The New York Times has yet another interview with Donald Trump, foreign policy genius. Let's listen in:

He even called into question whether, as president, he would automatically extend the security guarantees that give the 28 members of NATO the assurance that the full force of the United States military has their back.

For example, asked about Russia’s threatening activities that have unnerved the small Baltic States that are the most recent entrants into NATO, Mr. Trump said that if Russia attacked them, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after reviewing whether those nations “have fulfilled their obligations to us.”

Vladimir Putin will be delighted to hear this. Next:

Reiterating his threat to pull back United States troops deployed around the world, he said, “We are spending a fortune on military in order to lose $800 billion,” citing what he called America’s trade losses. “That doesn’t sound very smart to me.”

Mr. Trump repeatedly defined American global interests almost purely in economic terms. Its roles as a peacekeeper, as a provider of a nuclear deterrent against adversaries like North Korea, as an advocate of human rights and as a guarantor of allies’ borders were each quickly reduced to questions of economic benefit to the United States.

Lots of politicians say American can no longer be policeman of the world. Trump actually believes it. Next:

Mr. Trump said he was convinced that he could persuade Mr. Erdogan to put more effort into fighting the Islamic State. But the Obama administration has run up, daily, against the reality that the Kurds — among the most effective forces the United States is supporting against the Islamic State — are being attacked by Turkey, which fears they will create a breakaway nation.

Asked how he would solve that problem, Mr. Trump paused, then said: “Meetings.”

Meetings. Right. And finally this:

When asked what he hoped people would take away from the convention, Mr. Trump said, “The fact that I’m very well liked.”

How very Willy Lomanesque. Trump's campaign manager immediately stepped in to say the Times had botched its quotes and Trump didn't really say this stuff about NATO. The Times has promised a transcript of the interview. I think Jonathan Bernstein has the right call on this:

How Has Indiana Fared Under Mike Pence?

Has Mike Pence been good for Indiana? It probably doesn't matter much, but I was curious anyway. For example, did he really enact the biggest income tax cut in the state's history? It turns out the answer is yes: he enacted a cut from 3.4 percent to 3.23 percent. That may not sound all that gigantic, but it turns out the only previous income tax cut in state history was 0.1 percent. So Pence's cut is the biggest!

What about other economic trends? Are there more Hoosiers at work than at any time before, as Paul Ryan said while he was praising Pence? Sure. But thanks to population growth, that's true almost everywhere. A better question is how employment compares to the nation at large. Answer: the unemployment rate since Pence took office in January 2013 has dropped from about 8 percent to about 5 percent. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's about the same as the rest of the country.

Is it true, as Pence said, that there are fewer state employees today than when he took office? I suppose there are multiple ways of counting this, but FRED tells us that the number of state employees has gone up from 116,000 to 117,000 since Pence took office. That's pretty slow growth, but it's not negative growth. Unless there's been a big cut in state employees in the first half of 2016, I'm not sure why Pence would say this.

And how about the state economy in general? There are lots of ways of looking at this, but the simplest is probably state GDP. Regrettably, we only have that through the beginning of 2015. Still, if you take a look at GDP growth during Pence's first two years in office, Indiana looks about the same as the entire country. There's nothing to be ashamed of, but nothing much to write home about either.

Pence has cut taxes and cut spending, and so far he's managed to avoid the disastrous experience of Kansas. Overall things seem to be OK in Indiana. But did Pence's conservative policies produce an economic miracle? Not by any measure I can see.

The weirdness factor was turned up to 11 today. Here are my five favorite moments:

  • After spending all of Tuesday insisting that Melania Trump plagiarized nothing, the campaign admits she did and blames it on her speechwriter.
  • The teleprompter goes out on Michelle Van Etten, who ends up giving perhaps the worst speech ever at a national convention. Before that, she was busily hawking Youngevity, a pyramid scheme that sells pseudoscience vitamin supplements. This may also have been a first for a national convention.
  • Not satisfied with merely locking her up, Trump advisor Al Baldasaro says Hillary Clinton should be shot for treason. The Secret Service investigates. Trump is forced to release a statement saying he "does not agree" that Hillary should be shot.
  • Ted Cruz declines to endorse Trump in his speech. "Don't stay home in November," he says to cheers, but then with a smirk tells them not to vote for Trump, but to "vote your conscience." When everyone finally catches on to what's going on, they begin booing and chanting "We want Trump." The Trump family sits through the entire speech with stony expressions on their faces. After it's all over, Heidi Cruz is escorted out by security while Trump supporters heckle her.
  • Instead of just letting this go, Newt Gingrich insists on putting it in the spotlight a second time by claiming fancifully that when Cruz said "vote your conscience," he really meant "vote for Trump." Nice try, Newt.

On the bright side, they finally got their scheduling in order tonight, filling the entire primetime hour with marquee speakers. It's the first time this week.

The Trump campaign is working on a few "tweaks" to his tax plan:

An updated version of Donald Trump’s tax cut will be about one-third the size of the previous $10 trillion version, two campaign advisers said on Wednesday.

One-third! Down from $10 trillion to $3 trillion. I guess when you're as fabulously wealthy as Donald Trump, $7 trillion hardly seems worth fussing over.

We've known all along that Trump's "policy" proposals were mostly meaningless, but this is sure a brazen confirmation. I can't wait for his new wall proposal: "We've tweaked it from 2,000 miles to 600 miles, and that's already built. Mr. Trump gets things done!"

On July 5, FBI Director James Comey held a press conference about Hillary Clinton's email server. By all accounts, his narrative was devastating. She had been "extremely careless." She had sent and received documents now considered classified. She had used her private server while traveling in unfriendly countries. There was a strong possibility that her server had been hacked.

As it happens, Comey overstated a lot of this stuff. But he did say it. And the reaction of the press was nearly unanimous: Comey had validated many of the worst charges against Clinton. There would be no indictment, but it was certain to hurt Clinton badly. And yet, look what happened according to the Pollster aggregates:

In the week following Comey's press conference, nothing happened. Clinton's poll numbers were basically flat, and then bumped up a couple of points. As near as I can tell, Comey's lengthy rebuke had no effect at all.

This is genuinely puzzling. Sure, the email affair had been going on for a long time and people were pretty tired of it, but Comey made genuine news—all of it bad for Clinton. At the very least, you'd expect a dip in the polls of two or three points for a few weeks.

Why didn't anyone care? Is this a sign that everyone's minds are made up, and there's basically nothing that can change the race at this point? Or does it mean that emailgate was a much smaller deal than we political junkies thought it was?

Wait! Melaniagate Isn't Over After All!

Melaniagate lives! There are still some questions to be answered:

I'm sure McIver will claim that (a) she worked on the speech only in her off hours, and (b) she did it solely because of her deep and abiding love for the entire Trump family.

And here we are. The final chapter in the Melania Trump plagiarism story. Meredith McIver, who has written some of Donald's books and helped Melania write her speech, has taken the fall.

They could have fessed up to this early Tuesday morning and avoided all the angst. Why didn't they? Who knows. More to the point: it seems as if all of Trumpland spent the entire day yesterday insisting that the disputed parts of Melania's speech were just common phrases and nobody plagiarized anything. Steven Dennis summarizes:

So are all these folks going to apologize for obviously trying to deceive everyone they talked to? I think we know the answer to that.

Donald Trump Keeps the Bad News Coming

The fuss over Melania Trump's plagiarism is finally dying down. So what does Donald do? He keeps it going by finally deciding to offer up a comment:

Why would he do this? There's no way to spin this into good news. Does he think he can eventually morph it into some kind of devastating attack on the hated liberal media? Will he spend half his speech on Thursday complaining about the treatment of his wife? The mind boggles.

A Peek Inside a Donald Trump Presidency

According to the New York Times, Donald Trump Jr. approached John Kasich a couple of months ago:

Did he have any interest in being the most powerful vice president in history? When Kasich’s adviser asked how this would be the case, Donald Jr. explained that his father’s vice president would be in charge of domestic and foreign policy.

Then what, the adviser asked, would Trump be in charge of?

“Making America great again” was the casual reply.

Is this actually true? Normally I'd say it sounds ridiculous, but keep in mind that this is Donald Trump we're talking about. Maybe he really does think he can just snap out a few orders—build a wall! destroy ISIS! cut taxes!—and let a guy like Kasich figure out how to get it done. In the meantime, he'll barnstorm the country holding rallies and conducting fireside chats on Twitter.

In any case, this belongs in the category of too good to check. If it's not true, it ought to be.

Obama Is the Guy Who Made America Work Again

The theme of the convention tonight was supposed to be "Make America Work Again." But Donald Trump has a famously short attention span, and apparently that's spilled over into the scheduling of the entire convention. As near as I can tell, not a single person talked about jobs and the economy except maybe soap opera star Kimberlin Brown, who grows avocadoes and spent several minutes railing against Obamacare.

However, I didn't watch every minute of the convention, so maybe I missed one of the early C-list speakers talking about jobs. On the off chance that this happened, I have two charts for you. First, here's a re-up of one of my favorites, showing that Republicans did everything they possibly could to keep America from recovering while Obama was president:

As you can see from the various red and orange lines, Republicans were eager to increase spending for Reagan, Bush Jr., and Bush Sr.—at least until he lost the election and Clinton took over. Then they cut back. For Obama, they depressed public spending from the start. That's the blue line. Today, more than six years after the official end of the recession, public spending is more than 20 points lower than the trendline for Reagan and Bush.

Nonetheless, check out Obama's record on job growth:

Even with two big tax cuts and a housing bubble, Bush Jr. managed to create only 10.9 million jobs. Obama, even with the headwind of Republican obstruction, has created 13.1 million jobs so far.

You can decide for yourself how much credit presidents deserve for the strength of the economy on their watch. But one thing is sure: Obama started with the worst recession since World War II, and six years later he's created over 13 million jobs; the unemployment rate is under 5 percent; inflation is low; and the economy is growing faster than nearly any other rich country. Imagine what he could have done if Republicans hadn't stood in his way the entire time.