First up from the God Machine this week is an extraordinary exchange about the Bible with the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination.
Donald Trump's clumsiness on matters of faith has been a point of concern for some voters before, but this week, the GOP candidate sat down with Bloomberg Politics, which noted that Trump has repeatedly pointed to the Bible lately as his favorite book. Does he have a favorite scriptural verse or two he'd be willing to share?
"Well, I wouldn't want to get into it because to me that's very personal," Trump replied. "You know, when I talk about the Bible it's very personal." Asked to cite a verse from the Bible he simply likes, the Republican responded, "No, I don't want to do that."
When John Heilemann asked if he preferred the Old Testament or the New Testament, Trump responded, in all seriousness, "Uh, probably [long pause] equal. I think it's just an incredible, the whole Bible is an incredible, I joke, very much so, they always hold up The Art of the Deal, I say it's my second favorite book of all time. But, uh, I just think the Bible is just something very special."
Watching the video, it's hard not to get the impression that Trump almost certainly hasn't read the Bible; he probably doesn't have a favorite verse; and the GOP White House hopeful has no idea what the differences are between the Old and New Testaments.
I've seen some suggestions this week that the questions might have been inappropriate, since it's arguably unfair to press candidates for public office on personal matters of faith. But in this case, Trump has personally boasted, several times, about his great affection for the Bible. Given his posturing, there's nothing wrong with an interviewer probing the details of an issue the candidate himself has repeatedly emphasized.
Indeed, after talking about scripture in recent weeks, shouldn't Trump have realized that someone would eventually ask a question or two about this? The best answer he could come up with is that the Bible is deeply private for him, except for all the times he brags about his love for the book in public?
Regardless, this seems to be part of a larger faith-based focus. Last week, Trump even delved into the "War on Christmas" nonsense, telling an audience, "There's an assault on anything having to do with Christianity. They don't want to use the word Christmas anymore at department stores."
It's hard to know whether anyone will take such rhetoric seriously, but voters should expect to hear more of it -- the Trump campaign announced this week that he's arranged a September meeting with a group of evangelical leaders "to hear the heart of America's Christian leaders and learn what they feel are the most critical issues facing our nation today."
Melissa Harris-Perry sorts fact from fiction in a case of mistaken identity in a Pennsylvania court, mistaken political alliance by the Maine governor, and mistaken manipulation of the voting process by a group of local merchants. watch
Jason Mitchell, an actor in the summer blockbuster Straight Outta Compton, and Madeleine Lecesne, 2014 national student poet, talk with Melissa Harris-Perry about growing up in New Orleans before and after Katrina and how the experience changed them. watch
Gina Womack, executive director of FFLIC, talks with Melissa Harris-Perry about the Katrina Truth Initiative, a project to preserve the history of the botched handling of the Katrina disaster and to highlight political issues that remain unresolved. watch
Melissa Harris-Perry looks back at the competition between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination during the 2008 campaign, noting that Clinton has learned that Obama's focus on delegates over raw votes is what won it for him. watch
Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, talks with Melissa Harris-Perry about what polling shows are the unique features of the Donald Trump campaign and the power of Donald Trump's non-politicians status with his supporters. watch
* Migrant deaths: "Europe reeled from fresh shocks in its escalating migration crisis Friday, with reports of 150 drownings in the Mediterranean and news that far more migrant corpses had been found crammed in an abandoned refrigeration truck in Austria than first thought. Damage to the vehicle’s side raised the possibility that victims had struggled to escape."
* NSA: "A federal appeals court on Friday reversed a trial court decision that would have barred the government from continuing its post-9/11 bulk data collection program implemented by the National Security Agency. The decision means that, for now, the NSA program implemented under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act can continue unimpeded."
* Storm preparation: "The governor of Florida declared a state of emergency Friday ahead of Tropical Storm Erika, which has killed at least 12 people as it rakes the Caribbean. Gov. Rick Scott said the storm constitutes a 'severe threat.' Erika is expected to reach Florida late Sunday or early Monday, but it’s not clear how strong the storm will be."
* Free speech: "Demonstrators can’t use the Supreme Court’s outdoor plaza as a stage for their messages, a federal appeals court ruled Friday. A federal law prohibiting such demonstrations is justified by the government’s interest in 'preserving decorum' at the Supreme Court and promoting the image of a judiciary 'uninfluenced by public opinion and pressure,' the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said."
* Gun violence: "A college junior died after being shot Thursday night in Savannah State University’s student union building. Christopher Starks, who is from the metro Atlanta area, died at a local hospital, the college said in a statement. The campus had earlier been locked down 'due to a shooting incident.'"
* Iraq: "In a further setback to the faltering American and Iraqi campaign to retake Anbar Province from the Islamic State, two Iraqi generals were killed in a suicide attack by the group Thursday morning outside Ramadi, the provincial capital."
* NLRB: "A federal labor board voted Thursday to redefine the employee-employer relationship granting new bargaining powers to workers caught up in an economy increasingly reliant on subcontractors, franchisees and temporary staffing agencies."
There's a famous election anecdote from 1972 in which film critic Pauline Kael expressed astonishment that Richard Nixon had won re-election. She was stunned, the story goes, because "no one I know voted for him."
The story is probably apocryphal -- relevant details have changed over the years -- but the enduring qualities of the anecdote deserve appreciation. It's easy, perhaps too easy, for all of us to extrapolate from our personal interactions and draw misleading conclusions based on limited data.
The Kael story came to mind today reading Peggy Noonan's latest Wall Street Journalcolumn in which the Republican pundit suggests Donald Trump has burgeoning support with Latino voters. No, that's not a typo.
Something is going on, some tectonic plates are moving in interesting ways. My friend Cesar works the deli counter at my neighborhood grocery store. He is Dominican, an immigrant, early 50s, and listens most mornings to a local Hispanic radio station, La Mega, on 97.9 FM. Their morning show is the popular "El Vacilón de la Mañana," and after the first GOP debate, Cesar told me, they opened the lines to call-ins, asking listeners (mostly Puerto Rican, Dominican, Mexican) for their impressions. More than half called in to say they were for Mr. Trump. Their praise, Cesar told me a few weeks ago, dumbfounded the hosts.
I later spoke to one of them, who identified himself as D.J. New Era. He backed Cesar's story. "We were very surprised," at the Trump support, he said. Why? "It's a Latin-based market!"
Noonan seems quite impressed with Cesar's perspective. He apparently claimed Latino callers to the same radio station also sided with Trump -- "He's the man," Cesar said of the Republican -- after this week's confrontation with Univision anchor Jorge Ramos.
Cesar went on to tell the GOP pundit that immigrants not only "don't like" undocumented immigrants, they also agree with Trump on "anchor babies."
Noonan went on to say that in recent travels, "almost wherever" she went, the columnist "kept meeting immigrants who are or have grown conservative."
And 43 years ago, everyone Pauline Kael knew just couldn't wait to vote for McGovern.
At an event last month, former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton acknowledged their personal interest in the 2016 race, but sounded optimistic about the kind of campaign Americans could expect.
"I know Jeb and I'm confident Secretary Hillary will elevate the discourse," Bush said of his brother.
It sounded like a worthy goal, and at the time, the Republican had reason to be optimistic -- the event was in early July, when Jeb Bush was still at or near the top of national GOP polling. A campaign that elevates the discourse is easier when it's winning.
It's quite a bit tougher, though, when a campaign hits a rough patch. The Washington Post's Dave Weigel reports today, for example, on Team Jeb tackling a story about, of all things, Donald Trump's sister.
It started with a Bloomberg Politics interview in which Mark Halperin asked about the Supreme Court and brought up the fact that Trump's sister is an appeals-court judge. The candidate sang his sister's praises, but said he'd rule her out for a high court nomination. Weigel picks it up from there:
[Trump's] quote ran on Aug. 26. One day later, National Review columnist Ramesh Ponnuru pointed out that Maryanne Trump Barry was reliably pro-choice, and once rejected a lawsuit to stop partial birth abortions for "semantic machinations" about when life began. Just 20 minutes after that article went up, Bush's spokesman and campaign manager tweeted it out, sexing it up a bit to say that Trump actually wanted to put his sister on the bench.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) believes his personal backstory is the perfect antidote to criticisms of his policy agenda. At the first debate for Republican presidential candidates held earlier this month, the Florida senator boasted about what the GOP can expect if he's the nominee: "We will be the party of the bartenders and the maids, of the people that clean our rooms and fix our cars."
At face value, the claim seemed odd, if not ridiculous. Rubio has outlined his economic vision, which is based largely on a tax-reform package that lavishes new wealth on the rich. What does this have to do with appealing to bartenders, maids, and mechanics?
The answer came in an interview this week with CNBC's John Harwood.
HARWOOD: How do you think people who live paycheck to paycheck will receive that your tax plan eliminates taxes on estates, capital gains, and dividends?
RUBIO: First of all, capital gains and dividends is investment. My father had a job as a bartender at a hotel. And the reason why he had a job as a bartender is because someone with money invested in that hotel. That's why he had a salary, and that's why he had tips.
In other words, the far-right senator is genuinely, sincerely committed to trickle-down economics.
Rubio seems to believe Republicans can go to bartenders, maids, and mechanics with a pitch: "We'll give big tax breaks to people 'with money.' Eventually, this will mean jobs for you -- top earners will need people to mix their drinks, clean their rooms, and repair their cars."
Much of the political world's attention has focused on the presidential campaign trail of late, and for good reason. Congress takes August off; President Obama has been on vacation; and his would-be successors have put on quite a show.
But as August nears its end, the White House remains quite cognizant of the challenges facing federal policymakers. Just yesterday, the president published a message on Twitter, explaining, "Amidst global volatility, Congress should protect the momentum of our growing economy (not kill it)." Obama added that the United States "must avoid" a government shutdown and austerity measures.
The message didn't come out of the blue. Current funding for the federal government expires at the end of September, and though Republican leaders intended to make progress with talks over their summer break, there's no indication that officials are any closer to a solution than they were in July. On the contrary, as was the case in 2013, some far-right members seem eager for a fight that would result in a shutdown.
And then, of course, there's the debt ceiling. On the one hand, we received some good news on this front from the Congressional Budget Office this week. The Washington Postreported:
Congressional leaders may have more time to work out a deal this fall to increase the federal borrowing limit, after new projections from Congress' scorekeeper showed tax revenues have been greater than expected this year. [...]
In July, the Treasury Department estimated the government would hit its $18.1 trillion borrowing limit at the end of October. CBO, however, now projects the debt ceiling will not need to be increased until mid-November or early December, while noting there is a level of uncertainty when determining the exact date.
On the other hand, the delayed deadline won't necessarily help. The Huffington Postreported:
We've seen some reports this week noting that Donald Trump, who's repeatedly refused to rule out a third-party presidential bid, may no longer have a choice. CNN, for example, said the Republican frontrunner "must rule out a third-party bid before October if he wants to compete in South Carolina's Republican primary, a crucial test in the nominating contest."
Strictly speaking, that may not be entirely right. South Carolina's GOP does, in fact, require Republican presidential hopefuls to sign something akin to a loyalty oath, but the wording is almost comically weak: "I hereby affirm that I generally believe in and intend to support the nominees and platform of the Republican Party in the November 8, 2016 general election."
Could Trump sign the document about his "general beliefs" and then later change his mind? Maybe. Enforcing loyalty oaths is inherently tricky, so it's difficult to say with confidence what would happen if a candidate "intends" to support the party's nominee and then later changes his or her intentions.
Still, while the Republican National Committee has very little influence over Trump's chances, Politicoreported this week that some state parties are starting to see loyalty oaths as a worthwhile tool aimed at the New York developer.
Amid mounting concerns about Donald Trump's candidacy from the GOP establishment, Republican leaders in at least two states have found a way to make life a lot harder for him.
The Virginia and North Carolina parties are in discussions about implementing a new requirement for candidates to qualify for their primary ballots: that they pledge to support the Republican presidential nominee -- and not run as a third-party candidate -- in the general election.
The move probably wouldn't cost Trump support within the party, but that's obviously not the point -- these GOP officials are worried about Trump bolting the party and splitting the right in the general election. They're looking for mechanisms to tie the candidates' hands, forcing them to commit to the party's process.
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) announced his support for the international nuclear agreement with Iran overnight, as did Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.). Both members were considered "on the fence" and their endorsements reinforce broad perceptions that the diplomatic solution is likely to prevail.
It's against this backdrop that Slate's Fred Kaplan argues persuasively that some of the deal's high-profile opponents have made a serious strategic blunder.
If current trends hold, [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] and his stateside lobbyists -- mainly AIPAC -- are set to lose this fight. It’s politically risky for Israel’s head of state to go up against the president of his only big ally and benefactor; it’s catastrophic to do so and come away with nothing. Similarly, it’s a huge defeat for AIPAC, whose power derives from an image of invincibility. American politicians and donors might get the idea that the group isn’t so invincible after all, that they can defy its wishes, now and then, without great risk.
It would have been better for Netanyahu -- and for Israel -- had he maybe grumbled about the Iran deal but not opposed it outright, let alone so brazenly. He could have pried many more favors from Obama in exchange for his scowl-faced neutrality.
That's undoubtedly true. It's easy to imagine a scenario in which Netanyahu and his team looked ahead, counted heads, and applied some basic game theory. "Look," the prime minister could have told President Obama privately, "I'll obviously never endorse the deal, but in exchange for some new benefits, I'll scale back the opposition campaign." West Wing officials likely would have been amenable to working something out.
For that matter, if Netanyahu hadn't adopted such an obstinate, unconstructive posture, he could have also worked with the White House during the negotiations, possibly even having some influence over the shape of the outcome.
But the prime minister and his allies chose a different course: first try to kill the talks, then try to kill the deal. For his trouble, Netanyahu is likely to end up with ... nothing.
The policy will apparently move forward anyway, while Netanyahu has undercut Israel's relationship with his country's closest ally.
There is an art to losing well. The prime minister has conducted a clinic on what not to do.
In the wake of this week's shooting in Virginia of two journalists, President Obama mentioned in an interview, "What we know is that the number of people who die from gun-related incidents around this country dwarfs any deaths that happen through terrorism." As a simple matter of arithmetic, Obama's assessment is plainly true.
But Republican presidential hopeful Chris Christie wasn't impressed with the factual observation. "I don't know that anybody in America believes that they feel more threatened by this than they feel a threat by ISIS or by other terrorist groups around the world," the New Jersey governor said on Fox News.
It's a curious approach to the debate. For Christie, the president may be right, but the facts don't "feel" true. The governor doesn't know anyone who actually believes the truth -- statistically speaking, reality tells us Americans really are more threatened by gun violence than international terrorism -- and as such, the facts are somehow less important than the perception.
But this was the line that really stood out for me.
Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) said Thursday that enforcing existing gun laws should take precedence over new legislation, a day after the deadly shooting of two journalists during a live broadcast.
"I'll tell you what I am more scared of, I'm more scared of criminals than I am of guns," the 2016 presidential contender said during an interview on CNBC's "Squawk Box."
That seems like a line that would score well with focus groups, but it doesn't mean much,
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.