We begin today with a warning. Our regularly-scheduled Friday Talking Points are going on hiatus for at least three weeks. Next Friday, we'll be heading to the Democratic National Convention, and the Friday after that we'll be heading back home. For both today and next Friday we're taking a look back (through the lens of our talking points) at the entire 2016 presidential campaign season so far. We have no idea what we're going to do the Friday after that (indeed, we can't even promise that there'll be a column at all on July 29th, at this point). Regular FTP columns will resume the first Friday in August, just in time for the traditional "Silly Season" of American politics.
The next two weeks are going to be all about the conventions, which means there'll be so many talking points discussed during the course of each week that hopefully the lack of a list each Friday won't even be noticed. For now, we can only offer up a do-it-yourself talking point challenge, just for fun. Then we're devoting the rest of the column to taking a look at the past year, for a special reason. Because this will be rather lengthy, we are pre-empting all the other segments of the column to present it.
OK, here's that challenge. Donald Trump has now officially selected Mike Pence for his running mate. This means it'll be a Trump/Pence ticket. Create your own humorous talking point around this matchup, and let everyone know about it down in the comments. Some ideas to get you started: "trumppence" -- something Dick Van Dyke might have said in his horrible Cockney accent, while ad-libbing during the filming of Mary Poppins? Or you could just go for the obvious concatenation of the names -- "it's the TP ticket!" Extra credit will be awarded on that last one for anyone who gets in a "Cornholio" reference. Heh. What would you call the Trump/Pence ticket? Share your thoughts in the comments, as usual.
Volume 400 (7/15/16)
This is the reason we're taking a look back today (and next Friday). Our odometer just rolled over, as this is the 400th of these columns to appear. Woo hoo!
This column began way back in 2007, and we certainly never expected to still be doing it 400 weeks later, but here we are. Actually, that's not even true, since it's been longer than 400 weeks by the calendar (FTP gets pre-empted numerous times each year, such as when we run our year-end awards columns).
We considered taking a look back at the previous 100 columns, but that proved to be too big a task to tackle. So we limited it to only the past 50 columns instead, which neatly coincided with the start of the presidential race. But even this was too big for one column, as we found out when assembling it. So we split it into two, since we really had nothing for next Friday anyways. Convenient, that.
What follows are the most notable talking points from June of 2015 through the end of January of this year (around State Of The Union time, roughly). Some of these we've included because they still work perfectly well (nothing has changed, in other words), some were included for historical perspective (in case anyone's forgotten about Ted Cruz twirling, for instance), and some were just too funny not to run again.
Since this job was hard enough, we saved a lot of time on formatting by copying the talking point number (and title) verbatim from each previous article. So the numbers below aren't consecutive or anything. To set off the old from the new, we've also changed all our current commentary from this week by making it all italic. So, for this week and next, let's all take a stroll down memory lane, to the talking points of the 2016 presidential campaign season.
A Talking Point retrospective look at the 2016 campaign (so far)
Some of these we had to run again solely because they are still just as true as ever. Our first talking point comes from [FTP 351] which ran in June of last year, and the only thing that needs changing is "ten months" to "two years."
Congress does its job for two hours, then punts
This is just pathetic. There's really no other word for it.
"Ever wonder why President Obama feels the need to occasionally act without involving Congress? The answer is that Congress is incapable of doing even the most important of its jobs. Ten months ago -- that's ten months ago -- Obama began a military campaign against the Islamic State. At the time, Republicans complained that Congress should have been consulted. Obama stated that he had the authority to act, but then sent over a proposal for a new 'authorization for the use of military force,' in an effort to share the warmaking responsibility with Congress. This week -- the first time in ten months, mind you -- the House finally spent two hours debating the war. Then they gave up. Democrats had to use parliamentary procedure to even force the debate, because the Republicans running Congress have not done anything on the war with the Islamic State. Nothing. One of the Democrats pushing the issue, Representative Jim McGovern, did not mince his words, stating that Congress was, quote, guilty of moral cowardice, unquote. I could not agree more. They are indeed shirking their constitutional duties -- another phrase McGovern used -- and every citizen should bear this in mind the next time Republicans complain that Obama is acting without their approval."
There were a lot of hilarious moments from the Republican presidential campaign trail, and everyone has their favorites, but this surely has to be in the top ten (at the very least). From [FTP 352] comes the high point of the Ted Cruz campaign.
