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Trump’s birther attacks against Cruz have been crazy effective.

When Donald Trump announced that he would no-show tonight’s Fox News debate, Ted Cruz’s first reaction was to bait him. Cruz challenged Trump to face off Lincoln-Douglas-style, “mano-a-mano,” and offered to donate over $1 million to charities if Trump accepted.

Trump’s campaign responded with a flawless victory counter-troll, agreeing to a debate if and only if Cruz convinced a judge to certify his eligibility as a Canadian-born American to run for president.

This is all extremely hilarious, but taking stock of where we are, four days before the Iowa caucuses, it’s worth considering whether Trump is doing this for sport, or because it’s actually an effective line of attack. The evidence is striking.

On January 6, 2016, the conservative Independent Journal Review published an article titled “Trump Launches New ‘Birther’ Attack on Ted Cruz.”

Here’s a screencap of the RCP Iowa poll average with January 6 marked off for your convenience.

April 24, 2017

Saul Loeb/Getty

The White House Hunger Games aren’t over yet.

While meeting with representatives of the United Nations Security Council on Monday, Donald Trump took a break from hammering the U.N.—“I also want to say to you that I have long felt that the United Nations is an underperformer, but has tremendous potential”—to joke that the United States’s ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, could be fired at any moment.

“I want to thank Ambassador Nikki Haley for her outstanding leadership and for acting as my personal envoy on the Security Council. She is doing a good job. Now, does everybody like Nikki?” Trump joked. “Otherwise she could be easily replaced, right? No, we won’t do that. I promise you we won’t do that. She’s doing a fantastic job.”

The Trump administration has gotten a lot quieter of late, with fewer embarrassing leaks and anonymous backbiting in the press. That may be because what little attention White House officials have is focused on ensuring that they clown themselves while negotiating (with themselves, more or less) to increase the debt ceiling. Or it may be because Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon are finally playing nice after repeatedly stabbing one another in the back.

But jokes like this show that the Trump White House is never going to change its stripes because Trump’s entire management style is based around creating infighting and instability. Even when things are going well—Haley is one of the few members of the administration who hasn’t completely embarrassed themselves—Trump has to elbow his way in to remind people (even as a joke!) that he’s in charge and that, as a result, everything could change in an instant. Don’t let a couple of relatively quiet weeks fool you.

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Donald Trump is using taxpayer dollars to enrich himself while asking Congress to fund his government.

Multiple State Department websites were found promoting President Trump’s private club at Mar-a-Lago Monday, and not in particularly subtle ways.

As ethics lawyer and Trump watchdog Norm Eisen notes, this appears to violate the same federal conflict-of-interest rules Kellyanne Conway broke when she promoted Ivanka Trump’s fashion line from the White House briefing room, though this is far more intentional.

This kind of thing is becoming routine in Trump’s administration, in part because he’s fostering a culture of corruption in the government, and in part because Republicans in Congress have decided to let him get away with it. They could put a stop to the routine self-enrichment fairly easily, or force him to divest his assets and set up a blind trust, but they have chosen instead to do nothing.

The timing of this particular outrage is interesting, though, because it comes as the Trump administration is negotiating a temporary spending bill with Congress, to avoid a government shutdown at the end of the week. That legislation will require Democratic votes and that gives Democrats an opportunity to make issue of the fact that Trump wants to use these appropriations to advertise his commercial property. Whether they will take a stand here of not remains to be seen, but there’s an obvious logic to making Republicans explain why Democrats (or anyone!) should vote for this spending if Republicans intend to turn a blind eye when it flows directly into Trump’s pockets.

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The Democratic Party can’t cuss its way back to political relevance.

Warning its audience, “This post contains profanity and language readers might find offensive,” CNN reported Monday on the Democratic national chairman’s newfound cussing habit. At a rally in Las Vegas over the weekend, with children standing behind him, he said President Donald Trump “doesn’t give a shit about health care.” That followed a rally in Portland, Maine, one week ago, where Perez declared “Republican leaders and President Trump don’t give a shit about the people they were trying to hurt.” The chairman used the s-word to describe GOP budget proposals that day, and last month he said, simply, “Republicans don’t give a shit about people.” All of this appears to be part of an intentional branding strategy by the Democrats:

A $30 shirt for sale on the Democratic National Committee’s

DNC spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa defended Perez’s language to CNN by saying, “Tom is angry, and he’s angry because Donald Trump continues to stick it to the American people.”

This is ridiculous. Even if most voters get past the spectacle of a major party chair cursing in front of kids, they’re going to see all this swearing for what it is: an act of desperation. Maybe Perez thinks he’s showing toughness against Trump, who’s prone to foul language. Or maybe he’s doing a bad imitation of his recent roadshow buddy Bernie Sanders, who certainly shouts a lot but doesn’t typically disparage Republicans in such broad, boorish terms. Either way, Perez is trying too hard to be the cool dad, and it’s embarrassing to the party.

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Trump’s Wall won’t stop the flood of drugs into the United States.

Donald Trump’s 100th day in office will be on Saturday and Trump is approaching that marker in two contradictory ways. He and his surrogates are trying to get ahead of the main narrative—that Trump has accomplished very little—by arguing that it’s an arbitrary standard that doesn’t really say anything about a president’s administration. Appearing on Meet The Press on Sunday, White House Chief of Staff/guy who hasn’t been fired yet Reince Priebus made the case that presidents don’t actually do anything during their first 100 days. “Barack Obama had a pre-baked stimulus package that started in October of the election year which was passed in February. It was pre-baked,” Priebus pleaded. “George Bush didn’t get any major legislation until June; Clinton, August 10th; Bush 41, a year and a half later; Reagan, August 13th; Carter, 658 days after he took the office; Nixon, one year; Johnson 225 days. Here’s the deal. The president signed over 28 bills already. Health care may happen next week. It may not.”

Trump himself made this case in a tweet:

The administration, however, is also contemplating using the threat of a government shutdown to secure a legislative victory, pledging to link the funding for a border wall to raising the debt ceiling. This is, as my colleague Brian Beutler wrote today, not the shrewdest strategy in the world. But Trump is nevertheless pressing the case.

The case that Trump is making—that The Wall is essential to ending the heroin epidemic—is fundamentally wrong. “A wall alone cannot stop the flow of drugs into the United States,” Christopher Wilson, the deputy director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center, told Vox last week, after Trump made a similar claim. “If we’re talking about a broader increase in border security, there could be some—probably minor—implications for the overall numbers of drugs being trafficked. But history shows us that border enforcement has been much more effective at changing the when and where of drugs being brought into the United States rather than the overall amount of drugs being brought into the United States.”

Traffickers simply change their means of smuggling drugs into the country when new obstacles present themselves. And perhaps most importantly, the best way to slow the heroin crisis would be to slow the opioid crisis, which would require reform of the drug industry.

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Did black lives matter at D.C.’s March for Science?

Reverend Lennox Yearwood, a prominent environmental justice activist and president of Hip Hop Caucus, says he was “assaulted, roughed up, and detained” by a Hispanic D.C. police officer while attempting to cross the street near the National Mall on Saturday. In a Huffington Post column recounting the incident, Yearwood said he was slammed against a food truck and accused of being “on drugs,” before being briefly detained and then released without arrest.

The police officer then told everyone to get out of the crosswalk. By then I was about half way across the street. I paused in the middle of the street and then decided it was easier to proceed to the other side of the street, in effect getting out of the crosswalk.

The officer then ran up to me, grabbed me forcefully by my jacket and swung me around, slamming me up against a food truck. I yelled, “What are you doing? Stop grabbing me”. He told me to stop resisting, to which I responded that I wasn’t. I dropped my umbrella, and put my hands up. I told him I was there for the Science March. He said he had to detain me because I “could be on drugs”. YES, he really said that.

