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A Busy and Upset Thursday, for Better and Worse

Thursday was a busy day for us, what with rehearsals for our annual theatrical turn and Kansas State University’s Wildcats pulling off a big upset in the national college basketball tournament and the trash needing to be taken to the curb, which made it hard to keep up with a busier than even usual news day.
The stock markets swooned as a trade war with China broke out, a former Playboy “playmate of the year” gave a lengthy interview about her past adulterous affair with then private citizen Donald Trump, and a national security advisor regarded as one of the steady hands in the White House was replaced with a hothead from Fox News, along with other noteworthy developments.
Candidate Trump ran on a promise to protect certain American industries with punitive tariffs, and President Trump has “tweeted” that “Trade wars are good and easy to win,” and after he fired the steady hand who’d been his economic advisor who’d urged restraint it was no surprise that he announced stiff tariffs on steel and aluminum on $60 billion worth of tariffs on a variety of Chinese goods. Neither was it a surprise when the European Union threatened retaliatory tariffs, nor when China announced them on Thursday, nor when stock markets around the world swooned on the news.
Perhaps the trade war will prove as good and easily won as Trump predicts, but we share all of the stock markets’ doubts. There is no historical precedent for a good and easily won trade war, after all, and they’ve all gone so badly they wound up with everyone losing. For all its faults the free-trading post-World War II global economic brought great prosperity and relative peace to both America and the rest of the world, and despite his salesmanship we can’t see Trump persuading all those other countries to give up their share of the pie.
Although it’s less likely to immediately affect your next 401K statement, the former Playboy “playmate of the year’s” interview with the Cable News Network’s Anderson Cooper was of more than prurient interest. Not that there wasn’t plenty of prurient interest to be had, of course, what with a billionaire playboy and future president doing the nasty with his nudie model girlfriend while his nudie model wife was at home nursing their recently born son, but at this point in the post-President Bill Clinton era even the evangelicals seem rather jaded about that sort of thing. The bigger problem is yet another blow to Trump’s believability, because he’s denying the affair and the former Playboy “playmate of the year” seems by far the more credible of the two.
She’s got notebooks and photographs and hotel receipts and other corroborating evidence of an affair, and her on-camera account of the affair has a verisimilitude no actress can achieve. She freely acknowledges that the adulterous affair was mutually consensual, didn’t describe any of the unwanted groping that Trump has bragged about and numerous women have alleged, said that he was handsome and charming, sadly recalled how he had offered to pay their sexual encounters, and even insisted that she voted from Trump and still supports his presidency. So far she doesn’t seem to have profited from the past affair, and when she credibly says she doesn’t want to hurt Trump we can’t imagine what her motive might be other than to come clean.
Which only adds to the credibility of the pornographic video performer who is also alleging an adulterous affair with Trump right around the same time, and whose interview with the same Anderson Cooper is scheduled to air on Sunday’s episode of the Columbia Broadcast System’s “60 Minutes.” Trump likes to brag about how he drives the news ratings, and our guess is that on Sunday night Cooper and CBS will benefit from that more than he does.
The porn performer’s story has an even more prurient appeal than that centerfold model’s, as it doesn’t have any of the weepy and cliched I-thought-he-loved-me parts and includes salacious details about rolled-up copies of Forbes Magazine with Trump’s picture on the cover. She describes a more transactional relationship where provided what she considered routine sex in exchange for a chance to be a contestant on Trump’s reality show, and although she’s brazenly capitalizing on her notoriety with a “Make America Horny Again” strip club tour her story also has a ring of truth to our ears.
The $130,000 that Trump’s lawyer admits he paid the porno performer just before the election might constitute a violation of campaign finance law, too, which adds to Trump’s already expensive legal bills from the ongoing “Russia thing” and various other matters. Trump has lately been shaking up his legal team, with Washington’s most high-powered attorney declining the offer but a conspiracy theorist from Fox News joining the team, but their task of defending his credibility will be even harder.
The recent shakeups in the administration are also unsettling. The outgoing national security adviser was three star Army general H.R. McMaster, one of the steady hands who offered such sage advice to Trump as “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” in a recent phone call with dubiously reelected Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, which Trump of course rejected, and the incoming national security advisor is John Bolton, who does not strike us as an upgrade. He’s a past United Nations Ambassador and longtime figure in national security circles, but his brusque style seems to have found a better fit at Fox News, where he routinely has urged Trump to follow his natural and nationalist instincts. He’s no more likely to restrain Trump’s impulsive temperament that the Fox News guy who replaced the steady hand economic advisor that warned against a trade war.
On a busier than usual Thursday news cycle, it all adds up a certain unease. It’s a sad state of affairs when a Playboy model and porno performer are more believable than a president, but here we are. The same recklessly impulsive fellow who got himself into those tawdry messes is now waging a global trade war and in charge of preventing the military kind, and he’s firing steady hands and hiring cheerleaders.
On the other hand, rehearsals went well, K-State whipped that snooty Kentucky squad and moves on to its 13th “elite eight” game, and we got the trash out to the curb.