Twirling, always twirling
Ted Cruz, as noted earlier, put out a funny video this week. It would be an act of downright political malpractice if no Republican running against him ever uses this in an attack ad. Context: Cruz is actually quoting Kodos and Kang, the aliens from The Simpsons, from the "Treehouse of Horror" episode where they throw the Clinton/Dole presidential election. Even so, the funniest part (and the reason other Republicans should really use the clip) is that Cruz actually does perform a twirl, while reciting the quote:
"Forwards, not backwards! Upwards not downwards! And always twirling, twirling for freedom!"
Some of these we've included as a reminder that not everyone in the punditocracy was asleep at the switch. When Trump sewed up the GOP nomination, many pundits consoled themselves with "well, nobody saw this coming," which was complete and utter moose poop. Here's what we had to say about things -- on July 10, 2015 -- in a Friday article we subtitled "Donald Trump, Frontrunner." So at least some of us had the ability to read polls correctly, even that long ago. From [FTP 353], after the first talking point reinforced our subtitle.
The face of the Republican Party
This one hurts even worse.
"Donald Trump is not just a frontrunner in the race for the Republican nomination, he's actually become the face of the Republican Party. Think about it -- whenever any Republican candidate gets interviewed, what is one of the first questions asked? 'What do you think of what Trump said?' To put this another way: Trump speaks, then all other Republicans react. By definition, Trump is speaking for the party now, and everyone else is just playing catch-up. Establishment Republicans can deny it until they're bright red in the face, but it doesn't change the fact that Donald Trump is now the most prominent voice in their party -- Trump is indeed the face of the Republican Party."
And then some we've just included again because they're so funny. From [FTP 355], here's a good example of someone unclear on the concept.
Language, boy, it's tough
There's this thing called "spell check"....
"One day after hurling McCarthy-style charges at a House hearing, attacking a witness over the actions of his brother and his father, Representative Steve Russell issued a press release calling the witness, quote: 'anti-Sematic.' That's S-E-M-A-T-I-C, which doesn't actually appear in the dictionary I use. Perhaps Congressman Russell was having his own problem being 'anti-semantic'? [Pause for laughter] OK, I apologize for that one...."
A recurring theme: the Republican Congress can't get anything done at all, period. From [FTP 356], another one that would just need the "five whole years" updated to "six whole years" to work perfectly today.
Trust us, we'll think of something
This is just becoming laughable.
"For over five years now, Republicans have been trying to kill Obamacare. All the Republican candidates for president agree that repealing Obamacare would be one of the first things on their to-do list as president. They've had all this time, and they still haven't got a single clue what to replace it with, though. They've held the House of Representatives for years now, and they have yet to even move a single replacement bill out of committee, much less held a vote on it on the House floor. There is absolutely nothing stopping them from doing so. And yet they haven't. Their answer, for five whole years, has been the same -- it was the same answer the Republican candidates gave on stage last night. Trust us, they say, and right after we repeal every word of Obamacare, we'll be sure to think of something to replace it with."
Another candidate for the top ten funniest 2016 campaign moments. From [FTP 358], remember Deez Nuts?
Deez Nuts for president!
We normally wrap these up with one amusing final talking point. This week, we're going to do two instead, just because.
"Have you seen the recent polling? A fake candidate named 'Deez Nuts' is polling at a surprisingly high level among voters. For some unfathomable reason a few state-level polls included 'Deez Nuts' in a few of the questions they asked poll respondents about, and he's now getting nine percent in North Carolina, eight percent in Minnesota, and seven percent in Iowa! As the candidate explains: 'I am a 15-year-old who filled out a form, had the campaign catch on fire, and am now putting up the best third-party numbers since Ross Perot.' Right now his poll numbers are better than most of the Republican field, in fact. In a year when Donald Trump is the frontrunner, somehow it seems entirely appropriate that 'Deez Nuts' should be approaching second place in the race, don't you think?"
Something else we pointed out at the time, during the "glorious loyalty oath crusade" kerfluffle. From [FTP 360], we tried to warn them, we really did!
GOP is pledging loyalty to Trump
This really needs to be pointed out.
