Many have made the point, quite reasonably, that the political world is too quick to overreact to random Donald Trump tweets, turning every foolish missive into a major story. It's a fair point, which will be worth remembering if the president-elect continues to tweet after Inauguration Day.
But occasionally, Trump's Twitter messages tell Americans something very important about his perspective, his critical thinking skills, and discomfort with reality. Yesterday was just such an occasion.
President-elect Donald Trump tweeted a stream of thus-far baseless claims of voter fraud Sunday, indicating that the Hillary Clinton campaign's involvement in an election recount was hypocritical.
Trump, who himself suggested that he would not concede the election during the campaign if he had lost, used his Twitter account to declare that "nothing will change."
And if he'd just stopped there, it would hardly be worth mentioning. But, alas, Trump is still unable to help himself.
"In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide," the president-elect wrote, "I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally." Trump, making up details that do not exist in reality, went on to insist there was "serious voter fraud" in Virginia, New Hampshire, and California. Pointing to the imaginary problem, Trump asked, "[W]hy isn't the media reporting on this? Serious bias - big problem!"
Soon after, the president-elect complained that a shift in campaign strategy would've made it "easier" for him to "win the so-called popular vote."
Yes, that's right, the popular vote has become the "so-called" popular vote.
These may be some of the most interesting and important comments Trump has made since Election Day. Let's unpack what we've learned from the president-elect's latest online tantrum. read more
Stephen Moore, a conservative economist advising Donald Trump, told a group of Republicans recently that they need to recognize the party's recent shift. The Hillreported:
Moore surprised some of the Republican lawmakers assembled at their closed-door whip meeting last Tuesday when he told them they should no longer think of themselves as belonging to the conservative party of Ronald Reagan. They now belong to Trump's populist working-class party, he said. [...]
Asked about his comments to the GOP lawmakers, Moore told The Hill he was giving them a dose of reality. "Just as Reagan converted the GOP into a conservative party, Trump has converted the GOP into a populist working-class party," Moore said.
In the same interview, Moore added, "Reagan ran as an ideological conservative. Trump ran as an economic populist. Trump's victory turned it into the Trump party."
One of these days, conservatives are going to have to come to terms with the fact that they have no idea what "populism" means.
Indeed, not long after Moore's remarks, the Republican president-elect, leading the newly transformed "populist working-class party," indicated a variety of far-right billionaires would join his cabinet, including vulture capitalist Wilbur Ross for the Department of Commerce.
Which was right around the time Republicans celebrated a court ruling blocking President Obama's policy expanding access to overtime pay for millions of working-class Americans.
Which was right around the time the Associated Press reported -- about a month too late -- that Trump's tax plan would actually raise taxes on many middle-class Americans while delivering a windfall to those at the top.
Donald Trump is facing an avalanche of conflict-of-interest troubles, but according to RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, who'll serve as Trump's chief of staff, there's nothing to worry about. The White House counsel's office, Priebus recently assured us, will "make sure" everything's kosher.
It's not clear how, exactly, the counsel's office will serve as such a check, but Priebus' vow makes it all the more important to note who the president-elect has chosen for the job.
[Trump] has asked attorney Donald McGahn to serve as his White House counsel, a top transition source confirmed. The news was first reported by Reuters. McGahn, a partner at Jones Day, is Trump's campaign lawyer and is currently advising the transition effort.
Politico has reported that McGahn, who has longstanding familial ties to the Trump organization and an "inside the Beltway" background as a former chairman of the FEC, may be tasked with putting distance between the president-elect and his myriad of business interests, which critics have argued could present unprecedented number of conflicts of interest and potential Constitutional crisis for the incoming administration.
If McGahn's name sounds at all familiar, it may be because he served as Tom DeLay's lawyer 10 years ago when the Texas Republican was caught up in a variety of scandals. He was also general counsel for the National Republican Congressional Committee for many years.
But the part of McGahn's background that jumped out at me was this tidbit: McGahn was "a lead lawyer for a key group in the Koch brothers' network -- Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce -- before joining the Trump campaign. He's one of a growing number of people with ties to the Kochs to join Trump's administration."
And that's probably the most interesting angle to all of this. A separate Politicopiece explained:
The scourge of "fake news" has been well documented in recent weeks, with some evidence that made-up stories easily outperformed real news reports on Facebook in the final months of the presidential campaign.
And while the fictional reports had many authors, the Washington Postreported over the holiday weekend that Russia's government played an important role.
The flood of "fake news" this election season got support from a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created and spread misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy, say independent researchers who tracked the operation.
Russia's increasingly sophisticated propaganda machinery -- including thousands of botnets, teams of paid human "trolls," and networks of websites and social-media accounts -- echoed and amplified right-wing sites across the Internet as they portrayed Clinton as a criminal hiding potentially fatal health problems and preparing to hand control of the nation to a shadowy cabal of global financiers.
The Post's report was based on the findings of "two teams of independent researchers found that the Russians exploited American-made technology platforms to attack U.S. democracy at a particularly vulnerable moment."
One of the reports came from PropOrNot, a nonpartisan collection of researchers with foreign policy, military, and technology backgrounds, whose executive director told the Post, "The way that this propaganda apparatus supported Trump was equivalent to some massive amount of a media buy. It was like Russia was running a super PAC for Trump's campaign.... It worked." [Update: see below.]
What's especially striking about reports like these is the picture that emerges when we add the details to the picture that already exists. Consider: read more
During the 2016 campaign, Mitt Romney was as articulate as anyone in either party about the dangers posed by Donald Trump. It was the first time in modern history that the most recent presidential nominee of a major party went out of his way to condemn his successor on his party's ticket, and Romney adopted this role with great enthusiasm, blasting Trump over and over and over again.
Nevertheless, the president-elect is looking for a credible Secretary of State, and Trump recently met with Romney so that they could resolve their differences and explore the possibility of Romney joining the incoming president's team.
The reaction from prominent members of Trump's inner circle is unlike anything we've seen in modern times. Politicoreported the other day:
Donald Trump's struggle to find a secretary of state has erupted into an early battle for the soul of his nascent presidency -- a critical showdown between the insurgents who thrust him into office and establishment Republicans pushing for a more conventional White House.
At the moment, the internal debate over who should serve as the steward of the country's foreign policy pits advocates for bombastic ex-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani against those for caustic Trump critic Mitt Romney, the GOP's 2012 nominee. The behind-the-scenes battle exploded into public view on Thanksgiving Day, after Trump stalwarts began viewing Romney as a serious contender.
That was published on Friday. Yesterday, it was clear the battle was intensifying -- and it was anything but "behind the scenes."
Kellyanne Conway, Trump's campaign manager and spokesperson, has led the very public charge against Romney as Secretary of State, arguing yesterday, "People feel betrayed to think that Gov. Romney, who went out of his way to question the character and the intellect and the integrity of Donald Trump ... would be given the most significant cabinet post of all." read more
Donald Trump has been blowing off national-security briefings since Election Day, preferring to combine information from U.S. intelligence agencies with back-channel information from unnamed "sources." This realization makes it all the more important to know who'll have the president-elect's ear once Trump is in the Oval Office.
The president-elect tapped Kathleen Troia "K.T." McFarland, a former government official and one-time Fox News analyst, as a deputy national security adviser, a transition official told NBC News.
A Fox News spokesperson confirmed Friday that McFarland's contract has been terminated on the heels of Trump offering her the position, a necessary step in order for her to serve in his administration.
McFarland does have some relevant experience, having worked for Reagan's Defense Secretary, Caspar Weinberger. That said, this experience (a) was more than 30 years ago; (b) related entirely to public relations; and (c) was followed by McFarland playing the role of far-right pundit and failed candidate for public office.
At first blush, that may not sound that bad, especially in light of Trump's usual personnel habits, but the closer one looks at McFarland's record, the more troubling her appoint becomes. Media Matters published a helpful overview over the weekend.
After Donald Trump is inaugurated, Americans will have a president with no foreign policy experience. His vice president will have no foreign policy experience. His chief of staff and chief strategist will, between them, have no foreign policy experience. Even Trump's ambassador to the United Nations has no foreign policy experience.
Then there's retired Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump's choice to become National Security Advisor, who has the relevant experience -- but who's arguably the worst of the president-elect's poor choices.
It's difficult to know where to start with this guy. Do you highlight Flynn's weird affinity for anti-Muslim conspiracy theories? His problematic and legally dubious lobbying work with Turkey? How about his coziness with Vladimir Putin and Russia's government?
While each of these details is true and important, I'd start with thisNew Yorker piece from Dana Priest, who documented Flynn's habit of breaking rules "he thought were stupid."
In 2012, Flynn became director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, in charge of all military attachés and defense-intelligence collection around the world. He ran into serious trouble almost immediately. I've spoken with some two dozen former colleagues who were close to Flynn then, members of the D.I.A. and the military, and some who worked with him in civilian roles. They all like Flynn personally. But they described how he lurched from one priority to another and had trouble building a loyal team. [...]
Flynn also began to seek the Washington spotlight. But, without loyal junior officers at his side to vet his facts, he found even more trouble. His subordinates started a list of what they called "Flynn facts," things he would say that weren't true. [...]
Flynn's temper also flared. He berated people in front of colleagues. Soon, according to former associates, a parallel power structure developed within the D.I.A. to fence him in, and to keep the nearly seventeen-thousand-person agency working. "He created massive antibodies in the building," the former colleague said.
Flynn was fired after 18 months. His career then managed to go from bad to worse. read more
When it comes to choosing the personnel for his top administrative posts, Donald Trump's selections have thus far fallen into two broad categories: the conventionally wrong and the unconventionally wrong.
The latter is made up of people who aren't just ill-suited to lead a cabinet agency, but who are also ridiculous political personalities who have no business even being considered for important federal responsibilities. Liberty University's Jerry Falwell Jr., for example, said Donald Trump offered him the job of Education Secretary, which the right-wing Virginian turned down for personal reasons. Eyeing Falwell for such a post is unconventionally wrong.
Betsy DeVos, apparently Trump's second choice for the Department of Education, is merely conventionally wrong.
President-elect Donald Trump picked Betsy DeVos to be his education secretary Wednesday, putting an outspoken advocate of charter schools and school vouchers in America's top education post. [...]
DeVos, a 58-year-old billionaire philanthropist from Michigan, leads the American Federation for Children, which promotes charter school education. She's married to Dick DeVos, an heir to the Amway fortune, and is the sister to Erik Prince, founder of notorious government-contracted security company Blackwater, now known as Academi.
I don't mean "conventional" as a compliment. DeVos, a Republican mega-donor, is a far-right ideologue with misguided ideas who'll very likely do a bad job. But she's also very much in line with expectations in a Trump/Pence team -- and it's easy to imagine a President Kasich, Cruz, Bush, or Rubio picking the exact same person for the exact same job.
That is, however, cold comfort when it comes public policy. DeVos has been a fierce opponent of public education, which is why Trump choosing her for Secretary of Education suggests the incoming Republican administration is planning a pretty aggressive confrontation with public schools. read more
Shortly after the election, President Obama approved daily intelligence briefings for Donald Trump and Mike Pence. It was obviously the responsible thing to do: the Republican ticket will soon be sworn into office, and Obama wants them to be up to speed so they're prepared the moment they're in positions of responsibility.
But as Rachel noted on the show the other day, there's a problem: Trump apparently doesn't want the information. NBC News reported:
President-elect Donald Trump has had only two intelligence briefings since he won the election more than two weeks ago, intelligence sources told NBC News on Wednesday -- a much lower number than his predecessors had and fewer even than Vice President-elect Mike Pence.
A Washington Postreport added that a team of intelligence analysts "has been prepared to deliver daily briefings on global developments and security threats to Trump in the two weeks since he won," but he's passed on all but two meetings. Pence, on the other hand, "has set aside time for intelligence briefings almost every day since the election."
When these reports first surfaced, I thought it was some kind of joke, or at least the result of some confusion, but it's actually quite real: Trump has been offered daily access to sensitive and classified information from around the globe, and the president-elect, at least for now, isn't interested.
Asked about this yesterday on CNN, Kellyanne Conway, Trump's campaign manager and spokesperson, said she "can't discuss" how many briefings the president-elect has turned down, but she insisted that Trump is "engaged" and "brilliant." Conway added that Trump is "availing himself of the information as provided to him from a number of sources."
I'm not entirely sure what that means, but it warrants some follow-up. What other "sources" might Trump be listening to? If U.S. intelligence agencies aren't enough for the president-elect, who else, specifically, is providing him with "information"? read more
If Donald Trump faced one conflict-of-interest controversy, it would serve as the basis for a challenging test for his upcoming presidency. But at this point, the Republican faces so many conflict-of-interest controversies, it's more accurate to think of this as a test for the entire U.S. political system.
In fact, at a certain level, "conflict of interest" is an unsatisfying phrase, which fails to capture the scope and scale of the problem. For the typical American, it may even sound dull and legalistic. Maybe it's better to frame this in a more direct way: the president-elect, fresh off his national victory in which more voters preferred the other candidate, appears to be using the office he does not yet have to advance his financial interests around the world.
And our system simply isn't designed to accommodate circumstances like these.
The New York Times published a very detailed overview of Trump's international investments, holdings, and debts, each of which create potential conflicts, and the article wasn't short.
The globe is dotted with such potential conflicts. Mr. Trump’s companies have business operations in at least 20 countries, with a particular focus on the developing world, including outposts in nations like India, Indonesia and Uruguay, according to a New York Times analysis of his presidential campaign financial disclosures.
What’s more, the true extent of Mr. Trump’s global financial entanglements is unclear, since he has refused to release his tax returns and has not made public a list of his lenders.
One of the key challenges at this point is simply keeping track of all of the problematic areas. Scotland is certainly near the top of the most controversial conflicts -- Trump has already admitted discussing one of his foreign investments with a foreign official since Election Day -- and Argentina isn't far behind.
Rachel Maddow looks back 140 years to Reconstruction era U.S. history to find a remotely comparable gap between the popular vote and the electoral vote winner, and warns against leaping to conclusions about the significance of the 2016 popular vote. watch
Rachel Maddow follows up on a previous report on a family in Flint, Michigan coping with living with lead-poisoned water, who have received a new replacement water service line, though testing and trusting that water are still pending. watch
Rachel Maddow notes that the rules for conflicts of interest are different for the president, and President-elect knows this and is not bothered by appearance of using the presidency to service his business interests. watch
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