The Kidder

So another odd week in American politics ends with a major candidate saying he was just kidding:

After days of alleging repeatedly that President Barack Obama literally founded the Islamic State group, Donald Trump abruptly shifted tone on Friday and insisted his widely debunked claim had been sarcastic.

Trump, in an early-morning post on Twitter, blamed CNN for reporting “so seriously” that he had called Obama and Democrat Hillary Clinton the extremist group’s founder and most valuable player. He added, in all capital letters: “THEY DON’T GET SARCASM?”

That caught everyone off-guard:

Only hours before, the billionaire businessman had restated the allegation with no mention of sarcasm, telling rally-goers in Kissimmee, Florida, that “I’ve been saying that Barack Obama is the founder.” It’s a claim that Trump repeated at least a dozen times in three cities since debuting the attack-line Wednesday during a rally outside Fort Lauderdale.

In fact, Trump had refused to clarify that he was being rhetorical or sarcastic when asked about the remark during interviews. On Tuesday, when conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt tried to steer Trump toward explaining he really meant Obama’s Mideast policies created conditions that IS exploited, Trump wanted none of it.

“No, I meant he’s the founder of ISIS. I do,” Trump said, using another acronym for the extremist group. Told that Obama was trying to defeat the militants, Trump added, “I don’t care. He was the founder.”

Now everyone is puzzled and more than a few folks are worried:

It wasn’t immediately clear why Trump altered course Friday and said the whole notion was sarcastic. But the allegation had elicited fresh concerns about Trump’s relationship with the truth and his preparedness to be commander in chief.

Clinton’s campaign has cried foul and accused Trump of mimicking Russian President Vladimir Putin’s talking points, and the Democratic Party had asked for an apology.

“I just do not think insults and bullying is how we are to get things done,” Clinton said as she laid out her economic plan Thursday in Warren, Michigan.

This carelessly brutal man, who just says preposterous things and then says he was just kidding, may not be fit to be president, but he did back down, but then he did it again:

Even as he worked to quell one campaign controversy, Trump appeared to spark another late Wednesday when said he was “fine” with trying Americans suspected of terrorism in military tribunals at the Guantanamo Bay detention center. Asked specifically about U.S. citizens, Trump told the Miami Herald that he didn’t like that Obama and others wanted to try them in traditional courts.

“I would say they could be tried there,” Trump said, referring to Guantanamo Bay. “That’ll be fine.”

Federal law generally prohibits U.S. citizens from being prosecuted in military tribunals.

Someone will eventually point that out to him, and he will no doubt say he was being sarcastic – he was just kidding – but Philip Bump wonders about that ISIS claim about Obama:

In this case, Trump saying he was being sarcastic means that he was… what? Mocking the idea that Obama had a role in fostering the Islamic State? Is that what Trump means? He said that Obama founded the Islamic State for the purposes of making it clear that, in truth, he, Donald Trump, didn’t believe that Obama was in any way responsible for the emergence of the group? He was mocking those who might be inclined toward hyperbolic characterizations for the purposes of scoring political points? Is that what Trump is doing here?

That’s what Trump would be doing if he were being sarcastic, so he might have used the wrong word, not that it matters:

It’s a nonsense excuse. Why Trump decided at this late hour that the comment needed excusing isn’t clear. Of all of his various verbal transgressions, this one doesn’t seem significantly more detrimental to his campaign than his past comments.

The man just says things, because that’s what works for him:

We do know why he did it… It was very clear in the moment that he hammered the point at that rally because he enjoyed the reaction. Saying Obama created the Islamic State formed a nice little feedback loop of applause.

It wasn’t sarcastic. It also wasn’t satire. It was Trump wanting and getting attention, a process he has mastered. That doesn’t make the statement true or insightful – and it doesn’t seem to have done much to smooth his path to the presidency.

One must learn to shrug at such things, but there was that second Trump tweet:

I love watching these poor, pathetic people (pundits) on television working so hard and so seriously to try and figure me out. They can’t!

Anna North discusses that:

He seems to be saying that he wants the media to misunderstand him, raising the possibility that he is simply uttering a stream of inflammatory gibberish in order to confuse journalists. Presumably, though, Mr. Trump wants his supporters to understand him.

And if he wants his supporters, but not others, to understand what he says, then the best way to learn what he really means is to listen to some of his supporters.

In July, David Duke, the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, said, “I’m overjoyed to see Donald Trump and most Americans embrace most of the issues that I’ve championed for years.”

And Richard Spencer, the president of a white nationalist think tank, told the Associated Press, “Trust me. Trump thinks like me.” He also said that African-Americans, Latinos and Jews should be removed from the United States.

“Do you think it’s a coincidence that everybody like me loves Trump and supports him?”

I do. That’s sarcasm.

At least she knows the meaning of the word, and Andy Borowitz lets us know how this might play out:

Clarifying his position on a key national-security issue, Donald Trump said on Friday that as President he would be willing to use nuclear weapons, “but only in a sarcastic way.”

“People who are worried about me having the nuclear-launch codes should stop worrying, okay?” Trump told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “If I ever used nuclear weapons, it would be really obvious that I was just being sarcastic.”

Pressed by Blitzer to explain the difference between a sarcastic and non-sarcastic nuclear attack, Trump responded, “You’d use the weapons and everything, but then you’d say, ‘Just kidding.'”

Trump did not specify which nations he would target for a sarcastic nuclear attack. “I can’t say right now,” he said. “But there are a lot of countries that need to lighten up.”

Satire can be uncomfortable when what is imagined is just too likely, particularly when Donald Trump is in deep trouble:

A new poll released Friday by NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist showed Donald Trump trailing Hillary Clinton by crushing margins in four key swing states.

In North Carolina, a state the GOP nominee Mitt Romney won in 2012 and that is crucial to Trump’s path to victory, Clinton leads the real estate mogul among registered voters by nine percentage points, 48 percent to 39 percent.

Clinton bests Trump in Florida, another key state for his electoral map, by 44 percent to 39 percent.

Clinton’s leads over Trump in Virginia and Colorado, two traditionally swing states that went for President Obama in 2008 and 2012, suggest they may no longer be considered battlegrounds, at least in this presidential election. Trump is behind Clinton by 13 percentage points in Virginia, 33 percent to 46 percent, and by 14 percentage points in Colorado, 32 percent to 46 percent.

Factoring in third-party candidates, the Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee, Jill Stein, did not have a major impact on Clinton’s margins over Trump in the poll.

This may be over, as assuming the best possible outcome for Trump now, Hillary Clinton is at 335 electoral votes versus Trump at 164 electoral votes, and 270 of those win the presidency. Trump needs to do something, fast, but that ain’t gonna happen:

Donald Trump trumpeted a confident assessment of his campaign on Thursday night, saying there was no need for him to encourage voters to head to the polls on Election Day.

Asked by Fox News’ Eric Bolling about the open letter by 70 Republicans asking the Republican National Committee to redirect funding from the presidential race to down-ballot campaigns, Trump said he didn’t need their assistance.

“One of the big things about the RNC is they have this whole infrastructure of data and information and contacts and email lists and mailing lists and phone numbers. That is something that is important to your campaign,” Bolling said. “That’s not at risk. Is that in jeopardy at all?”

“I don’t know. I will let you know on the ninth, on November 9th,” Trump replied.

“We are gonna have tremendous turnout from the evangelicals, from the miners, from the people that make our steel, from people that are getting killed by trade deals, from people that have been just decimated, from the military who are with Trump 100 percent,” he went on. “From our vets because I’m going to take care of the vets…”

He sees no need to worry:

“I don’t know that we need to get out the vote,” the Republican nominee concluded. “I think people that really want to vote, they’re gonna just get up and vote for Trump. And we’re going to make America great again.”

That means he’ll do nothing special, because that’s how he runs things:

The Trump campaign has yet to develop on-the-ground support in critical battleground states as Election Day draws nearer and Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers in those states rise. Trump has only one field office in all of Florida, as Politico reported, and lacks the basics of a campaign in Hamilton County, a key county in the swing state of Ohio.

He sees no need to worry, but Politico talks to those who do:

Republican insiders are more convinced than Democrats that Donald Trump is so far behind Hillary Clinton that he can’t win in November.

Roughly half of Republican members of The POLITICO Caucus – activists, strategists and operatives in 11 swing states – believe that Trump’s path to 270 electoral votes is basically shut off after another week in which the GOP nominee appears to have ceded ground in national and most battleground state polls.

They see no hope:

“While it’s true that previous candidates have come back from greater deficits to win, it won’t happen in 2016. The electorate is far more base-driven, with fewer persuadables,” said an Iowa Republican. “Trump is underperforming so comprehensively across states and demographics it would take video evidence of a smiling Hillary drowning a litter of puppies while terrorists surrounded her with chants of ‘Death to America!’ But in 2016, stranger things have happened.”

“Trump has failed to demonstrate he has a plan and path to 270” electoral votes, added a Wisconsin Republican. “Considering the disadvantage a GOP candidate starts with, the work in key targeted states like Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania has to be error-free. There is no evidence that Trump has done that or that he has much of a ground game to begin with.”

And many said time is running short:

“Outside events could still intervene, and I could certainly see something happening on foreign policy front that changes the face of the race, but as Yogi Berra once said, ‘It’s getting late early,'” a Michigan Republican said. “The problem is, that even when things go wrong with Hillary, Trump cannot stay out of his own way long enough just let her have a bad news cycle. He’s got to show some form of proof of life, and soon.”

Forget that. As the week ended, his worst week so far, Trump, seeing that there was no way to win Pennsylvania, pretty much admitted he would lose, and it wouldn’t be his fault:

Donald Trump again raised the specter of election fraud Friday, saying that the only way he would lose Pennsylvania is to Hillary Clinton is if “they cheat.”

The Republican nominee, speaking at a rally in Altoona, Pennsylvania, repeated his concerns about the fairness of the election.

“The only way we can lose, in my opinion – I really mean this, Pennsylvania is if cheating goes on and we have to call up law enforcement and we have to have the sheriffs and the police chiefs and everyone watching because if we get cheated out of this election, if we get cheated out of a win in Pennsylvania, which is such a vital state especially when I know what is happening here,” he said.

“She can’t beat what’s happening here. The only way they can beat it in my opinion, and I mean this 100 percent, if in certain sections of the state they cheat.”

He knows the votes aren’t there, but they ought to be there, damn it – thousands cheer at his rallies (in a state of many millions) – so his eyes, at specific isolated events, tell him what the data won’t tell him, and he knows where the blame lies:

Trump has repeatedly claimed the election is “rigged” against him, laying some of the blame on the media.

This cannot be his fault – that may be all we get from this point forward – and this may be the first of many warnings to follow:

In a column yesterday, Pat Buchanan warned that if Donald Trump loses the election in November, America could experience a revolution.

Buchanan, citing Trump’s recent suggestion that the election could be “rigged,” said that if Hillary Clinton defeats Trump, “would that not suggest there is something fraudulent about American democracy, something rotten in the state?”

How else could he lose? Democracy just stopped working, didn’t it? And that calls for action:

“The Republican electorate should tell its discredited and rejected ruling class: If we cannot get rid of you at the ballot box, then tell us how, peacefully and democratically, we can be rid of you?” he continued. “You want Trump out? How do we get you out? The Czechs had their Prague Spring. The Tunisians and Egyptians their Arab Spring. When do we have our American Spring?”

Buchanan then quoted John F. Kennedy’s remarks on U.S.-Latin American relations: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

The full column is here – it’s a call for the violent overthrow of a duly-elected American government – because the polls are all wrong and the media abets in that and there’s no way the massive number of votes for Trump are not there. That cannot be, and so on and so forth, but then Trump isn’t even trying:

Donald Trump and his supporters claimed, once the Republican nomination was wrapped up, that traditionally blue New Jersey could be in play come November.

With great fanfare, Trump’s campaign opened a New Jersey office on May 3 in Edison, which attracted a crowd of more than 1,000 supporters, according to a local news account.

Later that month, when one statewide poll showed Trump within 4 points of Hillary Clinton in the state, the Republican nominee projected confidence about the outcome.

“I think so,” Trump told Fox News host Sean Hannity on May 31, when asked if he could win New Jersey. “I mean, I love New Jersey. I am New Jersey. Like a second home. I have property there. I have a lot of employees there. And frankly, I think we’re going to do well.”

But the Trump campaign appears to have pulled up stakes in the Garden State.

After two messages left at the number of Trump’s New Jersey headquarters were not returned, POLITICO visited the nondescript suburban complex listed as its address.

That office no longer exists.

There were few signs the Trump campaign ever occupied the now-vacant office space…

Pat Buchanan didn’t account for a candidate that simply gave up early, but Heather Parton explains the thinking:

Back in the early 1980s Republicans convinced themselves that the Reagan Revolution had ushered in a thousand year reign. It was unimaginable that any Democrat could possibly be president now that the glory of Ronald had been bestowed upon America. So when Bill Clinton won in 1992 they simply refused to believe it. Republican leader Dick Armey openly declared that Clinton was not his President.

About ten paragraphs of what is now ancient history follow that, and then Parton reviews the current situation:

Now we are in the midst of another presidential election and if the polling holds up it looks as though the Democrats are going to do what Republicans still believe is impossible and win the White House once again. And we are already seeing the contours of their latest attempt to make that victory illegitimate. Donald Trump has announced that he believes the election results will be invalid if Clinton wins. He told Sean Hannity that “November 8th, we’d better be careful, because that election’s going to be rigged. And I hope the Republicans are watching closely, or it’s going to be taken away from us… I’ve been hearing about it for a long time.”

Sean Hannity and Newt Gingrich explained the whole nefarious plan to the Fox News audience. Hannity drew upon the complaints by Bernie Sanders that the Democratic primary was rigged by the use of Superdelegates (it wasn’t, Clinton would have won without them) and made some wild charges about the election being stolen from Mitt Romney in Philadelphia back in 2012. (Those charges were thoroughly refuted by a Philadelphia election inspector.) Gingrich answered without directly accusing Clinton of rigging the vote by using Trumpish weasel words saying, “if you assume that she’s a crook, as he says, if you assume that she lies, as he says, why would you expect her to have an honest election?”

CNN’s Brian Stelter took issue with Hannity’s handling of the issue rightly pointing out, “suggesting an election is going to be stolen? This is third-world dictatorship stuff.”

And everyone else just smiled their sly Cheshire-Cat smiles. It is what it is:

Indeed it is. But then the voter fraud myth has been flogged by the right wing for decades now despite no evidence that it exists. Trump has begun building up his argument based upon recent court rulings against certain onerous Voter ID laws – laws that actually are “rigging” elections by suppressing Democratic votes.

Yes, that’s illogical, but that’ll work:

He has every reason to believe he can convince GOP voters that the election was stolen from him. After all, he was the King of the Birthers in 2012 and a vast majority of his followers believe that Obama is a secret Muslim and an illegitimate president largely due to his handy work. He’s got a track record. At this point, 69 percent of North Carolina Trump voters think that the only way Trump can lose is if the Democrats steal it. There’s no reason to think Trumpies are any less gullible in other states.

Then things get nasty:

Clearly, he’s personally just setting up an excuse for when he loses. But there are some serious consequences to our democracy if a large number of Trump’s supporters truly believe the election wasn’t legitimate. After all, these are people who are already convinced that Clinton should be in jail for using a personal internet server. With Trump “joking” about “Second Amendment people” taking matters into their own hands, anything might happen.

Or it might not, but the damage is done:

It’s possible that the GOP defections in the presidential race will result in the Republican Party finally sobering up and becoming a mature governing party once again but it’s unlikely. There is no evidence that they have finally decided that a Democrat can legitimately win the presidency and with at least half of their constituency being mad as hell that their man was cheated, there will be tremendous pressure on the establishment to keep after the criminal usurper president in any case. The obstruction and investigations will continue.

So basically, Trump’s “rigging” argument comes down to this: “nice little government you’ve got here. Be a shame if anything happened to it.”

Sadly it’s almost certain that if he doesn’t win, his followers and the GOP will do everything in their power to ensure that Clinton and the rest of us pay a heavy price for it. That’s pretty much what they’ve done for the past 24 years and there’s little reason to think they’ve changed. They simply refuse to believe they can lose.

That’s why they nominated Trump. He never loses, but now he may, and Susan Milligan asks around about that:

America loves an underdog. Donald Trump hates losers. Now that the self-described billionaire and Republican nominee for president is tanking in the polls, he risks missing the opportunity offered by the former and may end up turning into the latter. And campaign observers and behavioral experts say it’s due to his own campaign behavior.

He’s simply making all the wrong moves:

Far from casting himself as the Horatio Alger of either the business or the political world, Trump has incessantly referred to himself as a winner, and to critical media and his foes in the press as “losers” or “failing.” He has bragged about his proclaimed wealth, about his business empire, about the women he has allegedly dated in the past and even, at a presidential primary debate, about his sexual prowess. So he puts himself in an awkward position, asking supporters to cheer someone who – for the time being, anyway – is losing. …

Trump’s problem, says University of South Florida professor Joe Vandello, is that he is not the “lovable loser” or come-from-behind hero Americans love to see succeed in sports and in politics. …

“If you see that you’re losing, you generally accept the humility that comes with losing,” says Matt Mackowiak, a Republican consultant. But “we’re not seeing a lot of introspection and humility from Trump right now,” he adds.

“Virtually every candidate tries to position themselves as the underdog. You won’t find that with Trump. It’s not his thing; he’s all about being a winner,” agrees Vandello, who has done extensive research on the psychology behind support of underdogs in athletic and politics.

“His whole persona is about being the tough guy, being the boss. He literally lives in a gold palace in the sky,” Vandello adds. “Even if he is objectively an underdog, given his position in the polls, I think he would have a hard time selling that image.”

The whole rationale for his candidacy is, in fact, the exact opposite of that. There would be no point is him even existing, so we get this:

Candidates have recovered from dips in the polls before, and Trump certainly could bounce back. But that generally happens when the candidate has learned something from the struggle and adapted his campaign to fix the problem. And Trump, Mackowiak fears, may just have decided he doesn’t really want the job.

Maybe he was just kidding all along. The other side cheated so to hell with the whole thing. He has better things to do than to be president. Keep that damned job. He never wanted it in the first place. He was just kidding, or being sarcastic, or something.

What, you thought he was serious? Losers would think that. He loves watching these poor, pathetic people working so hard and so seriously to try and figure him out. They can’t!

Yes, they can.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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