This column has always loved a good rant. Most of the time, we provide our own rant at the end of the column, on a subject too big to be contained in talking points. This week, we provide a number of rants from Republicans about their very own party’s presidential nominee. Yes, it’s only August and the Republican Party is coming apart at the seams. Which, of course, makes for great summertime reading for all!
Before we get to all the Republican-on-Republican violence, though, we’ve got to cast an eye over the week that was. If there’s one thing that is unmistakably true about Donald Trump it is that he just can’t help himself. You can read that literally — nothing he seems to do ever improves his standing with the general electorate — or as a metaphor for Trump’s inability to stop saying silly and outrageous things in public. Either way, Trump certainly does pack a lot into a single campaign week, and can probably be expected to continue doing so right up to Election Day.
This was (as were many other previous weeks in the campaign calendar) supposed to be the week when Donald Trump successfully “pivoted” and turned everything around. To say that didn’t happen would be an understatement. Hillary Clinton had a mini-scandal break that even involved emails, and yet it was barely a story in the political world (the emails weren’t all that damning, even to anti-Clinton types) — because Trump was, once again, sucking up all the oxygen.
Trump started the week off with a serious, read-from-a-TelePrompTer speech on the economy. This was the big pivot, folks! Everyone look — Trump’s being serious. Right up until he mispronounced the word “cities,” inexplicably replacing the “c” with a “t.” So much for being serious.
Later in the week, Trump claimed that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton got together a few years ago and said to each other: “Hey, we’ve got some free time, why not start a jihadist group in Iran and Syria?” No, really — Trump claimed both Obama and Clinton were not only “founders” of the Islamic State, but apparently also that the Islamic State has somehow become a sports league who hands out “most valuable player” awards — which would, of course, go to Obama and Clinton. Got all that? When gently asked to perhaps rephrase his statement a bit, Trump (of course) declined.
Trump also proposed during the week that U.S. civilians accused of terrorism either be sent to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or be tried in military tribunals. This remark, while shockingly unconstitutional, kind of got lost in the whirlwind, though.
Much more attention was paid to Trump using the “Second Amendment people” dog-whistle to a crowd, suggesting that perhaps guns would be the best answer if President Hillary Clinton ever started trying to appoint federal judges.
Once again, any one of these statements would have been a career-ender for just about any political candidate imaginable, but then Donald Trump is beyond “imaginable” and always has been.
Trump utterly blew his planned pivot to seriousness, pretty much all week long. He even blew a chance to rip into Clinton for having the Orlando shooter’s father behind her at a rally — while congressional-page-enthusiast Mark Foley was sitting right behind Trump. It’s like we’ve all fallen into a bad Hollywood script that would never have been greenlighted for a movie, or something.
While Trump continues to absolutely tank in the polls (including all of the swing states he would need to claim victory), the Republican National Committee is apparently getting a wee bit nervous. They’re holding what is being described as a “come to Jesus” meeting with Trump campaign staffers today, so who knows what will happen next? Some prominent Republicans are already publicly calling for the R.N.C. to direct all its money away from Trump and instead towards desperately trying to hold onto some Senate and House seats, but we’ll get to that in the talking points section.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton’s campaign has pulled all advertising out of Virginia and Colorado, because they consider those two swing states in the bag for Clinton. Instead, they’re expanding operations in (are you sitting down?) Arizona and Georgia. No wonder some Republicans are already darkly muttering about the impending landslide that’s going to bury Trump. Hillary Clinton even wrote an op-ed for a Utah paper, a formerly reddest-of-the-red state that could also flip for her.
Team Clinton is almost gleeful in their triangulation plans, at this point. Hillary is reaching out to Republican voters everywhere, but in doing so she risks generating some backlash among progressives, who already mistrust her. But the confidence being exuded by the Clinton campaign is palpable, and today Hillary released her 2015 tax return while taunting Trump to do the same (with a new “What’s he trying to hide” ad).
All that, in one week. Whew! And it’s only August… things will undoubtedly speed up even further in the coming months. But for now, let’s move right along to the awards.
Senator Bernie Sanders gets a Honorable Mention this week, for clearly denouncing the decision made this week by the Drug Enforcement Agency to keep marijuana on Schedule I, a definition that includes the phrase “has no currently accepted medical use” — even though half of the United States have now legalized medicinal use. Sanders is also co-sponsor in the Senate of a bill that would throw the legal issue to the states once and for all. See my column from yesterday for more details about this backward-facing decision, but it’s good to see a politician who isn’t afraid to get on the right side of history in such fashion.
But the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week goes to none other than President Obama. What with everyone intensely watching all the polling surrounding the presidential race, Obama’s job approval numbers haven’t been in the news of late. They should be, however.
This week, on the Real Clear Politics tracking page, Obama sits at 51.9 percent approval from the public, with only 44.2 percent disapproval. Those are better numbers than he’s seen since the second month of his second term, three-and-a-half years ago. Obama not only has been rising all year long, but he also got a convention “bump” in the polls on top of it. This should cheer up Hillary Clinton, because presidential job approval polling is very predictive of who will win in November. If Obama keeps his numbers above 50 until then — as now seems entirely possible — then Clinton might just be a shoo-in.
There’s a simple explanation for this trend. It’s not because of some big legislative victory Obama just won in Congress (Congress has barely done anything this year). It’s not because of some dramatic foreign or domestic policy win, either. Obama is rising in the public’s estimation because people are now being seriously confronted with the two candidates who might be our next president. In other words, the more the public pays attention to the 2016 campaign, the better they think of the job Barack Obama is doing.
One of the most amusing moments at the Democratic National Convention was hearing, during President Obama’s speech, several shouts of “Four more years!” (even though this is constitutionally impossible). It seems a whole lot of other people are going to miss Obama when he’s gone, and his spike upwards in the polls to almost 52 percent approval wins President Obama this week’s Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.
[Congratulate President Barack Obama via the White House contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]
We almost didn’t have anyone to give this week’s Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award, but one really stupid gaffe caught our eye at the last moment.
Congressman Patrick Murphy is running in the Democratic primary in Florida to be the Democrat to take on Marco Rubio. While criticizing Donald Trump (and his “hatred and fear-mongering”), Murphy had the following to say, to Jorge Ramos:
We are stronger as one, as a united country. That’s what makes this country so beautiful and so unique. You know, you think of the Statue of Liberty, right? And all of us. I’m an immigrant. We’re all basically immigrants here. And you think of that beacon of hope, of opportunity, and Trump is tearing that apart. And that is scary to me.
Except that he’s not actually an immigrant. From his own official biography page, he was “born and raised in Florida, spending most of his childhood along the South Florida coast.” He’s also already gotten into trouble about exaggerating his own history during his campaign — which would tend to make you a lot more careful about what you say, you would think.
Reasonable people can interpret this as a weak attempt at a sweeping statement. “I’m an immigrant,” Murphy says, in the same spirit that we were all Charlie Hebdo, in other words. “Most Americans are,” Murphy might have said, “if you go back far enough in their family, immigrants.” Unfortunately he didn’t say that. He said “I’m an immigrant” when he most decidedly is not one. In Florida, where a lot of people care about that particular distinction.
This was a stumble, not an enormous fall. As we said, it almost doesn’t even reach the level of the MDDOTW award, but for his political misstatement he was more disappointing than any other Democrat this week, so we decided to go ahead and give Murphy the award anyway.
[Contact Representative Patrick Murphy on his House contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]
Volume 403 (8/12/16)
It is extraordinarily rare for prominent members of a political party to publicly denounce their chosen presidential nominee. It’s so rare in normal elections that it becomes big news immediately. This election, however, it has become almost commonplace for Republicans to repudiate Donald Trump’s candidacy. As a mark of how commonplace it is, we had not just one scathing indictment of Trump and his campaign this week, but three.
The first is from Republican Senator Susan Collins, of Maine, who penned an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, explaining why she cannot bring herself to vote for or support her party’s nominee. The second was from a group of 50 national security professionals stretching from the Nixon administration to the Cheney administration (whoops, we meant to say the “Bush administration,” obviously). Kidding aside, these are the serious foreign policy types on the right, and they not only stated they weren’t going to vote for Trump, they predicted that if he wins he will be “the most reckless President in American history.” And the third public evisceration of Trump came from 70 Republicans who called on the Republican National Committee to “immediately halt all support for Donald Trump and invest its resources in a real and winnable campaign to save the Republican Senate and House.”
So with that wealth of anti-Trump material coming from his own party, it seems almost redundant to come up with Democratic talking points this week. There is plenty of material available — just in the past week alone — that badmouths Trump worse than we could hope to do. So we’re just going to provide excerpts from these three documents, with a bonus quote at the end, just for the heck of it.
Senator Susan Collins
Senator Collins started her opinion piece off with a flat statement: “I will not be voting for Donald Trump for president.” She explains how she struggled with this decision, but Donald Trump just made it harder and harder for her to explain away his own behavior.
With the passage of time, I have become increasingly dismayed by his constant stream of cruel comments and his inability to admit error or apologize. But it was his attacks directed at people who could not respond on an equal footing — either because they do not share his power or stature or because professional responsibility precluded them from engaging at such a level — that revealed Mr. Trump as unworthy of being our president.
My conclusion about Mr. Trump’s unsuitability for office is based on his disregard for the precept of treating others with respect, an idea that should transcend politics. Instead, he opts to mock the vulnerable and inflame prejudices by attacking ethnic and religious minorities. Three incidents in particular have led me to the inescapable conclusion that Mr. Trump lacks the temperament, self-discipline and judgment required to be president.
Collins then lists her three incidents — Trump mocking a reporter for his disability, Trump stating that a judge born in Indiana couldn’t possibly be fair to him because of his “Mexican heritage,” and Trump’s attacks on the Gold Star parents who appeared at the Democratic National Convention. Each time, says Collins, she “waited in vain for Mr. Trump to retract his words.” Then she begins painting a larger picture.
I am also deeply concerned that Mr. Trump’s lack of self-restraint and his barrage of ill-informed comments would make an already perilous world even more so. It is reckless for a presidential candidate to publicly raise doubts about honoring treaty commitments with our allies. Mr. Trump’s tendency to lash out when challenged further escalates the possibility of disputes spinning dangerously out of control.
I had hoped that we would see a “new” Donald Trump as a general-election candidate — one who would focus on jobs and the economy, tone down his rhetoric, develop more thoughtful policies and, yes, apologize for ill-tempered rants. But the unpleasant reality that I have had to accept is that there will be no “new” Donald Trump, just the same candidate who will slash and burn and trample anything and anyone he perceives as being in his way or an easy scapegoat. Regrettably, his essential character appears to be fixed, and he seems incapable of change or growth.
Pretty harsh, but this was actually the kindest towards Trump of the three documents released this week. Which brings us to the next one, from the foreign policy experts.
National security officials’ letter
This extraordinary letter also starts off (after an introductory paragraph explaining who the group is) with a blanket statement: “None of us will vote for Donald Trump.” Once again, these are all Republicans, not some partisan sniping by Democrats. This letter minces no words whatsoever.
From a foreign policy perspective, Donald Trump is not qualified to be President and Commander-in-Chief. Indeed, we are convinced that he would be a dangerous President and would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.
Most fundamentally, Mr. Trump lacks the character, values, and experience to be President. He weakens U.S. moral authority as the leader of the free world. He appears to lack basic knowledge about and belief in the U.S. Constitution, U.S. laws, and U.S. institutions, including religious tolerance, freedom of the press, and an independent judiciary.
The letter ends by first explaining all the qualities and temperament necessary for any president (willing to listen to advisors, acknowledge errors, be disciplined, etc.). Then it tears into how far Trump falls short:
In our judgment, Mr. Trump has none of these critical qualities. He is unable or unwilling to separate truth from falsehood. He does not encourage conflicting views. He lacks self-control and acts impetuously. He cannot tolerate personal criticism. He has alarmed our closest allies with his erratic behavior. All of these are dangerous qualities in an individual who aspires to be President and Commander-in-Chief, with command of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
We understand that many Americans are profoundly frustrated with the federal government and its inability to solve pressing domestic and international problems. We also know that many have doubts about Hillary Clinton, as do many of us. But Donald Trump is not the answer to America’s daunting challenges and to this crucial election. We are convinced that in the Oval Office, he would be the most reckless President in American history.
C’mon, guys, tell us what you really think! Sorry, but at some point you just have to laugh at the language fellow Republicans are using against their own candidate. This letter lays out one targeted idea — Trump being unfit to handle foreign policy — while the next brings a very different focus.
Begging the RNC to bail on Trump
The third letter is entirely political in nature, since it was addressed to Reince Priebus and the Republican National Committee. It begs the R.N.C. to ditch Trump in no uncertain terms, from the second paragraph onwards.
Given the catastrophic impact that Donald Trump’s losing presidential campaign will have on down-ballot Senate and House races, we urge you to immediately suspend all discretionary RNC support for Trump and focus the entirety of the RNC’s available resources on preserving the GOP’s congressional majorities.
They have already given up on winning the White House, obviously, and are now terrified that they are facing a disastrous landslide in November.
We believe that Donald Trump’s divisiveness, recklessness, incompetence, and record-breaking unpopularity risk turning this election into a Democratic landslide, and only the immediate shift of all available RNC resources to vulnerable Senate and House races will prevent the GOP from drowning with a Trump-emblazoned anchor around its neck.
This should not be a difficult decision, as Donald Trump’s chances of being elected president are evaporating by the day.
“Evaporating by the day” — that has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? The letter then lists all the reasons why Trump has already “alienated millions of voters of all parties,” most of which are specific but also including a few catchall items on the list, such as: “Exposing his total ignorance of basic foreign policy matters,” and: “Deliberately and repeatedly lying about scores of issues, large and small.” They even slam Trump for not releasing his tax forms, then continue in the same vein.
Those recent outrages have built on his campaign of anger and exclusion, during which he has mocked and offended millions of voters, including the disabled, women, Muslims, immigrants, and minorities. He also has shown dangerous authoritarian tendencies, including threats to ban an entire religion from entering the country, order the military to break the law by torturing prisoners, kill the families of suspected terrorists, track law-abiding Muslim citizens in databases, and use executive orders to implement other illegal and unconstitutional measures.
Since it’s a letter with a political focus, it then turns to the dismal polling they’ve been seeing:
[C]urrent polling gives Trump barely a 15 percent chance of being elected president in November. That polling projects a potential 350 electoral vote blowout for Hillary Clinton, including a sweep of every battleground state from Florida to Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Colorado, Virginia, and North Carolina. Trump’s across-the-board collapse has put even Republican bastions like Georgia and Arizona in play.
That’s a pretty apocalyptic statement for the beginning of August! It’s understandable when people get nervous a few weeks out from an election, but the general election has barely begun, and these Republicans are already worried about Hillary Clinton getting 350 electoral votes.
The letter then itemizes Trump’s refusal to support members of the Republican Party, which includes things like calling an “incumbent Republican Senator a ‘loser’ to his Senate peers,” and “Repeating his false and outlandish claims that yet another Senator’s father played some role in the Kennedy assassination.” This leads them to an extraordinary conclusion — again, it is only early August.
In summary, every dollar spent by the RNC on Donald Trump’s campaign is a dollar of donor money wasted on the losing effort of a candidate who has actively undermined the GOP at every turn. Rather than throwing good money after bad, the RNC should shift its strategy and its resources to convince voters not to give Hillary Clinton the “blank check” of a Democrat-controlled Congress to advance her big government agenda.
Rick Wilson minces no words
All of that was pretty scathing, we’ve got to admit. Republican-on-Republican violence is never pretty to watch, to put it mildly. But when reading an article in Salon which detailed how many extreme rightwing strategists and media types have denounced Trump, the following really stood out. We close today with the thoughts of Rick Wilson, “GOP strategist.”
I have opposed Trump from the first day of his wretched, crapulous campaign. I have opposed Trump when his clownish minions called my clients seeking to have me fired. I have opposed The Donald when his slavish of Trumpbart stooges ran story after story attacking me, and unleashed their fever-swamp yokels on my email, my phone and my family.
I will continue to oppose Trump, implacably and unceasingly.
I will not bend. I will not cease this fight. I will never embrace this thuggish, venal, gibbering psychotic, and I will not countenance those who do. I don’t care if I’m the last Republican in America standing to resist this man, but with almighty God as my witness, I will not vote for Donald Trump.
Chris Weigant blogs at:
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