The Sanders/Trump Debate Would Only Legitimize Trump

The Sanders/Trump Debate Would Only Legitimize Trump

In case you weren’t already aware, there’s a really odd election going on. And earlier this week, one of the odder twists of the 2016 cycle began, fittingly, on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

Speaking with Kimmel Wednesday night, Donald Trump entertained the idea of debating Bernie Sanders after Kimmel asked him about it, saying “If I debated him we would have such high ratings and I think we should take that money and give it to some worthy charity.”

Sanders responded to the proposition on Twitter, with a glib “Game on. I look forward to debating Donald Trump in California before the June 7 primary.”

On Thursday, Trump seemingly reinforced his enthusiasm with the idea, telling voters in Bismark, North Dakota, “I’d love to debate Bernie. He’s a dream. If we can raise for maybe women’s health issues or something. If we can raise $10 or $15 million for charity, which would be a very appropriate amount.”

When Trump suggested that the debate would need to happen in a big arena, Sanders responded again on Twitter with  “I am delighted that @realDonaldTrump has agreed to debate. Let’s do it in the biggest stadium possible.”

Given how Trump’s last debate-related charity event went (not well at all, though Trump, predictably, disputes that), and the fact that Hillary Clinton has thus far refused to debate Sanders in advance of the California primary, should we be surprised it has come to this?

A Politico article speculated thatWith no Democratic debate, Sanders seems to be looking for any way to keep up his campaign’s momentum. A showdown between the fiery senator and the bombastic real estate mogul would be must-watch TV and possibly the most-hyped media spectacle of this crazy campaign year.”

Therein lies the problem with this whole proposition – even if there is something to be gained by Sanders in placing his progressive causes front and center on perhaps the biggest stage of this campaign, the potential negative consequences outweigh the positives… by a lot.

To start, the dynamic surrounding the debate unfortunately already hews closer to the bully-in-the-schoolyard approach of Trump’s campaign than anything from the Sanders campaign. Game on? Seriously?

For two candidates drawing upon the deep-seated anger among certain parts of the left and right, seeing their elementary back and forth perhaps isn’t surprising, but it’s disappointing nonetheless. As Sanders’ campaign manager Jeff Weaver told CNN, they hope Trump doesn’t “chicken out”.

Which is all well and good, but Sanders’ insistence on debating a media virtuoso place him directly in the trap that the media has fallen into time and time again with Trump — caring too much about him.

By latching onto one of Trump’s offhand remarks, he’s given Trump an even bigger platform to spread his asinine beliefs. The problem is that many Americans don’t feel that these beliefs are asinine at all, and by circumventing an already weak party structure on both ends, Sanders and Trump have set themselves up in opposition to the existing political status quo.

And is there any chance there won’t be a section of this debate in which both Trump and Sanders rail against the Democratic Party, and Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton? As Trump contended in North Dakota yesterday, “The problem with debating Bernie is he’s going to lose. Because honestly his system is rigged. Just like our system is rigged.” Sanders and Trump have both argued this, and getting on the same stage to do so again, and finding themselves in agreement, would only lend a huge degree of legitimacy to Trump, the only one of the two whose campaign will survive the summer.

Hasn’t Bernie said he would do everything he could to defeat Donald Trump? This debate would do the opposite.

Perhaps the best outcome of this whole situation, if the debate does happen, would be if Sanders forces Clinton’s hand on a number of progressive issues before the general election. More than that, though, trumpeting his causes front and center may force a number of them from the far left into the center of bipartisan American political discussion, which Sanders has done masterfully on issues like raising the federal minimum wage.

If Sanders can use a debate to pressure Trump into accepting even more progressive dogma into the Republican platform, he will have succeeded in single-handedly shifting the nation’s political discourse to the left.

However, If Sanders is committed to working seven days a week to stop Trump, as he has said he is, then he will take a pass on the debate. Trump has already pivoted to the general election. He will be working to undercut Clinton and bolster Sanders because he sees the current divide in the Democratic party. And even if Trump were to align with Sanders on certain progressive issues, would that not also help him in the general election? Of course it would.

Drawing a stark opposition between Democrats and Trump should be Sanders’ goal going forward, and muddying those waters only allows Trump to adorn various rhetorical guises that will eventually benefit his campaign.

While bringing progressive issues into the Republican platform is important, the stakes are too high in this election to play with the fire that is Donald Trump. Trump’s stoking of Sanders’ supporters’ anger by insisting the system is “rigged against Sanders” will bolster the Bernie or Bust movement. And Bernie will have played right into future President Trump’s hand.

Photo: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign rally in Grand Prairie, Texas February 27, 2016.  REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Obama’s ‘Kill List’ Is Here To Stay

Obama’s ‘Kill List’ Is Here To Stay

Drone warfare, once a topic of widespread pubic debate in America, has been placed on the mental backburners of most of the US public. A Pew poll in 2015 found that “Fifty-eight percent of respondents expressed approval of U.S. drone strikes, while only 35 percent disapproved. This included nearly three-fourths of Republicans, slightly more than half of Democrats, and 56 percent of independents.” Perhaps the slow burnout of the public debate around this issue marks a tacit approval.

With the presidential election in full swing and the field narrowed to the final three candidates, it’s worth asking a question that the public isn’t, currently: What will happen to President Obama’s so-called “Kill List,” and to America’s drone warfare policy more generally, once he leaves office?

The short answer is: Well, nothing.

The Intercept, which has reported on Obama’s Kill List extensively, describes Obama’s Kill List thusly:

“U.S. intelligence personnel collect information on potential targets… drawn from government watchlists and the work of intelligence, military, and law enforcement agencies… when someone was destined for the kill list, intelligence analysts created a portrait of a suspect and the threat that person posed, pulling it together ‘in a condensed format known as a ‘baseball card.’ That information was then bundled with operational information and packaged in a ‘target information folder’ to be ‘staffed up to higher echelons’ for action. On average, it took 58 days for the president to sign off on a target… At that point, U.S. forces had 60 days to carry out the strike.”

The program has little-to-no transparency in its decision making apparatus, and has even been called an extra-judicial assassination program, given the lack of due process provided to the targets, who in the past have included U.S. citizens.

There are many controversial aspects of American drone policy, but two in particular stand out: first, “signature strikes,” which according to U.S. authorities, target “groups of men who bear certain signatures, or defining characteristics associated with terrorist activity, but whose identities aren’t known.” The New York Times reported that some in the Obama administration joke that when the CIA sees “three guys doing jumping jacks,” they think it is a terrorist training camp.

When the CIA allegedly carried out its first targeted drone killing in February 2002, in Afghanistan, it killed three men near a former mujahedeen base called Zhawar Kili. In the aftermath of the strike, however, authorities appeared not to know who they had killed. A Pentagon spokeswoman stated, “We’re convinced that it was an appropriate target,” but added, “[w]e do not know yet exactly who it was.”

A 2009 study by the Brookings Institute estimates that, along with the 2,000-plus militants killed by drones in Pakistan, perhaps more than 470 non-militants have been killed. More recently, in March of 2016, drones and other warplanes bombed an al-Shabab training camp in Somalia and killed about 150 alleged militants who were gathered at a graduation ceremony. Yet U.S. officials privately acknowledged that they didn’t know the identities of those they killed.

Sense a trend?

It’s made all the more troubling by the administration’s policy of classifying those killed in drone strikes as militants unless there is evidence posthumously produced which proves their innocence. One can only imagine the difficulties of doing so, and how this dramatically decreases the publicly-admitted number of civilian deaths, true or not.

Despite all this, there has been little outcry from the remaining presidential candidates on the matter.

In an April 2016 town hall, Chris Hayes questioned Bernie Sanders about the practice:

“HAYES:  The current authorization which you cite in what Miguel just quoted which is the authorization to use military force after 9/11. That has led to the kill list. This President — literally, there is a kill list. There is a list of people that the U.S. government wants to kill, and it goes about doing it. Would you keep the kill list as President of the United States?

SANDERS:  Look. Terrorism is a very serious issue. There are people out there who want to kill Americans, who want to attack this country, and I think we have a lot of right to defend ourselves. I think as Miguel said, though, it has to be done in a constitutional, legal way.

HAYES:  Do you think what’s being done now is constitutional and legal?

SANDERS:  In general I do, yes.”

The other Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, was involved in these sorts of strikes herself and saw them ramp up during her time as secretary of state. In her book Hard Choices, notes that drone strikes are “one of the most effective and controversial elements of the Obama Administration’s strategy against al Qaeda and like-minded terrorists.” She has also pinned herself to Obama this election cycle, painting her candidacy as a continuation of many of his policies, signaling little incentive for her to change our approach to drone strikes now.

Finally, there’s Republican nominee Donald Trump, who has expressed a desire to expand the military and kill innocent people in order to combat terrorism. As Glenn Greenwald notes, these views are not necessarily extreme relative to current U.S. foreign policy under President Obama: The Intercept reported that nearly 90 percent of people killed in drone strikes in Afghanistan over a five-month period “were not the intended targets”.

In 2014 Pew released a global poll that found that majorities in 39 countries disapproved of American drone attacks. The only three countries that showed more than half of respondents supporting the tactic were Israel, Kenya and the U.S.

Nowhere did any level support match the level of opposition found in countries such as Venezuela and Jordan, where disapproval topped 90 percent. Some of the places polled where the majority disapproved of strikes included our allies such as South Korea, Japan, the UK, and France.

Given the negative view of drone attacks aboard, the large number of innocents killed, and the secretive nature of the program driving them, it’s surprising that candidates come under so little scrutiny for supporting the practice — and, perhaps, that they ever supported it in the first place.

Photo: A fully armed MQ-9 Reaper taxis down an Afghanistan runway Nov. 4. The Reaper has flown 49 combat sorties since it first began operating in Afghanistan Sept. 25. It completed its first combat strike Oct. 27, when it fired a Hellfire missile over Deh Rawod, Afghanistan. U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson

2016 Is Proof We Needed The Voting Rights Act

2016 Is Proof We Needed The Voting Rights Act

Most political watchers awoke yesterday morning to the news that Eric and Ivanka Trump would be unable to vote for their father in the upcoming New York state primary because they didn’t file as members of the Republican Party by October. This little-known New York rule could have a huge impact on the candidacies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, both of whom are drawing voters from outside the traditional party structure, since 27 percent of the state’s voters are registered outside the Republican and Democratic parties. If they didn’t declare a party affiliation by October 9, they won’t be voting in the state’s primary.

Much of the reaction to the plight of Trump’s children was reflections on the Trump campaign’s disastrous ground game, but that misses the point: vast numbers of voters will be forced to navigate purposefully arcane rules this election season, everything from restrictive voter ID laws to altered voting schedules to decreased numbers of polling places.

Why? The 2016 presidential elections will be the first since the 2013 decision by the Supreme Court to weaken Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

Section 5 mandated that states and localities with a history of racial discrimination receive permission from the federal government before enacting any changes to their voting laws; states like Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia, and a variety of other townships and counties around the country.

While Section 5 initially applied to states that imposed restrictive measures such as literacy tests, Congress later expanded the law to jurisdictions with sizable minority populations that used English-only election materials. States were only removed from the pre-approval list after 10 years of by-the-book elections.

Today, the ghost of Section 5 haunts our elections.

In North Carolina, which has been under fire for a variety of issues over the past few years, Republican-backed legislation has “included a reduction in early-voting days and ended same-day registration and preregistration that added teenagers to voting rolls on their 18th birthday.”

Recently in North Carolina, an attempt to gerrymander black voters into large congressional districts (to minimize their overall influence) backfired when it was found in federal court to be discriminatory — five weeks before primary elections for the illegal districts took place. While a separate congressional primary will be held June 7, the mix-up will have a tangible impact on voter turnout, given that people sometimes have to take time off, wait in long lines, and meet registration deadlines to vote.

Another recent example can be found in Arizona, whose presidential primary was a complete disaster, with some voters waiting in line for over five hours. Some didn’t wait around long, leaving without casting a vote at all. In a measure to allegedly cut costs, “election officials in Phoenix’s Maricopa County, the largest in the state, reduced the number of polling places by 70 percent from 2012 to 2016, from 200 to just 60—one polling place per every 21,000 voters,” according to The Nation.

The situation was so dire in other parts of Arizona that people passed out out from sunstroke, had their party affiliation allegedly changed from Democrat to Independent, and never received mail-in ballots. Maricopa County was previously one of the counties identified under Section 5 as requiring pre-approval, due to a history of discrimination. Minorities make up 40 percent of the county’s population. Before 2013, Arizona would have had to submit the closing of polling places for review, and likely would have been denied, given Section 5 had previously blocked 22 voting changes from taking effect in Arizona.

Finally, we can also look at the state of Texas, where the state legislaturepassed a stringent voter ID law following the invalidation of Section 5 that the federal government had previously blocked using the same law. As a result, over 600,000 voters in the state will likely have to go through a more onerous voting registration procedure because they lack one of the forms of ID eligible under that law, if they are able to vote at all. While a federal appeals court ruled in August that the voter ID law had a discriminatory impact, Texas is currently appealing its case to a full appeals court, in the hopes it will not need to change the implementation of the law, which will remain in place as-is while the appeals process continues.

It’s clear that we are missing key protections from Section 5 that would have ensured more reasonable and less discriminatory voting processes at the state and local level. Now that states and localities with a history of discriminatory voting practices don’t need pre-approval to enact changes in their laws, many of them have simply passed the very same laws they were prevented from enacting for decades, and more still have enacted new laws meant to suppress the vote. In 2016, we need the full force of the Voting Rights Act more than ever. In its absence, the integrity the democratic process is in question.

There Is No “Trump Voter” and It’s Dangerous to Think Otherwise

There Is No “Trump Voter” and It’s Dangerous to Think Otherwise

Donald Trump wasn’t expected to go far in this election. His “ceiling” was thought to be 35-40 percent of the GOP electorate, and many, including myself, linked his support primarily to white working class voters. But he’s still here, and he’s still way ahead.

Trump’s support goes beyond what we thought. As the Washington Post reported at the beginning of this month, exit polls “show his supporters as a mix of men and women who are mostly white but not exclusively. Their salaries, education levels, religious beliefs and degree of conservatism run the gamut.”

YouGov polls have found that 20 percent of Trump supporters describe themselves as “liberal” or “moderate,” 65 percent as “conservative,” and only 13 percent as “very conservative.” He also pulls from a base of self-identified Republicans who are still registered as Democrats.

Exit polling from Florida showed Trump receiving the support of 58 percent of voters earning $30-50,000, 45 percent of those earning $50-100,000, and 47 percent earning $100-200,000. Those numbers aren’t heavily skewed towards the working class and show much more even voting distribution than one would expect, given the narrative surrounding Trump.

The same polls also showed that, when asked whether they thought the next president should have political experience or come from outside of the establishment, the majority of Florida voters agreed with the latter. Those respondents overwhelmingly voted for Trump. Additionally, RealClearPolitics found that “most of his support comes from candidates already in the race and not from newly inspired voters.”

A wide swath of people support Trump because they’re pissed. A July 2015 poll showed that 42 percent of adults were unhappy with the direction of the country. They wanted change, and they saw in Trump a candidate who had already changed the norms of electoral politics. So while he may have a passionate base among the working class, that demographic does not solely define Trump supporters.

In many ways, Trump’s bombast has not only driven the media absolutely crazy, but has also stopped them from taking seriously the underlying political and economic issues in this election. Their narrative of Trump supporters doesn’t offer much variety, and plays into a classist critique that we’ve seen time and time again.

The history of America politics seethes with disdain for the poor, including poor white people. As Kelly Kidd writes at, “Americans tend to view poverty, especially white poverty, with judgment, derision, and blame. By objectifying poverty, Americans allow themselves to perceive the poor as mere stereotypes of laziness or stupidity, rather than people worthy of compassion and support.”

This despite the fact that they’re also regularly dying at younger ages than many of their peers, with recent research arguing that “Between 1998 and 2013… white Americans across multiple age groups experienced large spikes in suicide and fatalities related to alcohol and drug abuse—spikes that were so large that, for whites aged 45 to 54, they overwhelmed the dependable modern trend of steadily improving life expectancy.” Additionally, male wages at the bottom fifth of the income ladder have fallen by over 30 percent since the late 1960s, while inequality has simultaneously exploded.

Even as the media continues to portray Trump supporters as ignorant poor people, it largely ignores what it means to be poor in America.

We need to start addressing Trump and his supporters outside of the notion that he is a bad hairdo and his supporters are poor white racists. That misses the larger opportunity we have to confront the reality: that Trump appeals to a substantial number of Americans. And let’s face it, insulting people doesn’t change their political opinions. Unfortunately, neither do facts.

So what now?

We should start by looking at the issues themselves: economic degradation and people who were left behind by a globalized American economy; terrorism and the underlying factors that lead to ideological violence; the need for campaign finance reform to combat the appeal of nebulous terms like “authenticity” and “outsider.”

These aren’t white working class issues, these are issues that concern a wide cross-section of people. Our political media needs to address them, or they’ll be stuck addressing the ugly prejudices that rush to offer their own explanations for Americans’ problems.

Photo: Trump supporters (R) voice their opinions at anti-Trump protesters following a campaign rally for Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump in Cleveland, Ohio, March 12, 2016.  REUTERS/Rebecca Cook 

The World Is Watching Donald Trump, And They’re Not Impressed

The World Is Watching Donald Trump, And They’re Not Impressed

The Economist Intelligence Unit has rated a Donald Trump presidency as one of its top 10 threats to global stability and security. Other threats included Britain leaving the European Union and Russia’s military action in the Ukraine and Syria leading to a new Cold War.

A Trump presidency was given a risk level identical to that of the rising threat of jihadi terrorism destabilizing the global economy.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Explaining his inclusion on the list, the EIU noted areas such as Trump’s hostility towards free trade, his exceptionally right-wing stances on the Middle East and jiadhi terrorism, and his likelihood to engage in trade wars with countries like China.

According to Politico, this is the first time a presidential candidate’s election was rated a geopolitical risk to the U.S. and the world.

While Trump has many detractors within the U.S., it’s important to look beyond our borders to examine the impact his election would potentially have abroad, particularly when it comes to our traditional allies.

Early this year, the British parliament debated whether to ban Trump from entering their borders altogether, letting MPs, in an almost-Trumpian rhetorical shift, call the Republican frontrunner “poisonous,” “a buffoon” and a “wazzock,” which is British slang for “a stupid or annoying person.” In the past, the UK has banned individuals including U.S. pastor Terry Jones, who planned a Quran-burning protest.

Germany, one of the world’s strongest economic powers and a key leader in the European Union, has seen its fair share of negative reaction to the Trump phenomenon. One German lawmaker, following the UK’s lead, has called for Trump to be banned from Germany, as his “rants of hate against minorities and refugees could constitute the criminal offence of incitement of hatred.” German Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy Sigmar Gabriel also spoke out against Trump, labeling him a threat to global peace and prosperity. Trump has been highly critical of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugee policies throughout his campaign.

Concern for a Trump presidency extends beyond Europe, though. Trump has generated widespread disdain and outrage regarding for his comments about barring Muslim from the U.S. and claims that Islam is a religion that “hates us,” essentially decrying almost a quarter of the world’s population.

Trump has also expressed his belief that Saudi Arabia should have to pay the United States for “protection.” “In response to Trump’s hallucinations: God and Saudi Arabia’s army will protect it,” noted an editorial in a news site authorized by the Saudi Ministry of Information and Culture. Saudi prince and billionaire investor Prince AlWaleed bin Talal expressed his distaste for Trump via Twitter, claiming he bailed out Trump twice, and wondered if Trump needed a third bailout.

Even Israel, American’s closest ally in the Middle East (with their own tough-talker, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu), doesn’t see eye-to-eye with Trump. According to an Israeli opinion poll by the Rafi Smith Polling Institute, only 14 percent of respondents support Trump, as opposed to the 41 percent that back Hillary Clinton. Netanyahu, who Trump stumped for in Israel’s 2013 election, also rejected Trump’s aforementioned call to ban Muslims from the U.S., and the Jerusalem Post has written that “Donald Trump may not be the best choice to repair American-Israeli relations in the post-Obama era.”

That’s just the start. According to Reuters, diplomats from India, South Korea, Japan and Mexico have all also expressed concern at the prospect of a Trump presidency, based on his xenophobic rhetoric.

As we roll into what CNN has helpfully named “Western Tuesday,” voters should remember: Trump is drawing the ire of even our staunchest allies abroad, and merely electing him would have a hugely negative impact on the perception of America internationally.

Photo: Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) afternoon general session in Washington March 21, 2016.      REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

You Know What They Say About Men Who Make Jokes About Small Hands? Not Much, Anymore.

You Know What They Say About Men Who Make Jokes About Small Hands? Not Much, Anymore.

Marco Rubio, the one-time hope of the Republican Party establishment who gathered many of it’s endorsements, bowed — or crashed and burned, depending on your assessment — out of the Republican primary on Tuesday, following his pronounced loss to frontrunner Donald Trump in his home state of Florida.

His original 3-2-1 strategy (third place in Iowa, second in New Hampshire, first in South Carolina) had become a hodgepodge of primary medals that would’ve been more useful melted down and recast as a crowbar to threaten Floridian Republicans with.

Rubio’s end began a long time ago, though, when he not only stopped winning but also decided to give up the mantle of decency and focus on policy that he assumed his base would want, pre-Trump.

Instead, Rubio, who had been heralded as the JFK of the Republican party for being young, Hispanic, and conservative, succumbed to the rhetorical tropes of the man who will ultimately destroy his party, Donald Trump.

Indeed, it seems that the more politically incorrect and derogatory Trump is of his competitors, the more his supporters see him as “authentic.” As Jeffery Herf summarized in The American Interest:

“His followers took pleasure in his attacks on [Jeb] Bush not primarily because they disagreed with this or that policy, but because Trump gave them a way to dismiss Bush’s obvious strengths. Bush’s style, his intelligence, the size of his vocabulary, his seriousness and ability to speak knowledgeably about the details of problems—these were a constant challenge to those like Trump who lack the ability to do any of these things. Such strengths stir resentment and envy, reminding listeners of what they themselves do not understand. Trump’s insults made it possible for his followers to dismiss their discomfort over not understanding policy questions. They could be “big guys” despite their ignorance. This was very liberating.”

This may be reductive, but it’s telling: when Rubio made his last ditch effort to combat Trump, he emulated Trump’s style, embarking down the rhetorical road less eloquently taken.

Take, for example, the morning after a Republican debate in which Rubio and Ted Cruz tried their best to swing back at the Trump juggernaut:

Somewhat ironically, Rubio concluded his statements with a promise to campaign across “all fifty states, to all fifty territories in this country, if I have to get in my pickup truck and drive to all 50 states that remain, I will never allow the conservative movement to be taken over by a con artist. “

That’s beside the point. At least, it is now. As one of the biggest disappointments of this election cycle, Rubio is a walking demonstration of how resoundingly Republican primary voters have rejected the establishment candidates.

After resorting to bathroom “humor,” making jokes about foreign workers writing Trump’s tweets, and the aforementioned hand size incident, Rubio said he regretted these comments, noting “ I don’t want to be that.”

Not long after violence erupted at a Donald Trump rally in Chicago, Rubio offered some of the most pointed and critical commentary from a Republican candidate on Trump and the election:

His opening words give us a glimpse at what Republican primary voters are rejecting: attempts to soothe the anger of an electorate by actually attempting to make progress despite it. Rubio, a seriously flawed candidate in his own right, tried to represent a new outlook for the GOP, but instead fell into ever widening the chasm that now exists within the Republican Party.

Marco Rubio announced yesterday that he doesn’t have a future in politics, at least for now: He doesn’t want to be vice president. He’s not running for re-election in his current Senate seat. He is an ideology without a movement, and at least in that regard, he’s not alone.

Photo: Marco Rubio announces the suspension of his presidential campaign during a rally in Miami, Florida March 15, 2016.    REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Did The Internet Create Trump And Sanders?

Did The Internet Create Trump And Sanders?

Two unlikely presidential candidates have emerged in the 2016 election season. Both channel the anger felt by many Americans, run outside of the “establishment,” and have pushed (in some cases pushed out) supposed front-runners.

Initially, both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders were seen as long shots at best, and complete non-starters at worst. The reaction of the political “establishment” — a term brought to life by both men — was predictable: neither a self-described Democratic Socialist nor a man most recently famous for his hit reality TV show were palpable options for the presidency. If anything, they were amusing side shows while Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush (or perhaps, Marco Rubio) cut straight paths to their respective nominating conventions. These party insiders had seemingly everything they needed to launch a presidential run: super PAC support, endorsements around the block, networks of deep political relationships, and veteran campaign teams.

Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy in a park to a small group of journalists and Donald Trump kicked off his campaign announcement by insulting the fastest-growing voting block in the country.

Luckily for them, 2016 is a year in which only the plausible is impossible. And they have the Internet to thank.

At the start of their respective campaigns, both Sanders and Trump had to make sure their message was heard by a larger audience than was presented to them by traditional, mainstream media “gatekeepers” — the types that would ignore views they saw as too radical to cover seriously.

Like most mainstream political institutions over the past 10 years, though, the media misjudged their authority. 60 percent of Americans don’t trust mainstream media, and the advent of social media has given people access to alternatives to the CNNs of the world.

Much ink, digital and otherwise (but mostly digital) has been spilled over social media and it’s impact on the ways in which we consume information. Research has shown we create our own echo chambers: since we’re mostly friends with likeminded people who share our views and steer us towards articles that reinforce those views, we become more intractable and less open to dialogue. These echo chambers helped Trump and Sanders supporters keep their candidates messages alive early, even when the political establishment seemed intent on writing them off.

A January 2013 study published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication examining cross-ideology exposure found that “on Twitter, political talk is highly partisan, where users’ clusters are characterized by homogeneous views and are linked to information sources,” and that these dynamics likely “reinforce in-group and out-group affiliations, as literally, users form separate political groups on Twitter.” The study continues: “Politically active voices, particularly younger voters, who use the Internet to express their opinions are moving away from neutral news sites in favor of those that match their own political views.”

So while many mainstream outlets had minimal or largely negative coverage of these two outsider candidates, more diverse and farther left and right wing outlets published articles that were shared profusely among each individual’s respective base, creating fertile grounds on the far left and right for Sanders’s and Trump’s messages to take hold.

And then there’s the money. In 2000, John McCain raised $810,000 in a single day, which at the time was considered a coup. In 2004, Howard Dean shocked pundits by raising $5 million in a month off of small donor contributions online. Nowadays? By the end of September 2015, Sanders had reached 1 million individual online donations, becoming the first candidate on either side to do so.

As Timothy Lee writes at Vox, Sanders has been “able to leverage his online support to raise $73 million from 2.5 million donors in 2015 — most of whom gave small amounts. He raised another $20 million in January and $40 million in February, with an average contribution size of $27.” This all stands in stark contrast to Hillary Clinton, who has a large super PAC and numerous high dollar donors, though she also has her fair share of low-level individual donations.

Donald Trump, who says he’s self-funding his campaign, has seen his fair share of low-level individual donations as well. Of the $19.4 million the Trump campaign brought in by the end of 2015, individual contributions constituted around 25 percent. In fact, big money donors have lined up against Trump — and it’s not as if the Democratic donor class has gotten behind Sanders. In both instances, the candidates have painted themselves as political outsiders not beholden to anyone but their supporters, and none of it would have been possible without the Internet.

But this doesn’t give enough credit to Sanders and Trump as candidates, and to their campaigns as social media-savvy communicators: they are just so darn good at it.

Sanders’ team has done an amazing job making their 74-year-old candidate as the choice of and by young people. According to the New York Times, before Sanders announced his candidacy for president, “Mr. Sanders had 1.3 million Facebook interactions, compared with 5.6 million for Mr. Cruz and two million for Mr. Paul, according to data provided by Facebook. But since their announcements, the popularity of Mr. Cruz and Mr. Paul on Facebook has tempered, while Mr. Sanders’s has risen. In a seven-day stretch leading up to May 3, Mr. Sanders had 5.3 million interactions, compared with 1.2 million for Mr. Paul and 1.7 million for Mr. Cruz.” He’s now beating Hillary Clinton 3:1 in Facebook “likes”.

And on Twitter: during the GOP debate on in South Carolina, certain Sanders tweets were the first and second most re-tweeted sporting the #GOPdebate hashtag. Clinton took 3rd and 6th place.

The website is yet another social media avenue where Sanders dominates. A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that,

“The subreddit [a subsection of the website] /r/SandersForPresident received more than 200,000 comments overall in the three months studied, including 59,000 mentioning a candidate. Beyond generally discussing his candidacy, /r/SandersForPresident also serves as a place for grassroots organizing: the banner across the top of the page includes links for users to volunteer for Sanders, attend Sanders events, and watch Sanders on television. Neither the Clinton nor Trump campaigns, on the other hand, seem to have robust subreddits. Of all the 350,000 comments studied from these three months, just 61 appeared in a candidate-specific subreddit devoted to Clinton and 212 appeared in one dedicated to Donald Trump.”

Bernie’s social media fandom has spread through sharable memes and videos highlighting his focus on issues such as economic inequality and universal healthcare. The medium is as important as the message and, cumulatively, it has a huge impact.

Trump, on the other hand, has utilized mediums such as Twitter, Vine, and YouTube unlike any political candidate in history. Trump is pacing the presidential field when it comes to Twitter, attracting the most followers and consistently tweeting with a careless style that only seems to draw more. He regularly sends video clips out via Vine, and his YouTube channel has been viewed upwards of 4 million times. While campaigns are expected to spend $4.4 billion overall on campaign ads this season, Trump is spending just 1 percent of what Jeb Bush did on TV ads. YouTube is cheap, and even more effective at spreading a message if you have supporters active on social media.

Without the Internet, it’s difficult to know whether Sanders’s and Trump’s campaigns would have existed long enough to make any impact at all. After this election cycle, it’s difficult to imagine a successful presidential candidate winning without an enormous social media presence.

Photo: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders takes a selfie with a supporter after speaking at a campaign rally in Manchester, New Hampshire January 4, 2016.      REUTERS/Gretchen Ertl 

Donald Trump And The Art Of A Bad Deal

Donald Trump And The Art Of A Bad Deal

Donald Trump uses the word “deal” more often than most Americans use vowels. In fact, Trump’s narrative of himself as a “dealmaker” is one of the few beliefs in which he’s shown any real conviction his entire life.

It’s a bit ironic — Trump’s success as a candidate relies on his image as a businessman, but his record is… not great. He parrots a familiar refrain when asked about his business record: ‘I took risks, and some of them failed. But failure is part of making money.’

Sure. But if Trump’s sales pitch as a politician is the same sales pitch he used in business — that he makes things happen — it’s worth asking: what has Donald Trump actually achieved? And when we say “failure,” what do we actually mean?

Let’s start three decades ago. In 1988, Trump bought Eastern Air Shuttle — which ran hourly flights between Boston, New York City, and Washington D.C. for 27 years — and renamed it Trump Airlines.

Trump turned the shuttle service, which was a simple and efficient way for businesspeople to get between major centers on the East Coast, into a luxury experience: gold-colored fixtures, chrome seat-belts, and, predictably, a pile of unpaid debt.

Trump purchased EAS for $365 million, but the company never turned a profit. Ultimately, Trump defaulted on his loans. The whole thing was over in four years.

Then there’s Trump’s endeavors in the Atlantic City — which produced the bankruptcies often seen as his greatest failures. As the Washington Postwrites:

Though Trump paints these Chapter 11 bankruptcies as if they were a good deal, saying they allowed him to get out of a failing Atlantic City business at a strategic time, the 1991 bankruptcy proceedings brought him close to losing much of his personal fortune. As Drew Harwell and Jacob Bogage wrote for the Post, Trump had to put millions of dollars of his own money into struggling companies, sold his yacht and his airline, gave up substantial ownership stakes and decision making roles, and even agreed to limits on his own personal spending.

Trump Entertainment Resorts, made up of the Taj Mahal, the Trump Plaza, and the Trump Marina, emerged from its third bankruptcy in 2010. The most noticeable thing about the casinos — aside from how badly they’ve done over the years — is Trump’s association with them: though he only owned 28 percent of Trump Entertainment Resorts, the use of his name was part of the deal.

This happens quite a lot: Trump’s name is on everything, including plenty of projects in which naming rights themselves are the bulk of Trump’s involvement. It’s almost as if the “Trump” brand itself is more important than the stability of the organization it represents. Sound familiar?

Trump Mortgage seemed like it had a decent shot, given Trump’s not-unqualified success in the real estate market. As Trump told CNBC in 2006 about his new endeavor, “I think it’s a great time to start a mortgage company. Who knows about financing better than I do?”

Apparently, lots of people.

Trump chose E.J. Ridings, an acquaintance who claimed to have experience as a high level Wall Street executive, despite only working there for a few months. The company didn’t make much of an impact and lasted less than two years.

“I think he’s very good at real estate, I don’t think he’s very good at other things,” said Michael d’Antonio, a Trump biographer. “He tried to run an airline and failed at that. He tried to run casinos and failed four times. That’s not evidence of brilliance when it comes to operating a complex business.”

If Trump’s failures as a businessman weren’t paired with an ego fragile enough to sue over the accounts of such failures, perhaps the failures themselves would have been less noticeable. But no: Trump’s narrative requires hitting back, and hard, against those who undermine his reputation.

In 2008, he filed a $5 billion suit — he files lots of suits — against Tim O’Brien for his book TrumpNation: The Art of Being The Donald. Trump took specific issue with O’Brien’s allegations that he massively inflates the perception of his own net worth.

As told in The Atlantic, Trump mentioned the book’s affect on a skyscraper deal in a deposition for the suit:

[T]hen the Italians read O’Brien’s article, and his book. “And Mr. Lorber called me and he said, ‘They’re not going to make a deal with you.’ ” Trump asked Lorber why not. “ ‘Because they read the article in The Times, and they read the book. They’re not going to make a deal.’ ” Trump spoke with the Italians himself, but it was no use. “Houdini couldn’t have sold them on the deal,” Trump told the lawyers. “So I lost potentially a couple of hundred million dollars on that deal because of this false book.”

The suit, predictably, has been dismissed. But, in keeping with Trump’s style, the outcome of the suit mattered less than the message he sent with it.

“You can go ahead and speak to guys who have four-hundred-pound wives at home who are jealous of me,” O’Brien later recalled Trump telling him, “but the guys who really know me know I’m a great builder.”

Trump’s greatest success to date has been his presidential campaign, and as a candidate, Trump’s message of success has always been more important than the success itself. That he has bought or created businesses only to see them fail is consistent, as he claims, with many successful businessmen. But ignoring his own failures so vocally is a unique skill.

Over the next eight months, the American people may very well give a man who has no sense of his own limits — or, at very least, a willful ignorance of them — control of an office from which to stage his most spectacular failure yet. How’s that for a deal?

Photo: U.S. presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks during a press availability at Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York September 3, 2015. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Why ‘Billionaires Against Trump’ Does More Harm Than Good

Why ‘Billionaires Against Trump’ Does More Harm Than Good

This past weekend, a few millionaires and more billionaires — leading tech CEOs, GOP fundraisers, political heavyweights — converged on a remote private island off the coast of Georgia for the American Enterprise Institute’s annual World Forum.

Attendees included leading figures in the tech world such as Apple CEO Tim Cook, Google’s Larry Page, and Tesla Motors and SpaceX’s Elon Musk. Prominent members from the GOP included Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, strategist Karl Rove, and House Speaker Paul Ryan, among others.

They were brought together by the candidacy of Donald J. Trump. Or rather, by the question of how to stop it.

In an email from the conference, founder and editor of The Weekly Standard Bill Kristol wrote that “A specter was haunting the World Forum — the specter of Donald Trump … There was much unhappiness about his emergence, a good deal of talk, some of it insightful and thoughtful, about why he’s done so well, and many expressions of hope that he would be defeated.”

Sure, Democrats and moderate Republicans despise Donald Trump and his insurgent takeover of the Republican Party. (Well, a few irresponsible Democrats are cheering him on.)

But the GOP’s network of high-dollar donors may hold him in even lower esteem than anyone. And they’re on a mission to stop him, whatever the cost.

But if there’s any lesson of this campaign season, it’s that Donald Trump is appealing because other billionaires hate him. The efforts to spend billions against him — most notably through ad buys in Florida and Ohio — has the potential to make Trump even stronger, ratcheting up the fervor in his base and making him appear all the more authentic.

Let’s take a step back and examine the range of organizations that have trained their spending arsenal on the prospect of stopping Trump.

Conservative Solutions, a super PAC supporting Marco Rubio, has raised about $20 million recently to spend on campaign ads targeting Donald Trump, according to Politico. The group also says the cash will power a full-frontal assault on Trump, focusing specifically on delegate-rich states voting in March. Though Conservative Solutions’ stated interest is electing Marco Rubio, they’re just as interested in stopping Trump, especially as their own candidate has rapidly lost steam these past few weeks.

One major donor is hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer, a free market enthusiast and conservative financier for the GOP who Fortune described as “a passionate defender of the 1 percent.”

Our Principles PAC, founded to stop Trump’s rise, has spent spent millions to air ads across the country highlighting Trump’s role in the almost-certainly-fraudulent Trump University.

According to Katie Packer, the Republican operative guiding the PAC, “This guy isn’t a conservative. He probably isn’t even a Republican. He is a con man who is incredibly vulnerable in the general election once Democrats get their hands on him.” The PAC was initially funded with $3 million from Marlene Ricketts, a major Republican donor and the wife of TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts. Trump’s populism takes square aim at these people — the .01 percent of millionaires and billionaires who have “bought up” party mechanisms and tried to mold the GOP base into some kind of unanimity on the sanctity of free trade and low corporate taxes, among other things.

Even Mitt Romney, whose net worth stands at around $250 million, gave a speech recently during which he told his audience that that Trump’s “proposed 35 percent tariff-like penalties would instigate a trade war and that would raise prices for consumers, kill our export jobs and lead entrepreneurs and businesses of all stripes to flee America.”

He even called on Republicans to engage in strategic voting, and perhaps strategic fundraising by stating “If the other candidates can find some common ground, I believe we can nominate a person who can win the general election and who will represent the values and policies of conservatism. Given the current delegate selection process, that means that I’d vote for Marco Rubio in Florida and for John Kasich in Ohio and for Ted Cruz or whichever one of the other two contenders has the best chance of beating Mr. Trump in a given state.”

Because if anything works to persuade voters to turn against a demagogue, it’s telling them that they’re too stupid to know how to stop him on their own.

One notable exception to these groups is the Koch brothers-backed group Americans for Prosperity, which has chosen not to use their extensive funds to block Trump’s path to the nomination.

If there is one campaign trick that the GOP’s billionaires have watched work again and again, it’s buying enough TV time and running enough attack ads to drill their message down to the base.

Unfortunately, this plays right into some of the strongest appeals of the Trump campaign. In many ways, Trump can and does spin these efforts as paid for by the same people responsible for the state of economic vulnerability in the U.S., who he says are taking aim at him because he won’t let them continue to profit at his voters’ expense.

The actions of the GOP establishment only reinforce Trump as an anti-establishment candidate and speaker for the “silent majority”.

So it’s worth asking: Does all the spending against Trump only make him stronger? And if so, when will the GOP’s billionaires realize that they are the problem, not the solution?

Photo: Paul Singer, founder, CEO, and co-chief investment officer for Elliott Management Corporation, attends the Skybridge Alternatives (SALT) Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada May 9, 2012. REUTERS/Steve Marcus 

Why Might Former Democratic Candidate Jim Webb Support Donald Trump?

Why Might Former Democratic Candidate Jim Webb Support Donald Trump?

At the very first Democratic debate in Las Vegas, each candidate was asked which enemy they were proudest of.

While others listed the coal lobby, Republicans, and special interests, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb answered: “I’d have to say the enemy soldier that threw the grenade that wounded me. But he’s not around right now to talk to.”

A few scattered laughs from the pews. Webb smiled fondly.

For many Americans, that was the first and last time they heard from or thought about Jim Webb.

Until last week, when Webb lunged back in the news after telling MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that he would not vote for Hillary Clinton — and had in fact flirted with the idea of voting for Republican front-runner Donald Trump.

Webb continued: “If you’re voting for Donald Trump, you may get something very good or very bad. If you’re voting for Hillary Clinton, you’re going to be getting the same thing.”

This is unthinkable for most Democrats. While there has been widespread and vocal opposition to Hillary Clinton’s semi-coronation as the Democratic nominee, supporting Donald Trump as a Democrat is just about as crazy as supporting him… as a Republican. What gives?

Webb presents himself as the voice of a supposedly forgotten corner of the Democratic Party: rural middle and working class white men.

The descendant of Scottish-Irish immigrants and a son of rural Appalachia, Webb has said that the Democratic establishment, “[has] kind of unwittingly used this group, white working males, as a whipping post for a lot of their policies.”

Webb’s also an active supporter of gun rights and wants to limit the scope of affirmative action, particularly for groups other than African Americans. As Anderson Cooper noted duing the first Democratic debate, in 2000 Webb said affirmative action “has within one generation brought about a permeating state-sponsored racism that is as odious as the Jim Crow laws it sought to countermand.”

Webb actually hasn’t even been a Democrat that long, having switched parties to challenge Republican Sen. George Allen in Virginia in 2006. He’s still some conservatives’ favorite Democrat.

Webb’s pleas to the Democratic Party find no greater support, strangely, than in Donald Trump’s success.

The former senator argues that the Democratic Party should devote itself to a program of economic uplift aimed at all Americans generally, and to poor and working-class whites specifically. Trump’s positions on immigration and trade stem from a stated commitment to improve the economic prospects of that group, ostensibly by deporting undocumented immigrants that are taking “American jobs,” and “winning” trade deals.

On his webpage, Trump states that by negotiating better trade agreements, “The results will be huge for American businesses and workers. Jobs and factories will stop moving offshore and instead stay here at home. The economy will boom.”

In 2014, Webb told an audience in Richmond, Virginia that the Democratic Party “has lost white working-class voters by becoming ‘a party of interest groups.’” Similarly, Trump has said that the GOP is “controlled by lobbyists…controlled by their donors, they’re controlled by special interests. … If you’re looking at making our country great again, they’re not going to do it.” The party establishments, to believe Webb and Trump’s pitches, aren’t representative of white voters.

Webb seems to sympathize with the disaffected white men at Trump rallies, and he’s not alone. Nate Cohn, writing about Trump supporters for the New York Times, observed that “a large number of traditionally Democratic voters have long supported Republicans in presidential elections. Even now, Democrats have more registered voters than Republicans do in states like West Virginia and Kentucky, which have been easily carried by Republicans in every presidential contest of this century.”

The Democratic Party has been losing white voters — particularly white male voters — by increasingly large margins in recent elections. According to exit polling from November 2014, Democratic candidates won only 34 percent of white men, and the 30-point difference amongst the parties in this demographic is at its largest in 20 years.

Trump’s message could very well appeal not only to Webb, but to a significant subsection of Democratic voters as well.

More than one in ten people in Virginia live below the poverty line. It’s also 70% percent white. Webb’s home state has typically been a swing state in presidential elections, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the state went to Trump in November, should he be the party’s nominee.

Jim Webb might make sure of that himself.

Follow Benjamin Powers on Twitter @bnpowers8.

Photo: Former U.S. Senator Senator Jim Webb speaks during a news conference in Washington October 20, 2015. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas