Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 4, 2009

Commentary Conference of Ideas Aboard the Navigator

Last night’s exciting and unpredictable election returns suggest 2010 is going to be a political year not only of enormous consequence but also very, very interesting. We’ll be discussing it, and many other things, at the COMMENTARY Conference of Ideas, taking place from August 4 through August 11, 2010, aboard the Regent Seven Seas Navigator as it travels through the waters of Alaska. I’ll be there, and so will Jennifer Rubin, and so will Michael Medved, and so will Elliott Abrams, and so will the great World War II historian Andrew Roberts, and so will Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter. There will be speeches, panel discussions, dinners with the panelists and speakers, and plenty of time to relax and take in the sights and sounds of the most dramatically beautiful area in the Northern Hemisphere. Information on the Conference and Cruise can be found here.

Last night’s exciting and unpredictable election returns suggest 2010 is going to be a political year not only of enormous consequence but also very, very interesting. We’ll be discussing it, and many other things, at the COMMENTARY Conference of Ideas, taking place from August 4 through August 11, 2010, aboard the Regent Seven Seas Navigator as it travels through the waters of Alaska. I’ll be there, and so will Jennifer Rubin, and so will Michael Medved, and so will Elliott Abrams, and so will the great World War II historian Andrew Roberts, and so will Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter. There will be speeches, panel discussions, dinners with the panelists and speakers, and plenty of time to relax and take in the sights and sounds of the most dramatically beautiful area in the Northern Hemisphere. Information on the Conference and Cruise can be found here.

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Do Words Matter?

Today in Cairo, Hillary Clinton held a joint news conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Ali Aboul Gheit, in which she was asked about the “shape of the Palestinian state in the U.S. opinion.” Here is the first part of her response:

Well, I can repeat to you what President Obama said in his speech at the United Nations and what he said here in Cairo — that the United States believes that we need a state that is based on the territory that has been occupied since 1967. And we believe that that is the appropriate approach. It is what has been discussed when my husband was president with Yasser Arafat, and it is what has been discussed between the Israelis and the Palestinians and the Bush Administration when President Abbas has been there. [Emphasis added.]

In fact, that was not the position of either the Clinton or the Bush administration. On the contrary, both administrations provided Israel with explicit written statements (in 1997 in a letter from Secretary of State Christopher, and in 2004 in a letter from President Bush) that the peace process must provide Israel with “defensible borders” — which no one can reasonably argue means the 1967 ones.

Hillary is aware, or should be, that the words “the territory” or “all of the territories” are loaded diplomatic phrases. They are the phrases the Soviet Union unsuccessfully attempted to insert in UN Resolution 242 in 1967, which the U.S. explicitly rejected.

The U.S. insisted that the resolution refer only to a withdrawal from an unspecified portion of “territories.” Immediately after the Six-Day War, the Joint Chiefs of Staff had drawn up for President Johnson a map of defensible borders for Israel — with a memorandum describing why, from a military standpoint, Israel would need to retain the “commanding terrain” and other “key terrain” east of the 1967 borders. No rational state would trade strategic military land for a paper promise of peace, particularly when that land has been used multiple times to launch a war against it.

Today the Egyptian Foreign Minister capitalized on Hillary’s answer, immediately asking if he could “follow up” on what she had just stated:

… this position that was just stated by Secretary Clinton — we say that we approve it and we are in agreement totally with it. We support it fully, we support fully this U.S. position because it reflects a conviction that — of a Palestinian state that is capable, that will be on all of the territories that were occupied in 1967 and that will be a hundred percent of those territories, because a hundred percent of those territories goes to the Palestinians despite the (inaudible) that would happen.

And with this, also East Jerusalem is for the Palestinians. With this, this is clear and with this such position, we support the U.S. fully. [Emphasis added.]

Hillary did not seek to clarify or modify Gheit’s summary of the U.S. position.

An Israeli withdrawal from “all of the territories” on the West Bank is inconsistent with the governing document of the peace process, inconsistent with the policies of prior U.S. administrations, inconsistent with written assurances those administrations provided Israel, and inconsistent with President Obama’s frequent pledges of “unwavering support” for Israeli security.

In his 2008 “Let Me Be Clear” speech to AIPAC, Obama said that “any agreement” with the Palestinian people must provide Israel with “defensible borders.” It will be important to hear what he has to say about this subject (among others) when he addresses several thousand Jewish activists next week at the General Assembly.

Today in Cairo, Hillary Clinton held a joint news conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Ali Aboul Gheit, in which she was asked about the “shape of the Palestinian state in the U.S. opinion.” Here is the first part of her response:

Well, I can repeat to you what President Obama said in his speech at the United Nations and what he said here in Cairo — that the United States believes that we need a state that is based on the territory that has been occupied since 1967. And we believe that that is the appropriate approach. It is what has been discussed when my husband was president with Yasser Arafat, and it is what has been discussed between the Israelis and the Palestinians and the Bush Administration when President Abbas has been there. [Emphasis added.]

In fact, that was not the position of either the Clinton or the Bush administration. On the contrary, both administrations provided Israel with explicit written statements (in 1997 in a letter from Secretary of State Christopher, and in 2004 in a letter from President Bush) that the peace process must provide Israel with “defensible borders” — which no one can reasonably argue means the 1967 ones.

Hillary is aware, or should be, that the words “the territory” or “all of the territories” are loaded diplomatic phrases. They are the phrases the Soviet Union unsuccessfully attempted to insert in UN Resolution 242 in 1967, which the U.S. explicitly rejected.

The U.S. insisted that the resolution refer only to a withdrawal from an unspecified portion of “territories.” Immediately after the Six-Day War, the Joint Chiefs of Staff had drawn up for President Johnson a map of defensible borders for Israel — with a memorandum describing why, from a military standpoint, Israel would need to retain the “commanding terrain” and other “key terrain” east of the 1967 borders. No rational state would trade strategic military land for a paper promise of peace, particularly when that land has been used multiple times to launch a war against it.

Today the Egyptian Foreign Minister capitalized on Hillary’s answer, immediately asking if he could “follow up” on what she had just stated:

… this position that was just stated by Secretary Clinton — we say that we approve it and we are in agreement totally with it. We support it fully, we support fully this U.S. position because it reflects a conviction that — of a Palestinian state that is capable, that will be on all of the territories that were occupied in 1967 and that will be a hundred percent of those territories, because a hundred percent of those territories goes to the Palestinians despite the (inaudible) that would happen.

And with this, also East Jerusalem is for the Palestinians. With this, this is clear and with this such position, we support the U.S. fully. [Emphasis added.]

Hillary did not seek to clarify or modify Gheit’s summary of the U.S. position.

An Israeli withdrawal from “all of the territories” on the West Bank is inconsistent with the governing document of the peace process, inconsistent with the policies of prior U.S. administrations, inconsistent with written assurances those administrations provided Israel, and inconsistent with President Obama’s frequent pledges of “unwavering support” for Israeli security.

In his 2008 “Let Me Be Clear” speech to AIPAC, Obama said that “any agreement” with the Palestinian people must provide Israel with “defensible borders.” It will be important to hear what he has to say about this subject (among others) when he addresses several thousand Jewish activists next week at the General Assembly.

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Immediate Fallout

One immediate fallout of the NY-23 experience: the Republican Senate Campaign Committee is bugging out of any contested primaries. ABC News reports:

“We will not spend money in a contested primary,” Sen. John Cornyn, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told ABC News in a telephone interview today. “There’s no incentive for us to weigh in,” said Cornyn, R-Texas. “We have to look at our resources. . . . We’re not going to throw money into a [primary] race leading up to the election.” Cornyn said his pledge extends to races for open Senate seats — not incumbents who may face primaries next year. The NRSC so far has endorsed candidates in four open Senate seats — Florida, Missouri, Illinois, and Pennsylvania.

The biggest loser: Charlie Crist, who was banking on help in his race against Marco Rubio, a popular figure with the conservative base. Cornyn has learned a lesson it seems: no more picking the nominees behind closed doors, as Dede Scozzafava had been, he says. And he certainly got this right: “Endorsements, frankly, are overrated. … They can to some extent be a negative.” Hmm. Sounds like the wrath of the base permeated the GOP establishment’s inner sanctum.

Well, success in politics often comes from learning from your errors and making course corrections. If Beltway Republicans have gotten a scare and learned from the NY-23, that may in the end redound to their benefit in 2010.

One immediate fallout of the NY-23 experience: the Republican Senate Campaign Committee is bugging out of any contested primaries. ABC News reports:

“We will not spend money in a contested primary,” Sen. John Cornyn, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told ABC News in a telephone interview today. “There’s no incentive for us to weigh in,” said Cornyn, R-Texas. “We have to look at our resources. . . . We’re not going to throw money into a [primary] race leading up to the election.” Cornyn said his pledge extends to races for open Senate seats — not incumbents who may face primaries next year. The NRSC so far has endorsed candidates in four open Senate seats — Florida, Missouri, Illinois, and Pennsylvania.

The biggest loser: Charlie Crist, who was banking on help in his race against Marco Rubio, a popular figure with the conservative base. Cornyn has learned a lesson it seems: no more picking the nominees behind closed doors, as Dede Scozzafava had been, he says. And he certainly got this right: “Endorsements, frankly, are overrated. … They can to some extent be a negative.” Hmm. Sounds like the wrath of the base permeated the GOP establishment’s inner sanctum.

Well, success in politics often comes from learning from your errors and making course corrections. If Beltway Republicans have gotten a scare and learned from the NY-23, that may in the end redound to their benefit in 2010.

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The New Karine A

Israeli Navy commandos seized a cargo ship last night en route from Iran to Syria. It contained 10 times the arms that the Karine A attempted to deliver from Iran to the Palestinians in 2002, enough weapons, according to the head of the Israeli Navy, to keep Hezbollah supplied in a hot war for a month. Along with 3,000 rockets, the ship contained:

107-millimeter rockets, 60-millimeter mortars, 7.62-rifle Kalashnikov-ammunition, F-1 grenades and 122-millimeter Katyusha rockets. On the side of some of the cases inside the containers the words “parts of bulldozers” was written.

The Syrian foreign minister, Walid Moallem, soared to Baghdad Bob levels of hilarity by trying to deny the reality of what the Israelis discovered.

“Unfortunately there are official pirates disrupting the movement of goods between Iran and Syria,” he told reporters on a visit to Teheran. “I stress, the ship was not carrying Iranian arms bound for Syria, nor was it carrying material for manufacturing weapons in Syria. It was carrying [commercial] goods from Syria to Iran.”

Moallem says there were no arms on board. The IDF has released a video of the ship’s weapons being unloaded in the port of Ashdod. There are rows and rows of mortar shells, rockets, and crates filled with grenades:

What will Obama say about all this? Being that evidence of Iranian-Syrian hostile intent complicates the administration’s desire for “engagement,” whatever that means anymore, the answer is: probably nothing.

What will the human-rights hustlers say? Where is Judge Goldstone? Where is the flurry of outraged press releases from Human Rights Watch? These weapons are intended for one purpose only — to terrorize Israeli civilians and drag the region into war. Shouldn’t this be an easy call for peace-loving human-rights activists? HRW has condemned Israel for violating international law over the way it funds public schools. I would bet a large sum that HRW will say nothing about the 500 tons of arms Iran just tried to send to Hezbollah. Priorities, you see.

And where is the UN Security Council? The arms ship violates numerous UNSC resolutions banning Iran from exporting weapons and forbidding the arming of Hezbollah. Don’t expect any leadership from the Obama administration on this score, either; to make a big deal out of Iranian bad faith would be tantamount to admitting that the engagement policy is the stuff of fantasy.

Israeli Navy commandos seized a cargo ship last night en route from Iran to Syria. It contained 10 times the arms that the Karine A attempted to deliver from Iran to the Palestinians in 2002, enough weapons, according to the head of the Israeli Navy, to keep Hezbollah supplied in a hot war for a month. Along with 3,000 rockets, the ship contained:

107-millimeter rockets, 60-millimeter mortars, 7.62-rifle Kalashnikov-ammunition, F-1 grenades and 122-millimeter Katyusha rockets. On the side of some of the cases inside the containers the words “parts of bulldozers” was written.

The Syrian foreign minister, Walid Moallem, soared to Baghdad Bob levels of hilarity by trying to deny the reality of what the Israelis discovered.

“Unfortunately there are official pirates disrupting the movement of goods between Iran and Syria,” he told reporters on a visit to Teheran. “I stress, the ship was not carrying Iranian arms bound for Syria, nor was it carrying material for manufacturing weapons in Syria. It was carrying [commercial] goods from Syria to Iran.”

Moallem says there were no arms on board. The IDF has released a video of the ship’s weapons being unloaded in the port of Ashdod. There are rows and rows of mortar shells, rockets, and crates filled with grenades:

What will Obama say about all this? Being that evidence of Iranian-Syrian hostile intent complicates the administration’s desire for “engagement,” whatever that means anymore, the answer is: probably nothing.

What will the human-rights hustlers say? Where is Judge Goldstone? Where is the flurry of outraged press releases from Human Rights Watch? These weapons are intended for one purpose only — to terrorize Israeli civilians and drag the region into war. Shouldn’t this be an easy call for peace-loving human-rights activists? HRW has condemned Israel for violating international law over the way it funds public schools. I would bet a large sum that HRW will say nothing about the 500 tons of arms Iran just tried to send to Hezbollah. Priorities, you see.

And where is the UN Security Council? The arms ship violates numerous UNSC resolutions banning Iran from exporting weapons and forbidding the arming of Hezbollah. Don’t expect any leadership from the Obama administration on this score, either; to make a big deal out of Iranian bad faith would be tantamount to admitting that the engagement policy is the stuff of fantasy.

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Tom Friedman Bashes Contractors

It’s a little odd to see Tom Friedman, normally the high priest of globalism, in a lather about the use of contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq. Aren’t firms like KBR, DynCorp, Triple Canopy, and Blackwater models of the kind of entrepreneurial firms he normally trumpets if they’re producing widgets or microchips? In this case these companies are hired to produce security — an even more precious commodity. Admittedly, they don’t always do a good job; their failings are legion and some of them are cited by Friedman. But the U.S. government has had its share of failures too. (Remember Hurricane Katrina? Abu Ghraib? The bloated stimulus package?) That doesn’t mean we write off the government as a hopeless failure; rather we work to improve its effectiveness.

We should be doing the same with contractors unless we are prepared to eschew their use altogether, as Friedman implies we should. In that case we would have to either dramatically increase the size of our armed forces or dramatically downsize our commitments, in effect ceding Afghanistan to the Taliban. If we make the former choice — increasing the size of our military — we would have to increase defense spending considerably. I personally favor that option, but I don’t see a majority in Congress getting behind it. But then I also don’t see most Americans, despite their misgivings about the war, being willing to allow a Taliban takeover.

So we are left with the road of least resistance — the use of contractors. As I’ve argued in the past, mercenaries can actually do some good — more than UN blue helmets can. But they need a regulatory and legal framework that more closely integrates their operations with our military forces in the field and that holds them to account for wrongdoings. Working to design such a framework is a lot more useful than simply bemoaning the contractors’ existence — or poking our allies in the eye while you’re doing it. (Friedman claims we don’t have a “true global alliance” in Afghanistan, even though the military mission is being run by NATO with the participation of 41 nations that have ponied up well over 30,000 troops, not counting the American contingent.)

It’s a little odd to see Tom Friedman, normally the high priest of globalism, in a lather about the use of contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq. Aren’t firms like KBR, DynCorp, Triple Canopy, and Blackwater models of the kind of entrepreneurial firms he normally trumpets if they’re producing widgets or microchips? In this case these companies are hired to produce security — an even more precious commodity. Admittedly, they don’t always do a good job; their failings are legion and some of them are cited by Friedman. But the U.S. government has had its share of failures too. (Remember Hurricane Katrina? Abu Ghraib? The bloated stimulus package?) That doesn’t mean we write off the government as a hopeless failure; rather we work to improve its effectiveness.

We should be doing the same with contractors unless we are prepared to eschew their use altogether, as Friedman implies we should. In that case we would have to either dramatically increase the size of our armed forces or dramatically downsize our commitments, in effect ceding Afghanistan to the Taliban. If we make the former choice — increasing the size of our military — we would have to increase defense spending considerably. I personally favor that option, but I don’t see a majority in Congress getting behind it. But then I also don’t see most Americans, despite their misgivings about the war, being willing to allow a Taliban takeover.

So we are left with the road of least resistance — the use of contractors. As I’ve argued in the past, mercenaries can actually do some good — more than UN blue helmets can. But they need a regulatory and legal framework that more closely integrates their operations with our military forces in the field and that holds them to account for wrongdoings. Working to design such a framework is a lot more useful than simply bemoaning the contractors’ existence — or poking our allies in the eye while you’re doing it. (Friedman claims we don’t have a “true global alliance” in Afghanistan, even though the military mission is being run by NATO with the participation of 41 nations that have ponied up well over 30,000 troops, not counting the American contingent.)

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What Do They Do Now?

Had Bob McDonnell won by 6 or 10 points, or had Jon Corzine hung on for a close win, it would be business as usual in Washington. But McDonnell won big, and Corzine’s $22M couldn’t buy a win in one of the Bluest states. When big things happen, especially at the polls, elected officials take note. They are good at ignoring inconvenient data but very perceptive when it comes to their own political survival. So what is going through the minds of moderate and conservative Democratic lawmakers?

Dick Morris suggests that Blue Dogs “must hear hoof beats behind them” on ObamaCare:

The party discipline on which Obama depends to pass a health-care program that Americans reject by 42 percent for, 55 percent against (Rasmussen again) will only work if beleaguered Democratic incumbents can wrap themselves in Obama’s cloak and tough out the popular criticism. But the limits of Obama’s drawing power are readily apparent in the Republicans’ 20-point victory in Virginia and the race in New Jersey.

The White House may want us to believe that the elections last night didn’t matter or didn’t reflect unease with the leftward tilt in D.C., but nervous congressmen and senators aren’t likely to buy that. And in any case, why take the risk?

Then there is another big-government power grab — cap-and-trade. Dan Bowling, a Democrat in the House of Delegates, lost in a district with strong union backing on exactly this issue. He was simply tied to the issue by his party affiliation. Imagine how Democrats from West Virginia or Michigan or Indiana feel about casting a vote on the Pelosi/Boxer mammoth energy tax measure.

Then there is card check. Not only did Bob McDonnell mention it in nearly every speech and interview, so did the Attorney General-elect Ken Cuccinelli. How many takers to cast a vote on that one?

And so what then happens to the Obama agenda? The voters are wary of big government, and he is offering only more government. The voters turned out those who were tied to the Democrats’ policies, and Obama wants more of the same. The most likely scenario, if one believes that politicians value self-preservation above all else, is to trim back or jettison chunks of the ultra-Left agenda.

The White House will resist that suggestion. Maybe Democrats up for re-election in 2010 can be convinced to roll the dice with their political future. But how likely is that?

Had Bob McDonnell won by 6 or 10 points, or had Jon Corzine hung on for a close win, it would be business as usual in Washington. But McDonnell won big, and Corzine’s $22M couldn’t buy a win in one of the Bluest states. When big things happen, especially at the polls, elected officials take note. They are good at ignoring inconvenient data but very perceptive when it comes to their own political survival. So what is going through the minds of moderate and conservative Democratic lawmakers?

Dick Morris suggests that Blue Dogs “must hear hoof beats behind them” on ObamaCare:

The party discipline on which Obama depends to pass a health-care program that Americans reject by 42 percent for, 55 percent against (Rasmussen again) will only work if beleaguered Democratic incumbents can wrap themselves in Obama’s cloak and tough out the popular criticism. But the limits of Obama’s drawing power are readily apparent in the Republicans’ 20-point victory in Virginia and the race in New Jersey.

The White House may want us to believe that the elections last night didn’t matter or didn’t reflect unease with the leftward tilt in D.C., but nervous congressmen and senators aren’t likely to buy that. And in any case, why take the risk?

Then there is another big-government power grab — cap-and-trade. Dan Bowling, a Democrat in the House of Delegates, lost in a district with strong union backing on exactly this issue. He was simply tied to the issue by his party affiliation. Imagine how Democrats from West Virginia or Michigan or Indiana feel about casting a vote on the Pelosi/Boxer mammoth energy tax measure.

Then there is card check. Not only did Bob McDonnell mention it in nearly every speech and interview, so did the Attorney General-elect Ken Cuccinelli. How many takers to cast a vote on that one?

And so what then happens to the Obama agenda? The voters are wary of big government, and he is offering only more government. The voters turned out those who were tied to the Democrats’ policies, and Obama wants more of the same. The most likely scenario, if one believes that politicians value self-preservation above all else, is to trim back or jettison chunks of the ultra-Left agenda.

The White House will resist that suggestion. Maybe Democrats up for re-election in 2010 can be convinced to roll the dice with their political future. But how likely is that?

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Re: Some Thoughts on Barack Obama’s Awful Evening

Pete, your comprehensive analysis on the no-good, horrible evening for Democrats points to many dangers for the Congress and the president. It also highlights how counterproductive is their tendency to employ silly distractions and partisan jibes in lieu of serious governance.

It has become something of a fetish among Democrats these days to fixate on the  most trivial and irrelevant issues they can find. The White House spends its time attacking radio-talk-show hosts and Fox News. Jon Corzine went after his opponent’s weight. Creigh Deeds obsessed over a 20-year-old college paper. There is, in all these gambits, a fundamental contempt for voters and a smallness by those attempting to distract and befuddle their fellow citizens.

Are the voters to believe that Fox is the problem and not the president’s own policies? Should New Jersey voters think that Chris Christie’s girth is more important than the gluttony of spending in Trenton? And, really, did Virginia voters think school papers should dictate their votes? Democrats seemed to think so. The voters had other ideas.

This sort of politics by distraction is especially ineffective when voters have serious economic concerns. It is one thing to enjoy a good political jab when times are good, but when unemployment is at record levels, America is at war, and the voters’ unease with the leftward lurch of government is high, they are in no mood for petty games. To their credit, the voters in New Jersey and Virginia didn’t get distracted, and are not likely to in 2010 either.

The Democrats would do well then to drop the silly stuff and get to the real issues confronting the voters. As Pete points out, the Democrats aren’t going to win elections running against George W. Bush. It turns out they aren’t going to win running against Fox News, term papers, or Dunkin’ Donuts.

Pete, your comprehensive analysis on the no-good, horrible evening for Democrats points to many dangers for the Congress and the president. It also highlights how counterproductive is their tendency to employ silly distractions and partisan jibes in lieu of serious governance.

It has become something of a fetish among Democrats these days to fixate on the  most trivial and irrelevant issues they can find. The White House spends its time attacking radio-talk-show hosts and Fox News. Jon Corzine went after his opponent’s weight. Creigh Deeds obsessed over a 20-year-old college paper. There is, in all these gambits, a fundamental contempt for voters and a smallness by those attempting to distract and befuddle their fellow citizens.

Are the voters to believe that Fox is the problem and not the president’s own policies? Should New Jersey voters think that Chris Christie’s girth is more important than the gluttony of spending in Trenton? And, really, did Virginia voters think school papers should dictate their votes? Democrats seemed to think so. The voters had other ideas.

This sort of politics by distraction is especially ineffective when voters have serious economic concerns. It is one thing to enjoy a good political jab when times are good, but when unemployment is at record levels, America is at war, and the voters’ unease with the leftward lurch of government is high, they are in no mood for petty games. To their credit, the voters in New Jersey and Virginia didn’t get distracted, and are not likely to in 2010 either.

The Democrats would do well then to drop the silly stuff and get to the real issues confronting the voters. As Pete points out, the Democrats aren’t going to win elections running against George W. Bush. It turns out they aren’t going to win running against Fox News, term papers, or Dunkin’ Donuts.

