Pollster Tom Jensen Joins PFAW Telebriefing on the State of the Election

On Thursday People For the American Way hosted a member telebriefing on the current state of the 2016 election cycle to discuss the latest poll numbers and what PFAW is doing to engage in the election.

Public Policy Polling director Tom Jensen joined the call to share recent polling data on both the presidential contest and key Senate races, providing an overview of the 2016 landscape just over two weeks before the election. PFAW’s Drew Courtney, Marge Baker, and Laura Epstein outlined some of the highlights of PFAW’s work in 2016 on engaging Latino voters and making the Supreme Court a winning election issue.

You can listen to the full telebriefing here:


Voter Suppression Is Not The Solution To Problems With Voter Registration

What we have is a system desperately in need of modernization. Some states have taken positive steps forward on voting rights, while others have failed or been unable to act, or even worse, have taken steps backward with new, potentially suppressive restrictions. Members of Congress have introduced federal legislation, which has yet to receive any meaningful attention from the Republican leadership – the failure to restore the Voting Rights Act being one of the worst cases.

Trump Wants Another Scalia on the Supreme Court, Which Would Eviscerate LGBT Equality

Scalia's venomous, paranoid, divisive, & contemptuous dissents about LGBT equality were at times the judicial equivalent of a Trump campaign rally.

Ayotte & Trump: All the Straws that Didn't Break the Camel's Back

Before the hot-mic news, NH Sen. Kelly Ayotte supported Trump despite his many assaults against equality, democracy, & liberty. She put party over country, time & time again.

Demonstrators Send McCain Message That He Was "Too Little, Too Late" In Denouncing Trump

People For the American Way joined Planned Parenthood, ProgressNow, and other Arizona activists to send a clear message to Senator McCain: he jumped the Trump ship too little, too late.

McCain's "Straight Talk" Exposes Real Reason for Blocking SCOTUS Nominee

McCain's been taking Arizonans for a ride on the Duplicity Express regarding his SCOTUS nominee obstruction.

PFAW Members Speak Out Against Ayotte’s Plan to Write In Mike Pence

Members of People For the American Way protested Monday outside of U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte’s Manchester district office following her announcement that she plans to write in vice presidential nominee Mike Pence instead of voting for Donald Trump, in light of his comments about sexually assaulting women. While it’s high time that Sen. Ayotte acknowledged just how unacceptable a Trump presidency would be, a vote for Pence would be a vote for far-right policies devastating for women and the LGBT community.

“Ayotte’s withdrawal of support for Trump has much more to do with politics than principle,” said Linds Jakows, New Hampshire Campaign Organizer with People For the American Way. “Support for Mike Pence’s agenda is little better—a man who has spent his career attempting to redefine rape, eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, and pass laws to legalize discrimination against LGBT people is also incredibly dangerous. A far better way for Ayotte to display the political independence she so often claims on the campaign trail would be to push obstructionists in her party to move forward on the nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.”


Hundreds Rally to Tell Senate Republicans #DoYourJob

This week marked the start of a second consecutive term of the Supreme Court without a full roster of nine justices. For months, Senate Republicans have refused to hold a confirmation hearing—and, in some cases, to even meet with—President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Judge Merrick Garland, despite being considered to be perhaps the most qualified Supreme Court nominee in modern history. Members of both parties have applauded his judicious temperament, deep legal knowledge and fair-minded approach to dealing with difficult cases.

To mark the record-breaking 202 days since Garland’s nomination, PFAW and a cadre of allies assembled a crowd of more than 200 people to hold signs calling on Senate Republicans to do their job by holding a hearing and a vote. Speakers at the rally included organizational leaders, such as PFAW’s own executive vice president Marge Baker, as well as the lead plaintiff in the landmark 2015 marriage equality decision, Jim Obergefell. The bipartisan event also featured Republican voters who are fed up with the relentless obstructionism of their leaders in the Senate.  

Because of the Supreme Court vacancy, in recent months a number of critical issues have been left unresolved. Cases pertaining to immigration, affirmative action, and reproductive health have been left hamstrung by a deadlocked court, with cases being sent back down to lower courts because of the inability to break a tie. With the highest judicial body in the United States unable to resolve issues that affect millions of Americans, now more than ever people must tell Republican members of the Senate to #DoYourJob. 


PFAW and Allies Call Attention to Sen. Ayotte’s Obstruction of Other Federal Judicial Nominees

Members of People For the American Way and Granite State Progress delivered 92 empty chairs to U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte’s Nashua district office yesterday to symbolize the seats on the federal courts left vacant by Republican obstruction of the president’s judicial nominees. This event took place on the first day of the U.S. Supreme Court’s new term as part of a nationwide Day of Action to call attention to the dozens of unfilled vacancies on the federal courts.

When it comes to partisan filibustering of judicial nominees, Sen. Ayotte has consistently taken her marching orders from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. She was a willing partner in Republican efforts to filibuster highly qualified nominees to fill circuit and district court vacancies. In late 2013, she even followed McConnell’s party edict to filibuster all three of President Obama’s D.C. Circuit nominees. Senate Republicans admitted that this was not based on any nominee’s qualifications—they argued that Obama should not be able to fill any of the three vacancies on the 11-member court. It was a transparent effort to keep the D.C. Circuit with a majority of very conservative judges.  And since Ayotte’s party took over the Senate last year, the number of judicial vacancies has doubled, while the number of those designated emergencies has tripled.

“Now that the Senate is out for recess through the election and the Supreme Court is beginning a new session, it’s official: Sen. Kelly Ayotte hasn’t only aided some of the most far-right Republicans in the Senate by refusing to move forward with hearings and a vote to fill the Supreme Court vacancy, but she’s also stood with obstructionist Republicans in refusing to take action on other federal judicial nominations,” said Linds Jakows, NH Campaign Organizer with People For the American Way. “This is especially troubling since she tries so hard to brand herself as ‘bipartisan and independent.’ She clearly hasn’t listened to voters who know that obstructing justice on the highest courts and paving the way for Trump’s extreme shortlist is neither independent nor bipartisan.”


Unpacking that debate...

Millions of Americans, and frankly people all around the world, are anxiously asking the very same question today, “So, what did you think?!"

There’s much to unpack -- too much for one email, but here’s a partial recap, with some thoughts from our perspective.

Donald Trump and the Right Wing have been hammering the issue for the last year, but for all of their baseless attacks on Hillary Clinton’s stamina, it was clear that he was the only person on that stage with a stamina issue. As the night wore on, Trump went farther and farther off the rails, stumbling awkwardly to defend his record of Birtherism, his refusal to release his tax returns, and his support for unconstitutional and discriminatory policies.

Trump doubled down on previous insults he’s hurled at women, Latinos, and African Americans. And it was painfully obvious how ill-prepared he was to offer any coherent explanation of foreign policy, economic policy, and even his own actions.

PFAW’s Right Wing Watch:
20 Lies Donald Trump Told At The First Presidential Debate>>

In stark contrast, despite the very high bar set for her, Secretary Clinton simply nailed it. She offered a brilliant takedown of Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns, listing the possible things that he might be hiding. She beat Trump at his own game by trumping him not just on substance, but on style. And she beat the sexist double standard that had TV news reporters talking almost exclusively about how her demeanor was going to determine her performance. If you watched the debate, you saw that she was the only candidate with the competence, stamina, temperament, and experience to answer the tough questions and do the tough job of president. And, Donald, maybe it is you who should try to smile more.

Clinton also called Trump out for his racist and sexist attacks on former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, whom he labeled “Miss Housekeeping” because she is Latina and referred to as “Miss Piggy” for gaining weight after she won her title. On the Fox and Friends morning show this morning, Trump kept digging himself in deeper, angrily criticizing Ms. Machado for being difficult primarly because, yes, she put on weight. At PFAW, we were honored to work with Alicia in our Latinos Vote! campaign, highlighting her personal story and connection with one of the uglier sides of Donald Trump. Alicia is clearly Trump’s worst nightmare: a Latina who has become a US citizen so that she can vote against him. 

Moderator Lester Holt, though not perfect, did an admirable job under challenging circumstances in getting out of the way to let voters see who the candidates really are. And he provided some basic, but important, real-time fact checking. It was important that he called out Trump on crucial points like: Trump’s persistent promotion of the racist Birther conspiracy theory against President Obama; Trump’s insistence that “stop and frisk” laws were not unconstitutional; and Trump’s dishonest assertion that being under IRS audit is what’s keeping him from releasing his tax returns.

Trump’s answers on the Birther topic were among the most bizarre and offensive of the night. Trump portrayed his leading the Birther conspiracy, a racist attack on the legitimacy of our first black president, as a great public service to the nation. Not only did he fail to apologize for promoting this racist myth, he insisted that he had succeeded where Secretary Clinton had failed: in getting President Obama to release his birth certificate -- something Clinton never tried to do. He dodged the questions about his promoting Birtherism for years after the birth certificate was produced, attempting to rewrite history on the fly, and then he proudly repeated this incoherent nonsense in post-debate interviews, again bragging about how he got the birth certificate that Clinton could never get. Art of the Deal! 

Now, for what was one of the most telling and insightful parts of the debate -- something that disappointingly has not gotten a lot of attention from press and commentators -- we have this brief exchange, amidst a flailing attack-filled rant by Trump:

CLINTON: I have a feeling that by, the end of this evening, I'm going to be blamed for everything that's ever happened.

TRUMP: Why not?

Trump was dead serious… serious in his suggestion that one of the most irrational notions imaginable -- blaming one person for all of the world’s ills -- was actually a valid thing to do … at least when it comes to Hillary Clinton.

And that really says it all. Hate is the language of Trump’s “movement,” and Hillary is now the number one person -- without rival, now that President Obama is no longer running for office -- who conservative America loves to hate.

There has been a seemingly endless amount of time spent trying to crack the code of the Trump supporter, trying to analyze the electorate in a way that makes sense of his support and the fact that this is an incredibly competitive race for president (and that Trump could win).

Surely there has to be some legitimate grievance or issue that he speaks to, that appeals to such a huge number of voters! They can’t all be bigoted, or that easily manipulated by fear of crime, terrorism, and changing demographics … can they?

Well, the truth is that Trump doesn’t appeal to people on actual issues. And, of course, not all of his supporters are bigots. What many have in common though is that they have become addicted, in a way, to hating Hillary Clinton.

Hate for Hillary and the no-holds-barred attacks on her that have no foundation in any truth whatsoever have been legitimized and made OK for people to engage in … and far too many people enjoy engaging in the hate -- people who have spent years watching Fox News, listening to right-wing talk radio, or reading “Alt-Right” websites like Breitbart.com. If you want a sense of it, just visit our RightWingWatch.org now, or any day of the week.

The attacks go far beyond believability and logic. They shun basic decency. But the right-wing airwaves and the Facebook feeds of conservative Americans are nonetheless teeming with them.

Trump connects with these people first on their common animosity towards Clinton. He endears himself to them by attacking her in ways they find both entertaining and self-validating. And then, after he’s earned their trust by showing that he is “one of them,” he can say anything, act any way, and he will be forgiven for it, the way a friend or family member might be forgiven for an offensive remark … you’ll say you don’t agree with the person on that point, but you’re not going to disown him (or, in this case, not vote for him).

So, after last night, we have reason to celebrate Secretary Clinton’s clear debate victory, and we have much more ammunition against Trump, who again showed himself to be ridiculously unqualified. We also need to face the possibility that while Trump may not have picked up many voters last night, sadly, he probably didn’t lose many either. 

Trump’s performance -- which was aimed squarely at his right-wing base -- offered yet another disturbing insight into the state of American politics and the right-wing movement. Just think about how empowered this right-wing movement will be after the election, whether they win or lose, because of the rise of Trumpism. 

We have a ton of work to do -- as progressives and as a country. But make no mistake, we’re up to the task. And continuing to call out the lies and extremism is never futile, because it’s only when we give up that the Donald Trumps of the world and their right-wing allies win.


Down The Racist Rabbit Hole With Donald Trump

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

Today, Donald Trump pretended to end a lie and, in the process, told more lies.

After years of being a leading proponent of the racist “birther” movement, ignoring all actual evidence in order to raise questions about the first African-American president’s legitimacy, Trump today declared that he no longer believes that President Obama was born overseas.

First, Trump promised the press that he would address the birther issue in a press conference at his new hotel in Washington this morning. Then he made them sit through a parade of fawning endorsers before finally spending 30 seconds addressing his birtherism. Trump at last told the truth that Obama “was born in the United States, period.” But he couldn’t help packaging this rare truth with more lies, ludicrously, unbelievably claiming: “Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it.”

Trump claims he “finished” the birther myth by causing President Obama to publicly release his long-form birth certificate in 2011, but he himself continued to enthusiastically promote the myth for years afterward, saying as recently as this January that he would write a very successful (of course) book on his “own theory” about the president’s birth.

And even if Trump had stopped being a birther in 2011, that doesn’t mean he could take credit for “finishing” a myth that he himself had helped create. Obama would never have had to go as far as to make his long-form birth certificate public if Trump hadn’t helped create an alternative universe dominated by the lie that the president’s citizenship was in doubt.

In fact, this is a pattern that Trump has followed many times.

Take Hillary Clinton’s recent bout of pneumonia. A reasonable reading of Clinton’s situation would be this: Clinton, a woman who is used to working long hours in demanding jobs, got sick and decided to power through that illness in order to get her work done.

But Trump and his allies had spent months building an alternative universe in which Clinton was hiding some sort of mysterious infirmity. In Trump World, that meant that Clinton was hiding some deep dark secret illness for nefarious reasons. When Clinton fell ill, the press held her to the standards of Trump World rather than the real world, portraying her as secretive and shady for failing to announce to the world that she had caught a common illness.

Trump has done the same thing with his lies about having opposed the Iraq War and his lies about his constantly changing position on the issue of abortion. He tells whatever version of events he thinks will be convenient at the time and everyone, including his fellow candidates, are suddenly supposed to live in whatever new reality he’s created.

Trump pretended that a racist conspiracy theory was true when it would help him get attention and win the support of the GOP’s fringe. Now he’s pretending that his hands are clean and that it was his opponent who was dredging up racist myths for the past five years. Trump wants us to accept whatever convenient new reality he’s concocted at any given time. The media has to stop being played by his rules.


Sen. Elizabeth Warren Talks With PFAW Members About Judicial Nominations

Yesterday, Massachusetts senator and progressive hero Elizabeth Warren joined PFAW’s Michael Keegan and Marge Baker on a member telebriefing to discuss GOP senators’ unprecedented obstruction of judicial nominations at all levels, including their refusal to give fair consideration to President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee.

Sen. Warren noted on the call that Senate Republicans are now “setting new records for obstruction.” She suggested that they “might want to pull a copy of the Constitution out and take a look,” since the document is “crystal clear” about the Senate’s responsibility to confirm or reject the judges the president nominates. Instead, Warren said, GOP senators are trying to hold the Supreme Court seat open for a President Trump so that he can nominate judges who will bend the laws to suit their interests and the interests of their powerful friends.

Sen. Warren encouraged PFAW members and supporters to ask their senators why they won’t do their jobs and to keep up the pressure. “People For the American Way has done a fantastic job of putting pressure on Senate Republicans to give these judges timely consideration and an up-or-down vote,” she said. “This is a tough fight, but you don't get what you don't fight for.”

Marge Baker reviewed the work that PFAW is doing to make sure Republicans are held accountable at the ballot box on Election Day, including on-the-ground organizing targeting senators who have refused to do their jobs and PFAW’s massive Latinos Vote! campaign, designed to make sure Latino voters are ready to help deliver a progressive victory in November.

You can listen to a recording of the call here:


Trump and the So-Called ‘Values Voters’

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Countless articles have been written on Donald Trump’s relationship with the Religious Right, often by those who argue that his rise reveals the movement’s increasing irrelevance. After all, how could social conservatives ever get behind a thrice-married failed casino mogul who is more comfortable at the Playboy Mansion than at church? He has bragged that he has never asked God for forgiveness, insisted that Jesus Christ had a massive ego (in an interview with Playboy) and, in an episode that carries obvious symbolism, threw cash on the communion plate in an Iowa church. 

It’s almost as if the Religious Right cares more about gaining political power than defending Christian teachings. 

Trump is slated to make an appearance today at the Values Voter Summit, the annual Washington, D.C., convention organized by the Family Research Council that’s the marquis event on the Religious Right’s calendar. Trump’s appearance at the summit isn’t discordant; as his campaign has progressed, it has become clear why the movement has rallied behind him and why he has relied on its support.

Trump once told a crowd at a Christian university not to forgive their enemies but to “get even.” The leaders of today’s Religious Right have been preaching that message for years, treating politics as a no-holds-barred battle against opponents who they regard not just as people with different points of view, but as spiritual enemies.

For instance, Tony Perkins, the president of Family Research Council (FRC), has described supporters of LGBT rights as pawns of Satan

Just as Trump championed the birther movement, arguing that President Obama is neither an American nor a Christian, Perkins has suggested that Obama is not a true Christian (and is most likely a Muslim) and raised questions about his birthplace. Obama supporters, according to Perkins, must repent for voting for him. One past Values Voter Summit speaker even told the crowd that Obama would shut down all of the country’s churches before leaving office.

Trump’s demagogic, hateful rhetoric has nothing on the Religious Right, whose leaders have been belittling and denigrating LGBT people, religious minorities and Christians who don’t agree with their right-wing political ideology for years. 

It wasn’t surprising that most Religious Right leaders who talk a big game on religious liberty either stayed silent or were openly supportive when Trump called for a ban on Muslims entering the country. A spokesman for the American Family Association, a cosponsor of the Values Voter Summit, had called for a Muslim ban long before Trump ever did.

While many evangelicals, along with Roman Catholics and mainline Protestants, have worked tirelessly to reform the country’s immigration system, conservative Religious Right groups like the FRC and the AFA have denounced immigration reform. 

Trump and Religious Right groups have also joined together in portraying American Christians as a marginalized group under constant persecution thanks to the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits houses of worship and other nonprofits from explicitly endorsing candidates if they want to maintain their tax exempt status, and injustices like the “War on Christmas,” with Trump even claiming that he was personally a victim of anti-Christian persecution because he was subject to a routine IRS audit. 

And above all, the movement’s leaders are thrilled that Trump has promised to give them the Supreme Court of their dreams, even letting conservative activists hand-pick his nominees. 

The Religious Right, with its constant talk of the country’s imminent undoing by evil anti-American actors, promotion of conspiracy theories and patently hateful rhetoric, paved the way for Trump’s success in the GOP primaries. Now, Trump needs the movement to help put him over the top in November, and will be more than happy to further its agenda if he makes it into the White House. 

At the Values Voter Summit, Trump will surely pander to the Religious Right. But he should also thank them.


A New Species of Politicians: “Trumpublicans”

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

The number of Republican elected officials criticizing Donald Trump and condemning his policies while pledging to vote for him has many people understandably scratching their heads, and it’s not hard to see why: politicians calling out the GOP nominee in one breath and then working to bring him and his agenda into power in the next utterly defies logic.

I’d like to propose a name for this odd species of politicians: Trumpublicans.

Trumpublicans: /trəmˈpəbləkən/ — n., pl. 1. Republicans who’ve endorsed or pledged to vote for Trump to win support from far-right voters. 2. Republicans who claim to oppose Trump’s hateful campaign, yet work to advance his candidacy and agenda (e.g. holding a Supreme Court seat open for him to fill.)

Examples of Trumpublicans abound. Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire has tried to separate herself from Trump, refusing to endorse him and saying that she would “stand up” to him. But she also says that she’s “glad to get his endorsement” and still plans to vote for him. Huh? Senator John McCain of Arizona is trying to toe the same line, at times criticizing Trump while repeatedly stating his commitment to vote for him. Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey says that Trump’s actions “give me great pause” but has still refused to disavow him.

There’s no more egregious example than the fight over the Supreme Court vacancy to show how each of these senators are already actively working to support Trump’s extremist agenda. They may express misgivings about Trump with their words, but with their actions, they are holding open the vacant Supreme Court seat so that it can be filled by him. They are going to extraordinary lengths—ignoring their constitutionally-defined responsibilities—to let the next Supreme Court justices be picked by Donald Trump, a man who says a judge can’t do his job because of his Mexican heritage.

Senators’ comments against Trump mean nothing when their actions and votes are still with him in all the ways that count. These senators are trying to have it both ways in a straddle to appeal to both voters with common sense and decency and those who are turned on by Trump’s hate. 
Too many people have written off the Trumpublican phenomenon as being only about Trump as if he’s a one-time thing. “He’s coming out of left field,” the story goes. “He’s so out-there that he’s putting ‘moderate’ Republicans in a tough place.” But when it comes to his anti-Latino, anti-women, anti-just-about-everyone agenda, Trump’s not coming out of left field; he’s coming straight from home plate. He’s riding the sorry momentum that the Republican party has built for years.

After all, way before Trump, this is the party that has threatened to shut down the government over immigration reform and the funding of Planned Parenthood. The party of “self-deportation.” The party that wants to ban abortion. The party that now denies science and doesn’t believe in the president’s birthplace or religion. There is no question that Trump’s rhetoric is horrific, but don’t believe the myth that he is a wild aberration; in many ways, he is tapping into the very core of the Republican party that tragically for the country has become more and more extreme every year.

There’s a reason why the strong recommendations of the infamous 2012 GOP post-loss post-mortem couldn’t be heeded, and this was long before the idea of a Trump candidacy was a glimmer in any Republican eye.

This is no longer your granddaddy’s GOP. And it’s not going to be the “the party of Lincoln”—a description they love to throw around, no matter how increasingly inaccurate—again until people start to stand up to the likes of Donald Trump and to the base that so decisively elected him. It’s as simple as that. You can’t tell your children and grandchildren that you stood against a man who proposed banning all members of a religious group from the country, who smeared an entire community as rapists and criminals, who claimed a judge couldn’t do his job because of his heritage. No, Trumpublicans will have to tell them that even though they said Trump was in the wrong, they stood by him all the way.


Trump Protects Fraudulent Trump University with Racist Attacks, Possible Bribes

Donald Trump will seemingly stop at nothing to try to get what he wants at the expense of everyone else.

At this point, in the public eye, Trump University is seen for what it was: a scam university used to pad Trump’s pockets by deceiving students. The school offered no real degree, it lied to students about the caliber of its professors and it systematically targeted potential students who Trump University employees knew would have to take on debt or empty their retirement savings in order to pay for it.

But even with universal condemnation, Trump University has suffered no legal repercussions for its con. 

Now, though, Trump University is facing three lawsuits. One of these is a class action suit in California. Trump responded to the case in typical fashion: by launching racist, personal attacks. He baselessly attacked the federal judge in the case, U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, accusing him of not being able to preside over the case impartially simply because of his Mexican-American heritage.

It seems though that the racist attacks were only his backup plan. In at least two states, it appears that Trump acted before any charges reached the courts: Trump engaged in pay-to-play with attorneys general to get them to drop any possible actions against Trump University.

Here’s an excerpt from an interview that NPR’s Robert Siegel did with Associated Press reporter Michael Biesecker about Texas’ decision not to prosecute Trump University:

Biesecker: Well, in Texas, public records obtained by the Associated Press show that there was a very robust investigation of Trump University and that lawyers in [then-Texas Attorney General Greg] Abbott's own Consumer Affairs Division proposed suing Trump and his associates for about $5.4 million in fines and restitution back to their alleged victims. The case files show that they spent more than a year investigating Trump University, had what they considered very strong evidence that Trump University had violated numerous state laws and was operating in the state without a license.

Ultimately, people above the Consumer Affairs Division decided not to take action. Abbott denies that he knew of his agency's investigation or that he decided to drop the suit. What AP has reported is that three years later when he ran for governor of Texas, Mr. Trump put forward two checks to his campaign totaling $35,000.

SIEGEL: You can't demonstrate a quid pro quo here that either in the Texas or the Florida case somebody said, you drop the case; I give you money.

BIESECKER: We can't, but the former deputy chief of consumer protection of Texas, a man named John Owens, stepped forward and was quoted in local media there saying that he believes the case was dropped for political considerations because Mr. Trump was a donor of Republican causes.

In Florida, it looks even worse. From that same interview:

BIESECKER: Well, in 2013, Pam Bondi - the attorney general's office was quoted by the Orlando Sentinel as saying they were reviewing New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's proposed lawsuit against Trump University to determine whether Florida should join that multi-state case. Four days after that appeared in the newspaper, Bondi's campaign account notes that it received a $25,000 check from the Trump Foundation, the family foundation of Donald Trump.

It was subsequently reported that Bondi herself may have been involved in soliciting the contribution, so it should be deeply troubling (but not all that surprising) that Bondi chose not to sue. These allegations were first reported earlier this summer. If all this wasn’t bad enough, this story is finally picking up steam because not only does it seem that Trump potentially bribed Bondi, he made the suspicious donation to Bondi’s campaign from the Trump Foundation.

That’s blatantly against the law. Nonprofit foundations, which are tax exempt, cannot in any way, shape, or form contribute to political candidates! This isn’t some murky situation where the law wasn’t clear—foundations are nonprofits, and they cannot engage in political campaign work, much less make a direct contribution. But as Trump has made clear time and time again, he doesn’t care what the rules are or who he hurts along the way, as long as he gets his way.

Trump had to pay a $2,500 penalty to the IRS because of the donation. This is far from the first time Trump has found himself in deep water over campaign contributions (as just one example, in the 1990s he spent $47,050 over the campaign contribution limit in just one year). With the allegations against Bondi and Abbott, and with renewed focus on the Trump Foundation’s payment to the Bondi campaign, this story won’t go away any time soon. But if there’s one silver lining, it’s that as more and more details emerge about the pay-to-play schemes and the fraudulent university, voters can hold Trump responsible in the polls, and judges can hold Trump responsible in the courts.


PFAW and Granite State Progress Bring the "Supreme Court" to Sen. Ayotte

In light of Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s continued refusal to fill the Supreme Court vacancy, members of People For the American Way and Granite State Progress donned Supreme Court justice robes Wednesday in front of her Nashua office to demonstrate that Granite Staters will be watching the Supreme Court vacancy when she returns to DC from Congressional recess. Members of both groups also brought a symbolic empty chair and a sign reading “fill this seat.”

scotus justice protest

“We’re bringing the Supreme Court to Sen. Ayotte today, since she’s tried so hard to ignore it,” said Linds Jakows, New Hampshire Campaign Organizer with People For the American Way,  “Obstruction that results in leaving the seat open for Trump to fill is neither independent nor bipartisan, as she likes to call herself, and she’s ignoring the majority of her constituents who understand filling this vacancy is crucial in bringing forth justice for millions of people.”

scotus justice protest

Ayotte has remained in lockstep with her party leadership on this vacancy, forcing the highly qualified Merrick Garland to wait more days than any nominee in history. Recently Ayotte called Trump’s Supreme Court shortlist a “good start,” apparently ignoring the many extreme rulings from these judges. One judge on Trump’s shortlist, Steven Colloton, said that a woman who reports sexual harassment cannot take legal action if her employer retaliates by firing her.

scotus justice protest

Participating activists took photo petitions amplifying this message -- Margaret and Rocco Femia and Carol and Karl Stamm called out Ayotte’s hypocrisy and so-called independence, while Marcel ‘Dusty’ Liberge and Steven Goldstein focused on the lack of justice from an 8-member court.


While Trump Champions The Alt-Right In America, Putin Spreads Its Ideology Through Europe

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

For years, the GOP has been moving away from its identity as a traditional center-right party and morphing into something that more resembles the populist fringe parties of Europe.

Donald Trump’s candidacy has all but completed this transformation. If anyone still had doubts, Trump’s hiring of Breitbart News chief Steve Bannon was the clearest sign yet that the Republican Party has become a vehicle for what in the U.S. is known as the ‘alt-right’ movement.

The alt-right thinks the mainstream conservative movement has been compromised by feminism, racial tolerance and “globalism,” and that only a reactionary, populist movement that speaks to the plight of white men can save America from political correctness and multiculturalism. The alt-right is drenched in racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and misogyny. But that didn’t stop Bannon from calling his outlet “the platform for the alt-right.”

While avowed white nationalists have always had a place in the conservative movement—most recently, Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa proudly detailed his white supremacist views to a cable TV audience—Trump has thrown such forces into the mainstream.

Trump’s view of America as a weak, crime-ridden and chaotic place would resonate with any regular reader of Breitbart’s news coverage.

Breitbart News depicts an America where white people are under attack from the Obama administration, anti-Christian feminists and LGBT rights activists, African Americans who seek to discriminate against white people, Latino immigrants obsessed with rape and violence, and Muslim refugees who support terrorism.

The U.S. isn’t the only country experiencing a surge in the alt-right’s ideology. Anti-immigrant ethnic nationalists are on the rise in Europe, and European far-right leadersfrom France’s Jean-Marie Le Pen to the Dutch politician Geert Wilders have jumped aboard the Trump Train.

This is all good news to one of the European far-right’s most enthusiastic backers: Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia under Putin’s leadership has been promoting ultraconservative political groups in Europe with the goal of weakening the EU and the liberalism, democracy and cultural pluralism that comes with it. The National Front, a French political party rooted in Holocaust denialism and anti-immigrant sentiment, is open about its financial links to Russian banks, and neo-fascist parties including Jobbik of Hungary, Vlaams Belang of Belgium and the Northern League of Italy likewise have Russian ties.

“As European far-right leaders openly voice their support for Moscow, it would be wise to remember that Putin’s Russia is not just another ‘meddling power’ lobbying for its interests,” writes Alina Polyakova. “It is a government hostile to the West and the value system—democracy, freedom of expression, political accountability—that it represents.”

The Syrian refugee crisis has presented a great opportunity for these far-right movements in Europe to spread their messages of xenophobia. Russia, whose bombing campaigns in Syria have ravaged the civilian population, has been happy to help promote the anti-refugee message. Russian state-sponsored media outlets haveenthusiastically fanned the flames of anti-refugee suspicion, bolstering the far-right’s criticism of how the EU and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have approached refugee resettlement.

The Russian government has also sponsored a global right-wing effort to portray the U.S. and Europe as victims of cultural rot due to homosexuality, abortion rights and secular government, and Russia as the protector and preserver of traditional Christian values. In 2014, major conservative groups from the U.S. and Europe convened at the Kremlin to praise the government’s crackdown on LGBT rights advocates whilelamenting the social liberalism in their home countries.

Trump, who aspires to be the Russian president’s “new best friend,” has praised Putinas “a leader, unlike what we have in this country,” and has seemed to side with Putin’s position on the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria and shared in fueling doubts about the future of the EU and NATO. Trump’s campaign is stacked with officials with Russian ties and, at least according to his eldest son, his businesses have seen “a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” Merkel, on the other hand, has been a frequent target of Trump’s attacks, and the GOP nominee has dubbed Clinton “America’s Angela Merkel.” (Just to show how far to the right the GOP has drifted, Merkel is the leader of Germany’s main center-right party).

Beyond his expressed support for Russian policies, Trump seeks to govern in the same illiberal, authoritarian manner that Putin has demonstrated, itching to dilute the freedom of the press and laws barring war crimes and human rights abuses and deport undocumented immigrants and refugees legally settled in the country. Like the Religious Right activists who have rallied behind Putin, Trump believes that Christians have been sidelined and marginalized in America, promising to return them to their rightful positions of power.

Such contempt for civil rights, diversity and democracy pervades the alt-right, which calls for a more “masculine,” racially chauvinist response to a society it sees as weak and rootless. One alt-right meme shows “President Trump” congratulating Putin, both decked out in military garb, “on retaking Constantinople.”

While Trump and the alt-right emerged without the help of the Russian government, Putin’s display of authoritarianism and aid to far-right movements have helped bring their ultraconservative designs into the political mainstream.




It's Time to Hold "Trumpublicans" Accountable in 2016

"Trumpublicans" might claim to oppose Trump's agenda of hatred and bigotry, but they're still working to protect his interests and advance his agenda -- like by holding a Supreme Court seat open for him to fill.

The Hostile Takeover of the GOP Is Now Complete

This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

At Goldman Sachs, Steve Bannon’s job was to defend companies against hostile takeovers by junk bond raiders from Drexel Burnham and First Boston. This morning Bannon himself completed a hostile takeover of the Republican Party, when it was announced that he would move from his post as chairman of Breitbart.com to become CEO of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

Beyond its enthusiastic cheerleading for the GOP presidential nominee, Breitbart, since its namesake’s passing, has represented a formulation of conservatism identical to that which drove Trump’s campaign to victory in the Republican primary. While lacking the ideological consistency of most political movements, it is a blend of right-wing populism, Saul Alinsky’s tactics and Sun Tzu’s strategies. It is jingoistic, angry and anti-institutional.

For years the Republican Party used dog whistles to avoid accusations of racism. (The strategy was famously explained by former RNC Chair Lee Atwater.) The Trump/Breitbart ideology now unflinchingly promotes racism, while openly courting the support of bigots. Former Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro noted this in a post this morning that under Bannon’s leadership “Breitbart has become the alt-right go-to website, with [Milo] Yiannopoulos pushing white ethno-nationalism as a legitimate response to political correctness, and the comment section turning into a cesspool for white supremacist meme makers.”

It is a thin-skinned ideology, consistently positioning those who adhere to it as victims of the liberal media, progressive college professors (and even students), and institutional Republicans, that relies on a constant stream of conspiracies theories about government institutions out to get white conservatives.

Those who adopt the Trump/Breitbart ideology ignore any evidence that does not conform to their worldview and live their lives in a completely binary world. One is either a friend or an enemy with no in between. This means that even those who are ideological allies are targets for their enmity, including members of the political elite such as John Boehner and Paul Ryan, who, by not showing 100 percent fealty, have committed some crime against the movement. The movement’s enemies list also includes conservative media figures who don’t necessarily toe the line and former employees who are no longer viewed as loyal.

The Trump/Breitbart ideology is defined not by any coherent set of conservative beliefs but instead by rabid anti-liberalism. For the past eight years that has meant standing in opposition to the Obama administration, even when it took stances that more traditional conservatives would have been happy to adopt, and now translates into unquestioning opposition to the Clinton campaign.

Trump’s campaign has demonstrated the extent of the support for this anti-liberal ideology among Republican Party voters. Yet for the past few weeks, Trump’s poll numbers have flagged as promised resets, marked by teleprompter-driven policy speeches, are undercut, often in less than 24 hours, when the candidate’s often racist gaffes step on his own news cycle.

In July, the ousting of former campaign manager Corey Lewandowsky and the elevation of campaign chairman Paul Manafort signaled an attempt to bring Trump back into the Republican fold. This has clearly failed.

While Bannon’s elevation marks the completion of the takeover, it in fact began long ago.

For eight years, Fox News served as a megaphone, promoting anger among the base of the Republican Party. It promoted and fueled the Tea Party in the spring of 2009 and the angry town halls that members of Congress came home to that summer. These voters became a dominant force in the party, leading to Republican victories, most notably taking back the House of Representatives in 2010.

The rise of the Tea Party also led to embarrassments, such as the nomination of Christine “I’m not a witch“ O’Donnell, that year in the Delaware Senate race.

Looking back just 24 hours, yesterday’s New York Times report that former Fox News chairman Roger Ailes is now assisting the Trump campaign with debate prep is even less surprising.

Republicans who claim that Trump and Breitbart do not represent their movement now face a new reality: Warriors for an ideology they claim not to support are now on their way to gaining full control of the institutions of their party.

Steve Bannon, in business and politics, has shown himself to be a crafty merger artist. While arranging the sale of Castle Rock, in lieu of a fee he accepted the rights to several television shows, among them “Seinfeld,” which had not yet become the dominant cultural force of the 1990s, leading to an untold financial windfall.

Now, by force, he and Trump have taken over the Republican Party. They control their own media platform and have demonstrated influence over a base far larger than any other in the party. Most of all, Trump and Bannon are fighters, unafraid to get in the mud, and they are unlikely to surrender the institutions they now control without open warfare.