Seeking the Proper Scandal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yglesias is not impressed:

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

But there’s a reason this happened:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And there’s this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yglesias sees bad reporting here:

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

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

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

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

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

And there was push-back:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin Drum puts that this way:

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

So what’s the problem?

Who knows? But he cites Rick Hasen with this:

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In the Absence of Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Astonishing, I know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now add this perspective:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider what he admitted:

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

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

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

This is no policy at all:

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

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

Policy is just not his thing:

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

Slate’s Jim Newell takes that farther:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You live in “broken homes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s not policy:

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

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

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After Journalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, simultaneously, it was the usual Trump chaos:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s what troubles Rutenberg:

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

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

Forget that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is that journalism? Scarborough thinks so:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fine, but this guy really might be batshit crazy:

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

No, don’t say that:

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

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

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

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

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

She wants conservatives to get back to the basics:

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

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

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

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

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

His thesis is that journalism is now dead:

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

Take last week’s news cycle:

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

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

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

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

Forget journalism:

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

And blame The Donald:

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

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

Journalists need to back off:

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s what happened:

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

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

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

That’s a dead end:

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

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

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

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

There’s no winning this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Softening Trump

As of Sunday evening, August 21, the definitive political analytic site, FiveThirtyEight, showed that Donald Trump might as well give up – he has a 15.3 percent chance of winning in November. The details weren’t pretty and the highly reliable Sabato analysis shows Clinton with a likely 348 Electoral College votes to 190 for Trump. All the other polling shows her with at least the 270 Electoral College votes she needs to win now locked in. Something could blow up in her face – she could be perp-walked off to jail for the murder of Vince Foster or something. ISIS could blow up Atlanta. That would be her fault. The stock market could crash in a way never seen before and the worldwide economy collapse overnight. That would be her fault too. The Cubs could win the World Series. But all of that is unlikely, except for the Chicago Cubs. They’re pretty good this year. Donald Trump isn’t.

His nastiness and angry shouting about who we all should hate – Muslims, the press, those Black Lives Matter thugs, judges of Mexican heritage and anyone of that sort, and America as it is now – seems to have caught up with him. Even those who agree with him must be getting exhausted. He does need to tone it down:

A Muslim woman who was kicked out of a Donald Trump rally in Charlotte on Thursday said she was told she was being a “nuisance.”

Rose Hamid was kicked out of the Charlotte Convention Center after handing out pens and telling people that Islam is a peaceful religion.

Hamid was also kicked out of another Trump rally in January after she stood up in silent protest during Trump’s speech…

“We cannot have these people coming into our country. We don’t know who they are or where they’re coming from,” a Trump supporter told FOX8. “We have to protect the American public.”

Rose Hamid, however, seems harmless enough. And why not argue the question with her, instead of tossing her out of the room? It’s a matter of tone, but the Trump campaign is tone-deaf in many ways, and incidents like this don’t help:

Sean P. Jackson is the head of the Black Republican Caucus of Florida, and he’s also serving as a Donald Trump surrogate in the state. He claims that the head of the Trump campaign in Florida, Karen Giorno, has repeatedly blown off his efforts at getting the campaign to take African-American voters seriously. In fact she apparently couldn’t even remember what he looked like, despite his prominence within the campaign and the numerous conversations they’d had.

When the Secret Service asked Jackson what he was doing backstage at a Donald Trump rally, he identified himself, but none of Trump’s people backstage could vouch for him because none of them recognized him. He claims he asked Giorno to vouch for him, but she said she didn’t recognize him either, so he was escorted out under the assumption he didn’t belong.

Yes, all those black people look alike, even if they work on your team. It was an honest mistake, if you think that way, and it seems many do.

Then there’s Don Advo – you can read what he writes on The Daily Stormer – the site of the Stormfront white nationalist neo-Nazi folks. He was just on the David Duke Show for a bit of chit-chat with Duke, our most famous Christian white nationalist, and a smug Holocaust denier, and a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Duke has announced that he will run for the Republican nomination for the open Senate seat in Louisiana. The Trump folks have not said he shouldn’t. The Republican Party has not said he shouldn’t – they need that seat this year, when they could easily lose the Senate – but this particular radio exchange was telling:

Don Advo: So, something astonishing has happened. We appear to have taken over the Republican Party.

David Duke: Well, rank and file, but a lot of those boll weevils are still in those cotton balls, and, uh, the Republican Party may be a European-American populated party, but like a ball of cotton, you can have boll weevils in there that are going to rot it out from the inside.

The Stormfront guy and the Ku Klux Klan guy were gloating over how they’d taken over the Republican Party. Now all they have to do is get rid of the niggers and nigger-lovers in the party, and maybe the Jews, those boll weevils in their white cotton balls, who can still ruin everything they’ve accomplished. Way down South in the land of cotton, old times there are not forgotten.

This sort of thing hurts Trump. He needs at least some of the black vote, and some of the vote of those who think he should think that he needs some of the black vote, and that led to this:

On his second visit to Michigan in less than two weeks, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Friday blasted Democratic policies he said have destroyed Detroit and other urban centers and called for African Americans to support him, saying blacks cannot expect change otherwise.

Speaking to a predominantly white audience of about 6,000 people, Trump appealed directly to blacks for votes.

“You live in poverty,” he said. “Your schools are no good. You have no jobs. What the hell do you have to lose?”

Okay, he does not stand with David Duke. He’ll be one of those boll weevils, but the Washington Post’s Janell Ross thinks he made things worse for himself:

The speech seemed built on an assumption that black voters are either easily fooled or easily led in new directions.

Trump described his understanding of the state of life in black America, a singular “community” riddled with crime, where law-abiding parents and children cower in their homes in constant fear of marauding gangs. It is a community in which people occasionally take a break from rioting, looting and arson to start future broken families and hunt for jobs that do not exist or have been filled by undocumented immigrants. It was a description of black life that reads like a treatment for a more grim, violent and stereotype-laden presidential-election-themed episode of the 1970s sitcom “Good Times.”

It was devoid of any acknowledgment of Republican policies and forces beyond trade and illegal immigration that have fostered black poverty – crumbling schools and public infrastructure, the movement of jobs away from public transit routes and tax policy decisions that have left entire generations unable to access the easiest route to the middle class once available to at least most white Americans….

Even his positives were negative:

Trump did speak of his view that policing and public safety efforts should be modeled after tactics first applied when Rudolph W. Giuliani was mayor of New York. There was, however, no acknowledgment that Giuliani’s police department made so many unwarranted and illegal stops, searches and the like that a court later declared one of the agency’s principal law enforcement tactics unconstitutional. There was also no mention of the role that concentrated and uneven policing in communities of color has played in mass incarceration – and with that poverty, black joblessness and broken families. And amid the many mentions of the privileged getting over on those with far less, there was no mention of a private prison industry that thrived for decades in the era before mass incarceration became a bipartisan concern or the many prison jobs created in nearly all-white, rural communities.

Still, she understands what he was up to:

Perhaps Trump wasn’t really speaking to black voters at all but to college-educated whites and others who are tempted to vote for him but are repulsed by his sometimes overt embrace of language, data and tactics that carry labels those voters don’t want to claim.

It’s a plan. He gets their votes for at least not being David Duke. College-educated whites don’t like David Duke. He tried, but Ross thinks he failed:

What most black voters – minus the 1 to 4 percent who express support for Trump in a variety of reputable public opinion polls – very likely heard and saw was evidence that Trump and his campaign staff may actually think he can show up near a city boiling over with racial tension, say some things, gloss over much else and collect more than a sliver of black votes. What more could black voters want or need?

One can almost hear Trump declaring, in an echo of Reagan, “Blacks understand leadership.”

Hey, he tried! But there’s this:

Donald Trump’s new campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, defended a controversial speech by the real estate mogul aimed at African American voters by noting how much she herself appreciated it…

In a Sunday interview with Conway on ABC News’ “This Week,” host George Stephanopoulos asked about criticism that the speech was patronizing.

“Many in the African American community saw that as insulting because they say most African Americans don’t live in poverty and that Mr. Trump was making those comments in communities that are more than 90 percent white,” he said.

Conway responded that African Americans’ perception of the speech was not the only thing that mattered.

“Those comments are for all Americans,” she said. “And I live in a white community. I’m white. I was very moved by his comment.”

