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“Cuddling Up To Criminals”: Criminal-Justice Reform At CPAC

Attendees wait in line to vote in the presidential straw poll at the American Conservative Union’s CPAC conference at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, on Thursday, March 3, 2016.

On Thursday, conservatives of all stripes descended on the Gaylord National Convention Center at the National Harbor in Maryland, just a few miles south of Washington, D.C. In recent years, the annual Conservative Political Action Conference has featured presentations on topics ranging from the future of the Republican Party to voter engagement to criminal-justice reform, which lately has gained support from the right side of the aisle.

This year’s panel on criminal-justice reform featured a debate pitting reformers Pat Nolan of the American Conservative Union and Ken Cuccinelli, the former attorney general of Virginia, against lock-’em-up apostle David Clarke, the sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, who’d famously compared Black Lives Matter protesters to ISIS terrorists.

“Folks,” Clarke began, “you’re not being told the truth when it comes to this criminal-justice reform and sentencing reform.” Clarke went on to tout the policies from the tough-on-crime era. “This led to record low numbers of crime, violent crimes, in your communities,” he said.

For conservatives who favor reducing the prison population, a popular talking point has to do with costs. The United States spends approximately $80 billion each year keeping people behind bars. For those fond of fiscal conservatism, that’s just more government spending that can be cut.

But Clarke dismissed the idea in his opening remarks. “All this is going to do, at best, is shift the cost from the federal government down to the state level,” he said. Citing high recidivism rates, he argued that re-offenders would be put into state prisons, forcing states to incur the costs. Of course, the overwhelming majority of prisoners are in state, not federal, prisons to begin with, so cost-shifting from the federal to the state level isn’t really an issue in the criminal-justice reform discussion—not that Clarke seemed to understand that.

Cuccinelli, who is a part of of the Right on Crime initiative—a campaign for conservative solutions to criminal justice—sang a different tune. “Over the last ten years, [Texas] has reduced both their budget for prisons and their crime rate by double digit percentages,” he said.

“It’s not the Californias and the New Yorks of the world, it’s the Texases, the Georgias, the Dakotas,” that are reforming their criminal-justice systems, he said—even though Texas and Georgia are in the top ten states with the highest incarcerations rates.

Nolan delivered a semi-impassioned defense of why the government should only prosecute certain crimes like rape, murder, and robbery and should target major drug traffickers as opposed to street dealers. Clarke interrupted him to demonstrate why nonviolent drug offenders deserve to be in prison for as long as possible.

“If you’re a struggling mom living in a slum or a ghetto in a city in the United States of America,” Clarke said, “and you’re doing everything that you can to keep your kid away from that dope dealer standing on the corner who’s out there every day … do you know that to get that guy off the street for as long as we can be allowed by law is a big deal for her?”

Though Nolan and Cuccinelli continued to make the case for shorter sentences for certain crimes as well as ways to reduce prison spending—a case that other Republican legislators are making as well—Clarke made clear that there was plenty of pushback from other conservatives. He name-checked four Republican senators who agree with him on the need to stick with the status quo. “Tom Cotton is right on this. Jeff Sessions is right on this. Orrin Hatch is right on this. Ted Cruz is right on opposing this Trojan horse.”

“I find it unfathomable that we would cede this [issue] back over to the left and to the Democrats,” said Clarke, “by cuddling up to criminals.”


By: Nathalie Baptiste, The American Prospect, March 4, 2016

March 7, 2016 Posted by | Conservatives, CPAC, Criminal Justice Reform | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Donald Trump, The Hater Is Now A Loser”: Can He Survive Becoming His Most Famous And Frequently Used Epithet?

In Iowa, the hater became a loser.

In the first contest of the Republican nomination, Donald Trump, the man who predicated his entire campaign on his ability to win everything and everywhere, suffered a devastating Iowa defeat to Sen. Ted Cruz. He now faces a second major problem: the surging Sen. Marco Rubio, who finished third, is now the clear establishment favorite, and poses a real threat to Trump in next week’s New Hampshire primary.

Absent policy expertise, his bluster about achieving foreign and domestic “wins” constituted the entire sustaining force of his campaign. As he once said on Twitter, quoting the golfer Walter Hagen, “No one remembers who came in second.” It was a triumphant attitude based on polling leads that continually defied expectations and a successful career in real estate that he elevated to mythological proportions.

Trump was unstoppable, he continually insisted, and faced only an endless string of victories that were all but assured.

That all changed Monday night as a visibly-deflated Trump gave brief remarks to supporters in Iowa. Absent was the swagger of Trump events past: “I think we’re going to be proclaiming victory, I hope,” Trump said of the New Hampshire primary.

It was perhaps his most magnanimous speech of the campaign. He congratulated Cruz on the win in Iowa and repeated over and over again that he loved the people of Iowa.

“I think I might come here and buy a farm,” Trump said, as he closed his speech. To put that in perspective, back in October he insisted to the people that if he lost the Hawkeye State he would “never speak to you people again.”

Polling conducted in the days leading up to the Iowa caucuses showed Trump with the lead over Cruz—but the defining question was whether political amateur Trump had the organization in the Hawkeye State to turn out his supporters. Early entrance polling showed that 4 in 10 Republicans had never attended a caucus before, and veteran Republicans in the state expected a record turnout that would boost Trump.

The businessman has also gone after Cruz with a vengeance—while they had once held a joint campaign event, the bromance ended in recent months, as Trump raised questions about Cruz’s eligibility to be president and criticized him for taking an unreported loan from Goldman Sachs, his wife’s then-employer, to finance his 2012 Senate campaign.

Cruz’s victory defied the odds, proving that his much-vaunted ground game in the first presidential contest was the key to victory.

Over 12,000 volunteers worked for Cruz, both from within Iowa and from nearly three dozen other states. At the event Cruz held for his Iowa supporters Monday evening, women line danced as they celebrated a substantial margin of victory.

Volunteers from across the country braved accommodations in college dorms—with the moniker “Camp Cruz”—to go door-knocking and make phone calls. “Let’s put it this way: It was not a four-star hotel,” said JoAnn Fleming, the co-chair of the “Texas Strike Force” that brought volunteers from out of state to support the Texas senator.

“You can spend money on an air campaign but there’s nothing like dedicated volunteers that will spend their own money to go thousands of miles… That’s something money can’t buy,” Fleming said.

Cruz opened his victory speech with a nod to his Christian faith he’s continually referenced since the start of the campaign. “Let me first of all say, to God be the glory,” he said as the crowd roared.

And he wasn’t shy about invoking Psalm 30, which is about David’s soul being lifted up from Sheol, to describe the final months of President Obama’s time in office.

“While Americans will continue to suffer under a president who’s set an agenda that’s causing millions to hurt across this country, I want to remind you of the promise of scripture,” he said. “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”

Cruz’s speech lasted for quite some time, but attendess seemed to stay in high spirits through the 30-minute-plus talk. As he talked about his 18-hour days on the trail, a fan in the crowd yelled “You’re not tired!”

Cruz smiled. “We’re not tired at all.”

His backers couldn’t help but gloat that Trump had, at long last, been vanquished. “He’s not gonna win everywhere. It’s already over. He may win in some places, but he’s not going to win everywhere,” said Ken Cuccinelli, a Cruz surrogate and the former attorney general of Virginia.

After tonight’s victory, Cruz is the first Republican to survive a head-to-head confrontation with Trump: Other GOP challengers—Ben Carson and Jeb Bush—wilted away after Trump mocked them. Cruz survived and triumphed.

In typical Trump fashion, the mogul had broken all the rules of campaigning—making fun of Carson’s story about a purported childhood stabbing attempt, and mocking Iowa voters as his grip on the polls slipped a little late last year.

“How stupid are the people of Iowa?” Trump asked. “How stupid are the people of the country to believe this crap?”

Just months ago, Trump was considered a political punchline—pundits predicted that Republican primary voters would soon get over their infatuation with the buffoonish businessman after the “Summer of Trump.”

But the seemingly invincible billionaire rode through controversy after controversy—instead of melting away, he has taken advantage of his celebrity status to dominate news cycles. He lost the lead in Iowa just to regain it again and again.

Trump resilience continued to confound political observers. He made countless comments that would have destroyed the candidacies of other politicians: He characterized Mexican immigrants as “rapists” at his campaign launch event; promised to ban all Muslims from entering the United States; disparaged former prisoner of war Sen. John McCain, saying he liked “people who weren’t captured”; doxxed Sen. Lindsey Graham’s cellphone number; and said of newscaster Megyn Kelly’s debate questions that “you could see there was blood coming out of her eyes… blood coming out of her wherever.” All of these statements were seen as campaign-ending gaffes.

But for months, despite the predictions of pollsters and pundits, it never hurt his numbers. He rode in to Iowa as the man to beat, the guy poised to run the table against all his Republican opponents and secure the biggest primary victory of any candidate in modern times.

Instead Trump barely cleared second place in a remarkable defeat. And while it may be too soon to officially declare that the Trump Train has finally gone off the rails, the man who has led the Republican field since early last summer suddenly finds himself in a profoundly difficult battle to regain momentum before New Hampshire.

Trump has withstood mocking from the media and dismissive insults from his opponents. The question now is whether he can survive becoming his most famous and frequently used epithet: loser.


By: Tim Mak and Betsy Woodruff, The Daily Beast, February 1, 2016

February 3, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Primaries, Iowa Caucuses | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Part Of A Deliberate Strategy”: The Religious Right Finds Its Man

The pattern started in earnest in 1996. Social conservative leaders weren’t sold on Bob Dole as the Republicans’ presidential nominee, but the religious right movement struggled to rally behind a credible alternative.

As we discussed in March, in nearly every election cycle that followed, a similar dynamic unfolded. In 2000, the religious right wanted John Ashcroft, who didn’t run. In 2008, the religious right hated John McCain, but it couldn’t settle on a rival. In 2012, social conservatives were skeptical about Mitt Romney, but again, it failed to coalesce behind someone else.

The movement and its leaders were absolutely determined not to repeat their mistakes. This would finally be the cycle, the religious right’s heavyweights insisted, in which social conservatives en masse made an early decision, chose a competitive GOP candidate, and helped propel him or her towards the convention.

And though I was skeptical of their organizational skills, social conservative leaders, for the first time in a generation, are doing exactly what they set out to do. National Review reported late yesterday:

James Dobson, founder of the Christian group Focus on the Family and one of the nation’s most influential evangelicals, will endorse Ted Cruz for president today, according to sources briefed on the announcement. […]

Dobson, sources say, has long been an outspoken voice on Cruz’s behalf, arguing in previous private gatherings that Marco Rubio was not sufficiently conservative to earn the group’s support.

The endorsement from Dobson, a powerhouse in religious right circles, comes on the heels of similar support from the Family Leader’s Bob Vander Plaats, the National Organization for Marriage, and GOP activist/direct-mail pioneer Richard Viguerie.

This isn’t a situation in which prominent social conservatives suddenly saw the merits of the Texas Republican’s candidacy. On the contrary, it’s part of a deliberate strategy.

National Review reported earlier this week on the religious right’s initiative to formally choose the movement’s presidential hopeful.

The initiative, spearheaded by Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, had originally brought together a loose coalition of some 50 like-minded conservative leaders from around the country. Together, beginning in early 2014, the group – referred to internally simply as “The GROUP” – met every few months to discuss the state of the race, to pray for guidance, and to conduct a straw poll to see which candidates enjoyed the most support at each stage of the campaign.

It had all built to this day and to this meeting, where members would vote until they reached a verdict. Once finalized, their decision would represent the culmination of an oft-dismissed undertaking that began several years earlier and aimed at one thing: coalescing the conservative movement’s leaders behind a single presidential candidate in a show of strength and solidarity that would position them to defeat the establishment-backed candidate in the head-to-head stage of the 2016 Republican primary.

And two weeks ago, in a hotel boardroom in Northern Virginia, Ted Cruz cleared the 75% supermajority threshold “required to bind the group’s membership to support him.”

Dobson’s endorsement is part of the initiative’s rollout, and his Cruz endorsement will reportedly soon be followed by the Senate Conservatives Fund Ken Cuccinelli and the FRC’s Tony Perkins.

Will this translate into success for the far-right senator? It’s true that social conservatives’ influence over the direction of the Republican Party isn’t as strong as it once was, but this constituency still represents a significant chunk of the GOP base, especially in states like Iowa.

In a competitive nominating fight, which will likely come down to three or four people, Cruz’s formal alliance with the religious right may very well make an enormous difference.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 18, 2015

December 20, 2015 Posted by | Christian Right, Establishment Republicans, Evangelicals, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Scaring Away Black Voters In Mississippi”: Misinformation Is Already Circulating As To The Details Of The Law Voters Must Follow

Several right-wing groups have banded together to form a “voter integrity project’ in response to the news that Senator Thad Cochran is courting black Democratic voters in his runoff with the Tea partier Chris McDaniel.

The Senate Conservatives Fund, Freedom Works and the Tea Party Patriots, all political action committees, will “deploy observers in areas where Mr. Cochran is recruiting Democrats,” according to a Times article. Ken Cuccinelli, the president of the Senate Conservative Funds, said these observers would be trained to see “whether the law is being followed.”

Does anything think this “project” will actually encourage voter “integrity” as opposed to voter suppression? Misinformation is already circulating as to the details of the law that voters must follow.

As The Times noted, anyone can vote in a Republican runoff if he or she did not vote in the Democratic primary. Conversely, anyone who did participate in the Democratic primary may not vote in the Republican runoff.

But J. Christian Adams, a former lawyer for the Department of Justice known for pushing a voter intimidation case against the New Black Panther Party, told Breitbart, the conservative news site, that the rules are actually much stricter. In an email to the conservative news site he said that “if someone doesn’t intend to support the nominee in November, then that person isn’t allowed to vote in the Republican primary.”

In other words, a voter’s future intentions matter as much as their past actions.

To support Mr. Adams’s position, Breitbart cited a 2007 decision by U.S. District Judge W. Allen Pepper, which appears to indicate that Republican Party representatives may seek to discover whom voters intend to support in the fall, and potentially challenge their right to cast a ballot on those grounds.

The Supreme Court determined in a 2005 case that the First Amendment ‘protects the right of political parties to associate with fellow members and disassociate with non-members,’ Judge Pepper wrote in his opinion. So technically it’s the party’s responsibility—i.e., in this case, state GOP chairman Joe Nosef’s responsibility—to protect GOP voters’ First Amendment rights by working to keep Democrats from voting in the GOP primary runoff.”

The thing is, Breitbart left out a key detail.  As Rick Hasen pointed out on his Election Law Blog, the 2007 district court decision “was reversed and remanded” a year later. The upshot is that “poll workers may not challenge a voter, despite that voters past history of voting for Democrats unless the voter comes in and ‘openly declares that he or she does not intend to support the nominees of the party.’”

The plan to send “election observers” will, in itself, sound familiar to anyone who knows the history of voter intimidation in the South. The particular danger here is that even well-intentioned observers, primed for a flood of black Democrats and confused on the details of Mississippi law, will think it’s acceptable or even expected to take aside black voters and pepper them with questions.


By: Juliet Lapidos, Editors Blog, The New York Times, June 23, 2014

June 24, 2014 Posted by | Mississippi, Voter Suppression | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Dumbest Rock In The Box”: Unemployed Ken Cuccinelli Finds A Job With Rand Paul Suing Obama

Say you’re Ken Cuccinelli. You’ve recently lost the Virginia governor’s race to Terry McAuliffe, of all people. You’ve given up your post as America’s most litigious state attorney general. A good chunk of the GOP establishment resents your hyper-conservative crazy talk for damaging the brand. Yet another snowstorm is bearing down on the nation’s capital in what has been a particularly cold and miserable winter—and despite this, most Americans still believe that global warming is a real thing. How on earth do you pull yourself out of this funk?

Sue the president, of course! And the Director of National Intelligence! And the heads of the FBI and NSA! And anyone else you can think of who might know anything about the massive government spying program that Edward Snowden revealed to such great effect. And to guarantee public attention (because, really, at this point, why should anyone be paying attention to you?), file the suit on behalf of someone vastly more popular than you—for instance, libertarian nerd-chic rockstar and 2016 presidential hopeful Rand Paul.

So it was that, late Wednesday morning, Cuccinelli and Paul stood before a gaggle of political reporters on the freezing plaza outside the E. Barrett Prettyman district court house, a vaguely Soviet-looking box of a building just a couple of blocks west of the Capitol, to tout their freshly filed complaint against a government gone wild in its violation of the Fourth Amendment. In his brief remarks, Paul cited the “huge and growing swell of protest” against the government’s overzealous monitoring of its own citizenry. To illustrate what he predicts will be “a historic lawsuit”—a class action complaint on behalf of every American citizen who has used a telephone in the past seven-plus years—Paul brandished two fistfuls of cell phones (including one with an especially snazzy leopard-print case). Considering the hundreds of millions of Americans who use phones, he noted gravely, this case “may well be the largest civil action lawsuit on behalf of the Constitution.”

Paul and Cuccinelli did not stand alone, physically or metaphorically. The Tea Partying libertarians at FreedomWorks are co-plaintiffs in this case, and a couple dozen of the groups’ young ground troops had been milling about in the cold for the past hour, chanting and snapping pics and generally lending some pep to the proceedings. After Paul got the presser rolling, FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe, characteristically hipsterish in his black-rimmed specs and blade-like sideburns, offered his take. “This is one of the most important things my organization has been involved in,” he asserted. “This isn’t a Republican vs. Democrat issue. It isn’t about the Obama administration. The government has crossed a line.” Kibbe then assured everyone that FreedomWorks was going to “put that genie back in the bottle.”

As lead counsel, Cuccinelli fielded questions about the legal whys and hows of the suit. Yes, he is optimistic that this will go all the way to the Supreme Court. No, he does not expect it to be tried in conjunction with a similar suit brought by Larry Klayman, the lawsuit-happy conservative gadfly who has a similar complaint wending its way through the courts. Is he worried about “standing”—that is, showing that his clients have themselves been injured and so have the legal right to file this complaint? Don’t be ridiculous! “If you use a phone—and both my clients do—then they are injured by the gathering of this information,” he insisted. Most fundamentally, why exactly are Paul et al even bothering with this crusade when there are multiple other suits already farther along in the pipeline? “The other cases thus far are on behalf of individuals,” explained Cuccinelli. “That does not provide relief for every American using telephones.” By contrast, this class action seeks not only to end the data collection but also to compel the government to purge its databases of all info amassed since 2006. In other words: When Paul wins, we all win!

And make no mistake, Senator Paul has his eye on winning—though political watchers suspect he is focused on a juicier prize than some random lawsuit, even a constitutionally “historic” one. It has, for instance, been repeatedly noted that Paul’s online effort to gather the signatures of Americans upset by the NSA’s spy games will yield a fat database of like-minded voters that could be usefully mined for, say, a presidential campaign.

As for Paul’s new BFF, bringing Virginia’s lightning-rod ex-AG on board with this case makes better political sense than legal sense. Not to question Cooch’s legal chops, but surely Paul had his pick of Fourth Amendment geniuses. In fact, Paul and Cuccinelli are currently embroiled in a nasty spat with former Reagan administration attorney Bruce Fein—who spent the past several months working with Paul on this complaint before being unceremoniously jettisoned for Cuccinelli.

It’s not just that Fein’s people are ticked that Cuccinelli has taken over the case; they are accusing the former AG of appropriating huge chunks of a legal brief previously written by Fein. As Fein’s spokesman (and ex-wife) Mattie Fein fumed to the Washington Post on the very day of the presser, “I am aghast and shocked by Ken Cuccinelli’s behavior and his absolute knowledge that this entire complaint was the work product, intellectual property and legal genius of Bruce Fein.” Testy emails have been zipping back-and-forth between Teams Paul, Cuccinelli, and Fein, complete with finger-pointing and name calling. In one, Mattie, somewhat indelicately, called Cucinnelli “dumb as a box of rocks.” Bottom line, she told the Post, “Ken Cuccinelli stole the suit.”

From a political perspective, however, one can easily imagine why Paul would value this particular box of rocks. While the senator already has the love and trust of the GOP’s small-government enthusiasts, he needs to do some serious wooing of its social conservatives. Thus, for example, his recent efforts to revive the Clinton scandals of the 1990s. So who better to ally himself with in his current undertaking than anti-abortion, anti-gay-rights champion Cuccinelli? For many of the same reasons that Virginia women gave their AG the cold shoulder in November’s gubernatorial election, Republican “values voters” love the guy. Paul’s making common cause with Cuccinelli could help soothe some of the base’s suspicions regarding the libertarian senator’s moral fitness.

Not to suggest that the senator isn’t genuine in his outrage over the NSA’s antics. Those Paul men are nothing if not consistent in their small-government passions. But if linking arms with Cooch in this crusade happens to serve Paul’s broader political aims, where’s the harm? (Unless you’re Bruce Fein, of course.)

Certainly, Cuccinelli seems happy with the arrangement.  At Wednesday’s presser, after Paul bid the media farewell to return to his senate duties, the former AG hung around to answer additional questions. As the TV camera guys broke down their equipment and the FreedomWorks activists began drifting back down Constitution Ave., Cuccinelli lingered on the plaza, surrounded by a tight circle of reporters. Nothing takes the sting out of a frigid winter day like a warm bath of attention.


By: Michele Cottle, The Daily Beast, February 13, 2014

February 14, 2014 Posted by | Politics, Rand Paul | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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