Tuesday, October 8, 2019

BTRTN: "Some of the People All of the Time"... How Stupid Does Trump Think Republicans Are?

Remember all the talk that Putin views Trump as a “useful idiot?” It appears that Donald Trump views his supporters the exact same way -- that they are “useful idiots.” Here’s a post you can hand to Republicans you encounter who are still defending Trump. 

Abraham Lincoln – the greatest Republican ever – is credited with the observation that “You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” 

He probably would not be thrilled to learn that his Grand Old Party has become “some of the people all of the time.”

Hey, Republicans, listen up! You may think that I am annoying for all of my commentary on your amoral, cowardly, self-interested allegiance to the Bloviator-in-Chief.  But may I ask that you take a moment to re-frame the essential issue? It’s not me you should be worried about. Rather, take a moment to contemplate that it is actually Donald Trump who thinks you are stupid.

Donald Trump isn’t trying to fool me! He knows that progressives like me see him as a cheating, soulless, preternaturally insecure two-bit felon with the impulse control issues of a rabid rottweiler. And trust me, by tomorrow morning I’m going to get a dozen emails complaining that I am making an association that is unfairly unflattering to rottweilers. 

No, Donald Trump isn’t trying to fool me. He needs to keep fooling you. Republicans. His supporters. His base.

And he is doing it.

Let me start with a particularly egregious insult to my – wait, make that, your intelligence.

Donald Trump stood on the South Lawn of the White House on Friday and said that the reason that he had withheld military aid to Ukraine was because he was "concerned about corruption." He said the word more than 20 times.

Hey, it’s perfectly reasonable for the President of the United States to say that our government is going to withhold aid until a country makes a commitment to root out obvious corruption. But this is not that. It is a weapons grade example of Donald Trump thinking that Republicans are stupid. 

  • For starters, Donald Trump’s own administration is one of the most corrupt in American history, starting with a campaign manager who is now in Federal prison, a National Security Advisor who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, a lawyer in prison for paying hush money to a porn star at the direction of a sitting President, cabinet officers forced out for corruption (Zinke, Price, Pruitt), under scrutiny for misuse of Federal funds (Carson), considered to have violated conflict of interest policies (DeVos, Ross), on top of criminal investigations into the Trump Organization and Trump Foundation.  
  • Moreover, Trump has never previously raised issues of corruption when dealing with some of the most corrupt governments on the face of the earth, highlighted by his bromances with Putin, Kim Jong-un, and most notably Mohammad bin Salman, whose record on corruption is no doubt pristine save for that one little incident of murdering and dismembering a American journalist.
  • When Donald Trump was asked on Friday on the South Lawn to name another instance in which he had confronted a foreign government about corruption, he could not think of a single one.
  • Indeed, the only examples of “corruption” in Ukraine that Trump cited in his call with President Zelensky were unsupported allegations against the Bidens and drudging up a debunked conspiracy theory about the 2016 election. It was not a generalized commentary that Zelensky needed to clean up Ukrainian corruption, it was a specific focus on one family that happened to include his most formidable domestic political opponent.
  • When Trump had been asked to explain why he held up military aid to Ukraine, he did not say, “because of the corruption.” The initial reason he gave was because he felt that European countries were not giving enough money to Ukraine.

Please, my Republican friends, Donald Trump is not trying to retro-actively reposition his behavior on the phone call to Zelensky in an attempt to fool me. He knows he will never get my support. He is saying all this stuff because he desperately needs your support. You are the 43% approval rating that he is clinging to like a drunk hugging the porcelain. All of his projectile disinformation is aimed at you

And he apparently thinks you are stupid enough to buy it.

Here’s another good example of Donald Trump treating Republicans like a collection of  burned out 30 watt bulbs.

Donald Trump has been walking around for the last week screaming that there was “no quid pro quo.”  He cites the summary of his Zelensky phone call (which, to be clear, was not a verbatim transcript) excitedly reporting that there is no specific instance in which he overtly states in a single sentence that U.S. military aid is contingent on Zelensky investigating the Bidens. 

Ah, how does Donald deem Republicans to be dummies? Let me count the ways…

Here is civics lesson number one: there does not need to be a “quid pro quo” in order for Donald Trump to stand accused of a criminal act and an article of impeachment. It is a crime for any candidate to accept any campaign donation from a foreign government. Full stop. End of discussion. Period. Donald Trump wants you Republicans to believe that there has to be a proven quid pro quo in order for him to be impeached. He is wrong. Now, it happens that there are more and vastly better reasons to impeach Trump… but receiving “something of value” from a foreign government to influence an election alone is a Federal crime. And that is what he demanded of Zelensky.

Civics lesson number two: Donald Trump does not seem to understand that even in his own fabricated, illusory version of the phone call, he would still be making a quid pro quo. He now claims that the issue he had with Ukraine was “corruption” – not Biden – and that his demand of Zelensky was that Ukraine root out “corruption” in order to get the U.S. military aid. That, Donald, is a quid pro quo. Diplomats of the United States do quid pro quos all the time. Here’s a good example: “The United States of America will not remove economic sanctions imposed on Russia until Russia withdraws its military occupation of Crimea.” See that, Donald? A perfectly legit quid pro quo.  Quid pro quos, per se, are not the problem.

The problem is that Trump’s particular quid pro quo singularly linked a promise on behalf of the United States of America to an action demanded for the personal benefit of an individual who is an officer of the government. Trump claims that he was demanding that Zelensky “clean up corruption” in order to get the U.S. aid.  But Trump never spoke about a generalized sense of “corruption” in the Ukraine in the entire transcript summary. Not once. Go ahead, Republicans... read the actual White House summary of the call. You’d have to be pretty stupid to think that Donald Trump was talking about “Ukrainian corruption” in general.

How about those “smoking texts?” Trump is confident that you Republicans will ignore how clearly they demonstrate the administration’s intent to link the military aid to Zelensky’s willingness to investigate Biden. 

Here are a few gems…

On September 1, career diplomat and Acting Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor wrote a text to the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland that emphatically demands clarification on this exact issue:

Taylor, 12:08 pm: “Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are condition on investigations?”

It is clear that Taylor is seeking a confirmation of a policy that he has been informed about. If Sondland thought that Taylor was wrong in his conclusion, he could have texted “no.” Instead, he simply texts “Call me.” "Call me" is what people write when their answer is either much more complicated than a sharp and simple "no," or when they don't want there to be a paper trail of an affirmation. 

On September 8, Taylor spells out a “nightmare scenario” in which the Ukrainians execute their half of the quid pro quo by publicly announcing the re-opening of the investigations, but they still do not get the military aid they were promised. Taylor takes the extra moment to spell out how he would react to such a betrayal of the Ukrainians.
Taylor, 12:47 pm: “The nightmare is they give the interview and don’t get the security assistance. The Russians love it. (And I quit.)” Yes, Taylor was so upset about the “arms for political dirt” quid pro quo that he threatened to quit. 

As if all these texts alone did not prove the point, it becomes clear one day later that Taylor and Sondland have had a phone conversation discussing the precise quid pro quo that Trump will later deny:

Taylor, 12:47 am: “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”

Five hours pass, and Sondland finally texts back, but now in far more formal -- almost legal -- language. It is far more carefully structured prose than anything noted in his prior texts. He attempts to retroactively re-frame the content of the prior phone call that had been the subject of Taylor’s text, and then Sondland concludes by urging that Taylor discontinue his texting immediately. This final instruction clearly suggests a consciousness of guilt and a realization that this paper trail could be kryptonite for the White House:

Sondland, 5:19 am: “Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions. The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind. The President is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms that President Zelensky promised during his campaign and I suggest we stop the back and forth by text. If you still have concerns I recommend you give Lisa Kenna or S a call to discuss them directly.”  

Again, let me remind the reader: Trump did not say a single word about “transparency and reforms” in his call with Zelensky.

