Do I even know you anymore?

Joe Scarborough, reporting for the Washington Post:

Who are you? I’ve got to say that I really don’t know anymore. It’s kind of a strange turn of events since we went to the same public schools across the Deep South, then attended the same state colleges, cheering wildly on Saturdays for our favorite SEC teams, and spent Sunday mornings together in the same Southern Baptist pews. We even went to Training Union on Sunday nights.

Remember how our conversations always seemed to turn to politics? How we criticized Bill Clinton for playing so fast and loose with the truth? And how shamefully Democrats turned a blind eye to his fabrications and outright lies? Man, how could those Democrats sleep at night?

And what about how the guy we voted for, George W. Bush, running up the federal debt and launching ill-planned foreign adventures overseas? We swore that the next time Republicans got in power, we would pressure them to cut spending, attack the debt and put America’s foreign policy on a restrained and reasonable path. After Bush, we grew enraged by President Barack Obama’s efforts to reorder one-sixth of our economy on a straight party-line health-care vote. How reckless was that!

You and I always agreed that Washington Democrats and Republicans were cut from the same cloth, and that we needed to keep both sides honest. We were united by the shared belief that politicians must put country above party, right?

Right?

What happened to you?

The guys I came up with in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and northwest Florida for more than 40 years would never boo a former American prisoner of war — especially one who refused to return home until the enemy released every one of his buddies in the prison camp. Southern guys like us loved that “leave no man behind” ethos when John Wayne or Sylvester Stallone exhibited it on movie screens. So why would you even think of booing a man, now fighting for his life, who showed that true grit in real life?

But boo Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) you did, at the behest of President Trump during a rally in Alabama last week.

Mike Allen of Axios further reported this week that Trump has been “physically mocking” the thumbs-down gesture McCain used to deliver the deciding vote against the Republican health-care bill in July. Did that mocking involve an imitation of McCain’s stiff arm movements? In case you haven’t read a newspaper in the 45 years since we played on the same Dixie Youth Baseball team together, McCain got the hell beaten out of him by the communists who held him in the Hanoi Hilton for more than five years.

At that same time, Trump was dodging the draft by claiming that bone spurs stopped him from serving his country in uniform. And yet this crippling condition didn’t stop the spoiled Ivy League student from playing football, tennis and golf. After four draft deferments, Trump graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1968 on the same day 40 U.S. servicemen were killed in Vietnam.

Meanwhile, McCain continued receiving the beatings that would forever leave him incapable of lifting his arms over his head. He kept enduring torture because he refused to leave his band of brothers behind.

Do you have that kind of character? If you booed McCain at last week’s rally, don’t bother answering. Someone has obviously failed you in your life; you probably need to spend some time figuring out who that was. And if you still go to church, you may also want to pray for all those around you who put tribal politics ahead of basic humanity.

Then maybe you should drive home and tell your children the story of John McCain’s sacrifice. If you can teach your children that lesson of heroism, there’s a chance they might grow up to have more character than the president you now praise.

And perhaps there just may be hope for our country.

Alabama defeat leaves Trump weakened, isolated amid mounting challenges

Robert Costa, reporting for the Washington Post:

As he headed to Huntsville, Ala., in a last-ditch effort to lift the floundering campaign of Sen. Luther Strange, President Trump was fuming — feeling dragged along by GOP senators who had pleaded with him to go and increasingly unenthusiastic about Strange, whom he described to aides as loyal but “low energy.”

His agitation only worsened on the flight back last Friday. Trump bemoaned the headlines he expected to see once Strange was defeated — that he had stumbled and lost his grip on “my people,” as he calls his core voters. He also lamented the rally crowd’s tepid response to the 6-foot-9 incumbent he liked to call “Big Luther.”

“Trump was never fully behind Strange to begin with,” former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele said Wednesday after Strange was trounced in Tuesday’s GOP primary in Alabama. “But the party coaxed and cajoled him to get on the Strange train, and he did.”

For Trump, the trip to Alabama marked the dispiriting start to one of the lowest and perhaps most damaging stretches of his already troubled presidency, leaving him further weakened and isolated with few ways out of the thicket of challenges he faces, according to a half-dozen people close to him interviewed on Wednesday.

His political vitality within his party — counted upon by Republicans who fear primary challenges in next year’s midterm elections — suddenly stands in question, as neither his vocal campaigning nor millions of dollars from the Republican establishment could save Strange from defeat by insurgent challenger Roy Moore.

Trump’s legislative agenda lies in tatters, as Senate Republicans failed again this week to rally around legislation that would gut former president Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. He is also increasingly under siege by members of both parties for his administration’s response to Hurricane Maria, which has left Puerto Rico devastated and begging for help from Washington.

By Wednesday, the downtrodden president tried to start anew by unveiling a tax plan at an event in Indiana — a proposal immediately met with withering attacks from the left as a deficit-busting giveaway to the rich and from the right as not aggressive enough in slashing tax rates. The Drudge Report, influential among conservatives, dubbed it “more betrayal.”

Trump also waded back into the health-care debate, falsely stating that the Republican legislation was held up by a hospitalized senator.

“We have the votes for health care. We have one senator that’s in the hospital. He can’t vote because he’s in the hospital,” Trump told reporters on Wednesday — an apparent reference to Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), who turns 80 in December and has dealt with various health problems.

Cochran responded with a corrective tweet: “Thanks for the well-wishes. I’m not hospitalized, but am recuperating at home in Mississippi and look forward to returning to work soon.”

Trump’s loose, confident talk extended elsewhere on Wednesday. In Indiana, the president was full of bravado as he made his tax pitch — and if there was lingering frustration with Strange, he did not show it.

“These tax cuts are significant,” Trump said at the state fairgrounds. “There’s never been tax cuts like what we’re talking about.”

But Trump’s critics did not buy the president’s assurance and said the tax speech could not paper over his problems.

“In Alabama and with so many things, Trump has helped to light a fire he can’t control, and there’s no sign he knows how to get out of this situation,” said Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center who worked in George W. Bush’s White House. “It’s going to cause him to lash out more rather than less as he starts to feel like the walls are closing in.”

Several of Trump’s longtime friends and associates said he is doing what he always does in times of trouble: attempt to overwhelm with liveliness. But they acknowledged that Trump may not be enjoying the experience.

“I’m told he’s unhappy,” said veteran Republican consultant Roger Stone. “He’s surrounded by people who don’t understand politics and don’t understand why he won the presidency. Instead of sending a message in Alabama to get behind his policies, they sadly lost the opportunity.”

Said former Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg, “The president will think about what happened in Alabama and remember everybody who told him to go all in. If you sent him polls from the [U.S.] Chamber of Commerce or the Senate Leadership Fund, the next polls you send will go in his trash can.”

Together, those groups, along with other mainstream GOP organizations, spent more than $10 million to boost Strange.

Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, stewed over their own fates, anxious that Moore, a former state Supreme Court judge, would become a national burden for the party because of the long list of incendiary comments he has made on race, religion and sexuality.

Hushed talk of retirements dominated conversations on Capitol Hill, one day after Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) announced that he would not seek reelection in 2018, with Republican lawmakers wondering whether they could survive a GOP political storm that only seems to be growing.

Former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, who backed Moore and introduced him at his victory party, encouraged conservative outsiders in Mississippi and other states to move closer to launching Senate bids, one person close to him said.

“There’s a big lesson here: Stick to the program,” Bannon said Wednesday on Breitbart News’s Sirius XM radio show. “There’s a lesson, stick to the program, your base will be there, and you’ll grow your base.”

Steele, however, said Strange’s defeat did not mean Trump had lost his political sway with Republican base voters.

“Voters in Alabama knew the whole endorsement for Strange was a wink and a nod. They got that Moore was a Trump guy,” Steele said. “So did he endorse the candidate who lost? Yes. But the reality is more nuanced than ‘Trump lost in Alabama.’ He lost, but his voters know why and still love him.”

In the West Wing, there was relative calm as officials plowed forward, hoping to leave behind the dramas of Alabama and Trump’s campaign against NFL players protesting police brutality during the national anthem. They agreed with Steele that while the GOP was fractured, Trump’s coalition remained.

“He knew what was coming in Alabama on Friday,” said one person close to Trump. “He knew how McConnell had become an issue there — and he said as much over dinner on Monday.” That evening, Trump had met with a group of prominent conservative leaders at the White House.

The person added, “What he wants to do is get back to taxes, make sure the Senate gets that done as soon as possible.”

Aides said that Trump knew that those who privately supported his endorsement of Strange, such as White House chief of staff John F. Kelly, were doing so because Trump at first was eager to do so and saw a chance to patch up relationships in Congress.

Trump was defensive in his remarks about the race to reporters on Wednesday, a few hours after he deleted a series of pro-Strange tweets. He also characterized Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as a drag on Strange.

“I have to say, Luther came a long way from the time I endorsed him, and he ran a good race, but Roy ran a really great race,” Trump said, adding that Moore’s campaign used McConnell as a weapon against Strange.

The atmosphere of uncertainty and recriminations following the Alabama race prompted Republicans, even those close to Trump, to feel urgency to pass something — anything — that could somehow stabilize the party.

“If there was ever a time when Republicans feel pressure to perform, it’s now,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus. “If big things don’t get done by Thanksgiving, there really won’t be enough spin to say Republicans here have done anything but fail.”

Immigration’s Sudden Re-Emergence Scrambles Republican Agenda

Jeremy W. Peters, writing for the New York Times:

Republican leaders had muscled through their failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act, punted on the perennial brinkmanship over the debt ceiling and finally reached the one issue that all of the party’s factions wanted to be on, tax reform.

Then, over a Chinese dinner at the White House with the two top Democrats on Capitol Hill, President Trump threw that momentary sense of satisfaction into disarray, forcing Republicans to confront the subject that packs more emotional and political force than anything they had on their busy agenda: immigration.

Virtually nothing can drive Republicans more bitterly apart than immigration policy, which has vexed the party ever since President Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. Republican leaders were scorched by the issue when President George W. Bush pushed it in his second term. The divisions re-emerged when President Barack Obama took it back up.

And now it re-enters the political bloodstream just when the party was desperate to demonstrate its ability to deliver on other complicated issues before lawmakers face voters next year, like lowering corporate and individual tax rates and revitalizing the nation’s infrastructure.

Mr. Trump’s tentative agreement on Wednesday with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and Representative Nancy Pelosi of California to move forward on legislation to protect the legal status of young, undocumented immigrants and to delay, for now, a fight over the president’s promised border wall triggered anger and bewilderment on the right.

From talk radio studios to the halls of the Capitol, conservatives across the ideological spectrum seemed caught off guard by the president’s move, unsure what exactly he had agreed to, if anything at all.

“No one knows what the deal is,” said Representative Mo Brooks, Republican of Alabama, who expressed wariness about the agreement and spared no one in his criticism. “I am frustrated with all of Washington, and I make no exception.”

On Twitter, the conservative firebrand Ann Coulter was more blunt: “At this point, who DOESN’T want Trump impeached?” Breitbart News gave the president a belittling nickname of his own: Amnesty Don.

Mr. Trump insisted at the White House on Thursday, “We’re not talking about amnesty at all,” and he tried to reassure rattled supporters that there would still be a wall. “The wall will happen.”

Much more here.

The Daily 202: Trump’s DACA ‘deal’ is another humiliation for Jeff Sessions

James Hohmman, writing for the Washington Post:

THE BIG IDEA: Photographers caught a giddy Jeff Sessions cracking a satisfied smile last week as he prepared to announce that 690,000 undocumented immigrants who had been brought into the United States as minors would no longer be shielded from deportation.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program “is being rescinded,” the attorney general declared in the first line of his statement. “There is nothing compassionate about the failure to enforce immigration laws. … Failure to enforce the laws in the past has put our nation at risk of crime, violence and even terrorism. … The effect of this unilateral executive amnesty, among other things, contributed to a surge of unaccompanied minors on the southern border that yielded terrible humanitarian consequences. It also denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens.”

Fact checkers called these and other claims Sessions made about the immigrants known as “dreamers” dubious or outright false. Perhaps that’s why he didn’t take questions afterward. Regardless, the speech was widely covered as a triumph for the nation’s chief law enforcement officer and a sign that he was out of President Trump’s doghouse. Not only did Sessions get the outcome he wanted; he also got to deliver the news from the Justice Department briefing room.

Trump’s DACA decision last week seemed to validate Sessions’s decision to slog on through the summer even after being frozen out of the inner circle. From interviews to tweets, Trump repeatedly attacked his attorney general throughout July as “weak” and “beleaguered.”

The main reason Sessions chose to put up with indignities that might cause most people to quit was because he believed he could make a difference on immigration policy. That has always been his signature issue and animated his two decades in the Senate.

Much more here.

Trump’s diehard supporters are fuming after an apparent about-face on ‘dreamers’

Robert Costa, reporting for the Washington Post:

Staunch conservative allies of President Trump erupted in anger and incredulity late Wednesday after Democrats announced the president had agreed to pursue a legislative deal that would protect thousands of young undocumented immigrants from deportation but not secure Trump’s signature campaign promise: building a massive wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

As midnight neared, thousands of social media accounts came alive as elected officials and activists on the right dashed off tweets and posts to share their shock.

And in between those posts, there was a flurry of fuming calls and text messages — a blaring political fire alarm among Trump’s diehard supporters.

“The reality is sinking in that Trump administration is on the precipice of turning into an establishment presidency,” Sam Nunberg, a former Trump campaign adviser, said in an interview early Thursday morning.

While the initial wave of fury could change direction as new details emerge, the torrent represented the first major break of Trump’s devoted base from the president on a core issue.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), one of the GOP’s biggest immigration hawks, issued a dramatic warning to the president after he scrolled through news reports.

“If AP is correct, Trump base is blown up, destroyed, irreparable, and disillusioned beyond repair,” King tweeted, referencing an Associated Press story on the bipartisan agreement.

He added, “No promise is credible.”

Conservative radio talk show host Laura Ingraham, who is friendly with Trump, mocked him for seeming to shelve the pledge that has animated his supporters since his campaign’s launch.

“Exactly what @realDonaldTrump campaigned on. Not,” Ingraham wrote on Twitter. She later added, “BUILD THE WALL! BUILD THE WALL! … or … maybe … not really.”

Trump tried to ease the GOP backlash early Thursday in a series of tweets that insisted the border wall “will continue to be built” and that no deal was hashed out with Democrats on the so-called undocumented “dreamers.”

“No deal was made last night on DACA. Massive border security would have to be agreed to in exchange for consent. Would be subject to vote,” Trump wrote, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, an Obama-era program that has allowed 690,000 dreamers to work and go to school without fear of deportation.

Breitbart News, the conservative website now run by former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, quickly became a gathering place for aggrieved Trump backers. Readers congregated by the thousands in the comments section for an article with a bright red headline: “Amnesty Don.”

Days earlier, Bannon said on CBS’s “60 Minutes” that he was “worried about losing the House now because of this, because of DACA,” arguing that Republican voters would lack enthusiasm for Trump and the party if they felt it was drifting to the center on immigration.

“If this goes all the way down to its logical conclusion, in February and March it will be a civil war inside the Republican Party that will be every bit as vitriolic as 2013,” Bannon said, referencing the stalled fight that year over a comprehensive immigration bill. “And to me, doing that in the springboard of primary season for 2018 is extremely unwise.”

“This a betrayal of the highest order,” a Breitbart editor, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said in a phone call late Wednesday. “Donald Trump should be ashamed of himself. He wasn’t elected to do this.”

The editor was mostly echoed by the site’s readers:

“Put a fork in Trump. He is done.”

“PRIMARY TIME!!!!”

“What a HUGE let down.”

“I can reconcile Trump caving on virtually any issue, Amnesty and not building the wall are not one of them.”

Adding to the tumult in the deep of night: conflicting accounts over what exactly Trump and Democrats had brokered.

Aides to Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) insisted that Trump had agreed not to request wall funding as part of their pact to soon move legislation to help undocumented immigrants who are protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, an executive order established by President Obama in June 2012.

Much more here.

GOP leaders made a huge wager — and they’re losing

Michael Gerson, reporting for the Washington Post:

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) promised Obamacare repeal, funding for the wall and tax reform, all by the end of August. For the GOP, it is now September, both literally and metaphorically.

In the spring of their hopes, Republican leaders placed a bet — which seemed reasonable at the time — that they could contain President Trump and pass legislation despite him. This required looking away from the uglier aspects of Trump’s appeal — his Twitter transgressions, his appallingly frenzied rallies, his rule by ridicule. All this was worth swallowing because Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would pass their conservative agenda.

The wager was large and lost. The attempt to revive a health-care alternative in the Senate seems halfhearted and doomed by the same ideological dynamics that killed the legislation the first time. Republican enthusiasm for the Mexican border wall is limited by the fact that it is among the most wasteful, impractical and useless ideas ever spouted by an American president. And ambitious tax reform has been tabled in favor of a few tax cuts that are likely to reaffirm public impressions that the “P” in GOP stands for “plutocracy.”

In the process, Republican leaders have been made to look hapless and pathetic, not least because Trump has taken to taunting them. A president incapable of legislative leadership mocks the ineffectiveness of Republican legislators, publicly humiliates them on the debt-limit deal, then revels in the (very temporary) friendship of “Chuck and Nancy” — Democratic leaders Schumer and Pelosi.

Those Republicans who believe that Trump is being cynical, disloyal or politically calculating continue to misunderstand the man. The president has no discernible political philosophy or strong policy views to betray. His leadership consists mainly of instincts, reflexes and prejudices, which often have nothing to do with self-interest. He has a genius for fame, which usually involves attention-attracting unpredictability and transgressiveness. Trump reads events moment by moment, making him a cork on the waves of cable coverage. Any choice he makes is correct by definition, because he has made it. And any person — on his staff or on Capitol Hill — who does not precisely mimic his political gyrations is disloyal and should be punished.

Most public officials have never worked with anyone like this before. Among other things, it means that any vocal conviction politician — any leader, such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who regularly heeds the whisper of duty and conscience — will be Trump’s enemy. With a little patience.

What have Republican leaders who bet the other way — on accommodation — lost in the process?

The wager has been a disaster in the realm of policy. During legislative debates on issues such as health care, Trump has been erratic, unfocused, impatient and frighteningly ignorant. His White House policy staff — some of whom are responsible and talented — try to work with Capitol Hill, but always under the threat that their efforts will be destroyed by a tweet. Congressional Republicans see the White House as a basket case, don’t think that any administration official speaks authoritatively for the president and increasingly fear entering the midterm elections entirely naked of accomplishment.

The wager has been a disaster in the realm of politics. The president takes it as an accomplishment to secure the support of about 35 percent of the public. This leaves Republicans in the worst of political worlds, where the intensity of Trump’s base is increased by words and policies that alienate the majority — making Trump a powerful force within the party and a scary, galvanizing figure beyond it. The damage is broad, profound and generational. A recent Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll recorded 26 percent approval for the president among those aged 18 to 34.

The wager has been a moral disaster. News accounts following Trump’s betrayal of Republican leaders on the debt limit reported them to be “livid.” What does it tell us about Republican politicians that they were livid about a three-month debt-limit extension but not so much about misogyny, nativism and flirtation with racism? Or maybe they were, but they still thought the wager might work. Such lack of wisdom and proportion is an indictment as well.

All Republican efforts — at least in the traditional wing of the party — must now be bent toward one, difficult end: establishing a GOP identity apart from Trump. And that will require Republican leaders to cease being complicit in their own humiliation and irrelevance.

Steve Bannon’s damning admission about Trump firing James Comey

Aaron Blake, writing for the Washington Post:

2. WATCH: Bannon says firing of Comey was the biggest mistake in modern political history. Also, he refuses to answer if Kushner was for it. pic.twitter.com/d0zcZgowd1

— Yashar Ali (@yashar) September 11, 2017

There are few people who have believed in President Trump as firmly and unapologetically as Stephen K. Bannon, his former top White House adviser and top campaign strategist. And Bannon swore in a “60 Minutes” interview that aired Sunday that he would stand by Trump and fight, from the outside, against those he thinks are steering the president in a bad direction.

But even Bannon thinks Trump got something very important wrong. Very wrong. Quite possibly wronger than any president in decades.

In his interview with Charlie Rose, Bannon strongly suggested that Trump’s firing of FBI Director James B. Comey was the biggest mistake in modern political history. And that’s not even reading too much into Bannon’s comments. He wasn’t baited into it, either; he clearly signed off on that characterization.

Here’s the exchange:

ROSE: Someone told me you described the firing of James Comey — you’re a student of history — as the biggest mistake in political history.

BANNON: That’s probably too bombastic even for me, but maybe modern political history.

ROSE: The firing of James Comey was the biggest mistake in modern political history?

BANNON: If you’re saying that’s associated with me, then I’ll leave it at that.

Wow.

Bannon has been willing to differ with Trump when Trump ran afoul of his nationalist ideals, to some degree. But there has been basically nobody more willing to sign off on Trump’s most controversial tendencies. In the same interview, Bannon defended both Trump’s response to recent violence in Charlottesville — which drew widespread GOP condemnation — and his hot-mic moment in that “Access Hollywood” tape talking about grabbing women by their … well, you remember.

Bannon sees the best in Trump, and when Trump tilts in the wrong direction, Bannon often views it as someone else’s fault — someone with undue influence on the president of the United States.

But even he sees the disaster that has emanated from the decision to fire the man who had been in charge of the Russia investigation. Even he recognizes the magnitude of the unforced error that was.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that if James Comey had not been fired, then we would not have a special counsel, yes,” Bannon said, moments before the comments above. “We would not have the [special counsel Robert S.] Mueller investigation. We would not have the Mueller investigation in the breadth that clearly Mr. Mueller is going.”

To give you a sense of the mistakes Bannon apparently believes this surpassed in modern political history — and please understand that whatever you think of Bannon, as Rose noted, Bannon has studied history — he’s suggesting that it was bigger than the Iraq War, the Vietnam War, the Affordable Care Act, Mitt Romney’s “47 percent,” Hillary Clinton‘s “basket of deplorables,” Iran-contra, Richard Nixon’sSaturday Night Massacre,” etc.

Bannon admitted that saying it was the biggest political mistake ever would be “too bombastic” even for him. But he clearly doesn’t think it’s so outlandish to suggest that it was bigger than lots of things in recent decades. And as a top Trump ally — and someone privy to the inner workings of the White House for its first seven months — that’s an astounding admission.

It also suggests that he knows this may not end well.

President Trump is now holding the Republican Party hostage

Aaron Blake, reporting for the Washington Post:

President Trump waged a hostile takeover of the Republican Party’s presidential nomination last year. Now he’s holding the entire party hostage.

Early Wednesday afternoon, Trump inexplicably cut a deal on a short-term debt-ceiling increase with Democratic leaders, despite House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and GOP leaders having denounced the idea. Then he took off for an event in North Dakota, where he effectively stuck their nose in it: “We walked out of there — Mitch [McConnell] and Paul and everybody, Kevin [McCarthy] — and we walked out and everybody was happy,” Trump insisted. Then, to top it all off, he invited Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) — a top GOP target in 2018 — on stage and praised her as a “good woman.”

This is all hugely counterproductive for the Republican Party and has to have GOP leaders privately fuming. And it comes on the heels of Trump directly attacking Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and tangling with the two most vulnerable GOP senators up for reelection in 2018, Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.).

It’s no secret that Trump has never really had the interests of the Republican Party at heart. His party affiliation has always been subject to change, and he has never played ball with the GOP powers that be. He has instead forced them to bend to his will in the name of keeping the peace and not inflaming his passionate base of support. Those GOP leaders have also wagered that, whatever headaches came with embracing Trump, they would at least have a Republican president to enact conservative policies.

But it’s beginning to get ridiculous for GOP leaders. That bargain they struck with Trump was always a tenuous and uneasy one, and he’s now openly violating it. What’s more, he’s repeatedly and publicly undermining GOP efforts to grow their Senate majority — you know, the one he insists isn’t big enough so he needs to nuke the filibuster — in multiple 2018 races.

More here.

If you live by the sword, you die by the sword.

Have we reached a point of no return?

Kathleen Parker, reporting for the Washington Post:

It has become axiomatic that when President Trump says or does something over the top or below the belt, beware the unseen.

His cunning use of distraction turns red herrings green with envy.

The template works like this: Trump says something outrageous that drives Washington’s Bubble Belt wild. The media leaps to outrage while bookers haul in “experts” to intone the obvious in exchange for makeup and a limo.

Next, the same talking heads, commentators and columnists lament the time wasted on such trivia as, say, first lady Melania Trump’s wearing stiletto heels to visit victims of Hurricane Harvey. Critics and the media itself lament that Important Issues are being ignored while attention is turned on, oh, whether Ivanka and Jared are being snubbed by the D.C. in-crowd, such as it is. The point is taken, but one should note that nothing is ever being ignored by everyone. Or, rather, everything of import is being monitored and commented upon by someone.

But then, broadcast and cable producers know — and Trump knows deeply — that most Americans don’t really care that much about what they insist they care about. A few headlines will get most through the morning. Twitter and Facebook keep the curious plied with updates, and by day’s end, who really wants to plunge into tax reform?

It is true, nonetheless, that when Trump needs time to fidget with something that actually matters, he tosses a dead fish into the Dasani tank and waits for the media herdlings to begin their march toward the trough.

Temporarily spared the spotlight, Trump fluffs the thatched nest atop his head and invites his brain to hatch some very bad ideas. Thus, we seem to be on the brink of a nuclear confrontation with North Korea. Remember when we used to worry about Trump having his finger on the nuclear launch button? Square that. When the other antagonist is North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, the nightmare can’t be dismissed as the twisted hankie of the persistently worried.

Never have two less qualified “leaders” been so endowed with such devastating power without the requisite impulse control upon which living civilizations depend. Not to mention that these two nuke hecklers are unmercifully coifed to resemble cartoon characters so that we, the soberly sane, are left to ponder our face-melting demise as a clown showdown between two renegade circus performers. The horror movie “It,” featuring a diabolical clown and opening this week, couldn’t pay for better timing.

Meanwhile, one seeks cooler comfort in the memory of the Cuban missile crisis between Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and President John F. Kennedy. At least these men were capable of finding an alternative to worst-case scenarios. There seems to be no such inclination on North Korea’s part or, frankly, on Trump’s. Unless our reality star-in-chief holds his sagacity in reserve for special occasions such as this, there’s little reason to assume or hope he’ll diplomatically temper his counterpart’s apparent need to demonstrate his manhood.

In July, Trump was typically eloquent in describing his approach to thwarting disaster:

“We’ll handle North Korea. We’ll be able to handle North Korea. It will be handled. We handle everything.”

Whew, that.

As further insult to reason, this isn’t even a conflict over something at least historically rational, such as the now nearly charming contest between communism and Americanism. No battle of wits, the U.S.-North Korea stare-down is more accurately a battle of nitwits who seem to think threatening nuclear holocaust and mutual destruction is a contest to see who has bigger hands.

No one would suggest that Trump is responsible for all the nail biting these past few months or that Kim’s missile and nuclear tests aren’t deadly serious. But Trump surely has exacerbated matters with his “fire and fury” rhetoric. The goading language of ultimatum, more than a bluffing tactic, is an inflammatory agent such that the possible moves inexorably toward the inevitable. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, the president’s toughest-talking Cabinet member, recently said: “We have kicked the can down the road long enough. There is no more road left.”

Perhaps Kim might argue the same. Meanwhile, a can-kicking strategy (i.e., containment and diplomacy) seems a not-irrational substitute for mutual annihilation. Have we reached a point of no return? Will the president of the United States fire Kim, or will he invent some new distraction (staffers: Watch your backs) while he becomes a stealth, wartime leader?

Stay tuned. But first: What will Melania wear to the presidential bunker?

How the pardon power could end Trump’s presidency

Philip Allen Lacovara, reporting for the Washington Post:

President Trump’s pardon of former Arizona sheriff and civil rights abuser Joe Arpaio raises the question of whether the president may act with impunity to pardon individuals caught up in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s dealings with Russia. Based on my experience studying the pardon power during the Watergate investigation, I believe the answer is no.

Almost certainly, a presidential decision to preemptively pardon any of those caught up in Mueller’s investigation, whether former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, former national security adviser Michael Flynn or Donald Trump Jr., would be effective and would spare those pardoned from prosecution, at least on the federal level.

So Trump may be tempted to use this mechanism to extricate himself from what he calls derisively “the Russia thing.”

But issuing pardons to his own friends, associates and relatives could be a perilous path for Trump, creating additional exposure on two levels, criminal and political — both flowing from an important proposition that is often overlooked in the debate over presidential power. Our legal system provides mechanisms for probing the intent and motives behind the exercise of power. The president may have the power to grant effective pardons in the Russia investigation, but both Congress and the federal prosecutor are entitled to determine whether the exercise of that power violates constitutional and statutory norms.

The most obvious constraint is the authority of the House of Representatives to determine whether an effort to squelch an investigation into criminal misconduct by people close to the president constitutes an impeachable offense. The core concept behind “high crimes and misdemeanors” is abuse of political power in violation of the best interests of the nation. Thus, it would not be necessary for the House to conclude that the decision to issue pardons constituted a conventional “crime.” All that would be required would be to find that the motive for pardons was to protect the president’s personal interests and political future by cutting off the investigation into the misdeeds of those around him.

While impeachment remains an unlikely political prospect at the moment, so it was during Watergate — until the “Saturday Night Massacre” dramatically changed the political landscape. A decision by Trump to pardon his close friends and associates for any complicity in colluding with a hostile foreign power could easily trigger a similar firestorm, with comparable political consequences.

But Trump should not ignore the potential criminal pitfalls of exercising his pardon power in this context. As with any other presidential power, the power to pardon is constrained by the ordinary requirements of federal law applicable to all public officials. For example, if representatives of a pardon-seeker arrived in the Oval Office with a bundle of cash that the president accepted in return for a pardon, there is little doubt that the president would be guilty of the crime of bribery.

More apt than bribery in the current context is the array of federal statutes that make it a crime to “obstruct justice.” Those statutes turn on the motive behind a person’s action, even if the person otherwise has the power to take the action. For example, under Section 1503 of the federal criminal code, any person who “corruptly . . . influences, obstructs, or impedes, or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice” commits a felony. If Trump were to pardon any of the figures in the current Russia investigation, his action would certainly impede or obstruct the due administration of justice, as the courts have broadly construed that standard.

It would not be difficult to imagine Mueller making the case that the motive behind such interference was “corrupt.” As the Founding Fathers made plain, the purpose behind the pardon power is to extend mercy to those who have offended and have demonstrated remorse. Using the pardon power to protect the president’s own interests against embarrassment or exposure is not legitimate. Rather, a crassly self-interested exercise of presidential power to impede the due administration of justice is the very antithesis of the president’s most solemn oath — “to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

And that is why Trump should take care — to make sure that wielding his pardon power, however tempting, does not blow up in his face. An attempt to use pardons to defend his presidency may end up imperiling it instead.

Even in visiting hurricane-ravaged Texas, Trump keeps the focus on himself

Jenna Johnson, reporting for the Washington Post:

As rescuers continued their exhausting and heartbreaking work in southeastern Texas on Tuesday afternoon, as the rain continued to fall and a reservoir near Houston spilled over, President Trump grabbed a microphone to address hundreds of supporters who had gathered outside a firehouse near Corpus Christi and were chanting: “USA! USA! USA!”

‘Thank you, everybody,” the president said, sporting one of the white “USA” caps that are being sold on his campaign website for $40. “I just want to say: We love you. You are special. . . . What a crowd. What a turnout.”

Yet again, Trump managed to turn attention on himself. His responses to the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey have been more focused on the power of the storm and his administration’s response than on the millions of Texans whose lives have been dramatically altered by the floodwaters.

He has talked favorably about the higher television ratings that come with hurricane coverage, predicted that he will soon be congratulating himself and used 16 exclamation points in 22 often breathless tweets about the storm. But as of late Tuesday afternoon, the president had yet to mention those killed, call on other Americans to help or directly encourage donations to relief organizations.

“It is a difficult balancing act for presidents,” said Matt Latimer, who was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush. “You want to project confidence that things will get better, but at the same time you want to display empathy for people who have lost everything. . . . The president has a knack for the first one, but so far he hasn’t displayed a lot of skill at displaying empathy. And that’s a problem.”

Since Harvey slammed into the Texas coast Friday night, the president has made his awe of the powerful storm clear and used almost admiring terms to describe it — as if he were describing a sporting match or an action movie instead of a natural disaster.

“125 MPH winds!” the president tweeted Friday as the hurricane made landfall.

“Record setting rainfall,” he noted the next day, along with telling his FEMA director, “The world is watching!”

“Wow — Now experts are calling #Harvey a once in 500 year flood!” he tweeted on Sunday, following tweets promoting a book written by a conservative sheriff and announcing a Wednesday trip to Missouri, a state that “I won by a lot in ’16.”

At a news conference Monday, Trump continued to gush over the storm. “I’ve heard the words, ‘epic.’ I’ve heard ‘historic.’ That’s what it is,” he said, adding that the hurricane will make Texas stronger and the rebuilding effort “will be something very special.”

By focusing on the historic epicness of the hurricane, Trump has repeatedly turned attention to his role in confronting the disaster — a message reinforced by comments and tweets praising members of his administration.

At least the president is being authentic, argued Barton Swaim, a former speechwriter for then-South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) who is now the opinion editor at the Weekly Standard. And no matter what the president says, those opposed to Trump will interpret it in “the worst possible way,” Swaim said.

“I’ve always thought that these kinds of deals are a no-win situation for politicians,” he said. “There’s no good response. If you insert yourself, you look opportunistic. . . . If you don’t, you look aloof and disconnected.”

The mighty storm didn’t cut short the president’s weekend at Camp David in Maryland — or derail his plans to announce that he was pardoning Joe Arpaio, a former county sheriff in Arizona who was convicted this summer of ignoring a court order to stop racially profiling. Later, Trump said he wasn’t trying to bury the news on a Friday night but instead “assumed the ratings would be far higher than they would be normally” because of coverage of the storm.

While Trump’s top aides gathered with Vice President Pence at the White House over the weekend, Trump videoconferenced in. On Saturday, he wore a white campaign hat. On Sunday, he opted for a red version. As of Tuesday evening, both hats — which feature “USA” on the front, “45” on a side and “Trump” in the back — were being sold on Trump’s campaign website, prompting ethics watchdogs to accuse the president of trying to profit off the crisis.

Trump sported one of the same hats again Tuesday as he ventured to Texas for a visit that some critics argue should have been delayed until the rain had stopped and the flooding had gone down. He was accompanied by first lady Melania Trump, who wore towering black stilettos and a green bomber jacket as she departed Washington but changed into bright-white sneakers and a black cap labeled “FLOTUS” before stepping off the plane in Texas. An aide carried two Louis Vuitton suitcases aboard for the day trip.

“Leaving now for Texas!” the president tweeted.

On the ground in Corpus Christi, Trump and his entourage traveled to a firehouse for a brief meeting with local and national officials, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and the state’s two senators, Republicans Ted Cruz and John Cornyn. He praised everyone for working together so well and referred to his FEMA director, Brock Long, as “a man who’s really become very famous on television over the last couple of days.”

“It’s a real team, and we want to do it better than ever before. We want to be looked at in five years and 10 years from now as this is the way to do it,” Trump said. “This was of epic proportions. Nobody’s ever seen anything like this. And I just want to say that working with the governor and his entire team has been an honor for us.”

He then thanked the governor and added: “And we won’t say congratulations. We don’t want to do that. We don’t want to congratulate. We’ll congratulate each other when it’s all finished.”

The president’s comments, which lasted mere minutes, angered many of those who served in President Barack Obama’s administration and could not imagine their former boss ever acting like this.

“It’s not a time for crowing about crowds,” said Alyssa Mastromonaco, a former deputy chief of staff of operations for Obama. “This weather event isn’t even over yet. They have no idea the damage that’s been incurred and how many people will need a place to live when this is over. It’s catastrophic, not epic.”

Before Trump traveled to Austin for another briefing, he addressed supporters gathered outside, climbing a ladder positioned between two emergency vehicles and behind a black SUV. With his wife at his side, he sounded as if he were addressing a political rally instead of a state struggling to start to recover — but it was a tone that matched the screaming crowd. Some there carried pro-Trump signs and flags.

“I will tell you, this is historic — it’s epic, what happened,” Trump told them. “But you know what? It happened in Texas, and Texas can handle anything.”

Before he departed, he picked up a Texas flag and waved it slowly in the air.

Trump distances himself from GOP lawmakers to avoid blame if agenda stalls

Via The Washington Post:

President Trump is strategically separating himself from Republicans in Congress, an extraordinary move to deflect blame if the GOP agenda continues to flounder.

Trump deepened the fissures in the party on Thursday when he accused the top two leaders on Capitol Hill of mismanaging a looming showdown over the nation’s borrowing authority. Republican lawmakers and aides responded to the president’s hostility with broadsides and warnings of their own.

Frustrated by months of relative inaction at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue and emboldened by his urge to disrupt the status quo, Trump is testing whether his own political following will prove more potent and loyal than that of his party and its leaders in both houses of Congress.

The growing divide comes at an inopportune moment for Washington, however. In addition to having to raise the debt ceiling to avoid a fiscal crisis, Republicans face September deadlines to pass a spending bill to avert a government shutdown, as well as pressure to fulfill a key Trump campaign promise to rewrite the nation’s tax laws.

Behind the scenes, some Republican staff members described a more functional relationship between aides and lawmakers on Capitol Hill and White House officials. But in public, Trump is waging war against lawmakers. With a pair of morning tweets, he said he asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) to include a debt-ceiling increase in a recent veterans bill.

“I requested that Mitch M & Paul R tie the Debt Ceiling legislation into the popular V.A. Bill (which just passed) for easy approval,” he wrote. “They . . . didn’t do it so now we have a big deal with Dems holding them up (as usual) on Debt Ceiling approval. Could have been so easy — now a mess!”

In a later tweet, the president slammed McConnell for not being able to pass a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. “That should NEVER have happened!” he wrote.

Trump is railing against Republicans because he thinks it will help him politically down the road, for instance during a 2020 reelection bid, said one outside adviser to the White House.

If Republicans lose the House in the 2018 midterm elections, as several White House advisers have warned the president, Trump can say, “See, I told you these guys wouldn’t get anything done. I’ve been saying this for months. They’re not following my agenda,” said the adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private talks.

Roger Stone, an ally of and former political adviser to Trump, put it this way: “The Trump brand and the Republican brand are two different things. What happened the last time the establishment tried to face him down? They got crushed.”

If Republicans lose the House, however, Trump could face greater peril than a difficult 2020 election: a Democratic majority eager to pursue impeachment and with subpoena power to conduct investigations.

For many GOP lawmakers, the justification for not fully breaking from Trump has been the promise of trying to salvage key parts of the party’s agenda. But now, they are increasingly resigning themselves to the reality that they will be largely on their own. One Senate GOP aide likened it to “being handed the keys to the car.”

As a result, they have grown increasingly hostile toward the president.

“It doesn’t help at this point, with a September coming up that is very consequential, to be throwing rocks at one another,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.). He added: “You don’t, I think, do a lot of good by torching your teammates, particularly by name, individually.”

Said the Senate GOP aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid: “The sense you get is ‘We’re going to have to figure this out.’ We’re just going to assume we’re not going to get any help from the White House.”

Some White House aides have shown little sympathy toward GOP lawmakers who have made harsh remarks about Trump. Asked Thursday to respond to recent comments by Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.) doubting the president’s competence and stability to lead, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded, “I think that’s a ridiculous and outrageous claim and doesn’t dignify a response from this podium.”

The relationship between Trump and McConnell, meanwhile, has become increasingly acerbic in recent weeks, in private and public. But as details have surfaced in news reports, McConnell has tried to project unity even as some Republicans have said tensions are still raw.

Much more here.

As Trump ranted and rambled in Phoenix, his crowd slowly thinned

Jenna Johnson, reporting for the Washington Post:

Just before President Trump strolled onto the rally stage on Tuesday evening, four speakers took turns carefully denouncing hate, calling for unity and ever so subtly assuring the audience that the president is not racist.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson proclaimed that “our lives are too short to let our differences divide us.” Alveda King, the niece of Martin Luther King Jr., led everyone in singing a few lines of “How Great Thou Art.” Evangelist Franklin Graham prayed for the politically and racially divided nation and asked the Lord to shut the mouths of “those in this country who want to divide, who want to preach hate.” And Vice President Pence declared that “President Trump believes with all his heart … that love for America requires love for all its people.” Meanwhile, a supporter seated directly behind stage even wore a T-shirt that stated: “Trump & Republicans are not racist.”

Then Trump took the stage.

He didn’t attempt to continue the carefully choreographed messaging of the night or to narrow the ever-deepening divide between the thousands of supporters gathered in the convention center hall before him and the thousands of protesters waiting outside.

Instead, Trump spent the first three minutes of his speech — which would drag on for 75 minutes — marveling at his crowd size, claiming that “there aren’t too many people outside protesting,” predicting that the media would not broadcast shots of his “rather incredible” crowd and reminiscing about how he was “center stage, almost from day one, in the debates.”

“We love those debates — but we went to center stage, and we never left, right?” the president said, reliving his glory days. “All of us. We did it together.”

Over the next 72 minutes, the president launched into one angry rant after another, repeatedly attacking the media and providing a lengthy defense of his response to the violent clashes in Charlottesville, between white supremacists and neo-Nazis and the counterprotesters who challenged them. He threatened to shut down the government if he doesn’t receive funding for a wall along the southern border, announced that he will “probably” get rid of the North American Free Trade Agreement, attacked the state’s two Republican senators, repeatedly referred to protesters as “thugs” and coyly hinted that he will pardon Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County who was convicted in July of criminal contempt in Arizona for ignoring a judge’s order to stop detaining people because he merely suspected them of being undocumented immigrants.

Three times, the crowd burst into chants of “USA! USA! USA!” And once, at the mention of Trump’s former rival Hillary Clinton, they chanted: “Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!” Several parents put their young children on their shoulders so they could get a good look at the president.

But as the night dragged on, many in the crowd lost interest in what the president was saying.

Hundreds left early, while others plopped down on the ground, scrolled through their social media feeds or started up a conversation with their neighbors. After waiting for hours in 107-degree heat to get into the rally hall — where their water bottles were confiscated by security — people were tired and dehydrated and the president just wasn’t keeping their attention. Although Trump has long been the master of reading the mood of a room and quickly adjusting his message to satisfy as many of his fans as possible, his rage seemed to cloud his senses.

Early in his speech, when Trump still had the attention of his followers, he recited his definition of what it means to be a Trump supporter.

Much more here.

McConnell, in Private, Doubts if Trump Can Save Presidency

Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin, reporting for the New York Times:

The relationship between President Trump and Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, has disintegrated to the point that they have not spoken to each other in weeks, and Mr. McConnell has privately expressed uncertainty that Mr. Trump will be able to salvage his administration after a series of summer crises.

What was once an uneasy governing alliance has curdled into a feud of mutual resentment and sometimes outright hostility, complicated by the position of Mr. McConnell’s wife, Elaine L. Chao, in Mr. Trump’s cabinet, according to more than a dozen people briefed on their imperiled partnership. Angry phone calls and private badmouthing have devolved into open conflict, with the president threatening to oppose Republican senators who cross him, and Mr. McConnell mobilizing to their defense.

The rupture between Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell comes at a highly perilous moment for Republicans, who face a number of urgent deadlines when they return to Washington next month. Congress must approve new spending measures and raise the statutory limit on government borrowing within weeks of reconvening, and Republicans are hoping to push through an elaborate rewrite of the federal tax code. There is scant room for legislative error on any front.

A protracted government shutdown or a default on sovereign debt could be disastrous — for the economy and for the party that controls the White House and both chambers of Congress.

Yet Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell are locked in a political cold war. Neither man would comment for this article. Don Stewart, a spokesman for Mr. McConnell, noted that the senator and the president had “shared goals,” and pointed to “tax reform, infrastructure, funding the government, not defaulting on the debt, passing the defense authorization bill.”

Still, the back-and-forth has been dramatic.

In a series of tweets this month, Mr. Trump criticized Mr. McConnell publicly, and berated him in a phone call that quickly devolved into a profane shouting match.

During the call, which Mr. Trump initiated on Aug. 9 from his New Jersey golf club, the president accused Mr. McConnell of bungling the health care issue. He was even more animated about what he intimated was the Senate leader’s refusal to protect him from investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to Republicans briefed on the conversation.

Mr. McConnell has fumed over Mr. Trump’s regular threats against fellow Republicans and criticism of Senate rules, and questioned Mr. Trump’s understanding of the presidency in a public speech. Mr. McConnell has made sharper comments in private, describing Mr. Trump as entirely unwilling to learn the basics of governing.

. . .

In a show of solidarity, albeit one planned well before Mr. Trump took aim at Mr. Flake, Mr. McConnell will host a $1,000-per-person dinner on Friday in Kentucky for the Arizona senator, as well as for Senator Dean Heller of Nevada, who is also facing a Trump-inspired primary race next year, and Senator Deb Fischer of Nebraska. Mr. Flake is expected to attend the event.

Former Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, a Republican who is close to Mr. McConnell, said frustration with Mr. Trump was boiling over in the chamber. Mr. Gregg blamed the president for undermining congressional leaders, and said the House and Senate would have to govern on their own if Mr. Trump “can’t participate constructively.”

“Failure to do things like keeping the government open and passing a tax bill is the functional equivalent of playing Russian roulette with all the chambers loaded,” Mr. Gregg said.

Others in the party divide blame between Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell. Al Hoffman, a former finance chairman of the Republican National Committee who has been supportive of Mr. McConnell, said Mr. McConnell was culpable because he has failed to deliver legislative victories. “Ultimately, it’s been Mitch’s responsibility, and I don’t think he’s done much,” Mr. Hoffman said.

But Mr. Hoffman predicted that Mr. McConnell would likely outlast the president.

“I think he’s going to blow up, self-implode,” Mr. Hoffman said of Mr. Trump. “I wouldn’t be surprised if McConnell pulls back his support of Trump and tries to go it alone.”

An all-out clash between Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell would play out between men whose strengths and weaknesses are very different. Mr. Trump is a political amateur, still unschooled in the ways of Washington, but he maintains a viselike grip on the affections of the Republican base. Mr. McConnell is a soft-spoken career politician, with virtuoso mastery of political fund-raising and tactics, but he had no mass following to speak of.

Mr. McConnell, while baffled at Mr. Trump’s penchant for internecine attacks, is a ruthless pragmatist and has given no overt indication that he plans to seek more drastic conflict. Despite his private battles with Mr. Trump, Mr. McConnell has sent reassuring signals with his public conduct: On Monday, he appeared in Louisville, Ky., with Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, for a discussion of tax policy.

Much, much more here.

Trump’s Embrace of Racially Charged Past Puts Republicans in Crisis

Via The New York Times:

President Trump’s embrace of the country’s racially charged past has thrown the Republican Party into crisis, dividing his core supporters who have urged him on from the political leaders who fear that he is leading them down a perilous and shortsighted path.

The divisions played out in the starkly different responses across the party after Mr. Trump insisted that left-wing counterprotesters were as culpable as neo-Nazis and white supremacists for the bloodshed in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend. Much of the right was ecstatic as they watched their president fume against the “violent” left and declare that “very fine people” were being besmirched for their involvement in the demonstration.

Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, said in an interview that if Democrats want to fight over Confederate monuments and attack Mr. Trump as a bigot, that was a fight the president would win.

“President Trump, by asking, ‘Where does this all end’ — Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln — connects with the American people about their history, culture and traditions,” he said.

“The race-identity politics of the left wants to say it’s all racist,” Mr. Bannon added. “Just give me more. Tear down more statues. Say the revolution is coming. I can’t get enough of it.”

Much of the party’s political class, however, was in shock. Former Presidents George and George W. Bush issued a rare joint rebuke of Mr. Trump’s stance, saying hate should be rejected “in all forms.”

And among younger Republicans there was a sense that the damage would be profound and enduring.

“The last year and especially the last few days have basically erased 15 years of efforts by Republicans to diversify the party,” said David Holt, a 38-year-old Oklahoma state senator running for mayor of Oklahoma City. “If I tried to sell young people in general but specifically minority groups on the Republican Party today, I’d expect them to laugh me out of the room. How can you not be concerned when the country’s demographics are shifting away from where the Republican Party seems to be shifting now?”

The political blow that Mr. Trump has sustained is deep and worsening. Barely one-third of Americans now say they approve of the job he is doing, according to two polls released this week — a fresh low for a president who was already among the most unpopular in modern times.

With midterm elections looming next year, Republican leaders find themselves in precarious territory, unwilling to abandon Mr. Trump for fear of losing his supporters even as the president’s position slips with the broader electorate.

“The political price we may pay almost should be catastrophic,” said Mike Murphy, a longtime Republican strategist. “A hanging in the morning will clarify the mind.”

But Mr. Trump’s tenacious base sees in the Charlottesville fallout something to cheer: a field general leading the latest charge in the battle to take their country back. Much as Mr. Trump promised he would restore America to its lost greatness during his presidential campaign — a vow that, to many, clanged with sentimentality for a whiter, less tolerant nation — he is using symbols of the Confederacy to tell conservatives that he will not allow liberals to blot out their history and heritage.

“Good people can go to Charlottesville,” said Michelle Piercy, a night shift worker at a Wichita, Kan., retirement home, who drove all night with a conservative group that opposed the planned removal of a statue of the Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

After listening to Mr. Trump on Tuesday, she said it was as if he had channeled her and her friends — all gun-loving defenders of free speech, she said, who had no interest in standing with Nazis or white supremacists: “It’s almost like he talked to one of our people.”

Conservatives like Ms. Piercy, who have grown only more emboldened after Charlottesville, believe that the political and media elite hold them and Mr. Trump to a harsh double standard that demands they answer for the sins of a radical, racist fringe. They largely accept Mr. Trump’s contention that these same forces are using Charlottesville as an excuse to undermine his presidency, and by extension, their vote.

But Republicans who are looking at the country’s rapidly changing demographics — growing younger, less white and more urban — say Mr. Trump’s Republican Party is not the party of the future.

Much more here.