The Third Story

Live long enough and you meet all sorts of people. The “special events” producer at CNN, with her Emmy and all, had stories about how hard it was to cover things like political conventions and state visits. There were a thousand details to attend to – like that time the balloon drop at one of the conventions blocked all the cameras – and issues with the unions – electricians and stagehands and whatnot. It was more than who was where, saying what, to which camera, in which sequence. That’s the director’s job. The producer has to set everything up to make that possible, and Pope Francis’ trip to Manhattan would have driven her crazy.

She’s retired now but she must have watched, and must have seen the nightmare scenario play out. CNN’s coverage of Pope Francis’ visit was relatively flawless – no dead air, the right crews at the right places at the right time, with equipment that worked just fine. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was breaking news. Just as Pope Francis was about to address the United Nations General Assembly, President Xi Jinping arrived at the White House – his first state visit to the United States, and that included a whole lot of pageantry, because China matters a whole lot and things have been tense with them. That fife and drum corps in those powdered wigs was out again. CNN and MSNBC and CNBC and Fox News went to split-screen. China’s economy could ruin ours. This could be dicey. The “special event” up in New York wasn’t that special anymore.

Maybe it wasn’t even news. There was the pope at the United Nations:

During a sweeping address before the United Nations, Pope Francis called on the international community to combat environmental degradation and social injustice, and praised the Iran nuclear deal as “proof of the potential of political good will.”

Pope Francis, the fourth leader of the Catholic Church to address the U.N., used the occasion of Friday’s speech before the General Assembly to highlight signature themes of his pontificate.

In other words, this wasn’t news – he was saying what he had been saying before – although there were curious details:

The pope, who has said the use of armed force against Islamic State might be legitimate if exercised on a multilateral basis, echoed the Vatican’s criticism of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq – and his own opposition to U.S. airstrikes in Syria a decade later – by warning against intervention that ignores international law and the need for “negotiation, mediation and arbitration.”

When the U.N. charter is “considered simply as an instrument to be used whenever it proves favorable, and to be avoided when it is not, a true Pandora’s Box is opened, releasing uncontrollable forces,” he said.

Yeah, yeah – we know that now. We went to the United Nations. Dick Cheney got his war. The Middle East blew up. That wasn’t news either, but it was a fine speech – and then all tracking-shots of the Pope Francis off to his next stop – the World Trade Center memorial a few miles south – were bumped for a lingering shot of a white wall and four American flags and an empty podium. As President Xi and President Obama were sizing each other up in the sunshine on the steps of the White House, as Pope Francis was speaking to the General Assembly, the news broke that John Boehner, the Speaker of the House, the third in line to the presidency, the Republican who had tried to keep his Tea Party crowd from doing anything too stupid, and often failed, was resigning. He would no longer be Speaker – he didn’t want the job anymore. In fact, he was resigning from Congress at the end of October.

No one saw this coming. The cable network news producers didn’t see this coming – much of what they had carefully set up went to waste – but John Boehner was going to explain what the hell was happening at that empty podium any minute now. That was a false alarm. Boehner is a devout Catholic. He was the one that finally convinced his pope to address Congress, just the day before. He has tremendous respect for the pope. He wasn’t going to step on Pope Francis’ address to the General Assembly. It could wait, but he did resign:

Speaker John A. Boehner, an Ohio barkeeper’s son who rode a conservative wave to one of the highest positions in government, said Friday he would relinquish his gavel and resign from Congress, undone by the very Republicans who swept him into power. Mr. Boehner, 65, made the announcement in an emotional meeting with his fellow Republicans on Friday morning as lawmakers struggled to avert a government shutdown next week, a possibility made less likely by his decision.

And this is the part that drives news producers crazy:

Mr. Boehner told almost no one of his decision before making it Friday morning. “So before I went to sleep last night, I told my wife, I said, ‘You know, I might just make an announcement tomorrow,'” Mr. Boehner said at a news conference in the Capitol. “This morning I woke up, said my prayers, as I always do, and thought, ‘This is the day I am going to do this.'”

But it had to be done:

Fond of saying “I’m a regular guy with a big job,” Mr. Boehner struggled almost from the moment he became speaker in 2011 to manage the challenges of divided government while holding together his fractious and increasingly conservative Republican members.

The tension has spilled over into the race for the Republican presidential nomination, in which several candidates have openly derided Republican leaders in Congress like Mr. Boehner. The loud and potent voices in the House largely reflect the steady shift of power in the Republican Party base from places like Mr. Boehner’s suburban Cincinnati district to areas that are largely Southern, rural and white.

The Republican Party isn’t what it used to be, but at least his final gesture will be to keep the lights on:

Most recently, Mr. Boehner was trying to devise a solution to keep the government open through the rest of the year, but was under pressure from conservatives who told him that they would not vote for a bill that provided funding for Planned Parenthood.

Mr. Boehner’s announcement lessened the chance of a government shutdown because Republican leaders joined by Democrats will almost certainly go forward with a short-term funding measure to keep the government operating, and the speaker will no longer be deterred by those who threatened his job.

And there was that other final gesture:

Mr. Boehner’s announcement came just a day after Pope Francis visited the Capitol, fulfilling a 20-year dream for Mr. Boehner, who hails from a large Catholic family, of having a pontiff address Congress. Mr. Boehner wept openly as the pope addressed an audience gathered on the West Lawn of the Capitol on Thursday. He no doubt understood that it was his last grand ceremony as speaker and a capstone to a long political career that began in the Ohio Statehouse and led to a seat in Congress in 1990.

His work is done, but that’s a worry:

Mr. Obama said Friday that Mr. Boehner’s resignation took him by surprise. Saying he called Mr. Boehner moments before holding a news conference with President Xi Jinping of China, he praised the speaker as a “good man” and a “patriot.” The president said that though they had often disagreed, Mr. Boehner had “always conducted himself with civility and courtesy with me.” Mr. Obama promised to “reach out immediately” to the next speaker. …

Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader in the House, learned about Mr. Boehner’s resignation when she read a breaking news alert on a staff member’s phone. “God knows what’s next over there,” she told staff members. Ms. Pelosi, who had been privately negotiating on a plan to keep the government open, told reporters that Mr. Boehner’s resignation was “a stark indication of the disarray of House Republicans.”

Ah, but there were other reactions:

At the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit, which was taking place a few blocks from the Capitol, many jumped to their feet and cheered when Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, announced that Mr. Boehner was resigning. “It’s time to turn the page,” Mr. Rubio said, deviating from his prepared text in an assertion tailored to the audience, whose views align with many who wanted to oust Mr. Boehner.

Addressing reporters after his remarks at the conservative summit meeting, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas spoke harshly of Mr. Boehner.

“The early reports are discouraging,” Mr. Cruz said. “If it is correct that the speaker, before he resigns, has cut a deal with Nancy Pelosi to fund the Obama administration for the rest of this year, to fund Obamacare, to fund executive amnesty, to fund Planned Parenthood, to fund implementation of this Iran deal, and then presumably to land a cushy K Street job after joining with the Democrats to implement all of President Obama’s priorities, that is not the behavior one would expect from a Republican speaker of the House.”

There’s much more where that came from and Josh Marshall sums it up:

While there are certainly internecine and factional rivalries in the Democratic Party, it’s all but impossible to imagine the outpouring of celebration, schadenfreude and smackdowning that is greeting the retirement of Speaker John Boehner. Even a kind word on the day of his retirement appears beyond the ability of most of those he led. Yes, there’s been base clamoring against Nancy Pelosi and even more at certain times with Harry Reid. But it simply doesn’t compare to the angry joy we’re seeing now toward a quarter-century member of the House. …

Of course, it is of a piece with Boehner’s tenure – a largely reviled and half-effective, never-ending and seldom-lauded effort to keep half his caucus from carrying through with the latest ridiculously self-defeating and often country-damaging gambit. Boehner’s whole Speakership was, in a real sense, a permanent exercise in indignity. So the ending is not surprising.

Slate’s Jamelle Bouie says the ending is not surprising for another reason:

John Boehner ends his career a conservative. He helped craft the Contract with America with Newt Gingrich, and stood on the right flank of the House Republican caucus for most of his career. After Barack Obama took office, Boehner immediately moved to opposition, accusing him of “snuffing out” the America he knew and comparing politics in 2010 to America’s fight against Great Britain. “There’s a political rebellion brewing,” he said, “and I don’t think we’ve seen anything like it since 1776.” When, galvanized by this kind of rhetoric, the Tea Party wave swept conservatives into office – a second Republican Revolution – he was the obvious choice, winning a unanimous vote for speaker-designate ahead of the official election for speaker of the House. After 20 years in office, he was finally at the pinnacle of congressional power.

But then the revolution spiraled out of control. The Tea Party conservatives elected in 2010 weren’t interested in governing as much as destroying President Obama’s agenda. Everything – even routine governance – was second to the war on the president. And given his rhetoric, they expected Boehner to go along for the ride. Before 2011 the debt ceiling was an easy excuse for showmanship. Politicians would posture against raising the federal limit on debt, and after everyone was finished, Congress would raise it. Conservatives wanted to use the limit as leverage for cutting government, and they pressured Boehner into doing just that. If Obama wouldn’t slash spending, then Republicans would cap the debt, causing a default and spiking the economy into the ground.

That’s where it all fell apart, as he couldn’t control the monster he has created:

Boehner provoked the standoff and then tried to defuse it with a long-term debt deal. But conservatives – led by then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor – wouldn’t yield, and he abandoned negotiations. If not for a last-minute bill to make automatic cuts to federal spending, the United States would have reneged on its debt, causing an economic crisis. It was an extraordinarily risky gamble that hurt the economy even as it fulfilled some Republican objectives. Still, conservatives weren’t satisfied.

Of course they weren’t satisfied, but should have been:

What’s striking is Boehner never supported Obama or his policies. He opposed the stimulus, voted against the Affordable Care Act, and – by all accounts and measures was in the right wing of the Republican Party. But he was also an institutionalist…

For three years conservatives used deadlines as leverage, and Boehner struggled to lead Republicans to a resolution that protected his position from unruly conservatives and left the country mostly unscathed. This brinksmanship is how we got the “fiscal cliff” fight, the October 2013 shutdown over Obamacare, and the February 2015 fight over Homeland Security funding and immigration. To show his mettle to the most conservative Republicans, Boehner provoked a crisis or confrontation. And when it was clear the administration wouldn’t budge, he capitulated, telling members that he did his best.

They hated him for that, but Bouie thinks they missed the point:

What’s amazing about all of this is the degree to which Boehner and his team have actually delivered conservative policy. Under his leadership, congressional Republicans have slashed federal spending – achieving $3.2 trillion in cuts – and blocked important parts of Obama’s agenda, like comprehensive immigration reform. Despite this, rank-and-file Republicans hate him. According to a new survey from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, 72 percent of GOP primary voters are dissatisfied with Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, including the 36 percent who want them “immediately removed” from their posts.

Boehner seems to have gotten tired of this:

Spurred by controversial (and heavily criticized) videos released this summer, House conservatives want government to end funding for Planned Parenthood, despite no evidence of misconduct or criminal activity and the long-standing ban on federal funds for abortion. If Republican leaders don’t budge, then those Republicans – and their allies in the Senate – will shut down the government.

Once again, Boehner would have to fight a losing battle for the sake of defusing an intransigent minority. Once again, he’d be maligned for making a deal. But this time, he refused. Rather than indulge and debase himself for the most extreme people in his caucus, he quit. In the short term, this takes a shutdown off the table – Boehner will stay in power through the deadline for funding the government, and will likely cut a deal with Democrats to keep things going.

Then he’ll hand off the job to some other chump, not that it will make any difference:

His likely successor is current Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. McCarthy is just as conservative as Boehner and will face the same pressures as his predecessor. Put differently, the same Tea Party revolution that elevated Boehner and Eric Cantor eventually ended their careers. If McCarthy follows their path, and doesn’t bend to conservative demands, then the revolution might devour him, too.

There is a revolution, as CNN notes this:

Boehner’s departure might be the conservative right’s most famous get yet – even bigger than the coup against his former lieutenant Eric Cantor in a primary election in 2014. And the reaction to his resignation crystallized the split in the GOP with conservatives emboldened and establishment candidates sounding a softer tone that seems increasingly out of step with primary voters.

“You want to know how much each of you terrify Washington?” asked Sen. Ted Cruz, a GOP presidential candidate and self-styled scourge of Washington asked right-leaning activists at the Values Voter Summit in Washington on Friday. “Yesterday John Boehner was Speaker of the House. Y’all come to town and somehow that changes. My only request is can you come more often!”

That’s nasty. That’s Cruz. But Cruz is only one of many:

Conservative groups aligned with the Tea Party and the House Freedom Caucus were quick to claim that Boehner’s decision showed they had defeated the more moderate elements of the party. Citizen’s United President David Bosse declared that Boehner’s exit was a “victory for grassroots conservatives.”

FreedomWorks CEO Adam Brandon linked the Cantor and Boehner ousters and proclaimed: “the tide is changing in Washington.” He pledged the group would force the next set of House leaders to “adhere to conservative principles.”

Donald Trump, who is positioning himself as the ultimate outsider and galvanizing grassroots conservatives to power his anti-establishment crusade, said Boehner’s announcement showed that it was time “to get back to business.”

“We want people that are going to get it done,” he said addressing Boehner’s decision at the Washington summit where he arrived carrying his Bible.

Peter King, the Republican congressman from New York, doesn’t see it that way:

King said Boehner’s departure was essentially “throwing raw meat” to “small but loud faction” of the GOP and was bad news for the party.

“It signals that crazies have taken over the party,” King told CNN. “This has never happened before in our country. Where a person doing a job, the Speaker of the House, was removed from office, by a small faction because they want these unreasonable demands that if you don’t agree with them you shut the government down. This is insanity.”

Maybe so, but Ian Millhiser sees the problem as structural:

The United States is unusual among modern democracies because we elect our executive separately from our legislature – a system known as “presidential democracy.” Unlike a parliamentary system where the executive is chosen by the governing coalition within the legislature, America has three separate elected power centers which frequently are not all controlled by just one party. This is the reason for the gridlock that has seized Washington since Republicans regained the House in 2011 – gridlock that caused a government shutdown in 2013 and could easily cause another one next month.

In presidential democracies that may be inevitable:

As the late political scientist Juan Linz explained in a famous essay, both the party that controls the executive and the party that controls the legislature have equal claims to democratic legitimacy, there’s no “democratic principle” that allows one party or the other to claim a greater mandate from the people, and “the mechanisms the constitution might provide” to resolve an impasse “are likely to prove too complicated and aridly legalistic to be of much force in the eyes of the electorate.” As Linz ominously warns, this can lead to a collapse of the democratic system. “It is therefore no accident that in some such situations in the past, the armed forces were often tempted to intervene as a mediating power.”

So when Republican hardliners express frustration with the fact that they are unable to advance its agenda, they are not making a frivolous complaint. Republicans owe their majority in the House to a valid election (although the size of their majority is almost certainly inflated by gerrymandering) and can legitimately claim that President Obama’s refusal to implement their agenda was a refutation of the election that brought House Republicans to power.

The only problem with this complaint is that it works equally well for President Obama. He can just as easily claim that Republican refusal to implement the White House’s ideas is a refutation of his own election to the White House. And, even more importantly, Obama has the power to veto bills. If Boehner wanted must-pass legislation such annual appropriations or debt ceiling hikes to become law, he had to cut a deal with the president, and that meant sticking a thumb in Republican hardliner’s eyes every single time.

The Linz essay is here – it’s dense and scholarly – but the point here is that Boehner was in a no-win situation and had been doing his best:

More than four years into Boehner’s speakership, it’s a miracle that he managed to navigate this landscape for as long as he did – and there is little wonder why he’s ready to abandon this job. In the short term, moreover, the fact that Boehner will not resign for more than a month is good news for the nation’s economy because if gives him a lame duck period where he can pass one more bill to fund the government – most likely relying heavily on Democratic votes – before leaving the task of managing his unruly caucus to the next sucker. … But Boehner can only put off the next potential shutdown (or debt ceiling breach) for so long. The next time this battle arises, Boehner will not be around to navigate the treacherous path that leads to the government remaining open.

There’s no guarantee that anyone else can walk this path.

Perhaps no one can walk that walk, and that was the third news story of the day – Boehner quit, as the Republican Party tore itself apart, because a structural problem in our political system makes gridlock eventually inevitable, and there’s no fixing that. Oh, and that Chinese fellow was at the White House, and the pope was in Manhattan – and CNN and the rest had to scramble to cover it all. Which story means more than the other two? Time will tell.

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The big day finally arrived. Pope Francis addressed a Joint Meeting of Congress, the first pope ever to do that, and the Republicans were only mildly sorry they ever asked him to do that in the first place. Yes, he is in favor of everything they oppose, although he still considers abortion a grave sin, but his address was delivered with sweet reason. There was no scolding:

“You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics,” the pope told the lawmakers, some of whom seemed to strain to make out his words, spoken at times almost in a whisper and in a language, English, that is not his own.

“Politics,” he said, is “an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life.”

How can you argue with that? It seems you can:

As his speech moved from general exhortations to specifics, the pattern of applause in the House chamber made clear that papal calls to abolish the death penalty, welcome immigrants, combat climate change and work against income inequality were more welcome on the Democratic side than among Republicans.

And there was this:

Although the pope raised several other topics – including global warming, against which he urged “courageous actions and strategies,” and the global trade in weapons – immigration was the central element of the address.

Francis, whose family emigrated from Italy to Argentina, challenged Congress to act with compassion in dealing with migrants, not only refugees in Europe, but also those fleeing north from Mexico.

“When the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past,” he said.

“Thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories.”

He wasn’t leaving the Republicans much room to maneuver there, although Jeb Bush has been saying the same thing. Bush, however, gets booed every time he says such things. Still, there was this:

He admonished Congress to use the nation’s civic traditions as a spur to action. “A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism,” he said.

Yeah, right:

“I welcome the pope’s call to put aside petty bickering and come together behind shared values,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a presidential candidate who portrays himself a disruptive force in politics and is threatening a government shutdown. “What I have endeavored to do is speak the truth with a smile.”

As Francis headed for New York, lawmakers were back to work in the afternoon, voting in the Senate on a measure to keep the government running past next Wednesday’s deadline. It failed.

And by the way, Ted Cruz doesn’t smile. He’s built his political career on being frightening. Pope Francis seems to work the other way. He says the most radical things in a loving and inclusive and nonthreatening way. He smiles. He seems to be a master at passive-aggression. He suggests common decency, and asks others to examine their conscience. They know better. They’ll do the right thing, so he is appealing to their higher natures, their better angels as Lincoln put it, which he knows they have – a basic guilt-trip. It’s a Catholic thing.

That works well enough, but it might not work with our Republicans. They don’t do guilt. The righteous never feel guilt, ever. Neither do the self-righteous, but it doesn’t matter. It’s over. Pope Francis declined an invitation to have a fancy and formal lunch with the top leaders in Congress. He had lunch with the homeless at a local shelter, and he chatted with them and had a fine time. They loved him right back – and Congress got back to insulting each other and getting nothing done – and the pope left town. It’s as if it never happened.

New York was the next stop for Pope Francis – a late afternoon service at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, across the street from Rockefeller Center, a few doors down from Trump Tower, on Fifth at 57th Street, looming over Tiffany’s with its cases full of diamonds. All the streets were closed as massive crowds waited for Francis to putter up in the new Popemobile, a small Fiat 500 sedan. Saint Patrick’s Cathedral is wedged between Saks Fifth Avenue and the big black Olympic Tower, built by Aristotle Onassis, where a two-bedroom condo twenty-five floors up will cost you five million – and the pope shows up in a dinky little Fiat? Maybe now some rich New Yorkers will feel guilty – but probably not. They don’t do guilt either, but that led to this:

Donald Trump was booed outside of the Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue by a crowd waiting for Pope Francis’ arrival. The GOP presidential candidate emerged from Trump Tower and waved at the crowd of tens of thousands, around 4:30 p.m., according to live coverage feed of the New York Times.

Trump was initially greeted with cheers, but it quickly turned into loud boos. He retreated back into the building. The real estate mogul made another attempt to greet the crowd around 6:15 p.m. This time, the crowd yelled, “Feo! Feo!” – Spanish for ugly. One of the people waiting in the crowd told the New York Times, “I’m here for the pope of love. I’ve had enough of Donald Trump.”

They’d had enough of his bullshit:

In a previous interview with CNN, Trump said he had much respect for the pope. However, when asked about how he would respond to Pope Francis’ views on capitalism as greedy and corrupt, the GOP candidate said, “I’d say ISIS wants to get you.”

What? What did that have to do with anything? Something odd is going on here, and while the pope was being the pope everyone expected him to be, the far more interesting story was that Donald Trump was being upstaged by the authentic and loving quiet guy from Rome. Everyone in America decided to love the pope, or at least say they respected him. Pope Francis offered moral weight and deep thoughtfulness. Donald Trump provided the contrast. The story that wasn’t being covered was that Donald Trump’s bombast was catching up with him.

At Business Insider, Hunter Walker explains what has happened:

Donald Trump has two words to describe a recent spate of articles that suggested he may be losing steam in the Republican presidential primary: “dishonest reporting.” …

Three articles published Thursday by CNN, Politico, and The Washington Post used recent polls from Quinnipiac and CNN/ORC to argue that the surge that propelled Trump to the head of the GOP pack may be ending.

The Quinnipiac poll, released Thursday, showed Trump in first place. But it also found that Republican voters said, by a 4-to-1 margin, that former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina “out-performed” Trump in the Republican presidential debate last Wednesday.

The CNN/ORC poll, released Sunday, also put Trump in the lead but found his support had dipped eight points. It also found Fiorina surging.

On Thursday morning, Politico’s Kyle Cheney published a piece that pointed to the CNN/ORC poll, predictions from rival campaigns, and the widespread impression that Trump “faded a bit” during the debate. Cheney argued that the “Trump momentum shows signs of stalling.”

CNN’s Eric Bradner came in with a story of his own a few hours later. Bradner said the Quinnipiac poll “reinforced a recent CNN/ORC poll that showed an ascendant Fiorina in the wake of her strong debate performance last week.”

That story was headlined, in part, “Donald Trump lead shrinks.”

The Washington Post’s Philip Bump was up next. He published an article that used the CNN/ORC poll and wider averages to make the claim that “Donald Trump’s slide in the polls is beginning to look real.”

Trump was having none of it. He was still leading in all the polls and was feeling abused:

Trump took issue with how the local Sun Sentinel newspaper covered the Florida poll with a headline that focused on the state’s former governor, Republican Jeb Bush, and US Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida).

“I just won Florida. I’m way up over everybody in Florida. You have a governor, you have a senator. I’m at 32; they’re at 19 and 11. OK? Rubio’s at 19, Bush is at 11, and I’m at 32,” Trump said. “But the headline is, ‘Rubio goes ahead of Bush.’ And I won the poll! I didn’t even know I was in the poll. I won the poll and the headline doesn’t even have my name in it!”

It’s just not fair! Or maybe it is:

On the campaign trail and debate stage, many of the shots Trump has taken at his opponents emphasize his status as the front-runner. Business Insider asked Trump whether the fact that he has made so many of the arguments for his candidacy about his poll numbers puts him in a position where it would be disastrous for him to slip. Trump said it would be impossible to answer this question because he has, thus far, maintained a lead.

“I can’t tell you,” said Trump. “My numbers have just gone up. I just can’t tell you.”

He sounds worried, and Politico reports that he seems to be becoming unhinged:

Donald Trump is not happy with the Associated Press photographer who took a picture showing a significant number of empty chairs at a South Carolina event on Wednesday – so unhappy he called him a “f***ing thief,” according to the Daily Mail.

Trump’s remarks about wire photographer Mic Smith follow a rough couple of days for his relationship with the press. On Wednesday, he said he would no longer appear on Fox News, which responded that Trump “doesn’t seem to grasp that candidates telling journalists what to ask is not how the media works in this country.” Later, he agreed to a meeting with Fox News CEO Roger Ailes to discuss “differences of opinion,” the network said in a statement.

On Thursday, he railed against New York Times reporter Jonathan Martin and POLITICO on Twitter, calling Martin “dishonest” and POLITICO “really dishonest.” (Martin, a former POLITICO reporter, mocked pro-Trump “chair truthers” in tweets of his own.)

But it was Smith, apparently, who infuriated Trump the most.

“Tell them they’re a fraud, whoever took it. I just got killed on that thing, and it was just really unfair. It’s goddamn unfair,” he told The Daily Mail.

Pope Francis doesn’t talk like that, but Trump said he had been wronged:

The chairs were only empty, he explained, because the crowd had surged forward to surround him.

“I was speaking from the podium. Everybody was wrapped around the podium. If they hadn’t done that, there wouldn’t have been an empty seat,” he told the Daily Mail. “‘I’ve never made a speech where there were so many people wrapped around the podium in the front. That’s what happened.”

There’s a pattern developing, as MSNBC notes:

Earlier in the day, Trump tweeted that he’d stop appearing on Fox News shows, prompting the network to fire back Wednesday afternoon that the candidate’s latest declaration was the result of Fox News cancelling his scheduled Thursday appearance on “The O’Reilly Factor.”

“The press predictably jumped to cover his tweet, creating yet another distraction from any real issues that Mr. Trump might be questioned about. When coverage doesn’t go his way, he engages in personal attacks on our anchors and hosts, which has grown stale and tiresome,” a spokesperson for Fox News said in a statement. “He doesn’t seem to grasp that candidates telling journalists what to ask is not how the media works in this country.”

Fox News called him stale and tiresome for a reason:

Trump has been embroiled in conflict with Fox and its star anchor, Megyn Kelly, ever since the network hosted the first GOP debate in August. While his performance in last week’s CNN debate was generally considered to lack standout moments, Trump told the small crowd he’d been victorious.

“Every single poll said Trump won the debate,” the GOP front-runner boasted. “The pundits don’t say that, they really hate me, the people say it, the pundits don’t say it. The people are really smart; they really know what’s going on.”

But the view from the media area in the back of the ballroom wasn’t so bright: the last seven rows of seats were empty and while Trump’s largely-white supporters jumped and cheered for their candidate, black conference-goers looked on with far less enthusiasm.

This was the Greater Charleston Business Alliance and the South Carolina African American Chamber of Commerce in Charleston, South Carolina, and only the few white folks cheered, but he wasn’t talking to anyone there anyway:

In addition to disparaging the media, Trump spent a good portion of his 45-minute address complaining about other candidates – ribbing Marco Rubio for having worse hair than himself and poking fun at how sweaty Mike Huckabee got during the last GOP debate. He also threw fuel on the growing debate over whether Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign was behind rumors that then-Sen. Barack Obama was not born in the U.S., calling her “the original birther – but don’t let that change your vote.”

“I respect women more than I respect men!” he declared, though during his address he disparaged Clinton as “shrill,” Fiorina for fundraising, and another woman who sued him as “a horrible woman, who just happened to be elderly, but a horrible woman.”

There’s a backstory there:

As she rises in the 2016 primary polls, earning the ire of GOP front-runner Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina reveled in his attacks as a sign of her own success.

“It might seem that Donald Trump’s getting a little nervous,” the former Hewlett Packard CEO told reporters after a campaign event in Myrtle Beach. “I’m getting under his skin a little bit…”

Fiorina brought up a 20-year-old eminent domain lawsuit between Atlantic City and an elderly widow, Vera Coking, to condemn big government. The case – in which Trump urged the state to have Coking’s home seized by the state under “eminent domain” legislation by the state so he could build a parking lot for limousines at a casino – was cited by Fiorina as an example of what she considers an instance of government infringing on Americans’ freedoms.

He fought for a parking lot for limousines at a casino and the elderly widow lost, and the pope just drove by in his little Fiat, and waved. Cool.

Something odd is going on here, and the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza found something else:

Donald Trump is the front-runner to be the Republican nominee for president in 2016. Here’s what he had to say about Marco Rubio, one of his main rivals for the nomination, during an appearance on “Morning Joe” on Thursday:

“He sweats more than any young person I’ve ever seen in my life. … I’ve never seen a guy down water like he downs water. … They bring it in buckets for this guy.”

So, that is a thing that happened in a race for the most powerful office in the country and one of the most powerful jobs in the world.

At this point, these sorts of personal attacks have become de rigueur for Trump; he’s called Jeb Bush “low-energy,” said acclaimed pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson was only an “okay” doctor and slammed Carly Fiorina’s (looks) persona. …

Why, if Trump could be attacking Rubio for supporting a comprehensive immigration reform plan that is unpopular with the GOP base, is he hitting the senator from Florida on his body temperature?

Cillizza thinks this might be why:

Trump is, at heart, a provocateur – a needler. He’s someone who not only enjoys getting under people’s skin but is uniquely able to find the one or two things that can really do it. By finding that weak spot or insecurity, Trump believes he can get the other person off of his game – get Rubio so obsessed with worries about sweat and his personal appearance that he can’t concentrate on beating Trump up over his utter lack of policy specifics on almost, well, anything.

This is problematic:

The reality is that Rubio DOES sweat a lot. … So, it’s not that Trump is wrong; it’s just that he’s sort of a jerk about it. Remember the kid who made fun of the girl in sixth grade for wearing the same pair of jeans two days in a row? (Confession: That kid was me. And I am eternally sorry, Leanne Scharfenberger.) Well, most of us grew out of it. Trump didn’t. He finds weak spots and exploits them. It’s almost certainly what makes him a good negotiator – and what has made him ruthlessly effective in the sound-bite culture of the 2016 race.

Trump has mastered the comic putdown; he knows what moves the needle and what people respond to. In the “Morning Joe” clip, you can hear people laughing in the background. He did something similar when he cracked a Rosie O’Donnell joke when asked during the first debate about derogatory comments he had made about women in the past. Trump jokes with an insult, people laugh, and attention is moved away from a potential weak spot for him. It’s brilliant (as long as people don’t tire of it or start to view him as unserious).

That may be starting, but Cillizza thinks Rubio did the right thing:

Here’s what Rubio did say in response to Trump: “I think he’s kind of been exposed a little bit over the last seven days, and he’s a very touchy and insecure guy and so that’s how he reacts, and people can see through it.” Not bad – especially the “insecure” attack.

But Rubio’s best defense against Trump might be to make as clear as possible that The Donald isn’t getting to him. Look at Bush; it was quite clear to anyone paying attention that Jeb has been irked by Trump’s “low energy” attack. Nothing makes Trump happier than knowing he is getting to you. When he praised Bush’s energy during the second debate, you could see the glee in his eyes.

Yeah, he was alpha-male dominant, but Susan Estrich sees this:

Is there a limit to how many voters think the next president and first lady should be the television host and his third wife (who would certainly be the first First Lady to have posed nude)? I always wonder, as I hear candidates and their supporters condemning others, how they square Donald Trump’s words with his actions. The short answer may be that most voters – even Republican voters – are not taken in by hot air and petty insults. Maybe they think such behavior is beneath the dignity of a candidate for president. Perhaps that is why 75 percent of Republicans are not supporting Donald Trump.

And that alpha-male thing can be turned against him:

Donald Trump is still refusing to appear on the Fox News Channel – but apparently his self-imposed boycott doesn’t prohibit watching the channel’s shows. Trump exploded on Twitter on Wednesday night after National Review editor Rich Lowry appeared on Fox and used some rather, well, colorful language to describe exactly how Carly Fiorina bested Trump at last week’s Republican presidential debate.

“Let’s be honest: Carly cut his balls off with the precision of a surgeon – and he knows it,” Lowry said on “The Kelly File.”

Host Megyn Kelly was shocked. “You can’t say that!” she said, before covering her eyes with a hand. “You can’t say that.”

Trump quickly exploded on Twitter and wrote in a tweet: “Incompetent @RichLowry lost it tonight on @FoxNews. He should not be allowed on TV and the FCC should fine him!” And then: “@FoxNews owes me an apology for allowing clueless pundit @RichLowry to use such foul language on TV. Unheard of!”

The FCC doesn’t regulate cable television. That’s private. The FCC regulates the public airways. Someone should tell Donald, but that’s a minor matter:

Lowry quickly fired back at Trump on Twitter, saying he’s not surprised the Republican presidential candidate was upset by the comment – but quickly pointing out that Trump himself often makes politically incorrect comments.

“I love how Mr. Anti-PC now wants the FCC to fine me,” Lowry tweeted, adding a hashtag: #pathetic. He then posed this question to Trump: “So it’s OK for you to insult Carly’s looks, but you can’t handle me describing what happened to you in the debate?” Lowry then answered that question himself: “Man, you can dish it out but you REALLY, REALLY can’t take it.”

Lowry finally threw up a white flag and offered this tweeted compromise: “A deal for you, Donald: if you apologize to Carly for your boorish insult, I might stop noting how she cut your balls off.”

And then the pope drove by in his little Fiat, and waved. Pope Francis did not change a single thing in Washington, but he was there, being who he is – a good man. Some good may come of that, or not, but at least he provided a contrast to the simultaneous ongoing absurdity of Donald Trump. His visit wasn’t wasted.

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A Great Disturbance in the Force

“I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.”

Obi-Wan Kenobi had to sit down. He sensed the destruction of the planet Alderaan, even if it was halfway across the universe. He somehow knew a whole world had just been wiped out – a Jedi Master can sense such things. Those guys can sense what’s really going on – that’s the central conceit in those Star Wars movies – but you don’t have to be a Jedi Master to sense, in real time, when a whole world has just been wiped out. Just watch the news. Pope Francis flew into Andrews and was driven is his little Fiat – he’s a man of the people – to the White House. He spoke. People cheered. And the whole world of angry American conservatism had just been wiped out. Angry American conservatives didn’t cry out in terror. They weren’t suddenly silenced. But somehow that world seemed to be ending.

Darth Vader, all in black, had his Death Star. Pope Francis, all in white, just talked:

Welcomed with a fanfare of trumpets and a chorus of amens, Pope Francis introduced himself to the United States on Wednesday with a bracing message on climate change, immigration and poverty that ranged from the pastoral to the political.

On a day that blended the splendor of an ancient church with the frenzy of a modern rock star tour, Francis waded quietly but forcefully into some of the most polarizing issues of American civic life. Along the way, he underscored just how much he has upended the agenda of the Roman Catholic Church and reordered its priorities.

Perhaps no one was more pleased than President Obama, who greeted him with an elaborate arrival ceremony at the White House, where the pope explicitly embraced the administration’s efforts to combat climate change. At a later speech to American bishops, Francis, the first pope from Latin America, pressed for openness to immigrants, marking a signal day for Hispanics in the United States.

No Republicans said much of anything. They were suddenly silenced. The pope wasn’t on their side any longer:

While the last two popes focused on traditional moral issues like abortion and homosexuality, Francis left those to the side in Mr. Obama’s presence. With the bishops, he spoke about the “innocent victim of abortion” but mentioned the issue as only one of a long list of concerns, including children who die of hunger or in bombings, immigrants who “drown in the search for a better tomorrow” and an environment “devastated by man’s predatory relationship with nature.”

“Humanity has the ability to work together in building our common home,” the pope told a crowd of thousands on the South Lawn of the White House in his first major speech in English. “As Christians inspired by this certainty, we wish to commit ourselves to the conscious and responsible care of our common home.”

On climate change and immigration and income inequality he’s with Obama, except for this:

In a low-key but evident break with Mr. Obama, Francis at the end of the day made a previously unannounced stop to see the nuns at the Little Sisters of the Poor to underscore his support for religious freedom, a Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said. The Little Sisters religious order sued the federal government over the birth control mandate in Mr. Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

But that was it:

Mr. Obama thanked the pope for his help in restoring American diplomatic relations with Cuba and hailed him for speaking out for the world’s most- impoverished. “You shake our conscience from slumber,” he said. “You call on us to rejoice in good news and give us confidence that we can come together, in humility and service, and pursue a world that is more loving, more just, and more free.”

In his own remarks, the pope noted the country’s origins at a time when critics of illegal immigration were pushing to build a wall at the southern border. “As the son of an immigrant family, I am happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families,” Francis said.

Oh, snap! But that wasn’t the main issue:

He devoted more of his address to climate change than any other topic. “Mr. President,” Francis said, “I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution.” He added that there was still time to heal the planet for its children. “To use a telling phrase of the Rev. Martin Luther King, we can say that we have defaulted on a promissory note, and now is the time to honor it,” he said.

This was a disturbance in the Force. It was noted at the Republican Death Star, the Fox News studios on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan:

After Pope Francis addressed climate change while speaking at the White House on Wednesday, Fox Business host Stuart Varney, who has called global warming “nonsense” in the past, expressed “shock” for nearly the next 20 minutes over what he said were “political” remarks. … Although the pontiff was expected to address climate issues, Varney immediately reacted with shock.

“I believe the pope just walked right into the politics of climate change with a full-throated statement,” Varney told his panel. “It was politics, was it not?” … Fox News judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano asserted that the president had been tipped off about the pope’s remarks because the EPA director was seated in the first row. “In most civilized countries of the world, these environmental regulations are enacted by elected representatives,” he noted. “In the United States of America, they’re being enacted by executive fiat through the president and the EPA!”

“It is extraordinary that right from the get-go, a papal visit to the United States, the first time this pope has been in America, we go right into climate change,” Varney opined. “One would have thought that maybe there are things to talk about, like the persecution and slaughter of tens of thousands of Christians in North Africa.”

This went on for twenty minutes, these voices crying out in terror:

“Where’s the statement about saving my soul?” he asked. “The holy father is in the United States of America, a minister to my soul, the soul of all Catholics, all Christians. Come on!”

“I want to know how to get into heaven,” someone on Varney’s panel said.

Hey, the pope already told you. Save the planet. But there was this in an adjacent Fox News studio:

As many conservatives fret over Pope Francis’ views on climate change and income inequality ahead of his Thursday speech before Congress, Fox News host Shepard Smith chided those individuals who have criticized the pope for talking about “political” issues.

During Fox News coverage of Pope Francis’ arrival at the White House on Wednesday morning, host Bill Hemmer mentioned that the pontiff may discuss issues that both Democrats and Republicans may disagree with during his address on Thursday.

Smith was having none of that:

Smith responded to Hemmer by saying that “we are in a weird place in the world when the following things are considered political.” Smith then listed five issues both Pope Francis and President Obama have focused on.

“Caring for the marginalized and the poor – that’s now political. Advancing economic opportunity for all. Political? Serving as good stewards of the environment,” he said. “Protecting religious minorities and promoting religious freedom globally. Welcoming and … integrating immigrants and refugees globally. And that’s political?”

Then Smith really let loose:

“I don’t know what we expect to hear from an organization’s leader like the pope of the Catholic Church, other than protect those who need help, bring in refugees who have no place because of war and violence and terrorism. These seem like universal truths that we should be good to others who have less than we do, that we should give shelter to those who don’t have it,” he said. “They’re the words of the pope; they’re the feelings of the president. And people who find themselves on the other side of that message should consult a mirror, it seems like. Because I think that’s what we’re supposed to do as a people, whatever your religion.”

Some people won’t look in that mirror:

Amidst reports that Pope Francis would discuss issues like immigration, climate change, and income inequality, numerous conservative lawmakers have called on the pontiff to focus less on those issues. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) urged the pope to steer clear of the “politics” surrounding climate change and capitalism, and instead focus on abortion and marriage. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) said he would boycott the pope’s speech to Congress, nothing that when Pope Francis “chooses to act and talk like a leftist politician, then he can expect to be treated like one.”

The Washington Post’s Harold Meyerson has more:

The pope addresses Congress Thursday and conservatives are fearing the worst. Their belief systems can tolerate a lot – laissez-faire economics, xenophobia – but Pope Francis’s emphasis on the Roman Catholic Church’s historic antipathy to capitalism has them in a dither.

The Wall Street Journal laments his overt embrace of the “progressive political agenda of income redistribution.” My Post colleague George Will writes that, “Americans cannot simultaneously honor him and celebrate their nation’s premises.”

It’s not clear, however, whether the Journal and Will’s argument is with the pope or with the Christianity of the saint whose name he took, or even more fundamentally, with the Nazareth carpenter whom Christians believe was the son of God.

Suppose, for instance, that the pope elects, in his address to Congress, to repeat one of that carpenter’s most famous quotes: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”

Yeah, suppose that:

Based on past performance, can we expect some Republican congressman to leap to his feet and shout, “You lie,” or Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. to shake his head in dissent? Both occurrences greeted addresses to Congress by President Obama, speeches that were nowhere remotely as inflammatory as those in a recent papal encyclical, much less the Sermon on the Mount.

In that encyclical, Francis wrote that “saving banks at any cost, making the public pay the price, foregoing a firm commitment to reviewing and reforming the entire system only reaffirms the absolute power of a financial system, a power which has no future and will only give rise to new crises.”

In place of our current system, Francis has recommended giving workers more power – in particular, promoting worker-owned and -run cooperatives. Speaking to delegates from Italian cooperatives, he extolled “an authentic, true cooperative… where capital does not have command over men, but men over capital.” As Nathan Schneider has pointed out in an article in the Nation, the church has a rich history of supporting worker co-ops, including the Mondragon Corporation in Spain, which is the world’s largest co-op and which was founded by a priest. The U.S. Conference of Bishops’ Catholic Campaign for Human Development is a major funder of worker co-ops.

Capital should not have command over men? Men should have power over capital? No one thinks that way, or almost no one:

The primary author of legislation that would promote worker co-ops if Congress ever sought fit to pass it is one Bernie Sanders.

He’s Jewish, by the way. Meyerson simply points out no one should be surprised by any of this:

Francis’s critiques of capitalism aren’t peculiar to the left wing of the church. On the contrary, they echo the encyclicals of his predecessor popes – Benedict, John Paul II, all the way back to Pope Leo XIII in the 1890s – in favor of unions and against the sway that capital holds over nations and peoples.

Where Francis has departed from his predecessors is that he has moved from talking the talk to walking the walk. The simplicity of his lifestyle, his emphasis on spending time among the poor and giving workers more control of economies where the deck, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has said, is stacked against them, are all radical departures from past papal practice. So, too, is the tolerance he has shown to gays, lesbians and divorcees — a tolerance that has roused the ire of church conservatives, for whom intolerance to these and kindred groups seems to express the essence of their Catholicism.

These conservatives lament that Francis has de-emphasized the church’s traditional fear and loathing of women and sex. How a church governed by male celibates should have come to view its areas of core competency as gender relations and reproduction is a good question. By returning to the kind of issues that St. Francis and the Nazarene focused on – stewardship of the Earth, championing of the have-nots – Francis has been a great disappointment to those Catholics nostalgic for the spirit, if not the letter, of the Inquisition.

And millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror. There won’t be another Inquisition! How will we rid the world of heretics and perverts? There has been a disturbance in the Force, and Matt Taibbi has a bit of fun with that:

It’s been a long time since the left and right in America have had had a real fight for primacy in the religious space. For almost a generation now liberals have mostly conceded the very word faith, letting Republicans smother and monopolize the term like overprotective parents.

Overt religiosity is the norm on the GOP side, with God-stalking nutballs like Michele Bachmann or Ben Carson perennially front and center. Meanwhile, the closest thing to a famed religious liberal that America has seen over the span of many decades was probably Susan Sarandon’s nun character in Dead Man Walking, an anti-capital punishment parable whose religious message wasn’t believable even though it was a true story.

But now the script has flipped. The Republican frontrunner is Donald Trump, a man who is worse at naming Bible verses than Sarah Palin is at naming Supreme Court cases.

So the right has Donald Trump and left finally has its God Guy now:

Pope Francis won over urban liberals through writings like his 184-page encyclical on climate change, which described the earth as an “immense pile of filth.” Raised in Peronist Argentina, he also talks with varying degrees of vagueness about the “perverse” inequities of global capitalism, complaining for instance that a two-point drop in the stock market makes the news, while nobody notices when a homeless person dies of exposure.

This past weekend’s column by George Will perfectly expresses the sense of abject betrayal conservatives feel at a pope allowing himself to be appropriated by the global left, when he could be just railing against abortion and moral relativism like his recent predecessors.

You can always tell how mad George Will is by how much alliteration he uses. “Pope Francis’s Fact-Free Flamboyance” predictably seethes from the start:

“Pope Francis embodies sanctity but comes trailing clouds of sanctimony. With a convert’s indiscriminate zeal, he embraces ideas impeccably fashionable, demonstrably false, and deeply reactionary. They would devastate the poor on whose behalf he purports to speak…”

The notion that Will is upset with this pope on behalf of the poor is hilarious, but understandable. Conservatives loved the pre-Francis Catholic strategy for dealing with the poor. First, you create lots of cheap third-world factory labor by discouraging contraception. Then you give lip service to alleviating poverty by pushing a program of strictly voluntary charitable donations.

But there’s more:

Conservatives feel betrayed on another level. Much in the way Mormons believe Jesus will ultimately return to earth and settle in Missouri, conservatives have long accepted that the pope should be a secret American who believes in free enterprise, cries during Band of Brothers and would build his home in the United States if he had it to do all over again.

Thus a lot of the criticism from the right this week implies that this pope is insufficiently worshipful of America and Americans. They think his lack of reverence, for God’s chosen symbol of the miracle of capitalist production, traitorous, and moreover they’re offended that he doesn’t seem to think Americans are the best and most generous people on earth. Pollution and greed aside, doesn’t this pope know that some of us claim hundreds of dollars a year in charitable deductions?

“Does this pope understand America?” moaned Brian Kilmeade on Fox and Friends. “He’s talking about the greed of America, but does he understand what the capital of America has done for charitable causes?”

Will put it best, noting that what the pope fails to recognize about us Americans is that our greed and selfishness are actually our best qualities.

“He stands against… the spontaneous creativity of open societies in which people and their desires are not problems but precious resources,” Will wrote. “Americans cannot simultaneously honor him and celebrate their nation’s premises.”

Greed is good, isn’t it? The conservative right thinks so:

For his offenses, Pope Francis has earned himself a ticket onto the ever-expanding enemies list of the American political right, joining Black Lives Matter, Mexican immigrants, Muslims, feminists, Hollywood actors, college lit professors, Occupy Wall Street, whales, the French, Bill Maher, Canada, Sesame Street and other such undesirables. “Pure Marxism,” cried Rush Limbaugh about the pope’s ideas. “Hand-selected by the New World Order… The same people who gave us Obama gave us this pope,” cried Michael Savage. “Part of the globalist plan to destroy the world,” chimed in Alex Jones.

They think this guy is Darth Vader, but the left may have it wrong too:

A spate of articles in traditionally liberal newspapers and websites has appeared, each praising the pope and appropriating him as one of their own. Should you, the progressive, embrace the head of one of the most socially conservative organizations on earth? “Yes. Yes, you should,” says Jack Jenkins at ThinkProgress – “Especially if you want legislative action on immigration reform, climate change, or income inequality.”

Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon took particular issue with George Will’s broadside against Francis, which I get. But beyond that she went after Will for misrepresenting Catholic values, which may tilt blue-state:

“I find it interesting when conservative guys like Will lose their minds over the idea of someone with a fair degree of authority on the subject of Catholicism – like, say, a pope – pointing out the actual stated values of one of the richest and most powerful religions in the world – values that include, uh oh, charity, humility and non-materialism.”

Taibbi isn’t buying it:

All this stuff is a drag. The American left is always at its most unlikeable when it’s being pious. And that’s just the secular, hey-that-joke-isn’t-funny kind of piety. If we have to add actual religious piety to the equation, we’re suddenly taking a lot of the charm out of not being a Republican. Watching progressives fawn over a pope is depressing and makes me want to go watch a Cheech and Chong movie.

I was raised Catholic. To me the Church is just a giant evil transnational corporation operating on a dreary business model, one that nurtures debilitating guilt feelings in its followers and then offers to make them go away temporarily in exchange for donations. I realize the Church does some nice things with the money it raises and that other people have a different opinion, but this is my experience. …

Meanwhile Francis chugs along as the head of one of the most socially regressive organizations on earth, doing nothing to take on the Church’s indefensible stances on things like birth control, gay rights, and discrimination against women, celibacy and countless other issues. He claims the moral authority to reform global capitalism, but he’s somehow not ready to tell teenagers that it’s okay to masturbate, which seems bizarre.

We may be taking all this far too seriously:

People have such impassioned political fights over the pope because everyone wants the endorsement of the guy closest to God. But what if he’s not closer to God, and is just a guy in a funny hat? Doesn’t that make all this fuss and controversy ridiculous? It seems strange that it’s the year 2015, and we still can’t say that out loud.

No, we can say that out loud, but Darth Vader was just a guy in a funny hat too, and there’s this:

Mike Huckabee suggested President Barack Obama “pretends to be” a Christian in knocking the President’s handling of Pope Francis’ first visit to the U.S. … “I’m less concerned about what faith the person has. I’m more concerned about the authenticity of their faith and how that plays out in their politics … I’m also concerned about a guy that believes he’s a Christian and pretends to be and then says he is, but then does things that makes it very difficult for people to practice their Christian faith,” Huckabee said.

“I’m disappointed if someone says, ‘I’m a Christian,’ but you invite the pope into your home and then you invite a whole bunch of people who are at odds with the Catholic Church policy. I think there’s something very unseemly about that,” he added.

Obama invited some gay folks to the big ceremony welcoming Pope Francis. Case closed. And then there’s the man who is running away with the Republican nomination:

In an interview with the Christian Broadcast Network’s “The Brody File” at the Trump National Golf Club in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, the Republican presidential front-runner was asked to describe what God means to him.

“Well I say God is the ultimate. You know you look at this?” Trump said, motioning toward an oceanfront golf course that bears his name. “Here we are on the Pacific Ocean. How did I ever own this? I bought it 15 years ago. I made one of the great deals they say ever. I have no more mortgage on it as I will certify and represent to you. And I was able to buy this and make a great deal. That’s what I want to do for the country. Make great deals. We have to, we have to bring it back, but God is the ultimate. I mean God created this, and here’s the Pacific Ocean right behind us. So nobody, no thing, no, there’s nothing like God.”

Well, that is a nice golf course – surrounded by million dollar homes on the cliffs just north of San Pedro and the Port of Los Angeles. But that’s Portuguese Bend. Read the big sign – it could all slip into to Pacific in an instant. God could do that. The geology is shaky. Donald Trump’s theology, such as it is, is also shaky. It is, however, the current theology of the American conservative right. George Will just put it more elegantly.

That may not matter now. One wonders, if when Donald Trump was chatting with the Christian Broadcast Network, he felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of conservative voices were suddenly silenced. Darth Vader didn’t blow up a planet. Pope Francis came to America.

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The Quiet Man

Rick Perry is gone. Scott Walker is gone. It doesn’t make a bit of difference. Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee this time around – unless it’s Carly Fiorina or Ben Carson. The polls show that – it has come down to the bombastic real estate mogul and reality star, a guy who has never held elective office in his life and with no experience in government, and the former CEO who had been fired in 2004 and never worked a day since, with no experience in government, and the retired neurosurgeon who’s a little shaky on the Constitution and stuff. These three, combined, have the majority of the party behind them. Jeb Bush is polling at a bit less than five percent, for a reason – prior experience in elected office seems to be a disqualifier now, and everyone knows why. Most Republicans are seething with anger that their party let them down for eight years. Abortion is still legal. Obamacare is still the law of the land. Gays can get married now. Confederate flags came down. We didn’t send a half a million troops to the Middle East to get rid of ISIS once and for all. We didn’t get rid of Assad in Syria. We haven’t stopped Vladimir Putin from doing anything and we’re actually talking with the Cubans. And Mexicans are pouring across the border and murdering Americans left and right, and laughing at us. The list goes on and on. No Republican in office stood up and stopped any of this. That’s the issue.

The other issue is noise. Donald Trump is an insult-machine. He specializes in Hispanics and women. Carly Fiorina is an acid-tongued ball-buster. One quip from her and Donald Trump is reduced to a limp stammering schoolboy. Her specialty is emasculation (and with Donald Trump that’s a good thing). They go at each other day after day after day – no one can get a word in edgewise.

Ben Carson doesn’t even try. He doesn’t have to. While those two make all the noise, saying one outrageous thing after another, he’s the quiet guy who is far more radical than either of them will ever be. That’s why he’s right up there with these two, while Jeb Bush and all the others have faded into the background. Those who are seething with anger that their party let them down for eight years, or maybe longer, sense this guy will actually blow everything up. Donald and Carly are the sideshow. He’s the main event. He’ll go where no one else dares.

Carson does skirt the edge:

Ben Carson is changing his position on whether Muslims are fit to be president. After sparking a controversy over the weekend by saying he doesn’t think a Muslim should be in the White House, the Republican presidential contender said Tuesday that he is more interested in the president prioritizing the U.S. Constitution over his or her faith. “I don’t care what a person’s religion beliefs are or religious heritage is,” he said at a news conference in Sharonville, Ohio. “If they embrace our Constitution and are willing to place that above their religious beliefs, I have no problem with that.”

That’s a significant shift from Sunday when, during an appearance on “Meet the Press,” NBC’s Chuck Todd asked Carson, “Do you believe that Islam is consistent with the Constitution?”

“No, I do not,” Carson responded. “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”

But Carson told an audience in Cedarville, Ohio, he was “asked about who should be allowed to be President of the United States.”

“And I said I think anybody, regardless of their religion, if they are willing to embrace the values and principles of America and our Constitution and subject their beliefs to the Constitution,” he said. “I have no problem with that at all. And that’s perfectly reasonable.”

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza goes to the transcript. That’s not how it happened, and Cillizza offers this:

When Carson says he is being misquoted or taken out of context, what he really seems to mean is that the words he used didn’t convey the fullness of what he meant. Like, he meant to condemn Sharia law and radical Islam in that interview with Todd. But Todd isn’t a mind-reader and shouldn’t be. Carson’s argument – “Trust me, that’s what I meant even if it’s not what I said” – is a tough one to swallow without any further proof of his intent.

Running for president is hard – especially if you, like Carson, have never run for any office before. You make mistakes; you say one thing and mean another. But, to refuse to acknowledge those mistakes – or at least try to deflect blame before acknowledging them – is the sort of stuff that hurts the political process in the long run.

Own up to what you say and/or what you believe. If you make a mistake, say it and explain what you really meant. Looking around for someone to blame is the stuff my six-year old does – and what I scold him for.

Cillizza knows better. Politics doesn’t work that way:

In a post on Facebook on Monday night, Carson said a Muslim could serve as president if they disavow Sharia law in order to get his support.

“I could never support a candidate for president of the United States that was Muslim and had not renounced the central (tenet) of Islam: Sharia Law,” he wrote. “I know that there are many peaceful Muslims who do not adhere to these beliefs. But until these tenets are fully renounced … I cannot advocate any Muslim candidate for President.”

He was back on track and more popular than ever:

On Monday, former neurosurgeon Ben Carson was bailed out of the controversy over his views of Islam by an unexpected ally. Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, called a news conference to “ask Mr. Ben Carson to withdraw from the presidential race.”

The mild disrespect of calling a medical doctor “mister” was apparently unintentional, but the sheer audacity of CAIR’s ask lit a fire on the right. CAIR, which plays a role in Islamic controversies similar to the one the Anti-Defamation League plays in Jewish ones, is not viewed that way by elements of the conservative movement. To many, like Center for Security Policy founder Frank Gaffney, it’s viewed as a veritable fifth column that may be “engaged in money-laundering foreign funds to pay for civilizational jihad here.”

So things went well for Carson:

Gaffney and others were reacting to more than Carson’s stumbling interview with “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd. In a subsequent interview with The Hill’s Jon Easley, Carson had said that he had been talking not about Islam generally but about sharia law specifically. “Obviously if a Muslim was running for president, there would be a lot more education about sharia, about taqiyya,” he said, referring to Islam’s term for concealing one’s religion in the face of a credible threat. On the “anti-sharia” right, Carson was being railroaded.

“Let me help out these genius journalists, a.k.a. Democrats, a.k.a. liberals, a.k.a. know-nothings,” snarked conservative radio host and author Mark Levin. “There’s a difference in Islam that does not apply to Judaism and Christianity and other religions. That is, sharia law is not just a governing law in your personal lives. It is a governing law. That’s why in Saudi Arabia, they set up sharia courts.”

Ah, Carson was being railroaded. There are votes there, and Slate’s Jim Newell notes this:

Carson’s rival candidates sensed that the political novice had committed something in the ballpark of a gaffe. They attacked his position from different angles, many hoping to affix themselves to the outrage du jour to secure more attention for their own presidential efforts. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has about as much support in the presidential contest as you do, encouraged Carson to apologize to the “American Muslim community” and concluded “that Mr. Carson may be a good doctor, but he is not ready to lead a great nation.” Sen. Ted Cruz hardly expressed a love for Islam, but he did note that Carson’s approach is at odds with the spirit of the Constitution. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, as usual, submitted the most hilarious take thus far. In an unsolicited statement sent to the press that whines about how the press is always nagging candidates with questions, Jindal explained that he’d be fine with a Muslim president who submits to certain conditions, such as being sworn in on a Bible.

Carson and his team aren’t sweating the modest rebukes from oxygen-deprived competitors.

Newell says Carson need not worry:

What’s the simplest way to put this? The American public is broadly hostile to Islam, and the Republican base is especially hostile. Sure, we’ve had one GOP presidential candidate overtly defend the “American Muslim community,” but that was just Lindsey Graham – and the Republican base is hostile to Lindsey Graham, too. No one else, even the candidates who won’t go so far as to affirm Carson’s stance, is going to be seen hugging the neighborhood imam anytime soon.

For evidence of this hostility: Look around. A Huffington Post/YouGov survey conducted earlier this year found that only 21 percent of the American public has either a very or somewhat favorable opinion of Islam. Fifty-five percent has either a somewhat or very unfavorable opinion. Among Republicans, 13 percent has either a somewhat or very favorable opinion, while 76 percent has either a somewhat or very unfavorable opinion. (As with many surveys, one imagines the thought process here. Muslims, you ask? You bet I view them somewhat unfavorably!) A 2014 Pew survey found that Muslims were viewed even less favorably than the dreaded atheists; an Arab American institute from the same year found that 57 percent of Republicans “doubt that Muslim-Americans or Arab-Americans would be able to perform in a government post without their ethnicity or religion affecting their work.” And not affecting their work in a good way, either.

And there’s that other factor:

Forty-three percent of Republicans, per the most recent CNN poll, believe President Obama to be a Muslim. That’s a lot of people. They believe that the country has already “put a Muslim in the White House,” and the experiment didn’t turn out very well. President Obama, in their minds, was unable to perform his government job without his religion affecting his work. Why else would he agree to hand Iran nukes or take it easy on ISIS? Why would we ever put another Muslim in the White House?

Carson simply did what no one else would do, not even Trump or Fiorina:

Perhaps we should expect more from potential presidential nominees. Well, go ahead and try that; be sure to tell the rest of us how it works out. Carson’s response was so obviously in his political self-interest that it only would’ve been surprising had he responded a different way.

Trump and Fiorina make all the noise, but Carson, the quiet man, will go places they wouldn’t dare go. One shouldn’t underestimate how appealing that is to the angry Republican base, and Jamelle Bouie notes how deceptive this is:

Ben Carson’s brand is “nice.” “Carson has the bedside manner of the physician he is,” says the Christian Science Monitor. “Ben Carson doesn’t shout,” writes Adam C. Smith for the Tampa Bay Times. “He doesn’t throw zingers, and he rarely disparages rival presidential candidates. In a period when Donald Trump’s bluster dominates the 2016 presidential race, Carson seldom says anything provocative enough to generate TV news coverage.”

They got it wrong:

The Council on American-Islamic Relations slammed the retired neurosurgeon, who with Donald Trump leads the Republican presidential pack. “Mr. Carson clearly does not understand or care about the Constitution, which states that ‘no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office,'” said the group’s national executive director in a statement.

The Carson campaign wouldn’t budge. “Mr. Carson has great respect for the Muslim community,” said spokesman Doug Watts, “but there is a huge gulf between the faith and practice of the Muslim faith, and our Constitution and American values.” Despite the reality of the American Muslim community, which is as loyal and patriotic as any group of Americans, Carson – the soft-spoken, genial doctor who runs on his religious faith – believes they are unqualified for high public office and that Islam is fundamentally incompatible with “American values.”

But this isn’t shocking. Of course Carson believes in the disloyalty of American Muslims. His genial reputation conceals a deep commitment to paranoid politics, honed over years of conservative activism and deployed in speeches, op-ed columns, and now a presidential campaign.

Bouie reviews the record:

At the Values Voter Summit in 2013, for example, he compared the Affordable Care Act – President Obama’s signature health care law – to chattel slavery. “You know Obamacare is really I think the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery,” said Carson in his remarks to the conservative gathering. “It is slavery in a way because it is making all of us subservient to the government, and it was never about health care. It was about control.”

There’s no question this is outrageous. But it pales next to the reactionary paranoia of much of his other rhetoric. “I mean, our society is very much like Nazi Germany,” he said last year, in a rant against “political correctness.” “You know, you had a government using its tools to intimidate the population. We now live in a society where people are afraid to say what they actually believe.”

If political correctness is akin to German fascism, then it’s no shock the doctor thinks the IRS is a bona fide secret police. “You know, we live in a Gestapo age, people don’t realize it,” he said, in reference to the federal tax agency. He believes that President Obama might suspend elections in 2016, that Democrats want immigrants to increase the welfare population and keep themselves in power, and that – as he explained in the first Republican presidential debate this year – Hillary Clinton and “the progressive movement” are “trying to destroy this country” by driving up the national debt and stepping “off the stage as a world leader.”

This is beyond Trump and Fiorina:

Carson, the doctor, is a brilliant pediatric neurosurgeon. Carson, the candidate, is a crank – a creature of deep suspicion and conspiratorial thinking, who gives the mainstream a rare glimpse into the American Negative Zone of far-right fear and fetid fever dreams. There, anti-Muslim prejudice is common and unapologetic while Carson’s claim – that Islam is inherently anti-American – is axiomatic. Given his political background, his remarks were typical, if not even expected. …

If his comments surprised, it’s because of his style. Carson’s gentle affect is his greatest asset; it soothes listeners and obscures the degree to which he’s the most extreme candidate in the race. With that said, he’s a Kessel Run away from the Republican nomination. Barring the catastrophic collapse of every other “establishment” or conventional candidate, he has little chance of becoming the GOP nominee, much less president. But that’s no consolation.

That may not matter:

Right now, the top candidates in the Republican primary are a nativist demagogue and a right-wing paranoiac. They’re channeling and emboldening the worst impulses in American politics, and winning the polls because of it. They will fall, but not before making a dangerous, and potentially enduring, mark on our politics.

And Bouie doesn’t even mention Carly Fiorina, the new Queen of Mean. Leona Helmsley step aside. You didn’t destroy Hewlett-Packard, lay off tens of thousands of Americans and send their jobs to Asia, and get rich. You went to jail. Carly Fiorina is running for president – but Ben Carson, the quiet man, is the sleeper here. He’s not mean – bat-shit crazy maybe, but not mean.

There’s another factor at play here too. Leah Wright Rigueur is an Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and the author of The Loneliness of the Black Republican: Pragmatic Politics and the Pursuit of Power so she sees this:

That an African American that has never held political office is now a front-runner in the Republican primaries has surprised many observers. But his candidacy is perhaps less surprising if you consider two things: the long traditional of black conservatism in America, and how black Republicans like Carson have often appealed to largely white voters. …

African Americans are no strangers to conservatism. It crops up in the 19th and early 20th centuries, especially among black churches, despite their political radicalism. Conservative thinking was evident even in some of the most progressive civil rights leaders of the 1960s and 1970s. Even today, studies have shown that about a third of black people self-identify as conservative, although their conservatism rarely translates into support for the Republican Party.

And this is how we make sense of Ben Carson. He comes from a long conservative tradition, one that is rooted in a belief in religious morality, personal responsibility, self-help, individualism and free-market enterprise, and one that sometimes exists outside the boundaries of partisanship. Some have attributed Carson’s switch from ardent Democrat to conservative Republican as a matter of opportunism. That may very well be true, but Carson’s book, Gifted Hands, indicates that he has long exhibited the kind of “everyday black conservatism” that defines a portion of black communities. … It’s a rhetoric that conservative audiences, almost exclusively white, embrace.

Then there’s the matter of race:

For white conservative audiences, Carson is “safe.” His words on racism, for instance, while profoundly critical of racist acts, differ sharply from the words of black liberals. For Carson, racism is something to be changed through individual acts rather than something to be eradicated through structural change. Conservative voters can thus look at Carson and have their personal beliefs on race validated, especially because a black man is articulating these same beliefs.

He has all his bases covered. Ben Carson, not Donald Trump, may be the man of the moment. You have to watch out for the quiet ones. And yes, they’re often dangerously crazy. But that’s what the Republicans seem to want this time.

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Walking Away

An earworm was born on November 15, 1978 – another pop song that just wouldn’t go away. Americans hummed it involuntarily. They’d hear the words in their heads when they were walking the dog or driving to work. It was that Kenny Rogers smash hit about the gambler that had everyone compulsively chanting the words under their breath that November – “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run.”

This went on for several years. Kenny Rogers became rich – but the tune was catchy and that was good advice. Everyone wondered if they were smart enough to know when it was time to cut their losses on what seemed like a good bet at the time but was never going to work out. The earworm did its work. There were a lot of divorces in the years that followed that song – women up and leaving what wasn’t working and would never work. Some of us left the careers we were supposed to be made for and moved to California to try something else. Sometimes it’s time to walk away. Sometimes it’s time to run like hell.

These things probably would have happened anyway. Don’t blame the song – but everyone suddenly had a soundtrack for their own little personal movie. It was always playing in the background. Know when to walk away. Know when to run like hell. And Scott Walker just had his Kenny Rogers moment:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said Monday he was dropping out of the 2016 GOP presidential race, and he urged other Republican candidates to do the same to stop the party’s frontrunner, Donald Trump.

Walker said that the Republican presidential debate last week at the Reagan library in California reminded him that former President Ronald Reagan was an optimist, and that it also showed him the party “has drifted into personal attacks.”

He said that he believed the voters wanted to be for something “and not against someone.”

The idea seems to be that he drops out – he was now polling at zero – and others who aren’t going anywhere either drop out too. That would leave one or two serious people to stop Trump and all of Trump’s bombast and nastiness:

Making his announcement from Madison, Wisconsin, Walker said that the Republican Party needed to get back to the basics of its party – beliefs that include that a strong military leads to peace, and that it believes in the American people. He then took a thinly veiled swipe at Trump, whose campaign slogan is “Make America Great Again.” … “Today, I believe that I am being called to lead by helping to clear the field in this race so that a positive, conservative message can rise to the top of the field,” Walker said. “With this in mind, I will suspend my campaign immediately.”

And others should join him:

“I encourage other Republican presidential candidates to consider doing the same so the voters can focus on a limited number of candidates who can offer a positive, conservative alternative to the current frontrunner,” Walker added. Walker said offering an alternative was “fundamentally important” to the future of the Republican Party and “more importantly to the future of our country.”

It is crazy out there. The Chicago Tribune’s Rex Huppke puts it this way:

Donald Trump has been in charge of insulting Latinos. The co-chairs of the Gay and Lesbian Denigration Team are Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz. And now retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson has stepped in to make sure Muslims don’t feel under-disparaged.

Over the weekend, Carson said he would not want a Muslim to be president and doesn’t believe the Muslim faith is consistent with the Constitution. A few days before that, Trump nodded along at a campaign event while a man said that President Barack Obama is a Muslim and, regarding Muslims in general, asked, “When can we get rid of ’em?”

Trump inclusively responded: “We are going to be looking at a lot of different things and, you know, a lot of people are saying that.”

Yes, and many of the same people applauded last week’s arrest of a Muslim teenager in Texas who brought a homemade clock to school to show his teachers. While police found that the clock was just a clock, Sarah Palin, a noted Trump enthusiast, showed her support for disenfranchising Muslim voters by saying: “That’s a clock, and I’m the Queen of England.”

Walker might have felt a bit out of place in all this, and then there was this:

In a “Meet the Press” interview that aired Sunday, Carson was asked if he believes “Islam is consistent with the Constitution.”

“No, I don’t, I do not,” Carson said. “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”

Now everyone knows Carson is a deeply religious man and the Constitution is his favorite part of the Bible. So he is presumably aware of Article VI, which states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

But sometimes you have to read between the lines and, using the special vision God has given you, see the parts of the Constitution the founding fathers wrote in invisible ink. It’s there that you’ll find what Carson is talking about. I think.

What Walker saw in the Republican field was most of the vote going to the bombastic real estate mogul and reality star, the guy who had never held elective office in his life and with no experience in government, and the former CEO who had been fired in 2004 and never worked a day since, with no experience in government, and this retired neurosurgeon who’s a little shaky on the Constitution and stuff. These three, combined, have the majority of the party behind them – and they have next to nothing to do with the party. No wonder Scott Walker is upset – but to be fair, Ben Carson later said he meant that no one would vote for a Muslim for president, not that there should be a rule against them running. Someone told him about the constitution, and Donald Trump has said he was responding to that guy mentioning massive ISIS training camps in every state all across America – that’s what he’d look into. He’s over that other stuff about Obama. Political humor can be unfair.

That doesn’t mean things are not absurd. One should note the reactions to what Carson said – Trump: I Would Vote For A Muslim If I Agreed Politically With The Candidate and Jindal: I’d Vote For A Muslim President Who Honors US Judeo-Christian Heritage and Ted Cruz Blames Obama For The Way Carson Talked About Muslims and Huckabee: Obama Is “Most Anti-Christian” President In US History and so on.

The insults continued too. Trump said Fiorina will give you a “big, fat, beautiful” headache and there was this one:

The Bush campaign was not amused by Donald Trump’s latest attack video, which accused the GOP presidential candidate of smoking marijuana.

The video, which poked fun at Bush’s policy positions and admission of smoking pot forty years ago, ended with the punchline, “Are we sure it was only forty years ago?” Trump posted it to Instagram with the caption “Jeb has been confused for 40 years.”

In a statement sent to TPM, Bush spokesperson Allie Brandenburger wrote, “This coming from the candidate who can’t remember the names of our biggest enemies around the world! It seems these attacks are running out of steam.”

Walker was right to walk away from all this, but the Washington Post’s Stephen Stromberg says that Walker had no choice:

Walker was supposed to be a GOP juggernaut, uniting anti-union business types, evangelicals and tea partyers with his combative, ideologically charged record in Madison. Emphasizing his Midwestern identity and conservative credentials – playing a sort of everyday ideologue – he seemed to have Iowa locked up, until Donald Trump exploded.

But it would be a mistake to just blame Trump for Walker’s political demise. Even the relatively mild scrutiny applied to Walker’s run revealed him for what he really is: a man who has not thought much outside of his narrow experience and who fumbled when reporters asked him to do so. The result was candidate who was intellectually and strategically adrift. He didn’t seem to know how he felt on a range of issues, and, in the absence of sincere positions, he didn’t seem to know how far right he wanted to run. All of this made his bluster about being a “fighter” who is “unintimidated” seem embarrassingly inappropriate.

Walker just wasn’t very good at this:

Walker floundered on foreign policy, lamely claiming that his experience standing up to public sector unions in Wisconsin showed he had the mettle to stand up to foreign threats. He attempted to cover for previously moderate statements on immigration by clumsily lurching right even seeming to suggest that there should be fewer legal immigrants. He took several confusing positions on birthright citizenship over the course of a few days. He refused to say whether he favored allowing more Syrian refugees into the country because the question was “hypothetical.” When he got around to answering, he tacked toward callousness, saying that he didn’t want to let any more refugees in. But at that point, who would have believed that he had really thought about it?

In the end, his only issue was organized labor:

He proposed a national crackdown on unions that included scrapping the National Labor Relations Board. This was supposed to re-excite the goodwill he had generated among conservatives during his showdowns with public sector workers over the last few years. Instead, it proved he was one-dimensional.

This wasn’t meant to be:

Walker didn’t need Trump to fail. He didn’t just have bad luck. He couldn’t be any more than he is: walking proof that a combative style, a hard ideological edge and identity-based pandering can’t always make up for cluelessness. The conservatives who championed Walker should have expected more…

This guy was clueless, but NBC’s Perry Bacon says it was more than that:

In theory, Walker was a strong candidate because he could tell the more moderate wing of the Republican Party that he could win a general election, having won three straight races in Wisconsin, traditionally a blue state. At the same time, Walker’s record in Wisconsin of severely limiting public employee unions, defunding Planned Parenthood and enacting laws such as a voter ID provision would appeal to conservative, Tea Party Republicans. Walker would win by being to the right of ex-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, but to the left of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

That turned out to be a misreading of the situation:

The establishment wing of the Republican Party largely rejected Walker. Some major donors in New York and other big cities, as well as elected officials such as Maine U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, got behind Bush early in the race. Many of the Jeb Bush backers are moderate themselves on issues like immigration and viewed Bush as in sync with them. Others felt loyalty to the Bushes or viewed Jeb Bush, with his multi-ethnic family, as a candidate who could win Latino voters and therefore was more electable nationally than Walker.

But Bush, despite strong fundraising, has struggled as well. The Republican establishment has not settled on a candidate, as most GOP elected officials have refused to endorse anyone. To many of them, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is young and inexperienced, Bush unelectable because of his last name, Ohio Gov. John Kasich too liberal and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie tarred by the Bridgegate scandal.

But Walker was no better:

There were deep doubts in the GOP establishment about Walker’s smarts on policy issues, concerns he reinforced when he would take a position on an issue and then reverse himself, which the Wisconsin governor did throughout his campaign. Last month, Walker gave four different answers in a single week on the issue of whether he would end birthright citizenship.

And while Bush, Kasich and Rubio speak in great detail on many policy issues, Walker struggled to go beyond talking points and clichés when asked questions like how he would deal with ISIS.

Walker “is not ready for primetime in my opinion,” ex-Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn said earlier this year, according to Buzzfeed, voicing publicly what many Republicans did privately.

So we have this:

His departure, like that of Perry, further winnows the field of more traditional candidates with previous experience in elected office. If the Republican Party is headed toward embracing a more traditional candidate, Walker and Perry leaving the race help Bush, Christie, Kasich and Rubio. But with Trump, Fiorina and Carson ahead in polls, it’s not yet clear Republicans will nominate a traditional candidate in 2016.

Josh Marshall wonders about that too:

Scott Walker’s departure from the race sure seems abrupt and even premature. It’s hard to have much hope when you go from a first tier candidate to significantly under 1%. Still, not only is it early but the race is so unsettled and chaotic, couldn’t he have held out a bit longer?

But that would be to ignore something:

Going back to the early days when he was the new Governor of Wisconsin, Walker was always a creature of the Koch Brothers and like big donors. (There was actually a comical episode some of you may remember when a prankster called Walker up as “David Koch” and talking to Walker for something like an hour. He recorded the call and then made it public.)

There’s already reporting out there that Walker’s campaign was having a very hard time raising money in recent weeks. But that’s no different in itself to what we’ve seen in countless campaigns, a standard cycle. You lose traction and poll numbers, get the look of a loser, donors stop answering calls and suddenly you’re done. It is a brutal and vicious cycle, a campaign death spiral that it’s extremely difficult to break out of.

The issue, then, is money:

One of the premises of this campaign has been that a lot of candidates who would have had to drop out in earlier cycles will be able to hang on much longer. As long as they have their billionaire willing to fund things, they can go on pretty much indefinitely. Remember, that’s what kept Newt Gingrich in the race in 2012 – Sheldon Adelson’s cash. A similar story with Rick Santorum with his own billionaire.

But the converse is also true. I wonder whether Walker’s own attachment to Koch like mega-donors and the change in the campaign finance landscape brought about by Citizens United has shifted the terrain and forced Walker to pull the plug more rapidly than we might have expected. When the game really is controlled by a small group of billionaires, if they say you’re done, you’re done.

And he’s done.

That would mean that Walker isn’t the sly gambler. He didn’t know when to fold them and know when to walk away. That wasn’t his decision. A small group of billionaires walked away from him. They wouldn’t fund him. That’s how things work these days, and Russ Choma adds this:

The most interesting question amid the wreckage of Walker’s campaign may now be this: Where will his wealthy backers go with their money? In July, the super-PAC supporting Walker, Unintimidated PAC, reported having locked up more than $20 million, placing him in the top echelon of GOP candidates in terms of financial backing. The bulk of the money, $13.4 million, came from just four people, including Wisconsin-based roofing supply magnate Diane Hendricks, a longtime supporter who gave $5 million.

Most of Walker’s war chest came from outside traditional sources, in part because he never achieved much traction in strongholds for GOP campaign money such as Texas. Instead, his campaign and super-PAC seemed to rely on big donors who Walker had cultivated for his state political runs and who were based in the Midwest. Hendricks, for example, has never laid out such large sums of cash for political causes as she has for Walker; the next largest check she has written to a national group was $1 million (donated last fall to the Koch-affiliated Freedom Partners Action Fund). With so many candidates remaining, Walker’s biggest impact on 2016 may have to do with where his deep-pocketed former backers turn next.

There’s still time to purchase the Republican nominee, or at least a piece of him, but Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog reminds us that it is possible to buy the wrong guy:

Yes, Walker was dull as dishwater. But Ben Carson is in the top tier, and, as Timothy Egan put it over the weekend, Carson regularly “looks like he can’t find his glasses after waking up from a long nap.” So what’s going on?

Walker led the field early in the year because he’d persuaded a lot of voters that he was the guy who knew how to pummel enemies into submission. Unions busted! Three electoral victories in four years! All in a state that consistently votes blue in presidential elections! He was that and he was a soft-spoken suburbanite with a great love for Jesus.

And then it happened:

Donald Trump came to seem like a much more powerful agent of revenge. Walker’s vengeance was in the past, but Trump’s was in the present – he was currently infuriating the political world (and anyone who criticized him) with his low but effective cheap schoolyard attacks.

So Walker lost the revanchist vote to Trump – and at the same time, voters in search of a quiet, deeply Christian detester of liberalism gravitated to Ben Carson, who isn’t sullied by having held elected office and whose blackness probably gives GOP voters a frisson of excitement that his actual personality doesn’t provide.

Horserace journalists say that every candidate occupies a “lane,” but most straddle a couple of lanes. Walker was in exactly two – and in each one an outsider roared past him. So he was left in the dust.

So, a small group of wealthy investors, working with the Koch Brothers, bet on Scott Walker, or invested in him, or bought shares in him. Then they realized what wasn’t working and would never work. Kenny Rodgers was singing. They up and left him. “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run.” They were the ones who walked away.

They’ll find someone else – but that won’t solve the Trump problem. He’s self-funded. He has his own billions. And Scott Walker is probably still trying to find out what just happened. He was never at the table in the first place. Few will ever be.

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What It Takes

“I had set my sights on a man of brains, to whom I could look up, but what a terrible let down it would be to find out that I was smarter than he was.”

It seems Anita Loos didn’t like the man she married. When she died in New York City at the age of 92 – from natural causes –Helen Hayes and Ruth Gordon and Lillian Gish told all the old Hollywood stories at her memorial service, and Jule Styne played songs from Loos’ musicals – because Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend you know. Marilyn Monroe sang that song in the 1953 film version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – the dumb blonde wasn’t that dumb after all – she knew what mattered. The original 1949 Broadway musical, written by Loos and Joseph Fields, had Carol Channing as Lorelei Lee, and that was based on Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: The Intimate Diary of a Professional Lady – Loos’ 1925 novel. William Faulkner and Aldous Huxley and Edith Wharton wrote and told her they loved it. It was a bestseller – twenty printings in the next decade, eighty-five editions over the years, and it was eventually translated into fourteen languages, including Chinese. It struck a chord. People will always disappoint you. Hard assets never will. Grab what you can. Apologize for nothing.

Yes, Loos was a cynic, or a realist, depending on how you look at things. She was an admirer of H. L. Mencken, and when he was in New York she would hang with him and his crowd – Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, Sinclair Lewis and a few others. She has no use for Dorothy Parker and those effete twerps over at that Algonquin Round Table. In 1925, on the train to Hollywood for another Norma Talmadge picture, Loos began to write a sketch of Mencken and his ditzy lady friends that would become Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

She wasn’t one of those. Loos had written screenplays for D. W. Griffith. She had written a series of screenplays that made Douglas Fairbanks a star. She was formidable and, at one time, as famous as any of the big stars, and the go-to lady of aggression. That’s why MGM eventually hired her. The first project they handed her was Jean Harlow’s Red-Headed Woman – because F. Scott Fitzgerald was having trouble adapting Katherine Brush’s book. Well, in his final years here in Hollywood, Fitzgerald was a moody fellow. Perhaps he missed Paris, but that picture, completed in May 1932, was a smash, and made Harlow as a star, and made Loos invaluable. Loos could create “shady lady” screenplays that could get by the censors at the time – the delicate double entendre, the subtle innuendo. She was good – and that’s how people came to understand the world. Everyone has an agenda. Sentiment is for fools. Show me the cash.

Anita Loos is pretty much forgotten now, even here in Hollywood, but diamonds are still a girl’s best friend. Sentiment is for fools, and women can be as aggressive as men. Those women who aren’t fools get what they want. Anita Loos, more than anyone else, established that in our popular culture. Madonna’s video “Material Girl” pretty much uses the set and costumes from the 1953 movie where Marilyn Monroe sings about her friends, those diamonds. Everyone gets it. We live in a material world. Cut the crap. Show me the cash.

Only a fool would believe otherwise, and that’s why Donald Trump opens all his events by telling everyone he’s rich, really, really rich – he’s made billions. But then he says that’s not the point, and it isn’t. He’s letting everyone know that he knows how to cut the crap. He has no use for sentiment, which he identifies as all that political correctness stuff. He gets to the point. He makes the deal. He fixes what’s broken. That’s what you want in a president. His billions simply prove that he’s your man.

Carly Fiorina makes a similar argument. She was CEO of a Fortune Five Hundred company, even if she was a woman. She was on the cover of Time. She doesn’t claim to be Jean Harlow or anything, but she can be tough as nails and get what she wants. She has no use for sentiment either. She’d slap America’s foes around. She’d fix what wrong here at home – and no one would give her any crap. They’d be gone. That’s how she ran things at Hewlett-Packard. That’s why they paid her the big bucks – but again, the money doesn’t matter. It’s why they paid her so well. She gets things done. She gets what she wants, and that’s what you want in a president. She’s your gal.

She is? That led to this odd exchange at the CNN Republican debate:

“You ran up mountains of debt using other people’s money,” she said of his Atlantic City casinos. Mr. Trump trashed her tenure at Hewlett-Packard, calling it “a disaster,” and said he made $10 billion. But the back-and-forth between the two may have given Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey his most memorable moment of the night.

Invited into the fight because Mr. Trump’s casinos are in New Jersey, Mr. Christie wagged his finger at both of his rivals (and at Jake Tapper, the moderator) by saying that they should stop talking about themselves.

“The fact is, we don’t want to hear about your careers,” he said, saying that the candidates should be talking about the difficulties faced by everyday Americans. “You’re both successful people. Congratulations,” he said, adding a moment later, “Stop this childish back-and-forth between the two of you.”

They looked puzzled and that led to this:

“While I’m as entertained as anyone by this personal back-and-forth about the history of Donald and Carly’s career, for the 55-year-old construction worker out in that audience tonight who doesn’t have a job, who can’t fund his child’s education, I’ve got to tell you the truth: They could [not] care less about your careers,” Christie said. “They care about theirs.”

Chris Christie may be wrong about that. That construction worker out in that audience might want to know how each of them became so successful. What’s the secret? If the secret is aggressiveness and scorn, and grabbing what you can and never apologizing, then maybe that’s what we need in a president. And how come Chris Christie isn’t rich? What’s wrong with him?

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, writing at Politico, finds all of this a bit odd:

As a professor, hearing my name once, let alone twice, before 25 million TV viewers in an historic U.S. presidential debate is a surreal experience. “The head of the Yale business school, Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, wrote a paper recently,” Donald Trump proclaimed in his attack on Carly Fiorina’s business record, “one of the worst tenures for a CEO that he has ever seen.” Immediately, the phones started ringing, text messages dinging, emails beeping – notes from thrilled old students, proud colleagues, teasing friends, pleased former teachers, curious clients, and my own immediate family in shared, flushed, utter shock.

But Trump was right:

As Fiorina admits, I have been critical of her for over a decade – long before she announced her political aspirations. I have studied her business record, challenged her leadership abilities and have come to agree with the assessment that she was one of the worst technology CEOs in history. I stand by that evaluation. …

Here are the facts: In the five years that Fiorina was at Hewlett Packard, the company lost over half its value. It’s true that many tech companies had trouble during this period of the Internet bubble collapse, some falling in value as much as 27 percent; but HP under Fiorina fell 55 percent. During those years, stocks in companies like Apple and Dell rose. Google went public, and Facebook was launched. The S&P 500 yardstick on major U.S. firms showed only a 7 percent drop. Plenty good was happening in U.S. industry and in technology.

This, then, was a leadership issue:

After an unsuccessful attempt to catch up to IBM’s growth in IT services by buying PricewaterhouseCooper’s consulting business (PwC, ironically, ended up going to IBM instead), she abruptly abandoned the strategic goal of expanding IT services and consulting and moved into heavy metal. At a time that devices had become a low margin commodity business, Fiorina bought for $25 billion the dying Compaq computer company, which was composed of other failed businesses. Unsurprisingly, the Compaq deal never generated the profits Fiorina hoped for, and HP’s stock price fell by half. The only stock pop under Fiorina’s reign was the 7 percent jump the moment she was fired following a unanimous board vote. After the firing, HP shuttered or sold virtually all Fiorina had bought.

There’s no defense for that:

During the debate, Fiorina countered that she wasn’t a failure because she doubled revenues. That’s an empty measurement. What good is doubling revenue by acquiring a huge company if you’re not making any profit from it? The goals of business are to raise profits, increase employment and add value. During Fiorina’s tenure, thanks to the Compaq deal, profits fell, employees were laid off and value plummeted. Fiorina was paid over $100 million for this accomplishment.

At the time, most industry analysts, HP shareholders, HP employees and even some HP board members resisted the Compaq deal. (Fiorina prevailed in the proxy battle, with 51.4 percent, partly thanks to ethically questionable tactics, but that’s another story.) But rather than listen to the concerns of her opponents, she ridiculed them, equating dissent with disloyalty. As we saw during the debate when she attacked me, rather than listen to or learn from critics, Fiorina disparages them. She did so regularly to platoons of her own top lieutenants and even her board of directors – until they fired her.

These facts have been documented, both with quotes from her own board members and leadership team and with raw numbers in such revered publications as Forbes, Fortune, Business Week, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and leading tech industry journals. I also have extensive first-hand knowledge of this situation, having spoken at length with two of Fiorina’s successors, past and present HP board members, fellow CEOs and scores of HP employees – including many of her own top lieutenants who contacted me directly, such as her head of employee relations.

Again there’s no defense:

If the board was wrong, the employees wrong, and the shareholders wrong – as Fiorina maintains – why in 10 years has she never been offered another public company to run?

Now, Fiorina wants to run the country. I am a firm believer in second chances. Just because Fiorina failed at an early career does not preclude her from becoming a good leader later. But I do know, having written a book on how great leaders rebound after career disasters, that to overcome failure is to admit to it and learn from it. During the debate, instead of addressing the facts and taking on my professional observations, Fiorina decided to shoot the messenger. What she failed to see is that this behavior – sidestepping accountability by resorting to demagoguery and deflection – is exactly why she failed as a leader the last time.

And you can’t lie:

Fiorina brags that she doubled revenues – but she cut value in half. She talks about doubling employment at HP when all she did was combine the employment of two huge firms – and then lay off 30,000 employees. She presents her story as rags to riches saga, from secretary to CEO, when in fact she is the daughter of a Duke University Law School dean and a federal Appeals Court judge. She just worked for a few months as a receptionist after dropping out of UCLA law school.

And there are a few other things:

She makes irresponsible decisions. At HP, Fiorina abruptly pivoted from a strategy of chasing IT services to a splashier, but less sound strategy of ramping up in device manufacturing. While her predecessor, revered HP CEO Lew Platt, traveled coach in commercial planes, she demanded the company buy her a Gulfstream IV.

She is intolerant of dissent and resorts to personal attacks. Rather than address the points made by her critics – she elects to attack their character with false information, shifting the spotlight away from her. And, as much as she laid into Trump for his comments about her face, she has been known to be a queen of personal invective – even when it comes to physical appearance. She once ridiculed the music interests and appearance of a dissenting board member Walter Hewitt, son of HP’s co-founder – as well as the allegedly dowdy look of rival Senate candidate Barbara Boxer.

Sonnenfeld has much more, but it comes down to this:

If the Republican Party seeks great women leaders with proven track records of accomplishment and character for national office, I could recommend many, including New Hampshire’s Sen. Kelly Ayotte, Alaska’s Sen. Lisa Murkowski and, especially, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. But Fiorina is not one of them. Her unacknowledged record of failure and intolerant, no-dissent “my way or the highway” leadership style might better fit high office in China or Russia – or on “The Apprentice” for that matter.

Yes, Donald Trump is just the same, and some things are hard to explain:

Carly Fiorina said Sunday that neither she nor Hewlett-Packard should be faulted for the sales of millions of HP printers in Iran when such business was prohibited by U.S. law. Appearing on Fox’s Fox News Sunday, Fiorina said that despite being the CEO of HP when the Iranian sales took place via a third party, she was unaware of them.

“First, HP, you need to remember, was larger than each of the 50 states,” Fiorina said. “It’s a larger budget than any one of our 50 states, and a global enterprise. And so it’s impossible to ensure that nothing wrong ever happens. The question is what you do when you find out.”

“Are you saying you didn’t know about it?” host Chris Wallace asked.

“In fact, the SEC investigation proved that neither I nor anyone else in management knew about it…” she insisted, adding, “…when the company discovered this three years after I left, they cut off all ties. The SEC investigated very thoroughly and concluded that no one in management was aware.”

She knew nothing, so it wasn’t her fault, but even the guys at Fox News can ask questions:

A 2008 Boston Globe investigation found that, while U.S. companies were banned from selling goods to Iran, an Indian company in Dubai called Redington Gulf had sold HP printers there. They sold them so well, in fact, that HP had 41 percent market share in Iran by 2007. Redington Gulf obtained the printers through a European subsidiary.

Wallace asked Fiorina why HP had named Redington Gulf its “Wholesaler of the Year” award in 2003 if the company wasn’t aware of its sales to Iran, Fiorina again deflected blame.

“The wholesaler of the year that you’re describing was doing business with another company that was doing business with Iran. Clearly that wholesaler of the year, which should not have been wholesaler of the year, was not honest in their dealings with us, and they were not honest in their dealings with this third company.”

It wasn’t her fault. She knew nothing, and one thinks of Rick Scott. Scott was CEO of the hospital chain HCA when those folks admitted to fourteen felonies involving Medicare fraud and agreed to pay the federal government over six hundred million dollars in fines. Scott said he didn’t realize what his subordinates had been doing at all and took the Fifth over a hundred times – and then went on to become a venture capitalist, and then Florida’s governor. The voters of Florida had no problem at all with that. They might have thought that Scott was pretty clever – an admirable trait. He got off. Fiorina also didn’t know what was going on here. Maybe voters nationwide will have no problem at all with that. They might even think she was clever for selling all those printers to Iran and letting someone else take the blame. Maybe that’s cool.

Steve Chapman notes what isn’t cool:

You might forget that when Fiorina ran for the U.S. Senate in California in 2010 against incumbent Barbara Boxer, she was caught on video belittling her opponent in Trump-like fashion: “God, what is that hair? So yesterday!”

At Wednesday’s debate Fiorina was equally facile, and equally misleading, on more substantive topics. Asked how to handle Vladimir Putin, she replied, “What I would do, immediately, is begin rebuilding the 6th Fleet; I would begin rebuilding the missile defense program in Poland; I would conduct regular, aggressive military exercises in the Baltic states. I’d probably send a few thousand more troops into Germany. Vladimir Putin would get the message.”

This was nonsense:

It was the sort of litany that thrills conservatives, but as policy, it was the second day of a garage sale – replete with items that are useless, superfluous or irrelevant. The U.S. Navy is the biggest and most capable on Earth. We spend eight times more on defense than Russia – without counting what our NATO allies spend. If all that doesn’t intimidate Putin, a slightly augmented 6th Fleet isn’t going to make his blood run cold. Neither is “a few thousand more troops” in Germany. Putting bases and GIs in Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania might deter aggression against them – but oddly, she didn’t suggest it.

Barack Obama canceled a missile defense program in Poland because it didn’t work. He replaced it with a system that Robert Gates, his defense secretary (and George W. Bush’s), believed was better. Obama has also conducted military exercises in the Baltic States. Putin would get the message, all right: that Fiorina is a fraud.

And there’s this:

She wowed the crowd by daring Obama and Hillary Clinton to watch the video from a Planned Parenthood abortion of “a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.”

The nonpartisan noted an inconvenient fact: “The scene she described, though, does not exist in any of the videos” released by the Center for Medical Progress. Other fact checkers agreed, and her campaign offered no footage to rebut them.

Chapman adds this:

What was obvious to anyone who watched the debate is what BusinessWeek noted when she took over HP: “Carly Fiorina has a silver tongue and an iron will.” The rest, however, is fool’s gold.

That’s a clever line, but this was always about real gold. Trump made billions of dollars. That must mean something. In 2004, the HP board of directors gave Fiorina twenty-one million dollars to just go away – two and a half times her annual salary plus bonus and the balance from accelerated vesting of stock options. She did well. She hasn’t worked since. That must mean something. Both say this means a lot. They know how to win.

Do they? Perhaps Donald Trump will open his next event in a slinky dress, singing Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend. And Anita Loos could create wonderful “shady lady” screenplays, where the aggressive woman who laughs at sentiment gets just what she wants. She’d understand Carly Fiorina. Anita Loos would also be laughing her ass off.

Posted in Carly Fiorina, Donald Trump | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Riding Humiliation to Victory

For the record – Friday, September 18, 2015, marked the beginning of the end of Donald Trump’s odd run for the presidency, or years from now, historians will note that this was the day that two-term President Trump took a day off before he stormed to the Republican nomination the next summer and then won the presidency in a landslide that November. It’s hard to tell which, but he did take the day off:

Donald Trump canceled his appearance Friday evening at a major campaign stop for the GOP presidential field in South Carolina as he faces criticism from both Republican and Democratic candidates over his failure to address claims that President Obama is a Muslim and “not even an American.”

Trump’s campaign announced in a statement Friday he no longer plans to speak at the Heritage Action Presidential Forum at the Bon Secours Arena in Greenville.

“Mr. Trump has a significant business transaction that was expected to close Thursday,” the campaign said. “Due to the delay he is unable to attend today’s Heritage Action Presidential Forum. He sends his regrets and looks forward to being with the great people of South Carolina on Wednesday in Columbia.”

No one was buying it. This must be due to his not correcting some nasty comments made by two men at a Thursday night rally:

During that event, one unidentified man said, “We have a problem in this country – it’s called Muslims,” adding, “We know our current president is one. You know he’s not even an American,” the man added. “That’s my question, when can we get rid of them?”

Trump responded, “We’re going to be looking at a lot of different things. A lot of people are saying bad things are happening, [and] we’re going to be looking at that and plenty of other things.”

A second Trump supporter endorsed the first man’s claims during his own moment in the question-and-answer session.

“I applaud the gentlemen who stood and said that Obama is a Muslim born abroad,” he said.

“Right,” Trump replied before moving on to the next questioner.

Trump has repeatedly questioned the president’s background – he once said he’d sent a crack team of investigators to Hawaii to look into Obama’s fake birth certificate and “what they found was incredible” – but since then he’s kind of dropped the whole thing. Is it back now? Perhaps he can’t let it go. Adam Gopnik has a theory. It was that 2011 White House Correspondents dinner:

Not only, as we did not know then, was President Obama in the midst of the operation that would lead shortly to Osama bin Laden’s killing; it was also the night when, despite that preoccupation, the President took apart Donald Trump, plastic piece by orange part, and then refused to put him back together again.

Trump was then at the height of his unimaginably ugly marketing of birther fantasies, and, just days before, the state of Hawaii had, at the President’s request, released Obama’s long-form birth certificate in order to end, or try to end, the nonsense. Having referred to that act he then gently but acutely mocked Trump’s Presidential ambitions – “I know that he’s taken some flack lately. No one is prouder to put this birth-certificate matter to rest than the Donald. And that’s because he can finally get back to the issues that matter, like: did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And – where are Biggie and Tupac?” The President went on, “We all know about your credentials and breadth of experience. For example – no, seriously – just recently, in an episode of Celebrity Apprentice” – there was laughter at the mention of the program’s name. Obama explained that, when a team did not impress, Trump “didn’t blame Lil Jon or Meatloaf – you fired Gary Busey. And these are the kinds of decisions that would keep me up at night.”

That was cool and playful and oddly fair, but Gopnik was there and saw this:

Seated a few tables away from us magazine scribes, Trump’s humiliation was as absolute, and as visible, as any I have ever seen: his head set in place, like a man in a pillory, he barely moved or altered his expression as wave after wave of laughter struck him. There was not a trace of feigning good humor about him, not an ounce of the normal politician’s, or American regular guy’s “Hey, good one on me!” attitude – that thick-skinned cheerfulness that almost all American public people learn, however painfully, to cultivate. No head bobbing or hand-clapping or chin-shaking or sheepish grinning – he sat perfectly still, chin tight, in locked, unmovable rage. If he had not just embarked on so ugly an exercise in pure racism, one might almost have felt sorry for him.

Someday someone may well write a kind of micro-history of that night, as historians now are wont to do, as a pivot in American life, both a triumph of Obama’s own particular and enveloping form of cool and as harbinger of – well, of what exactly?

Gopnik suggests the rage that made Trump finally run for president, to show Obama a thing or two. This was personal:

The politics of populist nationalism are almost entirely the politics of felt humiliation – the politics of shame. And one can’t help but suspect that, on that night, Trump’s own sense of public humiliation became so overwhelming that he decided, perhaps at first unconsciously, that he would, somehow, get his own back – perhaps even pursue the Presidency after all, no matter how nihilistically or absurdly, and redeem himself. Though he gave up the hunt for office in that campaign, it does not seem too far-fetched to imagine that the rage implanted in him that night has fueled him ever since.

That’s an interesting theory, and Trump really has become the face of the politics of felt humiliation. We must make America great again, right? Those two guys at that rally were humiliated that Muslims are taking over everywhere, with their Sharia law and whatnot. Or it’s the Mexican drug dealers and rapists and murderers pouring across our border and killing everyone in sight and then living high on the hog on our social services, and laughing at us. That’s humiliating and that has to stop. And the Chinese are eating our lunch. And everyone now in office here is so stupid that the world is laughing at us. Or the damned pointy-headed intellectuals have abandoned good keep-it-simple common sense. Knowing too much and subtle thinking is as bad as stupidity. All of it is humiliating. Those two guys at the Thursday night rally may have gotten the details wrong, but they certainly got the idea right. Trump didn’t correct them because he didn’t notice the details. Everyone was in the zone.

That’s a bad place to be, because you can end up making things up. Obama is a Christian. Obama talks about his faith often enough, although his favorite theologian seems to be Reinhold Niebuhr, so Obama talks about moral complexity a lot. Evangelicals deny there is any such thing as moral complexity – but it’s all Jesus-talk. No one is quoting the Koran, and Obama was born in Hawaii. That matter was settled long ago. Obama wasn’t born in Kenya. The Mau-Mau tribes aren’t slipping in to kill all the white folks. Trump could have told those two guys at the rally to drop this nasty total bullshit. That sort of thing is dangerous. Someone could get killed.

Trump said nothing. Others saw that as irresponsible:

“At the end of the day, this is a defining moment for Mr. Trump,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell in an interview. “The man in the audience who asked that question needs to be put in his place.” Graham added that he would not have tolerated similar behavior and that Trump should apologize for not objecting to the men and their accusations.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, also slammed Trump on Friday for not defending Obama’s background. “I think that’s a disgrace, to again question whether or not the president of the United States was born in this country and whether he’s a Christian,” he said on CBS This Morning. “I thought we were beyond that,” he added. “It is an outrage.”

Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) mocked Trump’s decision not to attend the Heritage Action forum on Friday afternoon but did not mention the incident the night before. … “Filing for bankruptcy again?” the GOP presidential candidate asked of Trump. “Perhaps 5th time is the charm…”

Yeah, what was that a significant business transaction that came up? He needed to be at this Heritage Action Presidential Forum:

The event is a big landing point for Southern conservatives three days after the 2016 Republican presidential pack met in a heated debate airing from Simi Valley, Calif., on CNN. The front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination has repeatedly defended himself against charges he is not a true conservative during campaign stops earlier this summer.

This doesn’t help, but it was obviously decision time. Apologize for the slip – tell the world that you know bullshit when you hear it. Obama is a Christian and a citizen and you should have told those two guys to cut the crap, because there are real issues that need to be addressed. Dismiss them and talk about Obamacare or the new Trump Wall or something – or go the other way, go back to 2011 or so. Say Obama is a Muslim. Say he wasn’t born in Hawaii and he never was a citizen. Those two guys had it right – America should be appalled by all this, and we do need to get rid of all Muslims in America – and then ride that widely shared sense of white national humiliation to victory. Is that widely shared? Apologize for the momentary lapse and you’ll look statesmanlike and sensible and even presidential. Don’t apologize and you could be president. It was probably worth taking a day off to make this decision.

There’s only one problem. There’s now no way to apologize. At the National Review Online, Jim Geraghty explains:

Trump’s steadfast refusal to apologize for his controversial antics may be the most striking thing about him. A significant portion of the Republican base craves it, and a handful of pro-Trump conservative pundits do too.

There’s a source for this:

None of them looms larger, perhaps, than Ann Coulter. It makes sense. Trump has given political expression to a model of conservative discourse perfected by Coulter and subsequently emulated by Glenn Beck, Mark Levin, Michael Savage, and others: 1) Say something controversial or provocative and get a ton of attention in the process. 2) When the media and the Left inevitably demand an apology, adamantly refuse to provide one, driving your critics batty and burnishing your conservative credentials with the base. It’s been Coulter’s modus operandi for her entire, lucrative career, and now Trump has brought it to the campaign trail: A real conservative never says he’s sorry.

Trump didn’t apologize to John McCain for his comments disparaging the Arizona senator’s service during the Vietnam War; he insisted he’d been taken out of context. After seeming to suggest that Fox News debate moderator Megyn Kelly had been menstruating when she asked him to defend his history of sexist remarks about women, Trump said he had done “nothing wrong whatsoever.”

God can’t even get an apology from Trump. When Frank Luntz asked Trump if he had ever sought forgiveness from the Lord, Trump responded: “I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there… When I drink my little wine – which is about the only wine I drink – and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness, and I do that as often as possible because I feel cleansed.”

And this has trapped him:

When other candidates apologize, Trump describes it as weakness. After former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley apologized to the Black Lives Matter movement for pointing out that “all lives matter,” Trump pounced. “O’Malley apologized like a little baby,” the GOP front-runner complained. “Like a disgusting, little, weak, pathetic baby – and that’s the problem with our country.”

Trump has no option now. He certainly cannot apologize for anything, so the answer was misdirection:

Donald Trump is skipping a scheduled appearance at the Heritage Foundation’s Presidential Forum this weekend because of a “significant business transaction,” but his deal-making didn’t stop him from releasing an unexpected policy proposal on the Second Amendment on Friday afternoon.

In the new proposal, Trump advocates for the elimination of all gun and magazine bans, the creation of national concealed carry permits and the toughening of sentencing laws for felonies committed with firearms.

Writing that it is “imperative” to preserve Second Amendment rights, Trump’s plan pushes for rules that “empower law-abiding gun owners to defend themselves.”

“Our personal protection is ultimately up to us. That’s why I’m a gun owner, that’s why I have a concealed carry permit and that’s why tens of millions of Americans have concealed carry permits as well,” he writes.

Arm everyone because the government is useless:

Trump’s policy paper calls gun and magazine bans “a total failure” and attacks attempts to expand background check programs as misguided because “very few criminals are stupid enough to try and pass a background check – they get their guns from friends/family members or by stealing them.”

Trump’s aggressive rejection of gun regulations is a reversal for the Republican presidential candidate, who wrote in his 2000 book “The America We Deserve” that he supported an assault weapons ban and longer waiting periods for gun buyers.

Now he doesn’t:

The release of the new plan caught observers by surprise. Trump had recently teased that a new policy proposal on his tax plan would be released in two to four weeks, but gun policy was not something talked about in depth prior to Friday’s release.

This may have been a diversion, but Emily Atkin sees this:

Donald Trump imagines a world where regular citizens can buy automatic weapons; where gun owners can hide their weapons in any state; where there are no expanded background checks for gun purchases; and where citizens fight crime with their own assault rifles. …

A few parts of Trump’s statement focus on concealed carry, or the right for gun owners to walk around in public with their weapons hidden. He advocated for a federal law that mimics a driver’s license – in other words, if you get a concealed carry permit in one state, it should be enforceable in other states. Currently, there is no federal law addressing this – though all 50 states allow concealed carry with some type of permit, each permit has different terms, and is only enforceable in the state in which it was given.

This position is particularly personal to Trump. “Our personal protection is ultimately up to us,” his statement reads. “That’s why I’m a gun owner, that’s why I have a concealed carry permit, and that’s why tens of millions of Americans have concealed carry permits as well.”

Personal protection was another theme of Trump’s plan, which advocated “empowering” citizens to defend themselves and fight crime with their own weapons.

And any weapon is fine:

“Law-abiding people should be allowed to own the firearm of their choice,” he added. “The government has no business dictating what types of firearms good, honest people are allowed to own.”

Some might prefer rocket-propelled grenades, others might prefer full automatic heavy machine guns – “Law enforcement is great, they do a tremendous job, but they can’t be everywhere all of the time.”

So then there’s this:

Instead of placing restrictions on firearms or endorsement more stringent background checks, Trump’s new plan focuses on expanding access to mental health care – though it does lack specifics on how much funds should be allocated, and what type of treatment programs should be focused on. Instead, it just says this: “We need to expand treatment programs, because most people with mental health problems aren’t violent, they just need help.”

Now no one will be talking about those two guys at his rally, and there was Obama in the UK in July:

President Barack Obama has admitted that his failure to pass “common sense gun safety laws” in the US is the greatest frustration of his presidency.

In an interview with the BBC, Mr Obama said it was “distressing” not to have made progress on the issue “even in the face of repeated mass killings.”

He vowed to keep trying, but the BBC’s North America editor Jon Sopel said the president did not sound very confident.

At the time, Ed Kilgore added this:

Any British audience would be puzzled by this phenomenon, but then the Brits aren’t exactly freedom-loving, are they?

Well, actually they are, as are people in a lot of other advanced countries where there’s no expectation of any right to set oneself up as a private army.

And that gets to one of the roots of the ideology of “American exceptionalism.” If you compare the U.S. to other nations where there are reasonably solid traditions of self-government, respect for law, and democratic accountability, in what respect do we enjoy more “liberty?”

When people tearfully sing along with Lee Greenwood’s “I’m proud to be an American,” what do they mean when they say “at least I know I’m free,” as compared, say, to a Canadian? The only thing readily identifiable is our unique freedom to pack heat. And so long as that is thought to be integral to American identity, and protected by powerful and wealthy interest groups, including maybe one-and-a-half major political parties, then efforts to take the most reasonable steps to keep guns out of the hands of potential shooters will continue to be “frustrated.”

And now he adds this:

I love my country, and I don’t want to live anywhere else. But I sure wish fewer of us thought of “freedom” as just another word for packing heat, and even fewer thought they had the right to stockpile weapons in case they decide it’s necessary to overthrow the government and impose their will on the rest of us.

Yeah, but they’ve been humiliated. There’s a Muslim from Kenya in the White House. Well, maybe not, but Mexican drug dealers and rapists and murderers are pouring across our border and killing everyone in sight and then living high on the hog on our social services, and laughing at us. Well, maybe not, but the Chinese are eating our lunch. Well, maybe not, but everyone now in office here is so stupid that the world is laughing at us. Well, maybe not, but… something.

Trump gets it. The politics of populist nationalism are almost entirely the politics of felt humiliation – the politics of shame – and that may get him to the White House. On the other hand, this may be the beginning of the end of Donald Trump’s odd run for the presidency. Shame isn’t cured by nonsense. Donald Trump took a day off to think about that.

Posted in Donald Trump | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments