This is the saddest week for American democracy since Richard Nixon left the White House in disgrace in August 1974. But this time around, no one should be crowing, "The system worked." The GOP race ended Tuesday night when Reince Priebus, the see-no-evil chairman of Republican Party, tweeted that Donald Trump was now the "presumptive nominee." At least, Nixon had to sign a formal resignation letter rather than do everything with @signs and #hashtags. The Republicans couldn't even muster the honor and the dignity to fight until the party convention in Cleveland. Instead, they handed over their party to a potty-mouthed, pathological liar whose ignorance is only exceeded by his arrogance. The GOP's idea of a suitable commander-in-chief is a former reality-show host who supports committing war crimes by targeting the children and families of terrorists. Political parties sometimes court devastating defeat because they become smitten with cause-driven candidates peddling political purity. There were reasons of principle for the 1972 Democrats to go down with antiwar liberal George McGovern and for the Republicans to vanish beneath the waves with conscience-of-a-conservative Barry Goldwater in 1964. But Trump stands for no cause beyond his own ego. His hatred of free trade and his America First isolationism repudiate core beliefs that the Republicans have held for more than half a century. Trump's policy ideas are so shallow that the 2016 Republican Platform could be printed on a postcard. Even so, the Republicans have hoisted the white flag more than 10 weeks before the Cleveland convention and before Trump actually corralled a 1,237-delegate majority. Such are the demands of party unity. Rallying around Trump is the political version of the line from the Vietnam War: "We had to destroy the village in order to save it." In a nation of 323 million, Hillary Clinton is now the only person standing between Donald Trump and nuclear weapons. Just thinking about Trump with the nuclear codes brings to mind the anti-Goldwater "Daisy" television ad that ended with a thermonuclear explosion. With the stakes this high, there are many reasons to wish that Hillary were a better candidate. It wasn't the "vast right-wing conspiracy" that convinced Clinton to take $675,000 from Goldman Sachs for paid speeches. It wasn't a conservative hit man who arranged for her to install a home-brew email server as secretary of state. But now the electoral choice in 2016 has become stark: Hillary or the abyss? It is tragic that decades of anti-Clinton venom have convinced many rational Republicans that the bilious billionaire is a better choice for president than a woman who spent eight years in the Senate and four years in the Cabinet. In truth, Hillary Clinton's foreign policy views are to the right of the Democratic mainstream — and not that far in spirit from George H.W. Bush and Colin Powell. How can smart Republicans argue that this cautious, sane woman would be a more dangerous president than, gulp, Donald Trump? Every time Trump denounces his opponent as "Crooked Hillary," I recall the 1991 Louisiana governor's race between KKK-veteran David Duke and the colorful but often-indicted, Edwin Edwards. Anti-Duke activists distributed bumper stickers that read: "Vote for the Crook. It's Important." What is worrisome is how the click-happy news media will handle the general election campaign. The coverage may well be dominated by a false equivalence between Clinton and Trump. Will the candidates be considered equally qualified for office simply because they were both nominated by major parties? Every time Hillary fudges the truth, will it be likened to a major Trump lie? And will Trump's off-the-cuff comments be regarded as the counterpart to Clinton's detailed policy papers? Nervous Republicans and bored journalists will have a shared interest in creating a story line about how the real-estate baron has grown in stature as a candidate. A week without crude insults and Trump will seem like a modern-day statesman. A few cordial meetings with GOP leaders and Trump will be hailed for embracing conservative principles. With Hillary Clinton, the media can forget nothing. And with Donald Trump, the press pack can remember nothing. Trump's hate mongering against Muslims and Mexicans will soon be portrayed as belonging to another era — that long-ago time when 16 other Republican presidential candidates walked the earth. Many reporters (myself included) operated for months under the delusion that the Republicans could never nominate a candidate who violated every norm of both politics and civilized conduct. Having been wrong before, journalists are apt to portray Trump as a stronger candidate than the polls and the electoral map might suggest. Up to now, most voters have only heard Donald Trump's version of his life story. More money was squandered on the 2014 North Carolina Senate race than was spent on anti-Trump ads in the GOP primaries. While Clinton's well-known weaknesses are already reflected in her polling numbers, Trump will have to endure being defined by maybe $1 billion worth of Democratic attack ads. Partisans always over-hype elections. Looking back, it is hard to argue that the world was at stake when Mitt Romney challenged Barack Obama four years ago. But this election -- more than any contest in my lifetime -- is different. Never before has a political party nominated anyone as inexperienced, hateful and intemperate as Donald Trump. And the thought of Trump with nuclear weapons leaves me more frightened than at any time since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. In fact, the thought of Trump in the White House leaves me nostalgic for Richard Nixon. 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Virginia Del. Scott Taylor hasn't taken well to Rep. J. Randy Forbes' decision to switch districts. But new polling from the Taylor campaign suggests he may be competitive with the congressman in the Virginia Beach-based 2nd District. Taylor still trails Forbes in the TelOpinion poll of 300 GOP primary voters, but his leadis within the margin of error. Thirty-nine percent of voters said they would vote for Forbes if the primary were held the day the poll was conducted (May 2), including 10 percent who said they were leaning to Forbes. Thirty-five percent of primary voters said they'd vote for Taylor. That included 10 percent who said they were leaning toward voting for him. Twenty-two percent of voters said they were "not sure." The margin of error was plus or minus 5.7 percent. Fifty-six percent of voters had a favorable view of Forbes and 18 percent had an unfavorable view. Half of themhad a favorable view of Taylor with 8 percent viewing him unfavorably. Taylor, a former Navy SEAL and Iraq War veteran, entered the race for the GOP nomination soon after 2nd District Rep. Scott Rigellannounced he would not seek re-electionin January. Taylor's House of Delegates seat is located in the heart of Virginia Beach. Voters in his district account for about12 percent of the voters in the 2nd Congressional District. In February, Forbes announced he'd vacate his 4th District seatto run for the neighboring 2nd District. The 4th District was mademore Democratic afterrecent redistricting. Forbes made the announcement with Rigell's blessing — but not Taylor's. "The notion that this position — which is a sacred, honorable position — can just be passed off via congressman like a football is disgusting," Taylor told WVEC in January. In the money As a sitting member of Congress, Forbes has been expected to have the edge in this primary. He's dominated in fundraising, hauling in $361,000 in the first quarter of the year and ending the period with $875,000. Much of his fundraising, The Virginian-Pilot has noted, came in after announcinghewasswitching districts. Taylor brought in $105,000, including a $10,000 personal loan. He ended the quarter with $53,000 in the bank. Forbes has said he moved districts to havea better chance of staying in office and keeping hisseniority on the Armed Services Committee, a key position because of the military's importance in coastal Virginia. Voters in Taylor's poll were equally split over whether that reasoning made them more or less likely to vote for Forbes. When read a statement about Forbes running for the 2nd District for political reasons, 60 percent of voters said they'd be "much less" or "somewhat less" likely to vote for him. Early polling In a pollForbes commissioned before enteringthe race, 61 percent of voters said they wanted Forbesto remain in Congress to preserve that committee seniority for Virginia. Twenty-three percent of voters agreed with the statement that Forbes was a "carpetbagger" who had "no business coming here to run for Congress.” Forbes led Taylor 43 percent to 24 percent, with a third undecided, in the Public Opinion Strategies poll conducted Feb. 2 and 3. The primary is June 14. Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.
Before he bowed out of the Republican presidential race, Sen. Ted Cruz said something that Hillary Clinton and her team should heed as they arm themselves for a political battle so gory it would make the producers of Game of Thrones cringe. No, not that Trump is a “pathological liar” or a “serial philanderer” — though each of those charges may come into play during the campaign. The observation Cruz made, after running against Trump for nearly a year, is that Donald the Developer figures out his own weaknesses and then projects them onto his adversaries as fast and as frequently as he can. He builds his opponent in his own image and thereby negates the most potentially devastating attacks on him. “Whatever he does, he accuses everyone else of doing,” Cruz said at a press availabilityTuesday morningthat he kicked off by informing reporters he would finally tell them what he really thought of Trump. To wit, Cruz was Trump’s main target over the final months of the primary campaign, when Trump gave the Texas senator the sobriquet “Lyin’ Ted.” The Pulitzer-prize winning website Politifact has rated 84 of Trump’s campaign-trail claims as “false” or “pants on fire.” They account for 61 percent of the Trump statements that Politifact has rated, and another 30 percent have been branded “half true” or “mostly false.” Politifact isn’t infallible, but the pattern is pretty clear. Trump’s been untruthful, so he called Cruz a liar. Again and again and again. And it stuck. Trump effectively took the issue of his own honesty off the table. The reason this matters for Clinton is that she, too, is vulnerable to Trump’s projections, and, in the past, has been hesitant to fight opponents on ground they are perceived to own even in positive terms. Clinton takes a more traditional and honest path: She highlights her own actual strengths and attacks her opponent’s actual weaknesses. In doing so in 2008 and again in 2016, she essentially conceded that rivals Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders were change agents. She portrayed them as too naive and aspirational to get things done in Washington. On the other hand, Clinton portrayed herself as the more substantive and experienced candidate. She spent large parts of both campaigns defending herself against charges that, for all of her substance and experience, she’d shown poor judgment. Had she spent more time undercutting her rivals’ change narratives — or at least competing with them — she would have forced them to defend themselves rather than given them room to launch attacks on her turf. Her campaign turned around a couple of months ago when she began talking about “breaking barriers,” both economic and social, in ways that blunted Sanders’ edge as a candidate of change. Clinton will win the Democratic nomination in part because Sanders isn’t as compelling a candidate as Obama was and in part because she went on the offense to say she could change Americans’ lives in concrete ways. Clinton should be under no illusion that she has an easy race against Trump, and she should be aware that she’ll be engaged in asymmetrical political warfare. Trump’s tactics are reminiscent of the Karl Rove-allied “Swiftboat Veterans for Truth,” who framed John Kerry, a decorated Vietnam veteran turned iconic anti-Vietnam activist, as a coward. Their deceits successfully neutralized Kerry’s natural advantage overPresident George W. Bush, who served in the reserves at home, on military matters. Many Democrats were furious at how long Kerry waited to respond to the Swiftboat crew. Surely, he thought, as Clinton often does about the most scurrilous attacks on her, that no one would believe them. The lessons for Clinton are that it never pays to let a charge go unmet, and it’s better to challenge the positive perceptions about your opponent than to let him do the same to you. That’s not to say Clinton should lie about Trump. With all he’s said and done over the years, there’s no need to. But she’d be smart to focus on undermining the narrative he’s built for himself as a person who is willing to speaktruth to power on behalf of the little guy. Her favorite line, that he’s a “loose cannon” who is bound to “misfire,” may be part of a larger campaign to discredit him as a commander in chief, but it’s not aimed at slicing through the core of his narrative or projecting one of her weaknesses onto him so as to take the issue off the table. Already, Trump has gotten the jump on her in that regard in two ways: earlier this year, he said Clinton lives with a man who abuses women — a reference to various allegations about Bill Clinton’s behavior with other women — and more recently, he’s taken to calling her “crooked Hillary.” Trump and one of his wives, Ivana, were granted a divorce that was attributed to his “cruel and inhuman treatment” of her. Given what he says about women in public, it’s safe to assume he’s at least as much of a barbarian in private. In one debate last year, Trump admitted that he expected favors in return when he made political contributions. “I gave to many people. Before this … I was a businessman,” he said. “When they call, I give. And you know what? When I need something from them, two years later, three years later, I call them. They are there for me.” Rather than launching 1,000 media investigations into whether Trump was engaged in quid pro quo deals with elected officials, the comment was treated as a moment of rare honesty about the political process. If it turns out that Trump has had crooked business dealings, he’s already made it harder for Clinton to make the case by calling her crooked. Most of Trump’s fellow Republican candidates tried to take the high road until he broke them down and made them fight on his level. Marco Rubio’s penis-size jokes and Ted Cruz’s diatribe on dishonesty and infidelity are among the most memorable moments of self-immolation at the altar of Trump. They were way too late, and even the harshest charges about his personal and political shortcomings didn’t stick to the Teflon Donald. If Clinton wants to avoid the same fate, she’d better move fast to project some of her less attractive traits onto Trump. If they stick to her, maybe they’ll stick to him, too. 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House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said on CNN Thursday that he cannot support or endorse presumptive Republican presidential nominee DonaldTrump at this time. “I’m just not ready to do that at this point,” Ryan said on CNN's “The Lead with Jake Tapper”.“I think he needs to do more to unify this party.” For months, Ryan has insisted that he needed to stay neutral in the presidential race.As speaker, Ryan is the chair of the Republican National Convention. Trump needs to prove to Republicans from all wings of the party that he can be their standard bearer, Ryan said Thursday. “I think conservatives want to know does he share our values,” the speaker said. "Looking back on the primary campaign, there are instances and episodes that question that.” Ryan was asked if he would be able to preside over the convention if Trump doesn't do enough to win his support. He didn't give a direct answer. "I’m just a guy giving you my piece of mind," he said. ContactMcPherson at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @lindsemcpherson. Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.