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Trump’s Lost Weekend

The past weekend probably wasn’t much fun for President Donald Trump or his most die-hard defenders. On Friday Trump signed a series of continuing resolutions to temporarily end the partial government shutdown, and none of them contained any money for the big beautiful border wall that he had insisted on when he was “proud to shut down the government for border security.” The same day saw the pre-dawn arrest of former advisor and longtime friend Roger Stone, the latest in a series of indictments brought by the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing.”
Both stories struck most observers as bad for Trump, but he and several of his die-hard defenders did their best over the weekend to explain how Trump keeps winning.
Trump “tweeted” to the fans that although he conceded to the Democrats his one demand for border wall funding “This was in no way a concession,” and that if he doesn’t get his way when the deal ends in three weeks “it’s off to the races!” This was a hard sell even for such reliable media allies as The New York Post, where the front-page headline called Trump a “Cave Man,” and the Trump-loving conspiracy theory website thegatewaypundit ran the headline “Trump Caves.” Even Ann Coulter, the author of “In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome,” declared that President George H.W. Bush was “no longer the biggest wimp ever to serve as president.” We can’t imagine why Coulter chose to impugn the manliness of the last president Bush, who was a star athlete and bona fide war hero and the man who negotiated the west’s victory in the Cold War and drove Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, but it goes to show how very disappointed some fans were on Friday.
Some Trump fans are made of sterner stuff, however. The always hilarious defenestrated administration official Sebastian Gorka is still loyal enough he insisted on Lou Dobbs’ Fox News show that Trump had pulled off a “master stroke,” even though the usually reliable host was saying that Trump had been “whipped by Pelosi.” The indefatigable Trump apologist Sean Hannity was telling his radio and television audiences that the president was sure to prevail within three weeks, as “he holds all the cards,” even though Hannity’s usually sycophantic radio show callers were disagreeing. As much as we admire quixotic effort, it’s a hard case to make. Trump was taking a beating in the opinion polls for his stubborn insistence on a border wall that has never polled well, the newly installed Democratic majority in the House of Representatives is clearly emboldened, and it’s hard to see what changes in the next three weeks.
Trump didn’t even get his previously scheduled State of the Union address in the House chamber, and it’s unlikely he’ll be able to change many minds if does the prime time gig. Seven Republican Senators had abandoned ship by the end of the partial government shutdown, which set new records for duration and bad press, and with several of them up for reelection next year in states that Trump didn’t win they’ll have little incentive to return to the fold of the true believers. The remaining faithful are confident that Trump will get his big beautiful border wall built by declaring a national emergency and unilaterally diverting funds that Congress had appropriated for other and more popular programs, but we expect that both the federal courts and the court of public opinion will have something to say about such a presidential power grab as that, and it will be a hard case for those self-proclaimed “constitutional conservatives” in the Trump-friendly media to make.
Beleaguered White House press secretary Sarah Sanders made a rare appearance on television to insist that the arrest of Stone had nothing to do with Trump, and most of the Trump-friendly media were indignant that such a fine fellow had been subjected to a pre-dawn arrest by combat-armed federal agents. It’s true that none of the seven counts in the indictment of Stone mention Trump, and that arrest did look pretty scary, but that apologists have another hard case to make.
Stone has had a decades-long relationship with Trump that included an advisor role in the earliest days of Trump’s presidential campaign, and he was still in regular contact with Trump while he was allegedly committing crimes on his behalf and allegedly lying to congress to jibe with Trump’s latest explanations, and we think it likely that the next round of indictments will mention Trump. He’s not at all a fine fellow, either, and in fact has long prided himself on his well-earned reputation as one of the biggest sleazes in politics since his days as a self-described “rat-****er”for President Richard Nixon, whose visage is literally tattooed on Stone’s back, and one can hardly blame the feds for fearing Stone might destroy evidence if tipped off in advance about his arrest.
Today starts another work week, though, with all those furloughed government workers back on the job, and there’s no telling what hay Trump and his die-hard defenders might make of it. Perhaps in three weeks time the Democrats will be doing the capitulating, and the “Russia thing” will be proved a WITCH HUNT!, and Trump will be rolling toward a landslide reelection and eventual inclusion on Mount Rushmore, but for now we’re not betting on it.

— Bud Norman

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Media Critic in Chief

After a weekend largely spent “tweeting” his indignation about a curtain call oration at a Broadway play and a skit on a satirical comedy show, president-elect Donald Trump returned to work on Monday with an effort to bully the television news media into giving him more favorable coverage. That’s how we’ll describe his off-the-record-but-inevitably-leaked meeting with the heads of several networks, at any rate, at least while we still can still do so without fear of recriminations.
The meeting was first reported by the tabloid New York Post, which described it as a gerund-form-of-the-F-word “firing squad,” quoting an unnamed source, and the more polite broadsheets found more suitable language to say pretty much the same thing. The New York Post’s unnamed source recounts Trump telling Cable News Network’s head honcho Jeff Zucker that “I hate your network, everyone at CNN is a liar, you should be ashamed,” with a second unnamed source saying that Trump called the news outlet “a network of liars” and singled out the National Broadcasting Corporation for similar disparagement. The Washington Post’s article, headlined “A defiant Trump meets the TV news crowd in private — and let’s them have it,” corroborates that “The president-elect specifically called out reporting by CNN and NBC that he deemed unfair, according to four people who attended the meeting, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because the meeting was off the record.” The scooped New York Times headlined its report with a familiar-sounding “Trump Summons TV Figures for Private Meeting, and Lets Them Have It,” citing unnamed sources with the same information. Each paper added some quotes by Trump spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway about how very “cordial,” “productive,” and “congenial” the meeting was, but even she acknowledged it was also “very candid and very honest,” which we’ll interpret to mean a gerund-form-of-the-F-word firing squad.
All of which was lustily celebrated in the newer and more Trump-friendly media. The Drudge report linked to the New York Post story with the headline “BEAT THE PRESS: TRUMP TOWER SHOWDOWN WITH MEDIA ELITE,” and the Breitbart News site, until recently run by Trump’s newly appointed “Chief Strategist,” went with “Trump Eats the Press.” We spent our driving-around time on Monday listening to old rockabilly and garage band mix tapes rather than talk radio, but we’re quite sure all the hosts were happy to hear that all the media they constantly rail against got a presidential dressing-down. The more die-hard sorts of Trump supporters, who routinely harassed the same networks and newspapers at Trump’s urging during his rallies throughout the campaign, were no doubt similarly delighted.
Which is not hard to understand, given that much of the ancien regime media have indeed long been relentlessly hostile toward Republicans in general and the putatively Republican Trump in particular, and often unfairly, but we still find it somewhat unsettling. Although we are also frequent critics of the press, we think that Trump’s critique is conspicuously self-serving, and in many cases unfair. We wonder why Trump isn’t thanking CNN for all those endless hours of live coverage of his raucous rallies while almost completely ignoring his many vastly more qualified challengers during the Republican primaries, and although we have to admit that he’s got a point about NBC he should admit they also didn’t do those primary challengers any favors, nor did they do his Democratic rival much good. The Washington Post and The New York Times and other singled-out media gave thorough coverage of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s countless undeniable scandals, even if it was less prominent than on the front pages than their thorough coverage of Trump’s countless undeniable scandals, and by now their biases are as familiar to the public as those of The Drudge Report or Breitbart News or any of those talk radio show hosts.
Our view is that all of the media, both those hostile to Trump and those angrily supportive of him, should be able publish or broadcast whatever they want. They should all be subject to the same sort of scrutiny to they apply to public figures and one another as well, and a president or president-elect should have the same rights to express an opinion about it as anyone else, but no one should have the power of retribution or censorship. Trump’s past vows to “open up the libel laws” and to target certain press barons’ other business interests and cut off media access to his administration lent an air of menace to Monday’s meeting, and those cheering him on should take a moment of self-interested consideration about how it might affect them during an inevitable future Democratic administration.

— Bud Norman

The Presidential and the Personal

Republican nominee Donald J. Trump’s newly fledged campaign manager Kellyanne Conway appeared on the American Broadcasting Company’s “This Week” program Sunday morning, boasting that her candidate had just had “the best week” of his campaign. She had a strong case, as Trump had given well-reviewed speeches on crime and immigration that staked out sensible positions, generally avoided any of the widely-publicized craziness that has marked his campaign, and seemed to signal a more presidential tone with an uncharacteristic admission of “regret” for any unspecified comments he’s made “in the heat of debate” and “particularly where it may have caused personal pain.” Throw in the latest “uh oh” developments on the widely distrusted and disliked Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s various ongoing scandals, and it was enough to shave a full point off her lead in Real Clear Politic’s average of the polls.
Conway also boasted that her candidate “doesn’t hurl personal insults,” but we expect that “Lyin'” Ted Cruz and “Low Energy” Jeb Bush and “Little” Marco Rubio and Carly “Look at the Face” Fiorina and Megyn “Bleeding From Wherever” Kelly and that New York Times reporter with the unfortunate bone ailment would agree the case for that claim is quite weak. By the next morning a “tweeting” Trump was adding someone named Joe Scarborough and someone else named Mika Brzezinski to the list of people has hurled personal insults at, and that long awaited presidential tone seemed to have vanished into the pixels of the internet.
Reportedly these Scarborough and Brzezinski people host some television program called “Morning Joe” on the MSNBC cable network, but we cannot attest to this. We rarely watch television, steadfastly refuse to pay a cable company for the dubious privilege, wouldn’t be watching MSNBC in any case, and that “Morning Joe” title suggests it runs a time when we’re contentedly sleeping or grouchily brewing a couple of mugs of more literal java. So far as we can tell from the press Scarborough is the crazy-left MSNBC’s token Republican, much as the Obama-loving David Brooks is the token Republican at The New York Times and the NeverTrumping Jennifer Rubin has the title at The Washington Post, and Brzezinski is the daughter of Zbigniew Brzezinski, who we sadly remember as a counselor to President Lyndon B. Johnson and National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter, but apparently they had once enjoyed a happy relationship with Trump. Ever since he wrapped up the Republican nomination all that “free media” Trump once trumpeted has been coming with a price, though, and he seems to have taken the more critical tone on “Morning Joe” rather personally.
“Some day, when things calm down, I’ll tell the real story of @JoeNBC and his very insecure longtime girlfriend, @morningmika,” Trump “tweeted” at an absurdly early hour Monday morning, adding a defiant and exclamation-marked “Two clowns!” Although we’re not at all hepped up to the latest internet lingo we presume that “@JoeNBC is” a “Twitter handle” for Scarborough and “@morningmika” is some enigma machine-generated codeword for Brzezinski, and so far as we can tell from the scandal rags that part about a “very insecure longtime girlfriend” is a reference to some recent gossip that Scarborough and Brzezinski are partners both on and off the air. That rumor had already been reported on in the notorious “Page 6” in the tabloid New York Post, which has both endorsed Trump and run naked pictures of his third wife in sapphic poses on its front page, but when things calm down we’ll eagerly await whatever juicy details Trump has to add about the “real story,” along with his explanation of how he came to know such irrelevant information.
Whatever off-screen canoodling this Scarborough person and that Brzezinski person might or might not be doing does nothing to add or detract from their opinions, which we don’t care about in the least anyway, and surely a guy who has publicly boasted about all the married babes he’s bagged and whose third wife is showing up naked in sapphic poses on the front page of the Trump-endorsing New York Post is not the guy to call them out on whatever they might have been up to. At this late point in the sexual revolution we’re more more interested in the 15,000 e-mails to and from the Democratic nominee that have lately turned up, the very existence of which are a scandal and include countless more that only add to her already burdensome 25 plus years of scandals, and we’d think a Republican nominee would also be more concerned with that.
This Republican nominee takes things personally, though, and apparently there was nothing in those 15,000 previously stonewalled e-mails about him.

— Bud Norman

A Disappointing Diary

With the situation with Syria becoming so convoluted it causes a headache, we spend much of Monday in search of some other story of less significance to provide distraction. The secret diary of Robert Kennedy Jr., which has somehow fallen into the hands of the New York Post, seemed just the thing.
A scintillating combination of the words “secret diary” and the Kennedy name promises plenty of prurient interest, after all, and the family’s enduring political clout provides a respectable pretense for reading it. There’s also an intriguing mystery about how the diary made its way to New York’s politically incorrect newspaper, and why it would take such an interest in one of the Kennedy clan’s more politically inconsequential members, but mostly we were wanting to read what fans of the steamier sort of fiction call “the good parts.”
Alas, this particular Kennedy’s recollections are disappointing in this regard. His diary confesses a considerable number of marital infidelities, as family tradition dictates, but they are told with such dispassionate accounting that provides all the titillation of a corporate balance sheet. Thirty-seven women are named in the diary, an impressive total considering that the diary covers only a year in the diarist’s life, but few details are provided except for some undisclosed first names, the vague facts that one of the women is a doctor and another is married to a famous actor, and a numerical rating of each woman based on the degree of intimacy that was achieved. Sixteen of the women were given a score of ten, which is a respectable batting average even in the Kennedy league, but The Post reveals nothing of interest about the trysts except for the names of the celebrities who were present at the swank social gathering where the affairs began. The fact that Kennedy’s wife ultimately committed suicide as the result of her unhappiness with the marriage also takes some fun out of the vicarious womanizing, and even Kennedy was so troubled by what The Post calls “Catholic guilt” that he recorded every unsuccessful attempt at seduction a “victory.”
In the absence of the usual swinging Kennedy naughtiness, much of The Post’s attention has been paid to the political dirt-dishing. In his presumed privacy Kennedy admitted to some unfavorable opinions of a few leading Democratic lights and was especially disparaging of the Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, which reassures that despite his craven public obeisance to these charlatans he is not so stupid as to believe a word of it, and even New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, which is a sound judgment but also makes us wonder about how stupid he must be to write such sacrilege even in his most private writings. There is no indication from The Post’s reporting that Kennedy ever went so far as to blaspheme President Barack Obama, but slights against a Cuomo will suffice for tabloid controversy.
Despite the lack of pornographic appeal, Kennedy’s purloined diaries proved a sufficient diversion from the day’s events. We hope that whatever poor soul has been charged with writing and endlessly re-writing today’s planned presidential address on the rapidly changing events regard Syria wasn’t too beguiled by the revelations to keep his mind on the job.

— Bud Norman