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Pat Smith, mother of Benghazi victim Sean Smith, speaks during the opening day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, July 18, 2016.

A tale of two grieving parents

07/29/16 02:24PM

Both major-party conventions featured grieving family members at various points over the last couple of weeks. The parties saw an opportunity to honor individuals and policy priorities with Americans who've suffered horrible losses, and in general, these appearances carried great emotional weight.
In fact, two of the most memorable speeches of both party gatherings came from parents who lost loved ones abroad.
But that doesn't mean their appearances were the same.
Last week, for example, on the opening night of the Republican National Convention, organizers gave a prominent role to Pat Smith, Benghazi victim Sean Smith's mother. It was a deeply unfortunate display: Smith, still struggling with the kind of pain few of us can imagine, used her time on the stage to repeat discredited conspiracy theories.
"She deserves to be in stripes," Smith said of Clinton, adding, "I personally blame Hillary Clinton for the death of my son." Given the facts, even those presented by congressional Republicans themselves, Smith's remarks were ugly and wrong, and it almost certainly wasn't appropriate for Republican organizers to exploit her grief to peddle conspiratorial nonsense.
A week later in Philadelphia, Khizr Khan, whose son, U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan, died in Iraq at the hands of a terrorist, addressed the Democratic convention. In the process, he delivered one of the most powerful moments of either party gathering.
But wait, conservatives will ask. Why was Smith's appearance worthy of criticism, while Khan's appearance is celebrated? Isn't that hypocritical?
The answer is no. The differences should be obvious.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Democratic vice presidential candidate, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., right, stand on stage on the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pa., July 28, 2016. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Flipping the script without changing the platform

07/29/16 12:53PM

Nothing has been normal about the 2016 presidential election, so perhaps we shouldn't be surprised by the major-party conventions, but few political observers seemed fully prepared for bookend gatherings in which the parties' messages defied all expectations.
The Washington Post had a good piece on this overnight.
The country's two major political parties, emerging from their conventions to square off in the general election, are speaking to Americas unrecognizable to each other in voices that sound like a political and ideological role reversal.
For Republicans, the country is a place of near-apocalyptic gloom whose best days are fast receding.
The GOP's America is a depressing and divided place, facing existential threats around every corner, gripped by "chaos" and a sense of hopelessness. The Democratic America "is a vibrant and diverse place," with a bright future the country can move towards with great confidence.
The gap between the two perceptions is stunning, but so too is the parties' willingness to play against type. Even if you didn't see all of the Democratic convention, you probably picked up on some of the key themes -- patriotism, optimism, family, future, unity -- built around the Clinton campaign's "Stronger Together" slogan.
Vox noted yesterday that Democrats "have stolen the GOP's best rhetoric -- and Republicans have noticed."
I've seen more than a few observers note that, at times, the Democratic convention resembled a Republican convention from years past. Multiple speakers, including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, made Reagan references. A retired admiral, noting the Republican nominee's denigration of POWs, said from the stage, "I served in the same Navy as John McCain. I used to vote in the same party as John McCain. Donald, you are not fit to polish John McCain's boots."
In response, Democrats roared with approval -- just as they did when Doug Elmets told attendees last night, "It's an honor to be here. Candidly, it's also a shock -- because, unlike many of you, I'm a Republican. I'm here tonight to say, I knew Ronald Reagan. I worked for Ronald Reagan. Donald Trump, you are no Ronald Reagan."
National Review's Rich Lowry said this week, "American exceptionalism and greatness, shining city on hill, founding documents, etc -- they're trying to take all our stuff."

Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.29.16

07/29/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* Donald Trump complained on Twitter this morning that Hillary Clinton's convention speech didn't emphasize "the many problems of our country" to his satisfaction. I think he was serious.
* After President Obama obliquely referred to Trump as a "demagogue," Gov. Mike Pence (R), apparently forgetting who his running mate is, complained, "I don't think name calling has any place in public life."
* In Pennsylvania, a Suffolk poll released yesterday showed Hillary Clinton leading Trump, 50% to 41%. With third-party candidates in the mix, Clinton's advantage remains at nine points. (Note, this survey was conducted during the Democratic convention -- which was held in Pennsylvania.)
* The same Suffolk poll shows Katie McGinty (D) with a surprising seven-point lead over incumbent Sen. Pat Toomey (R), 43% to 36%. Most other recent polling shows Toomey in a better position.
* In Missouri, a Mason-Dixon poll shows Clinton narrowly ahead of Trump, 41% to 40%, with Libertarian Gary Johnson at 9%. Missouri is generally considered a safe bet for Republicans, making these results -- in a poll conducted last week -- quite surprising.
* The same poll found incumbent Sen. Roy Blunt (R) with a modest, four-point lead over Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander (D), 47% to 43%.
* At an appearance in Iowa yesterday, Trump told voters that he was so upset over some of the speakers at the Democratic convention, he wanted to "hit a number of those speakers so hard, their heads would spin." The Republican nominee added, "They'd never recover." I guess that presidential "pivot" hasn't quite begun yet.
A sign is left on the chairs as delegate leaves after the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Trump throws the RNC under the bus

07/29/16 11:20AM

Donald Trump on the Republican National Convention, one week ago today:
"One of the best produced, including the incredible stage & set, in the history of conventions. Great unity! Big T.V. ratings!"
Donald Trump on the Republican National Convention, now:
Asked about the differences, Mr. Trump said he could not speak to them with much specificity, because "I didn't produce our show -- I just showed up for the final speech on Thursday."
One starts to get the impression that perhaps the Republican nominee's enthusiasm for last week's gathering has waned.
And it's easy to see why.
Khizr Khan, father of deceased Muslim U.S. Soldier, delivers remarks on the fourth day of the Democratic National Convention, July 28, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pa. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty)

Khizr Khan's words won't soon be forgotten

07/29/16 10:47AM

The timing was almost certainly coincidental, and yet, somehow perfect. Last night, Donald Trump campaigned in Iowa, where he assured voters he's right about bringing back torture and blocking refugees fleeing terrorist violence.
And right around the time those remarks were uttered, a 1,000 miles to the east, the exact opposite message was emanating from the floor of the Democratic National Convention.
U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan's infantry unit was guarding the gates to their base in Iraq 12 years ago when a suspicious vehicle approached. Khan, a Muslim-American soldier, took 10 steps toward the car before it exploded, killing him.
Khan's sacrifice, posthumously awarded with a Bronze Star and Purple Heart, was on full display at the fourth and final night of the Democratic National Convention.
Khizr Khan, the father of the fallen 27-year-old captain, told the audience in Philadelphia, "Hillary Clinton was right when she called my son, 'the best of America.' If it was up to Donald Trump, he never would have been in America."
Khan, standing alongside his wife, reached into his pocket and pulled out a copy of the U.S. Constitution. "Let me ask you," Khan said, addressing Trump directly. "Have you even read the United States Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy. In this document, look for the words 'liberty' and 'equal protection of law.'
"Have you ever been to Arlington Cemetery? Go look at the graves of the brave patriots who died defending America -- you will see all faiths, genders, and ethnicities. You have sacrificed nothing and no one."
In brief and memorable remarks, Khan didn't just push back against Trump's bigotry, he also laid waste to Trump's twisted understanding of patriotism.
Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin speaks during the Indiana Republican Party Spring Dinner, April 21, 2016, in Indianapolis. (Photo by Darron Cummings/AP)

Kentucky Republicans try to redefine 'insured'

07/29/16 10:11AM

Under former Gov. Steve Beshear's (D) leadership, Kentucky became a national leader in health care. The Bluegrass State implemented the Affordable Care Act to perfection and saw results that most states envied. No state has seen a sharper improvement in its uninsured rate.
Kentucky voters decided last year, however, to go in a very different direction, electing a far-right amateur, Matt Bevin (R), as their new governor, inadvertently endorsing his anti-healthcare platform.
The Republican, in his first year, has already scrapped Kentucky's state-based marketplace, choosing instead to direct consumers to the federal, and now he's pushing to overhaul Kentucky's Medicaid-expansion policy, uprooting an effective system while demanding conservative "reforms."
Part of the problem with the debate is that the Bevin administration seems to have a unique understanding of health care coverage. Reporter Joe Sonka flagged this fascinating report the other day from the Courier Journal in Louisville.
"There has not been a historic drop in uninsured -- this is misleading," [cabinet spokeswoman Jean West's] statement said. "Medicaid is not health insurance -- it is a benefit program like SNAP (food stamps) or TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) ... What we have seen is a historic rise in people on taxpayer-funded Medicaid."
Got that? It may look like a low-income Kentucky family has coverage, which means being able to afford a doctor's visit or a trip to the hospital, but that's because that family is covered through Medicaid.
And according to the Republican governor of Kentucky, Medicaid coverage shouldn't count as coverage at all because, well, because the Bevin administration says so.
During a campaign rally Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reads a statement made by Michelle Fields, on March 29, 2016 in Janesville, Wis. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

Trump draws an even harder line on tax returns

07/29/16 09:37AM

In October 2012, just days ahead of the last presidential election, Donald Trump published a tweet directed at President Obama. "Why does Obama believe he shouldn't comply with record releases that his predecessors did of their own volition?" the Republican complained. "Hiding something?"
Four years later, Trump happens to be facing extremely similar questions. Every major-party presidential nominee since Watergate has, of their own volition, voluntarily released their tax returns for public scrutiny. Trump, however, is refusing -- despite having said he would release his returns, despite the precedent set by others, and despite the obvious need given multiple ongoing controversies.
Last night, as TPM noted, Fox News' Greta Van Susteren pressed Trump on the matter, and he continued to say he wouldn't disclose the materials.
Van Susteren pressed Trump, asking why he is unwilling to release tax returns that are no longer under audit, even if he still refuses to publicize his most recent documents.
"Most people don't care about it," Trump responded. "I've had very, very little pressure."
The GOP nominee may not appreciate this, but when a presidential candidate is hiding something, and brags that he's received "very little pressure," he's effectively inviting additional pressure.
In the same interview, Trump added, "I remember with Mitt Romney four years ago, everybody wanted his, and his is a peanut compared to mine. It's like a peanut. It's very small.... Now, they finally got it in September. He decided to give it. And they found a couple of little minor things. Little things that didn't mean anything.... They found a little sentence and they made such a big deal. He might have lost the election over that."
It's not clear what "little sentence" Trump is referring to from Romney's tax returns, but Trump nevertheless believes Romney's disclosure cost him politically -- which apparently is contributing to Trump's insistence on secrecy.
Note, however, the broader shift in explanations.

Economic growth remains sluggish in 2nd quarter

07/29/16 08:46AM

The U.S. economy is still growing; it's just not growing very quickly. CNBC reported this morning:
The U.S. economy grew far less than expected in the second quarter as inventories fell for the first time since 2011, but a surge in consumer spending pointed to underlying strength.
Gross domestic product increased at a 1.2 percent annual rate after rising by a downwardly revised 0.8 percent pace in the first quarter, the Commerce Department said on Friday. The economy was previously reported to have grown at a 1.1 percent pace in the first quarter.
While GDP growth of 1.2% can charitably be described as lackluster, the disappointment is compounded by the fact that economists has projected growth twice as strong.
The full report from the Commerce Department is online here.
The news, however, wasn't all bad. As CNBC's report added, "Consumer spending was responsible for almost all of the rebound in GDP growth in the second quarter. Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, increased at a 4.2 percent rate. That was the fastest pace since the fourth quarter of 2014."
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton waves as she arrives at the fourth and final night at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pa., July 28, 2016. (Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Hillary Clinton presents herself as the anti-Trump

07/29/16 08:00AM

I've never known for sure exactly where the cliché started, though it's often attributed to "The West Wing." Faced with a serious challenge, the solution on the television show was to "let Bartlett be Bartlett." The results tended to be more effective when the president was encouraged to just be himself.
I thought about the phrase watching Hillary Clinton accept the Democratic nomination last night, because it's likely she and her team received all kinds of advice about that speech. She was no doubt given an endless stream of tips about what to say and how to say it, but in the end, the candidate and the campaign decided to "let Hillary Clinton be Hillary Clinton."
And it worked like a charm.
It's no secret that Clinton prefers prose to poetry, and she'll never be hailed as a legendary orator, so last night was partly about turning a perceived negative into a positive. Consider:
"It's true, I sweat the details of policy -- whether we're talking about the exact level of lead in the drinking water in Flint, Michigan, the number of mental health facilities in Iowa, or the cost of your prescription drugs. Because it's not just a detail if it's your kid, if it's your family.
"It's a big deal. And it should be a big deal to your president."
Later in her remarks, she noted that in Donald Trump's convention speech, the Republican nominee "offered zero solutions." Clinton added, "[H]e doesn't like talking about his plans. You might have noticed, I love talking about mine."
Clinton was pitching a substantive, solutions-oriented candidacy. Trump may want to revel in post-policy bliss, rejecting wonky details as annoyances to be avoided, but Clinton reminded the nation last night that she actually cares about policy minutiae -- which is something voters should feel good about.
Because by the time the balloons dropped, one thing couldn't have been much clearer: in practically every way that matters, Hillary Clinton, the first woman to ever lead a major-party presidential ticket, is the anti-Trump.
Clinton delivers meaty, 'workman-like' speech

Clinton delivers meaty, 'workman-like' speech

07/28/16 11:42PM

Nicolle Wallace and Steve Schmidt, Republican strategists, talk about how Hillary Clinton's Democratic nomination acceptance speech will resonate with demographic groups beyond the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. watch


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