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“Jim DeMint Looking Over His Shoulder”: Trump Made A Big Promise Aimed At Winning Over Nervous Conservatives

It sort of got lost in competing news about his efforts to seem a mite more normal now that he’s almost certain to head to Cleveland in July as the leader in delegates, if not the putative nominee, but Donald Trump made a very unusual and highly significant promise aimed right at the beating heart of movement conservatism:

Speaking at the construction site for his new hotel in Washington, D.C., Monday, Trump said he will make a list public in the next week of 10 conservative judges that he would consider nominating to the Supreme Court. If elected, Trump said, he would only pick from that list, which is being made in consultation with the conservative Heritage Foundation.

He first made that promise over the weekend in Florida, and he seems to want to make sure it’s widely heard. This means somebody is giving him good advice about how to address the concerns of conservatives about his ideological reliability.

Of all the things they fear about a President Trump, the most urgent is that he will throw away a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape SCOTUS and constitutional law. And of all the temptations they have to hold their noses and support the man despite all of his heresies and erratic behavior, the most powerful would be the confident belief that at least he would position the Court to overrule Roe v. Wade, protect Citizens United, overturn Obama’s executive orders, eviscerate regulation of businesses, inoculate religion-based discrimination, and maybe even introduce a new Lochner era of constitutionally enshrined property rights. This would be a legacy that might well outweigh the risks associated with a Trump presidency.

Promising to make his SCOTUS list public right now is smart, because otherwise it’s an empty promise, and involving the Heritage Foundation in developing it is key to its credibility. Not only has Heritage had a long history of vetting Republican appointees; its current president, Jim DeMint, is arguably the most reliable of “constitutional conservatives,” a man who believes conservative policy prescriptions ought to be permanently protected from the occasional liberal majority via a divinely inspired and unchanging Supreme Law.

Bonding with conservatives over SCOTUS makes some psychological sense for Trump as well. Nothing symbolizes the betrayal of the conservative rank and file — whose abiding exemplar is arguably the humble anti-choice activist staffing phone banks and licking envelopes to protect the unborn from “baby-killers” — by those GOP elites in Washington better than the long string of Republican SCOTUS appointees who have turned out to be traitors to the Cause, from Roe v. Wade author Harry Blackmun to the generally liberal John Paul Stevens and David Souter to the current Obamacare-protecting chief justice. If Trump can break that pattern with Jim DeMint looking over his shoulder, maybe he won’t be that bad for conservatism after all.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, March 22, 2016

March 23, 2016 Posted by | Conservatism, Donald Trump, Jim DeMint, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Struck Just The Right Note”: At Baltimore Mosque, Obama Crushes The Muslim Haters

The two most powerful moments during President Obama’s first visit to an American mosque on Wednesday didn’t happen during his speech. Rather, they occurred in the moments before the president took the podium.

The first came when a color guard made up of young Muslim American Boy and Girl Scouts entered the venue. One of the older scouts told the flag bearer: “Proudly present the flag of the United States of America.” The audience, ranging from community leaders to Muslim-American military veterans to the two Muslim members of Congress, stood in unison to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

The words of this pledge never seem to resonate as much. Here we were waiting for the President of the United States to speak to us because the spike in anti-Muslim hate had so skyrocketed that he felt compelled to address the issue. I had to fight back tears as we got to the last line of the pledge: “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

You see, that last line is the promise that brought my Muslim immigrant father as well as the parents, grandparents, and even some of the people in that room to come to America. They came here for the promise of being treated equally regardless of faith, ethnicity, or race. But that promise has been in peril as of late.

And the second moment that emotionally stood out was when the young African-American-Muslim woman, Sabah, introduced the president. Sabah spoke of the challenges of wearing a hijab—some had called her a terrorist. Yet she noted that far more of her fellow Americans of all backgrounds had been supportive. And then she delivered a passionate line that elicited huge applause from the crowd: “I’m proud to be American, I’m proud to be black, and I’m proud to be Muslim.”

That is what America is truly about. We can be hyphenated Americans and be just as American as anyone else.

President Obama even touched on Sabah’s very point in his speech when he said, “You aren’t Muslim or American. You are Muslim and American.” That was a theme that came up often in his speech at the Islamic Center of Baltimore, which was part pep talk for Muslims, part calling out the haters and also part calling on Muslims to play a role in countering radicalization.

But the heart of the President’s speech was trying to educate our fellow Americans about Islam to counter the anti-Muslim climate we live in today. One that has seen close to 100 anti-Muslim hate crimes in the last two months according to a Department of Justice official I spoke to at the event, which is far higher than we see reported in the media.

Obama began by countering the concept that some on the right peddle that Islam is foreign to America. The president declared, “Islam has always been part of America.” Adding, “Starting in colonial times, many of the slaves brought here from Africa were Muslim.”

The president also spoke of how Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia statute for religious freedom expressly included Islam as one of the protected faiths (“the Mahometan” was TJ’s word for a Muslim). Obama also added something I had never heard before: Some had accused Jefferson of being a closeted Muslim. (I wonder who was the Donald Trump of the 1700s who did that?!)

Obama then traced the contributions of Muslims in America as well as noting that Muslim Americans keep us safe. “They’re our police and our firefighters…They serve honorably in our armed forces—meaning they fight and bleed and die for our freedom. And some rest in Arlington National Cemetery. “

And the president recognized the extraordinary Muslims he had met at the mosque that day, from educators to business people to the first hijab-wearing Muslim to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team. But he added that despite the accomplishments of so many Muslims, he “could not help but be heartbroken to hear their worries and their anxieties.”

Obama relayed how he had received letters from Muslim-American parents who shared disturbing questions their young children were asking, like, “Are we going to be forced out of the country? Are we going to be rounded up?” Another Muslim American child wrote to him to say, “I’m scared.” The president responded forcefully that these are “conversations that you shouldn’t have to have with children—not in this country.”

The reality though is that’s where we are today as a community. There are young Muslim Americans who have been made to feel less than fully American simply because of their faith. We are seeing Muslim-American students bullied and taunted for wearing a hijab or having a first name like Mohammed.

The questions I find myself asking are: Will it get worse? Will the extreme voices win out? Will the good people simply be “bystanders to bigotry,” as Obama put it? Or will the voices of reason prevail?

I’m sure many Muslims at the event had similar question in mind. Perhaps sensing that, Obama told the audience: “I believe that, ultimately, our best voices will win out. And that gives me confidence and faith in the future.”

With of every fiber of my being I believe the president is correct. And despite the Trumps, Ben Carsons, or others on the right who believe that demonizing Muslims will make us cower in fear or even consider leaving this country, they are wrong. Our community, like every other minority community, will grow and prosper. I say that because our nation’s history tells us so. And because of our nation’s eternal promise that liberty and justice are not reserved only for one select religion or race, but “for all.”

 

By: Dean Obeidallah, The Daily Beast, February 4, 2016

February 6, 2016 Posted by | American Muslims, Bigotry, Islamophobia | , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“An Ethical Philistine”: Why Trump Leads Among Evangelical Voters — Even Though He’s A Religious Illiterate

In the fun-house-mirror dynamics of the 2016 presidential contest, one of the more regularly hilarious images is of Donald J. Trump trying to pander to conservative Evangelical Christians.

Back in July at the summer’s preeminent Christian-right event in Iowa, under questioning from Frank Luntz, Trump famously seemed puzzled that anyone would think he needed to ask God’s forgiveness, and deferred instead to the cleansing power of “my little cracker” and “my little wine,” a.k.a., Communion or, as Catholics and some mainline Protestants would call it, the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. He rambled through other arguably offensive religious observations (his theological beau ideal, Norman Vincent Peale, is most decidedly not in fashion with any variety of American Christian at present), most of which were submerged in the furor over his disrespecting of John McCain’s war service.

As part of the mainstream media’s confusion over the characteristics of the Trump electorate, there were a few alarms sent up about the Donald’s “base” being Evangelicals, until first Ben Carson and then Ted Cruz came along to challenge his support levels in this demographic. But according to a New York Times/CBS national survey released early last week, Trump remains the leader among Evangelicals, with 42 percent as compared to Ted Cruz’s 25 percent.

Yet he continues to make buffoonish mistakes. Making the obligatory rounds at a Liberty University convocation over the weekend, Trump tried to quote Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, more colloquially referred to as “Second Corinthians.” He called it “Two Corinthians,” showing how little time he’s sat in a pew listening to a Scripture reading. And instead of going to the trouble of negotiating the complicated logic of the Christian right’s position on “religious liberty,” which often seems like compulsory religion to many secular and religious folk alike, Trump cut right to the crudest possible “War on Christmas” chase:

“If I’m president, you’re going to see ‘Merry Christmas’ in department stores, believe me.”

I’m sure the company of saints will cheer.

Still, Liberty president Jerry Falwell Jr. gave Trump a fulsome introduction. And when word leaked out that the tycoon is unveiling an important endorsement in Iowa today, Falwell’s name was the first to surface in speculation before it was displaced by another Christian-right favorite, Sarah Palin.

So how can conservative Evangelicals rationalize their fondness for a man who isn’t even up to the task of pandering to them?

The key to this phenomenon is to understand that the touchstone of the Christian right has always been the semi-divinization of cultural conservatism, and the identification of the Kingdom of God with the patriarchal and puritanical (and sometimes racist) America of the 19th century. So any politician vocally fighting against cultural change, like Donald J. Trump, is objectively a Christian soldier even if he is a religious illiterate and an ethical philistine. This is precisely how conservative Christians have in the past let themselves be recruited into the camps of other highly secular demagogues, from the proto-fascists of the 1930s to the church-y and Bible-quoting segregationists of the civil-rights era.

To their credit, most conservative Evangelical leaders seem to dislike Trump for reasons ranging from his personal ethics to his hateful attitudes toward immigrants; Southern Baptist spokesman Russell Moore has issued repeated jeremiads warning the faithful against this false prophet. It may well be that Trump’s Evangelical following is mostly not that observant. But so long as religious leaders and their political allies treat cultural change as demonic, and people different from them as Satan’s spawn, then they cannot plead complete innocence when their flocks follow the loudest voice of protest and ask for little other than lip service to faith itself.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, January 19, 2016

January 23, 2016 Posted by | Christian Conservatives, Donald Trump, Evangelicals | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Dark Side Of Hillary Clinton’s New Inevitability”: We Live In The Age Of The Enemy-Of-My-Enemy Politics

For her birthday, Hillary Clinton got some conventional wisdom.

In the wake of a dominating debate performance and equally impressive turn at the Benghazi hearings, the usual Washington suspects have decided being inevitable isn’t so bad after all. She became “the heroine of a captivating political drama,” says Reuters. Her 11-hour testimony was, says Vox, “her best campaign ad yet.” Once again, quoth The Fix at The Washington Post, “Republicans saved Hillary.” The Guardian saw a “triumphant October” and “political observers’ doubts fade.” “The Most Likely Next President Is Hillary Clinton,” declared Mark Halperin at Bloomberg News.

Now, Halperin’s judgments on candidates’ political fortunes are fickle enough that there could be a Hallmark card designed for those on their receiving end. (It’s shelved next to the “So I heard Bill Kristol thinks you should run for president” line.) Just last March, based on Clinton’s lackluster response to the revelation that she used a private email server to conduct some State Department business, Halperin got his syntax in a bunch and huffed that he had revised a yet earlier opinion: “I now think that she’s not only not easily the most likely, I don’t think she’s anymore the most likely.”

I’m probably the last one who needs to remind Clinton that the favor of the Washington media isn’t so much a gift horse that requires a look in the mouth as a pile of what comes out the other end. More enduring support has come in the form of dollars; the campaign claims to have had its most successful single hour yet between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. on the night of her Benghazi testimony and added 100,000 new donors in October.

That is clearly more encouraging news than whatever fresh-baked takes are wafting across Twitter, but the mechanism behind the outpouring of support isn’t an unalloyed gift. We live in the age of enemy-of-my-enemy politics, and analysis that stops with seeing Clinton benefit from the Republicans’ attack on her misses the equal and opposite reaction on the right.

At the moment, that reaction is diffused into the clown car of chaos chugging across the primary landscape. There are more than a dozen campaigns all trying to lay claim to the mantle of Clinton-slayer, and at the moment they look less like an opponent than a tribe of minions trying to scrabble to the top of a living pyramid. Once votes and money coalesce around a candidate, it will be more difficult to count Clinton as the winner in any given contest.

But look, I don’t think your average swing voter cares about the controversies that obsess the right. Republicans have a historically and hysterically bad record at overestimating the degree to which mere annoyance with the Clintons’ foibles translates into active support for their agenda. What’s more, the GOP seems determined to nominate someone whose views aren’t just unpopular with the vast majority of Americans but actively repellent to many. (If the right wants to die on the hill of fake “religious liberty” causes, it’ll die alone). The Republican Party has made little progress on defusing the demographic time bomb that will soon make winning the white male vote an even more dubious distinction.

So I’m not worried so much about the Republican nominee winning come next November, but I am worried that the Democrats’ best hope for holding the White House for the next eight years performs best from a defensive posture. She needs the GOP as much as it needs her. It’s a stance of mutually assured fundraising, a recipe for continued gridlock and a million clever social media memes, but not much progress.

On some level, this winningest loser strategy mirrors the exact scenario Clinton’s anti-Bernie Sanders surrogates stoke: He’ll never get anything done, they argue, he’s too polarizing and extreme! In real life, Sanders is one of Congress’s most successful brokers—the “amendment king” of the House and the co-shepherd of the last bill to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs, one of the Senate’s few bipartisan successes in recent years.

The somewhat sad truth is that Sanders is polarizing because of his positions, not because of who he is. Clinton’s provocativeness is, on the other hand, half intentional bluster and half protective coloring. As a woman, because she bears the burden of being first and among the few, her skill in turning these things into triumphs is an adaptation, an evolutionary advantage that ensures her survival—even as it draws into question her ability to build a legacy.

As it is, the higgledy-piggledy nature of the Republican debate field remains her best friend, even if what it takes to win isn’t the same as what’s required to govern. When the CNBC Gong Show ends Wednesday night, Washington’s wisest will no doubt find more proof of her ascendance. They should keep in mind that’s largely because the rest of the field has sunk so low.

 

By: Ana Marie Cox, The Daily Beast, October 27, 2015

October 28, 2015 Posted by | Benghazi, Hillary Clinton, Republicans | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“They’ll Kiss And Make Up”: Prophecies Of A Divorce Between The GOP And The Christian Right Are Very Premature

So here’s TNR’s Elizabeth Stoker Breunig with another of her provocative, eerily confident, and ultimately questionable meditations on the intersection of religion and politics. The headline she or her editors chose seems more or less appropriate to what she seems to be saying: “The Deterioration of the Christian Right Is Imminent.” Last time I wrote about one of her articles she seemed to be saying “the culture wars are over.” So it’s clear she sees a trend.

To parse her argument very succinctly (if you want the scenic tour of Bruenig’s piece, check out my colleague Martin Longman’s take at Ten Miles Square, which arrives at a similar destination by a different route), Bruenig views the rising conservative attacks on Mike Huckabee for economic policy heresy as a sign the Corporate Wing of the GOP has lost patience with the Christian Right, and is willing to do without it, substituting instead a watery commitment to Christian evangelical rhetoric they can get from any number of less troublesome presidential candidates. Bruenig hopes that in turn that the scales will fall from the eyes of true conservative Christians, who will finally realize they’ve sold their birthright for a mess of pottage and turn elsewhere–where I’m not sure–for vindication of their values.

I wish I could agree with this analysis, but it depends crucially on the belief that support for capitalism is extrinsic to conservative evangelical Christianity, and has been undertaken as part of some sort of bargain–corrupt, perhaps, but still a bargain–between the agents of God and of Mammon. If the bargain is broken by the merchants of greed, then presumably their half-willing Christian allies may bail. But from everything I’ve read and seen, the spirit of capitalism and many of its associated impulses have deeply sunk into the American Christian, and especially conservative evangelical, world view. And that’s not at all surprising, since the people we are largely talking about have in the mean time traveled from farm to small town to city to suburb, and are living lives fully integrated with the market economy and mentality. They’re as likely to object to Huckabee’s heresies on trade and entitlement as to support them.

And that leads to the other problem with Bruenig’s case: I don’t know that Huckabee’s (or for that matter, Rick Santorum’s) economic “populism” has any particular religious foundation. He’s trying to exploit a very simple contradiction between the economic views of Republican politicians and of their voters: the GOP “base” is heavily concentrated among older and non-college-educated white folks. Few of them care for “entitlement reform,” if it comes at their perceived expense, and a decent number have never supported “free trade,” either. Huckabee is clearly trying to break out of his conservative-evangelical political ghetto into a broader neighborhood of potential allies against the GOP Establishment people who rejected him back in 2008. Whether or not it works, the Christian Right has no inherent dog in this fight, and as Bruenig acknowledges, there are plenty of other candidates who are willing to check all the boxes on the Christian Right’s agenda.

Yes, as Bruenig notes, some businesses are breaking with the Christian Right on the scope of “religious liberty” laws, as are some Republican politicians. But let’s not forget that the victorious plaintiff in the most important recent Supreme Court case in this area, which expanded the ambit of “religious liberty” significantly, was the self-consciously Christian business Hobby Lobby. The Christian business Chick-Fil-A has been an enormous symbol in the culture wars. The pulpit-pounding leader of the wildly popular (on the Right) Duck Dynasty clan, Phil Robertson, called himself a “Bible-believing, gun-toting capitalist” to screaming applause this year at that libertarian-dominated event, CPAC. Huck himself is hardly William Jennings Bryan.

As Martin Longman says in the title of his post: “The Christian Right Ain’t Populist.” Nor is it uniquely represented by Mike Huckabee. Nor has it lost faith in the GOP. Nor is the GOP showing it the door.

Other than that, Breunig’s essay is, as all her articles are, quite stimulating. In this particular case, she kind of reminds me of an adult child whose parents have divorced, with one marrying someone the child regards as a despicable scoundrel. Any sign this second marriage could be on the rocks will quite rightly stir up the child’s hopes. But nine times out of ten, they’ll kiss and make up.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 14, 2015

May 15, 2015 Posted by | Christian Right, Evangelicals, GOP, Mike Huckabee | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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