Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy

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Tim Murphy is a reporter in MoJo's DC bureau. Last summer he logged 22,000 miles while blogging about his cross-country road trip for Mother Jones. His writing has been featured in Slate and the Washington Monthly. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy [at] motherjones [dot] com.

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Rick Perry's Overhyped Immigration "Soft Spot"

| Thu Aug. 18, 2011 6:00 AM EDT
Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

One of Texas Gov. Rick Perry's biggest alleged weaknesses in the Republican presidential primary is his less-than-draconian record on immigration. Although Perry has talked a lot about cracking down on undocumented immigrants, he has done little to change Texas' status as a "sanctuary state" and, indeed, he's explicitly rejected the idea of implementing Arizona-style immigration reform. The reason for this is pretty simple: Texas' economic "miracle" is built on on a continued influx of people, as well as a preponderance of low-wage jobs, especially in the housing sector.

That's pragmatic, but today's conservative base isn't looking for pragmatism. So will any of Perry's rivals for the nomination take the bait and attack Perry from the right? Well, here's Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) today in South Carolina:

Bachmann said lax enforcement of immigration laws was a threat to the nation's security. She agreed with a town hall questioner at a Greenville stop that US troops should be redeployed from South Korea to south Texas.

"How do you solve it? You build a barrier, a fence, a wall—whatever you want to call it. You build it," Bachmann said. "As president of the United States, every mile, every yard, every foot, every inch will be covered on that southern border."

The "problem is not our laws on immigration," Bachmann said. "The problem has been in our unwillingness to enforce the laws that are on the books." South Carolina legislators this year passed one of the nation's toughest illegal immigration laws. It goes into effect in December.

What, no alligators? The conservative group Americans for Legal Immigration, for one, concluded that "Michele Bachmann is the first presidential contender of the 2012 race to make border security and illegal immigration a top issue for her campaign."

But without telling anti-immigration groups how to do their job, this doesn't seem quite right. For one, Bachmann hasn't made this a top issue for her campaign; her comments came because she was specifically asked a question about enforcement of immigration laws. Herman Cain, meanwhile, has already made the exact same point, calling for a Great Wall of China-style barrier to be constructed along the southern border. And take a look at this guy:

Hey, that's Rick Perry!

The larger issue here is that every GOP presidential candidate is going to say more or less the exact same thing when it comes to immigration: Secure the border first, and then talk about reform. Enforce the existing laws. Get tough with employers. Etc. Perry's defense of his nonaction in Texas is that it's Washington's fault—which is also his argument about everything else. There are policy differences on immigration between Perry and other members of his party, but I imagine Perry's response will just be to run for B-roll footage of him standing by the border in a big brown jacket. It hasn't failed him yet.

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Republicans Divided on Impeaching President Obama

| Wed Aug. 17, 2011 11:13 AM EDT
Impeach President Obama? Some Republicans think it's their only choice.

Yesterday's fringe is the new mainstream, so it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that prominent Republicans are stepping up calls for President Obama to be impeached. Over what? They're not entirely sure, but the details can come later. Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) raised eyebrows last week when told a constituent it "needs to happen," because "it would tie things up" (he has since backtracked). Sometime presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich suggested back in February that the President could be impeached for his decision not to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act.

And now, via Politico, here's GOP presidential candidate and tea party favorite Herman Cain, musing that impeaching Obama would be a "great thing to do":

[I]t would be a great thing to do but because the Senate is controlled by Democrats we would never be able to get the Senate first to take up that action, because they simply don’t care what the American public thinks. They would protect him and they wouldn’t even bring it up," Cain said, citing the administration's position on the Defense of Marriage Act as an impeachable offense.

Still, not everyone on the right is banging the impeachment drum. Here's former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who is touting the momentum of his fourth-place finish in the Ames straw poll (third among candidates who are still running!), talking about impeachment in the context of Rick Perry's rhetorical, um, flair:

[T]o me the rhetoric that Rick Perry used was sort of the rhetoric I would expect from a John Conyers, talking about President Bush and saying he should be impeached. We don't do that. We don't impeach people, we don't charge people with treason because we disagree with them on public policy. You might say that they're wrong, you might say lots of things about how misguided they are, but you don't up the ante to that type of rhetoric.

Rick Santorum did vote to impeach someone once before, so maybe this jab is just part of his new effort to criticize everything Perry and Michele Bachmann do or say. But if there is a movement to impeach the president, there's still a lot more work to be done. When I asked Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas)—who recently stated that the Libyan intervention was a false flag operation to allow the implementation of Obamacare—about Burgess' comments last week, he declined to comment. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), perhaps the president's biggest critic in Congress, told me he didn't think impeachment just for impeachment's sake made much sense, and that there was nothing, at least at the moment, that would necessitate such proceedings.

That isn't to say that things won't pick up again should President Obama win reelection. But for now, Republicans looking to throw the president out of the Oval Office have a much simpler path: the ballot box.

Report: Paul Ryan Thinking About Running For President

| Tue Aug. 16, 2011 11:31 AM EDT
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)

Is Paul Ryan seriously considering a presidential run? That's what the Weekly Standard's Stehen F. Hayes says:

Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan is strongly considering a run for president. Ryan, who has been quietly meeting with political strategists to discuss a bid over the past three months, is on vacation in Colorado discussing a prospective run with his family. Ryan's concerns about the effects of a presidential campaign—and perhaps a presidency—on his family have been his primary focus as he thinks through his political future.

"He's coming around," says a Republican source close to Ryan, who has been urging the 41-year-old to run.

"With Paul, it'a more about obligation than opportunity," says another Wisconsin Republican. "He is determined to have the 2012 election be about the big things. If that means he has to run, he's open to it."

So is there anything to this? Well, back in June I noted that Ryan delivered a major foreign policy speech focusing on the theme of "American Exceptionalism," which seemed like an odd move for a Congressman who focuses exclusively on domestic economic policy—unless, that is, he wanted to be something bigger. With Sen. Herb Kohl retiring at the end of this Congress, there's a job opening in the upper chamber, but Ryan has said that that would be a step down from his perch atop the House budget committee. So that leaves us with president, and given that Ryan's budget plan has become a sacred text among the current crop of candidates, who better to lead the party forward?

Of course, the other scenario here is that the Weekly Standard just really, really wants Ryan to run, and is inflating every rumor into something bigger. Last week, editor Bill Kristol published an ode (an actual ode) to Ryan, Chris Christie and others asking them to run. It was Kristol who first floated Sarah Palin as a national figure in 2008. And it's the Standard that's been the source of the loudest Ryan speculation to date. So there's precedent for wishful thinking on their part.

Michele Bachmann, Superstar

| Tue Aug. 16, 2011 6:00 AM EDT
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is running a celebrity-style campaign for the White House.

The clearest sign yet that Michele Bachmann is not running a typical campaign for the presidency came at the end of her address Sunday night at the Black Hawk County GOP's Lincoln Day Dinner in Waterloo, Iowa. Speaking in her hometown, and taking the stage minutes after her newest, biggest competitor in the race, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Bachmann had a surprise planned to celebrate her victory at the Ames Straw Poll.

"One thing I learned when I was little was if you come to say thank you to someone, it's a good idea if you can give them something," she said. "Have you ever been to Machine Shed restaurant? Well, I went to Machine Shed restaurant on my way here today, and I thought there is nothing more American than apple pie. And I brought the biggest, baddest, deepest apple pie that I could for you tonight."

Apple pie had already been served for dessert, which Bachmann missed because she showed up late and waited in the parking lot until Perry's speech was finished. But never mind that; she had the floor and she was rolling now. "I remember when I was a little girl at the mother-daughter banquet over at First Lutheran Church, one thing they'd always do, they'd put a piece of masking tape under a folding chair and then they'd look under your chair to see who wins the prize," she said. "Soooo—tonight this is how we're going to do it: I would like to give this apple pie to the oldest—if you don't mind—Republican mother in the room. So let's see, do we have anybody who's over 39?"

When it was all over, two standing ovations later, a 100-year-old Republican mother named Mary had come home with the biggest, baddest, deepest apple pie in Waterloo and the audience that had been so smitten with Perry moments earlier was reminded of what had made Bachmann such a political force in the first place. And Bachmann had one last treat for the crowd. "I've got some Sharpie pens," she said. "So if any of you are here and want some T-shirts and some autographs, I'd be more than happy to give them to you."

Politicians do not normally end campaign events by giving away prizes, daytime television-style, or inviting attendees to come up to the stage and ask them for their signature. That kind of thing tends to make you look like a celebrity, and "celebrity" is a dirty word among politicians, second only, perhaps, to "politician." Witness this memorable John McCain spot from 2008:

As Dave Weigel pointed out in Slate on Monday, though, celebrity has become the defining element of Bachmann's campaign in Iowa so far.

Bachmann's "Meet Me in Ames" tour was more like the blitz you see before an election. Over one week in Iowa, before the straw poll, I saw her speak five times. A stage was set up outside, where cameras could get good, sun-bleached shots. Voters were urged to stand close to the stage or behind it—also for good shots. As "Promised Land" played, Bachmann's bus came into view; during the second playing she exited it. She spoke for roughly 20 minutes. When her speech ended, she stayed on the stage to shake hands, sign autographs, and get buttonholed in very short "thank-you-for-what-you're-doing" conversations. Only once did I see her break the format, with a town hall meeting on Monday that featured five audience questions.

Likewise, when I waited for an hour along with more than 100 others at the Iowa State Fair to hear Bachmann speak on Friday, she showed up 30 minutes late, spoke for four minutes (out of the allotted 30), and left in a mob of state troopers, press, and campaign staffers. All of that speaks to just how tightly Bachmann's handlers are managing all aspects of her candidate's image—stonewalling on unfavorable questions and turning her events into miniature rock shows (she entered the Electric Ballroom with Elvis blaring in the background and insisted that the lights be changed before she would come on stage). That might not be a terrible strategy; if the number of supporters who left bearing autographed blue T-shirts was any indication, the "celebrity" tag is part of Bachmann's appeal.

Back in Waterloo, Bachmann finished off her night with a quick press conference, which, it turned out, was mostly an excuse for the candidate to get a few more quick photos of her holding a copy of Sunday's Waterloo Courier, her Ames victory splashed across the front page. In case anyone had forgotten, she announced her name and current occupation—"My name's Michele Bachmann, and I'm running for president"—and took three quick questions from preselected reporters. Then she stood on the steps of the bus, holding up the newspaper triumphantly once more, just as she had done on stage at the beginning of her speech, and spoke as if the gaggle of flip-cams and boom mikes and pens-and-pads were just another fawning audience holding out for some red meat.

"Thank you! Thank you!" she said, and vanished into the bus.

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