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“Reince Priebus Has A Conundrum”: How Donald Trump Trapped The Republican National Committee

On Fox News Sunday, Reince Priebus promised that Donald Trump will “bring an earthquake to Washington.”

At the least, he’s put the RNC chairman on shaky ground.

Priebus, the top official in the Republican Party, has a conundrum. His party’s presumptive nominee is making it extremely hard for him to attack Hillary Clinton, as Priebus’s most recent Sunday morning TV tour made excruciatingly clear. For years, the Republican Party has been developing talking points and strategic attacks to use against Clinton.

And one by one, Trump seems to be rendering them useless.

Priebus’s walk of Sunday shame came in the wake of a brutal few days for Trump. The Washington Post produced audio of Trump allegedly pretending to be his own PR flack, The New York Times released a scorching report about Trump’s creepy and predatory treatment of pageant contestants and female employees. On top of that, Trump spent the week arguing that he doesn’t have a responsibility to release his tax returns and that nobody wants to look at them anyway.

The tax returns—which Trump has said he will probably release at some point—are a uniquely thorny issue. When Face the Nation host John Dickerson asked Priebus whether Trump should release his tax returns, the chairman replied that voters don’t really care either way.

“This sort of traditional review and analysis of individual candidates has not applied to Donald Trump,” Priebus said—without saying why Trump should be immune to that scrutiny.

“Now, whether or not his taxes are disclosed or not is something I don’t think is going to move the electorate,” he added.

People aren’t that interested, Priebus argued.

But when it comes to transparency from Democrats, Priebus is a purist. He released a statement after the April 26 Democratic primaries needling Hillary Clinton for her refusal to release transcripts of speeches she made at Goldman Sachs.

“Whether it’s her secret email server that jeopardized national security, stonewalling on releasing the transcripts of her paid speeches to Wall Street banks, or deliberately misleading voters on nearly every issue, America cannot afford to have Hillary Clinton’s long track record of dishonesty and reckless judgment in the White House,” he said.

Americans are extremely curious about Clinton’s Wall Street speechifying—but tax returns, which would show how much money Trump earns and how he got it? Boring!

Priebus spent the rest of the interview—arguing that any effort to get a third-party candidate would be a “suicide mission” and that Paul Ryan will get along with Trump because they both oppose abortion. He was able to sneak in a reference to “the Benghazi,” but besides that the Democratic frontrunner went unmentioned. This isn’t a one-time thing. Some of the RNC’s favorite attack lines against Clinton could ring hollow, given the similarities between their guy and her.

Almost exactly two years ago, Priebus said Clinton’s health and age were “fair game” for her critics. He made the comment after Karl Rove reportedly suggested Clinton suffered from brain damage, as Newsweek reported.

“I think that health and age is fair game,” Priebus said on Meet the Press on May 18, 2014. “It was fair game for Ronald Reagan. It was fair game for John McCain.”

But it’s not a particularly fun game for Republicans, given that Clinton is one year younger than Trump. He’s 69, and she’s 68. Trump, in fact, was the only competitive Republican presidential candidate older than Clinton. Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich are, respectively, 63, 44, 45, and 64 years old. So much for the age card.

In fact, Trump embodies many elements of the Clinton persona that Priebus used to love to rip. On June 10, 2015, for instance, he told Sean Hannity on Fox News that Clinton was “unrelatable” to typical Americans, dinging her for her wealthy lifestyle.

“She doesn’t live a life that’s even remotely close to any actual average families that are out there in Ohio that are going to be voting,” he said confidently. “And that’s going to be her Achilles’ heel.”

It’s certainly true that Clinton’s lifestyle doesn’t have much overlap with your typical soccer mom from the Toledo suburbs. The former secretary of state raked in millions by giving private speeches, and headed a foundation that kept her connected to global elites.

“The Clinton’s lifestyle has and always will be a liability because they play by their own set of rules,” said RNC spokesperson Lindsay Walters when reached for further comment. “They have enriched themselves and even their friends through any means necessary, whether it be raking in speaking fees from foreign governments or using the State Department and their family foundation for their own personal gain. If Clinton is going to claim to be a crusader against Wall Street on the campaign stump, people deserve to know what she got paid to tell them in private.”

Speaking of planes, don’t expect to hear Priebus criticize Bill Clinton for being a frequent passenger on a plane owned by sex-offending billionaire Jeffrey Epstein (nicknamed the Lolita Express). Epstein faces lawsuits from upwards of a dozen alleged victims, according to Vice. And in 2002—as Vice highlighted—Trump told New York magazine that he was a big fan of Epstein’s.

“I’ve known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy,” he said at the time. “He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it—Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”

It’s excruciating. And, by Priebus’s standards, it’s fair game. On Feb. 24, 2015, the RNC released a memo complaining that “there was hardly a single headline over Bill Clinton’s travels with Jeffrey Epstein.”

A few weeks later, Priebus told Bloomberg Politics that he had serious concerns about Clinton’s relationship with Epstein.

“I’d like to know what he was doing with Jeffrey Epstein, how many trips did he take, where was he going, what did he do when he was with this guy?” Priebus said. “When you hang out with a guy who has a reputation like Jeffrey Epstein, multiple times, on private jets, on weekends, on trips, on places at least where it’s been reported not very good things happen, it would be good to know what our former president was doing, especially because it appears he’s going to be part of a campaign ticket on the other side of the aisle.”

Vice noted that Epstein’s brother, Mark, testified that Trump took at least one flight on the Lolita Express. Awkward.

The more we learn about Trump, the less Priebus can say about Clinton—and the more uncomfortable his Sunday show swings will likely become. Thanks to Trump, Priebus is permanently on defense.

 

By: Betsy Woodruff, The Daily Beast, May 16, 2016

May 17, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Reince Priebus | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A President Can’t Go Ordering Folks Around”: Clinton Is Running For President. Sanders Is Doing Something Else

It is amazing how little the Democratic race has really changed over the last several months. Hillary Clinton is the odds-on favorite to win the nomination. Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) is leading a revolt from the left. Sanders speaks to white ideological liberals and young Democrats. Clinton speaks to practically everyone else in the party — and, as “Saturday Night Live” pointed out, provides a refuge for moderates terrified of the other options this election year. Nothing in Sunday night’s debate changed any of this, which nets out to a loss for Sanders.

Down in the polls in advance of Tuesday’s major contest in Michigan, Sanders needs the race to take a dramatic turn before Clinton wins another populous state. Yet rather than attempting to advance onto new ground in Sunday’s debate, Sanders simply entrenched himself on his same narrow patch of ideological turf. Either he knows he probably will not win the nomination and he figures he should just keep making his point while everyone is still watching, or he believes that his problem is that not enough people have heard him say the same things over and over again.

In fact, much of the debate revolved around the same basic argument between practicality and ideology that emerged the first time the two faced off on the debate stage, when Clinton declared, “I’m a progressive, but I’m a progressive who likes to get things done.”

Early in the debate, Clinton criticized Sanders for voting against the 2009 auto industry bailout. Sanders said that the auto bailout was folded into a larger bill that also bailed out the financial industry. He argued that “the billionaires” should have bailed out themselves, by which he means that Congress should have accepted his politically ludicrous plan to raise taxes in the middle of a recession. Clinton responded that Sanders chose purity over the public good. “You have to make hard choices when you’re in a position of responsibility,” she said. “If everybody had voted the way he did, I believe the auto industry would have collapsed.” Not only the auto industry. If Congress refused to respond practically to a moment of profound national crisis, it would have made the economic panic much, much worse and ruined many more ordinary people.

Later in Sunday’s debate, Clinton proposed doubling the amount of money the country invests in transportation infrastructure — which, despite bipartisan support for fixing up the nation’s roads and rails, would be a big legislative lift. “I’m trying to do this in a way that will gain support and be affordable,” she said. Moderator Don Lemon then asked Sanders to explain why his plan, which is twice as large as Clinton’s, is not “yet another example of a costly plan that will never get through Congress,” given that President Obama struggled to get a much smaller infrastructure proposal through. Sanders merely restated the case for much more spending and said he would target corporate tax dodgers to pay for it, ignoring the question of whether either proposal would be politically plausible.

Finally, the two candidates talked about fracking, an issue on which there is an obvious, sensible middle ground that Sanders predictably scorned. Clinton listed off a series of requirements she would impose on domestic fracking operations, such as limiting methane emissions and insisting on standards that would prevent water contamination. This is not so different from the Obama administration’s wholly reasonable position, which is to allow the industry to employ people and sell product while minimizing the environmental risks. Sanders simply said that he wants to ban fracking, and he dismissed the Democratic governors who want to see well-regulated fracking proceed in their states.

At least the detour onto fracking forced the candidates to speak about an issue that has not gotten much attention this campaign, even if the candidates’ positions simply reconfirmed their general approaches to policy. Mostly, Sanders steered the conversation back to his core concerns — Wall Street, campaign finance, a massive public jobs program and single-payer health care — and made his usual pitch. Clinton, meanwhile, ran for president. “A president can’t go ordering folks around,” she said at one point. “Our system doesn’t permit that.” It’s nice to know at least one candidate on either side is keeping that in mind.

 

By: Stephen Stromberg, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 7, 2016

March 8, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Primary Debates, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Fringe Appeal”: Sanders’ And Trump’s ‘Us vs. Them’ Mentality Won’t Win Over America

If you want a window into the state of U.S. politics, the speeches given by the first- and second-place finishers in New Hampshire’s presidential primary were revealing. But what was striking was that the commonalities among the candidates did not follow party lines as much as they related to the candidates’ “outsider” or “establishment” status.

The outsiders won last night, of course: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, while having been elected to the U.S. House and Senate, did so as an independent and considers himself a democratic socialist. Donald Trump, a real estate developer and reality television personality, has held a variety of positions on political issues and contributed to both parties, but has never before held political office.

The runners up, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican John Kasich, embody their parties’ establishments: Clinton was a first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state. Kasich served as U.S. congressman, chairman of the House Budget Committee and is the popular two-term governor of Ohio.

But in their victory speeches, the outsiders sounded more like each other than they did their partisan colleagues. Sanders and Trump piqued the frustrations and angst of their respective parties’ primary voters.

For Sanders, it was American versus American: Wall Street, the billionaire class and Super PACs versus the victims of the “rigged economy.” His solution: a “political revolution” to make the rich pay their “fair share” so the rest of us can have free college, health care and retirement.

For Trump, it was Americans versus non-Americans: China, Mexico, immigrants and terrorists. His plan is to “earn world respect” and “make American great again” by constructing a border wall and rebuilding the military to “knock the hell out of” the Islamic State group. Unlike Sanders, Trump at least tempered his typical campaign demeanor and rhetoric during his victory speech in an apparent combination of glee and recognition of the fact that he had a national audience in prime time.

Clinton and Kasich, on the other hand, acknowledged and assuaged the insecurities of their parties’ bases by invoking core American values and desires.

Clinton, always politically calculating and often poorly advised, made a somewhat brief attempt to sound the Sanders theme, vowing to “fight Wall Street,” before falling back on her natural strengths. She promised to “work harder than anyone,” and reminded voters of her lifelong commitment to public service (which has proved that she does, indeed, work harder than anyone). She described a “growth and fairness economy” and vowed to support human rights for “every single American.”

Kasich vowed to “re-shine” America. He discussed the importance of the opportunity to work, the desire in each of us to help our families and neighbors and the preference to look to government as a last resort. Kasich promised to heal divisions, “leave no one behind,” and solve problems not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans.

Unfortunately for Sanders and Trump, most Americans still reject the “us versus them” mindset, whether internally or externally focused, espoused by Democrat or Republican. This approach is not just “outsider,” it is “fringe.” That fringe appeal proved to be a successful primary strategy in New Hampshire, but it is neither a viable general election strategy nor a way to govern an already insecure and divided nation.

In contrast, during their New Hampshire primary night speeches, both Clinton and Kasich appeared to have adequately addressed the concerns of their partisan voters while simultaneously appealing to the national electorate that they hope to face in November. To the extent that the term “establishment” correlates with judgment of the sort that Clinton and Kasich demonstrated on primary night in New Hampshire, we might just want to consider using the more appropriate term “qualified.”

 

By: Michael C. Barnes, Thomas Jefferson Street Blog, U. S. News and World Report, February 10, 2016

February 11, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, New Hampshire Primaries | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Why Do Political Reporters Refuse To Show Us The Money?”: American Politics Revolves Around Two Mutually Reinforcing Truths

A profound sense of cognitive dissonance lies at the center of American politics: one that even our most elite journalists and pundits refuse to recognize. In virtually all of our political debate and news coverage, the competition between the two parties is treated as one of personalities and ideas. As with any democracy, the guys who are the most popular, whether for reasons of charisma or appealing policy proposals, emerge as the winners. The job of journalists and pundits is to illuminate the candidates’ character and beliefs and track their respective successes, dividing themselves between “substance” and “horse-race” coverage however they see fit.

But this is nonsense. In fact, American political life revolves around two mutually reinforcing truths. The first is that our democracy has been severely corrupted by money; the second is that the conservative movement, and hence the Republican Party, is dominated by ideological extremists who demonstrate zero interest in the problems of actual governance. Taken together, these truths not only define our political debate; they ensure that virtually nothing is decided on its merits — up to and including our national elections.

Catch a bigfoot journalist or pundit at a social event or private gathering, and he or she will likely admit these truths. Scan the editorials and opinion pages of most major newspapers, and you’ll see the power of money decried on a fairly regular basis. But in the news stories, where it matters most, even our best reporters feel the need to put forth a fairy-tale narrative in which the United States enjoys a fully functioning democracy and our elections and laws accurately represent the genuine will of the people.

Media discomfort with reporting the truth about Republican extremism has often been (and will undoubtedly remain) a focus of this column. But today, let’s just look at the money. Take, for example, a recent story by Neil Irwin that appeared in The New York Times’s “Upshot” section, purported to be the paper’s most thoughtful and knowledgeable organ of political analysis. Irwin argues that Americans’ alleged disinclination to “soak the rich” is reflected in “the actual policies espoused by candidates for office and enacted by Congress.” When he notes that taxes on the wealthy have fallen in the past decade, he offers both a “liberal” and a “conservative” explanation for why this happened. Irwin and his editors don’t appear to think it worth mentioning that fewer than 1 percent of Americans contribute more than 80 percent of the campaign funding for the politicians who write these laws. These are, without exception, the wealthiest people in the country: According to statistics compiled by Americans for Campaign Reform, the top five zip codes of Manhattan’s Upper East Side — home to countless Wall Street tycoons — contribute more money than the residents of 39 states combined. And when you consider that far-right billionaires like Sheldon Adelson and Charles and David Koch have the power to demand that presidential aspirants pledge fealty to their ideological preferences and financial interests, the notion that our laws represent the collective will of the American people appears comical at best. Neil Irwin knows this, yet he writes his “Upshot” analysis from the point of view of a naive child who has never heard the words Citizens United or seen an episode of The Daily Show.

A similar game of “Where’s Waldo?” can be played with a recent Times story about the House vote to repeal the estate tax. At this year’s annual White House correspondents’ dinner, the Times’s Peter Baker was honored with the Aldo Beckman Memorial Award, which recognizes repeated excellence in White House coverage. Yet Baker’s reporting on the April 16 vote was miles from excellent.

Baker went on for nine paragraphs of “he said, she said” bickering before mentioning that, for all the crocodile tears spilled by House Speaker John Boehner over forfeited family farms and small businesses, “the federal tax currently applies to estates worth more than $5.43 million for an individual or $10.86 million for a couple. Assets above those levels are taxed at rates up to 40 percent.” In paragraph 11, we learn that the tax applies to just “0.2 percent of the deaths anticipated in the United States.” Additional facts that find no place in Baker’s coverage (but can be found on the website of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities): In general, taxable estates pay less than a sixth of their value in tax, and a significant number of loopholes already enable many of them to avoid all taxes. Also, roughly 20 (!) small businesses and small farms owed any estate taxes in 2013; these were taxed at a level averaging less than 5 percent (most large estates have never been taxed for capital gains, which are also taxed well below the level of workers’ wages).

It should come as no surprise that the beneficiaries of an estate-tax repeal would be the wealthiest 0.1 percent of Americans, whose estates will generate nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars in revenue between 2016 and 2025, according to estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Baker quotes Boehner calling this amount “nothing more than a drop in the bucket to the federal government,” but he fails to note how frequently the Republicans attempt to slash far smaller expenditures when the poor and working class are likely to benefit. Nor does he note that the folks who would benefit most from the estate tax’s repeal are the very same people whose massive donations to the Republican Party, its candidates, its political-action committees, and its alleged educational arms determine its agenda. This is an agenda, one might add, that is exclusively dominated by the interests of the super-wealthy — science, economics and often even reality be damned.

It’s a cliché to note that in politics, “money talks and bulls*** walks.” But too often, thanks to the frequent failures of our media establishment, the walk and the talk are one and the same.

 

By: Eric Alterman, Distinguished Professor of English and Journalism at Brooklyn College, and a Professor of Journalism at the City University of New York; Moyers and Company, May 1, 2015

May 3, 2015 Posted by | Democracy, Journalism, Money in Politics | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Bernie Sanders’ Presidential Run Really Matters. Here’s Why”: The More Attention He gets, The More Attention Economic Inequality Gets

Vermont senator Bernie Sanders is officially running for president, meaning that there will be at least two contestants in the Democratic race (after what’s been going on in the city where he was mayor for eight years, Martin O’Malley may be reconsidering). I am obligated by law to point out that Sanders’ chances of beating Hillary Clinton are slight, but the question many have already raised is what effect his candidacy will have on Clinton. Will it pull her to the left? Give her room to run to the right? Force her into missteps? It might do any of those things, or none of them.

But Sanders could actually cause more headaches for the Republicans running for president — if he succeeds on focusing the campaign on his area of interest.

To understand why, you first have to know that Sanders’ candidacy will be almost entirely about economic issues. Advocacy for the interests of what we might call the non-wealthy has always been at the top of Sanders’ agenda and at the heart of his political identity. That’s the reason he’s finally running now, at the tail end of a long career: the national debate has moved in his direction, with issues like wage stagnation and inequality now being brought up even by some conservatives.

But as far as Hillary Clinton is concerned, that’s just fine. Bernie Sanders isn’t going to pull her to the left, because she was already moving that way. She’s talking about issues like inequality and criminal justice reform in terms that she might not have used 10 or 20 years ago, and in some cases she’s actually taking positions that she wouldn’t have then. As Greg and I have argued, whether this evolution is sincere isn’t particularly relevant, because she’s reflecting the consensus within her party, and if she becomes president her actions will follow along. The reason she doesn’t have to be pulled to the left by Sanders, O’Malley, or anyone else is that the entire environment around these issues has changed. Talking about them in more liberal terms isn’t just good for her in the primaries, it’s good for her in the general election, too.

Nevertheless, Sanders’ presence will concentrate the debate even more on economic issues, because that’s most of what he’ll be stressing. Every bit of attention he gets will serve to keep the economic discussion at the forefront. And you know who isn’t so happy about that? The Republican candidates.

They’ll all have their economic plans, of course, and will be happy to tell you why they’re superior. But the current debate on the economy puts them at a disadvantage. They know that they’re at odds with the public on many economic issues, like the minimum wage, paid vacation time, or increasing taxes on the wealthy. Though they’ve begun to talk about inequality, it’s obvious that they haven’t quite figured out how to address the issue without running up against their traditional advocacy for things like cutting upper-income taxes and reducing regulations on corporations and Wall Street.

When Sanders says, “We need an economy that works for all of us and not just for a handful of billionaires,” few voters disagree. Republicans say they want that, too, but the fact that some specific billionaires like Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers are so eagerly bankrolling their campaigns makes it an awkward argument for them to make.

And Sanders will draw attention to the billionaires funding Republican campaigns: At his presser today, he was asked about donations to the Clinton Foundation, and he pushed back by asking: Where are the conflicts of interests when the Koch brothers are spending hundreds of millions to influence the outcome of the presidential race? In other words, Sanders won’t only attack Clinton on the money question; he’ll helpfully point out that GOP attacks on this are rather questionable, given their own funding sources.

The best outcome for Republicans is if the campaign revolves around other issues where they might find more support for their positions and they can more easily attack Hillary Clinton. The more attention Bernie Sanders gets, the more attention economic inequality gets, which is something Republicans would rather avoid.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, April 30, 2015

May 1, 2015 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Economic Inequality, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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