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Ah, That’s a “No”

While Obama’s domestic agenda was being roundly snubbed by voters in New Jersey and Virginia, his foreign-policy approach was getting a thumbs-down from the Supreme Leader. This report tells us:

Iran’s supreme leader, spurning what he described as several personal overtures from President Obama, warned Tuesday that negotiating with the United States would be “naive and perverted” and that Iranian politicians should not be “deceived” into starting such talks. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 70, said Obama has approached him several times through oral and written messages. It was the second time that Khamenei, who wields ultimate political and religious authority in Iran, has referred to the president’s outreach.

It was indeed the “harshest” response — mocking and brimming with contempt for the obsessive entreaties of the president. It seems that our quietude over the June 12 elections and the ensuing crackdown, our willingness to look the other way on the Qom facility, and our fervent efforts at engagement have not gotten us much. Only the ridicule of the Iranian regime, which is now emboldened and unafraid of any consequences that might flow from telling the president to take a flying leap.

But Hillary was so sincere, so heartfelt in her plea for the Iranians to accept the enrichment deal. Well yes, which likely convinced the mullahs, if they needed any more convincing, that the Obami are desperate to stay engaged. Funny: the more cowering and cringing we appear, the more bellicose becomes the Iranian regime. Almost like the entire gambit of apology, remorse, willful blindness, and engagement was counterproductive, right?

While Obama’s domestic agenda was being roundly snubbed by voters in New Jersey and Virginia, his foreign-policy approach was getting a thumbs-down from the Supreme Leader. This report tells us:

Iran’s supreme leader, spurning what he described as several personal overtures from President Obama, warned Tuesday that negotiating with the United States would be “naive and perverted” and that Iranian politicians should not be “deceived” into starting such talks. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 70, said Obama has approached him several times through oral and written messages. It was the second time that Khamenei, who wields ultimate political and religious authority in Iran, has referred to the president’s outreach.

It was indeed the “harshest” response — mocking and brimming with contempt for the obsessive entreaties of the president. It seems that our quietude over the June 12 elections and the ensuing crackdown, our willingness to look the other way on the Qom facility, and our fervent efforts at engagement have not gotten us much. Only the ridicule of the Iranian regime, which is now emboldened and unafraid of any consequences that might flow from telling the president to take a flying leap.

But Hillary was so sincere, so heartfelt in her plea for the Iranians to accept the enrichment deal. Well yes, which likely convinced the mullahs, if they needed any more convincing, that the Obami are desperate to stay engaged. Funny: the more cowering and cringing we appear, the more bellicose becomes the Iranian regime. Almost like the entire gambit of apology, remorse, willful blindness, and engagement was counterproductive, right?

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Some Thoughts on Barack Obama’s Awful Evening

1. The outcome of the New Jersey governor’s race and the magnitude of the victory by Bob McDonnell and other Virginia Republicans will have unusually far-reaching ramifications for a off-year election, including on the health-care debate. I have said before that while politicians follow polls carefully, they really follow election results carefully. And the results in New Jersey and Virginia will send a message to many Democrats: Obamaism in general – and ObamaCare in particular – can be hazardous to your political health.

To read more of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

1. The outcome of the New Jersey governor’s race and the magnitude of the victory by Bob McDonnell and other Virginia Republicans will have unusually far-reaching ramifications for a off-year election, including on the health-care debate. I have said before that while politicians follow polls carefully, they really follow election results carefully. And the results in New Jersey and Virginia will send a message to many Democrats: Obamaism in general – and ObamaCare in particular – can be hazardous to your political health.

To read more of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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Dead Mayors Win

In Pennsylvania, the dead don’t vote, they win elected office. At least that’s what happened in Tarentum and Freeport, both cities in Allegheny County, when the two candidates for mayor — both of whom died in September — ran unopposed. James Wolfe, who served as mayor of Tarentum for 32 years, died Sept. 10, and it is unclear why his name wasn’t taken off the ballot before ballots went to the printer on Sept. 21. His family or the state Democratic party would have had to request it. Bob Ravotti, who was mayor of Freeport for 28 years, died after the deadline on Sept. 28.

The Pittsburgh Tribune review spoke to Angie Reeves of Tarentum, who said she did not cast a vote for mayor. “No, I didn’t know who to vote for,” she said. “I didn’t want to vote for James Wolfe because he died. Why the heck would you vote for a dead person? I would rather not vote.”

Others felt voting for the dead was a fitting tribute. Frances Alter said she voted for the deceased Wolfe because “We won’t find anyone as good as him.”

In Pennsylvania, the dead don’t vote, they win elected office. At least that’s what happened in Tarentum and Freeport, both cities in Allegheny County, when the two candidates for mayor — both of whom died in September — ran unopposed. James Wolfe, who served as mayor of Tarentum for 32 years, died Sept. 10, and it is unclear why his name wasn’t taken off the ballot before ballots went to the printer on Sept. 21. His family or the state Democratic party would have had to request it. Bob Ravotti, who was mayor of Freeport for 28 years, died after the deadline on Sept. 28.

The Pittsburgh Tribune review spoke to Angie Reeves of Tarentum, who said she did not cast a vote for mayor. “No, I didn’t know who to vote for,” she said. “I didn’t want to vote for James Wolfe because he died. Why the heck would you vote for a dead person? I would rather not vote.”

Others felt voting for the dead was a fitting tribute. Frances Alter said she voted for the deceased Wolfe because “We won’t find anyone as good as him.”

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Primaries

Bob McDonnell last night credited Lieut. Gov. Bill Bolling with avoiding a primary fight for the gubernatorial nomination and choosing instead to run for re-election. It prevented a bloody primary and allowed McDonnell from the get-go to focus on suburban, independent, female, and other critical voters without much concern about the hard-core GOP base. Creigh Deeds, by contrast, had a long primary fight, and then only four months to raise money and mount a general-election campaign effort. In my talks with them, the McDonnell camp emphasized this as a key factor in McDonnell’s win.

Meanwhile, in the NY-23, we had the specter of basically two Republicans, with no primary to sort things out and narrow the field. Yes, Dede Scozzafava exited the field, but not until the bitter end and not before endorsing the Democrat. Moreover, she still drained off over 5,700 votes.

The bottom line: in swing states and jurisdictions, Republicans can win if they put together a coalition of independents and conservatives. If they spend time fighting among themselves or dividing the vote, that’s a harder proposition.

Bob McDonnell last night credited Lieut. Gov. Bill Bolling with avoiding a primary fight for the gubernatorial nomination and choosing instead to run for re-election. It prevented a bloody primary and allowed McDonnell from the get-go to focus on suburban, independent, female, and other critical voters without much concern about the hard-core GOP base. Creigh Deeds, by contrast, had a long primary fight, and then only four months to raise money and mount a general-election campaign effort. In my talks with them, the McDonnell camp emphasized this as a key factor in McDonnell’s win.

Meanwhile, in the NY-23, we had the specter of basically two Republicans, with no primary to sort things out and narrow the field. Yes, Dede Scozzafava exited the field, but not until the bitter end and not before endorsing the Democrat. Moreover, she still drained off over 5,700 votes.

The bottom line: in swing states and jurisdictions, Republicans can win if they put together a coalition of independents and conservatives. If they spend time fighting among themselves or dividing the vote, that’s a harder proposition.

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Bigger than Allen

Bob McDonnell’s usually poised and unflappable communications director Tucker Martin for once was speechless last night. Upon learning that McDonnell had won voter-rich Fairfax County, where many a Republican had lost hope of a statewide victory over the past eight years, Martin’s face registered disbelief and then elation. He caught his breath and regained his composure, reminding the media that this win was bigger than George Allen’s in 1993 (McDonnell won 58.7 percent, Allen 58.3).

Exit polling reveals the degree to which McDonnell unraveled the winning coalition that delivered the state for Obama in 2008. McDonnell won independent voters by a 2 to 1 margin. He won 60 percent of seniors and won the vote of working women, despite the Washington Post‘s best efforts. Among those most worried about the economy, McDonnell won 70 percent. He won 57 percent of the suburban vote. It is true that the electorate was more Republican (51 percent of those who voted had voted for John McCain), but McDonnell unmistakably made inroads with groups needed for majorities in most swing states.

It is by any account a win of historic proportions. And Democrats will need to busy themselves figuring out how to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself.

Bob McDonnell’s usually poised and unflappable communications director Tucker Martin for once was speechless last night. Upon learning that McDonnell had won voter-rich Fairfax County, where many a Republican had lost hope of a statewide victory over the past eight years, Martin’s face registered disbelief and then elation. He caught his breath and regained his composure, reminding the media that this win was bigger than George Allen’s in 1993 (McDonnell won 58.7 percent, Allen 58.3).

Exit polling reveals the degree to which McDonnell unraveled the winning coalition that delivered the state for Obama in 2008. McDonnell won independent voters by a 2 to 1 margin. He won 60 percent of seniors and won the vote of working women, despite the Washington Post‘s best efforts. Among those most worried about the economy, McDonnell won 70 percent. He won 57 percent of the suburban vote. It is true that the electorate was more Republican (51 percent of those who voted had voted for John McCain), but McDonnell unmistakably made inroads with groups needed for majorities in most swing states.

It is by any account a win of historic proportions. And Democrats will need to busy themselves figuring out how to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Even the Washington Post can spot trouble for Democrats: “The most significant change came among independent voters, who solidly backed Democrats in 2006 and 2008 but moved decisively to the Republicans on Tuesday, according to exit polls. In Virginia, independents strongly supported Republican Robert F. McDonnell in his victory over Democrat R. Creigh Deeds, while in New Jersey, they supported Republican Chris Christie in his win over Democratic Gov. Jon S. Corzine.”

It’s hard to miss the message: “The overweening liberal-progressive confidence of late suddenly looks misplaced. The party’s Blue Dogs have a basis for their misgivings. Republicans, too timid until now, have an opening to find ideas to give obviously anxious voters an alternative to the party in power.”

The New York Times figured it out too: “The Republican victories in the races for New Jersey and Virginia governors put the party in a stronger position to turn back the political wave President Obama unleashed last year, setting the stage for Republicans to raise money, recruit candidates and ride the excitement of an energized base as the party heads into next year’s midterm elections.”

Gary Bauer gets it right: “This should be a wake-up call to the Congress. Democratic members are getting ready to force another big government budget-busting bill misnamed health care ‘reform’ on the American people. This comes on the heels of failed bailouts that didn’t protect jobs and proposed food and energy taxes that will bust family budgets. With 2010 around the corner, Democrats may find themselves unemployed like their fellow Americans if they continue their support for such gluttonous, big-government proposals.”

Remember when Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine was on the short list for vice president? Larry Sabato reminds us how far he has fallen: “Kaine is also high up on the list of losers. He presided over an electoral debacle in his own state. Unlike his predecessor, Gov. Mark Warner, he failed to prepare the way for a Democratic successor in Richmond and probably made a serious mistake in becoming chairman at all. It took him out of state too much and made him a partisan rather than a unifying figure.”

Even before the election returns, Harry Reid was hinting that health-care reform might slip into next year. Well, with big thrashings in two key states, the passage of time might be in order before asking his members to cast votes that could put them on the unemployment line with Jon Corzine.

The House overwhelmingly votes to condemn the Goldstone report, with nearly all the “nays” coming from Democrats. It seems that, contrary to J Street’s spin, House members felt more than comfortable calling out Goldstone’s attack on Israel’s right of self-defense.

Honduras stands up for itself: “A Honduran legislative committee voted not to convene a special session of Congress to consider returning the country’s ousted leader, in a move likely to dash chances of Manuel Zelaya’s returning to power even temporarily under a deal brokered last week by the U.S. … The decision means a presidential election scheduled for Nov. 29 could take place before any vote on Mr. Zelaya.” Translation: Butt out, Hillary Clinton.

Even the Washington Post can spot trouble for Democrats: “The most significant change came among independent voters, who solidly backed Democrats in 2006 and 2008 but moved decisively to the Republicans on Tuesday, according to exit polls. In Virginia, independents strongly supported Republican Robert F. McDonnell in his victory over Democrat R. Creigh Deeds, while in New Jersey, they supported Republican Chris Christie in his win over Democratic Gov. Jon S. Corzine.”

