Fair and Unbalanced

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Mike Littwin

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

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May 4, 2016: This story has been updated to reflect that John Kasich has left the race.

I’m not sure which is worse – that Donald Trump has become the presumptive GOP nominee or that, soon enough, it will all come to seem normal.

It’s not normal, of course. Not the idea of it and certainly not the fact of it.

But with his win in Indiana, Trump has all but ended the GOP nomination process. Ted Cruz has dropped out. John Kasich, proving he has some grasp on the real world, dropped out the next morning.  And so it is real, pinch-yourself real, no-more-chance-of-riots-in-Cleveland real, nationalism-is-the-new-ism real, and we’re all just going to have to live with that, especially those Republican Party leaders who, in horror, watched Trump expose the truth of their party’s message.

No one thought Trump could get this far. Certainly I didn’t, having cleverly predicted that the Donald would would drop out before a single vote was cast. Trump, the reality-TV-star-cum-demagogue, began his campaign as a joke line, a buffoonish short-fingered vulgarian who made the debate stage a place to defend the size of his, uh, you know. And yet now that it has happened, the countless would-be explanations you’ll read in the papers or see from TV pundits won’t come close to truly explaining it.

What’s clear is that a campaign based on fear, insults, sexism, xenophobia, race-baiting, nativism, narcissism and a dozen other repugnancies can work. Trump won the approval of half the nation — whatever his huge poll-number unfavorables tell you — by beating back the GOP establishment, the Koch brothers, the #neverTrumpists and the entire staff of The National Review.

The facts are strange enough. Trump won against a large field that featured nearly every one of the GOP’s so-called bright lights, including those who were expected to shine but didn’t. And he won by not only attacking women and Muslims and Mexicans, but also the Republican establishment that still can’t decide what to do with him.

Some are calling it a Joe McCarthy moment – and that everyone will remember who lined up with Trump and who lined up against him. My guess is that most of the establishment is unworried about history and more concerned by the fact they have no idea what to do with Trump. My guess is they’ll pretend to embrace him just long enough to see him lose in November and hope no one remembers.

My own poor explanation for Trump’s rise is that his nomination is the inevitable result for a party that has exploited working-class anger while offering nothing more than tax cuts for the rich and the cheapest cuts of red meat for everyone else. Trump saw that anger worked — this campaign actually started, you’ll recall, with the Donald’s leading role in the birther movement — and his authoritarian-style rallies gave his supporters license to “knock the crap” out of anyone who objected.

Trump, meanwhile, did his own bullying, quoting Mussolini along the way. And so it should come as no surprise how the campaign ended — with Trump somehow linking Cruz’s father to the Kennedy assassination. Yes, seriously. The slander was so deliciously incredible – ripped as it was from the pages of The National Enquirer —  that no one even bothered to say they believed it. Even the cable-TV-news Trump enablers were calling it ridiculous. And then, boom, Trump swept Indiana and whatever grassy knolls exist there.

That morning, Cruz was calling Trump an immoral, pathological liar and “narcissist on a level I don’t think this country has ever seen.”  By that night, a humiliated (if not humbled) Cruz was giving his concession speech, never mentioning Trump by name or whether he would support him.

Could Cruz support Trump? Of course he could if he figured it would help his career. I mean, it’s difficult to feel sorry for Lyin’ Ted, who had cynically praised Trump for most of the nomination process. It was only when it suited him that he told voters that Trump was leading the country to the “abyss.”

So now, as if doubling down on the abyss line, all the pundits are saying don’t blame the media and that, anyway, Trump can’t win in November. And, yes, he trails Clinton by 10 points in the polls and Sanders by more than that. The electoral map trends Democratic even without someone like Trump running. He may, as many are suggesting, go down in the Goldwater/McGovern tradition of candidates overwhelmingly rejected by voters. And yet. And yet.

As one of two candidates left (OK, one of three, if you’re a die-hard Bernie person), Trump could conceivably win. That’s why they play the games, even when the games become as dangerous as this one. And has anyone played the games any more successfully than Trump? I mean, Trump wins and Clinton is still trying to shake Bernie.

I’ve already seen the Trump/Clinton jokes on Twitter, but they’re not actually funny. Clinton has flaws aplenty — well documented flaws — but last I heard, she’s not advocating more nukes in Asia or bans on Muslims or double-secret plans to destroy ISIS. Hillary is not the Donald, or even remotely so.

That’s why George Will writes that it’s every conservative’s duty to ensure that Trump not only loses, but loses all 50 states. That’s why leading Republican operatives are hashtagging #imwithher, even though Clinton has been a dirty name for Republicans for 25 years. That’s why Eric Erickson says he’s staying home on Election Day.

And it’s why, bringing a message to the Bernie wing of the Democratic Party, Elizabeth Warren fired off a Facebook post Tuesday night saying that she would do everything in her power to stop “Donald Trump’s toxic stew of hatred and insecurity” from reaching the White House.

Maybe the funniest moment of the campaign came when Trump, after playing one of his bully-boy games, said he could act presidential whenever he chose. It would be funny unless, that is, we actually get to find out if it’s true.

GOPfarce

For those keeping score at home, yesterday was the day chaos in the Colorado Republican Party turned to farce, setting records for unforced errors along the way.

As you’ve probably heard, two more GOP Senate candidates were deemed “insufficient” by the Colorado Secretary of State’s office, or at least their attempts to petition onto the ballot were. And at this point in the race – if you still want to call it a race — that’s pretty much the same thing.

OK, being called insufficient may not be quite as bad as being called “Lucifer in the flesh,” but it’s bad enough. Robert Blaha and Ryan Frazier could tell you. They joined the insufficiency ranks where Jon Keyser, the erstwhile establishment favorite, once stood alone.

Only Jack Graham, the former Colorado State quarterback and athletic director — and also, by the way, a pro-choice former Democrat — has passed signature-gathering muster. Of course he has Dick Wadhams on his team. Graham will be joined on the ballot by El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn, a virtual unknown in the rest of the state, who won his spot by scoring 70 percent of the vote at the GOP state convention because, by all accounts, he gave a good speech.

If you’re having trouble imagining a Graham-Glenn primary with the winner running as the GOP nominee for the U.S. Senate, let’s just say you’re not alone. I keep waiting for Tom Tancredo to announce he’s going to save the party (again) by running on some other party’s ticket. I mean, even before the Blaha-Frazier double snafu, a group called the El Paso County Republican Strategy Forum was making news by abandoning the Republican field in favor of Libertarian Party candidate Lily Tang Williams.

And now Glenn is already telling The Independent’s Corey Hutchins that he’s ready to reach out to Blaha and Frazier for their support if they don’t make the ballot.

It’s not over yet, of course. Keyser, who missed qualifying by 86 signatures on what his team is calling a technicality, has gone to court (where a judge is supposed to rule today) to challenge the result. Frazier says he’ll likely challenge, too. Blaha said he’s reviewing the situation and thinks the record will show that he’s in “substantial compliance,” whatever that means.

We know the three of them spent substantially — just under a combined $400,000 — to collect the required 1,500 unique signatures in each of the seven congressional districts. Getting those signatures is a tricky proposition that has often led to failure, which is hardly surprising given the many rules put in effect that discourage too much small-d democracy.

At this point, it’s unclear whether there will be two candidates in the Republican primary or any number up to five. But whatever the final number turns out to be, as of now there are three losers in a race that is still waiting for the starting gun.

And so the question, once again, for Colorado Republicans is this: Can’t anybody here play this game?

It doesn’t look that way. If you’ll recall, Republicans spent months searching for a legitimate candidate willing to get in the race against Michael Bennet, who is routinely described as the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent running in this cycle. And yet, there were no takers. Republicans began their search by looking for a new Cory Gardner. In the end, they would have settled for an old Bob Beauprez. All that’s at stake is control of the U.S. Senate, which is why this race has gotten so much attention.

It’s no secret why Republicans were having trouble finding a candidate. It’s not 2014 any more. It’s a presidential election year, in which Democrats turn out in much higher numbers, and, just to make the hill that much higher to climb, Republicans have spent an entire presidential primary season making things difficult in a swing state like Colorado, attacking Hispanics (Trump), women (Trump), Muslims (Trump), more women (Trump), refugees (Trump), and still more women (Trump).

So Republicans finally settled on Jon Keyser, a state representative who quit one year into his term to run against Bennet, because they had to settle on someone. He looks the part. He’s got a resume. But he’s young, really young, and he’s no better known — which is to say not at all — than the rest of the field. He has the added burden of being the establishment candidate in a year when Republicans, and a lot of Democrats, are desperate for outsiders.

And now he’s not just an insider, but one whose insider team couldn’t even get him on the ballot. I keep hearing that the smart money is still on Keyser winning his court battle. Maybe. Of course, the smart money was also on Tim Neville coming out of the state convention.

At this point, it’s hard to know what to think. But here’s my guess: The really smart money on the Republican side must be wondering if there’s any smart money left.

 

Photo credit: Gordon, Creative Commons, Flickr

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Just when it seemed certain that America — or at least a large Republican slice of it — had gone completely mad, the Trumpian night of reckoning came face to face with the now-famous eye roll. OK, it was a small thing, but if you’re among those grasping for hope, this is what you’ve got.

Yes, you have to place it against the colossus that was the Donald’s night, a five-state Northeastern sweep that mocked both the #neverTrumpist movement and the flailing Cruz-Kasich alliance and put Trump ever closer to the GOP nomination. Remember the so-called Trump ceilings? Trump has now won six consecutive states with more than 50 percent of the vote in a three-person race. It takes a Trump-sized ballroom to hold victories that size.

Still, as the kids say, it was a thing.

You’ve probably seen it by now. It came at the end of Trump’s patented victory speech/news conference, in which he routinely gives insight into a would-be Trump presidency with a free-association tour of the Trumpian mind. There has been nothing like it in presidential history, and even when it doesn’t devolve into a Trump Steaks infomercial, it rarely misses a chance to go all Bulworth.

He nearly got away with it Tuesday, though. He said he was the presumptive nominee, and, gosh, he’s close. Asked when he was going to start to act, you know, presidential, he asked in turn, “Why should I change?” He said Lyin’ Ted and one-for-38 Kasich had “no path” to the nomination, and, again, who could argue?

Next week’s Indiana primary may be the last chance to stop Trump. Cruz was already in Indiana, trying to recreate a scene from Hoosiers while pretending the night’s onslaught, in which he was finishing a distant third in race after race, hadn’t happened. It might have worked if Cruz hadn’t called the basketball rim a “ring,” and in Indiana, the basketball mad state, where they must have noticed. Trump gets to Indiana today accompanied by Bob Knight, who won’t confuse a rim with a ring, but who can give Trump lessons in chair-tossing. They’re calling it the bully brigade, and I doubt either would mind.

But first, there was the cap to be placed on Trump’s big night. A reporter asked him about Hillary Clinton playing the women’s card. Clinton had a nearly-as-huge near-sweep herself Tuesday night after which Bernie Sanders offered up a statement that looked to everyone but Tim Robbins like the first step toward a near-concession. And so you knew Trump would never let this opportunity go.

But who knew he would go this far, saying: “I think the only card she has is the woman’s card. She’s got nothing else going. And frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5 percent of the vote.”

As Trump offered up his 5 percent solution, we saw standing behind him the Jersey Guys, Chris Christie and his wife Mary Pat. Chris once again had his hostage look on, and Mary Pat, who stood bemused, seemed to roll her eyes, give a pained smile, glance toward her husband and then look down.

Was this what every suburban Republican woman was thinking to herself: Did I actually hear what I just thought I heard?

Trump wasn’t done.

“The only thing she’s got going is the woman’s card and the beautiful thing is women don’t like her, OK?” He liked the line and so did many women in the crowd, who cheered.

“And look how well I did with women tonight. OK?” he said. It was his get-off line. And as he walked off the stage and the crowd roared, the sound team started playing “Start Me Up,” and all I could think of was Mick singing, “You make a grown man cry.”

If Trump wins in Indiana, and he’s the slight favorite now, and finishes things off in California to hit the magical 1,237-delegate mark, this night will likely be remembered as the true start of the Clinton-Trump race.

In her speech Tuesday, Clinton was already working on her lines, saying that if her campaign is based on playing a woman’s card, deal her in. Trump is right that Clinton has unexpectedly high unfavorables with women, but she ran away with the woman’s vote Tuesday night. And whatever her unfavorables are, they don’t begin to compare with Trump’s.

So, what do you do to start winning back the women’s vote? Let’s just say that if you’re Trump, you don’t do it with a deep dive into policy.

No, you double-down, except for the times that you triple-down. In this case, you go on the morning shows to celebrate your big night by telling the Morning Joe team that you’re still “recovering” from Clinton’s “shouting,” explaining that “I know a lot of people would say you can’t say that about a woman, because of course a woman doesn’t shout.”

And so you remind everyone of the Fiorina face comment and the Heidi Cruz picture-tells-a-thousand-words moment and the Megyn Kelly “wherever” moment. Because that’s — eye roll — apparently how you win the Republican nomination in 2016.

Photo credit: DonkeyHotey, Creative Commons, Flickr

Kelley Minars

Democracy is apparently returning to Colorado. And all it took was a push from that known authoritarian, Donald Trump.

In a rare show of bipartisanship, Democrats and Republicans are supporting a return to a presidential primary system in the state, a process we gave up back in 2003 because, well, it cost too much. Seriously. States pay for primaries and parties pay for caucuses. And because of budget problems— blame TABOR if you like— the state trashed the primary system, which had been overwhelmingly approved by voters 13 years before, and returned to the caucus system.

There are many memorable quotes about the price of freedom. John Kennedy said the cost may be high, but that “Americans have always paid it.” But there are few quotes about abandoning small-d democratic primaries for voter-excluding caucuses in order to save a few bucks (OK, $5 to $7 million bucks, but still).

But now it looks as if primaries are on the way back— and in a hurry. If the parties can agree on the wording of a bill, they’ll push it through this session, which ends in a few weeks.

Why the rush?

I guess it’s to save embarrassment, which is where Trump comes in. He’s the candidate who has said the Colorado system is “rigged” and is threatening to challenge the legitimacy of the state’s Republican delegates at the national convention.

Whatever the Donald says, the system isn’t rigged. The Republicans followed the complex, multi-step rules they’d created. 

But it is rigged if you’re talking about the will of the people, as it is in every caucus state. As you might know, Ted Cruz won all available delegates at the GOP state convention, even though it’s possible that since Cruz is disliked by virtually everyone, many Colorado Republicans might also dislike him. I mean, it’s simple math. And some— again, with the math— probably would have picked Trump.

So, if the point of caucuses or primaries is to reflect the views of actual voters, this seems like a major failure. 

Republicans failed again when they said there would be no presidential straw poll this year, in an apparent effort to keep Trump voters at home. And state chair Steve House made it even worse when he explained that Republicans didn’t want a preference poll because they feared too many people would show up.

And then, of course, so many did show up—at least at the Democratic caucuses— that everyone was calling the night chaotic, never a good word to associate with your election process. It gets worse. Democrats actually got the delegate total wrong— and apparently forgot to tell Bernie Sanders about the mistake.

It was your basic disaster. And so the prospect of a primary is returning. Most people will get a ballot in the mail, which seems so much better than having to spend a night in the gym at your neighborhood school.

It could have happened in time for this year’s election, except Republicans in the 2015 legislative session changed their minds for reasons still being debated. But now that there’s general agreement, but going back to a primary is still not as easy as you’d suppose. The issue is what to do with the unaffiliated voters who make up 37 percent of Colorado total, more than Republicans, more than Democrats, and making them the largest voting bloc in Colorado. 

How to handle them in a primary election is a tricky question. If primaries are about parties choosing their candidates, then it makes perfect sense for, well, parties to choose their own candidates. But we do have a rigged system— rigged to favor two parties, anyway— and it doesn’t make sense that if there are two major candidates running for president that fewer than two-thirds of the people in your state are eligible to help select them. We’ve watched closed primaries around the country, and they’re not a pretty sight.

The fight will come in determining what kind of open primary we want and who gets which ballots. The bill that still isn’t ready to view would apparently allow unaffiliated voters to temporarily join one party or the other. You’re, say, a Democrat for a day and get a Democratic ballot in the mail, unless you don’t get your registration temporarily changed in time, in which case you vote on Election Day (as I do, because I’m old fashioned that way). And then you’re unaffiliated again.

The problem there is that unaffiliated voters would have to take one big step (claiming that temporary affiliation) that Democrats and Republicans wouldn’t. So, some are proposing we mail both Democratic and Republican ballots to unaffiliated voters and let them decide which one to return. Secretary of State Wayne Williams said he worries some voters will return both ballots and therefore be disqualified. I worry that Williams worries that Colorado voters are really that dumb, but, if we remember our Florida-butterfly-ballot history, I guess it’s not entirely out of the question.

If the legislature doesn’t act for some reason, there will probably be ballot measures this November directing unaffiliated voters to receive both ballots without having to temporarily declare for either party. My guess is the legislature will act for inclusion, if only in self-defense.

After all, bipartisanship does work occasionally at the Capitol. The idea of non-partisanship, though, that’s a different story. Either way, it has to be better than what we have now. 

[Photo credit: Kelley Minars via Creative Commons on Flickr]

Michael Vadon

In New York, the city where some people actually do sleep, the 2016 campaign was re-awakened to some old realities — that momentum in politics is highly overrated and that it’s demography (if not always democracy) that wins the day.

In this most strange of political seasons, this means that Hillary Clinton is all but a mathematical lock to win the Democratic nomination while Donald Trump will almost inevitably draw close to the magical 1,237 delegate count by the time Republicans gather in Cleveland for their national convention.

This also puts Bernie Sanders in a very difficult spot — how can he still claim to win the revolution at the same time he’s losing the race? — and Republican #neverTrumpers in an impossible one.

So, yes, the numbers tell us one thing, but only one thing. They tell us who’s winning, but they don’t tell us how the races can end.

First, the Democrats. There was the expected cry from many corners for Sanders to give it up, saying that his campaign has gone from good-message territory to bad-loser territory and that Clinton’s high unpopularity ratings are a function, at least to a degree, of the Sanders campaign successfully linking the “rigged” Democratic campaign to the “rigged” economy to a “rigged” world in which Clinton is as “rigged” as any of them.

In a normally weird year – say, like, 2008 – math overcomes all, the loser embraces the winner, and while the race continues, it continues without all the hard feelings.

My guess is that it will happen this year, too, but not yet. In an unexpected move, Sanders flew home to Vermont Tuesday night to, well, reassess. His immediate problem, other than the fact of his inability to win over minority voters, is that next week’s map — Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware — looks a lot like the New York map, if you don’t count all those tall buildings and the Naked Cowboy in Times Square. Assuming Bernie gets hit hard again, the math will grow only more problematic and the cries only louder.

In fact, his campaign was already reduced Tuesday night to outlining a path to victory that includes flipping those un-democratic superdelegates to his cause. The idea that Sanders would rely on the Democratic establishment to win is more than a little crazy, especially when you consider how it would actually have to work: Sanders would lose the pledged-delegate count, lose the popular vote and still be able to convince superdelegates like, say, John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet to abandon Clinton and vote for him at the convention.

That’s not going to happen. It would never happen. So what does happen? If I’m advising Bernie, he plays out the next week to see if the momentum can switch again and to see if the national polls, showing him closing in on Clinton, actually mean something. And if they don’t — and they probably won’t — Sanders should simply declare victory for his message and keep on the pressure to win the message race, but while reverting to the early-Bernie, no-personal-attacks mode.

It’s one way to victory. If Bernie is to win the revolution, he needs a Democratic president willing to join him in the effort. In other words, in the most crass of political terms, he needs Hillary Clinton to owe him. That’s what happened in 2008, when Obama would owe the Clintons, and Hillary would become his Secretary of State, which would lead her back to a path toward the White House. Bernie wants something less and something more. And pretending you’re going to win a last-minute landslide in majority-minority California isn’t going to get it. Democrats winning back the Senate and Sanders becoming chair of the Budget Committee might be a start, though.

Which brings us to Trump and where we are today — in which a highly unpopular Democrat would be taking on an improbably unpopular Republican in November. I don’t pretend to understand how Trump could win 60 percent of the Republican vote in New York. Home-statism goes only so far as an explanation. Having Lyin’ Ted and John Kasich as your remaining competitors offers up a little more. But, still, 60 percent is more than a rout, and with more routs expected next week, the Republican establishment doesn’t know what to do.

If Trump comes to the convention with anything close to 1,200 delegates — even with as few as 1,150 — the #neverTrumpers can stop him only by getting to a second or third ballot and stealing his establishment-leaning delegates, who would then vote for the despicable Ted Cruz or for John Kasich (who has won only one state, his own) or for a white-knight alternative. We know what Trump would do. He’d threaten to sue somebody, and if that didn’t work, he’d walk out, taking his Trumpists with him. The numbers guys will tell you that if Trump kept 5 or 10 percent of Republicans home, the Republicans would have no chance.

The problem for Republicans is that if Trump were to win, he would not only have no chance, but there’s the real chance he could bring down the whole party structure around him.

So, do the #neverTrumpists do everything they can to destroy Trump before he can destroy the party? Or is there some point at which the Republican establishment reconciles itself to the fact that it is to blame for allowing Trump to reach this point, hope for the best and take solace — as some were doing Tuesday night — in his eight-minute victory speech Tuesday night in which he tried to act presidential by saying as few words as possible, because saying little is the best way for Trump to avoid insulting anyone.

As the long, long race continues, we could be seeing the start of a new, improved Trump slogan — pledging not only to make America great again, but to do it in under 10 minutes.

[Photo credit:Michael Vadon via Creative Commons on Flickr]