It's been a pretty momentous week in the history of American politics, folks. The Republican Party is going to nominate Donald Trump to run for the highest office in the land. Politics and entertainment are now one. The trend that Ronald Reagan began -- furthered in no small part by Sarah Palin -- is now complete. In other words: welcome to the next episode of Who Wants To Be President?
Of course, this news was such a bombshell that many stunned politicians have no idea how to react. Many Republicans are indeed singing the refrain: "It's my party, and I'll cry if I want to..." as they contemplate the chances of success they're faced with in November. Decisions must be made. Follow Trump, distance yourself from Trump, or fully denounce Trump and all he stands for? When else in living memory has a major political party faced such a stark division -- at the precise moment the general election presidential campaign begins? The word "stunning" doesn't even begin to cover the magnitude of the Trump political earthquake.
Last week's Indiana primary was supposed to be when the "Never Trump" people turned the Trump tide and denied him the requisite simple majority of convention delegates. But this turned out to be a bridge too far (you can choose your own military cliché, if you prefer: the Alamo, Custer's Last Stand, etc.). Instead, Trump swept all 57 delegates and Ted Cruz immediately dropped out of the race (as he elbowed and punched his wife in the face -- no, really!). John Kasich slept on it, then also decided it was time to throw in the towel. And then there was one....
Republicans are thus left with a choice: back the party's nominee or denounce the party's nominee. So far, some have gravitated towards Trump, but many notable names have moved as fast as they can in the opposite direction. The two living Republican ex-presidents both said they would skip the party's convention (this was not too surprising, considering George H. W. Bush's age, and George W. Bush's presidential record). Also skipping the party will be the two previous Republican presidential candidates, John McCain and Mitt Romney. That's not exactly a vote of confidence for Trump. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (who has a few presidential ambitions of his own) said yesterday he isn't ready to back Trump yet.
Republicans like Lindsey Graham are not mincing words, though on why they won't be supporting their party's nominee: "Eating a taco is probably not gonna fix the problem we have with Hispanics. Embracing Donald Trump is embracing demographic death." Some Republicans are even burning their party voter registration cards online, to show their feelings.
Of course, there's plenty in all of this to amuse Democrats. As we've been saying for months now: "It couldn't have happened to a nicer political party." Heh. What we find really funny, though, is how no Republicans are now talking about that "loyalty oath" they made all their presidential candidates sign. Remember that? It was supposed to guarantee Trump would never run as a third-party candidate. But now, why aren't the party leaders excommunicating Lindsey Graham and Jeb Bush, both of whom signed that same pledge? Funny how they've all forgotten that supposedly-sacred oath, eh?
Then there's the faulty memory of people like Meghan McCain, who tweeted: "I hope history remembers those who gave up their conservative principles for the cult of personality and celebrity. And those who didn't." Um, yeah, OK... except for that business of your father choosing Sarah Palin as running mate, right? We've personally been pointing out the Palin-Trump progression for a while, too:
Anyone could plausibly run, if Sarah could conceivably be leader of the nation. No experience was necessary, and no quip was too outrageous to utter on stage. Fringe candidates, instead of being ignored by almost everyone, suddenly were given the party's official seal of approval.
But back to Trump, and the continuing implosion of the Party of Lincoln. Some Republican senators and congressmen are keeping to their "Never Trump" vows, although in the end most of them will likely at least not campaign actively for Hillary Clinton or anything, and offer up the most tepid "I support our party's nominee" statements -- but still refuse to outright endorse Trump. Could this be a permanent schism in the Republican Party? Your guess is as good as mine. Will the party end with a bang or a whimper? Who knows?
Of course, Trump becoming the nominee means a whole lot of inside-the-Beltway "journalists" and pundits are having to eat large helpings of crow, right about now. Dana Milbank of the Washington Post is literally going to have to "eat his words" (he promised he'd eat a newsprint version of his "Trump will never be the GOP nominee" column if it ever came to pass -- he's now soliciting recipes for how he'll do this). Data guru Nate Silver has been taken down several pegs this year (as late as November, Silver was still snarkily proclaiming: "For my money, that adds up to Trump's chances [of winning the nomination] being higher than 0 but (considerably) less than 20 percent. Your mileage may vary."). Other pundits have been issuing their own mea maxima culpa statements, in chagrin.
We have to admit a bit of smugness in watching all this. Because we've been paying very close attention to the actual polling data since about last July, so we had to take a little credit of our own this week, pointing out that all of this data has been around for everyone to see for a very long time now -- the only thing necessary to have seen it coming was to believe what was in front of your own eyes, really. Think this overstates the case? Consider that this column has been calling Donald Trump the "frontrunner" since FTP , way back in early July of last year. So we do admit we're amused that the punditocracy is now furiously playing catch-up with Friday Talking Points.
Now that people are indeed facing facts, it would also behoove Democrats to not get too complacent about their chances for victory this November. Because there simply are no guarantees in politics. The Washington Post laid out not just a path to victory in the Electoral College for Trump, but five plausible ways he could win in November. In other words, the one big lesson everyone should have learned by now is that "It'll never happen" is no longer an acceptable brush-off when predicting how this whole thing will turn out.
It is a measure of how momentous a week it was in politics that the fabled "nerd prom" (the White House Correspondents' Dinner) got so little attention from the media this week (even though a "nerdy fight" broke out between the Huffington Post and Fox News!). For once, there was a story bigger than the media and politicians schmoozing with Hollywood celebrities. For all we know now, the next such nerd prom might have a celebrity at the head table, after all.
OK, before we move along to the awards, marijuana was in the news in several positive ways this week (one of which will actually be covered within our awards section). Walgreens drug store actually broke the wall of silence between corporate America and medical marijuana this week, by having a discussion about the subject on their own health blog. Good for them! Sooner or later, the realty will sink in, even in the boardrooms.
The much bigger news came from the Justice Department, as they quietly dropped their case against the Harborside medical marijuana provider in Oakland, California. This was a four-year legal nightmare that never should have been allowed to happen (and came as a result of an overzealous federal prosecutor), which is now thankfully over. Medical marijuana won a big victory in this case, without even having to set foot inside a courtroom. This will doubtless not be the last case the feds try to prosecute against a provider who is scrupulously following state and local law (the government of Oakland was fully behind Harborside, it bears mentioning, throughout their entire legal odyssey), but it certainly was a case with a very high profile. Sooner or later, federal prosecutors are going to have to get used to the new reality and spend their time on more pressing matters. Congress has even passed laws which refuse to spend any federal money on such pointless prosecutions, so it's good to see the Justice Department finally following this new law. The War On Weed isn't over, but the end is indeed in sight.
President Barack Obama certainly deserves an Honorable Mention this week, as news leaked that he was going to designate the site of the Stonewall riot a National Memorial. Unlike with National Parks, this can be done by Obama without having to get Congress to approve it. So America will soon have an official gay civil rights memorial. Seeing as how the entire country has evolved enormously on this issue during Obama's term in office (including Obama's own evolution), it's a good way to end the most gay-friendly administration in American history.
But instead, we're giving the prestigious Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week to Gavin Newsom of California. Newsom is currently the lieutenant governor of the state, but he is now running to get a promotion to become its next governor. If he were a normal politician, this would mean he would be shying away from taking strong stands on very contentious issues. Instead, Newsom is showing bold leadership -- the same kind of bold leadership he showed back when he was mayor of San Francisco and marrying gay couples in defiance, long before other Democrats would support such a contentious idea.
This week, Newsom announced that the Adult Use of Marijuana Act ballot initiative was turning in 600,000 signatures to qualify for November's ballot. It needs fewer than 400,000 valid signatures to qualify, so it is likely to make it on the ballot.
Newsom has been involved in this effort for a while now -- he's not just jumping on the bandwagon late in the game. Not only did he head a blue ribbon commission on marijuana policy, he also worked to get all the diverse pro-legalization groups in the state to work together instead of at odds with each other. That's a big deal, because this is likely what killed California's first legalization measure (Proposition 19, back in 2010). Newsom has been out front of the effort to get everyone on board one single proposition, and it looks like it has paid off. While there are more than a dozen other legalization ballot initiatives circulating, it is doubtful that any of them will actually gain enough signatures to make it on the ballot.
Newsom has, in short, stuck his neck out. And not after he was safely in office, but while he's running. That is rare political courage, and shows Newsom's ability to lead. Here is what his campaign website has to say about "rethinking our drug policy," in full (emphasis in original):
The war on drugs has failed. Today we incarcerate too many Americans for non-violent drug crimes, while too few resources are available for effective treatment and prevention.
We can do better. First, it's time to legalize and regulate marijuana for adult users. That means looking at how we transition to legalization while protecting children and ensuring public safety. And more than that, it's time to get serious about the tax and business structure of how this will work.
But it's important to get this right. That's why I'm leading a Blue Ribbon Panel of legal, scientific, medical and public policy experts to help chart a responsible path to legalization.
Our work doesn't stop there. Drug addiction is a threat to families and to public health, and we can't turn a blind eye to the effects. We have to open new and innovative pipelines for non-violent offenders to get counseling and treatment, while doubling down on efforts to keep people - especially kids - from starting drugs in the first place.
What we cannot do is continue sweeping the problem under the rug by sending non-violent offenders to prison. Too many men and women are in jail because of drug addiction. We should focus on rebuilding families by keeping people out of the criminal justice system and instead getting them the help they need so they can return to a productive life.
Drug policy in California and across the country has missed the mark. Now's the time to rethink our approach and get it right.
Sooner or later, more and more Democrats are going to have to "evolve" on marijuana policy. If California legalizes recreational weed, it will be legal on the entire Pacific Coast, all the way up to Alaska. If a handful of other states pass similar ballot initiatives this year, the movement will become unstoppable. Prohibition of alcohol ended because a few brave politicians began standing up and saying "This is stupid -- we're shooting ourselves in the foot." Prohibition of marijuana is in that very phase right now. Brave politicians like Gavin Newsom are pioneering a path others should considering following.
So for showing real leadership instead of trying to pretend the issue doesn't exist (as so many other Democrats are still doing), Gavin Newsom is awarded the Golden Backbone, as he is clearly the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. As a footnote, we also have to say we appreciate the 1960s in-joke in the initiative's title. The "Adult Use of Marijuana Act" will quickly become the "AUM Act" [we suggest you ask an aging hippie to explain, if you don't get the joke]. Hopefully this will become a mantra repeated by other states across the land, very soon.
[Congratulate California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom on his official state contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]
This one is, sadly, an easy call this week. Former speaker of the New York assembly, Sheldon Silver, was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison this week, for "honest services fraud, money laundering and extortion."
Now, unlike in some states where political corruption is only exercised by the party currently in power, in Albany political corruption is a game both sides play with abandon. The majority leader of the state senate, a Republican, has also been found guilty of corruption in federal court, meaning the two most powerful New York politicians in the legislative branch are going away for a long spell in the pokey.
In fact, corruption is so downright prevalent in New York government that the article announcing Silver's sentence added a helpful graphic at the bottom, which listed ten other legislators who have been convicted of corruption -- and that only goes back to 2009.
Bruce Roter, the man behind the effort to build a "Museum of Political Corruption" in Albany, New York, reacted to the news of Sheldon Silver's sentence being handed down:
Silver's sentence is severe, and rightfully so. But Silver's sentence will not serve as a cautionary tale to those who, like Silver, believe they are above the law. Nor has justice been served. Justice will only be served when comprehensive ethics reform in Albany prevents actions such as Silver's from happening again.
We fully agree, and we fully support the effort to see this museum built (we should mention that they have just launched a fundraising drive, in case anyone would like to give a tax-deductible donation to this worthy cause). Obviously, Albany needs such a museum more than most state capitals, these days.
Sheldon Silver is the official winner of this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week, but it really should be shared among all New York Democrats currently serving (or about to serve) prison sentences for corruption. We don't want anyone to feel left out, in other words.
[Sheldon Silver is now a private citizen but will soon be available for contact through the federal Bureau of Prisons, so look for his contact information there, we suppose, if you'd like to let him know what you think of his actions.]
Volume 390 (5/6/16)
We are not going to even bother jumping all over Donald Trump's nomination this week. The temptation is strong, but we're going to resist it, sorry.
There's one big reason why we say this -- because it is just too easy. Seriously, it would be like shooting fish in a barrel. And where's the fun in that?
Hillary Clinton's team wasted no time in proving how easy it is to do so by releasing two ads. These ads literally write themselves, folks. The first is composed completely of other Republicans denouncing Donald Trump in the most scathing language you can imagine. Over and over and over again, prominent Republicans tell you what they think of their party being hijacked by Trump. In no uncertain terms. Graphically. And please remember, this is just what fellow Republicans are saying -- not a single Democrat is quoted, because there is no need.
As we said, shooting fish in a barrel. Oh, sure, it's amusing as all get out, and we certainly look forward to dozens of these ads to appear from Team Clinton over the next few months. They're downright irresistible for her campaign, and they'll certainly be effective. Her second ad is even more devastating, and will also hopefully be the first in a long series of similar ads. The second ad is composed entirely of Donald Trump, in his own words. Hillary is not going to let anyone forget all the outrageous things Trump has already said on the campaign trail, that's for sure. Since he is an absolute fount of such statements, we look forward to more and more of these "Trump speaks" ads to come. But even with so much juicy material to work with, we're still going to leave it to Clinton to come up with the snark this week. Watch those ads if you need a quick dose!
Instead of snarky talking points, we have some quotes from President Obama, from his press briefing today. He was asked repeatedly about the presidential race, but the two answers worth printing here are the most interesting, because they offer the framework of the entire Democratic campaign this year. Obama did admittedly get a little snarky on his own (it's been that kind of week for Democrats), in answer to a question about Trump's "taco bowl tweet":
I have no thoughts on Mr. Trump's tweets. As a general rule, I don't pay attention to Mr. Trump's tweets. And I think that will be true I think for the next six months. So you can just file that one.
Kidding aside, however, Obama was asked twice about Donald Trump being the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party. His first answer was to pin a whole lot of the blame for Trump's success on the media themselves. As Ronald Reagan used to say, Obama "took them to the woodshed," very publicly.
Well, with respect to the Republican process and Mr. Trump, there's going to be plenty of time to talk about his positions on various issues. He has a long record that needs to be examined, and I think it's important for us to take seriously the statements he's made in the past.
But most importantly -- and I speak to all of you in this room as reporters, as well as the American public -- I just want to emphasize the degree to which we are in serious times and this is a really serious job. This is not entertainment. This is not a reality show. This is a contest for the presidency of the United States.
And what that means is that every candidate, every nominee needs to be subject to exacting standards and genuine scrutiny. It means that you got to make sure that their budgets add up. It means that if they say they got an answer to a problem that it is actually plausible and that they have details for how it would work. And if it's completely implausible and would not work, that needs to be reported on. The American people need to know that. If they take a position on international issues that could threaten war, or has the potential of upending our critical relationships with other countries, or would potentially break the financial system, that needs to be reported on.
And the one thing that I'm going to really be looking for over the next six months is that the American people are effectively informed about where candidates stand on the issues, what they believe, making sure that their numbers add up, making sure that their policies have been vetted and that candidates are held to what they've said in the past.
And if that happens, then I'm confident our democracy will work. And that's true whether we're talking about Mr. Trump or Ms. Clinton, or Bernie Sanders, or anybody else. But what I'm concerned about is the degree to which reporting and information starts emphasizing the spectacle and the circus, because that's not something we can afford. And the American people, they've got good judgment, they've got good instincts, as long as they get good information.
President Obama is right. The time has come to look beyond the circus atmosphere and take Trump seriously as a candidate. The media has been woefully inadequate in vetting Trump, and that needs to end. Reporters have to take Trump's policy ideas and research them and have facts at the ready to confront Trump with. The only times this has so far happened, it has always been big news -- but the instances of Trump confronted with hard facts have sadly been few and far between. So Obama's right in trying to shame the media into changing their lazy ways.
The next answer came in response to a question about Paul Ryan refusing to back his own party's nominee. Obama brushed off that one, but then answered in a larger sense how he sees the upcoming campaign to define the differences between the two parties.
Well, I think you have to ask Speaker Ryan what the implications of his comments are. There is no doubt that there is a debate that's taking place inside the Republican Party about who they are and what they represent.
Their standard bearer at the moment is Donald Trump. And I think not just Republican officials, but more importantly, Republican voters are going to have to make a decision as to whether this is the guy who speaks for them and represents their values.
I think Republican women voters are going to have to decide, is that the guy I feel comfortable with in representing me and what I care about. I think folks who, historically, have been concerned about making sure that budgets add up and that we are responsible stewards of government finances have to ask, does Mr. Trump's budgets work. Those are going to be questions that Republican voters, more than Republican officials have to answer.
And as far as Democrats, I think we run on what we're for, not just on what we're against. For the last seven and a half years, we've been pretty clear about what we believe will help working families who are struggling out there. And although it has been difficult to get through Republican Congresses to get those things done, the truth is, is that they continue to be prescriptions that would really help people.
Making sure that families get paid sick leave and family leave and early childhood education -- that would help families. Raising the minimum wage would help a lot of people. Rebuilding infrastructure would put back to work a whole bunch of guys in hardhats and gals in hardhats that need to work. And those are good jobs that can't be exported. Now is the time to do it.
So I want Democrats to feel confident about the policy prescriptions we're putting forward, and the contrast, I think, will be pretty clear. I'll leave it up to the Republicans to figure out how they square their circle.
Chris Weigant blogs at:
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
All-time award winners leaderboard, by rank