Wednesday, March 22, 2017


On the subject of the Republican health care bill, Josh Barro writes:
It's hard to decide which would be the more politically damaging outcome for Republican politicians: passing the American Health Care Act, and therefore owning the premium increases and coverage losses it would cause; or not passing the bill, and therefore failing to do anything that can be framed as "repealing Obamacare."

Each option is a political nightmare for Republicans for the same reason: Each would amount to an admission that Republicans cannot deliver what they have promised for years on healthcare.
I think failure would be a much better outcome for Republicans politically -- as Barro, says, if they pass a bill they'll be responsible for whatever health care looks like in the future (and if it's dictated by this bill, our health care future will be terrible).

But won't they be held accountable for failing to deliver on a promise they've made relentlessly for seven years? Maybe not -- if they all just stop talking about health care.

I think that's a real possibility. I think Republicans may just stop talking about how awful they think Obamacare is, and tiptoe away from the subject whenever possible.

Notice what happened in America as homosexuality gained mainstream acceptance: National Republicans gradually backed away from using opposition to gay marriage as a wedge issue. Yes, they still get worked up when caterers or cake bakers are accused of discrimination for not wanting to provide services for same-sex weddings, and yes, they're still very nasty on transgender rights, but even though nearly all of them will still tell you that legalization of same-sex marriage should have been left to the states, it's now safe for them to say that national legalization of same-sex marriage is settled law. And even "it should have been left to the states" is an improvement over what Republicans were saying a decade ago, when many of them wanted a ban in the federal Constitution. They're certainly not scheduling anti-gay state referenda in order to drive the presidential vote, the way they did, for instance, in 2004. In national elections, they're not talking about gay rights much at all.

Obamacare is gaining acceptance now. So I'm predicting that after the Ryan/Trumpcare bill fails, if it really does fail, D.C. Republicans might become as silent on Obamacare as they've been noisy since the legislation passed. They won't want to remind us that they despised the program for years. They'll never acknowledge the change -- they'll just try to memory-hole their years of incessant opposition. They'll just move on.


The Wall Street Journal editorial board wants Donald Trump to stop lying:
A President’s Credibility

Trump’s falsehoods are eroding public trust, at home and abroad.

If President Trump announces that North Korea launched a missile that landed within 100 miles of Hawaii, would most Americans believe him? Would the rest of the world? We’re not sure, which speaks to the damage that Mr. Trump is doing to his Presidency with his seemingly endless stream of exaggerations, evidence-free accusations, implausible denials and other falsehoods.

The latest example is Mr. Trump’s refusal to back off his Saturday morning tweet of three weeks ago that he had “found out that [Barack] Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory” on Election Day. He has offered no evidence for his claim, and a parade of intelligence officials, senior Republicans and Democrats have since said they have seen no such evidence.

Yet the President clings to his assertion like a drunk to an empty gin bottle....

... Mr. Trump is his own worst political enemy. He survived his many false claims as a candidate because his core supporters treated it as mere hyperbole and his opponent was untrustworthy Hillary Clinton. But now he’s President, and he needs support beyond the Breitbart cheering section that will excuse anything.

... Two months into his Presidency, Gallup has Mr. Trump’s approval rating at 39%. No doubt Mr. Trump considers that fake news, but if he doesn’t show more respect for the truth most Americans may conclude he’s a fake President.
But what the Journal ed board refers to as "the Breitbart cheering section that will excuse anything" apparently consists of the entire Republican electorate, with very few exceptions, according to a new poll reported by The Washington Post:
How many Trump supporters continue to support him enthusiastically? How many continue to support him but are disturbed by many of his actions? How many genuinely regret their vote?

Our Mood of the Nation Poll from Penn State’s McCourtney Institute of Democracy provides answers.

... we asked everyone, “Suppose you could go back in time and vote again in the November election. What would you do?”

... Of the 339 poll participants who originally voted for Trump, only 12 (3½ percent) said they would do something different.

... Of the 327 Trump voters who would vote for him again, only 42 (or 13 percent) asked him to start behaving more presidential. Typical was a 51-year-old woman from Virginia who said she would tell the president, “Continue with your agenda but stop tweeting.”

... these messages were dwarfed by the enormous show of support for the president among those who voted for him....

The largest number of Trump voters sampled — representing millions of voters — asked the president to “stay strong,” “keep it up,”“hang in there” or “stay the course.” Many simply expressed their feelings as fans, as with the respondent who wrote, “Go Donald Go!” Others expressed excitement and pleasure over his performance, as with the voters who wrote:

“Keep up the good work...continue draining the swamp to bring America back to her greatness.”

“You are doing a wonderful job. Keep on doing what you are doing. The American people are behind you. Only those who do not respect what you are dissenting.”
According to this survey, Trump retains the passionate support of nearly his entire voting bloc. Remember that his most primal instinct is self-preservation -- does he really care whether Republicans suffer in the midterms or there's less security and prosperity in America and the world? Yes, the Gallup poll is bad for him -- but it may just be that angry anti-Trump voters are more willing to talk to pollsters these days than Trump backers, who tend to believe all mainstream media and polling outfits are deceitful.

I believe that Trump is historically unpopular for a president in the first months of his term. But if he can sustain this level of support until 2020, he might just slip by a Democrat again, taking advantage of GOP voter suppression and a wealthy corporate donor community that will never bail on the GOP, not to mention campaign finance rules that are only going to get worse once Neil Gorsuch is on the Supreme Court.

Remember that Richard Nixon and George W. Bush won reelection before disapproval of them reached critical mass. It takes a long time for Republicans to lose faith in one of their own, even when the rest of the country has already done so.

Credibility? Trump's base thinks he has all the credibilty he needs, even now. And that base is essentially the entire GOP electorate.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


ABC's Brian Ross and Matthew Mosk report on a verified wiretap at Trump Tower -- but it wasn't aimed at the Trump campaign, which it predated by a couple of years:
There, indeed, was an FBI wiretap involving Russians at Trump Tower.

But it was not placed at the behest of Barack Obama and the target was not the Trump campaign of 2016. For two years ending in 2013, the FBI had a court-approved warrant to eavesdrop on a sophisticated Russian organized crime money laundering network that operated out of unit 63A in Trump Tower.

The FBI investigation led to a federal grand jury indictment of more than 30 people, including one of the world’s most notorious Russian mafia bosses, Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov. Known as the “Little Taiwanese,” Tokhtakhounov was the only target to slip away, and he remains a fugitive from American justice....

[Mike] Gaeta, who ran the FBI’s Eurasian Organized Crime unit of the FBI’s New York office told ABC News at the time that federal agents were closely tracking Tokhtakhounov, whose Russian ring was suspected of moving more than $50 million in illegal money into the United States.

