I have three things this afternoon which suggest the extent to which the concept of American leadership is in a state of abject crisis.
First, our readers by now know that today Donald Trump robbed the Democrats of all the country’s political oxygen by unleashing a bizarre press conference in which he – probably facetiously – asked the Russians to release the 30,000 deleted e-mails from Hillary Clinton’s illegal account. The implication of the statement was that Hillary was lying when she said those deleted e-mails were all personal and contained such harmless data as wedding planning and yoga routines.
The American people know that those e-mails were not personal, or at least not all of them, and they know Clinton lied about them as she’s lied about everything else having to do with the e-mails.
As we said earlier today, it was a dumb thing for Trump to have done, because what’s at stake here is a competition of narratives – first, that Hillary’s e-mail scandal is criminal not just as a matter of violating some ministerial law on the books but because her stupid decision to route her e-mail through an unsecured private server (which was done in an effort to conceal evidence of a pay-for-play bribery scheme involving the Clinton Foundation) left American state secrets wide open to theft by hostile powers, and second, that Trump is an eminently dangerous presidential candidate due to his connections to Putin and his pals in the Russian oligarchy. And for Trump, the former narrative is the one the media should be talking about without reference to the latter.
Which means you need to downplay your ties to the Russians. Which Trump tried to do when he said he didn’t know anything about Putin and that the hack of the DNC server “probably” wasn’t from Russia; except then he made the flip statement that the Russians ought to release those e-mails they’ve surely plucked off that e-mail server.
And Trump then made things worse, because he was asked whether as president he would be willing to drop sanctions against the Russians and accept their invasion and annexation of Crimea as legal. His answer? “Yes. We would be looking at that.”
David Frum summed up this whole business, and the concerns surrounding all of this fairly well…
He has repeatedly and emphatically rejected criticism of Vladimir Putin’s methods of rule, including his murders of journalists.
He has called NATO obsolete because it is too focused on the threat from Russia. At his own convention, he told The New York Times he would not defend small NATO countries like Estonia against a Russian attack.
Trump’s convention team, largely indifferent to the work of the party-platform committee, acted decisively to strike pro-Ukraine language. Trump himself hasurged decreased U.S. support for Ukraine as it resists Russian invasion.
And at this most recent press conference, he indicated openness to recognizing Russia’s conquest and annexation of Crimea—and expressed opposition to maintaining sanctions against Russia. That statement would have topped the news on any day except one in which a candidate for United States presidentopenly invited foreign espionage against his political opponent.
For a candidate with few consistent views on anything, this adds up to a very clear picture. Joined with other evidence of Trump’s deep personal business obligationsto people in the Putin ruling circle, and his campaign leadership’s long-standing involvement with the former pro-Putin authoritarian leader of Ukraine,
the picture becomes even more troubling—even sinister.
So there is a concern, and it’s a potential liability. Trump was stupid to create attention around it.
And lest you find this brilliant for some reason, Trump’s running mate Mike Pence rushed in to do damage control…
That’s a classic example of the political janitorial arts. If there was an actual plan behind Trump’s statements there would have been zero reason for Pence to say much of anything about the Russians interfering in our elections.
And yet as sloppy and stupid as this whole business by the Trump campaign was, Hillary Clinton almost inexplicably managed to hand him a victory in the news cycle. How so?
Clinton camp responds to Trump calling on Russia to release emails pic.twitter.com/fKsv03OO9z
— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) July 27, 2016
Which is the dumbest thing a national political campaign has done in memory. Understand what this was – this was Clinton’s camp admitting, after a year of denials, that to release those deleted e-mails would compromise or even involve national security. That gives away the entire game. She’d insisted those e-mails were deleted because they were personal and not work-related, and now she says that for the Russians to release them would be a national security matter.
Yes, the Clinton campaign will say it’s not the e-mails that involve national security but Trump’s suggestion the Russians interfere that does. But nobody will buy that, and nobody should.
So Trump stumbles into a victory he doesn’t deserve today, because as dumb as he is, the Democrat nominee is worse.
We noted this morning that the poor quality of the two parties’ nominees gives Gary Johnson a sensational opportunity to throw the race into turmoil as a third-party Black Swan.
Except it’s only an opportunity. Johnson has to actually take advantage of it if he’s going to get somewhere. And that might well be beyond Johnson’s capabilities.
Erick Erickson went on Glenn Beck’s show this morning to talk politics, and what came up from both sides is the difficulty of connecting with the Johnson campaign by major media organizations wiling to give him exposure – in this case Beck’s show, which for some reason he’s not responding to invitations to be a guest on, and the RedState Gathering next month, which is attempting, unsuccessfully so far, to book Johnson…
Sure, the Libertarians think they can snap up disaffected Bernie Sanders voters – but to ignore anti-Trump conservatives who read RedState and/or listen to Beck is crazy; those voters are just as likely to gravitate to Johnson as the Bernie Bros are.
So to sum up, all of the campaigns are terrible.
It’s reminiscent of the famous quote by Casey Stengel, the manager of the 1962 New York Mets, expressing exasperation for his team, an expansion franchise that season, as it blundered its way through a dreadful campaign: “Can’t anybody here play this game?” Jimmy Breslin wrote a famous book by that name. Someday soon, someone might reprise that title to describe the 2016 election.