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Fri Jul 27, 2018, 06:11 PM

Friday Talking Points (494) -- It's Always Silly Season Now

The beginning of August, in any normal political year, is when we would usually devote at least one column to trying to predict what the upcoming "silly season" will bring. August may be the dog days for most folks, but in politics it is usually the silliest season of the year. Congress scarpers off to enjoy a month-long vacation, which leaves a vacuum of political news in Washington, which leaves political reporters and commenters desperate for an angle to write about -- any angle at all. This normally leads to focusing on some extraordinarily silly subject matter (to the exclusion of all else), for weeks on end -- hence the season's unofficial name. But these are not normal times, of course, and part of the abnormality that Donald Trump has ushered in is such a vast extension of the silly season that it can now be accurately said to have encompassed the entire calendar year. There is no more silly season anymore, in other words, because it is now silly season all the time. Just check Trump's Twitter feed on any given day, if you require proof.

In 2010, the silly season brought us town hall rage and the rise of the Tea Party. These stories flourished because there was no other political news to push them off the front pages. These days, the Tea Party is a major force within Congress, and the president is loonier than any guy walking around in a three-cornered hat festooned with teabags. Silly has become the norm, in other words, and people who want to have serious political discussions in fully-formed sentences are the ones being looked askance at, for most of the year.

This has been, in a word, exhausting. For those of us who watch politics very closely, it is like trying to get a drink of water from a firehose. The sheer volume of silliness is so large and continuous that many important stories just get washed away rather than being examined as closely as they deserve. Partly, this is by design, because politicians would almost always prefer that some inane idiocy is the topic of the day rather than what they are really up to behind the scenes. Politicians in Trump's orbit have come to almost depend on his insanely-high levels of silliness, and the best of them have learned how to deflect important subjects by discussing the latest tweetstorm emanating from the White House. Reporters almost always take this bait, since the tweets are so outrageous and entertaining (in a slowing-down-for-a-car-wreck kind of way), and conflict always sells more newspapers.

The House of Representatives just departed the Nation's Capital for their extended play-in-the-sun August break, but before they did so the Tea Partiers were threatening to force a vote on impeaching Rod Rosenstein. A sillier windmill to tilt at could not be imagined, but there was method to their madness -- the whole exercise was designed to give Trump political cover to just fire Rosenstein outright, so he could then install someone who would fire Bob Mueller. Paul Ryan and the Republican House leadership pulled some strings behind the scenes to at least delay this effort until after the break, however.

Over in the Senate, Mitch McConnell is keeping his house in session throughout most of August, for purely political reasons. It's not like they're going to get anything of import done in the next three or four weeks, but keeping them all in Washington means that incumbents will have that much less time to hit the campaign trail. Since there are 10 incumbent Democratic senators running for re-election in states that Trump won, this is supposed to give their Republican challengers a clear field back in the home state during August. This may bear fruit and it may backfire -- it remains to be seen. But please, Mitch, spare us all the sanctimonious moosepoop about how you're all sacrificing "to do the people's business," because that's not why you're doing it at all. In fact, it's downright silly to even make this claim.

At the White House, the silly season began early as Donald Trump -- seemingly for the first time ever -- seems actually to be listening to some people advising him to abruptly change course. For him, this is not normal behavior, so in a Bizarro World kind of way, Trump is being silly by not being silly. His shameful performance in Helsinki while standing next to his Russian handler brought near-universal scorn and derision from the media, from Democrats, and even from most of his own party. Trump tried to counter this with: "I've been tougher on Russia than any president ever," which the ghosts of J.F.K. and Ronald Reagan (just to name two of the most obvious) would surely have laughed at. Trump tried to correct himself ("wouldn't" versus "would" ) after the press conference, which nobody with a brain believed, but then this week the White House abruptly announced that the second planned meeting with Vladimir Putin wouldn't (note: not "would" ) take place right before the upcoming midterm elections that Putin continues to target online. Reports are that Putin himself balked at the proposed White House visit, showing that he's got more political sense than Trump does. Why on Earth would Trump want to revisit how weak he is on Russia right before people vote, after all?

