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Jason Linkins   |   August 31, 2016   11:10 AM ET

New York Times media columnist Jim Rutenberg made the simple observation this week that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, as she crisscrosses the country on the campaign trail, uses two planes ― in one of which she sequesters the traveling press corps. Rutenberg notes, accurately, that this is “a departure from how presidential candidates ... have dealt with their dedicated press corps” since the era of journalists flying hither and yon with presidential contenders began about a half-century ago.

Somehow, this piece inspired White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest to dash off a letter to The New York Times, demanding that the paper properly credit President Barack Obama for being a leader in the arena of government transparency. Per Earnest:

In “Plane Rides and Presidential Transparency” (Mediator column, Aug. 29), Jim Rutenberg criticized the leading presidential candidates for their lack of transparency, but did not acknowledge the important and unprecedented steps that the Obama administration has taken to fulfill the president’s promise to lead the most transparent White House in history.

Having read Rutenberg’s piece, I’m finding it very difficult to fathom (a) how it inspired Earnest’s reaction and (b) how it inspired this reaction in particular. Rutenberg has nothing to say about the larger concept of government transparency ― his column is about the relationship between Clinton and the reporters with whom she travels and the distance at which she keeps them.

In fact, Rutenberg makes only passing mention of Obama, though what he does say is absolutely true:

Right now, every signal from Mrs. Clinton is that should she win, her administration would continue the tradition of being still more secretive than the one before it; the Obama White House has achieved just that with its abysmal record on fulfilling Freedom of Information Act requests and its record of prosecuting whistle-blowers who have shared national security information with the press.

I’m guessing that this is what earned the rancor of Josh Earnest, who I’ll remind you has the specific job of managing the press’s access to the president and shading news stories to the White House’s advantage. In his letter to the Times, it is not a criticism that Earnest responds to particularly well:

These accomplishments include, but are not limited to, routinely and proactively releasing the name, date and time of nearly every White House visitor. Some will recall that the previous administration went to the Supreme Court to try to prevent the release of these records.

President Obama, as a matter of policy, invites White House journalists to cover his formal remarks at fund-raisers, even when they are held in a private home. Previous presidents have granted, at best, intermittent access to such events.

The Obama administration has also proactively released more than 180,000 data sets on a federal government website named, appropriately enough, This means that reporters and citizens have access to mind-boggling amounts of data — that they may not even have known existed — without having to formally request it.

This is not the best case to make if you want to argue that the Obama administration has made major accomplishments in the arena of government transparency. In the first place, while the portal is a very nice innovation from a user-interface perspective, it was always possible to obtain the data contained therein. That information, by the way, can fairly be labeled “All The Data The Government Wants You To Have, Anyway,” because if this information was going to be a source of routine trouble to them, they would absolutely make us file a FOIA request to obtain it.

Additionally, the White House has a workaround to the whole “White House Visitors’ Log” thing that’s one of the worst-kept secrets in Washington. It’s so poorly kept, in fact, that the very paper from whom Earnest is attempting to obtain “credit” has reported on the workaround at great length. Here’s Eric Lichtblau, from June 2010:

Here at the Caribou on Pennsylvania Avenue, and a few other nearby coffee shops, White House officials have met hundreds of times over the last 18 months with prominent K Street lobbyists — members of the same industry that President Obama has derided for what he calls its “outsized influence” in the capital.

On the agenda over espressos and lattes, according to more than a dozen lobbyists and political operatives who have taken part in the sessions, have been front-burner issues like Wall Street regulation, health care rules, federal stimulus money, energy policy and climate control — and their impact on the lobbyists’ corporate clients.

But because the discussions are not taking place at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, they are not subject to disclosure on the visitors’ log that the White House releases as part of its pledge to be the “most transparent presidential administration in history.”

The only thing that’s changed during the Obama administration is that the Caribou Coffee shop is now a Peet’s Coffee. (In fairness, this is a slight improvement.)

And as The Washington Post’s Jason Ross Arnold noted in March 2015:

Related to the visitors log is the administration’s checkered support for the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), widely known as the “open meetings law.” The administration did not try to sidestep FACA as frequently as some of its predecessors, but officials have played word games, such as calling private-sector participants on the post-Newtown, Conn., gun control task force “consultants” instead of “members.” That helped the administration conceal meeting records and member names.

The administration also has deployed other evasive tactics, including simply ignoring FACA. Officials have liberally utilized FACA’s court-validated loopholes, FOIA exemptions and the classification stamp to close more than 60 percent of committee meetings to the public — about the same number as under the Bush administration.

As for journalists being permitted to attend fundraisers “even when they are held in a private home,” I’d still call that “at best, intermittent access to such events.” The reporters to whom I have unfettered access, in fact, all greet this contention with the hardest of eyerolls, noting that at best we’re talking about momentary access to Obama’s remarks at these fundraisers, not the sort of “all-access pass” situation that Earnest seems to describe above. 

But don’t take my word for it ― let’s see what we can find in 20 seconds of Googling:

Matt Negrin, ABC News, Dec. 9, 2011:

With President Obama shifting into campaign mode to raise money for his re-election effort, the White House has generally let reporters inside the events at least long enough to record what he says to his top donors.

This week, though, Obama departed from that practice, meeting for more than an hour with big-dollar contributors ― all behind closed doors.

The “campaign event,” as the White House billed it, was at the boutique Jefferson Hotel in Northwest Washington. A Democratic official said about 20 people attended and paid the maximum amount allowed: $35,800 for a ticket.

But anything Obama told the group remains secret. The administration justified the decision to bar reporters by saying Obama wasn’t making a “formal” speech.

Justin Sink, The Hill, Oct. 2, 2014:

President Obama began his October campaign activities on Thursday — behind closed doors.

The president attended a fundraiser for Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on Thursday, looking to boost the embattled Democrat facing a tough reelection battle this fall.

According to the Quinn campaign, the 25 attendees at the lunchtime event paid $50,000 each to attend. 

It’s not known what the president’s message to the high-dollar Democratic donors was. Reporters were kept outside the Gold Coast home of Meredith Bluhm-Wolf, the chairwoman of a private investment company.

Colleen Shalby, The Los Angeles Times, April 7, 2016:

President Obama dined with Hollywood A-listers and top Disney executives in Los Angeles during a quick visit for political fundraisers.

He spent Thursday night in Bel-Air for a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee reception and dinner with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and the committee’s chairman, Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.).

Oh, wait, that’s good news! Reporters got to attend this fundraiser! It was probably a really frabjous day for them, too. However, as Shalby went on to report, it was not to last:

On Friday morning, Obama is scheduled to turn his attention to helping Senate Democrats, who have a legitimate chance of reclaiming control of that chamber. He’ll appear at a $33,400-per-couple breakfast hosted by Jennifer and Tobey Maguire in Los Angeles. The event has been described by the White House as a “roundtable” and is closed to reporters.

:( :( :(,” said reporters, I’m sure, faced with this sort of intermittent access. (I guess they’ll all get to brandish Earnest’s letter-to-the-editor in any future instances.)

There are, perhaps, better examples that Earnest could use to prop up the notion that Obama deserves credit for transparency, but for him to do so would probably invite scrutiny over what’s really been something of a mixed bag in terms of keeping that promise. All of which leads us back, inevitably, to what Earnest hoped to accomplish by needling the Times over this Rutenberg piece. Per Earnest:

If journalists don’t acknowledge steps that the Obama administration has taken to strengthen transparency, then who will? Leading the fight for government transparency means confronting politicians who face intense political pressure on narrow, short-term interests and pressing them to prioritize transparency, too, even when it’s politically inconvenient — especially when it’s politically inconvenient. In this regard, impartial journalists are advocates.

Effective advocacy means giving credit where it is due. If President Obama’s government transparency effort is not even noted by The Times’s media columnist, then why would future presidential candidates make it a priority?

So, if I have this straight, we cannot reasonably expect Hillary Clinton to have reporters with her on the same plane unless those same reporters bend over backward to constantly point out what a great job the Obama administration has done to “strengthen transparency.”

But if we accepted this task, citing the same areas that Earnest cites ― a new government website, the visitors’ log “reform,” reporters at fundraisers ― not only would we be doing a disservice to our readers by pretending that these were, indeed, special examples of openness when they aren’t; we’d actually be sending an entirely different message to “future presidential candidates”: “Walk all over us, we don’t care.”

Again, it’s very strange that Earnest picked this particular Rutenberg piece and this particular moment to come in hotter than a plate of tater tots, complaining about the short shrift Obama is getting in terms of transparency. He could have just as easily let this matter slide. But that he went in on this with an argument as transparently nontransparent as the one he offered ... well, it tells you all you need to know, doesn’t it?


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

Jason Linkins   |   August 30, 2016   10:38 AM ET

And so it came to pass that in his final act as a public figure, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani decided to steer hard into the land of tin-foil hat-wearing crackpottery, because that was the only thing that would silence the persistent screams of anger inside his head.

As CNN reports:

Rudy Giuliani is defending his questions about Hillary Clinton’s health ― despite the fact there has been no evidence to contradict her doctor’s report that she’s fit for office ― with the former New York mayor saying in an op-ed that he’s “performing a public service.”

Actually performing a public service here is CNN, which manages to avoid the neutrality trap and report with straitlaced simplicity that there “is no credible evidence to support the claims of doubts about Clinton’s health.” This is no mean feat for the news network, which had previously been known to do things like air suspicions that maybe the Confederate States of America were on to something.

