Another Faux Scandal. Sigh.

The Associated Press ran a widely mocked article last week that basically claimed being a Clinton Foundation donor was a prerequisite to getting a meeting with the State Department during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State.  They used an absurd definition of “meeting” and then failed to present any other context for those meetings other than the existence of a donation. It would be like saying that I love Disney World because I once travelled to Orlando, while omitting that my grandparents live there, too.  Or in the case of one of those donors who met with Clinton, he was also a Presidential Medal of Freedom, Congressional Gold Medal, and Nobel Prize winner.

Republicans are also crying foul that Clinton took meetings with billionaires like Bill and Melinda Gates as well as CEOs of the large financial institutions instead of average Americans.  The media reports these meetings as if there is a scandal there. There isn’t. Not even close.

In fact, this shouldn’t be a story at all. This is the way Washington works. No, not because it is corrupt, but because to make and execute good policy, you need the players on board who are not only experts, but have the means to help.  

Take Clinton’s meeting with Nancy Mahon of MAC Cosmetics, which is owned by cosmetics giant Estee Lauder.  They had given to the Clinton Foundation and were also involved in a public/private partnership with the State Department to fight AIDS and gender discrimination in South Africa, something the MAC Cosmetics group had worked on previously.  

Now ask yourself, who would be a better person for Clinton to meet with? Someone who runs a charity similar the program the State Department wants to start, or your buddy Tim who has strong opinions on poor people in Africa?

The same goes for her meetings with Wall Street CEOs.  The US Government works with these large financial institutions on all sorts of issues.  Internationally, they are partners in hunting down financial criminals, routing out terror financing networks, and instituting sanctions.  Clinton isn’t meeting with Jamie Dimon because he gave money to her husband’s foundation, she is meeting with him because the government needs JP Morgan.  

Same question, who would be a better person for Clinton to meet with on global financial issues? The guy who runs JP Morgan, or your neighbor Bill who thinks he’s cleverly saving money by only paying the minimum balance on his credit card?

Working for a member of Congress I have seen this firsthand.  Meetings with CEOs didn’t take place because of donations, they took place because if you want something done, you talk to the person in charge. If the power grid in the state needs fixing, you call the utility CEO, not the technician who has written a few Facebook posts about the government keeping their hands off of his Social Security.

It is no different with celebrities either. Matt Damon doesn’t get a meeting because he has good ideas (maybe he does, who knows), he gets a meeting because the picture of him with the member (and therefore the issue) will be retweeted and garner attention.

The reason these points aren’t articulated on the news is because the pundits and anchors are a part of this giant circle of influence.  Wolf Blitzer and Andrea Mitchell dine with senators and CEOs.  David Gergen worked for four presidents and is on a first name basis with most of Washington.  Mark Halperin is the son of Nixon aide Morton Halperin and was born into the DC hierarchy.  Nearly every person you see on television discussing how scandalous Clinton’s meetings are has been a direct player in that exact system their whole career. There aren’t nearly enough pots and kettles in the world for this scenario.

I’ve been in the green room during each of the four Sunday shows and have watched how the members of Congress and pundits interact, how they chat about their most recent dinner party and their kids and share their two cents on Donald Trump and his tiny hands.  Then they go on air, pretend they don’t know each other and discuss what “average voters” want to hear from Hillary.  

The business, political, and media world don’t exist in a vacuum.  All the players know each other, work with each other, and give money to each other.  The presence of a donation doesn’t signify anything beyond the dollar amount on the check. Much like Woody and Buzz watching Andy pack his boxes without them, the news anchors and pundits must stay silent on their true place in the Washington arena, otherwise the jig would be up.

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Photo Credit: (BBC)
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The Donald vs The Media. Who Ya Got?

Since successfully emasculating Chris Christie into serfdom, dueling Paul Ryan to a draw, and hypnotizing Marco Rubio into supporting him, Donald Trump has finally settled on his newest target of bombast.  The media.

Regardless of his ire, the media is the lifeblood of his campaign.  It is estimated he has received over $2 billion in free air time and he has spent less on advertising than Green Party candidate Jill Stein. During a recent interview with the Washington Post, he famously stopped the interview 5 times – including mid-sentence – to stare at the TV and comment on himself.  He is like a dog who barks at a squirrel while you’re trying to get it to sit.  And lately he has been doing a lot of barking.

To hear Trump tell it, in the past week he has been the victim of two media conspiracies to make him look bad after he said a couple completely innocuous words.  First was his apparent reference to encourage assassinating Hillary Clinton and the second was his declaration that President Obama “founded ISIS.” But the media was wrong Trump says, the Clinton comment was “sarcasm” and merely meant to encourage Second Amendment supporters to shoot vote and the Obama comment wasn’t literal, obviously.

The media has such a sensitive gag reflex to his quotes because he has developed a reputation as a caricature of a dictator where it isn’t far-fetched to assume he could intend something as incendiary as an allusion to assassination.  

Remember, the media doesn’t operate in a vacuum. They have chronicled Trump’s history. They live for continuing narratives. If Mitt Romney had said either of those things, the spin wouldn’t have been the same because he didn’t have the same track record that Trump does.  

Unlike Romney, Trump repeatedly employed thinly veiled dog-whistles during the primaries to gin up support among blue collar white voters such as when he played funny with the endorsement of the KKK by pretending to not know who David Duke was.  The media was suspect his explanation of that incident and they will continue to be with others like it.

This style of reporting on the Trump campaign also extends beyond Trump himself.

For example, Trump surrogate and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is currently backpedaling at Olympic speed for saying that the United States suffered no terror attacks in the eight years preceding the Obama presidency.  The media jumped it because on its face it is an absurd and insultingly false comment.  Giuliani, after all, was the mayor of New York City on 9/11 and can (hopefully) do math to realize that that is less than eight years prior to Obama.

What upsets Trumpians is that if one looks at Giuliani’s full remarks, only a couple minutes before the quote in question he had mentioned that 9/11 was a foreign attack on U.S. soil during a time of Republican leadership, thus clearly Giuliani was taken out of context.

So is Trump right? Is the media treating him unfairly?

The short answer is that no, they are not.

The media doesn’t think that Giuliani has forgotten when 9/11 was. They are aghast at him for the absurdity of the remark because he and his fellow Trump mouthpieces are so willing to say literally anything to hurt the president and Hillary Clinton that they don’t consider fact, history, or reason before speaking. 

Presidential campaign speeches and talking points used to be some of the most highly vetted words ever spoken, but Trump’s campaign and its surrogates are employing the same vetting process as your drunk cousin at Thanksgiving.  

As I mentioned earlier, Trump and his surrogate’s quotes get written about from an angle of seriousness and shock because he has previously acted in such a way to make those quotes seem intentional.  If a Mormon missionary is found at the scene of a crime, he is much more likely to get the benefit of the doubt than someone who has a rap sheet the length of a CVS receipt.

The other reason that the media treats obviously false statements like “Obama founded ISIS” with such intensity is that Trump says them to play to the whims of conspiracy theory junkies.  Just as Trump’s hesitancy to disavow David Duke was seen as a nod to southern whites, the Obama-ISIS quote was seen as a nod towards those who don’t believe Obama is a patriot.  If the media gives him a pass on these “hint-hint” style allegations, they’d view themselves as abdicating their duty to not perpetuate ugly conspiracies and flat out lies.

The final point is that the media mostly just repeats verbatim what Trump says. They don’t have to skew opinion one way or another because just simply saying “Trump said” and playing the tape does a pretty good job of getting the point across.  President Obama made this point at a fundraiser for Clinton recently saying “I don’t have to make the case against [Trump] because every time he talks, he makes the case against his own candidacy.”

As long as Trump keeps holding press conferences, the media will continue to cover him with skepticism, shock, and dueling panels of “experts.”  Trump can either adapt and save his campaign or continue on his path and save money on confetti and balloons.

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Photo Credit: (Getty Images)

7 Things You Can Expect From Donald Trump This Week

Last week Donald Trump treated us to all new sorts of crazy.  He started the week by hinting at the assassination of Hillary Clinton and finished by declaring that President Obama founded ISIS.

It will be a tough act to follow, but here at Eighteenth&U, we offer you a sneak peak into what Trump has planned for us this week.

7 Things You Can Expect From Donald Trump This Week

  1. “I heard from a reliable source – very reliable, believe me – that Hillary Clinton deleted those 30,000 emails because she actually is the Nigerian Prince. Many people are saying that.”
    1. Turns out that reputable source is an email from a Nigerian Prince.
  2. In a 7-tweet series starting at 11:43 pm, he’ll denounce KFC as “really a terrible establishment” that “even starving African children wouldn’t touch” after he realizes mid-flight that his 10 piece bucket only has 9 pieces.
  3. Trump will write a letter to the editor declaring BuzzFeed a “puny, insignificant website that is so 2014” after they post a listicle titled: “23 Things Bigger Than Donald Trump’s Tiny, Tiny Hands.”
  4. He will insist that Mike Pence twirl around on stage to model his new Trump suit and tie. Trump will add that “Mike is probably the ugliest dude to ever wear one of those.”
  5. At an event in Illinois, he’ll make fun of Senator Mark Kirk for wearing glasses asking “like, how does even check his Twitter mentions without looking like a four-eyed loser?”
  6. Trump will ponder aloud to an audience in Texas; “Thank god Hillary isn’t a beach volleyball player, am I right? She’s barely a hard 6, much less a 10!”
  7. A tweet “revealing” that Obama killed Harambe.

 

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Photo Credit: (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Donald Trump Needs To Call A Timeout

Donald Trump must think he is a shark with the way his mouth and/or thumbs are in near constant motion.  It is like if he is not in front of a microphone, en route to a microphone, or using his tiny fingers to whimsically punch out 140 new characters, he feels like he is dying.  

But alas, he is not a shark.  He is actually closer to a blow-fish bred with a yam, but I digress.  He doesn’t need to keep moving to stay alive and someone should tell him that in fact, moving for the sake of moving is often a mistake in the political world. Sometimes doing nothing is the best action you can take.

Trump keeps “accidentally” insulting new people because he has exhausted so many previous talking points that he must stretch for more material. He’s like a television show entering its fifth season when it never expected to make it past the pilot.

His bigger problem is that he has no articulated policies besides “build the wall” which requires roughly three words to detail.

“What are we gonna do?” “Build the wall!” “Hrmm okay, right, well moving on.”

He doesn’t have a structured stump speech either, so when he wanders up to the microphone he spews a stream of consciousness similar to the keystrokes of your crazy right-wing uncle.

The whole Selina Meyer-esque interaction with a crying baby at one of his rallies recently happened because he was so bored with his talking points that his mind began to wander and like a comedian who forgot his next bit, he turned to engaging the crowd.

At some level Trump may also know that like a comedian, if his material gets stale people will stop listening.  Jokes are only funny so many times and if you know the punchline, it’s hard to stay engaged.  The same goes for a Trump speech. It’s hard to stay fired up about kicking out those darn immigrants through twelve straight months of rallies.

“What are we gonna do?” “Yeah yeah, the wall, we know.” “Hrmm okay, right, well moving on.”

Even the media is bored of his gaffes.  It’s become a cut-and-paste ritual in every article where the author lists Trump’s offenses in the same manner in which you list “proficient in Microsoft Office suite” on your resume.  Everyone knows it, you have to say it, but it isn’t going to impress anyone.

He also doesn’t seem to get that just because he’s making noise doesn’t mean he’s making progress.  He remarked last week that he was confused about how he wasn’t higher in the polls because his rallies were so big.  Trump rallies feature a thousand die-hard crazy folks and the voting public is about 110 million people.  You do the math.

With three months until the election, you can bet that you haven’t seen the last press release from the Speaker’s office attempting linguistic Tai Chi condemning Trump’s latest offense while also still kinda sorta supporting him and also slipping in a Benghazi reference or two.

Trump has morphed into the love child of a Jack-In-The-Box and the Energizer Bunny. You know something crazy is going to pop out at any second, you just don’t know when or how to stop it–and it will continue indefinitely.*

*hopefully not after November 8.

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Photo Credit:  AP

Here Comes Hillary, Champion of Children!

If you had never heard of Hillary Clinton before the start of the Democratic convention, then first of all, you’re probably an alien, and second of all, you’d probably be surprised to learn that everyone else knows her as a Secretary of State, not as a lifelong champion and advocate for children and families.  

The first act of Clinton’s campaign was centered on the thesis that she should be president because she is the single most qualified human on earth for the job. She had served as a senator and a Secretary of State and was successful at both. But last week in Philadelphia, the Clinton campaign began rolling out Hillary Clinton version 2.0, who is a lifelong fighter for women and children and oh, also happened to serve as Secretary of State.

This rebranding was a deliberate choice driven primarily by voting demographics.  The campaign knows that their odds of winning white men are about the same as you finding that m&m you dropped between the driver’s seat and center console of your Honda.  Trump is up roughly thirty points with white men and there is little looking back.  Her negative ratings with them are approaching 70% which believe it or not, is higher than Trump’s unfavorable with women.

The is mostly because the Republicans have successfully defined her time as Secretary of State as a period branded by Benghazi and her use of a private email server.  They have kept Benghazi in the news for nearly 5 years now and spent $7 million on the latest investigation by the House.  Embassies had been attacked before and never produced vitriol like this and even the 9/11 report stopped short of 500 pages. But nevertheless, Republicans wanted Clinton to be the Benghazi candidate.

As a result, the area where she can draw the biggest contrast and make the most gains is with women.  Trump has a long record of offensive statements towards women and has done literally nothing for their benefit his entire life.

Although, knowing Trump he’d probably tell you that he built the best kitchens in his buildings so women should thank him accordingly.

Branding Clinton as a lifelong fighter for women and children may be a strategic choice, but it has-as Henry Kissinger once said-the added advantage of also being true. She has truly made it her life’s work.  She started working on behalf of families after college and continued after she and Bill moved to Arkansas. Most notably as First Lady she worked towards passing comprehensive healthcare reform and eventually helped to ensure the passage of the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Reminding people of this is important because politicians are brands like Coke or Toyota before anything else. They are fighters, advocates, winners, and leaders first and human beings second.

Trump has mastered his brand. He is anti-pc. He is Roundup weed killer mixed with Everclear and if you have too much, you’ll wake up finding out you drunk texted your boss, but you won’t apologize.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is McDonald’s.  She is a juggernaut and known quantity and Benghazi was her “Super Size Me.”  The Democratic Convention last week was the roll out of Clinton as white meat chicken, salads, and apples in Happy Meals.

If the Democratic convention’s rebranding was successful, Clinton will see a sustained rise in her numbers as voters look to connect with a sensitive, empathetic family advocate who is oil to Trump’s water.

After all, General Motors saw their sales turn around partly as a result of their rebranding Buick that saw people no longer viewing Buick as their grandfather’s car, but as a symbol of new, young luxury.  Will Clinton share the same fate?

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