Mixed Signals on Trump 

Haslam cuts ties with GOP candidate, others remain more guarded; Scene outs legislators; Pascover faces test.

Bill Haslam

Bill Haslam

Summing up from a variety of reactions, there would seem to be a consensus that Republican nominee Donald Trump fared better in his second nationally televised Game of the Dozens (read: presidential debate) with opponent Hillary Clinton than he did in their first encounter. 

That's basically an evaluation of Trump's improved level of coherence, the semblance of an organized game plan on his part, and his use of an effective zinger or two — all that coupled with a diminished level of poise on the part of Clinton, who still scored high on logic and policy points but who, in contrast to her gleefully confident, shimmy-prone self of the first debate, seemed at least slightly unnerved.

But Trump's "comeback," if it is one, would seem in the long run to come at his own expense. His best riposte — "because you'd be in jail" — was delivered in response to a dismissive line of hers expressing relief that someone like Trump hadn't gotten his hands on the nation's legal machinery. 

That echo of the "Lock her up!" refrain from the GOP conventioneers' chant in Cleveland — aimed at Clinton's email issues and a host of other alleged misprisions — had to be greatly satisfying to Trump's populist base, the 40-odd percent who stick with him in poll after poll, regardless of policy muffs and salacious "locker room" asides about women.

But the line, auguring a heavy-handed use of presidential power, linked up in the minds of a good many others with the bullying tactics so often on display with Trump, sounded troubling. 

The reaction of two key Tennessee Republicans is indicative of Trump's dilemma.

Governor Bill Haslam this week lent his voice to the chorus of Republicans who've had enough of Trump: "It is time for the good of the nation and the Republican Party for Donald Trump to step aside and let [vice-presidential nominee] Governor Mike Pence assume the role as the party's nominee," Haslam said.

A more indulgent and salutary view of Trump's circumstances came from one of Memphis' — and the nation's — ranking members of the GOP, Republican National Committee general counsel John Ryder. After last weekend's release of an 11-year-old videotape of Trump's unguarded, sexually explicit conversation with Access Hollywood principal Billy Bush, Ryder had referred to Trump as a "flawed messenger" but insisted the "message" Trump channeled of unrest and desire for change in national policy was still valid, live, and well.

Ryder also theorized that the rush to the exits by numerous Republicans — some, like Haslam, calling for Trump to step down as nominee, others, in Tennessee as elsewhere, merely withholding their support — would likely abate. He cited the technical obstacles to bringing about a change in the ticket as insuperable, especially since early voting had already started in many places.

And, while acknowledging that Sunday night's encounter between Trump and Clinton in St. Louis "was one of the meanest debates I've ever seen," the RNC counsel thought the meanness worked both ways. And, while Ryder was hesitant to comment on Trump's chances of winning the presidency, he was confident that the nominee had managed to "stop the bleeding" in Republican ranks internally and that any likelihood of the presidential race's adversely affecting down-ballot races involving other Republicans had been made more remote. 

Not so sure of that, clearly, is GOP Speaker of the House Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who has sworn off campaigning with or for Trump and is pointedly focusing his efforts on shoring up Republican congressional campaigns.

• One of the more active public-policy groups on the political scene is the Tennessee Nurses Association, which regularly holds seminars, forums, and information sessions on medical, veterans, and other issues it regards as significant to the public realm.

The TNA was scheduled to host several of the candidates in the November 8th election at its latest legislative forum at Jason's Deli on Poplar, Wednesday, October 12th. Attending, besides an extensive corps of TNA members, will be various candidates for state, local, regional, and federal offices, including aldermens' and school board races, and spokespersons for the campaigns of presidential candidates Trump and Clinton. 

• The matter may have more voyeuristic than political consequence, but the legislators mentioned in that report by Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery about the sordid sexual escapades of now disgraced and expelled state Representative Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin) have now been outed.

The Nashville Scene has published a full list of the state representatives who were cited in the report as either Jane Doe or John Doe, with a number assigned to them to establish their place in the narrative.

Whatever the embarrassment quotient to them, most of the legislators so named do not figure in ways that could be considered incriminating. But the Democrats on Capitol Hill in Nashville are having fun all the same, turning the spit on their named colleagues, all of whom happen to be Republicans.

The most inconvenienced legislator in the list would have to be Representative Mary Littleton (R-Dickson), who is described in the attorney general's report as firing a staff assistant, one of the non-legislative Jane Does mentioned as having had some sort of relationship with Durham or at least as having had a place on his hit list.

As written, the AG report doesn't make Littleton's motives clear, though it does state that she and Durham were considered to be good friends and frequent companions in their own right.

Of the 10 legislators whose identities were supplied by the Scene, none of them represent any part of Shelby County, though one of them, Representative Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga), is a native Memphian who attended high school in Germantown. His role, as described in the report, can fairly be described as one of fact-finding — consistent with his position, since relinquished, as GOP majority leader in the House. 

Once expelled from office, Durham — who, previous to expulsion, had been defeated in a reelection race this year, closed down his Political Action Committee and transferred its financial contents to his campaign committee.  

Looking through his report, The Tennessee Journal newsletter commented on two matters therein — an expenditure of $956 for University of Tennessee football tickets and a $999 contribution to the unsuccessful 8th District congressional campaign of state Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown). Though he himself was not involved in the altercation, Kelsey was Durham's companion at the recent Vols-Florida Gators game in Neyland Stadium from which Durham was evicted for slugging a Florida fan in the face.

• After breezing through a series of more or less pro forma committee sessions last Wednesday, the Shelby County Commission may well indulge its well-established taste for controversy on Monday when, after a week off for Columbus Day, the commission holds its next regular public meeting.

One of the matters scheduled for consideration is County Mayor Mark Luttrell's nomination of lawyer Kathryn Pascover, formerly of the FordHarrison law firm, to be county attorney. In something of a surprise move, Pascover, a specialist in labor/management law, was named interim attorney last month, succeeding in that role Marcy Ingram, whom several commissioners had thought was in line to become permanent county attorney.

Pascover probably has enough votes to pass muster, including some from members of the apparent commission majority backing two pending measures to restrict the mayor's appointive powers. But she can expect some hard questioning during the debate on her nomination from one or two members who are seriously dialed into the body's ongoing power struggle with Luttrell.


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