Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Donald Trump wants to punish women who have abortions. No, it's not going to hurt him in the polls.

I see people suggesting -- hoping -- that Trump's comments about punishing women who have abortions will hurt him. I disagree that that will happen (as nice as it would be). 

First, Wanna-be-Jesus (Ted Cruz)'s camp has been hitting Trump as soft on abortion because of his former pro-choice stances. This proves that he's not -- and it takes a play from his tried and true handbook of saying what Republicans are thinking, but too afraid to say out loud.

Because, let's be honest, that is the end goal, after all. We've already seen bills proposed in this country that would put abortion doctors behind bars. There have been sneaky attempts to do the same to women. But we've also seen laws -- often pushed under the guise of helping pregnant women -- criminalizing pregnancy when the fetus is imperiled -- that is, without abortion even entering the picture. Republicans in this country are already putting women behind bars for harm to their fetuses -- and abortion is still legal here. And elsewhere, in so-called "pro-life" countries, abortion is a punishable crime. Not just for the doctor.
So let's not delude ourselves. Hurting women who have abortions is absolutely the goal of this. Not just punishing the doctors who provide reproductive care. It's what happens where abortion is illegal. It's what is already happening to pregnant women here, while abortion is still legal.
Sure, there are pro-lifers who may think -- at this point -- that this is a little too harsh, that the doctors are the real problem, and so on. But the movement isn't driven by the "moderates" who "only" want to strip women of their rights; its agenda isn't set by those people. It’s set by the fanatics, who call women who exercise their right to choice “murderers”, who promote outright lies about women’s health clinics trafficking human organs, who claim that birth control use leads to cancer, etc.

And you don't legally define something as "murder" and then let the person who authorizes and procures the "murder" walk away without punishment. It just doesn't work that way.

So will these comments hurt Trump? No, I don't think so. It plays up one of his biggest selling points -- that he's the tough, tell-it-like-it-is guy, not afraid to commit to goals that the "pussies" in his party like Ted “Call Me Jesus” Cruz won't. 

It may be a little hardcore for the moderate conservative who merely wants to strip women's rights, but deludes him or herself in the process that it's really the only kind or right thing to do; but Trump's bellicose style would already be extremely off putting to that voter. Along the same lines, Trump has already lost the votes of self-respecting women and men who respect women, due to his storied history of extreme misogyny. The only real danger is that this move may strike his savvier voters as impolitic -- the sort of thing that is understood, but not expressed openly. But, let's face it, Donald Trump's entire rise is due to saying what other Republicans have only hinted at before.

I’ll be surprised if using the same approach on abortion that his won him adoration on immigration, the rights of Muslim citizens and visitors, etc., will hurt him. On the contrary, these comments may well boost him — especially among those who ave heard from the Cruz camp that Trump isn’t anti-choice enough.

April Fool's Day 2016...believe nothing, because anything could happen

So I've been thinking about this, as we approach April Fool's Day...what's left?

I mean, a good prank is one that is believable enough to maybe get you, but obvious enough that it could have been spotted. But now, in 2016? What can people possibly say that would be obvious?

A few months ago, this would have been a good joke.

"Donald Trump brags about his penis size at debate."

Haha, that almost sounds like something he'd do!

Then it happened. 

A few weeks ago, this would might have gotten a few people.

"Donald Trump attacks appearance of rival's wife."

Haha, that sounds like Trump's level. Except, well, damn, it actually happened too. Then there's:

"Ted Cruz proposes patrolling, securing Muslim American neighborhoods."

Haha, that sounds like something that crazy Islamophobe would say. Alas, just like -- since he actually proposed doing exactly that.

Or how about:

"Republicans flocking to candidate they despise, joke about killing."

Except we know that's happened too.

With all the things that have already seems like anything could actually happen in the next few days.

I mean, really, what is the standard for implausibility at this point? 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Samantha Bee is Comedy Central's John Oliver, Jon Stewart

I've got to admit, I was never a huge fan of Samantha Bee on the Daily Show. Sure, she was funny. But next to correspondents like Jessica Williams, John Oliver, Aasif Mandvi, etc., she just didn't stand out like the others. To me, anyway.

Well, one of the benefits of being sick as hell is free time. So I've had a lot of free time these past days, which inevitably led to wasting time on the internet. I've seen a few clips from Bee's show before, and she had really impressed me. As in, way, way more than I ever expected her to. Yesterday I had a chance to see some more.

And, holy shit. She is really, really good. She's the John Oliver of Comedy Central. That's not to bash Trevor Noah. Not only does Salon have that well under control (because, let's face it, they do), but I like Noah, a lot. But his style of political humor is more political comedy-lite than the Daily Show used to be; he doesn't seem to dig as deep on most stories as Stewart did. It's the passing laugh, and then move on. Which personally I think is a loss to his show.

And it's also where Samantha Bee seems to be filling the void, bringing to CC what Oliver took to HBO. I'm really impressed.

Some of my favorite clips:

"There is no God at CPAC" ... where she does a better job covering atheists than I can remember Stewart ever doing (alas).

Bee, on the "Biden Rule":

On rape kits:

And then there's Ted Cruz:

So there's still more I haven't seen, but so far these are some of my favorites. And from what I'm seeing, Bee is on track to be Comedy Central's best voice on political comedy.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Lindsey Graham explains why he picked his poison

I have mentioned before that Senator Lindsey Graham had to "pick his poison" in endorsing Ted Cruz. On the Daily Show last week, he explained why. And, for explaining one of the most awkward shifts in political history, he deserves credit for handling himself well, and being ready for the inevitable questions. It's a genuinely funny bit, and if you haven't seen it yet, I recommend it.

And as it happened, it was not just a funny segment, but it was ground breaking in own way -- demonstrating that conservatives can actually do comedy, and do it well.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

GOP built Trump, and the echo chamber that enables his supporters' devotion

The culmination of decades of conservative fear-mongering
The beautiful (and terrifying) irony of the conservative media and political establishment panicking about Trump is not just that they created the monster. They certainly did that:  they fanned the flames of racism, xenophobia, Christian supremacy, anti-intellectualism and misogyny for decades. They used dog whistles and (once upon a time) subtlety, but they built a culture in which it was okay to call a woman who advocated for birth control a slut, it was okay to insist that Muslims are dangerous, that atheists are evil, that Christians not being allowed to discriminate is persecution. Racial profiling was okay, water boarding was cool, and war was to be desired...and then they were shocked when someone stood up and said these things, out loud, publicly, all at once. So, yes, they built Trump. They celebrated his birtherism, they took him seriously, they laid the groundwork for him.

But they did more than that. They built the fact-phobic echo chamber in which conservative voters currently live, that enables them, simply as a force of habit, to shut out any evidence of Trump's abhorrent behavior and inept posturing.

For years, Fox News and the conservative establishment has been pushing the narrative of a biased, liberal media out to persecute conservatives. Facts didn't matter, because they were just smears. Anything, everything, that contradicted what conservatives wanted to hear was a lie; anyone who contradicted the party line was a lying liar telling lies. Anytime conservatives were called on odious behavior, outright lies, or anything else, it was bias, lies, and biased lies.

Which worked really well at insulating the GOP voter base from pesky reality. And, for quite some time, that worked out really well for the GOP establishment, winning them a variety of local, state and national elections.

Only now, the odious behaviors and outright lies from a conservative happen to be coming from one they despise. But they've already constructed such a thorough fact-filtering apparatus that the loyal base is immune. They don't notice, because why would they? Conservatives don't do odious things, and the never lie; it's only biased liars who suggest that they would!

Rightwing media in particular, aided by no small number of conservative politicians, has promoted the idea that conservative feelings about things matter more than actual facts. And now actual facts about Donald Trump are very much at odds with many Republican voters' feelings about Trump. All of a sudden, conservative leadership is worried that their base doesn't care about facts (at least, the targeted subset of facts they want them to focus on), and loves an odious Republican in spite of all his, well, odiousness.

Which would be really, really hilarious if the Cheetos Monster was confined to their section of the lab, instead of threatening to break free and devour everything in his way.

Good job there, guys...

Friday, March 18, 2016

Socially conservative Republicans are capable of charitable forgiveness after all

When it comes to loving your enemy, Christian conservatives are not generally keen to take up the Good Lord on that command. It's one of the liberally, hippie type parts of the Bible that winds up the conservative trash bin, in favor of the more judgey, controlling passages. 

But, credit where credit is due, some Christian conservative politicians seem genuinely to have been moved by the spirit of forgiveness. Not too moved – if you’re transgender, female, gay, poor, African American, Latino, or non-Christian, you’re still not allowed in the GOP’s Big Tent. But when it comes to other conservatives, these moral stalwarts are able to muster a little forgiveness…for the right price, anyway.

For instance, there’s former presidential hopeful Ben Carson. Once a leading GOP star, he was recently reduced to choosing between the guy who had no chance (Rubio), the guy who no one had ever heard of (Kasich), the guy who sabotaged his first caucus with “dirty tricks” (Cruz), or the guy who likened him to a pedophile (Trump). How the mighty have fallen (though certainly not so far as Chris Christie, whose pain has launched a thousand schadenfreude-filled jokes).

Being a forgiving soul, Carson chose the man who had the best chance of winning the primary really earned his trust, and went for the Cheetos Monster. And, granted, certain promises were allegedly made:

Carson then said that Trump had promised him a role in his administration, "certainly in an advisory capacity."

 But, ultimately, Carson’s forgiveness was given because it was the right thing to do, not because of any promises of power that may or may not have been made. It’s right for America:

 Carson said he is supporting Trump for the good of the country despite the previous personal attacks. He told Golodryga: “It’s not really about me. If it were about me, yes, I would be outraged. I would say in no way can I support this, but it’s not about me. It’s about America.” Carson continued, “Unfortunately we live in a society where that kind of thing works, and people use things that work.”

But Carson’s not the only man of moral courage, willing to forgive past wrongs for the sake of the country. Lindsey Graham recently proved that he too is capable of loving his enemy, when he endorsed Senator Ted Cruz. 

And my use of the term enemy isn’t really exaggeration, either. He’s literally joked about Ted Cruz getting murdered on the floor of the Senate.

A few weeks later, he'd taken an even darker turn. "If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate and the trial was in the Senate," Graham told a group of journalists, "no one would convict you."

 He’s also likened supporting Cruz to dying:

 If you're a Republican and your choice is Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in a general election, it's the difference between poisoned or shot—you're still dead.

 As it turned out, though, Graham in the end had to bite the bullet, if you will, and pick his poison: and, if it meant thwarting Donald Trump, Lindsey Graham could forgive the viper that is Cruz.

More than forgive, he could endorse his enemy. It's the kind of thing Jesus would be proud to see.


Ben Carson image: By Gage Skidmore - File:Ben Carson by Gage Skidmore 6.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Cruz's only real path to the nomination is a contested convention. And that probably means losing the general election

Ted Cruz, man of principle, knows that the only way to beat Donald Trump is at the ballot box. Anything else risks a revolt:

Ted Cruz on Friday said that a brokered Republican National Convention in July "ain't gonna happen," but the presidential candidate and Texas senator also appeared to be open to forming a unity ticket with Marco Rubio.
"A brokered convention is the pipe dream of the Washington establishment," Cruz told reporters ahead of his rally in Orono, Maine, but added, "In my view, a brokered convention ain't going to happen."
Cruz said that if the Washington establishment tried to steal the nomination from the GOP front-runner, currently Donald Trump, it could cause a revolt. That's why he emphasized how important it is for him to win the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination.

He has allowed himself a little safety net – if he and Trump are “neck and neck” and neither have hit the mark, a contested convention will solve the problem:

"If it ends up happening that we get to Cleveland and nobody has 1,237 delegates, that Donald has a whole bunch of delegates and I have a whole bunch of delegates and we come in neck and neck, then it is up to delegates to decide," he added.

Now, this being Ted Cruz we’re talking about, what “neck and neck” means tomorrow may be a vastly different thing than what it means today…but his comments make it clear that, barring a genuinely close race, come the convention, this would be the wrong path.

Self-appointed prophet and Cruz cheerleader Glenn Beck has been selling this same line with even more fervor. And he’s been less cautious with his language than Cruz, saying directly that whoever goes into the GOP convention with the lead should be the nominee. He argued this on This Week, as part of his vote Cruz spiel:

Now, the GOP is playing unbelievable games right now trying to make sure they get their way, and they're trying to go for a brokered convention. I'm against Donald Trump, but I'll tell you one thing, if he gets -- if he gets close enough and the GOP tries to play games, I won't vote for Donald Trump ever, but I will stand with his right, because the people have spoken. And what the GOP is doing is they are stirring things up because they are more afraid of Ted Cruz than they are of Donald Trump.

Beck proceeded to explain why Kasich and Rubio simply had to – had to! – get out of the race (their “votes would go right to Ted Cruz”), and again reiterated “we don’t want a brokered convention”.
 And even more explicitly, when asked directly if it was right to deny Trump the nomination if he garnered more votes than other candidates, he responded: 

STEPHANOPOULOUS: Does that mean that -- you just said you don't believe it's fair to deny Donald Trump the nomination if he has the lead going in --
BECK: Of course not.
 So, the principled conservative has painted himself into a spot: he has to at least get more delegates than Trump, ideally hitting the magic 1,237 number.
But if we look at the actual numbers, there is almost no realistic path for Ted Cruz to hit 1,237 delegates “at the ballot box”…and getting a lead on Trump is a longshot too. Why?
As of today, the delegate count is:

Trump – 673
Cruz – 411
Kasich – 143

There are 1,061 delegates left to be allocated among Cruz, Kasich and Trump.

If Kasich won literally ever remaining delegate (which is as probable as me being elected Pope), he would have 1,204 delegates. That would put him ahead of both Trump and Cruz, but 33 short of the nomination. In short, if Kasich won everything from now until Cleveland, he still wouldn’t have hit the magic number. His only hope is a contested convention (and even if no one gets 1,237 delegates, it may not benefit him anyway, unless he sees a serious improvement in his political fortunes between then and now).

Trump, on the other hand, is over half way to hitting the needed delegate count (he still needs 564 delegates to become the outright nominee). Cruz though has a much steeper hill to climb…at 411, he’s over 200 delegates short of the halfway mark (618.5). With 826 missing delegates, he has to over double his previous wins in the remaining states.

Percentage wise, that would require securing nearly 78% of the remaining delegates. Trump, by way of contrast, needs just over 53% of the remaining delegates. That’s a much more reasonable number, but may still prove an insurmountable hurdle for the frontrunner, who so far has been winning just under 48% of the allocated delegates. Cruz, on the other hand, hasn’t even scored 30% of the allocated delegates thus far.

But what about Rubio? My Cruz supporting friends have hailed the establishment favorites’ departure as a gift to the Cruz campaign. My gut tells me otherwise. If you examine their rhetoric, it’s clear that Trump appeals mainly to the pissed off, the disenfranchised and the bullies. Other people screwed the nation up, but he’ll fix it, because he’s smart, he’s fixed things before, and he's got people (also, he will happily reassure voters, a large penis). And he'll deport and ban people of color too, because, why not season anger with racism? It’s a cherished Republican recipe for winning elections.

Cruz appeals mainly to the theocrats, the religious fanatics and the social conservatives. He’s going to make America great with faux humbleness to God, and by targeting the rights of all the icky sinners your preacher doesn’t like. God’s got his back, and if Christians band together, they’ll stop the rising tide of radical secularism and protect religious liberty forever and ever, amen. Oh yeah, plus, he's One True Conservative.

Rubio, though, tried to position himself as a reasonable guy. He wasn’t the smarmy preacher who would cure your kid’s cancer, if you only tithed a little harder. He isn’t going to knock your lights out if you cross him. Granted, he’d check all the conservative check boxes (Christian? Check. Opposes women and gay people having too many rights? Check. Wants to exempt religious people from the law? Check). But he’ll do it without foaming at the mouth, and without inciting riots in the streets. That is, he’ll implement an agenda of disenfranchisement, subtly racist policy, and Christian supremacy, but politely. The way smart Republicans have been doing it for decades.

He was, essentially, a younger, less folksy but more robotic Kasich. So the base that supported Rubio is a base that has more in common with Kasich than Trump or Cruz. Originally, I expected that this might translate to higher support for Kasich than the other two, but as our first post-Rubio poll emerges, it seems I wasn't fully accounting for how many supporters would gravitate toward the leading candidate who sort-of-kind of aligned with Rubio rather than the candidate who was most similar but further behind. It's also worth pointing out, the last time this poll was conducted, Carson was still in the pack, so it maps the shift of his evangelical base as well as Rubio's base.

All of that said, this latest Rasmussen poll has Cruz gaining more support (11%) following Rubio and Carson's departure than either other candidate (probably as a result of being the only candidate who has a chance, albeit a nearly impossible one, of making #NeverTrump a reality before the convention; and targeting a the same base as Ben Carson). Still, in terms of net effect, this is decidedly not the miracle Cruz needed, as Kasich is right behind him at 9%, and Trump behind both at 7%. The distribution of support was so similar that it's had a negligible impact on the distance between the front runners:

Rasmussen pollsters found Donald Trump leading the way with 43 percent support, followed by Ted Cruz at 28 percent and John Kasich at 21 percent. Trump’s 15-point cushion is the same as it was the last time the same pollsters asked the question shortly after Trump’s South Carolina victory forced Jeb Bush out of the race.

Now, this is only the first poll, and things may change. But for now, I don’t see Rubio’s departure greatly altering the race for anyone but Kasich (and only, in Kasich’s case, of increasing his viability in a contested convention).

And if both Trump and Kasich combined get more than 235 of the remaining delegates, Cruz doesn’t score the nomination. Which leads me to the conclusion that Cruz hitting 1,237 delegates before Cleveland is practically impossible. (Yes, I included a qualifier because, let’s face it, this election has proved that nothing is impossible…but I see this as being about as unlikely as it gets, barring something like Trump stepping down to devote his life to humanitarian work and peacemaking).

So for all Beck and Cruz’s talk of the ballot box, the best chance Cruz really has is the same one that Kasich has – a contested convention. And to be competitive with Trump – to have a chance of being “neck and neck” – he is not only going to have to win at the same rate as the Cheetos Monster…he’s going to have to gain 250 delegates in the process. With Trump picking up nothing along the way, that’s about 24% of the remaining delegates that he has to win just to be tied with Trump today. Even if Trump’s 48% rate of wins decreases, and Cruz’s 30% increases, that’s a lot of catchup. It’s the more plausible scenario than Cruz securing the nomination by hitting the 1,237 mark in my opinion, but it doesn’t seem particularly likely as Trump doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Cruz’s occasional wins may be enough to prevent an outright win before Cleveland, but, again, barring something like Trump sacrificing kittens on live TV, I don’t put much on Cruz’s chances of catching up.

Now, nothing is impossible. Cruz may yet win the nomination outright. He could get the 78% of delegates between now and Cleveland. Trump may say or do something reasonable, and so lose half his base. But I’m not particularly confident that any of the above will occur. Indeed, the only realistic scenario I see that could potentially lead to a Cruz win seems to be the very one Cruz and Beck detest so very much: handing the nomination not to the candidate preferred by the majority of Republican voters, but to whoever the party can tolerate instead. 

And then? My guess is we’ll see Trump on a third party ticket. Not because he’ll win (he won’t), but for the same reason I suspect Carson considered embracing Trump and not fellow evangelical Cruz after Iowa: retribution for “dirty tricks”. He's hinted it before, and if he ends up losing the nomination despite having more votes (especially if it's a lot more votes) than anyone else, that's not going to sit well with his ego. Which, considering the loyalty of the Trump base, strikes me as an almost guaranteed victory for Democrats, as it would siphon off so many Republican voters from Cruz.

Updated 3/19, to account for new poll data