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Oct. 21 2016 5:07 PM

Trump Supporter Paul Ryan’s Popularity Is Nosediving Among Republicans

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who is a public backer of Donald Trump’s campaign to be president of the United States, has seen his popularity in his own party plummet in recent weeks and is way less popular among Republicans than Trump.

This is according to a pair of polls released in the past few days. A poll released by Bloomberg on Thursday asked Republicans whether Ryan’s views or Trump’s matched their own of “what the Republican Party should stand for.” Of those surveyed, 53 percent preferred Trump’s views to 33 percent for Ryan, who supports Trump’s presidential bid.

If Trump were to lose the election, 24 percent of Republicans surveyed would still want him to be the face of the party, while only 15 percent would like his supporter Ryan for that role.

A YouGov/Economist survey released on Wednesday, meanwhile, found that Ryan’s net favorable rating among Republicans had dropped 28 points over the course of the 10 days following Trump’s attacks against Ryan, who he has accused of not being sufficiently supportive of Trump. Ryan disinvited Trump from a joint rally they were to hold in Wisconsin the day after the tape of Trump boasting about sexual assault came out and has said he would focus his campaign efforts on ensuring the GOP maintains control of Congress but refused to revoke his endorsement of the Republican nominee for president.

Despite Ryan’s continued support of Trump, Republican voters seem to be holding his focus on Congress against him. In that YouGov/Economist poll, Ryan’s popularity among Republicans was down to 40 percent from 54 percent 10 days prior. His unfavorable rating was up to 45 percent, meanwhile.

Some of that may have to do with Trump’s criticism of his supporter. “Our very weak and ineffective leader, Paul Ryan, had a bad conference call where his members went wild at his disloyalty,” Trump said on Twitter after Ryan announced to his caucus that they were free to support whoever they wanted in the election.

Ryan's overall popularity hasn’t been helped by his lukewarm—though continuous—support of Trump. According to YouGov/Economist, his total favorability had sunk to negative 20 points, while the Bloomberg poll had him at negative nine points.

Oct. 21 2016 3:50 PM

Russia’s Request to Monitor the U.S. Election Was an Expert-Level Troll

Election officials in Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Texas say they have denied requests from the Russian consulate to send observers to polling places next month. The Russians, it seems, wanted to study the "US experience in organization of voting process."

In Russia’s elections, evidence of fraud and ballot-stuffing is widespread and obvious, and the country has frequently been subject to criticism from U.S. officials, including Hillary Clinton. So this is an obvious troll by the Russian government. The U.S State Department agrees, dismissing the request as “nothing more than a PR stunt.”

Foreign missions regularly observe U.S. elections, as they do in many other countries. During this year’s vote, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Organization of American States will be dispatching teams throughout the country. The OSCE mission caused a bit of a flap four years ago when Texas’ attorney general threatened to arrest any monitors attempting to enter polling places, leading to some disingenuous tsk-tsking from governments that are usually on the receiving end of election monitor criticism, particularly Russia.

Obviously there’s a big difference between the OSCE, a credible body of which the U.S. is a founding member, and Russia, which this year has been accused of an unprecedented attempt to interfere in the U.S. election. It’s also more typical for governments to monitor foreign elections as part of multilateral groups, like the OSCE or OAS, rather than as an individual government delegation.

I think there’s value in the U.S. showing that it has nothing to hide and is happy to accept the sort of scrutiny that it demands from other countries, which is why I think it’s unfortunate that many states now have laws on their books prohibiting foreign monitors. But given the circumstances, I get why officials wouldn’t want a mission with such an obvious agenda hanging around polling places.

Contrary to the fears expressed in Texas in 2012, there’s little risk of monitors actually interfering with the vote; the security measures of the U.S. election process are robust enough to prevent that. More likely, Russian observers would try to score ticky-tacky propaganda points by seizing on some minor incident or discrepancy and pointing to it as evidence of widespread voter fraud. (Kremlin-funded outlets like Sputnik and RT have given heavy coverage to Donald Trump’s voter fraud fearmongering.) On the other hand, Russia is scoring ticky-taky propaganda points from the fact that the monitors have been “barred” by the U.S. authorities. There’s no way to win this one.

Oct. 21 2016 3:06 PM

BYU’s Fake Punt Against Boise State Was Some Kind of Perverse Football Performance Art

“Well, on film we thought we had it.”

That’s what BYU coach Kalani Sitake said at halftime when asked why he’d called for a fake punt in the second quarter on fourth-and-19 from his team’s own 5-yard line. It did not succeed.

Oct. 21 2016 3:04 PM

We See Your Cryptic Tweets, Kellyanne Conway. Oh, We See Them All Right.

Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway is recognized as the stabilizing presence that has kept Donald Trump on message during those four or five total occasions that he has stayed on message. Some reporting has shown the media narrative may be a myth, and since it’s a media narrative, I’m inclined to believe it's a myth. And in any case, Conway has benefited from her proximity to Trump and the rock-bottom expectations surrounding his campaign; her previous clients include such caustic figures as U.S. Rep. Steve King, former Rep. Michele Bachmann, and calamitous former Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin, and yet, thanks to Trump, she is thought of as the adult in the room and not a nutter consigliere.

But for fun’s sake let’s assume the narrative is true, and that Conway's the mercenary responsible for her client’s occasional bouts of responsibility. Could it be, then, that she’s so preoccupied with keeping him on message that she can’t keep herself on message?

Or is she just bad at Twitter?

Trump’s campaign meltdown coincided with a similar meltdown of resolve on Conway’s Twitter feed. She understands that her every word is watched, and on several occasions she’s issued cryptic tweets that make political observers question precisely what’s going on in her headspace. We’ve seen her quietly re-evaluate her life choices on cable news. She’s been doing it on Twitter, too.

On Oct. 14, Trump was speaking at a North Carolina rally during which he categorized one of his accusers as “not my first choice,” among other things. BuzzFeed reporter McKay Coppins noted that a fan at the rally had shouted at Trump, “Stay on the issues!” Conway retweeted it with the following commentary:


Was this a direct-message attempt gone wrong? Was this the beginning of Conway jokily distancing herself from her candidate?

During Wednesday’s debate, Conway retweeted the following remark from Washington Post reporter Robert Costa, with a little arrow pointing to it, indicating she found it a worthwhile piece of commentary:


It’s not clear whether Costa was making a joke about the media narrative or reinforcing the media narrative with commentary. That means it’s also not clear whether Conway was making a joke about or an earnest appreciation of what was either a joke or an earnest observation from Costa. There are dimensions upon dimensions within this quoted retweet. What does it all mean? Who's to say?

And then here’s Conway during Thursday night’s Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, retweeting a Clinton joke about how Donald Trump won’t pay her since he has a history of stiffing contractors:


This one is probably just her being bad at Twitter.

The first two, though? Those may be Conway winking to political reporters that she’s not responsible for Trump’s worst moments and should continue getting the usual flattering press. She probably recognizes that reporters will share and digest her cryptic tweets but deem them too minor to write up. That may have been the case the first time. But now she’s made at least three such tweets, which means it’s a trend, which means we’re writing it up and asking what the deal is here.

Oct. 21 2016 1:22 PM

Britain Wants a Say in What Goes On in the EU, Right Up Until the Second it Leaves

EU leaders, right now, can probably relate to the unnamed subject of Drake’s “Hotline Bling,” whose ex has left the city but still thinks he's owed regular phone calls and feels the need to share his opinions about how she dresses and who she hangs out with.

In a speech at an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday, Prime Minister Theresa May told fellow European leaders that "The UK is leaving the EU, but we will continue to play a full role until we leave and we will be a strong and dependable partner after we have left." Toward that end, she emphasized that she expects Britain to be part of the EU decision-making process on issues such as sanctions on Russia and migration controls.

The statement comes a couple of weeks after European Council President Donald Tusk convened an “informal” summit of 27 EU leaders, without May, in Bratislava, Slovakia—the first meeting of its kind without Britain in 43 years. Maybe that hang without her made May have second thoughts about the whole breakup thing.

On the issue of Russia, in particular, Britain’s eventual departure from the EU removes a strong voice in favor of tough sanctions. It also removes a strong opponent of forming a more unified common defense policy. This could all play out in a number of ways, and EU-27 leaders are probably anxious to start trying to figure out what a post-British foreign and economic policy for the union looks like, but having their surly ex still hanging around demanding a role is going to make that trickier.

By all accounts, May got a chilly reception at the meeting in Brussels. Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European commission, just shrugged when asked by reporters how talks with her were going.

May gave a speech earlier this month to her conservative party, making clear that she would emphasize immigration controls over maintaining access to the European market in the Brexit negotiations, likely to formally begin by the end March. Since European leaders have made it clear that Britain can’t expect access to European markets without the freedom of movement that goes along with it, this makes it much more likely that Britain is headed for a “hard Brexit”: complete withdrawal from both the union and the common market with hard immigration controls.

While some EU officials suggest a compromise arrangement might still be possible, senior EU leaders like Tusk seem to be running out of patience. He said this week that the only alternative to a hard Brexit would be “no Brexit.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande also re-emphasized this week that they plan to take a hard line in negotiations with Britain, rather than allowing it have what’s been called a “bespoke” arrangement with Europe. They’re also unlikely to take kindly to Britain’s suggestion that it should still have a full role in EU decision-making on its way out the door.

Brexit proponents have made the case that the country doesn’t have enough of a voice in Brussels on issues that impact the British public. For the next two years, Brexit could turn that into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Oct. 21 2016 1:20 PM

Hillary’s New Humayun Khan Ad Is Brutal to Watch and Devastatingly Effective

From Donald Trump’s feud with Alicia Machado, to his Access Hollywood grope tape, to the flood of sexual assault allegations against him, the past month has provided so many examples of the Republican candidate's misogyny as to virtually bury all of the other bad things he's done over the course of the campaign. With all the news surrounding Trump’s personal grotesqueries, it has been easy then to forget the ugliness of his actual political agenda.

Hillary Clinton wants to remind voters about this before Nov. 8 and a new ad does it in a way that is also devastatingly personal. It is the most vivid, effective, and brutal ad of the campaign season that I have seen.

The 60-second spot takes on one of Trump’s most cynical, malicious, and blatantly unconstitutional policy positions: His proposed ban of Muslim Americans from immigrating to the country.

It tells the story of Humayun Khan from the perspective of his father, Khizr. If you watched the Democratic National Convention or followed the news coverage in the weeks after, you know the basic outline: Capt. Humayun Khan was killed in Iraq while serving in the U.S. army in 2004. His actions appear to have saved the lives of his fellow soldiers and he was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. Khizr Khan gave the best speech of the DNC, challenging Trump’s Muslim ban, sharing the story of his son’s death, and waving his now famous pocket Constitution before the conventional hall promising to lend it to Trump. The Republican nominee for president of the United States then spent the ensuing week feuding with this Gold Star family.

What this ad does is remind people who were paying attention at the time of one of the most poignant and damning moments of the entire campaign, which may have been lost in the deluge of other news these past months, while introducing the story to voters who are only starting to pay attention now in an extremely powerful way.

While the sad, suspense-laden orchestral score is obviously fairly unsubtle, it feels like an earned backdrop for Khizr Khan’s telling of the story of his son’s death. As he did at the convention, the father is clearly speaking his own words with nothing written from the Clinton campaign, and those words are both spellbinding and crushing. The story is told in simple, straightforward, suspenseful language from beginning to end over images of Khan tending to the affairs of his son, including his uniform and what appears to be the flag that was placed on his coffin at his military funeral, and flipping through photos of Humayun in that uniform. At the end, we see a brief slow-motion image of Trump giving a speech followed by a shot of Khizr holding his arm around his wife, Ghazala, as he watches his son’s military funeral and she puts her head down. Here is the script in its entirety:

In 2004, my son was stationed in Iraq. He saw a suicide bomber approaching his camp. My son moved forward to stop the bomber. When the bomb exploded he saved everyone in his unit. Only one American soldier died. My son was Captain Humayun Khan. He was 27 years old and he was a Muslim American. I want to ask Mr. Trump: Would my son have a place in your America?

That final line is possibly the most damning indictment of Trump of this campaign and during its delivery the ad shows a close-up of Khizr’s face. You see him saying the line with grace and sincerity, but also nearly breaking down at the end. Again, the entire thing is brutal, and it’s hard not to watch without beginning to get teary eyed yourself.

The ad should also be effective in two ways. First, it will remind moderate Republicans of the shame they should feel at the prospect of supporting such a candidate as Trump. In doing that, it should depress them and depress his turnout. There was some of this already when Khan first told his story—the initial reaction to that DNC speech among many moderate Republicans was sadness at how far their party had fallen and it only got worse as Republican after Republican had to distance themselves from Trump’s feud with the family. But that now feels like a long time ago and a lot has happened since then, and this reminds moderate Republicans of what for them was possibly the low point of the campaign.

The second thing this ad does: It should sway undecided Democrats and bolster their turnout by reminding possibly on-the-fence Bernie Sanders voters what the stakes are of this election. These Sanders voters—who were mostly white liberals according to exit polls—will be reminded of the harm a Trump presidency promises to do to purported progressive values of diversity and equality.

It does all of these things in a way that tells a story that is impossible to truly forget but that voters still might have needed to be reminded about before Election Day.

Oct. 21 2016 11:31 AM

That Nice “Private” Hillary-Donald Moment at the Al Smith Dinner Was Neither Private Nor Nice

Thursday night's Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner was a gruesome affair, which made it a fitting metaphor for the entire campaign. There was Donald Trump giving a horribly off-key speech to wreck another longtime American political tradition (albeit a silly one). There was Hillary Clinton performing vastly better than Trump but still delivering her one-liners with less skill than recent nominees from both parties. (What happened to whoever wrote Obama's and McCain's very funny speeches in 2008?) And there was the assorted cast of New York's worst deplorables—from unsmiling former Mayor Rudy Giuliani to still-grinning former war criminal Henry Kissinger.

But apparently all was not lost. Indeed, Politico reported Friday that Clinton and Trump actually spoke warmly of each other in the presence of Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, who had the honor of sitting between the two candidates. Or, as Politico explains:

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton did more than trade barbs Thursday… “I was very moved by the obvious attempt on behalf of both Secretary Clinton and Mr. Trump to kind of be courteous, to get along, to say nice things privately to one another,” Dolan said on NBC’s Today. “I was very moved by that. That was pleasant.”

Yeah sure. There is nothing “private” about behaving in such a way that you know—as both candidates surely did—will be reported on in the media the next day. They were putting on a performance, as Dolan, too, must be aware. Instead, he restricted himself to saying nonsense like the following:

But the purpose of the evening is to break some of that ice, and thanks be to God, it works. The Al Smith Dinner by its nature literally tries to—I’m sitting there between the two—and literally I’m supposed to be kind of a bridge to bring these two people together. And I try my best, and there were some very touching moments.

Look, it’s nice that Dolan has taken time out from his busy schedule of paying off Catholic priests who molested children and shielding church money from potential lawsuits to host a dinner meant to bring political adversaries together. Really, we are all grateful. But his account does get at something grotesque about this entire election. As the Politico piece continues:

Dolan said the three of them prayed together. “And after the little prayer, Mr. Trump turned to Secretary Clinton and said, ‘You know, you are one tough and talented woman,’ ” he recalled. “And he said, ‘This has been a good experience in this whole campaign, as tough as it’s been,’ and she said to him, ‘And Donald, whatever happens, we need to work together afterwards.’ Now I thought: This is the evening at its best.”

Excuse me, but what is nice about this? Trump is obviously not being truthful, believing as he does that Clinton should go to jail, and frequently dismissing her “stamina.” (I thought lying was a sin, but never mind.) Clinton was not so much lying as mumbling whatever she felt she had to say to get through an awkward evening. I don’t envy her. Either way, this “private” cordiality was neither private nor genuinely cordial and should not be treated as such by the press. (It’s telling that Trump’s comment was similar to the one he was lauded for at the end of the second debate; he wasn’t wrong to sense that people could be easily fooled.)

The only redeeming moment of the evening occurred at the end of Clinton’s otherwise dreary remarks, when she not-so-subtly talked about bigotry in America’s past, and talked about the importance of tolerance and respect. It was a pointed jab at Trump, but it should also have landed with his enablers. Dolan is not going to endorse before the election, for obvious reasons. But he also didn’t need to invite a man who regularly engages in bigotry—including bigotry against other faiths—to such an event. Nor did he have to pretend that there was something nice or charming about Trump’s comments on Clinton’s strengths. Trump should be treated like what he is, no matter what he tells Cardinal Dolan in a “private” moment.

Oct. 20 2016 8:24 PM

Trump and Clinton Roasted Each Other at a Charity Event and Things Got Weird

Update, 11:04 p.m.: Well, Donald Trump called Hillary Clinton “so corrupt” and the crowd booed him before he pulled out his best ISIS material. Hillary faced uncomfortable silences and decided the time had come for her to say “basket of adorables.” All in all, it was about as awkward as we expected. Al Smith IV was pretty funny, though. Watch the complete speeches above.

Original post: If you had the feeling, after watching three 90-minute presidential debates that occasionally veered into Jerry Springer territory, that you just can’t get enough of these two candidates in the same room sniffing and eye-rolling at each other, you’re sick. You’re also in luck. On Thursday night, a mere 24 hours after the last bruising debate that took place without a traditional sporting handshake between the candidates, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will be on the same stage (at different times) for the Alfred E. Smith charity dinner in New York City. The annual event is named after the former New York Gov. and Democratic presidential candidate Alfred Smith, and the proceeds go to Catholic charities. Sounds simple enough.

To make matters potentially cringey, however, the white-tie gala is traditionally a light, humorous affair where the candidates show their funny, self-deprecating side as they roast themselves and each other. What could possibly go wrong? The two candidates will also be sitting one seat away from one another with host New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan in-between. Judging from the seating chart, Bill Clinton is not attending, but Melania Trump will be there.

Trump is scheduled to speak first at the event and will be followed by Clinton. What should we expect? “Neither campaign opted to preview their candidate's remarks and aides for both declined comment on the evening other than to confirm that each nominee will be there,” according to the Associated Press.

"I certainly expect that the dinner will be what it's always been: an opportunity for two candidates to put aside partisan politics for the evening," Joseph Zwilling, the spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, which hosts the dinner, told the AP. "I anticipate that we will have good humor and civility that this dinner has been always been known for."

A spokesman of great faith.

Oct. 20 2016 7:59 PM

Today’s Trump Apocalypse Watch: Three Down and We're All Still Here, We're All Still Alive

The Trump Apocalypse Watch is a subjective daily estimate, using a scale of one to four horsemen, of how likely it is that Donald Trump will be elected president, thus triggering an apocalypse in which we all die.

We made it. Three debates, four-and-a-half-hours of sniffing and lurking that might have doubled as a pilot of Trump TV, and we’re all still here. Do a quick personal inventory; make sure all your limbs are where they were before the debates began. All good? Good. This is a big day. Perhaps not for America, that day is still nearly three weeks off, but for Americans, particularly those that have televisions. Other than—gasp—winning the presidency, these three debates were the biggest stage, the largest portion of our collective attention, that Donald Trump could possibly occupy, and, yes, it was painful at times, but we’re through the worst of it.

That’s not to say the election is a done deal or that the next two weeks-and-change won’t have their fair share of Trump-induced horribleness. They will. But as coach likes to say after the team has won an important game, but not yet the series: We’re going to savor this one today, then we’ll put it behind us, and take it one day at a time from there.

As voters, tweeters, newspaper readers, cable news viewers, we’ve made it this far. The second worst thing of the entire campaign is behind us—Donald Trump participated in the presidential debates, like, for real. That really happened. You'll tell your grandkids about it. The worst day of the campaign is yet to come—Donald Trump will be on the ballot to be the president of the United States. But, until then, pat yourself on the back, American. We know it’s been tough. You’re doing great. Or some of you are. Go home, have a drink, kiss your wife or husband, play with your kids, and we’ll see you back here tomorrow ready to, you know, play ball.


Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images, Wikimedia Commons.

Oct. 20 2016 4:10 PM

What Is Trump’s Endgame With His “Rigged Election” Nonsense?

One question that has emerged out of the presidential campaign in the past 24 hours is—why?

Why is Donald Trump futzing around with the fundamental principles of American democracy by refusing to say he’ll accept the results of the election? Why has he been pre-emptively complaining that the vote will be “rigged” weeks before Election Day? What is he trying to accomplish with these statements?

At Wednesday’s debate in Las Vegas, a few people I interviewed shared their personal theories without prompting for what they felt Trump was up to. Some of those theories were a bit odd!

As I already reported on Wednesday, actual billionaire Mark Cuban told me he believed that Trump was being played by his campaign CEO Steve Bannon, who wanted to increase web traffic to Breitbart after Election Day (Bannon is the former executive chairman of the site’s parent company).

That was not even the weirdest theory I heard, though.

Without my asking, Jesse Jackson raised the prospect that all of this was for Trump to form his own political party, presumably to run again in four years.

“He’s laid the groundwork for a third party,” Jackson said. “If he loses, he then wants to reserve the right to form another party—if he lost because it was rigged.”

While this sounds like wishful thinking on the part of the Democrat, Trump has never been a real Republican or a real conservative and did explore a run for a brief moment for the Reform Party nomination in 2000.

The Republicans who tried to explain Trump’s actions were the least convincing of all. Sen. Jeff Sessions said Trump was just keeping his options open. “I think he’s just saying I’m not giving up my rights that I might have to challenge, that’s all I think he was saying,” the Alabama Republican said. Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn told a different reporter that Trump was doing it to call out “media bias” and “maintain our elections the way we always have, which is free and fair.”

Associate professor of history at UNLV Michael Green brought up President Barack Obama’s theory that Trump was a sore baby loser.

“If you talk about saying, ‘Oh, it’s rigged, everything is against me,’ you do not find candidates doing that during a campaign,” Green said. “As President Obama said the other day, it sounds like you’re whining. I can say as a baseball fan, you do argue with an umpire during a game and maybe you protest a game, but ultimately the result is the result and you still play the game.”

The most reasonable explanations for why Trump is doing what he does—and the ones that I already sort of intuitively believed to be the most likely—came from Robert Lang, the director of the Lincy Institute and of Brookings Mountain West at UNLV.

“I’ve never seen anything like this where somebody pre-empted an election and decided it was going to be rigged in advance for either the purposes of masking his own defeat or creating a legitimation crisis post-election,” Lang told me.

Lang believed it was the latter. “I think he’s creating a legitimation crisis for a likely president Hillary Clinton,” he said. “You [would] have sort of an immediate challenge to the authority of the sitting president that some would believe would diminish their capacity to act as an executive.”

I didn’t buy that, though: In order for that to be true, you’d have to think that Donald Trump cared about something or somebody other than Donald Trump, either the good of the Republican Party, the good of the country, or conservative ideology. This campaign has provided no evidence that any of this is the case. More likely to me was the earlier explanation.

“There’s also [that] this guy might be covering, which is he loses and it’s very hard for him to accept that emotionally, so he’d rather talk about fraud when we know that there’s not fraud,” Lang said.

Lang had one more theory, one which I had raised with Cuban and he had rejected out of hand.

“Trump’s ambition may be something like media. If it is, then the storyline he starts his media empire with was: We was robbed,” Lang said. “It’s then that this guy’s also got his own little hustle he’s running.”

Cuban disagreed with the idea Trump’s long con was to start a media empire, as has been previously reported as a possibility, saying that he thought his former friend was a “puppet” of Bannon.

“I've seen Trump, he doesn’t look like he’s anybody’s puppet,” Lang argued. “He seems like a guy who’s too alpha male to let anybody guide him around. I’m sure he takes a lot of politics from Bannon and maybe Bannon will be a senior executive in the Trump enterprise, but believe me it will have the name Trump on it. It will be called Trump. Trump’s going to have his name on it.”

That theory sounds totally plausible.