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Is left-wing orthodoxy responsible for the rise of Donald Trump?

Ross Douthat today has a sweeping, provocative column connecting the seeming ubiquity of social-liberal activism in American culture—in late-night talk shows, the football field, awards ceremonies—with both Hillary Clinton’s struggles to consolidate the support of liberals and Trump’s enduring popularity. Clinton, Douthat writes, has been hobbled by the left’s “race-gender-sexual identity agenda,” which has demanded ideological concessions from Clinton that she is unable to give. Meanwhile, Trump has enjoyed the fruit of the backlash to the left’s “cultural dominance,” which “may be one reason the Obama years, so good for liberalism in the culture, have seen sharp G.O.P. gains at every level of the country’s government.” He concludes that “it remains an advantage for the GOP, and a liability for the Democratic Party, that the new cultural orthodoxy is sufficiently stifling to leave many Americans looking to the voting booth as a way to register dissent.”

There is a lot to unpack here—and to rebut. Let’s start with the notion that Clinton’s problems stem from her inadequate social liberalism. In fact, it was the other candidate in the Democratic primary who had problems on this front and was seen as being insufficiently vocal in his demands for equality for minorities and women. Yes, young black voters have questioned Clinton’s credibility on issues like criminal justice, but the left’s main beefs with Clinton revolve around economic and foreign policy questions. These are not issues, as far as I’m aware, that were addressed at the Emmys.

Then there’s the idea that the backlash to President Barack Obama was a product of the left’s monopoly on the culture. The revanchist wave that began in 2010 surely had many causes, but at least two aspects of the culture war—gay marriage and equal treatment of women—are not high on the list. In fact, Donald Trump, the supposed culmination of this backlash, resents accusations that he disrespects women and clearly does not care if people of the same sex are allowed to marry. The one aspect of this movement that Trump does oppose—one that was reflected in the office of the presidency, not on The Daily Show—is the growing clout of minorities in American life, both in politics and culture.

Douthat, of course, is aware of the role race has played in Trump’s rise and has examined this subject in other columns. But he does have a habit of disproportionately attributing Trump’s popularity to a social-liberalism that appears to be personally suffocating to him. In this column, Trump is the backlash to left-wing illiberalism. In another column, he’s the Hugh Hefner-ian outgrowth of a 60s-era liberal masculinity that eclipsed traditional Christian values of monogamy and sexual restraint. These two arguments both have elements of truth, but neither really even comes close to the real problem.

September 23, 2016

Ted Cruz is humiliating himself because he thinks it will help him become president some day.

Two months ago, Cruz got revenge on Trump in Cleveland. But on Friday, he reversed course and, in a humiliating 700 word Facebook post, endorsed the man who called his wife ugly, said his dad was involved in the Kennedy assassination, and (probably) planted an adultery allegation in The National Enquirer. Why did Cruz reverse course?

Cruz wants to be president. He originally told Trump to get bent in Cleveland because he thought that would pay off in 2020: In mid-July, a Clinton landslide was very much in the realm of possibility and many conservative GOP donors were not interested in backing Trump. Cruz was making a long-term bet that the Republican candidate for president would lose for the third straight time and that Republicans would blame Trump—and Trumpism—for their defeat. Cruz, one of the few who stood tall, could stride in as the man who got it right, the one true conservative, Ronald Reagan’s heir.

A lot has changed since July. First, Cruz pissed off a lot of donors by going after Trump. That, in the short-term, shouldn’t matter much—Cruz isn’t up for reelection until 2018. But recently a Republican challenger has popped up: Rep. Michael McCaul. McCaul is very much an establishment Republican, but he still represents a threat to Cruz, even if Trump wins. (If Clinton wins, Cruz could also expect a challenger from the Atilla the Hun wing of the party.) By endorsing Trump—at the risk of making a fool of himself—Cruz is trying to head off any claim that he was insufficiently supportive of Trump that could hurt him in 2018, while making good with GOP donors, who he’ll need. Second, the race is closer now than it was. Trump could win! Cruz’s entire bet was made on the premise that a Trump loss was more or less inevitable. That’s not true anymore, so Cruz is hedging.

The ultimate goal, however, has not changed. Everything Ted Cruz does he does to one day become president. But losing his Senate seat does not help Cruz become president and neither does pissing off President Donald Trump. The terrain has changed, so Cruz has changed with it. And it probably wasn’t a very hard decision for him to make. Cruz’s anti-Trump stand was never about principle, it was about becoming president. Cruz’s humiliating endorsement about Trump is about making good with donors and keeping his Senate seat... so he can become president.

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Donald Trump is poisoning the reputation of a generation of Republicans.

On Friday, Ted Cruz was set to become one of many prominent party members to bite the bullet and endorse Trump, a complete 180 reversal on his previous condemnations. Cruz caused a spectacle of disunity at the GOP convention in July, during which he was booed offstage for refusing to endorse the nominee and urging Republicans to “vote your conscience.” With Hillary Clinton up in the polls at the time, it appeared that Cruz was making a shrewd political bet that Trump would lose the election.

The race, however, has since tightened, and Cruz might now bank his career on ingratiating himself with Trump’s supporters in the interest of a future presidential bid. Richard Nixon embraced the same strategy with Barry Goldwater (to whom Trump is frequently compared) in 1964, campaigning aggressively on behalf of the candidate and currying favor with his wing of the GOP. When Nixon himself launched a presidential campaign in 1968, he was embraced by both the conservative movement and GOP establishment as a compromise candidate. Of course, Goldwater also didn’t insult Nixon’s wife or say that Nixon’s dad helped kill JFK.

But if Cruz is wrong about the outcome of the election, the fallout would be crippling. While prominent party leaders like Paul Ryan have offered lukewarm endorsements of their party’s nominee, they have carefully distanced themselves from Trump’s thornier policies, leaving room to condemn him should he lose the election. But Cruz’s backpedalling on such a dramatic display at the convention should raise questions about his tendency to embrace political opportunism over principles. For now, at least, he’s riding Trump’s coattails with Chris Christie.

New York Times

The most heartbreaking revelation in Rakeyia Scott’s video is that she suspected police would shoot her husband.

The wife of Keith L. Scott has released a video she took on Tuesday afternoon when police fatally shot her husband. The video doesn’t answer the disputed issue of whether Scott was armed or not, but it does make painfully clear that as the standoff unfolded, Rakeyia Scott was all too aware that the police might unleash lethal force. She repeatedly tells the police not to shoot, and that her husband has a traumatic brain injury. From the New York Times transcripts of what happened immediately before the shooting:

OFFICER: Hands up!

RAKEYIA SCOTT: Don’t shoot him. Don’t shoot him. He has no weapon. He has no weapon. Don’t shoot him.

OFFICER: Don’t shoot. Drop the gun. Drop the fucking gun.

RAKEYIA SCOTT: Don’t shoot him. Don’t shoot him.

OFFICER: Drop the gun.

RAKEYIA SCOTT: He didn’t do anything.

OFFICER: Drop the gun. Drop the gun.

RAKEYIA SCOTT: He doesn’t have a gun. He has a T.B.I. (Traumatic Brain Injury).

There have been many distressing videos of police shootings in the last few years, but few are as shocking as watching a wife plead for her husband’s life moments before police take it from him.

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Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts handed an olive branch to protesters while Governor Pat McCrory maintains his silence.

After instating a city-wide curfew during Thursday night’s demonstrations in Charlotte—which were largely peaceful in contrast to the violence of the night before—Roberts began the process of mending relations between city officials and discontented crowds. She compensated for a lack of empathy in Governor Pat McCrory’s address on Wednesday, during which he failed to even acknowledge the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott and instead focused on punitive consequences for demonstrators. 

“I was out on the streets last night, listening to folks who were there and was grateful to see people voicing their opinions peacefully,”  Roberts told reporters on Friday morning. “I was also encouraged to see acts of gratitude and acts of positive personal interaction between demonstrators and our men and women in uniform.... Last night was what a lawful demonstration looks like.” 

Roberts’s words aren’t empty—she’s been working for a long time to close the racial, socio-economic and education gaps in Charlotte that contribute to many of the city’s tensions. Moreover, she has joined in protesters calls to release the dashcam video of Scott’s death to key members of the community, such as the chair of the NAACP, for evaluation. 

Charlotte police chief Kerr Putney also sought to diffuse anger, claiming during the press conference that he did not want to be the “aggressive party, creating a sense of disorder”—rather, he wanted officers to help “deescalate” tensions. He warned, however, that releasing footage of Scott’s death would do no such thing.

Getty/Brooks Kraft

Hacking is the new normal for US elections. So why is lax email protocol still so prevalent?

On Thursday, in what feels like the umpteenth time, hackers posted hundreds of emails from the personal Gmail account of a 22-year old Democratic operative who freelanced for the White House and the Clinton campaign. The leak revealed the detailed movements and schedules of Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden, and First Lady Michelle Obama at public events, along with the personal information of Secret Service agents, the names and Social Security numbers of campaign donors, and even a purported scan of Michelle Obama’s passport.

On the same day, two Democratic lawmakers explicitly accused Russia of meddling in the US election, with orders coming from as high as President Putin. Following the hack on the email servers and accounts of the DNC, Colin Powell, and numerous other Democratic organizations and party officials, it is clear that hackers are determined to influence the 2016 presidential election more than any other previous election. (So far, it appears that Trump’s emails and servers have not been compromised.)

Yet despite the string of security breaches, the latest leaks show that the White House and the campaign felt no qualms about sending sensitive information over a year and a half to a personal Gmail account. In an era when cyber-espionage by countries is no longer kept under wraps, where there have yet to be any rules of engagement, it seems prudent for state officials to assume that digital security is crucial to national security and can have an enormous and disproportionate effect on our elections.

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James Patterson won’t be murdering Stephen King after all.

Patterson and King battle each other bestseller lists, so it’s perhaps not surprising that Patterson wrote a book (with co-author Derek Nikitas) titled The Murder of Stephen King.

Writing a novel imagining the attempted killing of an actual living person is inherently a dicey affair. Nicholson Baker faced much criticism for his 2004 novel Checkpoint, about a depressed loser who talks about plans to kill George W. Bush. The Patterson/Nikitas fabulation strikes a little too close to home since King has had a problem with fans who impinge on his privacy. Fear that a reader might do him harm underlies King’s 1987 Misery, where a novelist is held captive by a rabid fan.

My book is a positive portrayal of a fictional character, and, spoiler alert, the main character is not actually murdered,” Patterson wrote in a press release on Thursday. “Nevertheless, I do not want to cause Stephen King or his family any discomfort. Out of respect for them, I have decided not to publish The Murder of Stephen King.”

The news will likely put a damper on Jonathan Franzen’s proposed novel, The Slow Decapitation of Jonathan Safran Foer, and Joyce Carol Oates’s 700-page tome, Don DeLillo Gets Beaten to a Pulp.

Did a Clinton campaign decision made in May doom down-ballot Democrats?

One of the biggest takeaways from July’s DNC was that Hillary Clinton was actively courting Republicans. The last two days of the convention were all about flag waving and military might: Ronald Reagan would have been proud. Moreover, the DNC’s highest profile speakers—both Clintons, Barack Obama, Tim Kaine, Michael Bloomberg—relentlessly argued that Trumpism was not Republicanism and that Trump was an aberration, not a representative of the party of Lincoln.

This made many Democrats and progressives nervous. The Clinton campaign had decided to woo Republicans, particularly “moderate” or “suburban” ones, and they worried that this would hurt down-ballot Democrats and, potentially, hurt Clinton with Bernie Sanders voters. At the time, it seemed like a risky, but worthwhile strategy: Sanders voters seemed to be coming around to Clinton and down-ballot Democrats could tie their opponents to Trump’s vile policies and comments.

What we didn’t know at the time, however, was that the decision to run against Trumpism and not Republicanism was made in May, when the Democratic primary was definitively won, but not yet over. BuzzFeed’s Ruby Cramer has a long and sharp article that uses WikiLeaks emails to illuminate the decision to make the campaign about personality, not policy:

On the trail, Clinton doesn’t engage much in the economic and social debates that typically animate both parties in a presidential election. (In May, on at least two occasions, WikiLeaks emails show, Clinton’s team asked the DNC to stay “out of policy” when it came to framing Trump — once around his May 12 meeting with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, and a second time in relation to infrastructure messaging.)

Unfortunately, as Cramer notes, the strategy hasn’t worked. With less than 50 days until election day, the race is still close. And down-ballot Democrats in key races are struggling because their Republican challengers have been able to wriggle free of the association with Trump. As Cramer notes, New Hampshire Republican Kelly Ayotte is seen as a “different kind of Republican” by voters, while Senators Pat Toomey and Richard Burr are currently winning a fifth of Clinton voters.

The Clinton campaign has signaled that it is going to change strategies: That it will no longer simply make the case that Trump shouldn’t be elected, but that it will make a more forceful case for the differences between the two candidates’ policies. There’s enough time for this strategy to pay dividends for Clinton, but it may be too late for down-ballot Democrats.

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The Secret Service has paid Donald Trump $1.6 million to fly on his plane.

According to Politico U.S. taxpayers have spent $1.6 million to buy the Secret Service seats on a plane run by one of Trump’s companies. To note, it’s standard for the agency to reimburse candidates for travel costs since security is required—a practice that made more sense when candidates weren’t running billion-dollar campaigns. For example, the Secret Service has reimbursed the Clinton campaign for $2.6 million, but—important difference here—the money goes to an airline company in which the Clintons have no financial stake. It’s also possible, Politico notes, that the Secret Service could be paying to stay in Trump hotels, but those expenses wouldn’t show up in FEC filings.

In total, Trump’s “scampaign” has spent $8.2 million on Trump-owned businesses. Revelation after revelation about Trump’s Ponzi scheme methods have come out over the past few weeks, such as his spending $258,000 of Trump Foundation money to settle his own legal problems. The problem is, it still remains to be seen how much any of this will actually hurt his chances come election day.

Make debates weird again! (By letting Gary Johnson take part in them.)

The Libertarian Party, by and large, is made up of weirdos. Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson may or may not be a weirdo himself, but he certainly likes to let his freak flag fly from time to time—at the very least, he’s someone who clearly sees buttoned-up presidential politicking as being phony. Perhaps because of our hegemonic two-party system, perhaps because of his horrible platform (how Johnson is receiving any votes from Bernie supporters is baffling to me), or perhaps because he doesn’t know what Aleppo is, Johnson won’t be taking part in the first presidential debate on Monday. But he thinks he should be there, and that he’d be polling even with Trump and Clinton if he was allowed in. On Friday, he made the case on Morning Joe by saying that, if allowed to debate, he definitely wouldn’t stick his tongue out and try to talk at the same time.


Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” gaffe wasn’t a gaffe: Voters seem to agree.

Hillary Clinton was right when she made the (bizarrely phrased) assertion that half of Donald Trump’s supporters could be put in a “basket of deplorables.” But nevertheless, while the immediate post-basket days were spent arguing if Clinton’s assessment was accurate (yep), most people agreed that the statement nevertheless was a “gaffe.” Generally speaking, it is not good politics to insult a significant portion of the electorate: Elections are run by attacking your opponent, not voters.

The Trump campaign could not have reacted more gleefully to Clinton’s comments, which came in the middle of a particularly rough stretch of the campaign for her. Over the last two weeks, “Deplorables” has become a Trump campaign meme: They wanted it to bury Clinton the way that Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” gaffe buried him at roughly the same period in the election cycle in 2012.

The problem with this strategy, however, is that, despite being weirdly-phrased and unorthodox politically, Clinton’s comments were still perceptive. She correctly labeled a significant portion of Trump’s base as being “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic.” And she limited her critique—it was broad, but not overreaching. And that, as my colleague Brian Beutler argued shortly after the comments were made, it forced Trump’s campaign into a tight spot: Mike Pence, for instance, argued that no Trump supporters deserved to be called deplorable—even David Duke—because what else was he supposed to do? Anything else would acknowledge that Clinton was right, or partly right.

Clinton’s comments, however, have not negatively affected her campaign—in fact, the opposite may be true. An AP-GFK poll found that “sixty percent of registered voters say [Trump] does not respect ‘ordinary Americans,’” compared to 48 percent who say the same of Clinton. In other words, the “deplorables” comment has not negatively affected Clinton, though it could also be argued that the real takeaway here is that both candidates are tremendously unpopular. “Basket of deplorables” wasn’t Clinton’s “47 percent moment,” and the Trump campaign’s decision to signal boost the “gaffe” may have caused more damage to their side than to hers.