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“At The GOP Debate, America Was The Loser”: Republicans Aren’t Remotely Serious About Governing

Last night’s debate in Houston was not only the first time Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz really attacked Trump. It was also the first time anyone went after Trump for the appalling superficiality of his statements and ideas about policy, and it did reveal that Trump is someone who neither knows nor particularly cares how government works or about what you need to do to address complex problems.

That’s good. But the debate revealed something else, too: That Trump is right at home in the GOP, because even the supposedly more serious candidates on that stage had barely anything more to say about policy than he did.

Let’s look, for instance, at an exchange Rubio and Trump had on health care. When Trump started to talk about it, it became obvious he doesn’t understand the first thing about health care policy. “We’re going to have something much better, but pre-existing conditions, when I’m referring to that, and I was referring to that very strongly on the show with Anderson Cooper, I want to keep pre- existing conditions,” he said. What he means there is that he wants to keep the ban on insurance companies denying people coverage because of pre-existing conditions, which is one of the central (and most popular) components of the ACA.

But soon after, they had this enlightening exchange:

RUBIO: Here’s what you didn’t hear in that answer, and this is important guys, this is an important thing. What is your plan? I understand the lines around the state, whatever that means. This is not a game where you draw maps…

TRUMP: … And, you don’t know what it means…

RUBIO: … What is your plan, Mr. Trump?

(APPLAUSE)

RUBIO: What is your plan on healthcare?

TRUMP: You don’t know.

BASH: (inaudible)

TRUMP: … The biggest problem…

(CROSSTALK)

RUBIO: … What’s your plan…

TRUMP: … The biggest problem, I’ll have you know…

RUBIO: … What’s your plan…

TRUMP: … You know, I watched him meltdown two weeks ago with Chris Christie. I got to tell you, the biggest problem he’s got is he really doesn’t know about the lines. The biggest thing we’ve got, and the reason we’ve got no competition, is because we have lines around the state, and you have essentially….

RUBIO: … We already mentioned that (inaudible) plan, I know what that is, but what else is part of your plan…

TRUMP: … You don’t know much…

RUBIO: … So, you’re only thing is to get rid of the lines around the states. What else is part of your healthcare plan…

TRUMP: … The lines around the states…

RUBIO: … That’s your only plan…

TRUMP: … and, it was almost done — not now…

RUBIO: … Alright, (inaudible)…

TRUMP: … Excuse me. Excuse me.

RUBIO: … His plan. That was the plan…

TRUMP: … You get rid of the lines, it brings in competition. So, instead of having one insurance company taking care of New York, or Texas, you’ll have many. They’ll compete, and it’ll be a beautiful thing.

It keeps going for quite a while like that. “Lines around the states” refers to the question of allowing insurance companies to sell policies across state lines, instead of only within one state. This is one of a very small number of ideas that Republicans have settled on so that they have something to say when asked what they’d do about health care.

And Marco Rubio supports that, too. The lengthiest explication Rubio has offered on his plans for health care came in this op-ed from August, which basically presents that Republican grab-bag: let insurance companies sell policies across state lines, give people tax credits instead of subsidies, block-grant (i.e. cut) Medicaid, turn Medicare into a voucher program, expand health savings accounts. And oh, you’re one of the tens of millions of people with pre-existing conditions? Um…well, you can go in a high-risk pool, which is just about the worst and most expensive way to cover those people. Throw in some meaningless drivel about “patient-centered reforms” and “empowerment” and you’ve got your standard-issue Republican health care “plan.”

What’s the difference between that and when Trump says he’ll repeal the ACA and replace it with “something terrific”? Almost nothing. If there’s anything the last seven years have taught us, it’s that health care policy is extraordinarily complex, and any reform you make has to grapple with that complexity. Republicans can’t seem to bring themselves to grapple with it: they talk about repealing the ACA as if that would be no big deal, when in truth repealing the law would represent a massive disruption to the American health care system in history, much more so than the passage of the law itself.

And it isn’t just health care. We see it over and over again in other areas: Trump offers some ridiculously simplistic notion about what he’d do in a critical policy area, and anyone with a brain says, “My god, he has no clue what he’s talking about,” but then when you look at the other candidates, you see that their ideas are barely more coherent or realistic. Trump says he’ll kick the crap out of the Islamic State. That’s no plan. But what do the other candidates say? Call it “radical Islamic terrorism,” and, uh, form a coalition! And also some crap-kicking!

Trump says he’ll go to China and tell them to give us back our jobs, then we’ll have a spectacular economy. And the other candidates? They say that if we cut taxes and curtail regulations, then we’ll have a spectacular economy. Their plan is to bring back George W. Bush’s economic policies, which will somehow produce Bill Clinton’s economic growth. Such a clever strategy.

Trump says he can eliminate the deficit by finding “waste, fraud, and abuse,” a line from the 1980’s that he doesn’t seem to realize is now considered a joke. “We are going to cut many of the agencies, we will balance our budget, and we will be dynamic again,” he says. It’s obviously inane. And the other candidates? They want to hugely increase the deficit with their tax cuts and increases to military spending. But they’ll do things like “prevent massive, irresponsible spending bills” (that’s from Rubio’s deficit reduction “plan”) or eliminate the IRS and “evaluate areas of waste and fraud” (that’s Cruz). And people wonder why the deficit always goes up under Republican presidents.

So yes, Trump is an ignoramus. He has no idea what is actually involved in running the government. But what’s really depressing is that even the other guys, who have been in government and do have at least some grasp of how it works, haven’t bothered to present anything that’s more than a notch or two more sophisticated to the voters. Either they don’t care enough to be remotely serious about governing, or they think the public won’t care that they aren’t remotely serious about governing. Or maybe both.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, February 26, 2016

February 27, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Primary Debates, Governing | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“A Subject They’ve Avoided So Far”: Dear Anderson Cooper: Make The Candidates Talk About Voting Rights

Dear Anderson Cooper,

As you prepare to moderate the coming Republican town hall, there is one subject that has not been discussed in a single Republican debate—voting rights. You have an opportunity to be the FIRST debate moderator to seek their views on the future of the Voting Rights Act and the problem of voter suppression—critical issues in this election year.

First a bit of history. For decades, Republicans were proud to be known as “the party of Lincoln” and many played a key role in creating and then later defending the historic 1965 Voting Rights Act. The original act was written in the office of Republican Minority Leader Senator Everett Dirksen, who joined with President Lyndon Johnson’s lawyers to craft a bill that would win bipartisan support. They were successful: 92 percent of Senate Republicans supported the passage of the act, a number greater than Senate Democrats (73 percent, the disparity explained by Southern segregationists who were still Democrats).

When the act’s temporary provisions came up for renewal in 1970, 1975, 1982, and 2006, Republican Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and George W. Bush signed the bill into law, despite the fact that each now courted former Southern Democrats who had joined the Republican Party because of the 1960s Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. The Voting Rights Act had liberated African Americans, especially in the South, from the legal constraints that had prevented them from voting, and members of the House and Senate, including Republicans, sought their votes. Congress overwhelmingly supported passage of the act each time it came up for a vote. In 2006, every member of the U.S. Senate voted for it.

The Voting Rights Act helped elect our first African-American president in 2008 and the minority coalition President Obama built persuaded Republicans that the only way they could win the presidency was through voter suppression. Following the Republican congressional victory in 2010 (Republicans now controlled both legislative bodies in 26 states, and 26 governorships), Republican legislatures passed and governors enacted a series of laws designed to make voting more difficult for Obama’s constituency—minorities, especially the growing Hispanic community; the poor; students; and the elderly or handicapped. These included the creation of voter photo ID laws, measures affecting registration and early voting, and, in Iowa and Florida, laws to prevent ex-felons from exercising their franchise. Democrats were stunned. “There has never been in my lifetime, since we got rid of the poll tax and all the Jim Crow burdens in voting, the determined effort to limit the franchise that we see today,” said former President Bill Clinton in July 2011. Then, in 2013, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority struck down a crucial provision of the Voting Rights Act, weakening it severely. Once again the voting rights of American minorities were in peril and they remain so today.

A bipartisan group in the House has drafted a new Voting Rights Act, but Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, believes the bill is unnecessary. House Speaker Paul Ryan, although a supporter of the legislation, refuses to force Goodlatte to hold hearings.

So much for history. How do today’s current Republican presidential contenders stand on the issue of voter suppression?

Donald Trump apparently has no position on the issue. He’s said nothing about it during the nine previous debates, although in fairness, not a single moderator has sought his views. His website—donaldjtrump.com—describes his positions on U.S.-China Trade reform; Veterans Administration reforms; tax reform; Second Amendment rights; and immigration reform. But it is silent on voting rights. You might ask him what he thinks.

Despite Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s pleasant demeanor, he is no friend of voting rights. As governor, he enacted the law that significantly limited opportunities for early voting and abolished same-day voter registration. Each had made it easier for all Ohioans to vote.

Jeb Bush has a questionable record on voting rights. In 2000 the then-governor of Florida helped to elect his brother president by purging 12,000 Floridians from the voting rolls when they were mistakenly designated felons and denied the right to vote. Later, authentic ex-felons had to seek the governor’s permission to again cast their votes and while almost 400,000 submitted applications during Bush’s governorship, only one-fifth won the right to vote again. When CNN’s Eugene Scott asked Bush in October 2015 if he supported a reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, Bush replied that since “access to voting” had improved “dramatica[lly],” he would not support restoring the act.

The other Floridian in the race, Sen. Marco Rubio, believes that his constituents should not be allowed to vote in federal elections without first showing a government-issued voter ID, although evidence of voter fraud has been shown to be almost nonexistent. The senator has also opposed early voting and allowing nonviolent ex-felons to again have the right to vote.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s website (tedcruz.org) offers a litany of his achievements—protecting the Ten Commandments, the Cross, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the Second Amendment—and provides a chance to “Get Cruz Gear:” cups, glasses, cell phone covers, caps, and sweatshirts bearing the campaign logo. But the website is silent on voting rights. Nevertheless, Cruz’s various public statements make it clear that he is rabidly opposed to making it easier for Texans to vote. He is a fierce supporter of Texas’s voting rights programs, which The Nation’s Ari Berman calls “the strictest in the country.” They include an official photo ID (a concealed handgun license is acceptable but not a student ID). The ACLU’s Voting Right’s Project found that approximately 600,000 Texans, predominately minorities and the poor, lack the documents needed to vote, documents which are too expensive or time consuming to acquire. For many Texans, going to the polls is no longer a practical option and they have chosen not to vote. It is tragic that such programs are supported by a Canadian-born son of a Cuban immigrant.

Finally, there is retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. He often urges us to visit his website, bencarson.com, where he promises to lay out his detailed proposals. A visit there finds his views on cyber security, education, energy, foreign policy/national defense, government reform, health care, immigration, and more. But nothing on voting rights. That’s a bit strange because he has publicly mentioned the Voting Rights Act. To CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, he said: “Of course I want the Voting Rights Act to be protected. Whether we still need it or not, or whether we’ve outgrown the need for it is questionable. Maybe we have, maybe we haven’t. But I wouldn’t jeopardize it.” He might be asked for a more definitive view.

Four of the candidates—Kasich, Bush, Rubio, and Cruz—clearly favor policies that make it harder, not easier, for African Americans, Hispanics, students, and the poor to vote. Trump is uncharacteristically silent while Carson is equivocal. Are Republicans still the party of Lincoln, or even Everett McKinley Dirksen? Forcing them to discuss their views on voting rights will be a first. Go for it!

Good luck.

 

By: Gary May, The Daily Beast, February 17, 2016

February 18, 2016 Posted by | GOP Primary Debates, Voter Suppression, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Live By The Media’s Favor, Die By The Media’s Disfavor”: After Pumping Him Up For Months, The Press Turns On Marco Rubio

Marco Rubio is in serious trouble, so he’s now attacking Donald Trump, something he hasn’t been as eager to do before. While it may produce a return slap from the Republican front-runner, it probably won’t be enough to shift the discussion around Rubio, who is now learning a very hard lesson: Live by the media’s favor, die by the media’s disfavor.

Rubio’s rapidly shifting fortunes demonstrate how capricious those ups and downs in coverage can be. As much as we might like to believe that we’re nothing more than observers, chronicling the events that take place in as fair a way as we can, the media inevitably shape events too. As Walter Lippman wrote in 1922, news coverage “is like the beam of a searchlight that moves restlessly about, bringing one episode and then another out of darkness into vision.” For a long time, the light shining on Rubio illuminated the things that people thought made him a formidable general election candidate. But when the light’s focus shifted, things got very bad very fast.

A lot of Republicans fail to understand media dynamics because they’ve bought in so fully to their own propaganda about how the liberal media are biased against conservatives. Here’s how Sen. Orrin Hatch explains Rubio’s fall:

“Democrats can run a younger person like John F. Kennedy because the media is with them. Republicans will have a more difficult time because if somebody’s young, they’re going to get beaten up like never before by this biased media.”

Putting aside the utility of Kennedy’s experience running for president 56 years ago in explaining what’s going on today, the notion that the media were biased against Marco Rubio is ludicrous. In truth, no other Republican candidate got more glowing coverage for months than Rubio did; as I and others have pointed out, there have periodically been waves of stories about how Rubio was about to have his moment and rocket to the front of the race, since those in the know understood just what a formidable general election candidate he would make.

The trouble was that Republican voters never seemed to clue in to what the insiders were telling them. And even though after the Iowa caucuses media outlets everywhere declared Rubio the real winner despite his third-place finish, the Rubio explosion never happened. So when last Saturday’s debate came, the stage was set for a new story about Rubio. Chris Christie mercilessly attacked him for repeating a line about how “Barack Obama knows exactly what he’s doing” was the hook for the new narrative.

Why was Rubio’s performance in that debate such a big deal? It wasn’t because there’s something objectively horrifying about a candidate repeating a talking point a bunch of times, even after getting called out on it by an opponent. The real problem was the substance of what he was saying: that Barack Obama is intentionally trying to destroy America, a rancid idea that is no less vile for being common on the right. The repetition got so much attention in part because reporters approach debates by looking for some supposedly revealing moment or exchange that can be replayed over and over again. All the better if it involves confrontation (as this one did, between Rubio and Christie) and all the better if if makes somebody look foolish (as this one also did).

It also created a new story to write about — Is Rubio too robotic? — that reporters may have been primed for by watching Rubio’s message discipline on the campaign trail. That’s critical to understand, too: among the media’s most important biases is a bias toward the new. A new event, a new story, a new narrative will always be more interesting than another iteration of a story you’ve written ten times before. After writing “Rubio Poised to Break Out” for months, the media was ready for the dramatic shift to “Rubio Crashes and Burns.”

And then, just two days after the debate, Rubio had a brain fart during a town hall meeting, repeating twice the same line about pop culture getting rammed down our kids’ throats — saying it, then immediately saying it in almost exactly the same words again. That was too good for the press corps to pass up, since it reinforced the emerging storyline. (This narrative has also been pushed forward by his opponents.) Then when Rubio came in fifth in New Hampshire, the cascade of negative stories continued, leaving him where he is today.

Though he has taken responsibility for his own poor performance in the debate, if he’s like most candidates (both Democrat and Republican), Rubio probably thinks he’s not being treated fairly by the media. But nobody gets to have it both ways. You can’t say that it’s entirely appropriate to characterize a third-place finish in Iowa as a grand victory, then say it’s unfair to characterize a fifth-place finish in New Hampshire as a crushing defeat. You can’t say that everyone should pay attention to all the things that on paper make you a strong candidate, but object when too much attention is paid to your real-life flaws. And you can’t bask in your positive coverage, then object when you screw up and that winds up on the front page, too.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, February 11, 2016

February 12, 2016 Posted by | Chris Christie, GOP Primary Debates, Marco Rubio, Media | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Momentum Premise”: The GOP Race Is As Crazy And Wide Open As It’s Ever Been

After the results in Iowa, I crowed about how I called it. Now that the New Hampshire results are in, I have to own the fact that I faceplanted. I predicted that Donald Trump would underperform and that Marco Rubio would overperform (and win, even!). After Trump’s dominating victory, and Rubio’s meek fifth-place finish, I must admit that I was totally wrong. Fair is fair.

Where did I go wrong? By putting my faith in momentum.

The idea that candidates accumulate or lose this thing called momentum based on how they perform relative to expectations in a primary, while sometimes true (remember Bill Clinton in 1992?) is also not an iron law of politics, and perhaps less so now than at any time, when the media world is so fragmented. Back when there were only three networks, and all three were saying that So-and-So is outperforming expectations and gaining momentum, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Voters only had so many places to turn for information and analysis, and whatever the media Powers That Be declared as truth often came to be. But today, with hundreds of news organizations covering the election in their own way, neither the fragmented media nor voters themselves need to buy the momentum premise and feed it.

And in hindsight, is it really so hard to see how even after losing his momentum in Iowa, Trump’s message would still appeal to New Hampshire voters? After all, this is a state that rewarded the working-class populism of Pat Buchanan in 1992 and 1996. The state has lost more manufacturing jobs to trade than any other state, and its now infamous heroin epidemic must reinforce the general impression of a societal malaise and decline that calls for a strongman who can, well, Make America Great Again.

As for Rubio, well… that debate failure really, really mattered. I have high regard for Rubio, who I think understands the political challenges facing the GOP better than any other candidate in the race, who has actually shown depth on the issues, and with whom I agree on most issues (though certainly not all). After his faceplant, I downplayed it. People only tuned in during the second half of the debate! They’re not going to pay attention to the debate replays because of the Super Bowl! Actual voters didn’t see it the way the chattering class did!

In hindsight, I must concede that it’s not that I thought it wouldn’t have an impact, it’s that I didn’t want it to have an impact.

So, what to make of the results now? My support for Rubio notwithstanding, it’s pretty much the worst possible outcome for the GOP. As a card-carrying member of the anybody-but-Trump, anybody-but-Cruz crowd, the hope for the New Hampshire primary was to solidify the non-Trump, non-Cruz vote (which happens to be the biggest slice of the vote) by kicking out most of the half dozen candidates running for that vote. Instead, it did exactly the opposite.

New Hampshire elevated John Kasich and Jeb Bush. Kasich seems like an honorable man and a talented administrator, but he’s almost certainly too moderate to win in the primary and too uncharismatic to win in the general. His second-place finish, by boosting his campaign, only hurts the GOP by encouraging him to stick around and take votes from the others.

And as for Bush, his heart just isn’t in it, which means he’s likely not going to win anything. And he’s a Bush, which means putting him as the face of the party in a change election, at a time when the GOP needs to change, would be a disaster. Like Kasich, the only thing he can do with his new lease on life is to hurt the party.

And yet… the race is as wide open as it’s ever been. Cruz is doing very well and has a plausible path to the nomination. Bush has a plausible path to the nomination if Rubio keeps foundering and Bush can consolidate the establishment vote. Rubio has a plausible path to the nomination if he bounces back. Even Trump has a plausible path to the nomination, now that he’s shown he can win primaries and has scattered his opponents who, inexplicably, still fail to attack him in any meaningful way.

Iowa and New Hampshire are supposed to winnow the field. Instead, they have blown it wide open. The 2016 Republican presidential nomination is as up for grabs as it’s ever been.

 

By: Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, The Week, February 10, 2016

February 11, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Primary Debates, Marco Rubio | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The GOP Presidential Primary Is Fraught With Male Anxiety”: A Phase Of The Campaign That Is Turning Positively Comical

As Chris Matthews memorably put it many years ago, Democrats are the “mommy party,” handling things like education and health care, while Republicans are the “daddy party,” concerned with things like crime and foreign threats. It’s an oversimplification, of course, but there’s some truth there, and it helps explain the persistent gender gap, with Democrats usually winning female voters and Republicans usually winning male voters.

But in this year’s presidential primary, we’ve entered a phase of the campaign that is turning positively comical in its expressions of male anxiety.

Just consider some of the things that have happened of late. Yesterday at a Donald Trump rally, a woman in the audience responded to Trump’s criticism of Ted Cruz for being insufficiently enthusiastic about torturing prisoners by shouting, “He’s a pussy!” Almost bursting with glee, Trump pretended to scold the woman, first telling her to repeat it, and then repeating it himself to the explosive delight of the audience.

Meanwhile, Ted Cruz is trying to make an issue out of the fact that when his opponents were asked if women should register for the draft since they will now be serving in combat positions, they said Yes. Said Cruz:

“I’m the father of two little girls. I love those girls with all of my heart. They are capable of doing anything in their heart’s desire, but the idea that their government would forcibly put them in a foxhole with a 220-pound psychopath trying to kill them doesn’t make any sense at all.”

What actually doesn’t make sense is why Cruz thinks the military would be putting any soldier, male or female, in a foxhole with another soldier who is a psychopath trying to kill them, but in any case, Cruz is here to stand tall. As the National Review put it in an editorial today, “Men should protect women. They should not shelter behind mothers and daughters.”

This comes after Marco Rubio got ridiculed for wearing fancy boots (“A Vote for Marco Rubio Is a Vote for Men’s High-Heeled Booties,” tweeted a Cruz staffer). And after Donald Trump spent weeks mocking Jeb Bush for being “low energy.”

In other words, this race is sounding like a bunch of elementary-school boys on the playground shouting “You’re a girl! No, you’re a girl! Girly girl! Girly girl!” I’m beginning to think the whole thing should be narrated by David Attenborough, whispering from behind a bush as we watch the candidates in action: “Here, we see the males bellowing and stomping their feet in a classic dominance display, each one more puffed up than the next, until one lucky silverback, his chest heaving with exertion and a rush of testosterone, forces his competitor to slink off in shame, his genes never to be passed on.”

Obviously, much of this festival of male anxiety is driven by Trump, whose entire life at times appears to be an extended attempt to prove he’s a Real Man. But this is an old story in presidential politics; indeed, in almost every election of the last few decades there are times when Republicans have implied or said directly that the Democratic candidate is effeminate and weak, whether it was Ronald Reagan challenging Walter Mondale to arm-wrestle, George H.W. Bush saying Michael Dukakis hailed from the “Harvard Yard’s boutique,” or Republicans mocking John Kerry for supposedly “looking French” (you know what that means).

The message all this is supposed to communicate is that real men vote Republican, and if you vote for the wrong candidate then your own masculinity might be in question. In a primary campaign where all the candidates fetishize “strength” and have equally belligerent foreign policy ideas, distinguishing yourself on this score requires getting increasingly personal.

Looming in the background is the fact that whoever gets the GOP nomination will probably be running against an actual woman, not a man who can be mocked as effeminate. This complicates matters, to say the least. The sexual politics around Hillary Clinton have always been fraught with ideas about proper gender roles; indeed the most common joke late-night writers made about Clinton throughout her career was that she is in fact not a woman at all, but a man (they were particularly fond of jokes about Clinton having balls).

So it wasn’t a surprise that when a reporter for Mic.com tracked down the woman who shouted out at the Trump rally, she was happy to go on an extended riff about the size of the various candidates’ testicles and which fruits they most closely resemble. But the real target here is male voters, the ones who want to make sure nobody calls their own virility into question. To appeal to them, the candidates are turning that attack on each other. Every American male knows from a young age that the worst thing your peers can call you is a girl; some people just never get over it.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, February 9, 2016

February 10, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Gender Gap, GOP Primary Debates | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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