This Week’s Conservative Pundit Tracker: George Will Dumps the GOP
Each week we’re publishing a new chart showing where our group of 25 right-wing pundits stand on the question of Trump, and you’ll be able to look back at past weeks to see if minds are changing. Our categories are “Voting Trump,” “Voting Clinton,” “Not Voting,” “Someone Else,” and “Inscrutable.” Someone else means either a third party candidate or a write-in. Inscrutable includes pundits who have voiced opposition to both Trump and Clinton, but are otherwise undecided, and those who are sharply critical of Trump but haven’t stated a preferred alternative. Click on a pundit’s head to see what he or she has said about the election this week. (If someone doesn’t write or speak or tweet—crazy, but possible— in a given week, we’ll assume they are “thinking…” Also: We are scouring the internet obsessively, but it’s a big place and it’s possible someone will say something that we miss. We are confident you’ll let us know in comments if so!)
Will the Inscrutables pull it together come November? Will anyone else jump on the Hillary train? Will more pundits coalesce around a third-party candidate? Or will everyone eventually fall into line for Trump between now and Election Day? Keep an eye on this weekly tracker to find out.
It was, by the standards of this bizarre campaign season, a quiet week for Donald Trump. Sure, the Washington Post reported that he hasn’t given nearly as much to charity as he said he did, by a factor of several zeros, and conservatives were utterly annoyed that he took days to respond to the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a Texas law regulating abortion clinics.
But Trump’s antics were overshadowed on the right by the Brexit vote overseas and Elizabeth Warren’s appearance with Hillary Clinton that sparked VP speculation. The most attention he got was when he gave a speech in front of a pile of garbage, and that was just because it gave everyone a chance to joke about dumpster fires.
Quietly, what appears to be a legitimate campaign to deny Trump the GOP nomination is gathering strength. Hundreds of delegates are reportedly working with a coalition of PACs and lawyers to challenge the convention rules and free the delegates from their obligation to vote for Trump.
Trump’s worsening poll numbers and refusal to behave like either a responsible adult and/or conservative are doing nothing to help him win over our pundits. This week George Will announced that he had changed his party registration from GOP to unaffiliated, and John McCain aide Mark Salter—already in the Hillary camp—wrote a withering takedown of Trump for Real Clear Politics :
He possesses the emotional maturity of a 6-year-old. He can’t let go of any slight, real or imagined, from taunts about the length of his fingers to skepticism about his portfolio. So shaky is his psyche that he’s compelled to fits of self-sabotage to defend his self-regard, as was the case in his racist, politically devastating attacks on U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel. He views the powers of the presidency as weapons to punish people who’ve been mean to him – reporters, rival candidates, critics. “They better be careful,” he warns.
While we haven’t seen much movement between columns in our pundit tracker, it’s safe to say that those in the #NeverTrump camp—many of whom we’ve classified as “inscrutable” because they haven’t stated a preferred alternative—are moving farther away from him. As the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol puts it: “It's better to stand aside from a disgrace and disaster (@realDonaldTrump) than to sanction it. But it's better still to prevent it.”
Now, on to the tracker:
The Friday Slatest Newsletter
Today's biggest stories:
- The Obama administration released (a limited amount of) data on how many civilians it believes it's killed in drone strokes.
- A court-ordered revote will give a far-right candidate another shot at winning Austria's presidency.
- Bill Clinton met with Loretta Lynch, who's running the Justice Department that is currently investigating Hillary Clinton, who might finally be about to meet with the FBI.
- People who work for Donald Trump keep quitting or getting fired like two days after their hirings were announced.
- Trump once used his charity's money to buy himself a $12,000 signed Tim Tebow helmet.
- And Newt Gingrich is now claiming, totally implausibly, that he agrees with Trump on the issue of free trade. (Here's today's Trump Apocalypse Watch.)
Have a happy July 4th out there.
Today’s Trump Apocalypse Watch: Newt Fever
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.
