Beltway Briefing

The top five stories from US politics today.

1. President Barack Obama announced a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. He said 10,000 US troops would pull out this year, with another 23,000 leaving by the end of September 2012 -- just before the presidential election. This will still leave 70,000 troops there, roughly equivalent to pre-surge levels.

Republican presidential candidates rushed to give their views. Here is how they have responded so far.

Tim Pawlenty: "I thought his speech tonight was deeply concerning. Look how he phrased the outcome of this war. He said we need to end the war 'responsibly.' When America goes to war, America needs to win."

Rick Santorum: "We cannot let those who've given the last full measure die in vain by abandoning the gains we've made thus far."

Mitt Romney: "I look forward to hearing the testimony of our military commanders in the days ahead."

Jon Huntsman: "We need a safe but rapid withdrawal which encourages Afghans to assume responsibility."

Ron Paul: "Afghanistan was the downfall of the Soviet Union. We must act now so it is not the same for America."

Gary Johnson : "Thanks to our quick and totally justified action in 2001, al Qaeda essentially left Afghanistan nine years ago. We should have done the same."

Herman Cain : "Sadly, I fear President Obama's decision could embolden our enemy and endanger our troops."

2. Sarah Palin has denied reports that her One Nation bus tour has been cancelled. On her Facebook page, she wrote: "The coming weeks are tight because civic duty calls (like most everyone else, even former governors get called up for jury duty) and I look forward to doing my part just like every other Alaskan."


3. Michelle Bachmann, the Minnesota representative and White House hopeful, will launch a three-state tour on Monday to formally announce her presidential campaign.

The tour will go through key battleground states for the upcoming primary season. Starting in Bachmann's birth state of Iowa, it will move to New Hampshire on Tuesday and conclude with a town hall meeting in South Carolina on Wednesday.

The Tea Party doyenne's trip to South Carolina will involve stops in five cities, including Rock Hill, an area where former Governor Mike Huckabee drew considerable support during his 2008 run for the White House.

Meanwhile, in Rolling Stone magazine, Matt Taibbi described Bachmann as "one of the scariest sights in the entire American cultural tableau", describing her as a "religious zealot" who is "grandiose crazy, late-stage Kim Jong-Il crazy".

4. Herman Cain, another Republican presidential candidate, has hit out at Jon Stewart, claiming that the comedian mocked him because he is a "black conservative."

Stewart had some thoughts about Cain's suggestion that he'd only sign bills that were three pages or under if elected president. "If I'm president, treaties will have to fit on the back of a cereal box," said Stewart. "From now on, the State of the Union address will be delivered in the form of a fortune cookie. I am Herman Cain and I do not like to read."

Speaking at the Iowa Falls Fire Department below, Cain says that "the joke is on him" if he thought it was a serious suggestion, adding "I've been called every name in the book because I'm a conservative, because I'm black."



5. Jon Huntsman has been busy distancing himself from his former boss, Obama, ever since he officially entered the race for the Republican nomination, having previously described him as a "remarkable leader". But, The Note blog points out, his new logo bears more than a passing resemblance to once we've seen before.

See for yourself -- Huntsman 2012 and Obama 2008:


Imitation is the best form of flattery.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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US election 2016: Trump threatens to deny democracy

When asked if he would accept the result of the election, the reality TV star said that he would have to “keep you in suspense.”

During this insane bad-acid-trip of an election campaign I have overused the phrase “let that sink in.”

There have been at least two dozen moments in the last 18 months which I have felt warranted a moment of horrified contemplation, a moment to sit and internalise the insanity of what is happening. That time a candidate for president brought up his penis size in a primary election debate, for one.

But there was a debate last night, and one of the protagonists threatened to undermine democracy in the United States of America, which throws the rest of this bizarre campaign into stark relief.

It was the third and final clash between an experienced if arguably politically problematic former senator and secretary of state – Hillary Clinton –  and a reality TV star accused of a growing number of sexual assaults – Donald Trump – but the tone and content of the debate mattered less than what the latter said at one key, illuminating moment.

That statement was this: asked if he would accept the result of the election, Donald Trump said that he was going to “look at it at the time,” and that he would have to “keep you in suspense.”

If your jaw just hit the floor, you have responded correctly. The candidate for the party of Lincoln, the party of Reagan, the party of Teddy Roosevelt, declined to uphold the most fundamental keystone of American democracy, which is to say, the peaceful transition of power.

Let that sink in. Let it sit; let it brew like hot, stewed tea.

This election has been historic in a vast number of ways, most important of which is that it will be, if current polling is to be believed, the election which will bring America's first female president to the White House, almost a century after women's suffrage was enabled by the 19th amendment to the constitution in August 1920.

If the last near-century for women in America has been a journey inexorably towards this moment, slowly chipping away at glass ceiling after glass ceiling, like the progression of some hellish video game, then Donald Trump is as fitting a final boss as it could be possible to imagine.

For Trump, this third and final debate in Las Vegas was do-or-die. His challenge was near-insurmountable for even a person with a first-class intellect, which Trump does not appear to possess, to face. First, he needed to speak in such a way as to defend his indefensible outbursts about women, not to mention the increasing number of allegations of actual sexual assault, claims backstopped by his own on-tape boasting of theoretical sexual assault released last month.

This, he failed to do, alleging instead that the growing number of sexual assault allegations against him are being fabricated and orchestrated by Clinton's campaign, which he called “sleazy”, at one point to actual laughs from the debate audience.

But he also needed to reach out to moderates, voters outside his base, voters who are not electrified by dog-whistle racism and lumbering misogyny. He tried to do this, using the Wikileaks dump of emails between Democratic party operators as a weapon. But that weapon is fatally limited, because ultimately not much is in the Wikileaks email dumps, really, except some slightly bitchy snark of the kind anyone on earth's emails would have and one hell of a recipe for risotto.

In the debate, moderator Chris Wallace admirably held the candidates to a largely more substantive, policy-driven debate than the two previous offerings – a fact made all the more notable considering that he was the only moderator of the three debates to come from Fox News – and predictably Trump floundered in the area of policy, choosing instead to fall back on old favourites like his lean-into-the-mic trick, which he used at one point to mutter “nasty woman” at Clinton like she'd just cut him off in traffic.

Trump was more subdued than the bombastic lummox to which the American media-consuming public have become accustomed, as if his new campaign manager Kellyanne Conway had dropped a couple of Xanax into his glass of water before he went on stage. He even successfully managed to grasp at some actual Republican talking-points – abortion, most notably – like a puppy who has been semi-successfully trained not to make a mess on the carpet.

He also hit his own favourite campaign notes, especially his opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) - but ultimately his intrinsic Donald Trumpiness couldn't stop itself from blazing through.

Remember the Republican primary debate when Trump refused to say that he would accept the party's nominee if it wasn't him? Well, he did it again: except this time, the pledge he refused to take wasn't an internal party matter; it was two centuries of American democratic tradition chucked out of the window like a spent cigarette. A pledge to potentially ignore the result of an election, given teeth by weeks of paranoiac ramblings about voter fraud and rigged election systems, setting America up for civil unrest and catastrophe, driving wedges into the cracks of a national discourse already strained with unprecedented polarisation and spite.

Let it, for what is hopefully just one final time, sink in.

Nicky Woolf is a writer for the Guardian based in the US. He tweets @NickyWoolf.