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Monday's Mini-Report, 8.31.15

08/31/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* ISIS: "Turkey has launched its first wave of airstrikes as part of the United States-led coalition to fight the Islamic State, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement Saturday."
* Texas: "Authorities have arrested a suspect in the 'execution-style' shooting of a uniformed Texas sheriff's deputy. Shannon J. Miles, 30, has been charged with capital murder in the fatal shooting of Harris County Sheriff's Deputy Darren H. Goforth, officials said Saturday afternoon."
* Texas: "A statue of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy during the Civil War, was taken down from its pedestal outside the clock tower on the University of Texas at Austin campus on Sunday, after a legal appeal to keep the memorial in place was rejected."
* New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran (R) was charged late last week with "embezzlement, fraud and other criminal violations, including allegations that the high-ranking Republican diverted campaign contributions for her personal use."
* Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.) both endorsed the international nuclear agreement with Iran today, bringing the deal that much closer to congressional success.
* On a related note, this is deeply unfortunate for Democratic politics: "Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz prevented consideration of a resolution at the party's summer meeting here that praised President Obama and offered backing for the nuclear agreement with Iran, according to knowledgeable Democrats."
* Ya don't say: "Experts in government secrecy law see almost no possibility of criminal action against Hillary Clinton or her top aides in connection with now-classified information sent over unsecure email while she was secretary of state, based on the public evidence thus far."
Ted Rafael Caroline Cruz

Is Ted Cruz prepared to give his father the spotlight?

08/31/15 04:30PM

It's nearly always unfair to judge political candidates by the actions of their relatives. When politicians enter the fray, they necessarily invite scrutiny, but it's best to consider members of their family -- private citizens, uninvolved in the process -- off-limits.
But the rules change when a candidate welcomes immediate family members into the arena. Take Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), for example, whose father, right-wing activist Rafael Cruz, spoke at the National Federation of Republican Assemblies over the weekend.
In a 45-minute talk, the 76-year-old criticized his son's leading rivals for inconsistencies on immigration, abortion and education. He decried the Supreme Court for "calling homosexuality a civil right," accused the Republican Party of "relegating God to the basement" for the sake of "inclusion," and defended Ted against questions from conservative birthers.
"The battle is not November of 2016. The battle is the primary," Cruz said during a prayer breakfast, conveying apologies from his son that he was not able to make it. "Stop listening to their rhetoric and start looking at their record. Jesus put it this way: You shall know them by their fruit. It's about time we do some fruit checking."
The Republican presidential candidate's father appears to have gone on quite a tear, blasting his son's rivals on "amnesty," Common Core, and being insufficiently opposed to reproductive rights.
According to the Washington Post's report, Rafael Cruz also lashed out at the Supreme Court's marriage equality ruling. "I think the Devil overplayed his hand this time," he said. "They're calling homosexuality a civil right. The next obvious step is that they're going to come to your church and demand to be hired!"
Obviously, in reality, that's foolish, but the point here is that Rafael Cruz seemed to be playing the role of a campaign surrogate -- the far-right senator couldn't attend the National Federation of Republican Assemblies' event, but Cruz Sr. could.
And that creates a complicated dynamic.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reaches out to hug a supporter after he spoke at the National Federation of Republican Assemblies on Aug. 29, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Mark Humphrey/AP)

Reading Nixon's script a little too closely

08/31/15 12:46PM

Donald Trump's support from Republican voters has caught much of the political world flat-footed -- few expected the GOP candidate to dominate the race for the Republican nomination at this point. It's left pundits looking for parallels and credible points of comparison to help make sense of the odd dynamic.
Maybe Trump is the new Wendell Willkie, the Republican presidential candidate from 1940 and the last major-party nominee to appear on the national ballot despite having literally no experience in government. Or perhaps Trump is the new Herman Cain, an inexperienced personality who looked strong the summer before voting began, but whose fortunes quickly faltered.
For others, Trump may be the new Pat Buchanan, who also mastered the art of far-right populism while combating the Republican establishment during an ill-fated presidential candidate.
But reading this Washington Post piece, a very different comparison came to mind.
Sharpening his pitch to what he calls "the silent majority," Donald Trump presented himself Saturday as the "law and order" candidate in the 2016 presidential race, pledging to "get rid" of gangs and give more power to police officers.
Speaking to the National Federation of Republican Assemblies for more than an hour, in the heart of a Southern city where student sit-ins helped launch the 1960s-era civil rights movement, the Republican complained that cops are afraid to be tough in the face of more scrutiny over their tactics.
At one point, the Republican reportedly told the audience, "That first night in Baltimore, they allowed that city to be destroyed. They set it back 35 years in one night because the police weren't allowed to protect people. We need law and order!"
In case it's not obvious, Trump's rhetoric isn't just an echo of Richard Nixon's message in 1968; in some cases, it's literally the same, word for word. Nixon's "law and order" message was a cornerstone of his presidential pitch, as was his rhetoric about "the silent majority."
It's one thing to be inspired by a former official, or perhaps make an homage to a leader from yesteryear, but Trump at this point is effectively appropriating some of Nixon's most famous phrases as his own. (The two even have Roger Stone in common.)

Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.31.15

08/31/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* In a bit of a shock, a new Monmouth poll in Iowa shows Donald Trump and Ben Carson tied for the Republican lead with 23% each. Carly Fiorina -- the other GOP candidate who has no experience in public office -- is third with 10%, followed by Ted Cruz with 9%. Scott Walker, once seen as the Iowa frontrunner, is fifth in the poll with 7%.
* In Nashville, Tennessee, over the weekend, Trump won a presidential straw poll at the National Federation of Republican Assemblies event. The New York GOP candidate, often accused of having an unhealthy ego, told attendees Saturday, "I don't want it to be about me. This is about common sense."
* Some of the details are murky, but Politico reported over the weekend, "Three top Jeb Bush fundraisers abruptly parted ways with his presidential campaign on Friday, amid internal personality conflicts and questions about the strength of his candidacy."
* Hillary Clinton is poised to get a boost in New Hampshire, thanks to an endorsement from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).
* Bernie Sanders is no doubt aware of electability concerns surrounding his campaign, but when the Vermont Independent spoke at the DNC's summer meeting, he turned the thesis on its head -- the senator told Democratic activists that he's the only candidate in the Democratic field who can win.
* Former President George H.W. Bush yesterday released another fundraising letter on his son's behalf. The appeal begins, "I need your help."
* Chris Christie chided Carly Fiorina late last week over her concerns regarding entry standards for the next Republican debate. "If Carly wants to quibble about debate rules I think she's wasting time quite frankly," he said. File this away for future reference -- will Christie be similarly lackadaisical if he's excluded from the stage in upcoming debates?
A farmer plants corn in a field near De Soto, Iowa on May 5, 2014.

Unflattering side of Iowa's GOP politics draws new scrutiny

08/31/15 11:22AM

Just last month, one leading Republican activist in Iowa conceded he had sincere doubts about Donald Trump's "moral center and his foundational beliefs." When Rick Perry called Trump a "cancer on conservatism," the same Iowan praised the former governor's condemnation. When Trump went after John McCain, the activist added he was offended and insulted.
The activist is a man named Sam Clovis, a failed far-right U.S. Senate candidate, former talk-show host, veteran, power player in Iowa GOP politics, and former chairman of Rick Perry's operation in the Hawkeye State.
The fact that Clovis found Trump offensive wouldn't be especially noteworthy, were it not for the fact that Clovis last week joined Team Trump as the Republican's new national co-chairman last week -- just a month after Clovis expressed his contempt for the candidate he's now working to elect.
There is no evidence at all that anything untoward caused the unexpected shift, but the New York Times reported over the weekend that some in the state party are beginning to ask, "Is Iowa for sale?"
That is the perception sending shudders through the state's Republicans, after the leader of Rick Perry's Iowa campaign quit when Mr. Perry suspended pay to staff members, then quickly went to work for Donald J. Trump, who he had earlier said lacked a "moral center."
The head-spinning dismount and remount came three weeks after another embarrassing episode for the state's Republicans. A long-running scandal over under-the-table payments to a state senator to endorse Ron Paul's presidential bid in 2011 led to the federal indictment this month of Mr. Paul's former campaign manager.
The Times said the two unrelated events are being linked "by Iowa's political insiders, who are hypersensitive about the state's privileged role as the first to vote in presidential races."
Democratic presidential candidates, Bernie Sanders, Martin O'Malley and Hillary Rodham Clinton during the Iowa Democratic Party's Hall of Fame Dinner, July 17, 2015, in Cedar Rapids. (Photo by Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Latest Iowa 2016 polling comes with a twist

08/31/15 10:41AM

There's been a fair amount of 2016 polling out of Iowa lately, and most of it offered fairly good news for Hillary Clinton. The Democratic frontrunner found herself a 34-point lead over Bernie Sanders in the latest Suffolk poll, a 19-point lead in the latest CNN poll, and a 27-point lead in the latest Public Policy Polling survey.
But all of these results will likely be overshadowed by results published over the weekend.
Liberal revolutionary Bernie Sanders, riding an updraft of insurgent passion in Iowa, has closed to within 7 points of Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential race.
She's the first choice of 37 percent of likely Democratic caucusgoers; he's the pick for 30 percent, according to a new Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics Iowa Poll.
The significance of this, as compared to the other recent results, is that the Des Moines Register's polling is generally seen as the gold standard among all Iowa polls.
Among Iowa Republicans, the same survey found Donald Trump leading the GOP pack with 23% support, followed by Ben Carson with 18%. No other candidate reached double digits, though Scott Walker and Ted Cruz tied for third with 8% each, and Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio tied for fifth with 6% each.
There are plenty of interesting angles to kick around, including the narrow margin between Clinton and Sanders, and on the side of the divide, Carson's unusually strong showing. Note, for example, that the retired neurosurgeon, at least in this new poll, has more support than Walker and Cruz combined.
But what got me thinking was a comment from Glen Borger, a Republican pollster, who argued yesterday that one explanation for Sanders' unexpected strength relates to Democratic expectations about the Republican field: "Dems believe even [Sanders] could beat Trump.... And he probably could."
Hillary Rodham Clinton

'Boxcar' rhetoric rattles right in immigration debate

08/31/15 10:00AM

With a growing number of Republican presidential candidates talking about mass deportations, Hillary Clinton argued Friday that the rhetoric is increasingly outrageous.
[Clinton said] it was "the height of irony that a party which espouses small government would want to unleash a massive law enforcement effort -- including perhaps National Guard and others -- to go and literally pull people out of their homes and their workplaces, round them up, put them, I don't know, in buses, boxcars, in order to take them across our border."
"I just find that not only absurd, but appalling," Clinton said.
The right responded, not by defending the push for mass deportations, but rather by focusing specifically on the use of "boxcars."
Republican strategist Ana Navarro, for example, called Clinton's rhetoric "grossly inappropriate" and compared the candidate's phrasing to Mike Huckabee's Holocaust remarks.
The criticism was loud enough that Clinton spokesperson Nick Merrill felt compelled to explain that, no, the Democratic presidential hopeful wasn't alluding to the Holocaust.
And really, the denial was unnecessary. On Capitol Hill, even Republican aides casually refer to the "boxcar crowd" to describe those who support mass deportations. What's more, just two months ago, Jeb Bush told CNN, "I don't think our country is going to be the kind of country that puts people on boxcars and sends them away."
Look, I realize at this point in the process, various partisan players are looking for an excuse to feign outrage. But there are Republican presidential candidates talking -- in vague and impractical terms -- about mass deportation. The agenda calls for quickly moving 12 million people, if not more, out of the United States fairly quickly, no matter the consequences.
The practical question deserves an answer. One assumes all 12 million won't get free trips about the Trump Jet, and human-rights standards probably rules out use of the Trump Catapult. That leaves buses and trains -- or put another way, it leaves the options Hillary Clinton described.
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) listens to a question at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York May 13, 2015. (Photo by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Rubio embraces a Romney error as his own

08/31/15 09:20AM

It was arguably the biggest takedown of the 2012 presidential campaign. In the third debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney, the Republican complained, "Our Navy is smaller now than at any time since 1917.... Our Air Force is older and smaller than at any time since it was founded in 1947."
The former governor had used the same argument many times on the stump, and the prepared president pounced. "Well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military's changed," Obama explained. "We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines. And so the question is not a game of Battleship, where we're counting ships. It's what are our capabilities?"
It was a rough moment for Romney, whose canned talking points were made to look ridiculous.
And yet, there was Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) last week, delivering a big speech on foreign policy, embracing Romney's argument as his own.
"[President Obama] wasted no time stripping parts from the engine of American Strength. He enacted hundreds of billions in defense cuts that left our Army on track to be at pre-World War II levels, our Navy at pre-WWI levels, and our Air Force with the smallest and oldest combat force in its history."
First, the defense cuts were part of the Republicans' sequestration policy, not the White House's agenda, making this an odd line of attack. Second, Romney's discredited argument from three years ago isn't any better now.
U.S. President Barack Obama in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, D.C (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters).

Obama ends 40-year argument, restores name of tallest US mountain

08/31/15 08:41AM

What's in a name? When it comes to naming North America's tallest mountain, plenty. The Alaska Dispatch News reported last night:
It's official: Denali is now the mountain formerly known as Mount McKinley.
With the approval of President Barack Obama, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has signed a "secretarial order" to officially change the name, the White House and Interior Department announced Sunday. The announcement comes roughly 24 hours before Obama touches down in Anchorage for a whirlwind tour of Alaska.
Denali is the Koyukon Athabascan name for the mountain.
As political naming disputes go, this one's a doozy. As Craig Harrington noted, this isn't a case of President Obama "re-naming" a mountain, so much as he's "un-re-naming" it.
For generations, the mountain was called Denali, but that changed in 1896 when a pro-McKinley gold prospector named it "Mt. McKinley" as a way of supporting the Ohio Republican's presidential campaign.
McKinley didn't climb the mountain, and in fact, he never even saw it. Native communities, not surprisingly, didn't appreciate the name change, and Alaska has long supported the restoration of the original.
Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker speaks at a campaign stop in Haverhill, Iowa, July 18, 2015. (Photo by Jim Young/Reuters)

Walker eyes border wall ... for the other border

08/31/15 08:01AM

When far-right politicians endorse the construction of a massive border wall, they rarely specify which border, because it's simply assumed they're not overly concerned about Canadians.
When it comes to border security, it's only natural to wonder why Republicans seem vastly more energized about our neighbors to the south than those to the north. I was delighted to see NBC's Chuck Todd ask Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) about this yesterday.
One issue he plans to fix if elected is the terrorist threat posed by the nation's porous borders, and he said while he's most concerned about the southern U.S. border, he'd be open to building a wall to secure the northern border as well.
"Some people have asked us about that in New Hampshire. They raised some very legitimate concerns, including some law enforcement folks that brought that up to me at one of our town hall meetings about a week and a half ago. So that is a legitimate issue for us to look at," he said.
And I'll be eager to hear what the far-right candidate comes up with after he "looks at" building a northern border wall -- because the idea is a little nutty, even by the standards of GOP presidential candidates.
For now, let's put aside the issues -- the costs, the needs, etc. -- related to a building a giant wall along the U.S/Mexico border. Let's instead consider Walker's apparent concerns about Canada.
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump listens to a question at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Ia., July 18, 2015. (Photo by Jim Young/Reuters)

This Week in God, 8.29.15

08/29/15 08:51AM

First up from the God Machine this week is an extraordinary exchange about the Bible with the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination.
Donald Trump's clumsiness on matters of faith has been a point of concern for some voters before, but this week, the GOP candidate sat down with Bloomberg Politics, which noted that Trump has repeatedly pointed to the Bible lately as his favorite book. Does he have a favorite scriptural verse or two he'd be willing to share?
"Well, I wouldn't want to get into it because to me that's very personal," Trump replied. "You know, when I talk about the Bible it's very personal." Asked to cite a verse from the Bible he simply likes, the Republican responded, "No, I don't want to do that."
When John Heilemann asked if he preferred the Old Testament or the New Testament, Trump responded, in all seriousness, "Uh, probably [long pause] equal. I think it's just an incredible, the whole Bible is an incredible, I joke, very much so, they always hold up The Art of the Deal, I say it's my second favorite book of all time. But, uh, I just think the Bible is just something very special."
Watching the video, it's hard not to get the impression that Trump almost certainly hasn't read the Bible; he probably doesn't have a favorite verse; and the GOP White House hopeful has no idea what the differences are between the Old and New Testaments.
I've seen some suggestions this week that the questions might have been inappropriate, since it's arguably unfair to press candidates for public office on personal matters of faith. But in this case, Trump has personally boasted, several times, about his great affection for the Bible. Given his posturing, there's nothing wrong with an interviewer probing the details of an issue the candidate himself has repeatedly emphasized.
Indeed, after talking about scripture in recent weeks, shouldn't Trump have realized that someone would eventually ask a question or two about this? The best answer he could come up with is that the Bible is deeply private for him, except for all the times he brags about his love for the book in public?
Regardless, this seems to be part of a larger faith-based focus. Last week, Trump even delved into the "War on Christmas" nonsense, telling an audience, "There's an assault on anything having to do with Christianity. They don't want to use the word Christmas anymore at department stores."
It's hard to know whether anyone will take such rhetoric seriously, but voters should expect to hear more of it -- the Trump campaign announced this week that he's arranged a September meeting with a group of evangelical leaders "to hear the heart of America's Christian leaders and learn what they feel are the most critical issues facing our nation today."
Also from the God Machine this week:

Citations for the August 28, 2015 TRMS

08/29/15 01:37AM

Tonight's guests:

  • Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute
  • Jason Mitchell, an actor in the summer blockbuster Straight Outta Compton
  • Madeleine Lecesne, 2014 national student poet
  • Gina Womack, executive director of "Families and Friends of Louisiana's Incarcerated Children," Katrina Truth Initiative

Tonight's links:

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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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