This was the weekend the issues in the presidential campaign shifted. On Friday, Donald Trump decided it was time to tell us all that what he had been telling us for five years just wasn’t so – Obama was born in America. And he didn’t apologize but no one got to ask those questions. He scammed the press – he made the event an infomercial for his new hotel, and walked out, and the press was infuriated. This whole thing seems to have been intended to put the whole birther matter to rest, so Trump would never be asked about it again. Obama was born in America. Move on – but now that may not happen. He further angered those who were already angered by the years of birther stuff – he didn’t bother to explain why he changed his mind – he infuriated the press. No one will let this go now.
That didn’t work. The issues in the presidential campaign didn’t shift, but he lucked out, because this will shift them:
Authorities are investigating three incidents – explosions in New York and New Jersey and a stabbing attack in Minnesota – that took place within a 12-hour period on Saturday and sowed fears of terrorism.
That’s the new issue even if nothing was clear:
Officials said they could identify no definitive links between the disturbances – a bombing that hurt 29 in Chelsea, an explosion along the route of a scheduled race in Seaside Park, N.J., and a stabbing that wounded nine in a St. Cloud, Minn., mall.
But each incident in its own right raised the possibility of terrorist connections, prompting federal and local law enforcement to pour major resources into determining exactly what happened and why.
A news agency linked to the Islamic State claimed Sunday that the suspect in Minnesota, who was fatally shot by an off-duty police officer, was “a soldier” of the militant group, though there was no confirmation of what connection the man may have had.
Yes, that was ambiguous:
A claim of responsibility is no guarantee that the terrorist group directed or even inspired the attack, and authorities said they were still exploring a precise motive. The terrorist group made no similar claims about the New York and New Jersey incidents.
In New York, authorities said there was no evidence that the mysterious Saturday-night explosion was motivated by international terrorism, though they confirmed that the bombing was intentional.
That’s okay. That was enough for Trump and Clinton:
On the campaign trail, the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates offered varied reactions to news of the incident. As early reports circulated Saturday night, Donald Trump declared that a “bomb went off” in New York City and said: “We better get very, very tough. We’ll find out. It’s a terrible thing that’s going on in our world, in our country and we are going to get tough and smart and vigilant. … We’ll see what it is. We’ll see what it is.”
Hillary Clinton condemned what she characterized as the “apparent terrorist attacks” in Minnesota, New Jersey and New York.
“This should steel our resolve to protect our country and defeat ISIS and other terrorist groups,” Clinton said, using an acronym for the Islamic State. She added, “I have laid out a comprehensive plan to do that.”
That may be jumping the gun:
Officials investigating the explosion in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood on Saturday night say that a Tumblr blog claiming responsibility for the blast is a hoax.
According to the Associated Press, federal investigators dismissed the website’s claims, which said that the explosion was intended as a protest against society’s treatment of LGBT people.
Tumblr has taken the blog down, which appeared on Sunday and said, “You probably have all seen the news by now, the explosives detonated in New York City – that was me. I did it because I cannot stand society. I cannot live in a world where homosexuals like myself as well as the rest of the LGBTQ+ community are looked down upon by society.”
“The explosives detonated in New York City, that was me,” the post said. “Those were just some tests, I know where I have made errors and I will not make the same mistake next time.”
“I don’t know exactly how I feel about taking human lives. I suppose I’m just going to have to move forward knowing that what I am doing had a purpose and will in fact make a difference,” the writer concluded.
An anonymous member of the investigative team told the AP that after checking out the website, officials concluded it was not relevant to the investigation.
That is a problem – in the absence of information on who did the Chelsea thing, and why, anyone can jump and claim responsibility – the Irish Republican Army or the Basque Separatists or Boston Red Sox fans who hate the Yankees. Or it could be ISIS – or someone impressed with ISIS who wants to impress them, or a bunch of kids wanting to create total chaos in a nation primed for total chaos, for the perverse fun of it. There are such people.
But Donald Trump got hammered on this:
Moments after New York news services announced a loud explosion in the Chelsea area – and well before first responders began investigating – Trump told a crowd of rabid supporters, “Just before I got off the plane, a bomb went off in New York and nobody knows exactly what’s going on, but we are living in a time when we’ve got to get very tough, folks. We’ve got to get very, very tough.”
“It’s a terrible thing that’s going on in our world and in our country and we are going to get tough and smart and vigilant,” he added. “We’re gonna end it. We’re gonna end it.”
Reports of Trump’s off-the-cuff and alarming remarks infuriated Twitter users – particularly commenters who live in New York and stood by watching investigators do their work as life in Manhattan continued on.
Leading the pack was commentator Keith Olbermann, who called the GOP presidential candidate an “exploitative scumbag,” writing, “Dear @RealDonaldTrump: I’m sorry the explosion in Chelsea scared you so much when everybody IN Chelsea seems fine #YouExploitativeScumbag!”
The item goes on to show tweet after tweet – they’re scathing – and what was Trump going to do about any of this anyway? We’re gonna end it? How?
You’ll just have to trust him on that:
During a rally in Colorado Springs on Saturday night, Trump offered some insight into why his strategy for combating terrorism isn’t articulated on his website.
“I will give you good results,” he told the audience according to CBS’ Sopan Deb. “Don’t worry how I get there, okay? Please.”
That’s a lot to ask. How do we get there? Do we nuke Mosul, as he once suggested? Do we “go after their families” – murdering their children and raping their wives in front of their eyes? What did he mean by going after their families? Details matter, but of course this was in reaction to something that really ticked him off:
Donald Trump carried his attacks on former Defense Secretary Robert Gates from Twitter to a rally in Colorado Springs, Colo., Saturday night, calling Gates a “nasty guy.”
“We had a clown today, an absolute clown. Robert Gates – he’s supposed to be an expert; he’s been there forever,” Trump said.
“Never met the guy – never saw him. I saw him on television, didn’t like him. The end result is look where we are. He’s a mess, okay? He’s a mess, so he goes out and he says negative things about me. I never met him; I never talked to him. Believe me, I am so much better at what he’s doing than he is, you won’t even believe it.”
He said he’s better at this terrorism stuff than this guy:
Robert Michael Gates (born September 25, 1943) is an American statesman, scholar and university president who served as the 22nd United States Secretary of Defense from 2006 to 2011. Gates served for 26 years in the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council, and was Director of Central Intelligence under President George H. W. Bush. Gates was also an officer in the United States Air Force and during the early part of his military career he was recruited by the CIA. After leaving the CIA, Gates became president of Texas A&M University and was a member of several corporate boards. Gates served as a member of the Iraq Study Group, the bipartisan commission co-chaired by James A. Baker III and Lee H. Hamilton that studied the lessons of the Iraq War.
Gates was nominated by Republican President George W. Bush as Secretary of Defense after the 2006 election, replacing Donald Rumsfeld. He was confirmed with bipartisan support. In a 2007 profile written by former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, Time named Gates one of the year’s most influential people. In 2008, Gates was named one of America’s Best Leaders by U.S. News & World Report. He continued to serve as Secretary of Defense in President Barack Obama’s administration. He retired in 2011. “He’ll be remembered for making us aware of the danger of over-reliance on military intervention as an instrument of American foreign policy,” said former Senator David L. Boren. Gates was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, by President Obama during his retirement ceremony. According to a Washington Post book review, he is “widely considered the best defense secretary of the post-World War II era.”
Robert Michael Gates, however, has never developed a luxury golf resort. No, Trump did not say that, as he said this:
Trump hit Gates for criticizing Presidents George W. Bush and Obama.
“He’s a nasty guy. Probably has a problem that we don’t know about,” he said.
That’s his story and he’s sticking to it:
Gates on Friday criticized both Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton on military issues, writing in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that “neither candidate has seriously addressed how he or she thinks about the military or the use of force.”
Gates specifically ripped Trump for “naive and irresponsible” expressions of admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin and for a Middle East plan he called a “dangerous approach oblivious to the reality” of the region. Trump fired back on Twitter, calling Gates “dopey.”
Trump said at the rally that Gates’s leadership – he was in office from 2006 to 2011 – left the world worse off and cost trillions of dollars and many lives.
“We’re dealing with incompetent people. We’re dealing with stupid people. We’re dealing with people like Robert Gates that don’t have a clue, and then when they leave office, they criticize everybody,” Trump said. “I don’t like critics. I don’t like critics. I like the people that get it done and get it done right.”
Trump thinks he is one of those people and Gates isn’t, but Gates was pretty clear about what we face this time around:
Gates, who ran the Pentagon under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, is critical of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, citing her advocacy for the invasion of Libya, her reversal on trade agreements she supported as secretary of state, and her opposition to the troop surge in Iraq.
“She has much-discussed credibility issues apart from national security, but these also influence foreign perceptions of reliability and trust,” Gates writes.
But he savages the Republican nominee over several paragraphs, saying Trump is “in a league of his own” when it comes to demonstrating his credibility on foreign affairs. Gates rips Trump for his famous wall, his vocal support of torture, his embrace of Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, and his skepticism of NATO. He also attacks Trump as “cavalier about the use of nuclear weapons,” with “a record of insults to servicemen, their families and the military.” He criticizes the GOP standard-bearer as “willfully ignorant about the rest of the world, about our military and its capabilities, and about government itself.”
“He has no clue about the difference between negotiating a business deal and negotiating with sovereign nations,” Gates writes. “A thin-skinned, temperamental, shoot-from-the-hip and lip, uninformed commander-in-chief is too great a risk for America.”
At least Clinton isn’t thin-skinned:
Gates holds out the prospect that he will ultimately endorse Clinton, urging her to “address forthrightly her trustworthiness, to reassure people about her judgment, to demonstrate her willingness to stake out one or more positions on national security at odds with her party’s conventional wisdom, and to speak beyond generalities about how she would deal with China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, the Middle East – and international trade. Whether and how she addresses these issues will, I believe, affect how many people vote – including me.”
But he rules out Trump as “stubbornly uninformed about the world and how to lead our country and government, and temperamentally unsuited to lead our men and women in uniform. He is unqualified and unfit to be commander-in-chief.”
But is it fair to call Trump a thin-skinned, temperamental, shoot-from-the-hip and lip, uninformed fellow? One might consider this:
Donald Trump has threatened to sue the New York Times.
In a tweet on Saturday night, the Republican nominee for president wrote: “My lawyers want to sue the failing @nytimes so badly for irresponsible intent. I said no (for now), but they are watching. Really disgusting.”
The tweet marks Trump’s latest attack on the press although litigation is unlikely to succeed. Under the precedent set by the Supreme Court in the landmark case of New York Times v. Sullivan in 1964, any public figure suing for libel must prove a defamatory statement was made with actual malice, “with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not”.
“Irresponsible intent” does not exist under any standard or doctrine found in US law.
Someone is uniformed here, and thin-skinned:
It is unclear what prompted Trump’s statement. However, the Times published a detailed investigation earlier on Saturday describing how the real estate developer had relied on nearly $900 million in taxpayer subsidies over the past four decades to build his fortune.
That set him off. Gates set him off. But everyone is being unfair to him:
Donald Trump has the right to defend himself against critics, his campaign manager said Sunday, but that doesn’t make him thin-skinned.
Kellyanne Conway said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that Trump was defending himself when he went after Robert Gates for calling him “beyond repair.” The Republican presidential nominee took to Twitter on Saturday, labeling the former Defense secretary as “dopey” and a “total disaster.”
“Mr. Trump has the right to do that. He’s attacked by people who have never met him, who haven’t given a thoughtful look to his plans, which, of course, are out there for everyone to see,” Conway said.
But she rejected claims that Trump’s tendency to hit back at his critics on Twitter is evidence of poor temperament.
“Mr. Trump has a right to defend himself from people who I don’t think are looking at the substance of his plans. They’re just judging someone they’ve never met.”
For the record, FDR never met Hitler, and disliked him. Was that fair?
Still, Gates was not alone:
Martha Stewart is not voting for Donald Trump and she has a laundry list of reasons why.
“There is so much to know and so much to learn and so much diplomacy and kindness and introspection that goes with that kind of job,” Stewart told CNNMoney during a luncheon for Andrea Bocelli’s foundation Sunday. “And it does not exist in the world of Donald Trump.”
For Stewart, the stakes are high and the only choice is Hillary Clinton.
“This is the most important election of the last hundred years,” she said. “We have to be very certain that we elect a person who has experience, knowledge, a base of education in the world of world politics as well as domestic politics and so obviously I’m voting for Hillary Clinton. And we just can’t have a country run by someone who is totally unprepared for what comes.”
That sounds sensible, but there’s this:
Stewart, 75, had a very public falling out with Trump in 2006, after he called out her NBC “Apprentice” spinoff show, “The Apprentice: Martha Stewart,” for low ratings. Trump created and executive produced the show along with Mark Burnett.
Trump can say she had low ratings. Who cares what she thinks? She’s a loser. Case closed. He’ll probably say that.
Still, the New York Times’ Jonathan Martin wonders where all this is going:
This past week offered a vivid illustration of how little regard Mr. Trump has for the long-held expectations of America’s leaders. He is not only breaking the country’s political norms, he and his campaign aides are now all but mocking them.
Besides using his campaign as a platform to make money on a new hotel, Mr. Trump leveled an untrue assertion that Hillary Clinton had been the first to claim Mr. Obama was born abroad. He also boasted about his health on the show of a daytime television celebrity while releasing just his testosterone levels and a few other details about his well-being.
Mr. Trump also continued to flout 40 years of tradition by refusing to release his tax returns, a decision that his eldest son admitted this week was not based on an audit, as Mr. Trump has repeatedly claimed, but on a desire not to “distract” from the campaign’s “main message.”
Beyond his handling of personal information, he also casually accused the chairwoman of the Federal Reserve of corruption, claimed that the bipartisan national debate commission was rigged against him, and stated that Mrs. Clinton had not proposed a child care plan. (She has, and did so a year before he did.)
He also mocked an African-American pastor who had just welcomed him to her church, and again referred to Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who once said she had Native American roots, as “Pocahontas.”
And that was all before Friday night, when Mr. Trump hinted at violence against Mrs. Clinton by inviting her Secret Service detail to disarm “and see what happens to her.”
As we head into Terrorism Week in the campaign, all of that is troubling:
Routine falsehoods, unfounded claims and inflammatory language have long been staples of Mr. Trump’s anything-goes campaign. But as the polls tighten and November nears, his behavior, and the implications for the country should he become president, are alarming veteran political observers – and leaving them deeply worried about the precedent being set, regardless of who wins the White House.
“It’s frightening,” said Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman from Minnesota. “Our politics, because of him, is descending to the level of a third-world country. There’s just nothing beneath him. And I don’t know why we would think he would change if he became president. That’s what’s really scary.”
And there’s this:
Stephen Hess, who served in the Eisenhower and Nixon administrations, could not even contemplate the prospect of Mr. Trump as commander in chief.
“It’s incredibly depressing,” Mr. Hess said of Mr. Trump. “He’s the most profoundly ignorant man I’ve ever seen at this level in terms of understanding the American presidency, and even more troubling, he makes no effort to learn anything.”
But there is a defense for that sort of talk:
Mr. Trump’s advocates insist that the critics are missing the larger impact of his candidacy, and how his campaign and presidency could be a force for good. As a New York Times-CBS poll released last week indicated, voters see him as more likely to aggressively confront what they see as a rotten political system, even if they recognize Mr. Trump as a risky choice.
“On the things that are really big, he will in some clumsy way force real change,” said Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, who is an adviser to Mr. Trump. “Washington won’t be the same when he’s done.”
But that is what is so worrisome to many observers of Mr. Trump’s rise. His critics fear that his norm-breaking campaign portends a political future in which candidates pay no penalty for unabashedly telling untruths, disregarding the public’s right to know, and lobbing racially charged accusations.
And that doesn’t even cover the terrorism thing:
“I worry that if those of us in politics and the media don’t do a lot of soul-searching after this election, a slightly smarter Trump will succeed in the future,” said Jon Favreau, Mr. Obama’s former chief speechwriter. “For some politicians and consultants, the takeaway from this election will be that they can get away with almost anything.”
But Martin suggests that this had to happen:
With American culture increasingly coarse and ever more obsessed with celebrity, the country’s politics were bound to eventually catch up.
Less than 25 years after Bill Clinton shocked some by unabashedly answering a question about his underwear preference on television, Mr. Trump purposefully brought up the size of his penis at a televised debate.
It is not difficult to find Republicans who recoil at how their own nominee has, to borrow the phrase made famous by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the former New York senator and sociologist, defined deviancy down.
That’s something to consider as, after three “terrorist” attacks in twelve hours, the campaign enters a new phase. “I will give you good results. Don’t worry how I get there, okay?”
It’s time to worry.