Friday Talking Points -- GOP's 'What Would Lincoln Do?' Moment

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 9:  House Speaker Paul Ryan, (R-WI) greets colleagues before a session on 'Protecting the U.S. Homeland
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 9: House Speaker Paul Ryan, (R-WI) greets colleagues before a session on 'Protecting the U.S. Homeland' at The Council on Foreign Relations on June 9, 2016, in Washington, D.C. Ryan was to unveil a national security plan during the event. (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)

Whither the fabled "Party of Lincoln"? That was the question on the minds of many Republicans this week, at least based on how often they used the phrase. Now, we're used to scathing attacks on character being hurled in the frenzy of a presidential campaign. Indeed, it's woven into the fabric of American politics. It's just that in normal years, these attacks are flung across the aisle, at the other party's nominee. It is extraordinary that all of the vicious attacks we're going to feature in our talking points section this week came from Republicans, all aimed squarely at their own party's presidential nominee. Seriously, when in the past have you ever heard the term "unendorse" used? We haven't checked, but we believe it just got coined and added to the political lexicon. It hasn't existed before because the concept hasn't ever existed before (again, in our own memory, at the very least). But we're going to get to all this in great detail later, so let's just move along for now.

Oh, one technical side-note, before we begin: for those of you anxiously awaiting the results of our "what to call Donald Trump?" contest (which ran last week), compiling the list of anti-Trump statements today took so much time that we're going to have to judge the contest next week. Our apologies for the delay.

In non-presidential news, Paul Ryan definitely fell flat on his face this week. Actually, he fell flat on his face in presidential news as well (in answering press questions after his event), but this week was supposed to be the glorious time when Ryan began unveiling his much-touted Republican agenda -- those things his House would be passing as soon as possible. Ryan deluded himself into thinking he could come up with a legislative agenda acceptable to his House caucus, when he first took the job of leading them. He was going to pass a whole bunch of bills to prove to the country what a wonderful forward-thinking agenda Republicans were capable of. Months of work went into this effort, but in the end Ryan had to severely trim back his own expectations. None of this stuff would be written into actual bills, he explained (while backing down from his grandiose earlier promises), because that was just too hard to do, given all the Tea Party radicals he had to keep happy. Instead, he'd just be listing some vague suggestions, in some white papers nobody would ever read. This week was to mark the first one of these, on solving poverty (by spending less money on the poor, of course). Here is how Dana Milbank of the Washington Post snarkily began his coverage of the event:

Seven white men and a white woman, Republican members of Congress all, boarded vehicles on Capitol Hill on Tuesday morning for a voyage deep into Anacostia, a largely black and poor section of Washington.

Their mission: to reassure nonwhite voters frightened by Donald Trump, their party's presumptive presidential nominee.

Their odds of success: exceedingly low.

The lawmakers must have perceived their mission to be risky, for they traveled with a veritable arsenal: a Capitol Police "mobile command center" truck, a canine unit, four or five squad cars and a half-dozen black police vans. Police closed the street to traffic, and security officials wearing plainclothes and earpieces kept a watchful eye in all directions as a white van disgorged the lawmakers at the residential addiction-treatment program they were visiting. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan zoomed up moments later in his two-Suburban motorcade.

The lawmakers, six of them in matching blue dress shirts, sat at a table in the shelter's basement, then invited the cameras in to capture a few seconds of their supportive nods and ingratiating smiles while African-American residents told their tales of recovery. Later, they reassembled outside, where the GOP officials gave a news conference while residents of the shelter, House of Help City of Hope, stood silently, human props in the background.

Ouch. Ryan should be happy he got even snarky coverage, though, because the story of the day became not his poverty white paper, but instead what he had to say about Donald Trump (which we'll get to, later).

Republicans running for office had better get used to what has happened over the past week or two, because it is going to be the "Groundhog Day" event of the entire campaign. The cycle will play out again and again, so the GOP better get used to it now: (1) Donald Trump says something incredibly bigoted, (2) Donald Trump then doubles down, refusing to apologize in any way, (3) every single Republican running for office anywhere is then asked: "So what do you think of what Trump just said?"

That's how it's going to go, so our guess is that Republicans will be thinking about that whole "Party of Lincoln" thing for months to come. "WWLD?" might just become the theme of the entire campaign, in fact.

Many inside-the-Beltway types (even a few Republicans) appear downright shocked that any racism might still exist out there in the hinterlands. Which is why we're ending this intro with the following news: Waco, Texas is finally getting around to desegregating a cemetery. Since it was created (back in 1875), there's been a fence down the middle of the graveyard, complete with separate entrances in the perimeter fence. Black people were buried on one side of the dividing line, white people on the other. And the fence still exists. A city councilman said in 2014: "That should have been taken out 75 years ago," but it took two more years for anything to be done about it. The city's been moving this slow for decades, apparently. From a story a newspaper ran in 1971, a cemetery association leader talked about how "the absurdity of the cemetery's segregating fence" had been discussed "for decades," and added the pithy quote: "I suppose they wanted that so the black ghosts wouldn't go over there and bother the white ghosts." But this absurdity continued for another 45 years and is only now being torn down. In this political season full of talk of building fences, it's good to see at least one racist fence come down, although you have to wonder what, exactly, took them so long?

 

The obvious choice for Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week would be Hillary Clinton, who clinched the party's nomination with impressive victories in four states this Tuesday, including winning California by double digits.

However, we gave her the award last week (kind of in anticipation), so we're going to just hand Hillary another Honorable Mention instead. Because we really feel that President Barack Obama deserves the MIDOTW award this week, instead.

Obama became relevant to the presidential race this week, as he endorsed Hillary Clinton and began laying out a campaign schedule to travel to the Midwest and other swing states in support of Clinton. Obama also acted as middleman this week, meeting personally with Bernie Sanders before he released his endorsement of Clinton. And then he followed it all up with a hilarious appearance last night on Jimmy Fallon's show.

Barack Obama's poll numbers have been inching steadily upwards since January. On the Real Clear Politics rolling daily average, his job approval is now over 49 percent. Obama has already broken through the 50 percent barrier in many individual polls, and he now seems poised to do so in the average, as well. This will be the first time he'll have managed this feat since the first two months of his second term, so it's no small accomplishment. His approval rating among Democrats is sky-high, and the New York Times points out an odd historic fact: Obama will be the first sitting (second-term) president to actively campaign for his own party's replacement since Ronald Reagan. Al Gore thought Bill Clinton was too toxic (there are many who blame his loss on his refusal to let Clinton campaign for him, in fact). George W. Bush was obviously too toxic -- he hasn't even been to a Republican National Convention since 2004, in fact, because he's still too toxic for the party. This means that Obama giving rousing speeches for Hillary will be the first time a sitting president has done so in a very long time.

Obama is at his best on the hustings, in case anyone's forgotten. Even his fiercest detractors grudgingly admit "the man knows how to give a speech." Which means this is the start of Obama being in the news in the most positive way possible for months to come -- which will likely push his approval rating even higher.

Obama won't just be campaigning for Hillary, he'll also be publicly making the case for his own presidential legacy. To see him broker a peace between Hillary and Bernie was just the kickoff to the general election season -- a season where Obama will be fully engaged with the voters once again. When we look back at the 2016 election later, this will be seen as the week when Obama got off the bench and started to mix it up again in the world of presidential politics. Which makes him our choice for Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. Personally, we're looking forward to hearing a few zingers from Obama out on Hillary's campaign trail. And we're definitely not alone in that.

[Congratulate President Barack Obama on his White House contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]

 

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week, for fiercely defending his attack on free political expression.

Cuomo has essentially created a blacklist of people and companies which his state will no longer do business with. Anyone who joins or advocates for the "BDS" movement gets put on the blacklist. Once again: a political stance taken means the state government blacklists you. That should horrify anyone who believes in constitutional government. Whether you agree with the movement or not, such heavy-handed tactics are flatly un-American.

For those unfamiliar with the term, BDS refers to "boycott, divestment, and sanctions" -- political tactics that were used very successfully against the apartheid government of South Africa in the 1980s. Without endorsing the movement itself (plenty of other people are out there to explain the movement or try to convince you to join it, for those disappointed that we're not fully endorsing the movement), we have to point out that these are entirely peaceful measures being urged against the governmental policies of Israel towards the Palestinians. These are not some militant radicals trying to forcibly oust Israel's government. And protesting the policies of the current government of Israel doesn't automatically make you an anti-Semite (if it did, a large portion of Israel's own population would be guilty of the sin).

But to the foes of BDS, the movement is somehow a lot more sinister. The word most often used is "delegitimize" -- that's what BDS is trying to do to the state of Israel itself. The second-most often word used is "anti-Semitic," but that one always gets tossed around in this debate. The pro-Israel people accuse the BDS movement of not being legitimate, and of trying to delegitimize Israel. Here's how Andrew Cuomo explained it in the Washington Post this week:

If you boycott Israel, New York will boycott you.

Indeed, a new front has opened in the fight against Israel's existence. Just as the U.S.-Israel relationship has developed a robust and burgeoning commercial dimension, the threats against Israel have acquired one. There are those who seek to weaken and undermine Israel through the politics of discrimination, hatred and fear.

New York will not tolerate this new brand of warfare. New York stands with Israel because we are Israel and Israel is us.

Um, no. Israel is not America's 51st state. It just isn't. We may "stand with" Israel" (or other such soaring platitudes) but to say that we are them and they are us is just flat-out wrong. And to call a peaceful movement a "new brand of warfare" is nothing short of propaganda.

Again -- all of this seems obvious even if you don't agree or support the BDS movement. Why were the tactics fine to use against South Africa but somehow "the politics of discrimination, hatred and fear" when used against Israel? That makes no sense.

Cuomo is free -- either as a private citizen or as leader of his state -- to denounce the BDS movement until he is blue in the face. That's called free speech. He is free to argue against it, cajole people to denounce it, or any other action designed to fight against it short of abusing his governmental power.

But for a government itself to blacklist people and companies under its power -- purely over their political beliefs -- is nothing short of totalitarianism. Constitutionally, there are only two choices for any governmental agency to make: either allow all political speech, or none. There simply is no in-between where governments get to pick and choose which political beliefs they will reward. When the KKK wanted to join the "adopt a road" cleanup program in many states, the state could not specifically ban them for their beliefs. They had to either accept them into the program, put up the same sign as they do for everyone else ("this stretch of highway cleaned by...") or they could just end the adopt-a-road program altogether. Schools are faced with the same choice for organizations (many schools tried to ban gay-rights groups like PFLAG, and were told to either allow the group to form or ban all such groups altogether).

Governmental action and speech must be politically neutral. The power of government is so great that it cannot be abused to settle political scores. This is a basic tenet of America, in fact. But apparently it's one that Andrew Cuomo hasn't heard about. Oh, and also that thing about there only being 50 states, too. For his lack of understanding, we hereby award the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week to Andrew Cuomo. Maybe he ought to read up on New York history, specifically how Tammany Hall held so much power through patronage -- or the doling out of plum jobs to those who toed the political line. Such tactics belong on the ash-heap of history, not in new blacklists from the governor's office.

[Contact New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on his official contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]

 

Volume 395 (6/10/16)

If there's one thing Democrats are truly united about this election season, it is the unacceptability of Donald Trump to lead our nation. So it's pretty easy to put together talking points for Democrats to use to express their revulsion of Trump and all he stands for, because all Democrats largely agree on the subject.

This week, however, we're turning the talking points over to Republicans. Because the scathing things members of his own party are saying about him are even more instructive, since there is no question of them being mere partisan attacks. Now, it's a little puzzling why Trump's comments about a judge have lit this fire, since Trump hasn't been shy about expressing very similar sentiments from the day he announced his campaign ("they're rapists"). But for whatever reason, the Republican Party seems to have woken up to the fact that they're about to nominate a racist for president, and some of them are starting to speak out -- very loudly, at times.

Good for them. Better late than never, and all of that. Squaring the circle of "I condemn Donald Trump's racism" and "I'm going to vote for him, and I urge everyone to do the same" has become increasingly difficult. Paul Ryan really set off this stampede (in answer to a question asked at his poverty dog-and-pony show), weakly arguing that Trump would be better than Hillary Clinton:

I disavow those comments. I regret those comments that he made. Claiming a person can't do their job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment. I think that should be absolutely disavowed. It's absolutely unacceptable.

But Ryan's still going to vote for the man he's disavowing as absolutely unacceptable: "Do I believe Hillary Clinton is the answer? No I do not."

The New York Post responded with a scathing cover ("I'm with racist"), but comedian D.L. Hughley probably summed it up best: "What [Ryan is] saying is that a racist is better than a liberal." Hughley later added: "I think you can't be a little bit pregnant or a little bit racist."

Michael B. Keegan also raises an interesting connect-the-dots point over at the Huffington Post about the whole fracas, with the beautifully self-explanatory title: "While Trump Makes Racist Attacks On Judge, GOP Holds a Supreme Court Seat for Him to Fill?"

Since it's been such an interesting week, instead of our usual Democratic talking points ripping into Republican positions we're going to present a list of Republican talking points -- because they're doing such a great job ripping into their own party's nominee. Most of these people are still going to vote for and support Donald Trump, although a few are indeed already walking away from him. The first group of these comments all come from a Salon article which helpfully put them all in one place (and these are just the best ones, there are plenty of others listed):

Senator Ben Sasse [R-NE]:

Saying someone can't do a specific job because of his or her race is the literal definition of racism.

Senator Marco Rubio [R-FL]:

[Judge Curiel] is an American, born in the U.S., a judge who has earned that position. I don't think it reflects well in the Republican Party. I don't think it reflects well on us as a nation.

Ohio Governor John Kasich:

Attacking judges based on their race and/or religion is another tactic that divides our country. More importantly, it is flat-out wrong.

Newt Gingrich:

I don't know what Trump's reasoning was, and I don't care. His description of the judge in terms of his parentage is completely unacceptable.

Senator Rob Portman [R-OH]:

The fact that the judge has a Mexican-American heritage has nothing to do with how you should describe his judicial ability. The guy was born in Indiana. He's as American as I am.

Representative Jackie Walorski [R-IN]:

Questioning a judge's impartiality based on his ethnicity is not only inappropriate, it has no place in American society.

Senator Jeff Flake [R-AZ]:

His statements this week on the judge -- that's a new level... Because it's not just... ill-informed or ignorant statements, but they suggest that when he's president, you know, after November, that... perhaps he ought to go after that judge. That's a whole new level. So that's -- it's very disturbing.

Alberto Gonzales:

The call for a recusal of a judge based solely on ethnicity in my judgment is wrong and to do it publicly in my judgment demeans the judge and really does hurt the reputation of the judiciary, and I just think it was inappropriate the way that Donald Trump did it in this case.

Senator Mark Kirk [R-IL] faces a tough re-election battle this year in a blue state, and he's the first one to "unendorse" Trump. Kirk says he'll be writing in David Petraeus for president when he votes. From what he had to say:

I cannot and will not support my party's nominee for President... I have spent my life building bridges and tearing down barriers -- not building walls. That's why I find Donald Trump's belief that an American-born judge of Mexican descent is incapable of fairly presiding over his case is not only dead wrong, it is un-American.... I think we should send a strong message that racism and bigotry are not going to be tolerated in the party of Lincoln.

From the same article, Senator Jeff Flake had more to say on why he hasn't supported Trump and still won't be:

Let's face it: meet the old Trump, just like the new Trump. We've got what we've got. That's not somebody who can win the White House. "We're going to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it" is not a serious proposal. [Voters] want serious proposals on how to deal with this war on terrorism. Saying that you're going to ban Muslims from entering the country is not a serious proposal.

Susan Collins [R-ME] is still on the fence, however:

[Trump's comments] make it very difficult for me. It makes the decision [to endorse him or not] a hard one.

So is Senator Bob Corker [R-TN], who is still holding out for the "presidential" Trump to emerge:

He's got this defining period that's over the next two or three weeks where he could pivot, can pivot, hopefully will pivot to a place where he becomes a true general election candidate.

Good luck with that line of wishful thinking, Senator Corker!

Senator Lindsey Graham [R-SC] urged other Republicans to unendorse their party's presidential nominee:

If anybody was looking for an off-ramp, this is probably it. [Trump's comments are] the most un-American thing from a politician since Joe McCarthy. [I urge] Republicans who have backed Mr. Trump to rescind their endorsements. There'll come a time when the love of country will trump hatred of Hillary.

From a different interview with Graham:

There are a lot of people who want to be loyal to the Republican Party, including me. There'll come a point in time where we're gonna have to understand that it's not just about the 2016 race, it's about the future of the party, and I would like to support our nominee: I just can't.

Wow -- tell us how you really feel, Lindsey!

A state senator from Iowa, David Johnson, publicly announced he was going one step further, and exiting the Republican Party altogether.

I will not stand silent if the party of Lincoln and the end of slavery buckles under the racial bias of a bigot. [Trump's] campaign to reality TV and large crowds and divisive language and all the trappings of a good show for those who like that kind of approach, and that's what happened in the 1930s in Germany. I think that's all I need to say, but certainly the fascists took control of Germany under the same types of strategies. Mark me down as Never Trump.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell thinks he has the answer: Trump just needs to read prepared speeches from now on. Problem solved! No, really:

I object to a whole series of things that he's said -- vehemently object to them. I think all of that needs to stop. Both the shots at people he defeated in the primary and these attacks on various ethnic groups in the country.... I think he'd have a much better chance of winning if he would quit making so many unfortunate public utterances and stick to the script.

The Washington Post helpfully explained what McConnell was trying to achieve, in the snarkiest of ways:

This is fascinating stuff on many levels. Note that McConnell "vehemently objects" to Trump's attacks on various ethnic groups, but will continue to support him provided he reads from a prepared script that no longer includes such attacks -- in other words, provided Trump stops saying these things aloud.

That's really the root of the Republicans' problem with Trump, isn't it? "Don, you're not supposed to say this stuff in public," is really what it boils down to. Perhaps Trump himself needs a course from Republican Talking Points University -- are there any openings left for the summer session of "Dog Whistling 101"?

But that's really too much to hope for, for some clear-eyed Republicans. GOP strategist Mike Murphy has a very realistic view of Trump's chances in November:

To win what Trump would have to do is change the perception women have of him. Because white men are only a third of the electorate. So you can win them by 40 percent and it's still not enough.... He would need to dramatically change the perception people have of him now. And since Trump can't change, I think his answer is less in political strategy and more in a team of shrinks to get him back into some sort of mentality where he understands he has to change. This would require Trump to entertain the possibility that his antics and depravity are alienating a lot of people, and it's not clear he's capable of doing that.

Gotta love that "team of shrinks" jab, Mike! Which brings us to our final Republican angst of the week, from Michael Gerson, who still clings to the notion that his party is somehow better than all those millions of Trump voters are proving it to be:

So what were senior Republicans thinking when they endorsed Trump? I don't want to underestimate the difficulties involved in opposing one's own presumptive nominee. There is tremendous political pressure to be loyal to the team. The arguments against doing anything that might help Hillary Clinton are strong. "This is about moving our agenda forward," said Ryan in justifying his Trump endorsement.

Republican leaders, in other words, thought they were in a normal political moment -- a time for pragmatism, give-and-take, holding your nose and eventually getting past an unpleasant chore.

But it is not a normal political moment. It is one of those rare times -- like the repudiation of Joe McCarthy, or consideration of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, or the Watergate crisis -- when the spotlight of history stops on a single decision, and a whole political career is remembered in a single pose. The test here: Can you support, for pragmatic reasons, a presidential candidate who purposely and consistently appeals to racism?

When the choice came, only a handful of Republicans at the national level answered with a firm "no." A handful. It was not shocking to me that the plurality of an angry Republican primary electorate -- grown distrustful of establishment leaders -- might choose a populist who appeals to racial prejudice. It is shocking to me -- and depressing and infuriating -- that almost no elected Republicans of national standing would stand up to it.

By this standard, Sen. Ben Sasse is the moral leader of the GOP. But given the thinness of his company, many of us will never be able to think about the Republican Party in quite the same way again. It still carries many of the ideological convictions I share. Collectively, however, it has failed one of the most basic tests of public justice: Don't support racists -- or candidates who appeal to racism -- for public office. If this commitment is not a primary, non-negotiable element of Republican identity, then the party of Lincoln is dead.

Of course, some Democrats have been pointing out for decades now that Lincoln would be horrified at the modern Republican Party (say, from Nixon onwards...). But it's good to see that some Republicans are finally coming around to the same realization. Maybe there's hope, for some of them at least.

 

Chris Weigant blogs at:

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