For a brief moment, let's turn our attention away from Donald Trump and focus on another country's woes. The folks over at National Review are no fans of the EU and have generally been pretty happy about the passage of Brexit. Today, however, Andrew Stuttaford—relying on Brexit expert Christopher Booker—is pretty scathing about prime minister Theresa May's handling of the whole thing. First, here's Booker explaining what he's learned over the past 25 years about exiting the EU:

As I came to appreciate just how enmeshed we were becoming with that system of government, was that extricating ourselves from it would be far more fiendishly complicated than most people realised...[Also,] as I listened and talked to politicians, was how astonishingly little they seemed really to know about how it worked. Having outsourced ever more of our lawmaking and policy to a higher power, it was as if our political class had switched off from ever really trying to understand it.

That sounds sort of familiar, doesn't it? Continuing:

On leaving the EU [the UK] becomes what [the EU] terms a “third country”, faced with all the labyrinth of technical barriers to trade behind which the EU has shut itself off from the outside world. Last week I read a series of expert papers explaining some of the mindbending regulatory hurdles we would then have to overcome in trying to maintain access to what is still by far our largest single overseas market.

Take, for instance, our chemicals and pharmaceutical industries, which currently account for a quarter of all our exports to the EU, which currently account for a quarter of all our £230 billion a year exports to the EU. By dropping out of the EU, these would lose all the “authorisations” which give them what Mrs May calls “frictionless” entry to its market, and the process of negotiating replacements for them would be so complex that it could take years.

And now Stuttaford:

Booker observes that these aspects of Britain’s divorce from the EU “could have been achieved infinitely more easily if Mrs May had not slammed the door on our continued membership of the EEA [the European Economic Area], which would guarantee us much the same “frictionless” access we enjoy now”.

That would be the ‘Norway option’ that you may have read about a few times in this very Corner, an option rejected by May for reasons so unclear that I cannot keep thinking the (doubtless unfair) thought that she has very little idea of what it actually is.

And then, Booker frets, there is May’s “terrifying” threat “that, if she is not given what she wants, she will simply “walk away”.” He’s right to worry. May has said that “no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain”, an elegant but false dichotomy: “No deal” for Britain would be a “bad deal”, a very bad deal indeed.

This has all the signs of becoming an unbelievable cockup. By a slim 52-48 vote, Britain has doomed itself to many, many tortuous years of negotiating dozens or hundreds of separate agreements with the EU. Switzerland has done the same, and it's taken them the better part of 20 years.

If there were any real advantage to this, it might be worth it. But just to keep Polish immigrants out? This might be one of the dumbest things any country has ever voluntarily subjected itself to.

A couple of weeks ago I said we'd need to wait a couple of weeks to see how President Trump's immigration order affected his favorability rating. Well, those couple of weeks are up. Here's how he's doing:

Trump was already on a post-inauguration upward swing, and his immigration order seems to have kept it going. He's gained more than three points of favorability since he announced it—and that's despite the chaos surrounding the rollout and the near-daily revelations of other incompetence on his part. Buckle up.

Andrew Sullivan returns to semi-regular writing about politics today. His first topic is Donald Trump's apparently uncontrollable lying, and what it means about his mental stability:

I know we’re not supposed to bring this up — but it is staring us brutally in the face. I keep asking myself this simple question: If you came across someone in your everyday life who repeatedly said fantastically and demonstrably untrue things, what would you think of him? If you showed up at a neighbor’s, say, and your host showed you his newly painted living room, which was a deep blue, and then insisted repeatedly — manically — that it was a lovely shade of scarlet, what would your reaction be? If he then dragged out a member of his family and insisted she repeat this obvious untruth in front of you, how would you respond?

If the next time you dropped by, he was still raving about his gorgeous new red walls, what would you think? Here’s what I’d think: This man is off his rocker. He’s deranged; he’s bizarrely living in an alternative universe; he’s delusional. If he kept this up, at some point you’d excuse yourself and edge slowly out of the room and the house and never return. You’d warn your other neighbors. You’d keep your distance. If you saw him, you’d be polite but keep your distance.

I think this is a fundamental reason why so many of us have been so unsettled, anxious, and near panic these past few months. It is not so much this president’s agenda. That always changes from administration to administration. It is that when the lynchpin of an entire country is literally delusional, clinically deceptive, and responds to any attempt to correct the record with rage and vengeance, everyone is always on edge.

This is true, but here's the thing: as near as anyone can tell, Trump has been like this for decades. The difference, of course, is that before this year he was mainly in the entertainment industry, where his delusions were more or less harmless. They also made for great TV, so no one ever pushed back very seriously. This was something Trump could handle.

The Oval Office is different. There's a lot of pushback, and not of the giggling Billy Bush variety. The press is on him 24/7, people die when he screws up, and his policies end up as disasters thanks to his ADD and unwillingness to think beyond bumper stickers. We don't know how Trump's fragile psyche will respond to continuous rolling disasters and front pages like the one in the previous post. That's why everyone is on edge.

Just for posterity's sake, here is the front page of the Washington Post last night. The entire thing is basically devoted to a single day's worth of Trump failures and scandals. And even at that, they didn't have room for a couple of them. I don't think I've ever seen anything like it a mere three weeks into a new administration.

Behold the greatest negotiator our nation has ever seen:

President Donald J. Trump and President Xi Jinping of China had a lengthy telephone conversation on Thursday evening. The two leaders discussed numerous topics and President Trump agreed, at the request of President Xi, to honor our "one China" policy.

That's a readout from the White House Thursday evening. Here's the backstory:

December 2: Breaking tradition, Trump "risks China's wrath" by speaking on the phone with the president of Taiwan.

December 12: Trump goes on Fox News Sunday to poke China further: "I fully understand the 'one China' policy, but I don't know why we have to be bound by a 'one China' policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade."

December through February: China gives Trump the silent treatment. "Stung by an earlier, and unorthodox, telephone call between Mr. Trump and the president of Taiwan, Mr. Xi had not spoken to the American leader since Nov. 14, the week after he was elected....Relations between Washington and Beijing had been frozen since December."

February 8: Apparently uneasy over Xi shutting him out, Trump finally sends Xi a letter wishing him a happy Chinese New Year. The letter was hand delivered by Mike Flynn: "As a gesture of conciliation, Flynn and his deputy, K.T. McFarland, hand-delivered the letter to China’s ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai. Trump wrote that he wished 'the Chinese people a happy Lantern Festival and prosperous Year of the Rooster.' He also said he 'looks forward to working with President Xi to develop a constructive relationship that benefits both the United States and China.'"

February 8: A Chinese surveillance plane "inadvertently" buzzes an American P-3C Orion in the vicinity of the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.

February 9: Trump caves in and agrees to honor the One China policy.

It's worth noting that this was not just something that "came up" in the phone call. Xi would not have agreed to talk unless Trump explicitly promised beforehand that he would affirm the One China policy and do so publicly. Delivering that promise was probably the real point of Flynn's meeting with the Chinese ambassador, and it's why it was specifically mentioned in the readout. A single sentence in a late-night readout was the least humiliating way Trump's aides could think of for him to publicly knuckle under to China. God knows, Trump would probably go to war before he'd be willing to personally back down in front of the TV cameras.

In any case, Trump really showed them, didn't he? No matter what kind of spin the White House puts on this, China now knows that Trump's threats and bluster are entirely hollow. That should do wonders for our negotiations with China on trade issues. And everyone else too.

POSTSCRIPT: Can anyone point me to any great deal that Trump has ever negotiated? I can think of plenty of disasters (Trump Air, the Plaza Hotel, his Atlantic City casinos, etc.), and I can think of plenty of ordinary deals he's closed (all of his golf courses). But have there been any that were really spectacular? None come to mind, unless you count his ability to talk his bankers into sparing him personal bankruptcy after his businesses went bust in 1990. Or maybe the way he snookered all the poor schmoes who bought stock in his entertainment company when he took it public in 1995.

But how about a straightforward real estate deal where he negotiated a bargain price and made out like a bandit? Are there any?

I almost forgot about this:

The commander of the American-led international military force in Afghanistan, warning that the United States and its NATO allies are facing a “stalemate,” told Congress on Thursday that he needed a few thousand additional troops to more effectively train and advise Afghan soldiers.

“We have a shortfall of a few thousand,” Gen. John W. Nicholson said in a sober assessment of America’s longest war to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

A few thousand! We weren't able to stamp out the Taliban and train the Afghan army when we had over 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, but Nicholson wants us to believe we can break the current stalemate with just a few thousand more troops? Is he serious?

The routine lying by the Trump administration is just beyond belief. Mike Flynn has consistently denied that he talked to the Russian ambassador in December about President Obama's sanctions against Russia, but apparently he did exactly that. Here are Greg Miller, Adam Entous and Ellen Nakashima in the Washington Post tonight:

Flynn on Wednesday denied that he had discussed sanctions with [Sergey] Kislyak. Asked in an interview whether he had ever done so, he twice said, “No.” On Thursday, Flynn, through his spokesman, backed away from the denial. The spokesman said Flynn “indicated that while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.”

....The emerging details contradict public statements by incoming senior administration officials including Mike Pence...Nine current and former officials, who were in senior positions at multiple agencies at the time of the calls, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

All of those officials said ­Flynn’s references to the election-related sanctions were explicit. Two of those officials went further, saying that Flynn urged Russia not to overreact to the penalties being imposed by President Barack Obama, making clear that the two sides would be in position to review the matter after Trump was sworn in as president. “Kislyak was left with the impression that the sanctions would be revisited at a later time,” said a former official.

A third official put it more bluntly, saying that either Flynn had misled Pence or that Pence misspoke. A spokesman for Pence did not respond to a request for comment. The sanctions in question have so far remained in place.

Nine officials! And every one of them says Flynn explicitly talked about the sanctions that Obama levied on Russia as retaliation for their cyber-hacking during the campaign. The message: don't worry about it. We've got your back.

Do these guys ever tell the truth? About anything?

Andy Slavitt ran the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under President Obama, which included responsibility for Obamacare. Here's a tweetstorm he posted today:

I talked today/last night to 5 health plan CEOs. Won't use names but: 1 Blues, 1 integrated w hospital, 2 non-profit, 1 VC backed. All 5 health plan CEOs believe they priced 2017 #ACA business & should at least breakeven. Several of the plans beat their ACA membership projections.

Of the 5 plans, w/ current uncertainty none can yet commit 2 participate in 2018. All seemed aware that new #ACA stability reg is coming. One plan said with all the work to be profitable in the #ACA (they hadn't been), ironic to question participation now.

....They didn't say, but I will: if there is ambiguity, they will raise prices if they participate. One CEO who has an actuarial background said he would be at single digit rate increases but for all the uncertainty. It sounds like the plans will submit #ACA rates for 2018 high to hold place in line. Big increases all from repeal & mandate uncertainty.

[It] is a shame. Not sure if representative, but single digit if we would wipe uncertainty off table. Still can. But needs to be fast....I think people are so weary of the unpredictability of politics. It zaps energy from their real jobs.

We don't yet have final enrollment figures for 2017, but it appears that even with double-digit rate increases, uncertainty over Republican repeal plans, and deliberate sabotage from the new Trump administration, signups will be only 2-3 percent lower than last year. That's a pretty stable market, and probably a profitable—or at least breakeven—one. Fairly modest changes could fix a lot of Obamacare's existing problems, and higher funding could fix the rest of them.

Instead, we have massive uncertainty in an industry that felt like things had finally settled down after years of work. Slavitt is right: it's a shame. We can only hope that Republicans will wake up and decide that repairing Obamacare and then taking credit for its success is a better path than blowing up the entire individual health insurance market.

President Trump lost his appeal today to keep his immigration ban in place:

A federal appeals court on Thursday refused to reinstate President Trump’s targeted travel ban, delivering the latest and most stinging judicial rebuke to his effort to make good on a campaign promise and tighten the standards for entry into the United States.

....The decision is likely to be quickly appealed to the United States Supreme Court. That court remains short-handed and could deadlock. A 4-to-4 tie in the Supreme Court would leave the appeals court’s ruling in place.

It's worth pointing out that this isn't a ruling on whether Trump's immigration order is legal. It's not even a ruling on whether it should be blocked pending the result of other lawsuits. It's a ruling on an emergency stay of the temporary restraining order issued last week by a district court in Seattle. For now, the TRO remains in place unless the Supreme Court overturns the cicuit court and grants the emergency stay. Later we'll get a full hearing on the TRO, and following that we'll get trials on the various lawsuits challenging the legality of the immigration order.

UPDATE: This has been rewritten to more accurately explain what happened here.

The latest tidbit of Trump idiocy making the rounds is this disclosure about his call last week with Vladimir Putin:

When Putin raised the possibility of extending the 2010 treaty, known as New START, Trump paused to ask his aides in an aside what the treaty was, these sources said. Trump then told Putin the treaty was one of several bad deals negotiated by the Obama administration, saying that New START favored Russia. Trump also talked about his own popularity, the sources said.

There are, as usual, several things we can say about this:

  • Trump's ignorance is almost boundless.
  • He nonetheless refuses to be briefed before calls with foreign leaders.
  • The willingness of his staff to leak unflattering anecdotes about him is both epic and unprecedented.

But the bit that caught my attention was this: "Trump also talked about his own popularity, the sources said." This is far from the first time we've heard this. Trump is apparently nearly incapable of talking with a foreign leader without blathering about how terrific he is, how well loved he is, how epic his victory was, and how gigantic the crowds at his inauguration were.

And as long as we're on the subject, here's Trump idiocy #2 for the day. Sen. Joe Manchin passes along the following anecdote about immigration legislation from a White House lunch today:

According to the West Virginia Democrat, when Trump noted that there is no current immigration legislation under consideration on Capitol Hill, another senator in attendance, Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), mentioned the 2013 bill. Alexander also noted that the 2013 bill had passed with 68 votes, Manchin recalled.

“Well, that sounds like something good and you all agreed, 68? What happened to it?” Trump said, according to Manchin.

“I’ll tell you exactly what happened, Mr. President,” Manchin said he told Trump. “It went to the House and [Majority Leader] Eric Cantor gets defeated. They’re crying ‘Amnesty, amnesty, amnesty’ and [House Speaker] John Boehner could not bring it back up on the floor and get a vote — that’s exactly what happened.”

At that point, Trump said, “I want to see it,” Manchin said. “So he was very anxious to see it. He says, ‘I know what amnesty is.’ And I said, ‘Sir, I don’t think you’re going to find this [is] amnesty at all.’”

Sean Spicer later "clarified" that Trump opposes the 2013 bill and considers it to be amnesty. And I suppose he does, now that someone has told him what his opinion is supposed to be.