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."
Snark aside, though, it is amusing as all get out to watch the Republicans try to cope with the whirlwind that is Donald Trump. He says outrageous things on a daily basis, so it's hard to even keep up with them. In the last two weeks alone, Trump dissed John McCain for being captured, and said McCain's not a war hero in Trump's own mind. His campaign tweeted out a photo with Nazi soldiers superimposed over the American flag. He read out Lindsey Graham's cell phone number to a rally. And that's only a quick rundown -- there were other moments of outrageousness emanating from the Trumpster's mouth as well. Oh, and Huffington Post announced that Trump news will now be found on their "Entertainment" pages.
All other Republicans are caught in a vortex of scrambling to react to whatever Trump just said. The entire Republican presidential campaign is now officially in shambles, as Trump sucks every molecule of oxygen out of the room.
But all the other candidates have a serious problem that will only become more apparent on a debate stage: they all mostly agree with Trump when it comes to actual policy. Trump may be using outrageous language, but he is not pushing radical or outrageous ideas within the Republican Party. Don't believe me? Here's a thought experiment to prove it.
Let's say Donald Trump wins the presidential election, just for the sake of argument. President Trump, on his first day in office, announces a plan he'll introduce to Congress to build a wall across the Mexican border and (somehow) force Mexico to pay for it. How many Republicans in Congress would vote for it? How many would speak out against it? The answers to those questions would respectively be: "all of them," and "none of them." Can you honestly see any Republicans in Congress risking the wrath of their own voters (who would have just elected President Trump, remember) by opposing Trump's plan?
This is the core problem for Republicans. Trump isn't some bomb-throwing radical who just happens to use the "Republican" label -- the way Lyndon LaRouche does over on the Democratic side, for example. Nope, he's not swimming against the tide within his chosen party -- he is (to stretch this metaphor a bit) instead not only swimming with the Republican current, in fact the only thing that differentiates him from the others in the pack is that he's hopped on a metaphorical Jet-Ski and is moving much faster -- but in the same direction -- as the rest of them.
Which is why the entire spectacle is so amusing for Democrats to watch, of course. Republican candidates can call Trump out (several of them have begun to do so in a serious way, most prominent so far being Rick Perry, of all people) or toady up to him (which several others have also done, most prominent being Ted Cruz), but it is actually pretty hard for them to point to any disagreement in the realm of policy that they have with Trump's platform (such as it is).
Two weeks ago, I came up with some snarky talking points to scare Republicans with. Three of them in particular bear repeating, because not everyone has realized their validity yet:
- Trump is now the face of the Republican Party.
- This is only the beginning -- Trump is going to be around for the entire primary season, at the very least.
- Trump may actually mount a third-party bid.
As we opened with, couldn't have happened to a nicer political party. Or, to put it another way: karma's a bitch, ain't it?
Let's see, what is going on in the rest of the presidential field? John Ellis "Jeb!" Bush is trying to make some news, by telling a Koch brothers audience that he'd "phase out" Medicare for younger folks. He expressed support for the Paul Ryan "voucher" plan at the same time. While this was mostly lost among the Trumpisms flying to and fro, look for this to become a much bigger issue later in the campaign. Republicans have been trying to sell themselves as the "saviors" of Medicare (as hilarious as that truly is), so it'll be interesting to see how the rest of the field reacts. Look for this quote to be used in an attack ad, at some point.
Ted Cruz is playing a game called: "Toady up to Trump, in order to pick up his supporters when he eventually crashes and burns." Cruz announced he wouldn't be reacting to Trumpisms, because he hates to see "Republican-on-Republican violence," but then just today he took to the Senate floor to flat-out call Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a liar. So much for Reagan's "11th Commandment," eh?
Cruz also voiced his opinion that Captain James Tiberius Kirk (points to Cruz for knowing his full name!) was a better U.S.S. Enterprise captain than Jean-Luc Picard. Here's the story:
Ana Marie Cox noted that Cruz is a well-known fan of Star Trek, and asked him whether he preferred the original series' Captain Kirk, played by William Shatner, or Jean-Luc Picard of The Next Generation, played by Patrick Stewart. "Absolutely James Tiberius Kirk," he replied.
He then proceeded to "do a little psychoanalysis," saying that "[i]f you look at Star Trek: The Next Generation, it basically split James T. Kirk into two people. Picard was Kirk's rational side, and William Riker was his passionate side. I prefer a complete captain. To be effective, you need both heart and mind."
