The Coming Conspiracy Election

These are odd times. Ashley Feinberg at Gawker reminds us that he’s still at it:

It’s common knowledge that Michelle Obama, wife to President Barack Obama, is actually a transgender woman. Joan Rivers then joked about this a few months before her (all too convenient) death. Now, prompted by the negative response to a recent cartoon comparing the First Lady to Melania Trump, Alex Jones decided to hit us with the truth.

To quote Jones precisely:

Don’t forget, the famous comedian Joan Rivers said, “Of course everyone knows she’s a tranny.” She’s dead serious: “Yeah, she’s a man.” Deader than a doornail in a routine operation – where, basically, she had fire poured down her throat and was a fire-breathing goblin.

[Evil voice] Dead on arrival. Shoot your mouth off, honey. You will die. Mua ha ha ha. Liberal. Ha ha ha ha.

Feinberg then notes this:

Jones goes on to call out George Clooney for being a women-enslaving maggot before finally returning to the topic at hand, saying, “I mean, I used to laugh at this stuff, but man – it’s all about rubbing our noses in it. And I think it’s all an arranged marriage. It’s all completely fake and it’s this big sick joke because he’s obsessed with transgender. It’s like some weird cult or something. I think Michelle Obama is a man.” But does Jones really, truly believe the things he’s saying?

“I really do. I really do. I believe it.”

Well, that clears everything up – but no one takes Alex Jones seriously – except last December there was this:

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump appeared on Alex Jones’ program, where Trump praised Jones as having an “amazing” reputation and promised, “I will not let you down.” Jones is America’s leading conspiracy theorist – he believes the government was behind 9-11 and several other catastrophes.

Jones’ website Infowars.com has called him “one of the very first founding fathers of the 9-11 Truth Movement,” which believes the government was behind the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Jones has also pushed conspiracy theories about the Oklahoma City bombing, the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, the Boston Marathon bombing, and several mass shootings.

Trump seemed comfortable with that:

Jones and Trump heavily praised each other during the December 2 interview. Jones claimed Trump has been “vindicated” about his false 9-11 U.S. Muslims celebration claim, said “90 percent” of his audience supports Trump, and told the candidate he’s “shown your knowledge of geopolitical systems.” Jones went on to say that Trump is “a true maverick,” and “what you’re doing is epic. It’s George Washington level.” Trump returned the favor, telling Jones: “Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down.”

Jones concluded the interview by saying to Trump, “You will be attacked for coming on. We know you know that. Thank you.”

That also clears everything up. Trump is a sucker for conspiracy theories. He loves them. Maybe he believes them. Or maybe he just finds them politically useful. Trump, however, in spite of Jones’ amazing reputation hasn’t trotted out Jones’ full range of insights:

Space Shuttle Columbia: Jones claimed that “globalists” were involved in the 2003 disaster, stating on his website: “I said that there was a very good chance that the globalists would do something horrible concerning the latest Colombia mission. Understand, the psychological warfare technicians do not even need to publicly blame Iraq for the Columbia disaster. It will serve as a distraction in the global press during the final weeks of war preparation in the Gulf. It will serve the dual purpose of unifying the country behind President Bush as he grandstands.”

New World Order’s Extermination Plans: Jones believes that a New World Order (NWO) of secretive global elites is working behind the scenes to rule the world through an authoritarian government. A summary of the Jones film ENDGAME explains that the NWO plans to “exterminate 80% of the world’s population, while enabling the elites to live forever with the aid of advanced technology.”

That one is an old chestnut – it’s the damned Rothschild family and the Jews, as the John Birch Society liked to point out back in the fifties – but Jones also keeps up with the times:

Boston Marathon Bombing: Jones and his website have labeled the Boston Marathon bombing a “false flag cover-up” carried out by the government.

Aurora and Sandy Hook Shootings: In 2013, Jones said the two mass shootings were staged: “You saw them stage Fast and Furious. Folks, they staged Aurora, they staged Sandy Hook. The evidence is just overwhelming. And that’s why I’m so desperate and freaked out. This is not fun, you know, getting up here telling you this. Somebody’s got to tell you the truth.”

2011 Tucson Shooting: After Jared Lee Loughner murdered six people, and wounded then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), Jones told Rolling Stone: “The whole thing stinks to high heaven … This kid Loughner disappeared for days at a time before the shooting? My gut tells me this was a staged mind-control operation. The government employs geometric psychological-warfare experts that know exactly how to indirectly manipulate unstable people through the media. They implanted the idea in his head by repeatedly asking, ‘Is Giffords in danger?'”

These items are of course related – the ultimate aim of all that was to take away everyone’s guns so the population would be helpless and finally enslaved – as with those secret FEMA Camps:

Jones sells a DVD titled “Police State 4: The Rise of FEMA” which claims that “Jones conclusively proves the existence of a secret network of FEMA camps, now being expanded nationwide. The military-industrial complex is transforming our once free nation into a giant prison camp.”

Right, but even Glenn Beck gave up on that one after one of his fans took him seriously and killed those policemen in Pittsburgh – the guy had a link on his website of Ron Paul discussing those FEMA-managed concentration camps with Glenn Beck, on Fox News, which finally let Glenn Beck go. These conspiracy theories can be dangerous.

If so, then why was Donald Trump hanging around with Alex Jones a few months ago? The New York Times’ Toni Monkovic looks into that:

Donald Trump has dominated polling among Republicans for the better part of a year, as he has delighted in reminding people. But there’s one poll that you probably haven’t heard about and that he doesn’t talk about.

Not surprisingly, it shows him in the lead. But the twist is the time frame: It’s from April 2011, and it reveals a little bit about how we got here.

Heading into the 2012 campaign, Mr. Trump led a Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey of GOP primary voters at 26 percent, with Mike Huckabee at 17 percent, Mitt Romney at 15 percent and Newt Gingrich at 11 percent. Similarly, a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll earlier that month showed Mr. Trump near the top as a “surprise contender.”

There was a reason for that:

PPP wrote that 23 percent of GOP voters “say they would not be willing to vote for a candidate who stated clearly that Obama was born in the U.S.,” and among “the hardcore birthers, Trump leads with 37 percent, almost three times as much support as anyone else.”

That was his thing, the Birther thing, and that was really working for him, but then things went south:

On April 27, President Obama released a copy of his long-form birth certificate to reporters.

On April 30, Mr. Obama mercilessly mocked Mr. Trump at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.

A night later, Mr. Obama announced that an American raid had killed Osama bin Laden.

Mr. Trump’s poll numbers collapsed. “As Trump got more and more exposure over the last month, Republicans didn’t just decide they weren’t interested in having him as their nominee – they also decided they flat don’t like him,” the PPP pollster Tom Jensen wrote at the time.

Two weeks later, Mr. Trump declared he would not run, citing his “passion” for business and a new contract with NBC for “Celebrity Apprentice.”

He was gone, but the anger of many GOP voters remained. Rick Santorum, not Mr. Trump, wound up being the insurgent who gave the party establishment fits.

Santorum, however, had no conspiracy theories, and Santorum lost the nomination to Mitt Romney, who also offered none. That left an untapped resource, and a guy who knew how to tap it, and a fresh opportunity:

The New York Times article on his farewell from the race suggested that the most noteworthy element of his flirtation as a candidate was “a media culture that increasingly seems to give the spotlight to the loudest, most outrageous voices.” Stuart Spencer, a former political strategist for Ronald Reagan, was quoted as saying, “The media made him, the media kept him, the media kept promoting him.”

Mr. Trump also demonstrated his willingness and ability to mine racial and ethnic resentment. In 2011, Mr. Trump said, “China is raping us.” Four years later, he said Mexico was sending rapists to the United States.

In the run-up to the Trump candidacy of 2016, Gabriel Sherman reported in New York magazine that an employee of Mr. Trump, Sam Nunberg, later fired for racially charged Facebook posts under his name, measured the base’s pulse.

“I listened to thousands of hours of talk radio, and he was getting reports from me,” Nunberg recalled. What those reports said was that the GOP base was frothing over a handful of issues including immigration, Obamacare and Common Core. While Jeb Bush talked about crossing the border as an “act of love,” Trump was thinking about how high to build his wall.

But maybe more than anything, Mr. Trump showed in 2011 how he would deploy conspiracy theories, associating with conspiracy purveyors like Alex Jones, a syndicated radio host. Among many examples in the last year, The Times wrote in March, Mr. Trump “reposted information on Twitter from the website Infowars, hosted by Mr. Jones,” to support his unsubstantiated claim that thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheered the Sept. 11 attacks.

That’s how we got to where we are, but given how Donald Trump is now running neck and neck with Hilary Clinton in the national polls, Monkovic is more interested in who believes this nonsense, and offers this:

The political scientists Joseph Uscinski and Joseph Parent, who wrote the book “American Conspiracy Theories,” say that those on the left and the right believe in conspiracies roughly equally. But education can matter: “Forty-two percent of those without a high school diploma are high in conspiratorial predispositions, compared with 23 percent with postgraduate degrees.”

One of the highest correlations for Trump support is being white without a high school diploma. People with postgraduate degrees are increasingly leaning to the left.

But there are other factors:

Mr. Uscinski and Mr. Parent found that high-stress situations like job uncertainty “prompt people to concoct, embrace and repeat conspiracy theories.” Other research shows that conspiracy theories can be a coping mechanism for uncertainty and powerlessness. (Another predictor of strong Trump by county is a high proportion of working-age adults who aren’t working.)

And this is simply odd:

One study found that conservatives who believe in conspiracy theories know more about politics than conservatives who don’t. This correlation was not found for liberals. Presumably, these politically engaged conservatives would be more likely to vote in primaries.

Well, maybe that’s not so odd. These politically engaged conservatives, who know how things actually work, think the system is rigged in this way and that, and of course they’re right. Donald Trump reminds them of that, often, and loudly. Others shrug and work with the rules as they are. These politically engaged conservatives, like the angry Bernie Sanders fans, don’t shrug. They fight back, and this conspiracy thing is spreading:

Last week, Public Policy Polling revisited Mr. Trump’s attraction to conspiracy theories. Among voters who viewed him favorably, PPP found that 65 percent think President Obama is a Muslim; 59 percent think he was not born in the United States; 27 percent think vaccines cause autism; 24 percent think Justice Antonin Scalia was murdered; and 7 percent think Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the assassination of President Kennedy. (We should probably allow for the possibility that some survey-takers wanted to poke or provoke with their responses.)

Trump tapped into that – no one else would – but the real problem is elections:

Many Americans believe they’re often decided by cheating. In The Los Angeles Times in 2014, Mr. Uscinski and Mr. Parent wrote:

“Near equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats (between 40 percent and 50 percent) said fraud would be very or somewhat likely. Each side believes that if they lose, cheating is to blame, and they believe it about equally. Nobody likes losing, but it appears hard for about half the country to accept that they lost fair and square.”

The birther movement, which essentially gave life to Mr. Trump’s political career, is an example; it argues that President Obama did not actually win his elections because he was ineligible to be president.

That way of thinking suggests a possible out for Mr. Trump if he loses in November: accusations of cheating by the other side. Those wishing for him to be humbled may be disappointed. Could he really lose if he never accepts the loss?

Heather Parton doesn’t quite agree:

For the same reasons I don’t buy into a lot of superstitions or supernatural stuff, I tend not to buy most conspiracy theories. And with the decentralized, totally idiosyncratic local nature of our election system, the idea of massive voter fraud in favor of a particular candidate in one election is ludicrous.

I suppose this thinking has been around forever but it does seem to me that we’re seeing an uptick in people believing that there are puppet masters conspiring behind the scenes when I think our problems with corruption stem from much more abstract concepts like systemic incentives. I tend to believe that most people have many different motivations and usually believe they’re righteously ethical in their behavior. But that’s just me.

Millions of people will never believe that Trump lost legitimately in November, if in fact he does. And the conservative movement will continue to profit from this lie as they have been doing forever. And yes, the same phenomenon now exists on the Democratic side. Good times. 

She’s referring to what just happened in Nevada – angry Bernie Sanders fans getting nasty – and adds this:

If you don’t like Nevada’s byzantine delegate selection process there’s a legitimate way to fix it besides doxing local officials. Go to the meetings and volunteer for the committees that do all the work of local and state party elections. The woman who received death threats isn’t an elite member of the oligarchy; she’s the day manager at a local restaurant – which was also inundated with threats. The people who make these rules are mostly volunteers doing their civic duty which consists of years and years of boring, tedious meetings in their off hours. It’s open to anyone. All you have to do is join the party. There aren’t even any dues.

Party electoral processes are something everyone is empowered to change right there in their local communities. It’s not sexy but it’s very doable. If you start now, by the next presidential election you could have made a real difference.

She seems to be saying the conspiracy theories are far worse than stupid – they’re lazy and irresponsible and more than a bit whiney. They’re an excuse for not doing the hard and necessary work to get what you want, so she has another theory of what’s going on here:

The unexpected success of the two political outsiders, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, in this presidential primary season has everyone grasping for some kind of explanation that would easily explain it. The most commonly held assumption is that people are angry and cynical about the two political parties, which is undoubtedly correct. If the two campaigns share any characteristics, it’s that they absolutely loathe the political establishments of the party to which their preferred candidates have attached themselves, however tenuously. This should not come as a huge surprise to anyone since the gridlock and torpor that has characterized our national politics for the past several years is not exactly inspiring.

But many commentators have also concluded that the reason the two campaigns captured the imaginations of so many people is that both candidates are addressing deeply felt economic distress among the American electorate. The country is only now starting to awaken from the paralysis and fear that gripped the public during the epic financial crisis and that is bound to have reverberations. Moreover, that crisis served as an educational wake up call for a whole lot of people who recognized that the system was no longer working very well for the benefit of ordinary people even as it’s working fantastically well for the one percent. And a lot of those ordinary people are sick of it.

Bernie Sanders is responsive to that concern in a very direct almost obsessive way and it makes sense that someone with his economic worldview would capture the imagination of at least some part of the electorate. There is no mystery about Bernie Sanders’ outsider appeal.

The real mystery is the other guy:

Here we have a card-carrying member of the one percent, a man who flies around on his own 767, has married one gorgeous supermodel after another, brags non-stop about how he’s gamed the system for his own advantage and millions of average working Americans can’t get enough of him. What gives?

That’s a good question, but the answer has nothing to do with any conspiracy theory they hold:

Donald Trump’s supporters aren’t actually motivated by economic frustration at all. Indeed, it’s ridiculous on its face. Whatever Trump’s talents, he’s an heir to a real estate fortune and a fame whoring celebrity brand name in a suit not a brilliant captain of industry. His economic message, to the extent it actually exists, is that foreigners are robbing Americans blind and he’s going to get the money back and give it to his supporters and everyone will live happily ever after.

The idea that this is responsive to the deep economic anxieties of the average working Joe is a stretch. But it is very responsive to another set of anxieties that’s been plaguing many members of the right wing for decades and went into overdrive with the election of President Obama. That would be the ethnocentric anxieties of white conservatives who are feeling emasculated by the emergence of a multi-ethnic, multi-racial majority.

Ethnocentric anxieties can lead to all sorts of conspiracy theories, and do, but she looks at a new statistical summary of the attitudes of these voters by Jason McDaniel and Sean McElwee and discovers this:

In our newest analysis, we examine the feelings expressed by Trump supporters towards a variety of groups in America. The results are pretty clear: compared to supporters of other Republican candidates in the primary, Trump supporters really dislike many groups in America. For these voters, Trump’s blend of casual racism and muscular nativism is the core of his appeal. 

That precedes any specific conspiracy theory, and after a deep dive into the data, she concludes with this:

The Trump voter is not attracted to their man because he wants to renegotiate trade deals. They are attracted to him because he bashes China, insults Mexicans, demonizes Muslims, degrades African Americans and worships government authority to keep all of them, and more, in line. His aggressive misogyny is just an added bonus.

So forget conspiracy theories:

These statistics validate the common sense observation that while it’s very tempting to see this embrace of political outsiders in both parties as springing from the same phenomenon, beyond a general exasperation with the political establishments they are very different phenomena. The Sanders movement is clearly motivated by an economic argument. The Trump movement, something else entirely.

The bad news for Trump in all this is that these voters are no longer a majority in America. The good news for Trump? The mainstream media thinks it’s Barack Obama’s fault.

And that’s why Michelle Obama, wife to President Barack Obama, is actually a transgender woman, really a man as everyone knows, who had Joan Rivers murdered, and why North Carolina had to pass that odd bathroom law, and why Donald Trump keeps popping up on Alex Jones’ show. He loves conspiracy theories. Maybe he believes them. Or maybe he just finds them politically useful. Maybe it doesn’t matter. He does know how lazy people are. He can work with that.

And did you know that Hillary Clinton murdered Vince Foster? This will be a conspiracy election.

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The Dead End Kids

The Dead End Kids were charming on Broadway in Dead End in 1935, and in 1937 Samuel Goldwyn brought them to Hollywood and turned that play into a film – followed by Little Tough Guys the East Side Kids and the Bowery Boys films. The wisecracking young punks who disrupt everything – in the end, in a good way – became a Hollywood staple, as in 1938 with Angels with Dirty Faces – James Cagney nailed the type in that film and that sort of became his career. He became the guy who has nothing to lose but who never loses his integrity. But he is a pain in the ass. But he really is charming, and right about more than a few things.

This works pretty well in Hollywood movies. In real life there’s Bernie Sanders, who has become the head Dead End Kid in the Democratic race, with his gang of other dead-end kids, and that turned out to be not charming at all. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank tells this real-life tale:

Let’s examine what Bernie Sanders supporters did in his name over the weekend.

As the Nevada Democratic convention voted to award a majority of delegates to Hillary Clinton – an accurate reflection of her victory in the state’s February caucuses – Sanders backers charged the stage, threw chairs and shouted vulgar epithets at speakers. Security agents had to protect the dais and ultimately clear the room.

And that’s not all:

Sanders supporters publicized the cellphone number of the party chairwoman, Roberta Lange, resulting in thousands of abusive text messages and threats:

“Praying to God someone shoots you in the FACE and blows your democracy-stealing head off!”

“Hey bitch… We know where you live. Where you work. Where you eat. Where your kids go to school/grandkids… Prepare for hell.”

Veteran Nevada reporter Jon Ralston transcribed some of the choice voicemail messages for the chairwoman, some with vulgar labels for women and their anatomy:

“I think people like you should be hung in a public execution. … You are a sick, twisted piece of shit and I hope you burn for this!”

“You fucking stupid bitch! What the hell are you doing? You’re a fucking corrupt bitch!”

The day after the convention, Sanders supporters vandalized party headquarters with messages saying, among other things, “You are scum.”

And the response:

Asked by reporters Tuesday about the convention chaos – in which operatives from his national campaign participated – Sanders walked away in the middle of the question.

Finally, mid-afternoon Tuesday, Sanders released a statement saying “I condemn any and all forms of violence, including the personal harassment of individuals.” But he blamed the Nevada party for preventing a “fair and transparent process,” and he threatened Democrats: “If the Democratic Party is to be successful in November, it is imperative that all state parties treat our campaign supporters with fairness and the respect that they have earned.”

Milbank:

It is no longer accurate to say Sanders is campaigning against Clinton, who has essentially locked up the nomination. The Vermont socialist is now running against the Democratic Party. And that’s excellent news for one Donald J. Trump.

That seems a fair assessment, and Milbank also reports this:

“The Sanders Campaign spent its time either ignoring or profiting from the chaos it did much to create,” the Nevada Democratic Party wrote in a formal complaint to the Democratic National Committee. The state party wrote, “Part of the approach by the Sanders campaign was to employ these easily-incensed delegates as shock troops.” The Sanders representatives “at the times of most intense crisis offered little more than shrugs and smirks.”

The Nevada Democrats, warning of similar disruptions at the national convention in July, accused the Sanders campaign of “inciting disruption – and, yes, violence,” and said, “the goal of many of these individuals, sanctioned or encouraged by the Sanders campaign, is not party-building but something more sinister.”

Yeah, this is Donald Trump stuff, and Milbank is not impressed:

A few weeks ago, I wrote that I wasn’t concerned about Sanders remaining in the race until the very end, because he doesn’t wish to see a President Trump and will ultimately throw his full support to Clinton. Sanders has, indeed, lightened up on Clinton and is instead trying to shape the Democrats’ platform and direction. But his attacks on the party have released something just as damaging to the causes he professes to represent. Coupled with his refusal to raise money for the party, his increasingly harsh rhetoric could hurt Democrats up and down the ballot in November and beyond.

“We are taking on virtually the entire Democratic establishment,” Sanders proclaims.

“The Democratic Party has to reach a fundamental conclusion: Are we on the side of working people or big-money interests?” he asks.

“The Democratic Party up to now has not been clear about which side they are on, on the major issues facing this country,” he announces.

This was Ralph Nader’s argument in 2000: There isn’t much difference between the two parties. It produced President George W. Bush. Sanders said at the start of his campaign that he wouldn’t do what Nader did, because there is a difference between the parties.

Yet now his supporters, the Nevada Democratic Party says, are behind “physical threats and intimidation,” “scuffles, screams from bullhorns, and profane insults” and “numerous medical emergencies among delegates pressed up against the dais.”

This is Ralph Nader on steroids, even though that Ralston fellow writes that “the Sanders folks disregarded rules, then when shown the truth, attacked organizers and party officials as tools of a conspiracy to defraud the senator of what was never rightfully his in the first place.”

And oddly, only two additional delegates were at stake, which would not have made any difference either way. Bernie has a lot to answer for, and Salon’s Amanda Marcotte does the dead-end kids thing:

A lot of the problem is because the Sanders campaign is a dead campaign walking. There’s no way Sanders can win at this point. It creates a situation where some of the more realistic and sober-minded Sanders supporters are cutting their losses and moving on. (This is probably why Sanders had so much trouble filling out all his delegate seats but Clinton did not.) Without the moderating force of the more realistic Sanders supporters, the voices of the dead-enders – who are more prone to rage, misogyny, and conspiracy theories – have a disproportionate influence.

Still, it’s not like the campaign has been whittled down to nothing but dead-enders. Sanders could, if he wanted to, do a lot to rein in the worst elements, by asking people to chill out and behave respectfully.

Unfortunately, there’s no sign that the campaign really wants to do that. Sure, they are issuing rote condemnations of violence, but beyond that, the Sanders camp seems unwilling to ask people to dial down the sexism and conspiracy theories to focus on the issues.

That won’t do:

In a statement responding to the Nevada convention, for instance, the Sanders campaign said that while they don’t condone violence, they encourage the party “figure out a way to welcome people who have been energized and excited by his campaign into the party.”

Sorry, but calling a woman at home to spew misogynistic vitriol at her isn’t being “energized and excited”. It’s being hateful and bigoted. The Democrats should prioritize making the party safe for women, not safe for men who like to yell “cunt” at them.

And it got worse:

Disturbingly, Sanders’s top aide, Jeff Weaver, couldn’t bring himself to issue a full-throated denunciation of these antics on CNN Tuesday, either. Instead, he played footsie with the conspiracy theorists, accusing the party of being run “undemocratically” and insinuating that it’s due to the “unwillingness on the part of the Nevada Democratic Party to bring in all of the new people that Bernie Sanders has brought into the process.”

That won’t wash:

It is worth remembering at this point that Clinton won the Nevada caucus and that the Sanders folks were able to manipulate the system to get him more delegate seats at the convention, which would have netted them more delegates if Sanders people had bothered to show up. It’s true that the system is a disaster, but it’s also true that the claims that it’s “undemocratic” were not coming from Sanders supporters when they thought they had a chance at chipping away at the victory that actual voters gave Clinton earlier this year.

Marcotte is not happy with any of this:

Sanders himself had a perfect opportunity to put a kibosh on all the craziness on Tuesday, when asked about it by NBC News. He could have played the role of the conciliator, telling his supporters they fought the good fight but you can’t win them all – Clinton’s concession speech to Barack Obama from 2008 is a good model – Sanders simply walked away.

This is irresponsible of Sanders and his campaign. They know full well that they have lost this campaign and that Clinton has millions of more votes than he does. Sanders needs to issue a full-throated denunciation of not just the violence, but of the misogyny and the conspiracy theories. The refusal to do so, even when directly offered an opportunity, speaks volumes.

Perhaps Bernie Sanders just threw away the nomination, and Josh Marshall explains why:

With this new blow-up over whatever happened over the weekend in Nevada we see the pretty real and even dire consequences of lying to your supporters. The Sanders campaign, especially campaign manager Jeff Weaver, has been saying for weeks that Sanders can still win and that the system is ‘rigged’ against Sanders. But to the extent the system is ‘rigged’, it’s mainly rigged in Sanders’ favor.

And this particular grievance makes no sense at all:

Step back from the immediate controversy over this weekend. Back in February, Hillary Clinton won the Nevada Caucus 53% to 47%. But over the intervening months the Sanders campaign out organized the Clinton camp on the subsequent conventions and meetings where actual delegate allocations get determined. That’s not cheating. It just is how it is. We saw Ted Cruz do the same thing with Donald Trump. It’s totally legit as the rules now operate.

What happened over this weekend was that that Sanders effort to take the majority of the delegates even after losing the caucus got denied. Getting mad about that is pretty tough if you’re running under the banner of ‘democracy’. As I’ve said, I don’t think there should be caucuses in the first place. They’re inherently anti-democratic, highly effective voter suppression mechanisms. I also think there should be as little post-election-day complexity and rigmarole as possible. If I show up and vote for my candidate on Election Day, the impact of my vote shouldn’t be hostage to whether someone oversleeps, or shows up late at some county meeting three weeks later. There’s just no justification for that.

For now though, that’s how it is.

And that means there’s no point in lying about it:

The Sanders campaign and particularly the supporters in Nevada are claiming that the Nevada party bosses deprived them of ‘democracy’ over the weekend. The reality is that the Sanders folks were trying to overturn the outcome of the election. You can do that in the current system. It’s not cheating. But if your banner is ‘democracy’ and ‘transparency’ you just haven’t got jack.

As I said in the lede, this is the problem with lying to your supporters. Losing is hard. If you pump people up with bogus arguments that they’re losing because they got cheated and the system was rigged, you get people who are really angry, genuinely angry, even though they’re upset that their efforts to reverse the result of the actual election didn’t work.

In fact, you get Trump Republicans, and Bernie sounding like Donald:

Bernie Sanders says the Democratic Party needs to “understand that the political world is changing and that millions of Americans are outraged at establishment politics and establishment economics.” The candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination fired off what is being described as a “belligerent” and “angry” statement Tuesday afternoon in response to a four-page letter representing an official complaint by the Nevada Democratic Party against the Bernie Sanders campaign.

“The Democratic Party has a choice,” Sanders says in his missive. “It can open its doors and welcome into the party people who are prepared to fight for real economic and social change – people who are willing to take on Wall Street, corporate greed and a fossil fuel industry which is destroying this planet. Or the party can choose to maintain its status quo structure, remain dependent on big-money campaign contributions and be a party with limited participation and limited energy.”

Okay, the world is changing, but roving bands of thugs don’t have to be part of that change, and that’s what this was:

Sen. Barbara Boxer, a veteran of Democratic politics, says she never saw anything quite like this before – loud cursing, shouting, obscene gestures and vile insults, including crude comments about the female anatomy. It was all on display over the weekend as supporters of Bernie Sanders turned the Nevada State Democratic Convention into chaos.

“I was not able to stop these people for doing what they did,” Boxer, a Hillary Clinton supporter, told CNN. “Apparently they’ve done it before… This group of about 100 were very vocal, and I can’t describe it – disrespectful doesn’t even explain it, it was worse than that.”

Boxer is hardly the lone Clinton supporter to experience such harassment on the campaign trail. Several top Democrats told CNN publicly and privately that the energy and enthusiasm of Sanders supporters has at times descended into incendiary attacks that threaten to tear apart efforts to unite Democrats against Donald Trump. Several female senators told CNN the attacks have been misogynistic.

What’s more, many Democrats fear that if Sanders does not rein in his supporters, the same ugly scene that occurred in Las Vegas last weekend could replicate itself in the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

Donald Trump did slyly threaten riots at the Republican convention in Cleveland if the party took the nomination away from him, and that seems a possibility in Philadelphia now, and this Nevada thing was actually planned:

New audio obtained by CNN shows a senior Sanders aide – on the eve of the Nevada convention – encouraging the senator’s supporters try to “take over” the convention, change party rules and continue the “revolution” that Sanders has long campaigned on.

“You should not leave,” Joan Kato, the national delegates-director, told Sanders supporters in a meeting last week at the Rumor Boutique Hotel. “I’m going to repeat that, unless you are told by someone from the campaign… that you can leave, you should not leave.”

The Sanders campaign hasn’t responded to a request for comment.

Is that the plan for Philadelphia too? A rationale is already in the works:

Bernie Sanders revealed Tuesday that shots were fired into his Nevada campaign office and that an “apartment housing complex my campaign staff lived in was broken into and ransacked.” The Democratic presidential candidate did not explicitly blame his rival, Hillary Clinton, for the actions.

Sanders made the statement in response to “criticisms made against my campaign organization.”

They started it!

That’s the sort of thing Donald Trump keeps saying, but things did finally ease up:

Bernie Sanders will work around the clock to make sure Donald Trump is not elected president, regardless of whether the Vermont senator wins the Democratic presidential nomination, his campaign manager said Tuesday.

“Well, he certainly has said that he will do everything – he will work seven days a week, night and day, to make sure Donald Trump is not president, and I’m confident that he will do that,” Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver told CNN. “Bernie Sanders, as you know, is a very effective campaigner on the stump.”

Weaver said Sanders has rallied millions of people, including young voters, independents and working-class people. “And I think he’ll take the message to them that Donald Trump would be a disaster for working-class and middle-class families in this country,” Weaver continued. “Putting the Republicans back in control of Washington is not a good strategy.”

The Donald was not happy with that:

Trump tweeted again Monday morning that Sanders should run as an independent.

“Bernie Sanders is being treated very badly by the Dems. The system is rigged against him,” Trump wrote. “He should run as an independent! Run Bernie, run!”

Okay, given that, Bernie Sanders can’t run as an independent. What can he say? Donald Trump told me to?

The Donald didn’t think that through, or he was just kidding around. Still, Bernie Sanders has a point about Hillary Clinton. He’s the bad boy, the Dead End Kid from the bad side of town, and the New York Times’ Emma Roller notes that Hillary Clinton is the Goldwater Girl:

“How did a nice Republican girl from Park Ridge go wrong?”

That was the question Hillary Clinton posed in March 1992, when she visited her old high school in suburban Park Ridge, Ill., with her husband, who was then running for the Democratic presidential nomination. Mrs. Clinton made her first forays into politics as a teenager in Park Ridge, as an ardent supporter of Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, the ultraconservative Republican nominee for president in 1964.

Now she’s the one running for president. The Goldwater Girl chapter is in the past, though it is something the veteran Democratic politician talks about as formative to her political identity. “My political beliefs are rooted in the conservatism that I was raised with,” she said in a 1996 interview.

What can Hillary Clinton’s past as a Goldwater Girl tell us about her effort to win over Republicans in the general election?

The Clinton campaign seems to be subtly tapping into her conservative past in the hopes of appealing to anti-Trump Republicans in the general election. In recent weeks, her campaign has started courting Jeb Bush’s donors, and has sent out a flurry of news releases playing up the “risk” posed by a Donald J. Trump presidency and quoting Republicans who have voiced concerns about their presumptive nominee.

That’s not going well, but at least she understands them:

Mrs. Clinton grew up in a culture permeated by the threat of creeping Communism – and later, the Vietnam War. The jewelry artist Bonnie Klehr met Hillary Rodham when she was 13, and they served on a class council together. Ms. Klehr said Park Ridge “was a very lovely place to grow up, and it just was a very peaceful time. Except for when we had to hide under our desks because we thought the Russians were going to bomb us.”

In her junior year of high school, the Goldwater campaign tasked Hillary Rodham and her best friend, Betsy Ebeling, with checking for “voter registration fraud” in predominantly poor, black Chicago neighborhoods…

Yes, she was out there trying to suppress the black vote, but things change:

During her senior year, in 1964, her government teacher staged a mock election, and assigned young Hillary – to her horror – to play the part of Lyndon B. Johnson.

“I immersed myself – for the first time – in President Johnson’s Democratic positions on civil rights, health care, poverty and foreign policy,” Hillary Clinton wrote in her memoir, “Living History.” “As I prepared for the debate, I found myself arguing with more than dramatic fervor.”

After arriving at Wellesley College in 1965, Hillary Rodham joined its Young Republicans Club. But by then, she was a Rockefeller Republican, out of step with most members of her father’s party. Like many college students at that time, she had doubts about the government’s handling of civil rights and the war in Vietnam. By her senior year, the Rockefeller Republican had become a Eugene McCarthy Democrat.

Those of us who also arrived at college in September 1965 saw that happen to lots of kids from solidly Republican families. We forgive her. It seems that Bernie won’t. Bernie doesn’t forgive. His folks don’t forgive. That may be why he just lost this nomination. We’re not talking about “angels with dirty faces” or any of those other romanticized charming Dead End Kids, who were entirely fictional. The real ones are just nasty. This is over.

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The Politics of Humiliation

This presidential election is not going to be nice, not that they ever are – but since the late nineteenth century they have settled down into rather gentlemanly affairs, and now the nastiness is handled by surrogates. George W. Bush never said John Kerry was a coward and a liar and hid in the bushes in Vietnam and wasn’t a war hero at all. The independently funded Swift Boat Veterans for Truth handled that for him. And did Bush skip out and pretty much go AWOL in the Vietnam years, when he was supposed to be flying a fighter jet? The evidence of that didn’t come from John Kerry – others took care of that for him. Presidential candidates do remain gentlemanly now, except this time it will be a woman versus a man who is anything but a gentleman.

In fact, Donald Trump is proud that he isn’t a gentleman. He hates that sort of thing. He won’t be “politically correct” and says that we, as a nation, have to “stop being nice” or we’ll all die. It’s time we hurt some people’s feelings, and that would include other nations, especially our allies who have been shamelessly using us and laughing at us behind our back, and Muslims, and all minorities that keep telling us they’re so special, when they’re really not. So far, Donald Trump has not said it’s time to starting calling niggers what they really are, niggers, but he’s getting there – and it’s the same with women too. Hillary Clinton is playing the “woman card” – she wouldn’t get five percent of the vote if she were a man. In fact, women have had it too good in America and it’s time to stop worrying about hurting their damned feelings. Face it. Saying what’s hurtful is saying the truth – and so on and so forth.

Hillary Clinton, of course, can’t be a gentleman, by definition. There’s no model for what she should be. If she’s too “womanly” she’s weak and useless. If she’s a bit more manly and firm and direct she’s shrill and a nag, or a hag. She’s in a bit of a bind, and that makes what is coming soon an election of a sort we’ve not seen before. This will not be gentlemanly. It can’t be, with these two. It will all be new.

That calls for new strategies, and the New York Times’ Patrick Healy reports that little is off limits as Donald Trump plans attacks on Hillary Clinton’s character:

Donald J. Trump plans to throw Bill Clinton’s infidelities in Hillary Clinton’s face on live television during the presidential debates this fall, questioning whether she enabled his behavior and sought to discredit the women involved.

Mr. Trump will try to hold her accountable for security lapses at the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and for the death of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens there.

And he intends to portray Mrs. Clinton as fundamentally corrupt, invoking everything from her cattle futures trades in the late 1970s to the federal investigation into her email practices as secretary of state.

Drawing on psychological warfare tactics that Mr. Trump used to defeat “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz, “Little Marco” Rubio and “Low-Energy” Jeb Bush in the Republican primaries, the Trump campaign is mapping out character attacks on the Clintons to try to increase their negative poll ratings and bait them into making political mistakes, according to interviews with Mr. Trump and his advisers.

Another goal is to win over skeptical Republicans, since nothing unites the party quite like castigating the Clintons.

That’s the plan – direct personal attacks in her face at the debates – with this additional thinking:

Attacking them could also deflect attention from Mr. Trump’s vulnerabilities, such as his treatment of women, some Trump allies say.

For Mrs. Clinton, the coming battle is something of a paradox. She has decades of experience and qualifications, but it may not be merit that wins her the presidency – it may be how she handles the humiliations inflicted by Mr. Trump.

Humiliating the woman might not be the best of strategies, as she is used to this sort of thing:

Some political allies and friends, while disgusted with Mr. Trump, see a certain cosmic symmetry at work: After decades of fighting what she once called “the politics of personal destruction,” Mrs. Clinton will reach the White House only if she survives one more crucible of sordid and scandalous accusations.

“She is so prepared to be president, but holding her head high and staying dignified during the campaign is probably what will help her the most,” said Melanne Verveer, a longtime friend and former chief of staff to Mrs. Clinton. “Trump is yet another way she will be tested personally – one of her greatest tests yet.”

But Donald Trump is no dummy:

In a telephone interview, he noted that women did not like seeing Mrs. Clinton insulted or bullied by men. He said he wanted to be more strategic, by calling into question Mrs. Clinton’s judgment in her reaction to Mr. Clinton’s affairs – people close to the couple have said she was involved in efforts to discredit the women – and in her response to crises like Benghazi.

“Just getting nasty with Hillary won’t work,” Mr. Trump said. “You really have to get people to look hard at her character, and to get women to ask themselves if Hillary is truly sincere and authentic. Because she has been really ugly in trying to destroy Bill’s mistresses, and she is pandering to women so obviously when she is only interested in getting power.”

He acknowledged that Republicans tried to discredit her judgment in the marathon Benghazi hearing in the fall, to little avail. But he said that he would be more pointed and memorable in linking her to the failings and deaths in Libya, and that the debate would have a vastly larger television audience than the hearing. Still, advisers of Mrs. Clinton pointed to her face-off with the Republican-led Benghazi committee as a sign of her unflappability.

Trump does need to be careful. She’s hard to humiliate, but he’ll do his best, except for this:

“From Rick Lazio to the House Benghazi committee, there’s a long line of Republicans who set out to personally attack Hillary Clinton but ended up inflicting the damage on themselves,” a Clinton campaign spokesman, Brian Fallon, said in a statement. “We know Donald Trump is the most unconventional of them all, but no matter what he throws at her, she will keep running her own campaign and won’t hesitate to call him out.”

Ah, but when she calls him out he’ll say look, she’s so angry! Aren’t women ugly when they’re angry? And then the crowd cheers, he hopes, but Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog sees nothing much new here:

The only thing that’s new here is that the candidate isn’t going to pretend to be above the fray while surrogates and media allies do all the dirty work. This year, the candidate is going to be doing a lot of the attacking himself. And the candidate is Trump, of course. The media admires Trump for turning the primaries into a months-long schoolyard brawl, and for winning that brawl.

He won, of course, because he was appealing to voters of a rageoholic party in which it’s widely believed that the answers to all questions are simple, emotionally satisfying, and focused exclusively on hurting one’s political enemies; the electorate in November won’t be like that, but the press loves a winner, and Trump still acts like one, even if he trails Clinton in every poll. The press wants to see someone take a swing at Hillary Clinton this way, and it’s just so awesome that it might happen in what used to be a forum for reasonably serious answers to mostly serious questions.

That is good for the ratings, but there’s only one thing new here:

In a more typical Republican smear campaign – see, for instance, the Swift Boaters in 2004 – the media barely attempts to establish the truth of the attacks because, gosh, they’re not coming from the candidate or official surrogates, and the campaign strenuously denies any connection to the smears. Won’t the media response be different if the smears are coming directly from the nominee? You’d think the press would assess them more carefully – but because the smears will be coming from Trump, the press response will probably be Trump as General Election Smear Merchant: Still Awesome at This, or Not Quite as Awesome as in the Primaries?

I thought Trump was going to dredge up something a bit more predictable than Bill’s zipper problem and Benghazi – then I realized that he’s lazy and ill-informed and probably doesn’t have a true opposition research team apart from Roger Stone. So we’re going to get the moldy oldies. And the press is going to get all excited about them all over again. That would have happened anyway, because the press always wants to see Hillary Clinton taken down a peg, but there’ll be extra excitement, because it’s (be still, our fluttering media hearts!) Trump. So we’ll see how it plays out.

We will, and as for Trump’s main objective, the humiliation of Hillary Clinton, at his hands, directly, Digby (Heather Parton) has this to say:

A gal’s got to show she can take a beating or she won’t be respected, amirite? Isn’t that how it works? And a narcissistic fascist demagogue who slept through school after the 5th grade will not be judged on his fitness or his qualifications either but rather how skillfully he degrades the first woman nominee for president. And his decades of treating women like chattel, sexually harassing them at work and boorishly behaving like a demented throwback to something out of “Mad Men” are a cause for celebration, apparently.

Trump won’t have her vote, but this is odd:

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said Donald Trump will have to answer questions about his conduct toward women, but said Republicans voters aren’t “judging” the party’s presumptive nominee on his personal life.

“There are things he’s going to have to answer for,” Priebus said Sunday on ABC’s This Week. “But I also think there are things from many years ago.”

“I don’t think Donald Trump is being judged based on his personal life,” Priebus added.

Is that so? Maybe so, but the odd thing is that those attacks would be her fault not his:

Priebus sought to blame Clinton and her allies for raising concerns about Trump’s behavior. “It’s when people live in glass houses and throw stones is when people get into trouble,” he said. “It’s a classic Clinton operation. Now, suddenly these things are coming out.”

Priebus’ comments came on the heels of a New York Times story, describing Trump’s “unsettling workplace conduct” toward women. Times journalists spent weeks interviewing more than 50 women who worked for or with Trump over the past four decades, and the story unearthed complaints of unwelcome romantic advances and streams of inappropriate comments about women’s bodies from the real-estate magnate.

Trump, already contending with fresh news that he often used pseudonyms to pose as his own spokesman in the 1990s, took to Twitter on Sunday to complain about the Times.

He called the story a “lame hit piece” and accused the paper of refusing to use the stories of women he told the newspaper he had helped. In a later tweet, he said the paper needs to “write the real story on the Clintons and women.”

This is going to be unpleasant, but the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent looks at the Clinton strategy:

Can Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in part by laying out a programmatic economic agenda that is designed to make a concrete difference in Americans’ lives? Or does that risk being too conventional an approach that fails to reckon with the unpredictable nature of Trump’s appeal?

In an interview with me, Clinton’s chief strategist, Joel Benenson, previewed some of the Clinton team’s lines of attack on Trump. In so doing, he brushed off much of the conventional wisdom about the race, arguing that no matter how creatively Trump has employed his celebrity and business alpha-prowess, he’d succumb to an attack revealing that he isn’t actually on the side of ordinary Americans, and that ultimately, voters would choose Clinton over him on the economy for the simple reason that her policies and priorities are better.

The idea is that voters will reason and then in their own logical self-interest, but Sargent is skeptical:

Trump, of course, is not Mitt Romney. The latter was more easily painted as a heartless, plutocratic symbol of the ways in which global capitalism has destroyed countless lives in America’s industrial heartland. Trump, a celebrity billionaire, has sought to speak directly to American workers by vowing to kick the asses (this really is what he is promising, at bottom) of other countries, international elites, illegal immigrants, outsourcing CEOs, bought-and-paid-for politicians, and all others responsible for their plight. Unlike Romney, Trump cheerfully cops to having been in on the elite scam that has ripped off American workers for decades and now promises to put his inside knowledge to work on their behalf.

Given that, the Clinton team is taking a calculated risk:

The Clinton team is betting, contra some of the pundits, that Trump’s big storyline about the economy will not end up having some kind of otherworldly persuasive power, absent an actual record of accomplishment and a credible economic policy agenda. Republicans who are now stuck with Trump as their likely nominee are trying to persuade themselves otherwise. On Face the Nation yesterday, RNC chair Reince Priebus said twice that voters would ultimately choose the candidate who promises to bring an “earthquake” to Washington – in other words, that they’ll vote for the candidate who promises the most disruption, regardless of the details.

But Benenson made a case that – relative to Priebus’s – sounds oddly conventional. He argued that the things Trump says and proposes about the economy will actually matter, and that voters will make their choice by comparing the two candidates’ actual agendas.

That’s where this gets tricky:

Clinton recently rolled out a plan to improve childcare and make it more affordable. Where Trump has vowed generally to put miners back to work in coal country and to bring jobs roaring back to the U.S. from China, Clinton has offered plans to help miners transition to new lines of work and to boost U.S. manufacturing via tax credits and more government investment. Where Trump has fudged endlessly on the minimum wage – claiming he generally wants to see wages get higher while opposing the existence of any federal minimum wage – Clinton supports a minimum of at least $12 and edged towards Bernie Sanders’s $15 proposal. Clinton supports pay equity and has called for student debt relief (albeit significantly more modest than Sanders’s plan provides).

But is this enough? Does Clinton have to speak more directly to a widespread belief that our economic and political systems are fundamentally failing people? Does she have to do more to dispel the sense – which Trump will encourage – that she’s a creature of a corrupt system, by standing more forcefully on the side of fundamental reform?

That is a problem, which they’re ignoring, at least for now:

“She’s the only candidate who’s talked about a real jobs plan, with manufacturing and small businesses at the center of it; a real approach to competing and winning in a global economy, where we make more goods here that we sell to 95 percent of the consumers who live outside the United States; about a plan to raise wages; and a plan for equal pay for women,” Benenson said. “This isn’t about bluster. It’s about having real plans to get stuff done. When it comes to the economy, Hillary Clinton is the only candidate with plans that have been vetted and will make a difference in people’s lives.”

And of course, there are Trump’s business record and his own words. Benenson argued that Trump was already in trouble with women across the board – blue collar and college educated white women alike – and that in the end, he would actually prove less competitive with blue collar whites in a general election than commonly expected. “Trump makes more blue-collar working class voters accessible to Hillary Clinton than the other way around,” Benenson said. “When he plays offense, he continues to alienate the very people he needs to persuade.”

Fine, and Sargent adds this:

A certain species of fatalism has taken hold among our political classes in general and among Democrats in particular. The idea is that, because Trump has successfully broken so many of our rules – he dispatched a supposedly deep bench of GOP challengers while spending virtually nothing, and while blowing past norms that used to require candidates to adhere to some nominal standard of respect for facts and consistency – it must mean he has a chance at blowing apart the old rules in the general election, too.

And so, you often hear it suggested that Trump can’t be beaten on policy, since facts and policy positions no longer matter; that he is going to attack in “unconventional” ways, so there is more to be feared; that he may be able to ride Rust Belt working class white anger into the White House in defiance of demographic realities; and that he has some kind of magical appeal that Democrats fail to reckon with at their own extreme peril. I don’t mean to suggest Trump should be taken lightly or to denigrate those worries; I have on occasion shared them, too.

But what if this is all wrong? What if it turns out that Trump can be beaten with the relatively conventional argument that Clinton’s priorities and policies are better for a majority of Americans than his are, and with a more effective series of negative attacks on him than he is able to land on her? Maybe the world hasn’t gone as crazy as the GOP primaries have made it seem.

Or maybe it has, and the National Review’s Jim Geraghty wonders about all of this:

Even if these are the best areas of attack, why is Trump announcing he will make these attacks in the debate now, in mid-May, in the pages of the New York Times, when the first debate will be in September? (Occam’s Razor – Donald Trump is talking about how he’ll attack Hillary in the autumn debates because he feels like talking about it.)

Benghazi and personal corruption sound like fertile ground, and hopefully Trump will elaborate on the last argument, connecting the dots between donations to the Clinton Foundation and changes in U.S. State Department policy under Clinton. But accusing Hillary of enabling Bill’s infidelities seems a lot riskier – ask the House Republicans of 1998 whether Americans cast their ballots based upon disapproval of Bill Clinton’s sexual behavior and lying under oath.

He sees this happening:

Hillary will undoubtedly claim to be victimized by Trump’s attack, and probably claim it’s an attack on every spurned spouse. Or she may point to Trump’s boast in The Art of the Deal, “If I told the real stories of my experiences with women, often seemingly very happily married and important women, this book would be a guaranteed best-seller.” Or she may revert to the trite deflection, “arguing about nonsense like this doesn’t help one struggling family with an unemployed parent find a job, or pay for their medical bills…”

Hey, that last trite bit actually is the plan, the whole plan, not a deflection, and that leads the New York Times’ Charles Blow to consider Trump’s asymmetric warfare:

There is no way to shame a man who lacks conscience or to embarrass an embarrassment. Trump is smart enough to know what he lacks – substance – and to know what he possesses in abundance – insolence. So long as he steers clear of his own weakness and draws others in to the briar patch that is his comfort zone, he wins.

As MSNBC’s Chris Matthews said in December, this is asymmetric warfare. Conventional forms of political fighting won’t work on this man. Truth holds little power, and the media is still enthralled by the monster it made.

He is hollow, inconsistent, dishonest and shifty… and those who support him either love him in spite of it, or even more disturbingly, because of it.

He has waffled or equivocated or backtracked on tax plans, releasing his tax returns, his proposed Muslim ban, abortion and any number of issues.

It is hard to know where the hard bottom is beneath this morass of lies and bile. He has changed the very definition of acceptability as well as the expectations of the honor of one’s words. He has exalted the art of deceit to a new political normalcy.

In short, he is not a gentleman, and that’s worked just fine for him:

You see, part of the problem here is that some people believe, improbably, that virtue can be cloaked in vice, that what he says and what he means are fundamentally different, that the former is acting as a Trojan horse for the latter. One of Trump’s greatest pros is that he has convinced his supporters, all evidence to the contrary, that they are not being conned.

We are a society in search of an instant fix to some of America’s most intractable problems. Politicians of all stripes keep lying to us and saying things are going to be okay; that broad prosperity is just around the corner, only requiring minor tweaks; that for some of our issues there are clear good and bad options, rather than a choice between bad and worse options.

Into this mess of stubborn realities steps a simpleton with a simple message: Make America great again. We’ll win so much that you will get tired of winning.

That works:

Some folks want to be told that we could feasibly and logistically deport millions of people and ban more than a billion, build more walls and drop more bombs, have ever-falling tax rates and ever-surging prosperity. They want to be told that the only thing standing between where we are and where we are told we could be is a facility at crafting deals and a penchant for cracking down.

This streamlined message appeals to that bit of the population that is frustrated by the problems we face and quickly tires of higher-level cerebral function. For this group of folks, Trump needn’t be detailed, just different. He doesn’t need established principles, as long as he attacks the establishment.

And there’s no better way to do that than humiliating the woman who has been “the establishment” since January 20, 1993, when she became first lady. She can now talk sense to the American people, but she will never win over that bit of the population that quickly tires of higher-level cerebral function – so this election will pit rational thinking against ritual humiliation. That’s new – and that also makes this election a close call. We are not a rational people.

Posted in Clinton Election Strategy, Trump Election Strategy, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

That Deadly Background Noise

Forget Donald Trump for a moment. He won’t like it, but it is possible. There are other things going on in the world. We’re still at war in the Middle East – Iraq isn’t fixed. Nothing much is fixed, and Jackson Diehl explains the current arguments about that:

Monday is the 100th anniversary of something called the Sykes-Picot agreement, an occasion that has touched off a small frenzy of Washington think-tank conferences and journal articles – not to mention Islamic State manifestos. Mark Sykes and François Georges Picot were diplomats from Britain and France, respectively, who agreed on a secret plan to partition the collapsing Ottoman Empire. The result, after a few more years of imperialist machinations, was the creation of Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon – the heart of what is now the bloody chaos of the modern Middle East.

The anniversary has become an occasion for debate about what could or should be made of that mess, once the Islamic State – for which Sykes-Picot has become an unlikely rhetorical touchstone – is militarily defeated. Should Iraq and Syria retain their current borders and centralized political systems, which have the effect of lumping together Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds and smaller ethnic groups that have been at war with each other off and on for centuries? What about Lebanon, whose elaborate power-sharing arrangements have produced a seemingly in­trac­table political gridlock?

This is somewhat of an academic question, but academics like such questions:

One broad current of opinion says Iraq and Syria must be preserved as nation-states. The two countries, it is said, were distinct and often competing entities long before Sykes-Picot; their people have developed national allegiances over the past century that transcend sect; and anyway, attempting to redraw the borders would create more problems than it would solve. “There is no way to divide borders and create homogenous states,” writes American Enterprise Institute scholar Michael Rubin. “To even try is to conduct ethnic and sectarian cleansing.”

Another school says it’s folly to suppose that either country can be patched back together. The leaders of Iraqi Kurdistan appear determined to push toward independence, though they differ on whether to do it slowly or quickly. “Iraq is a conceptual failure, compelling peoples with little in common to share an uncertain future,” wrote the head of Kurdistan’s Security Council, Masrour Barzani, in a recent op-ed in The Post. For its part, the Islamic State has made the erasure of the border between Syria and Iraq – which divides two majority-Sunni regions – one of its central ideological tenets.

And there are the locals:

Some Arab leaders and thinkers say the West should stay out of this debate – Mr. Sykes and Mr. Picot and their colonializing descendants, up to and including George W. Bush, have done more than enough damage, they say. Others contend the region can be stabilized only by a foreign intervention – not another Western invasion, but maybe a U.N. trusteeship, like those that managed several pieces of postwar Yugoslavia. “The traditional solutions for this region will not work,” argues the Egyptian human rights activist Bahey eldin Hassan. “Some states are not qualified for now for their own people to run the country.”

Iraq may have been a conceptual failure, as a separate and unique nation, but now it’s actually falling apart, and that leaves us stuck:

The Obama administration, for its part, has embraced the “keep out” imperative. Its mind-set is “to define our interests very narrowly and focus very aggressively on achieving those interests,” Obama’s envoy to the region, Brett McGurk, recently told Robin Wright of the New Yorker. In Iraq that has meant investing heavily in the survival of the central government and its weak prime minister, Haider al-Abadi. The hope is that Abadi will provide just enough political cover for the U.S.-led reconstruction of just enough of the Iraqi army to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, with the help of the Kurds.

And then what? Who knows? But don’t ask Donald Trump about any of this. He is blissfully unaware of any of this. He wants to ban all Muslims from entering the United States for now, with the possible exception of the new mayor of London, until “we figure out what’s going on” – but no one has figured out any of this yet, and the new mayor of London called him a fool.

That may be so. Some say that’s certainly so, but Obama has been made a fool by this too. Well, maybe not a fool, but this week the New York Times’ Mark Landler explained how Obama became what he never wanted to become:

President Obama came into office seven years ago pledging to end the wars of his predecessor, George W. Bush. On May 6, with eight months left before he vacates the White House, Mr. Obama passed a somber, little-noticed milestone: He has now been at war longer than Mr. Bush, or any other American president.

That’s just a fact:

If the United States remains in combat in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria until the end of Mr. Obama’s term – a near-certainty given the president’s recent announcement that he will send 250 additional Special Operations forces to Syria – he will leave behind an improbable legacy as the only president in American history to serve two complete terms with the nation at war.

Mr. Obama, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 and spent his years in the White House trying to fulfill the promises he made as an antiwar candidate, would have a longer tour of duty as a wartime president than Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon or his hero Abraham Lincoln.

Granted, Mr. Obama is leaving far fewer soldiers in harm’s way – at least 4,087 in Iraq and 9,800 in Afghanistan – than the 200,000 troops he inherited from Mr. Bush in the two countries. But Mr. Obama has also approved strikes against terrorist groups in Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, for a total of seven countries where his administration has taken military action.

“No president wants to be a war president,” said Eliot A. Cohen, a military historian at Johns Hopkins University who backed the war in Iraq and whose son served there twice. “Obama thinks of war as an instrument he has to use very reluctantly. But we’re waging these long, rather strange wars. We’re killing lots of people. We’re taking casualties.”

So the guy who said he didn’t like “dumb” wars found out that it’s hard to decide what’s dumb or not, so he wages “cautious” wars:

His closest advisers say he has relied so heavily on limited covert operations and drone strikes because he is mindful of the dangers of escalation and has long been skeptical that American military interventions work.

Fine, but that’s hard to explain:

When he accepted the Nobel in December 2009, he declared that humanity needed to reconcile “two seemingly irreconcilable truths – that war is sometimes necessary, and war at some level is an expression of human folly.”

The president has tried to reconcile these truths by approaching his wars in narrow terms, as a chronic but manageable security challenge rather than as an all-consuming national campaign, in the tradition of World War II or, to a lesser degree, Vietnam.

That, in turn, changes the definition of war:

“It’s the difference between being a war president and a president at war,” said Derek Chollet, who served in the State Department and the White House during Mr. Obama’s first term and as the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs from 2012 to 2015.

“Being a war president means that all elements of American power and foreign policy are subservient to fighting the war,” Mr. Chollet said. “What Obama has tried to do, which is why he’s careful about ratcheting up the number of forces, is not to have it overwhelm other priorities.”

But Iraq is still a mess and we’re still there:

A furious firefight this month between Islamic State fighters and Navy SEALs in northern Iraq, in which Special Warfare Operator First Class Charles Keating IV became the third American to die since the campaign against the Islamic State began, harked back to the bloodiest days of the Iraq war. It also made the administration’s argument that the Americans were only advising and assisting Iraqi forces seem ever less plausible.

“As the Middle East coordinator, I certainly felt like it was a wartime pace,” said Philip H. Gordon, who worked in the White House from 2013 to 2015.

Still, Mr. Gordon and other former officials drew a distinction between the wars of the 21st century and those of the 20th century. For one, Congress has not specifically authorized any of Mr. Obama’s military campaigns, let alone issued a declaration of war – something that it has not done since World War II.

“War doesn’t exist anymore, in our official vocabulary,” Mr. Gordon said.

If so, we have a vocabulary problem:

“Neither Clinton nor Obama identified themselves as war presidents, but Bush did,” said Richard H. Kohn, professor emeritus of history and peace, war and defense at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“War goes back in human experience thousands of years,” he said. “We know that it has an enormous variation of definitions.”

Gene Healy, a vice president at the fiercely libertarian Cato Institute and author of The Cult of the Presidency, sees where this is heading:

Seven years in, it’s clear that Obama has forged a legacy of enormous consequence. But the most transformational aspect of his presidency is something liberals never hoped for: as president, Barack Obama’s most far-reaching achievement has been to strip out any remaining legal limits on the president’s power to wage war.

Obama’s predecessor insisted that he didn’t need approval from Congress to launch a war; yet in the two major wars he fought, George W. Bush secured congressional authorization anyway. By the time Obama hit the dais at Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, our 44th president had already launched more drone strikes than “43” carried out during two full terms. Since then, he’s launched two undeclared wars, and – as Obama bragged in a speech last year defending the Iran deal – bombed no fewer than seven countries.

In 2011, what officials called “kinetic military action” in Libya completed the evisceration of the War Powers Resolution by successfully advancing the theory that if the U.S. bombs a country that can’t hit back, we’re not engaged in “hostilities” against them. In the drone campaign and the current war with ISIS, Obama has turned a 14-year-old congressional resolution targeting al-Qaeda and the Taliban into a blank check for endless war, anywhere in the world. Last year, the army chief of staff affirmed that finishing the fight against ISIS will take another “10 to 20 years.”

But it wasn’t supposed to be this way:

The issue that first animated Obama as an undergraduate was “the relentless, often silent spread of militarism in the country,” as he wrote in an article for the Columbia University Sundial as a college senior in 1983. In Breaking the War Mentality, Obama worried that the public’s distance from the costs of war made resisting it “a difficult task,” but a vital one of “shifting America off the dead-end track” and undoing “the twisted logic of which we are today a part.”

“It was his first expression of his views on any foreign policy subject,” James Mann writes in The Obamians, his 2012 account of national security decision-making in the Obama administration. “And years later, his aides felt it was deeply felt and lasting.”

Yet, as president, instead of “breaking the war mentality,” Obama has institutionalized it.

Healy isn’t happy with that, but this may not be Obama’s fault. There’s Andrew Bacevich’s new book America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History:

From the end of World War II until 1980, virtually no American soldiers were killed in action while serving in the Greater Middle East. Since 1990, virtually no American soldiers have been killed in action anywhere else. What caused this shift? Andrew J. Bacevich, one of the country’s most respected voices on foreign affairs, offers an incisive critical history of this ongoing military enterprise – now more than thirty years old and with no end in sight.

During the 1980s, Bacevich argues, a great transition occurred. As the Cold War wound down, the United States initiated a new conflict – a War for the Greater Middle East – that continues to the present day. The long twilight struggle with the Soviet Union had involved only occasional and sporadic fighting. But as this new war unfolded, hostilities became persistent. From the Balkans and East Africa to the Persian Gulf and Central Asia, U.S. forces embarked upon a seemingly endless series of campaigns across the Islamic world. Few achieved anything remotely like conclusive success. Instead, actions undertaken with expectations of promoting peace and stability produced just the opposite. As a consequence, phrases like “permanent war” and “open-ended war” have become part of everyday discourse.

Connecting the dots in a way no other historian has done before, Bacevich weaves a compelling narrative out of episodes as varied as the Beirut bombing of 1983, the Mogadishu firefight of 1993, the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the rise of ISIS in the present decade. Understanding what America’s costly military exertions have wrought requires seeing these seemingly discrete events as parts of a single war. It also requires identifying the errors of judgment made by political leaders in both parties and by senior military officers who share responsibility for what has become a monumental march to folly. This Bacevich unflinchingly does.

That’s the blurb and this is the guy – “a retired career officer in the Armor Branch of the United States Army, retiring with the rank of Colonel, and a former director of Boston University’s Center for International Relations” – and he lost his son in Iraq, a first lieutenant assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 8th U.S. Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division – and he has a PhD in American Diplomatic History from Princeton and taught at West Point and Johns Hopkins too. Assume that he knows a thing or two.

What does he know? Steve Donoghue reviewed the new book:

At the starting point of 1980, Bacevich locates a crucial incident and a crucial political stance. The incident is Operation Eagle Claw, a clandestine mission in which eight US Army helicopters were dispatched in April 1980 to a barren patch of Iranian outback as a station from which to rescue the American hostages then being held in Tehran. A series of technical accidents turned Eagle Claw into a near-immediate debacle. And the political stance, arguably no less a debacle, was struck four months earlier in President Jimmy Carter’s State of the Union address, when he first announced what became known as the Carter Doctrine: “Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”

Bacevich is the latest in a long line of historians to characterize Carter as “the least bellicose of recent US presidents,” but it’s worth pointing out that the Carter Doctrine, in which the leader of one country peremptorily laid claim to the natural resources of a sprawling region on the other side of the world, was a breathtaking act of imperial belligerence. As a response, among other things, to America’s over-dependence on supplies of cheap oil from the Middle East, it opened the door to decades of mistrust and anger.

So, Jimmy Carter started this, but it was more than him:

“Generalship in wartime requires foresight, equanimity, and a supple intelligence,” he writes about Desert Storm General Norman Schwarzkopf. “Whatever his other talents, Schwarzkopf was not especially graced with these qualities.” And about the budgetary restrictions that plagued the 1992 US intervention in Somalia, the backdrop for the infamous firefight in Mogadishu in October of that year, he acidly observes: “Senior US military leaders had never pressed for an answer to the question of how much bringing order to Somalia was actually ‘worth.’ The firefight of October 3-4 revealed the answer: not much.” In these and all other sections of the book, the note of precisely controlled anger is nothing short of mesmerizing.

“Beginning in 1980,” Bacevich writes, “US forces ventured into the Greater Middle East to reassure, warn, intimidate, suppress, pacify, rescue, liberate, eliminate, transform, and overawe. They bombed, raided, invaded, occupied, and worked through proxies of various stripes.” And at virtually every turn, in virtually every case, he argues, the results have been abysmal failure, with the sledgehammer of American military might almost invariably doing more harm than good. The problem, as Bacevich sees it, is a “deeply pernicious collective naiveté” on the part of Washington policy-makers, who continually seem to hope that failed strategies will somehow eventually yield successful outcomes…

To the “collective naiveté” he adds a list of problems endemic to the greater Middle East, including “pervasive underdevelopment and the challenge of reconciling faith with modernity in a region where religion pervades every aspect of daily life.” All of which is true, although throughout America’s War for the Greater Middle East, Bacevich tends to ascribe too little importance to one of the proximate prompts of the Carter Doctrine, the 1979 Iranian Revolution which went on to flood the entire Middle East and beyond with an Islamic fundamentalism intractably opposed not just to Western values but to Western civilization itself. Even in an otherwise perfect scenario, the Iranian Revolution looks like a guarantee of unending war.

And Obama wasn’t going to end that, but David Rohde reads this differently:

First, Carter called on Americans to stop worshiping “self-indulgence and consumption” and join a nationwide effort to conserve energy. Self-sacrifice, he argued in what is now widely derided as Carter’s “malaise speech,” would free Americans from their dependence on foreign oil and “help us to conquer the crisis of the spirit in our country.”

The president came across as more hectoring pastor than visionary leader, Bacevich argues… His guileless approach squandered an opportunity to persuade Americans reeling from high foreign oil prices to trade “dependence for autonomy.”

Carter’s second mistake was authorizing American support to guerrillas fighting a Soviet-backed regime in Afghanistan, a move that eventually helped fuel the spread of radical Islam. Finally, in a misguided effort to counter views that he was “too soft,” Carter declared that the United States would respond with military force to any outside effort to seize Persian Gulf oil fields. “This statement, subsequently enshrined as the Carter Doctrine, inaugurated America’s war for the greater Middle East,” Bacevich writes.

Damn that Jimmy Carter fellow! No, wait, maybe it was us:

The ultimate responsibility for the United States’ actions lies with an “oblivious” American public engrossed in “shallow digital enthusiasms and the worship of celebrity,” Bacevich writes. Americans support freedom, democracy and prosperity in other nations, he tells us, as long as they get the lion’s share of it. “Ensuring that Americans enjoy their rightful quota (which is to say, more than their fair share) of freedom, abundance and security comes first,” Bacevich says. “Everything else figures as an afterthought.”

Bacevich’s argument is heavy-handed at times, but when he writes about military strategy, he is genuinely incisive. Citing numerous examples, he convincingly argues that destructive myths about the efficacy of American military power blind policy makers, generals and voters. The use of overwhelming lethal force does not immediately cause dictators or terrorists to turn tail and run, even if that’s what politicians in Washington want to believe. Rather, it often leads to resentment, chaos and resistance.

A presumption that using military power signified to friends and foes that Washington was getting serious about a problem diminished the role of diplomats and diplomacy.

Who thinks about diplomats and diplomacy these days? For all the wars he wages, Obama does – there was the Iran deal – but the diffuse wide war he now wages is the real issue here:

“In the war for the greater Middle East, the United States chose neither to contain nor to crush, instead charting a course midway in between,” Bacevich writes. “Instead of intimidating, U.S. military efforts have annoyed, incited and generally communicated a lack of both competence and determination.” The historical forces at work in the Middle East are different from the dynamics that led to American victories in World War II and the Cold War. American officials have failed to understand that. What’s more, a deluded Washington foreign policy establishment believes that an American way of life based on “consumption and choice” will be accepted over time in the “Islamic world.”

If that’s the premise we’re in deep trouble, and that is the premise – Obama says no different – but Patrick Smith, Salon’s foreign affairs columnist, just interviewed Bacevich, who actually had a few kind words for Obama:

When he became president he knew next to nothing about foreign policy. We routinely elect people to the presidency who know next to nothing about statecraft, but I think he’s learned a lot, and I found that to be very impressive.

That said, you would say, “Well if he’s learned so much then why don’t we see greater change than we see?” I think his presidency is a reminder to some degree as to the constraints under which presidents operate.

There’s this fiction in our public discussion of politics that seems to imply that whoever is president is the dictator or the messiah, and that’s simply not true. They are constrained by the fact that there’re two other branches of the federal government. They’re constrained by the permanent national security apparatus. They’re constrained by history. They’re constrained by the fact that they inherit situations that they’re not able to wave their hand and make go away. They’re constrained by the actions and interests of other nations, some which profess to be allies, some of which are obviously not allies.

So I think we’re condemned to being disappointed by our presidents. Even if they come into office as people of good will, we’re condemned to be disappointed because we don’t appreciate the limits of their authority, and the limits of their freedom of action.

Bacevich then explains how that works:

Obama becomes president in 2009, doesn’t know squat about the military, doesn’t know squat about war. Although he ran for the presidency promising to close down Iraq and to de-escalate in Afghanistan, he becomes president and announces an increase of 30,000 troops [in the latter theater]. He fires General David McKiernan, the Afghanistan commander – actually Gates does the firing – replaces McKiernan with General Stanley McChrystal, who at that moment is seen to be kind of a clone of David Petraeus – this at a moment when Petraeus’s stock is at its absolute height.

So Gates sends McChrystal to Afghanistan and says, “Give me a plan for how we should conduct this war.” And McChrystal comes up with a campaign plan that is leaked to the Washington Post before the president has ruled on it. McChrystal appears on “60 Minutes” touting his plan before the president has approved it. McChrystal gives a speech in London to some high muckety-mucks touting his plan. Petraeus, who has now been elevated to CentCom commander, gives an interview with Michael Gerson, formerly a speechwriter for George W. Bush, in which he, Petraeus, says, “The answer to the war in Afghanistan is counter-insurgency with more resources.”

So this set of actions basically boxes in the president before the president has made a decision. The president makes a decision and the decision is to give McChrystal virtually everything McChrystal wants. My point there is, at that moment early in 2009, that see-saw had shifted so that within the national security apparatus, the military is in a position, not entirely but to a very considerable extent, to call the shots regardless of what the president wants.

That’s depressing. Obama has now been at war longer than any other American president. It seems he had no other choice, given choices made by others long ago, and more recently, and given what Bacevich calls the naiveté of both the public and the “foreign policy establishment” – and given the structure of our government too.

Okay, Donald Trump becomes president in early 2017, and doesn’t know squat about the military, and doesn’t know squat about war. Does he do any better? Or it’s Hillary Clinton, who loves what we did in Libya and told Obama, early on, that we really needed to intervene in Syria, before he slapped her down. Does she do any better? Is that even possible? Perhaps this deadly background noise lasts forever. Of course the election isn’t about that.

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Wearing America Down

Donald Trump is wearing America out, or wearing America down – and this seems to be working. The absurdities pile up and his poll numbers go up, perhaps because no one can keep up with it all, and this week ended with a flurry of absurdities, including this one:

Once again thumbing his nose at a time-honored tradition, Donald J. Trump said Friday that he does not believe voters have a right to see his tax returns, and he insisted it was “none of your business” when pressed on what tax rate he pays.

The remarks from Mr. Trump signal that he has little intention of disclosing verifiable details of his income or what fuels his wealth, a matter of endless speculation for a candidate who boasts of being a billionaire many times over despite his past brushes with bankruptcy and increasing reliance on celebrity-oriented income and licensing deals that use his name.

What you thought was normal was not:

While not required to release their tax returns, all the major party presidential nominees have done so for roughly the past four decades, including President Richard M. Nixon, who released them despite undergoing an Internal Revenue Service audit. Mr. Trump has cited continuing IRS audits of his taxes in refusing to release his returns.

When Mr. Trump was asked on ABC’s “Good Morning America” whether he thought voters had a right to see his returns, he replied, “I don’t think they do.”

They’ll just have to trust that he’s a responsible businessman and an upright citizen, as he says he is, and if they don’t trust him, that’s their problem, not his, and that wasn’t all:

When asked by the interviewer, George Stephanopoulos, what effective tax rate he pays, Mr. Trump said, “It’s none of your business.” He added, “You’ll see it when I release, but I fight very hard to pay as little tax as possible.”

Yeah, so what? That’s in spite of how these things usually work:

The release of tax returns bedeviled Republicans during the 2012 presidential election, when Mitt Romney delayed releasing his until September. His effective tax rate, which was below 20 percent, was used by President Obama’s team to lampoon him as a wealthy corporate raider who was out for himself and who could not understand how regular people lived. Mr. Trump has said that Mr. Romney erred in waiting so long to release his taxes and should have done so sooner.

But he’s not going to release his at all. Perhaps only little people, like Mitt Romney, have to do such things, and the conventional attacks began:

As the issue of Mr. Trump’s returns bubbled up over the past week, Democrats treaded relatively lightly on the matter, particularly since Hillary Clinton faces pressure to release transcripts of her paid speeches to Wall Street banks like Goldman Sachs. But on Wednesday Mrs. Clinton seized on Mr. Trump’s reluctance to release his returns.

“So you’ve got to ask yourself, ‘Why doesn’t he want to release them?'” Mrs. Clinton said on Wednesday. “Yeah, well, we’re going to find out.”

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent thinks that might be a miscalculation:

Trump’s claim that his tax rate is “none of your business” is generating buzz this morning. But the more important quote is his boast that he “fights very hard to pay as little tax as possible.” He deliberately repeated this, as if to make sure we would not miss it.

In one sense, this is dream fodder for Democratic ads, particularly since Dems are hoping to continue pressuring Trump to release his returns, and to portray his refusal to do so as evidence he’s trying to hide shady or immoral business practices, a line of attack that was probably effective against Mitt Romney in 2012.

But Trump plainly sees this as a positive for him, and that goes to the heart of his whole case for the presidency.

That goes like this:

In the interview, Trump said that he fights to keep his tax burden low because government “wastes” our tax dollars. Trump’s immediate goal is to undercut the potency of the attack on him over taxes: By openly boasting that he works to keep his tax burden low, he hopes to dispel the notion that he’s hiding something.

There’s more to this, though. With Dems likely to grow more aggressive in unearthing and targeting Trump’s business past, his pushback on whatever revelations pop up will basically be this: You’re damn right I’ve been a scummy businessman. Now I want to be a scummy businessman on your behalf and on America’s behalf.

It cannot be overstated how important this idea is to his candidacy, and indeed, to his entire self-created mystique. The idea is that, having long been a member of the elite that has milked the corrupt system for decades, he is very well positioned to end their scam – he knows how it works from the inside – and reform that corrupt system.

There is a method to this:

On the topic of campaign finance, Trump has said this explicitly, arguing that he knows how to deal with the problem of bought-and-paid-for politicians, since he has personally bought and paid for them himself. I strongly suspect that Trump will soon begin saying something like this about his taxes: Since I fight so hard to pay as little as possible, I get how the whole con works; I will fix things so people like me can’t get away with it anymore.

That, too, will be a scam, since his tax plan would actually deliver a huge windfall to the rich that is pure fantasy, fiscally speaking. But no matter. Scam can be layered on top of scam, and Trump is certain he will get away with all of it.

The crux of the matter here is that Trump is betting he’ll be perceived very differently from Mitt Romney. The latter was a venture capitalist with an aloof, patrician, plutocratic manner, while Trump brashly flaunts his wealth and invites all of us losers to have a cut of it.

So that leaves the Democrats this option:

While Romney was depicted as a heartless outsourcer and symbol of the cruelties of global capitalism, thus revealing his true governing priorities, Trump will be depicted as a sleazy fraud who is selling voters an economic bill of goods.

Trump hopes to elude that attack by wearing his ability to milk the system as a chintzy badge of honor. But at a certain point, general election voters will begin to decide how credible he is, and they may not be as easily fooled as GOP primary voters were – particularly since Democrats are likely to prosecute him far more mercilessly than his GOP rivals did.

That’s a plan, but Trump is good at suddenly changing the topic:

Donald Trump on Thursday night lashed out at Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, arguing that Bezos bought the Washington Post to gain political power and keep Trump from cracking down on Amazon as president.

“Every hour we’re getting calls from reporters from The Washington Post asking ridiculous questions and I will tell you, this is owned as a toy by Jeff Bezos, who controls Amazon. Amazon is getting away with murder tax-wise. He’s using the Washington Post for power so that the politicians in Washington don’t tax Amazon like they should be taxed,” Trump said when Fox News’ Sean Hannity asked about a comment from Bob Woodward that the Post had assigned 20 reporters to cover Trump.

“He’s worried about me,” Trump added. “He thinks I would go after him for antitrust because he’s got a huge antitrust problem because he’s controlling so much.”

So all those items in the Post that question Trump’s judgment and temperament aren’t really about Trump’s judgment and temperament at all – something else is going on. The new owner is worried about a President Trump making him pay more in taxes, and everyone should pay their fair share, and this man must be stopped:

Trump said that Bezos bought the Washington Post “for practically nothing and he’s using that as a tool for political power against me and against other people and I’ll tell you what, we can’t let him get away with it.”

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee said that Bezos wants to make sure that Trump doesn’t win office.

“The whole system is rigged,” Trump told Hannity. “He’s using The Washington Post, which is peanuts; he’s using that for political purposes to save Amazon in terms of taxes and in terms of antitrust.”

Otherwise, the Post would say nothing about Trump’s judgment and temperament, right? But Matthew Yglesias looks at the facts here:

Trump’s talking point that Amazon is seeking political influence in order to avoid paying taxes is badly outdated. For years, Amazon really did gain an edge over brick-and-mortar retailers by not collecting or paying sales tax. But state governments began to change their laws, and now 25 states covering 77 percent of the American population (and probably a higher share of e-commerce sales) make Amazon collect taxes, while three other states have no sales tax.

The biggest problem with Trump’s theory, however, is that Amazon is actually lobbying on the other side of the issue. It wants Congress to change the law to make it easier to force internet retailers to pay taxes, not harder. The reason is that Amazon is so big that most big states are already making it pay taxes, while smaller companies are still able to get away with nonpayment.

Yes, Trump got the facts backward, but few follow such things, and Yglesias points of that, in March, libertarian economist Tyler Cowen wrote about The Regulatory State and the Importance of a Non-Vindictive President:

I hope we always will have non-vindictive Presidents in this country. One reason is because the regulatory branch reports to the Executive. And if you own a large company, it is virtually impossible to be in accordance with all of the regulations all of the time. If there were a President who wished to pursue vendettas, the regulatory state would be the most direct and simplest way for him or her to do so. The usual presumption of “innocent until proven guilty” does not hold in many regulatory matters, nor are there always the usual protections of due process.

The Post writes articles about Trump that Trump doesn’t like. They should worry about him. One more unflattering picture of Trump’s hair and he could bring the whole weight of the government down on them, fair or not. There’d be no more Post and no more Amazon – so they’d better watch what they write now. Nixon had his Enemies List and the IRS in his back pocket, but he was an amateur at this stuff. The Post has been warned, and Yglesias adds this:

In conventional times we count not just on laws but on norms to protect the country from this kind of misconduct. But back in mid-March we had a few incidents where Trump supporters violently attacked anti-Trump demonstrators, seemingly with Trump’s encouragement and accompanied by Trump suggestions that he would pay the legal fees of the attackers.

That kind of norm-defying behavior didn’t stop Trump from winning the nomination (indeed, it may have helped), and so far he shows no inclination to stop.

The Post has been warned, but of course they didn’t get the memo:

Donald Trump abruptly hung up on Washington Post reporters when they asked him Friday afternoon about reports that he used to masquerade as his own publicist in interviews.

The Post’s Marc Fisher and Will Hobson reported that they were 44 minutes into a call with Trump about his finances when they asked if he ever employed a man named John Miller as his publicist. Trump immediately went silent, and then the line went dead, they wrote.

Fisher and Hobson wrote that when they called back, Trump’s secretary told them, “I heard you got disconnected. He can’t take the call now. I don’t know what happened.”

The cause of this was the Post doing some embarrassing actual reporting:

The inquiry came the same day the Post published audio of a 1991 interview in which a man by the name of John Miller, who sounded like Trump, recounting details of the real estate mogul’s love life to a reporter for People magazine.

Trump adamantly denied Friday that he was the person speaking with the People magazine reporter, saying “it doesn’t sound like me on the phone.”

“I have many, many people that are trying to imitate my voice,” he said in an interview on NBC’s “Today.” “And you can imagine that. And this sounds like one of these scams, one of the many scams, doesn’t sound like me.”

Yet, as the Post reported, Trump had admitted back in the ’90s that he made the call and said it was “a joke gone awry.”

It was him, pretending the he was someone else amazed at all the big Hollywood stars Donald Trump had slept with and how rich Donald Trump was and how intelligent he was, and handsome and sexy and whatnot, and amazed at what a nice guy he was too. Donald Trump is on record saying it was a joke that kind of got out of hand, if anyone believes that – but it must have been fun – and there was this:

Trump also testified in a 1990 court case that he occasionally used the names John Miller and John Baron in interviews with the media, according to the Associated Press.

Oops. But this may not matter much. In 1991 he had been a goofball and an egotistical jerk. So what? He doesn’t do that anymore, does he? Reporters are now checking all their recent sources. Was that guy on the phone last week lauding Trump actually The Donald himself?

The absurdities do pile up, along with this one:

All eyes have turned to Donald Trump’s former butler Anthony Senecal, the 74-year-old ex-employee of Trump’s Florida resort Mar-a-Lago who authored multiple private Facebook posts calling for President Barack Obama to be killed.

On Wednesday, Senecal, who worked for Trump for 17 years, called for Obama to be “taken out by our military and shot as an enemy agent in his first term,” Mother Jones first reported.

On Thursday, Senecal confirmed he wrote the post in an interview with CNN, but with one correction: “I think I said hung.”

“Either way, I don’t care. Hanging, shooting – I’d prefer he’d be hung from the portico of the White House, or as I call it, the white mosque,” Senecal told CNN. “Does it sound like I’m nuts? Because I’m not. I’ve just gotten fed up with him.”

Trump’s campaign disavowed Senecal’s “horrible” comments about the president in a statement Thursday… “Tony Senecal has not worked at Mar-a-Lago for years, but nevertheless we totally and completely disavow the horrible statements made by him regarding the President,” Hope Hicks, the Trump campaign’s spokesperson said.

Trump tossed the guy under the bus, which may anger many of Trump’s supporters who probably wonder if Trump is getting all “politically correct” on them – because they agree with the butler – but good help is hard to find these days. Hasn’t your butler embarrassed you? What, you don’t have one? Well, losers don’t have butlers, but Trump really does have a problem with the hired help:

First his campaign accidentally picked a white nationalist delegate in California, a decision that might be too late to take back; Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke, whom Trump was previously pressured to disavow for his endorsement, offered to be his vice president this week, and now his former butler, a man who served him for 17 years, has repeatedly said he wants to see Obama dead.

Trump, however, has said his qualification for the presidency is mainly based on his ability to surround himself with “great” people and the “best” advisers, but then there’s the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin:

Trump selects the same sort of right-hand man over and over again – obnoxious, aggressive, tight with shady figures, and loyal. These are not “great” people; they are people who think Trump is great and who mimic Trump’s bully-boy style. The problem with being a narcissist is that you do not hire people smarter and more capable than yourself. That ultimately may be Trump’s undoing.

That ultimately may NOT be Trump’s undoing. He’s doing just fine. He’s just wearing America down with cascading absurdities that come so fast and furious that it’s hard to think each through before the next comes along – and then you completely forget the one before. He’s beating us into submission, unless, as Jonathan Chait maintains, it’s that certain people are really stupid:

Here’s the factor I think everybody missed: The Republican Party turns out to be filled with idiots – far more of them than anybody expected.

We should have seen this coming:

The 2006 movie Idiocracy depicts a future in which Americans have grown progressively dumber, and eventually elect as president of the United States a professional wrestler, who caters demagogically to their nationalistic impulses and ignorance of science. Only because the film took place in an imaginary world was it possible to straightforwardly equate a political choice with a lack of intelligence. In the actual world, the bounds of taste and deference to (small-d) democratic outcomes make it gauche to do so. But the dynamic imagined in Idiocracy has obviously transpired, down to the election of a figure from pro wrestling.

Yes, Trump had been a wrestling promoter too, bur Chait is serious here:

I never believed party insiders could fully dictate the outcome of the nomination, but I did expect them to be able to block a wildly unacceptable candidate, and they proved surprisingly inept even in the face of extreme peril to their collective self-interest.

Then there are the voters, whose behavior provided the largest surprise. It was simply impossible for me to believe that Republican voters would nominate an obvious buffoon. Everything about Trump is a joke. His orange makeup and ridiculous hair, his reality-television persona, his insult comedy and overt bragging – they are neon-bright signs that he is not (to use a widely employed term) “presidential.” Trump did not even seem to be an especially effective demagogue. He is not eloquent, not even in a homespun way. He stumbles on his phrases, repeats himself over and over, and his speeches consist of bragging and recitation of polling results so dull and digressive his audience often heads for the exits well before the conclusion. …

Most voters don’t follow politics and policy for a living, and it’s understandable that they would often fall for arguments based on faulty numbers or a misreading of history. But a figure like Trump is of a completely different cast than the usual political slickster. He is several orders of magnitude more clownish and uninformed than the dumbest major-party nominee I’ve ever seen before. (That would be George W. Bush.) As low as my estimation of the intelligence of the Republican electorate may be, I did not think enough of them would be dumb enough to buy his act. And, yes, I do believe that to watch Donald Trump and see a qualified and plausible president, you probably have some kind of mental shortcoming. As many fellow Republicans have pointed out, Donald Trump is a con man. What I failed to realize – and, I believe, what so many others failed to realize, though they have reasons not to say so – is just how easily so many Republicans are duped.

Perhaps so, but Salon’s Amanda Marcotte said Chait has is all wrong, as she makes this distinction:

The problem with calling people stupid is that it’s satisfying, but ultimately meaningless. For one thing, it’s nearly impossible to measure it. It’s easy to dismiss Trump as a buffoon, but his likely retort to that is hard to argue: He did manage to score the nomination of a major political party and rally millions to his side, which is more than Chait has done with himself.

The problem is “intelligence” is hard to define, and therefore hard to measure. I, for instance, am good at a lot of things that require intelligence: Pithy jokes, analyzing politics, explicating movies and TV shows, Mario Kart, bar trivia. But put me in front of a computer and ask me to program in Python, and I would seem like a screaming moron.

This isn’t because I lack in native intelligence, but simply is a measure of where I chose to put my energies. That, in turn, is a measure of things that are far more meaningful than this abstract notion of intelligence: My priorities, beliefs, and desires.

All of which is to say that the reason Chait misread Trump voters is not that he overestimated their intelligence, but that he simply didn’t understand what their beliefs and desires are.

In fact, they are working in their self-interest, such as it is:

None of which is to defend people who voted for Trump. I have little doubt that most of them are small-minded, petty people who take special delight in his racism and misogyny. In fact, if you follow the online communities of Trump supporters, it’s impossible to conclude anything else. … But once you understand their values system, then voting for Trump makes perfect sense and isn’t really stupid at all.

The main clutch of Trump supporters are white men who openly enjoy the sense of superiority and various social privileges they get from being white men. (Surely Chait can understand that desire to feel superior to huge groups of people.) They like racist jokes and want to believe women were put here as a servant class just for them. They believe in “English only” and oppose immigration because it’s pleasing to be automatically privileged by something as arbitrary as where you were born.

(Female Trump supporters are fewer in number, but those that exist are not stupid, either. They just like Trump’s racism so much that they put up with his misogyny.)

It’s ugly, but it’s not particularly opaque. These folks wanted to stick it to the Republican establishment they believe isn’t doing enough to stand up for white and male dominance. Say what you will, but in nominating Trump, they successfully achieved what they set out to do.

Okay, they got what they wanted, but what about the rest of us? The plan seems to be to wear us down with one absurdity after another that come along so fast you forget the one before, as you’re stunned by the one at hand, but you also know that there will be another along in a minute or two – and then you just give up – and Trump wins the presidency because most of it was forgotten the next day. And damn, that may be working.

Posted in Donald Trump, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Day of Simulated Reckoning

There have been strange days in American politics – Lyndon Johnson suddenly saying he’d had enough and wouldn’t run again, Nixon firing Archibald Cox in that famous Saturday  Night Massacre, Nixon resigning the presidency a few month later, Ronald Reagan admitting we had sold arms to the evil Iranians to raise funds for a bunch of right-wingers in Nicaragua that Congress forbade us to support, but he knew nothing about it, because he was a bit befuddled most of the time and wasn’t really in control of things – and of course Bill Clinton saying he did NOT have sex with that woman, as if anyone cared, in spite of what the Republicans were saying about God and morality and whatnot. The Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, helped lead the charge for Clinton’s impeachment. Hastert is now about to go to jail. He’d been a serial child molester all along – he really liked young boys. There seems to be no such thing as normal politics.

All of this wasn’t that bad. On May 22, 1856, Representative Preston Brooks attacked Senator Charles Sumner with a walking cane, on the Senate floor, in retaliation for a speech given by Sumner two days earlier, and Sumner nearly died. Sumner had denounced the Kansas-Nebraska Act, arguing for the immediate admission of Kansas as a free state. Slavery was the issue – or economic freedom and states’ rights. Passions were running high. After that everyone knew the Civil War was coming.

Nothing like that happens anymore. When Donald Trump is deeply insulted he Tweets, but once again passions are running high, and this was the day of reckoning. CNN offers a lively account of what they call a bizarre day in American politics:

Here’s a concept new to the 2016 campaign: Donald Trump and détente. Trump, who built a campaign on lambasting Republican elites, Thursday, came to the citadel of the political establishment – Capitol Hill – for a summit with House Speaker Paul Ryan and other party leaders designed to halt the GOP’s self-immolation.

From the moment the billionaire’s Boeing 757 rolled to a stop to the moment when it lifted into the steel gray skies over Ronald Reagan National Airport nearly six hours later, he whipped up an extraordinary spectacle – perhaps a taste of what is to come if he is elected president.

It was a day – as CNN’s Senior White House Correspondent Jim Acosta put it – that was about Republicans beginning to build a “tent big enough for the circus that you have seen roll into town.”

The Capitol Dome – glistening white in its newly restored state – has known generations of political drama but can rarely have witnessed such a media carnival- as GOP leaders sat down to talk a truce with the ringleader of their rebellious grassroots.

There’s more than a bit of editorializing here, but things worked out:

At the end of the day, there was a general feeling that after the recriminations of a bitter primary season – things had gone rather better than many people expected.

“While we were honest about our few differences, we recognize that there are also many important areas of common ground,” Ryan and Trump said after their meeting – which lacked a grip-and-grin photo-op but was described by both sides as a good start.

“We will be having additional discussions, but remain confident there’s a great opportunity to unify our party and win this fall, and we are totally committed to working together to achieve that goal.”

This seemed to be bullshit:

The statement included a concession to Trump – recognition that he had brought millions of new voters into the Republican fold. But it also inadvertently hinted at the distance that still remains when the statement talked about unification of the party – a word more often employed to refer to mending nations carved in two by manmade walls, like the Koreas or Cold War-era Germany.

Still, one senator told CNN’s Manu Raju that the meetings had gone well and that the voluble billionaire let others do the talking.

“They actually kind of liked him,” the senator said, who asked not to be on the record.

That’s it? Yes, that’s all there was:

There was one significant piece missing from the day of Republican healing – a formal endorsement of Trump by Ryan. But the speaker left the impression that such a step could happen if follow-up meetings designed to drill into the “weeds” of policy differences between the two men go well.

In short, like in many a French art film from the early seventies, nothing really happened:

For once – Trump, though the center of attention, did not contribute to the political cacophony himself, contenting himself with the Ryan statement and a few Tweets.

But there were some nice touches:

Adding to the spectacle, bagpiper Ben Williams, who played at Justice Antonin Scalia’s funeral, played “Amazing Grace” outside the Republican National Committee headquarters in a bid to foster feelings of unity, while protestors, including one wearing a massive papier mache head of Trump, picketed the meeting and a CodePink protestor held a banner reading “Trump is a racist.”

That was very cool, but after the joint nothing-much statement, Ryan added that there was nothing to see here, folks:

“Look, it’s no secret that Donald Trump and I have had our differences. We talked about those differences today. That’s common knowledge,” said Ryan when he emerged from the talks – sounding like someone forced to explain a first date in front of a room of reporters straining for every detail.

“I met him for 30 seconds in 2012. So, we really don’t know each other,” Ryan said.

A reporter asked: “What did you think of his personality?”

“I thought he has a very good personality. He’s a very warm and genuine person.”

That is how junior-high girls talk, but this isn’t junior high:

Trump requested, and got, a meeting with the ultimate Republican establishment fixer – former secretary of state and Treasury secretary James Baker.

It was all too much for Harry Reid, McConnell’s opposite number in the Senate, who provided the Democratic commentary for Trump’s Capitol Hill visit.

“Since Senator McConnell is so enthusiastically embracing Trump, we can only assume he agrees with Trump’s view that women are dogs and pigs,” Reid said, in his characteristic undertakers’ tones.

But Reid’s stunning intervention was only one eye-popping moment of a bizarre day in American politics – the likes of which has become more and more common in the age of Trump.

A few miles away from the hubbub, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank was consuming a nine-course meal made up of his previous columns, as he lived up to a vow to eat his words if Trump won the Republican nomination.

Okay, maybe it was an extraordinarily strange day in American politics, to which CNN adds this:

Meanwhile back in the Mansfield Room of the Senate, Republican senators sat down for their weekly conference and were forced to ‘welcome’ back one of their least favorite colleagues, Ted Cruz, a week after the Texas senator abandoned the presidential campaign trail.

“To be honest with you, I didn’t want to come back,” Cruz said, according to a senator in the room.

Sen. John McCain, who once branded Cruz a “wacko bird,” responded with gallows humor: “We didn’t want you to, either.”

John McCain does have his moments, but that was a sideshow, and Josh Marshall looks at what was really in the Ryan-Trump joint statement:

If you decode the statement, the framework and path forward is laid out with some clarity. Ryan is conceding that Trump has energized the party by bringing in new voters (even though that’s demonstrably not the case – he’s brought regular GOP voters who’d seldom participated in primaries into the process). He is also signaling that he will get behind Trump’s campaign. Just not yet. What Trump has to do is get behind Ryan’s agenda of cutting and/or privatizing social insurance programs like Medicare and Social Security as well as other components of the conventional, DC conservative agenda. This almost certainly also means coming down off his hostility to trade deals.

None of that was resolved, and Marshall adds this:

All signs point to the House GOP falling quickly into line with Donald Trump. Indeed, it’s not clear to me that #NeverTrump even really exists anymore outside of a thin membrane of conservative writers and intellectuals who may be acting admirably but have little real electoral pull. But remember, the House is heavily gerrymandered. It may be plausible that a total blowout at the top of the ticket could lose Republicans the House. But it’s not likely. For a number of reasons, House Republicans have a lot of ways to bundle up to withstand a Trump electoral storm, if indeed it turns out to be a storm.

The Senate is an altogether different matter.

As we know, Senators must win entire states. Only a very small number of states are as tightly locked in partisan terms as a well-gerrymandered district. And the GOP Senate Majority, having to defend the big and sometimes marginal gains of 2010, was in jeopardy well before Donald Trump arrived and Antonin Scalia passed away.

What I hear from folks on the Hill, talking to backbench Republicans, is that the resistance to Trump is fading fast. We’ll know whether something has really changed if we see any change from the Republican senators from blue and purple states start to get on board.

Marshall doesn’t expect that and he raises another issue:

As Donald Trump and the GOP establishment go through this delicate dance toward a marriage of convenience, there are two or three big policy initiatives that are usually referenced as the ones that are just unacceptable to mainstream Republicans, too crazy to be considered, unconstitutional or just too politically damaging. The most frequently mentioned are Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the country and the Trump TajMaWall he says Mexico will agree to pay for.

This strikes me as odd because despite how odious these ideas are, there’s very little mention of what is undoubtedly the craziest, most dangerous, most expensive and brutal of his policies: his plan to deport roughly 3% of the current US population in 18 months.

Marshall thinks this deserves more consideration:

So many of Trump’s ideas are so terrible, I hesitated to say “most” because is it really worse than banning members of an entire religion? It’s sort of like comparing serial killers. They’re all just really bad. My reason for saying it’s the worst though is that as horrible as the Muslim ban is and clearly unconstitutional, it’s not allowing in people who aren’t currently here. It’s not uprooting millions of people, dividing families, probably dumping people into countries that can’t reabsorb them.

Let’s remember the idea. Trump says he will create a “deportation force” which will round up and deport approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants in 18 months. This might not unreasonable be characterized as a war crime.

But wait, there’s more:

Despite just being a bad idea on numerous counts, just in very concrete terms there are credible estimates that the costs of such an operation could run to half a trillion dollars. This would also involve effectively orphaning huge numbers of children who were born in the US and thus citizens but are the children of undocumented immigrants. In some cases, it would probably mean the de facto deportation of those American citizens.

I don’t have a sufficient grasp of the numbers, geographic concentrations and so on to give hard estimates. But you cannot deport a non-trivial percentage of a country’s population and not have substantial economic dislocations, likely heavily concentrated in particular regions of the country. It is probably also true that you could not pull off this kind of operation in anything like that kind of time frame without committing numerous civil rights and civil liberties violations, not only of people with no legal status but also of lots of Americans or people here with legal status. Trump has already said he’ll simply ignore the immigration courts that govern the deportation process.

These are all practical concerns. It doesn’t even get at the moral dimensions of the policy, which are ones that basically speak for themselves.

Does Trump still plan to do this? Do the politicians who are now supporting his candidacy support this?

They’d rather no one asks them that question, but Francine Kiefer points out that, in general, for some Republicans, Trump presents a moral dilemma:

Donald Trump is making the rounds on Capitol Hill Thursday, searching for unity with Republican leaders, including reluctant House Speaker Paul Ryan. But for some GOP lawmakers, backing the brash billionaire or rather, not backing him – is more than a matter of agreeing on tax cuts or trade, immigration or national security.

“I will not support Mr. Trump,” Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R) of Florida has told the CBS affiliate in Miami. “That is not a political decision; that is a moral decision.”

Well, not many are saying that so directly:

It’s hard to know how many of his colleagues share this view. Congressman Curbelo, who caucuses with the pragmatic wing of the conference, says “a lot” of Republicans have such concerns, some expressing it publicly and others privately. On Tuesday, Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, former speechwriter to President George W. Bush, articulated the moral dimension in a commentary:

“Those who support Trump, no matter how reluctantly, have crossed a moral boundary. They are standing with a leader who encourages prejudice and despises the weak. They are aiding the transformation of a party formed by Lincoln’s blazing vision of equality into a party of white resentment. Those who find this one of the normal, everyday compromises of politics have truly lost their way.”

Those are stiff words, and interviews with several Republican lawmakers in advance of Trump’s visit found that some did not agree with them. Some say Hillary Clinton is also an immoral choice, and for that reason, they’re reluctantly backing Trump.

But that is damned hard, so there are contortions:

In a last-ditch effort to rescue his campaign in the Hoosier state, Mr. Cruz lashed into Trump, calling him a “serial philanderer,” among other things. Trump has been open, even bragging, about his sexual exploits. He told reporters back in December that his “indiscretions” would be fair game for reporters, even as he’s made much of Bill Clinton’s womanizing.

But other Republicans see things differently. Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona, one of the most conservative members in the House, says he understands Curbelo’s perspective. Curbelo says he views both Trump and Mrs. Clinton as dishonest, and will vote for neither…

But Congressman Franks argues that the choice is “binary.” And when the antiabortion lawmaker compares Trump with Clinton on moral principles, on respect for fellow human beings, on protecting the Constitution, and protecting the republic “to keep it intact for future generations” – on all those fronts “there is no contest. Clinton will bring destruction to us in all of those areas, whereas Mr. Trump might.”

Still, Trump is a moral problem:

On the Senate side, another deep skeptic of Trump, moderate Republican Susan Collins of Maine, says she wouldn’t sit in judgment of the presumed nominee. She has repeatedly called on him to stop insulting people, to make amends with the Muslim community and others whom he has alienated. “But I’m not going to judge him as a human being.” Indeed, she has not foreclosed the possibility of eventually supporting him.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) of Utah, ducking into an elevator, explained that “I’m a great believer in redemption, and people being able to change their lives, and hopefully, he’ll fit that category.”

Yeah, and pigs will fly. Trump suddenly becoming a new man? That bagpiper may have been playing “Amazing Grace” outside the Republican National Committee headquarters – “Amazing grace, that saved a wretch like me” and all that – but Trump would only be puzzled by those words. He’s a wretch? The concept would puzzle him, and on the other side, there are the reminders that Republicans talking about morality is a bit rich:

“Some Republicans – including members of their leadership – have said they cannot support the vile rhetoric and radical proposals of the Republican front-runner,” said House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D) of California in a press conference Wednesday. “But year after year, Republicans have enthusiastically turned their intolerance and their discrimination into legislation … whether it’s insulting President Obama, women, immigrants, Muslims, LGBT Americans, there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between what Donald Trump says and what the House Republicans have been saying all along.”

This was hardly a day of reckoning. The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson saw something else:

Save us all the faux drama. We already know how this star-crossed courtship is going to end: House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) will decide that Donald Trump isn’t such an ogre after all, and they’ll live unhappily ever after.

Ryan will be unhappy, at least. Trump has stolen his party, and there’s nothing Ryan can do in the short term to get it back.

“I heard a lot of good things from our presumptive nominee,” Ryan told reporters after his much-ballyhooed Thursday meeting with Trump. “I do believe we are now planting the seeds to get ourselves unified to bridge the gaps and differences.”

Translation: Ryan may still not be “there yet,” in terms of a formal endorsement, but we should have no doubt about where he’s headed.

This was a capitulation:

Trump came to Washington for meetings with Ryan and other GOP establishment figures as a conqueror, not a supplicant. His populism, xenophobia, isolationism, bigotry and evident love of big government may be anathema to the Republican elite, but the party’s base clearly feels otherwise. Anyone choosing self-interest over principle – a habit I have observed among politicians – would think twice about opposing a man who has received more primary votes than any previous GOP nominee. Thus we witness a shameful parade of quislings.

And Robinson has his wall of shame:

The most galling surrender may have been that of Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), who says he will support the nominee even though Trump cruelly ridiculed him for being shot down and captured during the Vietnam War.

McCain’s military service was a profile in courage; what he’s doing now is not. Leaving aside the personal insult, McCain has spent his career advocating a muscular foreign policy. His has been one of the loudest and most persistent voices arguing that more U.S. troops should be sent to Syria and Iraq. Trump, by contrast, has proclaimed an “America first” doctrine that focuses resources on solving problems at home. Trump has even expressed deep skepticism about NATO, which has been the cornerstone of the West’s security architecture for more than half a century.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), McCain’s closest soul mate on national security issues, is one of the few leading Republicans who remain in the “never Trump” camp. He vowed this week that “no re-education camp” would change his mind.

What’s the difference between the two amigos? Graham doesn’t have to face South Carolina voters again until 2020. McCain is running for reelection this year – and watched as Trump scored a blowout victory in Arizona’s presidential primary in March.

One must be practical, but that solves nothing:

The party of Lincoln has a storied past – the landmark civil rights laws of the 1960s, for example, never could have made it through Congress without GOP support. This heritage has been dishonored in recent years; among other transgressions, Republican governors and state legislatures across the country are trying to discourage minority voters with restrictive voter-identification laws. But there are those, such as Ryan, who profess to believe that the party can still be compassionate and inclusive.

Not with Trump in charge, however. Trump’s appeal has been built on anger, grievance and nostalgia for a golden age that never was (at least for women and people of color). To the extent he has any coherent political philosophy, it is one of exclusion. His one unwavering promise involves the building of a wall.

Everything else, it seems, is negotiable.

And everyone knows how this turns out:

Ryan acknowledged after his meeting with Trump that “differences” remain. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has endorsed Trump, as has most of Ryan’s leadership team in the House. If Ryan were to announce at this point that he deemed Trump unfit for the presidency and therefore could not support him, he would become the leader of a movement with few followers.

The Republican Party will not be united this fall. In what promises to be a display of cravenness on an epic scale, it will pretend to be.

That will have to do. This wasn’t an epic day of reckoning in American politics. Passions may have been running high, but actually, nothing much happened. Nothing was resolved. The bagpiper, however, was a nice touch. This may not have been one of the stranger days in American political history, but it may have been the first one with bagpipes.

Posted in Ryan versus Trump, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Impossible Reconciliation

Pittsburgh in the fifties was no place to be. Even the parents knew that. There was a wider world, so leaving for college in the mid-sixties, and never really going back, was easy enough, but in 1959 or so that seemed a long way off. But every Sunday, after church downtown, the parents would buy a copy of the Sunday New York Times. The afternoon would be catching up with the real world, and one of the few magazines that showed up in the mail each week was the New Yorker. The cartoons were sly and far more sophisticated than we even understood, and the fiction was the best in America. The display ads showed stuff that was impossible in Pittsburgh, and there was the weekly “Letter from Paris” – Janet Flanner has been writing that since 1925 – a chatty inside view of a whole other world. Things weren’t always as they seemed to Americans. There was more going on than we thought. That was good to know. The parents made sure we knew that. That made the trips to Paris each December, starting in 1997, for two weeks kicking around, solo, kind of like coming home. The place felt like home. It’s a wide world.

Flanner retired in 1975 and those letters stopped – the loss of a friend, really – but twenty years later the New Yorker dispatched Adam Gopnik to Paris to restart the series. The best New Yorker essays from his six years there can be found in Paris to the Moon – again, a chatty inside view of a whole other world. But maybe that’s the real world too. Things aren’t always as they seem to Americans, and now, back home in America, but with a wider perspective, Gopnik doesn’t like what he’s seeing:

The unimaginable happens – Donald Trump, fool, oaf, and sociopathic liar, becomes the nominee of a major American political party – and within minutes what ought to be a shock beyond understanding becomes an event to savor, accept, and analyze. The desperate efforts to normalize the aberrant begin: he’s actually a Rockefeller Republican with orange hair; he wasn’t humiliated by President Obama’s mockery at that dinner in 2011 but responded as a lovable, gregarious good guy; even his birtherism wasn’t the vile racist sewage anyone could see it to be – he was genuinely unsure about where exactly it was the President was born. Trump tells one wild ranting lie after another on Sunday-morning television – we are the most heavily taxed nation in the world; he always opposed the Iraq war – and Chuck Todd can’t do much more than nod and say “Gotcha!”

The reconciliation has begun, but too many years in Europe, with its sad history, means Gopnik has seen this movie before:

This is the kind of desperate response to the rise of fascism one might expect to find in a decadent media culture. Neocons have made a fetish of 1938; in retrospect they would have done better looking hard at 1933.

There is a simple formula for descriptions of Donald Trump: add together a qualification, a hyphen, and the word “fascist.” The sum may be crypto-fascist, neo-fascist, latent fascist, proto-fascist, or American-variety fascist – one of that kind, all the same. Future political scientists will analyze (let us hope in amused retrospect, rather than in exile in New Zealand or Alberta) the precise elements of Poujadisme, Peronism and Huck Finn’s Pap that compound in Trump’s “ideology.” But his personality and his program belong exclusively to the same dark strain of modern politics: an incoherent program of national revenge led by a strongman; a contempt for parliamentary government and procedures; an insistence that the existing, democratically elected government, whether Léon Blum’s or Barack Obama’s, is in league with evil outsiders and has been secretly trying to undermine the nation; a hysterical militarism designed to no particular end than the sheer spectacle of strength; an equally hysterical sense of beleaguerment and victimization; and a supposed suspicion of big capitalism entirely reconciled to the worship of wealth and “success.”

It is always alike, and always leads inexorably to the same place: failure, met not by self-correction but by an inflation of the original program of grievances, and so then on to catastrophe. The idea that it can be bounded in by honest conservatives in a Cabinet or restrained by normal constitutional limits is, to put it mildly, unsupported by history.

This will not end well:

Almost every intelligent conservative knows perfectly well who Donald Trump is and what he stands for. But NeverTrump is a meaningless slogan unless one is prepared to say ThisOnceHillary.

Some may be waiting for a third choice to emerge, an honorable if improbable idea, but too many seem hobbled by a disdain rooted less in rationality than in pure habit to see the reality of the circumstance. This kind of Republican front would not really require that anyone formally endorse Hillary’s politics, which they have every right to resist and criticize. But voting against Trump is an act of allegiance to America. …

What would Hillary Clinton be like in the White House? Well, she was in the White House, once, and helped preside over a period of peace and mostly widespread prosperity. One can oppose her ideology (to the degree she has any), be unimpressed by her record (as contradictory as it may be), or mistrustful of her character. God knows, it is bitterly hard to defer to a long-standing political enemy, but it is insane to equate a moderate, tested professional politician with a crypto-fascist. Doing so is possible only through a habit of hatred so distended that it no longer has any reference to reality at all.

It is a wide world, and there is reality:

Hitler’s enablers in 1933 – yes, we should go there, instantly and often, not to blacken our political opponents but as a reminder that evil happens insidiously, and most often with people on the same side telling each other, Well, he’s not so bad, not as bad as they are. We can control him. (Or, on the opposite side, I’d rather have a radical who will make the establishment miserable than a moderate who will make people think it can all be worked out.) Trump is not Hitler. (Though replace “Muslim” with “Jew” in many of Trump’s diktats and you will feel a little less complacent.) But the worst sometimes happens.

If this is so, as it seems to be, then the Republicans have a problem. How do they reconcile themselves to this?

Maybe they ignore it all, but the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold points out that this still leaves a wide doctrinal gap:

Five years ago, Rep. Paul Ryan stood on the House floor, assured of victory. “This is our defining moment,” he said.

On that day in 2011, the House’s new GOP majority approved Ryan’s budget plan – which, in defiance of all political instincts, called for cuts in a government program that voters knew and loved: Medicare. Ryan (R-Wis.), worried about debt, wanted eventually to turn the massive ­health-benefit program over to private insurers.

At the time, one particular Republican objected loudly and publicly. But he was nobody important – just the host of “The Celebrity Apprentice.”

“What he did is political suicide for the Republican Party,” Donald Trump said in an interview recently dug up by Mother Jones.

Today, Ryan – now speaker – still has the House. But Trump, it appears, has the party.

They simply do not believe the same things, and now they have to face off:

On Thursday, the two men will meet in Washington, striving for party unity after Ryan refused to endorse Trump’s presidential bid. When he arrives, Trump will have nearly clinched the GOP nomination by running squarely against Ryan’s vision of what Republicanism is.

That’s especially clear on the subject of “entitlement” programs such as Medicare. At the time of Ryan’s greatest strength, Trump is turning the party against the very change that Ryan sought power to achieve.

“I’m leaving it the way it is,” Trump said of Medicare in a Fox Business interview this week. “I’m going to bring jobs back to the country. We’re going to make our country rich again.”

But Paul Ryan has always had a different narrative:

It began in 2008, with a congressman urging his colleagues to cut taxes big and grab two political live wires at once.

First, Medicare: Many Republicans think the expensive federal system that guarantees unlimited health-care coverage to those 65 and older threatens to bankrupt the nation without spending cuts or significantly higher taxes. Ryan proposed capping the cost by giving seniors a set amount of money to buy their own private insurance. Ryan also proposed changing Social Security to allow younger workers to direct some of their payroll tax contributions to personal investment accounts.

It caught on, at least in Washington. The GOP-led House has now passed five annual “budgets” – theoretical policy statements, not actual changes of the law – that have endorsed a version of Ryan’s Medicare plan.

At the same time, the fractious party failed to agree on other big ideas, like how to replace Obamacare, reform immigration laws and overhaul the tax code. So, by process of elimination, Ryan’s idea became the Republican idea, the best evidence that – in Ryan’s words – the GOP is “a proposition party,” not just an opposition party.

The problem was that no one ever really bought any of it:

“I don’t care about my grandkids,” Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) recalled one voter saying at a town-hall meeting, after Schweikert had explained that entitlements needed to be cut so debt would not overwhelm future generations. “I want every dime,” the man said.

In a 2015 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 70 percent opposed Ryan’s proposals for Medicare.

“How many people have called your office to say, ‘Mr. Schweikert, what is your plan for fixing this'” Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) asked Schweikert on the House floor in February, as part of a back-and-forth about the fact that Ryan’s big ideas did not enjoy broad support.

“I think it is zero,” Schweikert said.

Trump seemed to understand this:

“You can’t get rid of Medicare. It’d be a horrible thing to get rid of. It actually works,” Trump said in November. In a campaign where Trump has constantly changed his mind about what he believes, this is a subject where he’s remained constant. Trump agrees with Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders: No cuts to Medicare.

At the same time, Trump rejects Ryan’s entire style of politics, which uses detailed budget projections to sketch out worries for the future, followed by an appeal for shared sacrifice.

Trump is not fond of such details, so this “reconciliation” meeting may reconcile nothing, and Ryan knows it:

This week, a friend of Ryan’s told The Washington Post that Ryan would not demand Trump agree to his specific vision for entitlements but rather would search for common ground on broader questions of principle.

“This is a big-tent party,” Ryan said during a news conference Wednesday. “There’s plenty of room for different policy disputes.”

Still, the Ryan crowd hangs on to the cut-everything-for-the-good-of-everyone notion:

“Basically almost every single person running for the Republican nomination this time would support that position,” Dan Holler, of the activist group Heritage Action for America, said on Wednesday.

He meant that former Florida governor Jeb Bush supported Ryan’s vision. So did Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and former Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal.

But all those people lost to the candidate who doesn’t.

“Yeah,” Holler said. “When you look at the Republican Party broadly, though, it is part of Republican Party orthodoxy. And rightly so.”

Who says? Trump doesn’t say so. Who gets to define such things now?

These are matters of doctrine, and really, the least of their worries, as Josh Marshall explains:

Trump has embraced various positions that many Republicans and much of the population sees as simply beyond the pale of mainstream political discourse.

Some examples:

Banning Muslims from visiting or immigrating to the United States –

Rapidly expelling roughly 3% of the current US population, i.e., a 12 to 18 month process of deportation roughly 11 million undocumented or “illegal” immigrants in the US –

Coercing one of the two states bordering the United States to pay to build a wall along our mutual border, something that could credibly be viewed as a casus belli –

A more or less open invitation for white nationalists and open racists to join his political coalition –

Using as yet unspecified powers to prevent US companies from building or opening factories outside the US or seizing currency transfers to build his border wall –

And there’s more:

Trump has tolerated and encouraged public violence, often against various political enemies he’s identified. He’s demonized whole groups of people and generally pressed a public posture of gratuitous insult and bullying. The frequent claims that Trump is a ‘fascist’ are overblown. But Trump has clearly embraced a program of white racial backlash and authoritarian political action. And in case you’re keeping score at home, that’s not good.

This is a much bigger problem than doctrine:

Stated in these terms (and I don’t think these terms are terribly controversial), the question facing Ryan and the GOP seems less coalitional than existential. Can Republicans embrace that political agenda and approach to governance? This isn’t Tea Party versus business Republicans, or libertarians vs traditionalist evangelicals. It’s an agenda that has so far been outside the realm of at least national GOP candidates and puts a lot of the constitutional framework of government under pretty clear strain. It also puts the GOP in a pretty much open embrace of white racial backlash.

Is there really a way to unify on those terms?

I’m not naive. I think there are plenty of Republicans who are ready to get on board – especially if Trump’s polls start to show he might have some solid chance of winning. But let’s not pretend this is a matter of uniting a bruised party’s various factions. Trump’s politics takes the GOP on to fundamentally new ground – authoritarian, open in its embrace of racial backlash and revanchism, aggressive and destabilizing abroad.

That’s a choice. No papering that over.

And of course they’ll get no help from the Big Guy:

Donald J. Trump’s behavior in recent days – the political threats to the House speaker, Paul D. Ryan; the name-calling on Twitter; the attacks on Hillary Clinton’s marriage – has deeply puzzled Republicans who expected him to move to unite the party, start acting presidential and begin courting the female voters he will need in the general election.

But Mr. Trump’s choices reflect an unusual conviction: He said he had a “mandate” from his supporters to run as a fiery populist outsider and to rely on his raucous rallies to build support through “word of mouth,” rather than to embrace a traditional, mellower and more inclusive approach that congressional Republicans will advocate in meetings with him on Thursday. 

Needless to say, this is risky, but perhaps clever: 

Roughly 60 percent of Americans view him negatively, according to pollsters, who say more-of-the-same Trump is not likely to improve those numbers. While a majority of Republican primary voters said they were looking for a political outsider, Mr. Trump will face a majority of voters in November who prefer a candidate with political experience, according to primary exit polls and several national polls. Many Republicans think they will lose the presidency and seats in the House and Senate if he continues using language that offends women and some racial and religious groups.

Still, Mr. Trump’s message, tone and policy ideas have drawn followers who are more passionate than Republican nominees typically enjoy, and he has monopolized the political conversation and news coverage of the race. Some Republicans argue that he cannot afford to change his stripes too much, while strategists in both parties say he is shrewdly sticking with a style that drowns out attacks that could deepen his negative rating.

“His rally rants and Twitter brawls are meant to dominate the media coverage and public conversation so that Democratic challenges have less space to break through all of the noise,” said Guy Cecil, the chief strategist and co-chairman of Priorities USA, the “super PAC” supporting Mrs. Clinton. “He doesn’t want people talking about his record or positions.”

That could work fine, although the thinking isn’t political at all:

Mr. Trump, in a telephone interview, compared his candidacy to hit Broadway shows and championship baseball teams, saying that success begot success and that he would be foolish to change his behavior now.

“You win the pennant and now you’re in the World Series – you gonna change?” Mr. Trump said. “People like the way I’m doing.”

He argued that he stood a better chance of inspiring voters in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania if he was his authentic self, rather than shifting from populist outsider to political insider to please a relative handful of Republican elites who are part of the establishment he has railed against for months. He said his huge rallies, where outbursts of violence and racist taunts have vexed many Republican leaders, and his attacks against adversaries on Twitter and in television interviews would continue because he believes Americans admire his aggressive, take-charge style.

“I think I have a mandate from the people,” Mr. Trump continued, referring to his victories in 29 states, including Nebraska and West Virginia on Tuesday night.

They want that program of national revenge led by a strongman, that contempt for parliamentary government and procedures, that insistence that the existing, democratically elected government is in league with evil outsiders and has been secretly trying to undermine the nation, that hysterical militarism designed to no particular end than the sheer spectacle of strength, that equally hysterical sense of beleaguerment and victimization, and that supposed suspicion of big capitalism entirely reconciled to the worship of wealth and “success” – as Gopnik put it.

Others disagree:

“Donald Trump did earn a mandate from Republican primary voters,” said Senator Patrick J. Toomey, a Republican facing a tough re-election fight in Pennsylvania, whose primary Mr. Trump won with 57 percent of the vote. “My advice to him is that he should now consider how he will appeal to the many Republican and non-Republican voters who have serious concerns about his candidacy.”

Former Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire said that electoral mandates were a fallacy in American politics, and that leaders only did well when they focused on “ideas in the center that unite people.”

“I don’t even think the 1980 Reagan landslide gave Reagan a mandate,” said Mr. Gregg, whose state gave Mr. Trump his first win in the primaries, and who has not decided if he will follow through on his pledge to support the Republican nominee. “He was effective because the country was in terrible shape and he was able to bring large numbers of people behind his ideas. Trump hasn’t done that.”…

David Winston, a Republican pollster who worked on Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign in 2012, said Mr. Trump was putting himself at a severe disadvantage in the general election.

“At this point, at a minimum, he’s at least 50 million voters short of what he’s going to need,” Mr. Winston said. “He has created an interesting dynamic in that, during the course of the campaign, he was basically calling those individuals names, which didn’t endear him to their supporters.”

Uniting people behind Mr. Trump is “eminently doable, but it will take significant focus,” he said.

Trump, however, has a different idea of focus:

Mr. Trump is reluctant to trade in pitchfork populism for something more demure. He was gleeful in fact that so much attention was being paid to his Capitol Hill meetings on Thursday.

“Somebody said the paparazzi are going crazy over that meeting,” he said.

What can Paul Ryan say to that? Where do you begin? Any kind of reconciliation is impossible with the Republican Party, because it’s a political party, with principles and doctrines developed over more than one hundred years. Trump is something else entirely, but it’s a wide world and we’ll always have Paris:

Donald Trump is provoking insults from more than just London’s new mayor, with the mayor of Paris jumping in to slam the Republican presidential candidate.

“Mr. Trump is so stupid, my God,” Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, standing next to new London Mayor Sadiq Khan, said this week when asked about Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States.

Khan, London’s first Muslim mayor, has been criticizing Trump for days over the New York billionaire’s idea, saying it would prevent him from visiting the U.S.

Trump indicated Monday he could provide an exception for the mayor, which Khan dismissed, saying it’s not “just about me” and blasting Trump for having “ignorant” views of Islam.

That was this week’s letter from Paris and it did work wonders:

Donald Trump has demoted his proposed Muslim immigration ban to a mere “suggestion.”

In a radio interview with Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade on Wednesday, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee softened his call to temporarily prohibit Muslims from entering the United States.

“We have a serious problem. It’s a temporary ban. It hasn’t been called for yet. Nobody’s done it. This is just a suggestion until we find out what’s going on,” Trump said.

It seems that Donald Trump is a bit more sensitive than anyone imagined. He doesn’t like being called stupid, at least by a drop-dead gorgeous powerful and accomplished Frenchwoman – as opposed to, say, old fat and ugly Hillary Clinton. There is a wider world out there. We should all get to know it. No one should have to reconcile themselves to Donald Trump.

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