"The head of the Republican National Committee had to travel to Trump Towers on bended knee to get Donald Trump to sign an unenforceable loyalty oath. What Reince Priebus and the rest of the Establishment Republicans don't realize, though, is that it's more likely than not that the pledge is going to work out exactly the opposite from what they expect. If Trump wins the nomination -- which, so far, he's the favorite to do -- then all the other candidates will have pledged to support Trump. No wonder Trump made Priebus crawl before him -- because Trump may be the ultimate beneficiary of the whole stunt. He signed because he doesn't believe he will even need to run a third-party campaign. He's planning on winning the Republican nomination."
We're trying to make this retrospective a reasonable length (really we are!), but there are two talking points from [FTP 361] which really deserve a place here. The first pointed out, in early September, that Trump was the clear favorite to win (again, note to pundits: this stuff ain't rocket science, the facts were there if you cared to look at them). The second was, perhaps, the greatest takedown of Trump during the entire campaign. It didn't work for Jindal, of course, but that doesn't make it any less brilliant.
Trump faces off with Fiorina next week. Should be fun for all!
"Can you actually imagine what would happen if Donald Trump became president? Faces he deemed not suitable for television would not appear -- we'd have only beautiful women, as defined by Trump. President Trump will save us all from ugliness ever appearing on our screens again! Think it's impossible? Yet Donald Trump's poll numbers continue to climb, no matter what comes out of his mouth. There is simply no ceiling yet to his mounting support within the party. He's now polling over 30 percent, and my guess is that if he gets above 35 percent and sustains it, he may well become unstoppable for the Republican nomination. It'll sure make for an entertaining campaign season, that's for sure! Can't wait to see the debates next week, when Fiorina takes him on in person."
Jindal gets off a good one
As promised, here is what Bobby Jindal had to say about Trump's religious knowledge. This is perfect for any Democrat to use, just preface with "...as Bobby Jindal said about Trump:"
Donald Trump has never read the Bible. The reason I know he has not read the Bible is that he's not in the Bible.
Chalk this one up on the long list of "apocalyptically-bad things Republicans lie awake at night worrying about, which never actually come to pass." I mean, seriously, we're going to invade Texas? Why? From [FTP 362], when yet another GOP conspiracy theory was definitively proven utterly wrong.
Still no occupation of Texas
Likely the last time we'll be using this one. One would like to hope, at any rate.
"As Salon just helpfully pointed out, the 'Jade Helm 15' military exercise just wrapped up, and Texas is still somehow not occupied by the American military. Instead of the wild-eyed expectation that troops would be 'marching through your town, implementing Obamacare, pardoning undocumented workers and replacing the Constitution with Sharia law,' absolutely nothing happened instead. I'm still waiting for Texas Governor Greg Abbott to admit he was 'horribly wrong about the whole thing,' but I'm not exactly holding my breath."
A political bombshell hit Washington when John Boehner was essentially forced to resign. For a moment there, Republicans seemed to have the perfect replacement. Then he opened his mouth. From [FTP 364], that time when Kevin McCarthy messed up by admitting a big truth on camera.
That's an awfully big cat, Kevin
I'm sure the Clinton campaign will have some prime snark about this one.
"Kevin McCarthy, the man who will likely become the next speaker of the House, just let a rather large cat out of the bag. He admitted on national television that the entire Benghazi investigation was nothing more than a partisan pre-emptive attack on Hillary Clinton's political prospects. He actually sounds proud of the fact that he's been wasting taxpayer money on this witchhunt, even after six or seven other investigations found precisely nothing. Anyone with half a brain could see that this was the real reason behind launching yet another investigation -- attacking Hillary's polling numbers, as McCarthy just boasted. But while everyone knew this was the case, Republicans were never supposed to actually come out and admit the truth in such blunt language. This wasn't some fluffy little kitten McCarthy just let out of the bag -- it was more like a saber-toothed tiger. If this is what we can expect from McCarthy, then I look forward to hearing him interviewed in the future, on all kinds of issues."
Sometimes humor was the only way to go. In October (obviously) the House essentially had nobody who wanted to be speaker (after McCarthy self-immolated). From [FTP 365], something to scare Republicans with (contextual note: the Tea Partiers, at some point, relabeled themselves the Freedom Caucus).
A timely reference if ever there was one.
"I think that for Hallowe'en this year, I'm going to dress up as a Freedom Caucus member and go around to all the House Republicans' offices. I can't imagine a scarier costume for them to see standing on their porch than that, personally. Boo! I've come to eat your brains! Everybody run!"
Two weeks later, they had found a savior. From [FTP 367], when Paul Ryan rather reluctantly agreed to take Boehner's job.
Paul Ryan, savior
You could almost visualize the Republicans prostrating themselves while chanting: "We are not worthy!"
"Did Paul Ryan just get elected Pope? I even heard some Republicans were tweeting things like 'we have white smoke' when Ryan announced he'd reluctantly take the job of speaker of the House -- as long as he didn't have to work too hard at it. Ryan is being hailed as the savior of the House Republicans, but my guess is that this honeymoon is going to be pretty darn short. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if Ryan eventually quits the job in frustration, just like John Boehner did. Paul Ryan doesn't actually walk on water or anything -- he's still got the job of governing the most ungovernable group of people in Washington. I mean, good luck to him and all, but I'm not exactly expecting miracles."
Some of these, we have to admit, we use pretty much on a yearly basis, just by updating the numbers. [FTP 368] has a perfect example of one of these, with the most jaw-dropping number yet.
Nice work if you can get it
A favorite subject for ridicule, at least in this column.
"I see the congressional schedules for next year are out, and it seems that the House will only be bothering to show up for work a paltry 111 days out of all of next year. In 2011, they worked for 175 days. In 2015, they managed to work 132 days. Next year? Down to 111 days. That is downright pathetic, folks. We're paying these slackers to show up for work, on average, for only two days out of the week for all of next year. Well, if they only want to work two days out of every five, how about we just cut their salaries by sixty percent? Seems only fair to me."
Meanwhile, back in the presidential race, Trump kept outdoing himself on the outrageousness of his positions. From [FTP 369], Trump unveils his perfect plan to solve inequality.
Wages are too high
This is one of the Democrats' strongest issues, and Donald Trump just gave them a gift.
"When asked whether America should raise the minimum wage in the Republican debate, pretty much every candidate who responded said they would leave the minimum wage where it is. Except for one. Donald Trump thinks, and I quote, 'wages are too high.' Got that? The federal minimum wage is too high, not too low. I would like to see, in the next debate, all the Republican candidates asked whether they agree with Trump or not -- and whether they'd lower the minimum wage. Perhaps they'll get in a bidding war to see how low a minimum wage they each would support."
This idea was revived recently, complete with a sit-in and a filibuster to force votes. Some of us, however, have been pointing it out for quite some time. From November, in [FTP 370], we again have two talking points. The first should sound familiar, and the second one was just so wildly idiotic that we feel the need to remind everyone it happened.
2,000 guns sold
This is the best example to use.
"After 9/11, politicians were awfully quick to restrict Americans' civil liberties. The USA PATRIOT Act flew through Congress, as I recall. But the one civil liberty that Republicans refused to even address was the ownership of firearms. 'Maybe we should do something so terrorists who sneak into America can't get guns,' Democrats proposed, but the answer was a flat: 'Nope, we're not gonna do that,' from the Republicans. Well, in the past ten years two thousand guns were bought by people on the official government terrorist watch list. Doesn't that concern Republicans even a tiny little bit? Don't you think this is a bigger danger than some three-year-old Syrian who is going to have to wait two or three years to become an official refugee? This is what I mean about Republicans getting distracted from real, tangible, and downright dangerous loopholes in America's laws -- loopholes that have allowed thousands of guns to get in the hands of suspected terrorists."
Convert the heathens!
This one is just the essence of stupidity, really. Remember, too: he's supposed to be the sane Republican running.
"Republican presidential candidate John Kasich -- a supposed moderate -- had his own brilliant idea for how to win the hearts and minds of Middle Eastern terrorists. He's going to create a new Department of Judeo-Christian Propaganda, and beam Judeo-Christian messages into the conflict zone. Boy! What a great idea! Let's try to convert the heathens! I'm surprised someone hasn't come up with such a brilliant idea before -- to travel to the Holy Land and either convert or kill everyone there. You could even come up with a snappy title for the program, something along the lines of 'The American Crusade' -- because that'll be the ticket to solving the religious conflicts in the Middle East! And this is from the moderate Republican candidate, mind you."
By December, some Republicans had started to absolutely freak out. This phenomenon has grown over time, but even back then some were sounding the alarm. From [FTP 371] comes advice from a strategy memo (full of talking points, in other words) from the people whose political job it is to get Republicans elected to the Senate. Note well that "never, ever" is exactly where we find ourselves now.
As mentioned, the first four of these are from that Republican senatorial campaign memo. This was the very first bullet point from the memo, and it paints a very grim picture for Republicans.
Trump is a Misguided Missile. Let's face facts. Trump says what's on his mind and that's a problem. Our candidates will have to spend full time defending him or condemning him if that continues. And, that's a place we never, ever want to be.
Trump's international image was no better that it was here at home. From [FTP 372] comes this gem. Maybe she's got an anti-Trump spell to recommend? Expellitrumpus!
And, finally, the best putdown of the week.
"Donald Trump isn't too popular in Great Britain these days, it seems. Not only is there a petition (with hundreds of thousands of signatures on it) for Parliament to ban him from the country as a hatemonger, he is also being widely compared to Voldemort. Which brought the following response from J. K. Rowling: 'How horrible. Voldemort was nowhere near as bad.' It didn't stop the jokes about Trump's hair being one of his horcruxes, though."
By January, you'd have thought that the pundits would have realized that Donald Trump was the clear favorite to win, seeing as how he'd led in the polls for six solid months. You'd be wrong, though. In [FTP 373] we noted in the introduction that two columnists (one left, one right) both rightly identified their own logical error (the "Underpants Gnome Theory"), but then went right ahead and doubled-down on that error by explaining that Phase 2 simply had to happen -- it was inevitable!
Lefty Ezra Klein of Vox responded with a column of his own. Which is where the Underpants Gnomes come in. For those who are still wondering what the heck Underpants Gnomes are, we refer you to a synopsis of the "Gnomes" episode of South Park, or to a short video of their infamous business plan. Underpants Gnomes, you see, sneak around at night stealing children's underpants, as part of a grand get-rich-quick scheme. Here is their business plan, in all its glory:
Phase 1: Collect underpants
Phase 2: ?
Phase 3: Profit
Which is how Klein admits precisely what is missing in the conventional Washington "Trump must lose" wisdom:
It's the Underpants Gnomes theory of Trump's loss. Step 1: Trump leads the polls for month after month. Step 2: ??? Step 3: He loses! Even if you think that's likely, it sounds a bit ridiculous when you say it aloud.
Even though Klein admitted how ridiculous it was, he stuck to his guns and stated that because Howard Dean lost, Trump would most assuredly also lose. No, really! Later on, in the talking points, came a few more items to add to that "has never happened" list.
Doom and gloom that never happened
I'm sure President Obama will be mentioning this in his upcoming State Of The Union address, but perhaps not in such a snarky way.
"When President Obama ran for re-election, Republicans predicted a heavy dose of doom-and-gloom for America. Looking back on some of these predictions shows how little attention should be paid to conservatives' dire warnings, of course. Gas was supposed to be over six bucks a gallon by now. Unemployment was supposed to be stuck at eight percent. Obamacare was supposed to have entered a death spiral. Instead, take a look around you. Gas is cheap, the economy is adding 300,000 jobs per month. Obama has averaged more jobs added to the economy per year than George W. Bush and his father combined, in fact. Unemployment is at five percent -- a full point lower than Mitt Romney promised by the end of his first term, mind you -- and over 11 million people have signed up for Obamacare already this year. The reality is a lot brighter than Republican predictions -- keep that in mind as you listen to them campaign this year, folks."
We noticed that we never properly gave credit for where we came up with our final item this week, so we'd like to rectify this now. We got the pun from the book title of a collection of Wizard Of Id cartoons published in the 1970s. Being a kingdom, the title was actually "The Peasants Are Revolting!" Mea culpa, Johnny Hart and Brant Parker. We updated this in [FTP 375], for today's political scene, as more and more Republicans began to revolt against their likely nominee.
Conservatives are revolting
And finally, we end exactly where we began.
"Boy, it's tough to keep track of the revolts going on in the Republican Party these days. Donald Trump is leading a revolt against the establishment Republicans. The National Review is leading a counterrevolt against Trump. The establishment Republicans are actually waving a big white flag and are now revolting against the National Review and sucking up to Trump. Ted Cruz is leading a revolt against pretty much every other Republican in existence, who are quite willing to badmouth Cruz in return. The party's voters are leading a revolt against the big money donors. Pretty much anywhere you look within the Republican Party, things are downright revolting."
That's it for this week! See you next Friday (same bat time, same bat channel) for part 2 of our look back.
-- Chris Weigant