Paul Waldman

No justice for Trump's enablers: The moral and professional accounting some Republicans feared will never take place

After Donald Trump became his party’s nominee for president in 2016, a great many Republicans in Washington said publicly and privately that they would never work in his administration if he were to win. For some it was because they doubted his commitment to conservative ideology, but for most it was about Trump as a person: He was erratic, unqualified, and most of all an utterly corrupt and immoral person who sullies everything he touches.

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Donald Trump's race-based 2020 re-election campaign

Donald Trump does not play 12-dimensional chess. He does not say or do outrageous things out of a shrewd and carefully constructed strategy to distract you from some other outrageous thing he’s saying or doing. When he makes you appalled, more likely than not it’s because he demonstrated his true beliefs and feelings, whether it benefits him politically or not.

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Students Have Transformed the American Gun Debate

Every social movement in history has been greeted by "concern trolls," long before that term was invented. You're doing it wrong, activists are inevitably told. You're asking for too much too quickly, or your message should be more specific. You don't understand the issue deeply enough, or you're getting lost in the weeds. You've got the wrong spokespeople. You're being rude. Your tactics are alienating those you're trying to persuade. This is never going to work.

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Democrats' Unsolvable Media Problem

As we learn more about how Russia used social media as part of its campaign to help elect Donald Trump, what stands out is how easy it was. Spend $100,000 on Facebook ads, create a bunch of Twitter bots, and before you know it you've whipped up a fog of disinformation that gives Trump just the boost he needs to get over the finish line. Even if it's almost impossible to quantify how many votes it might have swayed, it was one of the many factors contributing to the atmosphere of chaos and confusion that helped Trump get elected.

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Donald Trump, Weakling

Bill Clinton, who had an exquisitely tuned radar for how ordinary people's prejudices influence their political choices, used to say that the public would always prefer a politician who was "strong and wrong" to one who was "weak and right." I couldn't help but think of that when I saw Ted Cruz defend President Trump's chest-thumping bluster on North Korea, by saying that while he wouldn't speak the way the president does, "I do think it helps for North Korea and for China to understand that we have a president who is strong. That is beneficial."

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At Last, Trump Finds His Mini-Me

Perhaps never in American history has a lowly White House aide been so roundly and gleefully mocked in such short a time as Sean Spicer, President Trump's soon-to-be-former press secretary. Spicer's departure and the arrival of the new communication director, Anthony Scaramucci, show that this White House has really found its groove. Not in passing legislation (which hasn't happened yet) or in convincing Americans that the president is doing a bang-up job (his approval ratings are in the 30s), but in making Donald Trump's staff more fully Trumpian.

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Trump Demands Loyalty From Everyone, But Gives It to No One

"I just feel that loyalty is a very, very important part of life, not only of business but of life," said Donald Trump last year. He has been quoted saying similar things for years, and his underlings have learned to echo him. "This campaign, above all other things, is about loyalty," said Corey Lewandowski last April, when he was managing Trump's campaign. Two months later Lewandowski was fired.

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Could Bill O'Reilly, the King of Cable News, Be Going Down?

When you're a star, they let you do it," said Donald Trump about the joy he took in grabbing women by the genitals without their consent, back when he was eager to impress the likes of Billy Bush. "You can do anything." In a way, he was proven right, since for all the controversy around the release of that recording, he still managed to get elected president. And now his good friend Bill O'Reilly is testing the theory. Cable news's biggest star is confronting the most serious threat to his position he's ever faced, as a result of the revelation by The New York Times that O'Reilly and his employer have settled at least five sexual harassment claims against him, paying out $13 million—of course, always with the condition that the accuser keep her mouth shut. It would be deeply ironic for O'Reilly to lose his position just as he watches the presidency finally held by someone who embodies exactly the politics and perspective he has been promoting on air for years.

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Every Bizarre Trump Eruption Is a Rehearsal for When It Really Matters

Every president has the ability to dominate the news, but none has dominated it quite like this one, in much the same way as a flaming car on the side of the highway dominates the attention of the drivers passing by. Donald Trump's eruptions (for lack of a better word) have a gravitational pull on the entire political world, making them impossible to ignore even if one might step back and ask whether it really matters if the president thinks he had the biggest inaugural crowd in history, or that millions of people voted illegally, or that Barack Obama tapped his phones.

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Why Democrats Need to Forget About 'Reaching Out'

Reporters who traveled to Melbourne, Florida, on Saturday for the first rally of President Trump's re-election campaign—and let's be honest, he deserved a break from all that presidenting he's had to do for four whole weeks—found something shocking. A bunch of people who waited on line to see Donald Trump, it turns out, like Donald Trump and think he's doing a great job.

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The GOP Is Becoming a Pro-Putin Party - Where Is Trump Going to Lead Them Next?

Befitting a man who came from a television genre in which contrived situations carefully edited to tell stories are referred to as "reality," Donald Trump is in the process of creating his own reality for his party. We should be profoundly concerned about the way in which Trump not only lies but encourages his supporters to believe the lies he tells. But can he actually remake the Republican Party in the process, to change its very identity and ideology?

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Donald Trump's Surreal Alternate Reality

If you've been around politics and campaigns for even a little while, you probably have a pretty clear sense of what happens behind closed doors with Hillary Clinton and her close advisers. They plan which battleground states she'll visit in the few remaining weeks, go over polling data to see where she's strong and where she's weak, consider how to react to each day's developments in the news, practice for the final debate on Wednesday, talk about the key messages she should emphasize—those kind of things. There's not much mystery there.

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Thanks to Trump, the Presidential Campaign Has Descended Into Madness

My friends, we have fallen down the rabbit hole. This presidential campaign has completely departed from ordinary reality, into a place where there's no such thing as truth and accountability is a joke—at least for some. I wish I could tell you with confidence that it all will work out in the end, that the electorate will be wise and thoughtful, that we'll only shake our heads and chuckle when we think back on 2016. But I'm no longer so sure.  

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Trump Doesn't Even Know What He Thinks About His Signature Issue

This Wednesday, Donald Trump will be giving what he describes as a "major speech" on immigration. Presumably, this will be one of the ones he reads off a teleprompter, which allows his staff to make sure he says just what they want him to. Of course, that won't stop him from saying something completely different the next time he speaks off the cuff, which usually happens within 48 hours of one of these "clarifying" speeches wherein he attempts to bring some coherence to all his contradictory statements.

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Why 2016 Could Be a Turning Point on Guns

I've been a gun control pessimist for about as long as I've been writing about the issue of guns. No matter what happens—no matter how many mass shootings there are, no matter how many abusive men kill their wives and girlfriends, no matter how many terrorists figure out how easy it is to kill huge numbers of people with our readily available firearms, no matter how many children accidentally shoot their siblings and friends—the marriage between the National Rifle Association and the Republican Party will prevent any meaningful national legislation from being passed. That even applies to measures like universal background checks, which somehow can't be enacted despite support from 90 percent of the public. You couldn't get 90 percent of the public to agree that ice cream is tasty, and yet we can't even get a vote on that in the House.

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10 of the Most Popular - and Wrong - Arguments Gun Advocates Make

There has been yet another mass shooting, something that now seems to occur on a monthly basis. Every time another tragedy like this occurs, gun advocates make the same arguments about why we can't possibly do anything to restrict the weaponization of our culture. Here's a guide to what they'll be saying in the coming days:

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Why Donald Trump Matters

The political press is struggling over how exactly to report on Donald Trump. On one hand, we absolutely love covering him—Trump's intoxicating combination of boorishness, ignorance, tactlessness, and overconfidence, all wrapped up in a gold-plated package, is utterly irresistible as copy. On the other hand, we feel a little guilty about it, as though we know it's bad for us and bad for the public. Which is what produces the endless assurances that, despite his rather remarkable strength in the polls, you should rest assured that he is not going to be his party's nominee.

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Republicans Need to Find a New Culture War to Fight

While Antonin Scalia's dissents in last week's two blockbuster cases were full of his usual colorful bombast (I can't wait to respond to a line of baloney someone gives me with "That, sir, is pure applesauce!"), there was one line that stuck out for me. In Obergefell v. Hodges, the gay marriage case, Scalia aimed his withering contempt at Anthony Kennedy's assertion in the majority opinion that two people can find "other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality" in the bond of marriage. "Really?" Scalia wrote. "Who ever thought that intimacy and spirituality (whatever that means) were freedoms? And if intimacy is, one would think Freedom of Intimacy is abridged rather than expanded by marriage. Ask the nearest hippie."

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The Baltimore Police Department's Insane Explanation For Why Freddie Gray Is Dead

I can only imagine the kind of siege mentality that prevails within the Baltimore Police Department right now. Not only are the city's residents protesting daily (and on one night those protests turned violent), but reporters from around the country are now examining the force's less-than-stellar record when it comes to cases of abuse and brutality, and who knows what they'll find. There's little doubt that some time soon the city's leadership will demand investigations, commissions, or some kind of effort that could lead to serious reform of the department. At a time like this, it may be understandable if the police brass isn't quite thinking straight. Which would be one explanation for the story that they presented to The Washington Post:

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Rand Paul's Attack on Jeb Bush's Pot 'Hypocrisy' Heralds a Signal Issue for 2016 Campaign

The Republican presidential nominating contest has barely begun, and already we're talking about marijuana. This is yet another issue most Republicans would just as soon not discuss, since public opinion is moving away from them and they haven't quite figured out how fast they should follow after it. But at the moment, Jeb Bush can thank Barack Obama for paving the way for him to dismiss his own youthful pot smoking as no big deal—at least nothing that should make anyone want to vote against him.

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Republicans Want GOP Leaders to Fight Obama Rather Than Get Things Done in D.C.

In case you were wondering just how inclined Republicans will be to find ways to work with President Obama, here's  the chart of the day, from a new Pew Research Center poll. Victory, it seems, does not make the GOP electorate magnanimous:

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And the Year's Most Expensive Senate Race Is...

The Center for Responsive Politics is out with what I assume are final numbers on spending in the 2014 election, and it's some eye-popping stuff. The headline is that the North Carolina Senate race between Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis did indeed turn out to be the most expensive in history, with an amazing $116 million spent overall, $84 million of which was from outside sources. This tops the previous record-holder, Hillary Clinton's 2000 race, in which $70 million (or $97 million in today's money) was spent.

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Are GOP Donors Going to Get Anything In Return For Their Millions?

If you're a liberal zillionaire who contributed lots of money this year to prevent a Republican takeover of the Senate, on Tuesday you're probably going to be pretty unhappy. Which is why, Ken Vogel of Politico reports, the people who run the groups through which all those millions are being channeled are rushing to reassure their donors that it was still money well spent. Which got me thinking about the conservative donors who are probably going to be celebrating next week. For some of them, Republican victories are an end in themselves, but others have a more specific agenda in mind. They help Republicans get elected because they expect something in return.

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Why Liberals Love (and Trust) NPR

The Pew Research Center has one of its ginormous studies out today, this one about polarization and media use, and as usual it's full of interesting stuff. I want to make a point about news in general and NPR in particular, and then after that, for those who care about these things, I have a methodological point to make about how we measure ideology.

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Despite it Being Extremely Rare, When the Next Terrorist Attack Comes, Will We Be Able to Handle it?

Imagine it's six months from now. A 19-year-old man—whom we'll later learn was in communication with members of ISIL in the Middle East—walks on to the Mall in Washington on a weekend afternoon. Groups of tourists are walking about from one monument to another. He takes his backpack off his shoulders, reaches in, and removes the semiautomatic rifle he bought a month before at a gun show in Virginia, where he didn't have to submit to a background check (though it wouldn't have mattered, because his record is clean). He opens fire on the crowd, and before U.S. Park Police are able to reach him and put him down, he has killed six people and wounded eleven others. In his pocket is a note announcing his devotion ISIL, and that he is striking at the United States in retaliation for its illegal war on the true Muslims building a caliphate in Syria and Iraq.

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Expert: U.S. Police Training in Use of Deadly Force Woefully Inadequate

Maria Haberfeld is a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. A veteran of the Israel Defense Forces who also served in the Israel National Police, she has conducted research on police forces in multiple countries, and has also written many books on terrorism and policing, including Critical Issues in Police Training. We spoke on Friday about the events in Ferguson, Missouri, and the shooting of Kajieme Powell by St. Louis police, which was caught on video. Powell, brandishing a steak knife, approached officers, saying “Shoot me!.” As reported by the Post-Dispatch, St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson said lethal force was permitted under department rules if a knife-wielding attacker is within 21 feet of police.

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Why American Exceptionalism Is a Dangerous Sham

The following article first appeared in the American Prospect. 

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Why Cory Booker and Corporate Friendly Dems Who Fear Attacking Wall Street Are a Big Problem for Democrats

If you needed a reminder that Democrats and Republicans approach presidential elections very differently, the past few days have provided a vivid object lesson. Mitt Romney has made his time leading Bain Capital the centerpiece of his campaign, so Barack Obama's campaign quite naturally decided to attack him on it, a decision that was surely made months ago. They are doing so in both concrete and abstract terms, criticizing Romney for specific moves Bain made involving the firm profiting off companies that went bankrupt, and making the more general argument that a successful career maximizing profit for wealthy investors does not prepare one for the presidency. Then suddenly, the Obama campaign became the target of an unusual amount of criticism from Democrats rising to the defense of the “private equity” industry.

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Thom Hartmann's Unusual Approach to Progressive Media Nets Big Audience Without Big Names

 There are only a half-dozen or so media personalities who have both a nationally syndicated radio show and a nightly program on cable television, and most of them are superstar conservatives like Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity. Perhaps the least known is Thom Hartmann, a familiar voice to progressives who is nonetheless largely unheard-of among the broader public. For the last year, Hartmann has been trying to thread a difficult needle. Can he reach the top echelon of political media stars while retaining an outside-the-Beltway sensibility that finds the work of activists and organizers more compelling than the work of senators and congressmen? And can he do it from, of all places, Washington?

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Thought Police: How the Tea Party's Assault on Dissenting Thought Has Trapped the GOP

Newt Gingrich probably thought he was being smart when a week ago he publicly rejected the budget plan put forward by House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan. After all, Ryan's idea to change Medicare into a voucher program is profoundly unpopular, particularly with the seniors now enjoying the program's benefits. So when Gingrich went on Meet the Press and responded to a question about the Ryan Medicare plan by saying, "I don't think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering," it probably felt politically shrewd. He could distance himself from an unpopular idea and position himself not as the partisan bomb-thrower people used to consider him but as the innovative, post-partisan thinker he fancies himself to be.

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