Fair and Unbalanced

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Mike Littwin

"The pump don't work 'cause the vandals took the handles."

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Congratulations if you had Vince Foster on your Donald Trump fantasy league team. It was a bold pick, but, when it comes to the Donald, you know that going bold is the only way that points toward victory.

I mean, did you really think Trump was going to suddenly become more, uh, presidential? Have you already forgotten that on the day Trump virtually clinched the GOP nomination, he was flogging the idea that Ted Cruz’s father was somehow linked to the Kennedy assassination?

There’s no limit on crazy in this campaign, no limit on conspiracy theories, no Mexicans who aren’t potential rapists, no refugees who aren’t potential terrorists, no Muslims who aren’t celebrating 9/11, no vaccinations that couldn’t lead to autism, no pillow that couldn’t have killed Antonin Scalia.

People keep asking what it is about America that Trump has plugged into, but it should be clear by now: His upcoming nomination is the ultimate (or we can hope) victory for talk radio and all the contaminated media it has spawned. Where’s Chris Christie to order a quarantine when you need him?

Anyone could have guessed that it wouldn’t take Trump long to turn the campaign away from stopping Muslims at the border — is anyone still keeping count of the refugee terrorists? — and make it into a Bill-Cinton-cigar-chomping-’90s-nostagia tour, even though, technically, the Big Dog isn’t the one running for president. So, you’d have been a fool not to have picked Clinton accusers Juanita Broaddrick and Kathleen Willey on your team. Trump said he had no choice — and, gosh, you can see his point, since the Clinton campaign keeps bringing up the long list of ugly things he has said about or done to women.

The only surprise is that this glance backward to the ’90s has happened so quickly. It is still May, and the election, I fear, is not until November.

Ah, the 90s, those days when hypocrites roamed the land and when Republicans leaders — you remember, the child molester and his gang of serial adulterers — were tossing around impeachment papers and, Ken Starr, who has been silent about sex scandals at the college over which he now presides, was giving us, uh, blow by blow and when the Big Dog was being defended by — yes — the short-fingered vulgarian who said at the time, and I quote, that Clinton was being slammed “over something that was totally unimportant.”

Of course, Trump being Trump, even back then, didn’t stop there. He said that the whole Monica Lewinsky scandal wouldn’t have been so bad if Clinton had been messing around with really classy women like JFK did with Marilyn or like the Donald did with whoever was on the list that day.

The Washington Post’s Fact Checker offers up this memory-lane interview with Trump by Chris Matthews, who long ago asked him if he ever thought about running for president.

Trump: “Can you imagine how controversial that’d be? You think about him with the women. How about me with the women? Can you imagine …”

Well, no, we couldn’t. Now, yes, we have to.

And so Vince Foster.

This was always crazy-time stuff. It emerged around the time of the video being hawked by Jerry Falwell that accused Clinton of possibly murdering various people. Vince Foster kills himself on a park bench, and it’s a terrible tragedy for his family and close friends, who include both of the Clintons. And so naturally, the Clintons were accused in the far spaces of loony land — spaces that still exist on the Internet and in Donald Trump’s campaign offices at Trump Towers — of killing Foster.

(In some versions, Foster and Hillary were lovers, and, of course, he worked at the Rose Law Firm, and if it wasn’t the Clintons who killed him, who would it be – Ted Cruz’s father?)

For you kids out there, this was before Twitter, before Facebook, back when cable TV news was in its infancy, but still it was possible for rumors to spread, if slightly more slowly, into every corner of this great country, especially if you were Trump and did a “John Miller” by pretending to be your own PR man.

If you were alive back then, you’d know, I guess, that there were four GOP investigations into the matter — that’s no Benghazi number, but still — and all of which found that poor Vince Foster had committed suicide.

What’s different, of course, is that the person now spreading the rumors is the presumptive Republican nominee for president.

Of course it’s the same presumptive nominee who was a leader in the birther movement and who went investigating agents to Hawaii, who, he said, “cannot believe what they’re finding.” Many of us cannot believe it either, since Trump has never actually said what they found.

And Foster? How did this come up? Trump brought it up, although he says he hates to because, you know. He said the whole thing was “very serious” and that the circumstances “very fishy.”

“He had intimate knowledge of what was going on,” Trump said of Foster. “He knew everything that was going on, and then all of a sudden he committed suicide. … I will say there are people who continue to bring it up because they think it was absolutely a murder. I don’t do that because I don’t think it’s fair.”

Trump may not think it’s fair, but, on the other hand, he’s running even in the polls with Hillary Clinton, Democrats are freaking, and if it comes to that, it’ll be a while longer before Vince Foster, or any of us, are at peace.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons, Flickr

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Democrats are freaking out, which sounds about right. They were freaking out at exactly this time eight years ago.

You remember. Hillary Clinton was on the losing side then, and recriminations were running high. Clintonistas wouldn’t vote for Barack Obama. Latinos wouldn’t vote for Obama. Women wouldn’t vote for Obama.

Except that they all did, and everyone lived happily ever after, if you can call the last eight years in any way happy.

In any case, this year it’s Bernie who’s losing. And it’s the Bernie supporters who say they won’t vote for Clinton or for any Democrat basically because the system is rigged and Clinton is a Wall Street tool and Nevada convention officials called for a voice vote when a roll call would have been so much fairer.

OK, history doesn’t really repeat, although, as the saying goes, it does rhyme. And I’m going to pretty much guarantee – which is short of a guarantee, but it’s in Nate Silver’s 90 percent range — that these divisions, as ugly as they are, will heal.

Because Donald Trump is uglier. Much uglier. And I don’t mean his looks. I mean him. The ugliness of Donald Trump allows for only one result — the saner half of America will have to unite to forcibly reject him.

I have faith in the American people, by which I mean I have faith in about 55 percent of them. I’ve lost the other group, which not only nominated Trump but which, according to latest polls, seems ready to embrace him. According to The New York Times/CBS News poll, 67 percent of Republicans think Trump represents their values and 62 percent find him honest and trustworthy even though, by my count, he’s at least 94 percent con man.

In 2008, Clinton did bow out gracefully at the very end and even nominated Obama at the convention. And her supporters followed, even though she didn’t have the same kind of pull with hers that Sanders does with his and even though the opponent was John McCain and not Donald Trump.

The Bernie-ites began as a cult and have morphed into a religion, which isn’t to say they’ll follow Sanders everywhere, but most — because what choice do they have? — will not go to Trump, not when Sanders is saying he’s probably the most dangerous person ever to get this close to the presidency. I don’t expect Bernie to look happy supporting Clinton. And I doubt you’ll see a real truce soon. But Sanders will be out there hammering Trump and he won’t be alone. So will Obama. So will Elizabeth Warren. So will everyone but Tim Robbins (I’m thinking even Susan Sarandon will come around).

In fact, the biggest danger is not that Democrats will fracture in the end, but that they’re fracturing now, which leaves Bernie, I’m afraid, looking very much like a sore loser at the same time he has pulled a magnificent victory.

Sanders’ near victory represents the biggest push by the Democratic left since McGovern, and the great news is that won’t end in a McGovernite disaster.

People, even smart people, are saying that this campaign will redefine the Democratic Party, which is overwhelmingly young and overwhelmingly minority (and, yes, even those minority voters who completely resisted Bernie’s charms will almost certainly be open to his message).

Real change has happened, but real change is not throwing chairs onto the stage in Las Vegas or Tweeting the ugliest kind of misogynistic garbage at the Nevada Democratic chair. That’s Trump-like goonery. And where Sanders made a huge mistake was in not forcefully condemning the behavior, which led one pundit to call the Sanders movement the Sour Grapes Revolution.

I’m guessing Sanders will stay until the end of the campaign — as Clinton did before him. But that won’t be the last act. I’m guessing Democrats will concede him a bunch of stuff in the platform. I’m guessing he’ll get a prime-time speech. I’m guessing Sanders, as angry as he might be at slights perceived and otherwise, has to care about his own legacy and, more to the point, the success of his campaign. He’s not going to win the nomination. And he’s not going to overthrow the Democratic Party. If he wants to reform the party, though, he can’t afford to lose the non-Bernie reformist wing.

The real danger in this campaign, as I’ve written before, is that the Trump candidacy will come to be considered normal and not a historical anomaly that will haunt the Republican party for a generation. We’re already seeing it happen on the Republican side, even if the intellectual right is still resisting and even if suburban women are almost certain to desert the party in November.

But how the country responds does depend, in part, on what Sanders and his supporters do. You can call Trump a demagogue, a xenophobe, a misogynist, a bigot, a sexist, an authoritarian, a boor, a  crypto-fascist and the least-prepared person ever to be nominated by a major party, but, in the end, it’s just a list of words.

We hear in each presidential campaign that this year’s election is the most important of our lifetimes — and we’ve heard it so often that no one believes it anymore. And why should they?

Except this time is different. And not just because the stakes are high, because, let’s be honest, the stakes are always high.

This time is different because Donald Trump is different, and he’s so hugely different that the Democratic feud looks very small.

 

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons, Flickr

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The one sure thing about the weird petition-signature-forgery story was that it would inevitably get even weirder.

It’s what these stories do.

You remember the one from back in 2010, in which Scott McInnis throws his plagiarizing ghost writer under a bus; Dan Maes says shared bicycles are a United Nations plot to take over the country, or at least Denver; Tom Tancredo issues a High Noon deadline for Maes to get out of the race or he’d drop a bomb on Mecca. Oh wait, that was another Tancredo story. Anyway, it ended up with John Hickenlooper laughing his way to the governor’s office.

And now, if I have the latest story right, and I still can’t quite believe what I’m reading, the secretary of state’s office apparently knew about the possibility of forged signatures on Jon Keyser’s Senate-seat petitions a month ago – yes, a month ago — but no one ever told Wayne Williams, who is, you know, the actual secretary of state.

Not only did the people in Williams’ office not inform Williams, they apparently didn’t tell Keyser either. Or anyone from law enforcement. Or anyone anywhere. And just to make the story even better, they approved the very signatures they were warned about – some of them so obviously forged that even a TV reporter could spot them. (At last count, 7News reporter Marshall Zelinger had found 13.)

We get this news courtesy of the secretary of state’s office, which was so embarrassed by the story that they sent out a press release listing everything they had missed up to that point.

It turns out it wasn’t just forgeries. There was also a dead person whose signature wound up among those on the petitions. That’s right, the dreaded dead-voter story.

It’s the old Chicago story except it happened right here in Colorado — the same tall tale that Republicans tell their children at night to scare them away from election reform, the story that is really about illegal immigrants who, it’s whispered, are ready to sneak their way into the voting booth so they can vote for Democrats, who would reward them with goodies like affordable health care. No wonder Donald Trump wants to deport every last one of them.

But, wait. There’s more.

The secretary of state’s office also knew about the dead person a month ago. Yes, a month ago. I’m serious. And once again — I bet you guessed this — no one told Wayne Williams about it.

Because why would anyone want to bother the boss with forged signatures or dead bodies or what was obviously an election scandal?

What we know, via The Post, is that someone at Integrated Document Solutions — which got first shot at examining the petitions — told Jeff Mustin, whom The Post calls “Secretary of State’s petition lead,” about the problem on April 12 and then sent him an email with some of the worrying signatures. And then — because the story was just that big — nothing happened.

Williams said he didn’t know any of this until Tuesday, long after the story had blown up, and as soon as he did know, he directed his team to tell the DA about it. This was after Keyser was finally admitting that, yes, there were some forged signatures, but because he’s a leader, he couldn’t say anything about it, because leaders need the facts and until they get them, they simply hide from the press or threaten them with their dog.

And if leaders do finally have to show up for a candidate forum, they answer all media questions by not answering any of them — and so add to the scandal by becoming a national laughingstock.

In a Denver Post-sponsored debate Tuesday night, Keyser tried to fix things. He took the first question — a penetrating opener about whether any of the five GOP candidates could name a Michael Bennet vote they agree with — and addressed the petition story. He did it just the way you’d expect — not by taking responsibility for the apparently forged signatures but by blaming the media for hounding him. He said he didn’t see anyone “jumping out of the bushes” to ask Bennet any embarrassing questions, which may be because Bennet didn’t have to petition his way onto the ballot with any dead guys. But, whatever.

It was a bad night for Keyser, pretty much from start to finish. Toward the end of the debate – in the ask-your-fellow-candidate-a-question round — Darryl Glenn asked Keyser if, as a fellow Air Force Academy grad, the honor code they lived by would force him to drop out of the race if an audit found he wouldn’t have qualified for the ballot without the forged signatures. Keyser said he wouldn’t drop out, because, you know, he’s a leader.

To which Glenn, who won his spot on the ballot at the GOP convention, replied: “I’m sure the Academy will be glad to hear that answer.”

At least it was an answer. Whether or not Keyser is guilty of anything, he’s certainly guilty of mishandling the questions. In fact, he couldn’t have handled them any worse if he worked in the secretary of state’s office, where the story promises to get weirder still.

 

Photo credit: Jon Keyser for Senate

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Let’s call it the Cory Curse. It’s as good an explanation as any.

And let’s agree that Jon Keyser, the would-be GOP golden boy, is the latest victim, although he can’t really blame anyone but himself, or maybe his dog. All we can say for sure is that since Cory Gardner broke the GOP’s 10-year, top-of-the-ballot losing streak in 2014, everything has gone spectacularly wrong for state Republicans.

To have a chance at keeping their streak going, all they had to do was find — and then keep — a reasonable candidate to oppose Michael Bennet in this year’s Senate race. Instead, one candidate after another either refused the job or found a way to ensure they’d never get it. You remember: Cynthia Coffman’s attempted coup, Ellen Roberts’ unfortunate memory lapse, Tim Neville’s target-practice humor, and now Keyser, the biggest imploder of them all.

Keyser was supposed to be the new Gardner. Apparently, though, he thought that being the new Gardner meant following Cory’s example of refusing to answer questions while insisting that he had, in fact, answered them. It’s Gardner’s special talent, but not, it’s now safe to say, one of Keyser’s.

He was asked repeatedly about the Denver7 story that at least 10 of the signatures on his Senate petitions were reportedly forged. He answered repeatedly, “Here’s the important thing. I’m on the ballot, and I’m going to beat Michael Bennet.”  He said it, by a Denver Post count, five times in two minutes. The national press was calling it a Marco Rubio moment. I’d go with Mike Coffman. But you get the idea.

If Keyser had stopped there, though, with a barrage of non-answers, he might have been all right. If he had had any of the Gardner panache and not so much of the Rubio flop sweat, he still might have survived.

Related: Jon Keyser responds to ballot scandal by not responding to ballot scandal

If he hadn’t threatened the reporter with his dog …

Did I mention the dog? We’ll get back to Duke. But first to the multiple meltdowns, which are available on YouTube. And they’ve all gone viral. The Washington Post called them cringe-worthy, and they were even worse than that.

Keyser was in a tough spot. He was one of four Republicans who had attempted to petition his way onto the Senate ballot and one of three who had originally failed. It’s a tricky proposition getting 1,500 signatures in each congressional district, but Keyser was the establishment choice. The guys backing him have done this before, and you’d think they know how to do it. And yet as we saw chaos turn to farce, Keyser was one of three who had to turn to a judge to get on the ballot. All five Republicans are on the ballot, but how many will be eligible is still unresolved.

But as embarrassing as that might be, it’s not the story. The story is the reported forgeries, and it’s a story that 7News’ Marshall Zelinger has owned. Zelinger did the hard work of finding people whose signatures were on the petitions and who said, on camera, that the signatures weren’t theirs. He found everyone but Keyser, who had been ducking him. But then came the debate, and Keyser had to show.

Keyser knew the question was coming. In fact, he got the question four times from moderator Joe St. George of Fox31. And each time he had the same practiced answer, which was a non-answer. He should have practiced more.

He got the question eight times more when Zelinger interviewed him. He had a dozen chances to get it right and went a big 0 for 12. To be fair, Keyser did occasionally have other things to say. When there was a follow-up, he’d reliably say he had already answered the question that he hadn’t answered. And he did take the chance to blame Democrats and Democratic activists while name-checking, of course, George Soros.

The person he didn’t blame was someone named Maureen, who was reportedly the collector of the problematic signatures. And he also failed to mention that voter fraud might be a bad thing and that, if there was fraud in his campaign, he’d do everything he could to root it out, because, you know, it’s fraud, and Republicans fear nothing more than voter fraud, which is how they justify their proposals to make voting more difficult.

You’d think, too, that he’d say that he was investigating the issue, that as a U.S. Air Force officer, he understood the importance of integrity.

Instead, we got this in his interview with Zelinger, which we pick up midway, just as Keyser goes from unresponsive to slightly unhinged.

Zelinger: Be that as it may, these voters tell me they didn’t sign the petition. What can you say to them?

Keyser: Well, Mitchell… Marshall, they told you that, but hold on. Were you the guy that was creeping around my house yesterday?

Zelinger: I knocked on your door.

Keyser: Oh, well, you woke up my kids … My baby cried for an hour after that. Did you get to meet my dog?

Zelinger: I met your dog and your nanny. She’s very kind and your dog was kind.

Keyser: He’s a great dog. He’s bigger than you are. He’s huge. He’s a big guy. Very protective…

Zelinger: I don’t know what that meant, but okay.

Keyser: Here’s the thing. Oh, he’s a great dog.

Zelinger: What’d you mean by his size?

Keyser: Have you seen him? He’s a Great Dane. He’s 165 pounds. He’s a good dog.

Zelinger: So back to the voters who told me their signatures were forged. I’ve counted 10 so far. If there’s more, it’s possible you didn’t really collect enough to really make the ballot. What’s your response to that?

Keyser: I’m on the ballot. I’m on the ballot …

So, here’s what we know about Keyser: His dog is big. He’s on the ballot. And it’s hard to see how things could get much worse.

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Give the Donald credit. He not only has driven a deep divide within his own party, he has also done his best to heal the divisions in the opposing party. Quite the feat.

Of course, it’s all in a day’s work for Trump, who is, I think we can safely say, a candidate like no other. At least, that’s the way to root.

We know all about Trump v. Ryan and Trump v. Erickson, Trump v. National Review, Trump v. Romney, Trump v. All the Bushes (even Barbara), Trump v. Will/Krauthammer/Rubin/Brooks/Parker et al.

There’s a headline in Politico that sort of sums up the situation: “Trump, pivoting to general, lashes out at everyone.”  But none of that may compare to the heavyweight matchup everyone has been awaiting — Trump v. Warren, Bully v. Goofy, Twitter champ v. Twitter challenger.

It’s on. And don’t expect it to end until at least November, Trump hitting Warren on the Native American charge that failed Scott Brown, Warren hitting Trump for being, well, Trump.

This is bad for Trump, bad for Bernie — who had long hoped for Warren’s support — and a gift to Hillary, who doesn’t need Warren to defend her. She needs Warren to attack Trump and make it clear where the political energy for all right-thinking (and a significant part of right-wing thinking) must go.

Once upon a time, Warren, liberal firebrand beloved of the anti-Wall-Street left, dominated the presidential campaign by not getting in. She could have saved the party, the thinking went, from Clinton and all her baggage, except that Warren, a first-term senator, decided to sit things out. She thought about it — she thought hard about it — but left it to Bernie, who began as a message candidate and watched in disbelief, as we all did, as his social-democratic message morphed into a cause attracting millions.

But you know how it is with causes. It may be all over but the counting, but Bernie, now reduced to wooing establishment-driven super delegates who will never support him, can’t quite bring himself to leave the race, and his millions of Bernie boosters don’t want him to go. And after his shocking success, you can hardly blame Sanders for thinking the race is also about him, or at least about everything he stands for. Because it has been.

But Warren, or as my friend Charlie Pierce calls her, Senator Professor Warren, has changed the rules.

In a series of tweets – the Trumpian communication of choice — she has changed all the cause factors. The race is now about stopping Trump, who is just that noxious, and if you believe the latest swing-state polls, just that dangerous. The betting in this race is that Clinton should win easily. The betting, however, seems to ignore recent history, in which Trump proved you don’t need money to win, or pollsters to win, or demographics to win, or policy to win, but, rather, just some old-fashioned misogynistic, xenophobic, authoritarian demagogy (and some other big words they use at the really good schools) with a little love for Putin and a taste of Mussolini thrown in.

It’s no wonder the long line line of Republicans couldn’t touch him (or that another long line is walking away from him). The media, when not celebrating him, couldn’t do any better. The fact-checkers routinely called him a liar, but, once again, facts have failed us. That’s the anti-fact era in which we live and one in which a Trump could thrive.

Can Warren do better? (Quick answer: Um, yes.) Just look how she uses Trump Twitter language to mock him. Sad.

If you’d ever seen her in action as a law professor, you’d know what Trump is up against. If you’ve watched or read The Paper Chase, you have some idea. My daughter the law professor (who, full disclosure, was once Warren’s student and who graduated to become a Warren mentee) once called Warren’s class “a cold intellectual shower first thing in the morning.”  She’s not surly like Cruz or low energy like Bush or he-should-keep-his-hands-in-his-pockets like Rubio. She’s the high-energy, high-intellect interrogator who already has Trump’s full attention.

And what she has effectively said is that it’s time to move past whatever is left of the Democratic primary and concentrate on the Donald, because stopping Trump is all that really matters.

You’ve already seen it working. While Trump should be prepping for the big meeting with Paul Ryan, he’s drunk-tweeting (that’s drunk-with-power; Donald doesn’t drink) with Warren. I read in The New York Times that one Trump ally said he had to stop chasing whatever shiny object goes down the rabbit hole. And another said he had to stop punching down.

But Warren is irresistible. She hits Trump where he lives. Trump has no choice but to hit back. And Warren, who loves the rough and tumble, will counter-counter-punch. This thing will definitely go the full 15 rounds.

Maybe it’s Warren’s audition for a Clinton vice-presidential role, although it’s far from certain she’d take it. Maybe it’s to force Clinton and possibly a newly Democratic Senate to focus on income inequality and Wall Street excess and a stagnant middle class and the other progressive issues that matter. Or maybe it’s because she thinks Trump represents everything that’s not great about America.

 

Photo credit: Edward Kimmel, Creative Commons, Flickr