Power Grid: John Bolton, Cambridge Analytica, March For Our Lives and More

Who's up and who's down in politics, money, global affairs and culture this week.
By Allen McDuffee
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Several stories dominated this week’s Power Grid, including John Bolton’s national security coup, Mitch McConnell’s (sorta) budget win, Killer Mike’s NRA miscalculation and the continued culture shift with the March For Our Lives protests around the country.

Here’s who won and lost the week in power…


Up: John Bolton
As then-president-elect Donald Trump was putting his Cabinet together, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton was expected to become Secretary of State. Ultimately, he was rejected not because of his dangerously hawkish world view, but because of his mustache. Yes, you read that right. Trump doesn’t like facial hair making public appearances. But for his wherewithal and staying true to his ideological beliefs (along with Trump running out of people), Bolton is on top of the political world this week with his new Trump administration appointment. Of course, he still has the mustache so no Secretary of State for him; he’s in the much less public role of national security adviser.

Down: Secret Super PAC Donor
Perhaps not all Super PAC money is anonymous. A U.S. District Court judge has rejected a mystery conservative donor’s legal bid to maintain the secrecy surrounding $1.7 million donated to the ultra-conservative Now or Never PAC, which spent nearly $8 million backing candidates such as Todd Akin, the 2012 Republican Senate nominee from Missouri. A trust and trustee involved in funneling $1.7 million to the PAC argued in the lawsuit that disclosure of their identities would invade their privacy. U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson wrote in her 23-page decision that the FEC was not legally barred from disclosing the identities of the trust and the trustee, but also held that the agency was not legally obligated to release the information, either.


Up: Mitch McConnell
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may have had to deal with the enduring objections from Rand Paul and Jim Risch, but finally at 12:39 am on Friday, the Senate passed a bill funding the government through September. The Senate voted 65-32 to pass the $1.3 trillion spending package, but President Donald Trump still threatened to veto the bill (he later acquiesced). For the man who has accepted his nickname, once asserting that “Darth Vader has arrived,” McConnell earned this deal by “begging, pleading and cajoling.”

Down: Donald Trump
With the announcement of new tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods, President Donald Trump may have started a long, drawn-out conflict between the two powerful countries. Trump’s announcement appears to be a response to an investigation into the theft of U.S. intellectual property by the Chinese government and state-controlled companies. The Chinese government announced tariffs of their own on a range of agricultural and industrial products from the U.S. But according to Adam Posen, the president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, perhaps the most worrisome is the lack of defined goals: “Trump’s soundest argument in his election campaign was that he would not waste American lives and treasure in pointless wars of choice,” Posen wrote. “His launching a trade war would prove, however, to be his economic Afghanistan—costly, open-ended, and fruitless.”

Global Affairs

Up: China
For understanding how a trade war works, China finds itself in the top slot this week. In response to President Donald Trump’s trade measures against China, China’s counter tariffs included a number of sectors—from nuts to steel pipe to pork—that were calculated in a way that are unlikely to hurt domestic consumers. Unlike the U.S., they wisely stayed away from tariffs on a product that would hurt American farmers and Chinese consumers alike: soybeans. Chinese soybean imports from the U.S. added up to nearly $14 billion last year of their total $40 billion in soybean imports. “Soy is the last resort. You don’t start with your biggest bullet,” Ma Wenfang, an analyst at Beijing Orient Agribusiness Consultancy, told the Financial Times. He added: “If a true trade war to erupt, they would roll out soy. That would really hurt the U.S.”

Down: Cambridge Analytica
The news at embattled Cambridge Analytica continues to get worse after the company was forced to suspend CEO Alexander Nix on Tuesday and its London offices were raided overnight Friday by agents of the United Kingdom’s Information Commissioner’s office. The search, which lasted seven hours, was authorized by a warrant to investigate Cambridge Analytica’s database and servers as part of an investigation into illicitly acquiring and using information from the Facebook profiles of tens of millions of Americans for political manipulation.


Up: March For Our Lives
For their ability to not only sustain scrutiny on gun violence and laws but to also build an inclusive movement, the student-led March For Our Lives rallies and their attendees on Saturday find themselves in the top culture spot this week. With more than a million participating across the country among 700 protests for stricter gun laws, the speakers in Washington, DC were all 18 years-old or younger, including many from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where the mass shooting on Valentine’s Day left 17 people dead. The protests apparently so powerful that some on the far right resorted to creating fake memes and Republican Rick Santorum suggested that the students “do something” by learning CPR rather than protesting.

Down: Killer Mike
Pro-Second Amendment rapper Killer Mike drew strong backlash on a day of nationwide marches calling for stricter gun control for appearing in an interview with NRA-TV. He said that African-Americans need guns to protect themselves and added that not all progressives are genuine allies, some of which are “going to progress us into slavery.” He also said he agreed with NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch that “tears of white mothers are like ratings.” That may spell the end of Killer Mike’s relationship to any mainstream politicians. Killer Mike became known to a wider audience after his interactions with and endorsement of Bernie Sanders in the 2016 election cycle. The rapper seems to have recognized his unforced error of associating himself with the NRA by offering an apology, but only after he defended his position for much of the weekend.

The Rundown

1. Millions in Tax Dollars Went Into Low Cost Ventilators

But acquisitions and mergers left the “drop in the bucket” project on the cutting room floor, according to The New York Times.

2. Trump Is Creating His Own Deep State Inside the White House

The president has reportedly created a “Team of Rivals” atmosphere as a response to the coronavirus crisis. It’s creating chaos.

3. Social Distancing Has Become the Newest Front on the Culture War Front

Bipartisan consensus on how to personally respond to the coronavirus pandemic didn’t last long, McKay Coppins writes at The Atlantic.

4. NYT Gets the Inside Story on GM’s Race to Manufacture Ventilators

The first ventilators were set to ship in less than a month, but Trump said they were “wasting time.”

5. A Rough Conversation With One Coronavirus Contrarian Informing Trump

The New Yorker’s Isaac Chotiner goes after NYU law professor Richard Epstein in a Q&A. And it gets ugly. 

6. Democrats Are Fighting To Take Back Their Digital Edge

After two terms of dominating digital politics under Obama, they’re fighting to win back the terrain from Trump.