Last weekend’s Sunday morning political talk shows were more interesting than usual, vis a vis sitting politicians being called on the carpet for their rhetorical dissembling. It’s like television’s mainstream media personalities (you may excuse yourself from reading this accusation, Rachel Maddow) have finally realized it’s good business to be a journalist in 2016. Pandering to members of the establishment with softball questions has fallen out of favor in direct correlation to the public’s rejection of elections as usual. At least for now, Sunday morning chatter is often worth the visit. Let it never be said that Donald Trump’s ascendance has been devoid of benefit.
My favorite question of the day came from CBS’s John Dickerson, host of Face the Nation. Chatting with South Carolina Senator and 2016 also-ran Lindsey Graham about his sudden, disingenuous support for Ted Cruz, Dickerson got right to business with this pointed query: “You once said that choosing between Trump and Cruz is like the difference between being shot or poisoned. So, how is your health?”
Graham sought to reinforce his reputation as the witty Oscar Wilde of the Republican Senate, proclaiming, “Well, you can — maybe they will find an antidote to poisoning. It’s hard once you’re shot to get over it.” We’ll leave the scientific inaccuracy of the Senator’s rejoinder aside as the work of refuting feckless GOP arguments is never done. But it’s notable that Graham didn’t exactly dissociate Texas Senator Cruz from strychnine, did he? This is what passes for endorsement in these inverted times.
Over at NBC, Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd received his weekly dressing down from an elder, male Washington politico. On the March 20 installment, Todd’s shaming was delivered in a pre-taped interview with Ohio Governor and Republican Presidential candidate John Kasich. After the host tried to get tough, asking the Governor why he was campaigning in Utah instead of playing “keep the delegates from Trump” by dropping out of the race, Kasich’s response was furious:
“Maybe Ted ought to get out because he can’t win in the fall. And maybe these people that are hot on that, you know, ought to tell him to do it…And now they should be thanking me for staying in. Because if Trump had won Ohio, it would be over…Chuck, I’m running for President. This isn’t a parlor game of who gets this or who gets that.”
So much for Oscar Wilde. This exchange was almost enough to declare Kasich the winner of Sunday morning truth talk. A follow-up conversation around the Senate’s obstruction of the President’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court began with equal promise. Answering the question of whether or not the Judge is owed any deference at all, Kasich offered:
“I think they can go ahead and have a meeting with him. The Senators can meet with this gentleman. And then maybe ultimately, if I’m President, which I think we have a good shot at being, maybe he’ll be under consideration for the Supreme Court. I don’t know. But they ought to meet with him. Show him that amount of respect.”
OK, long way from calling for an honest up or down vote, but certainly to the left of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s total intransigence in acknowledging Garland’s existence. Sadly, however, any time one gets tempted to bestow too much credit on the “moderate” Republican candidate, regret quickly follows. Writer Ashley Feinberg of Gawker examines this phenomenon in a piece subtly titled, Reminder: John Kasich Is Also Evil.
So it was again this past weekend. No sooner were the studio lights removed from the Governor’s eyes than the Garland backpedaling began. Check out this mealy-mouthed clarification quoted by NBC News’ Kailani Koenig:
“In an effort to be polite today, I’ve created little bit of a situation…Look, you know, Garland is — I’m gonna have my own picks for the Supreme Court. You know, the fact is, I said that they ought to meet him and talk to him and, you know, I’m not gonna pick somebody who’s, you know, obviously not a respecter of the Second Amendment. I don’t want people making law and so, nobody should be confused, worked up or upset. He’s not gonna be my pick for the Supreme Court.”
What now? In a bizarre way, Kasich’s tenuous grasp of Garland talking points puts him firmly in step with the general Republican establishment, which has demonstrated vacillating, illogical “strategy” since Antonin Scalia died last month. The fingers in the ears approach to the universally respected Garland is hard to comprehend. The party is clearly worried about Trump as standard bearer and its many implications, including any SCOTUS choice he might render. Why then are they willing to roll the dice, risking a Trump, Clinton or Sanders recommendation? Where is the bravado coming from?
Follow up question: where does the discussion go from here? Obama picked Judge Garland in part because of his previous appeal to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Since the President has a good sense of humor, I suppose all he can do is continue being firmly reasonable while enjoying the Kasich-like contortions of plausible deniability.