iOS app Android app More

Jason Linkins   |   December 14, 2016    2:30 PM ET

The executive-branch brain trust that President-elect Donald Trump is putting together is truly is a marvel. In one corner, you have the appointees who would like the U.S. to become a client-state of Russia. In another, you’ve got a host of Wall Street billionaires who are probably not what Trump’s working-class voters were hoping for. And then there are all the folks who are just straight-up hostile to the very existence of the same agencies Trump would have them lead. Whee!

Look, irony is not a new thing in Washington. Just about everyone knows that if Congress introduces, say, a bill called “The Sugar Plum Preservation Act,” that bill is intended either to weaponize sugar plums or eliminate them. And yes, we’ve had Cabinet officials in the past whose visions have had little to do with the functions of government as traditionally understood. What always ends up mattering most is whether any particular government entity is given the manpower and funding to do the job it’s intended to do. If you don’t want the Securities and Exchange Commission to police Wall Street, you have a lot of options, from appointing a quisling head to keeping any go-getters within the agency’s bureaucracy overworked and underpaid.

All the same, there’s something sort of impressive / stomach-churning about Trump’s instinct for finding the worst possible people for job after job after job. If a president’s Cabinet is a reflection of himself (OR HERSELF, EXTREMELY SAD LOL), then it’s almost like we’ve got an incoming chief executive who believes in nothing beyond his own ego, who’s not for anything in particular except seeing his face on TV, and who doesn’t feel strongly about preserving or defending any aspects of American life that are not actually named after him. In a way, the steady stream of nominations, one after another, has come to resemble that sort of overkill comedy where the gag starts out hilarious, then grows tiresome out of repetition, until the relentless pounding of the punch line finally starts to seem funny once more.

We recently hit the “it’s funny again” stage with the announcement that Trump had picked former Texas Gov. Rick Perry to lead the Department of Energy. Like a peak-season “Arrested Development” punch line, this is a joke with many layers. After all, ‘twas Perry who, in his lowest moment as a presidential candidate, failed to recall that the Department of Energy was one of the Cabinet agencies he wanted to dissolve. Now he might end up running it, which is just a comic masterstroke. What’s more, he’ll be doing so at the pleasure of a man he once called a “cancer.” Weird how things just metastasize.

As Deadspin’s Albert Burneko noted yesterday, it’s easy for a “casual observer to believe, incorrectly, that the department’s primary function has to do with the production of fossil fuels, like oil.” Perry’s appointment definitely seems like, shall we say, the kind of idea a casual observer would come up with. But the Department of Energy is an organization with many missions, including determining the future of our radioactive nuclear waste. It’s also, as Stanford astrophysicist Rita Wechsler pointed out this week, a core institution of scientific innovation in the United States (and, by extension, the world), running key research facilities that contribute to Nobel Prize-winning scientific breakthroughs.

If you’re wondering how Perry might preside over an agency largely concerned with sound science ― well, the outlook isn’t good. It was, after all, Perry’s self-imposed ignorance of physics that directly led to the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham in 2004. And as Mother Jones’ Tim Murphy elucidated at length this week, Perry’s hostility to climate science is boundless.

In this way, Perry fits in well with a Trump administration that’s already tilting toward Lysenkoism. It looks like the incoming administration is planning some kind of purge of climate researchers in government, sending scientists on a mad dash to collect and duplicate as much data as they can to keep it out of Trump’s hands. (It’s going to be a good year for private servers after all!)

It’ll be ironic if Perry, who’s been notably hawkish on protecting incursions of any kind on our borders, ends up being responsible for some of America’s top scientific talent fleeing to more hospitable climes. But that’s a likely outcome.

Meanwhile, to environmentalists, the nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency signals the death knell of most efforts to curb pollution and protect people from its effects. As The Huffington Post’s Kate Sheppard reports, Pruitt has happily characterized himself as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.”

Sheppard notes that Pruitt is “currently suing the EPA... to stop the Obama administration’s effort to curb emissions from power plants, and he was caught letting oil industry lawyers draft letters to regulators on his behalf.” All in all, it seems unlikely that the Environmental Protection Agency would do much environment-protecting under Pruitt’s leadership. Maybe a name change is in order?

Funnily, Pruitt isn’t the only Trump appointee who might soon find himself leading an agency with which he’s been involved in a legal entanglement. Andy Puzder, who’s been tapped to lead the Department of Labor, is chief executive of CKE Restaurant Holdings. In that life, Puzder is best known as a serial scofflaw of labor rights and a frequent target of the Department of Labor’s regulators. As HuffPost’s Dave Jamieson reports, CKE’s main brands ― Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. ― have been a festering swamp of wage theft and workplace safety issues.

You know who doesn’t complain about wage theft and workplace safety? Robots! Puzder has spoken glowingly of inanimate laborers, gushing that “they’re always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case.” As for those ― what are they called ― right, humans, Puzder has opposed President Barack Obama’s expansion of overtime protection and has generally, per Jamieson, “spent his career as someone who would want to lower workplace fines, not dole them out.” In short, it seems improbable that a Puzder-led Labor Department would do much to improve the fortunes or expand the rights of working-class strivers.

Other Trump nominees are similarly-minded. Betsy DeVos, a billionaire who’s made it her life’s mission to destroy public education by steering vital funding to private and charter schools (an effort at which she’s been a complete cock-up), is Trump’s pick for the Department of Education. The main qualification of Linda McMahon, CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment and Trump’s selection to lead the Small Business Administration, seems to be her ability to crush small businesses (and, uh, give money to the Trump Foundation).

And then there’s prospective Housing And Urban Development head Ben Carson, who... doesn’t seem to know anything about housing or urban development? At all? But as New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait points out, Carson has distinguished himself as a scammer par excellence, and HUD’s “program structure lends itself naturally to profiteering.”

If you’re worried about the future of these agencies, and the odds that people like Perry will simply order them to be stripped down to the joists, that’s sort of the ironic twist. At some point, Trump’s appointees are going to discover one thing to love and admire about these institutions: the billions of dollars that sluice through them, ready to be channeled into any number of exciting patronage schemes and clear the way for these blackguards to enjoy lucrative post-administration careers based on favors offered and connections made.

Say what you want about kleptocracy, dude, but at least it’s an ethos ― one that requires an infrastructure to exist. In this way, these institutions of government may yet survive to fight another day. Unfortunately, whether you do the same is something of an open question.


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   |   December 8, 2016    1:26 PM ET

President-elect Donald Trump on Tuesday directed one of his infamous impulsive tweets at Boeing, which currently has a contract to build the next version of Air Force One. Specifically, he said: “Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!”

Boeing’s stock took a wild ride downward in the immediate aftermath of the outburst, but bounced back to roughly where it began by the time the closing bell rang. As it turned out, the Department of Defense had budgeted $1.65 billion ― not $4 billion ― and Boeing said it currently has a $170 million contract with the Air Force. Such clarity aided the company’s late-in-day stock rally.

But the tweet touched off a furious round of “Where did Donald Trump get his information?” questions. Reporters were subsequently tasked with the job of questioning whether Trump had any skin in the game with regard to Boeing. Spokespersons for the president-elect said ― without providing documentation ― that he had sold all of his stock holdings earlier in the year.

The whole incident revived concerns about the potential for Trump’s tweets to suddenly manipulate markets for no good reason. But it also uncovered other winners and losers that went relatively unnoticed.


Perhaps the day’s biggest irony is that Trump’s complaints about imaginary Air Force One cost overruns pushed an even bigger story about government waste right out of the newshole. Prior to Trump’s Boeing complaint, most of the media was still absorbing a blockbuster story from The Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock and Bob Woodward. They described how the Pentagon went in search of wasteful spending, found a nonsensical amount of it, and then buried its own findings.

As the Post reported:

The Pentagon has buried an internal study that exposed $125 billion in administrative waste in its business operations amid fears Congress would use the findings as an excuse to slash the defense budget, according to interviews and confidential memos obtained by The Washington Post.

Pentagon leaders had requested the study to help make their enormous back-office bureaucracy more efficient and reinvest any savings in combat power. But after the project documented far more wasteful spending than expected, senior defense officials moved swiftly to kill it by discrediting and suppressing the results.

According to my back-of-the-envelope calculations, $125 billion is greater than $4 billion. And yet I have a really good feeling about which story will attract the lion’s share of attention on the Sunday morning political chat shows. The Pentagon caught a nice break.


It’s hard to feel bad for our nation’s chief executives, who over the past four decades have enjoyed skyrocketing increases to their take-home pay that don’t align with the relative quality of American CEO-ing over the same period of time. But the Chicago Tribune’s Robert Reed argues that we should feel some concern over the “chilling effect on corporate CEOs speaking out in public.”

While not hearing from CEOs isn’t a major hardship for most people, this backing away threatens to damage the already shaky dialogue that exists between business leaders and the rest of us.

Even in a controlled environment of a Chamber of Commerce occasion or similar event, businesspeople get out there and share their views about the issues of the day, whether it’s public safety, the environment, markets, free trade or community development.


Sounds corny, but at such events the protective corporate bubble can be pierced, if only a little. Community activists, media members, employees, students and other stakeholders get to quiz executives about their corporate strategies and decisions.

“We need more healthy CEO dialogues, not fewer,” Reed writes.


For some reason, CNBC’s Robert Frank wrote a piece titled, “As Trump pushes back on Boeing, consider his private jet cost a fraction of Air Force One.”

Hmmm, yes, let’s consider.

So, after about two seconds of considering, I’m thinking that maybe one of the big reasons that Trump’s own plane “cost less then a tenth of Air Force One” is because Air Force One was specifically designed with the goal of making sure the president of the United States isn’t getting shot down all the damn time. This isn’t something that I thought we were ready to rethink. But as Frank points out, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s secondhand plane cost Trump merely $60 million after all the renovations were done. Let’s definitely see if Allen has any more planes laying around.

Frank pauses momentarily to ponder the innovative way Air Force One has been designed to “the president shouldn’t die” specifications, but dismisses such thoughts in the next breath:

Aviation experts say Trump’s plane is more luxurious, but Air Force One is a technology marvel, with an anti-missile system, scramblers, massive communications systems and back-up systems. So the two aircraft are not really comparable. But based on the Trump-gold standard for private jets, it’s no wonder he’s demanding a cost cut from Boeing.

Again, based on the “Trump-gold standard for private jets,” you don’t have an anti-missile system or other state-of-the-art countermeasures to being blown out of the sky, but it really makes you think, man.


Redeeming CNBC’s coverage of Boeing Tweet Day, Eamon Javers digs into the notion that traders might be able to game Trump’s Twitter activity with computerized algorithms designed to start immediately capitalizing on Trump’s market manipulations. That sounds great, just great. Naturally, people are already working on figuring out a way to do this.

Efrem Hoffman, founder of a market analysis firm called Running Alpha, said Trump’s tweets represent a new source of market information for those willing to study them and identify patterns. “One specific strategy that I am working on is looking at tweets that come from Trump’s Android phone — as these have been shown to reflect his personal beliefs and convictions,” Hoffman said. “Somewhat more unfiltered than tweets coming from other mobile devices that reflect the opinions of his colleagues/staff.”

Hoffman said he is analyzing the sequencing of Trump’s tweets in terms of volatility between Trump’s episodes of anger or jubilation, and cross referencing those episodes with keywords associated with specific industries of policy categories. He said he is looking at the sentiment of Trump’s followers and how the tweets are received as a possible measure of market player uncertainty.

There is a healthy amount of skepticism as to whether something like this could be pulled off, and Javers notes that it “is always possible that algorithmic traders are already analyzing Trump’s tweets and simply decided that the [Boeing] tweet was too vague to trade on.”

Nevertheless, that 10-second delay between Trump’s Twitter missive and the market’s convulsions remain exploitable terrain. Someone is sure to find a way to get rich off Trump’s tweets. Probably not you, though!


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   |   December 7, 2016    5:12 PM ET

In retrospect, it’s funny to think about how way back in 2011, President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner came oh so close to inking the sort of entitlement program-cutting “grand bargain” that would have sent the Beltway pundit class into heights of orgiastic ecstasy while, you know, economically immiserating millions of people. Had Boehner been the leader of the smarter GOP-majority caucuses of Houses of Representatives past, he would have gone down in history as a speaker who’d pulled off a major heist, smoothly extracting a raft of major concessions from a Democratic president.

Alas, Boehner came to power at the very time smart was going crazy, leading a caucus bent on the sort of zero-sum game that held that if Obama was able to earn a concession for himself ― or, really, save any face at all ― it was a bad deal all around. And so Boehner spent his latter days as speaker stuck between a president that wouldn’t give away the entire store and House colleagues that were willing to go to ridiculous lengths and resort to dangerous stunts to show how committed they were to their particular ideological pretensions. It pretty much saved America’s earned benefit programs, but it made governing all but impossible.

And so, in the fall of 2015, Boehner decided that all of this could just as easily be somebody else’s problem and he announced that he was going to resign. As CNN relayed Wednesday, Boehner, if nothing else, has a real appreciation for his sense of timing: 

Former House Speaker John Boehner says he is thankful that he did not have to participate in the 2016 presidential election.

“Every day I’d watch it and was like, ‘Thank God I’m not in the middle of this,’” he told Cincinnati’s WCPO in an exclusive interview. “It was the most bizarre political year that we’ve seen in 100 years.”

The former Ohio lawmaker said he has no regrets about walking away from Congress in October 2015.

“There’s nothing I would change about when I left or how I left,” he said.

Indeed, if you look at the way the coming fight over just how Obamacare should be repealed and ― let me stifle a little laughter ― replaced is shaping up, it’s looking like the precise type of internecine fracas that drove Boehner to the merlot.

Republican leadership is planning to pull off what’s been called a “repeal and delay” maneuver in which the Affordable Care Act’s funding structures are gutted through a budget reconciliation process as soon as the next Congress is ready, but they leave themselves a three-year-long off-ramp to provide enough time to gin up some sort of ersatz “replacement.”

But the House’s “Freedom Caucus” isn’t having any of it ― they want this matter to be accomplished by the 115th Congress. The group’s leader, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), has vowed that any plan to extend the process beyond that window will be met with “major resistance.” It’s the precise sort of battle that inspired Boehner to get out of the game.

CNN goes on to note that Boehner was always very bullish on Donald Trump’s electoral chances and that the two men were, for a time, “texting buddies.” But when all is said and done and the new year brings about other political retirements, you shouldn’t be surprised if this jokey bit from this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner doesn’t herald the future of Boehner’s post-political relationships.


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   |   December 2, 2016   12:12 PM ET

If you think about the storied history of the New York Observer ― which since 1987 has been one of New York City’s best-read weekly newspapers ― you might wonder what many of its former editors (Peter Kaplan and Elizabeth Spiers come to mind) would have made of a Donald Trump presidency. In all likelihood, their reaction would have been something like mordant concern lit by the flash of crashing rapiers. But with the paper under the control of Trump-kin-by-marriage publisher Jared Kushner and Trump campaign aide-de-camp editor Ken Kurson, it’s rather clear that the Observer is set to become some sort of garbage tribune, serving the president-elect with the devotion of a Kim Jong Un sycophant.

At first blush, the Observer would look like an unlikely herald for a Trump World Order. After all, it has historically been a tidy chronicle of Manhattan’s mostly liberal elites and their doings, pitched to an audience of mostly liberal Manhattanites climbing society’s ladders at slightly lower rungs. But changes are afoot. As the New York Times’ Michael Grynbaum reported just days after the election, it was announced that the Observer would cease its print edition and fully shed itself of its “New York” branding.

And although Observer Media’s chairman (and Kushner brother-in-law) Joseph Meyer insisted the media organization would retain “coverage of New York City politics and culture,” these changes, coupled with the dismissal of one senior editor and several regular freelancers, suggest that some sort of play beyond Manhattan is in the offing.

Just over a week ago, Mediaite contributor Justin Bargona took the lay of the land and figured that the Observer was well on its way to becoming an official “propaganda arm” of the Trump White House. Among the things he noted at the time was the fact that collapsing the distance between Trump’s Oval Office and the Observer’s publisher and editor offered a distinct advantage ― setting up the paper to become the pre-eminent venue for “exclusive interviews and breaking news,” naturally positioning it to become a go-to “primary source for the rest of the media.”

The possibilities of synergy between Trump’s administration and the Observer were never more clear than they were this week, with the publication of a daffy Austin Bay editorial calling on the Federal Bureau of Investigation to crack down on expressions of anti-Trump dissent:

It’s time for the FBI to conduct a detailed investigation into the violence and political thuggery that continue to mar the presidential election’s aftermath. A thorough probe of the protests—to include possible ties to organizations demanding vote recounts—will give the Bureau’s integrity-challenged director, James Comey, a chance to sandblast his sullied badge.

Lord, surely James Comey deserves better from Trump’s son-in-law’s newspaper after his service during the election. That aside, can you even imagine the FBI conducting a “detailed investigation” into this? “Our preliminary investigation has found that there all a bunch of people who think Donald Trump is some kind of asshole, it would read, before moving on to secondary areas of concern, like that legal right to assembly and free speech. Hopefully this would be wrapped up swiftly, so as not to create the sort of opportunity cost that might preclude the FBI from catching actual criminals.

This piece goes on to ask the FBI to look into the possibility that Trump electors are being “intimidated” into not voting for him by “angry, vicious...malcontents,” who Bay surmises are from the Democratic Party. Presumably these Democratic operatives haven’t thought through the fact that if enough Trump electors defect, the election will be determined by the GOP-controlled House and Senate. Those bodies would probably not opt to install someone from the opposition. 

That is the height of the editorial’s cogency, by the way. From here it devolves into a scattershot rant alleging George Soros-funded protesters (does he pay a living wage and are there opportunities for advancement?), strange asides about Jill Stein (which for some reason have been pull-quoted by some clearly desperate page layout editor) and a reiteration of anger at Comey for not jailing Clinton.

It’s all a little “Aunt Brenda forwarded this email to all the cousins again, God bless her” for any newspaper, let alone the Observer. To be sure, the paper’s subscribers have come to expect a rightward tilt from the editorial page under Kushner, but this dispatch diverges sharply from its traditional tone of aristocratic condescension.

As previously mentioned, Mediaite’s Baragona was given occasion to speculate about the Observer’s future after Kurson appeared on CNN’s “Reliable Sources.” There, the paper’s editor offered his opinion on how the media had, in general, cocked up their election coverage to the utmost degree before going on to call for everyone’s immediate job termination and offering some strange asides about “Hamilton” (there’s the Aunt Brenda style of American politics again).

Baragona properly acknowledged that there was more than a little truth to some of Kurson’s criticism, but then rightly noted that “to hear a former speechwriter for senior Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani sit there and lecture the media over how it is doing its job while he works for a Trump family member who is trying to find a way to get around nepotism rules to be on the President-elect’s staff while owning a media outlet is rich.”

Per Baragona:

Let’s just take a step back and look with clear eyes at what Kurson is saying here. One, he’s trying to convince us all that Kushner has no say — none at all — over what the Observer prints or its editorial direction. At the same time, he also says that he doesn’t bemoan Kushner wanting to perhaps push his opinion to the editors, contradicting his statements about Kushner not placing his “finger on the scale.”

Meanwhile, he completely brushes aside the question of whether or not Kushner should place his ownership interest of the Observer in a blind trust should he officially join the Trump administration. And, of course, he sits there and commends his paper’s coverage of the election and Trump while slamming the efforts of other papers and networks, calling for mass firings and resignations in the wake of the election.

With Kushner angling for a place in the administration, and some amount of speculation as to whether or not Kurson might be heading in that direction as well, you might wonder if, at some point, the two men might properly step down from the paper and leave it in a successor’s hands. To which I’d say: why are you wondering that? With Trump already testing the boundaries of ethics laws concerning conflicts of interests, angling for something short of total divestiture from his business interests, why on earth would Kushner and Kurson volunteer to model journalistic propriety in this instance? In Trump’s world, there’s nothing sacred but whatever you can get away with.

It’s really no wonder that Kurson is feeling rather optimistic. Per Grynbaum:

“This has been a week of incredible tumult, for our country, and now for this small business,” Mr. Kurson, who is close to Mr. Kushner, wrote in a post. “Who knows what the future holds, for me or for the USA or for Observer.”