Kellyanne Conway is now in charge of softening up Trump’s image, but she just said this was a make-white-folks-feel-good speech that had little to do with black folks, and there were the details:

The pollster-turned-campaign chief reiterated Trump’s arguments that Democrats have been bad for African Americans, repeatedly claiming, as Trump had, that 58 percent of African-American young people are unemployed.

It is not clear where this figure comes from. The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for the source of the statistic.

The source might have been The Daily Stormer. Conway has work to do, as David Ferguson at Raw Story also reports on Trump supporters caught on CB radio when they didn’t know anyone was listening, a Massachusetts convoy of Trump supporters driving from Wrentham to Foxboro in their trucks:

“Lynch the niggers by their dicks!” said one driver, according to Winning Democrats, which highlighted a YouTube video of what the “Make America Great Again” convoy talked about on its CB channel when they thought no one was listening.

“Burn every single nigger!” said another driver.

“All I know is we got plenty of trees to hang niggers from,” said another.

The convoy drove five miles from one township to another with their U.S. and Confederate flags waving.

It’s hard to soften Trump’s image when things like this happen, and things like this:

Daniel Rowe was apparently enraged at the sight of a black man and a white woman kissing on the streets of Olympia, Wash., Tuesday night. But police say he hid his violent intent behind a stony face until he was close enough to strike.

The attack happened about 8:30 p.m. in the state’s capital city on Fourth Avenue, a classic downtown street busy with people going to a local movie theater or visiting bars and restaurants…

After the attack, Rowe ran off as stunned onlookers dialed 911. The 47-year-old male victim, not realizing how badly he was injured, chased Rowe and “tripped him up,” said Lt. Paul Lower, a police department spokesman. Rowe hit his head on the ground and was knocked unconscious.

No one involved had life-threatening injuries, but police said Rowe’s behavior grew stranger as officers tried to wrestle him into the back of a patrol car.

“He tells them, ‘Yeah, I stabbed them. I’m a white supremacist,'” Lower said. “He begins talking about Donald Trump rallies and attacking people at the Black Lives Matter protest.”

Some damage cannot be undone, but then maybe some can:

Donald Trump’s campaign wavered Sunday on whether he would continue to call for the mass deportation of 11 million illegal immigrants from the United States, the latest in a series of sometimes-clumsy attempts to win over moderate GOP voters without alienating millions who have flocked to his hardline views.

After insisting for more than a year that all illegal immigrants “have to go,” Trump met with a newly created panel of Hispanic advisers on Saturday and asked for other ideas – making clear that his position is not finalized, according to two attendees. Any shift would represent a remarkable retreat on one of the Republican nominee’s signature issues.

The meeting prompted attempts by Trump advisers on Sunday to clarify his position. Campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said on CNN that Trump’s stance on mass deportations was “to be determined” but that he will be “fair and humane for those who live among us in this country.” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), a close Trump adviser, said on CBS that the nominee is “wrestling” with the issue but has not changed his position yet.

“People that are here unlawfully, came into the country against our laws, are subject to being removed,” Sessions said. “That’s just plain fact.”

Something is up, something ambiguous:

The shifts appear aimed at shoring up support among white GOP moderates who have been reluctant to support extreme positions staked out by Trump during the Republican primary, including a massive U.S.-Mexico border wall, deportation of illegal immigrants and a “total” ban on foreign Muslims.

At the same time, any oscillation carries the risk of alienating Trump’s most loyal supporters, many of whom adore his willingness to buck “political correctness” by laying out brash proposals. Trump has thrived in part by staying vague on most of his policy positions, vacillating between extreme rhetoric and assurances of reasonableness.

But there’s nothing new here:

In December, Trump issued a written statement – still on his campaign website – calling for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” although within days he said it would be temporary and would include a number of exceptions. By spring, he seemed to back away from the controversial proposal, calling it “just a suggestion,” only to double down once again following an Islamic State-inspired mass shooting at an Orlando gay nightclub. Then this summer, Trump stopped using the word “Muslim,” instead saying he would focus on “areas of the world where there’s a proven history of terrorism against the United States” – he wouldn’t say which ones – and implement “extreme vetting.”

“I’m talking about territories now,” Trump told Sean Hannity of Fox News in late July, insisting that his position had not changed but had expanded. “People don’t want me to say Muslim – I guess I’d prefer not saying it, frankly, myself. So we’re talking about territories.”

Some didn’t buy that:

Rick Wilson, a longtime GOP strategist who strongly opposes Trump and is now working on the campaign of independent candidate Evan McMullin, called Trump’s shape-shifting on such issues “irritating.”

“He lets people fill in the blanks mentally for what they think he’s saying, not what he’s actually saying,” Wilson said. “So when you hear him saying one day: ‘I’m going to ban all Muslims,’ but then you hear him say another day, ‘Well, I’m going to ban the dangerous, bad ones.’ And then you hear him another day saying, ‘I’m going to ban the ones from the bad countries.’ So it always flips, and then the people that are fanatics about Trump just say, ‘Oh, well, he meant the one that I liked.'”

Well, that’s a plan too, and a way of campaigning:

Trump has also promised to revive waterboarding of terror suspects, only to say later that he would never force members of the military to break U.S. and international law. Then he said he would change those laws.

On guns, Trump implied that he wants to arm intoxicated club-goers and bar patrons – an idea that concerned even the National Rifle Association – then later insisted he “was obviously talking about additional guards or employees.” He suggested that Japan arm itself with nuclear weapons, then insisted he had never said that. He promised to raise taxes on wealthy individuals like himself, and then insisted he never said that.

Trump called for banning abortion and then punishing women who have the illegal procedure, a position he quickly abandoned. He has said that wages are “too high” and “too low,” while calling for both an end to the federal minimum wage and an increase of it. He was opposed to H-1B visas used by skilled foreign workers, then in favor of the program, and then once again opposed.

Trump’s campaign did not respond to a request to clarify his positions on these and other issues.

Keep them guessing, but now no one knows what he thinks, which doesn’t seem to matter to his supporters – they just like him. There aren’t enough of those to win in November, but of course this time it was statesmanship:

This June, Trump expressed hesitation in using the term “mass deportations,” although his aides would not say whether his position had changed. In the meeting Saturday with his Hispanic advisory panel, Trump asked to hear policy ideas – although the campaign said that should not be taken as a sign that Trump has changed his position.

He was just being thoughtful, right? It’s too late for that:

Clinton’s campaign responded by listing Trump’s clear calls for mass deportations over the past year and noting his favorable comparison of his plans to “Operation Wetback,” which were mass deportations carried out during the 1950s under President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

“Whether Donald Trump’s immigration plan includes a deportation squad to forcibly remove millions of families from their homes has been asked and answered by the candidate himself time and time again,” Lorella Praeli, Hillary for America’s national Latino vote director, said in a statement. “When someone running for president says he looks upon a plan called Operation Wetback favorably, we should believe him the first dozen times he lays out his intentions.”

There’s no softening Donald Trump, and there is this – Angry Right-Wingers Have White Hot Emotional Meltdown over Trump’s ‘Flip-Flop’ on Mass Deportations – with tweets like these:

If Trump flips on deportations, I’m on board with the idea he’s a Democratic plant. Seriously, this would be the end of the GOP.

Trump no longer “telling it like it is!” Just another typical politician.

They said if I voted for Rubio we’d get a nominee who is squishy on immigration – and they were right!

And this:

At conservative website Red State, commentator Kyle Foley said, “Trump’s base is built around this hardcore stance that the wall should be built and the illegal immigrants should be deported. They railed against ‘Gang of Eight’ Marco Rubio for his perceived weak stance, however they will most likely justify Trump’s flip-flop because let’s face it, nothing matters to them. It’s almost like Trump simply told them what they wanted to hear in order to win. Lord knows what he actually believes when it comes to immigration.”

No one knows, but Trump must be reimagined, softened, so he doesn’t seem to be a moral monster to everyone not part of his vindictive base, but that’s simply hard work:

Donald Trump’s new campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, claimed Sunday that the GOP presidential nominee does not personally insult people.

George Stephanopoulos, host of ABC News’ This Week, showed Conway a series of video clips of her attacking Trump while she was supporting Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) during the primary. (Conway ran a super PAC backing Cruz’s candidacy.)

In one of the excerpts, Conway said she was not backing Trump because he “hurls personal insults.”

Oops. Code Red:

Asked whether she stood by her remarks, Conway interpreted the question to be about whether she continues to be against personal insults as a matter of principle, not whether she maintains her criticism of Trump.

“I do and the reason is I don’t like when people hurl personal insults,” she said. “That will never be my style, I’m a mother of four small children, it would be a terrible example for me to feel otherwise.”

Conway went on to deny that Trump engages in that behavior despite her past assertions to the contrary.

“Well, but he doesn’t hurl personal insults,” she said, before changing the subject to Trump’s pitch to African-Americans earlier this week.

This woman has a hard job. She loses either way there, and see the New York Times’ 250 People, Places and Things Donald Trump Has Insulted on Twitter: A Complete List:

Since declaring his candidacy for president last June, Donald Trump has used Twitter to lob insults at presidential candidates, journalists, news organizations, nations, a Neil Young song and even a lectern in the Oval Office. We know this because we’ve read, tagged and quoted them all. Below, a directory of sorts with links to the original tweets. Insults within the last 60 days are highlighted.

That’s cold. Then add this:

Stephanopoulos asked whether that meant Trump had reached out personally to anybody – including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) or Khizr Khan – to apologize.

“No,” Conway said. “He has expressed his regret publicly and said if I have caused you personal pain – that can include me, that can include you – that he regrets that. And that’s the Donald Trump that I know.”

She continued: “This is exactly what people love. They love humility. They love accessibility. They love authenticity.”

Of course they do. But who is SHE talking about?

Perhaps this guy cannot be softened, although Maureen Dowd offers an imaginary open letter to the American people from Donald Trump, and this is just some of it:

I’m sorry that I realized too late that all the great put-downs that helped me put away the 16 dwarfs don’t translate well to the general election.

I’m sorry that I’m causing the Republicans to lose control of the Senate and I’m sorry they wish I’d never been born.

I’m really not that sorry to be causing trouble for Paul Ryan, who’s going to lose seats in the House. He’s a prig and I wish he had lost his primary to that tattooed guy who likes me.

I’m sorry I pretended I was going to release my tax returns. Of course I didn’t pay any taxes. I have the all-time greatest real estate deductions and depreciations.

I’m sorry I asked African-Americans “What do you have to lose by supporting me?” in front of a crowd of white people. I’m sorry I can never find my African-American.

And there are specifics:

I’m sorry I didn’t google Paul Manafort and see that he had more shady Russian connections than a James Bond villain. I’m also sorry I had to cut him loose. He had a lot of experience propping up dictators. But Paul didn’t know how to play the Trumpet. He had these old-fashioned ideas that when I bravely took on the Khans and that rude baby at the rally that I was punching below my weight. And he didn’t appreciate the genius of my taco bowl tweet.

Speaking of tacos, I’m sorry nobody understood why a Mexican judge could not be fair to me because of the wall. Isn’t it obvious why a Mexican-American is the same as a Mexican but a German-Scottish American is a pure American?

There’s much more, and Trump (Dowd) ends with this:

And I’m sorry Hillary is so unhealthy and weak that she hardly ever campaigns and needs pillows to prop her up when she does. I’m sorry to say that she does not have the stamina to take on ISIS. But I am not sorry to say that I am fully recovered from the bone spurs that got me out of Vietnam and ready to kick the you-know-what out of ISIS.

I’m sorry that Hillary won’t stop playing “Fight Song.”

Most of all, I’m sorry that I’m not really sorry.

Of course he is. His new campaign staff is sorry too, because their job is to create a kinder gentler Donald Trump, a softer almost cuddly Donald Trump, or at least a thoughtful Donald Trump – and they are doing their best. But some things cannot be done. He is who he is. He’s a nasty man. That’s what got him this far. And that’s what just stopped him. There’s no fixing that.

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Minority Outreach

Something was up. It was time for the third campaign manager in three months:

Donald Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said former campaign chair Paul Manafort was asked to resign on Friday.

She noted that the decision was mutual, but said the last couple weeks on the Trump campaign had been tumultuous.

“He was asked and he indeed tendered his resignation today,” said Conway on WABC radio’s “Drive at Five” being hosted by Rita Cosby. “Mr. Trump accepted his resignation and wished him well and thanked him for his service. I think it’s as simple as that.”

And that was that:

Earlier this week, the Trump campaign hired Breitbart News executive Stephen K. Bannon as his campaign’s CEO and promoted pollster Kellyanne Conway to campaign manager. The move was an apparent demotion for Manafort before he resigned on Friday.

Still, Conway said the decision for Manafort to resign was “mutual.”

Fine, but Bannon knows nothing about running a presidential campaign – he’s the editor of Breitbart News, the angry white nationalist conspiracy website – so this was odd. Manafort actually knew all about such things. In fact, Martin Longman takes us on a trip down memory lane:

Once Ronald Reagan had secured the Republican presidential nomination in 1980, a young Connecticut Yankee named Paul Manafort decided that the best idea he could come up with was to have the candidate go down to Philadelphia, Mississippi and attend a county fair. The county (Neshoba) was chosen carefully. It was the same county where civil rights volunteers James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael “Mickey” Schwerner had been slain by members of the local White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan a mere sixteen years earlier. Reagan went to that county fair, and here is what he said:

In his relatively short speech, Reagan declared, “I believe in state’s rights … And I believe that we’ve distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended in the constitution to that federal establishment. And if I do get the job I’m looking for, I’m going to devote myself to trying to reorder those priorities and to restore to the states and local communities those functions which properly belong there.”

It worked. Ronald Reagan won every state in the former Confederacy except President Carter’s home state of Georgia.

That was also the speech where Reagan first talked about “Welfare Queens” – lazy fat black women who popped out baby after baby, from long-gone father after father each of which was never a husband, and lived high off the hog on welfare checks to cover all those children, driving her big new Cadillac and whatnot. That was Paul Manafort at work:

Thus, Manafort is rightly considered one of the architects of the Republican Party’s post-Nixon Southern Strategy. Another thing he did in 1980 was team up with fellow race-baiters Lee Atwater, Charlie Black and Roger Stone. With Black and Stone, he formed a lobbying group that soon had impressive clients like Ferdinand Marcos, Mohamed Siad Barre of Somalia and Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire. It was quite a climb for a guy who had only graduated from Georgetown Law School in 1974.

Mercenary by nature and evidently conscienceless, Manafort would go in more recent years to work with Vladimir Putin’s puppet clients in Ukraine, going so far to help lay the groundwork for the Russian annexation of Crimea.

As a consultant for foreign politicians, he could rake in millions without any requirement to disclose what he was doing, though there are federal laws against lobbying on the behalf of foreign clients in the United States. That’s a requirement that Manafort apparently ignored, and he could now face prosecution for the “oversight.”

Yes, he had to go. The FBI and Department of Justice have opened the inevitable investigations – things caught up with him, and Longman adds this:

What’s kind of amazing is that we already knew that Trump was relying on cynical and mercenary race-baiting veterans of Reagan’s Southern Strategy, but Manafort’s replacement is a white supremacist (or indistinguishable from one, anyway). Maybe Stephen Bannon won’t be so far in Vladimir Putin’s pocket that he’ll change the Republican Party platform to appease him. Of course, it’s too late to do that this year, so I guess we’ll never know.

But some know this:

A former Breitbart News spokesman slammed Donald Trump’s new campaign chief executive, Stephen Bannon, for allegedly using racist rhetoric during editorial meetings at Breitbart that he said sounded “like a white supremacist rally,” while a Trump ally calls the new CEO a positive addition to the team. Both men joined this week’s episode of ABC News’ Powerhouse Politics podcast.

Kurt Bardella, who worked with Bannon at Breitbart for two years, says the former Breitbart News chairman regularly disparaged minorities, women, and immigrants during daily editorial calls at the publication…

“If anyone sat there and listened to that call, you’d think that you were attending a white supremacist rally,” said Bardella, citing what he called Bannon’s “nationalism and hatred for immigrants, people coming into this country to try to get a better life for themselves.”

“This is someone who has a very low moral compass,” he said of Bannon, “and the idea that this is the type of person that Donald Trump, as the Republican nominee, as president, would have closest to him is very disturbing.”

But it may be that Steve Bannon is changing his ways, because Trump’s poll numbers are so awful and a few black votes might help. One must be practical, and that means that it’s time for some minority outreach, even if it seems too late for that now. It was worth a try:

On his second visit to Michigan in less than two weeks, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Friday blasted Democratic policies he said have destroyed Detroit and other urban centers and called for African Americans to support him, saying blacks cannot expect change otherwise.

Speaking to a predominantly white audience of about 6,000 people, Trump appealed directly to blacks for votes.

“You live in poverty,” he said. “Your schools are no good. You have no jobs. What the hell do you have to lose?”

There are two problems here. His audience was white. Perhaps, once again, this was no more than a “See, I tried with these damned people” message to those who’d like to see all those damned people shot dead right now. “Look, I’m being nice to those stupid and ungrateful black people who hate my guts and hate you too!”

It might have been code – or maybe it really was outreach, offered to the wrong audience at the wrong place and the wrong time, in the hope that some black folks might hear about it later. Trump may know better than to schedule one of his angry-at-everything speeches at an inner city AME church to an all-black audience. Stone-cold silence is the best he could hope for, if he’s lucky. It’s probably better to talk to them from a safe distance for now, surrounded by cheering white folks.

The second problem is obvious. “What the hell do you have to lose?” That’s what worries them. He told them that their lives were miserable. They know that. They also fear things could get much worse. Trump talks about freeing the police to impose some far more serious law and order from here on out, with no questions asked. There’s plenty to lose. Even more unarmed young black men will die. Trump asked a rhetorical question, but it wasn’t heard as one.

That aside, this went nowhere:

A Democratic state representative from Detroit said he was not impressed with Trump’s broad-brush message.

“Anyone can tell you what the problem is,” said Rep. Wendell Byrd, D-Detroit, who represents the 3rd House District. “The one you want to hire is the one who can tell you how to come in and fix the problem.”

But wait! This was the fix:

Trump promised to bring back American jobs, build a wall on the Mexican border, cut taxes and improve education and health care. But he was short on details on how he would fix the last two areas, other than getting rid of the Common Core federal education guidelines and repealing the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

Get rid of education standards in their public schools and take away their health insurance? They do have something to lose, but that’s not how Trump sees it:

Though Democrats and many former administration officials have said a President Trump would make the world a more dangerous place, Trump promised an almost idyllic America with him in the White House.

“We will love each other. We will have one country. Everyone will work together,” he said as he was wrapping up his speech at The Summit, a sports and arena complex in the Dimondale area of Windsor Township in Eaton County, just outside of Lansing.

An almost idyllic America may come to predominately white Lansing one day. Lansing isn’t Detroit, but Trump says trust him:

He predicted that given a chance to govern, he would win 95% of the African-American vote in the future.

Good luck with that:

Trump’s arrival in Michigan was delayed several hours so he could visit flood-ravaged Louisiana on Friday. That decision drew criticism from state Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, and others, who pointed out that Trump has yet to visit Flint, which for more than two years has faced a crisis over lead-contaminated water, which was first acknowledged by the state government around Oct. 1 2015.

Perhaps there are too many black folks in Flint for that to be feasible at the moment, and then there’s this woman:

Mona Charen is an American columnist, political analyst and author of two books: Useful Idiots: How Liberals Got it Wrong in the Cold War and Still Blame America First (2003) and Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help (and the Rest of Us) (2005), both New York Times bestsellers.

She’s no bleeding-heart liberal, but she has a few things to say to Donald Trump:

Donald Trump is currently polling near zero among African-Americans in key swing states. In a normal year, Republicans struggle with this demographic, and I’ve written whole books (well, a chapter anyway) about the Democrats’ low, despicable use of race to stoke fear among blacks in order to be rewarded with votes.

While it may shock regular readers of this column to see these next words from my pen, there were some good points in Trump’s speech. He urged African-Americans to consider that Democratic policies (cities are virtually Republican-free zones) have not yielded solutions but rather “more crime, more broken homes and more poverty.” (Actually, crime fell even in big cities starting in the 1990s, but it remains too high.) He argued that those who advance the “narrative of cops as a racist force in our society – a narrative supported with a nod by my opponent – share directly in the responsibility for the unrest in Milwaukee, and many other places within our country.” Well-phrased, which suggests ventriloquism by the speechwriter, but still, credit to the candidate for agreeing to the text.

She was referring to a previous speech Trump gave near Milwaukee, to an audience that was nearly all white, but both speeches and both audiences were the same, and foolish:

While African-American voters, unlike Hispanics, women, Muslims and others, have not received much direct incoming fire from Trump’s flamethrower during this cycle, they doubtless recall that one of Trump’s countless forays into conspiracy-mongering concerned Barack Obama’s birth certificate. Some on the right (this columnist included) chafe at the suggestion that all criticism of Obama is merely thinly veiled racism. But birtherism is probably just that. Need more? A couple of weeks ago, Trump suggested that if he loses in November, it will be due to irregularities in “certain areas.” He then accused Obama, repeatedly (and unsarcastically) of being the “founder of ISIS.” By hiring Steve Bannon of Breitbart, the candidate is signaling that the alt-right, nationalist, protectionist, loutish fringe is going to pilot this ship straight into the reef.

Even supposing that Trump misspoke or was misunderstood about all of the above it’s perverse to imagine that blacks will not have their radar activated when Trump relentlessly derides other minorities. An attack on one minority group – Hispanics have been one of Trump’s preferred targets – is threatening to all. Consider the Asian vote in 2012. If there is one minority group that ought to lean Republican, it’s Asians. They have very low illegitimacy rates, little divorce, high levels of small business ownership, are highly educated, hardworking and self-sufficient. Yet they cast more than 75 percent of their votes for Obama over Mitt Romney. Could it have been the vehement hostility to immigration telegraphed by nearly all of the Republican candidates in the primaries?

Is the sky blue? There’s no fixing this:

This election, as calamitous as it will be for many fine candidates, will not have been entirely in vain if it serves to bury the idea – beloved even of many non-Trump Republicans – that the party can win national elections without broadening its appeal to minorities and women. Every precious American tradition, from religious liberty to free speech to free markets to national security, depends upon convincing more Hispanics, Asians and African-Americans to oppose the policies of the Democrats. Even immigration restriction is possible if not framed in an odious way.

This was the year when it would have been relatively easy to do. Hillary Clinton is Imelda Marcos in a pantsuit. The nomination of Trump was the greatest act of self-sabotage by a political party in American history. The Republican Party may not survive it, but if it does, it will be because it stopped signaling that it was the party of white people and got back to being the party of Lincoln.

That may not stop anytime soon, and the New York Times’ Charles Blow, who is quite black, explains why blacks loathe Trump:

A day after The New York Times published an article pointing out that “the Republican nominee has not held a single event aimed at black voters in their communities, shunning the traditional stops at African-American churches, historically black colleges and barber shops and salons that have long been staples of the presidential campaign trail,” Trump ventured to a suburban town outside Milwaukee that is 95 percent white and 1 percent black to tell the black population of America – a population that has been consumed in recent years by a discussion of police misconduct and extrajudicial killings – that “the problem in our poorest communities is not that there are too many police, the problem is that there are not enough police.”

The speech was tone deaf, facile and nonsensical, much like the man who delivered it.

Then within hours of making that speech, Trump shook up his campaign in part by naming Stephen Bannon, the executive chairman of Breitbart News LLC, the campaign’s chief executive.

This is the same Breitbart that the Southern Poverty Law Center referred to in an April “Hatewatch” report:

“Over the past year however, the outlet has undergone a noticeable shift toward embracing ideas on the extremist fringe of the conservative right. Racist ideas. Anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant ideas – all key tenets making up an emerging racist ideology known as the ‘Alt-Right.'”

The report continued:

“The Alt-Right is a loose set of far-right ideologies at the core of which is a belief that “white identity” is under attack through policies prioritizing multiculturalism, political correctness and social justice and must be preserved, usually through white-identified online communities and physical ethno-states.”

How are you reaching out to the black community when you step on your own message with such an insulting hire?

Some things are just obvious:

All of black America is looking askance at Donald Trump. He has no credibility with black people, other than the handful of black staffers and surrogates who routinely embarrass themselves in their blind obsequiousness.

Trump has demonstrated through a lifetime of words and actions that he is no friend of the black community.

Donald Trump is 70 years old. Surely there should be copious examples from those many years of an egalitarian spirit, of outreach to African-American communities, of taking a stand for social justice, right? Right?!

In fact, Trump’s life demonstrates the opposite. He erupted like a rash onto the public consciousness on the front page of The New York Times in 1973 because he and his father were being sued for anti-black bias at their rental property.

This is the same man who took out full-page ads blaring the headline “BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE!” in New York City newspapers calling for the execution of the Central Park Five, a group of teenagers made up of four African-American boys and one Hispanic boy, who were accused and convicted of raping a white female jogger in the park. A judge later overturned the convictions in the flimsy cases and in 2014 the Five settled a wrongful conviction suit with the city for $41 million.

This goes on for quite a bit with additional details like these:

Even Judge Gonzalo Curiel, whom Trump viciously attacked for his “Mexican heritage,” is a prominent member of one of the historically African-American fraternities and sororities, known together as “The Divine Nine.” In the black community, these groups serve as well-respected service organizations with active lifetime engagement and prominent members like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King, Thurgood Marshall, Toni Morrison, Nikki Giovanni, Zora Neale Hurston, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. and Michael Jordan. In the black community, this attack by Trump did not go unnoticed, and it did not go over well.

This is the same man who has scandalously maligned Muslims, apparently not realizing that it’s estimated that approximately one-fourth of the 3.3 million Muslims in this country are African-American. Indeed, the Muslim faith has deep roots in the black community because many Africans brought to this country as slaves were Muslims…

This is the same man who has refused to reach out to black people in any way, including rejecting offers to speak before the NAACP, the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Urban League. (Hillary Clinton spoke before all three.)

Donald Trump is the paragon of racial, ethnic and religious hostility. He is the hobgoblin of retrograde racial hegemony.

And this is the man who now wants to court the black vote?

Yes, he does. He must court the black vote. He needs the black vote, but you can’t always get what you want.

Perhaps he doesn’t know that:

Donald Trump closed out the Republican National Convention on Thursday with the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” and The Stones aren’t too thrilled about it.

The band took to Twitter to clarify that the song use is not an endorsement for Trump. “The Rolling Stones do not endorse Donald Trump. You Can’t Always Get What You Want was used without the band’s permission.”

The Rolling Stones have continuously asked Trump to refrain from using their music. In May, Trump walked out for his Indiana primary victory speech to “Start Me Up,” with a rep for the band telling Billboard at the time, “The Rolling Stones have never given permission to the Trump campaign to use their songs. The band has requested that they cease all use immediately.”

He will not stop. The Stones can sue him. He’ll countersue and bury them in legal costs that will ruin them – that’s how he rolls. Still, there was that time Keith Richards pulled a knife on Donald Trump – there’s a lot of bad blood there.

Okay, that’s beside the point. Trump will not get the black vote. Let him play the damned song all he wants. Everyone will understand his cluelessness. Irony works too.

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The New Old Trump

It was the first day of the new Donald Trump campaign for president, the day after he surprised everyone and named Steve Bannon as the man who would work with him to present to America the real Donald Trump, the Donald Trump who would win the presidency easily in November. This was an odd choice – Bannon knows nothing about running a presidential campaign – he’s the editor of Breitbart News, the angry white nationalist conspiracy website.

Breitbart News also wants almost every Republican now in office to resign in disgrace immediately, but now they may change their tune – Trump needs at least a few establishment Republicans to stick with him. Every day one or two more of them bail out. That has to stop. There are reports that Bannon has been phoning Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and such people, telling them no hard feelings – he’ll be a good boy now. They want a Republican president, don’t they? Trump is as close to Republican as they’re going to get. Stick with him and Breitbart News will hold off on ruining your career, for now. Hillary loses. Everyone wins. This is incentive mixed with deadly threat. Bannon many have read Trump’s famous book on the “art” of the deal.

That may or may not be happening. That’s not what the public sees, or is meant to see. The public is supposed to finally see the real Trump, not the one advised and controlled by people who never really understood him at all. Bloomberg’s Joshua Green reported on that:

Trump’s own diagnosis of his campaign’s shortcomings led to this unusual prescription – which is the diametric opposite of what most Republicans have been counseling for their embattled nominee.

“The campaign has been too lethargic, too reactive,” says a senior Trump official. “They wanted to bring in someone who understood new media, understood digital. It’s not going to be a traditional campaign.”

Trump was frustrated by [senior adviser Paul] Manafort’s efforts to contain him and angry about his plummeting poll numbers. With Bannon in the fold, the source adds, Trump will feel free to unleash his inner Trump:

“It’s very simple. This is a change election. He needs to position himself as anti-establishment, the candidate of change, and the candidate who’s anti-Washington.”

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent is a bit skeptical:

What’s immediately striking about this is the campaign’s apparent idea that the “inner Trump” has somehow been contained since the end of the GOP primaries. The entire GOP convention represented a choreographed spectacle of inner Trumpism, from the angry chants of “lock her up” to Trump’s rage-and-hate acceptance speech, which relied on exaggerations, distortions, and lies to paint a dystopian portrait of America as seen through the very darkest lens Trumpism has to offer. Since then, the inner Trump has roared forth constantly, most prominently in his sustained battle with the Khan family. The idea that Trump had abandoned or toned down his basic themes and messages is daft. If anything the big story of this race has been that he stuck to them, further alienating the very voter groups he needs in the general election.

Sargent is also skeptical that this is a “change” election that Trump can win simply by being “anti-establishment” and the “candidate of change” and so on:

It’s true that some polls have shown that Trump, rather than Clinton, is seen as the one who would shake up Washington. It’s also true that Hillary Clinton may be perceived as belonging to an elite system that has let down American workers. It would be nice if she spent more time emphasizing her plans for political reform, particularly the goals of improving voting access and getting big money out of politics.

But one of the under-covered stories of this race is that the American people may be rejecting the particular brand of “change” and “disruption” that Trump is offering (to the degree that he actually has an agenda at all). A recent Pew poll found that 77 percent of voters say Trump would change how Washington works, while only 45 percent say that about Clinton. But here’s the rub: Of that 77 percent, more voters said Trump would change things for the worse, by 44-33.

People seem to know that not all “change” is good:

At this point, it’s very hard to imagine that there are many voters who don’t think that Trump would disrupt the system and shake it up. He has vowed to deport millions, build a massive wall on the border, temporarily ban Muslims from entry to the U.S., and start trade wars with China. These policies are clear, vivid, and very simple to grasp. Indeed, their vividness and simplicity is precisely what allowed him to break out during the primaries. But that clarity is now working against him: Majorities have heard and fully grasp the story Trump is telling about what supposedly ails America and what he’ll do about it. They are recoiling. If anything, etching these themes and messages in darker, ever more lurid colors will likely further alienate women, college educated whites, young voters, and nonwhites – the very constituencies he needs to improve among if he is going to turn things around.

 Oops. That also won’t do, and that might explain this:

For the first time since declaring his presidential run, Republican Donald Trump acknowledged that his caustic comments may have caused people pain, saying that he regrets some of what he’s said “in the heat of debate.”

A day after announcing a campaign shake-up and as he trails in the polls, the GOP nominee said that he recognized that his comments – which have angered minorities and alienated large swaths of the general election electorate – may have been ill-advised.

“Sometimes in the heat of debate and speaking on a multitude of issues, you don’t choose the right words or you say the wrong thing. I have done that,” the GOP nominee, reading from prepared text, said at a rally in Charlotte, N.C. “And believe it or not, I regret it – and I do regret it – particularly where it may have caused personal pain.”

But then he added a caveat:

He added that, “Too much is at stake for us to be consumed with these issues.” As the crowd cheered, Trump pledged to “always tell you the truth.”

That was curious. This crowd may have cheered because they thought they heard him say he’ll keep angering minorities and alienating large swaths of the general election electorate, telling the truth – political correctness be damned – just after he said he regrets ever doing that. Perhaps the initial apology was for the general public and the qualifying comment for his base, but that’s a tricky business. The base has to pretend he didn’t say that first part. The general public has to be pleased and move on before they notice his implicit reversal. The process of winning a general election while making your base happy is a tricky business.

What is the strategy here? Chuck Todd’s MSNBC First Read crew thinks it may be this:

There is one strategic way it makes sense: Team Trump views the 2016 presidential contest as a race to 40 percent. Under that scenario, you somehow assume that Libertarian Gary Johnson will get more than 15 percent of the popular vote, and that the Green Party’s Jill Stein will get more than 5 percent. And then you make a play for the base to carry you across the finish line.

Of course, there’s a problem with this base play: If the 2016 presidential race is a contest to 40 percent, well, Hillary Clinton probably gets there first, especially with Trump’s percentage currently sitting in the 30s in many key states. And it’s doubtful that Johnson and Stein will get a combined 20 percent-plus of the vote; it will likely be half of that if not less…

Trump had two ways to go: One, try to broaden his appeal by changing his message and approach. Or two, double down on everything that’s gotten him this far. Trump has chosen Door No. 2.

That may not be wise, as Sargent notes here:

For some time now, it’s been a running joke among political junkies that there might not be enough blue collar white men in America to elect Donald Trump president. The basic idea has been to mock Trump’s apparent calculation that he can sail into the White House simply by unleashing the power of backlash among this constituency with his chest-thumping ethno-nationalism.

But now it turns out that this might literally be true. Based on how this campaign has gone so far, there really might not be enough blue collar white men in America to elect Trump president, even if all of them come out to vote.

That’s the actual finding of a new analysis conducted by demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution.

Sargent refers to Jeremy Peters’ New York Times item on this and gives a brief summary of the detailed numbers:

Peters concludes that a number of recent polls suggest that among white men, Trump is either running even with or below the margins that Mitt Romney racked up in 2012.

Given that Trump is alienating nonwhites and women to an untold degree Trump is under even more pressure to do well among white men. Yet when it comes to that constituency, Peters notes, Trump is “showing surprising signs of weakness that could foreclose his only remaining path to victory in November.”

Trump is also alienating college educated whites – men included – which is one reason why he’s falling short among white men overall. That puts more pressure still on him to run up the score among non-college white men, which he and his new campaign chief, Stephen Bannon, appear to be hoping to do, judging by the new, scorched earth nationalist strategy they are planning.

The New York Times piece makes that clear in this passage:

William H. Frey, a demographics expert with the Brookings Institution, a nonpartisan think tank, conducted several simulations that tried to determine how much the turnout among white men without college educations would have to increase for Mr. Trump to win. He used the most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll of registered voters that had Mrs. Clinton beating Mr. Trump in a nationwide two-way race, 50 percent to 42 percent. It was among the better polls for Mr. Trump lately.

Mr. Frey tested different turnout assumptions, including improbably optimistic ones, like if 99 percent of white, non-college-educated men turned out to vote. None of the chain of events produced a Trump victory.

In fact, even if virtually all of the white, non-college-educated men eligible to vote did so, Mr. Frey found, Mrs. Clinton would still win the popular vote by 1.1 million.


In other words, assuming the spreads in the recent Post/ABC poll hold, if pretty much every single blue collar white male in America turns out to vote on Election Day, Trump would still fall well short of winning.

The Post/ABC poll found that Trump is dominating among non-college whites (58-33) and particularly among non-college white men (67-25). But that’s offset by Clinton’s advantage among college educated whites, and the fact that she keeps it closer among non-college white women than this spread was in 2012.

Given that, Sargent made a phone call:

I checked in with Frey for some more information about his simulation. He told me that he had assumed that 2012 level turnout levels (based on census data) would remain constant among all other voter groups in 2016 – using eligible voting-age adults – and only inflated turnout among non-college white men, to 99 percent. Under that scenario, Trump still loses, mainly because he’s getting swamped among other voter groups, and is losing among college educated whites.

“If the voting on Election Day is in line with the Washington Post poll, even if all non-college white men show up on Election Day to vote, it would be difficult for Trump to win,” Frey told me.

To make this worse for Trump, Frey added, it is far-fetched to begin with to assume that non-college white men will turn out at larger rates than college-educated whites overall will. The opposite is more likely to be the case, Frey said.

“And this doesn’t even play around with the possibility that college educated white women may turn out in larger numbers than usual in this election,” Frey added. That obviously could happen with a woman as the Democratic nominee.

And then there’s Nate Silver:

With almost two-thirds of voters holding an unfavorable view of Trump, it’s not clear how many more people he can rally to his side without a big change in tone and message. But Trump and his acolytes seem to be in profound denial about the narrowness of their appeal.

So, there are not enough angry blue collar white men in America to elect Trump president even if every single one of them comes out to vote for the new “inner” Trump, which is actually the old Trump set free to be all that he can be.

That’s not enough, and the New Yorker’s Kelefa Sanneh explains why:

Throughout the campaign, a number of observers on the left and the right have suggested that Trump practices a kind of white-identity politics that may be indistinguishable from racism. He was reluctant, earlier this year, to disavow the support of David Duke; he is popular among some white nationalists; and he has had to defend himself against accusations of anti-Semitism. Ben Smith, the editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed, sent a memo to his staff about Trump, assuring them that it is “entirely fair to call him a mendacious racist.” Even Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House, who endorses Trump, said that Trump’s criticism of a judge was “sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment.”

But what’s surprising about Trump’s strategy of racial provocation is that African-Americans have played a relatively small role in it. In his campaign-announcement speech, fourteen long months ago, he set the tone for much of his campaign when he suggested that Mexico was sending its least desirable citizens across the border. (“They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”) And the judge he criticized was Gonzalo Curiel, who he suggested was biased against him because Curiel’s parents are from Mexico. (“This judge is of Mexican heritage – I’m building a wall,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper, in reference to his plan to fortify the Mexican border.) When people call Trump racist, they are often thinking primarily of incidents like these, in which he has singled out Latino immigrants and their descendants.

They are often thinking, too, about Trump’s series of remarks about Muslims, including his call – which he seems to have modified – for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Or, for that matter, his portrayal of China as a menacing threat; during a rally in Iowa last year, he adopted a clipped accent to impersonate negotiators from Japan and China; he imagined them saying, “We want deal!” In these cases, Trump is seeking to protect an American “we” from an invading “they”- the kind of language that would once have drawn accusations of nativism and xenophobia instead. But these days a wide range of prejudices are commonly subsumed within the expansive term “racism”; you might call a politician “racist” without meaning (at least not exclusively, or even primarily) that he is anti-black.

That may be a distinction without a difference, as lawyers like to say. To some races he is actively and inventively hostile. To blacks he is indifferent. Is it better to be attacked for your race/religion/origins or better to be ignored? The result is the same either way, but this wasn’t always so:

When it comes to African-Americans, Trump has a long and sometimes grim history. In the nineteen-seventies, he was sued by the Justice Department for discriminating against black tenants. In 1989, after five black and Latino boys were arrested for a horrific attack on a jogger in Central Park, Trump published a pro-death-penalty advertisement in the New York Daily News. (Trump also criticized the city’s forty-one-million-dollar settlement with the five, who were convicted and then, more than a decade later, exonerated.) And then there were his demands, in 2011, that Obama produce his birth certificate, to prove he was born in America. (Birtherism is often described as a species of anti-black racism, though of course it is inspired by the fantasy that our cosmopolitan President is not really African-American.) And, last year, Trump retweeted an image showing bogus crime statistics that suggested African-Americans kill many more whites than is actually the case.

Trump is only indifferent to African-Americans at the moment, except for this:

In December, he criticized Justice Antonin Scalia, who had suggested, during a hearing, that affirmative action might harm some African-American students by steering them toward colleges that are “too fast for them” when they might be better off at “a less advanced school – a slower-track school.” Trump seemed genuinely offended. “I thought his remarks were very tough,” he said. “I don’t like what he said.” During his Convention speech, he mentioned the murder rate in Chicago, but then swiftly pivoted, singling out a group not typically blamed for the city’s violence. “Nearly one hundred and eighty thousand illegal immigrants with criminal records, ordered deported from our country, are tonight roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens,” he said.

Was Trump’s criticism of Scalia part of a grand plan to win over African-American voters?

He did quickly pivot to those damned Mexicans who shouldn’t be here, but that’s not much of a marker that will win him the black vote:

Trump has acquired a reputation as a racist. Does it make a difference to black voters that this reputation has mainly to do with things he has said about Muslims and Mexicans, or that he finds ways to talk of African-Americans as part of a threatened “we,” and not part of a threatening “them”? One of the best things about an election is that it provides answers – eventually – to questions such as these. And for Trump, so far, the answer seems to be no, it doesn’t make a difference.

The new unleashed “inner” Trump is the old Trump, but now unable to slam everyone, all the time – there are only so many hours in the day. But at least he did apologize for all the mean things he has said – without specifying a single one of those things. Some of his base will say he was apologizing to blacks, but not to Muslims. Other parts of the base can say he was apologizing to Muslims, but not to those Mexicans who shouldn’t be here, or apologizing to those Mexicans who shouldn’t be here but not to those awful Black Lives Matter folks, or to the Muslims. Take your pick. There’s something for everyone.

Maybe that’s how the new old Trump wins the general election.

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Those Deck Chairs on the Titanic

Something was up. Milwaukee was on fire – one more police shooting of one more young black man had finally been one too many – so Donald Trump scheduled a rally safely outside Milwaukee, in front of an all-white audience, to rile everyone up about law and order as the answer to everything. But that started an hour late, and it wasn’t a rally – the Trump folks said to expect a major policy speech and that’s what Trump delivered. He was bold. The “war on cops” has to end, but he understands the anger. He addressed Black America – if there is such a thing – and told them that Democrats had never done a damned thing for them, ever, but he would. He told them to take their anger out on the Democrats, not on the cops. That did not go over well – since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 everyone knows who is on whose side in these matters – but it really didn’t matter. Most of the polling shows that Trump will get about one percent of the black vote in November, if he’s lucky, and people immediately forgot this speech anyway. About an hour after he wrapped up, the Wall Street Journal broke the big story that would eclipse anything he said thirty miles west of Milwaukee.

Perhaps that was intentional. He must know he’s never going to be seen as the champion of any minority. This seemed to be no more than a “See, I tried with these damned people” message to those who’d like to see all those damned people shot dead right now. It was code – and he had other things on his mind. All the polling shows he’s going to lose in November in a Clinton landslide, and the polling was getting worse by the day, so it was time to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. If he’s going to go down in flames, to mix metaphors, well, he’ll do that his way. There would be no more attempts to pivot to the middle, to show he could be calm and reasonable. He hates being calm and reasonable. Screw that – he’d change everything about his campaign:

Donald J. Trump named as his new campaign chief on Wednesday a conservative media provocateur whose news organization regularly attacks the Republican Party establishment, savages Hillary Clinton and encourages Mr. Trump’s most pugilistic instincts.

Mr. Trump’s decision to make Stephen K. Bannon, chairman of the Breitbart News website, his campaign’s chief executive was a defiant rejection of efforts by longtime Republican hands to wean him from the bombast and racially charged speech that helped propel him to the nomination but now threaten his candidacy by alienating the moderate voters who typically decide the presidency.

It also formally completed a merger between the most strident elements of the conservative news media and Mr. Trump’s campaign, which was incubated and fostered in their boisterous coverage of his rise.

Breitbart News is for those who consider Fox News and the Drudge Report far too bleeding-heart liberal, and also want almost every Republican now in office to resign in disgrace immediately and there was also the guy that Fox News just ousted:

Mr. Bannon was appointed a day after the recently ousted Fox News chairman, Roger Ailes, emerged in an advisory role with Mr. Trump. It was not lost on Republicans in Washington that two news executives whose outlets had fueled the anti-establishment rebellion that bedeviled congressional leaders and set the stage for Mr. Trump’s nomination were now directly guiding the party’s presidential message and strategy.

Expect an attack on the Republican Party too:

Mr. Bannon’s most recent crusade was his failed attempt to oust the House speaker, Paul D. Ryan, in this month’s primary, making his new role atop the Trump campaign particularly provocative toward Republican leaders in Washington.

Party veterans responded Wednesday with a mix of anger about the damage they saw Mr. Trump doing to their party’s reputation and gallows humor about his apparent inability, or unwillingness, to run a credible presidential campaign in a year that once appeared promising.

“If Trump were actually trying to antagonize supporters and antagonize new, reachable supporters, what exactly would he be doing differently?” asked Dan Senor, a longtime Republican strategist who advised Mitt Romney and his running mate, Mr. Ryan, in 2012.

Terry Sullivan, who ran Senator Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign, said Mr. Trump and Breitbart “both play to the lowest common denominator of people’s fears. It’s a match made in heaven.”

But Trump was fed up with these people:

Only last week, Mr. Trump publicly expressed ambivalence about modifying his style. “I think I may do better the other way,” he told Time magazine. “They would like to see it be a little bit different, a little more modified. I don’t like to modify.”

He likes to clean house:

Kellyanne Conway, a veteran pollster and strategist who was already advising Mr. Trump, will become his campaign manager and is expected to travel with the candidate, filling a void that opened up when Corey Lewandowski was fired on June 20.

Still, this looked like chaos:

Mr. Trump’s loyalists put the best possible face on the changes announced Wednesday, but their timing, after a New York Times article detailing his advisers’ frustration at trying to impose discipline on him, underscored why so many in the party have soured on his prospects: His decisions are often made in reaction to news coverage.

He gets pissed off. He changes everything after he rants and calls everyone, everyone who he thinks disrespects him, names. That’s who he is, so it’s best to just ride with it:

Paul Manafort, the campaign chairman, will retain his title and focus on the political shop but was widely seen as being sidelined: Mr. Bannon and Ms. Conway have both developed close relationships with Mr. Trump, and Mr. Bannon is likely to be more amenable to letting him run the sort of media-focused campaign he prefers.

“This is an exciting day for Team Trump,” Mr. Manafort wrote in an internal staff memo. “I remain the campaign chairman and chief strategist, providing the big-picture, long-range campaign vision,” he added.

No one believes that. There’s a new sheriff in town:

Mr. Bannon has overseen a site that is focused primarily on pushing Republicans away from what it calls a globalist agenda and toward a hardline and often overtly racial one, railing against what it sees as the threats of free trade, Hispanic migration and Islamist terrorism.

“This is Trump going back to the nativism and nationalism that fueled his rise in the primary,” said Lanhee J. Chen, who was Mr. Romney’s policy director in 2012. “But it’s very dangerous to the future of the party because it only further narrows the appeal of a party whose appeal was already narrow going into this cycle.”

Mr. Chen called Mr. Trump’s shift “a base reinforcement strategy” and noted that it was very different from the tack of most party nominees, who use the final months of the presidential race to broaden their appeal in hopes of winning over the maximum number of voters.

But to those on the right who are hoping to permanently shift Republicans away from free-market conservatism and toward a harder-edged populism, the addition of Mr. Bannon was a victory for the “America First” approach they want to ingrain in the party.

And they have money behind them:

Mr. Trump’s elevation of Mr. Bannon and Ms. Conway also highlights the growing influence of Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah, conservative donors from Long Island. The Mercers are investors in Breitbart, and their foundation funds a host of other conservative activist groups. They spent millions on Senator Ted Cruz’s behalf during the Republican primary, an effort Ms. Conway helped lead. And they began bankrolling a pro-Trump “super PAC” in recent weeks after becoming friendly with Mr. Trump, his daughter Ivanka and her husband, Mr. Kushner.

That’s how these things work, even if they upset people:

Rival conservative news organizations viewed Breitbart as something of an outlier, which was evident in the title of an article the Weekly Standard writer Stephen F. Hayes wrote on Wednesday: “Trump Has Decided to Live in Breitbart’s Alternative Reality.”

“It’s the merger of the Trump campaign with the kooky right,” William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, said of Mr. Bannon’s new role.

In May, Breitbart had called William Kristol a renegade-Jew – so there’s no love lost there – but Breitbart loves Roger Ailes:

The website emerged as a singular defender of Mr. Ailes, with a piece about a planned walkout by network stars loyal to him should he be forced out – it never came to pass – and one by Mr. Bannon ridiculing the “minor Murdochs” (the 21st Century Fox chief Rupert Murdoch’s sons and co-executives, James and Lachlan), who were seen as leading the push for Mr. Ailes to resign.

And really, what’s with this sexual harassment stuff? Boys will be boys – and Bannon is actually running things now. It will be like odd times:

For Democrats, Donald Trump’s decision to put Breitbart News chief Steve Bannon – a man they dismiss as a conspiracy theorist – in charge of his campaign is vindication of a conspiracy theory of their own.

“The merging of the vast right-wing conspiracy and the train wreck that is Trump is now complete,” said Tracy Sefl, who was the Clinton campaign’s designated “Drudge whisperer” in 2008, thanks to her unique relationship with Matt Drudge.

The Clintons have long maintained that a “vast right-wing conspiracy” is out to get them, as Hillary Clinton told NBC News’ Matt Lauer not long after The Drudge Report introduced the world to Monica Lewinsky in 1998.

They might have been wrong then, but not now:

Bannon has actually made it his explicit goal to succeed where his predecessors failed. “In the 1990s,” he told Bloomberg, “conservative media couldn’t take down [Bill] Clinton because most of what they produced was punditry and opinion, and they always oversold the conclusion: ‘It’s clearly impeachable!’ So they wound up talking to themselves in an echo chamber.”

So in addition to feeding that echo chamber at Breitbart – which one former staffer says has turned into “Trump’s personal Pravda” – Bannon founded the Government Accountability Institute, which digs up fact-based scoops that it shares with mainstream media outlets like the New York Times.

Bannon, for instance, helped orchestrate the publication of “Clinton Cash,” the explosive book by GAI President Peter Schweizer, which detailed alleged conflicts of interest and pay-for-play politics between the Clintons and the donors to their foundation.

Trump has been talking about that for months. He may get all his news from Breitbart News. He simply made the relationship formal.

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent finds this puzzling:

That Donald Trump has shaken up his campaign and is doubling down on the narrow strategy that worked in the GOP primaries but is failing catastrophically in the general election – would appear to leave only two possibilities.

Either Trump is delusional, to the point of being entirely incapable of appreciating why he’s currently losing to Hillary Clinton. Or he has a diabolical plan to break apart the Republican Party and pocket a big chunk of it for himself, for post-election fun and profit. My money is on the former.

Go with delusional:

Trump remains trapped in the mental universe he inhabited during the primaries. That was a place where the size of his crowds at rallies actually did portend victories over less colorful and entertaining opponents who failed to create a mystique to rival his. It was a place where he really could win through sheer media dominance alone, because the bigotry, xenophobia, and all around depravity and wretchedness that drove that dominance – and with it, the name recognition that allowed him to blot out his rivals – did not alienate large numbers of Republican voters in the manner he is currently repulsing key general election constituencies. Trump now appears determined to prove that the same formula – which basically constitutes whipping up white backlash through rousing rallies and a continued emphasis on ethno-nationalism (leavened a bit by pretend minority outreach gestures) – can work in the general.

Yeah, but white backlash is kind of useless:

One way to understand how unlikely this is to succeed is to look at yesterday’s Post poll of Virginia, which showed Clinton leading Trump by 52-38. Virginia is a New South state that is slowly slipping into the Democratic column, due to demographic shifts that are growing the state’s populations of college educated whites and nonwhites. It represents in microcosm the broader demographic trends that are driving the Democratic Party’s success in national elections. Our poll finds that Trump is viewed unfavorably in the state by 70 percent of college educated whites, 70 percent of women, 84 percent of nonwhites, and 73 percent of voters under 40 years old. These are precisely the demographics Trump must improve among to win. Yet he is doubling down on precisely the approach that continues to alienate them, with the result that the map is broadening for Democrats.

Does Trump really think that will work? If so, who knows, perhaps he will be proven right. He could succeed in uniting Republicans in the home stretch. External events or new Clinton revelations could enable him to prevail, even as he resolutely sticks to his approach. But that seems unlikely at this point.

Okay, so then go with the diabolical plan:

One other explanation for Trump’s latest moves comes courtesy of CNN’s Brian Stelter, who suggested this morning that Trump may be positioning himself to launch a new media enterprise after a November loss. Bannon and former Fox exec Roger Ailes (who is also advising Trump), Stelter noted, would be just the team for Trump to do that. If so, perhaps Trump is very consciously sticking to his strategy of fusing white nationalism with rousing WWE-style political entertainment, and very consciously avoiding broader demographic outreach that might dilute this approach’s appeal to his core constituencies, in order to split off a chunk of the GOP and keep it for himself later as a following and national audience.

Perhaps Trump does want to build a media empire, with Roger Ailes’ help to outfox Fox News and make a shitload of money – which would be sweet revenge for Roger Ailes too – and that would explain this:

Top Donald Trump aide Paul Manafort had cautioned the candidate against posting his infamous Cinco de Mayo tweet declaring “I love Hispanics!” but was ignored, according to a Wednesday report.

In a piece for The Huffington Post, Howard Fineman reviewed Manafort’s stint as one of the top operatives in the Trump campaign, citing the now-infamous taco bowl tweet as one instance where Manafort attempted to rein in Trump’s provocative rhetoric and failed.

According to the report, an unnamed member of the Trump family had suggested the original tweet, which declares that “the best taco bowls are made in Trump Tower Grill.”

“Manafort politely suggested that this might be seen as condescending and cautioned against it,” Fineman reported, but “the tweet went out” anyway.

Trump was reportedly delighted by backlash against the tweet, saying that “the people who were offended were people we wanted to offend.”

That’s the original Fox News model. There’s a ton of money to be made there, but Karen Tumulty and David Weigel report that Steve Bannon may have bigger fish to fry:

At the lowest point of Donald Trump’s quest for the presidency, the Republican nominee might have brought in a political handyman to sand his edges. Instead, he put his campaign in the hands of a true believer who promises to amplify the GOP nominee’s nationalist message and reinforce his populist impulses…

Breitbart has since become a champion of Trump’s candidacy – in large part because Stephen K. Bannon himself believes it represents a cause much bigger than a political campaign. Bannon sees Trumpism as part of a global movement that will continue, no matter who is sitting in the Oval Office next January, those close to him say.

Last September, when hardly anyone else on this side of the Atlantic was taking the prospect of a British exit from the European Union seriously, Bannon invited influential Republican leaders to a dinner for Nigel Farage, the head of the UK Independence Party, at the Capitol Hill townhouse known as the “Breitbart Embassy.”

Steve Bannon thinks internationally:

One headline last October dubbed Bannon “the most dangerous political operative in America.”

In that Bloomberg News article, Joshua Green reported that Andrew Breitbart, the late founder of the site, had “described Bannon, with sincere admiration, as the Leni Riefenstahl of the Tea Party movement,” a reference to the infamous and glamorous maker of Third Reich propaganda films.

Moviemaking has been one of the many chapters of Bannon’s career, which had previously included four years aboard a Navy destroyer, a post-MBA stint with Goldman Sachs, and founding an investment firm specializing in media.

In one particularly felicitous deal, Bannon’s fee included an early stake in “Seinfeld,” the residuals of which alone would turn out to be enough to make him wealthy.

Along the way, he developed a worldview remarkably in tune with what is now regarded as Trumpism: suspicious of free trade and liberal immigration policies, wary of military adventurism, and contemptuous of the old order.

That’s worldwide now, as E. J. Dionne notes here:

The new leadership – with Bannon and pollster Kellyanne Conway displacing Paul Manafort at the top of the heap – is likely to steer Trump even more in the direction of the European far right. It also tells you something that Bannon sees Sarah Palin, about whom he made a laudatory documentary, as a model for anti-establishment politics.

Bannon is close to Nigel Farage, the former head of the right-wing UK Independence Party, who offered “massive thanks” to Breitbart News for supporting the party’s successful campaign for Britain’s departure from the European Union. “Your UKIP team is just incredible,” Bannon told Farage in an interview after the June Brexit vote.

Bannon is out to change the world everywhere. A Trump presidency would be small peanuts to him, but Dionne doesn’t see that happening:

There is much good news but one piece of bad news for Clinton in the Trump shake-up. The bad news is that she is likely to have to play more defense, especially if Bannon builds on his success in enticing reporters at non-conservative media outlets to work on stories damaging to her.

The good news is that Trump seems determined to fight through the campaign on his terms. This reduces the chances that he will drop out of the presidential race, which, in turn, means that Clinton is more likely to avoid what would be the biggest blow to her chances: a Trump withdrawal and the naming of a new GOP candidate.

Trump’s campaign is likely to look more extreme, which cannot help the flailing candidate in the suburban, highly educated precincts in states such as Pennsylvania, Virginia, Colorado and North Carolina where he is hemorrhaging more upscale Republican votes. Bannon’s fascination with Palin, who turned off many such voters to John McCain after he chose her as his running mate in 2008, could aggravate rather than ease this problem.

Okay, forget Trump, but don’t forget Bannon:

Bannon’s rise dramatizes the catastrophe GOP establishmentarians brought upon themselves by imagining that they could use the far right for their own purposes while somehow keeping it tame. Bannon’s European interests suggest he is far more impressed by right-wing third parties than by traditional Republicanism.

Those could be right-wing third parties anywhere. This is bigger than our puny election. Trump thinks he’s using Bannon, but Bannon may be using him. Or the whole thing could be a lot of crazy people who, after November, will find themselves with a lot of time on their hands, because the American people aren’t that crazy – unless they are.

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