Any time a police officer is killed in the line of duty it's a tragedy, but when there are two slayings in quick succession, the anguish is that much more severe.
Late last week, Texas Sheriff's Deputy Darren Goforth was gunned down at a Houston-area gas station. And then yesterday in northern Illinois, Lt. Joseph Gliniewicz was killed, sparking a manhunt for three suspects.
It's against this backdrop that Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz (R-Texas) apparently sees an opportunity: the far-right senator wants Americans to blame President Obama, among others, for the brutal gun violence.
"Cops across this country are feeling the assault," Cruz told reporters after a town hall meeting in Milford, New Hampshire. "They're feeling the assault from the president, from the top on down as we see, whether it's in Ferguson or Baltimore, the response of senior officials of the president, of the attorney general, is to vilify law enforcement. That is fundamentally wrong, and it is endangering the safety and security of us all."
Yesterday, Cruz went further, accusing the president of "silence" on the issue, which the senator described as "completely wrong" and a "manifestation of the divisiveness, the partisanship and of the hostility to law enforcement that has characterized the entire Obama administration."
The GOP candidate has not yet produced any evidence of the president being hostile towards law enforcement.
Indeed, as a factual matter, Cruz's rhetoric is simply indefensible. Not only has law enforcement never faced an "assault" from the White House, but the president hasn't been "silent" at all -- Obama personally called Darren Goforth's wife; he issued a formal statement condemning the murder; and he spoke out against anti-police violence in general, calling it "completely unacceptable."
Cruz, in other words, is either lying or he has no idea what he's talking about.
But the Texas Republican isn't alone in playing a misplaced blame game. When the finger isn't being pointed at the White House, the right is lashing out at the Black Lives Matter movement, suggesting without proof that BLM activists are somehow responsible for violent attacks on law enforcement.
Can decent people of goodwill agree that exploiting the murders of police officers to score political points is wrong?
Rachel Maddow looks at how former President Jimmy Carter had established a legacy of personal good will and political civility, and how he has been embraced by Americans since his cancer diagnosis. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on fresh news that CNN has announced a change to its criteria to qualify for their Republican primary debate so that Carly Fiorina will likely not be relegated to the kids table debate, but thereby also ensuring that the kids table format is even more of an imposition on the process. watch
* A police officer was killed today in Illinois: "A growing manhunt is underway in northern Illinois for three armed suspects who fled after a police officer was fatally shot Tuesday morning. The unnamed Fox Lake police officer had radioed to dispatch before 8 a.m. local time that he was chasing three male suspects engaged in suspicious activity, Lake County Sheriff's spokesman Chris Covelli told reporters."
* ISIS: "The CIA and U.S. special operations forces have launched a secret campaign to hunt terrorism suspects in Syria as part of a targeted killing program that is run separately from the broader U.S. military offensive against the Islamic State, U.S. officials said."
* Syria: "An explosion in Syria's militant-controlled city of Palmyra destroyed the main building of the ancient Temple of Bel, the United Nations said Monday. Activists and Palmyra residents had said an Islamic State bombing extensively damaged the 2,000-year-old temple Sunday.... On Monday, the U.N.'s UNOSAT program said satellite analysis confirmed the building was demolished."
* Two more U.S. senators and seven more U.S. House members announced their support for the international nuclear agreement with Iran today. It's a safe bet that by the end of the week, the right will have simply lost the fight to gather the votes necessary to kill the diplomatic solution.
* Climate crisis: "President Barack Obama challenged fellow world leaders in unusually blunt language Monday to act boldly on climate change or 'condemn our children to a world they will no longer have the capacity to repair.' In a forceful address, Obama opened the 'GLACIER' conference in Anchorage, Alaska, by declaring: 'We are not moving fast enough. None of the nations represented here are moving fast enough.'"
* More volatility: "Stocks plummeted Tuesday on Wall Street after more data in China pointed to a sharp slowdown in the world's No. 2 economy."
* Michigan: "Two Michigan legislators forced their aides to do political and personal work on state time, including helping cover up their affair, and then lied repeatedly about their actions, according to an investigation by the State House of Representatives, whose findings were released Monday."
The Rachel Maddow Show got an exclusive look last night at the new, national poll from Public Policy Polling, which offered some tidbits that are worth appreciating in detail.
While top-line results are usually the most important takeaway from polls like these, that's only part of what's amazing about these new results. Consider this excerpt from the latest PPP report:
...51% [of Republican voters] overall want to eliminate birthright citizenship. 54% think President Obama is a Muslim. And only 29% grant that President Obama was born in the United States. That's less than the 40% who think Canadian born Ted Cruz was born in the United States.
Let that one roll around in your head for a moment. Nearly seven years into the Obama presidency, less a third of Republican voters believe the president was born in the United States. A significantly higher percentage believe Ted Cruz was born in the U.S -- and he wasn't.
Sometimes, when it comes to chronic breakdowns in the political process, the problem is with Republicans in Congress, who are too often an obstacle to good governance -- they're opposed to compromise, uninterested in policy outcomes, more reflexively partisan, etc. -- in ways the American mainstream is not.
But once in a while, it's worth holding Republican voters themselves responsible. This is one of those times. I'm sure partisan tribalism plays some role in misguided attitudes, but there's no excuse for willful ignorance on this scale.
Kentucky's Kim Davis ran out of legal options yesterday. The clerk, who opposes marriage equality for religious reasons, has refused to issue marriage licenses to couples she decides are morally objectionable, despite the fact that Davis is paid to issue marriage licenses.
She and her attorney took the matter to court, and a federal district court judge said Davis could either follow the law or get a new job. She took her case to the 6th Circuit, which is pretty conservative, but which nevertheless rejected her case. Last week, Davis appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which turned the case away yesterday.
All of which led to this morning, when Davis decided to ignore the court rulings, the law, and her official responsibilities. MSNBC's Emma Margolin reported:
A Kentucky clerk is still refusing to issue marriage licenses due to her religious opposition to same-sex nuptials, the Associated Press reported Tuesday, even after the U.S. Supreme Court dealt the final blow to her argument.
On Tuesday morning, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis denied marriage licenses to at least two couples, telling them she was acting "under God's authority." She then asked David Moore and David Ermold, a couple who has been rejected by her office four times, to leave.
When the local resident said, "We're not leaving until we have a license," Davis responded, "Then you're going to have a long day."
The Lexington Herald-Leaderreported this morning that the federal judge in the case ordered Davis to "appear in his courtroom Thursday and explain why she should not be held in contempt of court."
As a rule, judges tend not to like it when citizens ignore the law and deliberately defy court orders. It's worth noting for context that U.S. District Judge David Bunning, appointed to the bench by George W. Bush, is presiding over the case.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* Public Policy Polling shows Hillary Clinton leading Bernie Sanders nationally in the race for the Democratic nomination, 55% to 20%. The former Secretary of State's 35-point lead is identical to the findings of a national PPP survey released a month ago.
* As Rachel mentioned on the show last night, Rick Perry's operation in Iowa is down to just one staffer. Yesterday, Karen Fesler, Perry's Iowa co-chair, jumped ship, joining Rick Santorum's Iowa team.
* Mike Huckabee, who has been both for and against birthright citizenship, now wants everyone to know he's now open to ending the policy mandated by the 14th Amendment.
* In New Hampshire's closely watched U.S. Senate race, the latest PPP survey shows incumbent Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) with the narrowest of leads over Gov. Maggie Hassan (R), 44% to 43%. The governor has not yet formally announced her 2016 plans.
* In response to reports about slower mail delivery, Bernie Sanders is pushing USPS to improve its overnight delivery (thanks to my colleague Will Femia for the heads-up).
* Last week's "Draft Biden" event at the Democratic National Committee's summer meeting only drew about 15 attendees. Hundreds of DNC members were on hand for the seasonal gathering.
A survey of law-enforcement officials about America's most serious threats did not point to foreign religious extremists. Vox had an interesting report on who's seen as an even bigger security risk.
In a 2014 survey, the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) surveyed hundreds of law enforcement personnel at the state and local level, all of whom had training in intelligence gathering or counterterrorism. They were presented with a list of radical groups and asked to rate, on a scale of 1 to 4, how much they agreed that this group posed a terrorist threat to the US.
The anti-government "sovereign citizen" movement was #1, followed by "Islamic extremists." On the list of groups perceived as the highest threat, anti-government militias was third, followed by skinheads and Neo-Nazis. They were followed by animal rights extremists, environmental extremists, and then the KKK.
Granted, the data is a year old, and it's possible attitudes among law-enforcement professionals have changed a bit since 2014, but that doesn't change the striking nature of the findings.
Indeed, the findings found, "Approximately 39 percent of respondents agreed and 28 percent strongly agreed that Islamic extremists were a serious terrorist threat. In comparison, 52 percent of respondents agreed and 34 percent strongly agreed that sovereign citizens were a serious terrorist threat."
Jeb Bush's campaign operation had a pretty straightforward plan when dealing with the summer's campaign drama: stay above it. Donald Trump may lead the polls and dominate the conversation, but the former governor and his team have consistently said they intend to stick to their own script.
It was just two weeks ago that the chief strategist for Bush's super PAC said, "Trump is, frankly, other people's problem."
About a day later, Team Jeb threw out its gameplan and paid for a plane to fly above a Trump event in Alabama, telling onlookers the GOP frontrunner supports 'higher taxes.'" Bush's campaign manager soon after turned his attention to Trump's sister.
This week, the showdown appears to be intensifying. Trump hit Jeb yesterday morning with an online video, attacking the Florida Republican on immigration. Bush hit back soon after with a memo, blasting Trump as being insufficiently conservative on crime and immigration.
On the same day that Donald Trump released a video blasting Jeb Bush on immigration, the former Florida governor published a web video highlighting Trump's past statements supporting liberal policy ideas.
The video titled "The Real Donald Trump" strings together clips of Trump saying he is pro-choice, noting that single-payer health care has worked in other countries, and praising Hillary Clinton.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) caused a bit of a stir on Sunday, suggesting he's open to building a new wall, not just along the U.S./Mexico border, but also along the U.S./Canada border. But as the Republican presidential candidate's comments started drawing fire yesterday, Team Walker tried walking it back. The Huffington Post reported:
After critics mocked Republican presidential candidate and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker for saying a wall between the U.S. and Canada was a "legitimate" idea, his campaign said Monday that he is not pushing for such a policy.
"Despite the attempts of some to put words in his mouth, Gov. Walker wasn't advocating for a wall along our northern border," Walker spokeswoman AshLee Strong said in a statement.
So, which is it? Chuck Todd, host of NBC's "Meet the Press," noted that Walker and other Republican presidential candidates frequently talk about border security, but rarely turn their attention to the north. "Do you want to build a wall north of the border, too?" Todd asked.
The far-right governor, according to the video and the transcript, replied, "Some people have asked us about that in New Hampshire. They raised some very legitimate concerns, including some law enforcement folks that brought that up to me at one of our town hall meetings about a week and a half ago. So that is a legitimate issue for us to look at."
Did Walker "advocate" building a U.S./Canadian border wall? No, but he nevertheless said the construction of such a wall "is a legitimate issue for us to look at" -- despite the fact that it's clearly nothing of the sort. The GOP candidate could have characterized the idea as impractical and/or unnecessary, but instead he treated the border wall idea as if it were entirely credible.
Which is why it made headlines.
The larger pattern, however, is one in which these incidents happen more than they should. Walker has an unfortunate habit of saying something foolish, drawing criticism, and then quietly walking it back.
Last week, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) invited Donald Trump to join him at a Capitol Hill rally in opposition to the Iran deal, and the leading Republican presidential hopeful accepted. Yesterday, organizers added a similar figure to complete the triumvirate.
Conservative talk show host Glenn Beck is joining 2016 presidential contenders Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) at a "Stop the Iran Deal Rally" at the Capitol on Sept. 9.
The rally, organized by the Tea Party Patriots, Center for Security Policy, and Zionist Organization of America, takes place a day after lawmakers return from their recess and ahead of a vote on the deal.
In a statement, Tea Party Patriots CEO and co-founder Jenny Beth Martin boasted, "Glenn Beck's decision to speak on September 9th at the Stop the Iran Deal Rally underlines the momentum behind the movement to stop President Obama's nuclear deal with Iran."
In reality, of course, the opposite is true. Supporters of international diplomacy appear to have all of the "momentum" -- new Democratic proponents announce their endorsement every day -- and the fact that conservative event organizers persuaded a far-right media personality to attend an event isn't all that impressive.
It is, however, excellent news for those who hope to see the diplomatic agreement move forward.
It's quite common for members of Congress to make appearances in schools and speak to local students. The challenge, however, is reminding lawmakers about age-appropriate messages.
About a year ago, for example, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) spoke at a high school, where he used "salty language," told a story "that involved flying to Paris to get drunk," compared marriage equality to "bull sex," and made some deeply unfortunate remarks about teen suicide. The school's principal wasn't pleased.
Fast forward a year and we find another conservative Republican congressman speaking to an even younger group of students, making a presentation that arguably went even worse. KPHO in Arizona reported yesterday:
Several parents are demanding answers from Congressman Matt Salmon, saying they cannot believe what the lawmaker said to young school children during a visit to a Gilbert school.
"It should have probably just been a good civics lesson for kids who initially were excited to meet their congressman," parent Scott Campbell said. That excitement, however, turned into fear.
According to the report from the local CBS affiliate, Salmon, a 10-term congressman, was supposed to talk to 2nd- and 3rd-graders about how bills become laws. But when Salmon turned his attention to vetoes, the Republican apparently decided to talk about his opposition to nuclear diplomacy with Iran.
One unhappy parent recalled that Salmon asked the small children, "Do you know what a nuclear weapon is? Do you know that there are schools that train children your age to be suicide bombers?"
Remember earlier this year, when Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told a three-year-old child, "The world is on fire.... Your world is on fire"? By all accounts, Salmon's comments were about as appropriate.