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“Republicans Feel The Burn — From Each Other”: GOP Entering The ‘Mad Max’ Phase Of Political Mayhem

Heading into New Hampshire, the race for the nomination of the once-genteel Republican Party seems to have entered a kind of “Mad Max” phase.

It is no surprise that Donald Trump is doing his best to create political mayhem. Trump was uncharacteristically subdued Monday night when he underperformed in Iowa, getting beaten by Ted Cruz and barely holding on to second place. But within 24 hours he was back in form, slashing and burning with abandon.

Trump seized on Ben Carson’s complaint that Cruz’s representatives at the Iowa caucuses had cheated, falsely leading Carson supporters to believe that their candidate was pulling out of the race; the message was that if they wanted their votes to count, they should cast them for Cruz. Trump thundered on Twitter that the “State of Iowa” should nullify the results and order a do-over — never mind that it is the Iowa Republican Party, not the state government, that runs the caucuses.

“Oh, that voter fraud, you know, these politicians are brutal,” Trump said at a rally. “They are a bunch of dishonest cookies, I want to tell you.”

Cruz accused his rival of throwing a “Trumpertantrum” — Cruz’s wordplay is never quite as sparkling as he seems to think — and his campaign maintained it was guilty of nothing except the practice of big-league politics.

The dispute doesn’t amount to much, except in this one sense: Trump played it safe in the days before Iowa, even skipping a debate, but now he seems back to the hot-mess flamboyance that brought him this far. Polls show him with a 20-point lead in New Hampshire over all comers, according to the RealClearPolitics average. He needs to win big to remain the favorite for the nomination.

Cruz is riding high, of course, and can even dream of sneaking into second place in Tuesday’s primary. But New Hampshire is unfriendly turf for him. Besides being the place where Trump hopes to get his mojo back, it is the state where the lagging establishment candidates — Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, John Kasich — have to do well. If they don’t, donors and endorsers may begin to coalesce around Marco Rubio, the only establishment hopeful who performed better in Iowa than the polls had predicted.

Indeed, such movement began Thursday, after Rick Santorum, who didn’t survive Iowa, gave Rubio his endorsement. Unhappily, however, Santorum struggled mightily when pressed by “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough to name one thing Rubio has accomplished in the Senate. After much hemming and hawing, Santorum acknowledged that “there isn’t a whole lot” but protested that the question was unfair, since no one has accomplished much of anything in the Senate in recent years.

It is Christie, though, who has been sharpest — some would say “most vicious” — in attacking Rubio since the Iowa vote. Christie’s campaign is running out of money and time, and he seems to have decided to leave it all on the field in New Hampshire.

“This isn’t the student council election, everybody. This is an election for president of the United States,” Christie said Tuesday, in an attack aimed at Rubio. “Let’s get the boy in the bubble out of the bubble, and let’s see him play for the next week in New Hampshire. I’m ready to play.”

The boy-in-the-bubble charge was only the beginning. Christie later said that Rubio “acts like the king of England,” called him “the master of the drive-by town hall,” accused him of being overly scripted and claimed he “just doesn’t have any experience.”

Bush is taking a more indirect approach. As we have seen in the debates, he is not exactly a master of the frontal assault. But he has been cheering Christie on, calling him “a great campaigner . . . a good friend . . . an effective governor.” And the Bush campaign bought a full-page ad in the Union Leader, New Hampshire’s biggest-circulation newspaper, in which a group of leading Florida Republicans charged that Rubio “is not the best choice to serve as Commander-in-Chief.”

With all the slashing and bashing on the Republican side, the Democratic race in New Hampshire almost seems reduced to undercard status — unless, of course, there is a surprise.

If Bernie Sanders — from next-door Vermont — wins the primary handily, as polls predict, nothing much changes. He and Hillary Clinton seem likely to wage a long battle of attrition.

For Republicans, however, New Hampshire is political life or death. Ronald Reagan’s “Eleventh Commandment” — not speaking ill of a fellow Republican — is being honored more in the breach than in the observance.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 4, 2016

February 6, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Primaries, New Hampshire Primaries, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Casting Himself As The Leader Of The GOP”: Donald Trump Wants You To Believe He’s The Commander-In-Chief In Waiting

After all the sturm und drang of the last few days of Donald Trump’s feud with Fox News—Trump again invoked the word “bimbo” about Megyn Kelly and exchanged insults with the network brass—the “special event” he organized as an alternative to Thursday night’s Republican debate turned out to be a surprisingly dull political rally dressed up as a celebration of patriotism and military service. But perhaps boredom was the point all along.

As Trump constantly reminds us, he leads in all of the polls. Another debate would have been risky, opening himself to attacks from his rivals—notably Ted Cruz, his closest challenger in Iowa. So the fight with Fox allowed the real estate magnate to duck the debate, draw more attention to himself, deprive the other candidates of needed media oxygen, and hold a safe event where he could bask in the valor of veterans. To be sure, Trump couldn’t resist a few of his old favorite jabs, like calling Jeb Bush “low energy.” But his event lacked the electric confrontation that has characterized the GOP debates. In contrast, the debate across town on Fox was more substantive and revealing about the candidates (and their flaws).

But the seventh Republican debate may have been pointless without Trump—that’s his gamble, anyway. Trump is casting himself as the leader of the GOP even before the first vote has been cast, and did so by assuming the role of commander-in-chief in waiting. Surrounded by vets in a room draped in American flags, and feted by rivals like Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee (who hurried over after appearing in the undercard debate), Trump served as the master of ceremony of an evening celebrating the beneficence of himself and his rich friends, all of whom are allegedly donating money for veterans (although it appears the money will be funneled through Trump’s personal foundation).

Trump isn’t the only candidate to use patriotism and veterans for political gain recently—see Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz—but it’s striking how strong these themes have become. He presents himself as the champion of the vets, and he’s holding up their sacrifice and suffering as a model of American greatness, which he wants to restore. His chief claim to be president is that he’ll be tough: the sort of fighter these men deserve. Of course, this Trumpian narrative elides his deferments during the Vietnam War and mockery of John McCain’s suffering as a prisoner of war. But Trump is not one to let past behavior stand in the way of current claims.

Thursday night was the last major event before the Iowa caucus on Monday, when we’ll find out whether his strategy of playing it safe paid off. It’ll be up to the voters to decide whether Trump is really the frontrunner, or just the man who used polls to pretend he was the king of the world.

 

By: Jeet Heer, The New Republic, January 29, 2016

February 1, 2016 Posted by | Commander In Chief, Donald Trump, Veterans | , , , , , , , | Leave a 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

“The Christian Candidate”: The Republican Formula To Snag Christian Votes Is Unraveling

Mike Huckabee is not happy.

Once a rising star in the Republican Party who successfully leveraged his background as a pastor for political advantage, Huckabee’s 2016 presidential run has proved a disappointing sequel to his respectable third place showing in 2008. With underwhelming fundraising numbers and a bump to the kiddy table after the third GOP debate, most voters are no longer paying attention to the former governor’s campaign.

But perhaps the cruelest blow is that many conservative evangelical leaders and organizations have jumped ship, ignoring Huckabee in favor of contenders like Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.

Asked about this betrayal in a radio interview, Huckabee struck back. “A lot of them, quite frankly, I think they’re scared to death that if a guy like me got elected, I would actually do what I said I would do,” he alleged — and that would be bad for business.

“A lot of these organizations wouldn’t have the ability to do urgent fundraising because if we slay the dragon, what dragon do they continue to fight?” Huckabee continued, “And so, for many of them, [my victory] could be a real detriment to their organization’s abilities to gin up their supporters and raise the contributions.”

Huckabee pressed on to the final blow: Conservative evangelicals who don’t support him must be motivated by “secular” concerns like personal gain, because if they were truly acting in faith and prayer, they’d support him over their current candidates of choice.

In other words, if they weren’t so sinful, they’d listen to God and vote Huck.

Huckabee’s expression of his frustration is uncivil and theologically suspect, but from a political perspective the frustration is reasonable. After all, the formula to be the GOP’s “Christian candidate” used to be pretty straightforward: Give special attention to culture war issues like gay marriage, school prayer, and abortion; invoke God and scripture regularly; and tell your faith story in a compelling manner. This worked for Huckabee in 2008, just as it worked in 2012 for another 2016 also-ran, Rick Santorum.

But these days there are a lot of candidates trying to capture the GOP evangelical vote. And their success doesn’t seem to have much to do with their actual faith. Witness Cruz, for example, who quotes liberally from the Bible on the stump. His campaign asks supporters to join his national prayer team so there’s a “direct line of communication between our campaign and the thousands of Americans who are lifting us up before the Lord.” (The sign-up form also includes a box you can tick if you “publicly endorse Senator Ted Cruz for President!”)

While the Cruz camp insists there’s no “political or tactical angle” to joining the prayer team, their candidate’s public prayer requests all but equate his own electoral victory with divine salvation for America. Cruz even has the audacity to call his candidacy a “revival” and “awakening” — as in, the Great Awakenings — and many Christian audiences are eating it up.

Marco Rubio is trying to follow the formula too. In a recent campaign ad, for example, Rubio recites a string of Christian catchphrases and biblical allusions so generic that they offer zero insight into his personal faith.

And then there’s Donald Trump, who is interested in the evangelical vote formula exactly insofar as it helps him be the best, hugest, most successful candidate ever — and no farther. Trump knows he needs to say some Christian stuff, but he’s doing the absolute minimum to pass this test.

I know this because that’s what he word-vomited at a rally in Iowa the last week in December. “I even brought my Bible — the evangelicals, OK?” Trump said. “We love the evangelicals and we’re polling so well.”

In case the point of waving around the Bible wasn’t perfectly clear, he added one more time: “I really want to win Iowa — and again, the evangelicals, the Tea Party — we’re doing unbelievably, and I think I’m going to win Iowa.”

Trump’s transparent pandering has been controversial among conservative evangelicals but oddly successful. To be sure, many Christians, including yours truly, have questioned or criticized Trump’s candidacy on moral grounds. Writing at The New York Times, for instance, Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore argued that for evangelical Christians to support Trump means “we’ve decided to join the other side of the culture war, that image and celebrity and money and power and social Darwinist ‘winning’ trump the conservation of moral principles and a just society. To back Mr. Trump,” Moore summarized, “[evangelical] voters must repudiate everything they believe.”

But polls consistently find Trump at or near the top of evangelical Republicans’ list, so his pandering seems to work.

Huckabee’s outburst and Trump’s farce are two sides of the same phenomenon: the inevitable unraveling of an election dynamic that has become too absurd a caricature to continue. While Cruz seems on track to execute a classic fulfillment of the “Christian candidate” formula, his performance may well be one of the last of its kind. Huckabee might be right: The best GOP candidate for conservative Christians’ political goals may not be the best actual Christian.

That may seem like a frightening prospect for a post-Obama Republican Party searching for its identity as it loses demographic ground. But however the next few elections shake out, disintegration of the GOP’s wrong-headed obsession with the “Christian candidate” is much overdue.

 

By: Bonnie Kristian, The Week, January 18, 2016

January 22, 2016 Posted by | Christian Conservatives, Evangelicals, Mike Huckabee | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“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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