In the last presidential election, Mitt Romney positioned himself as the most anti-immigration general-election candidate Americans have seen in a generation. The Republican nominee opposed both comprehensive reform and the Dream Act; he endorsed "self-deportation"; he criticized bilingualism; and he casually threw around words like "amnesty" and "illegals" as staples of his campaign rhetoric.
It was tough to imagine what more Romney could have done to alienate immigrant communities, and the results were predictable: President Obama received over 70% of the Latino vote.
How much worse can Republicans make matters? The party's 2016 candidates can do the one thing Romney didn't: go after legal immigration.
Republicans often rail about undocumented immigrants. But Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, an expected GOP presidential candidate, took it a step further Monday by sounding some critical notes about the number of those who immigrate to the U.S. legally.
"In terms of legal immigration, how we need to approach that going forward is saying -- the next president and the next Congress need to make decisions about a legal immigration system that's based on, first and foremost, on protecting American workers and American wages. Because the more I've talked to folks, I've talked to [Alabama Sen. Jeff] Sessions and others out there -- but it is a fundamentally lost issue by many in elected positions today -- is what is this doing for American workers looking for jobs, what is this doing to wages. And we need to have that be at the forefront of our discussion going forward," Walker said in an interview with Glenn Beck, according to Breitbart News.
The reference to Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) is important -- the right-wing Alabama lawmaker recently made the case for curtailing legal immigration. For Walker to affiliate himself with Sessions and his allies is evidence of the top-tier presidential hopeful adopting a very conservative posture on one of the cycle's biggest issues.
If New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) hoped to start a broader discussion on entitlements, it worked. The Republican governor delivered a speech a week ago announcing his support for major "reforms" to social-insurance programs, including a call to raise the retirement age to 69.
Within a few days, many of his national GOP rivals were on board with roughly the same idea: former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are all now on record in support of raising the retirement age.
But in an interesting twist, some Republicans have been equally eager to take the opposite side. Take former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R), for example:
"I don't know why Republicans want to insult Americans by pretending they don't understand what their Social Security program and Medicare program is," Huckabee said in response to a question about Christie's proposal to gradually raise the retirement age and implement a means test.
Huckabee said his response to such proposals is "not just no, it's you-know-what no."
Even Donald Trump, who's apparently flirting with the possibility of a campaign, rejected the idea during a Fox News interview yesterday. "They're attacking Social Security -- the Republicans -- they're attacking Medicare and Medicaid, but they're not saying how to make the country rich again," the television personality said. He added, in reference to GOP plans, "Even Tea Party people don't like it."
And then, of course, there's the likely Democratic nominee these Republicans hope to take on next year.
The conservative Washington Timesreports today that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) is gearing up for a presidential campaign, despite the fact that his national ambitions are hampered by his unpopularity in his home state.
In fairness to the far-right governor, he's not the only national candidate with this problem. Much of the Republican presidential field is struggling with the fact that voters in their own states are unimpressed by their records.
But Jindal is the only one who's prepared an amazing argument to explain his unpopularity with his own constituents. Consider his comments over the weekend in New Hampshire at a multi-candidate event:
"[W]hen I was elected to my first term we won in the primaries, something that had never been done before by a non-incumbent. My second election, my re-election, we got the largest percentage of the vote ever, over two-thirds.
"And I'm here to tell you, my popularity has certainly dropped at least 15 to 20 points because we've cut government spending, because we took on the teacher unions.
"But we need that kind of leadership in D.C."
I'm not sure Jindal appreciates how unintentionally funny this argument really is.
Presidential candidates are always eager to earn support from voters, but with nine months remaining until anyone casts a primary ballot, White House hopefuls have a slightly different focus at this stage in the process. As the race gets underway in earnest, the goal isn't just to get public backing, but rather, to get support from a specific group of mega-donors.
Charles G. and David H. Koch, the influential and big-spending conservative donors, appear to have a favorite in the race for the Republican presidential nomination: Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin.
On Monday, at a fund-raising event in Manhattan for the New York State Republican Party, David Koch told donors that he and his brother, who oversee one of the biggest private political organizations in the country, believed that Mr. Walker would be the Republican nominee.
According to the New York Times' report, David Koch talked about the Wisconsin governor as if his primary success was simply assumed: "When the primaries are over and Scott Walker gets the nomination..." he joked.
The article noted two other attendees who said they heard Koch go further, describing the Republican Wisconsinite as the candidate who should get the GOP nomination.
It's worth emphasizing that Koch, following the Times' reporting, issued a written statement, describing Walker as "terrific," but stressing, "I am not endorsing or supporting any candidate for president at this point in time."
The statement doesn't necessarily contradict the reporting. It's entirely possible, for example, that the Kochs will remain officially neutral during the nominating process, while also privately acknowledging their preference for Walker while talking to allies behind closed doors.
And if that's the case, it's a major advantage for the far-right governor over his rivals. The Kochs not only carry an enormous wallet, they oversee a large political operation and enjoy broad credibility among conservative activists and donors.
Rachel Maddow points out that Peter Schweitzer, author if the upcoming "Clinton Cash" book, has a history of producing partisan misinformation and wonders why otherwise legitimate news outlets are giving him credulous treatment. watch
Rachel Maddow shows the consequences of collapsed governments, from a refugee crisis from Libya to war in Yemen. Dion Nissenbaum, Wall Street Journal Pentagon reporter, joins to discuss a U.S. move to intercept Iranian ships in the Gulf of Aden. watch
David Brock, founder of Media Matters for America, talks with Rachel Maddow about the willingness of The New York Times and The Washington Post to engage discredited author Peter Schweitzer on the claims he makes in his new Hillary Clinton attack book. watch
"a masked figure, speaking English with an American accent, pointing a revolver toward the camera..."http://t.co/1q2gqcUnqZ
* Watch this story: "American warships are prepared to intercept a convoy of Iranian ships suspected of carrying weapons to Houthi rebel forces in Yemen, senior defense and military officials told NBC News on Monday."
* East Africa: "A bomb attack targeting a van carrying workers to a United Nations compound killed nine people on Monday, police said. Authorities suspect Islamist al Shabaab militants of being behind the blast in Garowe in the Somali region of Puntland, police officer Mohamed Abdi said at the scene. Six bystanders were wounded, he added."
* High court: "The Supreme Court threw out a ruling from last year that upheld Republican-drawn congressional and state legislative districts on Monday, ordering North Carolina's highest court to reconsider its decision that state legislators didn't rely too heavily on race when drawing the district lines."
* Labor Secretary Thomas Perez talked with Greg Sargent today, offering a spirited defense of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which President Obama may soon negotiate with "fast-track" authority.
* ISIS: "The Islamic State released a video on Sunday that appears to show fighters from its branches in southern and eastern Libya executing dozens of Ethiopian Christians, some by beheading and others by shooting."
* I'd like to hear more about this: "The Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000."
* Michigan: "A suburban Detroit police officer who was seen on dash-cam video dragging a black man from his car before kicking and punching him repeatedly will be charged with two felony counts, a county prosecutor said Monday."
At first blush, it's likely the White House's critics will gravitate to thisNew York Times piece, headlined, "At Global Economic Gathering, U.S. Primacy Is Seen as Ebbing." But I hope they'll do more than just read the headline.
As world leaders converge here for their semiannual trek to the capital of what is still the world's most powerful economy, concern is rising in many quarters that the United States is retreating from global economic leadership just when it is needed most.
"It's almost handing over legitimacy to the rising powers," Arvind Subramanian, the chief economic adviser to the government of India, said of the United States in an interview on Friday.... Other officials attending the meetings this week, speaking on the condition of anonymity, agreed that the role of the United States around the world was at the top of their concerns.
For Republicans and a variety of lazy pundits, one assumes the reaction to such reports is reflexive : "See? President Obama obviously needs to lead more."
But there's a more meaningful takeaway from reports like these, published to coincide with the spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. The Times' piece notes that it was the United States that was largely responsible for building the global economic stage after World War II, it was the United States that's directed the stage for generations, but it's now the United States that's struggling to maintain its primacy.
Washington's retreat is not so much by intent, Mr. Subramanian said, but a result of dysfunction and a lack of resources to project economic power the way it once did. Because of tight budgets and competing financial demands, the United States is less able to maintain its economic power, and because of political infighting, it has been unable to formally share it either.
And this is the part that the political world should pay attention to. For all the assumptions on the right about President Obama retreating from the global stage, that's almost entirely backwards -- Republicans are almost exclusively referring to a willingness to fight and prolong wars when they make the complaint. It's the White House, however, that welcome greater international engagement, but faces an intransigent Congress run by a far-right party.
As the world looks for more investment, American lawmakers ask, "How can we spend less?" As China looks to expand its influence, it's the U.S. Congress that asks, "How can we scale back even more?"
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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