In political news, the cliche that somebody has “sucked all of the air out of the room,” means, of course, that an individual has managed to distract from the many elements of a multifaceted story and put the entire focus on himself. That’s what Donald Trump has been doing of late — sucking all the stagnant air out of the campaign and replacing it with his foul breath. How’s that for a tortured metaphor?
But for those who have felt like they’ve been tortured by the All-Donald-All-The-Time coverage, take heart: He’s very quickly becoming yesterday’s obscenity. And it’s a good thing. Because while we have been single-mindedly fixating on Trump’s every nastiness, we’ve not been giving adequate attention to some relatively important stuff.
Lost in the Donald shuffle, for instance, was a speech given by Jeb Bush, where he promised that if elected president, he will mount an assault on “Mount Washington” and, in particular, tighten restrictions on lobbyists. His point is the usual one, that these hired guns with their treasuries of money for special-influence campaign contributions can have an inordinate, or even corrupting, influence on the people’s business.
This is one of those cases where context is essential. At the end of June, Bush, through his lawyers, officially announced his campaign, and the financial behemoths associated with it had amassed contributions that totaled approximately $115 million. That’s an astonishing amount. So the question is, What do those Bush benefactors want in return — particularly the big-ticket ones who shower his super PAC with cash and who are not bound by any meaningful limits? Will someone please explain how they are different from deep-pocketed lobbyists? Does anyone believe that these are people who really believe in Jeb, as opposed to those simply making an investment, a down payment on buying the government if Bush wins? It’s an important question, but it’s pretty much been obliterated by the laser focus on the latest Trump dump.
Just as his star’s twinkle is beginning to fade a little, others are showing that they’ve learned their lesson from him. Ted Cruz, who had already shown an amazing cheap-shot aptitude, has taken his rancor to a new level. On the floor of the United States Senate, where all sorts of malevolence is hidden behind flowery manners, Cruz has shattered the code. In a floor speech complaining about Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s legislative deal-making, he out and out called McConnell a liar. That’s huge. It breaks the rule that states:
“No Senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.”
Sen. Cruz was certainly doing some heavy imputing. But suddenly everyone is learning that civility is for suckers. At least on the Republican side.
For the D’s, however, it’s Hillary Clinton choosing her words with a lawyer’s precision. The New York Times reported that inspectors general had referred her emails to the Justice Department for a criminal investigation into the possibility she mishandled classified information on her infamous private server. The Times got information that was overstated. They are not seeking a criminal investigation of Hillary, just the possibility that classified information was mishandled, which is a crime. There’s a difference. But the never-ending questions are doing serious damage to her credibility, as one poll after another shows. The most recent shows her losing head to head in several swing states to a variety of GOP candidates. However, she does just fine against one of them: You guessed it, Donald Trump. So maybe he’s stopped sucking all the air out of the room as people who have been attracted to his antics realize that they’re the suckers.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.