Do you ever see a news headline and find yourself saying, out loud, "Uh oh"? This is not an uncommon occurrence at my desk, and just such an occasion happened this afternoon.
The Haaretz headline read, "Senator Lindsey Graham: Everything that starts with 'Al' in the Mideast is bad news." Like I said, uh oh.
"Everything that starts with 'Al' in the Middle East is bad news," said U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina at an AIPAC dinner in Boston on Monday. "Al-Qaida, Al-Nusra, Al-Qaida in the Arab Peninsula," said the senator, who may be running for president. [...]
The problem -- linguistically -- with Graham's comment is that "Al" is the definite article in Arabic (i.e. equivalent to English's "the"), and usually appears before most Arabic proper nouns, especially place and personal names.
Lindsey Graham is not without his folksy charms, and on Capitol Hill, the South Carolina Republican has developed a well-deserved reputation for being good humored.
But I'm going to hope that this is one joke Graham wishes he could take back.
Earlier this year, the Republican National Committee unveiled a schedule of party-approved primary debates for the 2016 presidential race. Between August and February, GOP candidates will meet for nine debates, a third of which will be hosted by a Fox network. (The Democratic National Committee unveiled its smaller debate schedule today.)
Almost immediately, however, a problem emerged: how exactly are Republicans going to hold debates for the largest field of candidates in American presidential history? Zeke Miller reported yesterday on the challenge, which relevant players are still working on.
Largely out of view, executives and journalists from Fox and CNN, with input from the national party, are weighing the entrance criteria for the first two debates. Among the options being considered is using polling as a rough inclusionary test, followed by a fundraising metric -- dollars raised or the number of individual donors activated. All of these things are in flux as the networks and the national party struggle with the largest plausible debate field in history.
"This is truly historic in that normally you are trying to get people into the debates and now you are trying to whittle people out of the debates," said one Republican operative familiar with the debate process. "You've never had more than 10 candidates in either party on a debate stage. You could get to at least 16 to 17 candidates and make a legitimate case for them being there -- easy."
That's actually a fairly conservative number. I'd say there are probably 14 candidates likely to compete for the Republican nomination: Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Rick Perry, John Kasich, Rick Santorum, Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, and Carly Fiorina.
We can probably add two former governors -- James Gilmore and George Pataki -- to the mix, along with John Bolton and Donald Trump. That's 18.
Two current governors -- Mike Pence and Rick Snyder -- certainly seem interested, as does former Gov. Bob Ehrlich. Peter King has publicly talked up the possibility, too, bringing us to a total of 22, enough to hold an 11-on-11 football scrimmage.
All of this, of course, leads to some practical questions, including who gets to participate in debates, but there's also an overarching question: why in the world is the Republican field so big?
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) may seem like yesterday's news in the world of Republican politics, not having won an election in 12 years and not having served in any public office in nearly nine years. But the preacher-turned-politician-turned-pundit-turned-politician-again still has a base of support and sees a national opportunity.
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee from his hometown Tuesday announced his second run for president, declaring to an auditorium of cheers that he is ready to help take America "from hope to higher ground."
"I am a candidate for president of the United States," he said.
Huckabee put together a respectable showing in his 2008 race, but struggled to raise money, and failed to rally support outside the party's evangelical base. The Arkansan -- who now calls Florida home -- has held onto many of those supporters and enters the race as a credible, second-tier contender, leading much of the large GOP field.
But by most measures, Huckabee remains a factional candidate who will struggle to compete for his party's nomination.
Broadly speaking, Republican politics at the national level is comprised of three contingents: social conservatives (anti-gay, anti-abortion), economic conservatives (tax breaks for the rich, deregulation), and military hawks (more wars). The more a GOP presidential candidate can appeal to voters across the factions, the greater his or her chances of success.
Huckabee clearly excels with the religious right, which applauds his radical worldview on cultural and social issues, but the problem he can't shake is simple: the other two contingents aren't just backing other candidates; they actively despise Huckabee.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items that won't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:
* Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) will reportedly kick off his presidential campaign this afternoon. More on this story a little later this afternoon.
* In the new NBC/Wall Street Journalpoll, Jeb Bush leads his party's 2016 field at the national level with 23% support, followed by Marco Rubio with 18%, and Scott Walker at 14%.
* The NBC poll also found Hillary Clinton with the best favorability numbers of any national presidential candidate. The Democratic frontrunner also leads each of her Republican rivals in hypothetical general-election match-ups, by margins ranging from 4 points (vs. Rand Paul) to 10 points (vs. Scott Walker).
* Finally, note that President Obama's approval rating in the NBC poll ticked up to 48%, his strongest support in nearly two years. That's 13 points better than George W. Bush's standing at this point eight years ago, and it has the potential to make a big difference in the next election.
* A week after a few dozen House Republicans voted to delay protections for veterans against predatory lenders, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is launching "digital and direct mail ads" targeting some of the GOP lawmakers who sided with the banking industry.
* In Florida's open U.S. Senate race, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has already thrown its support behind Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.), despite the fact that the field is not yet settled. The endorsement was unwelcome news for Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), who's expressed an interest in the statewide campaign.
The Associated Press recently ran a headline Gov. Bobby Jindal's (R) campaign team probably didn't want to see: "Jindal to leave Louisiana's next governor with budget mess."
The headline understated the case. The Republican governor's tax breaks failed to deliver the economic growth Jindal expected, and the resulting fiasco is just ugly -- the far-right policymaker inherited a healthy, $900 million budget surplus from his Democratic predecessor, but Jindal is wrapping up his second term struggling to fill a $1.6 billion budget hole.
But Bloomberg Politics reported yesterday that, despite these conditions, the likely Republican presidential candidate is prepared to protect certain expenses Jindal considers important. That includes, for example, protecting benefits for his favorite reality-TV show.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a potential Republican presidential candidate, is trying to close a $1.6 billion budget hole without touching as much as $415,000 per episode in tax breaks that may be due to "Duck Dynasty."
The A&E television reality show takes part in the nation's most generous entertainment-tax credit program. Jindal is proposing no changes, arguing that reducing such breaks is tantamount to raising taxes. The state approves enough incentives each year to make up at least $200 million in proposed cuts that led Louisiana State University to say that it may plan for insolvency.
Louisiana's fiscal outlook continues to deteriorate and state economic growth is among the worst of any state in the nation.
Ed Kilgore added that the closer one looks at Jindal's policy, the more egregious it appears.
Organizations like Planned Parenthood wouldn't be able to contract with the state of Michigan under a $37.86 billion budget passed by the House of Representatives Tuesday. [...]
Amendment WW adopted Tuesday would amend state law to keep the state from contracting "with an organization which provides elective abortions, abortion counseling or abortion referrals." The amendment also bans organizations under contract with the state from contracting with the same types of organizations.
The report from MLive Media quoted one GOP leader who said "multiple members of the House Republican caucus expressed concern about state dollars going to support Planned Parenthood."
OK, and exactly how much state money is currently going to support Planned Parenthood? Well, in the most recent Michigan budget, the grand total was $0. In the budget before that, it was $0.
Michigan Republicans, however, are unsatisfied with this, pushing a measure to prevent Planned Parenthood from ever receiving public funds -- even for health services that have nothing to do with abortion.
Regardless, the GOP's campaign against Planned Parenthood became a national issue in advance of the 2012 campaign -- when the so-called "Republican war on women" was taking shape -- and it's clear that the party's focus hasn't changed in advance of the 2016 campaign.
In every possible way, Republicans don't like to talk about President Obama's rescue of the American auto industry. As a policy matter, the GOP predicted the policy would fail, and they were wrong. As an ideological matter, Republicans said government intervention in the private sector like this always produces disaster, and the White House definitely proved otherwise.
And as an electoral matter, GOP opposition to Obama's successful policy pushed Michigan out of reach for Mitt Romney in 2012 and Terri Lynn Land in 2014.
But the debate isn't really over, at least insofar as Michigan still likes to know where candidates and policymakers stand on the administration's rescue of the industry. Two weeks ago, for example, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) didn't deny the fact that the president's policy worked, but the Republican presidential hopeful nevertheless said Obama's successful approach wasn't "the right way to handle" the crisis in 2009.
The president's policy may have worked, but Rubio believes the solution was "problematic."
Yesterday, Gov. Scott Walker (R) was in Michigan, where Bloomberg Politics asked about the issue.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker on Monday joined the list of politicians who've deflected this question from Michigan reporters: Would you have supported the U.S. loans to General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC to get through their 2009 bankruptcies?
"That's a hypothetical question in the past. We're going to talk about the future," Walker said after speaking to 120 Lansing Republicans in an Oldsmobile car museum ....
There is some truth to the response -- the crisis was in the recent past and asking how the governor would have responded is, obviously, a hypothetical.
But Walker's response was nevertheless woefully inadequate.
For much of President Obama's first term, the Republican line was pretty straightforward: there's a jobs crisis and the White House's agenda isn't lowering the unemployment rate fast enough.
In the president's second term, the GOP line has evolved: the unemployment rate may have dropped dramatically, but it doesn't count because the number has been manipulated.
Newly declared Republican presidential contender Ben Carson says you shouldn't trust the Obama administration when it says the nation's unemployment rate stands at only 5.5 percent.
"Many of these people buy -- hook, line and sinker -- the idea that our economy is getting much better and that the unemployment rate is down to 5.5 percent," the famed neurosurgeon told supporters at Monday's campaign announcement in Detroit.
According to the retired right-wing neurosurgeon, if the nation's unemployment rate were actually 5.5 percent, "our economy would be humming," so the rate "obviously" isn't 5.5 percent -- it's just what "slick politicians and biased media" want Americans to believe.
Carson added, "[W]hat you have to know is that you can make the unemployment rate anything you want it to be based on what numbers you include and what numbers you exclude. You have to look at the labor force participation rate."
This comes up from time to time, invariably from Republicans who don't want Obama to get credit for a vastly improved economy. But it's important to understand the degree to which Carson's argument, and the point pushed by unemployment truthers in general, doesn't make sense.
Last month, the Federal Election Commission was planning to host an event honoring the agency's 40th anniversary. In a dispute that seemed perfectly emblematic of the FEC's dilemmas, Democrats and Republicans on the commission couldn't agree on where to hold the gathering -- or what to serve for breakfast.
The ostensible purpose of the FEC is to enforce the nation's federal election laws, imposing at least some limits on the role of money in the political process. But as the New York Timesreported, a combination of overlapping factors have created a Wild West-like environment in which the FEC struggles to complete basic tasks.
The leader of the Federal Election Commission, the agency charged with regulating the way political money is raised and spent, says she has largely given up hope of reining in abuses in the 2016 presidential campaign, which could generate a record $10 billion in spending.
"The likelihood of the laws being enforced is slim," Ann M. Ravel, the chairwoman, said in an interview. "I never want to give up, but I'm not under any illusions. People think the F.E.C. is dysfunctional. It's worse than dysfunctional."
In theory, the role of a watchdog agency like the FEC has never been more important than it is right now. In the wake of the Citizens United case, the proliferation of super PACs, and the domination of so-called "dark money," the public desperately needs some kind of cop on the beat, serving as a check against candidate excesses and billionaires who hope to shape the American electoral process to advance their own agenda.
But as the need for a functional FEC grows, the commission itself is effectively paralyzed. The agency is led by six commissioners -- three Democrats and three Republicans -- who respond to every dispute with a 3-to-3 tie.
The Times' report added, "Some commissioners are barely on speaking terms, cross-aisle negotiations are infrequent, and with no consensus on which rules to enforce, the caseload against violators has plummeted."
For her part, Ann Ravel, who led California's state ethics panel before joining the FEC two years ago, had high hopes of getting the agency back on track, confident that she could "bridge the partisan gap" with the FEC's Republican members. Ravel has since discovered that this goal is simply impossible. Left with no choice, the FEC chair is now hoping to shed a light on the commission's paralysis.
If proponents of the "Jade Helm 15" conspiracy theory hoped to generate more attention for their bizarre cause, they've succeeded -- it's become a national story. But as was obvious on "The Daily Show" last night, the attention isn't exactly positive for the fringe activists and their fringe paranoia.
As we discussed last week, right-wing conspiracy theorists fear the Obama administration is planning some kind of invasion of Southwestern states, and as the Houston Chronicle noted, the activists also believe "Walmart is in on it."
It's tough to understand as a coherent thought, but those who fear Obama-imposed martial law apparently suspect Walmart stores in Texas will be used to detain prisoners and/or serve as staging areas. "Secret underground tunnels" are also somehow expected to be involved.
It's all quite silly, but enough people have come to believe the nonsense that the retail behemoth actually issued a statement responding to the conspiracy theory. TPM reported yesterday:
Wal-Mart issued a statement Monday to TPM dismissing "rumors" that tunnels were being built by the U.S. military beneath closed stores in an attempt to launch a takeover of Texas.
"There's no truth to the rumors," Wal-Mart spokesperson Lorenzo Lopez told TPM via email.
Of course, there's an inherent falsification problem in a situation like this: those who are inclined to believe the crackpot ideas are equally inclined to reject official denials. "That's just what they want us to think," they say.
But reality-based officials are nevertheless doing their best. In addition to Walmart, a Pentagon spokesperson added yesterday that the uncontroversial training exercise "poses no threat to any American's civil liberties" and that the "wild speculation" is unfounded.
This, alas, will have no effect whatsoever on the "debate," such as it is, since the fringe conspiracy theorists assume the Defense Department is helping orchestrate the scheme.
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