On Tuesday morning, Bernie Sanders announced his intention to run for president in 2020, bringing the number of Democratic contenders to at least a dozen, with even more waiting in the wings. At a time when Donald Trump’s approval rating is still sitting stubbornly below 45 percent; a record number of Americans are citing “poor leadership” as the biggest problem facing the U.S.; a majority of voters think his fake “national emergency” was a historically dumb move; and evidence of his mental impairment is piling up daily, you might expect the incumbent to be somewhat worried about his chances of winning a second term. The president, however, isn’t troubled in the slightest, because he reportedly has a can’t-lose strategy for slaying his opponents. No, it doesn’t involve passing an infrastructure deal or some other piece of legislation Americans actually want, nor does he have plans to lay off the unhinged tweeting or stop sabotaging Obamacare or to start rolling into the office before 11 A.M. No, this is so much bigger than all of that:
Inside the West Wing and in conversations with outside allies, Trump has been workshopping . . . attempts to imprint his new adversaries with lasting labels, according to two people on whom the president has tested out the nicknames. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations with the president. He is also testing out lines of attack in public rallies, exploring vulnerabilities he could use against them should they advance to the general election.
Yes, that’s right: when Donald Trump says he works harder than any other president in history, he’s not just talking about the hardscrabble labor of watching up to eight hours of TV a day and tweeting “witch hunt!” without any context; he’s also apparently referring to the exercise in which he subjects people to first drafts of his comedy routines like he’s dropping by the Laugh Factory unannounced to test out some new bits. Presumably, his writing process involves furiously scribbling notes on the back of whatever briefing he elected not to read, crossing them out, and asking the oil paintings of his predecessors what they would go with when it comes to Kamala Harris, Sanders, etc. (“Crazy Bernie? Wacky Bernie? I don’t know, Abe, I just don’t know.”) And, sadly for America, he’s testing out his material on a group of people who will intentionally pee their pants at anything he says if it means they can stay in his inner circle.
Even in the midst of the partial government shutdown . . . tweets mocking [Elizabeth] Warren were widely joked about by White House staff weary from the protracted closure, according to one aide who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal conversations. The person said the president repeatedly ridiculed Warren’s video in private conversations with aides and outside advisers.
Confirming that Trump’s master plan to win a second term involves branding opponents with such genius sobriquets as “Liddle Bob Corker” and “Pocahontas,” White House spokesman Raj Shah told the Associated Press: “The president has an ability to use social media to define his opponents and influence the primary debate in a way no sitting president before him has. I expect him to take full advantage.”
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Correction: Trump cares deeply about presidential candidates being treated with thoughtfulness and respect
In related news, on Tuesday the national press secretary for Trump’s re-election tweeted that a vote for Bernie is a vote for a socialist dictator. “Bernie Sanders has already won the debate in the Democrat primary, because every candidate is embracing his brand of socialism,” Kayleigh McEnany told her followers on behalf of the campaign. “But the American people will reject an agenda of sky-high tax rates, government-run health care, and coddling dictators like those in Venezuela. Only president Trump will keep America free, prosperous, and safe.”
Well this doesn’t sound great
What’s worse than a report that disgraced national security adviser Mike Flynn allegedly tried to “transfer sensitive nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia” that could allow the kingdom “to produce nuclear weapons that contribute to the proliferation of nuclear arms throughout an already unstable Middle East?” The news that investigators fear the deal is still under consideration in the Trump White House, despite Flynn’s firing and guilty plea:
Just days after Trump’s inauguration, backers of the project sent documents to Flynn for Trump to approve, including a draft Cabinet memo stating that the president had appointed [Tom] Barrack as a special representative to implement the plan and directing agencies to support Barrack’s efforts, the report says. . . . Career national-security officials objected to the plan, citing what they deemed Flynn’s conflict of interest, and also that the proposal sought to bypass a policy review that is required whenever nuclear technology is transferred to another country, the report says.
The proposal, which involved enlisting the U.S. nuclear-power industry to build nuclear plants across the Middle East, was backed by a group of retired generals who formed a firm called IP3. Flynn described himself in financial disclosure filings as an “adviser” to a subsidiary of IP3, IronBridge Group Inc., from June 2016 to December 2016—at the same time he was serving as Trump’s national security adviser during the presidential campaign and the presidential transition, the report says.
We’ll give you two guesses re: the motivations behind the deal, but you‘ll definitely only need one:
The report quotes one senior Trump official as saying that the proposal was “not a business plan,” but rather “a scheme for these generals to make some money,” and added, “O.K., you know we cannot do this.”
The White House and Flynn did not respond to NBC News’s request for comment.
Those G.O.P. tax cuts not going exactly as planned
Unless the plan was to give taxpayers a heart attack, in which case things are going very, very well:
The first tax-filing season under the new federal tax law is proving to be surprising, confusing—and occasionally frightening—for some Americans, especially those accustomed to getting money back from the government. Take Andy Kraft and Amy Elias of Portland, Oregon. The couple had grown comfortable getting a small refund each year, a few hundred dollars or more. Then they found out they owe $10,160 this year.
“I will never forget the moment, I thought, ‘We look good,’ and then we added in the next W-2 and my jaw hit the floor,” Kraft said. “There was no way I wanted to believe that what I was looking at was accurate.”
To be fair, experts say that the legislation will result in the majority of Americans seeing a reduction in taxes (and the über-wealthy seeing a big reduction in taxes), but because the law required employers to change their withholding, they might have gotten a little too much in their paychecks, hence the sizable bill from the I.R.S. (Also throwing a wrench into people’s expectations: the elimination of personal exemptions and the limiting of a number of popular deductions.) While some argue that a large refund means the government was holding onto too much of your money throughout the year, many Americans have come to rely on and expect the cash infusion. As Richard Thaler, recipient of the 2017 Nobel Prize in economic studies, told NPR, most people won’t notice a slight increase in their paycheck, but they will notice a bill come April. And when you’re hoping to run for re-election in part on your “big, beautiful tax cuts,” the proliferation of hashtags like #GOPTaxScam and #GOPTaxScamStories probably doesn’t help your case, nor does mansplaining about the issue by a punk First Son:
If Hedge Funds Are Lagging, Why Do They Have So Much Money? (Bloomberg)
Trump officially directs Pentagon to create Space Force legislation for Congress (CNBC)
“Amsterdam is winning so much business as Europe’s post-Brexit trading hub that the Netherlands is boosting the financial regulator’s budget by 10 percent to keep up with it all.” (Bloomberg)
Amazon’s Exit Could Have Repercussions on Long Island (W.S.J.)
As McKinsey Sells Advice, Its Hedge Fund May Have a Stake in the Outcome (N.Y.T.)
How an $11M media merger fell apart over alleged fraud, murder threats (N.Y.P.)
Warren Proposes Universal-Child-Care Plan Funded by Wealth Tax (Bloomberg)
SeaWorld gondola ride turns into harrowing, hours-long ordeal for 16 passengers (Washington Post)
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