Trump actually cited the final Sondland text in his Friday South Lawn Press conference as supposed "corroboration" for his claim of being only concerned about corruption, conveniently ignoring the repeated texts from Taylor that tell the opposite story. A reporter asks him to name any other country in the world where he has expressed concern to a foreign leader about corruption, and he could not. 

Ok, Republicans, have at it: who thinks you are stupid

Yes, Donald Trump thinks that all you Republicans will completely dismiss, ignore, and reject the multiple texts from a career diplomat expressing outrage that military assistance is being held up pending Ukrainian abdication to an illegal scheme to aid the President’s re-election.

Or, perhaps, more accurately, that you won't even take the time to read them for yourselves. 

Or that you will simply accept Sean Hannity's version of everything.

Yes, I am beginning to agree with Trump. You Republicans are dumb as a box of hammers. 

Go ahead, Republicans… toe Trump’s line. Buy everything he is selling. Don't trouble yourselves with testing his rationalizations and fabrications against fact.

You can believe that Trump didn’t use the leverage of your tax dollars to put the screws to the leader of a fragile, brutally threatened ally in order to force him to manufacture dirt on Trump's most threatening political adversary.

You can pretend that every senior official in Trump’s government – Trump, Pence, Barr, Mulvany, Pompeo – didn’t know they their administration was shaking down a vulnerable leader in order to undermine the 2020 election.

You can pull the blankets over your head and convince yourself that Trump did not put the citizens and soldiers in Ukraine in grave danger by denying U.S. military aid, all so that he could try to manufacture a scandal about a political rival. 

You can feign ignorance to the fact that denying aid to Ukraine actually puts our own national security at increased risk.

You can believe Donald Trump when he says that he is really concerned about “fighting corruption in Ukraine,” when the closest relationships he has with foreign leaders are with murderous thugs who rape their nations for personal gain. 

You can shame yourselves by following the embarrassing examples of Marco Rubio, Jim Jordan, Roy Blunt, and Kevin McCarthy, who all claimed that Donald Trump was only “joking” when he publicly suggested that China should open their own investigation of the Bidens.  Look at the tape and tell me that Trump is “joking.” You don’t think that China would be willing to investigate Biden in return for reduced tariffs?

You can tell yourself that Trump and his cronies are not brazenly undermining the Constitution when they refuse to submit to Congressional oversight. 

Go ahead, Republicans... go all the way. Convince yourself Donald Trump is not a clear and present danger to our democracy, our Constitution, our standing in the global community, and the health of our planet. 

While you're at it, you can even believe that Alabama is reeling from a non-existent hurricane, that global warming isn’t real, that Ted Cruz’s father killed JFK, and that Obama was born in Kenya.

And this is the guy who is telling you that it is the The New York Times that peddles "fake news."

You will believe anything he tells you to.

Here's something for you to chew on. 

What if it happens that second whistle-blower – the one who is a “first hand witness”  -- asserts that  Trump clearly articulated his “arms-for-political-dirt” quid pro quo to Zelensky?

What then?

Trump has been screaming “no quid pro quo!” for two weeks as if that is the only measure by which he should be judged, exonerated, and not impeached.  

But if it is proven that there was a quid pro quo, would you then agree that he should be impeached? 

Would you abandon him then?

Is there any line that you will draw? Any line at all?

Or would you just dive deeper into the pool of hallucinogens you swim in to keep Donald Trump as your President?

Me? I think it is time has come for Republicans to be confronted with the fact that if they still support Donald Trump, they are self-identifying as stupid, ignorant, and/or na├»ve.  And that they must pick a minimum of two. 

But, hey, don’t pay attention to me.

It’s Donald Trump who thinks you will believe his every crazy assertion, his every lame excuse, his every unsubstantiated claim, and his every insulting and degrading lie. 

And if you do believe Donald Trump, then Trump is right. 

You are every bit as stupid as he needs you to be. 

There they are, President Lincoln, your Republican Party. 

Some of the people, all of the time. 

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Thursday, October 3, 2019

BTRTN September 2019 Month in Review: Ukraine Gamechanger

Tom with the BTRTN September 2019 Month in Review.


Image result for september 2019 calendar·        A government whistleblower made a complaint against President Trump, alleging that Trump pressured the President of Ukraine to re-open a baseless investigation against Joe Biden and Hunter Biden.  The White House released a summary (not a transcript) of the call, which revealed that Trump did indeed ask for such a favor, while at the same time linking the favor     with providing continued U.S. aid to the Ukrainians.  He had put a hold on nearly $400 million of such aid prior to the call.  In the ensuing days, it was revealed that the White House had taken great  pains to “lock down” the conversation to prevent it from coming to light, using unusual storage practices, suggesting that a cover up was underway at the time of the whistleblower complaint.

·        In the wake of the allegations House Speaker Nancy Pelosi formally announced a formal impeachment inquiry was to begin.  This ended months of cautious maneuvering by Pelosi as the Democratic caucus debated the merits of impeachment, balancing a moral obligation to defend the Constitution with a political imperative to defeat Trump in 2020.  Given that more Americans opposed than favored impeachment Trump, Pelosi’s calculus to date was that a failure to remove Trump from office would backfire and potentially propel him to reelection.  But the Ukraine revelations – which had the phone call as their centerpiece – promptly opened the floodgates within the caucus supporting impeachment and forced her hand.

·        Neither Trump nor Biden saw their fortunes change in the immediate aftermath of the revelations.  Trump’s approval rating was steadfast in the low-to-mid 40% range, and Biden continued to lead the national polls among Democrats.  But American opinion on impeachment did indeed shift as the revelations mounted, with polls indicating support for impeachment inching ahead of opposition.


The whistleblower report absolutely dominated the month, upending, in one fell swoop, Trump’s desire to move past the Mueller report; the Democrats’ desire to further the Russia investigation and other assorted allegations through ongoing investigations; Pelosi’s desire to avoid impeachment proceedings; the 2020 candidates’ collective desires to focus attention on their campaigns and the future; and candidate Biden in particular, who found himself at the epicenter of the controversy.

The main offences revealed in the “summary” of the call (which was eventually released by the White House on the misguided judgment that the call was exculpatory), the whistleblower report itself, and the aftermath are seismic:

·        Just one day after Robert Mueller testified (sort of) on Capitol Hill on the final report of his investigation, which said the Trump team’s many discussions with Russian officials in 2016 did not add up to a “conspiracy” (the legal term for “collusion”) to influence the 2016 presidential election, Trump essentially offered to collude with Ukraine to do the same in 2020. 

·        Trump not only requested the “favor” of Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to re-open an investigation into Hunter Biden’s board work in Ukraine and Joe Biden’s alleged efforts to quash an investigation of that company (no wrongdoing was ever found), as well as an ask to look into the “Crowdstrike” issue (a reference to the quest for Hillary Clinton’s missing server that has been rumored by conspiracy theorists to be in Ukrainian hands).  He also hinged future American aid to Ukraine (nearly $400 million of congressionally-authorized funds that Trump put on hold before the call) on that favor, thereby mixing self-interested politics with foreign policy, as naked an abuse of power as one could imagine.

·        The whistleblower further alleged that White House officials sought to “lock down” the evidence of the call, bypassing typical practices for dissemination and electronic storage of the call “summary,” instead opting for far more secure treatment typically reserved for calls that deeply influence national security, which this, plainly, was not.  This is commonly known as a “cover up.”

·        Ultimately it was revealed that this same practice was used for other sensitive phone calls with Vladimir Putin and Saudi Prince Mohammad Bin Salman.

·        And, it was revealed that Trump had also pressured the Australian government to open an investigation into the origins of the Mueller investigation, which involved an Australian diplomat and Trump campaign operative George Papadopoulos.

Among those who have been involved in varying degrees are Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani (who met with Ukrainian officials to stir the Biden investigation pot), Attorney General William Barr (Trump offered as a contact to the Ukraine for the investigations), Mike Pompeo (who was on the call, though he failed to reveal that initially, and has to respond to Giuliani charges that he was acting under State Department authority) and Mike Pence (the uber-loyal lackey).

Doubtless more will emerge in the coming months.  But in the days following the whistleblower revelations the ranks of Democrats joining the impeachment bandwagon began to swell.  Particularly notable was an op-ed by seven freshman Democrats, all with national security experience, all in “vulnerable” districts (the kind most likely to oppose impeachment) who signed on to an impeachment inquiry and stated that the allegations, if true, were impeachable offences.  Pelosi concluded she had no choice but to formally open the inquiry.

Pelosi and her leadership team made some very specific choices with respect to the impeachment process.  There would be no vote to formalize the inquiry, to protect vulnerable members from such a record.  The six committees currently investigating Trump would continue; there would be no consolidated effort.  The impeachment inquiry would focus just on the Ukraine-related charges, not the Mueller/Russia-related ones.  And the entire inquiry would be completed, including a full House vote on the articles of impeachment, by Thanksgiving, if possible, to avoid bleeding too much in 2020 and distracting from the 2020 election campaigns.

Trump’s response to all this has been unsurprising.  Trump’s team, including Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, has come under attack for unpreparedness and not having a “War Room” set up to organize the defense.  But the fact is, there is a War Room, and it is the Oval Office.  Trump’s Twitterfeed is the primary weapon of choice, with Lindsay Graham’s mouth, unchecked by his soul, the secondary weapon.  Trump, predictably, has followed the Mueller defense pattern, blasting the whistleblower and Adam Schiff (both “should be arrested for treason”), those who gave the whistleblower information (“spies”) as well as the media (“scum” and “animals”).  He also endorsed (via re-tweeting) the notion of a “Civil War” occurring if he was removed from office.

The post-Mueller playbook also appears to be in use for the White House response.  Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has already said he will not allow his diplomats to testify, and thus the stonewalling begins.  But the Dems now have a strategy in response.  Instead of filing lawsuits that could take years to resolve (that is, after the 2020 election), they are simply saying that, with every stonewall, the Trump team is building the case for an “obstruction of Congress” article of impeachment (one of Nixon’s articles was for just such a charge).

The GOP is not exactly falling in line with Trump.  Some of the usual suspects have expressed dismay with the Ukraine revelations, including Senators Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse, and a few Republican governors have stepped up as well.  And, more surprisingly, Senator Chuck Grassley surprisingly broke with Trump by defending the whistleblower.  But no GOP representative has come out to support the impeachment inquiry.

But what is most striking is the silence.  Apart from Graham and Representative Jim Jordan, few Republicans have picked up the talking points from the Trump team and taken that message to the airwaves.  Essentially, it is only Trump, Rudy Giuliani (himself mired armpit-deep in the scandal), Graham, a few others and the conservative media who are playing defense.  And no one has heard a peep from Attorney General William Barr, who was mentioned multiple times as a potential contact for Ukraine on the call, and has thus far failed to recuse himself from the case.

The polls tell a story of America in flux.  Most polls had previously shown support for impeachment in the 40% range, and opposition over 50%, but now there has been upward movement on the pro-impeachment side.  A CNN poll has 47% now favoring impeachment, up from 41% in May; opposition to impeachment dropped from 54% to 45%.  Morning Consult has similar numbers, 46% to 43%.

By the way, if you ever doubted the wisdom of Alexander Hamilton, he stated in 1788 that he believed that impeachment will "agitate the passions of the whole community, and … divide it into parties more or less friendly or inimical to the accused. In many cases, it will connect itself with preexisting factions and will enlist all their animosities, partialities, influence, and interest on one side or the other."

There were other notable events in the month, but they were clearly subordinated to Ukraine Gate.  The Trump Administration announced that it was limiting refugees allowed into the United States at 18,000, a far cry from President Obama’s last limit of 110,000.  Trump also got a boost from the Supreme Court in a ruling upholding a Trump policy requiring migrants to be denied asylum by another country before applying to the U.S. for the same. 

The quest for Congress to enact some form of gun control legislation with Trump’s signature was already in peril (given Trump’s strong signaling that he would not support anything, including background checks), but UkraineGate put the final nail in the coffin, and gave the GOP a talking point for avoiding action (“the Dems got in the way with this impeachment thing”).  Trump fired National Security Advisor John Bolton, and the two could not even agree on the sequence of events that led to his departure (Bolton claims he resigned first). 

An important Saudi oil refinery was attacked, presumably by Iran, offering more evidence that the Trump pull-out from the Iran nuclear deal was a campaign promise enacted without a strategy.  The Iranians have responded to the pull-out and reinstatement of sanctions not by crawling back to the negotiating table (as Trump assumed) but by a series of aggressive actions and a defiant tone. 

And the normal madness from the stable genius continued.  He actually invited the Taliban to Camp David to negotiate an Afghanistan peace agreement, only to have to cancel it when the Taliban acted, well, like terrorists, in a suicide bombing that killed an America soldier. We can only assume the Taliban would have had a nice suite at the Trump International while they stayed.

Most insane of all was the Hurricane Dorian contretemps, in which Trump incorrectly placed Alabama in the path of the monster storm, and instead of simply admitting his error and moving on, spent the better part of the week claiming it was true.  This included putting huuuuge pressure on the National Weather Service to support his erroneous claim.  And, most laughably, prominent in the defense was a map he used that clearly benefited from a sharpie-doctored line extending a storm path into Alabama.  Somewhere Rose Mary Woods is smiling, knowing there was another entry in cover-up photo ops that rivaled her contorted gymnastics in explaining how she erased 18 minutes of Nixon tapes.

And so it goes…


Trump’s approval rating rose by a negligible one percentage point in the month of August, from 43% to 44%.  His approval rating has now fallen within the 40-45% range for the 21th consecutive month.  But Trump's rating, while operating in a narrow band, has inched upward over the course of 2019.





The Trumpometer declined in the month of September, from +12 to +10.  The +10 Trumpometer reading means that, on average, our five economic measures are +10% higher than they were at the time of Trump’s Inauguration, per the chart below (and with more explanation of methodology below). 

The key drivers of the dip were a decline in consumer confidence (from 135 to 125) and a rise in gas prices (from $2.66 to $2.74).  The Dow saw healthy growth in the month and is now 36% higher than it was when Trump took office.  There was no change in the unemployment rating and also no change in the third estimate for Q2 GDP. 

The “Trumpometer” was designed to allow an objective answer to the economically-driven question of the 1980 Reagan campaign:  “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”  The Trumpometer now stands at +10, which means that Donald Trump can definitively claim that the answer to that question is “yes.”  (Whether he deserves credit for that score is another matter.)

Trump did fall below the 50% approval mark in his handling of the economy for the first time in a long time, according to the average of 11 polls taken of this measure in September.  He fell from 50% in August to 49% in September.  This is the first time he has dropped below 50% since January.  (One could also note that his rating on foreign affairs dipped below 40%.)

End Clinton  1/20/2001
End Bush 1/20/2009
End Obama 1/20/2017 (Base = 0)
Trump 8/31/2019
Trump 9/30/2019
% Chg. Vs. Inaug. (+ = Better)
  Unemployment Rate
  Consumer Confidence
  Price of Gas
  Dow Jones

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Notes on methodology:

BTRTN calculates our monthly approval ratings using an average of the four pollsters who conduct daily or weekly approval rating polls: Gallup Rasmussen, Reuters/Ipsos and You Gov/Economist. This provides consistent and accurate trending information and does not muddy the waters by including infrequent pollsters.  The outcome tends to mirror the RCP average but, we believe, our method gives more precise trending.

For the generic ballot (which is not polled in this post-election time period), we take an average of the only two pollsters who conduct weekly generic ballot polls, Reuters/Ipsos and You Gov/Economist, again for trending consistency.

The Trumpometer aggregates a set of economic indicators and compares the resulting index to that same set of aggregated indicators at the time of the Trump Inaugural on January 20, 2017, on an average percentage change basis... The basic idea is to demonstrate whether the country is better off economically now versus when Trump took office.  The indicators are the unemployment rate, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average, the Consumer Confidence Index, the price of gasoline, and the GDP.