... Some of the Russian mafia figures worked out of the 63rd floor unit in the iconic skyscraper –- just three floors below Trump’s penthouse residence -- running what prosecutors called an “international money laundering, sports gambling and extortion ring.”
A 2016 Mother Jones story by David Corn and Hannah Levintova tells us more -- and adds a couple of familiar names to the cast of characters:
On April 16, 2013, federal agents burst into a swanky apartment at Trump Tower in New York City as part of a larger raid that rounded up 29 suspected members of two global gambling rings with operations allegedly overseen by a supposed Russian mob boss named Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov. The Russian was not nabbed by US law enforcement. Since being indicted in the United States a decade earlier for allegedly rigging an ice skating competition at the 2002 Olympics, he had been living in Russia, beyond the reach of Western authorities. And this new gambling indictment did not appear to inconvenience Tokhtakhounov. Seven months after the bust, he was a VIP attendee at Donald Trump's Miss Universe 2013 contest held in Moscow. In fact, Tokhtakhounov hit the red carpet within minutes of Trump....

Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov's tale is an intriguing story of sports, Hollywood stars, poker, and alleged crime. The indictment filed by Preet Bharara...
Yup, Preet Bharara.
... The indictment filed by Preet Bharara, the US attorney in Manhattan, which triggered the 2013 raid, identified Tokhtakhounov as a vory v zakone—or a vor—a Russian term for a select group of the highest-level Russian crime bosses. A vor receives tributes from other criminals, offers protection, and adjudicates conflicts among other crooks. The indictment charged that Tokhtakhounov used his "substantial influence in the criminal underworld" to protect a high-stakes illegal gambling ring operating out of Trump Tower. He sometimes deployed "explicit threats of violence and economic harm" to handle disputes arising from this gambling operation. The indictment noted that in one two-month period he was paid $10 million by this outfit for his services.

The operations of the gambling scheme were handled by two other men: Vadim Trincher and Anatoly Golubchik. The indictment alleged that they and others ran "an international gambling business that catered to oligarchs residing in the former Soviet Union and throughout the world," used "threats of violence to obtain unpaid gambling debts," and "employed a sophisticated money laundering scheme to move tens of millions of dollars…from the former Soviet Union through shell companies in Cyprus into various investments and other shell companies in the United States."
Cyprus? As in the Bank of Cyprus, the Putin-friendly institution that was rescued after its 2013 collapse by a group led by Wilbur Ross, now Trump's secretary of commerce?
Trincher, a dual citizen of the United States and Israel, was a championship professional poker player who had purchased a Trump Tower apartment located directly below an apartment owned by Donald Trump. In 2009, Trincher had paid $5 million for the posh pad. Two years later, he and his wife had reportedly hoped to hold a fundraiser in the apartment for Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign, but they had to cancel the event because of the presence of mold caused by a water leak.
Gingrich? Tied to mobsters? But he seemed so morally outraged by what he called Hillary Clinton's "corruption"!

As for the alleged vor himself, on the basis of this 2013 New York Times profile he seems like quite a mellow guy:

MOSCOW — The waiters hovered as Alimzhan T. Tokhtakhounov worked through a platter of chilled mussels, shrimp and octopus one afternoon last month at the restaurant Palazzo Ducale, one of the finest here. The staff could afford to be attentive: there was no one else to serve....

Like other men whom the American authorities have identified as Russian mobsters, he walks the streets freely, albeit with a bodyguard. He has his picture taken smiling alongside the glitterati at concerts, fashion shows and soccer matches. He invests in real estate and has recently taken up fiction writing. He showed his guest one of his novels, “Angel From Couture,” a semiautobiographical story that focuses on the love affair of a young model and an older man.

Whatever else he may be, he insisted over lunch, he is innocent of all charges against him.

... thieves in law remain a menace in émigré communities abroad, said Sergei Kanev, a reporter covering organized crime at the newspaper Novaya Gazeta.

“Even in America the thieves have a huge influence on former Soviet immigrants,” he said. “Criminal threads still tie them together. All their relatives are here in Russia. A thief might say, ‘Play along, or your uncle and aunt will get it.’ ” ...

[Tokhtakhounov's] Interpol wanted poster accuses him of “bribery in sport contests,” fraud and other malfeasance and says he is affiliated with Semyon Y. Mogilevich, a man the American authorities consider a Russian Mafia godfather who is on the F.B.I.’s Ten Most Wanted list. Mr. Mogilevich also lives freely in Russia.

Mr. Tokhtakhounov denied knowing Mr. Mogilevich.

But he glumly recounted friendships with several others reputed to be Mafia leaders, including those known by the nicknames Grandpa Hassan and Yaponchik, or the Little Japanese, who were killed in recent years in two rare occurrences of mob violence. They were shot by snipers while leaving Moscow restaurants after meals.

At the Palazzo Ducale, as Mr. Tokhtakhounov’s own guard waited, he denied, line by line, the allegations against him. Three waiters continually circled, topping off the water glasses until one wandered too close during conversation and Mr. Tokhtakhounov told him to go away.

“Alimzhan,” the waiter responded, “Don’t worry, you know us: we’re deaf.”
He seems like a fine, upstanding gentleman, doesn't he? I'm sure all of the charges against him are blown completely out of proportion.


A tweet from Richard Engel of NBC News:

A lot of us have worried about that. But I'm starting to suspect that Trump doesn't really crave absolute power, and he might not pursue it if given such an opening. He prefers to regard himself as always on defense -- over and over again he refers to himself as a "counterpuncher."

When he says that, he's only lying up to a point: He claimed throughout the campaign that he went on the attack only when someone attacked him first. But we know how he attacked: In response to a standard campaign critique by an opponent, he'd hit below the belt, using a schoolyard insult ("Little Marco") or a wild conspiracy theory (Ted Cruz's father helped kill JFK).

That was thuggish, but it also left Trump under attack from others -- mainstream politicians who weren't in the race (including some in his own party), as well as Democrats and (especially) the media. He's a nasty fighter, but he's not Putin nasty -- he doesn't leave every opponent dead or marginalized or terrified. Just the opposite: He's always under siege. Look at what's going on right now. Look at yesterday.

Yes, Trump is dangerous. The Muslim ban and stepped-up immigration raids show what he's capable of. But he could have gone further even in these early days. He could have responded to courts blocking the Muslim bans by defying the rulings and ordering enforcement of the executive orders. How would we have stopped him? Who would have stepped up? But that didn't happen.

Brutishness appeals to Trump. But picking fights and finding himself embroiled in controversy also appeals to him. A true thug would be much more interested in the former, and would use the ability to stir up trouble in a much more sinister and calculating way than Trump does.

I'm not recommending that we let our guard down. I'm just wondering whether Trump could bear living in a world in which no enemy of his could seriously fight back.

Monday, March 20, 2017


This Politico story should come as no surprise to you if your perspective on Donald Trump is based on fact rather than myth -- but if you voted for him, you probably fell for the myth, so how do you explain it?
Trump lets his aides sweat the details on health care

President Donald Trump’s aides spent the weekend fretting over the health care law, huddling in a room at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort for hours, wrangling with members of Congress on the phone, flying conservatives to the Florida retreat and making final deals with House leadership in hopes of getting the bill passed.

But while Republicans are looking for Trump to close the deal on replacing Obamacare ... the commander in chief, according to several aides and advisers, seems more interested in discussing other things.

He told associates he wished he hadn’t listened to White House lawyers and instead kept fighting for his original executive order blocking refugees and visa-holders from majority-Muslim countries from entering the U.S., rather than introducing a second, weaker version....

He asked a number of visitors over the weekend what they thought of Neil Gorsuch, his Supreme Court nominee. He asked others about North Korea.

And he complained about leaks coming from inside the federal government, saying they were the bigger story than his recent claims about being wiretapped by former President Barack Obama at Trump Tower....
We have a president of the United States who desperately wants a bill to pass, and he's not just any president, he's one who's regarded by nearly all his voters as the shrewdest dealmaker on the planet, and certainly the best dealmaker who's ever been president. And it's not just voters who feel that way:
Members of Speaker Paul Ryan’s team, trying to appeal to Trump’s ego and deal-making sensibilities, have begun calling him the “closer” or the "ultimate closer.”
But he's not doing any of the closing. He's not doing any of the dealmaking at all. The world's greatest dealmaker is leaving the making of deals to others.

You and I understand this: Trump is lazy, and he doesn't make the slightest effort to understand any complicated issue in detail. He's not making deals because he can't -- he's never bothered to develop a grasp of ordinary politics and he's never bothered to absorb the details of the health care bill he's championing. But his voters -- and his party-mates -- think this is his strong suit. It's a major reason why his voters voted for him: They thought he entered into every negotiation with a sharper understanding of the situation than everyone else and an unmatched, uncanny ability to get others to agree to what he wants.

It's not just that he's not as great as he says he is. When it comes to legislation, he utterly lacks the ability to do deals. He's the worst dealmaker who's ever been president, because he won't -- and -- can't do it at all.

And yet whatever happens with the bill, his fans will continue to believe that he's almost supernaturally gifted in this area. I don't know when, if ever, they'll realize he's a fraud.


I keep hearing that this was a devastatingly bad day for President Trump and that his presidency will now be measured in months -- but the Pope of Conservatism, Rush Limbaugh, tells me that it doesn't matter what James Comey or anyone else said today because everything we're hearing about the Trump team and the Russians remains what it always was according top the right: a massive lie.

I bring this up because much of America believes every word Limbaugh utters:
This is not about the evidence. This is not about (certainly) any exculpatory evidence. This is about furthering the narrative that Trump’s election is illegitimate, and this is designed to move forward whatever efforts there are that we don’t know about yet to impeach Trump and to get rid of him....

The point is that the Democrats and the media have so stoked this story that their base believes it. And the Democrats on this committee and the Democrats in the Senate, the Democrats everywhere, are literally scared to death of the day when it will be officially announced that there was no collusion, when this Comey investigation ends and they can’t prove any collusion between Trump and the Russians.

They are scared to death of that day, of what their base is gonna do.

They need their base continuing to donate money. They need their base continuing to remain engaged, and they have used this story — that Trump colluded with the Russians to steal the election. They have used this story to excuse the fact that they lost. They’ve used this story to excuse the fact that they had a lousy candidate, to excuse the fact that she ran a lousy campaign, to excuse the fact that she’s very unlikable, to excuse the fact that they were so arrogant and condescending in assuming they were gonna win that they didn’t even really make a serious effort.

All of that has to be covered up. There is no way, in fact, that they could have lost unless the election was stolen from them. And so this narrative has been out there. And it has been fed. The New York Times and the Washington Post and CNN have fed it with stories of wiretapping and any number of things to indicate that Trump was under investigation and that evidence was being accrued and that evidence is being found. There isn’t any evidence! The Democrat Party base voter has essentially been told a humongous lie. I don’t think when this all started it ever was intended to get this big, but it kept feeding on itself.

And now they’ve got nowhere to go.
And why this conspiracy so vast? Because the Deep State is all-powerful -- more powerful than even the greatest man on earth, Donald Trump!
These hearings today, what happened last week and the week before that, what happened during the transition period… What all of this is can be explained simply by saying, “Look at how terrified they are in the Washington-New York establishment, of Donald Trump and draining the swamp.” The Never Trumpers on both sides of the aisle. There are conservative Never Trumpers today celebrating over the fact that Comey made it official that there’s an investigation of Trump and colluding with the Russians.

These people know that there isn’t any evidence of this, but that doesn’t matter. What everybody in Washington supports is the smearing, the slander, and the libel of Donald Trump. And these hearings today? The FBI director, James Comey, is trying to save the jobs of a lot of people. He’s trying to save the careers of a whole lot of people — his included — in, I think, an inappropriate way. And the Republicans in this committee? Look folks, I’ve been waiting. I’ve been patiently waiting. I’ve been trying to hold it, keep the powder dry. But the Republicans on this committee…

... the purpose of this is to further the narrative that Trump is illegitimate, that he should not be president, that his election was the result of tampering by the Russians. So the objective is that Trump either stops this reform business he’s got, stops this drain-the-swamp stuff, and starts letting the Washington Republicans run the town again, or they’re gonna impeach him.

That’s the message being sent today: “You either straighten up and fly right or you’re gone.”

“We’re coming for you,” is the message of these hearings today.
I think Trump is going to survive this. You probably disagree, but you probably wouldn't have predicted that Chris Christie would finish out his term after Bridgegate. With rare exceptions, the folks at the top never get what's coming to them.

A few Trumpers -- Mike Flynn, Roger Stone, maybe one or two others -- could face consequences. Most of the current White House will skate. That's my prediction.

But if Trump is brought down, or survives as a wounded president, he'll be the biggest martyr in the history of modern conservatism. Regardless of what facts emerge, the faithful will believe to their dying days that this was a vast conspiracy on the part of the swamp itself to remain in power, as Limbaugh says. (No, they don't think multiple Goldman Sachsers and DeVos and all the Mercers' pals are swamp creatures. Patriotic midlevel intelligence bureaucrats? They're the swamp.) They'll believe that every bit of evidence was fabricated. They'll believe that Trump's failure to bring all the manufacturing jobs back, zero out Mexican and Muslim immigration, destroy ISIS, and otherwise Make America Great Again will be because the Deep State stabbed him in the back.

This is not the Nixon era. The conservative faithful are never going to acknowledge wrongdoing on the part of Team Trump.


There's a post by David French today at National Review's Corner with the headline "FBI Confirms It’s Investigating Possible Links Between Trump Campaign and Russia - Why This Is Good News." French was once an opponent of the president, but now sees him as a useful means of obtaining significant right-wing change. So why does French think an investigation of the president's possible collusion with Russia is good news? Here's one reason:
... since the Trump administration’s DOJ authorized this announcement, it is a sign to all Americans that its system is still working as intended. This announcement is not helpful to the administration, but the DOJ authorized it anyway.
Oh, goody! We're not living in a totalitarian dictatorship yet! Excuse me while I do a dance of joy at the news that our government still clears this very low bar.

That's also the message of an entire column by the New York Post's Kyle Smith:
Trump’s first two months prove he’s anything but a fascist

When Donald Trump moved into the White House, were you under the impression it was tantamount to either Fifth Avenue Moses coming in to part the filthy waters of the Swamp, or MussoHitler about to bring down the mighty hammer of neo-fascism upon the US?

If so, the joke’s on you....

Gulliver-like, Trump finds himself tied down by a thousand tiny strings, paralyzed by micro-people he can barely detect. Because of their combined power, he can’t do much of anything. If it’s the system vs. Trump, the system is winning, bigly....

Thanks to two judges ... Trump’s latest executive order restricting immigration from six countries with major terrorism problems is on hold.

