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Chris Christie once had a bromance with President Obama but doesn’t really know him.

As reported by The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe, Christie today made a bizarre statement about Obama: “We have a guy in the Oval Office who we don’t know. He’s been serving us for seven years and we don’t know him.” 

On the face of it, this makes little sense. Living in the White House fish bowl for seven years, Obama has been endlessly interviewed and analyzed. Like it or not, the president has a substantial record that can be judged for good and ill. He’s written an autobiography. Obama has also interacted with many politicians and even palled around with Christie after Hurricane Sandy. Can Obama really be so mysterious?

But Christie’s remarks make sense if you know that he’s pandering to GOP mythology. They partially echo long-held Republican complaints that Obama hasn’t been properly vetted. But they also play into the large set of tropes about Obama being alien, mysterious, un-American. As is his wont, Donald Trump proclaimed these themes more loudly when he suggested that Obama might have an ulterior motive (cough, cough, secret Muslim) for the deal he negotiated with Iran. “It’s almost like there has to be something else going on,” Trump said in a speech on Saturday night. 

Like many of the other Republican candidates, Christie is trying to play the role of the thinking man’s Trump, and making a fool of himself in the process. 

October 21, 2016

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Chris Christie is screwed.

On Friday, Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, testified that Christie knew and approved of a “traffic study” that would close access lanes to the George Washington Bridge at least a month before the lanes were closed. The lane closures were allegedly political payback against a Democratic rival.

This is very bad news for Christie, who has repeatedly denied knowing anything about the lane closures before they went into effect, despite the involvement of his top aides. Over the last several weeks of a federal trial investigating Bridgegate, however, the dots have been connected. Kelly’s testimony has made clear what was already widely assumed, that Christie was aware of, if not behind, this petty and illegal act of political retribution.

Christie still has one year left to serve as governor, but could very well be impeached before that. He’s already essentially a lame duck, and has spent much of the last six months campaigning on behalf of Donald Trump. Christie’s avid support for Trump has been mystifying to some, but it makes perfect sense: Both politicians never give an inch, Christie is enamored with the rich and famous, and, perhaps most importantly, President Trump represents the only possible salvation for Christie. Riding Trump’s coattails, as Mike Pence has proved, can be a good way to escape being an unpopular governor.

But it increasingly looks like Christie has no escape: Trump is going to lose and Bridgegate is slowly but surely undoing his career.

This is the most moving political ad of 2016.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign has released an exceptionally effective video in which Khizr Khan tells the story of his son, Captain Humayun Khan, who was killed in Iraq while stopping a suicide bomber in 2004.

“He saw a suicide bomber approaching his camp,” Khizr Khan explains as he walks in living room toward a photo of the fallen soldier. “My son moved forward to stop the bomber. When the bomb exploded he saved everyone in his unit. Only one American soldier died. My son was Captain Humayun Khan. He was 27 years old and he was a Muslim American.” Khizr Khan’s voice starts to break as he says, “I want to ask Mr. Trump, would my son have a place in your America?”

What makes this ad so bracing is not just the story of Khizr Khan, but that last question, which lays out the implications of Trump’s xenophobia in the most basic terms.

Getty/Brooks Kraft

The Trump campaign’s version of “exit polling” sounds pretty scary.

As the campaign continues to stoke fears of a “stolen” election and widespread voter fraud, Trump himself has called on supporters to “go out and watch” the polls. But until now, his appeal for poll monitors wasn’t linked to any organized effort. Enter Roger Stone, the Republican Party’s dirty trickster. Stone will lead a crowd-funded exit poll targeting nine Democratic-leaning cities such as Philadelphia, Detroit, and Charlotte, encompassing 600 precincts that have large numbers of minority voters. With exit poll volunteers potentially including armed vigilante groups like Bikers for Trump and other groups from the controversial Citizens for Trump coalition, this looks more like a voter intimidation campaign than a watchdog effort.  

While Stone has long trafficked in conspiracies of “manipulated” voting machines by the Clinton campaign, this is a new tactic. Never mind that exit polls, in general, are often not an accurate gauge of how voters actually voted, or that approximately 80 percent of voters will be using paper ballots. 

With Trump’s poll numbers continuing to slide, all signs from his campaign point to an unprecedented wave of dangerous messaging that targets vulnerable voters and districts on Election Day. The Stone-founded organization coordinating the exit poll, Stop the Steal, is also spreading the claim that Clinton plans to “flood the polls with illegals,” which just sounds like code for harassing legitimate Latino and other non-white voters. Which leads us to the question: Who will be watching the poll watchers? 


🎶 “Come gather ‘round children wherever ya roam / it’s high time you learned that Bob Dylan is a troll” 🎶

Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature eight days ago. Since then, nearly everyone in the world has weighed in on the surprising decision, but Dylan himself has stayed quiet. After trying to get in touch with him and his managers for a few days, the Swedish Academy gave up, though it reportedly remains confident that he’ll show up to accept the prize in December.

On Thursday, though, Dylan seemed to inch closer to acknowledging that the Nobel Prize in Literature exists and that he won it—his website added the all-caps addendum WINNER OF THE NOBEL PRIZE IN LITERATURE to a page about his upcoming book of lyrics. But that addition seems to have been done in error—it was taken down on Friday, presumably at the behest of Dylan or his management. (Dylan’s website is managed by Sony Music, his record label.)

So what does it all mean? Dylan loves playing coy, so who knows. But it’s pretty obvious that he’s having a laugh at the Swedish Academy’s expense. The Academy’s belief that Dylan will come to Stockholm and play nice in two months doesn’t seem to be based on anything. The safe money now, at least, is on Dylan never acknowledging the prize, which would be an oddly fitting response. But then again, I said that Dylan would never win the Nobel Prize in Literature in the first place, so what do I know?

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Hell is working at Wells Fargo.

The Times has published a series of stomach-rolling firsthand accounts of what it was like to work for the bank, which in September was hit with a fine of $185 million by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for creating millions of fake checking and credit card accounts to bilk customers. At the time, Wells Fargo said it had laid off more than 5,000 employees caught up in the scheme, which suggested that it was rooting out bad apples. But the Times story shows that Wells Fargo employees were victims of merciless pressure across the company to jack up the number of accounts per customer, resulting in as many as five accounts for a single person, including accounts that were supposed to be used on special days like Christmas or a family member’s birthday.

The employees knew that they were robbing these customers, but were intimidated by their superiors if they voiced dissent. In response, one woman developed a hand sanitizer addiction—as in, she drank hand sanitizer around the office to deal with it all, eventually developing a bottle-a-day habit. Another had to go to the emergency room for anxiety attacks. And yet another contracted shingles from the stress. Shingles is painful!

As Elizabeth Warren told CEO John Stumpf at a Senate Banking Committee hearing in September: “So you haven’t resigned. You haven’t returned a single nickel of your personal earnings. You haven’t fired a single senior executive. Instead, evidently, your definition of accountable is to push the blame to your low-level employees who don’t have the money for a fancy PR firm to defend themselves. It’s gutless leadership.” Stumpf should definitely have been fired for overseeing a massive scam. But what’s the punishment for turning your workplace into a psychological torture chamber?

Bless your heart, Brian Babin.

Babin, a Republican congressman and erstwhile dentist, shared some profound thoughts about Donald Trump’s “nasty woman” comment on the Alan Colmes Show yesterday evening. Via MSNBC:

“You know what, she’s saying some nasty things,” the Texas congressman answered.

Colmes asked again if the comment was appropriate, to which Babin responded, “Well, I’m a genteel Southerner, Alan.”

“So that means no?” Colmes asked.

“No, I think sometimes a lady needs to be told when she’s being nasty,” Babin replied. “I do.”

Let’s pretend, just for a moment, that the archetypal genteel Southerner does exist outside the fevered imaginations of Confederate re-enactors. Calling a woman “nasty” sits far outside the mythological etiquette Babin is trying to invoke. It’s an amusing and ultimately doomed attempt to deploy the self-congratulatory legend of The Southern Gentleman (in defense of a foul-mouthed Yankee, no less).

There’s only one proper response to Babin, and it’s one any real Southerner fears: Bless his heart.

October 20, 2016

Orjan F. Ellingvag/Dagens Naringsliv/Corbis via Getty Images

Donald Trump is the candidate the pro-life movement deserves.

In The Washington Post today, Fordham University professor Charles Camosy argues that Trump represents an existential threat to the pro-life movement:

[I]f he is elected president, our opponents on abortion will be able to rightly point out that the anti-abortion movement is led by a misogynist, racist, narcissist who is blinded by his own privilege. Successfully making this case is the only way left for abortion rights activists to stop anti-abortion momentum, but it plays into deeply-held stereotypes of the movement—stereotypes still held by media formed during the culture wars.

Camosy neglects to mention that those “stereotypes” of the single-minded pro-life activist are based on facts. He even writes, We [the pro-life movement] have almost completed the struggle of disentangling ourselves from the toxic, simplistic, binary culture wars of the 1970s.”

This is false. The pro-life movement still frames abortion as murder. That framing makes it a binary issue by default and therefore lends itself easily to hyperbole: Good and moral people hate baby murder. Bad and immoral people don’t.

This is tempting prey for someone like Donald Trump. If there is anything he knows how to do very well, it’s crafting a sales pitch. Trump understood that he simply needed to repeat a few pieces of boilerplate in order to win the bulk of the pro-life vote, despite being famously squishy on the issue. And it worked. Pro-lifers backed him; they campaigned for him; they even joined his advisory committee. By endorsing Trump, prominent pro-lifers proved their critics correct: They really do prioritize the welfare of fetuses over the welfare of everyone else.

Donald Trump just declared he won’t accept the results of the election if he loses, and he is going to lose.

“I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election—if I win,” the Republican nominee said at a rally in Delaware, Ohio, on Thursday.

Trump may later claim he was joking about this deadly serious subject—he was smiling broadly as he delivered the line. But he has long claimed that the election is being “rigged” or “stolen” from him, and he spoke without a trace of humor at the rally when he said, “I would accept a clear election result, but I would also reserve my right to contest or file a legal challenge in the case of a questionable result.”

A questionable result, as far as Trump is concerned, is any result that shows he lost. If voters’ current preferences hold, then, it seems clear he’ll be contesting the results of next month’s election.

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Jane Sanders does not beg.

Bernie Sanders’s wife lashed out on Twitter Thursday about a WikiLeaks email from Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook last year saying she twice called Peter Shumlin, Vermont’s Democratic governor, “and begged him to change his mind” about endorsing Clinton in the presidential primary. Sanders also slammed Shumlin for the timing of his endorsement, which came just hours after her husband’s campaign announced plans for its kickoff event.

The Sanders campaign’s frustration was understandable. The press cast Shumlin’s move as a “snub” and evidence the democratic-socialist senator was “not getting support from key leaders in his home state.”


Of course Mark Halperin is trying to defend Donald Trump.

Every episode of Morning Joe is special, but today’s episode was truly very special. Morning Joe bullied Bill Kristol and almost made him cry. And grade-obsessed android and objective member of the elite media Mark Halperin dropped by to decry the elite media’s fixation on Trump’s refusal to say he would respect the results of the election. Here is a portion of the transcript:

MARK HALPERIN: I’m fascinated by a parallel universe in which [Donald] Trump hadn’t said what he said about respecting the results because he had a lot of good moments. I think he got more of his message out than he ever has. He had the demeanor that a lot of people wanted to see. But there’s no doubt that it’s the revenge of the elites. Elites do not accept that that was an appropriate answer and it’s not just the coverage in the immediate aftermath of the debate, the coverage this morning, but until he explains it and gets in sync with everyone on his campaign team I don’t think he’s going to get to talk about much else and that means every bit of good he might have done last night, with a strong performance and her strong performance, I don’t think matters much.

JOE SCARBOROUGH: Mark, let me ask you. And I’m sure people will disagree with me here—just the implication of my question, the suggestion of my question—how many people in Scranton, Pennsylvania, care about what he said in that answer compared to people in newsrooms that are—whimpering and whining with their, you know—

HALPERIN: Almost --

SCARBOROUGH: With their soy lattes?

Soy lattes! Hell yeah! Everything old is new again—like the Volvo that I am driving right now while reading The New York Times.

What Halperin and Morning Joe are doing is throwing around signifiers—they signify “smug liberal elite”—even though Trump’s comments have been condemned across the ideological spectrum. Do people in Scranton care about the possibility of mass unrest? I grew up nearby and have no idea, but that’s not the point. The point is to ask what it means when Trump says the election is rigged. Oh, and also don’t ask what an imaginary person in Scranton thinks about everything.