Manafort takes millions; Combat! blog takes hiatus

Before we take the picture, can we get some bats in here?

Before we take the picture, can we get some bats in here?

About two months ago, Donald Trump replaced campaign manager and occasional woman-grabber Corey Lewandowski with Paul Manafort. Manafort’s resume reminds you that Trump used to be friends with Roy Cohn. Before he took over the Trump campaign, Manafort advised the campaigns of Ronald Reagan and Bob Dole. He also worked with some exciting foreign leaders, including Ferdinand Marcos, Mobutu Sese Seko and Ukraine’s pro-Russian former president, Viktor Yanukovich. That last gig appears to have been pretty lucrative. According to the New York Times, Yanukovich’s pro-Russian political party secretly paid Manafort $12.7 million in cash between 2007 and 2012.

That sets off a fun chain of implications, considering Yanukovich was an ally of Vladimir Putin, for whom Trump has expressed admiration and whose actions—if we are to believe Russia really hacked the DNC—have benefited the Republican nominee’s campaign. If you want to believe Trump is a Manchurian Muscovite candidate, his campaign manager’s multimillion-dollar deals with a Russian stooge in the Ukraine are kind of a smoking gun. It seems just as likely that Manafort will simply work for anyone who pays him enough, and he feels no more loyalty to Putin than to any other oligarch whose budget contains eight-figure consulting lines. But it’s thrilling story nonetheless, and it ads another convincing argument to the case that 2016 is the craziest US election of our lifetimes. I might be willing to put it ahead of the nutso election of 1824 for craziest of all time.

You’ll have to decide for yourself, because Combat! blog is taking a hiatus this week. Astute readers may have noticed the large number of days off we’ve taken recently. I’m on the verge of finishing the first draft of a novel, and I’m inundated with deadlines for other projects. Also, it’s summer, and no one wants to stay inside and read my groundless opinions anyway. So we’ll come back next Monday, by which time Trump presumably will have called the Pope a drug addict and killed a child in a duel. Good luck, fair reader. Good luck.


Zinke calls on both Trump and Clinton to apologize to military families

Rep. Ryan Zinke prepares to crack a walnut.

Rep. Ryan Zinke prepares to crack a walnut.

Remember a few days ago, before we were all mad at Donald Trump for implying that someone should shoot Hillary Clinton, when we were all mad at Trump for insulting the parents of a dead Muslim serviceman? At the Democratic National Convention, where Khizr Khan lambasted Trump for his bigoted remarks about Muslims. “You have sacrificed nothing and no one,” Khan said to the billionaire restorer of American greatness, who missed Vietnam due to bone spurs. It probably would have chastened a normal person, but Trump hit back, suggesting that Khan’s wife, Ghazala, hadn’t spoken during her husband’s speech because Muslim custom forbade her.

These remarks put Montana’s Rep. Ryan Zinke in a bad spot. Zinke is a freshman congressman, and he can’t afford to buck his party too often. On the other hand, the unimpeachable dignity of military service is his whole thing. His political brand is rooted in his identity as a former Navy SEAL, and his personal ethics seem to hold veterans in the highest regard. So he released this statement on his campaign website:

Both of our candidates for president have picked fights with and said extremely regrettable things to the families of service members who paid the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our great nation. As a grateful nation, we cannot allow this to become the norm, and we cannot allow it to go without notice. Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton should swallow their pride and apologize to the families and service members they have offended. Politics has no role in the military.

Can I get partial credit on this? Because I can definitely think of the extremely regrettable things one candidate said to the family of a service member that should occasion an apology, but I’m blanking on the other one. Was it Benghazi? Was it the part where she runs against Trump, and therefore must be made equivalent to him in all things? These and another pressing question—why would Zinke, who has a future in politics, risk his credibility for a man who is to his party as the chicken pox is to a sixth grader?—are explored in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links.

Trump suggests people shoot his opponent or vote against her—hard to tell

GOP 2016 Debate

Yesterday, after telling a crowd of his supporters in Wilmington, North Carolina that Hillary Clinton wanted to “abolish” the Second Amendment, Donald Trump warned that gun owners would face disaster if she won the presidency and got to appoint justices to the Supreme Court. Then he seemed to allude to the possibility of assassinating her. Here’s video:

If you can’t watch it because your work doesn’t allow videos that threaten candidates for president or the Secret Service is monitoring you or something, Trump said, “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people—maybe there is. I don’t know.”

That’s by no means an explicit call for violence against his opponent. It does, however, allude to something “Second Amendment people” can do after the general election, when democratic avenues to prevent President Hillary Clinton from appointing judges have failed. These “Second Amendment people” are presumably gun owners, but that, too, is ambiguous. Maybe these unspecified people could do some unspecified thing to prevent a duly elected president from appointing judges to the Supreme Court—Trump doesn’t know. He’s just running for president, saying these things.

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Polls aren’t skewed; Trump is just losing, FiveThirtyEight says

An unskewed photo of Donald Trump

An unskewed photo of Donald Trump

Remember 2012, when Republican-leaning journalists sought to “unskew” polls that showed Barack Obama with a lead over Mitt Romney by correcting for supposed oversampling of Democrats in the results? Of course you don’t. I had forgotten about it too, but Harry Enten didn’t. The FiveThirtyEight writer is pretty frustrated to find the number cruncher/deniers back at it this year, arguing that polls finding Donald Trump losing badly are inaccurate because too many respondents prefer Hillary Clinton. Is there any better metaphor for the present state of the Republican Party than correcting public opinion for showing too much support for Democrats? Yes, but he’s orange and gross. We’ll be back tomorrow.


Clinton seeks endorsements from Kissinger, Rice, Vader, Shkreli, gingivitis

Ain't I a dickens?

Ain’t I a dickens?

According to an anonymous source close to her campaign, Hillary Clinton has sought endorsements from prominent Republicans Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, Condoleezza Rice and James Baker. All four have yet to endorse Trump, and at least half of them are famous for leading the United States into disastrous and unpopular foreign wars. That’s what Politico reports—the first part, anyway, although it also warns readers that none of what it just said may be true:

A person close to Clinton said her team has sent out feelers to the GOP elders, although it wasn’t clear if those efforts were preliminary or more formal requests for endorsement, or if they were undertaken through intermediaries. Clinton campaign aides did not respond when asked if they had solicited endorsements or tried to persuade the elders to speak out against Trump.

If Clinton is indeed seeking the Kissinger endorsement, it’s troubling. Although the architect of Richard Nixon’s Vietnam War policy is somehow in the pantheon of foreign policy experts and not the Hague, his name is still synonymous with evil among the Baby Boomers who form the core of her constituency. Meanwhile, Rice and, to a lesser extent, Schultz and Baker can only remind voters of her support for the invasion of Iraq. Seeking their endorsements suggests that Clinton is both tone deaf and tacking even further to the right.

I would object to her doing that on economic issues, but at least it might be politically sensible. Why hitch your wagon to Republicans on the issue of foreign wars? The last 15 years of unsuccessful military intervention in the Middle East is a stain on the Republican brand, and it makes no sense for Hillary to try to co-opt it. Ordinary voters are tired of war. Left-leaning voters, meanwhile, will be chagrined to learn that they have two choices: a center-right party and a far-right party. There appears to be no candidate for president who opposes further adventure in the Middle East. Now shut up and vote for the one who isn’t also openly racist.