It's tempting to give Jeb Bush credit for being far less ridiculous than Donald Trump on, well, pretty much everything. Over the last week, as Trump's radicalism has exceeded any normal boundaries of propriety, the former governor has been willing to call out the New York developer for going too far.
But if Bush is going to claim any credit for taking the high ground, he's going to have to stop dipping his feet in the same waters in which Trump is taking a swim.
Last week, for example, the Florida Republican argued that the United States should reject Syrian refugees for reasons he has not yet explained. Bush later clarified that some refugees might be able to enter the country, but only if they’re members of a religious group he approves of.
“You’re a Christian – I mean, you can prove you’re a Christian,” Jeb inexplicably argued.
BuzzFeed reports today that Bush has done it again.
Republican presidential candidate and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said in a radio interview Tuesday that “you can tell when someone is a Christian in the Middle East” based on indicators such as their name and birth certificate.
“I can promise you that,” Bush told New Hampshire radio host Jack Heath. “By name, by where they’re born, their birth certificates. There are ample means by which to know this.”
He reportedly added that he supports pressing “the pause button” on welcoming Syrian refugees in order to ensure that refugee screening processes are “proper.” Bush has not, however, pointed to any specific shortcomings in the existing screening program.
Even putting this aside, there are two fairly obvious problems with his approach. First, his "you can tell" assurances notwithstanding, separating people who claim to be Christians from those who really are Christians isn't nearly as simple as Bush chooses to believe. Names and birthplaces offer hints, but what about sincere converts?
Over the weekend, Donald Trump was asked whether he'd bring back Bush/Cheney-era torture policies like waterboarding. “I would bring it back, yes,” the Republican said. “I would bring it back. I think waterboarding is peanuts compared to what they’d do to us, what they’re doing to us, what they did to James Foley when they chopped off his head.”
At an event in Ohio yesterday, Trump went a little further, telling his audience, "Would I approve waterboarding? You bet your ass I would -- in a heartbeat." But the GOP frontrunner wasn't done there. The Washington Postreported:
"And I would approve more than that. Don't kid yourself, folks. It works, okay? It works. Only a stupid person would say it doesn't work."
Trump said such techniques are needed to confront terrorists who "chop off our young people's heads" and "build these iron cages, and they'll put 20 people in them and they drop them in the ocean for 15 minutes and pull them up 15 minutes later."
"It works," Trump said over and over again. "Believe me, it works. And you know what? If it doesn't work, they deserve it anyway, for what they're doing."
That last part is obviously the most disgusting. The overwhelming evidence tells us that torturing detainees through waterboarding does not, in fact, "work" in producing valuable intelligence. Simply asserting the opposite, over and over again, doesn't change reality.
But note that Trump isn't overly concerned about the efficacy of illegal intelligence gathering. The Republican frontrunner conceded that even if torture tactics don't "work," he's inclined to commit war crimes anyway because "they deserve it."
And while it's easy to marvel at the sadistic nature of Trump's boasts, there's a larger context to this: he's not the only Republican presidential candidate putting torture on the table as a 2016 campaign issue.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* In the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, a 38% plurality of Republican voters nationwide believe Donald Trump has "the best chance" of winning the general election next year. Ben Carson is second with 22%.
* Rush Limbaugh defended Trump's bogus claims about 9/11 celebrations yesterday, with the radio host telling his audience that the Republican candidate made a good point, "regardless of the specific details."
* The first anti-Trump ad from John Kasich's super PAC was released yesterday, and as NBC News' report explained, it highlights a series of provocative remarks from the New York developer, including his boast that he has a great relationship with "the blacks," the boast that he'd date his daughter if she weren't his daughter, and the time he questioned John McCain's status as a "war hero."
* Mike Huckabee, who apparently is still running for president, said yesterday that President Obama's "new domestic terrorism plan probably requires Americans to memorize Koran verses." Dear Beltway pundits who told the public Huckabee is a great guy: you were wrong.
* In fundraising news, the RNC easily outpaced the DNC in October, $8.7 million to $4.5 million.
* In endorsement news, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio each increased their overall totals by one yesterday, with both Republicans adding one U.S. House member.
In the wake of the recent violence in Paris, there's been quite a bit of discussion, in the United States and elsewhere, about officials using every available tool to combat terrorism. One of the least controversial measures involves attacking terrorist networks' finances.
With that in mind, it matters a great deal that President Obama has nominated Adam Szubin to serve as the Treasury Department’s under secretary for terrorism and financial crimes. As the Huffington Postreported last week, this specific job "involves tracking terrorists to prevent them from raising money on the black market and elsewhere."
The good news is, Szubin enjoys bipartisan support, and Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) has praised his past work in taking on terrorist financing in previous administrations.
The bad news is, Szubin's nomination has been pending since mid-April -- over 200 days ago -- and the Senate Republican leadership hasn't bothered to bring the nomination to the floor for a vote, despite the fact that he faces no real opposition.
Bloomberg's Jonathan Bernstein noted yesterday that this fits into a pattern of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) instituting a "roadblock" against President Obama's nominations in ways with no modern precedent from either party.
It’s a Senate engaged in pure partisan harassment of Obama, and indifferent to the smooth functioning of government. Agencies can’t function at their best without confirmed presidential picks in place. [...]
We’ll never know what the specific consequences are of not filling crucial positions. For example, if the Treasury Department were fully staffed, would it be able to stop money flowing to terrorists to finance a particular attack? It’s grossly irresponsible of McConnell and his colleagues to keep government from doing what they say it should do: operate efficiently and protect its citizens.
We've seen plenty of examples of Republicans balking at qualified Obama nominees for partisan or ideological reasons, but that doesn't apply in this case, since Szubin doesn't seem to have any actual Senate critics. McConnell hasn't even tried to justify the delay, because "we slow-walk every Obama nominee, regardless of merit" seems ridiculous when spoken aloud.
For much of the summer, there was a very real possibility that Donald Trump would run for president on a third-party ticket if his Republican campaign faltered. Pressed repeatedly to rule out the independent option, the New Yorker demurred, causing considerable handwringing in GOP circles.
By September, however, the matter appeared to be resolved. Trump signed -- and publicly waved around -- a "loyalty pledge" binding him to the Republican nominating process. The speculation about a third-party run quickly evaporated.
And now it's back. On Sunday, ABC News' George Stephanopoulos noted a Wall Street Journalarticle about Republican insiders planning to launch a guerrilla campaign against Trump. The host asked the candidate if he'd "reconsider" an independent bid. "Well, we'll see what happens," Trump replied. "It will be very interesting." Moments later, there was this exchange:
STEPHANOPOULOS: But you're open to an independent run?
TRUMP: Well, I'm going to have to see what happens. I will see what happens. I have to be treated fairly. You know, when I did this, I said I have to be treated fairly. If I'm treated fairly, I'm fine. All I want to do is a level playing field.
Yesterday, the Republican added on Twitter, referring to the Wall Street Journalarticle Stephanopoulos mentioned, that his party is "getting ready to treat me unfairly." Trump concluded, "That wasn’t the deal!"
The wording mattered. If Trump believes he reached an agreement with Republican Party officials, and the party is now reneging on the deal, then he may very well feel justified in breaking the "loyalty pledge" he signed -- since in his mind, his intra-party partners didn't hold up their end of the bargain.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was on the Iowa campaign trail yesterday, and shared some thoughts on his vision for combating ISIS. NBC News reported:
...Rubio said he wanted to show the world how ISIS leaders "cry like babies" when captured in hopes of dissuading recruits from joining on to the extremist group.
"I believe we should be carrying out attacks against Sunni leadership nodes, videotaping the whole thing and putting it up on YouTube so that the world can see these people are not invincible," he said. "I want the world to see how these ISIS leaders cry like babies when they're captured. I want the world to see how these ISIS leaders, once captured, begin to sing like canaries if they survive."
He added that he wants young fighters around the world thinking of joining the Islamic State to have "second thoughts" when they see "how easily humiliated they are by Americans."
At a certain level, such a campaign may seem emotionally satisfying, but there's ample reason to believe showing video footage of captured prisoners is strictly prohibited under the Geneva Convention. In March 2013, when Iraqi officials released footage of American prisoners facing interrogation, U.S. officials condemned the tactic as "appalling."
The Florida senator has not yet explained why he believes his preferred tactic would be legal.
As part of the same campaign swing, Rubio added that President Obama's efforts against ISIS are "all symbolic," because the senator believes the president "doesn't want to embroil us in another conflict."
As of last week, U.S. forces, acting on Obama's orders, have launched 6,471 airstrikes against ISIS targets in the Middle East. I'm not sure how Rubio defines "symbolic," but it's not an adjective that comes to mind.
Rich Lowry reported yesterday in National Reviewon the state of the Republican presidential race in Iowa, concluding, "It’s hard to exaggerate how much things have broken [Ted] Cruz’s way."
Just 24 hours later, there's some pretty compelling evidence that this assessment is correct. Here's the new Quinnipiac poll out of the Hawkeye State:
1. Donald Trump: 25% (up from 20% in October)
2. Ted Cruz: 23% (up from 10%)
3. Ben Carson: 18% (down from 28%)
4. Marco Rubio: 13% (unchanged)
No other candidate is above 5%, though it's worth noting that Jeb Bush, who actually had the lead in Iowa in the early summer, is down to just 4% support -- one percentage point lower than Rand Paul.
Nevertheless, it's the top tier that's the most striking. Politico's Glenn Thrush characterized the Quinnipiac poll as the "most important development in the race in months," which may seem a little hyperbolic, but don't dismiss the point too quickly.
In the wake of the terrorist violence in Paris, Republicans saw an opportunity to change the direction of the political conversation. The attacks reminded American voters about national security threats, which GOP officials necessarily see as good news for their party -- since polls have consistently shown the public siding with Republicans on the issue, the party's woeful track record notwithstanding.
But these assumptions may be due for a reevaluation. Consider the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll.
A crescendo of tough talk on Syrian refugees and terrorism seems to be elevating the toughest talkers in the GOP primary -- most notably Donald Trump. But among the broader American public, the most trusted person to handle the issue is Hillary Clinton. [...]
By 50 percent to 42 percent, more Americans say they trust Clinton to handle the threat of terrorism than Trump, who leads the Republican field and responded to the Paris terrorist attacks by calling for heightened surveillance of mosques and redoubling his opposition to allowing Syrian refugees to settle in the U.S.
Clinton's eight-point advantage over Trump wasn't unique: the same poll showed the Democratic frontrunner also leading Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush when respondents were asked, "Who would you trust more to handle the threat of terrorism?"
This is obviously just one poll, and we'd need more data before drawing sweeping conclusions, but if the results are accurate, there's a rational explanation. The question, after all, deals with preparedness. Clinton has the most foreign-policy experience of any presidential candidate in a generation, while nearly all of her Republican rivals are either literal or practical amateurs.
It doesn't happen often, but once in a great while, videos that don't exist can cause a stir. In 2008, for example, a variety of far-right activists claimed they saw footage of Michelle Obama referring to white people as "whitey." The video was fictional -- the conservatives who made the claims were lying -- but the chatter surrounding the made-up story grew pretty loud.
More recently, Republican presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina falsely claimed she'd seen an abortion-related video that does not, in reality, exist. Pressed for an explanation, Fiorina simply dug in, stubbornly pretending fiction is fact.
And this week, as Rachel noted on the show last night, we're confronted once more with a high-profile Republican trying to make an offensive point by pointing to footage that exists only in the world of make-believe.
At issue are imaginary reports from 9/11 that Trump believes show "thousands and thousands" of Jersey City residents of Middle Eastern descent cheering when the Twin Towers fell. The Republican frontrunner initially made the claim late last week, but he's now repeated it and defended it several times since -- pointing to news coverage Trump claims to have seen, but which remains entirely imaginary.
[I]n a sign the campaign and Trump himself may be at least a little concerned about the way his comments are perceived, the Donald made an impromptu call to NBC News Monday afternoon. Offering reassurance that he had indeed seen video of the celebrations on television on and “all over the Internet,” Trump said, “I have the world’s greatest memory. It’s one thing everyone agrees on.”
Trump even asked for news organizations to apologize to him for fact-checking his made-up claim. "Many people have tweeted that I am right!" he argued on Twitter, as if this were persuasive.
Making matters slightly worse, Trump's obvious nonsense was also briefly endorsed yesterday afternoon by one of his GOP rivals.
Rachel Maddow reports on developments within the Republican race for the 2016 presidential nomination, the most significant of which is front-runner Donald Trump's insistence on a lie about thousands of Muslims celebrating in New Jersey on 9/11. watch
Rachel Maddow tells the story of civil rights activist Minoru Yasui, who resisted Japanese-American internment and curfews in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Yasui will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Tuesday. watch
Rachel Maddow reports breaking news that the U.S. State Department has issued a worldwide travel warning for Americans, citing the threat of terrorism and cautioning Americans against large crowds or crowded places. watch