Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

The Clinton Campaign Continues to Help Trump Ensure That Policy Won’t Matter in This Election

Time Magazine serves up a fascinating look at Donald Trump’s evolving campaign strategy, in which Trump and his top advisers leave little doubt that they think they can win mainly by dominating the media environment, in a way that will smash all the old rules of politics.

The piece recaps several recent episodes in which Trump was able to suck up all the media oxygen simply by being himself, and details some frustration in the Clinton camp with the same. But the Clinton team thinks that this dynamic doesn’t necessarily work in Trump’s favor, because much of that media attention is negative, such as when his attacks on a Mexican-American judge exploded across days of critical coverage. All that media focus is only deepening his hole with key general election constituencies. Besides, Clinton is breaking through at key moments, such as when she delivered her recent speech dismantling Trump as dangerously unprepared for the presidency, in part by drawing a sharp contrast between the two candidates’ policy preparedness, or lack of it.

Donald Trump just said policy won’t matter in this election. He’s wrong., Greg Sargent, Washington Post, today

No, actually Trump’s right, because Clinton and her campaign are ensuring that policy won’t matter in this election.

Two weeks ago when the details from the Trump University deposition and other documents emerged after the judge ordered them released I thought the Trump campaign could not survive it.  But as the headlines and details became a major news story Trump made his big play: the judge is biased because he is, Trump thinks, Mexican, and what he’s doing is an outrage and he should be looked into.

Voila!  Gone were the headlines, and the media conversations, and consideration by the Clinton campaign (if there had been consideration) of running ads detailing these reports, about the Trump University scam operation and exactly whom it targeted, and how.  Instead, the last 10 days or so have been about what Trump said about the judge.

Mission accomplished.

Early this week the Washington Post ran a lengthy article about more details from the release of the lawsuit information.  The information was extensive, and the reporter had by then read most of it.  As I read the article I thought, maybe this new information will break through the look-what-Trump-said-about-the-judge-because-he’s-Mexican-American loop repeated again and again because another Republican pol said something about it or because Hillary Clinton did or because her campaign released yet another comment, ad, tweet about it.

Mission continues on-track.

The Democrats are nominating someone who believes fundamentally that nothing matters unless it’s about race, ethnicity, gender or religion.  She won’t change, even if she actually ventures beyond a rope line in Ohio or Michigan or Indiana and talks to a few blue-collar workers who were laid off because their manufacturing plant closed, and now work for half of their old income and receive no benefits.  Some of them have voted Democratic all their lives.*  And now they think Trump might be their savior.

So they’re considering voting for him, despite, rather than because of, his “Build the Wall” and “Ban Muslims.” They know about the-judge-is-biased-because-he’s-Mexican.  They think it’s ridiculous.  But it’s not what they care most about.

Yes, the “Mexican” judge comments were ugly.  But in a different and also important way, so is what Trump University was.  So are the details of that.  In fact, Trump believes they’re more important than the judge comments.  Which is why he made the judge comments.

Trump says, “Jump.”  And everyone does.  But especially Clinton does, because Trump knows what to dangle in front of her, and exactly when to dangle it.

Trump University isn’t exactly policy.  But it’s bait to get into economic and fiscal policy.  Or it would be if Clinton could figure out that there are some things that are already getting all the publicity needed.  And some things that matter that aren’t.  And that it might be a good idea to inform the public about the latter.

The specifics of what those documents and transcripts show cut to the very heart of who Trump is, just as much, and in just as significant a way, as the race and ethnicity baiting.  The difference is that everyone doesn’t already know about most of them.  Or know that Republican pols now know about them but also think he’ll help enact the Ryan fiscal plan.

Even that Japanese WWII soldier still hiding in a cave because he doesn’t know that the war has ended knows about the latest ethnic or racial or gender insult by Trump.  But not about much else, because Trump and Clinton and her campaign, along with the news media, partner to ensure that.

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ADDENDUM: *I inserted that link into that sentence this morning after reading the comments thread to this post. The link is to a gut-wrenching May 14 Washington Post article by Eli Saslow titled “From belief to outrage: The decline of the middle class reaches the next American town.”  The town is Huntington, Ind., and it details the closure over a period of several months this year of a United Technologies plant there, which is moving its operations to Mexico although the plant has been very profitable. It focuses on one family but also mentions others.  Here are the money excerpts:

As second shift finished in Huntington, several of those UTEC workers gathered at an Applebee’s that displayed construction hats on the wall. Earlier in the day, an employee had been suspended for taping a “Run for the Border” bumper sticker to one of the company’s roving robots — the biggest act of rebellion yet. A few employees had been trying to popularize a boycott of United Technologies products, and others had started using their regular ­10-minute breaks to campaign for Trump in a traditionally Democratic factory. But for the most part their work was continuing unchanged, with attendance steady and factory production on the rise. They couldn’t risk losing their jobs or their UTEC severance packages, so the only way to vent was to come here, where the discussion on this night was of a country in decline.

“This is how it feels to be sold out by your country.”

“It’s pure greed.”

“They wanted to add another 6 feet to their yachts.”

Setser had begun looking for his next job, too, because he had heard rumors that UTEC might begin layoffs sooner than he originally thought. He had inquired about work at a local milk factory and at the General Motors plant in Fort Wayne, but both places already had waiting lists and both would likely require a shift change and an initial pay cut.

“We’re getting to the point where there aren’t really any good options left,” he said. “The system is broken. Maybe its time to blow it up and start from scratch, like Trump’s been saying.”

Krystal rolled her eyes at him. “Come on. You’re a Democrat.”

“I was. But that was before we started turning into a weak country,” he said. “Pretty soon there won’t be anything left. We’ll all be flipping burgers.”

“Fine, but so what?” she said. “We just turn everything over to the guy who yells the loudest?”

Setser leaned into the table and banged it once for emphasis. “They’re throwing our work back in our face,” he said. “China is doing better. Even Mexico is doing better. Don’t you want someone to go kick ass?”

“That doesn’t really seem like you,” she said, and for a few seconds she stared back at him, as if examining someone for the first time. The spices were alphabetized on the shelves. The family schedule was printed on the wall. Theirs was a happy home, a stable home.

You said it always evens out,” she told him.

“Maybe I was wrong,” he said, but now his voice was quiet.

“You said things just have a way of working.”

“Maybe not,” he said, because with each passing day he was seeing it more clearly. The town was losing its best employer, and all around him stability was giving way to uncertainty, to resentment, to anger, to fear.

A few days ago I read that conservative Republicans were pushing the RNC to pass a rule that would release the delegates on the first ballot.  This crowd is leaning toward supporting Scott Walker for the nomination.  I laughed out loud. Then I said to myself: “Yes!  Please, please nominate Scott Walker.”

That itself tells you all you need to know about how highly the Republican Party itself values Rust Belt union members.  They’re also the people who are now feeding Trump “scripts” to read.  Literally, according to Mitch McConnell.

Not sure why so many Democrats, including Clinton and her campaign, think this is trivial–not worth talking about when you can talk instead, constantly, about the slurs Trump spews out that everyone already knows about.

And, btw, Obama won Indiana in 2008 by a smidgen.  The difference? Two or three northernmost counties that border Michigan and that have ties to the UAW.  They’re very white counties.

Added 6/11 at 9:46 a.m.

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It Takes a Triangulator to Think This Is a Good Idea

Here’s a video from the Clinton campaign full of Republicans criticizing Trump for his attacks on the judge in his fraud case.

— Greg Sargent, Washington Post, this evening

Why, of course it’s a good idea, in a campaign that should be based largely on the likelihood that if elected, Trump would serve as Paul Ryan’s and the Koch brothers’ puppet, to undermine that argument.

Sure, Ryan said last week that Trump has assured him that he would sign a Ryan- drafted budget bill.  Sure, Trump has announced that he will return the federal bench to the Federalist Society.  (Okay, he doesn’t know what the Federalist Society is, so he doesn’t know that that’s what he said.  But Clinton knows.  I think.)

And sure, it would be really nice if, say, Russ Feingold defeated Ron Johnson in the Wisconsin Senate race.  But, hey, first things first.

And the first thing is to make sure that the five people who follow politics and don’t yet know what Trump said about that judge, and why, and that Republican pols are running far away from it, don’t enter that voting booth in November not knowing that the Republicans have distanced themselves from Trump’ statements about that judge.

They may enter the voting booth in November not knowing the specifics of what Trump and his mock University actually did, though, because far be it from the Clinton campaign to do a video showing quotes of the startlingly awful things Trump was having his employees do to people who were struggling financially.

Uh-uh.  That has nothing at all to do with ethnicity, race, gender or religion, so it’s not worth putting together a video about it.

Only things that undermine rather than make clear what should be one of your key fiscal policy arguments are worth putting together a video about.  Especially if you don’t think fiscal-policy arguments matter to voters, except the fiscal issues that are about one or another women’s issue.  As Clinton clearly doesn’t.

This is a campaign run entirely on algorithms put into a computer.  The algorithms are 1990s-vintage, though, and, well, you know.  Garbage in, garbage out.

This is a really awful campaign.  Clinton will win anyway.  But so will all those Republicans who said they don’t like what Trump said about that judge.  Or if a few of them do lose, it won’t be for lack of Clinton’s trying on their behalf.

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How likely is it that Donald Trump, if elected, would serve more than a few months of his term? How likely is it that he will even continue as the nominee much beyond the convention?

My opinion is that Trump is suffering from what I call “Attention-Seeking Deficit Disorder.” He doesn’t want to serve. He doesn’t want to be president; he wants the attention that accompanies the campaign. And now, I think he’s rather afraid that he might win. [Laughs] I don’t think he knows what he’s going to do as president.

— Lloyd Wright, the Democratic National Committee’s media coordinator during the 1964 race.

That quote appears in an interesting interview published on last weekend’s Politico Magazine, with the title “LBJ’s Ad Men: Here’s How Clinton Can Beat Trump–We talked to two of the geniuses behind the greatest ad campaign in political history. Here’s what they’d do in 2016.”  The interview is by Robert Mann, author of the book Daisy Petals and Mushroom Clouds: LBJ, Barry Goldwater, and the Ad That Changed American Politics.  (The other participant is Sid Myers, former art director at the campaign’s advertising firm.)

Earlier this week Trump was quoted as suggesting that he isn’t having very much fun anymore.  I think this occurred the day after the judge in the Trump U. case ordered the public release of deposition transcripts and other documents from the litigation’s discovery process—information that, at least in my opinion, will be a death blow to his candidacy.

But also within the last two or three days, as Trump has spiraled into undeniable madness, I’ve seen articles such as one today by NYT Supreme Court correspondent Adam Liptak titled “Donald Trump Could Threaten U.S. Rule of Law, Scholars Say.”  That article begins:

WASHINGTON — Donald J. Trump’s blustery attacks on the press, complaints about the judicial system and bold claims of presidential power collectively sketch out a constitutional worldview that shows contempt for the First Amendment, the separation of powers and the rule of law, legal experts across the political spectrum say.

Even as much of the Republican political establishment lines up behind its presumptive nominee, many conservative and libertarian legal scholars warn that electing Mr. Trump is a recipe for a constitutional crisis.

All of the quotes in the article are from libertarian-right law professors.  But clearly, the expectation of blatantly unconstitutional conduct by Trump is hardly limited to that crowd.

Another article I read in the last day or two recounts the many statements Trump has made in the last few months that make clear that he doesn’t know even the basic contours of what each of the three branches of the federal government is charged under the Constitution with doing, and appears not to know that there is a separate of powers among the three branches under the Constitution.

Then there are those private conversations that Paul Ryan mentioned yesterday between him and Trump, which culminated in Ryan’s endorsement of Trump upon the stated ground that Trump would become Ryan’s puppet.  Trump, Ryan said, will support Ryan’s fiscal agenda. And regulatory agenda.  And Legal Movement agenda.  Which is what most large Republican donors care about.  Trump’s made it clear that the federal judiciary will be a branch of Koch Industries.  And that almost certainly is a promise he would keep.

Directly or via succession.  His own.

He’s assured Ryan that the Kochs, the securities and banking industry donors, and the pharmaceutical industry donors will control their respective industry’s administrative agencies, beyond anything that existed even in the Reagan and Bush II administrations. He’s done so publicly about the EPA.  And undoubtedly privately regarding the others.

Ryan doesn’t trust Trump to keep his promises.  But I think he needn’t worry, not because Trump himself actually understands what a promise is—he doesn’t—but because it will be Ryan and the Kochs who choose the vice presidential nominee.  The person who quickly will become the actual or de facto presidential nominee or, if the ticket wins, president within a few months.

I think Democrats need to consider the possibility of this scenario, and start seriously educating the public about the Ryan fiscal and deregulatory juggernaut in store for the country if the Republican ticket wins. And they should recognize that the real ballgame here may be the VP candidate.

If Trump remains the nominee and is elected, how long will he remain in office?

****

I’m not sure whether this is a serious post or not.

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Why did the Clinton campaign say earlier this month that Trump’s statement that he plans to partially default on the national debt could work? (And, yes, that, as the NYT mentions today, is what the Clinton campaign said.)

Debates have broken out in Mrs. Clinton’s Brooklyn headquarters over the best approach to take. Some advisers worry that by running against Mr. Trump as she would a traditional Republican candidate, Mrs. Clinton is actually making the reality­ television star appear more legitimate.

This month, when Mr. Trump suggested he would reduce the national debt by negotiating with creditors to accept something less than full payment, economists dismissed the idea as fanciful. Hours later, the Clinton campaign sent out a news release about Mr. Trump’s “risky” idea of defaulting on the national debt with a response from Gene Sperling, formerly a senior economic adviser to both President Obama and Mr. Clinton, condemning the idea. The seriousness of the campaign’s response seemed to elevate a nonsensical proposal.

The seriousness of the campaign’s response seemed to elevate a nonsensical proposal. “That is a danger,” said Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior adviser to Mr. Obama. “You have to take the threat of Trump becoming president seriously, but you shouldn’t treat him as a serious person.”

Hillary Clinton Struggles to Find Footing in Unusual Race, Amy Chozick, Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin, New York Times, today

Oh.  Brother.  The Clinton campaign characterized Trump’s statement that he wants to partially default on the national debt as “risky.” In other words, they said that, yeah, this would be a big risk, but there’s also the possibility that it could work!

Actually, when I read that sentence this morning in the Times I did remember reading an article about that response by the Clinton campaign shortly after it was made.  I remember thinking, “Risky?  Seriously?  Risky?  Not absurd?  Not a guarantee of global economic collapse and immediate major increase in the Treasury debt needed to pay off current debt that Trump was agreeing to pay off immediately in this refinance scheme?  No, merely risky?”

I also remember reading the Sperling response, which was concise, very good and easily understandable, I thought.  But, why the borderline-comical characterization of this proposal as risky?  Why not say it would be certain to cause global economic collapse and, by its own terms as a refinancing scheme, would require the borrowing of the money to pay the debt at far higher interest rates than the current full-faith-and-credit debt is borrowed at?

And, why wasn’t the candidate herself on television, immediately, saying these things?

What Trump actually said was that he was going to renegotiate with creditors.  It took me—me, a complete novice in anything resembling high finance—only a few hours after Trump’s comments hit he internet for me to post what I thought (okay, probably incorrectly, but it did make the point) was a hilarious parody of Trump sitting across the negotiating table from all the owners, worldwide, of Treasury securities, their lawyers and financial advisors in tow, negotiating reduced interest rates on these securities.

Okay, I posted this on an economics blog.  But the points on all of this could be made—and were made, by Sperling and many others—clearly, understandably, and easily.

The Times article quotes Clinton campaign official Jennifer Palmieri as telling one of the reporters on this article “Each tactic we use is designed for a particular purpose to either engage the press or reach a certain audience.”  The article summarized Palmieri’s explanation, paraphrasing her as saying that “[a]ny aggressive approach by Mrs. Clinton is potentially dangerous, however, because recent polls show she is viewed negatively by a majority of the electorate.”

What Palmieri apparently didn’t explain (at least it’s not reported) is why a response to Trump’s outlandish proposal as merely risky was expected possibly to engage the press, presumably because it was not.  It was instead, I guess, intended to reach a certain audience: the audience that political consultants for both parties long have been telling their clients respond negatively to candidates who seem “risky” or to policy proposals that seem (and may well be) risky.  “Risky” is one of the buzzwords that focus groups show should be used as often as possible to characterize the opponent or a policy proposal of the opponent.

And since the Clinton campaign limits its responses and campaign rhetoric to focus-grouped buzzwords and clichés, and “risky” seemed the most apropos of the words and phrases on the be-sure-to-use list, “risky” it was.

Good grace. Any aggressive approach by Mrs. Clinton is potentially dangerous, because recent polls show she is viewed negatively by a majority of the electorate?  Any aggressive approach by Mrs. Clinton is potentially dangerous, because recent polls show she is viewed negatively by a majority of the electorate?  Explaining to the public how ludicrous Trump’s partial-default proposal is, and how stupefyingly ignorant he is of even basic public-finance and economics mechanisms, is potentially dangerous, because recent polls show she is viewed negatively by a majority of the electorate?

Educating the public about Trump’s actual fiscal-policy proposals and matching them with Romney’s and Paul Ryan’s would be potentially dangerous, because recent polls show she is viewed negatively by a majority of the electorate?

If so, then Clinton should throw in the towel.  She and Sanders could ask their delegates to come together to nominate Warren, or something.  ‘Cuz this ain’t working, folks.

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Another day, another indication that the Clinton campaign remains dangerously clueless about what will matter most in the general election. Ho-hum.

Clinton’s aides say they have settled on the big story they want to tell about Trump: He is a business fraud who has cheated working people for his own gain, and his ideas, temperament and moves to marginalize people by race, gender and creed make him simply unacceptable as commander in chief.

Clinton thinks she knows how to take on Trump. Will it work?, Philip Rucker, Washington Post, today

I’m assuming that Clinton’s aides have considered also pointing out that, on policy proposal after policy proposal after policy proposal, Trump has now adopted an extreme version of the Paul Ryan supply-side fiscal-policy as stated in the Ryan budget plans, including the current one that passed the House.  I’m assuming they’ve considered illustrating that Trump, rather than having coopted the Republican Party and its elite-dictated establishment policies, has been cooped by the elite, the establishment as their puppet.

Romney promised to reduce upper-income taxes only by 20% initially, with a promise to cut further later and then cut some more after that.  (See, e.g., Romney’s speech to the Detroit Economic Club shortly before the 2012 Michigan primary.)  Trump ups Romney’s ante.

But, I assume, since the above quote implies it, that Clinton’s aides have rejected mentioning any of this.  And—just an educated guess here—that that is because they will be saying instead that Trump’s ideas, temperament and moves to marginalize people by race, gender and creed make him simply unacceptable as commander in chief.

