Marco Rubio used to consider immigration his signature issue. When that didn't turn out well, the Florida senator decided national security would be his new area of expertise.
Maybe he should keep looking. Consider this line from last night's debate.
"Today, we are on pace to have the smallest Army since the end of World War II, the smallest Navy in 100 years, the smallest Air Force in our history. You cannot destroy ISIS with a military that's being diminished."
It's amazing to me that Rubio, for all of his purported interest in the subject, still doesn't understand the basics.
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently said his party's national candidates "don't know what they're talking about" and maintain a "level of dialogue on national security issues that would embarrass a middle schooler." Why Rubio is so eager to prove Gates right is a mystery.
As we discussed over the summer, when the senator first started pushing this line, this was actually one of Mitt Romney's more embarrassing talking points.
Quick quiz: without looking, who would you say is in second place in the New Hampshire Republican primary, based on the latest polling? We know a certain New York developer is running first, but who's his next closest competitor? I suspect the most common assumptions would be Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio.
But according to the Huffington Post's latest Pollster.com averages, it's actually Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) running second, slightly ahead of the far-right, better-known senators. (Real Clear Politics publishes its own related tally, which shows Kasich third -- half of a percentage point behind Cruz.)
For much of the cycle, Kasich has been relegated to afterthought status, and in national polling, that remains largely true. The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll found the governor with just 2% among Republicans nationwide. The latest CNN poll put Kasich's support even lower, at an embarrassing 1%.
But in New Hampshire, where the Ohioan has invested nearly all of his energies -- Kasich has effectively given up on Iowa -- the governor has made so much headway that the rival candidates who were inclined to ignore Kasich have decided instead to attack him. The New York Timesreported overnight:
A pair of "super PACs" supporting Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida have begun to deliver attacks on Mr. Kasich on television and in the mail. Right to Rise, a pro-Bush PAC, is battering Mr. Kasich with harsh television ads and mail that label him "the worst on spending of any governor in the country."
On television, commercials attack Mr. Kasich for supporting "massive defense cuts," and highlight his support in the 1990s for a military base-closing commission that shuttered a base in New Hampshire.
They're not alone. As we briefly mentioned yesterday, a secretive far-right group called the American Future Fund, which does not disclose its donors, is launching a $1 million ad campaign against the Ohio governor, telling New Hampshire Republicans Kasich is an "Obama Republican," not a conservative or a moderate.
After more than a year on the presidential campaign trail, Jeb Bush has experimented with a variety of postures. We've seen the wonky Jeb, the don't-judge-me-by-my-last-name Jeb, the please-judge-me-by-my-last-name Jeb, the angry Jeb, the serious Jeb, and even the thoughtful Jeb.
Yesterday, however, was the first time I can remember seeing the maybe-I-just-don't-care-anymore Jeb. I've watched this video several times, because it's hard to know what to make of it.
CBS News' Major Garrett asked the Florida Republican, "Can Jeb Bush be a surprise story here on caucus night?" The candidate, bemused, responded, "Yes, since the expectations are so low."
Garrett, apparently unconcerned about twisting the knife, replied, "Well, you have succeeded there, governor."
Bush, without missing a beat, raised his arms in triumph. Laughing a bit, he replied, "Mission accomplished."
No, really. That's what he said. Jeb seemed wholly unaware of the fact that someone with his last name might not want to associate the words "mission accomplished" with a looming disaster.
I've seen some suggestions that this might have been the single lowest point of Jeb Bush's candidacy to date. We saw, on camera, a struggling candidate resigned to failure, practically mocking his own ineptitude, campaigning in a state in which his polling average puts him slightly below 4%.
But maybe there's a more positive way to look at this.
On Jan. 21, 2015, almost exactly a year ago, officials from Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder's (R) administration attended an event in Flint City Hall in which they assured local residents there was no crisis with the city's water system. The people of Flint, officials said at the time, should consider their tap water safe.
Those officials were wrong. It's of great interest to know whether or not they knew it was wrong.
In January of 2015, when state officials were telling worried Flint residents their water was safe to drink, they also were arranging for coolers of purified water in Flint's State Office Building so employees wouldn't have to drink from the taps, according to state government e-mails released Thursday by the liberal group Progress Michigan.
A Jan. 7, 2015, notice from the state Department of Technology, Management and Budget, which oversees state office buildings, references a notice about a violation of drinking water standards that had recently been sent out by the City of Flint.
Specifically, the note said it was providing coolers of purified water to employees of the state office building in Flint in order to provide them with an option. "The coolers will arrive today and will be provided as long as the public water does not meet treatment requirements," the notice said.
So, let me get this straight. In January of last year, the Snyder administration told Flint residents their water was safe to drink. Two weeks earlier, the Snyder administration told its own employees in Flint -- in writing -- that "the public water does not meet treatment requirements."
Rachel asked on the show, "If you lived in Flint, would you trust the state government to fix the problem there?"
Headed into this morning's GDP announcement, the question was less about whether economic growth cooled in the fourth quarter and more about how much. Several forecasts raised the specter of a flat report -- an economy that is neither growing nor contracting -- and some even suggested GDP would slip into negative territory.
The good news is, those assessments were a little too pessimistic. The bad news is, economic growth is far short of what we'd like to see.
The American economy barely grew last quarter, finishing the year much as it had started and stoking concern about its momentum in 2016.
Overall, the economy expanded at an annual rate of just 0.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2015, the Commerce Department said Friday.
Some of this is the result of a sharp drop in oil prices, which affects business investment, and economic troubles abroad, most notably China, which affects domestic trade.
Also note, while overall growth has been inconsistent over the last several quarters, the fact that job growth and the housing market have offered more encouraging news helps take the edge off reports like these.
Going into the seventh debate for the Republican presidential candidates, we knew in advance the gathering in Des Moines would be a qualitatively different kind of event. Donald Trump, feuding with Fox News, refused to participate, creating a void on the stage: the GOP frontrunner, the one whose antics many viewers tune in to watch, wasn't there.
And yet, somehow Trump managed to win the debate anyway.
How does a candidate who wasn't there come out on top? By my count, there were five relevant angles to this.
1. Trump won because his principal foe lost.
In Iowa, among other places, the Republican frontrunner's principal foe is Ted Cruz. And while the Texas senator may have the best raw debating skills of any GOP candidate in many years, last night's event in Des Moines was rough for the Republican lawmaker. With Trump out, the remaining candidates (and the moderators) largely directed their fire at the candidate whom they (a) are trailing in Iowa; and (b) dislike personally anyway.
Cruz turned in his worst debate performance of the cycle, appearing unsteady in the face of repeated criticisms, on the night he needed to shine. The result: Trump saw his closest competitor stumble, and he didn't have to lift a finger to make it happen.
2. Trump won because his other principal foe also lost.
To my mind, the night's most important exchange happened about mid-way through the debate, when one of the moderators asked Marco Rubio, "Within two years of getting elected, you were co-sponsoring legislation to create a path to citizenship, in your words, amnesty. Haven't you already proven that you cannot be trusted on this issue?"
After the senator rifled through his scripted and unpersuasive response, Jeb Bush, of all people, lowered the boom. When Rubio accused Bush of changing his position on immigration, Jeb, showing unexpected agility, interrupted: "So did you." The former governor added, "[Rubio] cut and run because it wasn't popular amongst conservatives."
Politicoadded, "Rubio seemed overly tense, hyper-emphatic and prone to his unflattering habit of delivering his answers in an annoying Gatling Gun crescendo of ever-increasing volume.... [H]is less-than-calm performance undermines the boyish senator's contention that he's seasoned enough for the big job."
Somewhere, Trump and his team were no doubt smiling.
3. Trump won because the blood on the stage wasn't his.
Rachel Maddow shares a new report from the Detroit Free Press showing a year-old e-mail acknowledging that the public water in Flint "does not meet treatment requirements" for state employees to drink, even as the Snyder administration was assuring Flint residents about the integrity of their water. watch
Paul Rieckhoff, president and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, talks with Rachel Maddow about the non-partisan nature of his group and how Donald Trump's political stunts in the name of veterans actually hurts the cause by introducing disruptive, toxic politics. watch
Rachel Maddow reviews Republican front-runner Donald Trump's recent history of attempting to exploit veterans and veterans causes to advance his campaign and cover over his personal shortcomings. watch
* Hmm: "In January of 2015, when state officials were telling worried Flint residents their water was safe to drink, they also were arranging for coolers of purified water in Flint's State Office Building so employees wouldn't have to drink from the taps, according to state government e-mails released Thursday by the liberal group Progress Michigan.
* Just four people? "Four anti-government holdouts remain in the armed occupation of a wildlife refuge in Eastern Oregon, and they will end the standoff if the government agrees not to prosecute one who is wanted on a felony warrant, a member of the group said Thursday."
* Related news from a newly filed FBI affidavit: "The day the occupation of the wildlife refuge began, the affidavit stated, an agent with the Bureau of Land Management said he was told by a county sheriff's officer that the group in control of the refuge 'had explosives, night vision goggles, and weapons and that if they didn't get the fight they wanted out there they would bring the fight to town.'"
* Alarm from WHO: "The World Health Organization rang a global alarm over the Zika virus on Thursday, saying the disease was 'spreading explosively' in the Americas and that as many as four million people could be infected by the end of the year."
* It sounds like he was suggesting vigilantism: "One day Maine's governor is talking about using the guillotine on drug dealers. The next, he's talking about using guns. Gov. Paul LePage told reporters Wednesday that Mainers are allowed to carry concealed handguns and added: 'Load up and get rid of the drug dealers.' LePage later said he wasn't suggesting vigilantism."
* Um, what? "For more than two years, the Navy's intelligence chief has been stuck with a major handicap: He's not allowed to know any secrets. Vice Adm. Ted 'Twig' Branch has been barred from reading, seeing or hearing classified information since November 2013, when the Navy learned from the Justice Department that his name had surfaced in a giant corruption investigation involving a foreign defense contractor and scores of Navy personnel."
* Speaking of the military: "The Defense Department is set to announce it will allow new moms 12 weeks of maternity leave as part of its Force of the Future initiative, a doubling of the Army and Air Force policy of six weeks but cutting what's now allowed for sailors and Marines."
At a campaign event in Marshalltown, Iowa, this week, Donald Trump focused on Ted Cruz's lack of support from within the Republican Party. "Think about it, not endorsed by one United States Senator and he works with them every day," Trump said, adding, "Not one Republican senator. How do you do that? How do you run a country that way? ... The guy doesn't have any endorsements."
At a certain level, that's true. Cruz has done fairly well picking up support from Republicans in the U.S. House -- his 18 endorsements are the third most in the GOP field -- but Cruz, a sitting U.S. senator, has zero endorsements from his colleagues in the chamber. He hasn't picked up any support from Republican governors, either.
What Trump neglected to mention is that he's doing even worse. For the first time in the modern era, a Republican frontrunner, leading in each of the first three nominating contests, is heading into Iowa with a grand total of zero endorsements from governors and/or members of the House and Senate. Literally, none.
Will that change? The State newspaper in South Carolina published an interesting piece late yesterday.
South Carolina Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster endorsed Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump on Thursday.
McMaster -- a former state attorney general, U.S. attorney and S.C. GOP chairman -- is the highest-ranking state politician to endorse a 2016 candidate.... The endorsement comes as a bit of surprise since McMaster represents the establishment in the state party.
Remember, it was earlier this month when South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) delivered her party's official response to the State of the Union address, in which she took not-so-subtle shots at Trump. And yet, yesterday, her lieutenant governor -- and likely successor in 2018 -- threw his official backing to Trump.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* In the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist polls, Hillary Clinton is ahead in Iowa (48% to 45%); she has a much bigger lead in South Carolina (64% to 27%); but Bernie Sanders is still well ahead in New Hampshire (57% to 38%).
* Bernie Sanders, who will turn 75 years old by Election Day, will reportedly release his medical records later today. This meets a vow from the campaign to disclose the materials before the Iowa caucuses.
* Political insiders are absolutely convinced that Marco Rubio would be a strong general-election candidate for Republicans, while Donald Trump would be a weak one. Republican voters, meanwhile, are equally convinced the exact opposite is true, at least according to the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll.
* Congratulations, John Kasich, you're now relevant enough to attack. A secretive far-right group called the American Future Fund, which does not disclose its donors, is launching a $1 million ad campaign against the Ohio governor, telling New Hampshire Republicans Kasich is an "Obama Republican," not a conservative or a moderate.
* Speaking of New Hampshire, Chris Christie is going after Marco Rubio with increasing vigor, tellingBoston Herald Radio yesterday that the Floridian is "a 44-year-old first-term senator who's never accomplished anything."
* Politicoreports that Rand Paul is under renewed pressure from GOP officials to shift his focus from his struggling presidential campaign to his Senate re-election campaign in Kentucky.
* Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), perhaps best known for role in trying to oust then-Speaker John Boehner, officially endorsed Ted Cruz on Fox News last night. Meadows is reportedly headed to Iowa to campaign for the Texas senator.
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.