Advertisements

South of the Border, Down Mexico Way

About the best that can be said for the mess on the American-Mexican border town of Tijuana is that so far no one has died, but we are thankful for that. Given how complicated the causes, and the error-prone human nature found on both sides of the border, it could have been worse.
As you surely know by now, no matter where you get your news, a few thousand refugees from impoverished and gang-war-ridden countries in Central America have been walking through Mexico the past several weeks, and they’ve recently arrived in Tijuana. To hear the left-of-center media tell it they’re mostly mothers and children yearning for a chance to work at a tax-pahing minimum wage toward the American dream, and to hear the right-of-center media tell it they’re mostly bad hombres invading our country to rape your wives and daughters.
Given our long experience of human nature, we’ve been inclined to believe that any few thousand homo sapiens you might find anywhere will probably include both the best and worst and humankind, and we’ve followed the news with that in mind. By Monday, though, some of the undeniably bad hombres among the refugees were throwing rocks at both Mexican and and American law enforcement officers, and even the left-of-center media have conceded that started the ensuing tear gas and unpleasantness.
Most of the left-of-center media outlets accurately noted that the use of tear gas is banned by international laws of war, but they also had to admit that it’s routinely used to quell domestic riots in most countries around the world, and that even American law enforcement officers adorned in the most up-to-date shields and helmets can’t be expected to let a bunch of rock-throwing bad hombres invade their country.The left-of-center news media had some compelling and not at all fake news photos of loving mothers dragging their entirely innocent daughters away from the tear gas, but they couldn’t convincingly argue that human nature and some bad hombres on the southern side of the border were mostly to blame.
President Donald Trump has instructed his federal employees to treat a rock thrown at them the same as a rifle shot fired at them, and issued an executive order allowing them to use deadly force against such provocations, so we’re glad it hasn’t yet come to that. As bad as some of these hombres have proved to be, we’d like to think that America can still keep them out of the country while giving a fair hearing under American and international law to the asylum claims of some of those hard-working mothers and their undeniably innocent children. Those on the left-of-center seem want to let them all in, however, while those on the right-of-center seem eager to shoot first and ask questions later, and once again we’re left hoping the center will hold.

— Bud Norman

Advertisements

Trump Trumps Easter

There’s a longstanding tradition in America that politicians refrain from making news on Easter Sunday, but President Donald Trump doesn’t care much about longstanding traditions. He “tweeted” an all-caps but otherwise fairly traditional happy Easter greeting to the country, but while his many evangelical Christian supporters were celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus, Trump was “tweeting” disparaging remarks about Democrats and threatening to deport all the so-called “dreamers” and tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement.
By now it’s well known that Trump does not like being upstaged, and has a tendency to fire subordinates who wind up on magazine covers, which does not bode well for current Time Magazine cover boy Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but trying to steal the spotlight from The Savior on Easter Sunday strikes us as especially Trumpian. The blasphemy aside, it seems another case of Trump wading into a fight chin first.
Those so-called “dreamers” are so called because of the acronym of the failed legislation that President Barack Obama pretty much enacted by executive fiat with his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which deferred any deportation actions for any illegal immigrants who had arrived here through no fault of their own as children, and it’s one of those very thorny and hot-button issues best left to the Monday after Easter Sunday. Trump got a head start on the conversation by “tweeting” about the “ridiculous liberal (Democrat) laws” impeding border enforcement, and ominously warning the situation was “getting worse. ‘Caravans’ coming. Republicans must go to Nuclear Option to pass tough laws NOW. NO MORE DACA DEAL!”
The bad timing aside, Trump is making some losing arguments. Despite a recent uptick in his approval ratings Trump still polls worse than those telegenic “dreamers,” many of whom are undeniably sympathetic and stellar semi-citizens, and tear-jerking footage of their forcible removal from the only land they’ve ever known will be hard to “tweet” away. Trump is convinced he can successfully convince enough voters it was the Democrats’ fault, as it wouldn’t have happened if they’d only given him enough money to build a wall along the entire Mexican border, which he’d repeatedly promised Mexico would pay for, but it’s going to be a hard sell in Latino-heavy districts and elsewhere.
Those darned Democrats do indeed have some damned dumb ideas about border enforcement, but it’s hard to explain that in “tweet”-sized characters, no matter how many capitalizations and exclamation marks you use. It’s an argument best made calmly, without racial animus, and in parseable sentences, but that’s another thing Trump doesn’t do. The report of “caravans” of illegal immigrants heading to our southern border apparently came shortly after the Fox News network reported, and although it might prove true we’d prefer the president was checking with his own intelligence agencies.
That disquieting Easter “tweet” about the Nuclear Option is another idea that might not work out for Trump. The Senate’s longstanding tradition of requiring a 60-vote supermajority for certain legislation has historically come in quite handy for both parties over the years they’ve been in the minority, and given the Republicans’ already razor-thin 51-to-49 advantage it’s well within the realm of possibility they’ll once again be needing that filibuster power within a year.
Holy Week is now officially over, and we’re back in the secular world, where Trump hogs the spotlight. We don’t envy him the role.

— Bud Norman

The Ticking Clock and the Ensuing Blame Game

As we start to write this the clock on The Washington Post’s internet front page is showing 23 hours and 51 minutes and 21 seconds left to avert a government shutdown, although it’s already down a few seconds more by now and time will be even shorter when you read this. There’s still plenty of time left to avert the worst possible outcome, which probably wouldn’t even be all that bad, but at this point we can’t see things turning out very well.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives managed to pass a continuing resolution to fund the government through February 16, but the chances of the Republican-controlled Senate passing a similar continuing resolution look bleak. The Republicans control the House by a sizable enough margin that they could afford to lose a few votes from some hard-liners on spending on immigration and other matters, and they even picked up a few stray Democratic votes with peculiar local politics. In the Senate the Republicans now have a razor-thin 51-to-49 margin thanks to the recent electoral debacle in Alabama, and the absence of Arizona Sen. John McCain due to health problems has sharpened that edge, and except for one senator from President Donald Trump-loving West Virginia none of the Democrats have any political incentive to help the Republican-controlled congress and the Republican president from averting the embarrassment of a government shutdown.
Even if the Republicans are willing to offer the kinds of concessions that would outrage their core voters and somehow get something passed on the Senate side, it would all have to be worked out in a conference committee, which takes some doing, and as we write this The Washington Post’s doomsday clock has ticked down to 23 hours, 29 minutes and 10 seconds. Even if everyone talked as fast as those guys who read the side effects disclaimers on the pharmaceutical advertisements and something got passed by both chambers, it still has to be signed by Trump, who is the wild card in everything these days.
These all-too-frequent continuing resolution debates are threat of always complicated, but this time it involves complicated questions about immigration policy and health care, and of course Trump also complicates things further. The Democrats want the continuing resolution to continue protections for illegal immigrants who were brought to the country as children and can now prove their good citizenship, and the that’s polling so well the Republicans are largely willing to go along if they also stricter border enforcement from now on, which also polls well. Meanwhile there’s another deadline looming to reauthorize the Child Health Insurance Program, which provides coverage to the children of families too wealthy to qualify for Medicaid yet too poor to pay for private sector health insurance, and although it polls so well it’s always had bipartisan support the Republicans failed to meet a previous deadline for its reauthorization and the Democrats thus have a huge bargaining chip.
In a televised and much-discussed meeting with a bipartisan gathering of senators earlier in the week Trump promised to sign whatever they came up with regarding immigration, but he quickly backtracked to insist that what every they came up with would have to include funding for a big, beautiful wall along the Mexican border and various other strict border enforcement efforts, and that he was still willing to hold those upstanding illegal immigrants brought here as children hostage to get it. Then he was angrily denying his Chief of Staff’s comments to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and a cable news network that Trump’s views on the big, beautiful wall and other border issues had “evolved” since his campaign days. Then Trump “tweeted” that he didn’t like the reauthorization of the CHIP program in Republican bills, staking out ground to the left of both the Republicans and Democrats by insisting it should be permanently reauthorized rather temporarily reprieved by a continuing resolution on spending.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was preemptively blaming the Democrats for a government showdown on Thursday, as Republican senate majority leaders are obliged to do, but he also frankly acknowledged to the press that “We don’t have a reliable partner at the White House to negotiate with,” and with a politely bowdlerized nod to a recent presidential comment that has even further complicated the immigration debate he added, “This has turned into an s-show for no good reason.” McConnell is not only hated by all the Democrats, as all Republican senate majority leaders are, he’s also hated by that large swath of the Republican party that has the Grand Old Party’s establishment, but we think he has a valid point.
We’ll also give due credit to the equally-loathed-by-both-sides Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan for corralling enough of his herd of mavericks and enough stray Democrats to get something to pass in the House, and although he’s carefully avoided any public criticisms he can’t give much credit to Trump. If the government does shut down and those upstanding illegal immigrants start getting deported and whole bunch of kids lose their health insurance in 22 hours and 37 minutes and 33 seconds, as The Washington Post times it, it’s likely that at least a majority of the hated Republican establishment will have voted to avert it.
Our guess is that won’t make much difference in the opinion polls, among Democrats or a large swath of the Republican party or any of those self-described independents. The Republicans control both chambers of Congress and in a certain sense the White House, and those arcane rules about a sixty-vote majority being needed in the Senate and all the nuances of immigration and health care are far too complicated for most folks to consider, so the Republicans will probably wind up shouldering their usual blame for all these all too frequent government shutdown. The Republicans will divide themselves between those who blame the mercurial Trump or that set-in-stone Republican establishment, and the Democrats will unite in their indignation with both.
The good news for everybody is that government shutdowns aren’t so awful as they sound, and that if this one happens it will likely be short-lived. Sooner or later both that hard-nosed if out-of-his-water negotiator Trump and those more hep-to-the-game but lily-livered Republican establishment types will once again government operations and give all sorts of concessions to the Democrats, including several that poll so well that a savvy party would have been on board all along, and if it doesn’t include a border wall that was a stupid and badly polling idea all along.
The bad news for everyone is that the best we can expect is yet another continuing resolution to keep the government somehow afloat through February 16, with the same motley assortment of Democrats and Republicans that Trump guy all reviving all the same noisome arguments. Once upon a time in America the two chambers of America’s congress used to pass annual budgets, presidents would sign, some longer term agreements were also agreed upon, and the nation’s businesses and taxpayers and our foreign allies and adversaries could plan accordingly, and for the most part it worked out well.
That all broke down long before Trump took office, so we can’t blame him for that, but with 22 hours and 10 minutes and nine seconds remaining on The Washington Post’s doomsday clocked neither he nor that hated Republican establishment nor any of those damned Democrats deserve any credit for fixing it.

– Bud Norman

King for a Day

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day in America, and we’re tempted to take it easy for the full 24 hours like all the federal workers. It’s a good day for pundits to take stock of racial relations in the country, though, and we can’t quite resist it.
On the whole we assess the state of the union’s racial relations as strong, at least based on our daily experience of the country. Here in Wichita, Kansas, in the very heart of the contiguous United States, our more or less white middle-aged Republican selves are constantly encountering all sorts of people, and for the most part it goes well. Some very dear black people worship with us every Sunday morning, some Laotian and East Indian immigrants supply us with all our legal vices through the week, we weekly enjoy the carne asada chips from the Taco Lopez drive-through window manned by some lovely senoritas whose immigration status we’ve never bothered to question, and the very, very spicy chicken fried rice rice from a family of Thai immigrants that is also favored by the movie star Harrison Ford when he’s in town to get maintenance on his Wichita-built jet. Whenever we arrive at the door of a convenience store or mall or a public office there is almost always somehow who comes from God knows what sort of background, and we happily note almost of these encounters go swimmingly well.
As we look at the news, though, things seem somehow more complicated. When President Donald Trump ritually proclaimed the extended Martin Luther King Jr. weekend Day on Friday, clearly uncomfortable around all the black people surrounding him, he had to duck out of the room to dodge the questions about his reported comments than Latin American and African countries are by comparison to Nowrway “shit-holes” — by now presidential language, despite our old-fashioned objections to such profanity — and refuse to answer a shouted question if the president of the United States is a racist.
The question has frequently been raised in the past, and Trump’s indignant answer was always the characteristically superlative claim that “I’m the least racist person you’ve ever met.” He didn’t bother to reclaim the boast while proclaiming the extended Martin Luther King Day Jr. weekend, though, and instead ducked out on some questions our old-fashoned party-of-Lincoln Republican would have liked to have answered. Given trump’s proudly stated stands against Mexican-deervived judges and unjustly accused-of-capital-crimes African-Americans and critical Gold Star families of the Islamic faith, and we can’t blame any of our diverse friends for being displeased.
If Trump and all those anti-Trump social justice warriors would just butt out of it, we think the rest of us could work it out well enough.

— Bud Norman

A Won Battle in a Lost War

The terrorist gang calling itself the Islamic State has lately been take a beating in the Middle East, where an odd coalition of Arab and Kurdish and American and other western forces has recently driven them out of the self-proclaimed capital of their self-proclaimed caliphate, but on Halloween they managed to do some damage in the heart of New York City. Yet another man with a Muslim name shouting “Allahu akbar” drove into the bicycle and pedestrian lane of a well-travelled thoroughfare with a rented pickup truck, killing at least eight people and injuring another, and authorities found a note in the truck about the driver’s allegiance to the Islamic State.
So far the Islamic State hasn’t taken the credit they usually insist on after any act of senseless carnage, but in this case the driver was taken was alive, and they’re careful to not complicate the legal case of anyone who has acted on their behalf. The terrorist gang had recently urged its internet fans to do something in the west on October 31, too, and the attack follows the same modus operandi that Islamic State-inspired terrorists have followed in Great Britain and Germany and Sweden and other western targets. There’s no denying that the Islamic State is down in the Middle East, but not yet out enough that it can’t kill at least eight people in New York City.
The dead included five Argentines and a Belgian, so the Islamic State can eventually claim a strike against the heart of the cosmopolitan west. We hope they find it scant compensation for the loss of their caliphate and their inevitable destruction by not only the west but the best of the Middle East. As horrible as the toll was, and for all our prayers and sympathy for the victims’ family and friends, this latest case of a guy with an Muslim name shouting “Allahu akbar” as he wreaks carnage demonstrates the weakness of the cause.
This time around even the Mayor of New York City, who is so far left that even the right wing media are hard-pressed to caricature him, immediately acknowledged that it was an act of terror. All of the hated mainstream media quickly and frankly acknowledged the Islamic shouts of “Allahu akbar,” and by now few in America and the broader west are denying the threat of radical Islamism or making any excuses for it. New York City is currently the capital of the cosmopolitan west, they’re clearly fed up there, and here in the heartland we share the sentiment. The Islamic State can stage its war against the west, but the west and some fierce Arab and Kurdish allies are waging war against them, despite the disputes they all have with one another and themselves.
As horrible as it was, and for all our sympathy and prayers for the victims’ family and friends, it once again fell far short of the carnage that resulted from al Qaeda’s attacked on the Pentagon and World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. The terrorist gang should also glumly note that this time around the death toll that some gambling addict was recently able to rack up from a Las Vegas hotel room. and that these futile acts of carnage aren’t going to restore their caliphate.
Since al Qaeda pulled off the last “spectacular” attack on western soil, the radical Islamist ideology has been losing the ensuing war. They made for a tough slog in Iraq, won some arguable diplomatic wins in Iran, and the whole of the Middle East is as messy as ever, but even in its current sorry state the west seems more likely to prevail than the radical Islamist ideology. The west’s mostly unified resolve has maintained an American presence in the Middle East from President George W. Bush’s interventionist administration through President Barack Obama’s more reluctant terms, and so far successfully continues in the isolationist “America First” administration of President Donald Trump.
Trump has also argued for severe restrictions on immigrants from countries where radical Islamism is prevalent, such as the one who inflicted the carnage in New York City, and that once again seems one of his good ideas. In this case, though, the suspect is from Uzbekistan, one of the former Soviet “stans” that seem to generate the most terrorists, none of which were included on the list of countries subject to Trump’s “extreme vetting,” so that makes the domestic politics more complicated. Still, we expect that neither those die-hard Trump supporters nor those effete New York City liberals nor many Americans in between will consider surrendering to such a clearly losing cause. There are some fierce Arab and Kurdish allies in the fight with us, too, and whatever our eventual squabbles with them we hope and expect they’ll also outlast our mutual foes.
The radical Islamist ideology is stubbornly persistent, though, and will likely continue such carnage for a while. That al Qaeda gang hasn’t been heard from much since that long ago September day, but the Islamic State has proved trouble since then, and after they’re wiped out something will come along to replace it. We’ll all soon be back to the “Russia” thing and the stock market and the World Series and all of the rest of the news, though, and no matter the occasional carnage, no matter horrible it is, the best of humankind will ultimately prevail.

— Bud Norman

On “Tweeting” and Terrorism

The good people of Great Britain suffered another horrific terror attack by radical Muslims over the weekend, the third in as many months, and the best thing America could do about it was to offer our sympathy and full support and try to discern whatever lessons might be learned. For at least a respectful moment or two, it was probably best advised to avoid any disrespectful “tweets” about it.
President Donald Trump did “tweet” to the British people his sympathy and promise of our country’s full support, with his apparent sincerity emphasized by many capital letters, but that came in the midst of a “Twitter” storm that wound up needlessly antagonizing many of them. He made some good points, too, but he didn’t make the complicated arguments very well in his allotted 140 characters. All in all, it was another argument for someone in the “deep state” to revoke the presidential “Twitter” account.
Which is a shame, because for all his faults Trump does seem to be one of the rare world leaders who somehow grasps some of the more obvious lessons to be learned from Britain’s heartbreaking situation. All of the recent attacks were clearly motivated by an Islamic ideology that has been a persistent if not always dominant force in the Muslim world for the past 1500 years so, and would not have occurred if Britain hadn’t unwisely decided to start allowing mass immigration from the Muslim world some 60 years ago, and there’s no compelling reason that America should repeat the mistake. Britain has also clearly erred by not insisting that its Muslim citizens and residents adhere to established western values and find some peaceable and productive role among it, and say what you will about Trump at least he also doesn’t fall for that multi-cultural and morally-relativist blather. Had Trump merely “tweeted” his sympathy and support, and otherwise stayed out of the way while the rest of the world absorbed the obvious lessons, he might have won a rare news cycle.
Instead, Trump “tweeted” some invitations to losing arguments. He renewed a long-standing “Twitter” feud with the Mayor of London, a fellow with the telling name of Sadiq Kahn, charging that “At 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is ‘no reason to be alarmed!” London’s Mayor is usually one of those multi-cultural and morally-relativist blatherers, as far as we’re concerned, but in this case he’d called all the local constabulary’s literal big guns in response to the situation, and that was what he was actually telling his fellow Londoners to not be alarmed about. Most Londoners, if not most Americans, scored that a win for the multi-cultural and morally-relativist weenie. Trump hasn’t yet gotten around to getting an ambassador to the United Kingdom confirmed in the Republican-controlled congress, so even the Obama-holdover acting ambassador wound up siding with the Mayor, which is probably just as well for Anglo-American relations.
Trump’s reasonable resistance to mass Muslim immigration included an arguably unreasonable campaign promise to ban any Muslim whatsoever from entering the country, which for the coming months has his arguably reasonable restriction on travel from six certain countries all tied up in court, so of course he “tweeted” about that. None of the perpetrators of any of the recent British terror attacks would have been affected by Trump’s proposed travel restrictions, of course, and have no no bearing on the legal merits of the case, and Trump probably should have let his lawyers make the arguments.
Trump also injected the domestic gun rights debate into the issue, noting that the attacks were carried out with cars and knives, but we wish he hadn’t. We’re staunch advocates of gun rights, and in the context of our domestic politics we well understand the argument that killers won’t be deterred by the lack of handgun, and that their potential victims should be free to defend themselves by any means, but Trump simply handed the gun-grabbers the argument that the terrorists wouldn’t have been more lethal if they had access to the weapons that Britain’s extraordinarily restrictive laws seem to effectively ban. A well-armed citizenry might have limited the carnage of firearm-bearing terrorists, but an efficient police and a stiff-upper-lip citizenry that retaliated against the knife-weilding terrorists with nearby beer bottles also limited the carnage, so it’s an inopportune time to bring all that up.
There’s a British parliamentary election coming up that will also choose a new Prime Minister and cabinet, but we’re pleased Trump seems to have somehow not weighed directly in that. From our prospective from across the pond and another half-continent away, we’re rooting for the Tory incumbent Prime Minister Theresa May, who seems to have absorbed all the obvious lessons, and we expect that despite their awkward relationship Trump has the same preference. Trump is not very popular in Great Britain, though, and probably less so after his latest “tweet” storm, so we expect she appreciates the silence.
Trump’s supporters should hope for some more of it, too.

— Bud Norman

Vive La France, Or What’s Left of It

The big news on Sunday was from France, of all places, where what’s left of the global establishment prevailed in a presidential election over the rising global anti-globalist populist movement. No one in France expects the election will herald a glorious new age in that long-declining country, given that it was a choice between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, but the rest of the world is still debating what it might mean everywhere else.
Emmanuel Macron won by a comfortable 66-34 margin, which is even more comfortable than all the much-maligned polls had predicted, by running as a putatively independent candidate was was “neither left nor right.” He was a longtime member of the Socialist Party, which is one of the two major parties and the closest equivalent of the Democratic party, but had shed the party label when the Socialist incumbent reached an eye-popping 4 percent approval ratings, and would be considered far-left by even current American standards, but he could plausibly claim the centrist position in France. He’s a former investment baker who’s more comfortable with free market capitalism than Democratic runner-up and self-described socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders, more unequivocally pro-North Atlantic Treaty Organization than the Republican president, and takes a pro-free trade position while promising restrains on all the regulatory meddling from Brussels.
Macron is also 39 years old, making him the youngest leader of France since Napoleon Bonaparte, which has been a while, and he’s got a 64-year-old wife, which the polls show endeared him to a certain demographic of the French electorate. All politics is local, too, and France is so far outside our locality that we can’t imagine what other oddball issues might have played a role in the election, but so far as we can tell from this far-off vantage point his biggest advantage was that he running against Le Pen.
All the international media described her as the “far-right” candidate, which is accurate enough in an international context, but that doesn’t translate well into American. She was outspokenly opposed to unfettered immigration from the Islamic world and stridently insistent the immigrants conform to traditional French values, and opposed to the infringements on French sovereignty imposed by the European Union, and didn’t cotton to all the free trade involved, so even much of the talk-radio segment of America’s conservative media embraced her as one of their own. The old conservative hands who still write down their words noted that she was until recently the candidate of her father’s National Front Party, which advocated not just nationalism but an industry-socializing and all powerful socialism, and had only renounced the party affiliation because its Vichy roots and unabashed racism polled poorly, and that she wasn’t any kind of conservative recognizable by American standards.
Everywhere in the international media from the center-right to the far-left is celebrating Macron’s victory, but from here on the plains it seems another premature celebration. Macron’s economic prescriptions don’t seem any more likely to fire up the long-moribund French economy than those of his successor with the 4 percent approval rating, and his blithe attitude toward all those undeniably troublesome Muslim immigrants will likely add to that unprecedented 34 percent that a “far-right” candidate just earned in oh-so-enlightened France. The similarly commonsensical Geert Wilders has also lost in Denmark, where the Muslim problem also brought out a signifiant minority, but the “Brexit” vote that pulled Great Britain out of the European Union and the election of President Donald Trump in America, of all places, suggests that the international center is still being pulled in a nationalist direction.
Our hope is is that Macron will take a calculatedly centrist position on immigration, that political parties all around the world will be similarly commonsensical and not leave the nationalist-socialist types to address it, and that France and the rest of us will continue to limp along that rocky path of freedom.

— Bud Norman

<

The Latest Installment in As Trump Turns

The big news from the presidential race on Wednesday was Republican nominee Donald J. Trump’s latest shake-up of his campaign staff, and if you’re a binge-watching fan of Trump’s ongoing reality show it makes for some interesting plot twists.
A formerly peripheral character named Stephen Bannon has stepped into a starring role, an entirely unexpected yet predictably blond and comely character named Kellyanne Conway has been introduced, the ambiguously villainous Paul Manafort role has been reduced to cameo appearances, and the obvious implication is that the more or less traditional Republican nominee Trump we’ve seen lately will go back to being the boorish and braggadocios and insulting self-proclaimed billionaire real-estate-and-casino-and-strip-joint-and-professional-wrestling-and-scam-university-and-reality-show mogul who won the Republican nomination.
That Bannon fellow is the new “chief executive” of the campaign, and he once worked for the Goldman Sachs investment outfit that both parties are running against and then went on to produce a documentary about former Alaska governor and vice presidential nominee and reality show star Sarah Palin among other ventures, has most recently been in charge of the Breitbart.com news site that has cheered on all of Trump’s most outrageous utterances since way back when there was still a chance the GOP might not nominate someone more traditionally Republican. The Conway woman is apparently a pollster who has long provided Trump with what he wants to hear over his varied private sector careers, and the assumes the more recognizable title of “campaign manager.” That Manafort fellow replaced the combative Corey “Let Trump Be Trump” Lewandowski as “campaign chairman” shortly after a controversy regarding Lewandowski’s allegedly rough treatment of a female reporter, ironically enough from Breitbart.com, ostensibly with the mission of molding Trump into a more traditional Republican nominee, and despite the recent press revelations about his shady dealings in the very same Ukraine that Trump insists the Russians haven’t invaded and might be entitled to in any case he’ll keep the now meaningless title during his cameo appearances.
The timing seems odd, because over the last several days that more-or-less traditional Republican nominee shtick seems to have been working for Trump. He read an obviously pre-written-by-someone-else speech from a tele-prompter about immigration and Islamic terrorism, and made the common sense case that America should be exceedingly cautious about accepting large numbers of immigrants from lands where Islamic terrorism is popular. This contrasted effectively with the Democratic nominee’s crazy talk that Islam has nothing to do with Islamic terrorism and her crazy message of y’all come in, and it left out all his own crazy talk about using bullets dipped in pig’s blood and chopping the heads off of terrorists and killing their families and routinely torturing detainees and trying even American citizens in military tribunals, so even the most traditionally Republican press organs were giving him some begrudging respect. We’re so hide-bound we couldn’t help noticing that he once again repeated his easily disproved lies that he’d been opposed to the Iraq and Libyan interventions from the outset, which reiterated his utterly ridiculous and not all Republican belief that the Middle East would have been happily stable and peaceable if not for America’s meddling influence, and that underneath all the tough talk was an “American First” isolationism, but at this point we’re among a small minority up against a bi-partisan consensus.
Trump followed that up with another pre-written-by-someone-else and tele-promptered speech in Wisconsin, not far from where nihilistic race riots were still raging in Milwaukee in the aftermath of a seemingly justified fatal shooting of an armed and dangerous black man by the police, and it also contrasted effectively with the response of a Democratic nominee who is obligated to both the “Black Lives Matter” movement and the reflexively anti-police administration that are making excuses for and subtly egging on the riots. We wouldn’t go so far as former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani did and call it “the best Republican speech ever,” as Abraham Lincoln’s addresses at Gettysburg and the Second Inaugural still really swing for us, but we had to give it some begrudging respect. He even made a plausible appeal to the black Americans who are disproportionately the victims of crime, but we think a more or less traditional Republican nominee who doesn’t have a settlement with the Justice Department over his discriminatory renting practices or an expensive full-page ad calling for the execution of some black rape suspects who were later cleared by physical evidence in his background would be a better messenger.
In any case, the more tele-promptered and traditionally Republican shtick seems to have shaved a few percentage points off the comfortable poll-averaged lead that crazy Democratic nominee had built up while Trump was accusing a vanquished Republican rival’s father of being in on the Kennedy assassination and grousing that an Indiana-born yet “Mexican” judge shouldn’t have been presiding over one of the three trials regarding the scam Trump University and musing in the most indecipherable way about how “Second Amendment people” might forestall future Supreme Court picks and that the president being the literal rather than figurative “founder” of the Islamic State and any number of other unnecessary distractions he’d written into his ongoing reality show. Given that the Democratic nominee talks plenty crazy herself, we’re not at all surprised. The changes in the Trump plot line therefore make no sense to us, but in this crazy election year we’ll concede that’s probably because we’re more accustomed to politics than the reality show genre.

— Bud Norman

<

This is the “This Week” That Was

Last week’s Democratic National Convention seems to have “bounced” nominee Hillary Clinton back into a slight lead in Real Clear Politics’ average of all the polls, and over the weekend Republican nominee Donald J. Trump got off to an awful start on “This Week.”
For those of you who are either in bed or heading to church during the program, which are the only two places any self-respecting person would be at such an ungodly time, “This Week” is the American Broadcasting Company’s version of those oh-so-serious Sunday morning political shows. It’s hosted by George Stephanopolous, a former Clinton family consigliere who never quite got over the habit, and Republicans have long groused with considerable justification that he strives to make them look stupid. Trump, alas, made the job all too easy.
The interview starts promisingly enough, with Trump boasting that his acceptance speech drew more viewers than Clinton’s, and gloating that “I have one of the great temperaments” and that it is such a “winning temperament” that it beat 16 Republican challengers while Clinton has a “bad temperament” that is such a “weak temperament” that it could barely beat a self-described socialist such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Things started going downhill, though, when Stephanopolous asked “What exactly is your relationship with Vladimir Putin?”
Rather than accusing Stephanopolous of asking a loaded and entirely unfair irrelevant question that is so typical of the biased “lame stream” media, which would have been hard for even Trump to do with a straight face, Trump answered that “I have no relationship with him.” Which of course allowed Stephanoplous to mention the three separate occasions when Trump had boasted that he did have a relationship with Putin, to which Trump offered the explanation that “Because he has said some nice things about me over the years. I remember years ago, he said something — many years ago, he said something very nice about me. I said something good about him when Larry King was on. This was a long time ago, and I said he is a tough cookie or something to that effect.” When Stephanopolous was once again so rude as to mention those three more recent public occasions when Trump did boast of speaking with Putin during their appearance on the same “60 Minutes” episode, Trump acknowledged that their separate interviews on the program were conducted on different sides of the world and demanded to know “What do you call a relationship?”
Asked about the Democrats’ criticism of Trump’s recent statements that he would not necessarily honor America’s North American Treaty Organization obligations, and might recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Trump explained that “They only fear one thing, losing the election.” He explained his remarks on Crimea by saying “I’m not going to be mean to anybody. George, you know me pretty well. I don’t bow,” and clarified his position on NATO by saying “I’m all in favor of NATO. I said NATO is obsolete,” and then claimed credit for the organization’s anti-terrorism stance. Asked why a call for arming Ukrainian rebels to resist Russian occupation was dropped from the Republican platform, Trump insisted he was not involved but admitted that his people were.
At which point the interview went even further awry.
“Well, look, you know, I have my own ideas,” Trump said. “(Putin’s) not going into Ukraine, OK? Just so you understand, he’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down and you can put it down, you can take it anywhere you want.” To which Stephanopolous reasonably asked, with a rather stunned look on his face, “Well, he’s already there, isn’t he?” Trump had a rather stunned look on his own face when confronted with this well-known and indisputable fact, but recovered well enough to say “OK, well, he’s there in a certain way, but I’m not there yet.”
This was followed by a critique of the Obama administration’s Russian policy, which is indeed a ripe target for a counter-attack, but it’s hard to imagine any other Republican in the history of the party making a bigger mess of it. Pretty much any other Republican in the history of the party would have noted that Obama and the Secretary of State who is now the Democratic nominee had betrayed our Polish and Czech allies by reneging on a missile-defense treaty and then offered that ridiculous “reset” button and promised on a hot mic to offer even greater “flexibility” in a second term, which clearly encouraged Russia’s recent revanchism, and even wound up selling Russia a big chunk of America’s uranium reserves shortly after a couple of generous contributions to the past Secretary of State and current Democratic nominee’s phony-baloney “family foundation,” all of which Trump neglected to mention. Pretty much any other Republican wouldn’t be bogged down by Trump’s even friendlier policy pronouncements, though, or his own sizable contributions to that phony-baloney “family foundation,” or his instinct to link the failures of the Obama administration to that free-loading bunch of bums in a NATO pact that Trump is all in favor of and has said is obsolete.
As bad as it was, the Russo-American issue wasn’t even the part of the interview that generated the worst press of the weekend. Trump was also asked to respond to a speech given at the Democratic convention by Kzir Khan, the father of a Muslim Army Captain who died fighting for America in the Iraq War, who had criticized Trump’s call for a ban on Muslim immigrants. Pretty much any other Republican would have gratefully acknowledged the family’s sacrifice, and respectfully made the case that American policy must nevertheless realistically assess the costs and benefits of admitting large numbers of Muslim immigrants that will surely include less patriotic sorts. Pretty much none of them would speculate that the father’s speech had been written for him, or gratuitously note how the fallen soldier’s mother had stood silently by her husband during his speech, or add that “She probably — maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say,” and certainly none would have compared their efforts to get rich to the sacrifice of a Gold Star family.
There was also a claim that the National Football League had written a letter to Trump expressing their concerns about the presidential debate schedule, which the NFL promptly denied, and which will probably be more widely noted than any of the rest of it because the NFL is such a big deal. All in all, this week got off to a bad start for Trump on “This Week.”

— Bud Norman

An Ordinary Flap in an Extraordinary Year

The Republican presidential campaign of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz committed one of those unforced errors the other day, and it’s a doozy. A high-ranking staffer “tweeted” his outraged reaction to an erroneous report in a college newspaper that rival Florida Sen. Marco Rubio had casually disparaged the Holy Bible, the story was quickly retracted, the high-ranking staffer was quickly fired, and there was much indignation from Rubio and some inevitable snarky “tweeting” from the front-running Donald J. Trump, and at the very least it’s a whole news cycle that Cruz did not need at this moment in his beleaguered campaign.
In an ordinary election an apology and a sacrificial firing would probably suffice, and after a day or two of press flagellation that matter would be long forgotten, but this is no ordinary election for Cruz. His hard-earned tough-guy anti-establishmentarian image has made him a target of the “establishment,” or whatever remains of it, but so far he’s gone only one-for-three against the tough-guy anti-establishmentarianism of a boastful billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-television mogul who also boasts he can make the right deals with whatever’s left of the “establishment.” Despite his Baptist preacher’s son credentials he’s even losing a lot of the evangelical Christian to a thrice-married gambling mogul who mocks the handicapped and boasts about all the married women he’s bedded and really did try to have an old widow thrown out of her home, and now he’s forced to publicly apologize to Rubio, who was virtually tied with him for second place in South Carolina and is suddenly the darling of the not inconsiderable number of Republicans who are starting to think that maybe an “establishment” isn’t the worst thing that can happen to their party.
So both of Cruz’s rivals in what is shaping up as a three-way race stand to benefit, and perhaps even beyond the news cycle. Both Trump and Rubio have been relentlessly questioning Cruz’s honesty, and although their accusations have often been lies some of it is bound to stick after a while, so admitting that a campaign has even inadvertently spread a falsehood does not help. It’s not the first time, either, after another staffer passed along an erroneous report from the Cable News Network that fading rival Dr. Ben Carson was dropping out of the race just before Cruz won a crucial victory in the Iowa caucus, which the second-place Trump was happy to claim was a theft of his rightful victory, and they also sent out those awful letters telling people they’ve checked on their voting records, and there’s been enough of it unsettle some potential supporters. The incident also raises the question of why Cruz would have hired a high-ranking staffer who wasn’t suspicious of a college newspaper report claiming that such a savvy politician as Rubio, of all people, had disparaged the Holy Bible, of all things, and in front of Cruz’s Baptist preacher father and his own young son and one of those ubiquitous cell phone cameras at that.
We don’t doubt the sincerity of Cruz’s apology, and we’re sure that he had no intention of questioning another candidate’s faith, and we wish this were an ordinary election where that would suffice, but this crazy time around the apology is probably the worst of the damage done. Trump has openly questioned Cruz’s faith, and he once regaled an Iowa crowd by ridiculing Carson’s biographical story of overcoming a childhood temper through prayer and Christian faith, saying he was still “pathological” and akin to a pedophile, even though he did later wax indignant about what Cruz did to his good friend in passing along that erroneous CNN report, and he never apologizes, just as he never apologizes for disparaging women’s looks or mocking handicapped people or belittling American servicemen who suffered wartime captivity for their country or using the most vulgar language in front of the old women and young children, and this time around about one-third of the Republican electorate seems to love him for it. Not acknowledging or apologizing for an obvious mistake, apparently, is what it takes to make America great again.
Which leaves the aggrieved Rubio as perhaps the biggest beneficiary from this campaign brouhaha. He still has a lot of ‘splainin’ to do — as fellow Cuban-American Desi Arnaz used to say — about that crazy immigration deal he cooked up with those dastardly Democrats, which raises questions about his own honesty and competence, but there are honesty and competence questions about everyone. We could go on all day posing questions about it to Trump, and perhaps even longer about either of the potential Democratic nominees, but for at least a news cycle Rubio has an edge over the other guy that will meet Trump in a two-way race. We’d like to see whichever victor emerges go into that matchup without being too bloodied by the preliminaries, and hope that Trump suffers a few more slips he’s forced to not apologize for, but everybody needs to improve their game.

— Bud Norman