Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Fireworks not the only explosions in the Beehive State

Fireworks exploded in the past two weeks, but not all were ignited in celebration of our nation's independence. We explore some of the hot national political topics and how they could impact the Beehive State.

Cable and Internet news sources almost melted from the heat generated by millions of comments in response to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. The New York billionaire disparaged illegal immigrants from Mexico and some of his claims were simply untrue. But Trump is running well in some of the Republican presidential polls. How does this impact national and state GOP efforts to broaden their base in the next election?

Pignanelli: “Trump is a car accident candidacy. You don't want to slow down. You don't want to look. But there's always traffic because everybody slows down and everybody looks.”—Chris Cillizza, The Washington Post

The American electorate should be grateful to the Republican presidential candidates. Apparently they decided to concede the election 15 months early and avoid a nasty campaign season. Nothing else can explain their collective failure to immediately and unequivocally distance themselves from Trump’s racist allegations that Mexican immigrants are drug-dealing criminals and rapists. This was a blown opportunity for the GOP to embrace families of Mexican origin and build the coalition they must have to win in 2016.

Trump’s continual spewing of outrageous slurs finally forced long-overdue responses from presidential aspirants — mostly weak, to keep favor with Trump’s bigoted supporters. In addition to offending Americans of every color, the GOP now has a new problem. If the wannabe presidents are frightened of confronting the billionaire buffoon, how can our country have confidence they will stand up to the real bullies — Putin, the Ayatollahs, ISIS?

Webb: Republicans should denounce Trump as a cartoonish troglodyte who has no business running for president. Trouble is, enough fellow trogs exist in the GOP base for Trump to enjoy 10 or 12 percent support, which is enough to keep him going in a multicandidate field. It’s also enough to keep Republican leaders mostly quiet about Trump’s antics, not wanting to offend the hardcore, anti-immigrant base.

Trump has no chance of winning the nomination or the presidency, but he’s already damaging the Republican brand. Other candidates and GOP leaders should make it clear he doesn’t represent them.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is churning excitement among left-wing activists in his bid for the Democrat presidential nomination. He is gaining on Hillary Clinton in key states. How does this impact national and state Democrats?

Pignanelli: For years, mainstream Democratic candidates could appeal to centrist moderates and extreme left-wing voters. But now the feisty Vermonter is forcing an uncomfortable decision. Sanders is a famous committed socialist whose agenda is identical to the Progressive wing of the Democratic Party (members of which are embracing him in droves). Therefore, Democrats aligned with Progressives will be labeled “socialist” by their Republican opponents. This will happen nationally and in Utah (which has a small but strong Progressive faction). Regardless of the results of the 2016 elections, this dynamic will haunt Democrats for years.

Webb: Go Bernie! Hopefully, he will drive Clinton to the left and she will be less appealing to mainstream voters in the general election. She needs a taste of what Republicans are going through.

In reality, Sanders is like a Pekingese biting her ankles. He will be an irritant but won’t make much difference.

Let’s all send a few bucks to Joe Biden and encourage him to get in the race. That would be fun to watch. Clinton needs some competition.

Financial insiders have watched with some nervousness the debt crisis plaguing Greece and now Puerto Rico. Are these circumstances unique, or do they offer some lessons and threats to our nation?

Pignanelli: Americans are ambivalent, or amused, by the activities in Greece. But a similar situation is occurring on American soil, and there is no smiling. Puerto Rico could be the "sleeper" issue for the 2016 elections. How congressional and presidential candidates develop solutions and responses will either be an opportunity to demonstrate leadership on government debt or drown in a quagmire of political mush.

Webb: The United States is also hopelessly in debt and owes many trillions more in unfunded obligations. The difference is that investors have lost confidence in Greece. The day purchasers of U.S. debt lose confidence in our government’s ability to pay, we will also be in trouble. Or if interest rates go up, our debt suddenly becomes dramatically more expensive.

If we continue on our present course, debt payments plus entitlement spending will crowd out all other discretionary spending.

Credible experts and commissions keep warning that we are on a Greecelike trajectory. And we keep ignoring them. Greece proves that the day of reckoning will come. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the fiscal 2015 deficit will be $486 billion. That means the U.S. government is borrowing $1.33 billion EVERY DAY(!!) to keep the federal programs going.

I will be just fine. I’ll get my Social Security and Medicare. But my children and grandchildren? I apologize for the mess my generation is leaving behind.