Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy

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Tim Murphy is a senior reporter at Mother Jones. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy@motherjones.com.

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All the Republican presidential candidates have seized on the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to make the case for electing one of their own next fall, but Ben Carson is the first of this lot to exploit the justice's passing for a radio ad. In a spot running on conservative talk radio in South Carolina, a narrator declares that Scalia's unrelenting opposition to affirmative action was a defining part of his legacy and then promises that Carson will carry the torch for the late justice by promoting "compassionate action" if elected president.

Scalia believed that "we are just one race—American," the ad begins. Then it continues:

He thought affirmative action was wrong. That racial entitlement preserves the way of thinking that produced slavery, racial privilege, and hatred. More than anyone else running for president, Dr. Ben Carson knows about race—and hatred. He was raised in the ghettos of Detroit. He saw the face of hatred, bigotry, and violence firsthand. So when Dr. Carson says we should replace affirmative action with compassionate action, that it's a fairer way to treat people, we should listen to him.

The ad is consistent with what Carson has been saying throughout the campaign—that left-wing "political correctness" poses a greater threat to the United States than, say, the structural racism that affirmative action seeks to address. And with this radio spot, the only African American candidate in the race is seeking to win back GOP voters by citing the fellow whom many conservatives embraced as their movement's most prominent anti-PC crusader. As the ad notes—in something of a non sequitur—"Judge Scalia's life has taught us, if you’ve lived the life you believe in, you've earned the right to speak about what it has taught you. The rest is just political correctness."

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Jeb Bush: I Am Not a Wimp

Jeb Bush can't escape Donald Trump, and with three days to go before South Carolina Republicans cast their votes in the first Southern primary, the frustration is starting to show. As he finished his stump speech at a golf course in Summerville, the former Florida governor made an uncharacteristically sarcastic appeal to conservative voters.

"I know how to beat Hillary Clinton, I know how to win, and I ask for your support on Saturday," Bush said. "It's all been decided, apparently—the pundits have made it all, we don't have to go vote, I guess. I should stop campaigning maybe, huh?"

"Nooo!" the audience replied.

"It's all been decided," Bush continued.

When it came time for questions, the subject turned to Trump—that is, Trump's never-ending thumping of Bush. A Bush supporter took the microphone to say he'd been looking forward to hearing Bush speak "without interruption." Bush laughed. But the man continued: "I've known for a long time you are the best-qualified person to be president of the United States, and I thank your for that, but I'm afraid that your message does not resonate to the national community."

The fellow suggested that was because Bush was overshadowed and outmaneuvered by Trump. "I was wondering if, because of your civility, if you could raise the bar in the next [debate] and try to be beyond the bullying? Because I think that's who you are, and I think they try to knock you off center, and it appears you do get knocked off center, like anyone would because of the insults to your family." He asked if Bush could demonstrate that he wouldn't be bullied—by politicians or foreign leaders—if elected president.

"First of all, I don't feel like I'm shaken up by the bully," Bush answered. "In fact, I'm the only guy going after the guy, because he's hijacking the party." Bush defended his debate posture as a mix of "loaf of bread" policy proposals and hard-nosed politics. Referring to his chief nemesis, he added, "Donald Trump's not a conservative, he's not a steady hand—for sure—and he's not a servant. It's all about him. And I'm the only guy going after him. I don't feel that he's intimidating. He's a bully! Punch him back in the nose!"

This wasn't convincing for everyone there. A few minutes later, another voter asked Bush about his lack of fight. "I think the campaign has been co-opted by the P.T. Barnum of our time," the man said. "And I think he is getting you off your message—your good message, and all the items that you shared with us today. And I think I would encourage you to emphasize those things more."

"I do!" Bush said, a bit too defensively. "This is called 'campaigning' right now."

"No, I mean, sir, on the more national level," the man said. "To the extent that you can. I know when you get into the debates it's a free-for-all sometimes. But I would encourage you to go not just on your record but on your plans."

The last questioner told Bush, "I love your brother, George W. Bush." And what he liked about that other Bush was his ability to play hardball when necessary. "Excuse me for saying in vernacular terms," this voter asked, but could Jeb Bush be a "son of a bitch"?

"Is that a question?" Bush responded. "Will I be an S.O.B., I think he said? I will be tough, I will be resolute, I will be firm, I will be clear, I will be determined—that's what leaders are. I won't cut and run. That's—I mean look, I'm following all this stuff like everyone else and I will tell you there are some politicians that are gifted at weaving through everything for their own ambitions. They're looking at the next step. They're moving to the next place. They're always trying to figure it out. That's not me. I run to the crisis." Was that a yes? Or a no?

Marco Rubio trails by Donald Trump by 20 points ahead of Saturday's South Carolina Republican primary, a contest that has all but once in its history chosen the party's eventual nominee. But as Rubio began his final pitch to conservative voters Wednesday morning at a Shriners' Hall in Mt. Pleasant, there was one subject he wouldn't talk about: Trump.

In recent days, his Republican rivals—mainly Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush—have tried to position themselves as the Trump slayer. And Rubio's own campaign manager has publicly contemplated the prospect of a Trump-dominated contest leading to a brokered convention. But for now Rubio himself is not directly addressing the guy who's poised to blow him and the other GOP contenders out of the water in the Palmetto State. Instead of decrying Trump's impact on the Republican Party, he's been expressing concern about the hostile takeover of the other major party. "The Democratic party's been taken over by radical left-wing elements—their leading contender leading in some of the national polls is an avowed Democratic Socialist," he told the a few hundred voters at Shriners' Hall. "I promise you that if someone that far right as he is far left had taken over the Republican party, every day you'd be hearing stories the Republican party has become radicalized—the Democratic party's been radicalized!"

Rubio, though, could not resist a tangential dig at the real estate mogul. He raised the subject of eminent domain, and said, "Theoretically, I'm not saying this happens, but theoretically for a moment, imagine that a developer decided they wanted to take private property away to build a hotel or something like that—just theoretically." The largely-supportive audience laughed, and Rubio continued: "After the Kelo decision in 2006, the Supreme Court said that's legal—a developer can use the power of government to take away your property because government thinks they'd rather have a hotel there instead of a house. You can't do that in Florida because when I was in the state legislature I led the effort to pass a law that would become a model for the country."

That was a dig at Trump, who has been attacked by his GOP foes for having used eminent domain for his own private projects. But it did seem that Rubio had decided not to mention the T-word—as if speaking the name might disturb the exiled Dark Lord and his Death Eaters.

Rubio did not take questions at the event, which was advertised as a town hall. But speaking to reporters afterwards, the Florida senator ripped into Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, accusing his legislative colleague of being a politician who "will say and do anything to get elected." Rubio also brought up the massive ad campaign by a pro-Jeb Bush super-PAC to take him down (by, among other things, making fun of his boots). But no explicit slam on Trump. On this matter, the most hawkish guy in the race is a real dove.

 

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was found dead on Saturday, leaving a vacancy on the highest court nine months before Election Day. That should leave President Barack Obama plenty of time to find a qualified replacement to succeed Scalia. But within minutes of the announcement that Scalia had died, prominent conservatives began demanding that no new justice be confirmed until after Obama's presidency ends next year. In essence, they want the Republican-controlled Senate to block any nomination that Obama might send it. And leading this charge was Sen. Ted Cruz, a GOP presidential candidate. In a tweet, Cruz declared, "Justice Scalia was an American hero. We owe it to him, & the Nation, for the Senate to ensure that the next President names his replacement." Soon after that, Sen. Marco Rubio, another presidential wannabe, said the same.

This is a quickly spreading right-wing meme. Here are other conservatives demanding government obstruction to deny Obama the chance to fulfill his constitutional duty:

Look forward to this issue—when to fill Scalia's slot and who should appoint his successor—becoming a major fight in the presidential campaign.

Meanwhile, Sen. Patrick Leahy, the senior Democrat on the judiciary committee, issued this statement: "I hope that no one will use this sad news to suggest POTUS should not perform its [sic] constitutional duty." He was a little late with that.

Update: Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has weighed in too:

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