Kudos to Margaret Sullivan, the Washington Post's media columnist, for calling out Lesley Stahl's performance in her Sunday interview with Donald Trump and Mike Pence. About halfway through, Trump tossed out his usual lie about having opposed the Iraq War from the start:

That claim, which Trump has made a cornerstone of his campaign, is “blatantly false,” according to The Washington Post’s Fact Checker and many other similar efforts. Politifact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking operation, also called it false. And BuzzFeed dug up a 2002 interview in which Trump said he supported the invasion.

....But Stahl — busy trying to herd the other rhetorical cats set loose in the interview — did not say what she should have, something like this: “No, Mr. Trump, that is simply false, and I’m not going to let that go unchallenged.” Instead, she let the man who could be president get away with it, basically affirming his falsehood by twice saying, “Yeah,” as he stated it.

I'll grant that interviewing Trump is a challenge. He throws out casual lies so often that it's hard to address them without letting the entire interview go off track. But of course, this is what Trump counts on. Stahl had other things she wanted to get to, and anyway, she's probably hoping to get future interviews with Trump. How likely is that if she interrupts to tell Trump he's lying?

So that's that. Nobody on TV wants to challenge Trump on this stuff because they don't want to be blacklisted. And after a while it gets boring anyway. So they just say "Yeah," and move along. The result is that Trump has free rein to repeat his lies endlessly on network TV, and millions of viewers believe him. Why wouldn't they? They don't read the Washington Post's fact checker, after all.

I suppose this is the strategy with Melania Trump's obvious plagiarism, too. Just deny that it happened, and before long everyone is bored and stops asking about it. It seems crazy, but it works.

This is such classic Trump. Here is campaign manager Paul Manafort responding to charges that Melania Trump plagiarized part of Michelle Obama's 2008 speech:

There's no cribbing of Michelle Obama's speech. These are common words and values that she cares about her family, things like that,” he continued when asked by anchor Chris Cuomo about the plagiarism allegations. “I mean, she was speaking in front of 35 million people last night. She knew that. To think that she would be cribbing Michelle Obama's words is crazy. This is once again an example of when a woman threatens Hillary Clinton, how she seeks out to demean her and take her down. It's not going to work.”

No cribbing! These were universal ideas that Melania just happened to express using the exact same words as Michelle did eight years ago!

Could anything be more Trumpish? Faced with clear video evidence of lying or wrongdoing, they just deny that anything happened. It's remarkable. Who would have thought that an entire campaign could be based on the notion of listening to their own words and then claiming with a straight face that they never said them? They bring entirely new meanings to the phrase "reality-based community." Karl Rove must be jealous.

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but in the era of Google you should at least be a little more careful about doing it on live national TV:

   Michelle Obama, 2008    Melania Trump, 2016

Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you're going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don't know them, and even if you don't agree with them. And Barack and I set out to build lives guided by these values, and pass them on to the next generation.

From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life: that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise; that you treat people with respect. They taught and showed me values and morals in their daily life. That is a lesson that I continue to pass along to our son, and we need to pass those lessons on to the many generations to follow.

This comes via Jarrett Hill. I'm sure Donald will have a suitably belligerent explanation about this tomorrow. Or maybe via Twitter later tonight. I'm hoping for a declaration that Michelle actually stole it from Melania.

BY THE WAY: It's interesting that one of the phrases Melania left out was about treating people with dignity and respect "even if you don't know them." How very Trumpish.

Well, these were my favorite parts of today's festivities, anyway:

  1. Rep. Steve King on CNN talking about the greatness of white people: "Where did any other sub-group of people contribute to civilization?"
  2. Soap opera star Antonio Sabato Jr. on Twitter after his speech: Obama is "absolutely" a Muslim.
  3. A chant on the convention floor after Gen. Michael Flynn attacks Hillary Clinton: "Lock her up, lock her up…"
  4. Rudy Giuliani on how Trump will make America great again: "He will lead by leading."
  5. Former Happy Days star Scott Baio defending a crudely offensive tweet about Hillary Clinton after his speech: "You make of it what you want."

Melania Trump just gave her speech, but I'm not sure I heard it all. My ears were still ringing from Rudy Giuliani's 15-minute shriek about how we were all going to die if Hillary Clinton gets elected president. Damn. Was he afraid the microphones weren't working, or what?

Trump was smart to have Rudy go on just before Melania. She might have been a little nervous, but anyone would have seemed like a cool, refreshing breeze after Rudy's yawp (my favorite part: "Donald Trump will lead by leading"). Needless to say, Melania didn't say much except that Donald was a great guy, but I guess that's OK. It would have been nice to hear a few personal anecdotes explaining why she actually likes him, but maybe those are hard to come by.

On the downside, I lost my bet with myself. I figured Donald would use his introduction to talk about himself as usual, but he didn't. He actually restrained himself and just introduced his wife and then left the stage. Maybe he really is pivoting for the general election.

The #NeverTrump folks just tried get a roll call vote on a set of rules changes, but they failed. Nine state delegations were in favor, but after a massive campaign of arm twisting and begging, three of them withdrew. That left only six, but seven were needed to force the vote.

Victory for Trump! Victory for Reince Priebus! We may now all pretend that the Republican Party is happily unified behind their standard bearer. Whew.

And what were the rules changes about? Apparently it was an effort to (a) unbind the delegates so they could vote for whoever they wanted, and (b) change the rules for 2020 to encourage closed primaries. This latter change would have benefited Ted Cruz—but only if you assume that Trump will lose to Hillary Clinton this year and 2020 will even have a primary race. Which apparently Cruz believes. But it's not exactly the message the RNC wants to beam out to millions of viewers, is it?

And now back to our regularly scheduled nobodies who are speaking in the afternoon session. You'll have to wait until this evening for any of the big names to appear. For example, Scott Baio, Rudy Giuliani, and Melania Trump. Bring 'em on!

UPDATE: Hmmm. I was wrong about the 2020 stuff. I guess the anti-Trump folks are hoping to get a vote on that later.

Tony Schwartz is the author of The Art of the Deal. That is to say, he's the guy who wrote the actual words that were then packaged as a Donald Trump book. He was paid well for this work: he got half the advance and continues to get half the royalties. Here's how that particular deal went down:

“If I were you,” Schwartz recalls telling [Trump], “I’d write a book called ‘The Art of the Deal.’ That’s something people would be interested in.”

“You’re right,” Trump agreed. “Do you want to write it?”

Schwartz thought it over for several weeks....Being a ghostwriter was hackwork. In the end, though, Schwartz had his price. He told Trump that if he would give him half the advance and half the book’s royalties he’d take the job.

Such terms are unusually generous for a ghostwriter. Trump, despite having a reputation as a tough negotiator, agreed on the spot.

This is pretty typical Trump. As near as I can tell, he's actually a lousy negotiator. There are exceptions here and there, but he routinely overpays for properties he wants and routinely ends up in litigation with the people he does deals with. That's not the sign of a great negotiator. It's the sign of someone who can't get the deal right the first time—and then goes to court in hopes that his partners will cave in because it's just not worth the money to fight him. This is also why Trump has a hard time getting loans these days and doesn't do many deals outside of licensing and branding.

But onward. It turns out that Schwartz never liked Trump much, and these days feels guilty for his part in selling him to the American public. He told his story to the New Yorker's Jane Mayer:

Schwartz thought that “The Art of the Deal” would be an easy project....For research, he planned to interview Trump on a series of Saturday mornings.... But the discussion was soon hobbled by what Schwartz regards as one of Trump’s most essential characteristics: “He has no attention span.”

....“Trump has been written about a thousand ways from Sunday, but this fundamental aspect of who he is doesn’t seem to be fully understood,” Schwartz told me. “It’s implicit in a lot of what people write, but it’s never explicit—or, at least, I haven’t seen it.1 And that is that it’s impossible to keep him focussed on any topic, other than his own self-aggrandizement, for more than a few minutes, and even then . . . ” Schwartz trailed off, shaking his head in amazement. He regards Trump’s inability to concentrate as alarming in a Presidential candidate. “If he had to be briefed on a crisis in the Situation Room, it’s impossible to imagine him paying attention over a long period of time,” he said.

....[So] he came up with another plan. He would propose eavesdropping on Trump’s life by following him around on the job and, more important, by listening in on his office phone calls....There was not a single call that Trump deemed too private for Schwartz to hear. “He loved the attention,” Schwartz recalls. “If he could have had three hundred thousand people listening in, he would have been even happier.”

This year, Schwartz has heard some argue that there must be a more thoughtful and nuanced version of Donald Trump that he is keeping in reserve for after the campaign. “There isn’t,” Schwartz insists. “There is no private Trump.”

....He then tried to amplify the material he got from Trump by calling others involved in the deals. But their accounts often directly conflicted with Trump’s. “Lying is second nature to him,” Schwartz said. “More than anyone else I have ever met, Trump has the ability to convince himself that whatever he is saying at any given moment is true, or sort of true, or at least ought to be true.”...Schwartz says of Trump, “He lied strategically. He had a complete lack of conscience about it.” Since most people are “constrained by the truth,” Trump’s indifference to it “gave him a strange advantage.”

....Rhetorically, Schwartz’s aim in “The Art of the Deal” was to present Trump as the hero of every chapter, but, after looking into some of his supposedly brilliant deals, Schwartz concluded that there were cases in which there was no way to make Trump look good. So he sidestepped unflattering incidents and details. “I didn’t consider it my job to investigate,” he says.

....As far as Schwartz could tell, Trump spent very little time with his family and had no close friends....“He’d like people when they were helpful, and turn on them when they weren’t. It wasn’t personal. He’s a transactional man—it was all about what you could do for him.”

Just the kind of guy you want in the Oval Office: a serial liar with no attention span who doesn't care about other people and has no interests other than his own self-glorification. Oh, and he's a mediocre dealmaker too. Sounds perfect.

1Maybe Schwartz just needs to be reading the right people?

Raw Data: The US Trade Deficit ex China ex Oil

This is apropos of nothing in particular. I was just curious what our trade deficit looked like without China and without oil. Answer: it's pretty much zero. I don't know if this really means much, but if I was curious, I figured other people might be curious too.

As I mentioned last night, Hillary Clinton really is significantly ahead of Donald Trump in the national polls. She's ahead by about four points, and that's a pretty normal winning margin in a presidential election with no incumbent running. In the New York Times, Nate Cohn says the same thing but with a lovely little graphic to make his point:

Her lead is smaller than it was last month....But she retains an advantage — perhaps by 4 percentage points nationwide, and a similar margin in the battleground states that are likely to award the electoral votes needed to win the presidency. This straightforward story can get lost in the headlines, which tend to give the most attention to the most surprising results — whether it’s a predicted Clinton landslide or a narrow lead for Mr. Trump in key states.

The truth is probably somewhere between those extremes. Pollsters aren’t joking about the “margin of error”: the inevitable random variance in polls that exists simply by chance. If Mrs. Clinton leads by 4 points, you should expect polls that show her with a big lead or locked in a tight race, with others clustered around the average. That’s more or less what we saw this past week.

As Cohn says, individual polls are likely to fall on a bell curve. I've recreated his chart below, with actual recent polls in blue. As you can see, it's all perfectly normal (pun intended).

Too Many Guns in Cleveland

The Republican convention starts today, and Cleveland police are unhappy about Ohio's open-carry law:

In light of the shooting and death of three police officers in Baton Rouge on Sunday, the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association asked for an emergency suspension of the state’s open-carry law for the duration of the Republican National Convention.

“We are sending a letter to Gov. [John] Kasich requesting assistance from him,” union president Stephen Loomis told CNN. “He could very easily do some kind of executive order or something — I don’t care if it’s constitutional or not at this point.” Kasich denied the union’s request.

Unfortunately, everyone else does have to worry if it's constitutional. Perhaps Loomis should suggest that the Ohio legislature simply end the state's open-carry law entirely. If it's a bad idea when the Republican convention is in town, perhaps it's a bad idea a lot of other times too?