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“Please Proceed, Majority Leader”: Their “Three Nos” Strategy Has Telegraphed Their Weak Point For All To See

Only an hour after Antonin Scalia’s death had been confirmed, Sen. Majority Leader McConnell announced that there would be no vote on a nominee from President Obama to replace him. Earlier this week, Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee said that there would be no confirmation hearings on the nominee. Then yesterday, Republican Senators began announcing that they would not even meet with the nominee. All of this is happening before the President has even announced his choice.

You might be tempted to ask, “what is the strategy behind the Republican’s decision to become the party of no, no and no?” Republican strategist Rory Cooper explained that the goal is to pretend that “we have already reached the conclusion of the debate.” He suggests that to argue the credentials of the nominee would be “to give up a critical piece of leverage in how this is portrayed in the media.” Republicans must keep it “a debate over a process, not a person” and the “story must be starved of oxygen.”

To perhaps test that resolve, an anonymous source told the Washington Post yesterday that Republican Governor Brian Sandoval was being considered. A spokesman for McConnell reacted immediately.

And freshman Senator Deb Fischer demonstrated that she had gotten the memo.

Does anyone else think that all of this reeks of desperation? Josh Marshall sure does.

I think they protest way, way too much about the brittleness of their position and the potential electoral fallout. The emphaticness of the “three nos” isn’t really necessary to convince anyone at this point. It’s to make the point so ferociously, totally, almost maniacally that they can actually end the debate now. But I doubt they actually can.

When it comes to power, Senate Republicans maintain the ability to block any potential nominee President Obama puts forward. But their “three nos” strategy has telegraphed their weak point for all to see…the very real possibility of an extremely qualified nominee. That plays right into the hands of President Obama’s most likely strategy – to pragmatically chose the most qualified person. As Marshall says, from there – the job of the Democrats is pretty easy.

So let’s start with this. Republican senators won’t meet with the nominee. We get it. But I’m pretty sure Democratic senators will meet with him or her and make quite a show of it. I’m also fairly sure the White House will keep trying to set up meetings with Republican Senators and make a show of the on-going refusals. Senate challengers will press it in their campaigns too. And I have little doubt the White House will be sure to arrange meetings with the couple Republican senators who’ve so far bucked the unified front.

The Republicans are placing all their bets on their ability to shut down media discussion of the nominee once their name is announced. Given the importance of this issue, that is a tall order – even for them. But because their base has communicated that nothing – not even control of the Senate – is as important as obstructing this nomination process, its probably the only play they have.

Recently Alec MacGillis wrote a brief profile of Mitch McConnell and why he has chosen this fight. In the end, it’s clear that he didn’t…the fight chose him. This description pretty much encapsulates what the Majority Leader is all about.

The best way to understand Addison Mitchell McConnell Jr. has been to recognize that he is not a conservative ideologue, but rather the epitome of the permanent campaign of Washington: What matters most isn’t so much what you do in office, but if you can win again.

In other words, as Majority Leader, McConnell is in the position of having to draw a line in the sand about conservative influence on the Supreme Court. To do so, the only play he has is the one that puts winning the Senate again in jeopardy. As the President might say, “Please proceed, Majority Leader.”

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, February 25, 2016

February 27, 2016 Posted by | Mitch Mc Connell, Republican Obstructionalism, Senate Republicans, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , | 2 Comments

“Trump-Christie 2016, Make Bullying Great Again”: Chris Christie Trumped Marco Rubio’s Big Day By Endorsing The Donald

Of course Chris Christie endorsed Donald Trump today. Of course.

Freshman Florida Sen. Marco Rubio popped Trump a few times Thursday night and kept at it Friday morning, bringing swoons from the GOP establishment and the media alike. So you knew a Trump counterpunch was coming: Repeatedly throughout the race he has found a way to steal back the spotlight whenever someone nudges him out of it.

So what card does Trump play to deflate Rubio-mentum? Christie – Rubio’s tormentor, who authored the lowest point of his political career. Christie, whose presumed last act in this race had been what my colleague David Catanese memorably called a political “suicide-bomber” attack on robotic Rubio. Christie, who Trump has unveiled like a presumed dead comic book villain who suddenly appears alive and angry. Christie is Rubio’s personal zombie apocalypse.

Is the Marco train still steaming? Who knows? Everyone’s talking about Chris Christie, whose endorsement his former rivals had all sought.

How does it play? Here’s what Slate’s Josh Voorhees wrote about Christie’s endorsement decision after the New Jersey governor dropped out of the race:

He could endorse one of his former establishment-minded rivals.

… [S]uch a decision would pack considerably more punch than a normal one since many would see it as evidence that the Republican establishment was finally starting to coalesce around a single candidate. Christie, of course, does not speak for the entire GOP establishment – if he did, he’d still be in the race! – but perceived momentum can become actual momentum in politics, particularly at a moment when the battle between Rubio, Bush, and Kasich is so muddled.

How about this for packing a punch and stopping momentum, perceived or actual? Just as the establishment actually is coalescing around his favorite punching bag, Christie bets on Trump.

And why not? The primaries demonstrated that this moderate-positioned governor of a northeastern blue state doesn’t have much future in conventional Republican politics. Bluster aside, Christie is on the George Pataki track of political relevance. But he could have a future in Trump’s Republican Party. Attorney General Christie? How about Vice President Christie?

Conventionally a Trump-Christie ticket wouldn’t make any sense because he doesn’t tick the usual running mate boxes: He doesn’t bring geographical or political balance to the ticket and he doesn’t otherwise fill in an area of Trump weakness. But just ask Trump: He has no weakness so what’s to fill in?

In an ordinary year one would think that Christie would run into the same vetting problem he ran into four years ago when Mitt Romney considered adding him to the ticket. Here’s how Mark Halperin and John Heilemann described in “Double Down: Game Change 2012” the conclusion Romney’s team reached about the New Jersey governor:

Ted Newton [who had managed the vice presidential search] had come into the vet liking Christie for his brashness and straight talk. Now, surveying the sum and substance of what the team was finding, Newton told his colleagues, If Christie had been in the nomination fight against us, we would have destroyed him – he wouldn’t be able to run for governor again. When you look below the surface, Newton said, it’s not pretty.

So in that sense, he’s a perfect match for Trump, who – as Rubio is suddenly and loudly realizing at the 11th hour – has not gotten the kind of vetting a front-runner usually does, at least from his competitors. (As HuffPo’s Sam Stein reported yesterday the other candidates haven’t even got complete opposition research files on him yet.) Does anyone really think that Trump will thoroughly vet his running mate? The process will probably play out in a reality TV special where he fires candidates until one (Christie?) is left.

And there actually would be political precedent for a Trump-Christie ticket – Bill Clinton tapped fellow young, moderate, Southern Democrat Al Gore in 1992 in order to double down on his “new Democrat” campaign message. Trump could do the same with Christie.

The slogan writes itself: Trump-Christie 2016 – Make Bullying Great Again.

 

By: Michael Schlesinger, Managing Editor for Opinion, U. S. News and World Report, February 26, 2016

 

February 27, 2016 Posted by | Chris Christie, Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, Marco Rubio | , , , , | 4 Comments

“Ideological Malleability”: Why Trump Could Be Tougher In General Election Than You Think

Donald Trump may not wind up as the Republican nominee for president, but at this point it’s far and away the most likely outcome of the primary race. Having won three of the four contests so far, he’s heading into Super Tuesday six days from now in a position to widen his lead beyond the point where his opponents could catch him.

Which raises an inevitable question: Is he really as terrible a general election candidate as so many people have assumed?

The most rational answer is that we have no idea. If Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio were the nominee, the general election would likely be fairly predictable, in that the debate would revolve around traditional partisan divisions on issues, and we know which states would be competitive and which wouldn’t. But just as Trump’s unique candidacy has defied all that we thought we knew about what matters in primary campaigns — the damage done by outrageous statements, the importance of ideological consistency, the key role played by party elites — so too could a Trump nomination produce an utterly unpredictable general election.

There are still good reasons to think that Trump would be be obliterated by the Democratic nominee. But there’s also a case to be made that Trump would so scramble the election calculus that he could win. Indeed, you might even argue that he has a better shot than a more traditional candidate. Let’s examine each way of looking at the general election.

The case against Trump’s chances begins with the fact that he’s tremendously unpopular. As much as he has thrilled a certain segment of the Republican electorate, everything he has done and said in the primary campaign — the xenophobia, the bigotry, the bombast — has served to alienate him from voters he would need to win the general election. Polls of all Americans, as opposed to just Republicans, show that around 30-35 percent of the public have a favorable impression of Trump, while around 55-60 percent have an unfavorable impression of him.

Furthermore, talking about building a wall with Mexico and rounding up 11 million undocumented immigrants might make the audiences at his rallies cheer, but it won’t play so well with the broader electorate. Everyone understands that the GOP must improve its showing among Latino voters, one of the fastest-growing parts of the electorate, if it’s ever to win back the White House. Trump wouldn’t just fail to improve those numbers, he’d make the bottom fall out: polls have shown (see here or here or here) that Trump is spectacularly unpopular with Latinos, just as you might expect, with approval ratings as low as 11 percent. Furthermore, his nomination would be a terrific mobilization tool to get Latino voters to the polls.

That’s true of other voting groups as well. If you’re not a white guy and Trump hasn’t insulted you yet, he probably will by the end of the primaries. Imagine that the Democratic nominee were Hillary Clinton. How wide will the gender gap be when the potential first woman president is running against a guy who shows such contempt for women and discards each of his wives as soon as she hits her 40s? (Note to Melania: the clock is ticking, so you might want to prepare yourself.)

There’s no doubt that Trump has tapped into something important within the Republican electorate, but that’s where it resides: that combination of anger at their party’s leaders and fear of a changing world sowed the seeds for Trump’s rise. But the general electorate is very different from the Republican electorate: among other things, it’s less white, less Christian, and younger. The positions Trump has taken as he’s appealed to Republicans — overturn Roe v. Wade, loosen gun laws, cut taxes for the wealthy, repeal the Affordable Care Act — are all unpopular with the public at large.

So that’s the case for a Trump defeat in the fall: he’s got the wrong positions on issues, he’s ticked off a lot of voters he’ll need, and he’s generally considered to be an obnoxious jerk.

The argument in favor of a Trump victory has two pieces to it, one about demographics and one about the kind of candidate he’d actually be in a general election. The demographic argument says that Trump has an appeal that other Republicans don’t have. We’ve seen again and again how party leaders (and his opponents) have attacked him for liberal positions he’s held in the past (like being pro-choice and saying nice things about single-payer health care), and even some heresies he’s offered in the present (like his bizarre assertion that George W. Bush was president on September 11, 2001 or his criticism of the Iraq War). Trump’s voters, it turned out, didn’t care. Ideological consistency isn’t important to them, because their affection for Trump is based on other things, like their contempt for Washington and the belief that he’s a “winner,” and if he were president he’d spread his winningness over the whole country, through some process that need not be explained.

Since these beliefs aren’t tied to conservative ideology, they could have appeal beyond Republicans. And even if Trump alienates women, his displays of chest-thumping dominance could appeal to lots and lots of white men, particularly those who are lower on the income and education scales (as Trump said after his Nevada win yesterday, “I love the poorly educated”). That could make Trump competitive in Rust Belt states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan that have been in the Democratic column in the last two elections. Unlike other Republicans who have to work to convince voters that they aren’t just on the side of the rich, Trump, an actual rich person, has an economic appeal that has nothing to do with facts but is more about feeling. Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders may be leading Trump in general election trial heats, but not by much — just a few points.

It’s the second piece of the puzzle that may be less appreciated at this point. To put it simply, Donald Trump would be a completely different candidate in a general election than the one we see now. Conservatives are justified in being terrified by Trump’s ideological malleability. They look at him and see someone with no true beliefs and no commitments, who will quickly change positions if it suits him. He’s only presenting himself as a conservative Republican now — to the degree that he’s even doing that — because he’s running in a Republican primary.

When conservatives think that, they’re absolutely right. He will indeed transform himself once he has a different audience. We don’t have to wonder about that, because he has said so on more than one occasion. “Once you get to a certain level, it changes,” he told Greta Van Susteren a few weeks ago. “I will be changing very rapidly. I’m very capable of changing to anything I want to change to.”

On another occasion, he told voters in Iowa, “When I’m president, I’m a different person. I can do anything. I can be the most politically correct person that you’ve ever seen.” While ordinary politicians try to convince you of their consistency, Trump proudly says that he’ll turn himself into whatever the situation demands. And if it demands someone who has moderate positions, that’s what he’ll be.

Will the voters buy it? We have no way of knowing, because we haven’t seen that version of Trump yet. But we shouldn’t assume that the fact that most of them dislike the current version means they won’t like the next one.

At the moment, I haven’t decided which of these scenarios I think is more likely, Trump getting blown out and taking the Republican Party with him, or Trump forging a heretofore unseen coalition that carries him to the White House. I lean toward the first, but I can’t tell if that’s because the idea of this despicable buffoon being the most powerful human being on earth is so ghastly, and my judgment derives more from hope than anything else. The truth is that with Trump in a general election, we’d be in uncharted territory. Anything could happen.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, February 24, 2016

February 27, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, General Election 2016, Ideology | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Taking A Shit On The Constitution”: Senate Republicans Make Donald Trump Look Good

When a presidency is winding down we start to think there probably isn’t that much to fight over. Yet here are the Republicans acting like it’s 2009 all over again, and more. These moves on the Supreme Court situation and Guantanamo Bay aren’t just obstructionist. They are certifiably insane.

No hearing for the nominee? Not even a courtesy call? They’ve really gone ’round the bend. Look, there’s hypocrisy to go around on Court stuff. Reverse the situation, and a lot of people saying A now would be saying Not A. I get that. Although I don’t get what in the world that 1992 clip of Joe Biden that everybody’s showing and re-showing has to do with anything. He was speaking hypothetically. There was no nominee. The one time in Biden’s tenure as Judiciary Committee chairman that there was a flesh-and-blood nominee, Anthony Kennedy, the committee and the full Senate passed him through unanimously, and in an election year.

But since you brought up the old days, let’s talk Robert Bork. Bork was a crazy radical extremist. He saw no constitutional justification for the civil rights bill. He also thought states should be free to criminalize the purchase of contraception by married couples. Off the charts, that guy. But he was the president’s choice. The Democrats gave him a hearing.

Say what you want, conservatives, but I feel pretty confident that if the situation were precisely reversed, the Democrats would be going through the process. At the end of the day, a majority of them would presumably vote against a conservative, balance-tilting nominee in a presidential election year. So, you might say, it amounts to the same thing.

No. It doesn’t amount to the same thing. One approach is called respecting the Constitution. The other approach is called taking a shit on the Constitution.

I suppose I could be wrong about what my hypothetical Democrats would do. But I don’t think so. Why? Because the liberal-left base, while certainly ideological and often choleric, just isn’t the same thing as the right-wing base. The right-wing base, led by Limbaugh and all those blowhards, is the reason McConnell said what he said while Scalia’s body was still warm. The liberal groups would not have demanded of Democratic leaders that they just shut the process down.

And if I am wrong about the Democrats, I can 100 percent guarantee you this: I would have written a column calling their behavior shameful. Vote against the person in the end, I’d have written, but for Chrissakes, respect the constitutional process, you bunch of morons. And I think every other prominent liberal columnist I can think of would have done the same. I don’t recall these last few days seeing any of our conservative counterparts calling out the Republicans.

Obama and the Democrats better find a way to make them pay. Nominate an unimpeachably qualified Latino or African American, and let Latinos and/or black voters watch as the GOP stonewalls this person for months, and run 3,000,000 attack ads on ethnic radio stations. (This is the paragraph where conservatives on Twitter will say “There goes that hack Tomasky making everything racial again.” Right. Whereas the guy who wants a brown-shirt police force to go in and break up Latino families, no, he’s not making anything racial. And the party that’s passing law after law to see to it that voting is made as hard as it can be for black people, no, they’re not making anything racial either. Just me. I get it.)

It’s such scandalous behavior. But because it’s them, and it’s all anyone expects out of them, it’s not even scandalous anymore. Which brings us to the Gitmo situation. If anything this is even worse.

Let me ask you this, reader. Do you have the slightest idea where the nearest supermax prison is to your house? Of course you don’t. Oh, a few of you do—you live in a town where it’s a big employer, your cousin works there, like that. But I’d wager that 98 percent of Americans have no idea where the nearest supermax prison is. There appear to be around 50 (some are wholly supermax, some partly). I bet thousands of people drive past one every day without even knowing it.

And of the 2 percent who do know, do they have any idea who’s in there? How many murderers, rapists, drug kingpins, Bernie Madoffs? Of course they don’t. And the reason they don’t is that the prisoners inside these prisons have zero impact on their lives. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Zacarias Moussaoui, and Mahmud Abuhalima, terrorists all, live in a supermax prison in Florence, Colorado. Do the good people of Florence ever see them? They don’t even see each other. They spend 23 hours a day alone in a cell the size of a typical upstairs-hallway bathroom. And almost nobody ever escapes from these places. You know how your chances of being killed by a terrorist as an American are one in 3.5 million? Well, the odds of you being killed by a terrorist who escaped from a supermax prison have to be considerably longer than even that. Anyone in Florence, Colorado and environs who sits around worrying that one of these guys is going to come pounding on their screen door is a paranoid lunatic or an idiot.

And that’s what the Republicans want us to be, a nation of paranoid lunatics and idiots, because paranoid lunacy and idiocy tend to benefit the Republican Party at the polls. So this is what we get stuck with. We keep open this facility (Gitmo) that’s notorious around the world—the Arab world and the entire world—that gives America a horrible reputation and whose very existence provides rhetorical fodder for our foes, so we don’t run the “risk” of putting terrorists inside facilities they’ll never get out of and where their movement the rest of their lives will be limited to maybe four rooms.

The Republicans won’t pay any political price for this, because the mere word terrorism turns most Americans into quivering little poltroons. But we as a country pay a price when an argument that is so galactically far removed from objective reality carries the day. And we pay a price when a constitutional norm is flouted and no one even cares because everyone has long since stopped expecting anything more. It’s not easy making Trump look good, but this week, Washington Republicans have pulled it off.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, February 25, 2016

February 27, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GITMO, Senate Republicans, U. S. Constitution, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Unsettling Paranoia”: Despite Media’s ‘Crush,’ Rubio Sees Bizarre Conspiracy

In media and political circles, it’s known as the “Full Ginsburg.” It’s when one notable public figure appears on all five major Sunday morning shows on the same day, and it’s usually reserved for policymakers at the center of major breakthroughs.

It came as something of a surprise, then, when Marco Rubio celebrated his fifth-place finish in the New Hampshire primary by pulling off the Full Ginsburg. Then seven days later, following his double-digit loss in the South Carolina primary, Rubio pulled off the Full Ginsburg again, receiving and accepting five more Sunday-show invitations.

When was the last time someone had back-to-back Full Ginsburgs? Never. Rubio, once hailed as “the Republican savior” on the cover of Time magazine, received a media reward that no American has ever received.

Had the Florida senator actually won those primaries, the media’s adulation might have been easier to understand, but remember, Rubio made 10 appearances over two Sundays after embarrassing defeats.

The reason for this special treatment is one of those things the political world tends not to talk about, though Slate’s Jamelle Bouie recently acknowledged what usually goes unsaid: “[T]he media has a huge crush” on Marco Rubio.

With this in mind, it came as something of a surprise to see Rubio on CBS this morning, complaining about an elaborate media conspiracy – to help Donald Trump. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent flagged this bizarre quote:

“The media’s pumping [Trump] up as some sort of unstoppable force…. Unfortunately he’s being pumped up because many in the media with a bias know that he’ll be easy to beat in a general election.”

In a separate ABC interview this morning – the conspiracy is so vast, news organizations keep putting Rubio on television so he can share his conspiracy theory – the senator said the media is “holding back” its Trump criticism in order to hurt Republicans in the fall.

“It’s important for Republicans and conservatives to be aware of what is happening,” he added.

So, from Rubio’s perspective, the same news organizations that have shown him levels of affection that border on creepy are actually conspiring in secret against him. It’s all part of an elaborate media ruse to help Trump defeat Rubio in order to help Democrats.

Remember, thanks to media hype, we’re supposed to think Rubio’s the smart one in the 2016 field.

The senator’s conspiracy theory is so crazy, it’s unsettling that he repeated it out loud on national television. Keep in mind that last night, as part of the network’s debate coverage, CNN told viewers that Rubio has “new momentum.” The network made the claim before the debate, on the heels of Rubio losing the Nevada caucuses – which he expected to win – by 22 points.

This, a week after Politico published a lengthy report on Rubio’s campaign in South Carolina – the headline read, “Rubio surges back to electrify South Carolina” – that read as if his campaign aides had written it themselves.

This, nearly a month after pundits and reporters eagerly pretended Rubio’s third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses was actually a triumphant victory.

Greg Sargent recently noted that media figures are “making it absurdly obvious that they want to be able to say Rubio is rising,” prompting MSNBC’s Chris Hayes to respond, “It’s like watching parents attempt to will their toddler into doing a difficult task.”

To be sure, this isn’t unprecedented. We can probably all think of election cycles in which the media obviously adores a candidate (John McCain in 2000, for example) and obviously scorns another (Al Gore in 2000, for example). It certainly seems as if the “crush” on Rubio is real, but he’s not the first to enjoy such affections.

Rubio is, however, the first candidate in recent memory who benefits from the media’s overt fondness, but who nevertheless believes the media is engaged in a conspiracy to help one of his rivals, in order to help one of his other rivals.

Such paranoia says something unsettling about the presidential hopeful’s perspective.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 26, 2016

February 27, 2016 Posted by | Conspiracy Theories, Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, Media | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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