It's not unusual in an election cycle for national candidates to pick some fights. Usually, though, candidates are strategic about the confrontations, taking on primary rivals, the other party, occasionally a critical news outlet, etc.
Leave it to Mike Huckabee, however, to start a feud with a bag of chips. Time magazine reported yesterday:
At 3% in national polls, Mike Huckabee faces an uphill fight against more than dozen Republican candidates for the presidential nomination. But that hasn’t stopped him from adding another opponent in recent weeks: a bag of rainbow-colored chips.
They’re not just any chips. They’re a limited edition Doritos product called “Rainbow Doritos,” presented as a partnership between Doritos’ parent company Frito-Lay and the It Gets Better project. Donate $10 or more to the It Gets Better Project, an organization dedicated to fighting anti-LGBT bullying, and you get mailed a bag of Rainbow Doritos. The campaign was so popular that Frito-Lay is already out of Rainbow Doritos.
The Republican presidential hopeful, however, isn't happy. Huckabee has urged Frito-Lay to distance itself from the It Gets Better Project -- the former governor is particularly outraged by sex columnist Dan Savage's role in the project -- and according to Time's article, he also "called on Christians to boycott all snacks made by the company."
Just at face value, Huckabee's priorities seem odd. When a candidate for the nation's highest office is outraged by bags of snacks, it's probably time for a shift in focus.
But just below the surface, there's an even more striking problem.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich is such a deficit hawk, the Republican presidential candidate wants to change the Constitution to forever prohibit federal budget shortfalls. Kasich does not, however, want these restrictions to apply to himself -- the GOP governor said two weeks ago that voters should expect "to see the deficit increase," at least for a while, if he's elected to the White House.
A few days later, Jeb Bush and Donald Trump largely conceded their economic plans would increase the deficit. Bush, in particular, chided those who "freak out about the deficit."
It's quite a turn of events. In the recent past, the Tea Party "movement" took shape in part because of far-right fears about federal budget shortfalls. Throughout President Obama's tenure, congressional Republicans have insisted that every White House priority be fully paid for -- a demand that never existed during the Bush/Cheney era, when nearly every major initiative was simply tacked onto the national debt -- even after Obama cut the deficit by $1 trillion.
We nevertheless now have GOP presidential candidates going back to their old habits, now that the Democratic president has fixed the problem that Republicans pretended to care about.
But against this backdrop, Marco Rubio tends to be in his own category. Consider the far-right senator's comments yesterday to CNBC's John Harwood.
RUBIO: Well, within the ten-year window, my plan begins to create a surplus. The second point I'd make to people is, you can't tax your way into a stable budget.
HARWOOD: Wait, your plan creates a surplus because of the dynamic effect?
By any fair measure, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) delivered an amazing gift to Hillary Clinton last week when he admitted his party's Benghazi committee was really a partisan election scheme. This week, Clinton has opened the gift, taken it out of the box, and begun putting it good use.
The Clinton campaign unveiled a new television ad overnight, titled, "Admits It." For those who can't watch clips online, here's the script:
Audio voice-over and text on screen: The Republicans finally admit it.
MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell: Republican Kevin McCarthy saying the committee investigating Benghazi and Clinton’s emails was created to destroy her candidacy.
Kevin McCarthy: Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee. What are her numbers today?
Audio voice-over: The Republicans have spent millions attacking Hillary because she’s fighting for everything they oppose -- from affordable health care to equal pay. She’ll never stop fighting for you and the Republicans know it.
The spot is a reminder of just how valuable Kevin McCarthy's accidental candor is to Clinton and her supporters. For much of the summer, the Democratic presidential hopeful has been on the defensive, leading to "a poll-deflating feedback loop." All of a sudden, however, the likely next Speaker of the House inadvertently told the truth, acknowledging facts that Republicans aren't supposed to admit in public, and Clinton is bouncing off the ropes.
Rachel Maddow reports on the strong position Democratic candidates have taken on addressing gun violence with common sense gun regulation and the subsequent pressure on President Obama to take some of the actions now that candidates are promising to take if elected in 2016. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi opening Baghdad's Green Zone to the public for the first time since it was created during the U.S. war in Iraq, another step forward for the Iraq people taking back control of their own country. watch
Congressman Adam Schiff, member of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, talks with Rachel Maddow about Democrats standing up to Republican political abuse of the committee and their plans to counter selective Republican leaks designed to smear Hillary Clinton with full transcripts of testimony. watch
* TPP: "The United States and 11 other Pacific Rim countries have reached a deal on the most sweeping trade liberalization pact in a generation but the accord on Monday faced initial skepticism in the U.S. Congress."
* A heartbreaking story out of Afghanistan over the weekend: "Twelve Doctors Without Borders staff along with seven patients, including three children, were killed after an apparent U.S. airstrike hit the international charity's hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz."
* NATO warned Russia today to stay away from Turkey "after the Turkish Air Force intercepted Russian warplanes that strayed into its airspace from Syria, underscoring the heightened risk of a wider conflagration as Russia escalates its intervention in the Syrian conflict."
* Officials in South Carolina "warned Monday afternoon that the dangers from the state's unprecedented floods were not over -- and that clearing skies did not erase the threat of shifting water and unstable roads."
* In a video message to attendees to the Our Oceans conference, President Obama "announced plans for two new marine sanctuaries, one off the coast of Maryland, and the other in Lake Michigan. They’ll be the first new national marine sanctuaries designated by the federal government in the past 15 years."
* California "will become the fifth state in the nation to allow terminally ill patients to legally end their lives using doctor-prescribed drugs after Gov. Jerry Brown announced Monday he signed one of the most emotionally charged bills of the year."
* ISIS: "The Islamic State has blown up the iconic Arch of Triumph in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, officials said."
Following on the segment from Friday's show, the racially charged controversy regarding voting rights in Alabama is quickly becoming a story of national significance. Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), who represents many of the affected voters, wrote an op-ed in local media today making her case.
On September 30th, my Black Belt constituents were dealt yet another devastating blow when it was announced by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency that it would close 31 driver's license offices.
The decision left 8 out of the 14 counties in my district without a DMV that will issue driver's licenses. Many of the residents affected by this decision will have to travel miles outside of their communities to take a driver's tests and obtain state-issued identification. This fact means many of my constituents who have limited modes of transportation will be denied an equal opportunity to obtain a means to vote.
MSNBC's Zach Roth reported today that the Alabama congresswoman has "formally asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the state’s shuttering of driver’s license offices in several heavily black counties."
Sewell has also urged state officials in Alabama to either keep these DMV offices open so that voters can obtain the materials necessary to vote, or "rescind the voter ID law" so that all eligible Alabamans can go back to the voter-access laws that existed before Republicans imposed the current burden to address a problem that didn't exist.
Roth's MSNBC report added, "The issue has also found its way into the presidential race. Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton issued a statement Friday warning the driver’s license office closings are 'only going to make it harder for people to vote,' and calling them 'a blast from the Jim Crow past.'"
For those who are new to the story, let's revisit Friday's segment, because this isn't just another local voting-rights story.
Over the last several decades, leading Democratic presidential candidates have consistently avoided major campaign fights over gun violence. The party's nominees, cycle after cycle, have found there's no real upside to taking on the NRA and its allies, and the risk of alienating voters in some swing states is simply too great.
But Hillary Clinton is taking a very different path. This started in earnest a few months ago, but the former Secretary of State is staying on the offensive in ways recent Democratic frontrunners have not. MSNBC's Alex Seitz-Wald reported today:
While campaigning in New Hampshire Monday, Clinton rolled out a new gun control proposal that includes using executive action to close the so-called gun show loophole and making it easier for people to sue gun makers. Clinton contrasted her stance with that of Republicans, paying special attention to presidential candidates Bush and Donald Trump.
“On the Republican side, Mr. Trump was asked about it and said something like ‘you know, things like that happen in the world,’” she said. “Governor Bush said ‘yeah, stuff happens.’ No. That’s an admission of defeat and surrender to a problem that is killing 33,000 Americans.”
This touches on an important political point. Putting aside whether or not one considers Friday's "stuff happens" flap important, the broader point remains the same: Trump and Bush are only too eager to express ambitious, arguably unrealistic goals about a range of issues -- economic growth, job creation, national security, veterans' care -- but when the questions turn to gun deaths, the leading Republican candidates' boldness quickly disappears. Trump,. in particular, quickly transitions from, "I can solve any problem" to "we'll just have to accept thousands of gun deaths because there's nothing to be done."
But this isn't just about election positioning against GOP candidates. Clinton has a credible policy agenda on curtailing gun violence that warrants its own attention.
It's always interesting to see what happens when a charade ends. For quite a while, congressional Republicans tried to keep up appearances, pretending their Benghazi committee was a legitimate, non-partisan search for truth -- a claim no one, anywhere, seriously believed -- but House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy's (R-Calif.) accidental candor last week ripped off the mask.
There was brief discussion about whether Democrats would simply quit the taxpayer-funded, anti-Clinton fishing expedition in protest, a move Dems ultimately rejected, but that doesn't mean they plan to sit idly by. The Washington Postreported this morning:
Democrats are taking the unprecedented step of releasing excerpts from a closed-session interview the House Benghazi committee conducted last month with Hillary Clinton aide Cheryl Mills, accusing the panel’s Republican Chairman Trey Gowdy (S.C.) of selectively leaking information to damage Clinton in the presidential race.
In a letter sent Monday morning, Democrats on the panel released statements made by Mills from the Sept. 3 interview that paint Clinton in a favorable light. The letter charges Gowdy with failing to provide a fair account of Mills’s interview, alleging that he orchestrated small press leaks designed to produce negative stories about the Democratic presidential front-runner.
In a letter signed by all five Democratic members of the panel, the lawmakers told Gowdy, "It has become obvious that the only way to adequately correct the public record is to release the complete transcript of the Committee’s interview with Ms. Mills.... [W]e plan to begin the process of correcting the public record by releasing the transcript of Ms. Mills’ interview. Since you have indicated your unwillingness to do this in a bipartisan manner, we plan to do so ourselves."
Let's back up for a minute to recap for those unfamiliar with the issue surrounding Mills.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* To the delight of the DSCC, New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) announced this morning she's running for the U.S. Senate next year. The two-term governor will take on incumbent Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R), setting the stage for one of the cycle's premier races.
* The latest Pew Research poll shows Hillary Clinton maintaining a strong national lead over Bernie Sanders in the race for the Democratic nomination, 45% to 24%. Vice President Biden is third in the poll with 8%.
* On a related note, the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll shows Sanders continuing to lead Clinton in New Hampshire, 48% to 39%, essentially unchanged from a month ago. In Iowa, however, Clinton leads Sanders, 47% to 36%, which is also essentially unchanged since September.
* Clinton received an endorsement over the weekend from the National Education Association, which is the nation’s largest labor union.
* Jeb Bush will reportedly turn to George W. Bush for fundraising help again this month, and there's increasing talk that the former governor hopes to use the former president to give his campaign a boost in South Carolina.
* Carly Fiorina was the CEO of Hewlett-Packard for six years, but "of the 302,000 employees at the company, not one has given a reportable amount to help Fiorina fund her 2016 presidential campaign, according to the campaign’s most recent FEC filings, which lists all donations over $200."
* Speaking of Fiorina's former staffers, some of the people who worked on her failed 2010 Senate campaign claim they're still owed money. The operations director for her Senate campaign told the Washington Post, “People are just upset and angry and throwing her under the bus. If we didn’t win, why do you deserve to get paid?"
Two weeks ago, before the mass-shooting in Oregon, Quinnipiac released national poll results on a variety issues, including guns. When respondents were asked, for example, "Do you support or oppose requiring background checks for all gun buyers?" the results weren't close: 93% of Americans support the idea.
In fact, while bipartisan consensus seems difficult in these polarized times, this is an issue where Democrats and Republicans are on the same page. According to the Quinnipiac results, 90% of GOP voters support mandatory background checks for all gun buyers, 92% of independents agree, as do 98% of Democrats.
And yet, the idea stands no realistic chance of success in the Republican-led Congress. It won't even get a vote. Elected lawmakers know what the polls say, but they don't care.
Why is that? Mother Jones' Kevin Drum explained the other day, "Most polls don't tell us how deeply people feel. Sure, lots of American think that universal background checks are a good idea, but they don't really care that much."
I think that's generally correct. On issues like background checks, progressives have effectively won half a battle: on key elements of the policy debate, the left has persuaded the vast majority of Americans on the merits of an idea. The second half of the battle is more complicated: making the transition from passive agreement to genuine passion for constructive change.
All of which leads us to something President Obama said on Friday, which was a departure from his previous rhetoric on the subject.
At an event last week, Kentucky gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin (R) initially said he'd supported Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's (R) presidential campaign, but with Walker out, Bevin now likes Ben Carson. A few hours later, the Kentucky Republican switched gears and said he’s actually backing Kentucky’s Rand Paul.
Evidently, Bevin forgot that his third choice is supposed to be his first.
And just a few days later, Bevin stood alongside his home-state ally for a campaign rally that the Lexington Herald-Leader described as "subdued."
About 50 people came out on a rainy Saturday morning to see U.S. Sen. Rand Paul rally for Republican gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin.
Hmm. A month before Kentucky voters choose a new governor, the Republican nominee joined Kentucky's own presidential candidate -- on a weekend -- for a high-profile event. Just 50 people showed up?
The underwhelming turnout also came the same week as Rand Paul's presidential campaign announced it raised about $2.5 million from July to September -- a weak showing and a sharp drop-off from the $7 million the senator raised the quarter before.
Adding insult to injury, on Friday, American Bridge 21st Century, a progressive super PAC, reached out to contacts, letting them know that going forward, the super PAC will focus its attention on Paul as a vulnerable U.S. Senate candidate -- as opposed to a competitive presidential candidate.
There's arguably nothing more insulting than having one's critics decide you're just not that important anymore.