dinner — rather than with anything the candidates said.

What deterred the rivals from grabbing the spotlight, seizing the moment to shake things up? Some combination of

1. Feeling it is “too early” to take bold steps.  It is no longer too early.

2. Feeling Joe Biden will self-destruct without any of his rivals facilitating that process.  That can no longer be taken for granted.

3. Feeling the heat from elite and grass root Democrats over backlash to the circular firing squad behavior in the debates.  That is a tricky dynamic to navigate but it won’t get less tricky in the fall or winter.

4.  Feeling they don’t want to be in league with Donald Trump, who lashed out at Biden again on Friday.   That is a tricky dynamic to navigate but it won’t get less tricky in the fall or winter.

5. Feeling that aggressive political rhetoric (besides barbs aimed at Donald Trump) would be inappropriate at the end of a week in which the nation was in stunned mourning after the shootings in Texas and Ohio.  That makes sense.

6. Feeling (realistically) that none of the candidates have the raw political skill to pull off a paradigm shift simply via their own words delivered from a stage.  That is a problem for both winning the nomination and beating the incumbent.

My take: If these dynamics continue to restrain the other candidates from even talking about Biden, let alone attacking him, he in theory could coast to the nomination. But the lack of passion for his candidacy remains its Achilles heel.

It is not the case that on the current trajectory, only Biden can be the nominee, any more than Hillary Clinton was a sure thing in 2008. 

As of now, with no outside intervention, Elizabeth Warren could take the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.  Any candidate who pulls off those twin wins would be very difficult to head off.


New York Times: “Asked in private conversations who would win the caucuses if they were held this month, the vast majority of Iowa Democratic officials and strategists say it would be Ms. Warren.”

New York Times, on the Wing Ding dinner: “This year, Mr. Buttigieg, Senator Elizabeth Warren …won the strongest reception from the audience.”

Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders or some other contender outside the Big 5 could still make a series of moves to clear a path to the nomination. 

But as of this weekend, only Biden and Warren can take the crown in Milwaukee without bending the current arc.

The State of Beltway Efforts to Pass Gun Laws

Two reasons to be skeptical about any new provisions being signed into law.

The New York Times on Trump’s warm-cold-warm-cold history on backing gun restrictions.

Politico on John Barrasso, the Senate’s #3 Republican, pouring a lot of cold water on the prospect of the upper chamber acting on any new gun measures.

My take: Even if the president and Mitch McConnell decide to push for background check measures, it is highly unlikely that the Senate would pass the legislation already approved by the House. That would mean either a conference committee or the Democratically-controlled House passing whatever the Senate produced.  Those seem like unlikely prospects as well.  McConnell’s refusal to bring the Senate back into session looks like it will stand. September is a long way off.  Momentum perishes in the heat. 

The guns debate of August won’t mean a thing unless Donald Trump makes this issue his arm-twisting, detail-focused, single-minded obsession when Labor Day comes around.  Barring an intervening event, it is very hard to see that happening.

In other news:

Latest news on Hong Kong protests here.

Latest news on North Korea short-range ballistic missile launches here.

Latest news on Jeffrey Epstein here.

Top sports story: What we learned in Friday’s preseason double dip

Top business story: Trump still has plenty of ways to escalate his China trade war

Top entertainment story: Donald Trump blasts Hollywood for ‘racist’ films

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Friday, August 9, 2019

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Reasons to think significant gun safety legislation will pass:

1. President Trump talked to Speaker Pelosi and Senator Schumer about the issue on Thursday.

2. Mitch McConnell said in a radio interview that background checks and red flag provisions will be “front and center” when the Senate returns in September.  “I think the urgency of this is not lost on any of us, because we’ve seen too many of these horrendous acts,” he said, sounding very unlike Mitch McConnell.

3. A king-sized tealeaf for the Gang of 500, who are very aware of the political savvy of Mr. Scott Jennings and his status as a McConnell Whisperer:

“A close adviser to Mr. McConnell, Scott Jennings, said on Thursday that he spoke with the leader this week and encouraged him to pursue a background check bill.”

“’I think we’ve reached a tipping point,’ said Mr. Jennings, who is based in Kentucky and has advised Mr. McConnell for years. ‘The polling clearly supports that notion, and as long as the president is going to be for something, I think there will be momentum for it within the party.’”

3. Press stories about the dissension in, and new weakness of, the NRA continue to appear, making it more likely that the News-Consumer-in-Chief will be willing to cross his allies.  Trump disrespects weakness.

4. The Nixon-goes-to-China meme is gaining traction, and Trump is a student of the broader strokes of history.

5. “’Guns, overall, is an issue where voters have moved much faster than popular political belief,’ said Angela Kuefler, the senior vice president of research for Global Strategy Group who has done extensive research on public sentiment toward guns. She said public support for an assault weapons ban has consistently hovered in the mid-50s and mid-60s.”

6. President Clinton weighed in with a TIME magazine essay in support of banning assault weapons.  This is a man who knows how to measure the public mood.

7.  Many of Donald Trump’s moderate Republican financial backers, like the ones with whom he will be hanging out in the Hamptons on Friday, are as pro-gun control as the Democratic presidential candidates.  The president will likely get an earful.

Reasons to think significant gun safety legislation will not pass:

1. McConnell is rejecting efforts to bring the Senate back from recess, increasing the chances of the momentum burning off.

2. Negotiations in the Senate could topple over if the Democrats push for an assault weapons ban, which lacks the broad political support of background checks and red flag measures. 

3. History suggests it is not unreasonable to suspect that McConnell and Trump are stalling for time and will team with the NRA to find a PR and legislative strategy to trick gun safety proponents into making the perfect the enemy of the achievable.

A close reading of McConnell’s radio interview suggests this could be the game plan. 

Per the NY Times: “Mr. McConnell told Terry Meiners of WHAS in Louisville, that he is determined to see bipartisan legislation pass, adding, ‘what I want to see here is an outcome, not a bunch of partisan back and forth.’ He also said he expected discussion of an assault weapons ban, which is favored by Democrats but highly unlikely to pass in a Republican-controlled Senate.”

4.  While a handful of Republican elected officials, mostly from Texas and Ohio, has found new religion on gun safety provisions they previously rejected, there is no stampede to the center in the party more broadly.

5. The backlash on the right against Joaquin Castro, the boycott of SoulCycle and Equinox, and the freezing of McConnell’s Twitter account all serve to rally tribal conservatives against anything Nancy Pelosi supports.  All that only escalates the passions on the left. It is one thing for Donald Trump to quietly make a budget deal with the woman conservatives think is the devil; getting a bipartisan agreement on an issue as emotional as guns is a lot more politically challenging in the current environment.

6. Famiglia Trump is divided: “Part of the challenge for lawmakers seeking action is that the White House is divided — as is often the case. The hard-liners and Mr. Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., who is close to pro-gun activists, are uneasy about angering the president’s heavily white and rural base by pursuing gun control measures ahead of 2020.”

“But others, particularly Mr. Trump’s eldest daughter and senior adviser, Ivanka Trump, are aggressively lobbying the president to take action, according to Republican officials who have been in touch with her.”

7. Nixon would not have gone to China if Twitter, talk radio, and Fox News had existed in 1972.  And Trump rarely moves to the center when he is ambivalent.  Everyone agrees Trump will have to take the lead, unambiguously, for anything to happen. “Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii was even blunter. ‘Unless Donald Trump says here’s the model legislation I want and here’s the White House position, then I think everyone should assume it’s’ not true, said Mr. Schatz, using a far more colorful word.”

8. Michael Bloomberg is going on “Face the Nation” on Sunday.  He has spent tens of millions of his wealth working towards the cause of gun safety measures, in which he passionately believes.  He also is one of the easiest proponents of such measures for the NRA and its allies to demonize in Red America, including in states that have two Republican Senators and a disproportionate influence on public policy related to such issues as gun regulation from Warshington, DC by bureaucrats wearing, in Pat Buchanan’s immortal phrase, “sandals and beads.”  Watch for the right to make hay of Bloomberg’s appearance.

9. The Friday column of the Wall Street Journal’s Kim Strassel, as is often the case, is a window into the themes and factoids that conservatives will be using among themselves and in the wider world in the weeks to come. 

“The Pew Research Center’s 2017 study of the ‘demographics of gun ownership’ found that 42% of American adults live in a household with a firearm. Some 58% of rural Americans live in a gun household, as do 48% of independents and 41% of suburbanites. Forty-eight percent of white men personally own a gun. A quarter of self-identified Democrats live in a gun household—many in those rural and suburban areas of Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin where Hillary Clinton lost and the Democratic nominee will desperately need to win in 2020.”

Her last paragraph taunts Democrats into risking that past won’t be prologue for politicians who take on the gun lobby:

“Mass shootings are a terrible problem, but they won’t be solved with gun regulation. And no competitive politician will be rewarded for offending law-abiding gun owners—and the Constitution—with radical proposals that won’t achieve their objectives. Democrats write off gun-owning America at their peril.”

My take:The New York Times hits the nail right on the head.  Skepticism is still the right posture. “Democrats caution that they have been down this road with Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell before, and it is not clear how sustained Mr. Trump’s attention to the issue will be or how much political capital he will spend to follow through.”

Friday watch list:

Hong Kong, with protesters at the airport.

My take:  This latest action has the chance of engaging an international audience and turning this from a long-running big story to the dominant story of the news cycle, including even in the United States.

Biden gaffe on “poor kids are just as bright, just as talented, as white kids.”

My take: Although his words were unfortunate (the former VP quickly corrected them), the lack of blanket coverage is actually an enormously good sign for Team Biden, since it suggests the “Biden has lost a step” and “Biden is a ticking time bomb” memes are not top-of-mind for the media right now.  Political coverage is driven above all else by polls, and Biden hasn’t had a bad state or national poll for his twin advantages — he’s ahead and he is seen as most electable — in quite some time.

Iowa is game on.

My take: The State Fair has drawn a lot of candidate activity already.  National reporters are swarming. No one has a true leg up here. The entire Big 5 is competing to get a ticket out of the Hawkeye State and onto New Hampshire. 

Let the Democratic Scott Jennings of Iowa, Jeff Link, play us into sports with this high-concept quote from Politico:

“The State Fair is like half time. We’ve had the first two quarters of the game. We have the 3rd and 4th quarters to play still. If you’re a fan of the NBA, nothing happens until the 4th quarter. I wouldn’t be satisfied being ahead at half time.”

Top sports story: Dolphins WR Stills stands by criticism of owner

Top business story: Kraft Heinz’s latest tumble begs question what is value of its brands

Top entertainment story: Facebook to Test Selling Video Subscriptions

Big Four


Biden, Bullock take on Trump, guns at Iowa State Fair.

New Hampshire

On the trail: Gabbard keeps targeting Harris but says ‘it’s not personal’.

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Thursday, August 8, 2019

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Rip, Attack, Threaten, Blame, Torch, Blast, Slam

A day’s headlines from divided America:

President Trump, White House staff rip ‘Trump Hating Dems’ on Twitter following visit to Dayton

Trump attacks local leaders as he visits two cities grieving from mass shootings

Twitter locks McConnell campaign account over video of protesters hurling threats

If Trump is to blame for El Paso, Democrats are to blame for Dayton

Biden, in Iowa, torches Trump’s divisive rhetoric

Billionaire boss of Equinox, SoulCycle blasted for hosting Trump fundraiser

Cummings slams Trump’s ‘racist language’ after mass shootings

My take: 453 days until Election Day.  Please email me if you see a single reason to believe that the political thermostat is going to be turned down for even a moment before then. 

As has been true since at least the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Robert Bork, every incentive for both sides empowers the loudest, angriest voices on the national town square to have the most influence.

To paraphrase “The Untouchables,” they pull a knife, you pull a bazooka. 

It is politics, Old Media, New Media, culture.  It is corrosive and ugly.

This isn’t about moral equivalency debates or even who wins the next election. It is about the soul of our country and the souls of our children. 

Changing the incentives is a big project.  The United States had three straight two-term presidents who put fixing all this at the center of their original candidacies for the Oval Office. Now we have a president who calls himself a “counter puncher” who punches wildly and widely even on a day of solemn grieving. Progressives also believe in take-no-prisoners counter punching.

America is a lot of things, but it isn’t this cruel and self-destructive. It isn’t.

If you are a political or partisan person reading this and thinking to yourself, “The other side has a monopoly on destructive animosity,” you are wrong. 

If you are a media person reading this and thinking to yourself, “My caustic tweets and acidly written stories don’t contribute to the corrosion,” you are wrong. 

As the great Tom Lehrer said, “I’m sure we all agree that we ought to love one another, and I know there are people in the world who do not love their fellow human beings, and I hate people like that!”


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In other news:

Gun Safety Update

The president suggested in comments to the public Wednesday that his support for background checks will lead to congressional action and/but said there is no appetite for new restrictions on assault weapons. 

My take:  The first statement is likely inaccurate and the second is misleading. 

Despite Democratic congressional leaders (and a few Republicans) pushing Mitch McConnell for action, the familiar kabuki drama is playing out. 

With Congress in recess, the president knows he can say he is for very popular background check legislation without having to actually try to make that a reality. And he knows he can pretend away polls that continue to show significant public backing for dealing with assault weapons, in part because surveys are mixed on the views of Republicans.

This essential reading Washington Post story sums up where the president is on new gun safety laws quite well: the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre told him this week that such measures are a bad idea politically and substantively; the president is wondering if the NRA is still powerful; his own aides “question how far he will go on any effort”; he is waffling “between wanting to do more and growing concerned that doing so could prompt a revolt from his political base”; and he “has discussed with aides the idea of a Rose Garden bill-signing ceremony for gun-control legislation.”

Most significantly for reading where things are headed, the Post quotes one presidential aide saying this about Donald Trump and new gun safety legislation: “He would not be blocking it, but he’s not going to be the one forcing it to happen.” 

Unless that last point changes, and nothing that happened Wednesday (or in history) suggests that it will, we have seen this movie before and we know how it ends.

The president will ratchet down his talks with members of Congress who want action; ratchet up his talks with pro-gun members and activists; come to believe he can’t risk alienating his base by acting without substantial Republican support; let McConnell do his thing by not bringing the Senate back into session, on the assumption that the fervor and focus will dissipate by September; and let the fierce urgency of now become the fierce lack-of-urgency of never.

Harris, For the People

The Wall Street Journal news pages says Kamala Harris is positioning herself smartly ideologically between her main rivals, and its editorial page runs an op-ed praising her support for Medicare Advantage.

My take: Harris is garnering over a third of the votes of the Gang of 500 for whom they want to be the nominee and closing in on that level for whom the Gang thinks will be the nominee, trailing only Biden and Warren in both categories.  Critics point out the flaws in her candidacy, as if her rivals are not also imperfect. 

The four biggest practical questions still loom. Can she put up a big third-quarter fundraising number that demonstrates grass root support? Can she do well enough in Iowa and New Hampshire? Can she take a punch? Can she capture the public imagination with a theory of the case about why she wants to be president undergirded by her unique American story?

The Annals of the Era of Trump

The president teases commuting the sentence of former Governor/”Celebrity Apprentice” participant Rod Blagojevich

My take: This action would be controversial and not just because it would be one of the most time-capsule-worthy moments of the Trump presidency.

Top sports story: Yanks mash 5 more HRs vs. O’s, break MLB mark

Top business story: FDA investigating 127 reports of seizures after vaping

Top entertainment story: Fox Entertainment Names Amy Carney Chief Operating Officer

Big Four


Joe Biden, in Iowa, says Trump has ‘fanned the flames of white supremacy’; Trump, on Twitter, calls Biden ‘boring’.

Amy Klobuchar details plan to boost Iowa’s energy and agriculture industries, end child poverty.

2020 Democrats target Trump gains in rural areas.

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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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Tuesday, August 6, 2019

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Firearm Nation

My take:  In 1988, I was in my first job in journalism. A friend of mine from high school was working for Michael Dukakis’ Democratic presidential campaign. He was sent to do field work in Texas in the general election.

Dukakis, from Massachusetts, had selected Lone Star State Senator Lloyd Bentsen as his running mate, so the Democrats were putting in an effort in the state.  My friend was assigned to the Dallas metropolitan area, where he spent his days talking to voters, trying to persuade them to vote for the ticket.

He reported to me at the time that every day, nearly all the voters with whom he spoke said there was no chance they would vote for the Dukakis-Bentsen ticket.  No chance.

Nearly all of them gave the same reason: Michael Dukakis wanted to take their guns away, they said, and if he were elected president, that is exactly what he would do.

Dukakis had all sorts of policy positions on a variety of issues.  He certainly was a supporter of stricter regulation of firearms. But he didn’t emphasize the matter in his campaign as a top issue, and he wasn’t for gun confiscation. 

My friend, a graduate of St Albans and Wesleyan University, found all of this baffling, frustrating, and darkly humorous.

I did not grow up in a gun culture, but I have felt throughout my career that my friend’s experience, now more than 30 years old, taught me what I needed to know about the enduring emotional and political power of the relationship between many Americans and their guns.

This morning, I Googled “Dukakis gun control” and the first hit was this article.

I know you are busy. But stop and read this vintage piece if you want to understand why so many of our politicians have failed to act in the face of the frequent human slaughter by American citizens of other American citizens, including children, using guns.  No other industrialized democracy would tolerate this horrifying behavior.

On the other hand, consider these factors that would argue FOR the passage of more federal gun safety measures:

1. Often one can explain the behavior of Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy by looking at the wishes of their donors. In fact, most big Republican donors don’t care much about the Second Amendment, and some are in fact very pro gun control.

2.  Michael Bloomberg, Gabby Giffords, and others have raised and spent millions and millions of dollars in support of new measures, using sophisticated, focus group and poll-tested language and messaging, notably learning to talk about “gun safety” rather than “gun control.” They have also supported pro-restriction candidates.

3. As I wrote Monday, the NRA is not as powerful as it once was, a trend that began even before their recent internal problems.

4. The press is 95% in favor of more gun control, and the coverage reflects that.  Even some conservative media – the New York Post, for example — now supports more gun restrictions.

5. We have seen some particularly horrific acts of violence in the last few years, including but not limited to Newtown and Parkland.

6. Barack Obama was the most pro-gun control president in American history.

7. Senator Pat Toomey, who talked to Mitch McConnell and President Trump Monday about gun safety ideas, is a Republican from a state steeped in gun culture who has in the last few years been an outspoken supporter of some firearm safety legislation, demonstrating it is politically possible for Republicans to support bipartisan measures that have broad public support.

8. Several prominent retired members of the military have come out for gun safety measures in recent years.

9. Public opinion polling consistently shows overwhelming, or, at least, clear-cut support for most of the gun safety provisions that Democrats support.

10. Democratic presidential candidates, governors, and members of Congress are not nearly as politically afraid to openly support gun measures as they were just a few years ago.

And yet Mitch McConnell by all appearances feels under ZERO pressure to even pretend to be considering legislation to address this national crisis.

McConnell is generally pretty impervious to pressure, especially pressure that comes from the media or Democrats, but the list above on the surface would suggest something of a puzzle.

It all makes perfect sense to me, however, based on the stories my friend told me over thirty years ago.

Politico:Republicans hide behind Trump in gun debate

And/but Politico:Trump explores executive action on guns (which notes that Attorney General Barr has a history of supporting gun safety measures and/but that the president has a history of touting executive action and then backing off when the public spotlight shifts)

“’He would be a disaster for the Second Amendment,’ Gun Owners of America, a pro-gun nonprofit, wrote weeks before Barr’s confirmation vote in February.”

Wall Street Journal: “Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) said he spoke with the president Monday. Mr. Graham and Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) said they had reached an agreement on a framework for a new statute that would provide grants and other incentives to states to enable law-enforcement authorities and courts to confiscate firearms if a gun owner poses a danger to him or herself or to another person. Mr. Blumenthal said they would introduce the legislation ‘in the very near future,’ and Mr. Graham said in a statement that Mr. Trump was ‘very supportive.’”

Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who used to be a member of the leadership, also wants bipartisan action. 

House Democrats debate the best way to pressure McConnell – come back into special session and pass more gun legislation or stand pat and focus on the Senate’s failure to act on what has already moved through the House.  The answer, if past is prologue, is that McConnell is unlikely to be compelled to act by either gambit.

California Governor Gavin Newsom, who leads his own nation-state, sums up the opposition view of the Senate majority leader:

“Mitch McConnell is a coward. He’s abdicated leadership. Do your job, put it up for a vote.”

David Axelrod sums up the opposition view of the president’s remarks:

“If you laid that speech next to videos of his rallies, it’s mind-boggling. He said what you’d want the president to say. The problem is that in real life, he’s a provocateur, not a healer, and his whole political project depends on those provocations. And so how long will it be before he returns to ‘Twitter Trump’ stirring the pot? How long before the next rally when he uses the dehumanizing language that he decried in his remarks today?”

In other news:

The Wall Street Journal editorial board is very unhappy with the US-China trade war escalating into a currency war.

My take: With world markets taking a beating, is hard to argue with Paul Krugman on this (especially when he and the Journal ed board are in strange-bedfellow agreement):

“More sensible people hoped that [Trump] might do what he did with NAFTA: reach a new deal basically the same as the old deal, proclaim that it was totally different, and claim a great victory.”

“But no: it’s pretty clear now that he refuses to give up on his belief that trade wars are good, and easy to win; his plan is to continue the beatings until morale improves. What may have looked like temporary tariffs designed to win concessions now look like permanent features of the world economy, with the level of tariffs and the range of countries facing them likely to expand over time.”

Since the current trajectory could cost the president re-election, it seems rational that he will seek an off ramp.  But the strategy he adopted presumed China would give in, or, at least, compromise.  That apparent miscalculation means the president faces a choice of continued escalation (ruinous) or humiliating unilateral de-escalation (ruinous in its own way).

NY Post: AOC takes on McConnell over offensive photo.

My take: It would be interesting to know AOC’s approval rating in Kentucky and McConnell’s approval rating in AOC’s district.  There are serious issues here; if the fight escalates, the warfare will be asymmetrical across a lot of dimensions.

Top sports story: Source: No. 1 hoops prospect Mobley commits to USC

Top business story: China Acts to Limit Yuan Plunge, Bringing Some Relief to Markets

Top entertainment story: Tencent in Talks to Buy 10% of Universal Music Group

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Monday, August 5, 2019

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For the Love of Country

Everyone reading this has already paused in the last day to think about those who lost their lives (and their families and loved ones), those who were grievously wounded (and their families and loved ones), and the children in these two communities (and throughout the United States) who are growing up in a country that tolerates more mass murders by far than any other industrialized democracy. 

Pause again now, if you would, to think about all of them. And recognize that we honor their loss and their pain by trying, as a people, to try to keep these types of horrible murders from happening.

My take: 

A. Even if you are a Second Amendment hawk, you have to be concerned about the level and nature of gun violence in the United States. Even if you are a First Amendment hawk, you have to be concerned about the level and nature of white supremacist terrorism in the United States.

If you aren’t interested in contributing aggressively to exploring all possible solutions to these twin problems, you aren’t a serious citizen or legislator – or president.   Put down your tribal instincts.  Don’t worry about the next election. Look at the research, consider the options, form bipartisan coalitions, and take action.

B. Given all that has happened to the NRA in the last year, it is impossible to imagine they are as potent a force as they were for the decades when they were known as the Beltway’s most powerful lobby.  They are surely weaker, but they remain formidable and unyielding.  As do nearly all Republican members of Congress who have long opposed new gun laws and played down the white supremacist threat.

C. Despite (B), these could be the issues on which Trump finally makes a “Nixon goes to China” move.  The president could support a range of gun safety measures that are already on the table, none of which would do anything to infringe the rights of hunters or citizens to access appropriate firearms.  And the president could make that very point in announcing his backing for a package of sensible solutions that could pass the House easily and produce enough support to cause Mitch McConnell to wave a white flag.   

The president could also deliver his most forceful denunciation ever of white supremacist terrorism.  That would also require a Nixon-goes-to-China willingness.

The president really could take both of those steps at his 10am ET announcement this morning.  Will he?

At this writing, I would say rhetoric and proposals that leave the door open to moving in those directions are more likely than concrete steps, as Donald Trump uses his media intake to gauge which way the winds are blowing.

At his White House event, the president will have a chance to talk about both his views of gun control and white supremacist terrorism.  We know what he can say on both; until we see what he says, the political debate is frozen.  Waiting for a unifying, bipartisan moment from Donald Trump has been a frustrating and fruitless enterprise up until this day. 

But the politics of a “Nixon goes to China” moment are actually pretty clear, and the morality of such a move are even clearer.  Trump critics and skeptics surely believe, with ample evidence, that he will again act today like the leader of the Birther movement, who was elected with the massive backing of the NRA.  But there is a chance he will act more like a grandfather and a man who has at times demonstrated an understanding of the tides of history and a belief that his political base will give him leeway.

D. There are some early indications of what could influence him. The New York Post editorial board is cheering Trump on to support more gun safety measures. That is not a typo, although the Washington Post editorial board, in its own way, also cheers on Trump, with a proposed speech he could give on assault weapons, background checks, and hate speech.

The Gotham City Post declares “Gun control works,” and urges Trump to start with an assault weapons ban and move forward with more from there.  The Murdoch-owned paper makes its case on the wood (the tabloid’s cover), which is important real estate for the president.

Also: The Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal’s editorial board wants lowered Trump rhetoric, red flag laws, and a focus on mental health.

E. Per Politico: “Ivanka Trump condemned the attacks, writing that ‘white supremacy, like all other forms of terrorism, is an evil that must be destroyed.’ She also endorsed the call on Twitter by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) for the enactment of so-called red flag laws that give law enforcement greater authority to confiscate weapons from those deemed dangerous.”

F. And there is public opinion. Per the Wall Street Journal: “Broad support exists for stricter laws on firearm sales. A Reuters/Ipsos poll taken in February showed 69% of Americans—including 85% of Democrats and 57% of Republicans—wanted strong or moderate restrictions on firearms, and 55% said they favored policies making it harder to own a gun.”

G. With Congress in recess, GOP members are less likely to speak out and less likely to have an impact if they do, but it is not impossible that some leading Republican Senator with an “A” rating from the NRA comes out for some gun safety measures today. 

The same thing could happen with a Republican Senator, let’s say Tom Cotton or Marco Rubio, giving an interview or a speech warning of the dangers of white supremacist terrorism.

But do not expect McConnell to bend to calls to bring the Senate back into an emergency session. McConnell opposes gun control, any move that could unpredictably put him on the defensive, and a media spotlight that indicts Republicans as a party of racists and racist-coddlers. A special session would risk all three.

Watch for more of this: “Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut…said Sunday that he’d spent the weekend discussing gun control proposals with his Republican colleagues.”

H. The Democratic presidential candidates will continue to get a lot of attention, but their rhetoric on guns and white supremacy is unlikely to produce real change in the short term. 

Biden, Harris, Sanders, and Klobuchar are all scheduled to speak midday Pacific Time at the UNIDOSUS conference in San Diego.

I. So, the people to watch: Trump, Pence, Romney, Graham, McConnell, Rubio, Rick Scott, House Republicans with strong NRA ratings who also care about terrorism, Republican governors, Fox News hosts, Dick Cheney, and George W. Bush.

In other news:

The Wall Street Journal on an issue and demographic group that could decide the election: the economy and women voters.

The Squad is reportedly about to be featured in a Republican TV ad.

Yet another Texas Republican congressman, from a purple-ish district, is reportedly poised to retire.

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Sunday, August 4, 2019

Two Unimaginable Tragedies

The El Paso shootings:

At least 20 dead; alleged killer alive and reportedly being questioned; apparent manifesto will be debated and dissected.

Latest national coverage: link

El Paso Times.

Live local TV coverage here.

The Dayton shootings:

At least 9 dead; alleged murderer reportedly killed by law enforcement; motive at this writing unknown.

Latest national coverage: link

Dayton Daily News.

Live local TV coverage here and here.

The Washington Post’s Dan Balz on the “summer of discontent” for Democrats and Republicans

“The physics of politics generally mean that when one party is up, the other is down; when one is confident, the other is nervous or pessimistic. In the age of Trump, those rules, like so many others, don’t apply. Everyone seems to have something to worry about, which means Republicans are also suffering this summer.”

My take: Both parties have a lot of problems, to be sure.  August is not a great time to solve them.  If Democrats could get on the same page about what their problems are and how to solve them, they would mitigate one of the Republicans’ current advantages. Another Washington Post story, however, makes it pretty clear that that is not going to happen.  The party’s divides are real.

The Wall Street Journal: Trump considers September rollout of health care proposals

“Elements of the plan could include providing coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, the people said, and spurring the sale of insurance across state lines. Other provisions being discussed include giving states more flexibility, expanding health savings accounts, linking price transparency to quality metrics, and more insurance options for consumers, they said. The plan would include a number of new elements that haven’t yet been released, one person familiar with the work said.”

My take: The story’s very next paragraph is of equal (or greater) importance:

“White House officials stressed that the plans haven’t been completed, and some close to the president have privately expressed skepticism. One former White House official raised the possibility that the plan may not materialize this fall if Mr. Trump second-guesses the effort. The administration is also still weighing how specific the plan should be, the people familiar with the plan said, and the ideas have yet to get Mr. Trump’s sign off.”

Republicans have a lot of substantive and 2020 political problems on health care, to be sure.  August is not a great time to solve them.  If Republicans could get on the same page about what their problems are and how to solve them, they would mitigate one of the Democrats’ current advantages. Most every piece of available data, however, makes it pretty clear that that is not going to happen.  The party’s divides are real.

McConnell heckled at Kentucky political pageant and by NY Times.

Republican majority leader hit with “Moscow Mitch” moniker and over gridlocking.

My take: McConnell personally and professionally cares about Democratic taunts and press attacks as much as Dick Cheney does. Which is to say: not at all.  That imperviousness is liberating for him and/but distorting for our democracy.

NY Post: “Feds probing AOC’s chief of staff Saikat Chakrabarti after sudden resignation”

“AOC did not show up at a Bronx event on her schedule Saturday. Her office would not comment on the staff departures, and Chakrabarti did not return several messages.”

My take: Whether there is a federal investigation that goes anywhere or not, this story generally has at least some falling action still to come, and maybe even more rising action.  The Friday night departures from AOC’s staff begged more questions than they answered, and the answers will start with the Congresswoman.

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Saturday, August 3, 2019

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Wide World of News, Weekend Edition

Some of you requested a Saturday special.

Let’s consider this an experiment, shall we?

Ratcliffe Out As DNI Nominee

My take: Obvious and expected, the minute it was clear Republican Senators were not enthusiastic about voting for him.  Meaning: they weren’t going to vote for him.

Two Top AOC Aides Out

My take: Obvious but unexpected, buried on a Friday night, a few beats after it was clear that Speaker Pelosi would not stand for staff taking on members.

Republicans Worry About Texas’ Electoral Votes

My take: Not obvious or expected, and/but Ted Cruz tells the Washington Post, “The president’s reelection campaign needs to take Texas seriously….It is by no means a given” that Trump will carry the Lone Star State.

US-China Trade War Spooks World Economy

My take: Obvious and expect more of it.  Neither side is backing down and a compromise that splits the difference will be no easier to come by than neatly eating a hoisin-sauce-laced Peking duck pancake while blindfolded and with your hands tied behind your back.

Top sports story: Fans removed from Baltimore Orioles game after unfurling Donald Trump banner


Top business story:  Facebook shows who’s boss by adding its name to Instagram, WhatsApp

Wall Street Journal

Top entertainment story: CBS, Viacom reach tentative management structure for combined company


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Friday, August 2, 2019

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1. President Obama’s reaction to all the criticism Democratic presidential candidates are heaping on his record is

A. “This really hurts my feelings. I thought these people were my friends.”

B. “Poor Joe. This is one of the many reasons I didn’t think he should run either last time or this time.”

C. “I am concerned this will jeopardize our chances of stopping Donald Trump’s re-election.”

D. “What the %$*(@??!!?”

2. Speaker Pelosi will give in to those who want a formal impeachment inquiry when

A. Steny Hoyer tells her she must.

B. A private family vote says she must.

C. Chuck Schumer says she must.

D. She thinks such a proceeding will make it more likely that Donald Trump won’t be president in January, 2021 than it otherwise would be.

3. The candidate most baffled that the debates didn’t provide a lift into the top tier is

A. Beto O’Rourke.

B. Amy Klobuchar.

C. Kirsten Gillibrand.

D. All of the above.

4. Democratic presidential candidates of the left who don’t think they are leading their party off of a cliff are

A. Confident in their theory of the case about how to win a general election.

B. Disdainful of the centrists’ policy and political arguments in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 loss.

C. Blissfully and purposefully unaware of the demographic and electoral arguments that suggest they are making a mistake.

D. All of the above.

5. The Administration official with the best feel for how China will react to trade war gambits is

A. Donald Trump.

B. Steve Mnuchin.

C. Mike Pompeo.

D. Bob Lighthizer.

6. The Administration official with the best feel for how Nancy Pelosi will react to trade war gambits is

A. Donald Trump.

B. Steve Mnuchin.

C. Mike Pence.

D. Bob Lighthizer.

7. A Corey Lewandowski Senate candidacy in New Hampshire would

A. Bring his Democratic enemies out of the woodwork.

B. Bring his Republican enemies out of the woodwork.

C. Make Senator Shaheen very concerned.

D. Put New Hampshire’s four Electoral College votes into play big league (in the mind of DJT).

8. Joe Biden’s elite Philly-Boston-New York-DC backers are

A. Reassured by his Detroit debate performance.

B. Eager for him to talk more about the future than the past.

C. Worried about his third-quarter fundraising number.

D. Given the debates, unable to imagine supporting anyone else in the field so soldiering on.

9. The influence Iowa and New Hampshire will have in the 2020 Democratic nomination process will be

A. The same as it always has been.

B. Greatly reduced.

C. Unclear still – too soon to say.

D. The same as it always has been, diminished for all America by significantly reduced opportunities for discerning first-in-the-nation voters and activists to kick the candidate tires, thanks to the DNC.

10. Who said this: “I want Trump to lose next year as much as anyone. The party on view in Detroit was not close to being up to its historic responsibility of defeating him and governing responsibly in his place.”

A. Rahm Emanuel.

B. Paul Begala.

C. Bill Clinton.

D. Bret Stephens.

11. Suggesting that the Democratic presidential candidates have gone too far to the left is

A. The Washington Post editorial board.

B. The Wall Street Journal’s Kim Strassel.

C. Former Democratic Congressman Steve Israel.

D. All of the above.

12. Cheering Marianne Williamson on is

A. David Brooks.

B. Peggy Noonan.

C. Tony Fabrizio.

D. All of the above.

In other news:

Democrats Fret About State of Nomination Race

Detroit attacks on Barack Obama just one of many concerns.

My take:This essential-reading New York Times story does a fine job of rounding up all the worries the party has about the task of picking someone strong to run against Donald Trump.  The challenges go beyond the brickbats aimed at the former president, which are driven by both the political need to take down Joe Biden and the party’s rapid move to the far left. 

With no debates or other expected clarifying events in August (and Congress away), the Democrats are left with the lingering impressions from the Motor City, which are seen as ruinous by party elders; center-left elected officials; strategists with cable news analyst deals; fat cat donors; Biden backers; the Old Media; some of the new media; and anti-Trump conservative commentators. 

That group has a lot louder megaphone than all the Democratic presidential candidates combined, even when they are in the Hamptons or at the Iowa State Fair.

And Michelle Obama isn’t going to ride to the rescue.

The biggest question in the Democratic race right now is this: Do Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and/or Bernie Sanders feel they need to do anything about this, or can they just keep doing their thing?

Trump Plays Ohio

President goes way over an hour in pretty-much-what-you-would-expect Thursday night event.

Per the AP, at Trump’s Cincinnati rally (first one since “send her back,” Cummings attacks, Mueller testimony, and Democratic debates):

*“He largely stuck to a greatest hits performance.”

*There was no repeat of that chant, but the crowd did sing “lock her up,” in reply to this: “Do you remember when Hillary used the word ‘deplorable’? Deplorable was not a good day for Hillary. Crooked Hillary. She is a crooked one. She is crooked.”

*Also sayeth the president: “I don’t want to be controversial….The Democrats spent more time attacking Barack Obama than they did attacking me, practically…The Democrats have never been so far outside the mainstream…Until such time there is a deal we’ll be taxing the hell out of China.”

My take: There are a lot of unpredictable variables in play in this presidential campaign. The Trump rallies=constant.  And/but their impact on the local markets in which they occur is real.

An Incumbent Searching for an International Win

China trade snag representative of a long to-do list.

My take: With US-Chinese negotiations set to continue in the fall, the Wall Street Journal ed board worries that “The President is embarked on a high-risk coercive showdown with the world’s second largest economy in which neither side wants to bend first.”

Politically and substantively, the named author of “The Art of the Deal” needs some international victories before he faces the voters.  Stalled as of this writing: China trade, North Korea nukes, Middle East peace, North American trade deal, European trade deal, other Asian trade deals, stopping Russian aggression, stopping Syrian carnage, stopping Latin American despots, etc.

But he might have made a deal with the Taliban on a US troop withdrawal.   Elite media tends to underestimate how much resonance that could have.

But the China thing is a mess and the president, who has thought the clock was in his favor, has probably started to figure out that the clock is in fact not in his favor.  Not too many world leaders have ever made their bones waiting out the Chinese leadership.

Top sports story: Reds-Pirates brawl results in 40 games of bans

Top business story: Lowe’s lays off thousands of workers

Top entertainment story: Inside CEO John Stankey’s ‘Action-Oriented’ Approach to Reposition WarnerMedia

Big Four

New Hampshire

Bouley backs Booker in 2020 presidential primary race.

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