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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during his "Make America Great Again Rally" at the Grand River Center in Dubuque, Iowa, Aug. 25, 2015. (Photo by Ben Brewer/Reuters)

Will GOP 'loyalty oaths' trip up Trump campaign?

08/28/15 10:09AM

We've seen some reports this week noting that Donald Trump, who's repeatedly refused to rule out a third-party presidential bid, may no longer have a choice. CNN, for example, said the Republican frontrunner "must rule out a third-party bid before October if he wants to compete in South Carolina's Republican primary, a crucial test in the nominating contest."
Strictly speaking, that may not be entirely right. South Carolina's GOP does, in fact, require Republican presidential hopefuls to sign something akin to a loyalty oath, but the wording is almost comically weak: "I hereby affirm that I generally believe in and intend to support the nominees and platform of the Republican Party in the November 8, 2016 general election."
Could Trump sign the document about his "general beliefs" and then later change his mind? Maybe. Enforcing loyalty oaths is inherently tricky, so it's difficult to say with confidence what would happen if a candidate "intends" to support the party's nominee and then later changes his or her intentions.
Still, while the Republican National Committee has very little influence over Trump's chances, Politico reported this week that some state parties are starting to see loyalty oaths as a worthwhile tool aimed at the New York developer.
Amid mounting concerns about Donald Trump's candidacy from the GOP establishment, Republican leaders in at least two states have found a way to make life a lot harder for him.
The Virginia and North Carolina parties are in discussions about implementing a new requirement for candidates to qualify for their primary ballots: that they pledge to support the Republican presidential nominee -- and not run as a third-party candidate -- in the general election.
The move probably wouldn't cost Trump support within the party, but that's obviously not the point -- these GOP officials are worried about Trump bolting the party and splitting the right in the general election. They're looking for mechanisms to tie the candidates' hands, forcing them to commit to the party's process.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) addresses a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on March 3, 2015. (Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Mastering the fine art of losing well

08/28/15 09:34AM

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) announced his support for the international nuclear agreement with Iran overnight, as did Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.). Both members were considered "on the fence" and their endorsements reinforce broad perceptions that the diplomatic solution is likely to prevail.
It's against this backdrop that Slate's Fred Kaplan argues persuasively that some of the deal's high-profile opponents have made a serious strategic blunder.
If current trends hold, [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] and his stateside lobbyists -- mainly AIPAC -- are set to lose this fight. It’s politically risky for Israel’s head of state to go up against the president of his only big ally and benefactor; it’s catastrophic to do so and come away with nothing. Similarly, it’s a huge defeat for AIPAC, whose power derives from an image of invincibility. American politicians and donors might get the idea that the group isn’t so invincible after all, that they can defy its wishes, now and then, without great risk.
It would have been better for Netanyahu -- and for Israel -- had he maybe grumbled about the Iran deal but not opposed it outright, let alone so brazenly. He could have pried many more favors from Obama in exchange for his scowl-faced neutrality.
That's undoubtedly true. It's easy to imagine a scenario in which Netanyahu and his team looked ahead, counted heads, and applied some basic game theory. "Look," the prime minister could have told President Obama privately, "I'll obviously never endorse the deal, but in exchange for some new benefits, I'll scale back the opposition campaign." West Wing officials likely would have been amenable to working something out.
For that matter, if Netanyahu hadn't adopted such an obstinate, unconstructive posture, he could have also worked with the White House during the negotiations, possibly even having some influence over the shape of the outcome.
But the prime minister and his allies chose a different course: first try to kill the talks, then try to kill the deal. For his trouble, Netanyahu is likely to end up with ... nothing.
The policy will apparently move forward anyway, while Netanyahu has undercut Israel's relationship with his country's closest ally.
There is an art to losing well. The prime minister has conducted a clinic on what not to do.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announces his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination at Livingston High School on June 30, 2015 in Livingston Twp., N.J. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)

'I'm more scared of criminals than I am of guns'

08/28/15 08:44AM

In the wake of this week's shooting in Virginia of two journalists, President Obama mentioned in an interview, "What we know is that the number of people who die from gun-related incidents around this country dwarfs any deaths that happen through terrorism." As a simple matter of arithmetic, Obama's assessment is plainly true.

But Republican presidential hopeful Chris Christie wasn't impressed with the factual observation. "I don't know that anybody in America believes that they feel more threatened by this than they feel a threat by ISIS or by other terrorist groups around the world," the New Jersey governor said on Fox News.
It's a curious approach to the debate. For Christie, the president may be right, but the facts don't "feel" true. The governor doesn't know anyone who actually believes the truth -- statistically speaking, reality tells us Americans really are more threatened by gun violence than international terrorism -- and as such, the facts are somehow less important than the perception.
But this was the line that really stood out for me.
Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) said Thursday that enforcing existing gun laws should take precedence over new legislation, a day after the deadly shooting of two journalists during a live broadcast.
"I'll tell you what I am more scared of, I'm more scared of criminals than I am of guns," the 2016 presidential contender said during an interview on CNBC's "Squawk Box."
That seems like a line that would score well with focus groups, but it doesn't mean much,
Sen. Ted Cruz

The GOP's not-so-dynamic duo?

