The Presidential Denial that Denies Itself


She was adamant.

They never called here.
I never spoke to them.

The young woman was insistant. And she, emphatically, was not telling the truth.

A carefully planned celebration was about to fall through.

The manager of our St. Louis branch office had become a popular figure among employees. He had a talent for listening carefully, for detecting hidden motives. When he had caught a glimmer of what inspired an individual, he would use that insight to motivate.

One employee wanted to learn a new computer language. The manager loaned him books, then made a point of asking him about his progress. When progress lagged, the manager stayed after hours and worked with the aspiring employee.

Later, when a recruiter was told about the developing skill, word spread. The employee found himself in demand. He turned down job offers and continued studying after work with the encouragement and occasional help from the manager.

I should know. I was that employee.

The manager’s penchant for helping seemed to dovetail with company goals. That made him popular with the home office in Iowa. In retrospect, the announcement seemed inevitable. The manager was being promoted. He would no longer be among us.

Employees made plans for a going away party. It would be a surprise. An upscale restaurant was around the corner and arrangements were made. A trophy was prepared, speeches were composed. The President of the company was contacted and booked a flight. It got to be a big deal.

On the final day, the little group who had been working with the restaurant made excuses and dashed off to prepare tables and placements.

They were soon back with the bad news. The planner at the restaurant told them there was no room after all. Unexpected crowds had shown up for lunch and the reserved tables were suddenly filled with patrons. They returned to the office, defeated.

I was among those who went back to the restaurant to find out what had gone wrong. We located the manager, who summoned the planner. The conference turned into a confrontation.

They never called here.
I never spoke to them.

The manager could have posed for a portrait of befuddled confusion.

It all eventually turned out okay. A few hasty telephone calls to a competitor restaurant a few blocks away solved the problem. They were busy, but their people would find a way to make it work, and they would find that way now. Right now.

I have had occasion to remember that incident, and the planner who denied any planning, as our national drama continues to unfold.

One constant throughout our history, even during foreign invasion, even as the White House was burned to ashes, even during the Civil War, has been a reverence for free elections. The possibility that close elections were stolen has been a matter of nationwide controversy.

The idea that a hostile foreign government, a traditional adversary, had succeeded in influencing how voters cast their ballots has been earth shattering. As evidence has piled up, that idea has acquired more than plausibility.

The possibility that the very systems used to house voting registration records had been infiltrated, that the infestation had occurred in more than three fourths of the states, has matured from possibility into near certainty.

The prospect of actual participation of Americans in that interference has produced reactions ranging from furious rage among patriots to angry denial among those who might be suspected. It should produce both.

Throughout it all, our new President has combined protests of innocence, counter accusation, executive orders to close off investigation, and furtive actions that have created and intensified suspicion. The firing of the head of the FBI did not douse the flames. Flirtations with officials of the former Soviet Union have not helped. Unexplained policy lurches favoring that nation of confirmed conspirators have not quelled the mistrust of our new national leadership.

But political life being what it is, Republican officials have cautiously defended my President.

Lindsey Graham tiptoed to the edge of a forthright defense on Face the Nation:

The hearing was pretty good. No collusion with a Russians … yet.

That “yet” was more than an escape hatch. It was a wide open side door. At least it seemed that way at first.

Then the good Senator proved what a friend he could be as he explained why my President must be innocent:

He doesn’t believe he did anything wrong with the Russians and I tend to believe him.

He can’t collude with his own government. Why do you think he’s colluding with the Russians

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), June 11, 2017

So President Trump is innocent. Because he is not competent enough to be guilty?

Others are more steely in their insistence. When it comes to President Trump’s denials that Russians interfered in any way with 2016 elections, conservative David French, at National Review, has been a true believer.

The Russians hacked a few computers, but they did not “hack” an election. The media’s persistent insinuations otherwise are leading millions of Americans to believe that the Russians actually meddled with the election process itself, including with voting machines. There is zero evidence that occurred. None. Zilch. Nada.

David French, the National Review, March 31, 2017

As we might expect, Sean Spicer agrees. He has been carrying the President’s message for months. There is no evidence of meddling. None.

There is zero evidence that they actually influenced the election.

Sean Spicer, January 2, 2017

The New York Times publishes a bit of research, a story replete with Trump operatives, Russia, spies, and technology. And so, of course, President Trump’s Chief of Staff talks about fake news:

I can assure you, and I’ve been I’ve been approved to say this, that the top levels of the intelligence community have assured me that that story is not only inaccurate, but it’s grossly overstated. And it was wrong. And there’s nothing to it.

And so, if I can say that to the American people, then what does it say about the story?

Reince Priebus, February 19, 2017

Yeah. If he can say that to the American people, what does that demonstrate? Well, let’s see.

My President, President Trump, who has denied that anyone had any evidence that Russia had interfered in the election that put him in office, now says this:

Well I just heard today for the first time that Obama knew about Russia a long time before the election, and he did nothing about it. But nobody wants to talk about that. The CIA gave him information on Russia a long time before they even — before the election.

President Donald Trump, June 25, 2017

There has been some internet ink spilled over President Obama’s unwillingness to make public the evidence of Russian interference unless Republican leaders in Congress agreed. Senator Mitch McConnell threatened to accuse him, and his administration, of making up the story, of lying.

Several observers make the same interesting point. One is an internet site aptly named Political Irony:

How can Trump claim that he just found out about the Russian meddling? He is the president, and the CIA (with their evidence and proof) reports to him. There is no way he didn’t know this.

It does bring back memories of the restaurant planner who nearly destroyed an office celebration at the promotion of a popular manager.

We eventually got an apology from her boss, the manager of the restaurant, and his boss, a Vice President of the restaurant chain. Both the manager and the Vice President put on aprons and catered a company luncheon for us at our office at no cost.

How did they know she was not telling the truth? They explained. In her insistent denial, she had gotten mixed up.

They never called here.
I never spoke to them.

Then she blurted out what she thought was additional conclusive proof.

Besides, I told them on the phone that we would be too busy that day.

I thought about the moral equivalent, substituting a defensive President for a defensive restaurant planner.

There was no Russian interference. There is no evidence. There is nothing to investigate. It’s all fake news.

Besides, with all that evidence of Russian meddling, OBAMA should have done something.

“The CIA gave him information on Russia”

“He did nothing about it.”


Donald Trump should put on an apron. Honorable man that he is, I’m sure he’ll want to cater an apology event.

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Demanding Loyalty,
Demanding Adoration


President Trump responds to the allegation that he demanded personal loyalty from then FBI Director James Comey:

I hardly know the man. I’m not going to say, ‘I want you to pledge allegiance.’ Who would do that? Who would ask a man to pledge allegiance under oath? I mean, think of it. I hardly know the man. It doesn’t make sense. No, I didn’t say that.

President Donald Trump,   June 9, 2017

Some boorishness might be expected in a well known figure thrust suddenly, unexpectedly, into a position of national leadership. Some might have expected that the disrespectful liberties taken with unwilling women would provoke lasting damage. History will show none of that. Such incidents instead have served as a portend, a quest for complete dominance characterizing every relationship.

