As Ben Carson's propensity for bizarre ideas and rhetoric becomes more alarming, it's tempting to think his campaign for the nation's highest office would start to unravel. After all, voters have traditionally tried to put the presidency in the hands of grounded individuals.
But the retired right-wing neurosurgeon is blazing his own trail. The New York Timesreports today that Carson's aides "feared that his habit of inflammatory remarks would sink his presidential hopes," and they even "sent him to media training," the lessons of which he evidently disregarded. As it turns out, however, it doesn't matter -- Carson's unhinged qualities don't seem to be hurting his campaign at all.
The Times' report noted, for example, that after Carson said religious minorities he doesn't like should be disqualified from the presidency, "his campaign has watched grass-roots support grow and donations pour in." Aides who were worried about public reactions to the candidate's bizarre antics have "backtracked, deciding, in the words of one, to 'let Carson be Carson.'"
And when Carson is himself, he apparently accuses liberals of "schizophrenia." The Atlanta Journal Constitutionreported on the GOP candidate's trip to a Georgia megachurch over the weekend, where Carson shared his views on blurring the lines between religion and government.
“The pledge of allegiance to our flag says we are one nation under God. Many courtrooms in the land on the wall it says ‘In God We Trust.’ Every coin in our pocket, every bill in our wallet says ‘In God We Trust.’
“So if it’s in our founding documents, it’s in our pledges, in our courts and it’s on our money, but we’re not supposed to talk about it, what in the world is that? In medicine it’s called schizophrenia. And I, for one, am simply not willing to kick God to the curb.”
Let's unwrap this a bit, because it's a good example of Carson having firm opinions about subjects he knows very little about.
The House Republicans' Benghazi Committee has seen better days. Indeed, just when it seemed things couldn't get much worse for the taxpayer-funded political exercise, the New York Times included an interesting tidbit in a report yesterday on the panel's shift away from its stated purpose:
Senior Republican officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were discussing confidential conversations, said that [House Speaker John Boehner] had long been suspicious of the administration’s handling of the attacks and that Mrs. Clinton’s emails gave him a way to keep the issue alive and to cause political problems for her campaign.
Is that so.
Taken together, we now have House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) characterizing the committee's work as an election scheme to undermine Hillary Clinton; we have a former Republican staffer for the committee complaining that the committee's sole interest was in tearing down Hillary Clinton; and now we have senior Republican officials acknowledging that GOP leaders directed the Benghazi committee to focus on email server management -- instead of, you know, Benghazi -- in order to "cause political problems" for Hillary Clinton.
At this point, even the most rabid Republican partisans are going to have a hard time justifying the committee's continued existence. Why should American taxpayers continue to fund such a farcical exercise? (Remember, "because there's an election coming up" is not an acceptable answer.)
Slate's Jamelle Bouie explained that the entire investigation has now been "thoroughly discredited as a partisan sham," adding the committee's unraveling calls into question the legitimacy of the Clinton email "controversy" itself.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), just one year removed from the House, was asked for his thoughts about the tumult in the chamber in which he used to serve. The far-right senator responded with his choice for the next Speaker.
“Look, these are trying times for our nation," Cotton told Politico. "It’s important to have a steady hand on the helm during times like this. I think experience really counts in a matter like this. I think House leadership experience really matters. And as you know the Speaker doesn’t have to be a member of the House: So therefore, Vice President Cheney for Speaker.”
Asked if he was kidding, the Arkansan replied, in reference to Cheney, “He’s a man of the House, he says that himself.”
There's no reason to believe the failed former V.P. would want the job, and even if he did, there's no reason to assume House Republicans would consider him right-wing enough. Remember, Cheney is a proponent of marriage equality, increased government spending, supported the Wall Street bailout, and added over $5 trillion to the national debt. By the standards of today's House GOP, Cheney might as well be labeled a liberal.
So, who is likely to get the Speaker's gavel? Jake Sherman reported overnight that House Republicans are still waiting for a final decision from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
It's the Paul Ryan paralysis syndrome and it's gripping any House Republican who wants to be speaker.
The Wisconsin Republican has said he doesn’t want to be speaker of the House, but he is considering it. And until he flatly rules it out, the other potential candidates for the chamber’s top job -- a list nearly two dozen names long and growing -- are forced to proceed gingerly. With one breath they're gauging support, with the next they're letting would-be backers know their interest could be temporary if the Ways and Means Committee chairman gets in.
Yes, Ryan has already said he doesn't want the job, but he's also signaled to his colleagues that he'd think about it. And so, the political world is forced to simply wait for a definitive, no-wiggle-room, final decision. If the Wisconsin congressman succumbs to the pressure, he'll enjoy quite a bit of intra-party support; if Ryan balks and stays where he is, the free-for-all will begin in earnest.
Jake Sherman, senior congressional reporter for Politico, talks with Melissa Harris-Perry about crisis within the Republican Party to find someone capable of leading the party and the House, and why Paul Ryan is their best, if distant, hope. watch
Melissa Harris-Perry reviews the highlights from the No Labels convention in New Hampshire and the latest poll numbers, and notes the remarkable favorability rating of second-place Republican Ben Carson, despite a recent string of outrageous statements. watch
Melissa Harris-Perry points out the facts that contradict the narrative that the Ferguson protests led to a spike in crime, and questions the argument that the police are afraid of a career-ending YouTube moment. watch
For labor unions and the base of the Democratic Party, TPP is not just one issue among many. It is the issue. Very few Democrats in Congress support the deal, or any free trade deal for that matter. In other words, there was no way Hillary Clinton could ever support it. read more
* A heartbreaking tragedy in Turkey: "Two devastating explosions struck Saturday morning in the heart of Ankara, the Turkish capital, killing at least 95 people who had gathered for a peace rally and heightening tensions just three weeks before snap parliamentary elections."
* Iran: "Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, imprisoned in Tehran for more than 14 months, has been convicted in an espionage trial that ended in August, Iranian state television reported."
* Syria: "Russian warplanes are carrying out more airstrikes in support of Syrian government ground troops as rebels are firing more American antitank weapons, deepening the impression that a proxy war between the United States and Russia is joining the list of interlocking conflicts in Syria."
* Punishing the poor: "A Florida congressman is threatening to strip $104 million from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s budget in the latest dispute over public housing tenants who make too much money to qualify for federal subsidies."
* Bergdahl: "Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said on Monday that he would call a Senate hearing if accused Army deserter Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl avoids punishment. 'If it comes out that he has no punishment, we’re going to have to have a hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee,' said McCain, the committee’s chairman, according to The Boston Herald."
* California has become "the first state to ban schools from using the 'Redskins' team name or mascot Sunday, a move the National Congress of American Indians said should be a 'shining example' for the rest of the country."
Republicans deserve quite a bit of credit for creating political conditions in which the establishment internalizes GOP talking points. The party -- through a combination of repetition, marketing, and effective messaging -- has managed to convince a wide variety of observers to witness current events through a Republican lens. Putting merits aside, it's an impressive display of public-relations acuity.
The dynamic is hard to shake. Whenever President Obama does much of anything, the political establishment's questions are shaped in large part by how Republicans are likely to perceive current events.
Take, for example, President Obama's latest interview with CBS's Steve Kroft, which aired on "60 Minutes" last night. The correspondent pressed the president on developments in Syria -- Kroft even complained at one point that Obama was going into too much detail with lengthy answers -- and even offered tacit support for the Republican view that Russia's Vladimir Putin is leading effectively. From the CBS transcript:
Kroft: You said a year ago that the United States -- America leads. We're the indispensible nation. Mr. Putin seems to be challenging that leadership.
Obama: In what way? Let-- let's think about this-- let-- let--
Kroft: Well, he's moved troops into Syria, for one. He's got people on the ground. Two, the Russians are conducting military operations in the Middle East for the first time since World War II, bombing the people that we are supporting.
Obama: So that's leading, Steve? Let me ask you this question. When I came into office, Ukraine was governed by a corrupt ruler who was a stooge of Mr. Putin. Syria was Russia's only ally in the region. And today, rather than being able to count on their support and maintain the base they had in Syria, which they've had for a long time, Mr. Putin now is devoting his own troops, his own military, just to barely hold together by a thread his sole ally. And in Ukraine--
Kroft: He's challenging your leadership, Mr. President. He's challenging your leadership--
Obama: Well Steve, I got to tell you, if you think that running your economy into the ground and having to send troops in in order to prop up your only ally is leadership, then we've got a different definition of leadership.
And watching the exchange unfold, it became clear that they do, in fact, have different definitions of leadership.
Bernie Sanders has been cautious in recent months when going after Hillary Clinton, which made it all the more interesting over the weekend when the Vermont senator criticized Clinton's 2002 vote authorizing the war in Iraq.
The criticism has the benefit of accuracy -- as a senator from New York, Clinton voted with the majority, a decision later described as wrong. Regardless, the criticism at least makes sense, insofar as Sanders, who opposed the war, is looking for advantages in the Democratic presidential primary.
What makes far less sense is for the Republican National Committee to go after Clinton the same way. And yet, the RNC published this striking press release:
On the anniversary of Clinton's Iraq war vote, a closer look at her record shows her failed judgment on a consequential foreign policy issue. [...]
Throughout her career, Clinton has always been wrong on Iraq. Clinton voted to authorize the war in Iraq, which was devastating to her 2008 presidential bid.
The headline on the piece reads, "Wrong At Every Turn."
If there's an annual award for partisan chutzpah, I'd say the RNC has the honor all wrapped up.
It's been well established over many years that Exxon is one of the world's leading voices when it comes to denying the evidence of climate change. What's new, however, are reports that the oil giant has quietly operated for decades on the assumption that the scientific evidence is real.
The L.A. Times had a fascinating piece on this yesterday, which deserves to have an impact on the broader policy discussion.
[In 1990] in the far northern regions of Canada’s Arctic frontier, researchers and engineers at Exxon and Imperial Oil were quietly incorporating climate change projections into the company’s planning and closely studying how to adapt the company’s Arctic operations to a warming planet.
Of particular interest are the efforts of Ken Croasdale, a senior researcher for Exxon’s Canadian subsidiary, who reportedly focused considerable effort into "trying to determine how global warming could affect Exxon’s Arctic operations and its bottom line."
Between 1986, when Croasdale took the reins of Imperial’s frontier research team, until 1992, when he left the company, his team of engineers and scientists used the global circulation models developed by the Canadian Climate Centre and NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies to anticipate how climate change could affect a variety of operations in the Arctic.
These were the same models that -- for the next two decades -- Exxon’s executives publicly dismissed as unreliable and based on uncertain science.
This is no small detail. Based on the L.A. Times' reporting, Exxon accepted the fact that climate change is real. Exxon also put those beliefs into action, basing company decisions on the available science.
But at the same time, Exxon also seems to have denied the very evidence it was acting upon.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* Bernie Sanders may be leading in New Hampshire, but at least for now, it's Hillary Clinton who leads in the other early nominating states. A new poll from CNN shows Clinton with a 25-point lead in South Carolina, where she has 49% support to Bernie Sanders' 24%. Vice President Biden is third with 18%.
* On a related note, the same poll shows Clinton in a fairly strong position in Nevada, where she leads Sanders, 50% to 34%. Biden is third with 12%.
* Jeb Bush on Friday told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, "There was a big argument about the Washington Redskins, the Redskins being a pejorative term. I think Washington is a pejorative term, not the Redskins."
* While Ben Carson's Republican presidential campaign took in more than $20 million in the third quarter, his allied super PAC raised $2.9 million over the same period.
* Hillary Clinton met Friday with a group of Black Lives Matter activists in Washington. DeRay McKesson, a movement leader, said, “In the end, I think she heard us."
* As Rachel noted on Friday night's show, Rand Paul is "under increasing pressure from Republicans" -- both in Kentucky and D.C. -- to end his struggling presidential campaign and focus on his re-election to the Senate. A GOP strategist toldPolitico, "Senate Republicans can’t afford to have a competitive race in Kentucky."
* On a related note, Paul recently said about Congress, "I would throw everybody out, myself included. I’m serious.” Then Friday, according to a Washington Post reporter, he added he's "embarrassed" to even be a member of Congress.
If anyone in Congress has a strong incentive to be cautious, it's Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). He's arguably the most vulnerable 2016 incumbent -- polls in Wisconsin show Johnson trailing former Sen. Russ Feingold (D) in next year’s rematch -- and as regular readers know, the Republican hasn't done much to help his case lately.
After all, this is the same GOP senator who recently got caught up in an odd fight over the “Lego Movie”; his ridiculous anti-Obamacare lawsuit was laughed out of court; and his defense for signing onto a letter intended to sabotage American foreign policy wasn’t especially coherent.
Johnson also referred during a recent radio interview to “idiot inner-city kids,” though he later said he was being sarcastic.
But if the Wisconsin Republican is scaling back his rhetoric to reflect his odds, he has a funny way of showing it. The Huffington Post reported the other day:
Guns don’t kill people -- media coverage of mass shootings kills people. That's according to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who on Friday cited a common argument against journalists printing the names and other identifying details of shooters.
“Why do we have what we consider copycats of tragedies? Well, a lot of it is because this is plastered all over the news and these mentally ill, these sick people see it,” Johnson said in an interview on WRDN, a Wisconsin radio station. “They want to go out in a blaze of glory. They want to achieve fame.”
It's important to note that Johnson wasn't calling for restrictions on a free press. On the contrary, the senator made the opposite case -- Johnson said policymakers could not "allow" news organizations to cover mass-shootings, but that would be, as he described it, "an incredible infringement on free-speech rights."
But therein lies the rub. As Johnson sees it, news coverage of mass-shootings leads to more mass-shootings, but since we don't want to infringe upon a free press, there's effectively nothing policymakers can do to reduce gun deaths.