Archive

May 16th, 2016

Choice facing Republicans: Party or country?

    On Tuesday, May 10, anchoring CNN coverage of the West Virginia primary, host Don Lemon asked his panel of pundits, yours truly included: "How could anyone vote for somebody just because they happen to have an 'R' or 'D' after their name?"

    Good question. That's the question every Republican has to answer today. And it's playing out in primetime. One by one, loyal, lifelong, and leading Republicans are being forced to ask themselves what has never been in question before: Will they support their party's presidential nominee this year or not?

    Ironically, we all remember, it's the very first question of the very first presidential debate of the primary, on Fox News, August 7, 2015, when all Republican candidates were asked to raise their hand if they were "unwilling to pledge their support to the eventual nominee of the party." Only Donald Trump raised his hand. But now that Trump's the nominee, all but two of the other candidates on stage, Ben Carson and Chris Christie, have broken the pledge. At least so far.

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China is building up its soft power in Europe

    If there's one thing on which Europeans agree with Donald Trump, it's that the U.S. is gradually losing to China. The Middle Kingdom is working hard to improve its image in Europe and investing lots of money along the way. The queen of England may think Chinese officials are "very rude," but outside Buckingham Palace they are winning influence and friends.

    In 2015, a Pew Global Research survey found that a majority of people in major European countries believe China is going to replace the U.S. as the global superpower or that it has already done so.

    The same study showed that in Germany and France, more people consider China, rather than the U.S., to be the world's leading economy. That was before China's recent economic troubles began, but those probably won't affect public perceptions greatly: China's size and the prevalence of Made-in-China goods in European stores -- where U.S. ones are hard to find -- will continue feeding this somewhat premature perception.

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Why won't Trump release his tax returns? Here are a few possible reasons.

    Donald Trump does not expect to release his tax returns before the November election, the Associate Press informs us today. He told the AP that he doesn't believe voters are interested, adding: "There's nothing to learn from them."

    Define "nothing."

    In an interview with me, Joseph Thorndike, the director of the Tax History Project, identified the problem here. It's the juxtaposition of Trump's blithe insistence that there is nothing to be learned from his tax returns -- and his refusal to release them -- with the revelations about just how complicated those returns are.

    Trump himself helpfully demonstrated the complexity of his returns for the world to see, tweeting a photo of himself signing his tax return.

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Why Trump seems invulnerable to the flip-flop charge

    Let's get this out of the way: Razzie-winning actor and presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump lies. A lot. He lies about little things, such as whether lots of Muslims in New Jersey celebrated after the World Trade Center collapsed. He lies about big things, such as how the global economy works. He lies about political things, such as whether House Speaker Paul Ryan or Florida Sen. Marco Rubio have recently called him.

    Trump's relationship with the truth is like his relationship with his hairstylist: a long, drawn-out, complex negotiation, stacked upon layers of resentment and coloring, surrounded by lots of hot air.

    Trump is such a teller of falsehoods that I fear it will drive The Washington Post's fact checker, Glenn Kessler, around the bend. As Kessler writes:

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What has happened to our election?

    "When a man's fancy gets astride on his reason,

    when imagination is at cuffs with the senses,

    and common understanding as well as common

    sense is kicked out of doors, the first proselyte he makes is himself."

    --Jonathan Swift, "A Tale of a Tub," 1704

    For a man with a satirical turn of mind, presidential election years can be trying. Apparently your humble, obedient servant here isn't angry enough to participate fully in the festivities. This is interesting, because I've rarely been mistaken for Mr. Sunshine. I'd be a total failure as a game show host.

    Everywhere you turn, people are shaking their fists in each other's faces. On television and online, that is. Most days, it'd be a good idea to don a crash helmet before opening Facebook. And the summer bickering season has hardly begun. These are mostly Republicans and Democrats fighting among themselves. The main event has yet to come.

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May 15th

Here's what Sanders still thinks he can win

    Bernie Sanders is still telling supporters he can win the Democratic presidential nomination, but his practical goal is slighter: to win concessions on the party platform and nominating rules for future elections.

    Sanders, according to people close to him, realizes he's not likely to be the nominee. He wants to leave a mark on the party and agenda without causing general-election problems for Hillary Clinton, the presumptive nominee. He's not interested, they say, in weighing in on her selection of a running mate.

    Sanders won the West Virginia primary on Tuesday, may do well in Oregon on May 17 and is running competitively in California, which has its primary on June 7. But Clinton, already close to commitments from the majority of delegates, will be favored on June 7 in New Mexico and New Jersey, and will wrap up the contest soon.

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Trump's ideas about the deficit sound inflationary

    Donald Trump is difficult to take seriously on policy matters, because he's kind of a random idea generator -- he just throws out a lot of different policy plans, many of them contradictory. This is a great defense against criticism from policy wonks -- as soon as we criticize one of his proposals, he just offers up the exact opposite. For example, he's advocated reducing the federal debt, spending more and cutting taxes (or possibly not).

    So while we can't evaluate Trump on the strength of his proposals -- since he will just do a 180 next week -- it's still interesting when Trump tosses out economic ideas that are rarely suggested in American politics. This gives us an excuse to talk about interesting things that we otherwise probably would ignore.

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Trump ponders a running mate

    Now that Donald Trump has the Republican presidential nomination in hand, he is weighing his choice for a running mate, considering some of his defeated 2016 rivals as well as someone with governing experience with whom he would be personally compatible.

    He has put one of those rivals, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, on his team to help him decide, and Carson himself has said he'd be willing to consider taking the job. If he were to get it, it would be a rerun of the 2000 phenomenon, when GOP nominee George W. Bush tapped his father's secretary of defense, Dick Cheney, to vet the prospects, and Cheney chose himself.

    Trump in an interview with the New York Times said he likes another former rival who was the last to drop out of the 2016 race, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, but "I'm not sure John even wants it."

    Still another recent rival, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, helped cut down Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in a debate by exposing him as a robotic candidate and then endorsed Trump. Christie's fiery temper would seem to fill nicely the compatibility factor.

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Bring Hillary and Bernie Together

    Bernie Sanders is not going away. And why should he? The weather is nice, the crowds are enormous and he keeps winning primaries. Hillary Clinton has what appears to be an insurmountable lead in delegates, but hope springs eternal.

    “It is a steep hill to climb,” he admits.

    Actually, probably harder to surmount than Gangkhar Puensum. (Which is the world’s highest unclimbed mountain. I am telling you this to distract you from the subject of delegate counts.)

    But about Sanders: Democrats, what do you think he should do?

    A) Convention floor fight. “Game of Thrones”! Jon Snow is alive!

    B) Go away. When Clinton lost, did she torture Barack Obama over who was going to be on the platform committee? No, she sucked it up and gave an extremely nice endorsement speech.

    C) Why can’t we all just get along?

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This Donald Trump interview should set off all sorts of alarm bells for the GOP

    Donald Trump is in the midst of a sort-of "congratulations to me" media tour - granting a series of interviews in which he touts how well he has done, how smart he is and, by comparison, how dumb everyone who said he couldn't win the Republican nomination is.

    Which is his right. And, given how long the odds were that Trump would conquer 16 other candidates to become the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, a valedictory lap might even be in order.

    The problem for Republicans is that the lessons Trump appears to have learned from his march to the GOP nod are all the wrong ones. His interview with the Associated Press, which the wire service published on Tuesday night, is filled with cringe-worthy pronouncements that should send chills up the spines of Republican elected officials and party activists hoping to preserve their congressional majorities this fall.

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