Commentary Magazine


Topic: 2016 presidential election

Rick Perry and Our Dysfunctional Politics

I had two initial responses to the outrageous indictment of Texas Governor Rick Perry. One was to feel the same outrage about the criminalization of politics that John Steele Gordon discussed yesterday. The other was to assume that the prospect of this prosecution, no matter how unfair it would prove to be, would derail his hopes for another run at the presidency. However, I might have been wrong about my second reaction and the reason for that re-evaluation speaks volumes about how dysfunctional our political system has become.

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I had two initial responses to the outrageous indictment of Texas Governor Rick Perry. One was to feel the same outrage about the criminalization of politics that John Steele Gordon discussed yesterday. The other was to assume that the prospect of this prosecution, no matter how unfair it would prove to be, would derail his hopes for another run at the presidency. However, I might have been wrong about my second reaction and the reason for that re-evaluation speaks volumes about how dysfunctional our political system has become.

First, let’s not mince words about the egregious nature of the indictment and what it means about how out-of-control prosecutors can derail democracy. It should be remembered that what happened here was that a Democratic prosecutor who had disgraced her office with a drunk driving violation and abusive behavior toward police refused to resign. Perry used a threat of a veto of her budget to try to force that resignation. The special prosecutor in the case alleges that using that threat — something that was obviously in the service of the public good — was an illegal abuse of power. That is absurd and you have to be a hardcore Democratic partisan to think that it is even remotely reasonable for a prosecutor to treat a public policy dispute — especially one in which the governor was clearly on the side of ethics — as a criminal matter.

But in a normal political atmosphere, any criminal indictment, no matter how ill-considered and fated to be eventually overturned, is generally enough to kill a political career. But in Perry’s case that might not be so.

We are now at a point in our political history where it is understood that trials such as the one to which Perry may be subjected are merely politics by other means rather than a third rail event that disqualifies the defendant no matter the eventual legal outcome. In the past, politicians who were victimized by prosecutorial overreach were left at the end of the process asking where they could go to get their good names back even if they had retained their freedom. The correct assumption was that any judicial process even one that led to acquittal or vindication through convictions being thrown out on appeal was ultimately disqualifying even when innocence was eventually established.

But something has changed in American politics and Perry’s decision to go on with planned appearances in New Hampshire in spite of his difficulties illustrates the altered atmosphere.

As this Politico story indicates, we’re now at the point where much of the public understands that partisanship and the criminalization of politics has gotten out of hand. With many prominent Democrats, including former Obama advisor David Axelrod, acknowledging that the indictment of Perry is something of a farce, the opprobrium that normally attaches to any object of prosecution is starting to wear off.

Just as importantly, the willingness of prosecutors to inject themselves into the political process in this manner is not only seen as illegitimate but it may also enhance Perry’s appeal among Republicans. Rather than causing him to be viewed as a leper because of the indictment, it may well make conservatives see him as a folk hero or at least a victim, which in our contemporary culture may just as good if not better for the purpose of enchancing popularity.

Lest anyone think this is a reaction confined only to the right, there are already some examples of the same thing happening on the left. Historically, African-Americans have tended to rally around one of their own when they came under attack from prosecutors. The ability of Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. to win re-election in the 1960s despite being thrown out of the House of Representatives by other Democrats illustrates this trend. More recently, the news that Philadelphia Mayor John Street was being investigated by the Bush administration Justice Department on corruption charges in 2003 turned a tight re-election race into a landslide for the incumbent as black Philadelphians treated the probe as proof of bad faith on the part of Republicans, not of Street’s questionable conduct in office. Now it appears the right seems to feel the same way about such investigations of their leaders though, to be fair, those cases were far more substantive than the tissue of insinuations lodged against Perry.

If we are now at the point where no one trusts prosecutions of politicians this is a terrible development because it shows how badly split we are becoming as a nation. With some on the left willing to countenance this kind of judicial smearing of a conservative, it’s only understandable that Republicans won’t hold it against Perry. Indeed, it may well enhance his standing and, like the massive over-reaction against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker from left-wingers who resisted his reform efforts that led to a recall election, the Travis County prosecutors may have made Perry into a right-wing folk hero. I still think Perry is unlikely to become a first tier primary candidate in 2016, let alone the GOP nominee, but this indictment may prove to be a badge of honor that will cause many Republicans to put aside their memories of his “oops” moments in 2012.

However, the long-term impact of this development may do more to harm the cause of public ethics than to help or hurt Perry’s already dubious chances of winning the presidency. Holding public officials accountable for genuine corruption and abuse of power — such as the willingness of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to quash an ethics commission probe when it hit too close to home and involved some of his supporters — is essential to the survival of democracy. By abusing the judicial process in this manner, Texas prosecutors have undermined the rule of law as well as exacerbated an already perilous political divide.

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Hug it Out? Hillary Shows Weakness

If Hillary Clinton runs for president—as she almost certainly will—the former secretary of state is the overwhelming favorite for the Democratic nomination in 2016. But the sense of inevitability about her candidacy took a hit yesterday when she sought to back away from the quarrel she picked over the weekend with President Obama.

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If Hillary Clinton runs for president—as she almost certainly will—the former secretary of state is the overwhelming favorite for the Democratic nomination in 2016. But the sense of inevitability about her candidacy took a hit yesterday when she sought to back away from the quarrel she picked over the weekend with President Obama.

As I wrote on Monday, Clinton threw down the gauntlet to the president on foreign policy in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic. No one doubted that she would at some point revert to the more centrist views on the world that contrasted with those of Obama during their 2008 primary battle. But Clinton’s willingness to judge the president’s decisions harshly seemed to mark a turning point in their complicated relationship. When she rightly damned Obama’s Syria policy as a “failure” that led directly to the current ISIS catastrophe in Iraq, that demonstrated her belief that she needed to distance herself from an increasingly unpopular incumbent heading into 2016.

Given the chaos that has erupted across the globe on the president’s watch, more distance from him would make sense for a Democrat who may not want the voters to think they are casting a ballot for a third term for Obama in 2016. But once the White House starting to push back strongly against her criticism and some in the liberal base of the party began to seethe about her flipping back to a “neoconservative” line about Iraq and in support of Israel, Clinton blinked.

Rather than stick to her guns and dare the left to try and oppose her, Clinton was quick to try and patch up the quarrel with the White House, calling the president and reportedly suggesting that the pair “hug it out” when they each other at a Martha’s Vineyard soiree they are both attending this week.

Maintaining some kind of détente with a sitting president who is the unchallenged leader of the Democrats and the idol of its base makes sense. But there was something craven in the unseemly speed with which Clinton sought to diffuse the controversy. Try as her team of media spinners might, there’s no disguising the fact that her attempt to cut straight to general-election campaign tactics without first having to curtsy the left-wing base of the Democrats isn’t going over very well.

There may be no credible Democratic alternatives currently willing to put their names up in opposition to Clinton right now. Whether they love the Clintons or not, most Democrats have bought into her compelling narrative about being the first female president as the best way to hold onto the White House. The Clintons’ ability to raise money and play hardball politics has also intimidated potential candidates into staying out of the race. But, as I also noted yesterday, that won’t stop liberal outliers like Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders from mounting symbolic ideological protest candidacies that could prove troublesome even if no one on the left thinks he should be president.

But the Hillary broadside, followed by her quick retreat, has reminded many in her party that she may not be the political colossus that her admirers in the mainstream press insist she has become.

Like her 2008 candidacy, Clinton’s 2016 “inevitability” is based on the idea that she is so strong that no one other than a marginal figure like Sanders would dare oppose her. But liberals are starting to recall that while Barack Obama’s personal political magic was the main cause of her downfall in 2008, it was only made possible by the fact that most Democrats disliked her centrist foreign policy views.

While we shouldn’t expect this to be the last time Clinton seeks to create more daylight between herself and the man who was her boss for four years, her decision to once again play the person with adult foreign-policy views is bound to foment anger on the left. That means that it might be a mistake to think that Sanders is the only Democrat who believes a leftist challenge to Clinton makes sense. The more people that think about that, the more likely it will be that someone may step forward who could hurt her more than an avowed socialist. Clinton hopes this kerfuffle will only be a blip on the radar in her inevitable long march to the Democratic nomination and the presidency. But it might also be the moment when the 2008 dynamic that sunk her starts to kick in again even without an Obama to take the former first lady down.

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Bernie May Drive Hillary Nuts

As I noted yesterday, Hillary Clinton’s decision to criticize President Obama’s foreign-policy failures indicates that she believes the field has been cleared for her to take the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. But while there’s little doubt she will be her party’s choice, her shift to the center this early in the process guarantees that someone from the left will step up to challenge her. And though she may have scared all the credible contenders, it would be unwise for her camp to dismiss the impact of a Bernie Sanders candidacy on her chances to win the presidency.

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As I noted yesterday, Hillary Clinton’s decision to criticize President Obama’s foreign-policy failures indicates that she believes the field has been cleared for her to take the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. But while there’s little doubt she will be her party’s choice, her shift to the center this early in the process guarantees that someone from the left will step up to challenge her. And though she may have scared all the credible contenders, it would be unwise for her camp to dismiss the impact of a Bernie Sanders candidacy on her chances to win the presidency.

If Clinton isn’t shaking in her boots about the prospect of facing off against the Vermont senator, it’s hard to blame her. Even the self-proclaimed socialist with the thick New York accent doesn’t think he is likely to be elected president. In many ways, Sanders is a political consultant’s nightmare of a candidate with extreme views and about as much charisma as a soggy potato. But it is precisely because he has no plans for future runs at high office that he is potentially so dangerous to Clinton’s ultimate goal of winning the general election.

Sanders had already been making noises about his willingness to run in 2016 in order to ensure that the left’s issues are heard. But in an interview published on Yahoo News yesterday he made clear that Clinton’s attempt to leave her party’s base out in the cold would draw a stiff rebuke from liberals and ensure that the primary process will not be a coronation.

While Sanders did not go so far as to promise to try to stop Clinton or to change the direction of her candidacy, his criticism was pointed enough to encourage speculation that he is prepared to run. According to Sanders, Clinton is not sufficiently interested in the issue of income inequality:

“What is her agenda? I don’t know. You don’t know. She hasn’t said.”

Short of a tilt back to the left, it appears Sanders is willing to be the one to carry the water for the liberal base in 2016. While no one should think he is likely to beat out Clinton, a Sanders candidacy does have the potential to play havoc with Clinton’s strategy.

First, it should be understood that the very fact that Sanders isn’t serious about the presidency would make him dangerous. Unlike some other potential Democratic contenders, Sanders isn’t worried about offending the Clintons or anyone else in the party. Moreover, as a figure of the left and avowed independent, Sanders is more interested in ideology than Democratic Party unity or winning general elections.

That will mean he won’t shy away from hot button issues, both foreign and domestic, in an effort to either hammer the more centrist frontrunner for her apostasy or to embarrass her into tacking back to the left.

What Clinton and perhaps other Democrats who would prefer to avoid messy primaries may forget is that despite the discipline exhibited by so many liberals in recent years, there’s nothing like a hopeless underdog presidential challenge to engage the sympathies of primary voters. That means Sanders doesn’t have to appear presidential or even to make all that much sense in order to gain the sympathy of many Democrats. And, unlike conservative outliers running for the Republican nomination in recent years, Sanders won’t be pilloried as a nut case the way someone like Michele Bachmann was when she ran in 2012.

Instead, Sanders will be portrayed as a feisty truth-telling codger who won’t lie down for the Clinton machine. Though he has no chance of ever being nominated, he could roll up impressive totals in early voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire where minority voters—more inclined to support Clinton rather than an ideologue like Sanders—won’t play as much of a role.

That means Clinton’s strategy of attempting to run a general election-style campaign for president from start to finish may not play out the way she thinks. Indeed, her neoconservative tilt on foreign policy may only egg on Sanders and gain him votes from many Democrats who will feel that casting a symbolic ballot against Hillary will prevent her from straying too far from left-wing orthodoxy.

Rather than providing a stress-free primary season as Clinton thought, a Sanders challenge may actually be far more trouble for the former first lady than one from a more mainstream Democrat like former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, who is more afraid of offending the Clintons and has an eye on the future.

As we saw in 2008, Clinton is not merely vulnerable to an attack from her left flank; she is also a poor candidate who finds it hard to avoid trouble on the stump or even with friendly interviewers. Though Sanders may not be able to stop Hillary, he could make her life miserable. The path back to the White House for Clinton seems smooth, but a spirited left-wing challenge could undo all her plans and force her to not only spend time and resources battling other Democrats but undermine the united party front that appears ready to back her effort to become the first female president.

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The Return of Senator Hillary

If there were any doubt that Hillary Clinton is preparing for another presidential run, it was erased by her interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic. In it we saw not only the inevitable pre-2016 distancing from President Obama but a return, at least as far as foreign policy is concerned, of the centrist stances that were articulated by Senator Hillary Clinton prior to her becoming secretary of state. While welcome, the phrase caveat emptor should be stamped all over the piece.

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If there were any doubt that Hillary Clinton is preparing for another presidential run, it was erased by her interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic. In it we saw not only the inevitable pre-2016 distancing from President Obama but a return, at least as far as foreign policy is concerned, of the centrist stances that were articulated by Senator Hillary Clinton prior to her becoming secretary of state. While welcome, the phrase caveat emptor should be stamped all over the piece.

Let’s specify that the analyses of world problems and policy choices that Clinton articulates in this interview are almost uniformly sensible and are informed by a sensibility that under Obama, the U.S. appears to be withdrawing from the world stage. The contrast with President Obama’s recent defense of his foreign policy in a New York Times interview with Thomas Friedman that I discussed yesterday couldn’t be clearer. While attempting to pose as the advocate of a position that is balanced between what she calls the too bellicose policies of George W. Bush and Obama’s retreat, there is a distinctly neo-conservative spirit to Clinton’s remarks in which an American freedom agenda comparable to the U.S.’s Cold War strategy is needed.

Clinton rightly notes that the West’s failure to act in Syria early in the civil war that broke out there three years ago is the root cause of the current catastrophe in Iraq. While the president claims nothing the U.S. could have done in 2011 would have made a difference in Syria, Clinton rightly believes that the administration’s failure to sufficiently back the moderates who started the revolt against Bashar Assad not only ensured the dictator’s survival but also set in motion the chain of events that led to the rise of ISIS and the potential collapse of Iraq.

The former first lady also made it clear that the direction of administration policy on the Iran nuclear negotiations was wrong:

“I’ve always been in the camp that held that they did not have a right to enrichment,” Clinton said. “Contrary to their claim, there is no such thing as a right to enrich. This is absolutely unfounded. There is no such right. I am well aware that I am not at the negotiating table anymore, but I think it’s important to send a signal to everybody who is there that there cannot be a deal unless there is a clear set of restrictions on Iran.

Again, this is a direct rebuke of the decision of her successor John Kerry’s policies. Kerry tacitly recognized an Iranian right to enrichment in the weak interim deal signed with Tehran last November. She also seemed to be staking out a position in opposition to the administration’s likely acceptance of a deal that would leave Iran’s nuclear infrastructure intact while dismantling the international sanctions that she labored to put in place.

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Clinton sounded more like a candidate for a New York Senate seat than one seeking the nomination of the party whose supporters are, polls show, less supportive of Israel than the Republicans. Clinton not only took direct aim at some of Israel’s administration critics of its military tactics in Gaza but she more or less endorsed the Netanyahu government’s inclination to avoid any further territorial withdrawals on the West Bank—such as those advocated by President Obama—in the absence of credible security guarantees that are obviously not forthcoming. She also rightly noted the role that anti-Semitism plays in the protests against Israel’s efforts to defend itself against Hamas terrorism.

Even more telling is that Clinton seemed to be saying that the basic underpinning of Obama’s approach to foreign affairs is basically clueless:

She finds his approach to foreign policy overly cautious, and she made the case that America needs a leader who believes that the country, despite its various missteps, is an indispensable force for good. At one point, I mentioned the slogan President Obama recently coined to describe his foreign-policy doctrine: “Don’t do stupid shit” (an expression often rendered as “Don’t do stupid stuff” in less-than-private encounters).

This is what Clinton said about Obama’s slogan: “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”

She’s completely right about that, but what do we make of this decision by Clinton to draw a sharp distinction between her approach and those of the president she served for four years?

On the one hand, Clinton’s willingness to criticize Obama, especially on Syria, Israel, and Iran, is most welcome. At a time when the president’s feckless foreign policy is spreading chaos, it is high time that some one in the Democratic Party noted his failures and proposed something different.

But what Clinton doesn’t tell us is why we should take her current common sense seriously when her record as secretary of state showed that she was just as culpable for Obama’s bad record on foreign policy as the president. These are, after all, very similar to the positions she articulated in 2008 when she first ran for president and before that when she was a senator from New York.

While Clinton claims in her latest memoir to have been the voice of reason on Syria within administration counsels, there’s no evidence that she was successful or that she influenced Obama on Israel or Iran. Indeed, she played the point person at times in the president’s efforts to undermine and pressure Netanyahu. The insincerity of her latest switch (she embraced Suha Arafat while first lady and then sounded like a Likudnik while running for the Senate) is so brazen that it is almost shocking.

Even more to the point, her about face on the administration shows that the most important line on her resume is somewhat misleading. While her supporters claim she was a great secretary of state, the reality is that she was a doormat at Foggy Bottom who had little or no influence on policy except on issues like Russia, where she also failed (such as the “reset”).

As far as 2016 is concerned, what is significant about these remarks is that they seem to reflect a belief that she has truly cleared the field of potential challengers. Her foreign-policy centrism is bound to be unpopular with the liberal Democratic base and might make her vulnerable if she had a viable primary opponent. But in the absence of a new Barack Obama or even someone who would only give her a good scare, Clinton seems to think that she can start her general-election campaign more than two years before facing the voters. That gives her a tremendous advantage, especially given the divisions among Republicans on foreign policy.

But as much as this interview signals her confidence, it is also a warning sign that Clinton may not have as easy a time rallying her base as she thinks. Though she may not get a primary opponent, her decision to give the back of her hand to Obama and the left-wing core of her party may yet backfire in the form of a less enthusiastic liberal base that could come back to haunt her when it is time for them to turn out to elect her president.

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Romney Beats Obama and 2016

Republicans are chortling this week over a new CNN poll that shows that if a new presidential election were to be held today, Mitt Romney would beat Barack Obama by a 53 to 44 percent margin. Democrats dismiss this as merely the normal second-term blues while the GOP sees it as buyer’s remorse that bodes well for the midterms. Both may be right, but either party would be foolish to mortgage their futures on these results.

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Republicans are chortling this week over a new CNN poll that shows that if a new presidential election were to be held today, Mitt Romney would beat Barack Obama by a 53 to 44 percent margin. Democrats dismiss this as merely the normal second-term blues while the GOP sees it as buyer’s remorse that bodes well for the midterms. Both may be right, but either party would be foolish to mortgage their futures on these results.

This is not the first poll to show a reversal of the last presidential election. In November 2013, an ABC News/Washington Post poll reported that Romney was favored by a 49-45 percent margin. The further decline of the president’s popularity in the new poll demonstrates just how far we’ve come from November 2012 when Obama won by a clear 51-47 margin that, thanks to a series of close victories in almost every swing state, translated into a 332-206 Electoral College landslide.

Obama thought he could be the exception to the iron rule of the presidency that dictates that virtually every occupant of the Oval Office will rue the day he won reelection. But neither his historic status as our first African-American president nor his decision to swing hard to the left on policy issues and to distract the public by harping on income inequality and the minimum wage helped him avoid an inevitable slide into lame duck status.

Try as they might to minimize the shift in the polls, Democrats can’t pretend that this is anything other than a decisive negative verdict from the public about the course of Obama’s second term. Over the course of the last 19 months, a rash of scandals (IRS, Benghazi, spying on the press and the VA) have undermined the credibility of the government. The ObamaCare rollout illustrated the incompetence of the president’s team and, despite the White House’s touchdown dances, set the stage for even more trouble in the future once the unpopular individual and employer mandates begin to be enforced. The crisis at our southern border was in no small measure the result of Obama’s miscalculated attempts to promote immigration reform. A host of foreign-policy disasters involving Russia, Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Hamas terrorists in Gaza was exacerbated by the ineptitude of the president’s new foreign/defense policy team of John Kerry and Chuck Hagel. All these have undermined America’s prestige abroad and sapped confidence in Obama’s ability to govern or effectively promote America’s values and interests.

The president also believed that he could survive scandals and setbacks because of the unpopularity of his congressional opponents. But not even a disastrous government shutdown orchestrated by Tea Party stalwarts or the fumbling of golden opportunities to break open the scandal stories by overly partisan grandstanding House committees was enough to preserve the popularity of a president who is now widely seen as having run out of steam and ideas.

All this bodes ill for a Democratic Party that already had the odds stacked against it in the 2014 midterm elections. While it doesn’t appear that Republicans are able to leverage any single issue into the focus for a genuine wave election in the way that anger about ObamaCare lifted the GOP in 2010, the only truly national issue in 2014 appears to be discontent with Obama. Indeed, without the ability to claim their opponents will do the president’s will, the Republicans’ increasingly good chances of winning control of the Senate would be diminished.

But anyone on the right who thinks buyer’s remorse about Obama, which is perhaps also enhanced by a rethinking of the way the Democrats smeared Romney—a flawed politician who is also one of the finest men in contemporary American public life—means the Republicans have the edge heading into 2016 are not thinking straight. And that’s not just because the same CNN poll shows Romney trailing Hillary Clinton, the likely 2016 Democratic nominee, by an even greater margin (55-42) than his 2012 loss to Obama.

In the 21 months since the last presidential election, Republicans have exploited Obama’s failures but they have yet to address the chronic demographic problems that undermined them in 2012. It should be remembered that most conservatives spent that year serenely confident that Obama was certain to be defeated. But the ability of Democrats to mobilize minorities and unmarried women to turn out in unprecedented numbers doomed Romney even though the president failed to make a good case for reelection. Part of that is rightly attributed to Obama’s personal popularity and his historic status. Indeed, the best thing the GOP has going for it in 2016 is that Obama won’t be on the ballot again. But none of that helps Republicans win all the battleground states they lost in 2012 if they are unable to get a greater share of those demographic groups that shunned them the last time around.

There are no simple answers to that problem. Merely passing an immigration reform bill that gives illegal immigrants a path to citizenship won’t do it, especially since the debacle on the Rio Grande shows the perils of attempting to legislate that without first securing the border. Nor can Republicans win single women by abandoning their principles on social issues. Similarly, the GOP needs to be wary of advice from liberal pundits calling for them to disassociate from their own conservative and Tea Party base even if some of their ideas—like Sarah Palin’s talk about impeaching Obama—should be ignored.

The solution to the problem does involve going back to some of the issues raised in COMMENTARY by Peter Wehner and Michael Gerson in March 2013 when they spoke of “saving” the party with new thinking that understood that merely channeling the politics of the 1980s would not work. It also involves listening more to people like Romney running mate Paul Ryan who continues to chart a reformist course that embraces a message of economic growth and a recognition that the GOP must reach out to working class Americans, not just Wall Street.

The recognition by a majority of Americans that two terms of Obama was a dreadful mistake is a good start for Republicans. But in and of itself it won’t help any Republican beat Hillary Clinton in 2016 unless the party does the hard work of rebuilding that all parties must do after they’ve been out of power.

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The Anti-Rand Paul GOP Primary

The 2014 midterms are months away but the 2016 Republican presidential race is already heating up–though on foreign policy, an issue that isn’t usually a significant factor. But while this debate is generating a fair amount of heat, the real competition isn’t really so much between Senator Rand Paul, the leader of the libertarian wing of the GOP, as it is between those seeking to assume the leadership of those who are determined to stop the Kentucky senator.

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The 2014 midterms are months away but the 2016 Republican presidential race is already heating up–though on foreign policy, an issue that isn’t usually a significant factor. But while this debate is generating a fair amount of heat, the real competition isn’t really so much between Senator Rand Paul, the leader of the libertarian wing of the GOP, as it is between those seeking to assume the leadership of those who are determined to stop the Kentucky senator.

That’s the upshot of a pair of dueling op-ed articles published this week in which Texas Governor Rick Perry and Paul laid out their respective positions on foreign policy. Perry pulled no punches in an article published in the Washington Post last Friday as he labeled Paul an “isolationist.” Perry rightly pointed out that the positions Paul advocates would weaken America’s defense and standing around the world even more than President Obama’s disastrous policies, especially as a terrorist threat becomes more pronounced in the Middle East.

Paul argued in a response published yesterday in Politico that he was a realist, not an isolationist. But he gave away the game by claiming the difference between them was about his unwillingness to order Americans into Iraq, a signal that he intends to stick to a stance in which the use of U.S. power, as well as its exercise of influence, would be shelved in a Paul presidency.

Paul’s advantage here is that he is the unchallenged spokesman for the growing isolationist spirit within the GOP and the nation. He has inherited his father’s extreme libertarian base and expanded with a slick appeal rooted in the post-Iraq and Afghanistan war weariness. That gives him a sizable chunk of Republican primary voters and accounts for the fact that early polls show him with a slim plurality in a large field of potential candidates.

But it doesn’t guarantee Paul the nomination. To the contrary, though Paul is a formidable contender, there’s no reason to believe that the party that has championed strong defense and foreign policies for generations is morphing into the sort of organization where an extremist like Ron Paul, or even his son, who espouse foreign-policy views that are arguably to the left of Obama, speaks for the majority.

But Paul could succeed if the candidates who espouse mainstream GOP views on foreign policy siphon support from each other and allow him to slip through to victory. That’s why the fiercest fight in the upcoming campaign will not be between Paul and those who disagree with him but in the virtual primary as Republican foreign-policy hawks seek to claim the mantle as the anti-Paul candidate.

This will be especially important because although most voters will always be more concerned about the economy and domestic issues, the differences between the candidates on most of the other issues will be minimal. As things stack up now, other than immigration reform, foreign policy may be the only point on which there are significant differences among the Republicans.

Who will be competing in the anti-Paul primary?

The first name that comes to mind is Chris Christie. The New Jersey governor’s decision to remind voters of his opposition to gay marriage made it clear that he’s still interested in running for president despite his ongoing Bridgegate troubles. And he fired a shot across Paul’s bow last year on the question of intelligence gathering that indicated a willingness to stake out ground to the libertarian’s right on defense policy. But Christie is still regarded by many in the grass roots as a moderate who will have problems drawing support from a party that has shifted to the right. More to the point, his expertise on foreign affairs appears to be minimal. While no one should underestimate Christie in a fight, this is not a man who is likely to gain any advantages by speaking about non-domestic or economic issues.

The other principal contender for the title of anti-Paul is Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Rubio has spent the last year giving speeches on foreign affairs and has the chops to make a strong case for himself as the most able spokesman of his generation for a strong American foreign policy. Based on his statements, Rubio is a clear choice to be the leading advocate for a strong America in his generation. But the jury is still out on whether Rubio can overcome a poor 2013 in which conservatives attacked him on immigration and Paul and Ted Cruz won the affection of the Tea Party (a group that once regarded him as a favorite).

There are others who would like use foreign policy to emerge from the pack of GOP candidates. Outliers like former ambassador John Bolton and Rep. Peter King want to run on foreign policy but neither seems capable anything more than a symbolic candidacy. 2012 runner-up Rick Santorum has the expertise learned during years in the Senate and would give Paul a run for his money by articulating the case for stopping Iran and not allowing Islamists or the Russians to run the U.S. out of the Middle East. But while it would be foolish to underestimate Santorum (as I and just about everyone else did in 2012), he still looks right now to be a second-tier candidate until the contrary is proven.

There is also the possibility that someone else, such as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, will emerge as a rival to Paul. But Walker must first win reelection and then must articulate some strong positions on foreign policy, something that so far he has not done.

It is into that confusing array of contenders that Perry is seeking to inject himself. Perry’s disastrous 2012 run would have seemed to eliminate him from future consideration but after his very good week showing up Barack Obama on illegal immigration, the Texas governor seems to be a much more serious contender now than he did only a few weeks ago.

Perry doesn’t know as much about foreign policy as Rubio, Santorum, Bolton, or King and anyone who remembers his debate performances the last time around must regard his 2016 hopes as a long shot at best. But in contrast to his late start last time around, Perry is going in hard this time and seems better prepared. Moreover, by seeking to establish himself as the heir to the Reagan wing of the GOP (as opposed to Paul’s seeming effort to channel the spirit of Robert A. Taft, the isolationist champion of the 1940s), Perry has correctly targeted an issue that could give him a leg up in a battle that is only just starting.

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Will Clinton Run as Elizabeth Warren?

The Democratic strategy of outright dishonesty about the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision was nowhere more extreme than in Hillary Clinton’s ludicrous response to the ruling. As I noted at the time, Clinton sounded as though she flew around the world as secretary of state but never got off the plane. She called the ruling “a really bad, slippery slope” and comparable to “a disturbing trend that you see in a lot of societies that are unstable, anti-democratic, and prone to extremism.”

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The Democratic strategy of outright dishonesty about the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision was nowhere more extreme than in Hillary Clinton’s ludicrous response to the ruling. As I noted at the time, Clinton sounded as though she flew around the world as secretary of state but never got off the plane. She called the ruling “a really bad, slippery slope” and comparable to “a disturbing trend that you see in a lot of societies that are unstable, anti-democratic, and prone to extremism.”

In reality, aside from the ignorance this displays about both the societies Clinton visited on her Instagram tour and the country she hopes to lead as president, the ruling was precisely the opposite. It reaffirmed America as a place of religious liberty and a beacon to those fleeing religious persecution in the countries Clinton visited and pretended to pay attention to while the world burned.

But there was another element of irony to Clinton’s remarkably misinformed and mendacious comments: they were a direct challenge to her husband, who as president signed into law, with the encouragement of many Democrats, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act on which the Hobby Lobby ruling was based. What Hillary likened to unstable and anti-democratic societies, her husband called “a standard that better protects all Americans of all faiths in the exercise of their religion.” On signing RFRA, Clinton said:

The free exercise of religion has been called the first freedom, that which originally sparked the development of the full range of the Bill of Rights. Our Founders cared a lot about religion. And one of the reasons they worked so hard to get the first amendment into the Bill of Rights at the head of the class is that they well understood what could happen to this country, how both religion and Government could be perverted if there were not some space created and some protection provided. They knew that religion helps to give our people the character without which a democracy cannot survive. They knew that there needed to be a space of freedom between Government and people of faith that otherwise Government might usurp.

Why has Hillary Clinton moved so far to her husband’s left that she openly equates the religious freedom he championed with the world’s authoritarians? One answer is: anger–specifically, the anger of the Democratic base, which has shifted far to the left from where it was two decades ago. That’s the upshot of an in-depth and informative Politico piece today on Hillary’s balancing act between wanting to remind voters of the economic stability of the 1990s and decrying the pro-business policies that helped bring it about, policies that have fallen out of favor with the Occupy Wall Street base of the Democratic Party and thus with the party’s congressional leaders as well. Headlined “A Clinton approach for angrier times” (though the headline seems to have changed this afternoon) the piece notes:

On a broad range of issues from tax policy and Wall Street reform to religious rights, more than a dozen senior Democratic strategists and people who have worked with the former first family told POLITICO that Hillary Clinton will have to craft a platform that reflects the party’s shift left and populist sentiment across the political spectrum that distrusts entrenched interests and worries about growing wage inequality. Some described this balancing act as one of the most significant issues for the potential presidential candidate.

“This is the most important set of conversations going on right now. We are in a different economic era that requires a different kind of response,” said Simon Rosenberg, founder of the New Democrat Network who shaped the economic message for Bill Clinton in the 1992 campaign. “Apple isn’t making the same products they were 20 years ago, so you should not expect any Democrat to obey policies that are over 20 years old.” Rosenberg added that no one in the Hillary Clinton orbit underestimates the task she faces.

Clinton is an insider who is close to Wall Street and who can’t seem to get people to stop shoveling money at her and her family. This might not be an issue in a general election, because Republicans and independents don’t demonize the very idea of wealth and success the way Democrats do. What Clinton seems to fear is someone like Elizabeth Warren–but not necessarily as a candidate. The risk Warren poses to Clinton is surfacing in the populist fury Warren is kicking up around the country as she campaigns for Democratic candidates who need star power but who still want to pretend they don’t know who Barack Obama is.

The Washington Post reports on “a string of recent Warren appearances in red and blue states alike, where Democratic base voters have embraced her fiery message as an envoy to working-class voters frustrated with both Wall Street and the Obama administration.” Warren has ditched the policy-wonk pretense of her pre-Senate days and embraced intellectually shallow, populist messages and policies. What’s troubling for Clinton is that Warren’s shoddy demagoguery is connecting with an extreme-minded, angry liberal base. Whether she directly challenges Clinton for the nomination or not, Clinton is clearly already letting Warren set the agenda.

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The Unions’ Warning to Hillary Clinton

Arne Duncan can rest easy. The current secretary of education has lately been on the receiving end of the pitchforks-and-torches treatment from the major national teachers unions, but he’s not really the target. They are calling for his job, not because they expect to radically alter the course of this administration but to encourage the others, as they say.

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Arne Duncan can rest easy. The current secretary of education has lately been on the receiving end of the pitchforks-and-torches treatment from the major national teachers unions, but he’s not really the target. They are calling for his job, not because they expect to radically alter the course of this administration but to encourage the others, as they say.

To recap: the Obama administration has been sufficiently deferential to the public unions that fleece the taxpayers to get Democrats elected at the state and national levels. The president’s hypocrisy on school choice is not only a sop to the unions but particularly glaring–it’s not unusual for a president to send his kids to private school, but it is rare that one does so while working assiduously to end opportunity scholarship programs in the same city simultaneously.

President Obama’s choice for education secretary, however, made the unions slightly nervous. Obama calmed their nerves by making sure that Duncan would simply carry out Obama’s antichoice crusade and not think too much for himself. But Duncan spooked the unions recently by saying something that is anathema to Democrats even if it was commonsense by any reasonable standard.

Last month, a California court ruled unconstitutional the union protections that made it virtually impossible to fire bad teachers and which have steadily degraded the quality of education in America’s public schools. This was a victory especially for poor and minority students, which tend to be harmed the most by the Democrats’ education policies. The courts were a last recourse for these students, thanks to the policymaking stranglehold the unions have over the state’s Democrats. Duncan understood that this kind of ruling was the only way to effect real change, by forcing the hand of the school systems:

The ruling was hailed by the nation’s top education chief as bringing to California — and possibly the nation — an opportunity to build “a new framework for the teaching profession.” The decision represented “a mandate” to fix a broken teaching system, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said. …

Duncan, a former schools chief in Chicago, said he hoped the ruling will spark a national dialogue on a teacher tenure process “that is fair, thoughtful, practical and swift.”

At a minimum, Duncan said the court decision, if upheld, will bring to California “a new framework for the teaching profession that protects students’ rights to equal educational opportunities while providing teachers the support, respect and rewarding careers they deserve.”

“The students who brought this lawsuit are, unfortunately, just nine out of millions of young people in America who are disadvantaged by laws, practices and systems that fail to identify and support our best teachers and match them with our neediest students. Today’s court decision is a mandate to fix these problems,” Duncan said.

But teachers unions have mostly become a job preservation program, with the education of the students a secondary, at best, concern. So they lashed out at Duncan for defending the minority students over which the unions were running roughshod. In other words, for doing (at least part of) his job:

Delegates of the National Education Association adopted a business item July 4 at its annual convention in Denver that called for his resignation. The vote underscores the long-standing tension between the Obama administration and teachers’ unions — historically a steadfast Democratic ally.

A tipping point for some members was Duncan’s statement last month in support of a California judge’s ruling that struck down tenure and other job protections for the state’s public school teachers. In harsh wording, the judge said such laws harm particularly low-income students by saddling them with bad teachers who are almost impossible to fire.

Now the American Federation of Teachers has joined the mob, yesterday approving a resolution calling for his job–unless Duncan follows the unions’ proposed rehabilitation process, erasing even the façade of independence the administration would have from its union benefactors.

Duncan is to be commended for his comments. And he can take solace in the fact that the NEA and AFT attempts to wreck his career are not really about him anyway–a fact the reporting about this contretemps tends to miss. They are, instead, a warning shot. The unions want Hillary Clinton, or whoever turns out to be their next nominee, to see where the unions have drawn the line for a future White House. And Duncan is on the wrong side of that line.

For the teachers unions, anyway. He’s on the right side of that line for the country, and for public education. The unions aren’t interested in saving this particular ship, as long as their leaders and veteran teachers are guaranteed a lifeboat and a generous pension when it finally sinks.

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Did Perry Just Boost His 2016 Chances?

Few Republicans have been more consistent or louder in their opposition to President Obama than Texas Governor Rick Perry. But if Perry’s ability to seize the spotlight as the focal point of opposition to the president’s policies in the wake of the border crisis has suddenly thrust him back into the conversation about 2016, he can thank the man who currently works in the Oval Office.

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Few Republicans have been more consistent or louder in their opposition to President Obama than Texas Governor Rick Perry. But if Perry’s ability to seize the spotlight as the focal point of opposition to the president’s policies in the wake of the border crisis has suddenly thrust him back into the conversation about 2016, he can thank the man who currently works in the Oval Office.

Perry has made no secret of his desire for another run at the White House that would, if nothing else, create a different epitaph for a heretofore-brilliant political career. Nobody wants to exit the stage as a laughingstock, which is the only word that adequately describes his performance on the stump and especially in the numerous debates that shaped the prelude to the 2012 GOP primaries. His gaffes, bizarre memory lapses (Perry’s picture should appear in the dictionary next to the word “oops”), and general lack of readiness for prime time doomed him after he appeared to be the frontrunner in the first weeks after his entry in to the race. But while you never get a second chance to make a first impression, the ongoing drama along the Rio Grande has afforded Perry an opportunity to recast his image.

The debacle along the border with Mexico is a nightmare for the Obama administration for two reasons.

One is that it’s obvious that Republicans have a point when they charge that the president’s statements about immigration reform directly caused the surge of illegals, including a vast number of unaccompanied minors that must now be housed and fed by the federal government. Immigration reform is necessary but conservatives who feared that promises about letting illegals stay or even get a path to citizenship would set off another wave of undocumented aliens heading to the U.S. were right. And though criticisms of efforts to legalize the so-called “dreamers”—people who entered this country without permission as children—seemed churlish, the arrival of all those minors from Central America in Texas undermines arguments for that reform.

The other problem is that rather than embrace his responsibility to deal with this debacle, President Obama has chosen avoidance and a characteristic emphasis on partisan politics. Most of the criticism about his behavior has centered on his refusal to visit the border even though he was headed to political fundraisers in Texas this week. This raised comparisons to President Bush’s flyby over New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. But the president’s refusal to be accountable for the problem and his insistence on vain efforts to shift the public’s focus back to Republican opposition to immigration reform with partisan dog-and-pony shows have only made things worse.

But Obama’s peril was Perry’s opportunity and the Texas governor seized on the bad optics to become the most visible Republican in the debate this week. He demanded that Obama visit the border but then got a face-to-face meeting with the president instead. At that meeting, he emerged looking like the more serious of the two leaders as Obama joked and evaded while Perry stayed on message and sounded constructive.

Thus, at a time when no one has emerged as a true frontrunner in the 2016 GOP race, Perry was able to use a national concern to edge his way from the margins of the contest back to the center ring.

One good week doesn’t make a campaign, but his ability to use the bully pulpit of his position to become the leading GOP voice critiquing administration failures was impressive. It’s the sort of thing that will remind Republicans of why they thought he was a credible presidential candidate before he opened his mouth at the debates and made a fool of himself. This will allow Perry to underline his claims that his bad performance in the fall of 2011 was due to the aftermath of back surgery and inexperience on the national stage rather than unsuitability for high office.

It’s also ironic that Perry would boost his comeback by latching onto immigration as his key issue since it was on that point that Mitt Romney slaughtered him. While Romney was the putative moderate in the race and handicapped by his Massachusetts health-care bill that helped inspire ObamaCare, he was able to shift to the right on immigration and make Perry look squishy because of his support for in-state tuition rates for dreamers.

Can Perry really catapult himself into the first tier of GOP candidates on the strength of his border standoff with Obama? Maybe. Perry can’t help but be better than he was last time and it’s possible that a more focused and professional campaign will create a whole new image for him. But Republicans are right to be skeptical. He’ll be up against a new and probably even tougher bunch of opponents next time and Perry’s weaknesses on the stump were not illusions. While presidential candidates—especially Republicans—often improve on their second try for the office, that usually happens after being the runner-up or at least having a decent showing. They rarely shoot to the top after such a disastrous first run.

Perry remains a long shot for 2016 who is just as likely to be eclipsed by fellow Texan Ted Cruz or the host of promising new GOP candidates. But what happened this week did change the country’s impression of the governor. For the moment at least, Perry has emerged from the shadow of “oops.”

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Hillary’s Rape Case Answer Doesn’t Work

After three weeks of silence, Hillary Clinton finally answered a question about her ethically questionable behavior in defending a rapist early in her career. But far from ending the controversy, Clinton’s misleading and insensitive statement raises more questions about her credibility and her political acumen.

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After three weeks of silence, Hillary Clinton finally answered a question about her ethically questionable behavior in defending a rapist early in her career. But far from ending the controversy, Clinton’s misleading and insensitive statement raises more questions about her credibility and her political acumen.

As I wrote last month, the Washington Free Beacon’s scoop on this story undermines Clinton’s rationale for victory in 2016 as well as its main points of attack against the Republicans. Democrats have reaped big rewards from their claims that the GOP is waging a “war on women” and Clinton is poised to run not only as the potential first female president but also as a champion for the rights of women and children. But Clinton’s conduct during her defense of a child rapist in 1975 raises serious questions about her ability to maintain this pose.

Our former COMMENTARY colleague Alana Goodman unearthed this story when she found a tape of an interview with Clinton during her time as First Lady of Arkansas in the 1980s. The tape contains a passage during which she recalls the case and laughs about her success in getting the predator off with a plea bargain. She also chuckles about her client’s passing a polygraph test that she said destroyed forever her faith in lie detectors, a clear reference to her belief in his guilt.

Clinton’s defenders dismissed the controversy as not only irrelevant to today’s issues but as a misunderstanding of the role of lawyers in the criminal justice system. The former secretary of state echoes that sentiment in her interview with Mumsnet, a British website. She said that lawyers can’t always choose their clients or take up the defense of only innocent people. That’s true. Even guilty people are entitled to a zealous defense from their attorneys. Yet Clinton’s answer contradicts what she said on the tape.

Clinton told Mumsnet that:

I was appointed by the local judge. I asked to be relieved of that responsibility but I was not.

But in her account of the case in the interview with a writer from Esquire magazine that was found in the archives of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, Clinton told a different story. In that version she said she took the case as a favor to the local prosecutor who told her that the rapist wanted a woman to defend him.

Moreover, her bland representation of her conduct in the case which she merely put down as fulfilling her “obligation” to defend the accused is also contradicted by the account of the victim of his crime. Speaking to the Daily Beast, the now 52-year-old victim described Clinton’s attacks on her credibility and tactics designed to show that the woman, who was 12 years old at the time of the attack, was somehow responsible for what happened to her. While Clinton claimed in her first autobiography that the case helped inspire her to dedicate her career to the cause of defending the rights of women and children, the victim’s recollection that the would-be president “took me through hell” provides a devastating riposte to that boast.

The problem for Clinton isn’t, as she claims, that she defended a person who was guilty of a heinous crime but only received a slap on the wrist because of her efforts on his behalf. The jocular tone in which she recalls her sleazy legal work may be typical behavior for lawyers swapping stories about their exploits. But it ill becomes a would-be president, let alone one whose campaign is predicated on the notion that she is a unique champion for the rights of women.

Hypocrisy is common among politicians but it goes almost without saying that if any male politician or a female Republican was ever caught on tape giggling about their ability to let a rapist walk after putting the victim through the wringer, they would be finished. The rules are different for the Clintons and especially for Hillary, whose 2016 inevitability factor rests on the prospect that she will be the first woman to win the presidency. It is hardly surprising that a liberal mainstream media that went gaga over gaffes made by conservative Republicans in which they discussed rape and abortion would do their best to ignore Clinton’s rape case. For instance, the New York Times printed not a word about it until today when it could introduce the story with her denial of wrongdoing. But this story continues to percolate and it is likely that this won’t be the last time she is asked about it.

