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“The GOP Finally Finds The Courage To Attack Donald Trump”: You Can’t Shame Someone When They Had No Shame To Begin With

The GOP may finally have found the means to rid itself of that meddlesome real estate tycoon. And it’s fitting—and really, should have been predictable—that what is uniting Republicans against Donald Trump is his own big mouth. It’s one thing to call Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers—that caused some agita, but not enough to rid Trump’s GOP opponents of their visceral fear of alienating his supporters. But insulting John McCain’s war record? That’s something everyone can agree on, and thus gives the other candidates just the excuse they’ve been waiting for to bring out the knives for Trump.

On the off chance you haven’t heard, on Saturday, Trump said some interesting things about McCain, with whom he has had a little East Coast/Southwest beef of late. The setting was the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, where the candidates go to assure the evangelical voters who dominate the state’s Republican caucuses that they are loyal members of Team Jesus. At a presentation in which he was interviewed by pollster Frank Luntz, Trump essentially said that McCain is sort of a war hero, but maybe not really. “He’s a war hero because he was captured,” Trump said. “I like people that weren’t captured.”

That’s the part you’ve heard about. But the fuller picture shows that as silly as Trump’s assertion was, the really asinine thing in that exchange was the question. Trump and McCain have been arguing about a number of things, but most particularly, McCain said that Trump was succeeding because he “fired up the crazies,” and Trump responded by tweeting that McCain “should be defeated in the primaries. Graduated last in his class at Annapolis—dummy!” (the details of all this are explained here, if you care). Luntz said to Trump, “Referring to John McCain, a war hero, five and a half years as a POW, you call him a dummy. Is that appropriate in running for president?”

If you watch the video, you’ll see Trump give a rambling explanation of why he doesn’t like John McCain, saying nothing about his war record, and after a minute or so Luntz can’t take it anymore and blurts out, “He’s a war hero!” It’s only then that Trump says the part about McCain being captured. But what exactly was Luntz arguing here? That no one is allowed to say anything mean to John McCain because of what he went through almost half a century ago? McCain’s captivity was surely horrible, and he showed great courage in enduring it. But the guy has been a politician for more than 30 years. I’m pretty sure it ought to be okay to insult him.

The truth is that there are a whole lot of people in politics, both Democrats and Republicans, who share Donald Trump’s opinion that John McCain is a jerk. But if Frank Luntz was hoping to bait Trump into denying McCain’s heroism and create the moment that would bring Republicans together against him, he couldn’t have planned it any better. This particular comment, far more than all the other stupid or offensive things Trump has said just in the past couple of months, offered the perfect vehicle for them to attack—and without any of the risk that might come from sounding like you don’t hate immigrants. The reaction from everyone in the GOP was unanimous, and Rick Perry summed it up well: “His attack on veterans makes him unfit to be commander in chief of the forces and he should immediately withdraw from the race for president.” Don’t you wish.

The Republicans are getting ample help from the news media, whose adoring relationship with John McCain goes back two decades. McCain’s Vietnam experience is one of the foundations of that relationship—reporters have unlimited admiration for it, and express that admiration not only in endless retellings of McCain’s suffering, but in the comically false assertion, also endlessly repeated, that McCain is so noble and modest that he would never bring up Vietnam himself. (The truth is that McCain constantly brings up Vietnam to use to his political advantage, and always has, from his very first run for office. Which is his right to do, of course, but the rest of us should at least be honest about it.) So it isn’t only politicians rushing to McCain’s side of this spat; the news media are, too.

If there’s one thing Republicans know how to do, it’s bludgeon someone for showing insufficient respect for “the troops”; it just so happens that this is the rare case when it might be somewhat justified, even if their outrage is utterly opportunistic. Up until now, all the candidates knew they had to get rid of this guy, because he was making their party look both hateful and ridiculous. But they were too worried that if they attacked him, they’d alienate the voters drawn to his anti-immigrant rhetoric. Now they’ve got their chance to beat him down without much risk to themselves, and they aren’t going to pass it up.

