Friday, September 2, 2016

What is Lawrence O'Donnell Thinking?

He again claimed on his MSNBC show, Last Word, that Donald Trump is not going to deport anyone, he was just talking tough in Arizona Wednesday night. 

He went on to say that Trump is all talk and if he were elected, US immigration policy would go on as it has done. 

This is very dangerous. Joe Scarborough on his Morning Joe show this morning also said the same thing. That Trump is just trying to assure his base that he's going to be tough, but that his policy will just be to deport criminals like Obama has done. 

Lawrence O'Donnell, who has been a very vocal critic of Trump since his birtherism in 2011, doesn't seem to get the implications of what he's saying. If Trump is not going to deport anyone beyond who Obama has, then what is the big threat? 

If it's all talk then it gives a lot of moderate Republicans and Right leaning independents space to vote for Trump. After all, he's just joking about this. Similarly, for Latinos: if Trump is not going to crackdown, if it's just campaign rhetoric, then what's the threat?

If they believe this then where is their urgency to get out and vote? Lawrence keeps saying that Trump's tone was harsh on Wednesday night but that his actual words were that he was only going to deport criminals. 

This is dead wrong and it's dangerous for the reasons I laid out about giving suburban whites the license to vote for him and turning down the urgency for Latinos. 

What could be more cruel than to tell the people who have so much to fear from Trump that 'He's just talking tough. Nothing to worry about?'

O'Donnell keeps saying that Trump just used a very harsh tone but that in substance he is 'softening.'

No he's not. Not even close. O'Donnell claims that those of us who say Trump didn't soften are just listening to the tone not the words. Uh, Lawrence, what do these words mean to you?

“For those here illegally today who are seeking legal status, they will have one route and one route only: To return home and apply for re-entry like everybody else under the rules of the new legal immigration system that I have outlined today,” the GOP presidential nominee declared. “There will be no amnesty.”

Return home and apply for re-entry like everybody else. Where is the ambiguity here? If you let Trump muddy the waters it's on you. He's very clear. Because this is his strategy, his only hope.

Muddy the waters enough. After all, his policy is horrendous. No one outside of his hardcore base wants anything to do with it. So ambiguity is his friend.

I don't expect much from Morning Joe, but I'm quite disappointed in Lawrence O'Donnell. He's wrong and he's wrong in a way that is potentially very harmful.

In a broader sense, this is an old debate. Should you paint your opponent as a dangerous ideologue or a flip flopper?
In 2004, it seems that the Bush team successfully labelled John Kerry a flip flopper for saying words that were spun as 'I was against the war before I was for it.'

The press bought into the flip flopper charge. To be sure, Kerry's campaign failed to respond quickly, to fight back in real time. This was before the Dems started talking to David Brock.

Brock had warned that Kerry took way too long to respond. The despicable Swift Boat attack was successful in large part because the Kerry campaign wouldn't fight back. It's a tough call to be sure: does responding dignify and legitimize an attack or does it nip it in the bud?

But no doubt Kerry failed. He didn't understand that in the new landscape of 24 hour cable news and the blogosphere you have to respond rapidly. You can't allow a meme to go on for weeks and months without responding.

So arguably, painting Kerry as a flip flopper paid off for Bush. Yet, in 2012, Bill Clinton had argued that the Obama team shouldn't paint Romney as a flip flopper but as the most Right wing ideological Republican nominee since Goldwater 1964.

Clinton argued that if you call Romney a flipflopper it might reassure people: 'He doesn't really mean self deport and cracking down on birth control. That's just campaign talk.'

Clinton himself argued that when the GOP attacked him as a flip flopper in the 90s it didn't work.

My guess is it depends on the candidates and the issues. Reagan too was given the benefit of the doubt by moderates, Reagan Democrats: 'He might talk a very hard line but we know he's winking at us.'

Romney really was a flip flopper when you think about it: he was running against his own health care law. At one point he even demanded recognition for his compassion in passing it while he also ran on repealing it nationally.

As for issues, I think it might depend on whether a candidate has a position that's unpopular or popular.

Arguably, Kerry in criticizing the Iraq War was taking a position that was decently popular at least in 2004; it would become the majority view by 2006.

So maybe muddying the waters was good for Bush as Kerry's attack on the Iraq War was potentially potent. If Kerry could reap political benefits by criticizing the Iraq War, then create doubts about Kerry. Does he have the moral authority to criticize it? Or is he just an opportunist who will say anything to get elected?

Trump's immigration ban, however, is so unpopular that ambiguity can only help. The job of Hillary and liberal Democrats is to hold him too his actual position. Which is very extreme.

O'Donnell is dead wrong and dangerously so on what Trump can do about immigration. There is executive action which gives him wide scope on all sorts of issues: agency mandates, who runs the agencies.

And surely we aren't assuming that he won't straddle the line on what is constitutional, right?

Not only will Trump deport everyone who is undocumented-not just those who commit criminal acts while here-but he also wants to limit legal immigration.

Telling Hispanic voters not to worry is beyond cruel and giving white suburbanites cover to vote for Trump is appalling.

Smarten up, Lawrence.

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