Donald Trump

Atticus Finch/Will Kane Come to the Rescue

And so, the appointment Wednesday of Bob Mueller as a special counsel to look into all things Trump/Russia caused some immediate reactions.

The first is I flashed on Gregory Peck (as Atticus Finch) and Gary Cooper (in High Noon), standing stall and erect, commanding the courtroom or the local law-enforcement crisis … and bringing a level of credibility that the citizens haven‘t seen in a long, long time.

(C’mon, check out Will Kane on the left.  If that’s not Mueller, it certainly is Jim Comey.)

In that same flash,  I also saw a deranged Nicolas Cage hiding out in the back bedroom of the local brothel.

This, apparently, is how I process the ebb and flow of politics in 2017.

My follow-up reaction … which probably was driven by my earlier ones, is that symbolism can be powerful in shaping perceptions.

Consider:

  • Robert Mueller the war hero.  Donald Trump the non-participant.
  • Upon accepting the special counsel appointment, Robert Mueller resigns immediately from his law firm, WilmerHale.  More than 115 days into his presidency, Donald Trump has not distanced himself from his business interests.
  • Robert Mueller immediately has widespread, bi-partisan support.  Donald Trump constantly goes out of his way to divide.
  • Robert Mueller’s stellar reputation.  Donald Trump’s clouded reputation.
  • Robert Mueller’s orderly, no-nonsense process.  Donald Trump’s “spaghetti-against-the-wall,” 24/7 turmoil.

Gregory Peck vs. Nicolas Cage.

Gary Cooper vs. Nicolas Cage.

Either way, it’s not going to be a fair fight.

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Dear Paul Ryan: I Wrote These News Conference Remarks for You

160323-paul-ryan-3-js-1160I have been a fortunate man, both personally and professionally.

I have a wonderful wife and three children who mean the world to me and always are there for me. And I have always tried to be there for them.

My career choice to be a public servant has been gratifying and rewarding. I’ve tried to make a difference and do what is right … to be honest and to remember who it is I am working for. I have been blessed with great opportunities – in the House of Representatives, as the Vice Presidential nominee and now as the Speaker of the House.

I am extremely thankful for all the blessings that have come my way.

As the Speaker, I naturally have felt a great responsibility to the Republican Party and have tried to make decisions and act in the best interests of the party. Not only is it is my job, it also is how I believe.

Over the past year, and especially the last few months, I have found the decision-making process increasingly more difficult and I have tried to balance the interests of our party and what I believe is best for our country with the statements and positions of our presidential nominee. At the core of my belief is the conviction that appointees to the Supreme Court are the most important challenge facing us and that I, as speaker, need to support our nominee as he presents the best path forward for ensuring that conservatives justices get appointment to the court.

While I are extremely loyal to the party and believe that my support was the right thing to do, I recently found myself considering the issue of party versus country. It is not a simple assessment to make. But one message kept resonating in my head: Our time on earth in finite and we can’t ignore those opportunities when we can make a difference.

I thought about this statement and I thought about my family. And the words that I kept saying to myself were the following: I want to be a person who is remembered for what he did with his time on earth, not what he chose not to do.

And, so, that is what I am going to do.

I don’t think the upcoming presidential election is about party loyalty any longer. I think it is about who we are as a country and who we are as people. It is about our social fabric. Our country is at risk in this current election and the risk is great – and not confined to the appointment of Supreme Court justices.

I have decided the time has come where I need to set my own comfort level to the side and be a person who does something with his time on earth.

Consequently, I am announcing today that I will not support or endorse the Republican nominee for President and that I will do everything in my power to ensure he does not get elected. At the same time, I will work earnestly to elect all down-ticket Republican candidates, and I believe we can be successful with this as our aim.

I know I may, in fact, be putting my career at risk. I understand that. But I am not willing to put our country at risk and I am not willing to put at risk who I am as a person.

I am just one person, of course. So, as part of this effort, I am asking President George H.W. Bush, President George W. Bush, Senator John McCain and Governor Mitt Romney to actively join me in the effort.

This is the right thing to do for our country and I am comfortable with my statement today.

Thank you and God Bless the United States of America.

A New Use for “The No Asshole Rule”

nbc-fires-donald-trump-after-he-calls-mexicans-rapists-and-drug-runnersNine years ago, Bob Sutton, a professor at Stanford University, published a book, The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t.  The premise was pretty straightforward: don’t hire/surround yourself with assholes but, if you do, here’s how to survive.

As we move into the general election season, it’s a read that is well worth revisiting.  While his observations go to corporate and organization settings, it doesn’t take much effort on the part of the concerned reader to apply them to the 2016 presidential election.

So, without any additional setup, let’s revisit his work …

Sutton starts with a given: assholes typically are bad for other employees who work for and with them, and for the company or organization that enables them to exist.  Yep.  What makes him great, however, is his position that yeah, sure, sometimes assholes even are successful – but life is too valuable and too short to put up with them.

(By the way, Sutton has written several other books and his blog, which makes for a fun and informative read, is at bobsutton.typepad.com/…)

Sutton also puts forth two tests to determine if that person in question is an asshole:

•     Do people feel oppressed, humiliated, de-energized, or belittled by the person in question? In particular, does he make them feel worse about themselves?

•     Does the person aim his or her venom at people who are less powerful and not at those who are more powerful?

Now, to be sure, Sutton recognizes that everyone acts in these ways from time to time.  But he asserts that “certified assholes” have a different pattern.

“A person needs to display a persistent pattern, to have a history of episodes that end with one ‘target’ after another feeling belittled, put down, humiliated, disrespected, oppressed, de-energized, and generally worse about themselves,” he writes.  “Psychologists make the distinction between states (fleeting feelings, thoughts, and actions) and traits (enduring personality characteristics) by looking for consistency across places and times – if someone consistently takes actions that leave a trail of victims in their wake, they deserve to be branded as certified assholes.”

Or, perhaps, in this presidential year, as a “branded” asshole.

Sutton also says there are a dozen everyday actions that assholes utilize.  A few of them are worth citing.

  • Personal insults
  • Invading one’s “personal territory”
  • Threats and intimidation, both verbal and nonverbal
  • “Sarcastic jokes” and “teasing” used as insult delivery systems
  • Withering e-mail flames
  • Status slaps intended to humiliate their victims
  • Public shaming or “status degradation” rituals
  • Rude interruptions
  • Dirty looks
  • Treating people as if they are invisible

Sounds like we just revisited the primary season.  But don’t despair.  Although Sutton doesn’t believe assholes always are avoidable, or can be eradicated, he does offer a survival guide of sorts to help us cope.  A couple of his tips follow.

  • Reframing: Change How You See Things.  “Learning when and how to simply not give a damn isn’t the kind of advice you hear in most business books, but it can help you make the most of a lousy situation,” he writes.
  • Develop Indifference and Emotional Detachment.  Sutton writes: “Passion is an overrated virtue …, and indifference is an underrated virtue.  As Walt Whitman said, ‘Detach whatever insults your soul.’  I think this is a lovely, compact summary or the virtues of developing indifference to demeaning jerks in the workplace, or anywhere else for that matter.”
  • Look for Small Wins.  “If you can’t win the big war against the creeps, start looking for small battles that you can win, as the sense of control you gain will sustain your spirit,” Sutton advises.  “And if one minor victory after another begins to pile up, who knows – you might start a movement … where the pro asshole rule is slowly but surely replaced by the no asshole rule.”

And I’ll add a final one.  If you are writing about an asshole, don’t actually type out his name.

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They Are What We Thought They Are

Republican DebateIowa’s behind us. And the New Hampshire GOP primary is on the doorstep.

Some clarity is emerging. As are some confirmations of earlier thoughts. Throw in some random observations.

And here we are..

Donald Trump’s winner “record” is littered with quits and walkaways. Stay tuned! This guy could take his ball and bats and go home at any time.

His history defies what he says about himself. He penchant for saying “forget about it” remains a wildcard.  Writes Ben Schreckinger of Politico Magazine:

Like many successful businessmen, the real estate developer and GOP pack leader – who often espouses his disdain for “losers” — does not see every venture and contest through to the bitter end. Throughout his career, Trump has demonstrated wild enthusiasm at the start of big projects, and ruthlessly pursued a profit agenda that, in many cases, has led him to ditch the deal when the risks, whether financial or reputational, start to outweigh the prospective reward.

From a casino in French Lick, Indiana, to a dispute with condo owners in Panama and even in renewing “The Apprentice” reality show on NBC, Trump has time and again spotted the point of diminishing returns and quit.

Ted Cruz is a shameless chameleon.

In Sunday’s New York Times, Frank Bruni vividly tells us how Cruz easily shifts from one position to another. In particular, he cites Cruz “supporting” Carly Fiorina’s attempt to be included the GOP primary in that state.

Noting that New Hampshire has a female governor and two female senators and that it would be a safe bet that “women will play an especially consequential role” in Tuesday’s vote, Bruni writes:

In the end Fiorina failed in her bid, but Cruz succeeded in presenting a version of himself that I’d not yet had the pleasure of meeting: the knight in sliming armor.

Marco Rubio is Johnny Cale, the Ralph Macchio character from the The Outsiders.

Remember Johnny, smaller and slighter than the rest – always hustling to keep up? Always wanting to prove himself to the bigger guys? Here’s a portion of the character’s description from IMDb website.

If you can picture a little dark puppy that has been kicked too many times and is lost in a crowd of strangers, you’ll have Johnny. He is the youngest .. and the smallest. He has big black eyes in a dark tanned face. His hair is jet-black … He is the gang’s pet and everyone’s kid brother.

We thought Jeb Bush was a general-election candidate, not a primary candidate.  Now we know it.

It isn’t complicated. It didn’t work in his own party, which is interesting because you have to believe his centrality is made for a general. Patricia Murphy of Roll Call tries to explain what the end of the campaign looks like.

But the men and women going out to see Jeb in New Hampshire weren’t ready to say goodbye yet. They defended him the way you’d defend an old friend, calling him “honest,” “decent” and “a good man.” His no-frills approach could play well among New England independents on Tuesday and more pragmatic Republicans in South Carolina. Jeb promised that’s where he’s going next this time with his brother, George, along.

Republican voters continue to miss the fact that John Kasich is, and continues to be, the adult in the GOP room.

The Ohio governor has bet the farm on his showing in New Hampshire, not unlike the other two governors (Bush and Chris Christie) who are trying to stake out the establishment lane – if one still exists — in the Republican Party.  Write Julie Pace and Thomas Beaumont of The Washington Post:

Kasich has prided himself on avoiding direct criticism of his rivals during the campaign, and kept up that strategy both in the debate and as he campaigned Sunday. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could win being positive?” Kasich said on Fox News.

Still, one has to ask: Does Kasich’s centrality and moderate tone make him a walking-talking anachronism? Mark Z. Barabak writes in the Los Angeles Times:

Win or lose, John Kasich will go down in New Hampshire as something of an anomaly in this most aggrieved political season.  The Ohio governor has campaigned for president on a message of relentless optimism, shunning the dark rhetoric, apocalyptic vision and slashing style of many fellow GOP hopefuls

Chris Christie’s really not a Jersey guy.

First of all, Jersey guys don’t tell you they are Jersey guys. Instead, they intentionally bump into going through the men’s room door or they stick their middle finger out the car window as they race by you. They also don’t root for the Dallas Cowboys instead of the Giants.

Jersey guys also don’t wait until this late in the campaign to chew up another candidate with attacks and sarcasm. A real Jersey guy would never have stood at that podium on the far side of the stage for this long.

Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight points out that Christie also didn’t take on Trump and allowed him, instead, to be the big dog. And that’s not Jersey.

But for Christie, whose yard signs boast of a candidate “telling it like it is,” the biggest problem of all might be Trump. Trump has usurped the Christie brand of being the unrepentantly loudmouthed alpha male who will tell you the truths that other candidates avoid.

Ben Carson … how in the world has he lasted this long?

What was interesting – and worthy of a few Google searches — in the beginning soon became bizarre and inexplicable.

David A. Graham in The Atlantic notes that Carson not only defied much of the conventional wisdom about how long his campaign would last, but that he also spent a lot of money doing so.

The surprise for Carson is perhaps not that he is fading as the race reaches the actual voting stage — it’s how it took so long. In a cycle when pundits’ many predictions have been proved wrong, it was actually fairly easy to guess that Carson, a first-time candidate with a great personal appeal but mixed-up policy positions, would end up near the back of the pack. The question is how he managed to rise and then fall back to earth.

Carly Fiorina is the GOP’s Martin O’Malley — and vice versa.

It’s all been an audition for either the vice presidential nod, or at least a role in a future Republican administration – or, much like Carson, to help promote a book. She’s already denied it, as Rebecca Leber of the New Republic wrote last year, but … c’mon!

Her latest book, Rising to the Challenge, came out the same week in May that she announced her candidacy. Many believe Fiorina is vying to be the vice presidential pick (she’s a long shot for that, too), which she denies.

So, at the end of the day, we are left quoting ex-Arizona Cardinals coach Dennis Green:

They are what we thought they are.

What Trump Might Say If He Loses Iowa

GTY_donald_trump_iowa_fair_2_jt_150815_16x9_992So, maybe the most intriguing thing isn’t whether Donald Trump will lose in Iowa.  To me, it’s what he might say to explain away a caucus loss.

He is, after all, the man who once told The Wall Street Journal that defeat is not an experience he has ever had.

“I’ve never lost in my life.”

That assertion, of course, is debatable (oops!), depending on how one views bankruptcies, failed football teams, defunct airlines, marriages and any number of other endeavors. However, if Iowa (or some other early decision state, for that matter) delivers a loss … well, it’s a safe bet we would hear a lot about “morons,” “losers” and “overrated” competitors, commentators, writers, systems – and who knows what else.

“Third-rate” might also find its way into his comments, given what he had to say about Megyn Kelly on Tuesday while first telling us that he wasn’t going to participate in Fox’s Thursday night GOP debate.

“I’m not a fan of Megyn Kelly.  I think she’s a third-rate reporter.”

Setting aside Trump’s view of Megyn Kelly, this whole Fox thing is interesting from another standpoint. Well, from a purely hypothetical standpoint, that is.  One could posit that, in boycotting the debate, Trump actually is cleverly hedging his bets on Iowa and setting up Fox and Roger Ailes as potential objects of blame if he comes up short in Iowa.

At midweek, Trump was saying the organization caused him to bail on the debate, not Kelly herself.

“It was the childishly written & taunting PR statement by Fox that made me not do the debate, more so than lightweight reporter,”

So, in the event of an Iowa loss, here’s how it might sound: “Fox, Ailes and this third-rate bimbo Kelly have been trying for months to stop me.  And, incidently, this has been very clear to me and people all over the country who back me.  What they did with that stupid debate cost me here tonight in Iowa.  These morons are losers – and, I can assure you, they are vindictive.”

Sound feasible?

Apart from the outright insults, however, there are hints in Trump’s history that may portend other messages he could convey on Monday night if the caucus-goers don’t line up in his favor. Surprisingly, he actually has been quite reflective from time to time in the past when discussing the concept of failure.

“What separates the winners from the losers is how a person reacts to each new twist of fate.”

“Sometimes by losing a battle you find a new way to win the war.”

So, if he chooses to go in that direction, those quotes suggest that he might emphasize his record as a winner and inform all of us that he not only is going to re-double his efforts, but that he’s also going to employ super-tactics that only he has available to him.

It’s also highly likely he will try to claim victory through some re-imagined look at the numbers, or simply spin defeat into victory by characterizing his performance as a win “when you factor in A, B, C and D.”

Let’s step back to 2004, when Trump faced his third corporate bankruptcy. His Trump Hotels and Casinos Resorts was in trouble – and this was big.  The company controlled the Trump Taj Mahal, Trump Plaza and Trump Marina (formerly Trump’s Castle) casinos in Atlantic City, as well as a riverboat casino in Indiana.

To Trump, the bankruptcy was “really just a technical thing” that affected only a minimal fraction of his net worth. As he told the Associated Press:

“I don’t think it’s a failure, it’s a success.”

Footnote — Trump needed to inject $72 million of his own money to help keep this successful restructuring intact.

And then there was Trump Mortgage, which very few of us remember. When it hit the skids, Trump noted that he didn’t have an ownership stake in what amounted to a mere licensing deal.

“The mortgage business is not a business I particularly liked or wanted to be part of in a very big way.”

Let’s get ready for the political version of this statement – “I never really thought I would get this far. I entered the campaign to make some important points, not to be elected president. I’m too busy making billions of dollars. Let these losers waste their time on this.”

Two other possibilities also loom large.

The first is that Trump will simply flip out, a scenario laid out recently by FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten.

“The question is whether a campaign all about ‘winning’ can take losing. Trump hasn’t lost yet, and the few times he’s gone down in the polls, he’s gone bonkers.”

The second scenario, from the The New Yorker, is that he might just get to the point where he is bored with the process and the people he’s hanging with.

“In the first debate, Trump’s presence on the stage with ‘real’ politicians elevated him, but at this point the setting would diminish anyone. The debates are no longer what Trump might call a classy venue.  Fox’s announcement of the lineup, shortly before Trump stormed off, likely didn’t help. Rand Paul, who had been excluded last time because of low poll numbers, made it back onto the main stage, for a total of eight participants. In a well-run reality show, the field is quickly winnowed down. This one is getting bigger. And so Trump went off to look for a more exclusive club, at his own rallies in Iowa and, soon, everywhere.”

We can only hope.