Fair and Unbalanced

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Mike Littwin

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

Littwin: The Donald, he has his regrets

regret

Donald Trump regrets to announce that you should forget about the old Donald Trump, the one who won the GOP nomination by occasionally bringing you personal pain — the worst kind of pain, by the way — and not only when you were doubled over in astonishment at his latest insult-comic routine.

Forget that guy. This is the new, even classier version of Trump (and for those of you old enough to remember the new Nixon, if it seems like deja vu all over again, that’s because it is).

This is the reset-button Trump whose polls are cratering, whose not-likable-enough numbers are soaring, whose orange-haired popularity is only slightly higher than that of green-haired Ryan Lochte, whose PR team is probably right now putting together a sorry-if-I-caused-any-personal-pain statement. But, to Lochte’s credit, he has insulted only two nations. Trump is working on an entire planet.

There are at least two remarkable things about the new Trump’s speech in Charlotte.

One, the man who prides himself on never having to say he’s sorry did just that, although, as everyone has noted by now, he didn’t say exactly what he was sorry for. As in his policy plans, this speech was woefully short on specifics. He didn’t mention whether he was apologizing to Gold Star families or to John McCain or for the whole birther thing or to Cruz’s dad or to ISIS co-founders Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton or to disabled people or to Megyn Kelly/Carly Fiorina/all other women or for appealing to his Second Amendment people to do what (he thinks) his Second Amendment people should do.

The list is so long. And when Trump first said he regretted being, well, so Donald Trumpish, the crowd in Charlotte, N.C., laughed because, you know. But then he said, “Believe it or not, I do regret it,” and so the crowd cheered, because it’s a Trump crowd and they’ll cheer whatever he says.

Two — and this is the truly remarkable part — there are people, apparently including the new Trump and his newly organized new-Trump staff, who think this act of desperation might just work.

Just to be clear, on the night that Trump was confessing all his sins — if not exactly in the way St. Augustine might have done it — one of his no-medical-degree-needed surrogates was on TV, with a straight face, diagnosing weak-Hillary with dysphasia. (And if reading that doesn’t give you brain damage, I’m not sure what will.) No word on whether that diagnosis was painful, or absurd, enough to reach the Trump-apology threshold. But whatever else it was, it was old Trump, the pre-pivot Trump, the real Trump, just as it would be in Charlotte when Trump went back to blaming the media for whatever it was that Trump was supposedly apologizing for. Just as it is in Trump’s first campaign ads, in which the dark overtones of  Hillary Clinton’s America is old Trump at his dystopian worst.

Here’s the new-Trump money shot in the speech, which is worth reading in full, because it’s either the start of an entirely new phase of the campaign or (here’s my guess) it’s not.

“Sometimes in the heat of debate and speaking on a multitude of issues, you don’t choose the right words or say the right thing,” Trump said. “I have done that. And believe it or not, I regret it. And I do regret it. Particularly where it may have caused personal pain. Too much is at stake for us to be consumed with these issues.

“But one thing I can promise you is this: I will always tell you the truth.”

OK, note the truth-telling part from the candidate whose campaign has been one long exercise in fact-checkery. But Clinton’s weakness is in her untrustworthiness numbers, and it is there where Trump must go to have any chance at winning.

Careful Trump observers were also quick to spot another change in what was Trump’s third consecutive prompter speech. He used the words “we” and “together.” These are not words he likes. He likes the “I” word, as in “I alone can fix it.” It’s the strongman’s choice of personal pronoun, and, believe me, he was back to it by speech’s end with his two-fold pitch to African-American voters to vote for him: “What do you have to lose?” and “I can fix it.” Oh, and he also called Hillary Clinton a “bigot.” For the record, he didn’t apologize.

Here are some of the new-Trump, new-outreach Trumpisms as collected by the Washington Examiner’s Byron York:

“We are one country, one people, and we will have together one great future.”

“I’d like to talk about the New American Future we are going to create together.”

“This isn’t just the fight of my life, it’s the fight of our lives — together — to save our country.”

“We are going to bring this country together.”

“Together, we will make America strong again.”

He reached out to blacks, Hispanics, whoever else he could think of. It was that kind of inclusive, big-ballroom kind of speech that shocked the political world because, if nothing else, Trump had just hired Breitbart flamethrower Steve Bannon to run his campaign, and everyone assumed this was the start of the Let-Trump-Be-Trump movement, in which the untethered candidate would go out in a blaze of glory. It was to be his final go-big-or-go-home-and-start-a-media-company moment.

And it still may be, unless you believe — and it pains me to even suggest it – that the new under-control, read-from-the-prompter Trump could last all the way till November.

 

Photo credit: Sachin Patil, Creative Commons, Flickr

 

Trump

If you watched Donald Trump’s low-volume, slow-motion, NASCAR-on-yellow speech on foreign “policy,” you now understand the problem.

Trump said many of the same headline-making ridiculous things he usually says, but he said them much more quietly and using his grown-up words.

Meaning, I’m guessing, that hardly anyone will have even noticed.

After a weekend in which The New York Times rattled Trump by revealing that his staff and advisers have all but given up on trying to make him seem as if he’s actually interested in winning the presidency, Trump had to do something. So he delivered one of his rare, serious-sounding, prompter-read speeches that, like most campaign speeches, risks putting the audience to sleep.  

He didn’t call anyone crooked, not even Hillary, whom he called Secretary Clinton as if, you know, that was her actual title. He didn’t say that Obama founded ISIS or even that he sympathized with terrorists. He didn’t call for a ban on an entire religion, although the temporary ban on Muslim immigrants is still on his website. He didn’t have anything to say about Mexican/Indiana judges or Gold Star parents or Second Amendment people/hit squads.

He was on his best behavior. And yet.

What’s the point of saying we need to do extreme vetting on immigrants — in a nod, it seemed to me, toward either McCarthyism or a new X-Games sport — if you can’t snarl that the corrupt and disgusting and misleading media are going to misconstrue everything you say and cause you, a known winner, to be smacked around by Hillary Clinton in all the polls?

Instead, he got gentle mockery about his “commission” — since when does Donald Trump need a commission? — to “expose the networks in our society that support radicalization.” And a little-less-gentle mockery about just how extreme his vetting would have to be in order to root out second-generation terrorism.

If you listened carefully, you did hear Trump question Clinton’s “physical stamina,” a nod to the Hannity campaign on Clinton’s so-called seizures, which is a step up, I guess, from going after Clinton for so-called murders.

He said, once again, that he would have taken Iraq oil, which seems illegal, and that he would have done it somehow without leaving troops on the ground. But I nearly missed it. And though he said he opposed the war in Iraq (he didn’t) and that he opposed the invasion of Libya (he didn’t) and that he longed for the days when dictators ruled the Middle East, it doesn’t have quite the same edge if you couldn’t have Muslims cheering somewhere in New Jersey. The best the could do was throw in the entirely fabricated line about the San Bernadino killers’ neighbors seeing bombs lying all over the floor but not reporting them to police because of, you guessed it, political correctness. It would have been a horrible thing to say, but he has said it so many times before — and usually much, much louder.

Still, you couldn’t miss his air kiss to Putin, but come on, it’s Putie. And his campaign manager, Paul Manafort, probably slipped it onto the prompter feed.

So, here’s where we are. Trump is cratering in the polls. He has turned purple states like Colorado and Virginia into various shades of blue, even as he campaigns in ultra-blue, no-chance Connecticut.

He can’t get attention without being outrageous. And the more outrageous he is, the more he turns off voters, particularly female voters, and even, if the polls are right, Republican and Republican-leaning women.

Remember 2014, when Mark Udall was Senator Uterus and was blamed for turning the 2014 race against Cory Gardner into a referendum on women’s issues? In 2016, Trump is showing how to lose the women’s vote without even mentioning women’s issues, if you don’t include the issue of insulting women’s looks or, say, the former Secretary of State’s physical and mental stamina.

We know how toxic Trump is for Colorado Republicans. Cory “There Is No Presidential Race” Gardner continues to ignore the presidential race (if there is one). Darry Glenn, who, uh, bravely latched on to Trump, went to the RedState Gathering last weekend and apparently didn’t mention Trump at all. In fact, his big moment came when running from reporters asking him about why he seemed to suggest that Barack Obama had personally directed the FBI to ignore the Orlando shooter.

And so, Trump is losing by 14 points in Colorado, and in the latest Virginia poll, he’s losing by 14 points there. Trump is reduced to saying that the only way he can lose Pennsylvania is by being cheated and calling for his people (I’m not sure which amendment applies here; maybe it’s an article) to do some poll-watching and make sure this thing isn’t rigged.

It’s no wonder the Clinton super PACs are abandoning, at least in the near term, Colorado, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Nate Silver’s model at fivethirtyeight.com gives Clinton an 89 percent chance to win. The betting markets have broken 80. And as you’ll be reminded often over the next week or so, no candidate since Harry Truman has trailed in the polls two weeks after the conventions and gone on to win the popular vote.

What can Trump do if letting Trump be Trump isn’t working and not letting Trump be Trump isn’t working? Meanwhile, Uncle Joe Biden joins Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail and steals the headlines by saying that if Trump enjoys authoritarians like Putin so much, he would have surely loved Uncle Joe Stalin. I’m sure Trump was enraged — with jealousy.

Photo credit: Michael Vadon, Creative Commons, Flickr 

Trump

We’ve reached that point in the campaign where everyone is suddenly afraid to state the obvious. What we need is a truth teller. Someone who all he does is tell the truth.

You know, like The Donald.

Asked whether his latest foray into campaign fabulism can possibly work, Trump says that if it doesn’t, it won’t be for lack of effort, and, besides, the worst that can happen when you’re Donald Trump is that you’ll be facing a really great post-race vacay. Melania could make the plans. I’m sure there’s a cool itinerary she can copy from the internet.

In any case, the man who famously says all he does is win is ready to face the prospect that he might lose.

Asked on CNBC about his poor poll numbers and what he can do to change things up, Trump said, “Just keep doing the same thing I’m doing right now and at the end, it’s either going to work or I’m going to, you know — I’m going to have a very, very nice, long vacation.”

Does this sound like a crazy man out of touch with reality? Or just a carnival barker worried that his shtick is starting to fail him who knows that it’s the only shtick he’s got?

If you’ve ever wondered what a desperate Donald Trump looks like, turn on your TV. He’s there somewhere. Hell, he’s the one guy who can dependably knock real winners like Michael Phelps and Simone Biles off the screen.

All he had to do, in his own Trumpian version of a two-and-a-half twists off a backward salto, was to rapidly and completely change the conversation from political assassination to, well, political suicide.

It’s as astonishing as anything you’ll see from Rio.

Just think back a few days to when everyone was talking about Trump’s “Second Amendment people.” That doesn’t even register anymore. Now the conversation is about two things:

One, Trump’s birther-plus decision to accuse Barack Hussein Obama of being the “founder” of ISIS who is “honored” by the ISIS terrorists and who is — if you’ll recall an earlier Trumpism — winkingly in league with anyone out to destroy America. And, of course, he says you shouldn’t forget Hillary Clinton, who he says is Obama’s co-MVP on ISIS and a co-founder of the terrorist group — even though Clinton was the hawk in the Obama administration who advocated being tougher in Iraq and Syria.

Two, how desperate — and desperate for applause — he must be to think that saying something so obviously provocative and so obviously untrue that even CNN  calls it untrue on its “breaking news” chyron was going to help him become the next president.

And on Friday morning, he did it again — this time a three-and-a-half twister — saying that everyone had missed the point and, that, of course, he was being “sarcastic,” just like he was being sarcastic about the Russians hacking Hillary and sarcastic about Ted Cruz’s dad helping to kill Kennedy. Oh, wait, he wasn’t being sarcastic about JFK? Oh, wait, you mean we have to add “sarcastic” to the list of words Trump doesn’t understand?

The fact-checkers were all over ISIS. I mean, there is argument about when ISIS was founded. Some have it at 1999. Some at 2004. Some at 2006. It all depends on what your definition of founded is. But whenever it was, it was long before Obama got into office. You can accuse Obama of mishandling ISIS, or of calling the team he didn’t found a JV team or of botching the situation in Syria. But the terrorist group was, unsurprisingly, founded by real terrorists.

But the real work that needs to be done here is not in fact-checking, but in explaining why Trump seems so intent on confirming the impression that he is the deeply ignorant demagogue Democrats want you to think he is.

It wasn’t as if he didn’t have the chance to push back on the “founder” shtick earlier. When one interviewer asked him if the comments weren’t unnecessarily inflammatory, Trump replied, “Let them be inflammatory. I told the truth. I told the truth.”

And when Hugh Hewitt, a Trump-friendly interviewer, tried to walk Trump back from the abyss, saying that what he meant to say was that Obama had given space to ISIS because he had “lost the peace” in Iraq, Trump held firm.

“No,” Trump said. “I meant he’s the founder of ISIS. I do. He was the most valuable player. I give him the most valuable player award. I give her, too, by the way, Hillary Clinton.”

When Hewitt noted that Obama was doing his best to kill everyone in ISIS, Trump was unimpressed.

“I don’t care. He was the founder. His, the way he got out of Iraq was that — that was the founding of ISIS, OK?”

You can see where we are. Trump is getting hammered in the polls. The betting markets have him down to 14 percent. Meanwhile, media types — like me — who predicted that Trump would never even make it to a vote in Iowa are reluctant to look foolish by writing him off again, even though it seems increasingly clear that the strategy that won him the GOP nomination is the only strategy he knows and that it can’t work in a general election.

And so, in disbelief, we watch him go in succession from lock-her-up dystopia to Gold Star family bashing to predicting rigged elections to the kill-Hill provocation to the ISIS founding and now onto, I think we can safely predict, the next outrage.

And, if you dare, you can also go onto Trump’s truth-telling Twitter account, where you can find this:

“I love watching these poor, pathetic people (pundits) on television working so hard and so seriously to try and figure me out. They can’t!”

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons, Flickr 

Michael Vadon

 

It was inevitable, I guess, that we’d finally get to the point in this presidential campaign when we’d be debating whether or not Donald Trump was advocating killing Hillary Clinton, which is a big step up from suggesting we make America great again by carrying some random protester out on a stretcher.

For the record, I’m sure Trump wasn’t calling for an assassination. OK, I’m pretty sure, anyway. Lock Clinton up, yeah. Call her a devil, sure. Say she’s a monster, of course. Criminal, traitor, you can go down the list.

But however absurd this 2016 campaign might be, it’s not a kill-Hill movie.

I’d agree with Elizabeth Warren’s take on Trump when she mockingly tweeted that he “makes death threats because he’s a pathetic coward who can’t handle the fact that he’s losing to a girl.”

And he is losing. Suddenly, he’s losing bigly, if you believe the polls — and you know how big it is because the Donald suddenly doesn’t believe in the polls at all. In fact, we’ve hit skewed-poll season again, and you know how that turns out.

So he had to shake things up, right? That’s what he was supposed to be doing with his yawningly-received economic message, during which he basically tossed populism under the limo. But the Detroit speech did suggest (if only briefly) a more disciplined Trump, reading from a prompter, even if, as Politico’s Glenn Thrush put it, he sounded like a drunk shouting into a drive-thru speaker.

And then, just when Trump could have stuck with discipline and made the case against “Crooked” Hillary after the New York Times story about emails— yes, more emails — calling into question the relationship between Hillary Clinton’s State Department and Bill Clinton’s foundation. Instead, Trump stepped all over the story, which is just one more reason he’s losing.

The Trump polling slide is probably due to some combination of an amateurish campaign, the lock-her-up GOP dystopian convention, Trump’s calamitous fight with the Gold Star parents, college-educated Republican women remembering what they had learned in class and a hundred other things, which isn’t to say that Trump can’t come back, but some – like election guru Stu Rothenberg — are saying that a comeback would require a miracle.

But back to the throw-away line (if, in fact, you can do a throw-away assassination line), in which he was discussing the “horror” of Hillary Clinton winning the election and appointing judges who would do away with the Second Amendment and possibly Article II, as well.

“If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks,” Trump said. “Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.”

Whatever else that was, it was not a miracle. It’s a joke, presumably, like the baby-tossing line. Or like the easy-way-to-a-Purple-Heart line. Or the Russians-hacking-Clinton line.

And it’s not a joke because this guy could actually be president in what would be a major test of the American democratic project — which is something he didn’t build, but something he might well tear down. I mean, it’s bad enough that he’s constantly talking about a “rigged” election, presumably promising a challenge if he loses, possibly with those “Second Amendment people” and maybe Vladimir Putin by his side. You don’t have wonder why all those Republican national security people are so publicly switching sides.

I was struck by a couple of things as I watched Trump deliver the Second Amendment line, starting with the fact that most in the audience didn’t even seem to notice. There was the one guy in the frame behind Trump who went slack-jawed and exchanged an incredulous stare with the woman sitting next to him.

The more important stuff was on my Twitter feed, where the line was immediately deconstructed. Did he mean killing Clinton or did he mean killing the justices she would appoint or did he mean an armed insurrection because appointing justices would be, you know, tyranny?

But it’s not just small-d democrats who should be offended by the joke – which Trump wouldn’t say was a joke, because even he understands at some level that you shouldn’t joke about assassinations in American politics — it’s also those “Second Amendment people.”

Those of us on the left are often accused of conflating “Second Amendment people” with people who kill people with guns. The actual argument, of course, is that the NRA and its allies help make it too easy for people who kill people with guns to get hold of them.

But what do you think Trump meant by “Second Amendment people” — that they’re would-be assassins? That they’re ready for civil war?

Trump tried to defend the line by saying he was simply encouraging those concerned about gun rights to vote. His campaign said Trump was just calling our attention to the “power of unification” or something. Eventually, Trump just settled for the “dishonest media” quoting him, well, correctly.

So, let’s just say that it was a joke, and that, at the same time, it was not a joke, which is as good an explanation for the Trump phenomenon as any.

[Photo credit: Michael Vadon via Creative Commons on Flickr]

Marine shot

Donald Trump may have briefly left Colorado, to the relief of fire marshals throughout the state, but he’s coming back next week. And in any case, he’s still very much around in spirit. And if you’re not disturbed by his presence, you must not be a Republican running in a toss-up district.

Ask Mike Coffman, who made headlines Thursday by publicly dissing Trump, if not exactly disavowing him.

If you haven’t seen Coffman’s new campaign ad, you will. It’s apparently a smallish ad buy, but the fact is Coffman won’t even have to put it on the air. He’s getting Trump-like free media simply by being a Republican making an anti-Trump ad.

Here’s how it begins: Looking oddly off to the side of the camera, Coffman says, “People ask me, ‘What do you think about Trump?’ Honestly, I don’t care for him much.”

He then goes on to say he doesn’t trust Hillary Clinton, either, and that, as a Marine, he’s for America, but not so much for America’s two major-party candidates.

And here’s where he takes another shot at Trump: “I’m a Marine – for me, country comes first. My duty is always to you. So if Donald Trump is the president, I’ll stand up to him. Plain and simple.”

This might lead you to believe that Coffman has decided not to support Trump. That’s what I would have thought, too, if I didn’t know Coffman better.

Fortunately, Brandon Rittiman of 9News got hold of Coffman and asked that very question: Would the congressman “rule out supporting Donald Trump for president?”

And Coffman’s answer: “No.”

As in, no, he might still support Trump, and he’s definitely not supporting Clinton, and there’s a chance he could go Libertarian and vote for Gary Johnson, but he’s not saying he will, because where’s the advantage in that. In other words, it’s the old support-but-not-endorse gambit. Or maybe it’s the old vote-for-but-not-support gambit. Or something like that.

So, what is going on? It’s the same thing that’s going on wherever Republican politicians meet. The party is in full panic mode, and while it would be foolish to write Trump off at this point – we should give the spiking polls at least a couple of weeks to settle down – it might be even more dangerous not to write him off. And there’s the problem.

Clinton’s lead in the avalanche of recent polls presumably reflects both a post-convention bounce and also Trump’s prolonged bully-boy feud with the Muslim-American Gold Star parents. Coffman had called Trump’s dispute with Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the parents of an Army captain killed in Iraq, “deeply offensive.” It is offensive, of course, but it’s actually worse than that.

This days-long feud reveals, in case anyone had possibly missed it, Trump’s utter lack of self-control – not a good look for someone whose, uh, short fingers would be in reach of the nuclear codes.

The question for Coffman and every other Republican in a tight race is how to separate yourself from Trump without separating yourself entirely from Trump’s supporters. It’s a tricky proposition, the kind that Cory “There Is No Presidential Race” Gardner could pull off, but I’m not sure Coffman has what it takes.

And yet.

Democrats have thrown everything they could at Coffman, who clobbered Andrew Romanoff in 2014. This year, the Democrats are running Morgan Carroll, another potentially strong candidate in a district Barack Obama carried in 2012. The people who are supposed to know these things are calling the 6th CD race a toss-up, although you may want to note that these same people were calling it a toss-up at this point in 2014, too.

But this is different. It’s the Republican candidates who pose the real threat to Coffman. For him to win in November, Coffman will probably have to rely on voters splitting their tickets not just once, but repeatedly, in an era when ticket-splitting is as out of fashion as taxi-hailing.

On the top of the ballot, there’s Trump, of course, who is again facing speculation that he doesn’t really want to be president, which would explain the state of his campaign. Then there are the rumors – which should not necessarily be believed, either – that some prominent Republicans are considering a come-to-Jesus, 2 Corinthians intervention with Trump,

And then there’s Darryl Glenn, the unapologetic Christian constitutional conservative running for the U.S. Senate. But Glenn, a Trump supporter, is so far behind in the polling that Michael Bennet, once considered the most vulnerable Democratic Senate incumbent, is now the odds-on favorite.

So, what is Coffman to do? He told 9News that he might withhold his endorsement of Trump, but still vote for him. Or he might endorse him and, for all we know, not vote for him. Or he might vote for someone else, although presumably not Jill Stein.

Here’s the actual Coffman quote: “It’s hard for me to see at this point in time that Trump could change to the extent that I would lend my name to his campaign. If (Trump) continues down the path that he continues, I’m not going to support him. I don’t think there’s a question about that.”

If Trump does continue down the path that he continues (don’t blame me, that’s what Coffman said), Coffman will have to do something, like maybe cut another ad. This time he could look directly into the cameras and say, as a Marine, he really, really, really doesn’t care much for Trump and that this time he means it.

Flickr photo by Luis Alberto Martinez Riancho