Political Animal

Strike Force: A New Low in Trump’s War on the Press Corps

Without question, this is the mentality of a man who would, if he could get away with it, eliminate all US media entities with the exception of the Fox News Channel and Sinclair Broadcasting:

Just hours after The Washington Post published a bombshell story about a previously undisclosed May 2016 meeting between Roger Stone and a Russian national who promised political dirt about Hillary Clinton, President Trump encouraged Post employees to go on strike.

“Washington Post employees want to go on strike because Bezos isn’t paying them enough,” Trump tweeted. “I think a really long strike would be a great idea. Employees would get more money and we would get rid of Fake News for an extended period of time! Is @WaPo a registered lobbyist?”

Trump’s tweet, coming as it does on the heels of the Post’s report, is the latest evidence that his repeated attacks on Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos are motivated by the publication’s coverage of Trump — not any sort of principled concern about the state of the postal service or well-being of Post employees.

The Post reported that Stone — a longtime Trump adviser — met in May 2016 with a man who called himself Henry Greenberg. Greenberg initially contacted Trump campaign communications official Michael Caputo and offered dirt about Hillary, and Caputo responded by arranging the meeting with Stone.

According to text messages Stone sent to Caputo after the meeting that have been obtained by the Post, Greenberg — who has at times used the name Henry Oknyansky and claimed in a 2015 court filing to be an FBI informant — asked for $2 million in exchange for his information.

Asked by Caputo if Greenberg offered “Anything interesting at all?”, Stone replied, “No.”

Stone failed to disclose his meeting with Greenberg during his sworn testimony to the House Intelligence Committee in September 2017. During an interview on Sunday morning on C-SPAN, Stone said he simply forgot about the the episode until the Post’s report.

In light of Trump’s newest odious assault on the press, one cannot blame the likes of Playboy reporter Brian Karem for having such an adversarial view of this administration. Frankly, it’s only human and natural for reporters to respond in kind when an administration has made it clear that it views the press as beneath contempt. (Chuck Todd of NBC’s Meet the Press seemed especially disinclined to put up with White House advisor Kellyanne Conway’s nonsense this morning.)

Why shouldn’t the Fourth Estate intensify its scrutiny of this administration, bearing down on its abuses and scandals? Why shouldn’t Karem be a model for journalism in the Trump era? Who’s going to complain about the press becoming more hostile to this administration–besides this administration’s lickspittles, that is?

If Trump had his way, we’d never know the full extent of the role Russia played in putting him into the White House, or the relentless corruption of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, or the endless series of scandals that define this administration. Increased scrutiny of this administration on the part of the Fourth Estate would not be a form of “liberal bias.” It would be a form of self-defense.

Living in the Past: What Candidates Believed in College Isn’t Relevant Today

Are we going to look into whether they really, really enjoyed dissecting frogs in high school science class, too?

There is literally no logic in obsessing over what a Congressional candidate believed in decades ago if that candidate has fully disavowed the views they held decades ago. People evolve, and what they believe in 2018 is far more important than what they believed in 1998. Yet some folks can’t help being fixated on the long-abandoned views of Congressional aspirants:

Abhijit “Beej” Das, a businessman vying to represent a congressional district where one of five residents are foreign-born, once denounced efforts to “make America bilingual,” backed making English the country’s official language, and compared student minority organizations to Nazis under the Third Reich.

Das, 44, espoused the controversial ideas as a writer and editor-in-chief of a student-run publication at Middlebury College in the mid-1990s, two decades before he launched his first political campaign for the [Massachusetts] Third Congressional District’s open seat.

In a statement, his campaign said he no longer holds those views, and that Das, a hotel executive and self-described “dyed-in-the-wool” Democrat, has “evolved” since writing for the publication, known as “Symposium: Middlebury College Journal of Politics.” As a candidate, he believes in offering residents better avenues to government services, including “language access,” his campaign said…

Das, who is himself the son of Indian immigrants, has touted his work for the journal as an early outlet for his interest in politics and where he “wrote about everything from Aristotle to anarchy,” according to his website.

Left unsaid in campaign material, however, were his views then about bilingualism. In a piece entitled “Multiculturalism” and published in the fall of 1993, Das openly lamented what he called a “persistent movement that seeks to make America bilingual.” He cites a push to consider Spanish as an alternate “official” language, and notes he’s “even seen some bank ATMs which use Spanish as the default language.”

“The movement overlooks the factor that language plays in national cohesion,” he wrote, according to copies requested and obtained by the [Boston Globe] from the school’s archives.

It’s obvious what happened here. Das clearly listened to a heaping helping of right-wing talk radio in his teenage years, embracing Rush Limbaugh and his radio colleagues as anti-establishment visionaries, and carried his conservatism-is-cool attitude into college. Then, he got older and he smartened up. That’s something to applaud, not judge. Maybe if 62 million other Americans had smartened up and realized the fundamental con that is conservatism, Donald Trump wouldn’t be president.

What, exactly, is gained by digging through the garbage can of the past? Aren’t people allowed to grow and learn? Have we forgotten that Sen. Elizabeth Warren used to be a Republican?

Das’s campaign did not make him or anyone available for an on-the-record interview. In the statement, which it attributed to an unnamed strategist, it downplayed his writings, saying “our country has changed a lot in the decades since those articles were written.”

“His experiences studying law, working in small businesses and as a part of this vibrant community that posits roots from many places, speaks various languages and represents many different people, has given him a true understanding of what makes this country great,” the statement reads. “There’s more that brings us together than separates us.”

Das isn’t the first individual who came to realize that right-wingers were selling a bill of goods, filling him with a new desire to fight the right—and he won’t be the last. As Bill Nye once observed, the most fervent anti-smoking advocate is “the guy who just managed to quit.” The attack on Das for having once held reactionary views is every bit as illogical as the recent media crucifixion of MSNBC host Joy Reid; in both cases, folks are judging individuals for having once held poorly-thought-out views, instead of giving those individuals credit for reconsidering their radicalism and changing their ways. At some point, we have to stop judging people for the political mistakes of their past, no?

Celebrity Heft Match: Do Democrats Really Need Their Own Trump?

The situation isn’t that hopeless, is it?

I’m not exactly sure what to make of the idea that the Democratic Party has to find its own non-politician celebrity or private-sector figure to take on Donald Trump in 2020. Of course, Democrats are a bit short on options at this point:

In theory, there is a real opportunity for an outsider to take over the party and challenge Trump, the first American to be elected president without political or military service, on their own terms. The problem has been finding the right person to do it, particularly in a party whose voter base is more inclined to favor government experience. The potential 2020 field already includes about two dozen traditional politicians, including mayors, governors and senators.

The political outsiders who have explored candidacies include some of the biggest names in the corporate world — Disney chief Bob Iger, mega-mogul Oprah Winfrey, Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg. But each of those people ultimately decided to give up the dream, at least for now, after feeling out Democratic strategists.

As it stands, the only remaining brand-name business leaders besides [conservative Democrat and outgoing Starbucks executive chairman Howard] Schultz known to be actively considering a run are the liberal financier Tom Steyer, who is traveling the country to build a grass-roots effort to impeach Trump, and the celebrity entrepreneur Mark Cuban, who has taken few steps to build inroads in the Democratic Party, after saying last year he would rather run as a Republican or an independent.

The problem with this whole concept is that the Democratic Party, as an institution, generally doesn’t support the idea that the presidency should be an entry-level position. It’s hard to imagine the Democratic base being seduced by celebrity the same way the Republican base has been for years (remember those polls in 2011 showing Republicans salivating to have Trump challenge Obama in 2012?) A policy-based party will naturally prefer substance to stardom—and that will likely remain true in the Presidential realm, even if it proves not to be the case in the gubernatorial realm this year:

One challenge for all non-politicians trying to feel out a campaign is navigating the clear differences in how Democrats and Republicans think of outsiders in politics. A test case is playing out in New York, where the actress and activist Cynthia Nixon has launched a campaign to topple Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in the primary.

A Quinnipiac University poll in late April found a clear partisan split among voters in the state over whether they preferred to elect a governor who has experience in politics or one who is new to politics.

Republicans preferred someone new to politics by a margin of 47 percent to 38 percent. Democrats, by contrast, said they preferred experience by a margin of 75 percent to 17 percent, even though 28 percent said they supported Nixon’s campaign in the same poll.

“Democratic primary voters in general have been looking for candidates who have government experience,” said Jefrey Pollock, a Democratic pollster who counts Cuomo, a potential 2020 contender, among his clients. “They are afraid of electing people who don’t have the experience because it reminds them of the disaster that is happening in Washington.”

Are we really supposed to believe that the Democratic Party is so bereft of talent that it needs to look to a political novice to be the party’s champion in 2020? Even if a celebrity or private-sector icon runs for and obtains the Democratic nomination, does anyone believe that individual will necessarily be able to beat Trump at his own media-exploitation game? It’s hard to envision an effort to out-Trump Trump resulting in anything other than a disaster for the Democrats.

The 2016 election was a fluke, a freak accident, a once-in-a-lifetime event. Democrats don’t need to embrace political abnormality in the name of defeating political abnormality.

The Unsinkable Scott Pruitt?

If there’s one thing right-wingers love, it’s spite.

Conservatives crave sticking their middle fingers in the faces of their real or perceived ideological adversaries. To that end, one can’t help wondering if the reason Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt—surely among the top five names on any list of the most corrupt Cabinet members in United States history—still has a job is because Trump knows that Pruitt’s continued presence in his position serves as a constant irritant to progressives. Pruitt’s real job is not necessarily to roll back President Obama’s efforts on climate; it’s to tick off Al Gore and Bill McKibben, and so long as Pruitt continues to do so, he’ll remain a charter member of the Trump team–even if Trump professes to be displeased by some of Pruitt’s actions.

Pruitt clearly feels he has carte blanche to do whatever he wants—shake down companies to get a job for his wife, lean on subordinates to help his daughter get a White House summer internship, build a cone of silence in his office, even pressure employees to drive him from hotel to hotel to find his favorite moisturizing lotion (the mind reels at the thought of what he did with all that lotion). Trump knows that Pruitt’s mere presence is enough to antagonize climate hawks. It’s all about the spite, nothing more and nothing less.

Would a changing of the guard in the House and Senate this fall lead to Pruitt’s demise? To quote the old song from Porgy and Bess, it ain’t necessarily so. Yes, it’s true that Pruitt’s predecessor in perversity, Reagan-era EPA Administrator Anne Gorsuch Burford, hit the road shortly after the 1982 midterm elections, as Democrats scrutinized her sleaziness to such an extent that she became a profound political liability for the 40th President. However, even if Democrats win the House and/or Senate and turn the investigative heat up on Pruitt, it’s not at all clear that Pruitt would ever step down—or that Trump would force him out. Even if a Democratic Congress were to uncover examples of explicit criminality, Trump would likely keep him on board as a form of trolling.

Keep in mind that Trump’s fanbase likely views news reports of Pruitt’s corruption as media inventions, the fictions of “warmists” mad at Pruitt for rejecting Leonardo DiCaprio’s environmental views. Pruitt has now become a culture-war figure on the right, a symbol of the fight against the “war on coal” and “job-killing regulations.” If Trumpism is a religion, then Pruitt is a profoundly influential cardinal.

That’s why it’s hard to take at face value conservative writer Ramesh Ponnuru’s suggestion that the right is losing faith in Pruitt:

[C]onservative support for Pruitt is waning. Republican lawmakers, including very conservative ones, are starting to express their unhappiness with Pruitt on the record. Matt Lewis wrote a scathing article about him that noted that other conservative commentators are abandoning him. I spoke to one conservative leader who signed a letter in early April supporting Pruitt in an earlier phase of his scandals; he says he would not do it today. Two other signers expressed frustration with Pruitt’s continued misbehavior. (He still has the strong support of others.)

And he always will, even if Laura Ingraham and some aggrieved members of Trump’s base want Pruitt gone. Right-wingers, “never-Trump” or otherwise, scorn federal environmental regulation and people who believe that such regulation serves the public interest. The right doesn’t care how many people will be harmed by Pruitt’s actions as EPA Administrator. In the conservative mind, those who will suffer from air, water and carbon pollution don’t really matter. All that matters is Pruitt’s ability to Escalate Progressive Antagonism.