July 27, 2018: Rebutting Cohen | Bailout Blues | Shaky Midterms
Good Friday to you. Since Trump’s visit to Helsinki, concern has grown over the security of our voting process from hacking. We will get into some of the politicized arguments about whom such hacking would favor but before we do we want to note that there is one sure way to not have your vote count: That is not to cast it. Twenty-three of the groups that support Democratic candidates in the midterms have joined forces to support something they call “The Last Weekend,” which looks to organize one million volunteer hours around getting out the vote the weekend before the election. We’ve signed up for phone banking and canvassing and we encourage you to do the same. It feels better than doing nothing.
Also, we are planning to take August off and return again in the first week of September. See you after Labor Day. As always, if you have comments or questions, please write us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1.Cohen’s Trump Tower Claims: “Icky” But Not a Crime.
First things first. Last night, news broke that the president's former lawyer Michael Cohen said Trump knew ahead of time about Donald Trump Jr.’s 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians, in which the Russians were expected to offer his campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton. While Cohen does not have evidence, like audio recordings, to corroborate his claim, he said he is willing to attest to his account, according to the scoop by CNN.
On FOX News, Laura Ingraham focused on how Cohen had nothing recorded. Meanwhile, in the same segment, Andrew McCarthy of National Reviewdownplayed the news: “I don’t think that it is bad if campaigns are turning to foreign governments for dirt. It’s not collusion. It’s not something that’s impeachable. It’s icky. But that’s what this is.” Kim Strassel of The Wall Street Journal agreed: “It kind of looks icky, but it’s not a crime.”
And on CNN’s Cuomo Prime Time, a current Trump attorney, Rudy Giuliani, attacked Cohen’s credibility, calling him a “pathological liar.” Said Giuliani: “He’s been lying all week, he’s been lying for years.” Trump this morning denied the allegations on Twitter: "(No,) I did NOT know of the meeting with my son, Don jr. Sounds to me like someone is trying to make up stories in order to get himself out of an unrelated jam (Taxi cabs maybe?)."
What We’re Watching:
This morning, Fox and Friends made no mention of Cohen’s claims in its signature opening segment, instead playing up Trump's virtues as a job creator in anticipation of strong GDP numbers today. It is worth noting that after the segment, the numbers were released. In the last quarter, job growth increased 4.1%, the fastest since 2014. The Right is already touting this as a big win for Trump.
Tweeted Charlie Kirk @CharlieKirk, founder of Right Wing organization, Turning Point USA:
The same people who said Trump will be responsible for wrecking the economy are now saying Trump is not at all responsible for the booming GDP numbers and growth,
2. Russia's Hacking for the Democrats
In the 10 days or so since Trump’s widely criticized performance in Helsinki, his loyalists in the conservative media have had to work hard to find a convincing explanation for the debacle. The general arc of spin has gone all the way from casting suspicion on whether the hacking took place to acknowledging there was hacking but insisting it was no big deal because everyone does it (Fox’s Tucker Carlson was a jewel of dissembling on this one), to the latest: There is hacking and it is bad and it will favor the Democrats.
The president himself tweeted on Tuesday: “I’m very concerned that Russia will be fighting very hard to have an impact on the upcoming Election. Based on the fact that no President has been tougher on Russia than me, they will be pushing very hard for the Democrats. They definitely don’t want Trump!”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in his congressional testimony earlier this week, reinforced that spin. Despite what the president said in Helsinki, Pompeo argued, Trump is really hard on Russia, so they couldn’t possibly favor him. This argument, an oldie but a goodie, relies particularly heavily on the Trump administration's decision to sell military arms to Ukraine, something Obama would not approve.
Meanwhile, The Daily Caller was giving a lot of ink to Senator Rand Paul’s unsubstantiated theories that Russia helped Hillary Clinton by passing along information to the British spy Christopher Steele of the Steele Dossier:
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) says the only person whom he and others “actually know colluded with the Russians” is former Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Rand was on Fox News Wednesday morning clarifying his stance on Russia’s election meddling and the intelligence community.
"The president sees the Mueller investigation. He sees all these accusations from partisan Democrats, Hillary Clinton, saying ‘Oh, he colluded with the Russians,” Rand said. “The only people who we actually know colluded with the Russians were Hillary Clinton who paid a British agent who paid Russians for information for the dossier.”
Rand was referring to the infamous unverified Steele dossier compiled by Fusion GPS and paid for by the Clinton campaign.
But it was Rush Limbaugh who topped them all by arguing that the Democrats and the media, by accusing the president of getting help from the Russians, were the treasonous ones -- not the president for possibly getting the help itself.:
The Russians, Vladimir Putin, I’ll tell you this right now. When Vladimir Putin goes back to the Kremlin and opens his 14th bottle of vodka of the day and starts consuming it with some of his generals and people, you know what they do? They start slapping each other on the back, and they tell each other, “No matter what we plan, no matter what we did, we can’t compare to what the Democrat Party is doing in destroying the integrity of American democracy.”
If you look at elections as the foundation or part of the foundation of American democracy, who is it that’s calling that and the legitimacy of that into question? It’s not the Russians; it’s not Putin; it’s the Democrat Party and the American media! The damage they are doing — you want to talk treason? You want to talk traitorous? Let me give you another example. Sarah, thank you ever so much for calling.
This is how propaganda starts like wildfire. Searches for the word “treason” on the internet have increased by 2,900 percent since Trump was accused of it. By Tuesday afternoon, the word “traitor” had been used on Twitter 800,000 times. The word “treason,” 1.2 million times. All this documented by dictionary.com, which put out the stats. Accuse Trump of it, this is what gets searched, this is what gets used, what gets commented on. It’s the American left doing the damage to the integrity of our electoral process.
What We’re Watching: Russia Hacking Is a Good Thing.
McKay Coppins, a writer for The Atlantic, tweeted out this question: “If Trump & co. just pivoted to ‘Aren’t you glad Russia helped us defeat Hillary Clinton?’ would there be any serious blowback from his base?” In a recent article, he says the answer he received from members of the far Right press, including a writer with The Gateway Pundit, was no, not at all. Several said they would actually thank Russia for helping to defeat Hillary Clinton.
3. Midterm Warning Signs
Just weeks ago Trump was feeling so buoyant about his Supreme Court appointment and the strength of the economy that he was tweeting about surfing a “big red wave” in November. Things are looking a lot more iffy now. For starters, it looks like Trump’s performance in Russia did hurt him after all. Yes, like everyone else we read the polls saying that Trump’s approval rating is higher than ever among his base after Helsinki, but there is reason to believe those numbers were soft. Writing in Townhall, Jonah Goldberg of National Review, for one, argued the polls were misleading.:
Polls often gauge partisan commitment more than concrete opinions on a specific controversy or issue. When Republicans are asked about the president's Helsinki performance, I suspect many hear, "Do you still support Trump?" or, "Do you think the media is blowing this out of proportion?" And I suspect they calibrate their responses accordingly: "Go suck eggs, enemy of the people!"
There are other signs that the populace is not happy with Trump’s performance in the past week. One of the most cautious Congressional race watchers, after being on the fence about the Blue Wave, has started to move races in the Democrats’ direction. Larry Sabato, who runs the Crystal Ball team at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, predicted this week that 17 more races that had been toss ups would all break for the Democrats. The Cook Political Report, which has been more bullish, similarly moved 11 races into the Democratic column this week, thanks to Trump's alienation of suburban professionals. Then Sean Trende, an election analyst for the right-leaning RealClear Politics, tweeted that even the Senate is now up for grabs.
Even the G.O.P. political power broker Karl Rove is worried. He warned in The Wall Street Journal that keeping the Republican base just isn’t enough.:
When Mr. Sabato’s report came out, Republicans were still basking in the results of the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Monday that showed 88% of Republicans “approve of the job Donald Trump is doing as president.” This is the highest approval rating within his party that Mr. Trump has enjoyed since his inauguration. Only President George W. Bush after Sept. 11, 2001, reached a higher level of support among Republicans. In total, 45% of all voters approved of Mr. Trump’s performance; 52% disapproved.
These solid numbers overshadowed the poll’s bad news: Mr. Trump’s job approval among independents fell to 40%. Fifty-eight percent of independents disapprove, with 46% strongly disapproving. The 29% who strongly approve of Mr. Trump’s performance are dwarfed by the 44% who strongly disapprove.
The midterm elections cannot be won with a base-only strategy. Republicans represent less than a third of the electorate. Their support for the president is already as strong as it could ever be, and their enthusiasm will only increase as Senate battles over Mr. Trump’s Supreme Court nominee ramp up and Election Day approaches……..
[Yet] the president and his political team must turn their attention to independents, especially swing voters in suburban and rural districts who applaud his policies more than his behavior. If Mr. Trump’s approval rating among those voters doesn’t increase, Nancy Pelosi is likely to be the next House speaker.
4. Trump Tapes: He’s Only Human.
On Tuesday, CNN published tapes of Trump talking to Michael Cohen about paying off the Playboy bunny Karen McDougal to silence her claims that they had an affair. While the tapes are inconclusive as to whether Trump violated campaign law, they do prove he conspired to pay her off.
The Red media downplayed the tape. The Trump booster-in chief Rush Limbaugh waxed philosophical about Trump living life to the fullest.:
There’s not a right, there’s not a wrong — other than if you want to, you know, draw the moral boundaries and start making judgments of when people pass them. Trump has clearly crossed moral boundaries over the course of his life, as have we all. But most of us do not live public lives. Donald Trump not only lives a public life, he wants to live a public life. He’s living the life that he has chosen, and he’s trying to make the most of it each and every day.
Meanwhile, The Daily Wire assessed the tape more clinically and concluded it had little chance of hurting Trump legally or politically.:
Trump isn’t wrong, however, that we’ll need to hear more of the tape, plus testimony under oath, to know whether the law was broken. Suffice it to say that all of this information was already assumed by most American voters, so the fallout will be minimal aside from the possibility of actual criminal prosecution.
Stormy Daniels, the porn star who says she had an affair with Trump, is getting divorced. Her former husband accused her of cheating on him -- a charge she denies. Her attorney asked the media to respect her privacy. HotAirscoffed:
So, Stormy Daniels, the woman who sued President Trump in March over a nondisclosure agreement which prevented her from discussing the president cheating on his wife (with her) now wants privacy? And Avenatti, the attorney who has been on CNN as much as some of its own hosts, suddenly wants the media not to be too intrusive into private matters?
5. Fury Over Farm 'Welfare'
Mainstream conservatives have been willing to compromise many core values to follow the populist-ish president, but tariffs have been particularly hard to swallow for a party of free-traders. Trump compounded the distaste for traditional Republicans for the current trade war by offering a $12 billion aid package to farmers, who are being particularly hard hit by retaliatory tariffs from China.
To the editors of The Wall Street Journal, who have warmed up to Trump over time, this bit of market meddling was too far:
Hours after President Trump tweeted on Tuesday morning that “tariffs are the greatest!,” his Administration announced a $12 billion aid package for American farmers to offset the harm from the Trump trade wars.
If you’re confused, join the White House. The Trump Administration is trying to fix an economic problem of its own making by putting the victims on the federal dole. Perhaps this is what White House trade adviser Peter Navarro meant when he said the trade harm was merely a “rounding error.”....
American farmers won’t prosper on welfare. They need access to customers abroad. Mr. Trump may think that his farm tariff bailout will get Republicans past the November election, but sooner or later bad economic policy becomes bad politics.
Over at HotAir, AllahPundit was equally incensed:
Any left-leaning president can pick economic winners and losers. Next-level MAGA is making the winners and losers the same people, bailing out farmers from the pain of a trade war instigated by the administration itself.
I repeat my point from a few days ago: If we’re going to do taxpayer-funded welfare for American industries, it would be more efficient to cancel the trade war *and* the Trump tax cuts. Raise taxes, then give Trump the extra revenue and let him hand it out like fat envelopes on Christmas to his favorite industries. He can call it “Trump Bucks,” whatever he likes. The current way is too complicated. Rather than suffering chaos at the store as tariffs and counter-tariffs raise the price of goods, and rather than having U.S. industries tank as they lose foreign business and then get propped up with emergency federal subsidies, we could simplify things by each of us handing a check to the IRS instead. If we’re going to be squeezed in the name of “economic patriotism,” at least streamline the process.
6. Fake News Watch
Finally, in case you missed it last week, Buzzfeed News followed-up its 2016 report, published before Election Day, that centered on a town in Macedonia where young men and teens were operating more than a hundred websites that were pumping out false, viral stories in support of Donald Trump. The teens were making large sums of money from digital ads shown next to their misleading stories about U.S. politics. According to last week’s article, which was based on a rigorous investigation by Buzzfeed News, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, and the Investigative Reporting Lab Macedonia, the political news industry in the town -- Veles -- wasn’t started spontaneously by teens just looking to cash in and take advantage of the digital media landscape. Reads the report:
Rather, it was launched by a well-known Macedonian media attorney, Trajche Arsov — who worked closely with two high-profileAmerican partners for at least six months during a period that overlapped with Election Day.
One of those Americans, Paris Wade, is now running for office in Nevada. Arsov also employed other American and British writers, including at least one who currently works for US right-wing conspiracy site the Gateway Pundit.
The investigation also reveals that at least one member of Russia’s “troll factory,” who has been indicted by US special counsel Robert Mueller for alleged interference in the election, was in Macedonia just three months before the web domain for the country’s first US-focused politics site was registered.
Reporters did not find any evidence connecting the Russian, Anna Bogacheva, to the Veles sites. Arsov denies any links to Russia.
But now Macedonian security agencies are cooperating with law enforcement in the United States and at least two Western European countries to probe possible links between Russians, US citizens, and the pro-Trump “fake news” websites, two senior Macedonian officials said.
What We’re Watching:
Looks like we’re already poised for a 2016 redux. While the heat may be on Facebook and Twitter to clean up its act and take responsibility for amplifying misleading political content, just yesterday we noticed National Review had updated its feed with a subtle new native “Sponsored Content” feature. Yesterday’s featured sponsored content item (screenshot below) drives to a landing page on the website Health Sciences Institute, which claims to be “dedicated to uncovering and researching the most urgent advances in modern underground medicine.” The landing page features an inflammatory and negative video disparaging Hillary Clinton.