What Chuck Todd gets about Trump

Chuck Todd has interviewed Donald Trump many times, and he’s noticed something somewhat disquieting about the unquiet president-elect.

The man doesn’t laugh — not in a normal, spontaneous, regular-human kind of way.

“[It] drives me crazy. Do you know what? I’ve never seen him laugh,” the “Meet the Press” host told me during an interview for POLITICO’s “Off Message” podcast earlier this month. “I challenge somebody to find him laughing, and that person has yet to find an example, in my opinion. He’ll smile, but he smiles appropriately. Watch him at the Al Smith dinner [the roast in New York City in October] … He doesn’t really laugh. He looks for others to laugh. It is just weird.”

And there’s one other thing that Todd thinks is odd: After several of his Sunday appearances as a candidate, Trump would lean back in his chair and request that the control room Continue reading “What Chuck Todd gets about Trump”

Keith Ellison’s one-man march

Keith Ellison is chair-slumped in a nondescript union office a few hundred yards north of the Capitol, surrounded by boxes of flyers for his campaign to chair the Democratic National Committee, nursing a nasty cold and eye-rolling at another question about his one-time admiration for Louis Farrakhan.

The Minnesota congressman – a powerful speaker and canny political organizer – was on the cusp of an easy victory in the race for DNC chairman until the last few weeks, when his decade-old writings on the Nation of Islam leader (he called him a “role model for Black Youth” in a 1995 student editorial) resurfaced and ignited.

Soon after, reporters unearthed 2010 comments about how Israel, “a country of seven million,” dominates U.S. policy in the Mideast — prompting a denunciation from the head of the Anti-Defamation League and Democratic mega-donor Haim Saban, casting his coronation into sudden and serious doubt.

Continue reading “Keith Ellison’s one-man march”

‘Everything Feels Existential Now’

After a campaign season spent obsessing over divided allegiances within the Republican Party, it is now the Democrats who find themselves in an existential crisis. They lost the presidency and the Senate and trail Republicans in the House, as well as in state legislatures and governorships across the country. Worse, in the 2018 midterms, Democrats are defending 25 Senate seats, 10 of them in states that went for Donald Trump. After that, if the Dems can’t gain ground in state legislatures, the 2020 redistricting process is likely to hurt them even more.

Where did Democrats go wrong, and how can they rebuild? At this point, can they?

Roughly a month after the election, Glenn Thrush, Politico’s chief political correspondent and a senior staff writer for Politico Magazine, convened four smart observers of Democratic politics for a conversation about the future of the party. Two participants had close ties to the Continue reading “‘Everything Feels Existential Now’”

David Brock blasts Brooklyn, ‘animals’ in press

There aren’t many people on the planet who hate Donald Trump – and love Hillary Clinton – with the Savonarola intensity of a David Brock.

But the Democratic dark-arts impresario has come to believe, in the harsh light of last month’s bitter loss, that Clinton’s biggest problem was simply not being more like Trump, at least when it came to dealing with the press. But in an extended clear-the-decks session on POLITICO’s “Off Message” podcast, he aired a long list of grievances against Clinton’s Brooklyn-based campaign for not defending her forcefully enough.

And he thinks Democrats should adopt another GOP strategy: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s declaration that Republicans should rebuild their party by fighting everything Barack Obama proposed to make him a one-term president.

“We’re in a bad situation, the Democratic Party,” he said. “Hillary Clinton’s loss has exposed the lack of Democratic power in this country at all Continue reading “David Brock blasts Brooklyn, ‘animals’ in press”

10 Crucial Decisions That Reshaped America

Brand is the be-all-end-all of Donald Trump. And the core of Trump’s brand is that squinty, jut-jowled, unreflective scowl, the Dirty Harry stare he insists on plastering everywhere—book covers, posters, his website—because it advertises his most marketable selling point: toughness.

But the people around the next president of the United States know he’s a lot more insecure than his blustery façade would suggest. And he had a moment of serious apprehension as he toed the diving board before his big leap into the presidential pool on June 16, 2015.

Trump was an uncharacteristic jumble of nerves that whole month, several friends and advisers told me, and he repeatedly asked if he really should go ahead with it. On calls from a summertime vacation in Scotland to buddies back in New York, he would often answer his own question with a reference to his 11th-hour decision to skip the 2012 presidential Continue reading “10 Crucial Decisions That Reshaped America”

How to cover a Page Six president

A lawyer who represents himself may have a fool for a client — but a PR man who represents himself just became president of the United States, and he’s nobody’s fool.

You can’t understand Donald Trump without comprehending just how much of his shtick – all those self-promoting, make-up-your-own-facts, confrontational go-to moves – emanated from the froth of 1980s and 1990s tabloid New York City. Trump may have added to his family’s already considerable fortune through real estate, reality TV and branding. But his basic job all these years – especially 2016 – has been selling himself, and selling himself hardest to the city’s daily newspapers, especially the New York Post, which is basically a dead-tree Trump.

It’s no coincidence that one the best reporters covering the president-elect this cycle happens to be the one who best understands the tabloid-Trump nexus: Maggie Haberman of the New York Times, who spent Continue reading “How to cover a Page Six president”

5 takeaways on Trump’s first 5 days

This is what winging it looks like, America.

Donald Trump is compulsively improvisational, and ran the most successful back-of-the-napkin operation in American political history, but the challenge confronting him is, by his own admission, nothing like anything anybody has ever faced. Like practically everybody else in the country, Trump (despite his statements to the contrary) really didn’t think he’d be spending this weekend trying to staff the upper management of the world’s sole remaining superpower.

His transition process was practically non-existent — and was thrown into chaos by the ouster of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie by allies of Vice President-elect Mike Pence and Trump Tower staffers, who feared that Christie’s Bridgegate scandal would overshadow their efforts.

It’s been five days since the reality TV star became the reality president and judging from his public pronouncements and a slightly dizzy 60 Minutes appearance, he still seems to be grappling with Continue reading “5 takeaways on Trump’s first 5 days”

Trump shakes up his power structure

Donald Trump has made his first key decision as president-elect, sidelining Gov. Chris Christie, who had been tasked for months with preparing his transition team, in favor of Vice President-elect Mike Pence, the first hint of the internal power dynamics in the nascent administration.

Trump had largely ignored his transition efforts ahead of Tuesday’s election, out of both a combination of superstition and the unlikeliness of his ascent, Trump advisers have said. But now that a Trump administration is a reality, he has dived into the task, with meetings in Trump Tower where Pence, the most experienced government executive in Trump’s tight circle of advisers, has emerged as a key player.

On Wednesday, the morning after Trump’s victory, Pence and Trump met separately with some aides ahead of the meeting held with a wider circle of advisers that same day. On Thursday, Pence joined Trump for his meetings on Capitol Continue reading “Trump shakes up his power structure”

Five takeaways from an unthinkable night

Anger trumped hope.

Donald Trump’s astonishing victory over a heavily-favored Hillary Clinton on Tuesday is the greatest upset in the modern history of American elections – convulsing the nation’s political order in ways so profound and disruptive its impact can’t even be guessed at.

Donald Trump was too crass, too much of a brazen sexist, too much a blustery orange-maned joke, too ill-informed about the operations of a country he wanted to run, too much of a threat to markets and the security establishment – too pessimistic — to ever win the White House. Underestimated at every turn, spurned by his own party, the reality-show star was able to defeat a better-funded better-organized Hillary Clinton by surfing a tsunami of working-class white rage that her army of numbers crunchers somehow missed.

Hillary Clinton had fully expected to make history when her motorcade sped from Chappaqua to Manhattan, had planned fireworks Continue reading “Five takeaways from an unthinkable night”

Five takeaways from an unthinkable night

Anger trumped hope.

Donald Trump’s astonishing victory over a heavily-favored Hillary Clinton on Tuesday is the greatest upset in the modern history of American elections – convulsing the nation’s political order in ways so profound and disruptive its impact can’t even be guessed at.

Donald Trump was too crass, too much of a brazen sexist, too much a blustery orange-maned joke, too ill-informed about the operations of a country he wanted to run, too much of a threat to markets and the security establishment – too pessimistic — to ever win the White House. Underestimated at every turn, spurned by his own party, the reality-show star was able to defeat a better-funded better-organized Hillary Clinton by surfing a tsunami of working-class white rage that her army of numbers crunchers somehow missed.

Hillary Clinton had fully expected to make history when her motorcade sped from Chappaqua to Manhattan, had planned fireworks Continue reading “Five takeaways from an unthinkable night”

Scandals matter, but so does turnout

October surprises still have the power to rock presidential campaigns — just ask FBI Director James Comey — but the impact of last-minute bombshells isn’t quite what it used to be, thanks to the most important recent technical trend in politics: early voting.

By the time Comey released his cryptic and controversial Friday announcement that the bureau would be parsing a new batch of emails — reportedly among thousands found on devices belonging to Anthony Weiner — approximately a quarter of voters, a lot of them Hillary Clinton supporters, had already cast ballots through in-person and absentee balloting.

But that doesn’t mean the FBI director’s letter can’t shake up the race — which had been tightening from a 5-to-7 point Clinton advantage to a 2-to-4 lead pre-Comey — and the dynamic, in the words of one Trump adviser I talked to, is now “better for us.”

The adviser added: Continue reading “Scandals matter, but so does turnout”

How the GOP Can Survive Trump

There are few who understand the havoc that Donald Trump has wreaked on the Republican Party better than Mike DuHaime, Sarah Isgur Flores, David Kochel and Terry Sullivan. All top operatives for Trump’s primary season opponents, the four of them watched from the front row as the real estate mogul tore through decades of Republican gospel to emerge as the party’s nominee in July.

With Election Day approaching, we convened these GOP gurus for a discussion—moderated by Politico’s chief political correspondent, Glenn Thrush—about the future of their party post-November 8. We asked them what everyone seems to be wondering: Does 2016 and the rise of Trump signal some massive paradigm shift for Republicans? What should the party do about the nominee’s anti-establishment base? And how can it regain the significant chunks of the electorate—women, minorities, immigrants—that the man at the top of the ticket has driven away?

While all agreed Continue reading “How the GOP Can Survive Trump”

Five takeaways from Comey’s October surprise

The front-running Democrat has always been weakest when protecting a lead, and, according to the people around her, chronically suspicious of any overlong stretches of good fortune or blue-sky forecasting. She needn’t have worried. The last 10 days of her historic campaign are now socked in by a lowering overcast of suspicion, and a depressingly familiar threat.

Friday started off brightly enough in Des Moines, as a cheerful Clinton rallied her supporters during the first round of early voting in a state she wants, but doesn’t need to win. She seemed chilled-out in an aqua-blue suit that suggested marine tranquility, and was buoyed by the presence of her childhood friend Betsy Ebeling and the superstar photographer Annie Leibovitz.

But by the afternoon, a candidate and campaign that thrives on preparation were blind-sided by a bombshell (that might ultimately prove to be a blank): FBI Director James Comey – who declared Continue reading “Five takeaways from Comey’s October surprise”

The anti-Trump

Mark Kelly is not averse to risk – his go-to Gulf War maneuver for dodging Iraqi SAMs was to flip, cockpit-down, in his A-6 Intruder and let the missile zip on past.

Yet even this former Space Shuttle pilot feels an icy waft of danger when he approaches the glowering gun rights advocates who show up to protest his firearms control speeches.

After all, his wife, former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, was shot through her head five-plus years ago for chatting up her constituents outside a Tucson Safeway, and the couple has been the subject of numerous death threats over the years for their activism.

But Kelly, a former astronaut and military pilot, is also a Jersey guy, and he believes deeply in the idea of talking it out with people who want him to shut the hell up, or worse.

“One of my favorite things to do is — Continue reading “The anti-Trump”

Five takeaways from the final debate of 2016

LAS VEGAS — There were two candidates on the debate stage Wednesday night – and both were intent on demolishing Donald Trump’s campaign for the presidency.

Oh, it started off well enough. Trump, presented with one final chance to arrest his free-falling candidacy, began with a credible impersonation of a standard-issue GOP candidate, leveling effective charges against Clinton’s failures as a senator and secretary of state. His mien was presidential, his aim steady, his voice a buttery baritone.

Then, about a half an hour in, gravity – or lack thereof – pulled him back to Trump and, in a moment likely to be remembered beyond 2016, the GOP candidate refused to abide by the most basic rule of constitutional democracy, abiding by the result of an election.

Truly historic moments are rare in politics. But this was a thunderbolt that might have spelled the end for Trump’s dynamic, disorganized and Continue reading “Five takeaways from the final debate of 2016”

Trump’s immigration whisperer

TOPEKA, Kan. — Kris Kobach is only 50, but he’s the closest thing the fractured Republican Party has to an ideological godfather on the two most galvanizing issues in the conservative arsenal: immigration and voting rights.

Much of what Donald Trump will say on those two topics at tonight’s third and final general election debate has been influenced, in one form or another, from Kobach’s law book-strewn second-floor office in the Kansas secretary of state’s imposing, Renaissance Revival-style headquarters in downtown Topeka.

There are lunch crumbs on Kobach’s wrinkled blue blazer, his laptop is open to FaceTime (he’s on hour nine of a remote deposition with a lawyer in D.C.) and I can tell he is itching to get home for dinner to see his wife and five daughters. But the Harvard- and Yale-trained attorney-intellectual is a high-yield, right-wing policy farm: He almost single-handedly championed Arizona and Alabama’s Continue reading “Trump’s immigration whisperer”

Five things to watch in tonight’s last debate

LAS VEGAS – Donald Trump is down to his third and final toss of the debate-night dice.

It’s fitting, in this craps 2016 campaign, that a semi-successful casino magnate turned semi-successful presidential candidate would get his last big chance in a city that fleeces suckers by the thousands– while occasionally making kings out of underdogs in ill-fitting suits and overlong ties.

For all his recent struggles, Trump has been, in the words of a longtime adviser, “an uncommonly lucky man,” fortunate to catch the populist wave of his restive party, aligned ever so perfectly with the infotainment appetites of fun-starved basic cable, and luckiest of all in drawing Hillary Clinton, a flawed opponent nearly if not quite as unpopular as he is. So maybe he’s got one more surprise in him.

Yet here Trump stands (sitting, actually at tonight’s debate on UNLV’s campus), so far down in the calculations of Continue reading “Five things to watch in tonight’s last debate”

22 toxic days for Hillary Clinton

The final three weeks should have been an anxious but happy time for a Hillary Clinton team on the cusp of making history.

Her odds of victory, according to most prediction experts, sit north of 80 percent, and she has solidified modest but durable leads over Donald Trump in most battleground states.

But Clinton’s final sprint has become a joyless, nail-gnawing slog through Trump Tower’s moat of mudslinging — and the day-to-day worries of WikiLeaks’ dump of internal emails from campaign chairman John Podesta’s hacked account is taking a toll.

“This is making me tear up, it’s so infuriating and disgusting,” a Clinton aide wrote in an email halfway through the St. Louis debate, arguably the low-water point of a general election that has had few high-tide moments. “This is not our country.”

In Trump’s Mourning-in-America march to the abyss, he has rejected political norms, and his campaign has Continue reading “22 toxic days for Hillary Clinton”

Trump, unbound

Five takeaways from a brutal debate

ST. LOUIS — Donald Trump’s campaign was going up in flames so he decided to set Hillary Clinton, and the comforting careworn dignity of presidential debates, on fire.

For all the rumors of Trump dropping out of the race in disgrace, and lingering questions about his desire to actually win the White House, the battered billionaire fought back with the same venom and force he exhibited during the Republican primaries in one of the most divisive and dispiriting political spectacles of this or any other election year.

Most politicians want to win, but what made a wounded, cornered Trump exceptionally dangerous is that he not only wanted to win, but seemed to take deep satisfaction in winning in the ugliest way possible. The only kind words he offered to Clinton – that she “just never gives up” – was the quintessential Trump compliment, just as applicable to him as her.

Continue reading “Five takeaways from a brutal debate”