Will “a few glorious rips from a blunt” sink Jonathan Stickland?

Good morning Austin:

stick1

The word of the day is Schticklandschadenfreude.

It is obviously a compound variant on schadenfreude\ˈshä-dən-ˌfrȯi-də\ – a German word meaning taking delight in the misfortune of others.

Schadenfreude derives from the German word, Schaden, meaning damage + Freude meaning joy.

It is a perfectly normal, if not particularly noble, emotion.

But life is short, and you’ve got to find your pleasures where you can.

Schticklandschadenfreude refers to a very specific form of schadenfreude, in which the beholder revels in the particular misfortune of Jonathan Stickland, a tea party Republican state representative from Tarrant County, who, in only his second term in the House, has emerged as among its most recognizable and confrontational members. He is the Pavarotti of the back mic and the bête noire of many of his colleagues, who find his “tribune of the common man” schtick – thus the double entendre at the start of Schticklandschadenfreude – tiresome and irksome.

(Among those not especially enamored of Stickland was, apparently, former Gov. Rick Perry, who, since this First Reading was initially posted, endorsed Scott Fisher, a four-time Perry appointee, who is challenging Stickland in the Republican primary. More on this at the end of today’s First Reading.)

Schadenfreude’s first known use was 1895.

Schticklandschadenfreude’s first known use was right about now, and comes in response to some of the tweeted reaction to a story that broke yesterday from Scott Braddock of the Quorum Report.

Here’s the top of Braddock’s updated version of his story.

Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, and his Republican primary challenger on Monday traded jabs over Stickland’s past drug use and public online search for advice about how to grow marijuana at home and how to beat a drug test at work.

Rep. Stickland admits that back in 2001 and 2002, he used online forums to seek advice about growing his own marijuana and also looked for a “smoke buddy” to enjoy “da green.”

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Stickland’s campaign said that he has indeed smoked marijuana in the past and in doing so “wasted much of life, said and did things I wish I hadn’t.” Stickland denied ever growing marijuana at home, despite admitting he is the author of those internet postings.

The campaign of Scott Fisher, a pastor from North Texas, released to Quorum Report the internet posts in which Stickland “was wondering if anyone lived in the Dallas Fort Worth area and loved to smoke da green.” He did so under the screen name “Stick.”

In another post, Stickland said he needed “a little help here” because he was “very seriously wanting to grow some of my own stash but am totally clueless on what to do.”

“I think the best thing I need to do right now is find someone “preferrably local) with experience to help guide me,” the post said. “ANYONE who can help me out I would be truly grateful.”

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After Stickland today talked about his past drug use, the Fisher campaign wasted little time in unveiling internet posts from 2008 in which the incumbent Republican also sought advice about how to keep from failing an employer-mandated drug test.

Here’s how Capitol Inside promoted the story:

Texas Politics: House Hopeful Seeks to Smoke GOP Lawmaker Out on Pot Posts as Primary Battle Focus Shifts in High Voltage Race to Marijuana Use and Truth of Admissions on Past.

Too busy. But there’s a great headline lurking here somewhere.

Stick was stoned, but says names will never hurt him

Stick’s new nickname: Just call him Lonely Stonedsome

From Craig Murphy, Fisher’s campaign consultant:

In a recent letter to constituents, State Representative Jonathan Stickland says he takes “pride in knowing I can tell the truth” and in a December 17th Twitter post, he said “speak truth to power.”

 But an odd series of drug-related public internet posts by Stickland would indicate that Stickland is lying to his constituents and others.

 The issue began today when the Fisher campaign asked State Representative Jonathan Stickland to explain a series of internet posts on MARIJUANA.COM that Stickland now admits he made in 2001 and 2002, which centered on his intent to grow his “own stash” of marijuana in his house. Stickland has now admitted he authored those messages that also advertised for a person in the Dallas-Fort Worth area who “loved to smoke da green” to be a “smoke buddy.”

In the 2002 post, Stickland referred to himself as both “stick” and “RaTmasTeR4LiFe.” The “Ratmaster” alias would appear to refer to Stickland’s then-occupation as a pest control technician.

In his written response, Stickland only admitted he smoked marijuana in “high school and early college” seeming to try to leave the impression his use stopped there. But the reality indicated by additional public internet posts is that Stickland’s drug use has continued long afterwards. According to those posts, Stickland posted a message on the website FFtoday.com in July of 2008 asking for advice about how to avoid failing a work ordered drug test. He was scheduled to take the test that evening at 5pm after having taken a “few glorious rips from a blunt” some days before.

(Tip to Stickland –  Turn this to your advantage. Re-title your constituent newsletter A few glorious rips from a blunt lawmaker.)

Photo by jay Janner
Photo by Jay Janner

Here was Stickland’s initial response.

I talked with Scott Fisher days after he announced his campaign and we both agreed to run very positive campaigns, focused on our differences on the issues. It’s clear he never had any intention of keeping his word, and it is disappointing that he would chose to attack me and my family three days after Christmas.

Anyone who knows my testimony, my family, friends, and many supporters, are aware that I smoked marijuana in high school and my early collegiate years. Let me even go a step further and say that during that time I wasted much of life, said and did things I wish I hadn’t. But by the Grace of God my past sins are forgiven.

Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush and I have all smoked marijuana. I never grew marijuana. But I hope and pray that my daughters never make the mistake I made, and that, if they do fail, they know of the forgiveness readily available.

Scott Fisher knows that I represent the Christian conservative values of my constituents, so he has instead decided to focus on mistakes I made at 17 years old. It’s disappointing that politics has gotten to this point where even a pastor will stoop this low.

Every campaign I have run has focused on the issues, but if Mr. Fisher wants to make this campaign about my personal testimony, we can do that too.

I particularly like the image of Ted, Jeb and Jonathan as a latter-day Jack, Peter and Dennis, sitting around the campfire and not bogarting that joint.

After Fisher’s campaign released the second batch of more recent on-line comments by Stickland about getting around drug testing at work, here was Stickland’s subsequent response:

Scott Fisher must have no shame. It makes me sick to my stomach that my little girls will have to face these attacks for the next 60 days. I know the Fisher campaign would love to act like this is a gotcha, but it’s not. I smoked marijuana regularly in high school and early college years, but started cleaning up after my first daughter was born in 2006. I encourage the kids I teach in Sunday School, and my own children to never make the mistakes I made.

Photo by Jay Janner
Photo by Jay Janner

It should be noted that this is not a case of a conservative lawmaker who railed against marijuana being revealed as a hypocrite.

A libertarian, Stickland backs decriminalizing marijuana.

From Brittney Martin with the Dallas Morning News in April:

Three Republican lawmakers have signed on as co-authors to a bill that would decriminalize possession of less than one ounce of marijuana, making it a ticketed offense.

Reps. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, David Simpson, R-Longview, and Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, joined 35 House Democrats in supporting a proposal by Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, to make possession of small amounts of marijuana punishable by a fine of no more than $250.

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Strickland agreed that decriminalization was the tough on crime position because it will free up space in state jails to house violent offenders for longer. He believes measures like Moody’s are what Texans want.

“I think the politicians here in Austin are far behind what the people of Texas want,” Stickland said. “I hope more Republicans stop and take a look at this.”

But then there’s this.

Meanwhile, evidence of Schticklandschadenfreude yesterday was offset by some expressions of at least reluctant empathy.

https://twitter.com/cd_hooks/status/681595725688393728?lang=en

https://twitter.com/cd_hooks/status/681596203264421888?lang=en

https://twitter.com/Forrest4Trees/status/681577547151327232

The Stickland of these past on-line comments is a far cry from the confident, even swaggering, figure of today, who is clearly high on his newfound life as a public figure in the throes of constant, against-the-odds combat.
Compare that Stickland to the sad sack in this sampling of ruminations about beating the drug test.

 

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Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 9.26.16 PMI first met Jonathan, not long after I arrived in Texas in December 2012. He was a freshman-elect and I went up to meet him in his district for a story about the large incoming freshman class.

JT Stickland Ledge 1

I wrote:

Stickland was “discovered” by Julie McCarty, president of the board of the NE Tarrant Tea Party, who was especially impressed with the way he confronted U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Flower Mound, at a town hall meeting after Burgess voted in 2011 to raise the debt limit.

“Jonathan was so well spoken, and it wasn’t just that he had good points to make. They were so well-thought out and easy to understand,” said McCarty. “It was truly the voice of the people.”

“Honestly, I never considered running until I got an email from Julie McCarty at 11:45 at night, sitting in front of my home computer eating a bowl of ice cream,” recalled Stickland. “My wife was leaning over me and started laughing. Then she said, ‘Crap, you might be able to do that.’”

Stickland, who used to work as an exterminator and is now an oil and gas consultant, prayed on it and decided to run. His initial survey, he said, found only two voters knew who he was. “I knocked on 7,112 doors myself,” he said. He lost 50 pounds.

What impact will all this have on Stickland’s primary against Fisher?
I don’t know.
And Braddock, who apparently kept reading through Stickland’s prolific comment stream, later in the day came up with this:

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Oh well. Cue the Schticklandschadenfreude.

 

Photo by Jay Janner
(Photo by Jay Janner)

 

Perry endorses Fisher

Here are some Perry quotes from the Fisher campaign press release announcing the former governor’s endorsement.

“Scott Fisher has an incredible record of achievement. After serving one term as my appointee to the Texas Ethics Commission, I asked him to once again serve the State of Texas as Chairman of the Texas Youth Commission where he led the agency through a major restructuring and a reduction in the size of the agency by 40%. When the Legislature merged two agencies into one, I asked Scott to lead that merger and Chair the new Texas Juvenile Justice Department. It was a very difficult job that required the sound, principled leadership that Scott provided,” said Perry.

“Scott Fisher knows how to take strong conservative values and turn them into successful conservative policies,” said Perry. “Scott is a conservative that can get things done.”

https://twitter.com/KonniBurton/status/681868258132115456?lang=en

 

 

From WrestleMania to the White House, is Donald Trump the kayfabe candidate for president?

Good morning Austin:

More than 30 years ago I took my two pre-teen nephews to a professional wrestling event at the Springfield, Massachusetts Civic Center.

WWF @ Springfield, MA – Civic Center – November 12, 1983 (matinee)
Eddie Gilbert defeated Bob Bradley
Pete Doherty defeated Fred Marzino
Chief Jay Strongbow defeated Rene Goulet
The Iron Sheik defeated Swede Hanson
WWF IC Champion Don Muraco defeated Jimmy Snuka via count-out
The Masked Superstar defeated Tony Garea
Tony Atlas, Rocky Johnson, and SD Jones defeated WWF Tag Team Champions the Wild Samoans & Ivan Koloff
WWF World Champion Bob Backlund pinned Big John Studd

It was, as I recall, a gray fall day, most memorable because it was my oldest nephew, then 11, who, when Koloff was fighting as part of the tag team in the penultimate match, started the chant “Russia Sucks,” which spread and spread and spread until it filled the Civic Center.

Oreal Perras, from rural Canada, assumed an evil wrestling persona as Ivan Koloff, the Russian Bear
(Oreal Perras, from rural Canada, assumed an evil wrestling persona as Ivan Koloff, the Russian Bear)

It was an odd and heady moment, which left me, as I recall, unsettled, a bit giddy, and, of course, proud of my young nephew’s ability to summon the mob to do his bidding and offer its collective cathartic condemnation of Ivan Koloff, the Russian Bear, who, while his WWE profile still lists him as being from Moscow, Russia, was actually born Oreal Perras in rural Canada, and had first portrayed an Irish rogue wrestler with an eye patch named Red McNulty, before settling on the ultimate villainy of wrestling under the emblem of the hammer and sickle.

Somehow, Ivan Koloff is not in the WWE Hall of Fame.

Unlike Donald Trump, who is.

Here is Trump’s Hall of Fame write-up:

He’s a captivating billionaire who has gone into battle in both the boardroom and the squared circle with equal aggression. He’s a pop culture icon who has seen his self-satisfied smirk on his TV programs, major talk shows and countless magazine covers. Mot of all, he’s an outspoken alpha male who gets his greatest pleasure from uttering the words, “You’re fired.”

And no, we’re not talking about Mr. McMahon.

Donald J. Trump, the most charismatic and famous businessman in America, has been recognized as an innovator in the worlds of real estate and reality television And how would miss him? The Donald’s surname – now synonymous with wealth and power – has been emblazoned in giant gold letters across skyscrapers and high-rises in the biggest cities in the world. But Trump has also been making a consistent on WWE since the days when Andre the Giant was still king.

(Andre the Giant in a scene from Ted Cruz's favorite movie, the Princess Bride)
(Andre the Giant in a scene from Ted Cruz’s favorite movie, The Princess Bride)

The Donald’s Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, N.J., hosted both WrestleMania IV and WrestleMania V – the only venue to present The Show of Shows two years in a row. Since those unforgettable nights, Trump has remained a familiar face in the front row of WWE events, but it wasn’t until 2007 that the billionaire got in on the action.

In January of that year. The Donald interrupted Mr. McMahon’s “Fan Appreciation Night” on Raw and dropped tens of thousands of dollars from the rafters of the arena onto the WWE fans below.

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Red-faced that a rival would steal the spotlight from him. Mr. McMahon challenged Trump to a “Battle of the Billionaires” at WrestleMania 23 with the stipulation that the loser of the bout would have his head shaved bald.

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A record number of viewers tuned in to watch The Donald back Bobby Lashley to victory over Mr. McMahon’s Umaga and subsequently shave the WWE Chairman’s signature mane in the center of the ring.

Donald Trump shaves Vince McMahon's head
(Donald Trump shaves Vince McMahon’s head.)

The business magnates locked horns again in June 2009 when Trump purchased Monday Night Raw and immediately announced the next week’s show would air commercial-free and that every WWE fan who purchased a ticket would be given a full refund. The trademark Trump PR public relations flourish nearly made Mr. McMahon’s head explode and forced him to buy his show back from The Donald for twice the price.

Since then, the WWE Hall of Fame has focused on his ever-expanding real estate empire and his Emmy-nominated smash series “The Apprentice,” but the WWE Universe is always ready for the only man who can match Mr. McMahon’s bank account – and his grapefruits.

Add to that becoming the front-runner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, and that is about the most succinct and telling description of the Trump who has emerged in the last six months, with the important distinction that “Mr. McMahon,” of the exploding head, was in on the gag, and the “exploding talking heads” observing his presidential campaign are not

And let’s just say Jeb! is lucky to have gotten away with his exclamation mark and “signature mane” intact. So far.

By his grapefruits ye shall know him.

Other president have been honored in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, including both George Washington (When he was 18, the big, shy Washington held a “collar and elbow” wrestling championship that was at least county-wide and perhaps colony-wide. At the age of 47, the Continental Army commander had enough skills left to defeat seven consecutive challengers from the Massachusetts Volunteers in one day.”) and Abraham Lincoln (Lincoln, an awesome physical specimen at 6-feet-4, was widely known for his wrestling skills and had only one recorded defeat in a dozen years.”).

But Trump would be the first WWE Hall of Famer to inhabit the White House, though former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, are both WWE Hall of Famers who have proved that an over-the-top pro-wrestling persona can work in politics.

Trump’s pro wrestling Hall of Fame status as well as anything explains the otherwise seemingly inexplicable political spectacle that has been unfolding in the space usually occupied by the quadrennial presidential campaign.

Over the weekend in the Washington Post, Paul Farhi offered WWE videos revealing 6 ways Donald Trump’s wrestling career previewed his campaign.

And in his essay on The World of Wrestling in his 1957 book, Mythologies, the late French literary theorist, philosopher, linguist, critic, and semiotician Roland Gérard Barthes, previewed just why it is that wrestling’s “spectacle of success” might prove apt preparation for someone hoping to sway the masses.

 

mythologies

The virtue of all-in wrestling is that it is the spectacle of excess. Here we find a grandiloquence which must have been that of ancient theaters. And in fact wrestling is an open-air spectacle, for what makes the circus or the arena what they are is not the sky (a romantic value suited rather to fashionable occasions), it is the drenching and vertical quality of the flood of light. Even hidden in the most squalid Parisian halls, wrestling partakes of the nature of the great solar spectacles, Greek drama and bullfights: in both, a light without shadow generates an emotion without reserve.

There are people who think that wrestling is an ignoble sport. Wrestling is not a sport, it is a spectacle, and it is no more ignoble to attend a wrestled performance of Suffering than a performance of the sorrows of Arnolphe or Andromaque.* Of course, there exists a false wrestling, in which the participants unnecessarily go to great lengths to make a show of a fair fight; this is of no interest. True wrestling, wrongly called amateur wrestling, is performed in second-rate halls, where the public spontaneously attunes itself to the spectacular nature of the contest, like the audience at a suburban cinema. Then these same people wax indignant because wrestling is a stage-managed sport (which ought, by the way, to mitigate its ignominy). The public is completely uninterested in knowing whether the contest is rigged or not, and rightly so; it abandons itself to the primary virtue of the spectacle, which is to abolish all motives and all consequences: what matters is not what it thinks but what it sees.

Roland-Barthes-LeMonde-Hors-Serie

This public knows very well the distinction between wrestling and boxing; it knows that boxing is a Jansenist sport, based on a demonstration of excellence. One can bet on the outcome of a boxing-match: with wrestling, it would make no sense. A boxing- match is a story which is constructed before the eyes of the spectator; in wrestling, on the contrary, it is each moment which is intelligible, not the passage of time. The spectator is not interested in the rise and fall of fortunes; he expects the transient image of certain passions. Wrestling therefore demands an immediate reading of the juxtaposed meanings, so that there is no need to connect them. The logical conclusion of the contest does not interest the wrestling-fan, while on the contrary a boxing-match always implies a science of the future. In other words, wrestling is a sum of spectacles, of which no single one is a function: each moment imposes the total knowledge of a passion which rises erect and alone, without ever extending to the crowning moment of a result.

Thus the function of the wrestler is not to win; it is to go exactly through the motions which are expected of him. It is said that judo contains a hidden symbolic aspect; even in the midst of efficiency, its gestures are measured, precise but restricted, drawn accurately but by a stroke without volume. Wrestling, on the contrary, offers excessive gestures, exploited to the limit of their meaning. In judo, a man who is down is hardly down at all, he rolls over, he draws back, he eludes defeat, or, if the latter is obvious, he immediately disappears; in wrestling, a man who is down is exaggeratedly so, and completely fills the eyes of the spectators with the intolerable spectacle of his powerlessness.

In September, Judd Legum, editor-in-chief of ThinkProgress, who served as research director for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign, wrote that only Barthes could really explain the 2016 campaign:

You won’t find Roland Barthes on the Sunday morning roundtables dissecting the presidential race. Barthes is a French philosopher who died in 1980. But his work may hold the key to understanding Trump’s popularity and his staying power.

Barthes is best known for his work in semiotics, the study of signs and symbols. But he wasn’t limited to lengthy, esoteric treatises. Rather, Barthes published much of his work in short, accessible pieces breaking down elements of popular culture. The New York Times described Barthes as the godfather of the TV recap.

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In the current campaign, Trump is behaving like a professional wrestler while Trump’s opponents are conducting the race like a boxing match. As the rest of the field measures up their next jab, Trump decks them over the head with a metal chair.

Others in the Republican field are concerned with the rules and constructing a strategy that, under those rules, will lead to the nomination. But Trump isn’t concerned with those things. Instead, Trump is focused on each moment and eliciting the maximum amount of passion in that moment. His supporters love it.

When I went to see Trump at a packed rally at the American Airlines Center in Dallas in September, I found a high-spirited crowd who came to be both inspired and entertained.

He delivered a message of greatness — his own and America’s, with the former being a prerequisite for restoring the latter.

“We have a government that’s really messed up because we don’t have a leader at the top,” said Trump, who spoke extemporaneously — in an almost stream-of-consciousness manner — for more than an hour in a festive, convention-like atmosphere.

There is such great energy in this room,” Trump said. “I have tremendous energy, to the point where it’s really ridiculous.”

“If I’m elected,” Trump promised, “you are going to be so proud of your country again.”

The crowd was enthralled throughout, exulting in Trump’s bluster, enjoying his jokes and roaring its approval, especially on the topic of immigration.

This event, and others I have watched on TV since, have been reminiscent of what I witnessed at the Springfield Civic Center more than three decades ago, though now the villains of the piece aren’t Ivan Koloff or the Iron Sheik or the Wild Samoans – but “low-energy Jeb,” Hillary – who takes too long to go to the bathroom (“It’s disgusting, I don’t want to talk about it.”) – and the reporters who cover him (“I would never kill them, but I do hate them. And some of them are such lying, disgusting people. It’s true.”).

In each case, the cartoonish, pro-wrestling quality of Trump’s charges are hardly a negative. Indeed, the more outsized and outrageous they are, the more satisfying they are to his audience.

From Barthes:

Such a precise finality demands that wrestling should be exactly what the public expects of it. Wrestlers, who are very experienced, know perfectly how to direct the spontaneous episodes of the fight so as to make them conform to the image which the public has of the great legendary themes of its mythology. A wrestler can irritate or disgust, he never disappoints, for he always accomplishes completely, by a progressive solidification of signs, what the public expects of him. In wrestling, nothing exists except in the absolute, there is no symbol, no allusion, everything is presented exhaustively. Leaving nothing in the shade, each action discards all parasitic meanings and ceremonially offers to the public a pure and full signification, rounded like Nature. This grandiloquence is nothing but the popular and age-old image of the perfect intelligibility of reality. What is portrayed by wrestling is therefore an ideal understanding of things; it is the euphoria of men raised for a while above the constitutive ambiguity of everyday situations and placed before the panoramic view of a univocal Nature, in which signs at last correspond to causes, without obstacle, without evasion, without contradiction.

And, in the professional wrestling context, Trump is the King of Kayfabe

From Dan O’Sullivan in a 2014 piece in Jacobin magazine, Money in the Bank: The story of pro wrestling in the twentieth century is the story of American capitalism.

Historically, professional wrestling, with its screaming neon lunatics, potbellied big daddies, and tasseled “ring rats,” has been considered too absurd to be taken seriously — deprecated by sportswriters and ignored by politicians, its fans derided as low-class marks.

This — the notion that pro wrestling is a fixed, low-rent travesty, undeserving of serious mainstream scrutiny — is the single greatest angle ever sold by the wrestling industry.

There are competing theories as to the origin of the term “kayfabe,” beyond its provenance in the strange lingo of the carnivals from which American pro wrestling emerged. But as to the meaning, there is no confusion; it is the central axiom of the business. As explained by journalist David “The Masked Man” Shoemaker, kayfabe is “the wrestlers’ adherence to the big lie, the insistence that the unreal is real . . . the abiding dogma of the pro wrestling industry.”

And the flip side of kayfabe is that, in an industry where the unreal is real, where Hulk Hogan is a “real American” fighting for the rights of every man, truth wears a mask.

In July, Lambert Strether of Corrente offered a fuller definition of kayfabe, which he described as “not merely the word of the day, but of the decade.”

In professional wrestling, kayfabe (pronounced /ˈkeɪfeɪb/) is the portrayal of staged events within the industry as “real” or “true,” specifically the portrayal of competition, rivalries, and relationships between participants as being genuine and not of a staged or pre-determined nature. Kayfabe has also evolved to become a code word of sorts for maintaining this “reality” within the realm of the general public. Kayfabe was long held as a closely guarded secret within the professional wrestling industry; however, with the advent of the Internet, it has evolved into an open secret in the industry that is generally only adhered to during shows.

 And, Strether writes, Trump is the Kayfabe Master.
 Alone among the Presidential candidates, Trump has actually performed in kayfabe! 

It’s all here, the bluster, the ridiculous taunts – (at 6:50. “First of all Vince, your grapefruits are no competition for my Trump towers”) and the crowd chanting for Trump, the designated hero, as he insults McMahon, the self-assigned villain (after all, WWE is his show.)

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McMahon: (at 10:20) Ninety-five percent of all celebrities we polled want me to win and shave your head bald.

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Trump: You know Vince, I don’t know if you’ve seen the latest poll, John Travolta, I see he prefers Trump. I see others prefer Trump. The poll shows 95 percent of the Hollywood celebrities want your head shaved. And we’re gonna do it, Vince.”

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McMahon: You might have some support from this audience, but 95 percent of them are idiots.

Trump: To me, they look like a very smart group of people.

 

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At this point, Stone Cold Steve Austin enters the ring to restore order, and lay down the law to Trump.

Stone Cold Stee Austin, Donald Trump
(Stone Cold Stee Austin, Donald Trump)

Austin to Trump: I think its only fair that you give a man a fair warning so I’m going to break it down for you. In this ring, don’t get under my skin. Don’t rub me the wrong way. Don’t ruffle my feather. Basically, long story short, I’m telling you not to piss me off because if you do piss me off I will whip your ass. Now look at me when I’m talking to you because I’ve done my research.

I don’t give a rat’s ass if you’re worth a billion dollars, two billion dollars, three billion dollars, four billion dollars, five billion dollars, six billion dollars, seven billion dollars, eight billion dollars –  you piss me off, I’ll open up an $8 billion can of whoop-ass and serve it to you, and that’s all I’ve got to say about that.

(Note to Chris Christie, of all of Trump’s competitors, the one with the most WWE-adaptable personality, if you end up in a New Hampshire smackdown with Trump, don’t forget to bring your, or your super PAC’s $8 billion can of whoop-ass.)

 

Stone Cold Steve Austin and Donald Trump at Battle of the Billionaires
(Stone Cold Steve Austin and Donald Trump at Battle of the Billionaires)

While the Battle of Billionaires was to be fought out by the billionaires’ surrogate wrestlers, this installment closes out, beginning at the 21-minute mark, with push predictably coming to shove and Trump besting  McMahon as the WWE commentators exulted at the scripted unpredictability of it all.

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You better be careful or you’ll get the billionaire bitch slap, Donald.

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Can you believe what we’ve just seen? Donald. Trump, as you just said, has just shoved Vince McMahon on his billionaire butt.

 

Donald Trump pushes Vince McMahon on his "billionaire butt"

 

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I find Trump’s wrestling background reassuring, and I think it helps explain why I don’t find Trump and his candidacy as menacing as I otherwise might. Stripped of this context, Trump would otherwise appear to be a truly dangerous demagogue.

From an excellent New York Times story – 95,000 Words, Many of Them Ominous, From Donald Trump’s Tongue – by Patrick Healy and Maggie Haberman:

The dark power of words has become the defining feature of Mr. Trump’s bid for the White House to a degree rarely seen in modern politics, as he forgoes the usual campaign trappings — policy, endorsements, commercials, donations — and instead relies on potent language to connect with, and often stoke, the fears and grievances of Americans.

The New York Times analyzed every public utterance by Mr. Trump over the past week from rallies, speeches, interviews and news conferences to explore the leading candidate’s hold on the Republican electorate for the past five months. The transcriptions yielded 95,000 words and several powerful patterns, demonstrating how Mr. Trump has built one of the most surprising political movements in decades and, historians say, echoing the appeals of some demagogues of the past century.

Mr. Trump’s breezy stage presence makes him all the more effective because he is not as off-putting as those raging men of the past, these experts say.

The most striking hallmark was Mr. Trump’s constant repetition of divisive phrases, harsh words and violent imagery that American presidents rarely use, based on a quantitative comparison of his remarks and the news conferences of recent presidents, Democratic and Republican. He has a particular habit of saying “you” and “we” as he inveighs against a dangerous “them” or unnamed other — usually outsiders like illegal immigrants (“they’re pouring in”), Syrian migrants (“young, strong men”) and Mexicans, but also leaders of both political parties.

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“His entire campaign is run like a demagogue’s — his language of division, his cult of personality, his manner of categorizing and maligning people with a broad brush,” said Jennifer Mercieca, an expert in American political discourse at Texas A&M University. “If you’re an illegal immigrant, you’re a loser. If you’re captured in war, like John McCain, you’re a loser. If you have a disability, you’re a loser. It’s rhetoric like Wallace’s — it’s not a kind or generous rhetoric.”

“And then there are the winners, most especially himself, with his repeated references to his wealth and success and intelligence,” said Ms. Mercieca, noting a particular remark of Mr. Trump’s on Monday in Macon, Ga. (“When you’re really smart, when you’re really, really smart like I am — it’s true, it’s true, it’s always been true, it’s always been true.”)

“Part of his argument is that if you believe in American exceptionalism, you should vote for me,” Ms. Mercieca said.

Mercieca subsequently posted this piece on The rhetorical brilliance of Trump the demagogue.

Trump possesses an arrogance and volatility that makes most voters recoil. So how has he maintained a grip on a segment of the Republican base that – at least, for now – seems unshakable?

And how has his support persisted, despite the fact that some have called him a demagogue and a fascist, or that political observers have found parallels between him and polarizing figures like George Wallace, Joseph McCarthy, Father Coughlin – even Hitler?

As a scholar of American political rhetoric, I write about and teach courses on the use and abuse of rhetorical strategy in public discourse. Scrutinizing Trump’s rhetorical skills can partially explain his profound and persistent appeal.

This is truly dangerous territory.

After all, wasn’t Hitler all about telling an aggrieved people that he was going to make Germany great again.

Here is a Freudian analysis from ten years ago in the New York Times – Freud and the Fundamentalist Urge,  by Mark Edmundson, who teaches English at the University of Virginia, and has written about Freud’s last days, which overlapped with Hitler’s rise.

At the center of Freud’s work lies a fundamental perception: human beings are not generally unified creatures. Our psyches are not whole, but divided into parts, and those parts are usually in conflict with one another. The id, or the “it,” is an agent of pure desire: it wants and wants and does not readily take no for an answer. The superego, or over-I, is the internal agent of authority. It often looks harshly upon the id and its manifold wants. The superego, in fact, frequently punishes the self simply for wishing for forbidden things, even if the self does not act on those wishes at all. Then there is the ego, trying to broker between the it and the over-I, and doing so with the greatest of difficulty, in part because both agencies tend to operate outside the circle of the ego’s awareness.

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To Freud, crowds on their own can be dangerous, but they only constitute a long-term brutal threat when a certain sort of figure takes over the superego slot in ways that are both prohibitive and permissive.

As the Nazis arrived in Vienna, many gentile Viennese, who had apparently been tolerant and cosmopolitan people, turned on their Jewish neighbors. They broke into Jewish apartments and stole what they wanted to. They trashed Jewish shops. They made Jews scrub liberal political slogans off the sidewalk, first with brushes and later with their hands. And they did all of this with a sense of righteous conviction — they were operating in accord with the new cultural superego, epitomized by the former corporal and dispatch runner, Adolf Hitler.

xxxxxxx

For Freud, we might infer, a healthy body politic is one that allows for a good deal of continuing tension. A healthy polis is one that it doesn’t always feel good to be a part of. There’s too much argument, controversy, difference. But in that difference, annoying and difficult as it may be, lies the community’s well-being. When a relatively free nation is threatened by terrorists with totalitarian goals, as ours is now, there is, of course, an urge to come together and to fight back by any means necessary. But the danger is that in fighting back we will become just as fierce, monolithic and, in the worst sense, as unified as our foes. We will seek our own great man; we will be blind to his foibles; we will stop questioning, stop arguing. When that happens, a war of fundamentalisms has begun, and of that war there can be no victor.

And, from Evan Osnos in the New Yorker in August -The Fearful and the Frustrated: Donald Trump’s nationalist coalition takes shape—for now.

From the pantheon of great demagogues, Trump has plucked some best practices—William Jennings Bryan’s bombast, Huey Long’s wit, Father Charles Coughlin’s mastery of the airwaves—but historians are at pains to find the perfect analogue, because so much of Trump’s recipe is specific to the present. Celebrities had little place in American politics until the 1920 Presidential election, when Al Jolson and other stars from the fledgling film industry endorsed Warren Harding. Two decades ago, Americans were less focussed on paid-for politicians, so Ross Perot, a self-funded billionaire candidate, did not derive the same benefit as Trump from the perception of independence.

Trump’s signature lines—“The American dream is dead” and “We don’t have victories anymore”—constitute a bitter mantra in tune with a moment when the share of Americans who tell Gallup pollsters that there is “plenty of opportunity” has dropped to an unprecedented fifty-two per cent; when trust in government has reached its lowest level on record, and Americans’ approval of both major parties has sunk, for the first time, below forty per cent. Matthew Heimbach, who is twenty-four, and a prominent white-nationalist activist in Cincinnati, told me that Trump has energized disaffected young men like him. “He is bringing people back out of their slumber,” he said.

Self-conscious white nationalists are not sufficiently numerous to be the core of Trump’s support. But they are probably the least likely of Trump’s following to be in on the kayfabe.

When I interviewed Jared Taylor – whose American Renaissance is a prime white nationalist site – in June he was lamenting the incalculable damage that Dylann Roof’s alleged murders in Charleston, S.C., had done to what he calls the “race realist” movement.

But two months later, Taylor was writing that “Donald Trump may be the last hope for a president who would be good for white people.”

In a fundraising note to supporters, Taylor wrote:

Something has changed.

The rise of Donald Trump and the flood of migrants into Europe have resulted in unprecedented interest in American Renaissance.

Never before have our online videos been so popular, or shared so widely.

The last time I wrote to you, our videos had been viewed 342,000 times over the previous year. I thought that was promising, but in just the last six months, they’ve been watched another 640,000 times — nearly quadruple the previous rate!

One of our videos on Donald Trump has had over 87,000 views. Our video on the “refugee” invasion of Europe has had 230,000 views — and the numbers keep rising.

I used to be excited when a video got 25,000 views in a year.

Thanks to these videos, more and more white Americans — especially young people — are learning about American Renaissance and what we represent.

This is not going to end well for someone.

I was impressed a third of a century ago at the Springfield Civic Center that a child could corral a crowd into a buoyant chant of animus toward America’s international enemy as embodied by a pro wrestler, even if that wrestler was merely playing a role. But “Koloff,” per the interview below, under the rules of kayfabe, had to play his role 24/7, even though it led to abuse being heaped on him and his family in their private life.

Trump is navigating very complicated territory here and, as his success to date attests, he has done it with considerable aplomb. His distinct advantage over this opponents is that none of them can comfortably slip into a cape and tights to enter the ring with him, while he can weave in and out of his wrestling persona as circumstances demand.

For Trump’s rivals, it is like trying to run against Stephen Colbert and not knowing whether to treat him as himself or as his character.

Trump is cool with being in on the kayfabe – the exaggerated performance art of his campaign – but he never wants to be the mark.

So, for example, when Sacha Baron Cohen – who, as Borat and Ali G,  has made a career out of luring real people into hilarious but often excruciatingly uncomfortable encounters with his mock characters – had Trump as a guest on Da Ali G Show, and tried to talk Trump into investing in a glove he had invented to catch melting ice cream from cones, Trump was quickly out of there.

 

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Interestingly, the one figure who seems so far to have managed to avoid the wrath of Trump, has been Ted Cruz. To be sure, it has a lot to do with Cruz’s assiduous determination to be Trump’s tag team partner and not his rival.

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But I suspect that Trump’s failure to really go after Cruz – after a tentative swat at him as “a bit of a maniac” – is that there is something of the true believer in Cruz that unsettles Trump.

I turn here to Key and Peele and a 2012 bit they did in which ultimate fighters Derek Johnson and Paulo Odbelis promote their upcoming match.

Johnson: As far as I’m concerned, this Saturday night, there’s not even going to be a fight. I’m going to mercy kill the old man.

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Odbelis: God chose me for this fight. God is the teacher, Derek is the student. And I am God’s instrument. When I squeeze your lungs Derek, and you beg me for life, then your heart will open up  to the Lord.

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Johnson: I’m going to knock him out round one, bitch. But wait. What did he say again? He said, God chose him? That doesn’t even make sense really. 

Odbelis: When you eat through plastic tube when you’re paralyzed from neck down, then your family will gather around your hospital bed to see the new Derek.

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Johnson: OK. He know we just talking here. We just getting people interested in the fight. Because I’m sorry, is this &$%! crazy?

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Odbelis: God’s lessons are so beautiful.

Johnson: God’s lessons are so beautiful? I’m sorry. Who put this fight together?

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Johnson: If y’all got an actual crazy person for me to fight, well, that’s not fair to me … or him.

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For better or worse, Democratic debate short on drama

Good morning Austin:

The dramatic highlight of last night’s third Democratic presidential debate, held at St. Anselm College in Goffstown, N.H., came right after the mid-debate bathroom break.

David Muir, the ABC anchor, who is so good looking that he could be the guy who would play the network anchor, except that he actually is an anchor, set the scene.

muirMUIR: Welcome back tonight. As you can see, we have a packed faudience here in New Hampshire and we’re going to continue. We’ve already had a spirited conversation here at the top of the broadcast about ISIS, about the concerns of terror here on the homefront and as we await Secretary Clinton backstage, we’re going to begin on the economy.

We want to turn to the American jobs, wages and raises in this country. And we believe Secretary Clinton will be coming around the corner any minute. But in the meantime we want to start with this eye-opening number. And Senator Sanders, this question goes to you first, anyway.

In 1995, the median American household income was $52,600 in today’s money. This year, it’s $53,600. That’s 20 more years on the job with just a 2 percent raise. In a similar time-frame, raises for CEOs went up more than 200 percent.

Wait a minute.

As we await Secretary Clinton backstage …

And we believe Secretary Clinton will be coming around the corner any minute …

But in the meantime …

In the meantime?

What is going on here?

In the meantime, there was a candidate-less podium at center stage, between the podiums occupied by Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Baltimore Mayor and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.

For a fleeting moment, one could conjure up images of some kind of Harrison Ford/Liam Neeson/Angelina Jolie/Uma Thurman action movie scene unfolding backstage. Was HRC employing her seldom-deployed mixed martial arts skills – perhaps in tandem with her sleek body woman/aide-de-camp Huma Abedin – to fend of terrorists seeking to swipe her from a prime-time pre-Christmas debate and hold the American electoral system hostage?

Kind of Air Force One meets Kill Bill.

 

 

No.

Apparently, this was just a mundane, fact-of-life, it-takes-a-woman-a-little-longer-than-a-man-to-duck-in-and-out-of -the-restroom moment and, America, get used to it.

(From Donald Trump Sunday morning on Meet the Press: “Hillary’s not strong. Hillary’s weak frankly. She’s got no stamina. She’s got nothing. She couldn’t even get back on the stage. Nobody even knows what happened to her. It’s like she went home and went to sleep.”)

The real puzzle was why ABC, which did not seem to be hewing to some kind of crisp schedule,  could not have simply given the former first lady, New York senator, secretary of state and presently at least even money to be the next president, another 90 seconds to get back in her place as the center square before resuming the debate.

It is not like they shouldn’t have seen this coming.

Here from Slate’s coverage of the Democratic debate in October in Las Vegas:

Hillary Clinton has noted, at Tuesday night’s Democratic debate in Las Vegas, that electing a woman as president of the United States would be a historic first. She also, it seems fair to say, just became the first presidential candidate to make reference during a debate to how long it takes women to pee.

 The transcript:

Anderson Cooper: And welcome back to this CNN democratic presidential debate. It has been quite a night so far. We are in the final block of this debate. All the candidates are back, which I’m very happy to see.

[Laughter]

It’s a long story. Let’s continue. Secretary Clinton, welcome back.

Clinton: Well, thank you. You know, it does take me a little longer. That’s all I can say.

Right. Except, per this excellent explainer from Amy Chozick at the New York Times, the deck was absolutely stacked against Clinton in Goffstown.

GOFFSTOWN, N.H. — As the third Democratic debate faded to a five-minute commercial break, Hillary Clinton had exactly one minute and 45 seconds to walk out of the gymnasium at St. Anselm College to the ladies’ restroom and one minute and 45 seconds to return to her place on stage.

Not a lot of wiggle room.

With the men’s room significantly closer to the debate stage, Mrs. Clinton’s male opponents, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, made it back quicker and, well, it takes women longer, as Mrs. Clinton pointed out after returning slightly late from a commercial break during the first Democratic debate in Las Vegas.

But on Saturday, the ABC News hosts, tied to the schedule of live TV, proceeded with their questioning about the economy with an empty podium awaiting Mrs. Clinton. “Sorry,” she deadpanned when she finally took her place.

Aides said they had been concerned during the walk through before the debate that the ladies room was such a schlep. The campaign’s vice chairwoman, Huma Abedin, had timed the distance to and from the podium and expressed concerns to organizers, but the gymnasium setting meant there were no closer options. She relayed to Mrs. Clinton that she would have to be speedy, said several aides involved in debate planning.

In the end, the moment became one of the most talked about of what seemed an otherwise low-impact debate. The momentarily empty podium prompted jokes that Mrs. Clinton, so focused on defeating the Republicans, had, perhaps, decided to watch the primary debate from a Manchester bar, with a row of glistening ladies’ rooms nearby.

Anyway, picking up where we left off from Saturday night, Clinton returned to the stage to applause, and offered a simple, elegant, “Sorry.”

https://twitter.com/TomNamako/status/678406151864754176

And then, from Muir:

We’re going to continue here, and Secretary, you’ll get a chance on this too.

Well that’s nice.

But, with Clinton’s reappearance, any chance of any real drama emerging from last night’s debate was gone.

Not that the Democrats seemed very intent on gaining an audience for last night’s event.

The debate schedule for the Democrats does seem intended to minimize any harm that could be done to  Clinton’s front-runner status.

Saturday night is better known as a date night, not a debate night.

And the Saturday before Christmas leans heavily toward family not politics.

Also, viewers had choices.

There was the Jets-Cowboys game, which I suppose might serve as a surrogate preview of a Clinton-Cruz general election race. (Sorry Ted.)

There was a rebroadcast of the Wiz, which set the twitterverse aflame when it was first broadcast.

And, there was, of course, the mesmerizing and under-appreciated Yule Log.

Apart from its ratings-proof scheduling, the Democratic race simply lacks the drama of the Republican race, which is among the most interesting and uncertain of my lifetime with a bona fide reality TV star center stage.

With the Iowa caucuses barely more than a month way, the clear front-runner for the Republican nomination – Donald Trump – is a larger-than-life figure who has proved doubters wrong, again and again, and yet still seems unlikely to ultimately make it to the White House.

The Republican contest, with its rich ensemble cast, has intricate plots and subplots. It’s gripping and entertaining, if often dumbfounding.

Particularly, coming at this time of year, there is something familiarly festive about the recent Republican debate – another raucous affair, crowded with jostling personalities. And, they even continue to have, in the spirit of the holidays, a kid’s table debate.

The Democratic debate, on the other hand, has a kind of sad, empty-nester air to it. There’s Sanders, 74, and Clinton, 68, and the young upstart, O’Malley, a mere 52 – but still eight years older than the GOP kids – 44-year-oldsTed Cruz and Marco Rubio.

Getty Images
Getty Images

And, it will be very exciting if the Democratic race doesn’t go the way we think it’s going to go. Very exciting, and really, very unlikely.

Here are the two most recent national polls, courtesy Real Clear Politics.

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The last time Hillary Clinton ran for president – in 2008 – she was part of a Democratic race for the ages that completely overshadowed a pretty good Republican race involving John McCain’s impressive comeback.

Clinton was seeking to become the first woman to be elected president and she was overtaken by a newcomer who, almost out of nowhere, was elected America’s first black president. Their contest generated uncommon interest and participation.

Sanders has generated large crowds and some excitement. His particular strength in Iowa and New Hampshire was, at first blush, surprising, and, given what happened to Clinton the last time she was the clear front-runner, significant. But while Sanders is still running first in New Hampshire, he has slid to second in Iowa, and it is hard to construct a scenario where he would turn even winning both Iowa and New Hampshire into a truly serious threat to Clinton’s nomination.

Sanders is simply no Barack Obama.

And, whatever chance he had was dramatically reduced by the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino.

From Patrick Healy in The New York Times – Bernie Sanders Falls Behind in a Race Centered on Security:

GOFFSTOWN, N.H. — In his opening remarks at the Democratic presidential debate on Saturday, Senator Bernie Sanders railed against “establishment politics and establishment economics” and then the nation’s “rigged economy.” He moved on to the “corrupt” campaign finance system, then the “planetary crisis of climate change.” Only after that did he say he wanted to destroy the Islamic State.

It was a litany of priorities that made good sense when Mr. Sanders announced his presidential bid in April. But after the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., he made fighting terrorism sound like an afterthought.

These are challenging times for Mr. Sanders as the chief opponent to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. His progressive political message, so popular with liberals for much of 2015, now seems lost in a fog of fear. Americans are more anxious about terrorism than income inequality. They want the government to target the Islamic State more than Wall Street executives and health insurers. All of this plays to Mrs. Clinton’s strengths — not only as a hawkish former secretary of state but also as a savvy politician who follows the public mood. After months of pivoting to the left on domestic issues to compete with Mr. Sanders for her party’s base, she is now talking about security and safety far more than Mr. Sanders — and solidifying her lead in opinion polls.

One could, of course, argue that, as a former secretary of state, Clinton’s fingerprints are all over the sorry situation the world is in. But, at time of great uncertainty, Clinton at least is no stranger to the world stage.

AP photo by Jim Cole
AP photo by Jim Cole

From a Jonathan Martin and Amy Chozick story in the Times, under the headline, In Democratic Debate, Hillary Clinton’s Focus Is on G.O.P.

Hillary Clinton largely looked past her Democratic rivals in Saturday night’s debate, instead repeatedly assailing the Republican field, led by Donald J. Trump. She called Mr. Trump a threat to the nation’s safety, saying he was fast “becoming ISIS’ best recruiter.”

Deflecting persistent attacks from Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland over gun control, Wall Street and foreign military entanglements, she accused Mr. Trump of undermining the fight against terrorism.

Mrs. Clinton, the former secretary of state, sought to frame next year’s election as a choice between her clear-eyed approach to national security and the recklessness of Republicans who have demonized Muslims since the recent attacks on Paris and San Bernardino, Calif.

And from Clinton, the most stinging rebuke of Trump – praising George W. Bush, by contrast, and leveling a new and specific charge that I’m sure will be much talked about beginning on this morning’s Sunday shows.

CLINTON: You know, I was a senator from New York after 9/11, and we spent countless hours trying to figure out how to protect the city and the state from perhaps additional attacks. One of the best things that was done, and George W. Bush did this and I give him credit, was to reach out to Muslim Americans and say, we’re in this together. You are not our adversary, you are our partner.

And we also need to make sure that the really discriminatory messages that Trump is sending around the world don’t fall on receptive ears. He is becoming ISIS’s best recruiter. They are going to people showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadists. So I want to explain why this is not in America’s interest to react with this kind of fear and respond to this sort of bigotry.

“No fact checker has been able to back up her claim on that,” Chuck Todd told Trump, who was on the phone, on Meet the Press this morning.

“Exactly correct,” Trump said. “I was going to say that nobody has been able to back that up … It’s just another Hilary lie. She lies like crazy. She just made this up in thin air.”

Perhaps she was making the point that ISIS could use videos of Trump video to recruit jihadists. But, if there is no evidence they actually are, then her statement may prove reminiscent of the elusive video that Trump said he was certain he saw of  “thousands and thousands of people” cheering in Jersey City, N.J., as the World Trade Center collapsed.

Clinton did succumb to one other Trumpian moment during the debate.

MUIR: Secretary Clinton, I did want to ask you, the last time you ran for president, Fortune Magazine put you on its cover with the headline Business Loves Hillary, pointing out your support for many CEOs in corporate America. I’m curious, eight years later, should corporate America love Hillary Clinton?

CLINTON: Everybody should.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

Photo by Jim Cole
Photo by Jim Cole

Good line, though it did give Sanders an opening for a good line of his own:

So Hillary and I have a difference. The CEOs of large multinationals may like Hillary. They ain’t going to like me and Wall Street is going to like me even less.

But Clinton clearly has benefited the most by Trump’s rise – even if she did attend his wedding and even if some conspiratorial corners think that Trump’s candidacy is a Clinton plot.

First, Clinton, far more than Sanders, would be able to draw the support of those folks who are moderate in their politics and temperament, if Trump were the Republican nominee.

And second, Trump did Clinton the  service of contributing to the diminishment of Jeb Bush. If Jeb! were riding high, voter unhappiness about seeing a Bush-Clinton reprise might be much higher than it is.

On Saturday Night Live last night, a Republican debate parody ended with”Bush” telling “Trump” – “You’re never going to be president.”

To which “Trump” replies – “Yeah. None of us are, genius.”

Later in the show, Kate McKinnon, playing Hillary Clinton 2015,  is visited by Amy Poehler, as the Hillary Clinton she impersonated eight years ago, who warns her latter-day self against overconfidence.

“On Christmas Eve 2007 I was cocky too and then someone named Barack Obama stumbled out of a soup kitchen with a basketball and a cigarette and stole my life,” she says.

But when McKinnon’s Clinton informs Poehler’s Clinton that the Republican frontrunner is Donald Trump, the two join with each other in jumping for joy: “Oh my God. We’re going to be president!”

 

Trump blinks: In the face of Cruz’s surge, Donald stands down

Good morning Austin:

Donald Trump blinked at last night’s fifth Republican presidential debate.

TrumpIGetAlong

But here was Trump only two days earlier with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday:

WALLACE:  Let’s turn to the campaign.  You lead in almost all the polls, except for a couple in Iowa where Ted Cruz is slightly ahead of you. This week, Ted Cruz apparently told some supporters that he questions your judgment to be president.  

What do you think of Ted Cruz?  

TRUMP:  Well, he is — do you notice he said it behind my back, somebody taped that conversation.  He said it behind my back.  And that’s OK.  

Look, I don’t think he’s qualified to be president.  

WALLACE:  Why not?  

TRUMP:  Because I don’t think he has the right temperament.  I don’t think he’s got the right judgment.  

WALLACE:  What’s wrong with his temperament?

TRUMP:  When you look at the way he’s dealt with the Senate, where he goes in there like a — you know, frankly, like a bit of a maniac.  You never get things done that way.  

Look, I built a phenomenal business.  I’m worth many, many billions of dollars.  I have some of the greatest assets anywhere in the world.  You can’t walk into the Senate and scream and call people liars and not be able to cajole and get along with people.  

He’ll never get anything done.  And that’s the problem with Ted.  

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And then here he was about 60 hours later at last night’s debate.

DANA BASH: Mr. Trump, just this weekend you said Senator Cruz is not qualified to be president because he doesn’t have the right temperament and acted like a maniac when he arrived in the Senate. But last month you said you were open to naming Senator Cruz as your running mate.

TRUMP: I did.

BASH: So why would you be willing to put somebody who’s a maniac one heartbeat away from the presidency?

TRUMP: Let me just say that I have gotten to know him over the last three or four days. He has a wonderful temperament.

TRUMP: He’s just fine. Don’t worry about it.

(APPLAUSE)

BASH: Okay.

Senator Cruz. Senator Cruz, you have not been willing to attack Mr. Trump in public.

TRUMP: You better not attack…

(LAUGHTER)

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

And Cruz didn’t.

BASH: But you did question his judgment in having control of America’s nuclear arsenal during a private meeting with supporters. Why are you willing to say things about him in private and not in public?

CRUZ: Dana, what I said in private is exactly what I’ll say here, which is that the judgment that every voter is making of every one of us up here is who has the experience, who has the vision, who has the judgment to be commander-in-chief. That is the most important decision for the voters to make. That’s a standard I’m held to. And it’s a standard everyone else is held to.

And I will note, you know, in the whole course of this discussion about our foreign policy threats, it actually illustrates the need for clarity of focus.

You know, my daughters, Caroline and Catherine, came tonight. They’re 7 and 5. And you think about the Los Angeles schools canceling their schools today.

And every parent is wondering, how do we keep our kids safe? We need a commander-in-chief who does what Ronald Reagan did with communism, which is he set out a global strategy to defeat Soviet communism. And he directed all of his…

(CROSSTALK)

CRUZ: I’m answering the question, Dana.

He directed all of his forces to defeating communism.

One of the things we’ve seen here is how easy it is for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to get distracted from dealing with radical Islamic terrorism. They won’t even call it by its name.

We need a president who stands up, number one, and says, we will defeat ISIS. And number two, says the greatest national security threat facing America is a nuclear Iran.

BASH: Senator, senator, I just…

CRUZ: And we need to be focused on defeating…

BASH: Senator, a lot of people have seen…

CRUZ: … defeating radical Islamic terrorists.

BASH: … a lot of people have seen these comments you made in private. I just want to clarify what you’re saying right now is you do believe Mr. Trump has the judgment to be commander-in-chief?

CRUZ: What I’m saying, Dana, is that is a judgment for every voter to make. What I can tell you is all nine of the people here would make an infinitely better commander-in-chief than Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.

(APPLAUSE)

BLITZER: Thank you, senator. Thank you.

CRUZ: And there is a real danger, Dana, when people get distracted.

I’m answering the question, Wolf.

CRUZ: There’s a real danger when people get distracted by peripheral issues. They get distracted by democracy building. They get distracted about military conflicts. We need to focus on defeating jihadism. ISIS and Iran have declared war on America, and we need a commander-in-chief who will do everything necessary to keep our children safe.

BLITZER: Thank you, Senator.

CRUZ: And I will do everything necessary to keep our children safe.

BLITZER: Thank you, Senator.

Cruz’s coddling of Trump is an old story.

It is one of the central stories of the campaign – and, if we end up with either Trump or Cruz as the party’s nominee, or a Trump-Cruz ticket – it may prove to have been decisive to the outcome.

Call it craven. Call it strategic.

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

If Trump is elected president and the world ends in a yuge mushroom cloud, well, Ted Cruz may have — to put it in a Cuban-American idiom — some ‘splainin’ to do. (Though, before passing judgment, I would like to see a thorough analysis of Trump as a sign and instrument of the Apocalypse/End Times/Second Coming.)

But, so far, tactically, it’s worked quite nicely for Cruz.

Of course, what Cruz did to nettle Trump had little to do with anything he had said about Trump and everything to do with Cruz committing the unpardonable sin of surging past Trump in the most recent polls in Iowa, polls being for Trump dispositive of one’s worth and value.

Having been imbued with Norman Vincent Peale’s gospel of success, Trump’s measure of success is success. Winning is success. Leading the polls is, by definition, success. His most withering assault on his opponents is that they are losers.

Here he was going all playground on Jeb Bush when Bush delivered his most calculated line of attack on Trump last night.

BUSH: You’re never going to be president of the United States by insulting your way to the presidency.

TRUMP: Well, let’s see. I’m at 42, and you’re at 3. So, so far, I’m doing better.

BUSH: Doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter.

TRUMP: So far, I’m doing better. You know, you started off over here, Jeb. You’re moving over further and further. Pretty soon you’re going to be off the end…

But, he can’t do to that to Cruz.

Photo by JustinSullivan/Getty Images)
Photo by JustinSullivan/Getty Images)

Here was Jennifer Jacobs in Monday’s Des Moines Register.

Seven weeks from the caucuses, Ted Cruz is crushing it in Iowa.

The anti-establishment congressional agitator has made a rapid ascent into the lead in the GOP presidential race here, with a 21 percentage-point leap that smashes records for upsurges in recent Iowa caucuses history.

Donald Trump, now 10 points below Cruz, was in a pique about not being the front-runner even before the Iowa Poll results were announced Saturday evening. He wasted no time in tearing into Cruz — and the poll — during an Iowa stop Friday night.

Ben Carson, another “Washington outsider” candidate, has plunged 15 points from his perch at the front of the pack in October. He’s now in third place.

“Big shakeup,” said J. Ann Selzer, pollster for The Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics Iowa Poll. “This is a sudden move into a commanding position for Cruz.”

Cruz, a Texas U.S. senator famous for defying party leaders and using government shutdown tactics to hold up funding for the Obamacare health care law and abortion provider Planned Parenthood, was the favorite of 10 percent of likely Republican caucusgoers in the last Iowa Poll in October. He’s now at 31 percent.

Carson’s zenith was 28 percent in the poll two months ago. Trump’s highest support was 23 percent back in August, when he led the field by 5 points.

And there are signs Cruz may not have peaked in Iowa yet. Another 20 percent of likely caucusgoers say he’s their current second choice for president. Cruz hits 51 percent support when first- and second-choice interest is combined, again leading the field.

With Cruz’s popularity and his debate proficiency, “it’s certainly possible that he could win Iowa big — very big,” said Frank Luntz, a Nevada-based GOP focus group guru who follows the Iowa race closely.

When Ben Carson briefly pulled even with Trump in polls this fall, Trump, seeing an easy mark, went on a savage attack on Carson on Nov. 12  in Fort Dodge, Iowa.

Here from Politico:

For nearly nine minutes of his 95-minute speech to a Fort Dodge, Iowa, audience on Thursday evening, Donald Trump laid into Ben Carson, his closest GOP rival, questioning key components of his biography of personal redemption and reenacting his stories in an unorthodox attempt to question them.

“I don’t understand it. I really don’t understand it,” Trump began, discussing Carson’s rise in the polls, remarking that the retired neurosurgeon had said “terrible things about himself” in his book, referring to his 1990 best-selling biography “Gifted Hands.”

 Carson wrote that he was “pathological” and that he had “pathological disease,” Trump remarked, noting that the retired neurosurgeon said those things long before deciding to run for the White House.

“And I don’t want a person that’s got pathological disease, I don’t want it. Now, I’m not saying he’s got it. He said it,” he clarified. “This isn’t something I’m saying — he’s a pathological liar, I’m not saying it. He said he’s got pathological disease. He actually said ‘pathological temper,’ and then he defined it as ‘disease,’ so he said he has ‘pathological disease.’ Now if you’re pathological, there’s no cure for that, folks. OK? There’s no cure for that.”

Hours earlier, Trump compared Carson’s “pathological temper” to that of child molesters on CNN’s Erin Burnett OutFront.

“That’s a big problem because you don’t cure that … as an example: child molesting,” he said. “You don’t cure these people. You don’t cure a child molester. There’s no cure for it. Pathological, there’s no cure for that.”

He repeated the line to this Iowa crowd, remarking, “There’s only one cure [for child molesters] … We don’t want to talk about that cure.”

“Well there’s two, there’s death and the other thing,” he continued.

The next night was the terrorist attack in Paris, and Carson’s campaign was effectively over, with his slide fueling Cruz’s swift rise.

And, it seems no mere coincidence of timing that, just as it became apparent that Cruz was passing Trump in Iowa polls,  Trump did what he does, seizing control of the campaign and one news cycle after the other by unveiling his call to end all Muslim immigration.

From the December 7 Atlantic:

Donald Trump is now calling for an end to all Muslim immigration into the United States.

In a written statement late Monday afternoon, the Trump campaign said the Republican frontrunner wanted a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” As backing, Trump cited a controversial six-month-old survey from the right-wing Center for Security Policy finding that one-quarter of U.S. Muslim respondents believed that violence against Americans was justified as part of global jihad and that a slim majority “agreed that Muslims in America should have the choice of being governed according to Shariah.

 

From the Hill on December 7.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has surpassed Donald Trump and Ben Carson in Iowa, a new poll finds, giving the Texas Republican his first lead of the cycle in an early voting state.
Cruz, who has been on a sharp upward trajectory in the polls in recent weeks, takes 24 percent of support in the Hawkeye State, according to a Monmouth University survey released on Monday.
Trump is in second place in the poll, with 19 percent, followed by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), at 17 percent, and Ben Carson, who suffered by far the steepest decline of any candidate, clocking in at 13 percent.
Carson — who has been dogged by foreign policy blunders since last month’s terror attacks in Paris thrust national security to the forefront of the GOP campaign debates — is in free fall.
He held a commanding lead in the Monmouth survey of Iowa from late October, taking 32 percent support over Trump, who at the time was a distant second place with only 18 percent support.
Carson has fallen 19 points since then, while Cruz has gained 14 points and Rubio has picked up seven.
Evangelical voters, who make up a strong majority of Iowa caucusgoers, have moved behind Cruz, who now has a two-to-one lead over Carson among this influential bloc.
Cruz takes 30 percent support from Iowa evangelicals, followed by Trump, at 18 percent, Rubio, at 16 percent, and Carson, at 15 percent.
Last month, Carson had a two-to-one lead over Trump among evangelicals in the state, taking 36 percent support. Carson has lost 21 percent of his evangelical supporter in just over a month, according to Monmouth.
So, am I suggesting that Trump came up with his “ban on Muslims” as a way to trump Cruz and regain his advantage in Iowa?  Yeah. Sure. Why not? Of course.

Every bit of Trump’s experience this cycle is the more outrageous he is, the better he does; that that which doesn’t kill him, makes him stronger, and nothing he does seems to hurt him at all, let alone kill him.

But last night, confronted by a rising Cruz, standing right next to him, Trump zagged in the other direction. He was amicable instead of confrontational.

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From Katie Glueck at Politico:

Donald Trump was supposed to attack Ted Cruz on Tuesday night. Instead, he gave him a backstage back rub.

Speculation had mounted in the run-up to the last GOP debate of the year that the long-held truce between Trump and Cruz would finally crack now that the Texan has taken the lead in Iowa. But Cruz refused repeatedly to criticize the poll leader. And that left Trump, who often describes himself as a “counterpuncher,” with no openings to exploit.

When pressed on Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country – a position the Republican field has eagerly dismissed, Cruz opted instead for a joke from Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s grandfather. “He said, all horse-thieves are Democrats, but not all Democrats are horse-thieves,” Cruz said, going on to note that there are “millions of peaceful Muslims” without directly addressing Trump or the immigration halt.

And when asked about his questioning, at a private fundraiser, of Trump’s judgement, the senator pivoted to say all candidates would be judged on their commander-in-chief credentials.

That left little for Trump to work with after days of seemingly spoiling for a fight. On Sunday, the real estate developer dished combative tweets – “I was disappointed that Ted Cruz would speak behind my back, get caught, and then deny it. Well, welcome to the wonderful world of politics!” And he called Cruz “a little bit of a maniac” for his confrontational style in the Senate.

But Cruz just wouldn’t take the bait, opting instead to turn down the heat with humor. His team made it clear for days that their candidate was not eager to argue with Trump at the debate.

That put Trump in an uncommon position, sparring with a rival who wouldn’t take a swing. But he seemed to know it walking in. He was seen on camera briefly rubbing Cruz’s shoulders as he greeted the Texas senator before the debate began.

So when asked about calling Cruz a maniac, Trump went for the laugh. “He has a wonderful temperament. He’s just fine. Don’t worry about it.”

https://twitter.com/BuzzFeedAndrew/status/676974106483564544

Now, it is possible that this was simply strategic on Trump’s part.
From Kirby Goidel, a professor of political communication at Texas A&M:
Donald Trump emerges without getting hurt which is a win, and you can start to see the possibility of a Trump/Cruz ticket. 

But University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus gave the advantage to Cruz:

The debate was high risk for Cruz as the surging candidate but was able to survive and advance.  He weaved through issues and attacks with the finesse of an iron fist in a velvet glove.
 
Trump was as erratic as usual, not the least of which was his capitulation of his “maniac” comment about Cruz.

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“He was with me when nobody else was,” Trump said of Cruz after last night’s debate.

“What an inside deal, a total inside deal,” Joe Scarborough said this morning on Morning Joe of the Trump-Cruz non-aggression pact.

He also likened it to the Shake and Bake from Talladega Nights.

But I tend to agree with Elizabeth Williamson in the New York Times:

Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, egged on by CNN moderators, engaged on immigration, defense funding and border security. But again, the enduring image was of Mr. Trump, grimacing and shrugging clownishly as he declined to call Mr. Cruz a “maniac,” as he did last week, or to go after him in any substantive way. He may live to regret pulling those punches come Feb. 1 in Iowa. 

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Follow live: House Human Services Committee hearing on Syrian refugee resettlement

The House Human Services Committee is holding a hearing this morning to receive an update on Gov. Greg Abbott’s directive to Health and Human Services Commission Executive Commissioner Chris Traylor and Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw regarding Syrian refugee resettlement.

Chairman Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo,has said he is trying to gather facts, and will also hear from Catholic Charities, which is among the agencies doing refugee resettlement work in Texas.

Last month, Gov. Greg Abbott wrote President Obama that Texas wouldn’t be accepting Syrian refugees in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks and instructed the state’s Health and Human Services Commission and the Texas Department of Public Safety to “use your full authority to comply with this direction.”

In the meantime, Refugee Services of Texas in Houston and the International Rescue Committee in Dallas have moved ahead with resettling Syrian refugee families in Texas.

This morning’s hearing can be viewed on-line at http://www.house.state.tx.us/video-audio/.