The Trump Pivot™ will never die.

If you’ve read any coverage of the government funding deal that President Donald Trump made with Democratic leaders, you’ll have probably come away with two related narratives. The first is that Republicans—the president’s party, it’s worth underscoring—hate this deal with a fiery passion and were “blindsided” and “shocked” by Trump’s decision to basically cave to the demands of the leaders of the minority party. The second is that Trump loves this deal, because it has gotten him the thing he has always not-so-secretly craved: the praise of mainstream pundits who opine from 6 to 9 a.m. every weekday, and also during Sunday brunch. “But hate-watching Morning Joe down in the White House residence, President Trump was feeling cocky,” Axios reports. “His surprise deal with Democratic leaders may create midterm headaches for his party, but it’s winning rave reviews from the academy.”

This has led to flirtations with a third conclusion: That this, at long last, represents the illusive Trump Pivot™. Pundits have been waiting for such a pivot ever since Trump became the clear frontrunner for the Republican nomination for the presidency—a moment when he would abandon his outright hate-mongering and nativism and swerve into a quieter, more politically acceptable lane of hate-mongering and nativism. Trump has broken with his party and he loves it, so he’ll break with his party again, right? Here’s Axios again, in an article titled “Trump’s next move: stick it to hardliners”:

It’s like a fictional movie scene: A president wins election with harsh, anti-immigration rhetoric, then moves to terminate protections for kids of illegal immigrants. He’s ridiculed on both sides for his heartlessness — but cheered by a band of white voters who helped put him in office. Then he suddenly realizes he looks like a cold-hearted jerk—and starts musing about going farther than President Obama got in providing permanent protections to those children of illegal immigrants.

In the last week, Trump has embraced Democrats and immigration reform. That’s a big deal! But in the last week, Trump has also kept up his push for massive tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations and rescinded DACA (albeit with a six-month period to work out a deal). By every conceivable metric, Donald Trump is still Donald Trump. This is not a pivot—it never is.

However uncharacteristic, Trump’s response to both the debt ceiling and DACA was largely inevitable. He was caving to the political moment. That’s still significant given Trump’s unpredictability and habit of bridling. In the case of the debt ceiling, Trump simply took the best deal he could get—something that Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan surely know. In the case of DACA, Trump is trying to thread a needle—appeasing his base while also spreading around responsibility so he can avoid the political damage that would follow if he axed the law immediately. Despite the deal with Democrats, Trump is just as isolated as ever. His relationship with Mitch McConnell is at breaking point and it’s not like Chuck and Nancy are going to be coming over for movie night any time soon.

July 20, 2018

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Is Trump really about to enter into a “full-blown trade war” with China?

Axios reports that “top advisers” say that “chances of a longer, wider, more damaging trade war with China are rising.” President Donald Trump slapped $34 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods with “industrially significant technology” on July 6, and on Friday he told CNBC that he’s “ready to go to $500” billion—a number equal to the dollar amount of imports that entered the U.S. from China in 2017. Dow futures slumped 120 points in response to Trump’s comments. All of this adds to the growing threat of what Axios has deemed a “full-blown trade war.”

Larry Kudlow, who leads the president’s economic council, was adamant that the administration would not back down from the threats. “They’re picking the wrong customer, I’ll tell you that—you know how intense [Trump] is on this issue,” he told Mike Allen. “Xi seems to think if he waits out the November elections, Trump will be weakened and therefore will lighten the bite. That’s a very bad bet.”

The trade war between China and the U.S. is not exactly punishing either country yet. At present, the $34 billion in tariffs are insignificant to China and the United States, given that the combined economies of both countries are over $30 trillion. Despite the flashy rhetoric, there is no indication that the administration is ready to immediately go nuclear by slapping an additional $466 billion in tariffs. Instead, if the trade war were to escalate, it would still be done incrementally.

Between the CNBC interview, Kudlow’s comments, and Axios’ report, it’s clear that the administration is doing everything it can to try to convince China—and Trump’s base—that he isn’t bluffing. But right now, this is all pageantry.

The Parkland generation is registering to vote in serious numbers in swing states.

Ever since February 14, when 17 students and staff members were killed by a gunman at Stoneman Douglas High School in Southern Florida, “registration rates for voters aged 18-29 have significantly increased in key battleground states,” according to a new study from the Democratic data firm TargetSmart. Young people comprised 61 percent of new registrants in Pennsylvania, a 16-point increase. Virginia and Indiana saw 10-point increases, and Arizona and Florida saw 8.

TargetSmart

Much of this may have to do with the efforts Parkland student activists have undertaken to help students register to vote. Back in May, David Hogg partnered with the New York–based organization HeadCount to organize registration drives in about 1,000 high schools across 46 states.

A group of Parkland student activists, including Hogg, Cameron Kasky, and Emma Gonzàlez, also announced a summer-long bus tour devoted to encourage students to “get young people educated, registered and motivated to vote,” Kasky said in June. “At the end of the day, real change is brought from voting and too often voting off as nothing in our country.”

(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The administration’s position on mergers is all over the place.

Since it was proposed in May 2017, Sinclair Broadcast Group’s $3.9 billion purchase of Tribune Media appeared to be a done deal. Donald Trump has gushingly praised the network, which is infamous for forcing (sometimes identically scripted) pro-Trump content onto its stations’ broadcast. Meanwhile, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai has been a vocal anti-regulation proponent. As long as it sold enough stations to meet the legal ownership limit, Sinclair appeared well-positioned to become the nation’s largest TV station owner, with over 200 stations reaching an unprecedented 72 percent of American households.

But in a surprising reversal this week, Pai announced that Sinclair’s indifferent nods towards compliance weren’t going to cut it. The company, Pai said, was attempting to maintain control over its relinquished stations “in practice, even if not in name, in violation of the law.” The FCC then voted unanimously to bring the proposed merger before an administrative law judge. The order claims that Sinclair “did not fully disclose facts” about its proposals for compliance. In the case of a Chicago TV station, for example, the order notes that Sinclair had strong ties to the buyer and might attempt to buy back the station in the future. The legal review process is likely to kill the merger entirely.

It’s a dramatic about-face, especially when combined with the news this week that the Department of Justice has filed an appeal challenging the approval of the AT&T-Time Warner merger.

It might seem like the Trump administration is finally making good on his campaign promises to crack down on media consolidation. But let’s not jump to conclusions. The ink has hardly dried on the DoJ’s approval last month of Walt Disney’s proposed $71 billion acquisition of parts of 21st Century Fox. With no coherent policy on media mergers, we can add this to the list of issues where no decision should be taken as a clue for what’s to come.

July 19, 2018

Senator Tim Scott (l) and Trump. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

A Trump judicial nominee was pulled for his college rants on race and sexual assault.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday withdrew Ryan Bounds, who had been nominated for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, after Republican Senator Tim Scott objected to articles from Bounds’s university days.

As a student at Stanford University, Bounds wrote that multicultural organizations and on-campus activism “divide up by race for their feel-good ethnic hoedowns,” act as a “pestilence” that “threatens to corrupt our scholastic experience,” and “contribute more to restricting consciousness, aggravating intolerance, and pigeonholing cultural identities than many a Nazi bookburning.” He also argued against expelling students accused of sexual assault, claiming that the punishment is “probably not going to contribute a great deal toward a rape victim’s recovery.”

Bounds, a prosecutor in Portland, Oregon, was nominated back on September 7. Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley, ignoring the “blue slip” process, went ahead with confirmation hearings over the objections of Bounds’s home-state senators, Democrats Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden. After Senate debate on Bounds’s nomination concluded yesterday, the Willamette Week reported that he was “likely to win the confirmation.”

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Trump’s military parade will be “tremendously expensive,” by Trump’s standard.

At a press conference following the historic U.S.-North Korea summit on June 12, President Donald Trump told reporters that he planned to end military exercises with South Korea. “We’ve done exercises for a long time, working with South Korea,” he said. “And we call them war games, and I call them war games, and they’re tremendously expensive.” His cancellation of the Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises saved $14 million, according to the Pentagon.

CNN reported today, however, that Trump’s domestic war games—a planned military parade in Washington, D.C.—is estimated to cost about $12 million. The parade is scheduled for November 10, one day before the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. (President Emmanuel Macron is hosting world leaders at a centennial parade planned for the following day.)

Trump was reportedly inspired by France’s Bastille Day festivities, which he attended last year. “The marching orders were: I want a parade like the one in France,” an anonymous official told France24 in February. But Bastille Day featured tanks. Trump’s parade will not, by order of the Department of Defense.

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Trump misses the point about the European Union’s record fine against Google.

On Wednesday, the European Union brought a $5 billion (€4.3 billion) fine against Google for its abuse of its Android mobile operating system. The fine was the result of an investigation into anticompetitive practices that began eight years ago and that led to an earlier $2.7 billion fine relating to its online shopping platform.

But the new fine comes amid an escalating trade war between the United States and the European Union. While the EU fine has nothing to do with the tariffs on steel and cars that have been levied, the president is nevertheless arguing that it is part of the nascent trade war—and proof that the EU has taken advantage of the U.S. for years.

While Trump has been critical of Amazon and Apple, other tech giants like Google and Facebook have escaped his ire. That may be because he is not exactly a technophile: Amazon’s online shopping platform and Apple’s hardware production are less abstract than a search engine and a social network. Politics certainly plays a role as well—Amazon has undoubtedly been singled out because it shares an owner, Jeff Bezos, with The Washington Post, which the president has repeatedly feuded with.

But Trump’s embrace of Google doesn’t really have anything to do with Google. The president is looking for any evidence he can to show that the EU is abusing American companies. The most recent fine isn’t that—it’s part of a decades-long regulatory push. But at this point Trump doesn’t have much evidence that European companies are taking advantage of American ones, so he’ll take what he can get.

Marc Israel Sellem/AFP/Getty Images

Israel passes a law affirming a Jewish nation-state.

