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How long until Sean Spicer starts crying at a press briefing?

Every briefing held by press secretary/midsize object Sean Spicer is special, but today’s briefing, in which Spicer shouted at CNN’s Jim Acosta and read news clips for seven (seven!) minutes to defend Donald Trump’s absurd claim that Barack Obama tapped his phone, was something special.

Spicer was asked about the fact that that Paul Ryan and the Senate Intelligence Committee both said on Thursday that they had seen zero evidence to support Trump’s claim. Spicer responded by reading out of context and disconnected news reports that mentioned the attention paid to Trump’s campaign by intelligence agencies. Many of these reports were actually about the close, unprecedented, and troubling level of contact between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials.

In other words, to defend Trump’s claim that Obama tapped his phones and to rebut the growing bipartisan consensus that Trump’s allegation was garbage, Spicer scored a massive own goal. This is part of the White House’s larger attempt to move the goalposts—to claim that Trump was not referring to wire tapping (despite tweeting the words “wire tapping” and “tapping” again and again), but instead was referring to communications that had been swept up by the NSA. That is obviously not what Trump was talking about at the time.

Acosta was one of the many reporters who picked up on the disconnect, leading to this memorable exchange.

Before Trump’s term is up (or he’s impeached or Spicer is fired—whatever comes first), Sean Spicer is going to lose it on air.

August 16, 2018

Fox Business

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s latest wildfire interview is a doozy.

The scandal-ridden Interior Secretary explicitly denied the science of climate change in a Thursday morning interview on Fox Business, saying it’s “still being disputed” whether humans are directly causing global warming—a dispute at this point limited to American politics. Scientists have been warning about human-caused climate change since at least the year 1912. Today, the international scientific community states with 95 percent confidence that humans are the main, direct cause of climate change.

But even if climate change were real, Zinke said, (to be clear, it is), he sees the issue as “irrelevant” to the California wildfires. The real problem, according to Zinke, is the 120 million dead trees sitting in California’s forests—an issue his agency is supposed to help manage. “Alls you have to do is look at our highways and the amount of dead and dying timber in our forests, it’s clear what’s occurring,” he said. “It is the fires are enraged and intensified by too much density of dead and dying timber.”

While dead timber is indeed a problem with regard to wildfire management, Zinke neglected to mention two things: One, that scientists have found climate change is exacerbating California’s dead tree crisis. And two, that Zinke has been promoting industrial logging—that is, clearing live, healthy trees from forests—to solve the problem.

“Alls you have to do is talk to the [firefighters],” Zinke said, claiming they would cite forest management as their biggest problem and not climate change, which is prolonging the season and making extreme blazes more likely. And yet, last week, the assistant deputy director of Cal Fire told The New York Times the opposite.“Let’s be clear,” he said. “It’s our changing climate that is leading to more severe and destructive fires.”

Aside from his climate-change denial, Zinke also used the wildfires to bring up his military experience. Asked to describe the blazes, Zinke replied, “Well, you know, I served in Iraq. The devastation in the California wildfires is the worst I’ve ever seen.” Zinke made a similar comment while visiting Redding, California on Sunday. “As a former (Navy) SEAL that was a deputy commander and acting commander in Iraq, this is on par with anything I’ve seen, just the devastation,” he said.

The whole interview is below.

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Steve Bannon forms a new group to make the midterms all about Trump.

The former CEO of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign has been in the political doghouse for most of this year. Bannon lost his lustre among Republicans and the president himself after critical remarks he made about Donald Trump Jr., and after his support of Roy Moore’s Alabama Senate bid ended with the Democrats winning what should have been a safe Republican seat. Still, despite losing his perch as head of Breitbart News and the patronage of the billionaire Mercer family, Bannon clearly wants to keep his hand in Republican politics. 

The New York Times reports that Bannon is back with a new group called  Citizens of the American Republic which will “try to sell voters on a midterm message that they should support Republicans to defend the Trump agenda and save the president from impeachment.” As with previous Bannon efforts, the main focus will be on ideological messaging rather than grass roots organizing. “But Mr. Bannon, who insists that approaching congressional races as one-offs is a waste of time, is planning a messaging push on cable television, the op-ed pages of newspapers and local conservative radio shows,” The Times notes. “His premise is that more of Mr. Trump will be a good thing.”

