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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives for service at First Presbyterian Church in Muscatine, Iowa, Jan. 24, 2016. (Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP)

This Week in God, 6.25.16

06/25/16 08:26AM

First up from the God Machine this week is an unexpected development in the 2016 presidential race: one of the cycle's most secular candidates keeps questioning other candidates' religious beliefs.
 
As we discussed a few days ago, Donald Trump spoke to a group of far-right evangelical Christian leaders on Tuesday, where he expressed his doubts about Hillary Clinton's faith, insisting Americans "don't know anything about Hillary in terms of religion." He added, "Now, she's been in the public eye for years and years, and yet there's no – there's nothing out there. There's like nothing out there."
 
The criticism was substantively bizarre -- Clinton has spoken many times about being a Methodist -- but just as important, NBC News reported, "[A]ttacking other people's faith appears to be a favorite move in Trump's playbook."
The pattern looks to have begun with President Obama.... Since running for president, Trump has also raised similar faith-based concerns about his fellow Republicans.
 
In October, retired neurosurgeon and devout Seventh-day Adventist Ben Carson was the target: "I'm Presbyterian. Boy, that's down the middle of the road, folks, in all fairness," Trump told voters in Florida. "I mean, Seventh-day Adventist, I don't know about. I just don't know about."
 
In January, lifelong Southern Baptist and son of a pastor Ted Cruz was in the crosshairs: "Just remember this," Trump said, "in all fairness, to the best of my knowledge, not too many evangelicals come out of Cuba, okay?"
Ben Carson, apparently trying to mount some kind of defense of his ally, said this week that Trump went after Carson's faith because "he didn't know what to do and he was getting kind of desperate."
 
But that's not much of an explanation. Presidential candidates aren't supposed to use religion as a campaign weapon whenever they're worried about losing. This is especially true of secular candidates who don't appear to have any real understanding of, or interest in, matters of faith.
 
The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne Jr. explained this week, "Absent anything substantive to say about his belief system, Trump lashes out at others. And lacking an affirmative vision, he plays on fears and tells evangelicals, as he did Tuesday, that our nation's leaders are 'selling Christianity down the tubes.' Well. If religion is being sold out, it's Trump who is orchestrating the deal."
 
Also from the God Machine this week:
UK roots deep in 'United States of Europe'

UK roots deep in 'United States of Europe'

06/24/16 10:52PM

Rachel Maddow looks back at the devastating effects of two world wars in Europe and Winston Churchill's call for a "United States of Europe" that was eventually followed by the United Kingdom's participation in what would become the European Union. watch

Trump bungles Brexit response in Scotland

Trump bungles Brexit response in Scotland

06/24/16 09:38PM

Rachel Maddow reports on Donald Trump's bizarre press conference from his gold course in Scotland in which he didn't seem to grasp the significance of the Brexit vote that had just taken place, and definitely didn't realize that Scotland had voted against the referendum. watch

Brexit threatens UK political integrity

Brexit threatens UK political integrity

06/24/16 09:25PM

David Miliband, former UK foreign secretary, talks with Rachel Maddow about why the U.K. vote to leave the European Union caught so many people by surprise and the potential fallout not just for the E.U. but for Scotland and Northern Ireland within the U.K. watch

Friday's Mini-Report, 6.24.16

06/24/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* West Virginia: "Fourteen people were killed in flooding in West Virginia on Thursday and Friday, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said in a news conference this afternoon, as rescuers and residents continued to feel the effects of Thursday's torrential rains."
 
* Not a good day for investors: "The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped more than 600 points on Friday as markets around the world reacted to a vote by citizens of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union."
 
* Too late: "[I]t seems many Britons may not even know what they had actually voted for.... Google reported sharp upticks in searches not only related to the ballot measure but also about basic questions concerning the implications of the vote. At about 1 a.m. Eastern time, about eight hours after the polls closed, Google reported that searches for 'what happens if we leave the EU' had more than tripled."
 
* It almost certainly won't happen, but I love the online activism: "A petition calling for a second EU referendum has been launched -- and is proving so popular the page keeps crashing."
 
* A worthy monument: "President Obama on Friday officially designated the Stonewall Inn a national monument, making it the first in the country to honor LGBT equality. Obama made the announcement in a YouTube video, saying 'our national parks should reflect the full story of our country -- the richness and diversity and uniquely American spirit that has always defined us.'"
 
* On a related note: "Ban on transgender service members expected to end in July, defense officials say."
 
* And then there were 79: "The Pentagon delivered a Yemeni captive to Montenegro Wednesday after he spent 14 years at Guantanamo as a suspected Osama bin Laden bodyguard, leaving 79 captives at the U.S. Navy base detention center in Cuba."

* VW: "Volkswagen has agreed to pay $10.2 billion to settle its U.S. emissions scandal case, according to the Associated Press, citing two anonymous people briefed on the matter, in what would be one of the largest payouts by an automaker in history."
Sarah Palin

Republicans think 'it's America's turn' for a Brexit of our own

06/24/16 04:25PM

The parallels are not precise, but they exist. In the Brexit vote in the U.K., younger voters overwhelmingly voted "Remain," while older voters voted "Leave." The more education a British voter had, the more likely he or she was to want to stay in the European Union. Voters in urban areas generally backed remaining in the E.U.; voters in rural areas did not.
 
You probably see where I'm going with this: the demographics of the Brexit vote had some noticeable similarities to the kind of left-right divide we see in the United States. It's contributed, as we discussed earlier, to observers drawing a nationalistic line between Brexit supporters in the U.K. and Donald Trump supporters in the U.S.
 
The Washington Post had a good piece on domestic Republicans joining the Brexit celebration, even as global markets suffered a sharp slide.
Today, while stock markets careened and media coverage has asked whether British voters just sparked a "DIY recession," a few conservatives have embraced the vote. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), one of the critics of the president's remarks, told supporters on Facebook that Americans needed to heed Brexit.
 
"The results of the ‪#‎Brexit‬ referendum should serve as a wake-up call for internationalist bureaucrats from Brussels to Washington, D.C. that some free nations still wish to preserve their national sovereignty," Cruz wrote. [...]
 
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), an occasional Cruz ally who has become the Senate's biggest booster of Donald Trump, had an even more supportive reaction.
He did, indeed. The far-right Alabaman, arguably Trump's closest congressional ally, issued a lengthy statement with an all-caps headline that read, "Now it's America's turn." Sessions applauded Britons who cast a "strong vote ... not out of fear and pique but out of love for country and pride of place."
 
Former half-term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) published a bizarre online harangue that began, "When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another. The UK knew -- it was that time. And now is that time in the USA. The Brexit referendum is akin to our own Declaration of Independence. May that refreshed spirit of sovereignty spread over the pond to America's shores!"
 
I swear I'm not making this up.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan addresses his weekly briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on May 12, 2016. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty)

Paul Ryan's 'Better Way' points in a worse direction on taxes

06/24/16 12:45PM

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) deserves just a little credit for acknowledging the basic idea that congressional Republicans should have a policy agenda. Sure, it's clearing the lowest possible threshold for a major party that's already in the majority, but the Wisconsin congressman decided to launch a months-long effort to prove that the GOP really could be a 21st-century governing party.
 
In the end, however, Ryan has proven the opposite.
 
The Republican Speaker assembled a team of House Republican lawmakers and staffers to craft a multi-part "Better Way" plan. "What you will see with these [proposals] are detailed policy papers," Ryan declared a month ago. "We're not talking about principles here. This is substance."
 
If only that were true. Part One was Ryan's plan to address poverty, which turned out to be laughable. Part Two was a national-security vision, which was not only ignored, it was contradicted by his party's presumptive presidential nominee. Part Three in the Speaker's agenda was a deregulation plan that was just a warmed over version of stale GOP demands. Part Four was a health care reform plan that was accurately summarized this way: "Speaker Paul Ryan wants to replace 20 million people's health insurance with 37 pages of talking points."
 
All of which leads to today's tax-reform plan, which might actually be the worst plank yet. The Washington Post reported:
The tax plan would slash rates across the board -- by 20 percent for businesses and 33 percent for individuals, simplify the tax filing process and restructure the international tax code. The plan embraces long-standing Republican principles like cutting rates and eliminating deductions while embracing a business consumption tax that is increasingly popular in conservative think-tank circles.
 
Though the GOP proposal leaves out details -- such as which specific deductions would be eliminated and how much the plan would cost -- it offers a fuller alternative to the deep rate cuts pitched by presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. [emphasis added]
I bolded that section for a reason: Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House, the former chairman of the House Budget Committee, and a member of his party's 2012 national ticket, spent months on a tax-reform plan with no price tag.

Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.24.16

06/24/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
 
* Donald Trump was asked this morning whether the United Kingdom would remain the United States' first call when Americans need support. "I don't know, first call or second call," the Republican said. "They'll be a very powerful call."
 
* Trump's campaign announced yesterday that the Republican candidate has "forgiven more than $50 million in loans he made to finance his presidential bid." This was a key sticking point in fundraising efforts: donors had reason to balk at the idea of making contributions that would end up in Trump's pocket.
 
* In Illinois, where Sen. Mark Kirk (R) is facing a tough re-election fight, the Republican incumbent has launched a new television ad that stresses his opposition to Trump.
 
* In North Carolina, a new PPP poll shows Trump leading Hillary Clinton in the state by only two points, 48% to 46%. Clinton would be ahead, but many Bernie Sanders supporters in North Carolina, at least for now, are still balking at the presumptive Democratic nominee.
 
* The same poll found incumbent Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) with a surprisingly modest lead over Deborah Ross in North Carolina's U.S. Senate race, 40% to 37%. Libertarian Sean Haugh is third with 5%.
 
* In Florida this morning, Senate hopeful Todd Wilcox became the latest Republican to quit the race, throwing his support to Marco Rubio. This isn't necessarily good news for the incumbent: land developer Carlos Beruff is still in the race, and now there's no one left to split the anti-Rubio vote.
Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, speaks during a campaign event at Team Wendy in the Cleveland Industrial Innovation Center in Cleveland, June 13, 2016. (Photo by Eric Thayer/The New York Times)

After Brexit, Clinton stresses 'steady, experienced leadership'

06/24/16 11:10AM

Donald Trump had his say in response to the Brexit results, hosting a press conference in Scotland this morning where he spoke at great length about the importance of his golf resort. Soon after, however, Hillary Clinton issued a statement of her own.
"We respect the choice the people of the United Kingdom have made. Our first task has to be to make sure that the economic uncertainty created by these events does not hurt working families here in America. We also have to make clear America's steadfast commitment to the special relationship with Britain and the transatlantic alliance with Europe.
 
"This time of uncertainty only underscores the need for calm, steady, experienced leadership in the White House to protect Americans' pocketbooks and livelihoods, to support our friends and allies, to stand up to our adversaries, and to defend our interests. It also underscores the need for us to pull together to solve our challenges as a country, not tear each other down."
I've seen some suggestions that Clinton's statement was incomplete because she didn't directly criticize the outcome of yesterday's vote. Perhaps, but let's not forget that as Secretary of State, Clinton learned quite a bit about diplomacy, especially when it comes to our closest allies.
 
If Clinton wins in November, she's going to have to work closely with British Prime Minister David Cameron's successor, and for her, there's no real upside to declaring, even subtly, "The U.K. just screwed up in a big way."
 
More interesting, at least to me, was her emphasis on "calm, steady, experienced leadership in the White House."

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