Israel’s parliament voted 62-55 in favor of the long-debated Nation State bill early Thursday morning, enshrining religion-based identity in law. The bill defined Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people (rather than of Israeli citizens), revokes the status of Arabic as an official language, and affirms Jewish-only settlement as “a national value.”

Knesset (Israeli parliament) members say that the law merely puts the country’s Jewish character into writing. But in actively encouraging Jewish-only settlement, the law elevates the unequal treatment of 1.8 million Arabs with Israeli citizenship—who reports suggest are already discriminated against in employment, social services, and education—to the status of a constitutional norm.

The bill did not pass quietly: thousands of demonstrators gathered for an “emergency rally” in Tel Aviv on Saturday night; 14 American Jewish organizations penned a letter last week to Knesset member Isaac Herzog expressing their opposition to the bill. In a speech at the demonstration, Ayman Odeh, chair of the mostly Arab Joint List party alliance described the law’s purpose as being to “stick a finger in the eyes of a fifth of Israel’s population, spark a dispute and polarize in order to make political gain for the Netanyahu tyranny.” The Joint List party proposed a counter-bill last month that would define Israel as a “state of all its citizens.” The Knesset rejected it.

For decades, the broad appeal of liberal Zionism in America has depended on a supposed equilibrium between the state’s Jewish and democratic values—repeatedly tested by controversies over, for example, the Gaza blockade and associated violence. With this new law, Netanyahu’s government may drive Israel’s liberal supporters further from the fold.

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Republicans disagree with the rest of America about Trump’s handling of Putin.

Two new polls show that a large majority of Americans are unhappy with the president’s performance in his summit with the Russian president in Helsinki on Monday. But Trump’s supporters are still standing by him.

A CBS News poll this week found that 55 percent of Americans disapproved of Trump’s handling of the summit, where the president sided with Putin on whether Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election. (Trump later made an unconvincing effort to walk back his remarks.) That figure included 83 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of voters who described themselves as independent.

Among Republican voters, however, Trump’s support remains largely unchanged. In the CBS poll, 68 percent of Republicans said they approved of the president’s handling of Putin. A new Axios/SurveyMonkey poll found similar results: 58 percent of Americans overall disapproved of the summit, but 79 percent of Republicans sided with Trump.

The results track with what we know about Trump’s bond with Republican voters. The president has long enjoyed considerable support with the party’s deeply conservative base, and none of his words or deeds since entering the White House have significantly disrupted it. This week’s polls, coming immediately after the president publicly humiliated himself before a hostile foreign power, are perhaps the starkest reminder yet of that hold.

The polls also suggest that Trump may be able to weather worse storms to come. “Every piece of data, and virtually every public action of elected Republican officials, shows Trump will have overwhelming and probably unbreakable party support, regardless of what Robert Mueller finds with his Russia probe,” Axios’ Mike Allen concluded.

July 18, 2018

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The GOP thinks “Abolish ICE” is going to hurt Democrats.

The House on Wednesday voted on a GOP measure in overwhelming support of U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE), following a chorus of calls by progressive Democrats to dismantle the agency.

With the resolution passing on a 244-35 vote—18 Democrats voted in favor of the agency, while 34 voted against the measure—the GOP strategically exposed a division within moderate and progressive wings of the Democratic Party. The remaining 133 Dems voted present, withholding their vote at the behest of party leaders, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, who have refrained from jumping on the “Abolish ICE” bandwagon.

“The campaign against ICE is the latest rallying cry for open borders, the latest call to prioritize illegal immigrants over American citizens,” said Rep. Clay Higgins (R-LA), who sponsored the bill, in the House debate on Wednesday.

The movement to eliminate ICE, the agency established under the Department of Homeland Security by George W. Bush in 2003, has gained traction among some high-profile Democrats following the upset victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over ten-term incumbent Joe Crowley of New York in June. Ocasio-Cortez made the elimination of ICE a central part of her campaign during the family separation crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio as well as Senator Kirsten Gillibrand have joined the rallying cry.

In attempting to make Democrats take a stand on ICE, Republicans apparently think a vote against the agency could hurt their opponents in the midterms. Polls show that a majority of voters believe ICE should stay.

Democrats roll out their newest midterms slogan: “For the People.”

Party leaders debuted the slogan after a Wednesday meeting of House Democrats, Politico reports. “For the People,” with its populist undertones, will be a rhetorical improvement on “A Better Deal,” which drew widespread criticism for being tepid.

The “For the People” platform focuses on three main aims: health care, wage increases, and a spotlight on Republican corruption. Democrats are now expected to begin incorporating the slogan and its three policy priorities into their messaging.

The slogan represents another bid for a party that’s struggled with unified, coherent messaging. Months away from midterm elections where Democrats must flip 24 Republican-controlled seats to take control of the House, the party was under pressure to get at least roughly on the same page. “I don’t think any of us are claiming this is poetic or this is the end-all-be-all of messaging,” said Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois. “It’s just a way, in a quick way, to put together the answer to what we stand for.”