There's been a fair amount of 2016 polling out of Iowa lately, and most of it offered fairly good news for Hillary Clinton. The Democratic frontrunner found herself a 34-point lead over Bernie Sanders in the latest Suffolk poll, a 19-point lead in the latest CNN poll, and a 27-point lead in the latest Public Policy Polling survey.
But all of these results will likely be overshadowed by results published over the weekend.
Liberal revolutionary Bernie Sanders, riding an updraft of insurgent passion in Iowa, has closed to within 7 points of Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential race.
She's the first choice of 37 percent of likely Democratic caucusgoers; he's the pick for 30 percent, according to a new Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics Iowa Poll.
The significance of this, as compared to the other recent results, is that the Des Moines Register's polling is generally seen as the gold standard among all Iowa polls.
Among Iowa Republicans, the same survey found Donald Trump leading the GOP pack with 23% support, followed by Ben Carson with 18%. No other candidate reached double digits, though Scott Walker and Ted Cruz tied for third with 8% each, and Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio tied for fifth with 6% each.
There are plenty of interesting angles to kick around, including the narrow margin between Clinton and Sanders, and on the side of the divide, Carson's unusually strong showing. Note, for example, that the retired neurosurgeon, at least in this new poll, has more support than Walker and Cruz combined.
But what got me thinking was a comment from Glen Borger, a Republican pollster, who argued yesterday that one explanation for Sanders' unexpected strength relates to Democratic expectations about the Republican field: "Dems believe even [Sanders] could beat Trump.... And he probably could."
With a growing number of Republican presidential candidates talking about mass deportations, Hillary Clinton argued Friday that the rhetoric is increasingly outrageous.
[Clinton said] it was "the height of irony that a party which espouses small government would want to unleash a massive law enforcement effort -- including perhaps National Guard and others -- to go and literally pull people out of their homes and their workplaces, round them up, put them, I don't know, in buses, boxcars, in order to take them across our border."
"I just find that not only absurd, but appalling," Clinton said.
The right responded, not by defending the push for mass deportations, but rather by focusing specifically on the use of "boxcars."
The criticism was loud enough that Clinton spokesperson Nick Merrill felt compelled to explain that, no, the Democratic presidential hopeful wasn't alluding to the Holocaust.
And really, the denial was unnecessary. On Capitol Hill, even Republican aides casually refer to the "boxcar crowd" to describe those who support mass deportations. What's more, just two months ago, Jeb Bush told CNN, "I don't think our country is going to be the kind of country that puts people on boxcars and sends them away."
Look, I realize at this point in the process, various partisan players are looking for an excuse to feign outrage. But there are Republican presidential candidates talking -- in vague and impractical terms -- about mass deportation. The agenda calls for quickly moving 12 million people, if not more, out of the United States fairly quickly, no matter the consequences.
The practical question deserves an answer. One assumes all 12 million won't get free trips about the Trump Jet, and human-rights standards probably rules out use of the Trump Catapult. That leaves buses and trains -- or put another way, it leaves the options Hillary Clinton described.
It was arguably the biggest takedown of the 2012 presidential campaign. In the third debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney, the Republican complained, "Our Navy is smaller now than at any time since 1917.... Our Air Force is older and smaller than at any time since it was founded in 1947."
The former governor had used the same argument many times on the stump, and the prepared president pounced. "Well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military's changed," Obama explained. "We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines. And so the question is not a game of Battleship, where we're counting ships. It's what are our capabilities?"
It was a rough moment for Romney, whose canned talking points were made to look ridiculous.
And yet, there was Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) last week, delivering a big speech on foreign policy, embracing Romney's argument as his own.
"[President Obama] wasted no time stripping parts from the engine of American Strength. He enacted hundreds of billions in defense cuts that left our Army on track to be at pre-World War II levels, our Navy at pre-WWI levels, and our Air Force with the smallest and oldest combat force in its history."
First, the defense cuts were part of the Republicans' sequestration policy, not the White House's agenda, making this an odd line of attack. Second, Romney's discredited argument from three years ago isn't any better now.
What's in a name? When it comes to naming North America's tallest mountain, plenty. The Alaska Dispatch Newsreported last night:
It's official: Denali is now the mountain formerly known as Mount McKinley.
With the approval of President Barack Obama, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has signed a "secretarial order" to officially change the name, the White House and Interior Department announced Sunday. The announcement comes roughly 24 hours before Obama touches down in Anchorage for a whirlwind tour of Alaska.
Denali is the Koyukon Athabascan name for the mountain.
As political naming disputes go, this one's a doozy. As Craig Harrington noted, this isn't a case of President Obama "re-naming" a mountain, so much as he's "un-re-naming" it.
For generations, the mountain was called Denali, but that changed in 1896 when a pro-McKinley gold prospector named it "Mt. McKinley" as a way of supporting the Ohio Republican's presidential campaign.
McKinley didn't climb the mountain, and in fact, he never even saw it. Native communities, not surprisingly, didn't appreciate the name change, and Alaska has long supported the restoration of the original.
When far-right politicians endorse the construction of a massive border wall, they rarely specify which border, because it's simply assumed they're not overly concerned about Canadians.
When it comes to border security, it's only natural to wonder why Republicans seem vastly more energized about our neighbors to the south than those to the north. I was delighted to see NBC's Chuck Todd ask Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) about this yesterday.
One issue he plans to fix if elected is the terrorist threat posed by the nation's porous borders, and he said while he's most concerned about the southern U.S. border, he'd be open to building a wall to secure the northern border as well.
"Some people have asked us about that in New Hampshire. They raised some very legitimate concerns, including some law enforcement folks that brought that up to me at one of our town hall meetings about a week and a half ago. So that is a legitimate issue for us to look at," he said.
And I'll be eager to hear what the far-right candidate comes up with after he "looks at" building a northern border wall -- because the idea is a little nutty, even by the standards of GOP presidential candidates.
For now, let's put aside the issues -- the costs, the needs, etc. -- related to a building a giant wall along the U.S/Mexico border. Let's instead consider Walker's apparent concerns about Canada.
First up from the God Machine this week is an extraordinary exchange about the Bible with the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination.
Donald Trump's clumsiness on matters of faith has been a point of concern for some voters before, but this week, the GOP candidate sat down with Bloomberg Politics, which noted that Trump has repeatedly pointed to the Bible lately as his favorite book. Does he have a favorite scriptural verse or two he'd be willing to share?
"Well, I wouldn't want to get into it because to me that's very personal," Trump replied. "You know, when I talk about the Bible it's very personal." Asked to cite a verse from the Bible he simply likes, the Republican responded, "No, I don't want to do that."
When John Heilemann asked if he preferred the Old Testament or the New Testament, Trump responded, in all seriousness, "Uh, probably [long pause] equal. I think it's just an incredible, the whole Bible is an incredible, I joke, very much so, they always hold up The Art of the Deal, I say it's my second favorite book of all time. But, uh, I just think the Bible is just something very special."
Watching the video, it's hard not to get the impression that Trump almost certainly hasn't read the Bible; he probably doesn't have a favorite verse; and the GOP White House hopeful has no idea what the differences are between the Old and New Testaments.
I've seen some suggestions this week that the questions might have been inappropriate, since it's arguably unfair to press candidates for public office on personal matters of faith. But in this case, Trump has personally boasted, several times, about his great affection for the Bible. Given his posturing, there's nothing wrong with an interviewer probing the details of an issue the candidate himself has repeatedly emphasized.
Indeed, after talking about scripture in recent weeks, shouldn't Trump have realized that someone would eventually ask a question or two about this? The best answer he could come up with is that the Bible is deeply private for him, except for all the times he brags about his love for the book in public?
Regardless, this seems to be part of a larger faith-based focus. Last week, Trump even delved into the "War on Christmas" nonsense, telling an audience, "There's an assault on anything having to do with Christianity. They don't want to use the word Christmas anymore at department stores."
It's hard to know whether anyone will take such rhetoric seriously, but voters should expect to hear more of it -- the Trump campaign announced this week that he's arranged a September meeting with a group of evangelical leaders "to hear the heart of America's Christian leaders and learn what they feel are the most critical issues facing our nation today."
Jason Mitchell, an actor in the summer blockbuster Straight Outta Compton, and Madeleine Lecesne, 2014 national student poet, talk with Melissa Harris-Perry about growing up in New Orleans before and after Katrina and how the experience changed them. watch
Melissa Harris-Perry looks back at the competition between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination during the 2008 campaign, noting that Clinton has learned that Obama's focus on delegates over raw votes is what won it for him. watch
Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, talks with Melissa Harris-Perry about what polling shows are the unique features of the Donald Trump campaign and the power of Donald Trump's non-politicians status with his supporters. watch
* Migrant deaths: "Europe reeled from fresh shocks in its escalating migration crisis Friday, with reports of 150 drownings in the Mediterranean and news that far more migrant corpses had been found crammed in an abandoned refrigeration truck in Austria than first thought. Damage to the vehicle’s side raised the possibility that victims had struggled to escape."
* NSA: "A federal appeals court on Friday reversed a trial court decision that would have barred the government from continuing its post-9/11 bulk data collection program implemented by the National Security Agency. The decision means that, for now, the NSA program implemented under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act can continue unimpeded."
* Storm preparation: "The governor of Florida declared a state of emergency Friday ahead of Tropical Storm Erika, which has killed at least 12 people as it rakes the Caribbean. Gov. Rick Scott said the storm constitutes a 'severe threat.' Erika is expected to reach Florida late Sunday or early Monday, but it’s not clear how strong the storm will be."
* Free speech: "Demonstrators can’t use the Supreme Court’s outdoor plaza as a stage for their messages, a federal appeals court ruled Friday. A federal law prohibiting such demonstrations is justified by the government’s interest in 'preserving decorum' at the Supreme Court and promoting the image of a judiciary 'uninfluenced by public opinion and pressure,' the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said."
* Gun violence: "A college junior died after being shot Thursday night in Savannah State University’s student union building. Christopher Starks, who is from the metro Atlanta area, died at a local hospital, the college said in a statement. The campus had earlier been locked down 'due to a shooting incident.'"
* Iraq: "In a further setback to the faltering American and Iraqi campaign to retake Anbar Province from the Islamic State, two Iraqi generals were killed in a suicide attack by the group Thursday morning outside Ramadi, the provincial capital."
* NLRB: "A federal labor board voted Thursday to redefine the employee-employer relationship granting new bargaining powers to workers caught up in an economy increasingly reliant on subcontractors, franchisees and temporary staffing agencies."
There's a famous election anecdote from 1972 in which film critic Pauline Kael expressed astonishment that Richard Nixon had won re-election. She was stunned, the story goes, because "no one I know voted for him."
The story is probably apocryphal -- relevant details have changed over the years -- but the enduring qualities of the anecdote deserve appreciation. It's easy, perhaps too easy, for all of us to extrapolate from our personal interactions and draw misleading conclusions based on limited data.
The Kael story came to mind today reading Peggy Noonan's latest Wall Street Journalcolumn in which the Republican pundit suggests Donald Trump has burgeoning support with Latino voters. No, that's not a typo.
Something is going on, some tectonic plates are moving in interesting ways. My friend Cesar works the deli counter at my neighborhood grocery store. He is Dominican, an immigrant, early 50s, and listens most mornings to a local Hispanic radio station, La Mega, on 97.9 FM. Their morning show is the popular "El Vacilón de la Mañana," and after the first GOP debate, Cesar told me, they opened the lines to call-ins, asking listeners (mostly Puerto Rican, Dominican, Mexican) for their impressions. More than half called in to say they were for Mr. Trump. Their praise, Cesar told me a few weeks ago, dumbfounded the hosts.
I later spoke to one of them, who identified himself as D.J. New Era. He backed Cesar's story. "We were very surprised," at the Trump support, he said. Why? "It's a Latin-based market!"
Noonan seems quite impressed with Cesar's perspective. He apparently claimed Latino callers to the same radio station also sided with Trump -- "He's the man," Cesar said of the Republican -- after this week's confrontation with Univision anchor Jorge Ramos.
Cesar went on to tell the GOP pundit that immigrants not only "don't like" undocumented immigrants, they also agree with Trump on "anchor babies."
Noonan went on to say that in recent travels, "almost wherever" she went, the columnist "kept meeting immigrants who are or have grown conservative."
And 43 years ago, everyone Pauline Kael knew just couldn't wait to vote for McGovern.
At an event last month, former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton acknowledged their personal interest in the 2016 race, but sounded optimistic about the kind of campaign Americans could expect.
"I know Jeb and I'm confident Secretary Hillary will elevate the discourse," Bush said of his brother.
It sounded like a worthy goal, and at the time, the Republican had reason to be optimistic -- the event was in early July, when Jeb Bush was still at or near the top of national GOP polling. A campaign that elevates the discourse is easier when it's winning.
It's quite a bit tougher, though, when a campaign hits a rough patch. The Washington Post's Dave Weigel reports today, for example, on Team Jeb tackling a story about, of all things, Donald Trump's sister.
It started with a Bloomberg Politics interview in which Mark Halperin asked about the Supreme Court and brought up the fact that Trump's sister is an appeals-court judge. The candidate sang his sister's praises, but said he'd rule her out for a high court nomination. Weigel picks it up from there:
[Trump's] quote ran on Aug. 26. One day later, National Review columnist Ramesh Ponnuru pointed out that Maryanne Trump Barry was reliably pro-choice, and once rejected a lawsuit to stop partial birth abortions for "semantic machinations" about when life began. Just 20 minutes after that article went up, Bush's spokesman and campaign manager tweeted it out, sexing it up a bit to say that Trump actually wanted to put his sister on the bench.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) believes his personal backstory is the perfect antidote to criticisms of his policy agenda. At the first debate for Republican presidential candidates held earlier this month, the Florida senator boasted about what the GOP can expect if he's the nominee: "We will be the party of the bartenders and the maids, of the people that clean our rooms and fix our cars."
At face value, the claim seemed odd, if not ridiculous. Rubio has outlined his economic vision, which is based largely on a tax-reform package that lavishes new wealth on the rich. What does this have to do with appealing to bartenders, maids, and mechanics?
The answer came in an interview this week with CNBC's John Harwood.
HARWOOD: How do you think people who live paycheck to paycheck will receive that your tax plan eliminates taxes on estates, capital gains, and dividends?
RUBIO: First of all, capital gains and dividends is investment. My father had a job as a bartender at a hotel. And the reason why he had a job as a bartender is because someone with money invested in that hotel. That's why he had a salary, and that's why he had tips.
In other words, the far-right senator is genuinely, sincerely committed to trickle-down economics.
Rubio seems to believe Republicans can go to bartenders, maids, and mechanics with a pitch: "We'll give big tax breaks to people 'with money.' Eventually, this will mean jobs for you -- top earners will need people to mix their drinks, clean their rooms, and repair their cars."
Much of the political world's attention has focused on the presidential campaign trail of late, and for good reason. Congress takes August off; President Obama has been on vacation; and his would-be successors have put on quite a show.
But as August nears its end, the White House remains quite cognizant of the challenges facing federal policymakers. Just yesterday, the president published a message on Twitter, explaining, "Amidst global volatility, Congress should protect the momentum of our growing economy (not kill it)." Obama added that the United States "must avoid" a government shutdown and austerity measures.
The message didn't come out of the blue. Current funding for the federal government expires at the end of September, and though Republican leaders intended to make progress with talks over their summer break, there's no indication that officials are any closer to a solution than they were in July. On the contrary, as was the case in 2013, some far-right members seem eager for a fight that would result in a shutdown.
And then, of course, there's the debt ceiling. On the one hand, we received some good news on this front from the Congressional Budget Office this week. The Washington Postreported:
Congressional leaders may have more time to work out a deal this fall to increase the federal borrowing limit, after new projections from Congress' scorekeeper showed tax revenues have been greater than expected this year. [...]
In July, the Treasury Department estimated the government would hit its $18.1 trillion borrowing limit at the end of October. CBO, however, now projects the debt ceiling will not need to be increased until mid-November or early December, while noting there is a level of uncertainty when determining the exact date.
On the other hand, the delayed deadline won't necessarily help. The Huffington Postreported: