This Week’s Conservative Pundit Tracker: The Alt-Right Is So Wrong Edition
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.
The week started with Hillary Clinton facing serious accusations of corruption and cronyism related to her meetings with Clinton Foundation donors while serving as secretary of state. It ended with experts and pundits wondering if she had possibly ended Donald Trump’s campaign with a fiery speech calling out his ties to the racist, anti-Semitic alt-right.
Talk about a quick turnaround. But so it is when Trump is your opponent.
Instead of going after Hillary on the issues, Trump spent the week 1) calling Morning Joe hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski “clowns,” insinuating they had a romantic relationship, and saying that Brzezinski was “off the wall, a neurotic and not very bright mess!" and 2) currying favor with black voters by telling them that in the Trump era, “You’ll be able to walk down the street without getting shot.” Meanwhile, his campaign manager argued that polls that show him losing are wrong, “because it’s become socially desirable, if you’re a college-educated person in the United States of America, to say that you’re against” a man who calls women neurotic messes and implies that black people can’t walk down the street without getting shot.
Such Trumpian outburts earned eye-rolls from our skeptical conservative pundits.
Imagine a gigantic number of shy Trump voters. Could be enough to get him up to...38? https://t.co/YQD6EP2cOo— John Podhoretz (@jpodhoretz) August 24, 2016
But they didn’t hurt him with his supporters, who still see Hillary as a bigger problem:
Why do Trump voters have to morally justify their vote but Hillary voters do not?— Dennis Prager (@DennisPrager) August 23, 2016
Many of our our conservative pundits might share Clinton’s opinion that the alt-right is not reflective of the conservative movement, but they had mixed reactions to the speech itself.
The party that cannot denounce, reject and shun Trump is a party on the verge of extinction. https://t.co/YC2ELWBCLJ— Jennifer Rubin (@JRubinBlogger) August 26, 2016
At the Daily Wire, Ben Shapiro wrote:
Hillary Clinton gave one of the most cynical, hypocritical, pandering and clever political speeches in recent memory. … Clinton simultaneously linked the alt-right to Trump and separated it from traditional conservatism. It was smart politics. It was also unlikely to move the needle very much in a race already so polarized that few Americans either believe Hillary Clinton or like Donald Trump.
Shapiro gets to the heart of this election. However distasteful Trump might be to some conservatives, Clinton has enough baggage that she’s unlikely to win over many people who are desperately seeking someone to vote for. Like Guy Benson.
In responding to a Twitter user who said that the big moment of Hillary’s speech was when she suggested that Republicans had a choice between “Ryanism or Trumpism,” Benson responded like this:
The choice is easy and clear: Ryanism. Which also compels me to oppose Clinton. https://t.co/2c26ozk7Cp— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) August 25, 2016
Which is a longwinded way to say: No movement in the tracker this week.
Today’s Trump Apocalypse Watch: Doesn’t This Look Like a Campaign Going Down the Tubes?
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.
Trump in the past 24 hours:
- Continued to reap a hurricane of scorn from nearly everyone else in politics after suggesting for some reason that he might not actually deport all undocumented immigrants, which is the one promise that his most ardent supporters care the most about
- Tried out a new line of argument about how Hillary Clinton is racist (?)
- Hired one of Chris Christie's disgraced Bridgegate goons as his national field director
- Saw his new campaign "chief executive" immediately exposed as having possibly committed felony voter fraud
I don't want to jinx anything, but I also have to call 'em like I see 'em: This is a death spiral. He's throwing crap at the wall, and it's not sticking, and the only people he can get to work for him are damaged goods and/or retreads. We're about to have to create a danger level lower than a half a horse.
Steve Bannon Was Once Hired to Manage an Artificial World of People Living Under Glass (Before the Trump Campaign)
Stephen Bannon does not, at this point, seem to have been a good hire for the Trump campaign. It has emerged that he was charged with domestic violence and battery in 1996 and allegedly threatened his wife to keep her quiet. He is illegally registered to vote in Florida as the resident of a vacant house. He has allowed Clinton to solidify in voters’ minds the connections between Trump and the right wing fringe. And, most relevantly to the prospects of Trump’s campaign organization, the last project he ran, the alt-right propaganda outlet Breitbart, saw an exodus of people disgusted with his character.
Trump’s Crack Staff Now Includes a Key Idiot From the Chris Christie Bridge Scandal
Donald Trump's senior campaign staff has been a veritable Macy's parade of grade-F sewer people, from the guy who was infamous for calling female co-workers "cunts" to the guy who specializes in doing PR for war criminals to the guy who accused bereaved military father Khizr Khan of being a terrorist to the guy who runs a race-baiting wingnut website and seems to have just been caught committing voter fraud. We can now add one Bill Stepien to that list:
Sources tell NBC's @KellyO the Trump camp has brought on GOP operative Bill Stepien, the Christie aide fired in the wake of Bridgegate.— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) August 26, 2016
As the tweet notes, if you've heard of Stepien, it's probably because he got fired during the scandal that began when Chris Christie's staffers and allies closed several lanes on the George Washington Bridge for no other reason to punish a Fort Lee, New Jersey, mayor who had declined to endorse Christie in the state's governor's race. (Christie's team subsequently claimed that the lane closures were part of a "traffic study," a claim that was immediately debunked.) At least two other Bridgegate figures have said Stepien knew about the closure plan before it was executed; he was also definitely involved in the farcical "traffic study" explanation and was specifically fired after it was revealed that he called the Fort Lee mayor an "idiot" in the closures' aftermath.
You know how, in Knocked Up, Paul Rudd's character describes marriage as a tense, unfunny episode of Everybody Loves Raymond that lasts forever?* The Trump campaign is a tense, unfunny episode of Veep that will last until we all die in a nuclear holocaust.
Correction, Aug. 26, 2016: This post originally misidentified the show Everybody Loves Raymond as Everybody That Loves Raymond.
Trump’s New “No, Hillary Is the Bigot” Counterattack Won’t Work for So Many Reasons
On Thursday, Hillary Clinton delivered a rather devastating critique of Donald Trump and his ties to the ethno-nationalist moment that calls itself the alt-right. She stopped short of specifically labeling Trump a bigot or racist, but she nonetheless reminded voters of the many, many, many times the GOP nominee has said or done bigoted or racist things. Taken together, the picture Clinton painted was of a paranoid race-baiter who, in her words, is “taking hate groups mainstream” with his “steady stream of bigotry.”
Trump’s response? I know you are, but what am I?
The GOP nominee, who had pre-emptively called Clinton a “bigot who sees people of color only as votes” at a Mississippi rally the day before, repeated that charge on Thursday. “She is a bigot because you look at what's happening to the inner cities, you look at what's happening to African Americans and Hispanics in this country where she talks all of the time,” Trump told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. Pressed further on whether he thinks his rival is “personally” bigoted, Trump replied: “Well, she is, of course she is. Her policies—they're her policies, she comes out with the policies and others that believe like she does also. … This is over the years, a long time. She's totally bigoted, there's no question about that.”
Then, on Friday, the GOP nominee unveiled this low-budget attack ad on Instagram via a tweet declaring [sic]: “The Clinton's are the real predators...”:
The ad seeks to remind voters that Hillary used the term “super predators” while advocating for the 1994 crime bill her husband signed into law (Bernie Sanders also sought to attack Clinton this way during the primaries, a moment to which this ad calls back). The term, a reference to a since-debunked crime theory, played to racist white fears of monstrous black youth. Clinton has since said she regrets using the term, but the fact it was so readily deployed in support of criminal justice reform remains relevant to any contemporary conversation about race and policing. (As does the 1994 law itself, which as Slate’s Jamelle Bouie has explained, involved a “complicated story of fear, racism, good intentions, and cynical political maneuvering.”)
But the fact this is the first item Trump is pointing to in order to make his Hillary’s the real racist argument is telling. After all, the law-and-order rhetoric that was the centerpiece of his Republican National Convention address and is a key component of his campaign sounds an awful lot like an endorsement of the aggressive policing and incarceration policies that formed that 1994 law. And the valid point he’s implicitly, if unintentionally, making here—that racially charged language has no place in a conversation about crime—runs counter to his own Us vs. Them campaign rhetoric.
