The exit polls of Illinois Republican primary voters seem to illustrate some basic facts on the race. For all of the complaints about Mitt Romney’s inability to seal the deal with the GOP base he has still managed to cobble together a coalition of moderates and mainstream conservatives that enabled him to continue to pile up victories. With the networks already projecting a big win for Romney tonight, the frontrunner is not only building his big delegate lead, he is also showing his ability to win large pluralities having long since broken through the ceiling of 25 percent that once characterized his support. The Santorum camp may say that losing a large blue state like Illinois doesn’t mean anything in the long run and complain about being outspent but this was probably his last chance to challenge and beat Romney in a state that wasn’t dominated by evangelicals and extreme “very conservative” voters — the only groups the Pennsylvanian wins. If the exit polls are anything close to accurate, then he has lost any opportunity to dent Romney’s aura of inevitability.
The other interesting takeaway from the exit poll is the disastrous showing of Newt Gingrich. As was the case in Michigan and Ohio, Gingrich was a non-factor in Illinois. Indeed, he is so far off the pace, that it may no longer be possible to argue that he is splitting the conservative vote and thereby allowing Romney to win instead of Santorum. Santorum may be looking forward to winning in Louisiana this weekend, but there just aren’t enough big states where he is likely to win to seriously believe that he can be stopped. When you consider that Santorum was looking very competitive in Illinois just a week ago, it appears that the tide has turned against him.
House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan’s latest budget plan includes a few deviations from last year, most notably to his Medicare reform proposal. Last spring, Democrats assailed Ryan and House Republicans for trying to “end Medicare” — a charge so false and prevalent that PolitiFact named it the “Lie of the Year.”
But the attacks from Democrats still hit their mark, and the new plan is a bit milder. Ryan still proposes a system in which senior citizens could purchase private insurance plans with Medicare vouchers. But this time around, he preserves the option for seniors to choose the public plan.
Today Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, released his budget. (For the full budget, see here; and for a summary, see Ryan’s Wall Street Journal op-ed here). About this remarkable document, I want to say two things.
The first is that Ryan’s budget does what Americans generally, and the pundit class in particular, says politicians don’t do. It tackles head on the issue of entitlements. It offers a real path to re-limiting government (over the next 10 years it cuts more than $5 trillion dollars from President Obama’s budget). It makes the “hard choices” that elected officials often avoid.
Over on Twitter, The Atlantic’s Jeff Goldberg and COMMENTARY contributor Jamie Kirchick have been debating whether the threat to the Jews from neo-Nazis is worse than that of Muslim Jihadists. This argument was brought up by the allegation, which may now turn out to have been a false lead, that the Toulouse massacre was perpetrated by neo-Nazis rather than Islamists. Goldberg’s point is a good one. The Nazis stand alone in history and ought not to be compared to any other genus of Jew-hater or tyrant. Goldberg is also right that Nazi analogies are almost always wrong since there really is nothing in history that compares to the Holocaust. As bad as Iran or Hamas or Hezbollah might be, and they are deadly threats, they are not the same thing as Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.
However, if we are discussing what Jews and other civilized persons should be worrying most about today, the idea that there is any comparison between the danger posed by the scattered bands of neo-Nazi extremists and that of Islamism is not a serious proposition. The neo-Nazis are a nasty bunch and capable of violence. But Islamist terror has at its command, terrorist armies, control of sovereign territories (Gaza, Lebanon and a major state such as Iran) as well as the resources to finance a nuclear weapons project. While the persistence of Nazism, even in its current truncated form is upsetting and makes us wonder whether Western civilization really is in trouble, Islamism is a real threat, not a symbolic one.
As Alana noted, Barack Obama’s Nowruz message to Iran has evolved from being solicitous of the Iranian regime to supportive of the Iranian people. Good for him, I guess, in the way that it’s always considered “fair” to say “good for him” after Obama weakly imitates the right move too late. But it should not be forgotten that this approach is precisely what George W. Bush used in 2008 as the first American president to extend Nowruz greetings directly to Iran. Bush said:
First of all, the United States of America wishes everybody a Happy New Year. Secondly, [the] people of the United States respect the great Iranian history and culture. We have great respect for the people, and we’ve got problems with the government. We have problems with the government because the government has been threatening, has made decisions that –and statements that — really have isolated the people of Iran.
