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Friday's Mini-Report, 7.22.16

07/22/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Many expected Hillary Clinton to announce her running mate this afternoon, but as of now, there's been no word. Whether we learn today or not, Clinton will reportedly campaign with her running mate in Florida tomorrow.
 
* Germany: "A shooting at a popular shopping center Friday evening in Munich, Germany, killed at least eight people, injured others, and brought the city to a standstill as police hunted for up to three suspects in what is believed to have been an act of terrorism."
 
* Oh my: "The temperature in Mitribah, Kuwait, surged Thursday to a blistering 129.2 degrees. And on Friday in Basra, Iraq, the mercury soared to 129.0 degrees. If confirmed, these incredible measurements would represent the two hottest temperatures ever recorded in the Eastern Hemisphere, according to Weather Underground meteorologist Jeff Masters and weather historian Christopher Burt, who broke the news."
 
* South Florida: "Authorities in North Miami, Fla., said Friday that they had placed a second police officer on leave as part of the investigation into a police shooting there earlier this week in which an officer shot and wounded an unarmed man."
 
* Obviously: "President Barack Obama on Friday insisted that the United States had no prior knowledge or involvement in last week's attempted coup in Turkey, saying such claims 'are completely false.' Furthermore, Obama added, such rumors threaten the fabric of the U.S.-Turkey relationship."
 
* Self-inflicted wound: "The British economy is getting smaller, according to a major survey of business executives in the country. The new data is the latest in a series of signs that the country's vote for a so-called Brexit -- or exit from the European Union -- last month is already putting downward pressure on the economy."
President Barack Obama speaks during a joint news conference with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto at the White House on July 22, 2016 in Washington D.C. (Photo by Yuri Gripas/AFP/Getty)

Obama pushes back against Trump's dystopian vision

07/22/16 04:06PM

If all you knew about the United States was what you heard from Donald Trump's convention speech, you'd think all 319 million Americans were living in constant sorrow, stuck in a nightmare of our own making. Our miserable country is careening into chaos, with existential threats lurking behind every corner.
 
Really, it's amazing we get out of bed in the morning.
 
It's unlikely President Obama watched Trump's remarks, but as Bloomberg Politics reported this morning, he nevertheless took a little time this morning to stick up for the country the Republican nominee is eager to run down.
President Barack Obama offered a rebuttal of a Republican convention portraying a violent and chaotic America, insisting that the nation is largely peaceful and that crime and illegal immigration have fallen during his presidency.
 
"This idea that America is somehow on the verge of collapse, this vision of violence and chaos everywhere, doesn't really jibe with the experience of most people," Obama said at a White House news conference with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto on Friday.
After Trump insisted violent crime is overtaking American public life, Obama explained, "Although it is true that we've seen an up-tick in murders and violent crime in some cities this year, the fact of the matter is that the murder rate today, the violence rate today, is far lower than it was when Ronald Reagan was president, and lower than when I took office."
 
And what about our porous, dangerous borders? The president also explained that, in reality, illegal border crossings are "lower by two-thirds than it was when Ronald Reagan was president. We have far fewer undocumented workers crossing the border today than we did in the '80s, or the '90s, or when George Bush was president. That's a fact."
 
As for police officers who are killed in the line of duty, Obama added, "We've just gone through a tragic period. But the fact is that the rate of intentional killings of police officers is also significantly lower than it was when Ronald Reagan was president. Now those are facts. That's data."
 
Well, sure, if we're going to pretend facts and data matter, these details are probably relevant.
Sen. Ted Cruz speaks with Donald Trump during a Tea Party Patriots rally against the Iran nuclear deal on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Sept. 9, 2015. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Bloomberg/Getty)

With the convention over, Trump returns focus to Cruz's dad

07/22/16 12:40PM

In early May, Donald Trump's affinity for conspiracy theories reached a level few were willing to defend. The morning of the Indiana primary -- a contest Trump won easily, ending the Republican nominating process -- the GOP candidate called in to Fox News to take a literally unbelievable shot at Ted Cruz.
 
"His father was with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald's being – you know, shot. I mean, the whole thing is ridiculous," Trump said. "What is this, right prior to his being shot, and nobody even brings it up. They don't even talk about that.... I mean, what was he doing with Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before the death? Before the shooting? It's horrible."
 
Offered an opportunity to walk it back the next day, Trump refused. The JFK-related story was in the National Enquirer, Trump said, so it shouldn't be dismissed out of hand.
 
More than two months have passed. Trump is now the Republican Party's presidential nominee, and Ted Cruz is the guy who was booed relentlessly at his party's convention for refusing to endorse the GOP ticket. Cruz can return to Capitol Hill, while Trump can shift his attention to the general election.
 
But he can't. This morning, Trump, joined by running mate Mike Pence, hosted an event with supporters in Ohio, where the presidential hopeful decided to return to the story about Ted Cruz's father. Vox posted the jaw-dropping transcript:
"All I did was point out that on the cover of the National Enquirer there was a picture of him and crazy Lee Harvey Oswald having breakfast. Now, Ted never denied that it was his father.... This was a magazine that frankly, in many respects, should be very respected. They got OJ, they got Edwards. If that was the New York Times, they would've gotten Pulitzer Prizes for their reporting. I've always said, 'Why didn't the National Enquirer get the Pulitzer Prize for Edwards, and OJ Simpson, and all of these things?'
 
"But anyway, so they have a picture, an old picture, having breakfast with Lee Harvey Oswald. Now, I'm not saying anything. Here's how the press takes that story. This had nothing to do with me. Except I might have pointed it out, but it had nothing to do with me, I have no control over anything. I might have pointed it out. But nobody ever denied -- did anyone ever deny that it was his father? It's a little hard to do, because it looks like him."
This is just an excerpt, by the way, Trump kept going, including another riff on the National Enquirer's "credibility," which the candidate considers impressive.
 
This is the first day of Donald J. Trump's general election campaign.

Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.22.16

07/22/16 12:01PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
 
* In his first public event after wrapping up the Republican National Convention, Donald Trump spent quite a bit of time talking to an Ohio audience this morning about ... Ted Cruz.
 
* At the same event, Trump brought Dan Scavino onto the stage with him. Scavino is perhaps best known for the recent "Star of David" tweet.
 
* Trump's campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, told MSNBC yesterday that women will vote for Trump because their "husbands can't afford to pay their bills." No, really, that's what he said.
 
* As Rachel noted during last night's coverage, former KKK leader David Duke praised Trump's convention speech with great enthusiasm last night. "Couldn't have said it better!" Duke said.
 
* On a related note, as Trump accepted his party's presidential nomination last night, "a tweet from a white supremacist account was broadcast through the convention hall at Quicken Loans Arena."
 
* A Suffolk poll released yesterday found Trump and Hillary Clinton tied in Ohio with 44% each. When third-party candidates are added to the mix, Clinton leads by four points.
 
* Speaking of polls from swing states, a new University of New Hampshire poll shows Clinton up by two in the Granite State, 39% to 37%, though there are a lot of undecideds.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Feb. 10, 2015. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

McConnell tries (and fails) to reassure U.S. allies

07/22/16 11:32AM

One of the more unintentionally amusing moments of the Republican National Convention came last night when RNC Chairman Reince Priebus took the stage. The party leader declared with great confidence that Republicans "believe America is the greatest country in the world," before insisting that electing Hillary Clinton would mean "forgetting our friends and enabling our enemies."
 
Literally the day before, Donald Trump told the New York Times that Americans have no moral authority on the global stage given "how bad the United States is," and that he might not defend our NATO allies if attacked, effectively giving Russia's Vladimir Putin carte blanche to start planning offensives in Eastern Europe and the Balkans.
 
It was as if Reince Priebus had no idea what his own party's presidential candidate is proposing.
 
The rest of the world, however, took careful note. Diplomats in the United States and abroad recoiled at Trump's profoundly dangerous vision for international affairs, as did a variety of Republican officials, who were no doubt stunned to hear their party's presidential nominee trash his own country and decades' worth of bipartisan foreign policy consensus simultaneously.
 
But as the New York Times reported yesterday afternoon. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tried to take a more forgiving approach.
"It is the most successful military alliance in the history of the world," Mr. McConnell said during an interview at his convention headquarters in downtown Cleveland. "I want to reassure our NATO allies should any of them be attacked, we will be there to defend them."
 
"I am willing to kind of chalk it up to a rookie mistake," he said. "I don't think there is anybody he would choose to be secretary of defense or secretary of state who would have a different view from my own."
Um, no.
Lady Bird Johnson, President Lyndon B. Johnson

Why Trump keeps focusing on the 'Johnson Amendment'

07/22/16 10:51AM

The number of actual policies included in Donald Trump's convention speech was vanishingly small, but towards the end of his remarks, the Republican nominee did reference an idea most of the country probably knows very little about.
"At this moment, I would like to thank the evangelical and religious community in general who have been so good to me and so supportive. You have much to contribute to our politics, yet our laws prevent you from speaking your minds from your own pulpits.
 
"An amendment, pushed by Lyndon Johnson, many years ago, threatens religious institutions with a loss of their tax-exempt status if they openly advocate their political views. I am going to work very hard to repeal that language and protect free speech for all Americans."
If you've been watching Trump closely of late, this wasn't the first time you heard him mention the "Johnson Amendment." In his truly bizarre remarks last weekend introducing Mike Pence as his running mate, Trump said, "We call it the Johnson amendment, where you are just absolutely shunned if you're evangelical, if you want to talk religion, you lose your tax-exempt status."
 
Even the new Republican Party platform references the policy: "Republicans believe the federal government, specifically the IRS, is constitutionally prohibited from policing or censoring speech based on religious convictions or beliefs, and therefore we urge the repeal of the Johnson Amendment."
 
And it's at this point, when people start to ask, "What in the world is the Johnson Amendment?" I've been covering this obscure fight for a while, so let's unwrap the controversy.
A cameraman's image is reflected as he sets up on the floor during the second day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, July 19, 2016. (Photo by Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

The opportunity cost of the Republican convention

07/22/16 09:50AM

I received an interesting email from a center-right reader yesterday, responding to my piece about the Republican National Convention turning into the "Mistake by the Lake." The gist of his note was pretty straightforward: this GOP gathering may have gone poorly, but the missteps were inconsequential.
 
Melania Trump's plagiarism was embarrassing, reader D.S. said, but there's not a voter in the country whose opinions were swayed by the controversy. Ted Cruz's refusal to endorse Donald Trump was an uncomfortable reminder about intra-party fissures, but it's only of interest to those who pay close attention to the granular details of politics.
 
The American mainstream electorate, D.S. effectively argued, doesn't care. People who were inclined to vote for Trump are still inclined to vote for Trump. Those who found his message compelling before the convention won't feel any differently as a result of a messy national convention.
 
It's a fair observation, but I think it's overlooking an important angle: the "opportunity cost" of the convention.
 
Readers with MBAs will probably tell me I'm butchering the definition, but as I understand it, an opportunity cost refers to the loss of a possible gain. You could have invested in A, which did well, but you instead invested in B, which didn't do well. The opportunity cost is the return you could have received from the superior investment you didn't make.
 
What does this have to do with the Republican convention? Quite a bit.
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign chair and convention manager Paul Manafort appears at a press conference at the Republican Convention on July 19, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Team Trump has no use for reliable crime data

07/22/16 09:05AM

Donald Trump's acceptance speech at last night's Republican National Convention covered a fair amount of ground -- there are so many things he wants Americans to be scared of -- but the GOP candidate went out of his way to place a special emphasis on crime.
 
There is, however, a problem: crime rates are going down, not up. Though perspectives are often skewed by high-profile incidents, most Americans are safer from crime now than they've been in a generation.
 
For Trump, that makes lying necessary -- if voters aren't terrified, he's going to lose -- but for the Trump campaign, there's another rhetorical option available. New York magazine flagged this gem:
[W]hen CNN's Jake Tapper confronted Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort with the inconvenient facts about how historically safe most Americans are, Manafort chose to attack the messenger. Which is to say, to attack the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
 
"Empirically, according to FBI statistics, crime rates have been going down for decades," Tapper said. "How can Republicans make the argument that, somehow, it's more dangerous today, when the facts don't back that up?"
 
"People don't feel safe in their neighborhoods. I don't know what statistics you're talking about," Manafort replied. "The FBI is suspect these days, after what they just did with Hillary Clinton."
Got that? The FBI's facts are politically inconvenient to the Trump campaign, so as far as Paul Manafort is concerned, there's reason to mistrust both the data and the federal law enforcement officials who compiled the data.
 
Of course, the FBI's crime rates are based almost entirely on information provided by state and local law enforcement, but who knows, maybe the Trump campaign's chairman believes they're in on the scam, too. (If the parties were reversed, the political world would be spending today asking why a Democrat accused police officers nationwide of politically motivated corruption.)
 
But we can take this one step further. There's ample reason to believe the Trump campaign is taking on Hillary Clinton and independent data with equal vigor.
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump greets supporters and signs autographs after a campaign stop in Spencer, Iowa, Dec. 5, 2015. (Photo by Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters)

From 'Yes we can' to 'I alone can fix it'

07/22/16 08:30AM

At roughly this point eight years ago, when Democrats were desperate to reclaim the White House after two terms of a Republican president, then-Sen. Barack Obama accepted the party's nomination and delivered a speech that emphasized unity. "In America, our destiny is inextricably linked," he said, "that together our dreams can be one."
 
The speech used the word "we" constantly. "America, we cannot turn back," Obama said. "We cannot walk alone. At this moment, in this election, we must pledge once more to march into the future."
 
The campaign's slogan, of course, was "Yes we can."
 
It was therefore a little jarring last night to hear one of the more memorable lines from Donald Trump's acceptance speech at the Republican convention: "Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it." He added, "I will restore law and order to our country."
 
Trump concluded, "I am your voice."
 
The language was a little jarring, as The Atlantic's Yoni Appelbaum explained very well.
[Trump] did not appeal to prayer, or to God. He did not ask Americans to measure him against their values, or to hold him responsible for living up to them. He did not ask for their help. He asked them to place their faith in him.
 
He broke with two centuries of American political tradition, in which candidates for office -- and above all, for the nation's highest office -- acknowledge their fallibility and limitations, asking for the help of their fellow Americans, and of God, to accomplish what they cannot do on their own.
To be sure, the Republicans in attendance didn't seem to mind. The more Trump positioned himself as the nation's savior, the more the crowd cheered.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers a speech during the evening session on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by John Moore/Getty)

Trump's bold vision: Make America Hide Under the Bed Again

07/22/16 07:50AM

Fear is a powerful instinct. Fear is so potent, and the innate drive to protect one's self from harm is so overpowering, that it can override almost every other instinct, including those related to intellect and judgment.
 
Which is why Donald Trump desperately wants to frighten you.
 
The obvious problem with the Republican presidential nominee's convention speech last night is that it was less a speech and more a series of strung together scary falsehoods. In the actual United States, crime rates have dropped, but Trump insists they've increased. In our reality, illegal border crossings have fallen, but in Trump's mind, they've skyrocketed.
 
For those who care about facts, the United States has fairly low tax rates among industrialized democracies, but in Trump's version of reality, "America is one of the highest-taxed nations in the world." The truth is that the killing of police officers in the line of duty is down, but Trump nevertheless wants you to believe the exact opposite. In reality, Iran is not even close to the path to nuclear weapons. In Trump's mind, "Iran is on the path to nuclear weapons."
 
Early on in his speech, the GOP nominee declared, "[H]ere, at our convention, there will be no lies. We will honor the American people with the truth, and nothing else." Trump then lied in literally the next sentence.
 
For more along these lines, I'd encourage readers to check out many of the detailed fact-checking pieces that were published overnight.
 
But let's not miss the forest for the trees: Trump wasn't just lying for the sake of routine deception or even for self-aggrandizement; he was lying because it was the only way to leave the audience terrified. If he told the truth, voters wouldn't be frightened, and if voters aren't frightened, he's going to lose the election.
 
And so Americans were treated to the kind of demagoguery rarely heard from a presidential candidate of any era. Trump wants you to be afraid of criminals. And immigrants. And Democrats. And refugees. And government regulations. And quite possibly the monster that could be hiding under your bed.

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