Out on a Limb

Daily Best of the Web   —   Posted on March 21, 2016

Out on a Limb

Palestinian-American Mohamad Jamal Khweis from Virginia joined ISIS but deserted and turned himself in to Kurdish forces. He said, "I wanted to go to the Kurds' side because I know that they are good with the Americans." and added, “I made a bad decision to [join ISIS]. I wanted to go back home…I couldn't see myself living in such an environment.”

The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal’s “Best of the Web” at The Wall Street Journal written by the editor, James Taranto.

Out on a Limb
“Palestinian-American Mohamad Jamal Khweis Says Joining ISIS Was a ‘Bad Decision’ “—headline, Huffington Post, March 17

It’s Always in the Last Place You Look
“American ISIS Fighter Captured by Kurds: ‘I Found It Hard’ ”—headline, Washington Post website, March 18

President by Default?
The Democratic surrender has begun. The New York Times reports the president himself is urging Democrats to consolidate behind the inevitable nominee:

In unusually candid remarks, President Obama privately told a group of Democratic donors last Friday that Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont was nearing the point at which his campaign against Hillary Clinton would end, and that the party must soon come together to back her. . . .

Mr. Obama said that he understood the appeal to voters of a candidate who is authentic, the official said. But he also reminded the Texas donors in the room that Mr. Bush was considered authentic when he was running for president, suggesting that being authentic did not necessarily translate into being a good president, in his view.

You’ve gotta love that last bit. Of course Obama’s disdain for authenticity is itself inauthentic: His duty as a partisan is to support the inevitable Democratic nominee, and that almost always requires some degree of post hoc rationalization.

But just for fun, let’s take his argumentum ad dubyam at face value. Obama’s conclusion that “being authentic did not necessarily translate into being a good president” seems inarguably true, whether or not you think Bush is a fitting example. But it’s even harder to dispute that Bush is an example of the hypothesis that being authentic can translate into being a president.

“Those in attendance described an urgency in Mr. Obama’s tone as he suggested that Democrats needed to come together to prevent an opening for the Republicans, whose leading candidate is Donald J. Trump, to exploit,” the Times report adds.

This columnist is on Mrs. Clinton’s campaign email list, and a couple of missives this week lead us to wonder if she isn’t surrendering to Trump. Here’s the opening from one that arrived Wednesday night:


After Donald Trump’s overwhelming victories in Florida, North Carolina, and Illinois last night, I’m sure he’s starting to feel like he can go ahead and measure for drapes in the White House.

And here’s one from last night:


Our team had a BIG night on Tuesday—we’re leading by 300+ delegates, and that lead is quickly becoming insurmountable.

But don’t forget that Donald Trump’s lead could soon be insurmountable, too.

The first one was signed by “Hillary” herself, the second by campaign manager Robby Mook. We’re quite sure the Clinton campaign doesn’t intend to concede the election to Trump, and it’s true that we’re quoting these openings out of context. The context is boring and what you’d expect—i.e., trying to rally supporters to oppose Trump and send cash. But as we read this we couldn’t help feeling that Trump has gotten into Mrs. Clinton’s head.

Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams got a similar impression from different behaviors (first ellipsis and all-caps emphasis his):

Is it my imagination . . . or is Hillary Clinton yelling her speeches lately?

And didn’t Donald Trump start questioning her “stamina” a few months ago?

In the 2D world of politics, those two things are unrelated. But in the 3D world of persuasion, Trump is making [Mrs.] Clinton yell herself hoarse to prove she has stamina.

And once she is hoarse and tired from all the yelling, Trump will point out that she lacks stamina.

Yes, he is that good. . . .

And is it a coincidence that Bernie Sanders and everyone else in the world including me can’t stop saying one thing “trumped” another? And why the hell is everything suddenly huuuuuuge? (Or yuuuuuge.)

And when Clinton’s campaign decided on its clever new slogan of “Love Trumps Hate,” did they realize they were LITERALLY MAKING CAMPAIGN POSTERS TO INFLUENCE PEOPLE TO LOVE DONALD TRUMP?

Adams of course has been praising Trump’s persuasion skills for some time now, not to mention predicting he’ll win in a landslide, so salt to taste.

It does strike us, however, that a good many Democrats seem less than fully confident that Mrs. Clinton would beat Trump by default. (The “Never Trump” Republicans, by contrast, by and large are certain of it, though they may be engaged in a kind of Hobson’s wishful thinking.)

An example, from just yesterday, is this headline from the Puffington Host: “Donald Trump’s Working-Class Appeal Is Starting to Freak Out Labor Unions.” Sam Stein and Dave Jamieson write:

Trump’s pyromaniac approach to politics has earned him strong support from white, working-class voters and brought him to the cusp of winning the GOP nomination. It is an ascent that has shaken Republicans, who view the businessman as a fraud bound to splinter the party, and it’s leading Democrats and their allies to do what they do best: fret and panic.

Trump, the worry goes, is making precisely the right appeals at precisely the right time to fundamentally realign the Rust Belt working class electorate’s traditional political allegiances.

“In terms of his message, it is really resonating. Particularly if you are talking [about] union people, he is speaking our language,” said Josh Goldstein, deputy national media director for the AFL-CIO. “We can’t let that go unattended, because people have been doing that with Trump for a long time, and his numbers have only gone up. . . . It is our job to go out and educate people now, so it doesn’t cross that threshold and become a threat.”

It’s lucky for Democrats that union membership has been declining for years!

The Wall Street Journal has a report on the Clinton campaign’s (and its legally independent supporters’) anti-Trump plans. Some of them sound promising:

A pair of super PACs loyal to Mrs. Clinton have already accumulated a vast trove of research on Mr. Trump’s business dealings. Using financial experts, Correct the Record and American Bridge have dug into his business career and pored over his personal-disclosure forms looking for material to exploit in a general election.

The groups haven’t released any of this research as the GOP primaries have unfolded. They didn’t want to assist Mr. Trump’s GOP rivals, whom they believed would give Mrs. Clinton a tougher challenge in November, according to a person familiar with their work. Now, they will look for an opportune time to try to put Mr. Trump on the defensive.

Such attacks were effective against Mitt Romney in 2012. But two big questions will be answered only later, in the event that Trump is the nominee: What have the super PACs got? And if it’s new and adverse, will it work against a candidate whose manner makes him nearly the opposite of the genteel Romney?

This idea, by contrast, is batty:

A coalition of 22 liberal groups—including some that have endorsed Mrs. Clinton and others that back her Democratic rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders—have united behind a campaign to stop Mr. Trump.

Among their plans: anti-Trump demonstrations, possibly including protests at the Republican National Convention this summer in Cleveland, and marches in major cities.

“So far, Trump has bounced around the country speaking to people in these stadium rallies, and we haven’t seen massive marches outside the rallies,” said Ben Wikler, Washington director for Moveon .org, which is leading the coalition and backs Mr. Sanders.

We suppose it’s inevitable; organizing “massive marches” is a prominent part of the left-wing skill set. (On the right, nobody does it but the pro-lifers.) But we’re hard-pressed to think of an example in which such protests have yielded the desired political result at any time in the past half-century.

To be sure, left-wing agitators succeeded in shutting down Trump’s rally in Chicago last Friday. On Tuesday Trump won the Illinois primary, and it wasn’t close.

The Journal report adds:

A senior Democrat who has spoken with Clinton campaign officials and others in the party in recent days said the multi-pronged strategy under review includes enlisting the Muslim, Hispanic and gay communities in an effort to paint Mr. Trump as a divisive force in American politics.

Color us skeptical. Besides, who is the “divisive force,” the candidate whose message is “Make America great again” or the one who touts the support of various small “communities”?

And then there’s this:

The Democratic front-runner’s aides are planning to keep her out of a war of insults, concluding that independent voters will recoil at Mr. Trump’s heated rhetoric and reward her discretion. Their plan is to try to challenge Mr. Trump on substance, the Clinton aide said.

Because that worked so well for . . . oh wait, never mind.

One thought that has occurred to us as we’ve pondered the possibility of a fall campaign between Trump and Mrs. Clinton: Will there be debates? Probably, since that is the 40-year norm in American presidential elections. Only once has a major-party candidate refused to debate—Jimmy Carter in 1980, who objected to the inclusion of a liberal Republican independent candidate. The resulting Reagan-Anderson debate was one of the least consequential events in American political history, though we imagine it remains a high point in John Anderson’s life.

But this hasn’t been a good year for longstanding political norms, and Trump has already begged off on two scheduled debates, including one next Monday that was subsequently canceled for lack of participation. Suppose Scott Adams (or Robby Mook) turns out to be right, and Trump goes into October with an insurmountable lead. He could well decide debating is all downside and pull out, perhaps citing concern for Mrs. Clinton’s stamina.

Or take the conventionally more likely scenario: Mrs. Clinton still leads by double digits when debate time rolls around. Why should she take the chance that Trump will rattle her and cause her to stumble? She could withdraw on the ground—inauthentic, of course—that such a vulgarian is unworthy of the nation’s attention.

What a sad irony it would be if America were forced to live through either a Trump or Mrs. Clinton presidency without even the consolation of getting to watch the greatest pseudo-event of all time.

For more “Best of the Web” from The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto click here.