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.
We told you yesterday about Minnesota anti-gay heavy-metal evangelist Bradlee Dean's—cue Doctor Evil voice—$50 meeelion lawsuit against Rachel Maddow, which his attorney promises will "end her career." We only skimmed the complaint though, and glossed over the best part: Apparently Dean is upset that Rachel Maddow made fun of his first name. From the complaint:
On or about August 9, 2010, Defendants Rachel Maddow, MSNBC and NBC broadcast a segment on The Rachel Maddow Show that outrageously disparaged Bradlee Dean's physical appearance, his first name and his profession as a heavy metal entertainer and his standing in the community and represented that he and YCR had advocated the execution of gays.
"Bradlee with two E's if you're Googling," is how Maddow put it. She referred to him later in the broadcast simply as "Bradlee with two E's." People have been shot for less! But here's the thing: "Bradlee" is not Bradlee Dean's real name. His legal name is actually Bradley Dean Smith. He goes by "Bradlee" presumably because it's more punk rock; it is, to use his language, a lifestyle decision. As for his appearance, well, we're not passing judgment. But Dean did show up to deliver the opening prayer at the Minnesota House wearing a white track suit, and on Wednesday he arrived at his own press conference to announce said $50 million lawsuit wearing a black Minnesota Twins jersey. In fairness, it was a button-down.
We've pilloried GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain in these parts for his insistance that Islam is incompatible with American values, his promise not to appoint any Muslims to his administration, and his belief that communities have the right to block religious groups (or at least Muslims) from building houses of worship. Cain, perhaps realizing that such bigotry has derailed a presidential campaign that really should have been focusing on health care reform instead, met with Muslim leaders in Virginia on Wednesday. Following the meeting, he released a statement declaring himself "humble and contrite," and apologizing for potentially offending Muslim Americans.
I would like to thank Imam Mohamed Magid and the ADAMS Center for extending their hospitality to me this afternoon. We enjoyed heartfelt fellowship and thoughtful dialogue about how patriotic Americans of all faiths can work together to restore the American Dream.
While I stand by my opposition to the interference of shariah law into the American legal system, I remain humble and contrite for any statements I have made that might have caused offense to Muslim Americans and their friends. I am truly sorry for any comments that may have betrayed my commitment to the U.S. Constitution and the freedom of religion guaranteed by it. Muslims, like all Americans, have the right to practice their faith freely and peacefully.
As I expected, we discovered we have much more in common in our values and virtues. In my own life as a black youth growing up in the segregated South, I understand their frustration with stereotypes. Those in attendance, like most Muslim Americans, are peaceful Muslims and patriotic Americans whose good will is often drowned out by the reprehensible actions of jihadists.
I am encouraged by the bonds of friendship forged today at our meeting, and I look forward to continuing this very healthy dialogue. The relationship we established was so positive that the Imam has invited me back to speak to not only some of their youth, but also at one of their worship services.
If Cain's views on Islam really have changed, that's great. But from a leadership standpoint, the initial problem remains. Cain, despite running on a platform of constitutional conservatism, jumped to bigoted conclusions about American Muslims based on a handful of readily debunked conspiracy theories. When he condemned the construction of a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, he cited the attorney who filed suit to block it—an attorney who has also alleged that President Obama is attempting to raise the black flag of Sharia over the White House. When Cain tried to find examples of Islamic Sharia law being forced on American courts, he errantly cited a case in Texas (the case was actually in Florida), and seemed willfully ignorant of the fact that the case followed the same arbitration process that applies to all religious groups.