Some weeks, it's tough coming up with a subtitle for these columns. Some weeks, not so much. This is one of the latter, because the juxtaposition of a colorful (to say the least) description of Donald Trump with a soap opera's title just naturally presented itself.
The quote comes in response to Trump's campaign shakeup, which we'll get to in a moment. One of the new people Trump hired comes from Breitbart News, and former Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro was being interviewed by CNN's Brianna Keilar for his response to the shakeup. Here is the transcript, for everyone's edification:
SHAPIRO: I mean, as you probably know, I think Donald Trump's a turd tornado, but I also understand that he has no capacity whatsoever to control himself and be this staid politician that everyone wants him to be. Telling him to double down is not necessarily terrible strategy. If he's gonna go down, he's gonna go down being Trump.
KEILAR: A what tornado?
SHAPIRO: A turd tornado.
KEILAR: What is that?
SHAPIRO: Well, it's like a sharknado. Except with poop.
Thanks for clearing that up, Ben! We'll just add that to the images we never thought we'd have to think about in the world of politics (a list which has grown to epic proportions during this presidential race, it's worth pointing out). With such an auspicious metaphor to work with, let's see just how the turd tornado (turdnado?) turned last week.
The week began with a speech Donald Trump read off a TelePrompTer. And in a stunning development -- are you sitting down? -- he then did not stomp all over his message by saying monumentally stupid things for the rest of the week. No, really! True, his message was stomped all over by the shakeup news from his campaign, but this is actually an improvement for Trump. There wasn't a single tweet or off-the-cuff statement at a rally that derailed Trump's message this week -- which has got to be a new record for him. How many days can he keep this up? We certainly don't know, as evidenced by the fact that on Monday we wrote of the inevitability of it already happening by the end of the week -- which we have to admit turned out not to be the case at all.
Before we get to the shakeup, a word about Trump's messaging this week. He actually read three TelePrompTer speeches this week, and he seems to be improving (somewhat) on his delivery with each one. The first was on the subject of defeating terrorism and foreign policy in general. The Morning Joe program helpfully put together a mashup video of just a few of the things he said in Monday's speech that utterly contradict what he's said about the subjects in the past, which is pretty amusing to watch. The second was a law-and-order speech in front of a mostly-white audience, warning of the dangers of urban crime (which has been par for the course for Republicans since Richard Nixon's time, it's worth noting). By week's end, Trump had made some astonishing news in the third speech, but we'll get to that in a moment.
The campaign shakeup news was rather ominous for Republicans, since Trump pushed aside the only guy running his campaign who has had actual experience running campaigns before, and replaced him with two additions -- a woman who worked for Todd Akin's campaign (in the "outreach to women" job -- you just can't make this stuff up), and a guy who ran Breitbart News, a website for those who think that Fox News is just another part of the mainstream media's liberal conspiracy. Yes, there are people out there who think Fox isn't rightwingy enough, and they all apparently get their news from Breitbart. They also get plenty of conspiracy theories, but that almost goes without saying. The new theme for the campaign, as Shapiro referenced above, is going to be returning to "letting Trump be Trump." Hoo boy. Buckle up, boys and girls!
Little-noticed in the midst of all this news was the very first poll Breitbart ever commissioned, which was intended to "unskew" all that liberal polling saying Trump wasn't beating Clinton. The only problem was that even after all this unskewing, Clinton still beat Trump by five points. Guess they'll have to rework that unskewing formula, eh?
But back to the Trump campaign. With Trump adding a Breitbart executive to his campaign, the rest of the Republican Party spent the entire week waiting for the other shoe to drop. Nobody knew what form it would take, but this morning that shoe hit the ground with a thump, with the announcement that Paul Manafort would be stepping down from the Trump campaign. All week long, the Trump campaign had insisted that they weren't going through a shakeup at all, they were instead expanding the campaign by hiring more people to run things. This falsehood was exposed with Manafort's resignation. The Trump campaign is now being run by people who have never run a national campaign for anyone before. And it's worth pointing out that this isn't the first such top-level shakeup in Trump's campaign (and likely won't be the last).
All of this news has led to noticeable glee over in the Clinton camp (and among Democrats in general). It's easy to understand such giddiness, since Clinton's recent polling is so strong, both in battleground states and in previously-deep-red states as well. Tim Kaine is campaigning in places like Wyoming, Idaho, and Missouri (to be fair, the first two aren't realistic for Clinton to even hope for, as he was just fundraising there from wealthy Democrats). People are beginning to ask whether Trump's defeat will rival Barry Goldwater's -- and it's only August. With Trump doubling down on "being Trump," things look pretty rosy for Hillary Clinton right now.
