Political Animal

Quick Takes: The Assault on Democratic Norms

A twitterific quick takes is coming your way.

* Shot:

* Chaser:

* The NY Attorney General sets up a bank shot.

* The Texas senate race could be a toss-up.

* Dictionary shade is the best!

* Sam Waterston pulls the old, “I’m not a lawyer, but I played one on tv.”

* Maybe it is a witch hunt.

* Finally, take heed to this warning:

A Contrary View of Barbara Bush

None of us are perfect parents and none of us have perfect kids. We can’t take credit for all their successes and we generally can’t be blamed for all their failures. But we do play a large role is shaping our children, and we can screw them up pretty good if we’re not careful. George W. Bush was screwed up by his parents. Some of it wasn’t anything they could control. It’s not easy to be the grandson of a senator and the son of a president, especially if you aren’t blessed at birth with the same types of skills that made them successful in business and politics. Many of us in the same situation would follow an initial path similar to Dubya’s: being the class clown, not trying too hard lest we fail, taking the easy road and riding on our privilege. I’ve never blamed George W. for being the way he is, only for having the lack of judgment and humility to realize that he wasn’t suited to a life of public service.

With the passing of Barbara Bush, the nation is going through the ritual of praising all her virtues and accomplishments while ignoring completely her faults and shortcomings. That’s largely as it should be. Basic politeness and a healthy respect for our institutions requires that we focus on the positive when a first lady passes on. But this custom is no friend of the truth.

Barbara Bush was extremely hard on her children, especially George who seems to have been a big disappointment to her. I had to cringe when I saw that she told the doctor on her death bed that George turned out the way he did because she smoked and drank while she was pregnant. The former president told the story in a lighthearted manner, suggesting that she was always making jokes like that. And that’s exactly the problem. That’s about the most vicious thing she could have said about her son as she was dying. It’s the kind of joke that has too much sincerity behind it to be funny. Why not say, instead, that she was proud of him and that he exceeded all her expectations? He was, after all, elected as governor of Texas and to two terms as president of the United States. Is that not enough for a mother, even if he was perhaps not a good president in the end?

This is how she damaged her son, and we’re all guilty of doing this to some degree or another with our children. But the world doesn’t suffer for it the way it did from the presidency of George W. Bush.

I like to allow a little time before I speak ill of the dead, which is why I held my tongue for a bit about Barbara Bush. As hard as it is for me to take, I recognize the value of treating our leaders and their families with a bit of deference and a sometimes undeserved default level of respect, so I can abide the tongue-bath the media has been giving the former first lady. I definitely think people like Roger Stone go too far in the other direction:

Trump political consigliere Roger Stone unloaded on Barbara Bush in an Instagram post on Tuesday evening just hours after her death. There, Stone wrote that the former first lady was a “nasty drunk” and posted a quote from him suggesting that if you lit her body on fire it would “burn for three days.”

“Barbara Bush was a nasty drunk. When it came to drinking she made Betty Ford look like Carrie Nation #blottoBabs,” said Stone. “Barbara Bush drank so much booze, if they cremated her … her body would burn for three days.”

But you don’t have to be vicious in kind to note that Barbara Bush wasn’t a nice person. The main thing I will always remember her by was her reaction to visiting the Astrodome where refugees from Hurricane Katrina were being temporarily housed. A lot of the people there were black and from the swamped Ninth Ward of New Orleans. Ms. Bush was alarmed that they expressed an interest in staying in her state and suggested that they were better off living on a cot in a sporting facility than they had been in their homes.

“Almost everyone I’ve talked to says, ‘We’re going to move to Houston.’ What I’m hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality.”

“And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this, this is working very well for them.”

We may never recover from her son’s presidency which seems to have permanently broken our country, and I don’t blame her drinking and smoking for that. I do think the way she treated her son had a lot to do with it, though. There are a lot of people she didn’t treat well, and that will be her most lasting legacy for me.

No Wonder Trump Needs so Much ‘Executive Time’

After learning that Donald Trump and Sean Hannity share the same lawyer, Robert Costa, Sarah Ellison and Josh Dawsey took a deeper look at the relationship between the president and his number one propagandist.

The phone calls between President Trump and Sean Hannity come early in the morning or late at night, after the Fox News host goes off the air. They discuss ideas for Hannity’s show, Trump’s frustration with the ongoing special counsel probe and even, at times, what the president should tweet, according to people familiar with the conversations. When he’s off the phone, Trump is known to cite Hannity when he talks with White House advisers.

The revelation this week that the two men share an attorney is just the latest sign of how Hannity is intertwined with Trump’s world — an increasingly powerful confidant who offers the ­media-driven president a sympathetic ear and shared grievances. The conservative commentator is so close to Trump that some White House aides have dubbed him the unofficial chief of staff.

That comes on the heels of this report from the Daily Beast about the role of another Fox News personality, Lou Dobbs.

Dobbs doesn’t get to just interview and socialize with the president; he is involved in some of the administration’s more sensitive discussions. During the first year of the Trump era, the president has patched in Dobbs via speakerphone to multiple meetings in the Oval Office so that he could offer his two cents, according to three sources familiar with these conversations. Trump will ask Dobbs for his opinion before and after his senior aides or Cabinet members have spoken. Occasionally, he will cut off an official so the Fox Business host can jump in.

Dobbs, these sources all independently recounted, has been patched in to senior-level meetings on issues such as trade and tax policy—meetings that featured officials such as senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, former top economic adviser Gary Cohn, former chief strategist Steve Bannon, trade adviser Peter Navarro, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

Over the course of Trump’s presidency, it is the morning show Fox and Friends that shows up the most in what he chooses to tweet about. The whole charade about a “caravan of migrants” traveling through Mexico was simply the most recent example. We also know that the president rarely misses Justice With Judge Jeanine and tweets about it often.

Putting all of this together, it becomes clear why Trump requires so much “executive time.”

President Trump is starting his official day much later than he did in the early days of his presidency, often around 11am, and holding far fewer meetings, according to copies of his private schedule shown to Axios. This is largely to meet Trump’s demands for more “Executive Time,” which almost always means TV and Twitter time alone in the residence, officials tell us.

The president has to set aside time to watch Fox News and talk on the phone with Fox News personalities. Contrary to previous administrations, it is not the people working in the White House or running federal agencies that the president turns to for advice and counsel. That is precisely why the ongoing turnover in this administration doesn’t pose much of a problem. Instead, Trump needs to hear from Sean Hannity, Lou Hobbs, Jeanine Pirro and the hosts of Fox and Friends to set his agenda and craft his response to the issues of the day.

In the interests of time management, it might be best to simply do away with the pretense of assuming that the White House and Fox News are two separate entities. Trump should just make Sean Hannity his chief of staff, Lou Dobbs his secretary of homeland security, Jeanine Pirro his attorney general and the Fox and Friends hosts his council of economic advisers. He has already made Fox News contributor John Bolton his national security adviser. Tucker Carlson has done yeoman’s work in pretending like there is some kind of thoughtful grounding to this presidency. So I’m sure he’d feel left out if there wasn’t a spot for him. Perhaps he could just cover everything else.

Of course I’m kidding…sort of.

Public Thinks Tax Bill Was Payoff to GOP Donors

The Democrats have launched a new initiative aimed at doing a better job of understanding where the public is on a variety of controversial issues so that they can do a better job of crafting their political messaging. It’s useful research because it reveals which topics have real salience and which ones don’t really “move the needle.” For one example, voters don’t really mind that Trump is using the presidency to add revenue to his various businesses and they’re not very receptive to the idea that he’s lazy, golfs too much and is too disengaged. On the other hand, they are alarmed that he doesn’t read his daily intelligence briefings. That’s the kind of nuance that can be gleaned by careful survey research.

One thing the pollsters have discovered is that the tax bill is unpopular, and the strongest argument against it is the idea that it was designed not based on sound policy or because it’s consistent with conservative ideology and goals, but simply to pay back the party’s biggest donors.

One key difference the research found is voters are more receptive to the argument that Republicans are likelier to use government to personally enrich themselves and their wealthy donors. “They actually don’t think the tax plan was done for policy reasons,” Pollock said. “They don’t even think it was done for ideological reasons. They think it was done for purely dirty campaign reasons.”

Since the public already believes this, messaging around it is comparatively easy. And since the polling took place while the nation was doing its taxes, the tax bill should have been enjoying a high point in popularity. People ought to have discovered some extra, perhaps unexpected, cash in their pockets. But the tax law has been losing support rapidly in recent weeks. A lot of congressional Republicans are blaming the president for going off message in March by talking about tariffs and trade wars rather then continuing to tout the supposed benefits of their only legislative accomplishment of the last year.

A sense of foreboding is growing on the right. Candidates up for reelection are realizing that their biggest success is polling underwater and is becoming something they’re more apt to need to defend than use as a rationale for another term in office.

It’s an old Karl Rove trick to attack your opponent’s greatest strength, and in this case the tax bill isn’t turning out to be a strength at all. The GOP is going to try to turn that around, but it won’t be easy with a distracted president and the Democrats’ hammering them for doing the bidding of their mega-donors.