Excellent Read: “David Fahrenthold tells the behind-the-scenes story of his year covering Trump”

A well-deserved victory lap, with a promise for the future:

“Arnold and Tim, if you’d come up, we’re going to give you a nice, beautiful check,” Donald Trump said. He held up an oversize check, the kind they give to people who win golf tournaments. It was for $100,000. In the top-left corner the check said: “The Donald J. Trump Foundation.”

Along the bottom, it had the slogan of Trump’s presidential campaign: “Make America Great Again.”…

That was the start of nine months of work for me, trying to dig up the truth about a part of Trump’s life that he wanted to keep secret. I didn’t understand — and I don’t think Trump understood, either — where that one check, and that one question, would lead…


The idea for this story had come from our executive editor, Marty Baron. One night, as we both waited for an elevator, Marty offered a suggestion.

Why don’t you go beyond Trump’s promises to give to veterans, he said, and look at Trump’s giving to charity, period?

The logic was that Trump had just tried to wiggle out of a charitable promise he’d made on national TV. What, Marty wondered, had he been doing before the campaign, when nobody was looking?

Working with one of The Post’s ace researchers, Alice Crites, I went digging for records that would reveal Trump’s charitable giving, going back to his early days as a Manhattan developer in the 1980s. We looked at old news clippings, detailing Trump’s public statements. And we looked at tax filings from the Donald J. Trump Foundation, which had been dug out of storage by New York state.

Those two sources told two very different stories…

I kept looking, posting details of my search to Twitter. Soon I had attracted a virtual army, ready to join the scavenger hunt. I had begun the year with 4,700 Twitter followers. By September I had more than 60,000 and climbing fast. I began hearing from celebrities and even a few personal heroes, offering their assistance out of the blue. The barbecue columnist for Texas Monthly — an idol to me, as a journalist and a native Texan — was watching videos of other people’s parties taken at a Trump golf resort. He thought he’d spotted the painting in the background (he hadn’t). Kathy Griffin, the actress, called me with her memories about visiting the set of Trump’s “The Celebrity Apprentice.” Mark Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks owner, was sending me links on Twitter, new leads on Trump promises…

The point of my stories was not to defeat Trump. The point was to tell readers the facts about this man running for president. How reliable was he at keeping promises? How much moral responsibility did he feel to help those less fortunate than he?

By the end of the election, I felt I’d done my job. My last big story about Trump started with an amazing anecdote, which came from a tip from a reader. In 1996, Trump had crashed a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a charity opening a nursery school for children with AIDS. Trump, who had never donated to the charity, stole a seat onstage that had been saved for a big contributor.

He sat there through the whole ceremony, singing along with the choir of children as cameras snapped, and then left without giving a dime…

A few days [after the election], I was interviewed by another German reporter. He asked if these past nine months, the greatest ad­ven­ture in my life as a journalist, had been for naught.

“Do you feel like your work perhaps did not matter at all?” he said.

I didn’t feel like that.

It did matter. But, in an election as long and wild as this, a lot of other stories and other people mattered, too. I did my job. The voters did theirs. Now my job goes on. I’ll seek to cover Trump the president with the same vigor as I scrutinized Trump the candidate.

And now I know how to do it.

Seriously: Donald Trump Is A Penny-Ante Swindler

… and David Farenholdt, at the Washington Post, deserves at least one Pulitzer. I’ve been working on a post about his findings for the last couple of weeks, but he keeps churning out new information. None of which the cable-news Media Village Idiots have deigned to discuss — until now.

The Donald J. Trump Foundation is not like other charities. An investigation of the foundation — including examinations of 17 years of tax filings and interviews with more than 200 individuals or groups listed as donors or beneficiaries — found that it collects and spends money in a very unusual manner.

For one thing, nearly all of its money comes from people other than Trump. In tax records, the last gift from Trump was in 2008. Since then, all of the donations have been other people’s money — an arrangement that experts say is almost unheard of for a family foundation.

Trump then takes that money and generally does with it as he pleases. In many cases, he passes it on to other charities, which often are under the impression that it is Trump’s own money.

In two cases, he has used money from his charity to buy himself a gift. In one of those cases — not previously reported — Trump spent $20,000 of money earmarked for charitable purposes to buy a six-foot-tall painting of himself.

Money from the Trump Foundation has also been used for political purposes, which is against the law. The Washington Post reported this month that Trump paid a penalty this year to the Internal Revenue Service for a 2013 donation in which the foundation gave $25,000 to a campaign group affiliated with Florida Attorney General Pamela Bondi (R).

Trump’s foundation appears to have repeatedly broken IRS rules, which require nonprofit groups to file accurate paperwork. In five cases, the Trump Foundation told the IRS that it had given a gift to a charity whose leaders told The Post that they had never received it. In two other cases, companies listed as donors to the Trump Foundation told The Post that those listings were incorrect….

This guy is Max Bialystock without the charm. Read more

Lest We Forget: “The Disaster of Richard Nixon”

There are pundits already lathering themselves up about how this is the most seriously dangerous inflection point in all of American history — which is, thankfully, untrue. It’s probably not even the most dangerous time in living memory, among other reasons because things have changed in response to earlier crises. In the New York Review of Books, Robert G. Kaiser reviews a new batch of Nixon studies:

Thanks to his gross abuses of presidential power symbolized by the Watergate scandal and to his own decision to record the details of his presidency on tape, Nixon seems destined to remain an object of fascination, amazement, scorn, and disgust for as long as historians pay attention to the American presidency. When the subject matter is their foreign policy, Nixon’s sidekick, Henry A. Kissinger, will be right there beside him…

Vietnam was the defining issue of Nixon’s presidency, as he knew it would be. Months before he became president, Nixon assured H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, his closest aide, that “I’m not going to end up like LBJ, Bob, holed up in the White House, afraid to show my face on the street. I’m going to stop that war. Fast.” Antiwar protesters had driven Lyndon Johnson into early retirement, which allowed Nixon to become president. Nixon played to the country’s war weariness in his 1968 campaign, implying that he had a plan to end the war.

But he had no plan. Ironically, even before he took office Nixon personally sabotaged an opportunity he might have had to avoid Johnson’s fate. The books under review suggest that this is one of the stories that will continue to stain Nixon’s reputation.

In late October 1968, when Johnson’s negotiators in Paris finally reached an agreement with North Vietnam to end American bombing and begin negotiations on a political settlement, Nixon took an enormous personal risk to derail the peace talks before they could begin. At the time, polls showed that Hubert H. Humphrey, Nixon’s Democratic opponent and Johnson’s vice-president, was rising fast—so fast that Nixon feared he might lose the presidency because of the peace deal. So he performed a dirty trick that foreshadowed many more to come.
Read more

How the Party Decides

From TPM:

Staffers on the Senate Intelligence Committee are looking into whether Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) disclosed classified information during the debate, according to the committee chair.

From Marcy Wheeler:

Richard Burr has apparently stated publicly that he’s looking into not Marco Rubio’s serial leaking of classified information, but Ted Cruz’s alleged disclosure of classified information at least night’s debate. That’s particularly curious given that Rubio has gotten privileged access to this information on the Senate Intelligence Committee, whereas Cruz has not

Our very own Tom:

I think as an interested lay observer, that the Party Decides framework is pretty useful way at looking at presidential primaries. And if that basic thesis is true, this is a shining example of how the Party decides. One candidate gets a pass, while the other candidate gets called out and has a bad media cycle or three with minimal party support to validate their bona fides.

If this is the case, then I am trying to figure out the bet. The first part of the bet is simple. Rubio is a favored candidate for the Establishment as everyone in DC thinks Cruz is an asshole. The second part is where I am a bit lost. Is the optimal outcome Trump v Rubio instead of Cruz v. Rubio? It looks like Trump, Cruz, Carson and Fiorina are attractive to one cluster of voters while Rubio and other establishment hopes are attractive to a different set. In the initial knock-out stages, I don’t think there are too many voters in either cluster group whose next best choice is in the other cluster. Is the bet that if the nihilist cluster condenses down to Trump and Trump alone, he’ll max out at 40%?

Still trying to figure this one out.

Open Thread: Douthat Thinks “We” Need A Man Like Herbert Hoover Richard Nixon Again

At first I thought NYTimesman Ross Doubthat was just dressing up some standard Repub Hillary-bashing for the centrists when he went “Searching for Richard Nixon“:

… The odd truth is that the most Nixon-like candidate in 2016 — in the sense of being ideologically protean and personally ruthless, at least — might be the one waiting for Republicans in the fall. But the unfortunate reality for the country is that Hillary Clinton might offer Nixon’s weaknesses without his strengths: All the seaminess and paranoia, but none of the actual achievements…

(Everything you lie-brals claim to hate about Tricky Dick, and she doesn’t even have one!)

But, no, he actually longs for a tough Republican daddy who could (if one were predisposed) present his jingoism and xenophobia suitably disguised with “gravitas”…

… It’s a truth universally accepted that nobody ever, ever wants to be Richard Nixon. But there are times, and this might be one of them, when the country needs a little Nixon. The country and maybe especially the Republican Party, which has been trying to forget its debt to Tricky Dick ever since the helicopter carried him away…

… Nixon knew how to channel an angry, “who’s looking out for me?” populism without letting himself be imprisoned by its excesses. A similar anger has propelled Trump, but as David Frum has pointed out, for all of the Donald’s “silent majority” call-outs he’s clearly more a George Wallace than a Nixon. Some of the anxieties he’s exploited are legitimate, just as the crime wave that Wallace fixated on really was a clear and pressing problem. But like Wallace, Trump is a provocateur and bigot — or a provocateur playing a bigot — with a deserved ceiling on his support.

The problem for Republicans is that they haven’t found a candidate who can appeal to Trump’s politically-disaffected supporters — whether they’re worried about immigration, jobs, terrorism or an overreaching social liberalism — without trafficking in slurs and empty bluster. But that’s roughly what Nixon did in 1968 and 1972, when he addressed (liberal historians would say exploited, but we can have that debate another time) widespread anxieties over social change and disorder without ever repudiating racial equality or civil rights.

In this year’s Republican primary, the non-Trump candidates have struggled mightily to make that kind of nuanced case. And they’ve struggled, in part, because they lack a second Nixonian gift: An instinct for the non-ideological character of many American voters, primary voters included…

On the one hand, we have groaning entitlement programs (Obamacare now included) in desperate need of some reform; on the other, we have a stagnant economy and a hard-pressed electorate that fears any fraying of the safety net. No president can deal with that combination without a Nixonian level of ideological flexibility – which is to say, more than President Obama has shown, and more than the demands of Republican orthodoxy allow.

Then on foreign policy, too, a dose of Nixon’s cold-eyed view of world affairs would dramatically improve what Republicans are currently promising. Obama’s foreign policy is, put charitably, a stumbling mess. But the Republican pretense that all we need to do is name our enemies and crush them misses the deep complexity of America’s challenges…

Oh, for the halcyon days of yore when those people (not just people of color and women in general, but the working-class voters who knew so little about discreet marketing as to support George Wallace) knew their place! — as cannon fodder, at the voting booth as well as in the jungles of Vietnam.

Whatever terrible things happen in the Republican primaries, there is at least the minor consolation that Ross Doubthat shall be miserable with the results.