(Brynn Anderson/Associated Press)

THE MORNING PLUM: 

It is probably not an accident that President Trump unleashed ugly tweetstorms that attacked kneeling football players and implied that Puerto Rico is to blame for its own disastrous fate — even as he faces the possibility of major, humiliating personal losses of his own on two fronts.

Trump desperately wanted to sign something — anything at all, regardless of its consequences for millions — that would allow him to boast at rallies that he had obliterated his predecessor’s signature domestic accomplishment. Yet today, we are likely to find out that the Cassidy-Graham repeal bill is finally dead. Meanwhile, Trump has gone all in for GOP establishment pick Luther Strange in today’s Alabama Senate primary runoff. Yet it’s plausible that his runoff opponent, religious-right extremist Roy Moore, will prevail.

Trump today went after the kneeling football players yet again, tweeting this:

Ratings for NFL football are way down except before game starts, when people tune in to see whether or not our country will be disrespected! The booing at the NFL football game last night, when the entire Dallas team dropped to its knees, was loudest I have ever heard. Great anger

There is probably no one who grasps the nature of Trump’s bond with his voters as well as former chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon does, and a new Bannon quote is quite illuminating about Trump’s ongoing assault on football players exercising their right to peaceful protest. Bannon said this on Fox News:

“If the National Football League players want to take a knee, they should take a knee at night, every night, and thank God in heaven Donald J. Trump is president of the United States. He has saved this country so much grief. He’s done such a tremendous job, with virtually no help. And that’s what I meant when I said that.”

The White House press conference Sept. 25 was dominated by the battle of words between President Trump and many of the country's top athletes over kneeling during the national anthem. (Reuters)

The first part of this (we should genuflect with gratitude before the Trump presidency) is generating online traffic, but the second part (the Trump presidency is a tremendous success) is more interesting. Bannon surely knows (though he won’t say so) that Trump is failing ignominiously on many fronts. Bannon is heavily promoting the notion that the GOP establishment has allegedly abandoned the True Trumpist Agenda, and he is pushing primary challengers that will take on GOP Senate incumbents. If Moore wins, Bannon has said, it will lead to more such challenges (the fact that Trump endorsed Strange can be safely ignored as an anomaly).

But in reality, there is no distinct Trumpist agenda, as Bannon has defined it. Trump has thrown in with the GOP establishment on most major policy matters, and all the Bannonite economic populism has quietly vanished. The real problem (as the health-care debate showed) is that Republicans have failed to deliver Trump a win on their agenda, not that they are betraying some imaginary agenda that he wants. Bannon’s quote on Fox illustrates his answer to this. His new role (with the exception of the nativist and xenophobic side of his “populist nationalism”) is not really to promote that agenda. It’s to play the chief propagandist hammering home to Trump voters that he is winning everywhere, that his presidency is a spectacular success, and whatever signs of occasional tiny setbacks they might be sensing here and there are solely the fault of the GOP establishment.

That Bannon, the keeper of Trump’s political id, is aggressively defending his assaults on black athletes kneeling during the national anthem — while painting his presidency as a triumph — is telling. This is obviously only the latest exercise in Trump/Bannon racial demagoguery, in which Trump shows total indifference toward the systemic and oppressive racism these athletes are highlighting as a fact of American life, while seeking to rally his voters (as David Frum puts it) against them with “conservative cultural grievances,” thus retaining our history and heritage (recall Trump’s argument in favor of Confederate memorials) as the property of Trump’s America.

But the other crude calculus here (which Sarah Kendzior has identified) is that Trump goes on these rampages when he feels as though he’s losing bigly on other major fronts. Trump isn’t merely rallying his voters against high-profile black protesters. He’s also rallying them behind himself against whatever foe he decides to pick a fight with on any given day. And naturally, whether he’s winning or losing, he’s winning.

* TRUMP APPEARS TO BLAME PUERTO RICO FOR ITS WOES: Trump’s other target of the morning is Puerto Rico, which is facing a major humanitarian crisis:

Texas and Florida, like Trump, are winners. Puerto Rico is a loser.

* REPUBLICANS WANT TO VOTE FOR REPEAL, DAMN IT! With the latest repeal push all but dead, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.) explains why there might be a vote, anyway:

Many Republicans feel pressure from voters to keep pushing to repeal the ACA before moving on to other issues. “There are a lot of people who want to vote yes and be recorded as voting yes,” Cornyn said, adding that the Republican conference would decide the matter Tuesday, when lawmakers will meet for the first time since leaving for recess last week. “I think there is some advantage to showing you’re trying and doing the best you can.”

Today’s conference meeting should be fun. One wonders whether there will be any introspection about the role of the GOP’s profound unseriousness about process and policy in producing these debacles.

* REPUBLICANS MAY TRY REPEAL YET AGAIN: The Senate parliamentarian has ruled that Republicans can’t do repeal by a simple majority reconciliation vote after Sept. 30, but CNN notes that there is still the option of trying to do repeal by reconciliation as part of tax reform:

One avenue being discussed by lawmakers like Graham and Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin is using the fiscal 2018 budget to try again, in the form of tacking it onto the tax reform instructions.That concept comes to the horror GOP lawmakers and lobbyists cognizant not only of how difficult tax reform will be, but petrified of adding health care back into the mix. “Hate Obamacare, but let’s not strangle tax reform in its crib just out of frustration,” one GOP lobbyist texted about the idea.

That seems like an extremely risky course, since it maximizes the possibility that Republicans will accomplish nothing whatsoever in legislative terms, heading into the midterms.

* IF REPEAL FAILS, THERE’S ALWAYS SABOTAGE: As it looks all but certain that the latest repeal push will fail, Bloomberg Politics makes a key point about what’s next:

Health insurers now face the prospect of deciding what insurance plans to offer in the individual Obamacare markets for 2018, and how much to charge, with little certainty over how the Trump administration will run the law. The deadline for insurers in many states to sign agreements to offer coverage in the marketplace is later this week. The companies and their industry groups have warned that the uncertainty will lead to much higher premiums.

It would not be in the least bit surprising if Trump decides to prolong this uncertainty, which could harm untold numbers of people, out of sheer spite.

* GOP SENATORS WILL VOTE AGAINST THEIR OWN STATES’ INTERESTS: If there is a vote on Cassidy-Graham, as many as 49 GOP senators will vote for it, and the Democratic group American Bridge today released a compilation of research that demonstrates how the bill would impact states such as Nevada, Ohio, West Virginia and Florida.

GOP senators from those states could very well be among those who vote for the bill, and the new research suggests that Democrats will do all they can to use this vote against them heading into the midterms. Remember that only 20 percent of Americans support this atrocity.

* ALABAMA ELECTION IS TODAY, AND GOP IS ON EDGE: Today Alabama is holding a GOP primary runoff, with Luther Strange (Trump’s candidate) facing Roy Moore (the religious right extremist who is Stephen K. Bannon’s choice). The Washington Examiner sums up the GOP unease:

Senior Republican officials are uneasy. They worry Moore’s victory would fuel a groundswell of enthusiasm on the populist Right, triggering a wave of well-resourced primaries that weaken Republican incumbents — or worse, see them ousted in favor of weak general election nominees, dashing GOP hopes of broadening its 52-seat majority.

This is, of course, exactly what Bannon hopes will happen. Indeed, Bannon has said that if Moore wins, he will be able to recruit more primary challengers. Fun times!

* AMERICANS KNOW TRUMP’S TAX PLAN WILL FAVOR RICH: A new Post-ABC News poll finds:

More than 7 in 10 adults say the nation’s tax system already tends to favor the wealthy more than the middle class, with a 55 percent majority who feel this “strongly.” About half expect Trump’s tax plan will disproportionately benefit wealthy Americans, 51 percent, while 10 percent think it will mainly benefit the middle class, and 24 percent say it will benefit both groups equally.

Meanwhile, a whopping 65 percent say large corporations pay too little in taxes — and that includes 47 percent of Republicans.

* ROGER STONE FACES INVESTIGATORS TODAY: Top Trump confidant Roger Stone will be interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee today, and CNN summarizes what he said in his just-released opening statement:

He admits exchanging private messages last summer with the Twitter handle belonging to Guccifer 2.0, who had already leaked stolen documents from the Democratic National Committee. At one point, Guccifer 2.0 told Stone, “tell me if I can help u anyhow,” though Stone didn’t appear to accept the offer. The US intelligence community now believes Guccifer 2.0 was a front for Russian operatives involved in the Kremlin’s election-meddling campaign.

Stone will likely be questioned about the fact that on several occasions, he appeared to know in advance that Wikileaks dumps about Hillary Clinton were about to hit.