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“A Spectacularly Stupid Strategy”: Why Trump’s ‘Woman Card’ Attack On Clinton Is Sheer Lunacy

I have no idea what kind of discussions go on when Donald Trump is talking to his campaign advisers, though I suspect there’s a lot of “You were terrific, Mr. Trump!” and “That’s a great idea, Mr. Trump!” But it’s hard not to wonder what they’re telling him about how enthusiastically he’s been going after Hillary Clinton for allegedly playing the “woman card.”

This seems on the surface to be spectacularly stupid as a strategy, yet Trump won’t stop saying it. So I have a theory about what he’s up to, but even if I’m right, he’s going about it in exactly the wrong way.

Here’s what he said yesterday on Fox News Sunday when Chris Wallace asked him about it. It starts with Wallace telling Trump that people in both parties think Trump is being foolish in attacking Clinton this way, to which Trump replies, “Really?  OK.  Well, I’m my own strategist and I like that — what I said and it’s true.  I only tell the truth and that’s why people voted for me.” Then he recites a bunch of poll numbers about how well he’s doing against Ted Cruz, and goes on:

“I mean, Bernie Sanders, what he said was a lot worse than what I said and I’m going to use that. We’ll have that teed up. But Bernie Sanders said she shouldn’t be allowed to run, that she’s not capable.

“And, you know, what he said is incredible. It’s a sound bite. It’s an — in fact, as soon as he said it, they broke in and they said, I can just imagine Donald Trump watching these statements Bernie Sanders has made — is making about Clinton.

“So, look, she’s a strong person. She’s going to have to be able to take it. The fact is, the only card she has is the woman’s card. She’s done a lousy job in so many ways and even women don’t like her.  They don’t like her.

“But it is the woman’s card and she plays it, and I’ll let you know in about six months whether or not she plays it well. But I don’t think she’ll play it well. I don’t think she’ll play it well at all. And it’s true, if she were not a woman, she wouldn’t even be in this race.”

For the record, Bernie Sanders never said Clinton “shouldn’t be allowed to run.” Trump’s assertion that “If Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get five percent of the vote” led multiple commentators (see here, here, and here) to wonder just how well someone with Trump’s lack of experience and colorful history and ideas would fare in a presidential race if he were a woman, and the answer is pretty obvious. And you couldn’t find a worse candidate to make this argument, given that Trump’s unfavorable ratings among women in recent polls have ranged from 67 percent to 74 percent.

So how can he possibly think this is a good argument to make? Here’s my hypothesis: Trump is trying to execute a version of a strategy Karl Rove used so effectively throughout his career. That strategy says that you don’t go after your opponent’s weakness, you go after her strength. The most well-known case was that of John Kerry, where Republicans took the fact that Kerry was a war hero with multiple citations for bravery during his service in Vietnam, and convinced voters that not only wasn’t Kerry a hero at all, he was almost a traitor. In another colorful example from earlier in Rove’s career, he had a client opposing a candidate known for his volunteer work with children, so he spread rumors that the opponent was a pedophile. Suddenly, pictures of the candidate with kids he was helping took on a different meaning.

If this is what Trump is trying to do, it starts from an accurate premise: Clinton’s gender may indeed be one of her greatest strengths. She enters the general election with plenty of weaknesses, particularly since she’s been embroiled in an endless string of controversies over her quarter-century as a national figure. Yet her election as the first woman president would be truly historic, and the closer we get to the election, the more salient that fact may become to women voters (and many men as well). And Clinton isn’t hamstrung by many of the unfair questions that many female candidates have to endure. She’s viewed as strong and competent, and since her daughter is grown, no one is asking why she isn’t at home taking care of her family (a question female candidates with children get, but male candidates never do). There has been a significant gender gap in recent presidential elections, but this election could see the widest one in history, particularly if Democrats can succeed in turning out single women, one of the groups they perform best with.

But if Trump is trying to undermine Clinton’s ability to use her gender to her advantage, he’s going about it in exactly the wrong way. Instead of arguing that a Clinton presidency would actually be bad for women, he’s actually using sexist tropes against her, tropes that women voters find all too familiar. When he says she’s not qualified, every woman who’s ever held a job will be reminded of how she had to work twice as hard to be taken seriously as her male colleagues. They’ll also laugh at the idea that being a woman confers some kind of unfair advantage, in politics or anywhere else. And we’re talking about someone who was a senator and secretary of state, whatever else you might think of her. Trump has never worked a day in government and doesn’t understand the first thing about policy, but she’s the unqualified one? It’s as though the 2004 Bush campaign, instead of “swift boating” John Kerry to convince voters he was no war hero, instead said, “Sure, John Kerry is a war hero, but bravery and service are stupid and military experience should disqualify you from the presidency.” You can imagine how well that would have gone over.

The challenge for Clinton is to figure out exactly how to react to Trump’s blundering attacks. Her initial response — “If fighting for women’s health care and paid family leave and equal pay is playing the woman card, then deal me in!” — was her way of saying that there’s a substantive basis to this argument, that it’s about more than just rudeness. But she needs to keep women motivated to vote against Trump for emotional reasons, too: in the best scenario for her, women are so disgusted by Trump that they register and vote in unusually high numbers. And as some early political science research shows, there’s a wrong way to do it: celebrity endorsements touting Clinton as a strong, accomplished woman have little effect, while a recitation of Trump’s vulgar statements about women move voters powerfully against him.

Of course, it’s also possible that Trump doesn’t have any Rovian strategy in mind when he tells voters that the only reason anyone supports Hillary Clinton is that she’s a woman. It could be that Trump is just a misogynistic jerk who can’t help himself, and isn’t following any strategy at all.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, May 2, 2016

May 3, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, War On Women, Women in Politics | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Washington Playbook”: If You’re Not Responding Militarily, You’re Not Responding

Richard Cohen has finally gotten around to writing about President Obama’s interview with Jeffrey Goldberg that was the impetus for so much discussion almost a month ago. In doing so, he demonstrates exactly what the President referred to as the “Washington playbook.” As a reminder, here is what Obama said to Goldberg about that.

“Where am I controversial? When it comes to the use of military power,” he said. “That is the source of the controversy. There’s a playbook in Washington that presidents are supposed to follow. It’s a playbook that comes out of the foreign-policy establishment. And the playbook prescribes responses to different events, and these responses tend to be militarized responses. Where America is directly threatened, the playbook works. But the playbook can also be a trap that can lead to bad decisions. In the midst of an international challenge like Syria, you get judged harshly if you don’t follow the playbook, even if there are good reasons why it does not apply.”

Cohen doesn’t so much champion the Washington playbook as he criticizes Obama for not employing it. For example, here is what he writes on the President’s statement about Russia’s incursion into Ukraine.

It’s a rule that Obama himself should have followed. He speaks the unspeakable, conceding that eastern Ukraine, Moldova and Crimea are Russia’s for the taking. “Now, if there is somebody in this town that would claim that we would consider going to war with Russia over Crimea and eastern Ukraine, they should speak up and be very clear about it,” he told Goldberg.

Ambiguity is not Obama’s forte. Rather than keeping Vladimir Putin guessing — and maybe restrained — he signals the Russian president not to worry. Putin already has Crimea. He’s got eastern Ukraine. Will Moldova be next? Just a matter of time, it seems to me.

The playbook Cohen is working from assumes that the only possible response to Russia is a war. If President Obama isn’t willing to do that in response to Crimea and eastern Ukraine, it’s just a matter of time before Putin goes into Moldova.

What that completely ignores is that there are other possible responses – like economic sanctions that are coordinated with our international partners and the European Union.

Cohen also doesn’t seem to think that President Obama is doing anything about the situation in Syria.

But the Syrian civil war has produced a humanitarian calamity, at least 250,000 dead and an almost unprecedented refugee crisis that is destabilizing Europe. Obama acts as though this is a minor matter, just another Middle Eastern dust-up, but the Syrian mess is an example of the slippery slope he does not mention when he mentions the one he wants to avoid. Like, possibly, Moldova, it is the consequence of inaction that may matter more than any action itself.

It seems as though Cohen is unaware of the fact that the U.S. is engaging in air strikes against ISIS in Syria. But even more importantly, Sec. of State John Kerry has been working tirelessly on the multilateral peace negotiations that are seeking an end to the Syrian civil war.

For people like Cohen, if the U.S. isn’t using military intervention to wield it’s way around the globe, it’s not doing anything. That pretty much sums up the Washington playbook that President Obama refuses to implement.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 5, 2016

April 7, 2016 Posted by | Foreign Policy, President Obama, Richard Cohen | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Critical Role Of Diplomacy”: The GOP Presidential Candidates Really Embarrassed Themselves During The Iran Navy Incident

It was a foreign policy crisis: After an equipment failure rendered their vehicle inoperative, a group of American military personnel had fallen into the hands of an adversarial state far away. How would the president get them back? A daring rescue mission? Threats of military action? Diplomacy? Outright groveling? In the end, he felt he had no choice but to submit to the hostage-takers’ demands, and the government wrote a letter filled with apologetic language (“We are very sorry” for the incident, and “We appreciate” our adversary’s “efforts to see to the well-being of our crew” they held prisoner for 10 days).

You would think that Republicans, who are so committed to the singular importance of “strength” in foreign affairs, would have been outraged and appalled at the weakness shown by the president in this incident. But they weren’t. That’s because the president was George W. Bush, and this was April 2001, when an American spy plane had to make an emergency landing on a Chinese island after a mid-air collision with a Chinese fighter jet. Here’s the letter of apology.

It was hard not to be reminded of that incident 15 years ago when this week two small American naval boats apparently drifted into Iranian territorial waters in the Persian Gulf after engines failed, and the Iranian navy detained them. As soon as the capture of the vessels was reported, Republican politicians stiffened their spines, flexed their pecs, and condemned the wimpy and feckless Obama administration that was obviously going to grovel before the ayatollah, leaving our brave sailors at the mercy of the Iranians for who knows how many days, weeks, or months. “The fact that [the capture] happened is a direct consequence of the weakness of the Obama-Clinton foreign policy,” said Ted Cruz, no doubt thinking wistfully about how if he were in charge, once the boats came up on radar the Iranians would have said, “Let them go where they want — we don’t want to anger President Cruz, who is so strong and resolute.” Joe Scarborough, perhaps caught in the middle of a Charles Atlas workout, tweeted, “Hey Iran, you have exactly 300 days left to push a U.S. president around. Enjoy it while you can. After that, there will be hell to pay.” Jeb Bush, testosterone practically dripping off his iPhone, tweeted, “If our sailors aren’t coming home yet, they need to now. No more bargaining. Obama’s humiliatingly weak Iran policy is exposed again.”

But then something strange happened. Wednesday morning, after only 16 hours, Iran released the sailors back to the United States, along with their boats. And we didn’t even have to bomb anybody.

A few conservatives are currently expressing faux-outrage over photos taken by the Iranians showing the sailors with their hands on their heads during the capture, as though that were some epic humiliation. But what’s important is that the whole matter was settled through a series of phone calls between American and Iranian officials, in which they apparently agreed that nobody was trying to be provocative and it would be best not to blow this out of proportion. Secretary of State John Kerry explicitly made the case that the administration was able to resolve this incident the way it did because of the diplomatic contacts that had been built up during negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. “We can all imagine how a similar situation might have played out three or four years ago,” he said. “Today, this kind of issue was able to be peacefully resolved and efficiently resolved, and that is a testament to the critical role that diplomacy plays in keeping our country safe, secure and strong.”

So what do we learn from this? First, diplomacy does work. It’s possible that even if we hadn’t spent a couple of years negotiating with Iran, we would have arrived at the same outcome, but it probably didn’t hurt that our officials and their officials have a better relationship today. And it’s hard to imagine that even the most bellicose of Republican candidates wouldn’t have done the same thing the Obama administration did.

Maybe we’re supposed to believe that if someone like Ted Cruz was president and a couple of small boats got captured, when his secretary of state said, “Mr. President, I’ll call their foreign minister and see if we can’t get this taken care of,” he’ll say, “No, Bob — I’m going to go on TV and tell those jerks that if they don’t release our sailors in 10 minutes, we’re letting the bombs fall!” But I doubt it. In the real world, Republicans do diplomacy when the situation demands it too, and I have trouble believing that any politician would be so reckless as to cause a confrontation when it would have been so unnecessary.

Second, it’s a reminder that reducing every foreign policy question to “strength” is idiotic. There are times when strength matters a lot, and times when you have to be smart and restrained. Complaining about the “weakness” of the Obama administration may play well during primary season, but in real foreign policy a nation doesn’t demonstrate strength by going around provoking everything it sees.

That’s how you act when you’re gripped by insecurity and you need to overcompensate. Candidates can live in their fantasy world, where they’re constantly causing dramatic showdowns they always win because of their steely glare. But fortunately for us (and for those 10 sailors), none of them had the chance to test their theory. At least not this time.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, January 14, 2016

January 15, 2016 Posted by | Diplomacy, GOP Presidential Candidates, Iran Navy Incident | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“For The GOP, It’s Always A Base Election”: Only Change Is The Idea Of How To Give The Base What It Wants

I wonder if anyone has come up with workable definition of a base election. The idea is simple enough. Some elections are won not by winning an argument with the other side and persuading swing voters or independents or undecideds, but by doing a better job than your opponents in convincing your core voters to turn out to vote.

It seems to me that this is roughly how the Republicans won the 2004 presidential election, and also probably how they won the 2002 midterms. It’s definitely how they won the midterms in 2010 and 2014. On the other hand, I think the Democrats were successful in 2006 and 2008 precisely because they convinced people in the middle (and even many Republicans) to come over to their side. I think you can probably make the same case for 2012, although that seems to have been more of a hybrid of the two.

In any case, it seems to me that the Republicans last won a presidential election using a base mobilization strategy in 2004, and we shouldn’t forget how close of a call that was. When the polls closed, most people looking at the exit polls thought that John Kerry had won. And he would have won if Bush hadn’t done such a great job getting out his base in Ohio. Yes, there were also shenanigans in Ohio that may have changed the outcome, but it’s definite that the red parts of Ohio turned out in huge numbers, largely motivated by their opposition to gay marriage.

So, 2004 is a fairly recent example that shows that the Republicans could theoretically win a base election. It won’t be easy to replicate, though. First, demographic changes since 2004 have made it harder for the Republicans to win a base election because their base is now smaller and the Democrats’ base is now larger. Second, it helped Bush a lot that he was the incumbent and could direct media coverage and attention at will. It also helped that he had a willing partner in shenanigans in then-Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell.

Since 2004, the Republicans have tried and failed twice to win an election by pandering to their base rather than pursuing voters in the middle. All the proof you need of that is that Sarah Palin and Paul Ryan were chosen as running mates, both of whom were supposed to please the mouth-breathers and rally them to the cause.

After the Republicans lost in 2012, the RNC’s after-report was clear about the futility of trying to win a base election again in 2016. Yet, the idea seems more popular right now than it was in the last two cycles. Perhaps the only thing that’s changed is the idea of how to give the base what it wants. Does it want someone who is frothing at the mouth about immigration even if they’re pretty inconsistent as a conservative on many other issues? Or, are they looking for the most hated man in Washington, DC, just because they hate Washington, DC so very much?

That’s really the choice they have between Trump and Cruz, although Trump promises to at least change the shape of the Republican base. That doesn’t mean he will enlarge it though.

This is admittedly a weird election season and unpredictable, but I think a base election is close to unwinnable for the Republican Party in a presidential year. If they win, I don’t think it will be because their base turned out and the Democrats’ base did not. If they win it will because the persuadable voters liked their candidate better than the Democratic candidate. And the more their candidate panders to the base, the less likely that the persuadable voters will like them better.

 

By: Martin Longman, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, January 13, 2016

January 14, 2016 Posted by | Base Elections, GOP Base, Independents, Swing Voters | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“When Bluster Meets Reality”: A Chance To Start World War III, Republicans Neither Know Nor Care What They’re Talking About

I’m from Jersey and we like to talk bluntly, but Rand Paul is correct when he says that Chris Christie could easily start World War Three if he actually governed as advertised in the White House:

Christie said that as president, he would shoot down a Russian plane if it breached a no-fly zone in Syria, and claimed Obama wasn’t strong enough to do the same.

“Maybe because I’m from New Jersey I have this plain-language hang-up,” Christie said. “I would talk to Vladmir Putin a lot, and I’d say listen, Mr. President, there’s a no-fly zone and it applies to you and yes we’d shoot down the planes of Russian pilots if they were stupid enough to think that this president was the same feckless weakling that the president we have in the Oval Office is right now.”

Meanwhile, in the real world:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday accepted Russia’s long-standing demand that President Bashar Assad’s future be determined by his own people, as Washington and Moscow edged toward putting aside years of disagreement over how to end Syria’s civil war.

“The United States and our partners are not seeking so-called regime change,” Kerry told reporters in the Russian capital after meeting President Vladimir Putin. A major international conference on Syria would take place later this week in New York, Kerry announced.

Kerry reiterated the U.S. position that Assad, accused by the West of massive human rights violations and chemical weapons attacks, won’t be able to steer Syria out of more than four years of conflict.

But after a day of discussions with Assad’s key international backer, Kerry said the focus now is “not on our differences about what can or cannot be done immediately about Assad.” Rather, it is on facilitating a peace process in which “Syrians will be making decisions for the future of Syria.”

Kerry’s declarations crystallized the evolution in U.S. policy on Assad over the last several months, as the Islamic State group’s growing influence in the Middle East has taken priority.

How relevant does Christie’s bluster look in light of the factual situation on the ground in Syria?

The Republican candidates debated each other last night in Vegas, but they might as well have been debating a dining room table. They neither know what they are talking about, nor care. It would be sad or maybe just funny if there weren’t a remote possibility that one of them might win and get the chance to start World War Three.

 

By: Martin Longman, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, December 16, 2015

December 20, 2015 Posted by | Chris Christie, GOP Presidential Candidates, Vladimir Putin, World War III | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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