The movers and shakers in the political and media arenas converged in Pasadena, CA over the weekend. The staff at As The Donald Turns was excited to have a chance to rub elbows with, have conversations with, and hear many of them speak. We present a special edition of As The Donald Turns; “Politicon 2017.” There was a variety of panels, discussions, and the opportunity to speak one on one with a list that included Ana Navarro, Jon Favreu, Jon Lovett, Tommy Vietor, Jake Tapper, Anthony Scaramucci, (yes, seriously), Ben Shapiro, Joy Reid, Ann Coulter, Jen Psaki, Roger Stone, Jason Miller, Bill Kristol, Congressman Ted Lieu and so many more at what has become the Coachella for political junkies.
*Editor’s note. The column was written before Monday afternoon’s new of Anthony Scaramucci being out as White House Communications Director. Bill Kristol is quoted in this piece with the reason we believe Scaramucci did not make the cut.
As The Donald Turns; Politicon News and Notes, Part 1
You must attend the event knowing you will never see it all or meet everyone so you pick and choose your best opportunities.
- One of the more attended panels early on was with the boys from “Pod Save America.” Favreau, Vietor and Lovett were some of the young gun strategists who got Barack Obama elected twice, and Favreau is one of the pre-eminent speech writers of his generation. They started with a theme conveyed regularly throughout the weekend, “Where’s Mooch?” More on that later. Lovett said much of the turmoil in the administration is that, “The only people who would work for Donald Trump are people who would work for Donald Trump and that is a problem.” He also said that it seems that there is a ground swell of political activism at the grass roots level and that it proves that, “Showing up works.”
The hosts also added MSNBC anchor Joy Reid and political strategist Symone Sanders to the panel. Reid said the Democratic party is suffering from not running enough candidates that look like the supporters of the party. “We get one Kamala Harris and say ‘Yeah us.’” Reid also said the “left” needs to stop trying to convert Trump voters and focus more on expanding their own base.
- At an area dubbed “Democracy Village,” CNN reporter Dylan Byers hosted a panel on Donald’s press strategy or at least what passes for one. Former Obama State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki and former Trump campaign aide Jason Miller debated Donald’s relationship with the media. Psaki said the first eight to nine months are the most critical for any administration to get its most desired initiatives through, but that it seems as though Donald has no real beliefs in any initiatives, so much as a list of political promises he wants to check off a list. Miller said Scaramucci, “Will help bring down the temperature with a media restart.” Once the crowd stopped laughing, (clearly familiar with Scaramucci’s New Yorker Magazine interview last week), someone yelled, “Where’s Mooch?”
Miller did say he thinks the White House is in a bit of a bunker mentality right now and that if he were there, he would recommend the president give a press conference every few weeks to cause the media to complain less about all the off-camera briefings. Being a state department professional, Psaki said she is troubled by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson not having media with him on foreign trips. “We have lowered the standards and it will be hard to get them back up to where they belong. People would be talking more about how messed up the Democratic party is, if it were not for how badly Trump has handled the media.”
To be fair, while there was a good balance from different sides of the political spectrum, Miller was the one actually from the Trump campaign team and the one actually defending the president. It is not an easy gig these days.
- Throughout the first day, several panels asked the raging question, “Where is the Mooch?” We wondered that as well. Clearly, based on his first unofficial week on the job, (he does not become official until he passes his security clearance…more on that later), people were eager to hear from “The Mooch” and he was scheduled to be on two panels.
We came across these guys trying to find “Mooch.”
- One of the more heated panels of the first day was “Trump vs. The Media.” Jon Lovett, Bill Kristol, Symone Sanders and Jason Miller had a colorful conversation as moderators Anna Palmer and Jake Sherman from Politico tried to keep things on topic. Miller said it is clear the media still does not get how Trump reached voters the way he did, as an outsider, and that, “the more they crap all over Trump supporters, the more it emboldens his base.” Sanders responded that it is one thing to run the campaign as an outsider, but now, “He is president of the United States and that makes him the ultimate insider and he needs to start acting like it.”
Kristol said what has been underestimated is, “Trump’s ability to manipulate the media.” He pointed out how every cablenet and network was thrilled to have him do interviews during the primaries because it was great for business. “He was using them and they let it happen.”
The idea of how Trump claims he hates the New York Times, but then calls upon them when it serves his purposes was brought up and it was here that the irony of Miller defending Scaramucci and Trump was brought to the forefront. If you are not familiar with Miller’s story, he was a key surrogate for Donald during the campaign, and was pegged for a high-end communications job in the administration. Then it was discovered he had an extramarital affair with a campaign staffer, who became pregnant, and his job was gone.
Lovett pointedly asked how Miller could continue to defend Trump and his past and Scaramucci and his present based on how he was ousted. “If the stuff that happened this week had happened in any normal administration, people would have been walked out the door immediately, and you of all people should know that!” Miller could not viably defend any specifics from Trump or Scaramucci other than to say Donald has changed the rules of the game.
Miller said he expected Scaramucci to be able to stop all the leaks, which drew scoffs from Lovett and Kristol, in particular. Lovett said, “All the chaos we see is self-inflicted. The scary thing is, there is going to be a crisis and he is not ready and that is not the media’s fault and we are all going to pay the price.” Kristol, in heated tones, said “The leaks don’t damage Trump. Trump damages Trump! He leaks stuff to media when it serves his purposes.”
Kristol also had a comment that stopped the audience in its collective tracks. “I know Scaramucci enough to know he will never pass the security clearance.”
- That brought us back to looking for “The Mooch.” Where was the guy?
Yes, he backed out of the event. His spokesperson, (the irony of a White House spokesperson having a spokesperson is a topic for another time), said with his new job in the administration, he did not have time to be there. His job does not really start until he passes the FBI background check, but sure…whatever helps you answer the unanswerable.
Next up, Part Two….Facts matter, Hip hop and politics, Russia, and more….