How many wheels can come off?
The wheels have been coming off of the rolling carnival that is Donald Trump since at least the 1990s. Four bankruptcies, the largesse of Saudi princes, and a well-timed reality show bailed him out, all of it transformed into a clever marketing company that made millions licensing the Trump name to hotels, steaks, mosquito repellent, whatever. All the while, the wheels kept coming off, as he careened from one failed project to the next.
The wheels came off his presidential campaign -- 17 women accused him of sexual assault and harassment, the Access Hollywood tape, you remember it all -- yet he crashed across the finish line. Given all that, it takes an extraordinary amount of chaos for it to feel like the wheels are truly coming off this time, and today was one of those days.
The Dow, one of the only things Trump had to boast about, plunged nearly 500 points, but that was just a sideshow. His Defense Secretary quit in protest, delivering a letter claiming Trump is destroying our alliances and cozying up with adversaries. And after the Senate passed its government funding bill on a voice vote, Trump again changed his mind and announced he’d be vetoing it and shutting the government down. Most of the senators had already gone home.
Outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan, in a world-historic display of cowardice, could have put the Senate bill on the House floor, passed it overwhelmingly, sent it to Trump, let him veto it, and then easily have overridden the veto. Instead, he put a bill on the floor that includes $5B worth of funding for the wall, which has no chance of passage. Pitiful.
The government shuts down Friday if Trump doesn’t back down. He is so, so bad at being president.
But the Washington press has all this stuff covered pretty well, so I’ve been reporting on a few other things.
Such as: No Labels, the centrist, billionaire-backed group that drops randomly into House primaries to tilt elections on behalf of hidden interests.
Recall that the first major challenge to a Democratic incumbent in the 2018 cycle came in Illinois, when progressive groups lined up behind Marie Newman, taking on incumbent Dan Lipinski, who’d been gifted the seat in 2004 by his father. (Seriously: His dad, the previous congressman, announced after the primary he wouldn’t run for reelection and put his son’s name on the ballot, guaranteeing victory in this blue district.)
Lipinski is right-wing pretty much down the line, whether it’s marriage equality, abortion rights, the minimum wage, immigration, what have you. He ended up winning by just 2,000 votes after the group No Labels dropped a million dollars attacking Newman for, among other things, bad Yelp reviews of her restaurant. Rachel Cohen and I uncovered documents and emails that shed new light on how that was done -- and in particular we found that two top officials with the progressive PR firm SKDKnickerbocker helped the No Labels effort.
What makes that interesting is that the liberal groups who backed Newman -- Planned Parenthood, NARAL, Human Rights Campaign -- are also clients of SKDK, and used that firm for its work in the race.
Now, SKDK tells us they took no money for the Lipinski work from No Labels, and that its officials only helped out as a favor to their friends at No Labels. Either way, the emails show they played a key role, reviewing ad scripts, placing ad buys, etc.
SKDK is owned by a private equity firm whose president is Mark Penn. Penn was also heavily involved in the race, the emails show. He helped run No Labels strategy in that campaign, and his wife, Nancy Jacobson, runs No Labels. We also found that No Labels routinely uses firms linked to Penn’s private equity company for its political work.
A criminal justice reform atrocity
Earlier this year we covered the surprise upset of the St. Louis prosecutor who intentionally botched the grand jury proceedings around the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson. The criminal justice reformer who beat him has yet to be sworn in, but this week the frontline prosecutors in St. Louis voted to join the police union! I’m speechless, but here’s our story, by Akela Lacey, on this extraordinary turn of events.
If you bought the new Strong Arm Press book on Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, by Rebecca Burns and Dave Dayen, do me a favor and give it a review. (Actually, if you bought it and didn’t like it, please don’t give it a review.)
In the meantime, here’s an excerpt of it that was published today.