Saturday night’s ABC News/Des Moines Register Republican presidential debate marks a crucial turning point in the long-running series of forums featuring the GOP contenders. For months, Americans have been tuning in to their favorite political reality show to chart the progress of the contenders. But this will be the first time the candidates have met since Herman Cain’s withdrawal. Jon Huntsman, who failed to get the requisite poll support to be included, will also not be present. But most of all, it will mark an important showdown between the two Republicans who appear to be the frontrunners: Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney.
Gingrich’s improbable rise to the top of the polls — both in Iowa and nationally — has been the political story of the last few weeks. But just as important has been the decline of Romney. After months of being the default frontrunner while a number of conservatives — Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Cain — had their moments before falling back, for the first time it appears that Romney’s campaign is in trouble. If he cannot slow Gingrich’s momentum, the former Massachusetts governor’s once bright chances of winning the nomination may be lost. That means he needs to come out swinging at Gingrich; so the expectation is that this debate could be an old-fashioned brawl.
As Newt Gingrich has catapulted ahead of the rest of the GOP field, he’s now experiencing the early phase of what will be a relentless, weeks-long assault by the other candidates, former House colleagues, and what some conservatives scornfully call “the establishment.”
It’s reasonable to assume that the sheer number and velocity of the charges will take their toll on Gingrich. But part of me wonders.
New Yorkers of a certain age remember John Lindsay, mayor from 1966 to 1974. Tall and very good looking, he looked like a WASP straight out of central casting, although he did not come from old money. But he grew up in the WASP-world of New York, educated at Buckley, St. Paul’s, and Yale and went to all the right parties.
He was an utterly disastrous mayor of New York, doubling the city’s budget and then some and cooking the books to make ends seem to meet. But he left City Hall before the banks slammed down the window, so it was his successor, Abe Beame (as unWASP-like as they come, extremely short, and anything but good-looking) who reaped the whirlwind Lindsay had sowed. (Beame had helped–he’d been the city controller in the second Lindsay administration.)
President Obama is clearly peeved at suggestions that he is “soft” on foreign policy. On Thursday, he shot back:
“Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22 out of 30 top al-Qaeda leaders who’ve been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement,” the president declared. “Or whoever’s left out there, ask them about that.”
Join us Saturday night as senior online editor Jonathan S. Tobin live blogs the ABC News/Des Moines Register Republican presidential debate from Iowa. So tune in to tomorrow to ABC at 9 pm and then log on to Commentarymagazine.com for live insights as the remaining GOP contenders have at it once again.
Michele Bachmann is the fifth GOP candidate to turn down an invitation to Newsmax’s Donald Trump-moderated debate, which means the only two candidates scheduled to attend are Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. Trump claims that the Republicans are dropping out because they’re too scared to debate him. (As Ed Morrisey wonders, “why would a ‘moderator’ debate the candidates anyway?”) Nevertheless, it’s not even clear whether the debate will actually happen:
In an interview with radio host Don Imus on Friday, Trump said he wasn’t sure if the debate would actually happen. “I don’t know. I have to look into it,” he said, adding, “They really want me to drop my status as a potential person to run as an independent, and, honestly, I don’t think I’m going to do that. I’m not going to drop it.”
Trump berated the candidates who are skipping the debate, telling Imus, “some of them don’t have the courage to do” it. “A couple of them called me and told me, ‘Donald, I’m just too nervous to do it,’” he said.
It’s amazing how this debate went from a major campaign event to a colossal failure in a matter of days. What was Newsmax thinking by bringing Trump on as the moderator in the first place? And why wouldn’t the magazine get rid of him once candidates started dropping out?
Support appears to be building, at least among Syrians, for some of the steps I suggested in this Weekly Standardeditorial about how to topple Bashar Assad. In today’s New York TimesI note the following:
A senior defector from the Syrian Foreign Ministry said in an interview that if outside countries armed the opposition rebels, it could inflict serious damage on the Assad government. The official, a former ambassador who fled to Istanbul from Syria last week, said Mr. Assad’s state security apparatus was operating in up to 50 locations in Syria. He argued that surgical strikes, in conjunction with a buffer zone inside Syria put into effect by Turkey, would prove fatal to the government.
Opposition officials said the Free Syrian Army, the Syrian National Council and the Turkish government had been engaged in talks in recent days over the formation of a buffer zone in the event of a huge number of refugees.
Peter Beinart and the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg claim that Israel must evacuate the West Bank of Jews or be faced with an inevitable scenario in which they will either be forced to accept a one-state solution that means the end of Zionism or be branded an apartheid state. As I wrote in part one of this series, this is a false choice because the settlements would not prevent a two-state solution if the Palestinians were willing to accept one in the first place. In part two, I also pointed out it is wrong to assume that Americans would ever be willing to try to force Israel to risk the creation of a new Hamasistan in the West Bank without even a dubious promise of peace. They understand the Palestinian goal is not so much independence as it is to destroy Israel. But are Beinart and Goldberg right when they assume that the continuance of a standoff will eventually destroy the pro-Israel consensus and lead to a majority of Jews and non-Jewish Americans to view Israel as an apartheid state?
The South African analogy, so popular with leftist anti-Zionists and so feared by some liberals, is utterly inapplicable for a number of reasons.
Mike Allen at Politico has an enjoyable profile of Fox News anchor Bret Baier, highlighting Baier’s reputation for conducting thorough and fair interviews regardless of the subject’s partisan affiliation. It’s no surprise that early in the interview with Allen, Baier mentions his respect for the late Tim Russert, who was both a gentleman to his subjects and a tough and well-prepared interviewer.
Baier has also seemingly taken up the mantle of his predecessor, Brit Hume. Russert and Hume–two solid choices for a news anchor to model his work ethic and style after. Yet it also reveals one of the advantages Fox—which routinely humiliates its liberal counterparts CNN and MSNBC in the competition for ratings—has in the great cable news competition. No one at Fox’s rivals possesses the combination of talent and evenhandedness that Baier has.
As I wrote earlier, Peter Beinart and the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg claim Israel must evacuate the West Bank of Jews or be faced with an inevitable scenario in which they will either be forced to accept a one-state solution that means the end of Zionism or be branded an apartheid state. But this is a false choice. The settlements would not prevent a two-state solution if the Palestinians were willing to accept one in the first place. They have repeatedly refused such a deal, and the continuance of the status quo is their fault, not Israel’s.
But is it reasonable to assume, as do Beinart and Goldberg, that eventually Americans will tire of supporting Israel under these circumstances? Will the leftist repetition of the false canard that Israel is a new South Africa wear down the bipartisan coalition that is the foundation of the U.S.-Israel alliance and, sooner or later, force the Israelis to either accept the creation of a Palestinian state — that may or may not be controlled by the Islamists of Hamas — or be abandoned by Washington and American Jewry? The answer is no. Such a notion assumes that Americans–Jews and non-Jews alike–are indifferent to Israel’s security dilemma or ignorant or indifferent to the nature of the Palestinian political culture or their intentions.
There’s been a growing divide between the Democratic Party and the top progressive institutions when it comes to Israel. As Ben Smith reported earlier this week, groups like the Center for American Progress and Media Matters are taking an increasingly hostile stance toward the Jewish state, and hiring staffers who share that perception.
Few would deny that this is a real issue, and Smith provides plenty of quotes to back up his story. And yet Center for American Progress is pushing back by claiming that the quotes were taken out of context and fed to the media as part of an “orchestrated” smear campaign by former AIPAC spokesman and lobbyist Josh Block.
It has become a common theme heard on the left that unless Israel radically changes its posture toward the peace process it will be faced with two huge threats to its existence. One is the notion that in a few years, if not sooner, there will be only one option available to resolve the conflict: the so-called “one-state solution” in which Israel is forced to treat Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza as Israeli citizens and thus lose its Jewish majority–meaning the end of the Jewish state and Zionism. The other is that if it refuses to accept that grim fate, then it will be branded as the new South Africa, and a Jewish apartheid state would lose the support of both American Jewry and the United States. This means that sooner or later Israel must unilaterally evacuate the West Bank and even parts of Jerusalem as it did in Gaza in 2005 or face the consequences.
While it’s no surprise a lightweight leftist like Peter Beinart would promote this sort of false choice, it’s disappointing to see Jeffrey Goldberg endorse this prediction. Writing in the Atlantic, Goldberg claims that while he doesn’t entirely agree with Beinart, he thinks his thesis is logical. But despite their claim that it is inevitable, neither conclusion is remotely likely even if, as is almost certain, the peace process remains stalled for the foreseeable future.
Two damaging attacks have been launched at Newt Gingrich this morning from other Republicans, which both paint him as out of step with the conservative movement. The first is a Romney campaign ad that blasts Gingrich for his criticism of Paul Ryan’s entitlement reform plan last spring:
It’s now clear that a central theme of President Obama’s re-election will be income inequality. Earlier this week, in a speech in Kansas, Obama said inequality – at “levels we haven’t seen since the Great Depression” — “distorts our democracy.” The president went on to say, “This kind of gaping inequality gives lie to the promise that’s at the very heart of America: That this is a place where you can make it if you try.”
The issue of income inequality has several dimensions to it, some of which I’ll address in the future. For now, though, I simply wanted to make the point that, as this superb analysis by the House Budget Committee demonstrates, the common understanding of government’s role in income inequality has things backwards: Tax reforms have resulted in a more progressive federal income tax, while government transfer payments have become less progressive. Why? In large measure because rising entitlement payments are going to wealthier seniors at the expense of lower-earning young people. For example, in 1979, households in the lowest income quintile received 54 percent of all transfer payments; in 2007, those households received just 36 percent of transfers.
Nathan Englander has a very strong story in the current issue of The New Yorker that deserves to be read by anyone curious to understand the fault lines of contemporary Jewish identity. The story’s conclusion reveals the gravitational pull the emotional drama of the Holocaust continues to exert on so many Jews, and how hard it remains for so many to find Jewish meaning in anything else.
The story focuses on a reunion of once estranged high school yeshiva classmates from Queens. One has married a secular Jew and lives a nonobservant life with their teenage son in Florida. The other went haredi along with her husband, who are now visiting from Jerusalem. Told from the point of view of the unnamed secular husband who, over alcohol and other things, slowly grows comfortable with the “strict, suffocatingly austere people visiting.” As the conversation turns more familiar, it inevitably folds into a consideration of the Holocaust, which seems to be the only point of strong Jewish connection they all share.