It’s weekly news roundup time, at the end of what was certainly the most surreal week of the very surreal Trump presidency. The week was, of course, dominated by the aftermath of the heinous events in Charlottesville, VA, where white supremacist groups invaded the small college town last weekend. Their violent protests resulted in the death of 32 year old counter-protester Heather Heyer.
Trump’s bizarre, inadequate and ultimately just grotesque response to the weekend’s emotional events has led to him – at week’s end – being the most isolated he’s been since taking office. Business executives – whom Trump likes to consider his peers – loudly rebuked him, military leaders publicly broke with his “many sides” positioning, charities canceled events his Mar-a-Lago club, and even congressional Republicans have almost entirely left him to fend for himself, with several of them affirmatively speaking out against his handling of the events. However, he still manages to have strong support from his base of voters out in the country on this issue, and that will keep fueling his belief that he’s right and everyone who disagrees with him is wrong. And that will likely lead us towards lots more trouble. But for now, there was other news this week. So what else happened this week that you might have missed?
1. This first story is actually from the end of last week, but it’s newly relevant in light of Trump’s news conference this past Tuesday, in which his true feelings on the events in Charlottesville were underscored. Last Thursday, Foreign Policy got its hands on a memo by that was written by a staffer on Trump’s National Security Council named Rich Higgins (Higgins was fired by H.R. McMaster after he learned of the memo). The memo eventually made its way to Trump, and Trump loved the memo so much (he reportedly “gushed over it”) that he was furious when he found out the author had been fired.
The thrust of the memo is that Trump is the target of a huge conspiracy led by “cultural Marxists” in concert with Islamists, the media, the deep state, academia, “global corporatists,” and the leaders of both political parties. This theory has a lot of traction among pro-Trump circles (Mike Cernovich is an extremely influential alt-right social media presence, one of Trump’s top boosters, and he appears to have some connections inside the White House as he’s broken genuine news stories that emanated from the Trump administration on more than one occasion):
And here’s the part that I think is key to understanding Trump’s Tuesday rants (remember, Trump was thrilled with the contents of this memo). Higgins’ memo claimed that the reason Republicans were going along with this vast conspiracy against Trump is because they are:
more afraid of being accused of being called a racist, sexist, homophobe or Islamophobe than of failing to enforce their oaths to ‘support and defend the Constitution.
Trump has convinced himself that he is a heroic figure, doing battle against a vast cabal that has succumbed to the forces of “political correctness.” As one of the few men tough enough to resist those forces (i.e. by continuing to be a bigoted jerk), he truly believes he is on the right & virtuous side of that battle.
2. And here’s some more crazy for you. On Tuesday, Alabama held its primary for the race to fill Jeff Session’s old Senate seat. On the Republican side, no candidate finished above 50%, so it will go to a run-off between the top two finishers. And it’s our lucky week, because both of the men who ended up in the top two are characters I’ve told you about on this blog before.
The man who finished in first place is Roy Moore, who I told you about in the 4/28 “What Did I Miss?”. He’s the former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, and he was removed from the bench, not once but twice. He’s known as the “Ten Commandments Judge,” because his first suspension from the bench came when he refused to remove a giant Ten Commandments monument from outside the courthouse. Moore is considered the front runner in the run-off election.
His opponent in the run-off will be Luther Strange, who I told you about in the 2/10 “What Did I Miss?”. Strange currently holds that Alabama Senate seat, as he was appointed by former Alabama Governor Robert Bentley to fill the empty seat after Sessions left for the AG’s office. But Strange is a bit tainted by the circumstances of that appointment, as he was at the time, Alabama’s state attorney general, who was investigating said Governor for possible prosecution or impeachment over misuse of state funds and other scandals relating to an extra-marital affair.
So it was pretty convenient for Bentley to send Strange off to D.C., and it didn’t look entirely clean for Strange to agree to be sent. Strange has the support of both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Trump.
(Gov. Bentley, by the way, eventually resigned and pled guilty to two misdemeanor charges, in exchange for which he was sentenced to a lifetime ban from Alabama politics).
This Senate seat will still almost certainly stay in GOP hands, but the outcome of Tuesday’s primary did lead Roll Call to move the race from “Solid Republican” to the slightly less certain “Likely Republican” rating. Democrats nominated the state’s former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones, whose claim to fame happens to be prosecuting Klan members.