If you’re an ordinary Republican primary voter today, you’re seeing every politician you respect condemning Donald Trump, and one might think that would inevitably have an impact on his standing in the primaries. But that may not necessarily be the case. Trump’s support, substantial though it may be, is limited—right now he’s leading the field, but five out of six primary voters are still supporting someone else. And all the evidence suggests that the people who are supporting him, conservative though they may be, are as angry at the party’s establishment as they are at immigrants and Barack Obama.

So it’s entirely possible that once the campaign moves on from the next micro-controversy in a few days, Trump’s standing won’t be too different from what it is now. One thing’s for sure: He won’t be pushed out of the race by the rest of the party. You can’t shame someone into submission when they had no shame to begin with.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, July 19, 2015

July 25, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, John McCain | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“A Bond Far Stronger Than Politics”: Trump Awakens Kerry’s Vietnam Anger With Slam On McCain

John Kerry was angry.

“Listen to this. Listen to what Trump just said about John McCain,” Kerry was saying over the phone. “‘He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.’

“That’s unbelievable,” Kerry said. “That’s beyond outrageous.’”

“John and I have some serious differences on a lot of things but he is nothing other than a hero and a good man. Where was Trump when John got shot down over North Vietnam? In school? At a party? Where was he?”

For many months now, years even, Kerry has been point man in Barack Obama’s attempt to restrict Iran’s plan to develop a nuclear bomb. He has been a walking high-wire act, traveling a region that is nothing less than a geographical bonfire filled with the debris of failed nations, countries that have collapsed into chaos and terror largely because of the contrived plans of men like Dick Cheney who dreamed of the day when Saddam Hussein could be toppled. The conservative ideologues got their wish while the United States got a larger, longer war and the Middle East became an even bigger source of horror and death.

Trump’s assault on McCain evoked immediate anger in Kerry because it resurrected feelings within him that are always there, certainly beneath a surface calm but always, always there: a long gone war called Vietnam.

“All of us sat for weeks and months around a table trying to get this deal done,” Kerry was saying. “The Russians, the Chinese, the French, the British, the Germans, all of us. And every once in awhile I thought about that other table, that other time, and that was nearly a half century ago.”

He was talking about the Paris Peace Talks that began in 1970 and concluded with an agreement signed on January 23, 1973. Henry Kissinger represented another president, Richard Nixon. John McCain was in Hanoi, in captivity. John Kerry had returned from Vietnam to help organize Vietnam Veterans Against The War. Donald Trump was somewhere else.

As talks in Paris dragged on, more than half of the 58,195 names carved into the wall of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington were killed. Thousands more were wounded and carry those wounds still, today.

Both Kerry and Obama are firm believers that conversation is a better starter-kit than combat when it comes to dealing with a country like Iran. Neither man is naive about that nation’s aspiration to dominate the region.

“But the Iranians are not suicidal,” Kerry pointed out.

Clearly, the Iranians are well aware that Teheran would be turned into a field of glass and sand if they ever stepped toward open war with Israel or Saudi Arabia. And every nation around that table in Vienna knew that the sanctions that crippled the Iranian economy and caused Iran to accept a deal would soon collapse under the weight of countries like France, Russia and China that were eager to begin doing business in Teheran, the dollar emerging as the strongest weapon of all.

So as he shuttled back and forth between Washington and Vienna, his leg broken, his spirit determined, Kerry found himself thinking about that other time and those other talks. He is a student of history and in his mind’s eye he saw another president, Lyndon Johnson, broken by a long war that still lingers in the American psyche. He thought about the Ivy League sophisticates that surrounded John F. Kennedy and then Johnson, men named Bundy, Rostow, McNamara, and others who spent the lives of so many younger men pursuing their old men’s dreams of defeating communism in the lethal laboratory of Vietnam.

In a trick of history and irony communism collapsed on a deathbed that Ronald Reagan helped make up by…talking; talking to Mikhail Gorbachev. A wall fell. One continent, Europe, changed forever. Two nations, Russia and the United States, altered their behavior toward each another because of a handshake and a conversation.

Last week, John Kerry returned to the United States. After months of discussion, Germany, China, France, the United Kingdom, and Putin’s Russia along with the U.S. had a deal with Iran. Now it goes to a Congress more than half full of politicians who place a higher priority in defeating anything Barack Obama supports than educating the country and the world with an honest debate about a deal structured to insert more than a decade’s worth of roadblocks in Iran’s drive to develop a nuclear weapon.

And as John Kerry came home, his mind filled with facts, the ups, the downs, the potential, and the politics of getting an accord with Iran through the Congress, he was brought back to his own war five decades ago. A war that won’t go away. A war that awoke him one more time because of a libelous slur uttered by a real estate man against a friend of Kerry’s who will line up against him on the treaty with Iran. But that didn’t matter because brothers in arms form a bond far stronger than politics.

 

By: Mike Barnicle, The Daily Beast, July 19, 2015

July 22, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, John Kerry, John McCain | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“His Problems Go Deeper”: Chris Christie Is No John McCain

It’s no surprise that Chris Christie has adopted the straight-talk strategy that carried John McCain to a huge upset victory over George W. Bush in the 2000 New Hampshire primary and helped him win the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. It’s a natural fit given the New Jersey governor’s blunt, outspoken personality.

Yet McCain was in first or second place in polls of New Hampshire at this point both times he ran. Christie is in single digits, and as far back as ninth in one poll of the large Republican pack.

There’s a reason it’s not working. There’s no way to break this gently: Chris Christie is no John McCain.

In McCain, the Arizona senator, you had a bona fide Vietnam War hero who had spent more than five years as a prisoner of war. You had a presidential candidate whose candor on the 2000 trail was startling, sometimes charming and occasionally quite personal.

When a voter in rural New Hampshire complained about substandard medical facilities, McCain said that was the price for the voter’s choice to live in a gorgeous setting instead of a more populated area. When another New Hampshire voter worried aloud about whether his child would be able to get a factory job, McCain advised him to aim higher for his child. He undercut his own anti-abortion position when a reporter asked if he’d forbid an abortion for his teenage daughter if she became pregnant — saying he’d discourage that but the final decision would be hers. When the predictable furor erupted, he did not kick the press off the bus.

With McCain, you also had politician who was publicly and continually remorseful about his role in a campaign finance scandal, who then became passionate about breaking the connection between money and influence. This defining ethics challenge came in 1987. That’s the year McCain and four other senators asked federal regulators to drop charges against the Lincoln Savings and Loan chaired by Charles Keating Jr., a donor to all their campaigns.

Taxpayers were on the hook for a $3 billion bailout when Lincoln S&L collapsed in 1989. McCain called his intervention on behalf of Keating “the worst mistake of my life.” A decade later he made campaign finance reform the centerpiece of his first presidential campaign.

Bridgegate has been Christie’s defining ethics challenge. The massively disruptive four-day traffic jam on the Fort Lee approach to the George Washington Bridge was engineered by his aides in 2013 as political revenge against a Democratic mayor who did not support him for re-election that year. For nearly a week, their fake “traffic study” turned 30-minute commutes into three and four hours. The New York Times offered a sampling of who was trapped in the crippling gridlock: first responders in police cars and ambulances; buses of kids headed to the first day of school; a longtime unemployed man who was late for his first day at a new job, and a woman who couldn’t reach the hospital in time for her husband’s stem-cell transplant.

Christie said he had been “blindsided” by the plot. He said he was embarrassed and humiliated and apologized to “the people of New Jersey” and “the people of Fort Lee.” He also denied creating an atmosphere that led to such behavior and maintained that “I am not a bully.” If he had followed the McCain model, Christie would have then become a highly visible national advocate for good government, political civility and excellence in public service. He might have started an organization to that effect, or joined one. Alternatively, perhaps he would have launched or lent his name to an anti-bullying organization.

Unlike McCain, Christie does not have a heroic personal biography to cushion problems. He does have a long, mixed, and controversial record as governor. He also has a long trail of viral videos that show him insulting and shouting at people who disagree with his policies. That image was a boon for his popularity and his fundraising for his party. He used to revel in it. Now, not so much. Now he is trying to morph into a policy truthteller on entitlements, taxes, and national security.

“Real. Honest. Direct. Tell It Like It Is.” According to National Journal, that’s the banner that advertised Christie’s recent appearance at The Village Trestle tavern in Goffstown, New Hampshire. But there’s a difference between confrontational straight talk and the McCain 2000 brand of straight talk. Christie, belatedly realizing that the first kind is not presidential, is trying to transition to the latter. But his problems go deeper than that, as do his differences from McCain.

 

By: Jill Lawrence, The National Memo, June 11, 2015

June 11, 2015 Posted by | Chris Christie, GOP Presidential Candidates, John McCain | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“His Path To The Nomination”: The Graham Strategy; Chicken Little Winging It

Before the next presidential candidate announcement makes us forget about him for a while–maybe a good while–it’s worth a brief consideration of Lindsey Graham’s supposed “path to the nomination” beyond the obvious fact that he’d need to win in his home state of South Carolina, one of the four privileged “early states.” Jonathan Bernstein may have nailed it yesterday: Graham’s spent so much time hanging out with his amigo John McCain that he figures he can emulate the lightning the Arizonan caught in a bottle:

McCain in 2000 accidentally wound up finishing second. He was too moderate for the Republican Party, but his biggest hurdle was his push for campaign finance reform, which turned Republican-aligned groups, who felt targeted by it, against him.

Instead of waging a conventional campaign — spending a year glad-handing Iowans and big-shot national Republicans — McCain instead hung out in New Hampshire with political reporters. Normally, that would have produced a few nice feature stories and nothing more. But in 2000, George W. Bush quickly dispatched his serious Republican rivals before or in the Iowa caucuses. New Hampshire voters (who famously love upsetting the Iowa winner, from Walter Mondale in 1984 through Barack Obama in 2008) punished Bush for wrapping up the nomination early by voting for McCain, thereby making him the last man standing against W.

McCain’s 2008 adventure was, if anything, even more unlikely. McCain spent the beginning of Bush’s first term in open revolt against his former rival before returning to the ranks of loyal Republicans just in time for the 2004 election — and the beginning of the 2008 nomination fight. McCain then put together a typical Republican front-runner campaign, heavy on corporate-style bureaucracy, only to have the whole thing collapse halfway through the cycle.

But once again, McCain was lucky. No candidate emerged who combined normal qualifications for the presidency, positions well within the mainstream of the party and the ability to build a competent presidential campaign. McCain came close enough on each of those scores to wind up as the nominee.

That’s almost exactly my analysis of McCain’s presidential nominating campaigns, especially the successful one in 2008 which was something of a demolition derby with a flawed and weak field.

The odds of it happening again, especially with the vast size of the 2016 field, are vanishingly small. And as Bernstein points out, Graham doesn’t have the war hero thing going for him, which always put a relatively high floor on GOP attitudes towards him.

It’s possible, of course, that Graham has no strategy at all, other than the indulging in the twisted pleasure professional politicians get from the abattoir of a presidential campaign. When he drops out, he’ll have his Senate gig, his access to the Sunday shows, and four more years before he has to face voters again back home. And in the back of his mind (I will not make Rand Paul’s mistake and suggest it’s in the front of his mind) Graham may figure that if something bad happens on the homeland security front during the nomination campaign, having a well-established identity as Chicken Little could change things considerably.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 2, 2015

June 3, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, John McCain, Lindsey Graham | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Senator Needs A New Hobby”: McCain Shows How Not To Argue About Wasteful Spending

It seems about once a year or so, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) publishes a report on “wasteful” federal spending that he’s eager to cut. The document invariably comes with a great deal of exasperation from the senator, who simply can’t understand why more lawmakers fail to take his findings seriously.

Last week, the Arizona Republican was at it again, writing a piece for Fox News, heralding his work as “a wake-up call for Congress about out-of-control spending.” Of particular interest, he noted “a $50,000 grant to investigate whether African elephants’ unique and highly acute sense of smell could be used to sniff-out bombs.”

The 19-page report (pdf) itself spends a fair amount of time on the bomb-sniffing elephants and the $50,000 grant from three years ago.

“While finding new ways to enhance our bomb detection methods is important, it is unlikely that African elephants could feasibly be used on the battlefield given their large size and sensitive status as ‘threatened’ under the Endangered Species Act.

“At a time when the defense budget faces serious cuts under the Budget Control Act of 2011, it is critical that Congress ensures our military branches spend their limited funds on worthwhile programs that effectively and efficiently enhance our military readiness.”

So, does McCain have a point? Not really.

Steve M. at No More Mister Nice Blog flagged this Associated Press piece from two months ago, which the senator’s report neglected to mention.

New research conducted in South Africa and involving the US military shows they excel at identifying explosives by smell, stirring speculation about whether their extraordinary ability can save lives.

“They work it out very, very quickly,” said Sean Hensman, co-owner of a game reserve where three elephants passed the smell tests by sniffing at buckets and getting a treat of marula, a tasty fruit, when they showed that they recognized samples of TNT, a common explosive, by raising a front leg.

Another plus: Elephants remember their training longer than dogs, said Stephen Lee, head scientist at the US Army Research Office, a major funder of the research.

Obviously, given elephants’ size, it’s unrealistic to think the animals would be brought to a minefield, but the AP piece noted that unmanned drones could “collect scent samples from mined areas,” and a trained elephant “would then smell them and alert handlers to any sign of explosives.”

A spokesperson for the Army research command added that the better elephants performed, the more researchers could “determine how they do it so that understanding could be applied to the design of better electronic sensors.”

Oh. So, for $50,000 – less than a rounding error in the overall military budget – we’re talking about research that could very well save many American lives on a battlefield.

This was one of the single best examples John McCain and his office could find of “wasteful” government spending.

As we’ve discussed before, part of the underlying problem here is that the Republican senator seems to think publicly funded research involving animals is, practically by definition, hilarious.

In 2009, for example, McCain used Twitter to highlight what he considered “the top 10 pork barrel projects” in the Recovery Act. In one classic example, McCain blasted “$650,000 for beaver management in North Carolina and Mississippi,” asking, “How does one manage a beaver?”

While I’m sure the senator was delighted with his wit, in reality, $650,000 in stimulus funds hired workers to disrupt beaver dams, which in turn prevented significant flood damage to farms, timber lands, roadways, and other infrastructure in the area (which would have ended up costing far more than $650,000). The Arizonan neglected to do his homework, and ended up blasting a worthwhile project for no reason.

In 2012, he did it again with the Farm Bill. As Alex Pareene explained at the time, McCain isn’t “developing any sort of larger objection to the bill’s priorities or major components,” rather, “McCain just decided to single out the things in the bill that sound the silliest.”

[On Twitter], McCain counted down the 10 “worst projects” funded by the Farm Bill, except by almost any standard they were not at all the worst things funded by the farm bill.

Like No. 6, starting a program to eradicate feral pigs, which McCain clearly included because it involves pigs, allowing him to make a “pork” joke. Except feral pigs are actually a major (and expensive) threat to the environment and property and businesses. And, oh my, $700 million to study moth pheromones! What a waste of money! Except it’s funding the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative’s competitive grants program, and if you don’t think “grants for scientific research on agriculture” is something the government should be doing, you should make that argument instead of delivering scripted zingers about welfare moths on the floor of the Senate in a pathetic bid at getting some ink for your brave stand against wasteful spending.

What McCain may not realize is that he’s actually helping prove his opponents’ point. If these spending bills were so wasteful, he’d be able to come up with actual examples to bolster his argument, and the fact that he can’t suggests (a) these bills aren’t wasteful at all and (b) the senator needs a new hobby.

For the record, I don’t doubt for a moment that there’s some unnecessary spending in the federal budget, and responsible policymakers should make every effort to prevent waste. But the more McCain thinks he’s good at this, the more he proves otherwise.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 11, 2015

May 12, 2015 Posted by | Federal Budget, John McCain, Scientific Research | , , , , , | 4 Comments

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