A Way Too Early Look At The 2020 Election, Including A Pundit’s Prediction That Clinton Will Run Again

Yesterday I looked at very early discussions from pundits and pollsters regarding the 2018 Congressional elections. It is far too early to say what will happen, but at least there is old data correlating presidential approval ratings and changes in seat in the midterm elections. There are also pundits with way too early predictions as to the 2020 presidential elections, including one predicting that Hillary Clinton will not only run again, but win the Democratic nomination. Fortunately any predictions made today have a good chance of not coming true.

The New York Post looks at who the Trump White House sees as potential challengers, claiming that they are already working on finding negative information on them. A lot will change between now and 2020 and any predictions are risky. Who would have predicted that Barack Obama would be the nominee four years before he ran? However, it is interesting to see who the Trump White House is concerned about, assuming that the Post has reliable information as to their thoughts:

Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, asked consultants to scour the backgrounds of four outspoken Democrats — Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, two sources close to the administration said.

“The White House political department wants people to start looking into them,” said one source close to the White House. “Trump is obsessed with running for re-election.”

Both Murphy, a freshman senator who has lambasted Trump’s immigration orders, and Brown, a 10-year Senate vet who made Hillary Clinton’s VP short list, are seen as viable threats who can quickly raise money and build a network of supporters, the sources said.

Hickenlooper, who founded a brewery before becoming governor of the Western swing state, is seen as a less-combative rising star, the sources said.

But the White House’s “biggest fear” is that Cuban, a billionaire businessman, would run because he can appeal to Republicans and independents, the sources said.

“He’s not a typical candidate,” the second insider said. “He appeals to a lot of people the same way Trump did.”

This could be one reason that Trump is attacking Cuban, not that he needs any reason to attack anyone who has been critical of him.

Making predictions based upon age is risky, but reportedly they have eliminated not only Bernie Sanders but Elizabeth Warren as possibilities due to being too old. They eliminated Kirsten Gillibrand, believing she is too young. The Post also says, “Trump’s political team is also counting out Cuomo and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, because they’ve been tainted by corruption probes.” The nomination of Hillary Clinton in 2016 showed that being tainted by corruption might not be a disqualification.

I would hope that the Democrats have learned their lesson and would not consider nominating Clinton again, but Matt Latimer predicts in Politco Magazine that not only will Clinton run again, but that she will win the nomination. His evidence for why he thinks she plans to run could indicate such plans, but is hardly conclusive. It is also conceivable that she wants to remain in the public eye, and rehabilitate her reputation, without plans to run. While perhaps she should take this advice, I really doubt that this is what she will do:

Hillary Clinton has 100 percent name ID, a personal fortune and a bastion of loyalists. She could enter the race at the last possible moment—at the behest of the people, of course—and catch her Democratic Party rivals by surprise. To soften her reputation as a programmed, overly cautious and polarizing figure, Clinton should eschew the front-runner label and run as an underdog, praising the other candidates and their proposals, opening up her campaign bus to the press corps and offering to have a freewheeling debate with any major rival, at any time, and anywhere.

It is possible she could win again, especially if their is a divided field without a clear front runner as he predicts, but based upon Clinton’s past I doubt this is what she will do. If she wants to run, her first instincts will be to once again try to clear the field and start running early with claims of inevitability.

Opening up to the press corps is the last thing Hillary Clinton would feel comfortable doing. She will continue to oppose liberal views which are far outside of her comfort zone. She certainly does not want to agree to frequent or freewheeling debates. Clinton knew exactly what she was doing when she tried to get the DNC to set a limit of four debates (with the DNC agreeing to limit it to six). Postponing the first debate until fairly late in the cycle made it harder for other candidates to establish themselves. Initially, due to her long experience in politics, she did dominate the debates. However, as Sanders developed experience in debating her, and the fact checkers reviewed her falsehoods, the debates turned against her, such as before the Michigan primary (which foreshadowed her general election loss). If there had been multiple debates starting earlier in the process, I doubt Clinton would have won the nomination.

Regardless of whether Clinton can win the nomination, I hope that Democrats have learned their lesson after loses in 2010, 2014, and 2016. Running as a Republican-lite party does not work. Democrats need to run their best possible candidate in 2020, not one so weak that she could not beat Donald Trump. It is especially important for Democrats to regain control of some of the state legislatures they have lost prior to redistricting in 2020, and a weak candidate on top of the ticket will make this more difficulty. Even if Clinton could win, after Trump we do not need a conservative DLC-type Democrat and neocon in the White House.

Country Now Evenly Divided On Impeachment Of Donald Trump

Donald Trump’s first three weeks in office have been a disaster, with Trump learning that being president is a hard job which he is not prepared for. Public Policy Polling shows that his support has dropped further from last week, with 46% both favoring and opposing impeachment:

PPP’s new national poll finds that Donald Trump’s popularity as President has declined precipitously just over the last two weeks. On our first poll of his Presidency voters were evenly divided on Trump, with 44% approving of him and 44% also disapproving. Now his approval rating is 43%, while his disapproval has gone all the way up to 53%. If voters could choose they’d rather have both Barack Obama (52/44) or Hillary Clinton (49/45) instead of Trump.

Just three weeks into his administration, voters are already evenly divided on the issue of impeaching Trump with 46% in favor and 46% opposed. Support for impeaching Trump has crept up from 35% 2 weeks ago, to 40% last week, to its 46% standing this week. While Clinton voters initially only supported Trump’s impeachment 65/14, after seeing him in office over the last few weeks that’s gone up already to 83/6.

While I don’t actually see impeachment as anything imminent, Common Dreams reports that, “On Thursday, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) filed a ‘resolution of inquiry’ that amounts to the first legislative step toward impeachment.”

The poll looked at several issues where support for Trump is falling. This includes Obamacare:

47% of voters now say they support the Affordable Care Act to only 39% who are opposed. It just keeps getting more popular. And only 32% think the best course of action to take on health care is repealing the ACA, while 65% would like Congress to keep it and just fix parts that need fixing.

More now oppose Trump’s executive order on immigration than back it. Among those in support, a strong majority see the Bowling Green Massacre as a reason for why it is needed.

Voters think he’s over reaching to make a country safe…that they already consider to be safe. 66% of Americans consider the United States to be a safe country, to only 23% who consider it unsafe. Perhaps as an outgrowth of that sentiment only 45% of voters support Trump’s Executive Order on immigration, to 49% who are opposed to it. Among those who do support it you have to wonder how well thought out their position is- by a 51/23 margin Trump voters say that the Bowling Green Massacre shows why Trump’s immigration policy is needed.

By a 48/43 spread, voters do think that the intent of the Executive Order is to be a Muslim ban. And just 22% support a Muslim ban, to 65% who are opposed. The order has also increasingly raised issues about Trump’s competence in voters’ eyes- only 27% think the Executive Order was well executed, to 66% who think it was poorly executed. The spread on that question was 39/55 when we asked last week.

Another aspect of voters already feeling safe is that they don’t want to pay for the wall with Mexico. Just 32% support a 20% tax on items imported to the United States from Mexico, to 55% who are opposed to that concept. And in general only 37% of voters want the wall if US taxpayers have to front the cost for it, to 56% who are against that.

Betsy DeVos is also unpopular. Protesters were trying to prevent Betsy DeVos from entering a public school. While I totally sympathize with their view of her, I’m not sure this is a good idea. I don’t know if she has ever even seen the inside of a public school before. It might be a good idea for her to see what a public school is like, and that they are not threatened by grizzly bears. If they did want to keep her out they might have dressed up as grizzly bears in burkas. What could be scarier to her? (For those not familiar with her record, see this post.)

Bad Day For Ivanka Brands; Good Day For Alternative Massacres And Guns

It is not a good day for Ivanka Trump’s businesses as efforts to stop sales of Ivanka Trump’s products in protest against her father appear to be successful. First Nordstrom announced they were dropping her shoes due to decreased sales in response to the #GrabYourWallet boycott. Next Neiman-Marcus announced they were dropping her jewelry line.

It is, however, a good day for fake massacres:

Senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway made a statement during a TV interview Thursday that pricked the ears of fact-checkers everywhere.

She told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews:

“I bet it’s brand new information to people that President Obama had a six-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized and they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre. It didn’t get covered.”

First of all, Obama didn’t ban the Iraqi refugee program.

Second, there’s no such thing as the Bowling Green massacre.

Another example of alternative facts from Kellyanne Conway. I’m looking forward to seeing The Little Golden Book Of Alternate Massacres. Then we can study the alternative holocaust in Donald Trump’s mind which didn’t involve Jews.

It is also a bad day for Israeli settlements, but more significantly a bad day for consistency in foreign policy, but a good day for people with severe mental illnesses who desire to buy guns. 

Plus, like every day under Donald Trump, I bet it will be a great day for the late night comics.

Fact Checkers, Acting Attorney General, & Barack Obama Versus Trump’s Immigration Ban

Donald Trump’s immigration ban has resulted in massive protests, including from the acting attorney general who has refused to fight legal challenges to the executive action.

“I am responsible for ensuring that the positions we take in court remain consistent with this institution’s solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right,” Ms. Yates wrote in a letter to Justice Department lawyers. “At present, I am not convinced that the defense of the executive order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the executive order is lawful.”

The decision is largely symbolic — Mr. Trump’s nominee to be attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions, is likely to be confirmed soon — but it highlights the deep divide at the Justice Department and elsewhere in the government over Mr. Trump’s order…

“For as long as I am the acting attorney general, the Department of Justice will not present arguments in defense of the executive order, unless and until I become convinced that it is appropriate to do so,” she wrote.

Now we just need the Democrats to hold up the confirmation of Jeff Sessions.

The Trump White House has tried to justify the executive action by falsely comparing it to previous actions of Barack Obama.  The fact check sites have debunked this claim, with Glenn Kessler giving it Three Pinocchios:

So what’s the difference with Trump’s action?

First, Obama responded to an actual threat — the discovery that two Iraqi refugees had been implicated in bombmaking in Iraq that had targeted U.S. troops. (Iraq, after all, was a war zone.) Under congressional pressure, officials decided to reexamine all previous refugees and impose new screening procedures, which led to a slowdown in processing new applications. Trump, by contrast, issued his executive order without any known triggering threat. (His staff has pointed to attacks unrelated to the countries named in his order.)

Second, Obama did not announce a ban on visa applications. In fact, as seen in Napolitano’s answer to Collins, administration officials danced around that question. There was certainly a lot of news reporting that visa applications had slowed to a trickle. But the Obama administration never said it had a policy to halt all applications. Indeed, it is now clear that no ban was put in place. Even so, the delays did not go unnoticed, so there was a lot of critical news reporting at the time about the angst of Iraqis waiting for approval.

Third, Obama’s policy did not prevent all citizens of that country, including green-card holders, from traveling to the United States. Trump’s policy is much more sweeping, though officials have appeared to pull back from barring permanent U.S. residents.

Jon Finer further debunked the Trump administration’s attempts to compare their actions to actions under Obama:

There are so many reasons to detest the Donald Trump administration’s executive order on “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” that it’s hard to know where to start.

Others have already argued eloquently about its cruelty in singling out the most vulnerable in society; its strategic folly in insulting countries and individuals the United States needs to help it fight terrorism (the ostensible purpose of the order in the first place); its cynical incoherence in using the September 11 attacks as a rationale and then exempting the attackers’ countries of origin; its ham-handed implementation and ever-shifting explanations for how, and to whom, it applies; and, thankfully, its legal vulnerability on a slew of soon-to-be-litigated grounds, including that it may violate the Establishment and Equal Protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

Finer then discussed “five enormous differences between the executive order the White House issued on Friday and what the Obama administration did.” These can be reviewed in the full article, expanding upon what the fact check sites have posted. He concluded by debunking Trump’s claims that the list of seven countries came from the Obama administration:

Bonus: Obama’s “seven countries” taken out of context: Trump’s claim that the seven countries listed in the executive order came from the Obama administration is conveniently left unexplained. A bit of background: soon after the December 2015 terror attack in San Bernadino, President Obama signed an amendment to the Visa Waiver Program, a law that allows citizens of 38 countries to travel to the United States without obtaining visas (and gives Americans reciprocal privileges in those countries). The amendment removed from the Visa Waiver Program dual nationals who were citizens of four countries (Iraq, Iran, Sudan, and Syria), or anyone who had recently traveled to those countries. The Obama administration added three more to the list (Libya, Somalia, and Yemen), bringing the total to seven. But this law did not bar anyone from coming to the United States. It only required a relatively small percentage of people to obtain a visa first. And to avoid punishing people who clearly had good reasons to travel to the relevant countries, the Obama administration used a waiver provided by Congress for certain travelers, including journalists, aid workers, and officials from international organizations like the United Nations.

Barack Obama has also rejected Trump’s comparisons to his policies, and expressed support for the demonstration, saying “American values are at stake.”

Update: Donald Trump has fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates after she ordered DOJ  lawyers not to defend Trump’s ban.

Signs Democrats Are Rejecting The Gutter Politics Of David Brock & Peter Daou

One of the many downsides of Donald Trump’s election is having people like Steve Bannon working in the White House. However, if Clinton had won, we might have had people nearly as bad from Team Hillary such as Sidney Blumenthal, Peter Daou, and David Brock.

We learned during the email scandal that Hillary Clinton was receiving advice from Sydney Blumenthal, who also had conflicting business interests in Libya. Peter Daou continues to attack Bernie Sanders and his supporters on Facebook and Twitter, often directly naming “white males” as the enemy, failing to see anything wrong with attacks based upon gender and race. He has attributed any opposition to the policies or unethical conduct of Hillary Clinton as being based on sexism. Former Republican hit man David Brock, turned Clinton hit man utilizing the same unsavory tactics, is trying to promote himself as a leader of the Democratic opposition to Donald Trump.

During the election campaign, the activities of David Brock and Peter Daou to promote Hillary Clinton’s campaign was the topic of an article in The New York Times. They continued their gutter politics, directed towards Bernie Sanders and his supporter, after the election. Jeff Weaver responded to the attack:

The knives are out on the Democratic side after the unexpected victory of Donald Trump. Not surprisingly, the first attacks have been launched by the experts on mudslinging against fellow Democrats: David Brock and those whose lease he holds like Peter Daou. Brock’s long history of character assassination and penchant for attacking those on the left continues…

Rather than face the very real challenge of remedying this situation, some have taken to blaming pollsters and data analysts for Hillary Clinton’s loss. After all, it’s much easier to bash those who didn’t see the wheels coming off the train rather than asking why the wheels were coming off in the first place.

Now we’re witnessing the scapegoating of Sanders and his supporters. Most of us knew this predictably lazy attack would come. Somehow, Senator Sanders is to blame because he brought millions into the Democratic Party process by articulating a positive vision of economic, racial, environmental and social justice…

Now he wants Democratic donors to replenish his coffers with millions for another round of mud-slinging. Hopefully, Democratic donors won’t let themselves be scammed again.

And hopefully, the Democratic Party re-establishes faith with the American working class in every zip code by authentically offering a bold and positive vision — a vision with no room for the ineffective gutter politics that benefit Mr. Brock and his friends.

There is hope that Democrats have learned their lesson and might be rejecting the gutter politics of Brock and Daou if this article from The Daily Beast is correct. Asawin Suebsaeng writes that Democrats are rejecting such a role for David Brock, with even some Clinton supporters now sick of Brock:

As David Brock attempts to position himself as a leader in rebuilding a demoralized Democratic Party in the age of Trump, many leading Democratic organizers and operatives are wishing the man would simply disappear.

Many in the party—Clinton loyalists, Obama veterans, and Bernie supporters alike—talk about the man not as a sought-after ally in the fight against Trumpism, but as a nuisance and a hanger-on, overseeing a colossal waste of cash. And former employees say that he has hurt the cause…

…many Democratic grassroots activists and campaign alums have been giving his proposed plans some stern side-eye.

“His ability to produce wins for Democrats is nonexistent,” Jeff Weaver, former campaign manager for Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential run, told The Daily Beast. “He does not have the kind of understanding of what kind of coalition you have to bring together to win national races—that’s his fundamental problem.”

During the 2016 election, Brock and his network positioned themselves as prominent allies to the Clinton campaign, generating opposition research, stunts, and ads against Trump, and supporting Clinton in the primary.

Brock bragged early last year that his team had assembled a mountain of damning oppo that could “knock Trump Tower down to the sub-basement.”

But Trump Tower still stands, and Brock’s groups failed to help Clinton to victory.

I would add that the dirty nature of Clinton’s campaigns is precisely one of the reasons that Clinton lost. While many (but not all) of the attacks on Trump from the Clinton camp were accurate, they were not enough to overcome Clinton’s own negatives. Trump managed to pull in enough votes in the rust belt with promises of jobs to win the election. Such talk about the issues, even if he probably cannot keep his promises, were more appealing than the negative message from the Clinton campaign, which failed to provide any positive arguments to vote for her other than her gender and the belief that it was her turn.

Suebsaeng continued:

It’s clear why Brock has acquired a long list of enemies on the more progressive corners of his own party. Brock’s political evolution is well-known: the former anti-Clinton right-winger who starting in the late 1990s transformed into a relentlessly pro-Clinton Democratic operative.

But the friction between Brock and Democrats is not merely limited to its more progressive faction—many alumni of Obama’s campaigns and White House, as well as Hillary Clinton’s failed 2016 run, say they want Brock to stay far away from the Democrats’ future plans.

“I don’t think David Brock has been helpful to the party to date, and I don’t think he will be a big part of its future,” a former senior Clinton campaign official told The Daily Beast. “And it’s surprising that many other people don’t see it that way.”

Another senior 2016 Clinton aide, who asked not to be named because the ex-staffer did “not want to deal with Brock’s bullshit,” described Brock and his organizations in 2016 as “useless—you might as well have thrown those [tens of] millions of dollars down a well, and then set the well on fire.”

Two sources told The Daily Beast that in the last couple of months Brock and his team reached out to former Clinton campaign officials, including ex-national press secretary Brian Fallon, to join Brock’s new anti-Trump “war room.” All, however, declined the offer simply because “no one wants anything to do with him,” one source recalled. (Fallon did not respond to a request for comment.)

Other opinions expressed about Brock:

“I met with I’m a couple times—he’s fucking weird,” a former Obama administration official, who also requested anonymity, told The Daily Beast. “I felt like I was meeting Mugatu from Zoolander… I don’t know what the fuck [Brock’s network] did besides raise a ton of money, and I don’t think the after-action report on 2016 says we need more David Brock. Probably the opposite is true.”

And:

“He has a tendency to overstate his level of impact and importance,” a former operative of one of Brock’s organizations said. “There is a sense [in Brock’s own groups] that he cares less about progressive policies and moving the ball forward, and is actually more focused on stroking his ego.”

Another Democratic operative close to the Brock empire told The Daily Beast that the experience working with him only deepened suspicions that Brock cared more about himself than the liberal base or the party at large.

“Somewhere along the way, it became instead of putting the mission of American Bridge [or Media Matters] first, it became about putting him first, growing his power in the party—his popularity,” the operative said. “There’s no question that his groups were the least effective of 2016. If anything they did harm.”

The staffer concluded: “I have never worked somewhere with so much unlimited resources [where] I don’t think they’re used efficiently.”

If the Democrats are going to rebuild in time for the crucial 2020 elections, it is important that they stop acting like Republicans to give voters a reason to support them. Rejecting the gutter politics of people like David Brock is an important step.

Trump Executive Orders Include Expanding Global Gag Rule On Abortion & Reinstating Black Site Prisons Closed Under Obama

Donald Trump’s use of executive orders have confirmed the worst fears about what we would see from a Trump presidency. Everyone who is aware of the policy assumed Trump would reinstate the global gag rule which, since Reagan, has been in place under all Republicans and reversed when Clinton and Obama were in office. This prohibits American foreign aide to organizations involved in providing abortions. What we did not anticipate, and most did not even realize immediately, was that Trump expanded this policy considerably. Michelle Goldberg did notice this and wrote in Slate:

In the past, the global gag rule meant that foreign NGOs must disavow any involvement with abortion in order to receive U.S. family planning funding. Trump’s version of the global gag rule expands the policy to all global health funding. According to Ehlers, the new rule means that rather than impacting $600 million in U.S. foreign aid, the global gag rule will affect $9.5 billion. Organizations working on AIDS, malaria, or maternal and child health will have to make sure that none of their programs involves so much as an abortion referral. Geeta Rao Gupta, a senior fellow at the United Nations Foundation who previously served as deputy executive director of UNICEF, gives the example of HIV/AIDS clinics that get U.S. funding to provide antiretrovirals: “If they’re giving advice to women on what to do if they’re pregnant and HIV positive, giving them all the options that exist, they cannot now receive money from the U.S.”

This makes Trump significantly worse than George W. Bush regarding the gag rule. Bush at least did specifically exempt support for an AIDS program, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) from the global gag rule:

Scott Evertz, who served as director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy under George W. Bush, tells me, “It would have been impossible to treat HIV/AIDS in the developing world as the emergency that PEPFAR said it was if the global gag rule were to be applied to the thousands of organizations with which those of us involved in PEPFAR would be working.” Evertz offers the example of a standalone health clinic in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. Would the U.S. have to certify that it never referred any of its patients to an abortion provider before enlisting it in the fight against AIDS?  “The notion of applying the global gag rule to them would have made it impossible to implement the program,” he says.

Other executive orders involve building the border wall and curtailing immigration, limiting Obamacare, backing the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines, and Trump is now reportedly preparing an executive order which would reopen “black site” prisons closed under Obama. The New York Times reports on the later:

The Trump administration is preparing a sweeping executive order that would clear the way for the C.I.A. to reopen overseas “black site” prisons, like those where it detained and tortured terrorism suspects before former President Barack Obama shut them down.

President Trump’s three-page draft order, titled “Detention and Interrogation of Enemy Combatants” and obtained by The New York Times, would also undo many of the other restrictions on handling detainees that Mr. Obama put in place in response to policies of the George W. Bush administration.

If Mr. Trump signs the draft order, he would also revoke Mr. Obama’s directive to give the International Committee of the Red Cross access to all detainees in American custody. That would be another step toward reopening secret prisons outside of the normal wartime rules established by the Geneva Conventions, although statutory obstacles would remain.

Mr. Obama tried to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and refused to send new detainees there, but the draft order directs the Pentagon to continue using the site “for the detention and trial of newly captured” detainees — including not just more people suspected of being members of Al Qaeda or the Taliban, like the 41 remaining detainees, but also Islamic State detainees. It does not address legal problems that might raise…

Elisa Massimino, the director of Human Rights First, denounced the draft order as “flirting with a return to the ‘enhanced interrogation program’ and the environment that gave rise to it.” She noted that numerous retired military leaders have rejected torture as “illegal, immoral and damaging to national security,” and she said that many of Mr. Trump’s cabinet nominees had seemed to share that view in their confirmation testimony.

“It would be surprising and extremely troubling if the national security cabinet officials were to acquiesce in an order like that after the assurances that they gave in their confirmation hearings,” she said.

Saturday’s Rallies Will Hopefully Be The Start Of A Strong Anti-Trump Protest Movement

Donald Trump got off to a poor start with an attack on the press by his press secretary, while Saturday was a good day for the start of an anti-Trump protest movement. The excitement seen in the participation in the anti-Trump marches shows what could have happened if the Democratic Party was not so foolish as to give Hillary Clinton the nomination. Reporters covering the event found that many women motivated to march against Trump did not see Hillary Clinton as a choice which motivated them to turn out to vote. With a better candidate we could now have a Democratic president and a Democratic Senate.

It is estimated that three times as many people marched in Washington than turned out for Donald Trump’s inauguration on Friday. Millions more protested in other cities. It remains to be seen whether this will be a sustained movement, but it was an impressive start. The tape of Donald Trump bragging about grabbing women did not derail his campaign as many thought at the time, but the tape has come back to haunt him. Many protestors wore pussy caps. Others, such as Supergirl star Melissa Benoist used this in their signs.

While the protests were in progress, Donald Trump and press secretary Sean Spicer were attacking the press. Donald Trump is as defensive about the small crowds at his inauguration as he is about his “small hands” and what that represents. Speaking at the CIA, Donald Trump even said, “I have a running war with the media.” Ezra Klein wrote that “Trump’s real war isn’t with the media. It’s with facts.”

Trump then had press secretary Sean Spicer call an impromptu briefing in which Spicer lashed the press for estimating crowd size. “Nobody had numbers, because the National Park Service does not put any out,” he insisted. Seconds later, he said: “This was the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, both in person and around the globe.”This, along with much else Spicer said, was plainly untrue. But there’s a strategy at work here. The Trump administration is creating a baseline expectation among its loyalists that they can’t trust anything said by the media. The spat over crowd size is a low-stakes, semi-comic dispute, but the groundwork is being laid for much more consequential debates over what is, and isn’t, true.

Delegitimizing the institutions that might report inconvenient or damaging facts about the president is strategic for an administration that has made a slew of impossible promises and takes office amid a cloud of ethics concerns and potential scandals.

It also gives the new administration a convenient scapegoat for their continued struggles with public opinion, and their potential future struggles with reality. This kind of “dishonesty from the media,” Spicer said, is making it hard “to bring our country together.” It’s not difficult to imagine the Trump administration disputing bad jobs numbers in the future, or claiming their Obamacare replacement covers everyone when it actually throws millions off insurance.

Spicer ended the statement on a warning. “There has been a lot of talk in the media about the responsibility of holding Donald Trump accountable. I am here to tell you that it goes two ways. We are going hold the press accountable as well.”

This is reminiscent of the credibility gap during the Vietnam war. If Trump will outright lie about verifiable facts such as these which are of limited significance, it is doubtful that he will hesitate to lie when it comes to justifying actions while at war, or defending his policies. We have already seen this type of disregard for the truth throughout his campaign. Kellyanne Conway said that the White House press secretary gave “alternative facts.” Alternative facts sure looks like another word for lies.

The White House is being called out for their lying from both the left and the right.  The Weekly Standard wrote:

Crowd size does not matter. At all. It is not correlative with any conceivable marker of presidential success.

Which leads us to the question of why Spicer rushed out on Day 2 of the administration to begin his relationship with the press by insisting on a blatant, demonstrably false, lie. And please understand: That’s what this is. It is not spin, or misrepresentation, or cutting a fine line. It’s a deliberate lie.

And the answer is that this isn’t about Sean Spicer. He’s already been caught lying in the recent past…

Rule #1 for press relations is that you can obfuscate, you can misrepresent, you can shade the truth to a ridiculous degree, or play dumb and pretend not to know things you absolutely do know. But you can’t peddle affirmative, provable falsehoods. And it’s not because there’s some code of honor among press secretaries, but because once you’re a proven liar in public, you can’t adequately serve your principal. Every principal needs a spokesman who has the ability, in a crunch, to tell the press something important and know that they’ll be believed 100 percent, without reservation.

It is debatable as to how much crowd size matters, but I do find it encouraging to see  both that crowd size was much smaller than for Barack Obama’s inauguration, and that far more people were motivated to protest against Trump than to see him inaugurated as president. While it is bad that the White House is already lying to us, it is at least better that most realize when they are lying. If the election had turned out slightly differently in a few states, Hillary Clinton could be president, but we would still have a president who cannot be trusted. Instead of turning out to protest, many of those protesting on Saturday would be defending her and, as we saw during the campaign, this would including defending her false statements. While many of the protesters did vote for Hillary Clinton, many also cheered when Michael Moore said the “old guard” has to go and that “We have to take over the Democratic Party.”

Many Americans View The Presidential Transition As Ominous

A large number of Americans are looking at the inauguration of Donald Trump with dread. Beyond ideological differences, there are concerns that Donald Trump does not respect the norms which have maintained our democracy.  E.J. Dionne calls this “the most ominous Inauguration Day in modern history.” He wrote, “Trump’s disdain for the democratic disposition we like our presidents to embrace was on display when he dressed down CNN’s Jim Acosta at that news conference last week. Trump’s tone, style and sheer rage (whether real or staged) brought to mind authoritarian leaders who brook no dissent.”

The Associated Press reports on how the presidency is about the change, also discussing Trump failure to respect established norms:

Polls over the past week show that Trump is poised to enter the White House as the least popular president in four decades. Democrats remain staunchly opposed to him, independents have not rallied behind him and even Republicans are less enthusiastic than might be expected, according to the surveys.

In his typical reaction to poll results he doesn’t like, Trump dismissed them as “rigged” in a Tuesday tweet.

It’s exactly that kind of tweet that worries governing experts, lawmakers and other critics, who argue that traditional practices of the presidency protect the health of the American democracy.

“With notable exceptions, we’ve had a political culture in which presidents largely respect a series of unwritten rules that help democracy and the rule of law flourish,” said Brendan Nyhan, a professor of government at Dartmouth College. “What’s striking about Trump is he flouts norms that have previously been respected by both parties on a daily basis. He calls things into question that have never been questioned before.”

Since winning the election, Trump has attacked Hollywood celebrities, civil rights icons and political rivals alike. He’s moved markets by going after some companies, while praising others.

He’s questioned the legitimacy of American institutions — appearing to trust the word of Russian President Vladimir Putin over the intelligence agencies he’ll soon oversee, engaging in personal fights with journalists as he assails the free press and questioning the results of the election, even though it put him in office.

With this backdrop, many Americans are more interested in the massive demonstrations expected for inauguration day than in seeing Donald Trump inaugurated. David Weigel points out that in the past, such as when George W. Bush was inaugurated, demonstrations were “dominated by the political fringe.” Now they being embraced by both the Democratic Party and the left:

Democrats and the broader left, recuperating from an election few of them thought they could lose, are organizing one of the broadest — and earliest — opposition campaigns ever to greet a new president. It began with protests in the hours after Trump’s victory, but it has become bolder since, marked most dramatically by nearly 70 Democratic members of Congress boycotting the inauguration itself…

This year, in his enhanced role as a messenger for congressional Democrats, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) successfully encouraged 70-odd rallies last weekend in support of the Affordable Care Act, organized on the ground by Democrats and labor groups. Local branches of the Working Families Party, which endorsed Sanders (and de Blasio) in 2016, have organized “Resist Trump Tuesdays,” in which activists have protested inside the offices of Republican legislators or filled the galleries of state legislatures. According to WFP spokesman Joe Dinkin, 450 community planning meetings took place the week before the inauguration.

Donald Trump has made many contradictory statements. While he has given reason to fear he might not respect our political norms, we really do not know yet what he will do. Adam Gopnik warns to be prepared for the worst possible scenario, and offers this advice:

What is to be done? In such a moment of continued emergency, the most important task may be to distinguish as rigorously as possible between new policies and programs that, however awful, are a reflection of the normal oscillation of power, natural in a mature democracy, and those that are not. To borrow from Woody Allen’s distinction between the miserable (something we all are) and the horrible (fortunately suffered by only a few), we must now distinguish resolutely between the sickening and the terrifying. Many programs and policies with which progressive-minded people passionately disagree will be put forward over the next few years. However much or strongly one opposes them, they are, like it or not, the actual agreed-on platform of a dominant national party. On the issue of gun control alone, we’ll get a Supreme Court that won’t reverse the bad decision of Heller, a legislature that will only further diminish sane controls on military weapons in private hands, likely an increase in open-carry laws, and all the murderous rest. All of this will cost kids’ lives and bring much misery.

One may oppose these things—and one should, passionately and permanently—but they are in no sense illegitimate. They are just wrong. They are also reversible by the same laws and rules and norms and judicial and, perhaps most of all, electoral processes that created them. If we want gun control, we need to get more people caring about it and more people in more places voting for it; we cannot complain because people who don’t want gun control don’t give it to us.

Assaults on free speech; the imprisoning of critics and dissidents; attempts, on the Russian model, likely to begin soon, to intimidate critics of the regime with fake charges and conjured-up allegations; the intimidation and intolerance of even mild dissidence (that “Apologize!” tweet directed at members of the “Hamilton” cast who dared to politely petition Mike Pence); not to mention mass deportations or attempts at discrimination by religion—all things that the Trump and his cohorts have openly contemplated or even promised—are not part of the normal oscillations of power and policy. They are unprecedented and, history tells us, likely to be almost impossible to reverse.

So we need to stiffen our spines and broaden our embrace, grasp tightly but reach out far. The conservatives who see Trump for what he is and are shocked by it—and there are many, though not as many as there should be—should be welcomed. We can postpone arguing about the true meaning of the Second Amendment while we band together to fight for the Constitution that precedes it…

The best way to be sure that 2017 is not 1934 is to act as though it were. We must learn and relearn that age’s necessary lessons: that meek submission is the most short-sighted of policies; that waiting for the other, more vulnerable group to protest first will only increase the isolation of us all. We must refuse to think that if we play nice and don’t make trouble, our group won’t be harmed. Calm but consistent opposition shared by a broad front of committed and constitutionally-minded protesters—it’s easy to say, fiendishly hard to do, and necessary to accomplish if we are to save the beautiful music of American democracy.

Polls: Approval For Trump Falls; Rises For Obama & Obamacare

A new CNN poll shows the same finding as a recent Gallup poll which found that Donald Trump has record low approval for modern presidents:

Donald Trump will become president Friday with an approval rating of just 40%, according to a new CNN/ORC Poll, the lowest of any recent president and 44 points below that of President Barack Obama, the 44th president.

Following a tumultuous transition period, approval ratings for Trump’s handling of the transition are more than 20 points below those for any of his three most recent predecessors. Obama took the oath in 2009 with an 84% approval rating, 67% approved of Clinton’s transition as of late December 1992 and 61% approved of George W. Bush’s transition just before he took office in January 2001.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll had similar findings. Donald Trump has tweeted the polls are rigged.

In contrast, Barack Obama is leaving office with a 58 percent favorability rating. While the news has been dominated by Republican plans to repeal Obamacare, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that the Affordable Care Act is more popular than ever. This poll was conducted before today’s report from the Congressional Budget Office showing that repeal of Obamacare would result in millions of people losing their insurance and in increase in premiums:

  • The number of people who are uninsured would increase by 18 million in the first new plan year following enactment of the bill. Later, after the elimination of the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid eligibility and of subsidies for insurance purchased through the ACA marketplaces, that number would increase to 27 million, and then to 32 million in 2026.
  • Premiums in the nongroup market (for individual policies purchased through the marketplaces or directly from insurers) would increase by 20 percent to 25 percent—relative to projections under current law—in the first new plan year following enactment. The increase would reach about 50 percent in the year following the elimination of the Medicaid expansion and the marketplace subsidies, and premiums would about double by 2026.

Russian Journalist Warns Of Dangers To The Free Press Under Trump

Donald Trump’s confrontation with the press on Wednesday has reinforced the view among civil libertarians that Donald Trump’s election is a threat to the free press. In November, the Freedom of the Press Foundation pointed out that–

he has threatened to sue newspapers or journalists over a dozen times and said he will attempt to “open up libel laws” as president to make it easier to take newspapers to court. He has attacked and insulted members of the media almost daily and blacklisted countless news outlets over the course of his campaign. He has blamed “freedom of the press” for a terrorist attack in New York and has said the press has “too much protection” under the First Amendment.

While much of Trump’s behavior is unprecedented by American standards, Russian journalist Alexey Kovalev found this to be similar to what journalists face in Russia. He wrote:

Congratulations, US media! You’ve just covered your first press conference of an authoritarian leader with a massive ego and a deep disdain for your trade and everything you hold dear. We in Russia have been doing it for 12 years now …

  • Welcome to the era of bullshit.

Facts don’t matter. You can’t hurt this man with facts or reason. He’ll always outmaneuver you. He’ll always wriggle out of whatever carefully crafted verbal trap you lay for him. Whatever he says, you won’t be able to challenge him. He always comes with a bag of meaningless factoids (Putin likes to drown questions he doesn’t like in dull, unverifiable stats, figures and percentages), platitudes, false moral equivalences and straight, undiluted bullshit. He knows it’s a one-way communication, not an interview. You can’t follow up on your questions or challenge him. So he can throw whatever he wants at you in response, and you’ll just have to swallow it. Some journalists will try to preempt this by asking two questions at once, against the protests of their colleagues also vying for attention, but that also won’t work: he’ll answer the one he thinks is easier, and ignore the other. Others will use this opportunity to go on a long, rambling statement vaguely disguised as a question, but that’s also bad tactics. Non-questions invite non-answers. He’ll mock you for your nervous stuttering and if you’re raising a serious issue, respond with a vague, non-committal statement (“Mr President, what about these horrible human rights abuses in our country?” “Thank you, Miss. This is indeed a very serious issue. Everybody must respect the law. And by the way, don’t human rights abuses happen in other countries as well? Next question please”).

Kovalev had other warnings for the press, such as not to expect any camaraderie from other members of the press: ” It’s in this man’s best interests to pit you against each other, fighting over artificial scarcities like room space, mic time or, of course, his attention.”

While Kovalev addressed this to “my doomed colleagues in the American media,” fortunately the United States is not Russia. We have a tradition of supporting freedom of the press which Russia lacks. Trump might attack journalists, but he is not likely to have them killed as has become far too common in Russia. PolitiFact points out that “Russia currently ranks 180 out of 199 countries for press freedom, behind Iraq, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the international watchdog Freedom House.”

Unlike Russia, elected government officials can be voted out of office, and public opinion has some effect on them. While it is common for winning presidential candidates to receive a positive bounce after being elected, Donald Trump is taking office with record low approval. The latest Gallup poll found:

In Gallup polling conducted two weeks before Inauguration Day, President-elect Donald Trump continues to garner historically low approval for his transition performance, with 51% of Americans disapproving of how he is handling the presidential transition and 44% approving. Last month, the public was split on this question, with 48% approving and 48% disapproving…

Trump’s 48% transition approval rating in December was already the lowest for any presidential transition Gallup has measured, starting with Bill Clinton’s in 1992-1993. Trump’s current rating only further separates him from his predecessors — particularly Barack Obama, who earned 83% approval for his handling of the transition process in January 2009, up from 75% in mid-December 2008….

The last president before Trump to win the election despite losing the national popular vote was George W. Bush in 2000. However, while Bush’s transition scores were lower than those of both his predecessor (Clinton) and his successor (Obama), his 61% approval rating in mid-January 2001 was nowhere near as low as Trump’s is today.