Yes, it's strange but true -- Donald Trump is now a frontrunner for the Republican nomination for president. That's a pretty breathtaking place for the Republican Party to find itself in, isn't it? But it cannot be denied. Trump is sucking so much oxygen from the nomination race, it's a wonder any of the other candidates are still drawing breath. Trump is not only the major subject all other candidates get asked about in interviews, he's also been climbing in the polling. Oh, sure, some of that is likely just name recognition, but not all of it. Like it or not (for the Republican Party), Trump's views on immigration are resonating with a certain slice of the party's base. This doesn't exactly bode well for any attempt by the Republican Party to reach out to Latino voters, of course.
In other news from the Republican race, apparently 16 candidates is not enough. One more Republican announced he's considering a presidential bid, which the Huffington Post reported with the amusing headline: "Former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore To Run For President Because Why Not" (funniest one we've yet seen in the 2016 race). Heck, why not 18? Or 20? The more the merrier!
Over on the Democratic side of things, Bernie Sanders is finally getting some serious press attention (instead of ridicule), and Hillary Clinton sat down with a reporter for a nationally-broadcast interview. This is news because it is the first time she's done so, despite campaigning for about three months now. She used the opportunity to point out that while she's "disappointed" with what Donald Trump's been saying about immigration, virtually the entire Republican field largely agrees that citizenship should be out of the question for undocumented immigrants currently in America. Hillary slightly overstated the case by painting all the candidates with the same brush (Lindsey Graham actually does support a path to citizenship), but Graham is polling at one or two percent so it's easy to forget he's actually in the race. Hillary's main target was Jeb! Bush, who used to support a path to citizenship but now only supports a path to "legal status" -- code words for "they can stay and enjoy all benefits of citizenship except voting." This is a big flip-flop on Bush's part, and it's good to see him getting called out on it.
In other election news, Alan Grayson is running for the Senate seat in Florida that Marco Rubio is vacating (to run for president). Grayson is always worth listening to, because he's of the "tell it like it is" school of politics (he posted an article on Huffington Post this week, if you've forgotten who he is and what he stands for).
Today was a historic day in South Carolina, as the Confederate battle flag was lowered for the final time on the statehouse grounds. This has been a swift reaction to the racist terrorist attack on a Charleston church, and while many credit Governor Nikki Haley for her leadership on the issue, what really drove the issue home (and forced Haley to act) was the image of the United States and South Carolina flags flying at half-staff while the Confederate flag flew at the top of its pole. Our guess is that one of those images is going to win a Pulitzer Prize this year, because it so perfectly framed the issue in visual terms.
At virtually the same time as Governor Haley was signing the "take down the flag" bill, the United States House of Representatives was in a tizzy over an amendment which would have codified permission to fly the Confederate battle flag in national cemeteries and other federal properties. This amendment was inserted quietly and was backed by roughly 100 Republican House members, which derailed the bill the House was supposed to be passing, much to the chagrin of Speaker John Boehner. One of these supporters, in a jaw-dropping statement, said he didn't think the flag was racist, and that Confederate soldiers didn't have "any thoughts about slavery." No thoughts? Really? Wow. Democrat Hakeem Jeffries was perhaps the best voice on the other side, as he spoke in front of an image of the flag in the House: "Had this Confederate battle flag prevailed in a war 150 years ago, I would be here as a slave." Nancy Pelosi summed the whole fracas up with: "Isn't that remarkable? A hundred of their members would vote against the bill. As Congresswoman McCollum said, the bill wasn't bad enough for them... they needed hatred in the bill as well."
The White House press secretary piled on as well:
Right now, the Interior appropriations bill in the House is jammed up because a sizable number of House Republicans are eager to protect the status of the Confederate flag on National Park Service grounds. These are the same House Republicans who voted for a party leader who once described himself as "David Duke without the baggage." These are the same congressional Republicans who have declined to criticize the race-baiting rhetoric of a leading Republican presidential candidate. So when you hear me say that congressional Republicans have an agenda that is out of step with the vast majority of Americans, this record, at least in part, is what I'm referring to.
Boehner, realizing he was on shaky ground (especially on the anniversary of the ratification of the 14th Amendment) was finally forced to abandon the bill, for now.
In other flag-coming-down news, the mayor of a small Alabama town regretfully had to take down a "Christian flag" from in front of city hall. The Freedom From Religion Foundation had written him a letter requesting he do so (and threatening a lawsuit if he didn't), and the mayor is now very sad he won't get to continue blatantly ignoring the Constitution any longer. Oklahoma's governor, however, is standing firm in defying his state's supreme court, which ruled the Ten Commandments monument at the statehouse must come down. We'll be interested to see whether he gets cited for contempt of court any time soon.
In other religious/political news, the governor of Kansas has banned something which doesn't actually exist. Fearful that government jack-booted thugs were going to start throwing ministers in jail for refusing to perform gay marriages, Sam Brownback issued an executive order banning such tyranny. Except, of course, that nothing of the sort is ever going to happen in Kansas (or anywhere else in this country). Ministers and priests in Kansas can sleep better knowing that they are safe from something that was never going to happen, we suppose.
On the federal level, laws are being updated to bring the benefits of marriage to all American citizens, no matter what state they live in.
The White House is hosting the first-of-its-kind Tribal Youth Gathering, bringing Native American youths together to meet with the First Lady, cabinet officials, and others. The news media largely failed to report on this event, much preferring to write about how the Washington [Racist Slur] football team lost yet another round in its battle to keep its trademark.
In marijuana news, the state of Washington is bringing in roughly twice the tax money they had projected ($70 million instead of the $36 million estimate). As Tom Angell of the group Marijuana Majority put it:
These impressive numbers are likely to catch the eyes of policymakers in other states that could use a little help closing their budget gaps. While this amount of money isn't nearly enough to run a whole state with, these are real dollars that can now be spent on things like schools, healthcare and road repair instead of going straight into the pockets of the drug dealers who controlled the marijuana market prior to legalization. And this is only the first year. Expect to see even more revenue generated -- and more jobs created -- in the next few years.
One can only hope other states are paying attention.
In international news, Greece is melting down, China's stock market saw a bubble pop, and John Kerry is still talking with the Iranians (but sounds like he's running out of patience). OK, that's enough of a weekly roundup, let's move on to the awards, shall we?
Medical marijuana has always had a serious Catch-22 problem. "It's medicine" its supporters say, but the federal government responds: "There are no scientific studies." However, when such scientific studies are attempted, up until very recently they were told: "You can't study that, it's not medicine, it's a dangerous drug." Catch-22. You can only reclassify it as medicine if there is science to back it up, but you cannot do scientific studies on it because it is not medicine.
This week, Democratic House members Earl Blumenauer and Sam Farr moved to break this logjam, even if the change might wind up being mostly symbolic. Marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule I controlled substance, the most serious classification there is. Even drugs like crystal methamphetamine are listed on Schedule II. Marijuana's inclusion as the worst of the worst has always been political, of course, and the real answer is to just reschedule it as a Schedule II (or even Schedule III) substance -- or to "deschedule" it entirely and just hand it over to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, where it really belongs.
Blumenauer and Farr's bill doesn't take either of these steps. Instead, it would create a special sub-classification of "Schedule I-R" for marijuana, which would at least separate it from the other substances listed on Schedule I.
It's not the perfect answer, but any attempt to make the situation better should be applauded. If your main complaint about medical marijuana is "there aren't enough studies," then why not make it easier to actually perform such studies? Both Blumenauer and Farr have become leaders on the issue, and for their proposed change to the law they both deserve this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award.
The insanity of the War On Weed will have to be chipped away at relentlessly, one bit at a time, and this could be an important step in that process. Kudos to Farr and Blumenauer for continuing to fight this important fight in Congress.
You know what? Nobody disappointed us all that much this week.
If we've overlooked anyone richly deserving the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award, please let us know about it in the comments, as always.
Volume 353 (7/10/15)
Before we get started, we have a program announcement to make. We'll be in Phoenix next week, attending the Netroots Nation get-together of liberal bloggers and activists. Because we'll be busy, this column won't appear again until two Fridays from now. Hopefully we'll be able to present some interesting columns next week anyway (we're working on it, but can't absolutely make promises yet), so there should be something for you to read, just not a "Friday Talking Points" column. So, fair warning to everyone.
OK, with that out of the way, let's get to this week's talking points. Due to the 800-pound gorilla that is Donald Trump's ego, almost all of our talking points this week are intended to make fun of both The Donald and the Republican Party leaders currently quaking in their boots over how they found themselves in this particular situation. Enjoy!
Donald Trump, frontrunner
This one hurts, for Republicans.
"It is now impossible to deny that Donald Trump has become one of the frontrunners for the Republican nomination for president. I know many Republicans would prefer to treat Trump as some sort of freakshow on the sidelines, but that's not what the polls are saying. He's polling in first or second place both in state-level polls and in national polls right now. That is not some sideshow -- that is the very definition of frontrunner. Republicans may tell themselves that Trump can't possibly be out in front of much more serious candidates, but the reality is that he's now a frontrunner in the Republican nomination race. Deal with it."
The face of the Republican Party
This one hurts even worse.
"Donald Trump is not just a frontrunner in the race for the Republican nomination, he's actually become the face of the Republican Party. Think about it -- whenever any Republican candidate gets interviewed, what is one of the first questions asked? 'What do you think of what Trump said?' To put this another way: Trump speaks, then all other Republicans react. By definition, Trump is speaking for the party now, and everyone else is just playing catch-up. Establishment Republicans can deny it until they're bright red in the face, but it doesn't change the fact that Donald Trump is now the most prominent voice in their party -- Trump is indeed the face of the Republican Party."
This is only the beginning
Just to rub it in....
"I hasten to remind Republicans that this is just round one. Trump isn't going to fade quietly away or anything -- it's not in the man's nature to do so. Just when Republicans get over one inflammatory comment from Trump and think they've safely navigated the minefield, Trump's going to pop up and address some other subject with equally-inflammatory language. The Republican Trump problem isn't going to be confined to immigration and losing Latino voters. There'll be a lot more issues exploding from Trump's mouth in the future. He's got enough money to stay in the race as long as he likes, and the media isn't going to suddenly decide not to cover him anymore. This is just the beginning of a very long road, folks."
The Trump Party
And to send Republicans screaming into the night....
"In a recent interview with the Washington Post, Donald Trump hinted that he not only might not support the eventual Republican nominee (if he loses his bid), but that he might actually consider a third-party run as an Independent. Just picture for one moment what that is likely to do to Republicans' chances for winning the White House next year. Trump himself said that 'so many people' want to see him mount a third-party bid -- 'everybody' wants him to do so. I don't know about 'everybody,' but I'm sure that pretty much every Democrat would indeed cheer if Trump ran as an Independent!"
Trump is wrong, of course
This needs to be repeatedly pointed out to the media, because so far they're not doing a terrific job of fact-checking.
"Donald Trump is flat-out wrong about immigrants, of course. The facts plainly show that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes, and less likely to be incarcerated than the native-born population. Those are the facts. Trump is just as wrong about immigrant crime as he is about virtually everything else, which should come as no real surprise."
Most Republicans essentially agree with Trump
Hillary slightly misspoke, but she's got a good point.
"Hillary Clinton is essentially right -- most Republican candidates for president may not agree with Donald Trump's inflammatory statements, but at heart they agree on what policies should be enacted to solve the problem of immigration. Other than Lindsey Graham, I don't know of any Republican running for president who supports a path to citizenship for the 11 million people already in this country without papers. Jeb Bush used to support this, but now he doesn't, as Hillary very accurately pointed out. Now he's for a path to 'legal status,' which would forever deny people of ever participating in American elections. And Jeb's actually more reasonable than most of the Republicans running, many of whom won't even go as far as Jeb. So while Republicans timidly denounce Trump, weeks later, they are essentially in agreement with him over what should be done about the problem. Once again, Trump is indeed the face of the Republican Party."
Work longer hours, slackers!
And finally, because Jeb! is probably feeling a little left out this week...
"Jeb Bush apparently has the answer to the problems the American middle class is facing: work harder! Incredibly, that's exactly what he said recently in an interview. While standing firm for 'four percent growth,' Bush tells America's workers 'we have to be a lot more productive,' which 'means that people need to work longer hours.' Got that, middle class Americans? Your main problem is that you have been slacking off. Why not go out and get a second job? Heck, maybe put the kids to work, too. Because in Jeb!'s America, that's what you have to look forward to. Not a raise in the minimum wage, not expanded overtime pay, not guaranteed sick leave, not fair pay for women -- instead all your problems can be solved by working more hours. So what are you waiting for, slackers? Get back to work!"
Chris Weigant blogs at:
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant
Become a fan of Chris on Huffington Post
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
All-time award winners leaderboard, by rank