Day: 2016.10.04

Your Quote of the Day: Murphy on Trumptastic Genius

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump answers a question at a news conference before a campaign rally in Hampton, New Hampshire, 14 August 2015. (Detail of photo by Reuters/Brian Snyder)“Trump is a genius at stepping on his own messaging, and I don’t think there’s a force on Earth, at least without heavy weaponry, that can ever separate Trump from his ability to tweet. I think everybody in that campaign is trying to pry the smartphone away from him, and it’ll never happen.”

―Mike Murphy, 4 October 2016

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Image note: Detail of photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters.

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A Note re: Kaine vs. Pence

22 FEBRUARY 2015: Indiana Gov. Mike Pence appears on 'FOX News Sunday with Chris Wallace'. Guest host John Roberts interviewed Mr. Pence regarding various issues, including his status as a 2016 'dark horse' for the GOP presidential nomination, and the Hoosier State's 'religious freedom' bill empowering discrimination, which Pence signed into law in late March. (Image credit: FOX News)

This is important:

In one important area, Pence has the advantage of being perceived as a mainstream pol. Politico published a piece yesterday that characterized tonight’s vice presidential debate as “Battle of the Normals,” and a “sane moment” in a campaign cycle that’s often seemed insane.

On a certain level, I can appreciate where analysis like this is coming from. As a matter of tone and temperament, Mike Pence is hardly scary: the governor is a mild-mannered, soft-spoken Midwesterner. Unlike the man at the top of the GOP ticket, no one would ever expect Pence to start tweeting at 3 a.m. about his disgust for a beauty-pageant contestant and encourage Americans to seek out a “sex tape.”

But to shift one’s focus from tone to policy is to see one of the most extremist politicians to seek national office in over a generation.

Steve Benen is not wrong. This has been a factor worth considering in recent years, and even more so this cycle. What counts as centrist or mainstream is, in American politics, a roving range. The msnbc blogger and producer continues:

About four years ago, Nate Silver published an interesting analysis of Paul Ryan, who’d just been named to Mitt Romney’s ticket. Nate wrote at the time, “Various statistical measures of Mr. Ryan peg him as being quite conservative. Based on his Congressional voting record, for instance, the statistical system DW-Nominate evaluates him as being roughly as conservative as Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota. By this measure, in fact, which rates members of the House and Senate throughout different time periods on a common ideology scale, Mr. Ryan is the most conservative Republican member of Congress to be picked for the vice-presidential slot since at least 1900.”

Nate added a chart, highlighting the fact that Ryan’s record put him slightly to the right of Dick Cheney, who was slightly to the right of Dan Quayle.

There are curious circumstances, now and again, in which the GOP hardliners leave me standing shoulder to shoulder with Republicans I generally wouldn’t get along with. George W. Bush on China, and suddenly I’m commiserating with Pat Buchanan? What was it, Jade Helm? How do Rick Perry and I land on the same side? I can tell you, though, that when Lindsey Graham is bagging points off John Kasich being described as a “moderate”, well, at least we have that much in common.

It happens.

We revisit the question for Mike Pence. Benen notes the Indiana governor also has a record in Congress:

In the 107th Congress (Pence’s first, covering 2001 and 2002), for example, out of 435 members of the U.S. House, Pence ranked #428―meaning that 427 members were to his left, putting the Hoosier on the far-right-wing fringe. The results were roughly the same in the 108th Congress and the 109th.

By the 110th Congress, Pence was at #432, putting him to the right of nearly everyone in the chamber. The results were roughly the same in the 111th Congress and the 112th.

Let’s put this another way: during his congressional career, Pence wasn’t just more conservative than Paul Ryan. His voting record also put him to the right of Michele Bachmann, Todd Akin, Steve King, and even Louie Gohmert. That’s not an exaggeration. Bachmann, Akin, King, and Gohmert all had voting records less extreme than Mike Pence.

The problem is the gap between perceptions of Mike Pence and his actual record. To use Politico’s phrasing, the Hoosier is seen as “normal” and “conventional.” But on a substantive level, we’re talking about a politician whose claim to fame is an anti-LGBT law that did real harm to his state. Pence is a climate denier. He rejects the idea that cigarettes are deadly. He doesn’t believe in evolutionary biology, but he does support “conversion therapy.”

There was an embarrassing episode having to do with alleged Iraqi WMDs; something about privatizing Social Security not being conservative enough; something about government shutdowns; oh, right, and some manner of conspiracy theory about Disney film and women in the military.

Unfortunately, that last isn’t a joke.

This is the problem: If Gov. Mike Pence is “normal”, then we might pause to consider how we define normalcy.

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Image note: Indiana Gov. Mike Pence appears on FOX News Sunday with Chris Wallace, 22 February 2015. Guest host John Roberts interviewed Mr. Pence regarding various issues, including his status as a 2016 GOP dark horse and the Hoosier State’s infamous “religious freedom” bill intended to empower discrimination. (Image credit: FOX News)

Benen, Steve. “Mike Pence saw secret propaganda in Disney film”. 18 July 2016.

—————. “Pence becomes the most far-right running mate in modern history”. msnbc. 15 July 2016.

—————. “To see Mike Pence as ‘normal’ is to grade on a generous curve”. msnbc. 4 October 2016.

Kaczynski, Andrew. “Mike Pence Argued In Op-Ed That Disney’s ‘Mulan’ Was Liberal Propaganda”. BuzzFeed. 17 July 2016.

Salter, Lamar. “‘My party has gone bats— crazy’: Lindsey Graham jokes about killing Ted Cruz and bashes the remaining GOP candidates”. Business Insider. 26 February 2016.

Silver, Nate. “A Risky Rationale Behind Romney’s Choice of Ryan”. FiveThirtyEight. 11 August 2012.

The Donald Trump Show (Telltale Taxes)

Donald Trump speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference [CPAC], 6 March 2014, at National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

This is one of those things that has just been bugging me, even though it’s kind of moot. Well, okay, work with me, here. Let us, first, rewind.

It was arguably one of the most important moments of this week’s presidential debate. Hillary Clinton was speculating about why Donald Trump would choose to be the first modern American presidential candidate to refuse to release his tax returns. “Maybe,” she said, “he doesn’t want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes.”

Unprompted, Trump interrupted to say, “That makes me smart.”

A Washington Post reporter, watching the debate with undecided voters in North Carolina, noted there were “gasps” in the room after the exchange. “That’s offensive. I pay taxes,” one said. “Another person would be in jail for that,” another voter added.

Steve Benen’s telling of the tale is not unfamiliar; indeed, his formulation of the moment is not unique, because it reads a little better that way, like a one-two. But it is also inaccurate, as is any telling in which Hillary Clinton sets up Donald Trump by saying, “Maybe he doesn’t want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes.”

Hillary Clinton did say that. And as part of the setup. But this telling gives Donald Trump a bit of wiggle room, which Benen, in turn, aims to debunk:

Perhaps now would be a good time to note that “That makes me smart” and “That would make me smart” are not the same sentences.

Indeed, let’s also not forget that in the same debate, Trump talked about how the government doesn’t have the necessary resources for public needs. “Maybe because you haven’t paid any federal income tax for a lot of years,” Clinton interjected. Trump fired back, “It would be squandered, too.”

As we discussed the other day, the comment was striking because of its apparent acceptance of the underlying premise. By saying his tax money would have been “squandered,” Trump seemed to be conceding that Clinton’s argument was correct: he hasn’t paid taxes.

That analysis responds to Donald Trump’s appearance on FOX News two days after the debate:

O’REILLY: Okay. And those of us in Manhattan know that’s true. Now, they are going to come after you, they being the Clinton campaign, on the statement that you made that you were as smart for paying as few taxes as you could possibly pay. You know it’s going to be in the next debate, it’s going to be on campaign ads. Do you have any defense for that right now?

TRUMP: No. I didn’t say that. What she said is maybe you paid no taxes. I said, well, that would make me very smart.

O’REILLY: Right.

Right there, you see Donald Trump lying and Bill O’Reilly helping him: “I didn’t say that”, Donald Trump explained of saying he was smart to not pay taxes. “What she said is maybe you paid no taxes. I said, well, that would make me very smart.” And this is what Benen picked out, and he is exactly correct insofar as the point goes: “Perhaps now would be a good time to note that ‘That makes me smart’ and ‘That would make me smart’ are not the same sentences.”

O’Reilly teed the point up again:

O’REILLY: All right. I’m Hillary Clinton in the next debate. And I say to you what she said yesterday in North Carolina. Hey, if is he not going to pay any taxes and he thinks that’s smart, what does that make us? We pay taxes. Are we stupid? How are you going to answer that?

TRUMP: Well, first of all―first of all, I never said I didn’t pay taxes. She said maybe you didn’t pay taxes and I said well, that would make me smart because tax is a big payment. But I think a lot of people say that’s the kind of thinking that I want running this nation.

O’REILLY: Okay.

Note they are using the same narrative Benen did. So, here’s the thing about stylistics and narrative: Sometimes tailoring for the punch actually weakens the narrative. And this time, the tailoring hands Donald Trump his talking point.

What Hillary Clinton actually said, and how Donald Trump actually responded:

CLINTON: Third, we don’t know all of his business dealings, but we have been told through investigative reporting that he owes about $650 million to Wall Street and foreign banks. Or maybe he doesn’t want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes, because the only years that anybody’s ever seen were a couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license, and they showed he didn’t pay any federal income tax.

TRUMP: That makes me smart.

(Washington Post)

The thing is that Hillary Clinton really did say, “maybe he doesn’t want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes”. And then she said, “because the only years that anybody’s ever seen were a couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license, and they showed he didn’t pay any federal income tax”. And that is when Donald Trump said, “That makes me smart.”

Telling the story the way Steve Benen and Donald Trump alike tell it overlooks a specific point: Certes, there is a difference ‘twixt, “That makes me smart” and, “That would make me smart”. But what did Donald Trump actually respond to?

CLINTON: … the only years that anybody’s ever seen were a couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license, and they showed he didn’t pay any federal income tax.

TRUMP: That makes me smart.

In this telling, Donald Trump doesn’t get to rely on “maybe”. He acknowledged Secretary Clinton’s argument. Despite his protestations and Mr. O’Reilly’s agreement, Donald Trump really did say paying no federal income tax makes him smart.

And while the latest absurd chapter illuminated by the New York Times pretty much renders last week’s maybe moot it still seems worth pointing out.

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Image note: Donald Trump speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference [CPAC], 6 March 2014, at National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Barstow, David, et al. “Donald Trump Tax Records Show He Could Have Avoided Taxes for Nearly Two Decades, The Times Found”. The New York Times. 1 October 2016.

Benen, Steve. “Has Donald Trump paid federal taxes or not?”. msnbc. 29 September 2016.

Blake, Aaron. “The first Trump-Clinton presidential debate transcript, annotated”. The Washington Post. 26 September 2016.

O’Reilly, Bill. “Interview with Donald Trump”. The O’Reilly Factor. Transcript. FOX News. 28 September 2016.