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Presidential Candidate Donald Trump Greets A Crowd After Taping TV Interview on July 22, 2015. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty).

Trump enters debate week in dominant position

08/04/15 11:23AM

Many campaign observers, including me, assumed Donald Trump had reached a poll ceiling of sorts. The Republican presidential hopeful, who was in the low single digits as recently as April in national polling, has obviously rocketed to the top of the field, but many of us saw his relatively modest advantages as fleeting. It's not like he was crushing his rivals.
But those assumptions are due for an overhaul. As Republicans get ready for their first debate, Trump's position in national polling is, in fact, dominant. Here's the latest Fox News poll released last night:
Businessman Donald Trump continues to gain ground in the race for the Republican nomination.  What's more, the number of GOP primary voters saying they would at least consider backing Trump has more than doubled in the last two months. [...]
Trump receives the backing of 26 percent of self-identified Republican primary voters -- up from 18 percent in mid-July and 11 percent a month ago. That's not only the highest level of support for Trump, but it's also the highest any GOP candidate has received since the Fox poll began asking the question in December 2013.
Jeb Bush is second in the poll with 15%, followed by Scott Walker at 9%. Do the math -- Bush's and Walker's support combined falls short of Trump's backing in this poll.
This morning, a new Bloomberg Politics national poll also showed Trump with a significant lead over his GOP rivals. The former reality-show host leads with 21%, followed by 10% for Bush and 8% for Walker. Yes, that means another poll in which Trump tops the combined support for his next two closest rivals. (Yesterday's Monmouth poll also found Trump leading Bush and Walker combined.)
In the largest primary field in American history -- 17 Republicans are competing for their party's nomination -- it's tough for any candidate to enjoy support from a significant chunk of the GOP, but on average, Trump has the backing of roughly a fourth of Republican voters.
No candidate has put up numbers like these all year.
Texas attorney general Ken Paxton departing after testifying at a Texas Texas Senate Health and Human Services Committee hearing on Planned Parenthood videos covertly recorded that target the abortion provider, July 29, 2015. (Photo by Eric Gay/AP)

Texas A.G. faces criminal charges

08/04/15 10:50AM

In theory, a state attorney general is the state's highest ranking law-enforcement official. It's therefore problematic when a state A.G. finds himself facing criminal charges.
The Texas Tribune reported yesterday on the latest developments involving the lone Star State's Republican attorney general.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, the state's top law enforcement officer, turned himself into jail Monday to be booked on felony securities fraud charges.
Wearing a pin-striped suit and a red tie, he smiled slightly for his mugshot. Then, he was promptly released from the Collin County Jail on $35,000 bond, according to records with the local sheriff's office. Afterward, he apparently slipped out of the courthouse undetected, avoiding the throng of waiting media and Democratic protesters.
Paxton's attorney told reporters that the far-right A.G., less than a year into his first term, does not intend to resign, and will plead not guilty during his upcoming arraignment.
In the meantime, however, Paxton is facing a three-count felony indictment, including two charges for alleged securities fraud.
At issue is a Texas computer company called Servergy, which is facing an investigation into whether it defrauded investors, but which also paid Paxton a commission when he found new Servergy investors. According to the indictment, Paxton successfully encouraged people to invest more than $600,000 in the company, without disclosing his personal financial interests, and despite the fact that he wasn't licensed as an investment adviser.
The Texas Republican Party issued a brief, almost perfunctory statement asking the public to be patient -- the state A.G. "deserves to have his say in a court of law," GOP officials said -- which suggested the party may not be optimistic about Paxton's future. Indeed, the AP report added, "[U[nlike when Rick Perry smiled for his mug shot last year, Republicans are not rushing to Paxton's defense."
An America's History text book sits on a student's desk in an AP U.S. History class in Colorado. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post/Getty)

Changes to AP History make conservatives happy

08/04/15 10:12AM

The first national salvo in the fight caught many off guard. Exactly one year ago next week, members of the Republican National Committee gathered for a regularly scheduled meeting, and took up a fairly obscure resolution: RNC activists voted to condemn Advanced Placement U.S. History classes for presenting a "consistently negative view of American history."
Perhaps the vote shouldn't have come as too big of a surprise -- in far-right circles, the complaints about AP history courses have been loud and frequent. By one count, Republican officials in as many as six states "attempted to crudely politicize our past" by going after the curriculum. In Oklahoma, some lawmakers voted to ban the class altogether.
It was a new, rather odd front in the larger culture war. At one point, Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson went so far as to argue that the Advanced Placement course might encourage young Americans to "sign up for ISIS."
With rhetoric like that, it's tempting to think the campaign against AP History burned itself out, becoming too ridiculous for its own good. But as it turns out, the opposite happened -- Vox's Libby Nelson explained yesterday that the right's attacks had their intended effect.
Now, after nearly a year of uproar, the College Board, the group that writes the AP exam, has made major changes to the framework -- and it's won conservatives over, in part by putting less emphasis on racism.
The earlier frameworks, before the 2014 version, had been a long list of events in American history. The goal of last year's framework was to replace that with a more coherent, specific narrative of American history, framed by a few central questions. The new version has abandoned part of that sweeping narrative, getting more specific in some areas and toning down some of its most stark historical judgments.
The new version is nicer to Ronald Reagan, to the delight of GOP partisans, but even more important is the way in which AP History will explore the issue of race.
Susan Collins

When 'moderate' is a relative term

08/04/15 09:21AM

When Senate Republicans voted to defund Planned Parenthood late yesterday afternoon, the process unfolded exactly as expected -- with one exception. Every senator on the floor voted as everyone assumed they'd vote, except Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine.
Collins, ostensibly the Senate GOP's most moderate member, had expressed opposition to the bill in recent days, leading observers to assume she'd vote against the bill. But while Maine's junior senator, Independent Angus King, voted with the Democratic minority, Collins raised a few eyebrows by siding with the far-right Republican majority.
The Portland Press Herald reported:
Collins issued a statement late Monday saying that she and Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, had introduced legislation that would "promote and protect women's health and also investigate Planned Parenthood's practices."
"I was sickened when I viewed the recently released videos featuring Planned Parenthood physicians..." Collins said on the Senate floor. "The callousness that the Planned Parenthood employees displayed in discussing the sale of fetal tissue is appalling.
Of course, rhetorical tone isn't a good reason to cut off funding for popular and effective health care organizations. Collins said she had an alternative proposal -- "investigate Planned Parenthood facilities that participate in fetal tissue donation, and defund them if they broke the law" -- but Senate GOP leaders ignored Collins' bill.
That left the Maine Republican with a choice: vote to defund Planned Parenthood, knowing the bill would fail, and knowing there's no evidence the group actually did anything wrong, or side with her far-right colleagues. She chose the latter.
And while it's probably fair to characterize Collins as the Senate GOP's most centrist member, yesterday was a reminder that the label just doesn't mean much anymore.
Confetti lie over the floor on the last day of the 2012 Republican National Convention.

Republican voters discount electability (for now)

08/04/15 08:40AM

Last week, an NBC News/Marist poll asked Republicans in Iowa and New Hampshire for their 2016 preferences, but Rachel noted something in the same survey that was arguably more interesting.
"Which is more important to you," the poll asked respondents in the two states, "a Republican nominee for president who shares your position on most issues, or a Republican nominee for president who has the best chance of winning the White House?"
The results weren't close. In New Hampshire, 67% of GOP voters want a candidate they agree with, while only 29% are principally concerned with electability. In Iowa, the results were practically identical.
Are these attitudes unique to the early nominating states? Apparently not. A similar question was included in the new NBC News national poll, and the results were even more lopsided:
"Now, if you had to choose, which would be the next most important to you in selecting a presidential nominee for the Republican Party?"
A candidate with the best chance to defeat the Democratic candidate:  21%
A candidate who comes closest to your views on issues: 77%
Note, these are combined results after the question was asked in a couple of different ways, but in each instance, GOP voters just weren't particularly concerned about electability.
Fox News poll included a similar question in its new national poll: "Which one of the following candidate qualities will matter most in deciding which candidate to support in the Republican primary?" There were more possible answers than in the NBC poll, but once again, only 13% of Republican respondents said they're principally concerned with finding a candidate who "can defeat the Democratic nominee."
Women hold up signs during a women's pro-choice rally on Capitol Hill, July 11, 2013 in Washington, DC.

GOP campaign against Planned Parenthood just getting started

08/04/15 08:00AM

The Republican crusade against Planned Parenthood reached the Senate floor late yesterday afternoon, with a GOP bill to strip the health care organization of its federal funding. As expected, it failed at the hands of a Democratic filibuster, but an even more important fight is on the horizon.
The roll call on the yesterday's vote is online here. Note, one Republican broke ranks and opposed the measure (Illinois' Mark Kirk), while two Democrats sided with the GOP majority (West Virginia's Joe Manchin and Indiana's Joe Donnelly). The final tally was technically 53-46, but that came after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell switched from "yea" to "nay" for procedural reasons.
What arguably matters more at this point is what Republicans intend to do next. Politico reported overnight:
Republicans are divided over whether they should use this fall's government funding bill to attack Planned Parenthood -- and risk a high-stakes shutdown fight -- after Senate Democrats blocked a standalone bill to defund the organization on Monday evening.
On one side is presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who's pushing Republicans to do everything within their power to strip the organization of federal support after Monday's bill failed to clear a filibuster, 53-46. But a group of veteran Republican legislators is urging a more cautious approach, and reminding GOP colleagues that just two years ago their fight to defund Obamacare via a government funding bill produced a disastrous shutdown without making a dent on the Affordable Care Act.
The prospect of a shutdown over Planned Parenthood is quite real. Indeed, the dominant, far-right voices in the party speak as if they practically have no choice -- the recently released, deceptively edited attack videos targeting the health care organization have so enraged the far-right that the GOP has already effectively committed itself to an angry confrontation.
But some in the Republican leadership seem to realize it's a confrontation that the party can't win.

Top 10 list and other headlines

08/04/15 07:59AM

Debate stage drama: GOP awaits top 10 announcement. (AP)

Donald Trump tops another GOP presidential poll. (Bloomberg Politics)

Cash-strapped Santorum campaign reshuffles staff. (Politico)

The team behind 2016's most outrageous viral videos. (MSNBC)

GOP: Planned Parenthood fight to go on. (Politico)

Charles Koch's focus on injustices fueled by an unlikely partnership. (Washington Post)

Massive California wildfire jumps containment line. (AP) read more

Crowded stage for first GOP candidates forum

Crowded stage for first GOP candidates forum

08/03/15 09:20PM

Rachel Maddow reports on the first-in-the-nation Republican candidates forum in New Hampshire, with 14 candidates participating, and talks with Anthony Terrell, MSNBC political reporter, about what it was like to be in the room while the even took place. watch

Monday's Mini-Report, 8.3.15

08/03/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Additional support for the Iran deal: "Persian Gulf monarchies issued a cautious endorsement on Monday of the accord Secretary of State John Kerry negotiated last month to constrain Iran's nuclear program."
* Turkey: "Kurdish rebels on Sunday detonated an explosives-laden agricultural vehicle at a military police station in eastern Turkey, killing two soldiers and wounding 31 others, authorities said, amid a sharp escalation of violence between the government forces and the autonomy-seeking insurgents."
* Puerto Rico "defaulted on its full payment of its bonds for the first time in the commonwealth government's history."
* TPP: "High-level talks to forge a ­12-nation trade deal spanning the Pacific broke up Friday without resolving contentious disputes over Canadian dairy tariffs, the protection of cutting-edge drugs known as 'biologics' and Japanese access to the North American automobile market."
* Paid sick leave: "Pittsburgh City Council on Monday approved an ordinance requiring city employers to give employees paid sick days, despite opposition from business owners and organizations who have promised a lawsuit challenging the legislation."
* Gun debate: "An emotional Amy Schumer appeared with her second cousin once removed -- Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer -- at a joint press conference on Monday to promote new legislation on gun control, in the wake of a deadly shooting at a screening of her film 'Trainwreck' in a Louisiana movie theater last month."
* Baltimore, as of Friday: "Baltimore reached a grim milestone on Friday, three months after riots erupted in response to the death of Freddie Gray in police custody: With 45 homicides in July, the city has seen more bloodshed in a single month than it has in 43 years."
* Baltimore, as of today: "Fresh off its deadliest month in 43 years, Baltimore saw 11 people shot -- and two of them killed -- in the first two days of August."
The dome of the US Capitol is seen in Washington, D.C., September 20, 2008.

Iran debate shows GOP 'utterly unprepared to govern'

08/03/15 04:58PM

The debate over the international nuclear agreement with Iran wasn't exactly a pop quiz -- everyone involved in the argument has had plenty of time to prepare. So when three congressional committees, over the course of six days, held hearings on the diplomatic deal, this was the public's first real opportunity to see the Republicans' A game.
After all, these congressional committees ostensibly feature some of the most knowledgeable GOP officials -- including three notable presidential candidates -- when it comes to international affairs. Republicans had time to study the issue; they had time to prepare their best arguments; and the party put forward their top members to lead the debate.
And it was a disaster. Slate's William Saletan attended all three hearings, intending to write about Secretary of State John Kerry and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, but he apparently came away flabbergasted by how ridiculous congressional Republicans have become.
Over the past several days, congressional hearings on the deal have become a spectacle of dishonesty, incomprehension, and inability to cope with the challenges of a multilateral world. [...]
In challenging Kerry and Moniz, Republican senators and representatives offered no serious alternative. They misrepresented testimony, dismissed contrary evidence, and substituted vitriol for analysis. They seemed baffled by the idea of having to work and negotiate with other countries. I came away from the hearings dismayed by what the GOP has become in the Obama era. It seems utterly unprepared to govern.
The full report is worth your time -- the Slate piece points to Republican lawmakers whose understanding of these issues can charitably be described as child-like -- but note that Saletan, hardly a knee-jerk partisan, came away from the hearing fearful of what the GOP has become.
"This used to be a party that saw America's leadership of the free world as its highest responsibility," he concludes. "What happened? And why should any of us entrust it with the presidency again?"
This was the best GOP lawmakers had to offer. These hearings put their strongest and most substantive arguments on display. This is an issue the party claims to take very seriously, and which they've invested considerable time and energy into trying to understand.
But after watching the hearings, it's hard to escape an uncomfortable question: what if GOP policymakers simply don't have an A game? What if their best is simply inadequate for a credible policy debate over an important issue?
Emissions from a coal-fired power plant drift skyward in Ghent, Ky.

Obama's 'all out push' on climate change

08/03/15 04:06PM

President Obama is well aware of the fact that a Republican Congress will never consider legislation to combat the climate crisis. In fact, most GOP lawmakers continue to argue, at least publicly, that climate science is not to be trusted or acted upon.
But the White House's "all out push" on global warming doesn't necessarily need Congress. MSNBC's Tony Dokoupil and Eric Levitz reported this afternoon:
President Barack Obama announced on Monday that the U.S. will take a giant stride in the race to prevent catastrophic climate change, limiting -- for the first time ever -- the amount of carbon power plants can pump into the atmosphere.
If the proposed Clean Power Plan survives legal and legislative challenges, it would shutter hundreds of existing coal-fired power plants, prevent construction of new ones and boost renewable energy to heights not previously seen.
At a White House event this afternoon, Obama unveiled what he called the "Clean Power Plan," which, if fully implemented, will ensure that by the year 2030, "carbon emission from our power plants will be 32% lower than they were a decade ago." The specific wording matters -- existing policies and developments have already reduced plant emissions as compared to a decade ago, so the administration's new plan is intended to build on existing progress, not start from scratch.
I've seen some arguments that the new plant mandates aren't as tough as they could be. I've also seen some arguments that the president imposing mandates on plants at all is an important step in a progressive, potentially life-saving direction.
Who's right? Well, I suppose both are. The question I'm struggling with is whether the policy will still exist in two years.

I'll see your chainsaw and raise you a semi-automatic

08/03/15 02:39PM

Two weeks ago, Sen. Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) presidential campaign, eager to generate some interest in its message, released an unfortunate video. The 51-second clip showed Paul, looking and sounding a bit like a used-car salesman, setting fire to large stacks of paper, putting the paper through a wood-chipper, and literally using the chainsaw.
It was supposed to have something to do with federal tax policy.
That, of course, set a fairly high bar for presidential candidates doing silly things to generate attention for themselves. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), do you have a rebuttal?
"There are few things I enjoy more than on weekends cooking breakfast with the family," Cruz opens the video. Raw bacon and aluminum foil are then wrapped around the barrel of a machine gun at a firing range.
"Of course in Texas, we cook bacon a little differently than most folks," Cruz says.
The far-right senator appears to have partnered with IJReivew, a conservative site, for the video called, "Making Machine-Gun Bacon with Ted Cruz." The minute-long clip in online here.
The video proceeds roughly as one might expect: the raw bacon "cooks" as Cruz fires the gun. When he's done with target practice, the senator removes the foil, takes a bite with a fork, and laughs. "Mmm, machine-gun bacon," he says.
For the record, I'm not entirely sure if this actually is a "machine gun." More knowledgeable sources can (and should) check me on this, but I was under the impression that machine guns are fully automatic, firing bullets quickly. The far-right senator appears to be firing one bullet with each pull of the trigger. It seems like a relevant detail -- if Cruz doesn't know what a machine gun is, this video may prove to be more embarrassing than intended. [Update: we checked and that's not a machine gun.]
Regardless, whether or not this video is better than Cruz's tryout for "The Simpsons" is a matter of taste.