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“The Senate’s Most Endangered Incumbent”: A Republican Senator And His Beloved Conspiracy Theory

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who’s up for re-election this year, has an incentive to appear as moderate and level-headed as possible. He is, after all, a Republican running in a pretty blue state, sharing a ballot with Donald Trump in a presidential election year. The circumstances have made Kirk arguably the Senate’s most endangered incumbent.

And yet, the GOP senator just keeps making bizarre comments. Politico reports today:

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk hasn’t let up on his insistence that President Obama is using his power as president to lash out at a political enemy.

At a fundraising event last month in Chicago, the Illinois Republican can be heard on audio defending indicted New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat, while accusing Obama of targeting Menendez because of his stance on Iran.

According to a recording Politico obtained, Kirk told his audience, “And let me say something about Bob Menendez. I believe that Bob Menendez was indicted solely on the crime of opposing the president on Iran.”

It wasn’t an off-hand comment: the Illinois Republican has pushed the same conspiracy theory over and over again.

To the extent that reality matters, we know that Kirk is completely wrong. The corruption investigation into Menendez’s work initiated long before the Iran deal negotiations even began, and the indictment was issued before the Iran deal was finalized. Besides, Menendez’s opposition to the international agreement was inconsequential, so the White House has no incentive to punish him.

But even if we put that aside, what Kirk is arguing is that the White House orchestrated an elaborate conspiracy, involving multiple federal prosecutors and investigators over the course of several years, to seek retribution against a senator from the president’s own party, who generally agrees with the administration’s position on most issues.

As proof, Kirk points to … nothing. The Illinois Republican believes the White House is guilty of an impeachable offensive, manipulating federal law enforcement to execute a partisan retribution scheme, as a result conspiracy theory that doesn’t make sense. The senator is comfortable throwing around this accusation, repeatedly and in public, despite having literally no evidence whatsoever.

Senators generally aren’t supposed to behave this way. Senators worried about their re-election bids never behave this way.

And circling back to a report from last summer, there’s also the larger pattern of Mark Kirk’s bizarre rhetoric as the election draws closer. When congressional Republicans threatened to shut down the Department of Homeland Security last year, it was the Illinois senator who got a little hysterical, urging the GOP to “build a number of coffins outside each Democratic office.”

A few months prior, during an ugly fight over Loretta Lynch’s attorney general nomination, Kirk suggested Democrats were defending slavery. A month later, he said people drive faster through black neighborhoods.

In isolation, these bizarre incidents might be easier to dismiss as regrettable slip-ups, but taken together, a pattern emerges of a senator who once claimed moderation, but not anymore.

If there’s an electoral strategy that explains such behavior, I can’t think of it. Kirk should be going out of his way to appear sensible, but for reasons no one seems able to explain, the GOP senator is doing the opposite.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 13, 2016

May 14, 2016 Posted by | Bob Menendez, Conspiracy Theories, Mark Kirk | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Antagonistic Relationship To The Truth”: Donald Trump Is A New Kind Of Dissembler

Most partisans would probably tell you that while their own party’s leaders sometimes get a fact wrong here or there, the other side is a bunch of blatant liars, whose contempt for the truth leaves the public in a perpetual cloud of misinformation. We don’t have to settle who’s right on this question to acknowledge that in politics, there are ordinary tale-tellers and then there’s Donald Trump. As he has in so many ways, Trump has upended the usual operation of politics by refusing to play by its rules, written or not.

The presumption that politicians should at least try to speak the truth as often as they can is something most everyone shares, whether Democrats, Republicans, or the news media that cover them. It’s that presumption that establishes a basic set of behaviors for all concerned—for instance, that news media will call out lies from politicians when they notice them, that the politicians will try to avoid getting caught in lies, and that when they do, they’ll avoid repeating the lie lest they be tagged forevermore as dishonest.

So what do you do when a candidate makes it clear that not only does he not care about the truth, he doesn’t care whether everybody knows it? This is the dilemma of covering Donald Trump.

Trump is distinctive in more than one way. First, there’s the sheer breadth and character of his falsehoods. Absurd exaggerations, mischaracterizations of his own past, distortions about his opponents, descriptions of events that never occurred, inventions personal and political, foreign and domestic, Trump does it all (you can peruse Politifact’s Trump file if you doubt).

In this, he differs from other candidates, who usually have had one distinctive area of dishonesty that characterized them. Some hid things they were embarrassed about or thought would damage them politically, some deceived about their personal histories in order to paint a flattering picture of themselves, and others spun a web of falsehood to gain the public’s assent for policies they suspected might not otherwise gain public support. But there has simply never been a candidate who has lied as frequently, as blatantly, and as blithely as Trump.

Then there’s the fact that even when Trump gets caught lying, he keeps on repeating the lie. How often does he say that The Art of the Deal is “the number one best-selling business book of all time”? (It isn’t.) How many times did he claim that thousands of Muslim Americans gathered on rooftops in New Jersey to cheer the collapse of the World Trade Center, no matter how often he was told it never happened? He has said over and over that he was a vocal opponent of the Iraq War before it began, despite the fact that it’s utterly false. This is one of his most spectacular fabrications, because he even claims that “I was visited by people from the White House asking me to sort of, could I be silenced because I seem to get a disproportionate amount of publicity.” Although we know he got no publicity for his fictional opposition to the Iraq War because people have checked and he didn’t, I have to admit that I can’t prove definitively that the Bush administration never sent a delegation to plead with Trump to stop his nonexistent criticism of the war. But the idea is so preposterous that no sane person could believe it. And that was before he charged that Ted Cruz’s father was an associate of Lee Harvey Oswald and may have had something to do with the Kennedy assassination.

Unfortunately, as Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler notes, “Trump makes Four-Pinocchio statements over and over again, even though fact checkers have demonstrated them to be false. … But, astonishingly, television hosts rarely challenge Trump when he makes a claim that already has been found to be false.” Just yesterday on Meet the Press, Trump claimed that he wants to change the voting system so that undocumented immigrants will no longer be allowed to cast ballots; a visibly shocked Chuck Todd said, “Well, of course. That is the law as it stands already.” To which Trump replied, “No, it’s not. I mean, you have places where people just walk in and vote.” Todd moved on. Trump also said “We’re the highest-taxed nation in the world,” another falsehood he often repeats, and which Todd wasn’t quick enough to catch.

So does Trump’s antagonistic relationship with the truth matter? It depends what we mean when we ask the question. It certainly didn’t hurt him in the primaries. Perhaps that’s because of the overwhelming force of his personality, or perhaps it’s because Republican voters have been told for years that anything the news media tell them is by definition poisoned by liberal bias, so why bother listening to some fact-checker? Trump’s supporters may be particularly unconcerned about what’s true and what isn’t; they were more likely than supporters of Ted Cruz or John Kasich to believe in a wide range of conspiracy theories, among other things.

But like Trump’s support more broadly, what didn’t hurt him in the primaries did hurt him with the general electorate. Trump may have triumphed in the GOP contest, but along the way he acquired unfavorable ratings in the 60s, and one poll found only 27 percent of Americans rating him as honest and trustworthy.

But the electoral effects of Trump’s blizzard of baloney are only part of the story; we also have to ask what his untruthfulness tells us about the kind of president he’d be. Unfortunately, we in the media don’t always go about assessing honesty in ways that help voters understand its implications for the presidency. For instance, in 2000, George W. Bush was portrayed as a man who, though a bit dim, was positively brimming with homespun integrity. Only a few observers noted that Bush regularly dissembled about his record as governor of Texas and the content of his policy proposals, which suggested that even if he might be faithful to his wife, as president he might not be honest about matters of policy. And he wasn’t, with some rather serious consequences. His predecessor, on the other hand, saw all kinds of questions of honesty raised about him during the 1992 campaign. And it turned out that like Bush, Bill Clinton’s prior behavior provided a good preview of what he’d do in the White House: As a candidate he tried to cover up his extramarital affairs, and as a president he, guess what, tried to cover up an extramarital affair.

In Trump’s case, though, his whoppers are so wide-ranging that it’s almost impossible to find a topic area about which he wouldn’t dissemble. He lies to foment hatred against minority groups. He lies about the condition of the country. He lies about what his opponents have said or done. He lies about his own past. It’s hard to foresee that a President Trump would act any differently than candidate Trump does, and what would it mean if no one could trust anything the president tells them?

People who live in dictatorships with a captive press often assume that whatever the government says is bogus by definition. Needless to say, that kind of relationship between the government and the governed is not conducive to popular legitimacy or any kind of problem-solving that requires public involvement. With Donald Trump in the White House offering a daily delivery of fibs and fabrications, it isn’t hard to imagine that the public would conclude that the government is nothing more than a second-rate reality show, worthy of little attention or regard. Imagine what he could get away with then.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, May 8, 2016

May 10, 2016 Posted by | Conspiracy Theories, Donald Trump, Media | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“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

“A Secret Freak Flag”: Rubio’s Robotic Message In The New Hampshire Debate Was Code-Talk To Right-Wing Conspiracy Nuts

Until the returns roll in from Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, we probably won’t know whether Marco Rubio’s poor performance in Saturday night’s Republican candidate debate was an illusion of the punditry or a real stumble that could open the door to a comeback by his Establishment rivals. In the interim, it’s worth wondering why Rubio went robotic on the particular argument that Barack Obama knows exactly what he is doing with the terrible policies that Republicans think are wrecking the country at home and abroad.

The most popular theory was well articulated by Michael Grunwald at Politico: Acutely aware that his critics think of him as a “Republican Obama,” it was important for Rubio to argue that someone as green as he is could be a competent chief executive. In other words, it was all about him, not really Obama.

But that take focuses on the “knows what he’s doing” portion of the “robotic” talking point. As veteran conservative-watcher Dave Weigel of the Washington Post noted Sunday (as did I a bit more tentatively Saturday night), the rest of what Rubio kept saying is evocative of seven years of conspiracy theories from hard-core right-wing gabbers:

[T]he idea of Obama as a saboteur, who “knows exactly” how to undermine American greatness, is deeply ingrained on the right. The rest of Rubio’s answer, lost in the torrent of mockery, was this:

“Barack Obama is undertaking a systematic effort to change this country, to make America more like the rest of the world. That’s why he passed Obamacare and the stimulus and Dodd-Frank and the deal with Iran. It is a systematic effort to change America.”

This should be familiar to anyone in the tea party movement, and especially familiar to anyone who’s read the Obama-era work of Dinesh D’Souza. Starting with a 2009 cover story in Forbes, D’Souza posited that the president was “the last anticolonial,” a man inculcated with anti-Western values, whose decisions were best understood if one asked how they weakened America.

“Obama grew to perceive the rich as an oppressive class, a kind of neocolonial power within America,” D’Souza wrote. “In his worldview, profits are a measure of how effectively you have ripped off the rest of society, and America’s power in the world is a measure of how selfishly it consumes the globe’s resources and how ruthlessly it bullies and dominates the rest of the planet.”

Over the next few years, D’Souza adapted that thesis into a book and movie. He found common cause with Glenn Beck, who in his Fox News heyday portrayed every Obama decision as part of a long-term left-wing strategy to destroy wealth and empower the Third World. Beck obsessed over a stock phrase from Obama’s 2008 stump speech — that he would help “fundamentally transform America” — and insisted that he had given the game away.

This is precisely the 2008 stump speech that a host of Twitter critics confronted me with Saturday night when I suggested Rubio was blowing a dog whistle to conspiracy theorists.

If Weigel and I (and the folks at Media Matters, and probably other commentators) are onto something, then why would Rubio choose to get in touch with his inner Glenn Beck in “moderate” New Hampshire? Well, for one thing, there is a vein of tea-party sentiment in the Granite State, even if Christian-right types are a bit thin on the ground. And for another thing, Rubio is undoubtedly looking ahead to a long string of contests in much more conservative states that begin on February 20 in Nevada and South Carolina. And finally, the whole essence of a “dog whistle” is to say something that the initiated understand at a lizard-brain level as a profound message without other people being offended — a particularly useful device to a candidate like Rubio who is trying to straddle ideological lines in the GOP. To “moderates” and to media observers innocent of the Beck/D’Souza meme (which Dr. Ben Carson has also alluded to), the question of whether Obama is incompetent or just wrong may seem like a less-filling/tastes-great distinction. So there’s nothing to lose by waving a secret freak flag to the citizens of Wingnuttia — unless you wave it one time too many and Chris Christie points and laughs.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, February 8, 2016

February 9, 2016 Posted by | Conspiracy Theories, GOP Primary Debates, Marco Rubio, New Hampshire Primaries | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Making Themselves Irrelevant”: Conservatives Are Out Of Touch With The World

The climate change conference in Paris is the closest the world has ever come to reaching an agreement that covers 90 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, but conservatives in the United States are focused on other matters. For example, President Barack Obama’s indifference to time limits. Addressing the world leaders assembled in Paris on Monday, he went over his allotted time by 11 minutes, ignoring multiple buzzers along the way. It caught the attention of the Washington Free Beacon, The Blaze, and the Drudge Report.

Why the focus on relatively minor developments? Conservatives are hitting on the point that they think this conference is a waste of America’s time.

You can get a taste of what else conservatives have been paying attention to at the conference from Drudge’s feed:

According to conservative columnist Charles Hurt, another of Obama’s infractions came at his press conference on the conference’s second day, held just before he returned home to Washington, where he looked “so old and gaunt, he makes Keith Richards look like Justin Bieber.” Hurt continued: “Part of the looniness of it all stemmed from the giant scam he and other world leaders are trying to put over on advanced countries, punishing them for their industriousness by redistributing billions and billions of dollars from hardworking American taxpayers and handing it over to tin-pot dictators in disheveled Third World countries.”

Some conservatives, though, insist there is a bigger conspiracy going on. They claim Obama has hatched a plot to make the U.S. inferior to the rest of the world. “President Obama’s opening remarks at the Paris climate agreement were effectively an apology for industrial progress,” was Heritage Action Nicolas Lori’s interpretation of Obama’s line that he recognizes America’s role in creating the climate change conundrum and the country’s responsibility to address it.

The other strain of conservative thinking is that this deal is undemocratic. Fox Business host Stuart Varney made the argument that reaching a climate change agreement somehow goes “around the will of the people.” “Not since Woodrow Wilson’s failed campaign to impose the League of Nations on America has a president been so contemptuous of the will of the people,” wrote Jeffrey Folks at American Thinker. They ignore the fine print of the Paris agreement: It rests primarily on countries setting their own targets and establishing their own plans for how to meet those goals.

If all else fails, conservatives have also reminded us that this whole climate issue is probably some hoax. Breitbart listed 12 reasons why the conference is a waste of time—arguing both that there is no global warming to worry about and that, if there is, the agreement wouldn’t make a difference anyway. Another reason to ignore Paris, according to Breitbart: Climate scientists are “talentless low-lives.”

If a Republican wins the presidency in 2016, then there’s nothing to worry about if you’re someone who doesn’t think climate change is real. Several GOP candidates have pledged that they wouldn’t go to a meeting like Paris, despite all of America’s major allies sending their top leaders.

Jeb Bush wouldn’t waste his time, and Donald Trump thinks even sending a vice president “might be too high a position.” Chris Christie said Obama is “focused on the wrong climate change.” “The climate change that we need is the climate change in this country,” he said, suggesting that issues such as race and religion should take priority. Marco Rubio insisted the climate “has always been changing” and there is no consensus on “what percentage of that is due to man’s activity.” Not to be outdone, Ted Cruz is hosting a hearing next week disputing climate change science.

“I watched much of his press conference, and his passion comes when he’s talking about climate change,” Carly Fiorina said of Obama on a conservative radio show. “He has no passion when he’s talking about defeating our real enemy, which is ISIS.”

Moreover, both the House and Senate voted to overturn the Environmental Protection Agency’s power plant regulations. The House vote fell in the middle of the Paris talks this week, in an attempt to cast doubt on the U.S.’s commitment to its own domestic proposals that are so key to the agreement. Obama, of course, will veto it.

Conservatives in the U.S. may be turning their backs on the Paris talks. That doesn’t make the conference irrelevant, however. On the contrary, as the rest of the world moves toward a deal—one that is critical to the future of civilization—it’s Republicans who are making themselves irrelevant.

 

By: Rebecca Leber, The New Republic, December 4, 2015

December 6, 2015 Posted by | Climate Science, Congress, Conservatives, Conspiracy Theories | , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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