Once the 2012 election cycle came and went, and Republican officials examined Democratic successes up and down the ballot, GOP officials took deliberate and constructive steps to prevent another disaster.
Indeed, Republicans genuinely believed that it wasn't just their candidates and message that led to Democratic victories, but rather, the process itself undermined the party's chances and produced a weakened national nominee. The New Republic's Brian Beutler had a good piece on this about a month ago.
After the  election, the Republican National Committee set about sanding off the party's rough edges. It encouraged Republicans to pass immigration reform and soften their rhetorical tropes, and in so doing repair the party's relationship with a younger, more diverse segment of the electorate.
It also set about tightening the rules governing primary debates -- to limit the total number of them, exclude certain networks and moderators, and penalize candidates for circumventing the process. By doing so, the RNC hoped the party could escape its own primary without incurring the self-inflicted wounds it suffered in 2012.
And at face value, Reince Priebus' plan wasn't bad at all. Republicans would curtail the number of debates, choose moderators satisfying to the party, front-load the nominating process, and effectively stack the deck in favor of established, electable candidates. Before the process even began, GOP lawmakers would take lessons from the 2012 losses, pass immigration reform, and take steps to broaden the base.
The party, the argument went, would position itself for victory in 2016 by avoiding an embarrassing circus and steering clear of a madcap process that tarnished the party and its candidates alike.
Is anyone, on either side of the political divide, prepared to say the Republican plan worked?
Republican Rep. Joe Heck is a prominent U.S. Senate candidate in Nevada, and at first blush, the conservative congressman, running for an open seat, appears to be well positioned. Nevada is a fast-growing swing state with a diverse population, and Heck has previously won with fairly broad support.
But it won't be easy. Heck voted for a far-right budget plan that tried to scrap Medicare; he's opposed minimum-wage increases; the GOP candidate is a staunch opponent of reproductive rights; and he's even condemned Social Security as a pyramid scheme.
Last week, the Republican congressman even came down with a case of Trump-itis. The Las Vegas Review-Journalreported:
U.S. Rep. Joe Heck said Thursday that birthright citizenship should be on the table in the broader dialogue about immigration reform. [...]
"I think [birthright citizenship] needs to be part of the discussion," Heck said. "People want to talk about immigration reform so if we're going to talk about immigration reform, then let's talk about all aspects of immigration reform. Let's come up with a system of immigration that works for Americans. So I think it should be part of the discussion."
Asked about his party's presidential frontrunner, the congressman added, "I don't talk about Donald."
That's understandable, though when Heck said he's willing to take a look at changing birthright citizenship as "part of the discussion," he necessarily allowed Donald Trump to affect the direction of his Senate campaign.
When it comes to sexually transmitted infections, Louisiana is the wrong kind of national leader. As the New York Timesreported, the state "ranks first among the states in cases of gonorrhea, second in chlamydia, and third in syphilis and in H.I.V." It's not a record to be proud of.
It's also a public-health problem that will get worse if Louisiana Republicans, led by Republican presidential hopeful Bobby Jindal, succeed in scrapping all public funding for Planned Parenthood.
The political dispute embroiling Planned Parenthood here and nationwide is over abortion, though public funds are not permitted by federal law to be used for abortion, except in cases involving rape, incest or a pregnancy that threatens the mother's life. Neither clinic in this state — like nearly half of all Planned Parenthood centers — performs abortions. What the Louisiana Planned Parenthood clinics did do last year was administer nearly 20,000 tests for sexually transmitted infections, as well as provide gynecological exams, contraceptive care, cancer screenings and other wellness services for nearly 10,000 mostly low-income patients.
"You can't just cut Planned Parenthood off one day and expect everyone across the city to absorb the patients," Dr. Taylor said. "There needs to be time to build the capacity."
Dr. Taylor, in this case, is Dr. Stephanie Taylor, the medical director overseeing programs to combat sexually transmitted infections for the State Office of Public Health. As the NYT report added, she's also the director of Louisiana State University's sexually transmitted infections program.
When she argues that it'd be a mistake to simply cut off Planned Parenthood, Taylor knows of what she speaks.
Perhaps, as some conservatives claim, those resources can just be moved to other health organizations? Nope.
If recent polling is any indication, Republican voters place a premium on inexperience. Donald Trump, who's never worked in government at any level, is obviously the dominant GOP candidate, at least for now, but he's followed by Ben Carson, a retired far-right neurosurgeon who's never sought or held public office.
Add Carly Fiorina to the mix and their combined poll support points to a striking detail: about half of GOP voters are backing presidential candidates who've never worked a day in public service.
It's leading more experienced White House hopefuls to downplay their qualifications and pretend they're not so experienced after all. The Associated Press reported yesterday:
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker denies he's a career politician -- even though he has been in elected office since he was 25 years old and first ran for office when he was 22.
The 47-year-old Republican presidential contender said in an interview with CNBC, released Tuesday, that he is "just a normal guy" and rejects the career politician label despite being in politics for most of his adult life.
The two-term governor argued, "A career politician, in my mind, is somebody who's been in Congress for 25 years."
By any fair measure, this really is silly. There's no point in having a semantics debate over the meaning of the word "politician," but when Scott Walker dropped out of college, it's not because he was flunking -- he was motivated in part by a desire to run for public office. The Republican lost that race at the age of 22, but Walker then moved to a more conservative district, tried again, and won a state Assembly race at the age of 25.
The man has, quite literally, spent more than half of his life as a political candidate or political officeholder. As an adult, Walker's entire career has been in politics. The AP report added that Walker has served "nine years in the Assembly, eight years as Milwaukee County executive and is now in his fifth year as governor."
The political world learned on Monday that conservative provocateur James O'Keefe and his operation claimed to have damaging new information about Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. They scheduled a Tuesday morning press conference to unveil the findings, and everyone was assured, this was going to be a big deal.
So, what exactly did we learn yesterday from O'Keefe and his Project Veritas? MSNBC's Alex Seitz-Wald reported on the new, not-so-devastating expose.
[O'Keefe] claimed his hidden video cameras had caught two senior Clinton campaign officials accepting illegal contributions from a foreign citizen at the candidate's June kickoff rally in New York City.
The size of the donation -- $40 for a t-shirt -- did not impress the assembled press corps. "Is this a joke?" a reporter with the Daily Beast asked.
As best as I can tell, O'Keefe wasn't kidding. He organized an event at the National Press Club with under-cover proof of a Canadian buying a t-shirt.
As for why you should care about a Canadian buying a t-shirt, the story gets a little weird.
Any time a police officer is killed in the line of duty it's a tragedy, but when there are two slayings in quick succession, the anguish is that much more severe.
Late last week, Texas Sheriff's Deputy Darren Goforth was gunned down at a Houston-area gas station. And then yesterday in northern Illinois, Lt. Joseph Gliniewicz was killed, sparking a manhunt for three suspects.
It's against this backdrop that Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz (R-Texas) apparently sees an opportunity: the far-right senator wants Americans to blame President Obama, among others, for the brutal gun violence.
"Cops across this country are feeling the assault," Cruz told reporters after a town hall meeting in Milford, New Hampshire. "They're feeling the assault from the president, from the top on down as we see, whether it's in Ferguson or Baltimore, the response of senior officials of the president, of the attorney general, is to vilify law enforcement. That is fundamentally wrong, and it is endangering the safety and security of us all."
Yesterday, Cruz went further, accusing the president of "silence" on the issue, which the senator described as "completely wrong" and a "manifestation of the divisiveness, the partisanship and of the hostility to law enforcement that has characterized the entire Obama administration."
The GOP candidate has not yet produced any evidence of the president being hostile towards law enforcement.
Indeed, as a factual matter, Cruz's rhetoric is simply indefensible. Not only has law enforcement never faced an "assault" from the White House, but the president hasn't been "silent" at all -- Obama personally called Darren Goforth's wife; he issued a formal statement condemning the killing; and he spoke out against anti-police violence in general, calling it "completely unacceptable."
Cruz, in other words, is either lying or he has no idea what he's talking about.
But the Texas Republican isn't alone in playing a misplaced blame game. When the finger isn't being pointed at the White House, the right is lashing out at the Black Lives Matter movement, suggesting without proof that BLM activists are somehow responsible for violent attacks on law enforcement.
Can decent people of goodwill agree that exploiting the murders of police officers to score political points is wrong?
Rachel Maddow looks at how former President Jimmy Carter had established a legacy of personal good will and political civility, and how he has been embraced by Americans since his cancer diagnosis. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on fresh news that CNN has announced a change to its criteria to qualify for their Republican primary debate so that Carly Fiorina will likely not be relegated to the kids table debate, but thereby also ensuring that the kids table format is even more of an imposition on the process. watch
* A police officer was killed today in Illinois: "A growing manhunt is underway in northern Illinois for three armed suspects who fled after a police officer was fatally shot Tuesday morning. The unnamed Fox Lake police officer had radioed to dispatch before 8 a.m. local time that he was chasing three male suspects engaged in suspicious activity, Lake County Sheriff's spokesman Chris Covelli told reporters."
* ISIS: "The CIA and U.S. special operations forces have launched a secret campaign to hunt terrorism suspects in Syria as part of a targeted killing program that is run separately from the broader U.S. military offensive against the Islamic State, U.S. officials said."
* Syria: "An explosion in Syria's militant-controlled city of Palmyra destroyed the main building of the ancient Temple of Bel, the United Nations said Monday. Activists and Palmyra residents had said an Islamic State bombing extensively damaged the 2,000-year-old temple Sunday.... On Monday, the U.N.'s UNOSAT program said satellite analysis confirmed the building was demolished."
* Two more U.S. senators and seven more U.S. House members announced their support for the international nuclear agreement with Iran today. It's a safe bet that by the end of the week, the right will have simply lost the fight to gather the votes necessary to kill the diplomatic solution.
* Climate crisis: "President Barack Obama challenged fellow world leaders in unusually blunt language Monday to act boldly on climate change or 'condemn our children to a world they will no longer have the capacity to repair.' In a forceful address, Obama opened the 'GLACIER' conference in Anchorage, Alaska, by declaring: 'We are not moving fast enough. None of the nations represented here are moving fast enough.'"
* More volatility: "Stocks plummeted Tuesday on Wall Street after more data in China pointed to a sharp slowdown in the world's No. 2 economy."
* Michigan: "Two Michigan legislators forced their aides to do political and personal work on state time, including helping cover up their affair, and then lied repeatedly about their actions, according to an investigation by the State House of Representatives, whose findings were released Monday."
The Rachel Maddow Show got an exclusive look last night at the new, national poll from Public Policy Polling, which offered some tidbits that are worth appreciating in detail.
While top-line results are usually the most important takeaway from polls like these, that's only part of what's amazing about these new results. Consider this excerpt from the latest PPP report:
...51% [of Republican voters] overall want to eliminate birthright citizenship. 54% think President Obama is a Muslim. And only 29% grant that President Obama was born in the United States. That's less than the 40% who think Canadian born Ted Cruz was born in the United States.
Let that one roll around in your head for a moment. Nearly seven years into the Obama presidency, less a third of Republican voters believe the president was born in the United States. A significantly higher percentage believe Ted Cruz was born in the U.S -- and he wasn't.
Sometimes, when it comes to chronic breakdowns in the political process, the problem is with Republicans in Congress, who are too often an obstacle to good governance -- they're opposed to compromise, uninterested in policy outcomes, more reflexively partisan, etc. -- in ways the American mainstream is not.
But once in a while, it's worth holding Republican voters themselves responsible. This is one of those times. I'm sure partisan tribalism plays some role in misguided attitudes, but there's no excuse for willful ignorance on this scale.
Kentucky's Kim Davis ran out of legal options yesterday. The clerk, who opposes marriage equality for religious reasons, has refused to issue marriage licenses to couples she decides are morally objectionable, despite the fact that Davis is paid to issue marriage licenses.
She and her attorney took the matter to court, and a federal district court judge said Davis could either follow the law or get a new job. She took her case to the 6th Circuit, which is pretty conservative, but which nevertheless rejected her case. Last week, Davis appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which turned the case away yesterday.
All of which led to this morning, when Davis decided to ignore the court rulings, the law, and her official responsibilities. MSNBC's Emma Margolin reported:
A Kentucky clerk is still refusing to issue marriage licenses due to her religious opposition to same-sex nuptials, the Associated Press reported Tuesday, even after the U.S. Supreme Court dealt the final blow to her argument.
On Tuesday morning, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis denied marriage licenses to at least two couples, telling them she was acting "under God's authority." She then asked David Moore and David Ermold, a couple who has been rejected by her office four times, to leave.
When the local resident said, "We're not leaving until we have a license," Davis responded, "Then you're going to have a long day."
The Lexington Herald-Leaderreported this morning that the federal judge in the case ordered Davis to "appear in his courtroom Thursday and explain why she should not be held in contempt of court."
As a rule, judges tend not to like it when citizens ignore the law and deliberately defy court orders. It's worth noting for context that U.S. District Judge David Bunning, appointed to the bench by George W. Bush, is presiding over the case.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* Public Policy Polling shows Hillary Clinton leading Bernie Sanders nationally in the race for the Democratic nomination, 55% to 20%. The former Secretary of State's 35-point lead is identical to the findings of a national PPP survey released a month ago.
* As Rachel mentioned on the show last night, Rick Perry's operation in Iowa is down to just one staffer. Yesterday, Karen Fesler, Perry's Iowa co-chair, jumped ship, joining Rick Santorum's Iowa team.
* Mike Huckabee, who has been both for and against birthright citizenship, now wants everyone to know he's now open to ending the policy mandated by the 14th Amendment.
* In New Hampshire's closely watched U.S. Senate race, the latest PPP survey shows incumbent Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) with the narrowest of leads over Gov. Maggie Hassan (R), 44% to 43%. The governor has not yet formally announced her 2016 plans.
* In response to reports about slower mail delivery, Bernie Sanders is pushing USPS to improve its overnight delivery (thanks to my colleague Will Femia for the heads-up).
* Last week's "Draft Biden" event at the Democratic National Committee's summer meeting only drew about 15 attendees. Hundreds of DNC members were on hand for the seasonal gathering.
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