The 1946 Academy Award for best picture went to “The Lost Weekend,” a harrowing account of an alcoholic bender starring Ray Milland. Seventy years later, a presidential campaign has turned into a harrowing political bender starring Donald Trump.
Even Trump himself recognizes some of the costs of “The Lost Year.” Campaigning in Nevada early this month, Trump said with rare honesty, “If I don’t win, this will be the greatest waste of time, money and energy in my lifetime by a factor of one hundred.” He made the same point in North Carolina last Friday saying, “What a waste if we don’t pull this off.”
Of course, the wasteful excess that haunts the altruistic Trump is $56 million that he put into his campaign, mostly for the primaries. And, presumably, when a ray of realism penetrates Trump Tower, the bilious billionaire recognizes how seriously his low-rent campaign has damaged his high-rent empire of gold-plated glitz.
The undeniable truth is that Trump has already lost an election that a rational Republican might well have won. Even if a meteor were to hit the earth before Election Day, Trump would still be toast. Amid such a global calamity, Hillary Clinton would gain support as the candidate offering calm leadership. And if America took a direct hit from this mythical meteor, Clinton would still have the edge from early voting.
In a presidential race in which Utah is a swing state and Texas is contested, the only mystery left is the extent of Clinton’s margin. In a just world, Hillary would even win Indiana, which would leave Trump fuming about how Gov. Mike Pence was part of the diabolical conspiracy to “rig” the election.
While it may be unseemly to celebrate two weeks before Election Day, the good sense of the American voter appears to have again prevailed. But that fabled good sense certainly took its time getting here. What is unfortunate is that it required Trump’s vile conduct and his ungovernable temper to bring him down.
Far better if Trump had self-destructed the first time he had talked of banning Muslims or if the voters had rebelled as soon as the former reality-show host displayed his ignorance of nuclear weapons and gushed over Vladimir Putin. From the beginning Trump was obviously unsuited to take on the burdens of the presidency. But the election would still be competitive if Trump had not boasted about assaulting women in 2005 while wearing a TV microphone.
Never in modern history have issues played so scant a role in a presidential campaign. Most of the vitriolic opposition to Hillary Clinton stems from her home brew email server and the blurred ethical lines between the Clinton Foundation and the State Department during her tenure. Trump himself acknowledges this content-free campaign every time he suggests that his sexual misdeeds are less reprehensible than Bill Clinton’s.
As a result, Hillary Clinton’s electoral mandate will be on par with Barack Obama’s Nobel Prize. Obama won the Peace prize in the first year of his presidency primarily for not being George W. Bush. Hillary is poised to win the most sweeping presidential victory in two decades mostly because she isn’t Donald J. Trump.
The Democratic nominee was certainly prepared to campaign on the issues. A bit more hawkish on military policy than Democratic orthodoxy, Clinton had positioned herself to run as a domestic liberal concerned with the price tag of her programs. As she put it in last week’s final debate, “I pay for everything I’m proposing. I do not add a penny to the national debt. I take that very seriously, because I do think it’s one of the issues we’ve got to come to grips with.”
Such centrist sentiments are unlikely to gladden the hearts of Bernie Sanders’ supporters. Kate McKinnon, playing Hillary on the most recent “Saturday Night Live,” came close to capturing this truth when she asked in a mock debate, “Who do you trust to be president? The Republican or Donald Trump?”
Since Trump is running for president unmoored to any party or coherent ideology, it is nearly impossible for any discussion of policy issues to get traction with the voters or in the news media. Remember that Clinton was discussing the Social Security Trust Fund when Trump interrupted with his high-minded policy dissent: “Such a nasty woman.”
Guttersnipe politics drives all political debate to the bottom. The tragedy is that the 2016 election should have been a time for the nation to make hard choices since America is operating on autopilot in so many areas.
Fifteen years after 9/11, the voters deserve to hear a robust debate on the merits of America’s drone wars from Yemen to Pakistan. Three years after Edward Snowden revealed the extent of NSA’s monitoring of citizens’ telephone calls and emails, the nation has yet to hold an honest political discussion of the tradeoffs between privacy and security in an age of terrorism.
On the domestic front, what is the formula for breaking the congressional logjam on funding infrastructure projects? What are the most effective ways to battle addiction to heroin and painkillers? And is there any relief possible for those workers who have already lost their jobs from NAFTA and other trade treaties?
Everyone lost when Donald Trump hijacked the GOP nomination. Trump’s rank-and-file supporters lost a serious candidate to articulate their concerns. Principled conservatives lost their party. And Hillary Clinton and the Democrats lost the give-and-take of a policy debate that could have produced a governing mandate.
Such are the costs to American democracy from a lost year battling the authoritarian temptation.
Roll Call columnist Walter Shapiro is a veteran of Politics Daily, USA Today, Time, Newsweek and the Washington Post. His book on his con-man great-uncle was just published: “Hustling Hitler: The Jewish Vaudevillian Who Fooled the Fuhrer.” Follow him on Twitter @MrWalterShapiro.
It takes a lot for Donald Trump to shock a political audience at this point, but that’s what happened during last week’s debate when he said he’d let us all know whether he’d accept the election results once Election Day gets here. That followed weeks of claiming that the election is rigged against him and of warnings to his followers that the whole thing might be stolen at the ballot box.
The display was enough to make a person hate politics. But I have a surprising cure for you if you’re looking for a more inspiring example of American statesmanship — the moment in 1995 when House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt gave the speaker’s gavel to Newt Gingrich after the GOP won control of the chamber for the first time in 40 years.
If you haven’t watched the video of the handoff lately, you should. There in the grainy C-SPAN footage, you’ll see two adversaries rising together to a level of great leadership after a bitter campaign. Gephardt, magnanimous in defeat, told Gingrich, “with faith and with friendship and the deepest respect, you are now my speaker.”
Gingrich, who some remember only for his bareknuckled partisan brawls, was equally gracious in victory. He thanked Gephardt and outgoing Speaker Tom Foley for their hard work in the House before him and gently scolded his own caucus for cheering the Democrats’ defeat on the House floor moments earlier.
The two men went on to spar with each other as leaders for the next four years, but they had a mutual respect for each other then and remain friends today. At an event that they headlined together in Atlanta last week, Gephardt remembered his thoughts on the morning he prepared to lead the same peaceful transition of power that had defined American democracy for more than 200 years before that day.
“I wanted to say the right things to put it in the right context,” Gephardt recalled. “To say, ‘This is a big moment, this is the end of 40 years of Democratic rule. We say it with resignation, because we lost, but we also say it with respect, because you are now our speaker and we will help you and work with you in anyway we can to make this work for all Americans.’”
Gingrich remembered walking from his apartment in the Methodist Building that morning to the Capitol, choking up as he described the moment he looked from the Speakers balcony toward the Lincoln Monument.
“I thinking, ‘I’m a lieutenant colonel’s son, who has been awarded by the people of Georgia 16 years representing them and selected by his colleagues, and I’m not about to have this burden,’” Gingrich said. “‘And my job is to represent the country for as long as the country wants me to.’”
The years that followed for the two weren’t exactly a picnic. Republicans pushed government shutdowns in 1995 and 1996. Later, they pursued the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. But even with those emotional scenes playing out in the headlines, Congress continued doing the work of keeping the government running, while also passing major legislation like welfare reform and delivering balanced budgets.
How did they do it? Both men described a recipe that any legislator will recognize — the need for patience, persistence, literally years of meetings, and taking the long view. They also both spoke of a process that was agonizing and frustrating, but ultimately worthwhile.
“The great genius of the American system is, tomorrow morning, the dance continues,” Gingrich said. “No matter what happens, the dance continues. Whoever wins in November, the dance continues.”
But what if one of the dancers isn’t dancing to the same tune? What if the political climate has become so dislodged from American tradition that a competitor like Trump refuses to accept the election results, no matter the outcome?
At a press conference after the event, both Gephardt and Gingrich said Trump had the right to wait until Election Day to decide how to handle the election. But that was where the similarities ended. Gingrich agreed with Trump that “the system” is rigged against conservatives and outsiders and asked why a Trump challenge to the election results would be any different from what Al Gore did in 2000.
But Gephardt said he is “horrified” by Trump’s rigged rhetoric, which “tears at the very foundation of our democracy.”
“As a former candidate, I can understand any candidate’s position that you do not want to preapprove the procedure by which an election is conducted,” Gephardt said in a later conversation. “But it is completely unacceptable for Candidate Trump to assert that this election is rigged against him. It is also completely unacceptable for him to assert that he will not accept the decision of the American people in this election.”
That the two men could disagree so strongly on Trump’s conduct of the election but also sit down earlier to discuss the strength of American democracy did not undercut their message of respect and unity — it reinforced it. Gingrich and Gephardt could agree on some matters, disagree on others, and the dance continued. As it always should.
Roll Call columnist Patricia Murphy covers national politics for The Daily Beast. Previously, she was the Capitol Hill bureau chief for Politics Daily and founder and editor of Citizen Jane Politics. Follow her on Twitter @1PatriciaMurphy.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A persistent criticism of Hillary Clinton has been her overly cautious nature, her reluctance to take bold stands, her preparation to the point of predictability. Kate McKinnon of “Saturday Night Live” has taken these traits to parody on her way to an Emmy. But anyone who sees candidate Clinton frozen in that place hasn’t been paying attention this election season.
Of course, Clinton never will be “wild and crazy,” particularly when compared with her Republican counterpart, Donald Trump, the very essence of both. It’s also true that her views on many issues have remained remarkably stable. But those who say Clinton really doesn’t believe in anything only have to look at how, and how frequently, she has spoken with nuance about race to an electorate anxious about the changing demographics and power.
Clinton said the words “systemic racism” and “implicit bias” in the first presidential debate while explaining her thoughts on why achieving true equality in jobs, education, policing and so much more is challenging in an America with a history of injustice that didn’t end when slavery was abolished and the grip of Jim Crow loosened.
Clinton has her own complicated history, her work with the Children’s Defense Fund and in exposing segregated schools countered by her onetime support of President Bill Clinton’s crime bill and its role in a mass incarceration crisis that persists. She has apologized for the latter, a step beyond her husband’s spotty statements of justification.
Hillary Clinton has done more than she needs to if her only goal was to distinguish her positions from those of her Republican opponents. Mike Pence, the GOP vice presidential candidate, has said the problem is too much talk about racism; the candidate at the top of the ticket has a tendency to pivot from any random question from a black person, as Trump did in debate No. 2, to an answer limited to violence, crime and living in hell.
In North Carolina over this past weekend, Clinton campaigned in Raleigh with the Mothers of the Movement — including Sybrina Fulton (mother of Trayvon Martin), Gwen Carr (mother of Eric Garner), Lucia McBath (mother of Jordan Davis), Maria Hamilton (mother of Dontré Hamilton) and Geneva Reed-Veal (mother of Sandra Bland) — whose children were killed in gun violence or after confrontations with police.
Clinton called the women “remarkable,” according to an NBC News report, noting “the fierce sense of urgency to try do what they can to help us meet the challenges we face in our country.”
With Trump’s endorsement by the Fraternal Order of Police — though not from several groups that represent minority law enforcement officers — and his unwavering support of “stop and frisk” to reduce crime, that was one endorsement Clinton was never really competing for, even if she had declined to support the Mothers’ group.
But when the Mothers of the Movement — without the candidate — previously made an appearance in Charlotte, I heard them speak movingly of how Clinton reached out to them and met with them, one-on-one, with no cameras in sight.
Publicly standing with them could be a risk in battleground North Carolina, where polls are tight and a Clinton win would eliminate any chance Trump has. She is still wooing suburban white women, many of them traditional Republicans and some of whom might not see themselves in the faces and experiences of grieving African-American mothers seeking justice from a system they see as wanting.
It would be cynical and unfair, then, to say that Clinton’s alliance with them was merely a no-consequence move to shore up her support among African-Americans.
After her Raleigh stop on Sunday, Clinton traveled to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where her appeal to millennials was clear; Bernie Sanders got a shout out. Yet there, again, she talked about racial and social justice, after being introduced by Thurston Alexander, an African-American student who, in his introduction, said: “Hillary Clinton understands me.”
Clinton seemed relaxed, dressed in the school’s signature green, and embraced her historic role as potentially the first woman in the Oval Office.
But Clinton also mentioned the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II and the Moral Monday movement demanding economic and racial reform that has become his signature. The NAACP state leader energized the Democratic National Convention this summer, but his sometimes disruptive actions fighting conservative laws from the Republican-dominated state legislature are not universally hailed in North Carolina.
Have rising poll numbers freed Clinton to speak about issues closer to her heart? Talking about systemic racism, police-community relations and the movement for black lives is far from a cautious move. It was those words as well as her promise to achieve equal pay that led UNCC freshman Samaria Parker, 18, to call Clinton “an amazing woman.” Parker, who is African-American, said she is telling her fellow students, “You can’t complain if you don’t vote.”
Talking about an issue that has become the third rail of politics may be a chance Hillary Clinton feels she can afford to take.
Roll Call columnist Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun and The Charlotte Observer. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.
Ohio and Illinois senators made some friendly wagers on the World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians, which starts Tuesday.
But with two weeks left before a contentious election, they steered clear of the other party.
If the Cubs lose, Durbin is on the hook for beer from Chicago's Goose Island Brewery.
“No team in sports has had a more storied journey to a championship series than the Chicago Cubs,” Durbin said in a release on Monday.
Brown responded, “As a lifelong Indians fan, I know that a World Series win for Cleveland is long overdue — and this is the year they’re going to clinch it.”
If the Cubs win, Portman owes Kirk a case of Great Lakes Oktoberfest beer from Cleveland's Great Lakes Brewing Company.
“I look forward to enjoying a Great Lakes beer after the Cubs fly the W,” Kirk said in a press release on Monday.
Portman said in response, “The [NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers] ended a long championship drought and now the Indians have the opportunity to do the same.”
There was some inter-party wagering over the NBA finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cavaliers. Portman bet Great Lakes beer against Sen. Dianne Feinstein, but, she had to pay off with a case of chardonnay.
Meanwhile, Sen. Barbara Boxer, had to deliver Brown beer from California's 21st Amendment Brewery and had to wear a LeBron James jersey when she handed it over.
Check out Roll Call’s Election Predictions Contest for a chance to win a $200 American Express gift card.
To participate, predict the overall outcome of this year’s elections, and whoever comes closest to the actual results wins.
Amazon has announced a new feature in its “Amazon Echo” product that can help fact-check the 2016 election.
‘Share the Facts’ leverages the nation’s most respected fact-checkers — The Washington Post, FactCheck.org and PolitiFact — to answer questions about the candidates’ claims, according to a press release from Amazon. For instance, “Alexa, ask the fact-checkers, did Donald Trump oppose the war in Iraq?”
Come Election Day, you can get real-time updates from Alexa with questions like: “Alexa, which states has Trump won?”
House Majority PAC, a super PAC backing House Democrats, announced on Monday a partnership with Patriot Majority USA to air a get-out-the-vote ad featuring “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” stars Melissa Fumero and Stephanie Beatriz. The ad is titled “Time” and will air first in California.
Cloakroom is asking users to vote and campaign for or against any candidate from the primaries, plus independents, to find out if we’d still end up with the same nominees in a mock “Election Do-Over.” Between now and Nov. 7, users can support one candidate and campaign against others.
Join Roll Call for D.C.’s premier graduate school fair on Oct. 27 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Phoenix Park Hotel (520 North Capitol St. NW). You can network with representatives from the best graduate schools in public affairs, politics, business and government. Register here.
Have any tips, announcements or Hill happenings? Send them to AlexGangitano@cqrollcall.com.
Jane Dittmar had tried to tie her Republican opponent in Virginia’s 5th District to Donald Trump Wednesday, something that most Democratic congressional candidates are doing to their opponents these days.
She wanted GOP state Sen. Tom Garrett to condemn two armed Trump supporters who protested outside her office last week.
“Unfortunately, Tom Garrett is following in the footsteps of his endorsed leader Donald Trump, who has continued to stoke violence on the campaign trail,” Dittmar said in a statement announcing a news conference. Garrett showed up at the event in Charlottesville to "condemn threats of violence by supporters of either party," he said in a release.
For much of this campaign, the open-seat race to replace three-term GOP Rep. Robert Hurt has been a sleepy contest. But with Hillary Clinton expected to do well in Virginia, this race is getting more attention lately as a lower-tier race that Democrats could pick up if there’s a wave.
American Action Network, the conservative nonprofit advocacy organization affiliated with the super PAC of the House GOP leadership, announced earlier this week that it had reserved $400,000 for TV advertising in the Charlottesville and Roanoke-Lynchburg media markets for the last two weeks of the election.
The investment is part of the network's wave prevention strategy to stave off Democratic attempts to expand the map, and to allow the National Republican Congressional Committee to spend on competitive races.
Republicans have a registration advantage in this district, which stretches from Northern Virginia to the North Carolina border. But even though Trump announced a $2 million statewide television buy in Virginia beginning this week, the state as a whole looks out of reach for him.
“With undefined candidates and a volatile presidential race, it seems like a district potentially susceptible to the political winds of the environment,” one GOP operative said of Hurt’s seat.
Democrats haven’t made this seat a target. But they see it as a race that could break late for them. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee put Dittmar on its Red to Blue List in late September.
She has raised more than double what Garrett has, and there’s a solid Democratic base in Charlottesville that, with Clinton’s dominance in the state, could push her over the edge.
A recent Democratic poll showed Trump leading Clinton 46 to 42 percent in this district, down from a 9-point lead in July. In the survey, conducted Oct. 10-12 by Anzalone Liszt Grove Research for the DCCC, Dittmar trailed Garrett by 6 points, 41 to 47 percent. That’s a closer margin than in July, when she trailed by 10 points.
But Republicans are looking at more optimistic data for them. An internal poll conducted last weekend by Market Street Research for Garrett’s campaign gave him a 50 to 39 percent lead. Garrett had a 30 percent favorable to 14 percent unfavorable rating, while Dittmar’s favorables and unfavorables were tied at 22 percent each. The polling release did not include presidential numbers.
Garrett, an Army veteran, has received financial support from most GOP members of the Virginia delegation and from conference leadership as well as from Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, chairman of the Freedom Caucus.
EMILY’s List, End Citizens United PAC, and the PAC formed by the New Democratic Coalition, a group of pro-growth Democrats in the House, are backing Dittmar, a mediator and former president of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce.
But whether Dittmar has a chance on election night will likely come down to just how narrow a margin Trump wins here.
“Even if things are not going well for Trump on election night, he’s still likely to carry that district,” which will likely spell good news for Garrett, a Virginia GOP operative said.