— Bud Norman

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Another One of Those Off-Years

Several off-year elections were held around the country on Tuesday, and on the whole they went well enough for the Republican party that the respectable press is fretting for the Democrats. The Associated Press gamely tried to claim that the results offer “Warning Signs for Both Parties,” but The Washington Post glumly conceded that “From coast to coast, conservatives gain big victories,” and the once venerable Atlantic Monthly went so far as to worry that “Liberals are Losing the Culture Wars.”
The AP’s assessment is easily refuted by the Post’s more factual post, which notes that Republican Matt Bevin won a poll-defying victory in Kentucky’s gubernatorial race, Democrats failed to pick up a seat in Virginia’s Senate, a legalized marijuana initiative in Ohio and an “equal rights” referendum in Houston associated with the Democratic party both failed, and even in the far-left Democratic stronghold of San Francisco the Sheriff who had steadfastly defended the city’s “sanctuary” status was voted out. The Atlantic Monthly’s dire warning might prove premature, but Republicans have reason to be hopeful.
Bevin’s unforeseen-by-the-pollsters victory in Kentucky came in spite of his figurative and photographed literal embrace of the County Clerk who created a national contretemps by refusing to issue same-sex-marriage licenses, and perhaps even because of it, and we don’t doubt that there’s still some resistance to the Democrats’ enthusiasm for the brave new homosexual world. That Ohio initiative to legalize marijuana involved a convoluted crony capitalism deal that would have granted a monopoly to a group of wealthy investors who were backing the measure, and we’re certain that a large number of potheads who would have supported a more straightforward legalization effort wound up voting against it as a result, but surely some anti-pot sentiment still lingering from the days of Jack Webb’s rants on “Dragnet” was also part of the landslide opposition.
The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, so named for the resulting “HERO” acronym, seems to have gone down to defeat because the finer print allowed any man claiming to be a woman to hang around women’s restrooms, and the overwhelmingly black and Latino and otherwise reliably Democratic voters within the city limits decided they weren’t all that wedded to such an abstract notions of human rights. That Sheriff in San Francisco reportedly had some unsurprising ethical issues that also contributed to his defeat, but we’d like to think that even in his hippy-dippy jurisdiction there’s some resistance to the idea that career criminals should be able to continue their careers just because they’re also in the country illegally, and that in more sensible parts of the country the Democrats are on the unpopular side of that whole issue.
Still, the Associated Press can plausibly go on about demographics and the Democrats’ continuing domination of those densely populated blue spots on the electoral map, and the turnout in those off-year elections is not what you’ll see in a presidential year when even the most uninformed voters have some misinformation that will send them to the voting booth. We can read nothing from such off-year tea leaves, and can only hope that it indicates the coalition of libertine white liberals with the more socially conservative and far more numerous black and Latino Democrats is proving hard to sustain. All the people who vote in off-year elections can be counted on to vote in presidential elections, and perhaps the the next one will add some of those uninformed voters, so one can be hopeful.

— Bud Norman

How to Ruin a Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy

One of the most prominent conservative talk radio hosts spent most of Wednesday’s broadcast railing at full volume against the Republican Party’s senatorial nominee in Kentucky. This does not bode well for the GOP’s otherwise excellent chances of winning a Senate majority in the upcoming mid-term elections.
The host did not go so far as to endorse the Democratic nominee, but neither did he offer any criticisms of her mostly liberal platform or employ any of his characteristic schoolyard taunts against her. On the whole, she had to be pleased with the broadcast. Early polling suggests the race will be close, with the Republicans needing a strong turnout to prevail, and having a popular voice of the right shreiking against their candidate can only help the Democrats.
Prior to Tuesday’s primary we would have had some sympathy for the host’s fulminations against Republican Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell. He scores a solid 90 percent on the American Conservative Union’s usually reliable rating of right-winginess, and his position as the Republican Senate leader suggests he has the respect of the party’s most highly elected officials, but that heretical 10 percent includes some rather egregious transgressions and the party’s pooh-bahs have too often proved timid in the fight against Democratic craziness, so we welcomed the intra-party challenge by the more rock-ribbed investment fund manager Matt Bevin and wished him well in the effort. After Bevin lost by a solid margin of 60-to-40, however, we’d rather that conservatism’s focus is now on the race between McConnell and Democratic nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes.
Call us squishy establishment country club RINOs if you want, but we’ll take the Republican Senate leader with the 90 percent ACU rating over any Democrat that even a state such as Kentucky might come up with. Grimes has been running as a moderate, and is shrewd enough to always mention her support for the embattled coal industry when distancing herself from President Barack Obama, but she doesn’t pretend to be as conservative as McConnell. She enjoys the enthusiastic support of Bill and Hillary Clinton, commentators at the far-left Daily Kos site embrace her as “the best we can get,” and Democratic party discipline is formidable enough that she’s certain to wind up ever further left once in office. For all his many failings, and for all the infuriation they caused to conservative sensibilities, McConnell is clearly preferable to Grimes.
We’ll also take respectful note of the indisputable fact that a clear majority of Kentucky Republicans, who were better able to observe the primary race than that radio host or us, preferred McConnell to Bevin. This might have been due largely to the fund-raising advantage that McConnell enjoyed as Senate minority leader, even if Bevin did have contributions pouring in from disgruntled conservatives around the country, but it also seems due at least in part to some embarrassing missteps by Bevin. The unavoidable problem with breath-of-fresh-air outsiders is that by definition they are not seasoned political professionals, and Bevin was often amateurish in the worst sense of the word. His reasonable arguments against McConnell’s vote for the Troubled Assets Relief Program that bailed out the big banks in the first days of the Great Recession was undermined by the revelation that he’d supported it back in his investment fund managing days, he was forced to apologize for a speech at a pro-cockfighting rally, and he couldn’t woo Tea Party darling Sen. Rand Paul or other prominent Kentucky conservatives to his cause. Such missteps and the fund-raising disadvantage suggested he would have been less likely to beat Grimes and her well-oiled political machine, so perhaps that majority of Kentucky Republicans who voted for McConnnell wasn’t entirely comprised of squishy establishment country club RINOs or just plain rubes easily duped by high-priced advertising.
The folks at the Senate Conservatives Fund that largely bankrolled Bevin’s insurgency were quick to endorse McConnell after the results came in, even if the candidate and his talk radio supporters have been less gracious in defeat, so there is hope the party can unify to defeat the far more liberal candidate and bolster the party’s chances to win the Senate and more effectively block whatever foolishness the Democrats had planned for the last two years of the Obama administration. It won’t be the Congress of our fondest conservative dreams, alas, but it would be markedly better than the Reid-Pelosi Congress of our worst nightmares.
Unity requires compromise on both sides of the Republicans’ internecine squabbles, of course. We’d prefer that House Speaker John Boehner and other party big wigs must cease their schoolyard taunts against the party’s more conservative and assertive ranks, and would be happy to see a Republican House and Senate purge from the leadership ranks even if the Republican voters in their districts decline to do so, but are willing to offer our support so long as they do. The “tea party” has suffered many bitter defeats this primary season, but its core principles of limited government and low taxes and individual liberty remains essential arguments even for the most “establishment” Republicans. Those “tea party” candidates that do pick up the occasional win should get the full support of t, but it’s he big donors and party professionals, a fair trade for the votes of those disgruntled conservatives who grumpily trudge to the polls for the likes of McConnell if only to keep the likes of Grimes out of Washington, and let any lingering arguments can be settled by the majority caucuses in both houses of Congress.
With the public belatedly wising up to the incompetence and wrong-headedness of the Obama administration, on everything from the rapidly deteriorating foreign affairs to the still-sputtering economy to all those scandals of bureaucratic bumbling that keep popping up, it will be hard for the Democrats to make a winning argument no matter how much money the unions pump in or how many inches of attacks the press write. The Republicans will be hard-pressed to blow it, but some of them seem determined to pull it off.

— Bud Norman

What’s Bugging the Republicans

The young folks might not believe it, but way back in the ‘70s illegal electronic eavesdropping on a political office was considered a very big deal. When some men were caught doing it on behalf of President Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign it was all anybody could talk about. The television networks ran the congressional hearings on the matter instead of soap operas and game shows, and in the dark days before cable that meant everyone had to watch, minor players became major celebrities, books were published, a Hollywood movie with big-name stars was made, and Nixon wound up resigning in disgrace with his party was so tarnished that Jimmy Carter wound up as president.
This largely forgotten episode was brought to mind Tuesday by Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell’s allegation that his political office has been “bugged,” as the ‘70s-era lingo would have it. A Federal Bureau of Investigation probe has reportedly just been launched and as of yet there is no officially sanctioned truth to the allegation, but neither is there any other apparent explanation for how an audio tape of a campaign strategy session conducted in McConnell’s office wound up in the hands of the far-left Mother Jones magazine. Even if the worst-case scenario is proved true it is unlikely to become such an all-consuming story as the Watergate scandal once was, but given the past standards that inspired so many of today’s press one would expect some attention to be paid to even the most innocuous possibilities.
Mother Jones and much of the rest of the press seem more scandalized by what’s on the tape, however, instead of how it was acquired. The tape captures McConnell and his staff discussing how they might respond to a potential challenge by the motion picture actress Ashley Judd, which is apparently shocking conduct at a campaign strategy session, and they even compound the horror by considering pointing out flaws in her character and political positions. One aide goes so far as to suggest they make an issue of her past mental breakdowns and other psychiatric problems, information he acquired by reading her autobiography. Judd eventually decided to not run for Senate in her long-abandoned home state, presumably on the advice of more seasoned Democrats who advised her that a far-left Hollywood with outspoken views against guns and coal and other beloved Kentucky values who brings a “psychological support dog” to interviews was unlikely to win in a staunchly conservative state that had recently elected the likes of McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul, no matter how memorable her many nude scenes, but it was still outrageous to the refined sensibilities of Mother Jones that McConnell would ever even contemplate saying anything unfavorable about her.
Certainly the people at that “bugged” Democratic National Committee headquarters back in the ‘70s would have never been caught uttering an unkind word about Nixon, or at least that was the impression one got from all that wall-to-wall Watergate coverage back in the day. The only story then was that political operatives had illegally eavesdropped on an opponent’s conversations, and it was considered so abhorrent that even such stalwart Republicans as McConnell now use the term “Nixonian” to disparage the practice. This time around the outrage will probably be relatively muted, and McConnell’s stalwart Republicanism is likely the reason why.

— Bud Norman