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When people are conned they do everything in their power to rationalize the conduct of the conman rather than admit they were lied and stolen from. They don’t want to feel complicit in being harmed and thus seek to blame others for their choices.

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Yes

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Tell that to my Uncle who is now a proud owner of a Trump bible.

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Just show him the picture of DJT holding the Bible upside down. Straight up Antichrist symbology.

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"He was just distracted by the antifa mob a few blocks away - even someone as strong as him could've been thrown off by how hateful those 'peaceful protesters' were! And do you think Joe Biden even *owns* a Bible? At least Trump took a stand for Christianity!"

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Biden literally attends the church my aunt goes to and has attended church more than any President since Carter.

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I mean why wouldn't you want an autographed copy of the autobiography?

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I genuinely wonder how much a Biden campaign message of "Trump is actually scamming you because that's what he always has done" would resonate. The Pod Save America guys have previously noted (and they are not the only ones) that messages focusing on the corruption of Trump (as opposed to the racisms, the unhinged rants) does actually seem to reach swing voters.

As has been pointed out sort of by Matt in this post, it's actually not the case that Trump's racism, authoritarian tendencies and just general unhinged behavior hasn't harmed him. But sort of oddly to me, of all the different angles to take against Trump, the pure corruption of his entire life has been oddly muted from Democrats as far as I can tell.

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Completely agree that Trump's scamming of "regular folks" is probably a much more effective attack strategy on his support base and enabling support base - let alone because it's still happening (Trump PAC donations that have almost entirely gone to his pockets and not to "Stop The Steal" efforts, campaigning, etc). The dirty tactics his PAC's take to default his supporters into recurring automatic donations, "doubling" amounts pledged in the fine print etc. Run some ads of former supporters and/or family members of supporters who were pushed into financial dire straits as a result of this aggressively scammy means of maximizing small donors out. Run ads of those who were ruined and defrauded by Trump U and other Trump investments. Small business former partners with Trump who were screwed. Etc.

Unlike his "sex scandals" and "threat to democracy", this kind of stuff hits at a core of Trump support that I see from many Trump supporters is that underneath his rough edges he's a "good guy" that really cares about America, his supporters, etc. And that's what justifies his rough edges, he's "fighting for us", "fighting for America", etc. There is a lot of denial about what a con-man Trump actually is, and that his supporters are his primary marks (and not other politicians or "the deep state").

One of the most effective attack campaigns I can recall is the one against Mitt Romney and Bain Capital from the 2012 campaign - that ironically emerged from the Republican primary (Newt Gingrich I think was the sponsor for this), that portrayed Mitt Romney as a cold blooded rich guy gleefully putting thousands of the types that would become the media depiction of Trump supporters out of work, and put a face to the forces that had been decimating all these "middle America" towns and regions. And it worked - not so much in the primary for Newt, but in the general election because the Obama campaign picked right up where this left off and used it as their primary attack on Romney, who did go on to lose a lot of the white working class base that had been tacking Republican (and who again, became the focus for the 2016 Trump campaign) as a result of this portrayal - and let's not forget what a massive lift this for Obama, who was otherwise running as an incumbent with lowered popularity running for re-election in the midst of a deep economic recession. I wonder if there's still juice to squeeze on his working class/middle class support to remind these folks that Trump is just another rich Republican scamming the base.

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I’ve always wished everyone had gone this route instead of going all in on Russia. I don’t think most people even know about the corruption while he was in office.

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May 23·edited May 23

Or over the "Access Hollywood" tape, part of Trump's "appeal" (for those he appealed to already) was that he was supposedly a "guy's guy" that gets the "hot chicks". The obsessing over that hot tape and trying to disqualify Trump because he's a pig only confirmed that image for those who already knew this about him and hated him already, or for those that already knew this about him and loved him already... IOW, it didn't really move the needle for anyone, not even Paul Ryan who removed his endorsement from Trump for all about 5 minutes until the polls showed that Trump was actually strengthened by the scandal in the Republican electorate.

I would add it was a particularly weak attack from Hillary Clinton, whose husband survived his own sex scandal strengthened, and with a heap ton of her assistance in painting the Ken Starr investigation and report as partisan motivated and that "sex scandals" of politicians were not politically disqualifying in the first place...

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My theory on this is that a lot of leftists think all rich businessmen act exactly like Donald Trump does in a business context, so what is there to point out to anyone who says they respect business leaders?

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I actually don’t think it’s just a “leftist” thing at all. I actually think tons of regular non leftist voters think tons of politicians take literal bags of money with dollar signs on them as bribes. And reality is there is just enough real life examples that I sort of get why; see Spiro Agnew and see Duke Cunningham.

But I bring up those examples because it’s not like voters just said “who cares” and it’s not like the GOP said “”witch hunt”. Both had to resign. So even in a world where voters think Trump level corruption is rampant, it’s not like people actually like it or don’t care.

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That's politicians. I am referring to Trump during his pre-political business career. As Matt explained in this post, Trump was exceptionally corrupt compared to other businessmen, in a way that even say Jeff Bezos has never benn shown to be. I think a lot of leftists see no difference between the business career of Trump and Bezos, so they see no point in highlighting examples like the one Matt gave that show Trump is a very special scumbag.

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I just don’t think that’s true.

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Fair enough, agree to disagree then.

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That may very well be true, but that's an argument to not left "leftists" run all aspects of a campaign ; P this particular line of attack is to directly target Trump's base of support, the ones that think that Trump is a great businessman, "good guy with rough edges", "fighting for them", etc. There's such a vast and rich record - that is still ongoing - of how Trump screws his supporters and people like his supporters. It gets at the heart of how they otherwise justify Trump's "rough edges" because they think it's all in their service.

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No one wants to admit they were a sucker

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>When people are conned they do everything in their power to rationalize the conduct of the conman rather than admit they were lied and stolen from.<

I've always thought this explained at least some of the dynamic as to why so many less affluent folks vote for right wingers (not just Trump). It's a resentful nihilism born of deep, prideful, hurt. What's the matter with Kansas, and all that. If everybody voted using some reasonable facsimile of rational self-interest, Democrats would control 511 seats in Congress.

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Nah, the point of “what’s the matter with Kansas” discourse is that people place value on more than just the legible but limited universe of government benefits. The “rational self-interest” angle takes a too-narrow view of what people place value on (heck, it’s why charity exists). Some people’s beliefs do, in fact, pay rent.

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I think it’s also about respect. As someone wrote, poor whites with low education will rather vote for someone whose policies hurts them than on someone who looks down on them. One of Biden’s strengths is that he doesn’t seem to look down on uneducated white people yet he struggles for other reasons (part of them being his own party’s penchant for cultural elitism).

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I found Dying of Whiteness’s anecdotes to be unconvincing evidence for this broader assertion.

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It can be that and that they are mistaken a lot what will benefit their material self-interest.

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founding

If everybody voted using some reasonable facsimile of rational self interest, most of the upper middle class would vote Republican.

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May 22·edited May 22

Nah. There's such a thing as "enlightened self-interest". You have to be extremely short-sighted to vote for authoritarianism. Just ask Mikhail Khodorkovsky how supporting an authoritarian leader in pursuit of riches worked out for him. (Obviously many of our elite _are_ this short-sighted. It doesn't change the fact that they're behaving in a willfully-ignorant, self-destructive manner.)

Personally I am a winner from the post-New-Deal regulated-capitalist order that has existed in America for the last almost-century. I want to preserve that order. Which means ensuring that we offer opportunity to as many people as possible, and tamp down on rich people engaging in Marie Antoinette antics that could inspire mobs with pitchforks and torches. I can afford to pay higher taxes to help ensure that nobody in my country lives in abject poverty. I can deal with having new apartment buildings that "change the character of my neighborhood" in order to jack up the housing supply to the point that the people whose services I rely on can afford to live close to their jobs. Etc.

Some rich people regarded FDR as "a traitor to his class". In fact, he was all that stood between them and a collapse of the system that might've seen mobs storming their mansions.

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I don't think so. Upper middle class people aren't financially independent (they have to work). Republicans as a party are deeply committed to weakening the safety net. That doesn't seem to be in the interests of anyone who's not rich. Republicans have an extremely poor record on protecting the environment. Do UMC folks prefer dirty air? Many upper middle class Americans are LGBT. Many upper middle class Americans get abortions. Many upper middle class Americans don't want to bequeath a world to their grandchildren facing worst case climate change scenarios. Many upper middle class Americans have preexisting medication conditions. And so on.

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founding

Republicans lower taxes on the upper middle class.

If the environment, gay rights, and abortion are relevant to this discussion, then I'm not sure why you are so convinced that Republican voters don't actually have any self-interest in the things that Republicans do.

I've always understood the "what's the matter with Kansas" thesis to be that low income people often vote against their economic interests and in line with their culture war interests, and my thought is that the upper middle class is doing the same thing.

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May 22·edited May 22

"Republicans lower taxes on the upper middle class."

Actually Trump's tax cut raised my taxes by around $3-4k per year, mainly because of the SALT limit. That's the case for many families with incomes in the mid six figures.

To be clear, I'm actually fine with that. If I were re-writing things I'd keep the SALT limit, and I'd put the Mortgage Interest deduction on a schedule to phase out over thirty years by phasing down the amount of principal it applies to (so you don't get windfall losses / gains on a mortgage that was taken out this year, but going forwards everyone can adjust).

But I do find it somewhat ironic that a lot of people who vote for Republicans on the "maybe they'll hurt other people but they'll help me" theory got burned.

"I never thought leopards would eat MY face," sobs woman who voted for the Leopards Eating People's Faces Party.

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I used to piss off a right-winger I worked with by saying, "I'd rather give taxes to the government for poor people than have those people break into my house and get it." He never really figured out how to respond and eventually just moved to the libertarian utopia of Idaho.

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If everyone voted with rational self-interest, the Republican party would move leftward on some key issues, and things would get very tight again.

It is this precise dynamic of refusing to move just a TINY bit to the left (that is all it would take for lots of centrist voters) and instead faling into the "let's gaslight everyone, let's gerrymander everything, and win that way" that is killing us, and creating this maddening partisanship. The nation would be so much healthier if the party would try to appeal to the median voter instead of just doubling down on nutjobism.

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>If everyone voted with rational self-interest, the Republican party would move leftward on some key issues,<

True.

>and things would get very tight again.<

I dunno. Things have never been tighter. But it's an interesting thought. Maybe they'd get even tighter, who knows?

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I mispoke a bit, I meant the popular vote, which republicans have won only once in about 30 years.

But I see your point, too, in the absence of extreme partisanship, you can get elections like when Reagan carried 49 states.

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" It's a resentful nihilism born of deep, prideful, hurt." - Yeah, real mystery these people won't vote like you want them to. You clearly have so much respect and compassion for them.

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I know it, huh? The nerve of me thinking that most people are misguided for voting GOP. Why, it's almost as if I think that Democratic policies are objectively better!

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My initial reaction to this article was going to be "how about finding some people who trusted him but got ripped off to establish he's a grifter in a negative ad campaign?", but after reading this, I now worry that that could be daunting....

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Because even when those people speak out the people vested in the scam not being revealed disregard both their eyes and ears.

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founding

I feel like every other day the news has on someone who trusted Trump and used to work for him or support him and then got burned and now hate him. Whether it’s Michael Cohen or James Mattis or his former contractors or whoever.

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May 22Liked by Ben Krauss

I usually avoid Trump-focused posts, but I admire how Matt can take this topic that makes people on both sides insane and lay the facts out calmly, logically, and relentlessly to the devastating conclusion. Hard to argue with any of this! A perfect cheat sheet for engaging people you know who are considering voting for him. I’m glad it’s not paywalled.

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The article will be read in full on swing state TV spots across the country. The ad buy will be expensive, but worth it.

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Start a GoFundMe

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May 22Liked by Ben Krauss

Growing up in the Deep South the Trump archetype was fairly prevalent. I’d most closely identify it with the small town corrupt politician or preacher (in some cases the politician may also be your preacher). Southerners love a scoundrel and they love them even more if they are a godly one.

A godly scoundrel doesn’t need to be deeply and devoutly religious but it’s crucial that he say the right things that make the congregation go “mmm hmm, yes lawd”. He needs mix up some jokes with the fire and brimstone. Multiple wives are a must. Quirks that play against type are good “Oh, did you hear? He doesn’t drink at all!”

I always disliked the fact that so many adults seem to be taken with these characters when I was a kid. It’s actually one of the earliest things I remember disliking about small town southern life, the accepted corruption with a veneer of godliness to make it all okay.

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The Righteous Gemstones are an excellent parody of that archetype. Albeit, for mega churches.

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May 22Liked by Ben Krauss

Exactly what came to mind!

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May 22·edited May 22

Reminds me of the car dealer in Friday Night Lights. Also, if we're being honest, Bill Clinton had more than a bit of this quality about him (fortunately he really was trying to do right by The People, and The Country).

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I definitely think that there's something to the idea that Bill Clinton laid the ground for Trump in some ways. When the Dems decided to rally round him rather than ask him to resign the Republicans definitely noticed that permission space was wider than previously understood.

There's more to it than that, such as Bush II completely disgracing the Republican establishment.

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The weird thing is that it all rubbed off to the detriment of the more square, more earnest, less personally reckless, more careful, less rascally, less horny, less *fun*, more *boring*, and more *sanctimonious*, Al Gore and Hillary Clinton.

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I don't agree with that. Clinton engaged in a consensual relationship with an adult. He wasn't scamming working Americans via fake real estate seminars. He wasn't swindling retirees out of their savings by selling them bullshit casino stocks. He wasn't strong-arming other countries to provide dirt on campaign rivals. (Bill Clinton's race against Bob Dole was entirely proper and dignified). Donald Trump is rotten to the core.

Democrats were right to rally around Bill Clinton, lest a precedent be established whereby a president's political opponents can hound him out of office for no reason.

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Uh, from our modern #MeToo perspective, Clinton's behavior looks extremely bad. He exploited a huge power differential to take advantage of a young woman. Furthermore, Bill already had a track record of such behavior, or at least allegation there of, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Clinton_sexual_assault_and_misconduct_allegations

Even in the 90's this looked fairly bad. Particularly when Bill lied and attempted to cover it up. If the republicans hadn't overplayed their hand with the impeachment, then this likely would've tainted Bill, Hillary, and any Democrats who stood by him far more.

And Trump exploited Bill's past behavior in the 2016 election when defending against his own sexism and exploitation. [1] It was just a bad look for Hillary and the Democratic establishment to have stood by such a scumbag and that likely did diffuse Trump's own scandal.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Clinton_sexual_assault_and_misconduct_allegations#2016_United_States_presidential_election

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One of my first political memories that has real impact on my world view, because it was one of the first big stories that happened when I started to truly pay close attention to the news. Which means I remember a lot of the coverage.

I bring it up because I think we're having a sort of collective "Mandela Effect" as to what happened. I think post #MeToo, there has been this sense that the issue at play was the abuse of power and specifically the power differential between an intern and Clinton. And given there were literally thousands of articles written, I'm sure some of them touched on this.

But let's be real. The biggest part of the "scandal" was just purely, there's sex going on in the White House. There's a reason Monica Lewinsky was slut shamed horrendously by all sides, media and comedians; including GOP politicians, conservative media and the Christian right. There's a reason Kenn Starr felt this need to include the most graphic details in his report (remember the blue dress). It was all designed to scandalize America and also cater to the sexual mores of the Chistian right. It was all "eww look how gross this all is". The front and center case against Clinton was complete about the salaciousness and the intimate details. And I genuinely think this is why the public wasn't moved by the impeachment.

I agree with you completely in retrospect the biggest part of the scandal was Clinton exploiting his power. And I actually think the most criminal or at least "impeachable" thing he did was basically get Monica a job at the UN at the expense of another candidate so she was no longer around. Like whoever that candidate was probably has a case to be made he/she was directly harmed by Clinton's actions.

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The power difference was definitely not the focus that it needed to be although it was discussed. I think the fact that it was sold as a sex thing and not a sexual harassment thing was partly because that term was so new but it did leave folks thinking they were picking between "slut supporter" and "prude" rather than "abuser" vs "abused."

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Trouble is, the modern #MeToo perspective is not that widely shared. This is another case of progressives fooling themselves into thinking their attitudes are widely shared, when they in fact are not. The big thing that came out of the #MeToo movement was that sexual harassment was more common than a lot of people thought, but laying that out (and prosecuting a casting-cough rapist) was not enough to effect the serious societal change that supporters of the movement expected.

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I sort of agree. But I think you might be being a bit too sanguine about the impacts of #MeToo.

As an example. I genuinely think the McDonalds CEO who resigned in 2019 is not compelled to resign in 2000. Heck, I feel fairly confident he's not compelled to resign in 2015. https://www.cnn.com/2023/01/09/business/former-mcdonalds-ceo-fined/index.html#:~:text=The%20Easterbrook%20saga,consensual%20relationship%20with%20an%20employee.%E2%80%9D

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Agree that even by the standards of the time (I was working in DC) it was bad. Hilariously in retrospect, I thought there was literally no way that any human could endure the magnitude of shame unleashed by the details of the affair and that he would have no choice but to skulk away out of public view.

To me, the legalistic lying, the power differential, and the credence it gave to all of the other allegations were all factors, though perhaps owing to my midwesternness I also thought it was deeply unseemly. My mom, though, had a different take and didn't think it was as bad. I think that having worked at a big company as a young woman in the 50s/60s she had probably experienced actual condescension and/or harassment, so maybe this, being consensual, was less offensive to her.

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Based on the way we’re meant to think of these things post-#metoo, I think you’d have to take Juanita Broadrick’s rape claim very seriously. Frankly at the time I dismissed it out of hand.

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Power imbalance? Did he threaten her in some way? Or are we now deciding that Presidents can only have sexual relationships with other heads of state?

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Completely agree. He arrogantly failed to recognize that the media would and could not protect him, like they did in Arkansas as governor and for all of the other cheating politicians. Matt Bai wrote a great book several years back about how cable news and the 24/7 news cycle caught Gary Hart by surprise. He normalized bad behavior by lying to the public on live TV. Hillary enabled it by not divorcing him. Everybody was more concerned about beating the other side than doing the right thing. Trump saw this and took it into overdrive, thanks to social media. Al Franken did what Clinton should have done but failed to realize that Trump had flipped the script again, so he lost his career. Had Democrats called Clinton to the carpet like Republicans did to Nixon, we opened the door to this whole mess. The 90s were bad in many ways. Unchecked self-interest took over all of American society.

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That is the least of the allegations against Clinton and the evidence against him for many of those are at least as strong as the similar allegations against Trump/Kavanaugh.

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I don’t think Hillary consented to Clinton’s betrayal but I guess only certain kinds of legal dishonesty matter.

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May 22·edited May 22

Clinton does seems like a seminal moment as far as “politicians will never be held accountable electorally for universally-known lapses in personal probity.” The implicit takeaway is licensing arbitrary amounts of indecency for public figures. I think this also actually ties into the mailbag question about civic virtue: Americans stopped valuing it and decided that anyone who thought that we should demand things like not cheating on your wife was a sucker. Only profits / electoral victory matter.

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It was a lot easier to have “civic virtue” in the absence of 24-hour cable news, and even worse, social media. Plenty of past Presidents successfully projected the image of sober statesmen while having affairs on the side that the public knew nothing of, or at least it was not the focus of political news. The big problem with Clinton is that he was apparently so compulsive in his behavior that he could not heed the warning from Gary Hart’s fate, that it was no longer possible to have affairs outside of the spotlight.

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Basically wrote the comment I just did but with more brevity and clarity.

Lot easier to be JFK in 1960 then in 2024. Hate to break to you Boomers but JFK was a scumbag. And let's also talk about how his father created the family fortune shall we.

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My understanding, admitting that I may be wrong, is that despite the legend of Joe being a bootlegger, that's pretty well been dismissed by historians, What he was was a shrewd investor with a great sense of timing. He played the market in the roaring 20s and cashed out not long before the crash. Having lots of cash he bought up underpriced real estate and Hollywood studios. Seeing the end of prohibition coming he bought exclusive rights to the importation of high end Scotch and Gin and was ready to quench America's greatly increased thirst as soon as it was legal.

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Ironically, in Hart's case, he might have been set up by Lee Atwater:

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/11/was-gary-hart-set-up/570802/

I also wonder if elite Republicans felt taken for a ride after Bob Packwood was forced to resign in 1995, then Clinton was popular during impeachment.

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I feel like people have forgotten what Larry Flynt did during the impeachment scandal, and that it led to the resignation of the man who was about to become Speaker. I wonder if Livingston regrets his decision.

https://www.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/time/1998/12/21/livingston.html

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I think you're underestimating just how prevalent this was in the past. In fact if anything it was worse in a world of pure machine politics. In NYC, Jimmy Walker was most famous, but Tammany Hall as a machine was famously brazen in how they conducted themselves; including how the conducted themselves personally. Politicians visiting brothels was actually a pretty common and well known occurrence.*

In fact Tammany Hall is sort of a good comparison. Matt alluded to this, but voting as a purely transactional commitment with no thought to the personal mores of the candidate has a long history. The difference is what you're looking for in return. 120 years ago, it was "let us drink in the taverns and give some jobs to some guys in the neighborhood and you got our vote" and now it's "go ahead and take whatever money you want, just give us tax cuts, bans on abortion and being unnecessarily mean to libs and we don't care".

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I've always thought that there would have been a different outcome if the Lewinsky affair had come out before his reelection. I think Clinton would have lost a primary, I'm not sure to who, and if he didn't I'm pretty sure he would have lost the general with a lot of democrats defecting.

I think the American people would have expressed displeasure with his actions if given a chance for a referendum directly on them. Overturning an election is just a different thing than just losing one. Maybe in part because of the no one likes to admit they were conned.

I know he was even more popular at the end of his term despite the scandal, but a lot of that was Starr and the Republicans over playing their hand, especially with the hyperpartisanship they were displaying which was still new at the time.

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I suspect that if, say, Bill Bradley had been President instead of Clinton, the Republicans would still be in love with Trump today. I'm not inclined to believe in the "permission structure" theory of politics.

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I call foul on this characterization of Buddy Garrity.

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Ha. I couldn't have remembered his name if my life depended on it.

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I learned this hack today: https://www.google.com/

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This is one of the problems with left and center politicians: we might win more elections if there were more skillful, intelligent scammers who are sincerely interested in promoting the Greater Good.

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But no one thinks Trump is godly, he doesn’t even pretend. He does pretend to be a good businessman and, as Matt explained, in a scummy way, he sort of is.

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Yeah this is my point, two claims Trump actually makes about himself are that he is a savvy businessman (semi-true) and that he champions the interests of his followers (wildly false) and the truth about this is different from hypocrisy.

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He made his money the old-fashioned way: he stole it.

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A lot of conservatives genuinely believe that Donald Trump became a devout Christian around 2016.

It seems self-evidently absurd to liberals but a lot of conservatives really do believe that.

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I don't think any Christian conservatives actually believe he became a devout Christian. What they believe is that God uses imperfect tools to achieve his goals.

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Right. That's why there's this whole "King David" thing (when he's not being compared to Cyrus).

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"Kind David" maybe. Cyrus? Never - he was "the great" for a lot of reasons that I don't think the Donald can claim.

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Yeah I've seen this line of thinking a lot as sort of post-hoc generalization for supporting someone that a Christian conservative could never support. Seen a lot of quotes about how the bible is full of imperfect vessels for advancing God's plan.

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It's almost too perfect. You can simultaneously believe that he's a complete scumbag while supporting him since he's doing God's work.

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No, a guy in my dad's Bible Study keeps insisting that Trump is a "Baby Believer."

I don't know why he can't just go with the King Cyrus analogy...

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If God is using assholes to do his job, well...

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I've heard "He's a baby Christian" from them many times.

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Ah. Beat me to it.

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Well, he does spread the Gospel. He just gets a nice royalty from ever copy that's sold.

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He totally does pretend! It’s a paper thin act, but it’s there, and plenty of people seem to buy it

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Because their own faith is paper thin! The people who do crazy stuff like cite Isaiah verses as Trump prophesy are basically not Christians anymore. It's more of a civic religion kinda thing where they are taking their political and social views and providing a religious justification for them as some kind of rationalization. Or, if you're more on the left, you might point out how Christian nationalist and white supremacy groups seem awfully cozy these days.

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I actually think these two issues are more connected than they seem on the surface. Much of the US has a sort of weird alternative version of Christianity that could grow and develop along side slavery or segregation. If your income as a pastor requires you to preach to a bunch of slave holders, there is a lot of Jesus's message about non-violence, equality, charity, etc that is pretty uncomfortable to focus on. There is a reason that John 3:16 is a favorite verse of the Christian Right and not the Sermon on the Mount. If all you have to do is believe, that frees you up to still engage in white supremacy. But a Christianity that focuses just on dogmatic belief and adhering to the sexual more of the letters of Paul to keep you from dealing with the rest, can pretty easily warp into a faith where literal readings of noah's arch, conformity to patriarchy, and rejection of homosexuality become the issues of salvation and that can is a faith that can align itself pretty comfortably with nationalism and dictatorship pretty easily.

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Scamming people is good business now? A good businessman creates something of value. Ayn Rand would have kicked this douchebag to the curb.

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Lots of people think Trump is a tool of god, thus imparting an important "godly" quality to him. If you think he doesn't pretend then you haven't seen enough of his rallies.

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He's selling Bibles!

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John Goodman in Oh Brother Where Art Thou - the archetype. Good description!

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founding

Mayor Marion Barry is the Black urban version.

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The "they might be a scoundrel, but dammit they're OUR scoundrel" impulse is strong

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To quote the great Randy Newman song, Rednecks, “He may be a fool but he’s our fool. If you think you’re better than him you’re wrong”

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I'd add that Buddy Cianci is the "white ethnic immigrant" version, Jimmy Walker is the NYC version and Huey Long is the southern Jim Crow version.

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Edwin Edwards erasure

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Vote for the crook - it's important!

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Except Marion Barry was worth a damn as a young man in the civil rights movement.

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Funny how he played it again in The Righteous Gemstones. He's just so talented in that kind of role.

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It’s sickening how normal rules - legal, moral, logical - don’t apply to Trump. His voters don’t care, it’s truly like a suicide cult. Rapes don’t matter, scams don’t matter (the case you mention, Trump university etc), blasphemy doesn’t matter (”Trump bibles”), nothing matters. Absolutely he was right in claiming he could murder someone in cold blood and his so called ”Christian” base would lap it up like communion wine.

One of the sickest things he has said/done and that literally noone else would get away with is to criticize John McCain for ”getting caught” in Vietnam (enduring years of torture to protect other Americans) while Trump himself used his rich dad to escape the draft. That comment alone should have ended his career. It’s possible the most anti-American statement ever uttered by an American politician.

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Trump ordered a whole plaza tear-gassed so that he could shuffle over and hold someone else’s Bible upside down.

The upside down crucifix being a literal symbol of the Antichrist and pagangelicals treat him as the messiah.

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“He’s not the Messiah; he’s a very naughty boy!”

Must get my Monty Python reference in to lighten the mood, you know.

I agree completely with you and Joachim. It’s sickening and disgusting.

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Very well said. McCain could be a sanctimonious windbag at times but Trump's treatment of him, particularly in regards to his former POW status, was horrific. An interesting through line to his comments regarding McCain were his pardons of war criminals late in his presidency. That whole episode I still feel is underdiscussed as one of the absolute lowest of lows of Trump's legacy.

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This is all true, and maddeningly this is the kind of work the NY Times should have been doing in 2016 rather than finessing the nuances of state department IT. It's all super true, and my inner Brian Beutler has ideas about making content with all the hardworking contractors and other types Trump has stiffed over the years.

But my inner Beutler is also saying that at this stage in the game what we need to do more of is driving news cycles. The SOTU was the last cycle Biden really drove and it worked pretty well. It can't just be about Trump's background (and the guy is an inveterate scumbag) but it needs to be Biden getting out there.

Personally I think he needs to fire his entire White House comms staff and get a wartime consigliere who will let Biden be Biden. A proposed synthesis: Biden tours NY and holds press conferences on the street in front of Trump properties with contractors who were stiffed on work in that property.

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Are there conservatives out there who find Beutler to be persuasive to them? I'm on his team but I get the feeling Beutler really only focuses on persuading those who already think Trump is terrible.

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May 22·edited May 22Liked by Ben Krauss

Beutler is trying to make Democrats more persuasive. Rather than trying to speak to normies himself as a one-man shop, he's trying to to be a force multiplier making the numerous people already speaking to normies better at their jobs.

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Yeah, I think if I'm reading Beutler right, there's a reason that conservatives were able to get "tan suit" as a news story. It's the most absurdist consequence of conservative media speaking in one voice but because it is so absurd it's a great "brown M&M's" example of a wider phenomenon.

Basically, Democrats and left leaning media too often do not row in the same direction. Because there are so many different terrible and asinine things about Trump, none of his many terrible aspects end up driving news coverage for weeks or months on end. So it does stick with swing voters who are not reading the news everyday. You need Dem establishment and left leaning media to focus on Trump's corruption and authoritarianism together in order for that message to break through and pierce the consciousness of swing voters.

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I have seen like a hundred instances of people talking about the tan suit metascandal but I have literally seen no one actually say it was scandalous that Obama wore a tan suit.

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May 22·edited May 23

“US Representative Peter King…deemed the suit’s color combined with the subject of terrorism to be ‘unpresidential’…’There’s no way to excuse what the President did yesterday’”.

First, good example that random Congressmen/Congresswomen acting like idiots just for a few mentions on the news is depressingly not new.

But it’s why I made the “brown M&Ms" jibe. A lot of the commentary was mostly the form of late night jokes and yes most of it was pretty tame. But I think it’s worth bringing up because it’s a small but stupid thing that’s indicative of something much more important; the unity with which right wing media speaks combined with the need for “balance” does an enormous amount to help elevate non stories as stories if it’s harming democrats. And in 2016 I think we saw the ultimate example of why this is so important.

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Yeah people just aren’t hearing enough about Trump being bad or it’s not consistent enough and they forget. That’s hilarious. If only leftists media in unison threw a sustained tantrum then middle of the roaders would finally understand. Yep.

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I don't think Beutler is going for conservatives necessarily, and I don't always agree with his theory of the political case. I think his insight around commanding news cycles and driving the narrative is correct, and probably one of the best things Biden can do to improve his standing. He needs to be driving things, not be driven.

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I think his comms staff is bad, but his inner brain trust and his campaign people are pretty good. And I think you'll see him drive news cycles more and more the closer we get to the election when the news cycles will really count.

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Do you think they’re keeping their powder dry now for some reason? Why wouldn’t they start driving news cycles now if they have the smarts and capacity to do it?

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I have no idea what they're thinking subjectively, but I think there's a non-crazy argument to be made that too-early news cycles have little to no lasting effect and end up not mattering. Trump in 2016 probably didn't have a single good news cycle until October. In 2022, the Dems had horrible news cycle after horrible news cycle for the whole first half of the year, then came back to have a historically good midterm result for an incumbent party - obviously most of that was because of Dobbs, but even if that was outside the Dems' control, it still helps to show that timing matters a lot (plus there were other contributing factors as well like the passage of the IRA).

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The Dems haven’t been “putting points on the board,” ie passing bills on stuff people actually care about. Unfortunately the things they care about tend to be immediate sugar high policies like hanging immigrants rather than slow boring ideas.

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"tend to be immediate sugar high policies like hanging immigrants"

What is this about?

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Well I suppose it could be “cancel student loan debt with one stroke of the pen” or “stop Israeli bombing without much thought to what’s supposed to happen next.”

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Yeah I'm not trying to say they haven't gone after some sugar-high policies. I'm still just confused about hanging immigrants? Is there some kind of harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from the WH or Dems?

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I thought he meant that was an example of "stuff people actually care about"?

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As a kid who is from New England originally and culturally, but grew up in the Midwest, seeing people take Trump seriously on The Apprentice was a wild thing to behold, because I think if you come from the Northeast it's just kind of a given that the guy is a huckster and everyone knows it. Like, I grew up reading my dad's Bloom County compilations, and Trump was literally a running buffoon villain for large stretches of the run, in a way that was etched into my consciousness in like 1990 at age 7.

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Having worked a real job for a few years before the show came out, it was comical to me that anyone thought business got done in any way similar to The Apprentice. It was obviously clownish, and Trump clearly didn't actually operate in the manner portrayed. There was nothing really interesting in making a sport of asinine "business deals". I didn't get how that show lasted more than the pilot. B-school mock shark tanks are more realistic.

I didn't think much of it for years, and now here we are

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founding

I remember when his Twitter feud with Rosie O’Donnell died down and I thought “finally, that guy is gone from the news and won’t be in my face any more”.

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This. I was a kid when it was out but I watched it later on and was struck by a) how ludicrous it was a portrayal of anything resembling “business” and b) how much fun it was to watch. Trump in particular was entertaining once separated him from what he now represents politically.

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Back in the 2000's I knew tons of evangelicals who never missed an episode of The Apprentice. I believe the popularity of the show is the reason he became president.

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My job moved from NYC to Miami in February 2016, so just as Trump started blowing up in the primaries. A few different people asked me what New Yorkers through of Trump. My answer: They think he’s a buffoon.

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It also feels weird that his affiliation with the Reform Party in the late 1990's was a signal that that party had no future post-Perot since Trump was not seen as a serious person, then he became president. It's not like he became better since the 90's (probably got worse), but the GOP fundamentally changed in that time.

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Oh boy, reading Bloom County with my family was also a ritual when I was a kid.

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It's not even like it was a thing for us as a family...it was moreso that my dad really liked it and bought the compilations and it was the early 90s, so entertainment options were much sparser. When I got bored in the summer, I'd go to my dad's bookshelf and grab Bloom County or the Martin Cruz Smith 'Arkady Renko' novels.

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May 22·edited May 22

I did not know(at the time) whether Trump was a huckster( but watching Season 1 of the Apprentice I came away with the impression that he simply had good advisers and wasn't particular good at the job himself (different impression than huckster).

Apparently that was not the takeaway most people had.

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One of the bizarre elements of the Trump phenomenon is how fake and irrelevant scandals crowd out real and clear bad things he has done.

Trump was a property developer in New York in the 70s and 80s so probably paid lots of bribes and associated with the Mafia but no one seems interested in digging despite Trump scandals being the dominant story for 8 years. I do wonder sometimes if there is some informal non aggression pact not to look into dodgy property deals. Obama got a cheap home from a developer who went to jail it didn't become a focus of right wing attention despite being more real than many stories they attacked him over.

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Stock market returns among Congressional members also seem under-covered to me. But maybe people just don't care about this stuff that much.

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It’s very much over covered. It mostly isn’t much of a thing except to people who: 1) generally distrust anyone with money; or 2) have turned to the stock market for gambling and just aren’t very good at it and want a boogeyman to complain about.

I’m somewhat receptive to the suggestion that members of congress shouldn’t have any outside income in their family, but that’s a really radical change. And I don’t care for the relatively few instances of real conflicts of interest.

But the reality is that: 1) people in congress have very little useful inside information that would yield an advantage in public markets; 2) the trading is all publicly disclosed, making it even harder to go unnoticed; and 3) very little legislation have obvious significant impacts on stock prices.

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It's not hard to do well in the stock market. Just diversify, and don't do dumb stuff like buy meme stocks, i.e. don't gamble. MoC have enough money that they have probably outsourced this stuff to financial advisors anyway, they're not day trading.

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"I do wonder sometimes if there is some informal non aggression pact not to look into dodgy property deals."

I think it's broader even than dodgy property deals. Something I've spent the last few years wondering is why it is every Democratic state AG, DA, etc. hasn't been engaging in maximum enforcement of labor and safety rules at every "Trump Organization" affiliated business location in their jurisdiction. I mean, I don't practice labor and employment law, I've just collaterally had to deal with those issues sometimes while representing other clients and also because I used to have an employment partner in the office next to me, but my strong takeaway is that even businesses that are making very sincere efforts to comply with all relevant federal and state employment laws are likely to have violations, so it seems really dubious to me that there aren't going to be easily discoverable issues with anything Trump touches.

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The New York Times had a piece yesterday about how public officials are dealing with an increased level of death threats recently, which may be playing a role here as well.

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A quick Google search shows that Politico, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, the Washington Post, NBC News, ABC News, Yahoo News, the New York Daily News and Mother Jones all covered his mob ties in 2015-2016. The stories just didn't resonate with enough people. Clinton tried to use Tony Rezko as an attack on Obama in 2008, but that also didn't have much legs, in part of how small-bore that was (considering the fact that she focused on the purchase of 10 feet of land, which simply wasn't a big enough deal to matter to people).

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What party are the politicians that took those bribes currently members of? Part of why it's hard to hit Trump on corruption is because he was doing it with impunity in a blue state right up until he joined the wrong political team. Then it became a crime.

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Nobody cares what team he is on. He became President. Are you really claiming that if he had been the Democratic President that R's would not be up in arms about his past (and present) corruption? We are all aware that it is challenging to prosecute all white collar criminals and choices must be made. But we expect more from those in power.

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May 22·edited May 22

Many progressives and conservatives now agree it's OK to risk America becoming a dictatorship in order to advance their policy priorities. What a world.

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On the progressive side. I'd divide that into two camps. 1. The people that think Biden just needs to do more to satisfy leftists and that will build the coalition to beat Trump. 2. The people that genuinely believe there is no difference between Biden and Trump, and therefore we shouldn't care who wins the election.

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I always ask group #2 why things like "millions of people will lose insurance when Medicaid and the ACA are cut" isn't a significant difference between the two and I still can't comprehend how any of them think it isn't.

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The (1) people are at least as dumb and detached from reality, if we’re being honest.

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Detached from reality sure, but still coalition partners who need to be persuaded. Group 2 is just too far gone.

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The smug stupidity of US economic elites is something to behold. They, after all, have more to lose than anyone if autocracy descends on the country. Rich Americans have done pretty well out of democracy!

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A more likely outcome is probably that the US just becomes more marginalized, bankrupted, and ineffective for however long Trump decides to remain in office, and the opportunity cost lets Russia and China reshape the world.

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Trump will weaken America's global standing (again) if he gets back in. Zero argument. But he also may install a dictatorship. I don't care if people think that sounds far-fetched. It's very possible. Indeed, he tried (half-heartedly, and with half-assed planning) to do so in January, 2021.

The rule of law is a good thing to have when you're a rich guy, as Jack Ma will be the first to tell you.

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“It's very possible”

How would that work, exactly?

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The simplest way is that he simply runs for a third term and SCOTUS ignores the Constitution based on some weird interpretation that finds either the Amendment faulty or there being an unspoken intent in the Amendment that it was meant to indicate no third consecutive terms like Roosevelt's.

Alternatively, an all Republican House and Senate simply seats him in the face of a SCOTUS tut tut that can't be enforced.

I think it's a near zero chance. A slightly more plausible scenario is that he gets one of his sons elected with a wink and a nod as to who will really be running things. Maybe even by installing him as VP first. Again not remotely likely, but I find it disturbing that he's the only President in my life I've ever worried about this even a little.

Do you think Trump or his hard core followers really believe they SHOULD be constrained from a third term?

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People talk about ignoring SCOTUS like its no big thing, but it always shocks me that people don't appreciate the real constitutional crisis such an event would cause. If one part of government ignores SCOTUS, then what's to stop another part of government to ignoring the constitution (what does Trump do if California starts ignoring executive/agency orders?).

Such an event moves really fast to asking who the generals will obey.

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“I think it's a near zero chance”

Very near.

The idea that the federal courts, including the Supreme Court, that had no problems striking down all sorts of minor Trump Administration policies would acceded to something so momentous is nuts.

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Project 2025 is the name of the org where Republicans are making a specific plan for this. Among other things, they want to expand executive power, purge non Trumpists from government and military leadership, weaponize the DOJ, and undermine voting rights. Basically, do what the current SCOTUS will approve of and when they finally try push back do the famous Andrew Jackson "now let them enforce it".

There are various places that could break apart, but it all feels very plausible and the GOP is putting all the resources they can in to giving themselves the best chance of succeeding.

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No argument here, as I implied with the "however long he decides to stay in office" remark. The consequences for the US would be incredibly dire, but to me Trump has always seemed more like a "buy the elites off" rather than a "send elites to Siberia" kind of guy.

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This. I think the people who don't weight the "letting China and Russia reshape the world" argument properly aren't using their imaginations enough. I know Matt sees it, because it's the thrust of 1BA, but as an American who values the tenets of Liberalism, I think a world in which states that admit to not valuing individual liberty and freedom of speech have more sway is a worse, not better, one.

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The American 1% has it much better than the French 1%.

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For now, indeed they do. Which again, raises the question, why the nonchalant attitude about the protections offered by democratic norms?

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I think 2016 made them scared that they lacked the power to enforce democratic norms. Seeing that they were hated by the left, I think they chose the devil they could pay off over the devil that wanted their heads on pikes. It’s still a form of short term thinking, but not as completely illogical as you make it out.

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What are you referring to that happened in 2016?

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The rich almost uniformly rejected Trump and his campaign and he won despite the absolutely huge financial advantage of the Clinton campaign.

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May 22·edited May 22

Like 9/11 a failure of imagination could be one reason. You can read Robert Kagan’s sketch of Trump’s road to dictatorship and, though it seems plausible, deep down you have a feeling that the status quo just *cannot* be upended.

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This. I think a lot of people have a tendency to willfully discount the possibility of that which they find frightening or strongly disagreeable.

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The only thing that makes sense is that they think they'll end up like the entrenched Oligarchs in the kleptocratic countries they idolize (e.g. Russia, Hungary, etc.). Otherwise, you would think people like David Sacks, Peter Thiel and Bill Ackman would be Biden's biggest fans.

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Do they really think Trump will become a dictator or is he more Gracchus than Augustus?

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Trump is Caracalla.

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Judging from the right-wing replies to Matt's tweets this morning on this article, a knee-jerk response this argument will draw is "It doesn't matter because Biden is worse." It would be great to have a counterpart piece written in the same style laying out why Biden is OK and inflation isn't that bad.

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Partisanship is frying people’s brains as usual. If you can’t see that a person like Trump should be kept as far away as possible from the WH - regardless of your ideological beliefs (or at least unless you are a fascist who loves corruption, cruelty and incompetence) - your brain has been fried

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Some of my best friends genuinely believe Biden is a bigger threat to democracy and is more corrupt and racist than Trump is. Most of these people are lawyers at that! I can't comprehend it.

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Having convincing arguments and poor judgment is why they're lawyers and not judges, as far as their internal audience is concerned.

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Heck someone in this comment section already asked about the "Biden crime family"

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May 22·edited May 22

The final paragraph is true, but I think it only envisions the best-case scenario for the country.

Trump has likely backed himself into a corner where the “truly disastrous”, on day 1, is absolutely unavoidable. He will have to do at least several major, destabilizing things in the first few days of his presidency.

They will make us forget about the more mundanely scummy a character he is, and will stamp him as a far darker, more fearful character in American history. And contra many on this board, I do not regard them as mere “possibilities”, or “worst-case scenario”—I see them as written in stone if he wins the Electoral College.

We’ve heard them all before, but if you’ll bear with me, it’s worth reiterating the worst of it.

The two big ones: 1.) A Turkey-style purge of the federal workforce across all departments, starting with the Justice Department, and especially with regard to the crimes he’s charged with, and 2.) Using “loyal” elements of said workforce, likely augmented by allied state governments, local police, and almost certainly deputized militia, to launch a massive military crackdown on blue America.

Some may be reading this and going “Yeah yeah yeah, whatever, we know he wants to do that, big deal. No guarantee he will.”

Not “wants”. Needs to. Immediately. Yesterday.

We really do not fathom how cornered Trump is at the moment, legally and emotionally, and how determined he is to enact revenge. More to the point, how impatient he is to do so, and how little time he has for those who would urge him to “stand back and stand by” (as they say) once he had power again.

He likely sees extreme measures as not only necessary for his own self-preservation, but necessary to show everyone how “strong” he is—and how he’s not a, shall we say, certain perjorative associated with anatomy.

Moreover, he’s not wrong—he’s had to make promises to keep his key supporters on board these past years, and not moving on to some more promising aspiring autocrat.

If he can find enough loyal people inside and outside the federal government to at least attempt what he wants, it does not matter what the rules say. There is a reason he is also reportedly planning to make the (on-paper, unlimited) pardon power of the presidency a key tool of a second term.

We do not fathom how massive and traumatic those two things alone would be, and how they would dominate his presidency and global news from start to end.

We talk flippantly about him, for example, “making his cases go away”, as if that’s just something a president does by flipping a switch. As opposed to, say, mass chaos, a lot of armed men running through government buildings, forcibly escorting civil servants out, eliminating files, departments, people. Coup-level stuff—even after a legally-won election.

That is the scenario we’re facing—not, say, Trump signing a paper with a sharpie behind the Resolute Desk and beaming at the cameras.

And thats just the internal crackdown. There’s the external crackdown as well. It will likely be violent, deadly, historic, and the major global news story of 2025.

And again, it is likely inevitable on day 1, due both to Trump’s need for revenge and to show “strength”—but more importantly, to get a head start on his plans for mass roundup and deportation.

Whether Trump finds a country to eject millions of migrants to or not, he is absolutely determined to enact the parts of his plan within his control. He will, if he is president, make rounding up, putting in camps, and ostentatiously, openly, inflicting suffering on millions of people a top priority of his administration. Matt (and others) have speculated on Trump’s prioritization in the past, reasoning that we can’t read the future or his mind in granular detail needed—I would respectfully, based on what we know of Trump’s way of thinking and current circumstances, disagree on that.

I would submit that this aspect of Trump’s platform, by far the largest-scale short-term incarceration in American history if enacted, and almost certainly the cruelest promise he’s made, is genuinely something you can count on. It is the one thing, beyond a boundless ego and a lust for personal wealth, Trump genuinely believes in. Revenge. “Strength”. Showing nobody and no law and stop you from doing what you want to do. We can make all kinds of comforting excuses as to why he “can’t” do all this terrible stuff in our system —all of which would be likely moot in Trump’s first few weeks upon returning to power. Especially on the ground, in the short term.

Again, expect to see scenes you’re used to seeing in countries like Thailand, Turkey, Myanmar. Not, say, slightly more strict police law and order, like both his supporters and opponents alike still seem to be tacitly anticipating. More the proverbial “Things Fall Apart”/“Children of Men”-lite scenario.

All of this would likely happen in, ironically, an environment of mass lawlessness and impunity. Again, not only has he promised to use his pardon power to protect those who commit crimes on his behalf, allied governors are already at work doing the same. “Frontier justice” comes to mind, and if people do not see the possibilities inherent in a nation armed to the teeth and militias determined to affect partisan politics under the ultimate protection of the commander-in-chief, I promise you, Donald Trump does.

All of this, assuming it happens, would make the United States the subject of horrified headlines globally for months, if not years, and would likely push all the news about Gaza, Ukraine, and whatever else people care about off the front page. To be cheeky about it for a second, it would be as if David Sacks teamed up with David Duke and just started firing the American people right and left, as if our country writ large were a woke company in need of “purging”.

Also, all this, and its underrated likelihood in a second Trump term, for the reasons above, is why I caution some against spending too much time and energy pondering the ordinary policy and economic prospects of the man returning to power.

Inflation, health care, taxes, etc., though useful for engaging people politically (and possibly ending up what the election turns on) will ultimately not be what we remember about this era, nor the ultimate legacy of Trump, win or lose.

If he wins, all of them will likely recede into the background and seem quaint and small. More elemental, basic things will be front and center of mind.

Hopefully I’m wrong on this, of course.

And we can all go back to being mad at Joe Manchin or something. That would be nice.

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I wish cash prediction markets were fully legal here. :(

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I don't think it would be quite right to say Trump's fans are his biggest victims but they definitely are his biggest marks.

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Isn’t the usual response to this line of thinking to point out that the Clintons are seemingly corrupt? Or Pelosi’s oddly well timed stock trades? It’s not like they found a bunch of gold bars in Trump’s closet like that *changes tone* New Jersey Democrat! Or that all politicians are corrupt? Chicago politics is a byword for typical Democrat corruption, right? That’s been my experience whenever I bring up Trump’s corrupt, self-serving dealings with my pro-trump family. Everyone is corrupt and every politician will do things to harm me but Trump is corrupt and screws over people I don’t like so that’s an improvement over just being corrupt.

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The key difference here, I think, is that most normie Dems I know would be fine with going after Pelosi, Clinton, et al., for their shady-looking shit in a way that Trumps voters would not be okay with. Like, in real life when this comes up, I'm always like, "Yes, investigate the people in office with shady business dealings, that is exactly what I want!"

The thing is that Trump voters do NOT want the law enforced equally, they want a lack of enforcement, equally.

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May 22·edited May 22

It it true though that the Dem power structure has little interest in going after its own shady dealings, regardless of the thoughts of individual voters, and it’s not like Menendez was losing elections.

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Compare how Democrats are treating Menendez to how Republicans treated Ken Paxton. (Although I'll grant that George Desantos was such an embarrassment and a clown that even the Republicans didn't want him around anymore.)

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I'm not saying that the Democrats aren't better than the Republicans, but I would say that Menendez's general perception as a crook *long* predates the Democratic commitment to doing anything about it. Better late than never, but you don't get a ton of moral high ground points when such internal discipline as you do engage in is exceedingly belated and grudging.

At a minimum it suggests that the ex ante commitment is to stretching venality as far as it can go (while admittedly at least acknowledging a limit) instead of some sort of principled commitment to honorable conduct as the relevant standard.

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I agree that the Dems should have worked to toss Menendez out a long time ago.

No party is completely clean, but on net Dems are far better than Republicans.

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Yep, my response whenever someone brings up "But Hunter Biden...." is "Hunter Biden is a scumbag and should be held accountable under the law."

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But the point of this is, he screws over the people who believe in him and work with him! I do think self-serving, corrupt or corrupt-adjacent behavior is very bipartisan. But if someone told me they were going to work for the Clinton foundation or whatever, I wouldn't express concern that they weren't going to get paid.

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It's not that I disagree, it's that I think people who like Trump don't care. Let me try another way of communicating what I think this mindset looks like.

Why should I care if Trump screws over people close to him? My boss screwed me over at work the other day and I'm not getting paid for some of my time worked. My ex-wife screwed me over and I'm sending her a chunk of my paycheck, or the government starts seizing my property and garnishing my pay. Schools screwed over my kid by spending more time on Black history month than on phonics. Everyone is constantly screwing everyone else to the point of it being a totally normal way the world works. Saying that Trump screws over people close to him and doesn't deliver on promises seems like a totally normal expectation of anyone I'd meet or interact with.

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May 22·edited May 22

I’ve never heard it so well explained before. Many of the 1/6 protesters had backgrounds that featured a lot of setbacks - failed marriages, failed businesses, etc. It does seem they Trump appeals to people

who feel they have been screwed.

That said many of the stories involved some poor choices. A guy has an affair, wife leaves and takes half the money, his business hits a downturn and he lacks the capital to keep it going due to the divorce so loses the rest of his money and the business. But it’s easier to blame liberals or immigrants or ANTIFA than to blame himself for the ill considered decision to bang the new receptionist.

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May 22·edited May 22

I think most people have an intuition that it's bad to do this sort of thing. Like, if your boss underpays you, that's a bad thing and he's a worse person for it. I do think this is part of a story about a total lack of respect for his followers --- like, don't vote for him not because he doesn't pay his contractors or stole from people who believed in him, don't vote for him because he has no policy commitments and will totally sell you out. And I don't think his supporters believe that he will totally sell them out! I am admittedly basing this on a very small of n of, I guess, people who did support him and no longer do because he totally sold them out. Maybe his current supporters also believe this, they just don't care?

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Well said, James.

Perhaps the worst thing Trump and his Republican acolytes have done is to so salt the ground of American culture with cynicism and alienation that I'm not sure when we'll recover. War of all against all and nothing matters lol and all that crap.

There's a reason Obama and "Hamilton"-type optimism sounds so out of joint now. Trump has turned us into a bitter, divisive unhappy people. Nice job.

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“…salt the ground of American culture with cynicism and alienation…”

Trump was the result of that, not the originator.

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Sure. Newt Gingrich was the originator of that, as of course we both totally agree, Ken.

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Ted Kennedy, I think. May God torment his sinful soul.

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"cling to guns and religion"

"basket of deplorables"

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Trump didn't come out of nowhere. Obama was elected as the "hope and change" candidate, and there was broad euphoria among the left at his election. 8 years later, a lot of Americans felt disenchanted by that message.

I think that is often unfairly laid at his feet, but there was fertile ground for Trump's rhetoric as a result.

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I don't know what made Americans so dyspeptic. But I do know that Trump and his acolytes are a flamethrower pointed at a bunch of gasoline-soaked rags.

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I really think an underrated watershed moment is McCain's choice of Sarah Palin for his running mate back in '08. Certainly, the Clinton/Gingrich era already got us going down the hyperpartisan drain, but her rhetoric was REALLY harsh and low brow. Obama was a terrorist, Dems hated America, etc. The GOP has never really looked back from that. This is why I somewhat disagree with MY's take that patriotism is something the right gets right. If it were a patriotism genuinely rooted in a love for America and it's transformational history, then amen to that, that's great. But I think Reagan was kind of the last true exemplar of that on the right. Now much of right-of-center patriotism is pretty surface deep idol worship and/or dividing between real and self-hating Americans. I think there is a real opportunity for liberals to reclaim a more civic virtue/American values oriented version of patriotism.

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I think the conclusion is incorrect.

Bibi Netanyahu should be seen as a cautionary tale about electing corrupt populists*. What we should learn from his 2023 term is that when a country with a lot of enemies see that weakness, they will try to create the circumstances of “something genuinely disastrous happens”.

We’re now in Cold War II and America has some powerful enemies. They won’t wait around for something disastrous to happen to America while Trump is at the helm - they will make that disaster happen.

*reporting on Netanyahu misleadingly tries to portray him as a war monger theocratic fascist, but in real life he’s just Trump in a country where security concerns are paramount.

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May 22Liked by Ben Krauss

This is one of the smartest takes I’ve seen on Trump. I hope your long tail, short tail prediction is the worst damage he can do before that final stroke (and may it come soon). Love your observation that HE is the snake! I know a lot about pathological narcissists but missed this obvious one. Projection is his one superpower, the key to his long con. I am in my 70s and ever since the late 60s, have leaned mostly left because of social justice issues, but Matt, you (and time) are nudging me more to the center left.

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A functional political party would exploit having a buffoonish opponent by enacting controversial priorities that would eventually prove popular, for instance a public option or child allowances. However, the Democratic party is not functional. The political windfall Trump created in 2016 was squandered by nominating an unpopular warhorse who won her place on the national stage through marriage and kept it by tolerating serial infidelities. The 2024 windfall will likely be consumed by nominating an unpopular 82 year old who cant even consolidate the minority vote.

Trump is not the only elite politician who has failed to put country first, he’s just the most cartoonish and prominent example.

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Irrational Hillary hatred is irrational. If 2016 Hillary had thematically and stylistically borne more similarity to 2008 Hillary, the outcome of the election would have been different. Also, Hillary won the popular vote in 2016, so it is simply a lie to state that the country rejected her always and forever. Something like 30,000 voters in MI/PA/WI rejected her for idiosyncratic reasons, and here we are.

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May 22·edited May 22

Irrational Hilary hate is, as you note, irrational. However from a more substantive perspective she is fairly associated with 1. the 'neoliberal' triangulation of the 90s that's moment had passed and by 2016 had a somewhat tarnished legacy, and 2. her vote to support the Iraq invasion. Retail politics has never been her strong suit and I think it's fair to say she peaked at it when she got caught taking a shot of whiskey with West Virginia deplorables back in 2008. So while the case against her has become exaggerated in a lot of ways I think there's ample evidence she was both passed her prime and the wrong person for the moment. Suddenly the election is way closer than it had to be, thus allowing for all those other little flukes to change the outcome.

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“If Hillary had been better at politics then she would have been a better politician” is tautologically true but I’m not sure how much it matters.

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May 22·edited May 22

She won 3 million more votes than her opponent in 2016, fought Barack Obama to a statistical tie in 2008, and won two US Senate elections in New York. Hillary does not lack political skills. In 2016, she made the unfortunate choice to try to neutralize Bernie by leaning into identify politics. It is objectively false, however to state that the American people, at any time, have ever categorically rejected Hillary. It Has. Never. Happened.

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If you’re proud of losing to Donald Trump, I don’t know what to tell you.

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We've been over this. Matt Y even wrote a post on how the Democratic Party can't just wave a magic wand and magically replace Biden with "the same, but more charismatic and 30 years younger."

You're to the right of me, so I'm sure you'll agree that Kamala Harris was not a good VP choice. That's the big dilemma for Biden: if he steps down, he's replaced by Harris, who is more unpopular than him. If h