Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy

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Tim Murphy is a senior reporter at Mother Jones. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy@motherjones.com.

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Donald Trump refused to rule out using nuclear weapons in Europe during a town hall in Wisconsin on Wednesday. The Republican presidential front-runner was asked about his recent contradictory statements about nuclear proliferation—in which he said he was concerned about the spread of nukes while also suggesting that more countries, including Japan, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia, should be allowed to acquire them.

MSNBC's Chris Matthews, the host of the town hall, tried to pin Trump down on what circumstances might compel President Trump to deploy the United States' nuclear arsenal.

"Look, nuclear should be off the table, but would there a time when it could be used? Possibly," Trump said.

Matthews asked Trump to tell the Middle East and Europe that he would never use nuclear weapons, but Trump continued to evade. Asked again if he'd use nuclear weapons in Europe, Trump held firm. "I am not—I am not taking cards off the table," Trump responded.

Watch:

On Thursday in Wisconsin, Sen. Ted Cruz put on his most presidential jacket, pointed straight to the camera, and called his party's likely nominee a "sniveling coward" for making disparaging comments about his wife, Heidi:

This is where the Republican primary is at right now. The latest drama over Trump began earlier this week, when an anti-Trump group unaffiliated with the Cruz campaign ran ads shaming Trump's wife, Melania, for having once posed nude in GQ. Trump accused Cruz of putting the group up to it (which would be illegal), and then promised to "spill the beans" on Heidi Cruz. On Wednesday, Trump used his Twitter account to quote a tweet that included a photo of Melania next to a photo of Heidi Cruz, with the tag line, "the images are worth a thousand words." So Cruz has reason to be pissed—and to his larger point, Trump really does have a problem with women.

But almost as soon as he finished his remarks on Thursday, Cruz was asked a simple question: Would he support Trump as the nominee? It was a revealing moment that echoed a similar press conference two weeks ago, when a visibly distraught Marco Rubio called Trump a con artist and a third-world strongman who foments violence—but stopped short of suggesting he'd vote for someone else. This time, Cruz didn't quite answer either, insisting only that Trump would not be the nominee. He may think Trump's a misogynist, but he still wants Trump's voters.

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 Mother Jones 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.

Maybe it was a lousy earpiece?

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."

You can read his speech here.

Mitt Romney Announces He's Voting for Ted Cruz

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.

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