08/28/15 08:01AM

At an Iowa event a couple of weeks ago, a 9-year-old boy had a question for Donald Trump. “Mr. Trump?” he asked. "Are you Batman?"
“I am Batman,” the Republican answered.
Two weeks later, it seems we know he's auditioning for the role of Robin.
Call it a public display of political affection: Sen. Ted Cruz has invited Donald Trump to Washington next month for a rally against the Iran nuclear deal.
The two Republican rivals are set to appear at an event organized by the Tea Party Patriots, the Center for Security Politics, and the Zionist Organization of America, according to the Cruz campaign.
The event is tentatively set for September 9th, which should be shortly before Congress votes on legislation that would, if successful, derail the international nuclear agreement with Iran.
By any modern standard, it's quite unusual for rival candidates, running for the same party nomination at the same time, to team up like this, but in this case, neither Ted Cruz nor Donald Trump has much to lose. The far-right senator, who made the initial invitation to his ostensible foe, obviously wants to woo Trump supporters in the event the GOP frontrunner stumbles, and an event like this will help solidify Cruz's broader goals.
It's also largely the opposite of the strategy Lindsey Graham and Rick Perry tried for a while -- instead of making headlines by getting on Trump's bad side, drawing his ire, Cruz will stay in the spotlight by effectively partnering with the New York developer.
Trump, meanwhile, will get to be in front of the cameras for a big D.C. spectacle. Trump likes being in front of the cameras for big spectacles.
The big winners, however, may be Democratic supporters of the Iran deal.

Thursday's Mini-Report, 8.27.15

08/27/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Presumably Monday's rhetoric from the right no longer applies? "United States stock markets on Thursday turned in a second day of strong gains, reversing many of the losses sustained early in the week when global markets tumbled."
* A decade later: "Years after then-presidential hopeful Barack Obama declared 'America failed the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast', he returns to the city to hail Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts and highlight the region's resilience in the face of massive devastation."
* In related news, Michael "Heckuva Job" Brown, of FEMA notoriety, is still trying to avoid history's blame.
* What a dreadful story: "An abandoned truck 'full of bodies' was found on the side of a highway in eastern Austria on Thursday. Police said the dead were thought to be refugees."
* Guns: "Walmart said on Wednesday that it would no longer sell high-powered rifles in its stores in the United States. The decision followed years of public pressure on the retailer to stop selling some of the most lethal weapons associated with many of the nation’s mass shootings."
* Pakistan's fear of India carries dangerous consequences: "A new report by two American think tanks asserts that Pakistan may be building 20 nuclear warheads annually and could have the world’s third-largest nuclear stockpile within a decade."
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush in Londonderry, New Hampshire August 19, 2015. (Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters)

A candidate moving in the wrong direction

08/27/15 04:19PM

When looking at a presidential primary field of 17 candidates, there's no point in applying the usual standards for who's doing well and who's doing poorly. As a practical matter, the criteria comes down to this: if a candidate's support in the polls reaches double digits, he or she is arguably faring pretty well. Those with single-digit support have some work to do.
Keep that in mind when looking at the Quinnipiac poll we mentioned earlier.
Donald Trump leads the crowded Republican pack with 28 percent, up from 20 percent in a July 30 national survey by the independent Quinnipiac University.... Ben Carson has 12 percent, with 7 percent each for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. [...]
"Donald Trump soars; Ben Carson rises; Jeb Bush slips and some GOP hopefuls seem to disappear. Trump proves you don't have to be loved by everyone, just by enough Republicans to lead the GOP pack," said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.
Sure, in a crowded field, when one candidate is cruising well ahead of his rivals, he's inevitably going to get most of the attention. It's the blessing of frontrunner status -- you get the spotlight.
But the number that jumped out at me was 7%. That's where Jeb Bush stands as August nears its end. It's comparable to the 9% showing for the Florida Republican in the most recent Fox News poll.
Given recent history, this is arguably getting far less attention than it probably should be.
Bob Corker

GOP discovers it doesn't like filibusters after all

08/27/15 12:46PM

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) didn't just complain this week about the international nuclear agreement with Iran; he also targeted the nature of the Democratic support for the policy. Apparently, Senate Dems expect the Republican majority to get 60 votes for their plan -- and Cotton thinks that's outrageous.
"Harry Reid wants to deny the American people a voice entirely by blocking an up-or-down vote on this terrible deal," the right-wing freshman complained.
Ah yes, the ol' "up-or-down" vote -- the one thing the majority party loves, until it falls into the minority, at which point it rediscovers the "cooling saucer" metaphor, right up until it reclaims the majority and the cycle begins anew.
Cotton isn't alone, of course. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), upon learning of the likely Democratic filibuster, responded, "Are you kidding me?" Politico reported today:
"Is that where they really want to be? Do they really want to vote to block consideration of ... probably the biggest foreign policy endeavor?" Corker said in an interview. "Do they want to be in a place where they voted to keep from going to the substance [of the Iran debate]?"
Corker may not have fully thought this one through.

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.27.15

08/27/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* In a new national Quinnipiac poll, Donald Trump continues to dominate the Republican field with 28% support, followed by Ben Carson's 12%. Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio are tied for third with 7% each, followed by Scott Walker is sixth place with 6%. The news is especially poor for Rand Paul, who's in 11th place in the poll with a woeful 2%.
* The same poll found Hillary Clinton leading Bernie Sanders in the race for the Democratic nomination, 45% to 22%, followed by Vice President Biden with 18%.
* Quinnipiac also found Clinton with modest leads over the top GOP candidates in hypothetical general-election match-ups. Biden enjoyed similar advantages over Republicans.
* Jeb Bush said of Donald Trump yesterday, "This guy is now the front-runner." I don't remember Bush saying this before.
* The Huffington Post reports that Trump has reportedly told "several top Republicans that he will swear off the possibility of an independent bid and commit to running his presidential campaign under the party's banner." It's a story worth keeping a close eye on.
* As Rachel noted on the show last night, Trump is extraordinarily unpopular with Latino voters, and his impersonation of Japanese negotiators will likely help alienate yet another minority group.
* Priorities USA, a Clinton-aligned super PAC, has a tough new ad out this morning on Republican presidential candidates and their anti-immigrant rhetoric. The 30-second spot is reportedly set to air in Colorado, Florida, and Nevada.
Republican Gov. Paul LePage speaks a campaign rally on Nov. 3, 2014, in Portland, Maine. (Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

GOP governor eyes Senate election despite scandals

08/27/15 10:47AM

It's been a strikingly ridiculous year for Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R). He tried to block dozens of legislative measures, before losing at the state Supreme Court and watching the bills become law as a result of his own incompetence. The Tea Party Republican is also mired in an abuse-of-power scandal -- LePage doesn't deny the allegations -- which may lead to his impeachment.
The governor's policies are taking their toll on the state; he's broached the subject of resigning; and Politico recently felt comfortable publishing a piece that asked whether LePage is "playing with a full deck."
It's against this backdrop that the Maine governor is thinking about parlaying his two statewide victories into a U.S. Senate campaign. The Bangor Daily News reported this week:
During an afternoon appearance Tuesday on a conservative talk radio show, Maine's Republican Gov. Paul LePage said he may run for the U.S. Senate in 2018. [...]
LePage said specifically he was thinking about challenging U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent and former two-term governor, because King caucuses with Democrats in Washington.
The governor told radio host Howie Carr this week, "I'm thinking about it very strongly."
Keep in mind, it's entirely possible LePage, who won a second term last year in a three-way race, will have been driven from office in disgrace long before the 2018 election cycle. Indeed, the investigation that may lead to the governor's impeachment is ongoing and moving forward.
Republican presidential hopeful businessman Donald Trump speaks to guests gathered for a rally on July 25, 2015 in Oskaloosa, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

Trump breaks with GOP orthodoxy on taxes

08/27/15 10:14AM

There may be 17 Republican presidential candidates, but that doesn't mean the party is offering broad ideological diversity. On the contrary, the massive GOP field features a legion of White House hopefuls who all say roughly the same thing on roughly the same issues. This is especially true on taxes -- the one issue on which all Republicans have been united.
Republican front-runner Donald Trump began to flesh out his economic vision for America, and it includes raising taxes on the wealthy. 
Trump said during a Wednesday interview on Bloomberg's With All Due Respectthat he would like to change the tax code.
Trump sat down with Bloomberg Politics' Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, and surprisingly enough, he voiced his support for scrapping the carried-interest loophole, which taxes hedge-fund profits at a lower rate than usual income. Eliminating the Wall Street tax break been a priority for many Democrats for quite a while.
Trump went on to complain that multi-millionaires are currently "paying very little tax and I think it's outrageous." After stressing his support for middle-class tax breaks -- the Republican candidate has not yet outlined any specifics -- Trump added, "I know people in hedge funds that pay almost nothing and it's ridiculous, OK?"
So, Trump's prepared to raise his own taxes? "That's right. That's right. I'm OK with it," he replied. "You've seen my statements, I do very well, I don't mind paying some taxes."
In case it's not obvious, no other GOP candidate is proposing anything like this. On the contrary, most of the field is rushing to sign Grover Norquist's anti-tax pledge, vowing never to raise any tax on anyone by any amount at any time.
But Trump is clearly not like other Republicans. The question then becomes whether or not a position like this is going to hurt him.