Friday Talking Points [359] -- Every Sulfurous Belch

[ Posted Friday, August 28th, 2015 – 17:00 PDT ]

OK, I fully admit I stole that title. Well, maybe not "stole," since I'm about to give it proper credit, but it certainly wasn't my own original idea. The line comes from George Will, and (of course) refers to Donald Trump. Part of the fun for Democrats this summer has been watching the angst of serious-minded conservative columnists as they realize how large a portion of the Republican base doesn't really care what serious-minded conservatives inside the Beltway think about much of anything. Will was the best (but by no means only) example of this last week, as he started his column off with a real humdinger of an opening paragraph:

Every sulfurous belch from the molten interior of the volcanic Trump phenomenon injures the chances of a Republican presidency. After Donald Trump finishes plastering a snarling face on conservatism, any Republican nominee will face a dauntingly steep climb to reach even the paltry numbers that doomed Mitt Romney.

Ah, c'mon George... tell us how you really feel about Trump! Heh.

The entire Trump phenomenon reminds me of a basic rule from the world of magical/fantasy fiction. It's not quite Asimov's "three laws of robotics," but it's still been used by many authors who write about wizards casting dangerous spells. The rule of thumb among wizards? "Do not call up that which you cannot put down." Don't summon demons or otherworldly forces if you're not strong enough to defeat them, in other words.

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What To Call Trump's Supporters

[ Posted Thursday, August 27th, 2015 – 16:30 PDT ]

Just a warning, right up front: this is going to be a very silly column. As August draws to a close, the official Washington "Silly Season" also nears its end, which is usually when pundits get a bit loopy in general, when writing about the vast and changing landscape that is American politics. I am no different than the rest, and am succumbing to the overwhelming urge to write a trivial piece of fluff today. I state this right up here at the beginning, to give the reader a chance to spend their time more productively -- perhaps by watching online cat videos, or something equally edifying.

This column's subject matter suggested itself to me while perusing a recent George Will column. Will is absolutely horrified at Donald Trump's impressive and lasting popularity among the rank and file of the Republican base, because he is one of those conservatives who truly believes that Republicans somehow haven't been encouraging fringe voters on their side for the past few decades. This whole Trump phenomenon is downright distasteful for arbiters of conservative serious thinking such as Will, and I have to say it is rather amusing to watch them all clap their hands so furiously, in the hopes that the Tinker Bell of thoughtful conservatism will arise once again and save the day. If Trump shows anything, it's that this particular Tink is long dead and buried, but George Will and his ilk still forlornly hope for a resurrection.

See there? Only the second paragraph, and already we're into the world of fantastical metaphors. Hey, I warned you this was going to be silly.

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Keeping Trump Off The Ballot Will Backfire

[ Posted Wednesday, August 26th, 2015 – 16:31 PDT ]

The Republican Party is now the party of Donald Trump. That's a pretty astounding statement, but as Trump continues to not only lead in all the primary polls but also to drive the debate for all the other contenders, it would be hard to make the case that Trump hasn't completed what might be called a hostile takeover of the Republican Party brand. This could always change, of course -- nothing is ever set in stone in a presidential race. But for the time being, Trump's not only the party frontrunner, he is actually defining the race for everyone else.

This state of affairs is downright terrifying to the establishment Republican Party machine. Trump is, almost by definition, uncontrollable. He could do or say anything, and often does. The party elders have watched the rise of Trump and seen their own power diminish. What worries them most is the fact that so far Trump refuses to publicly commit to supporting the Republican candidate (if it turns out not to be him), and has left the door wide open for a third-party or independent run. Trump is using this threat as leverage over the party, which he freely admits.

Some party leaders are now contemplating pushing back, but this effort seems destined to blow up in their faces. This first surfaced in the run-up to the first televised Republican debate, as the Republican National Committee considered limiting the debate stage to only those who would pledge not to run an independent campaign if they lost the Republican nomination. In the end, they didn't do this, and Trump took center stage. The first question he faced was about his commitment to not running independently, which he again refused to rule out.

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Some Cuba Questions For Both Sides

[ Posted Tuesday, August 25th, 2015 – 17:02 PDT ]

In the midst of the current eruption of nonsense over American immigration policy from out on the campaign trail, I have a few more targeted questions to ask of all the candidates. They're really just extensions of one basic question, really, which would be: "What will your policy towards Cuba be if you become president?" However, since Republicans and Democrats have different basic viewpoints on the issue, it must be broken down into more specific queries in order to elicit useful answers. Both questions, for different reasons, will be tough for Democrats and Republicans alike.

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Biden Speculation

[ Posted Monday, August 24th, 2015 – 16:34 PDT ]

Vice President Joe Biden certainly has got the media talking. All it really took was one leak to Maureen Dowd and a meeting with Senator Elizabeth Warren, and the recurring story in the media is now: "Biden's son Beau made a deathbed plea to his father to run for president again, and he's now seriously considering it." That's a compelling political narrative, to be sure. The Wall Street Journal is even reporting that Biden's now leaning towards running. Now, I have no inside sources of my own, so I have no idea what's really going on in Biden's head, but no matter how likely it turns out to be, a Biden candidacy bears political examination beyond the simple question of: "Will he or won't he run?"

Joe Biden's political personality is that of an "average Joe." He's even got the first name to match! And without even announcing a candidacy, for months now he's had the best bumpersticker of the 2016 presidential season: "I'm Ridin' With Biden!"

OK, that's it for the Biden humor, I promise -- because the concept of a Biden campaign should indeed be taken seriously. Joe Biden would (if he runs) obviously try to position himself firmly between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. The other three Democrats running have generated no interest whatsoever among the Democratic electorate, and can thus be ignored for the time being. Biden's entry would instantly create a three-way contest with Sanders and Clinton. But would this triangulation be enough to win him the nomination?

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Friday Talking Points [358] -- Trump's Immigration Roundup

[ Posted Friday, August 21st, 2015 – 17:16 PDT ]

Another week has gone by, and Donald Trump remains the Republican frontrunner in the presidential nomination race. We've noticed that all the inside-the-Beltway pundits who so confidently predicted Trump's imminent and inevitable downfall are now slowly starting to revisit their predictions. This is making them extremely nervous, of course. Some are still finding solace in the "Trump's going to say something any day now that will sink him like a stone" way of thinking, but their numbers are getting smaller as time goes by and Trump defies political gravity once again.

Last weekend, Trump released his very first policy paper. It was, naturally, on immigration (Trump's signature issue). Reduced to tweet-length, this policy could be summed up as: "Build a big wall. Repeal birthright citizenship and 14th amendment. Round them all up and send them home." Of course, it was immediately popular with all of Trump's supporters.

The rest of the Republican presidential field, once again, was caught scrambling to respond. All of the other Republicans running for the highest office in the land routinely quake in their boots whenever Trump opens his mouth, because nobody's yet come up with any great ideas as to how to respond. Take Trump on directly? That hasn't worked out so well for the three notable candidates who have tried it (Rand Paul, Rick Perry, and Lindsey Graham), who are all polling below five percent. Agree with Trump no matter what comes out of his mouth (in the hopes of picking up all his supporters if he stumbles)? That's working pretty well for Ted Cruz, which is why Scott Walker is now giving it a try. Ignore him completely? That's what Jeb! Bush would really like to do, but again this hasn't worked out so well for him (as he watched his own poll numbers sink into single digits).

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The GOP Field

[ Posted Thursday, August 20th, 2015 – 17:09 PDT ]

Since I've spent so much time this week examining the Democratic presidential race, I thought I'd balance things out today by taking a look at how the Republicans are doing. It's been enough time since their first debate for any effects to gel in the poll numbers, so we can now answer the question of who was helped most by their debate performance and who saw their support go down as a result. I should mention that all of the data below comes from the Real Clear Politics tracking page.

Overall, of course, Donald Trump continues to dominate the field. He's got twice the support of his nearest competitor, in fact (22.0 percent to Bush's 10.7 percent). His numbers slipped a little due to one outlier poll, but they should bounce back up again when it drops out of the rolling average. He seems to have a ceiling of about 25 percent support in the Republican base, at least for the time being. Can he break through to 30 percent support or more? Or will he just plateau where he is now? We'll have to wait and see.

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Sanders Versus Trump Would Be Fun

[ Posted Wednesday, August 19th, 2015 – 17:24 PDT ]

Could the next presidential election be one where both sides get the candidate who inspires the most passion among the base? It would have seemed almost ridiculous to suggest as recently as last month, but the possibility that America could be given the choice of Donald Trump versus Bernie Sanders doesn't seem so far-fetched nowadays. If these are the choices the two major parties coalesce behind, it'll certainly be one of the most unique presidential elections ever.

Of course, it's still way too early to assign any sort of probability for this particular matchup ever coming to pass. We're only in the dog days of August, and Iowa won't kick off the primary voting until next February. We've got a lot of debates to go, and a lot of campaigning remains before we get to that point. But, putting probabilities aside, it's certainly now within the realm of possibility.

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Hillary Strikes Right Tone With Black Lives Matter

[ Posted Tuesday, August 18th, 2015 – 17:20 PDT ]

Yesterday, I wrote some advice for Hillary Clinton and her campaign. Political pundits are wont to do this sort of thing, of course, but today I'd like to shift gears somewhat and give Clinton some credit for handling a situation perfectly. Hey, I calls 'em as I sees 'em.

Hillary Clinton had a private meeting with some Black Lives Matter protesters who showed up at one of her town hall meetings. The protesters were shut out of the meeting because the building's capacity had been reached, so Clinton graciously set up a private meeting so they could air their views. A video of this meeting was just released, and the transcript of the exchange shows that Clinton answered questions about as well as any politician could, given the same circumstances. I'm going to post the full transcript below (thankfully provided by Politic365), because it is so instructive, so I'll keep my own comments brief (I'll have more to say on this issue in the future, though).

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Hillary's Enthusiasm Gap

[ Posted Monday, August 17th, 2015 – 16:59 PDT ]

Deep into the political silly season, it seems the pundits are getting rather tired of being so very, very wrong in predicting the imminent demise of Donald Trump's candidacy, so instead they all seem to have turned to a new summertime storyline: predicting the imminent demise of Hillary Clinton's candidacy. This is what passes for conventional wisdom inside the Beltway in the dog days of August, but it's likely going to turn out to be just as wrong as the endless refrains of "surely this will sink Trump!" which preceded it. For anyone so disconnected from reality to understand what I'm saying here, a handy reminder that we have over fourteen months before the 2016 election. Even the first primaries are still a half a year away. And anything can happen in that amount of time in politics.

Hillary's campaign, to read the headlines, is in such a sorry state that it's a wonder she hasn't just hung up her hat and gone home. If you just woke up from a coma and read only the past week's headlines, you'd be wondering when Clinton will be scheduling her concession speech, as she prepares to exit the race. That this is patent nonsense seems to have escaped everyone.

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