Robert Costa

A Whiff of the Racket

#extortion | #WhatTheyVotedFor

President Donald Trump, joined by HHS Secretary Tom Price (left) and Vice President Mike Pence (right) explains his intention to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, 24 March 2017, at the White House, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by The Washington Post)

The setup, here, is not particularly complex. We can start with blaming Democrats after the collapse of #Trumpcare, which apparently failed to be #SomethingTerrific. It seems a reliable first instinct for Republicans; that is, as Steve Benen notes:

When Donald Trump’s Muslim ban failed miserably in the courts, the president was quick to assign blame—to everyone but himself. Now that the health care plan Trump wanted has also collapsed, he’s desperate to avoid responsibility, though he seems unsure who to point the finger at first.

Trump’s first instinct, evidently, was to call the Washington Post to blame Democrats.

And if the president seems to be engaging in that weird Republican sense of sport by which one simply says enough wrong that there is no reasonable way to address every problem, well, right, he is. That is to say, here we all are a few weeks later, and Mr. Trump is still upset that Democrats won’t do Republicans’ jobs for them. Again, Benen:

The confused president was nevertheless convinced that Democrats should’ve helped him destroy the most significant Democratic accomplishment since Medicare—because Trump said so. Indeed, despite the White House’s previous claims that Republicans would shift their attention towards tax reform, Trump told the Wall Street Journal yesterday that he not only remains focused on health care, he’s also considering a new hostage strategy to force Democrats to give him what he wants.

In an interview in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump said he was still considering what to do about the payments approved by his Democratic predecessor, President Barack Obama, which some Republicans contend are unconstitutional. Their abrupt disappearance could trigger an insurance meltdown that causes the collapse of the 2010 health law, forcing lawmakers to return to a bruising debate over its future.

“Obamacare is dead next month if it doesn’t get that money,” Trump said, referring to cost-sharing reductions. “I haven’t made my viewpoint clear yet. I don’t want people to get hurt…. What I think should happen and will happen is the Democrats will start calling me and negotiating.”
In other words, when the president says he doesn’t “want people to get hurt,” he means he will start hurting people by sabotaging the American health care system unless Democrats take steps to satisfy his demands.

This is a terrible habit. That is, we all know Donald Trump likes a bit of the tough-guy, wannabe mafioso bluff, but he is President of the United States of Amerca, and should not be seen threatening extortion over legislation, full stop.

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Something About Getting Stoned … Rogered … Trumped … (Never Mind)

#PutiTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Roger J. Stone Jr. in La Quinta, California, in March, 2017. (Photo: Jenna Schoenefeld/The New York Times)

Via the New York Times:

Roger J. Stone Jr., an informal adviser to President Trump, has been asked by the Senate Intelligence Committee to preserve any records he may have in connection to a broader inquiry into Russian attempts to interfere with United States elections.

The letter sent to Mr. Stone, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, represents the first public indication of the scope of the committee’s inquiry, and possible connections to Mr. Trump’s campaign.

The Senate committee asked Mr. Stone, who is also under scrutiny from other federal investigators, to “preserve and retain all hard copies and electronically stored information as specified below in furtherance of the committee’s ongoing investigation into Russian actions targeting the 2016 U.S. elections and democratic processes globally.”

Mr. Stone confirmed the existence of the letter, which was dated Feb. 17. However, he said he had received it only on Friday, by email. Mr. Stone has acknowledged trading messages over Twitter with Guccifer 2.0, the online persona that officials believe was actually Russian intelligence officers.

Part of the trick is if you squint enough, you can focus on just one aspect of the #PutiTrump scandal and make it stand out just enough to say it’s actually nothing at all. If you stare hard enough, everything else becomes a blur, and then this bit in focus seems the only thing there is, and therefore nothing of any significance at all.

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What Sounds Like a Tacit Confession

#confession | #WhatTheyVotedFor

President Donald Trump delivers remarks at a press conference in the East Room of the White House, in Washington, D.C., 16 February 2017. (Photo: Associated Press)

The Washington Post reports―

President Trump on Saturday angrily accused former president Barack Obama of orchestrating a “Nixon/Watergate” plot to tap the phones at his Trump Tower headquarters last fall in the run-up to the election.

While citing no evidence to support his explosive allegation, Trump said in a series of four tweets sent Saturday morning that Obama was “wire tapping” his New York offices before the election in a move he compared to McCarthyism. “Bad (or sick) guy!” he said of his predecessor, adding that the surveillance resulted in “nothing found.”

Trump offered no citations nor did he point to any credible news report to back up his accusation, but he may have been referring to commentary on Breitbart and conservative talk radio suggesting that Obama and his administration used “police state” tactics last fall to monitor the Trump team. The Breitbart story, published Friday, has been circulating among Trump’s senior staff, according to a White House official who described it as a useful catalogue of the Obama administration’s activities.

―and a pressing question arises: Did Donald Trump just confess to something?

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The Donald Trump Show (Conway-esque)

Republican U.S. presidential nominee donald Trump is greeted by (L-R) his son-in-law Jared Kushner, daughter Ivanka, and son Eric after the conclusion of the third and final debate with Democratic rival Hillary Clinton at University of Nevada Las Vegas, 19 October 2016. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Reuters/Pool)

This actually takes some explaining. Or maybe not. Okay, so Robert Costa of the Washington Post issues a tweet amid the third presidential debate, criticizing Donald Trump, describing the Republican nominee’s now infamous “bad hombres” line as “Trump being Trump”, and the rest of the game show host’s answers by the lovely term, “Conway-esque”.

Five minutes later, with Hillary Clinton eviscerating the Republican nominee, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway retweets Costa’s critique as a boast.

Or, as Sophia Tesfaye put it: “Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway is already auditioning for her next gig”:

Kellyanne Conway speaks at the 2016 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, 4 March 2016. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, must be making a covert cry for help, as nothing short of desperate confusion could explain a tweet she sent in the middle of the third presidential debate ....

.... After Trump’s “bad hombres” comment caused a ruckus on social media, Trump’s campaign manager took to Twitter to retweet a compliment of herself and backhanded diss to her boss.

Somewhere in the load of not-necessarily transcribed, good luck finding it on the website pile of campaign coverage segments from msnbc’s relentless branding campaign is a bit with a few seasoned, liberal-leaning hands chuckling about the fact of major Republican players showing enough wisdom to stay clear of the Trump presidential bid. There is some merit to the point: Corey Lewandowski, a Koch lobbyist is no longer with the campaign; RNC consultant and Scott Walker’s primary campaign manager Rick Wiley has come and gone; consultant to notorious international figures Paul Manafort has come and gone; and former Dole staffer turned lobbyist Jim Murphy has stepped back from his role as national political director with less than three weeks remaining in the election contest. Donald Trump’s campaign is currently run by an alt-right publisher and, well, Kellyanne Conway. None of these were truly first-tier to begin with. But, still, while it’s not quite pitching for delegates in the 2020 race at the 2016 Republican National Convention, neither is it … er … ah … y’know?

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Image notes: Top ― Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump is greeted by (L-R) his son-in-law Jared Kushner, daughter Ivanka, and son Eric after the conclusion of the third and final debate with Democratic rival Hillary Clinton at University of Nevada Las Vegas, 19 October 2016. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Reuters/Pool) Right ― Kellyanne Conway speaks at the 2016 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, 4 March 2016. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

Conway, Kelly. “— >”. Twitter. 19 October 2016.

Costa, Robert. “Bad hombres”. Twitter. 19 October 2016.

Tesfaye, Sophia. “Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway is already auditioning for her next gig”. Salon. 19 October 2016.

The Reluctant President (Weather Balloon)

Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan (R-01) addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, 6 March 2014.  (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

We might plead that it is almost impossible to stay in front of the tale of the RNC preparing for a brokered convention. Still, though, last week’s Washington Post report and the growing hardline backlash that has fading right-wing star Dr. Ben Carson declaring he would quit the GOP if the Committee organized a floor fight have brought us one of those basic moments, an optic for which the metric is obvious: Speaker of the House Paul Ryan warding off speculation that he will be nominated to run for president.

With GOP presidential hopefuls set to square off in Las Vegas, Speaker Paul Ryan on Tuesday quashed speculation from House colleagues and the media that he could be drafted as the party’s nominee in the event of a deadlocked convention next summer.

“That is ridiculous talk. That’s is just dumb speculation,” the Wisconsin Republican said at a Politico breakfast. “I’m doing this job.

“You guys should just stop all that speculation.”

Several House Republicans told The Hill last week they see a scenario in which Ryan, the GOP’s vice presidential nominee in 2012, could end up winning the nomination if no candidate wraps up a majority of delegates by the time the convention rolls around next July.

(Wong)

This is one of those occasions when you can see the script coming, but shake it off because, you know, come on, just how cynical can we be, right?

Thus, when the Reluctant Speaker who would become the Reluctant Nominee and thus the Reluctant President finds himself pointing out that the question is based on straw fantasies grasped by desperate Party hands, it is not so much that we ought to believe him, but also the fact that the basic proposition itself is so extraordinary even in terms of an extraordinary cycle. Extra-extraordinary. Extraordinary squared.

Something about Carcharodon goes here.

This is your Republican Party.

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Image note: Congressman Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, 6 March 2014. Detail of photo by Gage Skidmore.

Costa, Robert and Tom Hamburger. “GOP preparing for contested convention”. The Washington Post. 10 December 2015.

Easley, Jonathan. “Conservative backlash grows against brokered convention”. The Hill. 11 December 2015.

McCaskill, Nolan D. and Kyle Cheney. “Ben Carson blasts RNC, threatens to leave Republican Party”. Politico. 11 December 2015.

Wong, Scott. “Ryan quashes talk that he’ll be GOP nominee”. The Hill. 15 December 2015.

The Bobby Jindal Show (Cancelled)

No, Governor Jindal … thank YOU for being smart enough to know when you're too fucking stupid to be president.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has suspended his campaign to become the 2016 Republican presidential nominee, marking the smartest political decision he’s made over the last thirty-four months.

I’ve come to the realization that this is not my time,” Jindal said on Fox News Channel in an interview with Bret Baier. “We spent a lot of time developing detailed policy papers. Given this crazy, unpredictable election season, clearly there wasn’t an interest in those policy papers.”

Jindal, 44, who is leaving office at the end of this year after completing his second term as governor, said he has not given much thought about whom he might endorse in the Republican presidential race. The remaining candidates rushed to praise Jindal in tweets and statements Tuesday night.

“Even though I’m not going to be a candidate for president, we had better elect the right president so that we can restore the American dream before it’s too late,” said Jindal, a former chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

Jindal had difficulty raising money; his campaign reported on Oct. 15 that it had just $261,000 cash on hand. His advisers acknowledged Tuesday that finances influenced his decision, although they said the campaign had no debt.

(Rucker, Costa, and Fahrenthold)

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The Clown Car Breakdown

Detail of 'Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal' by Zach Weiner, 12 June 2015.

Four paragraphs from Steve Benen:

Nine candidates would be a big field under any circumstances, but in this case, just the governors alone―Bush, Christie, Gilmore, Huckabee, Kasich, Jindal, Pataki, Perry, and Walker―had enough to field a baseball team. Add Democratic governors to the mix―O’Malley and Chafee―and the number swells to 11.

And at a certain level, this is understandable. For many in both parties, it’s long been assumed that governors have the edge in the party’s nominating contests, in part thanks to history―Reagan, Carter, Clinton, W. Bush, Romney, et al―and also because of the nature of the job. Being the chief executive of a state, the theory goes, offers ideal training for being the chief executive in the White House. Governors learn how to manage and respond to crises. They learn how to oversee a massive, bureaucratic team, while working opposite a legislature. They learn how to lead.

How many sitting GOP senators have ever been elected to the White House? Only one. It was Warren Harding, who was elected nearly a century ago. This is hardly accidental―Americans tend to hate Congress, so they don’t necessarily look to Capitol Hill for national leaders.

And yet, here we are. Two of the most experienced candidates of the cycle―Rick Perry and Scott Walker, both governors―have already quit (as has Lincoln Chafee). George Pataki and Jim Gilmore were excluded from the debates altogether this week, while Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee were relegated to the kids’ table, where they joined Bobby Jindal. Jeb Bush and John Kasich made the prime-time stage, but both are struggling badly. The latter faced booing.

This is actually important in its own right; in an anti-institutional year when career politicians who achieve governorships are actually being viewed as career politicians, the landscape really does seem strange from an unradicalized perspective. Indeed, how strange might we now find the recollection that back in April, even Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was pitching for senators against governors in the presidential context. Even in unhinged quarters, gubernatorial experience was actually respected earlier in this cycle.

With a flaccid RNC and impotent Congressional leadership, the anti-institutional movement driving Donald Trump and Ben Carson to the top of the polls would seem to get the nod: Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Republican Party.

Nor might we begin to speculate at what that means. Still, as Phillip Rucker and Robert Costa of the Washington Post explore the now perpetual chatter of growing discomfort and even “panic” among establishment Republicans, it is hard to fathom the idea that even in the GOP, this is starting to become an American existential question:

The apprehension among some party elites goes beyond electability, according to one Republican strategist who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly about the worries.

“We’re potentially careening down this road of nominating somebody who frankly isn’t fit to be president in terms of the basic ability and temperament to do the job,” this strategist said. “It’s not just that it could be somebody Hillary could destroy electorally, but what if Hillary hits a banana peel and this person becomes president?”

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Image note: Detail of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal by Zach Weiner, 12 June 2015

Benen, Steve. “Governors find a hostile 2016 landscape”. msnbc. 13 November 2015.

Rucker, Phillip and Robert Costa. “Time for GOP panic? Establishment worried Carson or Trump might win.” The Washington Post. 13 November 2015.

Something About the House of Representatives

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI01), promoting his budget agenda.

“After we finished our wine and chicken wings, I thought, ‘This is someone who isn’t inclined to do it but understands he could have that legacy as speaker if the circumstances were right’. That’s why it’s a live possibility.

Stephen Moore

How can anybody possibly resist that quote?

No, really, until Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI01) makes some sort of move, either bowing to pressure or finding some other way to silence the groveling, this would appear to be the holding pattern. Paul Kane and Robert Costa peruse the tea leaves, and perhaps the next best indicator of what’s going on is another marvelous quote from their effort for Washington Post:

“There is a story in ‘The Book of Virtues’ called ‘Boy Wanted,’ ” said William J. Bennett, a former education secretary in the Reagan administration and a mentor to Ryan. “Boys want him; girls want him. That’s what’s happening to Paul. He also has a sense of duty to his family, to the things he knows, like the Ways and Means Committee.”

Yeah, good luck with that one.

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The Jeb Bush Show (I Wish My Brother George Was Here)

Then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks to reporters on the war on terror as his brother, then-President George W. Bush, looks on at the White House in 2006. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Over the course of about six weeks, Jeb Bush managed to take his obvious new pitch and grind it into dust. Starting with the idea of telling voters, “I am my own man” in February, the Republican half of our expected dynastic grudge match buried his own message in derisive laughter before March expired.

The problem, of course, is twofold. Cottage politics and pocket slates are what they are; the neoconservatives backing the Iraq Adventure during the previous Bush administration had been at it since Nixon sat in the Oval Office, and we have certainly seen famous names from the Clinton camp resurfacing in the Obama White House. During those six weeks, though, not only did Jeb Bush manage to surround himself with familiar hawks, he also managed to surround himself with other Bushes, leading to Steve Benen to quip, “After Jeb Bush turned to his mother, father, and brother to help raise money for his super PAC, I joked last week that the Republican might have to turn to Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, Jeb’s son, for the next fundraising appeal. What I didn’t realize at the time was that it’s tough to joke about these guys.”

Watching the former Florida governor assemble the family’s foreign policy team, and the family for fundraising, most observers simply chuckle at the idea that he is so independent of his familial influences as he might otherwise claim. As such, the lede from Robert Costa and Matea Gold for the Washington Post verges on hilarity:

After spending months distancing himself from his family’s political legacy, Jeb Bush surprised a group of Manhattan financiers this week by naming his brother, former president George W. Bush, as his most influential counselor on U.S.-Israel policy.

And, really, what do you do with a paragraph like that?

Is there anything about that sentence that isn’t … you know … just … weird?

Let’s try it this way:

•After spending months [verbally, in sound-bites] distancing himself from his family’s political legacy [while assembling longtime Bush White House and campaign allies for the coming run], Jeb Bush surprised a group of [apparently naïve, or else supremely inattentive] Manhattan financiers this week by naming his brother, former president George W. Bush [who takes his foreign policy advice from God], as his most influential counselor on U.S.-Israel policy [since GWB’s foreign policy in the Middle East was so … er … ah … whatever].

Okay, you’re right. It isn’t funny.

Nor is Jeb Bush “his own man”, whatever the hell he expected we would think that to mean in the first place.

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Image note: Detail―Then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks to reporters on the war on terror as his brother, then-President George W. Bush, looks on at the White House in 2006. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Costa, Robert and Matea Gold. “One of Jeb Bush’s top advisers on Israel: George W. Bush”. The Washington Post. 7 May 2015.

Benen, Steve. “Jeb throws the ‘I am my own man’ pitch out the window”. msnbc. 1 April 2015.

Hillary and the Clowns

Republicans attempts to turn the discussion to Hillary Clinton and 2016 are getting silly.

“Republicans’ intransigence has created an obvious opportunity for Hillary to rip off our arms and beat us with the bloody ends. She’s expertly exploiting our party’s internal problems.”

Fergus Cullen

Wincing in abject human sympathy is probably fair. So is former New Hampshire Republican Party chairman Fergus Cullen’s assessment. As David Nakamura and Robert Costa explain for the Washington Post:

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s fighting words on immigration this week, designed in part to provoke Republicans into a reactionary counterattack, instead drew an unusual early response from several top-tier GOP presidential candidates: silence.

Two days after Clinton vowed to expand on President Obama’s executive actions to shield up to 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was one of the only leading Republican 2016 contenders to strike back, calling it a “full embrace of amnesty” that is “unfair to hard-working Americans.”

By contrast, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie did not weigh in publicly on the remarks Clinton made Tuesday at a campaign stop in Las Vegas. Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.), one of Obama’s most vocal critics on immigration, waited to make a late evening post on Facebook, writing that Clinton “wants to expand and continue” Obama’s programs and “lawlessness.”

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee told MSNBC that Clinton was wrong, saying the country needs to focus on border security first.

This is, as the WaPo duo put it, a “relatively subdued GOP reaction”. Typecast tinfoil and tuneless, tin-can triviality are hardly the stuff of candidates aspiring to show their presidential leadership, but they are hallmarks of the Republican clown car.

And while Jeb Bush might not have responded directly to Hillary Clinton, at least the offered up a Cinco de Mayo message … in Spanish. As platitudes go, that one apparently counts as creative; or, as such, Jeb Bush hopes to be the serious clown.

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Nakamura, David and Robert Costa. “Why Clinton’s immigration speech left many Republican rivals speechless”. The Washignton Post. 7 May 2015.

DelReal, Jose A. “Here is Jeb Bush’s Cinco de Mayo message to Mexican-Americans”. The Washington Post. 5 May 2015.