First up from the God Machine this week are some remarks from a leading Republican presidential candidate about the necessary religio-political qualifications for the White House.
Ben Carson, you'll recall, caused a controversy a couple of months ago when he argued that Muslim Americans, regardless of any other consideration, should be disqualified from the presidency because of their faith. This week, Ted Cruz approached a similar line, but in reference to a very different minority.
Right Wing Watch reported on the senator's appearance at right-wing pastor Kevin Swanson's "National Religious Liberties Conference" in Iowa, where he reflected on a presidential religious test.
Swanson introduced Cruz by stating that Jesus Christ "is king of the President of the United States whether he will admit it or not and that president should submit to His rule and to His law" before asking Cruz to share his opinion on how important it is for "the President of the United States to fear God."
Cruz, predictably, asserted that fear of God is absolutely vital, declaring that "any president who doesn't begin every day on his knees isn't fit to be commander-in-chief of this nation."
To be sure, Swanson's Iowa event was scandalous for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the pastor's argument that Scripture demands the death penalty for homosexuality.
But it was nevertheless unusual to hear another GOP presidential candidate make the case that an entire group of Americans should be considered "unfit" for national leadership.
It's probably worth noting there are plenty of faith traditions that don't require kneeling as part of worship, though I don't imagine Cruz was being literal. It's more likely the senator was referring to theists vs. atheists -- with the latter being dismissed as unworthy of the Oval Office.
Mother Jones' Kevin Drum added, "[T]he press threw a fit when Ben Carson suggested that Muslims weren't fit to be president. Will they throw a similar fit now that Cruz has suggested atheists are unfit to be president?"
My friend Rob Boston, meanwhile, highlighted the beliefs of many of the nation's Founding Fathers, many of whom would likely be excluded from the presidency under Cruz's test.
MSNBC's Richard Lui joins Alex Witt from Paris to describe the latest in Friday's attacks and the security measures being taken at Charles De Gaulle airport. Lui also talks with two individuals who were near the Bataclan venue at the time of the attacks. watch
Rachel Maddow relays a report from the Paris prosecutor with an update on the numbers of people killed at six individual locations in Paris, with the caveat that details are still developing and there are many injured. watch
Richard Engel, NBC News chief foreign correspondent, talks with Rachel Maddow about the context of the deadly attacks in Paris in the context of the competing interests of Islamic extremist terror organizations and rogue operatives. watch
Laura Haim, White House correspondent for Canal Plus, talks with Rachel Maddow about how the roaming nature of the attacks, some based from cars, created multiple scenes of killing, and make it difficult for authorities to say with specificity a distinct number of attacks. watch
* More on the deadly violence in Paris on tonight's show: "At least eighteen people were killed in an outbreak of explosions and at least one shootout in Paris Friday, according to police. Police in Paris told NBC News that several people had been shot at a restaurant, around the same time as at least one other incident."
* Afghanistan: "A crucial district in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand Province is close to falling to the Taliban after three days of heavy fighting left more than 60 Afghan troops dead, government officials said Friday night."
* Syria: "Two people were 'incinerated' in the U.S. airstrike targeting an ISIS terrorist known as 'Jihadi John,' and a military spokesman said Friday officials are 'reasonably certain' he was one of them."
* Iraq: "Kurdish and Yazidi fighters retook Sinjar on Friday morning, on the second day of a major offensive to reclaim this city in northern Iraq, which has been under the brutal domination of the Islamic State for more than 15 months."
* Good move: "A Utah judge reversed his decision to take a baby away from her lesbian foster parents and place her with a heterosexual couple after the ruling led to widespread backlash."
* Pentagon: "Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter has fired his top military aide for allegations of 'misconduct,' a highly unusual move prior to a formal investigation into possible misbehavior by the Army general."
* Climate crisis: "The IPCC has estimated that, to stay below 2°C of warming, we'll need to zero out our emissions and start removing between 2 and 10 gigatons of CO2 from the atmosphere each year by 2050. For perspective, all of the world's forests and soils put together currently remove just 3.3 gigatons of CO2 each year. So imagine doubling or tripling that. Planting more trees could help, but we'll need sweeping new carbon-removal techniques on top of that."
* An understandable reaction: "White House spokesman Josh Earnest couldn’t help but crack a smile when asked during a Friday press briefing about Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson’s claim that the Chinese military is involved in Syria. 'Maybe it violates my job description as a spokesperson to be speechless but I think in this case, I am,' Earnest told the assembled reporters, who laughed."
We've arguably reached the point at which high-profile Republicans should probably stop talking about addiction issues altogether. MSNBC's Aliyah Frumin reported this week on the latest discouraging comments.
Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas is suggesting there is a correlation between those who receive Social Security disability benefits and drug addiction.
During a speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation on Monday, the lawmaker said “It’s hard to say what came first or caused the other -- population decline or increased disability usage [in several Appalachian counties]. Or maybe economic stagnation caused both.” Either way, Cotton argued, there seems to be what he called a “disability tipping point” -- when such benefits become a norm instead of a last-resort safety net program.
With this in mind, the far-right freshman added, “Population continues to fall and a downward spiral kicks in, driving once-thriving communities into further decline. Not only that, but once this kind of spiral begins, communities could begin to suffer other social plagues as well, such as heroin or meth addiction and associated crime.”
At a certain level, I suppose it's a good thing when policymakers take an interest in addiction issues and look for root causes and possible solutions, but the idea of connecting disability benefits and "heroin or meth addiction" is hard to take seriously without evidence.
But just as alarming is the political pattern that's begun to emerge. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) recently made the case that heroin addiction only afflicts the unemployed. "If you work all day long, you don’t have time to do heroin," he recently told a New Hampshire audience.
Earlier this month, Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson argued "political correctness" bears some of the blame for Americans "throwing away all of our values and principles," which in turn creates an addiction epidemic.
Focusing on addiction issues is good. Far-right rhetoric on the issue, however, doesn't seem to be good at all.
By the time of the first debate for the Republican presidential field, there were 17 GOP candidates, which was a historic, almost ridiculous, total. But one of qualifications most of the candidates had in common went largely overlooked: 9 of the 17 were current or former governors.
Nine candidates would be a big field under any circumstances, but in this case, just the governors alone -- Bush, Christie, Gilmore, Huckabee, Kasich, Jindal, Pataki, Perry, and Walker -- had enough to field a baseball team. Add Democratic governors to the mix -- O'Malley and Chafee -- and the number swells to 11.
And at a certain level, this is understandable. For many in both parties, it's long been assumed that governors have the edge in the party's nominating contests, in part thanks to history -- Reagan, Carter, Clinton, W. Bush, Romney, et al -- and also because of the nature of the job. Being the chief executive of a state, the theory goes, offers ideal training for being the chief executive in the White House. Governors learn how to manage and respond to crises. They learn how to oversee a massive, bureaucratic team, while working opposite a legislature. They learn how to lead.
How many sitting GOP senators have ever been elected to the White House? Only one. It was Warren Harding, who was elected nearly a century ago. This is hardly accidental -- Americans tend to hate Congress, so they don't necessarily look to Capitol Hill for national leaders.
And yet, here we are. Two of the most experienced candidates of the cycle -- Rick Perry and Scott Walker, both governors -- have already quit (as has Lincoln Chafee). George Pataki and Jim Gilmore were excluded from the debates altogether this week, while Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee were relegated to the kids' table, where they joined Bobby Jindal. Jeb Bush and John Kasich made the prime-time stage, but both are struggling badly. The latter faced booing.
The Washington Post had a piece yesterday noting that this "is not the year of the governor," and pointed to a possible reason why.
So far, this campaign has not really been about policy. It’s been all about personalities.
The bigger issue is that governors are also no longer seen as outsiders. They’ve made compromises, and it is very difficult to stay ideologically pure when you’re leading a state. For example: From a conservative perspective, Walker had a very impressive record of achievements, aided by GOP majorities in both chambers of his state legislature. But many big donors, including the Koch brothers, zeroed in on his support for offering taxpayer help to build a new sports stadium, which Walker did to keep the Milwaukee Bucks from leaving town. That’s part of a governor’s job. But, in this climate, it is apostasy.
I think it's probably fair to say Walker failed for a great number of reasons, most of which extend well beyond his policy record, but the broader point is nevertheless well taken. Governors are struggling in this cycle in ways they traditionally have not.
But a record of compromises isn't a fully satisfying explanation. Governors like Jindal and O'Malley, for example, haven't broken with their party orthodoxy, and both are mired in low single digits in the polls.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* With only eight days remaining in Louisiana's gubernatorial race, two statewidepolls released yesterday show John Bel Edwards (D) leading David Vitter (R) by double digits.
* For his part, Vitter has unveiled a new ad starring one of the guys from the "Duck Dynasty" reality show.
* The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll shows Hillary Clinton's favorability rating improving to 83% among Democrats, well ahead of Bernie Sanders' 54%. Interesting tidbit: Clinton is now more popular among Democratic voters than any Republican candidate is among Republican voters.
* On a related note, the latest New York Times/CBS News poll shows Clinton leading Sanders nationally, 52% to 33%. That's slightly closer than the 24-point advantage she enjoyed in the same poll last month.
* Add Ben Carson to the list of GOP presidential hopefuls who stand ready to shoot down Russian planes over Syrian skies.
* After largely neglecting South Carolina for much of the year, Marco Rubio's campaign is reportedly ready to start investing more seriously in the first-in-the-South primary.
* In Wyoming, Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R) announced last night she's retiring at the end of this term, and failed Senate candidate Liz Cheney (R) has already said she's "seriously" looking at the statewide race.
There are arguably four top Republican candidates who are in serious contention for their party's presidential nomination: Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio. The tensions between them are rising, but the criticisms are increasingly limited to parallel tracks.
Yesterday, for example, half of the quartet -- the two who've actually been in politics for years -- went after each other over immigration. There's little to suggest Cruz and Rubio are interested in targeting Trump and Carson; they're too busy focusing on one another.
At the same time, it seems the Amateur Duo aren't focusing on Cruz and Rubio, so much as they care about each other. Note this report from NBC News' First Read:
It’s easy to have become a little numb to Donald Trump’s theatrics on the trail over the last five months, but his performance last night in Iowa shook them right back into perspective. NBC’s Katy Tur reports that, during a 96-minute speech, Trump compared Ben Carson’s self-described “pathological temper” to a “disease” like child molestation (“If you’re a child molester, a sick puppy, a child molester, there’s no cure for that - there’s only one cure and we don’t want to talk about that cure, that’s the ultimate cure, no there’s two, there’s death and the other thing.”)
Personal attacks are one thing; baselessly comparing an opponent (who is almost universally popular with your own base!) to a child molester is jaw-dropping.
Your mileage may vary, but for me, Trump's comments about Carson's mental health weren't even the most striking part of the New Yorker's 96-minute tirade. At the same Iowa appearance, he claimed to know more about ISIS "than the generals do"; he vowed to "bomb the s---" out of Middle Eastern oil fields; and at one point, he even acted out a scene in which Carson claims to have tried to stab someone as a teenager.
"If I did the stuff he said he did, I wouldn't be here right now. It would have been over. It would have been over. It would have been totally over," Trump said of Carson. "And that's who's in second place. And I don't get it."
Referring to Carson's more incredible claims, Trump added, “How stupid are the people of Iowa? How stupid are the people of the country to believe this crap?”
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