Even taking control of ongoing investigations, manipulating them to his own purposes would never serve as a warning to the most slavishly loyal of his followers.

When a national leader, one who insists on personal loyalty above all else, even loyalty to country, meets with officials of his administration, we might expect some bowing and scraping. After all, those whose future depends on the good will of the one they serve are to be expected to heap praise upon him, to seek his blessing, to assume an attitude of worship.

There is no actual transcript of the meeting. If there ever was, it was lost to history. But there are occasional reenactments. The entire nation witnessed one theatrical performance the other day.

There were expressions of humble gratitude, humble thanks for unexpected honor:

thank you[1]

thank you for the opportunity[7]

For the privilege

can’t thank you enough for the privileges[9]

an incredible privilege[14]

great privilege you’ve given me[1]

privileged to be here[8]

It’s a privilege to serve[13]

greatest privilege of my life[19]

The honor

what an incredible honor[9]

an honor to serve[14]

It was a great honor[2]

it’s an honor[3]

an even greater honor[2]

honor to serve[1]

Deeply honored[8]

a great honor[10]

deeply honored[5]

Personal Praise

the leadership that you’ve shown[9]

with your direction[16]

leading across the board[15]

I want to congratulate you[6]

You’re absolutely right[16]

my hat’s off to you[12]

Messages from the people, his people,
of their love and adoration:

The response is fabulous around the country.[4]

excited and enthusiastic folks are[9]

Hundreds and hundreds of people
were just so thrilled

The enthusiasm was uncontainable,
soaring into worship

It’s a joy[17]

an honor to be your steward[5]

It’s a new day[15]

Finally blossoming into a climactic benediction of worshipful praise and gratitude:

We thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you’ve given us[18]

A sort of deification of national leaders can be expected after they are gone: a part of traditional reverence to the past, a respectful bow toward those who once led the most powerful nation on earth.

Still, we might expect a bit of shock when an emperor proclaims himself to be a god while he is still living.

As we learn that those same leaders were then ordered to wait on him and run beside his chariot as if they were hounds, we can begin to get the full measure of the obeisance he needed, and demanded, and got.

The dominance, the demand for personal loyalty, the need for worshipful adoration, were part of his eventual downfall.

Nearly two thousand years later, Caligula is still remembered.

He will never be remembered fondly.

Note: We thank the participants in this week’s re‑enactment:

  1. Rex W. Tillerson
  2. Steven Mnuchin
  3. James N. Mattis
  4. Jeff Sessions
  5. Ryan Zinke
  6. Sonny Perdue
  7. Wilbur Ross
  8. R. Alexander Acosta
  9. Tom Price
  10. Ben Carson
  11. Elaine L. Chao
  12. Rick Perry
  13. Betsy DeVos
  14. Mike Pompeo
  15. Nikki R. Haley
  16. Mick Mulvaney
  17. Dan Coats
  18. Reince Priebus
  19. Mike Pence

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When Trump Meets Kim – One Precondition We Must Demand

In the Presidential debate of July, 2007, the candidates are talking about talking.

The notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them — which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration — is ridiculous.

Senator Barrack Obama, July 24, 2007

Presidential candidate Barrack Obama came under sustained attack during the summer of 2007 for his openness to talks with countries who had no love for the United States. The question he had answered dealt not only with Iran, but also with Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea. That would be Kim Jong Un’s North Korea. The totalitarian dictatorship that has imprisoned the northern half, and threatened the southern half, of the Korean Peninsula for longer than the grandparents of most of the world’s citizens have been alive.

Senator Obama took a lot of heat for that.

This is dangerous. It isn’t just naive; it’s dangerous.

Senator John McCain, October 14, 2008

Obama was right. His critics were wrong.

We don’t talk with our adversaries because we agree with them. We talk with them because we disagree. The purpose of talking, even with enemies, is to find some area, however small, where a meeting of the minds can happen.

That is why I cautiously agreed with Donald Trump when he was still candidate Trump. He told Reuters News Agency what approach he would take with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

I would speak to him. I would have no problem speaking to him.

Donald Trump, May 18, 2016

There are, of course, dangers in such talks, dangers that are magnified by quantum levels beyond any that our last President might have faced.

President Obama was nearly obsessive in preparing for every eventuality. His daily briefings were detailed. Even at that, he frequently asked for, and got, additional background sourced information.

President Trump famously regards daily briefings as a sign of mental weakness.

You know, I’m, like, a smart person. I don’t have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years.

Donald Trump, December 11, 2016

Cartoonist Garry Trudeau had some fun, a couple of weeks back, imagining schoolchild Donny Trump refusing to read the class assignment. “Reading is for losers!” he declares to a classmate. “I’m about winning.”

In class, the teacher calls on him. What does he think European countries have to fear from Russia?

He has no idea, not having read the assignment. So he tries to bluff his way through.

“Well, I want to just start by saying hopefully they’re going to have to fear nothing, ultimately. Right now there is a fear, and there are problems — there are certainly problems.”

The child babbles on. The teacher looks skeptical.

“But ultimately, I hope that there won’t be a fear and there won’t be problems, and the world can get along. That would be the ideal situation.”

The teacher gets impatient. Donny is determined to come up with words that will give the illusion of preparation.

“It’s crazy what’s going on — whether it’s the Middle East or you look at — no matter where the — Ukraine — you look at — whatever you look at, it’s got problems, so many problems.”

Finally the teacher interrupts. “So no clue.”

The cartoon would be a harmless, pretty much meaningless, slap, but Trudeau reveals what inspired the fictional classroom dialogue.

Well, I want to just start by saying hopefully they’re going to have to fear nothing, ultimately. Right now there is a fear, and there are problems — there are certainly problems. But ultimately, I hope that there won’t be a fear and there won’t be problems, and the world can get along. That would be the ideal situation.

It’s crazy what’s going on — whether it’s the Middle East or you look at — no matter where the — Ukraine — you look at — whatever you look at, it’s got problems, so many problems. And ultimately, I believe that we are going to get rid of most of those problems, and there won’t be fear of anybody. That’s the way it should be.

Donald Trump, Press Conference, April 12, 2017

Yeah, that’s the way it should be.

The problem with unconditional talks with this President is one not faced by our last President. Little Donny Trump has grown up, but the stubborn refusal to prepare lives on. His lack of preparation, the fast-talking bluff-your-way-through approach, lends itself to blunders in a nuclear age. His need to impress combines with panic when he has no knowledge with which to impress. He seizes whatever tiny morsels of information are available. Sometimes this includes what his visitors let him know.

Intelligence experts tell us that Russia is not the only country that has figured out how to push the right buttons to convince Donald Trump of just about anything. Personal flattery, especially about his intelligence and political prowess, can lay the groundwork. Then, a foreign leader need only put whatever spin is needed on policy.

The strategy has worked for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Russia has had additional advantages, but Sergey Kislyak has used flattery, artful spin of information, and a skillful exploitation of a Presidential craving to impress. Saudi Arabia has met with President Trump and now has an agreement to a new arsenal of arms. The combination has even worked to a lesser degree for Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. The President blusters before meeting. Then, across the negotiating table, he wilts when flattered. When he is then confronted with a tsunami of information and spin, he is helpless.

His meeting with the leader of China is one small example. As long as he was out of the presence of President Xi Jinping, he could boast about the tough approach he would take. On retaliating against China’s currency manipulation, he previews his planned hard line:

Listen you m*** f***s, we’re going to tax you 25%.

Donald Trump, April 28, 2011

More calmly, and more recently, he explains how China controls North Korea, and how he will control China. The Korean problem will be ended immediately.

At the same time, I would put a lot of pressure on China because economically we have tremendous power over China. People don’t realize that. They are extracting vast billions of dollars out of our country. Billions. And we have tremendous power over China. China can solve that problem with one meeting or one phone call.

Donald Trump, May 16, 2017

Face to face with China’s President, Xi Jinping, things change quickly.

President Xi explains many things to him, and student Trump becomes devoted to newly discovered truth. Hostility is gone. Peace reigns as he copies from the Chinese leader’s paper.

China, as it turns out, is not a currency manipulator after all. The situation with North Korea turns out to be very complicated. Much more complicated than most people realize. And, one very interesting piece of history that is not generally known, China has a history with Korea. In fact, China has a legitimate claim. Korea has historically been part of China.

That last provoked rage in South Korea, but President Trump had been taught by the best.

All that had to happen was a bit of education, one President to another.

So, yeah, I still favor a meeting with North Korea. Every citizen ought to. Congress and the Senate should support our President. Democrats and Republicans should have his back.

But everyone, in government and out, public officials and ordinary citizens, should insist on one and only one precondition.

We must demand, before any meeting with President Trump, North Korea will make one firm guarantee.

Kim Jong Un must first agree never to educate our President.

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The Delicate Art of Turning a Patriot into a Traitor

How does an enemy agent turn a decorated General, a patriot, an authentic American hero, into a traitor? What goes through the mind of a trusted, high ranking military officer as he sells out his country to a hostile foreign power?

The saga of General Michael Flynn reminded me of a movie from more than 50 years ago.

The Great Escape, the film, was based on an actual event in World War II, as captured allied soldiers tunneled out of a German prison camp in a massive break. Most were re-captured. Many of those captured were executed on orders from Hitler in what became an infamous war crime. But they succeeded in tying up resources of the Nazi war machine.

The escape could probably not have happened without the cooperation of a few German guards. These were not bold military men putting themselves into harm’s way out of deeply held principle. Most were enticed, little by little. The film illustrated what accounts in the real spy world tell us are classic methods of inducement. Bribery, flattery, playing on resentments. Most important, the steps must be incremental. Start small and aim high.

A prisoner played by James Garner befriends a young, earnest guard with chocolates and conversation. The break comes when he picks the young man’s pocket and acquires the prison guard’s wallet. The aim is not as much contents of the wallet as it is the desperation of the young man.

Robert Hendley: What’s the matter, Werner?

Private Werner: My wallet, my papers, my identity card. Gone. I lost them. Everything.

Hendley: (explaining to another prisoner) He lost his wallet. Do you realize what would happen if Strachwitz found this out? The Russian front.

Werner: I’ve looked every place, every place. I must have lost them while I was in here.

Hendley: Look, I told you we were friends. We’ll find them. I’ll find them. I promise you I’ll find them if I have to tear this room apart.

Werner: Oh, Thank you ! !
[About to leave]

Hendley: Oh Werner! There is…
… one
… small
… favor.
A camera.

A camera.

Little things, a candy bar and conversation, lead to a lost wallet, which leads to a camera, which leads to travel papers for use in the coming escape. The papers lead to more. If his superiors find out, Werner is in for some very tough times. At each step, young Werner is safe … as long as he cooperates in something a little bigger, then a little bigger than that.

I wonder if something similar, some small item, was amplified over time, as Major André went to work on his American victim.

An American general can’t be turned easily, not one who has distinguished himself in combat, rallying troops against what seemed like hopeless odds to win two important battles. In one case he was partially drenched in his own blood. He nearly lost a leg. Yet he and his men prevailed.

Resentment had to play a part. He felt betrayed by the leader of our country. He had been passed over by a half dozen officers who had nowhere near his record of bravery or victory. Major André played on those resentments.

Then there was the faltering lifestyle, sustained by debt. Offering cash payments is a delicate business. André’s success will be required reading for anyone with an interest in how patriots can be subverted.

Major André is long gone, but Russian Ambassador and top spy Sergey Kislyak has many of the same skills. He met numerous times with Jeff Sessions and Jared Kushner. But his greatest success seems to have been the turning of American general Michael Flynn.

The parallels are striking.

Military heroism and skill are there.

General Flynn saw combat in Grenada, then helped turn military intelligence into a modern force. President Obama eventually put him in charge of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

And, of course, there was the same seething resentment toward the leader of our country.

It was as Director of Intelligence that his career took a nosedive. He gained a reputation for hasty conclusions supported by hazy or entirely made-up facts. His subordinates called his insistent interpretations “Flynn Facts.” His reports became the stuff of fantasy. In the end he was forced out.

In his mind, President Obama had put him into a high position of authority, only to turn on him. It wasn’t fair.

At the Republican National Convention, his bitterness toward all things connected with Obama was on full display. His rage at Hillary Clinton was palpable. We watch on video: General Flynn gives his speech as if it is ALL IN CAPS. You can almost feel the angry spittle hit the inside of your screen.

What was not known by most was that resentment, money, and Russian spymaster Sergey Kislyak had formed a decisive chemistry. Tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands of dollars were funneled to him through corporate channels, speakers’ bureaus, and a Danish shell company. He became a secret paid agent, first of Russia, then of Turkey. His views took a radical turn toward both.

At one point, he huddled with Turkish agents to talk about the best way to kidnap an Islamic cleric who was critical of the Turkish government and was living in exile in the United States.

In all, while he was advising Donald Trump on National Security, attending meetings involving classified issues, he was secretly on and off and on the payroll of foreign governments. The fact that he was a foreign agent was still a secret when he was formally named as National Security Adviser. By then, the small payments had led to larger payments, and had built up to more than half a million dollars.

Personally, I see no information or no data to support the notion that General Flynn complied with the law.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Republican Chair of the Investigating Committee, April 25, 2017

What was worse than the payments was that he had kept them secret. The Russians knew about them. President Trump, presumably did not. At least at first. Secrets can lead to threats of exposure.

Hendley: Look, I told you we were friends. We’ll find them. I promise you I’ll find them if I have to tear this room apart.

Werner: Oh, Thank you ! !

Hendley: There is…
… one
… small
… favor.

And so, as Acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned, then later testified, General Flynn became vulnerable to greater and greater blackmail.

Not only did we believe that the Russians knew this, but that they likely had proof of this information. And that created a compromised situation, a situation where the National Security Adviser essentially could be blackmailed by the Russians.

Sally Yates, in sworn testimony, May 8, 2017

General Flynn was, for a second time, forced out of government service, weeks after Sally Yates carried her warning to the White House.


The skillful Russian master spy, Sergey Kislyak, has diplomatic immunity. The master spy from long ago, Major John André, did not. Without that immunity, at considerable personal risk, Major André manipulated the seething resentments harbored by his victim, and was able to use his crushing financial situation.

Even exploiting those weakness, considerable skill had to have been applied by the British Agent. In the end, General Arnold turned over plans detailing the American military post at West Point, along with suggestions of how enemy forces could defeat the American defenders.

British Major John André was caught by the Americans, tried, and eventually hanged. Benedict Arnold escaped and lived out his years in London.

There is some speculation, but only speculation, that President Trump is himself vulnerable to old information Vladimir Putin now possesses: records of massive money laundering and videotapes from stays at Moscow hotels run by the modern version of the old KGB.

Respect for the office of President requires skepticism at the most extravagant claims until actual facts are produced. In a free society, official investigations have, in the past, combined with a free press to eventually get behind the curtain of cover-up, to reveal truth. We can have some faith, perhaps more hope than faith, that the pattern will hold.

What we know now is that, on May 10, 2017, President Trump met in the Oval Office with modern spymaster, Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Ambassador Kislyak brought with him the Russian hardline Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, high-tech cameras and equipment, and a photographer from the Russian News Agency TASS. That’s the same TASS that, for decades, was the official Soviet news agency. American news cameras were barred from the meeting.

At that meeting, in a moment of impulsive bravado, the leader of the free world offered this boast: “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day.” Then he offered a free sample of secret high level information.

The information came from a foreign country, most reports say Israel. The country of origin asked only that the classified information be withheld from other countries, especially Russia, Russia being a close ally of Israel’s enemies. Israeli agents who have infiltrated terrorist groups are already in harm’s way. Apparently, Israel does not want to have them exposed by enemies of Israel.

The Presidential boast and the top level information was a startling breach of trust. The President of the United States had casually revealed sensitive information to back up a brag that could have been issued by any longtime occupant of a corner stool at a neighborhood bar. “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day.” The continuous presidential craving for approval must be met at any cost.

Word is that Israeli officials regard the boasting as a betrayal of their agents, information that may lead to their identities, then to death.

I was especially struck by the telephone contact that provoked the meeting in the White House. A few days earlier, Russian ruler Vladimir Putin had made a personal request, just one … small … favor, that President Trump invite to the Oval Office Russian spymaster Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, a TASS photographer, and all the camera and associated equipment that could be carried in.

Hendley: Oh Werner! There is
… one
… small
… favor.
A camera.

And our President did not hesitate.

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Two Presidents, Two Confrontations, One Winner

It was a last ditch effort by President Trump to pull support from conservative Republicans for the final repeal of the healthcare that Democrats had put into place seven years before. We have no recordings. We have no transcript. We do have what Republicans themselves are saying.

From Politico:

Donald Trump had heard enough about policy and process. It was Thursday afternoon and members of the House Freedom Caucus were peppering the president with wonkish concerns about the American Health Care Act … when Trump decided to cut them off.

“Forget about the little s**t,” Trump said, according to multiple sources in the room. “Let’s focus on the big picture here.”

The word, as quoted was not “stuff”.

A participant of the meeting explains to a reporter that the President

did not have the greatest grasp of health care policy or legislative procedure.

Another conservative is quoted by Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker magazine that it is…

…astonishing how in over his head trump is. He seems to neither get the politics nor the policy of this.

It is a clear enough summary of a Presidential approach. The “small” stuff, that was not called “stuff”, was what would affect the health of millions of American families. The “big picture” was politics.

The meeting brought to mind another confrontation that made the news. That encounter had to do with Obamacare as well. We know more of that meeting. We have transcripts. We have a video record.

House Republicans had scheduled a retreat in Baltimore a few weeks into 2010. Barack Obama had been President for just a year. Republican leaders had a great idea. They decided to invite the new President. Their top policy experts would join together, subjecting the chief executive to a grilling that would make political history.

President Obama’s one year of Presidential experience would be no match against all of the accumulated expertise of veteran house members. They would make him look foolish.

Then the President surprised them with a monumental blunder. His staff actually asked if the event might be televised. Republicans were gleeful. President Obama would not only be humiliated it would be broadcast to a national audience.

On January 29, 2010, President Obama was warmly greeted by the Baltimore gathering. Then the questions began.

The President was attacked for a lack of transparency on healthcare by Jason Chaffetz of Utah:

When you stood up before the American people multiple times and said you would broadcast the health care debates on C-SPAN, you didn’t. I was disappointed, and I think a lot of Americans were disappointed.

The President responded mildly, correcting the assertion.

Overwhelmingly the majority of it actually was on C-SPAN, because it was taking place in congressional hearings in which you guys were participating.

The President suggested the Congressman look to the record.

I kicked it off, by the way, with a meeting with many of you, including your key leadership.

The President was sure and confident. Republicans had not expected this.

A new member of Congress challenged the President, accusing him of tolerating wasteful congressional earmarks that would benefit only special interests within key congressional districts. The President smiled at the question.

Some in the audience had to have squirmed as he addressed earmarks specifically designed by Republicans to benefit Republicans. The President acknowledged that some earmarks might have been defensible, but that they all shared an important defect:

They haven’t gone through the regular appropriations process in the full light of day. So one place to start is to make sure that they are at least transparent, that everybody knows what’s there before we move forward.

Then President Obama issued his own challenge to the new member.

The challenge I guess I would have for you as a freshman, is what are you doing inside your caucus to make sure that I’m not the only guy who’s responsible for this stuff, so that we’re working together?

A questioner demanded to know when the President would ever begin to listen to Republican ideas on conservative goals.

When will we look forward to starting anew and sitting down with you to put all of these ideas on the table, to look at these lessons learned, to benefit from that experience, and to produce a product that is going to reduce government interference, reduce cost, and be fair to the American taxpayer?

The President waited for the applause to settle, then corrected the premise.

Actually, I’ve gotten many of your ideas. I’ve taken a look at them, even before I was handed this. Some of the ideas we have embraced in our package. Some of them are embraced with caveats. So let me give you an example.

He then mentioned several specific Republican proposals, detailing a brief analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of each. It became clear to the audience that he had prepared. This was not going as they had planned.

The challenges went on. Questions ranged from softball to aggressive and harsh.

Jeb Hensarling, of Texas, demanded to know why the President wanted to triple the national debt. President Obama calmly corrected him.

I’ll go through it with you line by line. The fact of the matter is, is that when we came into office, the deficit was 1.3 trillion dollars – 1.3 – So when you say that suddenly I’ve got a monthly deficit that’s higher than the annual deficit left by the Republicans, that’s factually just not true, and you know it’s not true.

When questions became especially hostile, President Obama turned accusations around and gently used them to make his own point about Republican obstruction.

Jeb, with all due respect, I’ve just got to take this last question as an example of how it’s very hard to have the kind of bipartisan work that we’re going to do, because the whole question was structured as a talking point for running a campaign.

And he did not shrink from challenging some assertions.

I am happy to have any independent fact-checker out there take a look at your presentation versus mine in terms of the accuracy of what I just said.

In the end, the gleeful Republican joy at the prospect of embarrassing President Obama had become a shambles. The disappointment turned into a simmering fury. Angry Republicans told reporters that the White House had ambushed the Republican gathering. The suggestion for television cameras had been a trap contrived to make them look silly in front of a national audience.

The President had violated Republican expectations. He had not been humiliated. He had humiliated them.

President Obama’s mastery of Republican proposals, his ability to put policy into understandable language, his gentle responses to conservative aggressiveness made the news. It survives now, every nuance preserved on video. He had faced a hostile audience, he had done it in public, and he had surrounded angry arguments and gently destroyed them.

That event provides a remarkable contrast to President Trump’s private meeting with a friendly group of conservatives. We have no transcript. We have no visual record. We do have the accounts of Republicans themselves.

heard enough about policy and process.

no grasp of health care policy or legislative procedure.

astonishing how in over his head trump is. He seems to neither get the politics nor the policy.

One President stressed policy. The other told conservatives to ignore policy.

One spoke of the health of ordinary Americans. The other did not think the effect on real lives was worth considering.

One seemed to know more about conservative proposals than did the conservatives making those proposals. The other did not know, did not want to know, those little details.

Americans are learning to deal with a new President, a President with a limited attention span, with limited patience for other lives, with an obsession for how things look politically.

Americans are learning again each day how fondly they remember the last occupant of White House.

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The Trump Cheat Sheet – Losing Heads or Tails

Heads I win, tails you lose.

It would be a neat trick in any enterprise. If you only have to count income and not expenses, your balance sheets will look pretty good.

You want to get a loan? You tell the bank about all the income generated. Doesn’t much matter what the level is. The income/expense ratio will be out of this world.

“Income looks okay,” says the smiling bank analyst. “What is the level of expense?”

“No expenses,” you say.

“No expenses?”


If you can do the reverse, your taxes will be easy to pay. Report all your expenses, and tell them there was no income.

“No income?”


So no taxes. Wow.

Just try it.

If the bank is run by insane people, they might believe what you say and give you a loan. The government tax agent might laugh for a second or two before the friendly authorities put on the cuffs. There might be a brief tussle with the bank when they want their money back. But the government will win that one, they always do.

Counting only one side of the spreadsheet? Doesn’t quite work that way in the real world. But they’re about to try just that in the strange Schrödinger world of conservative bookkeeping.

Globalization is an uncontrollable force, in many respects. Your cell phone, your flat screen television, probably your computer would all be impossible without international trade. Even your automobile runs on trade. It may be proudly assembled in America, but important parts are made elsewhere.

Most of that is okay with the Trump administration. Has to be. For all the talk about jobs being exported, they won’t worry about trade with Canada, Europe, Russia, and much of Asia. Why other countries are targeted is open for discussion.

Costing us as much as $60 billion dollars a year with Mexico alone in trade deficits.

President Donald Trump, January 26, 2017

Mr. Trump and his top advisors do have a fixation on Mexico, Mexicans, and those Americans who have any Mexican ancestry. The alt right is a euphemism for something on the dark side of the force.

Countries whose citizens have been responsible for death from terrorism in the United States have many things in common. One important thing is that none, none at all, zero, are on Mr. Trump’s list of immigrants to be banned from entry.

The exactitude with which Trump business interests seem to overlay new definitions of national interest includes, but extends beyond, immigration.

Fact is, a substantial part of trade flowing in and out of the United States is layover and service work. “Value added,” they call it. Kind of like the storage facilities you see along the highway, except with a service department in the back. Trade everywhere has always involved safe harbors, even in ancient times. That’s why stopovers on trade routes were the parts of geography where wealth accumulated.

So, much of the American economy involves trade between other countries, with the United States as middleman. The US provides established pathways, infrastructure for travel and storage, and the technology to add value.

Still, a disproportionate amount of that value-added, in-and-out, sort of trade originates in countries toward which Trump and company have a transparent hostility.

They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.

Donald Trump, June 16, 2015

It is not simply undocumented workers who are to be hated. Illegal immigration doesn’t happen because of those fleeing violence or those obeying the eternal desire for a better life of economic opportunity. It is because those who remain in those countries have chosen their worst to send, actually send, to us.

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us.

June 16, 2015

So the ongoing Trump campaign to eliminate commerce with select countries is justified by the two types of trade: the criminals Mr. Trump informs us are being sent to us by those countries, and the goods and services they are transporting to us in exchange for jobs that rightfully belong here.

But ethnic justification goes only so far. Something has to be done about the economic argument. A lot of trade creates jobs in the United States. The data that measures that is produced by the very government the Trump administration has taken over.

So a new way of calculating trade balance is being considered.

The way it would work is simple. When Mexico produces goods to send to Canada or Europe or pretty much anywhere, and sends it through the United States, the new slight of hand would apply. The imports into the United States would be counted. When they are then exported out of the United States, to their final destination, they would not be counted.

Coming in, they count. Going out, they don’t count.

So the trade deficit with Mexico would suddenly look like it doubled overnight. If it looks scary enough, the administration can tax, inhibit, or prohibit the re-exports, and also other sorts of trade.

It all might actually cost jobs, but jobs don’t seem to be the real aim, except for presentation to the base. The motivation seems to be to hurt countries Trump and his alt right advisors don’t like for ideological and ethnic reasons.

Whatever the reasons for the hostility, changing the calculation is a hidden way of cooking the books. They propose to take a large amount of the import and re-export trade with Mexico and only count one side of the ledger.

If you and I cook the books that way, we’ll get into some serious trouble.

But, the new administration is bringing in new methods of accountability.

It’s heads they win, tails everyone else loses.

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The Mean Streets of a
More Hostile America

I was in high school, I think, when I first heard of the Newburgh Conspiracy.

By 1783, the American Revolution had pretty much been victorious. Cornwallis had surrendered at Yorktown two years before.

But official peace negotiations had only just begun. The government of Britain had not surrendered the colonies. New York was still occupied by the British. And soldiers fighting in the American army had not been paid, in some cases for months: in many cases for as long as six years. Some officers were digging into their own finances to pay troops just enough to survive.

Congress had promised to pay soldiers back wages plus a pension. But now, the prevailing attitude in Congress was to do nothing. The war was about to end formally. Victory was already in hand. Why keep expensive promises when independence had already been won?

Besides, there was no way to raise the money to keep old promises to retiring soldiers. The Articles of Confederation were little more than a trade agreement that dealt with former colonies as independent, sovereign nations. Taxing and finance were state matters. And some states had already passed laws that told soldiers to kiss off. No pensions for you.

Efforts to give the national government the ability to impose tariffs had been defeated. Opposition to a stronger government was decisive. There was nothing in the national treasury to pay out, and no way to get it.

Pay soldiers what had been promised? Couldn’t be done.

In Newburgh, New York, letters were written by officers to each other forming a plot. There would be a sort of coup.

There is some controversy about whether the coup was a ruse. At least some officers and enlisted men believed it and supported the move. Stories circulated that the objective would be to install George Washington as a King. A king would have the power to pay a standing army what was owed.

Installing a monarchy would not have been an outlandish goal. Royalty was an almost universally accepted form of government throughout the world. And George Washington was the logical King.

A democratic republic was almost unheard of. A system of Cantons in Switzerland was reputed to be democratic. But only the very wealthy had any part in that system. Real democracy in Switzerland was still a few years away. A primitive sort of proto-Republic had been tried in England under Oliver Cromwell in the mid-1600s. It had not gone well and King Charles II had been installed by popular demand.

Washington wanted promises to be kept. He wanted his soldiers to be paid. So he allowed news of the Newburgh conspiracy to reach Congress. And Congress got scared. They formed a committee to figure out how to amend the Articles of Confederation in order to pay soldiers. The committee became a convention. The Convention went off in a different direction. They hatched an unauthorized proposal for an entirely new, strong central government in order to form a more perfect union.

Yay, American Constitution!

Before all that happened, Washington only knew that he wanted an untried democratic republic to be given a run in America. He did not want a monarchy. He did not want a king. He most emphatically did not want to be a king.

While Congress was tied up in fear and committees, he held a meeting with the most rebellious of his officers. They were angry, in no mood to be talked out of simple justice. Once they realized General Washington would not support a move against Congress, a sort of respectful hostility was turned on him.

Washington talked briefly about his efforts to get payment. The legend is that he tried to read to the group a letter of support from a member of Congress. He stared at the paper for a time, then fumbled for a new pair of eyeglasses. None of the group had ever seen him with reading glasses. He apologized, “Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country.” The flagrant appeal to emotion worked. He won most of them over.

The Newburgh conspiracy, if it was an actual conspiracy, collapsed. And America went on without a king.

I thought a little about American royalty a few years ago on the one hundredth anniversary of the Presidential pitch in baseball. Barack Obama threw the opening ball. It was his second year as a major league pitcher.

High and outside. Not really great, but better than his first year, where the ball barely bounced to the catcher. I remarked at that first effort that, as a baseball player, Barack Obama would be better off seeking a career in politics. He must have practiced through the following year.

That 100th anniversary marked a tradition begun in 1910. The umpire at Washington’s Griffith Stadium, Billy Evans, had a sudden thought. He asked the President if he would like to open the game by throwing the ball over the plate. William Howard Taft threw that first pitch and started an unbroken streak. President Obama threw the 100th, and a few more in the years following.

Mr. Taft is often credited with another baseball tradition.

Late in a game one April day in 1910, President Taft, a truly massive man (my kind of guy), got really uncomfortable in his small stadium chair. So he stood and stretched. The respectful crowd stood as well. That began the tradition we see in every game of major league baseball, the seventh inning stretch.

George Washington ended the Newburgh conspiracy. American monarchy did not get as far as being stillborn. It was not even really conceived. But Americans have developed, in place of royalty, a reflexive reverence for the Presidency.

Presidents in our country establish a cultural tone.

This Nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.

John F. Kennedy, June 11, 1963

John F. Kennedy moved racism in American consciousness from individually eccentric to reprehensibly evil.

We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution.

George Bush promoted a sort of every-man plain style, that many of us take for a deliberate embrace of willful ignorance. For a while, “nuculer” became part of the lexicon.

What cultural impact are we to expect as Donald Trump becomes President Trump?

We might find family gatherings, workplace discussions, even conversations in whatever equivalents of Fellowship Hall are found in Houses of Worship becoming more lively each year. Will expressions of white supremacy become more common and less self-conscious, as a decent regard for the opinions of others is dismissed as mere “political correctness?” Will politics follow suit as national discourse is cheapened?

Repressive policies may descend, as has been promised. The vulnerable will likely suffer from a new official harshness. Governmental discrimination by religion and ethnicity may not be the end. We may also find ourselves further separated as familiar vows are reversed in application as wealth, and even health become borders in a divided land.

We have to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Donald Trump, October 19, 2016

On which side of the wide divide do you live? Are you richer or poorer? Do you find yourself in sickness or in health?

Even if policy does not become all that has been promised, will brown skinned immigrants be targeted on the street?

They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

Donald Trump, June 16, 2015

Will those wearing the clothing of different religions be targets? Will houses of worship be attacked? Will inhabitants as well, even as they worship?

Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.

Read by Donald Trump, December 7, 2015

Hate crimes have already spiked, with only the most tepid, milquetoast denial of support for the hatred.

Intervention from passersby, people of good will, has sometimes countered the new popularity of hatred. We must resolve to help wherever we can. But the kindness of strangers is not a dependable resource.

Leadership matters.

Official action from new, hostile authority will come. But coherent policy takes time to formulate, then to apply. The more immediate impact generated by a new President is not likely to come through government. The first fear does not flow directly from white buildings that will soon house unfriendly power.

Our brothers and sisters, children of God, are already taking care, walking the mean streets of a new America.

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Donald Caught in the Rigging

My grandmother used to tend a little garden that gradually grew to occupy most of a fairly large backyard. I never knew how she managed to care it for so long. She loved to go weeding, separating the beautiful from plants that just got in the way.

It was a magical place for me. Memories of that magic sometimes provide respite. They have been an occasional sanctuary during this election season, as conspiracy stories grow like those unwanted weeds.

Conspiracies do happen. Most of us of sufficient age to possess vivid memories of the Nixon administration can take a cue from Watergate.

People have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I’m not a crook.

Richard Nixon, President of the United States,    November 18, 1973

Over the years, as documents are declassified, evidence has been accumulating of other Nixon conspiracies. A possible negotiated settlement of the Vietnam War in 1968 was exploded as Presidential candidate Nixon, secretly and illegally, sent promises of a better deal down the road if South Vietnam would ensure his election by refusing to make peace.

So we cannot look with complete cynicism on every claim of rigged outcome.

But some theories have deteriorated into tin-hat humor.

No one is prouder to put this birth-certificate matter to rest than The Donald. And that’s because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter — like, did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?

Barack Obama, President of the United States,    April 30, 2011

So how are we to tell the difference between Watergate and stories of a fake moon landing?

The most obvious answer is to look at the evidence. Gut feeling might guide us on where to look for that evidence, but a feeling that something is so won’t make it so. Neither will simply wanting it to be so, yearning with all our hearts that it might be true. Regarding a lack of evidence as evidence itself of a conspiracy will usually lead us into a hall or mirrors.

We might also want to take some level of plausibility into account.

Donald Trump began his trek toward political destiny with that birther story, the theory that President Obama was born in another country. Those who felt that it was just wrong for this particular President to take office very much wanted birtherism to be true. They seemed to want it with all their hearts. If Barack Obama was born in another country, then the American people had no right to choose him for their President. And he had no right to take office.

The fact that they felt that his election was wrong, wrong, wrong had a certain backdoor logic to it, an element of reverse engineering:

If his election was wrong, it must not be legal. If it was not legal, there must be some sort of constitutional prohibition. He was over 35 years old, so age was not it. Race might seem compelling, but the Constitution had been amended since slavery days. That pretty much left the requirement that a President had to be a natural born citizen.

One problem was a lack of evidence. Some elderly relative in Africa did admit, through an interpreter, that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. Desperate advocates seized on that scrap, perhaps forgetting that the President’s estranged father, the one who had abandoned him and and his mom, had indeed been born in Kenya, and that his name was Barack Obama.

