Trump’s comments about Russia and Clinton were no joke

Defenders of Donald Trump are trying to claim he was joking when he said at a news conference this morning that he hoped Russia had hacked Hillary Clinton’s email server and that it would expose “the 30,000 emails that are missing.” For instance, here’s Newt Gingrich on Twitter:

Now, there are several pieces of evidence out there that show Trump wasn’t joking at all. But one should be enough. Here’s the Washington Post:

“They probably have them. I’d like to have them released. . . . It gives me no pause. If they have them, they have them,” Trump added later when asked if his comments were inappropriate. “If Russia or China or any other country has those emails, I mean, to be honest with you, I’d love to see them.”

That doesn’t sound like a joke to me.

So now we have a major-party presidential candidate—whose ties to Vladimir Putin are already under scrutiny (here is a good overview from the BBC)—inviting Russian intelligence to interfere in the presidential campaign more than it already has. He refuses to release his tax returns, which anti-Trump conservative George Will has pointed out could contain information about his dealings with Russia. And tonight he denied having met Putin, thus flatly contradicting previous statements. (He’s lying, but I don’t know which statement is the lie.)

House Speaker Paul Ryan should rescind his endorsement. Indiana Governor Mike Pence should resign from the ticket. Of course, neither will happen.

This is where we are at in the summer of 2016.

Mitt Romney, the inevitable and unelectable man

Mitt Romney

It’s only another poll, but today’s news from Public Policy Polling that Rick Santorum has jumped out to a 38 percent to 23 percent lead over Mitt Romney prompts me ponder the fate of our former governor.

From the start, Romney’s candidacy has been defined by two dynamics.

On the one hand, there’s little doubt that he is absolutely unacceptable to right-wing Republicans, which is to say the people who actually comprise a majority of activists in the nominating process.

On the other hand, I can’t remember the last time a serious candidate for national office such as Romney was lucky enough to run against such a weak field of competitors. Santorum and Newt Gingrich are scarcely more credible than Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Rick Perry. Ron Paul is running for his own purposes, which do not include becoming president. (Frankly, I’m not even sure that was Santorum’s or Gingrich’s goal when they first started running. Gingrich, in particular, mainly seemed interested in selling books and boosting his speaking fees.)

It’s because of my “one hand” that I believed until late last fall that Romney would never win the nomination. It’s because of my “other hand” that I gradually came to believe Romney had to win — and that, in fact, the health of our democracy depended on his keeping genuine loathsome characters such as Gingrich and Santorum as far away from the White House as possible.

After Florida, it looked like it was finally over, and that sullen Republicans would do what they were told. After Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota, what will happen next is anyone’s guess. Romney’s craven speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference won’t help him, and his never-ending repositioning on issues has left him with an unappetizing choice between trying to look like he believes in something — anything — or giving in to his urge to tell whatever audience he’s speaking to exactly what he imagines it wants to hear.

If there’s still an authentic Romney underneath all the phony exteriors he’s tried on and discarded, then it is probably someone without a real political orientation — a pragmatic problem-solver, too liberal for Republicans (outside of Massachusetts), too conservative for Democrats, too bloodless and unappealing to be able to turn those qualities into a virtue, the way Ross Perot briefly did a dozen years two decades ago. [Seems like it was just last week!]

I imagine Romney will turn the battleship around and aim the cannons of his Super PAC at Santorum. I’d guess that we’ll be hearing about disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s (as yet unproven) connection to the Republican Frontrunner of the Moment. It may work. And yes, if Romney does somehow manage to stagger to the nomination, he’ll still be a more formidable candidate against President Obama than any other Republican.

But what we’re watching now is a strange and disturbing dynamic, as Romney — someone whose qualifications and experience are impressive, whatever his shortcomings as a candidate — tries to pick his way through the ruins of a once-great political party that has collapsed into a vestigial appendage of the Fox News Channel.

Photo (cc) by Gage Skidmore and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Gingrich loses the media primary

My latest for the Huffington Post:

Is it over?

A better way of putting it: Do the media want it to be over?

The Florida Republican primary ended last night with dual scenes reminiscent of campaigns past. The winner, hoping to consolidate his gains and close out a divisive intraparty battle, devoted most of his attention to his general-election rival. His nearest competitor vowed to fight on until the convention.

But the incompatible desires of Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich do not matter nearly as much today as how the media will now frame the narrative.

Read the whole thing here.

Three quick thoughts about the Republican race

Flag of the Cayman Islands

Three quick observations about the state of the Republican presidential campaign:

• It’s been a very bad week for Mitt Romney. First came his peevish debate performance Monday night. Then came his admission that his tax rate is half that of ordinary Americans, followed by the revelation that he parks a great deal of his wealth in the Cayman Islands.