Yet her attempt to put this to rest fails for the same reason that her book tour didn’t turn out to be the triumph her supporters (especially her cheerleaders in the media) expected it to be. Clinton may be every bit as much of a policy wonk as her husband, but she lacks his political skills. As she proved in 2008, her awkward political manner and tendency to talk herself into unforced errors, like her claim that she was “broke” when she left the White House, renders her vulnerable in ways that belie the sense of inevitability that is driving her candidacy.

This story won’t destroy her presidential hopes as it would with any male or Republican rival, but Clinton’s flawed behavior and inability to defend herself as well as she did that rapist is one more reason why those who assume that the 2016 race will be a slow-walk coronation for Clinton may be mistaken.

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Should Hillary Fear Warren? Maybe.

Put me down as a skeptic about the theory floated by author Edward Klein about President Obama having a preference for Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren over Hillary Clinton on the question of who should be his successor. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Warren was rethinking her decision to stay out of the 2016 contest.

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Put me down as a skeptic about the theory floated by author Edward Klein about President Obama having a preference for Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren over Hillary Clinton on the question of who should be his successor. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Warren was rethinking her decision to stay out of the 2016 contest.

Klein is the author of a new book Blood Feud: The Clintons vs. The Obamas. The conceit of this effort centers on the tension that has existed between the two rivals for the 2008 Democratic nomination and which is now beginning to resurface after a four-year hiatus while Hillary served as secretary of state. That Clinton has more centrist tendencies is no secret, especially with regard to foreign policy. Other differences are more a matter of style and temperament. As Seth wrote earlier today, the slow rollout of her 2016 campaign will involve a degree of triangulation as she struggles to thread the needle between establishing her own identity and not offending a Democratic base that still reveres Obama.

It’s also probably true that Obama may have a greater affinity for Warren’s left-wing populist shtick than Hillary’s ill-fitting pose as a woman of the people even though she is far more comfortable associating with the Goldman Sachs crowd than rank and file Democrats.

But Klein’s tale about Obama consigliere Valerie Jarrett being ordered “to conduct a full-court press to convince Warren to throw her hat into the ring” in 2016 strikes me as the sort of scoop that seems more about promoting book sales than providing any real insight about the battle to succeed Obama.

It’s not that I disagree with Klein’s speculations about the president’s dislike of Bill Clinton, suspicions about the Clinton political machine, or his distaste for the Clinton’s second-guessing about his inability to work with Republicans. It’s just that I don’t really believe the president cares that much about the identity of the next president aside from a vague desire to see any Democratic successor as serving a third Obama term. Obama has always viewed himself as sui generis, a historic figure that cannot be compared to any of his predecessors. I doubt that any latent animus for the Clintons would be enough to cause him to be willing to expend the sort of political capital that would be needed to derail Hillary. My guess is that the only future political question that will really excite him is defending his historic legacy. The identity of the 2016 Democratic nominee is relevant to that issue but not integral to the effort to bolster his reputation after he has left the White House.

But even if we leave Obama and Jarrett out of any pre-2016 intrigue, Senator Warren may well be wondering if her promise not to oppose Clinton could be walked back. Clinton’s shaky book tour performance did more than expose the awkward political instincts that hurt her in 2008 against Obama. Her “broke” gaffe and the subsequent attention devoted to the wealth she and her husband have accumulated since 2001 constitute a huge opening for a credible left-wing opponent who is willing to buck the “inevitability” factor that is the engine driving Clinton’s drive for the presidency.

It won’t be easy for anyone to challenge a candidate who has all but wrapped up the Democratic nomination years before the contest starts. It has also got to be difficult for any Democratic woman to muster the guts to try to stop a candidate whose main argument for the presidency is that she is female.

But there’s also no question that much of the Democratic base would be delighted with a real race, especially if it meant that Clinton would be forced to shift hard to the left to avoid being outflanked by an ideologue like Warren. The Massachusetts senator is not quite the magical political figure that Obama proved to be but, just as was the case in 2008, Clinton has shown herself to be vulnerable. If anyone were to have a chance against her, it would have to be a candidate who could also appeal to women and to the party’s liberal roots. Though Warren might not have the same hubris that drove Obama to think himself ready for the presidency after only a couple of years in the Senate, a few more Clinton missteps might convince her to try her luck.

If she does, I don’t think the alleged Obama-Clinton feud will be the driving force in such a race. Rather, it would be a recognition that the woman many Democrats have anointed as their next leader is not quite as inevitable as she would like us to think.

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Hillary Clinton’s Fourth Way?

The Wall Street Journal reports on a fascinating angle to Hillary Clinton’s nascent campaign: trying to distance herself from a sitting president who (after ending her campaign in 2008) has done more than anyone else to make her candidacy possible.

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The Wall Street Journal reports on a fascinating angle to Hillary Clinton’s nascent campaign: trying to distance herself from a sitting president who (after ending her campaign in 2008) has done more than anyone else to make her candidacy possible.

The president has made it quite clear he prefers her to succeed him over his own vice president. Barack Obama also has a vast donor network and the loyal command of the feverishly partisan Democratic congressional leadership, so there’s only so far Clinton can go in ditching Obama. As Bill Whalen told the Journal, “to the extent that she throws him under the bus, she has to run over him at a very slow speed.”

In effect what we are seeing is a return to Clintonian triangulation. This is a tougher sell than the last such triangulation, under Bill Clinton, because Hillary was a visible and high-ranking member of this administration, whereas Bill could plausibly play the outsider. Finding a “third way” between two extremes isn’t as marketable if you were recently the public face abroad of one of those extremes. Indeed, pulling off such triangulation requires the kind of political skill that Bill Clinton might have but Hillary surely does not. Thus, Hillary may need to find another way than the “third way” (a “fourth way”?).

Since she does not want to explicitly denounce specific policies, Clinton’s strategy right now consists mostly of sentimental appeals to her husband’s time in office and symbolic differences in temperament. This is ironic, because many people who wanted to support Obama in 2008 but couldn’t figure out any serious reason for doing so relied on his supposed “presidential temperament”–a misjudgment on their part of epic proportions, as the eloquent denouncer of the mythical “stinkburger” has made clear.

Here’s the relevant part of the Journal piece:

In another contrast, Mrs. Clinton has said U.S. presidents must never stop courting Congress. Mr. Obama has questioned whether such efforts make any difference. Mrs. Clinton expressed skepticism of candidates with “beautiful vision,” while Mr. Obama still hammers on his 2008 campaign mantra: “Hope.”

“I mean, some people can paint a beautiful vision,” she said at a CNN event last month. “And, thankfully, we can all learn from that. But then, can you, with the tenacity, the persistence, the getting-knocked down/getting-back-up resilience, can you lead us there?” …

As she mulls a presidential bid, Mrs. Clinton also has suggested that her husband’s administration offers a more viable model for governing in polarized times than Mr. Obama’s.

Partisanship in the 1990s was as grave as it is today, she suggested at the Colorado event. Nevertheless, Mr. Clinton made inroads with hostile Republican lawmakers, Mrs. Clinton said.

“My husband had some really serious problems with the Congress when he was in office,” she said. “They shut down the government twice. They impeached him once. So it was not the most pleasant of atmospheres. But I will say this: Bill never stopped reaching out to them.”

That “some people can paint a beautiful vision” line has to sting. Clinton is basically embracing the Paul Ryan depiction of a country of betrayed Millennials staring up in disillusion at their faded Hope and Change posters. You may have been caught up in the mindless Obama worship swirling around your dorm six years ago, but unless you’re Peter Pan, she seems to be saying, you’ve got to grow up eventually.

But this is also interesting because it really does undercut one of the central fictions of the Obama presidency: the idea that the president is “forced” to act unconstitutionally because the Republicans are mean to him. As has been noted from time to time, Obama does not like building relationships with those on the Hill and has a habit of trying to torpedo deals while they’re being hammered out by Congress without him.

Obama doesn’t want to govern, he wants to rule. And Clinton seems to be acknowledging how irresponsible that tendency is. I don’t know if that means she would actually govern according to these principles, but she at least knows that the best way to win over voters is not to tell them that their representation in Congress is irrelevant, and even mildly irritating, to their president.

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Mitt Romney or “Mitt Romney”: How Buyer’s Remorse Works

Former Mitt Romney campaign advisor Emil Henry makes an impassioned plea for renominating his old boss in 2016 in Politico Magazine. He knows that such a suggestion will be controversial, so it’s fitting that he–or his editors, more likely–subheadlined the piece “I’m absolutely serious.” The question, though, is whether the lessons of 2012 and the following years would lead the GOP to choose Mitt Romney or “Mitt Romney.” It is a choice between copying the 2012 GOP nominee’s homework vs. renominating the man himself.

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Former Mitt Romney campaign advisor Emil Henry makes an impassioned plea for renominating his old boss in 2016 in Politico Magazine. He knows that such a suggestion will be controversial, so it’s fitting that he–or his editors, more likely–subheadlined the piece “I’m absolutely serious.” The question, though, is whether the lessons of 2012 and the following years would lead the GOP to choose Mitt Romney or “Mitt Romney.” It is a choice between copying the 2012 GOP nominee’s homework vs. renominating the man himself.

Henry begins by spelling out the challenge of losing a presidential election and then not only winning the nomination again but winning the general election as well. (The model is Nixon.) Henry breaks down the case for Romney into three categories:

  • Romney is re-emerging as the de facto leader of the Republican Party.
  • There is no natural 2016 GOP nominee and the field is highly fractured.
  • All failed nominees other than Romney were career politicians.

Does Romney qualify as someone who isn’t a “career politician”? I can see both sides of this debate. The other two claims seem to me arguments against Romney, if anything. His “re-emergence” as the de facto leader of the party is really his re-emergence as a respected figure of the establishment–an establishment which so happens to be locked in a rather nasty public battle with the party’s conservative grassroots.

In that context, a Romney nomination is unthinkable. Romney was really the last of the “next in liners” with regard to the party’s nominating process. His loss was the end of turn taking and the beginning of the party’s turn to its next generation.

And that brings us to the second point. The field is “highly fractured” not out of weakness but strength. The field of possible 2016 candidates is far more dynamic and in line with the party’s emerging identity than the 2012 field. Romney was preferable even to many conservatives over Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and Rick Santorum. It’s doubtful the same would be said for Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Mike Pence, or Bobby Jindal.

There are times when an elder statesman is the appropriate candidate. There’s a much stronger case for a Romney candidacy without the Romney, however. The case for Romney is really about buyer’s remorse–it would be the GOP telling the electorate “we told you so.” But as Henry himself intimates, the electorate doesn’t actually need to be told that. The buyer’s remorse is real, and it’s because they realize now that voting for the birth-control-and-Big-Bird candidate was a fairly irresponsible thing to do.

Barack Obama tends to run extremely shallow campaigns. Manufactured war on women controversies and episodes of messianic self-love are usually all you get. But the electorate seems to have assumed that the ideas would come later–that, at some point, Obama would think seriously about the issues of the day, end the perpetual campaign, and start governing. What they got instead was grade-school name calling. On foreign policy, his dithering and disastrous “leading from behind” led to chaos and disintegrating borders. The response of the international community to this was predictable. No one takes Obama seriously, and his diplomatic endeavors have mostly been laughed out of the room.

What they reasonably hoped was that this would stop after Obama’s reelection, when he had no more elections ahead of him. They have learned the hard way the president had no such intentions. Thus their buyer’s remorse is pretty strong, but also much less relevant to 2016. Just because they wish someone else had won in 2012 doesn’t mean they would prefer Romney to someone who isn’t Obama in a future election. Buyer’s remorse doesn’t really work that way.

But they do have an understanding of the consequences of the president’s world view, and it happens not to be too different from the presumptive 2016 Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. She was, after all, the president’s secretary of state, who managed the Russian “reset,” ignored some allies while haranguing others, and presided over the light-footprint model of state intervention that resulted in the death of an American ambassador in Libya.

It turned out that Romney was right about a whole lot, both on domestic policy and especially foreign policy. Perhaps that’s the road map future candidates will follow: not to mimic all of Romney’s policy prescriptions, but to concentrate on where and why he was right and how polling shows these areas to be weaknesses for the current ruling Democrats. That doesn’t mean they’d need to run Mitt Romney in order to make those arguments, but does explain why we’re having this conversation to begin with.

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Rubio’s Effort to Modernize the GOP

In an earlier post I asked who on the right, in the wake of the ruins of the Obama presidency, will step up and seize the opportunity. Among those who are is Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

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In an earlier post I asked who on the right, in the wake of the ruins of the Obama presidency, will step up and seize the opportunity. Among those who are is Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

Last week Senator Rubio gave a policy address, which elicited favorable comments from Ross Douthat, Ramesh Ponnuru, Jim Pethokoukis, and Reihan Salam. Like these four, I found Senator Rubio’s speech, co-hosted by Hillsdale College and the YG Network, to be quite impressive. The Florida senator offered ideas on how to reform our entitlement programs, tax code, higher education, health care, and our social safety net. In doing so, he spoke about single mothers and working class families, wage stagnation, student debt and retirement security, and the effects of globalization and automation. And like Representative Paul Ryan, Rubio understands the need for structural changes in programs, which is quite different, and rather more important than, simply reducing spending.

In making his case, Senator Rubio presented himself as an advocate for modernization rather than moderation (in this instance meaning nudging the GOP in a more liberal direction). He spoke about the need for a policy agenda designed for the 21st century and adjusting to the realities of this new era. Mr. Rubio clearly wants the GOP to be both conservative and constructive, opposing the president’s agenda but also willing to offer alternatives to it. The left, he says, is offering ideas that are old, tired and stale; a conservative agenda, as Rubio has laid it out, is innovative, responsive, and “applies the principles of our founding to the challenges and the opportunities facing Americans in their daily lives.” That strikes me as a pretty intelligent way to frame things, particularly given that Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden are thought to be the two leading figures for the Democratic Party in a post-Obama world.

What also strikes me about Senator Rubio is that unlike some others, whose main ability is to bring hard-core supporters to their feet, he seems eager and capable of persuading those who are not on his side yet who may be amenable to his point of view. A friend of mine says he gets the sense from Rubio that he hasn’t spent his life in a political echo chamber, only hanging around like-minded individuals. He has the capacity, I think, to reach people who aren’t members of the NRA or the Federalist Society, the Tea Party or the American Conservative Union. The ability to find connection with people who aren’t already supporters is a fairly valuable skill in politics–and for a party that is regularly losing presidential elections, a necessary one.

The governing agenda Marco Rubio sketched out last week will hardly be the final word, but it is a very good starting point for discussion. Its aim is to broaden the appeal of the GOP without violating the party’s core principles. Other Republicans, particularly those thinking about running for president in 2016, will attempt to occupy this space as well. That’s all to the good, since the GOP has a formidable task: to reconnect with a middle America that looks different than it once did.

I’ve pointed out before that during the GOP nomination contest in 2012—involving dozens of state Republican primaries, more than 20 debates, and tens of millions of dollars in ads—issues such as upward mobility, education, middle-class concerns, poverty, strong communities and safe streets, corporate welfare, cultural renewal, and immigration either were hardly mentioned or were discussed in the most disaffecting way possible. There was more talk about electrified fences and self-deportation than there was about higher education reform, social and economic opportunity, or the modernization of our governing institutions.

Marco Rubio wants to change that. So do other talented and ambitious Republicans. More power to them.

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Is Hillary Ashamed of Her Vast Wealth?

In Hillary Clinton’s recent interview with the Guardian, she gave an interesting answer when pressed on whether her exceedingly rich lifestyle is in conflict at all with her party’s class warfare. “But they don’t see me as part of the problem,” she said, “because we pay ordinary income tax.”

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In Hillary Clinton’s recent interview with the Guardian, she gave an interesting answer when pressed on whether her exceedingly rich lifestyle is in conflict at all with her party’s class warfare. “But they don’t see me as part of the problem,” she said, “because we pay ordinary income tax.”

Such is the mind of the leftist: good works are done through the government. She didn’t say she’s a good example of the deserving rich because she gives charity. She said she pays her taxes. She surrenders enough of her money to the government, and therefore she gets to keep the rest, no complaints. It’s a bit of a non sequitur: if the concern is income inequality, paying your taxes doesn’t exactly get at the root of the issue, does it?

But then Clinton protested too much: “and we’ve done it through dint of hard work,” she continued. No one really doubts Clinton herself earned her salary as secretary of state, but that’s not where most of the family wealth comes from. It comes from, instead, wealthy donors shoveling money at the Clintons, often through speaking fees. Paying Bill Clinton millions of dollars to talk about himself is honest work, sure–but it’s doubtful the public thinks the Clintons had it tough.

That’s the upshot of the Washington Post’s story laying out just how the Clintons amassed all this post-presidential wealth:

Bill Clinton has been paid $104.9 million for 542 speeches around the world between January 2001, when he left the White House, and January 2013, when Hillary stepped down as secretary of state, according to a Washington Post review of the family’s federal financial disclosures.

Although slightly more than half of his appearances were in the United States, the majority of his speaking income, $56.3 million, came from foreign speeches, many of them in China, Japan, Canada and the United Kingdom, the Post review found.

The financial industry has been Clinton’s most frequent sponsor. The Post review showed that Wall Street banks and other financial services firms have hired Clinton for at least 102 appearances and paid him a total of $19.6 million.

Since leaving the State Department, Hillary Clinton has followed her husband and a roster of recent presidents and secretaries of state in this profitable line of work, addressing dozens of industry groups, banks and other organizations for pay. Records of her earnings are not publicly available, but executives familiar with the engagements said her standard fee is $200,000 and up, and that she has been in higher demand than her husband.

Here’s the thing: It’s actually OK that the Clintons are filthy rich–at least it’s OK with conservatives. There’s nothing wrong with the fact that the Clintons are rolling in money basically handed to them by the lords of American finance and Wall Street’s heavy hitters. That’s because contrary to the left’s hysterical propaganda, the financial industry is not evil; it in fact creates wealth and jobs, not to mention keeps New York humming along.

It’s perfectly fine if the Clintons go home to a giant vat of cash from Goldman Sachs and swim around in it, Scrooge McDuck-style. It’s good exercise! And there’s nothing criminal about being paid to hang out at fancy resorts and make jokes and hobnob in return for gobs and gobs of money. But the Clintons leave the impression that something’s not quite right by the way they try to spin their fees. For example:

The Clintons also sometimes request that sponsors pay their fee as a donation to the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, the family’s nonprofit group that leads global philanthropic initiatives. Hillary Clinton is doing this with her $225,000 fee for a speech this fall at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, according to her office.

Oh come on. The American people don’t enjoy having their intelligence insulted so brazenly. And again, there’s really no reason to be rude: the Clintons did not steal their fabulous wealth. They were paid more money than most Americans can even imagine to show up, say a few words, and maybe take some pictures. They can be proud of the lives they’ve made for themselves. The Clintons are very, very rich–completely out of the orbit of most of the country, to say nothing of the planet.

Sure, it’s not as though–like, say, Mitt Romney–the Clintons were creating jobs or helping businesses adapt to new climates, or turning around failed ventures. And it’s also true that the Clintons are generally paid tons of money just because they’re the Clintons. But trading on celebrity isn’t illegal.

Now, of course it’s possible that voters won’t love the fact that the Clintons essentially used their political power and connections, not to mention the fact that many donors believe Hillary will be the next president, to convince the wealthy to give them lots of money. But what’s the alternative? That the Clintons would get private-sector employment creating wealth, learning skills, helping local communities, and making sure workers have jobs and benefits? Liberals treated the last guy who tried that like he was the spawn of Satan. The Clintons are acting this way because they hope to capture the Democratic Party nomination, and they know their audience.

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The Walker Smear Collapses

Last week I wrote about the way the liberal mainstream media was trumpeting the rather slender evidence that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was in trouble over campaign fundraising. But yesterday, the story collapsed when the prosecutor cited in the original story denied the governor was in any legal peril. Predictably, the same outlets that promoted the first story are now burying the sequel.

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Last week I wrote about the way the liberal mainstream media was trumpeting the rather slender evidence that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was in trouble over campaign fundraising. But yesterday, the story collapsed when the prosecutor cited in the original story denied the governor was in any legal peril. Predictably, the same outlets that promoted the first story are now burying the sequel.

The original accusations that Walker was at the center of an investigation of a criminal probe of violations of Wisconsin’s arcane campaign finance laws was treated as a very big deal by liberal outlets hungry for material to use to discredit the governor. The words “criminal scheme” to describe his actions echoed around the Internet and liberal shows on MSNBC and CNN. As I noted then, the New York Times had the story at the top of its home page when it broke and then plastered it on the front page of their print edition the next day. In the original version of the piece, the paper discussed the allegations in detail but only mentioned the fact that two separate judges—one state and one federal—had already dismissed the charges and halted the investigation in the case.

But the flimsy nature of the story didn’t stop most liberal print and broadcast outlets from treating this as proof that Walker had been discredited as a national political figure. The actions that were alleged to be illegal are, in fact, legal just about everywhere but Wisconsin. Moreover, a Walker email discussing one of his campaign consultants that had been made public was widely discussed as somehow an admission of guilt on the governor’s part even though it was nothing of the kind. While most of those who wrote about the case admitted that it was doubtful that Walker would ever be charged with anything, they gleefully noted that, as TIME’s Michael Scherer wrote, “from a distance” it would look bad.

Walker’s Democratic opponent in his reelection race this year certainly thought so. Mary Burke has already been airing commercials highlighting the accusations in the hope that the charge would turn the tide in what was already a close contest.

But yesterday those counting on this so-called scandal putting an end to Walker’s career got some disappointing news. The lawyer representing the special prosecutors that had been running the now curtailed investigation announced that, despite the misleading headlines, the governor was not the object of any criminal probe. Despite the broad conclusions drawn from the documents uncovered last week, the lawyer said that “no conclusions” had been reached in the effort that has already been dismissed by judges as a politicized fishing expedition.

But don’t expect any apologies from the liberals who were burying Walker and speaking of him as a criminal. Needless to say, the same outlets that were screaming bloody murder about Walker’s guilt last week haven’t much to say about this development. The Times buried a story about it inside the paper in contrast to the front-page treatment it accorded the original allegation.

This case was just the latest example of liberal attempts to take out a man whom they fear. Walker was the most successful of all the Republican governors elected in 2010. He achieved groundbreaking reforms that freed his state of the tyranny of state worker unions and their contracts that were burying Wisconsin (and many other states) in debt. That put him in the cross hairs of Democrats and their thuggish union allies that employed intimidation tactics to thwart the state legislature’s ability to function. When that failed they attempted to use a recall vote to throw Walker out of office that was no more successful than earlier efforts.

Liberal hate transformed Walker from a little known county executive four years ago into a conservative folk hero with a legitimate shot at a 2016 presidential run. Thus it was hardly surprising that many of the same people who have been denouncing his reformist policies were quick to seize on anything that would besmirch his reputation. But while liberals had high hopes for this story a week ago, it seems now they can only console themselves with the thought that the endless repetition of the word “criminal” in the same sentence with Walker’s name will have done enough damage to even the odds in the Wisconsin gubernatorial race. It remains to be seen whether the debunking of this “scandal” will undo the harm that the initial reports caused.

Like previous efforts to knock off Walker, this story flopped. Though he’s in for a tough fight to win reelection, liberals have been writing his political obituary almost continuously since he first took office in 2011. It may be that by overreaching in this manner, the left has once again handed Walker a stick with which to beat them. Just as the recall effort drew more attention to the dictatorial hold on the state treasury that unions were seeking to defend than any of Walker’s shortcomings, it may be that this “scandal” may have just served as a reminder to voters of media bias rather than any fault on the part of the governor.

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Can Being Broke Help Joe Beat Hillary?

He couldn’t resist it. With his putative 2016 rival Hillary Clinton still dealing with the backlash from her bogus claim of being broke after leaving the White House, Vice President Joe Biden laid it on thick today at the White House summit on working families by boasting of his own lean finances.

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He couldn’t resist it. With his putative 2016 rival Hillary Clinton still dealing with the backlash from her bogus claim of being broke after leaving the White House, Vice President Joe Biden laid it on thick today at the White House summit on working families by boasting of his own lean finances.

Biden may well have been “the poorest man in Congress” during his 36 years in the Senate. But his claims that he didn’t “own a single stock or bond” and “no savings accounts” was not factually correct. He does have some savings and there are some investments in his wife’s name. Though his net worth of approximately $800,000 makes him a pauper compared to most Washington politicians, with annual income in the $400,000 range (including $2,200 a month from the Secret Service in rent payments for the use of a building at his Delaware home), no one need worry about him.

There’s little doubt that Biden hopes that highlighting his relatively modest means will remind Democrats that they have an alternative to Clinton as she slogs through a book tour that has brought her as many negative headlines as good ones. However, anyone who thinks that the so-called party of the people would be more inclined to nominate a middle class candidate over one of the now demonstrably wealthy Clintons knows nothing about American politics or Democrats.

Like the English, who have always been known to “love a lord” even as they resented the privileges of the ruling class, Americans generally like rich people. That may even be truer of the party that claims to represent the interests of working people and to be in perpetual war with Wall Street than it is of the Republicans who are generally billed as the party of business. On this point I agree with Vox’s Matthew Yglesias, who also pours cold water on the notion that Biden has any advantage with Democratic voters on the question of income.

While the GOP has had its share of wealthy standard-bearers (Mitt Romney, John McCain, the Bushes, and Theodore Roosevelt being the most prominent examples in the 20th and early 21st centuries), the Democrats have shown even more of a weakness for swells than the Republicans.

If we ignore Barack Obama, who entered the White House a relatively wealthy man due to the sales of his books and his wife’s income but came from a humble background, Bill Clinton was actually the last non-rich Democratic presidential candidate. Al Gore (who has grown far richer due to his exploitation of “green” economics and his sale of a cable channel without an audience to Al Jazeera) and John Kerry were both extremely wealthy. Going back further, you discover not only have the Democrats often nominated wealthy men, the richest tend to be the most popular, i.e. John F. Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Looked at in that context, over the course of the last century, Democrats have always been suckers for the rich guy who claims to defend the interests of the little guy at the expense of his fellow millionaires.

Thus, if Joe Biden thinks he can counter Hillary’s compelling narrative as the first female president with one that touts his middle class background and relatively thin back account, he is probably wasting his time. Democrats get as much, if not more of their money these days from the wealthy, including those on Wall Street.

There are some rich people Democrats don’t like: Republicans. Obama’s campaign relentlessly harped on Romney’s wealth not because their voters aren’t attracted to the lifestyles of the rich and famous but because they were able to claim that the GOP candidate was essentially self-interested as well as out of touch with ordinary Americans. Romney’s inability to connect with most voters, a trait that had to do with his shortcomings as a politician rather than his money, made the charge stick. While income inequality is a meme liberals like to use against their opponents, they’ve never yet applied the same standard to their own candidates. Being a member of the “one percent” is no bar to Democrat applause so long as the member of that club is willing to attack other one-percenters.

It is true that Hillary is hopelessly out of touch with most Americans as her clueless line about being “dead broke” when she left the White House with an $8 million book advance in her pocket indicated. But don’t expect Democratic primary voters to hold it against her. Biden is so far behind Hillary it’s hard to imagine anything she could do or say to be denied the nomination (other, that is, than refusing to run). Indeed, if she were smart, she’d stop trying to pretend to be middle class and embrace her status as one of the nation’s elites with more gusto. Nobody cares if she has money but they don’t like a woman who has largely lived at the expense of the public pretending that she is just an ordinary person. It will work a lot better and save her from further embarrassment about hypocritically fretting over the travails of financing multiple homes even as she receives $200,000 speaking fees.

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Paul’s Isolationism Isn’t a Viable Alternative

In the last week the collapse in Iraq has re-ignited the debate over President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003 as well as President Obama’s to abandon it in 2011. That has allowed many liberals to return to their favorite pastime of bashing neoconservative advocates for the war and conservatives to excoriate an administration that decided to bug out of Iraq just at the point when the conflict seemed to have been won. Both of the last two presidents made mistakes in Iraq and these exchanges have left no one’s reputation intact. But for isolationists, this latest crisis is an opportunity for them to claim that they alone have avoided blame for both the bloody war that followed the fall of Saddam Hussein and the current battles in which much of the country appears to be falling into the hands of a Sunni coalition made up of al-Qaeda sympathizers and former Baathists.

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In the last week the collapse in Iraq has re-ignited the debate over President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003 as well as President Obama’s to abandon it in 2011. That has allowed many liberals to return to their favorite pastime of bashing neoconservative advocates for the war and conservatives to excoriate an administration that decided to bug out of Iraq just at the point when the conflict seemed to have been won. Both of the last two presidents made mistakes in Iraq and these exchanges have left no one’s reputation intact. But for isolationists, this latest crisis is an opportunity for them to claim that they alone have avoided blame for both the bloody war that followed the fall of Saddam Hussein and the current battles in which much of the country appears to be falling into the hands of a Sunni coalition made up of al-Qaeda sympathizers and former Baathists.

That’s the conceit of Senator Rand Paul’s op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal in which he joins the pile-on against both Bush and Obama. According to Paul, the main lesson to be derived from recent developments in Iraq is that anyone connected to or supportive of the original invasion as well as those who support the president’s disastrous retreat from the region need to admit their errors and cease advocating for what he considers to be failed policies. Fair enough. But once everyone who was for the war and also those who urged withdrawal say they’re sorry, what does the man who must be considered one of the frontrunners for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 think the U.S. should do in Iraq now? The answer is apparently, not much. Paul seems to be skeptical about any action to try and push back against the ISIS advance, a position that may be wrong but is not irrational. Not unreasonably, he also believes any presidential decisions should seek authorization from Congress for any new initiative.

What is not reasonable is the context of Paul’s position. Though he continues to insist that what he is proposing is analogous to the policies carried out by Ronald Reagan, having opposed virtually every U.S. initiative in the Middle East, it is hard to see his proposal as anything but a prescription for U.S. abandonment of both its interests and allies in the Middle East. This may have some superficial appeal to war-weary Americans who have grown tired of dealing with the region’s problems. But doing so will neither enhance the nation’s security nor allow it to ignore the threats that regularly emerge to challenge it.

Paul’s harping on the idea of others admitting their mistakes is a not-so-subtle way of asserting that he has made none. It is true that he bears no responsibility for getting the U.S. into Iraq or for President Obama’s bungling of a war that the administration claimed had been successfully concluded in his first term. But to claim that simply staying out of Iraq would have avoided all the problems of a rising Islamist tide in the region is to miss the point of the events of the last few years. By passing on an early intervention in Syria that might have toppled the Assad regime and avoided having the country fall into the hands of Islamists, President Obama set in motion a chain of events that has not only left the country in ruins, created more than a million refugees, and left more than 100,000 dead. He also helped create the circumstances that have fueled the chaos in Iraq. In doing so, Obama was doing just as a President Paul would do, only with the pretense that he was actually in control of events as his “lead from behind” mantra tried to indicate.

It is one thing to advocate for the U.S. to adopt a Reaganesque stance of only using force when U.S. interests are directly threatened, as Paul counsels. But Paul’s consistent position is always for the U.S. to stay out of the fight against Islamist terrorists, no matter where they are or what they are doing. He opposes drone strikes on al-Qaeda leaders and even U.S. aid to regional allies like Israel as well as less friendly and stable countries. Though he couches his position in “realist” terms that evoke Republicans of the past, a Rand Paul foreign policy would signal a retreat from the defense of the U.S. interests that Ronald Reagan would never have countenanced. Far from being an alternative to the follies of both the last two presidents, Paul would take U.S. foreign policy far to the left of what most Republicans already rightly think is Obama’s retreat from the world stage.

There is clearly no appetite in the country now for a new commitment to ground combat in Iraq, but Paul’s isolationism represents a dangerous extension of Obama’s cut-and-run philosophy. Though foreign policy will always take a back seat to domestic concerns, as Republicans begin to think seriously about 2016 they need to start thinking about whether they really want a presidential candidate who wants to abandon America’s interests and allies even more than Obama has done.

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Liberals Are Afraid of Scott Walker

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has made no secret of the fact that he’s thinking about running for president in 2016. But before that happens, he’s got to win a reelection fight in a polarized state where his opponents have been gunning for him since he took office. He’ll also have to navigate a crowded Republican field including several candidates who will have a head start on him, higher national name recognition, and higher numbers in early poll. But there’s something about the Wisconsin governor that drives liberals bonkers.

That’s the only explanation for the New Republic‘s atrocious hit piece on him this week that sought to label him as a racist. The problem with the piece wasn’t just the false premise. As even many of the magazine’s liberal faithful soon realized as they plowed through the 7,000-plus word effort, that the inflammatory headline—”The Unelectable Whiteness of Scott Walker: A journey through the poisonous, racially divided world that produced a Republican star”—there was absolutely nothing there to prove that Walker was a racist. The best takedown of the article comes—as is only fitting—from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, whose Christian Schneider rightly dismisses Alec MacGillis’s work as the kind of a baloney that smacked of a Google-aided tourist rather than knowledge of the state’s politics.

But the liberal campaign to discredit Walker isn’t limited to TNR’s inflammatory trash. As the New York Times reported this afternoon, there was an attempt by some Wisconsin prosecutors to tie Walker’s recall campaign to illegal contributions. But you have to click on the piece that was trumpeted on the paper’s home page to learn that the case was unproven and, in fact, dismissed by a federal judge and that the story is based on a federal suit that sought to reveal the unsubstantiated allegations in the records of this cold case. In fact, you have to read down to the end of the sixth paragraph of the piece to read, in a quote from Walker’s camp, that “two judges have rejected the characterizations [of the Walker campaign’s alleged illegal activity] contained in these documents.” The Times only mentions the pertinent fact that a federal judge halted the investigation as a politicized fishing expedition in the last sentence of the article.

In other words, there may be as little to this “scandal” as there was to previous efforts to nail Walker via Wisconsin’s draconian campaign finance laws or hit pieces like that published in TNR. All of which must cause political observers to wonder why it is that liberals are expending so much effort to knock off Walker. Could it be that they sense he is exactly the sort of candidate that could give Democrats a run for their money in 2016?

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Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has made no secret of the fact that he’s thinking about running for president in 2016. But before that happens, he’s got to win a reelection fight in a polarized state where his opponents have been gunning for him since he took office. He’ll also have to navigate a crowded Republican field including several candidates who will have a head start on him, higher national name recognition, and higher numbers in early poll. But there’s something about the Wisconsin governor that drives liberals bonkers.

That’s the only explanation for the New Republic‘s atrocious hit piece on him this week that sought to label him as a racist. The problem with the piece wasn’t just the false premise. As even many of the magazine’s liberal faithful soon realized as they plowed through the 7,000-plus word effort, that the inflammatory headline—”The Unelectable Whiteness of Scott Walker: A journey through the poisonous, racially divided world that produced a Republican star”—there was absolutely nothing there to prove that Walker was a racist. The best takedown of the article comes—as is only fitting—from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, whose Christian Schneider rightly dismisses Alec MacGillis’s work as the kind of a baloney that smacked of a Google-aided tourist rather than knowledge of the state’s politics.

But the liberal campaign to discredit Walker isn’t limited to TNR’s inflammatory trash. As the New York Times reported this afternoon, there was an attempt by some Wisconsin prosecutors to tie Walker’s recall campaign to illegal contributions. But you have to click on the piece that was trumpeted on the paper’s home page to learn that the case was unproven and, in fact, dismissed by a federal judge and that the story is based on a federal suit that sought to reveal the unsubstantiated allegations in the records of this cold case. In fact, you have to read down to the end of the sixth paragraph of the piece to read, in a quote from Walker’s camp, that “two judges have rejected the characterizations [of the Walker campaign’s alleged illegal activity] contained in these documents.” The Times only mentions the pertinent fact that a federal judge halted the investigation as a politicized fishing expedition in the last sentence of the article.

In other words, there may be as little to this “scandal” as there was to previous efforts to nail Walker via Wisconsin’s draconian campaign finance laws or hit pieces like that published in TNR. All of which must cause political observers to wonder why it is that liberals are expending so much effort to knock off Walker. Could it be that they sense he is exactly the sort of candidate that could give Democrats a run for their money in 2016?

To be fair, no Republican governor in the country challenged liberal orthodoxy and Democrat interest groups the way Walker did after he took office in 2011. By seeking to reform the state’s finances and prevent state worker unions from continuing to blackmail the taxpayers, Walker stepped on what has always been the third rail of American politics. Yet he won that political battle despite thuggish efforts by Democrats and unions to intimidate Walker and other Republicans as well as an attempt to shut down the Wisconsin legislature (not surprisingly liberals who were outraged at last year’s federal government shutdown had no problem with what Democrats did in that instance). Not satisfied with that fiasco, the unions and Democrats wasted a year of effort and millions of dollars in precious campaign funds on a futile recall election the following year that only served to solidify his status as a GOP star.

While past efforts failed, the coverage in liberal publications of today’s allegations read as if the left thinks they’ve found gold here. The substance of the story is that a senior official of Walker’s recall defense campaign illegally coordinated with outside groups. The laws that this activity allegedly violates are so complicated that not even several paragraphs of prose and Venn diagrams serve to provide a clear explanation of just why this was so terrible. Some, like TIME’s Michael Scherer, are also claiming that Walker “tacitly admitted” guilt in the case in an email in which he boasted that campaign consultant R.J. Johnson was successfully running 9 recall elections and it will be like 9 congressional markets in every market in the state.” But only a rabid anti-Walker partisan can read that statement as anything but applause for an effort in which the local GOP campaigns in the state’s congressional districts were acting in concert. Not even Wisconsin’s absurd maze of campaign finance laws makes that illegal. Nor does another email that refers to Johnson’s work in coordinating spending from various groups prove that he broke any law. It’s little wonder that courts have halted this politicized charade. Scherer admits the law is unclear and that every judge who has ruled on the case has tossed it out. But his point is that “from a distance” the charges will still look bad and besmirch Walker’s reputation.

Though Walker has maintained a steady lead in polls against a Democratic challenger, he has his hands full in a close race in what remains a rare example of a true swing state. But Democrats seem to sense that, despite his lack of experience on the national stage, Walker is exactly the sort of candidate who could give them trouble. He not only is well liked by the entire spectrum of Republican constituencies including Tea Partiers, business groups, and the so-called establishment. His lack of a Washington resume positions him perfectly against a member of the permanent government in Hillary Clinton. His middle class origins also will enable him to appeal to working and middle class Americans who have, as Rick Santorum has rightly pointed out, felt left out by recent GOP campaigns.

But neither Hillary nor any other Democrat will have to worry further about Walker if scurrilous charges of racism or more stray allegations about law breaking help beat him in 2014. As far as Democrats are concerned, it doesn’t really matter whether these stories are based on substance or innuendo. All that counts is if they can put a dent in Walker’s well-earned image as a hard-working reform-minded governor. But they should be wary of overreaching as they did in the 2012 recall. So far, Walker has proved that the more liberals try to destroy him, the stronger he gets. It also strengthens Walker’s popularity among Republicans, which is the last thing that liberals want, since they hope the GOP nominates a candidate who, unlike Walker, will be easily branded as a right-wing extremist.

It’s hard to say whether this latest charge will stick. But the disproportionate effort the left has invested in destroying Walker illustrates how much they fear him.

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Erasing the “Oops”: Perry Mulls a 2016 Bid

In late May the Hill ran a story titled “Is it Ted Cruz’s Texas now?” Not only had Cruz endorsed a winner in a GOP primary that day, but more importantly, the Hill noted that upstarts and insurgent challengers for state offices who beat establishment favorites or incumbents were following Cruz’s playbook. (One of them even beat the same opponent Cruz defeated in his Senate primary, David Dewhurst.) “In every race, there was a Cruz dynamic,” as GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak told the paper.

“Cruz’s influence is also shaping state races that will influence Texas politics for years to come,” the Hill added. This is something to keep in mind as outgoing Texas Governor Rick Perry mulls another bid for the presidency. On the one hand, since he’s leaving office in Texas he won’t really have anything to lose by running again. On the other, his leaving office is emblematic of the changing of the guard in Texas. Dewhurst was, after all, Perry’s lieutenant governor when Cruz beat him for the Senate nomination.

Cruz’s influence in Texas politics will only increase in the near future. That would be of tremendous benefit if Cruz runs for president in 2016 and is able to secure the GOP nomination. Having a strong home base in an important state like Texas would provide decent press and go a long way toward establishing a ground game. But it would also help Cruz in the primaries if another Texan runs against him. And if he does have another Texas opponent, it’s likely to be Perry.

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In late May the Hill ran a story titled “Is it Ted Cruz’s Texas now?” Not only had Cruz endorsed a winner in a GOP primary that day, but more importantly, the Hill noted that upstarts and insurgent challengers for state offices who beat establishment favorites or incumbents were following Cruz’s playbook. (One of them even beat the same opponent Cruz defeated in his Senate primary, David Dewhurst.) “In every race, there was a Cruz dynamic,” as GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak told the paper.

“Cruz’s influence is also shaping state races that will influence Texas politics for years to come,” the Hill added. This is something to keep in mind as outgoing Texas Governor Rick Perry mulls another bid for the presidency. On the one hand, since he’s leaving office in Texas he won’t really have anything to lose by running again. On the other, his leaving office is emblematic of the changing of the guard in Texas. Dewhurst was, after all, Perry’s lieutenant governor when Cruz beat him for the Senate nomination.

Cruz’s influence in Texas politics will only increase in the near future. That would be of tremendous benefit if Cruz runs for president in 2016 and is able to secure the GOP nomination. Having a strong home base in an important state like Texas would provide decent press and go a long way toward establishing a ground game. But it would also help Cruz in the primaries if another Texan runs against him. And if he does have another Texas opponent, it’s likely to be Perry.

New York Times Magazine’s Mark Leibovich recently spent some time with Perry for a profile in this weekend’s issue. Much of the article is centered on 2016, because Perry refuses to shut the door on the possibility. But the main obstacle the article concentrates on is the infamous “Oops” moment during a primary debate:

Perry’s next campaign, if he pursues one, would be as much about the willingness of the electorate to grant second chances as anything he himself would bring. Republican voters have been generous to second-timers in the past, Perry pointed out to me. Mitt Romney, Bob Dole, George H. W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, among others, all ran for president and lost before securing their party’s nomination. “Americans don’t spend all their time looking backward,” Perry said. They do, however, spend a lot of time watching television and assorted other screens, which is where the oops fiasco will live in viral perpetuity if he runs again. Even if everyone over 35 has had that sort of blanking moment, Perry’s timing was awful. “Ron Paul walked up and said: ‘I’ve done that before. But I’ve never done it in front of four million people,’ ” Perry told me.

Perry has been self-deprecating about the episode from the outset. “I’m glad I had my boots on tonight, because I sure stepped in it out there,” he said in the post-debate spin room that night. He read an oops-themed Top 10 list on Letterman the next night. At a dinner speech in Washington after the campaign ended, Perry summarized his experience thus: “Here’s the hardest part for me: the weakest Republican field in history — and they kicked my butt.” Even so, Perry is a figure of substantial ego and pride, and it clearly bothers him to be trapped in such a humiliating “Groundhog Day.”

There is a great deal of logic here. Perry has been governor for a decade and a half, and in that time Texas has thrived economically and his administration has been at the forefront of various policy reform fights, from education to criminal justice, and has demonstrated the difference between smart regulations and suffocating red tape. Perry’s career in government is a success story. And yet, the “oops” moment took place amid his first, disastrous national campaign and so that is what he risks, unfairly, being remembered for.

That’s unjust, but it’s also politics. At the same time, saying Perry doesn’t have anything to lose isn’t quite accurate. If he and Cruz both run, it would be similar to the possibility of both Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio running: the mood in the GOP is that it’s the next generation’s turn, and splitting the vote with a popular conservative in an important state would look like sour grapes. That’s especially true if the candidate doesn’t have a good shot at winning the nomination.

And for Perry, that appears to be the case. Timing is everything, and the last nomination battle was the perfect time for Perry. He’s under no obligation to simply ride off into the sunset without a fight, but it’s doubtful he’d really want to play spoiler to his home state’s next political star. If Cruz doesn’t run, there’s more of an argument that Perry has at least earned a chance to leave the scene on his own terms. It might not change his odds much, but it would probably be his last shot at a second chance.

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