Fair and Unbalanced

Mike Littwin

"The pump don't work 'cause the vandals took the handles."


I know that it’s way, way, way too late to try to do any serious deconstruction of a Donald Trump performance, but, like Trump on a debate stage, I can’t help myself. Somehow, even though I know better, I hold to the notion that a presidential election, even this one, must be a serious affair.

So, what was Trump thinking?

What deal was the great deal-maker trying to sell to the millions of Americans watching?

Because at some point, he must have said to himself, OK, I’ll toss my campaign manager, my running mate, my daughter, 240 years of history and the very foundation of the American project under the bus in order to — and we’re left assuming that this had to be it — keep my options open.

I mean, he knew, he had to know, that by refusing to commit to the time-honored notion in liberal democracies of accepting the results of the election/will of the people on Nov. 8, he may as well have been conceding defeat. All that’s left is the drama — “I’ll keep you in suspense,” Trump said — of whether Trump will concede, send in his lawyers or unleash his so-called “Second Amendment people.”

In a night full of story lines, this was the only story line. From up on the debate stage, in Las Vegas yet, Trump ran straight through the fourth wall to reveal to the audience that he’s still desperately trying to come up with an acceptable ending to his long-running campaign show that somehow will work despite the specter of his inevitable defeat.

The night didn’t begin that way. Moderator Chris Wallace was determined to discuss issues, and Trump was at his serious best. Even if he threw in some red meat for the fact-checking community, he was doing OK, which is to say he hadn’t seriously embarrassed himself.

But then came Hillary Clinton’s Putin-puppet line, and Trump came back sputtering with his, “No puppet, no puppet. You’re the puppet,” and that was it for the debate. Alec Baldwin’s Trump has a better chance of winning now than Donald Trump’s Trump. Once again, Trump was caught defending Putin because he couldn’t admit he made a mistake, and then he added some nice words for Assad because, in Trump’s political world, every homicidal dictator must still be superior to Obama and Clinton. You can imagine that whoever handles the nuclear codes was immediately resetting the password.

Ezra Klein writes a very convincing piece in Vox about how Clinton destroyed Trump in the three debates and exposed him for the thin-skinned, unprepared, unfit candidate that he is by cleverly baiting him, taking her time in each debate to push Trump’s buttons and then watch the implosions begin. She even baited him into criticizing Ronald Reagan. I know Trump has said that he could walk down Fifth Avenue shooting people and still not lose any voters — which may be true — but when he brought his small hands to a knife fight, he was lost.

It was rope-a-dope with a twist, the twist being that Trump barely laid a glove on Clinton. She still struggled on the email questions, on the Clinton Foundation questions, but Trump couldn’t prosecute effectively because he was too busy defending himself. It wasn’t as if everyone in America hadn’t seen this at the first debate, with its Miss Piggy ending and the 3 a.m. tweets that followed. It wasn’t as if everyone in the Trump camp didn’t understand that Trump, the narcissist, was being played. And yet. And yet.

Debates aren’t supposed to matter, but as Nate Silver points out, Clinton was 1.5 points ahead on the eve of Debate I, and now she’s seven points ahead and probably still climbing. I don’t know why it took this long for people to see the real Trump, but after four and a half hours on display, the worst has now become clear.

Twitter, I’m told, was all about the “bad hombres” line and Trump’s final interruption — “such a nasty woman” — in which he managed, in his last chance to change the course of the election, to cement Clinton’s hold on both the Latino vote and the female vote. Once again, he lost control, lost the practiced points of attack, lost everything but the all-consuming notion that Clinton had made it personal and all personal attacks must be answered.

Still, we must give Trump his due. Clinton didn’t bait him into saying he wouldn’t commit to accepting the outcome of the election. She didn’t bait him into conflating media bias with vote rigging. She didn’t bait him into saying, in effect, that his way of making America great was to undo everything that is great about America. The pro-Putin, anti-democracy look is Trump’s and Trump’s alone.

It still doesn’t explain Trump’s refusal to say he would accept the election results. He could have said that he would accept the results barring any extraordinary event, like the Bush-Gore triple-overtime ending. He could have said he expected to win, and that he probably wouldn’t really put Clinton in jail. He could have said anything other than what he said.

But this is what we saw: Chris Wallace asked him the question, Trump answered it by saying we’ll have to wait and see, and Wallace, effectively standing in for about 300 million people, tried to give Trump a lifeline by citing our history of peaceful transition and begging Trump to grab onto it.

Instead, Trump took peaceful transition and tossed it back in Wallace’s face.

“I will look at it at the time,” Trump said. “I will keep you in suspense.”

We know he says he has a secret plan to defeat ISIS. Now we wait to see if he also has one to defeat democracy.

Photo credit: Mike Mozart, Creative Commons, Flickr 

Trump pinata

In case you missed his announcement, the always-unhinged Donald Trump has now come unshackled. What you might have missed is that this is a good thing.

Yes, it’s disturbing. And, yes, it’s an embarrassment for our country. And, sadly, it has led American newspapers to have to resort to using all those *** to spell words like p***y.

But, still, it’s a very good thing. Believe me.

Trump has done us a favor. By waiting until the last weeks of the campaign to go full Trump, in-the-bunker Trump, X-games Trump, he has cleared up any remaining confusion as to what the stakes are in this election, which amount to this: Choosing between a flawed (aren’t they all?) but stable candidate and a narcissistic boor/demagogue with disturbing weaknesses for shirtless dictators and women who don’t have the option of saying no.

Nothing that has happened in the last few weeks should shock anyone, and especially not the Mad Men-era groping accusations. The Trump accusers — whom Trump accuses of not being attractive enough for his tastes tell the same hot-mic story that Trump bragged about to the criminally-obsequious Billy Bush. Trump called it locker-room banter. Melania ventured out from her undisclosed resort location to say it was boys being boys, as if that’s what we want in a president.

And we’re left with a clueless Trump, who must be wondering if bringing out the Bill Clinton accusers might not have been the best campaign strategy. Apparently, his Breitbartian campaign CEO was too busy advising him on the nuances of the alt-right charge that Hillary Clinton was conspiring with “international bankers” to “plot the destruction” of America’s sovereignty to warn him that Trump’s sexual history may be of more interest to voters today than Bill Clinton’s.

Meanwhile, the full Trump — the 3 a.m.-tweeting Trump, the 70-going-on-13 Trump — took matters another step further, telling us that as Hillary Clinton crossed in front of him during the debate, he was not, well, impressed. I swear to God he said this. Do the Google. It’s all there. He is debating for his life, or at least for his job, and, at the same time, he is assessing the sexual appeal of his female opponent’s derriere. Is blood coming out of your wherever? It is mine.

What really doesn’t impress me, though, is all the hand-wringing about Trump going all Alex Jones in claiming the election will be rigged  — by the media or by, well, someone. We hear from Paul Ryan and others that Trump is threatening the very foundations of the American project, which depends upon Nixon quitting and Gore conceding to make the whole peaceful-transition concept work. (Oh, by the way, Ryan’s voting for Trump anyway.)

But talking about vote-rigging is a longtime Republican staple (for which we can thank people like our own little demagogue, Scott Gessler) that involves fear-mongering, racial overtones and hard-line voter-ID partisanship. Presidential candidates usually don’t stoop so low, but, let’s face it, this is the candidate we have. He’s losing, he has to blame someone, and so he blames the media and the African-Americans and the skewed polls. Trump didn’t invent any of this; he just picked up the Fox News/conservative talk radio playbook. And just like Fox News, he’s doing it every day. Who can forget the ACORN hysteria? Or those two New Black Panthers guys? Suddenly, this is the entire Trump campaign.

For Trump to warn of the dangers of vote-rigging, which has been debunked by all available studies, may be indefensible. It may have brought ace Colorado Secretary of State spokeswoman Lynn Bartels to slam Trump, saying, hilariously, that “Donald Trump has been tweeting about elections being rigged, but he offers no evidence of such. I can say on Twitter I’m a supermodel but that doesn’t make it so.” It may have moved Marco Rubio to explain that counties run elections and that the idea of getting 67 counties across Florida — or however many across America — to conspire against Trump is, well, absurd. (Rubio, by the way, is voting for Trump anyway.)

But the danger of this talk is small, far smaller than the danger associated with a major United States party having nominated Trump. I wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes even more clear Wednesday night at the debates. This is the last of them, and we can assume moderator Chris Wallace will come hard at Clinton on the Wikileaks email dumps, the substance of which Trump has basically ignored while busily vowing to put Clinton in jail. We can also assume Wallace will lay Trump bare, demanding that Trump explain just how the election would be rigged, who would responsible for the rigging and where the evidence is that leads him to make this charge.

In the best case scenario, the Trump we see Wednesday on the debate stage will be the unshackled version, even more unhinged than the Trump we have always known. And on Nov. 8, if Trump does, in fact, reject the election results and call for his supporters to man the barricades, the rest of us will have that image of Trump to remember.

Photo credit: Paul Sableman, Creative Commons, Flickr 

Littwin: It’s alright, Ma, I’m only bleeding

bob dylan

If you read anyone who says that Dylan was the soundtrack of the ’60s, stop reading. Dylan transcended time and place and everything else he touched, which is how a blues/folk singer who changed rock ‘n’ roll, with a voice never heard before or since, came from Nowheresville, Minnesota to Greenwich Village to invent a new life and, at the same time, invent a new world.

Dylan’s story is the American story, lived as the American story should be lived, all lies and dreams, told the way Woody told it first, except that Woody wanted to make us better. Dylan just cared about the music.

He ripped his songs from headlines and from dreams and from magic and from the Bible — God said to Abraham, kill me a son — to tell the stories of hurricanes, of desolation row, of — God help us — the Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll. Take the rag away from your face/now is not the time for your tears.

That Dylan would win a Nobel is, as David Remnick pointed out, a cosmic joke. That he would win this year, in the midst of this godforsaken political season, is a joke beyond even Dylan’s reckoning.

I am sympathetic to the notion that the Nobel Prize in Literature should be about real literature, and that Philip Roth must win one soon. I mean, is next year going to be Billy Joel? But Dylan is different. There is no one like Dylan. There will never be anyone like Dylan.

No one ever wrote and sang, in Dylan’s voice, words like these:

They’re selling postcards of the hanging, they’re painting the passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors, the circus is in town
Here comes the blind commissioner, they’ve got him in a trance
One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker, the other is in his pants
And the riot squad they’re restless, they need somewhere to go
As Lady and I look out tonight, from Desolation Row.

When the news broke on Thursday, I tweeted that we should have a Dylan lyric a day for the remainder of this cosmic joke of an election. I chose first something from Masters of War: “All the money you made will never buy back your soul.” Today I’m going with “But it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only.”

Here are some of the many suggestions I got from the Twittersphere. All of them are great. Feel free to add your own.

Photo by Somvinil via Flickr, Creative Commons


Darryl Glenn has a Donald Trump problem. That’s not news. I mean, which 2016 Republican candidate doesn’t have a Donald Trump problem? And now that the Donald Trump problem has evolved into a full-blown Donald Trump crisis with the GOP actively at war with itself — the stakes have grown even greater. But you knew that, too.

Glenn’s problem is different, though, because it’s not really about Trump. It’s about Glenn and the master course he is conducting on how not to run a U.S. Senate campaign.

As you’ve probably noticed, Glenn has seemed, well, either conflicted about Trump or just plain confused. This is part of a long trend line. In Glenn’s non-campaign campaign, he has not raised money, has not raised his profile and has not raised, or presumably identified, a single issue designed to move voters to his side.

And then there’s the Trump-off. Or the Trump on-and-off-and-maybe-back-on-again.

Glenn, you’ll recall, embraced Trump at the GOP National Convention when most candidates wisely stayed away — and even though Ted Cruz, Trump’s favorite enemy before Paul Ryan took on the role, had campaigned for Glenn.

In a state that Trump is almost certainly going to lose, Glenn tied himself directly to Trump, saying he saw it as his “personal responsibility” to see that Trump carries Colorado.

And then, after sticking with Trump through the long list of Trumpian controversies, Glenn surprised everyone by joining Mike Coffman and Cory Gardner in the multiple Trump dump on Saturday, the day after Trump’s genital-grabbing “locker room talk” video showed up in the Washington Post.

Coffman, who had already disavowed Trump, had no choice but to dump him in his closely-contested 6th District race. Gardner, who had reluctantly endorsed Trump — and only after choosing to sacrifice principle to political calculation — was looking for a way out and grabbed it.

What was surprising about Glenn’s move, though, was that Glenn’s supporters probably have a 90-plus-percent overlap with Trump’s supporters. Did he not realize this? Does he not have advisers? It looked very much like a panicked decision that was, politically at least, an unqualified disaster. When demanding that Trump should step aside, Glenn said we should not “tolerate” a candidate like Trump, who had “disqualified” himself from being commander-in-chief. Yes and yes. But, then what?

We saw what. Magically, Glenn found new levels of tolerance and, yes, managed to re-qualify Trump. Sort of. If you watched the U.S. Senate debate last night, you saw the sort-of part. Glenn praised Trump’s contrition in the Sunday presidential debate, which had amounted to two things: One, Trump saying that bragging about assaulting women was locker room talk, and two, that whatever he had done or might ever do, it wouldn’t be as bad as anything Bill Clinton had done. Glenn also praised Trump’s willingness to take the debate to Clinton, in which Trump, um, vowed he’d put Clinton in jail.

Glenn, being the forgiving sort who says he believes in repentance, said he wanted to give Trump another chance and wanted a personal meeting to see what was in Trump’s heart. Are you confused? Well, later in the debate,  Glenn said he had “absolutely suspended” his endorsement, ensuring confusion all around.

This is not a flip-flop exactly. I don’t know what the word is. Can you have a re-flip-flop? And it was hard not to laugh when Glenn later attacked Bennet for not criticizing Clinton for her “deplorable” baskets of Trump voters. Bennet noted that Clinton had apologized herself, to which Glenn, who can’t make up his mind on Trump, replied: “Leadership is you don’t need to take a poll. You don’t need to wait. You do it when it happens.”

OK, but let’s look a little deeper. Is Glenn saying that undecided Colorado voters should all seek out personal meetings with Trump for a heart check? Is he saying that he’ll do the leg work and report back? Is he saying that if Trump won’t see him, Glenn won’t un-suspend the endorsement? Or is he just hoping no one will ever ask him the question again?

Being a forgiving sort myself, I have some sympathy for Glenn’s position. He’s not alone. One senator said, before apologizing, that grabbing a women’s privates wasn’t sexual assault. And a congressman said he might still support Trump even if Trump were to advocate rape. Another apology was forthcoming. And there have been a few other embarrassing flip-flops, most notably that by South Dakota’s John Thune, the third-ranking Republican in the Senate.

And, let’s face it, it’s not Glenn’s fault that Colorado Republican Party voters nominated someone so peculiarly unqualified to be their Senate nominee. It’s what they do. Forget Cory Gardner, who once hailed as the new-way GOP candidate.

In the last four top-of-the-ticket races, Republicans have nominated Gardner, crazy Dan Maes, who thought bike-sharing was a U.N. plot to take over Denver, retread Bob Beauprez, who had lost an earlier race to Bill Ritter by 16 points, and now Glenn, the Christian conservative constitutionalist El Paso County commissioner.

Former Gov. Bill Owens just came out strongly against Trump, writing on his Facebook page (it was too long for Twitter) that Trump was a “charlatan” and a “narcissist” who had “temporarily captured” the Republican party and “who will throw us aside after doing his best to destroy us, just as he has thrown aside so many of his properties and ventures.”

It was a strong statement, and one that might have been more beneficial had he made it months ago. But it shows how desperate the situation is for Colorado Republicans. They had Trump forced on them. But they nominated Glenn all on their own.

Photo courtesy of the Darryl Glenn campaign

Littwin: A wolf in wolf’s clothing


Yes, Donald Trump won his debate Sunday night, although not the one against Hillary Clinton, who, of course, beat Trump on points. Trump’s real opponent — his only opponent — was what’s left of the roiled Republican Party.

 As you might have heard, a GOP civil war had broken out in the wake of the Access Hollywood hot-mic video, in which Trump bragged about grabbing women by the genitals, although he didn’t say genitals or else we could be calling it genital-gate. It was so repulsive that in Colorado, we saw Cory Gardner, Darryl Glenn and Mike Coffman dump Trump on the same day.

 But to the many GOP defectors and to those ready to defect, Trump had a message: You mess with me at your own risk.

 And so Trump, once again, let Trump be Trump, only more so, and it probably worked on that level. The night began with the shocking pre-game news conference featuring three ’80s-era Bill Clinton accusers — you remember the back-to-the-future names: Paula Jones, Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey — with the message being that, yeah, I might have done a little hot-mic locker-room banter in which I exaggerated my Donaldness, but this guy is the real thing. And look at his wife, who should be locked up.

 There was no apology. There was no contrition. There was a strange, unprecedented trip deep into a place where the democratic project that we call America had never before entered. It was ugly. It was dispiriting. It was Donald Trump at his most raw — far more raw even than Trump’s bragging about assaulting women.

 This was a terrible strategy — if Trump wanted to be president. But it’s too late for that now. He won’t be president. He was sliding in the polls before the video, and the video now means that he has no way to climb back. Which independent voter, which suburban woman, which Main Street Republican on the fence is going to vote for Trump now?

 But if the strategy was to stay alive and, at the same time, to mock the Republican establishment, then his shock-jock, reality-TV brand of politics probably worked. In other words, Breitbart wins.

 It probably worked because here’s what Trump was saying to Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and the rest: I, alone, am the guy your party nominated. You throw me overboard, and you’re throwing the party overboard. I won’t go quietly. I never go quietly. And the Hannity-watching 14 million souls who voted for me won’t go quietly either.

 That’s what scares the Republicans, and here’s how Trump appeals to the base: He brings back bimbo eruptions and threatens — yes, actively threatens — that if he’s elected president, he will appoint a special prosecutor to look into Clinton’s many supposed crimes. That’s Trumpian democracy — lock up the opposition. And so the lock-her-up chants found a champion in the normally subdued halls of a presidential debate.

 Trump hovered and grimaced and sniffed and lurked and repeatedly called Clinton a liar while sending the fact-checkers into overdrive. In a slightly gentler time, Trump would have been accused of going into Rick Lazio territory — when in a long-ago U.S. Senate debate Lazio walked into Clinton’s personal space. There was no personal space on this stage.

 There were so many moments in the most bizarre of political nights that it’s hard to pick one. I mean, you could start with Clinton and Trump failing to shake hands as the debate began or when Trump brought the Bill Clinton accusers to the debate to sit in the first row or when Clinton said Trump wasn’t fit to be president or when Trump threw Mike Pence under the bus or when Clinton said Trump owed Obama an apology for birtherism or when Trump said the difference between Abe Lincoln and Hillary Clinton was that Honest Abe was, you know, honest.

 But this was the moment of the night: Hillary Clinton, in summing up the danger a Trump presidency would present to the rule of law, said, “It’s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.”

 To which Trump replied: “Because you’d be in jail.”

If there’d been a curtain, it would have fallen.

 Moderators Martha Raddatz and Anderson Cooper managed to survive the night. Raddatz is great at this, and, in another moment, she asked Trump what would happen if Aleppo fell. She might as well have been asking that of Gary Johnson. Trump, of course, had no idea. She kept pressuring him on his Syria policy, knowing, as we all know, he has no Syria policy.

 Not that it was easy night for Clinton. She still doesn’t have a decent email answer — and Trump went after her hard for it. The latest Wikileaks email dump didn’t have much in it to damage Clinton, but it did have the public-private line which suggests that Clinton may be the politician that she is, which is to say two-faced. This time, Trump got stronger as the debate went on, and Clinton retreated, trying, as she said, to take Michelle Obama’s high-low-road advice, although she couldn’t keep to it. When you’re in the ring with a lion, you have to use the whip sometimes.

 Did the debate change anything? These things are hard to know in the moment, but I’ll go with both yes and no. It didn’t change the state of the election. Let’s just say you can get some long odds now on the betting market. But it did change the way Republican leadership sees Trump. They knew he could go low, but they never thought he’d go this low while threatening to drag them down with him.

 Illustration by Mark Hammermeister, Creative Commons, Flickr