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Close Calls But No Cigars on a Summer’s Election Night

Life is full of rude awakenings, but we found it especially annoying when our slumber was interrupted early Tuesday afternoon by a robocall from President Donald Trump. He was calling to urge us to vote for Kris Kobach in the Kansas Republican gubernatorial primary, but we’d already made up our minds to vote for the other guy, and Trump has never persuaded us to do anything, so we hung up at out the outset of what we expected to be a lengthy harangue and went back to sleep for another hour or so.
Even so, it proved a nice enough day. After washing the sleep out of our eyes and finding some clean clothes we took a top-down drive to the Woodland Methodist Church up n North Riverside to cast our ballots, where we ran into three of our favorite neighbors while standing in line, then talked it over with some political friends at a couple of local gathering spots. After that we went home for a long night of poll-watching, and at this late point in the night, we’re still watching. Those most-watched races are very, very close, and although Trump’s picks seem have the slight edge at the moment the closeness should leave him worried.
The GOP is declaring victory for Troy Balderson in that special election in Ohio’s 12th congressional district, but it’s too close for Democratic candidate Danny O’Connor to concede defeat, and far too close for Trump’s comfort. Trump won the district by double digits in ’16, and Republicans have held the seat by larger margins for decades, and this is just another special election in which the Republicans have lost double-digit leads since Trump was elected. So far the Republicans have narrowly edged out wins in most of the special elections, which have mostly been safe safe Republican seats vacated due to Trump administration appointments, but the Republicans have managed to lose a Senate seat in Alabama of all places as well a number of suburban congressional districts, and if you subtract all those votes from the Republican candidate in a number of upcoming congressional races in November the Democrats will be picking the next Speaker of the House and holding subpoena power in all the investigative committees. So far most of the Democrats are distancing themselves from former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who always turns out lots of votes for Republicans for here in the heartland, but anyone they might choose will be troublesome for Trump, and there’s no telling where those Democratic subpoenas might lead.
It just turned Wednesday as we write this, and at the moment Trump’s favored candidate in the Kansas gubernatorial primary is clinging to an ever-so-slight lead over incumbent governor and oh-so-establishment candidate Jeff Colyer with plenty of votes left to be counted, but even if that holds up Trump won’t have much to brag about. It’s already clear that some 60 percent of Kansas’ Republican voters didn’t vote for Trump’s endorsed candidate among the crowded field, and given that the Democrats chose long time legislator and cautiously centrist and not very scary Laura Kelly as their nominee we expect another too-close-for-comfort race in November’s general election. The conventional wisdom is that Kobach will be easier than Colyer for her to defeat, and we’re inclined to agree, so it remains to be seen how Trump’s pick ultimately fares here in Kansas.
Here in the Kansas fourth congressional district incumbent Rep. Ron Estes easily defeated another guy named Ron Estes in the Republican primary, and although Democratic nominee James Thompson gave him a single-digit scare in last year’s special election following Rep. Mike Pompeo’s rise through the Trump administration, we figure that’s still a safe Republican seat. The state’s second and third districts overlap with the affluent and well-educated Kansas City suburbs, though, where white collar women who are sick of sexual harassment have an outsized influence, and given the national trends since Trump’s election we’d say that both are very much in play if the Democrats aren’t too shrill. Kansas is still a traditionally Republican state, and has been ever it since entered the union as a Lincoln-ian free state, but what we’ve got right now is not a traditional Republican party.
Although it’s of less importance to the rest of the world, we also kept an eye on our neighborhood’s Fourth District Sedgwick County Commission primary races. As usual we voted in the Republican primary for incumbent Richard Ranzau, who is locally legendary for his tight-fistedness with taxpayer dollars and aversion to any exercise of governmental power, and we also appreciate that he’s principled enough to have made the most noise about a fellow Republican county commissioner serving while under indictment for several serious criminal charges. A few months ago we caught a terrific twenty minutes of alt-folk-rock by an attractive young woman named Lacey Cruse during Kirby’s Beer Store’s Sunday afternoon acoustic sets, and were much impressed by her far-ranging intelligence during a post concert conversation, and somehow she wound up winning the Democratic nomination for the seat. Which makes for an interesting choice.
As much as we admire Ranzau’s tight-fistedness and laissez faire attitude and party-be-damned good government principles, he’s so darned principled he’s voted against a lot of things the state and feds wanted to pay for around here, as well as some public-private projects that probably would have benefited both the public and private sectors. Cruse disappointed us by running an unabashedly-“I-am-woman-hear-me-roar” campaign, with buttons proclaiming “women inspire change” and handbills asking voters to bring their mothers and daughters and aunts and sisters and nieces to the polls with them, but even with out help from fathers and sons and brothers and nephews it prevailed over a longtime black male politico in a district that stretches from our fashionably white and gay Riverside neighborhood through the barrio clear over to the ghetto where you’ll find Kirby’s Beer Store, and by now we can’t deny that Ranzau also represents a certain sort of white male identity politics.
All of which makes our various choices in November more interesting than usual. Usually we vote a straight Republican ticket, as do most respectable Kansans, but these days we’re pondering our choices. If that’s also happening in less reliably Republican states, as the election results suggest, our Grand Old Party could be in for a blue November.

— Bud Norman

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The Trumpinization of a Grand Old Party

The big story on Tuesday was President Donald Trump’s anticlimactic photo-op with North Korea’s nutcase dictator, but but Wednesday people were taking notice that he’d somehow strengthened his control of the Republican party.
Tuesday was also primary day in South Carolina and Virginia, and by Wednesday morning the Trumpier candidates had prevailed.
In South Carolina incumbent Rep. Mark Sanford, who had voted with Trump 87 percent of the time but occasionally criticized him on television, lost to a more full-throated Trump loyalist after a presidential “tweet” that Sanford wasn’t “helping MAGA.” In a Virginia senate primary, the Republicans picked Corey Stewart, another Trump loyalist who ran on his Trumpian affection for Confederate monuments and antipathy to illegal immigration and abiding belief that were good people on both sides of that deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville.
Sanford had won his seat despite an unusually tawdry sex scandal while he was governor of South Carolina, as unusually tawdry sex scandals are of little concern to the erstwhile “family values” party in the age of Trump, but a bare majority of the state’s Republicans apparently found that 13 percent of the he voted against and the few times he went on television to criticize something Trump had said or done unforgivable. His opponent, state lawmaker Katie Harrington, had run a television advertisement promising that she wouldn’t appear on any cable news programs criticizing the president no matter what he might say or do or “tweets.”
Such North Korean fealty to the party’s dear leader will probably play well in South Carolina, where Trump is unaccountably popular, but Stewart will probably have a harder time with in Virginia. In the last presidential election Trump lost the state by five points to the awful Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee easily won last year’s gubernatorial despite Trump’s efforts, and the Democrats have been winning formerly Republican seats in most of the congressional and state and local races since Trump’s election. The damage has been especially acute in the mostly white and well-educated upper-class suburbs of the state, and although those are mostly federal government workers in Virginia the same problem has occurred in special elections almost everywhere since Trump was inaugurated.
Even here in reliably Republican Kansas there’s reasonable talk that the second congressional district, which is mostly the white and well-educated upper-class suburbs of Kansas City, is ripe for a Democratic upset. The mediocrity who replaced Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will probably prevail down here in the more blue-collar fourth district, but he won by an embarrassingly 7-point margin in the special election and actually lost the Wichita vote.
Tuesday also saw Tennessee’s Republican Sen. Bob Corker take to the Senate floor to fulminate about Trump’s crazy trade wars with our most longstanding allies, and grouse that so few Republicans supported his efforts to restrain such craziness, but he’s already announced he won’t run for reelection because his party won’t allow such heresy. Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona has been similarly courageous in confronting Trump, but he’s also announced he’s not bothering with another Republican primary. Arizona’s senior Sen. John McCain has been especially outspoken in his critique of the draft dodger who scoffed at his heroic war record, but he’s battling a likely fatal disease. The few other Republicans who dare to disagree with whatever Trump says or does or “tweets” are damned careful and deferential about how they say so.
We haven’t had the chance to visit the rest of the country recently, but our guess as rock-ribbed pre-Trump Kansas Republicans our guess is that fealty to Trump no matter what he says or does or “tweets” is not a longterm winning strategy for the the Republican party. Which is a damned shame, because we still don’t like those Democrats.

— Bud Norman

The Establishment Strikes Back, Again

Donald J. Trump’s winning of the Republican presidential nomination was supposed to have signaled the end of that Republican “establishment” supposedly hated by all the “real” Republicans, but the ancien regime seems to be faring well enough in the subsequent party primaries. Tuesday night saw a couple of targets of Trump’s “tweeting” wrath winning comfortably against self-described “anti-estalishment” challengers, with Senator Marco Rubio easily winning re-nomination in Florida and Senator John McCain prevailing just as easily in his home state of Arizona.
Trump had scoffed at Rubio as “Little Marco” during their presidential primary rivalry, and the combined power of that schoolyard taunt and the otherwise impeccably conservative’s support for a bipartisan “Gang of Eight” deal in the Senate that swapped vague promises of stricter border enforcement for a vague semi-legalization of those illegal immigrants already here pretty much doomed Rubio’s candidacy, and he even lost his home state’s presidential primary to Trump to by an embarrassing margin. That Trump had four years earlier decried the Republican nominee’s “self-deportation” policy as “maniacal,” and contributed generously to the campaign funds of five of the “Gang of Eight” members, seemed to matter little when Trump was promising all the “real” Republicans that he was going to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it and set up a ruthless “deportation force” that would kick out every last illegal immigrant.
By Tuesday night Trump was recently scoffing at the idea of “deportation forces” rounding up more than 11 million people, and no one could really say for certain where he stood on immigration, except that he was still talking about the wall Mexico will pay for and making other huge but vague promises about border enforcement, and that it should be clearer after a long-delayed speech on immigration that will occur after his meeting today with the President of Mexico. We’d wager a few pesos that the Mexican president won’t agree to pay for the wall Trump intends to build, but other than that we have no idea what position Trump might momentarily settle on in the long-delayed speech, and in any case it won’t keep Rubio from a good shot at reelection. Rubio had said he would return to private life after his public humiliation, but what was left of the GOP “establishment” begged him and his formidable fund-raising machine to help keep alive the hopes of a Republican Senate, and by sticking to his for-the-most-part impeccably conservative easily rebuffed a challenged by an “anti-establishment” and very wealthy real estate mogul.
Longtime Arizona Senator and former Republican presidential nominee John McCain’s heroic sacrifices as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam conflict was scoffed at by the draft-dodging Trump’s sneer that he “was only a hero because he got captured,” but he wound up more or less endorsing Trump’s nomination nonetheless, and Trump wound up giving him a similarly ambivalent on endorsement, and then on Tuesday he ended up with a similarly more-or-less endorsement from the party’s nominee, and the oh-so-establishment and “Gang of Eight” octogenarian wound up winning by a more or less comfortable margin against an “anti-establishment” challenger. It’s a messy race, but another win for the establishment by our scoring.
Both Rubio and McCain still have to square off against Democratic challengers, and there’s no telling how that might turn out in this crazy election year, but the the aggregate of the latest polling suggests they’re both doing at least as well in their respective states as the Republican presidential nominee. In several other states those boring old “establishment” Republicans are polling better than Trump, and in the crucial swing state of Ohio where Trump is currently down by 3.8 percentage eight points in the Real Clear Politics average the soporifically Republican “establishment” Sen. Rob Portman is so far ahead of a generic Democrat that the Democratic donors are abandoning the race. In this crazy election year Trump might yet wind up winning the presidency, but it seems increasingly likely that there will still be both a Democratic and Republican party that he’ll have to deal with.

— Bud Norman

Meanwhile, on the Democratic Side

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee lost yet another primary by a blow-out margin in Oregon on Tuesday, and was declared the “unofficial” winner of Kentucky’s contest by a mere hanging chad or two, and by now it’s none too soon for the Democrats to start to panic.
Former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and long-presumed First Woman President Hillary Clinton’s inability to finish off the geriatric Old Left fossil and self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders should be troubling enough for her party, but there are also those polls showing her suddenly in a very tight general election race with the self-described billionaire and real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-joint-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul Donald J. Trump, whose insult comic shtick has already vanquished a deep field of far more qualified candidates, not to mention all those young and enthusiastic fans of the Old Left fossil booing her high-powered surrogates off a Democratic state convention stage. It’s not at all what the Democratic powers-that-be intended way back when in ’08 when they decided Clinton would be the nominee after putting of the First Woman President for the First Black President and all his “Hope and Change” nonsense, and they’ve no one to blame but themselves.
Clinton’s blow-out loss in Oregon to a self-described socialist and Old Left fossil is easily explained to anyone who has watched the hilarious hipster satire “Portlandia” on Netflix or whatever cutting-edge cable channel it originally appears on, and the Kentucky close-call is easily explained to country music fans familiar with the great Kentucky-born-and-raised Loretta Lynn’s classic about a “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and Clinton’s walked-back but still irrevocable promise to continue the First Black President’s war on the coal industry, so we’re slightly surprised that she didn’t get blown out like she did in neighboring West Virginia, where Democrats were making downright Trumpian rude gestures towards her over the policy and vowing to vote for the self-described billionaire on the Republican side, but the rest of the party’s troubles can’t be so easily dismissed. Those tight-race polls should be more troubling, given that Trump has some sky-high negative numbers in all the polls himself, and deserves them at least as much as Clinton does her own severe negative polling numberw, but that the youngest and most enthusiastic segment of her party is booing her high-powered surrogates off the stage of a Democratic state convention should scare the hell out of the party “establishment” that so long ago cooked up her cockamamie candidacy.
Those disgruntled hipsters in Oregon will mostly wind up voting for Clinton in the general election if only for a well-founded fear of Trump, and those hillbilly coal miners and their daughters in West Virginia and Kentucky will largely wind up voting for Trump in a well-founded fear of their jobs, but such a well-established Democrat as California Sen. Barbara Boxer being booed off a stage for mentioning Clinton’s name is most troubling yet. There’s an unmistakable and easily understandable-to-anyone “anti-establishment” mood in this year’s presidential race in both parties, and at the moment the Democratic Party’s bet on a former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State seems as foolish as bet against the house odds at one of Trump’s bankrupt casinos. The hated Republican “establishment” couldn’t stave off the abhorrent likes of Trump, the hated Democratic “establishment” seems likely to drag Clinton’s at-least equally abhorrent and equally-negatively-polling carcass across the finish line, and after seven-and-a-half-years of “Hope and Change” this is where even those cocksure Democrats find themselves.
Our “anti-establishment” sentiment will be voting third party this year, and ¬†for whichever hopeless candidate claims to take the strongest stand against the looming national bankruptcy and for common sense that the presumptive Democratic nominee and her still-pesky rival and the presumptive Republican nominee all agree can be forever forestalled by whatever establishment they hope to install, so at this point we’re quite neutral observers of this whole mess. From this perspective the Democrats seem more hopelessly split, as most of the Republicans seem willing to side with the self-described billionaire who seems to now on the angles on this awful reality showl, and we can hardly blame them given their desultory options, and we at least hope that those Democratic Party’s powers-that-be are as panicked as we are at the moment.

— Bud Norman

New York Plays Its Role

New York gave its expected stamp of approval to two of the worst presidential candidates ever on Tuesday, with both Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton scoring big and much-needed wins in the primaries of their home state. Both regained their front-runner status after some embarrassing losses to pesky rivals in the hinterlands, but we hold out hope the Empire State is no longer able to deliver either an inevitable nomination.
Trump at long last broke into majority territory with a convincing 61 percent of the statewide vote, and his pesky rival finished third with a paltry 15 percent, which will keep a pointless third candidate in the race to continue splitting the anti-Trump vote in some upcoming friendly northeastern states, and he won 88 of the available 95 delegates to further pad his lead, so there’s no denying he had another good night. He’s still off the pace to win the needed number of delegates for a first-ballot nomination, though, and thus far his pesky rival has been far better at the complicated and by-now-unfamiliar-to-anyone game of winning on a second or third ballot. New York’s Republican primary electorate is also atypical of the party’s at large, we are happy to say, and that pesky rival should fare better as the race moves out of the northeast.
Trump’s pesky rival is Sen. Ted Cruz, an unabashed Christian and red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalist and strict constitutionalist and described-by-everyone-as-conservative and unmistakeable Texan, so he never did stand a chance up there against a self-described billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-joint-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul such as Trump, who is someone that the subway riders seem to want to be. New York’s invaluable contributions to conservatism runs from Alexander Hamilton through William F. Buckley to those fine folks at the Manhattan Institute, but even in New York City there are only so many eggheads, and we have to admit that the remaining 61 percent of the state’s Republicans are pretty much Archie Bunker, that left-wing caricature of a stereotypically bigoted and sexist and uninformed conservative from the ’70s left-wing sit-com “All in the Family.” As Trump is pretty much the self-described billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-joint-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul version of Bunker, we can easily understand the results.
The Democratic outcome was even more easily understandable, and almost as unlikely to settle matters. The Democrats in New York, who will certainly deliver the state’s still sizable share of electoral votes to the Democrats no matter what combination of nominees this crazy race turns up, are well contented with the status quo that former First Lady and carpet-bagging-homestate Senator and Secretary of State and long-presumed First Woman President Clinton represents. They own the state’s politics, its still outsized share of political power in the country at large, the lucrative arrangement with those evil Wall Street folks that her pesky rival is always railing against is largely satisfactory to the locals, the rich retain their power and the poor retain their benefits, and those Archie Bunkers in the middle are vastly out-numbered and voting in an increasingly insignificant Republican primary, so even a self-described socialist such as pesky rival self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sander isn’t likely to fare well there. We sense a certain dissatisfaction with the status quo among Democrats elsewhere, though, and there are those pesky coughing fits that the seemingly tired front-runner has been enduring as well as a pesky ongoing Federal Bureau of Investigation inquiry that cannot end well, and nothing is certain in this crazy year.
We’ve always enjoyed our occasional visits to New York, with several trips to the City and a leisurely hitchhiking trek through its upstate cities and towns and hamlets, and we can’t deny its many contributions to the enrichment and degradation of American culture, but we’re glad the rest of the country also has a say.

— Bud Norman

Those Darned Rules

Tiger Woods didn’t compete in this past weekend’s Masters Tournament, but we were reminded of a time when he was winning almost everything in sight. Being noticeably different from past golf champions he was bringing a lot of energetic new fans to the staid old game to root him on, which was great for the Professional Golf Association’s ratings, but in most cases they were fans of Woods and not of the game. In many of our conversations with them they seemed not to appreciate or even understand the brutally humbling sport, and were invariably confused about what nefarious goings-on must have been going on when their hero inevitably didn’t win.
We were reminded of this because another intriguing round of the sport of politics also occurred over the weekend, and we notice the same thing going on in both of the major party leagues. Self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, arguably the Democratic front-runner, and self-described billionaire Donald J. Trump, arguably the Republican front-runner, have been winning a lot lately, and both being noticeably different from past politicians they’ve both brought a lot of energetic new fans to the staid old game of party politics, and it really is hard to explain to either of these very disparate groups of political neophytes why their heroes suffered some unusual losses. The major parties’ nominating processes are more complicated than even the infield fly rule, and they did yield some admittedly unusual results.
Sanders won a convincing 56 percent of the vote in Wyoming’s Democratic caucus, continuing a seven-of-eight streak that includes some embarrassing blow-outs over arguable front-runner and former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and long-presumed First Woman President Hillary Clinton, but he wound up with a mere split of the state’s delegates. Trump got pretty much wiped out in the delegate race in Colorado by the described-by-everyone-as-a-conservative Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, but that happened without either a primary or caucus, which in these newfangled times is unusual. It’s all in the rule book, though, right next to the regulation about pine tar only being allowed so far up on a bat, and those who understand the game and appreciate it more than any of the players will know the rules must be enforced.
Those disgruntled Sandernistas seem to have the better gripe. Their guy keeps racking up so many convincing wins among Democratic voters that even the wags at Saturday Night Live are making fun of Clinton, but she keeps creeping ahead in the delegate count due to some goings-on that have clearly been going on for a while now, and we can easily understand why they’d think their guy is up against one of steroid-fed behemoths in one of those fixed professional wrestling shows the Republican front-runner used to produce, and well imagine their horror upon discovering that the supposed safe space of the Democratic party is so impure, but they should have the read the rules and been in the before something noticeably different attracted their attention.
These newfound fans of Sanders weren’t paying the least attention when Clinton’s fund-raising prowess and reputation for ruthlessness was scaring off all the few remaining viable opponents and getting all these rules written just in case of something decidedly different like Sanders, and they blithely figured they’d go along with any old candidate the Democrats might come up with, just as they’d always gone along with all the rest of the party’s dealmaking and ruthlessness, so there are limits to our sympathy. If their “revolution” has to occur four years from now with a 78-year-old Sanders leading the idealistic youth off the cliff we won’t shed a tear, as we’ll need them all for the alternative of a Clinton nomination.
Trump’s so loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters will rightly note that Colorado’s convention is peculiar in this age of open primaries and other newfangled democratic fashions in the Republican Party’s nomination process, but we’re long-involved Kansas Republicans and keen fans of the game, damn it, and we’re not ones to tell those Colorado Republicans how to choose their delegates. The convention system they chose has a certain appeal to our old-fashioned tastes, even if there probably wasn’t any smoke in those “smoke-filled rooms,” at least not tobacco smoke, and we think there’s an argument to be made that it used to turn up candidates such as Abraham Lincoln and William Howard Taft and Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge and Dwight Eisenhower who were on the whole better than what’s been offered up by the post-’68 moves to a more directly democratic choice. In any case the rules are chosen by the people who were chosen by the party members, and they were in place before Trump announced his candidacy, for reasons best understood by the more attentive sorts of Colorado Republicans, who surely weren’t anticipating that Trump would still be around, and Trump had every opportunity to play and win by those rules. By all accounts he barely bothered, while Cruz made every effort and every smart play, and we have no sympathy for the predictably pouting Trump.
Trump’s main argument for his candidacy is that he’s an extraordinarily competent deal-maker and manager and visionary who surrounds himself with the very best people and never gets out-played in any game, so the pouting only undermines the pitch. The professionally political Cruz was playing the Republican nominating process game back when Trump was firing Dennis Rodman on the celebrity edition of “The Apprentice,” which was played by Trump’s rules, and he’s clearly the better player. He’s also been peeling off extra delegates from states that Trump won but where the rules allow some goings-on, and with a big win in Wisconsin to add to his totals he’s pursuing a viable strategy to deny Trump the needed majority for a first ballot nomination, and carefully laying the groundwork to win on a second or even third and beyond ballot. Meanwhile Trump is shuffling his skeleton staff, speaking coyly about the the possibility of riots, allowing a surrogate to threaten to have angry supporters show up at wavering delegates’ hotel rooms, belatedly hiring someone who knows about all this stuff, and supposedly apprising himself of the rules of the game that he’s playing.
If he ever gets around to reading the rule book, Trump might be surprised to find that it was written with the intention of preventing any candidate entirely unacceptable to a broad segment of the party, such as himself, from winning the party’s nomination. A similar sense of self-preservation is the sound rationale for the even harder-to-explain Democratic rules, which are still trying to prevent a Henry Wallace or George McGovern or Bernie Sanders from winning the party’s nomination, which is admirable enough, but when the alternative is Hillary Clinton, what difference, at that point, does it make?
The current hybrid system of caucuses and primaries and conventions and unbound delegates and super delegates and whatnot seems likely to serve up the two most distrusted and disliked people in America for the office of President of the States, but it might not, in which case there will be huge numbers of Sanders or Trump fans and maybe both who will be doing some serious pouting, and no foreseeable happy outcomes for the country, but we’ll live with it for now. It’s better than what the Sandersnistas and the Trumpenproletariat would could come up on the spur of the moment with to serve their side, with no thought for the idea that just as a game is supposed to produce the best player the political process is supposed to produce the best candidate, the one most broadly acceptable to the party and most representative of its traditional ideals and most likely to win a general election, and that the people who have been involved in the party with years and sweat and tears should have some say in the matter no matter how many of those newly enthused fans who of some candidate flock to the party and openly boast of their intention to “burn it down” if their guy doesn’t win.

— Bud Norman

From Belgium to Arizona to the Latest “Tweet”

Another deadly Islamist terror attack, this time in Brussels, Belgium, the capital of the European Union and headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The President of the United States spent a full 51 seconds expressing his concern about the matter before launching into some happier talk about his communist Cuban hosts, and then spoke about it again at somewhat greater length with a fawning interviewer from the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network while taking in a baseball game, and the usual talk about a religion of peace and worries about a backlash followed in the usual places, and then the news moved on to more novel stories.
Say what you want about the presidential primary races, there’s no denying their novelty. A bit of actual reality showed up in the Republican’s reality show, however, as the two remaining viable candidates both weighed in on the slaughter in Brussels. Front-runner Donald J. Trump, the self-proclaimed billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-etcetera mogul, argued that some good old-fashioned torture would have prevented the tragedy, while Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was critical of both the administration’s continuing reluctance to address by the problem of Islamist terrorism by name and Trump’s apparent ambivalence about America’s European alliances in general and NATO in particular.
There’s some concern on the more or less respectable left that each terror attack further drives a frightened public into the arms of such a proudly tortuous tough guy as Trump, who once shaved the burly Vince McMahon’s head in a World Wrestling Entertainment production called “Battle of the Billionaires” and has bagged more babes than you’ll ever dream about, believe him, and that might yet prove worth worrying about. A double-whammy of attacks in San Bernardino and Paris knocked the mild-mannered neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson out of the race and into the arms of Trump a while back, and the Democrats understandably poll very poorly with their it’s-nothing-to-do-with-Islam stands, and Trump’s sizable horde of followers think anyone with a reluctance about torture is a “pussy,” which is apparently acceptable political parlance these days. There’s still some hope on the more or less respectable right that the public will be nudged to choose someone with a well-informed and keenly strategic mind and statesmanlike temperament, and pay enough attention to Trump’s rambling remarks and and impolitic impulses to notice that he’s not such a man, and that whatever well-justified frustrations we have with Europe they are an important part of our economy and the entire western civilization project, and that European alliances and NATO might yet come in handy again.
The death toll in Brussels didn’t stop the juicier parts of the Republicans’ reality show, however, as some naked pictures of Trump’s latest wife and a bit of libel against Cruz’ fully-clothed wife were both something novel to move to on. An anti-Trump political action committee not affiliated the Cruz campaign apparently had an internet page that featured the aforementioned naked pictures, with some copy suggesting this was not a particularly First Lady-like thing for a woman to have posed for and adding that anyone who was offended might consider voting for Cruz. Although the PAC was not affiliated with the Cruz campaign Trump apparently assumed it was, and he “tweeted” out that “Lyin’ Ted Cruz just used an picture of Melania from a G.Q. shoot in his ad. Be careful, Lyin’ Ted, or I will spill the beans on your wife!
Trump’s libelous insinuation that he has reputation-ruining information against a rival’s wife and is withholding it at the threat of blackmail strikes us as a rather big story, too, but this won’t be the first time it’s gone largely unnoticed. A similar libelous insinuation and threat of blackmail was made against the Ricketts family, owners of the Chicago Cubs, who had contributed to another anti-Trump PAC that was running a long-overdue ad featuring some of Trump’s more outrageously misogynistic statements, and he also made a thus-far hollow threat to sue the Canadian-born Cruz over his eligibility to run for the presidency unless he also stopped saying critical things about Trump. He’s also promised to “open up the libel laws” so that anyone who writes anything “mean” about him will “have problems, such problems,” so it’s no surprise that he’s willing to let the public remain unaware of crucial information about a potential First Lady or overlook a looming constitutional crisis if they’ll just bow to his Nietzschean will to power. So far Cruz, who enjoys a reputation as a shrewd lawyer even among his most bitter ideological opponents, hasn’t bowed. He called Trump’s bluff on that birther nonsense and the issue has largely gone away, except among those Trump fans who also buy the Obama birther nonsense, and his “tweet” about his wife was “Pic of your wife not from us. Donald, if you try to attack Heidi, you’re more of a coward than I thought,” which strikes us as rather gallant, if anybody cares about that stuff anymore. The son of the Chicago Cubs’ owner said it was “a little surreal when Donald Trump threatens your mom,” which is defense enough by the Cubs’ standards, and we can only imagine how the likes of the Iranian mullahs or the latest North Korean nutcase will be cowed by Trump’s insulting “tweets.”
Over on the Democratic side the front-runner, former First Lady etcetera Hillary Clinton was calling for more surveillance, presumably of the some sort that she used to damn George W. Bush for doing, and her still-remaining rival, self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, was calling for “international unity,” which we suppose would be a nice thing, assuming everyone was unified on our side. We’re not at all sure what side they will ultimately choose, though, even if we can be assured they won’t be the ones doing the torturing, at least not to the terrorists, so we hope the Republicans and the rest of the country get this one right.
Tuesday’s results were a split decision, but probably don’t reflect any effects of the attack on Brussels. Trump’s big plurality win in the winner-take-all state of Arizona was all about his anti-immigration stance, and probably helped by the left-wing goon squads who tried to shut down his rallies, and Cruz’ landslide majority in Utah was mostly about how Mormons regard such an unscrupulous businessman and unsavory character as Trump. Clinton won Arizona, where her open borders stand plays well with the local Democrats, and Sanders won Utah and Idaho, where such an unscrupulous dealer and unsavory character as Clinton didn’t play well with the handful of Democrats, but the Democratic National Committee probably found another couple hundred of those of “super-delegates” out there and Clinton’s long-promised coronation seems more likely.
We offer our heartfelt condolences to the people of Belgium, and everywhere else from San Bernardino to Moore, Oklahoma, to to Paris to Mumbai that the barbarians have attacked, and wish that America was in better to shape to deal with it.

— Bud Norman

The Race Plods Along

The votes keep coming in, but so far they haven’t added up to a clear winner in either of the presidential races. There are two front-runners who continue to front-run, but neither can feel comfortable with their leads.
Former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and once-presumed First Woman President Hillary Clinton continues to slog it out with self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, of all people. Clinton picked up another convincing win in Mississippi on Tuesday, continuing a winning streak in southern states where all the white people have long since registered Republican and the Democratic parties are dominated by blacks, who for some vague reasons seem to prefer Clinton to the nebbishy socialist from a lily-white state whose efforts at identity politics have often been clumsy, but she lost a squeaker in Michigan, where the racial demographics are more typical of the country at large, and which the Democrats rely on in general elections.
This wasn’t supposed to happen, but it keeps happening, and this is before Clinton is either indicted on felony charges or has the Federal Bureau of Investigation furiously leaking all the reasons she should have been indicted but was saved solely by naked political favoritism, which can’t help, so we expect this race to continue. The peculiar rules of the Democrat’s delegate selection process seem to award Clinton a “super delegate” or two no matter how she performs at the ballot box, and it remains to be seen how the broad diverse tapestry of the Democratic party will respond to some nebbishy white guy’s call for a socialist revolution, and she continues to more-or-less front-run in the polls, but we have to imagine there is some panic afoot in the party’s smoke-free back rooms. They might even decide to go ahead and let the woman get indicted just to get her out of the race and allow some hair-plugged white knight or faux Indian princess to come to the rescue, or maybe that’s just wishful thinking on our part, but any scenario seems bleak for the Democrats.
They do have the last-resort advantage of running against Republicans, though, and the loyal opposition seems determined to help out. After wins in Michigan and Mississippi and Hawaii, the front-runner is still Donald J. Trump, the self-described billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-joint-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-television-and-scam-university mogul, whose national unfavorable ratings in one recent poll hit an eye-popping 67 percent, which is even worse than Clinton’s, which is saying something. The wins added to a solid but not insurmountable lead in the delegate count, and was sufficient for Trump to boast that it’s all over and time for the entire party to rally around his vaguely defined cause, but surely he’s a shrewd enough negotiator to know that’s not going to happen. A consistent two-thirds of the party continues to vote against him, with a large chunk of it having highly unfavorable views of him, and much more than a few of us are willing to fight him until the very end and beyond, and a careful look reveals that all the undecideds who haven’t yet become enamored of Trump after so many months of saturation media coverage of his garish insult comic routine are predictably deciding they don’t like him, and all this is just as the effective-because-they’re-true negative ads have been starting to come out.
Worse yet, from Trump’s bottom-line perspective, the fractured field that has allowed his pluralities to prevail in so many contests is narrowing, with Tuesday’s results effectively knocking Florida Sen. Marco Rubio out of the race, although he might risk humiliation by continuing to campaign in his home state. Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s narrow-third place finish in neighboring Michigan won’t keep him from contesting his home state as a favorite son, but if he wins that he denies Trump some much-needed delegates, and if he doesn’t it will all come down to Trump against Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who picked up another upset win in Idaho and once again out-performed the polls in his losing efforts, leads Trump in head-to-head matches in the polls, and is clearly eager to be alone on a debate stage with Trump.
This might end in a race between two of the most deservedly disliked and distrusted people in America, or a nebbishy socialist and an evangelical capitalist, or some combination thereof, or maybe even some hair-plugged white knight or faux Indian princess will come to the rescue, and we’ll even hold on to some faint hope of another deus ex machina.

— Bud Norman

The Idleness of March

The month of March always brings severe weather and post-season college basketball on this part of the Great Plains, both of which can be quite rivetingly turbulent, but until they begin in earnest this quadrennial year we’re finding nothing of interest in the news but those already tiresome presidential races.
For a while now we’ve barely heard a peep out of President Barack Obama, much less anything to work up a rant about, and we’ll begrudgingly concede that he was gracious in his remarks about the passing of former First Lady Nancy Reagan, and acknowledge our appreciation for all the half-mast flags that are flying around town. The economy is still awful, but only awful in more or less the same awful way it’s been for the past eight years or so, and not awful in a way that any of the candidates or the world’s bankers seem to know how to fix. Despite a recent brief lull in terror attacks on the west, that whole world-on-fire situation is still also awful, but one party is insisting that climate change is a bigger problem and the front-runner in the other party is telling apocryphal stories about solving it all with bullets dipped in pigs’ blood, and that’s about the only reason all that foreign policy blah-blah-blah is in the news these days.
We note that ace quarterback Peyton Manning is retiring from football, and we wish him well, as he always seemed a nice enough guy and made our brother in Colorado quite happy by winning a Super Bowl for the Denver Broncos last month, but that’s only so interesting. There were some Academy Awards recently, but we couldn’t possibly care less about that, and we’re sure there’s some sex scandal afoot involving some reality television stars or another, and although the cast likely involves a future president we don’t care to keep track of that stuff.
We’re coming up on the Ides of March, and have been forewarned about them by our Shakespearian education, but until the coming catastrophes we’re searching about hopeful news.

— Bud Norman

Meanwhile, at the Democratic Race War

As we avert our grimace from the Republican Party’s reality show of a presidential nomination contest to the Democratic race, we find that things there are no more comforting. The front-runner is still former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was just godawful in each capacity and is just about as dishonest and corrupt and law-flouting and dislikable a person as you’re likely to find this side of the front-running Republican candidate, and the only still-in-the-running alternative is self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
This brief description of the race is disheartening enough, but a closer look makes it scarier yet. The race thus far has been run along racial lines, with Sanders doing well in mostly white states but Clinton winning in all the southern states where most of the whites have long since fled to the Republican party and the remaining Democratic electorate is mostly black, as well as Nevada where the party is mostly Latino, and if that’s the state of racial relations within the oh-so-sensitively-inclusive Democratic Party it does not bode well for the even more ethnically fissiparous nation at large. If all those well-meaning white folks in the Democratic party with their very sincere white guilt can’t come to some agreement with their righteously indignant black brothers and sisters, what chance does the country have when you add all us allegedly racist Republican rednecks into the general election conversation? Not to mention all those Asians, who tend to vote Democrat even though only we allegedly racist Republican rednecks bother to protest the quotas that keep so many of them out of the Ivy League universities, or the Latinos, whose preferences regarding legal and illegal immigration policy run counter to both the economic interests and base prejudices of so many of those righteously indignant black brothers and sisters, not to the mention the exponential intersectionality of all the sexual orientations and gender identities that are involved.
It’s hard enough understanding the relatively simple black-white thing going on in the Democratic party. Clinton lost more than 90 percent of the black vote in the Democratic primaries eight years ago, when she was running against the First Black President, but this time around she’s running as the First Black President’s Secretary of State and the First Lady of the first First Black President, even though the economic statistics for black America have been dire under the First Black President and her service as his Secretary of State was one national security disaster after another and all her first First Black President husband’s policies on crime and welfare and other racially-tinged issues are now anathema to the “Black Lives Matter” movement that claims to speak for all black Americans. Sanders is still in the race because all the most well-meaning white hipsters and their aging antecedents in the party are hot for his socialist brand of everything’s free and we’ll work out the payments later, and we share those well-meaning white hipsters’ surprise, if not their dismay, than their black brothers and sisters aren’t on board for the revolution. If you can recall the ’60s, and were reading Ramparts and The Village Voice and Rolling Stone and The New Yorker and all the right rags, you’d know that the black brothers and sisters were supposed to be the vanguard of the revolution, not the stooges of reactionary resistance of the Wall Street-funded, Wal-Mart corporate-board-serving, Donald Trump’s-third-wedding-attending establishment.
While we have no affection for Sanders, who is after all a self-described socialist, and one who literally honeymooned in the Soviet Union, at that, we’re surprised that so many black Democrats haven’t warmed to him. Some of the celebrity and intellectual black people have, possibly because they’re more worried about losing their status as celebrities and intellectual than they are about their status as black, but the votes are in and the vast majority have so far been for Clinton. That’s mostly been in southern states any Democrat is unlikely to win in the general election no matter who the Republican or increasingly likely third-party nominees are, but there’s been the same trend even in those mostly white states that Sanders won, and as the Democratic Party is currently constituted across all the states the minority vote will likely deliver a majority by convention time, especially when you add in all those “super-delegates” the very diverse party bosses are imposing. The black and Latino factions don’t seem particularly interested in a revolution, especially one led by a Jewish guy from a lily-white state, which seems to matter in that oh-so-sensitively-inclusive Democratic Party, and are perfectly content with the establishment, no matter how much Wall Street funds it or what bargains on Chinese-made goods Wal-Mart is offering, and if their economics interests clash on the immigration issue they figure they’ll pay for that later.
We can almost muster some pity for those poor white hipster socialist revolutionaries, abandoned by the black brothers and sisters they had so assiduously apologized to, beset by a hated “establishment” that turns out to be the party they had always sen as salvation from some other more hated Republican “establishment,” and stuck with voting for Clinton, whose entire career repudiates all their high ideals. Worse yet, they find that a majority of their party turns out not to have ever believed in any coherent philosophy of liberalism, but was only interested in sticking it to the other guys, and for reasons that had something uncomfortably to do with the darkest impulses of an ethnically fissiparous nation, and was striking whatever deal it could for itself.
The poor bastards. Over here on the Republican side a lot of us are finding out that a lot of our political coalition never believed in any coherent philosophy of conservatism, and is more interested in sticking it to the other guy than conserving such freedoms as press and property, and that there’s also a sudden hesitance to denounce even those darkest impulse of an ethnically fissiparous nation, and that the whole sales pitch is that it’s going to be a great deal for those get on board, but at least we won’t have to vote for it.

— Bud Norman