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“Arguing Candidly With Trump Instead Of Flattering Him”: Inside Story; Behind Trump’s Breakup With Consultant Roger Stone

The tumultuous split between Roger Stone and Donald Trump – allied since their introduction more than 30 years ago by the late and legendary right-wing attorney Roy Cohn – erupted from internal divisions that have troubled the real estate mogul’s presidential campaign almost from the beginning, according to knowledgeable sources. Among the figures who may seek to fill the strategic vacuum left by Stone’s abrupt departure is none other than David Bossie, who runs the Citizens United Foundation and has long been associated with disreputable figures on the Republican right.

Stone’s very public resignation followed the Fox News Republican primary debate and Trump’s subsequent sparring with moderator Megyn Kelly. He complained on CNN that when the Fox anchor raised his past misogynist remarks during the debate, “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes…Blood coming out of her wherever.” Interpreted as a reference to menstruation, which Trump later denied, those words provoked a powerful backlash from across the political spectrum, leading to an angry argument between him and Stone over the debate results and aftermath.

On Saturday morning, Washington Post reporter Robert Costa tweeted an interview with Trump saying that he had fired Stone, whom he disparaged as a “publicity seeker.” Stone tweeted back: “Sorry @realDonaldTrump didn’t fire me—I fired Trump. Disagree with diversion to food fight with @megynkelly away [from] core issue messages.” The provocative political consultant and “dirty trickster” quickly produced a letter of resignation that he had sent to Trump, lamenting the end of their long personal and professional relationship, while noting that “current controversies involving personalities and provocative media fights have reached such a high volume that it has distracted attention from your platform and overwhelmed your core message … I can no longer remain involved in your campaign.” Friends of Stone confirmed to reporters that he had discussed resigning from the campaign even before the Fox debate.

Behind the media histrionics and dueling Twitter messages, however, were intrigues that sources trace to the hostility between Stone and campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, an ambitious former Capitol Hill staffer and employee of Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers’ political operation.

On August 2, Lewandowski arranged the firing of Sam Nunberg, a Stone protégé bounced from the campaign after an anonymous informant sent an email about racist posts on Nunberg’s Facebook page, including a 2007 post mocking the daughter of Rev. Al Sharpton, to the political editor of Business Insider. Under Stone’s direction, Nunberg had almost singlehandedly prepared all of the Trump campaign’s position papers, talking points, and written materials.

But Lewandowski clashed frequently with the volatile, obsessive, wonkish Nunberg and apparently appreciated neither his abilities nor his efforts. When asked about Nunberg, Lewandowski called him “a short-term consultant,” telling CNN that the campaign would “investigate” Nunberg to determine whether he had written the racist posts; and if so, he would be terminated.

Then, despite a personal promise from Trump to Nunberg that he could resign quietly to preserve his career, Lewandowski made sure that the campaign publicly announced his dismissal. It was a gratuitous bit of nastiness that infuriated Stone, who told friends he suspected Lewandowksi’s hand in the exposure of Nunberg’s inflammatory Facebook post.

So Stone had developed a low opinion of Lewandowski well before the Fox debate, telling friends that “due diligence” ought to have precluded Trump from hiring the campaign manager. Lewandowski has no previous presidential-level experience but his résumé undeniably does include stints with former Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH), who went to prison in 2006 after pleading guilty to corruption charges in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, and former Senator Bob Smith (R-NH), who lost his seat in 2002 after angering fellow Republican senators and GOP leaders in his home state. In fact, Lewandowski managed Smith’s embarrassing, doomed campaign.

To those who know Stone, whose experience in national politics dates back to the 1968 Nixon campaign, his irritation at being overruled by someone of such lowly political stature was understandable. The Trump campaign, as he saw it, had become dominated by mediocre climbers who would never speak honestly to the casino mogul.

The Bossie connection also troubled Stone, according to the same sources. Trump had hired Lewandowski after meeting him at a New Hampshire event for Republican presidential hopefuls sponsored by Citizens United and Americans for Prosperity, where Bossie reportedly recommended the 40-year-old operative to Trump. Stone may suspect that Bossie – a disreputable GOP operative who runs profitable email response campaigns — might have designs on the tens of thousands of valuable names and email addresses of conservatives who have contributed money on the Trump website. In only two days, tens of thousands had signed up for a “matching campaign,” making donations that the Manhattan developer promised to double.

Stone’s frustration grew, sources say, because his attempts to influence Trump’s direction and strategy went largely ignored. Instead, he found himself on the defensive internally against adversaries who wanted both him and Nunberg ousted. The worst offense that any consultant or staffer could commit, from Trump’s perspective, was to seek publicity for himself or herself. When Vox published a profile of Stone in late July – without a single quote from him – the piece somehow landed on Trump’s desk and sent him into a rage. Meanwhile, both Lewandowski and campaign press secretary Hope Hicks, a 26-year-old former assistant to Ivanka Trump, were profiled in Politico and the Washington Post Style section, respectively – with no repercussions for either of them.

Campaign intrigues aside, Stone put himself at risk by arguing candidly with Trump instead of flattering him. While sources say that Stone’s advice wasn’t infallible – he wrongly predicted, for instance, that Trump would get little traction without traditional polling and television advertising – he was certainly correct to say that the candidate should have ignored Megyn Kelly after the Fox debate. And if Trump intends to brandish a credible third-party threat, the only figure in his campaign with any relevant competence was Stone, who helped put Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson on the 2012 presidential ballot in 48 states.

Yet the toxic tide of anti-immigrant, xenophobic acrimony that has carried Trump this far may take him further still, even without his old friend and confidant. In a “scientifically weighted” online survey released by NBC on Sunday, he is still leading the Republican race with 23 percent, essentially unchanged from his previous level of support – even though he also topped the list of biggest “losers” of the debate among Republican voters.


By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, The National Memo, August 9, 2015

August 12, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Primary Debates, Roger Stone | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What Do They Know About Diplomacy?”: Republicans Who Oppose The Iran Deal Are Making Promises They Can’t Keep

The partisan debate over international efforts to forestall an Iranian nuclear weapons program has been stuck in a loop of self-parody ever since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempted to sabotage the negotiations with an address before Congress this past March. In the ensuing months, Republican opponents have continuously echoed Netanyahu’s unsubstantiated insistence that he and other Iran deal skeptics don’t propose war or regime change or outright failure to keep Iran from manufacturing a weapon, but a “better deal,” the particulars of which remain mysterious to everyone.

“We’re being told that the only alternative to this bad deal is war,” Netanyahu said in his joint session address. “That’s just not true. The alternative to this bad deal is a much better deal.”

“It’s either this deal or a better deal, or more sanctions,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell argued just last week.

The putative existence of this “better deal” is meant to trump supporters of the global powers agreement, who argue quite sensibly that the agreement itself must be held up against an array of feasible alternatives, rather than a fantastical scenario in which Iran capitulates to every demand Netanyahu would have made. Netanyahu and Republicans can’t articulate a preferable, feasible alternative, but they also don’t like the intimation that their position amounts to a Trojan Horse, so they say “better deal” over and over again, overwhelming the entire debate with vagueness, deception and hysteria.

But there’s something particularly maddening about this story, above and beyond the fact that the deal’s opponents are equivocating and hiding the ball and generally unwilling to level with the public about their goals. The structure of their critique suggests not that they think cutting a deal with Iran, in which everyone makes concessions, is per se unwise, but that the global powers screwed up the negotiations and gave away too much. They argue in essence that the diplomacy was conducted incompetently, and that they would’ve done a better job.

But there is no reason to believe this, because so many of the deal’s prominent critics have thin or failed diplomatic records of their own or have built their careers around the notion that negotiating with enemies is a sign of inherent weakness.

Netanyahu epitomizes the disconnect better than anyone else. Why should anybody in America or anywhere lend a favorable view to Netanyahu’s pronouncements about diplomatic tradecraft? He doesn’t boast a record of cutting “better deals” or even really of cutting deals at all. To the contrary, the political balance he’s struck in Israel, quite transparently, is to promise a “better deal” with Palestinians at some point in the future, while governing without any intention of reaching it. As his most recent election approached, he briefly campaigned on the promise not to cut one, then sheepishly and unconvincingly backtracked after his premiership was secured. He’s brokered no major deals elsewhere in the region, either, or really treated diplomacy as a useful problem-solving tool in general. Viewed as a diplomatic effort, his campaign of sabotage against the global powers agreement is a reckless disaster, which risks causing irreparable damage to the relationship between his country and its one true, powerful ally.

To underscore that point, there is a pronounced strain of thought within Israel among skeptics of the agreement that Netanyahu is making a profound error by waging a scorched-earth campaign against it—that the only thing worse than the deal itself is interfering to sabotage it. As the Wall Street Journal reported this weekend:

In unusually direct terms, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin this week warned Mr. Netanyahu that his aggressive campaign to defeat the deal risked harming a relationship central to Israel’s security. “The prime minister has waged a campaign against the United States as if the two sides were equal, and this is liable to hurt Israel,” Mr. Rivlin, a member of the premier’s Likud party, said in an interview published Friday in the daily Maariv. Yedioth Ahronoth and Haaretz carried similar interviews with the president.

“I have told him, and I’m telling him again, that struggles, even those that are just, can ultimately come at Israel’s expense,” said the president, adding: “We are largely isolated in the world.”

This isn’t a quirk unique to Netanyahu either. Most Republican presidential candidates have adopted the same approach to global affairs. They support a comically ineffective embargo over normalization with Cuba. They debate each other, as Scott Walker and Jeb Bush just did, over whether it might be necessary to bomb Iran on the first day of a Republican presidency, or only after waiting to get a cabinet in place. President Barack Obama’s foreign policy record isn’t unblemished, but he can boast of real diplomatic successes—reaching climate change agreements with China, Brazil, and Mexico, re-establishing relations with Cuba, to say nothing of the global powers agreement itself. Republicans, by contrast, say things like, “What we object to is the President’s lack of realism—his ideological belief that diplomacy is good and force is bad.”

Yet at the same time, they stipulate that critics should take their promise that a “better deal” is possible at face value. In this way they are like, well, themselves, in the domestic realm—forever promising to repeal Obamacare and replace it with “something that doesn’t suppress wages and kill jobs,” or “something terrific,” without elaboration. Another “better deal” that for some reason can’t be put to paper in a way that convinces anyone of its seriousness. But at least in the similarly farcical debate over Obamacare, much of the public has learned not to place stock in promises like this. The same can’t be said of the Iran deal opponent’s false promises, and against that backdrop the Republican position is beginning to seep into the mainstream.


By: Brian Beutler, Senior Editor at The New Republic, August 11, 2015

August 12, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran Nuclear Agreement, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Amusing Story Behind Joe Lieberman’s New Gig”: The Previous Chair Decided The Nuclear Agreement With Iran Is A Good Idea

At first blush, the press release seemed rather mundane. A group called United Against Nuclear Iran, which opposes the international agreement, announced yesterday that former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) will take over as the organization’s new chairman.

But if Lieberman is the new chairman, that must mean there’s an old chairman he’s replacing. And that’s where the story gets amusing. TPM’s Josh Marshall wrote:

I’ve been meaning to write more about the on-going farce which is the opposition to the world powers deal to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon. But I just came across a hilarious story which really brings together the tragic, tendentious and hysterical (yes, both meanings) nature of this drama.

I just learned that Joe Lieberman, storied Middle East hawk, has joined United Against Nuclear Iran as its new Chairman. UANI is one of several pressure groups now rolling out massive ad campaigns against the deal bankrolled by assorted billionaires.

So far, so good. Assorted billionaires think they can and should kill the international agreement, which would likely undermine their own long-term goals, though they’re proceeding anyway. To that end, UANI has hired Joe Lieberman, who became a D.C. lobbyist after swearing he wouldn’t.

But United Against Nuclear Iran already had a chairman: Dr. Gary Samore, a scholar at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, who led the group for two years. Why replace him with Lieberman?

Because Dr. Gary Samore has decided that the international nuclear agreement with Iran is a good idea. Indeed, deep into yesterday’s UANI press release, the document concedes, “Gary ultimately supports the agreement and is stepping down to avoid any conflict with UANI’s work in opposition to the agreement.”

Or as Josh Marshall put it, “The deal is such a Chamberlainesque catastrophe that one of the main anti-deal pressure groups had to part ways with its leader because he supports the deal.”

Quite right. We’ve reached the point at which United Against Nuclear Iran has failed to persuade its own chairman that the deal must be derailed. A lobbying group that exists to oppose the deal has parted ways with its boss, who supports the deal.

Time will tell what happens in the larger debate over the policy, but in substantive terms, this really isn’t a good sign for the anti-diplomacy forces.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 11, 2015

August 12, 2015 Posted by | Iran Nuclear Agreement, Joe Lieberman, Lobbyists | , , , , | Leave a comment

“His Campaign Is Circling The Drain”: What Rick Perry’s Fall Tells Us About The GOP Primary Process

Rick Perry’s candidacy is not dead, it’s just pining for the fjords.

Perhaps I’m being unkind. After all, it’s only August, and there’s at least one example — John McCain in 2008 — of a candidate who hit rock bottom, was counted out by everyone, and came back to win his party’s nomination. But Perry is now struggling for his political life, when he should have been a strong contender for the nomination. How did this happen? We’re talking about a guy who was governor of the largest Republican-dominated state for 14 years, who created a businessman’s paradise of low taxes and almost no regulations, whose contempt for Washington is plain for all to see, who genuinely came from humble beginnings, who served in uniform, who’s a socially conservative, God-fearin’, gun-lovin’, tough-talkin’ Texan with a natural appeal to all of the party’s constituencies. And yet, his campaign is circling the drain. So can Perry’s floundering help us understand anything about the contemporary presidential campaign?

As I’ve mentioned before, candidates don’t depart presidential primaries when they decide their effort is doomed, they depart when they run out of money. Once the stench of defeat is upon you, it becomes harder to get media attention and harder to raise cash — after all, who wants to donate to a candidate who’s on his way out? There’s a moment on all of those campaigns when the staff is gathered together, and the campaign manager stands up in front of them with obvious pain in his eyes, and tells them that they aren’t going to be able to make the payroll. This is where the Perry campaign is now:

Former Texas governor Rick Perry’s presidential campaign is no longer paying its staff because fundraising has dried up, while his cash-flush allied super PAC is preparing to expand its political operation to compensate for the campaign’s shortcomings, campaign and super PAC officials and other Republicans familiar with the operation said late Monday.

Perry, who has struggled to gain traction in his second presidential run, has stopped paying his staff at the national headquarters in Austin as well as in the early caucus and primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, according to a Republican familiar with the Perry campaign who demanded anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

Perry campaign manager Jeff Miller told staff last Friday, the day after the first Republican presidential debate, that they would no longer be paid and are free to look for other jobs — and, so far at least, most aides have stuck with Perry — according to this Republican.

Perry’s super PACs may still have plenty of money (as of a month ago they had raised nearly $17 million, a respectable if not spectacular total), since they haven’t had to spend what they raised on things like big ad buys. But that may be the first lesson of Perry’s desperate situation: super PACs can’t substitute for a real campaign. While it’s easier to raise money for them since they aren’t constrained by contribution limits, there’s only so much they can do to prop up their candidate when he’s in trouble. If what you need is some more advertising on your behalf to keep you competitive in a primary that’s days away, having a super PAC is great. If what you need is to maintain yourself over the long slog of the pre-primary period, they can do very little, because they can’t pay for your travel or your rent or your staff.

The second lesson could be that, just as everyone suggested, the first debate’s 10-candidate limit really could do damage to at least some of the candidates who didn’t make the cut. Perry was narrowly excluded, even though he trails others who made it, like Chris Christie and John Kasich, by a tiny amount. If he were running a lighter campaign — though I’m not sure, I suspect that the Santorum for President effort right now is two guys and a Geo Metro — he wouldn’t be too damaged by being excluded. But Perry is trying to run a serious effort, and that requires resources.

Perry’s struggles also show that while there may be second acts in GOP presidential primaries, your first act has to be a good one. Most of the people who have won the Republican nomination in recent years did so on their second try — Mitt Romney, John McCain, Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush. But all of them performed pretty well in their first runs, essentially coming in second to the eventual winner. Perry, on the other hand, flamed out spectacularly in 2012. He may be a better candidate this time around, but it appears that few voters were waiting eagerly to hear more from him.

And finally, it’s a reminder that candidate quality matters. Perry may have been an effective politician in the Texas context, where the state is dominated by Republicans and his particular down-home style plays well, but it didn’t seem to translate to other places, four years ago or today. On paper, he may have looked like the perfect Republican presidential candidate. But that’s not where the campaign is decided.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The WashingtoAugust 11, 2015

August 12, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, GOP Primary Debates, Rick Perry | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Wild And Unpredictable Ride”: The Rise Of Donald Trump Is Evidence That Our Political System Isn’t Working

The Republican Party is in total chaos. Democrats aren’t there yet but may be approaching the neighborhood. It’s time to acknowledge that our political system simply isn’t doing its job.

Once again, following Thursday’s debate and its messy aftermath, the GOP establishment confidently predicts that the Donald Trump phenomenon is over, done with, finished, kaput. Why, he picked a fight with popular Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly! He bluffed his way through the debate with rhetoric and showmanship rather than policy positions! His campaign organization is in turmoil! He wouldn’t even pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee!

By any traditional measure, Trump is not a viable candidate. Yet he continues to dominate news coverage of the campaign, and thus far there is no indication that his transgressions have caused the plunge in his poll numbers that party pooh-bahs so eagerly anticipate.

As Buffalo Springfield once sang, “There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.” (Ask your parents, kids.)

By one early measure — an online poll for NBC News conducted by the SurveyMonkey firm — Trump maintained his big lead following the debate, with Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson vaulting into second and third place; businesswoman Carly Fiorina, who dominated the undercard debate, reportedly leapt into the middle of the pack. The numbers in the SurveyMonkey poll are less important than the trend lines: So-called “protest candidates” are capturing voters’ imaginations in a way that establishment candidates are not.

Trump, Fiorina and Carson have never held elective office; the basis of their appeal is that they are not professional politicians. Cruz has spent his time in Washington ostentatiously declining to play politics as usual, recently going so far as to call his own majority leader a liar.

At this point, it is fair to say that a significant portion of the party has lost faith in the GOP establishment. It’s also fair to say that this has little or nothing to do with where candidates stand on the issues.

Trump made his initial mark in this campaign with demagoguery about illegal immigration. But with the exception of Jeb Bush, the other GOP contenders have basically the same position: Seal off the border with Mexico, if necessary by erecting a physical barrier.

Carson has compared the Affordable Care Act to slavery. No other Republican in the race uses such over-the-top language, but they all pledge to repeal Obamacare. Cruz vehemently opposes the Iran nuclear agreement. All the Republican candidates feel the same way. Fiorina wants to shrink bloated government. Everybody else does, too.

The irony is that the Republican field includes several candidates who, in theory, could be formidable in the general election. Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio are both from Florida, a state the GOP basically must win to have any chance in the Electoral College. Ohio Gov. John Kasich or Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker theoretically might be able to pry one or more of the Midwestern industrial states out of Democratic hands.

But the process of quelling the Trump-led insurgency is already boxing the whole field into absolutist positions that will be difficult for the eventual nominee to soften. The longer chaos reigns, I believe, the less room the GOP candidate will have to maneuver.

All of this should make Hillary Clinton very happy. But the Democratic Party and its likely nominee have problems of their own.

To be sure, I’d much rather be playing Clinton’s hand than anybody else’s in either party. In the RealClearPolitics polling averages, she leads her closest opponent for the nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, by 35 points — and beats every one of her potential GOP opponents in hypothetical head-to-head matchups.

One problem, however, is that her favorability has been going down, according to polls. Another is that while Sanders has made few discernible inroads with key parts of the Democratic Party coalition — especially African Americans and Latinos — he is within striking distance of Clinton in the first two caucus and primary states, Iowa and New Hampshire.

Sanders is drawing big, passionate crowds, and I believe one reason is that he, too, is kind of an anti-politician — a man who unabashedly labels himself a socialist and refuses to tailor his views to please a given audience.

Significant numbers of voters seem to be demanding authenticity, passion and rough edges from a nominating process designed to produce none of the above. To state the obvious, this could be a wild and unpredictable ride.


By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 11, 2015

August 12, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Primary Debates, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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