The Audacity of the Deal

The Great Cruz-Kasich Alliance of 2016 will go down in history as one of the single dumbest, most short-sighted, shallow, and feeble political plots ever.  

See, this is the problem with theories hatched through the haze of the smoky back room: when the smoke clears reality proves a very different landscape.

The political strategist who thought this would work ought to be publicly tarred and feathered.  Trump had just spent two straight weeks shouting the word “rigged” into every microphone he could and in response some genius on the payroll for Cruz or Kasich thought, “Hey, let’s team up and try to fix the system to ensure Trump loses.  Oh, and lets announce it on national television.”  Brilliant.

When news of this “alliance” broke, you better believe a single ray of sunlight beamed down from a break in the clouds giving Trump’s wispy yellow coif a fresh golden glint as he smiled from ear to ear.  

You know what word is more sinister sounding than “rigged?” “Collusion.” Cruz and Kasich would have been better off gift wrapping a ballot printed on gold leaf that said “Donald Trump vs Hillary Clinton” and presenting it to Trump on Meet the Press.  

Not only was the strategy behind the move politically suicidal, but it was also outrageously arrogant to assume that voters would go along with the plan.  Most voters are not party operatives who think with a team mentality.  People support a candidate because that is who they believe would be the best leader and after months of further depreciating their car with a bumper sticker, do you really think they’re going to punch the ballot next to someone else’s name?

The publicly toed line by Cruz and Kasich that “this is just about resources” is about as thinly veiled as a penny-pinching bride’s headpiece.  After campaigning for months, cancelling a couple rallies a week before a state votes is not going to cause enough of a shift to have the desired effect of halting a Trump victory.  The only possible way to do this is to have all of the combined Cruz/Kasich voters vote for the same candidate, aka Cruz asking his folks to vote for Kasich and vice versa.

This might be how a convention can be won, but this isn’t how a democracy works.  The Republican primary is all but over thanks to almost a year’s worth of political miscalculations in combating Trump. As the coffin containing the Republican party’s presidential hopes teetered on the edge, Cruz just asked Kasich to hold the nail while he brought the hammer down.

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Photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS
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Boaty McBoatface is why super-delegates exist

Boaty McBoatface is why we have super-delegates.

The British government recently turned to the internet to name their new state of the art research ship. First off, whoever came up with this idea has clearly never seen how every Twitter Q&A goes off the rails quicker than a Maserati goes zero to sixty.  Well, as the internet is wont to do, the voters in the poll chose the name “Boaty McBoatface.”  The name didn’t just win, it blew the competition out of the water (sorry).

The results elicited this response from British Science Minister Jo Johnson:

“The new royal research ship will be sailing into the world’s iciest waters to address global challenges that affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people, including global warming, the melting of polar ice, and rising sea levels. That’s why we want a name that lasts longer than a social-media news cycle and reflects the serious nature of the science it will be doing.”

Does that sound remotely familiar to another scenario you’ve probably been paying attention to recently?  Having trouble?  Well then let’s revisit Minister Johnson’s statement and change a few words.

“The new president will be sailing into the world’s most difficult job to address global challenges that affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people, including global warming, the crisis in the Middle East, and an unstable worldwide economy. That’s why we want to elect someone who will last longer than a social-media news cycle and reflects the serious nature of the job they will be doing.”

Got it now?

As you can guess from the Minister’s quote, the British government has chosen to overrule the voters in the name of sanity.

In American politics however, there is no unique body that has the power to simply tell voters they are being stupid and make a new decision for them.  But the Democratic party has created the next best thing.  

In 1982 the Democratic party instituted super-delegates who are local, state, and national politicians, party leaders, and other influential players who are free to cast their delegate votes free of any bounds from actual voters.

The party will tell you they created these positions to give those involved in the party structure an active voice in the presidential selection process.  But we’re all adults here, let’s not lie to ourselves.  Super-delegates were created to prevent the party from nominating a candidate who is the human equivalent of Boaty McBoatface.

The supporters of Bernie Sanders have been actively complaining about the presence of super-delegates on the Democratic side as an unfair advantage given to Hillary Clinton.  And while they’re correct – Clinton has 502 super-delegates to Sanders’ 38 – a quick peek under Reince Priebus’ sweat-stained collar should remind Sanders supporters that while they may not love Clinton, no Democratic will ever have to cast their vote for Donald J. McTrumpface.

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Berning Bridges

Consider everything that was recently posted about Bernie Sanders doing Hillary Clinton a favor by not questioning her credibility rescinded.  Since that piece, Sanders has viciously gone after Clinton in every way imaginable.  

He has called her “unqualified,” blamed her for the draconian sentencing laws in the 1994 Crime Bill, accused her of favoring Wall Street over a higher minimum wage, and repeatedly called for her to release the transcripts of her paid speeches to Goldman Sachs.

Attacks that compare and contrast issues are an integral part of politics.  But Sanders most recent artillery volley has been structured in a way that is neither conducive to building broad support, nor for unifying a Democratic coalition.  He would be wise to note that his meteoric rise since last fall was a result of promoting progressive issues like the role of money in politics and the regulation of big banks, not the bashing of Secretary Clinton.

Take his recent attacks on Clinton for her position on the minimum wage.  Clinton has long supported a $12 an hour minimum wage, but has also said that if localities want to go higher, she would support them in that effort.  Her raise to $12 an hour would be a 60% increase over the current standard, which is an enormous boost to low wage workers.  

Casting aside reason, Sanders uses her hesitance to come all the way to $15 as a bludgeon to further elaborate on the point that he is the only candidate fighting for workers while Clinton is the candidate for  big money Wall Street.  Republicans don’t want the minimum wage raised at all, so the fact the Democratic party is debating between a 60% and a 105% raise is something any progressive voter ought to be thrilled about.  Instead Sanders is using this wedge to divide Democrats when jointly promoting their dedication to the working man would be far more productive.  

Beyond the minimum wage issue, Sanders continues to push for the release of Clinton’s Goldman Sachs speech transcripts.  The Huffington Post recently observed that the release of these transcripts would likely spell the end of Clinton’s candidacy.  Unfortunately, they are probably right.  

The simple fact is that a good paid speaker tailors his or her speech to the audience they are addressing, but in this political climate Clinton’s remarks would instead be painted as “proof” that she is a pawn of white collar, Wall Street thugs being sent to Washington to protect their interests at the expense of Main Street.

For proof of this spin, look no further than the disastrous response to the video of Mitt Romney’s “47%” remarks during the 2012 election.  He was speaking to a crowd a high-dollar donors who have vastly different political and economic interests than the majority of Americans. As such, he was speaking to their needs and what he would do as President for them.  Obviously, in that room he isn’t going to talk about the minimum wage or right to unionize. Regardless, the remark made for a sexy soundbite and the countless replays of the clip on national television helped cement Romney’s image as elitist and out of touch.

This is the exact danger Clinton faces if those remarks become public.  It is unlikely that she said anything outrageously damning, but the collective message will likely contain a positive tilt towards the banking industry.  Sanders has built his entire campaign around anger towards those exact people, so any additional coziness Clinton is seen as having will hurt her dearly.

This is exactly why Sanders actions are so much more damaging to Clinton than they are helpful to him.  Sanders’ rise to prominence was buoyed by his economic message and passion, not by attacks on Clinton.  Voters turned frustration with their economic position into support for a man whose fiery passion was matched only by the thickness of this accent.  

At this point in the campaign, with nearly 70% of the delegates already divided up, there is little that could change the momentum enough to give Sanders a victory, but plenty that could end up costing Clinton dearly going into the fall. Her unfavorable numbers are already much higher than the party would like to see and an additional scandal involving her relationship with Wall Street wouldn’t help.  

To make matters worse, many of Sanders supporters are not down-ballot Democratic voters, but rather are people who only “Feel the Bern.”  They are inspired to become active in politics by Sanders’ message of political revolution and increased economic parity.  If the Democratic party as a whole is going to capitalize on these new, mostly young, voters they will need them (at minimum) to not view Clinton in a negative light.  Having Sanders vilify her at rally after rally makes it that much more likely they will hit the snooze button on election day.

Recognizing his near-impossible path to the nomination, Sanders should revert his campaign back to promoting positive messages of economic equality that the Democratic Party as a whole can capitalize on and stop doing irreparable damage to his party’s  likely nominee.

Photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Holy Embarrassment.

I am not a particularly religious person.  I do not pray or attend church regularly.  I am one of those “Christmas & Easter Christians” who twice a year puts on my best red sweater / pastel button down and checks “church” off the to-do list en route to honey baked ham and apple pie.  

As a child, my parents took me to Sunday School every week for the majority of my young life.  My mom’s father was a religion editor for a major newspaper and my dad’s parents attended church every Sunday until they were physically unable to get there.  From these upbringings they knew the importance of the church not necessarily as a connection to the big guy upstairs, but as the foundation of a proper moral compass.

Stories about the Good Samaritan and other parables that showed the importance of living by the Golden Rule are what still stick with me all these years later.  I learned about Christianity as the religion of people who would rather spend their Thanksgiving in a soup kitchen rather than sipping from crystal glasses, of people who would give the shirt off their back to someone in need, and of people who show kindness to all others above all else.

This is why this recent trend of states – North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Mississippi to name a few – considering and/or passing laws in the name of “religious freedom” that serve only to restrict the freedom of others has me completely baffled.  Looking back, I cannot remember a single parable, sermon, or story that ended with the pastor saying “and that is why Jesus refused to wash the gay man’s feet.”

I don’t remember that happening because such a tale would have flown in the face of every moral lesson the church is supposed to teach.  If all of these “Christian bakers” wanted to demonstrate the true nature of their Christianity, rather than reject payment from Adam and Steve for their wedding cake, they would deliver it with a handwritten message of good luck for a lifetime of happiness and prosperity.  

Over the course of history religion has been used to justify some truly horrible things.  The reason this country was founded on the basis of religious freedom to start with was because of the vast persecution of the religious minorities who first came here.  Our founders would be rolling over in their graves if they knew that the First Amendment of the Constitution was being used to justify the denial of services to Americans, by Americans.

Remember the Golden Rule? Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Simple, right?  Help others in their time of need.  Be good-natured and accepting as there is not a soul on this planet who wishes to be discriminated against.

If toddlers can grasp that concept, then elected leaders should be able to, too.

Photo Credit: [L”Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP]

Chris Matthews’ Trump Checkmate

Over the past week, Donald Trump added a few more soundbites to the Titanic-sized library of such moments.  Now, right beside Trump’s calls for a wall along our southern border and all of his grotesque comments toward women, sits Trump’s refusal to rule out nuclear weapon use in Europe and his statement that women should be “punished” for getting abortions. 

In an in-person interview with often the abrasive, yet exceptionally smart MSNBC host Chris Matthews, Trump stated that should abortion become illegal, women – and not fathers – should face punishment for getting an abortion.  The soundbite has since been chopped, packaged, and replayed thousands of times across all networks and forced Trump off message to defend his pro-life stance.  It is one of the first times during his campaign that Trump has appeared flustered and frustrated by a media onslaught.

Unlike many of Trump’s other distasteful lines, which came about unprompted during off-the-cuff speeches, these remarks on abortion were elicited following a brilliant setup by Chris Matthews.  After taking a question from the audience about abortion, Trump delivered a prepared one-paragraph response that boiled down to him being pro-life with the “three exceptions.”  Instantly, Matthews set the trap and began walking Trump down the path that would lead to Trump’s punishment quote.

Much like a chess player dreaming up a guaranteed checkmate, Matthews began asking Trump questions that took him through a logical reasoning exercise on what the term pro-life means.

The logic goes something like this.  If a politician is pro-life, then should they get their way, abortion would be illegal.  If abortion is illegal, it is a crime.  If it is a crime then it must carry sanctions – a fine, jail time, probation, etc.  Within those steps,  many pro-life activist identify abortion as murder.  So if abortion is illegal and abortion is murder, then women who get them should face the same penalties as murderers.

Branding the over one-million women who get abortions each year as murderers is a much harsher and less desirable political stance than identifying as “pro-life” and that is why Trump’s comments are so controversial.  It is a rather simple logical route to get there but no other pro-life politician has had their feet held to the fire in this same way.  All Matthews did was breakdown what the term “pro-life” means in practical terms, knowing that the end result would be Trump saying exactly what he said.

“Yes, there has to be some sort of punishment.”

This was more than Matthews probably hoped for.  Not only did Trump step directly into the soundbite trap, but rather than use legalese and mention a sanction or penalty, he chose the word “punishment” with carries with it a condescending connotation of denouncing wrong from right.

At the end of the day, who can say if this gaffe will affect Trump at all.  In this bizarro world for all we know it will take his poll numbers higher.  But part of stepping into the hot white light of presidential media scrutiny as an untested candidate is the susceptibility to falling victim to traps set by a more skilled debater and interviewer like Matthews.

Rather than move on to the next question after Trump’s attempts to dodge an answer, Matthews engaged him on a personal level, discussing the role of the Catholic Church in abortion policy, and then returned to the interview to zero in on Trump’s own stance.

More journalists should follow Matthews’ example and push Trump beyond his domineering comfort zone.  If we are to avoid swearing in President Trump next January, moments like this will become increasingly more important.