Thursday, May 26, 2016


There's a recurring motif in every story about hardcore Bernie Sanders supporters. Here's Molly Ball at The Atlantic:
A 25-year-old art model named Vanna Mae Caldwell told me, “Here is what they don’t tell you: None of the superdelegates have actually voted yet!” ... If Sanders does not get the nomination, Caldwell will not be able to bring herself to vote for either Clinton or Donald Trump, whom she sees as two sides of the same corporate coin; she’ll vote instead for the Green Party’s candidate, Jill Stein. “I’m Bernie or Bust,” she said proudly.
Here's Ruby Cramer at BuzzFeed:
But for more than 30 minutes, Bill Clinton stayed to argue every point, turning a routine retail stop at Tia Sophia’s, a Mexican restaurant here in Santa Fe, into a one-on-one debate with [Josh] Brody, a recent graduate of New York’s New School, who said he supported Hillary Clinton’s Democratic challenger. “For the next few weeks -- then I’ll be a Stein supporter,” he added of Green Party candidate Jill Stein.
In just about every story I read about Clinton-hating Sanders supporters, the typical plan for the fall is a vote for Jill Stein.

I've been told that Stein can't possibly do what Ralph Nader did in 2000:

But look at the very next paragraph in that Molly Ball story:
Caldwell discovered Sanders last year through Tumblr and YouTube videos. She is an active member of three different Sanders-boosting Facebook groups and livestreams once a week “to motivate people to vote for Bernie.” It has changed their lives, being a part of this movement. Something like that doesn’t just end. Does it?
Yes, Nader benefited from a level of name recognition Stein doesn't have, but that 2000 election took place in a world with no Facebook, no Twitter, no Tunblr, no Reddit. If Berners can discover Bernie online, they can discover Stein there, too. Electoral politics in 2000 was still like shopping for CDs -- you had to go out of your way to find out about something obscure. Politics is a lot more like Spotify now -- everyone has access to every choice.

Also, 2000 was a year of apparent peace and prosperity, when the public didn't seem to be thoroughly fed up with the system; Nader won nearly 3% of the vote in spite of that. 2016 is a year when disgust with the existing order is widespread,. Voter disgust is also part of every reporter's narrative; as a result, the press is primed to give Stein a lot of coverage, especially if it seems that the Democratic nominee doesn't embody voter dissatisfaction the way the Republican nominee does.

Data journalists think the Berners will come home to the Democratic Party because that's how it usually works -- supporters of failed Democratic primary candidates generally don't stray in November, even if they're not registered Democrats. Here's FiveThirtyEight's Harry Enten:
Most voters who identify as independent consistently vote for one party or the other in presidential elections. In a Gallup poll taken in early April, for instance, 41 percent of independents (who made up 44 percent of all respondents) leaned Democratic, and 36 percent leaned Republican. Just 23 percent of independents had no partisan preference. In the last three presidential elections, the Democratic candidate received the support of no less than 88 percent of self-identified independents who leaned Democratic, according to the American National Elections Studies survey. These are, in effect, Democratic voters with a different name.

... that we’re talking about Clinton’s need to win over Democratic-leaning independents rather than true independents is a hopeful sign for her campaign -- these voters have tended to stick with the Democratic Party.
New York magazine's Ed Kilgore adds:
Yes, Clinton may need to work on this category of voters, but the idea that they are unreachable or likely to defect to Trump doesn't make a whole lot of sense. These aren't left-bent voters who have lurked in hiding for years, waiting for a Democrat free of Wall Street ties or militaristic tendencies, and they're not truly unaffiliated voters who will enter the general election as likely to vote for a Republican as a Democrat. They've been around for a while, and in fact they are being affected by partisan polarization more than the self-identified partisans who have almost always put on the party yoke. So while a majority of these Democratic-leaning independents clearly prefer Bernie Sanders as the Democratic nominee, they represent a reservoir of votes that are ultimately Hillary Clinton's to lose.
But these voters aren't Democrats-in-everything-but-name; they hate the Democratic Party, which they think is antithetical to their progressivism. As Ball notes, they don't think Hillary is left-leaning at all:
Many Sanders supporters told me they had once liked Clinton, but over the course of the primary they have come to dislike and distrust her. “I didn’t originally have a very strong opinion about her, but now I don’t like her very much,” Brett Miller, a 33-year-old waiter in Anaheim, told me at Sanders’s rally there. He’d come to see her as a bought-and-paid-for pol with no firm principles. A Sanders supporter wearing a “Hillary for Prison 2016” T-shirt got approving whistles thumbs-ups as he strode through the crowd. A video-game developer named Adam Riggs said he wouldn’t vote for Clinton even if Sanders asked him to.
Do I think they'll come around to the Democratic Party, as either registered members or unaffiliated voters who regularly vote Democratic?

Yup -- if Trump wins. It was a hell of a lot harder to argue that the two parties are interchangeable once we had the experience of the Bush presidency. But voters in their mid-twenties were in grade school for most of that. They have to learn the lesson from scratch.


So first we had this, in the wake of Hillary Clinton's rejection of a Fox News debate with Bernie Sanders:

And now the craziness might actually happen:
Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have seemingly agreed in principle to give the world the debate it's been waiting for.

Appearing on ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live" in a show that aired Wednesday night, Trump said he would be willing to debate Sanders if proceeds from such an event went to charity.

Within minutes of the statement airing, Sanders had agreed to the idea.

#BernieTrumpDebate is trending on Twitter, driven (as far as I can tell) exclusively by Sanders fans.

In a bizarre year like this, of course a Sanders-Trump debate could happen. But if it does happen, it won't be a debate.

Donald Trump has no reason to attack Bernie Sanders or seriously challenge him on the issues. Trump knows his general election opponent will be Clinton, even if Sanders and his fans don't. Trump is vicious toward "Crooked Hillary," but he pokes gentle fun at Sanders:
'I just want to run against her. Look, I don't know if you're going to be able to. It could be we run against Crazy Bernie. That could be.'

'He's a crazy man, but that's okay. We like crazy people,' Trump said of Sanders.
Trump will spend most of the "debate" either agreeing with Sanders (on trade deals, on the need for more jobs) or chiding him gently. Trump will have no motivation to bang heads with Sanders -- remember, in the primaries he attacked opponents only when they seemed to be gaining on him in polls of upcoming contests. Trump's goal will be to use the words of Sanders as a club to beat Clinton with. Sanders won't see that coming, though he certainly won't object when it happens. He'll pile on.

It's not going to be a great moment in the history of Western democracy. Sorry, kids.

Clinton's rejection of a final Fox debate with Sanders is the kind of thing that happens in a lot of elections. Candidates with a lead often choose not to debate because they're protecting a lead. As a rule, the voters don't care. Maybe Clinton reneged on a promise to debate (but she'd be crazy to debate on Fox, where the pro-GOP bosses want Sanders to humiliate her) -- but Sanders's insistence on a final debate is also cynicism masquerading as idealism. Yes, there were too few debates scheduled at first, but by now the public has watched nine Democratic debates and twelve candidate forums in which Sanders and Clinton have appeared. None of these have taken place in California, but I'm pretty sure they have TV in California. And the campaign has gone on for more than a year. Have we not had the opportunity to find out what these candidates stand for?

Sanders fans think a Trump-Sanders debate would be the ideal punishment for Clinton because she turned down the Fox debate. The irony here is that Trump, a while back, refused to participate in a Fox debate, held what he described as a fund-raising event for veterans instead, claimed to raised more money for veteran than was actually delivered, claimed a personal donation to veteran that he never actually made until he was pressured to donate by media scrutiny -- and he's gaining in the polls. IOKIYDT.


AND: I didn't mention the most obvious reason Trump will try to be Mr. Nice Guy in an appearance with Sanders: because he thinks he can win Sanders voters. Can he? It's hard to say, but much of the political world thinks he can. So he'll take great pains not to alienate Berners.



(Via Jonathan Chait, who agrees with me that the losers of such a debate would have been Clinton and the Democrats.)


Sanders can't pressure Trump. What does Trump have to lose if he blows this off? But apparently he thinks he can't be sure it would be a 2-on-1 attack on Clinton, so he's backing down. That'll be the end of it.

Or maybe he thinks he derives the maximum benefit in this situation from giving Sanders the line "Donald Trump is afraid to debate me!" That will help him in the Democratic homestretch, which is ratfuck enough for Trump.



So we'll see.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


It's a rare day when Charlie Pierce and Power Line's John Hinderaker agree on something, but they agree that continued violent protest against Donald Trump will probably put him in the White House. Here's Hinderaker, from a post titled "Electing Trump, One Riot at a Time":
Last night in Albuquerque, rioters attacked a Donald Trump rally. Several tried to disrupt the event and had to be removed from the crowd. Most remained outside, throwing rocks at the hall and burning objects at policemen....

Liberals will try to imply that violence by anti-Trump rioters is somehow Trump’s fault, but they can’t sell that theory. Most people dislike riots and rioters just as much today as they did in 1968. Trump has risen to the top of the political heap in large part because of the enemies he has made. During the primaries, the more he was denounced by liberal reporters, the more votes he got. The same will happen in the general election if voters see that he is besieged by left-wing rioters.
Hinderaker, of coursed, would be pleased at that outcome. Pierce, not so much:
What happened in Albuquerque Tuesday night not only was pointless, it was utterly stupid. It gave the campaign of He, Trump enough footage to create campaign ads all the way through his re-election campaign in 2020. It gave cable news a chance to monger some fear; by midnight, the CNN reporter on the scene was practically begging the cops to unleash hell on the people "who won't go home." It turned He, Trump into a victim....

One of the most important ways to defeat He, Trump is to be smarter than he is. That shouldn't be difficult but, so far, it's eluded the other Republican contenders, and the Clinton campaign, and the people who show up at his rallies who can't seem to understand that, by doing so, they become part of the show.

Stay across the street. Protest silently and, in the name of god, don't be such easy marks.
But I'm sticking with what I said in the last post: Violent protest makes Trump seem like the candidate who's courting chaos. If we're all going to look back on 1968, let's recall that the winner of that year's election was the candidate whose campaign wasn't associated with violent protest in the public mind. The Republican convention that year wasn't comparable to Chicago, which became a millstone around Hubert Humphrey's neck. And the candidate who finished third had a Trump-like habit of courting violence at his rallies:
“The confrontation with the hecklers became a highly stylized feature of every Wallace rally,” writes Lloyd Rohler in his book George Wallace: Conservative Populist. “Violence seemed always to be lurking in the background and it frequently burst forth.” At a Wallace rally on October 29 in Detroit, reported the Chicago Tribune, “wild, chair-swinging violence erupted” as “Wallace supporters and some of several thousand hecklers clashed, first with fists and then with folding chairs … Wallace supporters struck handcuffed hecklers as they were being led away by police, who did not interfere.”
The winner of that year's election was the guy fraudulently claiming that he'd govern as a healer, the one who said he had a secret plan to end a divisive war, the one whose campaign cynically took its slogan from a sign held up at a rally: "Bring Us Together."

Voters wanted to believe that Richard Nixon would calm troubled waters. Donald Trump doesn't even want voters to believe he'll bring calm -- he clearly wants to butt heads with everyone who looks at him crosswise. Some percentage of the country wants that, but I don't think it will be a majority.

I could be wrong and Charlie Pierce could be right -- he usually is. But in a country where even partisans say they hate partisanship and want compromise, I'm not sure being the candidate associated with violent unrest is a successful strategy.

The wild card here is whether Hillary Clinton gets yoked to violence by the planned Sanderspalooza outside the Democratic convention. Organizers of the planned pro-Bernie protests say they'll be peaceful. We'll have to wait and see how that works out.


I've been thinking that disruptive protests at Donald Trump rallies are counterproductive, but I wonder if they're sending a message to a certain other group of angry voters.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- In one of the presidential campaign year's more grisly spectacles, protesters in New Mexico opposing Donald Trump's candidacy threw burning T-shirts, plastic bottles and other items at police officers, injuring several, and toppled trash cans and barricades.

Police responded by firing pepper spray and smoke grenades into the crowd outside the Albuquerque Convention Center.

During the rally, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee was interrupted repeatedly by protesters, who shouted, held up banners and resisted removal by security officers.

The banners included the messages "Trump is Fascist" and "We've heard enough."
We keep being told that Clinton-hating Bernie Sanders supporters might pull the level for Trump this year. But maybe unrest at Trump rallies -- led by the usual Guy Fawkes mask-wearing agitators -- will convey the sense that no self-respecting "revolutionary" would back Trump.

I'm sure some Sanders supporters will vote for Trump. At Politico, Josh Zeitz reminds us that some supporters of Eugene McCarthy in 1968 and Ted Kennedy in 1980 actually weren't left-leaning, and ultimately voted, respectively, for George Wallace and Ronald Reagan.
While many of McCarthy’s supporters were genuinely opposed to the war in Vietnam, exit polls showed that a majority thought of themselves as hawks and voted against LBJ to register dissatisfaction with the slow pace of the war effort. Others were unhappy about skyrocketing inflation and urban unrest and simply wanted to register their discontent with the status quo. Lyndon Johnson’s private pollster found that 55 percent of McCarthy voters supported the conventional bombing campaign against North Vietnam, while only 29 percent opposed it....

Exit polls showed that roughly 18 percent of McCarthy’s primary voters ended up supporting Wallace.

... On election day [1980], some 27 percent of Edward Kennedy’s primary supporters cast their votes for Reagan.
But if there are Democratic primary voters like this in 2016, they'll be the more right-leaning voters, people who probably would have voted Republican in the general election in any case. (There were more of these voters in the Democratic Party in 1968 and even 1980 than there are today.)

I've been worried about self-defined progressives deciding that a Trump vote is a thumb in the eye to the hated Clinton. Unrest at Trump rallies might remind these folks who the real enemy is.

And if we're talking about 1968, let's remember that, after the Chicago convention, the Democrats seemed like the party that presided over chaos. If unrest continues to follow Trump, he'll be associated with chaos in the minds of a lot of moderate voters. That's not going to help him with those voters.

I'm not rooting for violence at Trump rallies. But if it continues to happen, it might be much more of a burden for Trump than it was in the primaries.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


David Brooks has been boring me lately -- these days I can't even be bothered to hate-read him most of the time -- so I wasn't going to address today's column about Hillary Clinton, titled "Why Is Clinton Disliked?" But it's inspired a lot of responses, so I'll tell you why his theory makes no sense.

Brooks writes:
But what exactly do so many have against her?

I would begin my explanation with this question: Can you tell me what Hillary Clinton does for fun?

... when people talk about Clinton, they tend to talk of her exclusively in professional terms. For example, on Nov. 16, 2015, Peter D. Hart conducted a focus group on Clinton. Nearly every assessment had to do with on-the-job performance. She was “multitask-oriented” or “organized” or “deceptive.” ...

Clinton’s unpopularity is akin to the unpopularity of a workaholic....

At least in her public persona, Clinton gives off an exclusively professional vibe: industrious, calculated, goal-oriented, distrustful. It’s hard from the outside to have a sense of her as a person; she is a role.

This formal, career-oriented persona puts her in direct contrast with the mores of the social media age, which is intimate, personalist, revealing, trusting and vulnerable. It puts her in conflict with most people’s lived experience. Most Americans feel more vivid and alive outside the work experience than within. So of course to many she seems Machiavellian, crafty, power-oriented, untrustworthy.
There are three people left in the presidential race, and only one has a positive favorable rating in public opinion polls. Quick: What does Bernie Sanders do for fun? Do you know? Do the people who like him know? Does Brooks know?

Donald Trump is viewed negatively by most Americans, but a lot of people really, really like him. Elsewhere in the column, Brooks says, "We know, unfortunately, what Trump does for fun." And what is that exactly? He has a reputation as a womanizer, but that seems to be mostly in his past. Yes, he plays golf -- but other than that, he conveys the impression that his idea of fun is doing deals and making money. So the people who like Trump like him because they think he works hard.

Bernie's fans think he's extremely focused on his political crusade, and they like him for it; they don't like him because they think he has a well-rounded life with lots of hobbies.

The difference is that Sanders, even though he may not exactly be a happy warrior, seems to draw energy from campaigning. Trump does too. They seem to be enjoying themselves.

Clinton doesn't. She seemed to have grace and panache when she was secretary of state (as Paul Glastris notes, at that time she was well liked and seen as a workaholic). Now she seems awkward. Politics doesn't come naturally to her. Public speaking seems painful for her.

I've cued up a clip of Clinton from last night's Rachel Maddow Show, and I'd like you to watch a minute of it. Watch Clinton as she gives a speech: Her face is stern and scowling and her gestures are stiff, even when she gets to an applause line about beating Trump.

And then we cut to another moment on the same podium: Clinton greets a political ally and there's sheer joy on her face. You can see the two of them are friends, and so you see Hillary as a human being. I'm assuming that second part actually came first, before Clinton gave the speech; Clinton was happy -- and then she had to do the part of her work she struggles with. But that real person is in there. In that happy moment, she seems likable. But it's clearly difficult for her to summon that person up when she's doing most of the work a candidate does.

If she has a problem, I think that's it -- and if you're inclined to distrust her, you can read what you want into that stern countenance. We're all told, in childhood stories and a great deal of popular culture, that evil people are transparently unpleasant. They scowl as they plot to do dastardly things. That's what Hillary-haters think she's doing. That's why they think she's scowling: because fairytale villains and villainesses scowl. Scowling goes together with deviousness and malign intent.

In real life, villains often have a great time. Trump is a terrible person, but some people think he isn't because he's enjoying himself. If you're conditioned to equate joy with beneficence, Hillary looks like a bad person. And, alas, that may help decide the election.


The D.C. Establishment doesn't love the Clintons, but everyone apart from wingnuts and fringe-dwellers has for years accepted the conclusion that Vince Foster killed himself. The story was laid to rest -- at least until Donald Trump revived it:
One issue on Trump’s radar is the 1993 death of Foster, which has been ruled a suicide by law enforcement officials and a subsequent federal investigation....

When asked in an interview last week about the Foster case, Trump dealt with it as he has with many edgy topics -- raising doubts about the official version of events even as he says he does not plan to talk about it on the campaign trail.

He called theories of possible foul play “very serious” and the circumstances of Foster’s death “very fishy.”

“He had intimate knowledge of what was going on,” Trump said, speaking of Foster’s relationship with the Clintons at the time. “He knew everything that was going on, and then all of a sudden he committed suicide.”

He added, “I don’t bring [Foster’s death] up because I don’t know enough to really discuss it. I will say there are people who continue to bring it up because they think it was absolutely a murder. I don’t do that because I don’t think it’s fair.”
Trump could have said that he believes what investigators have concluded, but of course he didn't. And now Foster conspiracy theories are a legitimate topic of conversation again:
Haley Barbour Indulges Vince Foster Conspiracy Theory: ‘I Have No Idea’

Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) said Tuesday that he has “no idea” whether the Clintons were behind the death of White House staffer Vince Foster, leaving the door open to a decades-old conspiracy theory.

Asked on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" about presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump raising the theory that Foster's 1993 death was the result of foul play, Barbour first tried to blame The Washington Post for asking Trump about the issue.

“You know what question is coming next,” MSNBC's Joe Scarborough responded. “Do you think Vince Foster was murdered by the Clintons?”

“I have no idea and have no suspicion that's the case. But I don't know,” Barbour responded.

“That, sir, is the correct answer!” Scarborough interrupted. “You don’t even have to say you don’t know!”

“But I don’t know,” the former Republican National Committee chairman continued. “Because it’s obvious I don’t know.”
Martin Longman (BooMan) can tell you in detail why the revival of this conspiracy theory is outrageous.

And I've told you on a number of occasions why indulging the fantasies of Ed Klein is outrageous, but Trump told us on Twitter today that he wants us to wallow in the sewer with Klein, too:

So when Trump starts peddling stories cooked up by the guy who tells us that Hillary Clinton is an angry radical lesbian whose only child was conceived via marital rape, I suppose everyone in the media will take the allegations seriously and spread them around by asking other Republicans what they think about them, even though Klein's work has been justifiably dismissed as garbage by the media in recent years.

So isDonald Trump is becoming the new "puke funnel" -- a one-man conduit directing (or redirecting) sleazy stories from the fringe to the legitimate press? "Puke funnel" was James Carville's term for a process that was described this way in a memo from Clinton World in the days of Bill's administration:
The Communication Stream of Conspiracy Commerce refers to the mode of communication employed by the right wing to convey their fringe stories into legitimate subjects of coverage by the mainstream media. This is how the stream works. First, well funded right wing think tanks and individuals underwrite conservative newsletters and newspapers such as the Western Journalism Center, the American Spectator and the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. Next, the stories are reprinted on the internet where they are bounced all over the world. From the internet, the stories are bounced into the mainstream media through one of two ways: 1) The story will be picked up by the British tabloids and covered as a major story, from which the American right-of-center mainstream media, (i.e. the Wall Street Journal, Washington Times and New York Post) will then pick the story up; or 2) The story will be bounced directly from the internet to the right-of-center mainstream American media. After the mainstream right-of-center media covers the story, Congressional committees will look into the story. After Congress looks into the story, the story now has the legitimacy to be covered by the remainder of the American mainstream press as a "real" story.
Trump might now be in the process of replacing several of those steps with, well, himself.

But he can do that only if the press allows him to. Are journalists going to let Trump funnel puke into their stories? Are they going to treat any swill he stirs up as legitimate news? It's their choice.


You probably know that a bullet was just dodged in Austria:
Right-wing Austrian presidential candidate Norbert Hofer has lost a runoff election against liberal opponent Alexander Van der Bellen 50.3 percent to 49.7 percent, the country's interior minister announced. Hofer is a member of the Freedom Party, a group founded in the 1950s by former Nazis and led for many years by the nationalist politician Jörg Haider, who died in 2008. Hofer carried a handgun while campaigning and advocates strict limits on immigration and the admittance of refugees.
What you may not know is that the demographics of this election look very similar to polls of the U.S. presidential election -- not just in terms of social class or place of residence, but in terms of gender:
In nine out of Austria's 10 main cities Mr Van der Bellen came top, whereas Mr Hofer dominated the rural areas, the Austrian broadcaster ORF reported (in German).

Support for Mr Hofer was exceptionally strong among manual workers - nearly 90%. The vote for Mr Van der Bellen was much stronger among people with a university degree or other higher education qualifications.

Support for Mr Hofer among men was 60%, while among women it was 60% for Mr Van der Bellen.
In an election focused on the immigration debate, the far-rightist was backed by rural voters, blue collar workers -- and men in general.

But these things become gendered, don't they? There are far-rightists (and immigrant-bashers) in both genders, but a lot of men seem to take the presence in their country of people they don't like as a personal affront to their manhood. And men generally seem to appreciate politicians who offer them a license to hate.

It wasn't quite enough for a victory in Austria; let's hope we dodge the same bullet.

(Via Billmon.)

Monday, May 23, 2016


I knew that Newt Gingrich was lobbying to be Donald Trump's running mate, but I didn't realize that he'd become an extremely trusted Trump insider. National Review's Eliana Johnson reports:
Gingrich has a reputation for insinuating himself into campaigns by firing off dozens of e-mails brimming with ideas that range from brilliant to insane. While it’s a quality that has irritated previous presidential candidates such as John McCain and Mitt Romney, sources say that Trump has come to value the former speaker’s opinions.

“They talk every day,” says a source familiar with the relationship, who claims that Gingrich e-mails Trump, campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and campaign manager Corey Lewandowski “countless times a day.” On Friday, the source says Gingrich sent five messages after lunch, musing on everything from Fox host Megyn Kelly’s interview with Trump to Trump’s recently announced list of potential Supreme Court nominees to ideas for targeting Bernie Sanders’s voters.

“I think he’s viewed as a very valuable ally to have,” Rollins says.
Wow, it's like All About Eve, except with two doughy, egomaniacal old men.

Here's the creepy part:
Gingrich’s influence within Trump World is widespread. Inside Trump’s newly established campaign offices in Washington, D.C., his fingerprints are everywhere. “Right from the minute I joined we were told that Newt will have his hand in every major policy effort,” says one Trump aide. “So one of the things I do when I’m researching or writing anything, in addition to looking at what Trump has said about anything, I look at what Newt has said.”
Well, it's perfect: Trump realizes he knows nothing about politics or any of the issues presidents deal with. Gingrich has been waiting all his life for someone to treat him as the World's Foremost Authority (on politics and everything else). Trump takes Gingrich's ideas seriously and Gingrich's ego gets what it wants. Gingrich takes Trump seriously (very, very seriously) and Trump's ego gets what it wants. It's an ideal match.

If Gingrich does become Trump's running mate, it's going to be the first major-party ticket in history in which both halves oare loathed by the majority of Americans. You know about Trump's unfavorable ratings, but the last time the general public was polled about Gingrich, back in 2012, he had a 60% unfavorable rating in a CNN poll, a 56% unfavorable rating in an ABC/Washington Post poll, a 67% unfavorable rating in a Fox News poll, a 58% unfavorable rating in an AP-GfK poll, and a 61% unfavorable rating in a USA Today/Gallup poll. (A CBS/New York Times poll had his unfavorables at 49%, but his favorable rating was only 17%.)

It's no surprise. Basically, he comes off as the ur-Ted Cruz, a guy you assume was a socially awkward young nerd who retreated to his bedroom, where he read sci-fi novels and Ayn Rand and dreamed of being a global (or galactic) dictator. I'm the last person who should mock people with poor social skills, but it's just not a good foundation for a career at the upper echelons of politics, unless your name is Richard Nixon. As a Democrat, I hope Gingrich is the most visible running mate since Sarah Palin. His cocksure bombasticism is not going to wear well.


The Washington Post's James Hohmann tries to prove that failure to release tax returns is a huge unexploded bomb for Donald Trump. Hohmann's effort, alas, fails miserably:
Donald Trump bests Hillary Clinton by 2 points among registered voters in the new Washington Post/ABC poll. While within the margin of error, this represents an 11-point swing in his direction since March. The presumptive Republican nominee’s lead is driven by strength among independent voters, who favor him by 13 points.

But our national poll finds that these independent voters are profoundly troubled by Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns, a sign of the issue’s potential potency.

Six in 10 independents believe Trump should release his taxes, and almost all of them say they feel strongly about it. Even 44 percent of Republicans want the billionaire businessman to release his returns before the November election, though they are less passionate.
So what Hohmann is saying is that independents are incredibly disturbed by Trump's tax non-disclosure ... except that they plan to vote for him in spite of it. And Republicans are moderately disturbed .... but the poll says they plan to vote for him in huge numbers.

Trump might have 99 problems, but it looks as if concealing his taxes ain't one.

Then there's this:
Interestingly, one of the few issues that works to Trump’s advantage right now is tax policy....

To me, that's not just "interesting" or ironic -- it's a sign that voters trust Trump on taxes, or at least hope that he's such a business miracle-worker that he'll find a way to give us more of what we want while taxing us less.

Part of the problem here is that there are two ways for Democrats to attack Trump on this -- and they cancel each other out. One is to say that Trump is concealing the fact that he's not as rich as he claims. The other is to say that he is rich and wants to cut taxes (and thus spending on needed programs) in order to help rich people like himself.

The former angle has the potential to be a lot more fun, as I'll explain below. Yesterday, Hillary Clinton went with the latter approach, and did it in a muddled way, as Hohmann notes:
“He goes around talking about make America great,” Clinton said on “Meet the Press.” “You know, that means paying for our military. That means paying for our roads. That means paying for the VA. If you've got someone running for president who is afraid to release his tax returns because it will expose the fact that he pays no federal income tax, that's a big problem.”
I think what she's trying to say is that Trump takes advantage of rich people's loopholes, and as president he'll create more loopholes for rich people like himself, and as a result the government will be starved for the funds we need to pay for the programs we want.

All that is true -- Trump is somewhat rich, and he takes advantage of loopholes for people in his tax bracket, and plans to create more. But if you're going to talk about Trump's taxes, it's better to hit him where he lives -- he's desperate to convey the notion that he's really, really rich, and he's afraid to reveal the fact that he isn't. So pour salt in that wound.

I keep waiting for Clinton or (more likely) a surrogate to say something like this:
"Donald Trump may be afraid to release his tax returns because he doesn't want us to know that his net worth is smaller than he's led us to believe. His empire could be smaller than we think. His annual income could be smaller. The size of his personal fortune really could be much, more smaller than we've been led to believe, and he may be afraid to let us know about its smaller size."
This would probably be inappropriate for Clinton herself, but I imagine a surrogate saying it with hands held up vertically, a few inches apart, in a gesture that looks like meaningless hand positioning but eventually reveals itself as the way you convey the length of something that isn't in front of you. In my imagination, every time the surrogate says the word small or smaller, the hands move closer together, as if the invisible thing being measured is shrinking.

Maybe that message from a Clinton surrogate would be a tad risqué for the constipated world of Sunday morning political talk. But I think it would really get under Trump's skin.

I know that the Clinton campaign thinks the successful anti-Trump message will be "Trump's a rich guy who doesn't care about people who aren't rich." But Trump's base voters (and increasing numbers of Trump-curious swing voters) think he's a guy who got rich hacking the system on his own behalf and now plans to hack the system on behalf of ordinary Americans. They think he can do it because he's become a billionaire, which proves he's very skilled and capable. He needs to be exposed as a humbug, the not-really-all-powerful Wizard of Oz. He needs to be deprived of the source of his power over voters.

Size is everything to Trump. So go there, Clinton campaign.




In The New York Times, political scientists Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels argue that voters rarely vote based on issues, and that this is true even for Bernie Sanders backers. Citing a survey released early this year, they say that Sanders supporters are actually less likely to back a number of his issue positions than supporters of Hillary Clinton are:
In a survey conducted for the American National Election Studies in late January, supporters of Mr. Sanders were ... less likely than Mrs. Clinton’s supporters to favor ... a higher minimum wage, increasing government spending on health care and an expansion of government services financed by higher taxes.
And young voters in general, while they claim to be more progressive than oldsters, may actually be less so:
While young Democrats in the January survey were more likely than those over age 35 to call themselves liberals, their ideological self-designations seem to have been much more lightly held, varying significantly when they were reinterviewed....

For example, young Democrats were less likely than older Democrats to support increased government funding of health care, substantially less likely to favor a higher minimum wage and less likely to support expanding government services. Their distinctive liberalism is mostly a matter of adopting campaign labels, not policy preferences.
I don't know how reliable the survey is. If it's accurate, then a lot of the Berners are cheering for their tribe, which is defined as not being the Hillary Clinton tribe, rather than for Sanders policies.

But I'm trying to figure out how you can cheer specific Sanders applause lines about, say, health care or education funding without supporting "an expansion of government services financed by higher taxes." Maybe you're an old-fashioned blue-collar white Democrat and you just like a candidate who seems to stick up for working people. But the Sanders base is young people. If young voters claim to be more liberal than their elders yet support less redistribution of wealth to finance social programs -- while cheering on Sanders when he talks about expanding social programs -- what's going on? Do they think Medicare for All isn't going to be a tax-funded government program? (Keep your government hands off my Medicare for All!) Do they think tax increases won't be necessary in order for students to attend college tuition-free? Or do they think all of this can be accomplished merely by taxing other people (the "millionaires and billionaires")?

Or is there some notion here that the system just has to be hacked somehow, by someone like the brainiac heroes of Silicon Valley legend, and then we'll get a lot more for a lot less money? That seems to be the idea behind Trumpism -- that Donald Trump's brain is so special that he'll figure out how to bring about utopia and tax cuts simultaneously. Is that the notion behind Bernieism?

I worry, because I'm old enough to remember a time when CEOs weren't treated as messiahs. That really started in the 1980s -- Trump was one of the early figures of worship -- and younger people can't remember a time when we weren't worshipping business potentates while complaining that government is incompetent and awful. Sure, the kids hate Goldman Sachs, and the business messiahs they look up to wear hoodies and running shoes, but it's a variation on a Reaganite theme. I wonder if they think the "millionaires and billionaires" are the bad manipulators of the system while people with billion-dollar start-ups are the beneficent system manipulators. And maybe, to them, Bernieism is like Uber, but for politics -- it's new, it undercuts something old and seemingly sclerotic, so it must be cool.

I respond to the Sanders message -- but I know that what he wants to do would require European levels of taxation. I can see that as a worthwhile trade-off, but I think think a GOP general election campaign against Sanders would point out the tax cost of what he wants to do, and a lot of people who like him now would recoil in horror. If this survey is right, they don't understand what he's proposing.

Or maybe that's not really what's going on. I just don't know.

Sunday, May 22, 2016


At Politico, David Cay Johnston tells us about Donald Trump's mob ties:
Trump’s career has benefited from a decades-long and largely successful effort to limit and deflect law enforcement investigations into his dealings with top mobsters, organized crime associates, labor fixers, corrupt union leaders, con artists and even a one-time drug trafficker whom Trump retained as the head of his personal helicopter service.
Johnston gives us stories like this:
In Atlantic City, Trump built on property where mobsters controlled parts of the adjoining land needed for parking. He paid $1.1 million for about a 5,000-square-foot lot that had been bought five years earlier for just $195,000. The sellers were Salvy Testa and Frank Narducci Jr., a pair of hitmen for Atlantic City mob boss Nicky Scarfo who were known as the Young Executioners.
There's a lot more where that came from, including a summary of the many shady aspects of Trump Tower's construction (concrete purchased from mob bosses, mobsters helping to conceal Trump's use of undocumented immigrant demolition workers, etc., etc.).

But stories about Trump and the mob never go viral. Major media organizations don't pick up on them. Michael Isikoff wrote a story about Trump and the mob back in March and that didn't break through, either.

I'm not sure why. Maybe it's regarded as old news -- the same way that Republicans shrug off all of Trump's old moderate-to-liberal positions, we all seem to be shrugging off the sleaze in Trump's past.

Or maybe it's believed that you can't make a fortune in East Coast real estate without some ties to the mob. We assume he just had no choice.

Or maybe we think it's sexy that Trump has mob ties. That's my theory. It gives him an air of danger. And, of course, mobsters have been heroes in popular culture for decades now: The Godfather and its sequels, the Scorsese canon, The Sopranos, Scarface, rap music (remember, the generation that grew up on gangsta rap, which includes a lot of white male fans, is just now entering middle age). We like organized crime. When we think "corruption," we think of government mismanagement, not organizing crime figures tossing people into the river in cement overshoes. That's not corrupt, that's exciting.

If I'm right about that, it's rather shocking: Trump has ties to mobsters and we don't care. But I think that's the case.


This is an argument that's been made by many observers, but I'll just quote Maureen Dowd's version:
Hillary says Sanders needs to “do his part” to unify the party, as she did in 2008. But even on the day of the last primaries in that race, when she was the one who was mathematically eliminated unless the superdelegates turned, she came onstage to Terry McAuliffe heralding her as “the next president of the United States.” She then touted having more votes than any primary candidate in history as her fans cheered “Yes, she will!” and “Denver!”
Yes, Hillary Clinton refused to drop out of the race until the very end and kept the party divided long after it was clear she couldn't win the nomination. (I hated her for it.) But everything worked out just fine in 2008, right? Why shouldn't we assume that history will repeat itself?

Because 2008 was a very different year. Democrats were trying to replace a Republican president who had job disapproval ratings in the mid-60s to low 70s throughout the summer and fall of 2008. Democrats -- both Obama and Clinton-- were pledging to change the direction of the country in a year when more than 80% of Americans consistently told pollsters the country was on the wrong track.

So Democrats could afford a little disunity. They had the wind at their backs.

They don't have the wind at their backs now. They're trying to win a third straight election, something that's been done only once by a party in the past 56 years (the GOP in 1980/1984/1988). President Obama's approval/disapproval numbers right now, according to Gallup, are 51%/45% -- but that's not overwhelmingly positive the way Bush's numbers in 2008 were overwhelmingly negative. And the "right direction/wrong track" numbers are still negative -- not as negative as they were in 2008, but they'd have to be as positive now as they were negative in 2008 for the two elections to be analogous for the Democrats. We'd need 80+% of the country to be happy with the way things are going; we have about 30%.

(And even in 2000, when the country was extremely happy with the status quo under a retiring Democratic president, the Democrat who wanted to be his successor couldn't put the election away.)

No, the Democrats can't afford the luxury of a sustained fight. Not this year.

Saturday, May 21, 2016


Jacob Weisberg and Walter Shapiro have spotted a piece of bad journalism:

I'm not sure they've pinpointed the problem, but they're right to complain about the story, which is here:
What Are Donald Trump’s Views on Climate Change? Some Clues Emerge

So far, Donald J. Trump has said very little about climate change and energy policy beyond his Twitter posts on the issues.

He has called global warming a “hoax,” for example, and claimed that the Chinese fabricated climate change (just a joke, he later said). And in an interview this week with Reuters, he said that he was “not a big fan” of the Paris climate accord, and that “at a minimum I will be renegotiating those agreements.”
Yes, he does think climate change is a hoax:

Also "bullshit":

Also "mythical," a "canard," and "a total con job." But come on, Donald, tell us what you really think! We don't know!

He did say it was a Chinese plot:

But I suppose we're expected to believe that there's ambiguity here because, when he was attacked for saying this by Bernie Sanders in a January debate, his habit of denying his own words, or claiming that we're misquoting him if we take his words seriously, kicked in:
During the debate, Sanders said he couldn't imagine electing a president who believed that climate change is "a hoax invented by the Chinese." Sanders specifically cited Trump to make his point.

... Trump was asked about Sanders' attack the next day during a "Fox & Friends" interview. He said his accusation against the Chinese was an obvious joke.

"I think that climate change is just a very, very expensive form of tax. A lot of people are making a lot of money. I know much about climate change," Trump said. "I've received many environmental awards. And I often joke that this is done for the benefit of China -- obviously I joke -- but this done for the benefit of China."
Pay no attention to everything else I've said about this issue!

The Times story trots out a congressman who's written a climate change briefing for Trump. He sounds very much in sync with Trump:
But more clues about Mr. Trump’s views on environmental issues emerged this week from a four-page briefing on energy policy prepared for the presumptive Republican nominee by Representative Kevin Cramer, Republican of North Dakota and an early supporter of Mr. Trump.

Mr. Cramer, who defines himself as a climate change skeptic, discussed in his briefing paper a variety of government regulations that Mr. Trump might do away with if he were president.

They included the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, currently pending in the courts, as well as a federal rule intended to protect waterways and wetlands, and a regulation setting standards for methane emissions that the Environmental Protection Agency completed last week.
So Trump is a skeptic. His new top adviser on climate is a skeptic. Yet we don't know what Trump believes!

THe reason we're being told that we can't really know what Trump believes regarding climate change is that the mainstream media always needs to insist that Republicans aren't beyond the pale -- an article of faith that's seriously challenged by the GOP's "climate change is a fraud" claptrap.

Also, Trump's fellow Republicans are claiming that he might not really be a hard-liner:
Republican leaders worry that Mr. Trump’s views, his climate-denying Twitter messages notwithstanding, could end up somewhere left of the party’s mainstream.

“I think there is concern about where he stands because he hasn’t come out strongly one way or another,” said a Republican aide who insisted on anonymity because she was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
He hasn't? You could have fooled me.

Oh, wait, I see what the problem might be -- and I learn it not from the Times article, but from this Scientific American story about Trump's adviser. It turns out the adviser is a skeptic, but not a hardcore one:
Trump might find that Cramer occupies gray spaces on energy and climate policy. The former utility regulator acknowledges that the world is on a path to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but he calls himself skeptical of the broadly held view by scientists and Democrats that warming could cause severe economic and physical damage.
So Cramer thinks climate change is real -- it's just harmless.

And maybe fellow Republicans are skeptical of Cramer because he thinks a small carbon tax might be appropriate (heresy!). However, he wants it used for research that will make fossil fuels seem more acceptable:
“My idea of a carbon tax would be to help fund clean fossil fuel research and development, not to fund the government, not to punish fossil fuel generation, not to manipulate fuel choice,” Cramer said. “Even a neutral, a revenue-neutral, carbon tax is inappropriate, in my view. But if we can have a very, very modest carbon tax to fund, again, the solution by utilizing fossil fuels like coal, I think even the industry would support that.”
In his party, that practically makes him a leftist. But that's still a very right-wing position, because he's adamantly against using the revenue from a carbon tax to help accelerate a shift away from fossil fuels.

Trump likes Cramer because he expressed support for deregulation and because he was an early backer -- Trump loves flattery:
Cramer was one of Trump’s earliest supporters in Congress. He and Trump appeared on a local radio program broadcast in North Dakota early last month in which Cramer suggested that Trump should roll back a number of energy-sector regulations during the first 100 days of his presidency.

“He liked that a lot,” Cramer said of Trump.
Cramer has been brought on because he can make Trump's all-soundbite agenda appear serious -- "presidentil," you might say.

That doesn't mean Trump will pay any attention to whatever nuance Cramer brings to the table. Recall that after Trump's initial tax plan was criticized, he brought in Stephen Moore of the Heritage Foundation and Larry Kudlow of CNBC to modify it and give it a patina of respectability. They proposed changes -- and the campaign rejected them. So, no, there's no reason to believe that Trump will endorse what his adviser on climate change proposes.

The real worry ought to be that Trump would happily rubber-stamp whatever the Kochite Republicans in Congress cough up as an energy agenda. They know what they want: a radical rollback of efforts to limit the damage of climate change. Trump, who as a political figure is a pure product of the right-wing media, just wants to do whatever wants something that will stick it to the "hoaxsters" and the Chinese. It's not a detailed agenda, but it is a terrifying one. And I'd hate to see how congressional Republicans will flesh it out for him if he's elected.

Friday, May 20, 2016


Donald Trump phoned in to Morning Joe today and showed his usual regard for the truth:
Scarborough asked Trump if he would have stayed out of Libya. Trump answered, “I would have stayed out of Libya. I would have stayed out of Iraq too.”

At the time, Trump’s lie generated no pushback from Joe Scarborough.

The Clinton campaign contacted the show to challenge Trump's claim regarding Libya, and a correction was issued on air after the interview:

However, no correction was issued regarding Trump's claim that he "would have stayed out of Iraq," which is a lie:
... in a 2002 interview with Howard Stern, Donald Trump said he supported an Iraq invasion.

In the interview, which took place on Sept. 11, 2002, Stern asked Trump directly if he was for invading Iraq.

“Yeah, I guess so,” Trump responded. “I wish the first time it was done correctly.”
Trump's earliest denunciation of the war came a year after it started. And Trump endorsed George W. Bush in 2004.


But that wasn't the only nonsense that went unchallenged in the interview. In this segment, Mika Brzezinski let Trump get away with pretending to be clear-eyed and knowledgeable about terrorism:
Donald Trump isn't waiting around for investigators to tell him who or what was responsible for the EgyptAir crash.

He said Friday morning that he could "practically guarantee" who "blew up" the plane....

"Another plane was blown up and I can practically guarantee who blew it up," the presumptive Republican presidential nominee said during an appearance on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." ...

"And another plane went down and let me tell you, the mindset of a weak Hillary Clinton, which is four more years of Obama, is not going to do it for our country," he added of his likely general-election opponent.

In the segment, as you can see in the clip above, Brzezinski again lets Trump get away with claiming to be a dove on Iraq ("I'm the one that didn't want to go into Iraq, Mika"). But beyond that, when he says of the EgyptAir plane that he can "practically guarantee who blew it up," Brzezinski passes up the opportunity to ask a simple one-word question:


What would Trump have replied? He just would have said, triumphantly, "Islamic extremists" -- as if he's the only guy with the guts to raise that possibility.

At which point a real journalist would have asked, "Yes, but who? The Islamic State? Al Qaeda? The Muslim Brotherhood? And based where? Egypt? France? Belgium?"

Your answer, wannabe Leader of the Free World?

Brzezinski also lets Trump get away with suggesting that Clinton won't even consider the possibility that this was a terrorist attack because, like all Muslim-coddling liberals, she's in denial about the nature of the threat. That's where Trump is going when he segues from "I can practically guarantee who blew it up" to "the mindset of a weak Hillary Clinton." That's where he was going with this statement, which he issued yesterday (emphasis mine):

In fact, Clinton speculated yesterday that the plane went down because of terrorism:
Democratic presidential front-runner and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shared her thoughts on the crash of EgyptAir Flight MS804 over the Mediterranean Sea early Thursday.

“It does appear that it was an act of terrorism -- exactly how, of course, the investigation will have to determine,” Clinton told CNN’s Chris Cuomo in an interview Thursday afternoon.
But Trump's base "knows" that she and all other Democrats are in denial about the very existence of this kind of extremism. Trump is stroking the pleasure center in the wingnut brain that experiences orgasms of self-righteousness at the thought that liberals don't believe there are any Islamist terrorists. (A Free Republic commenter, in response to the Trump statement: "You cannot solve a problem by pretending it does not exist. Muslims are responsible for most acts of terrorism, probably over 80 or 90% of them.")

In the clip, Brzezinski is so obsessed with trying to accuse Trump of racism (on a rare occasion when he's not really guilty) that she misses what he's actually saying, and never calls him on it.

Daddy, what was journalism?

MAY 2016: CLINTON +6. MAY 2012: OBAMA -3.

This is being touted as a worrisome poll for Hillary Clinton, because the race is tightening:
CBS/NYT national poll: Hillary Clinton's lead over Donald Trump narrows

... Hillary Clinton now holds a six-point lead over Donald Trump, down from 10 points a month ago.
Clinton still leads Trump in the Times/CBS poll, 47%-41%. I'll just point out that in mid-May 2012, Barack Obama trailed Mitt Romney in the same poll, 46%-43%.

Individual polls don't mean much, but the 2012 race, if anything, looked tighter in May than this year's race does. Here are the polls, from Real Clear Politics:

Obama had a few big leads, so he was clearly ahead, but Romney led in seven of the fourteen polls. (Oddly, one of Obama's big leads in May 2012 was in a Fox News poll, which had him up by 7; this week, a Fox poll showing Trump up by 3 is setting off Democratic alarm bells.) This year, there have been six polls in May, including the Times/CBS poll, and Clinton has led in four.

I'm seeing at Politico that Democratic Party insiders are worried about party unity this year. I'm worried too, obviously -- but in the Times/CBS poll, 14% of Democratic primary voters say they won't vote for Clinton, while 12% of Republican primary voters say they won't vote for Trump. That strikes me as a wash.

Now, the Times/CBS poll does tell us that 28% of Sanders supporters say they won't vote for Clinton in November. But (and I'm not the first person to point this out), in a May 2008 Times/CBS poll, only 60% of Clinton supporters said they'd vote for Obama.

Overall, 13% of Democratic primary voters that year said they wouldn't vote for Obama. And, in fact, according to the exit polls in November, 16% of Clinton-backing Democrats actually did vote for McCain. And yet Obama won.

Make of all this what you will. I think I overreacted to polls this week showing Trump in the lead. Trump's best poll, from Rasmussen, is certainly hinky:

All this could get worse. But the averages are still in Clinton's favor.