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Archive for April, 2011

Donald Trump has pulled it off: President Obama was forced to release his “long form” birth certificate. As I wrote in POLITICO today, there’s going to be a new Trump talking point: I play hardball. I faced down the President and I won. I can beat him.

Even though it was a “phony issue,” Obama’s no-drama instinct to act “the grownup in the room” (White House language, not mine) is repeatedly producing poor political results. The rowdy kids and carnival hucksters are stealing the show. And winning midterm elections. And driving the dialog. While I’m not alone in thinking there’s a good chance this whole birther issue was exploited by Trump without any of the sincerity of a true believer, the fact is that he is the story now. We’ll see if he can pivot.

Read my full article, published in POLITICO on April 27, 2012.

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Just crossing the wire is news that former Miss. Gov. Haley Barbour’s trial balloon has popped, and he will not be a candidate for president in 2012. While plagued with baggage, some of it tinged with racism, Barbour could have been a viable candidate. As I wrote on POLITICO today, however, there is a new force on the right — Donald Trump. Trump is relentlessly pursuing free media opportunities, even if that means fueling feuds with actors and stand up comedians. His exploitation of birtherism (most popular in Barbour’s deep south) may well be strategic alone — even Machiavellian — but we are witnessing the results, and Trump knows how to close a deal.

One viable candidate is out. Trump will continue to capture people’s attention and imagination, as David Brooks put it, while recycled pols like Barbour and Romney struggle for attention.

Read my complete article, published by POLITICO on April 25, 2012.

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A cross-posting here from TheTrumpWatch, where we keep track of The Donald:

A fascinating contrast jumped out at me on the op-ed page of our local paper, The Raleigh News & Observer. The screamer goes to The Donald, with David Brooks’ column on the possibility of a Trump candidacy in which he colorfully describes the person in question as having “entered the realm of Upper Blowhardia.” Brooks treads his typically coy line of acknowledging Trump’s undeniable embodiment of the quintessential American “Gospel of Success,” while also painting him as a juvenile showoff, a “perpetual boy.”

Next to Brooks’ “We Do Like Our Blowhards,” on the far left of the same page and with a notably smaller headline we find an op-ed from Froma Harrop, a syndicated writer based in that most liberal bastion of Providence, R.I. The header chosen by the N&O is “Looking Like a Poor Country” (papers get to choose their own titles for syndicated columns like these two examples). Her hometown paper went with “The GOP’s Third World Vision for the U.S.” To Harrop, this means the growing income disparity between rich and poor: The Donald Trumps and everyone else.

What’s interesting here is that a central element of Trump’s emerging talking points, and his stump speech, uses this same language:America is turning into a third world country. But to Trump the idea means something totallydifferent, a populist appeal not a progressive liberal one. Over and over again he has been using this third world language, particularly when speaking about airports – LaGuardia in particular. Our airports are tumbled down (the director of LaGuardia was even forced to go public and agree with Trump). People go to airports. They see it. I see it here in Raleigh, where landing in Terminal A does have the feel of a traveling back in time to a struggling Soviet satellite state.

“If you look at what China is doing, they’re stealing our jobs, they’re taking our money,”Trump says. “They’re building bridges. They’re building airports. They’re building cities, brand new cities,” he continued. “When was the last time you saw a bridge being built in the United States?”

This version of the third world argument will resonate far beyond the radical fringe and is not Upper Blowhardia. It is a co-opting of the liberal/income disparity rhetoric to serve a populist message with broad appeal, especially coming from a man (as Brooks acknowledges) who has built things and reshaped entire city skylines. We’ve been hearing about “shovel ready jobs” for years, to little effect, and commentators like Chris Matthews have been clamoring for us to Start Building Things for just as long.

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The latest salvo in the GOP’s attack on any progressive, pro-community government policy as “Socialist” comes from Rep. Mo Brooks, another unreconstructed conservative who joins his confederate Spencer Bacchus who made similar charges in 2009. In this case, a request from Rep. Keith Ellison that Brooks’ blathering name-calling be “taken down” (a rare procedural move) was met by a partial retraction from the Alabama conservative.

Brooks holds an economics degree from Duke, and explained his comments thusly in a response in his local paper:

“Let’s talk about socialism for a moment. It’s greater and greater government micromanaging of our lives. It’s higher taxes to pay for it…Let’s talk about free enterprise. Free enterprise is belief in the individual, in freedom, in opportunity. It’s what has helped make America one of the greatest nations the world has ever seen.”

As I’ve been writing here for weeks, this is the false choice the right is using to frame its opposition to all progressive policies since the New Deal to the current day: It’s either radical individualism or it’s socialism. There is no room for community here, which in stark contrast to what Brooks said, is in fact the driving ethic (and economic policy) which let the Greatest Generation survive the Depression, win WWII, and build this country.

I’ll be reaching out to Brooks’ office tomorrow to see if we can nail down a bit more what he understands Socialism to be, and when it began; whether Social Security is Socialism; whether the FDIC is Socialism; whether the G.I. Bill is Socialism; whether Medicare is Socialism; whether Food Stamps are Socialism; and so forth.

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In response to popular demand I’m launching a new blog dedicated to the political story of the moment, and possibly the story of the 2012 campaign: The new king of the Birthers, Donald Trump. I think The Donald’s going to run, and at TheTrumpWatch.com we’ll be monitoring his path to a possible reality-show campaign.

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It’s a cardinal role of politics: There is a huge advantage when you’re able to characterize your opponent before they’ve been able to characterize themselves. Obama showed a mastery of this in 2008 when he framed the election as being about Bush and Cheney and Rove rather than John McCain. McCain was on the defensive constantly, having to make embarrassing statements about the fact that he was not George W. Bush. Obama’s at it again now, welcoming Donald Trump and his birtherism in an interview with ABC News.

Whoever the eventual nominee is (and I’m not willing to say it will not be Trump) Obama is consciously setting up a guilt-by-association argument. Obama is legitimizing Trump by responding to him, while also gently mocking him. When the President acknowledges someone like this, it raises the stakes. It is a savvy move and take my word for it, we’ll be hearing more. The Donald loves a duel. Just ask Rosie O’Donnell.

As Jon Stewart pointed out last night, Bill O’Reilly probably sees this coming, and is trying to do rhetorical triage from the right. And in a lovely ironic twist, The Donald took to Fox News yesterday to declare Barack Obama the worst president ever. Another piece of tape that the man Trump called “the little minion,” David Plouffe, is likely cuing up for campaign season is one of The Donald declaring George W. Bush the worst president ever — in contrast to what he told Sean Hannity yesterday (he said that honor had previously gone to Jimmy Carter). Let’s go to the videotape:

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It’s been a hectic time in the world of an Alzheimer’s caregiver, and I’ve only now was able to review President Obama’s budget speech in detail. Simply put: Bravo. As I’ve been writing here and in POLITICO for several weeks, the right’s framing of the budget debate, and the school voucher debate, amounts to nothing short of a full blown attack on communitarian values; that taxes are “theft” and rather than supporting each other, we should only be concerned about ourselves and our (nuclear) families. That we should all be fending for ourselves like John Galt, shouting “give me my money back” and “don’t tread on me.”

Well, the President is finally punching back:

“No matter what we argue, no matter where we stand, we’ve always held certain beliefs as Americans. We believe that in order to preserve our own freedoms and pursue our own happiness, we can’t just think about ourselves. We have to think about the country that made these liberties possible. We have to think about our fellow citizens with whom we share a community.”

More here, in my full article, published in POLITICO on April 15, 2011.

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Will he or won’t he? Right on the heels of my interview with Australian public radio yesterday, it appears the verdict is in: He’s running. As I told the Aussies, if I were a betting man — and let’s say I am — I’d have bet he’s going to do it. The news today that the announcement will come on the air, at the end of his reality TV show this season is fitting M.O. for The Donald. Sarah Palin has reality show too…in fact, why not pair them up for the ultimate politics-as-entertainment ticket: but would it be Trump-Palin or Palin-Trump?

How will this rearrange the field of candidates, from the rhetorical standpoint? I wrote in POLITICO a couple of days ago about Mitt Romney and his mellifluous, bouncy diction — and how much of a contrast it would present with President Obama’s dynamism at the podium. Although they have similarly interesting hair, the contrast we’d have with Trump and Romney would be every bit as stark. Romney’s Father-Knows-Best Mormon jolliness is about as far as you can get from The Donald’s rhetorical style, both in its diction (eh Mitt, you talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me?’) and in substance. Rhetorically, Trump is the Joe Biden of the populist right. As I’ve written before, it’s been a mistake of the Obama administration to muzzle Joltin’ Joe, who shoots from the hip and delivers a barnburner like the best of them. The Donald, on the other hand, will not and would never consent to be muzzled. In this sense Joe Scarborough, writing in POLITICO, was right that Trump does not give a damn. Though it bares mentioning that Scarborough has an interest in setting up Trump as a personal stalking horse — it’s almost certain he will be throwing his hat into this wacky Republican ring.

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What does it means to re-frame a message? This is as clear an explanation as any…

In the first version the appeal is to charity alone, devoid of context. In the second there is an example of why charity is justified — an illustration that warrants the appeal, and without naming it explicitly.

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Some thoughts today on Mitt Romney, who de facto announced his candidacy today. I’ll leave the policy debate to others, but wrote on POLITICO about the stylistic issues faced by this most mellifluous of speechifiers. As I wrote, he joins Kofi Annan on my list of politicians who could launch second careers are recorders of children’s’ books-on-tape.

Read my full article here, published on POLITICO on April 11, 2011.

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