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What exactly did Donald Trump mean when he said Vladimir Putin is a “better leader” than President Obama and “is doing a better job”?

Does he mean Russia is a better country? That it has a stronger economy? A fairer society? Better government? Or is more respected and admired around the world?

Or does he mean Putin is “stronger” than Obama? Because Obama abides by the Constitution and must deal with a Congress controlled by his political opponents, while Putin is a self-appointed dictator who imprisons, intimidates and assassinates his political opponents?

Why don’t we ask the Russians to hack Trump’s tax returns? Then we’ll see what he’s hiding. Deals with the Russian government, maybe?

Is Putin funneling rubles to Trump?


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The Democratic and Republican conventions offered two starkly different visions of America. Here’s how this old Democrat sees them.

Hillary Clinton’s is bright and optimistic. Donald Trump’s is dark and pessimistic.

Clinton says there’s hope. Trump says he’s the only hope.  

Clinton is about love and unity. Trump is about fear and loathing.  

Clinton says America is great and can be greater. Trump says only he can make it great.  

Clinton says the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Trump says be afraid, be very afraid.  

Clinton has an army of surrogates and validators: Bill, Chelsea, Obama and Biden. Trump has Ivanka, Chris Christie and Vladimir Putin.

Clinton was Secretary of State, and the world didn’t blow up. Trump, who knows?

We know most everything about Clinton. We have a lot to learn about Trump.

August will be about each candidate defining himself or herself – and their opponent. Clinton has the money and discipline to do that. Does Trump?


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Political campaigns are odd creatures: There’re born, grow like crazy, live in chaos, then die on a set date. Back in the late 1970’s, Republicans leaped a generation ahead of Democrats in the arts (from fundraising to communicating with voters) of nourishing these strange creatures.  

But those days are gone.

At their convention in Philadelphia the Democrats have set out to reform Hillary Clinton not by denying her vices but by telling stories of her virtues: How she’s been a good mother, how as a mother she cares about children, and how, after 9/11, as a Senator she cared for victims.

That is not happenstance – it’s calculation: Virtually every Democratic speaker, from Michelle Obama to Elizabeth Banks, didn’t mention the word ‘mother’ by accident.  And the calculation doesn’t end there – look at Hillary Clinton’s political ads. Her campaign has fixated on Independent voters, the ticket splitters who will decide the election.

Not only does Trump lack ads, the bombast in his speeches at rallies is alienating those same voters – Trump reinforces the thing about him that troubles Independents most.

Hillary’s campaign manager – without a shred of proof – accused the Russians of leaking the DNC emails to help Trump. It was an outrageous charge. Trump’s reaction: He called on the Russians to go a step further saying, Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails (deleted from Hillary’s private server) that are missing.

Clinton’s response? “This has to be the first time a major presidential candidate has actively encouraged a foreign power to conduct espionage against his political opponent,” said a Clinton advisor.

Donald Trump, in a large part, is the creature of the Republican base’s disillusionment with the Political Establishment in Washington. But it appears the Republican Establishment’s foibles go beyond governing – they include an inability to master the most fundamental needs of a political party in a democracy: The ability to communicate with voters and win a public debate to convince people to vote for a Republican candidate.

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As President Obama joked on Jimmy Fallon’s show not long ago, “How do you like me now?”

Well, pretty good, the polls show. Especially as we ponder what comes next.

As Michelle and Barack elegantly and eloquently exit the Democratic convention this week, let’s salute what they brought to the White House: eight years of class, grace and steely determination to overlook and overcome critics, nay-sayers and haters.

Obama saved the economy from a depression, saved the auto industry, saved the banking system, reformed Wall Street, ended one war, wound down another, saved thousands of military lives, killed Osama, cut the federal deficit, pushed through a better health care system, took on climate change and presided over lower unemployment and a booming stock market.

If a Republican had done it, Congress would be carving his likeness on Mount Rushmore.

The President had to do it all without Republicans lifting a finger to help.

Eight years ago, when the economy was about to collapse, candidate Obama listened to the pleas of President Bush and Henry Paulsen and lent his support to a bipartisan rescue bill. Republicans repaid the favor by vowing to oppose anything and everything he proposed, no matter the damage to the country.

No good deed goes unpunished.

Plus, the Obamas did it with no hint of Oval Office hanky-panky, no stories of vase-throwing First Family fights and no tabloid photos of underage First Daughters boozing it up in a Georgetown bar.

We were lucky that our first black President and his family had the inner strength to stoically endure an astonishing level of mindless hatred at the very idea of a black family in the White House. Think Jackie Robinson in politics.

One day the Obamas will get their due credit. They deserve it.


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Clicking back and forth between Fox News and CNN, watching the Democratic Convention, was like watching two different conventions. From two different worlds.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz was roundly booed by Bernie Sanders’ supporters. But, then, Michelle Obama righted the Democrats’ ship with her speech Monday night – and proof of her effectiveness is the non-existent coverage her speech received on Fox News.

Elizabeth Warren, full of economic populism aimed squarely at billionaire Trump, followed Mrs. Obama and explained how Trump has  made millions ripping off everyone from plumbers to construction workers.

Bernie Sanders wrapped up the night with more anti-Wall Street populism and his own ringing endorsement of Hillary.

By midnight the Democrats were all singing out of the same hymnal: Hillary’s a mother, there’s a lot to be said for having a mother’s perspective in the Oval Office, the rich are getting richer while the rest of us are slipping downhill, and Donald Trump’s a wicked, angry billionaire, who’s no role model for children.

Led by Warren and Sanders, Democrats spoke out as the champion of ‘us.’ The collective ‘us.’ And, in their eyes, the machinery for the collective ‘us’ to implement our will is government. The ‘we’ who have the votes will fix the woes we are suffering at the hands of Wall Street pirates through government.

The flaw in this case is government is also one of the most bungling institutions ever created by men. Even with the best of intentions, government often does more harm than good. And, beyond that, a populist crusade for ‘economic justice’ can always, in a heartbeat, turn into a crusade for ‘economic plunder.’

Republicans, traditionally, have shown little faith in the will of collective and virtually none at all in government. Their mission has been to protect the individual from government.

This division is a very old plumb line. And, when all is said and done, that cleavage may define this election.

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The bitterest fights are always inside the family. So it is with the Republican and Democratic conventions.

Donald Trump has Ted Cruz (and John Kasich and Jeb Bush and…). Hillary Clinton has Bernie Sanders.

At least Sanders endorsed Clinton. But not all his supporters buy it.

There is a certain self-righteousness among some Sanders supporters that is off-putting. There’s also a certain sense of entitlement among some Clinton supporters that is equally off-putting. (I’ll hear from both sides now.)

The burden is on Clinton & Co. to reach out. After all, they won.

The Sanders people did win concessions on the platform. But who cares about the platform?

After Sanders endorsed Clinton a couple of weeks back, the party seemed to be coming together. Then came the leak of thousands of dumb, dumb, dumb DNC emails.

Those damn emails again! At this point, Clinton wants to get a time machine, go back and un-invent email. That damn Al Gore!

A Russian hack sounds far-fetched. But when a serious person like Congressman David Price takes a Putin plot seriously, attention should be paid. Republicans believe Russians hacked Hillary’s State Department emails. Why not these too?

From the beginning, Clinton’s campaign missed what fueled Sanders’ challenge: the anger many Democrats, and many Americans, feel toward a pay-for-play political system. It’s the Clintons’ fault that they became the poster pair for that system.

Sanders’ supporters are unlikely to vote for Trump. But they might go for Gary Johnson (legalize marijuana!), write in Bernie or sit home and, like Ralph Nader voters in 2000, open the White House door for Trump.

There are plenty of Never-Trump Republicans who could do the same.

Our nation rests in the hands of these disaffected Democrats and reluctant Republicans.


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Last Friday, as the smoke cleared after the Republican Convention, with a Mongol Horde of Democratic Super PACs after his hide Donald Trump attacked Ted Cruz instead of Hillary.

Next Wiki-leaks dumped nineteen thousand hacked Democrat Party emails onto the Internet and the Democrats’ dream of a happy convention went up in smoke.

Sunday Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic Party Chairman, announced she would resign after the convention – not before.

And, also on Sunday, Hillary’s campaign manager announced on national television the Russians were behind the Wiki-leaks because Vladimir Putin supports Donald Trump because Trump might not back NATO allies Russia attacks.

Roger Ailes may have been deposed by a bevy of blondes at Fox News but the twenty-four hour news cycle roles on with sound and fury – every fifteen minutes reporters need a new crisis to write about on the Internet, point to, and howl, The world’s on fire. And, if one’s not available, they’ll pour gasoline on whatever’s at hand.

Did Hillary’s campaign manager offer one shred of proof on ABC This Week that Vladimir Putin supports Donald Trump? No. Does Wasserman Schultz’ resignation spell doom for Hillary? Again, No – unfortunately. Is Trump’s umpteenth attack on Ted Cruz a profound development in the Presidential election? No.

But the news monster requires feeding every quarter hour – so we have three new earthshaking crisis on our hands.

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Hillary Clinton’s choice of Tim Kaine is about more than winning the battleground state (excuse me, Commonwealth) of Virginia. It’s about a seismic shift in the Presidential chessboard this year – and for years to come.

The Clinton campaign calculates that she must win Virginia, North Carolina and Florida (57 total electoral votes) if Donald Trump’s anti-trade rhetoric makes the race close in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin (64 total electoral votes).

We may be seeing a fundamental, long-term change in both parties’ electoral strategies – a change that reflects long-running population and economic changes.

The decline in blue-collar manufacturing has hit the Midwest Rust Belt hard. Trump thinks he can win there by abandoning the GOP’s decades-old support for free trade. He has moved the Republican base from the executive suites to the factory floor (or unemployment line).

At the same time, politics is dramatically shifting in Virginia, North Carolina and, more slowly, Georgia. Democrats are gaining as the minority voting population grows and the ranks of college-educated whites in urban areas grow.

Kaine isn’t just a Southerner. He’s safe, smart and solid. He speaks Spanish, which is why he and Clinton campaigned in Florida Saturday. And, as a Virginia Republican friend said, “The thing I hate most about Tim Kaine is that he’s so likeable.”

Some optimistic (or delusional) Democrats even dream of one day winning Georgia and Texas (54 total electoral votes).

So North Carolina is a battleground again. The Clinton campaign is flooding the state with field operatives and ad dollars. Clinton and Trump were both here, again, Monday.

Get used to it for the next 15 weeks.

More than that, get used to being at ground zero in a new Presidential battlefield for many elections to come.

As we did during the Republican Convention, Carter and I are contributing to The Charlotte Observer’s Democratic Convention coverage this week.

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It was a rough week. But it’s over. No more opening the morning newspapers to read stories about plagiarism. Or about booing Ted. Or about hour-long political speeches in prime time by Donald Trump.  

Orators aren’t born – they learn their art the old-fashioned way. One hard step at a time. And great orators also have a bit of poetry in their souls: ‘Blood, toil, tears and sweat.’ ‘The better angels of our nature.’ ‘They slipped the surly bands of earth to touch the face of God.’

Speaking contemporaneously Donald Trump is riveting. He’s vivid. And entertaining – even when he’s like a buzzsaw. But he’s never claimed the mantle of orator and listening to his speech Thursday night was a bit like being hollered at for an hour.

But that’s all in the past now. Things are looking up. There’s a cause for hope. Because the Democrats are coming to town with their convention and the one thing the Democrats have proven over and over, down through the years, is they have one infallible gift: No matter how badly Republicans screw up the Democrats can find a way to do worse.

So I’m looking forward to Bernie and Elizabeth and Debbie and Barack and Harry and Nancy and Bill all marching onto the stage arm-in-arm, followed by Hillary on Thursday night.

By Friday things should be looking up. Because, after all, when it comes to orations Hillary’s no poet either.

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Hillary Clinton has the greatest gift in politics: a flawed, unpopular opponent. Still, she should use the Democratic convention to fix four big problems.

First, she’s a status quo candidate in a change year. She and Bill have been on the stage for 25 years. And she is something of a third Obama term.

The easiest solution is what George H.W. Bush did in 1998: make your opponent unelectable. That’ll work. Also, Clinton needs a gentle pivot from Obama. EG – Bush promised to be kinder and gentler than Reagan.

Second, she’s not a comfortable TV performer, and elections usually are won by the most comfortable TV performer. Hillary is the dutiful straight-A student to Bill’s BMOC and Obama’s cool cat. Her ads can fix this, in part. But she can help herself immensely if her acceptance speech communicates the warmth and sincerity people say she projects in person.

Third, she needs Bernie Sanders’ voters. Her campaign completely missed the fed-up-ness that Sanders captured. That’s ironic, because the Clintons came into politics in the ‘70s as the new generation challenging the old order. Now they are the old order.

Fourth, there’s the trust factor (see: email server). She can’t pull a Jimmy Carter (“I’ll never lie to you.”) She has to redefine trust as who do you trust in a crisis.

You might think it’s hard for a political animal like Clinton to change spots now. But conventions give that opening.

It’s like buying a car. Before you decide to buy a car, you don’t pay much attention to cars. When you’re ready to buy, you start looking hard at cars.

The American people are buying a new car for the next four years. And they’re looking hard at what’s on the lot.


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Carter & Gary
Carter Wrenn
Gary Pearce
The Charlotte Observer says: “Carter Wrenn and Gary Pearce don’t see eye-to-eye on many issues. But they both love North Carolina and know its politics inside and out.”
Carter is a Republican. 
Gary is a Democrat.
They met in 1984, during the epic U.S. Senate battle between Jesse Helms and Jim Hunt. Carter worked for Helms and Gary, for Hunt.
Years later, they became friends. They even worked together on some nonpolitical clients.
They enjoy talking about politics. So they started this blog in 2005. 
They’re still talking. And they invite you to join the conversation.
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