Friday, July 29, 2016

The Democratic Convention Day 2:
Making history, by acclamation

TUESDAY WAS a kind of Decision Day at the convention. The roll-call vote of delegates, the survey Bernie Sanders had requested and — count on it — dreaded, would be held, the expected tallies would be registered and ... that would be that. But the expected perfunctories of the occasion would run up against the human factor, the power of emotions between two brothers and the nation they love.

With the feisty candidate in the audience, Larry Sanders, a delegate representing Democrats Abroad and Bernie’s sibling, cast the final vote of his delegation, for his younger brother in a heartfelt speech during the vote.

“I want to bring before this convention the names of our parents, Eli Sanders and Dorothy Glassberg Sanders. They did not have easy lives and they died young. They would be immensely proud of their son and his accomplishment,” an emotional Larry said.

“They loved the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt and would be especially proud that Bernard is renewing that vision. It is with enormous pride that I cast my vote for Bernie Sanders.”

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AND THE candidate who would not go quietly, the one whose relentless intensity animated the primary season in the best possible way, tried hard not to lose it:

If you were crazy enough to think for a moment that Bernie Sanders was phoning it in for the last six months ... you have your answer:

Paul Simon played “Bridge Over Troubled Water” on Monday. If luck and convention event timing had been better, he’d have been in the hall on Tuesday to play “The Boxer,” a song whose timeless lyric couldn’t have been more apropos:

In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade.
And he carries the reminders
Of every glove that laid him down
And cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame
‘I am leaving, I am leaving
But the fighter still remains.

Witnesses told TheWrap that nearly 100 Sanders supporters made their way into the media tent to conduct a silent protest, while other protesters cooled their heels outside.

“We walked out because we were upset with the result, which I guess coming out of my mouth sounds kind of petulant, but it was a lot more than that. It was the fact that we feel like there was a lot of campaign fraud and different manipulation of the votes that occurred along the way,” Colorado alternate delegate and Sanders supporter Caitlin Glidewell told TheWrap.

Finally, on Tuesday evening, Hillary Clinton prevailed in the roll call of states, clinching the Democratic nomination and becoming the first woman to be a major party's candidate for president. Clinton had already passed the 2,382 votes needed to clinch the nomination when — how perfect was this? — Bernie Sanders, her fierce primary opponent, called for a suspension of the rules and Clinton was nominated by acclamation. It was the last act of a very big man in a transformative political campaign.

They say you go to war with the army you’ve got, not the one you wish for (that’s the military’s way of enlisting the perfect/good analogy). Now, with Clinton joining forces with Sanders, they’ve got options between now and November. More or less, the army they’ve got now is the one they wished for.

Over the next three months, we’ll see what they can do about the next army -- the one they hope to build. Together.

The Democratic Convention Day 1:
The dignified climbdown

PEOPLE HAD BEEN waiting for the closure that seemed like it’d never come. With the primaries done & dusted, with Hillary Clinton holding more than 2,800 delegates, and with the general consensus that she would gain the nomination, it was time for Bernie Sanders to make the dignified climbdown from a presidential campaign that, while spirited, passionate and even noble, had clearly run its course.

On July 12, the Vermont senator did just that. After way too much to-ing and fro-ing, the lightning rod of the left finally conceded the momentum that’s been a part of the Democratic race for months, and publicly endorsed Clinton for the presidency — and ending the perception of Sanders as the crotchedy neighbor who yells at people to get off a lawn that’s not his in the first place.

Voltaire cribbed it from Shakespeare, Shakespeare got it from God knows who, and I lifted it from both of them: we’re well-advised not to make the perfect the enemy of the good. It was that expression of practicality — don’t let a search for the ideal blind you to what’s achievable in the real world — that finally brought Sanders around.

On Tuesday, the roll-call vote would seal the deal. But first, on Monday, Bernie Sanders spoke to the crowd after an ovation almost three minutes long. One last shoutout. One last hurrah.

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“Let me begin by thanking the hundreds of thousands of Americans who actively participated in our campaign as volunteers. Let me thank the two and a half million Americans who helped fund our campaign with an unprecedented 8 million individual campaign contributions. Anyone know what that average contribution was? That's right — $27.

“And let me thank the 13 million Americans who voted for the political revolution, giving us the 1,846 pledged delegates here tonight. And delegates: thank you for being here, and thank you for all the work you have done. I look forward to your votes during the roll call on Tuesday tomorrow night. ...

"I understand that many people here in this convention hall and around the country are disappointed about the final results of the nominating process," he said. "I think it's fair to say that no one is more disappointed than I am. ..."

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BUT "[i]f you don't believe this election is important, if you think you can sit it out, take a moment to think about the Supreme Court justices that Donald Trump would nominate and what that would mean to civil liberties, equal rights and the future of our country.

“Any objective observer will conclude that -- based on her ideas and her leadership -- Hillary Clinton must become the next president of the United States," Sanders said. “The choice is not even close.”

“I have known Hillary Clinton for 25 years. I remember her, as you do, as a great first lady who broke precedent in terms of the role that a first lady was supposed to play as she helped lead the fight for universal health care. I served with her in the United States Senate and know her as a fierce advocate for the rights of children, for women, and for the disabled.

“Hillary Clinton will make an outstanding president and I am proud to stand with her here tonight. Thank you all, very much.”

Image credits: Sanders: Convention pool. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Democratic Convention Day 1:
Nevada in the house (and in play)

YOU NOTICED it in the first day’s speakers at the convention: The battle-born state of Nevada has been strongly represented in the census of speakers appearing at the podium. Within the opening hours of the convention, four people represented the state speaking their truths to power.

Karla and Francisca Ortiz, a mother and daughter from Las Vegas, spoke on the need for immigration reform. Eleven-year-old Karla, who met Hillary Clinton at a previous campaign event, told her in tears about being worried her undocumented mother would be deported.

“What if I came home and find it empty?” she told the delegates Monday.

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Later, Astrid Silva, the organizing director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, told a similar story of survival and struggle. An immigrant who entered the U.S. with her parents at the age of 4, Silva is now the organizing director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, and widely thought to be in the vanguard of the Democratic Party’s activist leaders.

“My family believed so deeply in the promise of this country that we risked everything for the American dream,” she said Monday.

“When Donald Trump talks about deporting 11 million people, he’s talking about ripping families apart – separating families like mine,” she told the convention in Philadelphia. “Hillary Clinton understands that this is not who we are as a country…. I know she will fight to keep our families together.”

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THEN, NEVADA State Sen. Pat Spearman stepped up to speak as a pastor, an Army veteran and an out gay woman, taking Trump and his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, to task for instituting or proposing legislation that discriminates against LGBTQ Americans.

“We have heard Donald Trump say that he would protect the LGBTQ community. But he is against marriage equality and has said he is all for overturning it. Donald Trump says that anyone can use any bathroom in Trump Tower, but he still supports heinous bathroom bills and he would strip away the rights of transgender Americans. But his worst attack on us was his vice presidential pick, Indiana Governor Mike Pence.”

“Governor Pence signed a law that lets individuals and businesses deny services to LGBTQ Americans, and he used religion as a weapon to discriminate. ... As a lesbian, that hurts me. As a person of faith, that offends me. And as a legislator working hard to create jobs, that baffles me.”

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All of this, mind you, before Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic Leader, spoke to the delegates on Wednesday. Nevada got mad props in the first heady days of this convention, and it’s probably no surprise why. If Politico is right, Nevada is one of the 11 states that will determine the outcome of the Nov. 8 election.

There’s every good demographic reason to believe it’s true; the nonwhite percentage of the state’s electorate grew to 36 percent in 2012, so you know it’s higher that that now. And with casinos and the businesses that support them or feed off them, there’s a multitude of union workers likely to be right in Clinton’s wheelhouse.

Packing the first-day house with so many Nevadans at the podium, is the Clinton campaign sending the state’s voters a mash note redeemable in November? Looks like a big wet shoutout kiss to me.

Image credits: All still images: Convention pool camera image.

The Democratic Convention Day 1:
Funny or Die demolishes Trump’s outsourced patriotism

GIVEN THE FIREPOWER of the speakers on Monday, it’s easy to see how other parts of the Democratic National Convention were overlooked. One of the best was a hilarious, topically on-point Funny or Die video putting the bald-faced lie to Trump’s vein-popping call for a return to American manufacturing power.

In “Donald Decoded,” comedian Ken Jeong (“The Hangover”) plays the role of an average Joe inclined to believe Donald Trump is serious about a call for a return to products “Made in the USA.” Austen Goolsbee, former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers and Obama Cabinet member, is the one who sets him straight.

Jeong goes with the prevailing assumption that the merchandising galaxy of Trump-themed products are all made in the United States. Goolsbee begs to differ, and a genial argument ensues over a mannequin containing Trump wear.

“Look at this Trump shirt,” Jeong says. “Made in ... good old ... Bangladesh.” Leong goes for a Trump tie, “probably made in Pennsylvania — China?”

Goolsbee opens a Trump jacket to reveal the label. “Mexico?” Jeong says, incredulous.

Jeong: “Trump vodka?”

Goolsbee: “The Netherlands.”

“Trump crystal barwear?”


“Holy Melania!”

IT’S a spirited, devilishly funny goof that distills a huge, huuuuge problem for Trump, and skewers one of the main Trumpian campaign scaffolds: how tough he’d be on trade, and how aggressively he’d act to make “Made in the USA” more than just an anachronistic slogan.

It’s problematic for Trump in ways he can’t spin his way out of. You can talk only so much and so tough about clamping down on Chinese imports ... when your own company sells ties that are made in China.

In the days to come, watch for a Trump reaction to this video, one that’s likely to be perfect for revealing the label that The Donald and his campaign have worn from the beginning: “Made in Desperation.”

Image credits: Goolsbee and Jeong in "Donald Decoded": © 2016 Funny or Die Inc.  Funny or Die logo © 2016 Funny or Die Inc.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Democratic Convention Day 1: Warren weighs in

MASSACHUSETTS SEN. Elizabeth Warren stepped in to do her role in this tag-team attack dog approach. She compared and contrasted Clinton and Donald Trump, so you don’t have to. Her style seemed more subdued — coming after Michelle Obama’s barnburner, how could it not? — but she dutifully laid the wood to the Republican nominee.

“We are here tonight because America faces a choice, the choice of a new president.

“On one side is a man who inherited a fortune from his father and kept it going by cheating people and skipping out on debts. A man who has never sacrificed anything for anyone. A man who cares only for himself — every minute of every day.

“On the other side is one of the smartest, toughest, most tenacious people on the planet — a woman who fights for children, for women, for health care, for human rights, a woman who fights for all of us, and who is strong enough to win those fights.

“We’re here today because our choice is Hillary Clinton.”

Warren laid into one of the more galling aspects of the Trump persona: a relentless greed and indifference to human suffering that’s presented as a kind of economic manifest destiny. “Donald Trump said he was ‘excited’ for the 2008 housing crash that devastated millions of American families because he thought it would help him scoop up more real estate on the cheap,” Warren said. “Donald Trump set up a fake university to make money while cheating people and taking their life savings.

“Donald Trump goes on, and on, and on, about being a successful businessman, but he filed business bankruptcies six times, always to protect his own money and stick his investors and contractors with the bill. Donald Trump hired plumbers and painters and construction workers to do hard labor for his businesses, then told them to take only a fraction of what he owed or fight his lawyers in court for years.

“What kind of a man acts like this? What kind of a man roots for the economic crash that cost millions of people their jobs? Their homes? Their life savings? What kind of a man cheats students, cheats investors, cheats workers?

“I’ll tell you what kind of man. A man who must never be President of the United States.”

Image credits: Warren: Via The Daily Beast.

The Democratic Convention Day 1:
Calming the waters, dropping the mic

A STORM BLEW through Philadelphia on Monday, a midsummer surprise that scattered the precious media tents and enclosures outside the Wells Fargo Center, where the Democrats gathered for the 2016 Democratic National Convention were navigating their own storm, at a confab already showing some of the intrigues we’ve come to expect from the Dems.

This mess really started Friday, when WikiLeaks released emails implicating the Democratic National Committee in a religion-based smear campaign against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a campaign intended to plant impertinent questions about his Jewish heritage before the Kentucky and West Virginia primaries.

For Bernie Sanders — in something of an ascendancy amid defeat, an emeritus presence in light of a brilliantly maverick campaign — the WikiLeaks flap underscored the weakness of DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and gave Sanders a perfectly (if accidentally perfectly) timed opportunity to take another shot at Schultz, his bĂȘte noire for months.

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“I don't think she is qualified to be the chair of the DNC not only for these awful emails, which revealed the prejudice of the DNC, but also because we need a party that reaches out to working people and young people, and I don't think her leadership style is doing that,“ Sanders told Jake Tapper the day before on CNN's “State of the Union.“

DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz was effectively cashiered that day; the plans to let her gavel the convention into session were scuttled amid an internal situation that threatened to blow up into another email scandal.

But like the storm outside, the one inside the hall Monday didn’t last long — about four hours. What could have been a tidal wave of dissension blew over, at least in the short term, thanks to some of the best people you’ll meet in speakers’-bureau heaven, including Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Warren and — who knew? — Sarah Silverman.

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IT WASN’T SO tall an order for the Democrats organizing the convention: Just don’t screw up like the Republican convention did. With the bar that low, and the list of known speakers and luminaries set to speak and perform, the Democrats were poised to have a great convention from the jump ... if not for that damn email thing.

With that out the way, the Democratic Party was set to make different kinds of history, on purpose and by accident. The most important was sealing the breach between Clinton and Sanders, and by extension convincing Sanders supporters that Hillary Clinton was not Satan in a pantsuit. That process called for testimonials, and conventions are real damn good at that.

Clinton and Sanders were praised in pretty much equal measure — hopefully a way to mollify those Sanders supporters for whom the Wells Fargo Center was the hill they were prepared to die on. Donald Trump, the media chameleon, attention addict and Republican nominee, got his lumps too.

Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley jumped in early, focusing on the plight of everyday Americans surviving the current economy, and saying Trump “is no more a champion for American workers than a lion is a champion for a gazelle.” Democrats “owe an enormous debt to Bernie Sanders,” Merkley said, before mentioning how Sanders and Clinton “have forged the most progressive platform in our party’s history.”

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And as we know, Michelle Obama is exceptionally good at calming the waters and warming the heart from behind the podium. As cool as the downside of the pillow, as passionate as a first lady with skin in the national game, the first lady has been President Obama’s secret weapon, and she’s poised to perform the same for Team Clinton.

“The issues a president faces are not black and white and cannot be boiled down to 140 characters,” she said Monday in a priceless jab at Trump.

Relating advice that she and daddy Barack have given their daughters, Sasha and Malia, on dealing with bullies and character assassins, Obama took another shot at The Donald, while offering a behavior mode that full-grown adults should adopt: “When someone is cruel or acts like a bully,” she said, “you don’t stoop to their level. No, our motto is, when they go low, we go high.” There’s some good advice for your kids. Or yourself.

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EVER THE MASTER oratorical diplomat, Obama took a few light jabs at the Sanders hornet’s nest. She alluded to the senator in a mention of Hillary Clinton post-2008 defeat. “And when she didn’t win the nomination eight years ago, she didn’t get angry or disillusioned,” Obama said, praising “the guts and the grace” of Hillary Clinton.

“There were plenty of moments when Hillary could have decided that this work was too hard, that the price of public service was too high, that she was tired of being picked apart for how she looks or how she talks or even how she laughs. But here’s the thing. What I admire most about Hillary is that she never buckles under pressure. She never takes the easy way out. And Hillary Clinton has never quit on anything in her life.”

And then, with a quote that will be recited for generations to come, Michelle Obama turned it up a notch, cemented the links between the America then and the America now and Hillary’s role in that transition ... and in the bargain, thoroughly disabling the fraudulent voltage that powers the Trump campaign slogan.

“I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves,” Obama said. “And I watch my daughters — two beautiful, intelligent, black young women —playing with their dogs on the White House lawn. And because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters and all our sons and daughters now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States. So don’t let anyone ever tell you that this country isn’t great, that somehow we need to make it great again, because this right now is the greatest country on earth.”

It was, CNN’s Gloria Borger said, “a takedown of Donald Trump in a nuanced way.” And brilliant. The conservative branch of the CAPS LOCK cognoscenti went nuts over the White-House-built-by-slaves statement, which wasn’t provocative or new at all if you studied American history. If the rapturous reaction at the hall was any indication, the rest of the country may have known but didn’t care. It wasn’t just the message they were responding to, it was also the messenger, they were reacting to this Obama, one of the two or three best orators of the modern political era.

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The always-reliable Michael Tomasky of The Daily Beast explained how all this eleventy-leventh-hour drama some Sanders supporters cultivated — apparently hoping Sanders would somehow prevail despite the tidal arithmetic of the primaries — was utterly unnecessary.

“There are Sanders delegates who came to Philadelphia still thinking that Sanders had a chance at wresting the nomination away from Clinton, and yeah, that’s partly their fault for being ignorant about how politics actually work, but it’s partly the fault of Sanders and Jeff Weaver, who spent weeks saying they were taking their fight to the convention long after anyone who wasn’t over the rainbow knew it was impossible.”

It was that level of frustration with their frustration that led Sarah Silverman, actress, activist, comedian and Sanders supporter herself, to reveal her Enough Moment.

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HILLARY IS our Democratic nominee and I will proudly vote for her,” she told the crowd in Philadelphia. “I will vote for Hillary with gusto.”

In explanation as to why she switched allegiances, Silverman said: “I support Bernie Sanders and the movement behind him … Hillary heard the passion of the people behind Bernie, and brought those passions into the party’s platform and that is the process of democracy at its very best,” she explained.

Then Silverman set them straight, as only she can. “To the Bernie or bust people, you’re being ridiculous,” she said.

After Silverman spoke to the crowd, Paul Simon took to the stage to perform “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” He’s been better than he was Monday, but it was still a pretty good choice for a first day that needed, and got that bridge, when the first lady dropped the mic.

Image credits: Obama and Merkley: Convention pool. Simon: PBS. Michelle drops the mic: From a Marcia Dyson tweet.

Monday, July 25, 2016


ON THE FOURTH day Donald Trump arose from the bowels of the convention arena he never really left and assumed the formal nomination of his tribe. For him it was a validation of everything he’d done to get there, a confirmation of the rightness of his message, proof of its purchase on the national culture.

For many, many of the rest of us, Trump’s ascendancy to the Republican nomination confirms that coded language still speaks loudly in a racially and ethnically divided America, that dog-whistle politics can be tweaked and redeployed for a digital age ... that playing the rage card still works.

What’s-next time: With the primaries history, with the various convention dramas behind them, Trump and the Republicans now face the challenge of pitching to the American people in the aggregate. That may be a bigger challenge than they’re prepared for.

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First, Team Trump is going up against experience. The Republican challenger, who didn’t know what a ground game was until well after his own campaign had started, faces an opponent well-versed in the machinery of a serious presidential run.

Hillary Clinton, Trump’s Democratic rival for the presidency, has grassroots support (likely to increase once Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders fully throws his weight behind her on the campaign trail), a solid fundraising infrastructure, and a name recognition that, unlike Trump, speaks to a firsthand knowledge of the way the government works.

Experience matters, despite Trump’s rejection of experience as a reason for backing Clinton. Trump trumpets his “outsider” status as a plus, as a benefit, but the value of that neophyte persona is undercut when you (hypothetically) ask Trump some simple questions:

Would you entrust the vast resources and control of the Trump Organization – its 22,400 employees, its billions of dollars in resources and investments -- to a kid two or three years out of The Wharton School? Would you let a rookie run your company?

No? Then why should the American people be asked to do with their government what you wouldn’t do with your own business?

The moment the United States elects an outsider to run the country, the outsider becomes the person presiding over or in control of the very levers of government that were previously despised. The outsider becomes the person constitutionally predisposed to work with the very same government functionaries the outsider once had no use for.

At that moment, the outsider becomes both the ultimate insider (as the head of the government) and the still-outsider, a rookie, a newcomer at the mercy of those who know intimately how the federal government functions. That’s why experience counts.

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SECOND, TEAM TRUMP faces what could be a more formidable adversary. The Trump campaign is going up against itself.

For more than a year, Trump has rhetorically targeted whole layers of the national demographic mosaic, including African Americans, women, Muslims and Latinos. There was no bar too low for him to get under if it meant reaching and holding the ardent supporters of the conservative base, the ones whom racial resentment is an almost palpable trigger for action in the voting booth.

And spouting off repeatedly about making “America first,” Trump’s also done his best to poison fragile relationships with other countries, thundering on about cancelling trade agreements that don’t suit him, proposing to reduce relationships with NATO members to the purely transactional, and waxing pugnacious about how he’d deal with trading partners like China and geopolitical adversaries like Russia.

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For more than a year, this was the Donald Trump that Americans were compelled to believe in, the only Donald Trump there seemed to be. Now, after a long acceptance speech that showed Trump pivoting to somewhere closer to the center; now, with the general election campaign soon to be in full swing — after the Democratic National Convention, which started today in Philadelphia — we’re being advised to be on the lookout for another, more populist Donald Trump.

The Republican convention, Day 4:
A man with serious Stones

IT WAS ALL leading up to this, whether we believed it or not. The final steps in the nomination slash investiture slash anointing of Donald John Trump were underway. Daughter Ivanka introduced him, the man who needed no introduction from anyone. When he walked out, in from the stage-left wing with no visual stunts to precede him (having stepped on the dick of his own theatrical introduction back on Monday), he stood on a stage before a rapturous crowd in front of a sign whose letters you could read from the International Space Station. TRUMP.

After 400-plus days, he’d made his bones. He took the stage on Thursday evening, a made guy at long last. All that was left to be endured by the throngs sweating at the Quicken Loans Arena was Trump’s acceptance speech. Everything else — everything else — was anticlimax.

Surrounded by American flags that stood like silent witnesses to what was coming, The Donald made his grand summation, his final case for Republicans to accept him as their standard-bearer. For an hour and 12 minutes — you can get a quality root canal in less time — he did just that, with an animated, broad-brush, overarching vision of America Under Trump, a pugnaciously benevolent vision that purported to include just about everyone he’d vilified for the previous 13 months.

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But this time he did more. For the first time since he got into this thing in June 2015, Trump put something like meat on the bones of a skeleton of a plan for governance. What had been bullet-point, back-of-the-napkin policy prescriptions took on at least the contours of a plan — logistically achievable if not politically palatable.

Pro forma, Trump laid out the status quo: rise in homicides in America’s 50 largest cities, including Chicago, hometown of President Obama; a rise in undocumented immigrants; persistent unemployment for people of color; a decline in household income; a decline in prestige and respect from abroad — the obligatory “Before” parade of civic horribles.

Trump’s plan, of course, was presented as the solution, the “After”: mostly a series of mostly reasonable-sounding ideas combining toughness and outreach, with a rhetorical muscularity suggesting that all of this is his heavy lift and his alone. “I will restore law and order in our country,” he said. Oh really? What’s Congress and the Justice Department supposed to be doing?

“I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people that cannot defend themselves,” he said. “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.” All by his lonesome?

All hail Donald Trump, the Messiah Repairman.

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AND THEN there’s when he’s vague and impractical at the same time. “Lastly,” he said on Thursday, “we must immediately suspend immigration from any nation that has been compromised by terrorism until such time as proven vetting mechanisms have been put in place.”

Sounds all tough and geopolitically prudent, except ... what the hell does “compromised by terrorism” mean? Affected by it? A direct recipient of it? An actual victim of its impact?

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Republican convention, Day 3:
Cruz the Apostate

WEDNESDAY WAS supposed to be the day when the biggies on the speakers’ list at the Quicken Loans Arena let their ideological hair down. It was also supposed to be Mike Pence Ascension Day, the time when the Indiana governor, his bearing ramrod straight outta central casting, was formally named the running mate for Donald Trump, himself formally nominated on Tuesday.

Wednesday was the day for serial performances of partisan outrage, as party thought leaders and talking heads took the stage to directly or indirectly call Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee for the presidency, everything but a child of God.

There were the usual suspects. But before Wednesday was history, one of the speakers would make history, and become a target for rage and bile that much of his party didn’t see coming.

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Day 3 started with an interesting sighting inside the arena: Two! Black! People! On the stage at almost the same time! But it had nothing to do with policy; one was there to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, the other to read the invocation. Once the parliamentaries were over, the people in the hall could get on with the business at hand: their version of the Two Minutes Hate.

If you read Orwell’s “1984,” you remember that rhetorical device Orwell used to give Party members a regular two-minute opportunity to rail against Emmanuel Goldstein and the enemy state. The GOP brain trust made the most of the idea on Wednesday, with variations. It wasn’t always hatred per se, and it certainly wasn’t for two minutes.

Laura Ingraham, conservative radio host, commentator and water carrier for Pantone-red America: “The government doesn’t respect the people, the people don’t respect the government. ... I'm a single mother of three adopted children. I'm here tonight supporting Donald Trump because like most Americans, I refuse to leave them a country that is worse off than the one my parents left me. Donald Trump understands that we must turn this around and restore respect across all levels of society. Unlike us, Hillary Clinton believes the status quo is just fine because she helped create it."

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PHIL RUFFIN, Nevada businessman and friend of Trump: “I have known Donald Trump as a friend and a business partner for over 20 years. You can't be my friend and my business partner for long if you're not honest with me and good to your word. I can tell you Donald Trump is both. He's been an innovator, an entrepreneur. No one in our business works harder or smarter than he does."

Dr. Darrell Scott, co-founder of New Spirit Revival Center Ministries: “We need to make a sharp turn ... this is in our best interests. This election is one of the most crucial elections in American history.”

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker: “Hillary Clinton is the ultimate liberal Washington insider. America deserves better!”

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Florida Gov. Rick Scott: “I’m old enough to remember when terrorism was something that happened in foreign countries. This war [with extremism] is real. It is here in America, and the next president must destroy this evil.”

Pam Bondi, Florida attorney general; “"Hillary will stack the Supreme Court with liberal justices who will allow government to continue its rampage against our individual rights with utter contempt for our Second Amendment. I know Donald, and he will appoint conservative justices who will defend, rather than rewrite, our Constitution.

Michelle Van Etten, businesswoman: “Small business are the backbone of the American economy. We need these entrepreneurs. We live in the land of opportunity. We need to protect the American Dream above all else. We need a president who is businessman, not a Hillary-crat.”

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YOU GET the idea. It might have gone on like that all night if not for one high-profile pol with something to say. Ted Cruz was in the house, and the house was listening, eager to know if he was still on the grounds of the plantation. The Texas senator — Trump’s most able and tenacious rival for the nomination, and the closest thing to a bĂȘte noire Trump encountered all primary season — took the podium and at first offered a general thread of comments that suggested he’d finally made his peace with Trump, that all that bad blood on the campaign trail was history.

Using the name of “Caroline,” the first name of the daughter of Michael Smith, one of the five Dallas policemen slain by a gunman in the run-up to the convention, Cruz invoked the word “freedom” several times, attaching his own serial definitions.

“Freedom means free speech, not politically correct safe spaces. Freedom means religious freedom, whether you are Christian, Jew, Muslim, or atheist. Whether you are gay, or straight, the Bill of Rights protects the rights of all of us to live according to our conscience.

“Freedom means the right to keep and bear arms, and to protect your family. Freedom means that every human life is precious and must be protected.

“Freedom means Supreme Court Justices who don't dictate policy, but instead follow the Constitution.”

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SO FAR so good. To this point, Cruz was bringin’ it, preaching the gospel, more or less. And then he put his foot in it. Then he got real.

“We’re fighting, not for one particular candidate or one campaign, but because each of us wants to be able to tell our kids and grandkids, our own Carolines, that we did our best for their future, and for our country.

“We deserve leaders who stand for principle. Unite us all behind shared values. Cast aside anger for love. That is the standard we should expect, from everybody.

“And to those listening, please, don’t stay home in November. If you love our country, and love your children as much as you do, stand and speak, and vote your conscience, vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom, and to be faithful to the Constitution.”

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That was that. For a crowd conditioned to believe that voting one’s conscience was code for voting for the Democrats, that phrase from Cruz was enough to make them turn on him in the arena like a rabid dog. He acknowledged the uproar himself moments later, when he said, “I appreciate the enthusiasm of the New York delegation.”

Trump might have expected this reaction from Cruz. First there were weeks and months of Trump impugning the appearance of Cruz’s wife and the character of his father, whom Team Trump suggested, with a sinister silkiness, had some involvement with the assassination of President John Kennedy.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Republican convention, Day 2:
The burning of Alaska

THE INTRAPARTY parliamentary shenanigans that occurred on Monday set the stage for some kind of repeat on Tuesday. The dustup between maverick delegates and the RNC secretary were bad enough; what happened next — and what happened after what happened next — would make the 2016 Republican convention an unprecedented spectacle.

Never mind the schedule of speakers on Tuesday. One event distilled just how far the Republican National Committee and the Trump campaign will go to cultivate the fiction of party unity. One probable reaction to that event illustrates just how far the Republican Party really is from being unified.

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When it's done right, a political convention is a wonk’s delight, a days-long venture into the weeds of our messy political and electoral processes. What happened Tuesday was also an education in how to lose political allies, or make those allies feel like strangers.

The Republican delegation from the state of Alaska was seated and ready at Quicken Loans Arena, having traveled 4,000 miles and arriving with the apparently outrageous intention of casting their 28 delegate votes in accordance with the proportional results of the March primary election: 12 votes for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, 11 votes for Trump, and five votes for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

Instead, the Alaska delegation was horrified and outraged to learn that the RNC legal eagles — likely goaded by party and committee leadership and maybe even Team Trump — were set to award all 28 delegate votes to Trump.
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ERICA MARTINSON of Alaska Dispatch News reported that “delegate Peter Goldberg ... located an RNC attorney and aired the delegation's grievance of democracy undelivered.

“That's when the delegation found out for the first time that the Republican National Convention attorneys had decided that they saw Alaska's convention rules differently. Since Cruz and Rubio are no longer in the race, all of the state's delegate votes were going to Trump, the attorney told [state party chairman Tuckerman] Babcock.

“The RNC attorneys had said nothing of their new interpretation of the rules to the delegation, the Trump campaign in Alaska, the Alaska Republican Party or its legal counsel, Babcock said. "There's no excuse for that," he said.

“Alaska Republicans had agreed to split the vote, in the name of bringing the party together, Donley said. ‘What a way to get unity, huh? Cheat people out of a vote,’ he said.

DONLEY told MSNBC that he is “feeling like we did everything we could to honor the votes of the people of Alaska. The RNC denied that. They didn't even consult with us about our own rules ... They didn't talk to any of our representatives to the RNC about it. And their interpretation is dead wrong. Because we suspended that rule at our [state] convention. So those rules didn't apply to us at all. They are wrong.”

It was the second parliamentary snafu for the convention in as many days. Like the one on Monday, it underscored how aggressively Reince Priebus and the leadership of the Republican National Committee intended to go to communicate at least the perception of party unity, and rank & file acclamation around Donald Trump. Whether that acclamation was real or not didn’t matter. Babcock knows enough of the difference to offer his own party a warning.

"It's something any centralized authority always has to careful of — how you treat the remote areas," Babcock told Martinson. "Whether it's the RNC reinterpreting our rules for us, or Washington, D.C., bureaucrats reinterpreting regulations for us, it's still very frustrating for Alaskans."

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Republican convention, Day 1:
All the shiny objects

THE FIRST ACT of what feels like the twilight of the Republican Party unfolded Monday night at the Quicken Loans Arena at 1 Center Court in Cleveland, about 4.3 miles from the West Avenue park where Tamir Rice was effectively murdered for the crime of being black, male and 12 years old, a victim of the angry, antagonistic, Law and Order police culture that people were just beginning to celebrate at the arena not quite across town.

There were moments of honesty, flashes of inspiration, but mostly the first crucial nights of the 2016 Republican National Convention — crowded with stagey symbolism, reflexive cheerleading, lost opportunities and plagiarized rhetoric — were a glittering, meretricious fraud, a collection of so many shiny objects (Party unity! One voice!) dangled before the eyes of the faithful. Objects with a dazzling surface brilliance but little truth behind them, little truth or no truth at all.

The sad proceedings of the Republican nomination of the multimillionaire attention addict Donald Trump had a lot in common with the paste jewelry presumptive first lady Melania Trump might wear to a gala or a charity event. The first day, like the days to follow, was so much solidarity pretend. Spiritually, there’s no there there — no essence, no inalienable bedrock principles beyond hatred for his opponent, and her proxies. Why endanger the real thing when you can dazzle ordinary people with bullshit?

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Some of the convention’s most passionate moments happened before the thing had even properly started. Never mind the skirmishes outside the arena; delegates opposed to Trump, some of them under the hashtag banner #NeverTrump, exploded in protests on the convention floor.

The delegations of eight states and the District of Columbia sought and won a petition to convention secretary Susie Hudson calling for a full roll call on approval or rejection of an RNC rules package, which obligates delegates to vote for the winner of their respective primaries, rather than (as many delegates preferred) to vote their consciences.

It made for ugly, captivating television, and the drive for party unity, which both the Trump campaign and the RNC are desperate to communicate to the country in prime time, would not be denied. Nor would Trump’s nomination.

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NBC News’ Leigh Anne Caldwell caught what happened:

When it was time for the delegates to vote on the rules package, Enid Mickelson, the co-chair of the Rules Committee, ignored their effort. Protests erupted on the floor with chants of "call the roll" erupting. The convention heads cut off the sound of the microphones, silencing states that wanted recognition, further infuriating protesting delegates. ...

Ken Cuccinelli, chair of the Virginia delegation and helping to lead efforts to change party rules, especially closing primaries so that only Republicans can vote, threw down his credentials in disgust and walked away from the microphone. His delegation, however, forced him back to the microphone, telling him that he needs to stand up and fight.

Protests erupted again and much of the Colorado delegation walked out ...

Cuccinelli said that party efforts to strong-arm delegates were "out of bounds."

"They were telling people, 'we're going to ruin your political life in Washington, in Virginia,'" an upset Cuccinelli said.

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