Friday Talking Points [476] -- "Everybody Fears The Perp Walk"

[ Posted Friday, March 16th, 2018 – 17:06 PDT ]

If it seems like keeping up with Donald Trump's White House antics is akin to following a soap opera, well, that's because at this point it is impossible to tell the difference.

This week's episode of As The White House Turns opened with a shock -- the handsome Rex was ousted by a tweet! How embarrassing! Then his buddy backed up his story, and he was immediately fired, too. Out West, an official administration spokesman quit in disgust over being asked to blatantly lie to the media. Then Trump's body man was frogmarched off White House grounds, over reports he was a gambler fond of making five-figure bets. By week's end, H. R. was teetering on the brink of extinction as well. Will he be pushed over the edge this weekend? Who will be the next to go? Will it be sleepy-eyed Ben? Or General John? Will Andy be fired mere hours before he can retire with a full pension? Tune in next week to find out! The answers will astound you!

Trump seems to be rediscovering the joy of "You're fired!" -- his signature phrase from his own television reality show. The Washington Post just broke the news that National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster will be fired as soon as Trump can "ensure both that the three-star Army general is not humiliated and that there is a strong successor lined up." From this article, a snapshot of what the scene is like at the White House these days:

The mood inside the White House in recent days has verged on mania, as Trump increasingly keeps his own counsel and senior aides struggle to determine the gradations between rumor and truth. At times, they say, they are anxious and nervous, wondering what each new headline may mean for them personally.

But in other moments, they appear almost as characters in an absurdist farce -- openly joking about whose career might end with the next presidential tweet. White House officials have begun betting about which staffer will be ousted next, though few, if any, have much reliable information about what is actually going on.

Many aides were particularly unsettled by the firing of the president's longtime personal aide, John McEntee, who was marched out of the White House on Tuesday after his security clearance was abruptly revoked.

"Everybody fears the perp walk," one senior White House official said. "If it could happen to Johnny, the president's body guy, it could happen to anybody."

That should really be the title of a tell-all book about life in the Trump White House, or perhaps it could be used as an epitaph for the whole administration: "Everybody fears the perp walk."

So, to recap in less snarky fashion: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is out, fired by a Trump tweet. So much for assuring he was "not humiliated," eh? The next domino to fall:

Steve Goldstein, undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, said that Tillerson was "unaware of the reason" for his firing and had not spoken directly with Trump.... [Goldstein's dismissal] came just before he was scheduled to brief reporters about the shake-up at Foggy Bottom.

Next up was John McEntee, the president's "body man," who was "escorted off the White House grounds." Again, so much for not humiliating people. He was then immediately (you just can't make this stuff up) hired by the Trump re-election campaign as a top advisor.

Then a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement quit, after refusing to lie to the public:

A spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has resigned over what he described as "false" and "misleading" statements made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and ICE acting director Thomas D. Homan.

. . .

"I quit because I didn't want to perpetuate misleading facts," [James] Schwab told the San Francisco Chronicle. "I asked them to change the information. I told them that the information was wrong, they asked me to deflect, and I didn't agree with that. Then I took some time, and I quit."

What with all the exits from Trumpland, there are now a whole lot of vacancies opening up. So who will fill them? Well, mostly talking heads from Trump's favorite network, Fox News. Of course, he couldn't get away with that to replace Tillerson, so Trump tapped Mike Pompeo, who is currently in charge of the C.I.A. Replacing Pompeo will be Gina Haspel, who will be promoted from within the ranks. So how is that news playing?

Haspel's selection faced immediate opposition from some lawmakers and human rights groups because of her prominent role in one of the agency's darkest chapters. Haspel was in charge of one of the C.I.A.'s "black site" prisons where detainees were subjected to waterboarding and other harrowing interrogation measures widely condemned as torture. When those methods were exposed and their legality came under scrutiny, Haspel was among a group of C.I.A. officials involved in the decision to destroy videotapes of interrogation sessions that left some detainees on the brink of physical collapse. Jameel Jaffer, formerly deputy legal director of the A.C.L.U., said Tuesday on his Twitter feed that Haspel is "quite literally a war criminal."

John McCain reacted to the news by tweeting: "The torture of detainees in U.S. custody during the last decade was one of the darkest chapters in American history. The Senate must do its job in scrutinizing the record & involvement of Gina Haspel in this disgraceful program."

But mostly Trump will be tapping Fox News personalities. Most prominent so far is Larry Kudlow, who will take over the job of top economic advisor, despite having no formal training in economics. What could possibly go wrong with that? Well, let's take a look at his record of prognostication, shall we? From an article titled "Larry Kudlow May Have Been More Wrong About The Economy Than Anyone Alive," here are a few choice quotes:

"Despite all the doom and gloom from the economic pessimistas, the resilient U.S. economy continues moving ahead," Kudlow wrote on Dec. 7, 2007, in National Review, predicting that gloomy forecasters would "wind up with egg on their faces." Kudlow, who previously derided as "bubbleheads" those who warned about a housing bubble, now wrote that "very positive" news in housing should "cushion" falling home sales and prices.

