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“A Presidential Candidate Who Is Mentally Unhinged”: What’s Going On In The Republican Party Right Now Is Shocking

Would it surprise you to hear that Donald Trump said something shocking yesterday? Probably not. But here’s the latest. On a conference call with supporters, someone asked the presumptive Republican nominee about a memo issued by his campaign staff asking surrogates to stop talking about the Trump University lawsuit. Here was his response:

“Take that order and throw it the hell out,” Trump said…

“Are there any other stupid letters that were sent to you folks?” Trump said. “That’s one of the reasons I want to have this call, because you guys are getting sometimes stupid information from people that aren’t so smart.”…

A clearly irritated Trump told his supporters to attack journalists who ask questions about the lawsuit and his comments about the judge.

“The people asking the questions—those are the racists,” Trump said. “I would go at ’em.”

It couldn’t be any clearer that Republicans are about to nominate a presidential candidate who is mentally unhinged. He blasts his own campaign staff (meager as it is) as stupid and suggests that reporters who questions his racist statements are – by definition – racist.

Anyone who has been paying attention has known this about Donald Trump for a long time. And so the more interesting question is about how Republican leaders are reacting. We saw last week how Paul Ryan donned the cloak of denial by claiming that Trump’s racism came out of left field. The ever-crass Mitch McConnell summed it up with: “I think the party of Lincoln wants to win the White House.” Perhaps the most unhinged response to an unhinged candidate came from Mike Huckabee. In reference to the Republican establishment’s concerns about Trump, he said this:

“And they’re getting what they justly deserve, they’re getting spanked,” he continued. “And they need to be happy they’re only getting spanked and not executed, because there is seething rage out in the country for those who have fought to help some of these guys get elected, and they get there and they surrender to Obama and people are sick of it. And I think that’s why we’ve seen the spirit of this election, and frankly Donald Trump gives me great comfort. I tell people, ‘I don’t have any hesitation going out there and genuinely supporting Donald Trump.’”

In a time when Republicans weren’t so busy defending a candidate like Trump, suggesting that their party’s leadership should be grateful for getting spanked rather than executed would qualify as a completely outrageous statement. But such are the days of Republicans in the era of Donald Trump.

Beyond that, we are actually witnessing things like Senate Republicans having to reassure our global allies that – if elected – Trump wouldn’t actually do what he’s said he would do, and other leaders attempting to assure voters in this country that constitutional limits (including the possibility of impeachment) would halt his authoritarian tendencies.

I say all of this because it is important that we retain our shock at these events. It is bad enough that in about a month the Republicans are set to formally nominate Donald Trump as their presidential candidate. But it is even more dangerous if we begin to normalize this as political discourse. Explaining away racism as acceptable in an attempt to win, talk of executing politicians, and authoritarian tendencies are simply unacceptable in a democratic republic. So let’s be honest…that is exactly what is happening in the Republican Party right now.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 7, 2016

June 7, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Journalists, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“If Democracy Goes Too Far”: ‘The Bullet Box’ Is An Option If The Ballot Box Fails, Says Gun-Rights Advocate

All Second Amendment enthusiasts are not the same. There are those who strongly believe in the right to bear arms for purposes of self-protection against criminals and for hunting and other sports usages. And then there are those who believe the ultimate purpose of the Second Amendment is to keep revolutionary violence on the table as a fallback plan if in their view “essential rights” are threatened, including gun rights themselves.

You can pretty clearly put many members of the Gun Owners of America, a group that considers the NRA a bunch of accomodationist squishes, in the latter category. The group’s longtime executive director, Larry Pratt, made that clear on his own radio show this week:

[T]he courts do not have the last word on what the Constitution is. They decide particular cases, they don’t make law. Their decisions, unlike the Roe v. Wade usurpation, don’t extend to the whole of society, they’re not supposed to. And we may have to reassert that proper constitutional balance, and it may not be pretty. So, I’d much rather have an election where we solve this matter at the ballot box than have to resort to the bullet box.

While Pratt’s term “bullet box” is attracting attention, this is a very old sentiment not just among gun enthusiasts but in broad swaths of movement conservatism. Recent proclamations in favor of the right to overthrow the government as essential to the maintenance of constitutional order have come from 2016 presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee. But perhaps the clearest statement was made in 2012 by now-senator Joni Ernst, one of the GOP’s rising stars:

“I have a beautiful little Smith & Wesson, 9 millimeter, and it goes with me virtually everywhere,” Ernst said at the NRA and Iowa Firearms Coalition Second Amendment Rally in Searsboro, Iowa. “But I do believe in the right to carry, and I believe in the right to defend myself and my family — whether it’s from an intruder, or whether it’s from the government, should they decide that my rights are no longer important.”

