Friday Talking Points -- End Of The Silly Season

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, U.S., August 25, 2016.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, U.S., August 25, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

It's still only August, but already the predictions that this would be an exceedingly banal presidential election campaign look like they've already come true. This week's campaign news might be summed up as an elementary school playground shouting match: "You're a bigot!" "No, you're a bigot!" Sigh. We've still got over two months of this to get through, folks. And nobody sane expects things are going to get any better any time soon -- quite the opposite, in fact.

Now, normally August is the official "Silly Season" of politics, where reporters get so bored with the lack of actual political news (Congress having larked off on vacation for the entire month) that they write speculative pieces pondering ideas only one step removed from conspiracy theories. Like whether Donald Trump's real Machiavellian plan all along has been to start up his own alt-right media empire after he loses to Hillary Clinton. That's pretty much par for the August course. Over on the right, Rudy Giuliani is conspiracy-mongering the "Hillary is dangerously ill" storyline, which is also something you'd expect in August. Thankfully, we've only got less than a week to go until September, when pundits will all begin obsessing over the upcoming first presidential debate. So there's that to look forward to.

Speaking of the debate preparation, word is that Hillary Clinton hasn't yet decided who will "play Trump" in her debate prep sessions. Possible names floated: Joe Biden, Terry McAuliffe, Ed Rendell, and Alan Dershowitz. Then there are a few who probably could achieve the proper Trumpian levels of spontaneity: James Carville and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. Our favorite suggestion, however, has to be Senator Al Franken. Franken has a lightning-quick wit and would likely be an incredibly caustic Trump stand-in, so we have to say he'd be one of the better candidates for the job.

Donald Trump is (mostly, so far) sticking to the "read the damn speech as it's written" strategy his new campaign managers have imposed upon him, although he did emerge from the bunker of Fox News to give Anderson Cooper an interview this week -- the first non-Fox interview he seems to have given all month long. It didn't go real well, mostly because nobody has been able to figure out what Trump's position on immigration is at any particular moment. And that includes Trump himself, who was all over the map this week on what to do about the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the United States. Trump's always been a big fan of just rounding them all up and deporting them, which he has espoused too many times to count during his campaign. Now, apparently, someone told him that he actually needs a few minority voters to have any prayer of winning, so he's "softening" (his word) on the deportation force he's previously promised. Or maybe he isn't. Maybe they'll have to leave, maybe they won't -- it all depends on what day Trump is asked the question, because his answers keep radically flip-flopping. His campaign had earlier scheduled a big speech on the issue where he'd roll out his detailed deportation plans, but the speech had to be cancelled (assumably after the speechwriters had a nervous breakdown trying to figure out Trump's actual position). Or maybe it's a high-level fight within the campaign between the hardliners and those who have the ability to read a poll, who knows?

Trump is also finally trying to put together some semblance of a ground game, and he's surrounding himself with the best people, as promised. In a key Colorado district, this means a 12-year-old is running Trump's campaign effort. You couldn't make this stuff up if you tried, folks.

But back to Trump's newfound appreciation of minorities. After continuously bragging during the primaries about his poll numbers (including claims to be "winning" among Latinos and African-Americans), Trump finally seems to have realized that he is not, in fact, convincing many people of color to support him. So he's got a new message to them -- one he's delivering in front of lily-white crowds in multiple states. Trump's message? "Your life sucks, so vote for me because I couldn't possibly be any worse!" No, really -- that's his idea of outreach. That's not an actual quote, though, merely a summary. Here's an actual quote from one of his rallies this week:

Look at how much African-American communities are suffering from Democratic control. To those I say the following: What do you have to lose by trying something new like Trump? What do you have to lose? You live in your poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed. What the Hell do you have to lose?

Later, he promised that if he becomes president, no black children would be shot while walking down the street -- a pretty sweeping promise! But what Trump doesn't seem to realize is that not every single black or brown American lives in an inner city, and furthermore that there actually are black and brown people with good jobs and living situations. Trump doesn't seem worried about his minority appeal, though, stating boldly that when he is re-elected in 2020, he'll get "95 percent" of the African-American vote. When asked about this tidbit of insanity, Trump running mate Mike Pence burst out laughing, on camera.

All of that was just the beginning of Trump's week of minority outreach, mind you. By the end of the week, he was telling anyone who would listen that Hillary Clinton was a bigot. Anderson Cooper even helpfully defined the term to Trump ("Bigotry is having hatred towards a particular group"), but Trump refused to change his mind, when Cooper directly asked whether he still thought she was bigoted:

Oh, she is. Of course she is. Her policies. They're her policies she comes out with the policies and others that believe like she does also but she came out with policies over the years.... This is over the years. Long time. She's totally bigoted, there's no question about that.

This was all an effort to pre-empt Hillary Clinton's speech this week, where she laid out in painful detail why Donald Trump is, in fact, a bigot (more on this in a moment). But if anyone is wondering why the audiences at Trump's rallies are so startlingly non-minority in nature, perhaps it's because the campaign staff seem to be going out of their way to assure this homogeneity. A previous supporter of Trump (who now says he can't bring himself to vote for the man) wrote a first-person account for the Washington Post about how he was kicked out of a Trump rally:

I still don't know why I was asked to leave. But I think it has something to do with my race. My mother is white and my father is Indian. When [the campaign security person] saw me, I wonder whether he noticed that I look different from most Trump supporters. I wonder whether he assumed that I couldn't possibly support Trump because of how I look.

So, in other words, that minority outreach thingie seems to be going swimmingly! Maybe 95 percent of all minorities will be voting for Trump this year -- at least in Donald Trump's fevered imagination.

Things have gotten so bad that it's hard for other racially-insensitive Republicans to even get attention. Maine's governor Paul LePage gave it the old college try this week, when he asserted that nine out of ten drug dealers arrested in his state were people of color, which he knew because he kept a binder full of all their mug shots. He then doubled down -- when asked whether this might be because of racial profiling, LePage stated:

Look, a bad guy is a bad guy, I don't care what color it is. When you go to war, if you know the enemy, the enemy dresses in red and you dress in blue, you shoot at red, don't you? You shoot at the enemy. You try to identify the enemy. And the enemy right now, the overwhelming majority right now coming in are people of color or people of Hispanic origin. I can't help that. I just can't help it. Those are the facts.

Good thing he doesn't have to worry about minority outreach up there (Maine is 95 percent white). Maine's governor also -- for good measure -- left a profanity-laden tirade on a lawmaker's voice mail, just in case that whole "black/brown people are the enemy" thing wasn't enough to get him in the news. A local paper even wrote an editorial apologizing to the rest of the country for him, entitled: "Message To America: Sorry We Gave You LePage."

LePage wasn't the only Republican caught on tape cursing like a sailor, though. A guy who lost two elections in Maryland moved to Florida and is running for a House district miles from where he actually lives. This serial campaigner was outraged that a journalist exposed the fact that virtually all of his donations have come from outside his district as well, so he dropped multiple F-bombs even though he knew full well he was being recorded. Is this a new trend, due to Donald Trump's candidacy? It's too soon to tell, really.

But there was actually some good news out of Maine this week, as President Obama created a new National Monument in the north woods. We heartily applaud such conservation efforts, no less because we may have actually been to this land before (it'd be impossible to tell without a really good topo map), when we visited Baxter State Park, home of the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail and the highest point in Maine, Mount Katahdin. The newly-created Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument abuts Baxter State Park, and was President Obama's 100th birthday present to the National Park Service. So, like we said, not all the news out of Maine this week was bad.

 

Hillary Clinton gave us all a preview of what the presidential debates are going to be like this week, with a speech given at a community college in Reno, Nevada. The entire speech was a point-by-point takedown of Donald Trump's character and unfitness for office. This week's talking points section is comprised of excerpts from this speech, which truly pulled no punches. For taking on Trump so directly and forcefully, Hillary Clinton is easily our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.

Donald Trump has spent the last two weeks desperately trying to convince white suburbanites that he isn't as scary and bigoted as they think. His floundering around in weak attempts at minority outreach were not really designed to appeal to minorities (since that boat has largely sailed already), but instead they were designed to soften his image among the demographic groups that normally vote Republican pretty reliably, but this year have been recoiling from Trump in horror.

Clinton's speech was a necessary reminder that Trump is precisely as scary and bigoted as everyone thinks. All that Clinton really needed to do, in fact, was to stand up and read off some of the hundreds of things Donald Trump has said about how he sees (and how he would treat) minorities in America. His own words condemn him -- nothing else is even really necessary.

Clinton's speech went even further, however. The broad theme she's been campaigning on recently has been: "What you see is what you get with Donald Trump." There will be no pivot, because there simply is nothing to pivot to. He is who he is, as even he will cheerfully admit. All Clinton did was to remind everyone of who Donald Trump is, as opposed to who he's now desperately pretending to be.

Trump has had a message for minorities which has been pretty consistent throughout his campaign. Minorities, to him and his supporters, are "The Other." They are not us, they are outsiders to be feared, investigated, arrested, jailed, deported, and barred from entry to the United States. That's his minority message in a nutshell, and no amount of "outreach" now is going to change it.

Hillary Clinton just reminded everyone of this fact. She did so in great detail, giving us a preview of some of the issues she'll be hitting Trump on during the upcoming debates. She is signaling that she will not shy away from taking Trump on directly, which is a relief. Trump is so vulnerable on so many issues that even Clinton's speech had to be confined only to his bigotry. Even so, there's so much to choose from that Clinton had the luxury of only providing the low points of Trump's campaign -- plenty of other offensive things he has said or done weren't even included.

For taking Trump on in such a bold fashion, Hillary Clinton easily wins this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award.

[It is our standing policy not to provide contact information for political campaign websites, so you'll have to look Hillary Clinton up yourself to let her know you appreciate her efforts this week.]

 

We actually don't have a Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award to hand out. We had two possibilities, but both of them are, at best, only "guilt by association with family members" scandals, which don't really qualify.

The first of these was the exposure of yet another drug company using profiteering off of sick people as their business model. The price of EpiPens was hiked hundreds of dollars, just because the company thought it could get away with it. This company is led by Heather Bresch, whose multi-million-dollar salary also exploded during the same time period. The woman in question is the daughter of West Virginia's Senator Joe Manchin, who has been trying to lay low on the issue while many of his fellow senators are calling for an investigation. But Manchin himself bears no real blame for having a money-grubbing daughter, so no award is possible here.

The second was a little bit more relevant to the politician. A House member from California, Ami Bera, got over $200,000 in campaign donations over two separate election cycles that were funneled to him by his father, Babulal Bera. When confronted by the evidence that he had financed the illegal campaign donation scheme, Babulal admitted it. He's now going to serve a year and a day in jail for doing so. But his son apparently had nothing to do with the scheme, so even having his father convicted of campaign money-laundering for his own benefit doesn't quite rise to the level of earning a Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. Guilt by association, even with a close family member, doesn't really qualify.

So we're not giving a MDDOTW award out this week, unless we missed someone obvious you'd like to nominate for the award (down in the comments, as usual).

 

Volume 405 (8/26/16)

What follows are seven excerpts from Hillary Clinton's Reno speech on Donald Trump, presented in the order they appeared in the speech. Clinton has a pretty easy job, as we've mentioned, because attacking Trump is so easy -- just review his record of statements and actions. Trump's response was, predictably, to play the childish game of: "I know you are but what am I?" Or, perhaps, the more-adult version: "Who are you going to believe, me or your lyin' eyes?"

As the presidential campaign moves into its final two months, more and more American voters are starting to pay close attention. Sadly, for many of them, this is the first time they've really done so. What this means is that everything that has happened so far has flown under the radar of millions of voters. Hillary Clinton needs to remind these folks of what Trump has already said and done as a candidate, every chance she gets. Most people have already formed an opinion about Trump, but not everyone. For those still open to persuasion (one way or the other), reviewing what has gone before is absolutely necessary. Trump's new campaign team is trying to reposition Trump as a friend and champion of minority rights in America. No, don't laugh -- that's exactly what they're now attempting. Clinton can't just sit back and hope everyone knows how laughable this is, she's got to make that case herself, repeatedly. The speech in Reno did an admirable job of doing precisely this, which is why we're turning over the whole talking points section to extended excerpts from this speech. No introductions are necessary for these talking points, we should also add -- Clinton's words alone are enough.

 

   Prejudice and paranoia

From the start, Donald Trump has built his campaign on prejudice and paranoia. He is taking hate groups mainstream and helping a radical fringe take over the Republican Party. His disregard for the values that make our country great is profoundly dangerous.

In just this past week, under the guise of "outreach" to African-Americans, Trump has stood up in front of largely white audiences and described black communities in such insulting and ignorant terms:

"Poverty. Rejection. Horrible education. No housing. No homes. No ownership. Crime at levels nobody has seen." Right now," he said, "you walk down the street and get shot."

 

   Not qualified for the job

Now, Trump's lack of knowledge or experience or solutions would be bad enough. But what he's doing here is more sinister. Trump is reinforcing harmful stereotypes and offering a dog whistle to his most hateful supporters. It's a disturbing preview of what kind of president he'd be.

And that's what I want to make clear today: A man with a long history of racial discrimination, who traffics in dark conspiracy theories drawn from the pages of supermarket tabloids and the far, dark reaches of the internet, should never run our government or command our military.

 

   The pattern continued

Well, throughout his career and this campaign, Donald Trump has shown us exactly who he is. We should believe him.

When Trump was getting his start in business, he was sued by the Justice Department for refusing to rent apartments to black and Latino tenants. Their applications would be marked with a "C" -- "C" for "colored" -- and then rejected. Three years later, the Justice Department took Trump back to court because he hadn't changed.

And the pattern continued through the decades. State regulators fined one of Trump's casinos for repeatedly removing black dealers from the floor. No wonder the turn-over rate for his minority employees was way above average.

And let's not forget Trump first gained political prominence leading the charge for the so-called "Birthers." He promoted the racist lie that President Obama is not really an American citizen - part of a sustained effort to delegitimize America's first black president.

 

   Textbook definition

We all remember when Trump said a distinguished federal judge born in Indiana couldn't be trusted to do his job because, quote, "He's a Mexican."

Think about that.

The man who today is the standard-bearer of the Republican Party said a federal judge -- who by the way had a distinguished record as U.S. attorney, had to go in hiding because Mexican drug gangs were after him, who has Mexican heritage but just like me was born in this country -- is somehow incapable of doing his job solely because of his heritage. Even the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, described that -- and I quote -- as "the textbook definition of a racist comment."

To this day, Trump has never apologized to Judge Curiel.

 

   Dream on, Donald

Through it all, he has continued pushing discredited conspiracy theories with racist undertones. You remember he said that thousands of American Muslims in New Jersey cheered the 9/11 attacks. They didn't.

He suggested that Ted Cruz's father was involved in the Kennedy assassination. Now perhaps in Trump's mind, because Mr. Cruz was a Cuban immigrant, he must have had something to do with it. And there is absolutely, of course, no evidence of that.

Just recently, Trump claimed that President Obama founded ISIS. And he has repeated that over and over again.

His latest paranoid fever dream is about my health. All I can say is, Donald, dream on. This is what happens when you treat the National Enquirer like Gospel.

 

   How would they prove it?

And he'd ban Muslims around the world, billions of them, from entering our country just because of their religion. Think about that for a minute. How would it actually work? So people landing in U.S. airports would line up to get their passports stamped, just like they do now. But in Trump's America, when they step up to the counter, the immigration officer would ask every single person, "What is your religion?"

And then what? What if someone says, "I'm a Christian," but the agent doesn't believe him? Do they have to prove it? How would they do that?

Really, ever since the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, America has distinguished itself as a haven for people fleeing religious persecution, believing in religious freedom and religious liberty. Under Donald Trump, America would distinguish itself as the only country in the world to impose a religious test at the border.

Come to think of it, there actually may be one other place that does that. The so-called Islamic State. The territory that ISIS controls. What a would be a cruel irony that someone running for president would equate us with them.

 

   More cowbell!

Trump likes to say he only hires the "best people." But he's had to fire so many campaign managers it's like an episode from The Apprentice. The latest shake-up was designed to -- quote -- "Let Trump be Trump." To do that, he hired Stephen Bannon, the head of a right-wing website called Breitbart.com, as campaign CEO.

To give you a flavor of his work, here are a few headlines they've published:

"Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy."

"Would You Rather Your Child Had Feminism or Cancer?"

"Gabby Giffords: The Gun Control Movement's Human Shield"

"Hoist It High And Proud: The Confederate Flag Proclaims A Glorious Heritage."

That one came shortly after the Charleston massacre, when Democrats and Republicans alike were doing everything they could to heal racial divides. Breitbart tried to enflame them further.

Just imagine -- Donald Trump reading that and thinking: "This is what I need more of in my campaign."

 

Chris Weigant blogs at:

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com

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