Almost Unbelievable

Detail of cartoon by Monte Wolverton for The Cagle Post, 22 February 2015.

Mr. Walker likes to present himself as a man of courage, based on his record in Wisconsin, but maybe facing down public-sector unions doesn’t tell you all that much about the bravery of a Republican governor. On two occasions in recent days, he has proved himself incapable of saying basic truths that might offend some of his potential voters: First, that evolution is real, and second, that an honorable politician criticizes his opponent’s policies, not his patriotism.

The Washington Post

This is an ugly tale.

Indeed, a personal barometer of any given political news story is what we might refer to as the “GMA Test”α. That is to say, when last week’s news percolates to get a mention on Good Morning America, one might rest assured that the story has arrived. Whether or not anyone will care is an entirely separate question, but there is more going on here than just Rudy Giuliani being an idiot, or Scott Walker a coward.

For instance, there is Bobby Jindal, who wants to one-up them both.

But let us start with the basic outline, from Dana Milbank of the Washington Post:

As the world now knows, Giuliani, the former New York mayor, said at a dinner featuring Walker, the Wisconsin governor, that “I do not believe that the president loves America.” According to Politico, Giuliani said President Obama “wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up, through love of this country.”

And Walker, just a few seats away, said . . . nothing. Asked the next morning on CNBC about Giuliani’s words, the Republican presidential aspirant was spineless: “The mayor can speak for himself. I’m not going to comment on what the president thinks or not. He can speak for himself as well. I’ll tell you, I love America, and I think there are plenty of people — Democrat, Republican, independent, everyone in between — who love this country.”

But did he agree with Giuliani? “I’m in New York,” Walker demurred. “I’m used to people saying things that are aggressive out there.”

This is what’s alarming about the Giuliani affair. There will always be people on the fringe who say outrageous things (and Giuliani, once a respected public servant, has sadly joined the nutters as he questioned the president’s patriotism even while claiming he was doing no such thing). But to have a civilized debate, it’s necessary for public officials to disown such beyond-the-pale rhetoric. And Walker failed that fundamental test of leadership.

Something about ugly goes here.

But this is also where things get even uglier; while Giuliani rants and Walker plants, Bobby Jindal wants a piece of the action. Jonathan Chait got to write two of the stranger paragraphs we might imagine of any journalistic career last week for New York magazine:

The figure most discomfited by this turn of events was not Walker but Bobby Jindal, a rival candidate. Racially tinged dog whistles are Jindal’s thing. This has been his major point of differentiation against fellow Republicans. He can’t just sit there and let Walker bask alone in the reflected glory of Giuliani’s smear.

So Jindal released a statement to the media that he would not condemn Giuliani’s statement. Nobody even asked him, but just in case you were wondering what Jindal thought about smearing Obama’s patriotism — which was not a subject of intense curiosity, for the same reason nobody has wondered what Harvey Fierstein thinks about Alabama blocking gay marriage — he has cleared things up. No Walker-style dodge here.

Steve Benen noted Friday―

After Rudy Giuliani’s ridiculous remarks this week, NBC’s First Read this morning declared, “[I]t’s time to say that he’s officially entered Donald Trump territory.” That’s true, though I thought it was interesting that the First Read crew didn’t feel the need to explain what “Donald Trump territory” is.

―but in a separate post the msnbc blogger and producer summed up the general state of affairs:

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker waits to speak at the American Action Forum January 30, 2015 in Washington, DC.  Earlier in the week Walker announced the formation of "Our American Revival", a new committee designed to explore the option of a presidential bid in 2016.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)The New York Republican declared Tuesday night that President Obama doesn’t love America or Americans. By Wednesday morning, Giuliani insisted this was not necessarily an attack on the president’s patriotism. By mid-day, the clownish former mayor seemed eager to embarrass himself further, insisting, “President Obama didn’t live through September 11, I did”

And by last night, Giuliani’s descent into farce was complete.

Former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York on Thursday defended his assertion that President Obama did not love America, and said that his criticism of Mr. Obama’s upbringing should not be considered racist because the president was raised by “a white mother.”

He added, “This isn’t racism. This is socialism or possibly anti-colonialism.”

I see. So, by this reasoning, it seems as if Rudy Giuliani as positioned himself as pro-colonialism ....

.... I suppose it’s possible that some of the president’s more unhinged detractors might still find Giuliani’s garbage persuasive. Fox News’ Sean Hannity is on board, as is Gov. Bobby Jindal (R).

One might be tempted to find this situation disgraceful. That the story is reaching a wider audience is encouraging, but it is important to bear in mind that there is already a lot more to this. Benen suggests:

There seems to be something different about President Obama that brings out something uglier and more visceral from some GOP critics. It’s probably not his policy agenda – the president endorsed Mitt Romney’s health care plan, John McCain’s climate plan, and George W. Bush’s immigration plan – so there must be something else.

But perhaps more importantly, we ought to pause to consider the state of the GOP clown car. While the press gasps about the failures of a prospective presidential candidate, it might behoove us take that moment to wonder that Gov. Walker is such a prospect at all. And to that point we might remind that this is the problem with such early prognostication, while acknowledging to the other that it is also the problem of showing presidential ambition so early in the cycle. But under no circumstance should we forget that this is the prevailing standard, regardless of such conventional wisdom.


α Informally measured according to the point that anyone I know who watches morning “news” broadcasts starts talking about a story that has been circulating for a while; specifically, it is named for Good Morning America, a program that plagues me by its proximity―I cannot avoid it―much like the soap opera Days of Our Lives used to.

Image note: Top: Detail of cartoon by Monte Wolverton for The Cagle Post, 22 February 2015. Right: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) waits to speak at American Action Forum, 30 January 2015; detail of photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

Editorial Board. “Scott Walker’s spineless silence”. The Washington Post. 20 February 2015.

Milbank, Dana. “Scott Walker’s cowardice should disqualify him”. The Washington Post. 20 February 2015.

Chait, Jonathan. “Bobby Jindal: If We’re Smearing Obama’s Patriotism Here, I Want In”. New York. 19 February 2015.

Benen, Steve. “The ritual Trump Primary”. msnbc. 20 February 2015.

—————. “Giuliani falls in ditch, keeps digging”. 20 February 2015.

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