Ernst, of course, like other Second Amendment ultras, is implicitly arrogating to herself the right to decide when godless socialist tyranny — you know, things like Obamacare or environmental regulations or court-imposed reproductive rights — has gone so far that it’s time to bring out the shooting irons and start executing one’s enemies. But you have to wonder how people like Ernst and Cruz and Huckabee and Pratt would react if such rhetoric was coming from the political left — say, a black nationalist group. The right-to-revolution thinking really does boil down to Mao’s famous edict that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

For the present, it’s enough for Pratt to remind the rest of us that his tolerance for democracy and judicial supremacy has its limits, and if pushed too far, the “bullet box” is ever-ready.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, June 1, 2016

June 2, 2016 Posted by | Democracy, Joni Ernst, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The G.O.P.’s Holy War”: Righteousness Is A Tricky Business, It Has A Way Of Coming Back To Bite You

In the final, furious days of campaigning here, it was sometimes hard to tell whether this state’s Republicans were poised to vote for a president or a preacher, a commander or a crusader.

The references to religion were expansive. The talk of it was excessive. A few candidates didn’t just profess the supposed purity of their own faith. They questioned rivals’ piety, with Ted Cruz inevitably leading the way.

A rally of his devolved into an inquisition of Donald Trump. Speakers mocked Trump’s occasional claims of devout Christianity. Rick Perry, the former Texas governor, pointedly recalled Trump’s admission last summer that he never really does penance.

Cruz, in contrast, “probably gets up every morning and asks God for forgiveness at least a couple of times, even before breakfast,” Perry told the audience.

The evangelist or the apostate: That’s how the choice was framed. And it underscored the extent to which the Iowa caucuses have turned into an unsettling holy war.

Religion routinely plays a prominent part in political campaigns, especially on the Republican side, and always has an outsize role in Iowa, where evangelical Christians make up an especially large fraction of the Republican electorate.

But there was a particular edge to the discussion this time around. It reflected Trump’s surprising strength among evangelicals and his adversaries’ obvious befuddlement and consternation about that.

Cruz’s whole strategy for capturing the presidency hinges on evangelicals’ support, as Robert Draper details in The Times Magazine.

He rails against abortion rights and same-sex marriage in speeches that sound like sermons, with references to Scripture and invocations of God.

He ended a question-and-answer session with Iowans that I attended in a typical fashion, asking them to use the waning hours until the caucuses to pray.

“Spend just a minute a day saying, ‘Father, God, please,’” he implored them. “Continue this awakening. Continue this spirit of revival. Awaken the body of Christ to pull this country back from the abyss.”

But righteousness is a tricky business. It has a way of coming back to bite you.

A super PAC supporting Mike Huckabee produced an ad for both radio and TV in which two women express doubts about Cruz’s commitment to Christian causes, saying that he speaks in one way to Iowans and in another to New Yorkers whose campaign donations he needs.

“I also heard that Cruz gives less than 1 percent to charity and church,” says one of the two women.

“He doesn’t tithe?” asks the other. “A millionaire that brags about his faith all the time?” They conclude that he’s a phony.

Maybe. Maybe not.

It’s impossible to know the genuineness of someone’s faith. That’s among the reasons we shouldn’t grant it center stage.

Religion was integral to our country’s founding. It’s central to our understanding of the liberty that each of us deserves. But so are the principles that we don’t enshrine any one creed or submit anyone — including those running for office — to religious litmus tests.

So why does a Republican race frequently resemble such an exam?

The winner of the Iowa caucuses in 2012 was Rick Santorum, who put his Catholicism at the forefront of his campaign. The winner in 2008 was Mike Huckabee, a former evangelical pastor who never let you forget that.

To emerge victorious in 2016, several candidates are leaning hard on religion, hoping it’s an advantage over Trump.

But just as God is said to work in mysterious ways, religion is working in unexpected ways in this campaign. According to some national polls, more evangelicals back Trump than they do any other candidate.

That’s true although he’s on his third marriage; although he’s boasted of sexual conquests; although he went to the evangelical stronghold of Liberty University in 2012 and, in a rambling speech, mentioned the importance of prenuptial agreements; although he returned to Liberty University just weeks ago and revealed his inexperience in talking about the Bible by citing “two Corinthians” when anyone with any biblical fluency would have pronounced it “Second Corinthians.”

Liberty’s president, Jerry Falwell Jr., went so far as to endorse Trump, a development that clearly galled Trump’s rivals and bolstered their resolve to prove that they’re the better Christians.

Jeb Bush questioned Trump’s faith. Marco Rubio kept going out of his way to extol his own.

He released a television commercial here in which he speaks directly to the camera about what it means to be Christian. “Our goal is eternity, the ability to live alongside our creator for all time,” he says. “The purpose of our life is to cooperate with God’s plan.”

During last week’s debate, he worked religion into an answer to a question that had nothing to do with it. The Fox News anchor Bret Baier had asked him about his electability, mentioning a Time magazine story that called Rubio “the Republican savior.”

“Let me be clear about one thing,” Rubio responded. “There’s only one savior and it’s not me. It’s Jesus Christ, who came down to Earth and died for our sins.”

And at a rally, Rubio visibly brightened when a voter brought up faith and gave him an opportunity to expound on it.

“I pray for wisdom,” he said. “The presidency of the United States is an extraordinary burden and you look at some of the greatest presidents in American history. They were very clear. They were on their knees all the time asking for God, asking God for the wisdom to solve, for the strength to persevere incredible tests.”

That same image came up at the Cruz event during which Perry denigrated Trump. One of the speakers expressed joy at the thought of “a president who’s willing to kneel down and ask God for guidance as he’s leading our country.”

Cruz had declared such willingness in Iowa in November at an evangelical conference where a right-wing pastor talked about the death penalty for gay people and the need for candidates to accept Jesus as the “king of the president of the United States.”

“Any president who doesn’t begin every day on his knees isn’t fit to be commander in chief of this country,” Cruz said then.

I’m less interested in whether a president kneels down than in whether he or she stands up for the important values that many religions teach — altruism, mercy, sacrifice — along with the religious pluralism that this country rightly cherishes. And while I agree that Trump is unfit for the Oval Office, Corinthians has nothing to do with it.

 

By: Frank Bruni, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, January 30, 2016

February 1, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Iowa Caucuses, Religious Beliefs | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“He Has A Chance To Make History”: Could Americans Elect A Non-Religious President? Bernie Sanders Wants To Find Out

Right now, Marco Rubio is basically telling voters to choose him because he’s the most religious of the candidates. Ted Cruz is praying with voters. Mike Huckabee’s supporters are running ads saying not to vote for Cruz because he might not be a sincere Christian. Donald Trump is picking up surprising support from evangelicals.

Yet over on the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders might just be the first serious contender for a major-party nomination in modern times who is openly not religious — which would be the most significant religious development of this campaign.

Are Americans ready to elect someone who doesn’t even pretend to be religious to the White House? Maybe not yet — but if the country’s religious landscape keeps changing the way it has been, it could happen before long.

Mostly because Sanders is a Democrat (more on that in a bit), the question of his religious beliefs hasn’t gotten much attention up to now. This is from an article in today’s Post:

But as an adult, Sanders drifted away from Jewish customs. And as his bid for the White House gains momentum, he has the chance to make history. Not just as the first Jewish president — but as one of the few modern presidents to present himself as not religious.

“I am not actively involved with organized religion,” Sanders said in a recent interview.

Sanders said he believes in God, though not necessarily in a traditional manner.

“I think everyone believes in God in their own ways,” he said. “To me, it means that all of us are connected, all of life is connected, and that we are all tied together.”

Sanders doesn’t talk about this a lot, so we have to do some inferring about the substance of his beliefs. But what we can say is that the way he describes his conception of God — as a connection that exists between people and other living things — is most definitely not the conception of either the faith he was born in or of Christianity, the dominant faith among Americans. Those monotheistic religions (as well as others) see God as something external, a being with its own intentions, ideas, and decisions. Sanders can call his idea “God,” but a close reading suggests that he could be the first president in American history not to profess a belief in the kind of God most Americans worship. (There have been presidents, including Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, who were accused by their opponents of being atheists, but whatever they privately believed, in their public statements they spoke about God in familiar terms.)

To be clear, I don’t think Sanders’s thoughts about metaphysics should play much of a role in whether anyone votes for him or against him. I’ve long argued that voters should care about the substance of a candidate’s religious beliefs in proportion to the amount the candidate claims those beliefs will influence his or her behavior in office. Sanders isn’t arguing that his ideas about God will determine what course he pursues on Wall Street regulation, so those ideas aren’t particularly relevant. On the other hand, when Marco Rubio says, “I do think it’s important for our president to be someone who is influenced by their faith, especially if it’s Christianity,” then we should know exactly what his faith consists of and how he sees that influence manifesting itself.

At the same time, we should acknowledge that finding a candidate who shares your religious beliefs is one of the worst ways to make your choice, no matter what your beliefs are. If you’re an evangelical Christian, for instance, you probably love Ronald Reagan, who seldom went to church, and you probably dislike the only evangelical Christian ever elected president, Jimmy Carter. (Contrary to popular belief, George W. Bush is not an evangelical; he’s a Methodist, just like Hillary Clinton.) Pick the president you most revere and the one you most despise, and both at least professed to be believing Christians. So as a tool to predict the content of a presidency, which box the candidate checks isn’t much use.

Nevertheless, it’s long been true that Americans say they won’t vote for someone who doesn’t believe in God. Yet that’s now changing. According to a recent poll from the Pew Research Center, 51 percent of Americans say they’d be less likely to vote for someone who didn’t believe in God. That’s larger than the figure for a Muslim (42 percent), someone who had had an extramarital affair (37 percent), or a gay candidate (26 percent). But it’s also a decline of 12 points from 2007, when 63 percent said they’d be less likely to vote for a non-theist.

Similarly, a Gallup poll in June found that 58 percent of Americans said they’d vote for “an atheist” for president — a low number, to be sure, but significantly higher than the 49 percent who said they’d vote for an atheist in 1999, not to mention the 18 percent who said so in 1958.

And that number will probably continue to rise. It’s older people who are most resistant to a non-religious president, while young people have much less of a problem with it. And most importantly, the ranks of secular people are growing. This is probably the most significant development in American religious life in recent years; the ranks of what are sometimes called the “Nones” — those who claim no religious affiliation — have exploded in recent years. According to Pew’s data, the Nones went from 16 percent of the population to 23 percent just between 2007 and 2014, and they too are more heavily concentrated among the young, while the oldest generation is the most religious.

It’s important to note that many of these people with no religious affiliation don’t call themselves atheists, and many say they believe in some version of God; there’s plenty of diversity within that group. But they constitute a growing portion of the electorate for whom religion isn’t all that important and who don’t demand candidates whose religious views mirror theirs. And they make up a significant portion of the Democratic electorate.

All that means that over time the chances of one of the two parties nominating someone who doesn’t believe in God will continue to rise. It will probably be a Democrat, and it might be a Jew, since atheism may go down a bit easier with a candidate who simultaneously has membership in a religious group (since Judaism is a religion but also a cultural affiliation born of tradition and heritage, many Jews comfortably think of themselves as both Jewish and atheist).

To come back to where we started, I may have my own suspicions about what Bernie Sanders believes deep in his heart. But his rather broad conception of God not as a guy with a long beard sitting on a cloud but as a force running through all living things — in other words, something that doesn’t punish you for your sins or hear your request for a good grade on your algebra exam — is still at odds with what most Americans believe. But to his voters, and most in the Democratic Party, it just isn’t all that important. His candidacy isn’t based on an argument that Sanders is just like you; rather, it’s trying to be a movement of those fed up with the fundamental course of American politics. There are many reasons why you might not support Sanders, but he could help make the idea of a non-religious candidate less controversial and anomalous.

And consider this: if Donald Trump wins the GOP nomination, the party of religious Christians will have nominated someone of laughably insincere religious belief. Despite his claim that he finds the Bible to be an even greater book than The Art of the Deal, Trump doesn’t appear to believe anything even vaguely related to Christianity (among other things, he’s such a high-quality performer at life that he has never asked God for forgiveness). So while a candidate’s faith still matters a great deal to many people, maybe the 2016 election will find voters in both parties relatively unconcerned with whether their favored candidate worships — or doesn’t — in the same way they do.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, January 28, 2016

January 29, 2016 Posted by | Atheism, Bernie Sanders, Religious Beliefs | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“You Want War? We’ll Give It To You”: Rand Paul Ready For ‘War’ Over 2016 Debates

When it comes to foreign policy, Rand Paul isn’t eager to launch any new wars. When it comes to 2016 debates, it’s a different story.

The next gathering for the Republican presidential field will be Thursday night, when candidates participate in their sixth debate. The Fox Business Network announced last night that seven of the remaining candidates have been invited to the prime-time event: Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, and John Kasich. That leaves Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum, who have been relegated to the kids-table undercard debate.

The Kentucky senator, who has been on the main stage for each of the first five debates, had already vowed to skip this week’s event if he were blocked from the prime-time gathering, and as of late yesterday, Paul and his campaign team intend to follow through on that threat.

But Paul also talked to the Washington Post in more detail about his frustrations.

…Paul reiterated that the “arbitrary, capricious polling standard” had been a source of disgust for the grassroots, dubbing it a story of media political bias.

“It won’t take much for our supporters to understand why we’re doing this,” Paul said. “You want war? We’ll give it to you.”

What’s unclear is what in the world that means.

To be sure, the senator’s complaints have some merit. As Rachel noted on the show last night, when the Fox networks host these gatherings, “they’re notoriously woolly about their qualifying criteria for their debate…. They don’t get that specific about how they’re going to do it.”

It’s a little tough for Paul – or anyone else, for that matter – to lash out at Fox for being biased against Republican presidential campaigns, but the senator’s concerns about statistical methodology are harder to dismiss.

But when Paul says he and his supporters are prepared for “war,” it’s an open question as to what they have in mind. Protests? Angry tweets? Will Paul pull a page from Alan Keyes’ 1996 playbook and try to join a debate to which he hasn’t been invited?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 11, 2016

January 12, 2016 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, GOP Primary Debates, Rand Paul | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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