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“Quite Unpopular At Home”: Rubio’s Must-Win State Is His Own — And He’s Losing There

As political observers absorb Thursday night’s tenth Republican-candidate debate and argue over Trump’s untouchability or Marco Rubio’s new fight-club mentality, Nate Cohn of the New York Times takes on the more prosaic chore of examining how, exactly, Rubio might survive a losing streak and still win the GOP nomination.

The good news he offers Rubio and his growing circle of party and conservative-Establishment fans is that he doesn’t have to win a single state on March 1.

[I]t wouldn’t be optimal for Mr. Rubio to lose all 12 contests on March 1, Super Tuesday. His chances of amassing an outright majority of delegates, and becoming the presumptive nominee before the convention, would be quite low. But he would still have a real chance to take a clear delegate lead over Donald Trump, and win the nomination.

Rubio’s key to survival thereafter is to take advantage of proportional award systems by exceeding the 20 percent threshold necessary to win delegates in every (or nearly every) state. If he does that, a more ambitious goal may come into sight: edging out Ted Cruz for second place in enough states — especially in the South — to all but knock him out of the race and set up the long-awaited head-to-head competition with Trump.

On the other hand, says Cohn, excuses for Rubio not actually winning primaries come to an abrupt end on March 15:

Ohio and Florida will award their delegates on a winner-take-all basis. Missouri will award its delegates on a winner-take-all basis by congressional district, and Illinois isn’t much different. North Carolina, on the other hand, awards its delegates proportionally. It figures less prominently in the delegate math and as a result the candidates are unlikely to spend money there on television advertisements or campaign stops.

If Mr. Trump swept the day in the same way he is expected to sweep Super Tuesday, he would net nearly three times as many delegates as he would on Super Tuesday, defeating Mr. Rubio, 282 delegates to 40. For Mr. Rubio, winning Florida would make Mr. Trump’s advantage a more manageable 183 to 139, but his hole would start looking pretty deep.

With that sort of a deficit, Mr. Rubio’s chances of winning a majority of delegates would all but evaporate.

So Rubio really needs to win in Missouri, Ohio, and Illinois on March 15 to stay in the game with Trump (assuming Trump doesn’t stumble on March 1). And it goes without saying he must, must, must win his home state of Florida. Getting skunked there would decimate his delegate math, even if his Establishment friends somehow found a way to madly spin a home-court loss into something other than a disaster.

Signs are growing, however, that winning Florida won’t be easy for the state’s own junior senator. For months Rubio languished in third or even fourth place in Florida public-opinion surveys. Only with Jeb Bush’s withdrawal from the race — giving Rubio a boost in both elected official endorsements and favorite-son status points — has he begun to rise; a post-Jeb Quinnipiac poll has him within 16 points of the longtime leader in the state, Donald Trump. What should be more troubling to Team Rubio, however, is that Trump is now rivaling him on his home turf in all the indices of basic popularity.

This is made most evident by the very latest Florida survey, from Public Policy Polling:

[Rubio’s] approval rating as Senator has cratered to a 31/55 spread, compared to a much more evenly divided 41/44 when we last polled the state in September. Only 40% of voters in the state think he should continue with his campaign, compared to a 44% plurality who think it’s time for him to drop out. And he narrowly trails both Hillary Clinton (45/43) and Bernie Sanders (44/42) in head to head general election match ups. Rubio’s become quite unpopular at home over the course of his campaign.

Winning has made Trump more popular. 64% of Republicans in Florida now have a favorable opinion of him to only 27% with a negative one. That actually puts him ahead of Rubio’s 60/28 standing.

Let that sink in for a minute. From the very beginning of the 2016 cycle, Marco Rubio’s ace in the hole has been high and positive favorability ratios all over the country. Nobody much disliked him, and that made him the likely beneficiary of the winnowing of the field. Now Donald Trump’s more popular than he is with Florida Republicans, at least according to this one survey. And PPP has more bad news for those who assume the fading of other candidates on and after March 1 will put Rubio over the top:

The most remarkable thing in this poll though is what happens when you narrow the field down to just Trump and Rubio- Trump still leads by double digits at 52/38. Rubio does win over supporters of Cruz (56/25), Kasich (47/32), and Carson (64/21) in such a scenario. But Trump has such a big lead to begin with and picks up enough of the supporters of the also rans that it gives him the overall 14 point advantage.

Is the PPP survey an outlier? Maybe, though the Quinnipiac poll that offered Rubio relatively good news also found that Trump’s “negative score” — the percentage of Republicans who say they could not support him — is now lower in Florida than Cruz’s and not much higher than Rubio’s. That may be the overriding reason Rubio suddenly went after Trump with a claw hammer in last night’s debate. A scenario where the mogul is as popular as Rubio in Florida is simply catastrophic, to the point that Rubio is willing to risk his own warm-and-fuzzies to undermine acceptance of Trump.

And Rubio can’t entirely count on another strong finish among late-deciders to win Florida for him: Early voting is a very big deal there, with some local election officials estimating a majority of primary votes will be cast by mail or in person before March 15. The option of lying in the weeds and waiting for Trump to self-destruct or for someone else to take him out has vanished for Marco Rubio. He’s potentially two and a half weeks away from watching his candidacy expire where it started.

 

By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, February 26, 2016

February 28, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Florida, Marco Rubio | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Morass Of Human Rights Abuses”: Gitmo Is A Stain On Our Reputation For Upholding Human Rights

In his first presidential campaign, President Barack Obama pledged to close the infamous U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where torture has been practiced and due process flouted. The reviled facility is a stain on our reputation as a beacon for human rights and as a role model in a world where the innate dignity of the individual is still not universally accepted.

With his pledge to shut it down, Obama was merely building on the stated desire of his predecessor, George W. Bush, who knew the facility was a source of embarrassment for our allies and a recruiting tool for our enemies. Back then, Obama’s view was shared by his rival, GOP presidential nominee John McCain, who also pledged to close the prison.

But as president, Obama badly bungled the process, failing to make closing Guantanamo a priority and misjudging the inflammatory politics that are associated with the suspects who are held there. He was deserted not only by McCain, but also by Democrats who claimed — speciously — that bringing suspected terrorists into the continental United States was much too dangerous to consider.

In the final year of his presidency, Obama has returned to the incendiary politics of Guantanamo, promising again to shutter the prison. He has less chance of success now than he did when he began eight years ago. Since then, congressional Republicans have grown more rabid in their opposition (to everything), the GOP electorate has sunk into a miasma of xenophobia, and the terrorists of the so-called Islamic State have risen up to haunt our nightmares. Congress has passed laws making it virtually impossible to transfer Guantanamo detainees to prisons in the United States.

Still, Obama is right to bring the facility to the top of the national agenda. He has little leverage but his bully pulpit, little authority but the moral force of this righteous crusade. That’s a start.

From the beginning, the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay has represented the worst instincts of American leaders. In 2002, placing the first of nearly 800 terror suspects eventually held there, the Bush administration argued they were not subject to the protections of the Geneva Convention.

While the U.S. Supreme Court later disagreed, forcing the Bush administration to reverse itself, that arrogant and shortsighted abrogation of international norms gave our enemies good reason to call us hypocrites. And that was just the beginning of an appalling slide into a morass of human rights abuses: Some prisoners were tortured; some were held for years without formal charges; many were not, as the Bush administration initially claimed, captured on the battlefield, but rather turned over by Pakistanis and Afghans in exchange for money. Those men may never have raised arms against the United States or its allies.

Even the Bush administration eventually yielded to pressure and released or transferred more than 500 detainees. Obama has continued to reduce the population; an estimated 91 detainees remain.

But the very existence of the facility — “Gitmo,” as it’s often called — remains a blight on our reputation, a pall over the shining city on a hill. “Keeping this facility open is contrary to our values,” Obama said last Tuesday. “It undermines our standing in the world. It is viewed as a stain on our broader record of upholding the highest standards of (the) rule of law.”

He clearly means to use the last year of his tenure to keep pressure on Congress to close it, probably by speeding up the exodus of detainees. (While a handful of former detainees have returned to the battlefield, the vast majority of them have not.) He believes he can persuade other countries to accept an additional 80 or so, leaving only a few hard-core cases, men who are deemed too dangerous to release.

However, the cost of keeping them at Guantanamo would be exorbitant, as much as $10 million per detainee per year, according to some estimates. For a Congress that claims to be fiscally prudent, it ought to make a lot more sense to bring those men to a maximum-security prison in the United States, where they’d have no chance of escape.

That would keep us safe without destroying our ideals.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize Winner for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, February 27, 2016

February 28, 2016 Posted by | GITMO, Human Rights, Republicans, Torture | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“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

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