Another flaw in the ad is that Trump’s intended audience for this attack would appear to be the left, but it’s hard to imagine him making up any ground there given a liberal voter who is unhappy with the Clintons’ tough-on-crime approach two decades ago is likely to be even more troubled by Trump’s tough-on-crime promises today. Meanwhile, the people Clinton’s big alt-right speech was designed to appeal to—white moderate Republicans—seem incredibly unlikely to be moved by the idea that Clinton is a racist for using the term “super predators,” particularly when confronted with far less nuanced images and sound bites of the flock of bigots who have descended around the Trump campaign. And there’s also this: Clinton has admitted she was wrong for using the term super predator, something Trump has notably refused to do for any of the horrible things he’s said—and continues to say—about blacks, Hispanics, and Muslims.
Trump, then, is explicitly calling Clinton a bigot without offering much proof that she is. Clinton, meanwhile, is offering up a wealth of evidence but leaving it to the voters to draw the obvious conclusion about Trump for themselves.
New Trump Campaign Exec Seems to Have Committed Voter Fraud by Registering Illegally in Florida
As Donald Trump has fallen further and further behind in the polls, he's started to talk more and more about the conspiratorial idea that November's general election is going to be "rigged" against him via voter fraud. "I’m afraid the election is going to be rigged, I have to be honest,” he said earlier this month, later adding that “I’m telling you, November 8th, we’d better be careful." More broadly, the dubious idea that Democrats engage in widespread electoral fraud is commonly discussed in hyperbolic terms on right-wing sites like Breitbart.
It is in this context that the Guardian's report that new Trump campaign chief executive Stephen Bannon, who is also a Breitbart exec, seems to be committing voter fraud by claiming an unoccupied Florida house as his home address is so satisfyingly ironic:
Stephen Bannon, the chief executive of Trump’s election campaign, has an active voter registration at the house in Miami-Dade County, Florida, which is vacant and due to be demolished to make way for a new development.
“I have emptied the property,” Luis Guevara, the owner of the house, which is in the Coconut Grove section of the city, said in an interview. “Nobody lives there … we are going to make a construction there.” Neighbors said the property had been abandoned for several months.
The newspaper notes that "Under Florida law, voters must be legal residents of the state and of the county where they register to vote" and that "[w]ilfully submitting false information on a Florida voter registration ... is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison." The Los Angeles Times wrote last week that Bannon is a resident of Laguna Beach, California; he was registered to vote in California's Orange County until 2014.
Politico reported Thursday night, meanwhile, that Bannon was charged with committing misdemeanor domestic violence against his then-wife in relation to a 1996 incident after which she told police that the couple had also had "three or four" previous arguments that "became physical." Bannon pleaded not guilty to the charges and they were dismissed when his wife declined to appear in court as a witness.
Does Trump Have an Immigration Policy? “The Answer Could Be Yes.”
Donald Trump, professional wall-builder, may not realize his remarks are televised. How else to explain Trump’s lack of a pivot foot when undoing his previous immigration “plan” and vaguely replacing it with something else that he’ll let us in on once he’s figured it out. As a candidate for the Republican nomination, Trump was a finger-jabbing tough guy, calling for a “deportation force” to expel the some 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., now he’s melted into a word jumble.
Over the past week, each time Trump appears in public, he says something new as part of his immigration improvisation. It's hard for his staff to keep up. Here’s Thursday’s addition to Trump’s immigration week:
Trump to CNN on whether he'll deport non-criminal illegal immigrants: "There is a very good chance the answer could be yes."— Reid J. Epstein (@reidepstein) August 26, 2016
Trump spokeswoman on immigration stance: He's "changed the words that he is saying," it's not a "different message" https://t.co/77j3B5Am1n— POLITICO (@politico) August 25, 2016
Trump walks back immigration comments, rules out pathway to citizenship https://t.co/Kykztg457f— CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) August 25, 2016
Trump on his immigration 'softening': "I don't think it's a softening. I've had people say it's a hardening" https://t.co/r6M3i6G1Sq— CNN (@CNN) August 26, 2016
And that was just Thursday.
The Alt-Right Is Thrilled About Hillary Clinton’s Alt-Right Speech
Hillary Clinton’s speech today on Donald Trump and the right wing fringe was supposed to expose to voters Trump’s disturbing links to his white supremacist and conspiracy minded supporters, including the those on the alt-right, a loose confederation of racists and reactionaries active online who are broadly pro-Trump.
Today’s Trump Apocalypse Watch: Using the L-Word
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.
I’ll let polling guru Nate Silver do the arduous work of listing what the various forecasting models currently say about Trump’s chances of winning in November:
Trump chances:— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) August 25, 2016
Daily Kos Elections—11%
Princeton Election Consortium—4%
I will, however, give you my own exclusive analysis of what those numbers mean: Trump’s chances are bad. And the closer we get to the election without a major shift in the polls, the worse his chances get. The pollsters at Quinnipiac, in fact, are starting to use the L-word: Landslide. From a statement:
In the battle of the unloved presidential candidates, Democrat Hillary Clinton tops the magical 50 percent mark among American likely voters, leading Republican Donald Trump 51 - 41 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University National poll released today ... “We are starting to hear the faint rumblings of a Hillary Clinton landslide as her 10-point lead is further proof that Donald Trump is in a downward spiral as the clock ticks,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.
With the election still more than two months off, those rumblings are faint indeed, but after all we’ve been through, they’re still heartening.
Why Hillary Clinton’s Alt-Right Speech Was Such a Good Sign for Her Chances in November
Donald Trump has spent the past few days attempting to convince a certain set of voters—i.e. college-educated white ones—that he’s not the racist he’s been made out to be on the campaign trail. On Thursday afternoon, Hillary Clinton offered a rather brutal rebuttal to that claim by reminding everyone of all the evidence to the contrary.
“From the start, Donald Trump has built his campaign on prejudice and paranoia,” Clinton said at a rally in Reno, Nevada. “He is taking hate groups mainstream and helping a radical fringe take over the Republican Party.” She then went on to list—at length—the many times that Trump either espoused, embraced, or generally gave a platform to the ethno-nationalistic words and ideas of the conservative movement that calls itself the alt-right.
Clinton mentioned: Trump’s claim that an Indiana-born judge couldn’t do his job properly because of his Mexican heritage; his penchant for retweeting white supremacists; his failure to immediately disavow an endorsement from former KKK grand wizard David Duke; his praise for conspiracymonger Alex Jones; his hiring of Breitbart News’ Steve Bannon; his description of Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals; his more recent portrayal of black communities as dystopian hellscapes; his call for a Muslim ban; his repeating of a long-debunked claim about thousands of Muslims celebrating in the streets of New Jersey on 9/11; his suggestion that Ted Cruz’s Cuban-born father was involved in the assassination of JFK; his birtherism; and his belief that President Obama “founded” ISIS. (And those are just the ones I managed to make a note of!)
“So no one should have any illusions about what's really going on here,” Clinton said. “The names may have changed—racists now call themselves racialists, white supremacists now call themselves white nationalists, the paranoid fringe now calls itself alt-right—but the hate burns just as bright. And now Trump is trying to rebrand himself as well, but don't be fooled.”
So, yeah, it turns out linking Trump to the loose coalition of far-right fringe groups one liberal watchdog has memorably branded “hipster Nazis” isn’t all that difficult. But more interesting than Clinton’s lengthy refresher on Trump’s troubling views on race was the way she framed her speech. It was evident that her audience was not the black or Hispanic voters who are already all too aware about what Trump thinks of them, but instead those same skeptical mainly white moderate Republicans and independents who her GOP rival is currently desperately trying to win over. Take this passage toward the end of her speech, for example:
You know, my friends, this is a moment of reckoning for every Republican dismayed that the party of Lincoln has become the party of Trump. It's a moment of reckoning for all of us who love our country and believe that America is better than this. Twenty years ago when Bob Dole accepted the Republican nomination, he pointed to the exits in the convention hall and told any racist in the party to get out. The week after 9/11, George W. Bush went to a mosque and declared for everyone to hear that, Muslims love America just as much as I do. In 2008, John McCain told his own supporters that they were wrong about the man he was trying to defeat. Senator McCain made sure they knew Barack Obama… is an American citizen and a decent person. We need that kind of leadership again.
We can have our disagreements. And believe me, I understand that. I think that's healthy. We need good debates. But we need to do it in a respectful way.
By drawing a bright line between Trump and the GOP nominees who came before him, Clinton is continuing her outreach to more mainstream Republican voters who remain uncomfortable with what they have seen and heard from Trump over the past year. The simple fact that, with 74 days until election day, both candidates are tailoring their appeals to the same set of voters—white Republican voters—suggests that Clinton does not have a lot to worry about.