California turned blue – all Democrats all the time – long ago. Ronald Reagan was a Hollywood guy, not quite a big star but president of the Screen Actors Guild for years, and then governor out here for years, disassembling Pat Brown’s Golden State of high growth and wide prosperity and free college and all the rest. Suddenly, big government was bad. Californians had to bring in Pat Brown’s son Jerry, twice, to repair the damage. And, of course, Richard Nixon was born and raised in Yorba Linda, but he moved on up and out of here fast. He didn’t seem to like California. The action was back east. But we had Republicans out here. And then Pete Wilson ended that with Proposition 187 in 1994 – the state would make sure illegal immigrants – Mexicans mostly – died in the streets. They’d get nothing, no services at all. They were scum – and the Hispanic vote was gone – and the Black and Asian vote was gone too, in sympathy. Rabbis remembered the holocaust. So did the college educated. And poof – the Republican Party was reduced to what seemed like ten grumpy old men in Fresno. They made a comeback with Arnold Schwarzenegger but he couldn’t save them from themselves, and most Republicans never trusted Schwarzenegger anyway. He had married into the Kennedy family. He was a secret liberal. And then he was gone.
Now it’s blue out here, and the Republican base, and particularly Trump’s base, has amped up their contempt for California in general. They always hated Hollywood. Jesus told them to. And who doesn’t resent those hard-body tanned surfers, and all the vegan liberals, and those movie stars who think they know anything? And there’s the damned weather. Why do they get all the sunshine? And why do they get to be healthy all the time? And it’s an awful place. People speak Spanish in public, everywhere. In fact, California is so multicultural that everyone out there hates white people and sneers at those they call rednecks. And why do they think a college degree means anything? Any eighth-grade dropout in the Ozarks is a better person than any of them. They hate us and we hate them back.
That’s what this has come to. Trump, however, cannot, to please his base, sign an executive order declaring that California is no longer part of the United States, that those fools are on their own now as a new separate but stupid nation. There’s no mechanism for that, but with the election two weeks away, he can send a signal to his base that he’ll do what he can to satisfy their need to hurt these people. He can do this:
President Donald Trump’s administration has rejected California’s request for a major disaster declaration tied to the Creek Fire and five other catastrophic blazes, a rare move considering the breadth and high-profile nature of the disaster.
The rejection came the same day that the federal government agreed to take on all state costs of debris removal and emergency protective measures for a separate set of wildfires from August, prompting questions as to why the White House appeared to be selective with its assistance to the Golden State.
Trump and his Federal Emergency Management Agency were certainly familiar with the Creek Fire’s scope. During a visit last month to California, the president held a ceremony to honor seven National Guard members who rescued dozens of people trapped by flames from the disaster.
But he was signaling his base. He was hurting these people for them:
California this year has experienced the worst fire season in its recorded history, with over 4.1 million acres burned, 31 deaths and 9,200-plus structures damaged or destroyed so far. Many blazes were sparked in August, two months earlier than the usual peak of fire season, and Trump on Wednesday increased the federal cost share for those blazes from the typical 75 percent to 100 percent. Those lightning-ignited fire complexes in the Bay Area became the third- and fourth-largest blazes in state history.
However, the same day that the Trump administration made that move, the president tweeted criticism of the state. “People are fleeing California,” he wrote. “Taxes too high, Crime too high, Brownouts too many, Lockdowns too severe. VOTE FOR TRUMP, WHAT THE HELL DO YOU HAVE TO LOSE!!!”
His base cheered, but this was also a warning to California voters. This is the price for going for Hillary two to one last time – no federal dollars for anything, ever. Go for Biden this time and FEMA won’t show up, ever. No one will ever show up.
That might change a few votes. Fear works wonders. And then he changed his mind:
President Donald Trump approved California’s request for a presidential disaster declaration to help combat the state’s record-setting wildfires, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Friday, a day after the administration initially rejected the request.
“Just got off the phone with President Trump who has approved our Major Disaster Declaration request. Grateful for his quick response,” Newsom said in a statement Friday.
The back and forth comes after the White House said Thursday that California’s request for a presidential major disaster declaration was rejected because it was “not supported by the relevant data.” Thirty-one people have died as a result of the wildfires and more than 9,200 structures have been destroyed.
“The governor and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy spoke and presented a convincing case and additional on-the-ground perspective for reconsideration leading the President to approve the declaration,” said White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere.
Kevin McCarthy is the Republican leader in the House, and he’s one of those grumpy guys from Fresno. This is his state. He got to Trump. Did the president really want to eliminate the few remaining Republicans out here? Oh. Trump got it.
Donald Trump is a difficult man. He’s even more difficult now that he must know he could lose the election. And maybe he’s the problem. It might be time to jump ship. The New York Times’ Catie Edmondson covers that awakening:
For nearly four years, congressional Republicans have ducked and dodged an unending cascade of offensive statements and norm-shattering behavior from President Trump, ignoring his caustic and scattershot Twitter feed and penchant for flouting party orthodoxy, and standing quietly by as he abandoned military allies, attacked American institutions and stirred up racist and nativist fears.
But now, facing grim polling numbers and a flood of Democratic money and enthusiasm that has imperiled their majority in the Senate, Republicans on Capitol Hill are beginning to publicly distance themselves from the president. The shift, less than three weeks before the election, indicates that many Republicans have concluded that Mr. Trump is heading for a loss in November. And they are grasping to save themselves and rushing to re-establish their reputations for a coming struggle for their party’s identity.
These are the Republicans who won’t go down with the ship:
Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska unleashed on Mr. Trump in a telephone town hall event with constituents on Wednesday, eviscerating the president’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and accusing him of “flirting” with dictators and white supremacists and alienating voters so broadly that he might cause a “Republican blood bath” in the Senate. He was echoing a phrase from Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who warned of a “Republican blood bath of Watergate proportions.” Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of the president’s most vocal allies, predicted the president could very well lose the White House.
Even the normally taciturn Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, has been more outspoken than usual in recent days about his differences with the president, rejecting his calls to “go big” on a stimulus bill.
There’s the multitrillion-dollar federal aid plan that Trump has suddenly decided is a wonderful idea. Mitch says half a trillion, or half a billion, or maybe nothing. Trump can say anything he wants. Republicans don’t spend money. He controls the Senate. And that’s that. And no one is happy:
If some Senate Republicans have written off Mr. Trump’s chances of victory, the feeling may be mutual. On Friday, the president issued his latest Twitter attack on Senator Susan Collins of Maine, one of the most endangered Republican incumbents, apparently unconcerned that he might be further imperiling her chances, along with the party’s hopes of holding on to the Senate.
No one crosses him! Those who do, pay! But fear isn’t what it used to be:
In a statement on Friday, Senator Mitt Romney assailed the president for being unwilling to condemn QAnon, the viral pro-Trump conspiracy movement that the FBI has labeled a domestic terrorism threat, saying the president was “eagerly trading” principles “for the hope of electoral victories.”
But that’s what politicians do:
Mr. Romney and other Republicans who have spoken up to offer dire predictions or expressions of concern about Mr. Trump are all sticking with the president on what is likely his final major act before the election: the confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a favorite of conservatives, to the Supreme Court.
The dichotomy reflects the tacit deal congressional Republicans have accepted over the course of Mr. Trump’s presidency, in which they have tolerated his incendiary behavior and statements knowing that he would further many of their priorities, including installing a conservative majority on the nation’s highest court.
That’s the bargain. They lose the White House but they did get their judges. And now they can dump Trump:
In 2016, when Mr. Trump, then a candidate, looked increasingly likely to capture the party’s nomination, Mr. McConnell assured his members that if he threatened to harm them in the general election, they would “drop him like a hot rock.”
That did not happen then and it is unlikely to now, with Republicans up for re-election readily aware that Democratic voters are unlikely to reward such a rebuke, especially so close to Election Day. But there have been other, more subtle moves.
Despite repeated public entreaties from Mr. Trump for Republicans to embrace a larger pandemic stimulus package, Mr. McConnell has all but refused, saying senators in his party would never support a package of that magnitude. Senate Republicans revolted last weekend on a conference call with Mark Meadows, the president’s chief of staff, warning that a big-spending deal would amount to a “betrayal” of the party’s base and tarnish their credentials as fiscal hawks.
A more personal rebuke came from Mr. McConnell last week when the Kentuckian, who is up for re-election, told reporters that he had avoided visiting the White House since late summer because of its handling of the coronavirus.
In short, he wasn’t going to die for this guy, the guy who would be gone soon enough, and it may be that things are falling apart. Katie Benner covers another defector:
A 36-year veteran of the Justice Department this week accused Attorney General William P. Barr of abusing his power to sway the election for President Trump and said he was quitting, making him the third sitting prosecutor to issue a rare public rebuke of the attorney general.
“Barr’s resentment toward rule-of-law prosecutors became increasingly difficult to ignore, as did his slavish obedience to Donald Trump’s will,” Phillip Halpern, a federal prosecutor in San Diego, said in a letter published Wednesday in The San Diego Union-Tribune. “This career bureaucrat seems determined to turn our democracy into an autocracy.”
Mr. Halpern said he chose to retire as well, calling Mr. Barr “a well-trained bureaucrat” without prosecutorial experience and alleging that he scorned honest apolitical prosecutors and selectively meddled in the criminal justice system to help Mr. Trump’s allies.
And the issue here is more Trump than Barr:
The condemnations by Mr. Halpern and the two other prosecutors, one in Seattle and one in Boston, broke with a longstanding practice by Justice Department lawyers not to publicly discuss internal affairs.
“I have never seen sitting prosecutors go on the record with concerns about the attorney general,” said Paul Butler, a professor at Georgetown Law who served as a federal prosecutor during Mr. Barr’s earlier tour as attorney general in the George Bush administration. “This is unprecedented.”
He said that during Mr. Barr’s first stint as attorney general, line prosecutors did not feel the sense of crisis that they feel now. “Trump is the difference,” Mr. Butler said. “Barr was attorney general, but he was still beholden to the president, and he didn’t put the pressure on the attorney general that Trump has.”
There seem to be an awakening. Trump is the difference. CNN is doing a special on this awakening:
Former White House chief of staff, retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, has told friends that President Donald Trump “is the most flawed person” he’s ever known.
“The depth of his dishonesty is just astounding to me. The dishonesty, the transactional nature of every relationship, though it’s more pathetic than anything else. He is the most flawed person I have ever met in my life,” the retired Marine general has told friends, CNN has learned.
The reporting comes from a new CNN special scheduled to air Sunday night, “The Insiders: A Warning from Former Trump Officials,” in which former senior administration officials — including former national security adviser John Bolton, former Health and Human Services scientist Rick Bright and former Department of Homeland Security general counsel John Mitnick — explain why they think the President is unfit for office.
Kelly’s sentiments about the President’s transactional nature and dishonesty have been shared by other former members of the Trump administration who also appear in the special.
And this is that all-star lineup:
Olivia Troye, a former top adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, has said the President knew about the impact the coronavirus pandemic would have on the US by mid-February, but that “he didn’t want to hear it, because his biggest concern was that we were in an election year.” Miles Taylor, a former DHS chief of staff who now serves as a CNN contributor, has asserted Trump essentially calls individuals within the federal government who disagree with him “deep state.”
Elizabeth Neumann, another former DHS official, had criticized Trump for not condemning White supremacy after the first presidential debate in September.
“The fact that he continues to not be able to just point-blank say, ‘I condemn White supremacy.’ It boggles the mind,” she told CNN at the time.
Trump did say on Thursday during a town hall on NBC that he condemned White supremacy. “I denounce White supremacy, okay?,” Trump told NBC’s Savannah Guthrie. “I’ve denounced White supremacy for years.”
He hasn’t but it’s not worth arguing about. John Kelly gets specific:
In June, in the wake of George Floyd’s killing at the hands of Minneapolis police and Trump’s response to the subsequent protests and calls for racial justice, Kelly said he agreed with former Secretary of Defense Gen. Jim Mattis’ stark warning that Trump is “the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people.” Kelly said he would have cautioned Trump against the idea of using law enforcement to clear Lafayette Square of protesters ahead of the President’s now infamous photo op in front of a nearby church.
Kelly also defended retired Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman for raising concerns about the President’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky – the call at the heart of the President’s impeachment. And Kelly has said he believes Bolton’s allegation that Trump conditioned US security aid to Ukraine on an investigation into political rivals.
Kelly has said that before he left the White House, he cautioned Trump: “Don’t hire a ‘yes man,’ someone who won’t tell you the truth. Because if you do, I believe you will be impeached.”
And then Kelly got the hell out of there:
Since Kelly’s departure, the White House and the President have maintained that the former general wasn’t cut out for his job in the West Wing.
“When I terminated John Kelly, which I couldn’t do fast enough, he knew full well that he was way over his head,” Trump tweeted in February.
Yeah, right, but Trump is Trump:
President Trump accused Dr. Anthony Fauci of being a “Democrat” during a political rally on Thursday, his latest salvo against the top infectious diseases expert.
Fauci has been blunt about how the White House has handled the coronavirus pandemic, calling the White House ceremony for Judge Amy Coney Barrett that’s believed to have caused a West Wing outbreak a “super spreader” event and blasting the Trump campaign for using him in an ad without his permission. The president, speaking to supporters in North Carolina, questioned the efficacy of masks and criticized Fauci’s handling of the pandemic, even as he also referred to him as a “nice guy.”
“You know they keep saying nobody wears masks, wear the masks. Although then they come out with things today, did you see CDC? That 85% of the people wearing the mask catch it. OK?” the president said.
Trump is good at sneering, but the CDC did not say that – masks don’t cause people to get this creeping crud and die – quite the opposite – not that it mattered. That’s what he said once again at his town hall that night.
That town hall was a bit of a mess. Susan Glasser had the best coverage:
Even Donald Trump has moments of self-awareness. During an interview last week with Rush Limbaugh, the right-wing talk-radio host whom he honored with the Medal of Freedom earlier this year, the President briefly abandoned his puffery to admit that he might be defeated – and that his own nastiness would be the reason why. “Maybe I’ll lose,” he told Limbaugh, “because they’ll say I’m not a nice person.” He added, “I think I am a nice person,” before pivoting back to his trademark name-calling. A few days later, the political liability of his brutish persona was clearly on Trump’s mind again. “Can I ask you to do me a favor?” he begged “suburban women” at a rally in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, on Monday. “Will you please like me, please, please?”
That set the stage for what happened next:
Trump was certainly no nice guy in his Thursday-evening town hall, on NBC, offering those who tuned in a repeat of his harsh performance in his first debate against Joe Biden. This time, Trump’s foil was not Biden, because Trump had refused to debate him on the terms set by the Commission on Presidential Debates, but Savannah Guthrie, the NBC News moderator. Guthrie seemed to infuriate Trump with her quick questions and real-time fact-checking of some of his most egregious whoppers. The President was loud, and increasingly red in the face, as he struggled to respond. He berated Guthrie and refused to answer questions. He offered a sarcastic aside about how something she said was “so cute.” He lectured her on how “under levered” he was. None of that seemed likely to win over suburban women…
Answering questions from a real journalist for the first time since that debate and his subsequent coronavirus hospitalization, Trump was unrepentant about the pandemic, and even absurdly claimed that he had seen a study purporting to show that eighty-five per cent of those who wear masks get COVID-19 anyway. In the first debate, he had refused to denounce white supremacy. This time, he refused to denounce QAnon, even after Guthrie explained that the group falsely claims Democrats are “a satanic pedophile ring” engaged in an elaborate sex-trafficking conspiracy. “I don’t know about QAnon,” Trump responded, before saying that at least the group is strongly “against pedophilia,” which he is, too.
That’s what upset Mitt Romney, and Savannah Guthrie at bit too. Why is it hard to say that anyone who thinks that Hillary Clinton, with Tom Hanks and Lady Gaga, runs a satanic pedophile ring engaged in elaborate sex-trafficking and the murder of babies and drinking their blood, all from the basement of a pizza shop not far from the White House, might have a screw loose? Trump would not admit to that possibility:
The whole effect was more than a little unhinged, as captured in Trump’s most memorable exchange with the NBC anchor.
Why, Guthrie asked the President, had he chosen to tweet out a wild conspiracy theory earlier this week, suggesting that President Obama had killed the Navy’s SEAL Team Six in order to cover up the fake death of Osama bin Laden? When Trump responded that he was merely retweeting this insane and completely bogus story, so it was perfectly fine, Guthrie refused to accept his answer. She said, “I don’t get that. You’re the President! You’re not like someone’s crazy uncle who can just retweet whatever!”
Well, he’s Mary Trump’s crazy uncle who can just retweet whatever. She tweeted one word – “Actually…”
Glasser, however, sees a plan here:
His combative performance was no accident: it was just what the President wanted and, indeed, what he had planned for his encounter with “fake” NBC News, an insult that he tweeted hours before taking NBC’s stage. Trump, win or lose, will end the race as he began it, in a blaze of name-calling and narcissism. It’s far too late to rebrand the President, and the campaign, which last year ran an expensive TV ad during the World Series literally bragging that “he’s no Mr. Nice Guy,” isn’t about to start trying.
That worked for him before, in 2016, but Glasser thinks things have changed now:
Four years later, Trump is older, heavier, and far, far less coherent in the message he’s offering. He’s the incumbent, not the outsider, and he increasingly seems disconnected from the reality of the country he leads, ignoring the huge death toll from the pandemic and the economic pain and dislocation it has caused as he obsesses over a tangle of conspiracy theories that is vast and largely undecipherable even to those who are paying close attention. After four years of this, many Americans are exhausted by it all, and particularly by the President’s relentless, polarizing, inescapable presence in their lives. They could use a little nice.
Joe Biden provided that:
I switched the television to ABC, where there were still thirty minutes left in Biden’s town hall. It was all dulcet tones and policy wonkery. After listening to Trump, the Biden show sounded soothing, and even a bit boring. Turning the channel to the former Vice-President exchanging civilized words with George Stephanopoulos and an auditorium full of earnest Pennsylvanians was like stumbling into a meditation room after being trapped at a barroom brawl. If Trump was Guthrie’s crazy uncle, Biden was his sensible, long-winded brother.
But then there was this:
Minutes into the two town halls, the Trump campaign aide Mercedes Schlapp tweeted that Biden sounded like the late children’s-television host Mister Rogers, of zippered-cardigan fame. She clearly meant it as an insult. But who doesn’t like Mister Rogers?
And who doesn’t like California? Hum “California Dreamin’” one more time. Trump can’t change that.