3. Democrats got a bit of good news on the election front in Arizona. Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema announced that she’ll enter the 2018 race for the Arizona Senate seat. She’ll presumably be facing Incumbent Republican Senator Jeff Flake, but Flake has picked up a primary challenger named Kelli Ward, and she appears to have the backing of President Trump. Flake has been one of Trump’s favorite Twitter targets.
Democrats face a very tough Senate map in 2018, and even though Arizona is still a very red state, it’s the type of state where they’ll need to win to even have a shot at gaining some seats. So it’s very good news that their top recruit for this race has decided to run.
4. And political scientist Seth Masket says there are good signs for Democrats across the board in terms of candidate recruitment for 2018. Based on studies of past cycles, Masket finds that the number of candidates from each party who sign up to run actually gives us an indication about likely outcomes – the more candidates a party has the better. And this year, looking solely at candidates signing up to challenge incumbent House members (he narrowed it down to that field to keep it simpler), Democrats have a record advantage.
Masket explains why having more candidates tends to mean better results for the party:
Why do we see such a strong relationship? What a large number of challengers does create is a better recruitment environment. If there are several challengers from whom to choose in a particular race, a party can pick the strongest nominee.
Political science research suggests that the recruitment of high-quality candidates explains a good deal of election outcomes — if a party can convince a large number of skilled and experienced candidates to run for office, those candidates tend to do better and the party tends to win more seats.
5. And this next story was already disturbing when I first read about it at the beginning of the week. But after seeing the utter contempt with which Trump spoke about the counter-protesters in Charlottesville, and the anger that clearly flared when he spoke about groups that he viewed as being on “the other side” this becomes that much scarier: Trump’s DOJ has demanded information on 1.3 million visitors to a website that was used to organize inauguration day protests against him.
The Justice Department has a warrant for the information, signed off by a judge, so the request is legitimate in that sense. But the request is extremely broad – massively so when you consider that the purpose of the request is to look for information on just 200 people who were arrested in connection with the protests. Conservative leaning law professor Orin Kerr explains why this might be an issue of the law not really adequately addressing the technology involved.
The webhosting service, DreamHost, which is fighting the demand, said in a blog post on Monday:
The request from the [Justice Department] demands that DreamHost hand over 1.3 million visitor IP addresses — in addition to contact information, email content, and photos of thousands of people — in an effort to determine who simply visited the website. That information could be used to identify any individuals who used this site to exercise and express political speech protected under the Constitution’s First Amendment.
And here’s a DreamHost co-founder explaining in an interview with NPR that they’ve gotten hundreds of requests for information from the government in the past, but this one is far broader than anything they’ve ever gotten. This would seem to counter Kerr’s proposed explanation above.
6. A federal appeals court in the 8th Circuit has ruled that Arkansas can block Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood. Not that the lawsuit challenging the state’s ban on these funds had been brought by individual plaintiffs, not by Planned Parenthood, so the reasoning in this case doesn’t necessarily indicate anything about the likelihood of success in a case brought by the provider instead:
[T]hree individual patients had sued over the state’s decision, arguing that it violates a federal right to choose any “qualified” provider that offers the services they seek.
But the appeals court ruled Wednesday that that provision of Medicaid doesn’t “unambiguously create a federal right for individual patients that can be enforced.”
7. Trump has taken to paying homage to his magnificent job creation skills nearly every time he gets near a podium. He even began his Monday remarks about Charlottesville by talking about how great the economy is doing. But one of the claims he’s occasionally made when bragging about his stewardship of the economy is – surprise! – not true. Here’s Glenn Kessler’s fact check of Trump’s claim that unemployment is at a record low:
[S]ix of the past 12 presidents could brag of an unemployment rate lower than 4.3 percent. It was as low as 4.2 percent under George W. Bush, 3.9 percent under Bill Clinton, 4.2 percent under Richard Nixon, 3.4 percent under Lyndon B. Johnson, 2.5 percent under Dwight D. Eisenhower and 2.7 percent under Harry Truman.
The current rate is the lowest in 16 years — at the start of George W. Bush’s presidency — and sometimes Trump gets that right, sometimes he gets it wrong.
8. And lastly, this is a story that no one missed, but I just wanted to acknowledge the terror attack in Barcelona, Spain on Thursday in which, horrifically, 13 people were killed and up to 100 were injured.