Donald Trump’s information feedback loop, Rudy Giuliani edition.

Trump’s “Lock Her Up” campaign against Hillary Clinton is the perfect example of how this loop works. Conspiracy theorists say that Clinton belongs in prison, the Trump campaign embraces the theme—in a manner unprecedented in modern politics—and then everyone is disappointed and angry that Clinton isn’t actually getting locked up. 

In the latest example, Trump called on Monday for a special prosecutor to investigate any illicit coordination between the State Department and the Clinton Foundation. Trump told an audience in Akron, Ohio: “Some former prosecutors have even suggested that the coordination between the pay-for-play State Department and the Clinton Foundation constitute a clear example of RICO—Racketeering, Influence, Corrupt Organization—enterprise.” 

So who are these former prosecutors saying that Clinton was involved in RICO violations? One of them may very well be Rudy Giuliani, a highly visible Trump campaign surrogate. “She is the consummate, corrupt, Washington insider. And she is thoroughly corrupt, and so is the Clinton Foundation,” Giuliani declared on Fox News Sunday. “If I were back in my old job as U.S. Attorney, I would probably indict the Clinton Foundation as a racketeering enterprise.” 

So there you have the Trump campaign’s primary citation for its accusations against Clinton: the Trump campaign itself.

October 27, 2016

Sean Rayford/Getty

Ted Cruz would rather neuter the Supreme Court than appoint Merrick Garland or any other Democratic nominee.

Poor Merrick Garland. Once upon a time, he was going to be a wedge issue in down-ballot races, but he’s spent the last few months largely being forgotten, presumably sitting at home watching baseball, waiting for the phone to ring. (It never rings.)

But slowly but surely, Garland has reemerged in the race, at least in the abstract. Eyeing defeat in November, Republicans are starting to panic about the future of the Supreme Court, which could very well have a liberal majority for the first time in five decades. There’s little that Republicans can do, which helps explain why they’ve started to come around to a permanent stonewalling of Garland’s nomination—their only hope of maintaining control of the Court.

Speaking in Colorado on Wednesday, death-mask lookalike Ted Cruz argued that there is precedent for starving the court of new justices for a sustained period of time. “There is certainly long historical precedent for a Supreme Court with fewer justices,” Cruz said. “I would note, just recently, that Justice Breyer observed that the vacancy is not impacting the ability of the court to do its job. That’s a debate that we are going to have.” In other words, the court can function just fine without a ninth justice, thank you.

This is not true, as having eight justices has one very obvious flaw—no one likes ties, as Sunday night’s Cardinals-Seahawks game testifies. But conservatives like Cruz nevertheless see gridlock as being better than the alternative.

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The Trump campaign admits it has only one card left in its deck: voter suppression.

With twelve days to go, the Trump campaign knows that it is losing and losing badly. According to a new Bloomberg Businessweek story, Trump’s internal polling is “similar” to Nate Silver’s aggregate models, which currently give Trump only a 16.2 percent chance of winning and show him trailing in Ohio, North Carolina, Florida, Nevada, and Iowa. The campaign has “identified 13.5 million voters in 16 battleground states whom it considers persuadable,” but it knows that Trump has only one path to victory: shrinking the electorate.

In keeping with Trump’s often shocking forthrightness and commitment to turning Republican subtext into text, the Trump campaign was surprisingly open about this.

We have three major voter suppression operations under way,” says a senior official. They’re aimed at three groups Clinton needs to win overwhelmingly: idealistic white liberals, young women, and African Americans. Trump’s invocation at the debate of Clinton’s WikiLeaks e-mails and support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership was designed to turn off Sanders supporters. The parade of women who say they were sexually assaulted by Bill Clinton and harassed or threatened by Hillary is meant to undermine her appeal to young women. And her 1996 suggestion that some African American males are “super predators” is the basis of a below-the-radar effort to discourage infrequent black voters from showing up at the polls—particularly in Florida.

There are two big takeaways here. The first is that this has been the Trump campaign’s most important tactic since the late summer, at least. Trump has consistently shown a high floor and a low ceiling—he has only polled about 44 percent in aggregate once, immediately after the RNC—which means that the only way to win is to take votes away from Clinton, who polling has shown has been more affected by third-party candidates than Trump. This is clearly a last-ditch strategy, the only card left in Trump’s deck, but it’s been the only card there for a while.

The second takeaway is that, as chilling as this plan sounds, the Trump campaign just isn’t very good at executing it. Bloomberg uses black voter suppression as a case study:

On Oct. 24, Trump’s team began placing spots on select African American radio stations. In San Antonio, a young staffer showed off a South Park-style animation he’d created of Clinton delivering the “super predator” line (using audio from her original 1996 sound bite), as cartoon text popped up around her: “Hillary Thinks African Americans are Super Predators.” The animation will be delivered to certain African American voters through Facebook “dark posts”—nonpublic posts whose viewership the campaign controls so that, as Parscale puts it, “only the people we want to see it, see it.” The aim is to depress Clinton’s vote total. “We know because we’ve modeled this,” says the official. “It will dramatically affect her ability to turn these people out.”

Maybe you have more faith in “South Park-style” animations than I do, but if that’s your best hope to stop people from voting, you’re probably screwed.

October 26, 2016

Miami Herald

Bernie Sanders’s millennial diehards are finally #WithHer.

As of Wednesday, Hillary Clinton held a 28-point lead over Donald Trump among younger voters—surpassing President Barack Obama’s advantage during his 2012 reelection campaign. In an age bracket that identifies mostly as Democratic or Independent, this was long overdue.

It was only last month that Clinton was still scrambling to attract young voters. It seems the campaign was riding out the residual effects of a hard-fought primary, in which Sanders emerged as the unequivocal favorite among millennials. The Vermont senator’s brand of progressivism won the youth vote by large margins in many states, at ratios of 5-to-1 and even 6-to-1. Meanwhile, Clinton seemingly could not figure out how to shake his portrayal of her as a pawn of Wall Street and Big Business, which was, at one point, parodied by Saturday Night Live:

When Sanders prolonged the primary well after it became clear that he would lose and offered a very lukewarm concession, the millennials who supported him did not rush over to the Clinton camp. It appears the tide really began to turn after the release of the video in which Trump described sexually assaulting a woman.

Getty/Jung Yeon-je

For a truly devastating email controversy, go to South Korea.

In the wake of Monday revelations that a trashed hard drive belonging to a longtime confidant of President Park Geun-hye contained 200 classified government documents, the president gave a rare public apology on Tuesday. But her claim that her exchanges with her friend had been conducted “with a pure heart” quickly became the target of national scorn, and many have called for her impeachment instead. While some see parallels to Clinton’s email server controversy, the level of corruption and mismanagement of national information attributed to Park are far more serious and bizarre.

The scandal is multi-fold. First, there’s the evidence that Park had intentionally entrusted state information to Choi Soon-sil, a mysterious figure who is neither a state official nor affiliated with any organization. Her only claim to the president is as the daughter of a cult-like figure who has been by Park’s side for most of her life and who claimed to channel Park’s dead mother. Prosecutors are also investigating whether the president’s influence helped Choi to receive expedited approval of two foundations that racked up multi-million dollar donations from South Korea’s conglomerates in the space of a couple days, which she then used as her own personal slush fund to purchase property and fund her personal expenses. The scandal even extended to prestigious Ewha Womans University, in which the school is alleged to have bent admissions policies and other regulations to allow Choi’s daughter to matriculate. The university president has already stepped down.

The most lasting damage, however, may be to Park’s public image as a modern political leader. The hard drive revealed that the president had sent drafts of her speeches and remarks to Choi before they were delivered, and Park admitted on Tuesday that she had consulted Choi for her opinions on these statements after her inauguration (a privilege not even extended to her own presidential staff). As a result, many now view the president as a blind follower of a fringe religious figure. As a representative of the main opposition party stated, “South Korea’s Constitution stipulates the country has only one president. But it turned out two presidents led the nation.” Even her own political party has asked her to leave the party.

As her approval numbers plummet, Park’s controversial proposal to amend the Constitution and extend presidential term limits, which some saw as a ploy to detract from the corruption probe, may be going nowhere fast.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Because Democrats passed laws when they had majorities, Republicans will boycott health legislation forever.

An anticipated 22 percent increase in average insurance premiums within the Affordable Care Act exchanges has Democrats facing a new round of partisan Obamacare attacks.

This was all perfectly predictable, but it raises the question, once again, of what, if anything, Republicans will be willing to do to sand down the health care system’s rough edges once the election’s over.

Conservative writer Ramesh Ponnuru attributes the gridlock to the fact that President Obama isn’t really as open-minded about reforms to his health law as he claims to be.

For instance, Ponnuru claims, “Obama says that people who are having trouble buying insurance on Obamacare’s exchanges should receive more generous subsidies. The conservative alternative—relax the regulations that make the insurance unaffordable for them—is unacceptable to him because it would be a retreat from comprehensiveness.”

The real problem here is that Obama isn’t negotiating with Ponnuru, but with Congressional Republicans, who have only been willing to discuss significant health care reforms if they’re premised on repealing the entire health care law, and replacing it with something far less comprehensive.

Republicans on Capitol Hill haven’t, as far as I’m aware, proposed introducing a catastrophic coverage option in to the exchanges as an opening bid in a narrow negotiation over how to shield consumers from premium increases. That’s because elected Republicans (and many conservative intellectuals, for that matter) have essentially decided that because Democrats passed laws when they had majorities, Republicans will boycott health legislation forever. Or until they finally control government and can implement more radical reforms on their own. Obama presents himself as “the picture of reasonableness” on this topic, because, Ponurru’s objections notwithstanding, nobody in the other party is behaving reasonably.

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Right-wing activists want to impeach Hillary Clinton even before she becomes president.

One sign that the Republicans know the presidential election is all over but the crying is that they are already thinking of ways to hamstring a future President Clinton with congressional investigations. As NBC News’ Alex Seitz-Wald and Benjy Sarlin report,

In the last few weeks alone, dozens of House Republicans have demanded that a special prosecutor investigate the Clinton Foundation for possible conflicts of interest. Sen. Ted Cruz has called for a “serious criminal investigation” into a Democratic operative featured in a sting video by conservative activist James O’Keefe. And Speaker Paul Ryan promised “aggressive oversight work in the House” of an alleged “quid pro quo” deal between the FBI and the State Department over reclassifying an email on Clinton’s private server.

Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a conservative group long at the forefront of legal harassment of both Bill and Hillary Clinton, wants to go further. According to Seitz-Wald and Sarlin, Fitton is critical of “Republican lawmakers for failing to pre-emptively impeach Clinton.”

Preemptive impeachment would be an innovation in American presidential politics, but it certainly shows foresight. If your goal is to make Clinton’s presidency a nightmare of gridlock and partisan strife, why not start early?

Newt Gingrich is the biggest hypocrite in American politics.

Gingrich and Megyn Kelly got into it last night on Fox News’s The Kelly File.

This an exceptional two minutes of television for a lot of reasons. We’ll start with the one that’s getting the most attention—Gingrich accusing Kelly of being “obsessed with sex.”

Gingrich: “You are fascinated with sex and you don’t care about public policy.

Kelly: “Me? Really?”

Gingrich: “That’s what I get out of watching you tonight.”

Kelly: “You know what Mr. Speaker, I’m not fascinated by sex, but I am fascinated by the protection of women and understanding what we’re getting in the Oval Office and I think the American voters would like to know…”

Kelly’s “Me? Really?” is about as subtle as jokes about Gingrich, one of America’s jowliest men, get. It’s hard to imagine a more hypocritical accusation, given that Gingrich led the campaign that ended in the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. It’s especially hypocritical given that Gingrich led that witch hunt while having a secret affair of his own. Gingrich is the last person who should be lecturing Kelly, or anyone else, about sexual mores—though admittedly that has never stopped him before.

But the segment is fascinating for other reasons as well, most notably that Gingrich accuses Kelly—and by extension Fox News—of having it out for Trump and of downplaying Clinton scandals (involving both Bill and Hillary). For this reason, many on the (far, far) right are championing the clip, including low rent Pravda Breitbart, which has it splashed all over its homepage, and Trump’s own director of social media.

If that seems menacing, that’s because it is. The really sad part is that he’s operating on an assumption shared by no thinking people at the moment, which is that Trump will win the election.

October 25, 2016

John Phillips/Getty

Paul Beatty has become the first American to win the Man Booker Prize.

Beatty won for The Sellout, a blistering satire, which follows a young black man who reinstitutes slavery and segregation in his Los Angeles neighborhood. Beatty became the first American to win the Man Booker Prize in its 46-year history—the prize was only recently opened to Americans—and it’s hard to think of a better first American Man Booker winner than The Sellout, a profane, hilarious, and often uncomfortable look at America. (If nothing else, the Man Booker Prize finally confirmed what has always been true, which is that Americans write the best books.)

The 2016 Man Booker Prize continued a recent trend—one that began even before the prize opened itself up to entries from outside the British Commonwealth—of ignoring established authors like Ian McEwen and Julian Barnes, in favor of younger and less well-known writers. The 2016 shortlist was bereft of superstars—a good thing, in my opinion, but one that regularly results in whining from the British publishing establishment—and instead consisted of relative unknowns. At least, that’s the narrative if you watched the BBC broadcast. The Sellout was a breakout book in the U.S. when it was published last year, in large part because it was the best book published in the U.S. that year. (That said, it was also criminally under-reviewed and took some time to emerge as the fiction book of the year.)

Coming months after Brexit and two weeks before the U.S. presidential election, there was an undeniable political tinge to the broadcast, though—fittingly for the British—it remained just a tinge. The presenter declared the prize as part of a “global vanguard that stands against all threats both practical and political” and for freedom of expression. Beatty himself was more personal as he accepted the award. Visibly emotional, Beatty thanked his agent, editor, and girlfriend and recalled reading The Sellout aloud for the first time and breaking down crying. “I don’t want to get all dramatic—writing saved my life and all that. But writing’s given me a life,” he said.

Drew Angerer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

BREAKING: White evangelicals support Donald Trump because they agree with him.

An extensive new Public Religion Research Institute survey demonstrates that white evangelical Protestants are largely aligned with Donald Trump’s immigration positions and overarching pessimism about the future of the country. At Religion Dispatches, the University of Pennsylvania’s Dr. Anthea Butler breaks down the most noteworthy results:

The group with the most fatalistic view of American cultural change are white evangelical Protestants, three quarters of whom (74%) say that American culture has changed for the worse since 1950.

A majority of Republicans (55%) believe that America is so off track that we need a leader who is willing to “break the rules,” while 57% of Democrats disagree with that statement.

A majority of white Americans say that Donald Trump is the most trustworthy candidate in the 2016 election (54%) while Blacks and Hispanics say that Hillary Clinton is the most trustworthy candidate (71% and 59% respectively).

Among Americans as a whole Hillary Clinton is perceived to have much stronger religious beliefs than Donald Trump (50% v. 36%), though white evangelical Protestants say that Trump has much stronger religious beliefs (58% vs 28%)

Most Americans reject banning Muslims from the United States (56%), yet a sizable minority (43%) express support for some kind of ban. A Majority of white evangelical Protestants (62%) and white mainline Protestants (54%) favor the temporary ban. White Catholics are split evenly.

The majority of Hispanic Catholics (62%), black Protestants (68%), members of non-Christian religions (70%)  and religiously unaffiliated Americans (74%) reject the ban on Muslims in the United States.

These results won’t surprise anyone who’s followed the election closely. Donald Trump’s appeal is largely nostalgic, embraced by voters privileged enough to have prospered in a less diverse America. For these white Americans, their self-identification as evangelicals functions as a statement of racial identity as well as a statement of faith. When they say they want to keep America moral, they mean they want to keep it culturally “pure.” 

“The upshot of this survey is that white evangelicals want to go back to Ozzie and Harriet—in time, behavior, and gender roles,” Butler writes. 

It’s a definitive answer to a common question this election cycle: Evangelicals are voting for Donald Trump, moral failings and all, because they agree with him. 

File this one away under “ledes about Marco Rubio that liberals will love.”

According to NPR, “Rubio got booed off a stage in Orlando on Sunday, by a crowd that was overwhelmingly Latino.”

Relish the sound of it.

That Rubio’s better positioned for re-election than many other swing-state Republican senators frustrates liberals to no end. Part of this frustration stems from a lingering anxiety about the thought of Rubio beating Hillary Clinton in 2020 (though his underwhelming 2016 presidential campaign set most of those fears to rest).

The bigger issue is that liberals believe Rubio deserves comeuppance for the way he’s conducted himself as a senator and political candidate. Rubio has bumbled around the playing field of Republican politics heedlessly for six years, looking for a sweet-spot that keeps eluding him. First he was a Tea Party insurgent; then he was a pro-immigration reform healer; then he abandoned immigration reform; then he promised he wouldn’t seek re-election to the Senate so he could stake it all on a bid for the presidency; then he refused to criticize Donald Trump; then he accused President Obama of intentionally sabotaging America; then he said Trump was a con-man, unfit for the presidency, who could not be trusted with the nuclear codes; then Trump beat him; then he endorsed Trump; then he announced he’d run for re-election after all, which brings us to the present day, and a widespread sense among liberals that someone with Rubio’s track record doesn’t deserve a second term in office.

Liberals may not get their way, but if Rubio loses it will be due to this very inconstancy, which has driven down his support among Hispanic voters in Florida. Many of them associate Rubio with Trump’s bigotry and the rise of nativism and will register their disapproval at the polls.