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And yet, there was not so much as a gust of wind that day.

Three weeks into the Trump Era, we’re starting to see efforts to put the man into a broader context. Trump has perhaps hit his peak for the cycle in terms of media attention and polling support, but it’s worth remembering that the man is fundamentally volatile and unpredictable, and if you’ve ever seen an episode of The Apprentice, then you know that he considers this a point of pride. I could just as easily imagine him dropping out of the race next week as I can imagine him continuing on, with no hope, through every single primary just like Jerry Brown in 1992, and then even possibly taking on a third-party presidential bid when he loses. Or not. In any event, we have to assume that he’s here to stay, which raises the question of what impact he will have on the Republican race. And I think the obvious answer is that he fucks up Scott Walker’s shit. Most people taking this question on argue that Trump helps Bush, which I agree with. Nobody in Bush’s orbit is going to be remotely tempted by Trump. Walker, however, is attempting to replicate what his idol, Ronald Reagan, and previously Barry Goldwater accomplished, which was to beat the establishment from the right. A typical Republican field includes a large number of very conservative minor candidates who split up the vote, while the party’s political professionals and donors will decide on a single candidate and lavish their undivided support on him. It’s why the party wound up with Romney and McCain over Santorum and, well, Mitt Romney. (The party shifted quite a bit to the right over those four years.) But this year was going to be different: weak, compromised establishment choices in Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, and a uniquely strong hardcore conservative in Walker, who had widespread name recognition and a national base. For a noted Reagan idolater, Walker had to just be praising the stars at this setup.

The nightmare scenario for him, though, is a candidate like Donald Trump. While Walker has perfectly followed the Tea Party’s methods in office, as a communicator he cannot touch Trump’s mastery of the movement’s aggrieved, angry, antipolitical rhetoric. As this piece astutely notes, simply by running, Trump can fracture the field’s conservatives and make it much harder for Walker to win. Just by showing up and taking a nontrivial chunk of support, that’s it. And he can’t out-right the guy on substance, either. Trump is willing to go far beyond what best judgment dictates, and it just so happens that on his signature issue of immigrant crime, things on the right are turning rapidly in his favor, in ways that could wreck Walker’s whole strategy and derail his candidacy. I refer to the august Representative from Western Iowa, Steve King. Obviously, King has said some nice things about The Donald’s immigration views just in general. King says essentially the same things as Trump in much the same way, sometimes with even less tact, and it seems unlikely that anyone who actually cares about their general election is even going to try to one-up him/them. But even beyond that, events have conspired that could make this even more meaningful: the right-wing media has recently been caught up in a frenzy–easy for people outside the bubble to miss, given the multitude and rapidity of frenzies they engage in–over the horrific murder of Kate Steinle in San Francisco. Why does this connect? Because San Francisco is a sanctuary city, which essentially means it doesn’t enforce deportation laws and the like, and the accused is an illegal immigrant. The right-wing media has been going full-tilt on this–according to my wife, who had unfortunate occasion to watch several hours of FOX News because she was visiting a family member post-surgery, every FOX show was running with this, each one interviewing a separate family member–and now Rep. King himself has weighed in in his typical, considered manner. He has directly tied this to Trump’s message:

King said that three weeks ago, he brought an amendment to the floor on the Commerce Justice Appropriations bill that prohibits any funds from going to any sanctuary cities or jurisdictions just has he has for years.

The amendment passed with strong support, but in previous years it has stalled in the Senate.

“We’ve got an opportunity to hold that language because of Donald Trump and because of this national crisis,” King said.

Though GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump has been under fire for his statement that many illegal immigrants are bringing drugs into the country and that some are killers and rapists, King said recent events have shown he was right.

Would King endorse Trump? This is the key question. It would be almost too awesome to come true from a liberal perspective, but there’s very little reason to believe he wouldn’t strongly consider it. Trump donated significant sums to King in the past according to the National Journal article, they share a common stance on King’s pet issue, they are broadly similar in attitude and rhetoric. They like each other. If you find it impossible that King would endorse Trump, then I think you owe us all an explanation of why this couldn’t happen. Someone like Ted Cruz is clearly a con artist whose crazy exterior masks a cynical base, but I’m not sure you can say the same thing about King. He gives every indication of being a sincere kook who would gladly endorse a no-hoper who would damage the party, since that’s what’s so often said of him. And if King endorses Trump, you have to consider the possibility that Trump wins Iowa. If it seems odd that a Manhattan-based billionaire would win the Iowa Caucuses, long the best hope of evangelicals, ultracons and cornpone, well yes, it does. But with a King endorsement, I think it becomes a real possibility. There are, obviously, other hurdles. Winning Iowa would mean a lot of retail politicking that it doesn’t seem obvious Trump would excel at. And then there’s his well-covered history of supporting liberal causes and candidates. I am not entirely persuaded by the arguments that this will be his undoing–teahardists love purity but Reagan himself had a much more extensive record of left-wing politics and activism reaching well into the late 1940s. This sort of thing derailed Newt Gingrich’s moment in the sun three years ago, but Gingrich’s responses tended to be detached and professorial, while Trump’s would be anything but. And it’s also true that envisioning Trump as a man of deep faith is utterly implausible. So, obviously some challenges are there. But given that Walker’s current lead is basically based on name ID as governor of a neighboring state, Trump’s populist approach plus the support of Steve King would certainly put him in the game. And if Trump does win or finish a close second, Walker’s chances are basically hosed. It’s unlikely that he’ll win either in New Hampshire or South Carolina, and Nevada presents real challenges in the form of a genuinely moderate GOP governor who will have to be handled carefully, and a diverse, politically apathetic electorate very different from his exurban Milwaukee stomping grounds. It’s anyone’s guess who would win under those circumstances, but if Bush wound up winning (as I think he will), then that’s two in a row, and the stampede may well happen just from that.

Again, it’s worth saying that Trump is an unpredictable crazy person who could just drop out tomorrow. But if he remains in the race through the early primaries, by dint of fracturing conservatives and screwing up Walker’s strategy, he could end up making Walker 2016 look like Giuliani 2008. Watching Steve King should give us a good sense of whether this will happen. In the meantime, why not enjoy Tom Scharpling’s vintage recaps of The Celebrity Apprentice, easily among the best writing of that form ever. Here’s the web link, or you can download this PDF of The Celebrity Apprentice and let the hilarity roll on your mobile device, without all that scrolling and clicking.

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Early Edition

Tomorrow’s Debate Today

Don’t ask us how, but Library Grape has obtained future transcripts of the very first FOX News debate. Enjoy these, and have a happy Fourth.

BO: Hi, I’m Bill O’Reilly of FOX News, sitting here with Chris Wallace to moderate the first Republican presidential candidates’ debate. All ten candidates here are candidates who have the highest poll averages out of the entire field. So let’s give them all a big hand! [applause as the candidates head to their podiums]

CW: Okay, welcome all of you to the grounds of Brigham Young University, one of our nation’s most famous schools, and the only one on our list that didn’t laugh when we approached them about hosting this debate. This is going to be a very busy night, we have lots of candidates and lots of issues. We will start with some opening statements, but due to the size of the field, we must insist that you keep your comments confined to thirty seconds tops to explain why you are running. We’ve randomly generated the order, so first, Carly Fiorina.

CF: Thanks, Chris. I’m so thrilled to be here tonight! I want to thank the staff of BYU for hosting this event, first of all. Now…the future. In this election, we have a clear choice: do we change course for the future, or continue on the same old course that we’ve been following these last seven years? I think we all want a change of course, but who is best to lead that change? With all due respect to the other fine, great, wonderful candidates on the stage, any one of whom would be a major improvement on the current administration, I have been in business and politics for decades now, and I understand Hillary Clinton better than anyone. Nobody would dare call me sexist for criticizing Hillary Clinton, and no women would be blackmailed into voting for her based on gender if I face her. I look forward to getting the chance to do it.

CW: Thank you. Donald Trump.

DT: Thank you, Chris. You’re the best newscaster out there, you are. It’s true. So I’ll just go ahead and say it: I’m running because this field is full of losers who couldn’t get a single thing accomplished. I mean, take Carly over there. She’s a nice lady, she is. But she’s been a disaster at everything she’s tried: almost wrecked HP, ran one of the worst campaigns in history in 2010, and helped Republicans lose in 2012. She’s a total disaster. You really think she could make China quake in their boots? Or who, John Kasich? He won’t tell you, but that guy helped run Lehman Brothers, which doesn’t even exist anymore. It’s gone! That’s how well he runs things. I look around and I see a lot of nice people, people who I would absolutely consider for my cabinet with close supervision, but nobody who would be as good as I would.

CW: Mr. Trump, I’d ask–

CF: That’s really uncalled for, Donald.

CW: I’d ask that you please refrain from personal attacks on other candidates like that. Please stick to matters of policy or substance.

DT: Sorry, Chris. I mean that. You’re the best, you got it.

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Lev filed this under: , ,  

As I mentioned yesterday, I am profoundly ashamed at how our supposedly “respectable” news sources continue to let themselves get repeatedly ass-shafted by despicable snake-oil fraudsters like Donald Trump:

Donald Trump has released a video on YouTube containing the “big news” he promised would change the presidential election.

It turns out, its not so much big news as a silly challenge. What a shock.

But why quibble over details when those pesky items have never been particularly high on the Trump agenda.

In his latest effort to fill his need for more attention than any human has the right to crave without incurring some serious psychiatric bills, Trump has promised to make a five million dollar donation to any charity of President Obama’s choice if the President, in return, “opens up and gives his college records and applications … and if he gives his passport applications and records.”

So I get onto the Intertubes a few minutes ago and find all sorts of respectable media outlets reporting breathlessly on a big pile of typical Donald Trump feces that is rumored to be forthcoming and involves Obama somehow. The fact that this kind of toxic rumormongering garbage is not solely confined to filthpeddlers like WorldNetDaily pisses me off to no end. Sometimes I’m really ashamed to live in this era in our country’s history.
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Many have tried (including Josh Marshall earlier today), but is it possible to come up with a convincing reason why Mitt Romney has been so heavily reliant on the political gifts of Donald Trump for months now? Trump has been a parody of himself for ages, and is really just a coarse vulgarian birther who would seem to be far more of a liability than a strength in a campaign. Trump’s presence is a prestige-killer, the essence of reality television–it really would be like Obama campaigning with the Jersey Shore mutants. But Obama isn’t campaigning with anyone from the Jersey Shore. What do you think?
That’s what Donald Trump wants to say, I bet. This article is hilariously surreal, and you ought to read it.
Lev filed this under:  

There are a lot of people out there who believe that Mitt Romney is basically a decent person with dignity and decency and everything, and that he just doesn’t think that elections ought to be taken seriously. It’s hard to reconcile a concept of Romney with dignity to this:

With just over a week to go before the Michigan primary, ABC News reports Mitt Romney “is enlisting the help of one of his highest-wattage surrogates: Donald Trump.”

“The real estate mogul is preparing to spread his pro-Romney, anti-Rick Santorum message in a series of radio interviews this week on local stations from Traverse City to Detroit.”

Is this going to convince anyone to vote Romney? Probably not. Nobody’s ever pegged the Donald as having the common touch, and aside from his ongoing birther fixation there’s little there for working-class white conservatives to have much of an interest in there. It would be one thing if Romney were trying to steal the New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut primaries away from Santorum, but Trump has no connection to Michigan or Ohio, he’s just the guy who says “You’re fired!” on the TV to everyone not in the Tri-State Area. Hard to see how he helps Romney, and it could even backfire by making him less credible with elites.

Does this reek of desperation? Of course, but Romney’s been wearing that scent so long it might as well be his cologne. And I do think there’s a fascinating angle here. Back when Romney was the unchallenged frontrunner, he declined an invitation to participate in a debate hosted by…Donald Trump, basically saying it was beneath him. Both Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum agreed to participate. But, now that pretty much everyone in America has turned on poor old Mittens, he’s decided that acknowledging the unbearable orangeness of being is now hardly beneath his dignity, and failed alternative football league founder Trump is now cheerleading for the candidate who publicly snubbed him, against one of the two guys who never did, and who additionally is the one whose style he most resembles. How confusing.

What can we conclude from all this? I think (1) that Donald Trump has no memory and is making it all up as he goes along, and (2) that while I do agree that Romney is probably not a horrible person deep down, the depth of his tragic flaw (i.e. an insatiable desire for power) is practically Shakespearean, and the few scruples that he still has today will probably be out the door in a few months if things get desperate enough. He’s like Francis Urquhart without the wit and humor.