As our holiday season morphs from the joy of gift-giving into the ritual of regifting - (and since the lines to see “Star Wars” are way too long, anyway) - let’s amuse ourselves by playing a new seasonal parlor game we’ve just invented.
It tests each player’s mastery of the art of regifting clueless candidate quotations. It is based, of course, on the seasonably fashionable (but never-spoken) premise that sometimes it is far more satisfying to regift than receive.
We’re calling our game: “Clueless.”
Here’s how to play: First, we choose a stupid quotation recently uttered by a famous but clearly clueless political personality. Second, we regift that stupid quote to the prime opponent of the original speaker. Finally, we all try to guess how the original speaker would have responded if a leading opponent said that mind-boggling thing.
Here we go. For today’s game, I’ve chosen to focus on the one political personality any casual news media consumer might assume was the only political person speaking this year: Donald Trump.
(As you play other rounds of “Clueless” this holiday season, you’ll find the campaign has gifted you with ample examples of outrageous quotations, including: Hillary Clinton’s assertions that media fact-checkers adorned with thumbs down or Pinocchio noses growing; and a growing list of truth-test failures run up by Republicans including Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Carla Fiorina, Jeb!, and the pack of single-digit bottom-feeders. Also, of course, Trump’s vast replenishing resource of other truth-test failures.)
So many mind-numbing Trump quotations; so little time (and op-ed space). But my choice is Trump’s recent impassioned defense of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s global conduct and moral leadership. I chose Trump’s repeated defense of Putin because of its extensive blood-spattered context: Putin used military muscle to forcibly annex Crimea and arm and train Ukrainian separatist rebel forces. He gave those separatists missiles - one of which allegedly shot down a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine, killing 298 people. Inside Russia, Putin was widely accused of being behind assassinations of opponents and journalists. The Committee to Protect Journalists reported 56 Russian and international journalists were killed in Russia since 1992.)
Yet Trump swelled with pride after a Dec. 17 press conference where Putin said of Trump: “He’s a really brilliant and talented person, without any doubt . the absolute leader in the presidential race. . He says he wants to move on to a new, more substantial relationship, a deeper relationship with Russia. . Of course we welcome that.”
Trump rewarded Putin’s praise by not only praising Russia’s strongman - but shamelessly defending Putin in those killings of opponents and journalists.
But today’s game is all about regifting his words. So we’ll regift all Trump’s praise of Putin to Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton and pretend she said all that.
For instance: the day after Putin’s press conference, Trump praised Putin as “a leader” on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show and made clear he was thrilled to be praised by Russia’s president. When host Joe Scarborough pointedly noted Putin was accused of the murders of political opponents and journalists, Trump actually defended Putin. But you must pretend you heard Clinton say the words Trump actually uttered: “I think our country does plenty of killing also, Joe, so you know. There’s a lot of stupidity going on in the world right now, a lot of killing, a lot of stupidity.”
Unbelievable. Also unthinkable that at any time in the last half century a Republican presidential candidate would have said such a thing. Perhaps you think maybe it was a momentary gaffe. But no. Two days later, on ABC’s “This Week,” Trump sounded an even stronger defense when pressed again about Russia’s president being accused of murdering opponents and journalists. So, imagine you heard Clinton saying the words Trump uttered: “Nobody has proven that he has killed anyone. . He’s always denied it. It’s never been proven that he killed anybody.”
Now, we must guess: What would GOP front-runner Trump - or any other top Republicans, from today’s presidential candidates to former nominees John McCain and Mitt Romney, have said if Clinton had dared speak Trump’s words?
You know the answer: McCain, Romney, all the presidential pack and those shameless GOP haters on the House Benghazi Committee would have blasted Clinton or any Democrat who dared to suck up to Putin like that. And Trump would have led the attacks! He’d probably be blasting Clinton as a spineless leftist unfit to be president - if she had dared to say what he actually and repeatedly said.
If you came to that answer, congratulations - you’ve started 2016 as a winner!
And that may be more than anyone will be saying about The Donald when they start counting the real 2016 votes for president. Trump may have finally gone too far. Even for those way too tolerant, way too desperate, Republican voters.
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive.