It seems transparently obvious that Romney believes Trump won’t survive the Mueller investigation and that he’ll be in the best position to pick up the pieces. Add to that the fact that Utah Republicans can’t stand Trump, and this is a no-risk move by the Mittster — which is to say the only kind of move he ever makes.
There is nothing reporters and pundits love more than a mind-boggling gaffe. Rudy Giuliani achieved what you might call Gaffe Apotheosis on Sunday when he lectured Chuck Todd that “truth isn’t truth.”So let’s savor it, make memes out of it (Todd told us we should!), and throw it in the faces of President Trump’s allies whenever they repeat the falsehoods that spew forth from this administration. But let’s not pretend we don’t understand the perfectly reasonable point that Giuliani was trying to make.
As is the case with many political gaffes, the full effect of Giuliani’s howler depends on taking it out of context. The former New York mayor, now a member of Trump’s legal team, was asked by “Meet the Press” host Todd why the president won’t simply sit down and answer questions from special counsel Robert Mueller.
“I am not going to be rushed into having him testify so that he gets trapped into perjury,” Giuliani responded. “And when you tell me that, you know, he should testify because he’s going to tell the truth and he shouldn’t worry, well that’s so silly because it’s somebody’s version of the truth. Not the truth.”
Todd: “Truth is truth.”
Giuliani: “No, it isn’t. Truth isn’t truth.”
Giuliani knew instantly that he had stepped in a big, steaming pile, and he tried ineffectively to push back. The damage was done. But think about what Giuliani was saying: If Trump answers questions under oath, he’ll say things that contradict what others have said under oath. And that could set up Trump for a perjury charge. Giuliani expanded on that point a short time later, arguing that if Mueller had to choose between Trump’s sworn statements and those of former FBI director James Comey, Mueller would choose Comey, whom Giuliani identified — or, should I say, derided — as “one of his best friends.”
Now, set aside our knowledge that Trump has spoken falsely more than 4,000 times since he became president, and that Giuliani has a credibility problem of his own. Giuliani was actually making sense in saying that Mueller would have to choose between competing versions of the truth, and that he might be disinclined to believe Trump. But the inartful (OK, idiotic) way he expressed himself is all we’ll remember. This is mostly Giuliani’s fault, but it’s partly the media’s as well. Because this is what we love.
Want some more examples? Before Sunday, perhaps the most memorable gaffe by a Trump official was uttered by Kellyanne Conway, who used the phrase “alternative facts” in an interview with the very same Chuck Todd. Appearing on Jan. 22, 2017, Conway sought to explain White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s obviously false claim that Trump’s Inauguration Day crowd was the largest in history. Conway didn’t push back as hard as Giuliani did when challenged by Todd. But, later in the interview, she said Spicer was simply relying on different sources of information.
“I don’t think you can prove those numbers one way or the other,” she said. “There’s no way to really quantify crowds. We all know that. You can laugh at me all you want.” Yes, I understand that the small size of Trump’s crowd is factually beyond dispute. But Conway’s spin was reasonable, if wrong. She was not invoking Orwell.
On a more serious level, Hillary Clinton has been castigated for years over a disingenuous reading of her Benghazi testimony before a Senate hearing in 2013. “Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night and decided they’d go kill some Americans?” Clinton said. “What difference — at this point, what difference does it make?” How callous! But as PolitiFact observed in analyzing Clinton’s testimony, she continued:
It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator. Now, honestly, I will do my best to answer your questions about this, but the fact is that people were trying in real time to get to the best information…. But you know, to be clear, it is, from my perspective, less important today looking backwards as to why these militants decided they did it than to find them and bring them to justice, and then maybe we’ll figure out what was going on in the meantime.
The journalist Michael Kinsley once memorably defined a gaffe as an inadvertent statement of the truth. Sometimes, though, it’s a deliberate statement that you think won’t become public. That was the case in 2008, when Barack Obama told a group of his supporters what he thought of Clinton-leaning voters in poorer industrial cities: “They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
Four years later, Mitt Romney said at a fundraiser that 47 percent of the electorate would vote for Obama because they “are dependent upon government,” “believe that they are victims,” and “pay no income tax.” Both Obama and Romney spoke as they did because there were no reporters present, but their damaging remarks became public anyway.
For politicians and public figures, the solution to the gaffe challenge is obvious: Don’t step on your message with language that will seem clumsy, dumb, or insensitive if it’s taken out of context, as happened with Giuliani, Conway, and Clinton. And don’t speak your mind on the assumption that the media aren’t listening, as was the case with Obama and Romney. These things have a way of becoming public knowledge.
But there are lessons for the media, too. No one imagines that they should stop reporting gaffes, especially when they play out on live television. But even as Giuliani was making a mess of his interview, he was also saying something newsworthy: that Trump shouldn’t speak to Mueller for fear that he’ll be charged with perjury even if he speaks truthfully. You can agree, you can disagree, or you can denounce Giuliani’s statement as an outrageous attack on the rule of law. What the media shouldn’t do is overlook it in favor of cheap — if well-deserved — mockery.
Politico last Monday revealed the existence of a longshot effort to deny Donald Trump the presidency: a plan for members of the Electoral College to coalesce around Ohio Gov. John Kasich as an alternative. The idea would be to persuade Democratic electors to switch to Kasich, and then hope a decent-size share of Republican electors could be persuaded to abandon Trump.
With the Washington Post reporting that the CIA has concluded what has long been evident—that the Russians intervened in the election on Trump’s behalf—the moment for such an audacious gamble may have arrived. Kasich, who is deeply conservative, especially on social issues, may not be the best choice. Jeb Bush or Mitt Romney might be better. But anyone who resembles a normal politician would be preferable in what is turning into a real moment of national crisis.
The need is so obvious that it feels wrong to say this is almost certainly not going to happen. But that is the truth. If there is any chance of this taking place, here’s what has to happen:
One universally respected Republican has to declare his willingness to serve if the Electoral College chooses him. Even though Clinton won the popular vote by quite a bit, it really does have to be a Republican, since the Republicans won the Electoral College and control a majority of the votes.
Clinton has to come out publicly, endorse the plan, and urge all of her electors to support the compromise alternative. In a perfect world, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer would appear on stage with her. We do not live in a perfect world.
If no candidate wins the minimum 270 votes when the electors meet on December 19, the election will be decided by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Then we’ll see whether the members prefer Trump—or will instead switch to the Kasich/Romney/Bush alternative.
Alex Beam’s column in today’s Boston Globe got me thinking: What would I do if Donald Trump were the Democratic nominee? Alex confesses that he was a late arrival in the #NeverTrump camp. I’m not a Democrat, but I am a liberal. Because of the unique threat I think Trump poses to our democracy, I’ve broken with past practice and said whom I’m voting for this time around: Hillary Clinton. I have great respect for Republicans and conservatives like Mitt Romney and Charlie Baker, who came out against Trump early on. But what would I do if the shoe were on the other foot?
So here’s my little mind game. I can’t think of a Democrat who’s analogous to Trump, so let’s just imagine that Trump himself had won the Democratic nomination; it’s not that far-fetched given his chameleon-like political identity over the years. And since Trump is hardly a traditional conservative, let’s imagine, too, that there’s one significant issue on which he departs from Democratic orthodoxy. For the sake of argument, I’ll stipulate that Trump the Democrat holds the same views on immigration as Trump the Republican.
Now, then. There aren’t really any moderate Republicans left on the national stage, but there are rational, sane Republicans: Romney, Jeb Bush, and John Kasich to name three. So let’s extend this experiment by imagining that Romney had somehow won the nomination. How would I vote?
On the one hand, Trump the Democrat has promised to appoint Supreme Court justices who’d protect same-sex marriage and reproductive rights, to raise the minimum wage, and to reform Obamacare by seeking to add a public option. Romney has promised the opposite, and has vowed to repeal Obamacare, even though it’s based on Romneycare. On the other hand, Trump is Trump, with all the baggage we’ve seen on display throughout this campaign.
I would like to think I’d vote for Romney, but I’m honestly not 100 percent sure. Part of me believes that we could survive four years of Trump the Democrat, and that it would be worth it so as not to unleash the right. Then again, Romney’s a sensible guy, and maybe he could find some sort of middle ground.
The big question going into tonight’s debate is whether moderator Lester Holt should call out blatant lies by the candidates—and especially by Donald Trump, whose relationship with the truth is tenuous, to say the least.
I don’t think it’s realistic for Holt or the moderators who come after him to act as a real-time fact-checking machine. He’ll have enough to do with keeping Trump and Hillary Clinton on track and making sure they’re both getting more or less equal time. But if someone—again, most likely Trump—tells a whopper, then Holt shouldn’t let it go. It’s all in how he does it. I’ll adopt the wisdom of my fellow Beat the Press panelists Callie Crossley and Jon Keller, who have both said that the way to do it is through tough follow-up questioning.
For instance, Candy Crowley took a lot of heat four years ago for essentially calling Mitt Romney a liar when Romney claimed that it took President Obama many days before he was willing to refer to the attack on Benghazi as “terrorism.” Given the pressures of the moment, I have no real problem with what Crowley said. But here’s what she could have said: “Governor Romney, didn’t the president refer to the attack as an ‘act of terror’ the next day?” Yes, that’s a loaded question, but it’s not an assertion, and Romney would have had an opportunity to respond.
In other words, fact-checking can be done with persistent questioning rather than by calling out BS. Even when it’s BS.
Hillary Clinton had seemed like the inevitable Democratic nominee for so long—not just in the current campaign, but eight years ago as well—that she tends not to get the credit she’s due for what is by any measure a remarkable accomplishment.
And it’s not just that she’s the first woman to become the presumptive nominee of a major party, though that is legitimately a big deal. She also staged a comeback unlike any in recent political history. Since her enemies like to compare her to Richard Nixon, she ought to get the benefit of that comparison as well—as she does in a piece by Peter Beinart at the Atlantic, who writes:
In purely political terms, Clinton’s victory—after losing the Democratic nomination in 2008—constitutes the greatest comeback by a presidential candidate since Richard Nixon won the Republican nomination in 1968, after losing the presidential election of 1960.
Clinton’s fall from grace eight years ago was more devastating than we might remember, Beinart argues, noting that major party figures such as Harry Reid, Ted Kennedy, and Chuck Schumer were so appalled at the prospect of a Clinton campaign that they urged Barack Obama (some openly, some privately) to run against her. Civil-rights leader John Lewis even unendorsed her and switched to Obama.
“Over the past 30 years, no American political figure has absorbed as many blows as Clinton,” Beinart writes. “And none has responded with more tenacity and grit.”
That theme is also reflected in Amy Chozick’s “how she won” story in the New York Times: “She may not be the orator President Obama is, or the retail politician her husband was. But Mrs. Clinton’s steely fortitude in this campaign has plainly inspired older women, black voters and many others who see in her perseverance a kind of mirror to their own struggles.”
Meanwhile, in the Washington Post, Karen Tumulty reminds us of Clinton’s shortcomings as a politician: “Not one for mega-rallies, she prefers small, scripted settings where she can discuss the policy intricacies of heroin addiction, mental health treatment, college debt or gun control—all the while keeping her campaign press corps at arm’s length. There have also been times when her tone-deafness could be spectacular.”
Thanks to the Associated Press’s questionable decision to proclaim Clinton the presumptive nominee on Monday evening (see this Facebook post by Bill Mitchell of Poynter), today’s headlines are anticlimactic. The print edition of the Times leads with “Clinton Claims the Democratic Nomination,” which feels like an update of Tuesday’s awkward banner: “Clinton Reaches Historic Mark, A.P. Says.” Today’s Post offers “Clinton celebrates victory,” and it’s less than a full page across. On Monday the Post went six columns with “Clinton reaches magic number for historic nomination.”
As of Wednesday morning, Bernie Sanders is vowing to stay in the race even though Clinton has now won a majority of pledged delegates as well as superdelegates, and has received nearly 3.7 million more votes. Media and political voices are strongly suggesting Sanders’s refusal to concede might change over the next few days as reality sinks in for him and his supporters.
But after reading this piece in Politico by Edward-Isaac Dovere and Gabriel Debenedetti, I’m not so sure. According to their reporting, Sanders is the chief hothead in his own campaign, continually overruling his advisers in favor of more aggression. “More than any of them,” they write, “Sanders is himself filled with resentment, on edge, feeling like he gets no respect—all while holding on in his head to the enticing but remote chance that Clinton may be indicted before the convention.”
So much for party unity. Then again, the self-styled democratic socialist has only been a Democrat for a few months.
Finally, Tuesday may have been Hillary Clinton’s day, but the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump, came close to dominating it, as he does in practically every news cycle.
This time it wasn’t a matter of the cable networks giving him more attention than he deserved. Instead, there was actual news, as Republicans staged a collective freakout over Trump’s racist statements about Judge Gonzalo Curiel, as Matt Viser reports in the Boston Globe; House Speaker Paul Ryan denounced Trump’s comments as “racist” while sticking by his endorsement (“Everywhere Paul Ryan turns, there’s the smell of Trump” is the headline on Dana Milbank’s Washington Post column); and Trump himself issued a nonapology in the afternoon while delivering a rare prepared speech at night in which he viciously attacked Clinton but avoided his usual excesses.
At this point, conservatives are hopelessly divided over how they should respond to the demagogue at the top of the GOP ticket. A Wall Street Journal editorial criticizes conservatives for pressuring Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to abandon Trump, while Jonah Goldberg of National Review, a leading anti-Trump conservative journal, blasts Ryan for not being tough enough: “Because Trump did nothing to earn Ryan’s endorsement, the presumptive nominee may conclude that he needn’t negotiate with the GOP establishment; he can just count on its eventual submission.”
Meanwhile, at the Weekly Standard—whose editor, Bill Kristol, has been unsuccessfully trying to convince a conservative to mount an independent campaign—Jay Cost pens an open letter to Mitt Romney begging the former Massachusetts governor to run. Cost begins:
I write to you not as a fellow conservative, not as a fellow partisan, but as a citizen of our republic. You have served your nation admirably for many years and by any ordinary standard are entitled to a happy retirement. But these are extraordinary times, and your nation still has need of your service. I respectfully implore you to run for president as an independent candidate in 2016.
It’s not likely to happen. Even if a significant number of voters could be persuaded to support an independent, it may be too late for such a candidate to get on the ballot in enough states for it to matter. (I should note that the Libertarian ticket of former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson and former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld is in fact on the ballot in all 50 states.)
Still, Cost’s desperate plea is a sign of the straits in which the Republicans find themselves with Trump at the top of the ticket.
Someone pointed out the other day that the Iowa caucuses were just four months ago, whereas we still have five months to go before the November election. If you’re sick of this campaign, you’re far from alone. Unfortunately, we’ve just gotten started.
Instant update: Well, no. As several friends have pointed out to me, the Twelfth Amendment specifies that the House would have to choose among the top three finishers. Someone who didn’t run would not be eligible.
Now that we know Bill Kristol’s efforts to draft a serious independent candidate come down to some guy named David French, who may not even say yes, it strikes me that the Libertarian ticket of Gary Johnson and Bill Weld is in a position to do very well indeed.
How well? Ross Perot got 19 percent in 1992. I think he could have gotten at least 25 percent if he hadn’t wigged out, quit and then returned to the race. And Johnson is running against major-party candidates who are far less appealing than George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. This isn’t really fair to Hillary Clinton, whose main problem is that she’s been viciously attacked for 25 years, but there you go.
The real issue, of course, isn’t Clinton; it’s that there are plenty of principled conservatives and Republicans (like Tom Nichols) who are never going to vote for a racist demagogue like Donald Trump. How many? We’ll find out. But possibly enough to throw the election into the Republican-controlled House.
Which means that the Romney 2016 campaign isn’t quite dead yet.
In spite of his insistence that he will not run, Mitt Romney is being courted this week by a leading conservative commentator to reconsider and jump into the volatile 2016 presidential race as an independent candidate.
William Kristol, the longtime editor of the Weekly Standard magazine and a leading voice on the right, met privately with the 2012 nominee on Thursday afternoon to discuss the possibility of launching an independent bid, potentially with Romney as its standard-bearer.
I think Romney could win if he got on the ballot in all 50 states. He’s smarter and tougher than Jeb!, and he’s absolutely shameless, which is important. Romney says he won’t run, but that’s only because he hasn’t worked through the math.
And now here comes the New York Times with a front-page story reporting that Republican voters are unimpressed with Mitt’s importunings. The most entertaining part of the story, though, recounts Romney’s belief that it’s working:
In an interview conducted inside the headquarters of Bloomberg News in Manhattan, far from the crucial primary voting states that could decide Mr. Trump’s fate, he observed that Midtown office workers had offered their gratitude as he rode up to the studio.
“Just coming up the escalator,” Mr. Romney said, people said, “‘Thanks for what you did yesterday.’”
I just watched Mitt Romney’s speech in which he lacerated Donald Trump. A few quick thoughts:
1. Romney has many admirable qualities, but he’s the worst possible leader of an anti-Trump movement. He’s the very symbol of what Trump supporters despise.
2. The quick consensus on Twitter seems to be that Romney made a mistake by not apologizing for the endorsement he received from Trump in 2012. It wouldn’t have been a big deal. At that time, Trump wasn’t spouting the hateful nonsense that he is today (or at least not as much of it). So why not just say it?
3. Is Romney a candidate? He says no, but of course he is. He essentially called for a brokered convention. If there’s a Draft Romney movement, do you really think he’d walk away? If there’s anything we’ve learned about Mitt over the past dozen years, it’s that he desperately wants to be president.