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.

The Trump presidency doesn’t seem sustainable

Ruth Marcus, reporting for the Washington Post:

So much for the notion that the second 100 days would be calmer or more reassuring.

As April drew to a close, and with it the artificial marker of the first 100 days of the Trump presidency, it was possible to conjure a relatively comforting scenario: It could have been worse.

After all, President Trump launched his administration with the dangerous duo of Michael Flynn as national security adviser and Stephen K. Bannon ascendant. The 100-day period ended with Flynn fired, Bannon diminished and the new national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, joining forces with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to provide a protective buffer against presidential impulsiveness.

Meantime, notwithstanding atrocities such as the immigration orders and the House health-care plan, Trump backed away from some of his most jarring and irresponsible campaign-trail promises and rhetoric, from declaring NATO “obsolete” to labeling China a currency manipulator to moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

A 70-year-old man does not change his character or basic approach. Still, the immense responsibility of the presidency molds its inhabitant. Thus, it was possible to detect some glimmers of maturation and even learning. Health care turned out to be more complicated than anyone knew. Heartbreaking photos of dead Syrian children killed by chemical weapons managed to evoke previously unseen empathy.

Not that the first 100 days had been even in the exurbs of normal, with the inaugural invocation of “American carnage”; the flood of ego-boosting untruths, from the inflated crowd size to the purportedly fraudulent popular vote; and the reflexive assault on enemies, including a “so-called judge” and the Obama administration for its supposed wiretapping plot.

Still, in resolutely optimistic moments, you could imagine a White House whose learning curve would continue an upward climb, however gradual and episodic, in which the New York moderates — Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, et al. — would elbow aside the America Firsters.

No longer.

True, the institutions of U.S. government and society have proved relatively robust. The courts and the media have risen to the constitutional occasion; Congress not so much, and intramural GOP dysfunction has so far prevented the worst from being legislated.

But Trump himself is turning out to be the full-fledged disaster of our worst fears. He understands nothing and is uninterested in learning anything — not just the dreary substance of things such as tax reform but constitutional values, governing norms and the United States’ unique role in the world.

He sees things only through the distorting prism of an all-consuming ego. There is only one Trump instinct — “fight, fight, fight,” he said at the Coast Guard Academy — and one Trumpian dichotomy: friend or foe. He is impervious to embarrassment, no matter how blatant his falsehood. The stain of his behavior spreads to taint anyone within range.

The past few weeks have presented an alarming parade of proof. Authoritarianism? Trump summarily fired his FBI director over “this Russia thing” — after, according to reports, James B. Comey resisted Trump’s demand that he pledge loyalty and declined Trump’s importunings to drop the Flynn probe.

Trump met unapologetically with yet another dictatorial thug, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and remained shamefully silent as Erdogan’s security goons beat up protesters on U.S. soil. No surprise there, from the candidate who urged his crowds to “knock the crap out of” protesters and as president reportedly pressed Comey to jail reporters for obtaining leaks.

Overweening egotism laced with self-pity? Trump used the occasion of the Coast Guard graduation to lament his treatment — “No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly.”

Similarly, in the Trumpiverse, the Russia inquiry and the newly named special counsel represent “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history.” In fact, Trump has only himself to blame — Comey’s firing made the appointment inevitable, and the episode demonstrates the justice system working to allay public fears of political interference.

Dangerous ignorance and lack of preparedness for his post? Without evident forethought, heedless of consideration of the consequences, classically boastful, Trump blurted out code-word information about the Islamic State to the Russians at his Oval Office yuk-fest — and, according to the New York Times, derided Comey as a “nut job” whose firing relieved “great pressure” on him.

The national security and diplomatic establishment shudders at the thought of this man at loose abroad.

It is impossible to know how this disastrous episode in our history will conclude, or how grave the damage will be. But an adage from conservative economist Herb Stein comes to mind: If something cannot go on forever, it will stop. This situation does not feel sustainable for a full four years.

‘We just pulled it,’ Trump says of health bill

Via The Washington Post:

House Republican leaders abruptly pulled a Republican rewrite of the nation’s health-care system from consideration on Friday, a dramatic acknowledgment that they are so far unable to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“We just pulled it,” President Trump told the Washington Post in a telephone interview.

The decision came a day after Trump delivered an ultimatum to lawmakers — and represented multiple failures for the new president and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.).

The decision means the Affordable Care Act remains in place, at least for now, and a major GOP campaign promise goes unfulfilled. It also casts doubt on the GOP’s ability to govern and to advance other high-stakes agenda items, including tax reform and infrastructure spending. Ryan is still without a signature achievement as speaker — and the defeat undermines Trump’s image as a skilled dealmaker willing to strike compromises to push his agenda forward.

“I don’t blame Paul,” Trump said, referring to Ryan.

Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.), who planned to vote for the legislation, said that Friday would have been the “first big vote in the presidency of Donald Trump. I think it’s a statement, not just about him and the administration, but about the Republican Party and where we’re headed.”

“So much about political power is about perception. And if the perception is that you can’t get your first big initiative done, then that hurts the perceptions down the road about your ability to get other big things done,” Byrne said in an interview before the decision.

The decision came hours after Ryan visited the White House to warn Trump that despite days of intense negotiations and sales pitches to skeptical members, the legislation lacked the votes to pass.

Trump had personally lobbied 120 lawmakers, either in person or on the phone, White House press secretary Sean Spicer reminded reporters on Friday. The president had “left everything on the field,” Spicer said.

Spicer said that no matter what happens, the White House did not think that defeat would slow other parts of Trump’s agenda including tax reform and immigration reform.

Vice President Pence, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price also made a last-ditch attempt to win over members of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus, huddling with them at midday at the Capitol Hill Club, a GOP social hall next door to the headquarters of the Republican National Committee. All three exited the meeting quickly without taking questions.

In one stunning defection Friday, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) announced at midday that the health care bill is “currently unacceptable” and that changes made late Thursday to placate conservatives “raise serious coverage and cost issues.”

Another moderate, Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio) — who had met with Trump on Wednesday night — said he would vote against the bill. So did Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), a longtime Ryan friend and ally who represents a competitive Northern Virginia congressional district.

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), a Freedom Caucus member, was one of six Republicans who voted against a procedural resolution bringing the bill to the floor on Friday morning.

“You know what? I came here to do health care right,” said Gosar, a dentist. “This is one chance we that can get one-sixth of our GDP done right. It starts with here.”

At the heart of the argument made by GOP leaders to skeptical members: Keeping the Affordable Care Act is a worse outcome than passing a potentially flawed replacement.

“You want to score a touchdown, but sometimes, on the fourth down, you kick a field goal,” said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), the longest-serving member of Congress in the Freedom Caucus. “The choice is yes or no. I’m not going to vote no and keep Obamacare. That’d be a stupid damn vote.”

At the White House on Friday morning, Trump projected confidence as he answered shouted questions following an announcement of a presidential permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, a revived project that the president said would create jobs.

Asked by a reporter what he would do if the bill fails, Trump — seated at his Oval Office desk — shrugged and said: “We’ll see what happens.”

Trump also said he didn’t feel the process had been rushed and that Ryan should remain as speaker if the bill fails.

On Twitter, Trump said that “After seven horrible years of ObamaCare (skyrocketing premiums & deductibles, bad healthcare), this is finally your chance for a great plan!”

With 237 House Republicans, party leaders can afford only 21 or 22 defections, depending on how many Democrats are present on Friday. If the measure fails, it would be a defeat for Trump in his first effort to help pass major legislation. An unsuccessful vote could also jeopardize other items on his wish list, including a tax overhaul and infrastructure spending.

No matter what happens in the House, the ultimate fate of the legislation hinges on the Senate, where new uncertainty emerged about the timing of a vote despite earlier guidance that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) planned to push for a vote next week.

The Congressional Budget Office warned senators on Friday that recalculating the rewritten House bill could take a week or more to produce, said several officials familiar with the discussions, who were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

That was expected to upend McConnell’s plan to finish their work and send the legislation to the White House for Trump’s signature before a two-week Easter recess, according to three people briefed on the matter.

Senate budget rules require that party leaders provide an official estimate of how much the legislation would cost and how it would change the deficit before scheduling a vote.

McConnell’s aides didn’t immediately return requests for comment.

Republicans have a 52-to-48 advantage in the Senate, but at least a dozen Republicans are on the fence about the legislation, because many of them want to maintain some of the current law’s more generous spending components.

When formal debate on the bill began on Friday morning, top leaders used a procedural vote to gauge last-minute support. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) was seen conferring with Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.), a key holdout. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Tex.) sat in the row behind them cajoling Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.), another moderate who has yet to announce what he plans to do.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who chairs the Freedom Caucus, did not respond to requests for comment on Friday about his plans.

Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo), a caucus member who said before the election that minor losses in the House Republican ranks would increase conservative clout, said he remained undecided.

“I’m examining life experiences,” he said. Asked to explain what he meant, he said he was joking.

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), a moderate who had expressed qualms as recently as Tuesday, when he was singled out by Trump inside a private meeting of House Republicans, said he had all but decided to vote for the bill.

“I’m not one they should worry about,” he said.

More here.

Reality is creeping into the Trump show

David Ignatius, writing in the Washington Post:

The House Intelligence Committee hearing Monday marked the end of the opening installment of “The President,” the must-watch reality/horror show that has transfixed the nation and the world. Now the plot gets more serious, perhaps darker, with some new characters likely to emerge in key national-security roles.

President Trump should be less of a stage hog going forward, and his Twitter storms less intense. He is often described as a narcissist, but he’s not suicidal. He knows he has been rebuffed in a public hearing that he can’t ridicule as “fake news.” With his approval rating below 40 percent, he needs to broaden his base. Trump wants to disrupt, but he also wants to succeed.

Trump and the nation would be well served if his two leading Cabinet secretaries, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, played more prominent roles. Trump needs the solid outriggers that Mattis and Tillerson can provide. This presidency is wounded at a time of potentially serious crises.

Mattis and Tillerson are stabilizers. They have both led big organizations under pressure, and they know what command is. Both have been moving cautiously in the early weeks, feeling their way and mostly keeping their mouths shut in public. They don’t like talking to the press, but in that they’re hardly alone among former chief executives and military leaders.

Mattis and Tillerson aren’t communicating much with the public, but they’re talking to Trump and to each other, while they figure out the strategic positions this administration will take on key issues. The two Cabinet secretaries try to have breakfast once a week, talk frequently by phone, and hash out common positions before each big meeting in the Situation Room.

These two know how to say no to Trump. Mattis famously did so on torture, and Tillerson did the same rebutting a presidential musing about abolishing the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Mattis and Tillerson have three paramount tasks — matters of war and peace on which their advice will be crucial for a beleaguered president with big ideas but limited experience.

The first test is “eradicating” the Islamic State. Trump claimed during the campaign he had a secret strategy, but in office he has sensibly expanded the approach recommended by Gen. Joseph Votel, the Central Command leader, which focuses on capturing Raqqa, the Islamic State capital in Syria. Centcom favors using a militia known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, which is multiethnic but led by Syrian Kurds from a group known as the YPG.

U.S. commanders rightly argue that while the Kurdish warriors are anathema to Turkey, they’re the only hope for quickly seizing Raqqa. Turkey’s claims about an alternative Sunni militia known as the “First Corps” aren’t credible. Raqqa is an urgent priority: Terrorists there are hatching plots targeting Europe and the United States.

The message to Turkey should be blunt: Let the United States work with the Kurds to clear Raqqa now (and get them out afterward), or Russia, Iran and the Syrian regime will seize the initiative.

Much more here.

Trump’s claim about Obama wiretapping him is indefensible. So his aides aren’t even defending it.

Aaron Blake, reporting for the Washington Post:

White House press secretary Sean Spicer issued a statement Sunday calling for an investigation into President Trump’s allegation — without evidence — that his predecessor in the White House, Barack Obama, wiretapped him.

And then Spicer concluded it by saying that the White House would offer no further comment. That included, apparently, any comment actually substantiating Trump’s claim.

But shortly thereafter, another White House spokesman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, did comment further. And she showed exactly why Spicer didn’t really want to talk about this.

During an at-times-painful interview with ABC’s Martha Raddatz, Huckabee Sanders repeatedly suggested that Trump’s allegation was worth looking into but declined to vouch for it. Raddatz pointed this out repeatedly, and Huckabee Sanders responded by saying “if this happened,” “if this took place,” “if it did” and “let’s find out.”

Here’s a snippet, with Huckabee Sanders’s equivocations in bold:

RADDATZ: Was the principal source the Breitbart story, which links to the New York Times? But the New York Times doesn’t say anything definitive. Donald Trump does. There is nothing equivocating about what he says. “I just found out that Obama had my wires tapped.” That’s not “look into something.” He says it happened.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, I think the bigger thing is you guys are always telling us to take the media seriously. Well, we are today. We’re taking the reports that places like the New York Times, Fox News, BBC, multiple outlets have reported this. All we’re saying is, let’s take a closer look. Let’s look into this. If this happened, if this is accurate, this is the biggest overreach and the biggest scandal.

RADDATZ: The president of the United States is accusing the former president of wiretapping him.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think that this is, again, something that if this happened, Martha …

RADDATZ: “If,” “if,” “if,” “if.”

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I agree.

RADDTAZ: Why is the president saying it did happen?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, I think he’s going off of information that he’s seen that has led him to believe that this is a very real potential. And if it is, this is the greatest overreach and the greatest abuse of power that, I think, we have ever seen and a huge attack on democracy itself. And the American people have a right to know if this took place.

RADDATZ: Okay. Let me just say one more time. The president said, “I bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October.” So the president believes it is true?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I would say that his tweet speaks for itself there.

This is a familiar dance from the White House. Trump sees a piece of information from a less-than-reputable news source that fits into his conspiracy theory-oriented worldview. He then states it as fact to rile up his supporters and cast himself as the victim of an effort to undermine him. Then his spokesmen go out there and don’t really vouch for him but say what he said should be investigated.

The exact thing happened with Trump’s allegations that millions of illegal votes were cast for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 campaign: Trump drops a bomb, offers no proof and then leaves it to those around him to investigate it. And, in this case, Congress is in the unhappy position of possibly having to fold this claim into its existing Russia investigations, while the White House attempts to wash its hands of Trump’s conspiracy theory-mongering.

More here.

What a Failed Trump Administration Looks Like

David Brooks, writing in the New York Times:

I still have trouble seeing how the Trump administration survives a full term. Judging by his Thursday press conference, President Trump’s mental state is like a train that long ago left freewheeling and iconoclastic, has raced through indulgent, chaotic and unnerving, and is now careening past unhinged, unmoored and unglued.

Trump’s White House staff is at war with itself. His poll ratings are falling at unprecedented speed. His policy agenda is stalled. F.B.I. investigations are just beginning. This does not feel like a sustainable operation.

On the other hand, I have trouble seeing exactly how this administration ends. Many of the institutions that would normally ease out or remove a failing president no longer exist.

There are no longer moral arbiters in Congress like Howard Baker and Sam Ervin to lead a resignation or impeachment process. There is no longer a single media establishment that shapes how the country sees the president. This is no longer a country in which everybody experiences the same reality.

Everything about Trump that appalls 65 percent of America strengthens him with the other 35 percent, and he can ride that group for a while. Even after these horrible four weeks, Republicans on Capitol Hill are not close to abandoning their man.

The likelihood is this: We’re going to have an administration that has morally and politically collapsed, without actually going away.

What does that look like?

First, it means an administration that is passive, full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing. To get anything done, a president depends on the vast machinery of the U.S. government. But Trump doesn’t mesh with that machinery. He is personality-based while it is rule-based. Furthermore, he’s declared war on it. And when you declare war on the establishment, it declares war on you.

