Marco Rubio Bravely Rules Out Negotiation With ISIS That No One Has Ever Proposed

| Mon Nov. 23, 2015 1:15 PM EST

Marco Rubio has aired his first TV ad, and I suppose it's no surprise that we've already seen it. The whole thing is his schtick about the fight against ISIS being a civilizational struggle etc. etc. Here it is:

Once again, Rubio offers up his odd bit about ISIS hating us because we let women drive. But forbidding women to drive is actually one of the few odious things that ISIS doesn't do. It's our great and good friend Saudi Arabia that has a problem with women drivers. I'm pretty sure Rubio has never said a bad word about the Kingdom, so it seems a little odd to obsess about this when he's got such a huge panoply of other horrific stuff to choose from (we don't behead heretics, we don't sanction slavery, and so forth).

At the end Rubio gravely intones that "there can be no arrangement or negotiation." Where did that come from? Rubio would just as soon not let anyone know this, but the Obama administration is pretty firmly at war with ISIS. We're bombing them. We're taking territory from them. We're doing out best to wipe out their financial infrastructure. Obama's official policy is to "degrade and destroy" ISIS. Nobody—literally nobody—has ever suggested negotiating with them.

But I suppose none of that matters. Mostly, this is just Rubio trying his best to use dramatic lighting and a grave tone to avoid looking like he's 22, which is probably his greatest drawback in the presidential race. It's unfair, but with that baby face and breakneck speaking style that sounds like he's still on the college debating team, he just doesn't look old enough to be the leader of the free world. He seems more like a well-regarded up-and-comer, not the guy who already upped and came.

Does the ad work? It seems a little to strained to me, but I'm hardly his target audience. We'll see.

Advertise on

What You Need to Know About the Ongoing Lockdown in Brussels

| Mon Nov. 23, 2015 12:20 PM EST
A Belgian Army soldier patrols in the Sablon District of Brussels on Monday.

Brussels remains under lockdown for the third straight day as authorities continue to hunt down suspects in connection with the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris. As of Monday morning, a spokesman for the chief Belgian prosecutor said 21 people have been arrested in a series of anti-terror raids since Sunday.

But police officers are still searching for the primary target of these raids—Salah Abdeslam, the 26-year-old suspect believed to have taken part in the Paris attacks. Officials say Abdeslam's brother detonated himself in the Paris attacks.

Amid the crackdown, officials are also warning residents of a possible "serious and imminent attack" in the Belgian capital. Schools, underground public transit, and shopping centers are all closed, as Brussels remains at the highest level of terror alert.

Over the weekend, the police requested that residents refrain from posting details of the raids on social media and potentially tipping the suspects off in the process. Twitter users followed through by flooding the platform with photos of cats in order to show a moment of levity and stamp out any possible security leaks.

On Monday, British Prime Minster David Cameron announced that he will seek parliamentary support to launch new airstrikes against ISIS in Syria. The Guardian reports that US special operation forces will be deployed in Syria "very soon."

Hillary Clinton Is Strongly Trusted on National Security

| Mon Nov. 23, 2015 11:50 AM EST

In the wake of the Paris attacks, who do Americans trust most on national security? Thankfully, the answer is not Donald Trump. Surprisingly, the answer appears to be Hillary Clinton. According to the latest Washington Post/ABC poll, she beats all the major Republican candidates, and she beats Trump especially heavily.

This poll was done at the beginning of last week, when post-Paris hysteria over ISIS had already begun. But it was before the Republican field went completely loony. Has that reduced her lead a bit or opened it up even further? We'll probably never know for sure. But national security has been one of Donald Trump's biggest calling cards, so it should be of some concern to him that he's nonetheless well behind Clinton. In fact, the only two Republican candidates who are even close are the two most mainstream ones: Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. When national security takes over the conversation, maybe America isn't quite as hungry for a rank amateur in the Oval Office as some people think?

The Most Fascinating Thing About Donald Trump's Racist Tweet

| Mon Nov. 23, 2015 11:17 AM EST

On Sunday afternoon, @realDonaldTrump, the official Twitter handle of the Republican presidential front-runner, manually retweeted a deeply racist and inaccurate chart purporting to show racial crime statistics in America. As everyone in the world knows by now, the chart—created by Nazis!—is bullshit. Here's something that is fascinating about the whole episode: Donald Trump almost certainly did not send the tweet.

As I explained in September, only a vanishingly small number of @realDonaldTrump's tweets actually come from Trump himself. He dictates many of his tweets to aides. He sends some—a very small few—himself using an iPhone. And many manual retweets are sent by one of his staffers. Retweets presumably aren't the sort of thing he would be dictating. He's probably not on his phone listening to someone read his mentions and saying, "Retweet that one!" Sunday's tweet was sent from an Android. Trump tweets—when he rarely does—from an iPhone. It's very likely Trump did not send that retweet. Someone who works for him did. This isn't the fascinating thing.

The fascinating thing is that instead of a blaming the tweet on a subordinate—something they haven't been shy about doing in the past—the campaign has chosen to stay silent about it. They have apparently made the political calculation that it would be worse for Trump to acknowledge not sending the racist tweet than to endure a few days of stories about how racist he is. 

It's 2015, and if you're running for the Republican nomination for president, saying racist things doesn't hurt your poll numbers

An email to the Trump campaign seeking clarification on the authorship of the tweet was not immediately returned. 

What's the Matter With Kentucky?

| Mon Nov. 23, 2015 10:45 AM EST

Last year I wrote a post about the Democrats' problem with the white working class. You can read the whole thing here, but the short version is this: the white working class really hates welfare, and unlike all of us hyperverbal liberal types, they don't view it as some kind of abstract "policy." It's far more personal: "For them, the poor aren't merely a set of statistics or a cause to be championed. They're the folks next door who don't do a lick of work but somehow keep getting government checks paid for by their tax dollars. For a lot of members of the white working class, this is personal in a way it just isn't for the kind of people who read this blog."

Like anyone, I enjoy seeing my opinions confirmed, so I was pretty happy a couple of days ago to see a long piece on ProPublica by Alec MacGillis that took on this exact subject. MacGillis did a lot of shoe-leather reporting on this issue, and came to the same conclusion I did. Using Kentucky as his case study, the question he's addressing is why so many poor communities vote against the very policies that help them the most:

The people who most rely on the safety-net programs secured by Democrats are, by and large, not voting against their own interests by electing Republicans. Rather, they are not voting, period. They have, as voting data, surveys and my own reporting suggest, become profoundly disconnected from the political process.

The people in these communities who are voting Republican in larger proportions are those who are a notch or two up the economic ladder — the sheriff’s deputy, the teacher, the highway worker, the motel clerk, the gas station owner and the coal miner. And their growing allegiance to the Republicans is, in part, a reaction against what they perceive, among those below them on the economic ladder, as a growing dependency on the safety net, the most visible manifestation of downward mobility in their declining towns.

....These voters are consciously opting against a Democratic economic agenda that they see as bad for them and good for other people — specifically, those undeserving benefit-recipients in their midst. I’ve heard variations on this theme all over the country: people railing against the guy across the street who is collecting disability payments but is well enough to go fishing, the families using their food assistance to indulge in steaks.

....With reliance on government benefits so prevalent, it creates constant moments of friction, on very intimate terms, said Jim Cauley, a Democratic political consultant from Pike County....Where opposition to the social safety net has long been fed by the specter of undeserving inner-city African-Americans — think of Ronald Reagan’s notorious “welfare queen” — in places like Pike County it’s fueled, more and more, by people’s resentment over rising dependency they see among their own neighbors, even their own families. “It’s Cousin Bobby — ‘he’s on Oxy and he’s on the draw and we’re paying for him,’ ” Cauley said. “If you need help, no one begrudges you taking the program — they’re good-hearted people. It’s when you’re able-bodied and making choices not to be able-bodied.” The political upshot is plain, Cauley added. “It’s not the people on the draw that’s voting against” the Democrats, he said. “It’s everyone else.”

This helps explain a much-discussed article in the Lexington Herald-Leader a week ago. It concluded that counties with the highest number of Medicaid recipients were also the most reliable voters for Republican Matt Bevin—despite the fact that Bevin had loudly insisted that he would slash Medicaid if he won the election. It's not that all these Medicaid recipients were voting against their self-interest. They weren't voting one way or the other—and all the while, their slightly less-poor neighbors were voting to cut them off.

This news won't necessarily surprise anyone, and it doesn't really point toward any obvious solutions, either. But it's nevertheless worth a few minutes of your time to read MacGillis's piece. It takes the problem out of the realm of the abstract and puts some meat on its bones. If you want to get a feel for what safety-net politics looks like at ground level, click the link.

My Morning Advice: Don't Talk About Taking Down Donald Trump. Just Take Him Down.

| Mon Nov. 23, 2015 9:35 AM EST

Here's the latest on GOP panic over the possibility that Donald Trump might actually win the Republican nomination:

A well-connected GOP operative is planning a “guerrilla campaign” backed by secret donors to “defeat and destroy” the celebrity businessman’s candidacy, according to a memo reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

....The most concerted effort is Trump Card LLC, the self-styled guerrilla campaign being launched by Liz Mair, the former online communications director of the Republican National Committee. “In the absence of our efforts, Trump is exceedingly unlikely to implode or be forced out of the race,” according to the Trump Card memo. “The stark reality is that unless something dramatic and unconventional is done, Trump will be the Republican nominee and Hillary Clinton will become president.”

....Ms. Mair, who has ties to the libertarian movement and the GOP establishment, said that donors backing Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Mr. Kasich and Mr. Bush are interested, and that some worry that going public could hurt their candidate.

Rick Wilson, a Republican media consultant, said in an interview that he is prepared to make ads for the new group. Mr. Wilson isn’t involved in fundraising but predicted that a number of Republican donors will start bankrolling an anti-Trump effort.

Look, folks: the first rule of fight club is that you don't talk about fight club. What's the point of publicly announcing this strategy? It's good for the ego, I suppose, but all it does is alert Trump and ruin any jolt of surprise you might get from your campaign. Now reporters are all ready for it, and when it happens they'll just dissect it dispassionately instead of (hopefully) being dazzled. It's like the idiots in the Hillary Clinton campaign who decided to alert the world that they planned a campaign to make Hillary look more human. Nice going.

As with most liberals, I'm of two minds about all this. On the one hand, Republicans deserve every bit of what they're getting. For years they've been actively encouraging the enraged, racially-charged grievance culture that Trump represents, and it's hard to feel sorry for them now that it's biting them in the ass. Besides, if Trump does win the nomination, he's almost certain to lose, and that's fine with me. Republicans deserve another few years out in the cold.

On the other hand, life is strange, and "almost certain" is not "certain." What's more, we're now at the point where Trump is no longer a joke. Another year of his unapologetic racism and xenophobia could do serious damage to the country—and especially to the targets of his malignant rants. It's long past time to dump him on the nearest ash heap of history.

Advertise on

John Oliver Slams Republicans Using Fearmongering Tactics to Refuse Syrian Refugees

| Mon Nov. 23, 2015 8:58 AM EST

On Sunday, John Oliver weighed in on the mounting refusal by many Republican governors to take in Syrian refugees in the wake of the deadly Paris attacks earlier this month.

"It is absolutely fair to be concerned about safety in the wake of these attacks, and it's fair to wonder who we're letting in or what kind of screening process in place," Oliver said. "Unfortunately, many of the people talking about it this week don't seem to have the first idea of what we're doing."

After displaying a montage of GOP politicians using baseless scare tactics to question the rigor of the current vetting process, the Last Week Tonight host deftly walked viewers through the intensive system all Syrian refugees must go through in order to be accepted into the United States.

"This is the most rigorous vetting anyone has to face before entering this country," he said. "No terrorist in their right mind would choose this path when the visa process requires far less effort. But nevertheless, the House still voted on Thursday to add a few more steps."

Oliver then singled out former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee for the fearmongering approach he's used to justify blocking refugees resettlement.

Donald Trump's Hatemongering Moves on to African Americans

| Sun Nov. 22, 2015 3:54 PM EST

Having already played the hate card against Mexicans and Muslims—and getting crackerjack results—Donald Trump has apparently decided to move on to African Americans. I don't know what the "Crime Statistics Bureau" in San Francisco is, and I don't think I want to know, but one of the most well-established facts about murder in the United States is that it's pretty racially segregated. Whites kill whites, blacks kill blacks, etc. But today Trump decided to tweet the CSB graphic on the right, for no readily apparent reason. And wouldn't you know it: it contains a wee racial error. It claims that most whites are killed by blacks, but in 2014, which is the latest full-year homicide data available from the FBI, 82 percent of whites were killed by other whites and only 15 percent were killed by blacks.

Trump's tweeted graphic swaps the the numbers for the offender's race—but only for white victims. For black victims, the numbers in the graphic are roughly correct. This makes it look like blacks kill everyone. And just in case these numbers are too subtle for you, it includes a stereotypical black thug to make sure you get the picture. Donald Trump has found his audience, and he knows what they want. So he's giving it to them.

UPDATE: Come on, folks. This graphic is not "controversial" and it's not "questionable." It's wrong. Period. The numbers for white victims are swapped in a grossly obvious way intended to make a racist point. FFS.

Father Coughlin Is Alive and Well in Today's GOP

| Sun Nov. 22, 2015 11:44 AM EST

Let's see. Over the past few days and weeks, Donald Trump has said:

More generally, Trump has said that we're going to have to do things that were "unthinkable" a year ago. Considering the list of things he apparently believes are perfectly thinkable right now, that sends chills down your spine. And yet, this man continues to lead the GOP race and appears to be gaining momentum from his Father Coughlinesque brand of xenophobia and fearmongering.

How does this happen? A big part of it is because other high-profile Republicans are too cowardly to fight back. Nearly every Republican governor has jumped on the vile, big-talking bandwagon of refusing to allow any Syrian refugees to settle in their states. Every Republican presidential candidate favors a ban on accepting further Muslim Syrian refugees. Jeb Bush thinks we should only accept Christian refugees from Syria. Ted Cruz isn't a fan of "government registries" but otherwise thinks Trump is great. Straight-talking Chris Christie dodges when he's asked if existing Syrian refugees should be kicked out of New Jersey. Marco Rubio dodges when he's asked if we might have to close down mosques.

Overall, with the semi-honorable exception of Jeb Bush, no Republican candidate has been willing to seriously push back on either Trump's old Mexican demagoguery or his shiny new Muslim demagoguery. All this despite the fact that Mexican immigration is down and the United States hasn't suffered a significant attack from overseas terrorists in over a decade. All it took to wake this latent hysteria was some terrorist activity in other countries. God help us.

How Good a Dealmaker Is Donald Trump, Anyway?

| Sun Nov. 22, 2015 1:12 AM EST

Here is Donald Trump on who he listens to regarding economic issues:

Honestly, I feel that I have such a vast feeling for it that I really—you know, Milton Friedman was good—but I don’t really listen to anybody. I just put it in and I have a feeling for, it’s almost common sense, it’s a business instinct.

Translation: Milton Friedman is the only conservative economist he can think of. And he probably wouldn't listen to the guy if he were still alive anyway. Why mess with his killer instincts?

Which raises two questions. First: How good a developer is Donald Trump? Seriously. My sense is that he's about a 5 on a scale of 1-10. He's had some successes, he's had some failures, and he seems to have found a decent—but hardly dazzling—niche in golf resorts. Overall, he started with a lot of money and has since grown his business at roughly the rate of the economy. Not bad, but nothing to crow about.

And second: why is it that we seem to have heard nothing about Trump from other developers? They'd have the best read on how good he really is, after all. If he were truly brilliant, I figure he would have been soliciting testimonials all over the place. I haven't seen any. But if he's a second-rater with a big mouth, I figure we would have heard that too. But I haven't. I haven't really heard anything. Do developers not like to talk smack about each other because they never know where their next deal might come from? Do they just generally shun publicity? Do they genuinely not know much about Trump because he doesn't really do much business these days aside from golf courses, branding deals, and TV shows?

What's the deal here? Trump must have a reputation within the New York developer community. So what is it?