In an interview with Fox News on Tuesday morning, Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump twice failed to correct host Brian Kilmeade's mistaken assertion that one of his top foreign policy advisers, Walid Phares, is Muslim.
"Donald, we just talked to Walid Phares," Kilmeade said. "We talked to Dr. Zuhdi Jasser yesterday, Ambassador Khalilzad—he's done great things for this country. What do all three have in common? They're Muslims."
"Yes, that's true," Trump said.
A few minutes later, Kilmeade returned to the topic of Phares, who, Trump announced yesterday, is advising his campaign. "A lot of people listening right now might be misinterpreting your message in the past and currently that you have a problem with Muslims—you don't have a problem with Muslims," Kilmeade said. "In fact you just hired one, Walid Phares, to work for you." Again, Trump appeared to agree.
But Phares is not Muslim. In fact, he is about as far from being a Muslim as one can get. As Adam Serwer reported five years ago, Phares was once a top political official in a sectarian Christian militia in Lebanon that targeted Muslims:
During the 1980s, Phares, a Maronite Christian, trained Lebanese militants in ideological beliefs justifying the war against Lebanon's Muslim and Druze factions, according to former colleagues. Phares, they say, advocated the hard-line view that Lebanon's Christians should work toward creating a separate, independent Christian enclave. A photo obtained by MotherJones shows him conducting a press conference in 1986 for the Lebanese Forces, an umbrella group of Christian militias that has been accused of committing atrocities.
Later in the interview, Kilmeade offered a correction, noting that Phares is actually a Christian. But Trump was twice asked specifically about Phares' religious identity and never pushed back.
On Monday, Bernie Sanders did something his campaign has been toying with for months: He gave a speech laying out his vision for Middle East peace. With the other four remaining major party candidates traveling to Washington, DC, to speak at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference, Sanders opted to stay in Utah, where he is banking on a strong showing in Tuesday's Democratic caucus. Prior to addressing a packed Salt Lake City gymnasium, he spoke to a smaller crowd, offering the speech his people say he would have delivered at AIPAC.
"A lasting a peace will have to recognize Palestinians are entitled to control their own lives, and there is nothing human life needs more than water."
Consistent with his ongoing critique of economic inequality, Sanders, who is Jewish and spent time at a kibbutz after college, offered a plea for a more humane handling of the Israel–Palestine conflict. "To be successful, we have to be a friend not only to Israel, but to the Palestinian people, where in Gaza, they suffer from an unemployment rate of 44 percent—the highest in the world—and a poverty rate nearly equal to that," Sanders said, according to a prepared text of his remarks.
Israel, he argued, is compounding the suffering with its own aggressive policies. Sanders called on Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu to pull back settlements in the West Bank and turn over hundreds of millions of shekels in tax revenue to Palestinians. Peace, he also said, "will mean a sustainable and equitable distribution of precious water resources so that Israel and Palestine can both thrive as neighbors…Right now, Israel controls 80 percent of the water reserves in the West Bank. Inadequate water supply has contributed to the degradation and desertification of Palestinian land. A lasting a peace will have to recognize Palestinians are entitled to control their own lives, and there is nothing human life needs more than water."
As he moved on to a rehashing of his positions on ISIS and the Iran nuclear deal, Sanders hit on familiar themes, framing the failure of Middle Eastern nations to stop ISIS, in part, as a failure of wealthy elites. If Qatar could spend $200 billion on World Cup soccer stadiums, he said, it could surely spend as much fighting terrorists. Singling out Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, both of which have benefited from America's defense budget, Sanders added that, "wealthy and powerful nations in the region can no longer expect the United States to do their work for them."
"It is easy to use a war to remove a tyrant from power—but it is much more difficult to prevent total chaos afterward."
Last November, Sanders talked about his plans to fight ISIS as part of a larger policy speech on democratic socialism, but after initially hinting that a major foreign policy address would follow, his campaign backed down. During debates, he's often pivoted away from foreign policy to focus on domestic issues. But national security is one area where the differences between he and Hillary Clinton—and for that matter, the entire Republican field—are stark. Although he never mentioned Clinton by name, he acknowledged his Democratic rival in passing by taking a shot at one of their biggest areas of disagreement, military interventions.
"It is easy to use a war to remove a tyrant from power—but it is much more difficult to prevent total chaos afterward," Sanders said. "Just look at the cost we have paid in Iraq—a war I was proud to oppose. Just look at the chaos in Libya. It is my firm belief that the test of a great nation, with the most powerful military on Earth, is not how many wars we can engage in, but how we can use our strength to resolve international conflicts in a peaceful way."
After condemning Donald Trump in a speech earlier this month, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney took an all-of-the-above approach to stopping the Republican front-runner from picking up the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the nomination. He campaigned for John Kasich in Ohio last week and offered to do the same for Sen. Marco Rubio in Florida.
But although Kasich did win his home state, Romney is now jumping ship. On Friday, ahead of the potentially winner-take-all Utah caucuses, the favorite son is going all-in for Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
In a statement on his Facebook page, Romney, the party's 2012 presidential nominee, announced he would be supporting Cruz not just in Utah, but in all future contests as well. Lest there be any confusion, Romney offered praise for Kasich but indicated the time had come to pick just one candidate to stop Trump. Here's the statement:
This week, in the Utah nominating caucus, I will vote for Senator Ted Cruz.
Today, there is a contest between Trumpism and Republicanism. Through the calculated statements of its leader, Trumpism has become associated with racism, misogyny, bigotry, xenophobia, vulgarity and, most recently, threats and violence. I am repulsed by each and every one of these.
The only path that remains to nominate a Republican rather than Mr. Trump is to have an open convention. At this stage, the only way we can reach an open convention is for Senator Cruz to be successful in as many of the remaining nominating elections as possible.
I like Governor John Kasich. I have campaigned with him. He has a solid record as governor. I would have voted for him in Ohio. But a vote for Governor Kasich in future contests makes it extremely likely that Trumpism would prevail.
I will vote for Senator Cruz and I encourage others to do so as well, so that we can have an open convention and nominate a Republican.
Some good news for Sen. Ted Cruz today: He finally got a second senate colleague to endorse him. According to CNN, South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham will endorse and raise money for the Texas conservative, as part of a last-gasp effort by Republicans in Washington to stop Donald Trump from winning the party's nomination.
Graham wasn't much help to his previous pick, Jeb Bush, though. And, given the former presidential candidate's past comments about Cruz, his endorsement doesn't carry much weight. It does, however, display the increasing desperation of the Republican establishment. Just last month, Graham told Wolf Blitzer that, "If you're a Republican and your choice is Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in a general election, it's the difference between poisoned or shot—you're still dead." In that same interview, Graham said Cruz was worse than President Barack Obama on foreign policy. A few weeks later, he'd taken an even darker turn. "If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate and the trial was in the Senate," Graham told a group of journalists, "no one would convict you."
When Marco Rubio first ran for Senate in 2010, the New York Times magazine billed him on its cover as "the first senator from the tea party," an insurgent candidate who seized on the dissatisfaction rank-and-file conservatives had for their leadership in Washington and would move the party hard to the right. Rubio had a lot of things going for him in that campaign—he was young, good looking, bilingual, and well schooled in conservative dogma—but the biggest advantage of all was that the people with the pitchforks were on his side. Of Rubio's opponent in that race, then-Gov. Charlie Crist, the Times offered an ominous and prescient judgment: "He may not be angry enough to win a Republican primary this year."
Now, after finishing behind Donald Trump by double digits in his home state of Florida on Tuesday, Rubio is effectively toast. He has no chance at picking up the 1,237 delegates needed for the nomination, and he lacks the gravitational pull to even play the role of spoiler. Rubio spent more time in the Sunshine State than any other candidate over the past week, virtually ignoring the other winner-take-all states that voted Tuesday, in the hopes of a miracle that never materialized. The delegate math doesn't lie; when his Senate term expires in January, he'll be out of a job.
There are many reasons why Rubio flamed out of the presidential race after winning just one state (plus Puerto Rico and Washington, DC). He should have probably tried harder to win an early primary state, rather than banking on picking up delegates down the road; it would have been smart to take on Trump before he was the odds-on favorite for the nomination; and it didn't help that his old friend Jeb Bush spent millions of dollars to tear Rubio apart. But the epitaph for Rubio's presidential bid comes down to this: He wasn't angry enough to win a Republican primary this year.
Voter rage swept Rubio into the Senate in 2010 as part of a tea party revolution. But after six years, the rage is back and the archconservative candidates who rode the tea party wave to victory are now the establishment bums whom voters are looking to purge. In Rubio's case, his sin was easy to pinpoint. Every Trump and Cruz voter I spoke with this week in Florida voted for Rubio when he ran in the Republican Senate primary six years ago. But nearly all of them cited the same reason when I asked why they weren't backing Rubio's presidential bid—two years ago, he was part of the "Gang of Eight" in the Senate that attempted to negotiate a bipartisan compromise on immigration reform.
At the time, it seemed like the right thing for an up-and-coming Republican to do; the party's autopsy after the 2012 presidential election had warned that unless Republicans could take some credit for meaningful immigration reform, it would continue to be doomed among Hispanic voters. But just as Crist's sins of moderation doomed him against the insurgent Rubio, Rubio's hint of empathy for undocumented immigrants put him on the wrong side of a popular uprising. In 2010, it was the tea party; in 2016, it was Trump.
He didn't do himself many favors. For much of his campaign, Rubio was on-message to a fault. His stump speech rarely changed and his debate performances sounded canned. If you wanted to pinpoint the moment his slide truly became irreversible, when the Stench started to emanate from his campaign, it was at the last debate before the New Hampshire primary, when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie mocked Rubio for repeating the same line three different times. At first Rubio played it off as a strength; then he pledged to never do it again.
In the last week, though, he changed things up. After spending months insisting that all was well no matter how many states he lost, Rubio began telling crowds that he didn't fear defeat, because what's the worst thing that could happen—he'd just look for a new job. And for the first time since entering the race last summer, he ripped into Trump, the Republican front-runner, not just for the things that make Trump unpalatable to the Republican National Committee, but for the things that make him unpalatable to normal people. Rubio compared Trump to a "third-world" strongman and accused him of fostering a climate of hate and violence. His press conference on Saturday ahead of a rally in Largo was one of the most unvarnished moments of the entire campaign:
It was a brief glimpse of the Rubio that made Democrats sweat—a normal-ish guy who delivers his lines well if you wind him up properly—but Rubio's last-minute awakening was also an appropriate symbol of the Republican Party as a whole. He spent most of his race acting as if Trump didn't exist and fending off attacks from virtually every other candidate, and when he woke up to the existential threat to his career, it was too late. Sooner or later, the mob comes for us all.