Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Good morning everyone! Happy Tuesday to you!

Joining today's show are Mike Barnicle, Harold Ford Jr., Kristen Soltis Anderson, Ian Bremmer, Chris Cillizza, Hallie Jackson, Fmr. Gov. Jeb Bush, Mark Halperin, Rep. Ed Royce, Valerie Jarrett, Lawrence O’Donnell, John Ridley, Fmr. Sen. Rick Santorum, Sara Eisen and more. In the NBC NewsSurveyMonkey Poll: 51% 'absolutely certain' about voting for Donald J. Trump. And, in Taiji Japan today, I am,sorry to say they've got a pod. A small pod of Risso's dolphins has been netted into ‪#‎TheCove‬. In the first drive of 2016, a pod of 16 Risso's dolphins has been slaughtered in ‪#‎TheCove‬. The slaughtered pod of Risso's are now at the butcher shop. It's a sad morning for dolphins. 16 Risso's lost their lives. None were deemed fit for captivity. So they were all killed for their meat. 2016-5-01 ‪#‎dolphinproject‬ ‪#‎tweet4dolphins‬

Donald Trump and the rise of the self-financed billionaire candidate. So it's 2016 now. And it seems we can ring in the New Year with Donald Trump's declaration that he's going to spend $2 million a week on TV ads from here on out.

The idea of the self-financed plutocratic presidential candidate has been floating around the national discussion for a while now. But Donald Trump in 2016 may finally deliver the proof of concept.

There are a few reasons for Trump's decision. For one, while he still dominates in Republican polling, Cruz and Rubio ate away at his lead over the last two months even as Carson deflated. Two, as much fun as it's been watching the GOP debates and Trump's slow slide into proto-fascism, we haven't actually had any state primaries yet. That process is about to begin in earnest, so everyone and their respective campaigns will have to knuckle down and start getting real.

Of course, that the Republican campaign so far has occurred entirely within the arena of the media provided a huge implicit subsidy to Trump's campaign efforts. It put Trump's brand front and center in the national discourse at remarkably little cost to the candidate himself. As of December of 2015, Trump's campaign had spent a mere $5.6 million. That's compared to the $14.5 million dropped by Jeb Bush's campaign, and another $50 million spent by his super PAC, all to little effect. Trump's spending is also a weird hybrid of money from his various business ventures, around $1.8 million he personally loaned his campaign in the second quarter of this year, and another $3.9 million from donors.

All this certainly means he can self-finance: $2 million a week would be in line with Trump's willingness to drop $100 million of his own money on the campaign. And even if you take the low-end estimates of his net worth, he could do it. But Trump's billionaire status also let him enter the Republican contest with already-established cultural clout and a ready-made brand. So he's actually had to spend less than his rivals even as he maintains the capacity to spend more.

The next key point is he can do all this without any aid from the Republican establishment or party infrastructure. As Trump keeps reminding everyone, he is beholden to no one. So he's been able to capture 35 percent of likely GOP voters, even as he stands GOP orthodoxy on its head. He's eschewed hardline supply-siderism and openly indulged racism and xenophobia much more than any other candidate.

This brings us to the part where the Trump phenomenon stops being about Trump specifically, and starts stretching out into something much bigger — and potentially, another 2016 watershed.

Billionaires sponsoring a pet candidate are nothing new, and the roster of potential mega-wealthy backers for this year is impressive. But the new thing that 2016 may bring about is that these backers have seemingly become distinctly unhappy with their candidates.

Billionaire Charles Koch, generally a right-wing stalwart, has said that while he'll help the Republican Party in the general, he has no desire to pour his money into a particular candidate in the primary. And a recent piece by Gabriel Sherman in New York Magazine shared a remarkable anecdote in which Daniel Loeb — a New York hedge fund manager, and part of the group of mega-donors that collectively handed Karl Rove's super PAC $117 million in 2012 — was so infuriated by the Republican implosion that year that he considered suing Rove's operation for investor fraud. There's something hilarious about a financial master of the universe thinking he can approach a political campaign like any other business deal. But as Sherman laid out, Loeb is not alone in his displeasure. And that displeasure is changing the way the wealthy approach their relationship with politicians.

