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The Home Stretch: Five Big Numbers to Know From This Week in Politics -- July 27, 2018

Another Friday, another busy string of news cycles.  Here are five key numbers to consider as we reflect on the week that was:

[4.1%] - The US economy grew at that robust clip in the second quarter, with the feds' estimate of first quarter growth edging higher, as well.  The White House is taking a victory lap, and deservedly so; President Trump's liberal critics predicted he'd be an unmitigated disaster for the economy and markets, but the opposite has been true thus far.  In the most recent NBC/WSJ national survey, Trump's approval on the economy stood at a rock solid (50/34) -- and that poll was obviously in the field prior to today's news breaking.  Some of the internals from the report:


There are mitigating factors, of course, including multiple analyses that pre-tariff activity (rushed through before the imposition deadline) added an artificial and temporary jolt to the overall GDP number.  And questions about sustainability are always going to linger.  But growth has averaged close to three percent over the last year, aided by tax reform and regulatory relief.  If bruising trade wars are downgraded and ended, the upward trajectory could be reasonably expected to continue.  If not, the benefits of tax reform could literally be wiped out.  Also, while Republicans will welcome the GDP news with open arms, a strong economy isn't necessarily a silver bullet for them heading into the fall.  The last time economic growth exceeded four percent in a quarter was the third quarter of 2014, just prior to Democrats getting crushed in that midterm cycle.  Nevertheless, this is very good news for the country, and undeniably positive news for the GOP.

[$200 million] - The Pentagon released a trove of new military aid to the Ukrainian government, for the purposes of enhancing that country's national defense in the face of Russian aggression.  Despite President Trump's dreadful performance alongside Kremlin strongman Vladimir Putin in Finland last week (after which his overall approval rating budged...virtually not at all), the administration's counter-Russia policy remains notably stronger than the president's rhetoric, and conspicuously more muscular than the Obama administration's weak posture. In a testy exchange before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rejected Chairman Bob Corker's characterization of American policy strength emanating from the State and Defense departments, as if it's entirely divorced from the president himself:


Pompeo reaffirmed that the US government would not recognize Moscow's illegitimate "sovereignty" over Crimea (other symbolic measures also underscored this point), and talked up NATO's commitments.  The policy is good.  The president's words don't always follow suit.  Point: Aren't actions and outcomes more important than words? Counterpoint: The president's words matter a great deal, especially in shaping foreign leaders' expectations (both friendly and unfriendly) regarding American actions.

[$12 billion] - Tapping into a depression-era emergency program, the Trump administration is poised to pay out billions in effective bailouts to American farmers harmed by the president's trade war policies.  This is a double-whammy of anti-conservative economic policy, under which one dodgy federal intervention is being introduced to paper over another dodgy federal intervention.  All of this amounts to the government picking winners and losers, then bailing out the losers.  Positively Bernie-esque.  Be patient, the president implores.  But how patient, and for how long?  And what about people like this and this?  Here's National Review's Charles Cooke explaining the compounding backwardness:

The Trump administration has intervened in the economy, and now, to mitigate the consequences of its intervening in the economy, it’s going to intervene in the economy again. In both cases, the taxpayer loses. He loses in the first instance because tariffs are taxes, and because taxes make goods more expensive. And he loses again when the government takes his money (or borrows it against his kids) and gives it to farmers who are down on their luck because the government elected to intervene...Even worse, both of these actions are being taken not by Congress, but by the executive branch. And even worse than that, they are being taken by the executive using powers that were delegated by Congress for use in emergencies...That President Trump is using these powers so routinely is a problem in and of itself. But that he is then “fixing” the fallout by, in part, using another set of emergency powers renders the whole affair somewhat farcical.


But conservative columnist Marc Thiessen argues this is all a strong gambit in pursuit of radical free trade ends:

At the Group of Seven summit in Quebec, Trump was roundly criticized for publicly berating allies over their trade practices and provoking a needless trade war. Well, once again, it appears Trump is being proved right. On Wednesday, he and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced a cease-fire in their trade war and promised to seek the complete elimination of most trade barriers between the United States and the European Union. "We agreed today ... to work together toward zero tariffs, zero non-tariff barriers, and zero subsidies on non-auto industrial goods," declared the two leaders in a joint statement. Zero tariffs. Wednesday's breakthrough with the European Union shows that, contrary to what his critics allege, Trump is not a protectionist; rather, he is using tariffs as a tool to advance a radical free-trade agenda.

For now, we have little more than an agreement to negotiate, with a pause button on new tariffs vis-a-vis the EU.  That may qualify as a "breakthrough" at some point, but not yet.  The current punitive measures remain in place for the moment, and tensions with other trading partners continue apace.  Trump's policies are doing tangible harm to real people, and threaten the hard-won economic gains mentioned above.  If the president extinguishes all of the trade fires he himself has set by winning significantly improved terms for the US, he can claim victory.  Until that happens -- if it ever happens -- he's way out on a limb, with real-world consequences playing out each day. 


[Two] - The number of times, for emphasis, this GOP video includes Sen. John Cornyn's recommendation that his Democratic colleagues "get a grip" on their cartoonishly hyperbolic Supreme Court rhetoric:

As for Kavanaugh's chances, though his overall polling is mediocre, the substantive case against him thus far has been quite feeble, and vulnerable Democrats are feeling the heat back home.  One of the few Republicans seen as a potential hold-out also sounds irked and defiant over the Left's efforts to push her into the 'no' column -- another positive sign for Kavanaugh:

“There is a rigorous campaign underway right now in Maine. There’s like a $3 million media buy, which is huge in my state,” Collins said. “So you can’t turn on the television or the radio or go on the internet without seeing ads. But those kinds of things are not going to have an influence on my vote.”

Also, Mrs. Kavanaugh should reject the Left's desperate demands for access to her records (yes, I consider much of the media to be 'the Left'), as she's not the nominee.  As others have noted, this 'fishing expedition' standard has not applied in the past: "When Stephen Breyer, Ruth Ginsburg, Sonia Sotamayor and Elena Kagan were appointed to the Court, did the Times, or the Associated Press, try to investigate documents sent or received by their family members?"  We all know the answer to that question.


[100] - 'Lordy, there are tapes,' snarked basically all of political Twitter, all at once.  More than 100 of them, in fact, are reportedly in the feds' possession, as they look into former Trump fixer and lawyer Michael Cohen.  The man relished secretly recording conversations, it seems.  The one (that we know of) featuring Trump exposes his campaign's dishonesty regarding knowledge of any payoff to a playboy model, but probably doesn't prove much beyond that.  What may give the president ongoing heartburn, however, is his former close associate apparently making a hard heel-turn against him, to the point of revealing (or inventing?) stories about Russia and potential collusion.  Trump most definitely does not want to be in a war of words with this guy, but the silver lining is that Cohen has immense credibility problems if his claims cannot be independently verified.  Also, are there...more women we haven't heard about yet?  Gulp.  On the other hand, even if there are, isn't Trump's lifelong womanizing "baked into" public expectations?  Nobody voted for Trump under the presumption that he was squeaky clean on this front.  In fact, everyone knew he wasn't because he's bragged about his exploits.  So unless criminal conduct can be established, I'm not convinced more evidence of serial lechery hurts him all that much.  2016 was the 'character doesn't count' election. 


[Bonus number: Ten] -  This observation from Amy Walter highlights House Republicans' challenge in protecting their majority in November: 

[Friday fun] - Does this viral video of teenagers failing badly to comprehend how to use a rotary telephone make you feel old -- or them look stupid?  Let's go with all of the above:

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