Sunday Political Brunch: President Trump Had a Roller Coaster Week—November 5, 2017

Sunday, November 05, 2017


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Mark Curtis

It was an up-and-down week for President Trump – perhaps his most topsy-turvy week in the White House. He sure had some highs and lows and they could have both short-term and long-term impacts. Let’s “brunch” on that with a report card this week:

“Book ‘Em” – It’s never good to have someone close to you be indicted. You may have done nothing wrong but the “guilt by association” friendships can bring criticism (fair or unfair), and can have a lasting impact. Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and a deputy Richard Gates were charges with crimes related to their business dealings, long before they came to the Trump campaign. It may turn out that the charges have zero to do with the election. But public perception may be that the campaign was too cozy with a couple of shady characters. That’s not a confidence builder, at a time when Mr. Trump’s public confidence is still low. Grade: C-

“The Coffee Boy” – Another Trump campaign worker named George Papadopoulos plead guilty to charges related to the Russian investigation, in a likely plea deal to testify against others. A whistle-blower is never a good thing. The White House tried to downplay his significance, referring to him as a low-level, unpaid volunteer. A former top campaign leader called Papadopoulos a lowly “coffee boy” and Trump tweeted that he was a liar. But other sources say Papadopoulos has a much greater role, and was knowledgeable about campaign contacts with Russians (more below). If he were just a “coffee boy” why is he pleading guilty to federal charges? It doesn’t pass the smell test. Grade: F

“Terror in New York City” – A terrorist attack on any President’s watch is not a good thing. It makes us all feel more vulnerable and less secure. But in this case, the suspect was taken into custody immediately, charged as a terrorist and enemy combatant, and no more damage was done. From a political standpoint, that’s a plus for President Trump. Yes, all the real credit goes to law enforcement, but if you create a climate where people feel secure and protected, that reflects positively on a President. While Trump still has low approval ratings, his two key strengths are if people feel safe, and if they feel the economy is prospering. Grade: B+

“Show Me the Money” – As mentioned several times in this column over the past nine months, President Trump is still in need of a major legislative victory. This past week House Republicans unveiled their tax reform package. The usual arguments were there – Republicans saying it would cut taxes and promote economic growth for all; while Democrats say it would mostly benefit the well-off. The truth is a lot would depend on individual circumstances. But if the President and lawmakers can convince the public this will make things easier and help the economy - and they get it passed - then it’s a big win. President Trump wants it done by Christmas, but I find that awfully optimistic. Grade: B- (for putting it on the table; could go to A- if they can get it done).

“What Say the Markets?” – The biggest asset that President Trump has right now is the hot financial marketplace. The Dow Jones closed Thursday at 23,516. Many other financial indicators are preforming very well. Sure, people with lots of money and investments benefit the most, but average folks with 401(k) retirement accounts are benefitting, too. As mentioned the two biggest items for any President are national security, and the economy. When things go bad they get the blame; and when things go well they get credit (whether it’s fair or not). Grade: A-

“Ag is Not in the Bag” – On Thursday President Trump’s nominee to be the top scientist as the Department of Agriculture, withdrew his name from consideration. Sam Clovis had contacts with the above-mentioned George Papadopoulos, who entered a guilty plea in the Russia investigation. President Trump was described as “seething” this week over various developments in the Russia investigation, although none has directly led to him. Even if they never do, it’s a major distraction that pulls attention from one’s agenda. Grade: D

“The Sun Also Rises” – President Trump travels to Asia this week with stops in Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, China and more. This is a crucial trip given the nuclear tensions with North Korea. Even in the depths of domestic scandal and distraction, President Nixon made great headway on the international stage with groundbreaking trips to Russia and China. Mr. Trump certainly can’t match those historic feats (it’s a high bar), but how any President looks on the international stage can set a tone for the White House. Grade: Incomplete.

“Why All of This Matters” – I’ve said it often, politics is a “what have you done for me lately” business. Politicians make promises; the public wants results. The above grades are subjective; not a precise science. It’s a mixed bag. The President has performed well in some areas; but remains suspect on other achievements and policies. One year from this week, voters will issue the first major report card on the Trump White House, when they vote in the critical midterm Congressional elections. Stay tuned!

What grades would you give on what issues? Just click theh comment button at


Related Slideshow: The Power List - Politics, 2016

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Five-Tool Player

Kate Coyne-McCoy - In baseball, they call them all around superstars - five tool athletes.

McCoy, who once ran for Congress, is a strong political organizer for EMILY’s List, a proven fundraiser for Raimondo’s PAC, strong with the media, and is a top lobbyist.

She is manages to balance being a partisan with her all-around effectiveness. McCoy can do it all.

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Effective Insider

Lenny Lopes - Whether you’re looking for someone to navigate the halls of the State House, manage your public relations image, or execute a contract, Lopes can do it all.

The affable and well-liked former Chief of Staff to then-Attorney General Patrick Lynch (and prior to that, Legal Counsel to Lt. Governor Charlie Fogarty) had joined forces with Pannone Lopes Devereaux & West before striking out on his own with The Victor Group, taking on such heavyweight clients as Lifespan and online gaming behemoths Fanduel and DraftKings, and more niche healthcare accounts — including the medical marijuana Rhode Island Growers Coalition. 

Lopes was tapped this past spring following the tourism debacle by Havas PR to help navigate their way through the Rhode Island waters, and ultimately defend their performance and reputation to stave off their contract cancelation for now. If you’re hired to be a PR firm’s de facto PR brain, you must be on your game.

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Two Coast Operative

Matt Lopes - With more than 20 different lobbying agreement Lopes has emerged as a premiere influencer in Rhode Island. His clients range from Dunkin’ Donuts to Amgen to the Rhode Island Airport Corporation.

While managing one of the biggest lobbying practices he is often on the West Coast -- he is a nationally recognized Special Master for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, overseeing prison reform and compliance.

He plays with the big boys on both coasts. Easy for a guy who was a star athlete in high school and at Dartmouth.

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Gambling Man

Don Sweitzer - IGT (formerly GTECH) super lobbyist plays the game at most every level, with big ties to the Clinton organization that go all the way back to Sweitzer playing a key role with Clinton-Gore in 1992.

Sweitzer’s contacts span the political spectrum - despite his Democratic pedigree, don’t count him out if Donald Trump wins the Presidency as Sweitzer worked for Paul Manafort back in the early 1990s.

Reportedly, Raimondo asked him to serve as her chief of staff - he gracefully declined.

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New School

Segal, Bell and Regunberg - These three young Brown grads are emerging as the leaders in progressive causes in Rhode Island and across the United States. David Segal, who served on the City Council in Providence and as a State Rep, failed in a 2010 effort for Congress losing to David Cicilline in the Democratic primary. 

In 2016, Segal along with Aaron Regunberg emerged as a powerful force in trying to kill of the Super-Delegate structure in the Democratic primary.

Sam Bell is leading a major effort to re-calibrate the Democratic party to the left the election season. We will know just how good Bell is after September 13’s Democratic primary - Bell is overseeing more than a dozen progressive candidates' campaigns.

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Old School

Goldberg, Walsh, Ryan and Murphy - These four veteran lobbyists know the pass codes to just about every private office in the State House. For decades they have been the go-to guys. Regardless of who is in power Bob Goldberg, Joe Walsh, Mike Ryan and Bill Murphy are always in vogue.

Only Ryan was not an elected official. Murphy ran the House for a decade, Goldberg had pulled off one of the greatest political coups when he lead a small band of GOP senators and split the Dems to take power, and Walsh was the almost Governor of Rhode Island in 1984. 

Combined, they have the lion's share of premier clients and have collected the millions in fees to prove it.

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Urban Innovator

Nicole Pollock - The new Chief-of-Staff for Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza certainly has big shoes to fill, with the recent departure of both Chief Operating Officer Brett Smiley and outgoing Chief of Staff Tony Simon but Pollack has gotten off to a strong start.  Following the recent summit on Kennedy Plaza co-hosted former Mayor Joe Paolino and Elorza, Paolino told GoLocal, “[Elorza’s] new Chief of Staff, I’m very impressed with.”

Pollock had joined the administration in February 2015 as Chief Innovation Officer and then served as Chief of Policy and Innovation for the administration before being tapped for the top post. Pollock had previously served in a policy and communications role for the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. A graduate of Brown University, Pollock currently serves on the Board of the West Broadway Neighborhood Association and the Providence Plan.

The city has no shortage of pressing issues to tackle, from devising a plan to handle the ongoing panhandling, homelessness, and drug use issues in Kennedy Plaza, to the ever-looming issue of the protracted legal battle with the Providence Firefighters that could have monumental financial implications for the city, depending on the outcome. 

Photo: LinkedIn

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Emerging Star

Matt Bucci - The up-and-comer on Governor Raimondo’s staff was in the mix for Chief of Staff or another promotion this summer, but may chose to take his skills and join the world of lobbying or grab another private sector position.

Made news when he was tied to Governor Raimondo’s ill fated and ultimately canceled trip to Davos Switzerland. Raimondo was going to spend a weekend with the beautiful people and raided the non-profit URI Foundation’s scholarship dollars to fund the trip.

The former staffer to Senator Jack Reed is widely respected. Look for news about Bucci in the near future. Too talented to not make a leap soon. 

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Seasoned Pro

Chris Hunter - The strategy wunderkind has morphed into a well-established operative in his own right in veteran lobbyist Frank McMahon’s public affairs shop, Advocacy Solutions.   

The long-time government and public relations manager for the Providence Working Waterfront Alliance, Hunter is equally adept at the State House, having snagged emerging industry client Lyft and engaged in the hand-to-hand combat that comes with lobbying for the Rhode Island League of Charter Schools. 

Election seasons in particular are where Hunter’s know-how comes in handy, having managed a number of successful bond referendum in the state. Hunter is a constant presence networking around town, whether it’s hobnobbing with the Providence Committee on Foreign Relations or serving on host committees for key candidates - he’s the combination of both “who you know” and “what you know."

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Nick Hemond - None may be more unabashedly and relentlessly ambitious than Hemond, who landed as an associate at powerhouse DarrowEverett in 2014. 

The President of the Providence School Board lobbies at City Hall for high-profile real estate clients including Buff Chace and High Rock Management (i.e. the ownership of the Superman Building) and at the State House for labor interests (RI FOP, RI Carpenters Local Union 94), Big Health (the Hospital Association of Rhode Island) and rounding it out with such interests as AAA, the Hospital Association of Rhode Island, and infrastructure firm AECOM.

If that doesn’t sound like a full load, toss in a slew of crisis communications clients in the way of bars and clubs in varying degrees of trouble (read: stabbings, shootings) before the Providence Board of Licenses. Having so many fingers in so many pies (and some of which could appear somewhat conflicting) has raised eyebrows, but in the meantime if Hemond is winning, the checks keep coming. 

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Veteran Professional

Leo Skenyon - The seasoned political operative is the man behind the man. Serving as Chief of Staff to Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, Skenyon helped navigate a more than treacherous legislative session which saw Finance Chair Representative Ray Gallison resign, Representative John Carnevale found ineligible to run at his purported address in Providence, and a slew of financial and ethics issues for a number of Democrats. 

The Speaker however emerged from the session having tackled the thorny issue of community service grants, and what had seemed up until this year a nearly impossible task, putting ethics reform — and oversight of the Assembly by the Ethics Commission — before voters this November.

Skenyon has weathered many a political season before, having been the former Chief of Staff to then-Senate Majority Leader Jack Revens in the 1980s, and then a former top aide to Governor Bruce Sundlun and U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell.  Now, his boss faces both a Republican and Independent challenger in the general election in November.  

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Deep Pockets

Joe Shekarchi - The Chair of the House Labor Committee is running unopposed this year in District 23 in Warwick, marking just the third election season for the powerful politician-lawyer, who first won in 2012.

Given his fundraising prowess, however, one would think that Shekarchi accrued his war chest over a longer tenure, with over $528,000 cash on hand as of the second quarter of 2016, making him far and away the most flush General Assembly member (by way of comparison, Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello reported just over $365,000 cash on hand for the same period; Governor Gina Raimondo had $1.4 million.)

It was managing money that helped establish him on the map as a seasoned statewide political operative — he was the campaign manager for statewide operations for Raimondo when she ran for General Treasurer in 2010.  With a number of successes in business and on the Hill, keep an eye on Shekarchi's future plans. 


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