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First Drafts, Conversations, Stories in Progress

The Daily Trump: Filling a Time Capsule
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People will look back on this era in our history to see what was known about Donald Trump while Americans were deciding whether to choose him as president. Here’s a running chronicle from James Fallows on the evidence available to voters as they make their choice, and of how Trump has broken the norms that applied to previous major-party candidates. (For a Fallows-led, ongoing reader discussion on Trump’s rise to the presidency, see “Trump Nation.”)

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Trump Time Capsule #19: 'Appreciate the Congrats'

Afghan refugees from the Soviet invasion in the early 1980s, when President Reagan was welcoming them to the United States. (AP)

Without comment, the online responses of the presumptive Republican nominee, to the horrific mass gun-slaughter of at least 50 people in Orlando late last night. 

1) “Appreciate the congrats.” This was very soon after the news came in:

@realDonaldTrump on Twitter

2) “I called it and asked for the ban.” And as the killer’s identity and background became known:

From Trump’s Twitter feed

***

OK, I do have comments: First, on the immediate “it’s about me” reactions of “I called it” and “appreciate the congrats,” in response to a disaster, consider some of the personality traits discussed here. Obviously I am not proposing a medical diagnosis. I am suggesting that the personality and temperament of a president matters, and we have evidence about this man’s.

Second, on “I called for a ban”: based on current information, the man who shot down 50 others was born in New York, of immigrant Afghan parents. So Trump’s reference to “the ban” [on Muslim immigrants] presumably means either that he is imagining a religion-based expulsion of natural-born U.S. citizens like the killer  — or that he is saying, many decades later, that the killer’s parents should never have been let in.

I don’t know exact details of the killer’s family. But the overwhelming majority of Afghan arrivals of their era would have been fleeing the Soviet invasion of their country, and they were warmly welcomed by none other than Ronald Reagan. Here is what he said in a White House proclamation in 1982:

Today, we recognize a nation of unsung heroes whose courageous struggle is one of the epics of our time. The Afghan people have matched their heroism against the most terrifying weapons of modern warfare in the Soviet arsenal…. 

Their heroic struggle has carried a terrible cost. Many thousands of Afghans, often innocent civilians, women and children, have been killed and maimed. Entire villages and regions have been destroyed and depopulated. Some 3 million people have been driven into exile—that's one out of every five Afghans. The same proportion of Americans would produce a staggering 50 million refugees.

We cannot and will not turn our backs on this struggle. 

As president, Ronald Reagan welcomed Muslim refugees from Afghanistan. (Of course he also sowed the seeds of later problems by supporting the anti-Soviet efforts of groups that became the Taliban. But that is a different story. ) As presidential candidate, Donald Trump, to take him at his word, would have kept those refugees out, because of their religion  — or would later have looked for their children to expel them.

Again the point is to record what is known and on-the-record about Trump, as the Republican party prepares to nominate him.

***

And by contrast, here is the way our current president spoke just days ago about his thwarted efforts to keep people already on the terrorist watch list from buying guns.

Pocahontas (D-Ma.)                                                           Wikimedia

I’ve been off-duty on other fronts for a couple of days — largely on the far-more-encouraging Maker Movement / startup-revival front — and barely know where to re-start the time-capsule chronicle.

Probably the most important marker to lay down involves the respective positions of the “Resistance” and the “Vichy Republican” camps. Of course of course of course I am not likening Donald Trump to the historically unique Hitler. I am, though, saying that Resistance and Vichy are useful shorthands for the camps that are fighting the takeover of their territory, versus those who have acquiesced, so as to keep the peace, in the face of a conquering force they claim to find objectionable —and which no doubt they’ll criticize once someone else has dealt with it.

Time Capsule #18, June 11, 2016, “a Mitch McConnell kind of candidate”

Items like the following are part of the public record of Donald Trump as of mid-June, 2016:

  • Trump claimed today that he is “the least racist person there is,” and used fight-promoter Don King’s endorsement of him as evidence for that. In fact, King denied endorsing Trump (and continued analyses suggested that racial resentment, rather than economic dislocation, was the most prominent shared theme among Trump’s supporters).
  • A Republican National Committee official said that Trump’s criticism of federal judge Gonzalo Curiel did not involve racial or ethnic bias because “it wasn't addressing the judge's heritage.” In fact, what Trump said was that the judge couldn’t be fair to him, explicitly because “he's of Mexican heritage and he's very proud of it. As I am of where I come from."
  • Trump hasn’t given details on how he’s going to accomplish any of his goals, from building the wall to ending the deficit to shaping up the Europeans and Chinese, and he says no details are necessary. As quoted by Zeke Miller in an absorbing piece in Time, “‘My voters don’t care and the public doesn’t care,’ Trump says. ‘They know you’re going to do a good job once you’re there…. His theory of the race echoes advice given to salesman for Trump University... ‘You don’t sell products, benefits or solutions,” the school’s training manual read. ‘You sell feelings.’ ”

    Meanwhile, House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has built his image on being a policy guy, and who said that Trump’s comments about the judge were racist, is still standing by him.
  • Trump has taken to calling Senator Elizabeth Warren, in public, “Pocahontas,” for back-story reasons that Garance Franke-Ruta explained in 2012.  Eons ago, when Spiro Agnew was campaigning for the vice-presidency as Richard Nixon’s running mate, he got in trouble for calling Gene Oishi, a young reporter for the Baltimore Sun who had grown up in a World War II internment camp, the fat Jap.” It was in front of a handful of reporters aboard a campaign plane rather than in a speech or at a press conference, but it was seen as a very big deal, even mentioned in Agnew’s obituaries nearly 30 years later. (One-time Nixon speechwriter William Safire later tried to explain it away as jocularity, but Oishi’s family was having none of it.)

    Since that time, I’m not aware of any other national-political figure who has routinely used an ethnically based nickname for an opponent, as Trump is now doing with “Pocahontas.”

  ***

Republican Senator Mark Kirk, in a difficult race for re-election to the seat Barack Obama once held in Illinois, announcing today that he was withdrawing his support for Trump.

#17, June 7, 2016. ‘30 Ways Trump is Committing Political Suicide’

As I was about to push “publish” on this item, news arrived of a significant official defection from Team Trump. Republican Senator Mark Kirk, in a very difficult race for re-election in Illinois, withdrew his endorsement of Trump and said he “cannot and will not” support him. His rationale could have been taken straight from Hillary Clinton’s speech last week. Ie, that Trump was temperamentally unsuited to control the nuclear arsenal and unfit for the job. Hmmm.

Meanwhile: the title of this item is taken from a column in The Hill today by John LeBoutillier, a former Republican congressman. LeBoutillier was famous in the early Reagan era as the youngest person elected to Congress in the Reagan wave of 1980 — he was 27 then. He lost after one term, via re-districting, but he stayed active as a commentator, broadcaster, and writer. He was an early version of the “thoughtful young reform Republican” — a type that reached its most genuine and admirable form with Jack Kemp, and that Paul Ryan obviously has been aiming for. 

Today LeBoutillier offers a kind of time capsule of his own, with a list of the things Donald Trump is doing that no viable candidate could or would do. It’s worth reading in full, but it builds to this:

20. Trump does not talk to anyone; nor does he listen.

21. Instead, he watches TV and then criticizes anyone who dares to critique him.

22. The case of Judge Gonzalo Curiel, the judge handling the Trump University case, has thrown all these other GOP candidates into a sense of panic. […]

25. You will start to read leaks of Republicans musing that “we are committing political suicide if we keep going down this road.” … [And “pledged” delegates might look for ways to bail out.]

29. It is also possible that he will figure out that things are not working, and will self-correct; if so, he will indeed be officially nominated on July 21.

30. With six weeks to go until the GOP convention in Cleveland, it is up to Donald Trump: He must either pull himself together and lead the Republican Party in a responsible manner, or else be prepared to have a major mutiny on his hands.  

Again this is offered as real-time evidence of how, when, and why the GOP is processing emerging knowledge of the man it has been preparing to support. At the moment, this looks bad for Trump. So if he does manage to come, items like this will be markers of how big a hole he managed to get out of.

***

After the jump, a pop-culture version of the “ways he is committing suicide” analysis, from Seth Meyers.

Those were the days! At the debate at the Reagan library last September, with Donald Trump in his accustomed leader’s position in the middle and Lindsey Graham at the far left in this view. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

No one can be sure of anything in this campaign, and as of now Donald Trump has enough pledged delegates to be declared the GOP nominee in Cleveland six weeks from now.

But if something else somehow happens, people might look back to this date, June 6, 2016, as a moment when things began to look different. By which I mean:

  • The stories this morning, on MSNBC and in the NYT, as noted in #15, about the absence of anything resembling a Trump campaign organization.
  • The report early this afternoon in Bloomberg, about a chaotic call between Trump and some surrogates, in which Trump urged them to go even harder in defending him on the “Mexican judge” front. Important note: the lawsuit the judge is presiding over, on Trump University, has nothing to do with his presidential campaign. In normal circumstances candidates would try to contain or ignore it.
       Instead Trump told the likes of former Senator Scott Brown and former governor Jan Brewer, “to attack journalists who ask questions about the lawsuit and his comments about the judge,” according to the story. “The people asking the questions—those are the racists. I would go at 'em.” Completely apart from the details in the story, a bellwether fact is that some participants felt they could instantly go to the press about it. 
  • A hundred hours, more than four days, have passed since Hillary Clinton’s evisceration of Trump as unfit for the job. Not even one prominent Republican officer holder has come forward to defend the judgment, temperament, or readiness for the job of their party’s presumptive nominee.
    Nothing like this has ever happened before. 
  • A prominent Republican spoke up against Trump. Senator Lindsey Graham, who of course had run unsuccessfully against Trump and then had ambiguously suggested he’d finally support the party’s nominee, flat-out called for other Republicans to un-endorse Trump, because of the “Mexican judge” controversy. According to the NYT:

Senator Lindsey Graham… urged Republicans who have backed Mr. Trump to rescind their endorsements, citing the remarks about Judge Curiel and Mr. Trump’s expression of doubt on Sunday that a Muslim judge could remain neutral in the same lawsuit… 

“This is the most un-American thing from a politician since Joe McCarthy,” Mr. Graham said. “If anybody was looking for an off-ramp, this is probably it,” he added. “There’ll come a time when the love of country will trump hatred of Hillary.”

***

What does this all mean? It’s impossible to know until it’s over. But if this proves to have been a turning point, I can say that it felt like such a thing in real time. 

Tweet on the morning of June 6, 2016, apparently in response to articles saying that Donald Trump has no campaign organization.

Time Capsule #15, June 6, 2016, Donald Trump Has No Campaign

As with item #13 in this series, “Crickets,” this one is about something that didn’t happen rather than something that did.

It’s now been nearly five weeks since Donald Trump appeared to clinch the Republican nomination, with his win in the supposed Ted Cruz stronghold of Indiana. While the Democrats have continued to scrap since then, Trump has enjoyed a long period in which his attention, organization, message, and drive could shift toward the general election in November, and what it will take to overcome (presumably) Hillary Clinton.

Trump’s thematic message and personal demeanor through this time have not fully matured into inclusive “Presidential” mode, to put it mildly. The latest remarkable example, breaking via Abby Livingston of the Texas Tribune as I type this entry, is the letter from Democratic Congressman Filemon Vela, from a heavily Latino district in southern Texas, to Trump saying “you can take your border wall and shove it up your ass.”

But two stories today illustrate a different important development, or rather the lack of one. That is Trump’s apparent indifference about putting together the sort of organization that is always necessary to run a nation-wide general election campaign.

***

Why do you need more than one visible and voluble candidate, with his millions of social-media followers, to become president? Because managing a general-election campaign is more like coordinating a vast military operation than like running a viral-marketing campaign.

