Monday, June 06, 2016

Campaign Reverb

Update: As of late Monday afternoon, the AP is reporting that Hillary Clinton has secured enough delegates to claim the Democratic nomination, becoming the first woman nominee of a major party for the presidency of the US.
As the new week begins, the import of several events last week becomes clearer, regarding the presidential campaigns.

Hillary Clinton's speech on foreign policy in which she dissected Trump's candidacy of the absurd is turning out to be her most significant, and perhaps a turning point in her candidacy as well, both within the party and in general.

As one indication of its resonance, it was amplified and praised in Washington Post columns both by liberal E.J. Dionne, and the Post's designated conservative commentator Jennifer Rubin.  Rubin's column contains the most extensive description of the speech as a whole, with quotes in more context than offered in news stories. (She followed up Monday with a lacerating column on the delusions of Republicans who think they could control a Trump in the White House.)

Rubin also reproduced a quote I hadn't seen before that's one of the best because it cuts to the core of Trump's rhetorical style: "He also said, “I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me.” You know what? I don’t believe him."  It's the "You know what?  I don't believe him."  Trump never even attempts to back up his simple declarative statements with any facts.  Everything is an assertion, or more specifically, a boast.  This especially was a naked emperor moment.

I wrote about nuclear weapons recently, when President Obama visited  Hiroshima.  Clinton made several references to the dangers of Trump having the nuclear codes, and the casual way he discusses nuclear war.  Here's the heart of it in an extended quote:

"Making the right call takes a cool head and respect for the facts. It takes a willingness to listen to other people’s points of view with a truly open mind. It also takes humility – knowing you don’t know everything – because if you’re convinced you’re always right, you’ll never ask yourself the hard questions.

I remember being in the Situation Room with President Obama, debating the potential Bin Laden operation. The President’s advisors were divided. The intelligence was compelling but far from definitive. The risks of failure were daunting. The stakes were significant for our battle against al Qaeda and our relationship with Pakistan. Most of all, the lives of those brave SEALs and helicopter pilots hung in the balance.

It was a decision only the President could make. And when he did, it was as crisp and courageous a display of leadership as I’ve ever seen.

Now imagine Donald Trump sitting in the Situation Room, making life-or-death decisions on behalf of the United States. Imagine him deciding whether to send your spouses or children into battle. Imagine if he had not just his Twitter account at his disposal when he’s angry, but America’s entire arsenal.

Do we want him making those calls – someone thin-skinned and quick to anger, who lashes out at the smallest criticism? Do we want his finger anywhere near the button?"

Though she was reportedly reluctant to go after Trump so directly now, and not certain of the response to this speech (she didn't pick up its themes in stump speeches right away), Clinton has reaped praise and a collective sigh of relief from Democrats.  With this speech she provided confidence in her candidacy just as she is about to cross the threshold to the nomination.   (And it's likely to help her in California Tuesday.)

Lacking only 30 pledged delegates for a majority (after weekend wins in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands), Clinton will cross one numerical threshold on Tuesday.  By the end of the counting she may well also have won a majority without super delegates.  In any case, today's news is that her nomination will be affirmed by party leaders immediately, including an endorsement by President Obama, followed by very active campaigning on her behalf.

For Donald Trump, the revelations concerning Trump University hurt, but Trump made it far worse by questioning the impartiality of the judge presiding over the current Trump U. case on racial (or if you prefer ethnic) grounds.  That charge met with immediate rebuff from Republican leaders, which indicates just how beyond the pale it is, giving how much other stuff they're able to put up with or even promulgate.  These included the House Speaker Paul Ryan (just moments after it became known that Ryan was endorsing Trump) and Senate Majority Leader McConnell.

But Trump did not recant or say he misspoke and he certainly didn't apologize.  He doubled down, and added Muslims to those of Mexican heritage who would be biased judges.  On Sunday, Newt Gingrich, one of his biggest boosters who based in speculation that he might be Trump's v.p., said Trump's statements were "inexcusable."  On Monday, Trump went after Gingrich,  saying his criticism was "inappropriate."  He then tripled down by countermanding an advisory by his staff to let the issue cool off by insisting that his supporters should continue his claim that the judge is biased.  (He also reportedly insulted members of his staff, which is already so small that it may well not be adequate to conduct a general election campaign.)

All of this plays into other stories over the weekend and today, indicating that GOPer leaders are increasingly alarmed by Trump and his prospects.  We've heard those stories before, but it clearly is going to be hard for them to conduct campaigns the way they usually do with Trump trampling over everything, not only improvising but thereby at times being untrustworthy even to his allies.  On the other hand, they had plenty of warning--and aren't fooling anyone but themselves by being shocked that Trump is a racist.

These are the leaders who are supposed to go out and campaign for Trump, as his "surrogates."  These are also the people in the pool of vice-presidential candidates who can help him where he needs it: political experience, reputation, knowledge, and access to the party's billionaires.  All this makes Trump's v.p. choice really up in the air.

As for Trump's charges regarding judicial impartiality, Garrett Epps (who I had the pleasure of editing in Washington long ago) summarizes the complete lack of legal basis in the Atlantic.

At least one opinion writer sees another recent event as pivotal to this campaign: Trump's press conference where he denounced investigative reports on Trump U., calling one reporter "a sleaze" to his face.  Trump has triumphed so far mostly because of the free media he gets, because he knows how to get it.  But in the past week at least, media coverage has not been so sweet for him, as reporters no longer simply give him a forum but are following up on his falsehoods (Hillary raising this issue in her speech also gives the media reason to follow up) and on more detailed reporting.  Waldman writes:

"Put together this series of developments coming one after another, and I suspect that many journalists are deciding that the way to cover Trump is just to do it as honestly and assiduously as possible, which would itself be something almost revolutionary. If the tone of his coverage up until now has been “Wow, is this election crazy or what!” it could become much more serious — as is completely appropriate given that we’re choosing someone to hold the most powerful position on earth."

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