But there's a cautionary tale running through the week that few inside-the-Beltway pundits have so far noticed. Could Trump actually be successfully pivoting, in the midst of the shakeup? He gave three TelePrompTer speeches, and had zero blowups this week. He didn't say (or tweet) anything so radical it dominated the news cycle in a negative way -- this during a week when naked Donald Trump statues mockingly appeared in multiple U.S. cities (more on that in the awards). He introduced his first two television ads of the general election. This is all new, for Trump. To end the week, Trump decided to pay a visit to flooding victims in Louisiana -- an opportunity for him to show some compassion and "look presidential." And in the third of those speeches he read this week, he kind-of sort-of apologized for all his previous outrageous statements. Here's what he read off the screen:
Sometimes in the heat of debate, and speaking on a multitude of issues, you don't choose the right words or you say the wrong thing. I have done that. And believe it or not, I regret it. I do regret it, particularly where it may have caused personal pain. Too much is at stake for us to be consumed with these issues. But one thing; I can promise you this: I will always tell you the truth.
Laughable as that might sound (especially that last line), this appears to be the first time Donald Trump has ever even remotely admitted any sort of mistake he's made during the campaign. So, to review: three speeches read from prepared texts, two new television ads that will run in battleground states, one presidential-looking photo op, zero speeches ad-libbed at rallies, zero new controversial statements, and one semi-apology. That's a much more focused Trump than we've yet seen. So perhaps all the Democratic celebration about his new campaign team might be a wee bit premature. Has Trump truly pivoted? Has he ridden out his own personal poopstorm? Time will tell. Perhaps this is all the final influence of Manafort, on his way out -- perhaps next week Trump will return to form. But even with all the campaign shakeup news, Trump had a better week on the campaign trail than usual.
Finally, before we move along to the awards, we have to say a formal goodbye to John McLaughlin, who died earlier this week. The McLaughlin Group was a pioneer in political television, and for many (without cable subscriptions) was the only view into the contentious world that cable political shows have regularly become. With regulars on the right like Pat Buchanan and on the left people like Clarence Page, the show was always pretty freewheeling and interesting to watch. Countless political shows were inspired by their format, and McLaughlin had actually been trained as a Jesuit priest, which includes formal training in forming an argument (pro or con), so he was always able to examine strange angles and odd views that others routinely missed. OK, occasionally this veered into conspiratorial thinking, but McLaughlin usually seemed to be playing devil's advocate (rather than "true believer") by bringing such subjects up.
We'll miss seeing John, and we'll miss his show. Every year in this space, we run our year-end list of "McLaughlin awards," since his categories were so complete and well-thought out. So we have a personal connection to the show (even if they never knew about it). So, in homage, there is only one possible way to salute John McLaughlin: with the final phrase he used to close each of his shows, to show how we will miss his presence.
Occasionally, we redefine our awards, and this seems a dandy week to do so. Rather than handing out a Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week, we are handing out a Most Impressive Anarchist Collective Of The Week award instead. We thought that changing it to the MIACOTW award would be more appreciated by an anarchist group, who might be offended by being linked to any official political party (even in an award).
The group INDECLINE had already made a name for itself by creating the largest-ever piece of illegal graffiti, by painting a political statement on a deserted military landing strip in the Mojave Desert. That's pretty cool, we have to admit, especially when you consider that they spent $20,000 creating it.
But this week, INDECLINE outdid themselves, by placing a rather unflattering statue of a naked Donald Trump in five American cities (New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Cleveland, and Seattle). Being anarchists, they didn't ask anyone's permission, just set the statue up (and epoxied it to the ground, to make it harder to remove). This bit of political theater was even given a name: "The Emperor Has No Balls." Reportedly, the statue didn't, but it's hard to tell from the available photos.
The artist, a guy from Las Vegas who goes by "Ginger," reportedly "has a long history of designing monsters for haunted houses and horror movies." That certainly seems like experience enough to create such monstrous statues, at least in our humble opinion.
The people behind the political theater knew their installations would be temporary. Reportedly, Cleveland was the fastest to remove it, while some in San Francisco are looking to preserve the statue in a suitable place. No real surprise there, we suppose.
Regular readers of this column will know that we are suckers for political theater (good, bad, and indifferent). As always, such theater must be judged on how amusing it is and how effective it is. On both these scales, "The Emperor Has No Balls" has to rate somewhere near the top end. It's funny, it made a huge splash online, and now millions of people have laughed at a naked Trump provided by a group that few had ever previously heard of. All around, that's pretty impressive, and well worth our special Most Impressive Anarchist Collective Of The Week award. Well done!
[Congratulate INDECLINE on their official contact page, to let them know you appreciate their efforts.]
This one wasn't hard to select this week. Former Pennsylvania state attorney general Kathleen Kane easily wins the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award for being convicted of nine criminal charges, two of them felonies. It's pretty disappointing when any Democrat is convicted of crimes, but when it is the person who is in charge of the entire state's justice and law enforcement divisions, it reaches a whole 'nother level.
The whole story is convoluted and rather sad. It began with the Jerry Sandusky/Joe Paterno scandal, widened to sexist and racist emails, and wound up in a personal vendetta Kane waged against a political rival. The scandal not only shook up the Penn State's athletic department but also brought down two justices on the state supreme court, and even Kane's twin sister (who, it turned out, had sent some of the emails).
At the heart of the charges against Kane was a leak of grand jury evidence that she later tried to pin on a scapegoat rather than admitting to leaking. Not only did Kane commit the crime, she also tried to cover it up, to put it more bluntly.
Kane was once considered a rising star among Pennsylvania Democrats, but not any more (to put it mildly). Among her other woes this week, we simply have to add our own Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. This was a shameful episode in the midst of an investigation of an even-more-shameful crime, and there's simply nothing good to say about it.
[Since Kathleen Kane has quit her office, she is now a private citizen, and our longstanding policy is not to provide contact info for people not currently serving in office.]
Volume 404 (8/19/16)
We should really just be able to write "Volume 404 -- Talking Points Not Found" here, but we fear few would get the joke (and it'd be awfully lazy to do so). Kidding aside, we actually do have to admit we have been rather lazy in putting together the talking points for the past month or so. This was due to the fact that all it took was repackaging what Republicans were saying about Donald Trump. No Democratic input was even necessary -- just repeating the scathing things Republicans were saying was enough.
This week, we're going to try to wean ourselves off this habit, by only providing a mere three (less than half!) of our talking points directly from Republicans slamming Trump. And we promise, our last talking point is one of the funniest we've come across yet, so there's that to look forward to.
As always, use these talking points responsibly, and refrain from operating heavy machinery while doing so. Heh.
The middle finger
The Washington Post set the tone for what was going on this week, most notably in a headline to an article run immediately after the first news of the Trump campaign shakeup:
Donald Trump's Hire Of Breitbart News Chief Is A Middle Finger To The GOP Establishment
Right back atcha...
Of course, to be fair, the number of Republicans giving Trump the finger has been growing for weeks, now.
"You can't really blame Trump for turning his back on the GOP establishment, because they've been running away from his campaign in droves. The letter begging the R.N.C. to pull all money from Trump in a desperate attempt to salvage Congress, which was released last week, was initially said to have 70 signatures of Republicans on it. Now it's got more than 100. Maybe by next week it'll have another 50, who knows? Also last week, a member of George W. Bush's cabinet came out in support of Hillary Clinton. Will the last Republican to leave Trump's campaign please turn out the lights?"
Divine intervention necessary
George Shultz weighed in on Trump this week, too.
"When George Shultz -- one of the most-respected Republican foreign policy voices around -- was asked recently about the prospect of a Trump administration, his response was brief and personal: 'God help us.' Shultz is right -- if Donald Trump is elected president, this country is going to need all the divine intervention it can possibly get."
Sorry, you can't come in
Even right-wing pundits are getting in on the act.
"What with all the news about Trump's campaign shakeup, the content of his Monday TelePrompTer speech was all but ignored. But Washington Post conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin (whose column is even called 'Right Turn,' so you know where she's coming from) hilariously took Trump to task for his concept of 'extreme vetting.' Rubin pointed out that Trump might just be a victim of his own program, if his 'extreme vetting' idea were ever to become law. Trump would fail on the metrics of 'shares American values and respect for the American people,' as well as falling short on being one of 'those who we expect to flourish in our country and to embrace a tolerant American society.' Be careful what you wish for, Donald, as you might not pass your own test quite as easily as you might think."
What, precisely, was Trump apologizing for?
The list is a long one.
"Donald Trump issued a blanket 'apology' this week. It was actually a non-apology, merely that he 'regretted' having said some things which 'may have caused personal pain,' but it's as close to saying 'I'm sorry' as we're ever likely to get. But his remarks were generic, with no specifics. The Washington Post then helpfully compiled a list of two dozen things he might have been referring to. Somebody needs to ask Trump which items on this list his non-apology apology covers, just to clear things up. With so many to choose from, inquiring minds want to know precisely what Trump actually 'regrets' having said so far."
A conspiracy theory that makes sense
The facts do seem to fit....
"Since Donald Trump began running, I've heard a lot of wild-eyed conspiracy theories from the left over what his plans actually were going to turn out to be. Most of these involved reading Trump's mind and figuring out what his next move would be. Almost all of them have so far been proven hilariously wrong. My personal favorite was: 'Trump will drop out of the primaries the minute he loses his first state.' Or maybe: 'Bill Clinton talked Donald into destroying the Republican Party' -- that was a fun one, right? But there's a new conspiracy theory on the scene which actually could make a whole lot of sense. Is Donald Trump merely using a run for the presidency to launch his own branded media empire? Will 'Trump News' soon be on the air, competing with Fox News? Trump has reportedly been cozying up to Roger Ailes, and now he's got the head of Breitbart News running his campaign, so it's pretty easy to see how the effort could morph into 'Trump TV,' right after he loses in a landslide to Hillary Clinton. I mean, it could all make a twisted sort of sense, don't you think?"
Score one for NYC Parks
Issuing dry press releases all day in a mundane local government department must get pretty boring. And then a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity crosses your desk....
"The funniest thing I've heard this week was the official New York City parks department response, after they removed a nude statue of Donald Trump which had been illegally mounted in Union Square. Whoever came up with this gem deserves a raise, or a promotion to a P.R. job where they can better utilize their obvious skills. After removing the statue, an official statement was then released: 'NYC Parks stands firmly against any unpermitted erection in city parks, no matter how small.' NYC Parks certainly rose to that occasion, as it were."
-- Chris Weigant