TPM Cafe: Opinion

Very few things are able to bring together the left and right in contemporary American politics, but Donald Trump’s proposal to halt all Muslim immigration (and tourism) to the United States seems to have done just that.

Every presidential contender on both sides of the aisle condemned the proposal immediately and absolutely. Jeb Bush tweeted that “Donald Trump is unhinged.” Martin O’Malley argued that the proposal “removes all doubt” that Trump “is running for President as a fascist demagogue." Carly Fiorina called the proposal “a dangerous overreaction.” Hillary Clinton said it was “reprehensible, prejudiced, and divisive."

New Hampshire GOP chair Jennifer Horn called the proposal “un-Republican, unconstitutional, and un-American.”

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A small but dangerous group of Islamic extremists, operating out of the shadows of brutal dictatorships and striking out at the international community. Multiple undeclared wars over more than a decade that entangle the United States against this group and its allies and occasion rhetoric about the clash of religions and civilizations—rhetoric that a presidential administration is quick to counter with clarity and force. Refugees fleeing these war-torn Muslim nations in search of a new start and better life in America. The turn of the 19th century sure sounds familiar—and has a great deal to teach us here in the 21st.

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Just hours after claiming victory in a GOP presidential undercard debate in Wisconsin, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie found himself at the center of a new set of legal filings in the seemingly never-ending federal Bridgegate case involving three of his former top aides and appointees.

Among the revelations found in discovery motions filed by attorneys for former Port Authority deputy executive director Bill Baroni and onetime Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly are that David Wildstein, the government’s chief witness against the two, took a hard drive from Baroni’s Port Authority computer with him when he left the agency in December 2013. He subsequently turned it over to prosecutors in the office of U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Paul Fishman.

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During the last month the long-awaited, heavily-promoted decline in Donald Trump’s standing in the Republican presidential nominating contest has finally begun to occur. But aside from a small reshuffling of the order in the “lanes” (e.g., Rubio moving past Bush among Establishment Republicans and Cruz moving past Huckabee, Santorum and Jindal among experienced Christian Right candidates) to which the candidates have been assigned by the punditocracy, the big beneficiary of softening support for Trump has been another candidate with no experience in elected office, Dr. Ben Carson. He is running either first or a strong second in virtually every national poll, and is now routinely leading polls of Iowa as well. His approval ratings, moreover, are extremely high, and best in the field. It’s safe to say he is almost universally admired by GOP voters.

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On Monday afternoon in the atrium of the law school on the Newark, N.J. campus of Rutgers University, President Barack Obama announced that his administration would no longer allow most federal agencies to ask job applicants about their criminal backgrounds during the early stages of the federal hiring process. That change, called ‘ban the box’ by growing ranks of supporters, was announced by the president following a visit to a residential drug rehabilitation center and a roundtable with several former inmates who had been assisted by judges, prosecutors, and parole officers in making transitions to more stable circumstances.

For the crowd of about 150 who had been mingling in the room for several hours before the president’s late afternoon remarks, the ‘ban the box’ portion of the speech may have been Mr. Obama’s best line. As Donald Trump would have noticed, it got the biggest applause. That’s not surprising given that some of the New Jersey state legislators in the room had supported a state-level law banning inquires into many public and private sector job applicants’ criminal records. Signed in 2014 by N.J. Gov. and Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie, the law took effect earlier this year.

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Wednesday the most important economic/fiscal policy development of the entire presidential cycle occurred in Washington: The GOP-controlled House approved a two-year budget deal that takes away every conservative point of leverage until after the elections. It confirmed for the rank-and-file conservative “base” every suspicion about the gutless and treacherous Republican Establishment.

Yet in a GOP presidential debate Wednesday evening, the budget deal barely came up. Instead, for a variety of reasons, the candidates mostly took turns attacking the big dumb abstraction of Big Government as the cause of every conceivable problem, with Hillary Clinton and the feckless CNBC debate moderators getting beaten up nearly as much as Washington.

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Even before former Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) ended his brief and rather un-energetic campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, his campaign was dropping hints that he might pursue an independent presidential candidacy instead. And he confirmed that interest in his Tuesday press conference making his withdrawal from the Democratic contest official:

Saying he is still considering an independent run, though — for which he said he was confident he could get more support than he did in his quest for the Democratic nomination — Webb pointed to an increasingly disillusioned middle in the country that is hungry for a different kind of candidate.

"Poll after poll shows that a strong plurality of Americans is neither Republican nor Democrat. Overwhelmingly they're independents," Webb said. "Our political candidates are being pulled to the extremes. They are increasingly out of step with the people they are supposed to serve."

Webb is ignoring the abundant evidence that a majority of self-identified “independents” are functionally either Democrats or Republicans, with another chunk of “independents” not much bothering to participate in elections. But still, is there any possible traction for an indie candidate in 2016, whether it’s Webb or campaign finance reform crusader Larry Lessig or (despite his pledge to the contrary) Donald Trump?

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Even for those with more than a passing interest in American political history, the name Walter Mondale usually symbolizes one and only one thing: one of the worst electoral defeats in the history of the presidency. Running against popular incumbent Ronald Reagan in the 1984 election, Mondale won only the District of Columbia and his home state of Minnesota (and that by fewer than 5,000 votes), garnering a meager 13 electoral votes to Reagan’s 525. It was the worst defeat for any Democratic presidential candidate in American history, a landslide loss so striking that it has understandably become synonymous with Mondale’s name in our political narratives.

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