"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Our Lead Exhibit”: Trump Proves Ignorance Doesn’t Matter Much

Our question for the day: Does ignorance matter?

Our lead exhibit — you will not be shocked to hear this — is Donald Trump.

Last week, the billionaire real estate mogul who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination stumbled over a question about terrorism from conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. Specifically, he was forced to admit that he could not identify the leaders of Hezbollah and al Qaeda, among other terrorist organizations.

There is a pattern for how Trump reacts when cornered, and he was true to it last week. First, he made the usual vague, grandiose promises about how effective he will be once in office (“I will be so good at the military, your head will spin. … I’m a delegator. … I find absolutely great people and I’ll find them in our armed services”). Then he attempted to kill the messenger, bashing Hewitt on Twitter as a “very low-ratings talk-show host” and a “3rd-rate gotcha guy.”

As has also become part of the pattern, a gaffe that might have totaled another candidate’s campaign seems to have not even scratched the paint on this one. Or, as a Politico headline put it: “Trump bluffs past another crisis.” Indeed, Trump has come to resemble nothing so much as a real world “Sebastian Shaw” — a Marvel Comics supervillian who gets stronger every time you hit him.

After insulting Mexicans, insulting his rivals and insulting Fox “News” personality Megyn Kelly with a tasteless jibe that he claimed wasn’t about menstruation, though it transparently was, Trump continues to lead all contenders for the Republican presidential nomination. Nor is the ignorance of world affairs he betrayed on Hewitt’s show likely to change that.

It’s a fact that speaks volumes about the present state of the Grand Old Party. This is, after all, now the third presidential election cycle in a row in which one of its stars has shown him or herself to be spectacularly clueless on some relatively simple question of presidential readiness.

There is a straight line from Saran Palin in 2008 — unable to give coherent answers to questions about the economy, foreign policy and her own reading habits — to Herman Cain hemming and hawing and shifting in his chair in 2011 when asked about Libya, to Trump bristling and pouting because he was quizzed about major figures in Middle East terrorism.

One is reminded of the old political axiom that people want a president they could imagine having a beer with. And that’s fine. But you’d think they would also want to imagine him or her being able to find North Korea on a map. And, in the last few years, there have been some political contenders and pretenders you suspect could not do it even if you spotted them a hemisphere.

Since when did running for president become a reality show? How does Trump or anyone else figure that a presidential candidate should not be asked hard questions? And what does it say about us that fundamental ignorance about things a president should know does not automatically disqualify one from credibly contending for that office?

Perhaps it says that some of us want the world to be simple, and that they want a president who will not ask them to think too deeply, nor proffer any policy prescription too complex to fit on a bumper sticker.

Perhaps it says that some of us embrace an extremist resistance to social change and are willing to support whoever promises most loudly to drag the country back to an imagined yesterday of purity and strength.

But the world is not simple and never was. And yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone.

Does ignorance matter? Well, Donald Trump is still the leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination.

So obviously, it doesn’t matter nearly as much as it should.


By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, September 9, 2015

September 10, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, Republicans | , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“The Trouble Is With The Messenger”: Rubio Targets Trump, But Leads With His Chin

Donald Trump’s first real interview on matters of foreign policy and national security clearly didn’t go well. Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt pressed the Republican frontrunner on a variety of key issues – the difference between Hamas and Hezbollah, for example – and the GOP presidential candidate not only struggled, Trump dismissed the questions themselves as “ridiculous.”

The second-day question, of course, is whether a candidate’s ignorance has any effect on his or her standing. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), talking earlier to CNN, clearly hopes to make Trump’s difficulties as consequential as possible.

“If you don’t know the answer to these questions, then you are not going to be able to serve as commander and chief,” Rubio told CNN in an interview here.

 “This should be part of the reason why you are running because you understand the threats that the world is facing, you have deep understanding and you understand what to do about it,” Rubio added. “And if someone doesn’t, I think it is very concerning.”

At face value, there’s probably something to this. Even if someone were to give Trump the benefit of the doubt – maybe he confused the Quds Forces and the Kurds because it was a phone interview and he misheard the host – major-party presidential candidates should know the difference between Hamas and Hezbollah. Heck, anyone who reads news articles once in a while about the Middle East should know the difference between Hamas and Hezbollah.

If Rubio wants to make the case that interviews like the Trump-Hewitt exchange point to a candidate who’s probably unprepared for national office, it’s a credible message.

The trouble, however, is with the messenger.

Rubio, a member of both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee, is basing much of his campaign on his alleged expertise on international affairs. The far-right Floridian would love nothing more than to be seen as the candidate who has a “deep understanding” of “the threats that the world is facing.”

But Rubio has run into Trump-like problems of his own. Just last week, in a big speech on foreign policy, the GOP senator told an embarrassing whopper about military preparedness, touching on an issue Rubio should have understood far better.

