Reporter's Notebook

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.”)

Show None Newer Notes

Trump Time Capsule #28: 'They Took Their Country Back'

Thoughts from the presumptive GOP nominee, as he touched down in the one part of the UK that voted most strongly to remain part of Europe.

#28, June 24, 2106. They took their country back.

The Tweet above shows the reaction by the presumptive Republican nominee, on landing in Scotland to promote his golf resort, after the historic Brexit vote.

  • BBC map, “remain” in yellow
    The Leave/Remain electoral map shows why Scotland was the exact worst spot within the United-for-now  Kingdom in which Trump could have made this point. If the they in “they took their country back” refers to the whole UK electorate, he is talking about people who voted for what the throngs in Scotland are going wild about, because they opposed it. If they means the Scots themselves — well, yesterday’s vote indeed makes it much more likely that they will take “their country” back by removing it from a UK whose views of the future are so clearly are at odds with theirs.
  • In his column overnight for Fusion, Felix Salmon (with whom I don’t always agree, but do on this) shows why the “what the hell, let’s shake things up, it couldn’t be any worse!” approach reveals a failure of tragic imagination. Structures and relationships take time to build. You can carelessly destroy in moments something that was very hard to create. Trump would presumably understand this about physical structures like office buildings, or golf resorts. It also applies to the economic and political structures that have taken Europe decades to restore after the devastation of World War II. Trump’s offhand comments about “what has NATO ever done for us?” or his cavalier observation that it was time for the Japanese and South Koreans to man up with their own nukes, suggest that nothing could be worse than today’s flawed structures. The Brexit vote reminds us that things can always get worse.
  • Anyone who has taken a Public Relations 101 course, or perhaps Intro to Abnormal Psychology, might have suggested to Trump that, immediately on his arrival on the most traumatic and important day in decades for and about the UK itself, the theme of his remarks should not be, “What does this mean for me, Donald Trump?” But that’s what the theme was: how great his Turnberry resort would be, and how a weaker pound (suffering the greatest one-day loss of value in its history) was good from his perspective, because it made vacation travel cheaper for visitors from overseas: “Look, if the pound goes down they're going to do more business… When the pound goes down, more people are coming to Turnberry, frankly.”
       Trump’s immediate reaction to the Orlando shootings was: “Appreciate the congrats on being right.” His immediate reaction to news that shook every market in the world was: Travel bookings will be up!
  • Nigel Farage, leader of the Brexit campaign, revealed less than 12 hours after the vote that a central “factual” basis of his argument — that money being sent to Europe would go instead to the UK National Health Service — was flat-out wrong. This part of “Making Britain Great Again” should not have been believed, because it was never true. Hmmm, what does this remind me of? We could start with “and Mexico will pay for that wall!”


As a political performer, Trump has no peer in his ability to do the unexpected and thus keep opponents guessing and off-guard. But when the real world presents him with events that are sudden, high-stakes, and unexpected, from the physical violence of the Orlando shooting to the structural violence of the Brexit vote, he instinctively responds with the very worst side of him: This must all be about me! Leaders earn their pay in part through their response to the high-stakes and the unexpected. Three weeks before the GOP formally nominates this man, he is showing us who he is.

No games indeed.

A loud Scot making a distinctively unpleasant keening sound. Also shown: a bagpiper. (Clodagh Kilcoyne / Reuters)


Waste output of modern America, at a rally in Pennsylvania. Also shown ...  [fill in your own punch line] (Reuters)

Step away from the Time Capsule business for a few days, and look what happens! Any one of the developments below would be considered a challenge by a normal candidate in a normal campaign year. Herewith a listicle update of where we stand with this unprecedented campaign. (The original Time Capsule thread is here, with items #1-#27. For entries starting with #28, go here.)

1. Brexit Diplomacy. Trump arrived in Scotland as the biggest economic and political news in generation was breaking across the UK, and news that of course was roundly opposed in Scotland itself. His short-term response was a widely ridiculed golf course press conference. “Donald Trump’s Brexit press conference was beyond bizarre” was a Washington Post headline;  “At Trump news conference, it’s all about him,” was the headline for CNN.

After the Orlando mass shooting, Trump’s immediate Tweeted reaction began, “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism.” His reaction to the cataclysmic Brexit vote was once again all about him: that his timing was good in being there for the news, that he’d called the vote right and Crooked Hillary was wrong, and that a falling pound would be good for the Scottish golf-resort business:

Good timing!


Good call!

And when he came home:

Under budget!

We’re all self-interested, and people who run for president have a higher narcissism quotient than most of the rest of us. But we’ve never before seen a public figure like Trump, who can’t even pretend to be concerned about anything beyond “What does this mean for me, Donald Trump?”  


2) The missing donations. The Washington Post investigative story out today, by David Farenthold, would mean serious trouble for a normal candidate. Its gist is that Trump has probably been flat-out lying about his  promised charitable contributions in recent years.

From the WaPo today

I encourage you to read the story to absorb the details.

Now, one possibility is that Trump actually made all his promised donations, and the Post simply failed to track down the recipients. The other possibility is that Trump claimed to be a big donor and never followed through.

Ask yourself which possibility seems more likely, considering: a) that Trump touted his intention to give the proceeds from a fund-raiser to veterans groups, but there is no evidence that he did so until asked about it last month by the press; b) that Trump, unlike any other major-party nominee in modern history, has still refused to release his tax records; c) that the Trump campaign’s FEC reports, which he had no choice but to reveal, showed that his campaign had much less money than he had implied, and had paid a surprisingly large share of its outlays to Trump’s own businesses; and d) that Trump is in the middle of a lawsuit over fraudulent business practices (under the “Mexican judge”) at his Trump University.

So, we can’t know yet for sure. The tax returns would tell a lot. But based on the evidence to date, my guess is: he’s been lying about the donations all along too.


Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the foreground, with other members of the Republican Senate leadership: (from left) John Barrasso, John Thune, and John Cornyn. This isn’t a picture of McConnell with his party’s presumptive nominee, because if such a photo exists, Google doesn’t know about it. (AP photo)

As explained back in item #18 of this series, I’m using “the Resistance” and “Vichy Republicans” as useful shorthands for, respectively, the GOP figures who are fighting the hostile takeover of their territory, versus those who have acquiesced to a conquering force — which no doubt they’ll criticize once someone else has dealt with it. (And to make this clear every time, of course the analogy does not extend to likening this era’s conqueror, Donald Trump, to the historically unique Hitler.)

Mitch McConnell has been a crucial membership of the Vichy coalition, for two reasons. One is ex officio: as Senate Minority Leader during the early Obama years and now as Majority Leader, he has been the most important single figure in opposition to Obama’s programs, nominations, and general prospects. His historically unprecedented overuse of the filibuster, while still in the minority, was an early indication. His current refusal even to consider a Supreme Court nominee, also historically unprecedented, is the latest example.

The other aspect of McConnell’s importance is temperamental. As a political operator and spokesman, he is the exact opposite of Donald Trump. Trump appears to be all Id, reaction, spontaneity. McConnell, by contrast, barely reveals any emotion and says only what exactly fits the thought-out message plan. When he was a Congressional leader, Newt Gingrich would say one entertaining thing today, and a contradictory but also entertaining thing tomorrow. What Mitch McConnell says is never entertaining, but it is always intentional and planned out.

Thus it is highly significant that McConnell said this morning, in a TV interview with cable channel NY, that Trump was “an entertainer” and that he needed to “become” a credible presidential candidate, not being one yet. From the interview:

McConnell: “Trump clearly needs to change, in my opinion, to win the general election. What I’ve said to him both publicly and privately: 'You’re a great entertainer. You turn on audiences. You’re good before a crowd. You have a lot of Twitter followers. That worked fine for you in the primaries.

“But now that you are in the general, people are looking for a level of seriousness that is typically conveyed by having a prepared text and Teleprompter and staying on message.' So my hope is that he is beginning to pivot and become what I would call a more serious and credible candidate for the highest office in the land.”


1947 War Department propaganda film, Don’t Be a Sucker.

This one really is a time capsule. It’s a nearly 70-year-old U.S. government film called Don’t Be a Sucker, released in 1947 by what was then straightforwardly known as the Department of War. (Thanks to Daniel Buk for the lead.)

Most of the 17-minute film is a history of Germany’s slide into Nazism, which is powerful but familiar. I think these three segments deserve another look in 2016:

  • The part from time 2:05 (where the video below is cued to start) to 4:25, in which our everyman-American hero confronts a rabble-rousing speaker who tells him that his jobs, opportunities, and future are being stolen by outsiders.
  • The two minutes of the video before that, which you can click back on the player to see, presenting one version of America’s view of itself, just after its great victory in war. It’s touching, up-to-date, out-of-date, achingly earnest, and unintentionally ridiculous (in retrospect), all at the same time.
  • The final two minutes, from 15:25 onward, when the immigrant-American narrator explains the importance of America being a nation-of-minorities.


Obviously this video really is a time capsule from a different era. For instance, it talks unselfconsciously about the triumph of an American fighting force “made of people of all religions and skin colors,” at a time when the U.S. military was still formally segregated. But I was surprised by how many aspects of it still seemed relevant.

(The original Time Capsule thread is here, with items #1-#27. For entries starting with #28, go here.)

Trump this morning, via NY Post.

In July, 1948, the 33rd President of the United States, Harry Truman, took an overdue step toward equal opportunity, equal dignity, and “more perfect union” with Executive Order 9981, ordering desegregation of the military.

In July, 2016, the aspirant to be the 45th President, Donald Trump, said he would “look into” a step in the opposite direction, by potentially replacing TSA agents who were Muslim and wore “hibby-jobbies.”

The term hibby-jobbies was from a questioner and presumably meant the veil or head cover known as hijab. But Trump did not resist or object to it, as he frequently has with other questions whose framing he dislikes. (He “let it slide,” as CNN put it in a headline.) Instead he said he would “look into” this concept of religion-based scrutiny of public employees.

You don’t have to go back to Harry Truman to see how extraordinary and odious this is — or to the Truman-era War Department film I mentioned yesterday. Eight years ago, John McCain earned boos from a partisan crowd, but increased respect in history’s eyes, for rejecting a questioner’s premise that his then-rival, then-Senator Barack Obama, was really an Arab.

In this cycle, McCain is still a Vichy Republican, officially backing Trump for the presidency.


Yesterday Trump also joked that a small plane overhead might be Mexican, because “they’re getting ready to attack.”

In retrospect it will seem remarkable, and it deserves more notice even now, how even-tempered the Mexican government and most Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, and Latino-background Americans in general have been about all of this. Think of the likely reaction if a presumptive major-party nominee had been turning against [blacks / Catholics / Jews / Baptists / Asian-Americans / etc ] the repeated off-hand slurs Donald Trump keeps issuing against Muslims and Mexicans.

The Tweet that Donald Trump sent out yesterday morning, and then quickly deleted. (Twitter screenshot)

This one has been well-publicized even at the start of a long holiday weekend. Thus I just note its existence, for the long-term record. Here’s the sequence:

  1. On the early morning of July 2, Donald Trump put out the image you see above in his own personal Twitter feed. It showed Hillary Clinton against a background of dollars, with the phrase “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!” on a red-colored six-pointed star, or badge.
  2. A basic principle of political life, and life in general, is that more things happen via incompetence or screw-up than happen according to devious plan. So the forgiving initial reaction to this Tweet could have been: can you believe how sloppy these Trump people are? Didn’t they stop to think about the way a six-sided star, on a field of cash, could so easily be read as a Star of David, and thus play into a classic anti-Semitic stereotype? [Not to mention: why the hell is a presumptive major-party nominee spending his time on this kind of idiocy?]
  3. This “didn’t they stop to think??” reaction depends upon the possibility that the star could have been intended to be read as a badge, from a sheriff or marshal, rather than as a Mogen David. For instance, the LA County Sheriff’s office uses just such a badge, as shown below. So does the U.S. Marshal’s service. So conceivably this could have been just another in a series of bone-headed moves rather than anything else.
    One six-sided star that is not a dog whistle (LA County Sheriff’s department)
    And another, from the U.S. Marshal office

    [Update: Keith Olbermann observes via Twitter that the law-enforcement badges have globes at the six points, while a Star of David, and the image in Trump’s Tweet, do not.]

    But then ...

  4. Today, July 3, various reports emerged (starting with News.mic) that Trump’s original “Most Corrupt” Tweet had been lifted from an outright racist site, and that the use of the Star of David was about as accidental as the placement of gorilla imagery or a watermelon in a comparable attack-Tweet about Barack Obama.

So you can take your pick: negligence, or malice. Either a presumptive major-party nominee is spending his time, as he “pivots” toward the general election that happens just four months from now, sending out personally insulting tweets without having anyone check their provenance and implications; or someone in the campaign is doing this on purpose, dog-whistle style. I think the former is more likely, but either one is bad.


It’s been nearly 13 months since Donald Trump came down the escalator and announced that he was running for president.

This evening, in Ohio, he gave what was even for him the most off-message, most (literally) deranged-seeming performance of his candidacy, and what would have been in any previous campaign a sign of very serious trouble.

A sample:

Why this was off-message:

  • It followed a slightly good, mainly very bad day for Hillary Clinton, in which James Comey, the director of the FBI, scolded her for being “extremely careless” with classified emails. (The slightly good part was Comey’s announcement that Clinton’s carelessness didn’t warrant prosecution.) Rather than focusing relentlessly on what this said about Clinton, Trump broadened the attack to include Comey and his “rigged” investigation — and thus drove the email story from lead position in the news because of all the other things he said and did.
  • The “Corrupt Hillary and the Star” controversy (see Time Capsule #33) could have been a one-day story, if Trump or his representatives (if they existed) had simply said: “Obviously we meant no offense, to anyone other than the corrupt Democratic candidate — and to make that meaning clear and avoid any misunderstanding, we’re happy to change the image. Because what matters to the American people... [etc etc].” Instead he re-raised the issue, said the only thing he was sorry for was that someone in his campaign had taken down the original six-pointed star image, and thereby made the affair into a multi-day story that cannot gain him any votes or do him any good.
  • Trump raised a lot of money, and announced that he had done so. But the “process” story from the day’s events became not that but rather the uncontrolled nature of his talk. The NYT headline of the day was, “In a Defiant, Angry Speech, Donald Trump Defends Image Seen as Anti-Semitic.” No matter what your party, you are never, never winning when that’s the main story from your speech.
  • The half-hour of Trump’s performance was objectively as alarming, in mental-balance terms, as anything we have seen from a major party candidate in modern history. I can’t find an online video of the whole 30 minutes that has acceptable audio quality. But imagine the mosquito clip extended at full length and you have the idea.

    I defy anyone to watch these 30 minutes and feel comfortable with the idea of Donald Trump making the countless judgment calls required of a president. This man is not well. But he is the man the GOP is about to nominate for the presidency.    
Talk about winning! Even before moving into the White House, Donald Trump has added more articles to the Constitution! He leaves the Capitol building this morning after performing this feat. (Joshua Roberts / Reuters.)

Charles Stevenson, long-time Congressional staffer and author of many books about the politics and policy of national security, writes about Donald Trump’s meeting this morning with Republicans on Capitol Hill:

You may have seen this TPM report about Trump’s meeting with House GOP. I think this part is especially significant:

Another Republican in the meeting who declined to go on the record so he could speak candidly told TPM that Trump was asked pointedly if he would defend Article I of the Constitution.

“Not only will I stand up for Article One,” Trump enthusiastically stated, according to the member in the room. “I'll stand up for Article Two, Article 12, you name it of the Constitution.”

The Republican member said that Trump’s lack of knowledge about how many articles exist, gave him “a little pause.” (The Constitution has seven articles and 27 amendments.)

Besides indicating Trump has little real knowledge of the Constitution, it also shows an insensitivity to the purpose of the question. Article I lists the powers of the Congress, which many Republicans say has been undermined by an overreaching Obama. Trump doesn’t seem to understand that he was being asked about legislative-executive relations and the proper balance between those branches. He didn't know, and probably doesn’t care. Lawmakers should.


Speakers at Donald Trump’s Republican convention will cover the entire range from athletes …  to coaches! We see Trump with one of the latter, Bobby Knight. (Jim Young / Reuters)

Here’s something that doesn’t “matter” but still is delightful. Ivanka Trump gives a preview of what the attending delegates and accompanying press horde (complete with an Atlantic team including me) will see in person next week in Cleveland, and what the rest of the world can see on TV. Emphasis added:

“It's not going to be a ho-hum lineup of the typical politicians,” daughter Ivanka Trump said more than a week ago. “It's going to be a great combination of our great politicians, but also great American businessmen and women and leaders across industry and leaders across really all the sectors, from athletes to coaches and everything in between.”

All the way from athletes to coaches! (H/t Ari Ofsevit.)

Or, this could be a knowing homage to the Dorothy Parker line about a “striking performance that ran the gamut of emotions, from A to B.”


Here is something that does matter. I don’t have the time or fortitude to re-watch the Trump performance this evening in Westfield, Iowa. You can find the whole tape here (the Man himself comes on around time 1:48.00). But on real-time viewing it was notable.

Less than four months before the general election, a near-nominee is riffing as if the only audience that matters is the GOP base. Highlights:

  • Starting around time 2:10:00, “who’s going to pay for that wall?” “I can’t hear you, who’s going to pay??” You can sense him feeling for something that will rev the audience up. And let the record show: past and present leaders of Mexico have made clear that of course they are not going to pay for any such wall. But for Trump it’s a go-to routine to get a cheer.
  • Around time 2:13:00, a solution to the knotty and tragic Syria problem. “In Syria, we’ll build safe zones, and we’ll get other people to put up the money.” How? How the hell? Never mind. Literally the next sentence was, “Because soon we are going to owe $20 trillion, with a T …”
  • Starting at time 2:14:00, Trump repeats his claim that he was against the Iraq war from the start. This is not true, and every time he says it he needs to be called out on its falsity. To Trump’s credit, he turned against the war faster than some others, once it started going bad. Before it started, he was not among those — those like Barack Obama, like Al Gore, like a handful of Republicans in Congress, like Brent Scowcroft and other conservatives and realists — who warned that it would be a grievous mistake.
    Just in case there is any doubt here: Donald Trump was not against the Iraq War when the debate was being held and the decision was being made.
  • At time 2:15:50, Trump makes his claim that America has grown so dysfunctional that people were asking for “a moment of silence” for the man who murdered five police officers in Dallas. Maybe I’ve missed it, but I am not aware of any real-world evidence for that claim. Translation: I believe he is yet again making this up.
  • Right after that, Trump goes into his “we never win any more” riff, about how the United States is an all-fronts failure.
    Lord knows that the United States has more than its share of grave economic, social, racial, public-safety, civic-culture, educational, infrastructure, and other problems, as both the 43rd and the 44th Presidents discussed very soberly this afternoon in Dallas. But if you’re talking in crude “we win” / “we lose” terms, you have to ask: OK, which major nation is “winning” more often, in more ways, than the U.S. now?

    It’s preposterous to suggest that the U.S. military is not incomparably the strongest in the world. The U.S. recovery has been unfair, and slow — but it’s been faster and stronger than just about anywhere else. The U.S. range of alliances in most regions of the world is stronger than it has been in decades. (Countries from India to Vietnam to Indonesia to Japan and South Korea are more tightly knit to U.S. strategic interests than in a very long time.)
    If “we lose, lose, lose” is Trump’s argument today, what language would be left if, for instance, today’s international-court ruling had been a sweeping rebuke of U.S. policy — rather than of China’s, as it actually was? If he’s talking this way on a day when the U.S. stock markets reached a historic peak, and the U.S. dollar is at recent-record highs against most other currencies, imagine what he’d say during a stock market and currency crash? (Before you point it out: a stock-market rise does not mean a healthy economy. But you know how a stock-market crash would be interpreted.)

Why bother to point this out? Because it does bother me, and should be noted for the record, that we’ve reached a point where we barely notice that a likely nominee is simply making things up, about his own past and about the realities of the world around him.


Senator Theodore Bilbo, a dominant figure in Mississippi politics through the first half of the 20th century, is deplored in history’s eyes as a Klan member and racist bitter-ender. After Bilbo’s time, racist arguments in national-level campaigns had generally become coded (“Southern Strategy,” “Willie Horton”) rather than overt and explicit. Now the press is dealing with the reality that Donald Trump (“they’re sending rapists”) is making them explicit once again.  (Library of Congress, Public Domain)

Among the challenges the Trump campaign has raised is one for the press. Reporters are most comfortable sticking to the “I’m just reporting” mode: This candidate says X, that candidate says Y, and it’s up to you, the voter, to decide which you prefer. What’s up to me, the reporter, is just to let each side have its say.

Even in the best of circumstances, this pose of willed neutrality has its limits and distortions (as chronicled here over the years). The 2016 campaign offers nothing like the best of circumstances, in that one of the two remaining major candidates simply invents, fantasizes, re-writes, distorts, omits, and generally lies about great portions of his utterances each day.

(How can I say that? Two quick illustrations from last night’s speech in Ohio. Donald Trump baldly asserted that after the murders of police officers in Dallas, political-correctness-minded people were “calling for a moment of silence” for the killer. That did not happen. To be more precise, there’s no evidence that it occurred. Trump also repeated his claim that he had opposed the Iraq war even before it began. He did not. He keeps saying it, but it is not true. Each day brings its own fresh supply of flat-out falsehoods.)

The natural tendency for the mainstream press — and believe me, this is by far the most comfortable place to be when doing a newspaper story or TV or radio report — is to avoid saying, “One of these people is lying.” Instead you want to lay out both sides and hope the contrast doesn’t need to be spelled out. But in a campaign like this, the result of this structural even-handedness can be to “normalize” the side that is lying. “Mr. Trump says there is no drought in California and that it’s all a fiction by environmentalists. Scientists in California disagree. We’ll leave it there.”


Thus the occasion for today’s time-capsule entry is a series of three items showing the press resisting “normalization.”

1) A long, thoroughly reported piece by Nicholas Confessore in the NYT, on how Trump has deliberately courted white racial resentment against blacks, Latinos, Muslims, and others. The story doesn’t pussy-foot around by saying, “Critics wonder whether ….” It comes right out about what he is doing:

In countless collisions of color and creed, Donald J. Trump’s name evokes an easily understood message of racial hostility. Defying modern conventions of political civility and language, Mr. Trump has breached the boundaries that have long constrained Americans’ public discussion of race.

Mr. Trump has attacked Mexicans as criminals. He has called for a ban on Muslim immigrants. He has wondered aloud why the United States is not “letting people in from Europe.”...

In a country where the wealthiest and most influential citizens are still mostly white, Mr. Trump is voicing the bewilderment and anger of whites who do not feel at all powerful or privileged.

But in doing so, Mr. Trump has also opened the door to assertions of white identity and resentment in a way not seen so broadly in American culture in over half a century, according to those who track patterns of racial tension and antagonism in American life.

2) An item by Greg Sargent in the Washington Post, under the headline “One of the candidates is actively trying to divide the country.” This is presented as an opinion item rather than a news-analysis piece like Confessore’s, but it urges readers to move past hand-wringing about “extremists on both sides” to concentrate on Trump’s flat-out appeals to racial/tribal divisions, which are unlike anything the other side is doing. Sargent writes that:

Ultimate Fighting Championship CEO Dana White with then-Bantamweight UFC Champion Ronda Rousey, in 2014. Next week White will appear on behalf of another champion, Donald Trump, at the GOP convention. (USA Today Sports photo.)

Noted for the record, just before action begins in Cleveland for the Republican convention: groups of people lining up for and against presumptive nominee Donald Trump.

For: The NY Times has this list of the planned speaker lineup for the convention.

Night 1: A Benghazi focus, followed by border patrol agents and Jamiel Shaw, whose son was killed by an undocumented immigrant. Senator Tom Cotton, Rudy Giuliani, Melania Trump, Senator Jodi Ernst and others.

Night 2: A focus on the economy: Dana White, president of Ultimate Fighting Championship; Asa Hutchinson, the governor of Arkansas; Michael Mukasey, the former United States attorney general; Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, a vice-presidential possibility; Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader; Tiffany Trump; Donald Trump Jr. and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin.

Night 3: Pam Bondi, Florida attorney general; astronaut Eileen Collins; Newt Gingrich, a former House speaker; Senator Ted Cruz of Texas; Eric Trump; golfer Natalie Gulbis; and the nominee for vice president. [Indiana Gov. Mike Pence??]

Night 4: former quarterback Tim Tebow; Representative Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee; Gov. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma; Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman; Gov. Rick Scott of Florida; Peter Thiel of PayPal and other ventures; Thomas Barrack, a real-estate investor; Ivanka Trump; Donald J. Trump.


Donald Trump and Mike Pence in Indiana this past week (John Sommers / Reuters)

Until this week, three episodes of choosing a vice presidential nominee stood out in post-World War II history as the clumsy ones:

  • 1972, when Democratic nominee Senator George McGovern chose Sen. Thomas Eagleton as his running mate, but had to swap him out for Sargent Shriver after news of Eagleton’s treatment for mental illness emerged;
  • 1988, when George H.W. Bush, then finishing eight years as Ronald Reagan’s vice president, chose young Sen. Dan Quayle—only to see Quayle immediately engulfed by hostile press questioning about his Vietnam-era record and other problems, followed by a very weak debate performance against his Democratic counterpart, Sen. Lloyd Bentsen.
  • 2008, when Sen. John McCain, who was looking to shake things up and pull off a “game change,” chose Gov. Sarah Palin as his VP candidate. That led to a short-term polling boost but many longer-term problems.

In Bush’s case, the Quayle choice ended up as part of a winning ticket. In McGovern’s and McCain’s, the slate would probably have lost no matter who was the VP. And there’s a whole poli-sci argument about whether VP picks make any difference at all in the November outcome, which I won’t get into.

The range of other choices include some that clearly did no good electorally — Al Gore’s selection of Joe Lieberman in 2000, for instance — and others that look worse as the years go by, given the VP-candidate’s subsequent life arc. John Edwards, as John Kerry’s running mate in 2004, leads this list, followed by Palin. Dick Cheney, GW Bush’s choice in 2000 and 2004, probably was one of the many factors that allowed Bush to squeak into the White House, because of Cheney’s  then-reputation for foreign-policy experience and his dominance of Joe Lieberman in the VP debate. But from my perspective he was one of the worst-ever VP choices, because of what he actually did in office (and afterwards).


When matched against the run of past nominees, Governor Mike Pence of Indiana seems less impressive than most in electoral terms, and average-to-better on the experience front.

Electorally, a very conservative white man from a very conservative Midwestern state does Trump no obvious good with the Latino, African-American, female, young, college-educated, or environmentalist blocs of voters with whom he trails badly. Beyond that, Pence actively hurts with LGBT groups because of his involvement in Indiana’s  Religious Freedom and Restoration Act. He may hearten some Republican conservatives, but the need to do that is itself a trouble sign for a Republican nominee.

On the other hand, in terms of experience, Pence has incalculably more than Trump himself and as, as a long-time Congressman and now a governor, he has as much or more formal experience as many other recent VP candidates.

As for his instantly highlighted stark differences with three of Trump’s main campaign themes — Trump claims (falsely) that he was against the Iraq war, while Pence was strongly for it; Trump is against NAFTA and the TPP, while Pence is for them; Trump has renewed his calls for limits on Muslim immigration, while Pence has resisted  — this kind of Pres/VP tension has happened before. Any experienced politician knows how to present it as a sign of healthy creative tension etc.  Famous example: Candidate George H.W. Bush had strongly denounced candidate Ronald Reagan’s tax-cut plans as “voodoo economics,” when Bush was fighting Reagan for the 1980 GOP nomination. But after Reagan won, Bush loyally and effectively signed on as advocate for those tax cuts on the campaign trail as as Vice President.


Here we go!

So the result of this stage of Trump’s general-election campaign seems more positive than most of his other steps in the past two months. What may distinguish it in a bad way is the process — which in turn matters if it reflects on Trump’s ability to cope with complexities of national-level operations. In specific: