Tangle is an independent, ad-free, non-partisan politics newsletter where I answer reader questions from across the country. If you found Tangle online, you can subscribe below.
Today’s read: 7 minutes.
We’re covering the tweets from the whistleblower’s lawyer, a question about what good Trump has done and some scary news from the CDC.
A lot of people wonder whether Trump’s brand of politics will outlive him. If recent rallies are any indication, Republicans are embracing Trump’s style.
What D.C. is talking about.
Mark S. Zaid. One of the whistleblower’s lawyers had old tweets unearthed by conservative media last night, and they seem to play exactly into the perception that this is a “witch hunt.” In a July 2017 tweet, shortly after Trump fired Attorney General Sally Yates, Zaid tweeted that a “coup has started” and “impeachment will ultimately follow.” As if intentionally creating fodder for Trump’s supporters, he added, “I predict that CNN will play a key role in @realDonaldTrump not finishing out his full term as president.” In an email to The New York Times, Zaid said the attacks were “partisan deflection” and his tweets were being taken out of context.
What Democrats are saying.
Not much. Zaid’s tweets have gotten very little traction outside the conservative media world, aside from a brief note in the New York Times, despite being the top story on Fox News, Breitbart, The Daily Caller, and a slew of other right-wing media outlets. In his brief response to the Times, Zaid noted that he has represented the Republican National Committee. On previous podcasts, Zaid has boasted that he’s sued every president since 1993, and pursues them all regardless of politics. He conceded to Law&Crime that while he’s not a Trump fan, it has nothing to do with the GOP or Republicans, as he doesn’t think Trump is a Republican. Zaid claims his tweets were meant to encourage any lawful removal of Trump, whether it be impeachment or voting him out.
What Republicans are saying.
The coup is real. Sean Hannity is referring to the “fake whistleblower” and calling for Zaid to testify under oath. At a rally in Louisiana, President Trump said: “Democrats must be responsible for their hoaxes and crimes.” He called Zaid a “sleazeball” and said the whole thing was a “disgrace.” Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said we should "take him at his word that this is a coordinated, premeditated plot to overthrow the election.” Zaid’s tweets underscore an inherent bias in the establishment that Trump supporters see everywhere. For months, they’ve been referring to the impeachment attempts as a “coup” or a coordinated attack between media and Democrats. To unearth tweets that essentially confirm those plans from a lawyer for the whistleblower who started the impeachment proceedings is all the proof they needed.
This is a tough one. When I saw these tweets, I was genuinely shocked. Not just because they came from a D.C.-entrenched lawyer, someone who would presumably understand the way the public might view those tweets, but because they were so in line with the far-right Trump talking points. Words like “coup” or comments like “CNN will play a key role in Donald Trump not finishing out his full term” are almost identical to what Trump supporters have often baselessly accused Democrats of wanting. The tweets are real, though, and so is Zaid’s defense that he’s no partisan. He has, in fact, made life hell for both Democrats and Republicans throughout his career (and has claimed to have represented far more Republicans in recent years, though I couldn’t verify that). Still, I get why this is being plastered across the conservative media ecosystem. At the very least, it’s clear that Zaid has had it out for Trump long before being approached by this whistleblower. At the worst, it seems possible that Zaid and the whistleblower coordinated to make the complaint as damaging as possible. Which, in one sense — “duh.” Zaid is his lawyer. But on the other hand, it gives credence to so many Republicans who have viewed this in a conspiracy-minded way from the start. Unfortunately for them, whether Zaid is a bad actor is in some ways irrelevant since we now have a plethora of evidence to back up the original whistleblower claims. The ultimate question won’t be whether Zaid is an anti-Trump hack trying to take him down, it’ll be whether the quid pro quo Trump offered Ukraine’s president is an impeachable offense or not.
Yesterday, a number of you wrote in upset about this line in My Take: “If this were President Obama on a call with a foreign country, telling them he needed a favor to look into Trump in exchange for continued military assistance, Republicans would similarly call for his head while Democrats would probably defend him.”
Naturally, this is a far-reaching hypothetical and it’s tough to imagine Obama — or any other modern president — leveraging foreign aid for his own personal political benefit. And while it is just conjecture, it mostly comes from my own place of cynicism that Democrats, three years into Obama’s first term, would have defended just about any decision or action he had taken. Like Trump, he was an incredibly popular president with his base. Unlike Trump, he also had the majority of the country behind him for large portions of his presidency. If these roles were reversed, I suspect Democrats would have handled this by owning that it was wrong, inappropriate, and holding their ground that it wasn’t an impeachable offense. That’s quite different than how Trump-Republicans have handled it, which has essentially amounted to telling us up is down and down is up. I see the distinction and hear your feedback — thanks for writing in!
Your questions, answered.
Reminder: Tangle is about answering reader questions and making the news simple for you. If you have a question you want answered, simply reply to this email and write in.
Q: Pretty much every piece of news I hear about Trump is related to everything that is going badly with his administration. These things range from the impeachment inquiry, abandoning the Kurds, separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border, etc. Admittedly, I am in a liberal bubble where most of my news is negatively biased towards Trump, so I'm curious if there's anything I'm missing. Have there been any really positive things that have come out of the Trump presidency? From my perspective, I'd just like to know if there have been any silver linings to these last 3 years because everything I see makes it look like an unmitigated disaster.
- Zach, Indianapolis, IN
Tangle: Hey Zach, thanks for asking this question and thanks for reading Tangle. Ultimately, one of my primary goals for Tangle is to expose people to the “other side” (though I tend to think there are way more than two sides) and to share what people across the country are thinking about. I want to pause and give you props for trying to burst your own bubble and hear something you might not like.
I answered a similar question when Tangle first launched, but I want to tackle it again because this one is a little more policy-focused, and a lot more people are reading now. First, I think the best and most positive thing about Trump is he’s making people care about politics again. In our country, we still struggle to get 60% of eligible voters to cast a ballot and — after the fanatic first term of Obama — a lot of people became uninterested in what was happening. Trump, in all his reality TV star glory, has at the very least made politics important to people who didn’t give a damn before. Some might think that’s a curse, I tend to think it’s also a blessing. Like I said yesterday, we’ve seen huge increases in turnout. But anecdotally, and I think most people can attest to this, I’ve also seen huge increases in engagement. So many of my friends talk and care about politics now in a way they never did before. They ask questions, they read newsletters like this, they follow big stories, they want to vote, etc. Even if you think it’s because he lit the house on fire, I think Trump did a service by making politics more important than the Kardashians (no offense to my Kardashian fans out there).
From a policy perspective, I’d go a few different routes. The First Step Act is top of mind, the criminal justice reform bill Trump signed. It reduces the three-strikes penalty for drug felonies and retroactively limits disparities in sentencing for crack cocaine that has mostly hurt African-Americans. It also provided incentives for prisoners to participate in training programs. The bill was similar to something Obama proposed (that Republicans rejected), and it was a good piece of legislation that is a step forward in criminal justice reform.
Abandoning the Trans-Pacific Partnership will also be a good thing, assuming the House passes the USMCA and a TPP replacement trade deal to fill some of its gaps. Like NAFTA, TPP would have crushed many American manufacturing jobs and, in all likelihood, would have ended up enriching far more foreign corporations than American companies. From Bernie Sanders to Donald Trump, people across the spectrum had gripes with it but very few on the right were willing to kill it until Trump came along.
Trump has also delivered a number of less-recognized policy wins. His administration hasn’t defeated the opioid epidemic as he promised, but they haven’t sat on their hands, either. He launched a new opioid-addiction initiative dedicating $350 million to research and treatment earlier this year. Prescriptions for opioids are down and overdose rates are slowing.
His administration also passed the “Right to Try” law, which gives dying Americans a chance to try new, experimental medications that haven’t been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. His administration has also helped usher in a reduction in some generic drug prices, even if it has exaggerated or lied about how big those reductions are.
When I think about the high points of the Trump presidency, these are the things that come to mind. While I’d love to give him credit for a booming economy, I generally think that presidents overrepresent their value in changing the economy and I also think how we measure the economy’s health is deeply flawed. Similarly, I’d love to give him credit for bringing troops home or scaling back needless war overseas, but most of that has been a mirage. All that being said, you still have to give him credit for historically low unemployment rates and historically high stock market numbers, even if those trends started under Obama and may not reflect a strong economy for most Americans. And — at least on the surface — he’s been one of the first Republicans in a long while to entertain the idea of reducing our troop presence overseas, which is something I support. There’s no legitimate case that his presidency has been all bad, and he’s proposed plenty of other ideas — like a huge infrastructure bill — that could be a positive for most Americans if they ever come to fruition.
Q: What’s a quid pro quo?
-Dumb Guy, Philadelphia, PA
Tangle: I’m not making fun of this person, they literally signed their email “dumb guy, Philadephia, PA.” Funnily enough, a couple of people have actually written me privately to say they didn’t know what a quid pro quo was, so I wish I had defined it earlier on. Here is the Webster’s dictionary definition, for all of you too shy to ask (or too lazy to Google): “something given or received for something else.” In more common parlance, a quid pro quo is a deal two parties make — and it often has a “shady” connotation like the word “cahoots.” It’s typically reserved for dealmaking between powerful people or entities.
A story that matters.
The CDC is reporting that one in six people in the United States have experienced at least four different types of childhood trauma, and more than 60 percent of adults reported at least one adverse childhood experience. Those traumas include violence, substance misuse, mental health problems in the home, or domestic abuse. In a first of its kind analysis, those childhood experiences have been linked to poorer health outcomes, health risk behaviors, and socioeconomic challenges, including depression, heavy drinking, smoking, lower educational attainment and unemployment. You can read more about the report from U.S. News here.
Did you know: you can click any of the “numbers” I use in this section to follow links to the stories or tweets where I pulled them from. If you’re ever interested in reading more, just click away.
- 41%. The number of the Cabinet secretaries, deputy secretaries and undersecretaries appointed in Trump’s first year in office that are no longer there, the highest for any recent president.
- 1,300. The number of Lufthansa flights canceled after the German airline’s workers went on strike over pay and the union’s legal status.
- 180,000. The estimated number of passengers that strike is expected to impact.
- +7.3. Elizabeth Warren’s edge over Trump in national polls, according to the current Real Clear Politics average.
- +2.2. Hillary Clinton’s RCP edge over Trump at the same time in the election in 2015.
- +10.2. Joe Biden’s edge over Trump in national polls, according to the current Real Clear Politics average.
- 52%. The percentage of voters who are “extremely excited” to vote for Bernie Sanders, according to a new Quinnipiac poll. It’s the highest enthusiasm rate of any Democrat.
- 19%. The percentage of voters who are “extremely excited” to vote for Joe Biden, according to the same Quinnipiac poll. That’s the lowest of the top three candidates.
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New Jersey voters have approved a $1 million tax hike to shore up the state’s “ailing psychiatric care infrastructure,” Newsweek reports. Amidst increasing concerns about teen and youth suicide in the state, along with anxiety and depression issues, officials in the state passed the new reforms in Metuchen and Collingswood. 54 percent of voters in Metuchen supported the measure, which will cost about $133 per taxpayer, generating over $700,000 a year in Metuchen. In Collingswood, the measure passed with 66 percent of the vote, will raise $225,000 and cost about $48 a taxpayer. You can read more here.