Tuesday, September 11, 2018

BTRTN: The Op-Ed Goal? Revealing the Flaw in the 25th Amendment


Sure, the popular rage is to try to figure out who authored the famous op-ed in The New York Times. But we here at BTRTN are more interested in the larger question:  why did he or she write it, and why now?

Get this… 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue now appears to house two entirely separate groups of unelected people who have colluded to undermine the will of the American people in the 2016 election.

On the one hand, there is Donald Trump and members of his 2016 campaign, who, prior to the election, illegally conspired to pay off porn stars and may well have worked directly with the Russian government all for the purpose of influencing the election outcome.

And now we have Cheap Throat, who claims to represent a shadow government of clandestine operatives who are purportedly colluding as we speak to prevent the President of the United States from implementing orders that this unelected group deems to be unwise, uninformed, or downright unhinged.
  
We here at BTRTN don’t often quibble with The New York Times, but when the grey lady steps on our toes we are not shy. Our problem lies neither with the act of publishing the op-ed, nor the Times’ decision to allow the writer to remain anonymous. It was with the Times’ own coverage of the op-ed as news. Right there on the front right column of page one, summarizing the fall-out from the op-ed and Bob Woodward’s Fear, the Times wrote:

“The collective portrayal suggested that Mr. Trump may not be fully in charge of his own White House, surrounded by advisers who consider him so volatile and temperamental that they swipe documents from his desk in hopes of stopping him from issuing rash orders. While his rivals called such efforts heroic and patriotic, his supporters complained of a virtual coup at odds with the Constitution and the will of the people.”

Sorry, The New York Times, I can’t stand Donald Trump but don’t plop me into a bucket of people who gleefully call this “heroic and patriotic.” I am no “supporter” of Donald Trump, but count me among those who are aghast that there is a cadre of unelected people who are colluding to undermine the will of the American people as expressed in the 2016 election.  If I had been informed in 2010 that a dozen people in the White House were working hard to undermine the Presidency of Barack Obama, I would be screaming "deep state" and demanding an investigation, too.

Sure, there is a knee-jerk reaction among sane human to express relief and appreciation when seeming whistle-blowers appear to risk their careers for the noble purpose of keeping Donald Trump’s finger off his big button. But trading an obvious threat to democracy for a silent, insidious version is not the answer.

For starters, the protective bubble-wrap that these vigilantes have been wrapping around Donald Trump is preventing the voters off the United States from seeing the complete, full measure of just how ignorant, impulsive, and dangerous Donald Trump is to our republic, to global stability, and to our very survival as a species. In the name of saving our nation from Trump, these people are creating an environment which actually enhances the likelihood that Donald Trump is re-elected in 2020. This, in turn, would extend the duration of the power and unchecked authority of these insurgents as the unelected, self-appointed cabal that calls the shots in the United States of America.

Oh, irony. Donald Trump was right. There is a deep state after all. Not the liberal, left-wing, fake-news media, Washington establishment, DOJ conspiracy he imagines, but a confederacy of dunces of his own choosing. 

Of course, there is one screamingly obvious question: if these vigilantes really wanted to protect the country from Donald Trump, why did they go and it scream from the rooftops in The New York Times? Let’s stop the silly infatuation with speculating on who wrote it, and focus on the far bigger question: Why did they write it? What was the purpose of the op-ed? And why now?

We will try some forensic analysis to find the true motive. 

Start with Cheap Throat’s exceedingly curious notion that invoking the 25th Amendment would “precipitate a Constitutional crisis.” At face value, this would appear to be is pure oxy being peddled by a moron. You are not going to trigger a constitutional crisis if you adhere rigidly to what the constitution requires. 

If you are sitting in the West Wing of the White House and believe that the President of the United States is acting “in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic,” and you clearly imply that the President is not to be counted as one of the “adults in the room,” then you are saying that you believe the man is incapable of carrying out the duties and responsibilities of the Presidency. That is precisely the circumstance for which the 25th Amendment was written.

And, indeed, the author conveys that this option was considered. 

“Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis. So we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it’s over.”

“No one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis?” Huh? I don’t buy this for one second. Cheap Throat uses this justification to  rationalize the insurgents’ decision to not invoke the 25th Amendment, but their solution is to slow-jam a coup.

Here’s a different theory altogether. Perhaps Cheap Throat undertook this entire exercise to educate the population of the United States of America on the profound flaw in the Twenty-Fifth Amendment. 

First, a quick summary of how the Twenty-Fifth Amendment is supposed to work. If a simple majority of the 24 cabinet officers believe that the President is incapable of performing his or her duties as President, and the Vice-President co-signs the proclamation, then the President is temporarily removed from office. Simple as that. Thirteen cabinet officers and the Vice-President. Then, the measure is sent to Congress, where a two-thirds majority is required in each of the House and the Senate in order to make the temporary removal permanent. If these super-majorities are not achieved in both legislative bodies, the power of the presidency is returned to the elected president.

Let’s say for sake of argument that Deep Throat tip-toed around the cabinet and found that twelve of his or her colleagues were ready to sign a proclamation to invoke the 25th Amendment.

Before that document could go anywhere, they must have the agreement of the Vice President. 

And this is where the essential flaw in the 25th Amendment becomes apparent. The entire functionality of the amendment rests on the agreement of one person… a person who is inevitably intensely biased by virtue of his or her proximity to the human being who is president and to the presidency itself. 

In this particular case, we have Vice President Mike Pence, who is clearly angling to succeed Donald Trump as President of the United States. Indeed, Mike Pence may have pretty much concluded that if he shuts up and lays low, one of three things is going to happen: (1) Trump is impeached, and Pence becomes President, (2) Trump resigns, and Pence becomes President, or (3) Trump stays in office and runs in 2020… and that regardless of whether Trump wins or loses, Mike Pence has the inside track on the 2024 Republican nomination.

The only thing Mike Pence knows for certain is that if he shows any sign of rebelling against Donald Trump, he shoots himself in the foot.  If Mike Pence alienates Trump’s base, he cannot be elected President on his own. That is a certainty. 

Sure, you may say: if Mike Pence really wants to be President that bad, why not go along with the insurgency and trigger the 25th Amendment now? Simple. Given the intense loyalty of Donald Trump’s base, Pence knows he would never, ever get the two-third votes of support he would need to get in the Senate. So the Presidency would be returned to Donald Trump in 21 days, and Pence would simple be persona non grata in Donald Trump’s Republican Party… certainly dumped from the ticket in 2020.

There you have it: the 25th Amendment is written in such a way that there is only one person on earth who must go along with the resolution in order for it to pass. All you need is any combination of thirteen cabinet members and any combination of Senators and House Representatives who lead to a two-thirds majority. But you must have the agreement of the Vice-President… and this Vice-President has every incentive in the world to withhold such agreement. 

This brings us to the question of why Cheap Throat went to The New York Times.

Cheap Throat’s op-ed piece is a work of art in three parts. It is one part education, one part effort to influence the mid-terms, and one part a long-shot hand-grenade intended to take down the Vice President. 

One part education: Cheap Throat is clearly worried that his or her group of White House insurgents is not going to be able to prevent this president from doing catastrophic damage forever. At the most basic level, the writer wanted to make as clear as possible that the conditions exist for implementing the 25th Amendment. Indeed, the reference to the “early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment” is perhaps the most amazing revelation in the piece. Is the writer suggesting that there may have even been a majority of cabinet members ready to endorse such a proclamation, which was stopped dead in its tracks at the realization that Pence would never go along, and indeed, might tell Trump exactly who was leading a palace coup?

In the end, Cheap Throat wanted to aggressively air the fact that the 25th Amendment has been discussed, if only so that people figure out that it cannot be implemented in this situation. Cheap Throat is telling everyone to stop wasting their time calling for the 25th Amendment. It is not going to happen... so their needs to be another remedy. 

One part effort to influence the mid-terms: Cheap Throat's second goal is to shout out as loudly as possible that the small band of insurgents in the White House cannot contain Trump forever. They need help. They need the leaders of Congress to recognize the gravity of the crisis in our government. They need Congress to stop enabling the President and join in the effort to contain him. They undoubtedly want the Mueller investigation to continue unimpeded, as this may be the most effective tool to bring about the end of the Trump presidency. They need the Supreme Court to back up Mueller’s investigation. They need the American people to understand how near the edge of chaos the country is perched. 

The timing of the Op-ed was simple: Labor Day  is the traditional kick-off of the election season. No one pays that much attention to the elections until after Labor Day. Deep Throat wanted these urgent issues squarely in front of the voting population in the final days leading up to the mid-terms. Cheap Throat's hope: a legislatively neutered Trump will help the White House insurgents muzzle Trump. 

One part hand grenade intended to take down Mike Pence:  A great deal of attention has been paid to the unusual word in penultimate paragraph: 

“We may no longer have Senator McCain. But we will always have his example — a lodestar for restoring honor to public life and our national dialogue. Mr. Trump may fear such honorable men, but we should revere them.”

It is widely known, and has been widely reported, that “lodestar” is a word that Vice President Pence has invoked in a number of speeches. It is such an unusual word, and has been used by the Vice President on a large enough number of occasions, that it is fair to conclude that it is associated with him more than with anyone else in the administration.

Many writers and pundits have already pointed the fact that "lodestone" is associated with Pence, but they generally come to the conclusion that this means that the piece must have been written by someone on Pence's staff. We suggest an entirely different interpretation.

Cheap Throat chose to prominently use this word because he or she knew that Trump loyalists would conduct forensic analysis of the writing style and quickly identify “lodestar” as an idiom frequently employed by Pence. Moreover, the word was inserted in a paragraph lionizing John McCain, who Trump explosively detests. One hypothesis: Cheap Throat inserted this paragraph with the hope that it would cause Trump to suspect that Pence was the author. CheapThroat was intentionally trying to trigger Trump's explosive temper and cause Trump to rage at Pence.

Remember: Pence is the one and only person in the executive branch of our government that Trump cannot fire.  Thus constrained, we can imagine that an enraged Trump would start to publicly treat Pence the same way he treats Sessions. What if Trump started to smear Pence with ridicule, taunts, and abuse? If Trump began to send signals to his base that Pence was not to be trusted, then Pence’s future would be over.

And that might make Pence suddenly realize that his only chance at the White House would be through the 25th Amendment. 

It is an interesting thesis: that the entire purpose of the Op-ed was to point out the flaw in the 25th Amendment, and then create a situation in which Pence would have the perfect motivation to employ it.

Would that it were all so.

In the meantime, we have two camps in the White House, each attempting to run the government, each now pitted against the other, each equal in their illegitimacy, leaving the citizens of the United States to view it all from the outside. 

In the end, I choose to see the Op-ed as a modern day ride of Paul Revere: One if by land, two if by sea... and three if our leaders are the enemy. We are being warned that Donald Trump is an existential threat to our country. We are being instructed that the 25th Amendment is not an option. We are hearing an urgent plea from within the executive branch of government for the other branches to step up and do their jobs to provide checks and balances on the President.

And, we, as citizens, are being reminded that true court of last resort is the voting booth. The best chance we have of preserving our democracy and out Constitution from the carnage wrought by this administration is to take our government back in the exercise of our right to vote.

This November, we can make huge progress toward that goal. But we all must work as we have never done before to make that happen.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

BTRTN August 2018 Month in Review: Seven Days in Mayhem


Republican Tom Cole summarized a month of bad news, embarrassing revelations, and unforced errors with considerable understatement:“It has been a really bad August.”

THE MONTH

The historical significance of the Trump administration may well prove to the existential battle between the rule of law and a president who does not respect it. If so, August is sure to be recorded as a month in which both sides brandished their weapons as the United States of America careened toward what seems to be an inevitable showdown between unbridled executive power and the efficacy of checks and balances to contain it.

Tuesday, August 21, was a day of infamy for the Trump White House, as two critically important figures in Donald Trump’s orbit were brought to their knees by government prosecutors. Within hours in courtrooms hundreds of miles apart, a jury slammed Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort with eight guilty verdicts on a variety of financial crimes, and former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to eight crimes, most notably a campaign finance violation that fingered Donald Trump as a co-conspirator.

The double-barreled blast appeared to push a panicked President ever closer to actions calculated to cripple or end the Mueller investigation. Trump elevated his attacks on his own Attorney General to a new high, signaling that the question of firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions was now more a question of “when” than “if.” Perhaps most telling: even Sessions’ strongest allies in the Senate – notably Lindsey Graham – seemed resigned to the fact that the Attorney General’s days were numbered.

Trump tweeted the dismissal of long-standing White House Counsel Don McGahn, whose fealty to Trump was questioned when reports surfaced that McGahn had spent thirty hours providing testimony to the Mueller team. Both Sessions and McGahn have thrown their bodies in front of the Mueller investigation, refusing to allow Trump to act on his impulse to shut down the probe that threatens not only his presidency, but raises the possibility of criminal guilt and jail time for Trump and members of his family. Both Sessions and McGahn represented sturdy firewalls protecting Mueller, and Trump will be sure to seek replacements who will bend to his will.

In sum: Just as the Department of Justice showed its power in securing criminal verdicts against two of Trump’s closest associates, Trump asserted his power by reminding all that both the Department of Justice and White House Counsel report to him. Indeed, in one of the most sinister and worrisome proclamations in a shocking month, Donald Trump actually told an interviewer that he could “take over the (Mueller) investigation” if he wanted to.

As we turn past Labor Day and headlong into the mid-term elections, it appears increasingly possible that Donald Trump will try to shut down the Mueller investigation. The timing of such an audacious move is a major issue. It remains unlikely that he would try to act on this before the mid-terms, as that would risk further damaging his party’s prospects in the election. Yet he has to be conscious of the fact that the longer he waits, the more time he is giving Mueller to develop evidence, explore plea deals, secure indictments, and put together his final report.

Yet there was still more. Within the narrow time frame of major headlines surrounding Manafort, Cohen, Sessions, and McGahn came the sad news that Senator John McCain had elected to end treatment for brain cancer. Over the final days in August, the President of the United States took the occasion of the widely-revered Senator's passing to fully demonstrate that he is a small and bitter man indeed. As glowing tributes to the genuine military hero and former Republican Presidential candidate cascaded across the airwaves, Trump grumpily folded his arms for 48 hours and refused to say a word about McCain until shamed into doing so. 

In short, the month of August culminated with Seven Days in Mayhem

Perhaps the silver lining in all of the above for Donald Trump was it distracted the news media from the bombshell that landed earlier in August. Yes, it was just earlier this very month Omarosa Manigault Newman’s White House tell-all, “Unhinged” hit the bookstands. Omarosa was besting Trump at his own game with a steady, sequenced drip-drip-drip of actual White House tapes. These tapes exposed the Trump White House as stinking from the top down, demonstrating the Trumpian style, exposing John Kelly and Lara Trump in their clumsy attempts to muzzle the reality television star by employing two favored Trump tools: threats and money. Omarosa contended that in her stint at the White House she observed degradation in the President’s mental faculties since she had worked with him on The Apprentice. The biggest bombshell: Omarosa conveyed certainty that an audio tape exists in which Donald Trump can be heard using the “n” word while on the set of The Apprentice. 

Trump’s inevitable counter-attack managed to pack the full fury of his racism and misogyny into byte-sized tweets. Omarosa was “vicious and not smart,” a “low-life,” and “a dog.” Aside from assuring his base that his gender bias and racial bigotry were hitting on all pistons, this astounding language seemed only to assure Omarosa another complete cycle of first-block cable news interviews, which she used to great effect.

While we are on the topics of “cable news” and “unhinged,” no summary of this crazy month is complete without a shout-out to Rudy Giuliani, who may have inadvertently revealed Trump’s new campaign slogan for 2020 when he announced on Meet the Press that “truth isn’t true.” We’ve been waiting for Rudy to announce that he forgot to insert the word “not,” thereby creating a double-negative, which, uh, would make his statement not a lie.

No, we’re still not done with August yet. Reach way back, folks – before you headed to the beach, back when the Red Sox were ten games up, back before you were stunned to learn about the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania – to August 5. That’s the day that Donald Trump tweeted that his “wonderful son” had a meeting in Trump Tower “to get information on an opponent,” thereby becoming the first president in history to effectively turn state’s evidence that his son was guilty of violating Federal campaign law. This very public admission that prior White House explanations of the Trump Tower meeting were outright deceits did not seem calculated to help either Trump Junior or Senior. 

On August 23, 2018, The New York Times reported that Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma was urging fellow Republicans who faced close elections to separate themselves from the White House. “So my advice to any candidate would be: keep your powder dry and don’t rush to attack or defend anybody because you just don’t know enough to have a reaction that you can still defend three months from now.” 

However, the true measure of Cole’s break from the White House alternative fact factory was his candid assessment of the current month, a summary that we here at BTRTN could not have phrase any more succinctly. The Republican acknowledged: “It has been a really bad August.”

TRUMP APPROVAL RATING

In a month with very little good news and a great deal of bad news, Trump's approval rating nevertheless remained stable.

TRUMP MONTHLY APPROVAL RATING

2017
2018

Jan
Jul
Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Approve
48
40
42
43
42
42
45
43
43
43
Disapprove
46
56
55
54
54
54
52
53
53
53
Net
2
-16
-13
-11
-13
-12
-7
-9
-10
-10

GENERIC BALLOT

The generic ballot for the month showed Democrats with a solid +5 point edge, and for the latter half of the month that figure climbed up to +7. According to our BTRTN proprietary model, that would translate to a +40 seat pickup for the Dems if the election were held today, more than enough to take control of the House. We now calculate the odds of a Democratic House takeover at 82%.

GENERIC BALLOT:  MONTHLY FOR LAST 12 MONTHS

2017
2018
S
O
N
D
J
F
M
A
M
J
J
A
D
40
39
40
41
40
40
41
43
41
43
44
44
G
34
32
32
32
34
34
34
36
37
36
37
39
Dif
6
7
8
8
6
6
7
7
4
7
7
5

TRUMPOMETER

The “Trumpometer” was up marginally in August, with a slight drop in the unemployment rate and gas prices and a modest rise in the stock market and consumer confidence.  The +29 Trumpometer reading means that, on average, our five economic measures are +29% higher than they were at the time of Trump’s Inauguration.

TRUMPOMETER
End Clinton  1/20/2001
End Bush 1/20/2009
End Obama 1/20/2017 (Base = 0)
Trump 7/31/2018
Trump 8/31/2018
% Chg. Vs. Inaug. (+ = Better)

25
-53
0
26
29
29%
  Unemployment Rate
4.2
7.8
4.7
4.0
3.9
17%
  Consumer Confidence
129
38
114
127
133
17%
  Price of Gas
1.27
1.84
2.44
2.92
2.82
-16%
  Dow Jones
10,588
8,281
19,732
25,463
25,965
32%
  GDP
4.5
-6.2
2.1
4.1
4.1
95%


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, 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.