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Friday Talking Points -- One No Trump

We have serious doubts that we'll see Trump at any future debates -- after all, if he can blow them off with impunity, why would he subject himself to them in the first place?
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NASHUA, NH - JANUARY 29: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on stage during a Town Hall on January 29, 2016 in Nashua, New Hampshire. Trump made a quick stop in New Hampshire before heading back to Iowa. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
NASHUA, NH - JANUARY 29: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on stage during a Town Hall on January 29, 2016 in Nashua, New Hampshire. Trump made a quick stop in New Hampshire before heading back to Iowa. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

That headline is a joke only bridge players will get, so our apologies to everyone else. It refers, of course, to last night's Republican presidential debate, which Donald Trump refused to participate in. But even with no Trump on the stage last night, he seems to have (once again) proved that political gravity simply doesn't apply to him. In fact, we have serious doubts that we'll see Trump at any future debates -- after all, if he can blow them off with impunity, why would he subject himself to them in the first place?

Or maybe he'll just stage his own debates instead, and invite the other candidates to appear in front of his hand-picked panel of sycophants. That'd certainly be amusing! Who wouldn't tune in to see the likes of Gary Busey questioning Ted Cruz?

We did watch most of the GOP debate last night, although by this point these events seem nothing more than an endless loop of blather. Yet again, the evening was an absolute fear-fest of unbridled proportions. We don't think there was a non-ISIS, non-terrorism question until well into the second hour, but then we do admit that watching Republicans debate kind of makes our eyes glaze over (even without hip debate-themed drinking games). None of the obvious, newsworthy questions we wanted to hear were asked (such as: "What do you think about how the F.B.I. handled the situation in Oregon?").

Rather than repeating such a stale performance, we would suggest the next GOP debate open with the following: "As moderator, I'm well aware that every candidate on the stage (with the exception of Rand Paul, of course) would bomb the living daylights out of terrorists everywhere, and then have the American military dance up and down on the rubble, so we're just going to ignore the whole subject since you're all pretty much in agreement -- instead, we're going to be asking questions on how your economic plans would help average families, and many other subjects relevant to the American voters." Hey, we can always dream, right?

Instead, we had a no-Trump debate where everyone beat up on each other, with Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio being the favorite punching bags. Oh, and everyone hates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama -- that pretty much goes without saying. The best debate wrap-up we read was from Digby, in Salon, who went with a great metaphor to describe the night:

Some good news came out of the GOP presidential debates last night. It dawned on everyone watching that in a week or so this field is going to be winnowed considerably and we will never have the thrill of seeing the seven dwarves -- Grumpy Christie, Sneezy Cruz, Happy Kasich, Sleepy Carson, Dopey Rubio, Bashful Bush and Doc Paul -- on a stage together again. (Snow White Trump was pouting across the street, upset over having to take questions from Megyn Kelly.)

Heh. Can't top that one, so we're not even going to try.

What else is going on in the world of politics? Well, Michael Bloomberg seems to be jealous of Donald Trump, so he hinted that maybe America would thrill to see two New York City billionaires in the presidential race. Bloomberg seems to have deluded himself into believing that there is an enormous yearning for a pro-gun-control, pro-stop-and-frisk candidate out there, and apparently all his closest buddies agreed. If Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic nomination, Bloomberg (so far) says he won't run, but if it's Bernie Sanders versus Trump or Cruz then Bloomberg says he'll just have to jump in to save America. So there's that to look forward to, we suppose.

Of course, the biggest news is that Iowa is about to kick off primary season, and all the wonks will finally (finally!) have some solid voting data to pore over, rather than just relying on sheer speculation (as we've all been doing, up to this point). The race is about as close as can be, at least between first and second places in both parties. Will Trump beat Cruz? Will Bernie surprise Hillary? Stay tuned! Monday night will be an exciting moment, no matter what happens.

Team Hillary seems more than a little bit worried at this point. Bill Clinton also seems worried about Hillary's ground game heading into March -- when the first four primary contests are over and when an enormous amount of delegates will be up for grabs. Bernie Sanders met privately with President Obama this week, and then stated that he wasn't worried at all that Obama had somehow endorsed Hillary (the interview in question was actually pretty even-handed and wonky, but the media missed this forest while examining the trees for signs of a secret Hillary endorsement).

Sanders got seriously annoyed with the Washington Post, who (like a lot of media these days) are getting worried that Bernie might actually beat Clinton. The Post editorial board put out the snarkiest of hit pieces on Sanders (titled, with no subtlety whatsoever: "A Campaign Full Of Fiction" and subtitled: "Sen. Sanders is not a brave truth-teller. He's just telling progressives what they want to hear."). Sanders then struck back, but it'll be interesting to see if this sort of thing becomes more common if Clinton loses Iowa and New Hampshire to Sanders. There are many in the Democratic establishment who fear a Sanders nomination just as much as their Republican counterparts fear both Cruz and Trump.

Other campaign odds and ends: Jeb! Bush is actually running an ad featuring Terri Schiavo, because he was at the heart of the mess, arguing strongly that the government should intrude on private medical decisions. We had wondered when the subject was going to come up, but we must admit we never thought Jeb! himself would be the one to bring it up. A senior aide to John McCain pretty much admitted that McCain's pick of Sarah Palin is why we are all being subjected to "Donald Trump, GOP frontrunner" right now, which is an interesting read. More of Hillary Clinton's emails will be released soon, but the State Department is now saying they need an extra month to process the remaining ones (they were all supposed to have been out at the end of January). And, in a bit of good news for progressives, Zephyr Teachout announced she's running for Congress in New York. Go Zephyr!

And we end our weekly wrapup with three "you can't make this stuff up" items. Legislators in Kansas are instituting a prudish dress code for anyone who appears before a committee meeting -- but this dress code only addresses women's clothing. Was there a big problem of women appearing in miniskirts somehow freaking out the tender male lawmakers, or something? Doesn't this belong in a parody of the 1950s? Sheesh.

Up in Maine, the governor wants to execute drug dealers by bringing back the guillotine. No, really. He followed this whopper up with an even-more-insane suggestion: "Everybody in Maine, we have constitutional carry. Load up and get rid of the drug dealers." Um... OK. Let's just announce "open season" and have citizens start blazing away in the streets. That'll solve the problem!

Which is a perfect segue to our final item, which is a headline that (sadly) needs no further explanation: "Man Who Feared Mass Shootings Brings Gun To Movie Theater, Accidentally Shoots Woman." Nothing more really needs be said about that one, except to note it didn't actually take place in Maine.

We have a special award to hand out this week, rather than our usual Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. Instead, we're creating a special award, the Most Impressive Political Protester, which should really end with "For The Past Three Decades" (or, perhaps, "Ever"). Because that's how long one woman's political protest lasted.

Concepcion Picciotto began protesting against nuclear proliferation in 1981, when it was an enormous political issue. For those of you not old enough to remember, just do a web search on "No Nukes Concert" to see how big the movement was, at the time. Picciotto joined a protest across the street from the White House back then, and she essentially never left. Her three-decade long stand is now being called "the longest-running act of political protest in U.S. history."

Concepcion died this week, so our Most Impressive Political Protester award will be posthumous. For dedicating her life to occupying a vigil in Lafayette Park on a subject she cared deeply about, for her Herculean stamina in continuing to protest long after the issue had dropped off most people's radar, for surviving brutal Washington winters and equally brutal Washington summers, and for refusing to ever give up in her quest for peace, Concepcion Picciotto will always be remembered as the Most Impressive Political Protester of all time in Washington.

[Obviously, we have no contact information for Concepcion Picciotto. Remember her in your prayers, should you feel so inclined.]

This one's beyond disappointing, really. We're not entirely sure he's a Democrat, but since Don Harris was the president of a local N.A.A.C.P. chapter in Maricopa County, Arizona, it's probably a pretty safe bet. Not a guaranteed one, though, because Harris seems to have gotten his position only because nobody else wanted it. Harris, who is white, nominated himself for the job "in hopes it would get others to run for the position." Nobody did, so he got elected.

Harris was in the news in the worst possible way this week, after attending a meeting with the Tempe Union High School District about a group of students who thought it'd be funny to use their school spirit T-shirts to spell out a racist slur ("NI**ER" -- since they didn't have any "G" shirts to work with). The meeting was (you can't make this stuff up) about increasing sensitivity.

Harris, while leaving the meeting, spoke to some reporters. With a microphone on him, Harris said to a male reporter, in reference to a female reporter standing nearby: "Nice tits."

We're not going to repeat what he said afterwards, because he just lapsed into profanity (over and over again) while ham-handedly trying to apologize.

So while we're not entirely sure whether Don Harris is an actual Democrat, we do know he's entirely unsuited to any public position that requires interaction with the public, so we're going to award him the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award anyway.

Harris, to his credit, offered to resign his position. His resignation has just been accepted.

[Contact the Maricopa County N.A.A.C.P. on their contact page, to let them know that they should get a little more serious about choosing a leader, next time around.]

Volume 376 (1/29/16)

Republican debates (whether or not Donald Trump shows up) are markedly different than Democratic debates. Today we're devoting the talking points section to highlighting those differences. Because it really needs pointing out how vastly different the priorities of the two parties are, and this is the easiest way to do it. So without further ado, let's examine what the Republicans didn't talk about last night.

Give your boss a raise

This is, obviously, the best place to start.

"You know what I didn't hear at the recent Republican debate? A single proposal to make life better for the middle class of this country. Not one candidate had even one policy idea to make lives better for millions of Americans. This is because the GOP has no ideas along these lines. For decades now, their sole answer to all of the problems of the middle class has been to give your boss a raise by cutting his taxes. How has that worked out for people? And yet, the only thing they now have to propose on making life better for the middle class is yet another tax cut for your boss. Because that'll solve everything, right?"

Income inequality

Follow this up by connecting these dots.

"Americans more and more are aware of the problems income inequality creates. Poor people don't even get safe water to drink, while rich suburbs don't have such worries. Incomes for middle Americans have been flat, and the only Republican solution to the problem is to give the wealthiest Americans more money back on their taxes -- which will make the problem worse. There's an old saying about getting out of a hole you've dug, but the Republican answer is nothing more than to dig even faster. Democrats want to raise the minimum wage, but according to the leading Republican presidential candidate, workers' wages are already 'too high.' During the Republican debate, none of this was even discussed. That's the difference the American voters are faced with: one party that wants to solve problems like income inequality, and the other party that ignores it (at best) or vows to make it worse. That's a pretty easy choice, really."

Make college affordable

Yet another missing subject.

"Another thing I didn't hear a single word spoken about during the GOP debate was how to make college more affordable for all deserving students. Democrats have plans to achieve this worthy goal, although they disagree on how to go about doing it. Republicans have nothing on the subject. Nada. Not one single idea from the entire pack of Republican candidates. According to them, college affordability just isn't a problem. Well, maybe it isn't for their kids, but it sure is for tens of millions of American families. Want to see major reforms to the costs of college? Vote Democratic. Want to see nothing whatsoever get done about this problem crushing students and middle-class families? Vote Republican."

Equal pay for women

Another good idea Republicans are blocking.

"I really would have liked to have heard another question last night -- why are all Republicans against equal pay for women? Why is this even a partisan issue at all? Basic fairness demands that women be paid exactly the same as men. Americans understand this. But every time Democrats try to address the problem in Congress, Republicans shoot it down. Why? Why is it such a bad idea for women to make as much as men? I'd really have loved to have heard even one single Republican try to explain that last night, but of course the question was never even asked."

Criminal justice reform

This one may actually move forward in Congress this year, so it's a great time to bring it up.

"Republicans are finally waking up to realize that criminal justice reform is absolutely necessary to make our justice system more equitable. America finally seems to be getting over the destructive idea of 'mandatory minimum sentences' for low-level offenders. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the two parties vied with each other to prove who could be 'toughest on crime' by locking up millions of Americans for things like simple possession of drugs. Now, finally, both parties seem to be considering getting rid of the most destructive policies from this era. So I'd like to hear what all the Republicans running for president have to say on the subject. It almost always comes up during Democratic debates, and I really wish it would get more attention at the GOP debates as well, because both parties are going to have to work together to make the necessary reforms."

The other domestic terrorists

Kept waiting for this to come up, but of course it didn't.

"I heard a lot of talk from Republicans about how strong they'd be to fight terrorism. But when the subject of domestic terrorism did come up, the only thing addressed was jihadists. This was sort of surprising, because the big domestic terrorism story of the week was how the F.B.I. is bringing an end to the occupation of federal lands by armed resisters. So why didn't it even get mentioned? What do the Republican candidates think of the Oregon situation? We don't know. Do they think the F.B.I. did the right thing, or would they have handled it differently as president? Again, we don't know because nobody thought to even bring the subject up."

Beef up the E.P.A.

This subject actually was mentioned, but there was a contradiction at the heart of most of what was said.

"I heard the Republican candidates all try to spread the blame for the situation in Flint, Michigan around, and (as usual) fingers were pointed at the federal government. There was an obvious followup question just begging to be asked, though, that apparently didn't occur to the moderators. Since presidents can only control the federal government (and not the state or local governments), if the feds screwed up in Flint, how would Republicans make the situation better so it never happened again? The obvious answer is to beef up the oversight of the Environmental Protection Agency -- in fact, this is the only answer when you leave the state and local governments out of it. So where were the bold calls from Republicans to improve the E.P.A. so that a city full of American children never get poisoned in such a fashion again?"

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