As Axios reports this morning, part of Bannon’s propaganda strategy is a new movie titled Trump @ War. A trailer fro the film is now available:

Although he’s now something of a pariah in Trumpian and GOP circles, Bannon’s approach is very much the one that Trump himself has embraced when he goes to campaign on behalf of candidates, which is to make each election about Trump himself. And the Republican Party itself seems to feel that embracing Trump is the way to go, with candidates who act like the president and praise him elbowing out critics

This strategy of making everything about Trump is the opposite of how the Democrats are approaching the midterms. The Democratic Party’s strategy is not to nationalize the elections, to let each local candidate shape a message, and to avoid talking about Trump in areas where the president is popular. 

It’s unlikely that Bannon’s new gambit will win him a spot in the president’s good graces again. Still, Bannon’s actions do show that he’s still on the same page as the president and the larger GOP. 

August 15, 2018

ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty

Does the Trump White House fear black women?

On Wednesday, the president tweeted a strange birthday message to Maxine Waters:

Nancy Pelosi also wrote a birthday tweet, suggesting that Waters “strikes fear in the heart of” Donald Trump:

The idea that Trump and his circle might have a special fear of black women is gaining traction, perhaps because of the White House’s panicked reaction to a new book by Omarosa Manigault-Newman.

Ilhan Omar, the Somali-American who won a Democratic congressional primary on Wednesday, echoed this idea when she said, “I am America’s hope and the president’s nightmare.

The White House itself lent credence to this idea by their reaction to Manigault-Newman. On Sunday, Axios published an article titled “Inside Omarosa’s Reign of Terror” which quoted lurid statements by Trump officials about how scary Manigault-Newman was:

    • “I’m scared shitless of her... She’s a physically intimidating presence,” a male former colleague of Omarosa’s told me. (He wouldn’t let me use a more precise description of his former White House role because he admitted he’s still scared of retribution from Omarosa. Other senior officials have admitted the same to me.)
    • “I never said no to her,” the source added. “Anything she wanted, ‘Yes, brilliant.’ I’m afraid of her. I’m afraid of getting my ass kicked.”
    • Three other former officials shared that sentiment: “One hundred percent, everyone was scared of her,” said another former official.

The notion that Trump has a particular reaction to women of color has been around for sometime. Former Republican Sophia Nelson discussed the president’s disdain for black women last October in Politico. But there’s renewed focus on the specific role fear might play, thanks to the controversies around Omarosa but also the increased visibility of politicians like Waters and Omar.

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Twitter CEO suspends Alex Jones but still doesn’t understand who he is.

Of all the big social media outlets, Twitter has been the most reluctant to sever ties with Jones, a notorious conspiracy theorist. While Facebook, Apple and Youtube have all banned Jones, Twitter has only suspended Jones for one week.

Defending the suspension in an interview with NBC, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey argued the goal was to get Jones to transform his behavior. “Whether it works within this case to change some of those behaviors and change some of those actions, I don’t know,” Dorsey said. “But this is consistent with how we enforce.” The CEO added: “We can’t build a service that is subjective just to the whims of what we personally believe.”

The interview is alarming evidence that Dorsey doesn’t actually understand who Alex Jones is (and, by extension, who many of the other bad actors who exploit social media are). To talk about Jones changing his behavior is to assume Jones is basically a rational person who is sometimes tactless. But conjuring up ludicrous conspiracy theories that lead to harassment isn’t incidental to Jones, but integral to his entire public project.

In a useful rundown of Jones’ ideas, Rolling Stone noted that he’s someone who has argued that satanists are taking over America, Glenn Beck is a CIA agent, Bill Gates is trying to exterminate minorities, Hillary Clinton runs a pedophile ring out of a pizza shop, the government controls the weather and countless shootings aside from the Sandy Hook massacre were false flag operations. In other words, lies and absurdity are inextricable from Jones, they are the very essence of his worldview. There’s no reason to think this is incidental behavior that can be changed. Or rather, there is no reason to think this unless you run a social media platform and want to keep Jones on it.

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Why Trump revoked former CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Wednesday that Brennan’s clearance was being revoked because of his “erratic conduct and behavior” and “frenzied commentary.” Brennan, who served under Obama from 2013 to 2017, is currently a intelligence and security commentator for NBC News. He has also become a vehement critic of President Trump’s policies and behavior since leaving the CIA last year. In July, he said that Trump’s widely condemned press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki was “nothing short of treasonous.”

It’s unclear whether Brennan will have any legal recourse to keep his security clearance. The White House did not specify what mechanism it used to strip Brennan of it. What’s crystal clear is that the president is using his national-security powers to retaliate against political opponents and punish them for criticizing him. It’s no coincidence that the other officials Sanders cited for potential revocation—former FBI Director James Comey, former national security advisor Susan Rice, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper—are among his most outspoken dissenters.

This is not an isolated phenomenon. Under Trump’s watch, the FBI has also effectively purged its upper ranks of officials who oversaw the early phases of the Russia investigation, or were corroborating witnesses to Trump’s pressure campaign against Comey before last year’s dismissal. Many of them were already the subject of constant attacks from the president on his Twitter feed. With these moves, Trump is sending a clear signal to civil servants in the American national-security apparatus: Your livelihood may depend on your personal loyalty to me.

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Eschewing a national strategy, Democrats are betting on a hodgepodge message winning the midterms.

While Democrats are hoping for a blue wave to help take back the House of Representative in the fall, they have decided on a risky strategy that goes against the grain of how previous wave elections have been won. As The New York Times notes, going back more than two decades, wave elections have always had victorious parties adopt a national platform, ranging from the Contract With America in 1994 to the “Six for ’06” in 2006 to the Tea Party agenda in 2010.

In 2018, by contrast, the Democrats have decided that the way to go is to let individual candidates set their own agenda. “Democrats in the House tasked with cobbling together a unifying agenda after the 2016 elections say they studied Contract With America and similar plans in detail,” The Times reports. “But in the end, they settled on a narrow ‘do no harm’ strategy rather than a granular point-by-point agenda punctuated with a high-profile unveiling at the Capitol. Midterm elections are almost always referendums on the president, regardless of the opposing party’s message.”

Foreswearing a bold wish list, “The Democratic platform, For the People, outlines a relatively anodyne agenda — lowering health care and prescription drug costs, increasing worker pay, cleaning up corruption — that Democrats say unites all of their candidates.”

To some degree, this “do no harm” strategy makes sense. After all, the Democratic Party is very heterogenous. In swaths of the Midwest, the party is running candidates that Politico describes as “white, conventional and boring.” But this isn’t true of the whole Midwest, let alone the whole party, which is becoming more diverse (fielding a record number of women and people of color) and, in the safest seats, more ideologically bold (notably with the avowed socialist (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez).

The danger of “do no harm” is that it’ll yield the national floor to the Republicans, who are more than happy to paint all Democrats as extremists beholden to the supposed radical Nancy Pelosi. And if the case-by-case approach succeeds, it’s hard to see how it would translate to Congressional politics: Governing is easier when the members of a party basically agree on platform.

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Tim Pawlenty’s defeat is another mark of the Trumpification of the GOP.

On Tuesday night, Pawlenty lost his bid to be the Republican nominee for the Minnesota governor’s race. His loss was unexpected since he was a major figure in the Minnesota GOP. He had served two-terms as governor of Minnesota from 2003-2011 and had enough of a national presence to run for president in 2012.

Talking to reporters on Wednesday morning, Pawlenty blamed his defeat on changes in the Republican Party. “The Republican Party has shifted,” the politician said. “It is the era of Trump and I’m just not a Trump-like politician.”

In fact, Pawlenty’s relationship with Trump and Trumpism is complex. As The Washington Post’s Robert Costa astutely points out, Pawlenty himself was a pioneer in the push to make the Republican Party more populist and working class in his 2012 run. But he did so by trying to pitch the “Sam’s Club” policy agenda (in effect, a Republican take on strengthening the welfare state) pushed by conservative intellectuals like Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam. What the rise of Trump shows is that right-wing populism, or rather pseudo-populism, works if it makes a naked appeal to white nationalist grievance. Simple policies to alleviate the lives of the working class have little traction with Republican voters.

After the release of the Access Hollywood tape in October 2016, Pawlenty described Trump as “unsound, uninformed, unhinged and unfit.” Pawlenty’s Republican opponent Jeff Johnson successfully used those quotes against Pawlenty.

As Greg Sargent points out in The Washington Post, this too is part of a pattern: “multiple Republican candidates have been placed on the defensive during this cycle for the same thing: failing to support Trump not just in a general sense, but more precisely for failing to support Trump when the ‘Access Hollywood’ tape surfaced.” The modern Republican party is increasingly shaped by those willing not just to support Trump, but to support him at his most vile. Failing to do that gets candidates ousted.

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More Americans are dying of drug overdoses than ever before.

New data released by the Centers for Disease Control estimate that 72,300 Americans died of a drug overdose in 2017, the highest number recorded yet. Dangerous synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, seem to be driving the increase, The New York Times reports:

Unexpected combinations of those drugs can overwhelm even experienced drug users. In some places, the type of synthetic drugs mixed into heroin changes often, increasing the risk for users. While the opioid epidemic was originally concentrated in rural, white populations, the death toll is becoming more widespread. The penetration of fentanyl into more heroin markets may explain recent increases in overdose deaths among older, urban black Americans; those who used heroin before the recent changes to the drug supply might be unprepared for the strength of the new mixtures.

Some New England states did see a decrease in the number of overdose deaths, but elsewhere, the number has either stayed the same or increased; the Times cites particularly sharp increases in Ohio, Indiana, and West Virginia.  

President Donald Trump bragged in May that he had acquired significant federal funding to fight the epidemic: 

Trump’s claim was false then, months before the CDC released its new data. Now it’s even more obvious that his administration has failed to do anything substantive to address the crisis.

Also this week, fentanyl became a state-sanctioned lethal injection drug after Nebraska’s Republican governor, Pete Ricketts, won a legal battle for the right to use it in capital punishment. On Tuesday night, Carey Dean Moore was executed with a four-drug cocktail that included fentanyl.

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H. Brooke Paige wins five or six GOP nomination slots in Vermont.

Paige won the Republican nomination to run against Bernie Sanders for the Senate race. But that’s only one of the many races Paige was victorious in Tuesday night. He’s also going to be a Republican candidate in one of Vermont’s  congressional districts, the Republican candidate for auditor in Vermont, the Republican candidate for attorney general in Vermont, and the Republican candidate for secretary of state in Vermont. Finally, although voting is tight, as of Tuesday night he was also on track to be the Republican candidate for treasurer.

How did Paige end up with five or six Republican nominations? Will he really run for all those post? What will happen if he wins more than one? 

The answer to these questions is complicated and has to do with Paige wanting to protect Vermont’s small Republican Party from being taken over by Democrats. As Vermont Public Radio explains:

“As you may be aware, for a number of years the Democrats have been crossing over in the primary and taking advantage of the fact that the Republican Party did not have candidates for all the slots in the primary,” Paige explained Friday on Vermont Edition.

“About 800 to 900 and sometimes a few more Democrats would religiously grab Republican ballots and write in the published candidates from their Democratic primary ballot. Obviously, with no other candidates running, there was no concerted effort on the part of the Republicans to fill the slots in the primary.”

If there’s a vacancy on the primary ballot, the Republican Party in Vermont is then allowed to nominate a someone by petition to run for that office in the general election.

It’s Paige’s hope that by representing Republicans in every race, Democrats will not be able to write-in a candidate in the August primary, and should Paige choose to bow out, his party can select a candidate to run for the position in the November general election.

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Democrats strongly embrace diversity in primaries.

Issues of identity are at the forefront of American politics in Trump era, and Democratic voters continue to send a message in primaries that they want a more diverse political class. Tuesday night’s primaries saw a number of candidates Democratic candidates winning nominations who, if elected, would be path breakers.

Among the notable results of the night:

Christine Hallquist, winning the Vermont gubernatorial nomination, putting her on track to be the first transgender governor in America. 

Ilhan Omar, winning a congressional nomination in Minnesota. Since she is running in a strongly Democratic seat, she is expected to be one of the first two Muslim women to win. (Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib is also running as a Democrat and is also a strong favorite).  

In Connecticut, Jahana Hayes won a congressional nomination and could be the first African-American congresswoman elected in that State.  

Peggy Flanagan, nominated to be the Democratic candidate for Lt. Governor of Minnesota, would, if victorious be the fist Native American to hold that position.

Mandela Barnes, nominated to be the Democratic candidate for Lt. Governor of Wisconsin, would also be a groundbreaker if he wins by becoming the first  African-American to hold that position. 

The increasing number of women and people of color winning nominations as Democrats is not matched on the Republican side. As The New York Times reported on Tuesday, “There is a record number of Democratic women running for the House this year, but Republican women did not break the record they set in 2010—when the ‘resistance’ energy was on the right. Only about 14 percent of Republican House candidates are women, compared with about a third of Democratic candidates, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers.