Stayin’ aliiiiiiiii-hiiiiii-hi-hi-hi-hiiiiiiiiii-ive

A dance-off to raise money for a high school scholarship fund and sports program prompted these thoughts that combine the theme song, the movie from which came that theme song, a famous American poet, a famous American rock band, one of the first famed teen novels taught in many schools today, and myself as a middle-schooler.

I apologize in advance for this earworm …

… though this song from that movie is better:


Moore thoughts

The world was preserved, according to one of my Facebook friends, with the defeat of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore in Alabama Tuesday night.

Even if you don’t pay attention to the accusations of sexual misconduct on Moore’s part, you have to wonder why people would vote for someone with these views, as chronicled by The Hill:

Moore has argued on multiple occasions that America’s secular shift is responsible for many of its darkest moments, including the 9/11 terrorist attacks and recent “shootings and killings.” …

Days before Moore won first place in the August primary that set up Tuesday’s runoff, Moore spoke with The Guardian and appeared to sympathize with Russian criticism of the United States.

Moore noted that former President Reagan’s description of the Soviet Union as “the focus of evil in the modern world” could be applied to America today, because “we promote a lot of bad things” like “same-sex marriage.”

When The Guardian’s reporter noted that current Russian President Vladimir Putin makes a similar argument, Moore replied, “Maybe he’s more akin to me than I know.” …

Moore was a leading proponent of the “birther” conspiracy theory, which posited, without evidence, that former President Obama wasn’t born in the United States.

Moore expressed doubts about Obama’s country of origin as recently as December. …

Moore took serious issue with Rep. Keith Ellison’s (D-Minn.) decision to take his oath of office with his hand on the Quran.

Ellison, who became the first Muslim in Congress upon his election in 2006, took the ceremonial oath of office using a Quran that had been owned by Thomas Jefferson.

But Moore criticized Ellison’s decision to use a Quran, airing his criticism in a 2006 post on

“In 1943, we would never have allowed a member of Congress to take their oath on ‘Mein Kampf,’ or someone in the 1950s to swear allegiance to the ‘Communist Manifesto,’ ” he wrote.

“Congress has the authority and should act to prohibit Ellison from taking the congressional oath today!” …

Moore sparked still more controversy just days ago when he decried division among “reds and yellows” during a stump speech, when he compared the current political climate to the strife around the Civil War.

“We were torn apart in the Civil War — brother against brother, North against South, party against party. What changed?” Moore asked.

“Now we have blacks and whites fighting, reds and yellows fighting, Democrats and Republicans fighting, men and women fighting. What’s going to unite us? What’s going to bring us back together? A president? A Congress? No. It’s going to be God.”

After the quote provoked criticism, Moore’s campaign said that he was only paraphrasing the popular religious song “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” which contains similar references to “reds” and “yellows.”

Moore wouldn’t get 100 votes in Wisconsin.

If you want to believe the Chicago Tribune, you might wonder what all the fuss was about:

The odds of any Democrat capturing a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama are steep at best, but Doug Jones was uniquely suited to pull off an upset Tuesday over Republican Roy Moore.

Accusations that Moore sexually abused teenage girls played a big part, no doubt, in Jones’ improbable victory over the renowned religious right crusader.

Jones, 63, is a former U.S. attorney who cast himself as a law-and-order man. He is skilled at muting his liberal stands on such issues as abortion and gay rights — a necessity in one of the South’s most conservative states.

Jones also carries not a whiff of scandal, a major asset in Alabama after a spate of corruption scandals.

It didn’t hurt that Jones also supports gun rights.

“He turkey-hunts, he deer-hunts, and he believes strongly in the 2nd Amendment,” said Lowell Barron, a former Democratic leader in the state Senate.

Overwhelming support from African Americans was crucial for Jones, who is best known for prosecuting and convicting two Ku Klux Klansmen for the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, an attack that left four girls dead.

He also prosecuted Eric Rudolph for the 1998 bombing of a Birmingham abortion clinic, which killed an off-duty police officer and blinded a nurse.

Jones won the seat vacated by Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, the first Republican senator to break with his party’s establishment last year to endorse Donald Trump for president.

In 2020, when Jones will be up for reelection, he will probably be challenged by a Republican more viable than the politically wounded Moore, so he will face pressure in the Senate to resist his party’s most liberal impulses.

Jones has promised to seek common ground with Republicans.

“I would expect him to be a very conservative Democrat,” said Joseph Smith, chairman of the political science department at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

Analysts expect Jones to fit the mold of Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, another Democrat who was elected to the Senate in a deep-red state and votes accordingly. …

As he ran for Senate, Jones avoided talking about abortion and other cultural issues that animated Moore’s campaign, focusing instead on jobs, healthcare and education.

He calls for more spending on schools, job training and renewable energy, and less on prisons. Jones supports an overhaul of criminal sentencing laws to reduce incarceration of nonviolent felons. Though he supports Obamacare, he does not back single-payer healthcare, which many liberals advocate.

Democratic pollster Zac McCrary of Montgomery, Ala., said he expects Jones to stay focused in Washington on practical measures to improve voters’ day-to-day lives.

“I think that is where his energy will be focused,” he said. “That would be his wheelhouse.”

Republicans who may have held their noses and voted for Moore in a Trump-like fashion claimed that Jones opposes any restrictions whatsoever on abortion. reported before the election:

Doug Jones, the Democratic nominee in the Dec. 12 Senate election, said he supports Alabama’s abortion laws as they are, saying that people are “fairly comfortable” with the current law.

In an interview this week with at his Huntsville campaign office, Jones said he wanted “to be clear” where he stood in the aftermath of a national interview with MSNBC that included abortion and led some political observers in the state to speculate he had damaged his campaign. …

“Those comments, everybody wants to attack you so they are going to make out on those comments what they want to their political advantage,” Jones said. “To be clear, I fully support a woman’s freedom to choose to what happens to her own body. That is an intensely, intensely personal decision that only she, in consultation with her god, her doctor, her partner or family, that’s her choice.

“Having said that, the law for decades has been that late-term procedures are generally restricted except in the case of medical necessity. That’s what I support. I don’t see any changes in that. It is a personal decision.”

In the Sept. 27 MSNBC interview, host Chuck Todd asked Jones about abortion.

Jones said he’s a “firm believer that a woman should have to freedom to choose what happens to her own body” and that he opposed a ban on abortions after the 20th week of gestation, which is a bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and now under consideration in the Senate.

Alabama law allows abortions to be performed as late as 22 weeks into a pregnancy.

“I’m not in favor of anything that is going to infringe on a woman’s right and her freedom to choose,” Jones said in the MSNBC interview. “That’s just the position that I’ve had for many years. It’s a position I continue to have. But I want to make sure people understand, that once a baby is born, I’m going to be there for that child. That’s where I become a right-to-lifer.”

Apparently Jones’ position on abortion didn’t bother the reported 22,000 registered Republicans who voted for Jones. His supposed non-liberalism remains to be seen. Alabama is not likely to have turned more liberal based on one election where a plurality of GOP voters nominated a horrible candidate even outside of the allegations of improper conduct with minors.

(The interesting thing about that last point is that Moore ran for the Alabama Supreme Court twice and for governor once, and in none of those cases did those allegations get to public light. Have things really changed that much since 2013, when Moore was last Supreme Court chief justice?)

To no one’s surprise, Democrats have been beclowning themselves since Tuesday night, as RightWisconsin notes:

Now Democrats in Wisconsin are at least feigning that the results are somehow meaningful in Wisconsin. “We just elected a Democrat in Alabama,” tweeted Randy Bryce, a Democrat challenging House Speaker Paul Ryan. “The most conservative state in the country. Next up, it’s Paul Ryan’s turn to face the voters.”

Democratic gubernatorial candidates state Rep. Dana Wachs (D-La Crosse) sent a fundraising email, “If Alabama can do it, so can we.”

“Scott Walker must know this momentum is not just in Alabama,” Wachs campaign said.

But unless Ryan or Walker have been pursuing dates in Wisconsin’s middle schools, what happened in Alabama doesn’t translate to here. If anyone else had gotten the GOP nomination there, the talking heads on cable news would be dismissing a GOP win with, “of course the Republican candidate won. It’s Alabama.”

On the other hand, candidates that fail to pay child support (Bryce) or voted for Rep. Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) as the minority leader (Wachs) probably be less triumphal over an election where character was the dominant issue.

Hintz, you’ll recall, has that little matter of a conviction for sexual misconduct at an Appleton massage parlor, not to mention his informing Rep. Michelle Litjens (R–Oshkosh) “You are f—ing dead” for a vote on which they disagreed, both of which were followed by predictably insincere apologies from Hintz. And of course to people with morals the Democratic Party still has miles to go to atone for celebrating U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D–Massachusetts) for killing one of his female campaign workers and for the various acts of serial sex offender Bill Clinton and Hillary his chief enabler.

Meanwhile, proving the old saw that success has a thousand fathers while failure is an orphan, a circular firing squad has unsurprisingly formed over Moore’s defeat. George Neumayr takes one tack:

The Moore race had occasioned an orgy of opportunism masquerading as high virtue, a spectacle that it is only going to intensify, with the scummy GOP consultant class, whose members routinely work for checkered candidates, pontificating about the race in the most self-righteous terms. The insufferable Steve Schmidt tops this list. He presents himself as the great conscience of the GOP. Never mind that he was a consultant to serial groper Arnold Schwarzenegger, who, unlike Moore, survived a late hit from the press (in the form of an investigative article by the Los Angeles Times), thanks in large part to the rescue efforts of the very GOP establishment that pretended to be so appalled by Moore.

That crowd never wanted Moore to win in the first place and found the abuse charges a convenient added reason to sabotage his campaign. Under a typhoon of negative media coverage, Moore, whose previous wins had been squeakers, needed all the help he could get. But the stupid party was too divided and dysfunctional to lend a hand. The Dems form a defensive circle around vulnerable candidates; the Republicans shoot theirs.

At first, the establishment Republicans just wanted to hand the seat to the Democrats. So they called for Moore to withdraw. But then McConnell’s total opposition changed to ambivalence when he deemed the race a matter for “the people of Alabama to decide.” Yet even that ambivalence couldn’t hold. In the crucial final days of the race, the establishment continued to signal its wish for Moore’s defeat in ways both large and small, from Senator Shelby telling the press that he couldn’t vote for Moore to Republicans pushing the story that once Moore arrived the ethics committee was going to pounce on him. Perhaps if Moore had had a Trumpian level of charisma, he could have survived the onslaught. But he didn’t have it, and his decision to leave the state on the weekend before the election punctuated the shakiness of his campaign.

At the very moment he needed the party to pull him across the finish line, it was nowhere to be found, with the exception of a few comments and tweets from Trump. Jones wildly outspent Moore.

The GOP establishment assumes Moore’s defeat will improve its image and standing. But it won’t. it will only increase the disgust of the rank-and-file for a resentful GOP ruling class that operates like a front for the Democrats. If you are going to take Vienna, take Vienna, said Napoleon. The base is sick and tired of a GOP establishment that never fights to win in that spirit — a collection of Beltway colluders who would prefer a pat on the head from the media to policy wins. Most of the establishment strategists who appear on TV haven’t won a race in years — a fact they conspicuously avoid advertising. But here’s one loss for which they will proudly take credit. And they will use it to try and con their way into new positions from which they can lose again.

Well, that’s one opinion. Ed Rogers has another:

First, good for Alabama. When Alabamians had to stand up and do the right thing, they did. Special credit goes to Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), who channeled Atticus Finch. When a rabid threat had to be extinguished, he came to the rescue. With perfect timing and vivid clarity, Shelby spoke out against Moore despite having little obvious, self-serving reason to do so. Any number of things can make the difference between winning or losing in a close race, but I think nothing was as impactful as Shelby’s 11th-hour push. Good for him.

Second, as a proud Alabamian, I think the best thing about yesterday’s election is that Alabama will not have to endure or be associated with the poisonous presence of Roy Moore on the national stage in the U.S. Senate. Beyond just becoming the media’s favorite Republican, Moore would have been an indelible stain on Alabama.

Just to restate the obvious, Moore’s presence would have deterred economic development in a state that needs as much economic development as it can get. As I’ve written several times before, not one person I have spoken to ever thought it would be a good idea for Moore to meet with a chief executive considering launching a new business or facility in Alabama. Moore’s presence would be toxic and repulsive in ways we probably could not have imagined. It’s fair to say his presence would have even affected college football recruiting. There is no chance it would have helped. I’m not kidding.

And, oh by the way, being sensitive to Alabama’s image, I was hoping no one outside Alabama, much less overseas, would notice Moore’s rise. But the world was well aware of what was happening. I was particularly discouraged during a trip last week to Hong Kong, Dubai and London when just about everyone wanted to ask me about Moore. A lot of people I meet with in foreign capitals have harsh things to say about American politics these days. It was very disheartening that Moore had become such a focal point.

Anyway, Doug Jones will be the first Democrat to represent Alabama in the U.S. Senate since 1992. His election was the result of a perfect storm defined by improbable circumstances that no one could have predicted. But wave elections are always comprised of a few lucky breaks and seemingly one-off occurrences that benefit the party catching the wave. Republicans must be true to ourselves and recognize that Jones’s election is evidence of momentum that is building against us.

Finally, Alabama did the nation a service last night by defeating Stephen K. Bannon and his attempt to seize power in the Republican Party. I hate to say it, but there is probably no better place for Bannon’s twisted plans than Alabama. But today, I can’t imagine what state party or candidate is hoping that Bannon will show up and do for their state and campaign what he did for Moore and Alabama. Everything about the campaign and the results from Alabama made Bannon weaker.

The mainstream media was hoping a win for Moore would legitimize Bannon and accelerate his attempt at a takeover of the party. While last night was not a good night for Republicans, it was a bad night for Steve Bannon. Having more Republican votes in the Senate is always better than having fewer, but in this case, it is best that Roy Moore’s vote was sacrificed. It would not have been worth the cost to Alabama or the nation.

These views aren’t necessarily exclusive, though obviously Neumayr favored Moore and Rogers didn’t. Neumayr’s wrath is better pointed at all the Republican-registered voters who voted for Jones, because they believed the allegations, or because Moore’s most extreme positions turned them off, or for both reasons.

If Moore’s loss ends up pushing Bannon out of the GOP, that will be worthwhile. Bannon is the right-wing equivalent of union thugs. Bannon should feel free to join the Constitution Party or the American Nazi Party or whatever political movement will take him.

I remember learning in high school and college what a great progressive step it was to have back-room party bosses choosing candidates replaced by primary elections, the great accomplishment of Fighting Bob La Follette and other progressives. I also remember how the state Republican Party endorsed Bob Kasten over UW–Stevens Point chancellor Lee Sherman Dreyfus before the 1978 GOP gubernatorial primary, which Kasten did not win. (Though Kasten did get the consolation prize of getting elected to the U.S. Senate two years later.)

Well, let us keep in mind what primary elections hath wrought recently: (1) Donald Trump and (2) Roy Moore. The Founding Fathers were distrustful of democracy, and they may have been more correct than Fighting Bob. (For that matter, Fighting Bob espoused direct election of senators, which also got us, well, every U.S. Senate election result you don’t like.)

This is not necessarily a disaster or the start of a trend for Republicans, even though Jones’ election reduces the GOP control of the Senate to 51–49. That in turn places more power in the hands of such Republicans as Sen. John McCain (R–Arizona) who don’t always sing from the GOP hymnal. Republican senators were conspicuous by their lack of support for Moore.

The biggest lesson to take from Tuesday is that no matter how much they feel about the Establishment, Republicans need to pick candidates who can, first, win the nonpartisan voter. I think it’s safe to say that no non-Republican voted for Moore, and a lot of Republicans didn’t vote for him either. Moore lost because of those thousands of Republicans who didn’t vote for him. Jones won by less than 21,000 votes, with almost 23,000 write-in votes. (Including for, bizarrely, Alabama football coach Nick Saban, who if by some miracle he got elected would no longer be the ’Bama coach. Did people who voted for him realize that?)

Jones’ win does require the speeding-up of the tax cut bill because Jones won’t vote for it just because. As bad as Tuesday may look to Republicans, Democrats will have to find something to cover bigger paychecks from a tax cut in 11 months, if that becomes law. If not, then voters will rightly wonder why they voted for the GOP to control the White House, Senate and House a year ago.


Presty the DJ for Dec. 14

It figures that after yesterday’s marathon musical compendium, today’s is much shorter.

The number one album today in 1959 was the Kingston Trio’s “Here We Go Again!”

The number one single today in 1968:

Today in 1977, the movie “Saturday Night Fever,” based on a magazine article that turned out to be a hoax, premiered in New York:

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Dec. 14”

The ‘cheesehead Stasi’

Glenn Harlan Reynolds:

The “Cheesehead Stasi.” That’s what Twitter humorist IowaHawk called a long-running and politicized investigation organized by Democratic politicians in Wisconsin, targeting supporters of Republican Gov. Scott Walker. The mechanism for this investigation was an allegedly nonpolitical, but in fact entirely partisan, “Government Accountability Board.”

In the course of its secretive “John Doe” investigation, the GAB hoovered up millions of personal emails from Republican donors and supporters, and even raided people’s homes, while forbidding them to talk about it:

“I was told to shut up and sit down. The officers rummaged through drawers, cabinets and closets. Their aggressive assault on my home seemed more appropriate for a dangerous criminal, not a longtime public servant with no criminal history,” Archer wrote in a June 30, 2015, Wall Street Journal op-ed. The column was published a day before she filed her civil rights lawsuit.

When the agents finally left her home, Archer said she took inventory of the damage. She found drawers and closets ransacked, her “deceased mother’s belongings were strewn across the floor.” Like so many other targets of the secret John Doe investigation, Archer was forced to watch her neighbors watch her — the star of a very public search-and-seizure operation. . . .

And like her fellow targets, she was told she could say nothing publicly about being a target of Chisholm’s probe. Doing so could have landed her in jail and hit with hefty fines. The secret investigations come with strict gag orders.”

Now an investigation by Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel on behalf of the overseeing court has spelled out a long list of misdeeds by the investigators, and has called for punishments including contempt-of-court holdings and possible disbarment. And the stuff that it has uncovered is pretty awful.

In short, it was a partisan witch hunt masquerading as an inquiry into campaign irregularities. And confidential information gathered during that investigation was deliberately leaked in an effort (unsuccessful) to influence a pending United States Supreme Court decision.

The prosecutors felt justified in these actions because they had already made up their minds about their targets’ guilt. As the report says, “After reviewing the emails exchanged between the attorneys at GAB, it is apparent that GAB attorneys had prejudged the guilt of Governor Walker, Wisconsin Republicans, and related organizations that they were investigating and this dramatically influenced their ability to give competent legal advice. GAB attorneys did not act in a detached and professional manner. The most reasonable inference is that they were on a mission to bring down the Walker campaign and the Governor himself.”

The investigation continued despite its failure to find anything like the sort of violations it was ostensibly intended to investigate. It continued despite court orders to stop. And prosecutors retained evidence (including medical and other records about Republican officials and donors, kept in a file labeled “opposition research”) even after being ordered by the Wisconsin Supreme Court to turn all the information over. It was a lawless exercise of prosecutorial power, for political ends.

Wisconsin Democrats took Scott Walker’s victory very hard. They tried to recall him, and failed. And they tried to undermine his term in office through the abuse of legal institutions. Now some of them will face professional discipline, and judicial punishment, as a result. (Criminal charges would be appropriate, except that, as the Attorney General’s report notes, record-keeping was — conveniently — poor enough that it’s hard to be sure exactly who did what.)

Given the vast powers with which prosecutors are entrusted, it’s easy for an investigation to get out of hand, especially when the investigators are a partisan bunch lacking in political diversity, and start out with the certainty, shored up by political resentment, that their targets must be guilty of something. But these abuses can ultimately turn back on the abusers.

It’s too early to say, as one account does, that the Wisconsin debacle prefigured the ongoing Robert Mueller investigation into Trump’s campaign, though there are certainly similarities between the attitudes of “The Resistance” in Washington and the Wisconsin establishment’s response to Walker. Writing in The Washington Post last week, Ed Rogers wrote that, though he’d supported Mueller in the past, Mueller needed to get a handle on the overwhelming partisan slant of his prosecutors or he’d be discredited.

It’s good advice. Mueller and his investigators should take care not to get wrapped up in partisan politics while conducting a criminal investigation. Because that seldom ends well.

Presty the DJ for Dec. 13

Today in 1961, this was the first country song to sell more than $1 million:

The number one single today in 1962:

The number one single today in 1970 (which sounded like it had been recorded using 1770 technology):

The number one album today in 1975 was “Chicago IX,” which was actually “Chicago’s Greatest Hits”:

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Dec. 13”

The lawless law

State Sen. Leah Vukmir (R–Brookfield):

‘Elena, I have something I need to tell you.” Those were the first words I said to my 29-year-old daughter Thursday afternoon. I was calling to let her know that according to the Wisconsin Justice Department report released Wednesday, my personal emails, along with approximately 500,000 of those belonging to my colleagues in the Wisconsin Senate and other Republican leaders, were acquired in a John Doe investigation.

The emails had been kept in the Governmental Accountability Board building in a unsecured file called “opposition research.” Personal emails with Elena were included, I had learned. Some of our emails even involved discussion of her medical records. These communications didn’t belong in the hands of the government but were collected as part of a politically motivated investigation into Gov. Scott Walker.

Under Wisconsin law, prosecutors can ask a judge to authorize a “John Doe” investigation, which is intended to protect the wrongly accused or allow investigators the ability to establish probable cause before filing charges. But in a gross manipulation of the law, in 2012 a liberal judge named Barbara Kluka allowed Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, a Democrat, to conduct a secret investigation into whether Gov. Walker had broken campaign-finance laws. He had not.

Mr. Chisholm weaponized an arm of the government, which was supposed to be Wisconsin’s ethics watchdog, to issue broad subpoenas and warrants for documents. The agency even worked with law enforcement to conduct paramilitary raids on people’s homes.

These raids and seizures were the result of a mere accusation of campaign-finance violation, for which there was no basis. As it turns out, investigators at the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board took it upon themselves to acquire the personal emails of Republican politicians, including me.

As of June 2016 the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board no longer exists. I wrote legislation that led to the agency’s elimination, and this has been one of my proudest accomplishments as a state senator.

Yet I am still considering legal options for the invasion of my personal privacy. I was appalled at the news, especially because those who ran the John Doe investigation read and kept the emails between my daughter and me. This was criminal behavior, and the individuals involved ought to see jail time.

Unaccountable investigations and special prosecutors have become typical. Take a look at the investigation of the president by Robert Mueller. More than $3 million in taxpayer funds, and what has been accomplished? From Lois Lerner and the IRS to James Comey and the FBI, something is rotten with the way justice is implemented in America today.

In addition to being a mom and a nurse, I am a conservative state senator. I fear fewer people like me will seek office after seeing what I’ve gone through. Why would a mom want to speak on her political beliefs if she thought it might make her family the target of a government agency? Why would anyone want to become an elected official if it might mean that private conversations are not protected from unreasonable search and seizure?

Elena will be fine. But I don’t want her to live in a country where the government deprives people of due process or their right to speak freely. If it can happen in Wisconsin, it can happen elsewhere. Let the stories of Wisconsin’s John Doe abuses be a warning for the rest of the country that liberty really does require vigilance.

All in Alabama

A reporter from Alabama seems destined to not be very popular in his state given what he has written about today’s U.S. Senate special election:

Alabama, spoofed on late-night TV as a backward backwater, has suddenly become the center of America’s political universe. Tuesday’s special election to fill Jeff Sessions’s old Senate seat pits Republican Roy Moore — backed by President Trump and his former strategist Steve Bannon, despite accusations that Moore regularly trawled for teenage girls when he was in his 30s — against a vanilla Democrat, Doug Jones. Recent polls have shown the race all but tied. And pundits stand ready to pronounce what the results say about the future of both parties. But there are a few things about Alabama we should get straight before national media outlets hound voters on their way into the voting booths.

Myth No. 1
Alabama is very different from the rest of the country.

Whether it’s Gregory Peck shooting a mad dog in the middle of a dirt street in the screen adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird” or Reese Witherspoon muttering, “People need a passport to come down here” in the movie “Sweet Home Alabama,” Hollywood hasn’t done us any favors. From the outside, Alabama might look like a homogenous swath of live oaks, Spanish moss, white columns and sharecropper shacks. It’s okay. Folks here have the same mistaken impressions of Mississippi.

But we’re not so monolithic. James Carville supposedly said that Pennsylvania is Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between. Guess what? Alabama looks like that, too. The state’s political divide is rural vs. urban, just like in the rest of the country. That was evident in the 2016 election results. Although Trump prevailed overall with a comfortable 63 percent of the vote, Hillary Clinton won Jefferson County, home to Birmingham, by more than seven points, and she won Montgomery County with nearly two-thirds of the vote.

The rest of the country is also more like Alabama than it may want to think. I’ve been warning for some time about the Alabamification of America — when facts and common sense take a back seat to partisan identity and nativist impulses. Trump won the election last year with 306 electoral votes. Only nine of those came from the Heart of Dixie.

Myth No. 2
Alabama hasn’t changed since the civil rights era.

This myth got a lot of airing around the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery marches. Typical was a Vice piece declaring, “The head-crackings of Bloody Sunday were 50 years ago this weekend — enough time for a styrofoam cup to completely decompose — and Alabama is still a backwards place that too often doesn’t learn from the present, let alone the past. The fight for civil liberties of all kinds in Alabama is still as vibrant as ever.”

Like everywhere else, Alabama is changing, though perhaps a little more slowly — still, it’s closer to 10 years behind than 50 or 60. If you turn back the nation’s clock by a decade, you’ll find political candidates, including Barack Obama, arguing that marriage is only between one man and one woman. The idea of gender-neutral public restrooms wasn’t even on the table. America has moved left on social issues more quickly than many of us have taken the time to consider, and that’s left a lot of people outside major urban centers with political whiplash, making them ripe for exploitation by culture issue candidates such as Moore.

Although racial divisions still haunt Alabama, there’s been progress on that front, too. Consider that Jones is running in large part on his success in prosecuting two men responsible for the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, which killed four black girls in 1963. Winning statewide office remains an uphill battle for black candidates in Alabama, as it is for Democrats, but two of the state’s four biggest cities have had black mayors, and we’ve sent black representatives to Congress. While Alabama made an ugly splash in 2011 with its “toughest in the nation” immigration laws, Birmingham recently declared itself a sanctuary city, thumbing its nose at the president’s agenda.

Myth No. 3
Culturally, Alabama doesn’t offer anything of value.

The president of the University of Alabama Student Government Association echoed this common sentiment in a recent interview with the New York Times. “It seems like the only thing coming from Alabama is corruption or negativity; that is something I think people do internalize,” Jared Hunter said. “And so it is nice when your football team is as dominant as we are.” Jones, the Democratic Senate candidate, took heat for expressing a similar idea on the campaign trail: “Unless you’re talking about college football, there’s a little hesitancy to say, ‘I’m from Alabama.’ ”

While the state might not always appreciate its artists and cultural figures, we’ve produced our share: great writers such as Harper Lee and Diane McWhorter, legal minds such as federal Judge Frank Johnson Jr., civil rights crusaders such as Fred Shuttlesworth and Rosa Parks, and hopeful and heartbroken musicians such as Jason Isbell. Alabama has proved herself quite a muse, giving people plenty to write about, rebel against or raise hell over. The state is a stewpot of primordial ooze. You might not want to put your fingers in there, but what comes out is the stuff of life.

Myth No. 4
Moore won the GOP primary thanks to Steve Bannon.

“Steve Bannon and God spoke to me, and this morning when I went in I voted for Moore,’’ Merlene Bohannon, 74, told reporters on the day of Alabama’s GOP primary runoff. And when Moore defeated establishment Republican Luther Strange in that September contest, Bannon and his Breitbart machine were eager to claim that their support had been key. “Tuesday’s result proved the enduring power and reach of Breitbart News,” the site declared, adding that “Bannon, and Breitbart, are no longer just the most hated names inside the Beltway. Now, they are also the most feared.”

While that support certainly helped Moore, he was ahead in the polls before Bannon got involved, and Alabama was already primed to reject Strange for reasons peculiar to the state’s politics. Strange received his appointment to Sessions’s old seat under highly suspect circumstances. As state attorney general, Strange and his office were investigating then-Gov. Robert Bentley for using state resources to cover up an affair. Strange did not recuse himself from that investigation when he solicited his appointment from Bentley. Whether a deal was cut or not, the appointment smelled, and Alabama lawmakers restarted an impeachment investigation that Strange had asked them to suspend. Ultimately, Bentley pleaded guilty to ethics charges and resigned from office. The GOP Senate primary was the first opportunity Alabama voters had to express their outrage with what many saw as a rigged deal.

Myth No. 5
Alabama doesn’t care what anyone else thinks.

Alabama doesn’t take kindly to criticism from outsiders. After Neil Young wrote two songs taking Alabama to task for slavery and segregation, Lynyrd Skynyrd responded with the Southern anthem “Sweet Home Alabama,” including the line: “Well, I hope Neil Young will remember: A Southern man don’t need him around anyhow.” Never mind that the band wasn’t from Alabama — Alabamians cheered the attitude and have embraced the song as their own.

But don’t believe for a moment that Alabamians don’t care what other people think about them.

People who don’t care are indifferent. Alabamians are defiant. The state’s official motto is “We dare defend our rights,” but those of us who’ve lived here our whole lives know the real motto: “We shall not be told.”

Each “Saturday Night Live” sketch featuring Sessions and his possum, each Jimmy Kimmel prank, each op-ed browbeating — it might as well be a dare. If The Washington Post ran a banner headline tomorrow saying “Antifreeze is poison, don’t drink it,” a sizable number of Alabamians would be dead tomorrow.

This is not how people who don’t care behave. Rather, it’s like the awkward kid in junior high who gets spurned by the cool kids’ lunch table clique. Acting out is the only thing left to do. It’s the vain hope that by doing the opposite, maybe everyone else will turn out to be wrong, and we will be proved smarter than all those who think they’re smarter than us. Only it seldom works out that way.

For unscrupulous politicians, that insecurity is a well that never runs dry. Moore has his bucket in hand, and he’s dropping it down that well again.

If the last point is correct, Moore wins today.


Presty the DJ for Dec. 12

Imagine having tickets to this concert at the National Guard Armory in Amory, Miss., today in 1955: Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley:

Today in 1957, while Jerry Lee Lewis secretly married his 13-year-old second cousin (while he was still married — three taboos in one!), Al Priddy, a DJ on KEX in Portland, was fired for playing Presley’s version of “White Christmas,” on the ground that “it’s not in the spirit we associate with Christmas.”

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Dec. 12”

A day of Trump

The New York Times has a fascinating look into Donald Trump’s day that will probably reinforce people’s positive or negative opinions of Trump:

WASHINGTON — Around 5:30 each morning, President Trump wakes and tunes into the television in the White House’s master bedroom. He flips to CNN for news, moves to “Fox & Friends” for comfort and messaging ideas, and sometimes watches MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” because, friends suspect, it fires him up for the day.

Energized, infuriated — often a gumbo of both — Mr. Trump grabs his iPhone. Sometimes he tweets while propped on his pillow, according to aides. Other times he tweets from the den next door, watching another television. Less frequently, he makes his way up the hall to the ornate Treaty Room, sometimes dressed for the day, sometimes still in night clothes, where he begins his official and unofficial calls.

As he ends his first year in office, Mr. Trump is redefining what it means to be president. He sees the highest office in the land much as he did the night of his stunning victory over Hillary Clinton— as a prize he must fight to protect every waking moment, and Twitter is his Excalibur. Despite all his bluster, he views himself less as a titan dominating the world stage than a maligned outsider engaged in a struggle to be taken seriously, according to interviews with 60 advisers, associates, friends and members of Congress.

For other presidents, every day is a test of how to lead a country, not just a faction, balancing competing interests. For Mr. Trump, every day is an hour-by-hour battle for self-preservation. He still relitigates last year’s election, convinced that the investigation by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, into Russia’s interference is a plot to delegitimize him. Color-coded mapshighlighting the counties he won were hung on the White House walls.

Before taking office, Mr. Trump told top aides to think of each presidential day as an episode in a television show in which he vanquishes rivals. People close to him estimate that Mr. Trump spends at least four hours a day, and sometimes as much as twice that, in front of a television, sometimes with the volume muted, marinating in the no-holds-barred wars of cable news and eager to fire back.

“He feels like there’s an effort to undermine his election and that collusion allegations are unfounded,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina who has spent more time with the president than most lawmakers. “He believes passionately that the liberal left and the media are out to destroy him. The way he got here is fighting back and counterpunching.

“The problem he’s going to face,” Mr. Graham added, “is there’s a difference between running for the office and being president. You’ve got to find that sweet spot between being a fighter and being president.”

Bracing and refreshing to his alienated-from-the-system political base, Mr. Trump’s uninhibited approach seems erratic to many veterans of both parties in the capital and beyond. Some politicians and pundits lament the instability and, even without medical degrees, feel no compunction about publicly diagnosing various mental maladies.

In recent weeks, the president made a derogatory reference to Native Americans in front of Navajo guests, insinuated that a television host was involved in the death of an aide and prompted an international incident with Britain by retweeting inflammatory anti-Muslim videos — demonstrating the limits of a staff that has tried hard to steer him away from volatile territory.

His approach got him to the White House, Mr. Trump reasons, so it must be the right one. He is more unpopular than any of his modern predecessors at this point in his tenure — just 32 percent approved of his performance in the latest Pew Research Center poll — yet he dominates the landscape like no other.

After months of legislative failures, Mr. Trump is on the verge of finally prevailing in his efforts to cut taxes and reverse part of his predecessor’s health care program. While much of what he has promised remains undone, he has made significant progress in his goal of rolling back business and environmental regulations. The growing economy he inherited continues to improve, and stock markets have soared to record heights. His partial travel ban on mainly Muslim countries has finally taken effect after multiple court fights.

Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser, has told associates that Mr. Trump, deeply set in his ways at age 71, will never change. Rather, he predicted, Mr. Trump would bend, and possibly break, the office to his will.

That has proved half true. Mr. Trump, so far, has arguably wrestled the presidency to a draw.

‘Time to Think’

In the jargon of the military, John F. Kelly, a retired four-star general, served as a “wagon boss” for Marines crashing into Iraq in 2003, keeping his column moving forward despite incoming fire. As White House chief of staff, Mr. Kelly has adopted much the same approach, laboring 14-hour days to impose discipline on a chaotic operation — with mixed success.

In the months before Mr. Kelly took over last summer from his embattled predecessor, Reince Priebus, the Oval Office had a rush-hour feel, with a constant stream of aides and visitors stopping by to offer advice or kibitz. During one April meetingwith New York Times reporters, no fewer than 20 people wandered in and out — including Mr. Priebus, who walked in with Vice President Mike Pence. The door to the Oval Office is now mostly closed.

Mr. Kelly is trying, quietly and respectfully, to reduce the amount of free time the president has for fiery tweets by accelerating the start of his workday. Mr. Priebus also tried, with only modest success, to encourage Mr. Trump to arrive by 9 or 9:30 a.m.

The pace of meetings has increased. Beyond Mr. Kelly and Mr. Kushner, they often include Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser; Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and senior adviser; Hope Hicks, the communications director; Robert Porter, the staff secretary; and Kellyanne Conway, the president’s counselor.

Mr. Trump, who enjoyed complete control over his business empire, has made significant concessions after trying to micromanage his first months in office. Despite chafing at the limits, the president actually craves the approval of Mr. Kelly, whom he sees as a peer, people close to Mr. Trump said.

He calls Mr. Kelly up to a dozen times a day, even four or five times during dinner or a golf outing, to ask about his schedule or seek policy advice, according to people who have spoken with the president. The new system gives him “time to think,” he said when it began. White House aides denied that Mr. Trump seeks Mr. Kelly’s blessing, but confirmed that he views him as a crucial confidant and sounding board. Mr. Kelly has also adopted some of Mr. Trump’s favorite grievances, telling the president recently that he agrees that some reporters are interested only in taking down the administration.

At times, Mr. Trump has been able to circumvent Mr. Kelly. Over Thanksgiving at Mar-a-Lago, the president mingled with guests the way he had before the election. Some passed him news clips that would never get around Mr. Kelly’s filters. And he dialed old friends, receiving updates about how they see the Russia investigation. He returned to Washington fired up.

Mr. Kelly has told people he will try to control only what he can. As he has learned, there is much that he cannot.

‘I Don’t Watch Much’

For most of the year, people inside and outside Washington have been convinced that there is a strategy behind Mr. Trump’s actions. But there is seldom a plan apart from pre-emption, self-defense, obsession and impulse.

Occasionally, the president solicits affirmation before hitting the “tweet” button. In June, according to a longtime adviser, he excitedly called friends to say he had the perfect tweet to neutralize the Russia investigation. He would call it a “witch hunt.” They were unimpressed.

He has bowed to advice from his lawyers by not attacking Mr. Mueller, but at times his instincts prevail.

When three former campaign advisers were indicted or pleaded guilty this fall, Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer handling the investigation, urged the president not to respond. If he did, it would only elevate the story.

Mr. Trump, however, could not help himself. He tweeted that the financial charges lodged against his former campaign manager, Paul J. Manafort, had nothing to do with the campaign and that investigators should be examining “Crooked Hillary & the Dems” instead. By the next morning, he was belittling George Papadopoulos, the campaign adviser who pleaded guilty to lying about his outreach to Russians, dismissing him as a “low level volunteer” who has “proven to be a liar.”

He was calm at first when his former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, pleaded guilty. The next morning, as he visited Manhattan for Republican fund-raisers, he was upbeat. He talked about his election and the “major loser” in the Senate who had said his tax bill would add to the deficit (presumably meaning Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee).

By Sunday morning, with news shows consumed by Mr. Flynn’s case, the president grew angry and fired off a series of tweets excoriating Mrs. Clinton and the F.B.I., tweets that several advisers told him were problematic and needed to stop, according to a person briefed on the discussion.

Once he posts controversial messages, Mr. Trump’s advisers sometimes decide not to raise them with him. One adviser said that aides to the president needed to stay positive and look for silver linings wherever they could find them, and that the West Wing team at times resolved not to let the tweets dominate their day.

The ammunition for his Twitter war is television. No one touches the remote control except Mr. Trump and the technical support staff — at least that’s the rule. During meetings, the 60-inch screen mounted in the dining room may be muted, but Mr. Trump keeps an eye on scrolling headlines. What he misses he checks out later on what he calls his “Super TiVo,” a state-of-the-art system that records cable news.

Watching cable, he shares thoughts with anyone in the room, even the household staff he summons via a button for lunch or for one of the dozen Diet Cokes he consumes each day.

But he is leery of being seen as tube-glued — a perception that reinforces the criticism that he is not taking the job seriously. On his recent trip to Asia, the president was told of a list of 51 fact-checking questions for this article, including one about his prodigious television watching habits. Instead of responding through an aide, he delivered a broadside on his viewing habits to befuddled reporters from other outlets on Air Force One heading to Vietnam.

“I do not watch much television,” he insisted. “I know they like to say — people that don’t know me — they like to say I watch television. People with fake sources — you know, fake reporters, fake sources. But I don’t get to watch much television, primarily because of documents. I’m reading documents a lot.”

Later, he groused about being forced to watch CNN in the Philippines because nothing else was available.

‘Aren’t You Glad I Don’t Drink?’

To an extent that would stun outsiders, Mr. Trump, the most talked-about human on the planet, is still delighted when he sees his name in the headlines. And he is on a perpetual quest to see it there. One former top adviser said Mr. Trump grew uncomfortable after two or three days of peace and could not handle watching the news without seeing himself on it.

During the morning, aides monitor “Fox & Friends” live or through a transcription service in much the way commodities traders might keep tabs on market futures to predict the direction of their day.

If someone on the show says something memorable and Mr. Trump does not immediately tweet about it, the president’s staff knows he may be saving Fox News for later viewing on his recorder and instead watching MSNBC or CNN live — meaning he is likely to be in a foul mood to start the day.

Yet the image of him in a constant rage belies a deeper complexity for a man who runs in bellow-and-banter cycles. Several advisers said the president may curse them for a minor transgression — like bringing an unknown aide into his presence without warning — then make amiable small talk with the same person minutes later.

“He is very aware that he is only the 45th person to hold that job,” Ms. Conway said. “The job has changed him a bit, and he has changed the job. His time as president has revealed other, more affable and accessible, parts and pieces of him that may have been hidden from view during a rough and tumble primary.”

Few get to see those other parts and pieces. In private moments with the families of appointees in the Oval Office, the president engages with children in a softer tone than he takes in public, and he specifically asked that the children of the White House press corps be invited in as they visited on Halloween. Yet he does little to promote that side, some longtime friends say, because it cracks the veneer of strength that he relishes.

Only occasionally does Mr. Trump let slip his mask of unreflective invincibility. During a meeting with Republican senators, he discussed in emotional terms the opioid crisis and the dangers of addiction, recounting his brother’s struggle with alcohol.

According to a senator and an aide, the president then looked around the room and asked puckishly, “Aren’t you glad I don’t drink?”

‘Don’t Interrupt Me’

Mr. Trump’s difficult adjustment to the presidency, people close to him say, is rooted in an unrealistic expectation of its powers, which he had assumed to be more akin to the popular image of imperial command than the sloppy reality of having to coexist with two other branches of government.

His vision of executive leadership was shaped close to home, by experiences with Democratic clubhouse politicians as a young developer in New York. One figure stands out to Mr. Trump: an unnamed party boss — his friends assume he is referring to the legendary Brooklyn fixer Meade Esposito — whom he remembered keeping a baseball bat under his desk to enforce his power. To the adviser who recounted it, the story revealed what Mr. Trump expected being president would be like — ruling by fiat, exacting tribute and cutting back room deals.

But while he is unlikely to change who he is on a fundamental level, advisers said they saw a novice who was gradually learning that the presidency does not work that way. And he is coming to realize, they said, the need to woo, not whack, leaders of his own party to get things done.

During his early months in office, he barked commands at senators, which did not go over well. “I don’t work for you, Mr. President,” Mr. Corker once snapped back, according to a Republican with knowledge of the exchange.

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican majority leader, likewise bristled when Mr. Trump cut in during methodical presentations in the Oval Office. “Don’t interrupt me,” Mr. McConnell told the president during a discussion of health care.

Mr. Trump may have gotten the message. After a bout of public feuding last summer, he and Mr. McConnell reconciled and began speaking most days. And as the president increasingly recognizes how much Congress controls his fate, Marc Short, the legislative affairs director, has sought to educate him by appealing to Mr. Trump’s tendency to view issues in terms of personality, compiling one-page profiles of legislators for him, the congressional equivalent of baseball cards.

While he is no policy wonk — “nobody knew that health care could be so complicated,” he famously said at one point — he has shown more comfort with the details of his tax-cutting legislation. And aides said he had become more attentive during daily intelligence briefings thanks to pithy presentations by Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director, and a deeper concern about the North Koreasituation than his blithe, confrontational tweets suggest.

“At first, there was a thread of being an impostor that may have been in his mind,” said Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, who has tried to forge a working relationship with the president.

“He’s overcome that by now,” she said. “The bigger problem, the thing people need to understand, is that he was utterly unprepared for this. It would be like you or me going into a room and being asked to perform brain surgery. When you have a lack of knowledge as great as his, it can be bewildering.”

Mr. Graham, once a fierce critic and now increasingly an ally, said Mr. Trump was adjusting. “You can expect every president to change because the job requires you to change,” he said. “He’s learning the rhythm of the town.” But Mr. Graham added that Mr. Trump’s presidency was still “a work in progress.” At this point, he said, “everything’s possible, from complete disaster to a home run.”

‘He Wears You Down’

In almost all the interviews, Mr. Trump’s associates raised questions about his capacity and willingness to differentiate bad information from something that is true.

Monitoring his information consumption — and countering what Mr. Kelly calls “garbage” peddled to him by outsiders — remains a priority for the chief of staff and the team he has made his own. Even after a year of official briefings and access to the best minds of the federal government, Mr. Trump is skeptical of anything that does not come from inside his bubble.

Some advisers, like the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, consider this a fundamentally good thing. “I see a lot of similarities between the way he was running the campaign and the way he is as president,” Mr. Mnuchin said. “He really loves verbal briefings. He is not one to consume volumes of books or briefings.”

Other aides bemoan his tenuous grasp of facts, jack-rabbit attention span and propensity for conspiracy theories.

Mr. Kelly has told people he pushed out advisers like Stephen K. Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, who he believed advanced information to rile up Mr. Trump or create internal conflict. But Mr. Trump still controls his own guest list.

Jeanine Pirro, whose Fox News show is a presidential favorite, recently asked to meet about a deal approved while Mrs. Clinton was secretary of state that gave Russia control over some American uranium, which lately has become a favorite focus of conservatives.

Mr. Trump, Mr. Kelly and Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel, met for more than an hour on Nov. 1 as Ms. Pirro whipped up the president against Mr. Mueller and accused James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, of employing tactics typically reserved for Mafia cases, according to a person briefed on the meeting.

The president became visibly agitated as she spoke. “Roy Cohn was my lawyer!” he exclaimed, referring to the legendary McCarthy-era fixer who mentored Mr. Trump in the 1980s, suggesting that was the type of defender he needed now.

At another point, Mr. Kelly interrupted. She was not “helping things,” he said, according to the person briefed. Even Mr. Trump eventually tired of Ms. Pirro’s screed and walked out of the room, according to the person.

Mr. Trump is an avid newspaper reader who still marks up a half-dozen papers with comments in black Sharpie pen, but Mr. Bannon has told allies that Mr. Trump only “reads to reinforce.” Mr. Trump’s insistence on defining his own reality — his repeated claims, for example, that he actually won the popular vote — is immutable and has had a “numbing effect” on people who work with him, said Tony Schwartz, his ghostwriter on “The Art of the Deal.”

“He wears you down,” Mr. Schwartz said.

‘Where the Hell Have You Been?’

Some of the changes resulting from Mr. Kelly’s arrival have been subtle. For the last decade, for example, Mr. Trump’s most trusted aide was his longtime security chief, Keith Schiller, a bald, brawny former New York police officer who played an ambiguous role as protector, gatekeeper and younger brother to the president. An early warning system, Mr. Schiller tipped callers when the boss was in a bad mood and sometimes reached out to the president’s friends to urge them to buck him up.

In August, Mr. Trump asked Mr. Schiller for a newspaper article he had heard about. After Mr. Trump mentioned the article to Mr. Kelly, the chief of staff dispatched two aides to investigate how it had gotten to the president without being cleared. Mr. Schiller acknowledged providing the contraband newsprint. Mr. Kelly thanked him tersely for coming forward, according to two people Mr. Schiller later told.

To the surprise of aides, the president did not try to make clear Mr. Schiller’s unique place in the Trump orbit. After some additional encounters with Mr. Kelly, Mr. Schiller announced his departure, a decision fueled primarily by a dislike for Washington and a desire to once again earn private-sector pay before retiring.

Since then, Mr. Trump has repeatedly expressed frustration at Mr. Schiller’s absence, telling a visiting lawmaker that his Oval Office suite now seems “empty.” The departure of other familiar faces has been equally unsettling.

Once this fall, Mr. Trump lashed out at an aide he had not seen for weeks, asking, “Where the hell have you been?” When the aide told him that Mr. Kelly had limited the meetings he could attend, the president cooled off and said, “Oh, O.K.,” according to an aide told of the exchange.

If Mr. Kelly knows he cannot always control access, he is intent on at least knowing who is peddling what to his boss. He reserves the right to listen to calls coming to the president through the White House switchboard. To some callers, Mr. Kelly politely promises to forward messages. On calls he cannot monitor personally, Mr. Kelly or a deputy will usually double-back to debrief the caller on any promises the president may have made in unguarded moments.

‘I Can Invite Anyone’

Mr. Trump seeks release on the golf course on weekends. But on weekdays, his principal mode of blowing off steam is his nightly dinner in the White House residence, which begins at 6:30 or 7 p.m. with a guest list organized by the ever-vigilant Mr. Kelly.

“I can invite anyone for dinner, and they will come!” Mr. Trump marveled to an old friend when he took office.

Mr. Trump has always relished gossiping over plates of well-done steak, salad slathered with Roquefort dressing and bacon crumbles, tureens of gravy and massive slices of dessert with extra ice cream.

He needs support, a sounding board and, as a lifelong hotelier, guests. Mr. Trump is naturally garrulous, and loves to give White House tours. He has an odd affinity for showing off bathrooms, including one he renovated near the Oval Office, and enjoys pulling dinner companions into the Lincoln Bedroom or onto the Truman Balcony for the postcard view of the city he has disrupted.

Over the summer, he invited four Democratic lawmakers and immediately peppered them with questions as they strolled through the Diplomatic Reception Room.

“Who is going to run against me in 2020?” he asked, according to a person in attendance. “Crooked Hillary? Pocahontas?” — his caustic nickname for Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, who once claimed Native American heritage in a law school directory.

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the president opined, would definitely run — “even if he’s in a wheelchair,” Mr. Trump added, making a scrunched-up body of a man in a wheelchair.

Mr. Trump still takes shots at Mark Cuban, a fellow rich-guy reality star, and expresses disappointment that Tom Brady, the New England Patriots quarterback, has distanced himself. But he spends much of his time now puzzling over political options and wrestling with the terrifying responsibilities of the presidency.

Even when Mr. Trump is in a lighthearted mood, hints of anxiety waft over the table like steam over a teacup. In September, he met with evangelical leaders to reassure them that he would still pursue their agenda despite a flirtation with Democrats.

“The Christians know all the things I’m doing for them, right?” he asked, according to three attendees, who reported praising his positions on issues like abortion and Planned Parenthood.

When the guests depart, the remote control comes back out. He is less likely to tweet at this hour, when the news he would react to is mostly recycled from hours earlier. But he watches Ms. Pirro and her fellow Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, and sometimes “hate-watches” CNN to get worked up, especially Don Lemon.

In between, it is time for phone calls, to people he has fired like Corey Lewandowski and Mr. Bannon, old friends like Thomas J. Barrack Jr. and Richard LeFrak, and more recently Republican lawmakers, especially Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, the head of the conservative Freedom Caucus. This is when his fixations are unfettered: Russia, Mrs. Clinton, Barack Obama, the “fake news” media, his bitter disappointment with Attorney General Jeff Sessions.


In recent weeks, Mr. Trump’s friends have noticed a different pitch, acknowledging that many aides and even his own relatives could be hurt by Mr. Mueller’s investigation. As for himself, he has adopted a surprisingly fatalistic attitude, according to several people he speaks with regularly.

“It’s life,” he said of the investigation.

From there it is off to bed for what usually amounts to five or six hours of sleep. Then the television will be blaring again, he will reach for his iPhone and the battle will begin anew.

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