Reached by phone Sunday night, Yearwood said he was physically fine, but mostly hurt by the inaction from the hundreds of fellow Science Marchers who saw what happened. “The crowd didn’t really do anything,” he said. “I saw how quickly they were to accept there was a person of color being detained.” (The Metropolitan Police Department did not immediately return my request for comment.)

Yearwood said the apathy was ironic given the march’s focus on diversity and the infighting among march organizers about how explicit that focus should have been. STEM fields have long struggled with diversity, and Yearwood sees his brief detention as representative of that problem. “Until I unzipped my rain coat and the officer saw my [clergy] collar and March for Science VIP badge, he probably felt that I wasn’t a part of this march,” Yearwood said. “And that was very hurtful. For some reason, I didn’t fit in to him.”

Yearwood is concern that such incidents will discourage people of color from attending large marches for science and the environment. “It is not hyperbole to say, if this can happen to me, than imagine what it feels like for a young person of color who might be coming to a march like this for the first time,” Yearwood wrote.

Eric Feferberg/Getty Images

Centrism didn’t save France.

Every country in the Western world must face down their Trumpian demons, and France appears to have survived the great test. Emmanuel Macron, an independent centrist, is set to face off against the far right’s Marine Le Pen in a run-off scheduled for May 7. Although Macron and Le Pen were separated by only a couple of percentage points, Macron is a shoo-in according to pollsters, as politicians across the spectrum, with the notable exception so far of the far left’s Jean-Luc Mélenchon, throw their lot in with Macron. Though Le Pen was able to ride a nativist-populist wave to bring her National Front to unprecedented heights—which in itself will likely have profound effects on French politics—in the end her party was deemed, by voters on both the right and the left, to be too backward and too racist to lead the country.

But imagine what would have happened if Le Pen were a little less racist and backward, and if her party were not still associated with the more overt neo-Nazism of her father Jean-Marie Le Pen. Her attacks on the European Union—a two-headed beast of open borders and a globalized economy—clearly had widespread resonance. Her campaign was taking place against a backdrop of 10 percent unemployment; imagine, if you possibly can, what insane hell would have been unleashed on American politics if the economy remained at or near its Great Recession high for nearly 10 years. This is the product of years of failed policies by France’s two mainstream parties, both of which proved unwilling or unable to challenge the ruinous austerity agenda emanating from Europe’s true power center in Berlin. In fact, one of the reasons for Mélenchon’s surprise success was that he was able to win back traditionally liberal voters who had gravitated toward Le Pen’s anti-EU positions.

Macron—ironically or tragically, depending where you sit—is essentially promising more of the same. His moderate platform strikes a balance of appealing to middle- and working-class voters voters (more stimulus, no hike in the retirement age), to Berlin’s budget obsessives (fewer government workers, cuts in public spending), and big business (a cut in the corporate tax rate). “He is not offering a rupture, he wants to keep reforming while maintaining fiscal discipline,” one Socialist official told the Financial Times. “It’s the Socialist Party freed from the left of its left.”

It is to Macron’s great benefit that France’s electorate is split on various axes. There is the much-publicized populist vs. globalist split, and here Macron falls on the side that is floundering in the U.S. and Britain. But there is also the insider vs. outsider split, and this appears to be the main source of Macron’s strength. He does not represent one of France’s two loathed mainstream parties, and he is not a racist like Marine Le Pen. But centrism in France has already failed on a policy level—what remains to be seen is how popular it will remain as a sheer political posture.


Republicans are starting to freak out about 2018 already.

President Donald Trump’s approval rating continued its long swoon over the weekend, with an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll putting him at 40 percent and an ABC News/Washington Post poll putting him at 42. These surveys pegged his disapproval rating at 54 and 53 percent, respectively, and the Post noted that no other president since 1945 has been this unpopular approaching his 100th day in office.

The silver lining for Trump is that “96 percent of those who supported him in November say they’d do it again today,” according to the Post poll. Still, Republicans are already worrying that his unpopularity—combined with a lack of legislative accomplishments and general incompetence—could drag down the rest of their ticket in the 2018 midterm elections.

Politico reported Monday morning that “interviews with more than a dozen top Republican operatives, donors and officials reveal a growing trepidation about how the initial days of the new political season are unfolding.” Trump’s troubles “have drawn the attention of everyone from GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, who funneled tens of millions of dollars into Trump’s election and is relied upon to bankroll the party’s House and Senate campaigns, to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.” Meanwhile, potential 2018 candidates are worried about the political environment they could be facing if they run for office.

This year’s special elections may be overrated predictors of how the 2018 campaign will play out, but reports like these should give Democrats heart. The GOP is already sweating about Trump weighing down a midterm election, and his presidency has barely begun.

April 22, 2017

Emily Atkin

The March for Science was a march against Donald Trump.

Organizers had described the Earth Day event as a non-partisan celebration of science and evidence-based policymaking. But as Saturday’s rainy rally in D.C. showed, it’s kinda hard to control the message of hundreds of thousands of people. Sure, many marched for reasons totally unrelated to Trump; I met one woman who just wanted to express her love for Miss Frizzle. But walking around the rally, it was hard to avoid one main theme: that a lot of people consider the president to be a threat to science and objective truth. In the spirit of the march, here is some evidence:

Many attendees were upset about Trump’s proposed budget cuts to scientific research. Amy and Dana Blackmer, from Richmond, Virginia, have two daughters who are scientists, one of whom is trying to get into a National Institutes of Health program that studies the CRISPR gene-editing method. “She has been studying her little butt off to get in,” Dana said. Trump’s budget proposes cutting NIH by 18 percent.

The only PhD scientist in Congress on fighting Trump’s cuts: “Republicans get cancer as well as Democrats.”

About an hour before pouring rain started to pummel the thousands of attendees at Saturday’s March for Science in D.C., Congressman Bill Foster of Illinois was hanging outside of the media registration tent, taking photos with science enthusiasts (and security guards). While there are a few mathematicians and doctors in Congress, Foster is the only formerly practicing scientist with a PhD in physics, which gives him a pretty unique perspective on the increasingly increasingly relevant intersection between science and politics. Foster and I chatted briefly about the state of science literacy in Congress, and whether any Republicans are nerdier than we think.

So do you hang out with the math people and the doctors in Congress?

Oh yeah, we sit there and make math jokes from time to time. But it’s a serious business. The attacks on science and the scientific method and just generally the disrespect for scientific truth is something that has all scientists on edge. That’s why we’re here—this is a day for wet scientists and bad humor.

And bad puns, right?

That’s right. But also a very serious opportunity for scientists to stand up and look the dragons in the eye.

You spent time in a lab before coming to Congress, right?

Oh, I spent almost 25 years as a high-energy particle physicist. I was on the experiment that discovered the top quark, the heaviest known form of matter, and I actually designed and led the construction of one of the last of the giant particle accelerators in the United States.

So what’s the difference between the mood in the lab and the mood in Congress?

Well there’s a big difference between scientific facts and political facts. Because a political fact is whatever you can convince people of. And in science, you’re debating what the logically possible answers are to a question, and what experiments you can perform to figure out which one of those logical possibilities is actually represented in the universe.

In politics, I think partly because due to the fact that we’re dominated by lawyers, the question is always what can you convince people of, rather than what is true.

The people that you work with in Congress, do you think any of them care about what’s happening today?

I think they do. And I think we’re likely to see a lot more public support for the budget at the National Institutes of Health. Because everyone knows someone who’s suffering from cancer, and is aware of the incredible breakthroughs that are happening as we speak and the fact that they’re due to decades of federally funded basic research. Because it turns out, Republicans get cancer as well as Democrats.

Putting climate change aside, do you think your colleagues in Congress are generally scientifically literate?

There’s a wide spectrum. There’s a lot of enthusaism for the economic benefits of science. And unfortunately that sometimes doesn’t get reflected in the budgets.

Is there anyone in Congress who is maybe more scientifically nerdy than we know?

Oh, [Colorado Democrat] Ed Perlmutter. He is always sending me emails with things he’s found in the science blogs.

Any Republicans?

Yes, I have a very good email conversastion going with [Texas Republican] Lamar Smith, the chair of the science committee on which I serve. [Note: Smith is one of the most notorious climate deniers in Congress.] We talk about human genetic engineering and what that means for humans.

My conversations with Lamar resulted in the first-ever science committee hearing on human genetic engineering, which I have been told was one of the best-ever-attended hearings on the science committee.

So you guys don’t fight all the time about climate change then?

No. And when we had that hearing, Democrats and Republicans asked very thoughtful and probing questions, and generally behaved themselves, which does not always happen when fossil fuels and climate change gets brought up.

So you think aside from the climate debate, the state of science literacy in Congress is maybe not so dire?

That’s right, but the way to understand what a politician really believes is to look at the budgets they vote for.

April 21, 2017

This is the most damning anecdote from the Clinton campaign tell-all Shattered.

Written by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, the book has caused quite a stir since it was published last week. It portrays the Clinton campaign as a Balkanized group of rival factions fighting behind the scenes, and is littered with damning quotes like, “Our failure to reach out to white voters, like literally from the New Hampshire primary on, it never changed.” It also, at times, reads like a series of second-rate Veep jokes. Clinton’s famously testy interview with CNN’s Brianna Keilar resulted from an aide hearing “Brianna” when Clinton said “Bianna”—meaning Yahoo anchor Bianna Golodryga, who is married to a former Hillary aide. Robby Mook declined to purchase poll data three weeks before the election. And one problem seemed to follow Clinton wherever she went: She just didn’t know why she was running for president.

Juicy anecdotes like these have appeared throughout the week in Politico’s Playbook and Axios Presented By News Corp. But these excerpts and early reviews have overlooked the most damning anecdote in the book, which appears on page 88 in a chapter about the campaign’s early struggles with Bernie-mania:

Raising the minimum wage and college-tuition assistance were prime examples of Sanders’s digging in at an outpost on the left and making Hillary look cautious, conservative, and very much a creature of the establishment. Every time she said she wanted to increase the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour—the main proposal from Senate Democrats—Bernie said he’d settle for no less than “fifteen bucks.” When she said she wanted students to emerge from college without debt, Bernie reminded voters that his plan would let them attend for free. Hillary’s advisers thought it was reminiscent of the scene from There’s Something About Mary in which a crazed hitchhiker tells Ben Stiller’s character that he can make a fortune by turning “eight-minute abs” into “seven-minute abs.”

The Clinton campaign’s struggles with millennials in one sentence! There’s Something About Mary came out in 1998 and, as far as I can tell, hasn’t been watched since. That this was the first pop culture reference on hand for (apparently) multiple advisers is incredibly troubling.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the Something About Mary reference may not even have been original. It was used as the lede of an October 3, 2015, New York Times piece by Josh Barro, who seems to be a fan:

In the 1998 film “There’s Something About Mary,” there is a scene where Ben Stiller’s character picks up a hitchhiking drifter. The drifter explains that he’s really a businessman, and he has an idea that will someday make him a fortune: Seven-Minute Abs, a home exercise video that will produce the same great results as Eight-Minute Abs, but in one minute less.

Mr. Stiller’s character responds that it sounds like a great idea, unless someone comes out with Six-Minute Abs. The drifter, played by Harland Williams, gets angry. “Nobody’s coming up with six! Who works out in six minutes? You won’t even get your heart going!”

With my apologies in advance for comparing him to an unhinged drifter, this is roughly what happened to Jeb Bush in September.

The timing of this roughly tracks with the timing of the Shattered anecdote. I’m not sure what’s worse—that members of the Clinton campaign independently used a Something About Mary reference, or that members of the Clinton campaign stole a Something About Mary reference from Josh Barro.