For Five Bucks, You Can Micromanage Donald Trump’s Campaign


Having previously crowdsourced advice from his supporters to prepare for Donald’s oh-so-successful television debate appearances, the Trump campaign is now letting supporters dictate where and how to spend their own financial contributions

What to do when your presidential candidate is a dud, mired in scandals and battles largely of his own making, with just two weeks left to turn things around?

Well, if you are running the Donald Trump 2016 presidential campaign, apparently you ignore the polls (or stubbornly look at only the most unrealistically hopeful interpretation of them) and then crowdsource critical decisions about the allocation of scarce financial resources to any old Joe Bloggs who happens to be on your email list.

Semi-Partisan Politics happens to be on that list, and because I am such a (cough) critical supporter of Donald Trump, utterly central to his White House ambitions, we are invited to send Donald some cash and then throw a dart in a map of the United States to decide where that money gets spent.

The Trump campaign’s latest fundraising email reads in part:

Over the past month, polls have shown us winning Iowa, Ohio, Maine, Florida, Nevada, and North Carolina. If we maintain our leads in those six states, we can reliably claim 266 electoral votes. Hillary can claim 193. But we’d still have 4 electoral votes to go.

Polls show us close in New Hampshire, Colorado, and Pennsylvania. Winning just any one of those states would lead us to victory.

In light of recent polling, this is an, uh, optimistic take on Donald Trump’s prospects. The latest election forecast at Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog currently gives Hillary Clinton an 86.2% of victory against Donald Trump’s 13.8%, while Trump is banking on holding states like Arizona, which polling shows may be trending blue for the first time in decades.

But nonetheless, Kellyanne Conway (or the person pretending to write as Kellyanne Conway for the sake of this fundraising email) sees multiple paths to victory – so many, in fact, that she wants to turn the Trump campaign into a “choose your own adventure” story where every supporter has a chance to influence the story themselves by taking charge of key decisions:

We are currently executing a highly costly early voting push and get-out-the-vote operation to ensure identified Trump supporters make it to the polls before Election Day. We are also planning a $140 million-dollar ad blitz in battleground states to lead us to victory.

Samuel: with just 15 days left, we have a few paths to win. But we’ll need your continued support.

Because you’ve been such a critical supporter, you’ll also be able to share your preference on which state we should invest your contribution in.

Please make a contribution of $100, $65, $50, $35, $15, or $5 to help us stay on track to win just 15 days from today.

Of course, the Trump campaign has form with stunts like this, having previously crowdsourced advice from Trump supporters about what issues the candidate should raise and how he should act during the televised presidential debates. Because of course there is no better way to reach out to wavering, undecided voters with concerns about Donald Trump’s temperament than having him loudly shout a medley of the loudest, most divisive catchphrases which get the base clapping along like seals.

If the Trump campaign is actually serious about following the amateur advice of ordinary supporters when it comes to sensitive matters like the allocation of campaign resources, then they really are giving up. While such a gesture may sound nice and democratic in theory, in the world of professional politics it makes no sense to delegate critical strategic and tactical decisions below the level of the people who run campaigns. Ideas and policies should absolutely flow upward from the grassroots and inform policymaking. But political campaigning tactics should be left to the pros – otherwise what do they get paid to do?

Maybe all of the polls will be wrong, and a combination of smug and/or unenthusiastic Democrats staying at home on polling day combined with Trump’s resonance with people who do not ordinarily vote will power him to victory. Perhaps. But from an outsider’s perspective, this is starting to look like a campaign which has already given up.

That 13.8% chance of victory might, if anything, be a little generous.



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Should Journalists Have To Declare Their Political Biases And Donations?


Belief that the media is biased is one thing that unites conservatives and leftists in America and Britain. So why not demand that journalists reveal any political affiliations upfront, to give us better context for their reporting and commentary?

Should online, print and television journalists declare their political leanings (and donations) upfront, in the name of transparency? Jonah Goldberg thinks so, and makes a persuasive case.

Goldberg writes in the National Review:

One of the reasons I like good opinion journalism, particularly in long-form magazine articles, is that it doesn’t hide from the fact it is making an argument. You know where the author is coming from, and you can take that into account as he or she marshals facts and evidence for his or her case. We know opposing lawyers in a courtroom are biased, but if they don’t make strong arguments, they lose.

I understand bans on reporters giving to campaigns, but we should understand what those bans are: a means of hiding the political leanings of reporters from readers and viewers.

This has become a particularly hot topic after a report issued by the Center for Public Integrity confirmed the unsurprising fact that American journalists and media personalities give vastly more in campaign contributions to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party than to Donald Trump and the Republicans.

And given this vast discrepancy – with $382,000 given by hundreds of media personalities to Clinton and just $14,000 by a handful of people to Trump – Goldberg points out that hiding behind the fig leaf of impartiality or being a political “independent” is no longer fooling anyone:

Anyone who has spent a moment around elite reporters or studied their output knows that they tend to be left of center. In 1981, S. Robert Lichter and Stanley Rothman surveyed 240 leading journalists and found that 94 percent of them voted for Lyndon Johnson in 1964, 81 percent voted for George McGovern in 1972, and 81 percent voted for Jimmy Carter in 1976. Only 19 percent placed themselves on the right side of the political spectrum. Does anyone think the media have become less liberal since then?

None of this means liberals — or conservatives — can’t be good reporters, but the idea that media bias is nonexistent is ludicrous. Judges have far greater incentives to be neutral and objective, yet we know that Democrat-appointed judges tend to issue liberal decisions, and Republican-appointed judges tend to issue conservative decisions.

The Obama administration and campaigns have hired dozens of prominent, supposedly nonpartisan journalists, including former White House press secretary and Time magazine reporter Jay Carney, former Time managing editor Rick Stengel, the Washington Post’s Shailagh Murray, and ABC’s Linda Douglass.

Was it just a coincidence that they were all ideologically simpatico with the Obama agenda? How did the Obama team even figure out they were liberals in the first place?

Of course, exactly the same revolving door between the media and political worlds can be found in Britain, with well-known television journalists from BBC and ITV news suddenly shedding the white robes of virtuous objectivity to mysteriously shack up in Downing Street in a political communications role. This transcends party politics, and the Conservatives are by no means the only ones at fault – in the case of Jeremy Corbyn’s ideological henchman Seumas Milne, we have seen a Guardian polemicist not even leaving his job but merely take a leave of absence to become head of communications for the opposition Labour Party.

You can’t stop this from happening, and nor should anyone necessarily try. But the public do have a moral right to know the political leanings and affiliations of those who report and interpret the news. We expect MPs and Lords to declare their financial interests so that we can monitor their behaviour and ensure that they are not unduly influenced by their commercial connections. But a well-functioning press is every bit as vital to our democracy, so why should we not understand the motivations of reporters, commentators and editors.

Consider the case of Jasmine Lawrence, editor of the BBC’s 24-hour news channel. Lawrence was caught posting virulently hostile (and ignorant) thoughts about UKIP on social media prior to the 2014 European Parliament elections, and received only the mildest of cautions from her bosses.

As this blog noted at the time:

What the BBC fail to address in their response is the fact that the remainder of the BBC’s election coverage is not the problem. The problem is the fact that Jasmine Lawrence will remain the editor of the BBC News Channel, presumably resuming full duties as soon as the election coverage is completed on Sunday.

Yes, it is certainly likely that she caused editorial harm and biased coverage in the weeks leading up to the election before her ill-advised tweet saw her stripped of her duties, but how much more damage can she now do in the coming year leading up to the general election?

We all have political preferences, and that’s fine. But the Jasmine Lawrence tweet doesn’t just reveal a tendency to lean one way or the other along the political spectrum. The editor of the BBC News Channel clearly has a deeply ingrained, long held antipathy toward UKIP and the people who support that party or agree with its policies.

Are we really supposed to believe that when she walks into the BBC offices in the morning, Jasmine Lawrence takes off her scornful, UKIP-denigrating hat and puts on her cap of unblemished impartiality, and that the decisions she makes regarding story selection, focusing of time and resources, determining which guests to interview, lines of questioning and other matters will not be influenced by the same sentiments that prompted her to call UKIP supporters white, middle aged sexists and racists?

At present, we are deluding ourselves that the people who report the news – and worse still, the people who get to decide what even counts as news in the first place – are uniformly honest and committed to impartiality, and that the possibility of subconscious bias simply doesn’t exist. And this is holding human beings to a standard of behaviour which cannot possibly be met.

Far better that we more fully embrace the free market in our journalism, and equip news consumers (i.e. ordinary voters) with more perfect information – not just about our politicians, but also about the people who report on them. That way, television and print journalists can continue to strive for objectivity where appropriate, but we will have the backup of knowing about any political memberships, donations or affiliations that may influence their reporting, either consciously or subconsciously.

This doesn’t need to be an official thing. Indeed, nothing would be worse or more totalitarian than keeping a centralised state register of journalists’ political affiliations – that would be Orwellian in the extreme. Rather, the culture should be changed so that declaring one’s political allegiances upfront comes to be seen as a matter of honour and journalistic best practice.

Only earlier this week, a BBC television journalist named Danny Carpenter was suspended from his job for describing Theresa May’s new Conservative government as “the new Nazis” on his personal Facebook page.

The Daily Mail reports:

A BBC news presenter has been suspended for allegedly calling the Tory government ‘the new Nazis’ in an online social media rant.

BBC Look North’s Danny Carpenter reportedly accused the government of being ‘cynical, vicious, racist and xenophobic’ in a Facebook rant and has now been suspended by the corporation as they carry out an investigation.

Mr Carpenter is also said to have called for the Brexit to be ‘voted out’ by Parliament because of a ‘combination of dishonest fear-mongering and lies about the economy’.

This is clearly a partisan zealot of the highest order, someone with political beliefs even more pungent than those of this blog – and clearly very ideologically different. But just as I would never expect to be allowed to stand in front of a television camera reporting the news with a straight face, so Danny Carpenter should never have been allowed within 5 miles of a BBC studio except as a paid opinion contributor (like my star turn on the BBC Daily Politics earlier this year).

Jonah Goldberg is quite right to point out that the pretence of journalistic impartiality is a fraud which we all perpetrate on ourselves. Pretending that we are being served a conscientiously-curated stream of objective, unbiased reporting at all times lulls those of us credulous enough to believe it into a false sense of security, meaning that people do not apply their own scepticism or challenge what they are told.

And the rest of us, fully aware that what is being sold to us as objective coverage is in fact ideologically skewed, are increasingly spurning the mainstream media. More and more of us are taking refuge in new independent media sources, curated for us by algorithms and presented through social media, some of which are diligent and honourable but many of which can trap us in an ideological bubble of bias confirmation.

Goldberg concludes:

This lack of transparency benefits news organizations, but it really doesn’t fool anybody — except maybe the reporters themselves.

I agree. And playing along with the deception by furiously pretending that we have an impartial media only fuels the atmosphere of distrust and resentment in our politics. Having prominent journalists declare any strong political allegiances upfront would not solve all of our problems by magic. But it certainly wouldn’t do any harm.



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A Side Of Moralising With My Chicken, Please

I love Chick-fil-A.

Their fried chicken is great, perfectly seasoned and cooked just right. The waffle fries are out of this world. So is the sweet tea. The dips are actually tasty, and worthy of having such awesome chicken dunked in them (the barbecue and honey mustard are particularly good). The staff are consistently the friendliest, most courteous, helpful staff you will ever encounter at a fast food restaurant. They employ someone to greet you with a warm welcome when you walk through the door, and they walk the restaurant topping up your soft drinks for free if they notice your cup is getting low (did you hear that, British restaurants? Free refills! Try offering them!).

In short, they are pretty much everything you could want in a fast food restaurant.

Which is why this story, reported by Politico, is so irritating. The article reads, in part:

The fervor over the restaurant’s politics began when Chick Fil A president Dan Cathy said earlier this week that Chick Fil A is “guilty as charged” in support of “the biblical definition of the family unit.”

It really annoys me when companies stumble into the news cycle in this way. Whether it is Target donating to a group that benefitted an anti-gay marriage candidate (even though it is fairly certain that they donated for reasons other than this), the CEO of Whole Foods penning an Op-Ed critical of President Obama’s health reforms, or now Chick-fil-A being dragged into the gay marriage debate, it is all quite unnecessary and seems to bring out the worst (and, incidentally, un-American) aspects of supporters and detractors alike.

Now the three examples above are not identical. In the case of Whole Foods, the CEO wrote his “ObamaCare alternative” op-ed in a personal guise, though coming out and writing a political op-ed piece contrary to the likely views of the vast majority of your customers is certainly not very wise. In the case of Target, they made a donation to a group that supported candidates who promoted pro-business policies that they agreed with, but failed to do their due diligence to ensure that none of the beneficiaries espoused any other, more controversial policies, which unfortunately one of them did.

But in the case of Chick-fil-A, the company president Dan Cathy specifically supported an anti-gay marriage policy, and deliberately included his company in his recent statements, rather than making a statement in a personal capacity. Firstly:

“…we’re inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage. And I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude that thinks we have the audacity to redefine what marriage is all about.”

And then:

“We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that … We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that.”
Without getting into the extent to which corporations really are and are not people, this is just not smart business. Some aspects of the Chick-fil-A corporate culture are very commendable – the fact thay they choose not to open their restaurants on Sundays so that staff have time to spend with their families and attend church if they are religious, for example, is refreshing in this day and age, and harms no one (except people with fried chicken cravings after sunday services).
Announcing that your company does not support marriage equality, on the other hand, while not actively harming anyone (because there is no discrimination at work, the company serves and treats all customers alike), is just plain irrelevant. Chick-fil-A, as a corporate “person”, is not harmed by any attempts to legalise marriage between two people of the same sex. Nor, for that matter, are any private heterosexual individuals, no matter what ludicrous claims they may make.
If a corporation exercises its supposed first amendment right to speak out against a policy that directly impacts its bottom line (such as tax policy or employee healthcare, a la Target or Whole Foods) this is perhaps understandable. But gay marriage? I would be very interested to hear an argument explaining how the legalisation of gay marriage would result in lower profits for Chick-fil-A. And until I hear a convincing one, I will be of the opinion that matters such as these are none of their business, and that they, and their CEO, would do well to keep quiet on the topic.
Why pick an unnecessary fight, alienate potential customers and generate bad headlines? It’s just bad business.