Robert Mercer, a computer scientist and hedge fund billionaire who has dropped $30 million on various super PACs supporting Ted Cruz, is also the owner of a political data firm. He's bringing the firm's methods to bear on how the super PACs operate, and shunning TV ad buys for radio, internet, and field organizing. Chicago Cubs owner Joe Ricketts and winemaker John Jordan each have their own super PACs and staff, applying methods and approaches to ads that these men shape themselves. Other wealthy players are setting up their own operations that ostensibly support particular GOP candidates, but are also devoted to very specific projects, like digging up dirt on Democrats or stumping for corporate tax reform.

In other words, the standard relationship — in which the mega-wealthy give money, and then politicians and their professional coteries decide how to spend it — is collapsing in favor of a new model where the donor class takes a much more hands-on approach. Which raises the question: If the donor class is insisting on making more of the decisions itself, and if they have the raw financial capacity to bankroll their own campaigns anyway, how long until they just cut out the middle men entirely and start running for office themselves, a la Trump or Michael Bloomberg?

This has the capacity to upend the established habits of American politics. Like all groups of voters, the rich are actually a weird mutant mix of leftwing and rightwing impulses, sometimes taking those impulses to far greater extremes than is sanctioned by the DC establishment bubble. That in turn could activate normally dormant or uninterested constituencies. Again, Trump is a good example of this: His particular mix of politics is appealing to poorer white voters in the south and industrial north who identify as Republican, but might actually vote Democrat under different circumstances.

Nor is this a phenomenon limited to conservative politics: Rumors are flying that Tom Steyer, the California billionaire who started the environmental group NextGen Climate, is going to make a run for the California governorship once Jerry Brown hits his term limit in 2018. Steyer has turned fighting climate change into something of a personal crusade, and has begun taking on the question of inequality as well.

Now, none of this is a done deal. Being able to bankroll campaign staffs and ad buys is one thing. Being able to run a successful get-out-the-vote organization is quite another, and pulling that off still arguably requires making nice with the established party infrastructures.

But Trump doesn't have to win in 2016 to make other billionaire activists take notice. He just has to make a serious dent. If he can demonstrate that a quixotic self-financed billionaire candidate is a model that can work, well then political life in America could get very interesting after 2016.

Donald Trump takes on rivals while tossing hecklers. One by one, Donald Trump fended off hecklers as his presidential tour swung into a packed Tsongas Center in Lowell last night, where the GOP front-runner unloaded on Hillary Clinton and rally-crashers.

“Get ’em out,” the front-running Republican said at several points when protesters attempted to shout him down as more than 8,000 backers cheered and chanted, “USA! USA!”

“I remember with Bernie Sanders when they took over his microphone,” Trump said, referring to an August event in Seattle where the Democratic candidate was forced from the stage by members of Black Lives Matter. “That’s not happening with Trump, folks. Wasn’t that a pathetic scene? I don’t want to have to help Hillary (Clinton), though in a certain way I’d rather run against Hillary.”

Trump’s near hourlong rally featured the blustery bravado that has come to define his events, with the billionaire running through his promises of building a wall on the southern border to trashing the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran.

But protesters have become as common as sound bites. At one point before Trump took the stage, a speaker came over the microphone imploring attendees to hold up their Trump signs and alert security to any potential hecklers.

“They remind me a little bit of Hillary,” Trump said after one group of protesters was led out by police. “No energy, no stamina, no strength.”

“Over the last eight years, we should have been doing the same thing,” Trump said of another.

Outside, protesters and Trump supporters stood on opposite sides of Martin Luther King Jr. Way before the event, jeering each other. The throng of around 75 protesters held signs such as “Dump Trump” and chanted toward a winding line of Trump supporters.

“How do you spell racist?” one protester yelled, to which the other protesters responded: “T-R-U-M-P!”

“Everything Donald Trump stands for is everything I’m against,” said Mary Hart of Lowell. “I find him to be a megalomaniac. I find that his grasp of politics and diplomacy is ridiculous. He is truly frightening.”

