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Here’s what you missed from tonight’s Republican debate.



The GOP establishment had a panic-inducing night, Brian Beutler said.

Chris Christie took back his brand from Donald Trump, wrote Elspeth Reeve. (His brand is “the jerk you root for.”)

Alex Shephard said the question wasn’t whether Ben Carson saw the Benghazi movie, but how many times he saw it.

Carson also called out the entire field—including himself—for knowing nothing about military issues, Adam Peck observed.

With an anecdote about his half-sister, Ted Cruz tried to show his human side, Shephard wrote.

Nearly everyone thought bringing back waterboarding was a great idea, Gwyneth Kelly noted.

Trump’s obsession with “taking the oil” from ISIS makes no sense, Jeet Heer argued.

Meanwhile, Cruz’s obsession with carpet-bombing has gotten only more deplorable, Shephard said

Donald Trump’s character as a pro-wrestling heel developed exquisitely, Reeve wrote.

Donald Trump went on a tirade against free trade, and none of his rivals objected, Heer observed.

We didn’t get to hear Ben Carson’s thoughts about North Korea, and that’s a real shame, Shephard said.

Donald Trump is singularly concerned with people dying in the street, Kelly noted.

Carly Fiorina isn’t wasting her time watching the GOP debate, Rebecca Leber wrote.

Chris Christie spent all week talking about how he was going to own Marco Rubio at tonight’s debate, Shephard wrote. And that’s what he did.

And Jeb Bush had his best moment of the campaign, Reeve said.

June 22, 2018

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President Trump sees immigration as a defense issue.

The Washington Post is reporting that the White House wants to move funds allocated to the Coast Guard to immigration control. This comes on the heel of Pentagon leaks revealing that the administration also plans on using military bases to house as many as 20,000 migrant children. According to a report in The New York Times, “The 20,000 beds at bases in Texas and Arkansas would house ‘unaccompanied alien children,’ said a Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Michael Andrews, although other federal agencies provided conflicting explanations about how the shelters would be used and who would be housed there.”

Both policy moves, however chaotic and inchoate they might still be, are outgrowths of a larger fact about the Trump administration’s foreign policy: the president sees immigration as one of America’s major foreign policy challenges, one that falls under the purview of the military. Viewing migrants as a threat is part and parcel of Trump’s larger unilateralist vision, with its drawing back from traditional alliances and push for trade war.

Trump wants to create a fortress America. To do so, the United States has to shift resources from protecting allies. Hence Trump’s eagerness to make a deal with North Korea that would include ending military exercises. Also tied to this global withdrawal is his weakening of the Atlantic alliance, evidenced by his constant passive-aggressive denigration of Nato and accusations that traditional allies are exploiting the United States.

While Trump has no grand strategy, he does have consistent instincts. Those instincts include the gut belief that America’s security depends on focusing on the alleged problem of immigration and scaling back global commitments. These are two prongs of the same underlying agenda.

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Is Melania Trump having a Britney Spears moment?

There have been so many baffling moments in this presidency that it would seem fruitless to single out one moment as more baffling than the rest; it is as if the country is in a constant fugue state, losing its grasp on what it is. But there was something about the latest controversy surrounding Melania Trump—in which she wore an army fatigue coat emblazoned with the inscription “I REALLY DON’T CARE, DO U?” to visit detained immigrant children in Texas—that was so mystifying that it scaled new heights of strange. If we accept the premise that she wore the coat on purpose (and in this hyper-image-conscious age, how could it be otherwise?), then why did she do it? Does she, simply, not care about children separated from their families? Quite possibly. Was it a message to the “fake news media,” as her husband claimed? Probably not. Was it a coded cry for help, the latest in a shadow campaign to “free Melania”? Well, she doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

Part of the mystery springs from Melania herself, who is even more unknowable than the average celebrity, not only sheathed in her high cheekbones and glistening skin and oversized sunglasses, but also obscured by the bloodless way she goes about the usual duties of the first lady. What does Melania Trump care about? What are her desires? Who is she, really? No one outside her inner circle can say with any certainty, which leads to wildly different interpretations of her actions. She hates her husband; no, she’s his willing accomplice. She is a simple, decent woman caught up in a life she never wanted; no, she’s a greedy vixen who thinks only of preserving her own wealth and status. She had a procedure to treat her kidney; no, she had plastic surgery. She is so inscrutable, so much like a wax model, that a leading conspiracy from last year suggested that Melania had a body double stand in for her at an event in October.

She is, in other words, a blank canvas, and what we make of Melania says as much about ourselves as it does her. And perhaps, to throw yet another theory out there, that is what the coat was a response to. At a certain point the celebrity loses control of her own identity—she becomes the outlandish amalgamation of what the media and the public has pieced together. In extreme cases, such as when Britney Spears shaved her hair or when Shia LaBeouf wore a bag over his head that read “I am not famous anymore,” the celebrity strikes at her own image, which is no longer hers, no longer in her control. It is a way of saying: I am still here.

What’s intriguing is that the image Melania has shattered is that of the first lady she is supposed to be: regal, dignified, compassionate, motherly. It was a $39 coat from Zara, faux-spray-painted, consumer trash. The first part of the message was heartless, the second part—“DO U?”—pure cynicism. She seems to be saying, with the force of a scream, I am not a first lady. But then, in this surreal presidency, we already had that sense.

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Donald Trump deserves the title of Editorial Consultant at National Enquirer.

It’s long been known that the president loves to cultivate the tabloid press and has a relationship with David Pecker, chief executive of American Media Inc. (AMI), which owns National Enquirer and many other supermarket periodicals. But a new article in The Washington Post adds many more details to our knowledge of this relationship. “During the presidential campaign, National Enquirer executives sent digital copies of the tabloid’s articles and cover images related to Donald Trump and his political opponents to Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen in advance of publication,” the Post reports. “Although the company strongly denies ever sharing such material before publication, these three individuals say the sharing of material continued after Trump took office.”

Trump and his cronies would, it appears, often tweak the Enquirer’s coverage, in ways small (suggesting alternative photos) and big (advocating story ideas). In particular, Trump encouraged the tabloid in 2016 to cover the health of his opponent Hillary Clinton. In September 2015, the Enquirer ran a story saying Hillary Clinton had six months to live. (Nearly three years later, Clinton still walks the earth).

Of course, since National Enquirer is a purveyor of “fake news” (to use one of Trump’s favorite phrases) it could be argued that the impact of these stories was minimal. But the Enquirer connection is important because it’s a prime example of one of the hallmarks of Trumpism, the tendency to blur the lines between truth and fiction to create an enveloping unreality that hampers criticism of the president.

The Enquirer link is also vital to ongoing investigations into the role Michael Cohen, the president’s former attorney, played in covering up stories. As the Post reports, the FBI is trying to unravel the threads connecting Cohen with AMI, Pecker, and Dylan Howard, the chief content officer of the Enquirer:

An FBI raid executed April 8 on Cohen’s office and residences sought all of the lawyer’s records of communications with AMI, Pecker and Howard regarding two women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump while he was married, according to three people familiar with the investigation. The search warrant served on Cohen also sought all communications he had with Trump or the Trump campaign about any “negative publicity” that might arise during the presidential race, according to a person familiar with investigators’ work. The warrant sought all his communication about an embarrassing “Access Hollywood” tape that surfaced in October 2016, weeks before the election.

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Charles Krauthammer was a crucial New Republic voice for nearly a quarter century. RIP.

When Krauthammer wrote his first article for The New Republic in 1979, he was a Jimmy Carter–supporting liberal. When he wrote his last piece in 2003, he was one of America’s most prominent conservative columnists, the most forceful advocate for George W. Bush’s war in Iraq and the larger strategy of democracy promotion in the Middle East. Over that time, Krauthammer went through a dramatic political change—one that was characteristic of his generation, but which also marked an important chapter in the history of this magazine and of American liberalism.

Krauthammer became an editor at TNR in 1981, at the start of a decade where the magazine was often at war with itself. The ’80s weren’t just the era of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, but of the reinvention of liberalism under the pressures of a now-dominant right. TNR, under the alternating tenure of Michael Kinsley and Hendrik Hertzberg, was a forum where competing strands of the liberalism battled for dominance. One faction of the magazine, led by Hertzberg, was robustly social democratic and distrustful of military adventurism. The rival faction, whose most eloquent voice was Krauthammer, was moving away from Cold War liberalism and toward a nascent neoconservatism.

Foreign policy was Krauthammer’s dominant passion, and the struggle against Soviet Communism drew him away from his youthful liberalism. Although he worked as a speechwriter for Walter Mondale in 1980, he came to distrust the Democrats as too dovish. After the Cold War, he continued to believe that American global hegemony was crucial for creating a better world. His 1991 essay “The Lonely Superpower” is critical for understanding the worldview of the American foreign policy elite in the years to come. With the clarity and force that graced all his writing, Krauthammer laid out a case for American foreign policy activism during a “unipolar moment”:

I would much have preferred that after the long twilight struggle America enjoy the respite from toil and danger to which it is richly entitled. Alas, there is no end to toil, and it is not just naive but dangerous to pretend otherwise. Even after the defeat of the Soviet threat, we face a highly dangerous new world from which there is no escape. Our best hope for safety in such times, as in difficult times past, is in American strength and will: the strength to recognize the unipolar world and the will to lead it.

Given his belief in America’s responsibility to dominate the globe, it was not surprising that he would be one of the most influential advocates for the post-9/11 attempt to remake the Middle East. He staked his considerable credibility on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq having weapons of mass destruction.

Since the rise of Donald Trump in 2016, much of the Republican Party has rejected Krauthammer’s brand of neoconservate internationalism. Where he wanted America to take up the burden of global leadership, Trump has argued for unilateral nationalism. This provoked the final political shift in Krauthammer’s life, when he refused to vote for the Republican nominee.*

There’s much in Krauthammer’s work to argue with, but no denying the ample testimonies of his personal kindness nor his bravery in rebuilding his life after a swimming-pool accident left him paralyzed him below the waist when he was 22 years old.

He was equally brave in facing death. Rest in peace, Charles Krauthammer.


*This article originally misstated that Krauthammer voted for Clinton in 2016. He declared he would vote for a write-in candidate.

June 21, 2018

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The perils of using DNA tests to reunite migrant children with their parents.

Representative Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California, on Thursday called on the genealogy website 23andMe to provide DNA tests to help identify migrant children separated from their parents by the Trump administration. Although well-intentioned, the proposal raises multiple ethical and legal questions.

The Trump administration has separated more than 2,300 migrant kids from their parents so far. Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday that sought to halt the separations, but hasn’t made clear how the government would reunite families it already broke apart. While many separated children are eventually placed in the custody of close family members, others are not. The chaos caused by the separations has raised fears that some children might not be reunited with their parents at all. John Sandweg, a former director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told NBC News this week that the administration’s policy “could create thousands of immigrant orphans.”

Using DNA tests to help find those children’s parents might not be as straightforward as it sounds. In April, I wrote about the concerns raised by legal experts when police in California used a commercial genealogy database to track down a suspect in the Golden State Killer case. Catching a serial killer is a worthy goal, but law enforcement might not always use the system for noble ends. Testing can also produce false positives: Investigators on that case first questioned an innocent man who was an apparent match to DNA found at a crime scene.

It’s unclear whether HIPAA, the federal medical-privacy law, would even allow the government to obtain DNA samples from migrant children who can’t give informed consent. And even if the government could lawfully collect the sample, there’s the question of whether it should. Can Americans really trust Donald Trump, who rose to power by demonizing undocumented immigrants, to collect a database of those immigrants’ genetic information?

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In Trump’s America, the ACLU takes a new approach to free speech.

According to a memo leaked to the The Wall Street Journal, the ACLU has begun shifting its stalwart stance on the First Amendment, in recognition of the surge of hate speech that has accompanied the president’s rise to power. “Our position in one area can sometimes present a conflict with our work and goals in another area,” the memo says. “Work to protect speech rights may raise tensions with racial justice, reproductive freedom, or a myriad of other rights, where the content of the speech we seek to protect conflicts with our policies on those matters, and/or otherwise is directed at menacing vulnerable groups or individuals.”

The organization has been grappling with its position on free speech over the past year, after its clients, the white supremacist groups at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in August 2017, started the violence that led to the death of Heather Heyer. At the time, the ACLU decided that it would no longer defend armed hate groups, a position this memo solidifies.

While the U.S. continues to be more tolerant of offensive speech than the rest of the world, with 71 percent of Americans believing they should be allowed to say what they want, there are generational differences. Forty percent of millennials, according to a Pew Research Center poll in 2015, think the government should be allowed to prevent speech that is offensive to minority groups.

As The New Republic’s Sarah Jones wrote last year, Trump’s presidency “supports the notion that no law, even when it is enshrined in the Constitution, can alone justify an absolute position on free speech. That position has to be bolstered by cultural norms, including a consensus that the president must not legitimize and amplify the speech of those who openly bear the swastika and believe that other races are inferior to the white race. Free speech isn’t a pure and abstract good. Like all civil liberties, it is shaped by the context in which it occurs.”

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John Oliver joins Winnie the Pooh on Chinese government’s block list.

On Sunday, the host of Last Week Tonight mocked the Chinese government’s internet censorship using Winnie the Poor as an example. Chinese President Xi Jinping seems to dislike comparisons between his physical appearance and that of A.A. Milne’s famous ursine, so a firewall keeps the Chinese people from doing searches about Winnie the Pooh. “Clamping down on Winnie the Pooh comparisons doesn’t exactly project strength,” Oliver quipped.

Now Oliver himself has been added on the block list, since queries for his name also produce no results.

Aside from internet censorship, Oliver needled the Chinese government on a range of human rights abuses, ranging from the treatment of Uighur Muslims to the jailing of dissident Liu Xiaobo.

Oliver also questioned Xi’s removal of term limits for the presidency. “It’s worth knowing that the term limits he had successfully eliminated were put in place for a pretty good reason, specifically to avoid another Mao, under whose regime some horrific things happened in China,” the comedian observed.

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Conservatives tweet that heckling Trump advisors is fascism.

The New York Post reports that White House advisor Stephen Miller became the second Trump administration official to be ridiculed at a Mexican restaurant this week when he dined at Espita Mezcaleria on Wednesday. A fellow customer spotted Miller, one of the chief architects of the family separation policy, and shouted “Hey look guys, whoever thought we’d be in a restaurant with a real-life fascist begging [for] money for new cages?” Miller reportedly “scurried” away from the protester, although he stayed in the restaurant.

On Tuesday, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and a companion were hounded out of the MXDC Cocina Mexicana by jeering protesters, organized by Democratic Socialists of America members, who shouted “shame” and berated her for the policy to tearing migrant children away from parents.

Some conservative pundits have objected to these restaurant tauntings, calling them fascist:

The comparison with fascism is nonsensical. Nielsen and Miller are major agents of the state that are pushing a policy that is traumatizing thousands of children. The protests were a peaceful expression of free speech. It’s noteworthy that the spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security acknowledged that the protesters had legitimate concerns:

The most heartening fact about the family separation saga is that American civil society has revolted against the policy. There has been a massive public outcry, which has included even from corporations like the major airlines (which are refusing to fly migrant kids separated from their parents). The restaurant heckling is very much part of this resistance from civil society:

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Immigration chaos continues with contradictory reports about “zero tolerance.”

The Washington Post is reporting that the Trump administration will no longer be prosecuting parents who cross the border with children. “We’re suspending prosecutions of adults who are members of family units until ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) can accelerate resource capability to allow us to maintain custody,” an official told The Post.

The administration is returning to the Obama-era policy on border crossing families and suspending “zero tolerance.”

The Washington Post report was immediately contradicted by the Department of Justice:

Given the contradiction between the two reports, it is clear that the Trump administration’s immigration policy remains chaotic and in flux. 

If  “zero tolerance” was suspended, it is only as a stop-gap measure. It does nothing to address the problem of family reunification for those already separated by the policy. Further, it is a temporary measure which could be reversed once the administration has more resources in place to enact a renewed “zero tolerance” push. But the larger story is that the White House has no real policy and different factions are making up rules willy-nilly.

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The Supreme Court’s Wayfair ruling is big for state budgets, bad for e-commerce companies.

Thursday’s decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair will allow state legislatures to force online retailers to collect sales taxes for purchases made within their jurisdiction. It’s a victory for state tax coffers, as well as brick-and-mortar businesses that had cried foul over what they saw as an unfair advantage for internet competitors.

Many online businesses had benefited from the 1992 ruling in Quill v. North Dakota that said states could only collect sales taxes from online merchants that had a physical presence within their borders. The court overturned that decision on constitutional grounds on Thursday. But Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for a 5-4 majority, said the digital-physical distinction no longer made sense.

Between targeted advertising and instant access to most consumers via any internet-enabled device, a business may be present in a state in a meaningful way without that presence being physical in the traditional sense of the term,” he wrote. “A virtual showroom can show far more inventory, in far more detail, and with greater opportunities for consumer and seller interaction than might be possible for local stores.”

Kennedy made clear that Quill was constitutionally flawed in any event. But he also noted that technological advancements since 1992 made the ruling “all the more egregious and harmful.” When the high court decided Quill, Kennedy observed, fewer than 2 percent of Americans had personal internet access and “the Court could not have envisioned a world in which the world’s largest retailer would be a remote seller,” referring to online-sales giant Amazon.

There’s a tendency to speak about the internet as a separate realm of existence: Users of it are either “offline” in the real world or “online” in the digital world. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Wayfair makes clear that there’s only one world and that the Constitution governs it, at least within the United States. Technology, the medium that links these two worlds, must also play by the same rules.

That perspective could bode well for the defendant in another pending Supreme Court ruling. In Carpenter v. United States, the court is weighing whether police need a warrant before they can obtain a suspect’s historical cell phone location data. That data amounts to a digital footprint of sorts, allowing police to reconstruct a person’s movements with a level of precision that would have been impossible without the digital revolution.

Will the justices apply the Fourth Amendment’s protections in the real world to the digital one? Or will they give law enforcement a special degree of latitude there? A ruling could come as early as Friday.