Plausibility was another problem. A conspiracy to make baby Barack a future President had to involve two newspapers, a hospital in Hawaii, and at least some officials within the Hawaiian state government. If the birth had occurred in an actual hospital in Kenya, records there had to be destroyed and witnesses silenced.

Babies are precious, but that story takes love to an amazing level. Life would have been easier for the future President if those fortunate, farsighted, completely maniacal parents had thought to choose a different middle name.

Since those birther days, Donald has graduated into an avalanche of new conspiracies. In a single speech in October, Mr. Trump managed to list several of those participating in a grand scheme to undermine him.


Likewise, they have essentially corrupted the Director of the FBI.

– Donald Trump October 13, 2016

A small handful of global special interests

This election will determine whether we are a free nation or whether we have only the illusion of democracy, but are in fact controlled by a small handful of global special interests rigging the system.

– Donald Trump October 13, 2016

The International Banking System

Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers, her special interest friends and her donors.

– Donald Trump October 13, 2016

A small platoon of women, recruited by his enemies to make false accusations.

Over time, a gold star parents, whose son was killed in Iraq fighting for the United States, had become part of the conspiracy because they are Muslim.

A Federal judge, back when he was the head of the US Drug Enforcement Agency, had put himself into harms way, going in and out of hiding, dodging assassination squads, leading the battle that brought down a Mexican drug cartel. But now he was part of the anti-Trump conspiracy because his parents had come from Mexico 70 years ago, before he was born. So he is not really an American.

A former Miss Universe was part of it.

A Mexican billionaire joined in.

So have national Republican leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Large media news outlets have taken a break from their ruthless competition against each other. They now come together in a fraternal effort to plot against Mr. Trump.

Even the US Bureau of Labor Statistics now participates, faking rosy employment trends that will trick workers into thinking they have jobs.

A rigged election is in the offing. Mexican immigrants, here illegally, will come out of hiding, march down to official voting stations, present false documents, and vote against him.

Other voters, legal voters, will each illegally vote against him dozens of times by pretending to be someone else. They will risk prison time and huge fines to do so.

It won’t be smart or easy to steal a national election this way. Elections in the past were stolen in backrooms, out of sight, where voting totals could be manipulated. But, as Mr. Trump points out, Mexico doesn’t send us their best, and presumably not their brightest.

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you.

– June 16, 2015

Although some, we assume, are good people.

It is not plausible, and there is no evidence. But Mr. Trump and his supporters have strong feelings that it will happen. That is enough.

My grandmother has been gone for many years. Her magical garden exists only in my mind and in my heart.

Every once in a while I bring up a sweet little blog about adventures in organic gardening. It takes me back, for a few minutes at a time, to happier days of youth and life.

One passage strikes me as accidentally allegorical.

The sky is falling. The Little Red Hen told me that the other day. Ten days in a row, she was right: rain followed by showers with brief, periodic sprinkles leading to downpours. The elements are conspiring against me, around me, generally all over me, and possibly even within me. It’s wet.

The elements conspiring against Mr. Trump, around him, generally all over him, and possibly even within him are varied. The circle grows each rain soaked day.

Rigged elections, Mexican immigrants, people voting multiple times, billionaires, gold star parents, Federal judges, a dozen angry women, a former Miss Universe, international banks, a small handful of global special interests, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the FBI, local election officials.

The drama will end, sort of, on November 8. The arc will complete and circle will close.

We can hope the American people will cast their ballots wisely, united at long last in rejection of Donald Trump and all of that for which he stands:

Voters joining in a final national conspiracy against him.

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The Art of the Election – How Trump is Winning

From sometime in 1964:

Barry Goldwater is a patriot and he loves his country too much to allow himself to become President.

I was in high school when my friend read that to me. We laughed. It was funny because the premise was true. Barry Goldwater was indeed a patriot. And it was funny because the conclusion was absurd.

The logic seems less absurd today.

Something keeps Donald Trump from running an effective national post-primary campaign. It is possible that it has something to do with patriotism. After all, who can read the mind of another? I suspect it is something more obvious.

News reporters have counted heads. They say that the Trump organization employs 30 staffers to run a national campaign. With one widely publicized firing, and one subsequent resignation, that number may well be a couple less. I do not pretend any special knowledge about national campaigns. But I have come to trust the judgment of some political experts.

Those experts tell me that the country is, in fact, composed of 50 states.

So we have 30 staff people covering 1 states each, on average. The root of the staffing problem may be money. Even devout followers like to be paid.

The Trump campaign does have money problems. I confess 1.2 million dollars seems like a lot of money to me and that’s what the Trump campaign says is on hand. If some beloved relative died and left me that much, I’d like to think I would be overwhelmed by grief. Family, church acquaintances, and personal associates, those I believe be good judges of character, seem to have a different opinion of my likely reaction. It is truly a lot of money.

Imagine giving your spouse 1.2 million dollars with the understanding that exactly $1,000 a day had to be spent, no more and no less. And you would not see each other again until your spouse had spent every last dime. If you made that gift next January, January 20, 2017 – that date comes to mind for some reason – you would not see each other again for three years, sometime in May 2020.

That’s a long time, and that’s because 1.2 million dollars is a lot of money.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign reports 42 million dollars on hand. Scientists tell us that 42 million is more than 1.2 million. If you gave your spouse 42 million dollars on January 20 with the same agreement, one thousand a day, you wouldn’t be apart for only 3 years.

You would see each other again 115 years later, in January 2132. 3 years with Donald Trump, 115 with Hillary Clinton.

So….what’s going on with Trump and the money?

Some reports say donors are holding off because they see Donald Trump as a phenomenal loser. That could be true.

Donald Trump says the reason is actually that he has not yet begun to fight. So maybe it’s all part of a Trump master plan to make Democrats everywhere over‑confident – right down to our socks.

One report may strike a special note of insight. The word is that the Republican National Committee impressed on the Trump campaign the special need for a fund raising effort: a personal effort by the candidate. So they gave Donald Trump a list of 24 names of those most likely to give huge amounts that would keep your spouse away for many hundreds of years. Mr. Trump promised to call all 24 large donors.

He called 3 of them and stopped, leaving the other 21 without a call.

Why would he do that? I think there is a plausible reason why he gave up on them. He would have had to tell 24 successful people that he needs their money, that he needs them, that they and their efforts are valued. Donald Trump doesn’t sing the It’s‑All‑About‑You song. It’s always about Donald.

News analysts speculate about what sort of campaign is needed this year to win. The overwhelming fact, the elephant everyone sees, is that both candidates are viewed negatively. The outcome may hinge on which candidate becomes less unpopular than the other.

Even Fox News analysts, who normally could be counted on to be more Republican than Republicans are, don’t pretend their guy is likable.

Look, we’ve never had a general election with two candidates that are as unliked, by as many American people. These contests are often a referendum on who would rather have a beer with on election night. There’s gonna be a lot of voters drinking alone.

Alex Conant, May 17, 2016

If that is true, and it stays true, the election will not depend on the issues, or even on personalities. It will depend on focus. If the election is about Donald Trump, 2017 will see the inauguration of a new President Clinton. If the election is about Hillary Clinton, it will be President Trump.

Political PACs are not allowed to coordinate with candidates. But that doesn’t mean they can’t read the papers or stare at an internet browser. I suspect those committees do take a few cues from news reports.

Those siding with Hillary Clinton have begun promoting her in more humane settings during quieter moments. She seems to be taking some some of Joe Biden’s strengths, speaking in conversational tones, leaving Donald Trump to scream at his crowds.

If I am right, her unpopularity, the cloud that hangs over her, comes from decades of endless smoke blown by the eternal conservative smear machine. So the soft breeze of the positive side will help immeasurably. But what do I know? I’m a knee-jerk liberal jerk. Just ask my conservative friends. Hip pie leftist to the bone, just short of a comm‑eye pre‑vert.

Even if Secretary Clinton goes positive, the negative will predominate. The consensus seems to be solidifying: in a negative climate, the candidate who becomes the focus will lose.

Both candidates have begun attacking the other. But it does not take a discerning ear to detect a difference.

Hillary quotes Donald Trump, offering critique along with evidence in the form of his own words. It is not a dispassionate analysis, this being a campaign. But it is analysis. Here’s the charge, here’s the evidence. These are his own words.

Donald is reduced to “crooked Hillary” for candidate Clinton, to “Pocahontas” for Elizabeth Warren. His attacks are direct and, to the untrained ear, unconvincing.

Hillary Clinton highlights Donald Trump, arguing that he lacks the temperament and motivation to serve the people well. Donald Trump attacks Hillary Clinton, and Elizabeth Warren and President Obama and other Republicans, often in spectacular and controversial fashion. Hillary puts the spotlight on Donald. Donald puts the spotlight on himself.

His motivation became explicit a few days ago as he basked in the glow of another public appearance. I think his words tell us exactly why he could not continue calling donors to explain his need for their help, making them the focus, even for the length of time a telephone conversation might take. I think it explains the overblown rhetoric that discourages Republicans and motivates Democrats.

He is having the time of his life. He glories in each precious moment. He lives for that moment.

I’ve been on the cover of ‘Time’ magazine so many times. And the cover of everything. I feel like a super model, except like times ten. Okay?

It’s true. I’m a supermodel. I’m on the cover of these magazines. I’m on the cover of the biggest magazines I don’t even know about and I can’t even read the story because if I did, I wouldn’t get any work done. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Donald Trump, June 18, 2016
   at a rally in Phoenix, AZ

The Republican nominee will not make the Democratic nominee the central figure for the same reason he can’t make each donor feel special.

It’s a classic convergence of interest, the win-win outcome everyone wants:

The Clinton campaign would like Donald Trump to be the center of public attention.

Donald Trump craves that attention even more.

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Conventional Fairness

I’ve brought people into this party by the millions. You understand that. They voted by the millions more. It’s one of the biggest stories in all of politics.

And what do I have? I have a guy going around trying to steal people’s delegates.

This is supposed to be America, a free America.

This is supposed to be a system of votes.

Donald Trump, March 27, 2016,    interviewed on ABC

It is a familiar argument. The candidate who has earned it in rallies and voting booths may lose the political nomination he is seeking. Backroom deals and shady maneuvers are taking a toll.

I think back to the famous political riots in Chicago in 1968, what George Will called God’s gift to conservatives. The protests against the Vietnam war focused on the candidate who was seen as supporting that war. Hubert Humphrey had not campaigned in even one primary. He had not won a single vote.

Divergence from the democratic ideal probably goes to the beginnings of representative government. The rise of Julius Caesar was due, at least in part, to popular reaction against the Roman oligarchy that called itself a republic.

In Democratic Party politics, 1972 was the offspring of 1968. Democracy would rule in the Democratic Party. Backroom deals would be diminished. Primaries would determine which candidates had delegates, and how many. George McGovern knew the rules. He and his staff worked to help make them fair. And that knowledge paid off. Senator McGovern and his growing band of true believers worked the streets and got the votes.

But the McGovern convention of 1972 was not without controversy. He had won the California primary without winning a majority. The opposition was divided among other candidates. The rules said California was winner-take-all, even if that winner did not win a majority. Other candidates said the rules were wrong. They tried to get the rules changed. The leader of the winning delegation, Willie Brown, was for McGovern.

Like Donald Trump decades later, he did not want to be cheated out of the delegates he deserved.

I deserve no less. Give me back my delegation!

Willie Brown, July 10, 1972

After George McGovern lost spectacularly to Richard Nixon that November, party officials spoke up. The McGovern process of primary victories and popular democracy had kept many loyalists out of the convention. Excluding those who had served the party for years was inherently unfair.

And the result had been horrific. George McGovern had won two places. It was a curious sort of bellwether. As Massachusetts goes, so goes the District of Columbia. He had lost everywhere else. Everywhere.

And so the path of history was paved with efforts to be fair, to win. Vietnam begat 1968. 1968 begat 1972. 1972 begat super delegates.

44 years later, we have controversy that spans party lines.

Bernie Sanders defended by, of all people, conservative Joe Scarborough:

Bernie Sanders wins 56 to 44 percent in Wyoming. The delegates rewarded – Hillary Clinton elevin, Bernie Sanders seven.

Why does the Democratic Party even have voting booths? This system is so rigged.

Joe Scarborough, April 11, 2016

Steve Griffin of Tulane University Law School discusses with New Orleans WDSU News the Republican delegate system that may watch as Donald Trump wins solidly in Louisiana and then award most of Louisiana’s delegates to Ted Cruz.

As a candidate, he’s got rights. And if for some reason, the Louisiana Republican Party hasn’t been conforming with its own rules, then he might — I stress the word might — he might have a basis for a lawsuit.

Louisiana GOP Secretary Louis S. Gurvich explains basic fairness to WDSU. Rules are rules.

Those are uncommitted delegates. Mr. Trump is as free to reach out to them as is anyone else.

Ted Cruz responds to the Trump outrage.

I’m always amused when Donald doesn’t know what to do and so threatens lawsuits.

Political pundits are not without opinions.

This is really pathetic. The guy who promised us he’d give us winning until we were tired of winning is, as I noted earlier in the week, being out hustled and out organized by Ted Cruz. The problem isn’t a broken system. The system was well known to everyone before the primary started.

streiff writing for Red State, March 27, 2016

By convention time, Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. She will have the delegates, and will have won the popular vote. It is likely that Donald Trump will have won the popular vote and will be the Republican nominee.

And so the arguments about electoral fairness will fade until the next election year.

Trying to steal people’s delegates

This system is so rigged

The tenuous tie between the primary votes and the results of the two conventions carries with it a deeper, more profound, injustice than that experienced by any candidate

As a candidate he has rights

or any delegate.

I deserve no less

The neglected issue is not what is fair to political parties or to those who would seek their nominations.

The issue is, and should always have been, what is fair to voters. The greatest number of votes will influence, but will not with certainty determine, who wins.

Those who showed up at the polls may have expected, reasonably expected, that their ballots would have an effect that would be more than coincidence.

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