Meet the Leader of the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy

Jeff Merkley could inherit Bernie Sanders’ progressive mantle in 2020. But for now, he’s spending his time plotting the resistance against the Trump presidency.

Merkley is probably best known for being the only colleague of Sanders to endorse the Vermont senator last year.

.. He has no campaign staff, and has raised no money. But he seems to be hoping that the credibility he has with progressive activists and the wild new world of lefty politics will change all that. So he’s starting early, even if the odds don’t look great right now.

..  He’s the right age and would be 72 by 2028, if another Democrat beats Donald Trump in 2020 and then has a lock on the nomination for 2024.

.. he’s not immune to the sense going around many Democrats these days that if Trump can win, maybe anyone can, and there’s certainly no harm in trying.

.. Whether there’s actually an appetite for pulling the party further to the left is a different question.

.. support for individual issues Merkley supports, from health care changes to free college to universal basic income, all at under 40 percent.

.. inside Washington, he is very much a player, having quietly brought together leading groups on the left for what’s become a regular series of pragmatic, action-focused meetings.

.. Every other Thursday, around the table in his conference room (or sometimes over the phone), top staffers from leading progressive groups MoveOn.org, Ultraviolet, Democracy for America, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Daily Kos, Credo and Indivisible join him to plot strategy and share information. If there is a nerve center of the vast left-wing conspiracy, this is it.

.. Merkley circulates invitations among senators. Among the regulars: Warren, Hawaii’s Brian Schatz, Ohio’s Sherrod Brown, Minnesota’s Al Franken. A rotating cast of others, including New Jersey’s Cory Booker, Connecticut’s Chris Murphy and California’s Kamala Harris, have been known to stop by. Sanders is always invited, but he never comes, instead sending a staffer and people from his Our Revolution group.

.. In recent months, a staffer from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has started joining.

.. The meetings began as strategy sessions for how to push a presumed President Hillary Clinton to the left on Cabinet picks and abruptly transformed into a lefty war council, bringing together battered progressives and minority senators looking to amplify a voice that’s much further from power than they’d been prepared for.

.. Some who know Merkley suspect he regrets not running for president last year—he could have been the progressive magnet pulling Clinton to the left, but without doing the damage that Sanders did to her that she blames in part for her loss.

.. In fact, he insists, Clinton ought to thank Sanders for running. “There was a tremendous amount of grass-roots energy

.. As for Trump, Merkley likes his position on trade, and that’s about it. He calls the president a “mystery,” because he ran as a populist but is governing more like a movement conservative. 

..  “It was a surprise that he was able to campaign on one vision, and implement a completely different vision.

He attacked Hillary for being too close to Wall Street. Well, he wakes up every day seeing what he can do for Wall Street, how he can tear down consumer protections.”

.. living “his whole life stepping on others. He was raised to step on others.”

.. That language reinforced the argument that Kim Jong Un is making to his own population, which is that the U.S. wants to destroy North Korea, that they have to put all their resources into the military side, that they have to have nuclear weapons in order to deter America from bombing them,” Merkley says

.. official rollout of his Medicare for All plan.

 

Trump’s Cynical Immigration Strategy Might Work for Him—Again

The lesson Trump has learned is not that saying shocking, untrue, and arguably racist things about immigrants is politically dangerous but that doing so helped him become President.

.. But others, Merkley told me, quickly saw political peril. “There were folks saying, ‘My goodness, shifting the attention from health care to immigration is a huge political mistake.’ ”

.. Senator Jeff Merkley said he considers Trump a “fear” candidate from a Party that had learned to run what he called the “three-terrors strategy”: pick three issues that scare the American public, and emphasize them at all costs.

.. Trump’s ability to gin up fears about illegal immigration, more than perhaps any other issue, won him the White House. Headed into a midterm election that will be won by the political party that can better rally its base, Trump has remained determined to talk about immigration, even when others in his party have resisted. Indeed, Republican leaders on Capitol Hill were furious with Trump as the immigration controversy spiralled out of control this week—a time they had planned to spend celebrating the G.O.P. tax cut, along with the general strength of the economy, which they hope to make the centerpiece of their fall campaign.

.. Trump, she told me, had a “freakishly stable” approval rating; in such a polarized moment, people know where they stand on the President.

.. voters in both parties are more motivated to vote than they were at any time in the previous twenty years.

.. The pollster agreed that it appeared to be a smart move on Trump’s part to keep talking about illegal immigration as much as the economy, even in the midst of the backlash over his tough policies. “On most issues, whether health care or taxes or the general mood, the Republicans are in a bad place,” the pollster said. “This is their one wedge issue that actually works for them.”

..

The lesson learned by Trump was not that saying shocking, untrue, and arguably racist things about immigrants was politically dangerous but that doing so helped him become President. “Remember I made that speech, and I was badly criticized? ‘Oh, it’s so terrible, what he said,’ ” he told the audience. “Turned out I was a hundred per cent right. That’s why I got elected.”

.. this is exactly what Merkley predicts Trump will do between now and November. He told me in our interview that he considers Trump a “fear” candidate from a Republican Party that had learned to run what Merkley called the “three-terrors strategy”: pick three issues that scare the American public, and emphasize them at all costs.
.. he predicted, illegal immigration will be one of Trump’s main rallying cries
.. Merkley acknowledged that his more cautious Democratic colleagues could well be right: changing the subject to immigration plays into the President’s hands. “I just feel like when you see children being mistreated, forget the politics,” Merkley told me. “You’ve got to call it out as completely wrong.”

 

 

 

 

Trump, Oprah and the Art of Deflection

Will American politics return to normalcy in 2021 or 2025? I’m not betting on it.

Deflection as a media strategy has become an art form. Its purpose is to avoid answering a charge by misdirecting it and confusing the issue. It’s often used during crisis.

.. The paparazzi had chased her like jackals, raced after her car in the tunnel, surrounded it, and taken pictures after the crash. Fleet Street hunkered down in confusion, perhaps even some guilt. Then some genius noticed Buckingham Palace wasn’t flying a flag at half-staff. The tabloids rushed to front-page it: The cold Windsors, disrespecting Diana in death as they had in life. They shifted the focus of public ire. Suddenly there was no more talk of grubby hacks. Everyone was mad at the queen.

 

.. Ms. Lewinsky had gone into virtual hiding in 2008, when Hillary last ran, and didn’t want to do it again. So in 2014, just before the cycle got serious, she rather brilliantly wrote a piece for Vanity Fair in which she announced yes, she’d been a victim in a national scandal and the true culprit was . . . the press, the internet and the “feedback loop of defame and shame.”

In fact she was the Clintons’ victim, but she successfully deflected your gaze. Once Mrs. Clinton’s people understood Monica would be taking shots not at Hillary but at Matt Drudge, Ms. Lewinsky’s problem went away.

 

.. The best deflection has some truth in it. The Windsors were a chilly lot, and the internet does amplify a personal humiliation.

 

.. as I watched the Golden Globes. Hollywood has known forever about abuse, harassment and rape within its ranks. All the true powers in the industry—the agencies, the studios—have one way or another been complicit. And so, in the first awards show after the watershed revelations of 2017, they understood they would not be able to dodge the subject. They seized it and redirected it. They boldly declared themselves the heroes of the saga. They were the real leaders in the fight against sexual abuse. They dressed in black to show solidarity, they spoke truth to power.

 

.. They were upset, as Glenn Reynolds noted on Twitter , that you found out, and thought less of them. Anyway, they painted themselves as heroes of the struggle.

 

.. Deflection is brilliant, wicked, and tends to work.

 

.. But could she win? Absolutely.

Oprah is stable. Oprah is smart. Oprah is truly self-made. She has a moving personal story. She has dignity and, more important, sees the dignity in others. She is fully wired into modern media; she helped invent modern media. Reporters and editors are awed by her. People experience her not as radical but moderate. She has been a living-room presence for two generations and is enormously popular. The first poll, published Wednesday, had her leading President Trump 48% to 38%.

 

.. But it freaks you out, doesn’t it? Not that American presidents now don’t have to have the traditional credentials and governmental experience, but that maybe they can’t be fully accomplished and appropriate because that’s boring. History has been turned on its head. In falling in love with celebrity and personality, we are acting not like a tough and grounded country but a frivolous, shallow one.

 

.. I had a disagreement with a friend, a brilliant journalist who said when the Trump era is over, we will turn for safety to the old ways. We will return to normalcy. 

.. No I said, I see just the opposite. We will not go back for a long time, maybe ever. We are in the age of celebrity and the next one will and can be anything—Nobel laureate, movie star, professional wrestler, talk-show host, charismatic corporate executive.

The political class can bemoan this—the veteran journalists, the senators and governors, the administrators of the federal government. But this is a good time to remind ourselves that it was the failures of the political class that brought our circumstances about.

.. at least half the country no longer trusts its political leaders, when people see the detached, cynical and uncaring refusal to handle such problems as illegal immigration, when those leaders commit a great nation to wars they blithely assume will be quickly won because we’re good and they’re bad and we’re the Jetsons and they’re the Flintstones, and while they were doing that they neglected to notice there was something hinky going on with the financial sector, something to do with mortgages, and then the courts decide to direct the culture, and the IRS abuses its power, and a bunch of nuns have to file a lawsuit because the government orders them to violate their conscience . . .

 

.. The idea that a lot had to go wrong before we had a President Trump, and the celebrity who follows him, has gotten lost in time, as if someone wanted to bury it.

Sometimes I see a congressman or senator shrug and say, in explanation of something outlandish, “It’s Trump.” And I think: Buddy, you’ve been on the Hill 20 years, and we didn’t get to this pass only because of him. That’s a deflection.

Lawmakers Question How Long Paul Ryan Will Stay in Post After Likely Tax Overhaul

Many Republicans consider the tax-code rewrite, expected to pass, a legacy accomplishment

.. Trump called Mr. Ryan Thursday and “made sure the speaker knew very clearly and in no uncertain terms, that if the news was true, he was very unhappy with it.”

.. Mr. Ryan himself on Thursday listed two major legislative campaigns he said were necessary to reduce the federal debt. One, he said, is

  1. the tax-code overhaul lawmakers are on the verge of finishing. The second is
  2. a push to overhaul federal safety-net programs to incentivize more people to work, which he intends to spearhead early next year.

.. “Next year is going to be the year where we work on people,” Mr. Ryan told reporters Thursday.

.. Many House GOP lawmakers and aides believe Mr. Ryan will leave in 2019 if the GOP loses its control of the House majority in next year’s midterm elections.

..  If he intends to run for president in the future, his next career move will have to keep him connected to the political realm, GOP strategists said.

..  I think he would need to stay in office for at least a few more years just to remain relevant.”

.. House Republicans said they wouldn’t be surprised to see Mr. Ryan assume a senior role at a conservative think tank at some point.  “He is a policy guy,” Mr. Ross said, “through and through.”