Archive for the 'Donald Trump' Category


Mitch McConnell’s failure to back Trump on Syria should be worrying for the White House

Sunday, October 20th, 2019

The total focus on Brexit over the past few days has taken the attention away from United States politics where the ongoing saga in relation to Donald Trump is becoming even more perilous for the 73 year old.

There’ve been two big developments over the weekend and I suggest that something might possibly be happening that might not be good for the incumbent. Firstly there is the Washington Post article by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, above, in which he is very critical of  the situation in Syria that Trump himself seems to be personally responsible for.

Although Trump is not mentioned in the McConnell piece there is little doubt that he is the target and that should be concerning for it is McConnell who would be the one who could end Trump’s tenure.

While the Democratic party controlled House of Representatives is advancing forward on its impeachment move Trump is secure in his position as long as two-thirds of the Senate does not back any move for him to stand aside. Republicans continue to hold the Upper House in Congress and the key figure is Republican Senate Majority leader, McConnell, For him to be publicly raising his concern about the president’s strategy should be worrying.

The other development has been quite extraordinary and suggests that maybe Trump has started to realise the limits of what he can do. The G7 is meeting in the US next year and Trump’s initial plan was for them to gather at one of his resorts in Florida at a time of year when normally it is not very busy. The Trump organisation would be a major beneficiary financially.

This sparked off a huge storm and the latest news is that Trump has gone back on this which of itself is really quite remarkable. I can’t recall other occasions when there has been a turn around in his position but that has happened here. I wonder if McConnell, who is said to talk with Trump three times a day, has had a word.

If Trump were to stand down that would happen very quickly and no doubt everybody would say of course this had been coming all along. It is easy to be wise after the event.

Whatever my biggest betting position at the moment is that Trump will not be the Republican party nominee at next year’s presidential election. I laid on Betfair at 1.12 and this has moved out considerably.

Mike Smithson


Trump’s unhinged behaviour won’t invoke the 25th

Saturday, October 12th, 2019

His mental health is too difficult to assess and there are other, better routes

When Donald Trump was merely the cartoon boss on the Apprentice, he hammed up his performance with the very successful catchphrase “You’re fired” – although it turned out he really was playing himself all along.

Trump’s administration has been a revolving door of appointments amid laudatory comments, followed by resignations and sackings and associated Trumpian bad-mouthing of his former colleagues. In around three years, Trump has got through any number of underlings. While his personal political staff has had most turnover, his cabinet-level appointments have had unusual turnover: of the 15 positions (excluding VP), eight have seen at least one sacking or resignation. That compares with just two at the same point in Obama’s presidency (and neither of those was contentious).

Trump hires and fires at will; it’s part of his god complex. One question we therefore really ought to be asking is whether, if he is renominated by the Republicans for the presidency, he will stick by Mike Pence as his running mate.

Pence has, as far as we can tell, been a loyal deputy: no easy task with such an erratic boss. All the same, his personal ratings are nothing to write home about, hovering in high negative single figures. Granted, that’s a little better than Trump’s scores but not much and Pence doesn’t obviously add much to the ticket. In 2016, he was a clear signal to the Republicans’ evangelical support but Trump has a record in office now and can point to his judicial nominations – far more important than the Vice Presidency – in how he’s delivered for that support. He doesn’t really need Pence now. It is true that Trump has said that Pence will be on the ticket but then Trump says a lot of things that don’t always turn out to be good guides to the future.

There is one complication we should think about though. Trump has never been a model of consistency but his behaviour these last couple of months – now that impeachment is getting serious – has been worse than usual. His tweet simultaneously threatening to destroy Turkey’s economy while boasting of his “great and unmatched wisdom” was merely the most notable example but here’s another.

These incidents have once again raised chatter about the 25th Amendment: the means by which a US president can be removed from effective office on health grounds (note – an important betting consideration here is that the president does not lose office, only the powers of the office, which become vested in the Vice President.

The barriers to invoking Section 4 are, however, formidable. It requires the Vice President and a majority of the 15 cabinet members – all Trump appointees, obviously – to declare “that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office”. The Vice President’s veto here is one of the few places within the US constitution where he has genuine independent personal power (the Senate casting vote being the only other of note). If those two conditions are met, then it also requires two-thirds majorities in both Houses of Congress for the action to stick – which is to say, a substantial amount of Republican congressmen and senators, although if a majority of the Executive and the VP are on board, chances are many in Congress would regard that as a sufficient green light.

I don’t think this is a realistic outcome unless Trump clearly has a clear, major and sustained mental breakdown – which is to say something well beyond his usual nasty, unempathetic and narcissistic state. I’d imagine that his opponents would rather see where the impeachment hearings go than let him off the hook – and of course the two-thirds provision also means that the Democrats have a blocking vote if senior Republicans tried to use the Amendment to by-pass impeachment; likewise, the prospect of a flawed and failing opponent in next year’s election must cross the more cynical Democrat minds. And if he is re-elected? Well, the 25th Amendment will still be there if necessary.

But that comes back to Pence playing ball, along with many others. Would he? Clearly he would have much to gain personally but I just don’t see it as a political move – it’s too hard and too risky if it goes wrong.

Would that change if Trump dropped him from the ticket? I don’t think so. That decision will be made (or will be made public) very late in the campaign – only three months or so before polling day. By that point, the form of the election will have been set. Besides, not only would it look like serious sour grapes from Pence but it doesn’t answer how the other necessary votes would be gained.

Assessing mental health is extremely difficult: all the more so if the subject doesn’t want to cooperate. For all the talk about removing Trump on health grounds before the election, I don’t see it as anything below a 20/1 shot, probably more – and that’s considering that he’s an obese septuagenarian. The political challenges are too hard.

David Herdson


The impeachment polling’s getting worse for Trump

Thursday, October 10th, 2019

Half of Americans now want him out

There’s been another series of anguished Tweets from the incumbent of the White House following the latest impeachment polling commissioned by the channel that used to be his greatest supporter – Fox News.

This latest survey is in line with other recent polls and there’s little doubt that voters are turning against him.

Meanwhile another great supporter from the past, Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report which acts as a hard right news aggregator, is circulating many of the negative attacks on the President over his conversations with his Ukrainian opposite number who has seen aid cut as a means of getting “dirt” on the business activities of Joe Biden’s son.

Each night we are seeing an avalanche of Tweets from the President and looking at the timings it suggests that he’s hardly managing to sleep. This isn’t doing his health any good.

Meanwhile this is totally dominating the US media with every new development getting highlighted.

Reump’s latest move has been to block all demands from the committee of the House of Representatives which is looking into the matter. Senior officials such as Trump’s ambassador to the EU have been banned from appearing before the committee. This, as many observers are pointing out, could be further grounds for impeachment. The President is not above the law.

I’m betting that he won’t be his party’s 2020 White House nominee.

What we haven’t seen yet are, apart from Mitt Romney, Republican Senators ready to come out against the President. If it gets that far it will be the Senate which decides his fate.

What seems to be happening is that those Senators who are due for reelection next year have been reluctant to go public for fear of upsetting Trump’s base. That could change.


Mike Smithson


How strong is Trump’s Senate firewall?

Sunday, September 29th, 2019

A guest slot from Fishing

Almost three years ago, a few days after Trump was elected, I wrote a thread on this site saying that

  • the Democrats would be able to find an excuse to impeach Trump if they gained control of the House in 2018
  • for that reason, 2019 would be the peak year of danger for Trump in this respect
  • but I expected that the Senate would acquit, because of its likely Republican majority following the Midterms.

Given the events of the past week, and in particular the news that the Judiciary Committee will consider recommending Articles of Impeachment to the House, I thought it might be worth looking at the last point in more detail.  In particular, what would it need for that Senate firewall to crack? Is the implied probability of 16% too high or too low?

Reaction to the Ukranian phone call has been split largely, but not entirely, along party lines.  There was no direct, overt, quid pro quo between Trump and his interlocutor, but on the other hand a reasonable person could infer an implicit deal could have been agreed.  No evidence has yet come to light that Trump obstructed justice, but the classification of the record of the phone call seems fishy. So there is some smoke, but no fire. The remainder of this thread assumes that this will continue to be the case.

The precedent: The Senate must vote to convict (and then remove from office – the only possible penalty under the Constitution) a President by a two-thirds majority after a trial in which the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides.  Three Presidents have faced impeachment:  Andrew Johnson (who was a Democrat, though he had been Lincoln’s Vice-President),  Richard Nixon,  and Bill Clinton

Each faced a Senate controlled by the opposing parties, though in the last two cases, votes from the President’s party were required.  Johnson and Bill Clinton managed to avoid removal from office, though there is little doubt that Nixon would have been removed, had he not resigned.

Composition of the Senate  Trump faces a friendly, though not entirely safe, Senate.  Republicans hold 53 seats. To get to the two-thirds supermajority needed to replace Trump with Vice-President Pence – 67 Senators – 20 Republicans must join the 47 Democrats if the latter are united.  The conventional wisdom is that there is little realistic prospect that he will be removed from office unless the investigation finds something truly extraordinary.  

How can we judge if this is right?  How likely is it that a significant number of the Republican Senators seeking reelection in 2020 will cross party lines and vote to convict Trump, without an absolutely ironclad case of a very serious crime?  In the United States, Senators are much less subject party discipline than MPs are over here. Conjecturing how they will vote is much more art than science. I should say there are three factors we can look at: whether the Senator is a “Never Trump”-er or an “Always Trump” -er or something in between; whether the Senator is up for reelection this year in which case public opinion may influence them more; and whether the Senator has commented on the allegations yet or not.

The class of 2014  If public opinion starts to tip, the strange, staggered electoral system whereby one-third of Senators face reelection every two years could start to favour impeaching Trump.  In 2018, Democrats held 25 of the seats up for reelection (including two Independents who caucused with them) and Republicans held eight. This meant that there was no realistic prospect of the Republicans losing their majority.  However, in 2020, it is the Republicans’ turn: 23 of their Senate seats are to be contested, compared to 12 Democrats. It is notable that, of the five Republicans who crossed party lines to vote to acquit Clinton of perjury in 1999, three (Chafee, Jeffords and Snowe) were facing reelection in 2000 (and one of the two others, Arlen Specter, subsequently defected to the Democrats).  They were more vulnerable to pressure from the public, who were mostly against removing the President from office. If all 23 of the Republican incumbents start to feel pressure from their voters or donors, Trump’s firewall will look a lot less secure.  

However, of the 23 up for reelection:


  • 15 are safe Republican seats, so incumbents are much less likely to feel pressure to impeach from 2020 voters.  Only Graham (South Carolina), Sasse (Nebraska), Daines (Montana) and maybe Cotton (Arkansas) have much of a record of voting against Trump, but all would have to worry about retaining the loyalty of their base and party in this and future elections if they voted the wrong way.  
  • of the remaining eight, two (Isaakson (Georgia) and Roberts (Kansas)) are retiring, so do not need to fear the voters at all.  Roberts is very pro-Trump, Isaakson slightly less so, but still mainstream Republican. Perdue (Georgia) and Ernst (Iowa), are Trump loyalists. McSally (Arizona) and Tillis (North Carolina) are broadly loyal to Trump and have perhaps become more so since facing conserative primary challengers.  Only Gardner (Colorado) and Collins (Maine) seem to me likely to back a serious impeachment challenge – indeed Collins has voted more against Trump’s positions than in their favour in this Congress!


So I think Democrats would be doing amazingly well if five Republican Senators from the 2014 class voted to convict Trump – indeed I would be surprised if more than a couple did so.

The classes of 2016 and 2018 What about the other Republicans in the Senate?  23 of the 30 can be considered Trump loyalists, at least if we judge by the votes they have cast.  It would need an earthquake for them to vote to convict him. Of the seven more independent GOP Senators, three – Murkowski (Alaska), Daines (Montana), Romney (Utah) – have expressed serious concern about the Ukranian phone call, while three (Paul (Kentucky), Hawley (Missouri) and Lee (Utah) have defended Trump.  One (Moran (Kansas)) has yet to comment.

At most three or four of the Republican Senators may switch sides.

Conclusion A Judiciary Committee investigation is an unpredictable tool, but Trump’s firewall should hold.  From what we know at the moment, I cannot see Democrats getting the 20 Republicans they need to convict and remove Trump from office.  Pressure from voters may cause those facing reelection this year to waver more than other Senators, but I doubt it will be enough. The current odds of 16% therefore look, if anything, too high.  President Pence will have to wait.




With Trump in trouble a look at the best betting markets

Thursday, September 26th, 2019

While we have been mostly focused on the high octane politics currently in the UK there’ve been big developments in the US which raise questions over whether Donald Trump will win a second term in November 2020.

Earlier in the week the Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi started the impeachment process in the House of Representatives. As well as everything else what is driving this is what the President said to the PM of Ukraine in an effort to get what he saw as dirt, on Joe Biden – a possible Democratic opponent that he could be facing next year.

Biden’s son had been working in the Ukraine and the suggestion is that Trump sought to link the supply of aid to the country in exchange for information that could hurt Biden. This is getting into very dodgy territory and the transcripts of phone conversations are certainly not helpful to the current incumbent of the White House.

There are several betting markets two of which are in the charts above of movements on the Betfair exchange. The one I’ve gone for is to lay, betting against, Trump getting the 2020 nomination. This market will be settled on the candidate voted to be the Republican Party nominee as a result of the 2020 Republican National Convention which is eleven months off.

I think that this is a better bet and at similar odds to him leaving before the end of his first term.

Mike Smithson


This is bigly yuge

Tuesday, September 24th, 2019

I must confess I wasn’t expecting Trump to be impeached during his first term, given the make up of the Senate and the high bar to convict a President the Democratic Party controlled House of Representatives would not begin impeachment hearings but as NBC reports

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who for months resisted efforts to launch impeach proceedings against President Donald Trump, will announce a formal inquiry on Tuesday, according to two Democratic sources close to her.

Pelosi’s change of heart comes as dozens of House Democrats — now more than two-thirds of the caucus — have come out in support of an impeachment inquiry in the wake of reports that Trump may have withheld aid to Ukraine to pressure officials there to investigate the son of political rival Joe Biden.

Pelosi, D-Calif., is expected to announce the development after a meeting of the Democratic caucus she called for 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday.

Going after Joe Biden has demonstrated Newton’s Third Law of Motion but I do think this is a bad idea from the Democratic Party, as Nate Silver notes below this avenue of impeachment wasn’t popular when it involved Russia and will it be any different if involves Ukraine? It could end up polarising the country further and only make Democratic leaning voters happy.

But as the tweet below things can rapidly change (h/t to PBer Alistair for posting the tweet from Kevin M. Kruse.)

Overall I’m sticking to my betting position, the Senate will not vote to convict Trump under its current membership.




How special is special? The US-UK relationship

Tuesday, August 27th, 2019

Be honest. How many G7 summits do you remember? How many are little more than talking shops with the same old photos of largely the same old characters? Last year’s summit, for instance, was mostly memorable for that photo of a defensive obstinate Trump surrounded by an exasperated Merkel and others. And this year? We have the sight of Trump showing off his latest pet, our very own Prime Minister, laughing a little too keenly  at the President’s bon mots (or possibly at the fact that Trump was able to utter a coherent mot at all). Trump is backing our PM. Hurrah! The special relationship is alive and well.

Oh no! Not that hoary old chestnut. Every time a British PM comes within orbit of a US President this old dependable is wheeled out for another bout of worship.  There is something a little pathetic in the way the British political class utters this incantation, as if merely by saying it the clock could be turned back to a time when British and American leaders drafted charters for how the world should be run, as if they were equals in importance. Clearly, there has been a close military and intelligence alliance since WW2, of immense value to both parties on various occasions, most obviously during WW2 itself. If this was all that is meant, why the need to keep on mentioning it? Time perhaps for a closer look at what this oh-so-special relationship has consisted of over the years.

Churchill and WW2: It was he who first uttered the phrase in a speech in 1946, though his whole behaviour towards Roosevelt since 1940 made it obvious that he felt the Anglo-American alliance was the motor which saved the world from a new Dark Age. And, significantly, it was first said in the Fulton speech where Churchill warned of an Iron Curtain falling across Europe. Even then, there was an element of British self-delusion about how, despite how much they had in common, the US viewed the world very differently to Britain. It was “a special relationship between the British Commonwealth and Empire and the United States.” But the US did not have then (or earlier) any interest at all in preserving or helping Britain preserve its Empire. Indeed, it viewed it with some distaste.  If there was to be any Empire at all it would be a US one (à la Monroe doctrine) and in the US image. Not in the image of a romantic Victorian who imagined that having a US mother gave him a special insight or a particular entitlement. This much should, frankly, have been obvious since Woodrow Wilson. The brutal reality was shown by Roosevelt’s somewhat dismissive attitude towards Churchill by the end of the war, most notably at the Yalta and Teheran summits. Perhaps Churchill’s decision not to attend Roosevelt’s funeral in 1945 was a sign that he realised its one-sided nature.

A personal relationship?  Despite this and despite the hard-nosed calculations made by the US when extending credit to a bankrupt Britain at the end of the war, those few years and Churchill’s description of them have had a disproportionate influence on British politicians since. Not just in the assumption that, in Mrs Thatcher’s words in 1982: “The Anglo-American relationship has done more for the defence and future of freedom than any other alliance in the world.” but in the belief that a personal relationship with the US President is critical to Britain’s standing in the world. And yet in the post-war world there have only really been two UK leaders of whom that could properly be said: Thatcher and Blair. (Macmillan might also be included, if only to wonder what the Americans thought of Macmillan’s lofty and somewhat patronising claim that Britain would be Greece to America’s Rome.)

Thatcher’s relationship with Reagan was a factor (though much less important than the spin would have you believe) in the geopolitical changes which occurred while Reagan was President. And the reliance on it led Thatcher to underestimate the consequences for Britain and for the US of the changes which the Maggie/Ronnie partnership had unleashed. US focus on Europe was a result of its prolonged civil war in the 20th century and the threat which Soviet Communism posed to the US. Once those two ghosts had been laid to rest with victory in the Cold War, both Britain and Europe would be less important to the US than before.

As for Blair: well his relationship with Clinton and then Bush was certainly close but its consequences for Britain have been less happy. The neediness shown by others (Brown, May, Cameron) has on occasion been embarrassing. Only wily old Wilson managed to avoid entangling Britain in the US’s ill-fated Vietnam venture, one originally embarked on because the US’s oldest ally, France, persuaded the US that the Cold War was no time to be telling France that the time for its Empire had passed (as Ken Burn’s magisterial documentary makes clear). (The French then ignored their colossal mishandling of their colony and grandly proceeded to lecture the US about its mishandling of the war. It has not done the US-France relationship much harm.)

A mutual relationship?  How much help has the US really provided Britain? The Suez adventure was undermined by the withdrawal of US financial support, about as brutal a power play as one could imagine. There was no forgiveness of British war debts to the US, not even when British blood was being shed in America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. US help to Britain in the Falklands was was not a foregone conclusion. There were plenty of voices arguing against or for a more conciliatory approach than Thatcher’s wish for total victory. The US invaded a British territory – Grenada – in 1983 with barely so much as a “please” beforehand. What did Britain’s help to the US in Iraq and Afghanistan do for Britain? When the IRA were bombing Northern Ireland and mainland Britain, Gerry Adams got the oxygen of publicity with his meetings with US Congressmen. Meanwhile the US extradited to its closest ally precisely zero alleged terrorists. Contrast this with the US determination to get an Extradition Treaty which enabled it to extradite British citizens to the US in controversial circumstances and to a criminal justice and penal system considerably more brutal than anything which would be tolerated here, even under the current Home Secretary.

None of this is exceptional. Powerful countries will use their power to extract the maximum benefit they can, even from their allies. Sentimentality is good for speeches but a poor guide to how countries will behave behind closed doors. The US has new interests – China and Asia, above all. It has an increasingly large Spanish-speaking population. It currently has a President with scant regard for existing international organisations. That President will be gone in a maximum of 5 years, maybe sooner, one reason why it would be wise to remember that a friendship with one leader is not the same as an enduring relationship with a country.  It would be foolish to assume that after Trump the US will revert to its previous geopolitical stance, even if the language may be politer.

In Brian Moore’s “The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne”, Judith, a lonely alcoholic spinster visits a local family, the O’Neills, regularly, fondly imagining that they welcome her visits. They don’t. They have become a habit, one they endure for old times’ sake. She has some money put by. Perhaps they will benefit when she dies. The story does not end well. Poor Judith deluded herself that she was loved.

Sometimes the US seems to indulge Britain in the way the O’Neills indulged Judith. We so want to be America’s bestest friend; we so want that FTA; we so want to sell those pork pies and British sparkling wine; we don’t mention one of our biggest sectors – finance – which could do with better access to the US market; we so want to prove to the world, to ourselves, that there will be wonderful trade deals outside the EU; we are so grateful when the US omits to mention agriculture and the NHS when the UK press are paying attention. But when US trade negotiators have made it clear that both will be on the table during negotiations, when it is the US’s National Security Advisor who talks about trade, what do we think the US will really demand and get from Britain? The US can smell desperation, much as stale spirits can be smelt on an alcoholic’s breath.

By all means let’s treat the US as an important friendly ally. But isn’t it about time that we stopped deluding ourselves about our importance? Isn’t it about time we stopped assuming that the US will do us any favours that are not also in their own interests? Isn’t it about time for Britain to be realistic about its place in the world? Surely, only on this basis will it have a chance of being successful in the choice it is about to make?



Former White House Coms Director predicts Trump will quit WH2020 race by March

Monday, August 19th, 2019

Could it be that the President won’t be the nominee?

Over the weekend I’ve placed of bets at effectively about 10/1 that Trump will not be the Republican nominee at WH2020. I’ve done this by laying Trump on the Betfair 2020 nominee market. This has been prompted by two developments.

First there have been the public comments of former White House Coms Director, Anthony Scaramucci, who has been infuriating Trump over the last few days with a series of TV interviews. These have been widely covered. In response the President is pointing out that Scaramucci only served at the White House for 11 days before he got fired and knows, in the President’s word, nothing about what’s going on.

Scaramucci’s actual comment in an interview that is relevant to my bet is this:

“He’s gonna drop out of the race because it’s gonna become very clear. Okay, it’ll be March of 2020. He’ll likely drop out by March of 2020. It’s gonna become very clear that it’s impossible for him to win.

He’s got the self-worth in terms of his self-esteem of a small pigeon. It’s a very small pigeon. Okay,” Scaramucci continued about Trump. “And so you think this guy’s gonna look at those poll numbers and say — he’s not gonna be able to handle that humiliation.”

Scaramucci is basically saying that his reading of Trump is that such polling might lead to Trump not wanting to go  forward. The prospect of defeat is something that he would be unable to cope with.

This was followed by new polling from Fox News showing just that. It suggested that Trump was someway behind each of the leading contenders. These had Biden leading him by 11, Sanders by 9, Warren by 7 and Harris by 6.

My bet is simply that Trump has less than a 90% chance of being the nominee.

Mike Smithson