"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Donald Trump Is A Wildly Promiscuous Liar”: Trump’s Lies And Trump’s Authoritarianism Are The Same Thing

On February 7, Donald Trump told an audience of supporters in New Hampshire that he would represent their interests, but Jeb Bush would not, because Bush was in the pocket of special interests. Trump singled out Woody Johnson, the heir to a pharmaceutical fortune, owner of the New York Jets, and contributor to Bush. Trump suggested, not unreasonably, that Johnson’s support would ensure that Bush would never allow the federal government to negotiate for lower prescription-drug prices. “I don’t get any money from any of these special interests, and I know the special interests — I know them better than anybody. But I don’t want their money,” he said. “So tell me, let me ask you: Do you think Jeb Bush is going to make drug prices competitive?” he asked. The crowd shouted, “No!”

This week Trump announced that Johnson would serve as vice-chair of the Trump Victory Fund. “He’s a terrific guy, he’s been a friend of mine a long time,” Trump announced. It was a head-spinning move — the very man Trump had held up as the embodiment of corruption, and whose funds he pledged never to accept, would now take a prominent role as a Trump fund-raiser.

Donald Trump is a wildly promiscuous liar. He also has disturbing authoritarian tendencies. Trump’s many critics have seized upon both traits as his two major disqualifications for the presidency, yet both of them frustratingly defy easy quantification. All politicians lie some, and many of them lie a lot, and most presidents also push the limits of their authority in ways that can frighten their opponents. So what is so uniquely dangerous about Trump? Perhaps the answer is that both of these qualities are, in a sense, the same thing. His contempt for objective truth is the rejection of democratic accountability, an implicit demand that his supporters place undying faith in him. Because the only measure of truth he accepts is what he claims at any given moment, the power his supporters vest in him is unlimited.

Trump lies routinely, about everything. Various journalists have tried to tally up his lies, inevitably giving up and settling for incomplete summaries. Some of these lies are merely standard, or perhaps somewhat exaggerated, versions of the way members of his party talk about policy. (The “real” unemployment rate is as high as 42 percent, or his gargantuan tax-cut plan “will be revenue-neutral.”) At times he engages in especially brazen rewriting of his own positions, such as insisting he opposed the Iraq War when he did not, or denying his past support for universal health insurance. Some of his lies are conspiracy theories that run toward the edges of respectable Republican thought (Barack Obama was actually born abroad) or even well beyond it (Ted Cruz’s father may have conspired to kill John F. Kennedy). In all these areas, Trump has merely improved upon the methods used by the professionals in his field.

Where he has broken truly unique ground is in his lies about relatively small, routine matters. As I’ve pointed out before — it’s become a small personal fixation — after Mitt Romney mocked the failure of Trump Steaks, Trump held a press conference in which he insisted Trump Steaks remained a going concern, despite the undeniable fact that the business no longer exists. (His campaign displayed store-bought steaks for the media, not even bothering to fully remove the labels of the store at which they purchased them.) The New York Times actually reported this week that Trump had displayed his steaks, without mentioning the blatant deception. Another such example is Trump’s prior habit of impersonating an imaginary p.r. representative while speaking to reporters. Obviously, the practice itself is strange enough, but the truly Trumpian touch is that he admitted to the ruse publicly, and then subsequently went back to denying it.

The normal rules of political lying hold that when the lie has been exposed, or certainly when it has been confessed, the jig is up. You have to stop lying about it and tell the truth, or at least retreat to a different lie. Trump bends the rules of the universe to his own will, at no apparent cost. His brazenness is another utterly unique characteristic. His confidence that he can make the truth whatever he wishes at any moment, and toggle back and forth between incompatible realities at will, without any cost to himself, is a display of dominance. Possibly Trump’s most important statement of the campaign was his idle boast that he could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue without losing any votes.

Finally, there is Trump’s habit of settling all disputes with his own peculiar form of ad hominem. He dismisses all criticisms of his statements and his record with an array of put-downs, and likewise confirms all endorsements with praise. Anybody who disagrees with Trump is ugly, short, corrupt, a loser, a habitual liar, a total joke, and so forth. People who support him are smart, beautiful, fair, esteemed, etc. But politics being as it is — and, especially, Trump’s positions being as fluid as they are — the composition of the two categories is in constant flux. One day, you are a failing, ridiculous, deranged liar, and the next day a citizen of the highest regard. Trump literally called Ben Carson a “violent criminal” and a “pathological liar,” akin to a “child molester.” When later accepting Carson’s endorsement, Trump praised his “dignity.” Once Trump mocked Rick Perry as a moron who wore glasses to look smart and who should be required to take an IQ test to participate in presidential debates. Now he is a “good guy, good governor.” This is the pattern Trump uses to dismiss all media criticism, or to amplify friendly coverage. Every reporter or publication is either pathetic and failing or fair and wonderful, and the same reporters and publications can be reclassified as one or the other as Trump sees fit.

1984 is a cliché for invoking totalitarianism, and in any case, Trump is merely an authoritarian and a bully, not a totalitarian. (A totalitarian government, like North Korea, exerts control over every aspect of its citizens’ lives; an authoritarian one, like Putin’s Russia, merely uses enough fear and violence to maintain control.) Nonetheless, the novel does capture the relationship between dictatorial authority and the power to manipulate any fact into a binary but permeable scheme:

The past was alterable. The past never had been altered. Oceania was at war with Eastasia. Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia. Jones, Aaronson, and Rutherford were guilty of the crimes they were charged with. He had never seen the photograph that disproved their guilt. It had never existed, he had invented it. He remembered remembering contrary things, but those were false memories, products of self-deception.

Truth and reason are weapons of the powerless against the powerful. There is no external doctrine he can be measured against, not even conservative dogma, which he embraces or discards at will and with no recognition of having done so. Trump’s version of truth is multiple truths, the only consistent element of which is Trump himself is always, by definition, correct. Trump’s mind is so difficult to grapple with because it is an authoritarian epistemology that lies outside the democratic norms that have shaped all of our collective experiences.


By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, May 26, 2016

May 28, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Special Interest Groups, Woody Johnson | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“No Special-Interest Contributions?”: Will Trump Have To Go On A Fund-Raising Binge If He Wins The GOP Nomination?

One of the big story lines of the presidential cycle is that candidates other than front-runner Donald J. Trump have spent a lot more money on themselves and against him than he’s had to expend, enabling him to pose as the guy too rich (and too popular with small donors) to be vulnerable to “bribery.” This was exemplified by the failed effort by Marco Rubio and an assortment of conservative groups to take down Trump in Florida. Anti-Trump “independent” ads alone in the Sunshine State cost an estimated $35.5 million. Total spending by Trump and his supporters for the entire campaign nationwide is at $25.8 million.

Trump’s difference-maker financially, of course, has been his massive advantage in “earned media” (or what used to be called “free media,” because it’s provided by media coverage free of charge). MediaQuant, a firm that measures and values unpaid media coverage, estimates that Trump has harvested nearly $1.9 billion in earned media this cycle. That’s about twice as much as Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, and Jeb Bush combined have received, and within shouting distance of being twice as much as the two Democratic candidates combined as well.

But general-election campaigns are a lot more expensive than primaries. So it’s not surprising that Trump has hedged on repeating his “no special-interest contributions” pledge beyond the Republican Convention in July, and CNN is reporting that he’s already planning a big fund-raising blitz for the general election.

At The American Prospect, Eliza Newlin Carney puts all this together and suggests that total campaign costs are about to become too high for Trump to perpetually surf earned media to victory:

So far, Trump has enjoyed an extraordinary political ride, fending off millions worth of hostile attacks, prevailing against opponents who out-organized and outspent him, and sparing himself the punishing grind of high-dollar fundraisers. He’s also gotten considerable political mileage out of his claim to be above the big money fray. It remains to be seen whether Trump can continue playing by his own rules, or whether he will be forced to get his hands dirty in the messy business of campaign financing—and answer for it to voters.

But there are two factors that undercut this possibility. For one thing, Trump could liquidate some of his assets (estimated independently as having a value of about $4.5 billion) and self-finance to a considerable extent. And for another, this long nominating contest season in both parties is shortening the general-election campaign and the time and cost of any “air war.” Additionally, earned media is much easier to come by in presidential general elections than any other mode of politics, sometimes dwarfing paid media even when there’s not a wildly entertaining and galvanizing figure like Donald Trump in the fray. So it might make sense for Trump to wait and see if he even needs to spend a lot of money. At the current trajectory Americans won’t grow totally bored with the wiggy dude until some time well into 2017.


By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, March 17, 2016

March 19, 2016 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Donald Trump, Special Interest Groups | , , , , | Leave a comment

“How Trump Beats Cruz”: Define Cruz As Just Another Politician Controlled By Special Interests

Sen Ted Cruz is poised for launch. He has the money, the ground game, and Iowa in his pocket. Conservatives love him, and trust him; the party establishment will fall in line if the choice is between him and Donald Trump. Both Cruz and Trump are each (a bit self-servingly, of course) predicting that’s the choice Republican voters will have to make down the stretch. If it plays out that way, the pressure will be on Trump to halt Cruz’s momentum out of Iowa before the contests in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and the rest of the Southern swing in early March.

Is there any message Trump could use to stop Cruz? There’s a pretty strong one, in fact. It’s one that undercuts Cruz’s central appeal as an “outsider” while reinforcing Trump’s central appeal as a right-wing populist. It portrays Cruz as another double-dealing politician and Trump as the guy who “tells it like it is,” so to speak, and it pits Cruz as a representative of the elite, coastal Republican class against which Trump’s campaign has sparked a working-class rebellion.

Trump can define Cruz as a Wall Street lackey, bought and paid-for by special interests, who will turn his back on the priorities of their overlapping base as soon as he’s in the Oval Office.

Cruz’s money doesn’t come from nowhere. According to a Yahoo Finance analysis in mid-November, 18.6 percent of the money backing Cruz—as in, campaign and super PAC contributions—comes from the financial industry. That was the fourth highest percentage of all presidential candidates, behind Gov. Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, and Sen. Lindsey Graham; in terms of hard dollars ($12.1 million), it was second only to Bush ($35.3 million.) Bush makes no bones about representing the will of the GOP donor class. Cruz does.

Cruz has raised some $38.6 million dollars in outside money, mostly through a set of four super PACs to which New York hedge fund manager Robert Mercer serves as ringleader. Major law firms, investments banks, and energy groups dominate his industry breakdown of his largesse. It is also worth acknowledging that Cruz’s wife, Heidi, is on leave from her job as a Goldman Sachs executive during her husband’s presidential campaign.

How has Cruz hoovered up all of this money, despite frequently bashing “billionaire Republican donors” who “look down on [Republican] voters as a bunch of ignorant hicks and rubes”? It may just be that Cruz has a different tone when addressing donors than he does with the God-fearing Heartland patriots of rhetorical lore. That would make him like most other representatives of the “political class,” but being separate and apart from those vipers is critical to Cruz’s image.

Consider the issue of gay marriage. Big Republican donors in New York love gay marriage. Cruz himself has pointed this out, most vividly in a Senate floor speech he delivered in September:

I can tell you when you sit down and talk with a New York billionaire Republican donor—and I have talked with quite a few New York billionaire Republican donors, California Republican donors, their questions start out as follows. First of all, you’ve got to come out for gay marriage, you need to be pro-choice, and you need to support amnesty. That’s where the Republican donors are. You wonder why Republicans won’t fight on any of these issues? Because the people writing the checks agree with the Democrats.

Thanks to some audio that Politico scooped up, we now have direct evidence of what Cruz says to “New York billionaire Republican donors”—or at least donors well-heeled enough pay four or five figures to attend a luncheon—regarding same-sex marriage. One question posed to Cruz at a December fundraiser, hosted by the law firm Sullivan & Cromwell, went as follows: “So would you say it’s like a top-three priority for you—fighting gay marriage?”

“No,” Cruz said. “I would say defending the Constitution is a top priority. And that cuts across the whole spectrum—whether it’s defending [the] First Amendment, defending religious liberty.

“I also think the 10th Amendment of the Constitution cuts across a whole lot of issues and can bring people together,” he continued. “People of New York may well resolve the marriage question differently than the people of Florida or Texas or Ohio. … That’s why we have 50 states—to allow a diversity of views.” The donor who asked the question, apparently content to learn that stripping same-sex couples of their newfound constitutional right might be a top-five or top-10 concern but certainly not a top-three concern, told Cruz, “Thanks. Good luck.”

This is not a flip-flop. Cruz’s position on same-sex marriage throughout the campaign has been a constitutional amendment “to prevent the federal government or the courts from attacking or striking down state marriage laws,” an amendment he introduced in Congress last year. In other words: He would leave it to state legislatures, as he explained in his answer at the fundraiser.

But good God, the shift in tone! Cruz made a show of offering the most vociferous response to the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage this summer. In a piece for National Review, Cruz wrote that the decision “undermines not just the definition of marriage, but the very foundations of our representative form of government.” On Sean Hannity’s radio show, Cruz declared that the same-sex marriage decision, along with the previous day’s Affordable Care Act decision, marked “some of the darkest 24 hours in our nation’s history.” He reiterated his call for a constitutional amendment, and went further by calling for judicial retention elections as a check on the “lawlessness of the court.”

That was cleverly designed to appeal to evangelical voters of Iowa who both disapprove of same-sex marriage and, a few years ago, led a successful campaign to vote out the state Supreme Court justices who had legalized same-sex marriage there. Cruz now has Iowa evangelicals wrapped around his finger. Even though he didn’t confess to a changed position in the fundraiser tape, do you think those voters will appreciate hearing about how Cruz told wealthy New York socially liberal donors that reversing the right to same-sex marriage isn’t one of his top priorities? Cruz has worked doggedly to win the trust of evangelicals, so this alone won’t do him in. But Mike Huckabee, at least, considers these fighting words, and don’t be surprised to hear Rick Santorum or another lagging Iowa candidate jump into the fray next.

There’s also the case of Cruz’s shifting positions on legal immigration. For a while, Cruz was an ardent supporter of markedly increasing the number of H-1B visas for skilled workers, a policy which wealthy donors applaud. That, however, was before Trump dragged the debate into overtly nativist territory. Cruz’s immigration plan now calls for a six-month suspension of the H-1B program and to “halt any increases in legal immigration so long as American unemployment remains unacceptably high.”

Is this what his team is saying behind closed doors, though? In a meeting with Hispanic Republican leaders last week, Cruz campaign chairman Chad Sweet “repeatedly told the group Cruz wants to be the champion of legal immigration,” according to Republican immigration advocate Alfonso Aguilar, who was in the room. According to Aguilar, Sweet “said there’s no better friend than Ted Cruz to legal immigration.” This is the line that Cruz frequently used to describe his legal immigration platform, before he changed his position. Is he still using it in private, when the audience is right?

One of Trump’s most appealing traits to voters is that he cannot be bought, doesn’t need to raise money, and doesn’t need to curry favor in private with select interest groups. If he needed to court big-dollar donors, you wouldn’t hear him railing on so unreservedly against immigration or free trade or cuts to federal entitlement programs. As David Frum writes in a lengthy Atlantic piece this month, Trump has blown wide open the long-simmering feud between GOP elites, who typically control the party’s presidential nominating process, and GOP working-class voters, who have always fallen in line.

In Cruz, Trump has a foil who fits neatly into his narrative of the enemy career politician subservient to powerful interests. Cruz has done a good job keeping a lid on the lucrative big-dollar fundraising connections that might complicate his narrative as the consummate “outsider.” Expect Trump, a human bullhorn, to change that.


By: Jim Newell, Slate, December 23, 2015

December 28, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Evangelicals, Special Interest Groups | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Which Interests Does He Have In Mind?”: Jeb Bush Says He’s Going To Tackle Special Interests In Washington. Don’t believe Him

Jeb Bush didn’t just release 33 years of his tax returns this week. He also had his campaign create a snappy online presentation, complete with graphs, to help everyone understand them. In the accompanying narrative there was one line that caught my eye. While he may have made millions after leaving the Florida governor’s mansion, Jeb wrote, he didn’t debase himself by doing any lobbying. “That was a line I drew and it was the right one. And it’s a line more people should be drawing in Washington, D.C., where lobbying has become our nation’s premier growth industry. And this culture of special interest access is a problem I plan to tackle as President.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m eager to hear more. How exactly will Bush tackle the culture of special interest access? Does he have some strict new rules in mind to lock the revolving door between government and business? Or will it be merely the power of his personal integrity that will keep those dastardly special interests from getting what they want?

Bush might surprise us, but if I had to guess I’d say this is something he’ll pay lip service to during the campaign, but then do little or nothing about if he actually becomes president. He’d be following a well-worn path if he does — candidates always say they’re going to change Washington’s culture and reduce the power of special interests, but somehow they never do.

That’s in large part because the institutions, norms, and relationships of Washington, D.C., are so firmly entrenched that one administration can’t do too much about them. And whatever kind of reform a president might have in mind, it’s always secondary to the policy goals any administration has, so it’s easy to put it to the side in favor of more pressing issues.

While some might like to shut the doors of the Capitol to lobbyists, that’s impossible — their work is protected by the First Amendment, which after mentioning freedom of religion, speech, the press, and assembly, says that we all have a right “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” And though there’s plenty of petitioning going on and plenty of grievances crying out for redress, there has actually been a slight decline in the number of registered lobbyists in recent years: While the number peaked at 14,829 in 2007, last year it fell to 11,800. The drop may be due to any number of reasons, but one lobbyist friend told me he was leaving the business because a divided government means there just aren’t enough bills being passed to lobby about.

Even when they make a sincere effort, presidents have trouble transforming Washington culture. When Barack Obama took office, he announced that no registered lobbyists would be allowed to serve in his administration. That probably helps explain the reduction in registered lobbyists, since many Democrats hoped to get a job with the administration one day, but few people believe the rule has seriously diminished the influence of special interests. After all, the administration found over and over that people it wanted to hire had lobbyist pasts, so it kept making exceptions.

On the flip side, there are public-spirited people who claim they have been shut out by the administration for being the kind of registered lobbyists we would presumably want more of. We’re talking about people who lobbied for causes like domestic violence prevention and environmental protection.

Which brings up the question: How special does an interest have to be before it’s problematically special? When we hear that term, it’s always said with disdain, assuming that somebody’s getting something they don’t deserve. In practice, though, we think of only the interests we don’t like as the ones who shouldn’t have influence.

You could look at it this way: You just need to pick the constellation of special interests you prefer, and vote accordingly. Would you rather that labor unions, environmental groups, and civil rights organizations had the ear of the government, or oil companies, anti-abortion groups, and the NRA? They’re all special interest groups to one degree or another, even if they all believe that what’s good for them is good for America. Chances are that if you dislike a politician for being beholden to special interests, what really turns you off is which interests she listens to.

Of course, that tells only part of the story. Some of the most effective special interest influence is exercised in ways that don’t make headlines, on behalf of interests most people know little about, and much of that isn’t partisan. For years before the financial crisis of 2008, the banking industry was acknowledged by many as the single most effective special interest lobby in Washington, in part because the congressional committees that had oversight of the industry were basically in the industry’s pocket — and that applied to both Republicans and Democrats.

The truth is that special interests are always going to get what they want to at least some degree, because that’s just the nature of special interests. When you have a particular interest in something — let’s say you’re a defense contractor who really wants the government to fund your new fighter plane — you’re going to marshal all kinds of resources to make it happen. The rest of us may have a diffuse interest in the plane not being built, if it’s a boondoggle. But we probably won’t organize to fight it, and our voices won’t be heard by those making the decision.

I’m not arguing for cynicism, or saying that every administration is equally steeped in the kind of legalized corruption that is endemic to Washington. But when a politician tells us he wants to get rid of the special interests, we ought to ask him which interests he has in mind, and exactly how he’s going to go about it. Because chances are it’s little more than posturing.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Editor, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, July 2, 2015

July 5, 2015 Posted by | Jeb Bush, Lobbyists, Special Interest Groups | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


%d bloggers like this: