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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

“The Same Weary Tune”: Steve Scalise And The Right’s Ridiculous Racial Blame Game

In much the way one used to savor the sight of some lying schmuck be game-set-match cornered by Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes, I love watching conservatives try to explain away race scandals. Like the be-Wallaced lying schmuck, they know deep down they’ve had it. But quite unlike the schmuck, and this is the fun part, they never run up the white flag; indeed quite the opposite. They go on the attack, and it’s just a comical and pathetic thing to see.

Before we get to all that, permit me a brief reflection on this matter of Steve Scalise. Let’s allow him the error in judgment, or whatever tripe it is he’s peddling, of speaking to a David Duke-related white supremacist group in 2002. It’s hard to believe, but let’s go ahead and be generous about it.

I think we should find it a little harder, though, to be generous about his vote as a state legislator in 2004 against a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in the state of Louisiana. His was one of six votes against the day, which received 90 votes in the affirmative. And in case you think he may have rushed to the floor from the bathroom and accidentally hit the wrong button, he had cast the same ‘no’ vote in 1999. No error in judgment explains that. He was part of an extreme, racialized white faction in the Louisiana state house that was clearly dead-set against honoring King. (In which goal he is hardly outside the Southern mainstream; some states in Dixie still sometimes celebrate King on the same day they honor Robert E. Lee.)

So it’s hardly shocking that Scalise spoke to the group. Indeed it would have been more shocking if he hadn’t. This is a state, after all, where Duke, in his statewide race for governor in 1991, received a majority of the white vote. In fact, a large majority, of 55 percent, meaning that even though Edwin Edwards walloped Duke by 23 points, a near-landslide percentage of white Louisianans voted to make an avowed white supremacist their governor. Yeah, it was a long time ago. But how different would things have been 11 years later, when Scalise attended the Duke event? By attending, he wasn’t doing anything that would have been seen as controversial by most of his white constituents; indeed most of them would have endorsed it.

Some of the defenses of Scalise have been amusing and have followed the expected pattern, like finding a black Democratic Bayou pol to avow that Scalise didn’t have—you guessed it—“a racist bone in his body.” But the fun starts when conservatives stop playing defense and go on offense. Here are the three main tropes, which apply not only in this situation but every time we’re met with one of these revelations.

1. But Al Sharpton is the real racist!

Nobody has to lecture me about how Sharpton has played racial politics in New York. I wrote some harsh columns about him back in the day, having to do with the way he played ball in New York City mayoral politics, especially in the 2001 election. But to call him or any black man “the real racist” is to evince complete, and I’d say willed, stupidity about what racism is. Racism isn’t just a person’s feelings and attitudes (and I don’t think Sharpton is “a racist” even by that definition); it is, more importantly, a set of power relationships, legal and economic, that kept and to some extent still keeps one group of people (and they aren’t white) from enjoying the full promise of American life. That’s what racism is, and Al Sharpton just ain’t its practitioner.

2. But hey, we elected Tim Scott.

Right. You did (he’s the African-American conservative Senator from South Carolina). And J.C. Watts back in the 1990s. And there was Allen West. And now’s there’s Mia Love of Utah and Will Hurd of Texas. Bravo. That’s five. Congratulations! Meanwhile, white liberals have helped elect dozens of blacks to high office—mayors, members of Congress, a few senators and governors, and now a president.

This is supposed to “prove” that conservatives aren’t racist, and I would readily agree that on an individual level, most probably are not, and they’re willing to vote for a black candidate provided he or she has the proper right-wing views. Fine. Elect 20 more and then you’ll start to have a case. But they won’t elect 20 more, for many years anyway, because 1) the conservative agenda appeals only to about five percent of African Americans, and rightly so, since it stands in opposition to virtually every policy change that has improved black life in this country over the past 50 years, and 2) the Republican Party puts very little effort into recruiting black candidates and adherents, something the Democratic Party has been doing—at no small electoral cost to itself, by the way, but because it was the right thing to do—for 40 or 50 years.

3. B-b-but Robert Byrd!

Ah, my favorite of them all. Amazing how people can still haul this one out with a straight face. Yes, Byrd—dead four-and-a-half years now—was a Kleagle in the Ku Klux Klan. And his last known affiliation with the Klan was almost 70 years ago, in 1946. And yes, he voted against the Civil Rights Act in 1964. But as everyone knows, he went on to say—not once but many times—that that was the greatest error of his career by far. As long ago as the early 1970s, he had gone on to support most civil rights-related legislation. He endorsed Barack Obama in 2008 in May, when Hillary Clinton was still technically in the race and just after Clinton had walloped Obama in the West Virginia primary. Byrd could very easily have gotten away with endorsing Clinton, justifying it as the overwhelmingly clear will of the people he represented. But what he did was reasonably brave and freighted with all the symbolism of which he was well aware.

And saliently for present purposes, and in contrast to Scalise, here’s what Byrd had to say about a national King holiday back in 1983, when Ronald Reagan was still opposing it: “I’m the only one who must vote for this bill.” The only one. There’s no missing what he meant by that. And the italics were his, not mine.

I suspect that somewhere down there in the Freudian precincts of their minds, the Byrd-invokers from Limbaugh on down know this, and it’s what they hate about Byrd most of all: The very sincerity of his repentance makes him a capitulator to the liberal elite and a traitor to his race. But they can’t say that in polite company, so they keep whipping a horse that’s been dead for at least 40 years.

And they’ll probably whip it for another 40, unless demographics overwhelm them sometime between now and then, but they’ll resist that as long as they can too. There’ll be more Steve Scalises, and every time, the right-wing orchestra will strike up the same weary tune.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, January 2, 2014

January 3, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Racism, Steve Scalise | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Scary Culture Change”: What New Law Enforcement Rhetoric Reveals About America

For those who’ve been following the ups and downs (mostly downs) of Bill de Blasio’s relationship with the NYPD, there was little about the officers’ response to the murder of two of their colleagues that was surprising. For a number of reasons, including his vocal opposition to stop-and-frisk and his public alliance with Rev. Al Sharpton, de Blasio was never popular among the force’s rank and file. Even before Officers Liu and Ramos were killed, the head of the cops’ union, the bombastic Patrick Lynch, was urging members to sign a petition asking the mayor not to attend their hypothetical funeral. He also accused de Blasio of foregoing responsible governance in favor of leading “a fucking revolution.” So when he said de Blasio had Liu and Romas’ blood on his hands, it was both heinous and more or less expected.

For many of those less attuned to the city’s politics, however, the patent animosity some officers sent de Blasio’s way was disturbing. New York’s a representative democracy, after all, and de Blasio is the mayor. Don’t the police ultimately work for him? Technically, yes. But the reality is more complicated (a lesson all of de Blasio’s recent predecessors have learned, none more so than David Dinkins). Judging by recent history, and according to the dictates of today’s conventional wisdom, any politician who wants to run New York City not only has to win the most votes, but also has to earn the city polices’ at least grudging acceptance. And by gently criticizing some NYPD practices — as well as revealing that he’s told his African-American son, Dante, to be cautious around law enforcement — de Blasio has seemingly lost the cops’ assent. He may never get it back.

I’d imagine that many people watching the drama unfold from afar are consoling themselves with the thought that, like so much else about the city, the hyper-sensitivity of New York’s police force is unique. They’d be right, at least to a degree; the NYPD stands alone in scale and ambition. But if you listen to some of the rhetoric that’s recently come from police unions and their most loyal politicians, you’ll realize that the problem currently engulfing de Blasio doesn’t end at the Hudson. It extends all across the country, influencing communities large and small, black and (less often) white. The problem isn’t the unions themselves or “bad apples” among the rank and file. The problem is that the culture of law enforcement in America has gone badly off-course; too many officers — and, for that matter, too many citizens — forget that law enforcement’s mandate is to preserve justice as well as maintaining the peace.

You’d think it would be impossible to offer a better illustration of the mentality than Rudy Giuliani’s remarkable 1994 speech on why freedom is about obeying authority. Unfortunately, recent public statements from representatives of powerful police unions in two major American cities indicate that many officers’ privileging of order over justice has only gotten worse. The day after news of Liu and Romas’ murder first broke, the Fraternal Order of Police in Baltimore (where the killer shot an ex-girlfriend before heading to New York) released a statement that made Giuliani’s rhetoric from two decades ago sound positively libertarian. “Once again, we need to be reminded that the men and women of law enforcement are absolutely the only entity standing between a civilized society and one of anarchy and chaos,” the statement said before laying blame for the shooting at the feet of President Obama, Attorney General Holder, Mayor de Blasio and Rev. Al Sharpton (all of whom are either black or have black people in their immediate family). “Sadly,” the union continued, “the bloodshed will most likely continue until those in positions of power realize that the unequivocal support of law enforcement is required to preserve our nation.”

At no point in the press release did the union acknowledge its members’ duty to protect Americans’ rights as well as their persons. There wasn’t even a perfunctory gesture to that effect. Instead, the union statement spoke of “the dangerous political climate in which all members of law enforcement, nationwide, now find themselves” (the rate of officers being killed is at a 50-year low) and how being a member of American law enforcement hadn’t been so bad since the civil rights movement (or, as the union puts it, “the political unrest of the 1960’s”). At the end of the statement, the union reiterated why it believed support for cops must be “unequivocal,” saying that Baltimore citizens must help “to restore the order necessary for their own safety and for ours.” In sum, the union was arguing that American citizens — including politicians — must do what they’re told, lest we fail to “preserve our nation.” The enemies of civilization, apparently, had already broken through the gates.

While the Baltimore union’s statement could hardly be described as subtle, it still paled in comparison to the comments of Jeffrey Follmer, the president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, whose unvarnished authoritarianism made headlines just last week. Appearing on MSNBC in order to defend his claim that Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins should be forced to apologize for political speech, Follmer told host Ari Melber that the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice was “justified” because the child refused to “listen to police officers’ commands.” Never mind the fact that Rice was shot almost immediately, and that the cop who shot him had a history of rank incompetence; according to Follmer, if “the nation” would simply obey when officers “tell you to do something,” everything would be all right. And if the officers commands are unconstitutional or in any way objectionable? Be quiet and let “the courts … figure it out.” Not content to simply issue commands to those engaged with officers on-duty, Follmer also ordered Hawkins and other athletes like him to “stick to what they know best on the field” because their voicing opinions on police behavior was “pathetic.”

As I said before, these two examples of rabid authoritarianism are striking but far from unique. If you were so inclined, you could spend nearly all day, every day, reading stories in the local and national news of law enforcement agents behaving as if they were exempt from the social contract and the law. And although the reasons why are too various and complicated to untangle in this column, the philosophy of “broken windows” policing — developed initially by followers of neoconservatism, an ideology comfortable with authoritarianism, to say the least — is undoubtedly at least partially to blame. When the emphasis of law enforcement shifts from upholding law to upholding order, it’s inevitable that officers will begin to envision themselves as the only thing standing between “the nation” and the abyss. With the stakes raised to such existential levels, it’s hardly surprising that officers from Baltimore to Cleveland to Ferguson to New York see themselves as beyond the control of a mere politician, not to mention the citizenry itself.

Bill de Blasio and his millions of supporters may think the mayor’s in charge. But it seems that in the minds of a frighteningly large number of police officers, both he and the Constitution are simply getting in the way.


By: Elias Isquith, Salon, December 23, 2014

December 26, 2014 Posted by | Bill de Blasio, Law Enforcement, NYPD | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Shake The Complacency”: Twelve Percent Turnout Is An Insult To Your Children

The Rev. Al Sharpton, host of msnbc’s “Politics Nation,” spoke at the Greater Grace Church’s services yesterday, and addressed the crisis surrounding Michael Brown’s death from a variety of angles. Of particular interest, though, was one of Sharpton’s challenges to the community itself.

“Michael Brown is gonna change this town,” he said, before criticizing the paltry voting record on the area. “You all have got to start voting and showing up. 12% turnout is an insult to your children.”

That was not an exaggeration. The historical and institutional trends that created the current dynamic in Ferguson – a largely African-American population led by a largely white local government – are complex, but the fact that black voters haven’t been politically engaged has contributed to the challenges facing the community. In the most recent elections, turnout really was just 12%.

Patricia Bynes, a black woman who is the Democratic committeewoman for the Ferguson area, told the New York Times that last week’s developments may shake the complacency that too often shapes local politics. “I’m hoping that this is what it takes to get the pendulum to swing the other way,” Bynes said.

To that end, Ferguson residents have had an enormous amount of work to do over the last several days – mourn, grieve, protest, and recover, all while struggling through moments of violence – but haven’t forgotten about the importance of civic engagement in general, and voter registration in specific.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a piece over the weekend that included a striking detail (thanks to my colleague Laura Conaway for the heads-up).

Rev. Rodney Francis of the St. Louis Clergy Coalition pointed to voter registration tent at the scene. “That’s where change is gonna happen,” Francis said.

Debra Reed of University City and her daughter, Shiron Hagens, were working at the registration tent. They said they set it up on their own.

“We’re trying to make young people understand that this is how to change things,” Reed said.

Note, some Republican-led states have made voter-registration drives far more difficult in recent years – Florida, for example, has imposed harsh restrictions without cause – but no such hindrances exist in Missouri.

State GOP policymakers have taken steps to restrict voting rights and curtail early voting, but none of this should be seen as an excuse to discourage Ferguson residents from registering and participating. The kind of systemic changes many in the community crave can be achieved through the ballot box.

To repeat Sharpton’s message: “You all have got to start voting and showing up. 12% turnout is an insult to your children.”


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 18, 2014

August 22, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Voter Registration, Voting Rights | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“An Obama-Holder Conspiracy”: How The Conservative Media Are Eating Up The Zimmerman Trial

George Zimmerman’s trial in the shooting of Trayvon Martin is coming to a close. For what it’s worth, I think he’ll probably get acquitted, since 1) the lack of any eyewitnesses leaves room for doubt, and 2) my impression is that in Florida it’s perfectly legal to pursue somebody, confront them, and then when the confrontation turns physical and you begin to lose the fight, shoot them in the chest. You know—self defense.

In any case, conservative media are feasting on the Zimmerman trial (as are some other media). Their basic storyline goes like this: Trayvon Martin was a thug. George Zimmerman’s gated community was beset by roving gangs of vicious black teen criminals. Zimmerman was in the right. And most critically, this whole thing is being drummed up by racial provocateurs, most especially Barack Obama and Eric Holder, to continue their ongoing war on white people, who are the real victims of racism in America today.

Let’s take, for instance, this little story. After Martin’s killing, when protests were being organized, the Justice Department sent a team of mediators from its Community Relations Service down to Sanford, Florida to try to keep things peaceful. Here’s how the Miami Herald described the work of one of the mediators: “[Thomas] Battles, southeastern regional director of the CRS, acted as a trusted third party, gathering opposing factions to address the simmering tension by developing reconciliation strategies. He worked with city and civic leaders to allow the protests, but in peaceful manner. He also worked with the city to create its nine-point plan that aims to improve race and police relations, and tapped into the city’s faith community to help guide the healing.”

Sounds like a good thing, right? The (white) mayor of Sanford is effusive in his praise for Battles. But conservative media have a different take on the CRS’s efforts to diffuse the anger over the case, which came to their attention when the conservative group Judicial Watch obtained documents detailing the CRS’s expenses of a couple of thousand dollars for their time in Sanford. In their reading, it’s a Justice Department conspiracy, in which Obama and Holder are working with Al Sharpton to organize anti-Zimmerman protests. “Docs: Justice Department Facilitated Anti-Zimmerman Protests,” said the Daily Caller. Fox News, which has been treating its viewers to the commentary of thoughtful race analysts like Mark Fuhrman and Pat Buchanan about this case, was a tad more circumspect, posing it as a question: “Did Justice Department Support Anti-Zimmerman Protests After Martin Shooting?” saw the entire prosecution as a result of the mediators: “Judicial Watch: Zimmerman Prosecution Might Have Been Forced By DOJ-Organized Pressure.” Powerline was even more dramatic: “Did the Department of Justice Stir Up Trayvon Martin Riots?” Interesting question, particularly since there were no riots. “The United States government has been converted by Obama and Holder into a community organizing agitator bunch!” thundered Rush Limbaugh in response to the report about the CRS. “This regime saw an opportunity to turn something into a profoundly racial case for the express purpose of ripping the country apart.”

This is just one little corner of the way this case has been covered in the conservative media. From the beginning, it has fit neatly into the race-baiting project they’ve been on since before Barack Obama got elected. They’ve told their audiences that Barack Obama has, in Glenn Beck’s immortal words, “a deep-seated hatred for white people,” and everything he does, from health care reform to economic stimulus, is about exacting cruel revenge on white people for long-ago sins of racism. As Limbaugh said yesterday, “Stoking the racial stuff is the way Obama was raised … He’s got a chip on his shoulder about it, and he’s here to square the deal. And Holder too. I think all of these guys have an anger about them  …And so all of this is being done so the rest of us can get a taste of it.”

You might think George Zimmerman acted perfectly reasonably, and he would have followed and confronted Trayvon Martin if the teen was white. Or you might think there’s just no way to know. But one thing’s for sure: in the conservative media, they’re pleased as punch about this case, because it allows them to renew all their old claims about Barack Obama, and assure their audiences that white people are, as always, the real victims.

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, July 11, 2013

July 12, 2013 Posted by | Zimmerman Trial | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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