Everything's coming up Newt! Newt Newt Newt! Newts ate my baby! The world's favorite former House speaker—who once led the impeachment of Bill Clinton for lying about an extramarital affair while he himself was having an extramarital affair—is one of the leading contenders to become Donald Trump's running mate, CNN says. Gingrich—who was the first House speaker in American history to be disciplined by his own chamber for unethical behavior—has been on the Trump Wagon for a while now. The Georgia Republican—whose tenure as speaker ended in ignominy as the Democratic president with whom he had lost several high-profile confrontations rose to historic levels of popularity—also made some news today by announcing that he "basically agree[s]" with Donald Trump on free-trade issues. (Trump just called NAFTA the "worst trade deal in history"; Gingrich voted for, and appeared proudly at the signing of, NAFTA.)
Newt (would not be a very promising running mate for Donald Trump to choose)!
Newt Gingrich Will Pretty Much Say Anything to Be Trump’s VP
The current front-runners to join Donald Trump on the GOP ticket are rumored to be extremely disliked New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. It’s already painfully clear that the former desperately wants to be Trump’s running mate. But just how badly does the latter want the job? This badly, via Politico:
Former Speaker Newt Gingrich… is dropping his decades-long support of free trade deals and picking up Trump’s strongly protectionist position. “I basically agree with Trump’s speech on trade,” Gingrich said in an email to POLITICO on Friday.
Citing China’s taking of American intellectual property and the fact that the country is now in “a different era,” Gingrich said he had moved closer to the position of the presumptive Republican nominee.
That’s quite the reversal! Gingrich has been a high-profile advocate for free trade for pretty much his entire political career. Gingrich played a key role in passing the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump now calls “the worst trade deal in history.” As minority whip in the House at the time, Gingrich rounded up the Republican votes Bill Clinton and his allies needed to pass the trade pact, and even dubbed his informal partnership with the Democratic president the “Clinton-Gingrich Pro-America Growth Team.”
His love of trade deals didn’t stop after he left the House, either. In 2000, he was also a vocal cheerleader of permanent trade relations with China. “Rejecting the Chinese will serve only to alienate and further drive a wedge between American and Chinese societies,” he wrote. And in 2011, shortly before launching his failed presidential campaign, Gingrich even went as far as to praise NAFTA for creating jobs in Mexico. “Our big competitor is China and India,” Gingrich said then. “And I’d rather have jobs close to the United States than have jobs overseas in places like China and India.” That comment created a political headache for Gingrich then, but it would get him booed—and possibly chased—out of a Trump rally today. Fortunately for Newt, though, Trump’s fans, like the formerly pro-outsourcing candidate they love so much, appear to have a short memory.
Is Hillary Clinton Finally About to Meet With the FBI?
The Daily Caller is reporting what would be a pretty good scoop if it turned out to be true: Hillary Clinton is set to meet with the FBI as part of its investigation into her private email server on Saturday. This according to a “source close to the investigation.”
The source suggested that it could take place at Clinton's home in Washington, D.C.
More from the Daily Caller:
Scheduling the meeting on a holiday weekend will likely help with logistical issues for both the FBI and the Clinton campaign.
Clinton has no campaign events listed on her schedule which means that she will not be tailed by the usual pack of campaign reporters. The FBI has sought to avoid drawing attention to its probe by bringing in witnesses in secret. That strategy has been successful, as reports of the meetings have only come out after they were held.
Past interviews with Clinton probe witnesses have reportedly been conducted by FBI agents, lawyers with the Justice Department’s National Security division and prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Alexandria, Va.
Those past interviews have included meetings with top Clinton aides such as Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills.
The news of the possible interview comes at a time when the Justice Department is taking heat for Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s meeting with Bill Clinton.
This isn’t the first time it’s been reported that the presumptive Democratic nominee would be meeting with the FBI over the bureau’s investigation into the private email server she used as secretary of state and whether she illegally sent classified information in unclassified, unsecure email.
In March, Al Jazeera America’s David Shuster reported that Clinton would be interviewed by the FBI “in the next few days and weeks.” In May, CBS reported that Clinton would be interviewed “within the coming weeks” and CNN reported it would be “in the coming weeks.”
So it’s been expected for a while now, but this is one of the first reports with a specific date attached to it. We’ll know soon enough what comes of it.
Obama Administration News-Dumps Data on How Many Civilians It’s Killed
Between 64 and 116 civilians in countries other than Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria have been killed by U.S. airstrikes during President Obama's tenure, the administration said Friday in a pre-holiday-weekend disclosure likely timed to minimize public attention. The deaths took places in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, and mostly involved drone attacks.
The New York Times notes that independent estimates of the number of civilians killed under the conditions described by the administration are higher, ranging from 200 to 1,000.
An Amnesty International statement included measured praise for the announcement but said more information is necessary to evaluate the administration's claims:
Amnesty International has consistently called on the United States government not only to be more transparent about its data and policy standards, but about it counts as a civilian. Without information on the administration’s definitions and legal standards for these strikes, any meaningful assessment of the numbers will be incomplete. This is not the end of the public conversation on U.S. drone strikes, but just the beginning.
While the White House also announced that a new executive order directs intelligence officials to release an annual summary of civilian fatality information, the information given out Friday is the first released in the eight years of Obama's administration and is not broken down by year or by incident. Future presidents, meanwhile, will be free to reverse the executive order.
Trump Campaign Departures Suggest That Perhaps This Is a Highly Dysfunctional Enterprise
Every so often, the Trump campaign blasts out a new mass email about hires it’s made to flesh out its infrastructure beyond Trump and a few goons. Around the same time these emails go out, news outlets report that some hire announced a week or a month previously has already quit. You can set your watch to it.
On Friday morning, Trump announced that he had hired well-known pollster Kellyanne Conway, who recently served on one of Sen. Ted Cruz’s super PACs, and had promoted Karen Giorno from a regional position to that of senior political adviser. Around the same time the campaign was going public with these appointments, two other staffers who had the impossible job of managing Trump’s surrogates—the people who have to go on TV and speak up for Trump—were resigning.
Kevin Kellems, whom the campaign hired on June 20 to oversee surrogates, resigned after a full 10 days on the job, the New York Times reports. “While brief, it has been an interesting experience, and am proud of the contributions made through our early-phase project endeavors,” is a hilarious sentence Kellems wrote in his resignation letter.
Erica Freeman, another surrogate wrangler, also resigned. Freeman was the communications staffer Trump infamously described as “not so smart” in a conference call with surrogates last month, when he insisted that they reject talking points she had written and only say what he tells them to say instead. It’s unclear what about the work environment could have compelled her to resign.
This news comes a day after it was reported that digital consultant Vincent Harris, from Sen. Rand Paul’s orbit, was let go within a week of being brought onboard. The campaign also fired manager Corey Lewandowski last month, and its brief relationship with political director (and former Scott Walker campaign manager) Rick Wiley ended in late May. Trump is also having trouble getting anyone to speak at his convention and most of the people who’ve expressed active interest in serving as his vice president—Newt Gingrich, Sen. Jeff Sessions, Chris Christie—come from the same narrow genus of crank.
Congratulations to Kellyanne Conway on her hiring, though! Let’s hope she makes the most of her two-week tour.
Bill Clinton’s Surprise Loretta Lynch Visit Isn’t a Scandal. But It Is a Problem.
Bill Clinton either couldn’t stop himself or didn’t want to. On Monday, the former president stepped off his private plane in Phoenix and walked across the tarmac to pay a visit to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who was aboard a government plane parked at the same airport. The unplanned drop-in, according to Lynch, was nothing more than a harmless social call during which Clinton mostly talked about his grandkids. Republicans, of course, saw something else entirely. “The system is totally rigged,” Donald Trump tweeted Friday. “Does anybody really believe that meeting was just a coincidence?”
Trump and his conservative allies are—surprise, surprise—overplaying this. There’s absolutely no evidence that this was a planned meeting, and if Clinton wants to flex his political muscle or try to call in a favor to help his wife, all he would need to do is pick up the phone. Likewise, there’s also nothing to suggest that Lynch would bow to such pressure even if it were there.
On Friday, she announced that the final decision on whether to bring charges against Hillary Clinton or anyone else in connection with her private email server will be decided by career prosecutors at the FBI, not her, which she also suggested was the plan from the get-go. “It's important to make it clear that that meeting with President Clinton does not have a bearing on how this matter will be reviewed and resolved,” she said during an appearance at the Aspen Ideas Festival. She conceded, though, the meeting was a mistake. "No matter how I viewed it,” she said, “I understand how people view it.”
You can give the attorney general the benefit of the doubt and still think Bill’s surprise visit with the woman who will ultimately need to sign off on the FBI’s findings is a serious problem. Is it more troubling than the thought of Donald Trump in the White House? Of course not. Almost nothing is. But, at best, the meeting is yet another infuriating reminder that the Clintons are either unwilling or unable to consider the consequences their actions have on other people, be it the U.S. attorney general or the American public. For Bill, the chance to chit-chat with Lynch and her husband was more important that avoiding the appearance of a conflict of interest in an ongoing FBI investigation that has been making headlines for months. For Hillary, the chance to carry one less phone (in her questionable telling) was a good enough reason to limit public transparency and put sensitive government information at risk. (Those decisions aren’t exactly one-off mistakes, either.)
You may be thinking: But it’s not Bill and Hillary’s fault that conservatives see conspiracy and corruption around every Clinton corner. In which case, you’re not entirely wrong. The latest Benghazi report—which took two years, cost $7 million, and yet offered no major revelations—is evidence of that, as is Donald Trump’s recent suggestion that the Clintons are actual, real-life murderers.
But you don’t have to be partial to tweeting Benghazi acrostics to get worked up over this Lynch mess. Yes, the possibility of favor trading and conflicts of interest hangs over almost every decision in and out of Washington. And, no, Bill and Hillary Clinton didn’t create the imperfect system we have. But it’s also clear that they’ve come as close as anyone has to perfecting how to use it to their own advantage. The fact that they refuse to acknowledge the power of their, well, power and act accordingly is either willfully naïve or intentionally dishonest. Neither of which should make anyone feel any better about the idea of them returning to the White House.
Revote Ordered in Presidential Race Involving Far-Right Austrian Version of Trump
Austria's highest court has ordered a revote in the country's presidential race, giving far-right politician Norbert Hofer another crack at winning the job; Hofer lost a runoff election against liberal opponent Alexander Van der Bellen by only 0.6 percent in May. (FWIW: Austria's chancellor, not its president, is its most powerful executive.) Judges ruled that a new vote was needed because of procedural irregularities discovered after the May contest, the New York Times reports:
The 14 judges on the court heard testimony from about 90 witnesses. Most described procedural mistakes, like starting the counting of postal ballots on the evening of May 22, instead of waiting until the next morning, as the election law stipulates. In other cases, witnesses testified that absentee ballots had begun to be counted before all election officials were present.
Hofer's Freedom Party was founded in the 1950s by former Nazis and has long advocated strict limits on immigration.
The revote will likely be held in September or October.
Trump Used His Charity's Money to Buy a $12,000 Tim Tebow Helmet
It's been well-known for a while that there's very little evidence that Donald Trump gives meaningful amounts of money to his own charity (the Donald Trump Foundation) or to other charities despite constantly boasting about how charitable he is. Washington Post gumshoe David Farenthold, though, has now discovered what seems to be a truly innovative act of philanthropy-related chicanery even by Trump's standards: Using his own foundation's money (which, to be clear, is overwhelmingly donated by other people) to pay for his own purchase of a $12,000 signed Tim Tebow football helmet at another charity's auction. From the Post:
Four years ago, at a charity fundraiser in Palm Beach, Donald Trump got into a bidding war at the evening's live auction. The items up for sale: A Denver Broncos helmet, autographed by then-star quarterback Tim Tebow, and a Tebow jersey.
Trump won, eventually, with a bid of $12,000. Afterward, he posed with the helmet.
Guess where that $12,000 came from, though? Not from Donald Trump's very real billion-dollar fortune (which is definitely very real and not made of smoke and mirrors and random inflated self-valuations), but from the ol' Trump Foundation.
Instead, the Susan G. Komen organization -- the breast-cancer nonprofit that hosted the party -- got a $12,000 payment from another nonprofit , the Donald J. Trump Foundation.
Trump himself sent no money (In fact, a Komen spokesperson said, Trump has never given a personal gift of cash to the Komen organization).
Farenthold interviews experts who confirm that using other people's charity donations to buy yourself a piece of football memorabilia would be a violation of IRS rules, to say nothing of basic common-sense morality. The experts do note that Trump would be in the clear if he ultimately used the helmet for a charitable purpose, say by re-auctioning it or giving it to a different charity. But his campaign did not furnish the Post with any evidence that he'd done so, and a Palm Beach Post article from the time lists the buyer of the helmet as Donald Trump the person, not the Trump Foundation.