How do you top that? That’s the Hollywood question. The movie was so charming, or funny, or exciting, or inspiring – and thus so profitable – why not make another? But that seldom works out. It’s hard to top the first fresh movie. Sequels suck. “Jaws” (1975) was a nifty movie – but Jaws 2 (1978) and then Jaws 3-D (1983) and then Jaws: The Revenge (1987) were progressively less nifty. They were progressively more stupid. John Williams won an Oscar for his score for that first movie, with that iconic menacing two-note theme. Spielberg later said that without Williams’ score the film would have been nothing much, and Williams scored the second film – and then he bailed. Things were getting too stupid. Eventually, Universal Pictures had squeezed the last bit of money that could be squeezed out of that big mechanical shark. They decided to underwrite Avatar sequels instead – but Paramount keeps pumping out Star Trek sequels. That franchise has kept that studio afloat, and every year or two, more or less, everyone can return to Jurassic Park again. There’s more money to be squeezed out of Superman and Batman and Spiderman, and that Kung-Fu Panda too. Something worked really well once. Do it again. It may be crap this time. There will be diminishing returns on that subsequent investment. But there will be some returns on that investment. The trick is to figure out what worked the first time, and do it again, louder and faster. And then hope for the best.
That’s the political problem for Donald Trump. He has to run for the presidency once again, and that should be easier this time, since he won the office once – but it’s not easier. He can offer what he offered before, but ranting against Mexicans and Muslims and uppity black NFL players, and against Canada and NATO and the EU and all our allies that have been secretly laughing at our stupidity and gullibility all these years, might have grown tiresome. There’s nothing new there. And no one may care if anyone locks up Hillary Clinton now, and Obamacare is working well enough at the moment.
But something has to work again, although Team Trump has other worries now:
As President Trump prepares to formally launch his reelection bid Tuesday, his allies are trying to tamp down headlines that depict his campaign as trailing top Democrats, beset by withering leaks and unable to keep internal tensions from spilling into public view.
The 2020 drama intensified over the weekend, as Trump’s campaign abruptly fired three of its pollsters, including one polling firm formerly owned by Kellyanne Conway, the president’s adviser and former campaign manager.
Privately and publicly, campaign advisers fumed over the leak of internal polling data that showed Trump far behind former vice president Joe Biden.
That’s no way to kick off the new campaign:
The campaign’s first major public stumble – culminating in a personnel shake-up on the eve of Trump’s reelection rally in Orlando – served to undercut its well-laid efforts to portray the president’s 2020 bid as a well-oiled machine ready to carry him to a second term.
The president may seek to change the subject Tuesday at the rally, where he will address a crowd he has already described as record-size. He will be joined by first lady Melania Trump, Vice President Pence and several members of his family and 2016 campaign staff.
Yes, change the subject, which is what those who attend this rally expect:
Trump’s advisers said the president’s supporters, who are expected to fill the 18,500-seat Amway Center, are not paying attention to internal machinations of the campaign and won’t be swayed by early signs of turbulence.
“Nothing will get in the way of the tremendous kickoff and the momentum the president will have and sustain through Election Day next year,” said Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh.
Trump will take the stage in Florida to make the case that the first 2½ years of his administration have been about “promises made” and “promises kept,” advisers said. He will point to the strong U.S. economy and a slew of actions he has taken on issues including taxes, military spending and judicial appointments.
That’s the plan. Say the economy is great. Say everyone got a big tax break. Say the military has so much money now they have no way to spend it all. And say the new judges will overturn Roe any day now, and then make any form of contraception as illegal as abortion. And there may be a way to reinterpret the Nineteenth Amendment. Should “all” women be allowed to vote? The judges are in place.
But of course Trump’s own trade wars have unsettled the economy, and very few ordinary people got a big tax break or any tax break at all, and massive military spending, when the nation’s roads and bridges are disintegrating, excites no one now, and Roe v Wade is still the law of the land. And the man in charge seems a bit strange:
Trump has publicly denied the existence of the internal polls showing him behind Biden, even as his campaign confirmed them. The coverage of the polling has infuriated Trump, who has repeatedly encouraged allies to downplay or deny the results. During a ride in his presidential motorcade last week in Iowa, when the subject of polling came up in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Trump asked to get his campaign manager on the phone, according to a person familiar with the conversation.
At that point, Trump asked to go off the record and spoke to Brad Parscale about the surveys. Parscale told Trump that the leaked polls represented the worst-case scenario under turnout models unfavorable to the president, the person said.
Parscale has since put out statements describing the data as outdated and not representative of today’s race.
And that keeps the boss happy, or at least non-volcanic, but the boss really is not paying attention at all:
Walmart, Target, and more than 600 other companies urged U.S. President Donald Trump in a letter on Thursday to resolve the trade dispute with China, saying tariffs hurt American businesses and consumers.
This letter is the latest of many sent to the Trump administration by Tariffs Hurt the Heartland, the national campaign against tariffs supported by more than 150 trade groups representing agriculture, manufacturing, retail and tech industries.
But it is significant as U.S.-China trade tensions escalate and comes before a possible meeting between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the June 28-29 G20 summit in Osaka, Japan.
That is a worry, given that this president isn’t particularly worried:
With less than three weeks to go before talks between Chinese and U.S. leaders, expectations for progress toward ending the trade war are low. Sources have told Reuters there has been little preparation for a meeting even as the health of the world economy is at stake.
“We remain concerned about the escalation of tit-for-tat tariffs,” the new letter sent on Thursday said. “Broadly applied tariffs are not an effective tool to change China’s unfair trade practices. Tariffs are taxes paid directly by U.S. companies… not China.”
Ah, but Trump will wing it and everything will be fine, although these business people doubt that:
Additional 25% tariffs on $300 billion in imports, on top of those already levied, would wipe out more than 2 million U.S. jobs, the letter said, citing estimates from international consultancy the Trade Partnership.
They would also add more than $2,000 in costs for the average American family of four and reduce the value of U.S. Gross Domestic Product by 1%, it said.
“An escalated trade war is not in the country’s best interest, and both sides will lose,” the letter said.
Trump will not speak to these people now. He knows better. He simply will not believe that what he is doing will cost two million jobs. That he just cannot believe, or that two thousand dollar cost to average American family of four, or that sudden drop in the GDP of all things. This just cannot be. So it isn’t so.
Not everyone thinks like that:
President Trump faces a number of major decisions on trade and the budget in the coming months just as the U.S. economy faces the biggest head winds of his tenure, forcing him to decide whether to recalibrate as recession fears mount for next year.
Trump has threatened to escalate trade conflicts with China, Mexico, the European Union and Japan, spooking business leaders and leading some to pull back investment. Similarly, budget and debt-ceiling talks with congressional leaders from both parties have sputtered, raising the possibility of another government shutdown in October.
The uncertainty – and a cooling global economy – led JPMorgan Chase on Monday to predict that there was a 45 percent chance the U.S. economy would enter a recession in the next year, up from 20 percent at the beginning of 2018.
Also Monday, a key gauge of New York’s manufacturing industry notched the biggest one-month drop ever recorded. It was the latest sign that after a relatively strong economy last year, political and economic forces appear to have combined this year in a way that has darkened the economic outlook.
This could be problematic for Trump, who has tried to tout the economy’s performance as key to his reelection.
That last sentence is a bit of an understatement. The economy is slipping away from Trump. He cannot run on the economy now, or on the tax breaks that made the struggling workers of America rich again, because the tax breaks didn’t do that. Obamacare is off the table – repeal failed two years ago when Republicans held both the House and Senate, and the White House too. They failed when they had it all, and now the House is gone. That’s over.
That leaves only one place to turn to win the key states that put him over the top last time. That would be Pennsylvania and Ohio and Wisconsin. There are few Hispanics there. Few have even seen a Hispanic, much less a Mexican. This is not the Southern border where everyone pretty much gets along. This is White Bread Country. They’ll see the menace no one else sees. They’ll see animals, not people. Trump can return to the main theme from four years ago. These people, if they are people, need to be taught a lesson. It’s time to hurt them, to really hurt them.
President Trump said in a tweet Monday night that U.S. immigration agents are planning to make mass arrests starting “next week,” an apparent reference to a plan in preparation for months that aims to round up thousands of migrant parents and children in a blitz operation across major U.S. cities.
“Next week ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States,” Trump wrote, referring to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “They will be removed as fast as they come in.”
This is the Operation Boxcar everyone has talked about for years. Round up millions at a time. Put them in boxcars. All of them. Roll them away. They disappear. That’s the Final Solution:
Trump and his senior immigration adviser, Stephen Miller, have been prodding Homeland Security officials to arrest and remove thousands of family members whose deportation orders were expedited by the Justice Department this year as part of a plan known as the “rocket docket.”
In April, acting ICE director Ronald Vitiello and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen were ousted after they hesitated to go forward with the plan, expressing concerns about its preparation, effectiveness and the risk of public outrage from images of migrant children being taken into custody or separated from their families.
Vitiello was replaced at ICE by former FBI and Border Patrol official Mark Morgan, who had impressed the president with statements on cable television in favor of harsh immigration enforcement measures.
So bring on the pain:
In his first two weeks on the job at ICE, Morgan has said publicly that he plans to beef up interior enforcement and go after families with deportation orders, insisting that the rulings must be carried out to uphold the integrity of the country’s legal system.
“Our next challenge is going to be interior enforcement,” Morgan told reporters June 4 in Washington. “We will be going after individuals who have gone through due process and who have received final orders of deportation.”
“That will include families,” he said, adding that ICE agents will treat the parents and children they arrest “with compassion and humanity.”
They’ll all be shipped out, and children may be separated from their parents forever, but with compassion and humanity.
But what just happened? Donald Trump surprised everyone:
U.S. officials with knowledge of the preparations have said in recent days that the operation was not imminent, and ICE officials said late Monday night that they were not aware that the president planned to divulge their enforcement plans on Twitter.
But he did. It just occurred to him. The acting ICE director and the former Homeland Security Secretary found the whole notion appalling – mean and cruel and stupid – but Trump fired both of them. Still, it was stupid:
Executing a large-scale operation of the type under discussion requires hundreds – and perhaps thousands – of U.S. agents and supporting law enforcement personnel, as well as weeks of intelligence gathering and planning to verify addresses and locations of individuals targeted for arrest.
The president’s claim that ICE would be deporting “millions” also was at odds with the reality of the agency’s staffing and budgetary challenges. ICE arrests in the U.S. interior have been declining in recent months because so many agents are busy managing the record surge of migrant families across the southern border with Mexico.
Someone wasn’t thinking here:
The family arrest plan has been considered even more sensitive than a typical operation because children are involved and Homeland Security officials retain significant concerns that families will be inadvertently separated by the operation, especially because parents in some households have deportation orders but their children – some of whom are U.S. citizens – might not. Should adults be arrested without their children because they are at school, day care, summer camp or at a friend’s house, it is possible parents could be deported while their children are left behind.
Imagine the abandoned kid crying in the street and the ICE agents laughing and walking away. That image wins a whole lot of votes for Trump in his white rust-belt states seething with resentment and fear of those hypothetical Mexicans they’ve heard about.
But there is something odd about this:
Publicizing a future law enforcement operation is unheard of at ICE. Trump administration officials blasted Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf last year for warning immigrants about an impending raid, saying she endangered agents’ safety.
“The Oakland mayor’s decision to publicize her suspicions about ICE operations further increased that risk for my officers and alerted criminal aliens – making clear that this reckless decision was based on her political agenda with the very federal laws that ICE is sworn to uphold,” then -ICE deputy director Thomas D. Homan said at the time.
Homan later retired, but last week Trump said Homan would return to public service as his “border czar.” On Fox News, Homan later called that announcement “kind of premature” and said he had not decided whether to accept the job.
He may not want to have anything to do with any of this now, and then there’s that mayor:
Schaaf responded late Monday to the president’s tweet teasing the looming ICE roundups.
“If you continue to threaten, target and terrorize families in my community, and if we receive credible information, you already know what our values are in Oakland – and we will unapologetically stand up for those values,” she wrote.
Trump can deal with that. Make all of it about values. She has hers – family and community and compassion and respect. He has his. Hurt your enemy, as cruelly as possible. They’ll never mess with you again. USA! USA! USA!
He can win on that. Christian evangelicals love that sort of thing, or they do now. And that explains Trump’s second campaign gesture:
U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration on Monday cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, after Trump blasted the three countries because thousands of their citizens had sought asylum at the U.S. border with Mexico.
Yes, as everyone knew he would, he decided to punish these people. Economic and social conditions are so bad there that these people stream north asking for asylum here. Trump hates that, so he’ll make things even worse there, which of course makes no sense:
Lawmakers who opposed the plan said it was cruel to cut off aid to countries grappling with hunger and crime and that the move would be counterproductive because it would more likely increase the number of migrants than decrease it.
“As feared, a presidential tantrum will limit our nation’s ability to actually help address the challenges forcing people to flee to the U.S.,” Democratic Senator Bob Menendez said on Twitter.
Trump sees it the opposite way:
No funds will be provided until the administration is satisfied the countries are reducing the number of migrants reaching the U.S. border, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told reporters.
“This is consistent with the president’s direction and with the recognition that it is critical that there be sufficient political will in these countries to address the problem at its source,” she said.
In short, fix your own damned problems, and after you fixed them, and no one ever tries to come here, from there, ever again, we’ll send a few bucks your way, maybe. Some voters like that sort of sneering in a president. Trump might win this thing.
But he might not. Sequels generally suck.