THE BLOG
11/30/2016 02:03 pm ET Updated Dec 01, 2017

The Holiday Madness of Trump and Clinton Obscures Trump's Strange Dithering Over the State Department

Is it really far too late to hope that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton join hands and merrily take that proverbial long walk off a short pier?

Trump's trademark overreaction to a big Clinton flip flop may mask a deeper seated anxiety over not just his big and oddly meandering decision about the new U.S. secretary of State but also the office of the Presidency itself.

First Clinton, in ever so lawyerly fashion, "joined" Green candidate Jill Stein's silly push for recounts in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, crucial states Trump snatched from the Democrats (as I warned the Friday before the election) to win the White House. Then Trump, in a fit of pique over Hillary's effectively reneging on her election night concession phone call and day after speech urging America to accept Trump's election, fell into his all too familiar habit of Twittering on about not only his understandable outrage but also his preposterous claim that he really did not lose the national popular vote, as I wrote he would the morning after the election, because millions of illegal immigrants voted for Hillary.

Here we have in a nutshell why these two are the most unpopular presidential nominees in American history. For Clinton, there is sheer hypocrisy and heavily-financed sneakiness. Note how quickly the impoverished Greens came up with millions of dollars to challenge results in which their candidate, who shortly before the election said Clinton was much more dangerous for world peace than Trump, got only 1 percent of the the vote. For Trump, we got the far too frequent intemperate bluster and know-nothing nonsense.

I'll let the New Yorker, with all its hyper-partisan anti-Trump/pro-Clinton glory, explain why the recount is based on ludicrous gibberish.

As for Trump, let's look at his own angry gibberish in more detail. It's more important, after all, because he will be the president going forward while the Clintons recede into history, their ongoing presence in our political lives what will now be a thoroughly reassessed policy and cultural legacy. Assuming, that is, that Trump keeps his own kumbayah promise to Hillary that, like outgoing President Obama, who so thoroughly prejudged the affair, he will block an indictment for her incredibly slipshod manner of securing her sensitive e-mails as secretary of state. (Yes, as longtime readers know, I did consistently defend Hillary on the e-mail scandal. Up until Labor Day, when new information convinced me of the error of my ways. This is not the time for that discussion.)

As predicted, Hillary's national popular vote lead has only grown since early the morning of November 9th. Secretary Clinton had a slight national popular vote lead then over Trump, thanks to a huge California vote lead of 2.5 million votes.

Now Clinton has a national vote lead of over 2 million votes. Over 4 million votes of that lead come from the Golden State.

Before the president-elect went bonkers again and claimed he really won the national popular vote when you subtract the utterly non-existent vote of 3 million illegal immigrants, he argued he would have won the popular vote had that been the route to the presidency.

Well, I don't think that is impossible. But he would have to have been a different version of Donald Trump in order to do that.

Would Trump, a vivid though often foggy celebrity, have won a lot more votes in California if he had campaigned here without changing his tune?

Some, sure. After all, I've seen the effect of vivid celebrity campaigning up close and personal with my old friend Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But Schwarzenegger did not win two landslide elections as governor of California running as an anti-tolerance, anti-diversity, anti-environment know-nothing. Quite the contrary.

That Trump actually did worse in California than any other Republican presidential nominee in 80 years -- since Alf Landon was crushed by Franklin D. Roosevelt in his first re-election -- is not because Hillary had anything remotely like FDR's appeal in California. It is because Californians, voting 62 percent to 32 percent against Trump, were utterly repelled by the distant caricature of Trump and Trumpism. That caricature is what we actually see much of the time, especially in these id-driven pre-dawn tweets of his.

Had Trump campaigned here as he did most of the time, he would have gotten a few hundred thousand more votes, not nearly enough to turn around the national popular vote. Now, if he ran on an Arnold-like platform, coupled with the more positive, non-hateful aspects of his populism, well, that's another thing. And another campaign. And, if he won, perhaps a very different presidency.

As for Trump's claim of millions of illegal immigrant votes for Clinton, that's every bit as idiotic as the thinly-veiled Clinton bid to overturn the results in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. (Her move would only make sense as a gambit to delegitimize Trump's presidency by forcing the Republican Congress to choose him with the Electoral College in disarray from vote count delays. Which I'm told is not at all likely to take place.)

No one serious in California, and I mean no one, thinks that there is significant voting by illegal immigrants. It's never used as an excuse by Republicans for their defeats here. If Trump wasn't so anti-intellectual, he might look into the sociology of illegal immigrants, among whom there is remarkably little interest in voting. Indeed, the sort of enclavism that is a part of brings its own set of very different concerns. But let's not get distracted by social reality.

Since it no longer really matters what triggered Hillary's behavior here, what concerns me is Trump's behavior. Perhaps the enormity of what he's taken on is getting to him.

Assuming the accuracy of the reports, Trump spent much of Thanksgiving asking his guests who he should appoint as secretary of state.

Despite early press reports, Trump actually was off to a fairly quick start at putting together his administration. Faster, for example, than Bill Clinton.

But after core Trump backer ex-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani gave a speech and some interviews about his hoped-for tenure as secretary of state and was ripped by much of the media, Trump countered with what looked like a clever distraction. Maybe he'd appoint Mitt Romney. Heh. As if.

Now Trump seems taken with the idea. As does Romney.

Perhaps Trump relishes the idea of having someone who savaged him personally throughout the campaign dependent upon him for the greatest honor of his life. Maybe he thinks it will buy peace with what there is of the Republican establishment he so thoroughly exposed in the primaries. But doesn't he want a believable chief diplomat?

How can Romney take himself seriously if he now goes to work for Trump? I've been ripping Trump since I realized more than a year ago that he was the coming thing in American politics. I despise his decided tendencies to know-nothingism and neo-fascism. But I've barely met the man, immediately disliking him as a blowhard, and that decades ago. Plus I'm obviously not a Republican.

Romney has known Trump for decades. His very personal attacks on the president-elect were predicated on his purported knowledge and insight of the man.

If Romney becomes Trump's secretary of state, the subtext of everything that comes out of his mouth is that it is not to be taken seriously. Why should it be? It's all situational ethics. There is no bedrock core, just morphing opportunism.

At least Giuliani, whom I've interviewed a few times and rather like, especially since he does not shrink from going round and round on controversial matters, is a true-blue Trump supporter. He is a proven figure in dramatic crisis and much better traveled than Romney, whose poor grasp of geography stunned me during his debates with Obama.

Of course, there are other prospects. Milquetoast establishment Senator Bob Corker, for example. Yawn. Mad man ex-UN Ambassador John Bolton. Let me stick needles in my eyes.

And there is General, excuse me, Doctor David Petraeus. As longtime readers know, I am not a Petraeus fan. His much touted COIN (counterinsurgency doctrine) was mostly recycled blather from the Vietnam War, all too familiar, gussied up for the credulous as some sort of faux "new idea" in warfare.

Take one of those old Vietnam War papers, delete "strategic hamlets" and "Vietnamization," and you've got COIN.

The Iraq War "surge" was essentially a scam. Move large numbers of heavily armed US troops into an area, pay a lot of bribes, give a largely free hand to pro-Iranian Shiite militias, and you get "success." For awhile.

But COIN provided a rationale for an approach that was smarter than what had gone before, and the surge created a space. A space, that is, for the US to execute the Bravo Oscar maneuver (i.e., bug out) and get the tattered Bush administration the hell out of Dodge with a modicum of dignity.

Mission accomplished. Heh.

That Petraeus couldn't replicate the "success" of the Iraq surge in Afghanistan was anything but a surprise to anyone who had spent time on the ground in Afghanistan away from the vips. Like, say, backpacking around on foot and by bus.

Sure, Petraeus and his sorta running mate, General Stanley McChrystal, pressured Obama to do the big dumb escalation in Afghanistan, which I wrote about extensively at the time. Big generals generally get bigger with big missions.

Petraeus and especially McChrystal (once new National Security Advisor Mike Flynn's boss at Joint Special Operations Command), jammed Obama, who simply didn't know how to handle them. More about that another time.

Petraeus was off to a decent start as Obama's CIA director when his sex scandal and little problem with classified material came to light. That barely compares, by the way, to Clinton's problems. Or do we think that Dwight Eisenhower didn't confide in Kay Summersby?

It was wrong and all that, of course, but Petraeus biographer/girlfriend Paula Broadwell was actually Major Paula Broadwell, a fellow West Pointer, a Harvard postgrad and Army intelligence officer. It's not like losing your entire e-mail archive as secretary of state by idiotically sending it through the mail. (Might as well just Fedex it to the Kremlin.) Or being unable to account for all but a few of the 13 handheld devices you used. Or having your e-mails turn up on Anthony Weiner's laptop. Or ... you get the gist.

Petraeus is a courtier, something of a "smack" in the parlance. But he is brilliant and very knowledgeable. West Point summa cum laude, top of the Army Command and General Staff College, a Princeton PhD in international relations, with all the top soldier stuff, too, tops at the special ops Ranger School, combat command of the legendary 101st Airborne Division, and so on. And he does engage with folks who don't always agree with him.

There is even an off chance that, like Stanley McChrystal, he actually opposed the invasion of Iraq. Recall that if we do not invade Iraq, the world looks very, very different.

In any event, I now think that Trump himself probably opposed the invasion of Iraq. He just couldn't quite spit that out with Howard Stern, with whom he usually put on a macho attitude, so we got that halting "I guess" endorsement that the Clintons -- who very much did back the Iraq invasion -- tried to ram down Trump's throat.

Not to say these are the best options, of course. We are now in a highly imperfect world, at best. And don't worry, Trump may just find a way to screw it up and all will be well, right?

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