Believe it or not, it used to be the case that “campaign surrogates” would use their own experience to articulate the policy distinctions between the candidate they supported and their competitors, using a mix of fame, know-how and relatability to persuade different audiences. It was actually rare for a presidential candidate’s proxies to simply pass along the content of the chain emails forwarded by your Aunt Belinda as if it were something that might drive the turnout of independent voters or flip a state in the Electoral College.

But that was a more innocent era. Per CNN, Giuliani is acting on the behalf of GOP nominee and inside-out hand puppet Donald Trump, for whom fanning the flames of conspiracy theory is a vital and necessary part of his campaign ― or, indeed, his life in politics. It remains an open question as to when, if ever, this campaign is going to finally get down to the business of criticizing policy.

At any rate, the former mayor and presidential candidate has taken to this hustle with aplomb.

Giuliani also argued that “some in the news media have already begun to raise these same questions,” pointing to Fox News’ Sean Hannity and the news aggregator the Drudge Report ― two leaders in the conservative news world that have loudly promoted the Clinton health conspiracy theory.

Don’t forget Infowars!

And Giuliani addressed criticism of an interview he conducted on Fox News, during which he told viewers to “go online and put down ‘Hillary Clinton illness.’”

“I did not come to a conclusion on this matter; I simply asked people to draw their own conclusions,” Giuliani wrote.

Can jet fuel really melt steel beams? I’ve not arrived at a conclusion, I’m simply asking people to draw their own conclusions.

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


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

Jason Linkins   |   August 25, 2016    4:50 PM ET

So, that happened: This week, The Associated Press rocked the Clinton campaign’s world after releasing a report detailing new concerns about the Clinton Foundation. In that story, the AP alleges “[a]t least 85 of 154 people from private interests who met or had phone conversations scheduled with Clinton while she led the State Department donated to her family charity or pledged commitments to its international programs.”

Clinton’s defenders have responded to the story by pointing to the fact that the AP didn’t provide any evidence of quid pro quo ― a straight line of evidence connecting money offered to a deed performed.

But defining political corruption strictly along these lines has only been a recent legal innovation ― one that flies in the face of a century of case law that held that even the appearance of corruption was a de facto threat to good governance. That’s all changed because of the way the Supreme Court ruled in cases like 2010’s Citizens United v. FEC. On this week’s edition of the “So, That Happened” podcast, we mark the occasion where you can no longer differentiate between these two sets of apologists.




Elsewhere on the podcast: Over in the Trump campaign, they’re working hard at the pivot they’ve promised to make for months, and the most interesting thing that’s emerged is that on the reality TV host’s signature issue ― his draconian approach to immigration ― Donald Trump no longer seems to know what he either believes or says. Did Trump mean it when he said his Republican rivals were soft on immigration? And if so, why does he suddenly seem to prefer the immigration policies of low-energy Jeb Bush?

Meanwhile, a pharmaceutical company called Mylan is under fire this week after raising the prices of their epi-pens ― a device used by the severely allergic to prevent a fatal allergy attack ― by 400%. Consumers are angry, as are members of Congress, who are demanding that Mylan reverse course. If only that same Congress hadn’t continually made policy choices that allowed for these monopolistic practices in the first place.

Finally, for some third-party perspective on our presidential race, we welcome back our favorite Bernie Sanders supporter, the always effervescent Tim Black of “The Tim Black Show.” We’ll ask him if Clinton’s managed to close the deal with him, and whether or not folks like him are having an impact on Democratic Party policies at all.

“So, That Happened” is hosted by Jason Linkins, Zach Carter and Arthur Delaney. Joining them this week: Tim Black of “The Tim Black Show,” as well as Huffington Post reporter Elise Foley. 

This podcast was produced, edited and engineered by Christine Conetta.

To listen to this podcast later, download our show on iTunes. While you’re there, please subscribe to, rate and review our show. You can check out other HuffPost podcasts here.

CORRECTION: This article initially misstated the AP’s report, switching the pool of donors for those who spoke to Clinton during her tenure at the State Department. It has been updated with a quote from the article.

Jason Linkins   |   August 25, 2016   12:54 PM ET

Conspiracy theories present a unique challenge for reporters. On the one hand, as journalists, we care about accuracy and fact-checking and the bright line between things that are true and things that aren’t. Conspiracy theories send our debunking instincts into overdrive. On the other hand, if you’ve read the essential work of political scientist Brendan Nyhan, you know that the mere effort of trying to correct a falsehood can lead to that falsehood becoming more deeply ingrained. So talking about conspiracy theories requires a light touch, for those of us in the ol’ mainstream media. The best thing any of us can do, when taking on this fraught subject, is to tread with caution.

Or, alternatively, you can throw caution to the wind and just kinda type whatever you want! Death is coming, eat trash, be free!

It would seem that The Associated Press ― in a piece that suggests there is a desperate need for adult supervision over there! ― has opted to take this latter approach. Written by Ken Thomas and Lisa Lerer, the article, “Welcome to the Trump-Clinton conspiracy election,” posits that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are both slinging a lot of baseless innuendo at each other this election cycle, and suggests that the two candidates share a comparable amount of blame for dragging political discourse down into a hell-vortex of fringe lunacy.

Which, no.

But let us consider the AP’s brief against each candidate.

Donald Trump, the news service points out, was “a leader of the so-called ‘birther’ movement” and has been darkly hinting about “a mysterious ‘illness’ afflicting” Clinton. (About that: Trump and his allies have been making hay out of a concussion Clinton sustained in 2012, and the subsequent discovery of “a blood clot in a vein in the space between [her] brain and the skull,” as the AP notes. There’s no evidence that Clinton has made anything other than a full recovery, but Trump and his minions insist that because Clinton needs to use the bathroom and sleep sometimes, this is proof of some fundamental malfunction.) The AP didn’t mention the time Trump hinted that the president of the United States sympathizes with ISIS, or his charming habit of insisting that Clinton is going to steal the election. But, you know, it could have, because those are also things he’s said.

As for Clinton, she stands accused of using the phrase “vast right-wing conspiracy.” This happened in 1998, which the AP somehow fails to note. More currently, the AP cites Clinton’s speech this week about Trump forging a common cause with the so-called “alt-right” and their “divisive and dystopian view of America.” The AP also notes that the Clinton campaign “frequently points to Trump’s ties to Russia.”

Hillary Clinton did once attempt to make the case that she was the target of a “vast right-wing conspiracy.” It wasn’t her best moment. She was coming to the defense of her husband, then-President Bill Clinton, amid accusations that he’d had an affair with Monica Lewinsky and tried to cover it up, which ― whoops! ― it turns out had totally happened. As a result, the whole “vast right-wing conspiracy” thing eventually became a punchline, as it should have.

(It is, of course, also true that the Clintons have for years been routinely accused of murdering people. So perhaps it would have been safer for Clinton to say that she was the target of conspiracists, rather than a conspiracy.)

But I’m curious, here. Regarding the claims that Clinton has more recently made about the Trump campaign ― which ones, exactly, aren’t true?

Because birtherism, from top to bottom, is a willful fantasy. And the idea that Clinton has some hidden, debilitating illness is much the same. In fact, you have to give birthers a little credit: Those weirdos at least attempted to marshal evidence for their claims. It wasn’t good evidence, but the birthers at least understood the importance of “evidence” as a concept. You can’t really say the same for the #HillarysHealth people.

On the other hand, when Clinton suggests that Trump’s own vision has attracted the so-called “alt-right” movement, this isn’t some conspiracist fantasy ― it’s just the truth. That the “alt-right” movement has a particular ardor for Trump has been apparent to everyone who has reported on the matter. That Trump frequently tries to stoke their affection for him is equally easy to spot

One wonders: What does The Associated Press think about all of this? Because it seems like only days ago that some media organization took a thorough look at the online activity of various Trump staffers, and discovered the same sort of casual, meme-centric racism and Islamophobia that is the alt-right’s stock in trade.

Who reported that story? Oh, yes! It was The Associated Press.

It’s also absolutely true that Trump has observable ties to Russia. His former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was literally Russia’s PR man in Ukraine, where he worked to prop up former Ukrainian President Viktor Vanukovich for years. This is simply a literal fact, one that actually helps explain why Manafort is no longer Trump’s campaign manager. 

Trump’s affection for Russian President Vladimir Putin, and his campaign’s ties to the Putin regime, are not some surreal contrivance that the Clinton campaign dreamed up. These things have been observed and commented upon and dissected by a whole range of people in the media. The New York Times reported on Trump’s statements on the Baltic States and the protection they receive from NATO. The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post noted the mysterious change in the GOP platform that watered down the party’s previous hard line on Putin. All of these oddities, and more, have been puzzled over by writers such as Franklin Foer, Jonathan Chait and Julia Ioffe. Here is the requisite Voxsplainer on the matter, with links to additional reporting.

Again, one has to wonder about what The Associated Press has to say about this. Well, on Aug. 18, they said:

A firm run by Donald Trump’s campaign chairman directly orchestrated a covert Washington lobbying operation on behalf of Ukraine’s ruling political party, attempting to sway American public opinion in favor of the country’s pro-Russian government, emails obtained by The Associated Press show. Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, never disclosed their work as foreign agents as required under federal law.

And a day later, they said this:

The sudden resignation Friday of Donald Trump’s campaign chairman put renewed emphasis on revelations about his past work on behalf of Ukraine’s pro-Russian political leaders, including his firm’s role directing a covert Washington lobbying operation that would have required him under federal law to disclose his efforts to the Justice Department.

Manafort resigned from the Trump campaign amid scrutiny of his Ukrainian work — but others involved in the once-secret influence campaign remain working for Trump in senior roles, including Manafort’s deputy Rick Gates.

So, eye dee kay, that seems pretty interesting! It’s certainly not proof that “Trump is a shill for Putin,” as Thomas and Lerer’s story puts it, but it seems like any responsible journalist would recognize the Trump-Putin relationship as something at least worth raising an eyebrow at.

Let us duly note that Thomas and Lerer spend the bulk of their piece discussing Trump’s various activities. Which makes sense, because they can’t not do that. Between Trump and Clinton, Trump is the only candidate to have actually done what The Associated Press alleges ― i.e., degrade himself and all of us by pumping conspiracy-theory poison into this White House race. The piece would have been better titled, “Welcome to the Trump conspiracy election, you know, the one where Donald Trump is fomenting all these conspiracies.” (Remember how Ted Cruz’s dad killed JFK, or something?) It could have left Clinton out of the accusation entirely.

Or maybe it would have been more advisable to write nothing at all. Let’s observe this section of the AP story, which examines the way the Clinton health conspiracy emerged from the Trump campaign and took root in the media (emphasis mine):

When the accusations made their way into a recent Trump foreign policy address, in which he said she “lacks the mental and physical stamina” to fight Islamic State militants, Clinton’s campaign felt they had to respond.

Her team put out a statement from Dr. Lisa Bardack, an internist who proclaimed Clinton in “excellent physical condition and fit to serve as president of the United States.” Bardack had said in 2013 that testing showed “complete resolution” of the concussion’s effects, including double vision, which had led Clinton to wear glasses with special lenses, further fueling rumors.

Fanned by right-wing media sites, like Breitbart, the rumors occasionally break through onto cable news and other mainstream media.

Fun fact: Those rumors also occasionally break through onto cable news and the mainstream media when they are fanned by The Associated Press.

Normally, the way I’d explain how this happened is to point out that at legacy organizations like the AP, political reporting is hamstrung by the need to studiously cram “symmetry” into every story, even where none really exists. The governing principle of such journalism holds that if you accuse one side of something, you must endeavor to implicate the other side in similar fashion, no matter how difficult the ensuing leaps of logic. “One side” can never be said to have “done it.”

But if I’m being honest, I think that something far more nefarious is at work at The Associated Press. Seeing as this new piece takes many facts that have been objectively reported by AP writers and presents them as erroneous and/or suspicious, I fear this article represents an attempt, on the part of Ken Thomas and Lisa Lerer, to undermine The Associated Press’ reputation for responsible journalism from the inside.

Looks like I caught them just in time. You’re welcome, AP!

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


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

Jason Linkins   |   August 24, 2016   12:19 PM ET

When news broke last week that there had been yet another “shake-up” in GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign, the lion’s share of attention was focused on how he had brought on Breitbart News’ Steve Bannon, a move that formally closed the illusory distance between the candidate and his most ardent cheerleaders.

It seems we’ve finally gotten around to discussing the other part of that shake-up: the elevation of pollster/adviser Kellyanne Conway to the role of campaign manager. The media is endlessly hunting for the vaunted “pivot,” after all. Is she the pivot? Have we arrived, at last, in Pivotlandia? Well, if by “pivot” we mean “giving a shiny new wrapper to Trump’s old theories about how he wins the election,” then, hey, maybe!

It’s certainly good enough for many in the media, who’ve already taken to characterizing Conway as Trump’s only hope to right his foundering campaign. “Kellyanne Conway is Trump’s last chance at winning,” writes The Guardian. “Can Kellyanne Conway Stop the Trump Train From Going Over a Cliff?” asks the Daily Beast. “Meet the woman tapped to help save Trump’s campaign,” invites CNN. After all, a day without political consultants being heralded in the media for their potential genius is like a day without sunshine. (Fun fact: Political consultants spend most of their careers losing elections.)

But among Trump’s coterie of advisers, consiglieres and help-mates, Conway stands out in significant ways. She hasn’t been plucked from obscurity and had a presidential campaign thrust upon her, like Hope Hicks. She hasn’t recently emerged from some remote periphery of American politics, like her predecessors, Paul Manafort and Corey Lewandowski. She is a fairly mainstream player, with a back catalogue of big-name clients and a decent track record of success. (She is perhaps, a better model of a “winner” than the candidate she is now endeavoring to “save from himself.”)

Amid a clear-eyed assessment of her skills, Time magazine’s Alex Altman and Zeke Miller write, “[While] Conway isn’t the first professional operative to be handed the role [of campaign manager], she seems—at least so far—to be breaking through in ways her predecessors could not.” They go on to present various testimonials from various people, about Conway’s ability to craft a message and tailor it to a candidate’s strength ―  something Trump’s allies have said is sorely needed at this point.

As Ed Rollins, who heads up the Trump-affiliated Great America PAC, recently told radio show host Laura Ingraham:’ve got to shift it back to [Hillary Clinton]. So far, it’s been all about [Trump], and, kind of, with his ego he kind of likes that. But at the end of the day, it’s got to be about her. He’s got to make her the unacceptable alternative to this country and that he’s the real leader.”

Naturally, Rollins says Conway is the “great talent” that’s going to give Trump “a chance” by sharpening the campaign’s message. Except Conway’s first foray into messaging has been a very confusing one. I’m speaking, of course, about the “shy Trump supporter theory,” which holds that there’s an “undercover” pool of dedicated Trump supporters who will not identify themselves to pollsters.

As The Guardian reports, Conway explained all of this during an appearance on the U.K.’s Channel 4, the obvious destination for anyone trying to reach hidden American voters:

Conway insisted that Trump’s support was not reflected in polls because of the perceived social stigma of supporting the Republican nominee. “Donald Trump performs consistently better in online polling where a human being is not talking to another human being about what he or she may do in the elections … it’s become socially desirable, especially if you’re a college educated person in the US, to say that you’re against Donald Trump,” said Conway.

“People who are supporting Donald Trump, who have not voted Republican in the past, who have not voted in quite a while, are so tired of arguing with family and friends and colleagues about their support of Donald Trump that they just decided not to discuss it.”

This is an interesting theory, if for no reason other than the only shared quality among Trump supporters seems to be a world-historical level of “not-shyness.” Pollsters have already contended with this theory, and they find it wanting. You can read an in-depth analysis from The Huffington Post’s own Sam Stein and Ariel Edwards-Levy on the matter here, to which The Washington Post’s Phillip Bump has provided further insights.

But remember: The premise of the “shy Trump voter” theory is that Trump’s supporters are impossible to properly quantify, which means all of the countering arguments you throw at it are, by definition, improperly founded.

That’s what makes this theory so great. But great as it may be, it’s not new. Conway is just repackaging the same contention that animated Trump in the first place ― that he represents the “silent majority” ready to shake up America’s landscape. Winning so many votes during the primaries was supposed to serve as de facto proof of his unique ability to animate the GOP base in ways his former rivals could not. It used to be the observation he’d present when he was going on the offense against Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, et al. He wasn’t just going to bring new voters to the Republican Party ― he was going to bring new voters to voting.

So Conway hasn’t exactly blazed some new fascinating trail here. She’s just trying to make Trump’s old argument interesting again. And hey, it’s working! Last week, everyone mocked Trump’s aide-de-camp Michael Cohen for his “Says who?” encounter with CNN’s Brianna Keilar. This week, Conway has successfully repositioned the same argument as something with which to freshly contend.

So what, if anything, is Conway adding to the “shy Trump voter” argument? Let’s return to her Channel 4 interview, as reported by The Guardian:

Conway insisted: “We give people a comfortable way to express that maybe they don’t want to vote this year and why that is.” She described her method as “proprietary”. She said that as a result, she could reach these undercover voters “in many different ways”. She said: “We go to them where they live, literally.”

So, if I have this right, Conway says the Trump campaign is able to identify “undercover voters” that no one else can find, through a means that no one else has, that results in “literally” showing up at their homes. This flies in the face of some of the things we know about Trump’s campaign, which, as Bump points out, include the fact that he’s only belatedly built out a digital infrastructure and “isn’t spending money on field campaigning.” Field campaigning, by the way, is the part where literal humans go to literal doors to meet literal voters and literally convince them to come vote for you, as Conway insists is happening ― indeed, has been happening all this time.

And, no, I’m not sure what she could mean when she speaks about a “proprietary” technology that’s capable of doing what the nation’s polling experts seemingly cannot do: find these undercover voters. They could be using divining rods. Maybe they’ve got Samantha Morton in some kind of oracular milk bath, spitting out little red balls with names on them. Who knows? Perhaps they’ve stolen Charles Xavier’s Cerebro!

Hey, I guess Conway’s point is that the Trump campaign knows a lot more about voters and their desires than anyone else does. And that might be true! But if her contention is just that a whole lot of people are going to suddenly emerge from the ether of the unknowable and deliver the election to Trump in an event that will leave the experts stunned and befuddled, then you have to ask: Why do they need to “go to them where they live”? Why do they need some sort of “proprietary” method of seeking these voters out? Really, why do they even need super-genius Kellyanne Conway? These aren’t even her ideas. They’re Trump’s.

I don’t mean to startle everyone with a shocking revelation, but there seems to be a remote possibility that Donald Trump prefers to surround himself with yes-(wo)men. 

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


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

Jason Linkins   |   August 22, 2016   10:41 AM ET

If you’re wondering how you too can succeed in American politics without really trying, there are some basic things you need to master. One of the most useful things you can learn to do is to blame immigrants and foreigners for everything that’s going wrong. That way, when voters come to you, wondering why their lives haven’t improved despite your long history of promising “renewal” and “restoration,” you can just say, “Immigrants and foreigners, man,” and hopefully get voters to redirect all that anger elsewhere.

Donald Trump, who has had a lot of success in American politics without really trying, has made good use of the whole “blame immigrants and foreigners” thing. But now, as his campaign struggles to both pivot from their flamboyant demonization of immigrants and foreigners while simultaneously trying to ensure people they aren’t pivoting, they’re suddenly all over the shop on the issue they’ve made central to their own raison d’être. Donald Trump has decided to distract from this topic by promising to “tell the real story” about Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, “some day, when things calm down.” (Will “things” ever “calm down?” It’s an open question!)

Eric Trump, by contrast, is sticking to the tried-and-true “blame immigrants and foreigners” schtick, but with an added Islamophobic twist: He’s holding our Syrian refugees for extra-special blame. As Politico’s Nick Gass reports (emphasis mine):

Trump said his father “wants a safe country, and he also wants Americans to have jobs.”

“I mean, they should come first. You were born in this country. You were born here legally. You’re here legally. I mean, wages have been stagnant for the last 15 years and it’s because you have, you know, Syrian refugees coming in,” Eric Trump continued. “It’s because you have, you know, thousands of people coming over the border. I mean, and Americans are suffering because of it and that’s his point. So he’s speaking to Hispanic and Latino leaders and he’s having really amazing conversations. He’s also speaking to law enforcement, he’s speaking to border patrol. And you know he’s going formulate a really, really great plan that’s humane and ethical and that treats everybody well. But we have to solve the problem. It’s a real problem for this country.”

Now, the larger question about how immigration ― lawful and otherwise ― affects wage growth is an interesting debate, the contours of which have been well laid out by the Wall Street Journal’s Jeffrey Sparshott. As he notes, “immigration critics frequently cite the work of George Borjas, an economics professor at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government,” who argues that “immigration erodes wages for lower skilled U.S. natives.” But in other instances, studies have found “more broadly distributed benefits to the economy, a less severe squeeze on wages and occasionally even a boost to pay from immigration.”

But we can leave Syrian refugees the hell out of this debate? There are so few of them, and their arrival to these shores is really late to the whole wage stagnation party, which, as the Economic Policy Institute points out at length, has been going strong for a long time now.

As you can see, wage stagnation is not something that started 15 years ago, despite what Eric Trump thinks. Rather, as the Economic Policy Institute notes, it’s been a going concern for about four decades now. But we’ve not had masses of Syrian refugees coming to this country for 15 years, either. The Syrian refugee crisis has only heated up since the Syrian civil war began in 2011. During that time, the United States has endeavored to provide refuge for Syrians fleeing certain death. But of the some 5 million Syrians who have left their country, very few have made it to these shores.

Here are the most current figures from the State Department regarding the number of Syrians who have been resettled in the United States since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War: 

It is true that the Obama administration committed itself to resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees this year. They’ve been lagging behind in fulfilling that goal, but are now on track to meet it. But even if those people do all come to the U.S., the country will still be a bit player in the refugee resettling game. That hasn’t stopped a disproportionate amount of hot political talk on this issue, which has kept our diligent fact-checking industry busy.

But hey, “Syrian refugees have contributed to decades of stagnant wages” is a new one. (To be honest, the Trump campaign criticizing the lack of wage growth is a new one, as well.) Suffice it to say, as the Economic Policy Institute points out, “wage stagnation is largely the result of policy choices that boosted the bargaining power of those with the most wealth and power,” and that “better policy choices, made with low- and moderate-wage earners in mind, can lead to more widespread wage growth and strengthen and expand the middle class.”

If a politician has “better policy choices” in mind, they will say so. Otherwise, they will blame immigrants and foreigners.

The basic story here is that Donald Trump is an exceedingly conventional politician. Sad!


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 xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.

Jason Linkins   |   August 18, 2016   10:09 AM ET

On Wednesday, Fox News aired a televised “town hall” discussion, in which Sean Hannity did some light slap-and-tickle horseplay with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for about an hour at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee. This event was actually held on Tuesday night, but taping it caused Trump to be 90 minutes late for a rally scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ― which Fox News also wanted to cover. So in the interest of not bigfooting its own candidate, the network made some hasty revisions to its programming schedule.

This has happened before, by the way! During the first night of the Republican National Convention, as the scheduled speakers offered up a litany of Benghazi-related agitprop, Trump was doing a phone interview on Fox News with Bill O’Reilly. This highlights something of a divide between Trump’s overall media strategy and his actual campaign messaging strategy, as well as Trump’s tendency to work one at cross-purposes with the other.

Of course, between the taping of and airing of the Hannity town hall, the Trump campaign made a move to stitch up this gap: It replaced campaign manager Paul Manafort with Steve Bannon of Breitbart News. Now, potential for synergy abounds. A lasting synergy, too ― the relationship between Trump and Breitbart is very true to the ideals of the organization’s deceased founder, and could prove to be fruitful to all parties regardless of what happens in the election.

But now that Trump has formalized his previously informal relationship with his Pravda-wannabe, who knows how Hannity fits into his universe anymore? Fox News obviously enjoys a more prominent perch in the media landscape, as well as a larger (albeit aging) audience, but what Trump seems to respond to, first and foremost, is devotion. And in terms of devotion, let’s face it, Breitbart will outperform all comers. Should the Trump candidacy eventually fold itself into a new media empire, Bannon’s place at the fore could lead to a new congealing of forces. 

All of which means that Hannity’s town hall is simultaneously both fresh content and a relic from a bygone era. So let’s appreciate Hannity’s “journalistic” instincts and enjoy all of the questions he asked of Trump this week, if only to size up how well his unadorned ardor for Trump competes in the global marketplace of kissassery. (Those inclined to hear Trump’s answers are invited to watch them here.)

HANNITY: You know I watched, very closely, your speech yesterday, and you were very, very frank, and you talked about this being literally ― this ideology of death must be stopped, you talked about San Bernardino, you talked about Orlando, you talked about Chattanooga, you talked about Paris, France, Germany, Belgium, all of this terror, that’s just from the summer. Is this a war, a clash of civilizations?

Right off the bat, let’s notice a trend that will soon emerge: Hannity likes to list things. He is full of lists, and they are always much longer than they need to be. Part of me thinks Hannity does this because he kind of innately understands that Trump can’t really be counted on to cite all of the examples the host would prefer him to cite. But as this town hall wore on, it also began to seem as if the purpose of these constant lists was just to pad out the proceedings. After all, it’s really hard to produce “interview content” when the “interview” is just a veiled attempt at boosterism. Time for a dose of substance-like substance!

Sean Hannity reads the news, everyone!

HANNITY: You said yesterday that anyone who could not name the enemy was not fit to lead the country, anyone who could not condemn the hatred, the oppression, the violence of radical Islam, lacks the moral clarity to serve as our president.

Some of Hannity’s questions aren’t really questions ― they’re just statements that remind Trump of things he has said or done previously. Given Trump’s famously mercurial memory, you can hardly blame him!

HANNITY: The refugees, you’ll help them, food, water, supplies, medicine, baby formula, but it will be a safe zone that’s protected, you won’t bring them here.

Another list, another reminder. By now, you’re starting to wonder how many genuine questions Hannity plans to ask.

HANNITY: Let me ask you this, I know it was deemed controversial when you said that the founder of ISIS was Obama and the co-founder was Hillary, but yesterday you went into a lot of detail ― you and I ― I remember debating you because I did support Iraq, but I didn’t support leaving early without finishing the job, we had so many Americans bleed and die and risk their lives for Mosul, Baghdad, Fallujah, Ramadi, and Tikrit, and won those cities. And you talked about, even though you were opposed to it, you were opposed to leaving...

Tell you what, man, Hannity keeps you guessing! You never know if the premise he begins with (in this case, a callback to Trump’s “Obama founded ISIS” remarks) is actually going to still matter by the time he gets to the end. Here, we once again have a gentle massage job masquerading as interrogation, in which Hannity forgives his own differences of opinion with Trump over Iraq to almost perfectly protect the candidate from his contradictions. The notion that Trump both opposed the invasion of Iraq and, later, opposed the withdrawal of troops is perfectly incorrect.

Sean Hannity can name a bunch of places in Iraq, though! 

HANNITY: You said it’s time for a new approach, but you’re also against sending in ground troops. And this enemy is different from any other enemy, and you mentioned our history of defeating fascism and Naziism and communism and imperial Japan, and you talked all about that. How do you defeat ISIS if you don’t have ground troops?

Ahh! At last, a tricky question ― how will Trump pull off the defeat of ISIS without those proverbial boots on the ground? This is something I’d like to hear more about. Unfortunately, Trump gets a minute into an answer when Hannity stops him to ask him something else.