“But I can tell you this much for sure,” Mr. Kurson added. “Observer’s future is brighter than it’s ever been.”

In truth, its not hard to see how a pro-Trump propaganda empire might work. Properly sorted, you’d have Breitbart News aiming its copy right at the heart of Trump’s raging base and the more tony-tongued Observer riding alongside, laundering Trump’s misdeeds for a snootier set. (I’ve previously surmised that MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” has an emerging role to play in this; things are about to get very interesting over at CNN as well.)

It’s going to be a pretty difficult adjustment for those who’ve long admired the New York Observer’s very particular place in the media firmament. I’d imagine that the energy we could harness from Peter Kaplan spinning in his grave would power the sun.


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   |   December 1, 2016    8:01 PM ET

Every four years since 1972, the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University has hosted an after-action gathering on the presidential election called the Campaign Managers Conference, in which the people who ran the presidential campaigns of both the winners and the losers dish about their successes, rue their failures and try to provide attendees with what the school calls “the first draft of history.”

The big news going into this year’s confab was that Trump campaign chairman Steve Bannon was going to steer clear of his alma mater and forgo the event. The news coming out of the conference? Lots of fighting!

As you might expect with such an acrimonious campaign (if you recall, part of Donald Trump’s platform during the election season was a promise to use the powers at his disposal to prosecute his opponent, Hillary Clinton), the representatives of the two campaigns sparred angrily during their session together. As the Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Karen Tumulty report, things devolved into a “shouting match,” with the Clinton campaign’s communications director, Jennifer Palmieri, denouncing the way the Trump campaign provided “a platform for white supremacists,” over the vigorous objections of her Trump campaign counterpart, Kellyanne Conway.

But enough about that! If you ask me, the real action happened at a Wednesday night dinner at The Charles Hotel in Cambridge, where there was yet another shouting match. Only this time, all of the shouting served two very noble and patriotic purposes: savaging CNN President Jeff Zucker and making former Trump campaign operative-turned-CNN contributor Corey Lewandowski upset.

As Politico’s Hadas Gold reports, the dinner discussion, which was supposed to be a genteel and academic discussion among Zucker, Washington Post Editor Marty Baron, Associated Press Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll and Facebook Vice President Elliot Schrage ― presided over by journalist and The Victory Lab author Sasha Issenberg ― quickly took a turn as the various campaign managers for the losing Republican primary candidates came at Zucker like a gang of chum-hungry sharks.

Nice! Let us be glad about all of these things that happened.

Per Gold, these campaign managers “shouted Zucker down with increasing anger as he defended how much airtime the network gave Trump” during the primary season, contending that it was both out of whack and out of balance. Zucker’s self-defense essentially amounted to asserting that when CNN reached out to the various candidates, Trump was the one who answered the call the most often.

Several of the campaign managers assembled told Zucker that they’d not received these alleged calls. Others joked about how CNN was willing to give their candidates only a brief amount of time or air segments at off-hours. As anyone who actually witnessed the primary campaign can tell you, none of the other candidates’ events got the lavish, fulsome coverage that Trump’s got.

And that includes coverage of Trump events during times when Trump wasn’t even in range of the camera lens. As one audience member shouted, “You showed empty podiums!” (Which was technically accurate, as there were podiums at these events.)

Zucker was unable to sufficiently explain to the assembled campaign managers how it came to pass that CNN offered so many hours of coverage to Trump’s many empty stages and unoccupied lecterns. Perhaps in an effort to reach out to every campaign’s inanimate stage props, only Trump’s returned the call, offering to help CNN air hundreds of minutes of blank space for no good reason.

As Gold details, it all got to the point where Lewandowski had to leave the room to cuddle his binky or something:

The Trump strategists peppered throughout the room didn’t stand up to defend Zucker or challenge the other strategists, with the exception of former Trump campaign manager and CNN contributor Corey Lewandowski, who stalked out of the room early and returned only after a spell outside.

Once Lewandowski returned from psyching himself up in the washroom mirror with repeated pick-me-ups (“You can do it, Corey! You’re a real man, Corey!”), the erstwhile CNN contributor was in more of a fighting mood, getting confrontational once the conversation turned to Zucker’s decision to hire Lewandowski in the first place:

Lewandowski seized the microphone from the questioner, who broached the topic, in a bid to defend himself, allowing the student to finish asking it, but insisting he was adding value to the CNN airwaves.

Zucker said Lewandowski was a “good investment and decision,” as Lewandowski clapped and the rest of the room remained silent.

Please clap! But no.


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   |   November 30, 2016   11:55 AM ET

When President-elect Donald Trump ascends to the Oval Office on Inauguration Day, one of the institutions that can serve as a check on his executive power will be the United States Congress. And although Senate Democrats will likely have some leverage in the form of the filibuster, that Congress will, for the near future, be controlled by the GOP. So a good question to ask right now is, “Will Congressional Republicans provide that vital check on potential misrule?”

To save everyone some time, I’ll spoil the ending: no. I mean, possibly yes, but probably no.

During the primary season, prominent Republicans managed to talk a good game against Trump, in many instances correctly describing him as a liar and a scam artist. And prominent members of the conservative thought-leader set contributed to the cause, identifying Trump ― again, accurately ― as a corrupt, kleptocratic strongman in the making, someone who threatened to degrade important institutions within our democracy.

But you probably noticed that for the most part, Congressional Republicans didn’t really join in the anti-Trump crusade. Condemnations were occasionally offered and then walked back ― most notably after the famous “grab her by the pussy” revelation, when several GOP legislators professed concern over what Trump represented to their mothers and daughters, and then suddenly remembered that actually, they would like to be re-elected, please.

Republican legislators no doubt heard an earful from the conservative intelligentsia about Trump’s threat to sacred institutions. They also probably heard concerns from their ideological comrades in the commentariat, voicing skepticism as to whether Trump was actually, deep down, a true conservative ― since Trump does, after all, have a history of supporting various liberal causes and Democratic politicians. But even if they have heard these concerns, they’ve kept their mouths shut.

In this regard, I would guess, Republican legislators ended up reading Trump correctly. His past actions, after all, were not evidence of a secret liberal heart. They were merely the actions of a man who’d always followed the path of least resistance, who appeared to favor liberal ideology when his highest priorities were 1) making it in the entertainment industry and 2) remaining a member of the Manhattan elite. Republican legislators (I’m thinking) correctly reckoned that Trump is, in fact, an empty ideological vessel ― one who needs all the help he can get to do a job he’s clearly not suited to perform.

For GOP lawmakers, then, Trump might represent a danger to some important democratic institutions, but not to conservative governance itself. He is, in other words, the type of president whom Grover Norquist famously described as the platonic ideal for a GOP-run Congress.

“We just need a president to sign this stuff,” Norquist said of Mitt Romney back in 2012. “We don’t need someone to think it up or design it. The leadership now for the modern conservative movement for the next 20 years will be coming out of the House and the Senate. The requirement for president? Pick a Republican with enough working digits to handle a pen to become president of the United States.”

There’s really no indication that Trump won’t be exactly that. Trump’s digits may be short, but he has a sufficient number for pen-operating. And while his policy positions have been presented in a typically id-slathered way, many of them are, at base, bog-standard Republican dogma. Conservatives in the House and Senate may have concerns about Trump’s overall effect on the republic, but as The New Republic’s Brian Beutler points out, they’ve got their eyes on a bigger payout:

There are multiple incentives inhibiting Republicans from acting to contain Trump right now. Trump is more popular among GOP voters than many elected Republicans are within their own states and districts. Those who might otherwise be inclined to rein Trump in might also be disinclined to sow division within the party before they’ve even claimed their new majority.

But the zen mantra on Capitol Hill isn’t about Trump or party unity per se, but the regressive tax cuts and restored Supreme Court dominance his victory portends. Republicans have led the country into a terrifying funhouse, but are taking solace in the faith that everyone will emerge from it unscathed after they’ve secured their election spoils.

As the cavalcade of disgraces accelerates, this bet looks more and more reckless. Republicans may never find it within themselves to treat Trump’s embarrassments and corruption with the alarm they deserve, but they are almost certainly not going to rein him in before he sends them an acceptably Scalia-like Supreme Court nominee and signs their tax cuts.

Beutler presents all of this as a sort of gamble: Can GOP legislators get everything they want out of Trump before they have to start worrying about the cracks forming in the foundation of civil society? But even this notion ― that the GOP will rein in Trump’s self-dealing and autocratic tendencies once they’ve secured their boodle ― is a bit optimistic.

Consider, for example, these three demonstrated realities that offer clues as to how Trump might be likely to try and debase America’s institutions. There’s his antipathy for the free press. There are his constant efforts to undermine the integrity of elections. And there’s the plethora of options currently available for him to use the office of the presidency for naked self-enrichment.

Does that sound like anything that GOP legislators might mount the barricades over? With the exception of Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), probably not. The gradual degradation of the press has been a conservative project since the mid-1990s, as has the effort to deny voters an easy path to enfranchisement ― just ask anyone who supported the “Motor-Voter bills” from the same era, or who has fought the good fight for voter rights ever since. Trump has brought his own brand of rhetoric ― and his own brand of threats ― to these fights. But he’s joining frays that were already in progress.

What’s been lately cited as the most unique way that Trump poses a threat to established democratic norms is his vast portfolio of personal financial entanglements and conflicts of interest, which span the globe in a dizzying array of opportunities for graft and corruption. In this case, it falls to someone willing to force him to put his assets into a proper blind trust, so that he’s well clear of any possible self-dealing.

This week, Trump made a vague announcement about “leaving” his business, but it’s not clear how his merely “leaving” will eliminate these conflicts of interest. He continues to dodge on the matter of establishing a true blind trust. More generally, Trump has taken the Nixon line on this controversy ― that what the president does cannot be illegal. As far as federal conflict-of-interest laws go, Trump is correct. But the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause says otherwise, in no uncertain terms.

Trouble is, you’ve got to actually step up and enforce that sucker, and I don’t see GOP legislators scrambling to do so. As The Huffington Post’s Michael McAuliff reported, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has taken a robust “nothing to see here, folks” stance on the matter. And Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who formerly seemed pretty keen to hold Trump accountable (he once demanded that Trump release his tax returns, which is adorable), has lately been doing his best impression of an invertebrate as well.

Perhaps congressional Republicans will try to hold Trump accountable once he’s signed off on their legislative agenda. But I kind of doubt it. And I’m not sure Democrats will be able to sell the notion that Trump’s self-enrichment harms taxpayer interests.

In many ways, these circumstances aren’t even unique to Trump. Corruption has been a way of life in Washington for a long while now. The revolving door spins, the money flows in and out and everyone gets a piece. From a legal standpoint, centuries of case law that once held that even the appearance of impropriety was harmful to democracy have eroded nearly completely. The Supreme Court only months ago overturned the corruption conviction of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, accepting the argument that even pay-to-play bribery and favor-trading were essential to governance.

So the notion that a lot of Congresscritters are going to suddenly develop a passion for the Emoluments Clause seems fanciful. It’s far more likely that any such legislator would be either treated as a generic partisan foe or ridiculed by the media for doing something quixotic, as is often the case with legislators who oppose dumb wars or mention how it might be nice to give money to poor people. The test case, for the moment, is with Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who, as Politico reports, is fighting a lonely fight to make sure Trump takes “the necessary financial steps to ensure that he is not violating any constitutional limits on a president’s conflicts of interest.”

Besides, Trump’s nervous new allies might see Trump’s ability to enrich himself as a vital safeguard against catastrophic error. If Trump’s at his most unstable and impulsive when he’s angry, allowing him to pad out his bank account might come to be viewed as the cost of keeping him happy.

Maybe Beutler’s right and Republican legislators will discover an appetite for institution-preserving once their ambitions have been realized at the business end of Trump’s autopen. But it’s not clear what would drive them to suddenly see the press, the vote, or good and honest government as vital things worth defending, after decades of not doing that.

So if those things aren’t potential breaking points between the Trump White House and the GOP-led Congress... well, do any exist? Really, the only possibility I can see for tension arising is if Trump’s voters try to hold him accountable for all those elaborate promises he made to restore the wealth of working-class Americans ― a group the GOP has always courted without doing much to actually help. Now, everyone in the Republican Party is on the hook.

Of course, it’s possible that at some point, a few million working-class Americans will be deprived of secure access to affordable health care. It’s also possible that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has done great work defending the financial interests of ordinary Americans, will be badly defanged. And the way financial sector regulation is shaping up, we could soon be returning to the pre-crash status quo, in which deregulated and overleveraged banks ride insecure bubbles with their nethers dangling naked in the wind ― a great recipe for a sequel to the 2008 financial crisis.

So that’s your breaking point: broken promises and broken people. Short of that, and barring some frankly astonishing rediscovery of principles and public-mindedness in a party that appears to have lost all interest in the business of governing, don’t expect GOP legislators to pull any muscles protecting the institutions that Trump threatens. I would love to be proven wrong here, but it seems that in the minds of congressional Republicans, the only institution in town worth preserving is... congressional Republicans.

There’s going to be a fun irony to that. Sadly, you can’t pay your medical bills with fun irony. 


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   |   November 29, 2016    4:22 PM ET

In the wake of the presidential election, it was always going to fall to either David Brooks or Thomas Friedman to fill The New York Times op-ed pages with what they see as the most badly needed commodity in America: sophistry about centrism. And so it went that Friedman ― no doubt delayed by his quest to find nine new synonyms for “interconnectedness” ― was beaten to the punch by Brooks, who on Tuesday laid out “The Future of the American Center” ― which, as it turns out, sounds a lot like many past David Brooks columns. To no one’s surprise!

Brooks, like most sentient creatures, is alarmed that the next president looks for all the world to resemble that classic rough beast, slouching towards Bethlehem. It’s understandable that he’s rattled by this. What’s less understandable, of course, is his generic call for a “movement ... that is part Milton Friedman on economic policy, Ronald Reagan on foreign policy and Franklin Roosevelt on welfare policy.”

Aside from the fact that this does not seem to be a workable combination (pairing Milton Friedman with FDR isn’t so much an innovation of ideology as much as a dark, gritty reboot of the fable of the scorpion and the frog), this is clearly not a thing for which anyone without a stable sinecure at a newspaper has ever expressed a desire. Not long ago, Brooks lamented that he’d not strayed particularly far from the “bourgeois strata” he calls home. There’s nothing in this column on the “future of the center” that suggests he’s made it as far as the end of his street in the meanwhile. That’s how I’d explain many of his risible ideas, anyway.

Brooks’ piece comes larded with assumptions about what the future holds that don’t really correspond to reality as it’s shaping up. First and foremost, he regards Trump’s ascension to the White House as an event that will definitely destroy party loyalty, insisting that Trump is “hostile to the Republican establishment” and that his “proposals cut across orthodox lines.”

Why, Trump is so hostile to the establishment that he’s going to offer Elaine Chao ― the former labor secretary and current lobbyist wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ― a Cabinet position! I tell you, I just don’t know how the Republican establishment is going to survive, beyond swimmingly.

As for Trump’s proposals, they include ramping up deportations, ramping down regulations, ending the Affordable Care Act, gutting Medicare, and a tax plan that favors the wealthy. This sounds pretty “orthodox.” 

It’s not clear that Brooks really understands where the political fault lines are anymore. Somehow or another, he’s been allowed by professional newspaper editors to define the Bernie Sanders-Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party as the “alt-left.” No, sir! There are no ethno-nationalist or autocratic leanings to be found in the Sanders-Warren section of Congress. They are simply “the left,” full stop.

What Brooks describes as the “old guard” in the Democratic Party (the “Chuck Schumer-Nancy Pelosi” wing) is actually a relatively new breed of political movement that centers the affluent professional class and its advancement as its main ideological cause, while paying lip service to the sort of liberal social pieties that have particular salience among limousine liberals. (This is actually the closest thing America has to Brooks’ notion of “the center” ― all of the gay marriage and boardroom diversification without any of the labor rights or wealth redistribution ―  he just can’t bring himself to admit it.)

But Brooks says the ever in-touch editor of The Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol, has assured him that resistance to Trump will take many forms from a Congress that will certainly break itself down into many multipolar mini-caucuses, and from this chaos there will be a New Centrist Order that will stand in “defense of the basic institutions and practices of our constitutional order.”

Which is a nice theory, for sure. Now, in practice, what’s happening is that the prevailing Republican leaders have signaled that they have absolutely no interest in mounting this defense. Brooks isn’t up on current events. He hasn’t heard that Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) is planning on taking a dive as far as Congressional oversight goes, or that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has declared that Trump’s many potential violations of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause to be no big deal.

In short, just because Brooks thought that the “joint statement” issued by Bill Kristol and Bill Galston calling for a “New Center” was well and truly dope, that doesn’t mean that congresspersons are going to take their cues from it. Sure sounds like there will be many sternly worded editorials in the future, however!

But the apotheosis of this piece comes when Brooks dredges up that great centrist failure of yesteryear, No Labels, in an attempt to reanimate its corpse:

The most active centrist organization, No Labels, began six years ago in opposition to polarized, cutthroat politics. The problem with the group back then was that there was no future to a political movement whose first name is “No.” You have to be for something.

But under the leadership of its undeterrable co-founder, Nancy Jacobson, No Labels has evolved. It created a package of reform ideas to make Congress and the executive branch work together. It created an active congressional caucus, called the Problem Solvers Caucus, which now has 80 members, divided roughly evenly between both parties.

No Labels, a python made of private equity money that is forever eating its own tail, is clearly not an organization that Brooks has kept up with over the years. Not only are its problems not merely limited to not being “for” anything (the organization has a long history of ducking fights that involve prominent members), this notion that it has “evolved” somehow is nonsense. As recently as 2014, this organization ― ostensibly dedicated to making Congress work effectively (mainly through the power of bipartisan seating and State Of The Union prom-dating!) ― was caught out by Yahoo News’ Meredith Shiner actively rooting for more dysfunction, so the group’s members would be more relevant to the donors they’d habitually fleeced

And No Labels’ famous “Problem Solvers Caucus” ― the body that Brooks really believes will be the crucible for a new centrist movement ― is the Beltway’s biggest joke. It’s a caucus that asks nothing of members, and has yet to solve a single problem. But you don’t have to take my word for it, that the “Problem Solvers Caucus” is empty and meaningless is something that No Labels will happily cop to, if asked. Per Shiner:

While a group spokesperson told a local Denver Fox affiliate that the “seal” is an “implied endorsement,” No Labels co-founder Mark McKinnon, a former George W. Bush and John McCain strategist, said that anyone ... would be eligible for such a seal were they join the group [sic].

The “Problem Solver Seals” granted by No Labels to lawmakers require nothing of those members from a policy perspective, aside from agreeing to be part of No Labels, and to attend meetings with other No Labels members to discuss broad principles of bipartisanship. To be a member of No Labels, a politician needs to pledge to not take any pledge but the oath of office and the Pledge of Allegiance.

Yeah, this is an active group of busy lawmakers doing big-time stuff, man!

Of course, the most hilarious thing about Brooks looking to No Labels for solace and sanity in the age of Donald Trump is that he clearly hasn’t heard about one of the latest figures in American politics to earn that organization’s “Problem Solver” imprimatur. As The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel reported in January:

The bipartisan good government group No Labels thanked six presidential candidates Monday for taking its “Problem Solver Promise,” commemorating the event with a New Hampshire event that none of the candidates attended in person. One seemed particularly distant from the Radisson in downtown Manchester: pledge-taker Donald Trump.

Well, that’s a little inconvenient.

What’s darkly amusing about all of this is that Brooks would have likely written this column if Hillary Clinton had won the election, even though she is the closest thing in politics to a weird Milton Friedman-Ronald Reagan-FDR amalgam that anyone could imagine, promising no savage redistribution of wealth beyond helping to diversify the boardrooms of the Fortune 500, and likely to have taken several runs at the sort of bipartisan “grand bargains” that Brooks often lionizes.

Needless to say, a Clinton win would have prompted Brooks to lash out against any perceived leftward tilt in the electorate, insisting on the country’s essential center-rightness and continually evincing the odd columnist tic that Jonathan Chait properly identifies in his work: “Indeed, one of the most common genres of David Brooks column was a sad lament that neither party would endorse policies that in fact Obama had explicitly and publicly called for.”

As Chait notes, Brooks’ compulsive desire to fit himself snugly at the center between one party willing to compromise and another party fully bent on installing itself inside a rubber room all but assured that the center would not hold. So now, the road back involves pimping No Labels’ non-agenda and waiting for Bill Kristol to provide Thought Leadership. To which the only plausible response is: “Jesus wept.”

Okay, then. I guess it’s Thomas Friedman’s turn in the barrel now.


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   |   November 28, 2016   11:50 AM ET

With the Thanksgiving weekend behind us, it’s time to return to the wild days and nights of President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team, currently endeavoring to find itself a shiny new secretary of state. The competition is lit, folks.

Former Massachusetts governor and Trump critic Mitt Romney is a top contender, provided he accede to whatever ritual humiliation Trump has in mind for the one-time presidential candidate. Also in the mix: retired Gen. David Petraeus, whose nomination would finally end our national conversation about the handling of state secrets and how it is disqualifying for higher office.

But you should also spare a thought for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who is also up for consideration, according to things he has heard. And it would be really nice if everyone would go and vote for him in an online poll, which he would rather not lose.

Rohrabacher put out the call for assistance on his Facebook page over the weekend:

I have been told that I am under consideration to join President Trump’s team as Secretary of State. While my present intention, of course, is to continue to fight for liberty and freedom as a member of the House of Representatives, as a strong supporter of President-Elect Trump’s vision for America, it would be a privilege and an honor to serve as his Secretary of State.

Breitbart News is conducting a poll of potential candidates for Secretary of State. As a supporter of mine who shares values and patriotism, I thought you might want to participate in this poll.

At the time of this post, Rohrabacher was trailing Romney, Petraeus, John Bolton and Rudy Giuliani but maintaining a lead over “other,” probably thanks to illegal voters.

This is presumably how things are going to get done in America now. 


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   |   November 22, 2016    3:59 PM ET

Oh man, have we ever got a hot feud for you today! Yes, sir. Seems that President-elect Donald Trump, after leading crowd after crowd in a lusty chorus of “Lock her up!” during the presidential campaign, isn’t really feeling that whole “prosecute Hillary Clinton for emails” thing anymore.

As Politico reported, the news of Trump’s reversal on this matter broke on Tuesday morning’s edition of “Morning Joe.” According to an anonymous source “with direct knowledge of Donald Trump’s thinking,” Trump had all but decided to decline to “pursue criminal investigations against Clinton over her use of the private server or into her family’s charitable foundation.”

Trump has since confirmed to reporters from The New York Times that he is going to kinda-sorta drop the matter. “It’s just not something that I feel very strongly about,” he said. (And, indeed, he seems to feel much more strongly about extracting all of the benefit he can from the trappings of his office in as quick a time as possible.)

Of course, the news that Trump would be largely moving away from a promise to go fully Javert on Clinton if elected was not received well in some circles ― most notably his allies at Breitbart News, who signaled a sense of betrayal to their readers as news of this decision broke.

And that’s cute as hell. Some quality playacting, right there.

Professional wrestling fans are familiar with a concept called “kayfabe.” Kayfabe refers to “the portrayal of events within the industry as real, that is the portrayal of professional wrestling as not staged” and the further “suspension of disbelief that is used to create ... feuds, storylines, and gimmicks.”

You can apply this term to what’s publicly been going on between Trump and Breitbart. There’s no real feud here. This is just for show. If you’re thinking that a rift is forming between Trump and his media allies, you can stop. Trump’s relationship with Breitbart News is fine; feel free to postpone whatever follow-up stories you’d planned around this shiny development in perpetuity.

Everyone understands that the Department of Justice can choose to bring a case against Clinton if it thinks it has enough evidence to prosecute, right? Even Trump understands this. He’s hedged all his bets, saying that he wasn’t going to actually take “potential investigations into Clinton off the table.” Right now, he gets to play the role of the magnanimous unifier who doesn’t want to “hurt the Clintons” or be “divisive for the country.”

But Trump has some other problems in that regard, coming in the form of the most energetic members of his fanbase ― a bunch of Sieg Heiling chumps that came to Washington over the weekend to spit anti-Semitic doggerel and declare themselves the transformative vanguard of Trump’s presidency.

Trump’s been having to disavow these supporters’ affections all day. But one big impediment is that his chief strategist is Breitbart News Executive Chairman Steve Bannon, who’s essentially admitted that his site was built out as a platform for this part of Trump’s fanbase.

So Trump coming forward and announcing that he’ll not pursue prosecution against Hillary Clinton ― which again, is not his choice to make ― puts his whole transition operation (and by extension, Bannon) on the side of the angels, while Bannon’s former platform gets to act all bereft and betrayed while garnering a spate of media attention, paid toward a supposed rift. Meanwhile, Trump gets a little bit of distance from his white nationalist fans and Breitbart, potentially altering the conversation.

So this was nicely done by Breitbart’s headline and page editors. This was some good-ass kayfabe. Hats off.

I’m by no means the first to notice the interesting way Donald Trump deploys professional wrestling tropes when the mood, or need, arises. Back in May of 2016, Gawker’s Alex Pareene noted that Trump’s then-”feud” with Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski of “Morning Joe” had all the obvious hallmarks of classic kayfabe. 

Which reminds me: Anytime you encounter a situation where “Morning Joe” is breaking some sort of exclusive news about Trump, facilitated by anonymous sources, keep an eye out for the tripwires. Because you are being worked.


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   |   November 21, 2016   11:55 AM ET

Over the weekend, a group of white nationalists, emboldened by the election of Donald Trump, descended upon Washington to celebrate having taken one step closer to having their crypto-fascist ideology mainstreamed. The occasion was a meeting of the National Policy Institute, a benign name for an organization, headed by Richard Spencer, that essentially traffics in white-supremacist dogma and neo-Nazi cosplay. 

As The Huffington Post’s Dana Liebelson and Matt Ferner noted on Friday, white nationalists endeavored “throughout the presidential campaign to sanitize their language to appeal to mainstream voters.” The weekend gathering gave the media a chance to resist this attempt at sanitization.

How did they do? Let’s find out!

The New York Times: “Alt-Right Exults in Donald Trump’s Election With A Salute: ‘Heil Victory’

Reporter Joseph Goldstein opened with a bit of a scene-setting feint, but didn’t pull his punch, getting right down to business in a third paragraph that showed what happened when, after “11 hours of speeches and panel discussions,” Spencer allowed his polite mask to drop:

But now his tone changed as he began to tell the audience of more than 200 people, mostly young men, what they had been waiting to hear. He railed against Jews and, with a smile, quoted Nazi propaganda in the original German. America, he said, belonged to white people, whom he called the “children of the sun,” a race of conquerors and creators who had been marginalized but now, in the era of President-elect Donald J. Trump, were “awakening to their own identity.”

As he finished, several audience members had their arms outstretched in a Nazi salute. When Mr. Spencer, or perhaps another person standing near him at the front of the room — it was not clear who — shouted, “Heil the people! Heil victory,” the room shouted it back.

Goldstein would re-emphasize this point later in the piece: “But as the night wore on and most reporters had gone home, the language changed.”

Overall it took three paragraphs to get to the overt Nazi ideology and literal Nazi salutes. If the piece has any flaws, it is the use of the term “alt right” in the headline, which is critical to mainstreaming this movement.

The Washington Post: “After Trump victory, attendance rises at annual white nationalist conference in D.C.

A solid opening paragraph from reporters Steve Hendrix and John Woodrow Cox:

White nationalists from around the country gathered Saturday in downtown Washington to bask in Donald Trump’s victory and celebrate what many proclaimed as a coming-out moment in their mission to turn back multiculturalism and eventually create a whites-only “ethno-state” in North America.

Overall, the piece treats the notion that this group warrants normalization with a high degree of skepticism, and ties specific actions already taken by the Trump transition team ― such as naming Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to run the Department of Justice ― as indicative of like-mindedness with this white nationalist movement.

The Los Angeles Times: “White nationalists dress up and come to Washington in hopes of influencing Trump.”

Easily the worst of the lot, Lisa Mascaro’s piece originally presented Spencer’s organization as a “think tank” and treated the gathering as a whole as if some exciting new smartphone app was being launched. It took five paragraphs for Mascaro to use the term, “white nationalist.” Her buildup to that moment went a long way to normalizing the members of the movement, describing them as “buttoned-down millennials” with a flashy (if fashy!) haircut, “cradling” cups of coffee and going about their “wonky” ways. 

Inside a beige meeting room at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, the buttoned-down millennials, in their dark suits and ties, settled in for the long conference day ahead.

Like countless others who travel to Washington, they had come to position their interests at the forefront of the political agenda. Their sponsor had a wonky and nondescript name, National Policy Institute. They cradled cups of morning coffee.

But on closer look, this group Saturday was different: They were almost entirely young men, many sporting the same haircut of short sides and back with a familiar flop on top.

The agenda topics: “Trump and the New White Voter,” “America and the Jewish Consciousness,” “The Future of the Alt-Right.”

This will be the account that white nationalists will clip for themselves. I’d wager that The New York Times’ Goldstein reference to reporters who went home early included Mascaro. (Not before getting a rock-star glam-shot of Richard Spencer, however.) 

The Guardian: “Hitler salutes and white supremacism: a weekend with the ‘alt-right’

The Guardian’s piece mostly avoids euphemisms in its presentation, with the sub-headline reading, “The ‘alt-right’ conference in Washington wasn’t a gathering of forgotten white working class. It was a white nationalist movement buoyed by millennials.” That’s a pretty laudable effort to separate this band of outsiders from the voters with whom the media actually does need to forge a connection.

Reporter Adam Gabbatt, however, gets stuck in a waddle of throat-clearing toward the top of his piece, unfortunately ― most notably substituting the term “nationalist” for “white nationalist.”

Some of the most prominent members of the so-called “alt-right”, the white nationalist movement that helped propel Donald Trump to the presidency, gathered in Washington DC on Saturday to plot how the movement can “start influencing policy and culture” under the Trump administration.

There was a celebratory mood as Richard Spencer, the president of the National Policy Institute, a nationalist thinktank which hosted the day-long conference, talked about how the “alt-right” would be an “intellectual vanguard” for Trump and the rightwing at large.

But to an outsider, the conference merely served as a shocking insight into the racism, sexism and disturbing beliefs of the “alt-right”.

Gabbatt would, in the next paragraph, go on to describe the “series of Nazi salutes” made by attendees, but without the Guardian’s strong article presentation, readers would not have been properly introduced to the group’s white nationalist identity until the eighth paragraph.

The Huffington Post: “The ‘Alt-Right’ Is A Hate Movement, And It’s Scarier Than You Think

I’ll let readers be the judge as to whether we did a good job. Per The Huffington Post’s Eliot Nelson:

If you want to know why the unabashedly racist and Nazi-sympathizing “alt-right” movement is making a mark on the Trump administration and beyond, look no further than Tila Tequila and her white nationalist friend, Richard Spencer.

In one of the more bizarre and scary things to transpire in an already bizarre and scary political season, Tequila ― the social media presence, former TV host and current porn star ― attended a conference of white nationalists in Washington this weekend. On the surface, it was odd that the Vietnamese-American, born Thien Thanh Thi Nguyen, was there. Yet her presence squared perfectly with Spencer’s political and messaging strategy, and that of his National Policy Institute, which organized the event.

“The alt-right is willing to work with allies of color,” Spencer told journalists on Saturday. At that moment, it was hard not to think of Tequila, who had tweeted a photo of herself making the Nazi salute with the caption, “Seig [sic] heil!” the night before.

So there you have it, some praiseworthy work in the mainstream media heap, but lots of room for improvement. Above all, reporters need to remember that glamorizing a movement that lionizes some of the 20th century’s most formidable genocidaires (who were defeated by the people we very recently referred to as “the Greatest Generation”) is a pretty bad look. Richard Spencer has the same haircut as every attacking midfielder in the Premier League. Like his style of dress, it’s not notable. 

Referring to the National Policy Institute as “wonky” or a “think tank” goes a long way to obscuring the fact that it is, to this day, ceaselessly peddling a racist vision that hasn’t been updated in any meaningful way in decades. This isn’t wonkishness. These ideas haven’t evolved since the last time society rejected them. All that’s new about this is the marketing, and journalists are supposed to be canny enough to recognize a PR offensive when they encounter them in the wild.

And pursuant to that, remember: “alt-right” is not a thing. The term you are looking for is “white nationalism.”


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   |   November 15, 2016    9:39 PM ET

Back in March 2016, when the GOP primary was still a going concern and the candidates were jockeying for endorsements and assistants, we made note of the fact that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz had gone out of his way to bring into his inner circle a new foreign policy adviser who’d basically distinguished himself as one of the few people in American politics more overtly anti-Muslim than Donald Trump. 

Well, time sure flies! That adviser, Frank Gaffney, has now joined up with the Trump transition team, in some late-breaking news on a long day of clown-show crackups from Trump’s squad of irregulars.

UPDATE: Nov. 16 ― Benjy Sarlin of MSNBC tweeted Wednesday morning that Gaffney is not on Trump’s transition team. During an appearance on the network, Trump spokesman Jason Miller confirmed that Gaffney is not a member of, or advising, the team. 

Gaffney, once described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “one of America’s most notorious Islamophobes,” heads the Center for Security Policy. It’s a think tank of sorts, well known for promoting conspiratorial theories about the Muslim Brotherhood infiltrating the U.S. government at high levels and the Sharia system replacing American democracy. (As we reported yesterday, Clare Lopez, who is a similar anti-Muslim paranoiac, is under consideration to be a deputy national security adviser in the Trump administration.)

Gaffney has long been on Trump’s radar. In fact, it was a bogus survey, created by Gaffney, which claimed to reveal that many U.S. Muslims were willing to use violence against other Americans and that even more wanted the option to be governed by Sharia, that Trump cited when he famously called for “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”

Here are some of the more outrageous claims Gaffney has made:

  • In the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, Gaffney suggested that then-President Saddam Hussein had been involved in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, committed by Timothy McVeigh.

  • When President Barack Obama nominated Elena Kagan to serve on the Supreme Court in 2010, Gaffney accused her of being soft on Sharia during her time as dean of Harvard Law School. His group financed an ad that asked, “If Kagan tolerates promoting the injustice of Sharia law on the campus of Harvard, what kind of injustice will she tolerate in America during a lifetime on the Supreme Court?” 

  • In 2009, Gaffney questioned whether Obama was America’s first Muslim president or simply playing one. “The man now happy to have his Islamic-rooted middle name featured prominently has engaged in the most consequential bait-and-switch since Adolf Hitler duped Neville Chamberlain over Czechoslovakia at Munich,” Gaffney wrote.

  • In 2010, Gaffney accused Obama of dismantling American missile defense capability in an act of U.S. submission to Islam. He cited a “new” Missile Defense Agency logo as evidence, suggesting that the design appeared to be a combination of Obama’s campaign symbol and the Islamic crescent and star. He later corrected that post, acknowledging that the logo was neither new nor produced under Obama’s direction. (Below, see the older logo on the left, which the Missile Defense Agency still uses, and the newer logo on the right.)

  • Gaffney suggested that Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan at the time, was submitting to Sharia when Petraeus condemned the burning of a Quran by a Florida pastor.

  • Gaffney has accused a bipartisan array of political elites of being secretly tied to the Islamist organization known as the Muslim Brotherhood, including longtime Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin and conservative heavyweights Grover Norquist and Suhail Khan.

  • Gaffney has objected to Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Andre Carson (D-Ind.) serving on the House Intelligence Committee because they are Muslim and therefore, he said, likely to leak information to the Muslim Brotherhood.

  • While the rest of the world marveled at the ignorance that led authorities in Irving, Texas, to mistake 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed’s homemade clock for a bomb last year, Gaffney wrote that the school did the right thing by suspending Ahmed and calling the police. His group later honored Beth Van Duyne, the mayor of Irving and a Sharia alarmist, with the Freedom Flame Award for her “efforts to protect the Constitution.”

  • Gaffney hosted white nationalist Jared Taylor on his radio show last fall and praised Taylor’s American Renaissance website as “wonderful.” During the show, Taylor challenged the idea that the desperate people now flooding into Europe are refugees, calling that description a myth “touted by liberals.” When asked about the consequences of these individuals moving to Europe, Taylor said, “We have unleashed now what would not be an exaggeration to call almost demonic forces.”

  • When Trump proposed a ban on Muslims’ entry into the U.S last year, Gaffney quickly jumped to his defense. “Mr. Trump has clearly picked up on a conviction increasingly shared by millions of Americans,” he wrote on his group’s website. “They have begun to see the Obama administration has long been downplaying, misrepresenting and mishandling a threat more and more of us see plainly.”

  • When Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) invited Broward County Deputy Sheriff Nazar Hamze to this year’s State of the Union address, Gaffney accused Hamze of being “tied to a group that is directly linked to Hamas.” He was referring to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based advocacy group.

  • Gaffney accused Pope Francis of having “rabidly anti-American” views after the pope said in February that it’s “not Christian” to urge the deportation of undocumented immigrants and vow to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

A few years ago, it looked as though the Republican Party was ready to sever ties with Gaffney and his inflammatory claims. He was banned from the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in 2011 after accusing Norquist and Khan of ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.

But since then, Gaffney has staged a comeback. GOP presidential hopefuls Cruz, Trump, Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee all appeared at his group’s events last year. Months ago, Cruz offered the following praise for the zealot: “Frank is a patriot, he loves this country, and he’s clear-eyed about radical Islamic terrorism.”

News that Gaffney could play a role on Trump’s transition team as a national security adviser is very, very bad news for Muslim Americans, to say the least.

Clarification: Language in this article has been amended to comport with the original headline that Gaffney was being considered for, but had not officially joined, Trump’s transition team.


Jessica Schulberg is a reporter covering foreign policy and national security for The Huffington Post. 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   |   November 15, 2016    2:49 PM ET

In a testament to humanity’s willingness to take on the most futile tasks imaginable without regard to sanity, it was announced Tuesday that outgoing Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has put forward legislation that would scrap the Electoral College in favor of electing the president of the United States by popular vote. I have this funny feeling that Boxer is so motivated by the fact that the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, won the popular vote, but lost the election.

Needless to say, fans of the Electoral College (and they’re mostly fair-weather fans) should not worry unduly. The Los Angeles Times’ Sarah D. Wire reports the obvious fact that Boxer’s measure “is unlikely to gain traction with Republicans holding control of both chambers of Congress in a lame duck session.” (Also: 38 of the 50 states would have to ratify this.)

One thing that the Electoral College has going for it, in terms of its own self-perpetuation, is that the occasion to discuss it only arises every four years. If you start talking about scrapping the system before the election, you’ll get shut down because no one likes “changing horses in midstream,” as they say. And if you start talking about it after the election, then you’re probably just plucking sour grapes from the vine.

In fact, to avoid any accusations that I’m raising all of this because of some degree of post-election bitterness, let me jump ahead a little bit and lay down an important marker: The notion that Clinton would have won the election in a system without an Electoral College, fully dependent on the popular vote, is a pretty dangerous assumption. My suspicion, in fact, is that the election probably went the same way in the parallel universe without an Electoral College. (Though I think that in the parallel universe where Clinton just used her State Department email, she’s probably doing okay.)

That being said, a fully popular-vote election would have changed the nature of both campaigns and the way they were covered, and it’s in this realm where you’ll find most of the virtues of getting rid of the Electoral College system.

Right now, at the outset of every presidential election, the Electoral College means the states immediately are sorted into two pots ― battlegrounds and monoliths. And if your state ends up in the second pot, you get to spend 16 months being entirely written off, while the battlegrounds effectively get shoved into a bubble.

That’s too bad, because states like Massachusetts and Mississippi are fascinating places. Their residents deserve the opportunity to get up-close-and-personal with the presidential campaigns, too. And you never know what insights we’re losing by shunting entire states off into the phantom zone. Immigration was a huge issue this year. In Alabama, residents have some lived-in experiences that might have added a healthy dose of introspection to the campaign. But that opportunity was lost because no one cares what Alabama thinks during a presidential election.

So the system hurts us by denying many Americans the opportunity to share key insights about their lives with the rest of the country. Of course, defenders of the Electoral College have similar concerns. In fact, there’s a larger worry that in a popular-vote system, campaigns might entirely forsake rural America because the votes in those regions are few and far between compared with big cities and their suburbs.

Well, we shouldn’t have a system that does that. But as Robert Speel notes over at Time magazine, the Electoral College didn’t prevent a mass avoidance of rural America anyway:

Data from the 2016 campaign indicate that 53 percent of campaign events for Trump, Hillary Clinton, Mike Pence and Tim Kaine in the two months before the November election were in only four states: Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Ohio. During that time, 87 percent of campaign visits by the four candidates were in 12 battleground states, and none of the four candidates ever went to 27 states, which includes almost all of rural America.

Even in the swing states where they do campaign, the candidates focus on urban areas where most voters live. In Pennsylvania, for example, 72 percent of Pennsylvania campaign visits by Clinton and Trump in the final two months of their campaigns were to the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh areas.

In Michigan, all eight campaign visits by Clinton and Trump in the final two months of their campaigns were to the Detroit and Grand Rapids areas, with neither candidate visiting the rural parts of the state.

Four years ago, Republicans stuck in the sour grapes cycle floated the idea of carving themselves out of the Electoral College’s various entrapments. In Pennsylvania, for example, Republicans floated the idea of shifting from their winner-take-all electoral jackpot to a system that would have broken up the electoral rewards by congressional district. Such a move would have taken things in the wrong direction, in terms of fairness, but you can understand where they were coming from, as voters in the Keystone State’s major cities tended to ride herd over everyone else. And only a partisan or a cynic could feel good about their fellow citizens thinking they didn’t really have a voice.

Obviously, for those who had those concerns in 2012, the Electoral College system brought some measure of vindication in 2016, as Pennsylvania shifted back to the GOP all on its own. Nevertheless, it can’t be healthy for residents of Pennsylvania to feel, perpetually, like they are pitted against each other every four years. A popular-vote system might help alleviate the bitterness. 

And third-party interaction with the Electoral College system truly is a mess. For starters, the way the system works paves the way for the perception that third-party candidates are spoilers, not players, with elections ending with anger being hurled their way for distorting the result. I don’t personally hold to this notion ― if you’re a major party candidate with comparatively unlimited resources at your disposal, you’ve got no one to blame but yourself if Jill Stein’s votes would have won you Michigan. But the bitterness toward third-party candidates has a way of lingering, creating one of those “nobody learns and nobody hugs” situations.

And who can say whether third-party candidates are getting an honest reflection of their base with the Electoral College, which adds a layer of strategic thinking that many voters likely have to grapple with as they arrived at their polling places? Seems to me that many people are more likely to vote third party if they’re confident that the majority in their state is going to shield them from the worst outcome, and less likely to do so if they feel their fellow voters won’t deliver the next-best option.

Suffice it to say, Americans have the right to challenge the hegemony of the two-party system. It’s not clear that the Electoral College gives them a fair shot. It certainly doesn’t seem to provide incentives for alternate parties to evolve.

It seems to me that if you want to come at the Electoral College, daggers drawn, you should do so out of respect for all the voices that don’t get heard during elections, either because the candidates and the media steer clear of them entirely, or because they get submerged in the system. Changing the system out of the belief that your candidates would have always thrived if the popular vote prevailed is a good way to set yourself up for disappointment. For all anyone knows, if Clinton had barnstormed the West Coast and the non-New Hampshire parts of the Northeast, her intense focus on professional-class concerns may have left voters in those states feeling just as cold to her as they were in Wisconsin and Michigan.

All that being said, the Electoral College still has a few things going for it. I mean, if you like coloring maps, it’s simply the best. More to the point, the Electoral College is a good system for everyone who doesn’t relish the idea of the election cycles ending in a spate of never-ending recount lawsuits. As Richard Posner pointed out over at Slate four years ago, one thing the Electoral College helps to provide is a sense of “certainty” about the outcome. You know ... most of the time:

A dispute over the outcome of an Electoral College vote is possible — it happened in 2000 — but it’s less likely than a dispute over the popular vote. The reason is that the winning candidate’s share of the Electoral College invariably exceeds his share of the popular vote. In last week’s election, for example, Obama received 61.7 percent of the electoral vote compared to only 51.3 percent of the popular votes cast for him and Romney. (I ignore the scattering of votes not counted for either candidate.) Because almost all states award electoral votes on a winner-take-all basis, even a very slight plurality in a state creates a landslide electoral-vote victory in that state. A tie in the nationwide electoral vote is possible because the total number of votes — 538 — is an even number, but it is highly unlikely.*

Of course a tie in the number of popular votes in a national election in which tens of millions of votes are cast is even more unlikely. But if the difference in the popular vote is small, then if the winner of the popular vote were deemed the winner of the presidential election, candidates would have an incentive to seek a recount in any state (plus the District of Columbia) in which they thought the recount would give them more additional votes than their opponent. The lawyers would go to work in state after state to have the votes recounted, and the result would be debilitating uncertainty, delay, and conflict — look at the turmoil that a dispute limited to one state, Florida, engendered in 2000.

With that in mind, if you really want to tear down an election ritual of archaic origin that would pave the way for a more just and equitable election, I highly recommend we all aim our fire at this absurd tradition that elections have to be held on a Tuesday in November, which well and truly sucks for minorities and working people. That’s a worthier idea for a piece of lame-duck electoral reform, and frankly, it’s more in tune with the mood of the country.

If we pull that off, and still feel kind of hinky about the Electoral College, then sure, I’m up for anything. Let’s get rid of it and see what we learn. But just so you know, there’s no guarantee you’re going to like the result.

And remember whose company you’re keeping. 


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   |   November 10, 2016    3:29 PM ET

Here at the end of the election, those of us who’ve watched our political norms crumble one after the other find ourselves posing a lot of questions and fretting about the answers we never obtained.

I have one myself. It’s right there in the headline: Why, of all the things that Donald Trump could have done with his life, did he choose to take on the American presidency?

I realize that not a few of you might find this inquiry naive. Indeed, there are two rather obvious answers. 

The first, of course, is that the president-elect really wants to Make America Great Again and become the avatar of hope for a group of long-dispossessed, working-class Americans ― for whom he has never before been willing to offer a single product at a price point they could afford.

It’s absolutely true that America’s working class needs some help. It’s also true that one of the Clinton campaign’s gravest errors was to erect a candidacy based entirely on an obsession with the affluent professional class, which thrives and survives in any and all presidencies. Trump has made a series of specific and elaborate promises to the working class, which he must now endeavor to keep.

Speaking of: I’m reminded today that one of the best-paying jobs currently available for men without a college degree in America is long-haul truck driving. All you reporters itching to learn about middle America should maybe think about hooking up with a trucker. It’s a great way to see the country. Book those trips soon, though! Driverless trucks are coming, and with them will go all of these good jobs. I don’t recall hearing Trump talk about fighting off the robot trucks, by the way. Perhaps this was discussed during the time we were blacklisted.

Of course, the second obvious answer to the question I’ve raised is that Trump is in it for the fame and the precious personal vindication that so often comes with it.

It’s a weird thing to confront: that being a public servant in America is perceived by anyone as an avenue for fame. But we’ve somehow become inured to it ― we are, at all times, both constituents and autograph-seekers. And to forgive our current celebrity-besotted culture, it should be said that a certain amount of tawdry celebrity has always been baked into our political cake. We’ve always had the tendency to remember our past eras too fondly, to enshroud our leaders in a gauzy film and to send them from the White House cloaked in a sort of premature afterlife ― living angels of democracy with all their sins forgotten.

This is not without virtue, of course. It is perhaps right to think of our former presidents in this way, if only because the American presidency is an intensely difficult job ― a fact that we see for ourselves in the odd way the ravages of aging seem to hit our presidents harder than most.

I always spare a thought for most of the men and women who run for president ― and a second thought for those who get the job. Whether I agree with their politics or not, they volunteered to do the work. I sure didn’t! Neither did most of you. And most of the time, I look upon those who volunteer for the task and see that they understand the gravity of what they’re seeking to do ― that their ideas will be put to the sternest test imaginable.

But the thing about Trump is that he really seems to believe this job is going to be easy. In fact, this may be past mere belief ― his argument is that he alone can fix things, because all who came before him made things hard for themselves owing to an incompetence that Trump alone is free of.

There are 168 hours in a week, and I’m having a hard time figuring out how many of those hours are going to conform to Trump’s expectations.

I really don’t think that Trump understands the gravity of his situation. Trump has made a thriving life for himself successfully navigating the path of least resistance, started on his way with familial largesse and rescued from ruin by a similar bailout.

He rose up in the world of real estate development ― a world where the money stays fast, the promises are airy and the failures quickly forgiven. It was the perfect occupation for a man on the make. If you wonder how it came to pass that he failed so often, ripped so many people off along the way and maintained good social standing and business credibility, I encourage you to get to know the developers that are hard at work making and remaking the streets where you live. The only real difference between them and Trump is that they weren’t a Page Six staple.

Trump’s career arc has been all but perfect for a guy who’s temperamentally thin-skinned and extremely averse to criticism. But he’s moving into a job where scrutiny is continual, where criticism is constant and where bad decisions lead to outcomes that can’t be obscured as easily as your tax returns.

There are no good days when everyone’s slapping you on the back and leaving the hard questions for another time. Aside from the big decisions that presidents encounter, there’s a tiresome litany of smaller choices and petty problems that fill the endless numbered days of your presidential term. And whenever something goes wrong in the world, it’s the American president who’s awakened to deal with it. Whoever it is that runs Denmark gets to sleep a little easier.

President Barack Obama has been pretty open about the stress of the job and the way it forces you to live like no other person on earth. In fact, the way Obama described it to Michael Lewis of Vanity Fair was enough to make you wonder if just serving in the Oval Office forced a man to adopt some low-grade insanity just to function on a daily basis:

This time he covered a lot more ground and was willing to talk about the mundane details of presidential existence. “You have to exercise,” he said, for instance. “Or at some point you’ll just break down.” You also need to remove from your life the day-to-day problems that absorb most people for meaningful parts of their day. “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” he said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” He mentioned research that shows the simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions. It’s why shopping is so exhausting. “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.” The self-discipline he believes is required to do the job well comes at a high price. “You can’t wander around,” he said. “It’s much harder to be surprised. You don’t have those moments of serendipity. You don’t bump into a friend in a restaurant you haven’t seen in years. The loss of anonymity and the loss of surprise is an unnatural state. You adapt to it, but you don’t get used to it—at least I don’t.”

The part about eliminating the need to decide what color suit to wear proved to be important on the day Obama deviated from this routine, wore a tan suit and then watched as the world exploded around him.

That’s what Trump signed up for: leaving his world of casual luxury behind, entering a new realm in which he’ll get dragged for wearing certain clothes. There are 168 hours in a week, and I’m having a hard time figuring out how many of those hours are going to conform to Trump’s expectations.

It would have probably been very useful if someone very close to Trump had explained very early on that this is what life was going to be like. But it’s clear that didn’t happen. Trump’s aides couldn’t even properly instill the idea that he’d have to maintain a certain level of gravity and decorum on Twitter. Instead, they found the sort of workaround that mollycoddling parents use on their kids before they reach the age of reason, like sneaking vegetables into meals.

Trump’s aides are already concerned that he needs a regular dose of “instant gratification and adulation” just so he can go on mimicking functional adulthood.

Now we’re finding out that Trump’s basic calculations about the job were quite a ways from the reality in which he now finds himself. Word on the street is that Trump was perplexed to learn that Obama’s White House staff would not be around to help him figure things out. The guy looks shook. Those around him seem to be realizing just now what the president of the United States even does.

Consequently, Trump is now relying on another bailout, this time from a fairly unlikely source. As The Wall Street Journal’s Michael C. Bender and Carol E. Lee report:

During their private White House meeting on Thursday, Mr. Obama walked his successor through the duties of running the country, and Mr. Trump seemed surprised by the scope, said people familiar with the meeting. Trump aides were described by those people as unaware that the entire presidential staff working in the West Wing had to be replaced at the end of Mr. Obama’s term.

“After meeting with Mr. Trump, the only person to be elected president without having held a government or military position, Mr. Obama realized the Republican needs more guidance. He plans to spend more time with his successor than presidents typically do, people familiar with the matter said.”

Suffice it to say, it’s a relief to see that doughty irony has survived the election. I won’t be the first to observe, obviously, that Trump is now heavily dependent on the man whose Americanness he once sought to negate. You should be mad on Obama’s behalf, definitely. But don’t be mad at Obama for trying to help Trump cram for the four-year test he’s about to endure.

No, Barry O is gonna try to bury it and rise above, because that’s what duty calls for him to do in this situation. And in the end, his effort to steel Trump for what’s to come could be the most important work of this two-month interregnum ― and maybe Obama’s presidency ― and not just for the much-needed injection of conciliatory grace. So much depends on someone teaching Trump that the presidency is bigger than one man and his personal desires, and that’s why it is just for the American president to get his teeth kicked in on a daily basis.

The best thing Obama can do right now is put the question to Trump, “So, why did you want to do this, bruh?” Because the evidence suggests Trump hasn’t fully thought this through. Unless he does, I’m afraid to say that he ― and by extension, we ― are in for a world of hurt.


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   |   November 8, 2016    9:27 AM ET

While every presidential election cycle is unique in its own way, some discussions are perennial. How does a “caucus” work? What happens in the case of an electoral college tie? We’ll be writing these every four years until the heat death of the universe.

And this is the thing we write warning you to be wary of whatever preliminary results you see bubbling up as Election Day unfolds. You should be even more wary of this year’s new development: The election day projections some groups are producing.

The best strategy: Be wary of anything that says it’s projecting the race before the polls are closed. Don’t go looking for it. Don’t put any special provenance in any data you do see. Especially be wary of anything you see creeping up on your Facebook feed. Facebook has been a font of misinformation this election cycle. Some fake news site is inevitably going to circulate fake data that pretends to know who’s winning. Don’t trust it. If you want our advice, stay off Facebook altogether on election night. 


So right about now, you might be wondering why we even do exit polls, seeing as how we’ve likened them to some sort of hidden danger, like a nest of copperheads in your root cellar. Exit polls are actually very useful, informative tools, when used correctly. Early guesses of who will win aren’t correct uses.  

Every year, a consortium of media organizations (basically, The Associated Press news agency and the major network and cable news outlets) known as the National Election Pool conducts exit polls. This group dispatches interviewers to polling places all around the nation. They’re assigned the task of corralling certain voters as they leave their polling places to ask them to fill out a survey in which they account for whom they voted and to compile a raft of demographic information.

As you might surmise, the exit polls yield a familiar product for your election night news coverage ― the slicing and dicing of different demographics to reveal smaller trends in the larger electorate. When CNN’s John King reports how single white women are voting in the Philadelphia suburbs, that data comes from exit polls. When MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki reports that national security was the key issue of voters in Florida’s I-10 corridor, he’s pulling that information from exit polls.

The exit polls also help the AP and the news networks ― traditionally tasked with the responsibility of “calling the race” in the various states, set their expectations for how the night is going to go and how likely it is that the call is going to bend one way or the other.

Exit polls are no small operation. It’s not something that you throw together by saying, “Hey guys, let’s do an exit poll. Here, print up some badges.” Edison Research, the firm that conducts the exit polls, works all year to prepare for this. They determine which precincts will be sampled (not all polling places get polled ― it’s a sample, just like with all polls), coordinate and train workers to randomly select respondents and conduct the poll and coordinate communicating the information back to the central database to be processed.

Results from these official NEP exit polls are kept secret most of the day. The first releases were due to come early Tuesday evening, but ― and we can’t emphasize this enough ― they should not be used to project who’s winning, who might triumph or anything about Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump.


At some point during the night, the exit poll Clinton versus Trump  numbers might leak. And if they do, they are going to look very much like straight up state-by-state election results. And this will either touch off some premature bedwetting or way-too-early celebrating. If you were a big fan of John Kerry in 2004, you probably still carry the psychological scars of an evening that began looking like a certain Democratic victory to an election that eventually wound its way round to the reelection of former President George W. Bush. And let’s not even talk about 2000.

More recently, the early exit polls in the 2012 Wisconsin recall election briefly fueled Democrats’ hopes that they were on the verge of victory. Early exits polls indicated a dead heat between Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and his opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. But as The Washington Post’s Jon Cohen reported, “Just a half hour later, the exit poll shifted to 52 to 48 percent, tilting in Walker’s favor. (The final margin appears to be seven percentage points.)”

Here’s a rundown of everything that makes the exit polls imperfect:

1. Remember that the exit polling data is going to first show up in network and cable news coverage. The data will be used to fill the long gaps of time in which the talking heads don’t have much to talk about. In that environment, do you imagine that juicy outliers might get cherry-picked and presented as represented as being representative of the larger electorate? If you say, “Yes,” congratulations: You have watched election night coverage before.

2. As The Upshot’s Nate Cohn notes: “The problems begin early on election evening, when the first waves of exit polls are invariably leaked and invariably show a surprising result somewhere. You’re best off ignoring these early returns.” That’s because they’re not complete, duh! People are still voting, which means the exit pollsters are still polling. ”
3. Even at the end of the evening, exit polling data isn’t perfect. Per Cohn:

The problems continue with the final waves, which analysts pore over in the days after the election and treat as a definitive account of the composition of the electorate. Some foolish journalists might write entire posts that assume that the black share of the electorate was 15 percent in Ohio. In reality, the exit polls just aren’t precise enough to justify making distinctions between an electorate that’s 15 percent black and, say, 13 percent black.

That’s because exit polls are like all other polling! It’s a survey of voters, and like all surveys of voters, they come with the same caveats about sample size and error margins. Plus, they keep compiling the data right up until the end of the night, so if you’re hearing about exit poll results come evening-time, remember that the exit pollsters still have several hours of data left to collect.

4. All the while, there’s the concern that exit polls might affect voter behavior. There’s no concrete evidence of this, but if you’re standing on line at your polling place late in the evening, and you’re already hearing about leaked exit polls that make it sound like one candidate or another has taken a lead, it could cause you to become discouraged. Or, alternately, it could cause you to become overconfident. Either way, maybe getting back to a warm home and a tasty dinner (or a stiff drink) starts to sound more appealing. In 1980, the networks declared that Ronald Reagan had won some three hours before the West Coast polls had closed, and while no one is suggesting that it might has reversed the outcome of the race, concerns that early exit poll data had depressed voter turnout were such that Congress held hearings about it.


A few news organizations that don’t participate in the National Election Pool have gotten creative and curated their own data sources. Some of these will be available all day long as updating models. Slate and Vice News are working with Sasha Issenberg’s VoteCastr project to release continuously updating estimates of where the race stands based on who is turning out to vote so far.

The problem with this information is that it could be really unreliable throughout the day. Nate Cohn detailed the roller coaster ride such a model took the Obama campaign’s analysts on in 2012 ― and there’s a possibility VoteCastr could take everyone along for a similar ride. So you’re much better off to pretend it doesn’t exist if you’re not capable of taking it with the proverbial grain of salt.

And there will be other exit polls besides the official NEP exit polls. These should also be treated cautiously ― even more cautiously, perhaps, since they’re untested newcomers on the scene.


Do not let the data that purports to know who’s winning affect what you do on Election Day. Go to your polling place. Stay in line. Tune out what you think the models and exit polls are revealing. When you get home, don’t look to them as a distant early warning that the candidate you backed is rolling to a win or spiralling to a loss.

Sooner or later, we are going to get the results of ―cliché alert! ― “the only poll that really matters,” also known as “the election results.”

Don’t let exit polls keep you from doing your duty as a voter. And please, please, do not play a role in exit poll dissemination on social media. As best as you can, stay calm, be patient, and make sure you cast your vote.


Natalie Jackson is the senior polling editor of HuffPost Pollster. HuffPost Pollster’s final projection of the presidential race can be found here. 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.