Rough Day on the Presidential Campaign Trail

Today was pretty rough and tumble on the presidential campaign trail. Donald Trump escalated his recent feud with Sen. John McCain during his appearance at the Family Leadership Summit in Iowa.

“He’s not a war hero,” Trump said. Sarcastically, Trump quipped, “He’s a war hero because he was captured.” Then, he added, “I like people that weren’t captured.”

Trump’s Republican competitors, who had been reluctant to challenge him on his racist remarks about Mexican immigrants, finally jumped on him for that one. The Republican National Committee weighed in as well.

“Senator McCain is an American hero because he served his country and sacrificed more than most can imagine. Period,” RNC Chief Strategist and Communications Director Sean Spicer said in a statement. “There is no place in our party or our country for comments that disparage those who have served honorably.”

As many have noted already, it’s too bad Republicans didn’t have a similar response when the swift boaters went after Sen. John Kerry for his service during the 2004 campaign. Oh well, I guess all is fair in love, war…and politics.

Meanwhile, at the Netroots Nation conference in Arizona, both Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders got shouted down during their presidential forum by members of the #blacklivesmatter movement.

O’Malley made the mistake of saying that black lives matter, but all lives matter. I’m going to let Alexandra Pelosi explain why that didn’t go over very well.

Sanders attempted to go on with his prepared remarks about income inequality, but continued to be shouted down until he finally addressed the issues of criminal justice and immigration reform.

That altercation highlights exactly what Jamil Smith wrote yesterday: Structural Racism Needs to Be a Presidential Campaign Issue.

If you look at a typical presidential campaign site under a heading like “Issues,” you’ll see that there isn’t a bullet point that lists a candidate’s plans to attack the complicated issue of structural racism with specific steps. This should change. And in this, candidates can take a lesson from President Obama.

His administration, even as it nears its end, recently offered an example of how a politician can chalk up wins against structural racism. Two weeks ago, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro announced that previously unenforced Fair Housing Act rules would now become requirements. As the Los Angeles Times reported, HUD will now require towns and cities to study patterns of segregation and how they are linked to access to jobs, high-quality schools, and public transportation—then submit specific goals for improving fair access to these resources. This is a policy, not a speech.

It is not an empty appeal to voters. It is not telling them, as Perry did, that the poor, brutalized, and marginalized amongst us are that way because they had faulty political leadership. That is avoidance, perpetrated by people who would have us mistake political courage for actual courage.

Structural racism needs to be a campaign issue. It needs to be something every 2016 candidate is asked about on the trail, in debates, in town halls, and hell, even at the local ice cream shop. Even if they can’t offer firm plans this summer, someone running to be the de facto leader of her or his party should at lease seize the opportunity to shape the Democratic or Republican agenda on this issue.

Perhaps today both Sanders and O’Malley got the message.

Update: Here is video of Bernie Sanders at Netroots Nation.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.