Mitch Perry Report for 9.26.16 – Keeping everything in perspective

I’m not about to be a spoilsport and say that presidential debates are overrated as the history shows there have been very few since they began being held regularly in 1976 which have significantly moved voters.

The first debate in 2000 between Al Gore and George W. Bush definitely changed some things. That’s the one, you might recall, where Gore was okay on substance but horrible on style (with his sighs and eye-rolling).The revelation about Bush’s DUI arrest that Fox News broke five days before the election might also have changed just as many votes, however.

More instructive is looking back at the first debates in 1984 and 2012, when the incumbents – Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama, respectively – delivered horrid performances.

Reagan was stunningly out of it in his first Sunday-night debate against Walter Mondale in October of ’84. He looked completely out of touch and in over his head, and for a moment excited Democrats and the media that what looked like a blowout election could become competitive. Two weeks later, Reagan got his act together, made a self-deprecating remark about not making an issue out of Mondale’s youthful inexperience, and he was golden, going on to win 49 states.

Obama was terrible in his first debate against Romney four years ago, freaking out Democrats who suddenly contemplated that the president wasn’t very focused. If you’ll recall, it was Joe Biden who turned the momentum around when he went super aggressive against Paul Ryan in the VP debate a week or so later.

And yes, Jerry Ford’s infamous admission that Poland was not under the influence of the Soviet Union in the debate from the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco in 1976 was a major story that perhaps nullified Ford’s amazing comeback that summer from what had been a 33-point deficit to Jimmy Carter in the first election after Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace.

But there have been dozens of other debates that truly did not move the needle all that much. The fact that the race is close to tied (with Donald Trump ascendent) does raise the stakes, as well as the fact that historically the first of the three scheduled presidential debates is generally the highest rated on television.

And to think that Trump initially wanted to change the date of this event, because it was up against Monday Night Football. But tonight’s contest between Atlanta and New Orleans is a matchup of two relatively mediocre squads, so there’s no fear of losing too much of the national audience there.

In other news…

Matt Gaetz chose the death of Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez to blast athletes for kneeling for the national anthem.

Tim Kaine’s in Lakeland today.

Charlie Crist became the second prominent Democrat in two days over the weekend to plead to Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark to open an early polling site in South St. Pete.

We sat down with NY Times columnist David Brooks for about 17 minutes last week, and this is what we came up with.

Gwen Graham will be out of elected office in a few months. Until then, she’s keeping herself in the news, pressuring the Florida DEP about when they told neighbors new the Mosaic plant in Polk County about that giant spill from a sinkhole in August.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman laid out what she hopes to do if voters give her four more years last Friday in Tampa.

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Rick Scott meets with Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, other congressmen on Zika

Gov. Rick Scott is in Washington Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan, Florida’s U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, and and several Florida members of Congress to talk about the latest effort to fund the fight on the Zika virus.

Scott’s meeting with Rubio was followed with a visit to Ryan’s office, and then Yoho, as Congress attempts another method to provide long-term funding to fight the Zika virus now taking hold in Florida and threatening any pregnant woman with the horrible prospect of profound birth defects.

Scott will continue his meetings with Florida’s lawmakers Wednesday, sitting down with U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, Frederica WilsonIleana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo.

Earlier today a bipartisan cadre of Florida lawmakers led by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson held a press conference expressing their united support for a plan to include $1.1 billion of funding for Zika research and prevention in a continuing resolution for a short-term federal spending bill.

Also Tuesday, Rubio went to the floor of the U.S. Senate today to express his support for the bill’s inclusion of Zika funding and he said he would support it even though he has normally opposed short-term spending bills.

“At this point I just really believe we need to get Zika funding approved and moving,” Rubio said. “We need to make sure the fight against Zika doesn’t run out of money before the end of this month. That’s, for me, the most urgent priority.”

Earlier today, Scott expressed frustration with previous congressional inaction on Zika, which has now infected 790 known people in Florida, 70 of which are mosquito-borne in the state. Zika, he said, is non-partisan.

“The Zika virus is now mosquito-borne in our state. Time is up for politics and political debates about a major federal effort to stop this disease,” Scott said. “I have allocated more than $26 million from the state to combat Zika, but we need federal action now.

“Our federal government has managed to get its hands into way too many things. Over the past eight years they have managed to grow our national debt from $10 trillion to nearly $20 trillion. And yet, they can’t agree on spending money to stomp out a serious disease? It’s unacceptable.”

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Patrick Murphy and David Jolly ask Congressional leaders to pass Zika funding bill now

After an eight-week break, Congress has returned to Washington this week, and the matter mostly on the minds of Florida’s delegation is to somehow finding a way to break the logjam regarding funding for the Zika virus.

On Wednesday, Jupiter Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy and Pinellas County Republican Congressman David Jolly penned a letter to the leaders in the House and Senate — Speaker Paul Ryan, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Harry Reid — calling on them to take immediate action to pass emergency funding to combat the Zika virus.

“Seven months have passed since the administration submitted its $1.9 billion request for Zika response efforts, and nearly four months since initial legislative action in the House. Emergency funding is needed now for vital vaccine research and diagnostic development, mosquito surveillance and control efforts, and education initiatives to warn of the serious risk the virus poses, particularly for fetal development in pregnant women,” the authors wrote in the letter, which also was signed by Democrats Kathy Castor, Gwen Graham, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Ted Deutch as well as Republicans Illeana Ros-Lehtinen, Carlos Curbelo, and Dennis Ross.  

“With federal funding for Zika response set to expire at the end of the fiscal year, Congress’ continued failure to act will halt federally funded vaccine research, mosquito control, testing, and surveillance.”

The inability of Congress to come up with funding plan that pleases both sides of the aisle is clearly becoming a problem here in Florida. Eight days ago, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned that federal funds to fight the Zika virus were nearly exhausted, and that if Congress did not replenish them soon, there would be no money to fight a new outbreak. Frieden said that the CDC had spent $194 million of the $222 million it was allocated to fight the virus.

“As Floridians we are proud of our beautiful tropical community, but Zika has the potential to pose a public health crisis that could threaten our tourism industry and impact the well-being of our friends, families and neighbors,” said Jolly. “It is time to pass a comprehensive bipartisan funding package that will give health officials what they need to protect Floridians and others from the spread of Zika before this threat becomes a crisis.”

“It is clear to us in Florida that Zika is not a partisan issue — it’s about protecting our families and our children,” Murphy said in a statement. “As the number of Zika cases across the nation continues to grow, including more than 50 local transmissions in Florida alone, this prolonged inaction is unacceptable. We hope Congress will come together to take immediate action on a clean funding bill to provide the critical resources needed for this fight.”

But it certainly seemed partisan when it comes to Murphy arguing with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio about Zika funding. On Tuesday, the two U.S. Senate candidates feuded about who was more culpable for the fact that a legislation package hasn’t been funded. Murphy said Rubio should be working harder to convince his party’s leadership to put reasonable legislation before lawmakers. Rubio says Murphy should have voted for previous bills that included Zika funding.

Here’s the letter in full:

September 8, 2016

Dear Speaker Ryan, Leader Pelosi, Leader McConnell, and Leader Reid:

As Members of the Florida delegation, it is our hope that Congress take immediate action to pass emergency funding to combat the Zika virus.

Seven months have passed since the Administration submitted its $1.9 billion request for Zika response efforts, and nearly four months since initial legislative action in the House.  Emergency funding is needed now for vital vaccine research and diagnostic development, mosquito surveillance and control efforts, and education initiatives to warn of the serious risk the virus poses, particularly for fetal development in pregnant women.

In that time, the virus has taken hold in the continental United States, hitting our home state of Florida especially hard.  To date, more than 16,000 Americans have been infected with the Zika virus, of which more than 1,600 are pregnant women.   The spread of this disease has now resulted in 17 babies being born in the U.S. with Zika-related birth defects.

With federal funding for Zika response set to expire at the end of the Fiscal Year, Congress’ continued failure to act will halt federally funded vaccine research, mosquito control, testing, and surveillance.

Our most fundamental responsibility is protecting the health and safety of Americans.  Please present a clean funding package to fight the Zika virus as soon as possible.

Sincerely,

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Gwen Graham says she gets part of Donald Trump’s appeal

Gwen Graham cut short her trip to Tampa Thursday, returning to Tallahassee to contend with Tropical Storm Hermine, which is expected to make landfall as a hurricane by early Friday in North Florida.

The Tallahassee-based Democratic representative, already considered a leading candidate to run for governor in 2018, has been hobnobbing around the state this week. She appeared at a campaign phone bank with New Port Richey state Rep. Amanda Murphy on Wednesday before attending a house party for Hillary Clinton supporters at a private residence in Tampa. She had been scheduled to visit MacDill Air Force Base on Thursday with Kathy Castor, as well as meet up with Rod Smith in Gainesville. Both of those events were canceled, however, with the storm approaching.

Ideologically speaking, Graham is considered a centrist, and she definitely made a statement shortly after she was elected to serve in Washington in early 2015 when Graham voted against Nancy Pelosi’s election as House Minority Leader, a promise she made while campaigning against Republican Steve Southerland. Graham paints that vote as less a statement against Pelosi, and more for a change of leadership Washington.

“I believe — and this has been confirmed — that we need new leadership in the House of Representatives for Democrats and Republicans,” Graham said on Wednesday.

“The Republicans have brought in Paul Ryan, and I think it would be a very positive effect, not only on the Democrats in Congress but also in encouraging other people to want to enter into elected office, to have new, fresh leadership for the House of Representatives,” Graham said, adding that she never intended it to be criticism of the San Francisco Democrat, who she praised for becoming the first female Speaker of the House.

And while Graham’s an ardent Democrat supporting Clinton for president, she says she understands part of the appeal of Donald Trump, who remains extremely competitive in Florida, despite the fact that he has had only one campaign office in the entire state (and despite reports that he would soon open up two dozen offices, which has yet to happen).

“Mr. Trump has been able to tap into a frustration and disappointment in some areas in the way that our government is functioning, and in that respect, I don’t disagree with him,” she says. “He is a symptom of what I see at times, which is that people don’t put those that you’re elected to serve first, and when you allow partisanship to stand in the way of getting things done, then people have a rightful reason and a rightful frustration about government. I hope this is a wake-up call to those who take more of an ideological position when they’re making decisions that it’s time to get back to really governing again.”

Graham’s Democratic Party bonafides are most prominent when talking about the environment, as she rains down criticism on Rick Scott’s leadership — or lack thereof. She says if she ran the state government, she would add scientists and conservationists to water management boards around the state, and not political appointees.

On Monday, Scott announced he had selected Miami attorney and Bacardi Family Foundation board member Federico Fernandez to fill a space on the Southwest Florida Water Management District. Fernandez would replace Sandy Batchelor, a Charlie Crist appointee in 2010 who was reappointed by Scott to a four-year term in 2012. Batchelor has a master’s degree in forest conservation, and was coincidentally the lone board member this year to oppose tax cuts advocated by Scott.

“I don’t think that’s someone who actually has the expertise to be making water quality decisions,” Graham, said, adding that she agrees with recent comments by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam that water was Florida’s most important element of its economy, but didn’t believe that his, nor Governor’s Scott’s, actual water policies indicate that’s really the case.

“I don’t think you can say in one breath that you believe that water is most important for the economy in Florida, and then support something that does the complete opposite,” she said, referring specifically to the state’s Environmental Regulation Commission vote to approve a proposal by state regulators that would impose new standards on 39 chemicals not currently regulated by the state, and change the regulations on 43 other chemicals.

In July, Graham called on Scott to hold a special session to deal with the toxic algae bloom that had just then begun to engulf South Florida. In that letter, she said that in her discussions with local stakeholders, she learned the problem was the nutrient-rich stormwater runoff that flows from central Florida into Lake Okeechobee.

Scott will be coming to Washington next week, and Graham says she wants to work with him in addressing water quality in Florida as well as the growing issues with the Zika virus.

“I look forward to working hand-in-hand from a federal perspective, in building the bridges and relationships with those in the federal government that would allow us to hopefully move forward and get additional funding” for Zika.

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As Zika comes to Pinellas, Charlie Crist and David Jolly condemn congressional failure to deal with disease

U.S. Rep. David Jolly and former Gov. Charlie Crist don’t agree on much.

But Tuesday they agreed Congress’ failure to provide funding to combat the Zika virus is unconscionable. They were reacting to news released by Gov. Rick Scott that the Department of Health had confirmed a non-travel-related case of Zika in Pinellas County.

Crist, a Democrat who is running against Jolly for the Congressional District 13 seat, said, “For this virus endangering Floridians to now spread unabated to Pinellas County is inexcusable. Lives are in danger, particularly expectant mothers, children, and women planning to have children.”

Crist added: “We need clear solutions to this serious problem. First, [House] Speaker [Paul] Ryan must bring Congress back to Washington to do their job and pass a clean funding bill. Then, Florida must expand Medicaid to cover the 200,000 women in the coverage gap without access to affordable healthcare and who are at great risk.”

Jolly, a Republican who has long criticized Congressional inaction on the threat from the Zika virus, repeated his call for Congress to return to Washington, D.C., to pass a long-term Zika funding package.

“Florida is at risk and Washington is tone deaf,” Jolly said. “Today’s news of a locally transmitted case of Zika in Pinellas County is another alarm that should prompt leadership to call members back to D.C. to address this public health issue.

“As a representative of a frontline state dealing with the Zika outbreak, I fully understand the serious public health risk this virus presents. But we must address this issue now and responsibly and without playing politics. This is a public health issue, not a political issue.”

Jolly sent a letter to Ryan expressing the urgency of the problem for states like Florida. However, Congress failed to pass a Zika funding package before breaking for the district work period.

With Congress not scheduled to return to Washington, D.C. for two more weeks, Jolly supports an emergency session to address this health issue and quickly reach a bicameral, bipartisan consensus package that can be enacted into law immediately.

“The good news is nearly $100 million per month is currently flowing to combat Zika as a result of reprogramming Ebola funds. But we must pass a comprehensive funding package that will give health officials what they need to protect Floridians and others from the spread of Zika before this threat becomes a crisis,” Jolly said.

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Bob Buckhorn says Tampa will get aggressive in trying to combat Zika virus

Florida is the only state in the nation infected with native Zika, the mosquito-borne and sexually transmitted virus. On Friday, Governor Rick Scott announced that state health officials had identified five cases in Miami Beach, joining Miami’s Wynwood arts neighborhood as the two sites that have now reported locally transmitted cases in the U.S.

Bob Buckhorn doesn’t want Tampa to become next.

Standing in front of an empty pool in an abandoned home in Tampa’s Wellswood area on Monday, the mayor announced a plan to attempt to combat the chances that the virus will spread to the region.

“We’re going to be aggressive about going out and identifying in those areas and those circumstances and those situations where we can affect some change,” Buckhorn said. “These abandoned pools are one of these circumstances.”

The Zika virus is primarily spread through the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito. They tend to breed in standing water, which is why the city will begin utilizing all 45 of their code inspectors and 38 additional neighborhood enhancement personnel to locate areas around the city where standing water has accumulated.

Those inspectors will be equipped with 3,600 dunks to drop in those pools of water. These dunks contain BTI (Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis), a bacterium that naturally kills mosquito larvae before they can grow up to become flying, biting, disease-spreading adults. BTI is deadly to mosquito larvae, but it is harmless to people, plants, pets, fish, wildlife and beneficial insects.

Code Enforcement will distribute those dunks to residents, and also use them throw them into pools, retention ponds and other areas where they know standing water exists. They’re also available at Home Depot and Lowe’s for the general public.

“We need some help from the public, because they see houses like this, situations that we may not see,” said Sal Ruggiero, manager of Neighborhood Enhancement. He gave out a phone number (813-274-5545) for residents to call to give information on abandoned homes with swimming pools or other areas where water could build tip. Officials say that five years ago , there were more than 4,000 such abandoned homes.

Mosquito control is the domain of Hillsborough County, not the city, but Buckhorn said he wanted to “take things into our own hands” and act now.

Despite the calls from the governor on down to most members of the Florida congressional delegation, House Speaker Paul Ryan has insisted that there is no reason to call Congress back before their summer recess to address the issue of funding. President Obama has been holding out for a $1.9 billion package. The Senate failed to come to terms on a plan that would have provided $1.1 billion in funding. Health officials are resorting to using funds meant for other diseases in lieu of a funding package.

“I can’t tell you when Zika dollars are going to become available,” said Buckhorn. “All I can control is what I can control. And I can control this. So we’re not waiting for anybody else.”

U.S. health officials have concluded that Zika infections in pregnant women can cause microcephaly, a birth defect marked by small head size that can lead to severe developmental problems in babies. The connection between Zika and microcephaly first came to light last fall in Brazil, which has now confirmed 1,835 cases of microcephaly that it considers to be related to Zika infections in the mothers.

At his news conference on Friday, Governor Scott played down any fear that visiting Miami Beach might be dangerous, though some would argue it is for a pregnant woman at the moment. Buckhorn said that was the reason of being proactive, but he insisted that he wouldn’t wait for the state or federal government to intervene.

“The response to Zika is both an individual personal decisions and activities, and then a coordinated effort from the public,” said Doug Holt, director of the Division of Infectious Disease and International Medicine at the USF Morsani College of Law.

In addition to using dunks, the mayor also advised citizens to use bug repellant spray on their exposed parts of their body before they venture out into the outdoors, something that he says he does with his two daughters every morning.

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Barack Obama returning from summer vacation ready for busy fall

President Barack Obama is returning from vacation rested and ready for a busy fall, including pressing Congress for money to protect against the Zika virus and fending off lawmakers’ attacks over the administration’s $400 million “leverage” payment to Iran.

Obama also is expected to campaign doggedly to help elect Democrat Hillary Clinton as president.

Obama was due at the White House late Sunday after a 16-day getaway to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, with his wife, Michelle, and daughters Malia and Sasha.

His first order of business is a Tuesday trip to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to survey damage from flooding that killed at least 13 people and forced thousands into shelters.

Obama resisted pressure from Louisianans and others to interrupt his vacation to tour the ruins and meet with officials and flood victims. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump filled the void created by Obama’s absence, touring the ravaged area Friday with his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, and helping to unload a supply truck.

Obama planned to spend the rest of the week in meetings, largely to prepare for an upcoming, weeklong trip to Asia, his 11th and likely final visit to the region as president.

With Congress still on a seven-week break, Obama and aides probably will focus on what the White House can get from lawmakers before they leave town to campaign for re-election. Congress returns after Labor Day, and the House and Senate will have just a month to pass a catch-all spending bill by the Sept. 30 end of the federal budget year to keep the government operating.

Lawmakers plan to leave Washington again at the end of September, and not return until after the Nov. 8 elections.

The White House will continue to press lawmakers for money to help keep the mosquito-borne Zika virus from spreading and to develop a vaccine, now that Florida last week identified the popular Miami tourist haven of South Beach as the second site of Zika transmission on the U.S. mainland. A section of Miami’s Wynwood arts district was the first.

Obama asked Congress for $1.9 billion this year for Zika prevention. Republicans offered $1.1 billion and added provisions that Democrats objected to, including language on Planned Parenthood and other issues, leaving the matter in limbo before Congress adjourned in mid-July. Lawmakers could end up adding Zika money to the broader spending bill.

In turn, incensed lawmakers have promised to keep the heat on the administration over $400 million it delivered to Iran in January. Republicans say the money was ransom, paid to win freedom for four Americans who were being held in Iran. Questioned about the payment earlier this month, Obama said: “We do not pay ransom. We didn’t here. And we … won’t in the future.”

The president and other officials denied any linkage. But administration officials also said it made little sense not to “retain maximum leverage,” as State Department spokesman John Kirby put it last week, for the money long owed to Iran, to ensure the U.S. citizens’ release, given uncertainty about whether Iran would keep its promise to free them the day the money was to be delivered.

The explanations have failed to satisfy critics in and out of Congress. Trump has begun telling supporters at his campaign rallies that Obama “openly and blatantly” lied about the prisoners. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Obama has set a “dangerous precedent” and owes the public a “full accounting of his actions.”

Obama opens the fall, and what’s expected to be a dogged effort to boost Clinton to the White House, in improved standing with the public, according to the Pew Research Center. His job approval rating stands at 53 percent, compared with 42 percent disapproval. That’s about the same as just before July’s political conventions.

But Obama’s standing among independent voters has reached positive territory for the first time since December 2012. Fifty-three percent of independents approve of Obama’s job performance, the center found, while 40 percent disapprove. Independents had split 46 percent to 46 percent on the question in June.

Obama won’t spend much time at the White House after a vacation during which he played golf or went to the beach almost daily.

After the Louisiana visit, the president heads to Nevada on Aug. 31 to discuss environmental protection at the Lake Tahoe Summit. The next day, he is scheduled to fly to Midway Island, in the north Pacific, for a climate change event before opening the Sept. 2-9 trip to China and Laos. Obama will become the first U.S. president to visit Laos.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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Donald Trump and new team have little time to execute new strategy

Donald Trump is on the clock.

He has about 80 days to reset and rally a presidential campaign that’s done little but stagger since the close of the Republican convention. The GOP nominee’s allies say the celebrity businessman and his new leadership team are “laser-focused” and ready to direct the billionaire’s venom against Democratic Hillary Clinton.

“This has been one of the best weeks the campaign has had,” said Sean Spicer, chief strategist at the Republican National Committee.

For much of the past year, Trump has ignored the tools of modern-day presidential campaigns. That’s a big reason why Trump’s Republican critics are skeptical their party’s nominee has the time or discipline to rescue his struggling White House bid.

“The Trump campaign is at a ludicrously high disadvantage,” said Dan Senor, a former adviser to 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. “The Democrats have something that the Republicans don’t: They have a nominee that’s built a real campaign organization.”

While Trump did bring in a new set of advisers in the past week, it appears all but certain his comeback strategy cannot benefit from the proven building blocks of winning campaigns, especially when compared with the structure Clinton has assembled.

Trump has few loyal staffers devoted to his election working in the tightly contested states that will decide the election; little early investment in the data operation needed to help ensure his supporters vote; and no significant effort to take advantage of early voting, which begins next month in some states.

If not for the Republican National Committee’s staff, Trump would have a skeleton presence in the most competitive states.

Only in the past week did Trump place his first round of general election advertising — nearly $5 million for TV commercials in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

By contrast, Clinton’s campaign has spent more than $75 million on ads in the weeks since she effectively locked up the nomination in early June, according to Kantar Media’s political ad tracker.

Out of time to build a campaign to match Clinton’s, the team at Trump Tower will by necessity focus on a broad messaging effort to capture the attention of voters and try to highlight Clinton’s shortcomings. For now, Trump finds himself behind Clinton in preference polls in nearly every battleground state.

“This new team will be very, very aggressive. They understand the nature of taking on the left,” said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Trump ally. “They will be on the attack.”

That team includes Stephen Bannon, a combative conservative media executive with no presidential campaign experience, and pollster Kellyanne Conway, who has known Trump for years. The campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, resigned on Friday amid scrutiny of his past work for Ukraine’s former pro-Russian political leaders.

Bannon and Conway will have money to work with. In July, Trump raised more than $80 million for his campaign and allied Republican Party groups, his campaign has said. That’s just shy of the $90 million that Clinton’s aides said the nominee collected in July for her campaign and fellow Democratic committees.

The goal for the Trump campaign’s leaders is not to tame the candidate’s passion, according to Trump’s allies, but refocus his attacks on Clinton. The hope is that Trump can avoid the missteps that have defined his campaign since the end of the conventions, including a public feud with an American Muslim family whose son was killed while serving in the military in Iraq.

“Unfortunately, it took them two months to figure out that Donald Trump is Donald Trump,” former Trump adviser Barry Bennet said of Manafort and his team. “He’s the bulldozer candidate. What you need to do is aim him at an immovable object, not try to change him.”

That approach was evident Friday. Trump began with a visit to flood-wreaked Louisiana and ended with a measured, but pointed rally in Michigan. He took on Clinton and her strong support among African-Americans, and contended that his rival would rather give jobs to refugees than American citizens. Trump accused Democrats of taking advantage of black voters while failing to offer them new jobs, better schools and a way out of poverty.

“It’s time to hold Democratic politicians accountable for what they’ve done for these communities,” he said, adding: “What do you lose by trying something new like Trump?”

Clinton had no intention of letting Trump’s messages pass politely. Within hours of his speech, she tweeted: “This is so ignorant it’s staggering.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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Martin Dyckman: Supreme Court nominees no reason to elect Donald Trump

Some Republicans to whom Donald Trump is the skunk at their garden party would have you elect him president nevertheless.

Mark Sanford is one. When last heard of, he was the governor of South Carolina, canoodling with a mistress in Argentina while his office pretended that he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Now he’s a congressman, and he had an op-ed in The New York Times last week (Aug. 14) strongly criticizing Trump for refusing to release his tax returns.

Trump’s obstinacy “will have consequences,” Sanford said. It “would hurt transparency in our democratic process, and particularly in how voters evaluate the men and women vying to be our leaders.

“Whether he wins or loses, that is something our country cannot afford.”

Hear, hear.

But Sanford also hedged his bets.

“I am a conservative Republican who, though I have no stomach for his personal style and his penchant for regularly demeaning others, intends to support my party’s nominee because of the importance of filling the existing vacancy on the Supreme Court, and others that might open in the next four years,” he wrote.

There you have it. To Sanford, keeping Hillary Clinton from appointing new justices is worth letting everything else go to hell. The government, the country, maybe the world and certainly the court.

Trump might even nominate his conspicuous Florida cheerleader Pam Bondi.

Sanford isn’t the only Republican who has sold out for fear of a liberalized Supreme Court. That’s probably a factor with Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and John McCain too.

Independents and die-hard Hillary-hating Democrats need to pay attention. If they don’t vote for her, they could have themselves to blame for making the Supreme Court a right-wing rat hole for another generation.

Republicans want a court that would uphold their state-by-state voter suppression schemes, shut its eyes to maliciously partisan gerrymandering, and make it impossible rather than merely difficult to sue people like Trump for consumer fraud, environmental pollution and other white collar crimes.

The Citizens United atrocity would continue to leave Congress in the grip of the Koch brothers and their allied oligarchs.

Clinton vows to appoint justices who would repeal that monumentally bad Supreme Court decision.

Trump doesn’t make that promise. He does, however, assure the religious right that his justices would repeal Roe v. Wade.

Exacting such commitments from future judges is another of those developments the Founders didn’t anticipate. They had the idealistic, if naive, view that integrity and competence would govern who got appointed.

But we have to take the world as it is, and there’s no shortage of capable lawyers who have declared that Citizens United was wrongly decided. Four of the justices at the time said so too.

The court has a history of renouncing prior decisions as wrongly decided or simply no longer applicable. It trashed two precedents in Citizens United.

Although Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion more or less rationalized that full disclosure would restrain corporate election spending, that hasn’t happened. Dark money by the billions is sinking the ship of state.

And in South Dakota, the Kochtopus is fiercely fighting a ballot initiative that would require public disclosure of donors to advocacy campaigns, create a state ethics commission and provide public financing of political campaigns.

Fortunately, there are Republicans who disagree that the court is reason enough to sacrifice everything else.

John Yoo and Jeremy Rabkin, law professors in California, are two of them. Writing in the Los Angeles Times Aug. 14, they described the dangerous world we live in and warned that a Trump presidency “invites a cascade of global crises.”

Moreover, they argued, conservatives should not take Trump’s word that he would appoint suitable justices or that the Senate would confirm them.

“Even if Trump were to win in November, it is in the legislative and executive branches that conservatives will have to win their most important battles,” they wrote. “Does Trump look like the man to lead them?”

Yoo’s opposition is really noteworthy. He was the deputy attorney general in the George W. Bush administration who wrote the notorious memos condoning extreme methods of interrogating terrorism suspects, including waterboarding. That’s a form of torture that Trump is salivating to resume.

If even Yoo can’t stomach Trump, what does that tell us?

___

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper now known as the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in suburban Asheville, North Carolina.

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Donald Trump makes first ad buys in battleground states, including Florida

With his new leadership team promising a sharper message, Donald Trump on Thursday moved to invest nearly $5 million in battleground state advertising.

The investment over the coming 10 days in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania marks the Republican presidential contender’s first major general election expenditures in the swing states, which are considered critical to his narrowing path to the White House.

The advertising plans, confirmed by Kantar Media’s political ad tracker, come a day after Trump announced another senior staffing shakeup. Weary Republican leaders hope the new leadership team can reverse the New York businessman’s struggles even as some worry it’s too little too late.

The Republican nominee tapped Stephen Bannon — a combative conservative media executive with no presidential campaign experience — to serve as CEO of his White House bid.

Pollster Kellyanne Conway, who has known Trump for years and gained his trust during her brief tenure working for him, will serve as campaign manager.

“I think we’re going to sharpen the message,” Conway told CNN. “We’re going to make sure Donald Trump is comfortable about being in his own skin — that he doesn’t lose that authenticity that you simply can’t buy and a pollster can’t give you. Voters know if you’re comfortable in your own skin.”

The Republican National Committee has already conceded it may divert resources away from the presidential contest favor of vulnerable Senate and House candidates if Trump’s standing does not improve in the coming weeks. RNC chief strategist Sean Spicer called Trump’s staffing changes the “healthy growth of the campaign at a senior level at a key point.”

He also urged caution as Trump’s new team contemplates whether the fiery populism and freewheeling style that won him the Republican nomination will give him a better shot at the White House than uniting his party and rallying moderate voters.

“I think people want him to be authentic,” Spicer said. “They appreciate he’s not a scripted politician, but there’s a recognition that words do matter.”

The staffing changes are aimed in part at marginalizing campaign chairman Paul Manafort, a longtime Republican operative who pushed Trump to moderate his tone and improve relations with skeptical Republican officials. In breaking with that approach, Trump appears set on finishing the race on his own terms — win or lose.

Trump’s divisive tone and weak poll numbers have triggered a rash of Republican defections in recent weeks. Party loyalists have grown increasingly frustrated with Trump’s inability to stay focused on Democrat Hillary Clinton amid a series of self-created distractions.

“I don’t care if Donald Duck is running the campaign,” said Henry Barbour, a Republican National committeeman from Mississippi. “If he can make this thing about Hillary Clinton’s record and getting the country back on track, that’s what’s going to win this election.”

Despite the new advertising investment, Trump is woefully behind: Clinton’s campaign has spent more than $75 million on ads in the weeks since she effectively locked up the nomination in early June, according to Kantar Media’s political ad tracker.

Trump frequently boasts that his rival is spending heavily while he’s put nothing into advertising, banking so far on free wall-to-wall media coverage to carry his message.

While his campaign has been silent through paid media, he’s had some assistance from outside political groups, Kantar Media shows. One, called Rebuilding America Now, has spent about $9 million in the past few weeks. The National Rifle Association’s political arm has also put more than $4 million into anti-Clinton messages.

But these amounts pale in comparison to the $31 million the pro-Clinton super PAC Priorities USA has spent on air since mid-June. And that’s just one of several groups helping her.

Rarely do presidential campaigns wait so long to advertise, or undergo such a level of leadership tumult at such a stage of the general election. The developments come less than three months before Election Day, and roughly six weeks before early voting begins.

Trump’s standing in the White House race plummeted throughout the summer and he now trails Clinton in preference polls of most key battleground states. He’s struggled to offer voters a consistent message, overshadowing formal policy speeches with a steady stream of controversies, including a public feud with an American Muslim family whose son was killed while serving in the U.S. military in Iraq.

Bannon’s website has been fiercely loyal to Trump for months and sharply critical of Republican leaders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan. Breitbart has also actively promoted false conspiracy theories about Clinton, and some have then made their way into Trump’s remarks.

“Trump is on his third campaign manager in three months. If this was a hot dog stand, conclusion might be there was a problem with the dogs,” Republican strategist Stuart Stevens, a frequent Trump critic, wrote on Twitter. Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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