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“The Final And Most Powerful Advantage”: Hillary Clinton Has A Secret Weapon. His Name Is Barack Obama

Hillary Clinton is crushing Donald Trump. In the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, she thumped Trump 51 percent to 39 percent among registered voters nationwide. That’s an almost inconceivable 14-point swing in the Democrat’s favor since May.

But maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. Trump is barely even contesting the election, at least when it comes to the traditional fields of political combat. Last week, for example, it came out that he was running literally zero campaign ads in several swing states. The reason? His campaign is practically broke. It’s unprecedented for a major party nominee to basically not campaign. Is it any wonder Trump has resorted to crowing about polls in which he’s only losing narrowly?

Of course, there’s no guarantee this dynamic will last. Maybe Trump will get his act together and stop behaving like a silage-addled steer. Maybe the economy will crater and Trump will exploit it. Maybe Republicans will somehow oust him at the convention.

But even if these things happen, and Clinton’s healthy lead over Trump dwindles, we shouldn’t forget the final and most powerful advantage Clinton will have: President Obama.

No sitting president in modern times has ever campaigned at full strength for his party’s nominee. George W. Bush was persona non grata on the campaign trail by 2008. Bill Clinton was seen as damaged goods by Al Gore in 2000, who distanced himself from the Clinton name (despite the 42nd president’s tremendous popularity at the time). Ronald Reagan was already elderly in 1988 and did not have a great relationship with George H.W. Bush. LBJ quit politics altogether in 1968. Eisenhower did campaign a bit for Nixon, but he was also old by 1960, and avoided much of the campaign.

President Obama, by contrast, is still quite young (indeed, he is 14 years younger than Clinton herself), and by all accounts is eager to help Clinton, who represents the best chance of preserving his legacy. Any lingering sense that a soon-to-be former president should refrain from campaigning to preserve the dignity of the office is utterly dead. And as he finishes his presidency, Obama is more popular today than he has been since the bin Laden raid — part of an upward trend that shows no sign of slowing.

The economy is doing reasonably okay, particularly compared to several years ago, and as Obama himself is not running for re-election, some of the partisan hatred has passed to Clinton. But perhaps more importantly, Obama’s personality is extraordinarily well-suited for this political moment. Like him or hate him, you have to admit that he is even-keeled almost to a fault. Always cool, always considered, Obama never flies off the handle and rarely expresses any emotion aside from a wry humor. In a chaotic world, Obama is a reassuring presence.

Sometimes that leads to grotesque immorality, as when he flippantly disregarded the legal obligation that torturers be prosecuted. But when instability is breaking out everywhere, and things are developing fast — like, for example, when the U.K. has just voted to leave the European Union, precipitating a financial panic, and potentially auguring the crackup of the eurozone and the U.K. itself — it’s nice to know that the president is always going to keep his icy cool.

This kind of clamor and chaos seems to be happening every other week in 2016. Even aside from the horrifying spree killings and endless war in the Middle East, the tectonic plates of politics in Western nations are crumbling. Open bigotry and ethnic nationalism are making huge political inroads, and pointless austerity has badly damaged or destroyed the political establishment in many countries — Spain, to pick one example out of many, just had its two hung parliaments after not a single one since the end of the Franco dictatorship.

A deranged maniac is about to become the official presidential nominee of the Republican Party. It seems a safe bet at this point that Trump is not going to discover some inner reservoir of quiet intelligence. He’s a hair-trigger showboating ignoramus to the bone. And as the campaign goes on, and Trump says goofy, alarming nonsense in response to one crisis after another, Obama’s quiet, competent reserve is going to look increasingly appealing.

Hillary Clinton will only benefit partially from this, of course. She simply does not have Obama’s unflappability. But she’ll gain much by simple association with Obama’s extreme chill, and can only benefit by contrast with Trump’s extreme capering. Should she win in November — particularly by a large enough margin to take back the House of Representatives — Obama can claim a large share of the credit.

 

By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, June 28, 2016

July 5, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, President Obama | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Hypocrisy At The Heart Of Trump’s Campaign”: Paul Manafort, A Paragon Of The GOP Washington Establishment

Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s campaign manager, had a message to deliver.

“Hillary Clinton is the epitome of the establishment; she’s been in power for 25 years,” he informed Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last Sunday.

When Trump, Manafort added, “says he’s going to bring real change to the country, voters believe him — unlike Mrs. Clinton, who has been saying that for 25 years and in those 25 years, the only changes that have happened have made people’s lives worse.”

But then, at the tail end of the interview, Manafort slipped when discussing evangelical Christians’ support for Trump. “In my 40 years in politics, I have never seen such a broad-based base of support within that community for one candidate.”

Forty years in politics? But it’s Clinton’s 25 years that make her the “establishment”?

If that weren’t enough, Manafort was giving the interview from the Hamptons — playground of the eastern elite.

This is the hypocrisy at the heart of the Trump campaign, now under Manafort’s undisputed control. Manafort’s inspiration, which Trump has embraced, is to portray Clinton as the embodiment of the establishment. But Manafort (not unlike Trump) has been the voice of the wealthy and the well-connected for four decades, building a fortune by making common cause with the world’s most avaricious.

Among Manafort’s boasts: representing kleptocrats Ferdinand Marcos, Mobutu Sese Seko and Kenya’s Daniel arap Moi, defending Saudi Arabia’s interests against Israel’s and Pakistan’s against India’s, and making the case for a Nigerian dictator, a Lebanese arms dealer and various and sundry Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs. He successfully lobbied to arm a Maoist rebel in Angola, needlessly extending fighting that killed thousands.

It’s Manafort’s right to represent dictators and thugs and regimes that torture. He has, for decades, helped autocrats who battle human rights and democracy. But now this man, who made his fortune helping the rich and powerful get more so, is setting up a general-election campaign that portrays Trump as a man of the people and Clinton as the captive of special interests.

Manafort has been widely credited with this week’s speech by Trump laying out his general-election theme: that Clinton is the defender of the big-money interests and the “rigged” economy.

“Hillary Clinton has perfected the politics of personal profit and even theft. She ran the State Department like her own personal hedge fund, doing favors for oppressive regimes,” Trump argued. “Hillary Clinton wants to bring in people who believe women should be enslaved and gays put to death. . . . Hillary Clinton may be the most corrupt person ever to seek the presidency of the United States.”

And the man who led Trump to deliver such accusations? Here’s what my Post colleagues Steven Mufson and Tom Hamburger reported in April:

“In one case, Manafort tried unsuccessfully to build a luxury high-rise in Manhattan with money from a billionaire backer of a Ukrainian president whom he had advised.

“In another deal, real estate records show that Manafort took out and later repaid a $250,000 loan from a Middle Eastern arms dealer at the center of a French inquiry into whether kickbacks were paid . . . ”

“And in another business venture, a Russian aluminum magnate has accused Manafort in a Cayman Islands court of taking nearly $19 million intended for investments, then failing to account for the funds. . . . ”

Manafort has been a paragon of the Washington Republican establishment for two generations, working on Gerald Ford’s reelection in 1976 before helping Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole. He started two lobbying firms, and he has used his contacts in attempts to enrich himself. His lobbying firm recruited veterans of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, then lobbied for $43 million in subsidies for a housing project, while holding an option to buy a stake in the project.

Manafort is steeped in the racial politics Trump has exploited. As Franklin Foer writes for Slate, Manafort ran Reagan’s Southern operation in 1980; the candidate kicked off his general-election campaign outside Philadelphia, Miss., scene of the murder of civil rights activists in 1964. Manafort later became a business partner of Lee Atwater, who gained fame for Bush’s Willie Horton campaign in 1988.

Introduced to Trump by Roy Cohn, lawyer to Joe McCarthy, Manafort helped Trump fight Indian casinos by alleging that the Native Americans had a crime problem; Trump and his associates paid a $250,000 fine after secretly funding advertisements besmirching the Indians.

Now Trump is engaged in a general-election campaign to portray Clinton as the candidate of the establishment. That’s fair enough: She has been atop the country’s elite for a quarter-century. But the man leading this effort spent a much longer career benefiting the wealthy and powerful, including Trump, at the expense of the poor and weak. That’s rich.

 

By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 1, 2016

July 2, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Establishment, Hillary Clinton, Paul Manafort | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Strange Justice, Indeed”: The Day Clarence Thomas Gained Power, He Lost Dignity

Should he stay or should he go?

The wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas may have denounced the rumor that the controversial conservative may be planning to leave the bench next year, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the rumor is false. If Thomas does decide to call it a career in 2017, it will bring an end to one of the greatest legal tragedies in modern American history.

As Thomas noted in his 2007 memoir, My Grandfather’s Son, there was a time when he was on the left side of the political spectrum, even voting for George McGovern in 1972. The ultimate catalyst for his shift to the far right was when he began to question the logic of federal desegregation programs, which made him a receptive audience for the pseudo-intellectualism of syndicated columnist and wingnut icon Thomas Sowell in the mid-1970s:

I felt like a thirsty man gulping down a class of cool water. Here was a black man who was saying what I thought–and not behind closed doors, either, but in the pages of a book that had just been reviewed in a national newspaper…It was far more common in the seventies to argue that whites, having caused our problems, should be responsible for solving them instantly, but while that approach was good for building political coalitions and soothing guilty white consciences, it hadn’t done much to improve the daily lives of blacks. Sowell’s perspective, by contrast, seemed old-fashioned, outdated, even mundane–but realistic. It reminded me of the mantra of the Black Muslims I had met in college: Do for self, brother.

My Grandfather’s Son is a morbidly fascinating work, one that provides insight into the odd personality that has occupied Thurgood Marshall’s seat on the High Court for over two decades. Indeed, this Friday marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of President George H. W. Bush’s nomination of Thomas to the Court.

In My Grandfather’s Son, Thomas wrote that prior to the announcement of his nomination, Bush promised him, “Judge, if you go on the Court, I will never publicly criticize any of your decisions.” One wonders if Bush privately regrets making such an awful nomination, just as he openly regrets the rise of Donald Trump. Remember when the 41st President referred to Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann as “sick puppies”? Considering the horrible votes he has cast over the past 25 years, that term is far more applicable to Thomas.

One also wonders if Thomas will ever take a hard look at his legacy once he steps down from the bench. Had Thomas never fallen for Sowell’s shtick, perhaps he would have gone on to become one of America’s great champions of civil rights, as opposed to an explicit enemy of equality. Maybe Thomas didn’t deserve some of the harsh race-based insults he received over the years–after all, no one ever accused Antonin Scalia of being a self-hating Italian-American–but he certainly deserves strong criticism for his profoundly bizarre interpretation of the Constitution, most recently on display in Utah v. Strieff. (Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent was seemingly written to challenge Thomas to confront the real-world implications of his disregard for the Fourth Amendment, or to suggest that one day, Thomas will have to face those very implications firsthand.)

It is interesting to note that in My Grandfather’s Son, Thomas actually admitted that the Republican Party he chose to embrace after being seduced by Sowell’s sentences didn’t have much use for African-Americans. Describing his days as head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission during the Reagan administration, Thomas observed:

Too many of [President Reagan’s] political appointees seemed more interested in playing to the conservative bleachers–and I’d come to realize, as I told a reporter, that ‘conservatives don’t exactly break their necks to tell blacks that they’re welcome.’ Was it because they were prejudiced? Perhaps some of them were, but the real reason, I suspected, was that blacks didn’t vote for Republicans, nor would Democrats work with President Reagan on civil-rights issues. As a result there was little interest within the administration in helping a constituency that wouldn’t do anything in return to help the president. My suspicions were confirmed when I offered my assistance to President Reagan’s reelection campaign, only to be met with near-total indifference. One political consultant was honest enough to tell me straight out that since the president’s reelection strategy didn’t include the black vote, there was no role for me. 

Clarence Thomas is 68 years old. He knows what his national reputation is. He knows that for many Americans, he is a symbol of extreme ideology and extreme ambition. He knows that the day he gained power, he lost dignity. When he leaves the bench, how will he live with himself?

 

By: D. R. Tucker, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 26, 2016

June 29, 2016 Posted by | Clarence Thomas, Conservatives, Right Wing Extremisim, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Run That By Me Again?”: Sessions Claims Credibility On Hispanic, African-American Voters

Back in February, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) did something no other senator was willing to do at the time: the Alabama Republican endorsed Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. And now that the New York Republican is the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Sessions is helping lead the charge, urging others in the GOP to get in line.

The senator told Politico, in reference to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) skepticism, “[O]n some of these issues, Trump is where the Republicans are and if you’re going to be a Republican leader you should be supportive of that.”

And what about those in the party who believe Trump will struggle to win in November? Sessions told the far-right Daily Caller that those doubters don’t fully appreciate the breadth of Trump’s appeal.

[Sessions] is predicting presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump will attract black and Hispanic voters in the general election.

“Donald Trump is going to do better with Hispanics and African Americans, I am convinced, because he’s talking about things that will really make their wages go up,” Sessions said during a recent interview in his Capitol Hill office with The Daily Caller.

The senator didn’t specify what “better” might entail – he presumably meant stronger support than Mitt Romney received in 2012 – but it almost certainly doesn’t matter. By basing so much of his campaign on racial animus, Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to alienate voters from minority communities.

Romney won 27% of the Latino vote four years ago and 6% of the African-American vote. There is very little evidence to suggest Trump will “do better” than this performance in the fall.

But what struck me as especially interesting about this wasn’t just the message, but also the messenger.

As we discussed earlier in the year, the New Republic published a piece in 2002 on Sessions’ background, which included a stint as a U.S. Attorney, when his most notable prosecution targeted three civil rights workers, including a former aide to Martin Luther King Jr., on trumped up charges of voter fraud.

The piece added that Sessions, during his career in Alabama, called the NAACP “un-American” because, among other groups, it “forced civil rights down the throats of people.” A former career Justice Department official who worked with Sessions recalled an instance in which he referred to a white attorney as a “disgrace to his race” for litigating voting rights cases on behalf of African Americans. Sessions later acknowledged having made many of the controversial remarks attributed to him, but he claimed to have been joking.

What’s more, Thomas Figures, a former assistant U.S. Attorney in Alabama and an African American, later explained that during a 1981 murder investigation involving the Ku Klux Klan, Sessions was heard by several colleagues commenting that he “used to think they [the Klan] were OK” until he found out some of them were “pot smokers.” Sessions once again acknowledged making the remark, but once again claimed to have been kidding. Figures also remembered having heard Sessions call him “boy,” and once warned him to “be careful what you say to white folks.”

When the Reagan administration nominated Sessions for the federal bench in 1986, the Senate rejected him because of his controversial record on race.

But in 2016, Jeff Sessions is so “convinced” he has his finger on the pulse of the electorate that he’s willing to predict increased Hispanic and African-American support for the controversial Republican nominee.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 30, 2016

June 1, 2016 Posted by | African Americans, Donald Trump, Hispanics, Jeff Sessions | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Trump’s Delusions Of Competence”: Running A National Economy Is Nothing Like Running A Business

In general, you shouldn’t pay much attention to polls at this point, especially with Republicans unifying around Donald Trump while Bernie Sanders hasn’t conceded the inevitable. Still, I was struck by several recent polls showing Mr. Trump favored over Hillary Clinton on the question of who can best manage the economy.

This is pretty remarkable given the incoherence and wild irresponsibility of Mr. Trump’s policy pronouncements. Granted, most voters probably don’t know anything about that, in part thanks to substance-free news coverage. But if voters don’t know anything about Mr. Trump’s policies, why their favorable impression of his economic management skills?

The answer, I suspect, is that voters see Mr. Trump as a hugely successful businessman, and they believe that business success translates into economic expertise. They are, however, probably wrong about the first, and definitely wrong about the second: Even genuinely brilliant businesspeople are often clueless about economic policy.

An aside: In part this is surely a partisan thing. Over the years, polls have generally, although not universally, shown Republicans trusted over Democrats to manage the economy, even though the economy has consistently performed better under Democratic presidents. But Republicans are much better at promoting legends — for example, by constantly hyping economic and jobs growth under Ronald Reagan, even though the Reagan record was easily surpassed under Bill Clinton.

Back to Mr. Trump: One of the many peculiar things about his run for the White House is that it rests heavily on his claims of being a masterful businessman, yet it’s far from clear how good he really is at the “art of the deal.” Independent estimates suggest that he’s much less wealthy than he says he is, and probably has much lower income than he claims to have, too. But since he has broken with all precedents by refusing to release his tax returns, it’s impossible to resolve such disputes. (And maybe that’s why he won’t release those returns.)

Remember, too, that Mr. Trump is a clear case of someone born on third base who imagines that he hit a triple: He inherited a fortune, and it’s far from clear that he has expanded that fortune any more than he would have if he had simply parked the money in an index fund.

But leave questions about whether Mr. Trump is the business genius he claims to be on one side. Does business success carry with it the knowledge and instincts needed to make good economic policy? No, it doesn’t.

True, the historical record isn’t much of a guide, since only one modern president had a previous successful career in business. And maybe Herbert Hoover was an outlier.

But while we haven’t had many business leaders in the White House, we do know what kind of advice prominent businessmen give on economic policy. And it’s often startlingly bad, for two reasons. One is that wealthy, powerful people sometimes don’t know what they don’t know — and who’s going to tell them? The other is that a country is nothing like a corporation, and running a national economy is nothing like running a business.

Here’s a specific, and relevant, example of the difference. Last fall, the now-presumed Republican nominee declared: “Our wages are too high. We have to compete with other countries.” Then, as has happened often in this campaign, Mr. Trump denied that he had said what he had, in fact, said — straight talker, my toupee. But never mind.

The truth is that wage cuts are the last thing America needs right now: We sell most of what we produce to ourselves, and wage cuts would hurt domestic sales by reducing purchasing power and increasing the burden of private-sector debt. Lower wages probably wouldn’t even help the fraction of the U.S. economy that competes internationally, since they would normally lead to a stronger dollar, negating any competitive advantage.

The point, however, is that these feedback effects from wage cuts aren’t the sort of things even very smart business leaders need to take into account to run their companies. Businesses sell stuff to other people; they don’t need to worry about the effect of their cost-cutting measures on demand for their products. Managing national economic policy, on the other hand, is all about the feedback.

I’m not saying that business success is inherently disqualifying when it comes to policy making. A tycoon who has enough humility to realize that he doesn’t already know all the answers, and is willing to listen to other people even when they contradict him, could do fine as an economic manager. But does this describe anyone currently running for president?

The truth is that the idea that Donald Trump, of all people, knows how to run the U.S. economy is ludicrous. But will voters ever recognize that truth?

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, May 27, 2016

May 30, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Economic Policy, Economy | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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