HANNITY: You know one question I’d like Hillary Clinton asked? I’ve seen the beheading videos. Have any of you taken the time? It is the embodiment of evil in our time. I don’t know if Hillary or Obama have ever watched it, have you watched those videos?

Does Hannity seriously believe this question needs to be asked, or is his well-worn anti-Democrat ire just this hard to keep at bay? Either way, he just wrecked his first really tough question. In an additional irony, after suggesting that Trump’s opponents didn’t have the knowledge or the guts to watch a beheading video, Trump responds to Hannity’s inquiry by saying, “I chose not to.” Brave! Bold! Tough!

HANNITY: If there’s no ground troops, though, you know, you did say a couple of other things, you said the era of nation building is over, and it’s going to come to a quick end, and you’re saying it’s going to come to a quick end, that will mean bombing at a very high level. And every time that happens, you know what the media is going to do, the media is going to find the one area where there is collateral damage, which sadly happens in every war, we’ve been a compassionate nation, how do you do it?

Hannity returns to his original question, only to answer it for Trump by suggesting that ISIS will be defeated by “bombing at a very high level.” (The sky?) He then wanders off into an inane media criticism, in which he simultaneously imagines that we maliciously endeavor to point out the “one area” where such bombings cause “collateral damage,” that “sadly happens in every war.” Yes, there’s only ever “one area” where that happens, and damned if the media doesn’t keep finding it.

Here, we cut to a commercial. Upon our return, Hannity reveals a panel of six people who he introduces as victims of Islamic terrorism. He pauses his questioning of Trump ― the point of this segment isn’t really to procure answers as much as it is to have panel members describe their experiences so Trump can nod gravely and generically agree that terrorism is bad. Once that’s done, we return to the question-and-answer segment with what is, once again, not a question.

HANNITY: These are the real victims, they don’t get a ― you know, Boston happens, we move on, Chattanooga happens, we move on, the people in Orlando are still living in the aftermath of what happens at that nightclub.

This part of the interview is fun to watch because you can really see Hannity’s gears spin as he endeavors to avoid mentioning that the “nightclub” he is referring to was a gay nightclub and that the “people in Orlando” he is discussing were members of that city’s LGBT community. As we’ll later discover, the existence of this community only really matters in a specific context.

HANNITY: I want to get into this, because this is a really important question, you talked about countries that live under Sharia, and about people that want to come here who come from other countries. If you grow up, for example, in Saudi Arabia, which gave the Clinton Foundation up to $25 million, the Clinton library $10 million, okay, and I can’t find any instances where Hillary criticized them. Women can’t drive, women are told how to dress, women are told if they can go to school, or if they can go to work, we know that gays and lesbians in Saudi Arabia can get the death penalty, you can’t build a Jewish temple ― there’s a guy over here with a sign that says “Jews For Trump” ― and you can’t build a Christian church. Would you ever take money from a country that treats gays, lesbians, Jews, and Christians that way?

And that specific context is: As bad as the LGBT community has it in the U.S., they should thank their lucky stars that they aren’t in Saudi Arabia ― and by the way, what about Hillary Clinton? Of course, there is the germ of a really great question here: The Clinton Foundation is, more or less, a giant clearinghouse for political favor-trading and corporate brand-washing, albeit one that occasionally distributes medicine and mosquito netting. Also, Saudi Arabia, to put it charitably, has long been a problematic partner in U.S. diplomatic affairs ― and that’s not a trend that Clinton shows any real willingness to reset, despite her avowed support for human rights. 

Nevertheless, the larger question worth asking, in terms of our relationship with the Saudis, isn’t so much the money we take from them but rather the riches and resources they extract from us and what that pays for. And as far as doing business with Saudis goes, well, Trump does that too.

HANNITY: What does it say, though, she claims to be the champion of women’s rights and gay and lesbian rights and freedom of thought and religion?

Hannity actually provided the answer to this question with his previous question, not that anyone is really keeping track. (Trump picked this moment to move on, pivoting to Benghazi.)

Now, let’s enjoy the section of the interview in which Hannity asks about “extreme vetting”!

HANNITY: What is extreme vetting, and what does that mean, and how do you ― for example, if someone grows up in a country where the Clintons take all their money from, if they grow up there, and they think that men can tell women how to dress and they can’t drive and they can’t go to school and they can’t build a church or a temple, and you grow up there, and then you want to come to America, how do you possibly vet what’s in their heart?

There was never any need for Hannity to keep talking after he’d simply asked, “What is extreme vetting?” But he has two other ways of asking the same question, so he’s going to use them!

Trump says “extreme vetting” means that “you get very smart people,” and you use “social media.” Hold up, though, because Hannity wants to ask this question a fourth time.

HANNITY: But you talk about extreme vetting, and you did talk about in the Cold War, we did have ideological test screening, and this goes into your thinking, do you stop, how do you possibly know if somebody grows up under sharia and these extreme viewpoints that are the antithesis of our constitutional...

Once again, Trump’s answer to “how do we vet people” is to say that you vet people by vetting people, duh, and also you use social media.

Got a fifth way of asking this, Sean?

HANNITY: But let me follow-up on that...this is the advancement of a caliphate that wants worldwide either convert or die, here’s my question then: you pointed out that this guy, the father of the Orlando shooter, and he was smiling as you said, and Hillary ― and you talked about her stupidity and her weaknesses. And he’s explained his radical views. What do we do when we find somebody that has extreme views, do we throw them the hell out?

Trump would, indeed, throw the guy out. Let that be a lesson to the father of any criminal who smiles in public, I guess?

After we return from commercial, Hannity is joined by author and mannered concern troll Dr. Sebastian Gorka. As with the panel, this is an exercise in speaking around Trump and giving him opportunities to agree with what other people are saying. “I’m talking as if you’re not here,” Hannity said to Trump at one point, lest he become confused about this arrangement.

Needless to say, Gorka agreed that Trump’s policies were the only ones that would “keep the homeland safe,” which is probably why he was invited on the show in the first place. Give Gorka props, though, because he finally offered the answer to Hannity’s previous question about ground troops that Trump had failed to provide. (That is to say, the United States didn’t need to be the “face” of the war on ISIS, what with so many other countries in the region available to provide cannon fodder. Who knew that Obama’s oft-maligned “leading from behind” approach to the same conflicts would come to be so happily embraced on Fox News?) 

Eventually Hannity returns to Trump.

HANNITY: 550% increase that Hillary wants in Syrian refugees, you’re offering to a safe zone, protected militarily―

(Here Trump interjects: “Paid for by somebody else.”)

Paid for by other people. By the way Obama did accumulate more debt than every other president before him combined, but you’d also provide food, water, medicine, supplies, cots, baby formula, that sounds pretty liberal and compassionate.

Still not sure how the simultaneous provision of all these things that other people will pay for is going to happen, but I guess we’ll have to wait for some kind of interview with Trump to learn more.

HANNITY: James Comey, James Clapper, General John Allen, Michael Steinbach, the assistant FBI director, the House Homeland Security Secretary, have all warned us ― and Brennan, our CIA director ― that ISIS will infiltrate this refugee population. So, is Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama gambling with the lives of these American people by taking them in, yes or no?

I’m not sure if this was intended, but for some reason Gorka fielded this question instead of Trump. (No points for guessing how he answered it!)

HANNITY: Is it fair to say that they’ll have blood on their hands if refugees kill Americans?

Again, confusingly, Gorka stepped up to answer this question on Trump’s behalf. When the answer Hannity is seeking is so obvious, and you can count on Trump coming through with the right response, why have some other guy do the job? This is like having a pinch-hitter in a game of T-ball.

One more commercial break, and we return to find that the thunder-stealing Gorka has left the stage.

HANNITY: I know you get advice from a lot of people, it probably drives you crazy at this point. One of the things, I watched your speech and I watched what you did, you laid out everything wrong that you felt that Hillary and Obama have done, you laid out your solutions to how you would handle it differently, the only thing that I know, that friends of mine ― I was at a party the other night ― [affects voice] ‘I know you know Mr. Trump, we love him, please tell him to only talk about Hillary and Obama.’ Cause in 84 days we’re electing a president, and they’re the only two people that matter. What do you say to people who say don’t talk about those things?

Ahh! This is when my ears perk up, because this is a rather interesting question! Hannity seems to be levelling ― in his own obsequious way ― something of a critique at Trump, pertaining to the manner in which he’s been campaigning. Hannity seems to want to drill down on the way that Trump often wanders on the campaign trail, to topics and targets that don’t seem relevant to the task at hand: defeating Hillary Clinton. Right at this moment, I’m wondering if Hannity will sharpen this point.

HANNITY: But if you mention The New York Times, or Mr. Khan, or the you think it’s better not to talk about them?

And he kind of does! This is a really good window into the contrast between Hannity and Bannon, Trump’s new media manager. What many don’t really appreciate about Hannity is that his embrace of Trump’s anti-establishment, damn-the-GOP-elites métier is a relatively new look for him. Here, he reverts to his GOP party-hack baseline, offering the perspective that Trump might be better served to focus on what Trump’s uneasy Beltway allies believe is the true task at hand, rigorously building the GOP case against Clinton, and leaving all the sideshow distractions aside.

And that is not a thing that Bannon would evince any concern over, at all. To Bannon ― and to Breitbart’s ― mind, Trump’s relentless score-settling and the knives he tosses at various and sundry targets at the campaign trail, including establishment Republicans, are an essential feature of Trump’s appeal and just as important as anything he has to say about Clinton. Hannity’s version of campaigning would be deemed too limited ― and too polite ― a form of political combat, the province of weak losers.

Here, Trump says the issue is simply that the “media is protecting Clinton.” That might end up being the central argument of a conjoined Trump-Breitbart media enterprise, whether Trump wins or loses the election ― that two corrupt political parties and their elite media allies have hopelessly corrupted America’s entire kit and caboodle. (Actually, while my personal perspective on the ins and out of the matter differ substantially from that of the Breitbart hive-mind, I’ll concede that this is in many ways correct.)

This is where the truly enlightening part of this town hall ends, sadly!

HANNITY: I’ve asked you a lot about the economy. Lowest labor participation rate since the ‘70s. Lowest home ownership rate in 51 years. The worst recovery since the ‘40s. We’ve got 12 million more Americans on food stamps. 58 percent increase in the black community on food stamps. We’ve got 8 million to 10 million more people in poverty. My question is this: forgetting the media, I have interviewed you a lot. certain does the wall get built, how certain does Obamacare get repealed?

Ha, well, I’ll just point out that this is literally the first time in this town hall interview that Hannity asks anything about the economy!

The last part of the town hall is a frenzied barrage of questions from Hannity, which I’ll lump together like so:

HANNITY: And you will rebuild the military, that’s a promise? And you will send education back to the states? And you will make America energy independent and do it in four years? And will you appoint originalist justices like Scalia? And you will repeal Obamacare and protect our Second Amendment rights? And those are promises you’re telling the people of Wisconsin?

Clearly, the only answer Hannity needs is “yes,” and as soon as Trump provides it, Hannity interrupts him to move on to the next thing. Literally the entire interview could have been conducted this way, and it would have only taken five minutes, and then Trump wouldn’t have been late to his rally. Alas!

So, there you have it, folks: all of the questions Sean Hannity put to Trump, in a delightfully softball evening in front of dedicated Trump enthusiasts in Wisconsin. Of course, I’ve provided you merely with the text of Hannity’s questions. The subtext of those questions ― “Will you please be my daddy?” ― is something that you’ve probably already surmised.



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


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

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

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


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

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

CounterpointOr is he? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Jason Linkins   |   August 16, 2016    3:11 PM ET

Ever since the Republican National Committee officially made reality-television host and sweat-drenched pepperoni monster Donald Trump their presidential nominee, things cannot be said to have gone particularly well. In the weeks since their convention went over like a lead balloon with the public, Republicans have watched as Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton built a durable-looking lead in the polls, while waiting for their own nominee to make that long-promised “pivot” to something that looks like a competent, professional campaign.

Many Republicans have given up on that pivot ever turning. As The Huffington Post’s Igor Bobic reports: “More than 100 GOP officials, delegates and staffers have signed an open letter calling on the Republican National Committee to cut ties with Donald Trump and shift precious resources away from his struggling presidential campaign to focus on retaining the House and Senate.”

This letter cites numerous deficits in Trump’s candidacy and character, including his “divisiveness,” his “recklessness,” his “incompetence” and his “record-breaking unpopularity.”

Hold on, we’re not done: The letter goes on to rap Trump for his “campaign of anger and exclusion,” the way he has “mocked and offended millions of voters” and his “dangerous authoritarian tendencies.”

Ordinarily, this is the sort of thing that might prove to be a searing read for its recipient. But this letter, I’m afraid, is going to end up on the desk of RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, and he’s the one man who doesn’t seem to think that anything is amiss. Rather, the Dr. Pangloss-channeling Priebus appears to be under the impression that he’s been doing a very good job ― one that makes him deserving of future rewards. As Politico’s Alex Isenstadt reports:

But in recent weeks, Priebus has begun telling friends and allies that he’s seriously considering running for reelection. During last month’s Republican National Convention, he approached Henry Barbour, a loyal ally who is the nephew of former RNC Chairman Haley Barbour, and told him he was thinking about a return.

“He wants to keep his options open for running for reelection,” Henry Barbour said in an interview.

Other party leaders who’ve spoken with Priebus — some of whom have reached out to him to gauge his intentions — say they’ve come away with the impression that he’s increasingly likely to seek reelection.

“It’s a move that would come as a surprise to many,” writes Isenstadt.

I should say so! In recent weeks, the RNC has seen a plethora of staffers head for the exits, with discontent over Trump’s nomination being an often-cited reason. “Some,” Politico’s Daniel Lippman reports, “said they worried about the stain that working to elect Trump could have on their resume.”

Many that remain are internally urging a different type of disengagement ― one in which they cut off support for Trump in order to redirect their energies and efforts to saving the party’s down-ticket competitors. As Politico’s Eli Stokols and Kenneth Vogel note, these reports were followed hard by denials that any sort of groundwork was being laid to leave Trump to his fate. Most notably, RNC strategist Sean Spicer insisted, “There is no talk of shifting resources in mid-August and it’s unlikely that would happen until late September or October.”

So it’s a disagreement over the timing of such a conscious decoupling, not a denial that plans aren’t being hatched. Still, Priebus has been very adamant, insisting, “Don’t believe the garbage you read.” (Unless, of course, you are a major GOP donor and are used to receiving various sub rosa communications in newspaper headlines.) Meanwhile, as New York Magazine’s Eric Levitz noted at the beginning of the week, the Republican National Committee’s Twitter account has undertaken an effort to keep itself free of garbage: Since July 28, it’s gone out of its way to avoid reminding people about the identity of the party’s nominee.

If Priebus seems to be fairly defensive, that’s arguably because Trump’s ability to lurch his way into the GOP presidential nomination was largely the chairman’s doing. Back in September of 2015, Priebus forced the GOP presidential primary field to sign a pledge agreeing to not disparage their party’s eventual nominee, whoever he or she turned out to be, under the belief that it would save the party from a Trump independent run. Instead, the pledge ended up constraining the rest of the candidates, none of whom wanted to be responsible for sending an angry Trump off on an outside-the-party presidential bid. Priebus’ demand for enforced timidity set the stage for the collective action problem that followed, giving Trump the inside track to claiming the nomination.

That decision alone should deal a fatal blow to Priebus’ continued tenure. One person who evidently agrees is one of the primary candidates on whom he forced this pledge ― former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who Time’s Zeke Miller reports is already plotting a takeover of the RNC by doing her own spadework in the down-ticket races and breaking bread with influential party chairs across the country.

For Fiorina, this could be yet another iteration of her mostly unsuccessful efforts to refashion herself into a Republican Party bigwig. That said, there could not be a riper target than Priebus ― the man who had four years to implement the plan laid out in the infamous 2012 “GOP autopsy,” only to ham-handedly manage his party to what is shaping up to be an even more infamous death in 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   |   August 11, 2016    4:17 PM ET

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Jason Linkins   |   August 10, 2016    8:25 PM ET

Eat The Press: Hey, did I read a story that Donald Trump doesn’t like to be seen naked and so he makes Melania leave the room when he is undressing, or did I dream that?

Editor: Ha, wut?

Eat The Press: I seem to remember reading somewhere recently that he does this, but I can’t find it.

Editor: No idea.

Eat The Press: Okay, but if I am right, then Trump is, potentially, a never-nude. Which is pretty big! Do you have a contact with the Trump campaign that will still talk to us? Because I can make inquiries.

Editor: No.

Eat The Press: No you don’t have a contact, or no I cannot make these inquiries?

Editor: No contact.

Eat The Press: What about that Michael Cohen guy?

Editor: There is really no point in asking the campaign to help you find or confirm this. First, they do not talk to us. Second, they would never talk to anyone about this.

Eat The Press: I kind of feel like you are stifling a legitimate journalistic inquiry.

Editor: Ha.

Eat The Press: It makes me wonder if maybe you just want this truth buried.

Editor: I don’t.

Eat The Press: Here is the story!  The key passage is from a “controversial biography” titled Lost Tycoon.

“The funny thing is, there’s a side of Donald that not even [Marla] has seen. She has never seen him completely naked—at least almost never—because he won’t let her. Whenever they’re about to have sex, he makes her go into the bathroom while he gets undressed. As soon as he takes off his clothes, he jumps into the bed and pulls up the covers. She knows that he’s ashamed to show her what a flabby old body he has. He has no idea that just makes him seem cuter and more cuddly to her.”

Eat The Press: I think this really humanizes him, don’t you think?

Eat The Press: You there?

Editor: Sorry, was eating dinner with [REDACTED].

Eat The Press: Cool, what does she think about this story?

Editor: Nothing.

Eat The Press: I have to say I’m a little surprised. But what do you think about this?

Editor: Jason, I don’t know what you’re talking about. What do you wanna do with this?

Eat The Press: I’ll come up with something.

Do you know if Donald Trump is a never-nude? Email me.


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

Jason Linkins   |   August 10, 2016   11:35 AM ET

This week, in a desperate effort to get back “on message” after briefly pretending to be interested in economic policy, GOP presidential nominee and bottomless fecal lagoon Donald Trump asked his supporters at a Wilmington, North Carolina rally to imagine what actions they might have to take in the event that he loses the upcoming election to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

One particularly innovative suggestion Trump offered: go out and assassinate some folks! “If she gets to pick her judges ― nothing you can do, folks,” Trump said, before adding, “Although, the Second Amendment people. Maybe there is. I don’t know.”

The statement, naturally, touched off yet another maelstrom in the media, which might never become totally inured to Trump’s constantly escalating perpetual disbelief machine. Trump’s campaign surrogates spent the latter part of Tuesday afternoon trotting out every near-plausible defense of the remark that they could pull from their thought-holes before Trump finally settled upon what’s been his default position since his campaign began ― all publicity is good publicity. “I have to say,” he said to Sean Hannity Tuesday night, “in terms of politics, there is few things, and I happen to think that if [the media] did even bring this up, I think it’s a good thing for me.” Hey, man, whatever it takes to “win” a “news cycle.”

But the instincts demonstrated by his campaign surrogates to walk back the statement may have been the correct ones, because as it turns out, there is actually a federal statute against publicly inducing these kinds of oblique threats called “18 U.S.C. § 879 : US Code - Section 879,” which you might know by its street name, “Threats against former Presidents and certain other persons.” Let’s go to the U.S. Code!

a) Whoever knowingly and willfully threatens to kill, kidnap, or inflict bodily harm upon -

(1) a former President or a member of the immediate family of a former President;

(2) a member of the immediate family of the President, the President-elect, the Vice President, or the Vice President-elect;

(3) a major candidate for the office of President or Vice President, or a member of the immediate family of such candidate; or

(4) a person protected by the Secret Service under section 3056(a)(6);


shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.

(b) As used in this section -

(1) the term “immediate family” means -

(A) with respect to subsection (a)(1) of this section, the wife of a former President during his lifetime, the widow of a former President until her death or remarriage, and minor children of a former President until they reach sixteen years of age; and

(B) with respect to subsection (a)(2) and (a)(3) of this section, a person to whom the President, President-elect, Vice President, Vice President-elect, or major candidate for the office of President or Vice President -

(i) is related by blood, marriage, or adoption; or

(ii) stands in loco parentis;


(2) the term “major candidate for the office of President or Vice President” means a candidate referred to in subsection (a)(7) of section 3056 of this title; and

(3) the terms “President-elect” and “Vice President-elect” have the meanings given those terms in section 871(b) of this title. 

Assuming that Trump was referring to Hillary Clinton in these remarks and not merely future Supreme Court justices (it’s a pity that he can’t be more clear about who should be murdered ― this is not a mistake that Vladimir Putin makes), then he would seem to check three of this statute’s boxes right away: “person protected by the Secret Service,” “major candidate for the office of President,” and “member of the immediate family of a former president,” ― specifically, “the wife of a former president during his lifetime.” (Let’s pause to note the legally enshrined, bulletproof plexiglass ceiling!)

So, should Trump be fined or thrown in the hoosegow for no more than five years? Fortunately for Trump, some relevant legal decisions play in his favor, most notably 1969’s Brandenberg v. OhioIn that case, an Ohio-based Ku Klux Klan leader named Clarence Brandenberg was charged and convicted under Ohio’s criminal syndicalism statute for making violent threats in a public speech. The Supreme Court, however, reversed the conviction on the grounds that abstractly made threats were protected under the First Amendment, and that inflammatory speech could only be punished if it could be reasonably considered a call to “imminent lawless action.” 

So was Trump making an explicit call to imminent lawless action? It’s honestly hard to think of this as necessarily “imminent,” given that were are many weeks away from the 2016 election even being decided. Presumably, if this “you guys should go out and shoot Hillary Clinton” rhetoric ends up in Trump’s version of an election night concession speech, we might have to re-examine this. 

Of course, constantly inciting political violence has long been a feature of Trump’s campaign rhetoric. Ironically, however, the near constancy of these incitements can make it difficult to view them as serious. As I’m sure anyone who has ever tried to protect themselves, or others, from the looming threat of domestic violence can tell you, the problem with determining whether or not a threat can be considered to be a precursor to “imminent lawless action” is that this determination tends to only get made after it’s too late.

Isn’t this a super-fun and entertaining election, though? Lots of twists and turns, man. Game changes galore! And it will probably all end very politely. You worry too much!

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


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

Jason Linkins   |   August 8, 2016    4:13 PM ET

As we begin the second week of August, it would seem that most of the political world believes that GOP nominee Donald Trump should now, at long last, attempt to “pivot” to something that looks less like a series of disconnected eruptions of rage and nonsense and more like what’s commonly known as a “professional campaign” ― with disciplined messaging and actual campaign strategy. GOP elites, in particular, have gotten so desperate having to watch Trump fluff his lines again and again that as of last week, they were referring to a needed interdiction as an “intervention” ― as if someone they loved very much was succumbing to the depredations of drug addiction.

As it happens, Trump has a lot of ground to make up on his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. (Actually, depending on which poll crosstabs you’re looking at, he’s got ground to make up on Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson.) So, this should be one of those “all-hands-on-deck” times ― in which those who want Trump to prevail advise him to consider the road ahead and encourage him to do what needs to be done to actually win the election.

Or, alternatively, if you are the Trump-besotted folks at Breitbart News, you can keep fighting the battles of two weeks ago. That seems to be the approach, anyway, of Breitbart’s Paul Sperry, who is still working whatever spare angle he can on the Khizr Khan story. In case you missed it last week, Sperry imagined that he had finally penned the ur-hit piece on Khan after paging back through some of his old writings ― writings which, if held up to a blacklight and squinted at hard enough, could maybe be used to paint Khan as a sympathizer of radical Islamic extremists, as opposed to the dedicated and patriotic American whose equally patriotic son died defending the Constitution he carries near his heart.

Charitably, it’s a bit of a stretch. Not so charitably, it’s an inept attempt at slander. Let’s get into it!

Sperry’s very strange smear of Khan ― titled “Khizr Khan Believes The Constitution ‘Must Always Be Subordinated To The Sharia’” ― hangs upon two documents, both of which have been rather desperately misconstrued in ways that only make sense if you omit certain pieces of information and wildly bake something crazy out of the remaining elements.

The first item is a review, written by Khan, of a book titled Human Rights In Islam ― a work that is actually just a compendium of presentations from a 1982 seminar by the International Commission of Jurists in Geneva. The second piece that shows up in Sperry’s brief against Khan is an “explainer” of sorts that he wrote in 1983 for Volume 6:23 of the Houston Journal of International Law, in which Khan helpfully provides a concise “Juristic Classification Of Islamic Law.”

In the first instance, Khan rather dispassionately renders his verdict on the value of the materials presented at the seminar, citing one speaker in particular for making a convincing argument. In the second document, Khan ― just as dispassionately ― provides the Houston Journal of International Law with some facts about Islamic law and its derivations.

At no point does Khan argue that the United States Constitution should be “subordinated” to Sharia. The Constitution, in fact, never comes up in either piece of writing ― mainly because there is no reason to bring it up. The Magna Carta, the French Constitution of 1958, Starfleet’s Prime Directive, the First Law of Robotics ― these don’t come up either. (That’s too bad, if only because I’d love to know if robots could be made Sharia-compliant.)

Sperry’s whole conclusion here ― that Khan is arguing that the United States Constitution should be subordinated to Sharia ― is truly daffy, and basically relies completely on his readers not doing what I did ― reading all the source materials. (And being able to read in the first place.)

In his “Juristic Classification of Islamic Law,” Khan attempts to explain how Islamic jurists classify the sources of Islamic law, noting both the chief and supplementary sources that have guided the thinking of these jurists (and which have led to a lifetime of argument between them). Khan notes that within Islamic culture, “the individual opinions” of Islamic jurists are “subordinated” to the two chief sources ― the Quran and the Sunnah.

Khan goes on to note that the larger “question of the sources which” these Islamic jurists have historically “relied upon” to derive legal opinions “is always open to reconsideration as to their compliance with the Quranic and Prophetic texts and the fulfillment of their objectives.” However, Khan notes an immutable bottom line within Islamic legal culture:

This brings up an important fact which is generally overlooked, that the invariable and basic rules of Islamic aw are only those prescribed in the Shari’ah (Quran and Sunnah), which are few and limited. All other juridical works which have been written during more than thirteen centuries are very rich and indispensable, but they must always be subordinated to the Shari’ah and open to reconsideration by all Muslims.”

Khan isn’t rendering a value judgment on Islamic law or Sharia compliance here. These are just definitional facts, pertaining to the history of Islamic law and culture, how it has developed over centuries, and how it has continued, within those applicable cultures and societies, to be applied.

But Sperry goes wildly astray in his interpretation, leaping to the conclusion that Khan, far from simply relating a factual explanation, is arguing that every legal system in the world should be brought into compliance with Islamic prophetical texts. That’s not what’s happening! Khan is specifically limiting himself to a discussion of Islamic culture and law ― which is a thing that really does exist and which one can discuss separately from other cultures and their juridical philosophies.

When Khan refers to “all other juridical works” that “must always be subordinated to the Shari’ah,” he is referring exclusively to Islamic juridical works, not Western ones. When Khan notes the unadorned fact that the Quran “is the absolute authority from which springs the very conception of legality and every legal obligation,” he is confining himself ― again, exclusively ― to the Islamic world and its legal practices, not to societies and cultures outside of that context.

Sperry includes this weird, scare-quoted sentence in his indictment of Khan: “Khan then notes that Quranic law includes ‘constitutional law.’”

It appears that what Sperry believes is that the use of the phrase “constitutional law” is a reference to the United States Constitution. This is incorrect ― it refers to small-c “constitutional law” in general. Believe it or not, the United States is not the only nation that has a constitution, from which “constitutional law” is practiced. Within the context of this piece of writing, Khan is simply using a term that applies to the codified bodies of laws that dictate how states govern their citizens ― in this case, specifically Islamic states.

In fact, here is the only instance in which Khan uses the term “constitutional” in his explainer (emphasis mine):

It has to be admitted, however, that the Quran, being basically a book of religious guidance, is not an easy reference for legal studies. It is more particularly an appeal to faith and the human soul rather than a classification of legal prescriptions. Such prescriptions are comparatively limited and few. Family law is laid down in seventy injections; civil law in another seventy; constitutional law in ten; international relations in twenty-five; and economic and financial order in ten. Such an enumeration, however, can only be approximate. The legal bearing of some injuctions is disputable, whereas in some others it simultaneously applies to more than one sphere of law. The major portion of the Quran is, as with every Holy Book, a code of divine exhortation and moral principals.

So, there’s no mention of the United States Constitution. In fact, this single reference to “constitutional law” doesn’t even wade into the murky arguments of whether any nation’s constitutional law should be Sharia-compliant ― it simply and dryly notes that the Quran offers 10 prescriptions that specifically pertain to “constitutional law.”

Like I said before, in this “Juristic Classification of Islamic Law,” Khan is only rendering a set of indispensable and explanatory facts about Islamic juridical culture so that people might better understand it. He’s not arguing that everyone, the world over, should adhere to Islamic law, nor is he offering any sort of passionate value judgment about it. Insofar as Khan allows any personal judgment to slip out, though, let’s note that it arrives in the form of Khan describing the severe limitations of using religious texts to guide legal practices.

Moving on to Khan’s review of the book Human Rights In Islam, Sperry’s criticism of Khan demonstrates that he is either unwilling or unable to make the necessary distinction between an argument that a reader notes has been convincingly made, and an argument to which a reader agrees. By eliding over that distinction, he smears Khan as some sort of enemy of the United States. I’m pretty sure these distinctions will be lost on Sperry, but since I’m in for a penny here, let’s address it.

Khan makes his interest in the seminars that formed this Human Rights in Islam book plain from the start of his review, saying that the “position of human rights in the cynosure of world attention has created a need among scholars to explore the historical development of human rights.” The concept of “human rights,” as it turns out, has evolved among different cultures in different ways, and the Islamic world is no different. Khan evidently found this 1982 seminar useful because it included contemporary jurists from the Islamic world, all of whom were invited to explain their points of view.

Additionally, Khan notes forthrightly at the beginning of his piece that this seminar made no effort to enjoin an argument about whether the points of view of these Islamic jurists are a model to follow or deserve a greater share of attention over the points of view of other jurists that emerge from other cultures and societies. As Khan explains, “The seminar’s purpose is neither to address human rights situations in particular countries nor to provoke a dialogue between the Muslim and Western worlds.” Instead, the seminar was a “forum for discussion of human rights issues which are important to Muslims” in particular.

In other words, any battle of whose legal culture is getting “human rights” right and best is tabled for another day, in favor of simply exploring these jurists’ ideas and getting them on the record.

Eventually, Khan arrives at a discussion of a keynote speech delivered by a Dr. A.K. Brohi, who at the time of the seminar was the “former Pakistani minister of legal and religious affairs.” Sperry treats Brohi’s mention as a red flag:

As Pakistani minister of law and religious affairs, Brohi helped create hundreds of jihadi incubators called madrassas and restored Sharia punishments, such as amputations for theft and demands that rape victims produce four male witnesses or face adultery charges. He also made insulting the Muslim prophet Muhammad a crime punishable by death. To speed the Islamization of Pakistan, he and Zia issued a law that required judges to consult mullahs on every judicial decision for Sharia compliance.

Khan, who says he immigrated to the U.S. in 1980 to escape Pakistan’s “military rule,” nonetheless spoke admiringly of Brohi in his review of his speech. He praised his remarks even though Brohi advocated for the enforcement of the medieval Sharia punishments, known as “hudood” (singular “hadd”), that were later adopted and carried out with brutal efficiency by the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.

It’s worth pointing out Sperry’s lengthy depiction of Brohi is more of a menacing, spectral caricature than it is a fair and factual assessment of the man’s career, warts and all. Brohi had a very long and varied legal career that included defending some of Pakistan’s seminal rights icons, like Sheikh Mujeebur Rahman ― who won the 1970 elections, but was prevented from taking power by the Pakistani establishment (and Henry Kissinger) in a move that sparked the ensuing Bangladesh crisis. He also defended Zaib-un-Nissa Hamidullah, the country’s first woman editor and publisher.

Brohi was, at worst, a political operative who, to a certain extent, shifted as the winds changed in Pakistan. He served under both secularists and radical religious figures, and did what he thought was necessary to fit in with both types of regimes and preserve his career. It’s really difficult to tell whether he actually devised the nutty policies of chopping off hands and the like, or merely tacitly accepted them to remain in his position. But overall, his thinking seems to be not so much “radical imposition of Sharia” as it is “Islamic re-awakening” along fairly peaceful Sufi lines.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the madrassas Sperry refers to were not merely established because of Pakistani government policy ― the United States colluded in their foundation because they were where the mujahideen were trained to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. In general, Brohi was a fairly devout Muslim who found communism objectionable and Islamic socialism in particular to be “contentious.” Opposition to Islamic socialism meant that Brohi opposed the rule of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Naturally, it also meant that Brohi happily went to work for the regime that overthrew Bhutto and sentenced him to death.

Nevertheless, I’m happy to concede the logic of anyone having numerous objections to Brohi’s overall political point of view. But Khizr Khan doesn’t actually applaud any of these objectionable things anywhere in his writings. The sole instance in which Khan speaks “admiringly” and offers “praise” for Brohi has nothing to do with the establishment of madrassas or “medieval Sharia punishments.” It certainly has nothing to do with the Taliban ― who wouldn’t be founded for another 12 years after this seminar was held.

In his review, Khan merely acknowledges that Brohi is a key figure in the world of Islamic legal scholars, and concedes that he’d found that Brohi had made a convincing argument during these seminars ― specifically this argument: Properly defining human rights in any context first requires the institutionalization of a “moral value system” to which a culture can commonly agree. Khan writes:

To illustrate his point [Brohi] notes, “There is no such thing as human right in the abstract. First we have to locate the human being in a given social cosmos, view him against the background of a certain economico-political and socio-cultural conditioning before we can meaningfully talk about his rights.”

At the risk of being labelled a Taliban sympathizer or a madrassa founder, I agree with this wholly uncontroversial idea. That is a convincing argument. Funnily enough, saying this is so doesn’t make me want to go out and stone adulterers or support those who do.

That’s because this is not how “appraising an argument” works. Marx and Engels convincingly argue that modern laborers experience a sense of alienation from the fruits of their labors, That doesn’t make me a fan of Soviet-style autocracy. Shakespeare convincingly argues that Richard the Third was a debauched hunchback. He wasn’t, but I still enjoy a good production of that play. I’ve read convincing arguments from atheists and equally convincing arguments from Christian theologians. This is life ― this happens.

It doesn’t actually do any discredit to a point of view to acknowledge a countering argument that’s convincingly made. In fact, if you enjoy the rigors of thought, finding convincing arguments that differ from your point of view can be immensely valuable. If nothing else, it can help hone your own argument. I suspect that acknowledging this simple premise would cause the complete collapse of Breitbart’s institutional philosophy. As it happens, the organization’s institutional inability to come to grips with the convincing evidence that suggested that former Breitbart (and current Huffington Post) reporter Michelle Fields was in fact manhandled by then-Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski led to a cascade of intractable ― and wholly unnecessary ― internal schisms.

Having read all of the source material that Sperry cites, I find no evidence that Khizr Khan ever argued, or accepted the argument, that United States law should be subordinated to Islamic law. But then, I’m not really convinced that was Sperry’s aim in the first place. Instead, I have become convinced that Khan’s knowledge of and facility with the facts of Islamic law and society, and his willingness to publicly share his knowledge, are meant by Sperry to be an indictment of his character, in and of itself.

There are those who believe that if a person is merely exposed to ideas, they somehow become infected with them, that demonstrating an understanding of an idea is proof of such an infection, and that the willingness to then propagate that information belies an intent to further spread this infection. This is an offshoot of an ancient philosophical argument, dating back to Plato and Aristotle, that still informs our times and adds fuel to modern philosophical debates. We’ll never really resolve this argument, and a big reason why is that Plato and Aristotle were both very gifted thinkers ― both of whom can be said to have “argued convincingly.”

To my mind, I wouldn’t think it smart to attempt to use the 2016 election to litigate this dispute. I also don’t think it’s particularly bright for people who support Donald Trump to continue to litigate the dispute between Trump and Khan. It would, in fact, seem to be best for Breitbart’s reporters to consider moving on from Khan’s speech at the Democratic National Convention and all of its attendant fallout, and instead undertake an substantial effort to explain how Trump’s policy preferences and political perspective will enable him improve the lives of ordinary Americans should he become president.

But then again, perhaps that’s not something they are capable of arguing convincingly.

The Huffington Post’s Akbar Shahid Ahmed contributed reporting.


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.