Quick Takes: The Presidency as a National Avatar

A roundup of news that caught my eye today.

* I’m going to start today with a quote from Joy Reid because I think it is one of the most profound summaries of recent presidential politics that I’ve ever heard.

Those of us who are political junkies and policy wonks are likely to be uncomfortable with the notion of the presidency as a national avatar. But for the country as a whole, Reid nailed it!

* Perhaps you heard that Roy Moore contested the special election results in court, lost, and yet still refuses to concede. Is anyone surprised by all of that? Philip Bump sure isn’t.

Moore was a historically bad candidate running in an election during an extremely bad year for Republican candidates. But his candidacy, from start to finish — and then for weeks after the finish — took advantage of an environment of doubt fostered by the GOP. Trump did, too, and had he not squeaked out a 78,000-vote margin in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in November 2016, he would probably have taken a similar tack as Moore.

There is no “probably” about it. If Trump had lost in the electoral college, he would have done exactly what Moore is doing. That is where Republican lies about voter fraud and a rigged system have brought us.

* After everyone gets done celebrating the new year, this crisis is going to emerge very quickly.

Even more consequential are upcoming deadlines for Trump to continue the temporary waiver of U.S. sanctions on Iran, which the deal dictates will not be permanently repealed for several more years. The president must renew the waivers every 120 days. Sources familiar with the law said multiple waiver deadlines arrive between Jan. 12 and Jan. 17, forcing Trump to reassess the deal.

If Trump rejects the waivers and restores biting sanctions, Tehran is certain to claim the U.S. has breached the agreement and — supporters of the deal say — may restart its nuclear program. That could court a military confrontation with the U.S. and Israel. At a minimum, the U.S would find itself isolated abroad given that every other party to the deal — France, the U.K., Germany, China and Russia — all strongly oppose a U.S. withdrawal from the agreement.

* I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so.

Speaker Paul Ryan’s dream of overhauling the nation’s entitlement programs in 2018 will soon run into a harsh reality: His own party isn’t on board.

The Wisconsin Republican has detailed an ambitious effort to dramatically reshape Medicare, Medicaid and welfare programs that the GOP has long targeted as ripe for reforms. But bring it up with key Senate Republicans and House GOP moderates and they blanch — seeing a legislative battle that may not be winnable and that may not be worth it in an election year where control of Congress is up for grabs.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has all but ruled out the idea, saying publicly that he doesn’t expect to see welfare and entitlement changes on the agenda next year, particularly if it’s done in a party-line manner.

* As I’m sure you know by now, the Washington Monthly is in the last days of our holiday fundraising drive. We need your support now more than ever.

Starting next year, the millions of relatively small donations from moderate-income people to mainstream charities could be sharply reduced, they say. That means charity could become less of a middle-class enterprise and a more exclusive domain of the wealthy, who tend to give to arts and cultural institutions, research facilities and universities…

A central pillar of the massive tax law doubles the standard deduction used by two-thirds of Americans, to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for married couples. That means many taxpayers who now itemize deductions will find it’s no longer beneficial for them do so. They’ll find that the deductions they normally take, including for charitable giving, don’t add up to as much as the new standard amount.

The result: some estimates project that as few as 10 percent of taxpayers will continue to itemize deductions on their returns, down from the current one-third. By contrast, the wealthiest Americans likely will continue to receive the tax benefit of using itemized deductions, including for charitable giving.

Please consider giving what you can right now. Your contribution is still tax deductible and our generous foundation partners will match whatever you give dollar-for-dollar.

* Finally, yesterday I mentioned that Prince Harry had conducted the first post-presidency interview with Barack Obama. If you haven’t already listened to it, here’s the whole thing.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.