Dana Milbank

Washington, D.C.

 Dana Milbank is a nationally syndicated op-ed columnist. He also provides political commentary for various TV outlets, and he is the author of three books on politics, including the national bestseller “Homo Politicus.” Milbank joined The Post in 2000 as a Style political writer, then covered the presidency of George W. Bush as a White House correspondent before starting the column in 2005. Before joining The Post, Milbank spent two years as a senior editor at the New Republic, where he covered the Clinton White House, and eight years as a reporter with the Wall Street Journal, where he covered Congress and was a London-based correspondent. 
Honors & Awards:
  • White House Correspondent Association's Beckman Award
  • National Press Club's Gingras Prize
Books by Dana Milbank:  

Tears of a Clown: Glenn Beck and the Tea Bagging of America (Doubleday, 2010)

Buy it from Amazon

Homo Politicus (Doubleday, 2008)

Buy it from Amazon

Smashmouth (Basic Books, 2001)

Buy it from Amazon
Recent Articles

DANA MILBANK COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE)

(For Milbank clients only)

By DANA MILBANK

WASHINGTON -- American Pharoah has joined the #Resistance.

On Friday, Vice President Pence informed House Republicans that Triple Crown winner American Pharoah "bit me so hard" on the arm during a Kentucky visit last year that he (man, not horse) "almost collapsed."

Some might disbelieve the vice president's tale of American Pharoah carnage, because Pence said nothing about this grievous injury at the time and because the manager of the racehorse-breeding company said that if the "sweet" thoroughbred had bitten Pence, "I'd know it." Pence did show people a bruise on his arm back then, but that could have been from one of the many times President Trump walked all over him.

I've never known a member of the Trump administration to tell an untruth, so I have no reason to disbelieve Pence's harrowing account. Besides, there are many reasons the horse would have bitten the hand that leads him:

Pence told the stud that sex is only between one stallion and one mare, whom the stallion should call "mother."

Pence advised American Pharoah not to eat oats with a mare unless others are present at the same trough.

More likely, it was something in American Pharoah's horse sense that told him the man in the suit was a weak specimen.

Horse herds are hierarchical, and nobody bites the dominant horse, or alpha, because the perpetrator would be badly hurt or ostracized from the herd. As the "expert animal communicator" Val Heart writes: "Biting you may mean that your stallion/horse doesn't consider you to be their alpha leader, and that their status is higher than yours. … And you haven't earned their respect."

It is almost as if American Pharoah had seen how Pence is treated around the White House.

Maybe the stable hands play CNN, or maybe American Pharoah's equine instincts sense subservience. But this stallion somehow knew Pence was a sycophant. This is the guy who, after all, just flew 200 miles out of the way to stay at Trump's property in Doonbeg, Ireland -- at Trump's, ahem, "suggestion" -- dutifully promoting the resort in public appearances.

Days after that, he dismissed "Fake News" reports that he objected to Trump's outrageous decision to invite the Taliban to Camp David days before the 9/11 anniversary. "I FULLY support your decision," Pence tweeted to Trump, putting submissiveness above dignity.

Pence has likewise set aside principles to defend Trump's public vulgarities and blasphemy, the "Access Hollywood" tape, the Stormy Daniels payoff, his comments on racial violence in Charlottesville, his personal profiting from government funds, his chumminess with tyrants worldwide and his praise for WikiLeaks. Pence has gushed repeatedly about his boss' "broad shoulders," gazed adoringly at him in public, defended Trump's falsehoods and showered him with praise about his miraculous and best-ever presidency. Why? Maybe Pence explained it best himself the day he was supposedly bitten by American Pharoah: "I like to be around winners."

In exchange? Trump publicly contradicts Pence and declines to extinguish fully the possibility he'll dump Pence from the ticket.

Trump might not have American Pharoah's speed, but their behaviors are similar. The comedian John Mulaney likens Trump's presidency to a horse loose in a hospital: "No one knows what the horse is going to do next, least of all the horse. … So all day long you walk around, 'What'd the horse do? What'd the horse do?' The updates, they're not always bad; sometimes they're just odd. It'll be like, 'The horse used the elevator? I didn't know he knew how to do that.' The creepiest days are when you don't hear from the horse … those quiet days when people are like, 'It looks like the horse has finally calmed down.' And then 10 seconds later the horse is like, 'I'm gonna run toward the baby incubators and smash 'em with my hooves.'"

Pence could do something about the untamed equine now running the country. The answer is in the literature of animal husbandry.

"Horses bite because they are afraid. Bullies behave badly because they have poor self-esteem and are fearful," equine expert Lynn Baber writes. "Horses behave poorly for similar reasons. … Your horse didn't bite you because he has excessive self-esteem."

How to calm the rampaging horse? "Horses, like people, give respect where it is due," Baber explains. "Horses, like most animals and people, are naturally attracted to calm, confident personalities. One must be worthy to be a good herd leader."

Maybe that's what American Pharoah was trying to tell Pence with his bite: Don't let that orange-maned beast trample you.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

DANA MILBANK COLUMN

(Advance for Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Milbank clients only)

By DANA MILBANK

WASHINGTON -- President Trump is a horrendous racist. And it's time for Democrats to stop calling him one.

Counterintuitive? Yes. But substantial evidence shows that labeling Trump "racist" backfires against Democrats. It energizes his supporters without providing any additional motivation to Democrats, and it drives soft partisans -- voters who could be up for grabs in 2020 -- into Trump's arms.

This doesn't mean letting Trump off the hook for being the racist he obviously is; I've been using the term for four years because it objectively describes him. But this means talking about his racism in a different way:

Say that he tears America apart by race and threatens our democracy.

Say that he pits Americans against each other by color and religion to distract from his cruelty.

Say that he enables and encourages white supremacists.

Democrats have a moral obligation to call out Trump's racist campaign. But they can't cry "racist" and assume that's the end of the argument.

"The term 'racist' itself has taken on this new meaning," says Duke University political scientist Ashley Jardina, author of the 2019 book "White Identity Politics." "It's become a politicized term. ... Crying racism is seen as crying wolf." In research done during the 2016 campaign, Jardina found out that when voters were read a statement saying some people oppose Trump "because he supports racism," voters with high levels of racial resentment became overwhelmingly more supportive of Trump. Interestingly, the term "white supremacist" doesn't backfire the way "racist" does.

Labeling Trump racist "tends to make more racially resentful whites angry," Jardina tells me. "They hold more strongly the attitudes they have about racial policies, including doubling down on their support for Donald Trump."

These findings were confirmed in polling done by an alliance of progressive groups last month studying possible Democratic responses to Trump's immigration rhetoric about an "invasion" of criminals and drug smugglers. The research found that a response calling Trump racist decreased overall support for Democrats relative to Trump. A response saying Trump uses fear to divide by race worked substantially better. The competing messages produced no major differences among Democrats and independents, but the racism response played much worse among white, non-college-educated voters and soft partisans. The racism response was especially damaging to Democrats after voters were shown an anti-immigration video with Trumpian themes. (Disclosure: my wife is a partner at the firm that conducted the polling.)

The problem with the specific term "racist" can be seen in yet another study done by a trio of Harvard University researchers. Writing last month for The Washington Post's Monkey Cage blog, which is written by academics, they reported that Republicans were two to three times more likely to reject the label "racist" for racially charged attitudes than Democrats (and most independents). Most Republicans don't regard flying the Confederate battle flag as racist for example, and a third of Republicans reject the notion that it's racist to use "a word about a racial group some see as offensive." More than 80% of Republicans say voting for Trump is not racist.

If Democrats tell them otherwise, they'll only dig in deeper.

This isn't to say Democrats should avoid the subject of racism. To the contrary, ignoring it could depress core Democratic voters, particularly non-white voters. "People of color really want to see somebody go after Trump," says Christopher Sebastian Parker, a University of Washington specialist in race and politics. The key to making the attack on Trump resonate for independent voters is to make it more than name-calling. "If you say his racism is a threat to democracy and our lives as Americans, that will turn them against him," he argues. "It cannot be divorced from something more substantive: him as a threat to American identity or a threat to American institutions."

Some of the Democratic presidential candidates in Thursday night's debate in Houston got it right; others fell into the "racist" trap.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker used the term but at least gave it context: "We know Donald Trump's a racist, but there is no red badge of courage for calling him that. Racism exists. The question isn't who isn't a racist. It's who is and isn't doing something about racism."

But South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg probably invited backlash when he was asked if the people who support Trump and his immigration policy are racists. "Anyone who supports this is supporting racism," he said.

I agree with him. But for Democrats to talk that way is counterproductive.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

DANA MILBANK COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE)

(For Milbank clients only)

By DANA MILBANK

WASHINGTON -- This is how the Trump administration goes about the quiet business of incapacitating the U.S. government.

President Trump spent his summer making war on Denmark, attacking Baltimore, destabilizing the world economy, sending an imaginary hurricane to Alabama and ousting his national security adviser, among other things. But while everybody was watching those fireworks, Trump's underlings -- some far more competent than he -- were toiling in the shadows to hand over public lands to the tender mercies of oil and gas companies.

The scheme, rolled out over the summer, was ostensibly to put the Bureau of Land Management closer to the lands it manages by moving personnel out of Washington. That makes sense until you consider:

1. Ninety-seven percent of the BLM's employees already (BEG ITAL)are(END ITAL) outside of Washington, and the few hundred in the capital do things such as coordinate with Congress and other agencies; now half the congressional affairs staff, I'm told, will work out of Reno, Nevada -- 2,600 miles from Capitol Hill.

2. BLM organized this with cursory analysis of impacts and costs and no significant consultation with Congress, American Indian tribes or BLM staff.

3. BLM decided to locate its new headquarters in Grand Junction, Colorado, hours from a major airport but just down the road from the hometown of Interior Secretary (and former oil and gas lobbyist) David Bernhardt, who presides over BLM.

4. The relocation was overseen by Interior assistant secretary Joseph Balash, up until days before he took employment for himself with an oil-exploration company.

5. When Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said it appeared that the proposal, which doesn't have congressional approval, was a "deliberate effort to dismantle" BLM, Balash threatened Udall, saying he would "reconsider the relocation of additional Departmental resources to your State" in retaliation.

6. Many workers being shipped out of Washington are reportedly being offered lower-level, lower-pay jobs -- confirming suspicions that the real purpose is to drive experts out of government and thereby shrink the agency.

Trump's acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, said as much last month. "It's nearly impossible to fire a federal worker. I know that because a lot of them work for me, and I've tried," he told a GOP gala. "By simply saying to people, 'You know what, we're going to … move you out in the real part of the country,' and they quit -- what a wonderful way to sort of streamline government."

Since Balash left to join the oil industry, the unenviable task of explaining the relocation to Congress fell to his replacement, William Perry Pendley, who joined Interior after three decades of suing the federal government to weaken protections for federal lands. Pendley, serving in an "acting" capacity, hasn't been confirmed by the Senate and perhaps couldn't be: His Twitter musings are a fevered collection of attacks on Democrats and celebrations of oil and gas drilling.

Pendley, with a Yosemite Sam mustache, informed the House Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday that "we will not dispose of or transfer in a wholesale manner our public lands."

So they'll do it piecemeal?

He volunteered that he's "in full compliance with … President Trump's heightened ethics pledge."

As if that were reassuring.

He declared that the department is offering "knowledgeable and compassionate assistance" to those relocating. (Last week, he apologized to enraged employees that BLM had been "less than transparent").

Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., a Native American, asked about his past mockery of native religions.

"I was not speaking as a member of the BLM," Pendley explained.

Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., asked for details on the many unfilled vacancies BLM already has.

"I don't have that number," he said.

Rep. TJ Cox, D-Calif., asked for specific details of the relocation.

"I'll have to defer to congressional and legislative affairs," Pendley said.

Right. In Reno.

The Trump administration has attempted similar relocations -- read: job cuts -- at the Agriculture Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Office of Personnel Management and elsewhere. But 85% of the federal workforce already is outside the Washington area. And at BLM, which has only a few hundred of its 10,000 employees in Washington, the argument for decentralization is particularly weak. Even BLM's deputy director of operations, Mike Nedd, told employees last week that "I probably would have made a different decision," E&E News reported.

But Pendley, at that same meeting, said the administration would push ahead with the plan, even if it doesn't have sufficient funds -- because "we are confident that Congress will provide additional funding."

And if not? Well, Trump can declare another emergency and take more money from the Pentagon. When your goal is kneecapping the federal government, anything goes.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

About
Dana Milbank is a nationally syndicated op-ed columnist. He also provides political commentary for various TV outlets, and he is the author of three books on politics, including the national bestseller “Homo Politicus.” Milbank joined The Post in 2000 as a Style political writer, then covered the presidency of George W. Bush as a White House correspondent before starting the column in 2005. Before joining The Post, Milbank spent two years as a senior editor at the New Republic, where he covered the Clinton White House, and eight years as a reporter with the Wall Street Journal, where he covered Congress and was a London-based correspondent.
Books
  • Tears of a Clown: Glenn Beck and the Tea Bagging of America (Doubleday, 2010)
  • Homo Politicus (Doubleday, 2008)
  • Smashmouth (Basic Books, 2001)
Awards
  • White House Correspondent Association's Beckman Award
  • National Press Club's Gingras Prize
Reviews
Milbank is "a wonder at the anthropology of this town and [at] understanding the way the sociology of Washington works today." -- Chris Matthews, MSNBC "Washington PR folks, who would normally auction off their right arm to get the Washington Post to cover their boss' press conference, know by now that having Dana Milbank show up is probably more of a curse than a blessing.” -- Potomacflacks.com
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