Friday Talking Points [438] -- A Week Of Bad Numbers For Trump

[ Posted Friday, May 26th, 2017 – 17:22 PDT ]

President Donald Trump went on a tour of foreign countries this week, and World War III did not erupt. So things could have been worse.

Trump bumbled his way across the Middle East and Europe, providing the media with plenty of amusing stories to write. Much of this centered on physicality, for unknown reasons. Consider some of the Trump news over the course of the week:

Trump bowed to Saudi king after criticizing Barack Obama for doing the same thing. His wife and daughter bared their heads in Saudi Arabia after Trump criticized Michelle Obama for doing the same thing. Trump awkwardly participated in a sword dance. Melania Trump not only refused to hold her husband's hand, she actually swatted it away when it was offered -- on more than one occasion. Trump shoved his way to the front of a photo-op in Europe. And someone finally defeated the "Trumpshake" -- the propensity Trump has to try to yank the arm off whomever he's shaking hands with. The new French president was warned in advance about this, and beat Trump at his own frat-boy game, though. By the end of the handshake, Trump was desperately trying to free his own hand. Turnabout is fair play, n'est-ce pas?

Continue Reading »

Bozeman Beatdown

[ Posted Thursday, May 25th, 2017 – 15:35 PDT ]

As I write this, today's Montana special House election results have not started coming in yet. Which means some of what I have to say is may be outdated by the time you read it. Such are the risks of this sort of timing. But I did want to point it out up front, just in case anything I write causes belly laughs later on. Consider yourselves duly warned.

Today is the second of four special elections for the House of Representatives caused by Donald Trump naming House members to administration positions. The first was in Kansas, where the Democrat lost (but by a much closer margin than anyone expected). We've been through the first round of voting in another of these special elections, down in Georgia. More on that in a moment. The final race is in South Carolina, and is considered the longest longshot of the bunch for Democrats to pick up (all four of these were Republican-held seats). Today, Montanans go to the polls to elect their one at-large House member.

Before yesterday, the race was seen as close, but leaning Republican. Two rather colorful characters were in the running, Republican Greg Gianforte and Democrat Rob Quist. Gianforte had previously run (and lost) a governor's race, but both men are outsiders to the political world, having never held public office.

Continue Reading »

Health Bill's Score Still Breathtakingly Bad

[ Posted Wednesday, May 24th, 2017 – 15:23 PDT ]

The new Congressional Budget Office numbers are in for the House healthcare bill, and they're almost as breathtakingly bad as the first version's score. Instead of 24 million Americans losing health insurance in the next ten years, now "only" 23 million will lose health insurance. The number of people who will lose health insurance next year alone stayed the same, at 14 million. Medicaid funding will be cut by $834 billion, instead of $880 billion. This would save a paltry $12 billion a year, instead of the $15 billion a year the original bill would have saved. That's a lot of pain for not very much money saved. Which Democrats are going to be pointing out soon, in midterm ads.

This legislation had two major goals. The first was to provide a whopping tax cut for wealthy people. The second was for Republicans to be able to claim "we repealed Obamacare." Measured on those metrics, the bill is a success. Measured by any other metric, it is a complete disaster.

Continue Reading »

Newspaper War!

[ Posted Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017 – 16:40 PDT ]

To really be true to today's subject, I should have come up with a headline more along the lines of: "Donald Trump Takes America Back To 1890s!" That's a tad sensationalistic, but we do seem to be right in the middle of a good old-fashioned newspaper war. In the past month alone, I have lost count of the times that major scoops about the extent of the Trump administration's misdeeds have appeared in both the New York Times and the Washington Post. Even without counting them, the score seems pretty close to tied, although the Post may have a slight edge at the current moment.

I cannot say with any accuracy how many of the bombshell leaks the Post and the Times have offered up in the past few weeks are the result of dogged professional journalistic efforts, or just of reporters doing no more than sitting around waiting for the phone to ring, as yet another White House staffer voluntarily dials in to dish the dirt. All presidents strive to stop such leaks (see: Richard Nixon, "The Plumbers," for just one historic example), but Trump seems even more obsessed than most -- so far, with little to show for it. The trickle of leaks has become a raging flooded river, and to date not a single leaker has been caught by Trump. Nobody's been fired because they leaked, and the leaks just keep right on happening, at what seems to be an ever-increasing pace.

The Trump White House has now reached the point where we need a new superlative simile to describe it. After all, there are plenty of ways to finish "crazy as a..." or "drunk as a...", but I know of few metaphorical comparisons which adequately describe the concept of "leakiest." Leaky as a busted sieve? Leaky as an old garden hose? Leaky as your husband's plumbing repair? I did find one Rudyard Kipling citation -- "leaky as a lobster pot" -- but this may not be immediately understood beyond the shores of Maine. At this point in the Trump administration, though, we all seem to be in need of such a superlative "leakiest" simile.

Continue Reading »

Trump's Exhausting First Road Trip

[ Posted Monday, May 22nd, 2017 – 16:41 PDT ]

President Donald Trump has only just begun his first road trip outside the United States, and he's already "exhausted," according to one of his own advisors. This may or may not be true, since anything either Trump or any of his spokespeople say at this point has to be taken with a grain of salt -- especially considering the "exhausted" comment was given as an excuse for a Trump gaffe (more on that in a bit). But this week's calendar for Trump seems to have been constructed on the theme of: "Any Trump campaign promises left unbroken? Well, let's see how many we can break in a single week!"