The protesters were cordoned off in a “Free Speech Area” by yellow caution tape. Occasionally a Trump supporter would walk by and make gestures, but it was otherwise peaceful.

From Trump to Clinton, the race for the White House is powered by delusion by Richard Wolffe: We have reached the point of the long presidential primaries where some clarity has normally been reached. After several months of overproduced TV debates, over-hyped candidate interviews and over-examined polls, the first votes are just one month away. Several candidates have already dropped out of the race; several more donors and hacks have either jumped or been pushed out the window. As George W Bush liked to say, it’s voting time.

But instead of clarity, the invisible primaries of this cycle – the phoney war phase – have brought us to a state of delusion. The chief culprit is Trumpmania: a chronic ailment that has engulfed everyone from the voters lining up to attend his freewheeling rallies to the august pundits who lined up to dismiss the supposed fad last year; from the horrified Republican establishment to the transfixed news media and, of course, the braggadocious candidate himself.

Delusion lies at the very heart of Trump’s appeal. His crowds want to believe that their country hasn’t and isn’t changing. They want to believe that the United States isn’t on a fast track to becoming a majority of minorities, and that same-sex marriage isn’t widely supported or even constitutional. They want to believe that the old economy can be pieced back together, and that technology can be turned back like Syrian refugees. That Barack Obama was nothing more than an illegitimate corruption of the American way of life. Most of all, they want to believe that a property developer-turned-TV star – who spells out his name in gold-painted letters on properties that he does not in fact own – can indeed “Make America Great Again!”

Trumpmaniacs hold their opinions truly, madly, deeply – and without any foundation in reality. They are the inheritors of what used to be a reactionary fringe of American conservatism. They are the modern-day version of George Wallace’s segregationists in Alabama; of the anti-international kooks of the John Birch Society; of Ross Perot’s anti-trade campaigners in the 90s; of Pat Buchanan’s anti-establishment “peasants with pitchforks”; of the anti-Obama Tea Party movement.

The problem is that their views no longer position them on the reactionary fringe of the Republican party. Given the positional and tonal overlap between three of the top Republican candidates – Trump, Ted Cruz and Ben Carson – the Trumpmaniacs represent almost two-thirds of the Republican party’s voters today. Their rise has tipped the formerly rational leadership of the conservative movement into the kind of disbelief that is clouding its own judgment. For months, the pundits and political establishment have insisted – against all the polling data – that Trump simply cannot win the Republican nomination.

It’s hard to say when the madness of this crowd began. It could have been the Gingrich revolution or the Clinton impeachment; it could have been the shock and awe of two long wars or the financial collapse.

But it’s easy to say who could have stopped this delusion. The Republican leadership in Congress could have tamped it down, but chose instead to ignite it. They portrayed Obama as a socialist crank and refused to shut down questions about his faith or his citizenship. They forecast an economic apocalypse in Obamacare, as well as nuclear war in the Middle East. They co-opted the spirit of the anti-establishment Tea Party, its rhetoric and its candidates, in the delusional hope that it would strengthen their hand. They were spectacularly wrong.

The party’s leading elected officials and donors have variously backed Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and Marco Rubio – the freshman who may be the last best hope of the Republican establishment.

Bush is languishing in single digits, and Walker has dropped out. As for Rubio’s backers, there is a delusional and wilful ignorance of his political stumbles. He recently sat down with a small New Hampshire newspaper, but failed to deploy the media charm as seen on TV. “It was like watching a computer algorithm designed to cover talking points,” wrote the Conway Daily Sun. “If there was a human side to the senator, a soul, it didn’t come across.” Last week he kicked off a traditional bus tour of Iowa, but the bus was just a prop: Rubio crossed the state instead by private plane. Add to that his disastrous attempt at immigration reform, and you see why establishment claims about the potency of Rubio are unravelling. He trails Trump in third place by as much as 29 points.

But delusion also fogs the Democratic view of the landscape. Many Democrats watch smugly as Hillary Clinton holds the centre ground of American politics. After all, her unlikely challenge from the Senate’s sole socialist, Bernie Sanders, is now dying in Iowa and struggling in New Hampshire.

Many of those Democrats mistake the weakness of the rest of the field as proof of the strength of the former secretary of state. Like Trump, Clinton seeks to attract the “squeezed” middle class, but it isn’t yet clear whether she can truly deliver that middle-class message. She has a 25-point economic plan to help them. But can she feel their pain, as Bill Clinton did?

The evidence is not promising. Clinton has styled herself as a compassionate grandmother, but the reaction has not been warm and cuddly. Her media team targeted Latino voters last month with a listicle about the seven ways the no-nonsense former diplomat was just like your abuela.

The result was multiple postings from real Latinos about how she was nothing like their grandmother, along with the hashtag #NotMyAbuela.

Turnout will be key for Clinton, and apathy – or downright disbelief – remains her greatest opponent. She will need the Democratic abuelas and the party’s African-American base to show up in numbers sufficient to swamp what is now overwhelmingly the Republican support base: of white voters without a college education.

This is why Clinton’s best political friends are Trump and Obama: for both, in different ways, can drive minority voters to the polls – and towards a Democrat ticket – much more effectively than she can.

In their most delusional moments, Republican strategists like to claim that Trump has been good for them because he brings stratospheric TV ratings to their candidates’ debates. With tens of millions of Americans watching Republicans make their case against Clinton, the party is reaching huge numbers of normally disconnected voters for the first time, they say.

They want to believe that might be pivotal. But it won’t. Kim Kardashian also attracts a huge audience, and her husband, Kanye West, also threatens to run for president. Great TV characters do not make for great presidential candidates, but great ratings can add to the delusion. In a month’s time, the audience will vote for a winner in the caucuses of Iowa, and the reality show will turn into a real election. If the delusions survive those first votes, the Republican party will need years of therapy to recover.

Rubio, Cruz Ratchet Up Foreign Policy Feud. Just a few days into the New Year — but only 28 from the first nominating contest — the campaigns of Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio picked up right where they last left off: Sparring over national security.

Rubio issued the opening volley Monday with a sharp speech in New Hampshire that knocked "isolationist candidates more passionate about weakening our intelligence capabilities than about destroying our enemies," calling out Cruz in spirit if not in name.
But a pro-Cruz super PAC ratcheted up the long-simmering feud with the launch of an ad Monday that frames Rubio as an unserious dilettante on foreign policy more focused on fantasy football. Running for two weeks in Iowa on a $750,000 buy, it opens with scenes that hit on the unrest in the Middle East and the Syrian refugee crisis.

The ad closes with a clip cut from a good-humored video produced by Rubio's own campaign that shows him smiling, picking his fantasy football draft.

"Yeah, I know I have a debate," he says to someone on the phone. "But I've got to get this fantasy football thing right. Okay?"

On-screen text declares: "Tell Marco Rubio: America can't afford to gamble with its safety."

It's the group's first television ad of the cycle, and other Keep the Promise groups will spend another quarter million dollars to promote it on radio and digital avenues as well.

Kellyanne Conway, president of Keep the Promise I, said the country needs a "serious, thoughtful leader they can trust," not one who's joined with Democrats to support "amnesty."

"The nonsense of which candidate would you rather have a beer with or have in your Fantasy Football League has been replaced with a single, sober question: Who can you trust to keep Americans safe, stop terrorists, destroy ISIS and restore our standing in the world?" she added.

It's aimed at undercutting one of Rubio's main claims on the campaign trail, and one he repeated during his speech in New Hampshire Monday morning: That he is the only candidate "with a record of leadership and judgment."

But Rubio's campaign hit back on Twitter, suggesting the ad was hypocritical and the charge baseless by pointing to a number of Cruz's more lighthearted moments in the press.

""Wonder which Cruz-Simpson character @tedcruz pac thinks is best prepared to lead the country?" Rubio Rapid Response Director Joe Pounder tweeted, with a link to a BuzzFeed video of Cruz doing Simpsons impressions.

The back-and-forth is an early indication of the fierce battle that's sure to play out between the two candidates in the final sprint to Election Day in the early nominating states. Cruz and Rubio are seen as locked on a collision course for the nomination, Cruz picking up conservatives while Rubio works to shore up establishment support.

Their months-long feud began over immigration reform but has crystallized over foreign policy as the terrorist attacks across the globe in December focused the country's attention on national security.

While the two disagree on substance — Cruz takes a more cautious approach to US intervention abroad than Rubio, who advocates the overthrow of hostile dictators in the Middle East — the new Cruz super PAC ad suggests the debate could also morph into one of style, over which candidate can be better trusted to handle the security challenges confronting the nation. 

Bill Clinton Brushes Off Donald Trump, Saying 'Attempts to Take the Election' Are Nothing New. Former president Bill Clinton took the high road this morning in his first public reaction to Donald Trump since the GOP front-runner began attacking him as a "sexist.”

Asked by ABC News whether his sexual history was “fair game” in the campaign, Clinton said “the Republicans have to decide who they want to nominate. I'm trying to tell the Democrats and the country why I think Hillary would be the best president.”

“I think there's always attempts to take the election away from the people,” he continued.

He declined to elaborate on any of Trump’s claims.

Watch Donald Trump's First Campaign Television Ad
Bernie Sanders Slams Donald Trump for Attacks on Clintons

Clinton spoke to just over 700 supporters at Nashua Community College as he hit the campaign trail for the first time in 2016, touting Hillary Clinton as the only candidate who could restore America to prosperity.

Hillary Clinton, who held three town halls in New Hampshire Sunday, has put the brakes her usual Trump attacks since the New York real estate mogul began highlighting Bill Clinton’s sexual liaisons in the White House.

At times in 2008, President Clinton was called “a liability” to his wife’s campaign, veering off-message to attack Barack Obama. He kept his temper in check today, but offered some lines that could be construed as needling Trump’s anti-immigration policies.

Bill Clinton said the next president must “preserve our individual liberties, and our reputation for being an open country,” pointing to the story of a Muslim immigrant who took to his prayer mat after he narrowly avoided armed robbery, praying his family could join him in America.

“That guy is more representative of most Muslims in America than what happened in San Bernardino,” the former president said to applause.

He also dismissed the notion, held by some Trump supporters, that the business mogul might abandon his more outlandish plans once elected.

“It’s kind of scary this year,” he warned, “but believe it or not, most everybody actually tries to do what they say they're going to do when they're running. They're telling you what they believe. And so you've got to take them seriously.”

Trump, meanwhile, was slated to speak later today in Lowell, Massachusetts, less than 30 miles from where former President Clinton held his first event.

Clinton Maintains Lead Over Sanders Heading Into Primaries.

With the first democratic primary now less than a month away, Hillary Clinton holds a significant lead over Bernie Sanders, according to the latest NBC News|SurveyMonkey Weekly Election Tracking Poll for the week of December 28, 2015 through January 3, 2016. Clinton leads Sanders by a 17-point margin—53 to 36—with only 2% of registered Democrat and Democratic-leaning voters supporting Martin O'Malley. The poll was conducted online among a national sample of 3,700 adults aged 18 and over.

Sanders supporters are slightly less decided than Clinton supporters. More than half of voters who say they are supporting Clinton are absolutely certain they will vote for her in their state's democratic primary or caucus. Forty-four percent of Sanders supporters are absolutely certain they will vote for him heading into the primaries.
Among subgroups of Democrat or Democratic-leaning voters, Clinton gets more support from those who identify as moderate. Sanders draws more support from those who identify as liberal or very liberal.
Clinton also commands strong support from female voters and black voters, but Sanders and Clinton are nearly tied among white voters.
Josh Clinton contributed reporting. Graphics by Sam Petulla.

The NBC News|SurveyMonkey weekly election tracking poll was conducted online by SurveyMonkey from December 28, 2015-January 3, 2016 among a national sample of 3,700 adults aged 18 and over, including 3,181 who say they are registered to vote. Respondents for this survey were selected from the nearly three million people who take surveys on the SurveyMonkey platform each day. A full description of our methodology and the poll can be found here.

The poll was produced by the Data Analytics Lab of NBC News in conjunction with Penn's Program on Opinion Research and Election Studies with data collection and tabulation conducted by SurveyMonkey.

The President Speaks on Recommendations to Reduce Gun Violence

The White House
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