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GOP Reality Show: Trump The Biggest Loser

Friday, August 7th, 2015

trumpdebateFox TV moderators exposed Donald Trump as the turd in the Republican punch bowl in the first minute of last night’s debate, forcing him to acknowledge he might decide to run for president as an independent.

Asking 10 candidates to raise their hand only if they would not commit to supporting the GOP candidate was a brilliant journalistic gambit, which not only had the benefit of making news, but also of hosing down Trump and his lofty poll ratings from the first minute of the two-hour event –without any of his rivals laying a glove on him.

By the time it was over, it looked to us as if Trumpism — a toxic mixture of malevolence, testosterone and narcissism masquerading as a political world view – was already in decline. A look at the night’s winners, who did themselves some good, and losers, who either blew it or didn’t do anything to advance their cause:

Winners

rubioMarco Rubio – The Florida Senator hit the first question of the night out of the park, as he cast the election in an entirely different light from all the others, framing it as a past vs. future dynamic. For the rest of the debate, he remained earnest, engaging, smart and well-briefed, but the problem was that he never got around to taking a single position that every other conservative since Ronald Reagan died hasn’t already taken.

Jeb Bush – On the stage, Bush looked by far the most presidential of the field and acquitted himself coolly, competently and intelligently on the tough questions Fox’s Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace asked him about being a squish. With lunatics braying all around him, he modeled the value of civility without having to talk about it, and his defense of his support for Common Core standards – and his erudition on education issues – were first-rate.

John Kasich – The Ohio governor got a boost from the hometown crowd, but his defense of funding Medicaid through Obamacare was brilliant, and his feel-good, Jack Kemp pro-growth chops were strong. He was the only one who spoke up for the poor, the weak and the sick, and, in a GOP primary fight, that’s probably enough to do him in. His statement that he’d love his daughter no matter her sexual orientation was actually poignant.

Mike Huckabee – While the Huckster looks decrepit, his critique of President Obama’s Iran deal – “We got nothing, and Iran gets everything they want” – nicely captured the case against the proposed treaty, as Frank Luntz’s inevitable focus group showed. His defense of Ma and Pa against Chris Christie’s plan to mess around with their Social Security wasn’t all that substantive, but when it’s Social Security we’re talking about, it doesn’t need to be.

Ben Carson – Everybody’s favorite neurologist in the field is no doubt running for book sales, a Fox Show and his brand, but he got off the best line of the night. “I’m the only one to separate Siamese twins, the only one to operate on babies while they’re still in their mother’s womb,” he said. “The only one to take out half of a brain, although you would think if you go to Washington that someone had beat me to it.”

john-lennon-peace-signDiplomacy – Whatever else you can say about this crowd, they’re not about to give peace a chance. With the slight exception of Rand Paul, everyone thundered manly-man lines about the need to “build up our military,” increase the size of standing armies and use belligerence as the first and only tool of foreign policy. Shamefully, none of them even thought to mention taking care of current U.S. wounded veterans, until an audience member reminded Kelly about it during a break.

LOSERS

Trump – After getting pantsed at the start of the debate, Trump proceeded swiftly to make things worse. When Kelly confronted him with a batch of his past sexist-and-beyond tweets and statements — “You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals” – he first tried to say he only was talking about comic Rosie O’Donnell – heh, heh – then lashed out the Goddess of Fox News herself, before insulting the audience a few minutes later. In between there somewhere, he also confessed to bribing elected officials and said he changed his mind about abortion when friends of his decided to have a child after agonizing over where to let the pregnancy continue – and the kid turned out to be “a superstar.” Of course.

Scott Walker – For the guy who is supposed to be the big bad conservative foil to Bush, Walker turned in a pretty pedestrian performance. His debate prep trick of touching a finger each time he called off a bullet point was forced and cheesy – I’m been studying! – and his habit of nodding sagely behind Carson while on camera when the doc opened his mouth got old quick. As Brit Hume put it, “no runs, no hits, no errors.” Now that’s leadership!

randpaul1Rand Paul – Paul looked pasty white and that little poodle job on top of his head may be au courant in Kentucky, but jaysus man, get a real haircut. All that aside, he came across as arrogant and condescending, with little reason to be either, and even managed to ruin a strong move during his sharp exchange with Chris Christie over NSA data collection by rolling his eyes and smirking while the New Jersey governor was talking about attending 9/11 funerals.

Chris Christie – Christie had some not-too-bad moments, but his first outing on the national stage was just: meh. His defense of the lousy economy in New Jersey was weak – “you should have seen it when I got there” (why am the only one laughing?) – his dissection of Social Security was bloodless and his yammering about what a tough guy he is was plain wheezy. We won’t even mention his hairdo, which looked like he’d just come from a “Jersey Boys”-themed debate watch party.

Ted Cruz – Why do they keep saying this guy is some kind of great debater? The third member of the Bad Haircut Club, he sounds like somebody haranguing about Revelations on AM radio while you’re driving through Barstow. He better hope Trump deflates fast, ‘cuz it’s hard to imagine him being anyone’s first choice.

carly-fiorinaWomen – A debate’s worth of Taliban-style thundering about abortion rights was just about what you’d expect, but the worst part of the evening came after the early under card, when GOP voters, pundits and consultants began exalting Carly Fiorina as a great politician, in response to her fine work establishing her brand as a loathsome, arrogant reactionary. Must be because she’s the only woman candidate Republicans have ever seen, except Sarah Palin.

Shocker: Kasich Soars in New Wannabe Rankings

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

john-kasichThe last time we saw Cleveland’s Quicken Loans arena, LeBron James put on a memorable, spell-binding performance in Game 5 of the NBA finals in a futile, losing cause. Tomorrow night in that venue, look for Donald Trump to do pretty much the same thing.

On the eve of the first presidential primary debate, we release the third edition of our  “Hackenflack Line,” rating the chances of GOP wannabes to capture their party’s nomination, as Trump is ensconced in the top slot in every major national poll, and widely expected to deliver an exciting, if weird, showing at the Republican Quake on the Lake.

However, The Donald checks in only at #5 in the Calbuzz rankings, the only betting line that matters, while Ohio Governor John Kasich has surged into third place, adjudged by us the top moderate-conservative alternative to ongoing leader Jeb Bush.

“Far out,” said survey director and Calbuzz Staff Psychiatrist P.J. Hackenflack. “Kasich is the hottest thing coming out of Ohio since the Buckeyes opened a can of wuppass on Oregon.”

While Kasich barely qualified to make the big stage at the debate, his potential upside is substantial: the popular chief executive of a crucial swing state, he has broad experience in crafting and implementing conservative policies, at the same time he remains the only Republican who – astonishing! – talks about helping the poor. By all accounts, he often acts like a jerk, but with Trump in the race, who’s gonna notice that?

From first to worst, here is the Hackenflack line, with a note on where the combatants rank compared to our last ratings.

jebbush1-Jeb Bush (+1) The Bushman dominates in money and organization, and the splintering of the wing nut vote in the big field may allow him to cop the nomination despite his support of Common Core and path-to-citizenship immigration reform.

scott-walker2-Scott Walker (-1) The Koch-sniffing, union-busting demagogue still leads in Iowa and is Jeb’s chief right-wing foil, but we bet New Hampshire voters expose him as Eddie Haskell in a cheap suit.

3-John Kasich (+2) The rooting favorite of our founders, who hail from Cincinnati and Cleveland respectively, is at risk from the Tea Party because of his disgraceful act of accepting Obama’s money to provide health care for poor people, but if Bush falters, he’s the only other grown-up in the room.

rubio4-Marco Rubio (no change) Born to be vice-president, the Senator (R-Croak Castro) remains a trendy pick among the Beltway geniuses, but where is he going to win – Iowa (no), N.H. (uh, uh), Florida (um…)?

donaldtrump618155-Donald Trump (+9) We wouldn’t put it past deranged GOP primary voters actually to cast ballots for the guy (and remember, we warned you not to write him off) but look for him to set his two pounds of hair on fire by Halloween.

ted_cruz_ap_3286-Ted Cruz (+1) He keeps sucking up to Trump in hopes of getting his oxygen back.

huckabee7-Mike Huckabee (-1) His crude claim that Obama’s Iran deal would march the Jews “to the oven” got rightfully panned in the mainstream, but the big problem is that his key white supremacist backers now wonder why he’s so soft on Israel.

randpaul18-Rand Paul (-5) Biggest flop in the race to date, his boastful plan to remake the GOP in his image is less than a joke. And lose the jeans, willya – this is the presidency, not A.S.

christie9- Chris Christie (no change) All you need to know about Mr. Beef: 30 percent approval rating at home and eMeg is for him.

graham10-Lindsey Graham (+1) Sure he’s a warmonger and a cheap shot artist but he’s still a more serious person than most of these clowns.

perry11-Rick Perry (-3) Trump nailed this one: Perry “put on glasses so people think he’s smart.”

ben-carson12-Ben Carson (+1) Biggest service to the nation would be dropping out to employ his neurosurgical skills in giving a head examination to the rest of this bunch.

bobbyjindal13-Bobby Jindal (-3) This odious hypocrite really gets under our skin, playing the holier-than-thou card while denying health services to poor women.

santorum14- Rick Santorum (-3) No matter how many tantrums he throws, his sell-by date passed long ago.

pataki15-George Pataki (N/A) Oy.

Jim_Gilmore16-Jim Gilmore (N/A) Never heard of him? Act quick, he’ll be gone soon.

carlyfromad17-Carly Fiorina (-1) “I’m melting, I’m melting…”

 

Further reading:

All you need to know about Thursday’s debate.

The latest Paddy Power betting line.

Kasich and Bernie are the only two candidates voters can stand.

How Trump helps Bush.

How Trump elects Hillary.

Fresh take on Trump.

Of course Carly loves Trump.

Calbuzz gets results: Newsweek chases our thesis.

Is Walker dumber than Perry?

Nice call, Arianna.

Most important political story of the week.

Super Pacs explained.

Why the Republic is doomed.

Calbuzz Rankings #1

Calbuzz Rankings #2

 

GOP Debate Advance: Trump! Trump! Trump!

Monday, August 3rd, 2015

trumpwhIn 2010, Donald Trump called President Obama’s chief political adviser, offering his services on the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, then befouling the Gulf of Mexico and depressing White House poll ratings.

“Listen,” Trump told Obama strategist David Axelrod, “that admiral you have down there running this leak operation seems like a nice guy, but he doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

“I know how to run big projects,” the Donald added to the David. “Put me in charge of this thing, and I’ll get that leak shut down and the damage repaired.”

Alas, the strategist passed on the offer with a thanks-but-no-thanks, losing an historic opportunity to scuttle the Obama presidency in one swell foop.

As recounted in “Believer,” Axelrod’s excellent recent memoir, the episode nonetheless provides a splendid, behind-the-scenes exemplar of the singularly surreal mindset and boundless self-regard that have plunked Trump atop the Republican presidential field — and center stage for Thursday’s GOP wannabe debate, the first exhibition game of the political preseason.

Not since 1992, when Ross Perot’s wingman, Admiral James Stockdale, unforgettably raised the eternal questions – “Who am I, why am I here?” – have Beltway blatherers and conventional wisdom peddlers expended more words and energy expressing less certainty and more uninformed speculation about a prime-time debate performance.

As the estimable Ana Marie Cox put it, in a must-read, yeowoman piece that rounds up dozens of worthy examples, “acres of pixels have been burned out by people writing about Trump, but what’s remarkable is how relatively little we have to say about him. “

annamariecoxA surfeit of excess. From Cox’s compendium: “There’s no doubt his persona inspires descriptions as florid and memorable as the man himself. He’s ‘a barking carnival act’ and ‘bloviating Godzilla,’ He’s ‘a Mobius strip seamlessly moving from perception to reality,’ ‘the world’s greatest troll’ and a ‘superhero—but not in a good way.’ 

“He is a ‘loose-haired agent of chaos,’ with ‘the complexion of a Creamsicle,’ whose ‘hair swirls atop his head with disconcerting translucence—a cotton candy sculpture in the shape of a vending machine honey bun.’ Trump’s ‘suits have a cut and sheen as if they came from the trunk sale of a visiting Bombay tailor staying in a cheap hotel in Trump’s native Queens and taking a nip between fittings.’

“His stage presence is the result of ‘method acting that eventually supplanted whatever human-like personality he once possessed.’ He is a ‘fat-haired yapping caricature of capitalism’ currently ‘yelling crazy shit on his way through a Republican presidential primary while sporting a sad trombone haircut’ as he serves up ‘a smelly soup of billionaire populism and yahoo nationalism, flavored with a tangy dollop of old-timey racism.’”

Clunk.

Moloch-at-War_612x380A more measured view: Far be it from Calbuzz to join the braying, over-reaching, hyperventilating, purple prose-wielding media hordes.

So we’ll simply say, in the subtlest, most nuanced and understated way possible, that Trump looks to us like nothing less than the Republican reincarnation of – MOLOCH!!! – the mighty karmic angel of political retribution come to avenge decades of right-wing civic sins and campaign immoralities.

From the Old Testament to Milton and Ginsburg, Moloch!!! has been the lieutenant of Satan to whom the most shameful child sacrifice rituals have been offered, in exhortation of prosperity and power.

And from Lee Atwater to Karl Rove and Sean Hannity, Republican political pagans have sacrificed children, minorities, immigrants, the old, the sick and the environment on the altar of greed, plutocracy and ruthless capitalism.

(Well modulated male NPR voice: “And now a brief poetic interlude.”

Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable dollars! Children screaming under the stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old men weeping in the parks!

Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgment! Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned governments!

Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks! Moloch whose poverty is the specter of genius!

(“Thank you”).

Most treacherously and most harmfully of all, the forces of Tea Party and reactionary Republicanism have sacrificed the value and integrity of truth itself, in order to win elections by appealing to the most base political instincts among us, as we presciently and frequently have argued here, here, here, here and here.

Cynicism, of course, breeds further alienation and disgust, causing a downward spiral of disengagement from the process, leaving voting (and caring) to the true-believing wing-nuts who are certain they know the truth because they read or watch it at one of the ideologically-determined web sites or stations that conclusively confirms their prior held beliefs…

It’s now clear that a candidate with unlimited resources can and will blow off complaints, critiques and factual analyses of those who dare to speak up and will instead declare that the truth is whatever he or she says it is — in their paid advertising and the assertions of their mercenary prevaricators.

And, in Trump’s case, from his own, massive pie hole.

jeb-heyHow Jeb should handle The Donald. It seems the non-Trump wannabes are spending many hours preparing, war gaming and wool gathering about how to handle him in the debate.

Most of the Republicans are wary of taking on Mr. Trump because he seems impenetrable, yet they also do not want to look weak in the face of his attacks. The best they can hope for is that Mr. Trump will attack their biggest perceived opponent…

Stagecraft is critical, especially for Mr. Bush and Mr. Walker, since they are expected to be standing on either side of Mr. Trump and often in the same camera shot. Advisers say they are confident that Mr. Bush and Mr. Walker will not scowl or stiffen in reaction to anything Mr. Trump says, but rather will seek opportunities to look and sound more presidential than he does…

For our two cents, the best thing the others can do is not overthink this thing. The first time MOLOCH!!! Trump breathes fire, Jeb or John or Scott should turn to him and very calmly say:

“While I admire Mr. Trump’s skill as a businessman, I simply disagree with him on some fundamental issues: he’s supported a woman’s right to an abortion, he’s given campaign funds to Hillary Clinton in the past, he’s spoken out for single-payer universal health care. That’s fine. He’s entitled to those views. But as a conservative Republican, I have different views.”

Don’t forget to smile.

P.S. A few weeks after Trump’s oil spill offer to the White House, Axelrod reports in his book, the two of them spoke again, and Donald had a second proposition:

“I’ve got another thing for you. I build ballrooms. Beautiful ballrooms. You can go to Tampa and check one of them out for yourself.”

Not being much of a dancer, I didn’t quite know where this was heading. “I see you have these state dinners on the lawn there in these shitty little tents. Let me build you a ballroom you can assemble and take apart. Trust me. It’ll look great.”

So there’s that.