Let's begin with Trump's reported exhaustion. Trump apparently tried to cut the length of his first trip in half, because nine days on the road was just too much to ask. On Day Two of his trip, he's already got an advisor explaining a gaffe away because of exhaustion. That doesn't exactly bode well for the rest of the trip, does it? Especially since he made so much political hay on the campaign trail over the issue of how manly he was -- as compared to "low energy" Jeb Bush and "no stamina" Hillary Clinton. This is all pretty amusing in hindsight, after Trump's Day Two exhaustion.

Continue Reading »

Friday Talking Points [437] -- That Thing That Trump Did

[ Posted Friday, May 19th, 2017 – 17:44 PDT ]

We'd like to begin today by apologizing for not including whatever scandal broke while we were writing this column. It takes us hours to write these, and while we're typing we're not reading news headlines. So this weekly wrapup will doubtlessly not mention whatever scandal broke in the past few hours, and for this we apologize. We would direct you to the final talking point today to cover this lapse (from which we also borrowed our subtitle today, because Daniel Drezner's article is such a hilarious piece of satire).

Continue Reading »


[ Posted Thursday, May 18th, 2017 – 17:12 PDT ]

From the beginning, the administration of Donald Trump has been providing roughly one scandal per week. Not a week went by without some explosive story appearing in the headlines. That pace, obviously, was unsustainable. Incredibly, however, this pace is now rapidly increasing. Last week, we moved into "scandal of the day" territory, and are now fast approaching "scandal of the hour." Welcome to the Scandalpalooza that is the Trump administration!

Continue Reading »

Kid President

[ Posted Wednesday, May 17th, 2017 – 16:33 PDT ]

The American presidency is being dumbed-down before our very eyes. It's as if we're all trapped within one of those "child in an adult body" movies (think: Big or Freaky Friday), awaiting the next wacky turn of events to play out across our screens. What will "Kid President" do next? Throw a tantrum on Twitter? Fire somebody else at the White House? Yell at his subordinates again? Try to fire Congress? Cause an international incident by doing something extremely rude while meeting the Pope? Stay tuned, the next unbelievable plot twist is right around the corner!

If that sounds a bit loopy, well, it's been a loopy sort of week. Last Monday, Sally Yates testified before a Senate committee about the firing of Michael Flynn. Tuesday, President Donald Trump fired F.B.I. Director James Comey because he was being too enthusiastic about investigating Trump's Russia ties, after which Trump sent all his White House underlings (including Vice President Mike Pence) to go out and peddle a complete lie about why Comey was fired. Wednesday, Trump was meeting in the Oval Office so he could give away secret intelligence to the Russians -- while barring American press from the event, but allowing Russian photographers to document the loving smiles all around. Thursday, Trump was on NBC, flat-out admitting that the Russia investigation was why Comey was fired. Friday, Trump was threatening Comey with "tapes" of their conversations, in what could be termed "attempted witness tampering." This week, we've already had a bombshell per day, with the revelations that (1) Trump gave away secrets Israel shared with us to the Russians, and (2) Comey took meticulous notes of all conversations with Trump, including one where Trump told him to "let Flynn go" and to let the whole Russia investigation go, for good measure. Who wouldn't be a little loopy after all of that?

Continue Reading »

Trump Slumps In Polls

[ Posted Tuesday, May 16th, 2017 – 15:35 PDT ]

I thought it'd be fun today to take a look at President Donald Trump's poll numbers. This is mainly because any casual interpretation of such polling would have to conclude that Trump's numbers are about to fall off a cliff. So I thought it'd be fun to take a "before" snapshot, to see where Trump was before the whole "telling secrets to Russia in the Oval Office" thing is reflected in his job approval polling. Over the next week or two, the impact of this week's scandal will become clear, but for now the polling data doesn't reflect any of it.

If I had to summarize where Trump finds himself with the public in a Trumpian tweet, it'd have to be: "Trump poll #s still terrible. Sad! Obama miles better." That pretty much says it all. On the Real Clear Politics polling average page, Trump is currently at 40.7 percent average job approval and 53.9 percent disapproval. At the same point in his term, Barack Obama was at a whopping 60.8 percent approval and only 32.0 percent disapproval -- over 20 percent better, in both directions, than Trump.

Continue Reading »

Turning Point Approaching In War Against The Islamic State

[ Posted Monday, May 15th, 2017 – 17:25 PDT ]

The war against the Islamic State, currently being waged (to varying degrees) by the United States, Iraq, Iraqi Kurds, Iran, Syria, Syrian Kurds, Syrian Rebels, Turkey, and Russia is approaching a big turning point. The Islamic State has been steadily losing territory for over a year now, and they're on the brink of losing control over the two most important cities in their self-proclaimed caliphate: Mosul and Raqqa. This could be a death blow to the Islamic State's territorial claims, although the group itself will probably survive as a stateless international terrorist organization (much like Al Qaeda).

This war is both complicated and slow, which are two reasons why Americans haven't been paying much attention to it lately. Military alliances shift as you cross the Syrian/Iraqi border, and Syria is engaged in its own multiyear civil war, of which the fight against the Islamic State is but one part. Complexities abound, which isn't really that surprising for a conflict in the Middle East.

Putting most of those complexities aside, though, when you focus solely on the Islamic State, it's pretty obvious that they're losing, and losing badly. By the end of the year (at the latest), the Islamic State could lose control of all the territory in Iraq they once held. The situation in Syria is much harder to predict, but even there the Islamic State's footprint is definitely shrinking.

Continue Reading »