Friday Talking Points -- Taking The Trump Exit

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a press conference at Turnberry Golf course in Turnberry, Scotla
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a press conference at Turnberry Golf course in Turnberry, Scotland, June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Donald Trump's name lends itself to all sorts of mashed-up words, but we find it doesn't really work with the big story of the week. British voters decided to take the so-called "Brexit" (or "British exit") from the European Union. But what should we call the increasing stream of Republicans flowing away from Trump's campaign? Truxit? Trexit? See, it just doesn't work all that well.

But whatever you call it, the number of GOP stalwarts now taking the Trump exit continues to increase. It's kind of astounding that so many in the party are fleeing their own presidential nominee, since this (to put it mildly) isn't normal. Normally, the party rallies around their candidate right about now, but these are not (again, to put it mildly) normal times.

Just in the past week alone, we had well-respected Republican foreign policy wonk Brent Scowcroft actually endorse Hillary Clinton for president. That's pretty stunning. Then there were a list of 50 Republican business leaders who also publicly announced they were supporting the other party's candidate. George Will is now pleading with Republican donors to not give Trump a thin dime. Senator Mark Kirk, who is in fear of losing his seat in Illinois, is proudly running away from both Trump and his own party (his recent ad boasts Kirk "bucked his party to say Donald Trump is not fit to be commander-in-chief"). Go on, tell us how you really feel, Senator Kirk!

One Republican was a bit more eloquent about his disgust towards Trump. Lionel Sosa, described as: "One of the few Hispanic political operatives able to help Republican candidates win large percentages of Latino voters," will be leaving the Republican Party if it nominates Trump. He explains why he's made this decision:

I'll have to bid [the Republican Party] farewell, hoping that one day soon, it comes to its senses. Here's my thinking. This madness could be temporary because our nominee is not really a Republican. Not a real conservative. He's just a shark, a self-promoter out to see how far his out-of-control ego can take him.

Instead of "Tear down this wall," the party promotes a new and bigger wall. A thousand points of light has been replaced by a thousand points of anger. In place of compassionate conservatism, our nominee promotes callousness, extremism and racism. And instead of a unifier, the party now cheers the ultimate "us against them" proponent. Divisiveness incarnate.

Wow. And that's all coming from Republicans, mind you. The Trump campaign had another bad week all around, beginning with Trump firing his campaign manager. The news that the campaign is essentially broke also hit hard. Trump ended the last filing period with less money in the bank than many House candidates. Hillary is outspending him in battleground states by over a $20-million-to-zero margin.

From all reports, Trump just doesn't like to do fundraising. Fundraising is a part of politics that most politicians hate, because it involves picking up the phone and calling wealthy people to ask them to send you a bunch of money. It's tawdry -- there's no getting around it. Trump, so far, seems not to have called anybody on the GOP's "big donors" list. This, in addition to the "we're flat broke" campaign finance report, means GOP donors are now less inclined to make donations, even if Trump calls them up and personally asks. "Why throw away money on a losing cause?" the fatcats wonder. Making it even harder in the future for Trump to raise funds. It's a vicious cycle, and it couldn't be happening to a more deserving guy, really.

Trump tried to get back on offense this week, by giving a speech outlining all the ways he's going to be attacking Hillary Clinton over the course of the campaign. Unfortunately for Trump, most of it was laughably inaccurate and some of it descended to the level of flat-out conspiracy theory. Especially amusing was his claim that Clinton "was asleep" when the tragedy in Benghazi happened (she wasn't -- it was three o'clock in the afternoon when the call came in, not three in the morning).

Clinton also gave a speech which attacked Trump right back. She got off one amusing line during it (about how all Trump's books "seem to end at Chapter 11"), but she still needs some work on her delivery. But beyond oratory style, Clinton's biggest danger this year is going to be running a too-conventional campaign strategy against Trump, who is making up his own rules as he goes along. One thing Clinton should do to practice facing hostility would be to give a press conference (since it's now been over 200 days since she last did so). If you can't even face reporters' questions, after all, how are you going to ever face Trump on a stage?

Three names have popped up on the shortlist for Hillary's veep choice: Senator Tim Kaine, HUD Secretary Julián Castro, and Senator Elizabeth Warren. Warren will actually be appearing on the stump with Hillary in Ohio on Monday, which could serve as an audition of sorts. Reports are that Clinton and Warren don't exactly have a close relationship, though, and there was a very disturbing story in Politico recently -- which was disturbing on a number of levels:

Big Wall Street donors have a message for Hillary Clinton: Keep Elizabeth Warren off the ticket or risk losing millions of dollars in contributions.

In a dozen interviews, major Democratic donors in the financial services industry said they saw little chance that Clinton would pick the liberal firebrand as her vice presidential nominee. These donors despise Warren's attacks on the financial industry. But they also think her selection would be damaging to the economy. And they warned that if Clinton surprises them and taps Warren, big donations from the industry could vanish.

"If Clinton picked Warren, her whole base on Wall Street would leave her," said one top Democratic donor who has helped raise millions for Clinton. "They would literally just say, 'We have no qualms with you moving left, we understand all the things you've had to do because of Bernie Sanders, but if you are going there with Warren, we just can't trust you, you've killed it.'"

Personally, we think that is a dandy reason to pick Warren. Pissing off Wall Street would be a good thing, in our book at least. Forgive my language, but it actually comes from one of these donors, explaining why they wouldn't speak on the record: "There is no upside to my talking to you on the record. Either I piss off the Clinton campaign or I piss off Warren, or both."

Like we said, the whole article was a pretty cynical look at how politics works these days. Speaking of denouncing such a rigged system, Bernie Sanders made crystal clear what he wants now, in an op-ed he wrote for the Washington Post. Here are his opening and closing paragraphs:

As we head toward the Democratic National Convention, I often hear the question, "What does Bernie want?" Wrong question. The right question is what the 12 million Americans who voted for a political revolution want.

And the answer is: They want real change in this country, they want it now and they are prepared to take on the political cowardice and powerful special interests which have prevented that change from happening.

. . .

What do we want? We want to end the rapid movement that we are currently experiencing toward oligarchic control of our economic and political life. As Lincoln put it at Gettysburg, we want a government of the people, by the people and for the people. That is what we want, and that is what we will continue fighting for.

Bernie now says he'll vote for Hillary Clinton, so he's edging closer to trying to unify the Democrats for the general election campaign.

In other news, Marco Rubio has decided that he will, after all, run for re-election. The Washington Post summed this up in a single headline: "Marco Rubio Is Running For Senate Again. So That He Can Run For President Again." Florida voters, beware!

It was a busy week for the Supreme Court, with rulings that watered down the Fourth Amendment, reaffirmed affirmative action in college admissions, and punted (with a 4-4 tie) on Obama's immigration plans. This last one was a political loss for Obama, as he likely won't be in office when the issue is fully resolved.

In marijuana news, there is a bipartisan bill moving in Congress to essentially remove all the restrictions on medical marijuana research. The astonishing part is that it was written by both strong supporters of ending the War On Weed as well as the staunchest drug warriors in the House. Maybe with those co-sponsors it has a chance of passing, who knows?

Data is now in from Colorado, showing that legalizing recreational marijuana use among adults had almost no impact on underage marijuana use. None! If anything, teen use went down because of legalization. Add that to the enormous heap of wrong predictions (and outright lies) the public has been told about marijuana, for approximately the last century.

In related news (heh), Led Zeppelin won a court challenge to the originality of "Stairway To Heaven."

All kidding aside, we'll end where we began, with Donald Trump. There's one Republican candidate for office (for a House seat from Tennessee) who obviously isn't taking the Trump exit. In fact, he's actually gone beyond Trump in racism (something that's not all that easy to do). He put up a proud sign with his own charming take on Trump's signature slogan: "Make America White Again." Hey, since it seems to be the year to discard all the dog whistles in favor of just saying what you feel, why not? The sign later came down, but it's obvious we're in for a whole different style of politics on the Republican side, possibly for a long time to come.


This one is obvious. The Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week was Representative John Lewis, veteran of the Civil Rights battles, who staged a sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives which lasted over 25 hours, in an effort to force a vote on gun control legislation that 85-to-90 percent of Americans want to see happen.

We already wrote this past week about what a brilliant piece of political theater this was. In fact, in the very first blog post I ever wrote, I called on Democrats (who, in 2006, were also in the minority in Congress) to start playing some offense instead of just moping about not being in charge:

Realistically, since Democrats don't control either house of Congress, they can't schedule floor votes on their issues (or even get them out of committee). But that doesn't mean they can't use the media to effectively start a national debate on their own "hot button" issues.

. . .

There's no shortage of good hot button issues to pick from that poll at 60%, 70% or even higher with the general public -- in both blue states and red.

. . .

Democrats need to take back Congress, but the only way they'll do it is to give people a good solid reason to vote for them, not just against the other guys. Something Americans would be for without caring which party thought it up. Something a devout churchgoer in the Deep South could support as enthusiastically as a tree-hugger in San Francisco. Republicans can scream and rant about being anti-this or anti-that until they're blue in the face, but the average swing voter is going to think: "Wow, that's a good idea. That would make my life easier. I'm voting for that."

This is precisely what the House Democrats just did. Following the Senate's lead (after Chris Murphy's filibuster), they focused on only two gun control bills: universal background checks, and banning suspected terrorists from buying guns. Both poll astronomically high with the public at large.

Democrats are now vowing to vigorously make their case out on the campaign trail. This is a great idea. Put as much pressure on Republicans as humanly possible on both issues. The campaign ads would almost write themselves ("Congressman Smith wants terrorists to be able to buy guns!").

For leading this effort in the House, and for showing the country what Democrats look like when they're on offense, John Lewis is easily our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. He took an old civil disobedience idea and masterfully used it to radically change the debate on a very important issue. A hearty "Well done!" to Congressman Lewis and all the other Democrats who stood (or "sat") by him.

[Congratulate Representative John Lewis on his House contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]


Sadly, this one is also pretty easy this week. Representative Chaka Fattah was convicted of financial racketeering charges this week. You can read the whole sordid story for the details, if you'd like.

The icing on the cake, though, was Fattah's announcement (after he had been found guilty as sin) that he would be stepping down from his seat... in October -- the day before he will be sentenced. Because, you know, another three months of salary isn't too much to ask, right?

Republicans began moving quickly to force Fattah out, so he quickly decided that it'd be better for everyone if he just stepped down immediately. But even attempting to cash a few more paychecks after a racketeering conviction was a pretty nakedly greedy move, so both for his many crimes and his attempt to cash in until the last possible day, Chaka Fattah is unquestionably our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.

[Since he is no longer a member of the House, his contact page will no longer be available. Maybe you could write to him when he starts his prison term, if you'd like to let him know what you think of his actions.]


Volume 397 (6/24/16)

Before we begin this week's talking points, we have some old business to take care of. A few weeks back, in FTP [374], we ran the final round of our "best playground taunt to call Donald Trump" contest. We had four finalists, but in the end we're going with the simplest and most elegant of the choices. We felt it was the most versatile, the most cutting, and the most dismissive label of all the suggestions we received.

The runner-up slogan is funnier, we do admit: "Crazy Uncle Donald." It universally brings to mind that relative you only see at Thanksgiving and Christmas who revels in being politically incorrect. However, we see this one as better for surrogates and attack dogs to use against Trump, because it is a little too blunt for a presidential candidate (one not named Trump, at any rate) to use. The word "crazy" is just a wee bit too much, at least to us.

Which is why we decided on "Poor Donald" instead. This is even more appropriate now that the Trump campaign appears to be in financial trouble. It fits in with Trump's refusal to release his tax returns -- probably because he wants to hide how little he's actually worth. Literal meaning works just fine in saying "Poor Donald," but it also brings to mind nothing short of pity. It evokes the flavor of "Richie Rich, the poor little rich boy." Poor Donald -- we should all hold a pity party for him.

We feel that this is calculated to get under Trump's orange skin in multiple ways, which was the whole point of the contest in the first place. So we congratulate Balthasar, a commenter at my blogsite, who came up with the winning entry. Woo hoo! You have earned respect (but, unfortunately, no actual prize), and we will begin using "Poor Donald" as many times as we can in the coming months.

OK, that's enough old business, let's get on with this week's talking points. As always, use responsibly.


   92 percent

These first two come from a CNN poll with some eyebrow-raising statistics.

"Democrats in Congress held a sit-in this week to draw the public's attention to how bought-and-paid-for all the Republicans are on commonsense gun control laws. The N.R.A. calls the tune, and the Republicans dance. They refuse to even bring up a bill expanding background checks, even though an astounding ninety-two percent of the public agrees with the idea. Over nine out of ten Americans want Congress to act -- and we bet that includes a whole bunch of constituents who are paying attention now and who will be paying attention this November in the voting booth."


   85 percent

These first two are (if you'll forgive the analogy) a double-barrelled shot Democrats should be verbally firing.

"In the same poll, almost as many Americans support banning people on federal watchlists from buying guns -- an astounding 85 percent of the public agrees with the idea. What's even more startling is that the support among Republican voters is actually higher than the average. A whopping ninety percent of Republicans want to see people on the No-Fly List or other terrorist watchlists banned from buying guns. Once again, in case you missed it, ninety percent of Republicans want to see Congress act. The N.R.A. doesn't want Congress to act. It's pretty easy to see that Republicans are completely ignoring the will of the people -- their own partisan voters, even -- in favor of kowtowing to a big campaign donor."


   Getting out in front, for once

As mentioned earlier, it certainly is nice to see Democrats playing offense, for once.

"Count me among those who are pleased that Democratic politicians are making a stand (by sitting down) and for once going on offense on a political issue with sky-high public support. They should continue protesting Republican inaction right up to the election, in fact. Republicans have always been eager to explain why certain laws needed to pass for national security, always helpfully pointing out: 'If you're not a terrorist, this won't apply to you, so don't worry!' But when the subject of allowing suspected terrorists to legally buy high-powered military weapons, then Republicans balk. The public is not on their side, and Democrats are the ones showing leadership this time around. We can't force Paul Ryan to hold a vote in the House, but maybe if we make this a centerpiece of the election, we'll be able to get a vote under Speaker Pelosi next year. The time for moments of silence is over. The time for action is here. And you can bet your bottom dollar Democrats will be pointing this out from now to Election Day."


   Ryan's other failure this week

Paul Ryan has had a pretty miserable week. So point it out!

"Paul Ryan rolled out the long-awaited official Republican replacement of the dreaded Obamacare this week. Initially, Ryan promised he'd roll out actual legislation to accomplish this, but then he found out this was too hard to do, for a simple reason: the numbers just don't add up. When you propose a bill, it has to be 'scored' to see what the outcome will be in dollars and other statistics (like number of people insured). But all the Republican ideas -- each and every one of them -- will actually cost more money than Obamacare, and have a worse outcome. So Ryan instead decided to just put out a 'white paper,' which is Washington-speak for 'some vague ideas with no actual details or numbers.' Republicans have had six years to offer up their magical replacement plan for Obamacare, and they still cannot do it because the numbers just don't add up."


   Speaking of political stunts...

But there's an even better way to drive this point home.

"Paul Ryan complained that the Democrats were doing nothing more than (as he put it) putting on a 'political stunt' with their sit-in. If you're wondering why he's so cranky on the subject, it's because the Democratic effort completely buried his own political stunt this week. Ryan rolled out his replacement for Obamacare, straight from the Land of Make-Believe, which has no details and no numbers. When he took over leadership of the House, he promised he'd pass actual legislation -- an actual bill to replace Obamacare. He could not do so because, as always, the Republican numbers just don't add up. So rather than provide real numbers, Ryan decided a political stunt would do the job just fine. Too bad for him that he chose a week to pull this stunt when Democrats showed how much better they are at political theater. Ryan was upset because their stunt blew his away in the media world, plain and simple."


   Taking the Trump exit

Although admittedly not as catchy as "Brexit," we think this phrase nicely balances "jumping on the Trump train." When you want to get off it, it's not a train, it's a highway -- and many are already heading for the exit lane.

"At this point, you have to wonder how many Republicans are going to eventually decide to take the Trump exit. Brent Scowcroft and 50 Republican business leaders did so this week, declaring their support for Hillary Clinton rather than supporting their own party's nominee. Latino Republicans are heading for the exit, too. Conservative columnist George Will is begging Republican donors not to donate to his party's presidential nominee. Has America ever had a presidential election where so many respected voices from one party have denounced their own nominee? At this rate, I'd have to warn Republicans to head for the Trump exit ramp as soon as possible, because as time goes by a real traffic jam may develop."


   Only one year?

And finally, we had to end on a happy note.

"Can you believe it's only been a single year since the Supreme Court upheld marriage equality all across America? Thinking back to the time before the court ruled on the matter once and for all is like remembering some much more distant era in history. In only a year, gay marriage has been almost completely normalized. The political fight is over. Opponents have moved on to other (and smaller) political battlefields, and even Republican candidates for office now regularly refuse to even talk about gay marriage. That's a big change from when they confidently used it as a wedge issue in every election they could. Such a big change has happened so swiftly that it now feels like gay marriage was legalized a lot longer ago than a single year, in fact. This is the ultimate victory, folks -- the other side has completely given up the fight. Soon it will become hard to remember a time when marriage equality wasn't the law of the land for all."


Chris Weigant blogs at:

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