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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Published with permission from AlterNet.

If, like me, you think that a President Trump would be (not to coin a phrase) a total disaster, Hillary Clinton’s widening lead in the polls gave you about five minutes to breathe easier, until Trump replaced his campaign chairman with honchos blunt enough to admit that his ugliness was killing him with undecided voters, and pushy enough to make him pretend to almost apologize for it.

Was last week a true turning point for Trump? Did it signal a transformation from the man-baby who won the Republican primaries to someone with the temperament to be president? In the word of the moment, is this the “pivot” that Clinton’s supporters have most feared?

There are more strata of cynicism in the idea of a pivot than layers of pastry in a mille-feuille.

Start with the presumption of two kinds of Americans. Some of them – political insiders, media junkies, savvy citizens – know the score. They’re hard-boiled enough to get that candidates can sometimes lie with impunity; that everything can come down to image and optics; that in an era of post-truth politics, narratives can matter more than facts.

The other Americans are the useful idiots whose gullibility is what pollsters measure. When a candidate pivots from one message in the primaries (e.g., Blacks are scary), to a contradictory message in the general (Blacks are suffering), or when a nominee torques from bullying (smearing a Gold Star mother, say) to sensitivity (I regret causing personal pain), his or her campaign calculates that the base and the undecideds will just roll with it. They’ll bend themselves into pretzels, believe the character swings, dissolve the flip-flops in the solvent of amnesia.

So when insiders speculate whether the Trump pivot has at long last arrived, what they’re really asking is whether Trump has the discipline to maintain the masquerade that he’s changed. If he doesn’t consistently act as though he can get his id under control, too many voters may conclude that the pathological liar and narcissist they saw in the primaries – whom the elite knows is the real Trump – is in fact the real Trump.

The cynicism of the pivot ploy came into sharp focus when Trump, under the tutelage of his new chieftains — Stephen Bannon and Kellyanne Conway —declared in Charlotte, N.C., “Sometimes, in the heat of debate and speaking on a multitude of issues, you don’t choose the right words or you say the wrong thing. I have done that.”

If you saw him say that, you couldn’t mistake the meaning of the smirk on his face: “This is an act, people. I’m bluffing.” No wonder the crowd laughed at the preposterousness of it. “And believe it or not,” he continued, “I regret it.” Trump’s signature catchphrase is “believe me,” so when he says “believe it or not,” it’s a tell, a hostage video. “Or not” is the equivalent of blinking “I’m lying” in Morse code. The only disclaimer missing was putting air quotes around “regret.” No wonder his mea quasi culpa was met with even more laughter, and a Trump-Trump-Trump chant from the crowd; it was their way of saying they knew he was faking it.

Last Friday’s Morning Joe on MSNBC epitomized the media response to the Trump shakeup. The question on the table wasn’t whether Trump had truly changed; no one on the panel thought his pivot meant anything truthful about his temperament. Instead, it was all about performance, stagecraft, illusion – whether Trump’s new minders can make him stick to the new script, whether they can market it with a straight face, whether the audience will buy it. Joe Scarborough called Conway’s TV debut as campaign manager “the best pundit performance of the year.” “It was quite a performance,” agreed Andrea Mitchell, because “it didn’t have performance written all about it – it was natural.” Eugene Robinson thought Trump’s attempting a pivot would “if not gladden the hearts of worried Republicans, at least calm their night sweats.” Chris Cillizza wondered if Trump, a billionaire who managed to depict himself as a populist in the primaries, had already “damaged himself so badly, image-wise, that a change like this is not able to be sold to a skeptical electorate.” Brand maven Donnie Deutsch said no, it wouldn’t work, because “people are not stupid.” The press needs to stop setting the bar so low, “to stop giving him presidential points because he can read off a teleprompter and he’s not insulting anybody.”

Within hours of his Charlotte speech, a Clinton ad collected video of Trump being asked if he regretted taking shots at the Khans (“I don’t regret anything”); if he regretted denying that John McCain was a war hero (“I like not to regret anything”); if he regretted calling Mexicans rapists (“No, not at all); if he wanted to apologize for anything (“No, I don’t apologize”). Will it work? Trump’s tears may be crocodile contrition, but fact checking, even via video, sometimes can’t keep a good charlatan down.

Nor, maybe, will Trump’s message discipline stick any longer than after other reboots. Yesterday Conway tweeted that Trump “doesn’t hurl personal insults.” But during today’s Morning Joe, Trump took to Twitter to call Scarborough and co-host Mika Brzezinski “two clowns,” adding that she’s “a neurotic and not very bright mess.” So much for temperament transplants.

A political pivot is a con that wins wolf whistles from people who think they’re too smart to fall for it.  I wonder what it would take to motivate some connoisseurs of that fakery to volunteer a little time on the vice squad cleaning things up.

Photo: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during a Hispanic Small Business Leaders round table meeting at the Trump Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., August 26, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was on CNN Sunday morning with Jake Tapper on his State of the Union show. In part because Democratic reps, like Republican reps, going on Sunday shows is about this coming election, and in part because newscasters are not particularly deep or creative when it comes to talking about politics, Tapper decided to spend a lot of time trying to get Ocasio-Cortez to attack Joe Biden for their differences of political opinions. Newsflash: Ocasio-Cortez, progressive hero, co-author of the ambitious Green New Deal environmental package, and Vice President Joe Biden aren't exactly on the same page as to how to handle climate change.

More to the point, Tapper asked Ocasio-Cortez whether or not she was bothered by the fact that Biden has not said he would outright ban fracking. The move to ban fracking in states across the country has been a seesaw battle of fossil fuel interests fighting against progressive environmentalism and science. Biden's refusal to provide full-throated support for a ban on fracking is disappointing to many of us on the left, but it isn't surprising. Even more importantly, it is below the most essential first step the progressive movement—and the country for that matter—needs to take: getting rid of Donald Trump and getting rid of the Republican majority in the Senate.

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez isn't going to be pulled into a pointless argument about fracking with Jake Tapper. Her position is well-reported. So is Biden's. AOC explains very clearly that this is how politics work in a representative democracy.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: It does not bother me. I believe, and I have a very strong position on fracking. You know, the science is very clear, the methane emissions from fracking are up to 64 times more powerful than CO2 emissions and trapping heat in the air, and just from a perspective of stopping climate change there is a scientific consensus. However, that is my view. Vice President Biden has made very clear that he does not agree with the fracking ban and I consider that, you know—it will be a privilege to lobby him should we win the White House but we need to focus on winning the White House first. I am happy to make my case but I also understand he is in disagreement on that issue.

Tapper wonders whether this will depress the youth vote, a vote that AOC represents more closely than Biden. This, of course, is literally the only reason Trump and his surrogates have been bringing up this difference of positions the last couple of weeks. The hope is that it will depress the more progressive vote, while spooking some more conservative-leaning folks in fossil-fuel heavy states like Pennsylvania and Texas. Ocasio-Cortez points out that the youth vote over the past couple of years has not simply become more sophisticated since 2016, it has brought in more progressive candidates and officials into local elections. The turnout in 2018 showed that, and Ocasio-Cortez believes that this election is very clearly a choice between Donald Trump, someone who is a non-starter of a human being, and Joe Biden.

Tapper then plays a clip of Biden telling reporters that he isn't "getting rid of fossil fuels for a long time," but that he's talking about getting rid of the subsidies the fake free-marketeers enjoy in the fossil fuel industry. While Tapper is hoping that this will illustrate how Biden isn't AOC and the youth vote may be turned off by this statement, she sees it as an important step in the right direction.

REP. OCASIO-CORTEZ: When he says we are eliminating subsidies, I think that is, frankly, an important first step. A lot of folks who like to tout themselves as free market capitalists, while still trying to make sure they get as much government subsidy, and propping up of the fossil fuel industry as possible. ... If you do believe in markets, solar and renewable energies are growing less and less expensive by the day in many areas. They are starting to become less expensive than fossil fuels. When you eliminate government subsidies, it becomes more difficult for fossil fuels to compete in the market. I think while the vice president wants to make sure that he is not doing it by government mandate or regulation. I do believe that we are moving towards that future. I believe that there's a way and that we should push that process along but again, the vice president and my disagreements are, I believe, recorded and that is quite all right.