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Rev. Pat Robertson, center, talks to attendees at a prayer breakfast at the Capitol in Richmond, Va. on Jan. 16, 2010. (Photo by Clem Britt/AP)

This Week in God, 10.22.16

10/22/16 08:28AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a story about Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump continuing to focus attention on the religious right movement as Election Day draws near.

The GOP nominee has already appeared at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, which axed an anti-Trump piece from the student newspaper this week, and today, the candidate will appear at the other major university founded by a Virginia televangelist: Regent University, created by TV preacher Pat Roberson. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported:
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is returning to Virginia this weekend for a rally at Regent University in Virginia Beach, the strongest signal yet that his campaign has not given up on Virginia.

The rally at the Christian university is scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday, according to Trump’s official schedule.
It's not clear what role, if any, Pat Robertson will play at the event, but the radical televangelist has made no secret of his support for Trump. As Right Wing Watch explained, "Robertson has emerged as one of Trump’s most stalwart defenders on the Religious Right, claiming that the business mogul is facing satanic attacks and dismissing the tape of Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women as simply 'macho' talk."

It may seem odd to think prominent evangelical leaders from a social-conservative movement would be so enthusiastic about a secular, thrice-married adulterer and casino owner who'd never really demonstrated any interest in, or knowledge of, matters of faith. But Robertson has long prioritized partisan politics over theological principles. In fact, in the 2008 Republican presidential primaries, the TV preacher threw his support behind Rudy Giuliani -- another secular, thrice-married adulterer.

There is, however, a generational problem that's emerged this year between the religious right movement's politically connected elite -- Robertson, Falwell, Tony Perkins, et al -- and many principled, rank-and-file evangelicals who have no use for partisan expediency.

The fissure has already emerged as a problem at Liberty University; it'll be worth watching to see if a similar dynamic unfolds at Regent University.

Also from the God Machine this week:
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Friday's Mini-Report, 10.21.16

10/21/16 05:31PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Bridgegate: "The former aide to Chris Christie who prosecutors say sent the "time for some traffic problems" email that started the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal said Friday that she knew only of a planned traffic study, not an alleged political retribution plot, and described the Republican governor as a bully who once threw a water bottle at her in a fit of rage."

* They really shouldn't do stuff like this: "In scenes that haven't been common since the end of the Cold War, Russian warships sailed through the English Channel early Friday in a theatrical display of Russian military might."

* Filipino voters did not choose wisely: "Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced that his country is separating from the U.S. in a speech before a Beijing economic forum on Thursday, after handing China a major diplomatic victory, agreeing to resume dialogue on their South China Sea territorial dispute following months of acrimony."

* On a related note: "Duterte did not detail how he planned to sever ties with the U.S. But the ramifications could be far-reaching, impacting everything from trade to military support to a deep cultural connection with the West."

* Fourth Circuit: "A federal court of appeals on Friday reinstated a case brought by four Iraqis who allege they were tortured by employees of CACI while they were held at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison during the Iraq War."

* Trouble online today? "Major websites were inaccessible to some East Coast users in the United States Friday morning and to people across the country in the early afternoon after a company that serves as an internet switchboard said it was under attack."

* The truth is largely the opposite of what voters are hearing from Trump: "More than seven years after the recession ended, black workers' earnings are accelerating sharply. Median usual weekly earnings for full-time black workers rose 9.8% in the third quarter from a year earlier, the fastest rate of growth on records back to 2000, according to data the Labor Department released Thursday."
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Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter works with his group to promote civics education in New Hampshire schools during a meeting in Concord, N.H., Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2009.

Souter warned of a Trump-like candidate in prescient remarks

10/21/16 04:39PM

Former Supreme Court Justice David Souter has maintained a very low public profile since retiring from the bench nearly eight years ago, but Rachel highlighted a 2012 appearance Souter made in New Hampshire, and his remarks on "civic ignorance" are striking in their foresight.
"I don't worry about our losing republican government in the United States because I'm afraid of a foreign invasion. I don't worry about it because I think there is going to be a coup by the military as has happened in some of other places. What I worry about is that when problems are not addressed, people will not know who is responsible. And when the problems get bad enough, as they might do, for example, with another serious terrorist attack, as they might do with another financial meltdown, some one person will come forward and say, 'Give me total power and I will solve this problem.'

"That is how the Roman republic fell. Augustus became emperor, not because he arrested the Roman Senate. He became emperor because he promised that he would solve problems that were not being solved.

"If we know who is responsible, I have enough faith in the American people to demand performance from those responsible. If we don't know, we will stay away from the polls. We will not demand it. And the day will come when somebody will come forward and we and the government will in effect say, 'Take the ball and run with it. Do what you have to do.'

"That is the way democracy dies. And if something is not done to improve the level of civic knowledge, that is what you should worry about at night."
Souter couldn't have known about Donald Trump's rise in Republican politics, but that only makes his fears in 2012 that much more prophetic.
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First Lady Michelle Obama speaks to a crowd of supporters as she campaigns for the Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at the Convention Center, in Phoenix, Ariz., on Oct. 20, 2016. (Photo by Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty)

Trump's newest misstep: turning his attention to Michelle Obama

10/21/16 04:01PM

By most measures, President Obama is the second most popular political figure in the country. Who's first? His wife, First Lady Michelle Obama.

For Democratic candidates, that's good news. Not only is Michelle Obama an active campaigner as Election Day draws closer, she's also demonstrated an ability to deliver some of the year's most compelling and poignant addresses.

For some reason, this combination of factors gave Donald Trump a very bad idea, which he put into practice this afternoon.
Donald Trump took a rare swipe at First Lady Michelle Obama Friday, reminding voters of a snide comment she had made about Hillary Clinton eight years ago that he called "vicious."

Mr. Trump, speaking at a rally in North Carolina, criticized Mrs. Obama's frequent campaigning for the Democratic nominee, and quoted a crack she had made during the 2008 Democratic presidential primary contest between Mrs. Clinton and President Barack Obama.
"We have a president, all he wants to do is campaign. His wife, all she wants to do is campaign. And I see how much his wife likes Hillary," Trump said. "But wasn't she the one that originally started the statement, if you can't take care of your home -- right? -- you can't take care of the White House or the country."

First, it's largely true that the First Lady maintains an active campaign schedule, but that's apparently because she really wants Hillary Clinton to win and Donald Trump to lose. Criticizing her for hitting the campaign trail because she feels passionate about the race hardly seems wise.

Second, Trump apparently wants voters to believe Michelle Obama doesn't really like Clinton, and as proof, the Republican nominee is pointing to a quote from nine years ago: "[I]f you can't run your own house, you certainly can't run the White House."

Did Michelle Obama actually say that? Sort of, but the context suggests Trump is trying to deceive.
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Donald Trump introduces Trump University at a press conference in Trump Tower, New York, May 2005. (Photo by Dan Herrick/KPA/ZUMA)

Trump's lawyers to judge: Campaign stuff shouldn't count

10/21/16 03:15PM

As a rule, defense attorneys like their clients to keep a fairly low profile and say very little about the case while the matter is being litigated. For Donald Trump's lawyers, that's a bit of a problem -- because rhetorical restraint isn't really an option under the circumstances.

It's why, as Bloomberg Politics reported, Trump's legal team is taking steps to keep his political rhetoric away from "jurors who are set to decide next month whether he defrauded hundreds of students through his namesake real-estate school."
Lawyers for the mogul in his Trump University case asked a judge to exclude a laundry list of statements made by him and about him including speeches and tweets, saying they're irrelevant and would only "inflame and prejudice" jurors.

"Before trial begins in this case, prospective members of the jury will have the opportunity to cast their vote for president," Trump's lawyers said in a filing late Thursday. "It is in the ballot box where they are free to judge Mr. Trump based on all this and more."
This isn't limited to Trump's rhetoric about Trump University and this specific case. Politico's Josh Gerstein reported, the Republican candidate's attorneys "also want to bar discussion of allegations that Trump may have paid no federal income taxes for as long as two decades, his personal charitable foundation, bankruptcies of various companies he owned or managed, and a series of comments he made alleging that Curiel was irredeemably biased because of his Latino background."

That's quite a list.
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 A general view of the atmosphere at The 41st Annual Daytime Emmy Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on June 22, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Christopher Polk/NATAS/Getty)

For Trump, even the Emmys are rigged against him

10/21/16 12:41PM

There wasn't a lot of laughter during this week's presidential debate, but one moment that drew laughs jumped out at me. Hillary Clinton was noting that anytime there's a conflict that fails to go Donald Trump's way, he reflexively insists it was "rigged" against him.

"He lost the Wisconsin primary; he said the Republican primary was rigged against him," Clinton said. "Then Trump University gets sued for fraud and racketeering; he claims the court system and the federal judge is rigged against him. There was even a time when he didn't get an Emmy for his TV program three years in a row and he started tweeting that the Emmys were rigged against him."

At this point, Trump quickly interrupted, not to deny the charge, but to confirm it. "Should have gotten it," the Republican said, referring to the Emmy, and prompting laughter from the audience.

It was a lighthearted moment about a serious subject: Trump has a problem accepting responsibility when things don't go his way. But the exchange did get me thinking: are the Emmys really on Trump's enemies list?

As it turns out, yes. The Washington Post had an interesting report this week, explaining that Trump wanted his former reality show, "The Apprentice," to win an Emmy, and when it didn't, he launched a feud with the Television Academy.
By 2011, Trump had had it. "The Apprentice," coming off its 11th season, hadn't received a nomination in years. He went on YouTube to blast the Emmys, saying "fewer and fewer people" watch the show "and for good reason." The academy awards the wrong shows and people, Trump said, and "it's really not a good operation."

"The public is smart. They know it's a con game. I remember when I was originally nominated, everybody thought that 'The Apprentice' was going to win. It was the hottest thing on television, virtually," Trump said in 2011. "Well, it didn't win. They picked another show that frankly has been nominated many years and it's like, an irrelevant show. I'm not talking about myself. I'm not talking about 'The Apprentice.' I'm just saying the Emmys have a become boring, boring, boring show, totally predictable, and they're picking the wrong people."

Then Trump discovered Twitter, which made it even easier for him to complain about the Emmys
And this doesn't even include his many tweets about the awards.
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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.21.16

10/21/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

* Jim Murphy, the national political director for Donald Trump's campaign, announced yesterday's "stepping back" from his role in the operation, citing "personal reasons."

* The Al Smith Dinner in New York is supposed to be an opportunity for presidential candidates to show some humor and humility, and somehow, Donald Trump managed to screw it up.

* Twice yesterday, Trump walked away from interviews with local television stations in Ohio because he didn't like the direction of the questions.

* Speaking of Ohio, the latest Suffolk poll found Trump tied with Hillary Clinton in the Buckeye State, with each garnering 45% support in a four-way contest.

* Former RNC Chairman Michael Steele, now an MSNBC analyst, said yesterday he will not vote for Trump. Steele is the third former RNC chair to make that announcement this year.

* In Georgia, a new Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll shows Trump ahead by just two points over Clinton, 44% to 42%. Republicans have won Georgia with relative ease in each of the last five cycles.

* In Virginia, the latest poll from the Wason Center for Public Policy at Newport University shows Clinton cruising in the commonwealth, leading Trump, 45% to 33%.

* With his popularity on the rise, President Obama has recorded "a remarkable number of personalized television commercials for down-ballot Democrats to air across the country during the next two weeks," helping practically any congressional candidate who asks for his assistance.
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