Inviting Uncertain Chaos

It was only a month ago, but things move fast in an election year, and change quickly, so few may remember this:

Donald Trump dared a foreign government to commit espionage on the U.S. to hurt his rival on Wednesday, smashing yet another taboo in American political discourse and behavior.

“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’ll be able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” he said, referring to deleted emails from the private account Hillary Clinton used as secretary of State. “I think you’ll probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

Other than that, it was just another typical day with Trump:

Trump made the taunt during a lengthy and unusual news conference in Doral, Fla., in which he also suggested the Geneva Convention treaties protecting prisoners of war are outdated, told a reporter asking a question to “be quiet” and said the fact that the Democratic National Committee may have been hacked was because foreign leaders lack respect for the U.S. government.

He also called President Obama “the most ignorant president in our history,” alleged that Russian President Vladimir Putin had disparaged Obama with “the n-word” and inaccurately paraphrased Obama speaking in a stereotype of African-American dialect.

He was on a roll, but that first thing bothered a few folks:

The comments urging Russia to hack Clinton immediately drew widespread attention because they lend the impression that Trump is actively encouraging another country to commit a crime against the U.S. to directly affect the presidential election. If the emails are hacked and Trump wins, it also could make him appear beholden to foreign interests.

But it didn’t matter in the end. The FBI recovered the emails, not the Russians, but still, some were worried:

The unprecedented comments in a campaign that has pushed multiple boundaries came after days of increased interest in Trump’s relationship with Russia, his statements that he might renege on U.S. commitments to defend NATO allies against Russian aggression and his frequently espoused admiration for Putin.

That concern is over. Trump dumped his campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who had previously worked for Russia’s guy in Ukraine who was ousted and now lives in Moscow, thanks to Vladimir Putin. Stuff came up – documents showing Manafort involved in a disinformation campaign to justify Russia grabbing Crimea. That was too close for comfort, but the invitation to Russia, to hack our systems to hurt Hillary, was never rescinded:

Allies of Trump, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, asserted that the candidate was joking. But Trump, given the chance to clarify while he was still in front of reporters, did not back down when asked whether it concerned him that another government may have Clinton’s emails.

“No, it gives me no pause,” he said, adding that what gives him pause is Clinton’s destruction of the messages.

“If Russia or China or any other country has those emails, I’ve got to be honest with you, I’d love to see them,” he added.

He saw no problem with Russian hacking – he loved it – but one month later he may have to change his tune:

Hackers targeted voter registration systems in Illinois and Arizona, and the FBI alerted Arizona officials in June that Russians were behind the assault on the election system in that state.

The bureau described the threat as “credible” and significant, “an eight on a scale of one to 10,” Matt Roberts, a spokesman for Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan (R), said Monday. As a result, Reagan shut down the state’s voter registration system for nearly a week.

Perhaps they found Hillary’s emails boring, but the damage this time was limited:

It turned out that the hackers had not compromised the state system or even any county system. They had, however, stolen the username and password of a single election official in Gila County.

That’s not much, but something is going on:

The Arizona incident is the latest indication of Russian interest in U.S. elections and party operations, and it follows the discovery of a high-profile penetration into Democratic National Committee computers. That hack produced embarrassing emails that led to the resignation of DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and sowed dissension on the eve of Hillary Clinton’s nomination as the party’s presidential candidate.

The Russian campaign is also sparking intense anxiety about the security of this year’s elections. Earlier this month, the FBI warned state officials to be on the lookout for intrusions into their election systems. The “flash” alert, which was first reported by Yahoo News, said investigators had detected attempts to penetrate election systems in several states and listed Internet protocol addresses and other technical fingerprints associated with the hacks.

In addition to Arizona, Illinois officials discovered an intrusion into their election system in July. Although the hackers did not alter any data, the intrusion marks the first successful compromise of a state voter registration database, federal officials said.

They’re knocking on the door:

“This was a highly sophisticated attack most likely from a foreign (international) entity,” said Kyle Thomas, director of voting and registration systems for the Illinois State Board of Elections, in a message that was sent to all election authorities in the state.

The Illinois hackers were able to retrieve voter records, but the number accessed was “a fairly small percentage of the total,” said Ken Menzel, general counsel for the Illinois election board.

State officials alerted the FBI, he said, and the Department of Homeland Security also was involved. The intrusion in Illinois led to a week-long shutdown of the voter registration system.

The FBI has told Illinois officials that it is looking at foreign government agencies and criminal hackers as potential culprits, Menzel said.

At least two other states are looking into possible breaches, officials said. Meanwhile, states across the nation are scrambling to ensure that their systems are secure.

They have to do this, because the consequences are serious:

Until now, countries such as Russia and China have shown little interest in voting systems in the United States. But experts said that if a foreign government gained the ability to tamper with voter data – for instance by deleting registration records – such a hack could cast doubt on the legitimacy of U.S. elections.

“I’m less concerned about the attackers getting access to and downloading the information. I’m more concerned about the information being altered, modified or deleted. That’s where the real potential is for any sort of meddling in the election,” said Brian Kalkin, vice president of operations for the Center for ­Internet Security, which operates the MS-ISAC, a multistate ­information-sharing center that helps government agencies combat cyberthreats and works closely with federal law enforcement.

But the bad guys deleting registration records may not be that serious:

Tom Hicks, chairman of the federal Election Assistance Commission, an agency set up by Congress after the 2000 Florida recount to maintain election integrity, said he is confident that states have sufficient safeguards in place to ward off attempts to manipulate data.

For example, if a voter’s name were deleted and did not show up on the precinct list, the individual could still cast a provisional ballot, Hicks said. Once the voter’s status was confirmed, the ballot would be counted.

Hicks also said the actual systems used to cast votes “are not hooked up to the Internet” and so “there’s not going to be any manipulation of data.” However, more than 30 states have some provisions for online voting, primarily for voters living overseas or serving in the military.

That may be the real problem:

This spring, a DHS official cautioned that online voting is not yet secure.

“We believe that online voting – especially online voting in large scale – introduces great risk into the election system by threatening voters’ expectations of confidentiality, accountability and security of their votes and provides an avenue for malicious actors to manipulate the voting results,” said Neil Jenkins, an official in the department’s Office of Cybersecurity and Communications.

Private-sector researchers are also concerned about potential meddling by Russians in the U.S. election system. Rich Barger, chief information officer at ThreatConnect, said that several of the IP addresses listed in the FBI alert trace back to a website-hosting service called King Servers that offers Russia-based technical support. Barger also said that one of the methods used was similar to a tactic employed in other intrusions suspected of being carried out by the Russian government, including one this month on the World Anti-Doping Agency.

“The very fact that [someone] has rattled the doorknobs, the very fact that the state election commissions are in the crosshairs, gives grounds to the average American voter to wonder: Can they really trust the results?” Barger said.

That’s the real problem, as Josh Marshall notes here:

For years, I’ve generally poo-poo’d claims about how elections had been or could be hacked. Mainly this is simply an evidence-based criticism. Back in the aughts “Diebold” became the Dems equivalent of GOP “vote fraud” claims, an amorphous and generally evidenceless explanation for why your party is losing elections you wanted to win. People get confused sometimes and believe that arguments that something can happen is proof that something has happened. Logic is hard.

There is one huge and incredibly important difference: none of the black-box voting folks ever proposed solutions targeted at making it harder for one class or race of people to vote, which is what the GOP’s “vote fraud” nonsense is entirely about. So I’m not equating the two. The proposed remedies for combating electronic or cyber-attack-based election tampering may not be as necessary as some claim. But they don’t do any harm. We should make these things as secure as possible.

Look at it this way:

If a political party, or people working on its behalf, want to hack an election that is not only an inherently difficult thing to do. More importantly, it’s hard to do without leaving evidence. It also involves a lot of little explored complexities: to know what’s going to be a ‘reasonable’ shift in the totals you need some real time idea of what the actual results are. It’s a complicated proposition that would likely involve a number of people working in concert and thus difficult to keep secret.

But here’s the thing. If foreign hackers of any source or domestic hackers for that matter want to disrupt an election, that’s much simpler. Perhaps you’ve hacked into the servers in advance and then you simply erase the data late in the day? Or shift it to all-Clinton or all-Trump. If it’s being done from somewhere in Senegal or Bangkok you’re never going to track down and apprehend the culprits. And the changes to the numbers don’t need to be credible to severely disrupt the election. Complete hypothetical: what if 10 critical precinct tallies in Florida and Ohio are simply erased or tampered with so that the numbers bear no confidence? What do you do then? We’re not in a high-trust climate in our politics where something like that could be easily resolved. Precisely because we are already in such a low-trust political era, even a tiny number of demonstrated cases of cyber-tampering would cast a penumbra of doubt over the whole process, especially for the losing party.

The point is that disruption doesn’t really require hiding your tracks. It’s enough to disrupt, delete, alter. It can also be done by people who don’t have any particular concern with the actual election outcome, have no need to make the results credible and have none of the legal or reputational vulnerabilities that might deter people within the political system itself from trying to tamper with election results.

We may be in some trouble here:

The country has enough things to freak out about as a country. I’m not saying we should start wigging out about this. But it’s definitely worth being concerned about and hopefully one that federal law enforcement authorities are focusing on and proactively working with local authorities to prevent. And it’s something qualitatively easier to pull off for bad actors whose aim is disruption rather than winning.

Dana Milbank, however, takes a different view, noting that these guys aren’t very good at this stuff yet:

Last week, we learned something else: The Russians aren’t just hackers – they’re also hacks. It turns out that before leaking their stolen information, they are in some cases doctoring the documents, making edits that add false information and then passing the documents off as the originals.

Foreign Policy’s Elias Groll reported last week that the hackers goofed: They posted both the original versions of at least three documents and their edited versions. These documents, stolen from George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, were altered by the hackers to create the false impression that Russian anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny was funded by Soros. A pro-Russian hacking group, CyberBerkut, had inserted Navalny’s name, bogus dollar amounts and fabricated wording.

That’s comically inept, but Milbank thinks that sloppiness might not last:

Are Vladimir Putin’s operatives planning to dump edited DNC documents on the eve of the presidential election?

Perhaps they’ll show that the Clinton Foundation has been funding the Islamic State, or they’ll have Hillary Clinton admitting that she didn’t care about those Americans who died in Benghazi after all. Maybe they’ll show that she really did lose most of her brain function in that fall several years ago and is now relying on Anthony Weiner to make all of her decisions.

Russian “dezinformatsiya” campaigns such as this go back to the Cold War; the Soviet portrayal of AIDS as a CIA plot was a classic case. But this type of cyberwar – email hacking and, now, the altering and release of the stolen documents – is a novel escalation. It’s tempting to wonder how differently the Cold War might have gone had there been cyber-hackers back then. We’ll never know, of course, because the Soviet Union crumbled before Al Gore invented the Internet.

Ha, ha – but Milbank is serious:

It’s clear that Russia’s disinformation wars are as active as ever. On Sunday, Neil MacFarquhar wrote in the New York Times about Russian attempts to undermine a Swedish military partnership with NATO.

The campaign is spreading false information that there’s a secret nuclear weapons stockpile in Sweden and alleging that NATO soldiers could rape Swedish women with impunity. This Russian use of “weaponized information” helped to cause confusion in Ukraine in 2014, when conspiracy theories spread by the Russians about the downing of a Malaysian Airlines jet helped Russians justify their invasion of Crimea.

Paul Manafort may have had a hand in that, and all of this could point to a Putin-sponsored October surprise:

Putin has meddled in domestic politics in France, the Netherlands, Britain, and elsewhere, helping extreme political parties to destabilize those countries. He appears to be doing much the same now in the United States, where, in addition to the DNC and state voter system hacks, there have also been reports this summer about Russia hiring Internet trolls to pose on Twitter and elsewhere in social media as pro-Trump Americans. Trump and Putin have expressed their mutual admiration, and even after the departure of Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, Trump and several top advisers have close ties to Moscow.

It is time to worry:

The hyper-competitive American media environment is vulnerable to the sort of technique the Russian hackers used in the Soros case – stealing documents, altering them, then releasing them as the original. If Putin’s hackers were to release such a doctored document smearing Clinton in, say, late October, it’s likely that competition would lead outlets to report on the hacked documents before they had a chance to see whether and how they were altered.

We don’t know what, if anything, Putin’s hackers have planned for this fall. But the doctored Soros documents could be a clue.

That is an issue, but at the Atlantic, Kaveh Waddell argues that electronic voting itself could undermine the election:

For years, security researchers and academics have urged election officials to hold off on adopting electronic voting systems, worrying that they’re not nearly secure enough to reliably carry out their vital role in American democracy. Their claims have been backed up by repeated demonstrations of the systems’ fragility: When the District of Columbia tested an electronic voting system in 2010, a professor from the University of Michigan and his graduate students took it over from more than 500 miles away to show its weaknesses; with actual physical access to a voting machine, the same professor – Alex Halderman – swapped out its internals, turning it into a Pac Man console. Halderman showed that a hacker who has access to a machine before Election Day could modify its programming – and he did so without even leaving a mark on the machine’s tamper-evident seals.

But it wouldn’t even take a full-fledged cyberattack on an electronic voting system to throw a wrench in a national election. Even the specter of the possibility that the American electoral system is anything but trustworthy provides ammunition to skeptics to call foul if an election doesn’t go their way.

That’s ammunition for Trump:

That’s the argument that Dan Wallach, a computer-science professor at Rice University, put forward in an essay earlier this month titled “Election Security as a National Security Issue.” Nicholas Weaver, a professor and security researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, expanded on Wallach’s thesis in Lawfare this month. “Voting systems need to convince rational losers that they lost fairly,” Weaver wrote. “In order to do that, it is critical to both limit fraud and have the result be easily explained.”

And one must assume that Donald Trump won’t be a rational loser, which means paper works best:

Paper ballots are harder to fudge than votes stored in bits and bytes: A manual recount can help assuage fears of a rigged election. Even voting machines that spit out voters’ choices on a piece of paper before submitting them are verifiable. But machines that record votes directly without providing a physical receipt aren’t terribly easy to audit if accusations of fraud begin to fly.

The more that voters’ faith in electronic systems is shaken before November the higher the likelihood that voters might question the outcome of an election that includes electronic ballots. Donald Trump has already made repeated predictions that the general election will be “rigged,” even going so far as to recruit volunteer “Trump Election Observers” to monitor polls. And election-related security issues may already be on voters’ minds after two email hacks this summer, one that targeted the Democratic National Committee, and another that targeted the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Go with paper:

Spying on voter-registration data isn’t the same thing as manipulating election results, of course. Most of the information in voter rolls is publicly available, even if cumbersome to assemble, or is available from data brokers for a cost. But the attacks in Arizona and Illinois suggest that foreign hackers are targeting election data – and raise the prospect that they may also try to manipulate votes come November.

Wallach, who says he was invited to testify about voting security before the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee next month, says the attacks on the state election data heighten the urgency for states to adjust their approach to voting before November.

Weaver went further. “This is yet more ammunition in the contention that pure electronic voting is simply too dangerous: We must use paper, either directly filled out by the voter or as a voter verifiable paper audit trail,” he wrote in an email.

“Especially with the problem of the ‘irrational loser’: Trump can point to this and go ‘See, the system is rigged,’ and I personally worry that such language might inspire some fraction of his followers to commit a violent act.”

That may be what Putin has in mind, a bit of civil war in November as each side claims that “they” really won the election and one side decides to get violent about it. That would be chaos and Putin could then go about reassembling the old Soviet Union without anyone bothering him. And who invited this chaos? That would be Donald Trump, one month ago, although he probably didn’t realize that was what he was actually doing. Does he ever?

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The State of the Race about Race

Some things are inevitable. After eight years of America enduring a black president – who has been frustratingly moderate and thoughtful and gracious, and has had the gall not to produce one useful sexual or financial or politic scandal at all – and now likely to be followed by our first woman president, who will give orders to men, of all things – white men, who have run America from the beginning, want their country back. Add to that the other galling thing – whites will soon slip to minority status in America. There will be no majority of any kind. Donald Trump was inevitable.

Of course he won the Republican nomination. That’s our conservative party, and conservatism is about holding onto what worked in the past that shouldn’t be discarded, and Trump burst upon the political scene as the driving force in birtherism. Obama was not born here, he couldn’t have been – the idea of a black president just seemed wrong. That didn’t work. Trump’s effort to get Obama’s college records released, to prove Obama was an awful student who only got into Harvard Law School because he was black, probably denying admissions to some smarter white guy, also went nowhere – but a lot of white folks appreciated the effort. That set Trump on his way. That may be why Trump won the nomination. This race was always going to be about race.

That couldn’t be. Americans are better than that, so there were innumerable analyses about how this race was really about economics, about the angry people left behind by globalization and the most severe income inequality we’ve seen since the twenties, or ever. This couldn’t be about race, but Josh Marshall, in a long item analyzing the economic data and all the polling data and opinion surveys, just doesn’t see that:

One of the best and most frequently cited arguments against those who see Trumpism as driven by economic insecurity and globalization is: if that’s the case, why does he get basically no support outside of the white community since non-whites are at least as economically stressed as whites and in most cases far more so? The best rebuttal is that if you’re pushing a politics about globalization and declining economic opportunity which scapegoats non-whites as the source of the problem, of course you’re not going to get a lot of traction with the people you’re scapegoating.

All true enough. But if you look at the language of Trumpism you see repeated references to getting stuff back, reclamation, anger. This is a politics of loss and grievance. The appeal of an extreme dominance politics is particular to those who feel they’ve lost power and who feel increasingly marginal to the direction of the country as a whole. There’s a strong theme of Trumpite rhetoric that is about revenge. Put that all together and I think the driving factor is the erosion of white dominance in American life. African-Americans, Hispanics and other rising racial and ethnic minority groups may have grievances or demands for greater inclusion, dignity and respect in American life. But pretty much by definition they’re not looking to reclaim something that was taken from them or something they’ve lost.

Americans aren’t better than that, but the politics of loss and grievance will only get you so far in a general election. Everyone gets to vote. The new voting restrictions and voter-ID laws in the thirty-three states where Republicans control both the legislature and the governorship can make it damned hard for African-Americans, Hispanics and other rising racial and ethnic minority groups to vote, but they cannot make it impossible. And as for women, who overwhelmingly despise Trump, it seems unlikely that Congress would be able to pass a temporary suspension of the Nineteenth Amendment before November. They wouldn’t dare try. Women will vote too. We are likely to get a woman “boss” for the first time. White dominance in American life took a big hit with Obama. White male dominance will take big hit with Hillary Clinton – but at least she’s white.

The only answer to this is outreach to these folks who are undermining the way things should be – as they always were – to make them see that it is in their best interest to vote to keep white males in power. That, however, is a tricky business and that can get awkward:

Hours after Donald Trump used the fatal shooting of Dwyane Wade’s cousin to declare he’d win African American voters, Trump offered up his prayers.

Just hours after NBA star Wade publicly confirmed that his cousin had been tragically killed in crossfire while walking her baby in a stroller through a Chicago neighborhood, Trump tweeted Saturday that the death was “just what I have been saying. African-Americans will VOTE TRUMP!”

Immediately, Trump was met with backlash as many questioned whether Trump’s week of African-American outreach had fully come off the rails.

In the afternoon, Trump offered his condolences – “My condolences to Dwyane Wade and his family, on the loss of Nykea Aldridge. They are in my thoughts and prayers.”

Wade is a major NBA star, and a smart and modest man, in grief. Trump blew this one:

Donald Trump’s compassionate and sincere outreach to black voters seems to have failed with at least one of them: Academy Award-winning actor, producer, and director Don Cheadle. Cheadle, who won a Best Picture Oscar for producing Crash and was nominated for Best Actor for his performance in Hotel Rwanda, was incensed at Trump’s wildly offensive response to the death of NBA star Dwyane Wade’s cousin, which, according to Trump, was “just what I have been saying,” whatever that means. Cheadle responded to the tweet by calling the new face of the Republican Party “truly a POS.” [That would be “piece of shit” of course.] Cheadle may have moved beyond insults into the realm of Secret Service investigations in his next tweet, however, encouraging Trump to “die in a grease fire.”

So much for outreach – forget that now – but Trump has bigger worries:

The ex-wife of Donald Trump’s new campaign chief executive Steve Bannon claims Bannon made anti-Semitic comments while the couple fought over which private school to send their daughters to nearly a decade ago.

The allegations – which came to light amid scrutiny over the appointment of Breitbart News head Bannon to Trump campaign CEO – were made in a sworn declaration by the ex-wife in a 2007 court filing.

The court declaration was filed in the midst of a contentious divorce battle between them that lasted 10 years. The divorce was initiated in 1997, but disagreements over schooling choices for the couple’s twin girls brought them back to court a decade later.

Women wary of Trump are not going to like this, because this woman hid:

A police report regarding an alleged 1996 domestic violence incident obtained by Politico late Thursday and confirmed by NBC News, in which the ex-wife claimed Bannon attacked her.

Bannon was charged with misdemeanor domestic violence, battery and dissuading a witness. He pleaded not guilty to the charges. Court documents show that about six months later, the case was dismissed after prosecutors said they could not find his wife.

Asked about the old charges, Bannon’s personal spokeswoman, Alexandra Preate, noted they had been dismissed…

Police say the report was made available to Politico by mistake.

The damage was done anyway, because the report contained a bit about the Archer School for Girls out here in Los Angeles:

The ex-wife claimed Bannon “went on to say the biggest problem he had with Archer is the number of Jews that attend. He said that he doesn’t like Jews and that he doesn’t like the way they raise their kids to be ‘whiney brats’ and that he didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews.”

Bannon is a bit of a white nationalist, and now Trump’s main man, although the reports of voter fraud – he’s registered to vote in Florida, where he doesn’t live, at an address that’s a vacant house – seem more a case of tax avoidance that anything sinister. Rich folks often claim their primary residence is in a state with no income tax. No one checks these things. That’s tax fraud, not voter fraud.

This called for damage control:

The Hillary Clinton campaign has been turning up the heat on new Donald Trump campaign CEO Steve Bannon. In an ad aired last week, the Clinton campaign uses KKK imagery to tie Bannon and the Alt-Right to white nationalist neo-Nazis. In a speech in Reno, Nevada on Thursday, Clinton accused Trump of giving a megaphone to a “paranoid fringe steeped in racial resentment.”

On Sunday, Donald Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway responded to Clinton’s accusations during an appearance on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. Asked whether Bannon, the former chairman of Breitbart News, is the right man to be leading Trump’s campaign, Conway diminished his role and asserted her own leadership.

“The new CEO of the campaign – I guess he’s your boss – is Steve Bannon, who’s the head of Breitbart News,” Wallace said. “This is the man Trump chose to run his campaign?”

Conway replied: “Well he chose me to manage his campaign, and I report directly to him. But I will say this – the idea that Hillary Clinton, who’s been in public life for 30 years, gives a speech this week, Chris, about – it was totally content-free, policy-free address about consultants, is just remarkable to me. I understand Hillary’s campaign is now a hot mess.”

She has it backwards – no one seems to be in charge of the Trump campaign – so there’s no fixing this by reversing things, although, as Amber Phillips notes, one can try:

Appearing on ABC television’s “This Week” on Sunday, Donald Trump adviser Chris Christie was put in a tough position: Explain why it makes sense for Trump to call Hillary Clinton a “bigot.”

Instead, when host Martha Raddatz asked the New Jersey governor whether he agrees with Trump that Clinton is a “bigot,” Christie launched into a kind of non sequitur that politicians and elementary schoolchildren are particularly good at: He said Clinton “started” it. His full comment:

“I’ll tell you this, this type of discourse in the campaign is just unwarranted. But it was started by Ms. Clinton. Ms. Clinton has started the idea of calling Donald Trump those types of names. And the fact is that, once you are the person – and Ms. Clinton is the person who injected this type of commentary into this race – once you inject that type of commentary into this race, you can’t then sit back and start complaining about it.”

In other words, Clinton brought this upon herself by first attacking Trump on the issue of race.

In other words, the Trump campaign has reached out to minorities, wonderfully, and Clinton is the real bigot here, and she didn’t like it when we pointed out the obvious. We love these folks. She hates them. Everyone knows this. She should have kept her damned mouth shut. Now she has to suffer the consequences.

Got that? Didn’t think so, but the real test is to win the Hispanic vote, or at least enough of it to change things in November, while promising to deport eleven million Hispanics immediately after big that win in November. The key is to do that humanely. Explain how to do that humanely and these folks will vote for Trump.

That’s the other race problem, and they’re working on that:

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump announced he’ll be making a speech on illegal immigration on Wednesday in Arizona, after a week of speculation that he might be softening his hardline promise to deport 11 million people living in the United States illegally.

The speech, posted in a Tweet late Sunday, was initially set for last week in Colorado, but was pushed back as Trump and his team wrestled over the details of what he would propose. There has been debate within his campaign about immigrants who haven’t committed crimes beyond their immigration offenses.

Yes, what do you do with the good folks? That’s been the problem:

The candidate’s shifting stance hasn’t made it easy for top supporters and advisers, from his running mate on down, to defend him or explain some campaign positions. Across the Sunday news shows, a parade of Trump stand-ins, led by vice presidential nominee Mike Pence, couldn’t say whether Trump was sticking with or changing a central promise to use a “deportation force” to expel immigrants here illegally. And they didn’t bother defending his initial response Saturday to the killing of a mother as she walked her baby on a Chicago street.

Questioned on whether leaving key details on immigration policy unclear so late in the election is a problem, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus demurred: “I just don’t speak for Donald Trump.”

This was a bit of a mess:

Surrogates speak for and back up their presidential nominee. But Team Trump’s struggled to do so even as they stayed tightly together on the details they know: Trump will issue more details on the immigration plan soon, the policy will be humane, and despite his clear wavering, he’s been “consistent” on the issue. Any discussion of inconsistencies or potentially unpresidential tweeting, Pence and others suggested, reflected media focus on the wrong issue.

Asked whether the “deportation force” proposal Trump laid out in November is still in place, Pence replied: “Well, what you heard him describe there, in his usual plainspoken, American way, was a mechanism, not a policy.”

Added Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway: “The softening is more approach than policy” adding that on immigration, Trump “wants to find a fair and humane way.”

An army of armed citizen volunteers busting down doors all across America and rounding up folks and putting them in boxcars heading south is a mechanism, not a policy, or an approach, not a policy. Who knew? But some things are policy:

The Indiana governor, Conway and other surrogates said the main tenets of Trump’s immigration plan still will include building a wall along the southern U.S. border and making Mexico pay for it, no path to status adjustment or citizenship for people here illegally and stronger border enforcement. Pence also did not answer whether the campaign believes, as Trump has said, that children born to people who are in the U.S. illegally are not U.S. citizens. That, he said, “is a subject for the future.”

No, that has to be answered now:

Native-born children of immigrants, even those living illegally in the U.S., have been automatically considered American citizens since the adoption of the 14th Amendment in 1868.

Do we change the constitution, or suspend it? And there are other issues:

Trump has focused lately on deporting people who are in the U.S. illegally and who have committed crimes. But who Trump considers a criminal remained unclear Sunday.

Trump in recent days has suggested he might be “softening” on the deportation force and that he might be open to allowing at least some immigrants in the country illegally to stay, as long as they pay taxes.

But by Thursday, he was ruling out any kind of legal status – “unless they leave the country and come back,” he told CNN.

But they broke the law, the current immigration law – by law they’re forbidden reentry, many forever. Do we change that? And the other issue hangs fire:

The campaign continues to press for the African-American vote, as well. Late Sunday, the nation’s only African-American owned and operated national Christian television network announced its president and CEO, Bishop Wayne T. Jackson would interview the Republican nominee in Detroit on Sept. 3.

His surrogates on Sunday refused to comment on Trump’s reaction to the fatal shooting of NBA star Dwyane Wade’s cousin Friday, as she pushed her baby in a stroller in Chicago…

Asked whether the initial tweet was presidential or appropriate, GOP officials and campaign advisers instead talked about reducing crime or said they were pleased Trump followed up with a tweet of condolence and empathy.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said the media “focus on process instead of the message.” He said the killing of someone pushing a stroller “is unacceptable in an American city” and that “the level of violence in Chicago is unacceptable.”

In short, don’t pay attention to what Trump said. Surrogates for presidential candidates usually don’t say that sort of thing, but Greg Sargent listened to Anderson Cooper interviewing Trump on the immigration stuff and listens to what Trump said:

In reality, Trump made his position on immigration perfectly clear. It’s this: All the 11 million undocumented immigrants still remain targets for deportation. We’ll go after the worst ones first, because I recognize that not all of them are full blown criminals – I have a tremendously big heart, believe me – but we will probably have to target the rest for removal later. And there is no meaningful path to legal status for any of them.

That’s it, all of it:

The most important claim Trump made is that under his plan, “there is no path to legalization, unless they leave the country and come back.” This is widely – and rightly – being interpreted as confirmation that Trump will offer no path to legal status for the 11 million that doesn’t require them to leave the country first.

But Trump actually went further than that. Many have speculated that Trump left an opening to create a process by which undocumented immigrants (“the good ones,” anyway) can leave and come back via an expedited path to legal status.

But Trump actually said, in a tacit way, that this will not happen. He said – repeatedly – that his plan would be carried out under “existing law.” He said: “We’re going to go with the laws that are existing.” If this is true, then Trump has foreclosed the option of an expedited path to legal status for those who leave the country, because the creation of such a path would require a change in the law.

The law here is clear:

“Under existing law, undocumented immigrants who leave the U.S. are barred for returning for up to 10 years, and in some cases, permanently,” immigration lawyer David Leopold tells me. “The notion that they can leave and come back is meaningless without a legislative overhaul.”

Trump basically confirmed this himself. He said: “If somebody wants to go the legalization route, what they’ll do is they’ll go, leave the country, hopefully come back in. And then we can talk.” In other words, no path to legal status until you leave and come back, but we won’t even discuss that until you’ve left and returned.

Thus, under Trump’s plan (which is subject to change) there is no meaningful path to legal status at all. That’s because for many undocumented immigrants, leaving the country for long periods of time could mean uprooted families, moving out of homes, and abandoning jobs and communities, making it prohibitive, Leopold argues. “People won’t do it,” he says.

And then there are those deportations:

Trump said repeatedly that “the bad ones” will be deported first. In so doing, Trump confirmed again that the enforcement priorities Obama has implemented for the last five years are correct. But, crucially, Trump made it clear that the rest remain targets…

Asked whether the rest will be deported, Trump replied: “We’re going to see what happens once we strengthen up our border.” And when Cooper said that “the vast majority of those 11 million are not criminals,” Trump replied: “We don’t know that. We’re going to find out who they are.”

Translation: The good ones remain targets for deportation, though I’m not saying for sure whether I’ll deport them. That’s a slight shift from mass deportations, but it’s nothing like what Obama and Hillary Clinton – or even some Republicans – wants. They favor taking their removal completely off the table, for the sake of the national interest, to rationalize enforcement resources and because they are more than simply criminals. They are currently contributing to American life, and their emigration was born of morally complex circumstances – they were trying to better their lives and their families’ future prospects – and this is in keeping with American history and values.

There no way how to explain how to do any of this humanely so folks will vote for Trump:

Trump’s rhetoric right now reflects a search for a magic formula. He wants to reassure suburban white swing voters – who essentially favor mass assimilation because they see most undocumented immigrants as largely making a positive contribution – that he isn’t proposing to cruelly ship out millions, which would be costly and disruptive to families and communities. So he says, don’t worry, we’re only starting with the bad ones, and the status of the good ones may be subject to negotiation later. In other words, he compassionately recognizes that many of them are good people – they’re not all merely criminals. But he also wants to reassure the hardliners, so he indicates that they all are still subject to removal, which is code for indicating that he is not making mass assimilation the goal.

In the end, though, Trump’s actual position, for now at least, is defined by the latter. The prospective goal is not mass assimilation. It is shrinkage and removal – beyond just the “bad ones.” There is no straddle that works. There is no magic formula here.

There’s no magic formula when the politics of loss and grievance are at the core of your campaign. If the erosion of white male dominance in American life drives all policy then outreach is inherently absurd – that sort of thing makes no sense at all. And that is what this election is about. Americans are not better than that, at least some are not better than that.

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The Word of the Day

On the last Friday in August in this election year the word was that Donald Trump was going to lose in November. At Nate Silver’s utterly thorough FiveThirtyEight, Hillary Clinton’s chance of winning was calculated at 81.1% and Trump’s at 18.9% – a jump of four points in four days but probably as good as it gets for him. The math just doesn’t work for him. His base loves him but no one else does. There’s almost no one he hasn’t offended and every day there’s another Republican defection or two. One can check Silver’s site every day from now to November. Nothing much will change.

This is bad news for everyone, because a Clinton presidency will mean the government will grind to a halt – nothing passed and shutdowns and all the rest. Annie Karni at Politico reports that this is now the Republican plan:

Hillary Clinton has managed to win support from Republicans without conceding any part of the progressive economic agenda she outlined during the Democratic primary. But with fall approaching and momentum on Clinton’s side, Democrats and Republicans alike are looking over the horizon to a thornier reality: if elected, Clinton would likely become the first Democrat since Grover Cleveland to enter office without control of both houses of Congress.

That means the bipartisan show of support she has now – thanks to Donald Trump and the “alt-right” conspiracy-driven campaign Clinton attacked Thursday in Reno – is likely to evaporate as soon as the race is called. If she wins the presidency, Clinton would likely enjoy the shortest honeymoon period of any incoming commander-in-chief in recent history, according to Washington strategists, confronting major roadblocks to enacting her ambitious agenda, as well as Republican attacks that have been muted courtesy of the GOP nominee.

“It will be the defining fact of her presidency,” Jonathan Cowan, president of the moderate think tank Third Way, said of Clinton’s problem of entering office with a divided Congress. “It’s unprecedented.”

Barack Obama and Bill Clinton each got two years of a Democratic majority in Congress when they first entered the White House, and they got things done. That’s how we got Obamacare and a stimulus package and whatnot. Democrats are confident about taking back the Senate if Clinton wins, but not certain, and it’s unlikely if not impossible to win back the House. That means she can do little, but this was inevitable: 

Many Republicans who have aligned themselves with Clinton say they feel like they have been “holding their fire” – and that ends Nov. 9.

“In any other election, the majority of national security Republicans would be going after her, and I would be enthusiastically doing so,” said Kori Schake, a veteran of George W. Bush’s National Security Council and State Department, and an adviser to Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. “She wasn’t a particularly good secretary of state; the lack of judgement on emails was a shock to a lot of us. She rightly criticized the Bush administration for its failures creating stability in Iraq – and made the exact same mistake herself on Libya.”

Schake is on the long and growing list of Republicans who have said they plan to support Clinton this fall. But many of those Republicans for Hillary don’t want a vote against Trump to be confused with any newfound love for Clinton.

In short, they’ll vote for her, and help get her elected, and then do to her what they did to Obama – create paralysis, and blame her for nothing getting done, and hope the American people side with them, even if a majority of the American people like her policies, which would be why they elected her in the first place. The American people cannot have what they want, because… something. Republicans will have a lot of explaining to do, but they will have had eight years of practice at that so they’ll be fine. At least they won’t be called racist. She’s white. They’ll be called misogynist – but they can handle that too. Many spoke about their War on Women. They’ve lost the women’s vote for a generation, but they’re still here, aren’t they?

They can do this:

Republican strategist Tim Miller, Jeb Bush’s former communications director turned anti-Trump activist, has found himself in an odd position this cycle: the unlikely darling of Democrats gleeful at his taunting of Trump. He finds that perplexing.

“I would love to be working against Hillary Clinton right now, but it’s a strange year,” said Miller. “The cannons have been lowered against her because of our candidate. Hillary Clinton, being a multi-decade partisan who fought tooth and nail with Republicans and called them her enemy, is uniquely ill-suited to having a honeymoon period if she wins.”

There’ll be no honeymoon for her, although she plans to fight for one:

Clinton and her campaign have been trying to make a bipartisan-sounding pitch. “I will be president for Democrats, Republicans and independents,” Clinton said in a speech the night she clinched her party’s nomination on June 7. Her running mate Tim Kaine addressed disaffected Republicans from the DNC stage last month: “we have a home for you here in the Democratic party.”

The campaign hopes that inclusive tone can stretch into next year. “Our sole concern right now is in continuing to build a coalition of support to elect Hillary Clinton as the next president,” said campaign spokesman Brian Fallon. “We are keenly aware that how you approach the campaign influences the situation you inherit when it comes to governing. Republicans and Democrats alike believe in increased investment in infrastructure. Republicans and Democrats alike believe we need to act to reform our immigration system.”

There will be none of that, because it’s already too late for that:

Republicans operatives on the Hill, for instance, are already planning to block Clinton’s agenda by strategically targeting individual Democratic senators who will be up for reelection in 2018. “Take Joe Manchin in West Virginia,” explained one GOP operative of the strategy. “If Hillary puts up an anti-coal pro-EPA judge for the Supreme Court, the smart play is to start pressuring him with an advocacy campaign to vote no.” Voting with Clinton would jeopardize his reelection chances, and voting against her would rob her of a Democratic Senate vote she couldn’t afford to lose without the 60 votes needed to filibuster.

Meanwhile, Clinton is facing similar pressure from the left when it comes to sticking to her campaign promises. “Appointments will be the first taste that people get, as to whether she is going to think big and be willing to dare Republicans to oppose populist positions and appointees,” said Adam Green, whose group, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, will be one of a host of progressive organizations advocating to appoint anti-Wall Street crusaders to posts like Treasury Secretary and Chief of Staff. Green added that the left will be pushing Clinton to begin her administration by “daring Republicans to oppose her” on big ticket items like expanding Social Security and instituting debt-free college.

With pressure from both sides, “it is inconceivable she would have a mandate to govern coming in,” said Dan Holler, communications director at the conservative Heritage Action for America.

She will have won, but the word will be that she has no right to govern. She only won because of Trump. She’s not really our president. We’ll have another four to eight years of that, and the Republicans will again say that they’re the patriotic Americans here. It will be just as tiresome as the last time.

It shouldn’t have been this way, but Donald Trump keeps getting goaded into pointless arguments:

A series of racially charged accusations dominated the presidential campaign Thursday, with Democrat Hillary Clinton accusing Donald Trump of “taking hate groups mainstream,” while the Republican nominee repeatedly claimed that Clinton is a “bigot” toward African Americans.

Yes, the actual word of the day was “bigot” – oddly applied by a man who couldn’t stop himself:

Clinton started the day by releasing a video that featured Ku Klux Klan members and white supremacists touting Trump’s candidacy – then gave an afternoon speech condemning Trump’s racially inflammatory remarks and support within the “alt-right,” which she described as an “emerging racist ideology.”

“Trump is reinforcing harmful stereotypes and offering a dog whistle to his most hateful supporters,” she said in the speech in Reno. “It’s a disturbing preview of what kind of president he’d be.”

Trump, meanwhile, declared in an interview on CNN that Clinton is a bigot – an accusation that he first made at a rally in Mississippi Wednesday night, but that he repeated several times under questioning from CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

She knew she could get him to do something stupid:

Clinton’s aim is to diminish Trump in the eyes of Americans uncomfortable voting for someone who appeals to racists, perhaps even winning over some moderate Republicans. Trump is fighting that image by appealing to minority voters while questioning Clinton’s record on race issues, noting that Democrats have long controlled cities where many African Americans continue to live in poverty.

While Clinton stopped short of accusing Trump directly of being a racist, Trump offered no such restraint with his remarks.

That proved her point and Philip Bump takes it from there:

There are two prongs to Donald Trump’s attempt to embrace African-American voters. The first is to argue that he’ll be a better advocate on their behalf (or, at least, that they have “nothing to lose” by supporting him). The second is to argue that Hillary Clinton doesn’t really care about their interests.

He put that latter point rather bluntly in a speech on Wednesday night in Jackson, Miss.

“Hillary Clinton is a bigot,” he said, punching the pejorative hard, “who sees people of color only as votes, not as human beings worthy of a better future.”

That’s where this started, but not the whole story:

Trump’s actually been making this argument for about a week now, though not in those terms. You can see how it evolved to this point pretty easily.

During his speech in Charlotte last week, the speech in which he said that he “regretted” some unspecified past comments, he was supposed to say, “We are going to reject the bigotry of Hillary Clinton, which sees communities of color only as votes and not as human beings worthy of a better future.” The key word there is “which” – disparaging the bigotry, not Clinton.

But that’s not what Trump actually said. What he said was this – “We’re going to reject bigotry and, I will tell you, the bigotry of Hillary Clinton is amazing. She sees communities of color only as votes and not as human beings worthy of a better future. It is only votes. It’s only votes that she sees and she does nothing about it. She’s been there forever, and look at where you are.”

That’s a subtle distinction, but it was a noticeable switch even then. Trump wasn’t condemning Clinton’s alleged bigotry – he was condemning Clinton.

In his speeches in Dimondale, Mich. and Fredericksburg, Va., Trump stuck to the prepared text, though it had been tweaked a bit. In the latter, it was, “We reject the bigotry of Hillary Clinton who sees people of color only as votes, not as human beings worthy of a better future.”

And then, in Jackson, Trump said exactly what was in his prepared remarks: “Hillary Clinton is a bigot.”

That’s an explanation only an English teacher would love, but there’s a larger point:

Part of that shift no doubt reflects the way in which Trump would prefer to deliver an attack: Directly and ferociously. Part of it, too, is probably an effort to get the attack itself more media attention, which has been successful. The media picked up the “Clinton is a bigot” line quickly, though the rationale behind it understandably didn’t get much attention.

But it is an odd claim, and Bump has a few theories about why he used the word:

The first is that Trump regularly tries to flip criticism he has received back at his opponents. As Aaron Blake documented earlier this month, he’s done this with the labels “unstable,” “bad temperament,” and “bad judgment.”

Trump clearly has a problem with being perceived as a bigot himself. In the most recent Post/ABC News poll, a fifth of Republican men and a quarter of Republican women said they saw Trump as biased against women and/or minorities – and that’s just within his own party. Overall, more than half of registered voters saw him that way, including a plurality of whites and nearly three-quarters of nonwhites.

The second is that, again, this isn’t an actual attempt by Trump to rally support from black voters, it’s an attempt to rally white voters, particularly the white Republican women who look skeptically at his candidacy. By pushing a not uncommon argument on the right – Democrats take advantage of overwhelming support the party gets from black voters – Trump is hoping to position himself as the real champion of black voters, the guy who will, at last, deliver.

Who the hell is going to buy that? Of course Republicans see him as hopeless, because this is the wrong word:

There’s an aspect of Trump’s attack that uses “bigot” as a generalized substitution of “bad person who is bad for nonwhite people.” It’s probably not going to be an effective fit for Clinton specifically, sort of as though you were to call Trump “low-energy.” Whatever point you’re trying to make, most people aren’t going to nod and agree.

It will be interesting to see if the “bigot” line sticks around. Trump appears to be making a commitment to his black-voter-outreach effort over the medium term, including a planned visit to Detroit alongside Ben Carson next month. Perhaps “Bigot Hillary” will become the new “Crooked Hillary” in his vernacular.

But that comparison, standing alone, reveals why the former doesn’t really work. Crooked Hillary, people get. Bigot Hillary? Eh?

But that was the word of the day, and Nick Gass at Politico reports on the day:

The heavy charges of bigotry that have flown between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton spilled into Friday, with Trump releasing new videos accusing Clinton of a long history of veiled racism and Clinton re-upping her claims that a “radical fringe” is carrying his candidacy.

The slicing accusations have taken the brutal general election battle between the two candidates to a new level. Both already suffer from dismal favorability ratings, and they are showing a fierce desire to convince independent voters that the other candidate couldn’t possibly be fit to serve in the White House.

First up was Trump:

On Friday, the Trump campaign sought to rekindle the smoldering fights of Clinton’s primary with Bernie Sanders while digging back even deeper into the archives to her past comments about Barack Obama and her infamous 1996 declaration that certain kids who are “super-predators” must be “brought to heel.”

In a speech preceding Clinton’s own fiery condemnation of him Thursday, Trump hinted at the attacks to come against the former secretary of state and first lady. Trump, speaking at a rally in New Hampshire, dropped in a mention of an anecdote from “Game Change,” the behind-the-scenes exposé on the 2008 election in which Bill Clinton offended liberal Sen. Ted Kennedy by remarking that Obama “a few years ago would have been getting us coffee.”

But in the early morning hours of Friday, the Trump campaign was more explicit. They posted a video to their Instagram feed reviving the Clintons’ racially charged remarks about then-Sen. Obama during the 2008 primary. The offhand remark by Bill Clinton was there, but the video itself led with a snippet of Clinton answering to Tim Russert on “Meet the Press” in January 2008 after declaring that “Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act.”

“It’s as if you are minimizing ‘I Have A Dream,'” Russert tells Clinton, quoting The Washington Post, remarking that it appears as though she was calling it a “a nice sentiment, but it took a white president to get blacks to the mountaintop.”

Trump’s campaign didn’t stop there.

Hours later, the candidate tweeted, “The Clinton’s are the real predators…” linking to another fresh Instagram video digging up the former first lady’s “super-predators” remark and its echoes in her primary against Bernie Sanders.

A clip of Sanders criticizing Clinton’s “super-predator” defense at the final Democratic debate as “a racist term and everybody knew it was a racist term” is shown twice, including at the end of the video, ostensibly to maximize the impact of the senator’s words. Trump has long said he would use Sanders’ attacks on Clinton against her in the general election.

Trump did not spend the day talking about her emails and the Clinton Foundation, which must have driven the Republicans crazy, and of course she fired back:

The Clinton campaign, for its part, pushed back at Trump’s repeated entreaty to African-American communities in which he asks, “What the hell do you have to lose?”

The answer from a 30-second Clinton ad released Friday: “Everything.” The spot features Trump’s comment at a campaign event in which he referred to “my African-American” before noting charges against Trump for housing discrimination against African-Americans.

“I have a great relationship with the blacks,” Trump is heard saying, in a clip from a 2011 radio interview. “I’ve always had a great relationship with the blacks.”

She kept him off-message:

Clinton, who did not directly address the videos in a telephone interview with MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” would also not say whether she would personally call Trump a “bigot,” as he has called her on multiple recent occasions, including during an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper aired Thursday night.

“All I can do is point to the evidence of what he has said and what he has done. And from the start, he has built his campaign on prejudice and paranoia,” she said. “And it’s deeply disturbing that he is taking hate groups that lived in the dark regions of the Internet, making them mainstream, helping a radical fringe take over the Republican Party.”

Pushing through the talking points she hammered in her Nevada speech, Clinton sought to further disqualify Trump for the presidency.

“And what I want to make clear is this: A man with a long history of racial discrimination drawn from the pages of supermarket tabloids and these kind of white supremacist, white nationalist, anti-Semitic groups should never command our military,” she said. “If he doesn’t respect all Americans how can he serve all Americans?”

That was a diversion, but no one wanted to talk about her, as she must have planned, and then there was this:

As the campaigns continued to tear into each other, at least one of Trump’s surrogates declined to line up behind his strong language. Trump adviser Ben Carson told The Daily Beast that he would prefer that his candidate not call Clinton a “bigot” – or any names.

“That’s what people do who don’t have anything to talk about,” Carson said.

Ouch! But he was not alone:

Donald Trump’s latest line of attack against Hillary Clinton is putting Republicans in an awkward position, with even the GOPers out stumping for his campaign squirming when pressed whether they agree with his claim that Clinton is a “bigot.”

The other officials in his party and even in his own campaign, so far, are a little less eager to use the term.

Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer, when asked Friday if he agreed, demurred that he stayed away from such language.

“No, I think some of the policies that she’s supported have not helped African-Americans, but I think anybody who knows me, I just don’t tend to use certain words,” he told MSNBC. He argued, however, that Clinton’s policies “have kept people trapped in poverty” and “let education standards fall by the wayside.”

That was awkward, as was this:

Rep. Steve King (R-IA), no stranger to controversy over racially charged remarks, refused to engage in the attack.

“I don’t use names like that and I wish we didn’t use those names in politics. But it simply cheapens it all whenever it comes out, whatever side it’s on,” King said on MSNBC. He went to blame Democrats for using “dog whistle language” while defending Trump of any accusations that he is a racist.

“I don’t know real racists in this world and I don’t know real bigots in this world. But I sure know a lot of people that have had that label attached to them without justification,” King said.

That was bad enough, and then there was this:

Sean Jackson, the chairman of Florida’s Black Republican Caucus, said that he wouldn’t “use the precise word ‘bigotry.'”

Asked why Trump would use the term, he said on MSNBC, “The fact of the matter is I can’t speak for as to why Mr. Trump would use specific words and terms.”

And this:

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), a Trump advisor, simply ignored the question.

“Next question,” Christie says after a reporter asks whether he thinks Clinton is a bigot.

This was not going well, and Aaron Blake points out the obvious:

Trump’s case for Clinton’s alleged bigotry is even weaker when he cites the current condition of black and Hispanics in the United States. Clinton hasn’t had control over domestic policy in the United States since … well, ever. She was first lady in the 1990s, when she was involved in some of her husband’s policy initiatives, but wasn’t generally in charge of them. She was a senator from New York, where she had a vote on such issues, but was one vote out of 100. And she was secretary of state for four of the last eight years, where her duties were foreign, not domestic. So if things are bad today, it’s kind of hard to pin it on Clinton and any alleged hatred.

This never made sense, and there’s a reason that the Republicans are finalizing their plans for this second Clinton presidency – paralyze the government so nothing gets done for four or eight years and blame it on Hillary. Trump made them do it. He was the one who made “bigot” the word of the day, for three damned days, three more lost days. And they lost eight years. They’re back to where they were when Obama took office, trying to make sure the government doesn’t work and telling America that’s a good thing. Now it doesn’t even matter what Trump chooses as the next word of the day. Everyone has moved on, or moved back.

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Hillary Out of the Box

We’ve never had a woman who might actually win the presidency, so there are no rules for how she should go about this. The dour Germans elected that Merkel woman long ago, a dull as dirt extraordinarily competent technocrat with no charisma whatsoever. She gives no fiery speeches. She has no use for charm. She gets the job done. The Germans are still fine with that. The Brits went with Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady. Reagan loved her, but the joke was always that she was the one with the balls. When she campaigned, and then when she ran the country, she did not suffer fools – and everyone else was fool. No one crossed her. Get in her way and you’d end up as no more than a quivering puddle of shame. No, she was not ladylike. She was a ball-buster. The Brits were fine with that.

Neither example is useful to Hillary Clinton. This is America. We haven’t worked things out. Should she be charming? Should she be motherly and supportive, if not accommodating? Or should she be quietly competent, but modest? Should she brag about all that she’s done, or be quietly ladylike and let her man do that? Or should she be strong and almost manly and take no shit from anyone? That’s been a problem. She says she’s arguing strongly for her positions, speaking her mind, and Donald Trump keeps calling her “shrill” – he says that he can’t stand the sound of her voice. He is asking everyone to agree with him on that, intending to box Clinton in. Americans should agree that no woman should sound like that. It seems that many do agree. She’s been called a bitch often enough.

This sort of thing keeps political consultants gainfully employed for years, but Clinton herself seems to have worked this out long ago, as Slate’s Michelle Goldberg explains here:

Hillary Clinton used to have a reputation for being more ruthless than her husband. Bill Clinton was often described as fundamentally conflict-averse, more eager to persuade his opponents than attack them. Hillary, by contrast, was known for identifying villains and going after them. In his book, A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton, Carl Bernstein quotes former Clinton adviser Dick Morris saying that Hillary had “a quality of aggressiveness and strength about her that he doesn’t have. A killer instinct. Her genre of advocacy is always straight ahead – fight, battle, take the fight to the other side.”

This Manichean quality was at work in some of the incidents from Hillary’s history that most disgust progressives.

Goldberg reviews some of her history from Arkansas – Hillary could be nasty – and admits no one remembers much of it because that sort of thing hasn’t been useful, until now:

We hadn’t seen this Hillary in a while. She stayed under wraps during the Democratic primary, never seriously going after Bernie Sanders. But the killer in Hillary came out on Thursday, delivering a devastating indictment of Donald Trump’s associations with the far-right fringe, one meant to permanently delegitimize him among decent people. “A man with a long history of racial discrimination, who traffics in dark conspiracy theories drawn from the pages of supermarket tabloids and the far reaches of the internet, should never run our government or command our military,” she said, daring Republican officials to disagree.

With Trump already trailing badly in most polls, Clinton could have tried to yoke him to the Republican Party so he would drag it down with him. Instead, she sought to isolate and personally destroy him.

Yes, today in Reno, Hillary Clinton stepped out of the box that Trump and gender expectations had put her in:

Hillary Clinton delivered a blistering denunciation Thursday of Donald J. Trump’s personal and political history with race, arguing in her most forceful terms yet that a nationalist conservative fringe had engulfed the Republican Party.

In a 31-minute address, building to a controlled simmer, Mrs. Clinton did everything but call Mr. Trump a racist outright – saying he had promoted “racist lie” after “racist lie,” pushed conspiracy theories with “racist undertones” and heartened racists across the country by submitting to an “emerging racist ideology known as the alt-right.”

“He is taking hate groups mainstream,” Mrs. Clinton told supporters at a community college here, “and helping a radical fringe take over the Republican Party.”

Mrs. Clinton said that while a racially charged and “paranoid fringe” had always existed in politics, “it’s never had the nominee of a major party stoking it, encouraging it and giving it a national megaphone, until now.”

She was a bit shrill, or perhaps righteous, but Donald will just have to deal with it, and he can forget about his pathetic pivot:

Mrs. Clinton’s remarks coincide with a conspicuous shift in strategy from Mr. Trump, who has spoken with more compassion about people in the country illegally and expressed a desire to win African-American support. He has even suggested he might revisit his call to deport 11 million immigrants in the United States illegally, a pivot seen as an attempt to draw in moderate voters turned off by his views.

She called bullshit on that, which is not a very ladylike thing to do, and did that with indisputable facts:

Mrs. Clinton detailed the Justice Department’s housing discrimination case against Mr. Trump during the 1970s, noting that the applications of black and Latino residents “would be marked with a ‘C’ – ‘C’ for colored.”

She said state regulators had fined a Trump casino for repeatedly removing black dealers from the floor and reminded the audience of Mr. Trump’s promotion of “birtherism,” questioning President Obama’s birthplace.

She recalled his opening salvo in the Republican primary, calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals when he announced his candidacy, and his more recent suggestion that a judge with a Mexican heritage could not be impartial in hearing a case involving Trump University.

“This is someone who retweets white supremacists online,” Mrs. Clinton said, citing a posting by someone with the user name WhiteGenocideTM. “Trump took this fringe bigot with a few dozen followers and spread his message to 11 million people.”

And then she started quoting headlines from the Breitbart News website, the brainchild of Trump’s new campaign CEO, Steve Bannon:

“I’m not making this up,” she warned, before digging into the site’s archives: “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy”; “Would You Rather Your Child Had Feminism or Cancer?”; “Hoist It High and Proud: The Confederate Flag Proclaims a Glorious Heritage.”

“The de facto merger between Breitbart and the Trump campaign represents a landmark achievement for the alt-right,” Mrs. Clinton said.

She let Trump have it with both barrels and, in turn, he was boxed in:

At a rally in Manchester, N.H., on Thursday afternoon, Mr. Trump offered a pre-emptive response to Mrs. Clinton’s speech, portraying her attacks as directed not only at him, but also at his many supporters.

“She lies, and she smears, and she paints decent Americans – you – as racists,” he said, motioning toward the crowd gathered at a hotel. “She bullies voters who only want a better future and tries to intimidate them out of voting for a change.”

He offered a pointed response to Mrs. Clinton and those “pushing her to spread smears and her lies about decent people.”

“I have three words,” he said. “I want you to remember these three words: Shame on you.”

He told these good folks that she was calling them racists, which she never did. It was him, but anytime you have to shout out that you’re not a racist, and neither are your followers, you already lost the argument. The shouting is the problem. You’re supposed to let your words and deeds speak for themselves. The problem is that they do.

Then there was this:

Clinton’s campaign also released an online video that compiles footage of prominent white supremacist leaders praising Trump, who has been criticized for failing to immediately denounce the support he’s garnered from white nationalists and supremacists, including former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke.

That was twisting the knife. That cannot be undone, but the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent argues that there was much more going on here:

Hillary Clinton’s speech today on Donald Trump and the “alt-right” was, in no small part, aimed at telling moderate Republican voters and GOP-leaning independents that their values aren’t truly represented by the nightmare ideology otherwise known as Trumpism. He may be the GOP nominee, but he has perverted and distorted Republicanism into something so twisted and horrifying, so unlike anything else we’ve seen in modern times, that they shouldn’t feel bound by party loyalty or political habit to stand by him.

And she was efficient about it:

The speech puts the full indictment of Trump’s flirtation with the alt-right and white nationalism all in one place, recapping “racist lies” such as Trump’s birtherism and his description of Mexican immigrants as rapists, his bigoted attack on the Mexican judge, his proposals for mass deportations and banning Muslims and ending birthright citizenship, his falsehood that thousands of American Muslims celebrated 9/11, and of course, his hiring of campaign chief Stephen Bannon, who has described himself as the creator of a “platform for the alt-right.”

Clinton also stated that this alt-right “views immigration and multiculturalism as a threat to white identity,” and that Trump’s campaign had given this view a “national megaphone.”

This is, I believe, the clearest description yet from any Democrat of Trump’s mythology as a narrative of racial grievance, redress, and reaction: Trump is energizing his supporters by telling them that white America is under siege and that only his fabled strength, toughness and refusal to be hamstrung by political correctness will reverse the dark tide.

Trump will have a hard time denying that, even if he will deny that, loudly, for days on end. He’s the one in the box now, but Sargent sees even more:

Clinton tied all of that to a broader argument that Trump is, in essence, too full of hate to represent all Americans and temperamentally too dangerous to be put in charge of the American military.

But I wanted to flag this part of the speech in particular: Her effort to in a sense absolve the broader Republican Party from Trump, or at least to give Republican voters a way to do this for the party. At one point, Clinton cited Paul Ryan’s description of Trump’s attack on the Mexican judge as “the textbook definition of a racist comment.”

And then she really twisted the knife with these words:

This is a moment of reckoning for every Republican dismayed that the Party of Lincoln has become the Party of Trump. It’s a moment of reckoning for all of us who love our country and believe that America is better than this.

Twenty years ago, when Bob Dole accepted the Republican nomination, he pointed to the exits and told any racists in the Party to get out.

The week after 9/11, George W. Bush went to a mosque and declared for everyone to hear that Muslims “love America just as much as I do.”

In 2008, John McCain told his own supporters they were wrong about the man he was trying to defeat. Senator McCain made sure they knew – Barack Obama is an American citizen and “a decent person.”

We need that kind of leadership again.

Every day, more Americans are standing up and saying “enough is enough” – including a lot of Republicans. I’m honored to have their support.

That’s a real box:

In one sense, this was aimed at making it harder for GOP lawmakers and officials to keep supporting Trump.

But this is also aimed at moderate Republican and GOP-leaning independents. Trump is still struggling to unite those voters. There has been a spirited debate among Dems over two competing strategies. One would cast Trump as an outlier relative to the Republican Party, to try to give such voters a kind of permission to abandon him. The other would cast Trump as the full realization of a species of more subtle race-baiting politics that the GOP has practiced for decades, and would point out regularly that the GOP is Trump’s enabler, to further damage the party and its down-ballot candidates and incumbents.

In his speech to the Democratic convention, Obama opted for the former strategy, saying that the Trumpism on display at the GOP convention “wasn’t particularly Republican and it sure wasn’t conservative.” To a somewhat lesser extent, Clinton did the same today. She did not point out, as she could have, that many leading Republicans (such as Ryan) continue to endorse Trump despite everything he has said and done. Instead, the argument – pitched to millions of voters across the country that are troubled by Trump’s abusiveness, his exploitation of racial grievance, and his obvious temperamental unfitness for the presidency – was that the party has been taken over or hijacked, leaving a way out for those who do not want the Republican Party to be the Party of Trump.

She opened the door for them:

The Democratic game plan is basically to give Republican lawmakers and voters alike a way to “absolve themselves” of Trumpism. There’s no telling how any of them will avail themselves of that opportunity, given that GOP lawmakers are trapped between Trump’s awful numbers and their need to hold on to Trump voters, and given that negative partisanship – dislike of the other side – has become such a powerful motivator of voters.

But Clinton’s lead in the polls appears to indicate that Trump is still struggling to unite moderate Republican voters and that he’s particularly weak among GOP-leaning constituencies such as college educated whites, white women, and exurban voters.

She was telling Republican lawmakers that they can get out of that box – many have – even if Donald Trump cannot.

This was a deadly speech, and at Mother Jones, Kevin Drum sees another deadly tactic being deployed:

Why did she do this? The most popular explanation is that she was giving “permission” for moderate Republicans to stay home in November. Donald Trump, she said, isn’t a traditional Republican. He’s a hate-monger who’s hijacked the party as a vehicle for his loathsome brand of racism and xenophobia. Even if you’re a loyal Republican, you don’t have to support that.

But I’ll propose a different explanation: she was giving the press permission to talk about Donald Trump’s racism. So far, they’ve tiptoed around it. But once the candidate herself calls it out, it invites a thousand think pieces about Breitbart, the alt-right, the GOP’s history of tolerating bigotry, Trump’s troubling background, and dozens of other related topics. Surrogates can blather all they want about this, but it doesn’t truly become a mainstream subject until the actual candidate for president makes it one.

This is part of the agenda-setting power that presidential candidates have. Donald Trump has used it endlessly, and now Hillary Clinton is using it too. Trump has made his bed, and Hillary is making sure he has to lie in it.

Slate’s Jamelle Bouie adds this:

Neither Clinton nor her campaign brought much fanfare to this address. The speech was short, the audience was small, and the proceedings were a bit more sedate than the usual political rally. But that’s because this wasn’t a usual speech, a fact underscored by Clinton’s delivery, which was calm – almost conversational. In the years since the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it has not been normal for a major party nominee, such as Donald Trump, to have open ties to white nationalists and conspiracy theorists. It has not been normal for that nominee to push religious discrimination as a matter of public policy. It has not been normal for him to attack federal officials on the basis of their heritage.

That Clinton gave this speech at all is another stark reminder that this election is not normal and that the stakes – the potential elevation of outright white supremacists in government and society – are incredibly high. And if there’s a question to take away from Thursday, it’s this one: Why couldn’t Republican leaders say this when they had the chance?

Perhaps they were frightened, and Will Saletan argues that now they should be:

The speech was Clinton’s clearest signal yet as to how she plans to govern the country.

She’s not using Trump to try to take down the whole Republican Party. She’s not going to tie him around the necks of House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and the rest of the congressional GOP. She plans to work with these men. She’s sinking Trump but sending lifeboats for Republicans.

Speaking about Trump’s criticism of a Mexican American judge, Clinton brought up Ryan. “Even the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, described that, and I quote, as ‘the textbook definition of a racist comment,’” she noted. Clinton could have added that Ryan, after making that statement, continued to support Trump. She didn’t. She let the speaker off the hook.

Rather than tie Ryan to Trump, Clinton drove a wedge between them. She pointed out that the newly installed CEO of Trump’s campaign, Breitbart executive Steve Bannon, recently “railed against Speaker Paul Ryan for quote, ‘rubbing his social-justice Catholicism in my nose every second.’” In her next breath, she mocked Trump for being “the only presidential candidate ever to get into a public feud with the pope.” This wasn’t just a jab at Trump. It was an overture to Ryan. In negotiations on budgets and poverty, expect Clinton to play the Catholic social justice card.

The implicit message to Ryan was clear enough. We can work together. Why are you sticking by this guy who sneers at you and everything you believe in? I don’t.

And there was this:

Clinton also appealed to Republican instincts on foreign policy. She framed Trump as the American branch of a global network of xenophobic nationalists, all of them doing the bidding of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Clinton ridiculed Trump for staging a rally Wednesday with Nigel Farage, the leader of the British Brexit campaign who “regularly appears on Russian propaganda programs.” This was arguably the most ambitious section of her speech, linking the racism of Trump and Farage – an indictment that stirs anger on the left – with their service to Putin – which alarms the right. “American presidents from Truman to Reagan to Bush and [Bill] Clinton to Obama have rejected the kind of approach Trump is taking on Russia,” she said. “And we should, too.”

Saletan argues that Clinton was already thinking like a policymaker:

That’s why, in attacking Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims, she targeted its infeasibility: “How would they do that?” She’s not focusing on how many Republicans she can take down in the election. She’s focusing on how much help she can get from Ryan and McConnell after it’s over.

And then there’s this:

If Ryan, McConnell, or Priebus were braver, one of them would have given a speech like this one. He would have defined the GOP and the conservative movement in opposition to Trump. Instead, Clinton did the job for them…

This was the first gesture of her presidency. If you want a government that works, it bodes well.

She’s already left Trump behind.

But he wasn’t really left behind. Ben Mathis-Lilley notes this:

I’d like to pick out one example of one alarming Trump tactic that she highlighted, though, which may be the most insane of the thousands of insane things that Trump has done during the 2016 campaign: Welcoming the support of Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist who thinks that 9/11 was perpetrated by the U.S. government and that the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax carried out by child actors.

Clinton’s words:

[Trump’s delusional view of the world] is what happens when you listen to the radio host Alex Jones, who claims that 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombings were inside jobs. He said the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre were child actors and no one was actually killed there.

I don’t know what happens in somebody’s mind or how dark their heart must be to say things like that. But Trump doesn’t challenge these lies. He actually went on Jones’ show and said, “Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down.” This from the man who wants to be president of the United States.

Mathis-Lilley:

The thing about this that is amazing is that it is simply, non-hyperbolically true. Donald Trump really did effusively praise and appears to have no problem accepting the support of someone who is sick enough to insist in public that the Sandy Hook massacre, in which twenty 6- and 7-year old children were methodically murdered with an assault rifle by a stranger, was just some propaganda gag staged by actors.

“Dark” is the right word for it, all right. How the hell did we get here?

Hillary Clinton was asking that question, but at the same time suggesting we won’t be “here” much longer. She finally figured out how a woman could run for president in this odd country. She’s not in anyone’s box any longer.

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Seeking the Proper Scandal

We haven’t had a good scandal since Watergate. Bill Clinton’s dalliance with Monica Lewinsky was juicy, and got him impeached, but he was impeached for something quite simple – lying about a simple sexual matter – and he wasn’t convicted, and his approval ratings soared, and the Republicans looked like smug prigs with a kind of creepy obsession with every single detail of the sex lives of others, not them, and then they lost House seats in the midterm election that followed it all.

That was a bust, and before that it was Iran-Contra. The Reagan administration secretly sold arms to the bad guys, our enemy Iran, and used the money to fund guerilla fighters in Central America trying to overthrow freely-elected governments there that were a bit too left-wing, as the Reagan folks saw it – but Congress had forbidden that. Funding those folks was illegal. Oops. But that was contained. Reagan went on national television and said he was sorry – the whole thing did happen, and was his responsibility, but he hadn’t had any idea what was going on. He hadn’t realized what was happening. In short, he was old and confused – and it wouldn’t happen again.

That worked. Everyone knew he was old and confused. They forgave him, and the man at the center of all the clever secret deals, Oliver North, after a slap on the wrist for lying to Congress, ended up as a regular on Fox News, where he is to this day. The reservoir of good will toward Ronald Reagan will never run dry. Everyone forgot about it. And we were fighting communism, right?

Watergate was another matter. That started with a simple and rather dumb break-in to bug the offices of the Democratic National Committee, and maybe grab some papers, but it kept growing. The more the Washington Post and New York Times looked into it, the more they found, and everything led to President Nixon – and then he did everything he could to cover that up. He refused to turn over evidence, those tapes, and the Supreme Court said he had too – unanimously. He told the attorney general to fire Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor Congress had named, and the attorney general resigned rather than do that. So did the assistant attorney general. The third in line, Robert Bork, did the job, but then it was too late. That simple and rather dumb break-in had generated a massive mess. This was a scandal where the more you looked the more there was to see. It simply got bigger and bigger. It got out of control. Nixon resigned.

Now that was a proper scandal, and Crazy Uncle Rudy thinks we have another one:

Speaking at a campaign rally for Donald Trump in Tampa, Florida, Giuliani said, “I am more than willing to predict, when the history of our day is written, the scandal you are watching unfold is going to be like the Teapot Dome scandal in the 1920s and maybe bigger. It’s going to be bigger than Watergate.”

Giuliani then goes on for quite a bit about how the Clinton Foundation was an entirely fake charity, even if it did do some good work all over the world, maybe, set up only to make the Clintons rich, by selling access and favors to donors who wanted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to change US policy for them, which we will find out, sooner or later, she did – because this will grow. The newly recovered emails will reveal everything.

Giuliani is an excitable fellow, but Stephen Braun and Eileen Sullivan of the Associated Press had released the results of a review of State Department appointment data that they used to start to make that claim. Giuliani, like everyone else, had pounced on that, but Matthew Yglesias is now arguing that the Associated Press piece is a bit of a mess:

According to their reporting, Clinton spent a remarkably large share of her time as America’s chief diplomat talking to people who had donated money to the Clinton Foundation. She went out of her way to help these Clinton Foundation donors, and her decision to do so raises important concerns about the ethics of her conduct as secretary and potentially as president. It’s a striking piece of reporting that made immediate waves…

Except it turns out not to be true. The nut-fact that the AP uses to lead its coverage is wrong, and Braun and Sullivan’s reporting reveals absolutely no unethical conduct. In fact, they found so little unethical conduct that an enormous amount of space is taken up by a detailed recounting of the time Clinton tried to help a former Nobel Peace Prize winner who’s also the recipient of a Congressional Gold Medal and a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Yglesias is not impressed:

Here’s the bottom line: Serving as secretary of state while your husband raises millions of dollars for a charitable foundation that is also a vehicle for your family’s political ambitions really does create a lot of space for potential conflicts of interest. Journalists have, rightly, scrutinized the situation closely. And however many times they take a run at it, they don’t come up with anything more scandalous than the revelation that maybe billionaire philanthropists have an easier time getting the State Department to look into their visa problems than an ordinary person would.

But there’s a reason this happened:

More than a year ago, Jon Allen wrote for Vox about the special Clinton Rules that have governed much reporting on Bill and Hillary Clinton over the past 25 years. On the list are the notions that even the most ridiculous charges are worthy of massive investigation, that the Clintons’ bad faith will always be presumed, and that actions that would normally be deemed banal are newsworthy simply because the Clintons are involved.

So that’s where we are with this. Reviewing schedules from part of Clinton’s four-year term, the AP calculated that, excluding more than 1,700 meetings with US and foreign government officials, 85 out of 154 meetings with people outside of government were with donors who gave the foundation a total of 156 million dollars – the AP tweeted that out to promote their story – but Yglesias pushes back:

The basic allegation here, that the majority of the people Clinton met with as secretary of state were Clinton Foundation donors, is remarkable. And the implication that the investigation that unearthed this striking fact has also revealed “ethics challenges” is important. The many Americans who already have a negative view of Clinton will see these facts ricocheting through their feeds and appearing on Fox chyrons and will further entrench their negative views.

Only a relatively small handful of people will actually read the story from beginning to end and see that there’s no “there” there.

If you read that and thought to yourself that it seems wrong for the secretary of state to be spending so much time in meetings with Clinton Foundation donors rather than talking to US government officials and representatives of foreign countries, then you are in luck. To generate the 154 figure, the AP excluded from the denominator all employees of any government, whether US or foreign. Then when designing social media collateral, it just left out that part, because the truth is less striking and shareable.

Even so, the number 154 is preposterously low, as Clinton would routinely meet dozens of civil society leaders, journalists, and others on any one of her many foreign trips as secretary of state. In the campaign’s official response to the AP, they argue that the data is “cherry picked” from a “limited subset” of her schedule.

But regardless of that, the AP’s social media claims are simply false – ignoring well over 1,000 official meetings with foreign leaders and an unknown number of meetings with domestic US officials.

That may be nitpicking, but Yglesias sees nothing inappropriate about the meetings:

As the AP puts it “The frequency of the overlaps shows the intermingling of access and donations, and fuels perceptions that giving the foundation money was a price of admission for face time with Clinton.”

