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Jason Linkins   |   October 24, 2016   11:47 AM ET

Here’s some good news for those maintaining the bulwarks of our democracy and guarding them from harm. Scott Adams, the guy who draws the Dilbert cartoon, has pledged to take up arms against Donald Trump should he become president and subsequently become “Hitler-ish.” Just as the Czech resistance depended on those willing to make cutting critiques of the foibles of upper management to pull off Operation Anthropoid, so too will America’s future anti-fascist coup-plotters be able to rely on the strategic stockpile of glibness necessary to preserve our post-enlightenment endeavors.

It will make all the difference, I’m sure, so let’s enter Adams’ contract with America into the public record:

My promise: If Trump gets elected, and he does anything that looks even slightly Hitler-ish in office, I will join the resistance movement and help kill him. That’s an easy promise to make, and I hope my fellow citizens would use their Second Amendment rights to rise up and help me kill any Hitler-type person who rose to the top job in this country, no matter who it is.

As I often say, Democrats generally use guns to commit crimes. Republicans use guns for sport and for self-defense. If you are a Republican gun-owner, and you value the principles of the Constitution, I’m confident you would join me in the resistance movement and help kill any leader that exhibited genuine animosity toward people because of their genitalia, sexual preference, or skin pigmentation.

In other words, I’m willing to bet my life that the “monster” view of Trump is an illusion. 


I’m not sure what more needs to be said. Some might feel that this makes tremendous light of people who actually did risk their lives to kill Hitler when he was beginning to do things that looked slightly Hitler-ish (him-ish?), but I assure you, there was room to make light of them. One of my favorite accounts from Russell Miller’s Behind The Lines: The Oral History of Special Operations in World War II involved an OSS proposal to airdrop “hardcore pornography” on Hitler’s headquarters in the hopes it might make him suicidal with horniness.

Besides, we’ve already made light of Hitler’s resistors this election cycle by speculating on whether people might be willing to go back in time and kill Baby Hitler.

I’m sure that some folks might adopt a position of “Well, what are you waiting for, Scott Adams?” Others might simply scoff and move on.

Adams, of course, has found our current election cycle to be an excellent source of grist for an elaborate game of trolling, much of which involves him ginning up the notion that he has actual personal stakes in this election and then dramatizing them for the purpose of getting a reaction. In a previous online missive, for example, he explained that he was endorsing Hillary Clinton because he felt his life would be in danger otherwise.

In reality, Adams is an affluent celebrity to whom the repercussions of political decisions ― from the Commodity Futures Modernization Act to ruinous overseas misadventures to any number of laws passed and appointments made over the past 20 years ― simply do not attach. And he’s not even particularly intellectually curious about these decisions and their repercussions, either. In the paragraph that follows his promise to kill Trump should he become Hitlery, he admits that he’s only really interested in the trolling game: “That said, I also don’t know which candidate has the best policies. I wouldn’t risk my life for any of their tax plans or ISIS-fighting strategies. I’m only interested in helping the public see past their hallucinations about the monster under the bed. You’re on your own to decide who has the best policies.”

There hasn’t been a monster under Adams’ bed for a long while. He’s just one of those lucky people that live a blithe and carefree life inside a consequence-free bubble. So, yes, this is an “easy promise” for Adams to make. Easier still in late October of 2016


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   |   October 23, 2016    3:29 PM ET

After Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said that he would “keep [us] in suspense” as to his intentions to honor the result of the election, the media has been pressing to find out what he really intends to do should he lose on election night. Well, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus went on “Face the Nation” to clear everything up.

“I know where he’s at on this,” Priebus said.

Sweet. Where’s he at?

”He’s saying he wants to reserve all options,” Priebus assured CBS News’ John Dickerson, “and, ‘If there is grounds for a recount, I will exercise my options.’”

“He is not willing to not concede if he loses and there’s no fraud,” he added.

Not willing to not concede. Cool, cool. Clear as can be!

Priebus wanted to make sure everyone knew that the RNC really, really liked having Trump as their nominee, a thing that the RNC chairman normally does in October of a presidential election year.

“He’s the nominee of our party ― of course we’re behind Donald Trump,” Priebus insisted.

He added, “I mean, this is ridiculous ― as if we wouldn’t be behind the nominee of the party, of course we are.”

Hey, man, that’s great. Sounds like you’re really satisfied with the way things are going.

Was there anything else Priebus wanted to add?

“This isn’t Italy,” Priebus said. “We don’t have 12 different parties where everyone can fit neatly into a box.”

BREAKING: This isn’t Italy.

Jason Linkins   |   October 23, 2016   12:31 PM ET

Kellyanne Conway did not have the day off on Sunday, and so Donald Trump’s campaign manager was called into surrogate duty on this morning’s edition of CNN’s “State of the Union.”  

There, host Jake Tapper uncomfortably reminded Conway that before she started working for the GOP nominee, she took a dim view of him constantly complaining about rigged elections:

TAPPER: Let’s talk about this idea that everything is rigged. Yesterday, Mr. Trump once again arguing that the election will be rigged ― it’s a charge that he makes with no real evidence to suggest it, that many Republican secretaries of state and others are very upset that he is making. Now, back in April when you were working against Donald Trump, when you were working for Ted Cruz and advising his super PAC, you had some tough words for Mr. Trump when he was lashing out at the time against the system being rigged. Take a listen.


CONWAY, on video clip: We hear from the Trump campaign, rules ... the rules change, it’s not fair, the system’s rigged, the system’s corrupt. He can whine and complain all he wants that he didn’t know the rules.

TAPPER: Is this a pattern with Mr. Trump? If he starts losing, he starts lashing out and calling the system corrupt and calling it rigged?

CONWAY: We love watching that clip together. But that was actually about what was happening on the weekends. When Donald Trump would win the vote, he would basically win all the electoral votes in a state, and on the weekends, the Cruz campaign would go back and follow the rules and get back some of those delegates. So no, it’s not a pattern for him.

Conway then attempted to use 2000’s post-Election Day wrangling in Florida as a marker for comparison.

Tapper found the parallel to be inapt: “That’s not the same thing. It’s not the same thing ... there was a state-mandated recount because the margin of error was so small. Donald Trump is out there saying ... the only way he’s going to lose Pennsylvania is if it’s stolen.”

“You can’t compare that to a state-mandated recount,” Tapper said.

Jason Linkins   |   October 19, 2016   11:36 AM ET

Based on the polls, it seems pretty clear that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has got either the best chance or the second-best chance at becoming the next president of the United States. And that means there are a host of questions those of us in the media should start planning to answer.

Chief among them: How many more profiles of Huma Abedin need to be written? Not a lot, right?

This is pretty important. Should Clinton win, she’s going to spend four years in the Beltway limelight. And with so little to talk about most of the time (besides the gutting of Social Security), the temptation to start commissioning profiles of Abedin will be too great for many people to resist.

Abedin, as you may have heard, is Hillary Clinton’s celebrated “body woman.” She is also the estranged spouse of implacable sext-monster and former New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner ― a fact that you may want to not ride too hard if you’re angling to get her participation in a profile, I’m guessing.

“Body woman” is the feminine form of “body man,” the insider-y term for “a person who is always hanging around a given politician, usually holding, like, a satchel and a phone, and probably also some breath mints ― you know, a roll of Certs or something. Also some Zantac would be a good idea?” As such, Abedin is an endless source of fascination for the Beltway press, especially people who like to put the term “body woman” in stories.

And that is a lot of people. So you can probably see the problem: The “Huma Abedin profile” genre is very overpopulated.

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For example, you can read the 2016 Vogue profile (”Abedin is in many ways the engine at the center of Clinton’s well-run machine, crucial and yet largely out of sight”), or the 2016 Vanity Fair profile (”Whatever the title, the job she performs for Hillary has always been essentially the same: confessor, confidante, and constant companion”), or a 2016 Newsweek profile (”[Her] selfless servility and uncanny knack for predicting what the boss wants have put her closer than almost anyone to the most powerful woman in American politics”), or a 2015 Politico profile (”Like a mother monitoring her child on the playground, she never let Clinton drift out of her line of sight, ever vigilant and poised to act”), or a 2016 Los Angeles Times profile (”Abedin, who has been referred to as Clinton’s ‘second daughter,’ is the gatekeeper to the nominee”).

Now, Politico has gone back for a second bite of the apple, using the volume of recent WikiLeaks disclosures to profile Abedin anew. What did they learn? “Neither simply body woman or scheduler, Clinton’s long-time aide acts as shield, translator, and history keeper.” 

Didn’t we know that already? I thought we knew that already?

The WikiLeaks release of thousands of stolen campaign emails — the authenticity of which the campaign has neither verified nor denied — shed new light on her unique internal role this cycle: Abedin has been around so long (she started her career as an intern in the first lady’s office), she’s become more than a body woman.

She is now Clinton’s external hard drive.

She’s an external hard drive? Um, that’s not working for me, Politico. It reads as, “She’s become more than a body woman ― she’s also backup storage for Hillary Clinton’s digitized music collection.” Right? So not feeling this metaphor, sorry.

As we can see, it’s reaching a point where these profiles all have something of a strained quality, even if they come with a fresh news hook. I’m thinking the rule of diminishing returns might be in effect. So this is a good time to set some hard and fast limits on the number of Huma Abedin profiles that we allow to be written in the next four years. To my mind, it’s five, tops. 

I’m being really generous, here. Meeting everyone halfway and whatnot.

So! Here are some specifics:

1. Mark Leibovich gets to write one. I think that’s in the Constitution somewhere.

2. Let’s have one really crazy-ass one from, like, Infowars or something. I know it’s irresponsible to encourage Alex Jonesian crackpots to take a run at profiling Abedin, but honestly, they’re going to do it one way or another. And if it were done when ‘tis done, then ‘twere well it were done quickly. Just get on with it, guys. And challenge yourselves: Either really deliver the goods or make it entertainingly bonkers-sauce.

3. There should be one from a talented woman with a wry, offbeat perspective who’ll shake me loose from my middle-class-white-guy point of view and get me thinking more about the lives of others. Let’s have The New York Times’ Emma Roller and New York magazine’s Marin Cogan just work out between themselves who’s going to handle it.

4. We’ll have one more really tired regurgitation of the previously written profiles. Just so I can write a post about how it’s a really tired regurgitation of the previously written profiles. Who’s up for it? Time magazine, you look thirsty. Pistols at dawn with Bloomberg Businessweek. (It’s really too bad that Portfolio didn’t last long enough to do this story. What might have been.)

5. Garden & Gun gets to do one. Garden & Gun is, like, the best damn magazine in America. They get to do one of everything.

That’s it. No more. 

And in case you were wondering, yes, I will be handling “The Oral History Of Huma Abedin Profiles” for HuffPost Highline. Look for it in October 2019.


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   |   October 18, 2016   10:39 AM ET

The Center for Public Integrity came out with a blockbuster report on Monday describing how journalists are way, way too poor to influence elections with their money. A ragtag group of television reviewers and restaurant critics have combined to add almost $400,000 to the campaign coffers of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump (with Clinton winning the lion’s share of this largesse), as Dave Levinthal and Michael Beckel detail. In a billion-dollar election, that puts “journalists” somewhere near “accounting error” in terms of their contributions.

But that doesn’t mean journalists aren’t good political donors ― you just have to account for the stuff they give away for free. And one big beneficiary of such in-kind offerings has been beleaguered House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

In case you’ve not been keeping up with the latest in Ryaniana, the Wisconsin representative and former vice presidential nominee has found himself in another round of back-and-forth sparring with his party’s nominee. Ryan desperately wants the presidential race to be something he no longer needs to think about, because his party’s standard-bearer is an odious lunatic and because the speaker has been attempting to run a parallel Republican campaign from the safety of his office. Trump, however, won’t let him go and has even worked Ryan into his larger mythology of a “rigged” election, painting him as one more party to a “sinister deal.”

The straight story here, of course, is that Paul Ryan brought all of this upon himself. By offering Trump his endorsement ― a move that he’d have cause to regret within hours ― he invited the vampire into his home. And throughout his dance of death with the candidate, Ryan has desperately tried to make it work. As recently as Oct. 7, he was planning to appear on the stump with Trump, only to rescind the invitation when it became clear that Trump’s “grab her by the pussy” comment wasn’t going to be quickly swept away by the news cycle.

In other words, Ryan has made poor choices and taken ill-advised actions. Fortunately for him, he’s receiving his traditional round of fluffing from the media, who are depicting him as a noble sufferer ― unfairly victimized by Trump but ultimately responsible for nothing ― and who are giving him immense credit for finding a way to exist in the liminal space between not quite endorsing Trump and not quite rescinding that endorsement either. 

Take, for example, Jennifer Steinhauer’s New York Times piece from over the weekend, “For Paul Ryan, a Long, Labored Path Leading Away From Donald Trump.” Which sounds like Ryan had, you know, broken with Trump. That’s not the case! But the larger argument being made is that Ryan has ended up a casualty to cruel fate:

He didn’t see it coming.

Speaker Paul D. Ryan was in a hotel room in Cincinnati last May when he learned that Donald J. Trump — a man he barely knew, with no institutional ties to his party and a mouth that had already clacked his nerves — had secured the Republican nomination for president.

Huh, what now? He didn’t see Trump coming? From as far back as ‘Mexicans are sending rapists’? And we’re to believe that in May, Trump’s ascension still caught him unawares? By May, the only non-Trump nomination options that were left were the desperate ones ― the aborted Cruz-Kasich team-up plan or a massive procedural fight at the very convention over which Ryan was obligated to preside.

The Times piece goes on to describe Ryan as having been plunged into a “singular abyss,” as if something other than his passivity put him there. Ryan absorbs the “unsparing ... disparagement” from Trump and makes his tepid objections known through spokespersons. He supposedly came to learn the hard way that Trump doesn’t “deal in good faith” when Trump falsely claimed to have earned Ryan’s endorsement before it was actually offered (making Ryan one of the last people to realize that Trump doesn’t “deal in good faith”). After that, Ryan chose to take Trump’s selection of running mate Mike Pence as a “bright spot” that surely represented a change in tone.

Overall, Ryan kept up a campaign of pretending Trump didn’t exist, until such time as that became untenable: the release of the 2005 video in which the real estate mogul lewdly promoted sexual assault as a perk of fame. As punishment, Trump was disinvited from a Wisconsin rally, but that’s as far as Ryan was willing to push things. Per Steinhauer:

Mr. Ryan agonized over his options. Ultimately, he chose not to withdraw his endorsement to keep Republicans motivated to vote, which still angered some of his conference. “I think they ask far too much of the speaker,” said Representative Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah, who has renounced Mr. Trump. “His job is to help House Republicans. Period.”

Several of Chaffetz’s colleagues briefly followed his lead, only to re-endorse Trump after a few hours of courage. If only they had someone setting an example to follow!

But Ryan has clearly decided to ride this one out by ignoring Trump and putting on a happy face, all the while never indicating which of his charges are doing right by their party and country: the ones who have broken with Trump, the ones who have attached themselves to Trump, or the ones trying to have it both ways. “Just please vote the straight GOP ticket, anyway” is Ryan’s only position.

And it’s all so sad, because ― as Steinhauer ruefully reports ― after all the dust has settled, his own party may not let him stay on as speaker:

If Mr. Trump is defeated on Nov. 8 — as Mr. Ryan has all but conceded — but Republicans maintain their House majority, it will fall largely to Mr. Ryan to piece the rubble of his party back together.

There is, of course, the question of whether House members would let him do so.

It’s hard to imagine that Ryan would have any trouble convincing his fellow House colleagues to keep him on, what with all this authoritative command he is showing.

At this point, the only thing that’s keeping Ryan from being seen as a feckless, failed invertebrate is the media’s determined campaign to paint him as the tragic figure in all of this. Tuesday morning’s Politico Playbook, for example, literally describes Ryan as Trump’s “fall guy,” bullied by the nominee’s sneering remarks. As Playbook puts it:

THIS IS STUNNING. Trump is essentially accusing the speaker of the House of sabotaging his campaign to benefit his own political future. (We think it’s an absurd argument.)

It is an absurd argument, but only because the Trump campaign is the one thing Ryan isn’t sabotaging for the sake of his political future. Yet Playbook maintains that Ryan has somehow become fortune’s unwitting fool in this whole escapade, ignoring the fact that he’s been one of Trump’s principal enablers:

STEP BACK: There’s been a lot of chatter over the last few days about whether Ryan did the right thing by speaking out against Trump. Why is he always the scold, people have asked? His handling of Trump will be dissected plenty over the next few months. Ryan has an incredibly complicated job and has to balance the needs of 245 other Republicans, many of whom wanted cover to break with Trump. But there’s no question he’s now bearing the brunt of the decision. We’re not going to play the can-he-win-the-speakership-again game. There are far too many variables at play, like a) how much Trump loses by and b) what the margin is in the House. But Trump and his allies are signaling a long fight against Ryan. Put it all together, and you come up with a pretty simple question: Why would Ryan want to become speaker again?

Why should anyone care if Ryan becomes speaker again? How is that a going concern? He had his chance to put down his marker and opted to refrain from doing so, preferring to pretend that this is all some bad dream from which he’ll shake himself when the morning comes.

Ryan has been the sort of statesman who offers up his strongest statements while timidly backing out the door, leaving everyone left in the room wondering if he was even there in the first place. And then he’s off to shelter behind closed doors, making another video about tax cuts as a solo act of Speaker of the House cosplay.

It’s a real curiosity: In a town where fanciful notions of “leadership” are venerated even when doing so flies in the face of reason, Paul Ryan has emerged as the one figure of real status who has been given a pass from all of that. Typically, you’d expect the media to light him on fire for both his non-endorsement endorsement and his subsequent non-unendorsement unendorsing of Trump.

But no. He gets credited by The New York Times with making a break he hasn’t made. He earns the concern of Politico over whether he’ll keep a job that he’s been avoiding doing. He’s been a flailing, indecisive mess and a big reason why his party ― and the country― has been gravely imperiled by Trump. But it seems like the press is going to allow Ryan to go down as this election cycle’s St. Sebastian. And sure, Ryan’s fantastic abs have been shot up with metaphorical arrows, but he’s not earned a martyrdom. That’s the media’s donation.


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

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

Jason Linkins   |   October 14, 2016    5:36 PM ET

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, the Republican vice presidential nominee, vowed on Friday that there was evidence to disprove the many claims of sexual improprieties against his ticket-mate, Donald Trump. Well, the Trump campaign made good on its promise, contributing yet another surreal twist to this already stupefying election season.

At issue are the allegations of Jessica Leeds, who told The New York Times this week that Trump had “grabbed her breasts and attempted to reach up her skirt” more than three decades ago when she was seated next to him in first class on a cross-country flight to New York.

“He was like an octopus,” Leeds told the Times.

Now, as the New York Post’s Daniel Halper reports, a British man named Anthony Gilberthorpe has stepped forward to serve as an exculpatory witness:

The man says he was sitting across from the accuser and contacted the Trump campaign because he was incensed by her account — which is at odds with what he witnessed.

“I have only met this accuser once and frankly cannot imagine why she is seeking to make out that Trump made sexual advances on her. Not only did he not do so (and I was present at all times) but it was she that was the one being flirtatious,” Anthony Gilberthorpe said in a note provided to The Post by the Trump campaign.

Gilberthorpe insists that Leeds was the one “trying too hard,” and that she confessed to him that she wanted to “marry” Trump. Reports suggest that Gilberthorpe would have been around 18 years old when at the time of the flight. 

“Gilberthorpe has no evidence to back up his claim — just his self-described excellent memory,” Halper reports. 

And speaking of excellent memories, here’s one the U.K. Mirror had in July 2014:

Senior Tory cabinet ministers were supplied with underage boys for sex parties, it is sensationally claimed.

Former Conservative activist Anthony Gilberthorpe said he told Margaret Thatcher 25 years ago about what he had witnessed and gave her names of those involved.

His allegations that he saw top Tories having sex with boys comes after David Cameron launched a Government inquiry into claims of a cover-up.

Anthony, 52, said: “I am prepared to speak to the inquiry. I believe I am a key witness.”

Trawling seedy streets during a Tory conference, Gilberthorpe says he was asked to find underage rent boys for a private sex party at a top hotel.

Hmmm. Halper mentions this in his piece, but that hasn’t stopped the Trump campaign from excitedly tweeting about the story:

An additional memory of sex and deception and rumored payoffs comes from Talking Points Memo, which notes that:

Gilberthorpe was also the alleged tipster behind a sex scandal that led to the downfall of conservative British parliamentarian Piers Merchant’s career. Merchant, after he resigned, accused Gilberthorpe of setting up his affair with a 17-year-old hostess and leaking news of it to the Sunday Mirror, a British tabloid, in exchange for £25,000.

I reckon that when you’ve been accused of as many sexual grotesqueries as the reality-television host has, you have to take help wherever you can find it. Still, if I had to pick a defender, Gilberthorpe ― to use one of Trump’s turns of phrase ― wouldn’t be my first choice.


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

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

Jason Linkins   |   October 13, 2016    1:26 PM ET

The New York Times published a story Wednesday based on the accounts of two women who came forward with claims that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump had “touched them inappropriately.” Hours later, lawyers acting on Trump’s behalf sent the Times a letter demanding a “full and immediate retraction and apology,” lest Trump pursue “all available actions and remedies” against the newspaper. (Similar legal threats were sent to the Palm Beach Post for a similar story.)

Does this mean that The New York Times has something to worry about? Well, you may have noticed there has been no apology or retraction from the Times since the threat was made, so that’s your first sign. But the answer is no: Donald Trump is not going to follow through on this threat. Suing the Gray Lady over this would be a phenomenally stupid idea ― perhaps too stupid even for a man who thought it would be a good idea to sell meat through The Sharper Image. 

That doesn’t mean these threats don’t have a purpose. It also doesn’t mean they aren’t threats.

But The New York Times is probably safe from harm and will likely never spend a moment in a courtroom over this. Here are some simple reasons why.

1. The case is bullshit and Trump’s lawyers all but admit this. 

If you read the demand letter sent to the Times’ executive editor, Dean Baquet, three things should jump out at you immediately. First, there are no specifics offered, no citations of error, no facts disputed ― just a lot of vague insistences plumped up by legal bravado.

Second, there are no timelines attached to these demands ― no deadlines for when the retraction needs to happen or when the apology needs to be received.

Third, the demands that Trump’s lawyers are making, which include “cease any further publication of this article” and “remove it from your website,” are empty demands. They can’t possibly provide a remedy for Trump’s claim. This news is out. The bell cannot be unrung. And Trump’s attorneys almost certainly understand this.

2. Never invite journalists to a discovery party.

If Trump were to actually bring litigation against The New York Times, the paper could pursue discovery ― the pretrial procedure by which a party to a lawsuit is allowed to obtain material that could reasonably be considered germane and admissible evidence. This is not the sort of thing to which a presidential candidate who has a history of, say, assiduously hiding his tax returns would want to expose himself.

On the other hand, the thought of pursuing discovery in this case probably has many Times reporters thinking, “I wish a mofeaux would,” and dreaming of the opportunity to get neck-deep in Trumpiana. (When football team owner Dan Snyder sued the Washington City Paper for defamation, the paper essentially re-reported the story Snyder was suing over and packed it into pretrial filings. Sad!)

3. Trump rarely makes good on his lawsuit threats.

The onetime reality TV host is always yapping about how he’ll take his many detractors to court, but this is, far more often than not, an empty threat. As USA Today’s Nick Penzenstadler reported earlier this year, “an analysis of about 4,000 lawsuits filed by and against Trump and his companies shows that he rarely follows through with lawsuits over other people’s words.” Moreover, Trump has won “only one such case, and the ultimate disposition of that is in dispute.” Not good!

However! As Penzenstadler goes on to point out:

The threats can be effective. Even the possibility of a lawsuit by a rich, powerful opponent raises the specter of years of expensive and time-consuming litigation. “Plainly, the guy uses lawsuits as a tool of intimidation and doesn’t care how much he clogs the courts with nonsense,” [comedian and target of Trump litigation Bill] Maher said in an interview.

So, what is this really about?

1. It checks the “you have to address this aggressively” box.

Trump obviously cannot let these stories in the Times and elsewhere go without a response. By bolstering his response with the threat of litigation, he can use his lawyers’ letter as an artificial backbone. That he’s threatening to take the Times to court over this matter speaks for itself, as far as “optics” go.

2. It gives his campaign a compelling story to tell.

Trump very quickly made his lawsuit threat part of his campaign schtick. He’s already hit the rally circuit, telling his supporters that the Times was derelict in its journalistic duties, decrying all these reports as fiction, and characterizing the paper’s decision to run the story as both politically motivated and a product of financial desperation. All the while, he can remind his fans that he’s threatened the Times with legal action.

If it comes to that, he can actually go so far as to file a lawsuit ― knowing full well there are only a few weeks left before Election Day, after which he can withdraw his suit without consequence.

In the meantime, he can go out on the stump, decry the Times, slander the women and pretend that he is seriously involved in litigation. I’m not sure how many people at Trump rallies can be described as “wavering,” but if there are any, this story keeps them in his camp.

3. This is really about chilling effects.

The true purpose of threatening legal action here is simply to stem the flood of accusations that have burst onto the scene over the past week and discourage other journalists from pursuing these stories by suggesting there’s a high price to be paid in time and money. This isn’t going to scare off The New York Times, but those without that paper’s good public standing and deep pockets may have legitimate cause to worry, even if their facts are iron-clad and indisputable.

The media isn’t the only party to whom Trump is trying to send a message. He’s also mounting an implicit effort to intimidate other women who might step forward and coupling his discussion of the legal threat levied at the Times with further smears of the women making the claims. In addition to raising the specter of legal costs, he’s letting any future accusers know that he’ll dole out as much public humiliation as he can on the campaign trail.

So, no, you needn’t worry about The New York Times. It’s going to be fine. The likelihood of any legal action proceeding too far past this complaint period (in which Trump, as the nominal plaintiff, can benefit from some PR advantages) to the pretrial period (in which the advantage would shift to the defendant) is very low, and I’d doubt that anyone at the paper is sweating it.

This isn’t about Trump’s desire to sincerely defend himself from being defamed. This is about harassing women and shaming those perceived as weak ― you know, all the things that Trump truly loves. 


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

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

Jason Linkins   |   October 11, 2016   12:21 PM ET

It looks like GOP presidential nominee and Cheetos-dusted fury-duffel Donald Trump is fully moving his campaign’s footing to one of total war with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). But for the moment, there remain some stray surrogates who, like Lubang Island holdouts, are still fighting the last war over the recently released “Trump tapes,” which feature a joyful Trump enthusing about sexual assault. 

The most current defense of Trump’s lewd remarks has gone somewhere that, in retrospect, seems inevitable. Take it away, New York Times television critic James Poniewozik!

Oh, hey, did you forget about rap music, everybody? Obviously, you did, if you’re going to shout about Trump’s remarks. Luckily, Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson is here to remind you that rap lyrics exist, and are frequently R-rated.

In a similar argument made by Trump ally Betsy McCaughey, Hillary Clinton must denounce Beyoncé and her lyrics, because ... she just should? Someone has to? (Obviously, it’s not clear how you draw a line between Clinton’s campaign and Bey’s existence. It’s equally unclear if we’re still supposed to suggest that a guy who wants to have the nuclear codes at his disposal should be held to higher standards of restraint and politesse than an entertainer. But this is where we are.)

But OK, let’s concede a point or two. Obviously, a lot of popular music contains graphic sexual imagery. Certainly, the entertainment industry has done its fair share of glamorizing misogyny and rape culture. But here, Trump surrogates have momentarily forgotten that they are supposed to be defending Trump’s remarks as “locker room talk” ― that is to say, approvable speech. Just frank stuff between men who shoot straight and disdain the censors, man! And the whole point of the Trump campaign is that the maximization of political incorrectness is vital to the life of this republic.

Pierson’s argument might work if she were saying something like, “It’s hypocritical to condemn Donald Trump for saying these things because we have all this great music that is equally risqué, telling it like it is, saying the things that everyone is thinking.” The problem is, she’s showing her contempt for the same sort of language in the context of rap lyrics, when what she wants to be doing ― to make her argument work ― is appear to be complimentary of it. Defending Trump on his comments, after all, requires you to frame his comments not as something that’s despicable, but as evidence of manly virtue.

Maybe this worldview only accommodates manly virtues when they are white manly virtues?

OK, well, I’m glad I’m not the only one who noticed. 

At any rate, here’s the millionth iteration of a lesson you should have learned by now: The people who most flamboyantly lionize the righteousness of being politically incorrect and maximally blasphemous always eventually reveal themselves to be the most uptight scolds.

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

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

Jason Linkins   |   October 10, 2016    8:43 PM ET

Click the video clip below, and let’s ruin my favorite song ― “Borne On The FM Waves Of The Heart” by Against Me! ― together.


[Guitar solo.]

[Long guitar solo.]

(Against Me! has a new studio album out titled “Shape Shift With Me,” which you should buy.)

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

Jason Linkins   |   October 10, 2016   11:51 AM ET

It was on a Friday morning ― hours before it would come to light that the GOP presidential nominee had once crudely joked about how the perks of fame include the ability to commit sexual assault ― that their talk turned briefly hopeful.

Mike Pence, they said, was “likable, confident, poised and articulate.” “Calm,” they said. “Truthful and a gentleman,” they said. And he would “mop the floor” with Hillary Clinton, they insisted.

If only the Indiana governor could be at the top of the GOP ticket! They dared to dream of another world ― a better world ― in which their party had nominated literally anyone other than Donald Trump: “Just about any other GOP nominee would have beat Hillary Clinton by an unprecedented number.”

Such were the thoughts of the Republican members of the Politico Caucus, the conservative half of a bipartisan group of Beltway-minded experts and party elites impaneled last year by the D.C. broadsheet to ensure that the paper would have a steady supply of Thought Leader content for the election cycle.

In return, the caucus’ “Insiders” were situated as all-knowing sages of the political scene, and granted a platform from whence they could offer up a combination of hoary conventional wisdom and spicy-hot takes, all while cloaked in semi-anonymity.

This exercise in expert-fetishization might have gone according to plan, had a weird, orange hothead not emerged as the GOP nominee. Because that turned the Republican members of the Politico Caucus into a twitchy, sputtering mess of confusion and contradiction.

They were, after all, the very elites who were supposed to decide the GOP’s nominee by gently guiding voters to make certain sensible choices. This was why Politico had sought them out in the first place.

If they couldn’t make sense of what was happening with their party’s presidential ticket ― if they were really no less confused than the rest of us ― then what was the point... of them?

So the GOP Insiders struggled. In fact, what they did was grieve ― cycling to and fro and back again among Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ famous stages. Anger would give way to hope, only to return to dread anew. Every now and then, a bold prediction would arise, only to be dashed with the next twist of the news cycle. 

But this, after all, was the radical promise at the foundation of Trump’s presidential bid, that these political elites ― their comforts and traditions, their well-worn maxims, their ability to influence events ― would be subverted and defeated by a disaffected mob flying the “Make America Great Again” banner. The worldview shared by the sort of people whom a paper like Politico would assemble into a caucus of experts was always supposed to fail. Their storied perches were always supposed to crumble. And Politico has inadvertently given us all a front-row seat to Trump’s ravages of elite opinion.

Jan. 1, 2016: “Insiders give their top predictions for 2016
Kübler-Ross state: DENIAL

Still flush from what was seen as 2015’s successful run of predictions ― they told you Ben Carson wouldn’t last! ― the GOP Insiders offered their boldest takes on the coming election year. “Trump will not have a victory after the first four states and will exit the race,” said one Republican. Another asserted, “The GOP nomination fight will come down to a slugfest for the soul of the party between two young Cuban-Americans,” referring to Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. “Cruz-Haley beats Clinton-Kaine for the presidency,” said another. It was going to be a long year!

Jan. 15, 2016: “Who won the first Ted Cruz-Donald Trump duel?
Kübler-Ross state: DENIAL

A January GOP debate gave the GOP Insiders the first real look at the contours of the emerging battle between Trump and Cruz. Their take? Roughly a draw between the two men, with Cruz ably parrying Trump’s attempt to bring birtherism to Cruz’s history, but also going down in flames for decrying “New York values” after Trump seized the moment to wrap himself in the Sept. 11 banner. Somewhere in the transom, however, the Insiders conjured up a foolish notion that would soon spread itself over the early primaries: Marco Rubio was the real emerging contender. “Rubio beat out Cruz by a nose,” said one, “and they both became the top contenders to try and topple Trump.” Or did they?

Feb. 1, 2016: “GOP Insiders: It was a rough night for Ted Cruz
Kübler-Ross state: DENIAL

Donald Trump skipped the Des Moines debate, but it was actually Cruz who fared the worst. That’s according to the GOP Insiders, who labeled the Texas senator “plastic and insincere,” lambasted him for getting into a fight with moderator Chris Wallace and criticized him for flopping big-time in his attempt to make sense of his shifting position on immigration. The big winner, though? 

One Iowa Republican called Rubio the “strongest and most articulate” candidate participating in the debate. A New Hampshire Republican agreed, saying the Florida senator was “the most articulate of the candidates on a variety of issues and is the most aspirational of the Republicans on stage.”

What could go wrong, apart from the Insiders setting themselves up for a massive disappointment?

Feb. 7, 2016: “Insiders: Marco Rubio crashed and burned
Kübler-Ross state: ANGER

O, cruel fate! Marco Rubio came to the New Hampshire debate with one good line. Unfortunately, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, in his one major contribution to American politics in 2016, noticed it and humiliated the Florida senator. The purple praise the GOP Insiders had previously lavished on Rubio turned to ash in an instant. With it died much of their hope that a young, rational Republican might win the nomination.

Per Politico:

New Hampshire GOP insiders called Rubio “cringeworthy,” “badly programmed and robotic,” “so rehearsed he comes off as inauthentic,” and “exposed at last for the wind-up doll he is.”

Feb. 12, 2016: “Insiders: Hard road ahead for Donald Trump
Kübler-Ross state: DENIAL

With Rubio freshly humiliated, Cruz flailing and Jeb Bush marooned on some island of irrelevance, it was starting to seem like Trump’s hammerlock on the nomination was real. But the GOP Insiders weren’t hearing it, insisting that the mogul actually lacked “a clear route to the GOP presidential nomination.” “Trump needs to show that he can grow his share of the vote,” said one anonymous Republican. “Nobody has gone negative on The Donald,” asserted another. 

A third predicted, “He will flame out as people become more serious.” But would “people” indeed “become more serious?” Hmm.

Feb. 14, 2016: “Insiders: Trump flopped in debate
Kübler-Ross state: DENIAL

Oh, now Trump had gone and done it! He’d attacked former President George W. Bush and his handling of the Iraq War! In friggin’ South Carolina! What a huge goof! If there’s one thing that everyone agrees on, it’s that Bush was a mastermind and the Iraq War went perfectly. “Trump’s attack on President George W. Bush was galactic-level stupid in South Carolina,” explained one matter-of-fact Insider. “Jeb’s political testosterone is growing before our eyes,” enthused another.

Yep, it was over for Trump. That much was certain.

Feb. 26, 2016: “Insiders: Donald Trump is the likely GOP nominee
Kübler-Ross state: DEPRESSION

What happened, guys?

The vast majority of Republican insiders... pick Trump as the GOP’s most likely nominee. More than four-in-five Republicans surveyed this week said Trump has the best chance to win the nomination, with only Marco Rubio (17 percent) and John Kasich (2 percent) earning support from other respondents.

If you’re wondering whether there was any self-reflection over the previous confident assertions that disparaging President George W. Bush in South Carolina would definitely sink Trump, you can relax ― there wasn’t any. Instead, a new hope began to blossom.

“It’s still possible for Trump to fall short and, if he does, it will be to Rubio,” an Ohio Republican said.

“He can tread water and hope for a Trump implosion, or in the... rarest of scenarios a brokered convention,” a Florida Republican added. “He just has to stay relevant in the electoral long game.”

Oh, man. A contested convention? How long were the Insiders going to keep that hope alive?

March 4, 2016: “Insiders: Convention is only chance to stop Trump
March 18, 2016: “Insiders: Kasich could win a contested convention
March 25, 2016: “Insiders to Trump: No majority, no nomination
April 8, 2016: “Insiders: 90 percent predict contested GOP convention
Kübler-Ross state: BARGAINING

They kept that hope alive for over a month, as it turned out. Then they started getting irate! 

April 15, 2016: “GOP insiders to Trump: Quit whining
Kübler-Ross state: ANGER

So, after a month of baying for party pooh-bahs to step in at the Republican National Convention and hand-alter the trajectory of the primary, the GOP Insiders spent the entirety of the Tax Day column heaping anger on Trump for complaining about how the system was rigged against him. “Stop whining about the rules,” they scolded the Marigold One.

This all came at a time when Trump was briefly facing some electoral headwinds, and the hot talk among the smart set was that he might not end up notching the magic number of delegates to win the nomination outright. 

“For all of Trump’s business success, is it believable that he and his team don’t understand and grasp the nominating process and rules?” asked a Wisconsin Republican. “If not, how is he going to understand the complexities of trade deals, tax reform, budgets, construction of a wall and more should he end up in the Oval Office?”

“This guy can’t figure out publicly known delegate rules,” added a New Hampshire Republican, “but thinks he can go toe to toe with China or Russia?”

Huh, I wonder what those guys think about Trump’s delegate-acquisition abilities now?

May 6, 2016: “Majority of GOP insiders won’t commit to Trump
Kübler-Ross state: Pretending to be ANGER, but largely BARGAINING

A few weeks later, Trump became the presumptive nominee. This proved a bad turn of events for the GOP Insiders, a majority of whom were not “ready to commit to voting for him in November.” Politico broke down that Insider vote and found that 39 percent were planning to vote for Trump, 26 percent were fully in the “never will I ever” camp and 35 percent were still “not sure.” 

So another way of saying it would be that nearly three-quarters of the Insiders were at least open to the idea of voting for Trump.

As one Insider put it:

“First responsibility of the president: Control of nuclear launch codes,” added a Florida Republican. “Had Trump been in office in October 1962, we wouldn’t be here to have this survey.”

That’s not a bad argument for Trump, to be honest.

June 10, 2016: “4-in-10 GOP insiders want to derail Trump at the convention
Kübler-Ross state: BARGAINING

In case you were wondering if Trump might endeavor to “pivot” after his primary win, to reassure the Insiders that he wouldn’t deprive them, via nuclear annihilation, of their ability to anonymously opine ― rest assured, that did not happen. By mid-June, a portion of Insiders who’d once mocked Trump for “whining” about the rules being rigged against him were openly advocating for somebody, anybody, to rig the rules against him.

With just six weeks to go until the GOP convention, more than a third want to see the party throw out those rules, unbind the delegates and allow them to choose a different candidate. For many of them, it isn’t as much about winning this year’s election: Trump as the nominee, they believe, represents an existential threat to the party.

“Trump’s continued descent into madness is dragging the GOP down with him,” said a Florida Republican, who like all respondents, completed the survey anonymously. “A convention switchup would be great politics and save the GOP.”

The most frequently cited reason to blow up Trump’s nomination was the presumably deleterious effect he was certain to have down-ticket. That was also the most frequently cited reason not to blow up Trump’s nomination. As one Virginia Republican said, “Republicans can’t do anything to hurt Trump now without knee-capping our other GOP candidates up and down the ballot.”

June 24, 2016: “GOP Insiders alarmed by Trump’s fundraising
Kübler-Ross state: ANGER

Over the next few weeks, the GOP Insiders raised more grievances about Trump ― and graver concerns about their party’s overall fortunes. The first area of concern: Trump’s unprecedentedly slack post-primary fundraising numbers. The most recent set of financial disclosures were showing that the GOP nominee-to-be had just $1.3 million left in the bank. The Insiders correctly saw Trump’s cash-anemic state as imperiling his ability to be the GOP’s standard-bearer. (Also imperiling that: everything else.)

“He is committing down-ballot murders,” one Insider said. Still, there was some room for optimism:

“Trump still has the capacity to self-fund, and the fact is, he’s worked miracles in getting news media to highlight him,” said a Colorado Republican.

Sure, man. For example, right at this moment, the media was highlighting how bad Trump was at raising money.

July 1, 2016: “Insiders: Clinton dominates Trump on the ground
Kübler-Ross state: DEPRESSION

Not long after the Insiders noticed how bad the Trump campaign was at fundraising, they started to notice how bad it was at nearly everything else. The Democratic Insiders from Politico’s caucus unanimously agreed that Clinton’s “organization and ground game” was stronger than Trump’s. Nearly 92 percent of the GOP Insiders agreed with their Democratic counterparts. All of which raised a question: What on earth was that other 8 percent seeing that nobody else was?

A Colorado Republican added: “By normal campaign ‘standards’ one would point to Hillary as having the stronger organization, but Trump has defied all odds during the GOP primary and did not use typical campaigning or use a ground game as typical campaigns have done. And he won.”

Frankly, that may say more about the quality of Trump’s Republican competition than the skill of the guy who came out on top. Suffice it to say, from fundraising to field organization, the GOP Insiders were finding little in which to take pride. Fortunately, there was a big party convention coming.

July 15, 2016: “GOP Insiders expect convention mayhem
July 18, 2016: “GOP Insiders dreading Trump’s convention
Kübler-Ross state: DEPRESSION

With the Republican National Convention looming, the GOP Insiders found themselves sinking into a funk. Half of the Insiders felt “mayhem” was almost certain to break out in Cleveland ― though many thought the principal agitators would not be hard-line Trump partisans, but Black Lives Matter protesters and other activists determined to foul Trump’s ambitions. “George Soros’ money will pay for thousands of disaffected screaming thugs,” one Insider predicted. So, at least the disaffected thug sector of the workforce was projected to do well.

Others found little to look forward to on the convention stage, with prominent Republican leaders taking a pass on the festivities, and Trump’s inability to project “presidentialness” growing more apparent all the time. Opinions were mixed as to whether Trump should stick to his teleprompter (and risk appearing anesthetized) or be his typical freewheeling self (and court disaster).  

“I am more excited about my oral surgery this fall than I am about this convention,” said one Insider, no doubt dreaming of the pain medication. 

July 22, 2016: “GOP insiders: Trump nailed it
Kübler-Ross state: ACCEPTANCE

But then, wonder of wonders, the convention happened, and the promised anarchy in the streets never materialized. What’s more, Trump’s performance left the Insiders feeling... well, “stoked” is too strong a word, maybe. But nearly stoked.

“Trump gave a simple message and expanded the Republican Party: law and order, economic populism and defeat the rigged system,” said one Iowa Republican — who, like all respondents, completed the survey anonymously.

“I felt Trump gave a very good speech and struck on issues and policies that people wanted to hear about,” added a Colorado Republican. “His family and friends did an excellent job of showing the softer side of Donald Trump and gave America a good view of his family, which says a lot about him as a person. I think he is absolutely right — this is a movement, not a ‘normal’ campaign. People have had enough of tired politicians. I think they are going to give him the chance to run the country.”

If there was something that the Insiders didn’t care for, it was Ted Cruz’s call to “vote your conscience” ― something that Cruz might have felt would go over better with this crowd.

But what’s really important in all of this is that somehow, the GOP Insiders had extracted from Trump’s mix of authoritarianism and pessimism... a reason to be happy? According to one, Trump’s oration “defined the race and made him a voice for the people.”

At last, it seemed as though the Insiders were entering the “acceptance” phase of their grieving.

Aug. 5, 2016: “Insiders to Trump: Drop out
Kübler-Ross state: ANGER

Well, that didn’t last long!

“I’d rather take our chances with nearly anyone else than continue with this certain loser who will likely cost the Senate and much more,” said a New Hampshire Republican — who, like all respondents, completed the survey anonymously.

“The effect Trump is having on down-ballot races has the potential to be devastating in November,” added a Florida Republican. “His negative image among Hispanics, women and independents is something that could be devastating to Republicans. Trump’s divisive rhetoric to the Hispanic community at large has the potential to be devastating for years to come.”

It was at this point that Politico’s GOP Insiders began a series of wild oscillations between hope and despair.

Aug. 12, 2016: “GOP Insiders: Trump can’t win
Kübler-Ross state: DEPRESSION

If I were to sum up the two halves of the Politico Caucus at this point, I’d say the Democratic members were feeling good but not altogether certain that Clinton wouldn’t find some way to blow the election. The GOP Insiders, on the other hand, were inconsolable. By mid-August, half of them were pretty sure there was no path to a Trump victory.

Trump’s previously noted flaws ― his lack of a ground game, his poor fundraising ― were among the reasons the GOP Insiders felt so defeated. What hope remained was fully invested in the possibility that some black swan event might occur:

“Outside events could still intervene, and I could certainly see something happening on the foreign policy front that changes the face of the race, but as Yogi Berra once said, ‘It’s getting late early,’” a Michigan Republican said.

Maybe I’m misreading, but I suspect the phrase “something happening on the foreign policy front” is some kind of euphemism for “a lot of people dying.”

Aug. 19, 2016: “GOP Insiders: Trump’s overhaul won’t succeed
Kübler-Ross state: DEPRESSION

The GOP Insiders didn’t greet Trump’s rejiggering of his listless campaign ― a hot new dance remix featuring Breitbart head Steve Bannon and pollster Kellyanne Conway ― with a great deal of enthusiasm. Nor did they greet it with a great deal of creativity:

Nearly a half-dozen GOP insiders compared the changes to “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic” — a reference to Trump’s significant deficit in the polls.

Oh, come on, guys, you’re the Politico Caucus! Surely you can do better than that.

A Virginia Republican made a similar analogy: “You can keep moving people in and out of the car, but so long as the drunk guy is driving it while blindfolded, the ride probably isn’t going to get any smoother.”

Yeah, that’s the stuff.

Aug. 26, 2016: “GOP insiders: Moderating on immigration helps Trump
Kübler-Ross state: BARGAINING

In late August, Trump began to “signal” that he was willing to moderate the policy for which he was best known ― his draconian stance on immigration. Why anyone thought Trump was serious about softening on the issue that had galvanized his campaign in the first place was a mystery. The far more likely explanation ― that Trump was just messing with people ― largely went unremarked upon.

But a few Insiders were willing to bite, all the same. “The plan needs to be realistic,” said one, evidently unfamiliar with Trump’s usual approach to policy. A Colorado Republican told Politico that “Trump’s chances of winning if he veers to the middle go from none to slim.”

Other, cannier Insiders were more wary. “This issue and trade are the two issues that gets Trump crossover votes,” noted one Insider.

Trump did have a plan to cross over ― over the border, that is!

Sept. 2, 2016: “GOP Insiders: Trump’s trip was a hit
Kübler-Ross state: DENIAL

For reasons that remain somewhat fuzzy, Trump traveled to Mexico in late August to face that nation’s President Enrique Peña Nieto. The two men staged a joint press conference at which Trump seemed uncharacteristically generous and subdued, and Peña Nieto looked alternately diminished and perplexed. What emerged from that meeting was a strange “he said/she said” over whether Mexico would foot the bill for Trump’s proposed border wall. In Mexico, Peña Nieto’s standing with the public ended up taking a hit.

Perhaps that’s why only one-third of the GOP Insiders rated the trip as either “mostly unsuccessful” or “disastrous.” The majority of them were able to take some encouragement from it. Between Trump and Peña Nieto, Trump was the only one who didn’t suffer a depletion of esteem as a result of the visit. “Trump finally looked presidential, calm and assured,” said one Insider, apparently happy to find a different way of saying “Trump didn’t transform into a werewolf on live television.”

Which wasn’t to last, by the way. At a subsequent rally in Phoenix, Trump, in the words of one Insider, “went full Viagra... burying the crowd in red meat as he returned to his portrayal of America as a dystopian wasteland ruled by criminal aliens.”

This was the moment when everyone more or less gave up on the notion that Trump might “moderate” his immigration policies.

Sept. 9, 2016: “GOP Insiders: Maybe Trump can win
Kübler-Ross state: ALL OVER THE PLACE

The best way to describe Trump’s next week would be to call it a “mixed bag.” This was actually something of an achievement, since his bag had, up to that point, mostly been filled with molding melon rinds and racism. Trump made gains in some important swing state polls this week. Clinton was entering the low point of her presidential campaign. It was a time of great Democratic Party bed-wetting, which seemed to bolster the GOP Insiders’ confidence.

But a few Insiders managed to remember some of the things that had previously been cited as reasons to despair:

Still, many Republicans still think Clinton’s organizational advantage will prevail.

“Tightening numbers make the ground game even more important,” said a New Hampshire Republican, “and without a Trump ground game ... he can’t win here.”

GOP insiders are mostly downcast about the state of Trump’s organization. Only 17 percent said they have “a lot of confidence” in the Trump campaign infrastructure in their state, while 39 percent have “only some confidence” in the campaign, and 44 percent have “no confidence at all.”

Sept. 16, 2016: “Trump rebound fuels surge in GOP confidence
Kübler-Ross state: BARGAINING

This was the moment when the GOP Insiders, even if they couldn’t exactly embrace their party’s nominee or excuse his many flaws, briefly found solace in an altogether different idea: that Hillary Clinton might just blow the election on her own. Here is where Clinton reached the absolute nadir of her campaign, with the news cycle alternately dumping on her for the “basket of deplorables” comment and stoking paranoia about her health.

“Like the Old Man of the Mountain, Clinton’s support is slowly eroding,” said a New Hampshire Republican — who, like all insiders, completed the survey anonymously. “The health fiasco and ‘deplorables’ nightmare had an impact here to motivate independents I talk to.”

Added an Iowa Republican: “She had the worst week of any presidential candidate in my adult lifetime. Her health and the ‘deplorables’ comment doomed her in this state.”

“I am, for the first time, waffling on this one,” added a Michigan Republican. “More and more of the chattering class here is thinking that Hillary’s health situation is opening up the possibility that Trump could actually pull this off.”

For once, the rattle and clang of the political media seemed to be playing Trump’s tune. Polls were showing a dead heat (that is, an actual one). And the upcoming debate looked like the perfect opportunity for Trump’s momentum to grow, since the expectations for his performance were so low as to be almost nonexistent.

Yep, as long as Trump managed to avoid sharting himself, the race was there for the taking.  

Sept. 30, 2016: “Insiders: Trump had a terrible week.”
Kübler-Ross state: ANGER

Yeah, so, at the debate, Trump sharted himself.

Oct. 4, 2016: “Insiders: Trump will sink Pence in VP debate
Kübler-Ross state: DEPRESSION

It was widely assumed by the GOP Insiders that some of the residue from the aforementioned shart was going to find its way onto Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence.

Oct. 5, 2016: “Insiders: Pence outclassed Trump
Kübler-Ross state: BARGAINING

But just as a drowning man will reach out for any life preserver, Politico’s GOP Insiders found, in Mike Pence’s serviceable debate performance, a reason to believe. Politico summarized it thusly: “Mike Pence didn’t just defeat Tim Kaine in their only debate — he also outshined Donald Trump.”

I probably don’t need to point out that a vice president is supposed to complement the person at the top of the ticket ― not “outshine” that person, or, say, “fill the yawning gap” left by that person’s “manifest terribleness.” But it had been a long year for the Insiders. So much time had passed since those heady fantasies of a Cruz-Haley ticket. The Insiders were gonna run wild in the streets, dreaming of Mike Pence, just for a little bit:

“Not even close,” said an Ohio Republican — who, like all insiders, completed the survey anonymously. “Is there anyone outside of the Trump family who isn’t wishing we could flip the ticket? Mike Pence projects calm reassurance and strength and an ability to articulate a vision and policies Americans support. For the first time in months we heard a serious case for conservative principles.”

“Pence was the anti-Trump,” a Nevada Republican added. “He was prepared, smart, composed and he showed respectful competence and leadership.”

A Virginia Republican called the question “a no-brainer.” Another Virginia Republican said Trump “was a disaster.” A New Hampshire Republican suggested Pence “pinch hit” for Trump in the final two debates with Hillary Clinton.

And that brings us back to where we began, with our Insiders dreaming of a world in which Mike Pence was mopping the floor with Clinton, instead of, you know, the world where Donald Trump is gleefully telling Billy Bush how much fun sexual assault is. It was the lowest point of the campaign, with Republican elites bailing on their party’s nominee in droves and the lurid wall-to-wall coverage of Trump’s 2005 remarks competing only with the lurid wall-to-wall coverage of Present-Day Trump’s meltdown.

And somehow, amid all of this, there was a debate scheduled.

Oct. 10, 2016: “GOP Insiders: Trump’s off life support
Kübler-Ross state: DEEP DEEP DENIAL

“I’m shocked, but he won the debate,” said an Iowa Republican who, like all insiders, completed the survey anonymously. “He had her on her heels throughout.”

“Donald Trump did what he had to do,” a Michigan Republican added. “He laid out a Chris Christie, New Hampshire-style indictment of Hillary Clinton in the first 30 minutes when the most eyeballs were watching and before the early deadline for Monday’s newspapers.”

Eh, it’s been such a long year for the GOP Insiders of the Politico Caucus ― let’s just give ‘em this. Fine, yes, Donald Trump was finally taken “off life support.” You know, like you do with things that are brain-dead.


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

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

Jason Linkins   |   October 9, 2016   10:54 PM ET

Throughout the debate season, there has been a lot of focus on the moderators and whether it is their duty to fact-check the presidential candidates in real time. At Sunday’s debate in St. Louis, a lengthy back and forth between Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and ABC News’ Martha Raddatz, in which debate moderator Raddatz pushed back on some of Trump’s contentions, is certain to fuel further debate over the debates.

The moment came about two-thirds of the way through the evening’s tilt between Trump and his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. At issue was Syria, where the ongoing civil war has led the parts of the country into near-ruin, spawned a massive refugee crisis, and created havens in which the Islamic State operates. Raddatz set up her question like so:

RADDATZ: The heartbreaking video of a 5-year-old Syrian boy named Omran sitting in an ambulance after being pulled from the rubble after an airstrike in Aleppo focused the world’s attention on the horrors of the war in Syria, with 136 million views on Facebook alone.

But there are much worse images coming out of Aleppo every day now, where the past few weeks alone, 400 people have been killed, at least 100 of them children. Just days ago, the State Department called for a war crimes investigation of the Syrian regime of Bashar al Assad and its allies Russia for the bombardment of Aleppo. So this next question comes from social media through Facebook. Diana from Pennsylvania asked, if you were president, what would you do about Syria and the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo? Isn’t it a lot like the Holocaust when the U.S. waited too long before we helped?

Clinton was the first to answer, referring to “the situation in Syria” as “catastophic,” and renewing her call for a “no-fly zone in safe zones” above the country. Her advocacy is by no means uncontroversial; some Pentagon leaders insist that the imposition of a no-fly zone would inevitably lead the United States and its allies into conflict with both Syrian and Russian aircraft ― fueling further escalation. Clinton, however, was dismissive of Russia: “Russia has decided that it’s all in in Syria. And they also decided who they want to see become president of the United States, too. And it’s not me.” 

When Trump’s turn came to answer, he launched into an extended critique of Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state instead of answering the original question. Raddatz prompted Trump that his time was up, at which point he attempted to quickly circle back, saying, “I don’t like Assad at all. But Assad is killing ISIS. Russia is killing ISIS. And Iran is killing ISIS. And those three have now lined up because of our weak foreign policy.”

At this point, Raddatz determined that her original question had not been answered satisfactorily:

RADDATZ: Mr. Trump, let me repeat the question. If you were president, what would you do about Syria and the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo. And I want to remind you what your running mate said. He said provocations by Russia need to be met with American strength and that if Russia continues to be involved with airstrikes along with the Syrian government forces of Assad, the United States of America should be prepared to use military force to strike the military targets of the Assad regime.

TRUMP: OK. He and I haven’t spoken and I disagree.

RADDATZ: You disagree with your running mate?

But Trump moved on, saying, “We have to knock out ISIS,” and accusing the Obama administration of empowering Iran and Russia. Raddatz again tried to turn the conversation back to the humanitarian crisis:

RADDATZ: What do you think will happen if Aleppo falls?

TRUMP: I think Aleppo is a disaster humanitarian-wise.

RADDATZ: What do you think will happen if it falls?

TRUMP: I think that it basically has fallen. OK? It basically has fallen.

It’s debatable whether Aleppo has formally “fallen,” as rebel forces currently remain in control of part of the city. But it’s fair to allow Trump some rhetorical room to simply express an appropriately downcast view of Aleppo’s future. 

It was at this point, however, that Trump began critiquing the military’s approach to fighting ISIS in Iraq. And Raddatz pushed back on his assertions aggressively.

TRUMP: The biggest problem I have with the stupidity of our foreign policy is, we have Mosul. They think a lot of the ISIS leaders are in Mosul. So we have a lot of announcements coming out of Washington and coming out of Iraq, we will be attacking Mosul in three weeks or four weeks. All of these bad leaders from ISIS are leaving Mosul. Why can’t they do it quietly? Why can’t they do the attack, make it a sneak attack. After the attack is made, inform the American public that we have knocked out the leaders, we’ve had tremendous success. People leave. Why do they have to say we’re going to be attacking Mosul within the next four to six weeks? Which is what they are saying. How stupid is our country?

RADDATZ: There are sometimes reasons the military does that. Psychological warfare.

TRUMP: I can’t think of any. I can’t think of any. And I’m pretty good at it. 

RADDATZ: It might be to help get civilians out.

TRUMP: And we have General Flynn. And we have ― look, I have 200 generals and admirals who endorsed me. I have 21 Congressional Medal of Honor recipients who endorsed me. We talk about it all the time. They understand, why can’t they do something secretively, where they go in and they knock out the leadership? How ― why would these people stay there? I’ve been reading now ...

RADDATZ: Tell me what your strategy is.

TRUMP: I’ve been reading now for weeks about Mosul, that it’s the harbor of where ― you know, between Raqqa and Mosul, this is where they think the ISIS leaders are.

It may have been impossible to expect Raddatz, a foreign policy reporter par excellence, to remain silent in the face of Trump’s contentions. But for better or for worse, Raddatz noticeably injected herself into the proceedings.

There were those who gave Raddatz credit for flexing her expertise: 

But she had her critics as well:


So far in these debates, we’ve seen the moderators insist that the candidates answer their questions, occasionally dialing in with a fact-check on the fly if a specific answer flies in the face of their knowledge. In all likelihood, the moderators have largely failed to satisfy both the “fact-check relentlessly” camp and the “remain steadfastly neutral” camp. This portion of the debate from Raddatz was notable in its length and in her assertions of knowledge, and will probably end up being discussed extensively in any after-action reports.

The final debate, scheduled for Oct. 19, will be moderated by “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace. Wallace has insisted it is not his duty to serve as a “truth squad” in the sessions, and that this responsibility remains with the candidates.

But as anyone who has ever watched him will attest, Wallace does not brook a personal challenge from politicians. When he feels challenged, he responds. It will be interesting to see if he keeps that tendency in check if he’s pushed. 


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

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

Jason Linkins   |   October 9, 2016   10:09 AM ET

On this weekend’s edition of America’s Sunday shows, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani was selected to be GOP nominee Donald Trump’s principal defender in the matter of the reality show star’s recorded remarks in support of sexually assaulting women.

On “Meet the Press,” Giuliani was greeted by Chuck Todd, who from the outset seemed to be unwilling to grant any charity on the matter, as he rebuffed the former mayor’s attempts at social niceties.

RUDY GIULIANI: How are you, Chuck?

CHUCK TODD: Back-to-back here, I want you to address ―

GIULIANI: Thank you. How are you, Chuck?


It was an inauspicious start to an interview that quickly became contentious, with Todd singling out Giuliani as the only person who seemed to want to show his face on Trump’s behalf.

TODD: Well, let me ask you this, though. Kellyanne Conway was supposed to come on this show defending Donald Trump. Reince Priebus, chairman of the RNC, was supposed to go on a couple other shows. They all pulled out. Only you are out defending Donald Trump. Are you the only one in the campaign that was willing to publicly defend him?

GIULIANI: No, absolutely not. I was with Kellyanne all day yesterday, she could just as easily have been on as me. And the same thing is true with Chris.


Giuliani maintained that Trump felt “terrible” about the remarks he made, but simultaneously attempted to wave them away, presenting the argument that there was a time in which Trump’s “grab them by the pussy” remarks were perfectly aboveboard. “It was 10 or 12 years ago. He wasn’t at that time, you know, running for office, he wasn’t thinking of office,” Giuliani said. 

Todd remained skeptical: “He didn’t apologize for attacking a Gold Star family, he didn’t apologize to questioning the nature of a federal judge just because of his ethnicity. Why did he choose to apologize for this?”

Giuliani’s response was essentially, Trump and his family weren’t personally embarrassed by those attacks.

GIULIANI: Well, I think in this case, we’re talking about his personal behavior and his statements that are absolutely wrong. And I think when he heard them, he was shocked. I’m not going to say that he didn’t remember them, but they probably weren’t at the top of his mind. And when he was confronted with it, he was pretty darn shocked that he had said such terrible things and he feels terrible about it. He feels terrible for his family and how embarrassing it is for them; he feels terrible from his own point of view. But he also realizes he has a responsibility. And I think the last 14 months have driven that into him.

Todd disagreed, insisting that there was a “pattern” of Trump showing himself to be fairly consistent in his misogynist grotesqueries. The host underscored this by playing a portion of an interview that Trump gave to Howard Stern, in which Trump discussed how one of the perks of running a beauty pageant was the ability to “get away with things” like intruding on the contestants while they were undressed, and passing it off as “inspecting.”

Things got pretty contentious between the two men from there:

TODD: Wait, let [me] ask you this, Mr. Mayor, why is the idea of not running, “Well, he wasn’t running for president, so it’s OK to be a misogynist.” He wasn’t running for president, so it’s OK to make unwanted sexual advances?

GIULIANI: Chuck, Chuck, I’m not saying it was the right thing to do. I’m saying that, for example, when I was the mayor of New York and I went on the “Howard Stern Show,” I made sure that we didn’t fool around, we didn’t tell jokes, we didn’t say that things, you know, would shock people. On that show, a lot of things are said that aren’t true, you just say them because they’re funny. I’m a good friend of Howard Stern’s and I really like him a lot, but every time I was on his show, my people, my mayor’s people, handled it so that we never talked about things like that. It’s not right to say it, whether you’re a politician or not, now ―

TODD: It’s not saying it, Mr. Mayor, it’s doing it. He’s bragging about making unwanted sexual advances.

GIULIANI: It’s wrong. It is wrong.

TODD: You’re saying that the words are wrong. How about the actions?

GIULIANI: Well, the actions would be even worse if they were actions. Talk and action are two different things.

TODD: Wait a minute, New York Times, Temple Taggart was [a] 21-year-old beauty contestant when she said Mr. Trump kissed her on the lips without invitation at a pageant event. It was an unwanted advance, she has turned it over in her head for years. Watching him relive his sexual aggressions on this video, she said in an interview on Saturday, “made me feel a lot better,” she said. It was like, “Thank you, now no one can say I made this up.” You were just implying this stuff was made up. 

GIULIANI: I’m not implying it was made up. I said we’re talking about things that he was talking about. I don’t know how much he was exaggerating, I don’t know how much is true. I certainly don’t know the details of it. But I do know that this is unfortunately the kind of talk that goes on among a lot of people and they shouldn’t talk about this. This is wrong. He realizes that, he understands it now. He’s running for president, he realizes that he’s got the weight and the responsibility of all these people on his shoulder and this is something he’s not going to do in the future. And he’s very apologetic about it and wants to move onto what is going to be really important 30 days from now.

But that was perhaps the most interesting thing about this interview: Giuliani made numerous attempts to change the subject, but Todd wouldn’t let him pivot off the topic, greeting Giuliani’s efforts with a mix of terse responses and pointed objections:

GIULIANI: You know, he is going to lower taxes, she’s going to raise taxes. He’s going to add to our military, she’s going to decrease our military. He’s going to support the police at a time in which we’ve had the biggest increase in crime in the last 41 years. He’s going to take on radical Islamic terrorism. And he’s not, one thing he’s not is what came across in WikiLeaks, and that is two people.


GIULIANI: Hillary Clinton actually specifically described that she’s two different people, to the financial people who were giving her millions of dollars, she’s on their side and she wants to be a big part of the government.


GIULIANI: But she tells them she has to pretend to everybody else that she isn’t.

TODD: If you believe that Hillary Clinton says one thing in private and that means what she really is is what she is in private, should we assume what Donald Trump did in that “Access Hollywood” buzz is really what Donald Trump is like in private? I mean, that’s what you’re implying here with Hillary Clinton.

GIULIANI: You know, Chuck, the reality is that in both cases, both people have things in their personal lives that maybe if they could redo it, they would do it differently. And the reality is that this is a situation in which neither side should throw stones because both sides have sinned. So how about we put that behind us and we start talking about who’s going to lower taxes? Who is going to say the word “radical Islamic terrorism” so we can finally defeat them? And who is going to best be able to support the police so this largest increase in crime in 41 years doesn’t start to become a trend. Is it going to be Donald Trump, with his policies ―

TODD: Right.

GIULIANI: ― or Hillary Clinton, who has had a chance. She’s been part of our political fabric for 30 years and 70 percent of this country thinks we’re moving in the wrong direction. She’s one of the reasons for it.

TODD: Mr. Mayor, last question, has he ruled out bringing up Bill Clinton’s personal life at tonight’s debate?

GIULIANI: I believe he will not bring up Bill Clinton’s personal life.

Indeed, tonight’s debate may be Trump’s only opportunity to change this subject at all.

Jason Linkins   |   October 9, 2016    9:28 AM ET

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), long a critic of his party’s presidential nominee, has ramped up his criticism, calling Donald Trump’s recent clutch of lewd remarks “indefensible,” and urging his party to make “protecting our congressional majorities” a priority.

However, Dent seems to be under the impression that it is not, currently, the second week of October 2016. In an appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” the Pennsylvania Republican vainly suggested people who could replace Trump as the GOP nominee:

DENT: The issue for us is how do we get our house in order. We only have 30 days left. You know, we can talk about other candidates, people like [former Secretary of Defense] Bob Gates, [former Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice, [Ohio Governor John] Kasich, who I strongly supported for president, did I mention ... Mitch Daniels, president of Purdue University and former governor [of Indiana], all impeccable people who could actually win this race in 30 days.

What Dent doesn’t seem to understand is that the die is cast ― the 2016 presidential election is already underway and Trump’s name is affixed to the ballot. “More than 34,000 Republican voters have already cast their ballots for the 2016 general election according to the U.S. Election Project,” The Washington Post reported, “8,000 of them in the battleground state of North Carolina and another 5,000 in Florida.”

And while the Republican Party could change the rules that currently govern how a presidential nominee can be jettisoned from the ticket, doing so would require time that the GOP no longer has. As Frontloading HQ’s Josh Putnam ― the go-to expert on the GOP’s election rules ― explains:

Sorry to Gates, Rice, Kasich and Daniels.

Jason Linkins   |   October 9, 2016    9:09 AM ET

ABC News’ Tom Llamas brought “This Week” viewers a little insight Sunday into the weekend mood at Trump Tower, as Donald Trump withstood a day of abandonment from GOP elites while simultaneously preparing for Sunday’s second presidential debate in St. Louis, Missouri.

According to Llamas, sources in Trump’s Manhattan aerie described a “dire feeling from Friday into Saturday,” after a leaked video showed Trump lewdly discussing women.

Close advisers, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and current New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, turned Trump tower into a “war room” in response, Llamas reported. “They were supposed to do debate prep, but this was all damage control.”

The video’s emergence apparently rattled Trump, who was of the mind that it wasn’t going to turn into much of a story. According to Llamas, the Trump team was hard at work crafting a “comeback” narrative to accommodate the GOP nominee’s post-debate spin for Sunday when news of Trump’s remarks hit their tipping point.

Llamas went on to report that Trump’s Saturday emergence from his building to greet fans on the street occurred because the reality television mogul needed “a pick-me-up.”

The reporter added that “there is no doubt” that Trump plans to bring up Bill Clinton’s past improprieties in Sunday’s debate.