Illustrations by Victor Juhasz for Rolling Stone
Illustrations by Victor Juhasz for Rolling Stone
In the spring of 1990, after he had helped the first George Bush reach the presidency, the political consultant Lee Atwater learned that he was dying. Atwater, who had just turned 39 and was the head of the Republican National Committee, had suffered a seizure while at a political fund-raising breakfast and had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. In a year he was dead.
Atwater put some of that year to use making amends. Throughout his meteoric political rise he had been known for both his effectiveness and his brutality. In South Carolina, where he grew up, he helped defeat a congressional candidate who had openly discussed his teenage struggles with depression by telling reporters that the man had once been “hooked up to jumper cables.” As the campaign manager for then–Vice President George H. W. Bush in 1988, when he defeated Michael Dukakis in the general election, Atwater leveraged the issue of race—a specialty for him—by means of the infamous “Willie Horton” TV ad. The explicit message of the commercial was that, as governor of Massachusetts, Dukakis had been soft on crime by offering furloughs to convicted murderers; Horton ran away while on furlough and then committed new felonies, including rape. The implicit message was the menace posed by hulking, scowling black men—like the Willie Horton who was shown in the commercial.
Strother, 10 years older than Atwater, had been his Democratic competitor and counterpart, minus the gutter-fighting. During the early Reagan years, when Atwater worked in the White House, Strother joined the staff of the Democratic Party’s most promising and glamorous young figure, Senator Gary Hart of Colorado. Strother was Hart’s media consultant and frequent traveling companion during his run for the nomination in 1984, when he gave former Vice President Walter Mondale a scare. As the campaign for the 1988 nomination geared up, Strother planned to play a similar role.
In early 1987, the Hart campaign had an air of likelihood if not inevitability that is difficult to imagine in retrospect. After Mondale’s landslide defeat by Ronald Reagan in 1984, Hart had become the heir apparent and best hope to lead the party back to the White House. The presumed Republican nominee was Bush, Reagan’s vice president, who was seen at the time, like many vice presidents before him, as a lackluster understudy. Since the FDR–Truman era, no party had won three straight presidential elections, which the Republicans would obviously have to do if Bush were to succeed Reagan.
Gary Hart had a nationwide organization and had made himself a recognized expert on military and defense policy. I first met him in those days, and wrote about him in Atlantic articles that led to my 1981 book, National Defense. (I’ve stayed in touch with him since then and have respected his work and his views.) Early polls are notoriously unreliable, but after the 1986 midterms, and then–New York Governor Mario Cuomo’s announcement that he would not run, many national surveys showed Hart with a lead in the Democratic field and also over Bush. Hart’s principal vulnerability was the press’s suggestion that something about him was hidden, excessively private, or “unknowable.” Among other things, this was a way of alluding to suspicions of extramarital affairs—a theme in most accounts of that campaign, including Matt Bai’s 2014 All the Truth Is Out. Still, as Bai wrote in his book, “Everyone agreed: it was Hart’s race to lose.”
Strother and Atwater had the mutually respectful camaraderie of highly skilled rivals. “Lee and I were friends,” Strother told me when I spoke with him by phone recently. “We’d meet after campaigns and have coffee, talk about why I did what I did and why he did what he did.” One of the campaigns they met to discuss afterward was that 1988 presidential race, which Atwater (with Bush) had of course ended up winning, and from which Hart had dropped out. But later, during what Atwater realized would be the final weeks of his life, Atwater phoned Strother to discuss one more detail of that campaign.
In late March 1987, Hart spent a weekend on a Miami-based yacht called Monkey Business. Two young women joined the boat when it sailed to Bimini. While the boat was docked there, one of the women took a picture of Hart sitting on the pier, with the other, Donna Rice, in his lap. A month after this trip, in early May, the man who had originally invited Hart onto the boat brought the same two women to Washington. The Miami Herald had received a tip about the upcoming visit and was staking out the front of Hart’s house. (A famous profile of Hart by E. J. Dionne in The New York Times Magazine, in which Hart invited the press to “follow me around,” came out after this stakeout—not before, contrary to common belief.) A Herald reporter saw Rice and Hart going into the house through the front door and, not realizing that there was a back door, assumed—when he didn’t see her again—that she had spent the night.
Amid the resulting flap about Hart’s “character” and honesty, he quickly suspended his campaign (within a week), which effectively ended it. Several weeks later came the part of the episode now best remembered: the photo of Hart and Rice together in Bimini, on the cover of the National Enquirer.
What are we to make of the deathbed confession of the political operative Lee Atwater, newly revealed, that he staged the events that brought down the Democratic candidate in 1987? In The Atlantic’s November issue, James Fallows asked what alternate courses history might have taken.
My name is James Savage and I was the Miami Herald’s investigations editor who helped report and edit the 1987 stories that uncovered Gary Hart’s relationship with Donna Rice and prompted him to quit his presidential campaign
I believe from my personal knowledge of the facts that The Atlantic’s article contains serious factual errors.
The article’s conspiracy theory suggests that William Broadhurst deliberately maneuvered Hart into potentially damaging press exposure by arranging for him to spend time on the yacht Monkey Business and have his picture taken with Donna Rice sitting on his lap.
The truth is the late Mr. Broadhurst did everything short of violence trying to prevent the Herald’s investigations team from publishing the first story about the scandal.
Reporters Tom Fiedler, Jim McGee, and I were preparing that story on deadline after interviewing Hart about his relationship with the young woman from Miami when Broadhurst phoned our hotel room in Washington.
Broadhurst insisted that he had invited the Miami woman and a friend to Washington and any story we wrote would unfairly portray Hart’s relationship. He refused to name the woman who was later identified as Donna Rice.
We included Broadhurst’s defense of Hart in that first story. After filing our story, at Broadhurst’s suggestion, we met with him at an all-night restaurant where he continued to argue on Hart’s behalf.
Broadhurst died recently and can’t defend himself.
I believe the Atlantic story also implies that Donna Rice was somehow involved in a conspiracy to embarrass Hart. I am convinced from my firsthand knowledge of how the Herald learned about Hart’s plan to meet with Ms. Rice that she did not have any involvement in any plan to embarrass Hart.
I believe The Atlantic should publish a correction and an apology to Ms. Rice. I would be happy to discuss further details.
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
The details of the Miami Herald’s handling of the Gary Hart-Donna Rice case were explicitly not the topic of my article. The literature on the topic is too vast and contradictory to set out, even in a magazine article many times longer than the one I wrote.
In brief (as I said in giving a summary of the crucial episodes in my article): Over the decades, many of those involved in the Herald’s decision to send reporters for a stakeout of Gary Hart’s house in Washington have stoutly defended the public and journalistic interests they believed they served in doing so, and the care they took in choosing this course. Mr. Savage, who was involved in those decisions, defends them in his note. A fuller account of the Herald’s decisions, by James Savage and his Herald colleagues Jim McGee and Tom Fielder, appeared in that paper just a week after the stakeout. You can read it here.
Over the decades, many people not involved in the choices have debated these same aspects: whether the Herald exercised sufficient care in pursuing the tip it received and what the consequences were of the way it (and, separately, the Washington Post) then handled the “scandal” of Hart’s possible affairs. Back in 1987, the journalist John Judis offered a skeptical and negative assessment of the Herald’s and Post’s approaches in the Columbia Journalism Review. Matt Bai’s 2014 book about the episode, All the Truth is Out, is about the way that coverage of Hart became the moment when “politics went tabloid” and changed both politics and journalism for the worse.
Read them all. See the forthcoming movie based on Bai’s book, The Front Runner. Judge for yourself.
But wherever you come out, what the Herald did was not the topic I was discussing. The news my article conveyed is what might have happened before anyone at any newspaper got involved.
It was about the circumstances in which Hart, Donna Rice, another woman named Lynn Armandt, and a lobbyist named Billy Broadhurst got together on a boat in the first place, which led to the tip the Herald later received. Broadhurst, a lobbyist and fixer, was by all accounts a man of many faces. I have no reason to doubt Mr. Savage’s report of the Herald’s dealings with him. Other people who dealt with him firsthand, and have spoken with me about him, have offered much less positive perspectives.
As most readers noted from my story, and as Mr. Savage might see if he looks at it again, the story was careful to present new information as a possibility—as another way of thinking about a consequential moment in modern political history. The headline of the story was not “Gary Hart Was Set Up.” Instead it asked, “Was Gary Hart Set Up?” There is a proper journalistic bias against using questions in headlines. But doing so was appropriate in this case, for an article whose point was in fact a question: What if Lee Atwater’s deathbed admission to his colleague and competitor, Raymond Strother, was actually true? What if the Monkey Business disaster were not just a catastrophic error by Hart but a set-up plan?
As the article points out, Strother himself realized that this claim would forever be unprovable, since Lee Atwater died soon after he revealed this information over the phone (according to Strother) back in 1991. Strother told me that this very unprovability was part of the reason he kept the information to himself for so many years—doing so, in fact, until he spoke with Hart early this year, in what he thought might be one of their final meetings.
Can I prove that Lee Atwater actually made this confession to Raymond Strother 27 years ago, as Strother said to me in several conversations this year? Of course not. But Strother has a long record as a campaign strategist and press spokesman, which to the best of my knowledge offers no grounds to be skeptical of his honesty—especially on this topic, and at this stage of his life. Could Strother himself, back at the time, prove that Atwater was telling him the truth? Also, of course not. And Atwater’s short record in public life contained ample grounds for doubts about his honesty. But in his final weeks, Atwater was offering a lot of public apologies for other campaign dirty tricks, which are known to have occurred. Would he have simply invented this additional trick (without actually having been responsible for it) so that he could privately apologize to his former rival Raymond Strother? Anything’s possible, but that seems far-fetched.
No one can know whether Gary Hart would have gone on to the nomination or the presidency if this scandal hadn’t erupted when it did; or whether some other scandal might have ensued if this one hadn’t; or whether Hart, like Bill Clinton after him, to say nothing of Donald Trump, might have ridden out the scandal coverage if he’d decided just to brazen his way through; or whether Michael Dukakis might have risen to the nomination even if Hart stayed in the race; or whether George H.W. Bush was destined for election anyway; or a thousand other imponderables. The point of the story was: History is full of counterfactual what ifs, which by definition are unknowable, and the Atwater-Strother-Hart series of conversations adds another unknowable but provocative what if to the list.
Mr. Savage concludes by saying that I that owe Donna Rice Hughes an apology. I disagree. First, the article does not say what Mr. Savage thinks it does. Lee Atwater told Raymond Strother (according to Strother) that he, Atwater, was behind the whole episode. Necessarily Billy Broadhurst would have to have been involved as well. Who else might have been, and what witting or unwitting roles the other main figures (including Donna Rice) might have played, Atwater did not tell Strother, and Strother did not claim to me.
Donna Rice Hughes presumably knows more than other still-living figures about this incident. I sent her many messages asking for a chance to talk, and explaining what I wanted to ask. I know that she received at least some of them. She chose not to reply to repeated requests, which is her right and is entirely understandable. But it is not the occasion for an apology on my side.
gutting would be too good for this pendejo
This sparse, unaltered landscape has long been a source of fascination for geologists, mainly because of its shape. Rather than charting a one-way course (as with most canyons), Unaweep, which bisects a portion of the sprawling Uncompahgre Plateau, instead flows out in two directions, with an elevated hump in the middle, like a hose with two openings.
This makes it ideal for road bikers, who see the bare, winding roads of Unaweep, and nearby Grand Junction, as an irresistible challenge. Since the 1970s, bike enthusiasts have latched onto Mesa County for its rich supply of trails. Just outside town, the Colorado National Monument makes for one of the most spectacular, high-altitude rides in America. (The 1985 Kevin Costner film, “American Flyers,” was filmed here.)
It is the latest project by the founders of the San Juan Hut System, which launched in 1987 with a set of five huts on the north face of the Sneffels Range in Colorado. Originally meant as an easy-to-navigate route for intrepid skiers, the DIY appeal of the huts soon expanded to bikers, who take over those same trails in the summer months. Today, the system commands a total of 16 huts, spread over hundreds of square miles inside Uncompahgre National Forest.
In May, just after this new trail officially opened, I was one of the first bikers to attempt this challenging route, accompanied by my friend, Joe, who bailed halfway through the first day. (More on that later.)
The remoteness of the trail is a double-edged sword: on the one hand, there are razor-sharp mesas and ghostly valleys, making for unforgettable scenery. But this being rural Colorado, the weather can be unpredictable. Heat makes the trail brutally uncomfortable in summer; the snow and ice make it impassable in winter. As a result, it’s only open for two months a year — May and October.
“These canyons are rough, desolate, harsh,” explained Zebulon Miracle, a geologist who leads dinosaur walks for guests at the Gateway Canyons Resort, an unexpected luxury outpost in the middle of the red rock peaks, 53 miles from Grand Junction.
But if humans have survived in these parts for a couple thousand years, then I should be able to manage for a couple days, right? And it’s not like I’d be camping out in the wilderness. Two huts, installed along the trail roughly 50 miles apart, would provide overnight shelter for the three-day, two-night journey. They are basic cabins, built of plywood, and furnished with bunk beds and a propane tank stove.
Best of all, they are fully stocked with food: bacon, eggs, tortillas, onions, canned food (beans, salsa, tuna fish), cheese, salami sticks, cookies, different kinds of dried fruit, coffee, tea and plenty of water. There’s even a cookbook to show how to make elaborate meals like curry or chicken parm. (We booked our huts three months in advance of our trip, on the San Juan Huts website: sanjuanhuts.com/gravel-grinder-tour-of-the-canyons.)
The cost for two nights was $199. (The “beer option” costs an additional $30 per person.)
Ahead of this trip, I had spoken with Kelly Ryan, a former ski patrol and the daughter of Joe Ryan, who founded the San Juan Huts Systemin 1987. According to Ms. Ryan, the Grand Junction-Moab route, though challenging, is “beginner friendly.” While this tour involves long days, the terrain itself is nothing a newbie — even someone who’s never been on an overnight cycling trip — can’t handle, she said. Plus, the relative absence of cars on this route makes things more manageable. Typically, busy highways represent a hazard for road biking. “You’re more likely to get hurt mountain biking, but you’re more likely to die road biking,” Ms. Ryan said.
This didn’t exactly inspire confidence, but then again, this wasn’t a road biking trip, per se. The route is split between old paved highways and sections of dirt, and because of that, the route is technically classified as a gravel grinder tour.
Gravel grinding, once popular in the 70s and 80s, is essentially off-road road biking, and it’s enjoying a resurgence lately. Shops like SloHi in Denver Rapha in Boulder are now renting gravel grinders and hosting group rides.
While mountain biking is often seen as too dangerous, and road biking has a reputation for being a little dull, gravel grinders offer a middle way. Their tires are thick, but more pressurized than mountain bikes, and they are more stable in their frames. Ms. Ryan called them the “Swiss Army knife of the bike world” — not as clunky as a mountain bike, but not skittish and thin like road bikes.
On a route like this, which involves long distances and rolling landscape on some unpaved roads, a gravel grinder can really shine. I opted to rent a Moots Routt 45 from a nearby Grand Junction vendor.
We were set to go.
From the start of the Trump Presidency, many Beltway wise men, and more than a few of Donald Trump’s own advisers, said, Don’t pay attention to the tweets; forget the overheated language and the alarming one-liners coming out of Trump’s constant campaign-style rallies. Pay attention to the policy. They repeated this even after Trump fired his White House chief of staff and Secretary of State on Twitter, and started making policy announcements to his followers that his advisers didn’t know about. They are still, essentially, telling us to disregard what the President says. On Thursday, that was exactly the response offered by Trump’s chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, when he was asked about a series of attacks by the President on the “loco” Federal Reserve, which Trump said had “gone crazy” by raising interest rates and, in his view, causing the week’s precipitous stock-market decline. “The President says a lot of things,” Kudlow told reporters on the drive outside the White House, where Trump’s advisers are often found in the mornings, cleaning up this or that remark from the President. “He has a lot of fun.”
Trump does indeed say a lot of things, which causes another problem for those watching him. Not only do his advisers tell us to disregard his comments, but he makes so many of them. Almost two years after his election upset, we still haven’t quite figured out how to deal with the daily flood of bombastic rhetoric, instant punditry, and rambling soliloquies that Trump increasingly chooses to spend his time on in office.
So what would happen if the President of the United States threw a rally and the cameras didn’t show up? Since Trump entered politics to round-the-clock cable coverage, this has been the demand of some of Trump’s biggest opponents, those who believe that real-time televising of what Trump says when he says it has both created and enabled this serial fabulist by giving him an unchallenged platform.
Well, we’re starting to find out. On Wednesday, Trump flouted convention and flew to Erie, Pennsylvania, for a political rally as one of the most intense hurricanes to hit the United States in decades pounded Florida. The President attributed his decision not to cancel to the thousands of people already lined up to hear him. “It’s a very important rally,” he told reporters. When he got there, however, even the usually reliable Fox News refused to carry the show, sticking with weather reports on the storm and its prime-time lineup. Even as Trump was onstage, Politico reported that Fox’s ratings for coverage of his recent rallies had dropped below those of its regular shows. (At one point, when I switched over to check Fox, not only was Trump still shut out but the Fox host was joking with a guest about emotional-support animals.) The only national network to air the Pennsylvania rally live was C-span 2.
But I think it’s a mistake. The problem is that there are so many outrages, we are in danger of ignoring them, or dismissing them as mere spectacle. The torrent of Trump’s words is exhausting, contradictory, annoying, and more than occasionally amusing, and it’s fair to ask what some of it amounts to. I certainly don’t think all the networks need to air his remarks live and in full all the time. Still, tuning out the President is hardly the way to understand him. So I decided to watch all of Trump’s rallies in October, as he is stepping up his midterm campaigning.
The first thing to note is that there are a lot of them; the President has already done six so far, as the election draws near, spending, as the Washington Post put it, “sixty percent of the evenings in October so far” speaking to big crowds in Trump-friendly places like Johnson City, Tennessee; Southaven, Mississippi; Topeka, Kansas; Rochester, Minnesota; Council Bluffs, Iowa; and Erie. He has two more planned for this weekend. Trump is generally onstage for more than an hour, so that’s a lot of Trump. Six hours and fifty-one minutes of Trump, to be precise.
The headlines from these events are by now familiar: Trump’s celebration of his victimized but ultimately confirmed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh; Trump’s mocking of Kavanaugh’s female accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, after he initially called her “very credible”; Trump’s escalating rhetoric about “wacko” Democrats as an “angry mob” that would destroy due process, even as the angry mob listening to him chanted “lock her up” at the mere mention of Dianne Feinstein, a senator not accused of any crime.
That leaves a lot of what would be considered news in any other moment. Among the things I heard the President of the United States do: make fun of a female candidate in Iowa by giving her a derogatory nickname. Accuse a U.S. senator of being a “drunk.” Claim that Hillary Clinton engaged in a conspiracy with Russia to rig the election (which she lost). He called the European Union a “brutal” alliance “formed to take advantage of us.” He attacked American libel laws and the World Trade Organization.
Many of the statements are not only untrue but are repeated from event to event, despite the industry of real-time Trump fact-checking and truth-squadding that now exists. This summer, the Washington Post’s Fact Checker looked at all the statements in one rally and determined that seventy-six per cent of the ninety-eight factual assertions Trump made were untrue, misleading, or baseless. Since then, Trump seems not only undeterred but to be stepping up his pace. He claimed that Justice Kavanaugh was No. 1 in his class at Yale and Yale Law School in at least three of his events over the past week, despite Yale not even calculating class rankings. On Wednesday, Trump repeated several of his greatest-hits fallacies, such as asserting that fifty-two per cent of women supported him in 2016 (that number was forty-two per cent), and that numerous new steel-manufacturing plants are being opened (none are), and that “clean, beautiful coal” is coming back (it isn’t).
Still, fact-checking is far too narrow a lens through which to view the rallies. Certainly, Trump pours out untruths and whoppers at these events; the more defensive he is, the more he seems to unleash them. But I found myself reeling most at the end of my rally-watching marathon not from the lying but from the bleak and threatening world view offered by a President who is claiming credit for making America great, strong, and respected again, while terrifying his fans with the grim spectre of the scary enemies he is fending off. Even more than they did in 2016, these threats come accompanied by an increasingly grandiose rewriting of history. What’s happened since his election, Trump said in Pennsylvania, “has been the greatest revolution ever to take place in our country,” or maybe even anywhere in the world. His victory “superseded even Andrew Jackson.” “America,” he said, “is winning like never before.”
The biggest difference between Trump and any other American President, however, is not the bragging. It’s the cult of personality he has built around himself and which he insists upon at his rallies. Political leaders are called onstage to praise the President in terms that would make a feudal courtier blush, and they’re not empty words. These are the kinds of tributes I have heard in places like Uzbekistan, but never before in America. “Is he not the best President we have ever had?” the Mississippi senator Cindy Hyde-Smith enthused. (Trump then praised her for voting “with me one hundred per cent of the time.”) In Erie on Wednesday, a Republican congressman, Michael Kelly, gave the most sycophantic speech of the ones I listened to this month. Trump, he yelled to the crowd, is “the strongest President we have seen in our lifetime.” Addressing Trump, he said, “You are the best! You are the best!” Trump did not need to leave his “luxurious” life behind for the indignities of political combat, but he did. “I am so grateful,” Kelly concluded, “that an American citizen came out of nowhere to take the reins and reform and retake this nation.”
No wonder his followers think this way. In Trump’s telling at these rallies, he is the hero of every story. All ideas, big or small, flow through him now that he is President. He personally ordered the Ambassador in Israel to renovate a building for the new American Embassy there using “beautiful Jerusalem stone.” (Never mind that all buildings in the city are required to be faced with it.) He had “the greatest idea” to get veterans better medical care by allowing them to go to private doctors, confounding the experts who told him, “Sir, we’ve been working on this for forty-four years,” and couldn’t fix the problem. Same with an N.F.L. dispute with Canada. “Nobody could get it done,” Trump said. “I did it in two minutes.”
Then there are the stunners that we already know Trump thinks are true. But listen to them for almost seven hours in an election season, and remember, this is the President; maybe we shouldn’t just screen this out, or pretend it doesn’t matter. Every single rally included multiple attacks on the media and “fake news.” In Mississippi, the press bashing began seconds into the speech; in Pennsylvania, it took seven minutes; in Minnesota, ten. Deadbeat allies, rapacious foreigners ripping us off, and murderous gang members from MS-13 also figured in every one of the speeches.
Touting his record, surprisingly, is not necessarily at the heart of Trump’s speeches, as it might be for a more conventional politician. “The biggest tax cut in history,” which Republican leaders once wanted to make the centerpiece of their 2018 campaigns, is generally mentioned close to the one-hour mark by Trump. He brags of blowing up nafta and replacing it with the “brand-new” U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, though experts say the agreement represents more of an update to the free-trade pact than a destruction of it. He invariably mentions withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. But other accomplishments are aspirational, as when he talks about proposing a new Space Force branch of the military or promises to start “building the wall” with Mexico. Given two full years of the Trump Administration and Republican control over all three branches of government, there is remarkably little policy wonkery here.
Some of Trump’s comments, while overheated, are standard-issue partisan rhetoric. There are ritual denunciations of socialist-leaning Democrats who want to raise taxes while Republicans crack down on crime and spend more money on defense. Every Republican President in my lifetime has uttered a version of those words during election season. Where Trump differs starkly is in his insistence—made at an increasingly high pitch as the week went on—thatDemocrats not only want to legislate their way to socialism but that they are an actual clear and present danger to Americans.
We already know that Trump is the most truth-challenged President ever, that he distorts, misrepresents, and makes things up; that he has something to hide on his taxes; that he loves to mock, bully, criticize, insult, and belittle rivals.
Besides, there were plenty of important issues to occupy Washington this week that did not involve the President’s rallies, from the fate of the missing Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi to the sudden plunge of the stock market to the damage from Hurricane Michael. Never mind the big news from the White House on Thursday, when Trump had lunch with the rapper Kanye West, who dropped the phrase “crazy motherfucker” in what was undoubtedly the most profane West Wing photo-op ever. Trump had plenty to say about all of it.
So why I am writing about this? Why spend nearly seven bleary-eyed hours over six rallies listening to the President? That’s six full renditions of Lee Greenwood’s “I’m Proud to Be an American,” six times hearing Trump rip off Churchill’s “never surrender” speech, six times listening to him insult “low I.Q.” Maxine Waters and “Crooked Hillary” and “Crazy Bernie” and, his new favorite, “Da Nang Dick” Blumenthal.
Watching hours of Trump at his rallies, it’s easy to sympathize with the desire to ignore them. John Dean tweeted a picture of the crowd waiting in line for the Erie rally and derided it as a “meaningless show.” For supporters, it’s hyperbole, just rhetoric, entertainment, part of the unvarnished appeal; for opponents, it’s old news painful to watch, maybe, but inconsequential, narrow-casting to his base. One of the reasons we tune out is because views of Trump are so fixed. Look at the Presidential approval ratings, and “you would think it’s been a pretty boring couple years,” as Amy Walter, the Cook Political Report editor, likes to put it. Trump’s ratings have barely budged, no matter the day’s outrage or the nutty things he tells his followers: the same range of thirty-eight to forty-three per cent of Americans approve of him, according to the Real Clear Politics polling average, and the same majority of fifty to fifty-three per cent disapprove of him, as has been the case since the early weeks of his Administration.
Much of the coverage of these events tends to be theatre criticism, or news stories about a single inflammatory line or two, rating Trump’s performance or puzzling over the appeal to his followers. But what the President of the United States is actually saying is extraordinary, regardless of whether the television cameras are carrying it live. It’s not just the whoppers or the particular outrage riffs that do get covered, either. It’s the hate, and the sense of actual menace that the President is trying to convey to his supporters. Democrats aren’t just wrong in the manner of traditional partisan differences; they are scary, bad, evil, radical, dangerous. Trump and Trump alone stands between his audiences and disaster.
I listen because I think we are making a mistake by dismissing him, by pretending the words of the most powerful man in the world are meaningless. They do have consequences. They are many, and they are worrisome. In what he says to the world, the President is, as Ed Luce wrote in the Financial Timesthis week, “creating the space to do things which were recently unthinkable.” It’s not a reality show; it’s real.
Last night, videos began circulating on Twitter of what appeared to be a pro-Trump gang inflicting violence on protestors after a Republican club event in New York City.
The incident occurred right after a Metropolitan Republican Club event featuring Gavin McInnes, founder of the Proud Boys, a far-right men’s group which describes itself as “anti-white guilt.” The Club building had been vandalized earlier that morning, possibly in protest of McInnes’ appearance.
Photojournalist Shay Horse shared pictures showing the gang violently kicking a person laying on the sidewalk.
In an email, McInnes told HuffPost that one of the protesters actually started the fight. “I recognized one of them,” he said. “He stole a Proud Boys MAGA hat and was immediately tuned up.”
The New York Police Department told HuffPost reporter Christopher Mathias that while three people had been arrested near the event, they could not confirm if any of them were involved.
The potential donation that arrived at an Arizona campaign office Thursday had all the markings of a grass-roots, feel-good politics story — at first.
Two young men, who said their names were Jose Rosales and Ahmahd Sadia, had shown up at the Flagstaff campaign office of Rep. Tom O’Halleran, a Democrat who is running for reelection to represent northern Arizona.
They claimed they were from nearby Northern Arizona University and were eager to volunteer. They had also brought along a jar of small bills and coins — totaling $39.68 — money that they said wanted to donate to O’Halleran’s campaign.
That’s when things grew odd.
A junior staffer who “didn’t realize what was happening” directed the pair to fill out a campaign contribution form. The men mentioned they were with the “Northern Arizona University Communist Party,” according to O’Halleran campaign manager Ryan Mulcahy.
“Once they filled out the forms, they became oddly insistent on getting a receipt for the contributions,” Mulcahy told The Washington Post. “They were told the only way you can get a receipt is [by] email. So they ended up crossing out the email they had written down and writing in another one.”
Meanwhile, as the men were leaving, another staffer came over — and recognized them from social media as being affiliated with the Arizona Republican Party, Mulcahy said. Shortly after the pair left, O’Halleran’s finance director, Lindsay Coleman, drove over to the local Arizona GOP office to return the donation.
Her suspicions were almost immediately confirmed upon entering the GOP office, in an awkward exchange that was captured on video.