Friday Talking Points -- Is Trump Bigger Than Liam Neeson?

A nationally-televised presidential debate stage is, indeed, neither the time nor the place, one would think. This year, however, all the rules have been thrown out and we've got Donald Trump and Marco Rubio comparing relative penis sizes in their effort to become the so-called leader of the free world.
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DETROIT, MI - MARCH 03: Republican presidential candidates (Lto R) Donald Trump and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) participate in a debate sponsored by Fox News at the Fox Theatre on March 3, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan. Voters in Michigan will go to the polls March 8 for the State's primary. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - MARCH 03: Republican presidential candidates (Lto R) Donald Trump and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) participate in a debate sponsored by Fox News at the Fox Theatre on March 3, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan. Voters in Michigan will go to the polls March 8 for the State's primary. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

It's been a wild and crazy week -- so much so, in fact, that we're going to start with a quote we never thought would become appropriate to use in a column about politics. It's from the movie Taken, where Liam Neeson's character utters the classic line: "Now's not the time for dick-measuring."

Yes, that was exactly the type of week it was. The campaign trail on the Republican side is now indistinguishable from a 5th-grade schoolyard yelling match between a group of belligerent little boys. First, Donald Trump mocks Marco Rubio's ears. Then they both mock each other's makeup (OK, well, admittedly, it's hard to picture that subject ever coming up in an actual 5th-grade throwdown.) Rubio mocks Trump for possibly wetting his pants, and makes a joke about how small Trump's hands are (and we all know what that means...) Trump shot back in last night's debate, and assured the world that he had no problems in that department. He didn't quite whip out a ruler or anything, but it will definitely go down in history as the most bizarre debate moment of all time (unless Trump finds a way to top it, of course.)

Which led us straight to that Liam Neeson quote, of course. A nationally-televised presidential debate stage is, indeed, neither the time nor the place, one would think. This year, however, all the rules have been thrown out and we've got Donald Trump and Marco Rubio comparing relative penis sizes in their effort to become the so-called leader of the free world. That faint sound you hear is our Founding Fathers (well, maybe except Benjamin Franklin...) whirling in their graves.

We even found ourselves actually missing Carly Fiorina in last night's debate, if only to see her smack down the testosterone-fest emanating from the stage. That's how low the Republican debates have sunk.

It's not just us, either. Plenty of rock-ribbed conservatives were downright horrified by last night's spectacle. Frank Luntz, famed conservative pollster, tweeted last night: "22 out of my 25 focus group members said tonight's #GOPDebate will hurt Republicans in the general election. This has to stop. Seriously."

Ross Douthat tweeted his own disappointment last night: "You know which prominent Republican managed to sound like a president today? Not one of these guys." But the most brutal tweet of the night (remember, these are all from conservatives) came from Jamie Johnson, senior advisor to Rick Perry: "My party is committing suicide on national television."

Wow, tell us how you really feel, guys. But this doesn't even really scratch the surface of the roiling angst among some Republicans right now. In fact, there's so much free-floating fear and loathing that we're going to devote the entire talking points section to nasty things Republicans are now saying about Donald Trump and each other. So there's that to look forward to.

Of course, the debate wasn't the only political news of the week. This was Super Tuesday week, when over ten states voted on both the Democratic and Republican sides. Watching the returns filter in Tuesday led to one amusing moment on Fox, which Salon helpfully pointed out: Karl Rove being told he was wrong, once again. Rove was expounding on how well Rubio was doing in Virginia when he got interrupted with the call that Trump had taken the state. Ah, memories of his infamous 2012 meltdown over Ohio! Good times....

But, to us, the most interesting news to emerge from all this Republican chaos was the reintroduction of a man who we've long thought would be the perfect Trump vice presidential candidate. No, really. We know Trump's not going to give the second place on his ticket to any of the people who ran against him, because he loves to hold grudges. So he's going to have to make a selection beyond the expected field. What would make the most sense for him would be to get some retired general (Petraeus, perhaps?) on the ticket, to give his candidacy some much-needed seriousness and foreign policy skills. But Trump hasn't gotten to where he is by doing the sensible thing.

Which leaves one possible candidate, in our eyes. A man who has military experience and has also already been a state governor. A man who is even more politically-independent than Trump. A man who is just as good as Trump at playing to the cameras in a big way. And now, a man who is already considering throwing his hat back into the political ring.

Jesse Ventura truly is the most fitting choice to run with Donald Trump. A Trump/Ventura ticket would indeed be one for the ages.

President Obama had a pretty good week, as he saw yet another good jobs report (unemployment stayed at 4.9 percent and 242,000 jobs were created last month). He also made a splash on PBS, who aired one of those private concerts inside the White House (this one a tribute to Ray Charles). Obama even got up and sang at the end of it, with all the other performers on the stage. He looked relaxed and happy, which is always good to see in our president. Also, little-noticed by everyone, his job approval numbers have gotten noticeably better this week, to the point where the average of job approval is about to become greater than the average of people who don't approve of the job he's doing. If it happens, this will be the first time these two lines have crossed since the middle of 2013, so Obama deserves at least an Honorable Mention this week.

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both had a relatively good Super Tuesday, but neither one outperformed expectations enough to win them the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. In fact, we're not going to give out the MIDOTW award at all this week, because instead we're going to mint a brand-new "Most Impressive International Statesman Of The Week" award, and hand it to the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan.

The United Nations is about to convene a big meeting on the global War On Drugs. They may use this venue to chart an entirely different direction than the one pushed by the United States for the past 30 or 40 years. Annan helped this effort along by penning an extraordinary article titled: "Why It's Time To Legalize Drugs."

In it, he lays out a very rational case for the nations of the world to drastically change directions and stop throwing so much money down the rathole of treating drugs as a criminal problem instead of as a health problem. He makes his case well, and we urge everyone to read what he has to say.

For showing such international leadership, and for utterly rejecting the course the United States has been following (without any appreciable success) for so long, Kofi Annan easily wins our very first Most Impressive International Statesman Of The Week award.

[Congratulate Kofi Annan on his namesake foundation's contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]

Sadly, our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week goes to Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Not for anything she's done as chair of the Democratic National Committee, but for what she's been up to in Congress. Huffington Post dug up this disappointing story:

Payday lenders have been gunning for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau since the day President Barack Obama tapped Elizabeth Warren to set up the new agency. They've had plenty of help from congressional Republicans -- longtime recipients of campaign contributions from the payday loan industry. As the CFPB has moved closer to adopting new rules to shield families from predatory lending, the GOP has assailed the agency from every conceivable angle -- going after its budget, attempting to tie its hands with new layers of red tape, fomenting conspiracy theories about rogue regulators illegally shutting down businesses and launching direct attacks on payday loan rules themselves.

To date, the GOP blitz has resulted in a few close shaves for the young agency, but no actual defeats. But the industry has cultivated a powerful new ally in recent weeks: Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.).

Wasserman Schultz is co-sponsoring a new bill that would gut the CFPB's forthcoming payday loan regulations. She's also attempting to gin up Democratic support for the legislation on Capitol Hill, according to a memo obtained by The Huffington Post.

The Consumer Financial Protection Board has had to fight Republicans in Congress pretty much every step of the way. That's expected. Republicans are always on the side of the big banks rather than the little guy -- that's all well known. But for a prominent Democrat to aid and abet them in trying to throttle Elizabeth Warren's brainchild truly goes beyond the pale.

For doing precisely that, Debbie Wasserman Schultz wins our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week.

[Contact Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz on her House contact page, to let her know what you think of her actions.]

Volume 381 (3/4/16)

Below, we have an incredible collection of Republicans absolutely freaking out over the state of their party's nomination race, as we promised. Seriously, this is a week when Democrats don't even have to phone it in -- the Republicans are doing such a great job of trashing their own party on their own that they really don't even need a helping hand. This rage against Trump is still only building, we hasten to point out -- it's going to get even more vicious as we approach March 15, when Florida and Ohio represent the last-ditch chance to take Trump down.

But before we get to all of that fun, we've got to have an interlude for another column series. We apologize for the delay, but the primary schedule dictates that we'll have a few of these on Fridays throughout the voting season.

This weekend brings another round of primaries and caucuses, so first let me update my stats on calling these races, and then I'll make my picks for this Saturday and Sunday.

I had a pretty good Super Tuesday, calling 11 out of the 12 Democratic contests right (got Minnesota wrong), but didn't do so well on the Republican side, as I called everything but Texas for Trump -- meaning I missed Oklahoma, Minnesota, and Alaska. This brings my overall stats to:

Total correct 2016 Democratic picks: 13 for 16 -- 81%

Total correct 2016 Republican picks: 17 for 23 -- 74%

Total overall correct picks: 30 for 39 -- 77%.

Five states and Puerto Rico will vote this weekend, although only Kentucky's Republicans, Puerto Rico's Republicans, and Nebraska's Democrats will vote (Maine, oddly enough, has Republicans voting on Saturday and then Democrats voting on Sunday).

There is little polling for any of the states voting, meaning calling them is really just throwing a dart at a wall. So here are my darts: Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Maine all go for Donald Trump. Marco Rubio picks up his second win in Puerto Rico. On the Democratic side, Louisiana and Maine go for Clinton, while Sanders picks up Kansas and Nebraska.

OK, that's enough of that -- let's get on with all the delicious Republican-on-Republican violence!

Sick to your stomach

Matthew Continetti of the Free Beacon shared his thoughts on watching last night's GOP debate.

The spectacle made me ill. On screen I watched decades of work by conservative institutions, activists, and elected officials being lit aflame not only by the New York demagogue but by his enablers who waited until the last possible moment to try and stop him.

The Mitt hits the fan

The 2012 Republican nominee came out of hiding this week, to strongly denounce the man who just might be the 2016 Republican nominee. Mitt didn't endorse anybody else, though, so he too seems to have no idea how to actually defeat Trump.

Mr. Trump is directing our anger for less than noble purposes. He creates scapegoats of Muslims and Mexican immigrants, he calls for the use of torture and for killing the innocent children and family members of terrorists. He cheers assaults on protesters. He applauds the prospect of twisting the Constitution to limit first amendment freedom of the press. This is the very brand of anger that has led other nations into the abyss.

Here's what I know. Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He's playing the American public for suckers: He gets a free ride to the White House and all we get is a lousy hat.

His domestic policies would lead to recession. His foreign policies would make America and the world less safe. He has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president. And his personal qualities would mean that America would cease to be a shining city on a hill.

Another county heard from

A group of "more than 50 conservative foreign policy experts" wrote an extraordinary public letter this week, which itemizes many solid reasons why President Trump would be a disaster for America. After going through an extensive list of Trump's flaws, the letter ends with:

Mr. Trump's own statements lead us to conclude that as president, he would use the authority of his office to act in ways that make America less safe, and which would diminish our standing in the world. Furthermore, his expansive view of how presidential power should be wielded against his detractors poses a distinct threat to civil liberty in the United States. Therefore, as committed and loyal Republicans, we are unable to support a Party ticket with Mr. Trump at its head. We commit ourselves to working energetically to prevent the election of someone so utterly unfitted to the office.

Kristol chimes in

William Kristol is, famously, wrong about everything. If he says it, it won't happen, to put this another way. So take his new plan with an enormous grain of salt. His answer? For the Republican Party to leave the Republican Party (an idea I examined earlier this week), at least for this year's election. He advocates an "independent Republican" ticket:

That ticket would simply be a one-time, emergency adjustment to the unfortunate circumstance (if it happens) of a Trump nomination. [It] would support other Republicans running for Congress and other offices, and would allow voters to correct the temporary mistake (if they make it) of nominating Trump.

Gerson's got a plan, too

Kristol's not the only one, though. Republican Senator Ben Sasse is ready to vote for "some third candidate -- a conservative option, a constitutionalist." Michael Gerson had a similar idea to Kristol's, although he wants Condi Rice to head his mythical ticket. But before he gets to this idea, he has his own choice words to describe the state his party finds itself in.

The GOP is not facing a debate over policy, but rather a hostile takeover by a pernicious force. Traditional Republicans are now presented with a series of deeply flawed options. And serving the party's ideals may eventually require leaving it, at least for a season.

Donald Trump is winning the Republican nomination but not sweeping to it. Across the states that have voted so far, he has gotten 34 percent of the vote and is barely on track to get the requisite 1,237 delegates in order to win outright at the Cleveland convention in July.

Under normal circumstances, a clear plurality would begin to gather into a majority, as elements of the GOP internally reconcile to the likely nominee. These are not normal circumstances. A significant group of Republicans -- look at #NeverTrump on Twitter -- cannot support Trump. This is not, as in 1964 or 1980, a clash over ideology. It is a moral objection to the return of nativism, religious prejudice and misogyny to the center stage of American politics.

Clinton Republicans?

Could we see the emergence of the Democratic answer to "Reagan Democrats" this time around? Here is what Max Boot, a foreign policy advisor to Marco Rubio, had to say on who he'd pick over Trump:

I would sooner vote for Josef Stalin than I would vote for Donald Trump. There is no way in hell I would ever vote for him. I would far more readily support Hillary Clinton, or Bloomberg if he ran.

Shot or poisoned

Lindsey Graham gave a hilarious interview late on Super Tuesday. He's getting so amusing he's reminiscent of how funny Bob Dole got after losing his election, in fact. In the same interview, Graham predicted Hillary would beat Trump "like a drum" and suggested "let's just pick somebody out of the phone book if we have to," rather than nominating Trump. But he had equally scathing words for Ted Cruz becoming the nominee as well:

The only way we lose this election is to nominate somebody who cannot grow this party's vote among minorities, young women, and the coalitions we need to win. If you nominate Trump and Cruz I think you'd get the same outcome. Whether it's death by being shot or poisoning, does it really matter? I don't think the outcome will be substantially different.

Chris Weigant blogs at:

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