Hi. Welcome to On Politics, your guide to the day in national politics. I’m Lisa Lerer, your host.
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Last night, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen found herself on the receiving end of what has become a common occurrence in the Trump era: pushed out of office unceremoniously, with her departure announced in a tweet.
Unlike some of the administration officials fired before her, Ms. Nielsen was hardly taken aback by the news. She’d turned in her resignation letter at a meeting earlier that day, and was spotted dining at a waterside restaurant al fresco shortly after the president’s message hit Twitter.
[Read more about the president’s purge of officials at the top of the Department of Homeland Security.]
How routine this kind of dismissal has become got me thinking about all the conventions President Trump has broken in Washington — the breach he’s opened up in the unspoken manners, decorum and traditions that long governed the capital.
Or, as we nerds in D.C. like to call them, norms.
Now, there’s a case to be made that actual voters do not care all that much about our nerdy norms (see: Mr. Trump’s victory, 2016). There’s also evidence they do (see: Mr. Trump’s fallen approval rating among independent voters). The reality is, until he’s back on the ballot, we don’t really know whether Mr. Trump’s consistent flouting of The Way Things Are Done matters to most Americans.
The only thing we truly know about norms? Over his nearly 27 months in Washington, Mr. Trump has broken a whole lot of them.
Here’s an incomplete list, largely from the past few weeks, in no particular order:
Working in the White House: The White House used to be a place Washington’s climbers clambered over each other to reach. Now it’s the kind of job few want to keep. Nearly 50 officials have left the administration since Mr. Trump took office, according to a New York Times analysis, giving the president the record for both White House staff turnover and cabinet turnover. Last year, the White House even held a job fair to try and boost recruitment.
Getting fired from the White House: Getting fired by the president seems, under normal circumstances, like a bad thing. In the Trump administration, though, some have seen it as the only way out while saving your reputation. Take Ms. Nielsen, for example. Though her legacy is likely linked with the president’s policies on separating migrant families at the border, her dismissal allows her to argue that she objected internally — and lost the fight — over some of the president’s most extreme positions on immigration.
[Mr. Trump is pushing to restart the practice of family separation. Read more about that here.]
The cabinet: Ms. Nielsen’s departure means there will be five “acting” secretaries in the cabinet. A third of Mr. Trump’s cabinet hasn’t been subjected to the scrutiny of a Senate confirmation hearing — a step the Constitution requires. “I like ‘acting,’” Mr. Trump told reporters in January. “It gives me more flexibility.”
Bipartisan power couples: Remember James Carville and Mary Matalin? Their all-American, aisle-crossing love story was the topic of books, television shows, a speaking tour and even a bourbon ad. The Trump administration’s analog? George and Kellyanne Conway, a fairly uncomfortable, Twitter-tastic train wreck that my colleague Mark Leibovich detailed last month.
Thanksgiving: A study published in June found that celebrations were about 30 to 50 minutes shorter for Americans who crossed partisan lines for the holiday than for those who traveled to areas that voted like their own. That added up to 34 million hours of lost cross-partisan discourse in 2016, according to the study’s authors.
Not fighting with dead people: Just ask John McCain, whom Mr. Trump slammed in March, seven months after his death, or the former first lady Barbara Bush. “I have heard that she was nasty to me, but she should be. Look what I did to her sons,” he said, last week.
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Bernie in Iowa
Democrats are logging a lot of miles in the early months of the 2020 race (seriously: check out this graphic we put together of all their travels in March). This weekend, Matt Stevens, who is new to The Times’s politics team (welcome!), traveled across Iowa covering Bernie Sanders. He sent us this dispatch today.
During his swing through Iowa this weekend, Senator Bernie Sanders did what candidates do: he talked a lot. And while I’ll admit I haven’t counted, the word I’m pretty sure he said the most was “radical” — as in, his ideas were once “considered by establishment politicians and mainstream media to be ‘radical.’”
A $15 minimum wage? “Too radical!” he chided.
Guaranteed health care “Much, much too radical.”
Expanding social security? You get the idea.
At rallies and town halls from Davenport to Oskaloosa, Mr. Sanders sought to reclaim the label he said had been unfairly affixed to him in 2016. The rhetoric allowed Mr. Sanders’ sardonic side to shine as he argued that his policy ideas were, in fact, far from radical, as evidenced by the increasingly warm embrace from the Democratic mainstream.
That theory seemed to have some traction with several of the undecided voters I talked to. I stumbled upon two outside a rally in Fairfield who were marveling over the sheer number of policy areas Mr. Sanders had covered in the span of an hour.
“Compared to his first run, he’s in the right timing,” Sandra Glickman, a Democrat, said. “The country has changed — we’ve been tenderized, we’ve been outraged, and people are ready to receive what he’s talking about. Now his political revolution doesn’t seem so wild.”
As a result, Ms. Glickman, who is “a few years older” than Mr. Sanders, said she thought he actually sounded more confident compared with four years ago.
Kathleen Johnson, 66, an independent who had been talking with Ms. Glickman when I approached, agreed.
And although Ms. Johnson said she is also hoping to meet candidates like Senators Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar, she said she appreciated that Mr. Sanders seemed to be looking at the “big picture” rather than one issue.
In that vein, she had a homework assignment for me.
“Maybe, since you’re a reporter, you could list all of the topics,” Ms. Johnson said. “I want to have a gauge. Is everybody else going to talk about all those same topics, or narrow their scope?”
What to read tonight
• Years ago, lawsuits against cigarette manufacturers transformed the tobacco industry. Now, families of the victims from the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School hope to replicate the tactic for gun manufacturers.
• A photographer followed Mexico’s long-forgotten northern boundary — an area that now includes Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — to meet families who have lived there since before the land was part of the United States.
• This Caitlin Flanagan essay in The Atlantic is a must-read for anyone still wrapping their heads around the college admissions scandal.
“Are you here to see Beto?” he asked the guy standing next to him at the sink. Turns out, the guy was Beto.
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