Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* In the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, a 38% plurality of Republican voters nationwide believe Donald Trump has "the best chance" of winning the general election next year. Ben Carson is second with 22%.
* Rush Limbaugh defended Trump's bogus claims about 9/11 celebrations yesterday, with the radio host telling his audience that the Republican candidate made a good point, "regardless of the specific details."
* The first anti-Trump ad from John Kasich's super PAC was released yesterday, and as NBC News' report explained, it highlights a series of provocative remarks from the New York developer, including his boast that he has a great relationship with "the blacks," the boast that he'd date his daughter if she weren't his daughter, and the time he questioned John McCain's status as a "war hero."
* Mike Huckabee, who apparently is still running for president, said yesterday that President Obama's "new domestic terrorism plan probably requires Americans to memorize Koran verses." Dear Beltway pundits who told the public Huckabee is a great guy: you were wrong.
* In fundraising news, the RNC easily outpaced the DNC in October, $8.7 million to $4.5 million.
* In endorsement news, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio each increased their overall totals by one yesterday, with both Republicans adding one U.S. House member.
In the wake of the recent violence in Paris, there's been quite a bit of discussion, in the United States and elsewhere, about officials using every available tool to combat terrorism. One of the least controversial measures involves attacking terrorist networks' finances.
With that in mind, it matters a great deal that President Obama has nominated Adam Szubin to serve as the Treasury Department’s under secretary for terrorism and financial crimes. As the Huffington Postreported last week, this specific job "involves tracking terrorists to prevent them from raising money on the black market and elsewhere."
The good news is, Szubin enjoys bipartisan support, and Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) has praised his past work in taking on terrorist financing in previous administrations.
The bad news is, Szubin's nomination has been pending since mid-April -- over 200 days ago -- and the Senate Republican leadership hasn't bothered to bring the nomination to the floor for a vote, despite the fact that he faces no real opposition.
Bloomberg's Jonathan Bernstein noted yesterday that this fits into a pattern of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) instituting a "roadblock" against President Obama's nominations in ways with no modern precedent from either party.
It’s a Senate engaged in pure partisan harassment of Obama, and indifferent to the smooth functioning of government. Agencies can’t function at their best without confirmed presidential picks in place. [...]
We’ll never know what the specific consequences are of not filling crucial positions. For example, if the Treasury Department were fully staffed, would it be able to stop money flowing to terrorists to finance a particular attack? It’s grossly irresponsible of McConnell and his colleagues to keep government from doing what they say it should do: operate efficiently and protect its citizens.
We've seen plenty of examples of Republicans balking at qualified Obama nominees for partisan or ideological reasons, but that doesn't apply in this case, since Szubin doesn't seem to have any actual Senate critics. McConnell hasn't even tried to justify the delay, because "we slow-walk every Obama nominee, regardless of merit" seems ridiculous when spoken aloud.
For much of the summer, there was a very real possibility that Donald Trump would run for president on a third-party ticket if his Republican campaign faltered. Pressed repeatedly to rule out the independent option, the New Yorker demurred, causing considerable handwringing in GOP circles.
By September, however, the matter appeared to be resolved. Trump signed -- and publicly waved around -- a "loyalty pledge" binding him to the Republican nominating process. The speculation about a third-party run quickly evaporated.
And now it's back. On Sunday, ABC News' George Stephanopoulos noted a Wall Street Journalarticle about Republican insiders planning to launch a guerrilla campaign against Trump. The host asked the candidate if he'd "reconsider" an independent bid. "Well, we'll see what happens," Trump replied. "It will be very interesting." Moments later, there was this exchange:
STEPHANOPOULOS: But you're open to an independent run?
TRUMP: Well, I'm going to have to see what happens. I will see what happens. I have to be treated fairly. You know, when I did this, I said I have to be treated fairly. If I'm treated fairly, I'm fine. All I want to do is a level playing field.
Yesterday, the Republican added on Twitter, referring to the Wall Street Journalarticle Stephanopoulos mentioned, that his party is "getting ready to treat me unfairly." Trump concluded, "That wasn’t the deal!"
The wording mattered. If Trump believes he reached an agreement with Republican Party officials, and the party is now reneging on the deal, then he may very well feel justified in breaking the "loyalty pledge" he signed -- since in his mind, his intra-party partners didn't hold up their end of the bargain.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was on the Iowa campaign trail yesterday, and shared some thoughts on his vision for combating ISIS. NBC News reported:
...Rubio said he wanted to show the world how ISIS leaders "cry like babies" when captured in hopes of dissuading recruits from joining on to the extremist group.
"I believe we should be carrying out attacks against Sunni leadership nodes, videotaping the whole thing and putting it up on YouTube so that the world can see these people are not invincible," he said. "I want the world to see how these ISIS leaders cry like babies when they're captured. I want the world to see how these ISIS leaders, once captured, begin to sing like canaries if they survive."
He added that he wants young fighters around the world thinking of joining the Islamic State to have "second thoughts" when they see "how easily humiliated they are by Americans."
At a certain level, such a campaign may seem emotionally satisfying, but there's ample reason to believe showing video footage of captured prisoners is strictly prohibited under the Geneva Convention. In March 2013, when Iraqi officials released footage of American prisoners facing interrogation, U.S. officials condemned the tactic as "appalling."
The Florida senator has not yet explained why he believes his preferred tactic would be legal.
As part of the same campaign swing, Rubio added that President Obama's efforts against ISIS are "all symbolic," because the senator believes the president "doesn't want to embroil us in another conflict."
As of last week, U.S. forces, acting on Obama's orders, have launched 6,471 airstrikes against ISIS targets in the Middle East. I'm not sure how Rubio defines "symbolic," but it's not an adjective that comes to mind.
Rich Lowry reported yesterday in National Reviewon the state of the Republican presidential race in Iowa, concluding, "It’s hard to exaggerate how much things have broken [Ted] Cruz’s way."
Just 24 hours later, there's some pretty compelling evidence that this assessment is correct. Here's the new Quinnipiac poll out of the Hawkeye State:
1. Donald Trump: 25% (up from 20% in October)
2. Ted Cruz: 23% (up from 10%)
3. Ben Carson: 18% (down from 28%)
4. Marco Rubio: 13% (unchanged)
No other candidate is above 5%, though it's worth noting that Jeb Bush, who actually had the lead in Iowa in the early summer, is down to just 4% support -- one percentage point lower than Rand Paul.
Nevertheless, it's the top tier that's the most striking. Politico's Glenn Thrush characterized the Quinnipiac poll as the "most important development in the race in months," which may seem a little hyperbolic, but don't dismiss the point too quickly.
In the wake of the terrorist violence in Paris, Republicans saw an opportunity to change the direction of the political conversation. The attacks reminded American voters about national security threats, which GOP officials necessarily see as good news for their party -- since polls have consistently shown the public siding with Republicans on the issue, the party's woeful track record notwithstanding.
But these assumptions may be due for a reevaluation. Consider the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll.
A crescendo of tough talk on Syrian refugees and terrorism seems to be elevating the toughest talkers in the GOP primary -- most notably Donald Trump. But among the broader American public, the most trusted person to handle the issue is Hillary Clinton. [...]
By 50 percent to 42 percent, more Americans say they trust Clinton to handle the threat of terrorism than Trump, who leads the Republican field and responded to the Paris terrorist attacks by calling for heightened surveillance of mosques and redoubling his opposition to allowing Syrian refugees to settle in the U.S.
Clinton's eight-point advantage over Trump wasn't unique: the same poll showed the Democratic frontrunner also leading Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush when respondents were asked, "Who would you trust more to handle the threat of terrorism?"
This is obviously just one poll, and we'd need more data before drawing sweeping conclusions, but if the results are accurate, there's a rational explanation. The question, after all, deals with preparedness. Clinton has the most foreign-policy experience of any presidential candidate in a generation, while nearly all of her Republican rivals are either literal or practical amateurs.
It doesn't happen often, but once in a great while, videos that don't exist can cause a stir. In 2008, for example, a variety of far-right activists claimed they saw footage of Michelle Obama referring to white people as "whitey." The video was fictional -- the conservatives who made the claims were lying -- but the chatter surrounding the made-up story grew pretty loud.
More recently, Republican presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina falsely claimed she'd seen an abortion-related video that does not, in reality, exist. Pressed for an explanation, Fiorina simply dug in, stubbornly pretending fiction is fact.
And this week, as Rachel noted on the show last night, we're confronted once more with a high-profile Republican trying to make an offensive point by pointing to footage that exists only in the world of make-believe.
At issue are imaginary reports from 9/11 that Trump believes show "thousands and thousands" of Jersey City residents of Middle Eastern descent cheering when the Twin Towers fell. The Republican frontrunner initially made the claim late last week, but he's now repeated it and defended it several times since -- pointing to news coverage Trump claims to have seen, but which remains entirely imaginary.
[I]n a sign the campaign and Trump himself may be at least a little concerned about the way his comments are perceived, the Donald made an impromptu call to NBC News Monday afternoon. Offering reassurance that he had indeed seen video of the celebrations on television on and “all over the Internet,” Trump said, “I have the world’s greatest memory. It’s one thing everyone agrees on.”
Trump even asked for news organizations to apologize to him for fact-checking his made-up claim. "Many people have tweeted that I am right!" he argued on Twitter, as if this were persuasive.
Making matters slightly worse, Trump's obvious nonsense was also briefly endorsed yesterday afternoon by one of his GOP rivals.
Rachel Maddow reports on developments within the Republican race for the 2016 presidential nomination, the most significant of which is front-runner Donald Trump's insistence on a lie about thousands of Muslims celebrating in New Jersey on 9/11. watch
Rachel Maddow tells the story of civil rights activist Minoru Yasui, who resisted Japanese-American internment and curfews in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Yasui will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Tuesday. watch
Rachel Maddow reports breaking news that the U.S. State Department has issued a worldwide travel warning for Americans, citing the threat of terrorism and cautioning Americans against large crowds or crowded places. watch
Ryan Heath, senior European correspondent for Politico, talks with Rachel Maddow about how the city of Brussels has been on lockdown for three days out of fear of a terror attack, with some residents beginning to weary of the precautions. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on the whirlwind world tour French President François Hollande is making to meet with five world leaders in four days in an effort to coordinate the war on ISIS in Syria and elsewhere. watch
* Brussels is effectively locked down: "Sweeping overnight raids failed to trap one of Europe's most-wanted men, leaving Belgium's capital essentially on lockdown Monday for a third straight day. Belgian officials said five more raids were carried out on Monday, hours after residents of Brussels were ordered to shelter in place as police searched nearly 20 properties around the European capital overnight."
* Paris: "An explosive belt was found in a suburb south of Paris on Monday, a spokesperson for the city's prosecutor told NBC News."
* New Orleans: "Sixteen people were injured when two groups opened fire on each other during an impromptu gathering of several hundred people to record a music video at a New Orleans playground Sunday night, police said. Ten people were taken to hospitals by ambulance, while six others were later learned to have arrived on their own, police said."
* ISIS: "American warplanes destroyed around 280 of ISIS' oil tanker trucks along the Syria-Iraq border on Monday, U.S. officials told NBC News. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the officials said that A-10 Warthogs and AC-130 Specter gunships launched 24 precision-guided bombs and strafed the tanker trucks with heavy machine-gun and cannon fire."
* Inversion draws fire: "The Democratic Party’s field of presidential candidates is united in opposition to the massive merger between pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and Allergan, which would also include a controversial maneuver known as a tax inversion to reduce the company’s U.S. tax burden."
* Smart move: "The senior senator from one of the states hit hardest by heroin and opioid abuse will call on Monday for Congress to spend $600 million immediately to address and curtail the epidemic. The Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act, being introduced by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), would spread money to various government agencies tasked with research, intervention and recovery. It is the most robust legislative response yet to what Shaheen and others deem a 'national public health emergency.'"
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.