And so the Bush dynasty comes to an end.

After coming in fourth in New Hampshire with a slim 11 percent of the vote, Jeb Bush needed a strong performance in South Carolina. The Palmetto state didn’t come through, even with cameos on the campaign trail by George W., and Jeb conceded defeat tonight in a speech to supporters. His campaign suffered a huge blow on Wednesday when South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley gave her endorsement to Marco Rubio. “We felt we had some momentum after New Hampshire. And Jeb was feeling good about his brother. But it wasn’t as good as we thought it would be. Then this happened,” one close Bush supporter told Politico’s Eli Stokols. Combined with sparse attendance at campaign events and dwindling cash on hand, the outlook was grim.

With the Bush clan gathered in South Carolina, they watched Jeb speed through a tough concession speech. A political dynasty ended not with a bang, but with choked-back tears and a whimper.

April 25, 2017

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Donald Trump just handed Democrats a victory, and even Rush Limbaugh knows it.

Standing before the cameras at his afternoon press conference on Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer touted “a bit of good news, not just for Democrats but for the country, that the president is easing off his demands for a [Mexico] border wall in the government funding bill.”

“Now, we Democrats have been opposed to including the wall in this bill since the beginning of the negotiations,” Schumer said. “There’s no plan to make Mexico pay for it, as the president promised it would. There’s no plan to resolve the eminent domain issues on the border. And the money is better used elsewhere; if the wall is $50 billion dollars, you could use that money to give just about every American broadband.”

As The New Republic’s Alex Shephard wrote Tuesday morning, Trump’s insistence that Congress pass a spending bill with border wall funding was ludicrous negotiating—“an absolute non-starter for Democrats and even some Republicans.” But Trump was bluffing. Now he’s backing down to avoid a highly symbolic government shutdown on his 100th day in office.

Liberals aren’t the only ones reaching this conclusion. “I’m not happy to have to pass this on,” Rush Limbaugh told his audience on Tuesday. “I’m very, very troubled to have to pass this on. And I want to say at the outset that I hope my interpretation is wrong, and I hope this is not the case. But it looks like, from here, right here, right now, it looks like President Trump is caving on his demand for a measly $1 billion in the budget for his wall on the border with Mexico.” Limbaugh added that “Democrats seem to have successfully used this stupid, silly threat of a government shutdown to get their way.”

This is an unearned victory for Democrats. All they had to do was stand aside and let Trump overplay his hand. But Schumer knows that Democrats must take what they can get, and run with it.

Does Barack Obama think he’s untouchable?

Obama isn’t exactly hurting for money at the moment—he isn’t leaving the White House “dead broke” like the Clintons claimed they did. He and Michelle signed a $65 million book deal in January and, while he won’t get all of that money right away, the Obamas don’t have to worry about paying for Sasha and Malia’s tuition. This makes Obama’s decision to accept $400,000 from the investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald to speak at a health care conference perplexing.

Yes, it’s easy money—the per hour rate is still much higher than the one that Crown is giving him for the memoir he’ll write. Yes, everybody is doing it—Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street speeches played a role in her doomed presidential run and investment bankers were seemingly the only people who cared what former President George W. Bush had to say after he left office in 2009. But there’s no good reason for accepting the (again, very easy) money—and there’s plenty of reason to turn it down.

As Matt Yglesias wrote in Vox on Tuesday, by declining, “Obama would be suggesting that for an economically comfortable high-ranking former government official to be out there doing paid speaking gigs would be corrupt, sleazy, or both. He’d be looking down his nose at the other corrupt, sleazy former high-ranking government officials and making enemies. Which is exactly why he should have turned down the gig.”

Obama is better-attuned to the mood of the country than Clinton was and, whatever he may think of the response to her Wall Street speeches, Obama is also a politician who has long valued symbolic acts and appealed to a common desire to transcend vulgar politics. Refusing to take a buttload of money from Wall Street would have done both—it would have elevated the political centrism that Obama has come to symbolize and made the case that politicians are listening to the people, not continuing the same crony cliquishness that got us into this political/economic/social/cultural mess in the first place.

Another possibility is that he’s not the barometer that many thought he was, and that this is another sign that the political establishment is out of touch. Obama’s reputation as someone who understands the political currents is partially a result of his carefully cultivated and controlled public image—a public image that will be weathered by the decision to accept a substantial amount of money from a Wall Street investment bank.

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Chris Cillizza’s defense of Ivanka Trump is not just stupid, it’s also condescending.

While speaking at a panel in Germany, Ivanka Trump was booed when she made the absurd case that her father is a feminist hero because his hiring record shows his “belief and solid conviction in the potential of women and their ability to do the job as well as any man.” Even worse, CNN analyst Chris Cillizza jumped in with a singularly dimwitted column attempting to shield her from criticism.

