The second highest-grossing movie in America in 1954 was The Caine Mutiny – Humphrey Bogart as the unstable and periodically paranoid Captain Phillip Francis Queeg, brought in by the Navy to restore discipline on the Caine, a minesweeper in our Pacific war with Japan. The previous captain had been too loose and goofy.
Queeg was supposed to fix that but it turned out he was incredibly thin-skinned and saw conspiracies everywhere. When a crate of fresh strawberries go missing from the officers’ mess, Queeg is convinced that some sailor has made a duplicate key to the food locker and orders the crew strip-searched to find it. That’s the final straw. Queeg wasn’t that good at the actual Navy stuff anyway – so the officers, led by Fred MacMurray as Lieutenant Tom Keefer, relieve him of his command under Article 184 of Navy Regulations – mental incapacity.
The rest of the film is their court martial. Everyone gets cold feet and now says Queeg was fine, trying to pin this all on poor Fred MacMurray and save their skins – but then Queeg falls apart on the witness stand, blithering about those missing strawberries. Humphrey Bogart gets to chew the scenery, as they say – he wants that Oscar – and no one is convicted of mutiny. Case closed.
The guy was nuts after all – but the mutineers end up hating each other’s guts. This is no way to run a Navy and there is such a thing as loyalty – unless loyalty in this case was cowardice. Who’s to say? The mad captain was finally gone, but the mutual recriminations and distrust among the officers who made that happen would never go away. Fade to black.
It did fade to black – this movie is pretty much forgotten now. It was workmanlike but no more. The actors hit their marks and did what was required of them – but someone may reinsert this dated and depressingly obvious movie in rotation on basic cable now, because it’s playing out in our politics. The Republican Party is the Caine and Donald Trump is Captain Queeg – the new captain with a gruff way of doing things, who will slap people around and make things right again, but incredibly thin-skinned and a guy who sees conspiracies everywhere. All that’s missing are the strawberries.
As the Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe reports, they do have their mutiny:
Dozens of Republican convention delegates are hatching a new plan to block Donald Trump at this summer’s party meetings, in what has become the most organized effort so far to stop the businessman from becoming the GOP presidential nominee.
The moves come amid declining poll numbers for Trump and growing concern among Republicans that he is squandering his chance to defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton. Several controversies – including his racial attacks on a federal judge, his renewed call to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the United States and his support for changing the nation’s gun laws – have raised fears among Republicans that Trump is not really a conservative and is too reckless to run a successful race.
Invoke Article 184 of Navy Regulations – mental incapacity – because more and more of the ship’s officers now see that:
Given the strife, a growing group of anti-Trump delegates is convinced that enough like-minded Republicans will band together in the next month to change party rules and allow delegates to vote for whomever they want at the convention, regardless of who won state caucuses or primaries.
The new push is being run by people who can actually make changes to party rules, rather than by pundits and media figures that have been pining for a Trump alternative.
And have Paul Ryan play the Fred MacMurray part:
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.), who is slated to chair the Republican National Convention next month in Cleveland, said in remarks released Friday that House Republicans should follow their consciences on whether to support Trump.
“The last thing I would do is tell anybody to do something that’s contrary to their conscience,” Ryan said in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” that will air Sunday.
Ryan has endorsed Trump. But his use of the word “conscience” could prove helpful to delegates organizing the anti-Trump campaign because they are seeking to pass a “conscience clause” that would unbind delegates and allow them to vote for anyone.
Captain Queeg will have none of this:
In a statement Friday, Trump dismissed the plots against him.
“I won almost 14 million votes, which is by far more votes than any candidate in the history of the Republican primaries,” he said. “I have tremendous support and get the biggest crowds by far and any such move would not only be totally illegal but also a rebuke of the millions of people who feel so strongly about what I am saying.”
That may be so, and this may be a close-run thing:
Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer responded in a statement, saying: “Donald Trump bested 16 highly qualified candidates and received more primary votes than any candidate in Republican Party history. All of the discussion about the RNC Rules Committee acting to undermine the presumptive nominee is silly. There is no organized effort, strategy or leader of this so-called movement. It is nothing more than a media creation and a series of tweets.”
Delegates involved in the effort disagree, but their plans face steep difficulties and would require rapid coordination among the thousands headed to Cleveland next month. Previous attempts to field a Trump opponent or to use convention rules to stop him have quickly fizzled, but the new fight revives the possibility of a contested convention.
Okay, the odds are long, but the ship’s officers are mutinying:
Other top Republicans, including Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Rep. Fred Upton (Mich.), said this week that they will not back Trump. Ohio Gov. John Kasich said he’s not ready to support Trump. And Richard Armitage, a deputy secretary of state in George W. Bush’s administration who is close with other members of the party’s national security establishment, announced that he plans to vote for Clinton if Trump is nominated.
Some of Trump’s top surrogates, including Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-Calif.), have struggled to explain Trump’s policy positions and defend his statements and proposals in the wake of the mass shooting in Orlando.
“This isn’t going to go away,” warned Cecil Stinemetz, a delegate from Iowa participating in the new campaign. “Trump or others might say that these are just little groups who won’t do anything and it’ll fizz out – that’s not going to happen. Trump just continues to embarrass himself and his party, and this is not going to let up.”
Invoke Article 184, as the ship’s first officer has just walked away:
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has made clear he doesn’t agree with a proposal put forward by Donald Trump – whom Ryan has endorsed – to ban Muslim immigration into the United States, but in an interview with the Huffington Post Thursday, Ryan floated taking a President Trump to court if he tried to implement such a ban or some of his other controversial proposals unilaterally.
“I would sue any president that exceeds his or her powers,” Ryan said in a back-and-forth about Trump’s claims that he could implement a Muslim ban or build a Mexican border wall without congressional approval.
The Republican-controlled House would sue a sitting Republican president? That is what Ryan said, and he also said this:
In the interview, Ryan said his endorsement of real estate mogul did not give Trump “a blank check,” and that he was still trying to achieve “real unity” between the presumptive nominee and his caucus.
He doesn’t sound hopeful, but he’s been warned – Sean Hannity Threatens Paul Ryan: “It’s Time to Get a New Speaker” If You Won’t Support Trump – and you don’t mess with Fox News.
That was a threat, but this is spreading:
The co-chair for Donald Trump’s U.S. House Leadership Committee played defense on Thursday, insisting he was “not a surrogate” and shouldn’t have to answer for everything the real estate tycoon says.
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) was one of the first congressmen to endorse Trump and was tasked by the campaign with ginning up support for the presumptive GOP nominee on Capitol Hill. Yet he distanced himself from the candidate on Thursday when confronted with a group of reporters on his way off the House floor.
“I am not a surrogate,” Hunter told The Hill later that afternoon, explaining why he refused to answer their questions about Trump. “I am a congressman. I can’t speak for anybody else but me.”
“Everybody’s asking me to explain all these things that he said,” Hunter continued. “Some of these things, I don’t know what Donald Trump is thinking. … I don’t know where Donald Trump is coming from.”
This is a change:
After Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was criticized for grabbing a reporter’s arm in March, Hunter’s chief of staff said the incident had “no influence” on Hunter’s support for the candidate. More recently, he defended Trump’s attacks on the “Mexican heritage” of U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, affirming Trump’s false claim that Curiel was a member of a pro-Mexican civil rights group.
Though Hunter claims that he doesn’t know what Trump is thinking, he is among the group of supporters now receiving daily talking points from the campaign, according to a May New York Times Magazine story.
Still, Hunter told The Hill that there were some Trump comments that were simply “unexplainable” and he felt no obligation to try to parse them. One example, Hunter said, was the “stuff about U.S. military taking money.”
“I don’t know what he meant by that,” he added.
Trump this week claimed that American troops in Iraq embezzled millions of dollars, though his spokeswoman Hope Hicks later said he was referring to Iraqi soldiers.
Of course he never mentioned Iraqi soldiers at all – but Hope Hicks seemed to be saying that everyone knew what he meant, and those who merely and maliciously relied on what he actually said were trying to slander him or something. There are new rules all the time.
There’s also new worry:
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has been quietly having conversations with state party leaders to discuss the latest push by convention delegates to nominate anyone other than Donald Trump.
Priebus has spoken with GOP party chairmen in multiple states in recent days in part to get a better sense of how large the anti-Trump faction is among their convention delegations, according to two people familiar with the conversations.
While Priebus has made clear in these conversations that he is not spearheading the latest push for a coup, his involvement sends a signal that the RNC is taking this effort to dump Trump seriously even as other movements have fizzled.
One source said Priebus’ ultimate goal is unclear. But some anti-Trump forces are hoping to garner enough support to press the convention’s rules committee to alter the rules governing the convention and open a path for a different candidate.
Reince Priebus wants to know how widely this mutiny has spread. He’s got a mess on his hands, and Josh Marshall explains why:
It’s not just that Trump isn’t doing well. He’s barely running a campaign at all.
He’s spent the last six weeks in an erratic barrage of self-inflicted wounds and petulant attacks on people who he needs to be critical allies. Any other candidate would be spending this time fleshing out a campaign team – usually bringing in the best operatives from the defeated primary challengers – developing campaign themes focused on the Democrats’ nominee, raising and stockpiling money. These may not be exciting tasks but they are the critical work of standing up a national campaign, which is one part flash mob, one part Fortune 500 Corporation. It’s a big, big thing that takes a lot of managerial work to set up.
Others might do it well or poorly. But Trump isn’t doing any of it. There’s a Politico story out today about how the RNC gave him the names of twenty big GOP donors to call. He got bored or frustrated and stopped after calling three. And this comes after deciding that he actually doesn’t need to raise a billion dollars.
Perhaps he should be relieved of command:
Almost every day since he clinched the nomination almost six weeks ago has been a surreal tour through Trump’s damaged psyche – the insecurities, silly feuds, the mix of self-serving lies and attacks on people he’s supposed to be courting or justifying a supposed refusal to do things he finds himself actually unable to do (raise a billion dollars). More than anything he’s attacking almost everyone but the person he’s running against – and that, not terribly effectively. The major themes of his campaign appear to be racist “Mexican” judges, his ability to predict terror attacks and the inevitable destruction of the American republic.
He hasn’t yet demanded to know what happened to those strawberries from the officers’ mess but he’s getting there:
Trump issues daily attacks on GOP insiders as corrupt pansies; they attack him as an unstable racist. You almost feel sorry for the Dems: where’s their angle in on the 2016 campaign? The daily particulars are so mesmerizing that you have to step back to see that Trump isn’t even running a campaign.
In a second item, Marshall explains that Trump doesn’t even know how to run a national campaign:
Donald Trump is uniquely reliant on strong poll numbers. Every candidate is dependent on good poll numbers for morale, fundraising and more. But Trump’s platform isn’t abolishing Obamacare or lowering taxes or kicking-more-ass in the Middle East. His platform is “winning.” So if he’s clearly not winning, it’s uniquely debilitating. But there’s another way to understand this phenomenon, a broader framework for understanding Trump’s current rough patch. It is the inherent turbulence faced by a bullshit-based candidate making first contact with an at least loosely reality-based world.
It’s that bubble thing again:
In the Trump bubble, crowd sizes at his rallies are the most effective barometer of public opinion. They mean he’ll win. Polls are dumb, especially when they show he’s losing. He opposed the Iraq War before there was even an Iraq. Public opinion is defined by the mix of white nationalists and white sad sacks who populate his Twitter feed. As I have noted, this is all the mindset of the high pressure sale, a spun-up reality that exists with little necessary connection to anything outside the bubble of the sale. It’s not counter-reality, just indifferent to reality.
But Trump now needs to operate with and collaborate with people who will face real electorates in November. They know a modern presidential campaign requires $1 billion dollars of funding. They still know it does after Trump insists it only requires $50 million. No one outside the Trump fact bubble believes that.
That’s not going to work any longer:
Trump supporters exist entirely within the Trump fact bubble. They were more than sufficient to win the Republican primaries. They either believe his claims or are indifferent to their accuracy. The Trump world is based on a self-contained, self-sustaining bullshit feedback loop. Trump isn’t racist. He’s actually the least racist person in America. Hispanics aren’t offended by his racist tirades against Judge Curiel. He’s going to do great with Hispanics! Didn’t you see the new Hispanics for Trump Facebook page? He’ll put California in play and it won’t even be that hard.
Trump can say he’s going to get historically high numbers of African-American votes, but the worried Republican officials he’s talking to know that’s nonsense after he says it just as much as they did before he said it.
Trump’s problem is that the general election puts him in contact with voters outside the Trump bubble and just as important necessary allies (all Republican office holders) who rely on voters outside the Trump fact bubble. Not that many maybe, but enough of them.
To put it more concretely, the general election puts a bullshit-based candidacy in direct contact with the reality-based world.
There’s also proof of that in this Associated Press story:
Trump is largely outsourcing what’s typically called a campaign’s ground game, which includes the labor-intensive jobs of identifying and contacting potential supporters. Ed Brookover, recently tapped to serve as the Trump’s liaison to the RNC, says the campaign is making progress on adding its own staff in key states.
The campaign estimates it currently has about 30 paid staff on the ground across the country.
“There are some holes,” Brookover said. “There are fewer holes than there were.”
There are fifty states. They have thirty paid staff, maybe – they’re not quite sure – and Marshall adds this:
It is difficult to overstate just how many crazy notions are embedded in this package. No presidential campaign can really outsource its field operation to the party. That just means that the party has to build a whole additional field staff in addition to the one it’s already building (set aside not being able to control its strategy, quality of work etc.) That’s not possible, or at least not possible to do well. The way this works in the modern campaign is that the presidential campaign has its field operation, the party has an additional field operation and they are coordinated together and in some ways integrated together in the fall for maximal impact.
The party necessarily has more focus on all the other races besides the presidential. The presidential campaign mainly focuses on itself. But they work together (in the bounds of certain restrictions on coordination). And at the end of the day, every solid Republican voter who gets brought to the polls helps everyone up and down the ticket. Down ticket races are heavily, heavily dependent on these two massive field operations; they get pulled along with the wave of turnout these and other campaign committees coordinate.
Trump seems to have decided he’s just not going to have one. Maybe he’ll decide that’s ridiculous and he wants to build one after all. But you can’t just build a campaign operation overnight. And Trump is way, way behind.
Maybe he isn’t running a campaign at all, but he’s running something:
Trump campaign advisers have said previously that, in a departure from custom, Trump could make an address to the delegates each night of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland next month. (Typically, party leaders give major speeches each evening leading up to the big moment. Prime convention speaking slots are often given to up-and-comers in the party as a way to highlight potential future leaders. These are usually weeklong celebrations culminating with an acceptance speech by the newly crowned nominee.)
Under consideration: Trump speaking to the convention via satellite from off-site locations in battleground states. Under one proposal, each night of the convention would open with a short film focused on a “problem” facing the nation – failing schools, opioid addiction, border security or government waste. People featured in the film would be introduced, followed by a 45-minute speech from Trump focused on a “solution” to the problem being presented.
He won’t show up at the convention at all. They’ll see him on the big screen, or it may be this:
At a rally in Dallas this week, Trump said he is considering having what he described as a “winner’s night,” highlighting celebrity endorsers like controversial and hot-tempered former college basketball coach Bobby Knight; former pro football player Herschel Walker; Dana White of the UFC mixed martial arts company; boxing promoter Don King; former college basketball coach Digger Phelps; and others.
“We’re thinking about doing something that’s different,” Trump said, “rather than listening to politicians talk – ‘Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much,’ and everyone’s falling asleep …”
It worked in Indiana, Trump contended.
“Hey, by the way, excuse me!” Trump said. “We went to a place called Indiana and Bobby Knight endorsed me. Boy did that happen! Right? So many of the great people. We have such unbelievable endorsements … winners, they’re winners! There aren’t many winners. But you take these winners, and we’re gonna have them speak.”
Trump said he hadn’t yet asked those supporters to speak but added that he expects his “winners’ night” would be “the best-attended night of the whole deal.”
The ratings will be boffo. There will be none of that stupid talk about principles and goals and policies to reach those goals. The head of the Ultimate Fighting Championship franchise, the martial arts promotion company, will talk about winning – unless Trump goes on a rant about someone stealing his strawberries. Who would dare mutiny?
That remains to be seen.