Republicans thought they could force 2018 Democrats to cut deals, but Trump keeps sliding in polls

Paul Kane, reporting for the Washington Post:

Senate Republicans began this year thinking that they had leverage over some Democrats, particularly the 10 up for reelection next year in states that President Trump won in the fall.

Those Democrats, some GOP strategists believed, would want to work with the president to appeal to enough Trump voters to win their states in November 2018.

That didn’t happen. Instead, Trump’s standing has slipped in many of these states. The president has faced legislative gridlock and a deepening investigation of his campaign’s connections to Russia. His focus, in public appearances and on social media, has regularly drifted away from the policy agenda on Capitol Hill.

That’s left Senate Democrats feeling stronger than they expected to be eight months after their highly disappointing showing in 2016, which left them in the minority and heading into 2018 defending 25 seats compared with Republicans’ eight.

If Trump had spent his first six months increasing or even maintaining his popularity in these states, he might have struck enough political fear in these 2018 Democrats to compel them to support some of his initiatives.

That’s looking more and more like the sort of negotiation that will happen only if Democrats can command a good deal in return.

The dynamic is sure to test Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in the months ahead, particularly if Republicans fail to muster the votes solely from their side of the aisle to repeal chunks of the Affordable Care Act. McConnell has warned that such an outcome will force him to work with Democrats to shore up imploding insurance markets.

“No action is not an alternative,” McConnell said Thursday while in Kentucky.

Beyond the health-care fight, McConnell has also made clear that there are many other agenda items that will require the traditional 60-vote threshold to choke off filibusters, meaning he needs at least eight Democrats to move legislation such as annual government funding bills and an increase in the government’s borrowing authority.

But the bargaining table is different now.

Take Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), whose state delivered a critical victory for Trump, the first by a GOP presidential nominee since 1984.

A staunch liberal, Baldwin began the year expecting her 2018 reelection bid to be a 50-50 prospect. Her state had voted Republican three straight times for governor and in two of the past three Senate races.

Trump has used the presidential bully pulpit to focus on the Badger State, making three trips there since November. But his visits have done little to boost his standing.

Just 41 percent of Wisconsin voters approved of Trump’s job performance in late June, while 51 percent disapproved, according to a poll by Marquette Law School.

On basic popularity, Trump is easily the most disliked politician among Wisconsin voters, with 54 percent holding an unfavorable view of him and 40 percent a favorable one.

Baldwin’s image is not great, but it is far better in Wisconsin’s eyes than Trump: 38 percent have a favorable view and 38 percent unfavorable.

It’s the same in Michigan and Pennsylvania, both states Trump narrowly won. In Michigan, just 35 percent of voters approved of his job performance in a late May poll conducted by EPIC-MRA, with 61 percent disapproving. In Pennsylvania, 37 percent supported his job performance while 49 percent did not, according to a May poll by Franklin & Marshall College.

More here.

Trump Is Terrible at Firing!

Gail Collins, writing in the New York Times op-ed pages:

Donald Trump is going to meet soon with the pope. How do you think that will go? Maybe when Trump emerges, he’ll announce that Francis promised him canonization. Then the Vatican will deny it. Then Sean Spicer will hold a press conference in which he will explain that the president was simply working off a memo written by the deputy secretary of state.

Then a reporter will point out that the State Department doesn’t have any deputy secretaries yet. Then we will hear another complaint about “gotcha journalism.”

Look, it wouldn’t be any weirder than what we’ve been through this week.

The president managed to fire F.B.I. chief James Comey in the most unseemly, strange and borderline ridiculous manner humanly possible. A third of Trump’s letter of dismissal was an expression of gratitude for “informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation.” That sounded sort of fishy, since Comey did not have a reputation for running around town assuring people they were not currently suspected of any crimes.

On the night the message was delivered, Spicer starred in what we will call the White House Shrubbery Incident, briefing the press corps in the dark, near a cluster of bushes by the West Wing.

He was not hiding in the foliage! Stop passing around that story! Although he did make it clear he was prepared to bolt if anybody tried to get a picture. (“Just turn the lights off. Turn the lights off.”)

During the conference in deep shadows, Spicer informed the media that the decision to fire Comey was based entirely on a memo by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein: “It was all him. … No one from the White House. That was a Department of Justice decision.”

We will now pause to identify Rod Rosenstein. He had been deputy attorney general for two weeks. Before that he was U.S. attorney in Maryland, a very well-regarded public servant. Let that be an important lesson, people. Whatever you do, do not take a job in the Trump administration. Before you’ve got your desk organized, you’ll be involved in a national scandal. Or in a bush.

“At the very minimum he was being used — they were using his reputation to try and wipe up their mess,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in a phone interview. Rosenstein has agreed to meet with the full Senate next week. Let’s hope he says something very useful and interesting. Otherwise he’ll be known for the rest of his life as The Memo Guy.

