In just about every midterm election cycle, candidates eyeing a presidential campaign down the road have a decision to make: do they commit to serving a full term or not? Candidates who do make that promise effectively remove themselves from national contention -- they're declaring their intentions for the next several years, which won't include a run for the White House.
But candidates who choose not to make that commitment -- tipping their hand about their presidential plans -- run the risk of annoying voters. They're left in a position in which they're essentially telling the public, "I want you to elect me to this office, though if I win, I might soon after run for some different office."
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) was pretty upfront about his intentions during his re-election bid last year, refusing to commit to a full, four-year term. Plenty of other likely GOP hopefuls -- Cruz, Paul, Jindal, Rubio, Santorum, Jeb Bush -- aren't running for anything this year, and don't have to worry about this at all.
But then there's Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), who's made no secret of his national aspirations, even in the midst of a tough re-election fight. Will the Republican governor promise voters to serve all four years if he prevails in November? It's apparently more complicated than it should be. Here's what the Green Bay Press Gazettereported last week:
While Gov. Scott Walker lays out plans for a second term in Madison, he will not promise to serve the entire four years if the 2016 national elections beckon.... [A]mid widespread speculation that he could soon become a candidate for national office, the governor told reporters later he would not make any promises about completing a second term if re-elected.
"I've never made a time commitment anywhere I've been in office," he said. "I've always made promises about what I would do and how I would do it. I'm not going to change now."
That's a perfectly fair position, but it's not what he told msnbc's Kasie Hunt, who asked the governor, "Are you committed to serving a full second term?" Walker replied, "That's my plan."
Today's installment of campaign-related news items that won't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:
* The latest CNN poll shows Democrats leading Republicans among likely voters on the generic congressional ballot, 47% to 45%. The same results show President Obama's approval rating inching just a little higher, to 44%.
* In Iowa's closely watched U.S. Senate race, PPP's latest survey shows Joni Ernst (R) with a two-point lead over Rep. Bruce Braley (D). The margin is unchanged from the PPP's poll in August.
* In Florida's gubernatorial race, the newest Survey USA poll shows former Gov. Charlie Crist (D) with a six-point advantage over incumbent Gov. Rick Scott (R), 46% to 40%. That's a bigger lead than most recent surveys in the state, many of which show Scott with a slight edge.
* In a bit of a surprise, Gallup's latest poll in Louisiana found more voters in the state identifying as Democrats, reversing a four-year trend that favored the GOP.
* On the other hand, PPP's latest Louisiana survey shows Rep. Bill Cassidy (R) with a small lead over incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu (D), 48% to 45%. If neither candidate gets 50%, the two will meet again in a December runoff.
The recent revelations surrounding the Secret Service have been as stunning as they are frightening. As much as Americans like to think of the Secret Service as the elite professionals when it comes to protecting the nation's leaders, a series of controversies have taken a toll on the agency's reputation.
With that in mind, the Washington Post ran an opinion piece yesterday on recent developments from Dan Emmett, whose c.v. seems quite impressive: he's served in the Secret Service Presidential Protective Division, the CIA National Clandestine Service, and the Marines.
But Emmett's prescription for what ails the Secret Service was unexpected: "While Congress has not declared war on ISIS and al-Qaeda, U.S. airstrikes in Syria and Iraq -- as well as the threats of radical Islamist groups against Americans and our country -- make it clear we are indeed at war. In wartime, we must call on our military forces to assist the Secret Service in protecting the president and White House against attack." He added that "combat troops" could have prevented the recent fence-jumper from entering the White House itself.
But even more striking, Emmett wants to see Julia Pierson, the current Secret Service director, ousted and has someone specific in mind to replace her.
Pierson should be replaced and the next director should come from outside the Secret Service, with the deputy director remaining an agent. In this role, a true leader, not a bureaucrat, is needed. Someone like Florida congressman and retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Allen West would be perfect for the role. West has successfully demonstrated that he possesses the leadership skills of a combat officer as well as managerial and diplomatic skills of a congressman, exactly the traits needed in the next director. Highly competent and beholden to no one in the Secret Service, he would be a superb director.
There was no indication that this was intended as humor. Indeed, a Fox News host quickly endorsed the idea this morning.
I'm not sure why the Washington Post published this, presumably on purpose, but it's an unusually horrible idea.
When a political organization gets caught in an embarrassing misstep, one of the first things to look for is a pattern of behavior. Looking at the story on the merits obviously matters, but so too does the group's record -- an entity's track record speaks to its credibility.
With that in mind, the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity may be developing a reputation that it would prefer to avoid.
We talked yesterday about AFP sending out incorrect voting materials to many North Carolina households, which is apparently serious enough to warrant an investigation from the state board of elections. Zack Roth also reported on a 2011 incident in which AFP "sent out absentee ballot applications for eight Wisconsin state Senate recall elections," giving voters the wrong deadline information.
Reader C.G. emailed me overnight to remind me of yet another incident which I'd forgotten all about. The Charleston Gazettereported in April of this year:
Voters in at least eight West Virginia counties have been mailed "misleading and confusing" material that may make them incorrectly believe they aren't eligible to vote in next month's election, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant said Tuesday.
The leaflets -- mailed by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation -- warn voters that if they do not update their voter registration, they may lose their right to vote in the upcoming primary election on May 13.... Tuesday was the last day to register to vote for the May 13 primary, and a Tennant spokesman said the mailing could convince people whose voter registrations are perfectly valid that they aren't allowed to vote.
The concerns were well grounded. The AFP mailing told West Virginians, "As a good citizen who values their Constitutional right to vote, we are reminding you to update your voter registration. Updating your registration before the deadline ensures you do not lose your right to vote in the upcoming election."
In reality, most of these voters did not need to update their registration and their voting rights were not at risk. Local officials conceded they received confused calls from the public.
A spokesperson for the conservative group conceded at the time, "There may have been a few mistakes."
Every Saturday morning, President Obama makes a weekly address to the nation, which usually runs a few minutes long and tackles a major subject in the news. It used to be known as the weekly radio address, but in 2009, Obama took the enterprise online.
Of course, in the interest of fair play, the minority party gets its own address, which means Republican officials release their own video every Saturday morning, featuring their own message and messenger. And this week, the GOP put U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) in the spotlight.
The North Carolina Republican made a series of odd arguments, but it was his condemnation of the White House's foreign policy that stood out.
"As we look at the crises boiling over across the globe, we see a president who has been leading from behind with a failed foreign policy that has weakened America.
"Iran is getting closer and closer to developing a nuclear weapon. Russia continues to infringe upon the sovereignty of Ukraine. Our ally Israel is being attacked by terrorist groups. And the president still doesn't have a strategy to destroy the terrorist group known as the Islamic State."
The notion that the president doesn't have an ISIS strategy is bizarre given the prime-time address the president made in September in which he outlined his ISIS strategy. How a prominent U.S. Senate candidate in a competitive race missed that is a bit of a mystery. Shouldn't one of his aides have read Tillis' remarks before he said something so foolish in a national address?
What's more, Iran is not getting closer to a nuclear weapon, and while recent events in Ukraine and Israel are alarming, blaming American officials for all discouraging developments in the world is absurd.
But specifics aside, listening to the far-right North Carolinian, Tillis has a problem with Obama's approach to international affairs on a more fundamental level. The candidate is opposed, he said, to a "foreign policy that has weakened America."
And what is it, exactly, about Obama's foreign policy that Tillis finds so offensive? He has absolutely no idea.
Policymakers in Washington have taken quite a bit of interest in the National Football League lately, for reasons that have nothing to do with rooting for one team or another. For example, Brian Fung reported on the latest from the FCC.
Federal regulators on Thursday sacked the longstanding sports "blackout" rule that prevents certain games from being shown on TV if attendance to the live event is poor.
In a bipartisan vote, the Federal Communications Commission unanimously agreed to strike down the much-criticized 40-year-old policy. Under the blackout rule, games that failed to sell enough tickets could not be shown on free, over-the-air television in the home team's own local market.
I haven't been interested in sports in a long while, but I know this is good news for fans. Indeed, I grew up in Miami rooting for the Dolphins, who've long had poor attendance. I lost count of how many times I wanted to watch a home game only to discover I couldn't because the game wasn't sold out. (This includes a 1983 playoff game against Seattle, which 10-year-old me was forced to listen to on New Year's Eve on the radio. For goodness sakes, the radio.)
The point of the "blackout" rule, of course, was to boost ticket sales -- if you want to see your local team, go to the game and watch. If it sells out, you can watch it on TV; if not, well, you can still buy a ticket. But given the fact that many Americans can't afford ticket prices, and the NFL is a multi-billion-dollar enterprise, yesterday's decision helps the viewing public in an obvious way.
The FCC vote was five to zero.
But let's also note that federal policymakers' interest in pro football suddenly goes well beyond television broadcasts. The league's tax-exempt status is also very much on Washington's mind.
Sen. Pat Roberts (R), fighting to salvage his career in Kansas, has sounded the alarm within his party: come rescue me, he's told the GOP, or we're going to lose this seat and possibly a chance at a Senate majority.
And for the most part, Republicans are responding to the call. Notable figures from competing GOP factions -- everyone from Jeb Bush to Sarah Palin -- has made the trek to Kansas, trying to get the unpopular incumbent over the finish line one more time.
But as the Kansas City Star's Dave Helling reported yesterday, there are some within the party who remain reluctant to join the choir.
Former GOP Sen. Nancy Kassebaum Baker, Roberts' colleague and friend of more than 30 years, blames his rightward tilt for his struggles.
"There's just disappointment around the state," she said. "They feel they don't know him now."
Asked recently to tape a TV commercial for Roberts, Kassebaum Baker refused.
That's no small development. Nancy Kassebaum Baker, a former three-term senator from Kansas, was a lawmaker who believed in compromise and governing. In recent years, a stark division has emerged within the Kansas GOP -- the far-right vs. the mainstream -- and Kassebaum Baker has long represented the latter.
It makes sense that Roberts would reach out to her, looking for the former senator's support, but the fact that she refused to help the incumbent says a great deal -- about how far Roberts has gone, about the intra-party split, and about moderate Republicans' disappointment with what's happened to their party.
At the same time, however, while Republicans from the governing wing like Kassebaum Baker no longer have any use for Roberts after his shift to the right, Kansas Tea Partiers aren't impressed, either.
In September 2012, near the height of the presidential campaign, Dick Cheney, Marc Thiessen, and a handful of other Republican voices briefly focused on a new line of attack against President Obama: the president, they claimed, was routinely "skipping" intelligence briefings related to national security. It wasn't true -- Obama receives written briefings every day, and there are no in-person briefings to skip -- and the criticisms soon faded.
President Obama has received a face-to-face intelligence briefing 42% of the days he's been in office, a conservative watchdog group said Tuesday.
The group, the Government Accountability Institute, issued a similar report in 2012, finding that Obama had such in-person briefings 42% of the days during his first term.
Right on cue, Rush Limbaugh, right-wing blogs, and Fox News pounced. The cast of "Fox & Friends," focusing on the 42% figure, asked viewers, "Is that good enough for the globe that your national security interests are in the low 40s?"
Even by conservative standards, this doesn't make any sense at all. The right really ought to be embarrassed by such nonsense -- especially since they rolled out this same silliness two years ago, when it was proven to be ridiculous.
But since some folks have apparently forgotten the basics, let's set the record straight again.
Rachel Maddow points out that while a new agreement to keep thousands of U.S. troops in Afghanistan for at least the next ten years has gone almost entirely unnoticed by the media, to military members and families it is significant news. watch
Dr. Robert Bristow, director of disaster medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, talks with Rachel Maddow about the CDC confirmation of the first case of Ebola diagnosed in the U.S. and how health authorities will respond. watch
Carol Leonnig, national reporter for the Washington Post, talks with Rachel Maddow about the growing list of Secret Service embarrassments coming to public light as inside sources leak details to journalists and legislators. watch