Strange things happen out here in Hollywood. We’re used to that. Walk down Hollywood Boulevard – you’ll see – but Rory Carroll reports something even stranger, as it seems a secretive group of Hollywood conservatives suddenly dissolved:
The Friends of Abe has acted as a clandestine club for Hollywood conservatives for more than a decade, hosting secret events where they could vent rightwing views and hear speeches from visiting Tea Party luminaries.
But on Thursday the organisation – which counts Jon Voight, Jerry Bruckheimer and Kelsey Grammer among its 1,500 members – made an abrupt announcement: it was dissolving.
No one expected that, not even these Friends of Abe, but it had to happen:
The announcement caught members by surprise and fueled speculation that infighting over Donald Trump’s candidacy, among other factors, had drained commitment. Others said the group had been losing steam for years.
Instead of electrifying the organisation, California’s 7 June primary, a final and potentially decisive showdown between Trump and his GOP rivals Ted Cruz and John Kasich, appeared to frazzle it.
Lionel Chetwynd, a producer and screenwriter and co-founder of the FOA, recently spoke of the primary campaign causing a “civil war in slow motion”, which fractured friendships and shredded solidarity.
These guys know that Donald Trump is a buffoon and Ted Cruz is a mean little self-righteous evangelical with a vindictive streak, who organized the last government shutdown that turned the whole nation against the Republicans and accomplished nothing at all, so they were running out of options:
Formed in 2005, high-profile supporters include Clint Eastwood, Gary Sinise and Patricia Heaton, who played Debra Barone in the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond. The group, named after Abraham Lincoln, swore members to secrecy by adopting a line from the film Fight Club: the first rule of the Friends of Abe is you do not talk about the Friends of Abe.
In addition to Trump and Cruz, the group hosted the likes of Antonin Scalia, Dick Cheney, John Boehner and Rush Limbaugh at venues around Los Angeles, including the Reagan library, the Luxe Hotel and the Bistro Garden.
It became more widely known – and a rallying point for Republicans – when news leaked in 2014 that the Internal Revenue Service was investigating the group in connection with its application for tax-exempt status. The IRS subsequently granted the status.
They finally did get their tax-exempt status, which was way cool, but now Scalia is dead, and John Boehner was ousted as House speaker and has quit congress to do whatever retired people do in southern Ohio, and Dick Cheney a has-been, and that leaves Trump and Cruz and Limbaugh. No, thanks anyway – which the blogger BooMan puts this way – “What’s really happened is that every excuse has been stripped away, and people can’t look themselves in the mirror anymore.”
There’s no fixing this, except in the other town named Hollywood, the one in Florida, there was a fix in the works, according to the Associated Press:
Donald Trump’s chief lieutenants told skeptical Republican leaders Thursday that the GOP front-runner has been “projecting an image” so far in the 2016 primary season and “the part that he’s been playing is now evolving” in a way that will improve his standing among general election voters.
The message, delivered behind closed doors in a private briefing, is part of the campaign’s intensifying effort to convince party leaders Trump will moderate his tone in the coming months to help deliver big electoral gains this fall…
That item was also picked up by the New York Times:
Donald J. Trump’s newly installed campaign chief sought to assure members of the Republican National Committee on Thursday night that Mr. Trump recognized the need to reshape his persona and that his campaign would begin working with the political establishment that he has scorned to great effect.
This Hollywood makeover was also reported by the Washington Post:
Trump’s chief strategist Paul Manafort told members of the Republican National Committee in a closed-door briefing here Thursday afternoon that his candidate has been playing a “part” on the campaign trail, but is starting to pivot toward presenting a more businesslike and presidential “persona.”
“He gets it,” Manafort told RNC members.
The folks in the Hollywood out here should feel comforted. The guy was only playing a part – that’s what people do out here for a living. And now he’ll simply play another part, which is how Bloomberg News puts it:
Outsider candidate Donald Trump sent emissaries to soothe tensions with the GOP’s pre-eminent insiders Thursday, and tried to convince them that his bombastic demeanor is merely stagecraft, that his high negatives in the polls can be overcome, and that if he’s the nominee, he’ll raise money for the party and help the Republicans locally and nationally to win elections.
The key word is stagecraft, which is also how this was staged – “The Associated Press obtained a recording of the closed-door exchange.” They got a scoop! Well, maybe they didn’t – “Mr. Manafort’s comments were made behind closed doors, which were guarded by security. But a person in attendance taped the speech and shared the recording with The New York Times.”
That’s very clever, like a scene from Citizen Kane or something, and Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog thinks he sees the clever strategy:
There’s some skepticism in these reports, but the message is that everything will be fine and dandy and just be politics as usual if Trump is the nominee, so the press doesn’t haven’t to do hand-wringing coverage about the hijacking of the Republican Party by a dangerous barbarian. (Even after all these months of Trump, much of the press still hasn’t been able to bring itself to say that the rot is within the GOP and conservative movement, but never mind.)
Trump’s new Main Man played the press like a fiddle, but then he didn’t fool the hyper-conservative Erick Erickson – “This is an admission against interest that Trump has been lying to the American people and his supporters.”
He also didn’t fool Legal Insurrection’s William Jacobson:
Trump is playing his core supporters, knows he can’t win a national election with his current message, and is planning to change characters mid-play to soothe the GOP elites he rails against to get you worked up… Those of us who are not blinded by the light have tried to warn you.
On the left, Esquire’s Charlie Pierce also wasn’t fooled:
This will now be the pattern. He, Trump will campaign thuggishly. It will work. Then he will accept victory less thuggishly, and he will be congratulated for it. Then it all will start again, over and over, all the way to November.
And then, on the surprisingly pleasant New York victory speech from Trump, there’s Heather Parton:
Since his victory speech didn’t include any crude epithets or mentions of his manly member, the media seemed to be under the impression that he’s a restrained and dignified statesman worthy of the presidency…
But the big rally in Indiana yesterday showed no changes in Trump’s usual meandering lunacy punctuated by cries of “build that wall” and “get ’em out!” He was back to “Lyin’ Ted” and “Crooked Hillary” and rambling bizarrely about General Patton getting rid of ISIS in three days. At times he was completely unhinged, going on about how he “loves” waterboarding and wants to kill oil truck drivers in Iraq. Everyone can rest easy…
In other words, Trump is still Trump.
Trump really wasn’t cut out for Hollywood. He can’t act a part, assuming a character and then “inhabiting the character” as they say out here. Somewhat like Clint Eastwood, he can only play himself, as Josh Marshall explains here:
Donald Trump’s new campaign chief Paul Manafort made a presentation to Republican insiders in Florida yesterday with a pretty stunning set of claims. Members of the RNC shouldn’t be worried, he told them: Trump’s not against the party or the people who run it. He’s just been putting on an act, playing a part to win the nomination. He’ll now shift gears to playing a different, more congenial role (a new ‘persona’) that party regulars will be more comfortable with. In his new role, his historic unfavorable ratings will also fall rapidly.
This is all a fairly striking thing to say out loud – or, technically, in private setting but meant for public consumption – since it amounts to saying that Trump has just been playing his supporters for rubes and he’s really a friend of the insiders after all. But the audaciousness of the claim and even the improbability of Trump’s ability to sell a dramatically different version of himself aren’t even the biggest issues.
The more salient question in my mind is whether Trump can even make the attempt. Remember, this is the second or third time that Trump or those around Trump have tried for the pivot to the center. The last time he tried things immediately lurched into the series of violent incidents at rallies and the protests in Chicago.
He couldn’t help himself:
At the time, what seemed most telling is that it was clearly in Trump’s interest to shift gears and he’d signaled he wanted to shift gears. This is when he started saying he could be the presidentialist guy around. Just everyone watch! Trump may have wanted to leave the primaries behind. But the primaries followed him. He’d kicked up or rather given voice to too many electoral demons. Beyond that, there were and are things within Trump that made the transition hard and quite possibly impossible. At some basic level, it’s really not an act.
That’s the real problem, because you can’t quit the act when it isn’t one:
Manafort’s argument about why Trump’s ‘persona’ switcheroo will work is close to comical. It amounts to ‘Trump’s negatives are a perception problem; Hillary’s just a bad person.’ Maybe Hillary’s awful. But this is just wishful thinking, something that no one who’s actually run campaigns is going to buy unless they’re paid to, or need to do so to block out thoughts of an electoral disaster.
We’ve seen this movie before. Even if it’s the sequel or another production from the same script, I’m very, very dubious that Trump can pull this off. Set aside for the moment that we’re living in the age of videotape and the implausibility of what Byron York memorably called a ‘personality transplant.’ His personality, his relationship with his supporters who have brought him this far, make it very unlikely he’ll even be to make the attempt. Trump may be full of it. He may be BSing on the margins. But at a basic level, it’s not an act. He can’t control it.
Slate’s Jim Newell puts that this way:
There is personality, as in the construction one presents to the public, and there is character, as in the sort of person one really is. Manafort would have us believe that the personality – that of a pig, which appeals to a requisite number of white males to win the Republican presidential nomination – is just a lie; the character, meanwhile – to be unveiled in the general election! – is more akin to, say, Abraham Lincoln, or some other really terrific guy.
Newell thinks that is nonsense for a number of reasons:
The first would be that a person willing to project a total lie of a personality for personal gain is axiomatically a lousy character. But we don’t even get that far. Because there’s no reason to believe that the personality Trump has presented in his campaign is anything other than an extension of his truest self, which is a pig.
There’s nothing else there:
Trump has been successful in his brief political career, which has taken place totally within the context of a Republican presidential primary. Within whatever context, the politicians who are usually most successful run campaigns that are extensions of their personalities – i.e. ones that can project “authentic” versions of themselves rather than total constructs, which leads to easily sniffed-out phoniness. It confuses some observers as to how Trump’s fans can really believe that he’s “authentic” or “honest,” which they all really do believe, because on the policy level he’s changed his mind so many times in his career that the rank opportunism of it all is unmistakable. But it makes sense – he’s put together the package that clicks! The piggish positions and piggish postures he’s adopted strike just about everyone as the honest and authentic extension of Donald Trump, pig.
That’s in the details:
Trump politicks like a real estate developer. He doesn’t want a whole bunch of poor people spilling over onto his property and disturbing the members. So of course he wants a wall around the perimeter. The idea of a wall lights up a mind like Donald Trump’s with euphoria. And then there are Muslims. Muslims: bad, scary, not a good look, bad for property values – don’t let them in. Trump believes that a woman’s worth directly correlates with her looks and that a man’s worth directly correlates with the eye candy on his arm. A former associate, for example, said that he did not want to be seen in public eating lunch with a woman he deemed ugly. When Trump couldn’t believe people would consider voting for a “face” like Carly Fiorina’s, or when he retweeted a side-by-side photo of his wife, Melania, and Heidi Cruz, this was not an act, put on to get the rubes interested. That was Donald Trump, all right, and if he captures the nomination, it won’t matter what pressure Paul Manafort or Rick Wiley or Reince Priebus puts on him: The over-under on how long it takes him to call Hillary Clinton a “bitch” during a general-election prime-time press conference will be two weeks. Thirty percent of the country will love it. Seventy percent will not.
He can’t change who he is, and he can’t shed the baggage he’s accumulated as a result of being who he is – which is a pig.
But we’re told that’s all an act! His team says so, so Kevin Drum tries to figure out what’s really going on:
This is basically being taken as an admission that Trump has just been conning his followers so far, and he’ll turn on a dime when he needs to. But that’s not how I take it.
First, I doubt that this recording was leaked. Rather, it was “leaked.” The Trump campaign wanted it to become public. Sure, it will inspire some mockery from liberals and campaign reporters, but that’s never done Trump any harm. And since leaks are usually taken as a glimpse into the real behind-the-scenes truth, this is the most effective way to get his message out to the public in a credible way.
And how will the public respond? Unlike us hyper-engaged folks, they’ll just take it as an assurance that Trump can act like an adult when he wants to. More subtly, his current fans will also take it as a hint that his adult persona will be meant primarily not to con them, but to con centrist Republicans. With a wink and a nod, he’s telling them he’ll do what he has to do in order to appeal to the corrupt establishment folks, but not to take it too seriously.
That’s damned clever:
And if Trump can pull it off, it might very well work: the establishment folks will start to fall in line, impressed by the “new” Donald. They’re so certain that only yokels can be conned, it will never occur to them that they’re the real marks.
It’s a double-reverse, which is confusing enough, but we understand such things out here. There’s that pleasant 1991 Disney film The Rocketeer – set in 1938 Los Angeles and Hollywood. The famous vaguely British swashbuckling actor Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton) – secretly a Nazi agent – hires a gang to steal a prototype rocket pack from Howard Hughes (Terry O’Quinn) – but they screw up and a handsome young down-on-his-luck pilot finds it, straps it on, and becomes a bit of a mysterious superhero for a time. Conveniently, his aspiring actress girlfriend Jenny Blake (Jennifer Connelly) has a bit part in the latest Neville Sinclair film – and Sinclair kidnaps her and says he’ll kill her unless the young fellow hands over the thing – Hitler wants his massive army of flying soldiers. It’s all stupid stuff, but as Sinclair takes the rocket pack and straps it on, ready to fly off, there is this exchange:
Jenny: Everything about you is a lie.
Neville Sinclair: It wasn’t lies, Jenny. It was acting.
Donald Trump can use that line. Sure, our hero tweaked the rocket pack so it explodes, killing Sinclair, but it’s still a great line – but in Trump’s case it won’t work. As Kyle Cheney reports in Politico, his folks don’t believe he’s acting:
First it was an email warning Steve House, the Colorado GOP chairman, to hide his family members and “pray you make it to Cleveland.” Then there was the angry man who called his cellphone and told him to put a gun down his throat.
“He said, ‘I’ll call back in two minutes, and if you’re still there, I’ll come over and help you,'” House recalled.
Since Donald Trump came up empty in his quest for delegates at the Republican state assembly in Colorado Springs nearly two weeks ago, his angry supporters have responded to Trump’s own claims of a “rigged” nomination process by lashing out at Republican National Committee delegates that they believe won’t support Trump at the party’s convention – including House.
The mild-mannered chairman estimates he’s gotten between 4,000 and 5,000 calls on his cellphone. Many, he says, have ended with productive conversations. He’s referred the more threatening, violent calls to police. His cellphone is still buzzing this week, as he attends the RNC quarterly meetings in Florida, and he’s not the only one.
In hotel hallways and across dinner tables, many party leaders attending this week’s meetings shared similar stories. One party chairman says a Trump supporter recently got in his face and promised “bloodshed” if Trump doesn’t win the GOP presidential nomination. An Indiana delegate who criticized Trump received a note warning against “traditional burial” that ended with, “We are watching you.”
That’s what they were discussing this week in Hollywood, Florida:
Although the harassers are typically anonymous, many party leaders on the receiving end of these threats hold Trump himself at least partly responsible, viewing the intimidation efforts as a natural and obvious outgrowth of the candidate’s incendiary rhetoric.
And they know why this has escalated:
It’s a noticeable shift away from the slash-and-burn approach of Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who some party insiders blame for cultivating, or at least enabling, Trump’s brasher tendencies. One state party leader, who requested anonymity, described the intimidation tactics coming from Trump supporters as part of “Corey culture.”
For months, Trump’s campaign has played a recording before the start of its rallies, encouraging attendees not to physically harm protesters but simply to shout them down with chants of “Trump! Trump! Trump!” But one operative close to the campaign, an ally of Manafort, also blames the old regime for not doing more to rein in the violence that has occurred at some rallies and the threats many people continue to make.
“That only happens when somebody is not driving the bus,” the operative said. “That’s all going to settle down now that Paul is in charge.”
But even if Manafort is able to nudge Trump toward a more traditional presidential bearing, the hostile energy his campaign has already whipped up among some supporters has left a trail of anger and intimidation that is likely to linger when the convention comes in July.
Trump can say it was only acting, but “true conservatives” like Aaron Goldstein, writing in American Spectator, are quite outraged:
Trump thugs are basically giving the Republican delegates the choice of Trump or Death. There is no room for violence or threats of violence because delegates to the Republican National Convention dare to support someone other than Donald Trump. The only room for such people is the inside of a prison cell. And so long as Trump refuses to admonish his supporters for their behavior he is just as guilty of threatening violence as they are. Should Donald Trump have fewer than 1,237 delegates at the time of the GOP Convention, Republicans must refuse to be intimidated and ensure his defeat for the good of life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and the very existence of the Republican Party as a home for conservatives.
This Hollywood East meeting did not go well, as Tierney Sneed reports here:
As the planning for the Republican National Convention continues, some party figures are expressing concerns about bringing their families to the Cleveland confab after facing threats from Donald Trump supporters who accused them of trying to “steal” the election.
Louisiana GOP chairman Roger Villere told Politico the concerns were brought up to RNC chair Reince Priebus at the party’s spring meeting in Florida this week. Louisiana became the subject of ire from Trump and his supporters after Sen. Ted Cruz’s campaign was able to work the delegate system to get more Cruz loyalists into the delegation.
“A lot of us bring our wives and children. Do we really want to? That’s one of the things that were asked,” Villere told Politico. “They assured us that we would be protected.”
It wasn’t lies, Jenny. It was acting. Now Donald Trump has to say that to a good number of his very, very angry followers, after he told them over and over to be very, very angry. Was he just acting then? Is he just acting now? Is he a terrible actor either way? And why is there a Hollywood, Florida, anyway?
So, out here in the real Hollywood, the Friends of Abe has disbanded. They know hopelessly bad acting when they see it. This will not end well. There will be no Hollywood happy ending.