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Iraqi forces deploy on Oct. 17, 2016 in the area of al-Shurah, some 45 kms south of Mosul, as they advance towards the city to retake it from the Islamic State group. (Photo by Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty)

In Iraq, Trump doesn't understand what he doesn't understand

10/25/16 10:00AM

If Donald Trump wants voters to see him as a competent and capable leader on matters of national security, he's going to have to start saying a lot less.

Last week, for example, the Republican presidential hopeful, who's said he's more knowledgeable than U.S. generals and has claimed to have a secret plan to combat ISIS, told a national audience that the military offensive in Mosul is part of an elaborate, international conspiracy to help Hillary Clinton's campaign.

Over the weekend, Trump went further, condemning the U.S.-backed offensive in Mosul as "a total disaster" that's leaving the United States looking "dumb." Yesterday, the Republican kept complaining, insisting the campaign in Mosul should've been kept secret. "I'm telling you, folks, our leadership -- I went to an Ivy League school, but there's some words that you can't describe any better: Our leadership is stupid," Trump told a Florida audience. "These are stupid people."

Some of this is just bizarre, with the Washington Post running a piece asking why the GOP nominee seems to be rooting for failure. But as Politico noted, some of this is also rooted in alarming ignorance -- because Donald Trump doesn't seem to understand what he doesn't understand.
Perhaps most grating for national security figures -- including scores on the right who have, to their astonishment, sought refuge with Clinton -- is that Trump doesn't seem to understand the basic facts of the situations he is describing. That's especially true when it comes to the Islamic State.

For instance, Trump's claim that the Mosul offensive should not have been announced in advance contradict standard procedure. Militaries often announce an offensive ahead of time so that civilians can try to flee and because it's impossible to keep such a large operation a secret. (The Iraqi city still has some 1.5 million inhabitants.) The Republican also has suggested that the Obama administration, which is backing Iraqi forces with airstrikes and advice, timed the offensive to boost Clinton.

"The Mosul operation is an Iraqi operation, not a U.S.-led one," rebutted Michael Singh, a former Bush administration official now with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "And it appears quite likely to succeed in wresting the city from ISIS' control. The notion of a 'sneak attack' makes no sense here -- this is a massive operation, and Iraqi and other coalition forces have spent months 'shaping the battlefield' in preparation for it."
During the second presidential debate, after Trump said the United States is "stupid" for participating in a major military offensive the enemy knows is coming, ABC News' Martha Raddatz tried to explain, "There are sometimes reasons the military does that."

Trump immediately shot back, "I can't think of any. I can't think of any. And I'm pretty good at it."

But that's the point: he's not "pretty good" at it. The Republican candidate simply doesn't know what he's talking about -- and Trump is so confused, he's not able to understand how foolish his rhetoric is.
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Committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) speaks to reporters after a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Capitol Hill University March 5, 2014 in Washington, D.C.

Obama slams Issa's tactics as 'shameless'

10/25/16 09:20AM

It's always good to see a political article with a strong lede, and I think Politico did a nice job with this one.
Note to Rep. Darrell Issa from President Barack Obama: If you want to call him one of the most corrupt presidents in history, say he should be impeached and question whether he was telling the truth about his birth certificate, maybe don't then brag about working with him in a campaign mailer as you try to hang onto your seat.
As we discussed last week, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has found himself in a bit of a predicament, struggling to hold onto a House seat he's represented for nearly two decades. The Republican incumbent is so worried about his future that his latest campaign mailers feature a picture of President Obama, seated at his desk in the Oval Office, and boast about the work Issa has done with the White House.

Evidently, the president heard about the congressman's direct mail, and in remarks Sunday in California, Obama couldn't let this go without a response.
"I'm not going to belabor this point, but let me just point out that as far as I can tell, [Issa's] primary contribution to the United States Congress has been to obstruct and to waste taxpayer dollar on trumped-up investigations that have led nowhere. And this is now a guy who, because poll numbers are bad, has sent out brochures with my picture on them touting his cooperation on issues with me.

"Now, that is the definition of chutzpah. Here's a guy who called my administration perhaps the most corrupt in history -- despite the fact that actually we have not had a major scandal in my administration -- that, when Trump was suggesting that I wasn't even born here, said, 'Well, I don't know,' was not sure.... This guy has spent all his time simply trying to obstruct, to feed the same sentiments that resulted in Donald Trump becoming their nominee.... And now he's sending out brochures touting his cooperation with me. Now, that is shameless."
This should've ended the back and forth, but for some reason, Issa thought it'd be a good idea to send one more volley.
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Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., joined by attorneys Paul D. Clement, far left, and Rick Esenberg, second from left, announces that he has filed a lawsuit to block the federal government from helping to pay for health care coverage for members of Congress and th

Even now, Ron Johnson sticks to his far-right vision

10/25/16 08:43AM

The game plan for Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) should be relatively straightforward. The far-right senator is seeking re-election in a traditionally blue state, running against a respected and well-known former officeholder, in a year in which Donald Trump is likely to lose his home state of Wisconsin. Campaign Management 101 suggests Johnson, behind in the polls, should downplay his more extreme positions and present himself as a pragmatic centrist.

The Republican incumbent, however, is ignoring the conventional strategy and going with a riskier approach.

In June, for example, Johnson launched campaign ads that made it seem as if he weren't already in office. More recently, the GOP senator echoed Donald Trump's bizarre rhetoric questioning the integrity of the voting process: "How many times have we talked about fraudulent voter registration drives? There's been stories, there's been evidence accumulating for literally decades of this, and the Clinton emails prove that's exactly what they do. This is a concerted effort on their part. Whether it's ACORN or Organize for America, Democrats engage in a concerted effort to produce fraudulent votes."

First, none of this is true. Second, ACORN? Seriously?

Yesterday, as the Huffington Post noted, Johnson kept going, trying to make the case that the climate crisis, which he often pretends doesn't exist, isn't a big deal.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) on Monday said he doesn't think people should worry about finding solutions to climate change ― because historically, "civilization thrives" in warmer temperatures.

"Climate has already changed, always will. I'm just not an alarmist. We will adapt," Johnson told Wisconsin radio station WHBY. "How many people are moving up toward the Antarctica, or the Arctic? Most people move down to Texas or Florida, where it's a little bit warmer."
This is the same Wisconsin Republican who has argued that snow in Greenland is evidence of global cooling; "sunspot activity" is responsible for global warming; and those who want to address the crisis are similar to Joseph Stalin and Hugo Chavez.

So much for moving to the middle ahead of the election.
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A doorman stands as people walk past the Trump Tower in N.Y. on May 23, 2016. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

It's not just his campaign: Trump's 'brand' may never be the same

10/25/16 08:00AM

In late June, the day after the "Brexit" vote, Donald Trump hosted a press conference in Scotland, against the backdrop of one of the most important political moments in the modern history of the United Kingdom. As we discussed at the time, the Republican presidential candidate spoke at great length, and in great detail, about ... his new golf resort.

Tomorrow, the GOP nominee will do it again, leaving the campaign trail to promote the opening of his new hotel in Washington, D.C. -- a venue Trump has touted on multiple occasions from the campaign stump, blurring the lines between candidate and salesperson.

It's a reminder that while Trump almost certainly wants to be president, he also remains committed to his lucrative business enterprise. What he may not fully appreciate, however, is the degree to which one is affecting the other. The New York Times ran an interesting report overnight on some of the many people who suddenly want nothing to do with Trump's "brand."
At three large rental buildings emblazoned with gold letters spelling out T-R-U-M-P P-L-A-C-E on the Upper West Side, the lobby rain mats embossed with the same name are being replaced, tenants say. The new versions, they have been told, will proclaim the buildings' addresses, 140, 160 or 180 Riverside Boulevard.

At the same buildings, they say, the doormen and concierges have been measured for new uniforms that will no longer carry the Trump name. And 300 people, most of them tenants, have signed an online petition titled "Dump the TRUMP Name" in less than 10 days.
The article noted that Trump, throughout his career, has boasted that slapping his name on a building increases its value, apparently because consumers are supposed to associate "Trump" with luxury and high quality. But it's not exactly a secret that his presidential campaign has changed public perceptions about the New York Republican, and for many, his name is now more closely associated with misogyny and ethno-nationalism.

And as a consequence, the Trump "brand" is not only taking a severe hit; it may never be the same.
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Monday's Mini-Report, 10.24.16

10/24/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* ISIS: "America and its allies have launched more airstrikes against ISIS in the past week than at any other time in its ongoing fight against the extremists, according to President Barack Obama's counter-ISIS envoy."

* Iraq: "U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter's push for Iraq to let Turkey play a role in the Mosul battle encountered resistance Saturday from Iraq's prime minister, who said his country's forces will oust Islamic State the militants from the northern city."

* Pennsylvania: "Former Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane was sentenced Monday to 10 to 23 months in jail for orchestrating an illegal news leak to damage a political enemy, capping a spectacular downfall for a woman who three years ago was seen as one of the state's fastest-rising stars."

* France "on Monday began clearing out the gritty, squalid migrant camp in Calais known as 'The Jungle' as refugees waited in long lines to be processed and bused to reception centers across the country."

* Cold War: "Russian authorities have stepped up nuclear-war survival measures amid a showdown with Washington, dusting off Soviet-era civil-defense plans and upgrading bomb shelters in the biggest cities. At the Kremlin's Ministry of Emergency Situations, the Cold War is back."
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U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, meets with members of the media at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., May 25, 2016. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Paul Ryan: Dem Party 'run by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren'

10/24/16 04:22PM

Though Election Day is still a couple of weeks away, and unpredictable things may yet happen, polling gives a reasonably good sense of what's likely to happen. And with that in mind, it's reasonable to think Hillary Clinton will be president next year, hoping to get something done by a Republican-run House led by Speaker Paul Ryan.

Ryan, however, is already sounding pessimistic notes about governing opportunities. The Wall Street Journal had an interesting report on the House Speaker's perspective the other day.
Mr. Ryan tried to work out a corporate-tax-reform-for-infrastructure trade with Sen. Chuck Schumer, which he says failed because the Democratic Party is now "run by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. This is not a party run by Alice Rivlin and Erskine Bowles. There aren't 1990s Democrats in this party anymore." He isn't optimistic about an emergence of a pragmatic Hillary that some like to imagine.
Let's note at the outset that tax reform failed, not because of Democratic extremism, but because Republicans walked away from the table, unwilling to accept a compromise.

Even putting this aside, Ryan's complaint is one of his more common arguments: Democrats, the Wisconsin congressman believes, have moved too far to the left. In the 1990s, folks like Alice Rivlin and Erskine Bowles helped set the party's direction on budget and fiscal issues, and now, the argument goes, they've been replaced by progressive firebrands. Ergo, well-intentioned Republicans, ready to negotiate and reach constructive solutions, are stuck trying and failing to negotiate with left-wing ideologues.

It's a nice little theory, which simply isn't true.
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump talks with press on Sept. 5, 2016, aboard his campaign plane, while flying over Ohio, as Vice presidential candidate Gov. Mike Pence looks on. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Trump puts press freedoms in his crosshairs

10/24/16 12:54PM

Throughout American history, presidents and presidential candidates have complained about the press. It's effectively part of the process: news organizations, responsible for holding public officials responsible, invariably draw criticisms from those they cover. It's an inescapable part of an adversarial process.

But Donald Trump's approach to democratic norms and institutions tends to be, shall we say, unique, and this certainly applies to the First Amendment's free-press protections. Consider this exchange yesterday between Jim DeFede at the CBS affiliate in Miami and the Republican presidential candidate.
DEFEDE: In the past you have talked about wanting to amend laws and rework things to make it easier to sue. Do you think there is too much protection allowed in the First Amendment?

TRUMP: Well in England, they have a system where you can actually sue if someone says something wrong. Our press is allowed to say whatever they want and they get away with it. And I think we should go to a system where if they do something wrong -- I'm a big believer, tremendous believer in the freedom of the press, nobody believes it stronger than me -- but if they make terrible, terrible mistakes, and those mistakes are made on purpose to injure people -- and I'm not just talking about me, I'm talking anybody else -- then yes, I think you should have the ability to sue them.
As the transcript excerpt shows, Trump went on to further tout the benefits of a British system, in which the First Amendment does not exist.

It's worth noting, of course, that the U.S. system already has libel laws and Americans can already sue for "actual malice." Trump should probably be aware of this -- because his friends at the National Enquirer and other tabloids have faced lawsuits along these lines before.

Nevertheless, the Republican presidential hopeful apparently sees these laws as inadequate and wants to "go to a system" that makes it easier to target news organizations.

And that's just part of a broader series of changes Trump has in mind when it comes to American journalism.
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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.24.16

10/24/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

* An ABC News tracking poll released yesterday showed Hillary Clinton enjoying a sizable advantage over Donald Trump, 50% to 38%, in a four-way race.

* On a related note, though the ABC poll showed Clinton ahead by 20 points among women voters, Trump told CBS yesterday, "I really think those polls are very inaccurate when it comes to women. I think we're doing better with women than with men, frankly."

* Yesterday, Trump's campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, conceded on "Meet the Press" that the Republican ticket is "behind" in this year's presidential race. This morning, Trump nevertheless argued via Twitter, "We are winning and the press is refusing to report it."

* Separately, the GOP nominee added that Democrats "are making up phony polls in order to suppress the the [sic] Trump." I have no idea what this means.

* A week after Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) sent out a mailer suggesting he's cooperated with President Obama, the president mocked the far-right congressman relentlessly yesterday.

* If elected, would Trump try to replace FBI Director James Comey, a Republican appointed to the post by Obama? Asked about the possibility, the Republican nominee said yesterday, "I'm not going to say."

* As Rachel noted on Friday's show, the Clinton campaign is making a surprising play in Utah this year, dispatching five paid staffers to the traditionally red state and flying surrogates in to reach out to Utah voters.
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