Archive for the 'Donald Trump' Category


The power and politics of pardon

Sunday, September 9th, 2018

Under the US constitution, an American president has a virtually untrammelled power to pardon, or commute the sentence of, anyone convicted of a Federal offence (but not offences under State law). It is a power completely personal to the president, who can exercise it for any reason, or for no good reason, and it has been used surprisingly often: 1,927 times by Barack Obama, for example. Although there is a government department, the Office of the Pardon Attorney, through which applications for presidential clemency are usually routed, there is no obligation on the president to follow that process.

In many cases, the power is used to redress obvious injustices or excessive sentences in the US criminal law system. For example, few people would quarrel with Trump’s order to release Alice Marie Johnson (who was convicted to life imprisonment in 1996 for drug dealing offences), even if it required celebrity intervention to get the president’s attention. Sometimes the power is used to help heal national divisions, as in Carter’s pardon of all Vietnam draft dodgers. Some examples are purely symbolic, the most recent being Trump’s posthumous pardon of boxer Jack Johnson for the quaintly American (but racially supercharged) 1912 crime of “transporting a woman across state lines for immoral purposes”.

However, there is nothing to prevent a president from exercising the power of clemency capriciously, for political reasons, or as a favour to cronies or family. When controversial Sherriff Joe Arpaio was convicted of contempt of court for refusing to comply with a court order to stop racial profiling, Trump pardoned him before he was even sentenced. An outrageous example of partisan meddling in the justice system? Perhaps, but not obviously more so than Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich, coincidentally after Rich’s ex-wife made large donations to the Democratic Party and the Clinton Foundation.

Various of Trump’s staff and associates have already been convicted of or pleaded guilty to crimes, although so far these nearly all relate to matters unrelated to the Trump campaign. Criminal investigations continue, but Trump has made it clear that he regards them as politically motivated. Whatever the outcome of those investigations, Trump can if he wishes simply pardon anyone convicted. The mere existence of this power of pardon blunts the leverage of investigators to coerce potential witnesses into testifying in exchange for immunity or plea-bargaining.

All this means that those looking to the criminal justice system to bring down the Trump administration, via his associates, are probably going to be disappointed, irrespective of who else, if anyone, ends up being indicted; legally, he holds the Trump* card. He can even pardon in advance anyone who might in future be charged with any offence arising from the Mueller investigation.

Of course, it would be shameless to exercise that power for his cronies or his family, but no-one ever accused Donald Trump of insufficient shamelessness. His supporters already think that the investigations are politically motivated so the political cost would be minimal. In any case, since President Clinton used his power to pardon his own brother, and to pardon Susan McDougal (the Clintons’ business partner in the Whitewater land deal), the moral high ground has already been vacated.

Short of impeachment – which looks numerically near-impossible, given the need for a two-thirds majority in the Senate – Trump’s opponents will have to think of something else. How about selecting a compelling candidate for the 2020 presidential election, and mounting a strong campaign? It might just work.

* Beat that pun, TSE!

Richard Nabavi


Trump’s tantrums won’t cost him the presidency – yet

Saturday, September 8th, 2018

But the NYT article will drive him deeper into the bunker

Dysfunctional doesn’t begin to describe the White House. The high level of turnover among staff, the erratic decision-making, the presidential public streams-of-consciousness made with zero empathy for their subjects, the failure to actually deliver on key policies like The Wall: we knew all this and have done pretty much since Day 1, if not before. What we didn’t know before the sensational New York Times article[1] was the extent to which members of his own administration don’t trust him and are resorting to extraordinary measures to thwart his worst inclinations.

These revelations have, unsurprisingly, gone down explosively badly in the Oval Office for two reasons above all.

Firstly, Trump does not really run a presidential administration. The best way to think of him is not as a politician but as a paranoid mafia boss. Results matter, because results bring respect and a failure to deliver results brings contempt, and it’s all about respect with him (which we’ll come back to); but at an even higher level, it’s all about loyalty to him. Not to the constitution; not to the law; not to the office; not to the United States; not to Republican Party – certainly not to the Republican Party. To him, personally. So the sense of betrayal at such a personal level is a deadly breach of the omerta he expects and demands of his underlings irrespective of his actions (which are, in any case, by definition right because they’re his).

The second reason is his internal psychology, which is a toxic mix of an inferiority complex – the prompt to both his absurd boastfulness and his constant desire to demean any perceived rival – and a craving for approval and respect from the very people he hates. For the world to be told that he needs child-minding by the “adults” in the administration is the ultimate insult, on so many levels. And the article uses that very word – adults – with all it implies. No wonder he’s throwing a tantrum.

Despite that, and despite the ever-more closed-off bunker it will drive him into, his position might just have got stronger, for now.

The most dramatic claim in the article was that members of the cabinet discussed invoking the 25th amendment, which enables a president to be removed from office on grounds of health – but these thoughts were put aside.

Removing a president who doesn’t want to go is a difficult task. It requires the approval of the Vice President, a majority of the cabinet and two-thirds of the members of both Houses of Congress. Unlike impeachment though, whereas those proceedings are almost certain to start with the president’s opponents in the House, an invocation of the 25th amendment would start with his own party colleagues in the Executive. For that reason, despite the congressional bar being even higher than for impeachment (which only requires a simple majority in the House), Congress would be more likely to ratify the removal due to the lead that the Vice President and cabinet had already given. It would not be a partisan action.

However, if you come for the king, you best not miss, as the saying goes. In this case, even though the claim is that discussions were set aside at an early stage, the fact that they’ve still been made public makes it harder to act later.

Also, despite the brutal analysis and comment, there’s precious little by way of evidence in the article. It’s easy to write of “meetings that veer off topic and off the rails”, or of a “leadership style which is impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective” but these are not grounds for considering the president ‘incapacitated’. While the removal (or non-removal) of a president is always a political act, the US is not a parliamentary democracy and there does need to be at some strong legal or medical hook to hang a case on. The NYT article conspicuously fails to provide one. For that reason, Trump’s position in office has actually been marginally strengthened.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that he could throw that fractional gain away by doing something stupid – and if he does retreat further into the bunker and if the NYT claims are true, then it’ll be harder for his staff to stop him. But that would be a political loss, not one that represents an existential threat to his presidency. On that level, I think we should put aside talk of the constitutional coup that the 25th amendment represents (the risk of impeachment is another matter but will need not just a smoking gun but a bullet and a body if it’s going to persuade Republicans). Trump is erratic, impulsive and unorthodox but these were known character traits when he was elected. As such, they’re not grounds to go over the electorate’s head.

David Herdson

p.s. The 25th Amendment devolves significant power on the Vice President, should the president be incapable of carrying out his duties. In doing so, it assumes that there is a Vice President: there is no provision for what should happen if there is a vacancy in the Vice Presidency and then then President becomes incapacitated. Equally, there is no timeframe on how long a president might take to nominate a replacement (which Congress might reject anyway). One reason why I don’t think that the NYT article came from Pence’s office is because if it had, Pence would be almost obliged to resign if his authorship became known, as would be likely. If a Vice President held such views, he should either act or, if action was likely to be futile, say nothing, or quit.


The morning must read

Thursday, September 6th, 2018

This is probably the most astonishing article I’ve ever read. Two hours on and my jaw is still on the floor.

The New York Times say

The Times today is taking the rare step of publishing an anonymous Op-Ed essay. We have done so at the request of the author, a senior official in the Trump administration whose identity is known to us and whose job would be jeopardized by its disclosure. We believe publishing this essay anonymously is the only way to deliver an important perspective to our readers.

The bits that stood out were things like

The root of the problem is the president’s amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making.

Although he was elected as a Republican, the president shows little affinity for ideals long espoused by conservatives: free minds, free markets and free people. At best, he has invoked these ideals in scripted settings. At worst, he has attacked them outright.

In addition to his mass-marketing of the notion that the press is the “enemy of the people,” President Trump’s impulses are generally anti-trade and anti-democratic.

Don’t get me wrong. There are bright spots that the near-ceaseless negative coverage of the administration fails to capture: effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military and more.

But these successes have come despite — not because of — the president’s leadership style, which is impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective.

From the White House to executive branch departments and agencies, senior officials will privately admit their daily disbelief at the commander in chief’s comments and actions. Most are working to insulate their operations from his whims.

Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.


Take foreign policy: In public and in private, President Trump shows a preference for autocrats and dictators, such as President Vladimir Putin of Russia and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and displays little genuine appreciation for the ties that bind us to allied, like-minded nations.

Astute observers have noted, though, that the rest of the administration is operating on another track, one where countries like Russia are called out for meddling and punished accordingly, and where allies around the world are engaged as peers rather than ridiculed as rivals.

On Russia, for instance, the president was reluctant to expel so many of Mr. Putin’s spies as punishment for the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain. He complained for weeks about senior staff members letting him get boxed into further confrontation with Russia, and he expressed frustration that the United States continued to impose sanctions on the country for its malign behavior. But his national security team knew better — such actions had to be taken, to hold Moscow accountable.

This isn’t the work of the so-called deep state. It’s the work of the steady state.

My belief is that this will make Trump even more paranoid and erratic. I wrote this piece at 10pm so by the time this publishes Trump may have tweeted his fury and rage, I expect it will be a sight to behold.

I suspect there will be an obsession about finding out the identity of this anonymous source and speculation therein, much like there was with Deep Throat (the Nixon era leaker, not the porn film, though in Trump’s case it is possible an actual porn star may finish off Donald Trump’s Presidency.)


PS – Part of me wonders if someone inside the British Government is working on a similar article with regards to Brexit.


PB Video Analysis: Will Donald Trump be Re-Elected in 2020?

Tuesday, August 28th, 2018

So, after many economics and finance related posts, I thought why not do a politics one?

It’s a simple question: will President Trump be re-elected in 2020? But while the answer will – Schrodinger’s cat-like – resolve itself when the box is opened in two years time, for now the answer is unknowable.

Which is the stronger force: an improving economy or the drip, drip of scandals? What matters more: who the Democrats choose or whether inflation returns?

And I suppose, as it’s obligatory, I’ll end the video with a prediction. Although – as Marvin said – I don’t suppose you’ll like it.

Robert Smithson

Robert tweets as ‘@MarketWarbles’


Irrespective of whether there’s an impeachment move it’s going to be harder for Trump to win again at WH2020

Thursday, August 23rd, 2018

Is there value betting that he won’t be re-nominated?

It is hard to take any other view than that the last few days have not helped Donald Trump in his attempt to win the presidency again in 2020.

I’ve highlighted the Tweet above because it broadly set out a key point about the Trump vote last time and whether that will stay with the incumbent. Yes his core will remain solid but there are other voters as well. It is the ambivalent ones that Mr trump has most to worry about and the more this saga continues the more tricky it will be for him to navigate.

So what about the betting? It’s important to note that impeachment is something that the House of Representatives does and getting rid of the President is in the hands of the Senate. It is becoming increasingly likely that the midterms in November will lead to the Democrats taking the house but because of the Senate seats that are up this year it is going to be mighty difficult for the upper house to stay in anything other than Republican hands.

I’m not convinced that Trump would go of his own accord and I think that the chances of him surviving till the end of his first term are quite high. That brings us to the 2020 presidential election campaign and the first thing he has to do, of course, is win the nomination for his party.

These latest developments might just encourage some presidential hopefuls for the Republican party to put their hats into the ring and be ready to challenge the incumbent.

    A key factor in the primary process is that in many states voters can choose which party primary election to take part in. That’s the rule that applies in New Hampshire and you could see independents and Democrats voting for the most likely stop-Trump contender.

New Hampshire is, of course, the state that traditionally has the first full primary.

A few weeks ago I suggested here that the best value bet for the next presidential election was laying Trump in the nomination market. For non-punters this means that you are betting against him being re-nominated. What’s good about this is that the odds are still very strongly in Trumps favour and that you can get a pretty good price.

When I raised this last month the but I got was at 1.3 on Betfair which works out at about 77%% chance of him being read nominated. That’s now moved up to 1.6 a 62.5% I think there’s still value in the market.

Mike Smithson


An awful amount of excrement has just hit the fan for Trump

Tuesday, August 21st, 2018



PB Video Analysis: How Bad Is The US-China Trade Deficit?

Saturday, August 11th, 2018

The US runs a trade deficit with China of $375bn. It’s a staggering number, larger than the economies of Ireland or Israel. Little wonder than Donald Trump frets that the US is being taken advantage of.

But how meaningful are bilateral trade numbers anyway? Should governments aim to balance volumes of trade with other countries, or is it all a bit irrelevant? And if you impose tariffs on countries with whom you have deficits, will your overall balance of trade improve?

With the help of Tom, Dick and Ludovic, I’m answering that question.

Robert Smithson

Robert tweets as ‘@MarketWarbles’


The efforts to undermine Obamacare – the soft underbelly of Trump’s electoral position

Wednesday, July 25th, 2018

Taking away what’s become an entitlement is politically dangerous

On the first anniversary of the Senate defeat of Trump’s health care repeal,and just three months before the crucial midterm elections, a new Public Policy Polling survey finds a majority of voters want to support candidates for Congress who oppose repealing the Affordable Care Act. This was brought in under Obama in 2010 and has provided health provision for millions of Americans.

By 56% to 40% those sampled said they’d support a generic Democrat for Congress who supports the act and wants to improve it, over a generic Republican candidate for Congress who wants to repeal it. Amongst voters aged 65+ this lead expands to 19 points (56/37).

The survey, published overnight, finds that voters trust Democrats over Republicans and President Trump on health care by 13 points (55/42). With women the gap is 22 points and independents 57/35. Although Republicans appear to have remained solidly behind Trump it is those describing themselves as the latter who the White House should most worry about.

The problem here, of course, is that once something becomes available it takes on the status of an entitlement and you interfere with that at your peril. The original measure was probably the biggest thing that Trump’s predecessor achieved and the thing that the current incumbent wants to undermine.

Trump failed with getting legislation through but healthcare in the US is being undermined by a series of executive measures.

This is most highlighted in the poll’s findings on those with pre-existing conditions. The survey found 64% of voters oppose the Trump administration joining a lawsuit which would strike down ACA’s protections for such groups. Only 19% of voters support backed this.

When the NHS was being established in the UK 70 years ago the Conservatives were against. When Churchill was returned to power in 1951 his government was smart enough to leave it in place – a lesson perhaps for the President.

On Betfair punters currently make it a 53% chance that the Democrats will win back the House in November’s elections.

Mike Smithson