THE MORNING PLUM:
Donald Trump’s claim at this week’s national security Forum that he opposed the Iraq War — which proved once again that he can lie in the face of a reporter and not get called out for it — produced a remarkable moment on CBS this morning. Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway attempted to back up his assertion this way:
QUESTION: Was Donald Trump for the Iraq War, or against it?
CONWAY: He was a private citizen who was against the Iraq War. You heard him with Howard Stern say, “Yeah, I guess so.” Had he been in the United States Senate, he would have cast a vote against the Iraq War.
QUESTION: How do we know that?
CONWAY: Because he said so. Senator Obama said he would have done that in 2008, and everybody just took him at his word.
In the 2002 exchange between Trump and Howard Stern that CBS played literally seconds before this exchange with Conway, Trump was asked whether he was for invading Iraq, and he said, “yeah, I guess so.” Conway simply converted that into evidence that he had opposed the war, perhaps meaning that the slightly hesitant nature of his declaration of support for the invasion somehow shows that he would have voted against it. Pressed further on what Trump actually said, Conway brushed off the significance of it and changed the subject to Hillary Clinton.
What’s more, note the rhetorical chicanery Conway employed in claiming that everybody just took Obama “at his word” that he would have voted against the war if he’d been in the Senate at the time. This is literally a true statement, in the sense that we cannot know for certain how he would have behaved in this theoretical scenario. But Obama did give a big speech in 2002 against the war just before the Senate vote giving George W. Bush authority to invade. Perhaps you remember that speech. It has been widely discussed for years as one of the reasons he went on to defeat Clinton in the 2008 primaries (which Conway referenced) and win the presidency. So we aren’t taking Obama’s opposition to the war at the time “at his word.” There is a record of it. There is also a record of Trump’s support for it, and as the Post fact checking team has documented, no evidence of opposition to it.
All of this has stirred a new set of concerns about whether the press is even institutionally capable of dealing with the depth, breadth and audacity of the Trump campaign’s lying, and whether this institutional failure could end up allowing Trump to win the presidency in spite of it. For instance, Paul Krugman suggests that holding Trump accountable is especially challenging because “journalists are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of outrageous material.”
I’d go further: Trump and his campaign mostly don’t even deign to engage with the basic institutional role that the news media is supposed to play in our democracy. It isn’t just that Trump lies far more often and more audaciously than Clinton does, though that is the case. It’s also that Clinton’s team regularly responds to fact-checking inquiries, while Trump’s team rarely if ever does the same, even as Trump just goes on repeating the same debunked lies with ever more resolve. In other words, the Clinton campaign mostly recognizes, however grudgingly, that it should at least try to back up her claims amid a dialog of sorts with the news media. Trump’s does not. Clinton’s relationship with the media is deeply flawed: She is overly paranoid about their intentions; she refused to hold pressers for far too long; and yes, she lies, as most politicians do. But Clinton recognizes that the press has a legitimate institutional role to play, while Trump has a fundamental level of contempt for that role. Conway’s above refusal to even engage with the basic facts — something she is very good at, to be sure — neatly captures this.
There may be more method to this than meets the eye. As two political scientists write at The Monkey Cage, Trump may be tapping into a profound difference between the ways Republicans and Democrats approach the media:
Much more than Republicans, Democrats treat mainstream journalists as legitimate arbiters of disputes over political facts — such as a candidate’s place of birth. Today, Republican voters report that they trust only Fox News and other explicitly conservative news outlets. Democratic voters, in contrast, say they trust and consume a wide variety of mainstream news outlets.
As they put it, Republicans view the mainstream media as “disproportionately populated by liberals,” and conclude that they “cannot be respected as objective authorities.” And so, when Trump brushes past pointy-headed media weenies who call him out — in the process telegraphing his underlying contempt for the mainstream media’s role — it may only help him consolidate Republican support, which he really has to do right now.
The big question is whether this will work at the coming televised debates, when a much broader general election audience is paying close attention. You may recall that when CNN’s Candy Crowley called out Mitt Romney for lying about President Obama’s reaction to the Benghazi attacks, it was arguably a damaging moment. The same could happen in Trump’s case. Of course, we don’t know if the debate moderates will even try to do something similar this time around.
* REPUBLICANS WORRY ABOUT TRUMP’S SEXISM: Matea Gold and Jenna Johnson report that Republicans are increasingly worried about Trump’s questioning of Clinton’s stamina, health, and presidential “look”:
The escalating attacks … are providing new fodder for critics who say the real estate developer is trafficking in sexist stereotypes and fueling false Internet rumors in attempts to undermine her image with voters. Many Republican strategists warn that the approach is perilous for a GOP nominee who already has low standing among women across the political spectrum, saying his jabs could resonate in a negative way for those who have encountered similar put-downs from men in their own lives.
As this blog keeps tediously repeating, keep an eye on the college-educated white women.
* THE RACE IS TIGHTENING IN THE STATES: Nate Silver looks at the latest batch of swing state polling and concludes that they show the race is clearly tightening a good deal, just as the national polls have been showing. Silver’s overall conclusion: The latest polls are consistent with a Clinton national lead of around three or four points, and also suggest that her edge in the states that are likely to decide the election is around three points.
Keep focused on the polling averages, people.
* HILLARY CAMP TO ROLL OUT MORE GENERALS: The Clinton campaign will announce today that another 15 retired generals and admirals have endorsed her, in the wake of the national security forum earlier this week. This comes after 95 other retired military officers announced their support for her, bringing the total to 110.
The drumbeat of officers is key to the Clinton camp’s hopes of sowing doubts about Trump’s temperamental unfitness to handle national security, which in turn is key to one of her main goals, i.e., winning among college educated whites, particularly women.
* REPUBLICANS PLOT OVERHAUL OF GOP: David Drucker reports that senior GOP operatives recognize that their party needs a major overhaul, whether Trump wins or not, because Trumpism reveals something deeper that must be cured:
They regard Trump as the symptom of a disease that afflicts the GOP and fear that emergency restructuring is needed to prevent massive losses among racial minorities that are a growing share of the electorate and have generally accelerated every presidential election cycle since 1992.
If Republicans do attempt such a restructuring, it could get complicated by Trump’s apparent plan to set up a media empire designed to continue enthralling millions of GOP voters with the magic of Trumpism, should he lose.
* REPUBLICANS MORE WORRIED ABOUT TERROR: A new CNN poll finds that half of Americans think a terrorist attack around the anniversary of September 11th is at least somewhat likely, and this is far more pronounced among Republicans:
Worries about new attacks around the 9/11 anniversary this year are sharper among Republicans than Democrats … 65% of Republicans and 50% of independents say attacks are very or somewhat likely around the anniversary, just 36% of Democrats say the same.
We’ll all be a lot safer if we elected Donald Trump, who will effortlessly SMASH ENEMY with zero in the way of messy foreign entanglements.
* AND MEDIA COVERAGE OF HILLARY’S EMAILS IS OUT OF CONTROL: The Post has a terrific editorial recapping a few of the latest developments that once again show the Clinton email story is not the major scandal it has been inflated into, concluding:
Ms. Clinton is hardly blameless. She treated the public’s interest in sound record-keeping cavalierly. A small amount of classified material also moved across her private server. But it was not obviously marked as such, and there is still no evidence that national security was harmed … The story has vastly exceeded the boundaries of the facts. Imagine how history would judge today’s Americans if, looking back at this election, the record showed that voters empowered a dangerous man because of . . . a minor email scandal. There is no equivalence between Ms. Clinton’s wrongs and Mr. Trump’s manifest unfitness for office.