  • Issues come up faster, and in more complexity, and with higher stakes and more pitfalls, than any one person can possibly handle. You need people other than the candidate to talk about foreign policy (and within that, Asia and Europe and the Americas and terrorism and Israel-Palestine and ...), and about budget policy, and about economic trends, and about the latest gaffe or rumor or comment from friend or foe.
  • Of the 50 states plus DC that will cast electoral votes, some are in range for the GOP and some are not, and knowing exactly where and how to spend time and money, and what the local political networks are, and what issues are trending and hurting, is a big, complicated process that requires a lot of region-by-region sophistication and info. The relevance and power of “data analytics” for targeting voters and raising money was a huge part of Barack Obama’s success in 2008 (as Joshua Green described for us) and has only grown more important.
  • Speaking of money: Money, money, money. Trump’s not going to self-fund, and he can’t do all the events or court all the donors himself.
  • Turnout. You need actual people working city by city.
  • Logistics. When I was traveling on a general-election campaign back in 1976, my greatest respect was for the “advance” teams that had to line up back-to-back events each day around the country. It’s really hard; it’s a hundred times more complex and visible these days than it was back then; it can’t be run ad-hoc.
  • Candidate-wrangling. Campaigning is really, really tiring. Someone needs to protect the candidate, and when necessary play the “candidate-whisperer” role of saving him/her from his own worst instincts and impulses. It is not 100% obvious that anyone is in a position to save Trump from himself in this way.
  • Endorsements, surrogates, joint appearances, alliances. These are important and also a PITA to arrange. Every official is important in his own eyes, they all need to be flattered and respected and brought on board.

***

Donald Trump did better than almost anyone (including me) thought possible in the primaries, but they were a different game. The main axes of operation were the mass rally, at which Trump excelled; and the multi-participant, scrum-like chaos of the “debates,” at which he also excelled. His skills still matter, but it’s a different sort of challenge now.

Thus the significance of this amazing story by Benjy Sarlin, Katy Tur, and Ali Vitali for MSNBC, and a complementary piece by Jim Rutenberg in the NYT.   

Sample of the first, which has the headline “Donald Trump does not have a campaign”:

Donald Trump is a candidate without a campaign – and it’s becoming a serious problem….

Veteran operatives are shocked by the campaign’s failure to fill key roles. There is no communications team to deal with the hundreds of media outlets covering the race, no rapid response director to quickly rebut attacks and launch new ones, and a limited cast of surrogates who lack a cohesive message.

Aides appeared unprepared for the Trump University story last week, despite knowing in advance that unsealed court documents would reveal explosive allegations of fraud….

The absence of a response to the Trump U story left the candidate to fill the vacuum with a torrent of demagoguery against the federal judge overseeing the case, Gonzalo Curiel, who Trump said was biased by his “Mexican heritage” despite his Indiana birthplace.

Jake Tapper’s full interview with Donald Trump, aired today, is an important part of the time-capsule process, of recording what was known about the presumptive GOP nominee as the party lined up behind him. But let me point out one very brief segment.

Trump has claimed that he, unlike Hillary Clinton, was against the Iraq war. Tapper, to his great credit says, What’s the evidence for that? It goes from there:

“I haven’t been asked that question before,” Trump says, of Tapper’s request for proof that he was against the war before it started going bad. “Nobody’s said that to me before.”

That is flatly, completely, and 100% untrue.

It’s a big, fat, easily disprovable lie. It’s hardly the most consequential thing he has gotten wrong, but in its baldness it is amazing.

***

Back in February, at a Town Hall on this same CNN network, Anderson Cooper asked Trump about a 2002 interview with Howard Stern (!) in which he appeared to support the war. You can see it here.

Set aside Trump’s explanation of his 2002 comment: he wasn’t a politician, he hadn’t given it great thought, once the war started he turned against it earlier than his Republican opponents did. Fine. That doesn’t change the reality that what he just told Tapper is a plain and easily demonstrable lie. He had been asked the question, and more than once. This wasn’t even the first time he’d been asked the question on CNN itself.

If you’re interested, there has been a slew of other coverage on this theme. For instance this item by me, plus Politifact, the NYT,  BuzzFeed, and the Huffington Post. Maybe, since Trump has no detectable campaign organization, no one made him aware of this. But we know for a fact that Anderson Cooper asked him this very question, to his face, on national TV less than four months ago.

Did Trump not remember? Does he assume no one else would? Does he not even recognize the contradiction between what he’s just told Tapper and what the tapes with Cooper reveal? Does he think that if he believes what he’s saying, everyone else will too?

None of these explanations, or others, is reassuring. The point for now is that the man the GOP is lining up to support calmly told a flat-out lie he should have known would be trivially easy to disprove, and didn’t seemed fazed a bit.

Update this parallels another flat-out, clearly disprovable Trump lie today about his position on Libya, as explained here.

Donald Trump’s response the morning after Hillary Clinton’s speech lambasting him.

There is too much going on to catch up with fully, so let me mention a case that is not about something Donald Trump said or did but rather about something that didn’t happen.

Trump Time Capsule #13: June 4, 2016. Crickets.

- On June 2, Hillary Clinton gave a speech attacking Donald Trump’s qualifications to be president, in unusually blunt and dismissive terms. Right off the bat she said, “Donald Trump’s ideas are not just different, they are dangerously incoherent. They are not even really ideas, just a series of bizarre rants, personal feuds, and outright lies. He is not just unprepared, he is temperamentally unfit to hold an office that requires knowledge, stability, and immense responsibility.” It went on from there.

- In all previous happenings of the known political world, the party subject to such attacks would have been ready to respond. While Clinton was still speaking, the “Let’s set the record straight!” emails from GOP HQ would have been pouring in. As soon as the speech was over, worthy-seeming surrogates would have crowded the cable news shows to say how unfair the criticism was, how sound and thought-through Trump’s policies were, how he had the experience and judgment for the challenges ahead.

- In the actual Trump-era political world, the candidate himself put out one of his trademarked Tweets, shown above. (Which the Clinton campaign was obviously prepared for. They instantly pounced on Trump’s “no basis in fact” and conclusively rebutted it.) And people tell me that Fox commentators have been talking about crooked Hillary — I haven’t watched. But … that’s it.

From the party as a whole? Nothing. Crickets.

  • To the best of my knowledge, not one Republican Senator has stepped up to say: “Secretary Clinton’s criticisms are unfair. Donald Trump is the man for the job.” Not Mitch McConnell or Marco Rubio or John McCain.
  • Not any prominent Representatives. Not Paul Ryan or Kevin McCarthy or any of their committee chairmen.
  • Not any governors (though we should check on Chris Christie).
  • Not any former Republican Secretaries of State or Defense or Treasury, or former Republican nominees or presidents, or national security advisors or trade negotiators.
  • Not Reince Priebus or anyone from the party establishment. No one.
  • Nor has any party leader chimed in to support his attack on Gonzalo Curiel, the “Mexican” judge from Indiana. (Update The never-disappointing Alberto Gonzales, White House counsel and Attorney General for GW Bush, has now weighed in to support Trump on the “Mexican” issue. Read that, then please see Garrett Epps’s Trumpo delenda est absolute demolition of the “Mexican” dispute.)

Many Republicans have continued attacking Hillary Clinton. But as far as I’m aware, no prominent party official has stepped up to say: She’s wrong when she says that Donald Trump is completely unfit for the job he seeks. (The Sunday shows tomorrow are still ahead, but they will be three days late — an eternity in modern news-cycle time.)

And yet: almost all of these people are preparing to accept Trump as their nominee and have said they “support” him.

You could say it’s “clever” for the Republican establishment to go through the motions of supporting Trump, while making it 100% clear that they know he’s toxically unqualified. I don’t really understand why they think that’s wiser than saying: No, here I draw the line. Maybe later on they’ll explain. For now this note is just to record the state of affairs and of public knowledge, six-plus weeks before the convention.

I strongly encourage you to watch this CNN clip from Jake Tapper’s latest interview with Donald Trump:

Trump Time Capsule #12, June 3, 2016. I’m Building a Wall

You may think you’ve heard it all about this dispute; you may think there is no conceivable juice to be wrung from Trump’s complaints about federal judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is hearing the fraud case against Trump University; you may think this is asked-and-answered, and tedious.

If you watch the brief clip, I think you’ll be surprised. I was. For context:

  • Trump has just come off a solid week of being criticized high and low for racist comments about a judge’s “Mexican heritage”;
  • He has heard a million times that Judge Curiel, despite his “heritage,” is impeccably American, having been born, raised, and schooled in Indiana and then having worked as a prosecutor in California;
  • Even the Republicans who have most recently endorsed Trump, notably Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and John McCain, have publicly lamented his anti-Latino tone; and yet...

This very afternoon, Tapper asks him, “If you are saying he cannot do his job, because of his race, is that not the definition of racism? And Trump answers with: “We’re building a wall. He’s a Mexican! We’re building a wall between here and Mexico.” Thus obviously the judge would be aggrieved.

To his credit Tapper persists in pointing out that the wall would have no effect on a person already in the United States because he was born here. Note the incredulity on Tapper’s face at the end of the clip when he tells Trump, “He’s not a Mexican. He’s from Indiana!” (I wish only that Tapper had thought to say, “He’s not a Mexican. He’s a Hoosier!”) Even considering everything we’ve seen and heard recently, I found this a remarkable 68 seconds of video. Judge for yourself.

***

Once again, why bother recording any of this? I have no illusion that Donald Trump will change his mind or his views, nor that his core supporters might be peeled away. This is who he is, and it’s part of what some people like about him.

But it is worth being 100% eyes-open about the man that Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, John McCain, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Jon Huntsman, Nikki Haley (so far), Reince Priebus, and other leaders of the Republican party are declaring acceptable as a potential commander-in-chief. As I write this, we can’t be sure that Donald Trump won’t end up as 45th President of the United States. But there should be no confusion — now, or when we consider this time in retrospect — about what his supporters are signing on for.

House Speaker Paul Ryan after his meeting with Donald Trump last month, when Ryan was still saying he was undecided about supporting Trump. (Jim Bourg / Reuters)

This is all over the news, so I’ll just note its existence for the record.

Trump Time Capsule #11: June 2, 2016. “Mexican heritage.”

On the very day that House Speaker Paul Ryan, who had denounced candidate Donald Trump’s proposal to ban Muslim immigrants, announced his support for Trump as presumptive nominee, Trump himself escalated his criticism of the federal judge hearing the fraud case against Trump University. In an interview with Brent Kendall of the WSJ, Trump said that judge Gonzalo Curiel should be removed from the case because of his ethnicity:

In an interview, Mr. Trump said U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel had “an absolute conflict” in presiding over the litigation given that he was “of Mexican heritage” and a member of a Latino lawyers’ association. Mr. Trump said the background of the judge, who was born in Indiana to Mexican immigrants, was relevant because of his campaign stance against illegal immigration and his pledge to seal the southern U.S. border. “I’m building a wall. It’s an inherent conflict of interest,” Mr. Trump said.

I note this mainly for the historical record of what was known about Trump as the party prepared to accept him, but let me underscore these points:

  • This is the man Paul Ryan has decided to get behind, on the very day Ryan got behind him.
  • Even before Trump purified his objection so that it was about the judge’s ethnicity, Jeffrey Toobin had a powerful item on the New Yorker’s site on why Trump’s previous comments were so odious and outside-normal-bounds.
  • Thanks to The Atlantic’s Yoni Appelbaum for pointing me toward the ringing decision by federal judge Leon Higginbotham on why his own racial identity, as an African-American, and his involvement in civil-rights causes should not automatically disqualify him from hearing discrimination cases. (David Graham has an Atlantic item about it here.) That ruling was followed by many others, and is in direct opposition to Trump’s claim, as is the American idea itself.
  • Part of what is so horrible about Trump’s relentless insults to Mexicans and Mexican-Americans is the recognition that he has sort of gotten away with it. Gotten away? Here’s what I mean: I think if he had been on the verge of saying that a Jewish judge should be disqualified because he was Jewish, a Catholic because she was Catholic, a black because he was black, or a woman because she was a woman, even Trump would have hesitated and been afraid of the backlash.

No one is going to change Trump’s mind at this point, nor peel off his most committed supporters. But the “responsible” Republicans lining up behind Trump, from Mitch McConnell to Marco Rubio to Jon Huntsman to Ryan himself, should be called out and asked: You’re supporting this? People are going to be remembered, in the long run, for how they lined up on Trump 2016. You’re sure about this?

I think there’s actually a reason to keep laying this out, but we’ll get to that. For now, let’s look at a genuinely impressive moment of Donald Trump in the public eye.

Daily Trump #10: June 1, 2016. The tragedy of the gorilla.

In the same press conference yesterday at which he angrily lambasted the press, and resented even being questioned about money he had raised for veterans groups, Donald Trump seemed thoughtful and reflective when asked about the gorilla episode at the Cincinnati zoo. He didn’t have to be told what the episode was about or the tradeoffs involved. (For anyone reading this after summer-2016: a child fell into the enclosure of a beloved gorilla from an endangered species, and zoo officials finally decided to shoot the gorilla to rescue the child.)

That is Trump at his best, explaining his reasoning and judgment in a way anyone could follow and respect, even those who might disagree.

***

Less than 24 hours later, this passage from Michael Wolff’s story about Trump in the Hollywood Reporter was making the rounds:

“And Brexit? Your position?” I ask.

“Huh?”

“Brexit.”

“Hmm.”

“The Brits leaving the EU,” I prompt, realizing that his lack of familiarity with one of the most pressing issues in Europe is for him no concern nor liability at all.

“Oh yeah, I think they should leave.”

It is hard not to feel that Trump understands himself, and that we’re all in on this kind of spectacular joke.

Many average U.S. citizens can be perfectly functional and happy despite not having heard of the “Brexit” — the proposed British exit from the European Union — just as many average citizens can do just fine never having heard of the “nuclear triad” on which U.S. deterrent strategy is based. But (and it’s embarrassing to spell this out) please remember that (1) anyone who has actually read an international-business story in the WSJ, the FT, the Economist, the NYT, and so on in the past year would have seen the term, just as anyone who had read about the modern military would have come across the “triad”; and (2) anyone responsible for U.S. international business and strategic dealings, and for understanding the macro forces on the U.S. economy in the year ahead, should be aware of this serious potential change in a regional economy even bigger than that of the U.S.

***

As this goes on, it’s not really about Trump any more. We know exactly who and what he is. He’s a genuinely-charming-at-times salesman and schmoozer with sub-Palin-level knowledge of public affairs, more on a par with “Chauncey Gardiner” of Being There. He instantly knows all about the gorilla, and next-to-nothing about the international economy. This isn’t his fault. It’s who he is and what he does.

Nor do I think that a litany of Trump’s knowledge-holes or judgment-lapses will make any difference to his already-committed supporters. It’s part of what they like about him.

But the people who I hope are thinking about how they’ll look in history’s eyes, are the leaders of a major political party now lining up to declare this man acceptable. Not one of them can pretend later on that they didn’t know what they were signing on for.

Daily Trump #9, May 31, 2016. “You’re a sleaze.”

How do we put in perspective Donald Trump’s angry criticism of reporters, collectively and by individual name, at his press conference today? The clip below begins with one notable early moment. The final 10 minutes of the conference are more or less all in that same vein.

When I compare today’s performance with others I have seen myself or have heard of, the closest matches are discouraging. One is to the only vice president ever forced to resign because of corruption, Spiro Agnew. (John C. Calhoun also resigned as VP, but that was over policy differences.) The other is to the only president ever forced to resign, Agnew’s ticket-mate Richard Nixon.

***

Every politician, above all every president, gets angry at the press. I had a whole chapter to this effect in Breaking the News. In essence the point was: every politician can list all the things he does that aren’t strictly posturing, favor-trading, dissembling, or compromising. But the posturing and dissembling inevitably dominate the news.

At the same time, many politicians also enjoy hanging out with, sparring with, and picking up intel from reporters. It’s always a complex relationship.

From time to time politicians let the anger out. But those in-public outbursts, especially by presidents or major-party candidates, have been treated as exceptions, memorable precisely because they are rare. The two most famous cases illustrate the point.

One was a speech by then-VP Spiro Agnew in Houston in 1970, lamenting the media’s tendency to oversimplify. In retrospect, it’s an argument carried out at a very high level. For instance: “Subtlety is lost, and fine distinctions based on acute reasoning are carelessly ignored in a headlong jump to a predetermined conclusion. Life is visceral rather than intellectual.”

If you spoke this way at a current political rally, someone in the crowd would yell, “Booorrrr-innng!” [More from the speech below.] And yet even this formally phrased critique was remarkable enough that it still stands out, 46 years later, as a prominent case of a politician really letting it rip against the press.

The other was a breathtakingly bitter crack by then-President Richard Nixon, already standing on the banana peel of Watergate, at a White House press conference soon after the “Saturday Night Massacre” in 1973. (The person at whom Nixon snaps in this clip is Robert Pierpoint of CBS, whom I happened to know.)

So, this Nixon was remarkably angry, and let it show. But to put it in perspective: this was one of the most famously bitter moments in the entire public career of a famously bitter man, at a time of near-existential personal crisis for him. (Another was “You won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around any more,” when he thought his public life was over after he lost the race for governor of California to Pat Brown in 1962.)

Yet even these Nixon and Agnew moments, still notable many decades later, pale in their anger and crudity compared with a string of comments Donald Trump reeled off today, when the only pressure on him was not real crisis but the routine annoyance of press questions.

***

So we know that the best temperamental comparisons for Trump are to two people eventually forced from office — and we know that Nixon, in particular, made these cracks under vastly greater pressure than anything being applied to Trump right now. We know this about Trump, at the moment when much of the Republican party is deciding to line up behind him — and the lining-up goes on.

Near the end of today’s conference, Trump was asked whether the snarling at the press conference was a fair sample of how he’d deal with the press if he were president.

“Yes, it is going to be like this,” he said.

Donald Trump yesterday at the Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally in Washington (Jonathan Ernst / Reuters). Based on comparison with photos from other angles, the hair beneath Trump’s ear is part of his own dangling coif, rather than belonging to someone standing behind him.

Daily Trump #8, May 29, 2016, Illegal immigrants have it too easy

Yesterday at the Rolling Thunder mass motorcycle rally here in Washington  — which I could hear while at The Atlantic’s offices half a mile away, but didn’t attend — Donald Trump said, “illegal immigrants are taken better care of than our veterans.”

This is not true, and no one who has thought about it for more than one second could imagine otherwise.

  • A wide range of preferences and programs are designed to favor military veterans, as an incentive to ongoing recruitment and as recognition of past service. For instance: nearly 30% of the total federal workforce, and as many as half of new federal employees, are veterans. By definition, the proportion of known illegal immigrants in the federal workforce would approach zero.
  • Well over a million veterans and their families have attended college with GI Bill-type benefits enacted since 9/11. For most scholarship or aid programs of any kind, proof of citizenship or legal residency is required.
  • The VA hospital system has had numerous, serious, well-publicized problems. On the other hand it exists (unlike some notional Illegal Immigrants Hospital System), and before the recent scandals it was often studied and cited as a model of progressive medical practices. Many millions of veterans receive medical care through the VA. Illegal immigrants are not eligible for Medicaid, Medicare, treatment under Obamacare exchanges, or most private insurance coverage and generally rely on emergency rooms or cash-up-front treatment centers.
  • Veterans can go to their congressional representatives or the press for redress of grievances. Illegal immigrants by definition have a very limited range of rights, and few ways to assert them.

I would go on, but it’s kind of an insult to public intelligence to treat this as a serious claim. (“Donald Trump said yesterday that two was a larger number than five. Let’s examine why this is not true….”)

It was a pure statement of grievance, fitting Trump’s skillful-but-dangerous pattern of expertly reading, and then pandering to, the audience in his immediate range and in position to cheer in response.

As always, the point of these updates is not to dissuade any current Trump supporters or to suggest that the accuracy of Trump’s claims is the basis of his appeal. Rather the purpose is time-capsule chronicling of what is known about this person, at a time when the Republican party is lining up behind him and he might become president.