Even with his party in control of both houses in Congress, Trump is finding major limits to what he can do legislatively. The American Health Care Act is not going to pass (without major changes)....

Passing a budget? Hey, guess what? The president can’t spend a dime without Congress....

Liberals should have had more respect for our national institutions than to think that one man could simply have trashed them all.
In fact, one man probably could have trashed all our national institutions, and Trump conceivably might do so yet -- but he doesn't seem to have a sufficient understanding of how those institutions work, so he's never truly focused his attention on subverting them. It's easy to imagine a leader who could do that -- someone with Trump's appeal to a large bloc voters and, say, Steve Bannon or Stephen Miller's contempt for American values -- but in the government as currently configured, the man at the top doesn't seem capable of consolidating power with a true fascist's ruthlessness.

So I guess we merely have to worry about treason, widespread self-dealing, destruction of the social safety net, targeted totalitarianism (directed at the undocumented, directed at Muslims), an understaffed government in which everyone attacks everyone else every day, covert and overt encouragement of white supremacism, and an ignorant leader who watches TV all day and might get us into a nuclear war with a bellicose tweet.

But no full-scale fascism for now! Yippee!


No, it isn't you -- it's Disqus. A lot of sites are having a problem. Hope we'll have comments back soon.

UPDATE: Comments are back.


Joshua Caplan at Jim Hoft's Gateway Pundit is delighted to report this:
American Spring Breakers Chant “Build That Wall” In Cancun – Mexican Locals Freak!

Americans from around the country are pumped about President Trump’s plans to build a border wall with Mexico. Young people are particularly excited and have taken to letting our neighbors to the south know how we feel about the President’s immigration plan.

As per The Yucatan Times:
What would be a dream night for Suly and Anaximandro Amable, a newly married couple who went to Cancun for their honeymoon, became a bitter experience on Monday March 13.

During a family show on the high seas, young American spring breakers began to sing the controversial “Build That Wall” chant, which shocked Mexican national tourists and workers.

This is just one of the many blameworthy behaviors that young spring breakers have shown recently in Cancun and that are described as acts of xenophobia and discrimination against Mexicans within their own country, which is (or should be) totally unacceptable.

Anaximandro, from Perú, made the following statement on social networks: “Today I was with Suly, my wife (who is a native of Mexico), watching an entertainment show off the coast of Cancun aboard a boat, and at the end of the show, a flock of Americans (maybe under the influence of alcohol, or maybe not), began to sing the infamous “Build that wall” chant louder and louder”.
(Emphasis in the Gateway Pundit post.)

The Yucatan Times story goes on to say:
Several Mexican tourists on board the ship expressed their annoyance, but the Americans did not stop at all and continued singing the racist hymn.
So this disturbance of the peace offended Mexican tourists as well as a Peruvian who wanted to enjoy a nice honeymoon with his Mexican-born wife. Aren't reports like this likely to deter future tourists from spending money at Mexican tourist locations, or at least those where Americans might be present? It seems to me that allowing American tourists into Mexico -- or at least the wrong kind of American tourists -- could actually be hurting the Mexican tourist economy.

So perhaps Mexico should begin its own form of extreme vetting. Why not stop Americans at the border and ask for the passwords to their social media pages? If a young American is on the way to Mexico for spring break and his Facebook page is full of #MAGA hashtags and Pepe cartoons, that's a clear-cut indication that he's been radicalized and shouldn't be allowed into the country, don't you think? And while the Mexicans are at it, they should be seizing and unlocking phones at the border to check for further signs of radicalization. You can't be too careful.

Or, given the fact that this seems to be happening repeatedly...
This situation is far from being an isolated incident, and it adds to the growing number of complaints from tourism sector workers, who point out that in recent days many Spring Breakers have been offensive, rude and haughty towards Mexican people.
... maybe there should be a total and complete shutdown of Americans entering Mexico -- at least until Mexicans can figure out what the hell is going on.

Sunday, March 19, 2017


Josh Marshall is understandably upset that we've spend two weeks debating the obvious falsehood that President Obama personally ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower in 2016:
The real story here is that the President, by force of his office and audacity, was able to inject into the national conversation a preposterous claim which the country has spent two weeks debating. True, most people may not believe it. But virtually everyone has gone through the motions of probing the question as though they might be true....

I would say that this ability - both the President's pathological lying and our institutions' inability to grapple with it - is the big, big story. The particulars of the accusation basically pale in comparison....

While most have dismissed the President's claims, it is still the case that he has been allowed to drive public debate for two weeks over an obvious lie. Members of his party will not denounce it as a lie or even obviously false. That's a big problem. Without being overly dramatic, this is a warning case of people in power deciding what's true and false which is a harbinger of free government dying.
But as we know, and as a new CBS/YouGov poll makes clear, it isn't merely that Trump is the president and most Americans assume the president of the United States wouldn't lie that brazenly -- it's that this president is regarded as a particularly reliable source of information, at least by his admirers -- and not just by his most fervent admirers.

The poll divides respondents into four categories:
In this study we’ve been defining the strongest backers (the “believers,” for their strong belief in what he will do); those who support him but with the condition that he deliver on his promises (the “conditionals”); and those watching for a reason to support him but do not now (the “curious”); and those who oppose him, period, the “resisters.”

... the number of staunchest supporters (the believers) [is] at 21 percent and conditional supporters at another 22 percent....
That's 43% total -- pretty much in line with Gallup's daily tracking poll, in which Trump opponents regularly outnumber his supporters by a considerable amount, but in which Trump's support seems to have a floor somewhere around 40%.

In the CBS/YouGov poll, the "curious" are 21% and the "resisters" are 36%.

So how do the supporters feel about Trump as an information source?
The president’s strongest backers say they rely on President Trump and Vice-President Pence (nine in ten do) even more than any other sources we asked about, including right-leaning websites and broadcasts, to give them accurate information about what’s going on. His more conditional supporters also turn to him for accurate information, just to a slightly lesser degree, and all his supporters say the mainstream media is inaccurate. About nine in ten of the strongest supporters also reject information coming from Democrats in Congress, left-leaning news sources, and the mainstream media as inaccurate.
If you go to the numerical breakdown, you see that 93% of the "believers" think Trump is an accurate source of information, as do 67% of "conditionals." Only 9% of the "believers" think the mainstream media is reliable, and only 19% of the "conditionals."

Remember, it's the "conditionals" we on the left are hoping to flip in 2018 and beyond. But they're nearly as likely to think Trump is a truth-teller as the superfans.

No surprise, really. Heartland white Americans have been told for years that everything the liberal media says is a lie. This message has been hammered home by talk radio and, of course, Fox News. Heartland voters are now conditioned to believe that whoever hates the MSM the most, and whoever tells us things that deviate the most from what the MSM is telling us, must be the greatest truth-teller.

And that's Trump. That's why the wiretapping allegations will never be fully discredited. That's why supporters will still continue to believe that Trump will give everyone better health insurance at a lower cost, even as he's failing to do that right now. Here's an anecdote from a New York Times story about how the health care fight is playing out in Ohio:
Pegge Sines, 62, of rural Edgerton, Ohio, did not vote for president, but her husband, a longtime factory worker who died of lung cancer in December, was an ardent Trump supporter. They had subsidized private insurance through the health care law that covered virtually all his treatment, she said.

Ms. Sines now pays $222 a month for her insurance from the Affordable Care Act marketplace, with a tax credit of $712 covering the rest. That $8,544 annual subsidy is more than twice the $4,000 annual tax credit she would get under the Republican plan.

An aim of Republican legislation is to reduce private premiums, but Ms. Sines’s son, who along with her other two grown children signed up for Medicaid under the expansion, has been warning that their coverage could be “in trouble,” she said. She cannot believe Mr. Trump would allow that to happen.

“I can’t imagine them not keeping it like it is now,” said Ms. Sines, who runs a group home for the elderly.
They're benefiting from Obamacare. They absolutely won't benefit from Trump/Ryancare. But Pegge Sines just doesn't believe that's possible. Trump said he'd protect her, she believes it, and that settles it.

Saturday, March 18, 2017


This is what normalization looks like:

This is how normalization reads:
[Conway] knows that she has had a breakout year. As Trump’s highly visible and quotable campaign manager during the election’s final sprint, she became a constant presence on cable news and thus a subject of widespread fascination, armchair psychoanalysis, outrage, and exuberant ridicule. But rather than buckling, she absorbed all of it, coming out the other side so aware of how the world perceives her that she could probably write this article herself. Caricatures from that time, when hardly anyone believed Trump could defy the polls and win, depicted her wielding everything from a whip to a shock collar to tame her unruly candidate. But these days, serving as the senior counselor to the president, Conway is becoming less a supporting character than a bona fide celebrity in her own right. She is simply more famous — more beloved by Trump fans and more hated by Trump detractors — than anyone in any comparable role in any previous White House.
We'll be told that this New York magazine cover story is not a puff piece at all -- it's balanced because it acknowledges the dishonesty of much of what Conway says. There's some truth to that. But the context is what matters:
By March, she was less a pollster, campaign manager, or communications guru and more what the press expected Ivanka Trump would become in the absence of Melania Trump, who remains in New York with her young son, Barron — a pervasive female double of the president, an extension of his will and much more fiendishly committed to her boss than anyone else working on his behalf. Fewer than 50 days into the new administration, Conway had become almost inseparable from the public’s idea of the Trump White House. That is, the functional First Lady of the United States.

The simplest explanation for that is Conway’s eerie similarity to the president: her opportunism, jumping from Ted Cruz to Trump mid-campaign; her mercenary sense of loyalty, somehow both total and totally for hire; her ease at projecting, in even the most staged encounters, a blue-collar authenticity; her fighter’s instinct, which dictates that she never give an inch or even try to persuade; and, above all, her very loose relationship to the truth and her very evident love of the game. Other Trump surrogates, like Reince Priebus or Sarah Huckabee Sanders, get weaselly under pressure, as did their predecessors in previous administrations. But in intense interviews with Jake Tapper or Chuck Todd, you can usually see Conway winking and smiling, in much the same way her boss seems amused by the theater of a press conference even as he’s staging one. Other presidents would have been ashamed to have their representatives spin such bullshit, to have them so dismissively refuse to engage with interlocutors about contrary facts or commonsensical presumptions. But Trump doesn’t appear to feel shame, not in his communications strategy nor in any other part of his life. And Conway has become his most convincing doppelgänger by not feeling shame either.
You can point out that the words "opportunism," "loose relationship to the truth," and "bullshit" are all in that passage, and thus it can't possibly be described as flattering. But all of this is in the context of an assertion that Conway is the de facto successor to Michelle Obama and Jackie Kennedy and Eleanor Roosevelt, that she's earned this position not merely by lying but but by lying skillfully and with great joie de vivre, in an expert imitation of the Master. Nuzzi knows Trump and Conway are full of shit, but she respects Conway's adroit and gleeful mimicry of Trump's brazenness.

Nuzzi doesn't appear to be interested in what this sort of lying does to the country. Here's a question Nuzzi is far more interested in: Did Conway's defense of Mike Flynn (“Yes, General Flynn does enjoy the full confidence of the president") a few hours before he resigned reveal that she's not as much a member of the Trump inner circle as she claims? Nuzzi goes on about that for paragraph after paragraph -- it's much more important to her that what Conway and the rest of the Trumpers are saying and doing, and she returns to it at the end of the profile:
But Conway bristles when she feels public perception of her influence is confined to the idea that she’s a mere mouthpiece. In conversation, she is eager to explain that she’s in important meetings, important events, and privy to important information. In recent weeks, she’s hired her own staff ... and focused her energies on broadening her portfolio.... Her office, now two months into the administration, is beginning to look more like a place of permanence, decorated by those photos of her kids that had once been in a duffel bag on the floor as well as photos of her with the president. There are even a few more computers on her desk.
War with North Korea? War with Iran? Alienation of European allies? Repudiation of NATO? Collusion with Russia? Crackdowns on Muslims and immigrants? Drastic cuts to health care and other social programs? Not important. Who's up, who's down, what's the pecking order at the White House? That's what's important.

Friday, March 17, 2017


Are we really surprised by this?
Paul Ryan says he fantasized about cutting health care for the poor at his college keggers

... In a conversation with the National Review’s Rich Lowry on Friday, Ryan bragged about how conservatives now have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to take health coverage away from the most vulnerable Americans.

“So Medicaid,” Ryan told Lowry, “sending it back to the states, capping its growth rate. We’ve been dreaming of this since I’ve been around — since you and I were drinking at a keg. . . . I’ve been thinking about this stuff for a long time. We’re on the cusp of doing something we’ve long believed in.”
Atrios is right:
If you were a Young Conservative back in the day (or today), of course you talked about cutting federal Medicaid support and sending it all to the states over beers. It's what the Republican party, the National Review, and 50% of the PBS Newshour told you was important.

This has been the Republican agenda forever. Of course Republican frat boys, thinking they were smart, would get drunk and talk about it.
And Ryan surely thought he was smart, or at least serious. Wikipedia tells us:
Ryan has a bachelor's degree in economics and political science from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where he became interested in the writings of Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and Milton Friedman. He often visited the office of libertarian professor Richard Hart to discuss the theories of these economists and of Ayn Rand. Hart introduced Ryan to National Review....
A 2012 AP story notes that Ryan greatly valued those chats with Professor Hart:
As a college junior at Miami of Ohio, Ryan studied macroeconomic theory under Professor Richard Hart, a libertarian. Hart says they spent hours discussing the virtues of small government, individual responsibility and free-market capitalism.

In that 2009 commencement speech, Ryan credited Hart for creating "a vision quest in my mind to improve the economy of our nation."
Just before the 2012 election, Bill Keller of The New York Times interviewed Professor Hart. As the kids say sarcastically, he seems nice.
The macroeconomics professor who helped shape Paul Ryan is a voluble, passionate supply-sider and self-described “hard-core libertarian” named William R. Hart, known as Rich. Listening to him, you can imagine that you are hearing what Paul Ryan would say if he were not inhibited by the demands of electoral politics. Hart is the opposite of politic....

Rich Hart does not speak for Paul Ryan, but he spent many hours talking to Ryan, his eager student, and regards the candidate as a good friend and kindred spirit. What they share is an enduring and astringent kind of Republicanism that rests on a reverence for self-reliance, a conviction that government assistance leads to crippling dependency.

Hart sees the election not as a difference of approaches but a clash of philosophies. “Do we want to become a sort of European socialist welfare state?” he asked when we chatted in his office, decorated with Elvis and Nascar memorabilia, with Paul Krugman’s economics textbook demoted to a doorstop. “Or do we want to be a free-market capitalist economy where people who are productive get rewarded for working hard and creating wealth? What happens with these European welfare states is, everybody’s equally poor. I much prefer a little income inequality.”
Yup, Hart -- who got his B.A. in 1969 and thus would have been in his mid-sixties in 2012 -- used a Paul Krugman book as a doorstop. How mature of him. Oh, and he thinks everybody in Europe is "equally poor," which would be news to a lot of very comfortable Europeans.

More from Keller:
Hart’s policy expectations for a Romney/Ryan regime are familiar from the campaign. They include rolling back environmental regulations that slow development of natural gas and coal. (“Not green energy,” he said with disgust. “Fossil fuel energy.”) They include entrusting health care for the poor, and as much else as possible, to the mercies of the states; requiring that Medicare compete in a voucher market; cutting marginal tax rates, of course. What is striking, talking to Ryan’s mentor, is not the policies but the fervor and the deep suspicion of the other side’s motives.

“My liberal friends say, well, Paul Ryan doesn’t care about the poor,” Hart said. “I would argue it’s the Democrats who don’t care about the poor. They’re the ones that make them wards of the state. And just write them welfare checks.”

This enslavement, as Hart sees it, is not well-intentioned nannying gone wrong, but cynical self-interest by liberal groups: “My view of the N.A.A.C.P. is, you can’t represent a group of downtrodden if you don’t have a permanent group of downtrodden to represent.”
And Professor Hart -- true intellectual that he is -- responded to a question about Mitt Romney's 47% remark with, ultimately, the same talking point you'd get from a Fox News pundit:
“I don’t know how I would have handled the 47 percent comment, if only because I would never have said such a thing,” Hart told me. “Although I understand the context of the remark given the dependency state that government policies have created for so many. Instead, I would have stressed from the outset the need for policies to end long-term dependency by so many on government handouts, policies that wean them off the taxpayer dole and make them productive elements of society — make them givers rather than takers.”
That's Paul Ryan's college mentor. That's the man who sent him on "a vision quest" back in his college days. So, yes, I assume beer really did make Ryan ruminate about being Scrooge when he grew up.


According to certain members of the commentariat, Steve Bannon and Donald Trump are helpless innocents who love the working man but are being dragooned into mainstream conservatism. Here's David Brooks on Bannon:
I continue to worry about Steve Bannon. I see him in the White House photos, but he never has that sprightly Prince of Darkness gleam in his eye anymore.

His governing philosophy is being completely gutted by the mice around him. He seems to have a big influence on Trump speeches but zero influence on recent Trump policies....

He was the guy with a coherent governing philosophy. He seemed to have realized that the two major party establishments had abandoned the working class....

Bannon had the opportunity to realign American politics around the social, cultural and economic concerns of the working class. Erect barriers to keep out aliens from abroad, and shift money from the rich to the working class to create economic security at home....

But Bannonesque populism is being abandoned. The infrastructure and jobs plan is being put off until next year (which is to say never). Meanwhile, the Trump administration has agreed with Paul Ryan’s crazy plan to do health care first....

The Trump budget is an even more devastating assault on Bannon-style populism.
Over at The New Republic, Brian Beutler portrays Trump himself as similarly helpless, if for different reasons:
Trump has ... delegated legislating to movement conservative legislators, and administrative tasks to movement conservative cabinet members, and the results thus far have been disastrous....

On Thursday, the Trump White House published its first budget, proposing massive cuts to domestic spending, with the goal of zeroing out everything from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to Meals on Wheels to the Appalachian Regional Commission, and pretty much everything the U.S. government does to combat climate change....

Trump presumably has no idea what this budget would entail, or that it would harm his own constituents as much as the non-white poor in the Democratic Party’s base. It bears his name only because someone convinced him to appoint Mick Mulvaney—a former congressman allied with Paul Ryan—to run his Office of Management and Budget.

... Trump’s White House is trying to distance itself from Ryan’s health care bill....

Here, again, Trump is largely a victim of his own ignorance. Trump appears to have no idea what’s in the American Health Care Act or care about it one way or another, except perhaps as a potential point on the board.
Can we just go back to Bannon's CPAC speech?
Senior adviser to the president Stephen K. Bannon discussed the three most important goals the White House is working towards at CPAC 2017: homeland security, economic nationalism, and "deconstruction of the administrative state." ...
BANNON: ... I think if you look at the lines of work, I kind of break it up into three verticals of three buckets. The first is kind of national security and sovereignty and that's your intelligence, the Defense Department, Homeland Security.

The second line of work is what I refer to as economic nationalism and that is Wilbur Ross at Commerce, Steven Mnuchin at Treasury, Lighthizer at -- at Trade, Peter Navarro, Stephen Miller, these people that are rethinking how we're gonna reconstruct the -- our trade arrangements around the world.

The third, broadly, line of work is what is deconstruction of the administrative state....
See anything about the working class on that list of "the three most important goals"? Of course not. Spare me Bannon's sob stories about his poor dad's retirement money -- Bannon poses as a working-class hero, but he's always been faking it. It's strategic positioning and nothing more. This is what he really cares about.

I shed no tears for Trump either, because I don't believe he desperately wants to be a champion of the working class and just isn't smart enough or well-informed enough or focused enough to make that happen. He seemed to want to be a hero to the proletariat during the campaign, but he's a Fox News junkie of many years' standing, and so he's fine with eliminating Meals on Wheels and Big Bird, along with regulations and upper-bracket taxes and funding to research climate change, because that's what he's been told is important day after day by Hannity and O'Reilly and Doocy. Fox has told him for years that government programs harm the people they serve (unless the people they serve are CEOs), so he believes that. He could have insisted on populist alterations to the budget if he cared to. Top aides would have included such provisions if they thought he cared. But he doesn't care, and his aides know it.

Bannon isn't a prisoner, and (at least in terms of agency) Trump isn't a child. They have the power to steer the administration in a pro-worker direction. They just don't choose to exercise it.


The New York Times has a story about President Trump's budget headlined "Trump Takes a Gamble in Cutting Programs His Base Relies On." We're told:
The approach is a risky gamble for Mr. Trump, whose victory in November came in part by assembling a coalition that included low-income workers who rely on many of the programs that he now proposes to slash.
So will Trump's voters blame him if programs they rely on are significantly cut? Before you answer, read this Washington Post story:
NASHVILLE — Soon after Charla McComic’s son lost his job, his health-insurance premium dropped from $567 per month to just $88, a “blessing from God” that she believes was made possible by President Trump.

“I think it was just because of the tax credit,” said McComic, 52, a former first-grade teacher who traveled to Trump’s Wednesday night rally in Nashville from Lexington, Tenn., with her daughter, mother, aunt and cousin.

The price change was actually thanks to a subsidy made possible by former president Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which is still in place, not by the tax credits proposed by Republicans as part of the health-care bill still being considered by Congress.

It has been difficult for many Americans to keep up with the changes brought by Obamacare and exactly how the Republican proposal, if enacted, would affect their lives. But for Trump’s most dedicated supporters, it’s simply easier to trust the president is making things better and will follow through on his promise to provide “insurance for everybody” and “great health care for a fraction of the price.”

McComic said she’s not worried about her disability benefits changing or her 3-year-old granddaughter getting kicked off Medicaid or her 33-year-old son’s premiums going up.

“So far, everything’s been positive, from what I can tell,” she said, waiting for Trump’s rally here to begin Wednesday night. “I just hope that more and more people and children get covered under this new health-care plan.”
If Trump fans give him credit for things he hasn't done, it seems likely to me that they'll absolve him of blame for things he actually does. They'll blame President Obama, or congressional Democrats, or congressional Republicans. When it comes to Trump, they'll hear no evil.

The Post story also quotes Nancy Ware, whose 35-year-old son works in the service industry and can't afford insurance, even as he resents poorer people whose insurance seems to more highly subsidized.
Ware hopes that Trump can change this, although she says she won’t fault him if he can’t. She doesn’t believe news reports saying that 24 million people could lose their coverage under his plan.

“Nothing is in concrete yet. Give the man a chance,” she said. “Until you hear it from Donald J. Trump himself — and not the news media — then don’t even worry about it. Wait until you hear the man say it, because he will tweet it, he will Facebook it or he will go onto national television and tell everybody at the same time.”
If a health care bill passes, or when a Republican budget passes, Trump will just have to say that nothing bad will happen and his base will assume that anything bad that does happen couldn't possibly be his fault. Everything's good! He gave his word on that!

I think the scales will eventually fall from the Trumpers' eyes, but it will take years. It probably won't happen until a second term. And if we outvote the Trumpers in 2020, they'll always believe that he would have been the greatest president of all time if we hadn't viciously deprived him of four more years.

Thursday, March 16, 2017


J.D. Vance, author of the much-discussed book Hillbilly Elegy, tells us in The New York Times today that he's moving back to Ohio, the state where he grew up:
COLUMBUS, Ohio — In recent months, I’ve frequently found myself in places hit hard by manufacturing job losses, speaking to people affected in various ways. Sometimes, the conversation turns to the conflict people feel between the love of their home and the desire to leave in search of better work.

It’s a conflict I know well: I left my home state, Ohio, for the Marine Corps when I was 19. And while I’ve returned home for months or even years at a time, job opportunities often pull me away.

... from the community’s perspective, mobility can be a problem. The economist Matthew Kahn has shown that in Appalachia, for instance, the highly skilled are much likelier to leave not just their hometowns but also the region as a whole. This is the classic “brain drain” problem: Those who are able to leave very often do.

... I’ve long worried whether I’ve become a part of this problem. For two years, I’d lived in Silicon Valley, surrounded by other highly educated transplants with seemingly perfect lives.... So I decided to move home, to Ohio.
Vance's website tells us that he "grew up in the Rust Belt city of Middletown, Ohio, and the Appalachian town of Jackson, Kentucky"; he has been working "as a principal at a leading Silicon Valley investment firm." The Times piece tells us that he's establishing an anti-opioid organization in Ohio. So he's had success as a financier and an author, and he's returning to the kind of struggling community he came from in order to do good.

Or at least he's moving to the same state where he grew up.

Columbus Monthly tells us:
Columbus has won the J.D. Vance sweepstakes. The "Hillbilly Elegy" author announced on Tuesday he will relocate from San Francisco to Columbus, choosing the Ohio capital over Cincinnati as his new home base....

Though Cincinnati is closer to his hometown, Vance chose Columbus for its more convenient airport, central location and availability of promising job opportunities for his wife, Usha, a lawyer and fellow Yale Law School graduate. Speaking before an event hosted for him at Miranova by Columbus power couple Larry and Donna James, Vance, an Ohio State graduate, said he and his wife plan to move to German Village with their two dogs, Pippin and Casper.
German Village is described in the video below as "the crown jewel in the city's ring of historic neighborhoods ... one of the nation's best-preserved and -reimagined neighborhoods."

Vance may be doing good work, but let's not pretend that he's taking a vow of poverty and living in the depths of grinding poverty. I can't begrudge him that choice, but he wants to retain his comforts and signal his virtue at the same time. (And I bet he'll get a second book out of this move.)

Vance isn't the first to do this. In 2012, when Charles Murray was promoting his book Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, he told the Times that more people should emulate him -- he, a cultural elitist, had moved to a rural town in Maryland to live among the proles:
In Belmont, the fictional name Mr. Murray gives to the part of America where the top 20 percent live, divorce is low, the work ethic is strong, religious observance is high, and out-of-wedlock births are all but unheard of. Meanwhile in Fishtown, where the bottom 30 percent live, what Mr. Murray calls America’s four "founding virtues" -- marriage, industriousness, community and faith -- have all but collapsed.

... the people of Belmont ... need to leave their upper-middle-class enclaves and move closer to Fishtown.

That's exactly what Mr. Murray said he did two decades ago, when he and his second wife, Catherine Cox, a retired English professor, moved from Washington to Burkittsville, Md., a historic rural town of about 170 people about 50 miles to the northwest....

Life in Burkittsville, as he described it, approximates the small-town virtues he enjoyed growing up in Newton, Iowa....
As I told you at the time, Burkittsville isn't exactly a rural backwater -- it had a median household income of nearly a $100,000 (now it's over $100,000), and the occasional near-million-dollar home sale. So, again, Murray wasn't taking a poverty vow. He built not only his entire Times interview but an entire book and book tour around virtue signaling.

I also have my suspicions about Ron Fournier, who gave up his job in the D.C. political press last year to move back to him hometown of Detroit -- a life change he proudly announced in The Atlantic. Fournier took a job at Crain's Detroit Business and told us that "The real news in Detroit is revival and reinvention, and" he and his wife would "like to be a small part of it." Personally, I think he just got tired of being attacked for his relentless bothsidesism by wise-asses like me, but maybe I'm giving myself and other Fournier skeptics too much credit. We'll see if his next book is about how interesting and noble his return home has been.


Writing for Politico, National Review's Rich Lowry argues that President Trump and congressional Republicans are struggling to pass a health care bill because they're on different ideological teams:
[Their] relationship is awkward and tenuous. It is an uneasy accommodation between a GOP Congress that would find a more natural partner in a President Rubio, Cruz or Bush, and a President Trump who would, presumably, be happier to work with Speaker Dave Brat — the populist congressman from Virginia — than with Speaker Paul Ryan.

This is a product of how the Republican sweep of 2016 was won on separate tracks. Trump tore up many Republican orthodoxies and went out and found a different way to unlock the electoral map, winning in the industrial Midwest. Congressional Republicans more or less stuck with the usual script, kept Trump at arm’s length, and held their majorities in the House and the Senate.

As a result, there is no significant Trumpist wing in Congress.
Here's what Lowry gets wrong. Trump isn't really an economic populist -- he just plays one on TV. Lowry is right to say that Trump won the presidency because he made promises (economic and otherwise) to the white working class that other Republicans wouldn't have made. Lowry is also correct when he says that congressional Republicans won by being their usual selves. The messages were in conflict -- but the policies aren't.

Trump and the congressional GOP aren't struggling with this health care bill because they're at odds ideologically. Trump and his team simply weren't prepared to any serious work on the bill, so they let members of Congress do all the work of writing it, and were willing to go along with a no-rewrites plan for getting it through Congress until that plan threatened to make the bill -- and therefore Trump -- a loser. The alleged populist in the White House is perfectly content with a bill that would throw millions of people off the health insurance rolls and would drastically raise out-of-pocket costs for others -- and he's open to an earlier rollback of the Medicaid expansion that would make the bill even more punitive. Some populist.

Now let's look at Trump's budget. Apart from the protection of Social Security and Medicaid -- which will probably be very negotiable as the budget-making process progresses -- there's little or nothing that betrays GOP orthodoxy, as Ed Kilgore notes:
The conservative lobbying group Heritage Action greeted Donald Trump’s first budget ... with the headline: TRUMP’S BIG LEAGUE CONSERVATIVE BUDGET REQUEST. That’s an appropriate take, and not just because the group’s parent organization, the Heritage Foundation, has left fingerprints all over the proposal.... It is, in many respects, a sort of “greatest hits” compilation of conservative prescriptions for paying for a big defense-spending increase with targeted and general cuts in nondefense discretionary programs — domestic spending that is not in one of the big entitlement programs.

... this is a very conventionally conservative budget prepared by the very conventionally conservative OMB director Mick Mulvaney.
Lowry believes that Trump and congressional Republicans are at cross purposes because Trump, lacking ideological allies, had no choice but to allow the congressional leadership to seize control of the early days of unified GOP rule, which made Obamacare repeal a top priority, rather than something that would show off Trump's populist appeal:
... there was no off-the-shelf Trump legislation that Congress could begin on immediately....

The natural reflex, then, was to defer to the Republican leadership in Congress. Trump could have come roaring out of the gate with one of his distinctive proposals, the $1 trillion infrastructure plan, and wooed Democrats to support it and dared Republicans to oppose it. Instead, infrastructure has been put off to the second year, the polite way of saying it may not happen at all.

The congressional priorities are Obamacare repeal and tax reform, both of which could easily have been the first-year agenda items of the aforementioned hypothetical Presidents Bush, Rubio, or Cruz.
Supposedly savvy political observersall believed that Trump really wanted a populist infrastructure bill. But when it was discussed during the transition, the Trumpers got resistance from leaders of the congressional GOP, so -- instead of insisting on it, which would have shown leadership and populism -- they shrugged and postponed it.

And, of course, as Paul Krugman noted in November, what was proposed was never very populist:
To understand what’s going on, it may be helpful to start with what we should be doing. The federal government can indeed borrow very cheaply; meanwhile, we really need to spend money on everything from sewage treatment to transit. The indicated course of action, then, is simple: borrow at those low, low rates, and use the funds raised to fix what needs fixing.

But that’s not what the Trump team is proposing. Instead, it’s calling for huge tax credits: billions of dollars in checks written to private companies that invest in approved projects, which they would end up owning. For example, imagine a private consortium building a toll road for $1 billion. Under the Trump plan, the consortium might borrow $800 million while putting up $200 million in equity — but it would get a tax credit of 82 percent of that sum, so that its actual outlays would only be $36 million. And any future revenue from tolls would go to the people who put up that $36 million.

... what reason do we have to believe that this scheme will generate new investment, as opposed to repackaging things that would have happened anyway?
And if Trump loves infrastructure so much, why does his budget cut so much of it?

Trump is lazy. Trump only sounds like a populist because somewhere along the line he realized that populism won him applause and votes. Trump's subordinates came to Washington having no idea how government works. Trump's most energetic aide, Steve Bannon, was far more obsessed with slashing the size of government and putting the screws to immigrants and refugees than with anything that would help working people, because he's a vindictiveness addict.

That's why Trump didn't come roaring out of the gate with a wonderful, populist, potentially bipartisan infrastructure bill -- it wasn't because he had no ideological allies in Congress.


President Trump's budget is Reaganism on crystal meth:
Trump’s first budget proposal ... would increase defense spending by $54 billion and then offset that by stripping money from more than 18 other agencies. Some would be hit particularly hard, with reductions of more than 20 percent at the Agriculture, Labor and State departments and of more than 30 percent at the Environmental Protection Agency.

It would also propose eliminating future federal support for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Within EPA alone, 50 programs and 3,200 positions would be eliminated.

... the budget chops funding for the National Institutes of Health by $5.8 billion, or close to 20 percent ... the proposal would eliminate a Transportation Department program that funds nearly $500 million in road projects....

And the Trump administration proposed to eliminate a number of other programs, particularly those that serve low-income Americans and minorities, because it questioned their effectiveness. This included the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which disburses more than $3 billion annually to help heat homes in the winter. It also proposed abolishing the Community Development Block Grant program, which provides roughly $3 billion in targeted projects related to affordable housing, community development and homelessness programs, among other things....

He proposed cutting combined spending for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development by $10.1 billion, or nearly 29 percent. It would cut an unspecified amount of funding from U.N. peacekeeping efforts.
These aren't sharp cuts that are likely to be explained away as trims of waste, fraud, and abuse. These cuts are meant to be punitive and meant to look punitive. The Trumpers aren't Reaganites insisting that they're just trimming the fat. These folks want you to think that they're cutting into muscle.

As I'm reading about this, I keep thinking about Steve Bannon's fondness for the pseudo-scientific prognostications of William Strauss and Neil Howe, particularly in their book The Fourth Turning. I quoted this a month ago, but let me go back to what the Huffington Post's Paul Blumenthal and JM Rieger wrote about Bannon and Strauss/Howe:
Strauss and Howe postulate that during [the predicted] Fourth Turning crisis, an unexpected leader will emerge from an older generation to lead the nation, and what they call the “Hero” generation (in this case, millennials), to a new order. This person is known as the Grey Champion. An election or another event — perhaps a war — will bring this person to power, and their regime will rule throughout the crisis.

“The winners will now have the power to pursue the more potent, less incrementalist agenda about which they had long dreamed and against which their adversaries had darkly warned,” Strauss and Howe wrote in The Fourth Turning. “This new regime will enthrone itself for the duration of the Crisis. Regardless of its ideology, that new leadership will assert public authority and demand private sacrifice. Where leaders had once been inclined to alleviate societal pressures, they will now aggravate them to command the nation’s attention.” ...

“We’re gonna have to have some dark days before we get to the blue sky of morning again in America,” Bannon warned in 2010. “We are going to have to take some massive pain. Anybody who thinks we don’t have to take pain is, I believe, fooling you.”
(Emphasis added.)

I think this is a Fourth Turning budget. I think it's meant to cause disruption and pain. I think it's informed by the belief that it's good to knock the populace around, because that's an inevitable step before we reach the Promised Land.

Of course, the disruptors will be just fine -- the Trumps with their Russian and Chinese capital, Bannon with a nice egg from his Goldman Sachs earnings and his Seinfeld residuals and his former $750,000 Breitbart salary. The apocalypse is for the rest of us.