After every presidential election since 1972, the top advisers to both major party nominees gather for a postmortem to discuss what they were thinking behind the scenes at key moments. The transcripts of these sessions go to libraries, and historians use them for research.
But the two-day symposium here, just like the campaign it was convened to discuss, devolved into name calling and a shouting match. It ran headlong into two of the biggest fault lines in American life: race and gender. And it underscored just how alarmingly polarized the country remains three weeks after one of the nastiest political campaigns in American history.
In 2012, it was easy for the professionals who worked for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to antiseptically dissect the race together. But 2016 is different: The wounds are still too fresh for Clinton’s advisers – who had been measuring the drapes in the West Wing. Trump’s strategists are still riding too high on the endorphins of a victory – which caught even most of them by surprise – to reflect soberly. (Karen Tumulty and Philip Rucker have a blow-by-blow in their spot story, which you can read here.)
-- Unlike previous iterations of the Harvard conference, both sides focused heavily on attacking the press – often in ways that were removed from reality and at times seemingly designed to avoid taking responsibility for their own blunders.
Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri lambasted the coverage of her candidate’s homebrew email server. “It is going to go down in history as the most grossly over-rated, over-covered and most destructive story in all of presidential politics,” she said. “If I made one mistake, it was legitimizing the way the press covered this storyline.”
Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook then insisted that reporters did not press Trump very hard for refusing to release his tax returns.
“Oh my God, that question was vomited to me every day on TV,” said Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s third and final manager, rolling her eyes.
Clinton chief strategist Joel Benenson replied, “The number of stories about his tax returns paled in comparison exponentially to coverage of emails.”
That’s when Lewandowski, who remains in touch with Trump as a trusted adviser, noted that New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet, during an appearance at Harvard this fall, said he’d risk jail time to publish Trump’s tax returns if the paper obtained them. “He’s willing to commit a felony,” Lewandowski said. “It is egregious. He should be in jail!”
-- In a critique that generated audible groans among the dozens of assembled journalists who covered the 2016 campaign, Lewandowski complained that reporters erred by reporting on what actually Trump said at his events. “This is the problem with the media,” he said, when discussing the proposed Muslim ban. “You guys took everything that Donald Trump said so literally! The American people didn’t. They understood it. They understood that sometimes — when you have a conversation with people, whether it’s around the dinner table or at a bar — you’re going to say things, and sometimes you don’t have all the facts to back it up.”
-- Clinton’s people made clear how much they view Lewandowski with utter disdain. “We’re not at a Trump rally, Corey,” Benenson told him when he started talking about how Trump was right to say that people who burn the flag should be stripped of their citizenship.
-- And so it went. Reporters pressed the Clinton team on why they did not talk more about the economy. Palmieri complained that, every time they tried to, the press just wanted her to respond to whatever Trump had just said or tweeted. Then, when she would talk about Trump, pundits would criticize Clinton for not focusing enough on the issues. Jen noted that NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, who was co-moderating the panel, focused on the donnybrook over the Gold Star Khan family during what was supposed to be a jobs-focused bus tour in the days after the Democratic National Convention. “You guys only covered her when she talked about him,” Palmieri complained.
-- Even the Trump team marveled at the extent to which reporters chase after whatever their boss tweets. “It was like owning the New York Times without the overhead or the debt,” said Michael Glassner, who was Trump’s deputy campaign manager. Lewandowski said Trump could “change the narrative” with 140 characters.” Trump pollster Tony Fabrizio said a post-election poll showed only 20 percent of voters actually use Twitter, which means that the candidate’s messages could never have broken through without so much amplification by the press.
But Trump folks said he needed to use Twitter and other alternative mediums because he was not getting a fair shake from the people assigned to cover him. “The largest super PAC is called the media,” said Trump digital director Brad Parscale. “We had media bias that we had to spend money and energy to push back on and correct the message. … We had to fight media bias and corporate bias.”
-- Mook complained that media coverage of campaign chairman John Podesta’s hacked emails in the final weeks did not sufficiently stress the role that the Russians played in pilfering and distributing them. “It is outrageous … It has got be investigated,” Mook said of Russia’s meddling. “We know the Russians were propagating fake news.”
“The biggest piece of fake news in this election was that Donald Trump couldn’t win,” replied Conway. Asked if she believes the U.S. intelligence community that Russia was behind much of the mischief, she said: “I’m not going to assume it’s true.” “It is a fact! … It is true,” replied Mook. “We’re not pro-foreign government interference, if that’s what you’re asking,” Conway clarified.
-- The head of CNN also came under particularly intense fire. The campaign managers for all of Trump’s Republican primary rivals were also invited to this conference, and they made themselves known during a dinner on Wednesday night.
During a panel discussion with media heavyweights, Jeff Zucker called it “bull***t” to blame his cable channel for elevating Trump back in 2015 when he first got into the race. Veterans of the GOP campaigns which Trump vanquished began to yell from the audience, especially about CNN airing live footage of an empty podium where Trump was about to speak while mostly ignoring whatever they were doing. Zucker claimed that his producers let other candidates call in to the network, rather than requiring them to appear on camera. (Not true, a few yelled.) He added that Marco Rubio refused to come on the air for 10 weeks because he was upset about a question he’d been asked on abortion.
Reporters from print outlets, meanwhile, pressed Zucker on his decision to hire Lewandowski as a paid contributor after he technically got fired by Trump as manager but remained on the campaign payroll and continued to dispense private advice. As Politico’s Gabe Debenedetti recounts in his piece on what followed, “Zucker said Lewandowski was a ‘good investment and decision,’ as Lewandowski clapped and the rest of the room remained silent.”
-- The Republican managers are also mad at Fox News, though they were more nuanced in their on-the-record critiques in order to preserve relationships with the conservative giant. Lewandowski complained that Trump “felt he was set up” by Fox when he was asked during the first debate in Aug. 2015 if he’d commit to support the eventual nominee, and that they both suspected that it was because family members of Fox employees worked for his rivals.
That led to a much-publicized “feud” between Trump and Megyn Kelly. But Chris Christie’s senior strategist, Mike DuHaime, complained that the Fox-Trump fight was phony and helped both sides at the expense of the more serious GOP candidates. “Fox was not at war,” he said. “The way Fox goes to war is to ignore someone!”
-- The biggest blow-up of the whole conference came after David Bossie, who left his job as head of Citizens United to become Trump’s deputy campaign manager, praised Stephen Bannon as “a brilliant strategist.” The former head of Breitbart, who will be chief strategist in the new White House, was supposed to come but pulled out at the last minute after hundreds of Harvard students made plans to protest him. Here is just a taste of what followed:
Palmieri: “If providing a platform for white supremacists makes me a brilliant tactician, I am proud to have lost. I would rather lose than win the way you guys did.”
Conway: “Do you think I ran a campaign where white supremacists had a platform?”
Palmieri, who choked up at times: “You did, Kellyanne. You did!”
Conway: “Are you kidding me? … Do you think you could have just had a decent message for white, working-class voters? How about, it’s Hillary Clinton, she doesn’t connect with people? How about, they have nothing in common with her? How about, she doesn’t have an economic message?”
Benenson then asked the Trump team to say who they were trying “to take America back from.” “There were dog whistles sent out to people,” he said. “Look at your rallies. He delivered it.”
Conway: “Guys, I can tell you are angry, but wow. Hashtag he’s your president. … Will you ever accept the election results? Will you tell your protesters that he’s their president, too?”
Clinton senior adviser Karen Finney retorted: “Hashtag, if he's going to be my president, he's going to need to show me that white supremacy isn't acceptable! … Part of what Donald Trump did during this campaign was to mainstream the alt-right.”
Conway: “You guys are bitter. … I’ve tried to be very gracious. You’re bitter.”
Clinton senior media adviser Mandy Grunwald grew frustrated as the Trump officials claimed that they ran a more positive campaign with a more uplifting vision than Clinton did: “I don’t think you give yourself enough credit for the negative campaign you ran. … I hear this heroic story of him connecting with voters, but there was a very impressive gassing of her!” (She talked about how Trump used “the dark arts” of fake news and the National Enquirer.)
“Take the compliment, Kellyanne,” Mandy said.
“I would if it were one,” Kellyanne shot back.
-- What really seemed to set the Trump operatives off, besides being linked by association with white supremacists, was when the Clinton people kept saying that the president-elect has no mandate.
Benenson: “You guys won. That’s clear. But let’s be honest: Don’t act as if you have a popular mandate for your message. The fact of the matter is that more Americans voted for Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump.”
Conway turned to her five Trump colleagues: “Hey, guys, we won. You don’t have to respond. He was the better candidate. That’s why he won. Why is there no mandate?”
-- Another flash point: Did Clinton lose because of the FBI director? “What is the single greatest headwind we faced in the race? The two letters from James Comey,” said Mook, echoing comments that have been made by HRC since the election. “The first letter stripped away a lot of the college educated support that President Obama had not had. The second letter inflamed some of those voters in Mr. Trump’s base. … I think we underestimated the force of that when it changed.”
The Republicans repeatedly said the Clintons themselves, not Comey, deserves the blame for her email server becoming such a big issue. They argued that Comey would not have been in a position to hold his summer press conference had Attorney General Loretta Lynch not foolishly met with Bill Clinton aboard a private airplane on the tarmac in Phoenix. The ensuing firestorm led her to recuse herself from the email investigation, which empowered Comey.
Conway said Trump was hurt more by the 2005 “Access Hollywood” video than Clinton was hurt by Comey’s bombshell. “I will tell you, if you look at the polling, that incident effected Donald Trump’s numbers much more than the Comey letter affected Secretary Clinton’s,” she said.
-- One area of concurrence: Both sides think Clinton was hobbled by the expectation she’d win. It made it harder to get volunteers and led young people to think they could safely vote third party. Hillary needed upward of 60 percent of young voters, but she got “in the high 50s at the end of the day,” Mook said. “That’s why we lost.”
The Clinton team said that the Democratic nominee was always scrutinized as if she was already an incumbent, a burden Trump never faced.
Asked when he knew that his boss had lost, Mook said he started to get worried when the first numbers started coming in from places like Florida and Virginia on election night: “I thought, ‘Well, maybe this is just a Southeast thing. In that case, we’ll be alright.' Well, it wasn’t just a Southeast thing.” Looking back, he added, “Would I have 300 paid staff in Michigan instead of 200? Absolutely. Because we lost Michigan by less than one point.”
-- Finally, Conway argued that voters weighed, then dismissed the groping allegations because Trump was speaking directly about their economic problems: “There’s a difference for voters between what offends you and what affects you.”
CNN’s Jake Tapper asked her whether it is appropriate for Trump, now that he’s won, to make baseless claims on Twitter that millions of votes were fraudulently cast or to retweet random people attacking specific members of the media. “He’s the president-elect, so that’s presidential behavior,” she replied.
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- The U.S. economy added 178,000 jobs in November, while the unemployment rate fell to 4.6 percent from 4.9 percent the previous month, according to new government data released at 8:30 a.m. (Ana Swanson)
-- Trump tapped retired Gen. James Mattis to be secretary of defense, selecting a former senior military officer who says responding to “political Islam” is the major security issue facing the United States. From Dan Lamothe: Mattis, 66, served more than four decades in the Marine Corps and is known as one of the most influential military leaders of his generation, serving as a strategic thinker while occasionally drawing rebukes for his aggressive talk.
To take the job, Mattis will need Congress to pass new legislation to bypass a federal law stating that defense secretaries must not have been on active duty in the previous seven years. Congress has granted a similar exception just once [in 1950]." (R and D sources tell us the votes will be there.)
Mattis, whose nicknames include “Mad Dog” and the “Warrior Monk,” has had a leading hand in some of the U.S. military’s most significant operations in the past 20 years. “As a one-star general, he led an amphibious task force of Marines that carried out a November 2001 raid in helicopters on Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, giving the Pentagon a new foothold [after the 9/11] attacks," Lamothe notes. "Using the call sign ‘Chaos,’ he commanded a division of Marines during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and returned … to lead Marines in bloody street fighting in the city of Fallujah.”
He has occasionally come under scrutiny for impolitic remarks. "It's fun to shoot some people," he famously said in 2005. “I like brawling.”
-- Red flag: “Trump’s pick for defense secretary went to the mat for the troubled blood-testing company Theranos,” by Carolyn Y. Johnson: “[Mattis] had a long military career, leading the U.S. Central Command before he retired in 2013. But a series of emails obtained by The Post last year revealed that, in a lesser-known incident late in his military tenure, Mattis took the unusual step of personally pushing for a start-up company — the controversial blood-testing Theranos — to land a deal for a military field test. In 2012, Theranos — which has since had a long and tortuous fall from Silicon Valley darling to cautionary tale — was a secretive blood-testing company with politically connected board members. The emails revealed Mattis's interest in the start-up's blood-testing technology and the personal actions he took to try and push its technology into a field test in Afghanistan."
TRUMP'S VERSION OF POLITICAL SURVIVOR CONTINUES:
-- North Dakota Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is meeting today at Trump Tower with the president-elect amid rumors she is in the running to be Energy or Interior secretary. The move would be a smart one for Trump in terms of picking off a Democratic senator. Republicans would definitely pick up her seat. There is also talk West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, also a Democrat in a state Trump won, is under consideration, though Manchin says he has yet to be contacted by the Trump team. Both Democrats sound open to serving. (Steven Mufson)
-- Chris Christie is considering throwing his hat into the ring as RNC chair, telling several Trump transition team officials that he is interested in the post. The move comes as Christie’s prospects for a position in the Trump administration have dimmed in recent weeks, Politico’s Alex Isenstadt reports. This job would let him serve out his term as governor of New Jersey.
-- If nominated as secretary of State, Gen. David Petraeus "would have to undergo a potentially bruising confirmation hearing that would probably reexamine the lurid case that led to his conviction and dredge up old comparisons to Clinton," Matt Zapotosky writes. “Petraeus pleaded guilty last year to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified information, admitting that he gave sensitive materials to his former lover and biographer, Paula Broadwell. He was sentenced to two years of probation … [which include] several restrictions that could complicate his holding a Cabinet position … [but] Petraeus’s probation expires in April 2017, and Trump, upon taking office, could commute his sentence. “Those involved in the Petraeus case at one point contemplated much more serious charges of lying to the FBI and violating a section of the Espionage Act. Officials have said the information contained in the eight notebooks Petraeus gave to Broadwell could have caused grave damage to national security, if disclosed."
-- “Trump has disclosed owning millions of dollars of stock in companies with business pending before the U.S. government and whose value could rise as a result of his policies,” Rosalind S. Helderman and Drew Harwell report this morning. “Trump’s stock holdings, which are separate from the more high-profile real estate and branding empire that he has said he will separate from in some fashion, represent another area rife with potential conflicts of interest that Trump has yet to address.” Trump’s stock portfolio presents “a smaller bore but significant example of the same problem he has with the Trump Organization,” said Norm Eisen, “Nobody will know if the decisions he’s making are influenced by the public interest or by his and his family’s personal financial interests."
GET SMART FAST:
- Jerry Brown picked Rep. Xavier Becerra (D) to replace Sen.-elect Kamala Harris as California's attorney general. The post will allow Becerra, the highest-ranking Latino in Congress, a perch from which he can run statewide. It also clears the way for Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) to become the ranking member on the powerful Ways and Means Committee. (Mike DeBonis)
- Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is celebrating his narrow re-election by suing challenger Doug Applegate for libel. The wealthiest member of Congress is seeking $10 million in damages over a pair of what he claims are defamatory campaign ads. (San Diego Union Tribune)
- The pilot of the jet carrying a Brazilian soccer team that crashed on Monday decided to skip a scheduled refueling stop, opting instead to fly directly into Colombia. The news corroborates early theories that the aircraft crashed after running out of gas. (CNN)
- Princess Cruise Lines was slapped with a raft of felony charges and a $40 million penalty after it was revealed the company has been illegally polluting the ocean for years. Feds say the punishment is the largest-ever criminal penalty involving deliberate ocean pollution. (Brady Dennis)
- The U.S. government is expected to forgive more than $108 billion in student debt over the next several years, according to a new GAO report. The projections come as part of a new report to Congress, which criticized the way current loan programs account for dept repayments. (Wall Street Journal)
- Embattled French President Francois Hollande announced he will not seek re-election in 2017, ending a term characterized by consistently high unemployment levels and a string of deadly terror attacks in the country. His announcement, which clears that way for another leftist candidate to enter the ring, comes after a recent poll in the country showed Hollande’s approval ratings at four percent (James McAuley)
- Hundreds of people are demanding an Ohio State University administrator be fired after she urged compassion for the student attacker who slashed 11 people. (Susan Svrluga)
- Two Army soldiers looking to make some side cash are now facing hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, as well as a decade in federal prison, after they admitted to smuggling undocumented immigrants through patrol checkpoints for cash. (Kristine Guerra)
- Wisconsin officials are investigating a VA facility dentist for reusing disposable dental equipment on his patients – putting some 600 veterans at risk for HIV and hepatitis. Officials haven’t found evidence of infection yet, but said they are continuing an aggressive investigation out of an abundance of caution. (McClatchy DC)
- Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said he is stepping aside, stoking public speculation that the business executive could be considering a future in the political sphere. (Sarah Halzack and Jena McGregor)
- The NFL announced a new multi-year deal with CBS, allowing subscribers of the “All Access” package to stream Sunday football games. Coverage begins this weekend. (CBS News)
- Sun exposure can reduce risk for nearsightedness, according to a new study. Researchers found that those with the highest levels of UV-B exposure, especially young people and teenagers, had about a 30 percent lower risk for myopia than those with the lowest exposure. (New York Times)
THE RACE FOR DNC CHAIR:
-- The field in the race for chairman of the Democratic National Committee might not be set, and two more names are being talked about as possible candidates. We’re hearing credible chatter at high levels that Labor Secretary Tom Perez is leaning toward getting in. Another pol expressing interest: Phil Angelides, the former California state Treasurer and the 2006 Democratic nominee for California governor (He lost to Arnold). Perez got more serious when Joe Biden announced he would not get in.
-- The current frontrunner for DNC chair, Keith Ellison, is facing increasing scrutiny for his past ties to the Nation of Islam and his defense of its anti-Semitic leader, Louis Farrakhan. From CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski: “Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, publicly renounced his association with the Nation of Islam in 2006 after it became an issue during his run for Congress. … But several outlets have resurfaced Ellison’s past writings as he runs for DNC chair, raising new concerns about his own views and what they would mean for the Democratic Party if he were to be its leader. A review of Ellison’s past writings and public statements during the late 1980s through the 1990s reveal his decade-long involvement in the Nation of Islam and his repeated defense of Farrakhan and other radical black leaders against accusations of anti-Semitism in columns and statements to the press." No one has found evidence yet of Ellison making any anti-Semitic comments himself.
-- Also in the running are two state chairmen from early states: New Hampshire’s Ray Buckley and South Carolina’s Jamie Harrison.
TRUMP'S MIDWEST VICTORY LAP:
-- The election might be over, but Trump seems intent on continuing to campaign, Jenna Johnson and John Wagner report. “At his first rally since being elected president, Trump only occasionally read from his teleprompters … recounted in great detail all the ways that he won, noted that world leaders now call him from ‘their magnificent rooms,’ and gleefully reflected on how it was ‘a lot of fun’ fighting [Clinton], to which the crowd chanted: ‘Lock her up! Lock her up!’ He complained about his party’s top leaders, prompted the crowd to boo their state governor … and told the crowd to keep going as they booed ‘the extremely dishonest press.’ He mocked a small group of protesters as they were led out: 'They don’t know that Hillary lost a couple of weeks ago.’ And somewhere amid the insults, grievances and brags, Trump promised to heal this divided country."
-- Before the rally last night, Trump toured the Indiana-based Carrier factory at which he helped keep roughly 1,000 jobs from moving to Mexico. There, the president-elect threatened “consequences” for U.S. firms that relocate elsewhere, suggesting he will broaden his bid to personally intervene with individual companies to keep jobs in the country, per Ylan Q. Mui, Matea Gold and Max Ehrenfreund: “Trump’s remarks came as he triumphantly celebrated a decision by the heating and air-conditioning company Carrier to reverse its plans to close a furnace plant here and move to Mexico, helping keep 1,100 jobs in Indianapolis.” Under the terms of the agreement, Carrier would reportedly receive a $7 million tax incentive package from the state of Indiana in exchange for making a $16 million investment in the facility, Trump claimed.
Speaking at Carrier, Trump also predicted more companies will stay in the U.S. because his administration will lower corporate taxes and reduce regulations. He also warned that businesses that decide to go abroad will "pay a price": “Companies are not going to leave the United States anymore without consequences,” Trump declared Thursday. “Not gonna happen.”
-- Experts said no modern president has intervened on behalf of an individual company like this. But Trump dismissed such concerns, saying he plans to “personally call” other companies that are contemplating moving operations out of the country. “I think it’s very presidential. And if it’s not presidential, that’s okay because I actually like doing it,” Trump said. “But we’re going to have a lot of phone calls made to companies when they say they’re leaving this country, because they’re not going to leave this country.”
BLOWBACK FROM BOTH PARTIES ON THE CARRIER DEAL:
-- On the right, the Carrier deal was sharply criticized by some conservatives, who viewed it as government distortion of free markets, as well as liberals, who derided it as corporate welfare" “I think it sets a pretty bad precedent,” said Cato Institute's Dan Ikenson, “I don’t think we should be addressing issues like this on an ad hoc basis. It certainly incentivizes companies to make a stink and say: ‘We’re going to leave, too. What are you going to do for me?’ ”
-- On the left, in a Post op-ed, Bernie Sanders said the deal essentially shows corporations "how to beat Trump": “Just a short few months ago, Trump was pledging to force United Technologies to 'pay a damn tax'. He was insisting on very steep tariffs for companies like Carrier that left the United States and wanted to sell their foreign-made products back in the United States. [Now], instead of a damn tax, the company will be rewarded with a damn tax cut. Trump has signaled to every corporation in America that they can threaten to offshore jobs in exchange for business-friendly tax benefits and incentives. Even corporations that weren’t thinking of offshoring jobs will most probably be reevaluating their stance … In essence, United Technologies took Trump hostage and won. And that should send a shock wave of fear through all workers across the country."
-- “It’s good that about 1,000 Carrier Corp. workers will not be losing their jobs,” says The Post’s Editorial Board Editor Fred Hiatt. “But there is a whiff of Putinism in the combination of bribery and menace that may have affected Carrier’s decision …If this were to become the U.S. government’s standard method of operation, the results would be Russian, too: dwindling investment, slowing economic growth, fewer jobs. In the long run, Americans are best served by policies that promote growth and trade at home and abroad. True, that is cold comfort to U.S. workers who lose their jobs … [but] if Trump wants conservative solutions to help them, he could abolish a lot of the failed government retraining programs and redirect the funds into vouchers or tax credits for workers who want to complete college or retrain themselves. He could support apprenticeship programs. He could make sure that workers can carry their health and retirement support with them when they change jobs … Eventually, that would allow him to take victory laps in countless factories — because the benefits of his policies would have spread across the land without czarist vagary or caprice.”
-- Part of a pattern: Breitbart News is going to war with Kellogg's after the cereal maker decided to pull its advertisements from the far-right news site in protest of its political views, CNN’s Dylan Byers reports. The move sparked boycotts and anti-Kelloggs hashtags from loyalists of the alt-right website, as well as a scathing letter from the site’s editor. "Boycotting Breitbart News for presenting mainstream American ideas is an act of discrimination and intense prejudice,” editor-in-chief Alex Marlow wrote “If you serve Kellogg's products to your family, you are serving up bigotry at your breakfast table."
SPEAKING OF PUTINISM:
-- “Putin, Russia’s grand inquisitor and ‘fixer-in-chief,’” by David Filipov: “On any given nightly news broadcast, Vladimir Putin … interrogates a cabinet minister or a director of a state-run factory or a utilities chief. If the economic news is good, the subordinate is off the hook and the next segment comes on. But if prices have spiked, or salaries are low, or costs have gone way over budget, then Putin lays into the unfortunate bureaucrat — ‘What’s wrong with your head?’ ‘Are you crazy?” … as the cameras roll and the Russian president’s quarry stammers and squirms. It’s populist political theater that makes for really, really awkward television. But it helps explain the riddle of the enduring popularity of a ruler who has no checks on his power, no serious opposition, and who presides over a country mired in an economic slowdown. Even as Putin plays the role of grand inquisitor, he has also positioned himself as the one person in the country to whom citizens can turn at a time when faith in government institutions is low. Putin’s popularity has become closely tied with the idea that he is the decisive factor at all levels of Russian politics,” said Brookings Fellow Fiona Hill. He is Russia’s “fixer-in-chief.”
-- In the face of a weak, divided West, the Russian bear is growing bolder, says The Post’s Editorial Board: “Russian meddling in Western democracies is often portrayed as malicious but soft-boiled, centered on cyberattacks, propaganda operations and financial help for pro-Moscow politicians. So it’s worth calling attention to a couple of recent episodes in Eastern Europe that were of an entirely different character. In NATO member Hungary, Russian agents have been fingered for training with a neo-Nazi militia; in the tiny Balkan state of Montenegro, which is on the verge of joining the transatlantic alliance, Moscow is accused of plotting a violent coup. Russian intelligence services have been known for meddling in foreign countries … But veteran analysts say such bold attempts to sow chaos in countries linked to NATO are virtually unprecedented. They reflect a regime that has given free rein to its covert operatives, on the calculation that there will be little or no pushback from a weak and divided West.” Until that theory is proved wrong, they write, expect more trouble to come.
-- “Sons of executed spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg ask Obama to exonerate their mother,” by Joe Heim: “On the day Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were scheduled to face the electric chair as convicted spies in June 1953, their sons, Michael and Robert, then 10 and 6, were told to go to a friend’s house and play baseball until dark. When they walked back in the house that evening, Michael asked family members if his parents’ lives had been spared. When he didn’t get a direct answer, he knew his worst fears had been realized. It was just days after the two boys had protested at the White House and … [asked] the president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, for clemency. The request hadn’t been granted.” Now, the two brothers have returned: Armed with 40 years of research and a lifetime of painful memories, they are asking Obama to exonerate their mother, who they say was wrongly convicted and sentenced." “This time we are not merely advocates for our family, but for our country,” Robert said. “It is never too late to learn from the mistakes of the past.”
-- HIPSTER OR NAZI? POST STYLE COLUMNISTS WEIGH IN: “We need to talk about a haircut. Also about identity, and hatred, and maybe about the total end of American civilization — but first about a haircut,” Monica Hesse and Dan Zak write. “You have seen it. It is short on the sides and long on the top. It is clean and tidy, with a military sheen. It’s been popular among young people for several years. But now this haircut is making us ask ourselves, with seriousness that seems unthinkable in 2016: hipster or Nazi? Young city-dwelling men leaving their SoulCycle classes in leftover ‘I’m With Her’ T-shirts. Young white-nationalism enthusiasts leaving a recent conference in Washington, D.C., where several of them performed a Nazi salute. The same haircut. The exact same haircut. Until a few weeks ago, you saw a man with that haircut and assumed he might be a good person to hit on, or to buy small-batch beer from … Now you see him and wonder if he’s trying to deport half the nation …”
The solution, they say, is for white nationalists to identify themselves through a different look. But don't fret! There's plenty of alternatives, such as a include a "double man bun (“We really just want to create a taboo around this look”) as well as “The Rachel.” (“Remember how every teenage girl in the ’90s wanted to look like Jennifer Aniston on “Friends”? Nazis, you may now have it.”)
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
-- Wisconsin began its presidential election recount, honoring a request made by Green Candidate Jill Stein in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Almost no one expects Stein's push for recounts in to change the race, however: "This is certainly not Bush v. Gore," said Wisconsin's chief elections administrator Mike Haas. (AP)
Tennessee firefighters are shown here taking a nap after 36 straight hours on the job:
The House Science, Space and Technology Committee drew widespread criticism for posting this article to its Twitter feed:
Here's a response from Bernie Sanders:
Here's how Steve Rattner summed up the Carrier agreement:
Justin Amash criticized the deal:
This reporter was apparently denied access to Trump's Carrier plant event:
Ben Sasse delivered a tweetstorm on the decline of manufacturing jobs and the politicians who aren't honest about the causes:
Some similarities in this tweetstorm from Rick Wilson about economic nostalgia:
And one final tweetstorm from CNN's Phil Mattingly, who spoke with Trump supporters about the Carrier deal:
A warning from one of the country's leading health insurance experts:
Katy Perry posted a warm message to Hillary Clinton on Instagram:
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Slowly, I am coming down from the beautiful cloud that was Tuesday night's @UNICEF Snowflake Ball. First and foremost, I am incredibly grateful to have received the Audrey Hepburn Humanitarian Award from my hero @HillaryClinton. This award will be a constant reminder to get out of my bubble and back into the field to shine a light on issues that matter most, especially to illuminate the plight of vulnerable children who are living without basic human needs and rights. This honor is a starting line, not a finish line, for me, and I am excited for where my new ambition and purpose leads me! I was profoundly moved and thoroughly surprised when Hillary showed up to give me this award. I broke down and wept watching her take the stage. The last time I was in NYC was for Election Night. I left covered in a blanket of sadness and despair because for me, and I imagine others, the results triggered a lot of dormant fears and emotions to the surface. I feared that we were not ever going to see the light of justice or fairness. I felt vulnerable, confused and frightened like a child. From the outside it probably looks as though I've always had a "voice." Truth is, I have never had one like I have found in the past year. I have a found a new voice, a more determined voice. I grew up sheltered, suppressed and kept silent for fear of giving the wrong answer. I would reveal my poor education. Or I was just scared. Hillary helped me see that we're all in this together, no matter where we come from, what color we are, or what status and education we have or don't have. Hillary lit a fire inside of me that burns brighter and brighter every day, and that fire will NEVER be put out. Feelings of despair still comes in waves, but now more than ever I am MOTIVATED to fight against social injustice and to promote equality and kindness as best I know how, through my art and influence. I am continually inspired by her strength and how she continues to rise like the Phoenix she is, every time. It's funny, sometimes people who disagree with me just say, "Shut up and sing." Boy, will I do so in a whole new way... next year. Hell hath no fury like a woman REBORN.
Nigel Farage was on Capitol Hill:
A few photos from the national Christmas tree lighting:
Lawmakers are getting in the holiday spirit:
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Santa sent #team poe "Boots" the elf to check out the Capitol this December! I've been told he's set to explore the Capitol and Congressional office buildings from top to bottom and that his whereabouts may be subject to whimsy. #elfontheshelf #BootsTheElf #CongressionalElf
Eric Swalwell posted this photo from his first D.C. visit:
Vicky Hartzler and Blake Farenthold snapped shots of the Capitol dome at night:
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- Buzzfeed, “How Snapchat Kept Fake News Out,” by Nitasha Tiku: “There are a handful of obvious reasons why Snapchat might be a less fertile ground for propaganda from Macedonian teens, hoax purveyors, or hyperpartisan websites masquerading as news. User-generated content on Snapchat disappears after a short period of time. News is contained in a separate section, called Discover. Posts from the people you follow are displayed chronologically, not by popularity or personalized algorithm. … and it’s hard to go viral when you can’t pass around a link to an individual’s post.” And the process publishers go through to get on the news section, Discover, is controlled by human gatekeepers: “Before they can post in Discover, news publishers have to be vetted as a potential partner, an agreement that comes with strict terms. Discover partners who publish daily on Snapchat in the US, France, and UK include recognizable names like CNN, MTV, Le Monde, Sky News, and Cosmopolitan. “ And although publishers have editorial independence, there is collaboration between content-producers and Snapchat formatters, who reformat content to fit within the app.
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“Doctor Calls Michelle Obama ‘Monkey Face,’ But Says She’s Not Racist," from HuffPost: “A Colorado doctor has been ordered to stop seeing patients and is being fired from her medical school teaching job after calling first lady Michelle Obama ‘monkey face’ on Facebook and defending herself as ‘still not racist.’ Dr. Michelle Herren, a white pediatric anesthesiologist … made the comment after another Facebook user called Obama eloquent. … Herren responded with an unflattering photo showing the first lady yelling, and this: ‘Doesn’t seem to be speaking too eloquently here, thank god we can’t hear her!’ a post attributed to Herren read. ‘Monkey face and poor ebonic English!!! There! I feel better and am still not racist!!! Just calling it like it is!’”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“A city attorney involved in an anti-Trump vandalism incident ... remains in his job for now...” from Philly.com: Duncan Lloyd, an assistant city solicitor, was identified in surveillance footage that captured Lloyd and a second man.... In the footage, Lloyd is seen wearing a blue blazer and holding a glass of wine, filming or taking photos, while a second man spray paints "F--- Trump," on the wall of a newly opened Fresh Grocer. As of Thursday morning, police said no arrests have been made in the incident and Kenney said Lloyd remains employed ... "If the image of an upper-middle-class city attorney clad in a blazer and sipping wine while vandalizing an upscale grocery store with an anti-Trump message strikes you as perhaps the most bourgeois sight imaginable, that's because it is," said city party chairman Joe DeFelice, who said he should be fired."
In Trump's world: At Trump Tower, Trump and Pence meet with Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), retired Rear Adm. Jay Cohen, Florida attorney general Pam Bondi, former UN ambassador John Bolton and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.).
At the White House: Obama meets with United Nations Secretary-General-designate Antonio Gutteres.
On Capitol Hill: The Senate is out. Biden speaks at the U.S.-Colombia Advisory Council Meeting with President Juan Manuel Santos and tours the Bolivar Naval Base in Cartagena.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver at the Harvard event: "We probably would've won.”
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- Dress with layers! Today’s forecast looks like it’ll be a chilly one, per the Capital Weather Gang: “Some clouds are around, but sun likely wins for the day. High temperatures are near 50 in the cooler spots but, perhaps, mid-50s downtown and south of town. West-northwesterly winds do pick up a bit, to around 10 mph with gusts near 20 mph possible during the midday into afternoon”
-- A Prince George’s councilman arrested on DUI charges while operating a government vehicle this week has twice before damaged cars owned by the county, officials said. In 2010, the lawmaker crashed two vehicles from the fleet – leaving one with more than $1,000 in damages; the other completely totaled. (Arelis R. Hernández)
-- The Capitals lost to the Islanders 3-0.
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Conan O'Brien took aim at Trump, Pence and Bannon in this segment:
This video clip of Trump supporters talking about fake news went viral (click to watch):
"Tomi" host Tomi Lahren gives her take on the Black Lives Matter movement and explains why she lashed out against Colin Kaepernick for his national anthem protest:
Thousands held memorials for the Brazilian soccer team players killed in Monday's plane crash:
People at the Library of Congress participated in the Mannequin Challenge -- impressive!
Watch the five times Obama sang Christmas carols in public (click for video):
A 17-year-old who was shot trying to help a dying woman spoke from his hospital bed:
An ailing Buzz Aldrin was evacuated from the South Pole: