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Should Hillary Clinton’s inner circle place “high hopes” in Paul Ryan if Clinton wins?

The Huffington Post’s Jonathan Cohn has a long and very interesting feature about Clinton’s policy agenda, the state of Democratic politics, and what a Clinton presidency could look like. There’s a lot of interesting stuff in here—including the irony of the fact that Clinton has invested heavily in policy during an election that has been all about personality—but one paragraph in particular stuck out to me:

Clinton’s inner circle is also placing high hopes on the man who could end up becoming her chief antagonist: Paul Ryan. Last year, the Republican House speaker worked with the White House and Democratic leaders to pass an omnibus spending bill that gave both parties something to smile about in the tax policy department. To one Clinton ally, this signaled that “Ryan and the Republicans, even in the context of an election campaign, are prepared to do business on not-insignificant matters.” This person went on: “The optimistic storyline … is that it’s a precursor to future cooperation and, after an election when you have some kind of wind at your back as a new president, it’d be very difficult for them not to work with you on some of these kinds of things.”

Of course, as Cohn notes, Obama also entered the White House in 2008 with the same high hopes, having won an electoral mandate with a post-partisan message. There has been very little cooperation over the last eight years, however, even though Obama won another mandate in 2008.

If elected, it’s highly likely that Republicans will acknowledge that Clinton has a mandate, however—it’s likely that they’ll cite her (likely) narrow victory or her (lunatic) opponent to delegitimize her. Meanwhile, the biggest threat to Ryan’s speakership is internal, given that Republicans would probably win more seats in 2018—his incentive is to placate his own party and the right and hope for a Republican president in 2020.

So should Clinton’s team place their faith in Ryan? Certainly not, though it’s worth pointing out here that, despite the “high hopes” rhetoric, the bar is very low here: Given the partisan makeup of Congress, Clinton and Ryan would almost certainly have no choice but to work together occasionally. Anyways, what kind of presidential candidate goes around saying that they won’t work with Congress, or even the opposition? Team Clinton wasn’t going to come out and say it was gearing up for four years of trench warfare, even though that’s probably what’s going to happen.

September 29, 2016

Donald Trump can’t stop bashing Alicia Machado and it’s dragging his campaign down.

Perhaps the Clinton campaign’s shrewdest insight into Donald Trump is that he is easily baited. When he feels personally slighted, he can’t let go of a subject but keeps on fighting. During Monday’s debate, Clinton laid some juicy bait for Trump by bringing up the way he had mistreated Venezuelan beauty queen Alicia Machado. Rather than showing any judgement by apologizing and moving on, Trump jumped on the bait like a hungry rat. Since debate night, he’s attacked Machado constantly. On Bill O’Reilly’s show last night, the Republican nominee portrayed himself as the victim of an ungrateful employee he tried to help. “I saved her job because they wanted to fire her for putting on so much weight ... it is a beauty contest,” Trump told O’Reilly.

Trump also hinted at more personal attacks, saying, “A lot of things are coming out about her.” This is an allusion to a smear campaign against Machado being conducted by Trump’s media allies, which have been trawling Latin American tabloids for sensationalistic and often false stories about the former Miss Universe. Rush Limbaugh called her a “porn star Miss Piggy.” Some of Trump’s surrogates have also taken the bait. On Tuesday, Newt Gingrich told a Republican gathering, “You are not supposed to gain 60 pounds the year you’re Miss Universe,”

For a campaign that is struggling with a gender gap, attacking a woman for being overweight might seem like a self-destructive move. After all, according to a PPP poll, 65% of voters find Trump’s comments about Machado to be inappropriate and only 17 find them appropriate. Given these numbers, it’s puzzling that the Trump campaign has doubled down on the message “No Fat Chicks.”

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Is Sean Hannity gunning for a position in the Trump White House?

There’s a lot of great gossip in Robert Draper’s latest piece for The New York Times magazine, about the ongoing Trump-fueled civil war in conservative media. We learn, for instance, that Trump and Ann Coulter are especially close, that she helped him with his “Mexican rapist” announcement speech and that Trump has given her jewelry and a free membership to Mar-a-Lago. “Trump has made my life better in so many ways,” Coulter tells Draper.

Draper writes that Trump has “implicitly encouraged” to consider themselves “part of the campaign team,” so it should come as no surprise that these members of the media (I’m careful to not say “journalists), are acting like members of a campaign staff. And it should especially come as no surprise that some of them may be eyeing positions in the Trump White House, should he win in November.

Similarly, while we’ve known for a while that Trump has gotten his talking points from conservative radio for a while, Draper’s piece lays out just how intertwined conservative radio and Trump’s campaign is. Here’s Draper on Hannity, for instance:

I asked Hannity if it was true that, as a Trump confidant had told me, he wished to be considered as a potential Trump White House chief of staff. “That’s news to me,” he insisted, adding a politician’s practiced nondenial denial: “I have radio and TV contracts that I will honor through December 2020.” Nonetheless, Hannity’s service to the Trump campaign well exceeds that of ritually bashing Clinton and giving Trump free airtime. He has offered private strategic advice to the campaign. The same Trump confidant told me of at least one instance in which Hannity drafted an unsolicited memo outlining the message Trump should offer after the Orlando nightclub shooting in June.

This helps explain why the elusive Trump pivot never happened: Trump may be listening to people like Reince Preibus with one ear, but Hannity and Coulter have the other, and they’re the ones who seem to have control over the puppet strings.

This should also disqualify Hannity as a theoretically objective source on Trump’s supposed (and fake) opposition to the Iraq War. Even if the chief of staff thing really is just a rumor, the fact that Hannity has taken on the mantle of unofficial aide should disqualify his defense of Trump completely.

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Will Donald Trump’s violation of the Cuban embargo hurt him in Florida?

This week’s Newsweek cover scoop by Kurt Eichenwald documents how, under Trump’s direction, his hotels, casino and resort company spent a minimum of $68,000 on development projects in Cuba in 1998, thinly veiled as a charitable effort so as to bypass international trade law. Trump essentially cut corners to get ahead of the game in Cuba, anticipating an eventual thaw in U.S. economic sanctions. Certainly, we should take this to be further evidence of Trump’s shady business practices and skirting of the law for his own personal gain.

Historically, Cuban-American political exiles have favored the U.S. embargo, objecting to any olive branches offered to the communist regime that forced them to flee—Florida Senator Marco Rubio, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. prior to the rise of dictator Fidel Castro, is among that hardline class. Despite pressure from businesses to change his stance, Rubio has described Cuba as “adversarial” and “aggressive” and cannot justify softening the embargo when there has been no improvement in the country’s human rights record.

But opinions on the embargo are shifting. In 2014, President Barack Obama began a slow process of normalizing relations and re-establishing economic ties with Cuba after a 55-year embargo that has been estimated to cost the island nation at least $1 trillion in exports and tourism annually. A year later, polls showed 56% of Cuban-Americans in favor of lifting the embargo, while 36% opposed.

Florida boasts America’s largest population of Cubans numbering over 1.2 million, a bit over 6% of the state’s overall population and 29% of the state’s Hispanics. With presidential polls as tight as they are there (RealClearPolitics estimates Hillary Clinton ahead by a margin of only 0.6%), it’s anyone’s game and Trump should steer clear of upsetting a key contingent of the Hispanic vote there.

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Paul Ryan is screwed no matter what happens in November.

For the last several months, he has tried to live in a parallel reality to Donald Trump. Whenever Trump says something controversial, Ryan claims total ignorance. When asked on Tuesday if he was aware that Trump had told Fox & Friends the morning after the debate that Alicia Machado gained too much weight after winning Miss Universe, Ryan said he had been “working out” at the time. It is as if Ryan prefers to pretend that Trump doesn’t exist. But as Politico notes this morning, he won’t be able to do that if Trump wins the election:

If Trump wins and Ryan retains the speakership, the Wisconsin Republican will be forced to continue to wedge his positions into Trump’s alternate Republican universe.

If Clinton wins, Ryan will have to preside over a slimmed Republican majority, more heavily populated with burn-the-house-down conservatives. He’ll have to cut deals and do business with Hillary Clinton—a woman he’s met with privately just twice—while at the same time keeping conservatives content.

If you looked at Trump and Ryan from a distance, you would not guess that they belong to the same party. They disagree about free trade and defense, for instance, and their philosophical and temperamental differences are profound. They do have one (horrible) thing in common, however: They are both fans of the novels of Ayn Rand. Ryan and House Republicans will certainly try to treat Trump as a rubber stamp to pass draconian entitlement cuts, but Trump, who has shown signs of being a Perot-esque egomaniacal micromanager, may not like that.

But a Clinton victory would push Ryan in an even more difficult place. Compromise has undone many Republicans before, and the party should be bracing for a rash of alt-right candidates in 2018, should Clinton win.

Don’t vote for Gary Johnson. He is bad.

The Libertarian candidate for president had another “Aleppo moment” at an MSNBC town hall last night, failing to name a single world leader that he admired. “Anywhere! Any continent!” Chris Matthews goaded. “Canada, Mexico, Europe over there, Asia, South America, Africa, name a foreign leader that you respect!” Johnson came up with “the former president of Mexico,” a man he respected so much he couldn’t remember his name.

So we know that Johnson probably hasn’t looked at a map or read a newspaper in quite a while. But it’s not clear how much this hurts him with his supporters. A student of the George W. Bush school of political branding, he presents himself as a man of the people, which in his view amounts to knowing “not one thing.” This amateurish persona, in addition to smoking dad weed and being anti-interventionist and calling for a pardon of Edward Snowden, has endeared him to younger voters who won’t vote for Donald Trump but distrust slick, conventional candidates like Hillary Clinton. In head-to-head match-ups, Clinton trounces Trump with voters between the ages of 18 and 35; in four-way scenarios (including the Green Party’s Jill Stein), it is much closer, an indication that Johnson is drawing millennial voters who lean Democratic.

But there are so, so many reasons Democratic leaners should not vote for Johnson, not least of which is that protests votes won’t do anything but help Trump get elected. As governor of New Mexico from 1995 to 2003, he was a classic “Reaganite antitax crusader.” He supports Citizens United, and is against all manner of gun control. As president, he would privatize education, roll back Obamacare, weaken Medicare, and raise the minimum age for Social Security. His proposal to simplify the tax code to a single consumption tax would place a far greater burden on lower-income earners who are taxed at a lower rate in our current progressive tax code. On top of all that, the man has a thing for spandex and wraparound sunglasses. He would be a bad president.

In a military town hall, Obama had to walk a difficult tightrope: criticizing Trump without naming him.

Speaking to a group of soldiers and their families at Fort Lee in Virginia—along with CNN viewers—President Obama had to be careful to not get too partisan on Wednesday, night, even as he answered highly political questions about the state of the Department of Veterans Affairs, the role of women in the military, and strategies for defeating ISIL.

Since the talk took place on a military installation, Obama was not allowed to engage in electioneering. But he did use a question about his refusal to use the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” to take a jab at the Republican nominee.

Obama made the standard arguments: that it’s wrong to cede the title of Islam to violent extremists like ISIL, and that the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” insults Muslim-Americans and antagonizes many allies America needs in the Islamic world. But he also alluded to the current election, noting “the danger” of someone “aspiring to be president” using loose language that “betrays our ideals.”

When host Jake Tapper asked Obama if he meant Donald Trump, Obama backed away from the partisan edge and denied it, saying “there have been a number of public figures” who have done “commentary that is dangerous.”

September 28, 2016

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Congress’s first override of an Obama veto is a victory for 9/11 families.

In the same month that the country commemorated the 15th anniversary of the terror attack, the legislature will force through a bill allowing families of 9/11 victims to sue the government of Saudia Arabia for any involvement in the plot.

Senators voted overwhelming to override the veto, 97 to 1, with Minority Leader Harry Reid the only senator voting against.

It is almost guaranteed that the House’s veto override will also be successful, given the bipartisan nature of the initiative. “This is a decision I do not take lightly” Senator Chuck Schumer said, “because it would allow the victims of 9/11 to pursue some small measure of justice, finally giving them a legal avenue to pursue foreign sponsors of the terrorist attack that took from them the lives of their loved ones.”

The legislation will amend a law from 1976 granting countries broad immunity from American lawsuits, the exception being those listed by the State Department as state sponsors of terrorism. Though Saudi Arabia is not on the list, it is widely believed to be a source of funding for terrorism worldwide, even as its government is considered an American ally in the fight against terror.

A New York Times editorial from today highlights the risk such a bill would cause to American diplomacy, with the European Union already warning that “if the bill becomes law, other countries could adopt similar legislation” and sue the U.S. government in turn. A valid concern given the fact that the U.S. has military bases, drone operations, intelligence missions, and training programs all over the world.

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Michiko Kakutani’s review of a new book about Hitler isn’t really about Hitler.

The name “Donald Trump” does not appear in Kakutani’s review of the first volume of historian Volker Ullrich’s Hitler biography Ascent. Here’s how the review starts:

How did Adolf Hitler—described by one eminent magazine editor in 1930 as a “half-insane rascal,” a “pathetic dunderhead,” a “nowhere fool,” a “big mouth” — rise to power in the land of Goethe and Beethoven? What persuaded millions of ordinary Germans to embrace him and his doctrine of hatred? How did this “most unlikely pretender to high state office” achieve absolute power in a once democratic country and set it on a course of monstrous horror?

Sound familiar?

Kakutani (of Sex and the City fame) then proceeds to lay out, subtweet by subtweet, the similarities. For instance:

  • “Hitler was often described as an egomaniac who ‘only loved himself’ — a narcissist with a taste for self-dramatization and what Mr. Ullrich calls a ‘characteristic fondness for superlatives.’”
  • “A former finance minister wrote that Hitler ‘was so thoroughly untruthful that he could no longer recognize the difference between lies and truth’ and editors of one edition of Mein Kampf described it as a ‘swamp of lies, distortions, innuendoes, half-truths and real facts.’”
  • “Hitler increasingly presented himself in messianic terms, promising ‘to lead Germany to a new era of national greatness,’ though he was typically vague about his actual plans.”

Hitler analogies have already been overused this election, but Kakutani’s winking subtlety gets the job done much more effectively.

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Americans are split on the transgender-bathroom issue.

According to a new Pew Research Center study, 51 percent believe transgender people should be able to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity; 46 percent disagree. It’s evidence that support for so-called “bathroom bills” like North Carolina’s HB2 exists outside the confines of conservative Christianitynot that this is news to transgender people themselves.

Pew’s data also has a twist. Americans aren’t just split on the issue, but also deeply antagonistic to people with opposing views. Of people who support the transgender community’s right to use public bathrooms at will, less than a third report feeling “sympathy” for their ideological opponents. The same is true of people who think transgender people should be required to use the wrong bathroom:

Pew Research Center

There’s been a lot of fear-mongering about transgender people in public bathrooms, and that’s because right-wing groups know it’s an effective political tactic: Everyone fears a predator. Attached to transgender people, that smear travels a great distance.

Pew suggests that its results are evidence of widespread political polarization. And that means the bathroom debate won’t be settled any time soon.

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Hillary Clinton is struggling to hold the Obama coalition together.

For the last few weeks, most of the attention has been on Clinton’s struggles with young voters. She’s currently polling significantly lower than Barack Obama did in 2008 and 2012 with voters under 30 and even lower than John “Mr. Windsurfing” Kerry in 2004. But young voters aren’t the only key demographic that Clinton is having difficulty reaching. According to Leslie Wimes, the president of the Florida-based Democratic African-American Women Caucus, the Clinton campaign “is in panic mode” over black voter turnout.

“They have a big problem because they thought Obama and Michelle saying, ‘Hey, go vote for Hillary’ would do it. But it’s not enough,” Wimes told Politico. “In the end, we don’t vote against somebody. We vote for somebody.” Clinton is polling in the low 80s with black voters in Florida. Trump is only at 5 percent (lol) but turnout, not voter share, is what’s keeping Clinton’s Florida team up at night.

Clinton’s strategy has largely been to make the case that Donald Trump is not fit for the presidency, rather than to explicitly argue why her policies make her the better choice. The Clinton campaign has been fixated on reaching college-educated white voters, who tend to lean Republican, because it expects to lose non-college-educated voters by a historic margin. There’s an O. Henry-ish dimension to Clinton’s strategy, though: By targeting one voting bloc—well-off Republicans—she’s turned off key cogs of the Obama coalition.

Panic or not, there aren’t really signs that Clinton is changing tactics, however. In the first debate, Clinton mostly stuck to her anti-Trump strategy. And, with 40 days until the election, she’s hoping that surrogates like Barack and Michelle Obama and Bernie Sanders can lift her with Obama coalition voters. Still, there’s no reason why Clinton can’t take an all-of-the-above approach in the final month of the campaign, arguing that Trump is a threat to democracy, relying on popular surrogates, and making the case for why she would be the best president for black Americans.