Thursday, September 5, 2019


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Trump Troubles Tally

The president has very little chance to get anything significant done before he faces the voters – and he lacks the discipline to promote what he has accomplished, per the New York Times.

He is not on track to win reelection, per John Podhoretz.

He is currently losing to Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders in a new Wisconsin survey, per the Marquette University Law School Poll.

He’s not working hard enough, per the LA Times.

He was roundly mocked in many quarters for his false claim about Alabama being threatened by the hurricane, per the Associated Press.

Someone close to Trump says no one will stand up to him when he is wrong, per Politico.

Migrant children in federal custody have severe mental health issues, per the Department of Health and Human Services.

Prospects of a trade deal breakthrough with China are “low,” per the Wall Street Journal.

His trade agenda is an utter failure in every way, per one of the smartest people in post-World War II America, Bob Zoellick.

He is still in a political pickle on gun safety, per Politico.

His ally Boris Johnson is in a world of hurt, per the Guardian’s Zoe Williams.

More House Republican retirements are widely cast as a sign that the majority cannot be regained for Trump’s party, per Fox News.

The Atlanta Fed downgraded its third-quarter GDP growth estimate, per Reuters

My take: How many of those items are based on anti-Trump media bias?

None.

How many of those items would be disputed by any Republican Senator who was being honest?

None.

How many of those items would be disputed by any member of the White House senior staff or reelection campaign team?

Maybe 1 or 1.5.

What are the chances that the president will look at this list and resolve to change his ways and do better?

None.

And/but: As a matter of governance, these are among the worst of times for the presidency of Donald J. Trump. 

As a matter of his winning four more years, the last three incumbents were in dire political shape well into the fall of their re-election efforts, and all three won.

The Democrats’ on-paper frontrunner, Joe R. Biden, is not having a particularly good news cycle either (Drudge attack, Jeff Greenfield suggesting potential doom, seen as shaky in CNN town hall, pressed on gaffes by Stephen Colbert, panned by Brit Hume).

Just four elected incumbents have lost reelection bids since 1900.  Trump ferociously wants to win. The president’s reelection team is following the model of its three predecessors and are smartly and quietly using the time edge it has to build a political death star. Democrats are not as united as some think, and the nomination contest is sure to exacerbate divisions. 

Trump is Trump. Biden is Biden. None of us have ever seen this movie before. 

The film and journalism clichés apply: tomorrow is another day and only time will tell.

But today’s snapshot is grim indeed for this president.

Top sports story: Dodgers break NL record for homers in a season
ESPN

Top business story: Hurricane Dorian to cost retailers $1.5 billion and threaten back to school sales
CNBC

Top entertainment story: Eddie Murphy Planning Return To Stand-up Comedy In 2020
Deadline

Big Four

Iowa

In a new rural plan, Steve Bullock proposes two-year freeze on ag mergers to reset oversight.

New Hampshire

Messner becomes the third Republican to launch a 2020 Senate campaign.

State to appeal judge’s ruling on school funding method.

Nevada

Numbers show Democrats made slight gains with Nevada voters.

South Carolina

Major coastal flooding from Dorian could shut down SC coast Wednesday, officials say.

SC lawmakers urge Trump to reject ‘unconstitutional’ red flag gun laws.


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Wednesday, September 4, 2019


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Latest on the storm: LINK

Latest on Hong Kong: LINK

Latest on Brexit: LINK

CONFIDENCE

***Team Biden does not have confidence the former VP can win Iowa or New Hampshire, but claims to have confidence he can garner the nomination even if he loses both of the first two contests.

My take: We live in unusual times, but there is no reason to think that if the Democratic frontrunner headed into 2020 loses Iowa and New Hampshire that said “frontrunner” could generate enough money, message, and momentum to begin to win contests after going 0-for-2.  Particularly since said “frontrunner” is not very juggernauty on those three Ms to begin with.  Biden aides said on a Tuesday conference call with reporters that their man is in it for the long haul, but he is more likely to pull off their scenario if he decisively loses his polling lead before Christmas than if he maintains it headed into February. #expectationsgame #comebackkid

***Boris Johnson has lost the confidence of a segment of the Tories.

My take: Just when you thought Brexit could not get any more complicated or unresolvable, Johnson begins expelling rebel Conservatives and sees his new government threatened.  It is too soon to declare Johnson no more able to solve this crisis than his predecessor.  But, on this trajectory, it will soon not be too soon.

***Hong Kong’s chief Carrie Lam and Beijing have confidence they can defuse the protest movement by making incremental concessions.

My take: The odds are greater than 67% that the thirst for freedom will continue apace despite the proposed withdrawal of the extradition measure that set the protests off in the first place.

***The president claims to have confidence he is already winning the tariff faceoff with China.

U.S. manufacturers have lower confidence in their economic future, in part because of the tariff war.

The Wall Street Journal ed board and op ed contributor Stephen Myrow have confidence Donald Trump is losing the trade war.

My take: The president’s twin goals of getting the best of China in a trade pact and winning reelection are going to be a very heavy lift until and unless he finds some addition allies for the tactics he is employing to try to break the spirit and back of Beijing.  The cycle of more U.S.-China animosity, more bad economic news, and more tariffs is the most poisonous thing in Trump World right now.

***Mitch McConnell has confidence that he can shield himself and his party from backlash against bottling up gun safety legislation by hiding behind process, the president, and the likely partisan split among Democrats about what kind of loaf to accept.

My take: All you need to know – not surprisingly, per the Wall Street Journal — the president hasn’t even told his own team what he is thinking.

“The officials said they believe they have made progress in their conversations with senators, but it remains unclear what a legislative package might include. ‘We’ll need direction from’ the president, said one White House official, who wasn’t authorized to speak on the record.”

***Walmart has confidence it can do well by doing good, cutting back on ammunition sales.

My take: It is time for someone to connect the dots on how a giant Arkansas company has become the corporate leader on moving American public policy to the left.  Why they are doing it, who is driving it, and what impact it is having are all grist for a book, or, at least, a very long magazine piece.  Some enterprising writer should get a long-term-stay package at the Red Roof PLUS+ Bentonville, and get to work.

***Nancy Pelosi was right to have confidence that the slow grinding of the wheels of justice in Trump investigation litigation brought by House Democrats would be her chief friend in running out the clock on impeachment proceedings.

My take: The latest ruling – delaying until at least October 31 the resolution of attempts to force public testimony from Don McGahn – makes it virtually impossible to launch a full-blown impeachment inquiry based on the words of the former White House counsel in time for the 2020 calendar.

***The Pentagon has confidence it can re-program money to build portions of a barrier on the Mexican border without being thwarted.

My take: As of now, neither congressional Democrats nor the courts are poised to stop this move.  Both the precedent being set and the policy implications are more deleterious to American traditions than those carrying out this order seem to realize.

***Representative Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) has confidence that Congress can’t help stop another Russian hijack of the upcoming U.S. election unless the feds reveal more publicly about what Russia has done in the past.

My take: Essential reading Washington Post op ed suggests Kafkaesque behavior from Moscow has produced Kafkaesque behavior in D.C. that threatens the integrity of American elections.

***The New York Post has confidence that it can run regular stories on Representative Omar’s personal life.

My take: Res ipsa loquitur.

In other news:

The Democratic presidential candidates will appear sequentially on CNN tonight from 5pm until midnight talking about the climate crisis. 

While they are in Gotham City, Biden will appear on Stephen Colbert (Pete Buttigieg is scheduled for Thursday) and Bernie Sanders is stopping by “The View.”

Top sports story: 78th-ranked Dimitrov shocks Federer at US Open
ESPN

Top business story: Trade-War Damage Piles Weight of Global Economy Onto Consumers
Bloomberg

Top entertainment story: AT&T Elevates WarnerMedia Chief John Stankey to COO
Variety


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Tuesday, September 3, 2019


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——————
Latest on the storm: LINK
 
Latest on California boat fire: LINK
 
Latest on Hong Kong: LINK
 
 
If It Is Biden’s Race to Lose, Will He?
 
The conventional wisdom congeals hard on a holiday weekend, as political reporters and pundits survey Joe Biden’s polling lead.
 
As for the rest of the Big 5, as reflected in a half dozen 2020 Democratic nomination fight stories:
 
Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are seen as dividing the progressive vote and having trouble demographically expanding their support.
 
Kamala Harris is barely mentioned in some of the stories, and, when she is, her faded poll standing is what is highlighted.
 
Pete Buttigieg is a hot candidate in the Hamptons, and is using friend-to-friend contact to try to become a hot candidate in Iowa, which is, uhm, more important.  But his survival is cast as wholly dependent on a Biden collapse.
 
The press is writing everyone else off.
 
This congealed convention wisdom says that Biden is filled with flaws –and/but all frontrunners are filled with flaws– and he is seen as a familiar presence thought most likely to win a general election, Democrats’ top priority.
 
For a good distillation of the view of the Gang of 500, read Eugene Robinson’s Washington Post column.
 
For a good distillation of the view of all the other campaigns, read Mark Leibovich’s New York Times story on Biden’s self-acknowledged extraordinary ambivalence about running for and being president.
 
Here are remarkably similar “state of the race” pieces from Politico, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Associated Press, and Reuters.
 
Their shared conclusions: Biden is meaningfully ahead; no one is a clear and present threat to him; time is almost running out to stop him; the crowded field works to Biden’s benefit; Biden has made gaffes galore and faced numerous controversies, but those haven’t hurt him much with real voters; Biden’s demographic support is broad; the September debate could change things, but it probably won’t.
 
My take: All those conclusions are correct. And with few exceptions (such as Hillary Clinton in 2008), when Democrats have an initial clear presidential frontrunner, that person typically wins the nomination, although usually after facing some serious turbulence.
 
There is one main reason to believe that Joe Biden will not be the nominee. If he goes into 2020 with the lead he has now, he can’t afford to lose Iowa or New Hampshire, since the lack of fervor among his supporters means that what is sustaining him is perceived electability.  A single loss would lead to political bleeding that would be hard to stop.
 
Past frontrunners of both parties have fought back from losses in either Iowa or New Hampshire, but I think that will be difficult for Biden to do.
 
So, here’s my current, real, bottom-line, all-you-need-to-know take: There will be a lot of sound and fury between now and February. Biden might blow himself up before then.  Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, or one of the other Big 5 might find a way to surge by then.  But as of now, if Biden wins Iowa and New Hampshire, he will be the nominee. If he loses either one, on the current trajectory, he is toast.
 
In other news:
 
*Despite President Trump’s repeated assurances, Bloomberg says the September U.S.-China face-to-face trade talks are not set up.
 
A pair of Wall Street Journal stories suggests the trade war is hurting the world economy and American small businesses.
 
My take: As long as the data remains mixed, the White House will be dealing with a poisoned media environment that emphasizes the negative economic storylines over the positive. That is an extreme danger to the consumer and business confidence that has helped fuel and sustain economic growth.  There is no Bob Rubin figure in this administration who can talk up the economy with high credibility.
 
Halperin’s Seventh Rule of Politics: No president should serve as his or her chief economic spokesperson.
 
*The New York Times’ expert team of Sanger and Broad quote a gaggle of experts asserting that the recent North Korea missile tests are a real problem, despite the president’s attempts to play them down.
 
My take:  Like with the trade fight against China, Donald Trump is finding that using a different strategy than his predecessors to try to solve a long-standing problem doesn’t guarantee success.  The president acts like he has the leverage in the relationship with Kim Jong-un (just as he does with Xi), but it increasingly appears that more of the leverage is on the other side.
 
*West Virginia’s Joe Manchin is expected to announce Tuesday whether he will run for his old job as governor.
 
Top sports story: Rafa into quarters as Tiger fist-pumps in approval
ESPN
 
Top business story: FedEx, UPS jockey with Amazon as tech giant expands into shipping
CNBC
 
Top entertainment story: China’s Summer Box Office Edges Up, Reaches $2.45 Billion
Variety
 
Big Four
 
Iowa
 
Pete Buttigieg flexes campaign muscle in Iowa, plans to open 20 offices in 20 days, have nearly 100 Iowa staff.

Who can beat Trump? Iowa union members tell presidential candidates that’s No. 1 issue.

New Hampshire
 
Democrats face long odds in overriding vetoes.

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Monday, September 2, 2019


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The latest on the storm: LINK

The latest on the Texas shootings: LINK

The latest on Hong Kong: LINK

STILL

There is one essential reading story that will shift the groupthink of the Gang of 500 ever so slightly (if they take time from their holiday to soak it in):

A Washington Post tour de force positing that President Trump has squandered a long, hot summer, leading to declining fortunes:

“The two months between Independence Day and Labor Day offered a fresh and vivid portrait of the president as seen by Trump’s critics — incompetent, indecisive, intolerant and ineffective.”

My take: The key to this piece is the on-the-record and background quotes from Trump allies expressing worry that the twin dangers of the president’s erratic behavior and the headwinds of a weakening economy are endangering both the Trump reelect and Republican fortunes more generally.

However, halfway through there is this major “to be sure” paragraph:

“Trump is not the first president to falter in the summer before his reelection campaign. Former president Barack Obama had a difficult summer in 2011, thanks to a debt ceiling showdown with congressional Republicans, before rebounding to win a second term in 2012. Former president George W. Bush, buffeted by the unending war in Iraq, started to slump in the summer of 2003, although he went on to win handily in 2004.”

There is impatience to know what is going to happen in November 2020.  Barring a major financial collapse, we really won’t know much more than we do now until March at the earliest.  Sorry.

That’s your one meta-paradigm shift on this Labor Day.  All the other “news” is status quoing.

*Despite a New York Times headline indicating otherwise (“Texas Shooting Brings New Urgency to Gun Debate in Congress”) even that story suggests that Trump and Mitch McConnell still are going to defy public opinion and support a package of gun measures that doesn’t include a waiting period or an assault weapons ban, but rather focuses on mental health.

My take: Is there something gun safety advocates could do to make the president and McConnell afraid of crossing the vast majority of Americans who want serious action on this issue? I don’t know. Email me your thoughts.

*Voters in swing House districts still are shying away from impeachment, as are most of their Democratic representatives.

My take: The press still favors signs that the odds of impeachment are going up, but Speaker Pelosi is likely to come back from recess still seeing all the political risks of a full-blown inquiry that she has warned about for months.

*Democratic presidential candidates still want union endorsements, and/but major unions are still holding off picking a candidate to back in 2020.

My take: Union leaders and many of their members are just like the center-left and left overall – wanting to find a candidate who inspires them, shares their agenda, and can win a general election.  Who will they ultimately support? This is another question many people would like the answer to now that will likely have to wait until March at the earliest.

*The New York Post still likes Melania Trump more than Michelle Obama, and still resents those who disagree.

My take: Wowza, what a Rorschach test this topic still is, and likely always will be in polarized America.

Top sports story: Top seed Djokovic (shoulder) out at US Open
ESPN

Top business story: China takes cautious steps with new tariffs, leaving most to December
CNBC

Top entertainment story: Kevin Hart Hospitalized in Non-Fatal Car Crash
Variety


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Sunday, September 1, 2019


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Latest on Texas shooting: LINK

Latest on the storm: LINK

Latest on the Hong Kong protests: LINK

THE FIVE BIGGEST SEPTEMBER QUESTIONS

1. Can Donald Trump convince the markets, Fortune 500 CEOs, the Gang of 500, the American people, and Beijing that he has a strategy to win the trade war with China?

Magic 8 Ball reply: My sources say no.

My take:Given the distance between the two sides, Hong Kong’s unrest, and the Chinese apparently not feeling any time pressure to do a deal, the best the administration can hope for this month is to buy more time.

The media conventional wisdom (backed by the pro-free-trade sensibilities of the most-quoted academic and think tank analysts) is that the tariffs – some of which go into effect today — are foolhardy. 

But the Washington Post has an essential reading op ed piece by a Chinese dissident who says Donald Trump is pursuing the only strategy that has the potential to break the back of the Communist Party.

And/but also read this moving New York Times op ed by two of the leading Hong Kong activists, including one who was just arrested, calling on the U.S. to stand with the protesters against Beijing.

2. If the Magic 8 Ball is correct about Question (1), what will the conventional wisdom about the state of the U.S. economy be on 9/30?

Magic 8 Ball reply: Reply hazy, try again.

My take: One of the White House’s biggest challenges is to try to get the media to stop focusing on negative economic data to the exclusion of positive economic data. That will be an uphill fight, since the press’ favorite storyline now is “Trump reelection in peril because of looming recession.”

And there is no doubt that there are negative economic signs occurring before our eyes (in addition to the income inequality that existed even when things were going better). 

Read this Reuters report on little-noticed public data on manufacturing slowdowns impacting the Big 3 states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

And/but that brings us to potentially the biggest political and economic question of the month…..

3. Will Nancy Pelosi allow a vote on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement?

Magic 8 Ball reply: Ask again later.

My take: Pressuring Pelosi in favor: She thinks a deal is right for America; her donors want it; the Canadians and Mexicans want it; many of her first-term centrist members want it; Bob Lighthizer is working overtime to accommodate her wishes.

Pressuring Pelosi in opposition: The side deals are not finalized; the Democratic presidential candidates are likely to largely be in opposition; a completed pact would give the economy a big boost, enhancing Trump’s reelection prospects, and freaking out the left.

Possible solution: Pelosi delivers the progressives some major bone (perhaps giving in in some symbolic way on impeachment…), before allowing the vote to occur.

4. Will Joe Biden be the polling frontrunner by the end of the month?

Magic 8 Ball reply: Signs point to yes.

My take: There are two ways the former VP could fall – by his own failures or by the surge strength of a rival.   Biden has gotten bad press almost every day for a long stretch, and his numbers largely sustain.  So it is hard to see what more he could mess up to impact his standing with voters, who are still largely not focused on the race. 

And the big field of prospects makes it a challenge for any of Biden’s rivals to make up significant ground.

The obvious exception to this analysis is if the debate turns out to be decisive.  I doubt it.

5. Will anyone successfully diminish the national press corps’ historic focus on the results of Iowa and New Hampshire by the end of the month?

Magic 8 Ball reply: Don’t count on it.

My take: Although there are plenty of candidates in the race who would like the reality to be that a third or fourth (or fifth) place finish in Iowa and/or New Hampshire doesn’t doom their prospects, the spending and travel patterns by the close of September are likely to recondition the media back to its old groupthink: the two first-in-the-nation contests will/should determine who gets to go forward in the subsequent primaries and caucuses, despite the kickoff states’ small size and lack of  real diversity.

In other news:

*Storm puts Florida rookie Republican Governor DeSantis in spotlight.

My take: DeSantis’ fast start and high approval ratings combine to create one of the most under-covered stories in American politics today.  He is governing as much like a Democrat as a Republican on many issues, and his popularity is a big plus for the top of the ticket in 2020.

*Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made a rousing DC public appearance, as she recovers again from cancer.

“On Tuesday, Ginsburg is scheduled to give a lecture in Little Rock in front of 18,000 people. The free tickets are all claimed, with a waiting list of 16,000.”

My take: An incredible person who inspires passion and has re-imagined what it means to be a modern Supreme Court Justice with a political and pop cultural following.

*“‘Will and Grace’ stars angry over Hollywood Trump fundraiser.”

My take: Continuing efforts to demonize political opponents can have negative consequences – in this case, they could actually help Donald Trump be reelected.

*Wall Street Journal: The left tries to make Mitch McConnell a national rallying cry.

My take: Every dollar spent focused on McConnell outside of Kentucky is a dollar not spent on Trump.  Not everyone in the Democratic Party agrees with this strategy, even if on the merits McConnell is as large a threat to the future of the progressive movement as anyone or anything else.

*2020 Electoral College battleground map is tiny.

My take: The Washington Post’s Dan Balz with essential reading on the focus on Florida plus the Big 3, with everything else a distant fifth.  And the distance between the Big 3 and Florida might grow over time.

Top sports story:  How Mario Cristobal Blew Oregon’s Shot at Auburn
Yahoo Sports

Top business story: Trump Trade War With China Will Hit Apple for Real This Weekend
Bloomberg

Top entertainment story: Box Office: ‘Angel Has Fallen’ Ruling Labor Day Picnic With $14M-Plus
Hollywood Reporter


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Saturday, August 31, 2019


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Latest on the storm: LINK

Latest on the Hong Kong protests:  LINK

BOLD-FACED NAMES

John Bolton

In Age of Trump Classic, national security adviser is kept out of the loop on key national security matters, per dishy Washington Post anecdote-laden gripper.

My take: It is, of course, not unusual for the U.S. government to have competing spheres of influence on foreign policy issues, but the trend in recent administrations has been national security advisers who consolidated power inside the White House and away from the Pentagon and State.  Even David Rothkopf couldn’t draw a diagram of this messy situation.

Donald Trump

In Age of Trump Classic, president tweets spy photo of Iranian missile explosion, sending spooks and those who love them into a tizzy.

My take: Was this provocative presidential action meant to taunt the Iranians or keep hopes of bilateral talks alive? Or, most likely, both?

Madeleine Westerhout

In Age of Trump Classic, Oval Office gatekeeperforced out for off-the-record comments about First Family to small group of reporters.

My take: There is certainly more falling action to come here. How did White House officials learn what happened at this dinner? And this triptych from the New York Times caught my eye:

“Current and former officials also expressed alarm about what information Ms. Westerhout could share down the road, not just about the president, but about her colleagues.”

“Adding to the concern was the fact that, unlike most other officials, Ms. Westerhout was not thought to have signed a nondisclosure agreement, a document that Mr. Trump has frequently used in effort to tamp down on leaks.”

“At least one publishing house on Friday had discussions about trying to approach Ms. Westerhout for a book, according to one person familiar with the discussions.”

Michael Flynn

In Age of Trump Classic, former national security topper makes last-minute case to delay his sentencing.

My take: With good odds this one ends with a presidential pardon before Flynn serves time, all this legal toing and froing appears to be a colossal waste of time and money.

Roger Cohen

In essential-reading op ed, New York Times columnist explains why Trump’s confrontation with China was necessary (even as Cohen decries the current tactics).

My take: Trump deserves credit for taking on China, but he won’t get (or deserve) credit if he doesn’t take the Chinese on successfully.  Leverage, luck, and long-term patience are what were required when Trump took office — and he is now in short supply on all three.

Steven Greenhouse

In essential reading op ed, longtime labor watcher writes in Washington Post about the irony of Republicans focusing more on the political potency of unions than Democrats.

My take: The sources of political power and money on the left are certainly different than when Mr. Greenhouse began his reporting career.  But big Democratic wins still rely to an extent on Big Labor, a fact Republicans have spent decades trying to do something about, while Democrats mostly talked about it.  This is a history story, to be sure, but with real-life 2020 implications.

Valerie Harper

RIP Rhoda.

My take: For certain generations of viewers, as iconic as it gets. After Princess Diana, the biggest wedding of the TV era.

Lauren Sanchez and Jeff Bezos

Hanging around Venice.

My take: For the foreseeable future, full employment for worldwide paparazzi, courtesy of this pair.

Top sports story: Game Day Kickoff: Auburn, Oregon give Week 1 an added boost
ESPN

Top business story: Amid Recession Worries, Trump Points Finger at American Businesses
New York Times

Top entertainment story: Disney World & Universal Orlando “Closely Monitoring” Hurricane Dorian; ESPN & Rolling Stones Shift Scheduled College Football Game & Concert
Deadline


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Friday, August 30, 2019


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The latest on the storm here

Labor Day Weekend Goes in Like a Lion

SERIOUS IMPLICATIONS

China and U.S. calm trade war waters.

My take: Markets, Capitol Hillers, and Big Business are all relatively easily placated by a soothing Trump tweet/quote and a Commerce Ministry statement from Beijing.  Before too long, however, there will be a reminder that “nothing is decided until everything is decided,” and the roiling will commence again.

The optimists want trade czar Bob Lighthizer to first conclude the North American trade deal (which would buy a little time with the markets and the real economy), then turn his full attention to getting a tough-but-fair pact with the Chinese.  Step One is easier than Step Two, but Step One is still a challenge.

The Justice Department reportedly is investigating Huawei.

My take: Don’t underestimate the degree to which this apparent probe makes getting a trade deal with China even more difficult. Lighthizer can horse trade a lot of pieces, but can he negotiate away the search for truth by a U.S. Attorney’s office?

Also: China effectively expelling a Wall Street Journal reporter for tough Xi coverage will not help matters either.

Judge slow walks House Democrat attempts to get Trump tax returns.

My take: Procedural ruling is a loss for investigators who want the wheels of justice to grind fast enough to make meaningful progress before the election. It is also an implicit win for Speaker Pelosi, since waiting on the courts to adjudicate these inter-branch conflicts is her strongest card to stall impeachment (along with public opinion).

Hong Kong police arrest key activists.

My take: On the eve of a major anniversary, Chinese threaten to finally and inadvertently put a specific, compelling face on the conflict. 100,000 protesters is a statistic; Joshua Wong is a human being who can capture the world’s imagination.


MYSTERIES AND UNCERTAINTIES

Iowa caucus process in abject disarray.

My take: The DNC’s looming rejection of telephone voting leaves Hawkeye State Democrats struggling to find a way to get into compliance with new national party rules calling for wider voter participation options.  Chances are the caucuses will be saved and the state’s first-in-the-nation influence will be preserved, but the path to a resolution is deeply hazy.

Trump assistant departs White House after allegedly over-sharing with reporters and seeking more power.

My take: This tale will not clothe or feed or house a single needy child, but it will have the Gang of 500 chattering until someone writes a more definitive account of what happened.  Bookers and book agents are surely penning “let’s have lunch” missives for Madeleine Westerhout as you read this.


TIME CAPSULE MATERIAL

Justice Department inspector general strongly wraps Comey knuckles again in report on Trump memos.

My take:  Comey still has his defenders.  But the respected Justice Department watchdog has now fully validated the view of Hillary Clinton (that Comey’s actions during the campaign were completely out of line) and Donald Trump (that Comey’s actions during the administration were completely out of line).  Comey and Friends can continue to argue that he always put the FBI, truth, justice, and the American way first, but they have to ask themselves: What does it say about a man that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump blame him with cause for having a bigger negative impact on their political careers than anyone else?

Biden defends confused telling of dramatic war story.

My take: In the Age of Trump, Democrats will rightly and understandably get indignant when held to any standard whatsoever on verbal errors. Nonetheless, if Biden ends up losing the nomination, this story (and how his staff and he personally handled its fallout) will almost certainly be part of the narrative explaining how, not surprisingly, the Delaware leopard could not change his spots. 

Even though he went into the race knowing that he had to change at least a few spots to win.

Amplification:

I failed to include the link to Tom Edsall’s important New York Times piece on Trump voters in Thursday’s edition. Here it is. LINK

Top sports story:  Jones expecting Zeke to miss more than opener
ESPN

Top business story: Airlines brace for Hurricane Dorian as storm threatens to snarl Labor Day weekend travel
CNBC

Top entertainment story: Disney Layoffs Hit Nearly 60 in Media Distribution Division
Variety


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Thursday, August 29, 2019


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The latest on Hurricane Dorian here.

Neither Shocking Nor Surprising

1. New polls show Biden remains the national leader, but the press, which hyperventilated over one previous poll suggesting he had fully lost his lead, acts as if no soul searching is required.

My take: It seems clear that Biden is still the national leader (if not the frontrunner…), but there are many weeks to go before the voting starts. Here is what is more clear: it will be very difficult for Biden to be the nominee if he loses both Iowa and New Hampshire, and his national lead now is neither large enough nor impregnable enough to propel him inexorably to a first-in-the-nation win.  The dearth of polling in those two states means we are all flying blind.

2. Senator Gillibrand quits presidential race after failing to make the debate stage.

My take: The humongous Democratic field and DNC debate rules make it very difficult for candidates to break through. Still, Gillibrand, as a senator from New York, failed to keep up with the mayor of South Bend on grassroots fundraising, or with a senator from California on momentum.  Neither of those are perfect or perfectly fair metrics, but Gillibrand had a relatively clean shot to catch up and catch on, and, for whatever reasons, this was not her cycle. Her rhetoric in departing the race – calling for unity and reaffirming her commitment to beating the incumbent—is a model for what the party needs to unite in opposition to Donald Trump.

3. Bernie Sanders knows he needs to be about more than loud rally speeches to win the nomination; he needs to flaunt personality.

My take:  The first step in starting a second act is acknowledging you need to start a second act. The second step is starting the second act. The third step is having the media notice you have started the second act. But the step that really matters is well executing the act over and over again.  Let’s see how that step goes.

4. Bernie Sanders does not want to play the media’s game of trying to get him to criticize Elizabeth Warren.

My take: As in 2016, Sanders is both principled and disciplined in not engaging in the press-fueled dynamic that calls for sharp elbows to be aimed at party rivals who are also personal and ideological allies.  Sanders will stay true to himself for much longer than most candidates would do under these circumstances.

5. Democrats have mixed feelings about the winnowing DNC debate process, but in the end, it is what it is, and people will largely move on.

My take:The Wall Street Journal editorial board rightly notes that one of the biggest implications of the slimmed down debate process (one debate for ten people, rather than two debates of ten each) is the near-total absence of centrist candidates. This leaves an opening for Senator Klobuchar.

6. Joe Biden hopes to deal with flaps over his family’s business dealings by not addressing the specifics.

My take: Understandably, the former vice president is not comfortable talking about controversies involving his family. Past experience has lulled him into thinking he can get away with diversion and deflection. As long as he is the presidential race (eventually, perhaps, as the nominee), he is mistaken if he thinks the old rules/standards apply.

7. Karl Rove does a very good job summing up the state of the Democratic nomination race and Biden’s standing as a national frontrunner with flaws.

My take: It’s early; it’s getting late. Biden is a solid candidate; Biden is a flawed candidate.  Biden’s support is soft among many; Biden’s support is strong among the voting elderly. 

8. Tom Edsall does a very good job summing up the state of Donald Trump’s support from white voters, especially wealthy, less educated white voters, in an essential read on the electorate.

My take: It will take you a bit of August time to read this whole piece, but if you want to be smarter about who supports the president and his chances of winning again, you have to read this.

9. The Trump administration put out a new policy that says that “children born abroad to certain United States service members and other federal employees will no longer be granted automatic citizenship.”

My take: Yet another citizenship issue on which the Trump administration is picking a wedge fight, in this case for no obvious reason and without sufficient explanation.

10. The press hyperventilates over some Trump tweets critical of Fox News.

My take: Four years ago, Donald Trump was truly at war with Fox, and we saw how that turned out and how close he has stayed to the network. What is going on now isn’t even a skirmish or a feud. It is piffle.

11. Former Pentagon topper Mattis decries “tribalism” in new book, without taking a direct shot at his former boss, Donald Trump.

My take: Let’s see what Mattis says when he is on-camera promoting his book. The press will be salivating to get him to go farther in criticizing Trump. Mattis is a disciplined man.

12. The retirement of Republican Senator Isakson from Georgia leaves the state with two Senate contests, leading to lots of speculation about a Peach State-fueled Democratic takeover of the Senate and the state turning Blue at the presidential level.

My take: A few names have been floated, but this whole scenario is dependent on Democrats recruiting super strong candidates in both Senate races, and having a presidential nominee who is a strong cultural fit for the state. Until they do that, the speculation is running ahead of reality.

13. The New York Post now has an unofficial daily feature on Representative Omar’s personal life.

My take: This item is the least surprising on the whole list.

14. George Will likes the Electoral College.

My take: This item is the second least surprising on the whole list.

Top sports story:  Serena tested by McNally, 17, but rallies in 3 sets
ESPN

Top business story: Apparel retailer Forever 21 weighs bankruptcy filing
CNBC

Top entertainment story: Venice Film Festival Kicks Off, With Brad Pitt, Kristen Stewart, ‘Joker’ Lined Up for the Lido
Variety

Big Four

Iowa

Tulsi Gabbard runs her Iowa campaign with volunteers.

New Hampshire

With 12 bills left, Sununu’s record veto tally nearly complete.

South Carolina

As layoffs hit SC, Graham says he’s prepared for China trade war to ‘drag on’.

Biden rallies supporters during Spartanburg visit.

O’Rourke campaign ejects Breitbart reporter from speech.


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Wednesday, August 28, 2019


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Wednesday’s Savory Seven

1. Tom Friedman’s New York Time’s op-ed calling for a six-month truce in the U.S.-China trade war.

My take: Friedman is right to inject some new thinking into this clear and present danger to the world, but he predicates his argument on Donald Trump joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership and fully linking arms with Europe on trade, rendering a column with a smart premise useless as a practical matter.

But there is no doubt that the world economy and Trump’s reelection need a resolution of the China situation, because, for one thing…

2. The New York Times says farmers are mad about the uncertainty caused by the trade war.

My take: This story has lots of caveats, and doesn’t really demonstrate conclusively that farmers have lost patience with Washington (any more than usual).  But because it is in the New York Times, it will worry the White House and the president’s campaign team. A lot of variables will go into determining if the president wins in 2020, but to get 270 electoral votes, he needs to expand support in rural areas from his 2016 levels.  Obviously, contracting support there makes him all but a sure loser. 

And he can’t necessarily rely on selling an overall booming economy, because…

3. Steve Rattner’s meticulously argued New York Times op-ed shows the Trump economy is not much different than the Obama economy in important respects, and has failed to live up to the promises Trump made.

My take: Regarding the economy as it relates to presidential reelection, statistics, like Rattner’s, matter less than how people actually feel.  But that should give Team Trump little comfort because there are plenty of signs people (especially business leaders and investors) are feeling worse lately, and the ongoing China standoff will only exacerbate those concerns.

And there are limited tools in the Oval Office toolbox to try to turn things around, even if one considers…

4. A Wall Street Journal news story framed as a hopeful push from moderate/Texas Democrats for a vote on the new North American trade deal, which actually contains just as much data to suggest a rough road ahead.

My take: This is right now the sleeper issue of the fall. The economic and psychic impact of Nancy Pelosi allowing a vote on the USMCA would be significant, both for the markets and the real economy, and thus for the president politically. Practical patriot Pelosi wants to find a way to keep free trade flowing between the three North American nations, but substantive and political considerations have kept her from getting to “yes,” and may continue to do so.  This one remains hanging very much in the balance.

Which makes the president’s latest fight with Fed World even more unsettling, as…

5. A recently departed Fed bigwig basically suggests his former colleagues should use their powers on behalf of the Resistance and save the world economy by keeping the president from four more years.

My take: The Fed’s reaction to this renegade view tells you all you need to know. This float was a bad idea, threatening to undermine the Federal Reserve Board’s authority and independence even more than Trump himself has been able to do.  The last thing our country needs right now is more conspiracy theories about the most important matters facing the United States.

Which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read….

6. David Von Drehle’s engaging Washington Post column exploring the economic and political weakness of Russia and Putin, and asking, with passion and purpose, the same question we have all grappled with: what does Donald Trump see in Vladimir Putin that causes him to offer up so much support to a dictator who works worldwide against American and Western interests?

My take: Despite the China standoff, the angry farmers, the arguably overrated economy, the stalled North American trade deal, the Fed revolt, and the Putin mystery, the biggest boost establishment Democrats will get from their August morning reading time hooked into their breakfast nooks with a protein shake is…

7. Joe Biden’s gaffe-free, on-message, calm, reasonable, comfortable, and semi-stirring ninety-minute talk with African American journalists.

My take:  Biden has good days and bad days.  Given the Warren Mania that has broken out around him, he picked a good day to have a good day.  Pundits were overrating his chances to be the nominee before – now they are (mildly) underrating his chances.  And/but as strong as the former VP was in this roundtable interview, the most fundamental dynamic of his candidacy remains: he has done nothing to mitigate what many see as the fatal flaws in his candidacy, largely because there is NOTHING he can do to mitigate those flaws.

Two new polls:

USA Today/Suffolk University shows a big Biden lead:

Biden 32, Warren 14, Sanders 12, Buttigieg 6, Harris 6.

Biden supporters will rightly ask if this survey will get as much attention as the one suggesting Biden had lost his lead.

The unfair answer is: no.

But their case will be helped if Wednesday’s Quinnipiac poll backs up what USA Today found.

Correction: In Tuesday’s edition, I misspelled “voila.”  My thanks to the many of you who took time from your busy days to point this out.


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Tuesday, August 27, 2019


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Elizabeth Warren, Frontrunner? – or Frontrunner!

I thought about leading with Donald Trump’s extraordinary statements in four separate colloquies with the media at the G-7.

Even by the already-epic standards of “this president says the darndest things,” Monday was quite something, with Trump weighing in on China, Iran, Russia, North Korea, French wine, and his self-proclaimed bonhomie with G-7 colleagues, all with verbiage and style never before seen in the known solar system from an American president.

But the reality is that none of what the POTUS said really amounts to anything with a half-life of more than a few hours, since the next round of tweets superseded what came out of his mouth, anyway.

The status of China trade talks? Still unclear.

The status of possible nuclear talks with Iran? Still unclear.

The status of Putin and the G-7/8? Still unclear.

The status of the First Lady’s relationship with Kim Jong-un? Still unclear.

The status of the First Lady’s appreciation for French wine? Clear, but unremarkable.

The status of the president’s relationship with his G-7 colleagues? Clear, but, by now, unremarkable.

Even the most valiant attempts to capture Trump’s madcap final press conference could not do the video justice.

So let’s leave France.

Ladies and Gentlemen, meet the Gang of 500’s new Democratic presidential frontrunner.

Voila! May I present to you Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

It was just a few weeks ago when the Gang was quite certain that any of the Big 5 (Biden, Harris, Warren, Sanders, and Buttigieg) could be the nominee.

Then, subtly but perceptively, the Gang switched its view.

As individuals, the Gang members are sophisticated and not prone to leaps of fancy. But as a group, they are stunningly superficial. One poll, one fundraising report, one late-night comedian joke, and a contender can be voted off the island, with seeming permanence.

So at some point recently (history does not record exactly when…), the Gang switched to thinking that only Biden or Warren could be the nominee.

And, today, it is a one-person race, and Warren is the Chosen One.

The catalyst that metastasized the whole thing is the new Monmouth national poll that shows a three-way tie at the top between Sanders (20%), Warren (20%), and Biden (19%).

Forget that this poll is an outlier compared to other recent national polls that show Biden still ahead. Forget that it has a relatively small sample size.

The poll confirms what the Gang was already beginning to think, so the other four members of the Big 5 (not to mention the rest of the field, which still could produce a surprise) are currently ruled out of contention.

What has caused this wave of Warren Fever to swell so high that I had a discussion yesterday with someone smart about whom she should pick as her running mate (Colin Powell, anyone?)?

Consider:

* Her large rally crowds, swelling to 15,000 and dwarfing those of others, got her, among other things, a breathless Vanity Fair write-up.

* An essential reading New York Times story, chronicling Warren’s work on two projects on which Bernie Sanders can’t and won’t match her: reaching out to influential Democratic Party stakeholders with a personal touch and sending reassuring signals to the establishment.

* This zeitgeisty tone poem from the Washington Post’s theater critic:

“Sen. Elizabeth Warren takes the stage with a command that might have ‘Julius Caesar’s’ Marc Antony taking notes. The oratorical rhythm. The instinct for a good story. When Warren speaks, you lean in, The Post’s theater critic writes in his latest analysis of campaign politics.”

* The relatively favorable coverage that Warren has gotten even in the Boston Globe, a paper which typically covers Bay State presidential candidates with the opposite of home-state Stockholm Syndrome.

* In fact, scroll through the results of a Google News search for “Elizabeth Warren” and you will see headlines that are 90% positive, an extreme rarity in our political-media culture.

And while Warren has been moving up, both actually and in the eyes of the Gang, Biden has definitely been coming down.

His own comments from Keene, N.H. were meant neither ironically nor as his own self-written political obituary, but he actually said this:

“We can’t just be a campaign about defeating President Trump. A simple campaign is not enough to beat him. It has to be a movement.”

He wasn’t endorsing Warren, but to some ears, he might as well have been.

Smart Republican strategist John Brabender has a Wall Street Journal op-ed comparing Biden to Mitt Romney 2012, suggesting Biden is probably too weak to win the nomination but that he would lose the general election if he does get the Democratic nod.

Remember, Brabender points out, Romney barely became the GOP standard bearer on the strength of the electability argument, and emerged a very weak nominee.

And Politico has a story about Biden’s brother’s alleged improper touting of his ties to the former VP that will send up flares seen in Wilmington and media investigative units all over the place.

My take: I will say it for the eighth time – until Warren is tested by some tough coverage (tough enough to border on an existential crisis) no one has any idea what her chances of being the nominee are. I still don’t know how long it has been since she had a day of bad press, but it has been a long time. And the other candidates are not going to just let her do an Oklahoma waltz to the nomination. Do not count out any member of the Big 5, or, as I said, someone else emerging from the pack.

In other news:

The Republican establishment is on Donald Trump’s side in the nomination “fight.”

Taylor Swift is not on Donald Trump’s side on…. anything.

My take: The media is more interested in the latter; the former might be more significant in the short term.

Top sports story: Serena beats Sharapova for 19th time in row
ESPN

Top business story: Judge rules against Johnson & Johnson in landmark opioid case in Oklahoma
CNBC

Top entertainment story: AMC’s Bob Lenihan Departing Theater Chain As President Of Programming
Deadline


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