At the Washington Walrus, we recognize that it can sometimes be difficult to keep up with the latest in baffling tweets, nonsensical decisions, and eh… “reverse psychology” employed by the Trump Administration. One story may change from one end of the day to the next. So, we thought, it’d be handy to save you the hassle of sorting through this all and give you the main talking points that dominated this presidency in 2018 (year 2) with some colorful commentary.
Fire and Fury is released. Although Michael Wolff’s first-hand account is un-sourced and speculative, it manages to grind Trump’s gears immediately. Mike Pence, who believes gays can be cured with shock therapy, decries it as a “work of fiction.” Later on this year, his family will release a book about his rabbit, Marlon Bundo.
Trump presents the “Fake News Awards” via Twitter. The New York Times and CNN dominate the evening.
Government Shutdown 1/3- this time over government funding.
Government Shutdown 2/3- over funding again. Eventually, things clear and a budget proposal is launched with major tax cuts for the rich.
Former Trump lawyer, Michael Cohen, starts facing a tough year when he acknowledges payment (on his own behalf) to Stormy Daniels in 2016.
Trump fires Rex Tillerson and hires former CIA director, Mike Pompeo, as new Secretary of State. Gina Haspel takes over his role meanwhile.
Trump, against advice, calls Putin to congratulate him on his re-election.
White House issues memorandum on Mattis’ military policies to the effect that they support disqualifying transgender people from military service.
Increased scrutiny on Stormy Daniels’ affair. She files a lawsuit on claims Trump’s made.
Ends temporary protected status for Hondurans.
Department of Homeland Security reveals that between April 19 and May 31, nearly 2,000 children were separated from adults at the Mexican border. Trump tries to blame others, including Democrats for what easily ranks in his top 3 evil policies to date.
Describes Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, as “very dishonest and meek” after G7 summit.
Scott Pruitt resigns as EPA head.
Robert Mueller indicts 12 Russian intelligence officers over hacking Democratic emails.
Trump advises Theresa May to sue the EU over Brexit negotiations. It’s quite a month for him.
Trump and Putin meet at a summit in Helsinki. Trump states he knows no reason why Russia would’ve interfered in the 2016 election. Putin gives Trump a football as a present. Trump throws it to Melania, saying it’ll be a present for Barron. The world watches stunned.
Iran’s President, having said a war between the US and Iran would be the “mother of all wars” is hit with Trump’s latest constipation tweet: “To Iranian President Rouhani: NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE. WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!” It was all caps, so you know he means business.
Cohen claims Trump knew of June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower between campaign officials and Russian lobbyists promising “dirt” on Clinton.
Press Secretary, Sarah H. Sanders calls the press the “enemy of the people”.
Manafort and Cohen are both found guilty of 5 counts of tax evasion.
Trump says in an interview with Fox that if he was to be impeached, the market would most surely crash. He’s taken a lot of credit for the economy this year.
The Senate Confirmation hearings begin for Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. This lasts through to October. We learn he likes beer and studiously marks his calendars.
Trump claims before the UN General Assembly that his administration has, in less than 2 years, accomplished more than “almost any other” in history. They laugh at him. Trump says he wasn’t expecting that reaction but that it’s okay. It’s not really though, is it?
Kavanaugh’s confirmation by a hefty 51-49 affirms for many that the #metoo movement still faces limits.
Trump campaigns in anticipation of the mid-term elections.
Jeff Sessions resigns and is replaced by Matthew Whitaker.
Trump fails to attend a WW1 memorial ceremony in Paris with other world leaders due to weather.
Despite expressing concerns over the disappearance of journalist Khashoggi, Trump declares loyalty to Saudi Arabia.
Defends Ivanka’s use of private email.
Cohen pleads guilty to lying to Congress over Mueller/Russia investigation.
George H.W. Bush’s funeral reminds us that the president doesn’t have to be a villain. Not by virtue of Trump however. He looks strikingly out of place.
Cohen sentenced to 3 years for tax evasion, violation of campaign finance laws, and deceiving banks and Congress.
Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis, resigns, after Trump tweets that troops will return home from Syria with victory over ISIS being assured.
Government Shutdown 3/3 over funding for the Border Wall.
