Eugene Robinson Live

Eugene Robinson
Sep 22, 2015

Chat with Post columnist Eugene Robinson about his latest columns and political news.

Hello, everyone, and welcome once again. Well, since last we chatted, Scott Walker has retired to join Rick Perry in the locker room. The hot mess that is today's Republican Party continues to provide compelling entertainment but not much hope for serious national debate. Has anyone ever seen anything like this? Let's get started.

Clearly Carly Fiorina has always been good at promoting herself but is she now in for deeper investigation by the press because of her rise in the polls?

You bet. She got a taste of what's to come when she ran and lost against Barbara Boxer. Her record at HP was a big issue and ultimately did not work in her favor.

I am not happy that Scott Walker's poll numbers crashed to the point where he had to drop out of the race. Then the crowing began. AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka made a fool of himself by once again tweeting out that "Scott Walker is a national disgrace". Hey Richard, listen up: That "national disgrace" kicked your butt three times in a row. You tried to toss him out and failed, wasting millions of dollars that union members paid into - and probably not always by choice. It's a shame that Gov. Walker was hit with a serious charisma deficit and got drowned out by a candidate that has been channeling Morton Downey Jr. for the past several months.

I recall a lot of crowing at union leaders' expense when Walker won those battles in Wisconsin. What goes around does, indeed, come around.

Please give your faithful readers your thoughts on the current state of the presidential race. Is Hillary still the front runner despite her missteps? Will Jeb knock the other candidates out of the race due to their ineptitude? Is there a dark horse? Makes great drama, don't you think?!

Hillary Clinton is still the frontrunner and the individual most likely to be our next president. Jeb Bush is in trouble -- his party doesn't much like him. It's possible that the eventual nominees for both parties are not yet in the race. Yes, it's great drama!

It seems to me that the state of the GOP primary is best explained by the notion that you have about 55% of GOP voters who want to make this election a repudiation of Obama's presidency and perhaps even the legitimacy of his two presidential elections. Each of the two biggest over-performers had high-profile run-ins with the President (Trump over the birth certificate and Carson at the national prayer breakfast). On the other end of the spectrum, under-performing Chris Christie upset a lot of Republicans by literally embracing President Obama in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. On the continuum in between those extremes you have some candidates from an establishment that has allowed these notions of President Obama's otherness and lawlessness to fester for years. But that establishment has done nothing about those supposed flaws -- no impeachment, no lawsuit. I would argue that the internals of the PPP poll which found that 54% of Republicans believe President Obama is Muslim back up this notion (only Bush, Christie and Kasich supporters tend to believe the President is a Christian). So I'm wondering if you see this as a valid 'unifying theory', if you will, regarding the state of play in the GOP primary.

Your theory is probably as good as any other. What's happening in the Republican Party doesn't lend itself to logical description. Another theory would be that the more you've actually done to achieve the Republican Party's stated goals, the less the party likes you. Rick Perry was the long-running, very conservative governor of Texas, the second most populous state. Scott Walker decimated the Wisconsin public employee unions. This is stuff that Republicans should theoretically love -- but now, both are gone. Trump, Carson and Fiorina have done, collectively, squat for the GOP. Yet they are the party's darlings.

Are you afraid of losing your MSNBC employment if you disagree with Joe Scarborough on Hillary Clinton emails? Or, do you AGREE with the amount of HC bashing on MJ?

There's no point in going on TV unless you say what you believe. Obviously, I don't control how much time the show spends on the subject -- not do I control what anybody else says. But if I say it, I believe it.

Mr. Robinson. Is this the election that might bring back suspense during the conventions for either (or both) parties? Can you see any scenario that might have neither party settled on a candidate relatively early in the primary process?

I think all political reporters secretly wish for party conventions in which the outcome is not preordained. Sure, it could happen. But it hasn't for a long time, and that's because the primary processes are engineered to pick winners. Maybe this year all bets should be off, but I still think it's a long shot.

It's not just the anti-Muslim screed that's disconcerting. There's a noxious tenor about immigration that scares me too. Before, all of this chatter was below the surface and now it's there for all to see. It's embarrassing and shows a real picture of the GOP, does it not?

The GOP establishment doesn't want to have the party known as a home for racists and xenophobes. Yet the party won't let these people know they're not welcome. Republican grandees would like to have it both ways, and they can't.

After The Donald accused Jeb Bush of being "soft" on Mexico because Columba Bush hails from there, he needs to beware that we can draw a comparable analogy based on the facts that the first and third Mrs. Trumps were born and raised in Communist countries. Interesting, hmmm?

You're thinking maybe that the whole Trump phenomenon is a Putin plot? Sounds like the premise of a pretty good screenplay.

I think his downfall began when he tried to blame his bald spot on "bumping against a cabinet". The GOP voters can take a lot, but that was too much!

Credibility, once lost, is hard to recover. Actually, I think Walker's problem is that he simply wasn't a very good candidate. Somebody said he was like a Triple-A phenom who got called up to the Show and couldn't hit a major-league curveball. Or even a fastball.

Hi Eugene, I have 2 related questions. 1) Given what we've seen over the past couple decades (kid arrested for a Pop-Tart gun, girl arrested for drug dealing for giving a friend a Tylenol, etc.) if that kid in Texas had been white, or black, or anything else, do you think he/she WOULDN'T have also been arrested? The only difference I could imagine is the sheriff wouldn't have made that ignorant "just who I expected" comment. But the kid, regardless of color, name, religion, would have been arrested. 2) If that kid with the brown skin and funny sounding name in Texas had a fake gun, or said bang, or had a pair of nail clippers, and then was arrested/suspended (all of which have already led to arrests/suspensions), do you think the media and the liberals would be going all gaga over his story? I think it's precisely because of the bomb/Muslim angle that they're cheerleading this, and I think it reveals more about their biases than "America's". Love the chat, thanks.

I mostly disagree with you, but not entirely. I think that if the kid had been white and his name had been Allen instead of Ahmed, school officials still would have probably called police. I understand why any school would be sensitive to a homemade gizmo with wires sticking out of it. If he'd been white, though, my guess is that the cops wouldn't have arrested and handcuffed him. They might have just kept him in the principal's office until somebody qualified could arrive, look at the thing and tell them that yes, it was just a clock. And I do think the young man's name had a lot to do with the way the situation was handled. Irving, Texas, has a mayor who has garnered a lot of media attention for herself by crusading against "sharia law," which is nothing more than a paranoid fantasy. 

Why does the media continue to give Trump and the birthers a pass on the phony issue of where President Obama was born. There is no doubt that his mother was a US citizen. Senator Cruz was born in Canada, but he argues his mother was a US citizen, so he is constitutionally qualified to be president. None of the birthers challenge him. Then President Obama is similarly qualified. To make this point would fully expose the racist nature of the birther movement.

I've made this point. Everyone has made this point. The birthers are unswayed by indisputable fact, so why would expect them to respond to logic?

Think he was a plant? Has anyone tracked down the guy?

Not to my knowledge. I hope somebody finds him. Like everyone else, I wonder if there was some back-story.

She can't be a serious candidate can she? She ran two companies into the ground all the while using H1-B visas to offset 10s of thousands of layoffs so she could buy a yacht.

You've just sketched out three negative ads.

Remember back when you said the republican party was "too old, too white and too few"? What's your stance on this regarding the Democratic party?

That's definitely not true of the Democratic party. Pretty true about the Democratic primary candidates, though.

Assuming (yes, I know the joke about that word) that Trump eventually drops out, do you agree that his ghost will be around for countless elections to come? I'm sure that some version of "remember what Trump did in the primaries for 2016" will be around for decades.

I'm tempted to say, "Ask me again after President Trump finishes his second term." I'm not serious about that, but I am serious about not assuming that the Trump bubble will inevitably burst. I just don't know at this point.

What questions would ask Republican presidential candidates that you don't think is getting adequate coverage in the debates?

What are you going to do about jobs? What are you going to do about stagnant middle-class incomes? What are you going to do about health care if you do manage to repeal the Affordable Care Act?

I've never understood the punditocracy's weird obsession with Rubio. I just don't see him as being an especially good candidate. And the notion that Democrats are shaking in their boots over him is laughable. Are you able to explain it?

I think Rubio would be overmatched in a general election campaign. He seems to be doing fairly well at the moment, though. He has as good a chance of consolidating the support of the GOP establishment as anyone else, in my estimation. His supporters believe that against Hillary Clinton he would present a generational contrast.

You and many others have condemned Carson for saying he would not "advocate" for a devout Muslim becoming our President. Would you advocate someone who was a devout Muslim - presumably a follower of Sharia law... to be President? If so, so you not be concerned that his beliefs would influence his Executive decisions? That he would not be supportive of gay rights, women's reproductive rights and woman's workplace rights?

Why do you presume a "devout" Muslim is also a "follower of Sharia law"? Why would you not also include "devout" Christians, who, after all, might seek to impose "Biblical law" rather than abide by the Constitution. Certainly you would rule out "devout" Catholics, who after all might essentially turn over the reins of government to Pope Francis! Please get a grip.

What's this about Ted Cruz being born in Canada? I thought only "Native Born" Americans could run for President! How did Donald Trump and Ben Carson miss this?

I believe the Constitution says "natural born" and the meaning of that phrase has never really been tested. Most legal scholars argue for an expansive view -- John McCain, for example, was born in Panama to parents who are U.S. citizens, and there was widespread agreement that he could run. Cruz had only one parent who was a U.S. citizen, but he was born a citizen (a dual citizen, actually). None of this applies to President Obama, who was born in the United States. His only problem appears to be that he was born, um, black.

They seem to be one of the biggest supporters for Bernie Sanders. What do you thing is the big appeal? Are they going to be as disappointed as the supporters of Eugene McCarthy back in the 60's if he loses?

There you go again, assuming what the outcome will be. Sanders has an uphill fight against Clinton, but have you seen those crowds he's drawing? In any event, my reading of the polls is that Democrats who support Sanders will be disappointed, but not crushed or embittered, if he doesn't get the nomination. Things could change, of course.

Both Trump's and Sanders' ascendancy in the polls on both sides indicate a resonance with portions of the voting public that you don't find with the other "traditional" candidates. While I don't think that that either have a chance at the nomination, they have shown that they can influence the dialogue. How close do you think we are to an actual viable third party? And, what would one have to do to attain viability?

I don't actually agree with your premise. Seems to me that what's happening in the Democratic Party is a spirited but conventional contest between left and center-left. What's happening in the GOP is a non-ideological battle royale between insiders and outsiders. I don't see how you cobble together a third party from these two different situations. What would it stand for?

Aren't we already viewing -- on the micro level in Rowan County, Kentucky -- what can happen when a religious zealot attains political office and then imposes her religious views above her Constitutional duty on the populace?


Where do you come down on our continuing tight rein on the release of previously- some might say the 'overclassification' of documents and historical findings? Do you feel that the overclassification and secrecy helps breed the disconnect between the two political parties- as evidenced in the Republican debates? We seem to have become a nation with two distinctly different histories, even?

I think those are two different issues. Overclassification is a huge, longstanding problem in Washington. It's ridiculous that so much of the public's business is kept from the public, and we should always fight for sunshine and transparency. Even on matters where we know all the relevant facts, however, there seem to be different histories based on ideology. I don't know how you fix that.

That is what they said about Reagan. That is what they said about Clinton. That is what they said about Obama.

True, true, true.

I have never been as aware of candidates using religion(s) as a basis for condemning opponents. I always have believed that---in our country--you can be good with God as much as you like, but you have no right to bringing the Supreme Being to a political rally as a defense of your political beliefs, correct?

Yeah, I don't think He (or She) much enjoys spending time at those rallies. 


I, however, love spending time with all of you. Alas, my allotted hour has expired. Thanks for a very lively discussion today, everyone, and I'll see you again next week!

In This Chat
Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and has received numerous journalism awards.
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