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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump looks toward Jeb Bush, right, as Scott Walker watches during the first Republican presidential debate at the Quicken Loans Arena on Aug. 6, 2015, in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP)

Team Jeb adds Trump's sister to the mix

08/28/15 12:35PM

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.
Jeb's campaign manager actually pushed the story twice, "paging all pro-lifers."
 
Can't you just feel the discourse being elevated?
Image: Presidential Candidates Stump At Iowa State Fair

Rubio goes all in on trickle-down economics

08/28/15 11:26AM

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."
President Barack Obama walks toward the White House after landing on the South Lawn on Aug. 25 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Pool/Getty)

Obama reminds Congress about looming showdowns

08/28/15 10:48AM

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 Post reported:
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 Post reported:
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during his "Make America Great Again Rally" at the Grand River Center in Dubuque, Iowa, Aug. 25, 2015. (Photo by Ben Brewer/Reuters)

Will GOP 'loyalty oaths' trip up Trump campaign?

08/28/15 10:09AM

We've seen some reports this week noting that Donald Trump, who's repeatedly refused to rule out a third-party presidential bid, may no longer have a choice. CNN, for example, said the Republican frontrunner "must rule out a third-party bid before October if he wants to compete in South Carolina's Republican primary, a crucial test in the nominating contest."
 
Strictly speaking, that may not be entirely right. South Carolina's GOP does, in fact, require Republican presidential hopefuls to sign something akin to a loyalty oath, but the wording is almost comically weak: "I hereby affirm that I generally believe in and intend to support the nominees and platform of the Republican Party in the November 8, 2016 general election."
 
Could Trump sign the document about his "general beliefs" and then later change his mind? Maybe. Enforcing loyalty oaths is inherently tricky, so it's difficult to say with confidence what would happen if a candidate "intends" to support the party's nominee and then later changes his or her intentions.
 
Still, while the Republican National Committee has very little influence over Trump's chances, Politico reported this week that some state parties are starting to see loyalty oaths as a worthwhile tool aimed at the New York developer.
Amid mounting concerns about Donald Trump's candidacy from the GOP establishment, Republican leaders in at least two states have found a way to make life a lot harder for him.
 
The Virginia and North Carolina parties are in discussions about implementing a new requirement for candidates to qualify for their primary ballots: that they pledge to support the Republican presidential nominee -- and not run as a third-party candidate -- in the general election.
The move probably wouldn't cost Trump support within the party, but that's obviously not the point -- these GOP officials are worried about Trump bolting the party and splitting the right in the general election. They're looking for mechanisms to tie the candidates' hands, forcing them to commit to the party's process.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) addresses a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on March 3, 2015. (Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Mastering the fine art of losing well

08/28/15 09:34AM

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) announced his support for the international nuclear agreement with Iran overnight, as did Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.). Both members were considered "on the fence" and their endorsements reinforce broad perceptions that the diplomatic solution is likely to prevail.
 
It's against this backdrop that Slate's Fred Kaplan argues persuasively that some of the deal's high-profile opponents have made a serious strategic blunder.
If current trends hold, [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] and his stateside lobbyists -- mainly AIPAC -- are set to lose this fight. It’s politically risky for Israel’s head of state to go up against the president of his only big ally and benefactor; it’s catastrophic to do so and come away with nothing. Similarly, it’s a huge defeat for AIPAC, whose power derives from an image of invincibility. American politicians and donors might get the idea that the group isn’t so invincible after all, that they can defy its wishes, now and then, without great risk.
 
It would have been better for Netanyahu -- and for Israel -- had he maybe grumbled about the Iran deal but not opposed it outright, let alone so brazenly. He could have pried many more favors from Obama in exchange for his scowl-faced neutrality.
That's undoubtedly true. It's easy to imagine a scenario in which Netanyahu and his team looked ahead, counted heads, and applied some basic game theory. "Look," the prime minister could have told President Obama privately, "I'll obviously never endorse the deal, but in exchange for some new benefits, I'll scale back the opposition campaign." West Wing officials likely would have been amenable to working something out.
 
For that matter, if Netanyahu hadn't adopted such an obstinate, unconstructive posture, he could have also worked with the White House during the negotiations, possibly even having some influence over the shape of the outcome.
 
But the prime minister and his allies chose a different course: first try to kill the talks, then try to kill the deal. For his trouble, Netanyahu is likely to end up with ... nothing.
 
The policy will apparently move forward anyway, while Netanyahu has undercut Israel's relationship with his country's closest ally.
 
There is an art to losing well. The prime minister has conducted a clinic on what not to do.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announces his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination at Livingston High School on June 30, 2015 in Livingston Twp., N.J. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)

'I'm more scared of criminals than I am of guns'

08/28/15 08:44AM

In the wake of this week's shooting in Virginia of two journalists, President Obama mentioned in an interview, "What we know is that the number of people who die from gun-related incidents around this country dwarfs any deaths that happen through terrorism." As a simple matter of arithmetic, Obama's assessment is plainly true.

But Republican presidential hopeful Chris Christie wasn't impressed with the factual observation. "I don't know that anybody in America believes that they feel more threatened by this than they feel a threat by ISIS or by other terrorist groups around the world," the New Jersey governor said on Fox News.
 
It's a curious approach to the debate. For Christie, the president may be right, but the facts don't "feel" true. The governor doesn't know anyone who actually believes the truth -- statistically speaking, reality tells us Americans really are more threatened by gun violence than international terrorism -- and as such, the facts are somehow less important than the perception.
 
But this was the line that really stood out for me.
Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) said Thursday that enforcing existing gun laws should take precedence over new legislation, a day after the deadly shooting of two journalists during a live broadcast.
 
"I'll tell you what I am more scared of, I'm more scared of criminals than I am of guns," the 2016 presidential contender said during an interview on CNBC's "Squawk Box."
That seems like a line that would score well with focus groups, but it doesn't mean much,
Sen. Ted Cruz

The GOP's not-so-dynamic duo?

08/28/15 08:01AM

At an Iowa event a couple of weeks ago, a 9-year-old boy had a question for Donald Trump. “Mr. Trump?” he asked. "Are you Batman?"
 
“I am Batman,” the Republican answered.
 
Two weeks later, it seems we know he's auditioning for the role of Robin.
Call it a public display of political affection: Sen. Ted Cruz has invited Donald Trump to Washington next month for a rally against the Iran nuclear deal.
 
The two Republican rivals are set to appear at an event organized by the Tea Party Patriots, the Center for Security Politics, and the Zionist Organization of America, according to the Cruz campaign.
The event is tentatively set for September 9th, which should be shortly before Congress votes on legislation that would, if successful, derail the international nuclear agreement with Iran.
 
By any modern standard, it's quite unusual for rival candidates, running for the same party nomination at the same time, to team up like this, but in this case, neither Ted Cruz nor Donald Trump has much to lose. The far-right senator, who made the initial invitation to his ostensible foe, obviously wants to woo Trump supporters in the event the GOP frontrunner stumbles, and an event like this will help solidify Cruz's broader goals.
 
It's also largely the opposite of the strategy Lindsey Graham and Rick Perry tried for a while -- instead of making headlines by getting on Trump's bad side, drawing his ire, Cruz will stay in the spotlight by effectively partnering with the New York developer.
 
Trump, meanwhile, will get to be in front of the cameras for a big D.C. spectacle. Trump likes being in front of the cameras for big spectacles.
 
The big winners, however, may be Democratic supporters of the Iran deal.

Thursday's Mini-Report, 8.27.15

08/27/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Presumably Monday's rhetoric from the right no longer applies? "United States stock markets on Thursday turned in a second day of strong gains, reversing many of the losses sustained early in the week when global markets tumbled."
 
* A decade later: "Years after then-presidential hopeful Barack Obama declared 'America failed the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast', he returns to the city to hail Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts and highlight the region's resilience in the face of massive devastation."
 
* In related news, Michael "Heckuva Job" Brown, of FEMA notoriety, is still trying to avoid history's blame.
 
* What a dreadful story: "An abandoned truck 'full of bodies' was found on the side of a highway in eastern Austria on Thursday. Police said the dead were thought to be refugees."
 
* Guns: "Walmart said on Wednesday that it would no longer sell high-powered rifles in its stores in the United States. The decision followed years of public pressure on the retailer to stop selling some of the most lethal weapons associated with many of the nation’s mass shootings."
 
* Pakistan's fear of India carries dangerous consequences: "A new report by two American think tanks asserts that Pakistan may be building 20 nuclear warheads annually and could have the world’s third-largest nuclear stockpile within a decade."
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush in Londonderry, New Hampshire August 19, 2015. (Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters)

A candidate moving in the wrong direction

08/27/15 04:19PM

When looking at a presidential primary field of 17 candidates, there's no point in applying the usual standards for who's doing well and who's doing poorly. As a practical matter, the criteria comes down to this: if a candidate's support in the polls reaches double digits, he or she is arguably faring pretty well. Those with single-digit support have some work to do.
 
Keep that in mind when looking at the Quinnipiac poll we mentioned earlier.
Donald Trump leads the crowded Republican pack with 28 percent, up from 20 percent in a July 30 national survey by the independent Quinnipiac University.... Ben Carson has 12 percent, with 7 percent each for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. [...]
 
"Donald Trump soars; Ben Carson rises; Jeb Bush slips and some GOP hopefuls seem to disappear. Trump proves you don't have to be loved by everyone, just by enough Republicans to lead the GOP pack," said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.
Sure, in a crowded field, when one candidate is cruising well ahead of his rivals, he's inevitably going to get most of the attention. It's the blessing of frontrunner status -- you get the spotlight.
 
But the number that jumped out at me was 7%. That's where Jeb Bush stands as August nears its end. It's comparable to the 9% showing for the Florida Republican in the most recent Fox News poll.
 
Given recent history, this is arguably getting far less attention than it probably should be.
Bob Corker

GOP discovers it doesn't like filibusters after all

08/27/15 12:46PM

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) didn't just complain this week about the international nuclear agreement with Iran; he also targeted the nature of the Democratic support for the policy. Apparently, Senate Dems expect the Republican majority to get 60 votes for their plan -- and Cotton thinks that's outrageous.
 
"Harry Reid wants to deny the American people a voice entirely by blocking an up-or-down vote on this terrible deal," the right-wing freshman complained.
 
Ah yes, the ol' "up-or-down" vote -- the one thing the majority party loves, until it falls into the minority, at which point it rediscovers the "cooling saucer" metaphor, right up until it reclaims the majority and the cycle begins anew.
 
Cotton isn't alone, of course. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), upon learning of the likely Democratic filibuster, responded, "Are you kidding me?" Politico reported today:
"Is that where they really want to be? Do they really want to vote to block consideration of ... probably the biggest foreign policy endeavor?" Corker said in an interview. "Do they want to be in a place where they voted to keep from going to the substance [of the Iran debate]?"
Corker may not have fully thought this one through.

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Launched in 2008, “The Rachel Maddow Show” follows the machinations of policy making in America, from local political activism to international diplomacy. Rachel Maddow looks past the distractions of political theater and stunts and focuses on the legislative proposals and policies that shape American life - as well as the people making and influencing those policies and their ultimate outcome, intended or otherwise.

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