Archive

May 16th, 2016

The GOP's veil of unity

    Save us all the faux drama. We already know how this star-crossed courtship is going to end: House Speaker Paul Ryan will decide that Donald Trump isn't such an ogre after all, and they'll live unhappily ever after.

    Ryan will be unhappy, at least. Trump has stolen his party, and there's nothing Ryan can do in the short term to get it back.

    "I heard a lot of good things from our presumptive nominee," Ryan told reporters after his much-ballyhooed Thursday meeting with Trump. "I do believe we are now planting the seeds to get ourselves unified to bridge the gaps and differences."

    Translation: Ryan may still not be "there yet," in terms of a formal endorsement, but we should have no doubt about where he's headed.

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Trump, Peter Thiel and the end of politics

    Donald Trump signed up a couple of high-profile California delegates in recent days. One turned out to be a white nationalist. (The campaign said it was a mistake.) The other was billionaire tech investor and Facebook board member Peter Thiel. The "European-American" got most of the attention. But Thiel, a libertarian who seems to regard technology as a competing, and superior, system to politics, is the more compelling figure. In a 2009 essay, Thiel wrote, "I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible."

    All aboard the Trump campaign's strange flight from politics as usual.

    "Politics as usual" has only a negative connotation. Gridlock, sleaze and dysfunction all fall under the rubric. A Social Security check that doesn't bounce, a lower interest rate on a student loan or access to health insurance may each be a result of politics, and each, in turn, may have become usual to someone. Strangely, none qualifies as "politics as usual."

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The GOP's maddening Trump conundrum

    "No modern precedent exists for the revival of a party so badly defeated, so intensely discredited, and so essentially split as the Republican Party is today."

    Thus wrote George Gilder and Bruce Chapman in "The Party that Lost its Head," after Barry Goldwater's landslide 1964 defeat. The costs of the debacle were very high: The GOP lost 36 House seats and its Senate contingent was reduced to a corporal's guard of 32.

    No one is likely to bring up the 1964 election when Donald Trump meets on Thursday with House Speaker Paul Ryan and other leading Washington Republicans. But behind all the talk we'll hear this week about principles, philosophy and temperament lies a profound fear that Trump's likely nomination could lead to GOP carnage all the way down the ballot.

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It's time we release the uncensored truth about the 9/11 attacks

    Nearly 15 years after the horrific events of 9/11, President Barack Obama must decide whether to release 28 pages of information withheld as classified from the publicly released report of the congressional inquiry into the terrorist attacks that killed thousands of Americans.

    On April 10, the CBS program "60 Minutes" aired a story about the missing 28 pages. I was one of several former public officials - including former House Intelligence Committee chairman and CIA director Porter Goss, R-Florida; Medal of Honor recipient and former senator Bob Kerrey, D-Nebraska; former Navy secretary John Lehman; and former ambassador and representative Tim Roemer, D-Indiana - who called on the White House to declassify and release the documents.

    Two days after that broadcast, I received a call from a White House staff member who told me that the president would make a decision about the 28 pages no later than June. While that official made no promises as to what Obama would do, I viewed the news as a step in the right direction.

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I saw Trump's tax returns. You should, too.

    In January, Donald Trump had this to say when he was asked about whether he would release his tax returns: "I have very big returns, as you know, and I have everything all approved and very beautiful and we'll be working that over in the next period of time."

    Yet he held off on releasing his returns. And on Tuesday night, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee seemed to close the door for good on the matter. He told the Associated Press that he wouldn't release his returns before the November elections unless what he described as Internal Revenue Service audit of his finances was complete.

    "There's nothing to learn from them," Trump said of his tax returns.

    That prompted Mitt Romney to take Trump to task late Wednesday afternoon.

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Harvard's clueless illiberalism

    Touring early America, Alexis de Tocqueville marveled at the people's propensity to form associations for every purpose under the sun: "religious, moral, grave, futile, very general and very particular, immense and very small . . . to give fêtes, to found seminaries, to build inns, to raise churches, to distribute books, to send missionaries to the antipodes."

    Associational proliferation buttressed individual freedom, Tocqueville believed. As he explained, private groups are nimbler at orchestrating cultural and social life - "maintain[ing] and renew[ing] the circulation of sentiments and ideas" - than government could ever be.

    States "exercise an insupportable tyranny, even without wishing to, for a government knows only how to dictate precise rules; it imposes the sentiments and the ideas that it favors, and it is always hard to distinguish its counsels from its orders," he wrote.

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Former military police officer: A girl I remember in Iraq

    From Thomas E. Ricks' Best Defense blog:

    They called me in late one night because she spit on a male guard. I reported to the combat surgical hospital and found her hand cuffed to a hospital bed because they couldn't stop her from thrashing. She was a new detainee and couldn't be more than fifteen years old. She glared at me for a while and then went to sleep, tossing and turning despite her injuries. Sometimes she awoke saying "alam, alam," the Arabic word for pain, over and over again.

    Reportedly, she and her sister shot at a convoy from their house. The convoy returned fire, slicing up her arm and leg so severely the doctors eventually used external bone stabilizers to keep the fragments of her shattered limbs together. Her sister was presumed dead.

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Donald Trump is terrible. Good thing there's this 'nominee' guy!

    Donald Trump is a problem.

    He has a 65 percent unfavorable rating. He is prone to firing off unexpectedly at the mouth. He either doesn't understand or actively wants to destroy the credit of the United States. If you're a senator running for reelection and his name shows up at the top of the ticket, you might as well tie an albatross around your neck and head out to sea.

    So what to do? Speaking Trump's name gives him power. He is like Voldemort in that regard. (Also, he is immortal and cannot die as long as his Towers survive. His buildings are his horcruxes and contain fragments of his soul.)

    The trick is not to speak his name.

    But fortunately for senators in tough, competitive seats, there is another option. You don't have to endorse Trump. You can just support the Nominee of the Party.

    These are not the same thing at all! They are quite different. The Nominee is everything Trump isn't.

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Choice facing Republicans: Party or country?

    On Tuesday, May 10, anchoring CNN coverage of the West Virginia primary, host Don Lemon asked his panel of pundits, yours truly included: "How could anyone vote for somebody just because they happen to have an 'R' or 'D' after their name?"

    Good question. That's the question every Republican has to answer today. And it's playing out in primetime. One by one, loyal, lifelong, and leading Republicans are being forced to ask themselves what has never been in question before: Will they support their party's presidential nominee this year or not?

    Ironically, we all remember, it's the very first question of the very first presidential debate of the primary, on Fox News, August 7, 2015, when all Republican candidates were asked to raise their hand if they were "unwilling to pledge their support to the eventual nominee of the party." Only Donald Trump raised his hand. But now that Trump's the nominee, all but two of the other candidates on stage, Ben Carson and Chris Christie, have broken the pledge. At least so far.

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China is building up its soft power in Europe

    If there's one thing on which Europeans agree with Donald Trump, it's that the U.S. is gradually losing to China. The Middle Kingdom is working hard to improve its image in Europe and investing lots of money along the way. The queen of England may think Chinese officials are "very rude," but outside Buckingham Palace they are winning influence and friends.

    In 2015, a Pew Global Research survey found that a majority of people in major European countries believe China is going to replace the U.S. as the global superpower or that it has already done so.

    The same study showed that in Germany and France, more people consider China, rather than the U.S., to be the world's leading economy. That was before China's recent economic troubles began, but those probably won't affect public perceptions greatly: China's size and the prevalence of Made-in-China goods in European stores -- where U.S. ones are hard to find -- will continue feeding this somewhat premature perception.

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