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“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

“The G.O.P.’s Holy War”: Righteousness Is A Tricky Business, It Has A Way Of Coming Back To Bite You

In the final, furious days of campaigning here, it was sometimes hard to tell whether this state’s Republicans were poised to vote for a president or a preacher, a commander or a crusader.

The references to religion were expansive. The talk of it was excessive. A few candidates didn’t just profess the supposed purity of their own faith. They questioned rivals’ piety, with Ted Cruz inevitably leading the way.

A rally of his devolved into an inquisition of Donald Trump. Speakers mocked Trump’s occasional claims of devout Christianity. Rick Perry, the former Texas governor, pointedly recalled Trump’s admission last summer that he never really does penance.

Cruz, in contrast, “probably gets up every morning and asks God for forgiveness at least a couple of times, even before breakfast,” Perry told the audience.

The evangelist or the apostate: That’s how the choice was framed. And it underscored the extent to which the Iowa caucuses have turned into an unsettling holy war.

Religion routinely plays a prominent part in political campaigns, especially on the Republican side, and always has an outsize role in Iowa, where evangelical Christians make up an especially large fraction of the Republican electorate.

But there was a particular edge to the discussion this time around. It reflected Trump’s surprising strength among evangelicals and his adversaries’ obvious befuddlement and consternation about that.

Cruz’s whole strategy for capturing the presidency hinges on evangelicals’ support, as Robert Draper details in The Times Magazine.

He rails against abortion rights and same-sex marriage in speeches that sound like sermons, with references to Scripture and invocations of God.

He ended a question-and-answer session with Iowans that I attended in a typical fashion, asking them to use the waning hours until the caucuses to pray.

“Spend just a minute a day saying, ‘Father, God, please,’” he implored them. “Continue this awakening. Continue this spirit of revival. Awaken the body of Christ to pull this country back from the abyss.”

But righteousness is a tricky business. It has a way of coming back to bite you.

A super PAC supporting Mike Huckabee produced an ad for both radio and TV in which two women express doubts about Cruz’s commitment to Christian causes, saying that he speaks in one way to Iowans and in another to New Yorkers whose campaign donations he needs.

“I also heard that Cruz gives less than 1 percent to charity and church,” says one of the two women.

“He doesn’t tithe?” asks the other. “A millionaire that brags about his faith all the time?” They conclude that he’s a phony.

Maybe. Maybe not.

It’s impossible to know the genuineness of someone’s faith. That’s among the reasons we shouldn’t grant it center stage.

Religion was integral to our country’s founding. It’s central to our understanding of the liberty that each of us deserves. But so are the principles that we don’t enshrine any one creed or submit anyone — including those running for office — to religious litmus tests.

So why does a Republican race frequently resemble such an exam?

The winner of the Iowa caucuses in 2012 was Rick Santorum, who put his Catholicism at the forefront of his campaign. The winner in 2008 was Mike Huckabee, a former evangelical pastor who never let you forget that.

To emerge victorious in 2016, several candidates are leaning hard on religion, hoping it’s an advantage over Trump.

But just as God is said to work in mysterious ways, religion is working in unexpected ways in this campaign. According to some national polls, more evangelicals back Trump than they do any other candidate.

That’s true although he’s on his third marriage; although he’s boasted of sexual conquests; although he went to the evangelical stronghold of Liberty University in 2012 and, in a rambling speech, mentioned the importance of prenuptial agreements; although he returned to Liberty University just weeks ago and revealed his inexperience in talking about the Bible by citing “two Corinthians” when anyone with any biblical fluency would have pronounced it “Second Corinthians.”

Liberty’s president, Jerry Falwell Jr., went so far as to endorse Trump, a development that clearly galled Trump’s rivals and bolstered their resolve to prove that they’re the better Christians.

Jeb Bush questioned Trump’s faith. Marco Rubio kept going out of his way to extol his own.

He released a television commercial here in which he speaks directly to the camera about what it means to be Christian. “Our goal is eternity, the ability to live alongside our creator for all time,” he says. “The purpose of our life is to cooperate with God’s plan.”

During last week’s debate, he worked religion into an answer to a question that had nothing to do with it. The Fox News anchor Bret Baier had asked him about his electability, mentioning a Time magazine story that called Rubio “the Republican savior.”

“Let me be clear about one thing,” Rubio responded. “There’s only one savior and it’s not me. It’s Jesus Christ, who came down to Earth and died for our sins.”

And at a rally, Rubio visibly brightened when a voter brought up faith and gave him an opportunity to expound on it.

“I pray for wisdom,” he said. “The presidency of the United States is an extraordinary burden and you look at some of the greatest presidents in American history. They were very clear. They were on their knees all the time asking for God, asking God for the wisdom to solve, for the strength to persevere incredible tests.”

That same image came up at the Cruz event during which Perry denigrated Trump. One of the speakers expressed joy at the thought of “a president who’s willing to kneel down and ask God for guidance as he’s leading our country.”

Cruz had declared such willingness in Iowa in November at an evangelical conference where a right-wing pastor talked about the death penalty for gay people and the need for candidates to accept Jesus as the “king of the president of the United States.”

“Any president who doesn’t begin every day on his knees isn’t fit to be commander in chief of this country,” Cruz said then.

I’m less interested in whether a president kneels down than in whether he or she stands up for the important values that many religions teach — altruism, mercy, sacrifice — along with the religious pluralism that this country rightly cherishes. And while I agree that Trump is unfit for the Oval Office, Corinthians has nothing to do with it.

 

By: Frank Bruni, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, January 30, 2016

February 1, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Iowa Caucuses, Religious Beliefs | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Settling The Issues Of Honor At 40 Paces”: Forget Debates; The Republicans Should Have A Duel

The possibility of fisticuffs breaking out at Wednesday’s GOP debate is not an entirely fanciful one. (Indeed, it could be the solution for Jeb Bush’s flailing campaign.) The Republican presidential campaign has focused all along on matters of honor more than matters of policy. Sure, all the major candidates are offering right-wing fantasies of one sort or another, ranging from Jeb Bush’s promise of 4 percent growth to Donald Trump’s huge border wall to be paid for by the Mexican government. But thanks to Trump, even farcical policy proposals have taken a backseat to a much more personal contest to prove who is the toughest hombre in town.

The Republicans desperately need a way to resolve these disputes so they can talk about something else. I’m here to make a suggestion: Why not resolve the personalized differences by fighting old-style duels? Otherwise, as long as Trump’s in the race, the insults will continue to fly—and threaten to suck up all the oxygen in the debates.

Trump is a master of the schoolyard taunt, and many of his jibes carry with them the suggestion that his opponents are less than virile. Trump’s jeers that Jeb Bush and Ben Carson are “low-energy” and “super low-energy,” respectively, have certainly carried that connotation. While Trump’s male rivals have been stung by these rebukes, the only time the real-estate magnate has been dented is when he’s challenged women—most notably Megyn Kelly and Carly Fiorina—with a different set of insults, focused on menstruation and personal appearances. Those attacks backfired, suggesting that that the front-runner is at a loss when an argument isn’t about comparative manliness.

Trump’s male competitors have tried to answer in kind, with little luck. Before he dropped out, Rick Perry challenged Trump to a gym contest: “Let’s get a pull-up bar out here and see who can do more pull-ups,” said the former Texas governor. On Sunday’s Meet the Press, Carson implicitly responded by calling attention to how tough he was before he became a surgeon and politician. “As a teenager, I would go after people with rocks, and bricks, and baseball bats, and hammers,” Carson told Chuck Todd. “And, of course, many people know the story when I was 14 and I tried to stab someone.” (If you don’t know the story, read here.)

But pull-up bars and tales of youthful brawls won’t hack it. The Republican candidates need a more formal way of settling the issues of honor that Trump has placed at the center of GOP politics. They should look back at the history of Europe and the United States. Traditionally, matters of honor have been settled not by discussion but by a contest of arms. When someone insults your family, as Trump has with his snide comments about Jeb Bush’s brother and wife, the normal response isn’t to continue politely debating, but rather to ask the creep making the remarks if he wants to step outside.

Duels are the ideal solution. It’s true that duelling fell out of fashion after the end of the Civil War, because the slave South was the last place in the United States where the institution was valued. Still, duelling has a venerable place in American political history. Most famously, Alexander Hamilton was killed by Vice-President Aaron Burr in a duel. Andrew Jackson loved challenging men to duels, and survived at least 13 of them. When a famous marksman named Charles Dickinson insulted Jackson’s wife in 1806, for instance, the future president had no choice but to challenge him to a duel. The battle left a bullet permanent lodged in Jackson’s chest, causing persistent pain for the rest of his life, but he was still glad for the outcome. “If he had shot me through the brain, sir, I should still have killed him,” Jackson averred. If Bush had responded to Trump’s gibe about having Mexican wife in the same manner, we’d already have a very different nomination race for 2016.

As Globe and Mail editor Gerald Owen noted in an informative 1989 essay for The Idler magazine, duels were not mindless displays of violence but helped regulate disagreement. “The duel is not, as its enemies have often said, a mediaeval remnant, but a fashion from the Italian Renaissance, and no older than the protests against it,” Owen noted. “It is not to be confused with several related institutions. It is not the same as single combat in the course of war, for it is concerned with personal honour. It is not a sport like jousting; only in the Southern United States were spectators permitted. It is not a feud or vendetta; it is between individuals, not families; instead of festering, it settles disputes finally, giving rise to what lawyers call res judicator. It is not a spontaneous brawl, as in a bar or hockey game, for it has its rituals and conventions.”

As Owen’s remarks suggest, the duel has much to recommend it for precisely the type of disputes that are tearing up the Republican Party. As the main candidates are divided primarily along issues of honor, the ritualistic combat to decide who is the better man (or in Fiorina’s case, the better woman) is the best way to go. And surely a party as firmly committed to NRA dogma would have no objections.

A modest proposal, then, for the remaining GOP debates: Make them open-carry. And if (or when) Trump insults Jeb or any of the others, settle the dispute at once at 40 paces. The two combatants would of course have to agree on weapons and seconds, but this could be arranged through the same negotiations that go into making up the rules for the debates. (As a bonus, this would also provide a test for Trump’s self-proclaimed mastery of the art of the deal.) Depending on how good a shot he proves to be, this might be the only way that Trump can be defeated on his own terms, allowing the reminder of the debates to edge into actual policy arenas.

 

By: Jeet Heer, Senior Editor at the New Republic, October 26, 2015

October 27, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, Jeb Bush | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Will Jindal Make It To Caucus Night?”: In Weaker Financial Position Than Candidates Rick Perry And Scott Walker Were Before They Quit

On January 10, 2016, Bobby Jindal will without question obtain one of his heart’s great desires: liberation from any further obligation to the People of the Gret Stet of Loosiana. As noted here often over the past couple of years, the Gret Stet has become less and less fond of its often-absentee governor, and at the moment he’s doing better in presidential polls in Iowa than he is among the Republicans who know him best.

Three weeks after he becomes a former governor, Iowa will hold its Caucuses. But as third-quarter fundraising numbers drift into view, the question is whether Bobby has enough money to super-size his lunch order, much less organize an effective Caucus performance. Here’s The Hill’s Jonathan Swan:

The presidential campaign of Republican candidate Bobby Jindal looks barely viable, with the Louisiana governor finishing the most recent fundraising quarter with just $261,000 in the bank.

Jindal’s campaign spent more than it raised, taking in $579,000 and spending $832,000 between July 1 and Sept. 30.

And here’s the hammer:

The Louisiana governor is arguably in a weaker financial position than former candidates Rick Perry and Scott Walker were before they quit the race last month.

While Perry had less cash in hand than Jindal — the former Texas governor had just $45,000 in his campaign account last quarter — he at least had a well-funded supporting super-PAC.

Both Perry and Walker benefited from super-PACs that had more than $15 million that they could spend to boost the candidates. But the main pro-Jindal super-PAC, “Believe Again,” disclosed contributions of $3.7 million in its midyear report.

Now Bobby’s also got a “dark money” 527 nonprofit group plumping for him, and all the outside groups pulled in a reported $8 million as of July. But the Super PAC’s been spending some serious coin on Iowa ads, where Bobby’s actually been doing more paid media than anybody else. So it’s unclear how much is left to get Jindal to the end of the year (Super-PACs and 527s only report semi-annually). What he really needs is some fresh evidence he’s doing as well in Iowa as a September NBC/WSJ poll indicated, which placed him tied with Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio at 6%.

For now, I’d guess Bobby’s staff probably isn’t going to get paid for a while, and non-campaign groups will do more and more of what the campaign ought to be doing. But his money troubles have already caught the attention of media vultures, who will be watching his campaign closely for signs of non-vitality. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, The Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, October 16, 2016

October 17, 2015 Posted by | Bobby Jindal, GOP Campaign Donors, Iowa Caucuses | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Playing A Deeply Inside Game”: Why Ted Cruz Has The Best Chance Of Becoming The GOP Nominee

It’s good to be Ted Cruz.

He may not have the buzziest campaign of the 2016 cycle thus far, ceding the stage to standouts — like Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina — who have hit a populist nerve. But Trump, Carson, and Fiorina — even more so than Sanders — are outsiders, and despite Cruz’s penchant for making enemies and alienating people, he’s playing a deeply inside game.

It’s working like a charm. And his fellow insiders should be at least mildly terrified.

Here’s the Cruz playbook. First, count on the other insider insurgents to flame out or fade. That’s already happening to poor Rand Paul. (Things are so dire in the Paul camp that he’s had to fall back on his father as a fundraising surrogate.) It’s happening, in slow motion, to Scott Walker, whose lunkheaded approval of $80 million in public subsidies for a new NBA arena is just the latest indicator that he’s not as conservative or compelling a candidate as his supporters had hoped.

The next puzzle piece to fall into place is Rick Perry. Even for Cruz, who has happily made himself a hate figure in the oh-so-collegial Senate, dumping on Perry would be bad form. It’s essential to the Cruz campaign that Perry take himself out — and that’s nearly a done deal, now, too.

With Cruz holding steady in the polls, the stage is just about set for him to emerge as the only “true conservative” in the race with the brains and the chops to match the purity. Although those qualities definitely prevent Cruz from beating Trump or Fiorina in the invisible populist primary, establishment types know full well that Cruz is the only viable candidate who the right’s populists and elites can both stomach.

Of course, if Marco Rubio woke up tomorrow and decided to run to the right, that calculus would be upset in a hurry. But Rubio can’t do that. He has to win the invisible elitist primary first. Rubio’s playbook required that he keep pace with Jeb Bush, then let the party come to terms with the fact that Rubio had all the advantages of a Bush without the liability of the Bush name. But then Ohio Gov. John Kasich entered the race and showed surprising strength in the elitist primary, which makes Rubio’s task more difficult and complicated — great news for Ted Cruz, because it means Rubio has to tack more to the center to protect his slice of the anti-populist vote from going either to Bush or Kasich.

Not long ago, people were convinced that more moderate candidates were destined to win GOP primaries. John McCain’s and Mitt Romney’s victories indicated that conservatives had to make do with vice presidential nominees. But neither McCain nor Romney had to contend with someone as savvy and put-together as Cruz. You don’t have to be an Oscar-winning screenwriter to visualize how Cruz would have brought the boom down on those two.

Bush and Rubio are harder nuts for him to crack. But his ace in the hole is the populist vote, which at this point seems decidedly unwilling to settle for a Palin-esque consolation prize.

Then there are the billionaires. When Walker, Perry, and company falter and fail, the donors who backed them won’t just take their marbles and go home. In fact, they’re much more likely to bail beforehand, throwing their support to the most conservative candidate they think can stave off a full-blown populist revolt, sucking the disillusioned and disaffected back into the fold. And again, unless Rubio cuts right in a hurry, there’s only one place for them to turn: Cruz.

That’s why people jumped at the chance to believe recent (bogus) rumors that the billionaires, led by casino magnate Steve Wynn, had already decided to back Cruz. The logic behind that kind of backroom deal isn’t some farfetched conspiracy theory. It’s an open secret.

If you’re a Republican who thinks Cruz can win in the general election, this is all great news. But if you don’t, it’s fairly scary. Because it means a sure loser has the surest path to the nomination — and the confidence to pursue it with no reservations.

Yes, that’s right. Barring some unfathomable twist, Cruz will lose. For all his brilliant campaign strategy, that’s one contingency Cruz still can’t crack.

 

By: John Poulos, The Week, August, 18, 2015

August 21, 2015 Posted by | GOP Campaign Donors, GOP Presidential Candidates, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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