US Democratic presidential candidacy – popularity versus electability

There is no indication yet whether there will be any serious Republican contender for the presidential nomination prepared to stand against Donald Trump. That’s if Trump stands again for a job it is claimed he never really wanted in the first place – I think it quite likely Trump will stand again, as an excuse to keep having campaign rallies where he is cheered for his crass attacks and incitement, and to try to prove he can win the popular vote in an election without the help of the Russians.

All the action is in with Democrat candidates, where there are now eleven at least semi-serious contenders with ex-vice president Joe Biden now officially in the contest – Former VP Biden’s 2020 bid reshapes White House race

Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden entered the 2020 Democratic presidential field on Thursday as an instant front-runner, drawing momentum away from other leading candidates and putting new pressure on underperformers to find ways to stay relevant.

Biden, 76, a longtime U.S. senator who served two terms as former President Barack Obama’s No.2, announced his bid in a video describing the high stakes of the race to take on President Donald Trump in next year’s election.

“We are in the battle for the soul of this nation,” Biden said. “I believe history will look back on four years of this president and all he embraces as an aberrant moment in time. But if we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation, who we are, and I cannot stand by and let that happen.”

Trump responded with typical name calling and irony:

Trump responded in a post on Twitter, saying “welcome to the race Sleepy Joe” and slamming Biden’s intelligence.

Someone of Biden’s political stature was bound to impact on the field of candidates.

Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia, says it remains unclear if Biden can build on his loyal base of support. If that happens, it could come at Sanders’ expense.

Given his longstanding support from African-Americans and his partnership with Obama, Biden could also affect the candidacy of U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, who is widely regarded as a serious contender for the nomination.

Polls have already installed Biden as favourite. He is reasonably popular, but does that men he is electable?

Five Thirty Eight: Democrats Think Biden Is Electable, But He’s Not Everyone’s First Choice

Beating President Trump in November 2020 is really important to Democrats. Sizable shares of Democrats tell pollsters that a candidate’s “electability” will be a very important factor in their primary vote — even more than the candidate’s policy positions. The problem is that we don’t know for sure what makes a candidate electable.

But we can get an idea of what Democratic voters think an electable candidate looks like by finding polls that ask voters which 2020 presidential hopeful they think has the best chance of winning the general election, in addition to asking who they would support independent of electability concerns.

At least two recent polls have asked both questions: a Quinnipiac poll of registered Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters in California and a Granite State Poll of likely New Hampshire primary voters (conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center). Perhaps unsurprisingly, in both cases, the percentage of voters who say each candidate is the most electable is very similar to the percentage of voters who support each candidate.

But there are some telling divergences: Some candidates widely seen as electable don’t have as much support from voters, while others who have generated a lot of voter enthusiasm aren’t seen as particularly strong general-election candidates.

The table below looks at the difference in each poll between the share of voters who support each candidate and the share who think he or she is the strongest general-election candidate, then averages those differences.

There is quite a difference between those two polls so I don’t think too much can be taken from it, but it shows that Biden and Bernie Sanders are the obvious front runners.

By election time next November Sanders will be 79 years old, while Biden will be nearly 78. If either won they would be presidents while in their eighties.

Trump is just a little younger – he will be 74 next election. I don’t think there’s much chance of him growing up by then.

If those three turn out to remain the leading contenders then health will be a wild card – health of the old men candidates.

There is a lot of campaigning to go just to get nominated, and there could be other candidates yet to declare their intentions, so it’s difficult to judge how it could go for the  Democrats.

Meanwhile if Trump puts himself forward again and doesn’t get beaten for the candidacy – it’s difficult to know what the Republicans would prefer, to stick with a badly flawed incumbent president, or to try someone else if anyone is prepared to stand against Trump – much will probably depend on what happens over the next 18 months with the economy, with trade deficits, with the huge and growing deficit, with international relations, and with sideshows like the US-Mexico wall.

And whether Trump can pull back support, especially in crucial states, or whether he keeps disappointing and pissing off more and more people.  His core support is at least 10% too light – but any Democratic opponent would also have to appeal to the moveable vote in the middle, and it’s far too soon to know if any of them look capable of that.

“The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion”

Partisan posturing over Donald Trump’s partial exoneration by the Robert Mueller report has dominated attention, but I think the most important aspect of the investigation has been sadly sideline. The report stated that “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.” That should alarm people cross the divided US political spectrum.

New York Times editorial: The Mueller Report and the Danger Facing American Democracy

The report of the special counsel Robert Mueller leaves considerable space for partisan warfare over the role of President Trump and his political campaign in Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. But one conclusion is categorical: “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.”

The Justice Department’s indictment of 13 Russians and three companies in February 2018 laid bare much of the sophisticated Russian campaign to blacken the American democratic process and support the Trump campaign, including the theft of American identities and creation of phony political organizations to fan division on immigration, religion or race. The extensive hacks of Hillary Clinton’s campaign emails and a host of other dirty tricks have likewise been exhaustively chronicled.

But Russia’s interference in the campaign was the core issue that Mr. Mueller was appointed to investigate, and if he stopped short of accusing the Trump campaign of overtly cooperating with the Russians — the report mercifully rejects speaking of “collusion,” a term that has no meaning in American law — he was unequivocal on Russia’s culpability:

“First, the Office determined that Russia’s two principal interference operations in the 2016 U.S. presidential election — the social media campaign and the hacking-and-dumping operations — violated U.S. criminal law.”

The first part of the report, which describes these crimes, is worthy of a close read. Despite a thick patchwork of redactions, it details serious and dangerous actions against the United States.

Despite a thick patchwork of redactions, it details serious and dangerous actions against the United States that Mr. Trump, for all his endless tweeting and grousing about the special counsel’s investigation, has never overtly confronted, acknowledged, condemned or comprehended. Culpable or not, he must be made to understand that a foreign power that interferes in American elections is, in fact, trying to distort American foreign policy and national security.

It isn’t all about Trump. Far more importantly, it has been about the integrity of US democracy.

But Trump seems to see his win in the election as all important and he claims that to be on his merits alone and does not want credit attributed to the Russians (the lack of merit of Hillary Clinton was also a significant factor).

The earliest interference described in the report was a social media campaign intended to fan social rifts in the United States, carried out by an outfit funded by an oligarch known as “Putin’s chef” for the feasts he catered. Called the Internet Research Agency, the unit actually sent agents to the United States to gather information at one point.

What the unit called “information warfare” evolved by 2016 into an operation targeted at favoring Mr. Trump and disparaging Mrs. Clinton. This included posing as American people or grass-roots organizations such as the Tea Party, anti-immigration groups, Black Lives Matter and others to buy political ads or organize political rallies.

At the same time, the report said, the cyberwarfare arm of the Russian army’s intelligence service opened another front, hacking the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee and releasing reams of damaging materials through the front groups DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0, and later through WikiLeaks.

The releases were carefully timed for impact — emails stolen from the Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, for example, were released less than an hour after the “Access Hollywood” tape damaging to Mr. Trump came out.

A carefully and deliberately orchestrated campaign. Whether there was any collusion or not between Russia and the Trump campaign, there were plenty of interactions that should be concerning.

All this activity, the report said, was accompanied by the well documented efforts to contact the Trump campaign through business connections, offers of assistance to the campaign, invitations for Mr. Trump to meet Mr. Putin and plans for improved American-Russian relations. Both sides saw potential gains, the report said — Russia in a Trump presidency, the campaign from the stolen information.

The Times documented 140 contacts between Mr. Trump and his associates and Russian nationals and WikiLeaks or their intermediaries. But the Mueller investigation “did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

That is the part Mr. Trump sees as vindication, though the activities of his chaotic campaign team that the report describes are — at best — naïve.

With an absence of evidence of direct collusion it looks to me to be more like separate campaigns with a common purpose, with some opportunistic use of each other’s efforts.

It is obviously difficult for this president to acknowledge that he was aided in his election by Russia, and there is no way to gauge with any certainty how much impact the Russian activities actually had on voters.

But the real danger that the Mueller report reveals is not of a president who knowingly or unknowingly let a hostile power do dirty tricks on his behalf, but of a president who refuses to see that he has been used to damage American democracy and national security.

I think that it is pointless trying to rely on Trump addressing this. But this is what US authorities, and the US Congress and the Senate should now be focussing on – especially, how to prevent this sort of foreign interference from happening to the same degree again.

A perceived victory for Russian interference poses a serious danger to the United States. Already, several American agencies are working, in partnership with the tech industry, to prevent election interference going forward. But the Kremlin is not the only hostile government mucking around in America’s cyberspace — China and North Koreaare two others honing their cyber-arsenals, and they, too, could be tempted to manipulate partisan strife for their ends.

That is something neither Republicans nor Democrats should allow. The two parties may not agree on Mr. Trump’s culpability, but they have already found a measure of common ground with the sanctions they have imposed on Russia over its interference in the campaign.

Now they could justify the considerable time and expense of the special counsel investigation, and at the same time demonstrate that the fissure in American politics is not terminal, by jointly making clear to Russia and other hostile forces that the democratic process, in the United States and its allies, is strictly off limits to foreign clandestine manipulation, and that anyone who tries will pay a heavy price.

Trump is a problem, but he has been largely a distraction from a bigger and more important problem. The integrity of the US democratic system is at stake, and a lot of repair work is required for that to regain credibility.

 

 

 

Trump draws attention to worst of Mueller report and himself

The Mueller report should have been reasonably good news for Donald Trump. It cleared himself of collusion with the Russians, and he wasn’t charged with obstruction of justice despite attempts to so.

But instead of highlighting the positives, he accentuated the negatives – his behaviour. He behaved badly in response to the report. He abused White House staff who testified that he was an obnoxious liar, as they were required to do under the law, and abused staff who ignored his his demands to sack people involved in the special investigation, which would have obstructed justice.

Trump was lucky that he didn’t get into legal trouble over attempting to obstruct justice, but he his added fuel to the fire raging about his actions and attempted actions as president.

Real Clear Politics: Trump Laces Into Ex-Advisers Who Spoke With Mueller

President Donald Trump lashed out Friday at current and former aides who cooperated with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, insisting the deeply unflattering picture they painted of him and the White House was “total bullshit.”

In a series of angry tweets from rainy Palm Beach, Florida, Trump laced into those who, under oath, had shared with Mueller their accounts of how Trump tried numerous times to squash or influence the investigation and portrayed the White House as infected by a culture of lies, deceit and deception.

The attacks were a dramatic departure from the upbeat public face the White House had put on it just 24 hours earlier, when Trump celebrated the report’s findings as full exoneration and his counselor Kellyanne Conway called it “the best day” for Trump’s team since his election.

While the president, according to people close to him, did feel vindicated by the report, he also felt betrayed by those who had painted him in an unflattering light — even though they were speaking under oath and had been directed by the White House to cooperate fully with Mueller’s team.

While Mueller found no criminal evidence that Trump or his campaign aides colluded in Russian election meddling and did not recommend obstruction charges against the president, the 448-page report released Thursday nonetheless paints a damaging picture of the president, describing numerous cases where he discouraged witnesses from cooperating with prosecutors and prodded aides to mislead the public on his behalf to hamper the Russia probe he feared would cripple his presidency.

Whether the special investigation was justified or not (there were serious concerns about Russian interference in the US election that should have at least been investigated, and it was difficult to separate Trump’s campaign from that due to a number of connections between his campaign staff and Russian interests), it happened, and those being investigated, including Trump, should have properly complied with legal processes.

The report concluded that one reason Trump managed to stay out of trouble was that his “efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful … largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.”

He abused those who saved him from more serious problems.

Trump appeared to be especially angry with former White House counsel Don McGahn, who sat with Mueller for about 30 hours of interviews, and is referenced numerous times in the report.

In one particularly vivid passage, Mueller recounts how Trump called McGahn twice at home and directed him to set in motion Mueller’s firing. McGahn recoiled, packed up his office and threatened to resign, fearing the move would trigger a potential crisis akin to the Saturday Night Massacre of firings during the Watergate era.

In another section, Mueller details how Trump questioned McGahn’s note-taking, telling the White House counsel that, “Lawyers don ’t take notes” and that he’d “never had a lawyer who took notes.”

“Watch out for people that take so-called “notes,” when the notes never existed until needed,” Trump said in one of his tweets Friday. Others whose contemporaneous notes were referenced in the report include former staff secretary Rob Porter and Reince Priebus, Trump’s first chief of staff.

Notes of meetings are important for those who want to properly record political or legal matters. Trump has been criticised for having meetings with no records taken, including a meeting with Vladimir Putin.

This braises serious questions about whether adequate notes are taken of Trump’s meetings generally. If he despises and discourages note taking, is he pressuring staff into breaking the law? Or do they take the notes they are required to take despite him, and under threat of abuse form him?

Trump ended his tweet with the word, “a…” suggesting more was coming. More than eight hours later, he finally completed his thought, calling the probe a “big, fat, waste of time, energy and money” and threatening investigators by saying, “It is now finally time to turn the tables and bring justice to some very sick and dangerous people who have committed very serious crimes, perhaps even Spying or Treason.” There is no evidence of either.

Trump, and some supporters of Trump who have complained bitterly about the special investigation taking place, want investigations that suit their purposes, with less justification than the Mueller investigation.

Ari Fleischer, who served as White House press secretary to former President George W. Bush, said in an appearance on Fox News that he didn’t understand why Trump decided to send his tweets lashing out at former aides.

“I think it’s over,” he said. “If I were the president, I would have basically declared victory with the Mueller report and everything that came out and move beyond it.”

Still, he said he hoped the White House had learned some lessons.

“The president and his entire team needs to realize how close they came to being charged with obstruction,” Fleischer said. “Asking your staff to lie and engaging in some of the activities that the Mueller report stated the president engaged in is too close to obstruction. And that’s a lesson I hope everybody at the White House takes with them going forward.”

Unfortunately Trump has shown repeatedly that he has trouble moving on. In this case he when he could have simply claimed vindication he chose to highlight his vindictive nature.

Trump doesn’t seem to have learned from it.

White House staff will have learned from it – that they are constantly under pressure and under threat of abuse or being fired by the president for doing their jobs properly.

National Review: The Problem with the Mueller Report

The first volume of the voluminous Mueller report, the half devoted to what was supposed to be the underlying crime of a Trump conspiracy with Russia, came up completely empty. It tells us very little that’s new. There’s no particularly sinister information about Carter Page, the bit player the FBI repeatedly told the FISA court was probably a Russian agent. The operators who portrayed themselves as closest to WikiLeaks or Russia were usually braggarts and liars exaggerating their importance. Nothing came of the infamous Trump Tower meeting. Paul Manafort wasn’t at the center of conspiracy between the campaign and Russia, but operating in his greedy self-interest.

So the investigation didn’t come up empty. It found that Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, had acted illegally. That must be some justification for the inquiry. As was finding out whether braggarts and liars exaggerating their importance were a cause for concern when working for the chief braggard and liar.

The Trump campaign was amateurish and without scruple in exploiting the WikiLeaks disclosures, but we all could have agreed on that long ago, without a years-long special-counsel investigation.

Indeed, given how unlikely collusion always was and how far the evidence gathered by Mueller is from showing  it, one wonders why the special counsel couldn’t have issued an interim report long ago, dispelling the persistent — and poisonous — idea that Trump was about to be proven a traitor.

Perhaps because there was sufficient information and doubt that warranted a thorough investigation.

One could wonder how different it might have been if Trump had simply claimed there was no collusion, and encouraged his campaign staff and White House staff to cooperate fully with the inquiry. Trump didn’t act like an innocent person, he tried to discredit and obstruct. I think that is likely to have extended the investigation findings timeframe.

The business end of the Mueller report is the second volume, on obstruction. The investigation ended up following the typical pattern of special-counsel probes on a much larger scale — fixating on process crimes even when there is no underlying offence.

But at the process stage it was not known if there was any underlying offences or not. Actually a number of offences have been discovered. Like Mannafort’s offences. And others, like Admitted Russian Agent Butina Asks U.S. Court to Be Lenient – “Maria Butina, who has admitted to working as a Russian agent to infiltrate an influential U.S. gun rights group and make inroads with conservative activists and Republicans, asked the court to sentence her to time served ahead of her April 26 sentencing, according to court documents.”

What about Michael Cohen? He was prosecuted for lying to try to protect Trump. It’s quite feasible that Cohen lied because Trump encouraged him to lie and to obstruct. If that’s the case it’s seriously bad that a president has done that.

Some of Trump’s deceptions were for public consumption, not to influence the investigation.

Deceptions for public consumption may not be a crime, but it emphasises how little trust can be placed on what Trump says “for public consumption”. That may not be a legal problem, but it is a problem for democracy.

Trump’s attempts to fire Mueller and get then-attorney general Jeff Sessions to curtail the investigation came to nothing.

At this stage at least coming to nothing has kept Trump clear of prosecution, but I still find his attempts to obstruct very concerning.

None of this is to deny the report’s distressing portrayal of how President Trump operates. He avoids potentially disastrous missteps, such as firing Mueller, when his aides ignore him and he fails to follow up. His dishonesty constantly creates dilemmas for those around him, forcing them to choose between lying for him or defying him.

At risk of being fired, as has happened to some who have defied Trump.

No president of the United States should ever applaud people for refusing to cooperate with prosecutors, or call someone who cooperates a “rat.” Most White House scandals involve presidents getting ill served by overly zealous, norm-defying advisers. In this episode, Trump flipped the script.

The US presidency, the White House, and agencies run by people appointed by Trump (and who can be fired by Trump) are still operating in this environment, where Trump continues to lie, he continues to abuse, he continues to threaten.

I find that quite troubling.

Yet there are still Trump defenders and apologists who seem to thing this situation and behaviour is ok because others have done it less badly.

I think that a president who can’t be trusted to the degree that Trump shouldn’t be trusted is an ongoing threat not just to the presidency and to the United States but also to the world.

What if Trump manages to appoint staff or public officials who are prepared to lie for him (actually some have, his media spokespeople can’t be trusted either), and who are prepared to break the law and obstruct justice at Trump’s request?

How do we know this hasn’t already happened?

Trump – pathological liar, cheat, abuser, unhinging

The Donald Trump problem has been excused by many, but it is getting worse and he should be called for what he is:

  • a pathological liar who continues to lie about things when clearly incorrect or shown to be incorrect
  • a cheat in marriage, a cheat in golf, someone who tries to cheat the legal system, democracy
  • an abuser of anyone who challenges his position, his lies, his cheating, his integrity (there is little of that)
  • he thinks he is above the law and can subvert justice

He can’t be believed, and he can’t be trusted. He is a disgrace and a danger to the presidency of the United States.

He thinks he is above the law and can subvert justice.

He is obsessed with being seen to ‘win’ and attacks anyone he thinks might prevent him from winning.

And this is all out in the open and obvious. It’s fair to presume he has done more and worse that we don’t know about.

What got him into the presidency and what keeps him there are the excuses and inaction of supporters, and of politicians and officials and staff who pander to his narcissism.

The just released Mueller report has revealed that some officials have ignored his orders to subvert justice and to do other crazy things – it is just at well that he haasn’t been able to find enough family and sycophants to fill all the positions in the White House.

And if anything Trump is getting worse, going by the tantrum he has thrown over the Mueller report. And this shows how widely and wildly he can swing.

When the mildly worded Barr summary was released Trump praised it and praised Mueller and claimed (falsely) complete exoneration.

Now the full Mueller report has been released, which hasn’t painted him in a good light but came short of recommending prosecution for  his attempts to obstruct justice, Trump is praying at the report and everyone involved in it.

It is common for him to condemn critics, or in this case people who are required to comply with the law in an inquiry, as Democrats (often falsely) and haters. He has an army of supporters who repeat his ‘hater’ accusations to try to attack the messenger and divert from his faults.

More tweets in reaction to the report:

“Donald Trump was being framed, he fought back. That is not Obstruction.” I had the right to end the whole Witch Hunt if I wanted. I could have fired everyone, including Mueller, if I wanted. I chose not to. I had the RIGHT to use Executive Privilege. I didn’t!

The framing and witch hunt claims are nonsense. There are ways of ‘fighting back’ (dealing with judicial inquiries) without trying to sack those officials working on behalf of the US government.

Anything the Russians did concerning the 2016 Election was done while Obama was President. He was told about it and did nothing! Most importantly, the vote was not affected.

A common tactic of trump is to blame others, in this case Obama. And he’s wrong about the vote not being affected. It must have been affected by Russian actions.

When there is not an underlying crime with regard to Collusion (in fact, the whole thing was a made up fraud), it is difficult to say that someone is obstructing something. There was no underlying crime.”

“If dozens of Federal prosecutors spent two years trying to charge you with a crime, and found they couldn’t, it would mean there wasn’t any evidence you did it – and that’s what happened here – that’s what we just learned from the Mueller Report.”

It doesn’t mean there “wasn’t any evidence”. There was evidence cited in the report. It’s just that officials chose not to prosecute the President.

“The Mueller Report is perhaps the single most humiliating thing that has ever happened to the White House Press in the history of this Country. They know they lied…Many reporters lied about Russia Collusion and so much more. Clapper & Brennan, all lies”

The accusations of lies are common – while ignoring the biggest liar of all, Trump.  It’s a common tactic of his (and his friends and excusers in media) to accuse others of what he does.

So he has gone round media cherry picking people defending him, and ignoring everything else.

The game is obviously not over. Trump is playing it as hard as ever. The more he protests the more it loks like he is trying to hide something or divert from something.

Statements are made about me by certain people in the Crazy Mueller Report, in itself written by 18 Angry Democrat Trump Haters, which are fabricated & totally untrue. Watch out for people that take so-called “notes,” when the notes never existed until needed.

Because I never agreed to testify, it was not necessary for me to respond to statements made in the “Report” about me, some of which are total bullshit & only given to make the other person look good (or me to look bad).

If it wasn’t necessary for him to respond, why is he trying to respond now via Twitter?

This was an Illegally Started Hoax that never should have happened, a…

He appears to have not finished that sentence. Maybe someone finally disabled his Twitter account.

The inquiry wasn’t illegally started. And it wasn’t a hoax.

The patently untrustworthy abusive Trump is a disgrace to the presidency. But so far he has managed to keep a mass of supporters and apologists on his side. And there isn’t much that can be done but wait out his four year term, leaving him to rant and rave on Twitter and at political rallies, leaving those in key positions at the White House and in Government positions to ignore his worst commands, and otherwise scramble in the chaos that Trump perpetuates.

Every time Trump tweets he panders to a crowd, but he also keeps putting on record his incompetence and unsuitability for the job.

Trump will no doubt achieve some positives, all presidents do. But he is also clocking up some major negatives, like a growing trade deficit despite heavy handed tariffs. Like US debt, now over $20 trillion. Like the ongoing problems on the US-Mexico border.

Every president keeps accumulating criticisms – Trump more so than most, for good reason. The more he is challenged and exposed (with a lot of self exposure) the more unhinged he appears to get.

That’s dangerous for someone in his position. It is potentially dangerous for the world.

Note: this post is not about squirrels or the media or Obama or the Clintons, all flawed, but all different stories. It is about Trump’s his lying, his abusiveness, his behaviour unbecoming of a president (or any politician). Critique or try to defend that and don’t try to divert.

Mueller report released (minus redactions)

The report following the investigation led by Robert Mueller into whether there was Russian interference or collusion has now been released, which has opened a bunch of discussion points.

Time:  Here Are the Biggest Takeaways From the Mueller Report

Although Russia “perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency” and the campaign “expected it would benefit electorally” from Russian hacking efforts, “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” the report said.

When investigators began looking into Russian influence operations, however, Mueller found that Trump attempted to interfere with the investigation in a number of ways, from firing FBI Director James Comey to trying to limit its scope.

“If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment,” the report said.

Trump’s response to Mueller’s appointment: ‘I’m f-cked’

According to Mueller, the president was despondent when Attorney General Jeff Sessions informed him that the special counsel had been appointed in 2017.

“This is the end of my presidency. I’m f-cked,” the President said to Sessions.

Trump ordered a White House lawyer to fire Mueller

Trump called McGahn at his home on June 17, 2017, according to phone records. He ordered McGahn to call the acting attorney general and tell him that Mueller had conflicts of interest and needed to be removed, saying something to the effect of, “You gotta do this. You gotta call Rod [Rosenstein],” McGahn told investigators.

McGahn told Mueller that he decided that he would rather resign, because he didn’t want to end up like “Saturday Night Massacre Bork” — a reference to Solicitor General Robert Bork, who fired a special prosecutor at President Richard Nixon’s request during the Watergate scandal, setting off a massive political firestorm.

“The President’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests,” the report said.

Trump didn’t like his lawyer taking notes

McGahn later told former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus that the President had asked him to “do crazy sh-t.”

After reports emerged in early 2018 that Trump had ordered McGahn to fire Mueller, the President told his aide Rob Porter to ask McGahn to tell the press that he’d never received the order. McGahn again declined, telling Porter that the media reports were true.

Later, the President met with McGahn and asked him to deny that he’d been ordered to remove Mueller.

“I never said to fire Mueller. I never said ‘fire.’ This story doesn’t look good. You need to correct this. You’re the White House Counsel,” Trump said, according to McGahn and former Chief of Staff John Kelly.

Trump also asked McGahn why he had told Mueller about the effort to fire the special counsel, and also why he had decided to take notes during their conversations.

“What about these notes? Why do you take notes? Lawyers don’t take notes. I never had a lawyer who took notes,” Trump said.

A White House spokeswoman admitted she made up a Trump defense

During a press briefing on May 10, 2017, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders defended Trump’s decision to fire Comey by saying that “the rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence” in him.

But under oath with Mueller’s team, Sanders conceded that she had not heard from any agents, calling it a “slip of the tongue.”

Trump said he was just joking about asking Russia to find Clinton’s emails

After Mueller inquired about the public comment, Trump replied that he made the statement “in jest and sarcastically, as was apparent to any objective observer.”

Despite his insistence that he was joking, Trump later emphasized his comments on Twitter, writing “If Russia or any other country or person has Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 illegally deleted emails, perhaps they should share them with the FBI!”

Trump fired Comey because he wouldn’t publicly exonerate the President

Two days after James Comey refused to deny that the Trump was under investigation during a 2017 congressional hearing, Trump told his family and advisors that he was planning to remove the FBI Director, according to senior advisor Stephen Miller.

Trump also insisted that Comey’s resignation letter declared that Trump wasn’t personally under investigation.

How much of the report is redacted?

Substantial portions of the report are redacted. The omissions make certain sections – including the portion of the document which concerns Wikileaks – difficult to understand.

Fox News – Mueller report sparks new DC war over Russia probe: Subpoenas, payback and more

The public release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Thursday marked the dramatic final note of a lengthy and contentious investigation, but also sparked a tinderbox of new calls for subpoenas, congressional testimony, resignations, and even impeachment proceedings — all despite the probe’s central finding that no evidence showed that President Trump’s team “coordinated or conspired” with Russia.

The whirlwind moments kept coming, even hours after the report’s release, as more and more revelations from the 448-page document trickled out. The White House, for its part, claimed total victory and vindication for the president who, according to the report, once fretted that the special counsel’s appointment meant he was “f—ed” beyond the possibility of redemption and that his agenda would be derailed by partisan distractions.

Within minutes of the report’s publication, House Judiciary Committee Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., charged that the special counsel had provided “disturbing evidence that President Trump engaged in obstruction of justice” and, referencing the report’s limited redactions, finished with a tantalizing flourish: “Imagine what remains hidden from our view.”

Nader immediately called on Mueller himself to testify, and top Republicans, including Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr, said they would have no objections to him doing so.

Republicans, meanwhile, called the day a resounding win, pointing specifically to several portions of Mueller’s findings that debunked long-held conspiracy theories and media reports that misrepresented the Trump team’s contacts with Russia.

For example, notably absent from Mueller’s analysis was any mention of the unverified report that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had “secret talks” with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in London’s Ecuadorian embassy months before stolen emails damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign were published.

Summing up the positive news for his administration in the report, Trump tweeted a reference to the popular “Game of Thrones” television series, with the words, “No collusion, no obstruction. For the haters and the radical left Democrats — Game Over.”

White House adviser Kellyanne Conway told reporters that Thursday was the “best day” since Trump’s election, calling the Mueller probe a “political proctology exam” and the final report a “clean bill of health.”

“It should make people feel really great that a campaign I managed to its successful end did not collude with any Russians,” Conway said. “We’re accepting apologies today, too, for anybody who feels the grace in offering them.”

Democrats, however, raised a slew of objections and charged that Barr had improperly given cover for the president. 2020 presidential contender Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., called on Barr to “resign,” after Barr pointed out in his press conference that Trump’s mental state — including his apparent frustration at the long-running investigation — was relevant to the question of whether he obstructed justice.

On collusion, according to the report, the Trump team believed it would benefit from Russian efforts and sought to share published emails that had been pilfered from the DNC and Clinton campaign, but did not coordinate with Russia on any hacking or misinformation efforts.

In one notable lead that was explored, former national security adviser Michael Flynn told investigators that Trump repeatedly requested that his team find tens of thousands of emails deleted from a private server controlled by Hillary Clinton.

At a July 2016 campaign rally, Trump remarked sarcastically, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

After that statement, Flynn contacted operatives in the hopes of uncovering the documents, according to Mueller. And Peter Smith, a GOP consultant, “created a company, raised tens of thousands of dollars, and recruited security experts and business associates,” the report stated.

The full report (redacted) plus more comment at NZH: The four key takeaways from the Mueller report into Russian interference in US election

3. Aides often ignore Trump’s false and dubious directives

One of the most intriguing parts of this report is the window it provides into how Trump’s aides view him. We’ve had many leaks suggesting internal discord in the White House, but here the aides were compelled to tell the truth.

And a common thread is forming: Trump often asks aides to falsely deny things or do things that make them uncomfortable. Oftentimes, they simply didn’t follow through.

In one section, then-White House counsel Donald McGahn got a message from Trump’s personal lawyer saying Trump wanted McGahn to put out a statement denying a New York Times report that said Trump had tried to fire Mueller. McGahn declined, because Trump had in fact tried to fire Mueller.

4. Many of Trump’s “fake news” claims are disproven

One of the unhelpful realities of the Russia probe thus far has been that so many revelations were based upon anonymous sources. That has allowed Trump to argue to his supporters that the stories were wrong, totally made-up “fake news.”

Except now many of them have been confirmed by the Mueller report.

And so the Washington circus continues.

Mueller inquiry highlights lack of trust in US Government

The Robert Mueller inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 US election has driven growing division in the United States, and has highlighted the lack of trust in the US government.

Neither side of the political divide looks good, not looks likely of addressing the dismal decay of democracy in the US.

Frank Miele (RealClear Politics): Mueller Report Is Litmus Test for a Divided Society

What the litmus test of the Mueller report reveals is whether or not we as individuals, as political parties and as Americans have faith in our government.

According to a recent poll, 84 percent of Americans want the entire report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller released to the public.

They aren’t satisfied just knowing that the investigation into President Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia is over after two years.

They aren’t satisfied with the attorney general, a distinguished public servant, explaining the results of the investigation as he is mandated to do by law. No, they want to see the report for themselves … they want to go over it with the proverbial fine-tooth comb and hunt down every inconsistency, every missing comma, every hidden clue that what they already know to be true is indeed true — that they can’t trust the government, that the wool is being pulled over our eyes, that the system serves some ulterior purpose and works on behalf of someone or some group that is not us.

That is a horrid condition for the body politic to find itself in. It suggests a complete lack of confidence in our leaders, in our institutions, even in our Constitution.

What the demand for transparency means at its core, however, is that we don’t trust government.

That distrust has been earned over many years and many governments and presidents.

What undermines our Constitution and our government is people like Nancy Pelosi questioning the motives and honor of good people who have chosen public service as a higher calling while at the same time she tirelessly defends James Comey, John Brennan and James Clapper, who appear to have used their plenary powers to intervene in 2016 and either prevent or subvert the election of Donald Trump.

I think that Trump has probably done more than anyone at trying to undermine the motives and honour of people, especially those involved with the Mueller inquiry – including Robert Mueller. He repeatedly called what Mueller was doing a witch hunt and a virtual coup attempt – until the Barr summary suggested there was no evidence of wrong doing by Trump.

The only way we can make the litmus test for trust in government the same for all Americans is if we test that trust through fair investigation. Don’t just tell us that Mueller can be trusted, but Barr can’t. Subject both of them — and all of our public servants — to the same rigorous examination. Find out where the truth leads. We’ve had two years of investigation of President Trump based on salacious allegations funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign. Now let’s apply the same level of scrutiny to the Democrats who have assured us without evidence for two years that the president colluded with Russia.

Miele is not helping the state of division in US politics here.  The Democrats certainly should be held to account,

The release of the Mueller report – that is expected soon – is likely to reignite an already volatile political situation. Unfortunately, expected redactions are unlikely to quell the inflammatory rhetoric and accusations flying in all political directions.

The shining beacon on the hill is a flaming inferno of dysfunction of democracy.

Growing warnings about world economic outlook

In general the world economy has recovered and prospered since the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-2008, but there are growing warnings that the bubble might at least slow down. There is always a risk of it bursting.

International Monetary Fund:  World Economic Outlook, April 2019 Growth Slowdown, Precarious Recovery

After strong growth in 2017 and early 2018, global economic activity slowed notably in the second half of last year, reflecting a confluence of factors affecting major economies.

China’s growth declined following a combination of needed regulatory tightening to rein in shadow banking and an increase in trade tensions with the United States.

The euro area economy lost more momentum than expected as consumer and business confidence weakened and car production in Germany was disrupted by the introduction of new emission standards; investment dropped in Italy as sovereign spreads widened; and external demand, especially from emerging Asia, softened.

Elsewhere, natural disasters hurt activity in Japan. Trade tensions increasingly took a toll on business confidence and, so, financial market sentiment worsened, with financial conditions tightening for vulnerable emerging markets in the spring of 2018 and then in advanced economies later in the year, weighing on global demand.

Conditions have eased in 2019 as the US Federal Reserve signalled a more accommodative monetary policy stance and markets became more optimistic about a US–China trade deal, but they remain slightly more restrictive than in the fall.

Greg Jericho (Guardian Australia): The outlook for the global economy goes from bright to precarious

At the start of last year things were looking almost upbeat. The title of the IMF’s January update, Brighter Prospects, Optimistic Markets, Challenges Ahead, is economic speak for “cripes, aren’t we all a bit unusually happy!”. By April 2018 the title had become “Cyclical Upswing, Structural Change”, which again spoke of economic sunshine, even if it did warn of the need to adjust to the post-GFC world.

By the middle of last year the July update was warning “Less Even Expansion, Rising Trade Tensions”, and the October outlook was a decidedly measured if still somewhat neutral, “Challenges to Steady Growth”.

But with this new year, all neutrality has disappeared. The January update stated it plain: “A Weakening Global Expansion”. And just in case you had not caught their drift, the latest outlook, released this week, was headed, “Growth Slowdown, Precarious Recovery

From brighter prospect to precarious recovery in less than two years. Hope you enjoyed that moment of economic joy while it lasted.

The decline is across roughly 70% of the world’s economies, with the IMF blaming the “escalation of US–China trade tensions”, troubles in the “auto sector in Germany” plus “tighter credit policies in China, and financial tightening alongside the normalization of monetary policy in the larger advanced economies.”

In effect the structural changes and rising trade tensions warned in previous outlooks all came to pass.

Financial Times:  US consumer sentiment misses view as economic outlook softens

US consumer sentiment dipped in April as consumers’ economic outlook weakened and as they thought “stimulative impact” of the tax overhaul “has run its course”.

The University of Michigan’s preliminary consumer sentiment survey slid to 96.9 in April, from 98.4 the previous month. That missed analysts’ expectations for a drop to 98, according to a Thomson Reuters survey of economists.

Despite the modest decline, sentiment over the past 30 months remains higher than any other time since the 1997-2000 US economic expansion, as consumer confidence “continued its sideways shuffle in early April”, the report noted.

The report also showed the impact of the 2018 US tax overhaul on consumer sentiment has “all but disappeared”. The decline in consumer confidence follows the best first quarter for the S&P 500 in 21 years but comes amid uncertainty about the US economic outlook. The report showed the index of consumer expectations about the future fell to 85.8 — its lowest level in more than a year — from 88.8 the previous month.

Officials at the Federal Reserve have outlined “significant uncertainties” over the US and global economic outlook, according to the minutes of the central bank’s latest meeting, with some officials stressing their outlook could “shift in either direction”.

The Newyorker: The High-Stakes Battle Between Donald Trump and the Federal Reserve

For months now, Trump has been publicly railing against the Fed. In private, Bloomberg reported, he has been asking his aides if he can fire Powell, a sixty-six-year-old Republican banker who was confirmed at the start of last year. (According to legal experts, the question is a murky one.) On Friday, Trump again defied the convention that the President stays out of monetary policy, calling on Powell and his colleagues to cut interest rates in order to boost the economy.

Referring to the rate hikes that the Fed introduced last year, which were the source of his animus toward Powell, Trump said, “I think they really slowed us down.” Trump’s senior economic adviser in the White House, Larry Kudlow, has also called for a rate cut.

In addition to jawboning the Fed, Trump has moved to exert more control over its deliberations by announcing his intention to nominate two of his ardent political supporters to its board of directors: Stephen Moore, a conservative commentator who served as an economic adviser to the Trump campaign in 2016, and Herman Cain, a Republican businessman who ran for President, in 2012.

Ignoring widespread criticism that neither Moore nor Cain is remotely qualified to sit on the Fed’s board, Kudlow said on Sunday that Trump is standing behind both of them. “We have two open seats,” he told CNN. “The President has every right in the world to nominate people who share his economic philosophy.”

Business Insider: Trump’s pick of former pizza-chain CEO Herman Cain for the Federal Reserve already looks like it could crash and burn

It’s been less than a week since President Donald Trump announced the selection of Herman Cain, the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO and 2012 Republican presidential candidate, for the Federal Reserve Board. The outlook already doesn’t look good for the potential nomination.

Washington Post: Four Senate Republicans signal opposition to Trump’s plan to put Herman Cain on Federal Reserve Board, all but sinking nomination

A swift defection of at least four Senate Republicans has all but doomed Herman Cain’s chances of winning a seat on the Federal Reserve’s board of governors, a striking rebuke to President Trump in his drive to remake the powerful U.S. central bank.

The rapid rejection of Cain — a 2012 GOP presidential candidate — pauses Trump’s effort to remold the central bank into a more political body with outspoken individuals who share his views. It also reflects a growing unease among Senate Republicans with the way Trump has tried to bend the institution to his will in the past six months.

Trump has jawboned Fed officials and pushed them to slash interest rates and flood the economy with cheap money, even though during his presidential campaign he accused the central bank of creating a “big, fat, ugly bubble.”

So uncertainty in the US doesn’t help.

RNZ Robertson: NZ economy well placed to handle impact of global downturn

The IMF is predicting New Zealand’s growth rates will be well ahead of other OECD countries in the face of a delicate moment for the global economy, Finance Minister Grant Robertson says.

Two days ago the International Monetary Fund cut its forecast for world economic growth this year as the global economy slowed more than expected, raising risks of a sharp downturn.

The impact of trade tensions between the United States and China and issues in Europe, including Brexit and some poorer performing economies among EU member countries, were among key risks contributing to a “delicate moment” for the global economy, IMF chief economist Gita Gopinath said.

In its third downgrade since October, the IMF said the global economy will likely grow 3.3 percent this year, the slowest expansion since 2016. The forecast cut 0.2 percentage points from the IMF’s outlook in January.

The projected growth rate for next year was unchanged at 3.6 percent.

Mr Robertson, who is at IMF and World Bank meetings in Washington, told Morning Report the IMF was predicting New Zealand’s growth rates will be well ahead of other OECD countries.

However, with economies slowing down in other parts of the world, there would be an impact for New Zealand as a small trading nation. The economy remained strong with sound fundamentals, including relatively low debt, low unemployment, and surpluses in the 2018 Budget.

So while the New Zealand outlook is relatively good any slowdown elsewhere in the world, especially the US, Australia (which is looking shaky) and China, will have a negative impact here.

Israel election – Netanyahu can probably form right wing government

Benjamin Netanyahu’s main challenger in the election in Israel has conceded defeat, with Netanyahu looking likly to be able to form a government regarded as right wing.

Reuters:  Israel’s Netanyahu wins re-election, main challenger concedes defeat

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secured a clear path to re-election on Wednesday, with religious-rightist parties set to hand him a parliamentary majority and his main challenger conceding defeat.

With more than 99 percent of votes counted – ballots cast by soldiers at military bases will be tallied over the next two days – Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party looked likely to muster enough support to control 65 of the Knesset’s 120 seats and be named to head the next coalition government.

It would be Netanyahu’s record fifth term as premier.

In a televised statement, Yair Lapid, number two in the centrist Blue and White party led by former general Benny Gantz, said: “We didn’t win in this round. We will make Likud’s life hell in the opposition.”

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said on Twitter he would begin meeting next week with political parties that won parliamentary seats to hear who they support for prime minister.

At the sessions, which Rivlin said would be broadcast live “to ensure transparency”, he will then pick a party leader to try to form a coalition, giving the candidate 28 days to do so, with a two-week extension if needed.

The close and often vitriolic contest was widely seen in Israel as a referendum on Netanyahu’s character and record in the face of corruption allegations. He faces possible indictment in three graft cases, and has denied wrongdoing in all of them.

Despite that, Netanyahu gained four seats compared to his outgoing coalition government, according to a spreadsheet published by the Central Elections Committee of parties that garnered enough votes to enter the next parliament.

But Netanyahu  still faces some legal problems (that he may grant himself immunity from).

An indictment decision would follow a review hearing where Netanyahu can be expected to argue he should be spared in the national interest. Some analysts predict he may try to pass a law granting himself immunity, as a sitting leader, from trial.

Did Donald Trump ‘interfere’ in the election? He certainly tried to influence it.

During the campaign, Netanyahu sought to tap into Trump’s popularity among Israelis, who delighted in his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017 and transfer of the U.S. Embassy to the holy city last May from Tel Aviv.

Two weeks before the election, Trump signed a proclamation, with Netanyahu at his side at the White House, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war.

Trump has applauded Netanyahu’s electoral success.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who Netanyahu featured on campaign billboards to highlight their close relationship, phoned to congratulate him on his re-election, the Israeli leader said, adding that he thanked his American ally for “tremendous support for Israel”.

Trump told reporters at the White House that Netanyahu’s re-election improved the chances of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. “He’s been a great ally and he’s a friend. I’d like to congratulate him on a well-thought-out race.”

I guess that at least Trump’s assistance was out in the open – some of it anyway.

But this sort of direct involvement of the leader of one country in the election in another country  doesn’t look good to me.

Mueller investigation controversies continue after brief Barr letter

There were immediate celebrations immediately after Attorney General Barr sent out a brief letter summarising the final Mueller investigation report, but the controversies around the investigation, Russian collusion and obstruction of justice have continued.

Donald Trump helped the fiery rhetoric keep burning when he claimed inaccurately that the report totally exonerated him – Barr’s letter made it clear that was not the case.

There are now claims that the letter omitted damaging accusations against Trump.

The Department of Justice  has defended the letter, saying that the report was always going to be released (following redactions).

Trump initially said that the whole report should be released, but has since changed his mind.

Politico:  Dems ratchet up pressure on Barr over Mueller probe

Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler is demanding the immediate release of any summaries that Mueller’s team intended to become public.

“You have already provided an interpretation of the Special Counsel’s conclusions in a fashion that appears to minimize the implications of the report as to the President,” Nadler said in a letter to Barr on Thursday. “Releasing the summaries — without delay — would begin to allow the American people to judge the facts for themselves.”

Barr issued his own four-page summary of Mueller’s conclusions two weeks ago, quoting selectively from Mueller’s report in a way Democrats have suggested could be misleading. President Donald Trump has highlighted Mueller’s letter to declare “total exoneration” by Mueller’s investigators.

The Department of Justice on Thursday defended Barr’s summary, saying he couldn’t disclose the full report because it contained protected grand jury information. The statement came after some members of Mueller’s team were reportedly unhappy with Attorney General William Barr’s characterization of their investigatory work.

A Justice Department spokeswoman said Barr provided the initial findings “with the understanding that the report itself would be released after the redaction process” and “does not believe the report should be released in serial or piecemeal fashion.”

NY Times: Some on Mueller’s Team Say Report Was More Damaging Than Barr Revealed

Some of Robert S. Mueller III’s investigators have told associates that Attorney General William P. Barr failed to adequately portray the findings of their inquiry and that they were more troubling for President Trump than Mr. Barr indicated, according to government officials and others familiar with their simmering frustrations.

At stake in the dispute — the first evidence of tension between Mr. Barr and the special counsel’s office — is who shapes the public’s initial understanding of one of the most consequential government investigations in American history. Some members of Mr. Mueller’s team are concerned that, because Mr. Barr created the first narrative of the special counsel’s findings, Americans’ views will have hardened before the investigation’s conclusions become public.

Mr. Barr has said he will move quickly to release the nearly 400-page report but needs time to scrub out confidential information. The special counsel’s investigators had already written multiple summaries of the report, and some team members believe that Mr. Barr should have included more of their material in the four-page letter he wrote on March 24 laying out their main conclusions, according to government officials familiar with the investigation. Mr. Barr only briefly cited the special counsel’s work in his letter.

Fox News:  Trump hits back at NYTimes claim that Barr misled on Mueller report

President Trump on Thursday blasted The New York Times, claiming the outlet had “no legitimate sources” for its latest report that claimed Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia report was more damaging to the president that Attorney General William Barr revealed in his summary.

“The New York Times had no legitimate sources, which would be totally illegal, concerning the Mueller Report. In fact, they probably had no sources at all!  They are a Fake News paper who have already been forced to apologize for their incorrect and very bad reporting on me!” Trump tweeted Thursday.

Tht’s typical Trump – trying to discredit critical media. His claims of innocence and being the victim can’t be taken seriously on their own.

A senior Justice Department official told Fox News that The Post’s reporting was “not true,” and claimed the outlet is guilty of “misreporting.”

“Given the extraordinary public interest in the matter, the Attorney General decided to release the report’s bottom-line findings and his conclusions immediately — without attempting to summarize the report — with the understanding that the report itself would be released after the redaction process.”

She added: “As the Attorney General stated in his March 29th letter to Chairman Graham and Chairman Nadler, he does not believe the report should be released in ‘serial or piecemeal fashion.’ The Department continues to work with the Special Counsel on appropriate redactions to the report so that it can be released to Congress and the public.”

The Attorney General and his advisers should have known that very brief ‘bottom-line findings’ would themselves be controversial, and used to stoke controversies further.

Barr has said that the report should be released by mid-April, but that is unlikely to quell the self interested claims.

‘Appropriate redactions’ are likely to ensure that the bickering and the bull will continue unabated.

What can Ardern achieve now?

Jacinda Ardern has been widely praised for how she has dealt with the Christchurch mosque shootings. Deservedly. She has shown compassion and empathy with eloquence and ease. Setting an example she has helped quell angst and escalation, and led the nationwide surge of tolrance and understanding.

She has been a star, dissed only by a few black a-holes (and quibbles).

But now what for Ardern? Her government has a lot of other challenges to deal with. She needs to lead there as well ( and she could do with more of her Ministers stepping up as well).

Peter Dunne comments at Newsroom:  She’s no Trump, but is that enough?

Jacinda Ardern’s compassion and empathy makes her an appealing antidote to Donald Trump –  but can she translate that to a genuinely new way of approaching government after decades of the same pragmatic political mantra? asks Peter Dunne.

There has been much international admiration for the leadership style of the Prime Minister in the wake of the Christchurch Mosque killings, but very little attempt so far to place it in any sort of context.

Dunne then runs through an interesting look at New Zealand and world political history since the major changes in the 1980s.

More recently:

Third Way type government has muddled along in most Western countries ever since. Its original proponents have long since left the political stage, but no substantive new way of thinking about government has yet emerged.

The Clark and Key Governments followed broadly the same pragmatic mantra, even if Clark now claims that her reformist zeal was constrained by the exigencies of politics of the time. The English Government’s dalliance with social investment ideas offered the prospect of a new way, but that was snuffed out when that government was ousted after only a few months.

Liberalism had threatened a brief revival in Britain after 2010 but that was also short-lived, and there are questions today about how liberalism can get in tune again with societies that are becoming more polarised, and consequently less tolerant.

The election of Trudeau in Canada in 2015 briefly held out some hope, but was actually less a defining step than a return to the status quo after nine years of Conservative rule.

Similarly with Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche! movement. This centrist alternative sprung out of the French Socialist Party but the difficulties Macron has faced since coming to office suggest it may struggle to endure.

Ardern has been compared to Donald Trump.

The defining political event of the last couple of decades has been the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States in 2016. Whatever one thinks of his policies, his performance and his ethics, there is little doubt that he has shaken up the American political establishment unlike any other leader of modern times. In America, and elsewhere, politicians are now measured, invariably favourably, by the dubious standards Trump has brought to public office.

There’s some stark contrasts.

And here is where our Prime Minister shines, and becomes relevant. She is the anti-Trump in so many ways – female, not male; young not old; humble not arrogant; hard-working not lazy, warm not aloof; compassionate not disdainful; inclusive not divisive; a genuine person who is a unifier, not a narcissistic, egotist divider.

It is easy to see how she attracts the attention and admiration of the world in circumstances like Christchurch and its aftermath, given the absolute contrast she provides to Donald Trump.

But.

At the same time, however, it is still a long stretch to suggest that she represents a substantive new thread in political discourse. She almost certainly does not, and nothing she has said or done to date suggests any great philosophical depth, or makes clear what she actually stands for beyond kindness. But that may not matter all that much.

In her first 18 months as Prime Minister Ardern hinted at a new way based on kindness, but hasn’t really delivered much in the way of significant reform yet.

After the search for new ideas of the last three decades, and their less than stellar outcomes, it is arguable that people are feeling more left out, and their interests more overlooked in our political settlement than ever before.

So we may well be entering a period where what matters most to people is compassion and empathy, and an identity with leaders who reflect that. In that regard, the Prime Minister’s perceived warmth and concern for the suffering meets the mood of the time. That is what gives her relevance, which is really all that matters. And while that perception remains, she will continue to prosper.

The bigger, yet to be answered question, though, is whether and how she will seek to use the opportunity that will provide her to effect significant change. That will provide the ultimate insight into the context in which she is operating.

After her performance over the past two weeks Ardern has a lot of political capital in the bank.

One of the biggest dampeners on real reform has been Winston Peters. He has been noticeably affected by the Christchurch shootings – he even admitted having made mistakes in the past.

Ardern could capitalise on the current situation and socialise – or more accurately, step rather than creep towards the social care side of the governing equation.

The economy and the Government books are in a good state, so there may be not better opportunity than now for Ardern to become a real progressive reformer, in actions rather than in rhetoric.

We may be headed towards a brand of regulated capitalism with more emphasise on empathy and kindness, if Ardern seizes the moment.