But one thing the media are unlikely to back down on is their insistence that he’s “two for two” going into Saturday’s South Carolina primary, even though we’ve known since Jan. 6 that Rick Santorum may have beaten him in the Iowa caucuses.

Now the Des Moines Register reports that the best numbers we’re ever going to get show Santorum ahead of Romney by 34 votes. Apparently the votes from eight precincts have been lost, so we’ll never know exactly who won.

Still, the media’s insistence that Romney had “won” Iowa by eight votes was never based on anything more than a provisional count that crumbled within hours. If it was all right to report that Romney won Iowa then, it’s certainly all right to say Santorum won Iowa now.

Does it matter? No. But it was the media that told us relentlessly and breathlessly for many months that it did matter. So surely it matters that Romney apparently came in a narrow second, eh?

• Will Fox News allow Sarah Palin to take part in its post-debate spin tonight now that she has essentially endorsed Newt Gingrich for president? Tune in and see.

• I thought it was crystal-clear that Gingrich was being racially provocative when he got into his food-stamp exchange with Juan Williams on Monday night, and I’m amazed by those who refuse to see it that way. So I was delighted to see this report from the road in today’s New York Times, which ends:

“I want to thank you, Mr. Speaker, for putting Mr. Juan Williams in his place,’’ she said.

The audience burst into sustained applause.

Any questions? And don’t miss Charles Pierce: “What Newt Gingrich is doing down here is running a campaign that is pure George Corley Wallace, straight out of 1968 and 1972.”

Trying to track down an old Gingrich outburst

Newt Gingrich

I had hoped to stir up a little controversy this week over something Newt Gingrich said a long time ago. But unless someone out there in Media Nation has better documentation than I do, I’m afraid I’m going to fall short.

Here’s what I’m talking about. On Friday and Saturday, May 13 and 14, 1994, I was among three reporters from the Boston Phoenix who covered the Republican State Convention in Springfield. (Also on hand were Al Giordano and Bob Keough.) On Saturday, Gingrich, then well on his way to becoming speaker, delivered the keynote address.

I recall sitting in slack-jawed amazement as Gingrich offered some hate-filled words about disease-ridden Haitians invading our shores while Bill Clinton did nothing about it. (The AIDS epidemic seemed to be centered in Haiti in its early days.) Unfortunately, no one wrote it up according to the online archives I searched.

As best as I can tell, neither the Boston Globe nor the Boston Herald bothered to cover Gingrich’s speech. Neither did the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, though it did quote then-congressman Peter Blute, who introduced Gingrich, as saying, “He energized the base of the party to get out there and work hard for the candidates.”

The Springfield Sunday Republican offered up a few soundbites from Gingrich — but nothing on Haiti and AIDS, as the story focused mainly on Gingrich’s praise for then-governor Bill Weld. “What makes Gov. Weld so different is he understands the obligation not to repair it, not to raise taxes to pay for it, not to prop it up, but to replace the welfare state,” the Republican quoted Gingrich as saying.

The Daily Hampshire Gazette of Northampton got a little more incendiary, with this:

Gingrich also attacked congressional Democrats for what he called, “a provision in the crime bill that establishes a racial quota for murderers,” referring to a section seeking to determine if members of one racial group are being convicted for murder more than others.

But alas, still nothing on Haitians.

I thought I must have written something. So last week I visited the Boston Public Library, where I looked up the issue of the Phoenix that was published the Thursday after the convention. And there was not a word about it. Apparently we had made the decision to cover the event for background purposes on the grounds that no one wanted to read what we had to say five days after the fact. Of course, this being 1994, we weren’t blogging the convention. So if it didn’t appear in the paper, well, it didn’t appear.

In an ironic twist — as Gingrich and Mitt Romney battle it out for the Republican presidential nomination — is that one of the stars of the convention was Romney, who was just beginning his campaign against Sen. Ted Kennedy.

It’s possible that I’ve got a notebook in the attic. But finding it would be a huge challenge, and then I’d have to decipher my handwriting from more than 17 years ago. It’s also possible that I did something with it later in the campaign. But I doubt it, and eliminating that possibility would require several hours with microfilm.

So there you have it — a tantalizing tidbit about Gingrich, just out of reach, less than a week before the Iowa caucuses. If anyone remembers this or has a newspaper clipping, I would love to hear from you.

Photo (cc) by Gage Skidmore and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Live-blogging tonight’s debate

If you’re interested — and even if you’re not — I’ll be live-blogging tonight’s Republican presidential debate, which begins at 9 p.m. on the Fox News Channel.

My apologies to those who subscribe to Media Nation by email. You may want to turn it off for the next few hours, as you will receive an email every time I update. The simplest solution is to send a blank email to media_nation-unsubscribe@yahoogroups.com. You can always join again later.

9:08 p.m. A little bit of a minefield for Newt Gingrich coming out of the box. He negotiated it pretty skillfully, although his saying that he teaches generals “the art of war” was laugh-out-loud funny.

9:51. Gingrich is mangling Jefferson and Marbury v. Madison. He says he understands it better than lawyers. Good luck with that.

9:53. I am so sick of listening to Bachmann and Santorum I could scream. At least watching Perry trying to negotiate a simple sentence is entertaining.

9:57. Perry managed to name three Supreme Court justices. Let the bandwagon start rolling again.

9:59. I’m bailing on the live-blog, and will be live-tweeting the second half of the debate here.

Romney didn’t really call Gingrich “zany”

You may have heard that Mitt Romney called Newt Gingrich “zany” in an interview with the New York Times — a rather incendiary charge that’s now burning its way through the political Web. A quick sampling:

  • “A sharper knife came out Wednesday, with Romney expanding his personal attacks on Gingrich. He started with the New York Times, saying of Gingrich,’zany is not what we need in a president.'” (Politico)
  • “Mitt Romney escalated his criticism of Newt Gingrich’s temperament Wednesday, calling the former House speaker ‘zany’ in an interview with The New York Times.” (CNN.com)
  • “His attacks growing ever more personal, Mitt Romney on Wednesday questioned chief rival Newt Gingrich’s temperament, spending habits and allegiance to both the GOP and the middle class while hecklers confronted Gingrich in the lead-off caucus state. During a series of interviews while fundraising in New York, Romney told one media outlet that ‘zany is not what we need in a president’ and another that Gingrich had ‘an extraordinary lack of understanding of how the economy works.'” (Associated Press)

And there’s plenty more where that came from. So would it surprise you to learn that claiming Romney called Gingrich “zany” is barely half-true?

In fact, this is a media-created controversy. The Times put the word in Romney’s mouth, and Romney, as maladroit a candidate as I’ve seen in my lifetime, repeated it. If this little incident backfires on Romney, he surely deserves some of the blame. But, anyway, let’s roll the tape. If you would like to watch, start at about the 3:00 mark. Times reporter Jeff Zeleny is asking Romney about Gingrich:

Zeleny: He has big ideas sometimes, and it seems that he is sort of rapid fire with his thought. Do you think that the American voters are getting enough of a sense of what he might do? Or is there some worry that as president, should he win, that there might be some zany things coming from the Oval Office?

Romney: Well, zany is not what we need in a president. Zany is great in a campaign. It’s great on talk radio, it’s great in the print. It makes for fun reading. But in terms of a president, we need a leader. And a leader needs to be someone who can bring Americans together. A leader needs to be someone of sobriety and stability.

So there you have it. Zeleny, not Romney, called Gingrich “zany,” and Romney went with the flow rather than disagree. If you keep watching, you’ll see Zeleny ask Romney whether he considers Gingrich “unstable,” a reference to Romney’s use of the word “stability.” Romney does not rise to the bait.

Despite what actually happened, the Times story, on which Zeleny takes the lead byline, begins like this:

Mitt Romney, his presidential aspirations suddenly endangered by Newt Gingrich’s rapid resurgence, is employing aggressive new arguments in an effort to disqualify Mr. Gingrich as a credible choice to Republicans, calling him “zany” in an interview on Wednesday and questioning his commitment to free enterprise.

Nor is there any further clarification deeper in the story. And it gets worse, as columnist Gail Collins says of Romney, “Zany really is a pretty unusual word. Why do you think he chose it?” Well, gee, Gail — he didn’t. You only write two columns a week. Would it be too much to ask that you at least watch the edited version of your own paper’s interview?

At this hour, there’s no way of knowing how the “zany” matter is going to play. Will Romney be characterized as looking strong or desperate? I don’t want to make excuses for Romney. He should have sensed danger, he failed to do so and now he may pay a price for it.

But he didn’t really call Gingrich “zany.”

Correction: Spelling of Zeleny’s name now fixed.

Is Romney’s long-overdue moment at hand?

After the events of the past week, and of last night, Herman Cain’s and Rick Perry’s presidential campaigns are in ruins. So is Mr. 22 Percent, Mitt Romney, finally going to make his move in the polls? Or are we now going to be subjected to a week or two of Newtmania?