On the Campaign Trail (mid-January)

The Curmudgeon must confess that as much fun as it is to follow the nonsense that comes out of candidates’ mouths and share it with you, he also finds it disheartening – disheartening because these are people who aspire to lead our country yet they lower and debase themselves, their opponents, and the democratic process in unmistakably shameful ways.

This is nothing new, of course: political campaigns are usually pretty hard-fought and often nasty. We quickly forget the vicious, malicious tactics that propelled George W. Bush over John McCain in 2000 and even the telephone campaign Richard Nixon engineered against Helen Gahagan Douglas, his opponent for his first elected office (Congress): long before robo-calls, Nixon’s staff would call voters and, when they picked up their phones, announce “”Did you know Helen Gahagan Douglas was a Communist?” and then hang up.

The participation of Donald Trump in this campaign has unquestionably lowered the quality of the public discourse, as the presence of Trump in any endeavor will inevitably do. Still, it’s not entirely Trump’s fault, as this very interesting excerpt from a November 9 article in the New Yorker explained:

 palinRepublicans today have given the country conservatism in the spirit of Sarah Palin, whose ignorance about the world, contempt for expertise, and raw appeals to white identity politics presaged Trump’s incendiary campaign. So did the spectacle, in 2009, of a Republican congressman calling the President a liar during a speech Obama gave to a joint session of Congress, and Party leaders comparing Obamacare to Nazism and slavery. Earlier this year, forty-seven Republican senators wrote the Supreme Leader of Iran and declared that the President didn’t speak for the country. There have been regular threats to close the federal government in order to accomplish limited political goals. (In September, another shutdown, over the defunding of Planned Parenthood, was narrowly avoided, despite the support of nearly all the Republican Presidential candidates.) On right-wing radio, Obama is constantly accused of tyranny and treason. Once the restraints are lifted, they’re hard to restore. Trump may be the bastard spawn of the Republican Party, but his parentage can’t be denied.

Now let’s take a look at what’s been happening on the campaign trail.


Lindsay Graham

Buh-bye, Lindsay.


George Pataki

And you too, George. Your hubris in thinking you had anything to offer, that anyone would be even slightly interested in anything you had to say, was just astounding.


Ben Carson

Dr. Ben apparently spent so much time studying medicine, when he wasn’t dealing with his self-proclaimed pathologically bad temper, that he skipped some American history classes – or at least one might suspect as much after he tried to dismiss as a problem his own lack of experience in public office by observing that “Every signer of the Declaration of Independence had no elected office experience.”

The Washington Post’s “fact checker” feature described the depth of Carson’s ignorance – but you didn’t need that help, did you, because unlike Carson, you were paying attention in school. The committee that drafted the Declaration included Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin. Jefferson had already served in Virginia’s House of Burgesses, Adams in the Massachusetts state assembly, and Franklin in Pennsylvania’s state assembly. In fact, the Post reports, 27 of the other 51 signers of the Declaration of Independence served in elected office.

Well, Carson proved a point. Unfortunately for him, it wasn’t the point he was trying to make.

We’ve all run across people who’ve inflated their resumes, and as someone who probably never expected to have that resume face public scrutiny, Carson’s been caught with his CV down. He claimed to have been offered a full scholarship to West Point; aside from all students attending West Point being on full scholarship, this just isn’t true: it never happened. That friend he tried to stab, often cited as proof of the pathologically bad temper Carson had as a young man, is now a cousin, not a friend.

carsonCarson ranged far afield with his suggestion that the pyramids in Egypt were built to store grain, not to serve as tombs for the pharaohs.

It’s good to know Big Ben’s giving some serious thought to issues in the middle east.

And speaking of the middle east, Carson was a doctor, so he should be a good student and a quick learner, right? After all, in the absence of experience in public office, one of the things he’s selling us is his intelligence.

Maybe he needs to sell something else, because all these years after medical school, he seems to have lost the studying habit.

As reported by the New York Times,

Faced with increasing scrutiny about whether Mr. Carson, who leads in some Republican presidential polls, was capable of leading American foreign policy, two of his top advisers said in interviews that he had struggled to master the intricacies of the Middle East and national security and that intense tutoring was having little effect.

“Nobody has been able to sit down with him and have him get one iota of intelligent information about the Middle East,” said Duane R. Clarridge, a top adviser to Mr. Carson on terrorism and national security. He also said Mr. Carson needed weekly conference calls briefing him on foreign policy so “we can make him smart.”

Not exactly confidence-inspiring, is it?

Here’s what else about Carson that isn’t inspiring: his choice of military advisors. One of them is a fellow named Robert Dees (no relation to “Disco Duck” legend Rick Dees), a retired two-star Army general about whom the Philadelphia Daily News had this to report:

dees2…Dees has commited himself to his new crusades — making the U.S. military and the fighting forces of its global allies into missionaries for his deeply held Christian faith, and speaking out against the threat to America posed by a rival religion, Islam.

Currently the director of the Institute for Military Resilience at the Christian fundamentalist Liberty University, founded by the late evangelist Jerry Falwell, Dees — as reported by James Bamford in a recent expose in Foreign Policy — argued in a 2005 newsletter that the U.S. military may be the best way of spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ to the broader American public. He said “the military may well be the most influential way to affect that spiritual superstructure. Militaries exercise, generally speaking, the most intensive and purposeful indoctrination program of citizens.”

Indeed, Dees also believes that U.S. forces, working with the militaries of our closest allies, should be used to spread Christianity around the globe. In a 2007 video, Bamford reported, Dees said: “We seek to transform the nations of the world through the militaries of the world. And we’re in twenty different countries around the world, recognizing that if you could possibly impact the military, you can possibly impact that whole nation for Jesus Christ and for democracy and for proper morality and values-based institutions.”

Oh my!


Carly Fiorina

During one of the Republican debates, Fiorina said that Obamacare “isn’t helping anyone.” She may not like the health care reform law, and that’s certainly her prerogative, but The Curmudgeon suspects that the eighteen million people who were once uninsured and are now insured because of Obamacare might disagree.

Fiorina has failed to capitalize on her strong performances in the first two Republican presidential debates. Why? Maybe she was just the flavor of the month (remember, four years ago, when Rick Perry briefly led in the polls?), maybe she got lost in the shuffle, maybe she lacked a strategy to capitalize on her opportunities, and maybe there’s just nothing of substance behind those strong debate performances.

Or maybe it’s the lies.

fiorinaTime magazine ran a November feature about her titled “Carly Fiorina’s Convenient Truths” that catalogued the candidates lies and half-truths: about seeing a twitching fetus in a Planned Parenthood video, about her rags-to-riches story, about her performance as CEO of Hewlett-Packard, about the deaths of veterans seeking health care, about banks closing because of federal regulations, and more. What’s interesting about Fiorina’s penchant for falsehoods is that when she’s caught in a lie or half-truth, instead of attempting to explain it away or apologize she doubles down on it, insisting that what she said is true even when the facts suggest otherwise. For a candidate who’s never held public office she’s certainly mastered the politician’s talent for telling tall tales and misleading voters.


Chris Christie

The New Jersey governor continues to cross the country trying to make the point that he’s tougher than all of his Republican rivals.

“There’s a new sheriff in town and that’s me, pardner,” he practically tells his audiences.

Do black lives matter? Apparently, not so much: Christie told an Iowa town meeting that if he’s elected, “I want the Black Lives Matter people to understand: Don’t call me for a meeting. You’re not getting one.”

So much for being president of all the people. Maybe he’s just running for president of all the white people.

Ted Cruz

Remember the Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado? Shortly after the shooter was captured, Cruz told an Iowa audience that the shooter might be a “transendered leftist activitist.”

Way to wait for some facts before commenting, Ted.

(And nice job by the press, incidentally, for holding Cruz accountable for this nonsense.)

Not willing to rest on that lunacy, Cruz went on to criticize the media for trying to blame the shooting on the anti-abortion movement – which, of course, turned out to be the case.

So Cruz was both stupid and wrong and certainly not the voice of calm we expect, and need, from our elected leaders.

Cruz also has been playing fast and loose with military language – including his call to “carpet-bomb” ISIS.

Carpet-bomb? The U.S. doesn’t do that and never has, the New York Times reported.

“That’s just another one of those phrases that people with no military experience throw around,” chuckled retired Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, a military historian and former commandant of the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa.

“America has never carpet-bombed anyone at any time because that’s not our doctrine,” said General Scales.

Cruz told NPR that the U.S. carpet-bombed Iraq into oblivion in 37 days during the first Gulf war. There are a few problems with that assertion: first, “into oblivion?” Hardly: Iraq is still with us, having eluded oblivion. Semantic nit-picking aside, military experts maintain that the bombing Cruz cited was highly targeted and definitely not random carpet-bombing.

The Times reported another military leader’s response to Cruz’s carpet-bombing suggestion:

The wanton bombing Mr. Cruz repeatedly refers to, General Selva said, is categorically “not the way that we apply force in combat. It isn’t now, nor will it ever be.”

But it sure makes Cruz sound tough and gets a rise out of his chickenhawk audiences, doesn’t it?

Cruz also had a few things to say about the press making critical comments about his children. We have a strong recent history of presidents seeking to keep their children off-limits to the press (the Carter family with Amy, the Clintons with Chelsea, the Barlets with Zoey, Ellie, and Elizabeth), so The Curmudgeon was uncharacteristically ready to stand alongside Cruz on this one.

Until he looked into the matter more closely.

cruz and kidsIt turns out that Cruz, not the press, decided to get his kids involved in his bid for the White House when he made a video of him and his family reading his version of “Fractured Fairy Tales” (stories include “How Obama Stole Christmas” and “Rudolph the Underemployed Reindeer”). At first his young daughters (ages seven and four) are just sitting there looking adorable, but then, he has one of his little ones read, with gusto, a passage critical of Hillary Clinton (in the story “The Grinch Who Lost Her Emails”); see it for yourself here. At that moment, Cruz put his young kids right into the thick of things and made them fair game for whatever anyone wants to say about them. It’s only fair.


John Kasich

The Curmudgeon’s favorite among the Republican contenders isn’t really a contender anymore; John Kasich is just a pretender who has been a poor candidate and squandered every opportunity to raise himself above the field of other pretenders by acting like he’s trying so hard to raise himself above the field of other pretenders. The Curmudgeon lost all hope for Kasich when the candidate told the National Press Club that if elected he would create an agency to promote Judeo-Christian values overseas to counter Islamist terrorism.

It’s a terrible idea: the U.S. government should never be in the business of promoting any religion’s values. What we can do, on the other hand, is promote American values – values that embrace and encompass Judeo-Christian values, among others. We have the Voice of America, Radio Liberty (an affiliate of Radio Free Europe), and other organizations to do that, though, and the last thing we need is a government agency – and by the way, what’s with a conservative Republican calling for creating a new government bureaucracy? – in the business of promoting any religion’s values. Not only is it a bad idea but it also exposes Kasich as a guy who’s either desperate to appeal to religious voters or just plain ignorant about the values of the country he aspires to lead.


Marco Rubio

Despite the growing sense that people are now comfortable with health care reform and Obamacare, Marco Rubio continues to pander to those who would like to repeal the program and have the 18 million people who have benefited from it return to the ranks of the uninsured. The latest is Rubio’s claim that among all the Republican presidential candidates, he alone has done something about it: specifically, that he gutted a part of the reform law that would help insurers that found themselves overwhelmed with claims from people who were newly insured and needed more medical care than anyone might have anticipated. He claimed it amounted to a government bail-out. Well, Rubio’s right: he did help gut that program. The result: smaller insurers, including co-ops, have ceased operation in recent months, there’s less competition for the newly insured, and premiums have risen for a lot of people.

01-snidely-whiplashAnd that’s Rubio’s idea of an accomplishment, which sort of makes him the Snidely Whiplash of this year’s presidential race. (And there’s also some question about whether he actually played a role in this maneuver. Some of his fellow Republicans question it.)

Rand Paul

It’s now official: Rand Paul is just like his father, running for an office he knows he can’t win. How do we know? Because he also filed to run for re-election to his Senate seat.


Jeb Bush

Got nothing. Sort of like Jeb’s campaign.


Donald Trump

trumpThis didn’t get nearly enough public attention, but when The Donald talks about his glamorous mane, we should really take note. At a gathering in South Carolina, Trump was asked about the Environmental Protection Agency and its campaign to improve water quality through more stringent regulations. According to the online publication The Hill,

“I’ll give you one regulation,” Trump said. “So I build, and I build a lot of stuff. And I go into areas where they have tremendous water. … And you have sinks where the water doesn’t come out.

“You have showers where I can’t wash my hair properly,” he added. “It’s a disaster.

“It’s true. They have restrictors put in. The problem is you stay under the shower for five times as long.”

Wait: you…wash that thing? You mean it doesn’t come out of a box or something?

Trump also scored an important victory: PolitiFact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning organization that scrutinizes what the candidates are saying for the veracity of their statements, declared as “Lie of the Year” Trump’s claim that thousands of Muslim-Americans cheered in Jersey City following the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York City.

At a forum in South Carolina, Trump told an audience that his favorite Supreme Court justice is Clarence Thomas. Seriously, what greater proof does anyone need of Trump’s defective mind?

Trump also had harsh words for chief justice John Roberts.

Justice Roberts really let us down. What he did with Obamacare was disgraceful, and I think he did that because he wanted to be popular inside the Beltway.

Said the man who will say anything, no matter how wrong or vile or malicious, so he will be popular outside the Beltway.

After the terrorist attack in Paris, Trump announced that he might have a way to prevent such attacks in the U.S.: he would strongly consider shutting down mosques. He even suggested he would have no choice but to shut down mosques.

And what after that, Trump: synagogues? Where does it end?

One thing about Trump is that he’s mastered the strategy that if you have nothing true to about someone, just make up something. He’s done it time and time again: told outright lies. His fans love it, insisting that it shows he’s willing to speak his mind and that nobody owns him. (Those fans, you have no doubt noted, don’t really see the big picture here.) His latest fabrication: that electing Ted Cruz president would be a problem because Cruz was born in Canada and The Donald says it’s not clear that the courts would allow him to be president. Trump also says there’s concern about this in a lot of states and it’s possible the courts could tie up a Cruz election for years. This is nonsense, of course: he can, and no one, except maybe the stupid, is talking about this. We’ve been down this road before, too: not with President Obama but with others: Barry Goldwater, who was born in Arizona before it was a state; George Romney (not Mitt), born in Mexico; and John McCain, born in the Panama Canal Zone. Cruz’s mother was born in America, therefore he’s an American citizen. Case closed, except to The Donald, who never, ever lets the truth get in the way of his desire to say things that outrage people.

Last week Trump held a rally in Burlington, Vermont, the town where Bernie Sanders was once mayor. The campaign circulated 20,000 tickets for the event even though the venue had room for only 1400. When people arrived they were asked if they were Trump supporters; those who said they were not were denied admission, even though the tickets said nothing about supporting Trump being a condition of admission.

So much for the right to think what we want to think.

Despite the best efforts of Trump’s staff to keep out dissenters, some of those apparently used the very, very sneaky subterfuge of pretending they were Trump supporters, even though they were not, and began…expressing themselves during the event. Trump insisted that event security remove the dissenters because in The World According to Trump dissent is not permitted and dissenters are enemies, but that wasn’t enough for Trump as he watched security do its thing. He had a suggestion:

“Keep his coat! Confiscate his coat! You know it’s about 10 degrees below zero outside. You can keep his coat. Tell him we’ll send it to him in a couple of weeks.”

So the guy who, just a few months ago, encouraged a Missouri crowd to rough up dissenters is now urging his security guards to strip dissenters of their coats in the freezing cold?

Is this what the country has in store for it in a prospective Trump administration – dissenters will be physically harassed?

trump toilet paperSpeaking of Sanders, during a debate between the Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton was late returning to the stage after a commercial break; it turns out she was in the bathroom. The Donald’s reaction:

I know where she went — it’s disgusting, I don’t want to talk about it. No, it’s too disgusting. Don’t say it, it’s disgusting.

The Curmudgeon would like to claim credit for this line but it’s not his, and sadly, he doesn’t recall who said it, but apparently Trump’s never gone to the bathroom before.

And speaking of disgusting, we come to The Donald’s description of Hillary Clinton’s loss to Barack Obama in 2008: he said she got “schlonged.”

You almost certainly know this, but just in case you don’t, “schlong” is a Yiddish term for the male sex organ.

So what was The Donald trying to say? That she got beat? That she got screwed? That she got f—ked? No one really knows, and he denies any untoward intention, which no one believes, but it’s yet another example of Trump’s disregard and disrespect for women.

When he first started this feature The Curmudgeon worried, as he did when he launched this blog, that he could run out of material. Well, as long as Trump is in the race that seems unlikely – not only because The Donald’s god’s gift to bloggers but also because his disgraceful behavior, instead of eliciting the disdain it deserves, has inspired his competitors to lower themselves to his sad level.

Stay tuned.







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