It’s hard to miss the message: “The overweening liberal-progressive confidence of late suddenly looks misplaced. The party’s Blue Dogs have a basis for their misgivings. Republicans, too timid until now, have an opening to find ideas to give obviously anxious voters an alternative to the party in power.”

The New York Times figured it out too: “The Republican victories in the races for New Jersey and Virginia governors put the party in a stronger position to turn back the political wave President Obama unleashed last year, setting the stage for Republicans to raise money, recruit candidates and ride the excitement of an energized base as the party heads into next year’s midterm elections.”

Gary Bauer gets it right: “This should be a wake-up call to the Congress. Democratic members are getting ready to force another big government budget-busting bill misnamed health care ‘reform’ on the American people. This comes on the heels of failed bailouts that didn’t protect jobs and proposed food and energy taxes that will bust family budgets. With 2010 around the corner, Democrats may find themselves unemployed like their fellow Americans if they continue their support for such gluttonous, big-government proposals.”

Remember when Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine was on the short list for vice president? Larry Sabato reminds us how far he has fallen: “Kaine is also high up on the list of losers. He presided over an electoral debacle in his own state. Unlike his predecessor, Gov. Mark Warner, he failed to prepare the way for a Democratic successor in Richmond and probably made a serious mistake in becoming chairman at all. It took him out of state too much and made him a partisan rather than a unifying figure.”

Even before the election returns, Harry Reid was hinting that health-care reform might slip into next year. Well, with big thrashings in two key states, the passage of time might be in order before asking his members to cast votes that could put them on the unemployment line with Jon Corzine.

The House overwhelmingly votes to condemn the Goldstone report, with nearly all the “nays” coming from Democrats. It seems that, contrary to J Street’s spin, House members felt more than comfortable calling out Goldstone’s attack on Israel’s right of self-defense.

Honduras stands up for itself: “A Honduran legislative committee voted not to convene a special session of Congress to consider returning the country’s ousted leader, in a move likely to dash chances of Manuel Zelaya’s returning to power even temporarily under a deal brokered last week by the U.S. … The decision means a presidential election scheduled for Nov. 29 could take place before any vote on Mr. Zelaya.” Translation: Butt out, Hillary Clinton.

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Now They Tell Us

You have to laugh. The Washington Post spent much of the fall trying to convince Virginia voters that Bob McDonnell was a raving right-winger bent on enacting his extreme social agenda and subjugating women. The voters disagreed — by nearly 18 percent. So now the Post‘s editors tell us that he ran a “disciplined, focused and generally positive, issues-based campaign.” What’s more: “Mr. McDonnell, the Republican former state attorney general, rose above the toxic partisanship that suffuses electoral politics to conduct himself with civility, dignity and an even temper.” That would be the toxic partisanship stirred up by the Post‘s obsession with a 20-year-old thesis.

We eagerly await the Post ombudsman’s inquiry into the Post‘s campaign coverage. There will be one, right? It will be interesting to see how it was that a major paper became so invested in an issue of so little consequence and failed to spot a tidal-wave election in its own backyard.

You have to laugh. The Washington Post spent much of the fall trying to convince Virginia voters that Bob McDonnell was a raving right-winger bent on enacting his extreme social agenda and subjugating women. The voters disagreed — by nearly 18 percent. So now the Post‘s editors tell us that he ran a “disciplined, focused and generally positive, issues-based campaign.” What’s more: “Mr. McDonnell, the Republican former state attorney general, rose above the toxic partisanship that suffuses electoral politics to conduct himself with civility, dignity and an even temper.” That would be the toxic partisanship stirred up by the Post‘s obsession with a 20-year-old thesis.

We eagerly await the Post ombudsman’s inquiry into the Post‘s campaign coverage. There will be one, right? It will be interesting to see how it was that a major paper became so invested in an issue of so little consequence and failed to spot a tidal-wave election in its own backyard.

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Not Watching?

Leave it to the humility-challenged Obama White House to make an awful night for Democrats a tad worse by once again displaying arrogance and contempt for the voters. Robert Gibbs made a special point of telling us that Obama wasn’t watching the returns. Just as Obama feigned ignorance of the tea-party protesters outside his windows in April, we are led to believe Obama is ignoring an electoral thumping for his party.

Too busy to notice that his party lost when he went all out for Jon Corzine? Really too busy not deciding on an Afghanistan-war strategy to see that Virginia was lost by 18 points. Oh, really? The White House once again insults the voters’ intelligence by implying that the president is unaware or indifferent to significant opposition.

Perhaps he should start watching Fox News more often. He might find some interesting roundtable discussions that could explain why voters in two states rebelled against liberal tax-and-spend policies and gravitated to fiscally conservative messages. Sometimes it is a dangerous thing to put your fingers in your ears and hum when bad news comes along. Better to find out why voters are upset, take the concerns seriously, and adjust course. But not this White House. They know best.

Leave it to the humility-challenged Obama White House to make an awful night for Democrats a tad worse by once again displaying arrogance and contempt for the voters. Robert Gibbs made a special point of telling us that Obama wasn’t watching the returns. Just as Obama feigned ignorance of the tea-party protesters outside his windows in April, we are led to believe Obama is ignoring an electoral thumping for his party.

Too busy to notice that his party lost when he went all out for Jon Corzine? Really too busy not deciding on an Afghanistan-war strategy to see that Virginia was lost by 18 points. Oh, really? The White House once again insults the voters’ intelligence by implying that the president is unaware or indifferent to significant opposition.

Perhaps he should start watching Fox News more often. He might find some interesting roundtable discussions that could explain why voters in two states rebelled against liberal tax-and-spend policies and gravitated to fiscally conservative messages. Sometimes it is a dangerous thing to put your fingers in your ears and hum when bad news comes along. Better to find out why voters are upset, take the concerns seriously, and adjust course. But not this White House. They know best.

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Re: Chris Christie, Big Man

John, perhaps nothing better captured the petty and ham-fisted style of Jon Corzine than his snide digs at Christie’s physique. Christie replied with good humor, telling voters that Corzine should “man up. If you say I’m fat, I’m fat. Let’s go. Let’s talk about it,” and that “we have to spur our economy. Dunkin’ Donuts, International House of Pancakes, those people need to work too.”

Who knows what the difference is in a close race, but at some point voters, well, size up the candidates and decide who they like. Corzine was the smaller of the two, in every sense.

John, perhaps nothing better captured the petty and ham-fisted style of Jon Corzine than his snide digs at Christie’s physique. Christie replied with good humor, telling voters that Corzine should “man up. If you say I’m fat, I’m fat. Let’s go. Let’s talk about it,” and that “we have to spur our economy. Dunkin’ Donuts, International House of Pancakes, those people need to work too.”

Who knows what the difference is in a close race, but at some point voters, well, size up the candidates and decide who they like. Corzine was the smaller of the two, in every sense.

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Who Lost NY-23?

The defeat of Conservative-party candidate Douglas Hoffman in the special election for New York’s 23rd congressional district was the only bright spot for the Democrats on a night when the governor’s races in both New Jersey and Virginia (states that Barack Obama won last year) were swept by the Republicans. So we can expect the Dems to tout their capture of a seat that had been in the hands of the Republicans for over a century as a rejoinder to those who will say this election is a harbinger of a GOP revival in 2010.

The main talking Democratic point about this race, both before and after the voting, was that the collapse of the campaign of the liberal Republican who had been tapped by the state party to try and hold the seat was due to the intolerance of a radical-Right fringe bent on purging the party of any but the most rabid conservatives. In this way Dede Scozzafava, the Republican candidate who dropped out of the race over the weekend and then endorsed Democrat Bill Owens, was elevated from an inept candidate whose positions were largely indistinguishable from that of the Democrats and who was heading for inevitable defeat, to a martyr for the lost cause of liberal Republicanism. The narrative portrays the Republican grassroots, aided and abetted by national conservative personalities such as Sarah Palin and Dick Armey, as bullies who can’t abide the presence of a pro-choice woman in their ranks and would rather lose an election with a conservative than win with a “moderate.”

The loss of this seat ought to cast a shadow on what was otherwise a big night for Republicans. But the villains here aren’t the tea-party rabble-rousers who sunk Scozzafava, but a local and state Republican leadership that imposed an incompetent candidate on a Republican electorate eager for leaders who could offer an alternative to the Democrats, not someone who would be a halfhearted supporter of Obama’s agenda. The victory of Chris Christie in New Jersey illustrates that there is room in the GOP for Blue State candidates who wouldn’t pass the muster of the conservative rank and file in more conservative states. But the decision to foist Scozzafava on Upstate New York Republicans was a cynical ploy that was always destined to fail even if a credible Conservative-party alternative hadn’t emerged. It is one thing to seek to open up parties to candidates who are not ideological purists. It is quite another to nominate a person whose positions put her on the side of the Democrats on virtually every major issue that Republicans care about. Scozzafava’s candidacy may have seemed like a good idea to GOP big shots, but since she refused to take up any issues that might have rallied the Republican faithful to her side and lacked the ability to appeal to the dissatisfied independent voters that deserted the Democrats elsewhere this fall, what possible chance did she ever have of winning?

The lesson here is not the danger that the right poses to the future of the Republicans but rather that a party leadership that is insensible to the interests of its voters is doomed to defeat. Had the Republicans chosen a candidate who could have counted on the support of the party’s base to start with, the seat could have been held despite the changing demographics in the district. It was Scozzafava’s dismal campaign that lost the seat, not the fact that it was impossible to convince most Republicans that they had no reason to support her.

The defeat of Conservative-party candidate Douglas Hoffman in the special election for New York’s 23rd congressional district was the only bright spot for the Democrats on a night when the governor’s races in both New Jersey and Virginia (states that Barack Obama won last year) were swept by the Republicans. So we can expect the Dems to tout their capture of a seat that had been in the hands of the Republicans for over a century as a rejoinder to those who will say this election is a harbinger of a GOP revival in 2010.

The main talking Democratic point about this race, both before and after the voting, was that the collapse of the campaign of the liberal Republican who had been tapped by the state party to try and hold the seat was due to the intolerance of a radical-Right fringe bent on purging the party of any but the most rabid conservatives. In this way Dede Scozzafava, the Republican candidate who dropped out of the race over the weekend and then endorsed Democrat Bill Owens, was elevated from an inept candidate whose positions were largely indistinguishable from that of the Democrats and who was heading for inevitable defeat, to a martyr for the lost cause of liberal Republicanism. The narrative portrays the Republican grassroots, aided and abetted by national conservative personalities such as Sarah Palin and Dick Armey, as bullies who can’t abide the presence of a pro-choice woman in their ranks and would rather lose an election with a conservative than win with a “moderate.”

The loss of this seat ought to cast a shadow on what was otherwise a big night for Republicans. But the villains here aren’t the tea-party rabble-rousers who sunk Scozzafava, but a local and state Republican leadership that imposed an incompetent candidate on a Republican electorate eager for leaders who could offer an alternative to the Democrats, not someone who would be a halfhearted supporter of Obama’s agenda. The victory of Chris Christie in New Jersey illustrates that there is room in the GOP for Blue State candidates who wouldn’t pass the muster of the conservative rank and file in more conservative states. But the decision to foist Scozzafava on Upstate New York Republicans was a cynical ploy that was always destined to fail even if a credible Conservative-party alternative hadn’t emerged. It is one thing to seek to open up parties to candidates who are not ideological purists. It is quite another to nominate a person whose positions put her on the side of the Democrats on virtually every major issue that Republicans care about. Scozzafava’s candidacy may have seemed like a good idea to GOP big shots, but since she refused to take up any issues that might have rallied the Republican faithful to her side and lacked the ability to appeal to the dissatisfied independent voters that deserted the Democrats elsewhere this fall, what possible chance did she ever have of winning?

The lesson here is not the danger that the right poses to the future of the Republicans but rather that a party leadership that is insensible to the interests of its voters is doomed to defeat. Had the Republicans chosen a candidate who could have counted on the support of the party’s base to start with, the seat could have been held despite the changing demographics in the district. It was Scozzafava’s dismal campaign that lost the seat, not the fact that it was impossible to convince most Republicans that they had no reason to support her.

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