Surprisingly, I had some real-life stuff to attend to this weekend, which means I've only just caught up on the latest Trump meltdown. I might as well share it with you, since maybe a few other people need to catch up too.
On Saturday, the New York Times published copies of the first page of Donald Trump's 1995 state tax returns from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. They show that Trump declared a net operating loss that year of $916 million—about $1.5 billion in today's dollars. Questions abounded:
Where did the tax returns come from? They were sent to the Times anonymously, so no one knows. But rumors swirled around Marla Maples, Trump's second wife, who might have gotten them as part of her divorce proceedings in 1999.
It seems likely, then, that Trump's gargantuan loss was basically an accounting fiction of some kind. John Hempton, an Australian hedge fund manager and former expert on tax avoidance for the Australian Treasury, has a theory that Trump may have "parked" the debt from his bankruptcies with a dummy party offshore, where it was never collected but never officially forgiven. This would allow him to declare $916 million in losses even though he never truly lost anything.
What was the point of all this? Most likely, the Times speculates, it was used as a tax loss carry forward, which allowed Trump to declare zero income—and thus pay zero taxes—for as long as 18 years.
So how did Team Trump respond to this? Notably, nobody denied anything. Rudy Giuliani declared that Trump was an "absolute genius." Chris Christie also applauded Trump's genius, and remarked improbably that this was a "very good story" for Trump. Trump himself said nothing except that he had paid lots of other kinds of taxes, and that yes, he is a genius:
I know our complex tax laws better than anyone who has ever run for president and am the only one who can fix them. #failing@nytimes
Needless to say, Trump knows nothing about tax law at all. He has accountants and tax advisors who do all this stuff for him. Nonetheless, the main message from Trumpville is that Donald Trump is a genius.
Elsewhere, reaction was a wee bit more restrained. It turns out that lots of people think that billionaires probably ought to pay income tax. All of us little people have to, after all.
So what's next? Well, when the New York Times was asked if they have any more of Trump's tax returns, they answered "No comment." That might mean there's more to come. Next Sunday's debate should be fun, shouldn't it?
POSTSCRIPT: Team Trump is trying to bury this story by directing all their attention to Bill Clinton's sexual escapades; suggesting that maybe Hillary has cheated on Bill; and blathering about Hillary being mean to the women who accused Bill of misdeeds in the 90s. It's not working. Nobody really cares much about this stuff anymore, and even the small interest that remains was wiped out by the tax story.
I forgot to do my weekly poll update yesterday, so here it is today. There are ups and downs in the numbers, but basically the race remains amazingly stable. Trump still hasn't managed to break through his all-time high of 44 percent, and Clinton is currently leading him by 4.8 percentage points.
Ezra Klein writes about what we've learned for the thousandth time this week about Donald Trump:
The problem isn't that Trump is cruel, though he is. The problem isn't that Trump is boorish, though he is. The problem isn't that Trump is undisciplined, though he is.
The problem is that Trump is predictable and controllable…His behavior, though unusual, is quite predictable—a fact the [Clinton] campaign proved by predicting it. His actions, though beyond the control ofhis allies, can be controlled by his enemies—a fact they proved by controlling them.
…Donald Trump can be forgiven for being caught off-guard [at Monday's debate]. His presidency-disqualifying sin came in the hours after the debate. The Clinton campaign released a slickly produced video featuring Machado. The Guardian and Cosmopolitan rushed pre-planned Machado profiles to publication. Hillary Clinton did everything but spraypaint “THIS IS A TRAP” on the side of Trump Tower.
And still Trump fell for it. And fell for it. And fell for it. Six days later, he's still falling for it.
All of this is precisely true. As Klein says, what Hillary Clinton did was so obvious, and so ploddingly executed, that it's almost wrong to call it a trap. Any half-witted high school debater could have swatted it away contemptuously. But the Clinton camp knew Trump would fall for it anyway, and he did. His lizard-brain approach to life is that predictable.
But the funny thing is that there's a completely different way that Trump's biggest problem is that he's predictable and controllable. In fact, it's what I expected Klein's post to be about when I read that line.
For months, liberals have been afraid that Trump might be smarter than he seems. Once the primary was over, he'd be able to remake himself as a normal person for a few consecutive months, and that might be enough to convince fence-sitters that he was presidential material. And for a while, after he brought Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway on board, it looked like that might happen. Trump calmed down and allowed his team to guide him. He started picking up a few points in the polls. Democrats were getting scared.
If he had kept that up, this might have turned into a real nail-biter of an election. And that was the real fear. Trump can, in fact, be predictable and controllable in a good way, and if he had managed to keep up that facade from Labor Day to Election Day, he might have fooled a fair number of people into voting for him. Fortunately, he couldn't keep up the act, and within a few weeks he once again became predictable and controllable in a bad way.
In the end, Trump's inability to play a role for even a few weeks in a row might be the only thing that saves us from a Trump presidency. That's a little too close for comfort.
Our squirrel made an appearance this morning, hopping from tree to tree and catching the attention of our two furballs—who were predictably entranced. They both wanted to climb up the nearest tree and go squirrel hunting, but Hilbert could only look up longingly. Hopper, however, could do more than that: she could climb up the tree and look into the neighboring tree longingly. You can see the mighty huntress on the prowl below. For those of you who worry about such things, I can assure you that our squirrel was entirely safe the whole time. I think you'd probably have to break all four of its legs before either of our cats would have a 50-50 chance of catching it.
In other cat news, a recently completed study has "sequenced DNA from 209 cats that lived between 15,000 and  years ago." Researchers discovered that after being domesticated and exalted by the Egyptians, there was a second big wave of cat expansion a couple thousand years ago, "attributed to ancient sea-faring people — farmers, sailors, and Vikings — because the cats were likely encouraged to stay on board to keep their rodent problem in check." Response was immediate: "I didn't even know there were Viking cats," Pontus Skoglund, a population geneticist from Harvard Medical School, told Nature.
Finally, in fundraising news, our cats urge you once more to sign up as a Mother Jones sustaining donor. We're close to our $30,000 goal, but not quite there yet. You can do it by credit card here. If you prefer PayPal, you can give monthly here—just be sure to check the box next to your gift amount.
Today's chatter is almost exclusively about Donald Trump's implosion over Alicia Machado, the Miss Universe of 1996, which has dragged his entire team of thrice-married surrogates into embarrassing spasms of hypocrisy and is making Trump into even more of a laughingstock than before—which is quite a feat. I can't really bring myself to write any more about this at the moment, so instead let's turn our attention to legal pot. Christopher Ingraham argues that this is Hillary Clinton's best hope for attracting millennial support:
There is one thing that younger voters like a lot, and that's legal marijuana....In April, a CBS News survey posed a question that sheds more light on this issue....Most respondents — 58 percent — said that a candidate's support for legal marijuana "wouldn't matter" at all. Eighteen percent said they'd be more likely to vote for a pro-weed candidate, while 21 percent said they'd be less likely.
But there were some interesting differences by respondents' age. Among adults ages 18 to 34, 28 percent said support for legal marijuana would make them more likely to vote for a candidate....These numbers suggest that legal marijuana could give Clinton a boost among younger voters in November.
Well...maybe. My guess, however, is that millennials would instantly see this as empty pandering. It might actually make her less popular among young voters, who seem to distrust her more for being calculated than they do for her actual policy positions.
Besides, Clinton has already come out in favor of reclassifying marijuana from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2 and allowing states to continue serving as "laboratories of democracy." That means she's basically endorsed medical marijuana, and it sets her up to endorse recreational marijuana after a suitable period of evolving. Maybe in 2020?
My prediction for the narrative, based on every election since 2000, is that Trump will be deemed to have improved substantially in the second debate, and then Clinton will be seen as pulling off a needed comeback in the third....In the second debate it is necessary that Trump be seen as redeemed, so if he spends the entire debate ignoring the moderator and yelling about his refusal to pay a bill he’ll be called “bold and unconventional” for doing so. In the third debate, if doesn’t matter if Clinton goes into a coma, the narrative demands a comeback, so she’ll be seen as “incredibly graceful as she soldiered on until medical personnel intervened.”
I’m not drawing an equivalence between the candidates, or arguing that one sort of problem is no worse than another. Rather, I’m saying that the media narrative is already decided. This is stage-managed democracy.
This sounds so, so plausible. I really want to sign on. But Trump is making it very hard. Can he really deliver even the minimal performance needed to allow the press to rally behind him after the second debate. I just don't know....
A video of Donald Trump testifying under oath about his provocative rhetoric about Mexicans and other Latinos is set to go public as soon as Friday, drawing new attention to those comments just weeks before voters cast their ballots in the presidential race. Trump gave the testimony in June at a law office in Washington in connection with one of two lawsuits he filed last year after prominent chefs reacted to the controversy over his remarks by pulling out of plans to open restaurants at his new D.C. hotel.
"This Court finds that Plaintiff has not demonstrated that any subject video deposition contains scandalous, libelous, or other unduly prejudicial material warranting denial of media access," Holeman wrote. "The public shall not be held captive by the suggested eventuality of partisan editing in a manner unfavorable to Plaintiff or the deponents."
I hope it's released late today so it can dominate the entire weekend news cycle. In the past, late Friday was the time to release information that you hoped would fly under the radar and disappear by Monday. These days, however, everyone is super sensitive to late Friday news dumps, so they automatically get more attention on the theory that someone is obviously trying to hide something. Trump 2016!
Over at Vox, Dylan Matthews wonders why Donald Trump is spending time on Bill Clinton's alleged infidelities of two decades ago. "The '90s scandals are pretty old news," he says. "There are 18-year-olds voting in this election who weren't alive when the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke in January 1998, and millions more voters in their 20s and 30s who weren’t really old enough to remember."
True enough, but it comes as no surprise that Trump is doing this. In January, after Hillary Clinton accused him of sexism, he spent several days going after Bill. The same thing happened a couple of months later, and Trump bragged about how he hit back so hard that Hillary never brought it up again. He's basically been warning Hillary away from attacking him as a sexist for many months.
So now that she's doing exactly that, he pretty much has to demonstrate that he wasn't bluffing. That's the Trump way. So prepare to be taken on a trip back to the 90s. We've already relitigated welfare reform, the crime bill, super-predators, and more, and now we're going to relitigate Bill's sex life. Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey, Gennifer Flowers, and Juanita Broaddrick—basically the entire cast of Larry Nichols' insane Arkansas attack machine—are about to get yet another 15 minutes of fame. Flowers has come up first, which is no surprise since she was always the most publicity-hungry of the bunch, but the others will all have their turns.
Technically, the attacks aren't going to be on Bill per se, but on Hillary for helping Bill to "smear" all these women. The Washington Post gave us a preview of this strategy a couple of days ago. Trump's hope is that it will turn off young women who have been brought up to believe that sexual misconduct accusers should be routinely believed, and that attacking them is a sign of anti-feminist bigotry.
And who knows? It might work. It certainly worked for a while in the 90s—and the press long ago showed that they're willing to lap this stuff up. On the other hand, even some of the biggest lappers now feel a little ashamed of what they did back then, so it's not clear they're really up for a second go-around. Stay tuned.
Do you think Grunwald is exaggerating? Nope. The Wall Street Journal, for example, spent several hundred words acknowledging that Congress's position on the 9/11 bill was embarrassing, "But not nearly as embarrassing as the junior-varsity effort by [the president], who made it easy for Congress to trample him." Somehow, it's always Obama's fault, isn't it?
I've been a mite hard on Bernie Sanders, and a couple of weeks ago I was eager to put it behind me. Sanders was scheduled to do some weekend campaigning for Hillary Clinton in Ohio, but when I went to the tape on Monday I discovered that his rallies had been poorly attended (possibly not his fault) and that his pitch for Clinton was not notably enthusiastic. So I just said nothing.
Now Sanders is back on the trail not just on Clinton’s behalf but by her side, beginning with an appearance in New Hampshire last night. And his message is significantly more focused on her agenda, and not just as an afterthought....They sounded much more like teammates working together than former antagonists forced to combine forces against a common enemy.
Aside from targeted campaigning, a sharpening of the Sanders message for Clinton, which seemed to be developing in New Hampshire, would be helpful just about everywhere. His new rap about the consequences of a Donald Trump victory, which makes sitting out the election a great moral error, is pretty strong. He might want to add in some reminders of the kind of world Libertarians like Gary Johnson want to build, where, yeah, you can smoke weed, but you’re totally on your own in facing life’s vicissitudes.
In any event, it seems the bad feelings and genuine differences of opinion of the 2016 Democratic primaries are finally fading to the point where Bernie Sanders is an indispensable asset for Clinton. If the race stays close, it could matter a lot.
This is good news for Team Clinton, which needs all the help it can get. Only 40 days to go!