Cruz added that Kirk was "working class" and a "passionate fighter for justice," whereas Picard was an "aristocrat" and "cerebral philosopher," which is why -- to his mind -- "it is quite likely that Kirk is a Republican and Picard is a Democrat."
William Shatner was not amused, and tweeted in response: "Star Trek wasn't political. I'm not political; I can't even vote in the US. So to put a geocentric label on interstellar characters is silly." Good point -- Shatner's a Canadian. You'd figure Cruz would know that, being a native-born Canadian himself.
What else? Two new Republicans officially announced their presidential campaigns, surprising exactly no one: Scott Walker and John Kasich. One more (Jim Gilmore) still waits in the wings, so it's looking like whoever bet on "17" in the guess-the-size-of-the-GOP-field contest is likely to take the prize money.
Rick Perry got some good news this week -- he'll only be facing one felony charge during the election season! This will certainly be amusing to watch when the case truly gets underway, that's for sure.
Over on the Democratic side of things, Bernie Sanders had another whopping big rally (11,000 people) in Phoenix, which I attended and then posted some photos of, for those who are interested. Hillary Clinton began unveiling her economic agenda, first with an "overview" speech which was a bit short on details. She is now following up with much more specific speeches on particular agenda items, so eventually we'll be able to see exactly what she would do as president for the economy.
John Kerry and Barack Obama announced a historic deal with Iran, which will now be debated in Congress. However, due to the way Obama struck an earlier deal with Congress, they will only be able to overturn the Iranian deal by a two-thirds vote. Most pundits, at this point, say Obama will indeed be able to clear that bar and see the deal go into effect.
In other "Obama foreign policy legacy" news, Cuba and the United States opened embassies in each other's capitals. Congress may actually be ready to lift the travel ban on American citizens visiting Cuba, meaning soon the Cold War can be officially said to be over. Contrary to all predictions by Cuban-American activists, the sky has not yet fallen. It'll be interesting to see how Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz adapt to this fast-changing situation.
President Obama made some news on the issues of marijuana and criminal justice reform, but we're saving that for the awards. In other marijuana news, a California Native American tribe tried to legalize weed on its own, but got raided anyway. A Senate committee just passed a bill which would let Washington D.C. create a legal marketplace for recreational marijuana, and remove the insane law Congress passed which forbids them to do so. The House is where this nonsense originated, however, so we'll see what chance this bill has of actually passing when it gets there. And Steph Sherer over at the Huffington Post has a very optimistic list of 10 reasons why the federal government is about to end the War On Weed, which is an excellent read.
News items about shootings just never seem to end. Just today a man in Louisiana shot up a movie theater, while a court in Colorado considers the sentence for the guy who shot up a movie theater there. Dylann Roof, the domestic terrorist who attacked a black church in South Carolina, will be tried on federal hate-crimes charges, but not as an actual terrorist. This is pretty disgraceful, as both Salon and the Huffington Post pointed out.
And, finally, from what can only be called the "What could possibly go wrong?" file, the following headline, highlighting the reaction of some to the recent shooting deaths of military recruiters. The headline really says it all: "Civilian 'Guard' Fires Gun While 'Protecting' Military Recruiting Center In Ohio."
President Barack Obama deserves at least an Honorable Mention this week, for taking both symbolic and concrete action against the worst insanities of the War On Drugs. He became the first sitting president to visit a federal prison, for starters. He spoke with six non-violent drug offenders while there. For the first time ever, Obama said something which I've been waiting for ever since Bill Clinton admitted he smoked pot. Obama essentially admitted to the prisoners that he could easily have been in their shoes: "These are young people who made mistakes that aren't that different from mistakes I made. The difference is they did not have the support structure, the second chances, the resources that would allow them to survive these mistakes."
This is a wee bit disingenuous, because it skips over a big part of the difference between their life stories: the prisoners got caught. That's a big difference between Obama and them, and one he forgot to mention. I have long maintained that Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama needed to be bluntly asked: "If you had been arrested for drug use back when you were using them, how would your life now be different?" Or, perhaps: "...do you think you would have been elected president?"
Still, it was a big step for Obama to take. Admitting "there but for the grace of luck go I" is a giant leap forward in the discussion of the destructive nature not of drugs but of the War On Drugs. I've been waiting a long time for such a statement, so I really shouldn't quibble over the language used.
Obama also made news by commuting the sentences of 46 non-violent drug users as well. Obama has been using the tool of commutation (rather than outright pardons) more than most modern presidents, and mostly doing so for non-violent drug offenders. Even so, there are thousands left who should also be eligible for commutation, so we've still got quite a ways to go.
However, while Obama's movement on dismantling the War On Drugs was impressive, there was an even bigger event from the past two weeks which overshadows the president's actions. John Kerry announced that he had finally struck a deal with Iran over their nuclear programs.
This is a monumental event, no matter what you think of the deal itself. Getting Iran to the table and hammering out a deal between them, us, and the other nations involved has to be seen as a huge diplomatic achievement. While opening relations with Cuba was important, this deal dwarfs even that historic diplomacy.
Kerry personally invested himself in striking this deal, and threw himself into the negotiations in an impressive way. This is a country we hadn't even talked to in almost four decades. The sanctions regime that Obama put together got them to the table, where George W. Bush had utterly failed to even slow down their race to ramp up their nuclear programs.
Is it a good deal or a bad deal? I have no real idea. It could improve America's relations across the Middle East (by balancing Saudi Arabia) or it could turn out to fan the flames even more. It could prevent Iran from ever getting a nuclear bomb, by the soft diplomacy of showing them the benefits of being part of the family of nations once again, or it could backfire the same way the deal with North Korea did. It is truly impossible to tell at this point which way it is going to go, and anyone who tells you differently is making all kinds of assumptions which may or may not prove to be justified.
Either way, the Iran deal will be a large part of Barack Obama's legacy. He will either be awarded the credit (if all goes well) or assigned the blame (if it doesn't). His name will be on this deal, for better or for worse. It'll likely take a few decades to even know which way historians will see the deal.
For now, the fact that a deal was struck after long and intense negotiations which failed to meet multiple deadlines has to be seen as an enormous achievement by John Kerry. Normally, high-level deals like this are hammered out by underlings and wonks, and then the big cheese steps in at the last minute to sign the document and take all the credit for the negotiations. That was decidedly not the case here. Kerry personally invested himself in the process, and kept at it until he got a deal.
Which makes him, easily, the winner of this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.
[Congratulate Secretary of State John Kerry on the State Department's contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]
We've got an update on a previous winner of the MDDOTW award, before we get to this week's.
Former New York state assembly speaker Sheldon Silver lost a legal bid to toss out the corruption charges he faces. We only bring this up, really, to highlight some good news from New York's capital: the Albany Museum of Political Corruption has now obtained an official charter, and will soon be raising money to make the museum a reality. We've been big fans of the idea ever since we heard about it, and we'll be sure to keep everyone informed of future developments!
Moving right along, we have the bizarre story of a state delegate from Maryland getting charges of her own this week. Here's the story, as it appeared in the Washington Post:
A 39-year-old state lawmaker from Bethesda was arrested in late June and charged with indecent exposure and trespassing after a dispute at the home of her ex-husband, according to court records.
A charging document said Del. Ariana B. Kelly (D-Mongtomery [sic]) was dropping off her children at her ex-husband's house, in the 5300 block of Alta Vista Road in Bethesda, when she became upset that his fiancee was inside the residence. Kelly and Barak Sanford were divorced in November, according to court records.
Sanford told police that Kelly started ringing the doorbell and banging on the door and that he asked her to leave.
According to the charging document, Sanford played a cellphone video for police that showed Kelly ringing the doorbell "numerous times," exposing her breasts in the direction of Sanford's cellphone camera and then "with one breast in each hand [shaking] them up and down."
Um... OK. We're not even going to write a punchline for that, because it's hard to top that last sentence, really. Kelly was apparently thinking of running for the House of Representatives (for the seat Chris Van Hollen is vacating), but this may cause her to rethink such a campaign. I mean, if that video ever gets leaked, just imagine the attack ads against her!
[Contact Maryland Delegate Ariana B. Kelly on her official contact page, to let her know what you think of her actions.]
Volume 354 (7/24/15)
Kind of a grab-bag this week, with talking points all over the map. We tried (really we did!) to keep Trump out of it (since we had devoted so many talking points to Trump last time around), but in the end he proved irresistible. Our apologies in advance (heh).
More than Reagan, Clinton, and both Bushes combined
I mentioned this previously, but saved the stats for the talking points.
"President Obama just commuted 46 sentences in one day. This is the most sentences commuted in a single day since the administration of Lyndon B. Johnson. In fact, the 89 sentence commutations Obama has now signed is greater than the number commuted by presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush -- combined. Unlike the past two presidents who admitted to youthful drug use, President Obama is actually doing something to dial back the worst excesses of the futile and destructive War On Drugs. Obama also just became the first president to visit a federal prison, where he admitted he might have ended up if things had been different for him. That is a refreshing moment of honesty we didn't see from either George W. Bush or Bill Clinton, both of whom kept ramping up the War On Drugs while in office. Obama will go down in history for many things, but beginning the end of the War On Drugs is an important item on that list."
Uninsured rate keeps dropping
Another story the media ignored, which should be highlighted by Democrats.
"The figures from the last quarter are in, and the percentage of Americans without medical insurance continues to fall. From a highpoint of 18.0 percent right before Obamacare got started, the rate now stands at 11.4 percent. To put this another way, over one-third of the Americans without insurance now have it thanks to Obamacare. Obviously, this leaves a long way to go, but so far the trend has been clear, showing precisely what Obamacare was designed to do."
GOP's numbers not looking so hot
Hoo boy. Trump certainly is having an effect, isn't he?
"New numbers are out from Pew Research, and they paint an awfully dismal picture for Republicans. The Republican Party now is seen favorably by only 32 percent of the public. A whopping 60 percent of the public sees them unfavorably. Compare those numbers to the Democrats, who have 48 percent favorable to 47 percent unfavorable. The bad news doesn't stop there for Republicans, though. Even among self-identified Republicans, the party's favorable rating has gone down from 86 percent to only 68 percent. Those are some pretty sobering numbers, heading into a presidential election season. Hmm... I wonder what could be driving those numbers down? It's as if one person is singlehandedly tanking the image of the Republican Party. I wonder who that person could possibly be...."
Unclear on the concept
Hoo boy. If anyone was paying attention to him, this would be really big news....
"I saw an amusing headline about Jeb Bush's campaign the other day. Allow me to read it in full: 'Jeb Bush Speech Denouncing Lobbyists Was Organized By Corporate Lobbying Group.' Wow. I mean, just... wow. Talk about unclear on the concept!"
Phasers on kill!
OK, I had to go with that subtitle due to all the talk about Star Trek, I freely admit.
"But that wasn't the only notable news from the Bush campaign this week. Because Jeb came right out and admitted what most Republicans won't -- that they're going to try to kill off Medicare. He was speaking to a Koch brothers event, so perhaps he thought nobody would notice, but Jeb plainly stated that he wanted to 'phase out' Medicare for younger Americans. Personally, I'd like to hear from all the other Republican candidates what they think about phasing out Medicare. My guess is that they're all for such a scheme, but don't want to come right out and admit it."
The Trump Party
OK, this one just snuck in here to torture Republicans. Just because.
"I would strongly urge Donald Trump to consider a third-party bid, especially since the national Republican Party is not exactly giving him a whole lot of support. They're disrespecting you, Donald! You're not going to take that lying down, are you? I'm sure millions of people (cough, cough... Democrats... cough) would cheer you on if you formed your own Trump Party and made an independent bid for the White House. Think about it -- a Trump Party would be huge. It'd be classy. It'd be beautiful! And it'd be the best political party America ever saw. How can you deny the people a party with your own name on it? Please mount a third-party bid, Donald! We're begging you!"
Texas apparently OK
Since last week, when it started, Texans seem to still be OK. Who could have predicted it?
"Down in Texas, the United States military is in the midst of a training exercise named Jade Helm 15. Warnings that a 'takeover' of Texas was imminent appear to have been unfounded, as I haven't noticed any news of sporadic fighting on the road to Austin or anything. The governor previously said he'd be keeping an eye on the U.S. military, just in case they had to fight off the forces of tyranny erupting from secret tunnels under Wal-Marts. So far, this seems not to have happened anywhere. I wonder why the military would have run an exercise with Texas labeled an insurgent state in the first place, what with all the rational, non-paranoid behavior it is currently exhibiting."
-- Chris Weigant