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Monday, February 19, 2018

QOTD: An unnamed White House staffer

by digby

Press staffers cited the tragedy as a reason to cancel on-camera briefings for the remainder of the week, allowing them to avoid questions about the swirling controversies. The White House could hold its next briefing on Tuesday, a full week since press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders last faced reporters.

“For everyone, it was a distraction or a reprieve,” said one White House official, speaking anonymously to reflect internal conversations. “A lot of people here felt like it was a reprieve from seven or eight days of just getting pummeled.”

Trump's gigantic conflict of interest nobody cares about

by digby

I don't think I'll ever get over the fact that Trump called his rival in 2016 "Crooked Hillary" because she supposedly took contributions to a charitable foundation from people who had issues before the Secretary of State (not true, of course) and he is getting away with stuff like this:
The largest American office of China's largest bank sits on the 20th floor of Trump Tower, six levels below the desk where Donald Trump built an empire and wrested a presidency. It's hard to get a glimpse inside. There do not appear to be any public photos of the office, the bank doesn't welcome visitors, and a man guards the elevators downstairs--one of the perks of forking over an estimated $2 million a year for the space.

Trump Tower officially lists the tenant as the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, but make no mistake who's paying the rent: the Chinese government, which owns a majority of the company. And while the landlord is technically the Trump Organization, make no mistake who's cashing those millions: the president of the United States, who has placed day-to-day management with his sons but retains 100% ownership. This lease expires in October 2019, according to a debt prospectus obtained by Forbes. So if you assume that the Trumps want to keep this lucrative tenant, then Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. could well be negotiating right now over how many millions the Chinese government will pay the sitting president. Unless he has already taken care of it: In September 2015 then-candidate Trump boasted to Forbes that he had "just renewed" the lease, around the time he was gearing up his campaign.

It's a conflict of interest unprecedented in American history
. But hardly unanticipated. The Founding Fathers specifically built this contingency into the Constitution through the Emoluments Clause, which prohibits U.S. officials from accepting gifts, titles or "emoluments" from foreign governments. In Federalist 75, Alexander Hamilton framed the threat thus: "An avaricious man might be tempted to betray the interests of the state to the acquisition of wealth." Scholars have been debating what exactly constitutes an "emolument" since the moment Trump won the election, and nearly 200 congressional Democrats sued the president over possible violations in June. Much of the yammering in this area surrounds Trump's hotels, especially the one in Washington, D.C., which has billed $268,000 in hotel rooms and catering to the Saudi government, and his international licensing deals, which allow foreign tycoons and hucksters, many with connections to their local governments, to pay the Trump Organization more than $5 million a year in order to profit from the president's name in far-flung locales.

But that's all small potatoes. The real money in the Trump empire comes from commercial tenants like the Chinese bank. Forbes estimates these tenants pay a collective $175 million a year or so to the president. And they do so anonymously. Federal laws, drafted without envisioning a real estate billionaire as president, require Trump to publicly disclose the shell companies he owns--but not the hundreds of businesses pouring money into them or even the extent of the money involved.

Maybe you think Trump has too much integrity to do anything as president that would benefit his tenants who pay him millions of dollars a year. That's certainly what all the people in Bizarroworld think. But if you have any suspicion that Trump might not be a guy who understands or cares about the idea of using his office for profit, this would seem to be a problem.

Here's my favorite thing about all this. Nothing will be done about Trump's massive corruption. He will be allowed to use his office for his family's enrichment throughout his term and that will be that. There will, however, be a major crackdown going forward. And Democrats will bear the brunt of it as Republicans energetically use the weapon they refused to wield against Trump against their rivals. And Democrats, perpetually afraid of being accused of hypocrisy, will join them

All Democrats had better be aware that even they are the cleanest candidates in history, it won't be enough to stave off the onslaught.

Just a little warning of what's to come.

In the meantime, contemplate just how malignant Trump's open corruption really is. He brags about it. Nobody cares.


What could go wrong?

by digby

The picture above is from a Serbian far right demonstration before the election. They seem nice.

I hate to be alarmist but ...

Maybe this rise of the far right is a flash in the pan. I certainly hope so. But it is worth noting that these far right parties all over the world really love Donald Trump.


Will he pardon the whole crew? Lots of people want him to.

by digby

Last night this lawyer mentioned that Mueller may not be putting all the evidence he has in the indictments, as is usual DOJ practice, for a very specific reason:

I made note of it in passing and then thought of it again when I read this:

“I think he should be pardoning anybody who’s been indicted and make it clear that anybody else who gets indicted would be pardoned immediately,” said Frederick Fleitz, a former CIA analyst and senior vice president at the conservative Center for Security Policy.

The pleas for mercy mainly extend to the four former Trump aides who have already been swept up in the Russia probe: former campaign manager Paul Manafort, former deputy campaign manager Rick Gates, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos. But they don’t stop there.

“It’s kind of cruel what’s going on right now and the president should put these defendants out of their misery,” said Larry Klayman, a conservative legal activist. “I think he should pardon everybody — and pardon himself.”

Klayman and Fleitz spoke before Mueller indicted thirteen Russian nationals on Friday for staging an elaborate 2016 election interference operation in the United States. Democratic leaders said the hard evidence of Russian meddling underscores the importance of letting Mueller’s investigation run its course.

But many conservatives note that the new indictment shows no evidence of collusion between Trump associates and the Kremlin. That reinforces their view that Mueller’s real target, if any, should be Russian President Vladimir Putin — not Trump’s circle. “[H]ow long will the leftist witch hunt against @RealDonaldTrump continue,” the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., tweeted hours after the indictment’s release.

And while the latest indictment could make it harder than ever for Trump to fire Mueller, as he has sought to before, mass pardons would be another means of defying the special counsel.

A president has the Constitutional power to pardon any citizen convicted of a federal crime, ending any prison sentence and clearing his or her record with the stroke of a pen. Pardons face no judicial or Congressional review, and the president is not obliged to explain his decision. The act of a president pardoning himself, however, has never been tested.
So far, the talk of pardons has mostly centered around Flynn, whose clemency Trump did not rule out in a brief mid-December exchange with reporters. “I don’t want to talk about pardons with Michael Flynn yet. We’ll see what happens,” Trump said.

That “yet” was music to the ears of Flynn’s supporters and family members, many of whom have taken to social media to build support for pardoning the retired Army lieutenant general who pleaded guilty in December to Mueller’s team for lying to the FBI.

“About time you pardoned General Flynn who has taken the biggest fall for all of you given the illegitimacy of this confessed crime in the wake of all this corruption,” Flynn’s brother, Joseph Flynn, wrote in a mid-December tweet. “Pardon Flynn NOW!” he added in a later message.

During a video interview with the prominent alt-right activist Jack Posobiec at the Trump International Hotel in Washington D.C., last week, Flynn’s outspoken adult son, Michael Flynn Jr., encouraged viewers to promote online messages calling for his father’s exoneration and pardon.

“Just keep pushing out those hashtags, the ‘#ClearFlynnNow’ and the ‘#PardonFlynnNow,” Flynn Jr., said.

Tom Fitton, president of the conservative activist group Judicial Watch, said that allegations of anti-Trump bias among Justice Department and FBI officials circulated by conservatives would justify granting clemency to Trump associates like Flynn.

“The whole super structure of the Russia investigation is compromised,” Fitton said. “Those caught up in it deserve some protection. Rather than just let the virus run its course, it’d be appropriate for the president to consider pardons for people who are caught up in the prosecution.”
In an Oct. 29 Wall Street Journal op-ed column — published on the eve of Mueller’s first indictments against Manafort and Gates and the release of the Papadopoulos guilty plea — two conservative lawyers called on Trump to “end this madness by immediately issuing a blanket presidential pardon to anyone involved in supposed collusion with Russia or Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign… and to anyone for any offense that has been investigated by Mr. Mueller’s office.”

“The president himself would be covered by the blanket pardon we recommend,” wrote the lawyers, David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey, veterans of the White House counsel’s office and Justice Department in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. They argued that Russian election interference is a matter for a Congressional investigation, not a criminal one.

There are some Republicans who think it might be a bad idea. For instance, Mike Cernovich, chief troll, who wants him to wait to see if the Democrats take over congress:

Even some conservatives who support pardons in principle are wary of the severe political backlash they are certain to trigger. Mike Cernovich, a prominent alt-right activist, said he believes the moment for pardons has passed and that Trump needs to wait until after the November mid-term elections.

“If the Democrats take over, pardon everyone,” Cernovich said. “They’re coming for you anyway. They have their nuke with impeachment. You have your nuke with pardons. And then settle in for an interesting two years.”

I have no idea if Mueller is thinking about this. But it would not be surprising if he decided not to telegraph all the evidence he has knowing that this president, who has zero respect for the rule of law, has the power to pardon everyone involved. Now it's also true that Trump and his cronies may still be liable for state crimes, but it would be better if he is not aware of what those might be in advance, don't you think?

This is not an ordinary case and it's a mistake to judge the legal strategy of the prosecutors as if it is.


Pay no attention to the man in White House

by digby

He tweeted the above humiliating rebuke while McMaster was at an international forum:
Amid global anxiety about President Trump’s approach to world affairs, U.S. officials had a message for a gathering of Europe’s foreign policy elite this weekend: Pay no attention to the man tweeting behind the curtain.

U.S. lawmakers — both Democrats and Republicans — and top national security officials in the Trump administration offered the same advice publicly and privately, often clashing with Trump’s Twitter stream: The United States remains staunchly committed to its European allies, is furious with the Kremlin about election interference and isn’t contemplating a preemptive strike on North Korea to halt its nuclear program.

But Trump himself engaged in a running counterpoint to the message, taking aim on social media at his own national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, because he “forgot” on Saturday to tell the Munich Security Conference that the results of the 2016 election weren’t affected by Russian interference, a conclusion that is not supported by U.S. intelligence agencies. They say they will probably never be able to determine whether the Russian involvement swung the election toward Trump.

The question of whom they should believe — the president or his advisers — has befuddled European officials. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel confessed Saturday that he didn’t know where to look to understand America.

“Is it deeds? Is it words? Is it tweets?” he asked.

He said he was not sure whether he could recognize the United States.

But holy Jesus...

Away from the glare of television cameras, many European diplomats and policymakers echoed the same concerns. One diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid provoking Trump, asked whether policymakers like McMaster who adhere largely to traditional U.S. foreign policy positions were falling into the same trap as Germany’s elite during Hitler’s rise, when they continued to serve in government in the name of protecting their nation.

The answer, the diplomat said, might be found after a “nuclear war,” which he feared could be provoked by the Trump administration’s hawkish approach to North Korea.

Let's assume they don't believe Trump and take McMaster, Mattis, Tillerson whomever they think might be sane at their word. Is it not incredibly dangerous to have a president who constantly pumps out provocative, antagonistic, ignorant public statement? If someone is looking for an excuse or isn't all that bright themselves they might just take of of those statements the wrong way or misunderstand the meaning and do something about it.

Rate yer president

by digby

The latest ratings of the presidents going back to Eisenhower:

Kennedy took the top spot in these ratings thanks to the strongest bipartisan support of any modern president. Naturally, he had a high rating among Democrats (7.09), but he also received top marks from independents — 6.62, the highest any president earned from that group — and from Republicans (6.20). Kennedy’s rating among Republicans was the highest rating the opposite-party identifiers gave to any modern president. The next highest were Ronald Reagan’s (5.15) and George H.W. Bush’s (4.96) rating among Democrats.

Independents rated Kennedy highest (6.62), but they also held relatively positive views of Reagan (6.21) and Barack Obama (6.11).

Among partisans, Reagan was the highest-rated president among Republicans, with GOP identifiers giving him an average of 8.03. With a 7.20 rating, President Donald Trump earned the second-best score among Republicans, reinforcing the reality that GOP voters have rallied around him.

As for Democrats, they gave Obama a rating of 8.65, the highest for any Democratic president and the highest for any single president among a partisan group. Bill Clinton was second behind Obama among Democrats with 7.19, followed by Kennedy at 7.09.

Few would dispute that JFK and Reagan have worn well over the decades, more so than any of their modern colleagues, and the data in this survey confirm that.

Today’s extraordinarily high level of partisanship mainly explains why the two most polarizing presidents among Democratic and Republican respondents are the two most recent, Obama and Trump. The difference between the average rating among Democrats and Republicans for Obama was 5.18, the largest margin of any president. Trump was next, with a sizable difference of 5.06. Clinton and Reagan tied for a distant third with a partisan difference of 2.88.

Reflecting his scandal-driven exit from the White House, Richard Nixon earned the lowest score among all respondents, 3.80, with Democrats, Republicans, and independents all rating him lower than 5.0. Lyndon Johnson, chief prosecutor of an unpopular war in Vietnam, was not far above Nixon with an overall average of 4.17.

Fading public memories and generational replacement play some role in the rating of many modern presidents. Americans have fuzzy images of Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, and even George H.W. Bush despite the fact that many scholars view them as fair-to-good presidents. Generally speaking, the oldest respondents (age 55 and up) were less likely to respond “don’t know” when rating the presidents, particularly when rating the less recent presidents.

Trump earned the third-lowest overall mark among respondents, 4.20, and his 3.77 average among independents was the second worst, just above Nixon’s 3.70. Compounding Trump’s weak performance among independents was his exceptionally low rating among Democrats, 2.14, the worst mark for any president among any partisan cohort. For comparison, Republicans gave Obama an average rating of 3.47. 
That Democrats give the lowest ratings to Trump — lower even than Nixon — is remarkable, but so is the high evaluation of Trump among Republicans. This may be further evidence that the Trump brand and the Republican Party are increasingly synonymous, though Trump does not rate as highly among Republicans as Obama does among Democrats.

Another notable finding was that women routinely gave lower average scores to 10 of the 12 modern presidents. Only Obama and Jimmy Carter received higher average scores among women than men, although in some instances the differences by gender were very minor (Carter, Clinton, and George W. Bush). Curiously, the president with the largest gender gap in mean rating was Dwight Eisenhower, who received a score of 5.73 among men and 4.32 among women, for a difference of 1.41. Trump had the second-largest gender gap, 0.95.

It seems a little bit surprising that Trump rates so high --- just above Nixon and Johnson. It's surprising since he's already the greatest leader the world has ever known. Just ask him.

*Keep in mind that Reagan didn't have such great ratings until Republicans led by Grover Norquist started the "Reagan Legacy Project" to turn him into an icon. If they could have put giant Reagan statues in every big city they would have. As it is they just systematically went about renaming airports, roads, building etc after him and creating a hagiography worthy of Alexander the Great.



The original Southern Strategy

by Tom Sullivan

“Bombardment of Fort Sumter by the batteries of the Confederate states,” 1861. Public domain.

The movement for southern secession arose in part out of slave states' inability to maintain a balance of power in the U.S. Senate as a bulwark for preserving slavery. The admission to the union of northern, plains, and mountain states carved out of the Louisiana territories (and unsuitable for cotton cultivation) threatened to weaken the South's political clout over time.

South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun spoke to the matter in the Senate 171 years ago today on February 19, 1847:

Sir, already we are in a minority—I use the word 'we' for brevity sake—already we are in a minority in the other House, in the electoral college, and, I may say, in every department of this government, except at present, in the Senate of the United States—there, for the present, we have an equality. Of the twenty-eight States, fourteen are non-slaveholding and fourteen are slaveholding, counting Delaware, which is doubtful, as one of the non-slaveholding States. But this equality of strength exists only in the Senate. … We, Mr. President, have at present, only one position in the government, by which we may make any resistance to this aggressive policy which has been declared against the South; or any other, that the non-slaveholding States may choose to take. And this equality in this body is of the most transient character. Already, Iowa is a State; but, owing to some domestic calamity, is not yet represented in this body. When she appears here, there will be an addition of two Senators to the Representatives here, of the non-slaveholding States. Already, Wisconsin has passed the initiatory stage, and will be here at next session. This will add two more, making a clear majority of four in this body on the side of the non-slaveholding States, who will thus be enable to sway every branch of this government at their will and pleasure. But, sir, if this aggressive policy be followed—if the determination of the non-slaveholding States is to be adhered to hereafter, and we are to be entirely excluded from the territories which we already possess, or may possess—if this is to be the fixed policy of the government, I ask what will be our situation hereafter?
Historian John Buescher provides more modern rendering of the slavers' dilemma:
After the War of 1812, the northern, free states' members in the House of Representatives exceeded those from slave states. The slave states reckoned then that Congress could try to outlaw slavery in the South. Their representatives in the House had tried to stave off attempts by that chamber to legislate the abolition of slavery by instituting a "gag rule" which, for years, had blocked abolitionist petitions from reaching the floor of the House, but which had been rescinded in 1844. The South therefore worked out a strategy to ensure that they would not be outnumbered in the Senate. If they maintained a balance in the Senate, they figured, attempts to force the end of slavery on the southern states could be blocked.

To maintain this balance as new territories were admitted into the Union, slave states and free states were admitted, roughly speaking, in pairs: Mississippi and Indiana, Alabama and Illinois, Missouri and Maine, Arkansas and Michigan, and Florida and Iowa. In some cases, the admission of a state was slowed or sped up in order to pair it with another. This practice was the outcome of a strategy that the South considered essentially defensive. The South's primary aim in this was not so much to spread slavery as it was to protect slavery where it already existed. To do that, it had to protect its strength in the Senate, and for that to happen as northern territories were brought into the Union, the South had to find southern territories to balance them. Eventually, this even led some in the South to look for possible ways to annex Cuba and Nicaragua and bring them into the Union as slave states.
When that strategy failed, southern states seceded, explicitly giving the maintenance of slavery as their reason.

Democracy was working against the slave states. History was against them. Demographics were against them. Public opinion was turning against them. They'd deployed every artifice for decades to keep the normal democratic process from making them relics of history. When they ran out of tricks, their response was to betray the union.

One hundred and seventy-one years after Calhoun's speech, the parallels are eerie. Only in 2018, it's not Democrats and not just the South threatening the union. In 1861, a Republican president set out to save it. Today, we have a White House working actively to undermine it with the help of supporters in Congress.

In the face of criminal investigations and unfavorable demographic shifts, today's Calhouns too are deploying every artifice at their disposal to maintain political control — enacting photo ID laws, attacking law enforcement and the press, gerrymandering targeting "African-Americans with almost surgical precision," under-funding the 2020 census, stealing a Supreme Court seat, and more — anything to maintain control except dialing back their extremism and appealing to multi-hued American voters. What happens this time when they run out of tricks?

David Frum writes on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections and the non-response by the president:
At every turn, Trump has failed to do what a patriotic president would do—failed to put the national interest first. He has left the 2018 elections as vulnerable as the 2016 elections to Russian intervention on his behalf.
With the Russians' 2016 actions documented and their 2018 intentions clear, and with GOP control of Congress vulnerable in November, the choice by Trump and leading members of his party to do nothing begins to look deliberate. Frum all but states that openly. He sees Civil War parallels too:
Trump’s own tweets reveal that among the things he most fears is the prospect of Representative Adam Schiff gaining the gavel of the House Intelligence Committee from the clownish present chairman, Devin Nunes. How far would Trump go to stop a dreaded political opponent, inside the law and outside? How far has Donald Trump gone in the past?

Trump continues to insist that he and his campaign team did not collude with Russia in the 2016 election. We know that they were ready and eager to collude—that’s on the public record. (“If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”) The public does not yet know whether the collusion actually occurred, and if so, in what form and to what extent. But in front of our very eyes we can observe that they are leaving the door open to Russian intervention on their behalf in the next election. You might call it collusion in advance—a dereliction of duty as grave as any since President Buchanan looked the other way as Southern state governments pillaged federal arsenals on the eve of the Civil War.
In 1861, an extremist American faction in fear of losing control trod the Constitution underfoot and declared war on its own countrymen. Could we see such extreme measures again? Have we already and missed them because they're quieter? This war might not be fought with cannon.

* * * * * * * *

Request a copy of For The Win, my county-level election mechanics primer, at tom.bluecentury at gmail.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Big Question

by digby

David Frum asks the question I think we should all be asking at this point:

To what extent does President Trump—to what extent do congressional Republicans—look to Russian interference to help their party in the 2018 cycle?

Most observers predict a grim year for the GOP in 2018. But the economy is strong, and selective tax cuts are strategically redistributing money from blue-state professionals to red-state parents. The Republican national committee commands a huge financial advantage over its Democratic counterpart. (Thing look more even at the level of the individual candidates.) A little extra help could make a big difference to Republican hopes—and to Trump’s political survival.

Nothing has been done in the past 15 months to prevent that help from flowing. You have to wonder whether the president does not privately welcome that help, as he publicly welcomed help from WikiLeaks in the summer of 2016.

Trump’s own tweets reveal that among the things he most fears is the prospect of Representative Adam Schiff gaining the gavel of the House Intelligence Committee from the clownish present chairman, Devin Nunes. How far would Trump go to stop a dreaded political opponent, inside the law and outside? How far has Donald Trump gone in the past?

Trump continues to insist that he and his campaign team did not collude with Russia in the 2016 election. We know that they were ready and eager to collude—that’s on the public record. (“If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”) The public does not yet know whether the collusion actually occurred, and if so, in what form and to what extent.

But in front of our very eyes we can observe that they are leaving the door open to Russian intervention on their behalf in the next election. You might call it collusion in advance—a dereliction of duty as grave as any since President Buchanan looked the other way as Southern state governments pillaged federal arsenals on the eve of the Civil War.

Yes they are. All of them. And I guess that a whole lot of Americans are fine with that.

This strikes me as one of the most astonishing developments in this whole story. I get that Trump is an imbecile who has no idea how politics are supposed to work. He learned everything he knows from watching TV. But other Republicans must know that it would have been so much better if they had at last pretended to be alarmed by this election interference and had put on a show to indicate that they were on top of the matter. But it really doesn't seem so. They're all obviously more than willing to fight any attempts to stop another round of interference because they seem to be very sure that they are the ones who will benefit. And they have recognized that they can literally say anything and deny everything and their voters will not challenge them.

They already cheat with their vote suppression efforts and lies about voter fraud. If foreigners want to help them win elections by pushing out propaganda and stealing their opponents' proprietary documents and private correspondence, what's the problem? It's all for a good cause, amirite?



by digby

I'm going to guess that most of my readers don't watch Fox News. Why would you? It's a propaganda network. But I urge you to watch at least the first five minutes of Yesterday's Fox and Friends to get a sense of what the Republicans, including your president, listen to every day.

Geraldo: I'm holding my breath and waiting for the group I call the collusionistas to apologize to Donald Trump for a year of fabricated stories based on wishful thinking and really lazy research, they have slandered the president and you know I wonder now what Msnbc and CNN are going to do, are they going to have huge gaps in their programming now that this whole collusion myth has been exposed.I think they really do owe the president an apology.

Fox news host: But Geraldo, they say the the investigation is just going to keep going. When do we just stop this? We already know they started the investigation, no collusion. We now have, no collusion affirmed in the indictment, by the way confirmed by Dianne Feinstein and Clapper. So when is this gonna end?

Geraldo: That's an excellent question. Now what's of interest to me is that these 13 Russian who were indicted, there is no allegation that they were having anything to do with any knowing American. There were some unwitting Americans who were duped by the Riussians. So that evenue of investigation is at a dead end. So where does that particular one end?

He goes on to say that Manafort and Flynn have nothing to do with the president of the United States.

And then there's this, which the president clearly saw yesterday morning:

Geraldo: This distraction is worrying ... you wonder how many agents have been taken off the duty of investigating terror and domestic terror, and I submit to you that what happened at Parkland School was terror, how many of the good agents have been taken off to follow these political dead ends? ...

It goes on with more nonsense about "elitists" wanting Trump to be the Manchurian Candidate and it's time for the mainstream media nad the Democrats to admit they made a mistake. I urge you to watch a few minutes of it just to get a flavor of what we're up against.

This is what Trump is obsessively watching every day. It's the highest level of intellectual engagement he's capable of.

And it gets even worse:

This is what Trump's supporters in official Washington are sayiung and it's what his base believes.


I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Republicans aren't going to do what we want them to do

by digby

This piece in the Washington Post lays out what happened last week when the Senate tried to pass a biapartisan immigration bill with a fix for the DREAM kids:

As much of the country was gripped Wednesday by horrific images from the mass shooting at a Florida high school, two dozen senior Trump administration officials worked frantically into the night to thwart what they considered a different national security threat.

The looming danger on the minds of the officials was a piece of legislation scheduled for a vote the next day in the Senate. It was designed to spare hundreds of thousands of young immigrants known as “dreamers” from deportation — but to the men and women huddled in a makeshift war room in a Department of Homeland Security facility, the measure would blow open U.S. borders to lawless intruders.

“We’re going to bury it,” one senior administration official told a reporter about 10:30  that evening.

The assault was relentless — a flurry of attacks on the bill from DHS officials and the Justice Department, and a veto threat from the White House — and hours later, the measure died on the Senate floor.

The Trump administration’s extraordinary 11th-hour strategy to sabotage the bill showed how, after weeks of intense bipartisan negotiations on Capitol Hill, it was the White House that emerged as a key obstacle preventing a deal to help the dreamers.

The episode reflected President Trump’s inability — or lack of desire — to cut a deal with his adversaries even when doing so could have yielded a signature domestic policy achievement and delivered the U.S.-Mexico border wall he repeatedly promised during the campaign.

Along the way, Trump demonstrated the sort of unpredictable behavior that has come to define his topsy-turvy tenure, frequently sending mixed signals that kept leaders in both parties guessing.

Trump told lawmakers last month he would sign any immigration bill that made it to his desk. At one point in the fall, to the chagrin of some in the GOP, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) thought they had a deal, giving Trump billions of dollars for the wall in exchange for a “dreamer” fix. Immigration advocates recalled that Trump, last year, had told the dreamers they could “rest easy.”

In the end, Trump remained loyal to restrictionist advisers and allies, who have pressed the president to be true to his hard-line rhetoric on the issue. And Democrats and some GOP centrists are asking whether Trump ever really wanted to reach a deal in the fall when he terminated the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, placing in limbo the lives of nearly 700,000 young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.

Uhm, no. He didn't give a flying fuck. He doesn't care about anything but himself. And heh ates anyone who looks like she came from a "shithole country" because he's a stone cold racist. Have we not figured that out yet?

The DREAM kids have organized, they have marched, they have protested for years. All the polling shows that a vast majority of the country wants them to be able to stay and have a path to become citizens.

But there is a group of anti-immigrant zealots who control the president and the congress and they have veto power. They need to be replaced. And s this demonstrates, so does the president.

I'm sorry to be cynical but that's where I am right now. This is a deep structural problem that's going to take years and years of hardcore movement building and electoral victories to change. I'm not in the mood for kumbaaya.

Why do we assume his insane behavior is just a function of ego?

by digby

In case you aren't on twitter, I thought you should know what has been on your president's mind this president's day week-end:

He was clearly very moved by his visit to the hospital in Florida. So moved that he blamed the FBI for the deaths of all those kids because they were investigating the Russian intervention.

And the rest of this bizarre series of rants...

This is a very sick man. Very sick. The narcissism and solipsism is more extreme than anything I've ever come across in my life. And I worked in Hollywood.

This tweetstorm has the character of a cornered animal fighting for his life. And yet the indictments that came down didn't implicate him. I know we all assume that it's just his ego at work, that he is so twisted and deranged that he cannot stop doing this because he thinks it taints his victory. He says that himself. So why do we believe it? He's a pathological liar.

Well, I assume it's because his narcissism is so obvious that it's believable that he would go to these lengths to defend his narrow victory.

But what if that's not it? What if he goes to these lengths because he's actually guilty? I certainly am not saying that he has a strategy. He's clearly incapable of that. What I'm saying is that his crazy reaction to the Russia investigation isn't necessarily attributable to his insane ego. It might just be attributable to the fact that he knows he did something very bad and he knows he's going to be caught.

It is not normal for a 71 year old man to behave this way, certainly not normal for a president. But there is no reason to assume that his abnormal behavior is simply a function of his narcissism. It might just as easily be a function of his guilt.



Mine, mine, mine, mine

by Tom Sullivan

A gunman entered her high school on Valentine's Day and killed seventeen of her classmates. Wiping back tears, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Emma Gonzales held back nothing else in challenging President Trump, national politicians, and the National Rifle Association in a powerful speech to an anti-gun rally in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on Saturday.

If there is one thing teenagers' eyes see better than adults', it is hypocrisy. Their tolerance for it is lower too.

Gonzales told the crowd:

In February of 2017, one year ago, President Trump repealed an Obama-era regulation that would have made it easier to block the sale of firearms to people with certain mental illnesses.

From the interactions that I had with the shooter before the shooting and from the information that I currently know about him, I don't really know if he was mentally ill. I wrote this before I heard what Delaney said. Delaney said he was diagnosed. I don't need a psychologist and I don't need to be a psychologist to know that repealing that regulation was a really dumb idea.

Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa was the sole sponsor on this bill that stops the FBI from performing background checks on people adjudicated to be mentally ill and now he's stating for the record, 'Well, it's a shame the FBI isn't doing background checks on these mentally ill people.' Well, duh. You took that opportunity away last year.
Grassley said after the Florida shootings, "We have not done a very good job of making sure that people that have mental reasons for not being able to handle a gun getting their name into the FBI files and we need to concentrate on that."

Watch her speech. Then watch it again.

In most reports on her speech, this early section gets left out:
I read something very powerful to me today. It was from the point of view of a teacher. And I quote: When adults tell me I have the right to own a gun, all I can hear is my right to own a gun outweighs your student's right to live. All I hear is mine, mine, mine, mine.
Contrast that with the comments of the conservative Australian rancher Jon Oliver spoke with in 2013. He did not want to part with his weapons when the government banned them after the Port Arthur massacre, "But ... I felt as if I had a bit of a duty to the rest of our society." [timestamp 3:32]

It is a duty too few American "patriots" feel to theirs.

Mine, mine, mine, mine.

* * * * * * * *

Request a copy of For The Win, my county-level election mechanics primer, at tom.bluecentury at gmail.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Tell me why: A therapeutic mixtape

By Dennis Hartley

In a 2016 piece about the mass shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, I wrote:
But there is something about [Orlando] that screams “Last call for sane discourse and positive action!” on multiple fronts. This incident is akin to a perfect Hollywood pitch, writ large by fate and circumstance; incorporating nearly every sociopolitical causality that has been quantified and/or debated over by criminologists, psychologists, legal analysts, legislators, anti-gun activists, pro-gun activists, left-wingers, right-wingers, centrists, clerics, journalists and pundits in the wake of every such incident since Charles Whitman perched atop the clock tower at the University of Texas and picked off nearly 50 victims (14 dead and 32 wounded) over a 90-minute period. That incident occurred in 1966; 50 years ago this August. Not an auspicious golden anniversary for our country. 50 years of this madness. And it’s still not the appropriate time to discuss? What…too soon? 
All I can say is, if this “worst mass shooting in U.S. history” (which is saying a lot) isn’t the perfect catalyst for prompting meaningful public dialogue and positive action steps once and for all regarding homophobia, Islamophobia, domestic violence, the proliferation of hate crimes, legal assault weapons, universal background checks, mental health care (did I leave anything out?), then WTF will it take?
Well, that didn’t take. Which reminds me-remember what happened a year ago this month? Here’s a quick refresher (from the Washington Times-February 15th, 2017):
Congress on Wednesday approved the first gun rights bill of the new Republican-controlled Washington, voting to erase an Obama administration regulation that would have forced Social Security to scour its lists and report some of its beneficiaries to the firearms no-buy list. 
The Senate approved the bill on a 57-43 vote. The House cleared the legislation earlier this month. 
If President Trump signs the bill into law as expected, it will expunge a last-minute change by the Obama administration designed to add more mental health records to the national background check system that is meant to keep criminals and unstable people from obtaining weapons.
In case you missed it, President Trump did, in fact, sign the bill into law. As expected.

So how did that work out for us? Remember Vegas? Watched any news…this week?

You know what “they” say-we all have a breaking point. When it comes to this particular topic, I have to say, I think that I may have finally reached mine. I’ve written about this so many times, in the wake of so many horrible mass shootings, that I’ve lost count. I’m out of words. There are no Scrabble tiles left the bag, and I’m stuck with a “Q” and a “Z”. Game over. Oh waiter-check, please. The end. Finis. I have no mouth, and I must scream.

Something else “they” say...music soothes the savage beast. Not that this 10-song playlist that I have assembled will necessarily assuage the grief, provide the answers that we seek, or shed any new light on the subject-but sometimes, when words fail, music speaks.

As the late great Harry Chapin tells his audience in the clip I’ve included below: “Here’s a song that I could probably talk about for two weeks. But I’m not going to burden you, and hopefully the story and the words will tell it the way it should be.” What Harry said.

“Family Snapshot” – Peter Gabriel

“Friend of Mine” – Jonathan & Stephen Cohen (Columbine survivors)

“Guns Guns Guns” – The Guess Who

“I Don’t Like Mondays” – The Boomtown Rats

“Jeremy” – Pearl Jam

“Melt the Guns” – XTC

“Psycho Killer” – The Talking Heads

“Saturday Night Special” – Lynyrd Skynyrd

“Sniper” – Harry Chapin

“Ticking” – Elton John

Previous posts with related themes:

NRA Issues Statement on Latest Mass Shooting
Bang Bang, Shoot Shoot
America: A History of Violence
Defending Liberty!
Toddler Exercises His 2nd Amendment Rights
Small Popcorn, Medium Coke, and a Kevlar Vest, Please

More reviews at Den of Cinema
On Facebook
On Twitter

--Dennis Hartley

The wingnuts subtly change their excuses in light of the indictments

by digby

Nice try. There are dozens on damning statements but none more damning than this one:

Trump said he spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin and that he had assured Trump that there was no interference in the campaign.
"I asked him again," Trump told reporters on a flight to Hanoi. "You can only ask so many times... He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they are saying he did. 
"I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it... I think he's very insulted, if you want to know the truth."

Come on. How about this?

That was just last September.  He's not talking about his own alleged involvement. He's saying the whole Facebook thing was a hoax.

This is utter nonsense. But then, when it comes to this White House, what isn't?

During the debates he was clear that he didn't believe there was any Russian hacking.

October 2016:

"But I notice, anytime anything wrong happens, they like to say the Russians are — she doesn't know if it's the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking. But they always blame Russia. And the reason they blame Russia because they think they're trying to tarnish me with Russia. I know nothing about Russia."

September 2016:
"I don't know if we know it was Russia who broke into the DNC. She keeps saying Russia, Russia, Russia. Maybe it was. It could also be China, it could be someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds."

He'd had national security briefings by this time. He knew. And he knew the government knew.


QOTD: Bernie Sanders

by digby

People thinking that Senator Bernie Sanders was happy to receive help from the Russian government in 2016 are on the wrong track. Sanders is a man of the left who understands what the Putin government is really all about and unlike Donald Trump, it's not anything that he admires or supports.

This quote
from his foreign policy speech last September is something I would hope everyone from the center to the far left could agree upon. If we don't, we are going to have even bigger problems than we already have:
Inequality, corruption, oligarchy and authoritarianism are inseparable. They must be understood as part of the same system, and fought in the same way. Around the world we have witnessed the rise of demagogues who once in power use their positions to loot the state of its resources. These kleptocrats, like Putin in Russia, use divisiveness and abuse as a tool for enriching themselves and those loyal to them.

Indeed. And it's happening all over the world. Our own demagogue is an f-ing moron so he's not quite as efficient as some of them but a little tutoring from his pals in the Party and maybe a few tips from his foreign despot friends and who knows? His pals in the congress are certainly getting the looting part of the job done.

People need to open their eyes about this.

Oh my. Kushner requests more top secret intelligence than anyone else in the White House

by digby

And he doesn't have a security clearance:

He holds a broad range of responsibilities, from overseeing peace efforts in the Middle East to improving the efficiency of the federal government. And he is the administration’s interlocutor with key allies, including China and Saudi Arabia, where he has developed a personal relationship with the young crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

Kushner has been present at meetings with the president where classified information was discussed and has access to the President’s Daily Brief, a digest of intelligence updates based on information from spies, satellites, and surveillance technology, according to people with knowledge of his access.

And apart from staff on the National Security Council, he issues more requests for information to the intelligence community than any White House employee, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private discussions.

Experts said it is rare to have such a high level of interim security clearance for such a long period of time. It is particularly striking access for someone like Kushner, who has never served in government and has a complex history of financial transactions, business ownership and contacts and dealings with foreigners.

Oh, by the way, he and his family are drowning in debt, about to go under.

Not that this would be any kind of motivation to, oh, provide a little info to some people who might help him with that problem.

Kushner is a serious national security threat. We don't know if he is actually doing anything untoward with all that intelligence. Maybe he's just using it for the cause of middle east peace.
But this isn't a risk anyone but Donald Trump would be willing to take.

I doubt anything will change. Kushner doesn't seem to have used a personal server for any of his non-classified correspondence.


Yes Houston. We have a big problem

by digby

The New York Times:

In 13 months in office, Mr. Trump has made little if any public effort to rally the nation to confront Moscow for its intrusion or to defend democratic institutions against continued disruption. His administration has at times called out Russia or taken action, and even Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, speaking in Germany on Saturday, called evidence of Russian meddling “incontrovertible.” But the administration has been left to respond without the president’s leadership.

“It is astonishing to me that a president of the United States would take this so lightly or see it purely through the prism of domestic partisanship,” said Daniel Fried, a career diplomat under presidents of both parties who is now at the Atlantic Council. He said it invariably raised questions about whether Mr. Trump had something to hide. “I have no evidence that he’s deliberately pulling his punches because he has to, but I can’t dismiss it. No president has raised those kinds of questions.

No, one cannot dismiss it. Indeed, it is the most logical explanation. The only other explanation for his behavior is that he is batshit crazy which is just as bad.

Either way, we have a president in the middle of a major counter-intelligence investigation and at the center of the most shocking presidential scandal in history. That's not hyperbole. The worst case scenario here is that the president conspired with a foreign adversary (and yes, they are an adversary if not an enemy) to win the presidential election, either for their mutual personal benefit or due to some form of blackmail.

The best case scenario is that the president of the United States was an unwitting dupe but is so deranged and ignorant that he refuses to take action to prevent this from happening in the future and is actively covering up the scandal to assuage his fragile ego. And in the process, he's implicating himself in the scandal after the fact.

There are no other explanations for this and it's terrifying.

Meanwhile his cynical, nihilistic party is either turning a blind eye or actively helping him so that they can raid the US Treasury, free their friends in business and industry to wantonly pillage and burn and offer their religious zealot supporters as many human sacrifices as possible. They seem to know the end is nigh and that they can take it all with them.

Uh, so yes. It's astonishing. And it gets worse every day.

And, by the way, people who think that things will get better on any front while this dynamic exists are kidding themselves. With this depraved political partyat the zenith of their lunacy, led by an unfit imbecile, we can hope that our democratic structure holds and we survive long enough to remove them from power. That's all we've got.

How many people do you suppose are blackmailing Donald Trump?

by digby

Eric Boehlert writes:
More evidence of Trump’s long history of reckless behavioremerged Friday morning, with the New Yorker reporting that Trump had an affair with a Playboy model while married in 2006.

More importantly, the woman, Karen McDougal, last year signed a $150,000 contract with the publisher of the National Enquirer, David Pecker, a close friend of Trump, who then made sure the story about the affair was never published. The contract also made sure the McDougal couldn’t discuss the matter publicly.

That payoff looks an awful lot like the $130,000 hush money payment Trump’s personal attorney made to a porn actress on the eve of the 2016 election. In 2011, she had discussed her affair with Trump. But the 2016 payment barred her from doing so going forward.

In the wake of Trump’s attorney conceding he made the $130,000 payment, the actress, Stormy Daniels, is now threatening to go public with her story.

For Trump, it all points to an elaborate system he and his handlers have in place to cover up embarrassing information about his past. However, it also exposes the possibility that Trump can be blackmailed because key players know embarrassing secrets about his past.

Indeed, at the National Enquirer, stockpiling dirt on famous people is a common practice. “Pecker also used the unpublished stories as ‘leverage’ over some celebrities in order to pressure them to pose for his magazines or feed him stories,” one former employee told The New Yorker.

“These dirty stories about high-profile individuals would be used as leverage over these individuals,” New Yorker writer Ronan Farrow told “Good Morning America” Friday. “Obviously, national security implications here when that happens to be the president.”

Incredibly, this is a White House drowning in blackmail possibilities.

Recall that the reason the White House recently became engulfed in controversy over a top aide who was accused of abusing his ex-wives is because he could not land a security clearance in part because of the fear that he could be blackmailed over the explosive allegations of abuse.

I've never placed a lot of stock in the "pee tape" thing. They've phonied up such things in the past and nowadays could probably make it look very real.

But isn't it obvious that this man is a walking blackmail target? Recall what Steve Bannon said:

"Look, Kasowitz has known [Trump] for twenty-five years. Kasowitz has gotten him out of all kinds of jams. Kasowitz on the campaign — what did we have, a hundred women? Kasowitz took care of all of them."

And that's just the women. There's also the mob, both foreign and domestic, and God knows what financial shenanigans he's gotten into here and around the world.

I'm pretty sure the president of the United States couldn't pass a background check to become a school crossing guard much less get a full security clearance.

He sees everything and can classify and declassify any piece of intelligence he wants.



Anything but normal

by Tom Sullivan

New Yorker's David Remnick summarizes the blockbuster indictments issued Friday by the Justice Department:

The special counsel, Robert Mueller, has now charged thirteen Russian nationals and three Russian organizations with meddling in the election. Rod Rosenstein, Trump’s Deputy Attorney General, told reporters on Friday that the people and entities charged intended “to promote discord in the United States and undermine public confidence in democracy.” The indictment focusses on the Internet Research Agency, a troll farm based in St. Petersburg, Russia, which, beginning in 2014, allegedly carried out an expensive and intricate influence operation concentrated on highly contested battleground states, including Florida, Virginia, and Colorado. Some of the defendants, it said, posed as Americans and communicated with “unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities.”
The 37-page indictment lays out in extensive detail how these thirteen and the three organizations went about setting American against American and tilting the field against Hillary Clinton to benefit Donald Trump. The disinformation operations began in 2014, the indictment states, as an attempt "to defraud the United States by impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful functions of the government through fraud and deceit for the purpose of interfering with the U.S. political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016." Only later did the Russians opportunistically focus on helping Trump and hurting Clinton.

The level of detail in the document strongly suggests Mueller's team is fully prepared to prove its allegations in court. The quality of the intelligence revealed in it suggests there is much more to come. Mueller's move throws cold water on Trump's repeated assertions that the Russia investigation is a "total hoax," a "joke," a "ruse," "fake news," or a "political witch hunt." Documenting the Russian conspiracy in such detail also makes it more difficult for Trump to fire Rosenstein. Not that he won't anyway.

Rosenstein took care to remind the press that there is "no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity." Nor that the alleged conduct altered the outcome of the election. This indictment. This illegal activity. We have yet to see indictments for the DNC hacking or possible money laundering.

To which now-president Donald Trump responded in a tweet: "This is not normal" has become a mantra of the anti-Trump #Resistance. Trump's tweet yesterday reinforced that yet again. There was no normal presidential response to documented evidence of a criminal conspiracy by a foreign power to undermine American democratic processes. Instead, Trump's response echoed that of a cartoon character, "I didn't do it, nobody saw me do it, there's no way you can prove anything!"

A normal president would express outrage. A normal president would impose sanctions. A normal president would insist the U.S. Department of Justice press on and unwind the conspiracy. But our sitting president is anything but normal. "Putin attacked America. And yet no pushback whatsoever. Why?" Michael McFaul, U.S. Ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014, wrote in response to Trump's tweet.

Members of the National Security Council have an unspoken agreement not to raise the Russia matter with the president. He does not treat Russian election meddling as his duty to address, but considers mentioning it a personal affront. The Washington Post reminds readers that Trump prefers to believe denials of interference made by Russian president Vladimir Putin:
“He said he didn’t meddle,” the president told reporters. “. . . Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and I believe, I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it.”
The Post's Editorial Board responds:
The grand jury’s indictment shows how far Russia is willing to go to manipulate and discredit our democracy. Mr. Trump’s own intelligence chiefs warned this week that the 2018 election is under threat. Given the baffling and inexcusable absence of presidential leadership, Congress must step up to defend the nation.
The man who swore an oath before the world that he would will not. He's too obsessed with himself to expend the energy.

* * * * * * * *

Request a copy of For The Win, my county-level election mechanics primer, at tom.bluecentury at gmail.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Friday Night Soother: Welcoming the new baby

by digby

This will make your day:

Elephants are better than all of us...


Trump was making political speeches in New Hampshire in 2014. Even Russians knew what that meant.

by digby

Trump tweeted this today:

He wasn't running in 2014? Really? The press didn't take it seriously, of course, since they assumed he was a joke all the way up until election day 2016. Maybe the Russians were a little bit more optimistic.


Donald Trump is teasing his 2016 presidential run again.

“We’ll see what happens,” Trump said at a press conference during a fundraiser for Iowa Congressman Steve King on Saturday. “We’ll see what’s going to happen, first of all, in the next month because that’s going to be very interesting.”

He went on to slam President Obama for doing such a “poor” and “horrible job” during his term, but added that he wanted to see who the other potential candidates were before making any decision.

Back in July 2013, Trump told the National Review that he was “looking” to run because the country was being “stupidly and foolishly led.” He added that his business and economic reputation could help the United States take on China and put the U.S. back on top. Trump also told Reuters, in January, that running for president is something he “would certainly look at” because he is “unhappy with the way things are going in America.”

As for when, if ever, the real estate entrepreneur will actually make a concrete decision and stop dropping small, vague hints every few months, you may not want to hold your breath.

“We’ll make a decision, sometime after the beginning of the year,” Trump said.

QOTD: The White House

by digby

You can't make this stuff up:

Earlier today, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced indictments against 13 Russian nationals and 3 Russian entities for meddling in the 2016 Presidential election, which began in 2014 before the President declared his candidacy. President Donald J. Trump has been fully briefed on this matter and is glad to see the Special Counsel’s investigation further indicates — that there was NO COLLUSION between the Trump campaign and Russia and that the outcome of the election was not changed or affected.

President Trump says, “it is more important than ever before to come together as Americans. We cannot allow those seeking to sow confusion, discord, and rancor to be successful. It’s time we stop the outlandish partisan attacks, wild and false allegations, and far-fetched theories, which only serve to further the agendas of bad actors, like Russia, and do nothing to protect the principles of our institutions. We must unite as Americans to protect the integrity of our democracy and our elections.”

They are saying that because this started before 2014 it means he won fair and square. Or something.

As for the lecture about stopping "partisan attacks" ... please.

Oh, and any word on when they plan to impose those sanctions mandated by congress with a nearly unanimous vote that Trump only signed because they would have over-ridden his veto?

No? Huh.

Remember when Jared was bragging about his brilliant cyber-campaign?

by digby

So a bunch of Russians were indicted today for meddling in the 2016 campaign.It turns out that they were here in the country in some instances and that they had a highly sophisticated cyber-operation. We knew all this, of course. There have been many reports over the past year about this campaign. But this is a new level of confirmation and it's important.

It says that there were Americans "unwittingly" involved but it also says there may be more Americans "known and unknown" involved in all this.

For some reason this came to mind as I read that:

It's hard to overstate and hard to summarize Jared's role in the campaign," says billionaire Peter Thiel, the only significant Silicon Valley figure to publicly back Trump. "If Trump was the CEO, Jared was effectively the chief operating officer."

"Jared Kushner is the biggest surprise of the 2016 election," adds Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, who helped design the Clinton campaign's technology system. "Best I can tell, he actually ran the campaign and did it with essentially no resources."

No resources at the beginning, perhaps. Underfunded throughout, for sure. But by running the Trump campaign--notably, its secret data operation--like a Silicon Valley startup, Kushner eventually tipped the states that swung the election. And he did so in manner that will change the way future elections will be won and lost. President Obama had unprecedented success in targeting, organizing and motivating voters. But a lot has changed in eight years. Specifically social media. Clinton did borrow from Obama's playbook but also leaned on traditional media. The Trump campaign, meanwhile, delved into message tailoring, sentiment manipulation and machine learning. The traditional campaign is dead, another victim of the unfiltered democracy of the Web--and Kushner, more than anyone not named Donald Trump, killed it.
The decision that won Trump the presidency started on the return trip from that Springfield rally last November aboard his private 757, dubbed Trump Force One. Chatting over McDonald's Filet-O-Fish sandwiches, Trump and Kushner talked about how the campaign was underutilizing social media. The candidate, in turn, asked his son-in-law to take over his Facebook initiatives.

Despite his itchy Twitter finger, Trump is a Luddite. He reportedly gets his news from print and television, and his version of e-mail is to handwrite a note that his assistant will scan and attach. Among those in his close circle, Kushner was the natural pick to create a modern campaign. Yes, like Trump he's primarily a real estate guy, but he had invested more broadly, including in media (in 2006 he bought the New York Observer) and digital commerce (he helped launch Cadre, an online marketplace for big real estate deals). More important, he knew the right crowd: co-investors in Cadre include Thiel and Alibaba's Jack Ma--and Kushner's younger brother, Josh, a formidable venture capitalist who also cofounded the $2.7 billion insurance unicorn Oscar Health.

"I called some of my friends from Silicon Valley, some of the best digital marketers in the world, and asked how you scale this stuff," Kushner says. "They gave me their subcontractors."
By June the GOP nomination secured, Kushner took over all data-driven efforts. Within three weeks, in a nondescript building outside San Antonio, he had built what would become a 100-person data hub designed to unify fundraising, messaging and targeting. Run by Brad Parscale, who had previously built small websites for the Trump Organization, this secret back office would drive every strategic decision during the final months of the campaign. "Our best people were mostly the ones who volunteered for me pro bono," Kushner says. "People from the business world, people from nontraditional backgrounds."

Kushner structured the operation with a focus on maximizing the return for every dollar spent. "We played Moneyball, asking ourselves which states will get the best ROI for the electoral vote," Kushner says. "I asked, How can we get Trump's message to that consumer for the least amount of cost?" FEC filings through mid-October indicate the Trump campaign spent roughly half as much as the Clinton campaign did.

Just as Trump's unorthodox style allowed him to win the Republican nomination while spending far less than his more traditional opponents, Kushner's lack of political experience became an advantage. Unschooled in traditional campaigning, he was able to look at the business of politics the way so many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs have sized up other bloated industries.

Television and online advertising? Small and smaller. Twitter and Facebook would fuel the campaign, as key tools for not only spreading Trump's message but also targeting potential supporters, scraping massive amounts of constituent data and sensing shifts in sentiment in real time.

"We weren't afraid to make changes. We weren't afraid to fail. We tried to do things very cheaply, very quickly. And if it wasn't working, we would kill it quickly," Kushner says. "It meant making quick decisions, fixing things that were broken and scaling things that worked."

This wasn't a completely raw startup. Kushner's crew was able to tap into the Republican National Committee's data machine, and it hired targeting partners like Cambridge Analytica to map voter universes and identify which parts of the Trump platform mattered most: trade, immigration or change. Tools like Deep Root drove the scaled-back TV ad spending by identifying shows popular with specific voter blocks in specific regions--say, NCIS for anti-ObamaCare voters or The Walking Dead for people worried about immigration. Kushner built a custom geo-location tool that plotted the location density of about 20 voter types over a live Google Maps interface.

Soon the data operation dictated every campaign decision: travel, fundraising, advertising, rally locations--even the topics of the speeches. "He put all the different pieces together," Parscale says. "And what's funny is the outside world was so obsessed about this little piece or that, they didn't pick up that it was all being orchestrated so well."

For fundraising they turned to machine learning, installing digital marketing companies on a trading floor to make them compete for business. Ineffective ads were killed in minutes, while successful ones scaled. The campaign was sending more than 100,000 uniquely tweaked ads to targeted voters each day. In the end, the richest person ever elected president, whose fundraising effort was rightly ridiculed at the beginning of the year, raised more than $250 million in four months--mostly from small donors.

As the election barreled toward its finale, Kushner's system, with its high margins and up-to-the-minute voter data, provided both ample cash and the insight on where to spend it. When the campaign registered the fact that momentum in Michigan and Pennsylvania was turning Trump's way, Kushner unleashed tailored TV ads, last-minute rallies and thousands of volunteers to knock on doors and make phone calls.

And until the final days of the campaign, he did all this without anyone on the outside knowing about it. For those who can't understand how Hillary Clinton could win the popular vote by at least 2 million yet lose handily in the electoral college, perhaps this provides some clarity. If the campaign's overarching sentiment was fear and anger, the deciding factor at the end was data and entrepreneurship.

"Jared understood the online world in a way the traditional media folks didn't. He managed to assemble a presidential campaign on a shoestring using new technology and won. That's a big deal," says Schmidt, the Google billionaire.

Yeah. He had a little hlp...

Oh, by the way, Kushner's greatest enemy, Steve Bannon, just spent more than 20 hours with Mueller this week. Bannon, you'll recall, was associated with the Mercers who financed both Breitbart and Cambridge Analytica.

Just saying.