In June, Rubio was asked about his approach towards Iraq. Told that his policy sounds like nation-building, the senator responded, “Well, it’s not nation-building. We are assisting them in building their nation.”

Just this year, Rubio has flubbed the details of Iran’s Green Revolution. His criticisms on the Obama administration’s approach towards Israel were quickly discredited as nonsense. His statements of nuclear diplomacy were practically gibberish.

In the spring, Rubio had a memorable confrontation with Secretary of State John Kerry, which was a debacle – the senator stumbled badly on several key details, and Kerry made him look pretty foolish.

Soon after, Rhonda Swan, a Florida-based journalist, wrote that the Republican senator “should be embarrassed.” Swan added, “By his own standard that the next president have a ‘clear view of what’s happening in the world’ and a ‘practical plan for how to engage America in global affairs,’ Rubio fails the test.”

What’s more, as readers may recall, when Rubio has tried to articulate a substantive vision, he’s relied a little too heavily on shallow, bumper-sticker-style sloganeering, rather than actual policy measures. Rubio declared “our strategy” on national security should mirror Liam Neeson’s catchphrase in the film “Taken”: “We will look for you, we will find you and we will kill you.”

Soon after, the candidate’s team unveiled the “Rubio Doctrine,” described by Charles Pierce as “three banalities strung together in such a way as to sound profound and to say nothing.”

Rubio said this morning, “If you don’t know the answer to these questions, then you are not going to be able to serve as commander and chief.” That may be true. But is there any reason to believe the Florida Republican knows the answer to these questions?


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 4, 2015

September 6, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Foreign Policy, Marco Rubio, National Security | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Doing Real Vetting Should Be Part Of The Job”: Why Conservative Media Should Be Tough On Republican Candidates

When the RNC announced a few weeks ago that conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt was going to moderate a primary debate, many liberals ridiculed it as evidence that they wanted to shield their candidates from anything but softball questions. I argued that it was a good thing, first because the journalists (mostly from TV) who have moderated primary debates in the past have done such a terrible job, and second because primaries should be about what people within the party think. Someone with an interest in picking the best nominee might actually be tougher on the candidates, and would certainly have a better sense of what will matter to primary voters.

I don’t listen to Hugh Hewitt, so I can’t make any detailed assessment of his oeuvre, but though he’s certainly a partisan Republican he has a reputation as one of the better interviewers on the right. Yesterday, he interviewed Ben Carson and seemed to expose some gaps in Carson’s knowledge. This is being touted in some quarters as Carson showing his ignorance, but I actually think it’s an example of what partisan media ought to do during a primary.

I don’t know if Hewitt thinks of his mission this way, but if I were a conservative media figure like him, the last thing I’d want is a repeat of the nincompoop parade that was the 2012 GOP primaries. So doing some real vetting should be part of the job: asking difficult questions, exposing the areas of weakness that will eventually come up anyway, not to mention illuminating the real areas of distinctions that separate the candidates.

So did Hewitt ambush Carson? Maybe a bit, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with what he asked. In this case, it was about what might draw us into a war with Russia. Yes, Carson displayed some momentary confusion about NATO and the Baltic states, but candidates have done far worse (see here, for instance). And running for president ought to be hard. The job is hard. If we’re going to give someone that kind of power, there’s almost no question too tricky or detailed for them to be asked.

Now I’m no fan of Ben Carson, not by a long shot. But Hewitt asks him exactly the right question about being an amateur in politics, and Carson’s answer isn’t so terrible. Here’s the exchange:

HH: And so what I worry about as a Republican, as a conservative, is that because you’ve been being a great neurosurgeon all these years, you haven’t been deep into geopolitics, and that the same kind of questions that tripped up Sarah Palin early in her campaign are going to trip you up when, for example, the gotcha question, does she believe in the Bush doctrine when it depends on how you define the Bush doctrine. And so how are you going to navigate that, because I mean, you’ve only, have you been doing geopolitics? Do you read this stuff? Do you immerse yourself in it?

BC: I ‘ve read a lot in the last six months, no question about that. There’s a lot of material to learn. There’s no question about that. But again, I have to go back to something that I feel is a fundamental problem, and that is we spend too much time trying to get into these little details that are easily within the purview of the experts that you have available to you. And I think where we get lost is not being able to define what our real mission is, and not being able to strategize in terms of how do we defeat our enemies, how do we support our allies? I could spend, you know, the next six years learning all the details of all the SALT treaties and every other treaty that’s ever been done and completely miss the boat.

HH: Well, that’s possible, and I want to be respectful in posing this. But I mean, you wouldn’t expect me to become a neurosurgeon in a couple of years. And I wouldn’t expect you to be able to access and understand and collate the information necessary to be a global strategist in a couple of years. Is it fair for people to worry that you just haven’t been in the world strategy long enough to be competent to imagine you in the Oval Office deciding these things? I mean, we’ve tried an amateur for the last six years and look what it got us.

BC: Well, if you go to, let’s say, a very well-run hospital, you’re going to have a president of the hospital or chief administrator. He probably doesn’t know a whole lot about cardiac surgery, probably doesn’t know a whole lot about neurosurgery or pediatric infectious disease. But he knows how to put together a structure where the strength of all those departments work effectively. And as far as having an amateur in the Oval Office in the last six years, I would take issue with that. I would say that this man has been able to accomplish a great deal. It’s maybe not the things that you and I want accomplished, but in terms of fundamentally changing this nation and putting it on a different footing? I think he’s done quite a masterful job.

Ben Carson obviously isn’t going to be the GOP nominee; his run for the White House is part of a media strategy whose end point is a Fox gig or a talk radio show, supplemented by revenue from books revealing the shocking story of how liberals are destroying America. But you have to give him credit for pushing back on the idea so common in conservative circles that Barack Obama is some kind of incompetent dolt (he can’t give a speech without a teleprompter, ha ha!).

In any case, this is how interviews from conservative talk show hosts ought to go. Carson can go on Sean Hannity’s show and get a bunch of softball questions, and the answers will make the viewers nod their heads in agreement. But that doesn’t do them any good. They’ll be much better served if all their candidates get the toughest interviews possible now, and conservatives are the ones to do it.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, March 19, 2015

March 23, 2015 Posted by | Conservative Media, GOP Presidential Candidates, Media | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Let’s Go Inside His Head”: The True Confessions Of Mitt Romney

Say you’re Mitt Romney, and you still can’t believe you lost the 2012 election. You’ve been aiming barbs at President Obama and sending heartwarming Christmas cards featuring your large family. In 2014, you star in a flattering documentary and post charming photos of your hike through the Mountain West with five of your 22 grandchildren. When asked whether you will make a third try for the White House, you and your wife say absolutely not, many times in many ways.

And then suddenly you’re giving off definitive “let’s do this thing” vibes: telling donors you will almost certainly run, calling former allies and aides, adding yourself to the program at the Republican National Committee meeting in San Diego and inviting conservative radio host Laura Ingraham to an “off the record” lunch at a ski resort in Utah, after which she tells The Washington Post you were “fully engaged and up to speed,” and seemed no longer content to be “just a passive player in American politics.”

So what catapulted you off the sidelines? Jeb Bush’s forceful entry into the emerging field was the spark. But you’ve been reconsidering for a while, looking at the other establishment favorites and wondering why the heck not. It’s not like you’re too old. The baby boom generation is still clogging up the runway. At 67, you’re about the same age as Hillary Clinton and not all that much older than Jeb, who will be 62 next month. As for old news, you’re practically a fresh face compared with Clinton, who has been in the news nonstop for more than two decades. And seriously, how damaging is a third grab for the ring when your competition is the third guy in his family to run?

What else is Romney thinking? Let’s go inside his head.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s tendency to erupt at people was fun for a while and raised lots of money, he muses. But I can raise money, too. And while I’m kind of awkward sometimes, I’m pretty sure voters won’t want a president who gets into public screaming matches. Not that I hold a grudge against Christie, even though his 2012 convention keynote was much more about him than me. But what makes him think people are going to disregard eight downgrades in his state’s credit rating, a poor job-creation performance or investigations into Bridgegate, the five-day traffic nightmare that punished a Democratic mayor? I certainly won’t.

It’s impressive, yes, that Gov. Scott Walker took on unions and has won three Wisconsin elections in six years. But would voters really pick this untested young candidate over the man who saved the 2002 Olympics and countless floundering businesses? (That would be me). And does Walker have the presence and skills to dominate a national race? I’ve already proven I can crush a sitting president in a debate.

And don’t get me started on Jeb and his family: his father’s reversal on his no-new-taxes pledge; his brother’s wars, deficits and intrusive federal education law; and his own support for comprehensive immigration reforms and Common Core education standards. All I did was sign “Romneycare” when I was governor of Massachusetts. I’ve already denied that it was the model for Obamacare. I’ve already said no other state should be required to do what I did. I’ve already said the federal law should be repealed. Problem solved.

I want to pause here to thank my good friend, the conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, for his advice on how to deal with that time I dismissed 47 percent of the country as moochers who are dependent on government, believe they are victims, and will never take responsibility for their lives. Hewitt is right, everyone makes mistakes. Look at Hillary’s “we were broke when we left the White House” gaffe; Rick Perry’s “oops” moment when he forgot the third federal agency he wanted to eliminate; and Jeb’s description of illegal immigration as an “act of love” by people trying to give their families better lives. I never pretend to be poor, and I don’t start lists I can’t finish. Maybe I went a bit too far with the “self-deportation” business on immigration. You won’t hear me use that phrase again.

Above all, I won’t forget that a lot of those 47-percenters are veterans, seniors, low-income workers, the disabled and people searching desperately for jobs. And I won’t forget that a lot of them vote Republican — even for me! I won the seniors and the veterans, and I nearly won the union vote. I’m not only going to remember these folks, I’m going to focus my next campaign on opportunity and upward mobility. Wait, what do you mean, Jeb already named his political action committee Right to Rise, and stole the phrase — with permission — from my own 2012 running mate?

Back to the drawing board for the third round. I know the right message is out there somewhere.


By: Jill Lawrence, Creative Writers Syndicate; The National Memo, January 15, 2015

January 19, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, GOP Presidential Candidates, Mitt Romney | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Worried About The Right Wing”: Marco Rubio Threatens To Betray His Allies On Immigration Reform

As we discussed in April, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) spent a few months playing an awkward game on comprehensive immigration reform. On the one hand, Rubio has been a high-profile member of the “Gang of Eight,” helping negotiate the details of the legislation. On the other hand, the Florida Republican signaled his willingness to oppose the legislation he’s ostensibly helping write. Rubio would say he likes his own bill, but wouldn’t commit to it.

Many of those involved in the process grew weary of Rubio straddling the fence. It was common to hear Capitol Hill insiders joke that the senator thought he could be “a little bit pregnant” on the policy.

But all that changed in mid-April, when Rubio got off the fence and began championing the legislation he helped craft. And all of that changed again late yesterday when Rubio said he’s prepared to reject his own legislation.

Speaking with radio host Hugh Hewitt Tuesday, Rubio said the Senate should “strengthen the border security parts of this bill so that they’re stronger, so that they don’t give overwhelming discretion to the Department of Homeland Security.” He said he was working with other senators on amendments to do just that.

Then Hewitt asked: “If those amendments don’t pass, will you yourself support the bill that emerged from Judiciary, Senator Rubio?”

Rubio answered, “Well, I think if those amendments don’t pass, then I think we’ve got a bill that isn’t going to become law, and I think we’re wasting our time. So the answer is no.”

Even for Rubio, this is bizarre. The Florida Republican had concerns about provisions related to border security, which he worked out through the “Gang of Eight” negotiations — his colleagues made the changes he wanted to see, which in turn led Rubio to endorse the bipartisan legislation.

But now the senator is moving the goalposts, saying the changes that have already been made aren’t good enough, and unless he’s able to move his bill even further to the right, Rubio is prepared to reject his own legislation.

Well, maybe Democrats can once again give Rubio what he wants, keeping the larger effort intact?

I’m afraid not — Rubio is asking far too much.

Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn intends to introduce a sweeping amendment to the immigration bill when it goes on the floor next week, seeking to replace an entire section devoted to border security and tweak the national security and criminal justice titles.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), one of the members of the Senate’s bipartisan Gang of Eight, has been working with Cornyn on the amendment “for weeks,” a Rubio aide said.

The Texas Republican wants stricter border patrol provisional “triggers” before registered immigrants are allowed to apply for green card status. His amendment would require 100 percent operational control of the Southern borders and that 90 percent of illegal border crossers be apprehended. It would also require 100 percent border surveillance, or situational awareness, of each one-mile segment of the Southern border and installment of a national E-Verify system before registered immigrants can pursue green cards.

No serious person involved in the negotiations believes this is a responsible approach. Indeed, no one even thinks these standards are realistic — it’s exactly why the Gang of Eight considered and rejected these measures during their negotiations. Rubio said they weren’t necessary to earn his support for the legislation, and now he’s saying they are.

He is, in other words, apparently prepared to betray his allies.

And why would Rubio do this? Because the Republican Party’s radicalized base opposes comprehensive reform, and Rubio’s support for the bill will undermine his future career ambitions, including a likely run for national office in 2016. [Update: Adam Serwer notes this is ultimately pointless, since the right will still resent the fact that he helped write a bill they hate, and the left will resent the fact that he walked away from a deal reached in good faith.]

There is an important caveat to all of this: Rubio has waffled before. I don’t recall him going as far as he did with Hugh Hewitt, but the Florida Republican occasionally waffles, only to be brought back into the fold. Reform proponents can hope that McCain and Graham will give him a call this morning, Rubio will walk back his comments from yesterday, and the process will move forward. Rubio isn’t a policy guy, so it’s possible he got rattled yesterday and said what he didn’t entirely mean.

But if we take his words at face value, Rubio has put the future of immigration reform at great risk, basically because he’s worried right-wing activists won’t like him anymore.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 5, 2013

June 8, 2013 Posted by | Immigration Reform | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


%d bloggers like this: