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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 8.26.15

08/26/15 05:00PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* What a nightmarish story: "[Franklin County] Sheriff Bill Overton, speaking at a news conference in Moneta, Virginia, said a criminal homicide investigation is ongoing into the deaths of WDBJ reporter Alison Parker, 24, and news photographer Adam Ward, 27. The two journalists were shot and killed while doing a live report Wednesday morning." The shooter is also dead.
* Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, while "praying for the victims' families," also insisted today, "We must act to stop gun violence, and we cannot wait any longer."
* Afghanistan: "Two American service members were killed Wednesday in an apparent 'insider' attack by an Afghan soldier at a military base in Afghanistan's southwestern Helmand province, U.S. and Afghan officials reported."
* The wild ride continues: "U.S. stocks emphatically ended their six-day losing streak on Wednesday, with the Dow Jones closing up more than 600 points and posting its third-biggest point gain ever."
* Arizona: "A judge ruled Wednesday that a hospital assessment that pays for the expansion of the state's Medicaid program was constitutional because it did not require a supermajority vote of the Legislature to be enacted."
* Will Republicans continue to treat this as a legitimate news outlet? "Breitbart News reacted to reports that two Virginia journalists were shot to death on-air by a disgruntled former co-worker by publishing an article with the headline, 'Race Murder In Virginia: Black Reporter Suspected Of Executing White Colleagues - On Live Television!'"
* Russia: "Russia ordered several internet service providers to block Wikipedia throughout the country after the volunteers who run the user-generated online encyclopedia refused to delete an article -- then abruptly reversed its decision less than 24 hours later."
* Politico reported the other day that President Obama referred to opponents of the Iran deal as "crazies." That's not really what happened.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Mobile, Ala., on Friday, Aug. 21, 2015.  (Photo by Brynn Anderson/AP)

What if Trump becomes a real presidential candidate?

08/26/15 12:58PM

When Donald Trump kicked off his Republican presidential campaign, he was officially a candidate, but he wasn't a real candidate, at least not in every sense of the word. The New York developer had a skeleton staff, little support in the polls, no field offices, no organization in early nominating states, no endorsements, and no national campaign infrastructure.
As of mid-June, Trump was effectively a candidate in name only. He had an escalator, some animosity towards immigrants, and little else. By some accounts, the GOP contender had to pay people to show up at his campaign kick-off.
It didn't matter. The former reality-show host quickly found a following, which grew at an unexpected rate. Media attention soon followed. Trump didn't spend much time on the campaign trail -- he's largely forgone the usual candidate-like activities -- but he's nevertheless dominating, at least for now.
All of which raises the question: if Trump can rocket to the front of the Republican pack without the backing of a real national campaign, what happens when the GOP candidate starts trying?
We're about to find out. Iowa's Sam Clovis, a prominent Republican activist and media figure in Iowa, had served for months as the state chairman of Rick Perry's presidential campaign, until this week, when Clovis gave up on the former Texas governor and joined Team Trump.
Rachel noted on the show last night that Clovis isn't the only one, and the Washington Monthly's Ed Kilgore took a look this morning at the operation Clovis is going to help lead -- featuring activists one might not expect to see backing Trump.
[Trump's] national campaign chairman, Corey Lewandowski, made his bones with the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity outfit (and its predecessor group, Citizens for a Sound Economy). Along with Clovis, Trump yesterday announced another eye-catching hire for his South Carolina campaign: Nancy Mace, the first woman to graduate from The Citadel, and an unsuccessful challenger to Lindsey Graham last year.
They join Matt Ciepielowski, Trump's New Hampshire director, "another AFP alumnus who spent the 2012 cycle with Youth for Ron Paul."
Kilgore's point is that these aides weren't obvious choices for Team Trump, and though they may have been wooed by "Trump's nose-thumbing at the Republican Establishment," they should also probably prepare themselves for the possibility that their candidate will "get bored with politics and bow out before things get serious."
In a year like this, anything's possible. But I'm also struck by a related thought: those are actual campaign officials, taking on actual campaign responsibilities.

Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.26.15

08/26/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* Jeb Bush was already scheduled to appear alongside former President George W. Bush at a Texas fundraiser in October, but yesterday, another event was added to the calendar -- the 2016 Republican candidate will also appear with his brother at a New York fundraiser on Sept. 10.
* If you missed last night's show, Donald Trump's confrontation with Univision anchor Jorge Ramos in Iowa got a little ugly.
* Speaking of Iowa, the latest Suffolk poll in the Hawkeye State shows Hillary Clinton leading Bernie Sanders in the first caucus state, 54% to 20%. The poll included Vice President Biden, who was third with 11%.
* And on a related note, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, the former governor of Iowa and a former presidential candidate himself, threw his support to Clinton yesterday.
* In Ohio, the latest Quinnipiac poll shows incumbent Sen. Rob Portman (D) trailing his likely 2016 challenger, former Gov. Ted Strickland (D), 44% to 41%.
* The news for Senate Republicans was better in Pennsylvania, where Quinnipiac shows incumbent Sen. Pat Toomey (R) with double-digit leads over his top Democratic opponents.
* Donald Trump received praise this week from David Duke, a former grand wizard of the KKK, who said the Republican presidential candidate "understands the real sentiment of America."
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. on Apr. 15, 2015 (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty).

Rubio takes a hard line against fetal-tissue research

08/26/15 11:15AM

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) sat down with CNBC's John Harwood yesterday, and the senator continued to stress his interest in "21st -century" policies. The report noted, however, that the Republican presidential candidate doesn't believe in climate change; he still opposes marriage equality; and he would ban all abortions, even in cases of rape.
It led to an interesting exchange:
HARWOOD: We need 20th-century social policies?
RUBIO: Well [brief pause], but, for, well, let me tell you this, human life is worthy of protection in every era.
It is a foundational hurdle for the Florida Republican. On the one hand, Rubio, the youngest candidate in the massive GOP field, is preoccupied with talking about the future and the importance of forward-thinking ideas. On the other hand, Rubio is eager to move the nation backwards on many of the social issues he cares about most. The contradiction is at the heart of his entire national candidacy.
Indeed, in the same interview, Harwood pressed for additional details on the senator's social agenda, asking if Rubio believes fetal-tissue research is wrong. "I do," the candidate replied.
Asked to clarify further if he sees the scientific research itself as "wrong and immoral," Rubio responded, "I believe it is," adding that the research is the "byproduct of the death of an unborn child."
The answer didn't come as too big of a surprise -- Rubio is very conservative -- but it's emblematic of a larger shift in Republican politics.
Nuclear Iran Talks in Lausanne, Switzerland (Photo by Jean-Christophe Bott/EPA)

Outside the U.S., 'the hawks are satisfied'

08/26/15 10:23AM

It's not exactly a secret that congressional Republicans and GOP presidential candidates are disgusted by the diplomatic nuclear agreement with Iran, so much so that Republican policymakers still hope to derail the international policy, consequences be damned.
But the deal itself was multilateral, not bilateral. The talks that produced the agreement were given the "P5+1" label because the United States was joined by allies and negotiating partners -- the five members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany -- in crafting the policy.
Are other countries also struggling with opposition from their own conservative officials? Apparently not.
Given the sound, fury and millions of dollars swirling around the debate in Washington over the Iranian nuclear deal, the silence in Europe is striking. It's particularly noticeable in Britain, France and Germany, which were among the seven countries that signed the deal on July 14.
Here in France, which took the toughest stance during the last years of negotiation, the matter is settled, according to Camille Grand, director of the Strategic Research Foundation in Paris and an expert on nuclear nonproliferation.
The New York Times report quoted Grand saying, "In Europe, you don't have a constituency against the deal. In France, I can't think of a single politician or member of the expert community who has spoken against it, including some of us who were critical during the negotiations."
He added that he was "surprised by the depth and the quality of the deal." In his country, "The hawks are satisfied, and the doves don't have an argument."
U.S. supporters of the agreement have emphasized the observation that the only fierce opponents of the deal in the world are Iranian hardliners, U.S. Republicans, and officials in Israel. Conservatives in America tend to be bothered by the comment, though we're occasionally reminded of how true it is.
But I also think there's a larger point to this: among major political parties in Western democracies, Republicans really are unique.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks at the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference in Philadelphia, June 19, 2015. (Photo by Matt Rourke/AP)

Christie struggles with his biggest foe: indifference

08/26/15 09:30AM

Under normal circumstances, when someone has an organized group of critics, and those foes decide to quit, that's great news. Few of us want to face rhetorical attacks, so when opponents pack and go home, it's a welcome development.
A super-PAC called Stop Chris Christie is shutting down, saying the New Jersey governor's campaign for the Republican presidential nomination is so underwhelming that opposition is no longer necessary.
"We looked at the polls and all the indicators seem to be showing that Chris Christie is going nowhere fast," Tom Bjorklund, treasurer of the political-action committee, said in interview. "It's always difficult to make the case for stopping someone who isn't doing well."
It's arguably the most painful of all possible insults: we don't care enough about you to bother criticizing you.
A woman with her baby shows excitement when the Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump greets them after he speaks at a campaign pep rally, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015, in Mobile, Ala. (Photo by Brynn Anderson/AP)

'His goal is to make America great again; it's on his hat'

08/26/15 08:48AM

It's a mistake to see Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump as a popular national figure. He's not. In fact, polls show most Americans find him quite distasteful. But like Nickelback, Trump has cultivated a core following that adores him, even if the rest of the country finds the affection hard to understand.

For Trump critics, his relative success is a little mysterious. It's easy to look at his crowds and wonder, "What are they thinking?"
With this in mind, Time magazine reported yesterday on a Frank Luntz focus group, held in the D.C. area, with self-identified Trump backers, to get a better sense of their perspective.
This 29-person focus group, conducted by Luntz and observed by a group of national press reporters from behind a pane of one-way glass, had gathered to explain the phenomenon of Trump. Why is a billionaire real estate mogul, TV celebrity and oft-accused demagogue who has never held office leading the Republican field with some 22% support in the polls? [...]
At the end of the session, the vast majority said they liked Trump more than when they walked in. "You guys understand how significant this is?" Luntz asked the press breathlessly when he came back into the room behind the glass. "This is real. I'm having trouble processing it. Like, my legs are shaking."
The article is a little jarring. In fact, it included an entry for the 2015 Quote of the Year: "We know his goal is to make America great again," a woman said. "It's on his hat."
To be sure, focus groups are not scientific surveys with random samples. In this case, it's the opposite -- every participant supported Trump before the discussion even began. There's obviously no reason to be too surprised when a candidate's backers sing his praises.
But again, the point isn't to understand whether Trump has supporters, but rather, why.
Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., attends the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., Thursday, March 14, 2013.  (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

After sabotage letter, Cotton wants US to 'speak with one voice'

08/26/15 08:00AM

Congressional Republicans are unanimous in their opposition to the international nuclear agreement with Iran, but even among GOP lawmakers, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) stands out as unique. Arguably no American lawmaker has done more to undermine U.S. foreign policy than the right-wing freshman.
This week, as support for the diplomatic deal grows on Capitol Hill, opponents confronted the very real possibility that a Republican bill to derail the agreement may not even get the 60 votes it needs in the Senate to overcome a Democratic filibuster. This in turn led Cotton to issue a fascinating press statement (via Salon's Simon Maloy).
"First, the president did an end-run around the Constitution by refusing to submit the Iran deal as a treaty requiring a two-thirds vote of the Senate for approval. Now Harry Reid wants to deny the American people a voice entirely by blocking an up-or-down vote on this terrible deal. [...]
"The Congress and the president should speak with one voice when it comes to dealing with the Iranians, but it seems that Harry Reid believes that only his and the president's voices matter."
Tom Cotton, in case anyone has forgotten, wrote a letter to Iranian officials in March, telling them not to trust U.S. officials, all in the hopes of sabotaging American foreign policy and derailing the international diplomatic talks. The Republican senator corralled 46 of his GOP Senate colleagues to join him in this dangerous stunt, which according to our allies, had the effect of helping Iran during delicate negotiations and embarrassing the United States.
Here's a radical idea: maybe Tom Cotton should avoid lectures about the importance of Congress and the White House speaking "with one voice when it comes to dealing with the Iranians." Unless the right-wing senator is deliberately trying to become a laughingstock, he should take a moment to acknowledge his lack of credibility on the subject.