Since nothing ever happens in this White House that is not instantly followed by a contradicting story, by the end of the week the president was claiming it was all his idea to fire Comey. That version did seem way more believable than the idea that Trump was reacting to something he had read. The memo was only three pages long, but still.

Then he went Watergate. “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Trump twittered.

“You would think they’d have learned a lesson,” mused Nixon aide John Dean. “But Trump doesn’t seem to have much of an institutional memory. If any.”

More here.

Trapped in Trump’s Brain

Maureen Dowd, writing in the New York Times:

Donald Trump is stuck in his own skull.

He’s unreachable.

“He lives inside his head, where he runs the same continuous loop of conflict with people he turns into enemies for the purposes of his psychodrama,” says Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio.

Because Trump holds Thor’s hammer, with its notably short handle, we must keep trying to figure out his strange, perverse, aggrieved style of reasoning. So we’re stuck in Trump’s head with him.

It’s a very cluttered place to be, a fine-tuned machine spewing a torrent of chaos, cruelty, confusion, farce and transfixing craziness. Of course, this is merely the observation of someone who is “the enemy of the American people,” according to our president.

President Trump likes maps. Once it was John King’s analysis of the CNN electoral map that Trump obsessed over. Now he wants policy papers heavy on maps and graphics and not dense with boring words.

So let’s visualize those phrenology skulls mapping distinct faculties in the brain, the ones that spur chastity, sympathy, philanthropy, philoprogenitiveness, mirthfulness, sincerity, grace, morality, generosity, kindness, benevolence.

Then think of the president’s skull, which is stuffed with other humours: insecurity, insincerity, victimhood, paranoia, mockery, self-delusion, suspicion, calculation, illogic, vindictiveness, risk, bullying, alimentiveness, approbativeness, vitativeness. Gall, divided into three parts.

It seems that at some point Trump decided that he didn’t really trust anyone else. While that was a reasonable strategy for a New York real estate developer who was always trying to rip off so-called partners, it’s obviously a limitation when you’re president.

Like all narcissists, he doesn’t like to be told if he’s screwing up, so he surrounds himself with people who don’t tell him.

The president is still oblivious about the shudder that went through the land, beyond the base that likes seeing the press jackals flayed, during his gobsmacking 77-minute masterpiece of performance art in the White House Thursday.

It was more Norma Desmond than Norman Vincent Peale, the Trump family pastor who wrote “The Power of Positive Thinking” and influenced Donald’s thinking as a child.

If Trump is the swanning, aging diva in the mansion, trapped in a musty miasma, Steve Bannon must be Max, the German director turned butler who massages Norma’s ego. In “Sunset Hair Boulevard,” Bannon is the one who encourages his diva to cling to a delusional world where she is still big and Jeff Zucker and Chuck Schumer are lightweights.

Much more here.

Time for Congress to Investigate Mr. Trump’s Ties to Russia

Via The New York Times Editorial Board:

In history, this is where Congress steps in. During the Vietnam War, Watergate and the Iran-contra scandal, when a president’s actions or policies crossed the line, Congress investigated and held the White House to account. The time has come for it to do so again.

In the last week alone, Americans have witnessed the firing of President Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and learned with shock and incredulity that members of Mr. Trump’s campaign and inner circle were in repeated contact with Russian intelligence officials.

Coming on top of credible information from America’s intelligence agencies that Russia tried to destabilize and influence the 2016 presidential campaign, these latest revelations are more than sufficient reason for Congress to investigate what Moscow has been up to and whether people at the highest levels of the United States government have aided and abetted the interests of a nation that has tried to thwart American foreign policy since the Cold War.

Given that context, one might expect Mr. Trump to be clamoring for details that would eliminate any suspicion that his administration is in league with an enemy. Instead he has waged an unhinged attack on the intelligence agencies themselves, praising President Vladimir Putin of Russia at every turn and pointing fingers everywhere but at himself, while refusing to take a single step to resolve questions about his administration’s ties to Russia.

Hence the urgent need for high-level congressional intervention. The ideal vehicle would be an investigative committee of senior senators from both parties as well as members of the House. Some Senate Republicans are beginning to step up. Senator Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has already said his committee will investigate the election hacking. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Dianne Feinstein, the panel’s top-ranking Democrat, are asking for a briefing and transcripts of Mr. Flynn’s calls to the Russian ambassador.

Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Pat Roberts favor a broader investigation. John Cornyn, the Senate majority whip, has also raised the possibility of an investigation by Senate committees with jurisdiction over the intelligence community.

The Democrats would obviously be on board — Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, has also called for the Senate Intelligence Committee to lead a bipartisan inquiry. The person who needs to make this happen is Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader. Whatever form the committee takes, as Mr. Schumer said on Wednesday, all members must be granted equal access to “intelligence officials, transcripts and documents that they need to answer critical questions, and they must be permitted to make their findings public to the maximum extent possible.”

More here.