Cillizza admitted Trump’s long history of contempt for women, ranging from boasting about grabbing female genitalia to his defunding of Planned Parenthood. Despite this, he said, criticizing Ivanka Trump is beyond the pale of decency. “But, it’s important to remember that Ivanka is, first and foremost, her father’s daughter. As such, she is going to defend him—as would almost every daughter in any situation in which her dad is under attack. And, whatever you think of the Trumps, it’s beyond debate that they are a very close-knit family who always sticks together.”

Cillizza’s advocacy on behalf of Ivanka easily shades into condescension. After all, Ivanka is not just Trump’s daughter, she is also a public figure: a White House adviser who has reportedly shaped policy on issues like Syria. Since she’s a public figure, her words deserve all the scrutiny and criticism that are normally given to politicians, cabinet officials, and other notables.

Moreover, it’s not at all true that the Trump clan is “a very close-knit family who always sticks together.” Trump’s first two marriages ended in bitter divorces and during an inheritance battle Trump notoriously cut off medical insurance for the ailing infant son of one his nephews.

Finally, Cillizza has defended treating Chelsea Clinton, who has never run for public office and does not hold any government position, as a public figure:

There is no logical reason for Cillizza to champion Ivanka Trump in this matter, unless of course his goal is to curry favor with the administration and its supporters and to advance CNN’s strategy of parroting Trump talking points.

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Is Michael Flynn about to start singing?

House Oversight Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz might not be going out Samson-style, but his impending retirement has freed him to admit that the Trump administration is shady as hell.  After reviewing disgraced former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s security clearance paperwork, Chaffetz told reporters“I see no data to support the notion that Gen. Flynn complied with the law,” suggesting Flynn did not disclose payments from the Russian government he received before joining the Trump administration.

Flynn has offered to testify before congressional committees investigating the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia’s election subversion in exchange for immunity, but so far no committees have accepted. Congress doesn’t investigate crimes, though, and Chaffetz’ declaration that Flynn likely broke the law suggests he may have serious legal trouble and/or be cooperating with the FBI’s criminal- and counter-intelligence probe of the same subversion campaign. 

Trump is, simultaneously, not complying with Chaffetz’s request for documents related to this matter, which is a risky way to treat a congressional investigator of your own party who is on his way out the door and seemingly feels a bit liberated to start putting the squeeze on your administration. This will get fun.

Pool

The Trump “100 Days” website is a hilariously typical own goal.

Two contradictory things are simultaneously true about Trump’s first 100 days. The consequences of Trump’s first 100 days, as my colleague Jeet Heer wrote on Tuesday, will be profound and destructive. He has already done lasting damage to the country and its standing in the world. But at the same time, Trump has also accomplished rather little, blundering from issue to issue in search of points to put on the board. 

Trump has claimed that 100 days is an arbitrary barometer, declaring it a “ridiculous standard” and “not very meaningful.” But, while there is a certain amount of truth in this, Trump’s own words and actions betray that he cares a whole lot about the 100-day marker. In fact, the administration has been on a mad dash for the last two weeks to try to find something to get done. 

First, it returned to health care for (roughly) the 87th time since the American Health Care Act crashed and burned a month ago. It didn’t work. Then it tried to blow up budget negotiations by demanding that Congress allocate funds to pay for The Wall. That hasn’t worked either. With four days left until the 100th day, the administration has only three plays left: lie, obfuscate, and exaggerate. 

The Trump White House unveiled its “100 Days” site on Tuesday, which asserts, “In his first 100 days, President Donald J. Trump has taken bold action to restore prosperity, keep Americans safe and secure, and hold government accountable.” The problem, however, is that the website is thin on details that back these arguments up. Some of the claims—like 500,000 new jobs—arguably are not the result of Trump’s policies, but Obama’s. There’s a lot of talk about executive actions, but only a handful of these have actually done anything. The site boasts about Trump’s military action in Syria, but it has become increasingly clear that the strike was not part of a larger strategy for ending the civil war. 

One of the accomplishments in the “Keeping Americans Safe & Strengthening Security Abroad” section is “advocated increasing military spending by $54 billion,” which is not an accomplishment at all. Only one item in the “Making Government Accountable to the People” section is about government accountability—the five-year ban on administration officials engaging in lobbying. The rest—most notably Trump’s only real accomplishment, the successful nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court—are a grab bag of seemingly random actions. 

Even more damning is another site: The Donald J. Trump Contract With The American Voter, a list of 100-day promises that the Trump campaign unveiled on October 22, 2016. To be fair, this was a desperate push from a campaign that was all but screwed. The Access Hollywood tape had effectively submarined Trump’s candidacy and James Comey wouldn’t emerge to save his skin for another six days. But that doesn’t change the fact that Trump has fulfilled very few of the promises on this  “contract” with the American people—and doesn’t seem close to fulfilling them in his first year, either. In fact, he’s zero for ten on the list of legislative promises. 

Corey Stewart doesn’t get that you can be a Southerner without being racist.

Minnesota is a fine and noble state. It’s home to Lutherans and snow and Al Franken. Minnesotans should be proud of themselves! And most of them probably are, save one unfortunate exception: Corey Stewart. Stewart now lives in Virginia, where he does many questionable things. He briefly chaired Donald Trump’s state campaign and is now running for the Republican nomination for governor. Since he launched his campaign, he has called Republican challenger Ed Gillespie a “cuckservative,” given an AR-15 away for Christmas, and staged a rally to defend Charlottesville’s enormous statue of Robert E. Lee.

For a Northerner, Corey cares a lot about the Confederacy, and is very angry that the good people of New Orleans recently decided to remove their Confederate monuments:

“Hero” is doing a lot of work here. Mainly, it is obscuring the fact that Robert E. Lee was a traitor who fought for the right to own human beings.

What a beautiful image! I could look at it forever. If that makes me ISIS I guess I’ll have to live with that.

A lot of things are worse than this! Slavery was worse. Trying to secede from the union over slavery: also worse. Also, Corey, you are from Duluth, Minnesota. Minnesota is many things but it is not the South.

It is easy to move to the South and adopt certain cultural markers, like sweet tea or even ahistorical notions about Southern hospitality, without being racist. In choosing the latter, Stewart reveals just how he really feels about his adopted state.

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Donald Trump is coming for your public lands.

The president is expected to issue an executive order Wednesday asking the Department of Interior to review at least 50 national monuments created since 1996. According to E&E News, the review will suggest legislative changes or modifications” to public lands protected under the Antiquities Act of 1906, which allows presidents to restrict activities on large swaths of land and water in order to protect its “historical or scientific value.”

The most likely monument to be reversed is the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, a 1.35 million-acre mesa of Native American cultural and archaeological sites which President Barack Obama designated just before leaving office. But the order could also “open to the door to revoking designations for millions of acres of land and waters that have been protected under the Antiquities Act,” wrote Jenny Rowland, the research manager at the Center for American Progress’ Public Lands Project. Citing Trump’s enthusiasm for fossil fuel exploration on public lands, Rowland added, “Every indication is that the administration’s ‘review’ will conclude that there is too much protected public land in the country.”

Of course, like many of Trump’s executive actions on the environment, undoing these protections won’t be as simple as signing a piece of paper. “Any move by Trump to abolish a national monument designation could spark a serious legal battle,” the Washington Post reported this week, as legal scholars have argued that while presidents have the power to create monuments, they lack the power to dismantle them.

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Donald Trump is a terrible, terrible negotiator.

The two parties were on their way to keeping the government open for business when Trump burst onto the scene like a racist Kool-Aid Man, demanding that the passage of a continuing resolution contain funding for The Wall on the Mexican border. If the resolution fails to pass by 12:01 A.M. on Saturday, April 29, the government will shut down. This would also be Trump’s 100th day in office, a coincidence that is not lost on him or his administration. While the Trump administration has tried to claim that, actually, they are not mad at all that they have gotten nothing done legislatively, they are very mad indeed. This is why Trump has thrown a bunch of grenades into congressional budget negotiations, demanding money for a Wall that is an absolute non-starter for Democrats and even some Republicans.

This is an absurd strategy for a lot of reasons. First, Trump promised that Mexico was going to pay for The Wall. This is not the kind of promise that politicians usually make, because for The Wall to be built it will require at least part of the promise to be broken (i.e. Mexico paying for The Wall). Second, the absolute worst thing that could happen for Trump’s first 100 days would be the government shutting down on its 100th day. That would not only further damage Trump’s already dismal favorability ratings, but it would create a ripe metaphor that would explain the previous 99 days, solidifying an impression of incompetence and confusion.

Both President Clinton and President Obama didn’t take nearly as much damage as Congress did during previous shutdowns. But then again, their party at the time did not control both Congress and the White House. In fact, Trump would probably bear more blame than Congress for a government shutdown. This suggests that his demand for The Wall was another one of Trump’s famous bluffs. He wanted to see if he could get concessions from Congress, but ultimately was not committed to follow through on his threats.

So it should be no surprise that, with four days to go until a shutdown, Trump signaled a retreat. On Monday evening, The Washington Post reported that Trump had “softened his demand that a deal to keep the federal government open include money to begin construction on his long-promised border wall.” Trump has promised to fight another day, telling conservative journalists on Monday that he would seek to start construction on The Wall by September.

But one thing is clear: Trump could not have screwed this up more badly. He spent a week of valuable time threatening to derail a rarity in contemporary Washington: a fairly reasonable negotiation between the two parties. And he didn’t get anything out of it. If anything he showed once again that he’s all bluster—that he’ll make a lot of noise but, when push comes to shove, ultimately back down.

April 24, 2017

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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.