Reacting to the murder of Jews in Toulouse yesterday, it didn’t take long for the Eurocracy to put its foot in it. But the statement by Baroness Ashton, the High Representative of the [European] Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (not to be confused with any of the other myriad, inane foreign affairs positions), is perhaps more revealing than intended:
When we think about what happened today in Toulouse, we remember what happened in Norway last year, we know what is happening in Syria, and we see what is happening in Gaza and other places.
Having never been elected to any of the various British and European roles she has filled in her inexplicable career, she is perfectly placed to speak for the EU. And, making the statement on the sidelines of a meeting in Brussels with Palestinian Arab youths, she went on to contend that they, ‘‘against all odds, continue to learn, work, dream and aspire to a better future.’’ Read More
Mitt Romney is leading by 14-points in the American Research Group poll today, backing up yesterday’s Public Policy Polling survey that found Romney up by 15 points.
Mitt Romney leads the Illinois Republican presidential primary with 44%. Romney is followed by Rick Santorum with 30%, Newt Gingrich with 13%, and Ron Paul with 8%.
Romney leads Santorum 45% to 35% among self-identified Republicans, followed by Gingrich with 12% and Paul with 4%. Among self-identified independents and Democrats, Romney leads with 42%, followed by Paul with 20%, Gingrich with 17%, and Santorum with 16%.
Also note the gap between Santorum and Romney when it comes to women voters:
Romney leads Santorum 46% to 29% among women, followed by Gingrich with 12% and Paul with 8%.
For weeks, pundits have been wondering when Newt Gingrich will admit that he’s licked and give up his presidential campaign. After losses in Mississippi and Alabama last week — which were probably the last states in which he could have been said to have a decent chance of victory — many wrongly assumed that he would draw the proper conclusions and withdraw. But he hasn’t and despite abysmal poll ratings, there’s no sign that he will. Why? Politico offers a reasonable answer: He’s having too good a time running.
The piece, titled “New Gingrich’s Twin Campaigns,” poses the contradiction between the happy warrior on the hustings and the financial realities of an enterprise that appears to have gone bust months ago. While vendors, staffers and consultants are being stiffed for their expenses and salaries, the candidate and his wife are enjoying what the article aptly calls “Newt and Callista’s Excellent Adventure,” in which they combine fine dining, numerous visits to zoos (Newt’s favorite pastime) and other site-seeing activities with speeches before increasingly sparse audiences. Viewed in this light, the Gingrich campaign appears to be more of a paid vacation for the happy couple than a quixotic quest for the presidency. Under these circumstances, we can expect him to keep running as long as there is enough money in the till to pay for hotels and restaurant tabs.
The political calculus that outside observers have tried to use to determine Gingrich’s intentions appears to have no relation at all to his decision-making process. Gingrich is smart enough to know he can’t win but seems oblivious to the impact of his continued presence in the race on the other candidates. Though his animus for Mitt Romney is obvious, rather than seeing him as a conservative whose priority was to stop the frontrunner in the way that Rick Santorum’s effort has been pitched, it might be more apt to see him in the same light as the far more marginal Ron Paul.
Paul’s continued run has nothing to do with the practicalities of the race or whether he will win or lose. He’s running to promote his extremist libertarian ideology and can be expected to keep going until the nomination of another candidate forces him to stop. Gingrich is also being propelled by a personal agenda rather than political strategy. The only difference is that Gingrich’s personal agenda is about Gingrich and nothing else. Despite his talk about his wish list of presidential initiatives that he will undertake in the event he is elected, Gingrich has been running for the fun of being in the race and little else.
The only thing that could force him to get off the road is if he runs out of money. Since his campaign is using all available cash to fund the Newt and Callista tour, it’s possible there’s enough to keep him on his long vacation for some time to come. However the day will come when the piper will have to be paid and one imagines that Gingrich is counting on some of the wealthy friends that have helped finance him so far to step in after the fact and pay off what may prove to be an onerous campaign debt. Candidates are personally responsible for these debts. That’s why most drop out quickly once it is clear they can’t win since they dread spending the next decade desperately fundraising to pay for an effort that has already failed.
While Newt and Callista are having a great time, one wonders if it is has occurred to her that if he really intends to keep it up until the September convention, she may have to pawn some of those trinkets that Newt bought for her at Tiffany’s.
Many probably think, but fewer have the arrogance to write, that the recent shooting deaths of at least four Jews at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France are Israel’s fault. The thinking goes that Jews inevitably are associated with the self-declared Jewish state, whose alleged crimes enrage its supposed victims, who then lash out at the Jews close by, which are often those living in smaller diaspora communities. Because it shoulders the blame, Israel should also therefore take responsibility for the danger it poses to worldwide Jewry by properly amending its policies or even dissolving itself, thereby curing the world of its desire to hunt Jews.
Even if we accept the questionable assumptions behind this view, it represents a stunning endorsement of Jewish cowardice.
President Obama’s annual message commemorating Nowruz, the Persian New Year, is packed with sharp condemnation of the Iranian regime’s human rights abuses, marking the second year in a row that he’s has made human rights the focus of his Nowruz address. It’s a clear contrast to his 2009 and 2010 messages, which were intended to extend an olive branch to the regime, and glossed over its oppressiveness and belligerence.
This year, Obama also specifically called out Iran on its nuclear program, though he framed his criticism carefully:
“The Iranian government has a responsibility to respect its rights. Just as it has a responsibility to meet its responsibilities in regard to its nuclear program. Let me say again if the Iranian government pursues a responsible path it will be welcome once more among the community of nations and the Iranian people will have greater opportunities to prosper.”
He also slammed the regime’s censorship and control of the Internet, describing it as an “electronic curtain,” in an allusion to the Iron Curtain:
“Yet increasingly the Iranian people are denied the basic freedom to access the information that they want. Instead, the Iranian government jams satellite signals to shut down television and radio broadcasts. It censors the internet to control what the Iranian people can see and say. The regime monitors computers and cell phones for the sole purpose of protecting its own power. And in recent weeks the Internet restrictions have become so severe that Iranians can’t communicate freely with their loved ones in Iran or beyond its borders. Technologies that should empower citizens are being used to repress them. Because of the actions of the Iranian regime, an electronic curtain has fallen around Iran, a barrier that stops the free flow of information and ideas into the country and denies the rest of the world the benefit of interacting with the Iranian people who have so much to offer.”
Obama finally spoke about his administration’s “virtual embassy” for Iranians, a website intended to reach out to the Iranian people directly.
As frustrating and naïve as the administration’s comments on Iran still are at times, it really is remarkable how much worse it was back in 2009. Watching how the president’s Nowruz messages have changed over the past four years highlights how far he’s backed away from his misguided outreach to the regime. The recent focus on human rights and the candid assessment of the regime’s repression is very encouraging – especially when framed in terms of internet freedom – and hopefully signals that the administration will do more to assist Iranian dissidents on this front.
Even J Street critics were baffled last January when the group’s founder and President Jeremy Ben-Ami more or less randomly decided to defend “Israel-Firster” rhetoric against pro-Israel Americans. The term was condemned as anti-Semitic by the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and its use by Center for American Progress contributors eventually caused the White House to distance itself from the organization. Self-professed pro-J Street blogger Jeffrey Goldberg expressed himself “surprised” by Ben-Ami’s stance.
The mystery became somewhat less mysterious after Alana pointed out a potential financial incentive behind J Street’s position, connecting J Street with groups that use the term. The link helps explain why mere hours after publicly walking back Ben-Ami’s statements, J Street took to Facebook to blast Sheldon Adelson as an “Israel-Firster” and to push a piece attacking anti-Semitism watchdogs for “Likudnik Paranoia.”
Jeffrey Goldberg, Ronen Bergman, and various other commentators believe that an Israeli strike on Iran is more likely than not this year. I agree that the odds are in favor of such a preemptive strike, and that there are compelling reasons for Israel to act before November—not only because of the progress Iran is likely to make in its nuclear program by the fall but also because of a widespread perception that President Obama will have to be more supportive of America’s closest ally in the region before the election than after it. What I don’t know—know one does—is what the impact of such strikes would be: how much would they set back the Iranian nuclear program and how would Iran respond?
Goldberg reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are fairly optimistic about the damage that Israel could do to Iran’s nuclear complex and sanguine about the prospects of Iranian retaliation: “Some Israeli officials believe that Iran’s leaders might choose to play down the insult of a raid and launch a handful of rockets at Tel Aviv as an angry gesture, rather than declare all-out war,” Goldberg writes. Moreover, he adds: “Some Israeli security officials also believe that Iran won’t target American ships or installations in the Middle East in retaliation for a strike, as many American officials fear, because the leadership in Tehran understands that American retaliation for an Iranian attack could be so severe as to threaten the regime itself.
The risk in pegging an election campaign to a specific issue is that the issue will be eclipsed by another or will fade in importance on its own. The campaigns of Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have responded in different ways to slightly better jobs numbers. The Washington Post yesterday asked if foreign policy could end up playing a more significant role in the election than previously expected, though the Post notes that exit polling has not backed this up.
Economic fluctuation and the constant interpretation and reinterpretation of data make economic forecasting a less stable foundation of an election campaign than, say, asking simply if the public thinks they are better off now than they were four years ago. Gas prices have dented President Obama’s poll numbers recently, but that, too, may change. Romney, the more likely nominee, will have a less compelling argument against ObamaCare, for obvious reasons, though he can still run on his promise to repeal it. But beyond that, the question remains what kind of general election message will Romney present? He seems to have located one yesterday, and will be helped by Paul Ryan’s budget speech today.
The Obama campaign must have thought it was giving Vice President Biden a job that even he couldn’t mess up. All he had to do was go out to fundraisers and remind everyone how impressive the bin Laden raid was.
Vice President Joseph Biden on Monday night upped the ante around the already quite-dramatic assassination of Osama bin Laden.
From the pool report of Biden’s comments during a fundraising event in New Jersey come these quotes.
“You can go back 500 years. You cannot find a more audacious plan. Never knowing for certain. We never had more than a 48 percent probability that he was there.”
Not to take anything away from the bin Laden raid, which certainly carried its own risks, but seriously? Never a more audacious plan in 500 years? National Review’s Daniel Foster reminds Biden of a few he apparently overlooked:
Arguably, Operation Desert Storm — with pre-invasion coalition casualties projected into the thousands and fears of a protracted maneuver war and the deployment chemical/biological weapons — was more audacious. Unarguably, the Inchon landing and the breakout of the Pusan perimeter were.
In World War II alone: Overlord. The British commando raids. The miracle at Dunkirk. Okinawa. Jimmy friggin Doolittle.
Five hundred years is a long time. From Patton to Napoleon, John Paul Jones to Sir Francis Drake. I’m sure all you history buffs out there can think of another battle plan at least in the running to be more audacious than Operation Geronimo.
At New York Magazine, Dan Amira writes, “By the time the election season is over, Biden will be calling the bin Laden raid the ‘single most incredible feat performed by a sentient being, here on Earth or throughout the cosmos, at any time in the last 15 billion years.’”
Nobody should diminish Obama’s decision to order the raid on bin Laden’s compound. But that’s exactly what Biden ended up doing – unintentionally – by hyping it to the extreme. The raid was a success in its own right, and needs no additional embellishment.
There’s a moment in the middle of Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger where Auric Goldfinger, now thoroughly annoyed with how Bond keeps turning up, tells 007 that “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action.” That’s how readers of the New York Times must feel when confronted with the paper’s unsubtle front page campaign to brush back Israeli action against Iran.
Last month the Times ran a double bylined A1 article by James Risen and Mark Mazzetti, headlined “U.S. Agencies See No Move by Iran to Build a Bomb.” Just to make sure readers knew how to contextualize the de facto talking points, the article kicked off with: “even as the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog said in a new report Friday that Iran had accelerated its uranium enrichment program…” The disclaimer was a reference to IAEA investigations, which the Times had previously buried on A8, cataloging the evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program.
The Obama administration has encountered another pothole on the road to re-election. CBS is reporting that the national debt taken on in the three years and two months of the Obama administration now exceeds the debt added during the Bush administration’s entire eight years in office: $4.899 trillion for Bush, $4.939 for Obama.
In other words, Bush ran up the tab at the rate of $51 billion a month, while Obama is running it up at the rate of $137 billion a month, 2.6 times as fast. The debt now stands at $15.566 trillion, over 100 percent of GDP for the first time since the immediate aftermath of World War II. Obama’s own budget projections show no end in sight: $16.3 trillion by the end of 2012, $17.5 in 2013, $20 trillion by the end of Obama’s second term if, heaven forefend, he wins one. That would mean an increase of 87 percent in the total debt over Obama’s two terms.
Speaking firms representing ex-FBI Director Louis Freeh and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Hugh Shelton have received federal subpoenas as part of an expanding investigation into the source of payments to former top government officials who have publicly advocated removing an Iranian dissident group from the State Department list of terrorist groups, three sources familiar with the investigation told NBC News.
The investigation, being conducted by the Treasury Department, is focused on whether the former officials may have received funding, directly or indirectly, from the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, or MEK, thereby violating longstanding federal law barring financial dealings with terrorist groups. The sources, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity, said that speaking fees given to the former officials total hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In total, MSNBC reports that 40 former senior U.S. government officials participated in the lobbying campaign for the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK), a cult-like organization that was listed as a terrorist group under the Clinton administration. The MEK was involved in attacks on American citizens in the 1970s, but has since attempted to ally itself with the United States in the fight against the Iranian regime. According to reports, the group may also be aiding Israel’s covert assassination campaign against Iranian nuclear scientists.
If you’re looking for insight into the Palestinians’ mindset, a new poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research offers some fascinating glimpses into their views on everything from killing Jews to fiscal responsibility.
The poll found “a significant decline” in Hamas’s popularity in the Gaza Strip and “a decrease in the positive evaluation” of Gaza’s Hamas government. Only 27% of Gazans said they would vote Hamas if elections were held today, down from 35% three months ago, while only 36% approved of the Hamas government’s performance, down from 41%. Sounds encouraging, right?
The after shocks of the terrorist attack at a Jewish school in Toulouse are still being felt as French authorities seek the person or persons responsible for the murder of three children and a teacher. But for the European Union’s foreign policy chief, this anti-Semitic atrocity was just grist for the rhetorical mill in her ongoing campaign against the state of Israel. Baroness Catherine Ashton used the occasion of a speech to a Palestinian group in Brussels to compare the deliberate targeting of Jewish children to recent events in Gaza.
The idea that there is any moral equivalence between a person stalking and killing kids in cold blood at a school house door and casualties that were incurred when the Israel Defense Force responding to missile attacks on other Jewish children in Southern Israel is an outrageous slander. It reflects the view of European elites that while the killing of Jews may be regrettable, the spectacle of other Jews defending themselves is inadmissible.
The Alienation Thesis or the Distancing Thesis or the Detachment Thesis or whatever we’re calling it this week — the claim American Jews are increasingly estranged from Israel because of Israeli policies — is the central dogma of the anti-Israel left. If it’s true then groups like J Street are engaged in the salutary work of broadening pro-Israel Jewish politics to include traditionally anti-Israel positions. If it’s false then those groups are taking Jews who would have ended up with muddy pro-Israel sentiments and are needlessly bombarding them with anti-Israel propaganda. “Alienation” or “distancing” or “detachment” is the argumentative premise at the source of everything that happens downstream.