TPM Cafe: Opinion

Four years ago tomorrow, a Republican presidential nominating process was turned upside down by the late but very heavy entrance of a candidate who instantly became the front-runner: former Texas governor Rick Perry. He announced his candidacy in Charleston at the Red State Gathering, the annual meeting of very intense conservative activists convened by Erick Erickson. It all but eclipsed Michele Bachmann’s victory in the Iowa GOP Straw Poll the same day.

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Rick Perlstein is the national correspondent of The Washington Spectator, on whose site this article first appeared. This piece was updated by the Spectator on August 13 to remove the word "racist" from the headline, and has been similarly adjusted here. An apology from the author and a response from Spectator editor Lou Dubose were also appended to the original article and have been replicated here at the bottom of the piece.

You know that flag? The one that supposedly honors history but actually spreads a pernicious myth? And is useful only to venal right-wing politicians who wish to exploit hatred by calling it heritage? It’s past time to pull it down.

Oh, wait. You thought I was referring to the Confederate flag. Actually, I’m talking about this.

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Two weeks before the first GOP debate, when other presidential candidates were in Iowa or New Hampshire, two GOP contenders – Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz – were at a San Diego resort headlining the annual conference hosted by the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Commonly known as ALEC, the group is somewhat unique in American politics. It boasts more than 2,000 members of state legislatures, the vast majority of whom are Republican. And at its annual meetings and other sponsored retreats and events, it pairs those state lawmakers with lobbyists and executives from its roster of corporate members. Together, lawmakers and private interests jointly collaborate on subcommittees – ALEC calls them ‘task forces’ – to set the group’s legislative agenda and draft portable ‘model’ bills that can then be taken home to legislators’ home states to be introduced as their own initiatives. The private sector members of these task forces have veto power over each committee’s agenda and actions. ALEC’s agenda, therefore, always prioritizes the interests and voices of its donors over elected lawmakers.

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The conventional wisdom post the Republican Presidential Debate is that Donald Trump suffered a setback, due to the tough questioning he was run through by Rupert Murdoch’s minions. I’m not sure that is correct. The Trump partisan thinks the whole game is fixed, and so last week's debate looked just like one more attempt to fix the game by Murdoch and his consigliere, Roger Ailes. Trump refuses to spout Fox corporatist talking points, like in this exchange with Brett Baier:

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The first GOP presidential debate and Senator Chuck Schumer’s concurrent announcement that he will oppose the proposed deal with Iran are only the latest of many factors that have kept the Iran proposal atop the national and international headlines for weeks now. While the debate includes differing attitudes toward Iran, toward the prospect of further war in the Middle East, and toward the Obama administration’s foreign policies, it also reflects longstanding arguments about whether and how to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons, along with who should be entrusted with regulating and inspecting them.

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Whether any of the Republican candidates for president will be perceived as having “won” the first prime time debate of this year’s primary season is unclear. In the initial coverage of the debate, however, one winner has emerged: Fox News. Many observers praised the tough questioning of the candidates. A particular target for rave reviews was news anchor Megyn Kelly. “She may not be in the presidential race, but it looks like Megyn Kelly earned at least the popular vote on Thursday,” wrote Elle’s Mattie Kahn. Her hometown newspaper beamed with pride about the debate’s “star.” And there’s plenty more where that came from.

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The Fox News ratings grab disguised as a Republican primary debate went basically as most expected: Donald Trump trolled America, Jeb Bush pretended he was running against Clinton already, Ben Carson got the race question. But there was one moment of genuine surprise: When asked about gay rights, Ohio Gov. John Kasich drew one of the biggest applause lines of the night with statements that sounded kind of, sort of like acceptance.

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The Republican Party has famously missed most of the markers set out for it in the RNC’s so-called “autopsy report” in March of 2013. The party hasn’t gotten behind comprehensive immigration reform. It hasn’t modified its approach on issues of concern to minorities or millennials generally. The latest assault on Planned Parenthood is not exactly designed to help Republicans win over women. And the number of Obama initiatives GOPers are swearing to reverse hasn’t promoted a sunny, forward-looking perspective for the party, either.

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The Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, announced on Monday by President Obama, sets the first-ever national standards for carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. These plants are the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the country, but even given these stakes, it’s surprising how highly the plan was anticipated.

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As the 2010 midterm elections approached, it initially looked organic: Dozens, sometimes even hundreds of people were attending congressional town halls across the country, turning every event into a referendum over the recently passed Affordable Care Act. At that point, “Obamacare” was still considered a slur rather than the now-popular health care reform act that has helps millions of people, and Democrats were scrambling to defend their support of a program that at that time had no lived experience to offer to critics.

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