Heading into New Hampshire, the race for the nomination of the once-genteel Republican Party seems to have entered a kind of “Mad Max” phase.
It is no surprise that Donald Trump is doing his best to create political mayhem. Trump was uncharacteristically subdued Monday night when he underperformed in Iowa, getting beaten by Ted Cruz and barely holding on to second place. But within 24 hours he was back in form, slashing and burning with abandon.
Trump seized on Ben Carson’s complaint that Cruz’s representatives at the Iowa caucuses had cheated, falsely leading Carson supporters to believe that their candidate was pulling out of the race; the message was that if they wanted their votes to count, they should cast them for Cruz. Trump thundered on Twitter that the “State of Iowa” should nullify the results and order a do-over — never mind that it is the Iowa Republican Party, not the state government, that runs the caucuses.
“Oh, that voter fraud, you know, these politicians are brutal,” Trump said at a rally. “They are a bunch of dishonest cookies, I want to tell you.”
Cruz accused his rival of throwing a “Trumpertantrum” — Cruz’s wordplay is never quite as sparkling as he seems to think — and his campaign maintained it was guilty of nothing except the practice of big-league politics.
The dispute doesn’t amount to much, except in this one sense: Trump played it safe in the days before Iowa, even skipping a debate, but now he seems back to the hot-mess flamboyance that brought him this far. Polls show him with a 20-point lead in New Hampshire over all comers, according to the RealClearPolitics average. He needs to win big to remain the favorite for the nomination.
Cruz is riding high, of course, and can even dream of sneaking into second place in Tuesday’s primary. But New Hampshire is unfriendly turf for him. Besides being the place where Trump hopes to get his mojo back, it is the state where the lagging establishment candidates — Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, John Kasich — have to do well. If they don’t, donors and endorsers may begin to coalesce around Marco Rubio, the only establishment hopeful who performed better in Iowa than the polls had predicted.
Indeed, such movement began Thursday, after Rick Santorum, who didn’t survive Iowa, gave Rubio his endorsement. Unhappily, however, Santorum struggled mightily when pressed by “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough to name one thing Rubio has accomplished in the Senate. After much hemming and hawing, Santorum acknowledged that “there isn’t a whole lot” but protested that the question was unfair, since no one has accomplished much of anything in the Senate in recent years.
It is Christie, though, who has been sharpest — some would say “most vicious” — in attacking Rubio since the Iowa vote. Christie’s campaign is running out of money and time, and he seems to have decided to leave it all on the field in New Hampshire.
“This isn’t the student council election, everybody. This is an election for president of the United States,” Christie said Tuesday, in an attack aimed at Rubio. “Let’s get the boy in the bubble out of the bubble, and let’s see him play for the next week in New Hampshire. I’m ready to play.”
The boy-in-the-bubble charge was only the beginning. Christie later said that Rubio “acts like the king of England,” called him “the master of the drive-by town hall,” accused him of being overly scripted and claimed he “just doesn’t have any experience.”
Bush is taking a more indirect approach. As we have seen in the debates, he is not exactly a master of the frontal assault. But he has been cheering Christie on, calling him “a great campaigner . . . a good friend . . . an effective governor.” And the Bush campaign bought a full-page ad in the Union Leader, New Hampshire’s biggest-circulation newspaper, in which a group of leading Florida Republicans charged that Rubio “is not the best choice to serve as Commander-in-Chief.”
With all the slashing and bashing on the Republican side, the Democratic race in New Hampshire almost seems reduced to undercard status — unless, of course, there is a surprise.
If Bernie Sanders — from next-door Vermont — wins the primary handily, as polls predict, nothing much changes. He and Hillary Clinton seem likely to wage a long battle of attrition.
For Republicans, however, New Hampshire is political life or death. Ronald Reagan’s “Eleventh Commandment” — not speaking ill of a fellow Republican — is being honored more in the breach than in the observance.
By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 4, 2016
The two most powerful moments during President Obama’s first visit to an American mosque on Wednesday didn’t happen during his speech. Rather, they occurred in the moments before the president took the podium.
The first came when a color guard made up of young Muslim American Boy and Girl Scouts entered the venue. One of the older scouts told the flag bearer: “Proudly present the flag of the United States of America.” The audience, ranging from community leaders to Muslim-American military veterans to the two Muslim members of Congress, stood in unison to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
The words of this pledge never seem to resonate as much. Here we were waiting for the President of the United States to speak to us because the spike in anti-Muslim hate had so skyrocketed that he felt compelled to address the issue. I had to fight back tears as we got to the last line of the pledge: “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
You see, that last line is the promise that brought my Muslim immigrant father as well as the parents, grandparents, and even some of the people in that room to come to America. They came here for the promise of being treated equally regardless of faith, ethnicity, or race. But that promise has been in peril as of late.
And the second moment that emotionally stood out was when the young African-American-Muslim woman, Sabah, introduced the president. Sabah spoke of the challenges of wearing a hijab—some had called her a terrorist. Yet she noted that far more of her fellow Americans of all backgrounds had been supportive. And then she delivered a passionate line that elicited huge applause from the crowd: “I’m proud to be American, I’m proud to be black, and I’m proud to be Muslim.”
That is what America is truly about. We can be hyphenated Americans and be just as American as anyone else.
President Obama even touched on Sabah’s very point in his speech when he said, “You aren’t Muslim or American. You are Muslim and American.” That was a theme that came up often in his speech at the Islamic Center of Baltimore, which was part pep talk for Muslims, part calling out the haters and also part calling on Muslims to play a role in countering radicalization.
But the heart of the President’s speech was trying to educate our fellow Americans about Islam to counter the anti-Muslim climate we live in today. One that has seen close to 100 anti-Muslim hate crimes in the last two months according to a Department of Justice official I spoke to at the event, which is far higher than we see reported in the media.
Obama began by countering the concept that some on the right peddle that Islam is foreign to America. The president declared, “Islam has always been part of America.” Adding, “Starting in colonial times, many of the slaves brought here from Africa were Muslim.”
The president also spoke of how Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia statute for religious freedom expressly included Islam as one of the protected faiths (“the Mahometan” was TJ’s word for a Muslim). Obama also added something I had never heard before: Some had accused Jefferson of being a closeted Muslim. (I wonder who was the Donald Trump of the 1700s who did that?!)
Obama then traced the contributions of Muslims in America as well as noting that Muslim Americans keep us safe. “They’re our police and our firefighters…They serve honorably in our armed forces—meaning they fight and bleed and die for our freedom. And some rest in Arlington National Cemetery. “
And the president recognized the extraordinary Muslims he had met at the mosque that day, from educators to business people to the first hijab-wearing Muslim to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team. But he added that despite the accomplishments of so many Muslims, he “could not help but be heartbroken to hear their worries and their anxieties.”
Obama relayed how he had received letters from Muslim-American parents who shared disturbing questions their young children were asking, like, “Are we going to be forced out of the country? Are we going to be rounded up?” Another Muslim American child wrote to him to say, “I’m scared.” The president responded forcefully that these are “conversations that you shouldn’t have to have with children—not in this country.”
The reality though is that’s where we are today as a community. There are young Muslim Americans who have been made to feel less than fully American simply because of their faith. We are seeing Muslim-American students bullied and taunted for wearing a hijab or having a first name like Mohammed.
The questions I find myself asking are: Will it get worse? Will the extreme voices win out? Will the good people simply be “bystanders to bigotry,” as Obama put it? Or will the voices of reason prevail?
I’m sure many Muslims at the event had similar question in mind. Perhaps sensing that, Obama told the audience: “I believe that, ultimately, our best voices will win out. And that gives me confidence and faith in the future.”
With of every fiber of my being I believe the president is correct. And despite the Trumps, Ben Carsons, or others on the right who believe that demonizing Muslims will make us cower in fear or even consider leaving this country, they are wrong. Our community, like every other minority community, will grow and prosper. I say that because our nation’s history tells us so. And because of our nation’s eternal promise that liberty and justice are not reserved only for one select religion or race, but “for all.”
By: Dean Obeidallah, The Daily Beast, February 4, 2016
“Taking Down Marco Rubio Is Easier Than You Think”: His Moderate Style Doesn’t Match His Extreme Policies
It’s silly to pretend otherwise: As a Democrat, I’d rather run against Ted Cruz than Marco Rubio.
But that’s like saying I’d rather run against herpes than Marco Rubio. Of course I would. I don’t care that Ted Cruz may be smart and strategic. He’s also creepy and cruel, according to just about everyone who’s ever had the misfortune of knowing him for longer than 10 minutes.
I’d also rather run against Donald Trump than Marco Rubio. Again, obvious. But for me, less so than Cruz. Trump isn’t quite as easily caricatured as a cartoon villain. Before his current role as America’s most overexposed xenophobe, he was a celebrity con man whose job was getting people to like and trust him against all odds. Trump is a loser now after Iowa, and perhaps for good, but he is also unpredictable, unscripted, and unafraid to torch the establishment of which he was once a member. There’s no zealot like a convert in search of voters.
Rubio is none of these things—which is why the more I think about him as a potential GOP nominee, the less scared I get.
Rubio would certainly start with some strengths. His youth, background, story, and ability to tell that story will generate another round of fawning media coverage of Rubio as the Republican Obama (hence the echoes of Obama’s Iowa speech in Rubio’s). He will be called the Democrats’ Worst Nightmare by so many annoying pundits, who will quote from the latest Gravis Marketing/Insider Advantage/Outback Steakhouse™ poll that shows Rubio capturing 85.5 percent of the Latino vote and all Americans under 30.
Because Trump and Cruz have moved the goalposts on what it means to be bat-shit crazy in a primary, the press will confuse Rubio’s moderate temperament with moderate policies, of which he has none. Rubio was once described as the “crown prince” of the Tea Party. He has a 100 percent rating from the NRA. He’ll appoint justices who will overturn the Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision. He opposes abortion with no exception for rape or incest. He opposes stem cell research and doesn’t believe in climate change. He’d send ground troops to Syria and trillions in tax cuts to the rich.
On immigration, who knows what Rubio will do next—and that’s kind of the point. In the primary, his experimentation with legalization has been an issue of loyalty to the Republican base. If he makes it to the general, it will be a character issue. When he ran for Senate, Rubio said he opposed citizenship for undocumented immigrants. When he got to the Senate, Rubio helped write a bill that supported citizenship for undocumented immigrants. When Rubio’s presidential ambitions were then threatened by a conservative revolt, he renounced his own bill.
This is such an easy story to tell. It’s such an easy story to understand. It’s not so different from when John Kerry voted for the $87 billion before he voted against it—a flip-flop that helped sink his 2004 campaign. Beyond Washington, Rubio’s dance on immigration won’t be seen as shrewd, it will be seen as cowardly and self-serving—basically, what people have come to expect from establishment politicians.
And that’s who Rubio really is, isn’t he? He’s been in elected office for most of his life. He’s not just cozy with lobbyists—he was registered as one. He’s cautious and guarded, a little too slick and overly rehearsed. Chris Christie has taken to calling him “bubble boy” for avoiding questions in favor of his stump speech. Then there was a New Hampshire reporter’s brutal description of Rubio’s interview with The Conway Daily Sun: “It was like watching a computer algorithm designed to cover talking points. He said a lot but at the same time said nothing. It was like someone wound him up, pointed him toward the doors and pushed ‘play.’ If there was a human side to the senator, a soul, it didn’t come across.”
Rubio’s campaign is based on the premise that he’s a new kind of leader for the next generation in a “New American Century.” And certainly, he looks the part and knows the lines. He’s young, charismatic, and never misses a chance to tell us how much cool rap music is on his iPad, even if no one asked (also, Pitbull isn’t cool).
But as a general election candidate, Rubio would combine everything people hate about Washington politics with everything they hate about Republican policies. He may be more formidable and disciplined than some of his nuttier rivals, but he will also be utterly predictable and conventional. We Democrats have won that kind of election before. We can do it again.
By: Jon Favreau, The Daily Beast, February 5, 2016
Ted Cruz this week reflected on the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, which the Republican presidential hopeful blamed, at least in part, on the city having been governed “with one-party government control of far-left Democrats for decades.”
The fact that the crisis was created by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s (R) administration and his emergency manager in Flint – local Democratic officials had no decision-making authority – was a detail the Texas Republican appears to have missed.
But if Cruz exploiting a man-made disaster for partisan gain seemed crude, the Michigan Republican Party has him beat. The Huffington Post reported today:
The Michigan Republican Party would like you to know that Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has been busy trying to heal the city of Flint while the malevolent Obama administration has only stood in the way.
That’s the message of an infographic the state party started putting out on social media on Thursday. The light blue water droplets on the left represent actions Snyder has taken since October, when his administration admitted its own mistakes created a crisis in Flint, a city whose 100,000 residents still can’t drink the water because of high lead levels. The dark blue droplets supposedly show unhelpful actions taken by the Obama administration, such as the refusal to declare a federal disaster area in the state (it declared an emergency instead).
As of this minute, the image is still available on the Michigan Republican Party’s Facebook page. If it’s taken down, it appears that the fine folks at Eclectablog, a Michigan-based site, have published the same image.
We know, of course, what state Republicans were thinking when they created this absurd infographic. GOP officials, recognizing the severity of this catastrophe and scandal, are desperate to avoid blame. Taking responsibility for Republicans’ mistakes is hard; reflexively lashing out at the White House, even if it doesn’t make any sense, is easy.
The problem, which even the most knee-jerk partisans will find hard to overlook, is a story that is not in dispute: Michigan’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, working with powers given to him by Michigan’s Republican-led state legislature, stripped local Flint officials of their power and decision-making authority. Snyder put an “emergency manager” in place – someone who answered to the governor, not the people of Flint – who shifted the city’s water supply, a move that carried tragic consequences.
Snyder administration officials told local residents not to worry about the water’s safety, even when the city had every reason to worry about the water’s safety.
These details were apparently omitted from the Michigan Republican Party’s infographic.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 5, 2016
“Who Hates Obamacare?”: Progressives Should Not Be Trash-Talking Progress And Impugning Motives Of People On Their Side
Ted Cruz had a teachable moment in Iowa, although he himself will learn nothing from it. A voter told Mr. Cruz the story of his brother-in-law, a barber who had never been able to afford health insurance. He finally got insurance thanks to Obamacare — and discovered that it was too late. He had terminal cancer, and nothing could be done.
The voter asked how the candidate would replace the law that might have saved his brother-in-law if it had been in effect earlier. Needless to say, all he got was boilerplate about government regulations and the usual false claims that Obamacare has destroyed “millions of jobs” and caused premiums to “skyrocket.”
So Mr. Cruz has a truth problem. But what else can we learn from this encounter? That the Affordable Care Act is already doing enormous good. It came too late to save one man’s life, but it will surely save many others. Why, then, do we hear not just conservatives but also many progressives trashing President Obama’s biggest policy achievement?
Part of the answer is that Bernie Sanders has chosen to make re-litigating reform, and trying for single-payer, a centerpiece of his presidential campaign. So some Sanders supporters have taken to attacking Obamacare as a failed system.
We saw something similar back in 2008, when some Obama supporters temporarily became bitter opponents of the individual mandate — the requirement that everyone buy insurance — which Hillary Clinton supported but Mr. Obama opposed. (Once in office, he in effect conceded that she had been right, and included the mandate in his initiative.)
But the truth is, Mr. Sanders is just amplifying left-wing critiques of health reform that were already out there. And some of these critiques have merit. Others don’t.
Let’s start with the good critiques, which involve coverage and cost.
The number of uninsured Americans has dropped sharply, especially in states that have tried to make the law work. But millions are still uncovered, and in some cases high deductibles make coverage less useful than it should be.
This isn’t inherent in a non-single-payer system: Other countries with Obamacare-type systems, like the Netherlands and Switzerland, do have near-universal coverage even though they rely on private insurers. But Obamacare as currently constituted doesn’t seem likely to get there, perhaps because it’s somewhat underfunded.
Meanwhile, although cost control is looking better than even reform advocates expected, America’s health care remains much more expensive than anyone else’s.
So yes, there are real issues with Obamacare. The question is how to address those issues in a politically feasible way.
But a lot of what I hear from the left is not so much a complaint about how the reform falls short as outrage that private insurers get to play any role. The idea seems to be that any role for the profit motive taints the whole effort.
That is, however, a really bad critique. Yes, Obamacare did preserve private insurance — mainly to avoid big, politically risky changes for Americans who already had good insurance, but also to buy support or at least quiescence from the insurance industry. But the fact that some insurers are making money from reform (and their profits are not, by the way, all that large) isn’t a reason to oppose that reform. The point is to help the uninsured, not to punish or demonize insurance companies.
And speaking of demonization: One unpleasant, ugly side of this debate has been the tendency of some Sanders supporters, and sometimes the campaign itself, to suggest that anyone raising questions about the senator’s proposals must be a corrupt tool of vested interests.
Recently Kenneth Thorpe, a respected health policy expert and a longtime supporter of reform, tried to put numbers on the Sanders plan, and concluded that it would cost substantially more than the campaign says. He may or may not be right, although most of the health wonks I know have reached similar conclusions.
But the campaign’s policy director immediately attacked Mr. Thorpe’s integrity: “It’s coming from a gentleman that worked for Blue Cross Blue Shield. It’s exactly what you would expect somebody who worked for B.C.B.S. to come up with.” Oh, boy.
And let’s be clear: This kind of thing can do real harm. The truth is that whomever the Democrats nominate, the general election is mainly going to be a referendum on whether we preserve the real if incomplete progress we’ve made on health, financial reform and the environment. The last thing progressives should be doing is trash-talking that progress and impugning the motives of people who are fundamentally on their side.
By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, February 5, 2016