Perhaps I should backtrack. Last month, GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain publicly apologized for a number of anti-Islam statements he had made on the campaign trail. After calling on authorities to block the expansion of an Islamic community center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee; warning that Muslims were attempting to force a radical strain of Islamic Sharia law on unsuspecting Americans; and pledging not to appoint any Muslims to his cabinet, the former pizza mogul's longshot run for the White House had hit a serious rut. So he met with Muslim leaders in Northern Virginia to smooth things out. It didn't change that fact that Cain was getting his ideas on Islam from debunked conspiracy theories, but he at least seemed to have reached the conclusion that Muslims don't bite.
But now the authors of those conspiracy theories are none too pleased. Frank Gaffney, a Washington Times columnist and anti-Sharia activist who once warned that President Obama was raised a Muslim and might still be one, told Think Progress that Cain might be in league with the Muslim Brotherhood:
The ADAMS Center is a prominent Muslim Brotherhood apparatus in Washington DC. It's one of the most aggressive proponents of its agenda in the city. Specifically, meeting with Mohamed Magid who is the president of the largest Muslim Brotherhood front in the United States, who happens also to be the Imam at the ADAMS Center. It's one of those things, it's a very problematic departure from what I think had been a generally sensible [position]."
Bryan Fischer, the American Family Association issues director who has called for a moratorium on mosque construction in the United States, is also frustrated with Cain's new dance. "Cain had said that any community which does not want a jihadist-spouting mosque in its community shouldn't be forced to have one," he wrote. "And of course, he was right about that, and it's unfortunate that he has retracted the statement. His bobbing and weaving on Islam is leaving his supporters a bit dazed and is hurting his candidacy."
This comes just one weeks after the anti-immigration group Numbers USA gave Cain a "C-" on its candidate report card—despite the fact that he had previously promised to build a giant moat along the entire US–Mexican border, filled with alligators.
Lost amid the last-second push to pass the "sugar-coated satan sandwich" that is the debt ceiling deal, Eli Lake has an interesting piece over at The New Republic exploring the Republican party's collapsing foreign policy consensus. The good news? The cocky, rigid neoconservatism that defined the last decade is less influential now. But that doesn't mean it's being replaced by anything more, well, sane. Here's Lake:
When I started asking around about Bachmann's foreign policy ideas, I heard the same thing from multiple people: that I should talk to Frank Gaffney. Gaffney himself stressed that he had no formal relationship with Bachmann as an adviser. But he did say that he had contact with several of the GOP candidates. And, of Bachmann, he said this: "She is a friend and a person I admire. I hope she is getting the best counsel she can." He added, "We are a resource she has tapped, I'm assuming among many others." When I asked him whether Bachmann had been briefed on the Team B II Report, he replied, "We've spent hours, over several days with her. I think she's got the bulk of what we would tell her in one of the more formal presentations."
Bachmann's connection to the Team B II Report—and her conviction that sharia law is a threat to the United States—helps explain some of the key places that she splits from the neoconservatives. To most neocons, the Arab Spring was good news, because it meant the potential spread of democracy in the Muslim world. But the Team B II crowd was pessimistic. "Ever since 2003, when the thrust of the War On Terror stopped being the defeat of America’s enemies and decisively shifted to nation-building, we have insisted—against history, law, language, and logic—that Islamic culture is perfectly compatible with and hospitable to Western-style democracy," McCarthy has written. "It is not, it never has been, and it never will be."
Gaffney, for the unfamiliar, is a former Ronald Reagan Pentagon official who has become one of the leaders of the right-wing anti-Islam crusade. Team B II was an ad hoc group formed by his Center for Security Policy which last year produced report, Shariah: The Threat to America, on the existential threat posed by radical jihadis in the United States government.
Gaffney has warned that CIA Director David Petraeus is a slave to Islamic Shariah law; that President Obama's missile defense logo represents a concession to radical Islam (it was actually produced by the Bush administration); and that "there is mounting evidence that the president not only identifies with Muslims, but actually may still be one himself." In 2008, he also argued that "there is evidence Mr. Obama was born in Kenya." Gaffney believes that high-ranking members of the Obama foreign policy team are secretly working for the Muslim Brotherhood, and, last fall, he alleged that Americans for Tax Reform founder Grover Norquist was in cahoots with radical Islamists as well—which, in turn, meant that the entire Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) had been compromised.
This all makes Gaffney sound conspiratorial, but that's kind of the point: His big foreign policy idea, which he's presumably counseling Bachmann on, is that is that there is a comprehensive plot by Islamic extremists to infiltrate the United States government and all other levels of society and destroy America as we know it. But then again, considering Bachmann once attended a conference dedicated to framing Middle Eastern politics in the context of End Times prophecy, Gaffney might be a step up.
The race for the Republican presidential nomination does not appear to be going well for Gary Johnson. According to the most recent Zogby poll, the libertarian former two-term New Mexico governor, climber of Mount Everest, and consumer of medical marijuana is polling at 1 percent among likely GOP presidential primary voters nationwide. That's 24 points behind front-runner Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.); 10 points behind fellow libertarian Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas); and 1 point behind former Speaker Newt Gingrich, who at this point is basically just trying to sell more copies of his books. Johnson is trailing Fred Karger, the gay former dark-arts operative who is running solely for the sake of hounding Mitt Romney, by 1 point.
But if you ask Gary Johnson, he is exactly where he wants to be. "The vantage point that I have is the only vantage point that I've ever had in politics, which is being last," Johnson explained on Friday following an address to the National Conference of College Republicans in downtown Washington. "I've run for two political offices in my life: governor of New Mexico, and reelection as governor of New Mexico. This was just where I was in New Mexico."
On Tuesday evening, Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) announced to the House Republican caucus that he would "drive the car" on Speaker John Boehner's bill to raise the debt ceiling. On Thursday, even as it became painfully clear that Boehner didn't have the votes to push his plan through, the freshman tea partier stood by his Speaker. And that, according to a handful of tea party groups, is a betrayal they won't forget. The Hill's Alicia Cohn reports:
Tea Party leaders announced Thursday they are targeting Republican Reps. James Lankford (Okla.), Allen West (Fla.), Mike Kelly (Penn.), and Bill Flores (Texas), all four freshmen and declared yes-votes for Boehner...
However, Tea Party-affiliated organizations Tea Party Express, Tea Party Nation, Tea Party Founding Fathers and United West indicated Thursday that their members will not tolerate a vote for the Boehner plan.
Tea Party leaders want West and the others to know they consider voting for Boehner's plan "caving in" and it could mean losing the support of the Tea Party in 2012.
Well, no. This would be a big deal—tea partiers revolt against tea partiers!—if any of these groups really had any power or a membership base. As my colleague Stephanie Mencimer explained yesterday, many of the "tea party leaders" who find themselves quoted in the press really aren't the leaders of anyone at all.
The Tea Party Patriots American Grassroots, which isn't listed in that particular story in The Hill but is frequently cited as a leading tea party organization, held a rally at the Capitol on Wednesday to show their opposition to raising the debt ceiling. Thirteen people showed up. If Jim DeMint and Americans for Prosperity start taking potshots at West, he might want to take notice. But these smaller groups pose about as much of a threat to the bomb-throwing congressman as the Muslim Brotherhood.
Update: West was asked about this just now on Laura Ingraham's radio show, and he's not backing down, insisting that abandoning Boehner would give Democrats what they want. Here's his—surprise!—military analogy: "It would be just the same as if you're in a combat operation and you're supposed to be attacking in a certain direction and you refuse to attack or you just attack in a different direction and you split your force and you create a gap by which the opposition can defeat you." The segment ends with Ingraham promising to campaign for West.
Update II: And now things just got weird. Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips just blasted out an email denying that his organization, such as it is, had ever threatened a primary challenge against West: "The group that put this press release out used Tea Party Nation's name without our permission. No one at TPN was shown this press release in advance. Had we been shown that press release, we would have vetoed the use of our name." So, once more: No, tea partiers are not really targeting Allen West.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) visited the National Press Club in Washington on Thursday for a speech and question-and-answer session. The GOP presidential contender's remarks focused mostly on her opposition to raising the debt ceiling under any circumstances. She did field one question on an issue we've covered: reports that the Christian counseling clinic she co-owns with her husband tries to cure gay people of homosexuality. Bachmann has repeatedly dodged questions on the issue, and even gone so far as to cut off interviews with Iowa reporters who broach the subject; when I caught up with her outside the MoJo DC office recently, she was a no comment (literally, she didn't say anything).
On Thursday, Bachmann was asked if she believes homosexuality is a lifestyle decision that can be cured. So, with her husband sitting to her left at the Press Club, how'd Bachmann respond? By dodging the issue entirely and declaring her spouse, her children, her foster children, and her business off limits:
I'm extremely proud of my husband. I have tremendous respect and admiration for him and we'll celebrate our 33rd wedding anniversary this coming September. But I am running for the presidency of the United States. My husband is not running for the presidency, neither are my children, neither is our business, neither is our foster children, and I am more than happy to stand for questions on running for the presidency of the United States.
The notion that spouses should be immune to scrutiny represents something of a shift for Bachmann, who last February bashed Michelle Obama for supporting breast-feeding (as part of an anti-obesity initiative).
But Bachmann's small business is part of her stump speech; it's how she sells herself to voters. And opposition to homosexuality, which she once warned was being forced on children in public schools, was the cornerstone of her political career as a state senator in St. Paul. Moreover, the question of whether homosexuality is a choiceis an issue that weighs on public policy at the federal level, and it's the kind of thing you'd expect a presidential candidate to be able to speak publicly about. If Bachmann no longer thinks being gay is a health hazard and an affliction that can be cured, that would represent a profound change in her worldview. Until then, her refusal to say anything at all about the issue is pretty powerful.