President Trump (Evan Vucci/AP)
Opinion writer

THE MORNING PLUM:

This morning, President Trump admitted that the “globalist” Koch brothers “love” his economic agenda of “Tax & Regulation Cuts.” But, as useful an admission as that is, the two tweets he issued about Charles and David Koch actually go considerably further than that in revealing the depths of the scam Trump has perpetrated on his voters.

This is particularly true when you look at Trump’s tweets in light of his administration’s new effort to unilaterally cut taxes on capital gains.

In his Twitter broadside, Trump claimed:

The globalist Koch Brothers, who have become a total joke in real Republican circles, are against Strong Borders and Powerful Trade. I never sought their support because I don’t need their money or bad ideas. They love my Tax & Regulation Cuts, Judicial picks & more. I made them richer. … They want to protect their companies outside the U.S. from being taxed, I’m for America First & the American Worker — a puppet for no one.

The campaign story Trump told about self-enriching globalist elites was that they have employed permissive immigration and misguided or corrupt trade policies to subject U.S. workers to debilitating labor competition from border-crossing migrants and slave-wage workers in China. Trump supplemented this economic nationalism with vows to make wealthy investors pay more, secure huge job-creating infrastructure expenditures and protect social insurance — thus promising a broad, dramatic ideological break with the GOP.

All that’s left of this vision, of course, is Trump’s draconian immigration crackdown, which is spreading terror and misery in immigrant communities, and Trump’s trade war, which is threatening to upend complex global supply chains and is badly rattling our international alliances. On everything else, Trump threw in with traditional GOP plutocratic priorities: He has done all he can to gut consumer, financial and environmental regulations; his tax plan lavished huge, regressive benefits on the wealthy; his infrastructure plan vanished; and his vow to replace Obamacare with better coverage “for everybody” morphed into a failed effort to cut health insurance for millions (to facilitate tax cuts for the wealthy).

Now Trump is mulling yet another plan to cut taxes by $100 billion mainly on the rich: His administration is exploring whether he can unilaterally cut capital-gains taxes. Under this plan, the Treasury Department could supposedly allow (though this would be fought in court) Americans to calculate their capital gains by adjusting their original price to inflation, reducing the amount of gains subject to taxation. Studies have shown this would slash revenues by $100 billion over 10 years (potentially reducing public expenditures later) and that the vast majority of its benefits would go to the top 1 percent and the top 0.1 percent.

Proponents of the plan say it would spur economic growth. But as Jonathan Chait says, we should look at this new plan as only the latest in a decades-long push by Republicans to reduce the tax burden on the wealthy in every way possible, based on rationales that have proved bogus at every turn. The Trump/GOP tax cuts were supposed to unleash wage-swelling investment, but they have just produced a wave of stock buybacks and windfalls for wealthy executives even as wages remain flat.

In this context, Trump’s claim that the Koch brothers love his tax cuts is usefully revealing. It is true that they will profit bigly from his tax cuts, perhaps to the tune of more than $1 billion per year, just as other extremely rich Americans will. Perhaps Trump meant that the Kochs love his tax cuts on ideological grounds, because they will make everybody richer, but again, that has not happened.

Yet Trump continues to spin his agenda as the bane of wealthy elites, by virtue of the Koch brothers’ dislike of his immigration and trade policies. It’s true that the Kochs, as libertarians, are more tolerant toward immigration than many Republicans are, and it’s also true that they dislike his tariffs, as many Republicans do.

But why is Trump sticking with the trade war? One interpretation is that he wants to honor at least one of his economic promises, having sold out on all the others: The tariffs are the only surviving piece of his agenda of economic nationalism. That may be, but there is another way to understand this: Trump is sticking to it because it is a key feature of his agenda of xenophobic nationalism, which is, at bottom, the only nationalism he really cares about.

Trump’s agenda: Xenophobic nationalism

Some U.S. workers do have legitimate grievances about trade, of course. But Trump’s trade war isn’t going to address those grievances. He is railing about conduct by other countries that they aren’t even engaged in. And as Jeff Spross details, he has no discernible endgame; to the degree that Trump does have a list of demands, those are half-baked and won’t meaningfully lift the fortunes of the “forgotten men and women.” Indeed, the trade war could affect Trump counties most severely. This lack of a serious economic rationale makes more sense if you accept that Trump is wedded to an agenda of xenophobic, not economic, nationalism. It’s no accident that the only surviving elements of his nationalism are the immigration and trade crackdowns: Both further his largely fabricated grand narrative that U.S. workers’ struggles are the fault of undocumented immigrants from “shithole countries,” snooty Euro-weenie elites and the Chinese menace.

The idea that this constitutes taking on the Koch brothers in valiant defense of U.S. workers is just nonsense. Indeed, it reveals more contempt for them, particularly in light of Trump’s latest push to cut capital gains taxes. But it is true that Trump is making the Koch brothers and other members of the globalist elite a lot richer, though.

* LAWMAKERS MULL RESPONSES TO TRUMP ON PUTIN: The Associated Press reports on various bills lawmakers are pushing to rein in Trump as he embraces Vladimir Putin:

There’s a bipartisan push … to “explicitly prohibit” the president from withdrawing from NATO without Senate approval. … Other senators are debating action to prevent meddling in the midterm election. [Still other] legislation … would require approval from Congress before Trump could reverse sanctions issued under the Sergei Magnitsky Act, which bans visas for travel and freezes assets of key Russians involved in alleged human rights abuses.

Nonetheless, as the AP notes, some Republicans would prefer no vote at all.

* TRUMP PRIVATELY DEFERS SHUTDOWN FIGHT: The Wall Street Journal reports that despite Trump’s public threat to shut down the government to try to get his wall, privately he’s signaling he won’t:

Trump … has privately agreed to put off a potential shutdown or any fight over border wall funding until after the midterm elections, an administration official said … Trump supports a plan to avert a shutdown before the election by passing some less-controversial spending bills and a short-term patch that would keep the rest of the government running.

Of course, this could be a strategic leak designed to calm rattled Republicans, given that no White House official can really claim to know what Trump will or will not do.

* MANAFORT GOES TO TRIAL TODAY: Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort’s trial for alleged financial crimes begins today, and the Daily Beast observes:

The trial inevitably will be seen as a referendum on the Mueller investigation as a whole. A conviction will serve as powerful vindication and legitimization of Robert Mueller and the entire special counsel office’s investigation. Anything short of conviction, on the other hand, will cause convulsions of joy among the “Rigged Witch Hunt” crowd and surely will evoke legendary bursts of Twitter gloating by the president.

Of course, as the Daily Beast also notes, the case against Manafort looks pretty darn strong.

* TRUMP PLACES STAMP ON JUDICIARY: The New York Times notes that a judge nominated by Trump to a federal appeals court will be confirmed today and tallies up the total of conservative judges appointed so far:

The expected … confirmation … would be Mr. Trump’s 24th circuit court appointment — more than any other president had secured at this point in his presidency since the creation of the regional circuit court system in 1891 … Of the 167 spots on those courts nationwide, Trump nominees already fill more than one of every eight, though the majority of those nominees replaced judges who were also appointed by Republican presidents.

As this blog is fond of saying, we have not even begun to glimpse the long-term damage this presidency, with the help of the GOP Senate, will end up doing.

* KAVANAUGH WILL RULE AGAINST WORKERS: Paul Krugman looks at the ways Brett M. Kavanaugh’s legal views would end up undermining protections for workers and concludes:

The public strongly supports worker protections. The ongoing campaign to take them away … is being implemented in effect by stealth under the noses of voters who thought Trump was on their side. … There’s growing evidence that wage stagnation in America [is] to an important extent the result of political changes that have weakened workers’ bargaining power. If Trump manages to install Kavanaugh, he’ll help institutionalize these anti-worker policies for decades to come.

The Trump administration’s role in weakening worker power is one of the big underreported stories of his presidency.

* TRUMP IS IN WOODWARD’S SIGHTS: This fall, journalist Bob Woodward is set to publish an exposé on how the Trump White House really functions:

The 75-year-old journalist and author “reveals in unprecedented detail the harrowing life inside President Donald Trump’s White House and precisely how he makes decisions on major foreign and domestic policies,” the publisher’s release states. … Woodward’s new book [pulls] details from “hundreds of hours of interviews with firsthand sources, contemporaneous meeting notes, files, documents and personal diaries,” according to his publisher.

Depending on what is revealed, this could conceivably have an impact on the midterms.

* AND GOP CANDIDATE RUNS AS TRUMP SYCOPHANT: A campaign ad from Rep. Ron DeSantis, who is running in the Florida GOP gubernatorial primary, is really something:

“Build the wall,” Rep. Ron DeSantis (R) says while playing with toy blocks with his daughter, Madison, nearly 2, in his Florida home. “Then, Mr. Trump said, ‘You’re fired,’ ” he says while holding his infant son, Mason, in one arm and Trump’s book “The Art of the Deal” in his other.

“People say Ron’s all Trump. But he is so much more,” his wife, Casey, jokes before the screen flips to a shot of Mason lying in a crib, dressed in a red “Make America Great Again” onesie. “Bigly,” the gubernatorial candidate adds. “So good.”

What next — an ad extolling Trump’s allegedly large and manly hands?