Some weeks, the Sunday-morning public affairs shows are so on point that they set the news agenda for the next day and a half. Other weeks, unexpected events overwhelm their considered news judgment and make almost irrelevant all that breakfast-hour chit-chat.
That’s what happened Sunday shortly before midnight, when Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Ohio Governor John Kasich—both trailing Donald Trump for the Republican Presidential nomination—announced an alliance to try to stop Mr. Trump.
Jeff Roe, campaign manager for Mr. Cruz, issued a statement saying the campaign would focus on the Indiana primary on May 3 and let Mr. Kasich compete against Mr. Trump in Oregon on May 17 and New Mexico on June 7.
Mr. Kasich’s campaign announced it wished to give Mr. Cruz a “clear path in Indiana.” Mr. Trump, who won New York last Tuesday, is expected to triumph Tuesday in five Eastern states: Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.
As is often the case, reacting to the late news, Mr. Trump addressed Earthlings via Twitter.
“Wow,” he wrote. “Just announced that Lyin’ Ted and Kasich are going to collude in order to keep me from getting the Republican nomination. DESPERATION!”
He got that right. With the primary calendar dwindling and Mr. Trump’s delegate total rising, the two also-rans are implementing a “Stop Trump” strategy suggested weeks ago by Mitt Romney, who lost to Democratic President Barack Obama in the election of 2012.
Critics of the Manhattan real estate tycoon have alleged that Mr. Trump is a racist, sexist, xenophobic, double-talking, thin-skinned, immature bully and demagogue who could get crushed in his own election while damaging Republican hopes throughout the nation at all levels if he runs against Hillary Clinton, the Democratic favorite.
Supporters of Mr. Trump argue that he is a wealthy, self-made patriot who is leading a populist, grass-roots, anti-establishment movement that is sick and tired of the incompetence of both parties.
Mr. Trump delights in sending personal insults at foes. His supporters would give him control of nuclear bombs and other weapons of war as well as the power to appoint Supreme Court judges and influence legislation and the economy and, shoot, do all kinds of stuff.
By dawn’s early light, the deal was the top topic on Morning Joe at 6 a.m. on MSNBC.
“It’s too late,” said host Joe Scarborough.
Mark Halperin was only slightly more encouraging to the anti-Trump crowd.
“If Cruz can’t beat Trump in Indiana,” he said, “It’s over.”
‘I’m always fair, but when you’re fair to Republicans it still comes off as mean because they’re so awful.’
WHY NOT VICE-PRESIDENT AL FRANKEN? The New York Times put on its Sunday front page a lengthy, trial-balloon story, a hardy quadrennial headlined “Clinton’s Team Starts to Ponder Names for Her Running Mate.” A couple dozen were floated. Naturally, most of the talk shows followed suit and devoted many minutes to this guessing game.
But the best idea came late on NBC’s Meet the Press when Joy-Ann Reid suggested a name mentioned neither in The Times nor by any other guest on any other show: Al Franken, the second-term senator from Minnesota.
“They need to fix what you could call their ‘White Male Problem,’” Ms. Reid said, “and go with somebody that is a progressive white male.” She mentioned both Franken and Sherrod Brown, the senator from Ohio.
“That would be outside the box,” Ms. Reid said. “That could help her.”
Mr. Franken could be an ideal candidate. An intelligent graduate of Harvard, he’s shown himself a serious and articulate senator after spending his first career as a comedian who both wrote and performed skits on Saturday Night Live.
In that much campaigning takes place on television and radio, Mr. Franken has proven chops at these mediums. He once humiliated Fox’s Bill O’Reilly at a book gathering and he has written books with titles like Rush Limbaugh is a Big, Fat Idiot and Lies: And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them.
Before going into politics, Mr. Franken hosted a hilarious liberal talk show opposite Mr. Limbaugh called, briefly, “The O’Franken Factor.” He would be a valuable liaison to the entertainment industry and its donor base of wealthy liberals, just as Rush Limbaugh teaches us.
He could appeal to all those Sanders-worshipping college kids and to some of their grandmothers down in Florida.
Whereas Ms. Clinton is sometimes seen as too stiff and programmed, Mr. Franken exudes a quick wit with off-the-cuff remarks that sting a foe with humor, a tactic that could be effective on the sensitive and volatile Mr. Trump.
When covering a Republican convention for a comedy show decades ago, Mr. Franken asked Republican Governor John Engler of Michigan why he didn’t lose a couple pounds to fight for his country in Vietnam. You know, pass the physical, patriot. The second time he asked, Mr. Engler didn’t think it was so funny.
Like Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura, Mr. Franken has shown the path to political success sometimes begins in the field of entertainment. When Mr. Franken and Arianna Huffington did a comedy skit called “Strange Bedfellows” 20 years ago, Mr. Franken explained his role to The Times.
“My job is to be funny and attack the Republicans,” he said. “I’m always fair but when you’re fair to Republicans it still comes off as mean because they’re so awful.”
There are other ticket-balancing benefits for Ms. Clinton to consider besides their different genders. Mr. Franken is Jewish and would be the second man of his faith to run for that office. (Joe Liebermann was Al Gore’s vice-presidential candidate in 2000). A Clinton-Franken ticket could make history on two levels.
According to an old saying, “Many a truth is spoken in jest.” In a campaign brimming with hostility from the electorate, Mr. Franken could deliver harsh truths about the other ticket in a way that makes audiences laugh and cheer. He could help create television ads. He once wrote a book called Why Not Me? in which he imagined running for President.
He could appeal to all those Sanders-worshipping college kids and to some of their grandmothers down in Florida. And if Ms. Clinton wins the White House, she will have intelligent, experienced people like former President Bill Clinton and former President Obama as informal advisors alongside Mr. Franken. That’s a pretty good start.
Ed O’Keefe of The Washington Post on Face the Nation on CBS did everything but spell Mr. Franken’s name on a Ouija board.
“Is it somebody who is as liberal or similarly liberal to Bernie Sanders or someone who who’s a little younger and might draw out those younger voters?”
As for the Republicans, less was said Sunday about possible running mates for Mr. Trump.
On Meet the Press, Republican pundit Nicolle Wallace said the debate on the Republican side isn’t who will they pick as Mr. Trump’s running mate.
“It’s ‘Who would do it?’” Ms. Wallace asked. “I mean, I’m sorry. We’re in a totally different place. I’m being honest.”
Perhaps Mr. Trump would choose his newest best friend, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey.
Or he might even consider his enthusiastic supporter Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska who added so much excitement and elevated discourse to John McCain’s losing campaign in 2008. Imagine a Franken-Palin debate. Imagine.
Best of the Rest…
FACE THE NATION Slow start here with Mr. Kasich talking about Barry Goldwater in 1964. “If we don’t beat Hillary, we lose the Supreme Court, the U.S. Senate and local races. That’s where we’re heading.” Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz remind some people of Mr. Goldwater. “Goldwater got smoked,” Mr. Kasich said. “We lost everything.”
Mr. Kasich hinted to host John Dickerson that he might announce a running mate soon… On a video recording, Mr. Trump insulted Mr. Kasich’s last name, demanding he change it to “Kasick.” “It’s so ridiculous,” said Mr. Trump, whose name is impossible to spoof.
Mr. Sanders, making the rounds with his usual sermon, said “Among the low-income people, the turnout is quite low.” In discussing Prince, who died last week, Mr. Dickerson reported that Prince held a secret White House concert last year for 500 friends of the First Family. (Wonder if there’s video and sound somewhere?) Then they played a song Prince sang about Donald Trump. Problems here. You couldn’t understand the lyrics and nobody thought to print them at the bottom of the screen. Mr. Dickerson then revealed that his first live music show was in 1984. He saw Prince…
The show picked up with the historical feature of Barry Goldwater, in living black and white, and Nelson Rockefeller of New York warning liberal Republicans (such a species once existed) at the 1964 convention of Mr. Goldwater’s “cloak of apparent respectability for a dangerous extremism.”
He got booed. Mr. Goldwater heard cheers when he said “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice.”
Next week’s feature, Mr. Dickerson said, will be the 1976 Republican convention in which Ronald Reagan broke the 11th Commandment of Republicans by not only criticizing a fellow Republican but one who lived in the White House: Gerald Ford.
Mr. Dickerson’s best guest was Ezra Klein of Vox. He laughed off Republican hints that Mr. Trump will change his personality now that he is closer to leading the Free World.
“A person who could make that kind of makeover himself is not the person who comes out and says that aloud,” Mr. Klein said. “He does not have the discipline to not say everything he’s thinking.”
‘This is nonsense. Part of the Trump persona is to make monkeys out of the media.’
FOX NEWS SUNDAY Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s new right-hand man, stopped by the party home base to be interviewed by host Chris Wallace. Mr. Manafort explained how Mr. Trump would be toning things down. “Forgive me,” Mr. Wallace said. “It does seem a little like spin.”
In that Mr. Trump was absent for the third consecutive Sunday from all the shows, Mr. Manafort’s opinion stood for him and Mr. Manafort responded to charges by Mr. Cruz that Mr. Trump “is lying to us” and admitting it.
“There’s the liar,” Mr. Manafort said of Mr. Cruz. “Not Trump.”
On the panel, Susan Page of USA Today told Mr. Wallace “I have questions about whether Donald Trump can remake himself. We know who the real Donald Trump is.” Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Florida Congresswoman who heads the Democratic National Committee, answered most of Mr. Matthews’s questions with well-memorized statements like “The Republicans are clearly headed for a broken convention and that’s going to descend into chaos.”
MEET THE PRESS Theme of the show was “Whatever Happened to the ‘Stop Trump’ Movement?” and the question was answered by late-night announcements from his rivals. The visual and audio top of the show was a work of art. The producer showed 13 images in one span of 20 seconds with lots of still pictures in motion on the screen. We saw Mitch McConnell, at high speed, going up and down an escalator. We heard Mr. Trump.
“We’re winning by a lot,” he roared at one well-edited spot. “We’re kicking ass.”
Host Chuck Todd displayed a graphic that showed how Republicans are coping with the five stages of grief and read a well-written script. “The second one: ‘Anger,’” he said. “What makes this guy think he is a conservative or a Republican anyway?”
On Mr. Todd’s panel, Ms. Reid brought her “A” game with comments like this one on Mr. Trump.
“The party is the problem. It’s the 40-some odd years of promises… These voters are so angry that you almost have to give them Donald Trump in order to satiate their anger.” Katie Packer, who leads a stop Trump movement, called him “a sexist, very likely a racist at the top of our ticket and it’s very damaging to the party… Let’s take this to the convention. Let’s play this out… It would be funny if it weren’t so frightening.”
Every now and then, Mr. Sanders strays from canned answers to say something surprising. An example came Sunday when discussing tobacco. “There is almost a question as to why it remains a legal product in this country,” Mr. Sanders said. Imagine—those of you of a certain age—a nation where top candidates might like to make tobacco illegal and marijuana legal…
By far, the most disgusting 15 seconds of the day was the Cruz commercial against Mr. Trump who, the Cruz people claim, favors letting “grown men go to the bathroom with little girls.” It all has to do with that hyped-up North Carolina / LGBT lavatory hassle.
To prove Mr. Trump’s allegedly “politically correct” policies, the Cruz commercial shows two sets of feet beneath two adjoining stalls. A man sits in one with blue jeans pulled down and black brief undershorts visible. The girl, whose feet don’t reach the floor, wears shiny black shoes and white socks and swings her feet. “Donald Trump can’t be trusted with common sense,” message says. “Why would we trust him in the White House?” Ick…
In a segment about the redacted 28 pages from the Congressional report about the 9-11 terror attacks, former Senator Bob Graham made a convincing case for President Obama to release them. He said it answered questions about Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the terrorist plot and the changing American relationship with that oil-rich nation. When President Obama arrived there last week, the Royal Family sent the equivalent of a gas pump jockey to greet his airplane. One wonders how well this well-educated family has read of the French and Russian revolutions and what can happen to spoiled royalty?
THIS WEEK George Stephanopoulos or his producers messed up a great segment. In it, Jonathan Karl interviewed Charles Koch of the Koch Brothers, the wealthy financiers of Republicans, conservatives and right-wingers.
Mr. Koch said all sorts of interesting things but they were chopped up and used as teasers and most of it was in the second half of the show instead right at the start, where should have been. Mr. Koch made it plain that he is against Mr. Trump and might prefer Ms. Clinton.
“Well, I’ve—the—her—her (pause)—we would have to believe her actions would be quite different than her rhetoric,” he said.
The show left Mr. Koch and swirled around with all the usual people saying all the usual things.
When it got back to Mr. Koch, it got interesting again.
Mr. Koch said Mr. Trump’s threat to ban all Muslims temporarily and register them is “reminiscent of Nazi Germany.”
As for Mr. Cruz’s threat to carpet-bomb in the Middle East and see if the sand glows “is frightening.”
When asked about charges that the system is rigged—Mr. Trump says this all the time—Mr. Koch gave the Koch version. He said it is wrong to have a “two-tiered economic system” with what he called “welfare for the wealthy and creates obstacles to opportunity for the disadvantaged.”
Mr. Sanders wasn’t too convinced by what he heard.
“The Koch brothers, understand what they mean,” Mr. Sanders said. “These guys want to eliminate Social Security. They want to eliminate Medicare and Medicaid.” He said they want to roll back most social program to where they were before the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Still, Mr. Karl asked good questions and the interview had a nice bounce.
KARL: “Hundreds of millions of dollars. What have you gotten for that?”
KOCH: “Well, I’ve gotten a lot of abuse.”
KARL: “You’ve been called un-American.”
KARL: “People say you control the party because of all that money.”
KOCH: “Obviously, I don’t control anything.”
KARL: “Is the system rigged?”
KOCH: “It is… in favor of companies like ours.”
‘It’s the key to the success of Fox News. No longer do we have a culture interested in the best obtainable versions of the truth that we once had in the country.’
STATE OF THE UNION Jake Tapper’s show opened with Mr. Sanders saying the things Mr. Sanders often says about bad schools and college debt and “a grotesque imbalance” in wealth… The energy came from the next guest, Donald Trump, Jr., who was asked if his father’s plan to build a big wall against Mexico is to be taken seriously. “He’s the only person who’s been talking about that,” Young Mr. Trump said. “Everyone else jumps on the bandwagon.”
Mr. Tapper showed another one of Mr. Cruz’s skeevy bathroom ads. “You described your father a “blue-collar billionaire.” Mr. Trump, Jr. liked this question. So, what is his position on minimum wage? Young Mr. Trump looked startled and suggested that Mr. Tapper should ask his Dad.
Mary Katharine Ham is a right-winger who makes good points in a pleasant way and acts as if she respects her co-panelists. When asked about Mr. Trump’s plan to pivot to a more Presidential bearing, Ms. Ham replied: “I don’t think he’s capable of it. He cannot put a lid on his id.”
Mr. Tapper asked Andre Bauer, the former Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina, who Mr. Trump should pick as his running mate.
“I’d pick me,” he said.
RELIABLE SOURCES When Carl Bernstein visits Brian Stelter at CNN, he tends to chew up all the scenery but it makes for a good listen. Thundering like a prophet in the Scriptures, Mr. Bernstein said, among other things:
“This is all an act. (Mr. Trump’s reformation) This is nonsense. Part of the Trump persona is to make monkeys out of the media. Stay away from the real issues, particularly when we talk about a ‘New Trump’ in the same way we talked about a ‘New Nixon.’ “
Mr. Bernstein laid blame on journalists, particularly electronic.
“It’s time to do some real reporting,” he said. “Some real investigative reporting. Why do we continue to let the candidates make our agenda? We’ve got great resources. We aren’t using them… We need to be presenting who these candidates are on our air beyond these talking head discussions. We need some framed pieces that gave real depth to the issues. Why is Hillary distrusted and is it justified?”
Mr. Bernstein suggested journalists do a deep dive into Mr. Trump’s business records. He said viewers of modern media now seek stations that support their pre-conceived beliefs.
“It’s the key to the success of Fox News,” Mr. Bernstein said. “No longer do we have a culture interested in the best obtainable versions of the truth that we once had in the country.”
He said digital news in a constant cycle demands stories that entice readers to open them up.
“There’s a real problem in our business… as we judge our business by how many clicks we get,” Mr. Bernstein said.
Mr. Stelter also delved into a sensitive and important issue regarding the web site TMZ, which broke the story of the death of Prince. Most outlets didn’t use the story until Associated Press confirmed it 17 minutes later.
Mr. Stelter—and other journalists—have said that money paid by TMX doesn’t make its information wrong. It is often first and accurate. Curiously, Mr. Stelter didn’t get into the second part of the story, of how TMZ reported that Prince overdosed on drugs the week before his death.
MEDIA BUZZ More than half the Fox show was pre-empted by the news conference from Germany with President Obama and Angela Merkle. Once on camera, host Howard Kurtz asked “What are we doing now?” Answer: Nothing much. Mr. Kurtz said the Boston Globe floated the name of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren as a vice-president. The truncated show was better than having to watch it for a full hour.
Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media.