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“Trump Needs Billionaires, And They Know It”: Selling The American People To The Highest Bidder

Did you hear the shocking news? Unlikely presidential candidate Donald Trump announced last week that he would be fundraising in a big way to pay for the rest of his campaign.

Trump’s new finance committee, chaired by CEO of Dune Capital Management Steven Mnuchin and including, recently, Anthony Scaramucci of SkyBridge Capital, will work with and reach out to the same hedge fund manager types that Trump used to call “paper pushers” who are “getting away with murder.”

Who could have guessed: Trump’s claims that he would self-fund his campaign, in order to avoid the corruptive influence of big donors, were complete lies.

Scaramucci, to be fair, is a little more Trump’s speed than your average paper pusher: in addition to managing a hedge fund, he hosts a show on Fox Business and wrote the book Goodbye Gordon Gekko: How to Find Your Fortune Without Losing Your Soul, which I assume Trump thought was ironic.

Mnuchin, for his part, is known in Hollywood for quietly taking $50 million out of Relativity, a failing entertainment company, right before it went bankrupt.

Trump deserves credit, at least, for finding fundraisers in his own image.

The campaign also established a joint fundraising agreement with the Republican Party, so that Trump can fundraise for them — he likely won’t, given his distaste for helping others — and they can funnel him money from their large network of billionaire donors, all of whom are focused on making sure Donald doesn’t repeat the mistake he made on Sunday, when he let slip that rich people should pay more taxes.

By Monday, New Trump had it all figured out: he didn’t mean that the rich would pay more — that would be unthinkable for a Republican nominee with his kind of fundraising operation. Rather, he would simply bump the top marginal rate on his own plan up a few points, still a dramatic tax cut.

“Well, sure it’s a change. I’m allowed to change,” he told George Stephanopolous. “You need flexibility, George, whether it’s a tax plan where you’re going to — where you know you’re going to negotiate. But we’re going to come up with something.”

Trump’s tax plan, which would add trillions upon trillions of dollars to the debt with a huge tax break for the rich, has largely flown under the radar since he proposed it last September, aside from the usual mainstream economists saying it was insane.

But Trump’s off-hand comments about the rich were a mistake Mnuchin and Scaramucci likely knew they couldn’t let stand, if Trump wanted the support of the billionaires that used to constitute the GOP’s ideological base, until he reminded rank-and-file voters that America’s trade policies had screwed them.

And we’re only talking about taxes, an issue that even the most, ahem, inexperienced presidential nominee can fake. If billionaire pressure can reverse Trump’s tax rhetoric in 24 hours, what will billionaire GOP kingmaker Sheldon Adelson’s money do to Trump’s pledge to be “sort of a neutral guy,” in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process?

Hint: Last Wednesday, Trump announced suddenly that Israelis “have to keep moving forward” building illegal settlements in the Palestinian-controlled West Bank, a huge obstacle to any kind of negotiations, if you ask Palestinians.

The next day, Adelson — who Trump had previously accused of trying to “mold” Marco Rubio into “his perfect little puppet” — said Trump would be “good for Israel.”

Now, the billionaires are lining up around the block, trying to impress upon Donald the urgency of their pet causes while he’s still gullible enough to simply give them what they want.

Who’s the puppet now?

This election season’s refreshing discussion of money in politics, however coarse it has been, has brought back a saying from the ‘60s, sometimes attributed to Texas Democrat Sam Rayburn and sometimes to Lyndon Johnson. It’s about lobbyists:

“If you can’t eat their food, drink their booze, screw their women, take their money and then vote against them you’ve got no business being up here.”

Bernie Sanders doesn’t want big donors’ help.

Hillary Clinton — like most candidates for office — does want their help, and claims she can still vote against them.

Donald Trump, building up a fundraising infrastructure on-the-fly, is plainly asking for their help in exchange for his vote.

In fact, if you want a rare glimpse at how money can change politicians’ stances on the issues — especially politicians without much experience on the issues — now is a great time to start tracking how and when Trump changes his mind about things.

It won’t be pretty. But Donald is desperate: he needs hundreds of millions of dollars, probably more, to become a viable presidential candidate. And for him, this is all one big deal. As long as he comes out on top, he’ll sell the American people to the highest bidder.

 

By: Matt Shuham, The National Memo, May 10, 2016

May 11, 2016 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Donald Trump, GOP Campaign Donors | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Constraining Trump’s Erratic Impulses”: The Coming Struggle Over Policy Between Donald Trump And The GOP

Now that Donald Trump has nearly secured the GOP presidential nomination, Republicans everywhere have to start thinking seriously about how they’re going to deal with him and how having him as their party’s leader affects their own plans for the future. And here’s the basic challenge that will create for Republicans: How can they keep Trump from veering wildly from the straight and narrow path of conservatism?

It’s going to require constant work. For Republicans, the next six months will be a struggle to constrain Trump’s erratic impulses, and even if they’re mostly successful, it still might not diminish the damage Trump could to do the conservative project.

Some Republicans are already trying to downplay this challenge. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who is currently engaged in an effort to shape his party’s policy agenda for the next decade or two, said this morning that he and other Republicans who care about conservative ideology have nothing to worry about:

House Speaker Paul Ryan downplayed any conflict between his detailed policy proposals and those pushed by Donald Trump on Wednesday, hours after the front-runner sewed up five more states and marched ever closer to locking up his party’s nomination.

“The key for populism, Joe, as you well know because you practiced this, how do you take this populism and connect it to principle so that it’s populism tethered to good principles which give us good solutions, not unprincipled populism and that to me is our value added to this equation,” the Wisconsin Republican said in a segment on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Wednesday, referring to co-host Joe Scarborough’s time as a lawmaker representing Florida.

Though he did not mention Trump by name and has been magnanimous even in his policy criticisms of Trump in the past, Ryan signaled that no matter Republicans’ standard bearer in November, the party will be “comfortable” and unify around the platform that he is advocating in Congress.

He also described any differences with Trump and other candidates over Obamacare and tax reform as small obstacles, remarking that they share broader agreement on the issues.

It’s possible that Ryan could prove right about this. But the amount of vigilance that will be required from Republicans could itself prove a strain.

Perhaps the most important thing to understand about Trump’s relationship to the conservative policy agenda, and to any agenda at all, is that he just doesn’t care about policy in the least. He has some sincere opinions on some issues, but for the most part, not only has he never thought much about any policy issue one might present him with, there’s almost nothing he thinks about an issue that isn’t subject to revision.

That’s why we’ve seen a particular pattern repeat itself so often. Trump will get asked a question about an issue he obviously hasn’t considered before. He’ll give an answer that doesn’t line up with conservative orthodoxy, because he isn’t aware of precisely what conservative orthodoxy is. Then Republicans will get enraged, the controversy will blow up, and a day or two later — after he’s had a chance to learn what he’s supposed to say — he’ll come back and offer a revised version of his position.

This happened on abortion (where he said women should be punished for having abortions, then said they shouldn’t), on transgender people being forced by the government to use the wrong bathrooms (where he said they should use whatever bathrooms they want, then said the issue should be decided at the state and local level), and on Israel and the Palestinians (where he first said he wanted to be a neutral arbiter, then went to AIPAC and said “There is no moral equivalency” between Israel and the Palestinians).

That’s not to mention the positions on issues like abortion and guns that he changed before the race began. So if you’re a Republican, that’s about as much as you can hope for. He may not be with you already, but he’s responsive to pressure. Once you tell him that he has strayed, he comes back to the fold.

To be sure, whenever Trump comes out with a formal policy proposal, it’s right in line with conservative orthodoxy. So for instance, he has repeatedly said we should raise taxes on rich people, much to Republicans’ horror, but when he actually released a tax plan, it featured, guess what, a huge tax cut for the wealthy. The same thing happened on health care: he said some things suggesting there were parts of the Affordable Care Act he liked, but when he released his plan, it could have been lifted from the boilerplate on the issue you’ll find on any Republican candidate’s web site.

Today Trump is going to deliver an address on foreign policy, and while we don’t know what’s going to be in it, because this is a prepared speech — which means it was written for him by other people — I’m almost sure that there will be little if anything in there that Republicans will object to. It’ll talk about how Barack Obama is weak, our enemies don’t fear us, we need to increase military spending, we should tear up the Iran nuclear deal — all things ordinary Republicans say all the time.

This is all possible because, to repeat, Trump just doesn’t care about policy. That should make Republicans at least somewhat sanguine about what his presidency would be like. Paul Ryan can deliver him one bill after another written and passed by the GOP Congress, and Trump is likely to say, “Sure, whatever” and sign them.

And yet, there are some trouble spots for conservatives ahead, signaled by the areas where Trump has in fact gone against conservative orthodoxy. Trade is a big one — Trump seems to believe that if we increase tariffs on Chinese goods, then everyone in America will have a great job. There have been a few others, like his lack of enthusiasm for cutting Social Security. Then there’s his ban on Muslims entering the U.S., which (while Republican voters support it) GOP elites find vulgar and damaging to the party.

And so, in the general election, we may see examples of Republicans like Ryan struggling to pull Trump back into line: when his impulse takes him to a place that’s popular with the electorate, but it’s a place other Republicans don’t want to go. Then they’ll have a much harder time making the case to him that he needs to get back with the conservative program.

On the other hand, if Trump remains as dreadfully unpopular with the general electorate as he is now, and he goes down to a sweeping defeat, maybe Republicans would be better off if he proves to be an imperfect representative of GOP ideology. Though that may not be much comfort.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, April 27, 2016

May 1, 2016 Posted by | Conservatism, Donald Trump, GOP Establishment | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Wrath Of The Conned”: The Divergent Nomination Outcomes Of 2016 Aren’t An Accident

Maybe we need a new cliché: It ain’t over until Carly Fiorina sings. Anyway, it really is over — definitively on the Democratic side, with high probability on the Republican side. And the results couldn’t be more different.

Think about where we were a year ago. At the time, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush were widely seen as the front-runners for their parties’ nods. If there was any dissent from the commentariat, it came from those suggesting that Mr. Bush might be supplanted by a fresher, but still establishment, face, like Marco Rubio.

And now here we are. But why did Mrs. Clinton, despite the most negative media coverage of any candidate in this cycle — yes, worse than Donald Trump’s — go the distance, while the G.O.P. establishment went down to humiliating defeat?

Personalities surely played a role; say what you like (or dislike) about Mrs. Clinton, but she’s resilient under pressure, a character trait notably lacking on the other side. But basically it comes down to fundamental differences between the parties and how they serve their supporters.

Both parties make promises to their bases. But while the Democratic establishment more or less tries to make good on those promises, the Republican establishment has essentially been playing bait-and-switch for decades. And voters finally rebelled against the con.

First, about the Democrats: Their party defines itself as the protector of the poor and the middle class, and especially of nonwhite voters. Does it fall short of fulfilling this mission much of the time? Are its leaders sometimes too close to big-money donors? Of course. Still, if you look at the record of the Obama years, you see real action on behalf of the party’s goals.

Above all, you have the Affordable Care Act, which has given about 20 million Americans health insurance, with the gains biggest for the poor, minorities and low-wage workers. That’s what you call delivering for the base — and it’s surely one reason nonwhite voters have overwhelmingly favored Mrs. Clinton over a challenger who sometimes seemed to dismiss that achievement.

And this was paid for largely with higher taxes on the rich, with average tax rates on very high incomes rising by about six percentage points since 2008.

Maybe you think Democrats could and should have done more, but what the party establishment says and what it does are at least roughly aligned.

Things are very different among Republicans. Their party has historically won elections by appealing to racial enmity and cultural anxiety, but its actual policy agenda is dedicated to serving the interests of the 1 percent, above all through tax cuts for the rich — which even Republican voters don’t support, while they truly loathe elite ideas like privatizing Social Security and Medicare.

What Donald Trump has been doing is telling the base that it can order à la carte. He has, in effect, been telling aggrieved white men that they can feed their anger without being forced to swallow supply-side economics, too. Yes, his actual policy proposals still involve huge tax cuts for the rich, but his supporters don’t know that — and it’s possible that he doesn’t, either. Details aren’t his thing.

Establishment Republicans have tried to counter his appeal by shouting, with growing hysteria, that he isn’t a true conservative. And they’re right, at least as they define conservatism. But their own voters don’t care.

If there’s a puzzle here, it’s why this didn’t happen sooner. One possible explanation is the decadence of the G.O.P. establishment, which has become ingrown and lost touch. Apparatchiks who have spent their whole careers inside the bubble of right-wing think tanks and partisan media may suffer from the delusion that their ideology is actually popular with real people. And this has left them hapless in the face of a Trumpian challenge.

Probably more important, however, is the collision between demography and Obama derangement. The elite knows that the party must broaden its appeal as the electorate grows more diverse — in fact, that was the conclusion of the G.O.P.’s 2013 post-mortem. But the base, its hostility amped up to 11 after seven years of an African-American president (who the establishment has done its best to demonize) is having none of it.

The point, in any case, is that the divergent nomination outcomes of 2016 aren’t an accident. The Democratic establishment has won because it has, however imperfectly, tried to serve its supporters. The Republican establishment has been routed because it has been playing a con game on its supporters all along, and they’ve finally had enough.

And yes, Mr. Trump is playing a con game of his own, and they’ll eventually figure that out, too. But it won’t happen right away, and in any case it won’t help the party establishment. Sad!

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, April 29, 2016

April 30, 2016 Posted by | Democrats, Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ahistorical”: Trump And Clinton Are Telling Two Radically Different Stories About The Economy. Only One Is Based In Reality

In this weekend’s New York Times Magazine, there’s an interview with President Obama in which he assesses his economic legacy, and as you might expect, he has a complicated view of things. He thinks his administration did an excellent job pulling us out of the Great Recession: “I actually compare our economic performance to how, historically, countries that have wrenching financial crises perform. By that measure, we probably managed this better than any large economy on Earth in modern history.” But he wishes he had been able to pass more infrastructure spending: “it was the perfect time to do it; low interest rates, construction industry is still on its heels, massive need.”

Obama also makes an argument about what Republicans propose to do on the economy that gets directly to the competing stories that the two parties are going to be presenting to the American public this fall.

Even if a contest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton may be more focused on personality than your typical presidential campaign, it’s still the case that the outcome of the election will be determined in significant part by which of these economic stories the voting public finds more persuasive. And each story has two parts: a description of the American economy as it is now, and a proposal for what the candidate would like to do and how that plan will change things. Here’s Obama’s assessment of the Republicans’ second part:

“If you look at the platforms, the economic platforms of the current Republican candidates for president, they don’t simply defy logic and any known economic theories, they are fantasy,” Obama said. “Slashing taxes particularly for those at the very top, dismantling regulatory regimes that protect our air and our environment and then projecting that this is going to lead to 5 percent or 7 percent growth, and claiming that they’ll do all this while balancing the budget. Nobody would even, with the most rudimentary knowledge of economics, think that any of those things are plausible.”

You won’t be surprised to hear that I happen to agree with him on this, though I’d describe how ridiculous it is in somewhat stronger terms. I can’t stress this enough: Republicans argue that if we just cut taxes on the wealthy and reduce regulations on corporations, then the economy will explode in a supernova of prosperity for all. You can call this belief ahistorical, or unsupported by facts, or baseless or implausible, but if you want to be frank you’d have to say that it’s absolutely lunatic.

But let’s put this in context of the stories the two candidates will be telling. Here’s Donald Trump’s economic story:

The economy is an absolute nightmare. Americans are living in such misery that they’re practically eating their own shoes in order to survive. If we cut taxes on the wealthy, reduce regulations on corporations, renegotiate trade agreements, and deport all illegal immigrants, then our economy will be spectacular and working people will experience American greatness again.

And here’s Hillary Clinton’s economic story:

The economy is doing pretty well, and a lot better than it was eight years ago when the Republicans were in charge, but it could be even better. If we pass some worker-focused measures like increasing the minimum wage, stronger overtime protections and guaranteeing equal pay, and make infrastructure investments, then our economy will improve for everyone.

Trump’s story is the same one other Republicans tell, with the addition of the idea that “bad deals” on trade have had a crippling effect on the country. For the moment we’ll put aside the merits of Trump’s claim that imposing enormous tariffs on Chinese goods will cause all those jobs sewing clothing and assembling electronics to come pouring into the United States, but the political question around Trump’s story is whether people will believe his over-the-top description of both what’s happening now and the transformation he will be able to produce.

We’ve known for some time that voters’ perceptions of the economy are colored by partisanship: to simplify a bit, when there’s a Democrat in the White House, Republican voters will say that the economy is doing poorly and Democratic voters will say it’s doing great; when there’s a Republican president, the opposite is true.

For instance, in 2012 when Barack Obama was running for reelection, 49 percent of Democrats told the National Election Studies that the economy had gotten better in the previous year, while only 17 percent said it had gotten worse. On the other hand, nine percent of Republicans said it had gotten better, while 56 percent said it had gotten worse. Go back to 2004 when George W. Bush was running for reelection, and we see the reverse: 43 percent of Republicans said the economy had gotten better and 22 percent said it had gotten worse, while only 10 percent of Democrats said it had gotten better and 63 percent said it had gotten worse.

So obviously, people aren’t just reacting in an objective way to what they see around them. At the same time, there is a reality that can eventually poke its way through the veil partisans place over their eyes. In 2008, when the economy was in a catastrophic decline, everyone in both parties agreed on what was happening (94 percent of Democrats and 88 percent of Republicans said it had gotten worse).

Times like 2008 are rare, though. Today, the objective reality is a lot closer to the way Democrats describe it, in large part because they aren’t offering an extreme version of their truth. If Obama and Clinton were more rhetorically similar to Donald Trump, they’d be saying that this is the greatest economy in the history of human civilization, everybody has a terrific job, and there’s so much prosperity that the only question any American has is whether to spend their money on everything they could ever want or just roll around in it like Scrooge McDuck.

But they aren’t saying that. Instead, they’re attempting the tricky balancing act of emphasizing the progress Obama has made while acknowledging the long-term weaknesses in the economy. Both of those things are real. Since the bottom of the Great Recession early in Obama’s first term, the economy has added 14 million jobs, and unemployment is now at 5 percent. On the other hand, income growth has been concentrated at the top and Americans still feel uncertain about their economic futures.

Donald Trump has chosen to pretend that the good things about the American economy don’t exist, and weave a laughable fantasy about what his policies will produce (“I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created”). Can he convince voters — particularly those in the middle who might be persuaded to vote for either candidate — to believe it? I guess we’ll see.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, April 28, 2016

April 29, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Economy, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Trump’s Makeover Will Fail”: The Idea That Trump Could Reinvent Himself Mid-Campaign Has Always Been Implausible

If Donald Trump’s political campaign ever gets re-told as an appropriately cheesy biopic, this current moment will be the crucial makeover scene, where the flawed hero finds a mentor who gives him a new polish needed to win. It’s easy to imagine how the scene would play out in an inspirational movie: The Trump campaign is in chaos as they realize he might not get a majority of delegates and his crude antics might alienate so many in the party as to hand over a contested convention to Senator Ted Cruz. As defeat looms, Trump turns to a grizzled political veteran in the form of Paul Manafort, who schools the roughhewn candidate on the necessity of being tactful. The refurbished Trump then goes on to win the Republican nomination and the general election.

This is certainly the scenario Manafort is trying to sell to Republican Party leaders. In a meeting in Hollywood, Florida, he tried to convince GOP bigwigs that Trump’s transformation was well underway and that the candidate was ready to pivot to the center by adopting a more moderate campaign persona. “The part that he’s been playing is evolving into the part that now you’ve been expecting, but he wasn’t ready for, because he had first to complete the first phase,” Manafort said. “The negatives will come down. The image is going to change.”

There are ambiguous indications that some sort of pivot to moderation is happening. Yesterday Trump came out against North Carolina’s anti-LGBT law, which targets transgender people who want to use public bathrooms in keeping with their gender identity. But, as is his wont, Trump waffled on the issue Friday when he said that it should be left up to local communities.

Trump’s flexibility, some argue, would make him a formidable candidate in the general election. After all, he’s not anywhere as beholden to existing Republican constituencies as Cruz, who has deep ties to evangelical Christians, or Senator Marco Rubio, who never allows himself a thought that would alienate the donor class. So in theory Trump can afford to jettison unpopular GOP positions such as opposition to LGBT rights or tax cuts for the rich. This would make him a more viable candidate in states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, where the party has been shut out for nearly a generation. A Trump surge in those states would change the electoral map and give him a chance to win in November.

But the idea that Trump could reinvent himself mid-campaign has always been implausible. Aside from his core issues—a draconian immigration policy and mercantilist trade policy—Trump has already been a chameleon, saying whatever he thinks an audience wants to hear. On abortion, he moved in a matter of three days from saying women should be punished to saying there should be no change in the legal status quo. On an appearance on Fox and Friends, Trump embraced the flat tax and then condemned it within a few minutes.

In terms of his persona, Trump’s ability to re-make himself seems minimal. Despite criticisms of his tweeting habits from even his wife, Trump continues to re-tweet white supremacists. And after briefly trying to be polite to “Senator Cruz,” Trump has reverted to his favorite nickname, Lyin’ Ted.

These wild shifts haven’t hurt Trump with his base, who apparently love his stance on immigration and trade so much that they are willing to forgive his ideological heresies. Conversely, though, Trump’s intermittent adoption of moderate positions hasn’t helped him with the general public, where Trump enjoys a near-record level of unpopularity.

Given this enduring unpopularity, any further shifts are unlikely to help. But Trump might still have a legacy for future Republicans who want to adopt a more centrist politics. Trump has shown that a Republican presidential nominee can win a plurality of the vote while being unorthodox on many issues (in Trump’s case, going against the party line on the Iraq war and free trade as well as flirting with abandoning social conservatism).

Even if Trump fails, it might still be possible for a future Republican to win with a streamlined version of his strategy. A successful Trumpian of the future would be anti-immigrant, but express it in less overtly racist ways that alienate mainstream opinion. Such a candidate might also avoid Trump’s blatant misogyny. In effect, the candidate would be Trump Lite—and thus, would be much more palatable to the general public in November.

 

By: Jeet Heer, The New Republic, April 22, 2016

April 23, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, General Election 2016, GOP Convention, GOP Establishment | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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