And there you have it! Quite a year, huh? Of course, this only scratches the surface. There was also the beginning of a trade war with China and many other resignations/firings. Or how about that meeting with Kim Jong Un? Yes, even though it was one year, a lot happened but what seemed to dominate thematically and quite literally were:
Trump and his team’s lies unfurling under the weight of the exhaustive Mueller investigation.
Trump’s sense of indignation and hostility growing exponentially with any who disagreed with him.
Trump’s needs for appraisal at any cost- be it by others lying to him or by him lying to others about things he has (but hasn’t actually) accomplished.
These themes will probably course over into 2019, a year in which the stakes will undoubtedly be amplified considering the momentum of Mueller’s investigation and the fact that the Democrats will take lead in the House of Representatives. But will it be an easy road for liberals then? Or will Trump’s base fight back, feeling the victims of persecution in both a political and cultural war? And what can Trump do/say to shock us at this point. Well, here’s a few things for 2019 we predict:
The “Fake News Awards” become an actual 3-hour long televised event on Fox with in-memoriam slides for celebrities Trump feels were wrongly accused of sexual misconduct.
Trump tweets spoilers for the Game of Thrones’ finale having gotten Eric to secure a copy. Eric, meanwhile, feels he has done his father proud and gets a gold star.
Attacks nations that don’t pay their dues on the international stage, like Wakanda, which he mistakes for a real country. Marvel play ball.
Promotes Barron to an advisory role. Eric looks on with jealousy.
Delays the 2020 election on account of “important things” needing taken care of first. Democrats, gridlocked on the issue of whether Harry Potter promoted a diverse-enough school experience, fail to challenge him on this.
Claims the wall has been built but is invisible. It’s best not tested though because while it will not prevent you crossing as such, it will inflict a terrible curse on you and your family.
George H.W. Bush one said in an interview that the “L” word was banned from his household in regards to defining his legacy and part played in history. His humility, today, seems all the more gratifying and admirable for the Sasquatch who now occupies the White House and the incessant stranglehold of political tribalism gripping America. Bush was, in many respects, a classic conservative but like McCain (who passed earlier this year), he tempered the extremists of his party. (He could also take a joke- inviting Dana Carvey, who impersonated him on SNL, to perform at the White House upon re-election defeat in 1992.) He raised taxes at great political cost. He formed a lasting friendship with the man who beat him in his re-election bid. He even voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. This man, to many, seems like the last of a dying kind.
In 1989, the world transformed with the fall of the Berlin Wall. What seemed an unlikely reality mere years ago quickly materialized and a steady hand was needed to oversee the end of the Cold War. Bush was the perfect man for this. His mother had instilled in him from an early age the idea to never brag and take any successes as a team’s, not his own. To be fair, Bush wasn’t responsible for what transpired across Eastern Europe or in Russia, credit or fault (depending on who you ask) belongs to a great many but for a US president to not drag this out as a triumphal moment took remarkable tact and restraint. “I’m just not an emotional kind of guy” he remarked, almost disinterested, when pressured by the press. Gorbachev certainly appreciated this. Relations between the US and Russia had never before (or since) been so cordial. This respectful line of diplomacy would prove instrumental in German reunification in the succeeding couple of years.
While he may have averted the world’s gaze from his own mantle however, he wasn’t ready to let America slip by the wayside in its foreign policy. The New World Order, as defined by the end of the Cold War, would see America stand up for sovereign nations being aggrieved across the world. To the World War 2 Generation, this may have seemed admirable, especially with despots like Noriega (in Panama) and Saddam Hussein pushing their luck. To many others however, this marked the beginning of a sinister role for their nation; world police.
The Gulf War of 1991 however was no Vietnam. It was a quick and altogether successful operation, as set out by the Bush administration, which resulted in the liberation of Kuwait. Critics on the left may have questioned the legitimacy of this war (albeit to a lesser extent than his son’s) and pointed to instances of civilian casualties as war crimes. Critics on the right may have argued that the US should have gone into Iraq and overthrown Saddam. Both voices of dissent were largely drowned though by the majority when Bush’s approval ratings shot to an unprecedented 91%.
So how, just over a year later, did such a popular president lose re-election? There were a wide variety of reasons, chief among them; a recession caused by Reaganomics, the entry of a third-party candidate into the race- Ross Perot, and the perceived image of Bush as a man out of touch. Particularly in the case of the latter factor, the Bush Administration’s take on the AIDS crisis and the War on Drugs are remembered unfavorably but he was also seen as a president far more interested in foreign policy than domestic. This is understandable given the Gulf War, Panama, and Somalian interventions, as well as all the changes occurring across Eastern Europe but Bush deserves a little more credit here, in my opinion. There was for one instance, a Clean Air Act, which seems out of place in a Republican’s administration. There was the tax compromise, aforementioned, which eschewed politics in favor of national interest (earning him years later, a Profile in Courage award from the Kennedy Center.) Then there was also the American with Disabilities Act of 1990 which gave legal protections to people with disabilities, previously unaccounted for. This doesn’t often get mentioned but is a key piece of Civil Rights legislation.
Despite all this, Slick Willy Clinton really was able to capture the spirit of the country at the time with his “I feel your pain” moments, saxophone solos, and direct intern management. The 1992 election got fierce and Bush felt the blow personally for years after but he always refrained from criticizing his successor, wishing him the best of luck from day one with a now viral letter (below). He spent the rest of his life, mostly out of the spotlight, save a couple humanitarian relief efforts with Bill and parachute jumps on his birthdays (the last one on his 90th in 2014).
Historians, he once noted, “will point out what we did wrong” and “perhaps, some of the things we got right.” Has a former president ever put it so simply yet brilliantly? One can certainly argue the proportions of these wrongs and rights and yes, one certainly should not do it, merely by comparison to Trump (a benchmark set so low it goes without bothering with) or his son (their approach to Iraq was fundamentally different). It’s definitely a mixed bag, as is the case with most presidents. The impression, I always got of this man however, was that he truly wasn’t obsessed with his legacy or bragging rights. He served 58 air missions in World War 2 (when with his rich connections, he probably could’ve avoided service), took some thankless tasks (chairing the RNC under Nixon, fathering “weak-sauce” Jeb), and acted as a public servant, rather than a typical calculative politician. Even putting aside today’s dark climate, this is the kind of leader we’re unlikely to ever see again.
We here at the Washington Walrus feel passionately about US presidents in a way that can only be described as ‘slightly obsessive.’ And while the Oval Office has been hijacked by a demented Sasquatch, we still felt it was worthwhile taking a look back at better times. Unlike C-SPAN however, we will only be ranking the leaders of the post-war years. Besides a list of 45 being exhaustive and frankly tedious to most (have you even heard of Rutherford B. Hayes? oh… you have?), the position as we know it today really began to take shape in the wake of the New Deal and with the Cold War.
How did we decide? Well, we evaluated each president against the others on an extensive range of factors including: economics; foreign policy; domestic policy; leadership qualities; the tone they set for their times; the context in which they led; bi-partisanship; lasting legacy within these factors; chat show appearances; and more. Some of our choices may raise eyebrows but we didn’t choose frivolously, there was a very definite consensus reached. So, without further ado, to celebrate Presidents’ Day- the United States Presidents from worst to best as ranked by Andrew Carolan (AC) and Matthew O’Brien (MOB):
13. Donald J. Trump (2017-hopefully 2017)
It hardly seems right to rank a president of one month but then nothing he’s done has been fair. Even if the current president (shudder) was ranked on the hilarity of memes alone, he would still lose to Obama and Biden. Also, his policies are over-rated. Sad. AC & MOB
12. George W. Bush (2001-2009)
The affable younger Bush never ranks highly in these lists and… well, do we need to justify this one? The invasion of Iraq, notwithstanding, he had already turned a surplus into a defecit by the time of 9/11 and his slow, baffled response to Hurricane Katrina proved he was anything but fit for the job. America lost its stature of respect across the world where most people could not have imagined this man getting re-elected, much less, surviving another four years without impeachment. And yet, he hung on, leaving the US in the ‘mess’ Trump thinks Obama brought about. It’s easy to criticize Bush though, so for the sake of some balance, we should note that his Medicaid package has proved very popular and PEPFAR has made him nothing short of a hero to Africans, even if it was at the cost of the American taxpayer. AC
11. Gerald Ford (1974-1977)
The ghosts of John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, and Chester Arthur welcomed a new member to their exclusive club on August 9, 1974, the equally unexceptional, equally un-elected, Gerald Ford. It’s hard to postulate as to whether Ford would have ever considered running for president but there is no doubt that he inherited a poisoned chalice. Perhaps his biggest claim to fame came at the beginning of his presidency as he granted Richard Nixon a presidential pardon for the trials and tribulations of Watergate. This would set the tone for the next three years. Yet, many historians have credited Ford with strengthening the frayed fibers of the country through projecting a positive outlook for the American future. His foreign policy was marked by the signing of the Helsinki Accords, which aimed to strengthen the relations between Europe and the Soviet Union. Domestically, Ford struggled to work bilaterally with Democratic majorities in Congress, which tested his parliamentarian ability. Ford, unlike so many of his predecessors, was never destined for the White House. MOB
10. Jimmy Carter (1977-1981)
It pains me to put Jimmy Carter so far down the list. He’s my own personal favorite because I wrote my MA dissertation on him and he has the most moral fibre of any of these fellas (no shots fired during his time). He set a tone of restraint and fiscal conservatism for America, for energy conservation, and for the promotion of human rights internationally. While this may have seemed amicable on the surface; combined with his unfruitful relations with the Democratic base, it only served to corroborate the popular image of him as a weak leader. This, along with the Hostage Crisis, paved the way for a resurgence of the Right in 1980 and his eventual defeat. Carter’s batting average with Congress, on the otherhand, was not bad but many of his measures and examples for the country (including solar panels on the White House) were promptly abandoned in the following administration. Thankfully though, he has gone on to boast perhaps the finest post-presidency. AC
9. John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)
The iconography will never be dispelled but I’m sorry, the ‘what if he had survived…’ postulation is not enough to have him deemed a great president. Man landed on the moon by the close of that decade and yes, the Cuban Missile Crisis was resolved but Kennedy merely made an epic speech in the former’s case and with the latter, helped spark the fuse in the first place with the Bay of Pigs operation. I like him and the image of his presidency remains a great inspiration for many politicians today but I’m sorry, he’s over-rated. There’s no two ways about it. AC
9. Richard M. Nixon (1969-1974)
For Richard Nixon, it was nearly a case of “always the bridesmaid, never the bride.” He had served as Eisenhower’s VP for eight years, and lost out to JFK in the Presidential election of 1960. Yet, he emerged as perhaps one of the most misunderstood presidents in U.S. history. There is no doubt that if you remove Watergate from the equation, Nixon would rank higher. Tricky Dicky assumed control of a country that was deeply bifurcated. Nixon’s domestic record is chequered, yet while he is credited with the progressive initiatives of ‘New Federalism,’ such as Affirmative Action, he is criticized for his economic policy in which inflation drastically increased during his time in office. Unequivocally, his greatest achievement lay in his foreign diplomacy as he opened a previously moribund diplomatic channel with China, and simultaneously eased tensions with the Soviet Union through Détente. Nixon also had to deal with the national dilemma of Vietnam, exercising a policy of Vietnamization. While this was an admirable move, the Christmas bombing campaign in 1972 would set a morose tone for the remainder of his presidency. MOB
7. Harry Truman (1945-1953)
When Truman took over from FDR, he had only been vice-president for three months and had no prior knowledge of the Manhattan Project. He had big shoes to fill and daunting decisions to make; perhaps the toughest of any US president. He’s often ranked highly in these lists for that reason as well as setting the tone for US morale and policy in the Cold War, with the Berlin Airlift, Marshall Plan, and Domino Theory. From an outside perspective, these measures can be interpreted as a signs of an increasing American aggression however. The Atomic Bomb and Korean War too, while necessary to many, are hotly contended by others as sinful acts. In my opinion, the former may never have been needed to defeat Japan (they were on the verge of surrender) but Truman saw no need for further American loss (and a sneaky chance to show Russia what’s what). For that reason, he is a patriot but his values of leadership elsewhere are (let’s say) controversial. AC
6. Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961)
Dwight Eisenhower can be cast in the old American romanticism of a military hero turned Commander in Chief. A denizen of European battlefields, Eisenhower was a progressive Republican that continued the legacies of both the New Deal and the Fair Deal, which placated Congress. His domestic policy advanced the Social Security Program and increased the minimum wage while creating the Interstate Highway System. He brought an end to the Korean War and strengthened the mandate of NATO. Ike fostered a staunch anti-communist policy both at home and overseas with various counter-communist CIA operations. Through the ‘Red Scare’ anti-communist sentiment reached fever pitch, aided by the unchecked actions of Senator Joseph McCarthy who was only silenced when he targeted a sacred U.S. institution, the Army. Eisenhower also loses face for the apathetic national implementation of Brown Vs. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling, which found that segregated schools were unconstitutional. MOB
5. William Jefferson Clinton (1993-2001)
Clinton’s sexual forays remain much of what he is remembered for, unfortunately. The context in which his impeachment arose, however,sheds light on the environment of Washington at the time. Much like Obama, his was a presidency mired by what Hillary referred to as a ‘vast right-wing conspiracy.’ Unlike Obama however, he managed to eventually hammer out a relationship with New Gingrich and the Republican-run Congress, leading to a productive if unintersting string of bills tackling issues like crime. In terms of foreign policy, he is remembered for early blunders in Somalia and failing to act more decisively in Bosnia and Rwanda, but he even found his footing there, leading a substantive effort in the late ’90s in Kosovo. Plus, the country was left with its first surplus since Truman and the North American Free Trade Agreement. It was a time of steady progress which brought America into the Globalized Information Age. AC
4. Ronald Reagan (1981-1989)
“You know there’s a ten-year delay in the Soviet Union on the delivery of an automobile…,” so went the intro to one of Ronald Reagan’s Soviet jokes. Known as the ‘Great Communicator,’ Reagan’s rhetoric resonated with the average American. Inheriting a rotten economy, Reagan went about his policy of supply-side fiscal reform, appeasing many while neglecting minorities. The detriment of ‘Reagenomics’ later manifest in swollen national debt that was bequeathed to H.W. Bush. Foreign policy under Reagan rapidly evolved to establish America as the only dominant global force. Military spending was increased in tandem with the Reagan Doctrine. The faux-pas of the Iran Contras damaged the reputation of the president and exposed the ugly, insidious actions of political back-channeling. However, through escalated efforts to tackle the de-escalation of tensions, Reagan and Gorbachev signed the ground-breaking INF Treaty, eliminating short and intermediate range missiles. A man who, even by his own admissions, was not the brightest, shone like a beacon for many Americans who believed that he had instilled a sense of pride and reignited the flames of patriotism. Just as with JFK, image was important to the successes of Reagan. His unique eloquence restored a nations confidence in an office that had lost all credibility. MOB
3. George H.W. Bush (1989-1993)
By 1992, the elder Bush’s image was one of a jaded veteran fazed by the economic troubles of the MTV generation. Perceptions change however. Historians now, have come to recognize the importance of a steady hand like his in a time of great international upheaval. When the Berlin Wall fell, he acted cautiously, mindful of the consequences this left for Gorbachev. When the more militant hearts called for an invasion of Iraq after the liberation of Kuwait, he thoughtfully withdrew, claiming the mission had been accomplished. When a recession encroached, he put the country ahead of his own political credit, abandoning his pledge to not raise taxes while working with Democrats. And while it may be hard to envisage such a policy with a Republican today, he actually passed a Clean Air Act. In a word- underrated. AC
2. Barrack Obama (2009-2017)
A popular sentiment that emerged in the aftermath of Obama’s historic election in November 2008, was that America had transitioned to post-racial era. This, of course, has not been the case. Elected on a wave of optimism and hope, Obama would face vicious partisanship with a Republican controlled Capitol. Obama initially took the pragmatic approach, but later was forced to use executive powers as he tried to implement his agenda. A historic stimulus package was signed within his first two months of his presidency, much to the chagrin of his friends in the emerging Tea Party. There can be no doubting that his Magnum Opus, the Affordable Health Care Act, is now deeply in jeopardy, and with it, a large portion of his presidential legacy. Obama has been criticized as being weak on foreign policy issues; Benghazi, Russia, Syria, and yet he excelled in restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba, and reaching agreements with China to substantially reduce carbon emissions. We at the Walrus are admirers of Obama, not quite in the same category as the doughy-eyed former VP, Joe Biden, though. Through his presidency, he exemplified integrity speaking to Americans as if they were adults rather than children – perhaps an error, retrospectively. MOB
1. Lyndon Johnson (1963-1969)
There was almost immediate consensus in establishing LBJ as the number one on this list– particularly when we decided that FDR wouldn’t feature because it just simply wouldn’t be fair. In recent years, there has been a rekindling of LBJ’s presidency in television series, and films, namely relating to his landmark racial domestic policies. First the Civil Rights Act of 1964, followed by the commensurate Voting Rights Act in 1965. While some historians are critical of Johnson’s motives, I believe that he was a moral man (at least in regards to civil rights), who had seen the perniciousness of segregation first hand as a school teacher in Texas. Johnson was a spectacular bully, who, unlike Ford when he inherited the White House in freak circumstances, could assert his dominance over just about anybody. The legacy of his domestic agenda was the herculean vision of the Great Society. This encompassed many socially progressive streams such as the War on Poverty, and a plethora of Welfare programs. Johnson’s vision was to provide Americans in need with a hand up, not a handout. The Vietnam War dominated Johnson’s foreign policy and rapidly escalated through his presidency. It remains the major black mark on his presidential record, and discouraged him from seeking re-election in 1968. MOB
Tonight, while you’re fast asleep in your bed with subconscious rumblings of the dreaded Monday morning work alarm, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump dual once again, this time at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. The general consensus among most lucid pundits in the wake of the first debate was that Clinton managed to sink her teeth into a drowning Trump and came out on top – there is billionaire blood in the water.
Their first war of words coaxed a record audience of 84 million, which surpassed the 81 million that had watched Reagan battle Carter in 1980. While two weeks ago, the candidates faced each other in a traditional format, tonight’s platform offers up something wholly more tantalising and engaging, a town hall styled debate. For those of you not familiar with the Town Hall format, candidates must field questions from not only the moderators but also the audience in what is usually a partisan setting. Que drama, consternation, chaos, and plenty of uncomfortable dry sniffing…
This year, however, with thanks to a civic group named the Open Debate Coalition, questions submitted via an online portal have been permitted. These questions have been whittled down to the thirty most popular and will feature in tonight’s debate marking the first time this variation has been used in the history of the Presidential debate. The task of meriting a question’s popularity falls to co-anchors CNN and ABC so expect a very slight left of field filter.
If we look at both candidates’ strengths in terms of how they react and respond to the environments they occupy, it becomes glaringly obvious that Clinton prefers smaller, more intimate settings – much like her husband (not in that way). Trump, on the other hand, thrives on addressing his dirigible, ire bloated, cadre in prodigious arenas and gargantuan sporting centres – reflecting his bumptious gestalt.
Trump’s gauche behaviour cannot now be un-coupled from his publicly enshrined lewd internal monologues that reaffirm his capricious, deleterious true nature. One can only guess how much practice that he has put into his latest debate strategy – if you can call it that. In light of recent events, the GOP are attempting to collectively pressure Trump. Many Republicans who had previously endorsed Trump have pulled their support. In Utah, for example, Governor Gary Herbert, and Rep. Jason Chaffetz have stated that they can no longer support their nominee, while others such as Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Chris Stewart have called for Trump to drop out of the race altogether.
The derision within the GOP is absolutely anticipated. How many more times can Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, appear before the cameras with the same hollowed out response to the party’s miscreant nominee? It’s a worn out scenario and clearly one that has left many Republicans notably frustrated.
Trump has responded by lambasting the party through his bully-pulpit, Twitter, and at the same time he has been praising his devout supporters who appear to be sticking by him no matter what.
The toxic rhetoric that has propagated the 2016 election thus far will once again come to a head this evening. While the debate may not be as substantive as many would like, one thing will be both incredibly interesting and entertaining: just how will Donald Trump engage with the average American citizen. If we return to the 1992 Presidential debate that featured incumbent George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ross Perot, viewers witnessed a masterclass in how to relate to common concerns while appearing professional, intelligible, attentive, and dare I say it, presidential. Bush seemed uninterested and irritable at times, and Perot, well lets face it, he just seemed happy to be there. Check out Bill’s cool performance below.
While Hillary Clinton can appear robotic and cold, she has one quality that Trump doesn’t possess in his political arsenal, empathy (feigned or not, he is a terrible actor). Shane Ross, the current Minister of Transport once referred to Taoiseach Enda Kenny as a political corpse – if Trump doesn’t have a strong showing this evening, he is likely to be atrophied by the Republican Party.
On Monday, the 26th September, Clinton and Trump will engage in the first of three national televised presidential debates. Anyone who caught the back-and-forth between Trump and Jeb or Trump and Cruz or Trump and Rubio during the Republican primaries will understand just how pivotal these forums can be. Simple gaffes can destroy a candidate’s legitimacy. Poor phrasing can undermine a crucial point they want to convey. Even the wrong body language can result in severe repercussions. So what should Clinton and Trump take note of? We here at the Walrus thought it would be worth taking a trip down memory lane.
Kennedy vs. Nixon (1960)
This race heralded the first national televised debate, as the young and charismatic John F. Kennedy squared off against the raging jowls of Richard M. Nixon. Whilst many Americans, listening to the debate on their radios, felt that the Vice-President succeeded in offering a better vision for America, the television viewers felt differently. A wearisome, sick Nixon simply came off as less confident and able on the black-and-white screen. Kennedy, on the other hand, understood this medium in the way FDR understood how the radio could be used to communicate. He spoke clearly and held himself firmly- a man who was comfortable with nothing to hide.
Trump, of course, is no stranger to the televised medium and despite his outlandish hairdo, comes across as quite a unique and exciting figure to beheld. Hillary however, whilst experienced, often appears stiff and calculated, like she’s reading from a prompter.
Ford vs. Carter (1976)
Jerry Ford was one of the most affable presidents America ever had. He didn’t boast the sharpest of wits however, as evident in one of his and Carter’s national televised debates, when he stated that “there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.” Carter wryly smiled whilst the stunned moderator, Max Frankel, responded, “I’m sorry. What?…” This performance only served to reflect and reaffirm the credibility of Chevy Chase’s SNL Ford; a bumbling, awkward man barely getting on by in the job. It may have been a just a little slip, but it cost Ford dearly in the media and public’s perception of him. Trump, in particular, should take note here. He may have gotten away with his random gesticulations in the primaries but Clinton, unlike most the GOP, is hawkish and ready to pounce on any little mis-step.
Carter vs. Reagan/ Mondale vs. Reagan (1980 and 1984)
Ronald Reagan was hardly the smartest of US presidents either but he was a great communicator. He had a way of brushing off criticism and making his opponents feel a bit overbearing. Against Carter, we saw this when he said “there you go again,” in response to a criticism the President made about Reagan’s stance on a past healthcare bill. Against Mondale, we saw this when he quipped “I will not make age an an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” In that brilliant soundbite, he not only pushed aside any genuine concerns about his age, but also posed a good counterpoint and reinforced his likability as a humorous man. So if Hillary could crack a few more lines like “you heard none of this at the Republican convention and Trump went on for 70-odd minutes- and they were odd,” that would be just dandy. This kind of reflex is perfect for the Youtube generation.
Bush I vs. Clinton vs. Perot (1992)
Don’t look at your watch! The Commander-in-Chief George HW Bush made this fatal error in a three-way debate against Slick Willy and a more credulous billionaire than Trump. While Bush may have had pressing matters on his hands, this quick, likely subconscious act, reflected the media’s perception of him as a man both out-of-touch with/ not interested in the common man. Bill, in contrast, not only didn’t get distracted, he stood up and walked out from the center of the stage to make eye contact with the people asking questions. He is of course, in a league of his own, but it’s worth noting nonetheless that you must always respect the time given for these debates, even if they are repetitive and pointless.
Gore vs. Bush II (2000)
To borrow a term from W’s lexicon, Al Gore misunderestimated his opponent. Whilst the second Bush was clearly nowhere near as clever as the Vice-President, he did manage to come across to a great many people as a likable and relatable individual. Gore tried to pounce on his basic understanding of the issues with a multitude of condescending mannerisms. At one point, he walked over to Bush as if to confront him man-to-man on a question he felt he gave the better answer to. At another point, he loudly sighed. It’s not exactly fair but the public do like an underdog and in this case, they gave Bush II enough wriggle room for the contentious count-up that followed. In this year’s case, it may be tempting for Hillary to act this exact same way, but there is a line between humouring your base and offending the other. Reagan understood this; Gore didn’t.
And so Clinton and Trump should now be well prepared for September 26th if they have read this. Naturally we have only scratched the surface but it is clear from these cases that a winning personality and sharp wit does the job best. Hillary has the latter and to some- let’s call them progressively challenged people- Trump boasts the former. We may be given stiff, unintelligible, and ambiguous answers next week but one thing’s for sure, the entertainment factor will be huuuuuge.
The piñata that is the Republican Party has been burst open and every day, new morsels are being discovered by the media. Last Friday, we heard that Mayor Danny Jones of Charleston, West Virginia, had changed his political party status to “unaffiliated” in a growing list of disillusioned conservative officials. That same week, several major companies including Apple pulled their sponsorship from the Republican National Convention. And to cap it all off? The man, the Republican loyalists stood behind (if reluctantly), has lost his momentum.
For a year now, the accepted narrative has been that Trump stands no chance against Clinton. Despite mass coverage and the GOP nomination, many remained undeterred. It seems their faith has been rewarded however as his latest hurdle has resulted in a parting of ways with his campaign manager, Emperor Palpatine… I mean, Corey Lewandowski. The poll numbers are no longer looking so good for the man who once promised “so much winning” for America and in the wake of this great cataclysm of popularity, lies the remains of the fractured right-wing. So what happened? Why? And what’s next?
Since the shining light of Reagan descended upon America, the GOP has adopted an increasingly conservative and radical stance in the political system. This culminated most recently in the refusal to work with the Obama administration on almost every initiative, leading to a Government shutdown on Obamacare. With the culture wars wagging their tails every now and again, the great beliefs of the usually strongly united right became that America was losing its identity. Even the vaguest idea of making it “great” again was so appealing that a man like Trump, strange though he may seem, at least had to be considered. And in their desperation for this fabled era of prosperity, the fractures which set a part fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, tea-party members and cowboys, widened so much so that the GOP abandoned whatever shred of dignity they still held.
Since securing the nomination, a tenuous effort has been made to cobble this mess back together and create something sufficient, lest the Wicked Witch of New York, gain power. The problem is however that it all seems so forced. Even Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, a man who should really have a pivotal role to play in this, has a hard time vocalising just what he wants. He think Trump is a racist and bigot and should not be encouraged by any means. He also believes Hillary is not the “answer” and therefore Trump must win. His role however, he asserts, is not to tell delegates what to do. It’s the kind of stuff you could imagine seeing on Saturday Night Live but alas, Ryan is presently a tortured soul. It therefore seems the pieces will have to be picked up by Trump himself, who will undoubtedly face the least reserved GOP convention in history next month.
It’s hard to imagine exactly where this party will go next. They could simply reform if Trump loses, pretend as if 2016 never happened and go after Hillary, the way they have done with Obama. After all, remembering things accurately has never been a top priority (remember, Reagan raising taxes, anyone?). They could also have a long look in the mirror, smash it, and treat the likes of Trump as icons of a prevailing radical right, in stark contrast to the rising Left. Lastly, they could not smash the mirror and realise their party can only redeem itself by returning to the principles which once held it in high esteem. Fiscal conservatism, a lower-taxed market, and small government are not necessarily bad ideas if executed with a degree of rationale. They just need to be checked with compromise where compromise is needed and common sense where alternatives yield better results. Richard Nixon understood this when he proposed an ambitious health care plan, alienating himself from many members of his party. George H.W. Bush, too, understood this when he abandoned his pledge and raised taxes to help stimulate the economy. Perhaps, 2016 can mark the beginning of the end for modern conservative practises and a return to form.