First up from the God Machine this week is a look at the "presidential family forum," held last night in Iowa, and hosted by a far-right religious-right group called The Family Leader, led by a conservative kingmaker named Bob Vander Plaats.
And it's against this backdrop that seven contenders for the Republican presidential nomination -- Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Rick Santorum -- appeared at last night's gathering, hoping to earn an endorsement. (In 2008, Vander Plaats backed Huckabee, who won that year's Iowa caucuses, and in 2012 he backed Santorum, who won that year's Iowa caucuses).
So, how'd it go? I think this helped capture the flavor of the evening.
Asked to name the first person they would call upon hearing about a terrorist attack, Carson and Rubio both said the Department of Homeland Security; Fiorina and Mike Huckabee both said they'd fall to their knees and pray.
The question was quite specific. The moderator asked the candidates to imagine a scenario in which there were simultaneous attacks on Times Square and Yankee Stadium on Sept. 11, 2017. The question -- who would you call first? -- went to Rubio, who talked about federal resources and DHS. Huckabee answered moments later, saying he would get on his knees and "make a call to God."
Based on the roar of applause, it was apparently the answer the audience was looking for.
Cruz, meanwhile, continues to be the candidate making gains with evangelical voters.
He brought down the house at the close of the evening with an impassioned plea for conservative unity that may, come the Iowa caucuses in February, turn out to be prophetic.
"If conservatives come together and stand as one, it's game over," he said. "This primary is over if conservatives unite. And if conservatives stand together and unite, the general election is over."
Rachel Maddow reports on a terror attack at a hotel in the capital of Mali and traces the recent history of terrorist activity in that part of Africa, with its oddly factional terror groups, and a terrorist leader, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who continues to operate through al Mourabitoun despite several assassination attempts. watch
Greg Miller, national security correspondent for the Washington Post, talks with Rachel Maddow about what he learned from ISIS defectors in prison in Morocco about the ISIS propaganda operation and its centrality to the ISIS mission of both terrifying enemies and unifying supporters. watch
Rachel Maddow reports breaking news that Belgium has raised its terror alert to its highest level for Brussels, the country’s capital, and the Belgian government warns specifically of an "imminent threat" to that city. watch
Rachel Maddow follows yesterday's reporting about Donald Trump's apparent position on tracking Muslims in the United States with new reporting on Trump's response to the controversy. His position, however remains clouded in half-answers and deflections, leaving him open to further questions and criticism. watch
Ali Soufan, former FBI supervisory special agent and counter-terrorism expert, talks with Rachel Maddow about the history and relationship between the al Mourabitoun brigade led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar as an affiliate of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb comm watch
* More on Mali on tonight's show: "Islamic extremists armed with guns and grenades stormed a hotel packed with foreigners Friday in the former French colony of Mali, killing more than two dozen people and briefly taking scores more hostage. Twenty-seven guests and workers were killed, the Associated Press reported, citing United Nations officials. The two jihadi attackers were also dead, according to the AP."
* Paris: "A third person was killed in the anti-terror raid that targeted the Paris attack ringleader, officials confirmed Friday as the hunt continued for a suspected accomplice."
* Pollard: "Jonathan J. Pollard, the American convicted of spying for Israel, walked out of prison early on Friday after 30 years, but the Obama administration had no plans to let him leave the country and move to Israel and his lawyers immediately went to court to challenge his parole conditions."
* VW scandal: "Volkswagen Group's emissions scandal grew Friday as the Environmental Protection Agency and California regulators said the automaker had admitted that its 3-liter diesel vehicles from the last seven years had violated clean-air standards."
* An odd defense: "Donald Trump’s willingness to consider a database that would record the names of Muslim Americans has been condemned by 2016 contenders on both the right and the left, and now the 2016 GOP front-runner is saying the idea didn’t originate with him."
* Team Paul: "Two former advisers to Republican presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) were re-indicted by a federal grand jury in Iowa Friday, just weeks after a criminal trial that produced a muddled result."
* A fascinating look inside "the surreal world of the Islamic State’s propaganda machine."
* A story worth watching: "Second-term Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-N.C.) faces a formal investigation into allegations that he continued to run his real-estate business as a lawmaker in violation of House rules, the House Ethics Committee said Thursday. The announcement follows Pittenger’s request last week for such a probe."
For the last few years, the Consumer Financial Production Bureau has quietly done important work on behalf of everyday consumers, cracking down on unfair business practices from banks, credit-card companies, mortgage lenders, and other financial institutions.
And Republicans are still outraged by the agency's very existence. In the last debate for the Republican presidential candidates, not only did Carly Fiorina condemn the CFPB by name for its fraud-detection services -- I'm still not sure why that's a bad thing -- but during a commercial break, lobbyists for a student-loan company, which is currently under investigation, launched a "truly bizarre attack ad" targeting the consumer watchdog.
That was last week. This week, the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal went after the CFPB in a wildly unpersuasive piece on predatory auto loans. A day later, Politico published a big, front-page story with a provocative headline: "Emails reveal consumer protection agency’s cozy ties." The article told readers:
While Elizabeth Warren and other progressives decry the influence of big banks and lobbyists in writing legislation, in this instance, the agency created by Warren to protect consumers from abusive lending leaned heavily on consumer activists as it drafted regulations for the $46 billion payday loan industry.
The Center for Responsible Lending spent hours consulting with senior Obama administration officials, giving input on how to implement the rule that would restrict the vast majority of short-term loans with interest rates often higher than 400 percent. The group regularly sent over policy papers, traded emails and met multiple times with top officials responsible for drafting the rule.
The far-right Washington Times, right on cue, picked up on the Politico report, publishing an article yesterday saying the CFPB was caught "conspiring" with outside groups.
From a distance, it looks as if some CFPB critics put a lot of effort into this public-relations offensive against the agency, but if they're waiting for the rest of us to be shocked and appalled, they're probably going to be disappointed.
The right has come up with more than its share of conspiracy theories related to President Obama. In fact, some of the more nonsensical ideas -- he wasn't born in the United States; he's secretly non-Christian -- began before he was even elected.
Obama sat down with Bill Simmons recently for an interview published by GQ, and Simmons asked a question I've wondered about myself.
SIMMONS: What’s the most entertaining conspiracy theory you ever read about yourself?
OBAMA: That military exercises we were doing in Texas were designed to begin martial law so that I could usurp the Constitution and stay in power longer. Anybody who thinks I could get away with telling Michelle I’m going to be president any longer than eight years does not know my wife.
The president didn't literally use the words "Jade Helm 15," but I think it's safe to say that's what he was referring to.
Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump started the week by talking about closing down mosques, before taking the truly extraordinary step yesterday of saying he would “absolutely” implement a policy of registering Muslim Americans into a government database. The question now is what his GOP rivals intend to say and do in response.
Jeb Bush, to his credit, told CNBC this morning that Trump's approach is "just wrong." Ted Cruz, who's been highly reluctant for months to say a discouraging word about the New York developer, was willing to argue this morning, "I'm a big fan of Donald Trump's but I'm not a fan of government registries of American citizens."
Marco Rubio, as best as I can tell, hasn't commented yet on Trump's registry idea, but he did speak last night with Fox News' Megyn Kelly, who was reminded by the host, "One of your fellow candidates, Donald Trump is suggesting we may need to close mosques that have problems with radicals at the top. What do you say?" Here's the senator's response in its entirety, by way of the Nexis transcript:
"Well, I think it's not about closing down mosques. It's about closing down any place, whether it's a cafe, a diner, an internet spot, any place where radicals are being inspired.
"And that we have -- the biggest problem we have is our inability to find out what these places are because we've crippled our intelligence programs, both through an authorized disclosure by a traitor, in other words, Snowden, or by some of the things that this president has put in place for the support even of some from my own party to diminish our intelligence capabilities.
"So, whatever facilities being used, it's not just a mosques. Any facility that's being used to radicalize and inspire attacks against the United States should be a place that we look at."
Let's unwrap this a bit because I think it says something important about a top presidential candidate's perspective on a key issue.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* The new national Bloomberg Politics poll shows Hillary Clinton with a big lead over Bernie Sanders, 55% to 30%. That's up significantly from September, though two months ago, the poll included Vice President Biden.
* Marco Rubio continues to add to his list of congressional endorsements, picking up support yesterday from Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah).
* Ted Cruz is adding to his endorsement list, too, with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) throwing his backing to the Texas senator yesterday.
* In Wisconsin, the latest Marquette University Law School poll shows Ben Carson leading the Republicans' 2016 field with 22%, followed by Donald Trump and Marco Rubio, who are tied at 19% each.
* The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee are moving forward with a data-centric “Majority Project,” intended to help the party retake the House majority. Much of the effort is built around the DCCC's “Revere” database, described as "a sweeping database to cull past and present polling, voter files, media advertising history and population trends for every competitive House district in the country."
* Remember John Kasich's plan for an agency that would push "Judeo-Christian" Western values abroad? The Ohio governor is starting to walk back the idea.
NBC News' First Read published an interesting comparison the other day that got me thinking.
Americans are frightened and suspicious of foreigners entering the country from abroad. The political press is blaming President Obama for not doing enough. Rival politicians with presidential ambitions are seizing on the issue.
Sounds like the political aftermath after Friday's terrorist attacks in Paris, right? But those same descriptions -- fear, suspicion, blame, and political opportunism -- apply to what happened just a year ago during the Ebola scare.
Indeed, some of the exact same people who panicked under pressure a year ago are doing the same thing now. In late October 2014, Marco Rubio, for example, said policymakers should ignore the scientists and instead approve his legislation to ban travel from Ebola-stricken African countries to the United States. In November 2015, Rubio is now saying policymakers should ignore the diplomats and punish refugees fleeing terrorist violence.
Last year, Rand Paul's reaction to the Ebola scare was ridiculous. This year, his reaction to refugees is about as offensive. Last year, Chris Christie boasted about his absurd quarantine policy, which looks even more foolish in hindsight. This year, his flip-flop on refugees -- up to and including his fear of toddler orphans -- is plainly incoherent.
Part of the concern here is the Republicans' capacity to be an effective governing party. When was the last time GOP officials, en masse, responded to a crisis in a measured, responsible way? It's tempting to point to 2008, when Congress tackled a rescue package for the financial industry, but even then Republicans initially killed the legislation because, they said at the time, Nancy Pelosi hurt their feelings.
But I'm also struck by the fact that some of these same officials who've responded so poorly to both crises also happen to be running for president of the United States -- an office that subjects its occupant to almost unimaginable pressures practically every day.
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.