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Jason Linkins   |   August 17, 2016    5:07 PM ET

If you were to take a wholly objective, clear-eyed view of recent current events, there seems to be no doubt about one thing that is going on in America: Donald Trump is running for president.

Right?

Going strictly by the look of things, it really does appear that Donald Trump, aside from being modern life’s most hateful engine of ruthless mischief, is indeed some sort of candidate for president. He has participated in the GOP primaries, won a requisite amount of delegates and became his party’s nominee. They had a big convention and everything to confirm this before our eyes. And now, he is out on the “campaign trail” ostensibly trying to “win votes.”

So it would seem that this is just a fact: Donald Trump is running a completely real and legitimate presidential campaign. 

CounterpointOr is he? 

We bring this up because from time to time, ever since “Donald Trump is running for president” became a thing in our lives, there have been substantial inquiries into whether this is actually happening. Rumors have been whispered. Outlandish conspiracies have been suggested. And everywhere ― even among rational observers ― doubts are being expressed about whether what we are seeing happen before our eyes is really what is happening. What if the Trump campaign is some sort of elaborate con or a cunning plan that went sideways? 

Now, this campaign is apparently attempting to “pivot.” By merely saying this, it induces the political press to perform the ancient ritual of acknowledging the pivot. But from what is the campaign pivoting, and where is it heading next? This is an intriguing question, if for no other reason than we never seemed to come to an agreement on whether this presidential bid ever had a fixed point in the first place.

By my count, there are five popular theories on what the Trump presidential candidacy actually is/has been all this while:

So let us consider each of these theories in order, shall we?

Theory #1: Donald Trump actually wants to win the presidential race.

Normally, when someone announces that he or she intends to run for president, we process this information at face value and accept it as truth. Sometimes, of course, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson runs for president and it’s clear that he just wants to sell a lot of books. But this is the exception that proves the rule, let’s say. Anyway! Maybe Donald Trump is actually running for president, and even wants to win.

This is not as crazy a notion as it sounds! In fact, it’s very possible that what we all observe as “crazy” in the context of a Trump candidacy is simply the means by which he hopes to win the election, not the end in itself.

Moreover, the way we have come to view Trump’s bid as abnormal may have more to do with our own bias toward what we have come to accept as the governing fundamentals of our elections. Things like “the party decides,” and “the candidate must make a centrist pivot,” and “it seems weird that this campaign isn’t spending any money or hiring any people.”

But Trump has always presented his candidacy as a sui generis event in American politics, one that’s skeptical of elite institutions and disdainful of hoary convention. He has a unique theory about how he is going to win this thing, to which he has stayed more or less constant. He believes that his celebrity and his reality-show skill set will help him earn free media. He contends that his place outside “the system” will allow him to “disrupt” the stupid old Beltway way of doing things. And he is pretty sure that these factors, combined, will help him turn out hundreds of thousands of voters who have previously stayed at home on Election Day ― which means that all those polls everyone cites, mostly to his detriment ― could potentially be wrong.

To many, these notions seem cracked. But Trump would respond that we just don’t get it, man, and we’re all headed for a rude awakening. Donald Trump is running for president his way ― and his way is going to work.

Theory #2: Donald Trump never wanted this whole presidential campaign thing to get this far, and he is desperate to lose. 

Then again, does Trump actually want to win the election? This has, for a while now, been a matter of discussion among those who have observed Trump’s campaign. 

And it’s not for nothing they’ve been talking. Trump has been hesitant to do many of the basic things that a traditional campaign does, like spend money on advertising, hire staff, build out a ground game, build out a data team, build out a rapid-response media operation or, really, build anything at all or put campaign funds to productive use. (It looks like this is finally turning around for the campaign, but it’s coming at an awfully late hour ― and only after a torrent of criticism.)

Along the way, Trump has crisscrossed the electoral map, mixing up battleground state appearances with rallies in places like Connecticut, which he is going to lose. And he just can’t seem to stop re-settling the same old scores. He renewed his “Ted Cruz’s dad helped kill Kennedy” conspiracy-mongering the day after the GOP convention ended. He kept his conflict with grieving father Khizr Khan brewing for two unnecessary weeks, rather than simply move past the moment with some polite words. And every time his wranglers seem to get him to stick to a daily message and the tranquilizing effects of the teleprompter, he goes rogue again.

Now, as The Huffington Post’s Sam Stein reports, GOP insiders aren’t sure that Trump isn’t actively trying to tank this thing. They may be a little late to the realization. A few weeks ago, former Obama adviser David Axelrod pointed out on CNN, “If Donald Trump were trying to lose this election — and I’m not saying he is — but if he were, I’m not sure he’d behave any differently than he has in the last few days.” Back in June, Real Clear Politics’ Carl Cannon took the measure of Trump’s effort and concluded that he was “looking for a way out.” As early as March, Stephanie Cegielski, the former communications director of the Trump-supporting Make America Great Again super PAC, wrote an essay for XOJane in which she warned Trump’s followers, “I don’t think even Trump thought he would get this far. And I don’t even know that he wanted to, which is perhaps the scariest prospect of all.”

And, you know, maybe he fears the possibility as well. For the longest time, Trump’s political act has been to play the potshot-firing gadfly, happily enumerating all the dumb losers in Washington. Becoming president might be his worse nightmare, because then the roles would be reversed ― only he’d have an army of critics waiting gleefully with knives out. It’s tough to go from being the guy who always pointed out everyone else’s failings to being the man with the target on his back ― and while he would never publicly cop to them, Trump is fully aware of his own limitations.

It’s a basic question: Does Trump want to win or lose? But before you get too hung up on figuring out that answer, let’s consider some more specific ― and, perhaps, crazier ― theories.

Theory #3: Donald Trump’s “presidential campaign” is just an elaborate setup to an exciting second act in his life as the mogul at the center of a media empire.

In a recent interview with the Portland Press Herald, Trump was asked, “What was the best deal you ever made?” ― to which he responded, “Maybe the West Side Railroad Yards on the west side of Manhattan.” Strictly speaking, that deal was an utter disaster, on which Trump lost scads of money and, ultimately, the right to develop the site.

But Trump’s unrealized ambitions for that parcel still speak volumes about his self-conception. What he had wanted to do was build a new home for NBC to replace its Rockefeller Center haunts. Depending on what version of his proposal you’re reading about, his name for this dream development was either “Television City” or, perhaps more properly, “Trump City.”

Trump has, deep down, always been a creature of the media. His ascent into Manhattan’s high society was paced by his constant feeding of the media beast ― which he did with zesty deftness. Becoming a reality-television showman ― for NBC, natch ― was a logical stage in his evolution. It got him jacked to the thrilling rush of ratings success, and it taught him a valuable new set of media tropes to deploy. So it is perhaps no surprise at all that, as the GOP primaries were winding down, Trump’s rumored focus was not on the White House, but on the klieg lights and the camera lens. As Vanity Fair’s Sarah Ellison reported in June:

According to several people briefed on the discussions, the presumptive Republican nominee is examining the opportunity presented by the “audience” currently supporting him. He has also discussed the possibility of launching a “mini-media conglomerate” outside of his existing TV-production business, Trump Productions LLC. He has, according to one of these people, enlisted the consultation of his daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who owns The New York Observer. Trump’s rationale, according to this person, is that, “win or lose, we are onto something here. We’ve triggered a base of the population that hasn’t had a voice in a long time.” 

...

Trump, this person close to the matter suggests, has become irked by his ability to create revenue for other media organizations without being able to take a cut himself. Such a situation “brings him to the conclusion that he has the business acumen and the ratings for his own network.” Trump has “gotten the bug,” according to this person. “So now he wants to figure out if he can monetize it.”

Flash-forward to today, and Trump is replacing Paul Manafort, a professionally focused campaign manager, with Breitbart News boss Steve Bannon, whose own journey from the world of business to the media stage saw Bannon catching the same bug and learning to love the same dizzy thrills. Bannon’s ascension to the top of Trump’s campaign suggests, to some, that Trump has already accepted he’s not winning the election, and the time is ripe to put together the next act.

Subsequent reporting by The New York Times pointed in one particular direction:

As comfortable as Mr. Trump may feel with Mr. Bannon’s style of politics, their unconventional alliance, and the possibility that the coming weeks could resemble a conservative publicity tour more than a conventional White House run, fueled speculation that Mr. Trump was already looking past November.

In recent months, Mr. Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, have quietly explored becoming involved with a media holding, either by investing in one or by taking one over, according to a person close to Mr. Trump who was briefed on those discussions.

So that’s what this may all be about. Of course, there are crazier theories still!

Theory #4: Donald Trump’s presidential bid was cleverly engineered as a Clinton master plan to destroy her conventional GOP opponents and win her the White House.

As we have previously noted, a lot of people are of the mind that Donald Trump is now actively trying to lose the election. The popular version of this theory holds that he’s doing so simply because he never meant to get as far down the road to the White House as he has, and he’s desperate for some sort of off-ramp.

But there’s another version of the “Trump is trying to lose the election” theory, and that’s the “Trump is trying to throw the election to Hillary Clinton, because that was the plan that he and the Clintons dreamed up in the first place” theory.

The Hill’s Brent Budowsky summarized the elements of that suspicion: The Trumps and the Clintons have a long history of mutual support ― including a past in which Trump praised both Clintons, funded their campaigns and gave some boodle to the Clinton Foundation. It has been put out that Donald and Bill had a lengthy and cordial discussion back in 2005 ― after which Trump suddenly jumped into the GOP primary field to presumably execute what Gawker’s J.K. Trotter called a “false flag” campaign, replete with positions on issues that Trump had never previously expressed.

Surely this notion is nuts, right? As Peter Weber wrote in The Week:

There has been mostly-in-jest murmuring since Trump took his escalator ride down to political stardom last year that he is a plant for Hillary Clinton, perhaps persuaded to run by Bill Clinton to torpedo the Republican Party. It’s a preposterous conspiracy theory, especially ridiculous because either the Republican electorate would have to be in on the prank or oblivious to Trump’s repeated attempts to disqualify himself.

“And yet,” Weber wrote, “here we are.” 

Could it be? Suspicious conservatives have rather famously retweeted one man’s take on the matter into a popular refrain: 

But what if Hillary Clinton is not Trump’s co-conspirator?

Theory #5: Donald Trump is the unwitting agent of a Russian plot to deform American political norms and destabilize our democratic institutions.

Finally, we come to the most incendiary ― and let’s face it cockamamie ― theory of them all: Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin are, on some level, authoritarian cuddle-buddies. Perhaps Putin simply recognizes the way Trump has destroyed America’s political norms, and he wants to exacerbate this dynamic. But maybe, more darkly, the two man are in cahoots in an effort to actively assist Putin’s regional ambitions! What’s that in the mirror? Or the corner of your eye? What’s that footstep following, but never passing by?

The public fascination with Trump’s potential connections to Putin has found a home in respectable circles. As New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait wrote back in July:

Donald Trump is not a Russian agent in the sense that Philip and Elizabeth from The Americans are Russian agents. There’s no hidden radio in his laundry room where he transmits secrets to the Kremlin. But his relationship with Russia is disturbing and lends itself to frightening interpretations.

Franklin Foer has detailed the connections between the Republican nominee and the Kremlin. In short, it includes a long series of economic and social ties, which fit the pattern Vladimir Putin has used to infiltrate and undermine governments elsewhere — including in Ukraine, a coup Putin pulled off through Paul Manafort, who is now Trump’s campaign manager. Michael Crowley and Julia Ioffe have both described how the Russian propaganda apparatus has thrown itself behind Trump’s campaign. As Foer notes, Trump’s lack of creditworthiness makes him unusually reliant on unconventional sources of financing. This makes him vulnerable to financial leverage by an unscrupulous foreign entity.

What gives this theory its lift is the same thing that now may presage its decline ― the influence of dictator-curious Paul Manafort on the Trump campaign. Manafort, as of this week, is presumably much less influential, having resigned his campaign post.

There’s no denying that while Putin’s Ukraine-fixer was atop the Trump operation, things got fixed in ways favorable to Putin. During Manafort’s tenure, Trump made NATO skepticism a recurring theme in his campaign speeches. He frequently spoke about how great it would be to be on friendly terms with Putin’s regime. At one point, he even importuned Russia’s state-sponsored cyber spies to intercede on his behalf. And during the convention, the GOP platform’s language on Ukraine ― which had called for aggressively supporting the anti-Putin forces in that country ― was watered down considerably.

That Manafort departed the Trump campaign the same week that he became embroiled in a Ukraine-related lobbying scandal is a combination of events that fuels these suspicions while also suggesting this theory’s time in the sun may be coming to an end. But who knows? Those who have watched the Trump campaign’s odd flirtations might still point out that Manafort’s deputy, Carter Page, remains with the campaign and as curiously connected to Putin as ever. Furthermore, it’s worth noting that the Clinton campaign continues to aggressively push this conspiracy as a convenient, self-serving distraction from their candidate’s own ties to foreign powers.

So maybe the notion that Trump and Putin are all twined with one another will persist in the background of this election. Perhaps it will fade from view, replaced by some newer, crazier theory. It’s also possible that we all have to revise our standards for what constitutes a “crazy theory” in the first place.

One day, maybe we will learn what intentions and ambitions drove Donald Trump to run for president in the first place. Perhaps whatever this coming “pivot” is will helpfully reveal that truth.

But if I had to wager, I’d say that in all likelihood we’re just going to end up sucker-punched by some weird twist we never saw coming. Brace yourselves!

~~~~~

Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.

Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.

Jason Linkins   |   August 11, 2016    4:17 PM ET

Over the past few weeks, observers of the 2016 presidential campaign have noticed a fairly strong trend begin to develop: namely, that the campaign of GOP nominee Donald Trump, the first human to score an OMFG on the Myers-Briggs test, seems to be in flames. On the other hand, the campaign of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton seems to ― well ... it seems to exist.

But at the moment, simply existing seems to be good enough. The question is, what should Clinton do over the next few weeks of the campaign? Here’s a thought: maybe she should not do anything!

It’s a bit of a crazy idea, one that I wouldn’t normally recommend, but this is a good time to pursue this plan. What makes it a good time? Well, it’s a good time because the Trump campaign rather insistently keeps doing stuff. And as it turns out, “doing anything at all” is emerging as Trump’s Achilles’ heel.

Donald Trump’s convention was unique in American political history, as it was the first time in three decades that voters sized up a presidential nominee’s four-day presentation and responded, “Hard pass, thanks.” According to a Gallup survey, 51 percent of viewers came away feeling like they’d be less likely to vote for Trump, as opposed to 36 percent who said the opposite, leading to a net negative 15 percent.

That set the stage for the polling to come, in which Clinton’s convention bounce has proven to be larger and more durable. According to HuffPost Pollster’s polling average, at this moment Clinton has a 7.6 percent lead nationally. This time four years ago, Obama merely led by 1.1 percent ― and he never led by more than 4 points at any time after the 2012 conventions.

Post-convention polling averages aside, Clinton has decent leads in many of the important battleground states, and has turned reliable Republican redoubts ― like Arizona and Georgia ― into potential swing states. In the first poll out of South Carolina, conducted by Public Policy Polling, Trump only leads by 2 points. Now, this will probably prove to be an outlier. On the other hand: Will it?

Meanwhile, Trump’s campaign strategy seems to have been plucked from the litter box of a particularly Dadaist tabby. The Clinton campaign and its affiliated groups have mercilessly outspent Donald Trump on the airwaves, to the tune of $89 million to $8 million. When Trump gets out to campaign in person, he spends an inordinate amount of time in states like Connecticut, which he isn’t going to win. And lately, wherever he has appeared, he has reliably said crazy, off-putting things that make his level of sanity an open question.

Politico’s Shane Goldmacher actually went and documented all the things that Trump has done over his first 100 days as his party’s presumptive nominee. What has he done during that time? Basically, he’s sucked at just about everything. He’s reopened old scores, dragged out costly stories unnecessarily, and basically neglected every aspect of his campaign. Per Goldmacher:

But as much news as Trump made, much of Trump’s 100 days is a tale of time squandered: the three weeks before holding his first fundraiser, the 39 days before a swing-state tour, the 50 days before his first email solicitation for money. “Usually campaigns don’t even start until September,” said Paul Manafort, his campaign chairman, on Day 94. Trump has still not aired a general election ad.

Indeed, perhaps the most difficult missteps to measure are Trump’s neglected opportunities. He essentially ignored an inspector general’s report critical of Clinton (Day 23), stomped on the Labor Department’s worst jobs report in six years (Day 32) and posted that controversial Jewish star the same day Clinton sat down to be interviewed by the FBI (Day 61).

In short, Hillary Clinton’s most effective campaign surrogate is her opponent. At what point should she step in and take over? Here’s a hint: not now!

If you’re on Clinton’s campaign team, you’re probably really hungering to get out there and start running plays. After all, this is what you’ve spent the past year and a half preparing for ― executing strategy and making moves. You probably want to show off your best stuff.

But what do you do when you’re up by 35 points in the second half of the game? You keep it simple, and you rest your starters. Last year, if the Denver Broncos ever needed to give Peyton Manning a spell, they let Brock Osweiler run things and it all worked out fine.

Tim Kaine is probably a pretty good Osweiler. Kaine probably even knows what osweiling is. Bet he did a lot of osweiling, back in the day. Let him take some snaps.

Right now, Trump’s net favorability rating is negative 31 percent, which is insane. But here’s what’s more important: Clinton’s favorables, while better than Trump’s, aren’t that great either. So while the time might feel right to start courting the attention of cable news channels ― especially now that they seem inclined to cover Clinton’s rallies and appearances in equal measure to Trump’s ― why take the chance? Who knows what might happen? If Clinton appears too often on the teeevee, people might start remembering what they don’t like about her. The more space she cedes to Trump’s elaborate and unending train wreck, the better.

Besides, left to their own devices, the Clinton team has been making some odd choices of late. For example, it may have seemed like a good idea at the time to get Berkshire Hathaway kazillionaire Warren Buffet out on the stump with Clinton in Nebraska right after the convention. On some level, it probably feels pretty cool to watch rich guys like Buffet, Michael Bloomberg and Mark Cuban take turns dragging Trump, their allegedly wealthy peer. But these billionaires, man, ordinary people do not relate to them. Maybe it would be worth it to dial back the constant reminder that these dudes are doing really great in this economy. 

Similarly, maybe the Clinton campaign should be a little more circumspect and muted every time some ancient war criminal steps up to say “I’m with her.” If the Clinton campaign was worried about how the press might react to the knowledge that the Pulse nightclub shooter’s father was a big supporter, they should be doubly worried about the possibility the press might find out about all the horrific shit that Clinton-endorser John Negroponte did in the 1980s.

Actually, belay that, I momentarily forgot that the political press thinks Negroponte is a really swell and serious guy. 

Nevertheless, these are not good looks. Remember: The game is shaping up to be a blowout. Don’t get fancy!

Here’s a better move the Clinton campaign made: going out to Utah for a sit-down with the editorial board of the Deseret News. Yes, this was largely driven by the way this unique race has somehow made Utah look like a battleground state. Typically it’s a waste of time for a Democratic nominee to pitch themselves to America’s largest Mormon population, who typically vote very conservatively. But in August 2016, Clinton’s playing with house money, so why not take a shot?

But what I find to be the most appealing part of this play is just getting out in the field and spending time with local newspaper reporters and editors. In the media landscape, these are the people who are most likely to demonstrate substance and sobriety. They’ll be thoughtful, probing and challenging in their own right, but they’ll also be much less likely to find excitement in all the superficial stuff that the cable nets gorge themselves on ― hype and gaffes and lapsus linguae. If Clinton’s campaign is smart, and tailors a local-first media approach to the concerns of these papers’ constituency, the coverage will be sparkling and substantive ― and the campaign will learn more about how people outside of the Acela corridor are living.

How much better will Clinton have to be than Trump? Not much! Trump seems to only intermittently understand where he is on any given day. 

Obviously, if the Clinton campaign goes dark, there are still plenty of risks. Right now, Clinton is dogged by the fact that she hasn’t fed the media beast at all by offering herself up for news conferences ― should she continue down that path, she won’t shake the reputation for being press-averse. And hey, you never know, any day now, Donald Trump might suddenly reveal himself to be a competent campaigner ― hitting the right battlegrounds, opening the war chest, maybe even actively opting to hit Clinton where she’s vulnerable, instead of opening up newer and bloodier self-inflicted wounds.

It could happen! After all, everything else has happened. For the moment, however, Trump seems to believe in the strange theory of his campaign ― that there are more silent and disaffected voters out there in the world to be turned out than there are voters to be turned off. If that’s true, he wins.

Of course, if he’s right, then there’s not a lot that the Clinton campaign can do about it in any event. Either way, at this moment in time, the old adage applies: Never interrupt your enemy when he is an ongoing garbage-star supernova of unprecedented incompetence.

~~~~~

Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.

Jason Linkins   |   August 11, 2016    1:41 PM ET

This has been a rough year to be in the fast-food business. Here at home, growth in both the fast- and “fast-casual” restaurant sector has slowed as grocery prices have declined, leading many consumers to opt for dining at home over heading to the local burger chain. Meanwhile, growth has stalled internationally as well: according to a 2016 McKinsey study, Chinese consumers are increasingly proving resistant to the charms of lowbrow Western cuisine.

But maybe what’s really to blame is America’s terrible presidential election? That’s the opinion of Wendy’s CEO Todd Penegor, according to CNBC’s Sarah Whitten, who reports that “the burger chain is just the latest fast-food restaurant to blame Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump for a slowdown of same-store sales.”

“When a consumer is a little uncertain around their future and really trying to figure out what this election cycle really means to them, they’re not as apt to spend as freely as they might have even just a couple of quarters ago,” Wendy’s CEO Todd Penegor said in an earnings conference call on Wednesday.

Hey, I get it. Most of this election has felt like we’re driving headlong to the series finale of “America: This Place Where You’ve Lived” as the writers try to simultaneously throw their very last ideas at the wall while contending with how the show ends. (Spoiler: Turns out we’ve all been in purgatory this whole time!)

Meanwhile, voters face an uncertain choice between one major presidential candidate who has proposed to level the economic playing field by diversifying America’s C-suites and another who, on his good day, might level all the fields with atomic weapons. Do you really want to spend your last days on earth eating Baconators? No, they simply aren’t narcotizing enough.

As Whitten notes, “Penegor is not alone in his commentary.” Indeed, this is hardly the first time we’ve seen a chain cuisine mogul sound off on the way our political discourse is having a deleterious effect on their sales.

Late last month, the Financial Times’ Lindsay Whipp reported that Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz was saying pretty much the same thing, that “uncertainty surrounding the presidential election” ― along with “civil unrest...heightened racial tensions, as well as worries about terrorism” were all contributing to a sales-killing “anxiety.” All of which makes you wonder if Schultz’s aborted campaign to have his own baristas interrupt their essential frappucino-making functions to have deep conversations with customers that were guaranteed to remind them of all the things making them anxious in the first place might have exacerbated the problem.

Now, at this point, you might be wondering about whether discontent over the election really is a major contributor to the fast-food sector’s downturn. Are there a lot of facts that prove this, or is this mostly speculation? Well, as Whitten reports:

“There haven’t been too many facts that can prove that. It’s a lot of speculation,” Wedbush analyst Nick Setyan said of Wendy’s blaming the election for a slowdown in sales.

So this might just be one of those times in which our widely held ephemeral feelings about modern life, our money and our commodities dictate the relative value of that money and those commodities. This happens from time to time. One such time? The entire history of capitalism.

In related news, right on time, whiskey sales are booming in 2016. Go get some whiskey, man. It’ll help a lot.

~~~~~

Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.

Jason Linkins   |   August 5, 2016   11:04 AM ET


The “Politico Caucus” ― a group of well-connected flibbertigibbets who brought you such hits as “Rubio wins in Walker’s demise” and “Kasich could win a contested convention” ― have now spent two weeks evaluating Donald Trump’s post-convention performance and have suddenly decided that something deeply wrong is going on. Time for their wise counsel, everybody: “Republican insiders in key battleground states have a message for The Donald: Get out.”


Oh my. For real, you guys? 



That’s according to The POLITICO Caucus — a panel of activists, strategists and operatives in 11 swing states. The majority of GOP insiders, 70 percent, said they want Trump to drop out of the race and be replaced by another Republican candidate — with many citing Trump’s drag on Republicans in down-ballot races. But those insiders still think it’s a long-shot Trump would actually end his campaign and be replaced by another GOP candidate.



A long shot, you say? Hmmm, interesting. Almost as interesting as the 30 percent of this cohort that thinks everything is going just peachy. Of course, as I look back through the Politico Caucus’ back catalog, I see that just a few weeks ago, after they’d expressed just how much they were “dreading” the Republican convention, Politico’s insiders took a measure of Trump’s performance in Cleveland and concluded that he’d “nailed it.”


“Trump gave a simple message and expanded the Republican Party: law and order, economic populism and defeat the rigged system,” said one. Another felt that he’d delivered “a very good speech” that “struck on issues and policies that people wanted to hear about” and that Trump was “absolutely right ― this is a movement, not a normal campaign.” 


Another said, “He talked to the people he needed to very effectively. The speech defined the race and made him a voice for the people — something he should have done months ago.”


Hot stuff! But what happened since then? Well, hold on to your hats, people, but the Politico Caucus has since arrived at a host of very different conclusions, like “I’d rather take our chances with nearly anyone else than continue with this certain loser” and “He is an egomaniac” and “If he loses, and I believe he will, God help us all because Trump and his minions will foment an uprising of epic proportions.”


So, you know, these guys picked up on some really subtle stuff about Trump that only really came to the surface in the past 10 days. Probably stuff that only really cagey political insiders can notice. I guess the only thing left to ask this group of veteran political thought-havers is what’s going to happen next?



The Iowa Republican predicted that rumors of a Trump exit are likely only to get louder: “Talk of Trump dropping out will reach a fevered pitch next week, when his poll numbers bottom out,” the Republican said. “We need to brace ourselves.”



Brace yourselves for what? A continued career of being rich, dumb and wrong about everything?

~~~~~

Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.

Jason Linkins   |   July 22, 2016   12:16 PM ET

The Republican National Convention is over, and 2016’s movable feast of nonsense and worry now shifts to Philadelphia for the Democratic event. There are many revelations to come, such as the size of GOP nominee Donald Trump’s “convention bounce” in the polls, and the precise metric volume of Democratic Party bed-wetting between the moment this bounce is revealed and the moment when Hillary Clinton gets the chance to earn a bounce of her own.

But if you’re looking to pass the time between then and now, might I suggest we play an anxiety-inducing game together?

The last time the good folks at The Upshot ― the dedicated team of number crunchers at The New York Times ― ran a model of the general election, it was before the GOP convention in Cleveland. And they had a very concise and illustrative way of placing their projection in real-world terms: 

For now, at least, Hillary Clinton has a 76 percent chance of defeating Donald Trump to become president of the United States.

A victory by Mr. Trump remains quite possible: Mrs. Clinton’s chance of losing is about the same probability that an N.B.A. player will miss a free throw.

Everyone can picture an NBA free throw in their mind. Do it now. What do you see? The tickling of twine? The laying of brick? These are both very plausible outcomes. So let’s play.

Pick one word from this paragraph and click on it. You only get one choice! And there are no backsies. This will simulate the election.

So how did you do? Did you extinguish the flame of centuries of Enlightenment thought or nah?

~~~~~

Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.

Jason Linkins   |   July 20, 2016   12:10 PM ET


Anyone looking to tune in to the Republican National Convention this week to hear from the man the GOP is seeking to send to Washington to run the country needs to adjust their DVRs, because that speech won’t be given by Republican presidential nominee and apocalyptic circus peanut Donald Trump on Thursday. Rather, it will be given by the party’s vice-presidential nominee, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, on Wednesday night.


So what gives? Well, it’s not entirely surprising. See, Trump has, throughout his campaign, made it clear that he believes that being president is a really easy job ― no sweat for him! But if you want to get a sense of just how easy Trump imagines the office to be, you should check out the Robert Draper’s account of how Trump came to select Pence as his running mate in The New York Times Magazine. It begins with Trump’s eldest son making a back-channel overture to Ohio governor John Kasich, offering him the chance to be Trump’s running mate:



One day this past May, Donald Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., reached out to a senior adviser to Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, who left the presidential race just a few weeks before. As a candidate, Kasich declared in March that Trump was “really not prepared to be president of the United States,” and the following month he took the highly unusual step of coordinating with his rival Senator Ted Cruz in an effort to deny Trump the nomination. But according to the Kasich adviser (who spoke only under the condition that he not be named), Donald Jr. wanted to make him an offer nonetheless: Did he have any interest in being the most powerful vice president in history?


When Kasich’s adviser asked how this would be the case, Donald Jr. explained that his father’s vice president would be in charge of domestic and foreign policy.



All Dick Cheney jokes aside, let’s remember that the real job of the vice president is actually something like, “being alive on the off-chance the president is not,” not “assuming the duties of the presidency in toto for the duration of the president’s term.” It sort of makes you wonder how Trump envisions the actual role of the country’s chief executive. It certainly made this senior adviser to John Kasich wonder, so he asked Trump’s son what Trump would be doing, if not managing foreign and domestic policy. The response, according to Draper, was: “Making America great again.”


And one wonders why Kasich refuses to endorse Donald Trump. Put yourself in Kasich’s shoes: As he did with the entire GOP field during the primary, Donald Trump never missed the opportunity to mercilessly mock the Ohio governor, referring to him as a loser, and then he turns around and asks him to, essentially, run the country on his behalf. Really, who would have guessed that Donald Trump, in seeking the presidency, wants to claim all of the trappings of the office and none of the responsibility?


At any rate, someone should maybe ask the Indiana governor what he thinks about all of this, given that if America fails to be “great again” after four years of a Trump presidency, it’ll be Pence who’s on the hook for that.

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Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.

Jason Linkins   |   July 12, 2016   11:35 AM ET


Sometime very soon, we’re going to find out if Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin was correct when he predicted that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton would name “a prominent Republican” to be her vice president. This would be a staggeringly strange thing for Clinton to do, given a couple simple facts: First of all, the role of the vice president is to serve as the chief executive in the event of the president’s death or incapacitation, and secondly, the Democratic Party establishment will probably prefer this running mate be a Democrat, the better to keep doing Democratic party stuff should something terrible occur.


So Halperin’s prediction ― which he’s famously based on “instinct and a little bit of reporting” ― is likely to come to naught, just like his 2012 hunch that Mitt Romney would choose Ohio Sen. Rob Portman as his running mate, and his 2008 conjecture that Barack Obama would name Indiana Republican Sen. Dick Lugar as his.


But I’m not here to bury Mark Halperin, because let’s face it, he is hardly alone in the world of outlandish vice presidential augury. Throughout the run-up to the 2012 election, supposedly serious people traded in speculation that Obama would kick Joe Biden off the ticket in favor of Hillary Clinton, because people at Beltway cocktail parties were talking about it. In 2004, the New York Post ― billing it as an “exclusive” ― announced on the cover of its tabloid that Democratic nominee John Kerry had definitely picked Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt as his running mate, when he’d actually picked North Carolina Sen. John Edwards. ("We unreservedly apologize for our mistake,” said Post editor Col Allan, no doubt ruing the missed opportunity to just run something racist in the front of his broadsheet.)


Heck, I will confess to you that I once said Mitt Romney was going to choose New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte as his vice president. I went on to provide a list of reasons why, speaking out loud and with real intensity. I don’t know what possessed me to assemble an argument for Ayotte’s candidacy. It was like an odd dream I’d had ― a dream that ended when I came to find out that the Romney campaign’s internal nickname for Ayotte was “the energy vampire.”


Why do we bother making ornate vice presidential prognostications? What would have been lost if the New York Post had just waited a few more hours to run its story? What benefit is there to being right in making a projection about such a low-stakes matter? Is it all about that little burst of brain-chemical cocktail that races into our veins when we perceive ourselves to be on the razor’s edge of political prognostication? Because it can feel really good in the moment, when we are cogitating on the matter. Later, however, it becomes one of those things we in which we regret having indulged.


The reason I’m wondering about this is because right now, the media is fixated on who presumptive GOP nominee and detached Kuato Donald Trump might choose as his vice president. Over the past few weeks, the presumed apple of Trump’s eye has shifted to one person or another. At one point last week, Newt Gingrich was the presumed favorite. For a brief, mad moment, some guy named Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn was said to be in, like his last name. And while Trump is bad at most aspects of campaigning, he is really, really good at playing a media that’s seething to know who he’ll pick as his partner in (probably actual) crime:






You’ll likely encounter headlines like this in the wild: “Report: ‘95 percent probability’ of Pence as Trump VP.” Where does that come from? Well, this story exists because the Washington Times got a convention delegate named James Bopp on the record, and he assigned that probability to Trump picking Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate based on an abrupt change in Trump’s schedule and the fact that Indiana’s House Speaker, Brian Bosma, hit him up for advice on running for governor. In essence, this is based on multiple layers of some random person’s presumptions.


Really, this “95 percent probability” number is just one man’s 50-50 crapshoot combined with a healthy dash of bravado. It could be correct, or not, and there are plenty of opinions one way or the other. Which is probably the whole point: All that we in the media ask of the world is to be given a bright, shiny ball with which to play, to be replaced with a brighter, shinier ball the minute it seems we might get bored.


Let’s face it, vice presidential speculation wouldn’t exist if those of us in the political media weren’t in a mad dash to put on the best display of performative savviness ― and the veepstakes squarely hit the sweet spot where pseudo-intellectual posturing and impossibly low stakes squarely intersect. We know that being correct will earn us a tiny gold star, while our harmless cock-ups will be quickly forgotten.


Typically, when we begin the veepstakes season, we like to form lists of potential candidates that are designed to demonstrate that we’re fully in tune with polite unanimity, but also stylishly daring. This allows us to have polite panel discussions where we all basically agree while also having a moment to bask in the depth of our super-substantial thoughts.


Basically, we talk about potential V.P. candidates the way armchair movie critics talk about the Coen Brothers’ filmography: 






See, we all agree with each other on the consensus picks ― those sturdy elders and zazzy up-and-comers that Beltway wags fixate on as potential ticket-fillers at the nascent stage of the presidential primary, as well as the occasional primary loser who nevertheless showed a little vice presidential potential. But we also have a vested interest in showing off just how knowledgable we are about arcana, and how we have great command of the obscure. 


Along the way, we trade in folk wisdom about vice presidents. Maybe some governor could help the candidate pick up a swing state’s electoral votes! Maybe a general, or a businessman, could fill in the nominee’s knowledge gap. Perhaps what the candidate needs is a vibrant dash of racial or gender diversity! We stroke our chins over these and other magic criteria, bound in the belief that somewhere out there exists a rug that will bring the whole room together. We cling to these beliefs against the urgings of political scientists reminding us that they are mostly bullshit. And these beliefs persist in spite of the fact that over and over again, they don’t bear fruit.


And that is, perhaps, the most ironic thing about our obsession with vice presidential contenders. Once the candidate is named and they’re out hustling, we discover they are only really intriguing when they fail. We notice when they don’t deliver their home state’s votes, when their super-specific cache of knowledge pales in comparison to their overall lack of depth, and ― yes ― when they single-handedly decimate the last hopes of Sen. John McCain. That’s when they are interesting.


What’s more, for all of our talk, we would never in a million years credit the vice presidential candidate for the success of his or her ticket. It just doesn’t happen. We’re all too drunk on Great Man Theory, the broad sweep of capital-H History, and all those enduring myths about Great Communicators and Fireside Chatters to ever rob a victorious presidential candidate of the credit. No one in their right mind would contend that Barack Obama won two elections because of something Joe Biden did. 


And yet, here’s the thing about all this time we spend picking through bird entrails in an attempt to divine a candidates’ help-mates: It might be one of the least cynical activities in which the people who cover politics engage. It’s definitely one of the only times we aren’t wholly fiending on failure and inadequacy like hopped-up schadenfreude junkies. At the root of our obsession lies a naive belief that there’s someone out there who can fill in all the gaps, square all the circles, and knit up the ragged hem of the weird egomaniacs who believe they deserve to run the free world.


So dream those dizzy dreams, Mark Halperin. And keep a little hope alive that there might be some player-to-be-named who can arrive on the scene to lend coherence to the election season spectacle. Here in 2016’s presidential cycle, which often feels like the final season of a television series that’s gone way off the rails, we need to cling to these beliefs as long as we can, especially now that we’ve got a funny feeling about what’s to come.






Sorry, Mike Pence! (Maybe?)

~~~~~

Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.

Jason Linkins   |   June 23, 2016   12:45 PM ET

Just over two weeks ago, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) made news when he became the first of his Republican legislative colleagues to rescind a previously extended endorsement of presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump. Now, as Politico's Kevin Robillard reports, he's set to become another famous first in the Trump era: 

The Chicago Tribune confirms that this 30-second spot will be part of a large ad buy -- to the tune of "about $230,000 in broadcast time for the weeklong buy and another $35,520 in cable TV time in Chicago."

The ad, titled "Even More," aims to present Kirk as an independent-minded, bipartisan legislator. Among other things, it points to his pro-choice bona fides and his support for a Senate hearing on President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.

But most notably, it takes great care to mention his opposition to Trump. Over a parade of floating headlines, the ad's narrator intones, "And Mark Kirk bucked his party to say that Donald Trump is not fit to be commander-in-chief."

There's another politician who is conspicuously not named in the ad -- Kirk's opponent in his re-election bid, Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.). In 2010, Kirk squeaked out a win over then-Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias to reach the Senate. Duckworth is a bona fide political superstar -- albeit one who is currently dogged by a civil lawsuit alleging various ethics violations.

There aren't likely to be many Republican incumbents -- especially vulnerable incumbents -- who openly disparage their party's nominee in this fashion. However, the particulars of Kirk's race -- deep blue state, popular Democratic opponent, incumbent who won by a thin margin in a wave election -- probably make slagging Trump in public an essential part of the calculus.

~~~~~

Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.

Jason Linkins   |   June 22, 2016    1:35 PM ET

As we've previously reported, a significant number of convention delegates are conspiring to stop Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention in what would amount to a smash-and-grab heist of the nomination. The mission is daring, a high-wire act with no real certainty of success. To pull it off, the anti-Trump delegate cabal would need quite a bit of help. Here's something they don't need however:

Noooooo, Bill Kristol! My man! You have one job and that's to never offer up predictions. You know this! I mean, look at this nonsense. You are currently competing with ESPN's Steven A. Smith in a desperate battle to see whose oracular abilities are the most star-crossed. 

As The Washington Post's Paul Farhi noted back in February, a black swan event occurred in the lead-up to the GOP primary season: Kristol managed to make two accurate predictions. The Weekly Standard's standard-bearer correctly saw that Rand Paul was not going to succeed in the Republicans' crowded presidential field, and -- in a genuinely nervy moment -- he accurately foretold that Jeb Bush would not win his party's nomination either. “I think there’s no way there will be a Bush-Clinton race in 2016,” he said, in a moment of prescience that rarely comes his way.

Most of the time, however, Kristol's prognostications portend doom for whatever enterprises he seeks to anoint. What he should be doing now is basking in his momentary success and properly anticipating that a reversion to the mean was in the offing. Instead, he's gone all out, predicting that GOP chair Reince Priebus -- who's hitherto demonstrated the fortitude of a box kite trapped in a heavy wind -- will provide the anti-Trump effort with the steely leadership it needs to succeed.

Oh well, R.I.P., Stop Trump Movement.

~~~~~

Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.

Jason Linkins   |   June 21, 2016    2:08 PM ET

Over the past week, a growing number of Republican convention delegates have been organizing to mount an effort to wrest the GOP nomination from the party's presumptive nominee, pan-fried wereferret Donald Trump. For those delegates, the issue has become a matter of conscience. But now that the world has had the chance to absorb the Trump campaign's latest round of financial filings, it might be a matter of competence as well.

Could the "Dump Trump" ranks swell with the news that the candidate's campaign is currently sitting on a war chest that has political reporters searching their thesauri for words worse than "woeful" and "pathetic"? Because it certainly looks like those delegates pledged to Trump are being provided with mountains of evidence that their presumptive nominee is congenitally incapable of mounting a serious presidential bid.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham famously urged his fellow Republicans to look for an "off-ramp" from the Trump nomination. Trump seemingly conning everyone into believing that he'd even attempt to manage a professional presidential campaign is as good an off-ramp as any.

We learned on Monday evening that the Trump campaign is basically broke as hell. According to the report released by the Federal Election Commission, Trump only raised $3.1 million in May -- a time when his nomination was a settled issue. His campaign spent more than he took in that month, and Trump is left with a meager $1.3 million cash on hand.

To say that this is an unprecedented level of campaign incompetence almost doesn't do the matter justice. Just as a means of comparison, let's flash back four years: On June 7, 2012, it was reported that Mitt Romney and the Republican National Committee -- who actually worked well together, unlike the RNC and Trump -- had collectively raised $76.8 million, adding up to $107 million cash on hand. They had significantly outraised, and effectively put the fear of God into, the Obama re-election campaign.

Trump has repeatedly referred to Romney as a loser, but we have a saying in America: $107 million > $1.3 million.

For the benefit of convention delegates, let's do some further scorekeeping. Hillary Clinton, Trump's Democratic opponent, raised $27 million in May and has $42 million cash on hand. In what has to be a first for the party, Green Party candidate Jill Stein only lags behind the presumptive Republican nominee by $1,163,000. There are multiple former presidential candidates with more money than Trump currently has -- including Ben Carson, whose entire campaign was just about letting his hangers-on cash in on his fame.

At this point, I'm pretty sure that J.D. And The Straight Shot, the terrible blues band fronted by New York Knicks owner James Dolan, has more cash on hand than Trump. And as The Huffington Post's Paul Blumenthal reports, "When party committees and supportive super PACs are factored in, the disparity between Clinton and Trump becomes astronomical."

He continues: 

Aside from the $26.4 million raised for Clinton’s campaign, Priorities USA Action (the super PAC endorsed by her campaign) pulled in an additional $12.4 million. The Democratic National Committee also raised $12.3 million. In total, these three committees comprising Team Clinton entered June with $103.4 million cash on hand.

Team Trump — his campaign, the Republican National Committee and the super PAC Great America — had a combined $21.7 million cash on hand. That is five times less than what Team Clinton has available to spend.

Those pledged to support Trump at the convention may be wondering what their candidate has been doing all this time. Well, one of the things he has not been doing is working diligently to raise money for his presidential campaign. As Politico reported last week, the RNC gave Trump some pretty clear instructions about how to go about sacking away the scrilla needed to run a modern presidential campaign, only to learn that that Trump is incapable of making even a bare minimum of effort:

While Trump had promised Priebus that he would call two dozen top GOP donors, when RNC chief of staff Katie Walsh recently presented Trump with a list of more than 20 donors, he called only three before stopping, according to two sources familiar with the situation. It’s unclear whether he resumed the donor calls later.

It seems to me like this FEC report finally provides us with an exciting twist ending to that particular story. But in another exciting twist, it would appear that Trump's whole campaign is basically an elaborate scam. As our own Christina Wilkie reports, money taken in by the Trump campaign seems to have an uncanny knack for finding its way back into Trump's own wallet. The latest FEC report shows that "Donald Trump’s presidential campaign paid more than $1 million last month to companies controlled by the presumptive GOP presidential nominee." Per Wilkie:

The figure represents payments for facilities rental, catering, monthly rents and utilities at more than a half-dozen Trump-owned companies and properties. It includes nearly $350,000 that the Trump campaign paid a Trump-owned company, TAG Air, for the use of Trump’s private jets and helicopters.  

The most striking expenditure in the new filings was $423,372, paid by the Trump campaign for rentals and catering at Trump’s 126-room Palm Beach, Florida, mansion, Mar-A-Lago, which Trump operates as a private club.

Trump has also been lying about his fundraising prowess, stretching the RNC's manpower and resources thinner and thinner, and ... well, I'm not sure quite what to say about the fact that his campaign gave money to some shadowy outfit literally named after the fictitious ad agency from the show "Mad Men."

If you started your week by wondering why Trump would send his supposedly indispensable aide-de-camp Corey Lewandowski packing on a Monday morning, thus ensuring that it would dominate the week's news cycle, maybe you should wonder no more.

It's no coincidence that Lewandowski's cashiering came shortly before this FEC report revealed that the Trump campaign's operating capacity was just south of the RMS Lusitania. And when you read the inside-the-campaign account of the firing provided to New York Magazine's Gabriel Sherman, it's pretty clear that Trump's campaign wants you to think of Lewandowski as the person chiefly responsible for all that's gone wrong:

According to two sources briefed on the events, the meeting was a setup. Shortly after it began, the children peppered Lewandowski with questions, asking him to explain the campaign's lack of infrastructure. "They went through the punch list. 'Where are we with staffing? Where are we with getting the infrastructure built?'" one source explained. Their father grew visibly upset as he heard the list of failures. Finally, he turned to Lewandowski and said, "What's your plan here?"

Lewandowski responded that he wanted to leak Trump's vice-president pick.

And with that, Lewandowski was out.

Hard as it is to defend someone who clearly belongs in an anger-management diversion program, it's still difficult to see what, if anything, Lewandowski was supposed to have done with the limited resources available to him. It's not exactly perplexing that there's no staffing or infrastructure to speak of: The Trump campaign's fundraising efforts have been feeble; the candidates's statements are toxic to traditional GOP donors; Trump has insisted on shelling out for rallies in reliable Republican strongholds like Georgia and Texas.

And given what Lewandowski might have known about the disastrous news lurking in the FEC report, leaking the name of Trump's vice presidential pick was actually a pretty good call -- it would have put the media onto a bigger story and, depending on who that pick was, given a sign to nervous GOP elites that Trump was taking the campaign seriously. Instead, Lewandowski has been made to look like this campaign's chief problem. You shouldn't be fooled: This fish rots from the head.

Trump has basically given all of the people who have pledged to support him in Cleveland a taste of what it's like to be enrolled in Trump University: You sign over your livelihood to a con man, receive very little return on the investment, and spend the next few years of your life regretting having been taken in so badly. Can a party eject its own nominee based upon mounting evidence of total campaign malpractice? There's never been a candidate who's made the case more clearly, and we might be about to find out.

Editor's note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liarrampant xenophoberacistmisogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims -- 1.6 billion members of an entire religion -- from entering the U.S.

~~~~~

Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.

Jason Linkins   |   June 8, 2016    2:54 PM ET

If you're like, say, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) -- who's given presumptive GOP presidential nominee and foaming man-possum Donald Trump three weeks to "fix" his campaign -- you might be nervously watching for signs that Trump is undertaking an effort to bring order to an organization that has lately lapsed into chaos. Giving a speech with a teleprompter in which the overt white-supremacist content was dialed back a notch might have been a good start. 

But then you read the interview that Trump just gave Bloomberg News and ... wow. I don't know, you guys. Go read the whole thing -- it's a genuine doozy.

As Bloomberg's Michael Bender and Jennifer Jacobs report, there is much that seems off, perhaps even delusional, about how Trump sees the next part of his electoral strategy playing out. He seems not to understand how expensive an undertaking this race is going to be (or he's realizing that donors don't want to be associated with him), and he believes that living off the land of free media is sufficient to the task. Speaking of all that free media, he also seems to think that the issues that have dogged him over the past week -- Trump University and his disparagement of Judge Gonzalo Curiel -- are now effectively in the rear-view mirror.

What might be most alarming to veteran GOP figures is how Trump details his process for choosing a running mate. Bender and Jacobs report that Trump has narrowed his search to four or five politicians, plus two "respected military officials." Of the latter two, Trump says that he probably won't choose them because he believes he will "do very well on national security." (For a counterpoint, see Ian Bremmer in Politico.)

Why Trump would say he'd short-listed two military experts if he's not seriously thinking about choosing them is a genuine mystery. Maybe he reckons they'll be honored just to be on the short list? 

Trump says that the benefit of picking a politician is that the "voters and the media" will have already vetted the person. What this says is that Trump really isn't planning to vet his own candidates, which is generally seen as the essential thing to do when selecting a running mate. As a team of experts at the Bipartisan Policy Center laid out, there are five steps to picking a vice presidential candidate, which I've previously summarized like so:

  1. Take a deep breath, and come up with some names.

  2. Vet their public records.

  3. Narrow the choices and vet them again, this time taking an “‘intrusive’ look at the contenders’ personal lives, including medical and financial matters that could be embarrassing to the ticket.”

  4. Tell your prospects to their faces what you found out and browbeat them into revealing anything that was not “unearthed but which could come out in the media.”

  5. Make a choice, and then pray you did your due diligence and didn’t pick a liar.

So literally three of the steps involve the campaign personally vetting each candidate. Of course, you need to actually have a competent campaign to perform these tasks, and what Trump has is a gaggle of anger-management candidates fighting an anonymously sourced civil war with one other.

Still more unnerving is the process by which he'll disclose his eventual selection. As Bender and Jacobs relate, there has been some tension within the campaign over this, in which "some advisers have worried that Trump may decide on his own to post the announcement on Twitter one night with little warning." But this actually sounds like the saner alternative after Trump describes what he'd really like to do:

"I’d like to save it, give it the old fashioned way, right?” Trump said about keeping the announcement until the convention.

Trump said he'll probably choose one of four or five politicians, and that his short list includes some vanquished rivals who have dropped out of the 2016 presidential race. He is considering at least one ex-rival who has so far refused to endorse him, but who will "come over to my side," he predicted.

Hold up now, let me get this straight: He's going to wait until the convention to make his pick, and it could end up being someone who has not offered Trump an endorsement but who Trump thinks will join up with him anyway? Ordinarily I'd say, "Well, surely he wouldn't actually fail to apprise the selectee of his decision, and nail down whether they'd actually accept the position." But Trump is so enamored of wielding the element of surprise, and so steeped in reality-television tropes, that I can genuinely imagine him springing it on some poor sucker, right there on the convention stage.

You can see it, right? There's an audible gasp, the camera cuts to a shocked Marco Rubio, and some previously unseen emcee asks, "Will Marco accept Trump's nomination? Find out after the break." And then after the break, there are several more breaks, after which Rubio finally renders his decision. "Donald, we'll try to make it work," he says, whereupon a torrent of balloons gently waft down from the rafters as Rubio's soul exits his body in the other direction.

Don't get me wrong -- this would be, on a purely demented level, fun as hell to watch. But I would not, as a matter of practice, recommend this. Trump should definitely not put someone on his short list who has heretofore refused to endorse him, let alone actually name that person as his running mate.

But who knows? The way things are going, he may not have a choice.

Editor's note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims -- 1.6 billion members of an entire religion -- from entering the U.S.

~~~~~

Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.

Jason Linkins   |   June 7, 2016    5:11 PM ET

How's that "pivot to the general election" going? For presumptive GOP nominee and Dunning-Kruger love child Donald Trump, not very well.

Amid multiple reports of campaign incompetence and the constant blowback from his racist attacks on Judge Gonzalo Curiel, Trump's alienation of the party he hopes to lead has reached something of a tipping point. Tuesday, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) became the first major Republican figure to retract his endorsement. Talk of a contested convention -- which: how exactly? -- has resumed. And now, as Yahoo News' Olivier Knox reports, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn) has issued something of an ultimatum:

Donald Trump has two to three weeks to fix his campaign or risk losing enough Republican support that it would doom his run for the presidency, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker told Yahoo News on Tuesday.

“He’s obviously stepped in it. He’s made statements that are inappropriate,” Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, said in a telephone interview. The senator was referring to Trump’s widely condemned declaration that a Mexican-American judge is unfit to preside over a Trump University lawsuit because of the judge’s heritage.

Corker went on to say that Trump had entered a "defining period" in which he absolutely must "pivot" to becoming an acceptable "general election candidate." And if you've never heard of this defining period before, well, that's because no major party's candidate has really ever faffed up the post-primary period quite like Trump has.

Of course, no major party candidate comported himself with such reckless disregard for societal norms during the primary process either, so it's hard to see Corker's three-weeks-to-fix-this-or-GTFO deadline as anything other than late in coming. But as the New Republic's Jeet Heer theorizes, Trump's disparagement of Curiel seems to have been, at last, the proverbial bridge too far:

What makes the Curiel case so special that Republicans are acting as if Trump has finally crossed the line? The most likely explanation is that Curiel is a member of the governing elite, like Gingrich and Ryan, and in his capacity as a judge is part of the supposedly apolitical ruling class. Joseph McCarthy followed a similar trajectory: He destroyed the lives of countless Americans with his demagogic anti-communism, but only received bipartisan pushback when he went after the Army in 1954.

As Talking Points Memo editor Josh Marshall shrewdly noted on Twitter, Curiel is a specific individual with a biography, whereas the objects of Trump’s other attacks were mainly hypotheticals. Trump was promising to bar Muslims and deport undocumented immigrants, but the very fact that these measures would encompass millions of faceless people makes them hard to think about except in abstract terms.

Heer goes on to note that what made Trump's attacks on people like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and others more acceptable is that those could always be chalked up to "politics ain't beanbag." Those insults came at a time when Trump was, as they say, "in the arena," competing against his fellow candidates and the GOP establishment writ large to win the primary. 

Now, Corker believes that Trump has basically got to snap to it and get domesticated in a hurry, telling Knox: "He’s got a period of time here that is incredibly important to his campaign to demonstrate that he has the ability to become a general election candidate, to move away from personality issues and move more towards substantive policy issues.”

The question is, can this be fixed, and who can possibly fix it?

No, no, come on now, let's leave Jeb alone.

It would appear that Trump is aware that he is really cocking this up quite badly. As of this writing, Trump has not tweeted all day, which has to be killing him inside. What he has done, is put out a statement on the Judge Curiel controversy, in which he attempts a gymnastic act of pretend-contrition, blending the passive voice with further carping that he's been treated unfairly in the Trump University case. (Which he hasn't, by the way.)

Basically, Trump is of the opinion that everyone who heard him take numerous shots at Curiel, in which he broadly suggested that his "Mexican heritage" made it impossible for him to justly preside over the ongoing fraud case against Trump University, did not hear him correctly, and he's really sorry that everyone got it wrong.

It is unfortunate that my comments have been misconstrued as a categorical attack against people of Mexican heritage. I am friends with and employ thousands of people of Mexican and Hispanic descent. The American justice system relies on fair and impartial judges. All judges should be held to that standard. I do not feel that one’s heritage makes them incapable of being impartial, but, based on the rulings that I have received in the Trump University civil case, I feel justified in questioning whether I am receiving a fair trial.

What follows from there are numerous paragraphs of whinging and prevarication and another shot at Mexico, leaving one to wonder what he is, in fact, attempting to walk back.

Another hasty "fix" seems to have been implemented for Trump's speech Tuesday night:

Ahh, teleprompters: your one-step solution to ridding yourself of white supremacy.

Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort -- who found in The Donald a candidate who combined his affection for foreign autocrats with his desire for a shorter commute -- told The Huffington Post's Howard Fineman that Trump is in the middle of an important period, during which he'll have to prove to the American people that he can "fill the chair." In this way, Manafort and Corker can be said to have aligned opinions on the matter. Unfortunately for everyone involved, Trump is, thus far, "filling the chair" in the style of an unhousebroken dog.

But he's got three weeks to fix this. Stay tuned!

Editor's note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims -- 1.6 billion members of an entire religion -- from entering the U.S.

~~~~~

Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.

Jason Linkins   |   June 7, 2016   10:30 AM ET


[Updated, below.] Recent reports suggest the campaign of Donald Trump, presumptive GOP nominee and irate cartoon volcano, just might be a vastly disorganized mess. Too small to surmount basic challenges, yet riddled with toxic infighting, Trump's organization is reportedly struggling to create a cogent narrative for the candidate and corral his noxious public impulses. Trump himself has countermanded directives issued by his top staff, and seems to not even have met some of the more critical figures in his employ.


Clearly, something needs to be done. So it looks like they might bring on... Dick Morris? Yeah, that should definitely solve everything.*


Rumors of a Trump-Morris alliance stirred to life on Monday after New York magazine's Gabriel Sherman, citing "two sources with direct knowledge," reported that the Trump team is talking with Morris about bringing him on board as a campaign strategist. This news comes days after it was revealed that Morris' latest stop on his downward spiral would be serving as the chief political correspondent for the National Enquirer.


Morris, the patron saint of below-average white guys, most recently made a name for himself as the most unerringly erring pundit from the 2012 election cycle, in which he predicted that Mitt Romney would win in an epic landslide, among other wrong things. Since then, Morris has attempted to get in on the scam investment game, pitching penny stocks to unsuspecting rubes in sponsored email blasts.


It's been a good long while since Morris was a valued political strategist to President Bill Clinton, and his relationship with that family-slash-dynasty isn't as cordial as it once was. In 2004, Morris penned Rewriting History (a rebuttal of Hillary Clinton's 2003 memoir Living History), placing him firmly within the subculture of Clinton conspiracy-fiction auteurs that The Daily Beast's Olivia Nuzzi reports has formed the delicious creamy center of Trump's inner circle. 


And by Sherman's reckoning, while it's not certain that a "deal" between Trump and Morris is "imminent," Trumpland seems to be where Morris would feel right at home:



There are signs that Morris has been moving into the Trump orbit this campaign season. In recent days, the National Enquirer, which has been a loud pro-Trump outlet, named Morris its “chief political commentator.” And Morris has told people he’s been a longtime acquaintance of Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Morris has been looking for a high-profile perch since being dropped by Fox News in 2013.



In previous election cycles, Morris has vowed to leave America if Hillary Clinton ever won the White House, so you can't really say that a Hillary Clinton presidency would be entirely free of upsides.


UPDATE, 3:25pm: Newsweek is reporting that Trump's camp is denying that they're in talks with Morris. Per Taylor Wofford:



Donald Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks tells Newsweek there is “no truth” to a report by New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman that the GOP front-runner may hire former Clinton confidante-turned-antagonist Dick Morris for his presidential campaign.



We'll see if this is a position to which Trump sticks.


* NOTE TO MILLENNIALS: Dick Morris was a key adviser to former President Bill Clinton in what was called "the '90s," an era today best remembered as the origin of many classic "Rocko's Modern Life" gifs.



Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophoberacistmisogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.



 

~~~~~

Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.

Jason Linkins   |   June 6, 2016    2:53 PM ET

As you may recall, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio spent the better part of the past year running for president of the United States, a position that would have required him to take an active role in world affairs and make swift, judicious, and responsible decisions. He failed, however, to secure his party's nomination, and has since offered to speak at the Republican National Convention on behalf of presumptive GOP nominee and baby-fingered bile mitten Donald Trump.

Rubio's offer raised a few eyebrows, because, as you might remember, he and Trump had a very contentious relationship during the primaries. But as Rubio told a Miami radio station back in April, "I've always said I'm going to support the Republican nominee ... and that's especially true now that it's apparent that Hillary Clinton" was going to win the Democratic nomination -- an outcome that Rubio couldn't have seen coming during the period when he was condemning Trump as a "con man." Clinton winning? That's just out of the blue, man.

Since offering his support to Trump, Rubio's found himself once again caught badly off guard by events that no one could have possibly anticipated -- namely, Trump's continual, racist maligning of Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is presiding over lawsuits against Trump University. Monday, in an interview with WFTV-ABC News reporter Christopher Heath, Rubio responded to Trump's attacks on Curiel: "It's wrong and I hope he stops."

Rubio also told Heath: "I ran for president and I warned this was going to happen." Presumably, what Rubio means by "this" was a warning that he would probably make the offer to speak on Trump's behalf at the convention, but that after he made the offer there would be this whole sticky wicket where Trump revealed himself to be some sort of anti-Hispanic bigot, thus making Rubio's endorsement, like, really super-awkward, up until the moment Trump finally decides to stop doing that stuff -- a decision Rubio sure hopes Trump will make any day now.

Also hopeful is New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who has very shrewdly vowed to "support" Trump, but not "endorse" him, citing the flexibility granted to anyone who perceives mild, hair-splittable differences between English language synonyms. Confronted with Trump's ongoing slander of Judge Curiel, Ayotte said his comments were "offensive and wrong," and added her wish that Trump might "retract" them, because a retraction would definitely put the cat back in the bag and everyone could just move on and forget about that whole time Trump disparaged a federal judge born in Indiana on the grounds that he had "Mexican heritage." 

The hope that Trump will reconsider things has existed for quite a long time. In the Jan. 15 GOP primary debate, Jeb Bush took a similarly plaintive stance against Trump's proposed ban on Muslims, saying, "Donald, Donald -- can I -- I hope you reconsider this."

Making sure that Trump understood the stern point he was making, Bush added, "So I hope you'll reconsider, I hope you'll reconsider."

So, hoping that Trump will stop doing the things he always does hasn't exactly been a winning strategy. But any minute now, it should totally do the trick. 

Hopefully, that is! After all, lots of Republican leaders are now swinging behind Trump with their endorsements, so it would probably be cool if Trump redeemed the judgment of those people with the comportment and decorum that he's always been just a day or two away from manifesting. Trump's all-but-certain domestication has been so long predicted that the fact that it hasn't quite happened yet is really catching GOP bigwigs unawares, as New York magazine's Eric Levitz reports:

Republican leaders spent the weekend registering their displeasure. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Chuck Todd that he “couldn’t disagree more” with Trump’s comments about Curiel. Tennessee senator Bob Corker said that the nominee is “going to have to change.” Even one of the mogul’s earliest supporters — and potential running mate — Newt Gingrich called Trump’s attack on the judge “inexcusable” and the candidate’s “worst mistake.” House Speaker (and recent Trump endorser) Paul Ryan condemned Trump's remarks in a similar fashion on Friday.

Paul Ryan has definitely had it the toughest, you guys. In the past few weeks, the House speaker has been pursuing an extended courtship of Trump, in which he's promised to take the time necessary for both men to see eye-to-eye on what the Republican Party needed from Trump, and come to an agreement on how the reality-show host needed to adjust his public persona in order to compete in the general election. That process seemed to have reached a happy conclusion last week, when Ryan went public with his endorsement of the presumptive GOP nominee.

But hours later, Ryan was shocked to see Trump still saying racist things about Curiel -- comments that Ryan said came "out of left field."

Yeah, man, it was really tough to predict that Trump would do that. Who'd have thunk it?

Ryan had a swift and tough response to Trump's sustained attacks on a sitting judge. "It's reasoning I don't relate to," he said. Strong stuff. "I completely disagree with the thinking behind that," Ryan added, in firm words that completely did not depict Ryan as the helpless captive to events that were beyond his ability to influence.

But Ryan wasn't done by a damn sight, continuing in Churchillian fashion like so: "And so, [Trump] clearly says and does things I don’t agree with, and I’ve had to speak up on time to time when that has occurred, and I’ll continue to do that if it’s necessary."

You never know when something like that might occur, after all. At any moment, Trump might say something with which Ryan disagrees, forcing Ryan to have to speak up about it. Could happen at any time. That's why Ryan has to have catlike reflexes, always ready to spring into action.

"I hope it's not [necessary]," Ryan concluded, probably staring wistfully into the middle distance, wishing and hoping for the best.

It may be that someone should step up and do something about this, by making it clear to Trump that he has to change. Usually, one looks to the people who work on the campaign and who advise the candidate to help make the difficult adjustment from saying racist balderdash at all times to not saying racist balderdash ever. For a look on how that's working out, let's check in on the reporting of MSNBC's Benjy Sarlin, Katy Tur, and Ali Vitali:

Republicans working to elect Trump describe a bare-bones effort debilitated by infighting, a lack of staff to carry out basic functions, minimal coordination with allies and a message that's prisoner to Trump's momentary whims.

"Bottom line, you can hire all the top people in the world, but to what end? Trump does what he wants," a source close to the campaign said.

Meanwhile, as Bloomberg's Kevin Cirilli, Michael Bender, and Jennifer Jacobs reported Monday:

An embattled Donald Trump urgently rallied his most visible supporters to defend his attacks on a federal judge's Mexican ancestry during a conference call on Monday in which he ordered them to question the judge's credibility and impugn reporters as racists.

[...]

When former Arizona Governor Jan Brewer interrupted the discussion to inform Trump that his own campaign had asked surrogates to stop talking about the lawsuit in an e-mail on Sunday, Trump repeatedly demanded to know who sent the memo, and immediately overruled his staff.

"Take that order and throw it the hell out," Trump said.

Huh! Well, that's worrisome, right? Not if you ask Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell! As The New York Times' Adam Liptak reports, McConnell is quite certain that somewhere in the Republican Party, there exists one or more eminence grises who are capable of taming Trump into respectability. There's just gotta be!

“He’ll have a White House counsel,” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, told Hugh Hewitt, the radio host, on Monday. “There will be others who point out there’s certain things you can do and you can’t do.”

Hey, if you know any Republican leaders who might be really good at restraining Donald Trump's worst impulses, could you maybe let Republican leaders know? 

Editor's note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims -- 1.6 billion members of an entire religion -- from entering the U.S.

~~~~~

Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.