Trump also gave up on his not-so-brilliant plan to shut the government down right before the election in a temper tantrum over the lack of money for his border wall, which also would have been a huge boost to all Democrats running for office. Again, someone politically wiser than Trump is obviously having some sort of influence over the president, because he seemed rather enamored of the idea previously. Trump also backed down from the next escalation of his trade war, making a surprise announcement (that, true to form, was devoid of any actual concrete deals or promises) after meeting with a European Union leader. Essentially, the E.U. has promised to hold talks with the same stated goal that they had when they held similar talks with the Obama administration. But just a few days ago, Trump was eagerly looking forward to slapping huge tariffs on European cars, which even U.S. auto manufacturers opposed -- the very businesses such a tariff is supposed to be designed to help.

The biggest walkback of the week for Trump, though, was his announcement that he will now be using $12 billion of taxpayer money to bail out the people who voted for him -- who are also the ones hardest hit by his trade war. In other words, we're now all literally paying for Trump's mistakes -- by giving massive welfare checks to farmers, rather than allowing them the free access to world markets they had previously enjoyed. If Democrats had done such a thing, the ideological howls from Republicans would be cacophonous, but seeing as how it's Trump, low-key grumbling was all that was heard from that quarter.

We are now a little over 100 days away from the midterm elections, and all the signs continue to look quite rosy for Democrats. Trump's job approval ratings are still well below 50 percent (where they've been for his entire term), and have even slipped below 40 percent in key battleground states like Michigan and Wisconsin. That's usually a big danger signal, heading into the midterm season. The "generic vote" polling continues to show a large gap towards Democrats -- when asked by pollsters whether they'd vote for a generic Democrat for Congress versus a generic Republican, the Democrats are outpacing Republicans by anywhere from six points to a lead of double digits. Experts predict they'll need around an eight-point lead to take back the House in November. A whopping 42 Republican House members are not even running for re-election, and open races are always easier for challengers to win. Democratic voter enthusiasm is still through the roof, and suburban women continue to show an overwhelming tilt towards Democrats. All of this adds up to great news for Democrats' chances of taking back the House, and picking up at least a few governors' seats to boot.

There will be one rather large story to fill the August airwaves, as Paul Manafort is about to face the first of two federal trials against him. So we can expect a whole lot of breathless courtroom reporting over the new few weeks. This may or may not lead to revelations about Trump, but likely not, since the case against Manafort is pretty straightforward and involves dodgy banking practices more than politics. Even so, it'll be fun to watch Trump's reaction to each day's revelations. Add to that the continuing legal problems Trump faces from Michael Cohen, Bob Mueller, Stormy Daniels, and the case moving forward charging Trump with illegally ignoring the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution (which could lead to the release of at least some of his business records), and a lively legal time should be had for all as we watch Rudy Giuliani twist himself into ever-more-pretzel-like knots in an effort to explain away inconvenient idiocy from his client.

Of course, during August there may be some other silly story that everyone fixates on -- the political media is so used to the phenomenon that they may chart the usual silly season course. But these days, it will be hard to even notice the difference. Trump's unceasing silliness on his Twitter feed means that no matter how silly any competing story is, it will have to struggle hard to break through the towering ramparts of silliness surrounding the White House on a daily basis.

In other words: This is the new normal, and it's awfully silly.

We're in such a good mood that we're just going to go ahead and give the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez again, for generally (and quite effectively) causing rightwingers to absolutely freak out. Every time her name comes up in the news, heads explode over on Fox News. And that, as Martha Stewart would say, is a good thing.

Ocasio-Cortez isn't just causing angst on the right, she's also shaking things up within her own party as well. And this is months before she even gets elected, and a full six months before she'll be sworn into the House of Representatives. That's a pretty impressive impact, in the short time she's been on the national political stage. Plus the fact that she's only 28 years old and has already shown up politicians two and even three times her age.

Some are predicting that she's a shooting star, who will quickly fade into the background. We hope not, because so far her star is shining pretty brightly. When she travels to other parts of the country to stump for Democratic candidates, the national media follows right along with her -- whether she's appearing with Bernie Sanders or not. That is an enormous amount of exposure for someone who is still only technically just a candidate for Congress.

So far, she shows no signs of slowing down or muting what she has to say. She is settling in to her new role as a leading voice of her generation. Hilariously, a rightwing media persona traveled to her rally in Kansas and admitted that the message sounded pretty good, because it included things like the rights of children to an education and healthcare. This rightwing media type was shocked at her own reaction to such "radical" ideas, but then came to her senses afterwards so she could... um... continue to fight to deny children healthcare and an education? Ocasio-Cortez has that effect on people, which is why she's so good at what she's doing.

Personally, we hope this rising star continues to climb and becomes a regular go-to guest on political shows on television to champion a truly progressive agenda. Unlike many such guests from the Democratic side, Ocasio-Cortez oozes youth and vitality and charisma. Those are good traits to have for any politician, it goes without saying.

So just on general "made more rightwing heads explode than anyone else this week" grounds, we're going to have to give Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award once again.

{Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is still just a candidate, and our blanket policy is not to link to campaign websites, so you'll have to look it up yourself if you'd like to congratulate her and let her know you appreciate her efforts.}

We're also in such a good mood this week that we're going to keep the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week on the shelf for another week (two weeks, really, see below...).

No Democrat did anything monumentally disappointing this week that we can remember, although we fully admit that we might have missed someone. As always, if you believe a MDDOTW award is truly warranted, let me know down in the comments.

Volume 494 (7/27/18)

As we stated last week, there will be no Friday Talking Points column next week, as we are on the brink of flying away to attend the yearly Netroots Nation conference of left-minded folks. Our bags are packed, the house-sitter (and cat-sitter) is knocking on the door, and we're ready to go!

We've attended at least six of these Netroots gatherings over the past decade or so, but we're anticipating record levels of energy and enthusiasm this time around. With 100 days until the midterms, everyone is going to be focused on exactly the same goal -- denying control of Congress to the Republicans by generating a huge blue wave election.

Of course, since this year's confab will be in New Orleans, a good time is expected for all. Progressives are becoming more and more important to the Democratic Party, and this is a one-stop shopping opportunity for all sorts of Democratic wannabes. We'd be willing to bet that at least five (possibly more) of the people we hear give speeches and seminars next week will wind up running for president in 2020. Courting the progressive vote has never been as important for these politicians as now, so it'll be interesting to hear what they all have to say.

We'll do our best to report back here in these pages, but the whole conference is such a whirlwind that we cannot commit to any sort of schedule of regular postings. Watch the ChrisWeigant Twitter feed for announcements that new columns are up, that's our best advice. And regular FTP columns will resume in two Fridays' time, never fear.

With that out of the way, let's get to this week's talking points, shall we?

Trump bribes his own voters

This is the easiest silliness from Trump to shoot down, this week.

"Donald Trump fully believed that other countries would not engage in a trade war with the United States. He was wrong. Now that a core part of his own base is hurting as a direct result, Trump is going to pay them bribes right before the midterms in a desperate effort to get them to continue to vote for Republicans. The outrageous part is that he's going to use taxpayer dollars to do so. Trump broke the agricultural markets, and how he's using our money to bail out the farmers. Farmers don't actually want welfare payments -- instead, they want to freely sell their produce to the world. But the damage Trump is doing is a lot more far-reaching than just one election cycle. The markets these farmers have built up over decades are now disappearing as other countries find different sources for their food. These markets aren't going to magically come back even if Trump manages to find a way out of his insane trade war. How many years is Trump going to have to shell out bribes to farmers to compensate them for their losses? It just boggles the mind, really."

Foreign countries bribe Trump

What with all the silliness, this story was barely even noticed.

"A federal judge just ruled this week that the case against Trump's businesses which claims Trump is in violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution can indeed move forward. Trump's hotels and golf courses and other businesses -- which he refused to fully divest from when he became president -- are getting piles of money from foreign governments. This is in direct violation of what the Founding Fathers laid out, which is what the case claims. The discovery phase of this trial will certainly be interesting to watch, as it will involve Trump producing business documents and records showing precisely how much money he's made from foreign governments. The Constitution has this clause for a reason -- our president and our government is not supposed to be for sale to foreign nations. No other president in history has so blatantly ignored this basic tenet of American democracy, and now Trump will have to defend his indefensible actions in court. Maybe we'll even finally get to see his tax returns, who knows?"

Lord, there are tapes

James Comey's prayer came true this week.

"Speaking of financial improprieties and Trump, he's got to be sweating a bit upon hearing the news that his private fixer Michael Cohen did indeed make tapes of Trump, and that furthermore the F.B.I. now has at least a dozen of these tapes, perhaps even more. Cohen and his lawyers seem to be either already cooperating with the prosecution or on the brink of doing so, which also must worry Trump more than a little bit. Add to this the announcement that the Trump organization's chief financial officer has been subpoenaed to testify, and Trump could be in a world of legal hurt. These guys know where every body is buried, and which skeletons reside in which gold-plated closets. If they start singing, there's no end to what could be revealed. And, mind you, all of this is not even a part of Bob Mueller's investigation. Or Paul Manafort's first trial, which is scheduled to begin within days."

Like father, like daughter

Too, too funny.

"I see Ivanka Trump is following in her daddy's footsteps, as her business empire goes down in flames. Ivanka shamelessly traded on her famous last name to sell clothing manufactured in China to rubes in America, but it seems nobody's buying the con any more. So her business becomes yet another item on the long, long list of Trump businesses that have spectacularly failed. Perhaps Ivanka can fly to Trump Casino on a Trump Airline plane to eat a Trump Steak and drink Trump Water to get over her loss? Oh, wait! No she can't, because all those went bankrupt or otherwise failed. Maybe she got her business 'smarts' from her father, or maybe she learned them at Trump University? Whichever, she's now proven that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, that's for sure. Think of all those poor Chinese children who just lost their jobs sewing Ivanka Trump's clothing line!"

Wasn't Mexico supposed to pay for it?

Another amusing walkback from Trump happened this week.

"The White House and the Republican leaders of Congress let it be known this week that they had agreed not to shut the government down in October because Trump will not be getting his border wall money yet again. Trump is supposed to be some sort of grand dealmaker, and this will be the second yearly budget that passes a Republican Congress without any money for Trump's precious wall. He can't even cut a deal with his own party! That, as Trump would put it, is just 'Sad!' Of course, if you believed Trump while he was campaigning, Congress was never even supposed to play a part in all this, since as we all know Mexico was going to gladly pay for Trump's border wall. What ever happened to that campaign promise?"

;Even Putin knew what a bad idea it was

This one's also pretty hilarious.

"Donald Trump, under the delusion that his meeting with Vladimir Putin was a smashing political success, decided to double down and invite his buddy Vlad to the White House -- right before the midterm election happened. The White House had to sheepishly back off the idea this week, after Putin reportedly turned the invitation down. Even Putin could see what a horrendous political mistake Trump was about to make! The image of a United States president parroting Russian lies while standing next to the man responsible for attacking our elections was bad enough months before the election, so who in their right mind could have possibly thought it'd be a good idea to repeat the experience mere days before the voters weigh in? Oh, that's right -- Donald Trump thought it'd be a good idea. Well, that says a lot, doesn't it?"

Trump, or your lyin' eyes?

Sometimes Trump makes it too easy....

"Donald Trump tried to emulate Big Brother the other day, when at a political rally he instructed the crowd: 'What you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening.' This was immediately compared to George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, particularly the quote: 'The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.' Others pointed out the similarity to the classic Marx Brothers quip: 'Who are you going to believe, me or your lyin' eyes?' Whether 'Marxist' (so to speak) or Orwellian, all agreed that this was the first time Trump actually admitted that he lives deep within his own personal reality. I mean, who are you going to believe? Trump, or what is in plain sight to all? I'd suggest the media start asking that question to all the farmers now hurting because the man they voted for is now completely ruining their prospects for the future."

Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Follow Chris on Twitter: ChrisWeigant
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
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