Friday Talking Points -- Ships Leaving A Sinking Rat

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver, Colorado, U.S., July
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver, Colorado, U.S., July 1, 2016. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

We have to admit, we don't know where we heard that subtitle, and we certainly can't claim original credit for it. We think we read it in a comment to a Washington Post article, but we're not certain. In any case, as the stream of Republicans fleeing the Donald Trump candidacy becomes a flood, it does seem the appropriate metaphor to use -- the ships are leaving the sinking rat this time, not the other way 'round. We'll get to all of these amusing developments in the talking points this week, because we're devoting the entire section to the "Dump Trump" theme this week.

But first, we've got to get through the weekly news wrap-up and our awards. Let's start with our sitting president, whose job approval poll numbers are now solidly above 50 percent for the first time since his second inauguration. Barack Obama went to Canada this week, and while he was there he gave a speech to their legislature. He was wildly cheered as he spoke, in one case even prompting a chant of "Four more years!" from the Canuck politicians (who admittedly may be a little fuzzy on the whole Twenty-Second Amendment thing...). Canadian overenthusiasm aside, though, it is now indisputable that America's standing with the world has improved dramatically ever since Barack Obama took office.

June is Supreme Court decision month, and there was quite a bit of action, even from an incomplete bench. This is going to be a strong argument to motivate Democrats this fall, because if the Senate keeps stonewalling Obama's pick, the next president's going to get a SCOTUS nomination on her first day in office.

Split 4-4 decisions aside (since they'll doubtlessly return to the court once it is full again), there was a lot of good news for women's rights last week. Texas got smacked down for passing laws they swore up and down were "out of concern for women's health" but which were really designed to close every abortion clinic possible. The justices saw through all the pious pseudo-concern for women's health and by a 5-3 vote tossed the laws out. This could (if Obama or Clinton get their pick through, eventually) become a 6-3 majority for the pro-choice faction, it's worth noting.

While the abortion ruling garnered more headlines, the Supreme Court also quietly scored a victory against the abuse of the concept of "freedom of religion" when they refused to take up a case from Washington state. Cases need at least four votes to even be heard by the high court, which means Kennedy sided with the liberals to reject it. Washington passed a law that mandated all licensed pharmacies in the state stock and provide emergency contraceptives (the "morning-after pill"). Individual pharmacists could still refuse to serve a customer if they had religious objections, but (importantly) every pharmacy always had to have at least one pharmacist present who was willing to dispense the medication. In other words, when religious objection can be dealt with without any added burden to the customer then that's fine; but no customer can be turned away or referred to another pharmacy instead, because that does add a substantial burden to the customer. If you want to be a licensed pharmacy in the public marketplace, then you've got to serve all the public's needs, no matter what you personally believe. One pharmacist sued, and lost at the appellate level. The Supreme Court's refusal to hear the case means the Washington law stands -- another important victory for women's rights.

Pharmacies are licensed and regulated by the state, but some of these "religious freedom" attempts are a lot broader. So it was also heartening to hear that a federal court has thrown out Mississippi's "turn away the gays" law, passed to give legal protection to anyone refusing a marriage license or any other services for "religious reasons." The judge tossed the laws out for being in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Look for this case (or one like it) to eventually make it to the Supreme Court in the next few years, but for now it's good to see judges even in the Deep South doing the right thing.

Let's see, what else? The Pentagon is now going to let transgendered troops serve openly and even allow their insurance to cover all their medical needs. Perhaps not as gigantic a step forward as the end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," but a milestone nonetheless.

Hillary Clinton surprised some people last weekend, when she joined the New York City gay pride parade, near our country's newest National Monument, the Stonewall Inn. She walked with the marchers for four blocks, reportedly. Hillary had a pretty good week all around, starting with what one reporter called "the most excited crowd I've yet seen at a Clinton rally," when she appeared onstage with Senator Elizabeth Warren (in matching blue jackets, even!). Warren is now openly campaigning to be Hillary's veep choice, it seems obvious. So far, she's been doing a pretty impressive job, especially seeing how easily she manages to get under Donald Trump's skin. Also on some people's possible list for Hillary's veep is none other than Senator Al Franken, but we already wrote about this earlier this week, for anyone interested. In other veep-related news, Al Gore's daughter Karenna was arrested at a protest over an oil pipeline in Boston. Gore's reaction was (naturally) that he was very proud of his daughter.

The other big positive news for Clinton was when Trey Gowdy had to sheepishly admit that while he had compiled an 800-page report after wasting $7 million on his investigation, that all he had to offer up on Benghazi was a big fat nothingburger. After the ninth full investigation, there was simply no new facts to uncover. No smoking guns, no scandals, no conspiracy theories confirmed. Nada. Zip. The big goose egg. Shinola.

Of course, that was before Clinton's husband hopped on Loretta Lynch's plane (which we'll get to in a moment), but in a week that will end in literal fireworks the last (one hopes) Benghazi investigation of all time turned out to be nothing but a dud. Republican conspiracy theorists weren't happy at this fizzle, but then they never seem to be happy about much of anything, so that's not really news.

Bernie Sanders is actually making a goodly amount of progress in getting his planks into the Democratic Party platform document. This is good news for all concerned, since his planks are important ones to progressives, and since he's making good on his pledge to fight for his issues. Maybe the Democrats can achieve unity by the time their convention starts, who knows?

News from the Trump campaign this week included the teaser that Chris Christie is being vetted as a possible veep candidate. Maybe all that standing-around-like-a-zombie-hostage stuff is going to pay off for Christie! Hey, maybe he'll even swing New Jersey, as Garden State voters flock to an opportunity to get him out of their governor's office....

Trump gave another one of those "Hey everyone, look at me, I'm using the TelePrompTer and staying on script!" speeches this week, where he outlined his views on trade. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce immediately reacted in horror to the direction Trump is leading the GOP in, because Trump's anti-NAFTA, anti-T.P.P., anti-free-trade positions truly frighten them. We'll have much more on the subject of conservatives and Republicans fleeing the Trump trainwreck later in the program, however.

One cheerful sign from the Senate campaign trail is that Republicans might just have already given up on two of their incumbent senators. In one of those noticeable-in-its-absence stories, it seems very little money has been earmarked for advertising in Wisconsin (for Ron Johnson) and zero money in Illinois (for Senator Mark Kirk), by both the party and by a super PAC formed to focus on Republican Senate races. Or "winnable Republican Senate races," to be more accurate. If the GOP money bails on Illinois and Wisconsin, that is two out of the four seats Democrats will need to regain control of the Senate again, so this could be good news. It is early, though, and more ads could be purchased later (just to keep things in perspective).

Recreational marijuana legalization ballot initiatives in California and Arizona are moving forward. California's qualified for the ballot and the signatures were turned in for Arizona's, which means citizens in up to eight states may get the chance to vote this November on permanently ending the War On Weed.

And finally, just for fun, Washington (District of Columbia) is considering a name change, should their decades-long push for statehood ever become reality. The new moniker they chose was "New Columbia," but it didn't exactly go over all that well. So the Washington Post is helping out by providing a forum for other suggestions. Part of the problem is that many like the label "DC" and they're already puzzled over how their postal addresses would look in the future, since North Carolina already has a lock on "NC." This led to suggestions like "District Commonwealth," but that seems to be counterintuitive for a new state. Of course, being the internet, there were some highly amusing entries as well, such as "Doris (I like the name Doris)" submitted by (you guessed it), "Doris." One canny entry was "Reagan (it might win over one or two Republicans)," but our favorite was either "Waist (It's inside the Beltway)" or (down in the comments) "Area 51." Heh. If you've got a better idea what D.C. should call itself if it ever achieves statehood, head on over and share your suggestion!


Republicans in the Senate tried to sneak through a bill that would have let the F.B.I. search everyone's browser history without having to get a warrant before doing so. If you didn't hear about this, you're not alone, because it wasn't exactly a big news story or anything. The frightening part is how close it came to pass -- it essentially failed by one vote to gain the 60-vote threshold to move forward.

One Democratic senator bravely fought against it and stood up for the Bill of Rights. Which is why this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award goes to Senator Ron Wyden from Oregon.

The provision was introduced by John McCain and Richard Burr, and apparently snuck under the radar of many senators. As Wyden explains:

A conservative came up to me and said, "Do you think people know that under this [bill], without any court approval the government can get people's browsing history?" I said, "I don't think most of the Senate knows that."

Interesting that "a conservative" was the one to bring it to Wyden's attention. Perhaps Rand Paul had a word in his ear or something? One can only speculate....

Some Democrats voted for this measure who had voted against allowing the N.S.A. to collect bulk metadata from phone records last year. They may not have even been aware exactly what it was they were voting for, which is why Wyden is now pressuring them to rethink their stance, since the issue will likely be brought up again for future votes.

For remaining vigilant (with the help of an unnamed conservative, to be fair) against those who would wish to water down the Bill of Rights even further, we have to say that the choice of Senator Ron Wyden for Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week was an easy one to make.

[Congratulate Senator Ron Wyden on his Senate contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]


We've got two very obvious winners of this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award. Bill Clinton and Attorney General Loretta Lynch showed an astounding amount of bad judgment this week, on an airport tarmac.

Bill apparently was bored hanging around the airport, and noticed another security detail nearby. When he found out Lynch was also waiting in a plane, he decided he'd do the neighborly thing and drop by for a casual chat. Lynch let him onto her plane and they chatted for 20 or 30 minutes. Then Bill went back to his own plane, and they both took off for their respective destinations.

Now, this wouldn't normally be all that big a deal. An ex-president meets with the current A.G., who is from his own party. Nothing but simple courtesy among like-minded politicians.

That would be true, of course, if several other things weren't true as well. Bill's wife, of course, is under investigation by the F.B.I. Whenever they get around to finishing their work, they will report to the Justice Department. Lynch runs the Justice Department, and has the final say-so on what happens after the F.B.I. hands in their recommendation. And, to top it all off, Hillary is running for president.

These dots aren't all that hard to connect, in fact. The picture they draw is a giant "STOP" sign -- as in, "this is a very bad idea, politically." The optics are terrible. Even Lynch admitted the next day: "I certainly wouldn't do it again." Former president meets with A.G. weeks before she'll have to decide whether or not to indict his wife? In the midst of a presidential campaign? It's a no-brainer, really -- that meeting should not have happened. At the most, Lynch should have appeared at the door of her plane, shaken his hand in full view of everyone, then immediately directed him back down the stairs and turned around to go back inside her plane. Bill Clinton never should have knocked on her plane's door in the first place -- he bears more blame for this idiocy than she does, in fact.

Now, we do take Lynch at her word that all they did was chat about their grandkids and other personal trivia. And to her credit, the next day Lynch swore she wasn't even going to be an active part of the process -- she had long intended to just follow whatever recommendation was in the report. This is all to the good, and restores a great deal of her credibility.

Even so, she never should have agreed to meet Clinton, and he really should have known better than to even instigate the impromptu meeting. He's a better politician than this, to put it bluntly.

For even raising the appearance of impropriety and raising the question of bias over what is already going to be a pivotal moment for Hillary Clinton's campaign, both Bill Clinton and Loretta Lynch have more than earned this week's awards for Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. Seems like the Big Dog needs to be on an even-shorter leash out on the campaign trail. Team Hillary should take note.

[Contact Attorney General Loretta Lynch on her official contact page, to let her know what you think of her actions. President Bill Clinton is a private citizen, and our policy is not to provide contact information for such.]


Volume 398 (7/1/16)

Before we begin with our "Dump Trump" theme, we have to draw attention to a leaked memo from the Republicans. It's an opposition-research memo on the six top vice-presidential picks Hillary Clinton could make, in essence. It lists possible tactics for attacking each, and suggests talking points to use if they are chosen. It's a preview of what all Republicans will be saying about these choices, should any of them become Clinton's running mate.

It's a narrowly-focused professional version (from the other side) of what we attempt to do here each week, which is why we thought it was interesting enough to point out. It also shows that professional talking points are crafted to contradict themselves, in order to appeal to everyone with at least one message they may agree with. When talking about Tim Kaine, for instance, the document makes the argument that he's been ineffective at all his political jobs, and then goes on to suggest:

Politically, there will be dual narratives to push: firstly, that Kaine's selection will upset the Sanders wing of the party for not being liberal enough (see above); secondly, that Kaine's selection makes the ticket more liberal than the electorate. Given his career trajectory from ACLU lawyer, Kaine is also a hyperactive partisan, once going so far to as to [sic] call Republicans "mosquitos."

Got all of that? Kaine has never gotten anything done, but at the same time he's a super-duper-hyper partisan who calls Republicans nasty names and should be feared. Also, he's either not liberal enough or perhaps too liberal -- take your choice. The whole document [PDF] is a fascinating one for anyone with a strong enough stomach to study the mechanics of talking point creation.

This week, for us, was a fairly easy one in the talking point creation department. Trump just keeps right on being Trump, and more and more Republicans are realizing that he's never going to change even if they can force him to give the occasional speech from a TelePrompTer. So, once again, it's "shooting fish in a barrel" season (a season which might last right up to November, we hasten to add). Enjoy.



You just can't make this stuff up, folks!

"I see Donald Trump hired a new communications guy this week. I guess after he fired his campaign manager, he decided it was time to staff up. I've heard he's been having problems getting people to work on his campaign, since some Republican political operatives fear for their own future careers. Even the ones Trump has managed to hire seem to despise him. His new communications guy had to quickly delete a whole bunch of tweets he had written during the primary season with the prominent use of the hashtag '#SleazyDonald.' So I guess Trump's not being too picky about who he'll hire, because at this point he probably can't afford to be."


   Half the GOP base

A rather stunning statistic, and one that needs pointing out.

"Did you see the new poll that shows that half of Republican voters -- not the general electorate, but just Republicans, mind you -- wish they had a different nominee than Donald Trump? That's pretty jaw-dropping, at this stage of the campaign. We're only weeks away from the Republican National Convention, and over half of their voters would really like to see a different guy on the ballot. Trump also got very low marks on intelligence, honesty, and whether or not he's 'obnoxious.' Once again -- this is how majorities of Republican voters feel about their party's presidential nominee."


   Former RNC leader praying for a miracle

This one's a direct quote, because it pretty much speaks for itself. This is from an extraordinary article from Marc Racicot, a former head of the Republican National Committee, explaining why he cannot endorse Donald Trump:

[Donald] Trump has demonstrated neither the aforementioned qualities of principled leadership, nor offered any substantive or serious conservative policy proposals consistent with historical Republican Party platform positions. Both, in my humble view, are indispensable preconditions to his selection as the Republican candidate for the office of president of the United States. As a result, I cannot endorse or support Trump for president. And I offer my prayer for a second miracle in Cleveland.


   The list grows longer every week

We've spent previous weeks listing prominent GOP stalwarts who have dumped Trump, but now there's a handy reference!

"The Washington Post has begun a list -- which they swear they'll be updating regularly -- of all the prominent Republicans who have not only said they won't support Donald Trump as their party's nominee, but have publicly thrown their support to Hillary Clinton instead. This is an astounding development, as I can't recall another time when such respected party stalwarts have not just refused to endorse their own candidate for president, but actually crossed the aisle to support the other party's candidate. This sort of thing just doesn't normally happen, folks. And it's not just one or two -- the Post will be keeping track of the entire list of Republican Party bigwigs (and little-wigs) who are now supporting Clinton over their own party's candidate."


   Or you can just leave the party entirely...

This wasn't exactly that surprising if you've read anything he's written over the past year on Donald Trump, but still....

"Conservative columnist George Will has now not only said he won't support Donald Trump's candidacy, he's actually so disgusted by the prospect that he has publicly left the Republican Party altogether. That's right -- George Will is no longer a registered Republican. Will has always been an establishment Republican, well-ensconced in what passes for the inside-the-Beltway conservative intelligentsia. So his defection is all the more notable, although how influential it might be remains to be seen. Somehow I can't see a whole lot of Trump followers making it through many George Will columns. But you can at least hope that other conservatives with a strong sense of conscience will follow Will as he exits the Republican Party. Trump now leads the GOP, and Trumpism is now Republicanism. If you can't deal with that, then maybe it's time to follow George Will's lead, instead."


   The Mexican Air Force?

We couldn't resist this one, the best "Trumpism" of the week, hands down.

"Donald Trump, while campaigning in New Hampshire, was in the midst of his usual anti-Mexico rant when he spotted a plane overhead. His reaction? I quote: 'That could be a Mexican plane up there -- they're getting ready to attack!' Seriously, that's what he said. His paranoia seems to have reached new heights if he thinks the Mexican Air Force had somehow infiltrated not just across the border we share, but deep into New England -- just to personally attack him. And this is the person the Republican Party wants to have his finger on the nuclear button? Really?"


   Tramps Against Trump

We, as usual, saved the best one for last. The only really shocking thing about this is that it was originally a Canadian idea (it was originally "Sluts Against Harper") -- we knew they were friendly up there, but this friendly?

"A group calling itself 'Tramps Against Trump' is offering up an unusual incentive to vote against Donald Trump. While they aren't specifically for any candidate, if you send their site a selfie with proof that you just voted -- and swear you voted against Donald Trump -- then they'll send you a naked photo. Their spokesperson, who goes by the name Jessica Rabbit, explained: 'In the past we had Rock the Vote and other ways to get the vote out, but what do young people like now? They like naked people on the internet. So, we're using naked people on the internet to make a change and get people excited about something.' Hey, whatever works! She's right about one thing -- naked people on the internet are indeed quite popular, from what I hear (ahem). I'm not sure it's entirely legal, but it certainly is a creative new use of social media in the realm of American politics, that's for sure."


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