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Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speak during a commercial break in the sixth Republican presidential debate in North Charleston, S.C., on Jan. 14, 2016. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

Latest polling sets the stage for Republicans' key stretch

01/25/16 12:40PM

With just one week to go before the Iowa caucuses, the latest polling from Fox News, released yesterday, shows only one competitive candidate headed in the right direction.
 
1. Donald Trump: 34% (up from 23% in a Fox poll in early January)
2. Ted Cruz: 23% (down from 27%)
3. Marco Rubio: 12% (down from 15%)
4. Ben Carson: 7% (down from 9%)
5. Rand Paul: 6% (up from 5%)
 
The rest of the GOP field was below 5%. Trump's 34% backing is the best any Republican has fared in a Fox poll in Iowa this cycle.
 
And how about the New Hampshire primary, now just 15 days away? Fox's new results show the Granite State shaping up this way:
 
1. Donald Trump: 31% (down from 33% in a Fox poll in early January)
2. Ted Cruz: 14% (up from 12%)
3. Marco Rubio: 13% (down from 15%)
4. John Kasich: 9% (up from 7%)
5. Jeb Bush: 7% (down from 9%)
6. Chris Christie: 7% (up from 5%)
 
The rest of the GOP field was at 5% or lower.

Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.25.16

01/25/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
 
* President Obama talked at some length about 2016 politics with Politico's "Off Message" podcast, which was released this morning. The president was cautious not to endorse, but he "repeatedly praised" Hillary Clinton "without reservation," while offering "more tempered praise" for Bernie Sanders.
 
* In results that are very hard to believe, Loras College released a poll of Iowa Democrats late last week and found Clinton leading Sanders by a nearly two-to-one margin, 59% to 30%. No other recent poll shows Clinton with that kind of advantage.
 
* Speaking of Democratic polling, the latest Suffolk poll shows Sanders maintaining his lead in New Hampshire, topping Clinton by nine points, 50% to 41%.
 
* How serious is Donald Trump about winning next week's caucuses? On Friday night, the Republican frontrunner "slept in a Holiday Inn Express in Sioux Center, Iowa," and yesterday, Trump even attended church services in Muscatine, Iowa. (He reportedly "left two crisp $50 bills in the collection plate.")
 
* Iowa's Joni Ernst will not endorse before the caucuses, but the right-wing freshman will introduce Marco Rubio at a Des Moines rally this week.
 
* Reflecting on the loyalty of his backers, Trump boasted over the weekend, "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, okay, and I wouldn't lose any voters, okay? It's, like, incredible."
 
* Clinton picked up endorsements over the weekend from two more newspaper editorial boards with sizable audiences in New Hampshire: the Boston Globe and the Concord Monitor.
 
* Ted Cruz picked up endorsements over the weekend from former Texas Gov. Rick Perry -- despite sharing a home state, the two do not have a close relationship -- and media personality Glenn Beck. On Saturday, Beck went so far as to say, "I have prayed for the next George Washington. I believe I have found him." 
NFormer New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks at a news conference at the September 11 Memorial Museum on May 14, 2014 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty)

New York's Bloomberg eyes presidential race (again)

01/25/16 11:21AM

When political conversations turn to New York City billionaires running for the White House, we may have to get used to the phrase, "No, not that one, the other one."
 
In 2008, Michael Bloomberg, the Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Independent former mayor, flirted for a while with a third-party presidential campaign. He decided against it. In 2012, he went through the process all over again, and reached the same conclusion.
 
No one should be surprised, then, that the New York Times reported over the weekend that the former mayor is flirting with the possibility of a national run once more, to the point that he's already "instructed advisers to draw up plans."
Mr. Bloomberg, 73, has already taken concrete steps toward a possible campaign, and has indicated to friends and allies that he would be willing to spend at least $1 billion of his fortune on it, according to people briefed on his deliberations who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss his plans. He has set a deadline for making a final decision in early March, the latest point at which advisers believe Mr. Bloomberg could enter the race and still qualify to appear as an independent candidate on the ballot in all 50 states.
 
He has retained a consultant to help him explore getting his name on those ballots, and his aides have done a detailed study of past third-party bids. Mr. Bloomberg commissioned a poll in December to see how he might fare against Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton, and he intends to conduct another round of polling after the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 9 to gauge whether there is indeed an opening for him, according to two people familiar with his intentions.
Note, neither Bloomberg nor his team have released the results of that poll.
 
And that's likely because the results weren't encouraging. If Bloomberg is under the impression that there's broad clamoring for his candidacy, with millions eagerly anticipating his entry into the race, he's going to be disappointed.
Texas Senator and Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz checks a microphone during his speech at the South Carolina Tea Party Coalition Convention in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Jan. 16, 2016. (Photo by Randall Hill/Reuters)

Cruz sees himself as an 'Obamacare' victim

01/25/16 10:40AM

When the Affordable Care Act was first being implemented a couple of years ago, Republicans and allied groups went to extraordinary lengths to find "Obamacare victims": people or families who, at least on the surface, were worse off because of the reform law.
 
Ultimately, these efforts were counter-productive: the horror stories tended to fall apart under scrutiny, which had the unintended effect of making the ACA look better, not worse.
 
Last week, however, Ted Cruz announced he'd found some brand new victims: he and his family. The Washington Post reported:
Last year, Cruz admitted that he might have to sign up for Obamacare -- a law he wants to repeal -- after his wife took a leave of absence from her job while he runs for president.... Cruz told an audience Thursday the coverage didn't last long.
 
"You know who one of those millions of Americans is who has lost their health care because of Obamacare? That would be me," Cruz said in Manchester, N.H. "I don't have health care right now." Cruz said he got a notice in the mail saying that his plan was canceled.
I suspect many of those in the audience found that rather surprising. After all, we're talking about a sitting U.S. senator with a family. The ACA is so awful that even he can be kicked out of the system and lose his coverage? What hope do the rest of us if even Cruz doesn't have insurance "because of Obamacare"?
 
It'd be quite a story, if it were true, which it isn't.
In this Jan. 29, 2015 file photo, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/File/AP)

Even Iowa's Grassley wants to 'make America great again'

01/25/16 10:00AM

Over the last couple of weeks, the evidence of Republican insiders and the GOP's donor class moving towards Donald Trump has been hard to miss. Echoing a common sentiment, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who's spent nearly four decades on Capitol Hill, said last week, "I've come around a little bit on Trump. I'm not so sure we'd lose if he's our nominee."
 
Dana Milbank wrote the other day, "That soft flapping sound you hear is the Grand Old Party waving the flag of surrender to Trump. Party elites -- what's left of the now-derided 'establishment' -- are acquiescing to the once inconceivable: that a xenophobic and bigoted showman is now the face of the Republican Party and of American conservatism."
 
But despite all of this recent evidence, Saturday brought an unexpected sight. The Washington Post reported:
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign piqued the interest of political observers when a special guest appeared at an event Saturday here in Pella: Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Hawkeye State institution and a prominent Republican voice in Washington. [...]
 
Grassley, a widely popular figure in Iowa who has represented the state in the U.S. Senate for decades, gave Trump a warm introduction and talked about the importance of electing a Republican to the White House.
Grassley could have chosen not to introduce Trump. He also could have limited his remarks to a generic welcome. But the long-time Iowa Republican instead went so far as to tell his audience, "We have an opportunity once again to make America great again."
Republican Sen. Pat Roberts talks to supporters during a campaign stop on Sept. 24, 2014, in Overland Park, Kan.

Senate Republican blocks war-time Army Secretary nominee

01/25/16 09:20AM

Back in September, President Obama nominated Eric Fanning as the next Secretary of the Army. No one, anywhere, has raised any concerns about his qualifications for a prominent, war-time administrative post.
 
As the Washington Post reported several months ago, Fanning "has been a specialist on national security issues for more than two decades and has played a key role overseeing some of the Pentagon's biggest shipbuilding and fighter jet programs."
 
Given the responsibilities of the Army Secretary, Fanning's breadth of experience makes him an obvious choice. Which is why it's all the more noteworthy that he's unlikely to ever see a confirmation vote.
 
For some social conservatives, the fact that Fanning is gay is itself an automatic disqualifier, but on Capitol Hill, there's a very different kind of problem.
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) is vowing to keep a hold on President Obama's nominee for secretary of the Army until the president leaves office and is no longer in a position to close the Guantanamo Bay prison.
 
"The hold will stay until we can get past this year," Roberts told his home=state newspaper, The Topeka Capital-Journal.... Roberts placed a hold on his confirmation in protest of Obama's push to close the military prison in Cuba. One of the potential sites to relocate detainees to is Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.
"I want to stress that it's nothing personal," Roberts said. "It's just the way it is."
 
Except it's not. It's the way Roberts chooses to make it.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton reacts to supporters after speaking at a campaign rally at the Iowa State Historical Museum, Jan. 4, 2016, in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Iowa's largest newspaper weighs in on 2016 candidates

01/25/16 08:40AM

With just a week remaining before the Iowa caucuses, the editorial board of the state's largest newspaper weighed in over the weekend with its sought-after endorsements.
Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Marco Rubio Saturday received the endorsement of the Des Moines Register, Iowa's biggest newspaper, just eight days ahead of the state's caucuses.
While endorsements are nearly always a positive development for the candidates who receives them, for Republicans, the Register's backing is tricky -- which is precisely why Donald Trump and Ted Cruz refused to meet with the editorial board and expressed no interest in receiving the endorsement.
 
Politico added, "Republican strategists and political observers predicted that unlike in previous years, a Register endorsement is an instant talking point for rivals, proof that the winners are aligned with a mainstream media outlet's moderate-to-liberal lean."
 
FiveThirtyEight noted that candidates endorsed by the Register have traditionally received about a three-point bounce in Iowa polling, but there's very little about this presidential cycle that's "traditional."
 
As for the paper's track record for backing caucus winners, recent history is ... mixed.
U.S. Republican presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio smiles as he takes questions after speaking at the New Hampshire GOP's FITN Presidential town hall in Nashua, N.H., Jan. 23, 2016. (Photo by Mary Schwalm/Reuters)

Rubio celebrates political effects of deadly winter storm

01/25/16 08:00AM

Being funny is difficult. Politicians trying their hands at comedy are taking a risk: if their comedy succeeds, they may become more likable, but if their sense of humor falls flat, they end up looking worse than if they hadn't tried at all.
 
Marco Rubio, for example, thinks he's funny, but may need to work on his material. Last week's "Tonight Show" appearance didn't go particularly well, and over the weekend, the Florida senator took his comedic chops to Iowa, where he tried a little topical humor.
"Now I want to stop here for a moment and say that in Washington right now they are being buried in a snow blizzard. Which means that, like, federal agencies, were not able to work all day yesterday and issuing new regulations. Apparently Barack Obama's executive order pen has frozen.
 
"So come to think of it, it's probably one of the best things to happen to the republic in quite a while."
Watching the video, it's clear he was trying to be funny -- the audience laughed -- and I'm generally inclined to cut candidates some slack when they're obviously joking around.
 
But in this case, I'm not sure Rubio's rhetoric is quite so easy to dismiss. Celebrating a natural disaster while it's ongoing -- we're talking about a blizzard that left at least 30 people dead -- is bizarre, especially for a presidential candidate. As many actual comedians can attest, there is such a thing as "too soon."
 
For that matter, the nature of Rubio's pitch is absurd. The senator, an enthusiastic proponent of his party's government-shutdown scheme in 2013, thinks it's fantastic when a disaster paralyzes federal operations -- which is part of his pitch as to why he should be president of the United States?
 
Even some Republicans took aim at Rubio's tone-deaf comments.
This artistic rendering shows the distant view from Planet Nine back towards the sun. The planet is thought to be gaseous, similar to Uranus and Neptune. Hypothetical lightning lights up the night side.

Week in Geek: Theoretical planet edition

01/24/16 12:07PM

Did you hear about the "new planet" that took the world by storm this week? There's a lot of hype flying around, but the takeaway for now is that it's just a theoretical prediction. An actual planet in the outer limits of our Solar System has not been confirmed, merely surmised. Which is not to say that the idea isn't super exciting...

Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown, astronomers at the California Institute of Technology, published a paper this past week describing an explanation for the eccentric orbits that have been observed in several Kuiper Belt objects (video here). Their solution: "We motivate the existence of a distant, eccentric perturber." By their calculations, the perturbing body would be roughly ten times the mass of Earth and orbiting the Sun at hundreds of times farther than Pluto. A year on this theorized world would be close to 20,000 years on Earth.

So what now? As I said, this is a theoretical prediction based on the orbits of just a few distant objects. It actually takes longer than you think to nail down the orbital parameters of Kuiper Belt objects, a year or two even. But with each new data point, the model proposed by Batygin and Brown can be tested. Additionally, a large planetary body at that distance may not reflect much sunlight to be observed optically, but it likely radiates heat that infrared telescopes might be able to detect. This is how science works: observations, theories, predictions, and more observations. Stay tuned, planet lovers!

If you want to read more, I suggest this write-up by Phil Plait.

Here's some more geek from the week:

read more

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) walks onto the stage to participate in the North Texas Presidential Forum at Prestonwood Baptist Church Oct. 18, 2015 in Plano, Texas. (Photo by Stewart F. House/Getty)

This Week in God, 1.23.16

01/23/16 08:03AM

First up from the God Machine this week is an endorsement presidential hopeful Ted Cruz picked up from a religious right activist named Mike Bickle, who brings quite a c.v. to the table.
 
If you missed Rachel's segment last night, Right Wing Watch published a nice summary yesterday:
Bickle is the founder of the International House of Prayer, a controversial missionary organization in Kansas City, Missouri, that some critics have labeled a cult and which is best known for engaging in nonstop 24-hour-a-day prayer in preparation for the End Times and for its anti-gay activism in Uganda.
 
Bickle, unsurprisingly is a demon-fighting radical who believes that gay marriage is "rooted in the depths of hell," that homosexuality "opens the door to the demonic realm" and that Oprah Winfrey is a forerunner of the Antichrist.
That last part isn't a joke, by the way. As Rachel highlighted last night, Bickle really did suggest Oprah -- yes, that Oprah -- might be a forerunner of the Antichrist. "She is winsome, she is kind, she is reasonable, she is utterly deceived," Bickle has argued. "A classy woman, a cool woman, a charming woman, but has a spirit of deception, and she's one of the clear pastors, forerunners, to the harlot movement."
 
This week, Bickle threw his official, "enthusiastic" support behind Ted Cruz's 2016 campaign, touting him as "a president who will first be faithful to honor God's Word."
 
And while a candidate can't be held responsible for who does and doesn't offer endorsements, in this case, Cruz issued a press statement touting Bickle's backing as an important development.
 
It's part of an unmistakable pattern involving a GOP candidate who's gone to great lengths to cozy up to some extraordinarily radical figures in the religious-right movement -- including a November event in which the senator shared a stage with pastor Kevin Swanson, who believes Scripture demands the death penalty for homosexuality.
 
Eight years ago at this time, Barack Obama was challenged repeatedly over his association with Jeremiah Wright. John McCain was pressed on his ties to John Hagee. This year, it seems some of the presidential field with their own relationships with controversial pastors are getting off easy.
 
Also from the God Machine this week:
The Rachel Maddow Show traveling to Flint

The Rachel Maddow Show traveling to Flint

01/23/16 06:49AM

Rachel Maddow alerts viewers that she will be traveling to Flint, Michigan on Wednesday, January 27 for a special town hall show with the people of Flint to talk about how they're dealing with the crisis of their water's toxicity. watch

The key to the GOP in 2016 is... Oprah??

The key to the GOP in 2016 is... Oprah??

01/22/16 10:31PM

Rachel Maddow shows how Oprah is an unexpected point of overlap between the Trump and Cruz campaigns as Ted Cruz welcomes the endorsement of a preacher who thinks Oprah is the antichrist and Donald Trump has repeatedly said he would like Oprah as a running mate. watch

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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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