"There's no recession coming. The pessimistas were wrong. It's not going to happen," wrote Kudlow. "The Bush boom is alive and well. It's finishing up its sixth consecutive year with more to come. Yes, it's still the greatest story never told."

This is merely one quote from an article chock full of wrongheaded predictions issued by the man who will soon be the top advisor to the president on the economy. But hey, he looks good on T.V., which is all Trump really cares about.

What with all the soap opera drama coming from the White House, we're going to just whip through all the rest of the news this week in lightning fashion.

Democrats scored the biggest election upset since Roy Moore was defeated in a special House election in Pennsylvania this week, but we'll get to that one in more detail later in the program.

Students staged a nationwide walkout this week to protest the inaction on gun control, one month after the Florida school shooting.

Donald Trump got a bee in his bonnet speaking to some Marines this week, and pushed the idea of creating a "space force" in the American military. He apparently just liked the way it sounded, as he repeated "space force" as many times as he could in a very short span. How about we create a U.S. Space Force, make Trump its commander, but only if he'll move to Newt Gingrich's moon colony to do so?

There's still a big Stormy Daniels cloud on Trump's horizon, and 60 Minutes sounds like they're going to air her interview in a couple weeks. Last weekend, 60 Minutes aired a disaster of an interview with Betsy DeVos, as well.

Trump, after castigating congressional Republicans for being "scared of the N.R.A." showed this week that he is just as terrified of them himself. Trump initially pushed the congressmen to support raising the age to buy long guns to 21, but then dropped the issue from the agenda the White House came up with later.

In California and Virginia, guns were accidentally discharged inside of schools. So, obviously, the answer is to put even more guns in schools, just in case.

Robert Mueller has reportedly subpoenaed documents from the Trump organization, in an attempt to follow the money... perhaps right back to Russia?

Republicans on the House intelligence committee, meanwhile, issued a report which whitewashes the entire Russia question. This prompted a hilarious tweet from MSNBC host Joy Reid:

More House Intelligence Committee findings:

- The economy was surprisingly robust in October 1929

- The RMS Titanic arrived safely at port in New York City

- The Hindenburg's maiden flight went quite well

- Richard Nixon's honesty and integrity as president were unimpeachable

What else? Donald Trump Junior's wife has filed for divorce, today is the 50th anniversary of the My Lai massacre, and two notable deaths happened this week: Stephen Hawking and Representative Louise Slaughter. OK, that's enough, let's get on with the rest of the show.


Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week

We have to give Senator Dianne Feinstein an Honorable Mention this week, for immediately addressing the news that Gina Haspel will be named as head of the C.I.A. Feinstein's reaction was to push to declassify documents from the Senate report on "enhanced interrogation" which specifically outline Haspel's involvement.

[Feinstein] wrote in a letter Thursday that senators need "the complete picture" of Haspel's involvement to "fully and fairly" review her fitness for the job.... "The American people deserve to know the actual role the person nominated to the director of the C.I.A. played in what I consider to be one of the darkest chapters in American history."

Well done, Senator Feinstein! You are uniquely qualified to raise this issue and shine a spotlight on Haspel's history, so we are pleased to see you immediately doing so.

But the big news of the week for Democrats came from southwestern Pennsylvania, where Conor Lamb pulled off an incredible upset in a special election in the 18th congressional district. This was a real nail-biter of an election, but when the dust settled (the next morning), Lamb had a 627-vote lead over Republican Rick Saccone, in an election with over 225,000 total votes. This, in a district that Donald Trump won by 20 points.

Democrats have been itching for just such a special election victory for a while now, but each time they tried they got close but didn't actually win. Lamb broke this losing streak and emerged victorious, much to the delight of Democrats everywhere.

Republicans threw everything but the kitchen sink at Lamb, spending over $10 million in ads, but none of it stuck. The most interesting part of this is ominous news for Republicans hoping they can make the tax cuts a central part of their midterm campaign:

For the weeks of Feb. 4 and Feb. 11, roughly two-thirds of the broadcast television ads from Saccone's campaign, the Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC and the National Republican Congressional Committee mentioned taxes.... For the week of Feb. 18, that dropped to 36 percent, and to 14 percent the week after.... Since the beginning of March, tax ads have been essentially nonexistent.

This was supposed to be the central pillar of the Republican platform this year, but as this election shows, it might just not work out as well as GOP candidates think. Also worth rethinking are the non-existent coattails of Donald Trump. Trump personally visited the district twice to hold rallies -- one mere days before the election -- but it didn't move the needle at all. Also deployed to aid Saccone: Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump, Kellyanne Conway, Mike Pence, and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Make no mistake about it, this was a full-court press from the White House. And it didn't work. Trump's last rally may have even energized more Democrats to get out and vote. Sad!

Speaking of energizing Democrats, the chair of the D.C.C.C. is now reportedly thinking of expanding the map of targeted Republican House districts to contest this fall, up from the current 100 or so. After Lamb's victory, the D.C.C.C. chair "will re-contact a number of potential recruits in numerous districts who are not yet willing to take the plunge, but might be more inclined after last night." Hey, if Lamb can win in a plus-20 Trump district, then anything's possible!

Republicans immediately began searching for excuses, and laughably latched onto the idea that Lamb was really "Republican-lite." The GOP spent the entire campaign calling Lamb an ultra-liberal -- "one of Nancy Pelosi's sheep" -- so it's a bit hard to take them seriously now when they claim Lamb as (kind of) one of their own. Trump even pushed this narrative, stating (incorrectly, of course): "[Lamb] said very nice things about me. I kept saying, is he a Republican? He sounded like a Republican to me.... 'Oh, I'm like Trump. Second Amendment, everything. I love the tax cuts, everything.'" A veteran reporter who spent a lot of time covering the race shot back:

None of that is true. Lamb did not run as a Trump supporter. He ran against the tax cuts, not for them. His abortion stance was a lot like that of Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) -- while personally opposing abortion, he was against new restrictions on the procedure, a position that inspired a Family Research Council ad comparing him to Kim Jong Un.

In fact, just before Election Day, Rick Saccone pushed the demonization of Democrats even further, stating: "Many of them have a hatred for our country. I'll tell you some more. My wife and I saw it again today. They have a hatred for God." Nothing like calling the voters unpatriotic atheists to get people to the polls, eh?

Conor Lamb is the first Democrat to successfully surf the incoming blue wave, in a gerrymandered Republican district that Democrats should not have had a prayer of winning. This has stoked terror among House Republicans, and given rise to growing enthusiasm from Democrats over their chances in the upcoming midterms. For doing all of that, and for his razor-thin 627-vote victory, Conor Lamb is easily the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.

[You won't be able to publicly congratulate Representative-Elect Conor Lamb until he is sworn in and creates an official House contact page, but hopefully that won't take too long.]


Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week

Donald Trump, in a rambling speech this week given at (as he tweeted it) a "Marine Core" base in California, came out with a bizarre statement. Actually, there were more than one bizarre statement in his speech (as usual), but the one that took the cake was when he swore that Americans would soon be going to Mars -- and that Hillary Clinton would never have done such a thing. He just can't let the election go.

Sadly, neither can she. In a speech she gave in India this week, Clinton also had to rehash the election in several cringeworthy ways. Revisiting (why not?) her "deplorables" campaign gaffe, Clinton took a look back at what happened:

If you look at the map of the United States, there's all that red in the middle where Trump won. I win the coast. I win, you know, Illinois and Minnesota -- places like that. But what the map doesn't show you is that I won the places that represent two-thirds of America's gross domestic product. So I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward.

The impossible-to-ignore corollary being that Republican states are pessimistic, monocultural, sluggish, and moving backward. Clinton gave this speech just before the Conor Lamb election happened -- the worst possible time to insult voters from red districts, in other words. Thankfully, the PA-18 voters ignored her.

Clinton also demeaned white women, who she claimed faced "ongoing pressure to vote the way that your husband, your boss, your son, whoever, believes you should." Nothing like telling the ladies that they are so impressionable that they can't make their own minds up in an election, and have to turn to some man nearby to help them figure it all out.


It's becoming increasingly clear that the smartest thing any Republican candidate could do in the midterm elections is not to invite President Trump to campaign for them. But it's also becoming equally clear that Democrats should also stay far away from the Clintons, and all their baggage.

For disparaging red-district voters and women, right before an election where they proved crucial to a Democratic win, Hillary Clinton plainly deserves this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. Enough with the whole "deplorables" storyline, Hillary! Please!

[Hillary Clinton is a private citizen, and it is our policy not to provide contact information on such persons, sorry.]


Friday Talking Points

Volume 476 (3/16/18)

Most of these are of the "spiking the ball in the endzone and doing a happy dance" variety, for obvious reasons. Hey, Democrats have been waiting to do this for a long time now, and suffered disappointments in special House elections in Montana, Kansas, South Carolina, and Georgia. In Pennsylvania, Conor Lamb finally brought home the bacon. If that's not a reason to celebrate, we don't know what is!


   Big blue wave

This phrase is guaranteed to get under the skin of Republicans. With good reason.

"After Conor Lamb's victory in a district that went for Trump by 20 points, it's pretty hard to ignore the big blue wave forming on the horizon. Democrats are determined and motivated heading into the midterm election season, while Republicans are staying home and not bothering to vote. What with Trump's daily antics, it's hard to blame them, really. Democrats are eagerly looking forward to that big blue wave washing out a whole lot of Republicans from Congress, and Lamb's victory has expanded the playing field considerably. More than half of the Republicans in the House come from districts that are less Republican than the one Democrats just picked up. Paul Ryan's home district is a lot closer politically than the one Republicans just lost in Pennsylvania, for instance. Maybe even Ryan will be swept away in the big blue wave, who knows?"


   Trump doesn't help, he hurts

This is really just playground taunting, but it'll certainly make GOP candidates think twice, that's for sure.

"The other thing the Pennsylvania election showed is that Donald Trump has no coattails. He supported Roy Moore in Alabama, and the Democrat won. He went all-in on Rick Saccone, and it did absolutely no good. He even announced steel tariffs a few weeks before the election, in a naked move to sway the voters in the Pittsburgh area -- a move that fell completely flat. In fact, Trump's final campaign rally for Saccone may have even backfired, and motivated more Democrats to get out and vote. It's a sad fact, but the leader of the Republican Party -- the President of the United States -- can no longer be seen as helpful to any Republican's chances of being elected. Trump's support doesn't help, in fact it hurts Republican candidates. If I were a Republican running for office in November, I would turn down any offer by Trump to campaign with me, because I know my campaign will be better off without him."


   Harvey the reporter

This one is just for fun.

"It wasn't just Trump, either, it was members of his family as well. Donald Junior appeared in Pennsylvania with Rick Saccone, at a candy store. If the photo is to be believed, Junior was interviewed by a giant chocolate bunny. Seems Junior can be just as much of a punchline as dear old Dad. Twitter instantly reacted to the image, with the funniest response being a suggested caption: 'Don't bite my head off, I'm just asking a question.' Just in time for Easter!"


   Tax cuts didn't work

Seriously, though, this one is likely to induce the most fear in Republican campaigns.

"The GOP had a grand strategy for the midterm elections: they would run on their one single legislative achievement of the past year. The wonderfulness of the Republican tax cuts would be so exciting that the voters would reward Republicans with their support. This was literally the only thing they had to pin their 2018 hopes on. But a funny thing happened in Pennsylvania's 18th district -- the tax cut issue did not work the way it was designed. The voters didn't care. Perhaps the fact that the lion's share of the tax cuts went to big corporations and the wealthiest of the wealthy had something to do with it? Oh well, I guess it's back to the drawing board at Republican headquarters, because their big campaign strategy for the midterms just landed with a belly-flop."


   Another county heard from!

Some Republicans already realize what is happening.

"Mike Murphy, a well-respected Republican campaign consultant, had the following to say about the Pennsylvania election: 'We should be able to elect a box of hammers in this district. If we're losing here, you can bet there is a Democratic wave coming.' Remember, this is a man who made a career out of helping Republicans get elected. Republicans can now be split into two groups: those who are smart enough to see what is coming, and those who prefer to bury their heads in the sand. Either way, the big blue wave will sweep over them in November."


   Makin' stuff up

A rare admission from Trump was heard this week.

"Donald Trump, in a fundraiser this week, came out and just flat admitted that he is a serial liar. He told the story of a meeting with Canada's prime minister Justin Trudeau, where Trudeau told Trump that Canada actually ran a trade surplus with the U.S., not a deficit. Trump contradicted Trudeau, falsely claiming that a trade deficit existed. He was wrong, and Trump even admitted while telling the story that "I didn't even know" whether what he was saying was right or not. So now it is not just members of Congress who have to ignore everything that comes out of Trump's mouth, but world leaders have been put on notice that Trump is the king of 'just makin' stuff up.' Facts be damned, if Trump believes it, then it must be true!"


   Severing your country

And finally, we end where we began, with the soap opera that the Trump White House has become.

"Boy, it must be tough to work in Trump's White House. I've heard that there is even a gallows-humor 'dead pool' where people are betting who will be fired next by a Trump tweet. As one staffer memorably put it: 'Everyone fears the perp walk.' As well they should! The Washington Post has now created a helpful page which counts how many days it has been since a high-level firing, for those who find it hard to keep up. The satirical site The Onion ran an amusing headline that must be pretty close to the truth: 'White House Now Just Holding Continuous Going-Away Party For Departing Staffers.' As if all of that weren't funny enough, Sean Spicer tweeted a farewell to the last man fired by a tweet, where he made a rather large Freudian slip: 'Secretary Tillerson is a true patriot that has severed our nation well.' Um, yeah -- that's one thing the Trump administration excels at! Trump himself severs our nation well on a daily basis!"

-- Chris Weigant


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Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground