Not Taking It Well

Donald Trump says he never loses, but he’s losing this election. The polling shows he’s lost it already – although at the moment his chances of winning have spiked to almost fourteen percent. That’s not good enough for other Republicans. They’re in the process of trying to save themselves – and the Senate, if they can. They can’t – but Trump is the real lost cause. Forget him – and that means that the man who knows that he never loses, and reminds everyone that he never loses, and if elected, America will never lose again, ever, on anything, now has to come to terms with the unthinkable. He has to think the unthinkable. That’s hard to do, but he lost. Expect rationalizations.

This will be odd. Sophie Kohn of CBC Comedy imagines this:

The man who owns large chunks of New York City, inherited millions of dollars in his youth from his father, and is married to a Slovenian supermodel who eagerly agrees with his every word and deed pouted today that the system is set up for him to fail.

“It’s so unfair,” the straight white man explained to the thousands of reporters around the world who hang on his every word on a daily basis.

“All I ask is that America give people a fair shot at succeeding,” added the man, who exists in a society that’s given him multiple television shows where he is free to boost his public profile and exercise tremendous power over young businessmen and women, in many cases publicly humiliating them and singlehandedly dictating the direction of their careers.

“It’s completely unacceptable that I’d be the target of such a deeply entrenched conspiracy to oppress me and prevent me from flourishing,” he shouted before asking one of his five healthy, successful children that other people raised to hop in the family’s private jet and just quickly check on the 18 different golf courses he owns around the globe.

That’s not far off the mark, nor is this:

“This country is wronging me in ways I will never, ever forgive,” bellowed the man, who, despite his complete and total lack of political experience, compassion, and basic human decency, has enjoyed an easy rise to the most sought-after political position in the country and is taken seriously as a legitimate presidential candidate by the entire earth.

The man concluded his statements by begrudgingly mumbling that somehow, he’ll find the courage to accept that the American political system is endlessly mistreating him and silencing his voice.

“Even so, I may purchase a 1.1-million dollar billboard in Times Square on which to air some of my grievances,” he said. “I’ll take it out of petty cash.”

That sounds about right, but Jenna Johnson, reporting from Fletcher, North Carolina, covers Trump’s actual reaction to the facts of the matter:

As he took the stage here in this mountain town Friday afternoon, Donald Trump was as subdued as the modest crowd that turned out to see him. He complained about the usual things – the dishonest media, his “corrupt” rival Hillary Clinton – but his voice was hoarse and his heart didn’t seem in it.

He also promised to do all that he could to win, but he explained why he might lose.

“What a waste of time if we don’t pull this off,” Trump said. “You know, these guys have said: ‘It doesn’t matter if you win or lose. There’s never been a movement like this in the history of this country.’ I say, it matters to me if we win or lose. So I’ll have over $100 million of my own money in this campaign.”

“So, if I lose,” Trump continued as the crowd remained unusually quiet, “If I lose, I will consider this -“

Trump didn’t finish his sentence, but he didn’t really need to. After weeks of controversy and declining poll numbers, Trump and his campaign have settled into a dark funk. Even as he vows to prevail in the race, the GOP nominee’s mood has soured with less than three weeks to go until Election Day.

There’s a reason for that:

His final debate performance this week was a bust, with him snarling that Clinton was “such a nasty woman” and gritting his teeth as he angrily ripped pages off a notepad when it was over. He is under fire from all quarters for refusing to say he will honor the election results if he loses, while 10 women have now come forward accusing him of groping or kissing them without consent. The capper to Trump’s bad stretch came Thursday night, when a ballroom full of New York City’s glitterati booed him as he gave remarks attacking Clinton at a charity roast.

Nothing is going right, and the rationalizations begin.

The gloomy mood has extended to his signature rallies, which Trump used to find fun. During the primaries, he would bound onto rally stages bursting with energy and a sense of excitement that intensified as the crowds chanted his name and cheered his every word. He would regularly schedule news conferences, call into news shows and chat with reporters, eager to spar with them. He would say politically incorrect things and then watch his polling numbers soar. He used to be the winner.

But no more. In recent days, Trump has tried to explain away his slide in the polls as a conspiracy carried out by the media, Democrats and Republicans. If he loses, it will be because he was cheated, Trump has repeatedly told his supporters, urging them to go to polling places in neighborhoods other than their own and “watch.”

Trump’s supporters have concocted elaborate explanations for why he might lose, often involving massive voter fraud conducted by Democrats who will bus undocumented immigrants and people posing as people who have died to battleground states to vote illegally. There are also fears that election results in some states will be tampered with, and Trump’s backers have cheered his promise to challenge the election results if he doesn’t win.

“Since we can’t check to see if you voted in three states, you will. If you want to vote in three states, you will,” said Larry Lewis, 67, a former electrician who lives in Hendersonville. He said he doesn’t know anyone who has committed voter fraud but has gotten up to speed on the issue thanks to talk radio.

That’s the same Sophie Kohn report without the laughs. Jenna Johnson goes for the Hemingway-in-the-bitter-Paris-rain thing:

After the debate Wednesday night, Trump flew to Ohio for a Thursday rally. He abruptly walked out of two local television interviews before taking the stage in front of a smaller-than-usual crowd. After it was over, he was back at the Columbus airport, slowly plodding up the steps to his personal jet. He was alone, holding a black umbrella as a light rain fell.

Hours later, Trump sat with his wife at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner to participate in the long-standing tradition of political candidates roasting each other.

And that was a disaster:

As Clinton finished speaking, she received a standing ovation from many in the crowd. Trump clapped, then briefly stood, then sat down again, as if unsure what to do. Lip-readers caught him telling her that she did a good job.

As the dinner ended, Trump shook hands with some of the others on the stage, while a line of people wanting to talk with Clinton grew. After a few minutes, Trump and his wife made their way toward the exit.

Before ducking out, Trump flashed the crowd a thumbs up.

Some prefer comedy. Some prefer tragedy. And maybe this was both:

After a lighthearted evening in which he traded barbs with Hillary Clinton at a charity dinner, Donald Trump was back on the attack today, calling out Washington leadership and condemning the Obamas for campaigning for Clinton.

“We have a bunch of babies running our country, folks,” said Trump at a campaign rally in Fletcher, North Carolina. “We have a bunch of losers, they’re losers, they’re babies.”

That might seem to some neither comic nor tragic. “Pathetic” might be the word, but it wasn’t out of character, as this odd story surfaced:

Donald Trump told Richard Branson during their first encounter that he would spend the remainder of his life trying to destroy five people he had asked to no avail to aid him after his latest bankruptcy, the English business mogul wrote Friday.

Branson, the Virgin Group founder who wrote in his blog last week that Trump would be a “disaster” as president, described a tale of two lunches Friday, starting with his meeting with Trump.

That one stunned him:

“Some years ago, Mr. Trump invited me to lunch for a one-to-one meeting at his apartment in Manhattan. We had not met before and I accepted,” Branson wrote. “Even before the starters arrived he began telling me about how he had asked a number of people for help after his latest bankruptcy and how five of them were unwilling to help. He told me he was going to spend the rest of his life destroying these five people.”

Branson “found it very bizarre” that Trump was unwilling to talk about anything else. “I told him I didn’t think it was the best way of spending his life. I said it was going to eat him up, and do more damage to him than them,” Branson wrote. “There must be more constructive ways to spend the rest of your life. (Hopefully my advice didn’t lead to him running for President!)”

The Virgin founder was “baffled” as to why Trump had invited him to lunch for that sole topic and wondered at one point whether Trump would ask him for money.

“If he had, I would have become the sixth person on his list!” he quipped. He ultimately left the lunch “feeling disturbed and saddened” by what Trump had said.

Branson highlighted the real estate mogul’s “vindictive streak” as the most frightening thing about this election, warning it “could be so dangerous if he got into the White House.”

The lunch with Hillary Clinton went much better. She has other plans for the rest of her life, but Kevin Drum notes that no matter how personally or politically destructive it is, Donald Trump is flatly unable to ignore an attack from anyone of influence:

Nobody disputes this as a general proposition, but several people pointed out to me that there have been a few folks who attacked Trump and avoided return fire. Michelle Obama is one. Mark Cuban is another. Warren Buffett is a third – and Trump even publicly acknowledged he planned to leave Buffett alone. “There’s no counterpunch,” he said.

There aren’t a lot of examples of this, and I suppose you could say that even Donald Trump doesn’t have enough hours in the day to attack everyone who’s been nasty to him. But these are all big names, of the kind that he’d normally respond to. So what stopped him? It’s not gender: he attacks both men and women. It’s not power: he attacks plenty of powerful people. It’s not money: he’s taken on Michael Bloomberg and Carlos Slim.

So what’s the deal? How does that feverish brain of his decide who not to attack? Is it popularity? Maybe he’s careful to only counterattack people who aren’t especially popular.

No, that’s not true, as Sam Levine reports:

Donald Trump, with his standing among women badly damaged by reports of predatory behavior toward them, is now attacking Michelle Obama, one of the country’s most popular political figures.

The GOP presidential nominee’s attacks Friday come as Obama has shown herself to be one of the best surrogates for his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, on the campaign trail. She has given cutting speeches highlighting the pain that Trump’s comments about women have caused her and his refusal to promise to accept the results of the election – often without mentioning the GOP nominee’s name.

So he went there:

During a campaign stop in North Carolina, Trump criticized Obama for getting involved in the election.

“We have a president. All he wants to do is campaign. His wife – all she wants to do is campaign. And I see how much his wife likes Hillary. But wasn’t she the one that originally started the statement, If you can’t take care of your home, right? You can’t take care of the White House and the country? Where is that? I don’t hear that.”

Michelle Obama did speak about the importance of modeling strong family values during the 2008 primary campaign, but never mentioned Clinton’s name and the Obama campaign denied at the time that it was a veiled swipe at the Clintons.

It wasn’t, but Trump is who he is:

During the second presidential debate, Trump launched a similar attack on Obama, saying she had been featured in her husband’s 2008 campaign ads attacking Clinton. PolitiFact rated the claim false and noted the campaign had never run an ad featuring the comments. In fact, PolitiFact found, the super PAC that ran an ad featuring the comments was pro-Trump.

Last week, White House spokesman Eric Schultz seemed to lay the bait for Trump to attack the first lady, who had a high favorable rating of 64 percent in August, according to Gallup.

“I can’t think of a bolder way for Donald Trump to lose even more standing than he already has than by engaging the first lady of the United States,” he said.

Aaron Blake adds more:

Here’s what Trump said in Fletcher, N.C.:

“And I see how [President Obama’s] wife likes Hillary, but wasn’t she the one that originally started the statement, ‘If you can’t take care of your home,’ right, ‘you can’t take care of the White House or the country?’ Where’s that? I don’t hear that. I don’t hear that. She’s the one that started it.”

Trump then offered this as a justification for invoking the Clintons’ personal problems.

“I said, ‘We can’t say that. It’s too vicious.’ Can you believe it? I said that – ‘We can’t say that.’ They said, ‘Well, Michelle Obama said it.’ I said, ‘She did?'”

She didn’t:

President Obama denied at the time that the comment had anything to do with the Clintons. Instead, he said it was about the Bush administration. “There was no reference beyond her point that we have had an administration that talks a lot about family values but doesn’t follow through,” Obama said.

Blake says this is hardly worth talking about:

What’s clear beyond all of this is that even if Michelle Obama was digging at the Clintons, this attack was not anything close to a feature of the 2008 campaign, as it has become in the 2016 Trump vs. Clinton race.

And politically speaking, it’s a questionable decision too. When it comes to political figures in the United States, few are even close to Michelle Obama’s popularity…

Are swing voters who like her really going to believe she was getting down in the mud and attacking the Clintons nine years ago when her family denied it? It seems unlikely.

Richard Branson had it right:

Trump likes to blame others for starting his more controversial lines of attack – even blaming Hillary Clinton for starting the birther conspiracy theory. But yet again, he’s using very scant evidence and making a strained argument to avert the gaze from his own bare knuckles.

And he always wants his revenge:

Donald Trump will have “lots of options” to go after Hillary Clinton if he’s elected president, he told supporters Friday.

At a rally in Fletcher, North Carolina, Trump again dubbed his opponent “the most corrupt politician ever to seek the office of the presidency,” a charged comment that sparked raucous chants of “lock her up” from his supporters.

The Republican presidential nominee then responded to the chants with an uncharacteristic suggestion, similar to President Barack Obama’s counsel to “don’t boo, vote.”

“Well, let’s do this. Let’s do this,” he advised. “Nov. 8, let’s win. Let’s win. Let’s win.”

But he added: “We win, we have lots of options. But we gotta win.”

Richard Branson did have it right:

While his campaign manager tried to walk back his threat to jail Clinton as “a quip,” Trump has doubled down on his pledge.

And, perhaps unfamiliar with how the Supreme Court works, Trump said during the Republican primary he would “probably appoint people that would look very seriously at her email disaster because it’s criminal activity.”

“And I would appoint people that would look very seriously at that to start off with,” he told ABC’s “Good Morning America” in late March, adding that Clinton is getting away with “murder.”

“If she’s able to get away with that,” he said then, “you can get away with anything.”

It’s not fair! It’s not fair! And on the other side:

Hillary Clinton entered the final phase of her campaign on Friday, working to ensure a victory that is decisive enough to earn a mandate for her presidency and a surge of voters to help Democrats win congressional races.

Emerging from a nine-day absence from the trail, Mrs. Clinton seized on the momentum of her performance in the final presidential debate, choosing Ohio – a battleground state where she has struggled the most against Donald J. Trump – as her first stop on a four-day swing. With new polls showing Mrs. Clinton closing in on Mr. Trump in the state, her campaign is glimpsing the opportunity for a clean sweep of traditional swing states.

Reminding voters of Mr. Trump’s refusal in Wednesday’s debate to say definitively he would accept the outcome on Election Day, Mrs. Clinton said that as secretary of state she had visited countries whose leaders jailed political opponents and invalidated elections they did not win. “We know in our country the difference between leadership and dictatorship,” she said.

She also portrayed herself as the candidate who could attract independent, undecided and even Republican voters unhappy with Mr. Trump’s campaign. “I want to say something to people who may be reconsidering their support of my opponent,” she said. “I know you still may have questions for me, I respect that. I want to answer them. I want to earn your vote.”

Trump never says that. He always says it’s not fair, and that’s not the problem:

With Mrs. Clinton holding a healthy lead in most national polls, Democrats have turned their focus to trying to ensure victory by as large a margin as possible, deploying Michelle Obama in Arizona and President Obama in Florida. The larger the victory, the less Mr. Trump and his supporters can claim foul play, Mrs. Clinton’s allies said.

A month ago, Ohio seemed to be aligning as a Trump stronghold, as its large bloc of white working-class voters responded to Mr. Trump’s economic populism and America-first message. But the state is now back in play, with a poll from Suffolk University in Boston showing a tied race.

There’s  a reason for that:

A decided advantage for Mrs. Clinton here is the strength of Democrats’ grass-roots efforts. The party has leased 93 offices statewide, according to Chris Wyant, the Clinton campaign director in Ohio.

Mr. Trump’s Ohio director cut ties recently with the state’s Republican chairman, Matt Borges, over Mr. Borges’s sharply worded public doubts about Mr. Trump. “They have an internal civil war on the Republican side,” Brian Fallon, Mrs. Clinton’s press secretary, told reporters here.

Trump decided to go with almost no campaign infrastructure in Ohio. His state director questioned him, and then walked away. He could easily lose Ohio now. It’s not fair?

This man does not handle loss well, and that has some odd consequences. Susan Chira notes one of them:

Donald J. Trump could well go down in history as a feminist hero.

For decades, feminists have tried to stir outrage about how women are routinely groped, belittled, and weight-shamed. Yet Mr. Trump’s words and boasts have shown millions of voters, including people who believe feminism is a dirty word, what women endure every day.

This was supposed to be an election where Hillary Clinton had to convince voters that a woman had the fitness and temperament to be president.

Yet instead of worrying whether a woman is too emotional, impulsive and unqualified for high office, voters have been weighing whether that’s true of the man running to be president.

It is true of the man running to be president:

In debates that drew the largest audience in television history and rallies featuring signs taunting Hillary Clinton as a bitch and worse, viewers saw live, visceral demonstrations of misogyny in action.

When Mr. Trump called Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman,” when he repeatedly interrupted her, when he said he’d had a chance to view her from behind and didn’t like what he saw, women heard the echoes of the boorish boss and the bad boyfriend. When he talks about a woman being a 10 or a 4, when he says “look at her” as a way to deny a groping accusation, he wounds every woman who ever wondered if she was pretty enough.

When Mr. Trump was caught on tape boasting about how he could force himself on women, it prompted legions of women to go public about when they were groped – and to prompt men to ask the women in their lives what might have happened to them.

Indeed, Mr. Trump is not just a gift to feminists – he is breathing renewed life into a movement to redefine just what a real man is and ought to be.

That wouldn’t be him:

A man who prides himself on being a red-blooded embodiment of masculinity – with bodacious women there for the taking, big hands and more, political correctness be damned – has unleashed a wave of revulsion about that vision of manhood.

Men have begun asking themselves what they can do to intervene in cases of sexual harassment or denigration – how not to stand by silently. Mothers and fathers have been asking how to raise sons who do not act like this.

No one should act like this, and everyone loses now and then. The man said he never loses, ever. The man said elect him, and then America will never lose again, ever, and neither will you. And he’ll spend the rest of his life tracking down and ruining those four or five people who wouldn’t lend him a few million when he was facing bankruptcy. And Michelle Obama started it, whatever it was – no one’s quite sure. And it isn’t fair.

Donald Trump is not taking this well. That may be comic. That may be tragic. That may be pathetic. It doesn’t matter. He’ll be gone soon enough.

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No Fixing This Now

The debates are over. Donald Trump said he won them all. The polling shows otherwise, but he is who he is. He never loses, but that’s getting harder and harder to maintain. He lost those. He’s losing the election, mainly because what he thought was bold and amazing and fresh was just nastiness, delivered with righteous anger about how everyone was out to get him. In the end, they were – because that’s all there was. Any talk about what would make things better for everyone were he president disappeared for weeks at a time. There was no way to criticize or praise his policy proposals because there finally were none. He didn’t seem concerned with that sort of thing. Hillary was crooked. The system was rigged. Voter fraud had made the whole of the American political system fraudulent. Maybe there was no point in anyone voting at all. If Hillary won, he might not concede. Why should he? American democracy was a joke – but if he won, maybe it wasn’t – maybe. And people were throwing his quotes back in his face, and ten women, so far, had finally overcome their fears of his vast legal team, that could ruin them, and documented how he had groped them at this time and in this place. They had discussed with others what had happened, at the time. The others confirmed that – so Donald Trump had to fire back, and there was no time left to be a presidential candidate. He lost the thread. He lost the election.

Everyone knew that. Philip Rucker reported this:

A wave of apprehension and anguish swept the Republican Party on Thursday, with many GOP leaders alarmed by Donald Trump’s refusal to accept the outcome of the election and concluding that it is probably too late to salvage his flailing presidential campaign.

As the Republican nominee reeled from a turbulent performance in the final debate here in Las Vegas, his party’s embattled senators and House members scrambled to protect their seats and preserve the GOP’s congressional majorities against what Republicans privately acknowledge could be a landslide victory for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

They know, and they don’t know what to do about the one fatal thing Trump said in the third debate:

With 19 days until the election, the Republican Party is in a state of historic turmoil, encapsulated by Trump’s extraordinary debate declaration that he would leave the nation in “suspense” about whether he would recognize the results from an election he has claimed will be “rigged” or even “stolen.”

The immediate responses from GOP officials were divergent and vague, with no clear strategy on how to handle Trump’s threat. The candidate was defiant and would not back away from his position, telling a roaring crowd Thursday in Ohio that he would accept the results “if I win” – and reserving his right to legally challenge the results should he fall short.

For seasoned Republicans who have watched Trump warily as a general-election candidate, the aftermath of Wednesday’s debate brought a feeling of finality.

And this didn’t help:

Top Democrats fanned out to battleground states on Thursday to hammer Trump for what they described as an unprecedented attack on the country’s political system and to attempt to yoke Trump to Republican candidates down the ballot.

Campaigning in Miami, President Obama said Trump’s doubts about the election outcome are “not a joking matter. That is dangerous.”

The president eviscerated Republicans who have stood by Trump, singling out Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who called Trump “a dangerous con artist” and condemned his more controversial comments during the GOP primaries but now plans to vote for him.

“Marco just seems to care about hanging on to his job,” Obama said, calling the senator’s positioning “the height of cynicism.”

And in Arizona, where polls show an unexpectedly tight presidential race, first lady Michelle Obama said Trump “is threatening the very idea of America itself” by suggesting he would not honor the election results.

“You do not keep American democracy ‘in suspense,’ ” Obama said in Phoenix.

Then came the he-didn’t-really-mean-it-that-way tap dancing:

Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, contended that Trump and the party would stand by the results unless the margin is small enough to warrant a recount or legal challenges. Priebus said Trump is merely preserving flexibility in the event of a contested result.

“All he’s saying is, ‘Look, I’m not going to forgo my right to a recount in a close election,’ ” Priebus said. “We accept the results as long as we’re not talking about a few votes where it actually matters. I know him. I know where his head’s at. I promise you. That’s all this is.”

Other Trump surrogates took a different interpretation. Keith Kellogg, a retired Army lieutenant general, accused the media of “splitting hairs” and insisted that Trump was “not threatening democratic norms,” while former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani argued that any Republican would be “stupid” to accept the integrity of results before they are known.

“Suppose she wins Pennsylvania by 50 votes,” Giuliani said. He speculated, without evidence, that Democrats would “steal a lot more than 50 votes in Philadelphia. I guarantee you of that. And I’ll tell you how they will do it – they’ll bus people in who will vote dead people’s names four, five, six times… or have people in Philadelphia paid to vote three, four and five times.”

Giuliani was making up wild stories of what “might” happen, even if such things just don’t happen and have never happened. Priebus was saying that Trump didn’t say what Trump actually said. This was over. There was a much easier explanation of Trump’s defiance:

“He is just trying to find an excuse for the fact that he’s going to lose, and perhaps the fact that he’s going to lose to the first woman president stings a little sharper than it might otherwise,” said Jennifer Palmieri, the Clinton campaign’s communications director.

Many Republicans agreed:

Prominent Republican senators in tough reelection bids distanced themselves from Trump’s posture. “Donald Trump needs to accept the outcome,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said in a statement.

John McCain (Ariz.), who lost to Obama eight years ago, said in a statement: “I didn’t like the outcome of the 2008 election. But I had a duty to concede. A concession isn’t just an act of graciousness. It is an act of respect for the will of the American people.”

As of Thursday afternoon, neither House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) nor Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had offered any comment, underscoring the party’s unease with its own nominee and the political dangers of tangling with him.

They’re stuck:

Benjamin L. Ginsberg, a lawyer at Jones Day who has been national counsel for several Republican presidential campaigns, said Trump’s stance puts the party in “quite a difficult position.”

“There will be Republican candidates who are winning by narrow margins and losing by narrow margins,” Ginsberg said. “The party as a whole has a collective interest in having the results upheld.”

That’s not what Trump thinks:

Even as his party loses faith, Trump proclaimed that he was poised for victory.

“Bottom line, we’re going to win,” he told the boisterous Ohio crowd. “We’re going to win. We’re going to win so big. We’re going to win so big.”

And Dorothy, in her ruby slippers, clicks her heels together. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.

There’s no fixing this. The Republican candidate is a walking disaster. He makes a mess of even the simplest stuff:

Donald Trump was booed Thursday night at the annual Alfred E. Smith Dinner after delivering a series of jabs at his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, including trying to riff on a controversial remark he made at the latest presidential debate about her being a “nasty woman.” …

The dinner – a white-tie fundraiser put on by the Catholic Church, in honor of former New York governor (and first Catholic governor of the state) Al Smith – is a longstanding tradition for presidential candidates.

This is light-hearted goofing around. No one has ever been booed before, but he managed it:

Trump, who spoke first, tried at first to keep things light-hearted, but quickly turned to harsh criticism about Clinton, who he described as “corrupt.” His remarks drew boos from the crowd, unprecedented for the event in the memories of observers.

“Hillary believes it’s vital to deceive the people by having one public policy. And a totally different policy in private. That’s okay,” he said, to boos from the crowd. “I don’t know who they’re angry at, Hillary, you or I? For example, here she is tonight in public pretending the not to hate Catholics.”

“Now, if some of you haven’t noticed, Hillary isn’t laughing as much as the rest of us. That’s because she knows the jokes and all of the jokes were given to her in advance of the dinner by Donna Brazile,” he added.

You’re not supposed to be nasty on this one special night, but he couldn’t help himself:

Trump also joked about the presidential debate Wednesday night where he called Clinton a “nasty woman” – a comment that drew harsh criticism.

“Last night, I called Hillary ‘A nasty woman.’ But this stuff is all relative,” he said. “After listening to Hillary rattle on and on and on, I don’t think so badly of Rosie O’Donnell anymore. In fact I’m actually starting to like Rosie a lot.”

The room went silent. This was embarrassing, so Clinton showed how these things are done:

During Clinton’s remarks, the Democratic nominee made some self-deprecating jokes about her stamina and paid speeches, before turning her attention to Trump, where she jabbed him on everything from his temperament to his ties to Russia.

“Donald really is as healthy as a horse. You know, the one Vladimir Putin rides around on,” she quipped.

Referring to the presidential debates, she joked that she has now stood next to Trump “longer than any of his campaign managers” and commented about his suggestion she should be drug tested.

“Donald wanted me drug tested before last night’s debate,” she said. “And look, I got to tell you, I am so flattered that Donald thought I used some sort of performance enhancer.”

“Now, actually, I did. It’s called preparation,” she added.

That’s how it’s done. Keep it light, but everyone knows who this guy is:

As Al Smith IV – the great-grandson of the late Al Smith – introduced the candidates, his playful banter took aim at both of them.

“They have just returned from their third debate and I think they are both grateful for format in which nobody can interrupt anybody else,” Smith said, to laughter.

But Smith appeared to save his harshest jabs for the Republican nominee.

“Donald, even though there’s a man sitting next to you in a robe, you’re not in a locker room,” Smith said, referring to the “Access Hollywood” video of Trump bragging about being able to grope women, which the candidate dismissed as “locker room talk.” “So please watch your language,” Smith added.

Trump really should do that:

In one corner, we had “bad hombres.” In the other, “nasty woman.”

The phrases were both uttered by Donald J. Trump during the third and final debate against Hillary Clinton on Wednesday night in Las Vegas, in the bitter race for the White House.

And the internet pounced, adding them to its meme factory and its profiteering assembly line, even as the terms drew mocking comments and disgust from social media users.

Within hours, dozens of sellers on Etsy had whipped up merchandise – T-shirts and buttons – bearing both slogans. The comedian Chelsea Handler tossed out a poll to Twitter users: “Are you a bad hombre or a nasty woman?” After about 12 hours, “nasty woman” was winning with 60 percent of the vote…

Someone created a blunt domain name that declares “nasty women” get stuff done, and redirected it to

Merriam Webster said “hombre” and “nasty” both topped its list of the most-searched words during the debate…

Trump was already in trouble with women voters. Sixty to seventy percent of them say they’d never vote for him, and women make up, usually, fifty-three percent of all voters. Now women across America are walking around in Nasty Woman t-shirts. The implicit message isn’t subtle – “I’m a nasty woman. What are you going to do about it, Donald?”

Then add this:

Even Paul LePage, the controversial governor of Maine who has drawn comparisons to Donald Trump for his loud rhetoric and habit of disparaging the press, is harping on the Republican nominee for his refusal to commit to conceding if he loses the November election.

“Not accepting the results, I think, is just a stupid comment,” LePage said on a Maine radio station on Thursday, responding to Trump’s comments at the third presidential debate. “I mean, c’mon. Get over yourself.”

LePage, a Republican, told the radio station he didn’t watch the debate, which took place in Las Vegas on Wednesday night. But asked about it, he still called Trump’s decision not to promise to accept the election results “an absolute stupid move, period.”

Then add this:

Jim Murphy, Donald Trump’s national political director, is no longer playing an active role on the campaign, according to three sources briefed on the move – a troubling development for the Republican nominee coming just 19 days before the election.

“I have not resigned but for personal reasons have had to take a step back from the campaign,” Murphy said in a statement to POLITICO. He did not elaborate on the reasons for his departure.

Several Trump aides said that Murphy has been conspicuously absent in recent days as the campaign mobilizes for the final push.

Since joining the Trump campaign in June, Murphy, a longtime party operative, has played a key role in setting up field programs in battleground states. He has emerged as a central point person between top Trump campaign officials and the Republican National Committee. Murphy also helped to oversee floor operations at the Republican National Convention in July.

This is not good:

The move comes at an inopportune time for the campaign, with little more than two weeks remaining until Election Day and Trump cratering in opinion polls. There are widespread concerns in Republican circles that Trump’s swing state infrastructure lags far behind Hillary Clinton’s – something that could have implications for the party up and down the ballot.

But it had to happen:

Murphy is a close ally of Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, having worked together on Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign. Manafort resigned from the Trump campaign in August.

Trump then hired the white-nationalist Breitbart conspiracy crew to run things. Murphy suddenly became an outsider. This really is over.

That may be so, but the damage is done, as Alexander Burns explains:

It is a scene reminiscent of other countries and other times: An angry candidate defies the will of the voters and hurls venom at the democratic process. Threats of jail are issued against political opponents. There is even loose talk of armed insurrection.

With his assault on the legitimacy of the presidential election, Donald J. Trump threatens to touch off a humiliating spectacle unseen in the United States since the country became a global power.

Diplomats and elected officials in both parties fear that Mr. Trump, if he loses, will inflict grave trauma on the electorate and severely undermine the international reputation of an American political system known for revering the peaceful transfer of power.

Though he trails Hillary Clinton by a wide margin in most polls and has been abandoned by much of his own party, Mr. Trump still commands a powerful bully pulpit that he may use to amplify his unsupported claims that American democracy is a fraudulent system.

That’s the damage:

Nicholas Burns, a former undersecretary of state under George W. Bush, said Mr. Trump’s refusal to say he would respect the outcome of the presidential race was a “colossal mistake” that could damage American prestige abroad.

“What many if not most foreigners admire about us, about the United States, is the durability of our democracy and the fact that we alternate power,” Mr. Burns said. “It’s how we are fundamentally different from Russia and China, and it gives us an enormous advantage.”

Mr. Burns, who has endorsed Mrs. Clinton for president, called Mr. Trump’s remarks a flagrant violation of American democratic traditions. “I don’t think we’ve had a serious national leader say that since the Confederate leaders of 1860 who refused to accept the election of Lincoln,” he said.

Yes, we’ve been here before:

William M. Daley, a former White House chief of staff who was the chairman of Al Gore’s campaign during the 2000 standoff in Florida, said Mr. Trump seemed indifferent to the possibility that his words might weaken trust in the American government, at home and overseas.

Mr. Daley said the Gore team had been cautious not to say anything during the Florida recount that might cripple the next president’s legitimacy, to the point that other Democrats criticized them for being overly cautious. Mr. Trump, he said, was taking the opposite approach.

“He really has no appreciation for our history, which most of the world looks at with great admiration, as opposed to some banana republic,” Mr. Daley said. On election night, Mr. Daley said, “he could be tweeting at three in the morning and trying to undercut the new administration coming in.”

He will be tweeting at three in the morning, and then the real damage begins, because none of this makes sense:

It is unclear whether Mr. Trump has a concrete plan to contest the results of the election if he loses. There is no law that forces a losing candidate to concede defeat – only a bipartisan tradition of comity. But fighting the apparent outcome of a presidential race could require elaborate litigation across numerous states, with virtually no hope of success without hard evidence of extensive fraud.

Mr. Trump has presented no such evidence, instead offering sweeping denunciations of the overall political process, the news media and the judicial system. His language has seemed to conjure images from the developing world and unsteady new democracies – countries like Myanmar and Nigeria, where governments have overturned election results by fiat, and political turbulence has given rise to outbreaks of violence.

We may not want to go there:

In American electoral history, there is only one instance of the losing side in an election simply declining to abide by the outcome, without any substantive legal objection or mathematical uncertainty around the results. That was in 1860, when Abraham Lincoln’s election prompted the secession of Southern states that refused to tolerate his opposition to slavery.

Despite the heated passions of Mr. Trump’s political following, he appears unlikely to steer the country into civil war. Still, he has unnerved many American political leaders through what they view as his sheer recklessness.

Benjamin L. Ginsberg, a prominent Republican election lawyer who represented Mr. Bush against Mr. Gore in their 2000 impasse, said Mr. Trump was taking the country into unknown territory.

“When people see a close election and exert their rights to the fullest is what we have always considered within bounds,” Mr. Ginsberg said. “But saying somehow that our elections are not going to be accurate and do not adequately convey the will of the majority is different from what we have ever seen before.”

And the world is watching:

Mr. Trump’s campaign has long attracted unusual interest, and in some cases extraordinary alarm, in foreign countries. Several foreign leaders have intervened in the American election to attack his candidacy in strikingly blunt terms; Manuel Valls, the prime minister of France, declared flatly this month that his country supported Mrs. Clinton.

Mr. Trump has also been endorsed by an array of hard-right leaders across Europe, and he has campaigned alongside Nigel Farage, the nationalist politician who led the charge for Britain to leave the European Union.

Mr. Trump’s attack on the American electoral system quickly stirred reaction from activists preoccupied with matters of international democracy and freedom. On Facebook, Shen Tong, a former leader of the Chinese pro-democracy movement who organized protests in Tiananmen Square, wrote that Mr. Trump’s comments had been jarring for anyone who expected an easy “national election and peaceful transition of power in the USA every four years.”

Mr. Trump’s “suspense on his acceptance of the election result reminds me how unique this constitutional democracy has been,” Mr. Shen wrote, “and how much we’ve taken it for granted.”

And we may be throwing it away. Everyone knows that Trump is going to lose. But there’s no fixing this. Now we know what really just happened. We lost too.

Posted in Donald Trump, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Hot Take

The third and final presidential debate just wrapped up. On the television in the far room the talking heads on the cable news channels are talking, as they do. Some of them are shouting. The crawl at the bottom of the CNN screen says Hillary Clinton won this one too – 52 to 39 percent – and that’s a carefully devised actual poll of an array of typical viewers, not an online vote-as-often-you-like Twitter thing. Donald Trump wins those. They make him happy. He offers them as proof of his amazing victory. Even Fox News has had to remind its on-air folks not to run with that. Let the dust settle. Wait for something that’s statistically sound.

That may not be necessary this time. This one started out boring – stuff for policy wonks – with Donald Trump well-behaved, relatively. He made his points and then scowled in angry silence. He didn’t interrupt Clinton, and then, after about twenty minutes, he did. And then he did again and again. She got to him.

He’s easily baited. He can’t help himself. It just took a bit longer this time. And then there was nothing new about this at all. Neither of them modified or deepened what they had been saying all along. There were only three surprises. Talking about the massive numbers of Mexican criminals among us, because of Obama or whatever, he said we’d get rid of those “hombres” – a word he probably shouldn’t have used – but he was never going to get the Hispanic vote so maybe that didn’t matter. He didn’t talk about niggers. That’s something. And late in the debate, in an aside dripping with contempt, as Clinton made a bit of a joke about him, he rolled his eyes and blurted out “Such a nasty women!” That won’t help with women voters, but then he lost most of them long ago. Too many women have come out of the woodwork and accused him of sexual assault, and can substantiate their claims. That vote is gone. His aside was a bit of a primal scream. It doesn’t matter now, but the third surprise may matter a bit more. He was asked, twice, if he would accept the results of the election. He said he’d wait and see. Maybe he would and maybe he wouldn’t. He preferred to keep America in suspense.

That didn’t go over well. No presidential candidate has ever said such a thing before. He thinks it’s all rigged against him, all of it. He should win, but the whole idea of American democracy may be a joke. Elections might be a joke. He didn’t suggest an alternative. When he said “No one respects women more than I do” the audience burst out in laughter. No one laughed at this. Some suggested this disqualified him. Those who run for office are supposed to believe in the democratic system – people vote, the votes are tallied, and that’s that. He’s not so sure about that.

But that’s getting ahead of things. Karen Tumulty and Philip Rucker cover the other stuff:

After a sober start, the candidates shifted gears into a series of fiery exchanges over their fitness to serve as president and character traits. But over the course of the third and final debate, they delved deeper into their substantive differences than they did in the first two forums and offered a clearer contrast in the directions they would take the country. They drew sharp distinctions on the economy, trade, terrorism, immigration and hot-button social issues including abortion and guns.

Russian President Vladimir Putin loomed as an unseen third presence onstage. Clinton and Trump sparred over which of them would be more effective as commander in chief in dealing with his aggression and Russian cyberattacks. Clinton labeled Trump as Putin’s “puppet” – prompting Trump to snap back, “You’re the puppet!” – while Trump charged that Putin had “outsmarted and outplayed” her when she was secretary of state.

After Clinton cited the findings of 17 U.S. intelligence agencies that the Russian government had committed espionage – including by hacking the emails of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta – to interfere in the U.S. election, Trump said he did not agree with that conclusion.

“Hillary, you have no idea,” Trump said. “Our country has no idea.”

His position was that no one knows that Russia did anything. Somehow he knows that those seventeen intelligence agencies were all wrong, each of them – not the sort of thing you want to hear from a future president. George Bush just knew, somehow, that Saddam Hussein had those weapons of mass destruction. Presidents shouldn’t listen to only those voices in their heads. Everyone now knows where that leads.

And there was that other matter:

Trump responded angrily to a question about the chorus of women who have stepped forward in recent days to accuse him of unwanted kissing and groping, in some cases recalling episodes dating back decades. “I didn’t know any of these women,” Trump insisted, dismissing all of their stories as “lies.”

Clinton sought to claim the moral high ground by recounting Trump’s recent mockery of the women’s appearances and physiques on the campaign trail.

“Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger,” Clinton said. “He goes after their dignity, their self-worth, and I don’t think there’s a woman anywhere who doesn’t know what that feels like. We now know what Donald thinks, what he says and how he acts toward women. That’s who Donald is. I think it’s up to all of us to demonstrate who we are.”

Trump’s retort: “Nobody has more respect for women than I do.”

In the debate hall, the audience laughed, prompting moderator Chris Wallace, of Fox News Channel, to admonish them. “Please, everybody,” he said.

That was funny, and a bit pathetic, and then there was the Supreme Court stuff:

“I feel strongly that the Supreme Court needs to stand on the side of the American people, not on the side of the powerful, corporations and the wealthy,” Clinton said.

Trump said he would appoint conservative justices who would be strict constitutionalists – “so, so important, the Constitution the way it was meant to be.” And he accused Clinton of wanting to appoint justices who would severely restrict gun rights, saying the Second Amendment is “under absolute siege.”

In her retort, Clinton noted that because she lived in Arkansas for 18 years and represented Upstate New York in the Senate, she has an appreciation for gun traditions. “But I also believe that there can and must be reasonable regulation,” Clinton said.

Clinton’s agenda of gun restrictions is especially popular among suburban women, who are among the key swing demographics in this election.

There was nothing new there, and there was discussion of abortion, and of course immigration, leading to this:

Clinton also accused Trump of getting weak in the knees when he met with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico City this summer because he did not bring up his vow that he would make the Mexican government pay for the border wall.

“He choked,” Clinton said. “And then got into a Twitter war because the Mexican president said, ‘I’m not paying for that wall.'”

He said nothing. She got to him again, and then there was this about Syria:

He criticized Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad as “a bad guy,” but praised him for outsmarting President Obama and others who had called for Assad to step down. “He’s just much tougher, and much smarter, than her and Obama,” Trump said.

He said the same thing about Putin. He’s impressed with these two guys. He’s not impressed with Barack and Hillary. He’d be more like those two, perhaps, and no one understood what he was saying about Mosul.

Clinton won this one, but that’s a first take. This may play out differently in the coming days, but Josh Marshall offers this:

Winning or losing debates doesn’t matter. Mike Pence arguably won the Veep debate; but the net effect of the debate hurt his ticket. All that really matters is the impact debates have on the election outcome. Hillary Clinton now has a sizable lead. Trump was the one who needed to dramatically shift the trajectory of the election. By that measure, he clearly failed.

It’s also worth comparing this debate to the first two.

Trump had clearly prepared more for this debate. He was more disciplined than in the first debate and lacked the some of the bellicosity of the second. I couldn’t help noticing that he’d been prepped about not making sarcastic or grimacing expressions while Clinton was speaking. Not unlike the first debate, he kept his cool reasonably well for the first twenty to twenty-five minutes. But coming up on a half hour in Clinton started to get under his skin, started to get him angry. Yet it didn’t quite play out as it did in the first debate where he basically fell apart for the last hour of the debate and got pummeled. He was able to avoid really falling apart. He was mostly able to right himself and had some decent moments late in the debate.

But that’s not what matters:

The substance of the debate came down to two things. Clinton was able to deliver a handful of stinging blows against Trump, going as far as to call a “puppet” of Vladimir Putin. This was preceded by a brutal recitation of evidence that Trump is willingly going along with a foreign power trying to interfere in a US election. Later in the debate she went after him on his very long history of saying he was cheated or contests were “rigged” when he’s simply losing. These runs focused attention on Trump’s most dangerous qualities. He could do little to rebut them and he was quaking, with angry jabs here and there, “Such a nasty woman.”

More important however were the statements Clinton and Chris Wallace provoked. The biggest one of course was his repeated refusal to accept the result of a democratic election. When Wallace first asked he said: “I will look at it at the time.” When Wallace pressed him again he said: “I’ll keep you in suspense, okay.”

That kind of ‘suspense’ is precisely what makes democratic polities collapse. Vicious cycles of civic violence and violation of democratic norms have the pernicious effect of distorting and transforming the behavior of those who believe in democratic institutions. They create a setting in which it becomes rational to take steps that undermine them further. If you really don’t know if your opponent will accept the result of the election, you start taking steps to guard against what happens if he doesn’t. You take steps to protect yourself, your political future, maybe your safety and property. This is the death spiral of democracies.

That is serious stuff:

It is hard to weigh in the balance Trump’s violations of our democratic order but this was a considerably greater violation than the pledge to jail Clinton if he becomes president, though that was as former Attorney General Michael Mukasey accurately put it, “a watershed.” Yet they are both parts of the same civic cancer: politics through raw power and violence, as opposed to a combat of political forces, often unruly, mediated by the rule of law and respect for democratic institutions. The universal acceptance of those core rules allows everything that is vital in politics take to place. It’s really that bad.

But the man is who he is:

What I find notable is that Trump not only has little respect for our democratic institutions, his mindset and worldview makes it impossible for him to answer that question in a truly democratic, American way. For Trump, life is deal-making and power-plays. It’s dominance. Who negotiates with himself? Sure, I’ll probably accept the results but let me keep you guessing. Like anyone who deals in zero-sum adversary negotiations and operates in a mental world of dominance, the answer makes perfect sense. Why should I show you my cards when I don’t have to? But of course, in a democracy, under the rule of law, there are lines we never try to resist… Because of his primitive mentality and his indifference to democratic government this was impossible for him to see.

I suspect many among his core supporters will thrill to his defiance. But again, those people don’t amount to nearly enough votes to win the election. From the very start of the general election campaign the biggest liability Trump has carried is the perception that he lacks the temperament, emotional stability and judgment to be president. He confirmed that a thousand times over tonight.

That’s what people may see after the dust settles:

We could pick over the transcript for denials about the numerous sexual assault accusers, Syrian no fly zones, ISIS, this attack and that attack. There were countless snorts, unlovely phrases, distortions and falsehoods here and there, just as we had in the earlier debates. I barely remembered his outrageous claim that the long planned assault on Mosul was a campaign ploy to help Clinton. But this is what mattered in this debate. I suspect it will remain a dominant theme throughout the remaining three weeks of the campaign. And I’m confident this debate and that answer will be discussed, likely taught, for decades into the future.

So that’s the hot-take here, or one of them. There’s also Gail Collins:

Hillary Clinton noted that Trump tends to presume that whenever he loses anything, the system was rigged: “There was even a time when he didn’t get an Emmy for his TV program three years in a row and he started tweeting that the Emmys were rigged.”

“I should have gotten it,” Trump retorted.

Did he want to prove her point? He did, and Collins was not surprised:

This is obviously what we should have known was coming when the host of “The Celebrity Apprentice” wound up as a presidential nominee. But jeepers, people, this is serious. Trump was refusing to acknowledge it was even possible for him to lose a fair fight. At one point, he announced the election was rigged because Hillary Clinton was in it. (“She should never have been allowed to run for the presidency based on what she did with emails.”)

The rigged-election moment overshadowed everything else in the debate, during which Trump made very strange faces while Clinton was talking, but did manage to avoid going completely off the rails. Does that make him a success? We are once again faced with the problem of the very, very low bar. Still, no.

Now add this:

They also had a whopping argument about – guess who? Vladimir Putin! “Putin from everything I see has no respect for this person,” Trump said, referring to Clinton. The fight went on for a while, until she cannily managed to divert the discussion to the possibility of placing Trump’s “finger on the nuclear button.”

Okay, two critical takeaways. Trump won’t promise to concede if he loses, and if he wins, he gets control of the nukes. These are the only things you need to think about for the next two and a half weeks.

The rest, however, was expected:

We have been down this debate road before, and we knew before the evening started that when Trump was asked about groping women, he’d deny everything, blame it on Hillary Clinton and then bring up the emails. And that when the emails came up, Clinton would mention the way Trump insulted John McCain’s war record, the Mexican-American judge and the parents of the dead war hero.

“Such a nasty woman,” Trump said at one point. As the debate went on, he got more sullen, his expressions stranger. One of the things we have now learned for sure, three debates running, is that he has a serious stamina problem. Hillary Clinton has many faults. She tends to give long, rather boring answers. She has never learned how to deal with the email question. But the woman is an absolute rock in these long-running, high-stress critical encounters.

Also, she made it very clear that she would accept the results of the election, even if she lost…

Later on CNN, his campaign manager said Trump would indeed accept the results “because he’s going to win the election.” This was not particularly reassuring.

And so with this:

He promised to run the country “the way I run my company,” and a great part of the listening public contemplated the fact that this is a guy who’s declared bankruptcy six times. But we’ve already forgotten all about it.

Collins seems a bit overwhelmed, but Maureen Dowd had this hot take:

Continuing to deploy lethal darts from her team of shrinks, Hillary Clinton baited Trump into a series of damaging nails-in-the-coffin statements. And it was so easy. The one-time litigator prosecuted the case against Trump, sparking another temperamental spiral, as effectively as Chris Christie once broke down Marco Rubio.

In Trump’s warped fun-house mirror of a psyche, every rejection is a small death. That is why he harps on humiliation, that America is being humiliated on the world stage, that we are losing potency – a theme that resonates with angry voters who feel humiliated by their dwindling economic fortunes and angry about illegal immigrants and refugees swarming in who might be competition.

That’s what Clinton understood:

No doubt it is hard for a man – whose lovely, sphinxlike wife rarely talks at dinners with friends to make room for more talking by Trump – to listen to an opinionated woman speak dismissively to him over 90 minutes.

When Clinton called Trump a Putin puppet, he unraveled, once more proving how malleable he is with anyone from Vladimir Putin to Clinton, who either praises him or pokes him.

“No puppet. No puppet. You’re the puppet,” he said, going into what the former Obama chief speechwriter Jon Favreau tweeted was “a full Baldwin.” Talking about Putin, Trump once more offered the simple reason he has flipped his party’s wary stance toward the Evil Empire, subjugating his party’s ideology to his own ego: “He said nice things about me.” Similarly, he reduced a debate about the Supreme Court to the fact that Ruth Bader Ginsburg had attacked him and had to apologize.

He was so unnerved that he said one of the most shocking things ever heard in a debate, putting his ego ahead of American democracy.

People got that:

The inanity continued, naturally, when Trump spinners talked to the press after the debate.

As The Washington Post’s Robert Costa tweeted, Sarah Palin told reporters that Trump will accept only a “legitimate” election, and anything else would betray those who “died” for freedom.

And the Post’s Phil Rucker tweeted that “Giuliani just predicted Dems will ‘steal’ the election in Pennsylvania by busing in people from out of state to pose as dead people to cast ballots.”

This may only get worse for Trump, as even Fox News was dismayed:

The criticisms of Donald Trump refusal to say that he would accept the results of the election were broad and impassioned, with even pundits on Fox News calling his answer at Wednesday’s night’s debate “political suicide,” ” a totally wrong answer” and “not the way we play politics.”

“The headline out of this debate, as far as I can tell, is the refusal to say he would accept the results of the election. That doesn’t happen usually in America,” Brit Hume said. “It’s newsworthy, it’s controversial, it is a big deal. And so the question is, is that something that will help him? I doubt it.”

They knew:

“The number one most discussed issue on social media tonight was Donald Trump’s unwillingness to accept the legitimacy of the results of the election,” Megyn Kelly said, while repeating his remarks. “That had the online equivalent of a jaw-drop among many Republicans even, as trouble that he didn’t need to stir up for himself and to take away from what was otherwise a fairly solid debate performance.”

In the same vein, other conservative pundits framed the remark as a devastating blemish on an otherwise above-average (for Trump) debate performance – though at least a few were willing to point out its dangers to democracy as well.

“When you say that you’ll consider it, you’ll think about it. To me, that’s a showstopper. I don’t know how you get past that,” said Juan Williams. “That’s not in our American tradition. That’s not the way we play politics.”

“He’s the guy that really needed to pull something off tonight, and even if he did, and he may well have in the eyes of many people, I think he stepped on it by refusing to say he would accept the results,” Hume said.

There was nowhere to hide:

Chris Stirewalt ticked off his own list of strong moments for Trump, before turning to election answer.

“Unfortunately for him, he said the thing about the elections and that is going to blow up everything else.”

Fox News figures were also quick to point out that Trump had put himself explicitly at odds with his own surrogates and advisers.

“I know they went over this in debate prep. And obviously Kellyanne Conway and others have out there publicly saying, ‘No-no-no. We’re not challenging. We’re just talking about the unfair media and Trump gave the answer he wanted to give,'” Howard Kurtz said, adding that, before that moment, he thought it was Trump’s best general election debate performance yet.

“But with that one answer – sometimes it takes one minute out of the 90 – Trump reset it. That’s going to be the big story,” Kurtz said.

“He blew it up by a totally wrong answer on accepting the results,” Charles Krauthammer said, calling it “a terrible mistake.”

“This was not a gaffe where you say something off the cuff and it’s what you think, but it’s wrong. You know that he had been coached on this. You know that his vice president had said, ‘Of course, we’ll accept the result,’ and his campaign manager and his daughter,” Krauthammer said. “You know he’s convinced this is something you want to take a stand on. The calculation – this is political suicide.”

Krauthammer is a trained psychiatrist. He should know. That was his hot take on all this, but no doubt Trump will say he won this thing.

Let the dust settle. Give it a day or two. Perhaps, in a few days, this will be seen as the debate that stopped Trump’s freefall in the polls and made him president. Or perhaps this will seem worse than all the immediate hot takes made this seem. Which will it be? Everyone knows.

Posted in Third Presidential Debate, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Baiting the Bear

There are things that aren’t done anymore:

Bear-baiting was popular in England until the 19th century. From the sixteenth century, many bears were maintained for baiting. In its best-known form, arenas for this purpose were called bear-gardens, consisting of a circular high fenced area, the “pit”, and raised seating for spectators. A post would be set in the ground towards the edge of the pit and the bear chained to it, either by the leg or neck. A number of well-trained fighting or baiting dogs, usually Old English Bulldog, would then be set on it, being replaced as they got tired or were wounded or killed. In some cases the bear was let loose, allowing it to chase after animals or people… Henry VIII was a fan and had a pit constructed at Whitehall. Elizabeth I was also fond of the entertainment; it featured regularly in her tours. When an attempt was made to ban bear-baiting on Sundays, she overruled Parliament.

The queen knew what made her smile, but this was an odd sort of fun – nasty and cruel – and it never caught on in America – except in South Carolina:

Public bear baiting competitions are held in Spartanburg, Hickory Grove, and Travelers Rest. Backyard events are reportedly held throughout the rural areas of northwest South Carolina during much of the year.

ESPN doesn’t cover such things. We’re more civilized than that, and there are only so many bears to go around, and all the dead dogs present an ethical problem. Everybody likes dogs. Michael Vick found that out:

In April 2007, Vick was implicated in an illegal interstate dog fighting ring that had operated on his property for five years. A federal judge noted that he had promoted, funded, and facilitated a dog fighting ring on his property, and had engaged in hanging and drowning dogs who did not perform well. He also had failed to cooperate fully with police. In August 2007, Vick pleaded guilty to federal felony charges and served 21 months in prison, followed by two months in home confinement. Hurt financially by the loss of his NFL salary and product endorsement deals, combined with previous financial mismanagement, Vick filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in July 2008. Falcons owner Arthur Blank did not want Vick on his team, so the team released Vick after failing to trade him.

That nasty and cruel stuff should be confined to the professionals on the football field, and except for in that one pocket in the rural South, bear-baiting is considered reprehensible. But the concept, in the abstract, is a winner. The big powerful growling bear, helpless on his chain, lashes out at those bedeviling little dogs and can’t do a damned thing about it. It’s a metaphor for the little guy getting the best of the bully. It’s dangerous but fun. It’s always fun to bait the big bad bear and watch him lash out, stupidly.

We confine that stuff to politics. This year Donald Trump is the bear, as Politico’s Sarah Wheaton explains here:

President Barack Obama has some advice for Donald Trump: Man up.

Obama has been building on this latest bit of psy-ops over the past week, with a combination of infantilization and emasculation that contrasts with the “broad-shouldered” imagery that Gov. Mike Pence likes to use to describe the top of the Republican ticket.

It’s the classier version of mocking Trump for having small hands, instead impugning his “toughness,” as Obama did on Tuesday when asked about Trump’s latest accusations that the election will be rigged.

“I’d advise Mr. Trump to stop whining and go try to make his case to get votes,” Obama said. “It doesn’t really show the kind of leadership and toughness that you’d want out of a president.”

He added, “If you start whining before the game is even over, if whenever things are going badly for you and you lose you start blaming somebody else, then you don’t have what it takes to be in this job.”

In short, Trump is no big bad bear. He’s a whiney little boy. Obama was baiting Trump the day before the third and final presidential debate, seeing if he could get him to lash out, stupidly. Trump is the rather stupid bear that always does that, but this was part of an ongoing effort:

Obama first suggested Trump was being a crybaby and pre-emptively sore loser in August, as Trump started loudly suggesting that the general election would be rigged against him.

“All of us at some points in our lives have played sports or maybe just played in a schoolyard or a sandbox. And sometimes folks, if they lose, they start complaining that they got cheated,” Obama said then, answering reporters’ questions just before his summer vacation.

Yep, everyone knows that pathetic kid, and they know the other kind of kid:

At a campaign rally for Hillary Clinton on Friday, Obama used it as a point of contrast between her and Trump.

“No matter how tough the odds, no matter how much people try to knock her down, she doesn’t point fingers or whine,” Obama said. “She doesn’t talk about how everything is rigged. She just works harder and gets the job done.”

He continued, “I notice her opponent – he seems to be in the middle of the game, making excuses all the time for why he might be losing. And it’s always interesting to me to see folks who talk tough but then don’t act tough. Because if you’re tough, you don’t make excuses. You don’t start complaining about the refs before the game is even done. You just play the game, right?”

Obama was taunting him, mocking him, baiting him – and the big bad bear hates that. The big bad bear will lash out. The big bad bear always does. It’s great fun.

This will make the debate fun. The bear will be chained to the stage. Trump can’t just walk out. He has to respond, and there’s that other matter:

Obama’s been even harder on Trump at campaign rallies, using his own family-man example as a contrast with Trump’s “locker room banter” version of manhood.

“You don’t have to be a husband or a father to hear what we heard just a few days ago and say, ‘That’s not right.’ You just have to be a decent human being to say that’s not right,” Obama said last week in North Carolina, in reference to a 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape of Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women without consequence.

Since it leaked, Trump has argued that the 11-year-old tapes aren’t relevant, because his time on the campaign trail has changed his perspective. But Obama argued that if Trump was pleading immaturity, then the condition is incurable.

“I mean, I’m 55. It’s hard for me to change. I know at 70 it’s gonna be harder,” he said.

The bear has been baited, and the bear lashes out:

As Donald Trump amps up his allegations that the election will somehow be rigged against him, he and his surrogates have latched on to a myth that fraudulent votes somehow swung North Carolina to President Obama’s favor in 2008.

Trump himself referenced the theory – that was first put forward in a flimsy and controversial 2014 Washington Post op-ed – from the stump in a speech in Wisconsin Monday evening, where he told the crowd, “It is possible that non-citizen votes were responsible for Obama’s 2008 victory in North Carolina.”

He went into more specifics at campaign rally in Colorado Tuesday.

“In 2014 the Washington Post, another beauty, published an article entitled ‘Could Non-Citizens Decide the November Election.'” Trump said. “The article found that 14% of non-citizens were registered to vote, 14% were registered to vote. And we’re not supposed to talk about it. And your Republican leaders said ‘everything is peachy dory’ right?”

The article Trump referenced was actually a controversial op-ed published by the Washington Post blog Monkey Cage. Its authors’ mention of North Carolina was almost purely speculative, and based not on any reports from the election itself, but rather data they had crunched regarding the voter registration rates of non-citizens. Their logic was rebutted by three separate pieces on the Washington Post site alone, and their findings questioned by a peer-reviewed article.

But that hasn’t stop Trump and his surrogates from fanning the myth that somehow undocumented immigrants were able to hand Obama North Carolina in 2008.

That rates the pants-on-fire rating from PolitiFact and Obama would have won the 2008 election even without North Carolina, of course. What was THAT about? The bear had been baited.

And the bear lashes out:

President Obama’s Kenyan-born, half-brother Malik will be in the audience in Las Vegas Wednesday night when Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton square off in their third and final debate.

Malik – an American citizen who lives in Washington, DC, when he’s not in Kenya – says he will be a guest of Trump….

Malik agrees with Trump that the mainstream media is biased, and he dismisses the women who claim Trump kissed or groped them without their permission….

Malik also blasted Clinton’s performance as secretary of the State Department for exacerbating the chaos and violence in the Mideast. Malik said ousted Libyan leader Moammar Khadafy had been a good friend. “Check out the situation in Libya now,” he said.

Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog has a few things to say about that:

Trump, obviously, has done a godawful job of running a general election campaign. But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that there’s some value in continually motivating the base with nasty insults and conspiracy theories. Let’s accept his logic when he concluded that inviting women who’ve accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault to Debate #2 would rattle Hillary, or that he’d get under her skin by describing her as frail and sickly. Obviously, none of this has actually worked for him, but it’s kept some voters loyal to him at least, and the debate stunt and some of the insults must have been somewhat unsettling to Clinton (although she’s managed the chaos like a Zen master).

But what the hell is the point of this? Malik is the brother of the current president, not (let’s just say it) the next one. I didn’t know until I read the link that he’d criticized Clinton at all. It’s infantile to keep looking for psych-outs, but this won’t even work as a psych-out. It’s just a nod to the Breitbart base – the only people who probably have any idea who Malik is – and it works for them only because all of their hatreds are eternally present, so seeing an Obama (even an Obama who’s critical of the better-known one) hits a hate pleasure center as surely as yelling “Bill Clinton’s a rapist!” at a Democratic rally does.

And that misses the whole point of baiting the bear. The bear has to care, so focus matters:

At this point, Trump, presumably under Steve Bannon’s influence, is just rummaging through the wingnut anger archives and pulling out random bits and pieces. Maybe at the debate he’ll forget who his opponent is and start ranting about golf and returned Winston Churchill busts – or reach back in time and attack Jimmy Carter or Ted Kennedy or Sean Penn or the Dixie Chicks.

That’s where the fun is. Obama was taunting Trump about what Trump cares about – his broad-shouldered masculinity and the obvious fact that Trump is a winner who never loses at anything. Is that so, Donald? Trump fires back. You have an obscure half-brother who’s voting for ME – not Hillary – and Moammar Khadafy had been a good friend of his! No, wait – scratch that last part.

Well, there was this effort too:

Pat Smith, the mother of Information Officer Sean Smith who was killed in the September 12, 2012 attack in Benghazi, has accepted Trump’s invitation to attend tomorrow night’s event in Las Vegas. Smith makes frequent cable news appearances, and has memorably lashed out against Hillary Clinton for her role in the attacks on the Libyan compound.

Trump wants to sit her in the front row, but as with Bill Clinton’s accusers at the last debate, that may not be allowed – and this is not baiting anyway. This is for the base. Clinton had no role in those attacks. The dispute is about Clinton’s initial characterization of the attacks. She called them the “wrong” thing at the time. It wasn’t that video. Pat Smith won’t forgive her for that. It’s a somewhat obscure point, and Clinton stopped taking that bait long ago. And after eight government investigations and endless congressional hearings, capped off with Clinton being grilled for eleven straight hours, there’s nothing more to say. Trump isn’t pulling off a surprise that will bait Clinton into stupidly lashing out. She did that once, years ago – “What difference does it make!” She won’t do that again. She’s not Trump. She doesn’t take the bait.

Trump does, and a baited bear can be dangerous, as Trip Gabriel explains:

Warning darkly of a stolen election, Donald J. Trump has called on supporters to turn out in droves on Election Day to monitor polling places, telling them they need to be vigilant against widespread voter fraud and a rigged outcome.

“Voter fraud is all too common, and then they criticize us for saying that,” he said at a rally Tuesday in Colorado Springs. “But take a look at Philadelphia, what’s been going on, take a look at Chicago, take a look at St. Louis. Take a look at some of these cities, where you see things happening that are horrendous.”

His language has stirred increasing fears of intimidation of minorities inside polling places, where their qualifications to vote could be challenged, or outside, where they would face illegal electioneering.

Harassing black folks trying to vote is always a bad idea, but luckily for Trump, there’s a natural check on that:

As Mr. Trump casts doubt on the integrity of the presidential election, there are no signs of a wave of Trump poll watchers building. Like much else about his campaign, his call to “get everybody to go out and watch” the polls seems to be a Potemkin effort, with little or no organization behind it.

Republican and election officials in cities and states that Mr. Trump has singled out for potential widespread voter fraud, including Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Ohio, said his message to supporters to become poll watchers had generated scant response.

“There’s a real disconnect between the intensity of the buzz at the national level and anything we’ve seen on the ground,” said Al Schmidt, a Republican who is the vice chairman of Philadelphia’s election board. “We haven’t received a single call from somebody outside of Philadelphia looking to be a poll watcher.”

This may be all talk, or maybe not:

Even if few are heeding Mr. Trump’s call to sign up as poll watchers, a big question is whether Trump supporters will nevertheless flood polling places on Election Day in Democratic strongholds.

Lisa M. Deeley, a Democrat on the Philadelphia voting board, said she feared that Trump supporters would gather at polling sites, where they are allowed to go within 10 feet of the entrances, to jeer voters.

That could keep more than a few black and brown people from voting for Clinton, as they choose not to face that sort of thing. Sure, it’s illegal, but by the time anyone is charged with voter intimidation, the election will be over. Bait Trump and he’ll send these folks in, unless, as the reports indicate, no one signs up to jeer because they’re busy with their own lives. Every plan has its flaw.

But Trump has managed to achieve what Dana Milbank reports here:

We are three weeks from the election, and very close to the edge.

Retiree Gerald Miller, a volunteer at Donald Trump’s rally here, is confident his man will win on Nov. 8 – unless there’s foul play.

Miller, wearing an NRA pin and a tea party cap over his long hair, shares Trump’s concern that the election may be “rigged” by the Clinton campaign. “It is enough to skew the election. They can swing it either way,” he said, particularly because Hillary Clinton may have “the FBI working for her” in committing the fraud.

So what happens if Clinton is declared the winner? “Donald Trump is going to holler fraud if he doesn’t win,” figured Miller, who is white and says he has PTSD from “racial violence” he suffered in the military. “I think we’re on the verge of a civil war, a racial war. This could be the spark that sets it off.”

That’s what Milbank was hearing:

I spent a couple of hours before the rally in this indoor show ring talking to many Trump supporters and found them in states of denial and fury. I didn’t find one who expects Trump to lose. To varying degrees, most agreed with Trump that the election process is rigged. And some predicted ominous things if Trump loses – if not violence, a mass rejection of the legitimacy of the democratic process.

Ann Macomber, a Christian, retired teacher and Trump volunteer handing out fliers saying “Hillary Clinton is coming for your guns,” told me the voting system in Colorado has been “infiltrated”: dead people voting, voters with bogus addresses, precincts that report more votes than registered voters. “It’s happening. It’s sad,” Macomber said. “If we lose this election, we can’t trust anything in America anymore. We’re not sovereign.”

That’s what they heard:

“Voter fraud is all too common,” Trump told a few thousand people Tuesday afternoon in Colorado Springs, but if you mention it, he said, “they say bad things about you, they call you a racist.” He scolded Republican leaders for saying “everything is peachy” with the election process and warned that this could be the year “America truly lost its independence.” Warned Trump – “It’s going to be a one-party system. This is your final shot.”

He particularly scolded the press, which “created a rigged system and poisoned the minds of so many of our voters.” But he also found corruption in voter surveys (“I don’t believe the polls anymore”) and in his opponent (“many times worse than Watergate”).

“We won’t let them stop maybe the greatest movement in the history of our country!” Trump said, prompting chants of “USA!,” some foul language shouted at the press corps and, after the rally, a mass chant of “Shame on you!” directed at the press risers.

And that leads to this:

The candidate’s reckless closing message that nothing is on the level – not Democrats, not the press, not the polls, not Republican leaders, not even the integrity of the voting process – has left many of his supporters prepared to declare the election results illegitimate.

“I know the Democrats cheat. I’ve seen it,” Jay Hendricks, wearing a “Hillary Clinton Killed My Friends” T-shirt, told me at the rally.

Joseph Salmons, wearing a “Les Deplorables” T-shirt and pin, told me the election won’t end anything. “The movement’s starting. Even if he doesn’t win, it’s gonna tip,” he said.

But tip into what? “I sincerely hope people don’t lose their minds,” Salmons said.

It’s too late for that. Trump can be easily baited, but the Republicans did nominate him. “In some cases the bear was let loose, allowing it to chase after animals or people…”

That’s the problem now.

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Caught in the Rigging

Those Star Trek conventions were odd, with folks in odd costumes chatting with each other in what they thought was Klingon and a hundred Spocks in a row – but those conventions are pretty much history. Now it’s Comic-Con International in San Diego and its imitators in other cities – a Batman here, a Joker there, and an Ironman or two, and Star Wars folks too. Everyone’s a Wookie. But everyone has conventions. There may be an Industrial Plastic Fasteners Marketers Convention. Lawyers go to ABA conventions. The like-minded like to get together and compare notes, and have a little fun if they can.

Campbell Robertson reports on one of those, the annual Lee Harvey Oswald Conference:

“What the government tells you is rarely the truth, and it’s never the complete truth,” proclaimed Roger Stone, the veteran political operative and longtime confidant of Donald J. Trump.

To the approving hoots of several dozen audience members on Sunday in a conference room at the Crowne Plaza New Orleans Airport Hotel, Mr. Stone went on to contend that his candidate was no tool of the elite power brokers at the Trilateral Commission or the Bilderberg meetings – and then he asserted paternity cover-ups within the Clinton family, declared that one group supporting Hillary Clinton was a “criminal-based money-laundering operation” and promised “devastating” revelations among hacked emails yet to be released.

And, in a brief detour, he explained that Lyndon B. Johnson helped orchestrate the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

The last part – while hardly the focus of Mr. Stone’s speech – was what had brought him, for the second year in a row, to the annual Lee Harvey Oswald Conference, a gathering of conspiracy amateurs and prolific authors that is timed around Oswald’s birthday (Oct. 18). The conference is dedicated to the proposition, as the conference organizer explained in his introductory remarks, that “Lee Harvey Oswald was a patsy and that it was a coup d’état that happened and we lost our country.”

That’s a Trump kind of thought, so for the second year in a row, one of Trump’s main men was the guest of honor:

In between the dissections of events from 53 years ago, the proceedings repeatedly came back to the current election. Mr. Trump, the Republican nominee, who for years raised doubts about whether President Obama was born in the United States, has charged that the election is “one big fix” and has accused Mrs. Clinton of meeting secretly with global financial powers “to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty,” all while intelligence officials warn of covert Russian attempts to manipulate the vote.

That fit right in:

The idea that political figures are at the whim of shadowy forces is a core principle of the conference. The notion that elections have always been rigged was echoed by at least one presenter: Sean Stone, the son of the director Oliver Stone, whose 1991 film “JFK” is effectively one of the conference’s founding documents. There was also extensive and generally favorable discussion of claims put forward by Mr. Trump that Senator Ted Cruz’s father had played a role in a conspiracy behind the Kennedy assassination.

Still this Oswald conference is not easy to pin down, politically:

If there was any “party” loyalty, it was with Oswald, considered an honorable patriot manipulated and impugned by conspirators, and with Kennedy, described by one attendee as among the country’s great conservatives and by one speaker as a “kind of better-looking Bernie Sanders.”

Kris Millegan, an amiable publisher of conspiracy books and the chief organizer of the conference – and a self-described “Bernie man” – said the politics here flouted the usual labels.

“When you get people from the far left and far right, they’re really kind of saying the same things,” he said.

Perhaps they’re speaking to each other in Klingon, but this was all about loss:

A sense that some vital national essence was lost on Nov. 22, 1963, was alluded to again and again at the conference. There was also a conviction that the forces that had taken it away were still in control.

“If they did that to us 50-some-odd years ago, what are they doing today?” asked the Rev. Hy McEnery, 65, a New Orleans chaplain and a committed Trump supporter who also had questions about whether the BP oil spill had been planned.

They want to make America great again, as it was on November 21, 1963, but they did have fun:

In the beer garden of a biker bar on Saturday night, a celebration of Oswald’s birthday included a cake, a “Happy Birthday” singalong and live music performed by Saint John Hunt, a son of E. Howard Hunt, one of the Richard M. Nixon operatives implicated in the Watergate break-in.

And if that didn’t cheer people up, there was this:

To some at the conference, there was little to do but despair. The books on sale depicted forces aligned against the truth on an almost incomprehensible scale, arguing that the public was being duped about the Kennedy assassination, Watergate, the Sept. 11 attacks, the origin of HIV and AIDS, the Nuremberg trials, the Federal Reserve, vaccinations, UFO’s and countless other matters. The idea that a vote for any candidate would make a difference, several said wearily, just seemed naïve.

But Mr. Stone’s brash confidence convinced others that this election was a chance to fight back – and when internet connectivity in the conference room suddenly dropped out during Mr. Stone’s speech, they saw it as a sign that someone saw Mr. Trump as a threat who had to be suppressed.

They needed no further proof. The fix was in, and on the Monday after this conference, Donald Trump gave them everything they hoped for:

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Monday cited studies he said showed rampant voter fraud, saying the Nov. 8 election was “rigged” against him even as Republican lawyers called his allegations unfounded…

“They even want to try to rig the election at the polling place,” Trump told a rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin. “So many cities are corrupt and voter fraud is very, very common.”

Trump cited Pew Trusts research from 2012 that called for updates to the voter registration system because about 24 million registrations were inaccurate.

He also referred to a 2014 article by two political scientists in the Washington Post that said non-citizens who voted could have accounted for Democratic victories in a few close elections in 2008, although the authors acknowledged the sample size of their study was small.

That was good enough, even if Trump’s own party, sort of, was unhappy:

Republican campaign lawyer Chris Ashby said Trump’s charges could foment unrest and were “unfounded” and “dangerous.”

“When you say an election is rigged, you’re telling voters, your supporters, their votes do not matter,” Ashby said in an interview. “I think some of Donald Trump’s comments could cause unrest at the polls.”

Of course they will. That’s why Republicans have told Trump to cut it out, because it’s nonsense:

Mark Braden, partner at Baker and Hostetler and former chief counsel for the Republican National Committee, said that any sort of election rigging at the national level “just is impossible,” citing the various systems in place that would make such an endeavor complicated and unfeasible.

“Our system is principally a system based upon each side watching the other side,” Braden said in an interview. “Our system is dependent on local volunteer participation. Our system has worked very well because we have people who get involved in the process and perform these functions.”

Trump wasn’t in the mood to hear such things:

Trump also pounced on the release on Monday of Federal Bureau of Investigation documents that he alleged showed “felony corruption.”

The documents cited an FBI official as saying a senior State Department official sought to pressure the bureau in 2015 to drop its insistence that an email from Clinton’s private server contained classified information…

“This is worse than Watergate, what’s going on with this,” said Trump.

Yeah, yeah – everything’s worse than Watergate – but the idea was to rein in Trump about this election stuff:

The country’s top elected Republican, House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, tried to counter Trump’s message about election fraud. Spokeswoman AshLee Strong said Ryan “is fully confident the states will carry out this election with integrity.”

In the traditionally hard-fought state of Ohio, the top elections official, a Republican, said concerns about widespread voter fraud were simply not justified.

“I can reassure Donald Trump: I am in charge of elections in Ohio and they’re not going to be rigged, I’ll make sure of that,” Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted told CNN.

In a report titled “The Truth about Voter Fraud,” the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law cited voter fraud incident rates between 0.00004 percent and 0.0009 percent.

An August study by the Washington Post found 31 credible cases of impersonation fraud out of more than 1 billion votes cast in elections from 2000 to 2014. Arizona State University studies in 2012 and 2016 found similarly low rates.

That’s what THEY say. But Paul Waldman sees the irony here:

The profound threat to democracy created by a major party nominee encouraging his voters not to accept the results of the election has even Republicans getting nervous. But if they say that Trump has gone too far, they have only themselves to blame.

We’ve seen this pattern again and again in this election. Here’s how it works: 1) Trump takes something Republicans have implied or tried to subtly exploit, and presents it in a much more literal, and often vulgar, way. 2) The idea comes under greater scrutiny, and it becomes impossible for any sensible observer to treat it as though it isn’t factually bogus, morally despicable, or both. 3) Supposedly sensible Republicans claim that they’re deeply troubled by what Trump is saying.

That may be the bigger nonsense:

On immigration, Republicans say we need strong border security, and Trump comes right out and says Mexicans are rapists and we need to build a wall. Republicans advocate “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and Trump says “torture works,” and even it doesn’t we should do it because “they deserve it anyway” (and we should kill their families to boot). Republicans warn of “Sharia law” but say they aren’t anti-Muslim, and Trump just says, let’s go ahead and ban Muslims from entering the United States.

And now Republicans are shocked, shocked that Trump would work so hard to delegitimize the electoral process.

They should have known better:

How is it possible that the Republican nominee for president would be able to convince so many people that the voting will be rigged? Maybe it’s because conservative media figures and Republican politicians have for years been saying that ACORN, an organization that was focused in part on registering poor people to vote, was in the business of stealing elections. Indeed, even though ACORN went out of business in 2010, for years afterward Republicans continued to insert provisions into spending bills banning the group from receiving federal money – a group that no longer existed. After the 2012 election, half of Republicans said in one poll that they believed this non-existent organization stole the election for Obama.

And there’s this:

If you’re wondering why, when he’s in Pennsylvania, Trump will tell his nearly all-white audiences to watch the polls in “certain areas,” look no further than Fox News’ extraordinary campaign to convince its viewers that a 2008 incident in Philadelphia – in which a couple of knuckleheads from the New Black Panther Party stood outside a polling place glaring menacingly at voters – was a crime on par with the Rape of Nanking or the Armenian genocide. In one two-week period in 2010, Megyn Kelly did 45 separate segments on the New Black Panther case despite the fact that George W. Bush’s Justice Department decided it was too trivial to merit any criminal charges.

Actually, someone else was doing the rigging:

if you’re wondering why Trump supporters are so eager to believe that the vote will be rigged, perhaps you could find the explanation in the fact that the GOP in the last few years has embarked on an extraordinary campaign of vote suppression aimed primarily at minorities, which they’ve justified with the claim that massive vote fraud takes place in American elections.

There are approximately zero prominent Republicans who have raised any objections to this effort, which includes things like ID requirements, restrictions on early voting (particularly on Sundays, when African-American churches often mount “souls to the polls” drives), and moves to make it somewhere between difficult and impossible for non-profit organizations to register voters.

With the possible exception of the claim that the insane regulations Republican legislatures impose on abortion clinics are intended only to safeguard women’s health, there is no more disingenuous argument anyone offers in American politics today than the idea that Republican vote suppression efforts are truly about stopping voter fraud.

So let’s be honest: When Republican legislatures try to make it as hard as possible for certain people to register and vote, they know that their warnings about the supposedly dire threat of voter impersonation are, as the late Antonin Scalia would have said, pure applesauce. As a judge in a case involving North Carolina’s restrictions put it, despite Republicans’ insistence that they were only concerned with the integrity of the election, the law in question was actually constructed to “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.” In other states, Republican legislatures have been broader in their vote suppression efforts; for instance, a law passed in Texas would accept hunting licenses as valid ID to vote, but not student IDs from state universities. The fact that Republicans can claim without breaking into gales of uproarious laughter that that’s about anything other than making it harder for Democrats to get to the polls is a tribute to their commitment to their cause.

So spare us the indignant reaction from Republican election officials who themselves have worked so hard to place roadblocks in front of minorities trying to vote, when they discover that their base bought all their bogus rhetoric about fraud and don’t trust the electoral process.

They’ve got this all backwards:

As President Obama said the other day in so many words… You built that.

But wait – Mike Pence broke with Donald Trump. He said “we” will accept the outcome of this election, even if Trump is escalating his insistence that he won’t and no one else should. Mike Pence may be one of the good guys here.

Well, no. Jeff Nesbit, the communications director to former Vice President Dan Quayle (a thankless task) and author of Poison Tea (he really doesn’t like the Tea Party at all) reminds us of this:

Indiana’s Republican governor, Mike Pence – Trump’s running mate – has sent state troopers into more than half of the state’s counties to conduct “investigations” into potential voter fraud.

In one county alone, state troopers seized application papers for more than 45,000 newly registered black voters – effectively keeping them from voting in what is likely to be close presidential and Senate contests in the state. Multiply that sort of seizure of newly registered voter papers in 50-plus counties in Indiana by state troopers conducting investigations, and it’s likely more than enough to make a difference in a close contest.

Pence officials have said that the state police investigations are legitimate and that they believe instances of voter fraud will be found. But this looks mostly like voter suppression, conducted under the guise of an investigation of voter “fraud” (which, again, is essentially nonexistent in America). It’s more likely it has one simple, direct goal in mind: to disenfranchise voters. In this case, the goal would seem to be to keep newly registered black voters from supporting either Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton or Senate Democratic candidate Evan Bayh.

Someone really is rigging the election. It’s the Republicans, and Donald Trump is still losing. That can’t be, unless he’s actually winning. An item in the Wall Street Journal explains that theory:

Donald Trump, trailing in opinion polls and facing new accusations by women of unwanted sexual contact, has begun arguing he will win the election on a surge of silent backers who have gone undetected by surveys and the political establishment.

Mr. Trump, who consistently draws thousands of supporters to rallies, said last week his election would be “Brexit all over again,” referring to the unexpected majority of British citizens who voted this year to exit the European Union.

His theory – which others view skeptically – holds that fear of social stigma prevents some voters from admitting they back him, including when talking to pollsters.

After all, polls can be wrong:

Opinion surveys have failed to accurately measure populist unrest around the globe this year, particularly when a movement’s supporters were characterized as immoral or uneducated.

The most recent example was in South America earlier this month, when Colombian voters rejected a peace accord between their government and the country’s Marxist rebel group. Several polls just ahead of the vote showed the proposal would pass by a margin of 20 percentage points, as critics of the deal were cast as morally inferior. It failed with 50.2% of voters opposed.

Earlier this year, proponents of Brexit were characterized as xenophobic and narrow-minded. It passed after polls heading into the election showed it would fail.

The xenophobic and narrow-minded and uneducated (and possibly immoral) will rise up here too, or so the thinking goes:

The theory of silent supporters has been picked up by some of Mr. Trump’s backers. Asked about the polls showing him down in Colorado, longtime resident Jeanie Seder relayed a conversation she had with her hairdresser. “She said, ‘I’m voting for Trump, but I can’t say that to anyone else,'” Mrs. Seder said before a rally in Longwood, Colo. Mr. Trump “says everything we think, but there are just a lot of people who are just being quiet.”

Republican consultants are more skeptical. Pollster Whit Ayers, who has worked for Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), said any hidden support for Mr. Trump likely would be balanced by “Hillary Republicans” who don’t want to admit their preferences publicly.

Drat! Trump didn’t think of that, and there’s this view:

Stuart Stevens, a top adviser to 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney, pointed out that Mr. Trump is underperforming in nearly every slice of the electorate.

“This is what I call the ‘lost tribes of the Amazon’ theory: If you just paddle the boat up the Amazon and beat the drum loudly, these lost tribes are going to come to the boat and vote for you,” Mr. Stevens said. “But they’re not there.”

That was the same problem at that annual Lee Harvey Oswald Conference this year, and probably most years. They beat the drum of this conspiracy theory or that, loudly – this year it was the drumbeat of a rigged election that would prevent America from becoming great again – but there really was nothing there. Donald Trump is simply losing. He won’t accept that. Everyone else will – but the like-minded do like to get together and compare notes. Expect him to attend next year.

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Trump’s War

North Carolina in the early seventies was still the South. Graduate school at Duke was deceptive. Jesse Helms, long before he became a senator, was doing editorials on the television station out of Raleigh, talking about the disappearance of all that was noble and good from the old days – when wise white men ran the place – and Hillsborough was a sleepy town where nothing had happened in a hundred years, with an inn that had been open continuously since 1838. The food wasn’t very good, but it was authentic. And then everything changed. Research Triangle Park made at least part of the place high tech. Hipsters arrived. Immigrants from all over arrived – many from India and such places in the new tech world there – but also Hispanics and Vietnamese and whatnot, doing the low-end work.

The state got progressive. Charlotte became the banking center of America. The state went for Obama in 2008, but then it went for Romney four years later. The Jesse Helms crowd wasn’t going to go down without a fight. With a lot of help from the Koch brothers, hardline conservatives won control of the legislature and the governorship. North Carolina now has the most restrictive voter-ID laws in the nation and the dates and times and location of voting have been made as narrow as possible. The courts have told the state to stop that nonsense, but the state is still appealing all that. And that “bathroom bill” is still in effect. People of questionable sex will need to find another place to take a dump. Professional sports and the NCAA have moved their games elsewhere. Pop singers cancelled concerts. PayPal and others moved out of the state – but none of it mattered. It was back to when wise white men ran the place, whatever the cost.

This was war. It’s still being fought, so this had to happen:

A GOP office in Hillsborough, North Carolina, was firebombed overnight, with a swastika and the words “Nazi Republicans get out of town or else” spray-painted on an adjacent building, according to local officials.

“The flammable substance appears to have ignited inside the building, burned some furniture and damaged the building’s interior before going out. The substance was housed in a bottle thrown through one of the building’s front windows,” according to a statement by the town of Hillsborough….

“This highly disturbing act goes far beyond vandalizing property; it willfully threatens our community’s safety via fire, and its hateful message undermines decency, respect and integrity in civic participation,” Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens said in a statement.

Of course it does, but this war extended beyond North Carolina:

The weekend firebombing episode become fodder for claims by Trump that the election is “rigged” in Clinton’s favor, reflecting the intensity surrounding of the campaign in the final weeks of the race. In the evening, Trump – without evidence – blamed the firebombing on Clinton supporters.

“Animals representing Hillary Clinton and Dems in North Carolina just firebombed our office in Orange County because we are winning @NCGOP,” Trump tweeted Sunday night.

Trump said the attack occurred “because we are winning” even though most polls show Clinton leading in the state, but he says things like that all the time. This is war, after all, but Jeff Stein is worried:

In isolation, Trump’s wild claims would be worrisome enough: presidential candidates don’t normally make unfounded accusations that their opponents are using covert agents to carry out fire-bombings. (Knee-jerk accusations of violence also seem like a dangerous thing for a commander-in-chief to have a habit of doing.)

But there’s another critical context for understanding Trump’s Tweet: The Republican presidential nominee has begun making increasingly conspiratorial claims that a cabal of “global elites” is rigging the election for Clinton.

As part of that, he’s begun encouraging his fans to monitor polling stations in places like Philadelphia – a sign his supporters are interpreting to mean that they should racially profile polling stations. Just today, top Trump surrogate Rudy Giuliani was on cable TV claiming that the vote totals of the “inner-cities” were prone to massive voter fraud (they’re not).

Stein sees Trump making the North Carolina white man’s war national:

Baselessly accusing Clinton of being behind the firebombing is crass. But it’s also being used to fit a broader narrative his political opponent is so dangerous, so crooked, that she’s willing to commit acts of terrorism to influence the voting results. And if that’s true, then of course she’s willing to steal an election by other means, and of course his supporters should doubt the results.

We still have 22 days left in maybe the most acrimonious political campaign in modern American history. And that is a lot of time for Trump to prime his most extreme followers to believe they’re up against not just someone willing to skirt email management rules, but a criminal willing to risk actual, real-world violence against American citizens.

Is this war? Perhaps so, but James Fallows worries about something else:

The very hardest thing about being president is that almost all of the choices you get to make are no-win, impossible decisions. Let civilians keep getting slaughtered in Syria? Or commit U.S. forces without being sure who they are fighting for and how they might “win”? Propose a “compromise” measure – on health insurance, gun control, taxes, a Supreme Court nominee, whatever – in hopes that you’ll win over some of the opposition? Or assume from the start that the opposition will oppose, and begin by asking for more than you can get? Choices that are easier or more obvious get made by someone else before they are anywhere close to the president’s desk.

These decisions are hardest when life-and-death stakes are high and time is short. In 2003, invade Iraq, or wait? In 2011, authorize the raid on bin Laden, or not? In 1962, when to confront the Soviets over their missiles in Cuba, and when to look for the possibility of compromise.

The more I’ve learned about politics and the presidency, the more I’ve been sobered by the combination of temperamental stability and intellectual rigor these decisions demand. Stability, not to be panicked or rushed or provoked. Rigor, to understand what more you need to know, but also to recognize when you must make a choice even with less information than you would like…

This crucial measure is one on which Donald Trump keeps demonstrating that he is flagrantly unfit. What’s hardest for any president would be simply impossible for him, as he reminds us yet again today.

Josh Marshall, however, sees the strategy here:

This attack on a GOP campaign office in North Carolina is a very serious situation. Any kind of election related violence is always serious. But it is especially so in a campaign which has already seen more incitement and incendiary than in almost half a century and arguably much longer. Predictably, Donald Trump has publicly blamed Hillary Clinton and cited the attack as a reason that “now we have to win.” In other words, Trump is now arguing that victory is either necessary as payback for the fire or that victory is necessary to defend supporters against future attacks.

That does make this a war, and as for that other matter, Marshall adds this:

Where do state laws on voter suppression and open-carry intersect with federal laws on voter intimidation and voting rights?

You saw this incident last week where two Trumpers stood outside a Democratic campaign office in Virginia for twelve hours holding firearms. This was obviously menacing behavior. And this takes on a new dimension, both substantively and in terms of federal law, when it’s tied to elections. But it was also completely legal under state firearms laws.

That creates a tension, and extends the same white man’s war:

We know Donald Trump now repeatedly asks his supporters to go to minority precincts on Election Day to search for signs of voter fraud and attempts to steal the election. Today his chief surrogate Rudy Giuliani told Jake Tapper that Democrats are able to steal elections because they “control the inner cities.” So there’s no longer much attempt to be subtle about warning that black people are going to steal the election for Hillary Clinton.

That is the message, and there’s no easy answer here:

Voting officials in a number of open-carry states say it wouldn’t necessarily be against the law if Trumpers did some version of what happened in Virginia outside polling places. It wouldn’t necessarily be protected either. It would be up to the local election official to decide if it amounted to intimidation or interference.

Under state law this may well be the case. But federal law Trumps state law and the federal government has an extensive legal mandate to prevent election interference and voter intimidation, especially, though not exclusively, where African-Americans are the targets.

The kind of ‘poll-watching’ Trump is encouraging is in the great majority of cases illegal – wildly more so if it involves doing so with firearms. So is the federal government taking steps now to protect the polls? How does it plan to approach cases where firearms clearly amount to menacing behavior but state law gives people the right to carry firearms pretty much wherever they want as long as they are not openly brandishing them or pointing them in a threatening manner?

Marshall doesn’t have an answer to that. There’s no good answer, but this is war:

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke Jr. tweeted Saturday that it was time for people to rise up and do something more than complain about a “corrupt” system…

“It’s incredible that our institutions of Gov, WH, Congress, DOJ, and big media are corrupt & all we do is bitch. Pitchforks and torches time!”

What is he proposing? He is safely vague about that – pitchforks and torches didn’t work that well in Young Frankenstein – but he is who he is:

An outspoken critic of the Black Lives Matter movement, Clarke spoke out at the Republican National Convention in support of Trump in July.

In a controversial CNN interview in July, Clarke argued that Black Lives Matter were responsible for violence against police.

Clarke is black, by the way. This is about no one questioning the police, ever. No one should ever question Donald Trump either, ever. There’s a pattern here. And there is a war:

Three members of a Kansas militia group were charged on Friday with plotting to bomb an apartment building filled with Somali immigrants in the western Kansas meatpacking town of Garden City.

Acting US attorney Tom Beall said Curtis Wayne Allen, Patrick Eugene Stein and Gavin Wayne Wright are members of a group calling itself the Kansas Security Force.

The arrests were the culmination of an eight-month FBI investigation that took agents “deep into a hidden culture of hatred and violence”, Beall said. The suspects conspired to detonate a bomb at a Garden City apartment complex where Somalis were among roughly 120 residents, he said.

That’s one way to take care of these Muslim folks. These guys were arrested in the Kansas town of Liberal – irony is not dead. They had performed surveillance of the apartment building and prepared a manifesto, for all the good that did them. They now face up to life in federal prison without parole, unless President Trump pardons them. What will he do about these sovereign citizen folks, who believe in total freedom from government laws? Trump is not fond of those either, but Kansas is much like North Carolina now:

Garden City is home to a Tyson Foods beef slaughterhouse that has drawn a diverse immigrant population to the area.

The case is the latest involving militia groups in the state. Earlier this year, a planned armed protest outside a Wichita mosque prompted the Islamic Society of Wichita to cancel an appearance by a speaker whom protesters believed supported terrorism.

There are a lot of guns in the streets, and a lot of angry people. Late last month, the Arizona Republic broke 126 years of tradition by declining to endorse the Republican candidate for president this time around, instead choosing Hillary Clinton, and was bombarded with death threats to the editor and all their reporters. This weekend they posted a defiant response – they’ll keep calling things like they see them – but this does seem like a war. And Donald Trump thinks Saturday Night Live is rigging the election and should be canceled as someone else is now calling things as they see them. Is that allowed?

Of course it is, and this weekend things came to a head:

Republican leaders and election officials from both parties on Sunday sought to combat claims by Donald J. Trump that the election is rigged against him, amid signs that Mr. Trump’s contention is eroding confidence in the vote and setting off talk of rebellion among his supporters.

In a vivid illustration of how Mr. Trump is shattering American political norms, the Republican nominee is alleging that a conspiracy is underway between the news media and the Democratic Party to commit vast election fraud. He has offered no evidence to support his claim.

“The election is absolutely being rigged by the dishonest and distorted media pushing Crooked Hillary – but also at many polling places – SAD,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

Mr. Trump made the incendiary assertion hours after his running mate, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, tried to play down Mr. Trump’s questioning of the fairness of the election. Mr. Pence said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he and Mr. Trump “will absolutely accept the result of the election.”

Mike Pence hasn’t been listening to what Trump continues to say, or he’s a hopeful kind of guy, but he shouldn’t be:

According to an Associated Press poll last month, only one-third of Republicans said they had a great deal of confidence their votes would be counted fairly. And election officials are worried that Mr. Trump’s continued pressing of the issue could dampen turnout or cause his supporters to deny the legitimacy of the results if he loses.

Last week, Mr. Trump called the presidential election “one big fix” and “one big, ugly lie.”

Jon A. Husted, the secretary of state of Ohio, said it was “wrong and engaging in irresponsible rhetoric” for any candidate to question the integrity of elections without evidence. Mr. Husted, a Republican, said he would have no reason to hesitate to certify the results of the election.

“We have made it easy to vote and hard to cheat,” Mr. Husted said Sunday in an interview. “We are going to run a good, clean election in Ohio, like we always do.”

And there are the facts of the matter:

American elections are, unlike those in many democracies, largely decentralized, rendering the possibility of large-scale fraud extraordinarily unlikely. Further, the balloting in many of the hardest-fought states will be overseen by Republican officials, individuals who would be highly unlikely to consent to helping Mrs. Clinton rig the vote.

So this is nonsense, but dangerous nonsense:

Chris Ashby, a Republican election lawyer, said Mr. Trump’s attacks on the electoral process were unprecedented and risked creating a fiasco on Election Day. Mr. Ashby also said that Mr. Trump was “destabilizing” the election by encouraging his supporters to deputize themselves as amateur poll monitors, outside the bounds of the law.

“That’s going to create a disturbance and, played out in polling places across the country, it has the potential to destabilize the election,” Mr. Ashby said, “which is very, very dangerous.”

And it is nonsense:

Democrats were just as bothered but also amused about the unlikely prospect of a vast fraud plot unfolding at thousands of disparate polling places. “He’s fine with the system when he wins the primary, but now he’s pre-emptively claiming precinct-level fraud?” said Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, calling Mr. Trump’s language “unambiguously racist, but also absurd, ludicrous and pathetic.”

Even Paul D. Ryan, the speaker of the House, who just last week all but removed himself from the presidential campaign, was forced to issue a statement. “Our democracy relies on confidence in election results, and the speaker is fully confident the states will carry out this election with integrity,” said Mr. Ryan’s spokeswoman, AshLee Strong.

Sure, but Trump still wants his war, and like ISIS he seems to be recruiting his own lone-wolf jihadists to do some serious damage.

Something odd is going on here, and Philip Rucker and Robert Costa offer this explanation:

He is preaching to the converted. He is lashing out at anyone who is not completely loyal. He is detaching himself from and delegitimizing the institutions of American political life. And he is proclaiming conspiracies everywhere – in polls (rigged), in debate moderators (biased) and in the election itself (soon to be stolen).

In the presidential campaign’s home stretch, Donald Trump is fully inhabiting his own echo chamber. The Republican nominee has turned inward, increasingly isolated from the country’s mainstream and leaders of his own party, and determined to rouse his most fervent supporters with dire warnings that their populist movement could fall prey to dark and collusive forces.

This is a campaign right out of Breitbart, the incendiary conservative website run until recently by Stephen K. Bannon, now the Trump campaign’s chief executive – and it is an act of retaliation.

That may be the best way to see this:

A turbulent few weeks punctuated by allegations of sexual harassment have left Trump trailing Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in nearly every swing state. Trump’s gamble is that igniting his army of working-class whites could do more to put him in contention than any sort of broad, tempered appeal to undecided voters.

But it hasn’t gone well:

The execution has been volatile. Since announcing last week that “the shackles have been taken off me,” Trump, bolstered by allies on talk radio and social media, has been creating an alternate reality – one full of innuendo about Clinton, tirades about the unfair news media and prophecies of Trump’s imminent triumph.

The candidate once omnipresent across the “mainstream media” these days largely limits his interviews to the safe harbor of the opinion shows on Fox News, and most of them are with Sean Hannity, a Trump supporter and informal counselor.

Many Republicans see the Trump campaign’s latest incarnation as a mirror into the psyche of their party’s restive base: pulsating with grievance and vitriol, unmoored from conservative orthodoxy, and deeply suspicious of the fast-changing culture and the consequences of globalization.

“I think Trump is right: The shackles have been released, but they were the shackles of reality,” said Mike Murphy, a veteran GOP strategist. “Trump has now shifted to a mode of complete egomaniacal self-indulgence. If he’s going to go off with these merry alt-right pranksters and only talk to people who vote Republican no matter what, he’s going to lose the election substantially.”

Sure, but that might not matter:

For Bannon and legions of Trump fans, Trump’s approach is not only a relished escalation of his combativeness, but also a chance to reshape the GOP in Trump’s hardline nationalist image.

“This is a hostile takeover,” said former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R), a Trump ally. “They believe the media is their mortal enemy and the country is in mortal danger, that Hillary Clinton would end America as we know it.”

If so, enter the noble martyr:

Trump’s strategy was crystallized by his defiant speech Thursday in West Palm Beach, Fla., in which he brazenly argued that the women who have accused him of unwanted kissing and groping were complicit in a global conspiracy of political, business and media elites to slander him and extinguish his outsider campaign.

“It’s a global power structure,” he said. Trump went on to describe himself as a populist martyr – “I take all of these slings and arrows gladly for you.”

Good for him, but Kevin Drum suggests this:

It’s 23 days until this sordid campaign finally ends. Polls currently suggest that (a) Hillary Clinton will become president, (b) Democrats will regain control of the Senate, and (c) Republicans will maintain control of the House. Let’s assume that’s how things turn out. What happens next? A few things:

The Republican Party will completely disown and repudiate Donald Trump.

Mitch McConnell will be a nonentity. He doesn’t pretend to be a national leader, especially if he’s in the minority, and he’s shown pretty often that he’s willing to do deals in a fairly conventional way. He’s a caucus manager, not a visionary.

With few other choices around, Paul Ryan becomes the undisputed leader of the Republican Party.

After the election Republicans will do their usual “autopsy,” and it will say the usual thing: Demographic trends are working against them, and they have to reach out to non-white, non-male voters if they don’t want to fade slowly into irrelevance. In the last 25 years, they’ve won two presidential elections by the barest hair’s breadth and lost the other five – and this is only going to get worse in the future.

Hillary Clinton will remain the pragmatic dealmaker she is. And despite the current bucketloads of anti-Hillary red meat that Republicans are tossing around right now, most of them trust her to deal honestly when it comes to political bargains.

The madness ends:

Paul Ryan is not a racial fearmonger. He’s always been open to immigration reform. He’s consistently shown genuine disgust for Donald Trump. He’s been open to making low-key deals in the past. He’s smart enough to know precisely the depth of the demographic hole Republicans are in. And despite being conservative himself, he may well realize that the GOP simply can’t stay in thrall to the tea party caucus forever if it wants to survive. On a personal level, he saw what they did to John Boehner, and he may well be sick and tired of them himself.

It’s also possible that he wants to run for president in 2020, and if that’s the case he’ll do better if he has some real accomplishments to show over the next four years. Running on a platform of scorched-earth obstruction might get the tea partiers excited, but that’s not enough to win the presidency.

So maybe Ryan decides that now is the time to try to reform the Republican Party. Once he wins the speakership again, he makes clear to the tea partiers that they’re finished as power brokers: he’s going to pass bills even if it means depending on Democratic support to do it. He reaches out to women and minorities. He passes immigration reform. He makes sure that budgets get passed and we don’t default on the national debt. He works behind the scenes with Hillary Clinton in standard horsetrading mode: she gets some things she wants, but only in return for some things conservatives want.

And that’s actually likely:

This could go a long way toward making him the next president of the United States. If he plays his cards right, Clinton might suffer with her base for selling them out on some of the deals she makes. Ryan will get the tea partiers under control and have some accomplishments to run on. He’ll soften the nonwhite disgust with the party enough to pick up some minority votes. Maybe the economy helps him out by going soft in 2019. And he’s already got good looks, youth, and an agreeable speaking style going for him.

The war ends. Things return to normal. Or they don’t. Trump will be gone but those lone-wolf Trump jihadists with guns will still be out there. Starting a war is easy. Ending one isn’t.

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Not Okay

At twenty-four days to Election Day – Trump or Clinton – there was no talk of public policy or foreign policy or economic policy. One of the candidates was obsessed with other matters, and his opponent fell silent and let him be obsessed. Hillary Clinton would let Donald Trump fume and periodically burst into flames of incoherent rage, in reaction to a flood of accusations from what seems to be an endless stream of women saying he did grope them and it was sexual assault. There was that tape that had surfaced a week earlier where he had bragged that he could do that to any woman, because he was a star and they couldn’t do anything about it. Then there was the second presidential debate where, when pressed, he said that yes, he did brag about that, but that was just locker-room talk. He said he never did any such thing. Sixty million people saw him say that. It was a defiant denial.

That was a mistake. Those who had been groped would have none of it. They were angry, even after all these years. He wasn’t going to get away with it. Two of them told their stories to the New York Times, and nothing bad happened to them. Trump didn’t sue. Fox Business Channel’s Lou Dobbs did tweet out the phone number of one of them, but no one showed up at her door to shoot her cat and then shoot her. (Dobbs did this apparently by accident; he later apologized to her.) In fact, most of the public found these two stories credible, given everything Trump has said about women, from Rosie O’Donnell to Megyn Kelly and beyond. There were no repercussions. Other women who had had nasty encounters with Trump saw that. They got it. They could finally say what happened, publicly. They did – one after another after another. They rose to the challenge. It was Trump’s challenge. Prove me wrong!

That seems to be what the final twenty-four days of the campaign will be about – not public policy or foreign policy or economic policy, or Hillary Clinton’s emails. Trump had said it was all talk – he had done no such thing, ever. Woman after woman said yes you did, to me. Trump has made a defiant denial. Now he had to make it again, over and over, case by case. And he was angry. He had to show his base he was very angry, and that they should be too. That’s where the votes are. That meant he had to periodically burst into flames of dramatic rage, and that meant that there was little time for anything else, like issues.

Hillary Clinton could watch from a distance, saying little. When the flames died down, and the smoke cleared, she’d still be standing there, the somewhat flawed but rational candidate – the only calm and rational candidate. As for Trump, twenty-four days out, in Charlotte, North Carolina, he kind of lost it:

Donald Trump hurled personal insults Friday at the growing number of women who have accused him of groping and kissing them without their consent, labeling them as “horrible,” “sick” and “phony,” and suggesting that at least two of them were not attractive enough to warrant his attention.

As Trump spoke about the allegations, supporters who gathered to see him at an afternoon rally here cheered him on, at one point chanting “Lock her up!” while he was talking about one of the accusers – a slogan usually reserved for Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. At another point, he also appeared to disparage Clinton’s looks in recounting their encounter at Sunday’s presidential debate: “And when she walked in front of me, believe me, I wasn’t impressed.”

He was standing behind her. He was staring at her ass. He wasn’t impressed. She’s a sixty-nine-year-old woman with a fat flabby ass. He didn’t say those words, but everyone understood. And a few of those women who were accusing him of hitting on them were ugly skanks. Why would he hit on them?

He didn’t seem to realize that those were the words of a sexist pig, which he was claiming he wasn’t, but he but that doesn’t seem to matter now:

The vitriol provided further evidence of Trump’s intention to wage an unprecedented scorched-earth campaign in the final weeks before Election Day that seems likely to leave few unscarred in either party. It also came on a day when two more women stepped forward to accuse Trump of groping them without their consent and as new videotapes emerged of Trump speaking in crude terms about sex on “The Howard Stern Show.”

He was fighting a losing battle:

At the Greensboro rally, Trump sought to belittle Jessica Leeds – who first told the New York Times that Trump groped her and tried to reach up her skirt on a flight more than three decades ago – by suggesting that she was not attractive enough for him to pursue.

“‘I was sitting with him on an airplane, and he went after me on the plane,’ ” Trump said, mockingly impersonating Leeds. “Yeah, I’m gonna go after – believe me, she would not be my first choice, that I can tell you.”

Trump also called another accuser, former People Magazine reporter Natasha Stoynoff, a “liar” and added, “Check out her Facebook, you’ll understand.” The crowd laughed.

Stoynoff accused Trump of kissing her without permission in 2005 as she prepared to interview him and his wife, Melania, for a story.

And there was this:

Trump also continued criticizing the Times, which first reported the allegations of Leeds and another woman. The GOP nominee, who has often directed his anti-immigrant rhetoric at Mexicans, accused Times reporters of being “corporate lobbyists” for Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, the largest shareholder at the paper.

“Now Carlos Slim, as you know, comes from Mexico. He’s given many millions of dollars to the Clintons and their initiatives. So Carlos Slim, largest owner of the paper, from Mexico,” said Trump.

Ah, a Mexican billionaire is behind it all, but that doesn’t explain this:

In a report published Friday, Kristin Anderson told the Washington Post that Trump slid his hand under her miniskirt at a New York night spot in the early 1990s, touching her vagina through her underwear.

Trump appeared to reference the allegation at the North Carolina rally, saying: “One came out recently where I was sitting alone in some club. I really don’t sit alone that much. Honestly, folks, I don’t think I sit alone.” Anderson never told The Post that Trump was alone.

He continued: “And then I went whaa-” as he abruptly reached to the side with his right hand, apparently mimicking groping.

Also Friday, Summer Zervos, a former contestant on the reality show “The Apprentice,” accused Trump of aggressively kissing her and groping her breasts during a 2007 meeting to discuss a possible job at the Trump Organization.

Zervos, who appeared on the show in 2006 and now owns a California restaurant, spoke about the incident at a news conference alongside civil rights lawyer Gloria Allred. At times tearing up, Zervos said the incident occurred at Trump’s bungalow suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel, which she visited after he suggested that the two have dinner.

In a written statement, Trump said that he “vaguely” recalled Zervos as a contestant on “The Apprentice” and that “I never met her at a hotel or greeted her inappropriately a decade ago.”

The New York Times and their Mexican (minority) shareholder had nothing to do with any of that, but at least Trump does know that he was off-topic:

Trump said his close associates are advising him not to talk about the mounting allegations of unwanted sexual ad­vances and instead focus on policy issues.

“My people always say: ‘Oh, don’t talk about it. Talk about jobs. Talk about the economy,” Trump said, but he added, “I feel I have to talk about them because you have to dispute when somebody says something.”

Somewhere, Hillary Clinton was smiling, because there’s even more that will keep Trump off-topic:

New details about Trump’s history of lewd comments about women emerged Friday as The Post reported on six recordings it obtained of interviews Trump did on Stern’s radio show between 2002 and 2013. Some of the recordings were described in part in previous news reports.

In a 2004 clip, Trump and Stern talk about the then-teenage actress Lindsay Lohan – and the impact of her father’s troubles on her.

“Can you imagine the sex with this troubled [woman]?” Stern asks.

“You’re probably right. She’s probably deeply troubled, and therefore great in bed,” Trump responds. “How come the deeply troubled women, you know, deeply, deeply troubled, they’re always the best in bed?”

“You don’t want to be with them for the long term,” Trump says, concluding this thought. “But for the short term, there’s nothing like it.”

Go ahead, try to make that sound presidential, and as for that Mexican billionaire, Kevin Drum says this:

Here’s what’s great. There’s hardly one American in a hundred who’s ever heard of Carlos Slim. This makes him a great candidate for a master conspirator, of course, since he’s basically a blank slate. And Mexican too! So Trump can pretty much say anything he wants.

But here’s what’s really worth waiting for: watching all the paid shills on CNN suddenly start spouting mountains of dirt on Slim. The anchors will all carefully let them have their say, and Trump fans will be listening. Then the Washington Post (or someone) will go out to do yet another “What Trump Supporters Really Think” thumbsucker, and they’ll come back with lots of angry white folks swearing that Carlos Slim runs the Illuminati and the Trilateral Commission.

Jesus. What an election.

Ben Schreckinger shows that in how he reports the events in North Carolina:

Donald Trump hit back at a woman who accused him of sexual assault by accusing her of being ugly and claimed a Mexican billionaire was orchestrating his downfall. One of his Teleprompters fell off its stands and he dismantled another one. Some of Trump’s supporters pummeled a protester and some called for the jailing of another woman who has accused Trump of sexual assault. Another supporter yelled at a television reporter speaking to a camera, “Jackass, shut up.”

Friday was positively placid on the Trump campaign trail in North Carolina – at least compared to the sturm und drang of the day before. After Trump spent Thursday blaming an avalanche of new sexual assault allegations against him on a vast globalist conspiracy at an expo center in West Palm Beach and more than 15,000 of his supporters showered reporters with boos and angry chants at an evening rally in Cincinnati, a series of events on Friday that would have boggled the mind a year ago simply amounted to a breather in the presidential campaign’s frantic race to the bottom.

Yes, Trump appeared to call his accusers unattractive liars and invited women to come forward to accuse the president of sexual assault, but the bar for shock has been raised.

This is some election:

Aside from the physical assault of a protester carrying an American flag and the chants of “lock her up” directed at an alleged victim of sexual assault, an early afternoon event at an outdoor amphitheater in Greensboro had the air of a picnic.

One man pacing the lawn at the back of the venue interjected his chants of “Blacks for Trump” with a call for Trump to “Stay on the issues.”

After the rally, in an amazing sign of the exasperation Trump is causing for many of his advisers, campaign manager Kellyanne Conway herself joked on Twitter that it had been she who was shouting the advice at Trump. When Conway briefly appeared in the press pen later in the day, a reporter told her he enjoyed the tweet, and she responded, “At least you have a sense of humor.”

A sense of humor may be necessary:

Later, in Charlotte, the tumbling of one of Trump’s Teleprompters from its stand provided some levity. Trump recalled being told by advisers to begin using the devices after he clinched the Republican nomination. “All of a sudden they said, ‘Well now you’re running in the election you need Teleprompters.’ Well I like Teleprompters. They’re fine, but I think it’s kind of cooler without them,” Trump said, then proceeded to dismantle his second teleprompter and continue his stump speech without them.

Somewhere else, Hillary Clinton was smiling even more broadly, but Dahlia Lithwick adds some historical perspective to Trump’s dilemma:

This past Tuesday marked the 25th anniversary of Anita Hill’s devastating Senate testimony accusing then–Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of workplace sexual harassment. In light of the most recent accusations against Donald Trump, it’s hard to miss the almost perfect synchronicity between these two October explosions of gender awareness. In a deeply personal and visceral way, America is having another Anita Hill moment.

But this time it’s different:

A lot has changed since October 1991, and American women are reaping the benefits of having gone through this looking glass once before. The nearly universal and instantaneous outrage at Trump’s comments and behavior – from the press, from GOP leaders, from really everyone outside of the Breitbart bubble? We have Anita Hill to thank for that.

It’s almost impossible for women like me, who came of age during the Thomas Senate battle, to miss the parallels between the two episodes. In both cases, powerful men allegedly mistreated and shamed women with less power than they had. In both cases these victims came forth reluctantly and sometimes years later. In both instances, supporters of the man accused of misconduct argued that it was “just words,” or that it was all “years ago,” or that he was merely joking, or that it never happened at all. They argue that if the subordinate was soooo offended, why did she wait to complain?

Back when Hill brought her claims to Capitol Hill, most Americans were barely aware of the term “sexual harassment” or the fact that there was a body of law to be used to fight predatory behavior in the workplace. In a sense, the real awakening came after the hearings had ended, when thousands of women came forward, often in letters they mailed to Hill, to say that this had happened to them and that they hadn’t understood that it was illegal.

As a result of the dawning realizations, the number of sexual harassment cases filed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission doubled in just two years. In 1992, later dubbed “The Year of the Woman,” the number of women enrolling in law school peaked at more than 52 percent of all law students, the number of women elected to the U.S. House of Representatives increased by over 60 percent, and the number of women in the U.S. Senate tripled. Dianne Feinstein scored the first female spot on the Senate Judiciary Committee (never again would a woman testify before an all-male panel), and Carol Moseley Braun became the first African American woman in the Senate. In 1993, the Senate added a single-stall women’s bathroom off the chamber floor, finally expanded in 2013 to accommodate the 20 women elected in that session.

None of this just happened. As NPR’s Nina Totenberg put it 25 years after the Thomas hearings, it was because of Hill’s testimony that “all of those silent, female experiences materialized … in the phones exploding on Capitol Hill.” And that was before social media.

That too changed things:

Last Friday, after the Washington Post published audio of Trump talking about sexually assaulting women, author Kelly Oxford took to Twitter. “Women: tweet me your first assaults,” she said to her followers, sharing her own harrowing tale under the hashtag #notokay. By late Monday, the New York Times reported, nearly 27 million people had responded. RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, told the Huffington Post that it saw a 33 percent spike in online traffic over the weekend.

The argument here is that, after Anita Hill, and Twitter, Donald Trump never had a chance:

Anita Hill’s fight to be heard and respected launched the modern sexual harassment laws by which we are bound, right down to the training videos we must view on our work laptops. But she also created a template in which women could look at predatory behaviors they had largely normalized in their own lives and say that it was not only unacceptable from those seeking higher office, but also unacceptable in their own homes, and workplaces and universities. They could say that there should be processes to hear these stories and processes to adjudicate them. They could say this isn’t just “locker room talk.”

It was that 1991 act of painful storytelling, of enlightening right-thinking men, of refuting and rebuffing tedious arguments about what men do or why women don’t report it, that gave us a model for how to do it again in 2016. Now everyone but the worst among us knows: It’s not OK.

Donald Trump doesn’t seem to know that. Perhaps he’s stuck in the past, or it’s something else. Six months ago Franklin Foer offered this:

Donald Trump holds one core belief. It’s not limited government. He favored a state takeover of health care before he was against it. Nor is it economic populism. Despite many years of arguing the necessity of taxing the rich, he now wants to slice their rates to bits. Trump has claimed his nonlinear approach to policy is a virtue. Closing deals is what matters in the end, he says, not unbleached allegiance to conviction. But there’s one ideology that he does hold with sincerity and practices with unwavering fervor: misogyny…

Trump wants us to know all about his sex life. He doesn’t regard sex as a private activity. It’s something he broadcasts to demonstrate his dominance, of both women and men. In his view, treating women like meat is a necessary precondition for winning, and winning is all that matters in his world. By winning, Trump means asserting superiority. And since life is a zero-sum game, superiority can only be achieved at someone else’s expense.

That matches Jane Goodall:

“In many ways the performances of Donald Trump remind me of male chimpanzees and their dominance rituals,” Jane Goodall, the anthropologist, told me shortly before Trump won the GOP nomination. “In order to impress rivals, males seeking to rise in the dominance hierarchy perform spectacular displays: stamping, slapping the ground, dragging branches, throwing rocks. The more vigorous and imaginative the display, the faster the individual is likely to rise in the hierarchy, and the longer he is likely to maintain that position.”

That may have been what was happening in Charlotte, and Nancy LeTourneau adds this:

The question isn’t whether or not Trump sees himself as the alpha male. It’s whether or not someone with that approach to the world is fit to be POTUS. What we’re witnessing right now with Trump’s attacks against the Republicans who are distancing from him is the attempt at dominance from an alpha male. His stalking behind Clinton and threatening to jail her in the last debate was another example of this. Trump’s respect for foreign dictators stems from the fact that he actually admires them as alpha males. But I shudder to think of what he might do as president in a contest for dominance with one of them.

One of the reasons why Trump leads in the polls among men is that there is still an admiration for alpha males in this culture. It is this patriarchal notion of dominance that undergirds not only sexism, but racism and most of the other “isms” that continue to plague us. Unless something dramatically changes in the next month, Donald Trump is not going to be our next president. But it is our acquiescence to and admiration of alpha males that we need to grapple with in both our politics and culture.

Well, some people have had enough:

Several of the Republican Party’s most generous donors called on the Republican National Committee on Thursday to disavow Donald J. Trump, saying that allegations by multiple women that Mr. Trump had groped or made inappropriate sexual advances toward them threatened to inflict lasting damage on the party’s image.

To an elite group of Republican contributors who have donated millions of dollars to the party’s candidates and committees in recent years, the cascade of revelations related to Mr. Trump’s sexual conduct is grounds for the committee to cut ties with the party’s beleaguered standard-bearer, finally and fully.

“At some point, you have to look in the mirror and recognize that you cannot possibly justify support for Trump to your children – especially your daughters,” said David Humphreys, a Missouri business executive who contributed more than $2.5 million to Republicans from the 2012 campaign cycle through this spring and opposed Mr. Trump’s bid from the outset.

Bruce Kovner, a New York investor and philanthropist who with his wife has given $2.7 million to Republicans over the same period, was just as blunt. “He is a dangerous demagogue completely unsuited to the responsibilities of a United States president,” Mr. Kovner wrote in an email, referring to Mr. Trump.

“Even for loyalists, there is a line beyond which the obvious moral failings of a candidate are impossible to disregard,” he wrote. “That line has been clearly breached.”

Timothy Egan puts that a different way:

A wounded bear is a dangerous thing. Detested and defeated, Donald Trump is now in a tear-the-country-down rage. Day after day, he rips at the last remaining threads of decency holding this nation together. His opponent is the devil he says – hate her with all your heart. Forget about the rule of law. Lock her up!

This is not okay:

He’s made America vile. He’s got angel-voiced children yelling “bitch” and flipping the bird at rallies. He’s got young athletes chanting “build a wall” at Latino kids on the other side. He’s made it okay to bully and fat-shame. He’s normalized perversion, bragging about how an aging man with his sense of entitlement can walk in on naked women.

Here’s his lesson for young minds: If you’re rich and boorish enough, you can get away with anything. Get away with sexual assault. Get away with not paying taxes. Get away with never telling the truth. Get away with flirting with treason. Get away with stiffing people who work for you, while you take yours. Get away with mocking the disabled, veterans and families of war heroes.

You know this by now – all the sordid details. For much of the last year, the Republican presidential nominee has been a freak show, an oh-my-God spectacle. He opens his mouth, our cellphones blow up. But now, in the final days of a horrid campaign, an unshackled Trump is more national threat than punch line. He’s determined to cause lasting damage.

And he could do that:

Civility, always a tenuous thing, cannot be quickly restored in a society that has learned to hate in public, at full throttle.

Trump has made compassion suspect. Don’t reach out to starving refugees – they’re killers in disguise. Don’t give to a charity that won’t reward you in some way. Don’t pay taxes that build roads and offer relief to those washed away in a hurricane. That’s a sucker’s game. We’re not all in this together. Taxes are for stupid people.

Every sexual predator now has a defender at the top of the Republican ticket…

So it has come to this: The core lessons that bind a civilized society are in play in the last days of this election. We long for family dinners where Trump no longer intrudes, for tailgate parties where football is all that matters, for normalcy. Remember those days? They may be gone forever.

That is definitely not okay. Hillary may watch Trump periodically burst into flames, from a distance, not saying a word, for political reasons – his self-immolation means she’ll win this thing. Liberals may enjoy their told-you-so schadenfreude, smug that they know what that odd word actually means. But Trump’s final and laughable scorched-earth campaign is a problem. In the end, all that’s left is scorched earth. That’s not okay at all.

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