Thursday, May 17, 2018

Last Call For The Coming Fight

Greg Sargent reminds us that the right-wing noise machine has been attacking the Mueller probe for a year now, and that when the trap jaws finally slam shut on Trump, FOX News and conservative talk radio will be there to bail Trump out and it's way past time for liberals to start digging in for the real fight coming later.

It’s hard to tell just how pervasive this all is. But one imagines that more reporting in coming weeks will flesh out just how far the reach of this alternative information ecosystem extends. The story of the rise of Fox News and the right-wing media — particularly the talk radio universe — is an old one, of course. But one has to ask whether this is all creating new levels of information polarization, particularly given the president’s unprecedented demonization of the mainstream news outlets and his ongoing efforts to actively promote pro-Trump propaganda outlets like Fox News and others. 
This directly intersects with several big ongoing stories in our politics right now. The first is the basic question of whether mainstream journalists are adequately reckoning with just how hostile Trump — and many of his allies and supporters — are to their fundamental institutional role, their values and their mission. The failure of many reporters to admit that Michelle Wolf was absolutely right about this White House’s level of bad-faith dishonesty, and about the challenges that creates for good-faith journalism, revealed that in many respects they are not adequately reckoning with the real problem here, which is that in the Trump era, their mission of objective truth-seeking is inevitably going to be divisive and alienating to millions of his voters. 
After all, majorities of Republicans now see the media as “the enemy of the American people.” And as Fischer’s reporting indicates, this alternate information ecosystem is actively amplifying Trump’s efforts to obliterate public faith in the media’s institutional mediating role in our democracy. If we learn more about its reach, that should shed more light on that deeper problem. 

That's the big one.  The absolute best case scenario from the Mueller investigation is "President Mike Pence", guys.  Keep that in mind.  The worst case, well, I don't want to think about it, but we should.

The second big story this intersects with is the coming confrontation between Trump and Mueller. 
Interestingly, last night’s focus groups outside of Milwaukee found that while Trump voters think Mueller is conducting a witch hunt, they nonetheless don’t think Trump should try to remove him. So there are at least some limits to the clout of this alternate media universe’s persuasive powers. But if Mueller finds serious or even criminal conduct, it is extremely likely that this alternate information ecosystem will play a critical role in Trump’s efforts to rally his supporters on his behalf and against Mueller and his findings. That could in turn make it less likely that Republicans act on them — and more likely that Trump escapes accountability.

In that coming confrontation, Trump’s ability to rely on an extensive media network that will back him to the hilt no matter what gives him an advantage that President Richard Nixon did not have during the climax of Watergate. As Fischer’s reporting indicates, we don’t really have a clear sense of just how extensive or influential that network really is. And we don’t have any idea yet what this really means for the country over the long term.

Yeah, so that worst case is Trump gets away with it, Republicans stay in power, and then they rain down vengeance upon Democrats.  And it gets worse from there.

The right-wing noise machine has never been more dangerous.

The Blue Wave Rises, Con't

No, Republicans aren't just going to roll over and give the Democrats the House in 2018.  Republican megadonors like Sheldon Adelson and the Koch Brothers have spent too much money on their pet lawmakers, and they're not about to let Nancy Pelosi up in things.

Republicans have amassed a sprawling shadow field organization to defend the House this fall, spending tens of millions of dollars in an unprecedented effort to protect dozens of battleground districts that will determine control of the chamber. 
The initiative by the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), now includes 34 offices running mini-campaigns for vulnerable Republicans throughout the country. It has built its own in-house research and data teams and recruited 4,000 student volunteers, who have knocked on more than 10 million doors since February 2017.

The operation far eclipses the group’s activity in any previous election, when CLF didn’t have a single volunteer or field office. At this time last election cycle, the group had raised $2 million. As of Tuesday, CLF — which markets itself to donors as a super PAC dedicated to saving the House majority and can collect contributions with no dollar limit — had hauled in more than $71 million. 
That war chest and new infrastructure could be a significant factor in an election year dominated by expectations of a Democratic wave fueled by a backlash against President Donald Trump. 
“We have to do everything bigger and better to have a chance,” Corry Bliss, CLF’s executive director, said in a recent interview sandwiched between fundraising events with Ryan. (The speaker attends the events as a draw, but Bliss asks for cash later, in accordance with campaign finance law.) “If we do the same BS, cookie-cutter ads, we’re going to lose.” 
CLF’s midterm strategy, which emphasizes long-term voter engagement, is not normal for a super PAC. Typically, lawmakers’ campaigns and the National Republican Congressional Committee deal with field work and get-out-the-vote efforts — then PACs like CLF swoop in to fill in the blanks with what Bliss often refers to as “shitty TV ads.” 
But Ryan’s political allies decided last year that that model wasn’t working — and that CLF, with its seemingly endless resources, was a “sleeping giant,” as they called it. They agreed to turn the PAC into a massive, hyper-local grass-roots organization. And they tapped Bliss, a former campaign manager, to run the operation. 
“There was a belief shared by many that super PACs had become bloated in their role and, in some cases, did more damage than good,” said Ryan’s national finance chairman, Spencer Zwick, who helped steer the group’s makeover. “Ryan allies said: ‘How could they become more effective?’ and thought, ‘Why can’t super PACs basically run a shadow campaign?’" 
Turns out they can. 
The organization’s expansive operation has surpassed even the NRCC in its first year, at least as far as satellite field offices are concerned. The House’s traditional campaign arm has only one such office. And unlike CLF, which can spend its war chest wherever it sees fit, the NRCC has to cater to the more 240 dues-paying House Republicans, spreading its resources much thinner.

So while the NRCC is getting smoked in fundraising by the Dems, the GOP still has a massive SuperPAC money edge, and they're not afraid to flood the zone with ads to save their house majority.

We'll see how things go, but I still think the 2018 midterms will hinge on the Trump/Russia investigation and its outcome in September and October.  Don't count out the GOP just yet, they will fight for every seat.

So should Dems, and it looks like they will.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

Lost in the noise of yesterday's extremely busy news day on the Trump regime investigation front with the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee's second batch out of four preliminary findings, and those findings are extremely bad news for Donald and friends.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has determined the U.S. intelligence community was correct in assessing Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election with the aim of helping then-candidate Donald Trump, contradicting findings House Republicans reached last month.

“We see no reason to dispute the [intelligence community’s] conclusions,” the committee’s chairman, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), said Wednesday in a joint statement with its vice chair, Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), who added: “Our staff concluded that the ... conclusions were accurate and on point. The Russian effort was extensive, sophisticated, and ordered by President Putin himself for the purpose of helping Donald Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton.”

This marks the second of four interim findings the intelligence committee has said it will disclose before tackling the more consequential question of whether Trump and his associates colluded with Russia to influence the election’s outcome, allegations the president has denied and sought to discredit. The committee, which earlier this month released related findings on election security, is expected to publish a comprehensive final report this fall.

Wednesday’s announcement comes amid growing Republican scrutiny of the investigation led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, whose team also is examining whether Trump’s campaign coordinated with the Kremlin and if the president obstructed justice in a bid to limit the probe’s scope.

The Senate committee’s findings clash with the House GOP’s determination that the intelligence community did not follow its own best practices in concluding the Kremlin favored Trump in the election. The dispute — and the questions it now raises about which record of events is most accurate — could complicate the Republican Party’s messaging heading into the 2018 election season.

Again, this is all the more amazing because the Senate Intel Committee is headed by NC Republican Sen. Richard Burr, and Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, and both of them worked together on the report.  None of this nonsense by Republicans like we saw with Devin Nunes in the House.

But the Senate Judiciary Committee released their preliminary findings on Russian interference in the 2016 election too, and there are some explosive allegations in that Senate Judiciary report, mainly that the Russians funneled assistance to the Trump campaign through the National Rifle Association.

The Senate Judiciary Committee said Wednesday that the Russian government apparently used the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016.

Documents suggest the Kremlin used the NRA to offer the campaign a back channel to Moscow—including a potential meeting between Trump and Vladimir Putin—and might have secretly funded Trump’s campaign, the committee said. One of the Russians named in the report even bragged she was part of the Trump campaign’s communications with Russia, The Daily Beast reported last year.

The NRA spent a record $30 million on Trump and the FBI is reportedly investigating whether any of the money came from Russia. U.S. law prohibits foreign money to be spent on elections.

Two Russian nationals figure prominently in the alleged scheme: Alexander Torshin, deputy governor of the Kremlin’s central bank, and his then-deputy Maria Butina.

Torshin met Donald Trump Jr. at the NRA’s 2016 convention in Kentucky and hosted an NRA delegation in Moscow in 2015. Torshin was previously accused by Spanish investigators of laundering money for Russian mobsters, an allegation he denied. (Last month he was sanctioned by the U.S.)

Butina founded a pro-gun group in Russia before coming to the United States in 2015 when she immediately began ingratiating herself in conservative circles. Butina started a business with NRA member and GOP activist Paul Erickson.

In May 2016, the same month Torshin met Trump Jr. at the NRA convention, Erickson emailed a Trump advisor about setting up a meeting between the candidate and Putin.

So two separate Senate committee reports not only found Russian interference on behalf of Trump, but evidence of involvement with the Trump campaign during the operation.

This is all but saying the Russians helped Trump steal the election, folks.  This is massive.

Stay tuned.


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