This should suffice, because, I mean, don’t identity politics always suffice?  And because these messages are mutually exclusive.  You can’t argue identity politics and fiscal policy; you have to choose one or the other—and the power of identity politics trumps elite-establishment-dictated fiscal policy whose very purpose is to dramatically increase wealth and income inequality and of course consequently political power that will be used to further increase wealth and income inequality.

Always.  Even when the driving themes of the election cycle are anti-elitism, anti-establishment, anti-wealth inequality and anti-donor-and lobbyist-dictated government policy.

Which I guess explains why the very first thing Clinton did after winning all those northeastern primaries earlier this month and virtually ensuring her the nomination—literally, the very first thing she did, beginning the very next day—was to phone some of Jeb Bush’s donors and ask them for donations.

Just sayin’.

Clinton continues to run a really awful campaign.  And I’m betting that that’s not entirely her top campaign staff’s fault.  They do play a role in this, obviously; not the sole role, though.

Not the sole role, though.

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Trump Falls to His Knees PLEEEADING for Republican ESTABLISHMENT Donors to Fund His Campaign—Offering Them the Ultimate Gift: Supreme Court Proxies. Toldya.

Tomorrow, behind closed doors with Paul Ryan & Friends, he will swear fealty to Mitt Romney’s platform.  And not just the part written literally, it turns out, by the Heritage Foundation and CNBC!  Also the part written by the Federalist Society. Including on Supreme Court and lower-court appointments.  Suffice it to say that his promise to hand Supreme Court and lower federal court appointments back to the Federalist Society would bode well for the Koch legal agenda.  And for the continued life of Citizens United.

For unions and people who aren’t so fond of Wall Street, though, not so much.

The Most Successful Trojan Horse Since the Trojan War, Me, May 11

Soooo sorry about this, Rust Belt blue-collar folks.  I know these names don’t mean anything to you.  But, oh, by November, they will.  Won’t they, Secretary Clinton?  Won’t they?

Won’t they?

Promise me they will.  Promise.  Promise!  And promise me you’ll actually discuss, oh, say, the Fab Five’s Federal Arbitration Act opinions.  And their National Labor Relations Act opinions. And their opinions setting out who actually has access to court.  Such as how long beyond the moment when someone files a lawsuit he or she can manage to have the case stay in court?  And who is ordered to pay who’s legal fees?  And who has immunity from lawsuits? Obscure things of that sort.

Y’know; the things that these donors actually get for all that money they donate?  The things that they’re so damn sure no attempt will be made to explain to the public, because, well, these things are just toooo complicated for ordinary folk to comprehend?  The things that rarely have anything to do with the culture wars issues that most people think are all that the Supreme Court decides but that most billionaire donors don’t actually give a damn about?

And that what’s at least as important as Supreme Court appointments to the folks to whom this candidate is ostentatiously offering himself as their policy-and-appointments puppet is the makeup of the lower federal court bench?

Pleease, Secretary Clinton?  Pretty, pretty, pretty please?

****

Okay, on a serious note (the above is a serious note, too; it just doesn’t sound like one): This—this—is exactly the kind of thing that Bill Clinton could explain easily to people with no background in this stuff.  Most people couldn’t.  But he could.

And here’s another serious note: This candidate is an absolute monkey.  People just feed him policy stuff and he parrots it.  He asked someone to get him the names of rightwing appellate judges, and that someone obliged.  The candidate himself couldn’t tell you a thing of substance about any of them, or for that matter a thing of substance on legal issues at all.

Apparently, he’s decided to hand not only his fiscal-policy proposals but also his judicial nominations to the, um, Heritage Foundation.  Literally.  The Heritage Foundation.  So this should be a good time for Clinton to apprise the public of who, exactly, comprises this organization’s board of directors.  And who funds it.  Not too many labor union folks there.

President Chauncey Gardiner: ‘Being There’ at the Bait-and-Switch.  I’m batting 1,000 on this stuff.  The Democrats SHOULD LISTEN TO ME.  They should read AB.  This is a brilliant, prescient blog!

OMG.  I’m sounding like Donald Trump.  This election is getting to me.

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CLARIFICATION (which apparently is needed): Reader J.Goodwin and I exchanged the following comments in the Comments thread:

J. Goodwin/May 19, 2016 8:34 am

I’m sure that she is already familiar with the names on this list.

Me/ May 19, 2016 3:58 pm

I wasn’t saying that Clinton isn’t familiar with the names. I was saying that the general public, the voters, aren’t–and that Clinton should fill them in. And that she also should inform the voters about the Heritage Foundation–what it is, and that Trump is delegating major policy proposals and prospective appointees like Supreme Court justices to this organization.

She absolutely needs to inform the voters of key things that the Republican donors know that Trump is promising them with. That was my point. My intended one, anyway.

It’s a critically important point, I think, so I wanted to clarify it. My cryptic reference to “the Fab Five”, also to be clear, meant the four winger Supreme Court justices who remain on the court and their recently-late comrade in arms.

Added 5/19 at 4:31 p.m.

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Oil and Gas Pipeline Construction vs. Massive Public Infrastructure Construction: Why do the Building Trades unions want the FORMER rather than the LATTER? I have no idea. [TITLE CORRECTED, 5/18 at 10:46 a.m.]

The AFL-CIO’s plans for a super PAC to take down Donald Trump ran into a big snag Monday, when one of the labor federation’s major affiliates objected to the involvement of billionaire climate activist Tom Steyer.

Sean McGarvey, president of the AFL-CIO-affiliated North America’s Building Trades Unions, co-signed a letter with seven other union presidents urging federation President Richard Trumka to cut ties with Steyer, a hedge fund manager who had spent money to aid environmental groups’ successful crusade to kill the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Building Trades had been a big supporter of the pipeline, in contrast with unions that sided with green groups’ opposition to the project.

The labor groups sent the letter less than a week after POLITICO revealed the impending launch of a new super PAC led by the AFL-CIO, Steyer’s NextGen Climate and three labor unions.

“We respectfully request that the AFL-CIO cut ties with Mr. Steyer and his political operation,” the letter said, “as we do not want any of our members’ financial support for the federation to be used against them and their economic well being in pursuit of this endeavor.”

The Obama administration’s rejection of the Keystone project riled the Building Trades when the president announced it last year. Laborers’ International Union of North America President Terry O’Sullivan, also a signatory of Monday’s letter, accused President Barack Obama at the time of “kowtowing to green-collar elitists.”

A major AFL-CIO affiliate called on the labor federation to end a new relationship with environmentalist billionaire Tom Steyer. Brian Mahoney and Anna Palmer, Politico, yesterday

This strikes me as a really easy rift to repair.  The Democrats—both presidential candidates and (I believe) most of their Senate and House candidates—strongly support massive public infrastructure projects, ranging from public transportation and bridge reconstruction projects to rehabbing or reconstructing inner-city public schools, to water system reconstruction projects in order to avoid further Flint, MI-type problems.

I’m certainly no expert on such matters, but it seems inconceivable to me that these major nationwide public infrastructure projects wouldn’t create far, far more building-trades jobs than oil and gas pipeline construction would, and do so in many more regions of the country.

So, what is it that I’m missing here?  Why isn’t this the quick, clear response by the AFL-CIO to this concern, to this demand by these Building Trades union presidents?  And to the anger of many of their rank-and-file members?  I don’t get it.

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My response to Run’s and Barkley Rosser’s analogies to the 1980 election

Run’s post here discusses and elaborates on a comment by Barkley Rosser in the Comments thread to this post of mine.  I posted the following reply to Barkley’s comment, and reposted that comment as a comment to Run’s post:

Barkley, I certainly share your fear that Trump actually could pull this off, but I don’t think your analogy to Carter-Reagan works.  Key here is the generational change.  Reagan had been a two-term governor of California, and although even back in 1980 I had only a pretty general idea of what he’d done as governor, I read a detailed article recently discussing his actions during the Free Speech Movement (that’s what it was called, right?) at Berkeley.  It was pretty aggressive, rough stuff.

I don’t think I realized back in 1980—or at least I don’t remember doing so—that apparently a part of Reagan’s appeal to blue-collar whites and I guess to some WWII and Korean War generation, and Silent Generation voters was an anti-counterculture persona, which still mattered, a lot, in 1980.

After all, the Vietnam War had ended only six years earlier.  And the Cold War was still very much raging.

What I remember about the 1980 election was a dog-whistle racist appeal to blue-collar whites, coupled with inflation that seemingly could not be brought under control and for what unions (along with the oil cartel) was given substantial blame.  The unions would incorporate anticipated high inflation into their three-year wage contracts, providing part of the inflation spiral—so Reagan’s anti-union schtik didn’t have the normal effect on union members.

But more than anything else, there was the Iran hostage situation—which, it later was reported, continued past the election because Reagan somehow quietly was able to communicate with Iran’s powers-that-be that they should hold out until after the election and that Reagan, as president, would negotiate better terms with them.  (Like Nixon’s secret plan to end the war!!)

The reason that the “There you go again” line was so effective was that a key thing that Carter had going for him was something similar to a key thing that Johnson had going for him against Goldwater: a real fear that he could start a nuclear confrontation or actual war.   So “There you go again” was a promise that he was not Goldwater on the issue of confrontation with the Soviet Union, and would instead use other means against it.  It was, in other words, a promise that Reagan would avoid nuclear war, not precipitate it.  And although Reagan, like Trump, was a pathological liar, he was not so obvious a one.

Nor did Reagan gyrate wildly between opposite policy positions, nor come off as clueless about policy and the workings of government, nor seem care about policy.  To the contrary, Reagan was all about ideology and therefore policy proposals.

So while it’s not inconceivable that Trump could beat Hillary Clinton, I guess the bottom line on that is:  I knew Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan was no friend of mine.  And, Donald Trump, you’re no Ronald Reagan.  Nor is today’s electorate the 1980 electorate.

As for the possibility of a Clinton indictment, I think it’s virtually nil.  But if something major happens before the Convention, then as long as Sanders manages to keep Clinton from clinching with pledged delegates, I think that there would be a consensus draft of Warren or (possibly but less likely, in my opinion) Biden, now that the story was published that he would ask Warren to be his running mate.

One thing that I think matters in whether Trump can get a sizable vote among blue-collar workers in Rust Belt states—I don’t know how his vote total compares with Clinton’s in those states, but remember: Kasich beat Trump in Ohio—is that Build the Wall doesn’t have even nearly the same appeal to Rust Belt blue-collar workers as it does to Southern and Southwestern older and middle-aged white voters.

Another is the critical allegiance of blue-collar Rust Belt voters to the idea of unionization.  Suffice it to say that few blue collar workers in the Rust Belt these days fear an inflationary spiral caused by generous union-negotiated contracts, as, I noted above, was the case in 1980.

Nor do most blue-collar Rust Belters worry that a raise in the federal minimum wage would cause them to lose their Walmart or fast-food jobs because of competition from Chinese or Indian or Vietnamese workers.  Most Walmart and fast-food customers in the Rust Belt don’t commute to Asia to shop or dine.  Not often, anyway.

And as for Michiganders, I can attest that fear of Muslims living in their midst is no widespread.  Southeast Michigan has the largest population of Middle Eastern immigrants and descendants in this country, and make up a large percentage of small-business owners in the area.  Only once did I hear a derogatory comment about—as this man put it to me—“AY-rabs”, from a Michigander.  Only once.

Clinton makes a mistake if she opts to focus mainly on Trump’s misogyny, racism, xenophobia, meanness, vulgarity, physically aggressive language.  Everyone already knows these things.  She needs to focus, in addition to her own policy proposals, on two things about Trump: that he is openly demonstrating that he will be a tool of the Club for Growth and Ayn Ryan, and that this is especially so because he has no ability to understand actual policy; that because he is a pathological liar, and prides himself on it, they cannot ever actually rely on any promise he makes, any more than they could rely on a promise by a typical four-year-old.

I don’t think there can be any real doubt that Trump suffers from severe, untreated mental illness—severe bipolar disease or non-hallucinatory schizophrenia, is my guess, but I’m certainly no expert in the field.  But I think Clinton should expect that that is something that most voters will see for themselves by November; they will not need her to tell them this.

Not that Clinton normally refrains from telling people the obvious or the already-widely known, a point I made in a recent post here, but ….

She needs to educate the public about what the Ayn Ryan policy agenda is.  I mean, the actual specifics of it.  Not in her usual singsong soundbite cliché manner, which is likely to be as effective in informing the public as her rotating string of vapid campaign slogans (“Breaking down barriers!” is the current one, I think, although that might be out-of-date) has been in generating excitement.

No, actual specifics, enunciated in normal conversational sentences.  Nothing cutesy, no sleights of hand, no non sequiturs, no seminar-speak like “the energy sector,” a phrase she used when campaigning in West Virginia because she confused her audience (many of them former energy-sector workers) with members of the finance sector.  Just the facts, Ma’am.  And just in normal-speak.

She needs, in other words, to give herself–and us–some breathing room.

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President Chauncey Gardiner: ‘Being There’ at the Bait-and-Switch [Updated]

But one of Trump’s campaign advisers suggested Wednesday that Trump might indeed change Social Security and Medicare — but only after he has been in office for a while. “After the administration has been in place, then we will start to take a look at all of the programs, including entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare,” Sam Clovis said during a public forum, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

Has Donald Trump stolen Paul Ryan’s party out from under him?, David Fahrenthold, Washington Post, today

As the above quote illustrates, Donald Trump hasn’t stolen Paul Ryan’s party out from under him.  Fahrenthold didn’t write the headline; he just wrote the article, and the headline writer missed its point, reversing the puppet and the puppeteer.

Unlike Chance, Trump knows he’s being coopted by the Republican establishment and that he is perpetrating a coup-like bait-and-switch on a sizable swath of his primary voters.  The most dangerous thing about Trump isn’t even the breadth of his ignorance but instead the casualness with which he has decided to simply front the Club for Growth agenda.

But he does have this in common with President Chauncey Gardiner: the sheer depth of his dumbness.  And therefore the completeness of his manipulability.  He’s switched entertainment genres, from reality TV to puppet theater.

____

UPDATE: Last weekend after reading an article or two about Trump’s statement to Chuck Todd on Meet the Press that he would like to see the minimum wage increased but wanted it left up to the states, I recognized that Trump was parroting the leave-the-minimum-wage-up-to-the-states standard Republican line, which one of his campaign officials had fed him.  I assumed that he knew this was the standard Conservative Movement invocation of “federalism”—a.k.a., states’ rights!—in the service of the Chamber of Commerce/Club for Growth anti-regulatory agenda.  These folks, after all, don’t put Republican state legislators and governors into their elected positions for the fun of it.

But I was wrong.  The articles I read didn’t quote enough of Trump’s answer.

I just finished reading a post by Paul Waldman on the Washington Post’s Plum Line titled “Trump is waging an assault on the entire structure of our democracy. Now what?”, in which Waldman uses as an illustration Trump’s statements about the minimum wage last fall and his several statements about it within the last four days.   Waldman writes:

Speaking [to reporters after his meeting with Trump today, Paul] Ryan said, “It was important that we discussed our differences that we have, but it was also important that we discuss the core principles that tie us together,” and that “Going forward we’re going to go a little deeper in the policy weeds to make sure we have a better understanding of one another.”

This is a fool’s errand, not just for Ryan but for us in the media as well. And it poses a profound challenge to democracy itself.

Just in the last couple of days, something has changed. Perhaps it should have been evident to us before, but for whatever reason it was only partially clear. The pieces were there, but they didn’t fit together to show us how comprehensive Trump’s assault on the fundamentals of American politics truly is….

The foundation of democratic debate is policy, issues, the choices we make about what we as a nation should do. That’s what the government we create does on our behalf: it confronts problems, decides between alternatives, and pursues them. That’s also the foundation of how we in the press report on politics. Yes, we spend a lot of time talking about the personalities involved, but underneath that are competing ideas about what should be done. Should we raise taxes or lower them? Spend more or spend less? Make abortions easier or harder to get? Give more people health coverage or fewer? How do we combat ISIS? How should we address climate change? How can we improve the economy? How can we reduce crime? What sort of transportation system do we want? Which areas should government involve itself in, and which should it stay out of?

We all presume that these questions (and a thousand more) are important, and that the people who run for office should take them seriously. We assume they’ll tell us where they stand, we’ll decide what we think of what they’ve said, and eventually we’ll be able to make an informed choice about who should be the leader of our country.

Donald Trump has taken these presumptions and torn them to pieces, then spat on them and laughed. And so far we seem to have no idea what to do about it.

Let me briefly give an illustration. On the question of the minimum wage, Trump has previously said he would not raise it. Then Sunday he said he did want to raise it. Then in a separate interview on the very same day he said there should be no federal minimum wage at all, that instead we should “Let the states decide.” Then yesterday he said he does want to increase the federal minimum wage.

I clicked on one of the links, which was to the transcript of the Meet the Press interview.  Here’s the full exchange between Todd and Trump on the minimum wage:

CHUCK TODD:

Minimum wage. Minimum wage. At a debate, you know. You remember what you said. You thought you didn’t want to touch it. Now you’re open to it. What changed?

DONALD TRUMP:

Let me just tell you, I’ve been traveling the country for many months. Since June 16th. I’m all over. Today I’m in the state of Washington, where the arena right behind me, you probably hear, is packed with thousands and thousands of people. I’m doing that right after I finish you.

I have seen what’s going on. And I don’t know how people make it on $7.25 an hour. Now, with that being said, I would like to see an increase of some magnitude. But I’d rather leave it to the states. Let the states decide. Because don’t forget, the states have to compete with each other. So you may have a governor —

CHUCK TODD:

Right. You want the fed– but should the federal government set a floor, and then you let the states–

DONALD TRUMP:

No, I’d rather have the states go out and do what they have to do. And the states compete with each other, not only other countries, but they compete with each other, Chuck. So I like the idea of let the states decide. But I think people should get more. I think they’re out there. They’re working. It is a very low number. You know, with what’s happened to the economy, with what’s happened to the cost. I mean, it’s just– I don’t know how you live on $7.25 an hour. But I would say let the states decide.

Trump wants to leave minimum-wage legislation entirely up to the states so that the states could compete with each other on how low the wages of their fast-food workers, Walmart employees, hospitality industry workers and home-healthcare aides can go, folks.  This would be his aim as president.  Because he thinks these workers should get more because they can’t live on $7.25 an hour.  And because less is more.  And more is less.  More or less.

What’s happening here is that Trump hears terms, phrases, lines, clichés that people who talk about policy use, and since he doesn’t understand anything, he just says a memorized policy bottom line—the minimum wage should be left to the states, for example—fed to him from the Republican policy playbook.  And then, when asked to elaborate, he starts spewing terms, phrases, lines, clichés that he’s heard people who talk about policy use.  And—voila!—we have … non sequiturs.

Popcorn, anyone?

Update added 5/12 at 6:58 p.m.

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