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Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush speaks to the media on June 5, 2015 in Miami, Fla. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

Struggling Jeb Bush shakes up campaign team

06/09/15 08:40AM

No presidential campaign has ever shaken up its senior staff when things were going well. It may seem like common sense -- well-run operations moving in the right direction don't have an incentive to change -- but it's a fact that makes development on Jeb Bush's team hard to overlook.
 
We've known for quite a while, for example, that veteran Iowa operative David Kochel would lead Bush's campaign operation. At least, he was supposed to -- as the New York Times reported, the former Florida governor has already made a major change at the top of his team.
The final decision was made only in the last few days, but word of turmoil in Jeb Bush's organization, and a coming change, had been in the air for weeks.
 
On Monday, Mr. Bush's aides announced a shuffling of the deck, with David Kochel, the veteran Iowa operative who was expected to be campaign manager, moved to the chief strategist role. Danny Diaz, a Washington-based communications strategist who had been involved with media issues, will become the campaign manager.
A Washington Post report added, Diaz's promotion "is a frank acknowledgment that Bush's six-month 'exploratory phase' has not met expectations." Quite right. Bush expected to enter the race as a powerful frontrunner leading a crowded GOP field of also-rans. Instead, the Florida Republican has seen his support stagnate; he's clearly failed to intimidate potential rivals; and he's confronted with unexpected doubts about his long-term viability.
 
Swapping campaign managers at this early stage is as close as we'll get to Bush conceding that his operation is not working as it should.
 
Of course, the standard response is that the former governor didn't technically change campaign managers because, at least on paper, Bush hasn't officially launched a campaign. But for those looking at the race realistically, Bush kicked off the race months ago and has been running hard for months. This was a staff shake-up, not an example of moving some players around on a roster before opening day.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., chair of the Senate Republican Caucus, speaks with reporters at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, July 24, 2013. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Thune captures everything that's wrong with the ACA debate

06/09/15 08:01AM

In early February 2009, at the height of the economic crisis, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) went to the Senate floor to condemn the proposed Recovery Act, which was still coming together. Thune, accompanied by several colorful charts, thought he'd come up with a persuasive message attacking the economic agenda.
 
Thune showed his colleagues a series of images intended to highlight the literal, physical size of $1 trillion if put in a pile of $100 bills. The Recovery Act was obviously the wrong solution, the Republican senator said at the time, because $1 trillion in stacked $100 bills would be 689 miles high. This, in Thune's mind, was a powerful economic argument.
 
It was a striking reminder that when it came to substantive debates about policy, John Thune ... well, let's just say he probably shouldn't be the Senate GOP's go-to guy.
 
Yesterday, the far-right South Dakotan again proved his shortcomings. Thune argued on Twitter:
"Six million people risk losing their health care subsidies, yet [President Obama] continues to deny that Obamacare is bad for the American people."
Over the course of several years, we've all seen and heard some pretty mind-numbing arguments in the debate over the Affordable Care Act, but Thune is really pushing the envelope here. In effect, the Republican senator is saying that the ACA's subsidies are great, which proves that the ACA is horrible if Republicans successfully take those subsidies away.
 
As Thune sees it, 6 million Americans are enjoying health security right now because of Obamacare. And if Republicans leave those 6 million Americans with nothing, on purpose, treating those families as collateral damage in a political war, this will prove, in Thune's mind, that Obama is "bad" for people.
 
The ACA is awful if Republicans take the ACA away from consumers. That's the argument.
 
These are the words of a senator who's either brazenly ignorant or shamelessly dishonest. I'm afraid there is no third option. Even another GOP congressman who opposes the health care law conceded Thune's argument "makes no sense."

Hastert in court and other headlines

06/09/15 07:59AM

Hastert's arraignment to spark media frenzy but may answer few questions. (Chicago Tribune)

Amid campaign shakeup, Jeb Bush heads to Europe. (Washington Post)

Struggles with finances track Marco Rubio's career. (New York Times)

Santorum calls crowd of 4 in rural Iowa a success. (Des Moines Register)

Seeking trade votes, Obama offers to help Dems who vote yes. (AP)

New video shows different angle of pool party incident. (USA Today)

read more

Monday's Mini-Report, 6.8.15

06/08/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* More on this on tonight's show: "One was doing life for killing a sheriff's deputy on the Fourth of July. The other has a grislier past: He killed a 76-year-old businessman by breaking his neck, then cut up the body and threw the pieces into a river. Now they could be anywhere."
 
* A 6-3 ruling: "The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled against the American citizen parents of a boy born in 2002 in Jerusalem who wanted his passport to list the place of birth as 'Jerusalem, Israel.' The State Department, which issues passports, had refused. It did so in conformance with a long running U.S. policy to list the place of birth for Americans born in that city as simply, 'Jerusalem.'"
 
* Texas: "A police officer in McKinney, Texas, has been placed on administrative leave after a video surfaced showing him aggressively confronting teens at a pool party on Friday evening. Police officers were first called to the scene around 7:15 pm local time to respond to a disturbance at the Craig Ranch Community pool in the Dallas area."
 
* South Carolina: "A grand jury has indicted a former South Carolina police officer in the April shooting of an unarmed black man, the prosecutor announced on Monday. Former North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager, 33, has been charged with murder in the death of Walter Scott, 50."
 
* Obviously: "President Barack Obama said Monday that the Supreme Court should reject a challenge that would cripple his health care program -- and he ventured that the justices shouldn't have taken it up in the first place."
 
* Turkey's elections: "Turkish voters delivered a rebuke on Sunday to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as his party lost its majority in Parliament in a historic election that thwarted his ambition to rewrite Turkey's Constitution and further bolster his clout."
 
* Hastert scandal: "Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert has hired a high-powered Washington attorney who is a veteran of political scandals to represent him against federal charges that he lied to the FBI about bank withdrawals -- money he allegedly used as payoffs to keep sexual misconduct accusations under wraps."
Former Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld

Rumsfeld breaks with Bush on Iraq

06/08/15 04:51PM

For much of the Bush/Cheney era, as conditions in Iraq deteriorated, then-President George W. Bush had some standard rhetorical lines. It wasn't unusual, for example, to hear the beleaguered Republican president say something like, "Some people say an Iraqi democracy is a bad idea. I disagree."
 
It always seemed like a straw-man argument, but as it turns out, perhaps Bush was referring to members of his own national security team. MSNBC's Amanda Sakuma reported today:
President George W. Bush was wrong to try to build democracy in Iraq, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in a recent interview, marking a striking admission from a key player behind the 2003 U.S. invasion.
 
In an interview with British newspaper The Times, Rumsfeld said that efforts to oust Saddam Hussein and replace his tyrannical regime with democracy were unworkable, and that he had concerns about the plan from the beginning.
According to the report, the former Pentagon chief said, "I'm not one who thinks that our particular template of democracy is appropriate for other countries at every moment of their histories. The idea that we could fashion a democracy in Iraq seemed to me unrealistic. I was concerned about it when I first heard those words."
 
Hmm. It's been 12 years since Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld launched their disastrous war. It's been nine years Rumsfeld gave the nation a reprieve and walked away from the Defense Department post.
 
He's only now getting around to saying -- out loud -- that he's always been "concerned" by Bush's stated rationale for the catastrophic conflict?
 
And if Rumsfeld believes an Iraqi democracy is "unrealistic," what alternative form of government would he have in mind for the country?
Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton sits with a customer as she visits the Main Street Bakery on May 27, 2015 in Columbia, S.C. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

Skipping the 'spirited conversation'

06/08/15 03:57PM

Every journalist welcomes instances in which they publish a piece that generates conversation, but yesterday's front-page New York Times report on Hillary Clinton's 2016 strategy appears to have sparked more criticism than the authors probably intended. It's worth appreciating why.
 
The Times' Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman made the case in their piece that when it comes to competing in a general election, the Democratic frontrunner is already eyeing a "narrow" path to success.
Hillary Rodham Clinton appears to be dispensing with the nationwide electoral strategy that won her husband two terms in the White House and brought white working-class voters and great stretches of what is now red-state America back to Democrats.
 
Instead, she is poised to retrace Barack Obama's far narrower path to the presidency: a campaign focused more on mobilizing supporters in the Great Lakes states and in parts of the West and South than on persuading undecided voters.
The piece added that by focusing on competitive states, instead of every state, Clinton will likely miss out on the opportunity to have a "spirited conversation" -- the kind of discussion that could be "a unifying feature of a presidential election" -- which in turn could make it difficult for Clinton, if she wins, to work with a Republican-led Congress.
 
Oh my.
 
The thesis here is built on a mistaken foundation, and if the Beltway discussion of the 2016 race is going to accept the premise as true, much of the coverage will be flawed.
 
Let's unpack this a bit before certain assumptions take root.
Voting booths are illuminated by sunlight as voters cast their ballots at a polling place on Nov. 6, 2012. (Photo by Jae C. Hong/AP)

The GOP's confusing condemnation of Clinton's voting-rights plan

06/08/15 12:55PM

When Hillary Clinton delivered pretty bold remarks on reforming the criminal-justice system, her Republican critics had very little to say. In fact, some probably agreed with her.
 
When Clinton delivered an equally ambitious speech on comprehensive immigration reform, her GOP detractors again had very little to say, probably because of the fear of a backlash.
 
But when the Democratic frontrunner endorsed a progressive vision on expanding voting rights and opportunities, and called out Republicans by name for needlessly imposing voting restrictions, the reaction was dramatically different. It's counter-intuitive -- criminal justice and immigration are, in theory, far more controversial than Americans being able to cast a ballot -- but here we are.
In separate interviews on Sunday news shows, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is running for president, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is considering it, said Mrs. Clinton is wrong. Mr. Perry said that the people of Texas support the state's requirements, and Mr. Christie said there are plenty of opportunities to vote in New Jersey.
On "Face the Nation," CBS's John Dickerson told Christie, for example, that Clinton has dismissed the idea of rampant voter fraud as baseless fear-mongering. "Well," the Republican governor replied, "she's never been to New Jersey, I guess."
 
I honestly don't know what this is supposed to mean. Does Christie see his home state as a cesspool for election fraud? If he has any proof of this, the governor has kept it well hidden. And if the governor actually believes his rhetoric, why hasn't his administration prosecuted these rampant cases?
 
And for that matter, why is it, exactly, that Christie believes automatic, universal voter registration will make this imaginary problem worse?
 
Around the same time, Perry told CNN, "I think we make it pretty easy in the state of Texas for people to vote."
 

Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.8.15

06/08/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items that won't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:
 
* Hillary Clinton didn't explicitly endorse a $15 minimum wage, but she nevertheless made a surprise call yesterday to a convention of fast-food workers who are rallying for the cause. The Democrat declared, "I want to be your champion."
 
* On "Face the Nation" yesterday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) reiterated his support for a federal crackdown on states that legalized marijuana. Asked if he would "go after" state experiments, and prohibit the legal use of pot even in states where it was approved by voters, the governor replied, "Yes, sir."
 
* In North Carolina, the latest PPP poll shows Jeb Bush leading the Republicans' presidential field with 19%, followed by Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Scott Walker, each of whom are tied for second with 12%. Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee are the only other candidates to reach double digits, with 11% and 10%, respectively.
 
* On a related note, the same poll shows Clinton leading Jeb Bush in North Carolina by seven, but she's tied in the state with Walker and Paul.
 
* Rick Perry hopes to seriously compete in Iowa, a task that became a little easier late last week when the Texan picked up an endorsement from Sam Clovis, considered "one of the most prominent conservatives in Iowa."
 
* About a day after the New York Times published a report on Marco Rubio's many traffic tickets, the Florida Republican launched a fundraising campaign around the article, falsely blaming the "Clinton machine" for the coverage.
President Barack Obama (C) hugs an assembly line worker as he tours through the Chrysler Auto Plant in Detroit, Mich., July 30, 2010.

GOP still balks at Obama's successful auto-industry rescue

06/08/15 11:24AM

The success of President Obama's auto-industry rescue was a pretty important issue in the 2012 campaign. It was effectively encoded into the Obama campaign's DNA -- "Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive" -- and the issue became a cudgel with which to beat Mitt Romney throughout the Midwest.
 
In light of the president's retirement, it seems unlikely the policy will as important in 2016, but as the Huffington Post's Jonathan Cohn explained over the weekend, the relevance of the industry rescue clearly hasn't faded entirely.
If you want to understand the temperaments and governing philosophies of the Republican presidential candidates, pay close attention to the way they talk about an iconic moment of President Barack Obama's tenure: His decision, in the spring of 2009, to rescue Chrysler and General Motors.
 
Most of the top GOP contenders have said the decision was a mistake. The latest to do so was Rick Perry, the former governor of Texas, who boasted Friday during MSNBC's "Morning Joe" that he was against all bailouts -- including the one for General Motors. "When corporate leaders make bad mistakes, they need to be held accountable, whether they are on Wall Street or on Main Street," Perry said.
You can watch the full Perry interview here. Note, the former governor notes in his comments that Texas is home to an important GM manufacturing facility, though that apparently didn't affect his opposition to the White House policy.
 
If Perry's posture seems familiar, there's a good reason: plenty of Republican presidential hopefuls have expressed their skepticism, if not their unreserved opposition, to the policy that restored and strengthened the American automotive industry. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has voiced his opposition to the administration's policy, as have former Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) has generally refused to talk about the issue at all.
 
They do realize Obama's policy worked, don't they?
Virginia Voters

Why the fate of Virginia's congressional map matters

06/08/15 10:44AM

When voters in Virginia went to the polls in 2012, a narrow majority backed President Obama's re-election bid, just as they'd done four years earlier. In a closely watched U.S. Senate race, the commonwealth's voters also elected Sen. Tim Kaine (D) over former Sen. George Allen (R) by about six points.
 
But just a little further down on the ballot is where things get tricky. If you add up all the votes case in each of Virginia's U.S. House races, roughly 49% of Virginians voted for Democratic candidates, while about 51% supported Republican candidates. The state has 11 congressional districts, so if there was some kind of parallel between voter preferences and partisan results, we might expect to see five Democrats head to Congress from the state, along with six Republicans.
 
Except that's not what happened. Of Virginia's 11 U.S. House seats, Democrats ended up with three victories to the GOP's eight. Dems may have won nearly 49% of the vote, but they also won about 27% of the representation.
 
This gap, while obviously discouraging to Democrats, was entirely predictable. After the 2010 Census, Virginia's Republican-dominated state government carefully crafted a district map intended to maximize GOP victories. How? Step one, of course, was drawing lines in such a way as to keep as many African-American voters together as possible, effectively creating noncompetitive districts.
 
Late last week, this map ran into some trouble. The Washington Post reported:
A panel of federal judges issued a ruling Friday that Virginia lawmakers illegally concentrated African American voters into one congressional district to reduce their influence elsewhere, bringing the state a step closer to being forced to redraw its election map.
 
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia affirmed its earlier decision and ordered the Virginia House of Delegates to redraw the state's 11-district congressional map by Sept. 1.
It's not yet resolved -- an appeal is inevitable -- but this has the potential to be a pretty big deal.
Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin prepares to speak at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition 2015 Spring Kickoff on April 25, 2015 in Waukee, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

Walker aims high, delivers low

06/08/15 10:00AM

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) sat down with ABC News' Jonathan Karl yesterday and made some news, though not necessarily the kind that will help his unannounced presidential campaign.
 
It was striking to hear the Republican governor say, for example, that if the Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality this month, he believes the appropriate response would be "ultimately to consider pursuing a constitutional amendment." As for what such an amendment might say, Walker added that he envisions a policy in which states would have the constitutional authority to block same-sex couples from getting married.
 
On foreign policy, Karl asked the governor if he would "rule out a full-blown U.S. re-invasion of Iraq and Syria." Walker initially hedged, but refused to rule out the possibility.
 
Taken together, those two positions alone may give pause to much of the American electorate. But consider the significance of this other exchange:
KARL: So one of your central promises was that you were going to create 250,000 private sector jobs in Wisconsin. When I asked you about that two years ago, you said you would get it done.... But you haven't done it. You fell quite a bit short.
 
WALKER: Yeah, we set a big bold goal. We created over 150,000 jobs in these first four years.... We're going to continue to aim high both in our state, and if I were a candidate for president of the United States, I would aim high there as well.
As a gubernatorial candidate five years ago, Walker offered Wisconsin a specific metric of success: he was so confident in the strength of his economic plan that he told voters that he would create 250,000 jobs in four years. He even said this should serve as the standard upon which he should be judged.
 
And Walker failed miserably to deliver. Indeed, he struggled to create half of the job totals he promised. His defense is that he "aimed high," but that's not a credible argument for a national candidate. Those who make bold promises about ambitious goals and then fail to deliver don't get to brag about their success.
 
The ABC interview soon added:

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