The narrative was all ready to go: Texas Gov. Rick Perry's 2010 re-reelection campaign was supposed to be an old-fashioned brawl between the incumbent governor of nine years and the state's most popular politician, Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Texas Monthly put the duo on its cover with the tag line, "It's On and It's Gonna Get Ugly." Political junkies stocked up on popcorn.
But it didn't turn out that way. After starting off 30 points down, Perry went on to crush Hutchison in the primary. The senator's attacks on Perry mostly fell flat; instead, the sharpest critiques of the governor came from a third candidate: Debra Medina, a nurse and former Wharton County Republican Party chair, who, with zero name recognition or institutional support, a bare-bones budget, and a whole lot of tea party backing, soared to 20 percent support in the polls.
"I think Paul Burka at Texas Monthly said I'm the only person that's ever been able to get to the right of Rick Perry—which is bizarre in my view because I don't see him as a candidate of the right," Medina says now. "He sells himself on the right, he packages himself on the right, but if you look at the record, he's not conservative by any stretch."
Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren has launched an exploratory committee to challenge Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.)
Speculation has been mounting for a while now, but on Thursday Elizabeth Warren appears to have made it official: She intends to challenge Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) in 2012. The Harvard professor and architect of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has launched a website for her exploratory committee, the likely prelude to a full-scale campaign.
Warren rose to national prominence when President Obama tapped her to run the Congressional Oversight Panel monitoring the TARP bailout in 2009. When the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill created a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—an idea that Warren first developed—she was considered the obvious choice to head the agency. Obama tasked Warren with implementing the new agency, but she quickly became a right-wing target and Obama ultimately nominated former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray for the post.
Brown, who pulled off a stunning upset of Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley in 2010 to replace the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, is one of the Democrats' biggest 2012 targets. And Warren, with her reputation as an anti-Wall Street crusader, has been floated as a dream candidate since the day Brown was sworn in. As Glen Johnson noted, Warren has already staffed up in advance of a run, and picked up the support of a third-party fundraising outfit based out of Washington.
So can she win? Well, she'll first have to navigate a crowded Democratic primary which includes Newton mayor Setti Warren (no relation), City Year founder Alan Khazei, and (possibly) Rep. Michael Capuano. Brown, for his part, remains quite popular in Massachusetts, although with Obama on the ballot and an opponent who's willing to shake hands outside Fenway Park, that could change.
Earlier this week, Brown previewed his likely line of attack against Warren, noting in a fundraising email this week that "They are so obsessed with winning this seat back that Washington elitists are trying to push aside local Democrat candidates in favor of Professor Warren from Oklahoma." (Warren has lived in Massachusetts for two decades.)
The Miami New-Times says that this letter, from Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) to the Florida chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations "might be the dumbest thing ever written on congressional stationery," which is serious charge in a legislative body that also includes Joe Barton:
Courtesy of CAIR
The full context here is that West has been locked in a war of words with CAIR, a group he believes is aiding and abetting the Muslim Brotherhood's efforts to destroy America as we know it. West has asserted that Islam is a "totalitarian theocratic political ideology" and, when confronted by a CAIR spokesman at a town hall meeting this spring, said "Don't try to blow sunshine up my butt." When it was revealed that the gunman in the Norway massacre was an avid fan—like West—of some of America's leading Islamophobes, CAIR wrote to the Congressman to ask him to dissociate himself from folks like Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer.
The one-word reply from West, an Army veteran, was a reference to this incident, immortalized in Band of Brothers:
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.
On the campaign trail in Iowa, Rep. Michele Bachmann's response to the argument that she lacks the experience to run for president has been to turn the argument on its head. The Minnesota congresswoman rattles off her resume: She was a federal tax litigation attorney; she and her husband started "a successful small company"; she fought the establishment in the state Legislature and Congress.
And one more thing: Lest you think she doesn't have the brains to do battle with Obama, she rattles off her degrees. "I'm not only a lawyer, I have a postdoctorate degree in federal tax law from William and Mary," she told Fox News' Chris Wallace in June. "I work in serious scholarship."
But there was one résumé item that was missing: a Ph.D. Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when Bachmann traveled the state as an education activist, she went by "Dr. Michele Bachmann," even though she had never obtained nor sought the advanced degree that's a prerequisite for the title.
From 1998 through 2003, Bachmann was a leading opponent of a Minnesota curriculum standard called the Profile of Learning. She and her allies believed that it was leading Minnesota toward a state-planned economy; if we weren't careful, totalitarianism (or worse) could be just around the corner. "Government is implementing policies that will lead to poverty, not prosperity, by adopting the failed ideas of a state-planned and managed economy similar to that of the former Soviet Union," she explained in a policy paper she cowrote for an anti-Profile nonprofit called the Maple River Education Coalition (MREC). "The system is based upon a utilitarian worldview that measures human value only in terms of productive capability for the 'best interests of the state.'"
Along with a local education activist named Michael Chapman, she toured the state and the nation to drum up opposition to state and federal education standards. And according to eyewitness accounts and material put out by the group, she picked up an advanced degree along the way.
Mary Cecconi, a Minnesota education lobbyist who handed Bachmann her only defeat in a 1999 Stillwater school board race, recalls seeing the future presidential candidate speak at an area church shortly after that election. "Chapman was supposed to be the headliner, but there was no question that she was the star," she said. "He was supposed to be the researcher. She was supposed to be the one who focused on the legal aspect—actually that was the first time I'd ever heard someone with a J.D. called a 'doctor.'" Bachmann's 2002 anti-Profile film, Guinea Pig Kids, likewise twice identified the then-state senator as "Dr. Michele Bachmann."
And in 2000, when Bachmann knocked off incumbent GOP state Sen. Gary Laidig at the district nominating convention, the MREC fired off a news release repeatedly invoking their candidate's honorarium. "On the first ballot, Dr. Michele Bachmann was endorsed 62% to Laidig's 38%," it read. "Dr. Bachmann herself, who arrived at her convention with no intention of running, was shocked by her victory." (The narrative, promoted by the congresswoman, that she was an unlikely candidate is false—Bachmann had announced her candidacy months earlier and laid the groundwork for the upset by stacking the convention with anti-Profile activists.)
"Dr. Bachmann" might have given the activist a bit more gravitas, but it was not an appropriate title. Bachmann received a J.D.—the standard law school degree—from Oral Roberts University, and an LL.M. in tax law from William & Mary in 1988. The LL.M. does count as a postdoctoral degree, as Bachmann says, because it came after she had received a "terminal degree"—that is, a degree that can't be directly improved upon. But while J.D. (juris doctor) has the word "doctor" in it, it is not accepted practice for J.D.'s to refer to themselves as "Dr."
For basic law school graduates like Bachmann, "'Esquire' is the preferred term," says James Warren, an assistant in the dean's office at UCLA Law School. Nor does doing postdoctoral research bring with it any extra titles. "It's not like you've received another degree—it's like a fellowship," explains Zoe Fonseca-Kelly, chair of the board of directors of the National Postdoctoral Association. Rather, postdocs revert to whatever degree they had previously earned once they've finished their research.
This isn't the only instance of Bachmann exaggerating her résumé. She continues to call herself a "tax attorney" or "tax litigation attorney" even though, according to the state of Minnesota, she is not currently authorized to practice law in the state. In an effort to prove her bipartisan appeal, she has stated that Minnesota Democrats squeezed her out of her old Senate district and put her in a new, liberal-leaning one—but the districts were drawn up by the courts, and her new district actually leaned red.
On occasion, she has also stretched the truth about her foster children (she had 23) to make a political point. In a 2008 interview with Politico, she noted that she was feeling the squeeze from high gas prices because she has such a large family. "Energy will be the big focus right now," she said. "Every weekend now when I go home, I will go to the grocery store, I'll buy food for the family. We have five kids and 23 foster kids that we raise. So I go to the grocery store and buy a lot of food." The catch? She didn't have any foster children in 2008; her permit to take in foster children had expired in 2000 and she had taken in her last child, a teenage girl, in 1998.
Bachmann's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Update: A reader writes in to argue that "Dr." actually is an appropriate term for a J.D. recipient. As it turns out, there's a bit of a debate on this point within the legal community—it is a (begrudgingly) accepted practice in some states and not in others. But the fact that it's technically accepted does not mean anyone uses it. Chief among the reasons lawyers don't use "Dr." is that to most of the public, the terms suggests that you're a medical doctor or a Ph.D.—and therefore conveys a false level of expertise. Bachmann selectively used the title when she talking about education policy, a subject she had studied informally but had no advanced degree in.