The Civil Service has a thousand ways to ignore or sit on any presidential order. The court system has given itself carte blanche to overturn any Trump initiative, even on the flimsiest legal grounds. The intelligence community has only just begun to undermine this president.

President Trump can push all the pretty buttons on the command deck of the Starship Enterprise, but don’t expect anything to actually happen, because they are not attached.

Second, this will probably become a more insular administration. Usually when administrations stumble, they fire a few people and bring in the grown-ups — the James Baker or the David Gergen types. But Trump is anti-grown-up, so it’s hard to imagine Chief of Staff Haley Barbour. Instead, the circle of trust seems to be shrinking to his daughter, her husband and Stephen Bannon.

Bannon has a coherent worldview, which is a huge advantage when all is chaos. It’s interesting how many of Bannon’s rivals have woken up with knives in their backs. Michael Flynn is gone. Reince Priebus has been unmanned by a thousand White House leaks. Rex Tillerson had the potential to be an effective secretary of state, but Bannon neutered him last week by denying him the ability to even select his own deputy.

In an administration in which “promoted beyond his capacity” takes on new meaning, Bannon looms. With each passing day, Trump talks more like Bannon without the background reading.

Third, we are about to enter a decentralized world. For the past 70 years most nations have instinctively looked to the U.S. for leadership, either to follow or oppose. But in capitals around the world, intelligence agencies are drafting memos with advice on how to play Donald Trump.

The first conclusion is obvious. This administration is more like a medieval monarchy than a modern nation-state. It’s more “The Madness of King George” than “The Missiles of October.” The key currency is not power, it’s flattery.

The corollary is that Trump is ripe to be played. Give the boy a lollipop and he won’t notice if you steal his lunch. The Japanese gave Trump a new jobs announcement he could take to the Midwest, and in return they got presidential attention and coddling that other governments would have died for.

If you want to roll the Trump administration, you’ve got to get in line. The Israelis got a possible one-state solution. The Chinese got Trump to flip-flop on the “One China” policy. The Europeans got him to do a 180 on undoing the Iran nuclear deal.

More here.

Early Signs Suggest Trump’s Actions Are Taking a Toll on Trump Brand

Rachel Abrams, writing in the New York Times:

Since the day Donald J. Trump began his presidential campaign, there were questions about how the Trump brand would be affected. Would his stream of insults hurt viewership of “The Apprentice” or sales of Ivanka Trump shoes? Or was all the attention good for business, a marketing adage President Trump could have learned during his time as a reality television star.

The answer may surprise him.

Major companies appear to be re-evaluating their relationships with the Trump brand, which, in some instances, does not appear to have benefited from Mr. Trump’s presidency. Hinting at lackluster sales, Neiman Marcus confirmed on Friday that it had dropped Ivanka Trump’s jewelry line from its website. A day earlier, her brand had disappeared from Nordstrom.com, a move reported by the fashion news site Racked.

Not everyone was happy that retailers were distancing themselves from the Trump name. By Saturday, some Twitter users were posting #BoycottNordstrom.

Companies also seem worried about how protests over the president’s actions, particularly his recent executive order on immigration, could hurt sales.

On Friday, MillerCoors, a brewing company, contacted Shannon Coulter, a founder of GrabYourWallet.org, a campaign pushing for boycotts of Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and other businesses associated with the Trump name.

“He wanted to talk about why they were on the list,” she said, adding, “I think all the companies are paying close attention.”

At a time when protests and boycotts can easily be organized online, brands face more pressure to respond to consumer demands.

More here.

Trump pressured Park Service to find proof for his claims about inauguration crowd

Via The Washington Post:

On the morning after Donald Trump’s inauguration, acting National Park Service director Michael T. Reynolds received an extraordinary summons: The new president wanted to talk to him.

In a Saturday phone call, Trump personally ordered Reynolds to produce additional photographs of the previous day’s crowds on the Mall, according to three individuals who have knowledge of the conversation. The president believed that the photos might prove that the media had lied in reporting that attendance had been no better than average.

Trump also expressed anger over a retweet sent from the agency’s account, in which side-by-side photographs showed far fewer people at his swearing-in than had shown up to see Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009.

According to one account, Reynolds had been contacted by the White House and given a phone number to call. When he dialed it, he was told to hold for the president.

For Trump, who sees himself and his achievements in superlative terms, the inauguration’s crowd size has been a source of grievance that he appears unable to put behind him. It is a measure of his fixation on the issue that he would devote part of his first morning in office to it — and that he would take out his frustrations on an acting Park Service director.

Word rapidly spread through the agency and Washington. The individuals who informed The Washington Post about the call did so on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the conversation.

Neither Reynolds nor the Park Service would talk about it.

“The National Park Service does not comment on internal conversations among administration officials,” agency spokesman Thomas Crosson said.

White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the call simply demonstrated that Trump’s management style is to be “so accessible, and constantly in touch.”

“He’s not somebody who sits around and waits. He takes action and gets things done,” Sanders said. “That’s one of the reasons that he is president today, and Hillary Clinton isn’t.”

On Saturday, the same day Trump spoke with Reynolds, the new president used an appearance at CIA headquarters to deliver a blistering attack on the media for reporting that large swaths of the Mall were nearly empty during the event.

“It’s a lie,” Trump said. “We caught [the media]. We caught them in a beauty.”

“It looked like a million, a million and a half people,” Trump said, vastly inflating what the available evidence suggested.

More here.

Donald Trump continues out of control behavior. He simply cannot stand to be stopped in virtually any behavior.

Kathleen Parker: Trump has released a malevolent spirit upon the land

Via The Washington Post:

As usual, the year’s end brings reflections and ruminations on what was and what is to be. This time around, however, it feels as though an era is coming to an end.

That gentle frisson between past and future about which columnists customarily write feels vaguely apocalyptic as we approach the new year.

The usual regrets — too much ice cream, not enough exercise, too quick with a retort, not enough thank-you notes — all feel quaintly irrelevant juxtaposed against a collection of very real fears about the future. During a year of bitter political infighting — sister against sister, neighbor against neighbor — we’ve lost a better part of ourselves and unleashed armies of vengeful strangers.

To put a fine point on it, Donald Trump’s election has released a malevolent spirit upon the land. He invoked the magic message — essentially them vs. us — and the demons disembarked from their dark hiding places. He raided the lost ark and lifted the lid, and the whirlwind of humankind’s worst impulses escaped.

Hyperbolic, yes. But when the next leader of the free world casually comments that we need to build up our nuclear arsenal — and seems to welcome a return of the Cold War — alarm expressed in the strongest terms possible is required. When such alarm did find expression around the nation and the world, the president-elect huddled in his “fake news” bunker and claimed that his remarks were quoted incompletely. He took special aim at NBC News, tweeting that the network “purposely left out this part of my nuclear qoute [sic]: ‘until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.’ Dishonest!”

If NBC staffers left out the balance of his tweet, shame on them, but the rest of what he said adds nothing to assuage the larger concern that he thinks we need more nukes. Or, since this apparently needs pointing out, that he believes having more nukes will have no effect whatsoever until the rest of the world comes to its senses. My guess is the rest of the world is thinking the exact same thing: This president-elect is not in his senses — and he makes no sense.

Trump’s complete original quote, as usual offered via Twitter, was: “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”

Really? By “greatly” expanding our already huge nuclear arsenal, other leaders will come to their senses regarding nukes? Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed earlier on the same day that he wishes to boost his country’s nuclear strength, too. Just great.

And, really, again. What’s with making such war-mongering threats when you’re not in the White House yet? Tweeting on matters of such import is unpresidential, not to mention unmanly. Also, it’s insane !

Much more here.

James Madison offers a take on our current election challenges

James Madison, via The Yale Record:

Hey there shitheads. Remember me? Yeah, it’s James fucking Madison. Third Secretary of State? Supervisor of the Louisiana Purchase? Fourth President of the United States of America? That guy. How’s it going?

What’s that? You’re scared? You’re worried you might elect as the next President a misogynistic turkey leg that somehow escaped the state fair, fell into a bale of hay, and inexplicably managed to bankrupt six companies? Oh dear, that sounds stressful. And nobody saw it coming? Wow, that sucks. I mean, Jesus Christ, how did nobody consider that one day, some insane demagogue might incite a populist rebellion and threaten to shit on our country? How did no one think to create some kind of safeguard?

OH WAIT. I DID. IN FUCKING 1787.

Remember that Constitution you guys all say you loooove so much? Yeah, I wrote that shit. All of it. Even though for some reason you assholes keep thinking it was Jefferson. And because I’m way smarter than all of you, I wrote in a little something I call the Electoral College.

ARTICLE II SECTION 1, NIMRODS. Maybe if you had paid attention in civics class instead of fantasizing about having seven seconds in heaven with Joey Leibowitz during free period you would know about it. But here, let me break it down for you.

As this election cycle has clearly shown, you are all fucking morons. And that’s the problem with republics:, they let everybody vote for elected officials. Even the idiots, which, as we’ve established, is most of you. So, I figured that instead of letting you motherfuckers decide who runs the free world, I would let some people who aren’t quite as goddamned stupid make the actual decisions. Yeah sure, you all get to go to your cute little polling places and cast your adorable fucking ballots, but the actual decision would be made by people called electors who actually, you know, have some basic understanding of the abilities a president needs instead of making decisions based on the fact that their daddies didn’t love them enough and now they feel the need to take out their loneliness and anger on Mexican immigrants. Or whatever.

Now, for the most part, the electors would do whatever voters said. I mean, as stupid as you all are, you would normally manage to at least pick someone whose skin doesn’t look like a burnt creamsicle.

BUT.

BUT.

FUCKING BUT.

If you fucktards DID elect somebody with an inferiority complex as big as his hands are tiny, those electors could override you. HOLY SHIT. What a concept. And now I bet you’re all thinking, “Gee thanks, Jim. Looks like you saved our asses again. How’d you like an ice cold beer and a blowjob?”

But NOOOOO, you assholes wanted more DEMOCRACY. So most states decided to pass laws that bind the electors so that no matter what decision you impotent mouth-breathers make, they have to follow it.

So just remember in November that if you numbskulls decide to elect a trench coat of 12 xenophobic raccoons masquerading as a person, I tried my fucking best to stop it. You assholes only have yourselves to blame.

—A. Chase

The President as unilateral executioner

The New York Times has reported that the President himself decides which people, including American citizens, should be targeted for execution via drone (and other) forms of attack. The claim that Americans can be killed at the order of a sitting President, with no due process proceedings or court review, is so dangerous to civil liberties that it should be obvious that it is not constitutional.

Today, an editorial in the Times warns of this danger:

Mr. Obama has demonstrated that he can be thoughtful and farsighted, but, like all occupants of the Oval Office, he is a politician, subject to the pressures of re-election. No one in that position should be able to unilaterally order the killing of American citizens or foreigners located far from a battlefield — depriving Americans of their due-process rights — without the consent of someone outside his political inner circle.

How can the world know whether the targets chosen by this president or his successors are truly dangerous terrorists and not just people with the wrong associations? (It is clear, for instance, that many of those rounded up after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks weren’t terrorists.) How can the world know whether this president or a successor truly pursued all methods short of assassination, or instead — to avoid a political charge of weakness — built up a tough-sounding list of kills?

It is too easy to say that this is a natural power of a commander in chief. The United States cannot be in a perpetual war on terror that allows lethal force against anyone, anywhere, for any perceived threat. That power is too great, and too easily abused, as those who lived through the George W. Bush administration will remember.

Please go to this petition opposing such unilateral power on the official White House website and sign it.  If 25,000 signatures are filed, the White House must respond.

Political quote of the day

WASHINGTON - JANUARY 20: President George W. B...
Birds of a Feather

The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.

— Barack Obama