In normal years, this would be the official kickoff to the political Silly Season -- the dog days of August when Congress scarpers off for five or six weeks to have fun in the sun at taxpayer expense, and the political chattering classes have so little material to work with that they pick one silly issue and just absolutely obsess over it. This year, however, is not normal, as instead we're right at the kickoff of Presidential Debate Season, and the votes are already in -- the silly subject we're all going to obsess over this year is named Donald Trump. Whether this obsession takes the form of crushing depression (headline: "A GOP Led By Donald Trump Will Fail, And Deserve It") or unconcealed glee (headline: "Christmas Comes Early This Year -- Anticipating The Gift Of A Trump-Fueled GOP Debate") depends, of course, on the viewpoint of the pundit.
Medicare turned 50 years old today. Only 15 more years, and it'll be eligible for itself!
OK, that was a pretty weak attempt at humor, I fully admit. This week also marks the official kickoff to the annual political "Silly Season," where Congress scarpers off for a month at the beach and political reporters desperately scramble to find something to talk about. This year, of course, we're not going to have that problem, because of the entertaining 2016 presidential race.
But I digress. Although this article's title doesn't admit it, today is mostly going to be a partial re-run of an older column. Because, right at the height of the frenzy that was the Obamacare congressional debate, I came across an extraordinary bit of political history: Ronald Reagan's entry into the political world. Ranting and raving about the evils of Medicare to the wives of doctors. Because these were earlier times, this was not done through YouTube, a blog, or even a newspaper. It was done instead through the magic of the long-playing record (for younger readers, these were flat plastic disks that spun around and around and emitted sounds -- pretty magical indeed!).
It's time to think about what has previously been in the realm of the unthinkable: Donald Trump might just become the Republican nominee for president. Two months ago, that statement would have elicited nothing but a big old belly laugh from just about anyone who pays any attention to politics. Nowadays, though, nobody's laughing. The very concept has moved from the surreal to the possible. So it's time to actually think about what it would mean for the country and for the Republican Party.
The August congressional break is almost upon us. The political silly season has already begun (see: Trump, Donald). Congress is about to scarper off for their taxpayer-paid monthlong summer vacation, after proving once again how pathetic the institution has truly become. I say this in condemnation of both parties, really, although with Republicans running both houses, the blame certainly falls on them in much greater proportion this time around.
Congress is no longer competent at even the basics of doing The People's business. Case in point: highway funding. Highway bills used to be fairly nonpartisan in nature. Everybody used to love infrastructure funding, especially so when it could be larded up with bacon to bring back to your constituents (see: Stevens, Ted; "Bridge to nowhere"). Instead of political bones of contention, highway bills used to be seen as somewhat of a free-for-all in Congress. Those days are over, mostly because earmarks have been curtailed (no more pork barrels). Even so, the mere concept of fixing bridges before they fall down used not to be politically contentious. Perhaps the amounts spent were haggled over, but the bills would always pass and the construction would begin.
As I've been predicting for a while now, the fight for the final two slots in the first primetime Republican presidential debate has begun to heat up. When Fox News announced that they would be limiting the number of candidates invited to their debate to only the top ten in polling, it was inevitable that there would be a struggle to get on the main stage. But there will also be a "consolation prize" debate (better known as the "kids' table" debate) earlier in the day, which will feature those who didn't make the cut -- and it could wind up being even more interesting and quotable than the main event.
Welcome back, everyone. This column went on hiatus last week, so we could attend Netroots Nation. So we've got two whole weeks to cover today, just to warn everyone in advance.
Two weeks ago, we kind of went out on a limb (the polling evidence was not all that clear when we wrote it) and subtitled our previous column: "Donald Trump, Frontrunner." Since that time, such a statement has gone from being a wild prediction to becoming an equally-wild reality. The first Republican presidential debate is happening in less than two weeks, and Donald Trump is not only guaranteed one of the ten slots, he will quite likely be at the center of the stage, since his poll numbers currently dwarf all the other GOP contenders.
Our reaction to this new reality is much the same as many Democrats: "Couldn't have happened to a nicer political party."
There's a battle beginning in Congress over civil rights. Those in favor of gay rights are attempting what might become the last legislative battle they ever have to fight. Those against gay rights are attempting to legalize discrimination against gay people -- married gay people in particular. Both are reactions to the Supreme Court ruling that gay marriage is a civil right for everyone in America, of course. And, because of the timing, both issues will likely resonate in the presidential nomination contests currently underway.
Yes, it's true. This past weekend, I joined 11,000 other people in Phoenix to "feel the Bern," as the supporters of Bernie Sanders would put it. Sanders held a rally in the city immediately after the Netroots Nation conference concluded, which made it pretty easy for me to attend (and take a few photos). Netroots routinely draws a crowd of around 3,000, so even if everyone from the conference went to the Bernie rally (actually, not everyone did), the conference crowd could only roughly have been about a quarter of the people there to see Bernie. The rest were locals from a very red state. All there to feel the Bern, as it were.
All photographs © Chris Weigant 2015
This applied to both young and old. Since I got there a bit early, I was able to circulate among the people streaming in to see Sanders. I saw a child working on his own "Feel The Bern!" sign, and talked to a woman who told me Sanders was only the second "real" politician she had ever been excited about (the first being Eugene McCarthy).
It's time once again to take a look at the vastness of the Republican field of candidates for president. The last time I devoted an article to the Republican primary race was back in May, so like it or not, the time has come again.
Of course, while several candidates have made formal announcements since then, in my previous column I was assuming most of them would run anyway, so the list was already 14 people long. As of today, the total stands at 16 formally-declared candidates, with one more (Jim Gilmore) waiting in the wings to make his announcement. But since no polls are currently even including Gilmore, we're going to ignore him for the time being.
This leaves us with the 14 previous candidates and two additions -- one at the very top of the polling and one at the very bottom. George Pataki isn't exactly riding a wave of support since he announced, but Donald Trump certainly has captured the base's attention. Trump went from nowhere to sitting on the very top of the polls -- the most recent poll (all data is from Real Clear Politics) has him at a whopping 24 percent -- much higher than any other Republican has managed for the entire race.
This is going to be a column about Netroots Nation, who showed up and who didn't, and what happened that got everyone talking. But before we get to all of that, I'm going to go off on a tangent and tell a personal story. Hey, it's my first day back, and things are still a bit foggy, so you'll have to bear with me for a bit.
If I had to slap a headline on my travels to and from the Netroots conference in Phoenix, I'd have to use: "Disaster Follows In My Wake." I was coming from Northern California, and I drove a new route (for me) across the desert. Part of it included driving on a very short stretch of Interstate 15, near San Bernardino. Then I hooked up with I-10 and took it all the way across the Arizona border and into Phoenix. Before I got home, a wildfire actually burned up cars and semis on that stretch of I-15, and a bridge collapsed on I-10 near the border, taking out a major Interstate until they can rebuild the entire bridge. While I was there, it rained in Phoenix, in the Valley of the Sun -- a hard enough thunderstorm to be called a "monsoon" by the locals. Coming back (luckily, we took a different route to get back), we got rained on in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Now, I've been rained on before in Death Valley, but that was something like two minutes of a few tiny drops. This was a whole different story. It was pouring cats and dogs when we drove through Barstow, and going down the mountain pass into Tehachapi it rained so hard the freeway slowed to about 40 miles per hour. In July. I have no idea what to make of all this, but had to toss out my own personal travel story before addressing the convention itself, because as you can see it wasn't exactly a boring trip.
As for the Netroots Nation convention itself, the most notable thing was that two Democratic candidates for president showed up, and three did not. Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley were both on hand to court Lefties, but I had to wonder where Hillary Clinton was. Lincoln Chafee seems to barely be running, so it's easy to see why he might not have had the cash on hand for a plane ticket. Jim Webb seems to only be courting Southern white voters, so he may have made a conscious decision to snub Netroots. But Hillary's absence was indeed notable.