With that lead-in, one is naturally primed to read some scandalous material – a case of someone with a legitimately crucial need to sit down with the secretary of state whose meeting is held up until he can produce cash, or a person with no business getting face time with the secretary nevertheless receiving privileged access in exchange for money. Instead, the most extensively discussed case the AP could come up with is this:

“Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladeshi economist who won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for pioneering low-interest ‘microcredit’ for poor business owners, met with Clinton three times and talked with her by phone during a period when Bangladeshi government authorities investigated his oversight of a nonprofit bank and ultimately pressured him to resign from the bank’s board. Throughout the process, he pleaded for help in messages routed to Clinton, and she ordered aides to find ways to assist him.”

I have no particular knowledge of Yunus, Grameen Bank, or the general prospects of microcredit as a philanthropic venture. I can tell you however that Yunus not only won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize but has also been honored with a Presidential Medal of Freedom and a Congressional Gold Medal. In 2008 he was No. 2 on Foreign Policy’s list of the “top 100 global thinkers,” and Ted Turner put him on the board of the UN Foundation. He’s received the World Food Prize, the International Simon Bolivar Prize, and the Prince of Asturias Award for Concord.

In other words, he’s a renowned and beloved figure throughout the West, not some moneybags getting help from the State Department in exchange for cash. On the level of pure politics, of course, this is exactly the problem with the Clinton Foundation. Its existence turns the banal into a potential conflict of interest, and shutting it down is the right call. But the fact remains that this is a fantastically banal anecdote.

And there’s this:

“In December that same year, Schwarzman’s wife, Christine, sat at Clinton’s table during the Kennedy Center Honors. Clinton also introduced Schwarzman, then chairman of the Kennedy Center, before he spoke.”

Of course the secretary of state introduced the chair of the Kennedy Center when she attended the Kennedy Center Honors. More substantively, Braun and Sullivan also note that “the State Department was working on a visa issue at Schwarzman’s request.” One could imagine a scandal here, but the AP doesn’t produce one – was a visa wrongly issued? Or was the State Department simply doing its job and fixing a problem?

The State Department doing its job seems to clearly be the story of the time “Clinton also met in June 2011 with Nancy Mahon of the MAC AIDS, the charitable arm of MAC Cosmetics, which is owned by Estee Lauder.” Was the meeting about Mahon trying to swing a plumb internship for a family member? Nope! As the story concedes, “the meeting occurred before an announcement about a State Department partnership to raise money to finance AIDS education and prevention.”

Meeting with the head of a charity as part of an effort to raise charitable money is just the system working properly.

Read the meat of the article, and the most shocking revelation is what’s not in it – a genuinely interesting example of influence peddling.

The State Department is a big operation. So is the Clinton Foundation. The AP put a lot of work into this project. And it couldn’t come up with anything that looks worse than helping a Nobel Prize winner, raising money to finance AIDS education, and doing an introduction for the chair of the Kennedy Center.

Yglesias sees bad reporting here:

Publication bias is the name of a well-known but hard to solve problem in academic research. A paper with a striking new finding is much more likely to be accepted at a top journal than a paper that says, “I investigated an interesting hypothesis, but it turned out to be wrong.” This means that spurious findings – statistical coincidences and such – make it into the published literature, while boring null results don’t. This gives a distorted picture of reality simply because everyone is trying to be interesting.

Similarly, the AP’s basic reporting project here seems like it was worth a shot and probably also fairly time-consuming. But it did not come up with anything. Clinton tried to help a Nobel Prize winner. She went to the Kennedy Center Honors. She had a meeting with the head of the charitable arm of MAC Cosmetics about a State Department charitable initiative.

There’s just nothing here. That’s the story. Braun and Sullivan looked into it, and as best they can tell, she’s clean.

Rudy will be disappointed. Proper scandals, like Watergate, are supposed to grow the more you look into them. Here, the more you look, the less there is:

Donors to the Clinton Foundation may believe they are buying Hillary Clinton’s political allegiance, but the reality is that they are not. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is someone, somewhere whom Clinton met with whom she wouldn’t have met with had that person not been a Clinton donor of some kind. But what we know is that despite very intensive media scrutiny of the Clinton Foundation, we don’t have hard evidence of any kind of corrupt activity. That’s the story.

And there was push-back:

Hillary Clinton defended her family’s charitable foundation on Wednesday against criticism from Donald Trump, saying it had provided more transparency than her Republican rival’s sprawling business interests.

Clinton called into CNN’s “AC360” to address Trump’s suggestions that the foundation started by her husband, former President Bill Clinton, had been used to facilitate a pay-for-play scheme during her time at the State Department.

“What Trump has said is ridiculous. My work as secretary of state was not influenced by any outside forces. I made policies based on what I thought was right,” Clinton said. She said the foundation had provided “life-saving work,” adding that neither she nor her husband had ever drawn a salary from the charity.

“You know more about the foundation than you know about anything concerning Donald Trump’s wealth, his business, his tax returns,” Clinton said.

 That may be true, but there is a new stench in the air, but there is also a way to deal with that:

With 75 days until Election Day and new emails once again casting a pall over her campaign, Hillary Clinton aims to “run out the clock,” confidants say, on the latest chapters of the overlapping controversies that have dogged her campaign since the start.

According to allies and operatives close to the campaign, Clinton’s team thinks “they can ride out” any negative reaction to a set of new emails that show Clinton Foundation officials trying to set up State Department meetings for donors during her tenure as the nation’s top diplomat.

“That doesn’t mean no response,” one Clinton team insider said, “but a muted one rather than a five-alarm fire.”

It’s a strategy borne, in part, of a belief held deeply by Clinton herself that the email controversy is a fake scandal and that voters are as sick of it as the candidate herself – and by the profound weaknesses of Clinton’s opponent.

That is a bet that the more people look into this, and find less and less, the more they shrug and move on, and the more they will be increasingly repelled by Giuliani and Trump shouting, very loudly, that this is the worst scandal ever – with the secondary bet that Trump will go off-script and perhaps sneer at Ted Cruz again, or his wife or his father, or defend Trump Airlines as a great success. The secondary bet is a good one.

Kevin Drum puts that this way:

I’ve been genuinely confused about the whole Foundationgate thing. Did big donors to the Clinton Foundation get extra special access to Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State? By all the evidence, no. They may have tried to get access, but for the most part they didn’t. So far I haven’t seen any emails that even remotely suggest otherwise. If anything, Hillary seems to have been unusually careful to avoid entanglements with the Foundation.

So what’s the problem?

Who knows? But he cites Rick Hasen with this:

Revelations from the latest batch of State Department emails released through actions of the group Judicial Watch show that the largest donors to the Clinton Foundation had easy access to Clinton’s inner circle. S. Daniel Abraham, for example, the billionaire behind the Slim Fast diet and a Clinton fundraising bundler, got eight meetings with Clinton while she was secretary of State to discuss Middle East issues he cared about. An AP analysis found that at least 85 people who met with Clinton at the State Department were donors or connected to donors.

None of these things – Trump courting super PAC donors, Clinton getting paid by the wealthiest companies as a private citizen, or Clinton as secretary of State giving access to big donors to her foundation – amounts to criminal activity or even what we might term corruption. In the Supreme Court’s Citizens United case, Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the Court, declared that “ingratiation and access are not corruption.”

But there’s still something wrong with a political system in which access goes to the highest bidder. The Clinton team is quick to argue that there’s no evidence the meetings Clinton gave to big donors led to any official actions. But those donors get more than just a picture with a candidate; they get a chance to make their pitch for the policies they want pursued or blocked, a pitch the rest of us don’t get to make because we don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars or more to contribute to campaigns.

Drum:

This is fine. If the beef with Hillary is that she’s an ordinary politician who’s more likely to see you if you’re (a) important, (b) a party wheelhorse, and (c) an important donor, then I have no argument. I also have no argument that this is unseemly.

But it’s also something I can’t get too upset about. It’s not just that everyone does this. It’s not just that everyone in American politics does this. It’s the fact that everyone, everywhere, throughout all of human history has done this. It’s just the way that human societies work. I’m all in favor of trying to reduce the influence of money on politics, but I doubt there’s any way to truly make much of a dent in it. And as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t consider it one of our nation’s biggest problems anyway.

Even so, he offers several possible takes on Hillary Clinton and this mess:

Powerful people all run in the same circles. They all know each other. They all ask favors from one another. Hillary is part of this circle.

People who are big party donors and big policy influencers have more access to politicians than, say, you or me. On this score, Hillary is a garden variety politician.

Donating to the Clinton Foundation was a well-known requirement for getting a meeting with Hillary.

I’ve simply seen no evidence of the third, and that includes the AP’s strained effort yesterday. Besides, if this were truly well known, by now someone would have come forward to spill the beans.

They didn’t and they haven’t and can’t. That means that there’s no need for anyone to shout:

If you want to criticize the role of money in politics, that’s fine. If you want to criticize the outsize influence of the connected and powerful, that’s fine. If you want to criticize Hillary Clinton for being an ordinary part of this system – as Bernie Sanders did – that’s fine. But is there some kind of special scandal associated with Hillary in the State Department? I sure don’t see it.

That’s odd. Rudy sees it. But then Rudy sees lots of things that just aren’t there – and he thinks we should too. It’s just that that’s difficult. We haven’t had a proper scandal since Watergate. It seems we’ll have to wait a bit longer. This one isn’t it.

Posted in Clinton Foundation Scandal, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

In the Absence of Policy

This election was never going to be about policy. This isn’t 1968 with talk of getting out of Vietnam, one way or another, or restoring law and order, demanded by that mysterious silent majority, although Donald Trump has mentioned that. This time everyone does want to get rid of ISIS of course, and arguments have been made about the best policy to do that, but a lot of that is posturing, at least from Donald Trump. Bombing the shit out of them isn’t policy. That’s just signaling his character – what he’s selling this time. Hillary Clinton does talk policy a bit – alliances and strategy and methods – but people’s eyes glaze over. Perhaps people don’t want policy. People want attitude. That’s what they vote for, and that makes “character” everything, and Hillary Clinton just took a big hit:

More than half the people outside the government who met with Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state gave money – either personally or through companies or groups – to the Clinton Foundation. It’s an extraordinary proportion indicating her possible ethics challenges if elected president.

At least 85 of 154 people from private interests who met or had phone conversations scheduled with Clinton while she led the State Department donated to her family charity or pledged commitments to its international programs, according to a review of State Department calendars released so far to the Associated Press. Combined, the 85 donors contributed as much as $156 million. At least 40 donated more than $100,000 each, and 20 gave more than $1 million.

Donors who were granted time with Clinton included an internationally known economist who asked for her help as the Bangladesh government pressured him to resign from a nonprofit bank he ran; a Wall Street executive who sought Clinton’s help with a visa problem; and Estee Lauder executives who were listed as meeting with Clinton while her department worked with the firm’s corporate charity to counter gender-based violence in South Africa.

Donors to the Clinton Foundation had a better than fifty-fifty chance to talk with the secretary of state, which looks bad even if it’s not bad:

The meetings between the Democratic presidential nominee and foundation donors do not appear to violate legal agreements Clinton and former president Bill Clinton signed before she joined the State Department in 2009. But the frequency of the overlaps shows the intermingling of access and donations, and fuels perceptions that giving the foundation money was a price of admission for face time with Clinton.

It’s all perception, and of course Trump and Pence and the Republicans are predictably outraged. The legal issues may be vague but this speaks to her character, or lack of it. Or it doesn’t. Paul Waldman argues that this latest Clinton email story just isn’t a scandal:

Are you ready for the shocking news, the scandalous details, the mind-blowing malfeasance? Well hold on to your hat, because here it is: When Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, many people wanted to speak with her.

Astonishing, I know.

Here’s the truth: every development in any story having to do with anything involving email and Hillary Clinton is going to get trumpeted on the front page as though it were scandalous, no matter what the substance of it actually is.

And the substance, as Waldman sees it, is this:

Let’s briefly summarize what’s so earth-shaking that it gets front-page treatment on both the New York Times and the Washington Post today, not to mention untold hours of breathless cable news discussion. There are actually two stories in one.

The first is that a federal judge has ordered the State Department to speed up its review of approximately 15,000 previously undisclosed emails that the FBI retrieved off of Clinton’s server. We have no idea what’s in them. It could be something horrifying, or it could be utterly banal. My money’s on the latter, but it’ll be a while before we know.

The second story is that Judicial Watch, an organization that has been pursuing Clinton for many years, has released a trove of emails it obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, emails that supposedly show how donors to the Clinton Foundation got special access, and presumably special favors, from Clinton while she was at State.

The only problem is that the emails in question reveal nothing of the sort. What they actually reveal is that a few foundation donors wanted access, but didn’t actually get it.

Waldman looks at three specific requests sent to Clinton aide Huma Abedin:

A sports executive who had donated to the foundation wanted to arrange for a visa for a British soccer player to visit the United States; he was having trouble getting one because of a criminal conviction. Abedin said she’d look into it, but there’s no evidence she did anything and the player didn’t get his visa.

Bono, who had donated to the foundation, wanted to have some kind of arrangement whereby upcoming U2 concerts would be broadcast to the International Space Station. Abedin was puzzled by this request, and nothing was ever done about it.

The Crown Prince of Bahrain, who had donated to the foundation, wanted to meet with Clinton on a visit to Washington. Abedin responded that the Bahrainis had already made that request through normal diplomatic channels. The two did end up meeting.

And that’s it. If there were anything more scandalous there, have no doubt that Judicial Watch would have brought it to reporters’ eager attention. So: Nobody got special favors and nobody got “access,” except for the second-highest-ranking official of an important U.S. ally in the Middle East (Bahrain is, among other things, the site of an American naval base that is home to the 5th Fleet and the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command). While Bahrain has donated money to the Clinton Foundation to fund a scholarship program that the Foundation administers, it’s safe to say that the Crown Prince meeting with the U.S. Secretary of State is not an unusual occurrence.

Now add this perspective:

Clinton was wrong to use a private system for email while she was at the State Department. Among other things, it was a violation of departmental policy. It will also be remembered as one of the most colossal political screw-ups in modern times. In an effort to save herself the hassle of endless FOIA requests and lawsuits from the likes of Judicial Watch (I don’t believe her assertion that she wanted to use a private system for the sake of convenience), she created monumental political trouble for herself, to the point that it’s the one thing that might keep her from winning the White House.

But that doesn’t mean that any story touching on her emails deserves screaming headlines and dark insinuations, and this one certainly doesn’t…

If we find cases where someone actually received some favor or consideration they didn’t deserve, then depending on the details, it might actually be scandalous. But an email discussion of Bono’s wacky idea to send U2 concerts to the International Space Station is not a scandal.

Still, it beats talking about policy. Policy is damned hard. You have to think things through and decide what’s both reasonable and possible, and that’s not exactly Trump’s thing. Caitlin MacNeal of Talking Points Memo covers Trump’s latest difficulties:

During a series of interviews Monday evening, Donald Trump appeared to reverse his mass deportation policy, saying that he will do the “same thing” as President Obama regarding deportation but “perhaps with a lot more energy.”

He told the Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly that he plans on following existing immigration law and focusing deportation efforts on “the bad ones.” His comments Monday evening appear to be a reversal from harsher comments he made earlier in the campaign season. Reports over the weekend indicated that Trump would soften his stance on immigration, and the Republican nominee cancelled an immigration speech planned for Thursday. But on Monday morning, Trump had insisted he was “not flip-flopping” on immigration.

O’Reilly asked Trump if he is changing his policy on mass deportation.

“I just want to follow the law,” Trump replied before mentioning his weekend meeting with Hispanic leaders. Reports out of that meeting suggested that Trump would change his policy on deportation, and Trump said those reports were wrong.

Yes this is hard, and you might end up where everyone else ended up:

“We’re going to obey the existing laws. Now, the existing laws are very strong. The existing laws, the first thing we’re gonna do, if and when I win, is we’re gonna get rid of all of the bad ones. We’ve got gang members, we have killers, we have a lot of bad people that have to get out of this country,” he said on Fox News. “As far as everybody else, we’re going to go through the process. What people don’t know is that Obama got tremendous numbers of people out of the country, Bush the same thing. Lots of people were brought out of the country with the existing laws. Well, I’m gonna do the same thing.”

His policy now is “Me Too!” That’s not going to please his base, but in some way he’s still his own man:

The Fox host also brought up Dwight Eisenhower’s “Operation Wetback,” through which the former president deported hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants and dropped them off in remote areas of Mexico in the 1950s. Trump had cited this effort earlier in the campaign, but disagreed with O’Reilly’s assessment on Monday that Trump planned to “emulate” Eisenhower’s model.

“I said that it’s something that has been done at a very strong manner. I don’t agree with that. I’m not talking about detention centers. I have very, very good relationships with a lot of people, a lot of Hispanic people. We’re talking about it. We are going to get rid of the bad ones. The bad ones are going to be out of here fast. And you know, there are plenty of bad ones, gang members, gang leaders,” Trump told O’Reilly.

“They are going to be out of here so fast, your head will spin. As far as the rest, we’re going to go through the process, like they are now, perhaps with a lot more energy and we’re gonna do it only through the system of laws that – are in existence,” he continued.

So, what’s so special about him? He’ll do what’s being done with more energy? Ah well, he still has that wall: 

And when asked if he is softening his stance on immigration during a Monday night interview with Cleveland television station WEWS, Trump said he was focused on “security” and touted his plan to build a border wall.

“We are suggesting safety. We are suggesting security. We don’t want people killed at the border. We don’t want people coming into our country that shouldn’t be here. I want people to come into our country, but I want them to come in through a legal process,” he said. “We’re gonna have a wall. The wall is necessary.”

Okay, he is special, but Greg Sargent sees a muddle here:

Donald Trump is currently running an ad in four swing states that graphically depicts the southern border as being overrun by dark hordes. It flatly states that in Hillary Clinton’s America, the borders will be “open.” And it promises a hyper-tough response from President Trump, which is illustrated with cops carefully scanning the border and images of helicopters patrolling for fleeing invaders.

This represents the larger tale that Trump has been telling about immigration for the last year, one that is central to his whole candidacy: Unlike our current, feckless, “politically correct” leaders, who are not enforcing immigration laws and as a result allowing undocumented immigrants to snatch jobs from Americans, only Trump is tough, savvy at management, and “politically incorrect” enough to do what really must be done: Expel all undocumented immigrants as quickly as possible, to Make America Safe And Great Again.

But in an interview with Bill O’Reilly, in which he responded to reports that he’s backing off of his vow of mass deportations – a promise he’s made many times – Trump basically admitted the whole story he’s been telling about immigration for the last year is a big scam.

Consider what he admitted:

1) Trump tacitly conceded that our borders are not “open,” and that our laws are being enforced. In saying that “Obama got tremendous numbers of people out of the country,” by using “existing laws,” Trump admitted that in fact, under Obama, the borders are not open, and the laws are being enforced – Obama is in fact deporting people at a high rate. Those are extraordinary concessions, given that his entire candidacy rests so heavily on precisely the opposite assertions.

2) Trump tacitly admitted that Obama’s enforcement priorities are correct. In saying that “the first thing we’re gonna do” is “we’re gonna get rid of all the bad ones,” Trump basically endorsed what the Obama has been doing for the last five years – prioritizing the use of enforcement resources to remove the most serious threats, while temporarily de-prioritizing the removal of the rest. This amounts to another important concession: That this act of prioritization is not tantamount to a refusal to enforce the law – contradicting a claim Trump and Republicans have been making for years – and is consistent with the enforcement of our immigration laws.

3) But Trump did not make any meaningful outreach gesture towards Latinos. It’s crucial to understand that Trump only moved in Obama’s direction in a very limited way. While he did endorse Obama’s underlying enforcement priorities, he did not embrace the idea of either legalizing all the remaining lower level offenders or of using executive action to temporarily shield them from deportation and allow them to work, so they can come out of the shadows and pay taxes. Indeed, he repeatedly said that “existing laws” will remain in place. So Trump’s position – as of now, anyway – is that we should prioritize the removal of the most serious offenders, but all the rest should remain subject to removal, which is to say, in the shadows.

This is no policy at all:

All this really means is that Trump – the great fixer – is still not taking a real position on the core dilemma we face. We only have the resources to deport a fraction of the 11 million. And most people agree – many Republicans included – that many of those people are not mere criminals, but rather came here to work and better their lives in a manner consistent with American history and values, and are currently contributing to American life. So what should be done about them?

Democrats say we should focus those limited enforcement resources only on serious criminals, and in order to facilitate that and make our immigration machinery work more effectively in the national interest, we should create a path to assimilation – with penalties – for the rest, rather than continuing to leave them in limbo, subject to removal. Trump basically admitted Democrats are right about the former. He also implicitly conceded that the solution he has offered for the rest for the last year now – their proactive, speedy removal – isn’t going to happen, while still refusing to say what should ultimately be done about them.

Policy is just not his thing:

Trump did not know that he was admitting all of this, because he doesn’t understand the finer points of immigration policy. But that is what happened.

Slate’s Jim Newell takes that farther:

Trump is not familiar with immigration policy, because he’s not familiar with any policy. Building “the wall” is not a policy. It is a project. The wall is a wall.

Newell thinks the problem here is that Trump substituted adjectives and adverbs for policy:

The remark from the O’Reilly interview that’s getting the most attention is his invocation of Obama’s immigration policies: “What people don’t know is that Obama got tremendous numbers of people out of the country.” Tremendous. The number of undocumented immigrants that Obama “got out of the country” is far too large for immigration doves and far too modest for immigration hawks. Donald Trump does not know what those policies are. What happened, most likely, was that someone showed Trump a six- or seven-figure number and he thought, “Firm,” but he can’t outright praise Obama’s work on immigration, so he said “perhaps with a lot more energy,” but he also wants to exude a sense of sunniness, so he said “fair.”

Apply the appropriate adjective and adverb and you have a new and unique and impressive policy? That will have to do in this case, for reasons Newell notes:

Donald Trump doesn’t know President Obama’s immigration policy – the things he is doing, the legislation he sought to pass, or the executive orders either in place or mothballed in federal court. He doesn’t know Obama’s immigration policy because he doesn’t know immigration policy, and he doesn’t know immigration policy because he doesn’t know policy. There are no “shifts” in policy, because there is no policy, and there are no details of something that doesn’t exist.

At some point later this month, Trump is expected to deliver another (already delayed) “major immigration speech” outlining his fair, firm, very firm, but fair policies for the good ones – fairer – and the bad ones – like now, but perhaps with more energy. The scrap of paper on which these policies are written will last about as long as it takes him to hear a fetching new adjective.

That’s a bit cruel, because it seems accurate, but Josh Marshall notes the parallel problem on issues of race:

To hear the mainstream media tell it, Donald Trump has spent the last week in a stumbly and maybe not terribly effectual outreach to black people. Republican faux-outreach to African-Americans with the goal of mollifying moderate or educated white voters is a tried and true political move. There’s nothing remotely new about it. The problem for Trumpers is that they have a hard time even staying in character, randomly blurting out angry slurs while trying to execute their faux-outreach. But there’s something deeper and darker going on with Trump himself. It’s not just off-tone. It’s not just rants at African-Americans from lily-white suburbs. What Trump’s doing amounts to trying to rebrand dehumanization verging on hate speech as “outreach.”

In this case, Trump’s adjectives and adverbs have failed him:

Trump first got attention with his “What do you have to lose?” line to African-American voters. But as he’s refined the vocabulary, tuned it with his diehard audiences, he’s built a vision of African-American life as a kind of violence porn.

Consider some of Trump’s recent statements about African-American life in this country.

“You’re living in poverty. Your schools are no good. You have no jobs. 58 percent of your youth is unemployed.”

(Note that you get this 58% number if you include all African-American high schoolers as unemployed; by the same metric white youth has 50% unemployment.

In North Carolina Trump said African-Americans should vote for him because “the inner cities are so bad.”

You live in “broken homes.”

Last night: “It is a disaster the way African-Americans are living.”

“You walk down the street, you get shot.”

In the course of his speech “appealing” to African-American voters, he riffed, “You can go to war zones in countries that we are fighting and it is safer than living in some of our inner cities that are run by the Democrats.”

There’s no policy here, obviously, and some things cannot be fixed by big angry words:

I’ve heard some people describe this as a problem of tone or hyperbole. There are obviously numerous ways to fact-check this garbage. The overwhelming majority of African-Americans do not “live in poverty” – despite that fact that the poverty rate among African-Americans is almost triple that of whites. But all of this misses the point. Trump portrays African-American life as drenched in violence, devoid of any vitality or promise, quite simply, as he puts it, a “disaster.” Along the way is thundering subtext that black voters are incapable of rational political action. The vocabulary, affect and tone signal nothing so much as contempt. “What the hell do you have to lose?” In other words, why do you insist on destroying yourselves?

For Trump, every black American is living in a bombed out housing project circa 1973. And despite the country’s historically low crimes rates, urban crime isn’t at 1980s levels in the Trump world. It’s the Watts, Newark and Detroit riots all at once and every day in every central city in the country.

It’s not too much to say that you could lift Trump’s version of African-American life as disaster porn from maybe half alt-right or white supremacist screeds. He just tacks on a “but I’ll save you” at the end.

And that’s not policy:

I know I’m not breaking any new ground by predicting that Trump’s screeds are unlikely to bring many African-American voters into his camp. But it’s much more than that. It’s aggressive dehumanization, a reduction of real people to ghastly stick figures, not a bungled departure from but actually at the heart of his increasingly white nationalist message.

That wasn’t his stated intention. He was going to win the black vote. What went wrong? Here again, there was no “shift” in policy, because there was no policy, just angry words. This man doesn’t do policy. He’ll win on character. Hillary Clinton may or may have not agreed to listen to people who had contributed to the Clinton Foundation, even if, as secretary of state, she did nothing for them. Donald Trump listens to no one. Fine – forget policy. Let’s make this an election about character. That won’t go well for this guy.

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After Journalism

This is getting boring. What more is there to say about Hillary Clinton? She’s a lying harridan who left top-secret stuff out there on her personal email server for anyone to find – unless she sold it for fun and profit – and she likes to let our best people die, like in Benghazi, because she doesn’t give a damn. She’s going to jail. What more is there to say about Donald Trump? He’s an impulsive white nationalist bigot who likes to mock women and the disabled, with a bit of an ADHD disorder too – he can’t focus on any task for more than a few seconds. He’s sinking in the polls will lose this election in an epic landslide. She’s brain-damaged. He’s batshit crazy.

The narratives are locked in and the proof is out there, depending on the news source. Fox News and Drudge and Breitbart and talk radio have their proof. MSNBC and Vox and Salon and the rest have their proof. That proof is comforting for those who know that they know what’s “really” going on, while the other side mocks them for being gullible fools, or delusional. CNN simply gave up – they now have folks from each side line up in pairs and shout at each other. That’s unpleasant. CNN’s ratings have tanked. Viewers don’t want to squirm. They want to feel smug.

Still, there is basic news, and at the moment, Hillary Clinton is in trouble:

The scandals swirling around Hillary Clinton kicked up a notch on Monday, with the release of more emails showing the sway Clinton Foundation donors held at the State Department and an order by a federal judge that could result in a dump of thousands more emails before the election.

Clinton managed to coast through the conventions and the resulting weeks, gaining momentum in the polls as Donald Trump suffered through numerous self-inflicted controversies. But on Monday, Clinton was delivered a rude reminder that her long-running woes will likely persist all the way to November – and potentially beyond.

A federal judge ordered that the State Department must review 14,900 documents discovered by the FBI as investigators probed Clinton’s use of a private email server during her four years at the agency, and he set a hearing date for next month about the “production” of such emails.

That means Clinton could be a hit by a wave of fresh emails – possibly including deleted emails the FBI recovered – right before the election.

That guarantees at least three months of spin, as journalists tell us what this means – the smoking gun that sends her to jail or a bunch of nothing, with most of the emails about where to have lunch and such things. This Politico item, however, hints at a smoking gun:

Adding to her woes, Judicial Watch – the same conservative group who is behind that litigation – on Monday released 725 emails from Clinton’s top aide Huma Abedin, some of which showed the influence peddling that flowed between the Clinton Foundation and Hillary Clinton’s State Department.

Does that mean that this aide’s boss goes to jail? Probably not. Nothing hinted at here is illegal. It’s just a reminder of how the world really works. Grow up. Or be outraged. Your choice.

Meanwhile, simultaneously, it was the usual Trump chaos:

The Donald Trump campaign has canceled a major speech on immigration that reportedly was slated for Thursday amidst renewed confusion on his stance on mass deportation.

A spokeswoman for the Trump operation in Colorado said the campaign had been looking into hosting such an event but the plans had changed, the Denver Post reported Monday. The campaign will not be hosting such an event when Trump swings through the state for a fundraiser, but supporters were told in an email “the speech (Trump) was planning on giving is still being modified,” according to the Post.

No one knows what he’s going to say about immigration, because now he doesn’t even know what he’s going to say:

It was reported by Buzzfeed and Univision over the weekend that Hispanic leaders in a closed door meeting with Trump Saturday were told the GOP nominee was going to flesh out his proposal for dealing with the 11 million immigrants in the United States illegally and present it while in Colorado Thursday. According to those in the meeting, Trump appeared to be softening his stance on mass deportation and was open to a plan to legalize millions of undocumented immigrants.

Throughout the GOP primary, Trump took a hard line on mass deportation, saying that the immigrants would be deported “humanely” but that they “have to go.”

Trump is now denying that he is preparing to flip-flop on the issue, while his campaign manager Kellyanne Conway has said his position on deportation forces is “to be determined.”

His campaign manager says one thing, he says another. He often says one thing and then, later, says he didn’t say that at all – the corrupt and dishonest press reported it all wrong. This is just more of the same, with the Conway woman added to the mix.

What’s really going on? Who knows? Earlier in the month, the New York Times’ Jim Rutenberg argued that Trump is testing the norms of objectivity in journalism:

If you’re a working journalist and you believe that Donald J. Trump is a demagogue playing to the nation’s worst racist and nationalistic tendencies, that he cozies up to anti-American dictators and that he would be dangerous with control of the United States nuclear codes, how the heck are you supposed to cover him?

Because if you believe all of those things, you have to throw out the textbook American journalism has been using for the better part of the past half-century, if not longer, and approach it in a way you’ve never approached anything in your career. If you view a Trump presidency as something that’s potentially dangerous, then your reporting is going to reflect that. You would move closer than you’ve ever been to being oppositional. That’s uncomfortable and uncharted territory for every mainstream, non-opinion journalist I’ve ever known, and by normal standards, untenable.

But the question that everyone is grappling with is: Do normal standards apply? And if they don’t, what should take their place?

That’s what troubles Rutenberg:

Covering Mr. Trump as an abnormal and potentially dangerous candidate is more than just a shock to the journalistic system. It threatens to throw the advantage to his news conference-averse opponent, Hillary Clinton, who should draw plenty more tough-minded coverage herself. She proved that again last week with her assertion on “Fox News Sunday” that James Comey, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, had declared her to be truthful in her answers about her decision to use a private email server for official State Department business – a grossly misleading interpretation of an FBI report that pointed up various falsehoods in her public explanations.

And, most broadly, it upsets balance, that idealistic form of journalism with a capital “J” we’ve been trained to always strive for.

Forget that:

Balance has been on vacation since Mr. Trump stepped onto his golden Trump Tower escalator last year to announce his candidacy. For the primaries and caucuses, the imbalance played to his advantage, captured by the killer statistic of the season: His nearly $2 billion in free media was more than six times as much as that of his closest Republican rival.

Now that he is the Republican nominee for president, the imbalance is cutting against him. Journalists and commentators are analyzing his policy pronouncements and temperament with an eye toward what it would all look like in the Oval Office – something so many of them viewed as an impossibility for so long.

You can see it from the minute the television news day starts, on the set of “Morning Joe” on MSNBC. A few months ago media writers were describing a too-cozy relationship between Mr. Trump and the show’s hosts, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski.

Yet there was Mr. Scarborough on Wednesday asking the former Central Intelligence Agency director Michael V. Hayden whether there were safeguards in place to ensure that if Mr. Trump “gets angry, he can’t launch a nuclear weapon,” given the perception that he might not be “the most stable guy.”

Then Mr. Scarborough shared an alarming conversation he said he had with a “foreign policy expert” who had given Mr. Trump a national security briefing. “Three times he asked about the use of nuclear weapons,” Mr. Scarborough said, describing one of the questions as “If we have them, why can’t we use them?”

Speaking with me later, Mr. Scarborough, a Republican, said he had not contemplated sharing the anecdote with the audience until just before he did.

“When that discussion came up, I really didn’t have a choice,” Mr. Scarborough said. “That was something I thought Americans needed to know.”

Is that journalism? Scarborough thinks so:

Mr. Scarborough, a frequent critic of liberal media bias, said he was concerned that Mr. Trump was becoming increasingly erratic, and asked rhetorically, “How balanced do you have to be when one side is just irrational?”

It’s not that easy for others but they may have no choice:

It’s much dodgier for conventional news reporters to treat this year’s political debate as one between “normal” and “abnormal,” as the Vox editor in chief Ezra Klein put it recently.

In a sense, that’s just what reporters are doing. And it’s unavoidable. Because Mr. Trump is conducting his campaign in ways we’ve not normally seen.

No living journalist has ever seen a major party nominee put financial conditions on the United States defense of NATO allies, openly fight with the family of a fallen American soldier, or entice Russia to meddle in a United States presidential election by hacking his opponent (a joke, Mr. Trump later said, that the news media failed to get). And while coded appeals to racism or nationalism aren’t new – two words: Southern strategy – overt calls to temporarily bar Muslims from entry to the United States or questioning a federal judge’s impartiality based on his Mexican heritage are new.

“If you have a nominee who expresses warmth toward one of our most mischievous and menacing adversaries, a nominee who shatters all the norms about how our leaders treat families whose sons died for our country, a nominee proposing to rethink the alliances that have guided our foreign policy for 60 years, that demands coverage – copious coverage and aggressive coverage,” said Carolyn Ryan, The New York Times’s senior editor for politics. “It doesn’t mean that we won’t vigorously pursue reporting lines on Hillary Clinton – we are and we will.”

Ah, but these two do not produce news at the same rate:

“When controversy is being stoked, it’s our obligation to report that,” said the Washington Post managing editor Cameron Barr. “If one candidate is doing that more aggressively and consistently than the other, that is an imbalance for sure.” But, he added, “it’s not one that we create, it’s one that the candidate is creating.”

Fine, but this guy really might be batshit crazy:

The media reaction to it all has been striking, what The Columbia Journalism Review called “a Murrow moment.” It’s not unusual to see news stories describe him as “erratic” without attribution to an opponent. The “fact checks” of his falsehoods continue to pile up in staggering numbers, far outpacing those of Mrs. Clinton. And, on Sunday, the CNN “Reliable Sources” host Brian Stelter called upon journalists and opinion makers to challenge Mr. Trump’s “dangerous” claims that the electoral system is rigged against him. Failure to do so would be unpatriotic, Mr. Stelter said.

No, don’t say that:

While there are several examples of conservative media criticism of Mr. Trump this year, the candidate and his supporters are reprising longstanding accusations of liberal bias. “The media is trying to take Donald Trump out,” Rush Limbaugh declared last week.

A lot of core Trump supporters certainly view it that way. That will only serve to worsen their already dim view of the news media, which initially failed to recognize the power of their grievances, and therefore failed to recognize the seriousness of Mr. Trump’s candidacy.

This journalism stuff is hard, but the Washington Post’s resident conservative blogger, Jennifer Rubin, says it’s not that hard:

There has been, both on the right and left, massive confusion about the demands of “objectivity.” False balance cannot substitute for presentation of ascertainable fact. Ironically, conservatives used to be critics of post-modernism, arguing that there are knowable, objective facts. It seems to have escaped notice, however, that this standard is as applicable to politics as it is to other endeavors.

The first rule for coverage of the campaign must be to do no harm – not to add to confusion or misunderstanding, nor to encourage others to do so. Breitbart, which takes Trump’s spin and falsities as truth or actively creates jaw-dropping propaganda on behalf of Trump (e.g. using a photo of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ parade crowd in lieu of a real photo of a Trump rally), is not journalism at all. It’s an effort to mislead voters in service of a candidate. Likewise, Sean Hannity is not acting as a journalist, even a credible opinion maker, in interviews when he feeds Trump his own propaganda lines and then asks, “Isn’t that true?”

She wants conservatives to get back to the basics:

The conservative media was supposed to be a check on the excesses, biases and blind spots of the mainstream media. In some cases, however, the right-wing echo chamber has become far worse than the mainstream media it was intended to check. … The lessons of 2016 – respect for accuracy, refusal to cover up errors artificially to equalize mistakes, candor about the state of the race – should inform all media outlets. If not, they deserve ridicule and extinction.

And by the way, Trump is not winning, and cannot win without something impossible and catastrophic happening. Get real. Journalists should do their jobs.

Sure they should, but Matt Taibbi recently argued that’s just not happening:

We now have one set of news outlets that gives us the bad news about Democrats, and another set of news outlets bravely dedicated to reporting the whole truth about Republicans.

Like the old adage about quarterbacks – if you think you have two good ones, you probably have none – this basically means we have no credible news media left. Apart from a few brave islands of resistance, virtually all the major news organizations are now fully in the tank for one side or the other.

His thesis is that journalism is now dead:

In terms of political media, there’s basically nothing left on the air except Trump-bashing or Hillary-bashing.

Take last week’s news cycle:

Red-state media obsessed over a series of emails about the Clinton Foundation obtained by Judicial Watch (a charter member of the “vast right-wing conspiracy”) as part of a Freedom of Information lawsuit. The emails hinted that Foundation donors might have had special access to Hillary Clinton’s State Department.

Meanwhile, the cable-news channels consumed by Democrat-leaning audiences, MSNBC and CNN, spent most of last week hammering Donald Trump’s latest outrages, especially the “the Second Amendment people” comments seeming to incite violence against Hillary Clinton or her judicial appointments.

Practically every story on non-conservative cable last week was a Democratic Party news flash: Reagan’s daughter blasts Trump’s comments! More Republicans defect to support Hillary! GOP, expecting Trump loss, shifts funds to down-ballot races! Khizr Khan challenges McCain to Dump Trump! Trump’s worst offense was mocking disabled reporter, poll finds!

It’s not that stations were wrong to denounce Trump’s comments. He deserves it all. But he’s not the only stupid, lying, corrupt politician in the world, which is the impression one could easily get watching certain stations these days.

Forget journalism:

The commercial media has devolved, finally, into two remarkably humorless messaging platforms.

And blame The Donald:

Trump really sent this problem into overdrive. He is considered so dangerous that many journalists are beginning to be concerned that admitting the truth of negative reports of any kind about the Democrats might make them complicit in the election of the American Hitler.

There’s some logic in that, but it is flawed logic. When journalists start acting like politicians we pretty much always end up botching things even more politically and crippling our businesses to boot.

Journalists need to back off:

Our job is to grope around promiscuously for stories on all sides, like dogs sniffing fire hydrants. Trying to fill any other role leads to trouble… Just look at the history of Fox and its satellite organizations.

Yes, the Murdoch Empire has succeeded in accruing enormous power across the globe. In the United States, its impact on political affairs has been incalculable. It’s led us into war, paralyzed Democratic presidencies, helped launch movements like the Tea Party and effectively spread so much disinformation that huge majorities of Republicans still doubt things like the birthplace of Barack Obama.

But Fox’s coverage has been so overwhelmingly one-sided that it has lost forever the ability to convince non-conservatives of anything. Rupert Murdoch has turned into the Slime Who Cried Wolf. Even when Murdoch gets hold of a real story, he usually can’t reach more than an inch outside his own dumbed-down audience.

Worse still, when you shill as constantly as his outlets have, even your most enthusiastic audience members very quickly learn to see through you.

This is a problem because if there ever comes a time when you want to convince your own audience of hard truths, you’ll suddenly find them not nearly as trusting and loyal as you’d thought. Deep down, they’ll have known all along you were full of it.

And that’s what happened:

The world may never have heard a yawn louder than the one evinced by flyover audiences in January, when the National Review gathered 20 prominent conservatives, headlined by Glenn Beck, to demand that Republican voters draw a line in the sand against Trump. It was an unprecedented show of media unity and determination.

Trump casually walked over the red-pundit-Maginot-line and raced straight to the nomination from there.

This was a powerful lesson. Media power comes from trust and respect, and both are eroded quickly if you only ever give people what they want to hear.

That’s a dead end:

The model going forward will likely involve Republican media covering Democratic corruption and Democratic media covering Republican corruption. This setup just doesn’t work. For one thing, if most of your staff is busy all day working up negative stories about Republicans that dramatically lowers the likelihood that they’ll develop sources with info about Democratic corruption.

Moreover, even if you do make an effort to look at both sides, stories usually must be picked up by outlets across the spectrum to have an impact. That happens less and less in the partisan age.

Last year, the New York Times dipped a toe into the “Clinton Cash” material and did its potentially damaging “Uranium One” story about a series of suspicious donations to the Clinton Foundation. The story was soundly reported and forced the Clinton campaign to admit to “mistakes” in its disclosures.

But the response of other non-conservative outlets was mostly silence and/or damage control. That left it to mostly circulate in the Washington Times and Breitbart and the Daily Caller, rendering it automatically illegitimate with most blue-state audiences.

There’s no winning this:

The public hates us reporters in the best of times, when we’re doing our jobs correctly, merely being conniving, prying little busybodies forever getting up into peoples’ business.

But the summer of Trump could easily turn into an Alamo moment for the press. There are reporters who are quietly promising themselves they’ll go back to being independent and above the fray in November, after we’re past the threat of a Trump presidency.

But just ask the National Review: Once you jump in the politicians’ side of the pool, it’s not so easy to get out again. And what will they think of us then? Is there a word for “lower than scum?”

Needless to say, Taibbi shook things up with this article, so Slate’s Isaac Chotiner interviewed him and teased out a few more observations:

Trump, just as entertainment, as a ratings magnet, as a way to make money, is pure gold for television networks and for news organizations, and everybody in this business who covers the campaign trail knows that this is really an entertainment show that we’re doing over the course of 18 months or two years and we need great characters to make it work and sell ads and do all of those things. And Trump, as Les Moonves confessed, may not be great for America, but he’s great for CBS.

They covered him in the first stage of the campaign as this crazy curiosity, and I think part of the reason that it wasn’t always as negative as it is now was because he was a little bit farther away from actually winning, and there was a significant portion of the journalistic community that thought he had no chance at the nomination. I wasn’t one of those people; I thought he was going to win very early. Now that he is the nominee, I think there’s been this kind of “Oh shit, we screwed up and got this guy nominated, and now we’ve got to act like real journalists again and stop him,” and I think that’s why they’ve been sharply negative. The thing is, it doesn’t matter whether you’re going negative against him or just covering him as a circus act, he still fulfills the same role commercially, and he’s still great for ratings.

Yes, journalism is dead, and there’s this about Trump:

It’s hard to cover him in terms of policy because I think one of the first observations that anybody would make about Trump is that it’s pretty clear that, even in his own mind, not a whole lot is settled. I think his personality is so mercurial and he has got so many obvious and bizarre pathologies that you’d only be guessing in the best-case scenario… Normally, back in the day, if you had a candidate who said so many things and then changed his mind so often and the press uniformly said, “Look, this is bad, this person is telling untruths, and has been caught making these statements over and over again,” that would have been a death knell for any serious presidential candidate. Why isn’t it this time?

Why isn’t it? It’s a new world. It’s the world that comes after journalism. Now everyone can feel smug.

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