Commentary Magazine


Topic: 2016 presidential election

The GOP Governors’ 2016 Derby

Chris Christie took a well-deserved victory lap this week at the annual meeting of the Republican Governor’s Association, basking in the glow of a midterm victory that capped off a highly successful year for him as chairman of the group. The New Jersey governor’s formidable fundraising skills played a significant role in the GOP’s victories around the country, including in blue states such as Maryland and Massachusetts. But, as Politico notes, Christie wasn’t getting much love, in terms of his 2016 prospects, from the candidates he helped. That’s not terribly surprising given the plethora of potential candidates, including a bevy of his fellow Republican governors. But the impressive lineup of would-be presidents in attendance at the RGA highlights a key problem for all of these hopefuls: the crowded field in which seemingly none of them has a political or even a geographical advantage renders the talk of the inevitability of a governor being the nominee a piece of useless conventional wisdom.

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Chris Christie took a well-deserved victory lap this week at the annual meeting of the Republican Governor’s Association, basking in the glow of a midterm victory that capped off a highly successful year for him as chairman of the group. The New Jersey governor’s formidable fundraising skills played a significant role in the GOP’s victories around the country, including in blue states such as Maryland and Massachusetts. But, as Politico notes, Christie wasn’t getting much love, in terms of his 2016 prospects, from the candidates he helped. That’s not terribly surprising given the plethora of potential candidates, including a bevy of his fellow Republican governors. But the impressive lineup of would-be presidents in attendance at the RGA highlights a key problem for all of these hopefuls: the crowded field in which seemingly none of them has a political or even a geographical advantage renders the talk of the inevitability of a governor being the nominee a piece of useless conventional wisdom.

As I noted last week, the assumption that governors make better presidents than, say, senators gets a mixed verdict from history. But the current crop of GOP governors do have a strong argument that their distance from Washington dysfunction and records of accomplishment stand them in good stead in any presidential race. The problem is not only that each of them also has their own set of liabilities but also that the sheer volume of contenders with a gubernatorial resume line makes it difficult for any one of them to credibly claim the mantle of the chief non-Washingtonian candidate of good governance.

Christie’s difficult path to the nomination is already well documented. While he may be in the process of putting the Bridgegate accusations behind him, the antipathy of the party’s conservative base for Christie is a formidable obstacle. So, too, is the difficulty of imagining someone with his irascible nature (“sit down and shut up”) and thin skin surviving on the stump amid the intense scrutiny of a presidential race.

But while doubts about the resurrection of Christie’s once high presidential expectations are well founded, the same skepticism ought to apply to the other governors preening for the national press this week. Chief among them is Ohio Governor John Kasich, who seems to be the flavor of the month after his huge reelection victory in perhaps the most crucial swing state in the country. But Kasich, with his equivocal stance on Medicare and ObamaCare as well his more moderate views on immigration is no more likely to be liked by the base than Christie, leaving him competing for establishment support with Christie and a flock of others.

Those others include Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, who will have a stronger claim on the base while also being able to connect with moderates. Indiana’s Mike Pence is similarly situated, albeit without the folk hero status Walker earned among conservatives with his epic battles with unions and the unsuccessful liberal attempt to recall him. But as much as both men are veteran politicians, they are untested outside of their states leaving even their fans uncertain as to how they’d fare in a presidential campaign.

Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal is another smart Republican governor with conservative credentials, but his efforts to edge out onto the national stage haven’t been universally successful. Buying into the notion that an intellectual southern governor/social conservative with as little charisma as he demonstrates can make the leap to the first tier in the primaries requires more religious faith than political acumen.

As for others, we also need to realize that the overlap between these candidates is a big problem. Whether or not you think Texas Governor Rick Perry has a shot at doing better in his second try for the presidency (after a wince-inducing and disastrous 2012 campaign), he is up against the fact that he will be competing for support with another Texan, Senator Ted Cruz, who has much a better chance of exciting Tea Partiers and other conservatives than Mr. “Oops.” Walker, Kasich, and Pence will compete for the title of leading Midwest governor making it difficult for any of them to seize a niche and make it their own.

That’s why outsiders like Carly Fiorina and Dr. Ben Carson are spinning scenarios in their heads about a path to the nomination even if their claims are far more dubious than those of potential competitors. The same applies to would-be establishment standard bearers like Jeb Bush and Christie. Yet Bush would also face competition in Florida from Senator Marco Rubio and Walker must also deal with the possibility that Rep. Paul Ryan, a fellow Wisconsin resident, will run.

Only Senator Rand Paul seems to have a constituency locked up—the libertarian crowd he seems to have inherited from his outlier father Ron—but there is doubt as to whether they will follow him blindly if he continues to edge closer to mainstream views on foreign policy in order to be more presentable.

But Kasich’s recent boomlet should also remind us about what will be the key factor in winnowing this field down to those who have an actual chance: gaffes. Kasich has stayed at home in Columbus the past few years far away from national media centers and earned a reputation as a good governor. But his past as a fast-talking, albeit relatively moderate conservative congressman and then as a sometime replacement host on Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly show makes it more than probable that Kasich will eventually say something that will undermine a presidential campaign. The same is true of the rest of this crowd. If it’s hard to know what will happen in the next year during the run-up to the start of the 2016 primaries, it is because we don’t know which of the candidates will sink themselves with a stray remark.

Seen in that light the competition for the 2016 nomination isn’t so much a cattle call for a bunch of governors as it is a demolition derby that will probably determine the outcome via gaffes and self-destructive impulses. All these governors have a chance but the one that is best at avoiding mistakes is the one who will get a shot at winning.

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Did Obama Unite the GOP on Immigration?

Tennessee Democrat Steve Cohen provided a moment of levity at a Secret Service hearing yesterday when he suggested that a moat might make a good upgrade for White House security. He backtracked today, saying he didn’t mean a moat-moat, just a water barrier of some sort. But the timing, as President Obama was feeling his monarchical oats, was impeccable. Indeed, this president’s preference for the authority of an elected kingship shows how Obama may have misjudged the Republican reaction to executive amnesty.

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Tennessee Democrat Steve Cohen provided a moment of levity at a Secret Service hearing yesterday when he suggested that a moat might make a good upgrade for White House security. He backtracked today, saying he didn’t mean a moat-moat, just a water barrier of some sort. But the timing, as President Obama was feeling his monarchical oats, was impeccable. Indeed, this president’s preference for the authority of an elected kingship shows how Obama may have misjudged the Republican reaction to executive amnesty.

In the past, Obama has been fairly skilled in dividing Republicans against themselves, especially on the issue of immigration. And one might have expected something similar this time as well. Republicans are not, after all, of one mind in how to respond to the executive action he plans to announce tonight. Obama has twice scuttled immigration reform, once as senator and prospective presidential candidate and once as president as well, because the issue was thought to hurt Republicans with Hispanic voters.

The issue also seemed to weaken the Republican presidential fields. In 2012 Rick Perry stumbled badly over an immigration question at a primary debate and never really recovered. And for 2016, prospective candidates found themselves on different sides of the issue: Marco Rubio helped get comprehensive immigration reform through the Senate, Rand Paul wavered but ultimately voted against it, and Ted Cruz was opposed.

That, and the fact that reform died in the House anyway, was a setback for Rubio. The Florida senator had since recovered some of his earlier momentum thanks in part to the president’s vast array of foreign-policy blunders, and the president’s executive amnesty is likely to help the two GOP rising stars who voted for immigration reform last year: Rubio and New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte.

Immigration hawks will still remember their votes for the reform bill. But the president’s actions do two things that will help them. First, it removes some of the fear the grassroots might have in what action a hypothetical President Rubio might take on immigration. That is, if amnesty is already done, then the only things that are left are issues that Republicans tend to broadly agree on, such as border security.

It’s true that comprehensive immigration reform was unlikely to pass the House in the near future anyway, but Obama has essentially taken the part of it that conservatives like the least off the table. There’s no looming threat of amnesty; it’s here. Having already supported immigration reform, Rubio will get some credit from Hispanic voters. But will his opposition to executive amnesty lose them?

That’s where the second aspect of Obama’s miscalculation comes in. By making such an obvious power grab, he has made opposition to his actions intellectually much simpler. The words “king” and “emperor” have been thrown around; Ted Cruz even referenced Cicero’s First Oration Against Catiline today, as if Obama would even know who that is:

“When, President Obama, do you mean to cease abusing our patience? How long is that madness of yours still to mock us? When is there to be an end to that unbridled audacity of yours, swaggering about as it does now?” he said, using the beginning of Cicero’s First Oration Against Catiline.

Even Democrats seem to have no idea how to explain how the executive amnesty is legal.

Which is to say: it’s very easy to criticize this move without attacking immigrants–though the media, surely, will attempt to conflate the two. And doing so also enables Republican candidates to come out strongly against Obama’s power grabs more generally, and his immigration actions specifically, to a conservative audience in the same way they would do so to a general-election audience, without having to flip-flop or triangulate.

Obama has been criticized for this power grab by even traditionally supportive left-leaning media, such as the Washington Post and the Economist, because of the precedent it would set and the left’s fear of reprisals. This debate isn’t about the policy anymore, and anyone who pretends otherwise is selling something. Obama has given even supporters of immigration reform a way to oppose amnesty without opposing immigration in itself.

Obama has made the conversation about the damage this act would do to American democracy. That’s very comfortable terrain for Republicans, who are thus far more united on this issue than they would otherwise be.

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Elizabeth Warren’s Temptation

When Senate Democrats tapped Elizabeth Warren to be their official liaison to their party’s left-wing base last Thursday, it was yet another indication of the Massachusetts senator’s stature as a liberal icon. As Politico reports, that same day Warren was also besieged by those in attendance at a meeting of major liberal donors with calls for her to run for president in 2016. But while Warren and figures close to her continue to insist that she has no interest in opposing presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton, she could hardly be blamed for wondering if her decision to rule out such a race had been premature. Unlike most of the veteran politicians in both parties whose desire for the White House is no secret, we don’t know whether Warren truly wants to be president. But if she does, she may probably never have a better chance.

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When Senate Democrats tapped Elizabeth Warren to be their official liaison to their party’s left-wing base last Thursday, it was yet another indication of the Massachusetts senator’s stature as a liberal icon. As Politico reports, that same day Warren was also besieged by those in attendance at a meeting of major liberal donors with calls for her to run for president in 2016. But while Warren and figures close to her continue to insist that she has no interest in opposing presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton, she could hardly be blamed for wondering if her decision to rule out such a race had been premature. Unlike most of the veteran politicians in both parties whose desire for the White House is no secret, we don’t know whether Warren truly wants to be president. But if she does, she may probably never have a better chance.

Unlike most efforts to persuade a person to run for president, the would-be candidate or friendly media isn’t orchestrating the Warren boomlet. Rather, it seems to be a genuine uprising on the part of many liberals against the impending coronation of Hillary Clinton and what is perceived on the left as her establishment cronies whose loyalty to hard-core liberal ideology on domestic and foreign issues is very much in question.

Moreover, Republicans aren’t the only ones who have noticed that the willingness of most Democrats to assume that she will be President Obama’s successor can’t conceal her weakness as a candidate. Clinton’s book tour was a gaffe-ridden public-relations disaster rather than a triumph. Her interventions in the midterms demonstrated the weakness of the Clinton brand. Even worse, her attempts to play to the left and imitate Warren, such as her absurd suggestion that corporations don’t create jobs, fell flat and once again her lack of authentic convictions.

No sensible politician would take on the Clinton machine blithely. The Clintons have wisely attempted to try and sew up the Democratic nomination so as to avoid the possibility of another charismatic challenger jumping in to take it from her as Barack Obama did in 2008. The strategy seems foolproof if for no other reason that the weak Democratic bench seems to be populated only with gadflies like Bernie Sanders and James Webb or lightweights like outgoing Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. But if there is anyone who can fit the Obama profile of a candidate who has a better connection with the base than Clinton, it’s Warren.

The Warren rationale also could tap into the fact that both party’s bases take it as a matter of faith that it is smarter to run conviction politicians who are true believers than establishment-style moderates. Liberals are convinced that the Democrats lost the midterms because they ran away from Obama and tried to move to the center instead of highlighting left-wing talking points. A Warren candidacy plays right into this belief that Clinton may be a loser in spite of her generally strong favorability ratings because she has spent her career trying to be all things to all people.

Like Obama, Warren’s candidacy could not have been predicted only a few years ago. In just two years, Warren has gone from being an obscure figure whose chief ambition was to lead a new federal regulatory agency (Republicans have long since realized that blocking her appointment as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau backfired) to being a leader in a party that seems to have lost touch with its grass roots and has few other rising stars.

Assuming that she has any appetite for the presidency, and few who are offered a chance for it have the character to say no, there are two key questions to be asked.

One is whether there is an issue on which her candidacy could be leveraged in the same manner that Obama’s opposition to the Iraq War both endeared him to the liberal base and differentiated him from Clinton in 2008. Economic populism would be Warren’s chief issue but while Clinton’s record is weak, there is no equivalent to her vote for the Iraq War to hold against her. Warren could however compensate for that by putting herself forward as a fresh face for a party that may not wish to be dominated by the Clintons and their baggage. A Warren candidacy would also not suffer, as would any male Democrat challenging Clinton, from the idea of stopping the country from electing its first female president.

The other question is whether 2016 really is Warren’s best opportunity. Should Clinton lose to a Republican in 2016, Warren might be the presumptive front-runner for 2020. If she wins, the Democratic nomination wouldn’t be open again until 2024. But here the comparison with Obama argues in favor of her running now. Obama could have waited his turn in 2008 and looked to the future but rightly understood that he would never have a better opening in any other year. Warren could wait but although she is new to elective politics, she is not young. At 65 now, the idea of waiting until 2024 when she would be 10 years older may not be realistic.

But the most important argument in favor of her running is the fact that the grass roots of her party would embrace her. Rather than merely having a liaison to the Democratic leadership to the Senate, most liberals would prefer to be running the show. It’s clear the Democratic base agrees with President Obama’s decision to ignore the verdict of the midterm elections and push ahead with a radical left-wing agenda regardless of the consequences. That same spirit would pump life into a Warren candidacy in which Democrats could swing away at Wall Street without having to worry about offending a key Clinton constituency.

Against anyone else, Clinton would have no trouble in the primaries. But Warren would change the political equation. With Clinton looking vulnerable, Warren still has time to reconsider her decision to stay out of the 2016 fray. If she does, she may find her path to the nomination is not as steep as the Clintons would like us to believe. If she is at all tempted by the presidency, now may be her moment.

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Can Rand Paul Win Without Father’s Fans?

Of all the potential serious candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, only one isn’t playing it coy about their ambition. Senator Rand Paul is bypassing the traditional pretense of indecision prior to announcing and is leaving no doubt that he is planning on running in 2016. The Kentucky senator convened a meeting of advisors to plan the start of his campaign today in Washington but, as the Wall Street Journal reported, there was one important person missing from the conclave: Ron Paul, the former House member and perennial libertarian presidential candidate who also happens to be Rand’s father. But while this absence is in one sense a very good thing for his son’s ambitions, the growing gap between Rand and his father raises the question of whether he can win without his father’s supporters.

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Of all the potential serious candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, only one isn’t playing it coy about their ambition. Senator Rand Paul is bypassing the traditional pretense of indecision prior to announcing and is leaving no doubt that he is planning on running in 2016. The Kentucky senator convened a meeting of advisors to plan the start of his campaign today in Washington but, as the Wall Street Journal reported, there was one important person missing from the conclave: Ron Paul, the former House member and perennial libertarian presidential candidate who also happens to be Rand’s father. But while this absence is in one sense a very good thing for his son’s ambitions, the growing gap between Rand and his father raises the question of whether he can win without his father’s supporters.

Putting some distance between himself and his father has always been a prerequisite for Paul’s presidential hopes. While his father was able to count on a small but active segment of those who voted in Republican presidential primaries, his extreme libertarianism and foreign-policy views that put him to the left of President Obama ensured that Ron Paul never was going to be nominated by the GOP, let alone win the presidency.

Rand had a different plan. Much slicker and more attuned to mainstream opinion than his father, the senator’s goal was to hold on to the libertarian base that he presumed he would inherit from his father and add Tea Party Republicans who admired his principled stands against taxes and spending. Paul won the admiration of a wide range of conservatives last year with his filibuster against President Obama’s drone policies even if many didn’t agree with him on the issue. In an environment in which his neo-isolationist views, carefully parsed to avoid the label of extremism that stuck to his father, had become respectable, Paul was certain to be a first-tier primary candidate. Moreover, in what is expected to be a crowded field in which none of his potential rivals could count on a base as solid as his, there was a clear, if by no means certain, path to the nomination for him.

For those who have followed the senator for the last few years, his attempts to move into the mainstream on foreign-policy issues has been inextricably linked to his presidential ambitions. Though he was an ardent follower of his father when he began his political career, over the course of the last four years in the Senate he has carefully edged his way back into the mainstream. He eschewed his father’s extreme positions on foreign policy and tried to position himself as the avatar of a new generation of foreign-policy “realism.” That put him at odds with neo-conservatives and others in the party’s center on a whole range of issues but was a far cry from his father’s ranting about American imperialism and rationalizations of the behavior of Iran and other Islamist terror sponsors. He tried the same delicate dance on the issue of Israel in which he continued to oppose all foreign aid but also claimed to be a friend of the Jewish state and an opponent of those who would pressure it.

But the senator shocked some of his original libertarian fans recently when he realized that the isolationist moment had ended and endorsed air attacks against ISIS terrorists. In doing so he did what all people who have caught the presidential bug do when they think they have a reasonable chance of winning: abandoning their old positions in the vain support of those who would otherwise not vote for him. That makes Rand Paul a normal politician but it also brands him as a turncoat to his father’s libertarian true believers.

Moreover, in case anyone was in doubt as to what Ron Paul thought about this, they only had to follow him on Twitter where, on election night last week, he had this reaction to a Republican victory that his son was very publicly celebrating:

Republican control of the Senate = expanded neocon wars in Syria and Iraq. Boots on the ground are coming!

This statement changes the dynamic for his son’s presidential campaign. The more Ron Paul denounces the mainstream Republican Party and stays away from his son’s campaign, the easier it will be for his son to ignore those who will say he needs to be held responsible for his father’s extremism. Rather than being Rand’s Jeremiah Wright, Ron may well have no trouble denouncing his son’s apostasy from the libertarian true faith. That will help Rand get more centrist or conservative votes but there’s one element to this equation that doesn’t work in his favor.

It’s one thing for Rand to distance himself from his father’s beliefs but quite another for the Paulbots that energetically campaigned and voted for Ron to abandon him. The plan was, after all, for him to retain his father’s backers while adding mainstream Tea Party or mainstream Republicans who wanted no part of the senior Paul’s extremist views on foreign policy. But if they abandon him altogether, then he will be heading into the primaries without the core constituency that gives him such a strong profile.

The math of the Republican primaries is such that if the Paulbots don’t turn out for Rand it’s hard to see how he wins. Though his father’s following comprised only a minority of GOP voters, they were ardent and well organized, enabling them to win delegates for him in caucus states even though they didn’t represent the views of most Republicans. Added to his new more mainstream fans, they could provide the shock troops of a libertarian push to win the GOP for Rand. But in their absence (and most would stay home or return to their Democratic roots rather than embrace a man whom some would call sellout), Rand will be on an equal footing with other Republican candidates and that spells defeat for him.

This illustrates how difficult it is for an outlier to become a mainstream candidate. Though many libertarians would stick with Paul, if enough don’t, he will wind up falling very short of his goal. Though his father provided the inspiration for his political career, it may be that he will also help end it.

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Dems Learn No Lessons From Defeat

In case you were wondering what lessons Democrats were trying to learn from their historic drubbing in last week’s midterms, Politico provides an interesting insight into their thinking. According to the site, during a post-election conference call with Democratic members of the House, Rep. Diane DeGette of Colorado suggested that it was time for the party to “rethink” their message since so many young voters abandoned them and voted for Republican Cory Gardner in her state. The response from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was instructive. She abruptly “cut her off.” Like President Obama, Pelosi doesn’t think the loss is cause for the party to rethink anything. That leaves us asking what will it take for Democrats to draw any conclusions from an election defeat?

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In case you were wondering what lessons Democrats were trying to learn from their historic drubbing in last week’s midterms, Politico provides an interesting insight into their thinking. According to the site, during a post-election conference call with Democratic members of the House, Rep. Diane DeGette of Colorado suggested that it was time for the party to “rethink” their message since so many young voters abandoned them and voted for Republican Cory Gardner in her state. The response from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was instructive. She abruptly “cut her off.” Like President Obama, Pelosi doesn’t think the loss is cause for the party to rethink anything. That leaves us asking what will it take for Democrats to draw any conclusions from an election defeat?

Like President Obama, who seemed uninterested in drawing any conclusions from the midterms, Pelosi brushed off any talk about a GOP “wave” in an interview with Politico:

“I do not believe what happened the other night is a wave,” Pelosi said in her first sit-down interview since Democrats lost a dozen House seats to Republicans on Nov. 4. “There was no wave of approval for the Republicans. I wish them congratulations, they won the election, but there was no wave of approval for anybody. There was an ebbing, an ebb tide, for us.”

That’s been a consistent theme for Democrats who prefer to interpret the elections as the consequence of a failure to generate a big enough turnout from their base to win. Like President Obama, who said he would listen to those who voted as well as those who didn’t vote, Democrats have begun to treat midterms as somehow an illegitimate test of American public opinion as opposed to presidential elections where they do better.

There is a superficial logic to their thinking as the pattern of the last four federal elections has alternated Democratic presidential wins with Republican sweeps of the midterms. But rather than worrying that their inability to translate the popularity of Barack Obama into congressional majorities since their big win in 2008, Democrats have preferred to slip into a mentality that they are a presidential party rather than one that works in the midterms. Since Democrats take it as an article of faith that their policies are unquestionably right and that most voters understand this, they see no reason to change a thing about their approach. And as long as they can keep winning presidential elections, perhaps they can get away with this.

But, as Rep. DeGette seems to understand, politics never stands still. The assumption that Democrats will always bring out enough youth, minority, and female voters to offset any of their failings may not hold up indefinitely. Indeed, the 2014 midterms ought to be a wakeup call to Democrats reminding them that their dominance of these constituencies is not, unlike the government programs they believe in, a permanent entitlement. What happened this time was not just a decline in Democratic turnout but a sign that the Democrats’ favorite memes, such as the war on women, and their reliance on minority voters may be a trap. What worked in 2012 did not work this year everywhere. Even worse, their reliance on minority voters has caused them to slip into an acceptance of the idea that other groups are the preserve of Republicans. But, as much as Hispanics are the fastest growing demographic, surely Democrats don’t think they can keep winning the presidency by getting only a third of white males. That’s a gender gap that puts the GOP’s problems with women in perspective.

While the political terrain of 2016 will be more favorable to the Democrats than this year’s vote, the ability of Republicans to expand their map and put purple states that were thought to be turning blue into play should alarm the president’s party. They should also be drawing conclusions from the fact that when Republicans put up credible candidates in competitive states, they are winning or doing far better than expected. Smart politicians might conclude that the Democratic advantage in past votes has been as much a function of awful GOP candidates as anything else. But while some of what Pelosi and other Democratic leaders are saying now can be put down to political braggadocio, there seems little doubt that they mean it when they say they think there’s no reason to change anything.

To her credit, the one Democrat that seems to be thinking seriously about what happened is Democratic National Committee chair, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. While Wasserman Schultz is equally convinced that Democrats are right on the issue, she is at least open to the possibility that the way they’ve been selling themselves to the voters has been a mistake. She is convening a committee to study the midterms that is tasked with presenting a report early next year. If they’re smart, Democrats will use this as an opportunity to rethink a great deal of what they’ve been doing. But since DWS has been marginalized by the White House and is not liked by much of the party’s congressional leadership, the odds that anything she produces will be heard, let alone accepted, are not good. Indeed, rather than accept that dislike of his policies is the problem, Obama may decide to make the DNC chair the scapegoat for the loss.

The contrast between the Republican responses to their election defeats couldn’t be greater. In the aftermath of the 2012 elections, the party underwent a collective soul searching experience that is still resonating in debates about immigration reform and other issues. Though there isn’t complete consensus about what to do, the party’s concern for recruiting good candidates and seeking to stop bad ones from gaining nominations was a start.

But Democrats don’t seem much in the mood for a similar round of introspection. Instead, they prefer to wait until 2016 when they are confident that Hillary Clinton will lead them to victory. That is a possibility. But a smarter party or one that was actually interested in ideas might consider that the loss of so many congressional seats, governors, and state legislative chambers should motivate them to do some soul searching.

It will take a presidential defeat in 2016 to force Democrats to undergo the kind of self-examination that Republicans are struggling with. But if they do, the debris from the decline for the party that Barack Obama’s unpopularity has wrought may take them more than one election cycle to fix. Nothing in politics is permanent, but there is a price that must be paid for ignoring election results. Whether they like it or not, that is one lesson Democrats may eventually learn.

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Must Republicans Nominate a Governor?

Flush off his third election victory in four years, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker wasn’t shy about telling Chuck Todd on Meet the Press this past Sunday what he thinks the Republican Party should do in 2016: nominate a governor for president. Walker was clearly thinking of himself when he said that, but it’s a theme that his ally/antagonist New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has also sounded (though doubtless he was thinking of a different name on the top of the ticket) as well as other less self-interested observers. But while the arguments for putting a person with executive experience outside of Washington in the Oval Office seem conclusive, the assumption that a governor is the only possible choice may not hold up under scrutiny or the travails of the presidential campaign trail.

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Flush off his third election victory in four years, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker wasn’t shy about telling Chuck Todd on Meet the Press this past Sunday what he thinks the Republican Party should do in 2016: nominate a governor for president. Walker was clearly thinking of himself when he said that, but it’s a theme that his ally/antagonist New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has also sounded (though doubtless he was thinking of a different name on the top of the ticket) as well as other less self-interested observers. But while the arguments for putting a person with executive experience outside of Washington in the Oval Office seem conclusive, the assumption that a governor is the only possible choice may not hold up under scrutiny or the travails of the presidential campaign trail.

Walker’s case for nominating a governor is based partly on the notion that a president must be a proven executive, partly on the general disgust most Americans have for the inhabitants of Washington D.C. and partly on the ideological preference of conservatives for devolving power to the states away from the federal government:

SCOTT WALKER: We offer a fresh approach. Any of us, now 31 governors across the country have the executive experience from outside of Washington to provide a much better alternative to the old, tired, top-down approach you see out of Washington D.C. We need something fresh, organic, from the bottom up. And that’s what you get in the states.

CHUCK TODD: You’re not deferring to Paul Ryan, then? It sounds like you believe a governor, not a member of Congress should be the Republican nominee?

SCOTT WALKER: Paul Ryan may be the only exception to that rule. But overall, I think governors make much better presidents than members of Congress.

The first question to ask about this thesis is historical. Have governors always been better presidents than members of the Senate or House?

Conservatives start this discussion by citing the obvious example of Barack Obama, a senator with not even much experience on the Hill who never ran anything before arriving in the White House and has, in their view, run the country straight into the ground since then. In that sense, if one leaves aside his unique historical status as our first African-American president, we can view him as a latter-day Warren Harding, another senator who presided (albeit briefly before he died in office) over a government that was a disaster. By contrast, some of the most effective presidents in our history have been governors. Examples from the last century include Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Franklin Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, and Theodore Roosevelt.

But not all governors make good presidents and not all good presidents were governors.

Leaving George W. Bush out of the discussion (liberals think him the worst president since Nixon or Harding while conservatives believe history will judge him more kindly), the name of Jimmy Carter should stand as a definitive rebuke to those who say all governors are better presidents than other individuals. And while he still has many admirers, Woodrow Wilson also strikes me as a cautionary tale for those who laud gubernatorial virtues, though it can be argued that his memory is more of an argument against electing university presidents than governors.

As for non-governors who were effective in the White House, there is Dwight Eisenhower, who proved a career as a staff officer in the U.S. Army was as good a preparation for the presidency as it was for leading the Allied Expeditionary Force against Hitler’s Nazi empire. Even more counterintuitive for the Walker-Christie thesis is Harry Truman, who was only a senator and yet proved capable of running the country and making the sort of executive decisions on foreign policy, military, and domestic issues that are the epitome of managerial accountability (“the buck stops here”). Less convincing is the example of Lyndon Johnson, who demonstrated that knowledge of how Congress works could enable a president to achieve an ambitious legislative agenda while still being hopelessly ill-prepared for crucial foreign-policy issues.

These comparisons, like all presidential rating games, make for fun arguments but don’t tell us much about what is truly important in a future president. Though being a governor is probably the best preparation for the presidency, it must be recognized that operating a successful state house doesn’t remotely compare with the enormous burdens of running the United States of America. For all of the good qualities governors like Walker or John Kasich in Ohio, Mike Pence in Indiana, or even Rick Perry of Texas bring to a presidential campaign, such persons have no idea of the intense scrutiny that goes with running for the White House. Just as Perry, who flopped as badly as anyone in history in his 2012 presidential run, showed us that being governor didn’t mean he was ready for the challenge, so, too, might even as battle-scarred a politician as Walker fail to be ready for prime time. As for Christie, the different expectations for potential presidents make it hard to imagine anyone who likes to tell rude questioners to “sit down and shut up” navigating through the retail politics of Iowa and New Hampshire. The same applies to senators who may not be prepared for the rigors of the presidential election gauntlet.

A resume as a government executive is important. The GOP needs no novices who want to parachute into politics (sorry, Dr. Ben Carson). The ability to distinguish oneself from Washington dysfunction or the impression that they are part and parcel of the same corrupt federal establishment is also a key selling point especially if you are planning on running against a woman like Hillary Clinton.

But a successful Republican nominee needs more than that. They’ll need a principled vision of America’s future, both at home and abroad and the guts to stand up to the chattering classes who clamor for more government. A governor might fit that bill but so might a senator. That’s why we need tough campaigns to sort out the presidential wheat from the political chaff. Perhaps the person the Republicans need is a governor. But we won’t know that until all these would-be presidents put themselves to the test against equally talented candidates from other backgrounds. Being a governor or even an ex-governor (like Jeb Bush) will help. But it is no guarantee of electoral victory, let alone a competent presidency.

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The Biggest Winners and Losers of 2014

The 2014 midterms turned out to be the wave election that Republicans dreamed of and Democrats dreaded. But amid the debris of what turned out to be a stunning repudiation of the administration, there are some people who must be judged to be the big winners and losers on both sides. Here’s my list:

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The 2014 midterms turned out to be the wave election that Republicans dreamed of and Democrats dreaded. But amid the debris of what turned out to be a stunning repudiation of the administration, there are some people who must be judged to be the big winners and losers on both sides. Here’s my list:

The Winners:

The first and most obvious winner is Mitch McConnell who will be the majority leader in January. Earlier in the year, he looked to be under siege in his race for reelection but ran among the smartest campaigns in the country as he first swamped a Tea Party challenger and then destroyed Alison Lundergan Grimes, the candidate the Clintons helped handpick to oppose him, in the general election. McConnell finally gets his chance to run the Senate and the man in position to put the heat on President Obama even if he won’t have an easy time with some members of his caucus.

Tom Cotton came into 2014 as the most hyped GOP Senate candidate but was thought to have run a lackluster campaign that turned an easy win into a nail biter. In the end, he won his Arkansas seat in a landslide. That puts him back into the conversation as the most highly regarded young (only 37) Republican and a future leader of his party.

In the course of the last year Joni Ernst went from an unknown to the leading Republican dragon slayer who turned a likely Democratic hold to a GOP Senate pickup in Iowa. The first woman sent to D.C. from the Hawkeye State, she turned out the most effective ad of the campaign in which she spoke of castrating hogs and making the pigs in Washington squeal. Forget about Sarah Palin and Michel Bachmann. Ernst is the new female star of the Tea Party with a bully Senate pulpit.

Ted Cruz wasn’t on the ballot and his GOP nemesis McConnell got a major promotion. But Republican control of the Senate will also make him more important and bring even more attention to his guerrilla campaign against both the Republican establishment and the Obama administration as he prepares for a presidential run.

Scott Walker’s struggles to win reelection as Wisconsin governor were supposed to tarnish his hopes for the presidency. But rather than being knocked off by another huge effort by the unions and liberal super-PACs, he wound up prevailing by a convincing margin that will boost his credibility for 2016. Though he is still untested on the national stage, winning three elections in four years elevates him to the first tier of GOP candidates if, as is expected, he runs for president.

Chris Christie didn’t have a very good 2014 that started off with Bridgegate and ended with a video in which he told a critic to “sit down and shut up.” But as head of the Republican Governors Association, he has to get some of the credit for a GOP wave that saw major wins for the GOP in blue states like Illinois, Maryland, and Massachusetts. That gives his flagging hopes for the presidency a much-needed boost.

The only Democrat on our list is Elizabeth Warren, another senator who wasn’t on the ballot. Being in the minority in the Senate will only enhance her standing as the idol of her party’s base. It will also put her in a position to wage her own guerilla campaign to hold President Obama’s feet to the fire should he be tempted to try to cut any deals with the GOP Congress.

Losers:

The most obvious loser is President Barack Obama for whom this midterm must stand as a personal repudiation even if he chooses to pretend that is not the case. Whether he chooses to try to work with Congress or attempts to govern on his own with executive orders of questionable legality, the lame duck period of his presidency begins now.

The other obvious loser is Harry Reid who gets demoted from majority to minority leader. Reid, who ran the Senate with an iron fist and squelched debate from both sides of the aisle, will not find the change invigorating or pleasant.

Even before her party tanked on Tuesday, Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz was already lined up to be the scapegoat for the defeat. The White House has been waging a war on women with her in the cross-hairs for the last three years but the devastating loss may give Obama the opening to finally fire someone that he seems to dislike almost as much as Benjamin Netanyahu.

The competition for the worst campaign of 2014 is stiff but the title has to go to Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley who singlehandedly turned a safe Democratic Senate seat into a Republican pickup. Though, as I noted, Joni Ernst ran a nearly perfect campaign against him, Braley’s gaffes will not soon be forgotten. Runners up would be Alison Lundergan Grimes who turned a close race against an unpopular Mitch McConnell into a rout. And she still isn’t saying whether she voted for Obama. Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis was probably even more inept than Braley or Grimes but doesn’t get the title because she would have lost in red Texas even if she ran a perfect campaign. Still, the collapse of her mendacious run for statewide office was as catastrophic as her rise from obscurity via a pro-abortion filibuster last year was meteoric.

She wasn’t on the ballot yesterday, but the likely 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton took a hit as much as any other member of her party. The scope of the GOP win and the inability of her party to generate an Obama-style turnout without the president on the ballot should chill Democratic optimism about the next national election. So should the failure of the Clintons to help Democratic candidates around the country.

The one Republican loser on the list is Scott Brown. Though he wound up losing by only a whisker in a New Hampshire Senate race that few gave him a chance to win, had he stayed home in Massachusetts and run for governor, he’d have been the one to beat Martha Coakley. Had Brown done so, he’d be governor and have a bright future instead of seeing his career in elective politics finished.

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Midterms Were About Something: An Anti-Obama Wave

For months we were told that this was the “Seinfeld election”—a race about nothing. And most pundits also seemed to think that despite the clearly favorable terrain for Republicans in the Senate, this would not be a wave election along the lines of the big Democratic victory of 2006 and the GOP landslide of 2010. Both assumptions were wrong. The 2014 midterms were most definitely about something and that something was dissatisfaction with President Obama that created yet another historic wave.

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For months we were told that this was the “Seinfeld election”—a race about nothing. And most pundits also seemed to think that despite the clearly favorable terrain for Republicans in the Senate, this would not be a wave election along the lines of the big Democratic victory of 2006 and the GOP landslide of 2010. Both assumptions were wrong. The 2014 midterms were most definitely about something and that something was dissatisfaction with President Obama that created yet another historic wave.

By the time the dust settles after the Louisiana Senate runoff, it’s likely the Republicans will have won a 54-seat Senate majority, increased their stranglehold in the House to a level unseen since before World War Two, and picked up several governorships, including some in deep blue states like Massachusetts, Illinois, and Maryland.

This was a surprise for a number of reasons, chief of which was that the polls were mostly wrong. Last week I wrote about the complaints of liberals that polls showing the election as a virtual tie were skewed in favor of the Republicans because they were undercounting Hispanics and other minorities. But in fact, as political stat guru Nate Silver points out on his FiveThirtyEight blog, the polls actually had a pro-Democrat bias ranging from 4 to 12 points in states around the country.

But once we set aside the arguments about how and why the predictions were off, three things must be acknowledged:

1. There should be no doubt that this election must be considered a wave election in very much the same category as 2006 and 2010.

2. The reason for the wave was a broad dissatisfaction with President Obama.

3. The size and scope of the GOP victory and the failure of the Democrats to replicate the Obama coalitions that won in 2008 and 2012 should shake their confidence that it can be easily reconstructed in 2016 for Hillary Clinton.

The reason why so many people doubted it would be a wave had to do with the fact that congressional Republicans had negative favorability ratings that were even worse than the terrible poll numbers given President Obama. But those who assumed that these two factors would, at best, cancel each other out forgot that it’s the president who runs the country and must bear the responsibility for government dysfunction, not a divided Congress.

Examining the state-by-state results, we see almost across the board that Democrats underperformed when compared to 2012. Races that were supposed to be neck and neck like those in Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, and Georgia all turned out to be a near or actual GOP landslide. They will try to put this down to the problems of getting their voters out for a midterm but this underestimates their problems.

The president won in 2012 with better than 50 percent of the vote. But with his popularity ratings down to approximately 40 percent, the only way to understand the results is to realize that approximately one in five of his past supporters were so disillusioned with his performance and either stayed home on Tuesday or voted for Republicans. This happened in spite of the Democrats’ vaunted ground game that was supposed to compensate for the drawbacks of a second term president’s doldrums and add two to three points to their totals.

While it is true that overall turnout was down when compared to the last presidential election, in many states, the number of African-Americans who voted met the Democrats’ expectations. If young people, women, and Hispanics didn’t follow suit, it’s not just because the midterms are better suited to Republicans but because the leader of the Democratic Party has largely lost the faith of many of those who swept him to office on a near-messianic hope and change campaign. Though the New York Times is already telling us that the president is merely irritated with the results and doesn’t regard it as a repudiation of his presidency, that is the only reasonable conclusion to draw from this election.

Finally, the extent of the Republican victory debunks the Democrats’ pre-election sour grapes arguments that contended that even a loss in 2014 wouldn’t impact their ability to win again in the next presidential year in 2016.

It is true that Democrats have excelled in presidential years when compared to midterms in the last two such cycles. But those Democratic waves in 2008 and 2012 were mostly the function of the historic candidacies of Obama and not necessarily a reflection of the party’s appeal when he wasn’t on the ballot.

The ability of Republicans to be competitive and to even win governorships in blue states such as Massachusetts, Maryland, Illinois and purple states like Wisconsin also shows that the GOP ground game has caught up to that of the Democrats. This also undermines assumptions that Republicans don’t have the ability to expand their map in 2016 with the right candidate at the top of their ticket.

So long as the president remained popular it was possible for Democrats to assume that demography would determined the destiny of future elections. But unhappiness with Obama cut the legs out of the president’s coalition and sent a message that his putative Democratic successor shouldn’t be confident about replicating his 2012 numbers when she runs for president. In that sense, this year’s anti-Obama wave shakes the foundation of the liberal media’s conventional wisdom about the political balance of power. Republicans will have plenty of opportunities to both help or hurt their cause in the next two years based on their performance in Congress. But heading into the 2016 campaign — which starts now — a midterm election that was both a wave and very much about something shows that the supposedly permanent Democratic advantage in national elections may already have started to disappear.

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Why Scott Walker Doesn’t Need a Landslide

The central contradiction of Scott Walker’s prospective 2016 presidential candidacy is that the case against it is also the case for it. And that theme has been a major component of the coverage of Walker’s close reelection battle against Mary Burke. Walker heads into today’s election clinging to a 2-point lead in the RealClearPolitics average. The two candidates were even in an early October Marquette poll. Since then, Walker has led four of the last five polls, but in only one was that lead more than 2 points. And the narrative has begun to form that with this close a race, it doesn’t matter nearly as much as it seems whether he wins.

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The central contradiction of Scott Walker’s prospective 2016 presidential candidacy is that the case against it is also the case for it. And that theme has been a major component of the coverage of Walker’s close reelection battle against Mary Burke. Walker heads into today’s election clinging to a 2-point lead in the RealClearPolitics average. The two candidates were even in an early October Marquette poll. Since then, Walker has led four of the last five polls, but in only one was that lead more than 2 points. And the narrative has begun to form that with this close a race, it doesn’t matter nearly as much as it seems whether he wins.

That is, the failure to win a convincing referendum on his tenure as governor is a major red flag for his presidential hopes. The best article making this case from the right (who Walker would have to win over in a primary) comes from Ramesh Ponnuru, writing at Bloomberg View. There are bound to be real obstacles to a Walker bid, and some of them are indeed wrapped up in how Walker has handled–and in some cases, perhaps mishandled–his reelection campaign. That’s one reason the accusations that Chris Christie, as head of the Republican Governors Association, supposedly left Walker high and dry rang hollow. If Walker’s opponent was underestimated, it wasn’t by Christie; it was by Walker.

Here’s the crux of Ponnuru’s argument:

For one thing, Walker’s struggle raises the question of whether a politician can make a credible run for the presidency after barely winning over his own state’s voters. The last two presidents each won their states convincingly before they ran. George W. Bush won 68 percent of the vote to be re-elected governor of Texas in 1998, and Barack Obama won 70 percent of the vote in Illinois to become a senator in 2004.

Walker, assuming he wins, won’t have numbers anywhere close to those. And if he decides to seek the 2016 nomination, he’ll have to make the best of it. The argument he could make to Republicans nationwide is that he took risks to get conservative reforms enacted in a liberal state, and he succeeded. The closeness of his recall campaign and his re-election are a testament, he could say, to his boldness.

There’s another way Walker is different from Bush and Obama. Bush said he would be a “uniter, not a divider,” and Obama said he’d “change the tone” in Washington for the better. A candidate as demonstrably polarizing as Walker — his anti-union reforms sparked huge protests and an occupation of the Wisconsin State Capitol — won’t be able to run that kind of campaign.

I think Ponnuru is right on the particulars but wrong on the implications.

It’s true that both Obama and Bush had won resounding statewide victories before running for president. And historically, candidates who lose their home state in a presidential election usually lose the election too. But Walker’s ability to win over Wisconsin’s voters means he’d put the state in play in a presidential election. Unlike Bush and John McCain, whose home states were red, and Mitt Romney, who never had a chance to win Massachusetts, that gives Republicans a chance to expand the map. Walker’s close election means it is precisely the kind of state Republicans have to learn how to win if they want to end their slide in presidential elections.

It’s easy to convince Texas to keep public unions in check, and it’s impressive but arguably irrelevant to convince New Jersey voters to back such a platform, as did Chris Christie. New Jersey is not going red any time soon, so Christie’s success offers an example of how to win over public opinion on union issues, but doesn’t change the Electoral College calculus.

Speaking of Christie, Ponnuru’s second point is also worth delving into in order to make a crucial distinction. Ponnuru writes that Walker can’t make the claim to be some kind of postpartisan uniter. His agenda is divisive. But there’s a difference between a personally divisive candidate and a divisive agenda–and there are also differences between types of divisive agendas.

Christie is an example of someone with a divisive personality. Walker is not. Walker is personable and relatable, not combative. He’s a happy warrior. His agenda is divisive, but that’s for a good reason: it’s an actual governing agenda, and the defenders of the self-enriching status quo will always fight real reform.

Walker’s opponents made the issue divisive because they completely lost their minds. Democratic state senators actually fled the state, like criminals and cowards, rather than participate in the democratic process that would have led to an outcome they didn’t like. His opponents could barely speak a full sentence that didn’t have the word “Hitler” sprinkled generously throughout. I’ve seen the unions threaten the lives of people I know who they discovered supported Walker.

But the fact remains: anti-public union policies are gaining steam and support in blue and purple states, despite the divisiveness caused by union leaders and their most ardent supporters experiencing a psychotic break over sensible reforms. Entrenched interests cannot be given a heckler’s veto.

And the lesson here is that while the Wisconsin electorate is polarized, so is the national electorate. Liberal interest groups and the media (but I repeat myself) will paint any Republican agenda as the end of the world. The vapid Obama campaign managed to make Big Bird a divisive issue, to say nothing of the “war on women” or race-baiting. Any Republican running on anything resembling a conservative agenda will get this apocalyptic treatment from the left. The candidate might as well make it worth the trouble and actually stand for something.

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GOP Senate Means Obama Owns Gridlock

One of the key Democratic talking points in the waning days of their midterm campaign is to predict even worse gridlock in the next two years if the Republicans win the Senate. Given the unbridgeable differences that already exist between President Obama and the House Republican leadership, it’s hard to imagine the administration’s relationship with the GOP getting any better if the Senate is in the hands of his foes too. That’s why liberals are consoling themselves about tomorrow’s likely loss by predicting that the standoff in 2015 will, like the one in 2013, help their party and hurt Republicans. But that assessment of any future confrontation rests on the assumption that the same rules that applied before will determine the outcome of the next battle. Politicians and pundits need to take into account that this may not be the case.

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One of the key Democratic talking points in the waning days of their midterm campaign is to predict even worse gridlock in the next two years if the Republicans win the Senate. Given the unbridgeable differences that already exist between President Obama and the House Republican leadership, it’s hard to imagine the administration’s relationship with the GOP getting any better if the Senate is in the hands of his foes too. That’s why liberals are consoling themselves about tomorrow’s likely loss by predicting that the standoff in 2015 will, like the one in 2013, help their party and hurt Republicans. But that assessment of any future confrontation rests on the assumption that the same rules that applied before will determine the outcome of the next battle. Politicians and pundits need to take into account that this may not be the case.

Let’s concede that some of the key elements of the bruising conflict between Obama and the Republicans in the last two years with a split Congress will still be in place even if both houses are run by the GOP next January.

Even as a wounded and very lame duck, the president will remain a formidable political opponent. Though his personal appeal seems to have reached its expiration date, he’s still a unique historical figure with the ability to command the attention and the support of many Americans. Moreover, the Democrats’ ace in the hole—a mainstream media that is firmly in the pocket of the president no matter how poor his performance or what manner of scandal is brewing—is still there to help spin anything that happens as the GOP’s fault and to buy into Obama’s specious pose as the adult in the negotiating room.

That’s why many people, including some Republicans, fear that a Republican-controlled Senate will only set up the party for a new round of defeats in the court of public opinion once the president demonstrates, as our Seth Mandel speculated earlier today, that he is incapable of rethinking or rebooting his approach to governance. The assumption is that the president’s unwillingness to compromise—which is equally as intransigent as that of the most hardcore Tea Party caucus members—will allow his media cheerleaders to interpret the standoff as proof that the GOP doesn’t want to govern. That will allow Hillary Clinton to run against a “do-nothing” Congress and lead inevitably to a Democratic wave in 2016 that will erase the Republican majorities that will already be in danger due to the large number of GOP incumbents who will be hard-pressed to repeat their 2010 upsets.

That’s a frightening prospect for Republicans even as they contemplate what may be a very good day tomorrow. But Democrats need to remember one pertinent fact before they start spinning the results.

If Republicans control both houses of Congress, that will give them more than their current ability to frustrate the designs of the president and his allies in the Senate. Majorities on both sides of the Hill will enable them to actually pass bills on key issues. If they do–and given the stark divisions in the House as well as in the Senate GOP caucus, that is not a given–that will put the ball in the president’s court as he will then be forced to sign or veto legislation.

Will a veto standoff play the same way as the current formula for gridlock? Democrats hope so, but there is a big difference between a president being able to lambast Congress for not “doing its job” and passing bills and one that is presented with the verdict of the legislature but will not sign. The power to veto is an effective weapon but it is not quite the same thing as being able to point your finger at a House of Representatives that can’t get out of its own way and even pass something its leader wanted.

Republicans face formidable challenges once they are in charge of both houses, though most of these will come from within. But what liberal pundits and even some conservatives forget is that the dynamic next year will be a lot different from the past. Obama is weak and getting weaker in terms of the political capital he has to spend every month. A Congress that puts him on the defensive by passing its own agenda will potentially be offering the nation a coherent alternative to liberal patent nostrums. On a host of issues, including energy, education, and immigration, if Obama’s only answer to Republican bills is to say no, it won’t be as easy for him to say that it’s all the fault of the other side. He’s the one will be saying “no,” not Speaker John Boehner or even the Tea Party. That’s even more more pertinent if he is also seeking to institute one-man rule via executive orders so as to prevent Congress from having its say.

All of which means that the stakes tomorrow are a lot higher than many on the left are willing to concede. A GOP Senate presents the party with an opportunity to not only make Barack Obama’s last two years in office miserable but also to lay the foundation for a strong 2016 effort. As much as it is tempting for Democrats to say they win by losing, the truth is, they have far more to lose in the midterms than they are letting on.

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Democrats’ Pitiful Premature Sour Grapes

Faced with a likely defeat in tomorrow’s midterm elections, some Democrats are in denial and predict an unlikely victory. Others have already started to form the usual circular firing squads, pointing their fingers at either an unpopular President Obama or those politicians that tripped over themselves in embarrassing efforts to disassociate themselves from the administration. But perhaps most telling are those choosing to dismiss the significance of tomorrow’s results even before they happen. Trying to deny the inevitable or to shift blame for it when defeat happens isn’t productive but nevertheless must be termed normal political behavior. The greatest danger for Democrats in the days following their likely loss of the Senate, however, is to pretend that a midterm disaster brings with it no hard lessons for the defeated.

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Faced with a likely defeat in tomorrow’s midterm elections, some Democrats are in denial and predict an unlikely victory. Others have already started to form the usual circular firing squads, pointing their fingers at either an unpopular President Obama or those politicians that tripped over themselves in embarrassing efforts to disassociate themselves from the administration. But perhaps most telling are those choosing to dismiss the significance of tomorrow’s results even before they happen. Trying to deny the inevitable or to shift blame for it when defeat happens isn’t productive but nevertheless must be termed normal political behavior. The greatest danger for Democrats in the days following their likely loss of the Senate, however, is to pretend that a midterm disaster brings with it no hard lessons for the defeated.

In recent days, the New York Times provided its liberal readership with a trifecta of midterm denial. But though these attempts to salve Democratic wounds that had not yet started bleeding were exactly what the paper’s readers want, they are the worst kind of medicine for a political party.

The most absurd was an op-ed by a Duke University professor of public policy and one his students. In it David Schanzer and Jay Sullivan, a junior at the school, argue that it is time to abolish the midterms. According to them, the exercise of allowing the people to have their say about Congress every two years is a nuisance. They say it is a big waste of time that forces members to spend too much time raising money and fundraising. But the real reason they don’t like it is that lately Republicans have done better at them because congressional Democrats don’t motivate the same kind of turnout from those with a marginal interest in politics, as Barack Obama did in 2008 and 2012. Schanzer and Sullivan don’t like the “whiter, older and more educated” midterm electorate so they think the best thing is to extend House terms to four years from two and change senators from having six years in office to either four or eight (!) before they have to face the voters.

Like all efforts to change the Constitution in order to manipulate the system to immediate partisan advantage, this scheme is a farce. The reason why the Founders wanted frequent elections for the House is that they rightly believed one house of Congress should be more reflective of the political passions of the moment while the other would be more reflective of long-term concerns. The pair from Duke wish to sacrifice this laudable aim because it doesn’t currently help the party they seem to favor without remembering that it could just as easily flip to help the Democrats as it has at times in the past. While I don’t think many serious people will pay much attention to this nonsense, it does illustrate the willingness of many on the left to do anything to somehow game the system in their favor.

While that piece was just plain foolish, more destructive was the explanation for the likely Democratic loss from Times columnist Charles Blow. The writer tends to view virtually every issue through a racial lens, so it is no surprise that this extreme liberal thinks the Democrats’ big problem remains racial animus toward President Obama. He agrees with Obama that the reason for criticism of his administration is that there are “some folks who just really dislike me because they don’t like the idea of a black president.” Since black support for Obama has not wavered throughout his presidency, Blow naturally assumes that the dropoff elsewhere must be due to racism, something that is accentuated by the Democrats’ reliance on huge turnouts from African-American voters to remain competitive.

Racism still exists in America but this is, of course, the same president who won clear majorities in two presidential elections in which a lot more white people voted than blacks. But despite these historic victories, he prefers to blame his troubles on irrational hatred rather than face the facts that a lot of people have buyer’s remorse about reelecting him after a record of failure in the last two years. While Democrats have resorted to race-baiting this fall in what may prove to be a futile effort to increase black turnout, the party would be well advised to distance itself from the politics of racial grievance once the dust settles. Playing to your base is important, but, as Republicans have shown us, doing so exclusively is a formula for electoral disaster.

But perhaps Nate Cohn in the Times’s Upshot section illustrated the most dangerous variety of Democratic thinking in his piece. In it, he gives us the ultimate sour grapes interpretation by saying that even if the GOP wins in key battleground states outside of their southern comfort zone, it won’t be a big deal if it is a close margin. His point is that since Democratic turnout will inevitably be far greater in 2016, anything short of a GOP landslide means the next presidential election will repeat the pattern of 2010 and 2012 in which a Republican win was followed by an impressive Democratic victory.

While it is true that Democrats have in recent years tended to do better in presidential years, that is mostly the function of a singularly historic figure named Barack Obama. Though the party hopes Hillary Clinton will perform just as well as the putative first female president succeeding the first African-American, her poor political skills (illustrated again last week) make that a chancy proposition. The thing about politics is that it changes all the time. Any assumptions about the next election based on the last few is, in this case, another instance of wishful thinking on the part of the left, not a sober analysis.

What happened this year is that Republicans learned some of their lessons from the past few cycles, nominated good candidates, and stayed on message. Democrats thought they could survive the downturn in Obama’s popularity by playing the same tired themes about a war on women and racism but are finding that it didn’t work as well as the last time. If they lose this week, Cohn’s advice might lead them to think that they have no need to re-evaluate that mistake but should, instead, merely do more of the same in hope of a better audience in 2016.

Whatever happens tomorrow, what the loser must do is to take a hard look at their defeats, and draw the proper conclusions. If Democrats emerge on Wednesday putting it all down to racism or the accident of a midterm, they will be setting themselves up for a far worse surprise in 2016 when conditions and turnout factors may not be as favorable for them as they think.

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Christie Shouldn’t Bother Apologizing

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has never apologized for doing it before this and he isn’t starting now. When Christie told a Democratic heckler at an event commemorating the second anniversary of Hurricane Sandy to “sit down and shut up,” it was more or less business as usual for the abrasive Republican who has said pretty much the same thing to opponents for years to the applause of his many fans. Yet with Christie giving indications that he is going ahead with a 2016 presidential run, the run-in with a noisy critic got the kind of negative attention that usually spells trouble for a national candidate. The dustup raises the question of whether it is time for him to start toning down the tough guy act. The answer here is that he shouldn’t bother trying.

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New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has never apologized for doing it before this and he isn’t starting now. When Christie told a Democratic heckler at an event commemorating the second anniversary of Hurricane Sandy to “sit down and shut up,” it was more or less business as usual for the abrasive Republican who has said pretty much the same thing to opponents for years to the applause of his many fans. Yet with Christie giving indications that he is going ahead with a 2016 presidential run, the run-in with a noisy critic got the kind of negative attention that usually spells trouble for a national candidate. The dustup raises the question of whether it is time for him to start toning down the tough guy act. The answer here is that he shouldn’t bother trying.

In discussing this incident it should be acknowledged that videos of similar Christie smack downs are not hard to find. They are what made him a YouTube star with a national following. Even many GOP conservatives who now despise him for his supposed moderation and who will never forgive Christie for his embrace of President Obama days before the 2012 presidential election used to cheer every time they saw the governor bulldoze anyone who had the temerity to ask a question he didn’t like. If we haven’t seen as much of this from him lately it is because the post-Bridgegate version of Christie has been a lot more subdued than previous incarnations. Getting back to yelling at critics, be they Democrats, teachers, union leaders, or ordinary citizens who didn’t fawn all over him shows that Christie is feeling more like himself these days now that he has been proven to have had no role in the bizarre scheme to cause a traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge last year.

Moreover the attention paid to the screaming match shows that he is still a major political star even if his name is nowhere on the ballot this November. The fact that Democrats and liberal groups were doing everything they could to treat the incident as proof that he isn’t fit to be president shows that they fear him as a general-election opponent. Moreover, at this stage of the 2016 election cycle where name recognition and keeping yourself in the public eye is vital it’s fair to say that no publicity is bad publicity as long as it doesn’t involve a scandal. And for all of the huffing and puffing about the awfulness of the confrontation, yelling at someone who is behaving as rudely as Christie’s heckler was doesn’t count as a scandal. Had he apologized as if it was some grievous offense, it would have been more damaging to him than his defiance since it would have shown that he knew that he was out of line and made things even worse the next time it happened, something that is about as certain as the sun rising in the east tomorrow morning.

But even if this wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened to Christie, the real reason why he shouldn’t bother apologizing isn’t such good news for the governor: No matter how good or bad his behavior will be over the course of the next two years, he isn’t going to be elected president either way.

His periodic screaming fits caused by his well known thin skin and intolerance of critics would be a major problem for anyone who wants to be president. As we’ve noted in this space before, the public may well tolerate and even like a candidate or an officeholder who doesn’t fit into the usual mold or who acts out every now then. But what will fly when you’re a Northeast governor won’t necessarily work when you’re asking the people to give you control of nuclear weapons instead of just a battalion of state troopers. If Christie were ever to compete seriously as a first-tier candidate in Republican primaries or in a general election, his lack of what is generally considered to be a presidential temperament would be a huge problem. The pressures of a presidential campaign and the certainty of hecklers and critics at every stop would force the thin-skinned governor to either alter his style in a manner that would cause him to lose much of his appeal or lead to daily blowups that would be entertaining but not have a good outcome.

To imagine that a candidate who has done so much to embitter the base of his party would ever win its presidential nomination is to engage in science fiction, not political science. While there is a path to that nomination for someone who isn’t a Tea Partier or dyed-in-the-wool social conservative, Christie has gone too far for that person to be him. Though he may run and can raise the kind of money to put on a credible campaign, it is hard to conjure up a scenario by which the truculent governor winds up outlasting the deep and talented field of Republican presidential contenders.

So Christie should just go on being himself, yelling at anyone he likes. Doing so will be easier on his digestion, good for journalists who cover him, and won’t stop the governor from winning an office to which he will never win election anyway.

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Warren Is Hillary’s Unwitting Collaborator

There is a fair amount of irony buried throughout Maggie Haberman’s entertaining story on how Elizabeth Warren is “vexing” Hillary Clinton and her nascent presidential campaign even without running herself. The story is a good reminder of one reason Warren isn’t likely to run: she doesn’t have to. Left unsaid is the corollary: Warren is a populist on the campaign trail but a heavyhanded wielder of power and a surprising policy lightweight in the Senate. Most of Warren’s appeal is what leftists pretend she could be, not what she really is.

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There is a fair amount of irony buried throughout Maggie Haberman’s entertaining story on how Elizabeth Warren is “vexing” Hillary Clinton and her nascent presidential campaign even without running herself. The story is a good reminder of one reason Warren isn’t likely to run: she doesn’t have to. Left unsaid is the corollary: Warren is a populist on the campaign trail but a heavyhanded wielder of power and a surprising policy lightweight in the Senate. Most of Warren’s appeal is what leftists pretend she could be, not what she really is.

So Warren not only doesn’t have to run to impact the party’s political future; she’s probably better off not running. Her actual policies range from nonsensical to intellectually bankrupt, but her shallow applause lines are perfectly calibrated to what the economic illiterates of the leftist fringe want to hear. Warren can be a hero without ruining the economy, because she won’t have the power to ruin the economy. Put her in the Oval Office and the calculus changes. She would also be exposed further as a suffocating regulator with an academic’s flimsy and theoretical understanding of complicated economics.

Hillary Clinton doesn’t have such an obstacle holding her back, because her fan base doesn’t care about serious policy. The cult of Hillary is powered by pure identity politics, and Clinton is a mainstream figure in Democratic Party governance. That is to say, she intends to be the figurehead of a self-perpetuating bureaucracy, much like Obama has been. Obama’s one major policy “accomplishment,” after all, was a launching pad for newly created regulatory behemoths to make policy that fell outside the intent or oversight of Congress.

When it comes to Hillary, it’s about what (and who) she represents. As an executive, all indications are that she’s a terrible manager, as her time at Foggy Bottom proved. And she’s interested in symbolic politics, not nuts-and-bolts governance–again, her time as secretary of state showed her to be risk-averse and image hyperconscious.

Ideologically, the contrast is interesting. Hillary doesn’t actually believe in anything, so she’s running as a representative of her Wall Street funders who appear to be even writing her “populist” talking points for her. This is one reason Warren won’t go away and wants to at least keep Hillary on her toes. For Clinton, it’s all a game. Nothing has any real significance for how she’d govern. Clinton is coopting Warren’s populist rhetoric for the express purpose of empowering precisely those economic actors Warren is railing against.

So how to handle the contradiction? Warren’s supporters liked the idea of Clinton having to look over her shoulder and see Warren because they knew it meant pushing Clinton to the left. But it really meant pushing Clinton’s rhetoric to the left. In actuality, it allows Clinton to crowd out any space there might be for Warren by mimicking her and then forgetting she and her supporters even exist.

That’s why Clinton’s populist rhetoric is so strained and clumsy. The most recent example was when she made the ridiculous statement that businesses don’t create jobs. It’s not that Clinton actually believes instead that the Job Fairy leaves jobs under the pillows of good liberals. It’s that Clinton has no idea how to play the populist because she doesn’t think along those lines economically and she very clearly doesn’t like interacting with the populace at all.

Haberman is exceedingly generous, calling the gaffe “a misdelivered line about businesses not creating jobs.” That kind of life-raft spin from the media to cover for Hillary will crop up throughout the campaign. But it didn’t cause a bigger splash because the expectations for Hillary’s discussion of policy are so low. Haberman also includes Hillary’s own pushback:

Clinton allies are quick to point out that the woman who was synonymous with the government-led “Hillarycare” effort has a claim on economic populism. She gave a speech discussing the anger people feel in the current economy earlier this year. Her speeches for other candidates this fall have hit the core issues of the new Democratic populism, and she has woven in a message similar to her husband’s from 1992 about raising the middle class.

But she is not yet a candidate delivering her own pitch, and she has shown she is still figuring out the notes to strike.

And that last line gives it away. What jumps out about Hillary’s campaign is the soullessness of it all. She’s still “figuring out the notes to strike” because she doesn’t write her own songs. She’s a cover artist, down at the local pub mangling Mr. Jones and waiting for the next request.

Warren might actually be enjoying all this–though temperamentally, she does not appear to be a person who enjoys anything, ever, and doesn’t want you too either. That’s something she and Clinton have in common. But humorlessness is just another box to check to win the favor of the American left, and Hillary fulfills that requirement. Warren may think she’s influencing Hillary or the campaign, when in reality she’s merely an ornament. The corporatists in her party, who hold the real power, are happy to keep up the charade.

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Scott Walker’s Fate and 2016

When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker emerged triumphant from a recall election in 2012, he immediately moved to the front ranks of those Republicans considering a 2016 presidential run. But before he could think about the White House, he needed to win reelection in 2014. Many would-be presidential candidates have used such state races as vehicles to further the argument that they are political dynamos deserving of national attention. But as Politico notes today, Walker’s struggles in his fight to hold onto his job may impact his hopes for the White House even if he manages to beat Democrat Mary Burke.

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When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker emerged triumphant from a recall election in 2012, he immediately moved to the front ranks of those Republicans considering a 2016 presidential run. But before he could think about the White House, he needed to win reelection in 2014. Many would-be presidential candidates have used such state races as vehicles to further the argument that they are political dynamos deserving of national attention. But as Politico notes today, Walker’s struggles in his fight to hold onto his job may impact his hopes for the White House even if he manages to beat Democrat Mary Burke.

Walker has had a bull’s eye on his back ever since he decided to take his 2010 campaign promises seriously and to take action to save his state from rapacious public employee unions. Walker stood up to the union thugs and obstructionist Democrats who sought to prevent the legislature from enacting legislation that would end the vicious cycle by which state employees sank Wisconsin further into debt. He then ably fended off the recall effort and assumed the status of conservative folk hero as the foremost among a class of GOP governors intent on reforming a corrupt system.

But three all-out liberal assaults on Walker in five years have taken their toll. Instead of waltzing to reelection as Chris Christie did in New Jersey, Walker has faced the fight of his political life against Burke, a wealthy businesswoman who has been able to pour her considerable personal resources into attacks on the governor in a state that remains fairly evenly divided between the two parties. Showing signs of strain at times, Walker has appeared to falter occasionally and it can be argued that his blunt style has gotten a little stale in his third go-round with the voters.

Up until this week, most polls have shown the race essentially tied or with Walker holding a razor-thin edge. However, the latest survey of Wisconsin voters form Marquette University shows him opening up a 7-point lead, the same margin by which he won the recall. It could be that Walker will benefit from the accumulation of Obama administration disasters even as the president comes to the state to back his opponent. Yet even if that poll proves to be right about the governor achieving an easy victory, 2014 wasn’t the sort of coronation for Walker that Christie achieved in New Jersey before “Bridgegate” changed his political image.

Knocking off Walker has been a top Democratic objective this year and would provide them with some consolation even if they lose the Senate. Doing so would not only effectively eliminate him for 2016 consideration but also send a cautionary message to any Republican in the country who would think to emulate Walker’s courageous stand against unions and traditional tax-and-spend policies.

It would also have some interesting consequences for the Republicans who remain standing in the presidential sweepstakes. Without Walker, other GOP governors like Christie and Indiana’s Mike Pence will get more attention. The Jeb Bush boomlet will also be helped, as Walker is one of the few Republicans who could challenge for both Tea Party support as well as the backing of establishment Republicans who share his fiscal conservatism.

But as much as it might help Christie, a Walker defeat would also create another and perhaps bigger problem for him. This is thanks in no small measure to Walker’s own complaints about insufficient support for his reelection from the Republican Governors Association run this year by Christie as well as other national GOP groups. Whether or not the charge is accurate—and Walker soon backed off on his claims—conservatives won’t forget it and you can count on them blaming the New Jersey governor for a loss. It will be one more count in an indictment charging him as a RINO that stems from his controversial embrace of President Obama days before the 2012 election.

There will be those who will argue with some justice that even a narrow Walker victory next week will undermine his 2016 argument. Critics will say that if he can’t decisively win at home how can he hope to carry the nation against Hillary Clinton. Unlike George W. Bush’s 1998 landslide or, as Christie backers will point out, the New Jersey governor’s enormous win last year in a far more Democratic state than Wisconsin, a close Walker win could be interpreted as weakness.

But even though both Democrats and rival Republicans would like to bury him, Walker’s future is still in his own hands. Though it can be argued that the 2014 campaign showed that he is mortal, if he manages to win decisively—and a 7-point win equaling the runoff margin would qualify—the speculation about his presidential ambitions will begin immediately. Surviving yet another Democratic deluge of campaign money and attack ads even if by only a few points will bolster his credentials for the White House. And it will also allow him to spend the next year preaching his gospel of reform and fiscal sanity from the bully pulpit that reelection will give him. If so, he will be a formidable candidate if he runs in 2016. But before that can happen he’s got to win next Tuesday.

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Hillary’s Fake Populism and Her Fatal Flaw

It didn’t take long for Hillary Clinton’s handlers to start walking back the putative 2016 Democratic presidential nominee’s latest whopper. While campaigning alongside Senator Elizabeth Warren — the Democrat most members of her party’s base really like — Clinton tried to play can you top this with the popular left-winger by telling her audience, “Don’t let anybody tell you that corporations and businesses create jobs.” It’s hard to imagine a more mind-boggling confession of her ignorance of basic economics. But even after her staff tried to explain it as merely opposition to certain tax breaks or “trickle down economics,” it’s hard to explain what she was thinking.

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It didn’t take long for Hillary Clinton’s handlers to start walking back the putative 2016 Democratic presidential nominee’s latest whopper. While campaigning alongside Senator Elizabeth Warren — the Democrat most members of her party’s base really like — Clinton tried to play can you top this with the popular left-winger by telling her audience, “Don’t let anybody tell you that corporations and businesses create jobs.” It’s hard to imagine a more mind-boggling confession of her ignorance of basic economics. But even after her staff tried to explain it as merely opposition to certain tax breaks or “trickle down economics,” it’s hard to explain what she was thinking.

Granted, in a week in which Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz actually said that she agreed with the idea that Republicans are more dangerous than Ebola or ISIS, it must be acknowledged that Clinton’s wacky attack on capitalism isn’t even the most outrageous thing said by a Democrat. But it nevertheless offers us a fascinating insight into her character and inherent weakness as a candidate.

Clinton understands that although Warren has wisely decided to decline to attempt to challenge her for her party’s presidential nomination, her left-wing populism makes her the darling of Democrats. Though she can’t be too worried about a gadfly like Senator Bernie Sanders providing competition in the 2016 primaries, Clinton needs the enthusiasm as well as the support of her party’s liberal core. So when placed alongside Warren, her instincts tell her to not merely echo the Massachusetts senator’s attack on the market economy but to go even further down the ideological road to a place that must surely baffle the Clinton enterprise’s big money Wall Street donors.

This is, of course, the same Hillary who likes to pretend to be the adult in the room on economic as well as foreign policy issues. But as she proved during her time as secretary of state, Clinton is a political chameleon with no core beliefs other than her own personal ambition. Just as she gladly went along with President Obama’s decision to cut and run from Iraq and ultimately from Afghanistan and stay out of Syria even though she supposedly disagreed with much of this, when placed in Warren’s orbit in front of an audience of rabid liberals, Clinton is ready to stake out a position that seems to assert that only government is responsible for job creation.

Rather than a misstatement or a gaffe or even a late life avowal of neo-socialist claptrap her nonsense about corporations not creating jobs is testimony to her inauthentic nature.

In another context, we’d just put her down as an unprincipled flip-flopper but with Clinton it is more than that. After more than 20 years in our national political life, Hillary Clinton has amassed an impressive resume and can count on her party and the mainstream media to treat her quest to be the first female president as being a national crusade deserving of slavish and unquestioned support. But even after all this time in the spotlight, she’s still trying to figure out who she is and what she wants us to think she believes. And she’s ready to say anything, whether tilting to the right or the left to fit the circumstances.

Just as important, all that time spent at the side of our country’s most gifted politician since Ronald Reagan has taught her nothing about how to speak or behave while under scrutiny. Coming after her awful book tour in which she committed gaffe after gaffe (including her memorable claim about being broke after leaving the White House that left out the fact that she had received a multi-million dollar book advance), this attack on the corporations that she hopes will donate money to her presidential bid is just the latest proof that she is a terrible candidate who isn’t improving with age and experience.

Democrats are laboring under the delusion that Clinton is a political colossus who will follow in Barack Obama’s footsteps and sweep aside any GOP opposition in another historic campaign. But this misstep is a reminder that she has never (as Obama knows all too well) beaten a tough opponent in an election and is capable of blowing elections that seem impossible to lose. Even if this doesn’t tempt Warren to try and steal the party out from under Clinton’s nose, it should encourage Republicans who may believe that changing demographics and other problems doom their party to inevitable defeat. Americans can smell a phony from a mile away and this week Hillary proved again that this is her glaring and perhaps fatal weakness.

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Jeb Can’t Win By Running Against the Base

Apparently Jeb Bush isn’t listening to his mother. Though he has yet to make anything like a definitive statement about his plans for 2016, the former governor of Florida is not only acting like a presidential candidate but members of his family are speaking as if they believe he will run. His son George P. Bush yesterday told ABC News that it’s “more than likely” that his father would run. The son and brother of former presidents has also been campaigning hard for Republican candidates and reportedly meeting with GOP fundraisers who are eager for Bush to provide them with a moderate and/or establishment alternative to the current crop of conservatives lining up to run. But though momentum is building for him to enter the race, a lot of pundits are, while extolling Bush as his party’s best hope, are wondering whether he is too “moderate” to win its presidential nomination. Are they right?

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Apparently Jeb Bush isn’t listening to his mother. Though he has yet to make anything like a definitive statement about his plans for 2016, the former governor of Florida is not only acting like a presidential candidate but members of his family are speaking as if they believe he will run. His son George P. Bush yesterday told ABC News that it’s “more than likely” that his father would run. The son and brother of former presidents has also been campaigning hard for Republican candidates and reportedly meeting with GOP fundraisers who are eager for Bush to provide them with a moderate and/or establishment alternative to the current crop of conservatives lining up to run. But though momentum is building for him to enter the race, a lot of pundits are, while extolling Bush as his party’s best hope, are wondering whether he is too “moderate” to win its presidential nomination. Are they right?

The conventional wisdom in the mainstream liberal media about the Republican Party is that it has been abducted by its right wing and has no hope of winning another presidential election until it learns to win back the hearts of women and the growing number of Hispanic voters. While much of the overheated rhetoric heard from liberals about the Tea Party is both inaccurate and unfair, there is some truth to this argument.

No political party can win by only appealing to the most extreme elements of its base. Nor can the GOP hope to prevail by deliberately snubbing those elements of the electorate that it lost badly in 2012. Bush is probably the most appealing of all the possible Republican centrists who could run and has as good, if not better, chance to appeal to the independent voters as any candidate. It should also be pointed out that in spite of the conservative cast of the party, in the last two election cycles the GOP has nominated the most moderate of the major contenders.

The primary obstacle to a Bush candidacy has also collapsed as President Obama’s disastrous second term has helped burnish the memory of his predecessor. The Bush name may still be a punch line on the left but George W. Bush’s noble demeanor after leaving office and the catastrophes in the Middle East that have unfolded on Obama’s watch have taken the sting out of the Bush legacy.

There is also a belief that Bush will stand out as a reasoned voice in a 2016 GOP field that may be dominated by more hard-line conservatives like Senator Ted Cruz or a libertarian like Senator Rand Paul. In theory, that should set up Jeb for the same kind of run to the nomination that enabled John McCain to win in 2008 and Mitt Romney to play in 2012.

But there are some obvious obstacles that must be overcome before the Bush clan and their supporters starts planning their move back to the White House. Despite the rush in the media to anoint him as the Republican front-runner in a race that will start to take shape next summer, Jeb Bush cannot win the nomination, let alone the presidency, by running against his party’s base.

Let’s understand that although Bush has a well-earned reputation as a good governor and a serious thinker about policy issues, no one should assume that most Republicans are all that eager to put a Bush on their national ticket for the seventh time in the last ten presidential elections. Though Republicans have tended in the past to like familiar names, it is the Democrats who are more deferential these days to existing dynasties as the impending nomination of Hillary Clinton shows. The 2016 race looks to be the most wide-open GOP race in several decades and many in the party not only agree with Barbara Bush that the country needs some fresh names, not recycled dynasties. With Hillary Clinton as their opponent, Republicans will be better off providing a fresh alternative to an attempt to gain revenge for George H.W. Bush’s 1992 defeat at the hands of her husband.

Far more troubling for Bush is his seeming determination to win not by winning over conservatives but by flaunting his disagreements on key issues.

To note the gap between Bush’s positions on issues like immigration and the Common Core education and possible tax increases is not the same thing as agreeing with all of his critics. Bush’s instincts on immigration are correct and the GOP would do well not to heed those in the conservative camp who believe that the growth of the Hispanic population is somehow a negative thing for the country irrespective of how we change the immigration laws. Common Core is a complicated issue on which smart people differ and others would do well not to try and demonize those on either side. And even when it comes to theoretical debates about raising taxes, Bush’s refusal to give an ironclad pledge can easily be defended, as our Pete Wehner did here last week.

But Bush’s complaints about the rightward trend of the party bodes ill for his efforts to win over the same conservatives that he is going to need to win both the nomination and the general election. It should be remembered that while both McCain and Romney won the nomination contest as the leading moderates in a field populated by conservatives, they did so by seeking to bridge the gap with the right, not smacking it down as Bush sometimes seems to want to do.

The complaints from some on the right that McCain and Romney lost because they were insufficiently conservative are bunk. Both probably did as well, if not better than possible Republican opponent of Barack Obama. But they’re not wrong when they note that no GOP candidate can win without an enthusiastic base or by disdaining their concerns.

Bush’s qualifications are second to none. But the current polls that put him at the head of a field of possible candidates is based purely on name recognition. If Jeb Bush wants to be the face of the Republican Party in 2016, he must forge a new winning coalition that must include those who disagree with him. If he can’t, no matter how many leading establishment donors embrace him, there will be no third President Bush.

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Democrat Midterm Woes May Impact 2016

With just over a week left before the midterm elections, most of the battleground states that will decide control of the Senate are still in play. That is allowing Democrats to believe that just the right amount of last minute cash infusions or voter turnout efforts will allow them to hold on to a share of power on Capitol Hill. But with yet another new major poll showing that Republicans are expanding their edge on the question of who should control Congress and with polls of battleground states also showing momentum edging toward the GOP, the Democrats’ reliance on gender — their 2012 trump card — is proving to be a crucial mistake that could have an impact on the next presidential election.

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With just over a week left before the midterm elections, most of the battleground states that will decide control of the Senate are still in play. That is allowing Democrats to believe that just the right amount of last minute cash infusions or voter turnout efforts will allow them to hold on to a share of power on Capitol Hill. But with yet another new major poll showing that Republicans are expanding their edge on the question of who should control Congress and with polls of battleground states also showing momentum edging toward the GOP, the Democrats’ reliance on gender — their 2012 trump card — is proving to be a crucial mistake that could have an impact on the next presidential election.

With so many key races still remaining tight, it is still possible to argue that 2014 isn’t a wave election in the manner of past midterm landslides such as the GOP landslide in 2010 or the Democratic earthquake of 2006. But the telltale signs of disaster are clear for President Obama’s party. It’s not just that The Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Annenberg Center poll shows Republicans gaining ground in crucial Senate races or the stories reporting that Democrats have already conceded that they are going to lose even more ground in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives. Rather, it’s the polling that shows their reliance on the so-called gender gap was a mistake. Merely labeling Republicans as ogres waging a “war on women” not only won’t be enough to save them next week, it is also possible that the assumption that the same factors that allowed Democrats to easily win the last two presidential elections may not necessarily apply in 2016.

Democrats have consoled themselves throughout the current election cycle by pointing to the fact that the key races of 2014 are almost all being held in deep red states. Combined with the lower turnouts that are usual in midterms and the normal burden that falls on the party of the incumbent president in his second term and it was possible to argue that any outcome — even a disaster on the scale of 2010 — could be discounted. Based on the almost complete turnabout from the Republican tide of 2010 to the Obama re-election two years later, there seemed no reason to worry that defeat this year would diminish Democratic chances of repeating the same formula in 2016 that allowed them to win in 2008 and 2012.

In both those years, Barack Obama rode a tidal wave of minority voters and support from women into the White House. More than that, the war on women meme also allowed his party to hold onto Senate seats in 2012 that they had seemed certain to lose. The tactic seemed so foolproof that Democrats like Mark Udall have doubled down on the idea to the exclusion of almost everything else in his bid for re-election to his Colorado Senate seat.

But in Colorado, as elsewhere, the same drumbeat about GOP troglodytes seeking to victimize helpless females isn’t working. Part of it can be put down to Democrats facing smarter Republican candidates like Udall’s opponent Rep. Cory Gardner, who aren’t making idiotic gaffes about pregnancy and rape. But the real problem is that when faced with genuine threats to their well being such as a sluggish economy, as well as worries about whether an incompetent Obama administration is up to the challenges from Ebola and ISIS, women are refusing to fall for the Democrats exploitation. Whereas voters in 2010 were up in arms about rising taxes and debt and ObamaCare, after six years of Democratic government that is all hope and no change, they are thinking about alternatives.

If in fact they do as well as pollsters think they may next week, Republicans shouldn’t, as they did after 2010, simply assume that they could win in 2016 just by showing up. Their party is just as unpopular as the Democrats and two years in control of both Houses of Congress will give them plenty of opportunities to remind voters of what they don’t like about the GOP. But what 2014 may do is to remind the chattering classes that like time, politics doesn’t stand still. If Democrats are to win in 2016, it won’t be playing the same songs that won them the love of the voters in 2012. The war on women is failing them this year and will fail again — even with a woman on the top of the ticket — if that’s all they have to say for themselves in the next presidential year.

American voters may be seduced every now and then by a would-be messiah but sooner or later they revert to their usual requirements in leaders: competence and sobriety. Republicans flunked that test during George W. Bush’s second term just as Democrats are doing them same during Barack Obama’s swan song. Republicans failed to learn the lessons of 2006 and sought to run in 2008 on the issues that had given them victories in the past and wound up losing again in 2008. Instead of pretending that more war on women talk will solve their problems, Democrats should realize that they might be repeating that pattern.

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Do Early 2016 Polls Matter? For Democrats, Not Republicans

There’s a strange asymmetry to the 2016 presidential primary polls. For the Democrats, the polls actually matter, or at least tell us something important. Hillary Clinton’s dominance over her rivals has led to some recalling the “inevitability” narrative in 2008 that was, of course, shattered by Barack Obama. But the polls that showed Clinton ahead in those days weren’t as lopsided, and the path wasn’t quite so clear. It’s true that there’s no such thing as a sure thing, but Clinton’s chances of cruising to the nomination are much better this time around.

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There’s a strange asymmetry to the 2016 presidential primary polls. For the Democrats, the polls actually matter, or at least tell us something important. Hillary Clinton’s dominance over her rivals has led to some recalling the “inevitability” narrative in 2008 that was, of course, shattered by Barack Obama. But the polls that showed Clinton ahead in those days weren’t as lopsided, and the path wasn’t quite so clear. It’s true that there’s no such thing as a sure thing, but Clinton’s chances of cruising to the nomination are much better this time around.

Additionally, the polls tell us something else: Democratic voters are not interested in nominating Joe Biden. That’s significant this time if only because he’s the sitting vice president, and therefore has some claim to be next in line. It also means he has high name recognition, which is the key to leading such early polls. (Although it’s worth pointing out that if this Jimmy Kimmel man-on-the-street experiment is any indication, Biden has lower name recognition than you might otherwise think.)

Name recognition, in fact, is basically both the question and answer to deciphering such early polls. So while it’s the reason polls showing Clinton in the lead are worth paying attention to, it’s simultaneously the reason polls of the Republican side of the equation are meaningless. The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll makes this point pretty clearly:

Hillary Clinton continues to hold a commanding lead in the potential Democratic field for president in 2016, while the GOP frontrunner in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll is a familiar figure – but one not favored by eight in 10 potential Republican voters.

That would be Mitt Romney, supported for the GOP nomination by 21 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. That’s double the support of his closest potential rival, but it also leaves 79 percent who prefer one of 13 other possible candidates tested, or none of them.

But what happens when you remove Romney’s name from contention and ask his supporters the same question? This:

When Romney is excluded from the race, his supporters scatter, adding no clarity to the GOP free-for-all. In that scenario former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul have 12 or 13 percent support from leaned Republicans who are registered to vote. All others have support in the single digits.

As I wrote last month on Republicans and name recognition:

Take this summer poll from Gallup on the public’s familiarity with 2016 candidates. The only two Republicans to crack 60 percent were Chris Christie and Jeb Bush. … If he wins reelection in Wisconsin, Scott Walker would be considered among the GOP’s strongest candidates (on paper at least, which is all we have so far for the newbies). … Yet Gallup found Walker with the lowest familiarity of any of the GOP candidates, at just 34 percent.

Similarly, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal–the human résumé–was at just 38 percent. Huckabee was at 54 percent, higher than previous candidate Rick Santorum (but lower than Rick Perry) as well as all the non-previous candidates except Christie, Jeb Bush, and Rand Paul, who was at 55 percent. Huckabee also tied Christie for the highest favorability rating in that poll.

Now look at the new ABC/WaPo poll. There’s Huckabee, along with Jeb Bush and Rand Paul plus Romney at the top. Name recognition still roughly determines the outline of the race.

And that brings up another reason these polls aren’t much help: the actual makeup of the field when the primaries get under way. It’s doubtful Romney will run again. Huckabee is far from a sure thing to run again. Jeb Bush is probably more likely than not to pass as well, considering the fact that Christie still appears to be running and so does Bush’s fellow Floridian Marco Rubio.

Yet according to the ABC/WaPo poll, the top three vote getters on the GOP side are … Romney, Bush, and Huckabee. The pollsters took Romney out of the lineup to get a better sense of where Romney’s support was coming from (leaving Bush and Huckabee still in the top three), but they might have done better taking all three out of an additional question and seeing where the field would be without them. Rand Paul is the top voter-getter among those who either haven’t previously run for president or whose last name isn’t Bush.

After that, it gets more interesting–but not by much. Paul Ryan is a popular choice, but that’s name recognition as well since he ran on the 2012 national ticket. He also doesn’t seem all that enthusiastic about a run for president. If he doesn’t run, that means there’s a good chance three of the top four vote getters in the Romney-free version of the poll aren’t running, leaving Romney’s supporters without any of their favored candidates except Rand Paul.

Here’s another such poll, this one of Iowa voters from last week. The top two choices are Romney and Ben Carson, followed by Paul, Huckabee, and Ryan. Perhaps Romney really is running and Carson is a strong sleeper pick. But I doubt it on both counts. I also doubt Romney would win Iowa even if he ran, no matter what the Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll says.

This is an indication of how wide-open the race is on the GOP side. But not much else. And the polls should be treated that way.

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America’s Anxious Mood and What it Means for Republicans

Every political and presidential election takes place within a context and environment. And while it’s impossible to know what things will look like two Novembers from now, the overall mood of the nation then is bound to have some similarities to the mood of the nation now.

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Every political and presidential election takes place within a context and environment. And while it’s impossible to know what things will look like two Novembers from now, the overall mood of the nation then is bound to have some similarities to the mood of the nation now.

So what is the mood at this moment? The predominant feeling of Americans, according to polling data, is deeply unsettled and anxious, the product in large part of the multiplying failures of the Obama administration.

Think of the list from just the last year, from the disastrous rollout of healthcare.gov to the VA scandal, the flood of immigrants (many of them children) crossing the southern border, the Russian invasion of Crimea and its destabilization of Ukraine, Islamist advances in Libya, the colossal misjudgment about ISIS and the half-hearted air campaign the president is waging against it, and now the string of mistakes by the CDC in dealing with the Ebola virus.

Beyond this is the sluggishness of the economy, which has lasted the entire Obama presidency. Despite some encouraging recent jobs reports, overall the situation remains quite problematic: a drop in median household income even after the recession officially ended, the unusually low workforce participation rate (the lowest in 36 years), the broader failures of the Affordable Care Act, the rise in income inequality (nearing its highest levels of the last 100 years) and poverty (the poverty rate has stood at 15 percent for three consecutive years, the first time that has happened since the mid-1960s), the record number of people on food stamps and the fact that this year China overtook the United States as the world’s largest economy, the first time America has been in second place since 1872. It’s little wonder, then, that only around a quarter of Americans believe the country is on the right track.

In addition to all this, there are longer-term trends, such as middle-class Americans working longer hours than they did since 1979 while median net worth is lower, adjusted for inflation, than it was in 1989. Trust in government is at all-time lows. Disdain for the political class (especially Congress and the media) is sky-high. Americans are less trusting of our public institutions and of one another. More and more of us are living in “ideological silos”. Two-thirds of Americans think it is harder to reach the American Dream today than it was for their parents, and three quarters believe it will be harder for their children and grandchildren to succeed. Americans are pessimistic, feeling unusually vulnerable and polarized. (Political polarization is “the defining feature of early 21st century American politics,” according to the Pew Research Center.)

Given all of this, and assuming that in two years the political environment and psychological state of Americans is roughly what it is now, it’s interesting to contemplate some of the qualities they may be looking for in a GOP nominee.

My guess: A conservative who radiates competence, steadiness, and reassurance; who is perceived as principled, reform-minded, and reality-based; and who’s comfortably associated with a middle-class governing agenda. “Our main task is not to see that people of great wealth add to it but that those without much money have a greater chance to earn some,” is how former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels put it in 2011, and his critique still holds. This can be done while also focusing needed attention on those living in the shadows of society.

In the aftermath of the Obama era, Americans will be a good deal more skeptical of empty, extravagant rhetoric. The public can also do without political figures comparing themselves to Michael Jordan, LeBron James, and Jesus (all of whom Obama or his closest aides have compared Mr. Obama to). A modesty about what government can accomplish would be most welcomed; so would distrust of those who cling to ideology even when facts argue the contrary.

Voters are likely to trust individuals who have demonstrated a mastery of governing and can identify with, and have something to say about, the challenges facing many Americans. (One example is soaring higher education costs, a subject very few Republicans talk about and even fewer Republicans have solutions for.) The Republican Party’s standard-bearer certainly needs to be perceived as modern, future-oriented, and understanding the ways the world is changing.

A GOP nominee will also have to speak more to people’s aspirations than to their fears. A campaign that could be symbolized by an angry, clenched fist won’t work. Demonstrating touches of grace and winsomeness probably will. And because Republicans are on a long-term losing streak at the presidential level, including having lost the popular vote in five of the last six elections, they’ll need to find someone who is able to do more than rally the faithful. They’ll have to win over a significant number of people who are not now voting Republican but are persuadable. Which means Republicans might want to look to someone characterized by intellectual depth and calm purpose rather than stridency. In a recent speech, Tony Blair said, “In the end parties can please themselves or please the people.” He contrasted those who have the character of a governing party with those who seem like the shriekers at the gates outside. That’s a distinction worth bearing in mind.

To be sure, no single individual will embody all these qualities, and someone may well come along who personifies other characteristics in a way that is highly appealing. In addition, of course, politics is never static. But my guess is that given the mood and attitudes of Americans right now, some combination of the traits I’ve sketched out will be needed if Republicans hope to win.

While I fully expect Republicans to do quite well in the mid-term elections 15 days from now, it’s worth recalling that Republicans did historically well in 2010 (adding 63 seats in the House and six seats in the Senate) yet lost the presidency and House and Senate seats in 2012. And like it or not, we’re in a period when the Republican Party’s image has reached a historic low; when a majority of Americans said last year that the GOP is out of touch (62 percent), not open to change (56 percent), and too extreme (52 percent); and when, at the presidential level at least, the GOP faces an uphill climb.

President Obama’s cascading failures will make things easier for Republicans in 2016, but it still won’t be easy.

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Marylanders to the Rest of the Country: Beware Martin O’Malley

What does Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley have in common with self-described socialist Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders? The same percentage of Maryland Democrats want them to be the next Democratic presidential nominee. That would be 3 percent. It’s just one of the many data points to come out of the latest Washington Post/University of Maryland poll to support H.L. Mencken’s contention that “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.”

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What does Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley have in common with self-described socialist Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders? The same percentage of Maryland Democrats want them to be the next Democratic presidential nominee. That would be 3 percent. It’s just one of the many data points to come out of the latest Washington Post/University of Maryland poll to support H.L. Mencken’s contention that “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.”

Although, in the interest of basic compassion, it might be unkind to claim Maryland residents–or anyone, really–deserve to get two terms of Martin O’Malley.

And, to their immense credit, Marylanders don’t want the rest of the country to bring Martin O’Malley upon themselves. The message from Marylanders to the nation at large is: Don’t let our years governed by O’Malley be in vain; let something good come out of all of this. And that something good appears to be a national future unencumbered by Martin O’Malley as the nation’s chief executive.

But there are worse numbers in the poll for O’Malley than Democratic voters’ resounding declaration that they don’t want him representing their party in the next presidential election. That at least can be spun away. After all, if Democrats are asked to pick one politician to be their next presidential nominee, it’s no surprise that so many–63 percent–chose Hillary Clinton. (Although it is somewhat humorous that “Other/no opinion” polls nearly five times as well as O’Malley. They say you can’t beat something with nothing, and O’Malley appears to be the exception that proves the rule.)

No, the most unflattering portion of the poll is probably when registered voters are asked “Do you think Martin O’Malley would make a good president, or not?” The response: 14 percent said yes; 70 percent said no. The poll contrasts that with the result when the same question was asked in October 2012. At that time, the numbers were only slightly better–22 percent said yes; 62 percent said no–but still so far underwater as to be invisible from the surface.

There are more bad numbers–really, the whole poll is just an opportunity for Marylanders to unload on their horrendous governor. As the Post reported in an accompanying story, his “job-approval rating has fallen to an eight-year low of 41 percent, with his biggest defections coming from fellow Democrats.” What happened? The Post offers some suggestions:

Although O’Malley is not on the ballot this year, his policies in Maryland — particularly a string of tax increases during his tenure — have come under heavy fire from other candidates. Months of attacks, including some from fellow Democrats, appear to have taken their toll, some analysts say.

Other observers suggest that the time O’Malley has spent crisscrossing the country, seeking to gain national exposure, has alienated some constituents in Maryland.

Plausible. But it might be worth delving a bit more into his policies. The lesson might not be one national Democrats want to learn:

His legacy will include legalization of same-sex marriage, a sweeping gun-control bill, repeal of the death penalty, several measures expanding immigrant rights and an increase in the minimum wage. He has also overseen multiple tax hikes during his tenure, including increases in personal income taxes paid by high earners, the corporate income tax, sales tax, gas tax, tobacco tax and alcohol tax.

All politics is local (though not as local as it ought to be), so I doubt it’ll worry Democrats too much. Some of this might be personal; O’Malley is, after all, deeply unlikeable. But his agenda is also very liberal in a pretty liberal state, and voters don’t seem to love the results. It’s a common feature in American politics: there’s only so much liberalism even liberals can take.

And part of that could be the impression of the stereotype come to life. Reread that list of O’Malley tax increases, and you not only understand the O’Taxey nickname but get the sense the governor is to taxes what Bubba Blue is to shrimp.

Democrats may counter all this by pointing out that O’Malley is terrible at his job, and Democrats who aren’t terrible at their jobs will not suffer the same poll numbers. That’s true. But an element of O’Malley being terrible at his job is that, when it comes to issues like taxes, he cranks his liberalism up to eleven.

The other phenomenon here is just how “Ready for Hillary” national Democrats are. They don’t want a divisive nomination fight, and they don’t want a battle over ideas, in part because they want to nominate Hillary instead of a candidate who has ideas. So they’re not much interested in even having this conversation. And you almost can’t blame them: O’Taxey, a Vermont socialist, Joe Biden–the alternatives to Hillary aren’t exactly a sparkling A-team of Democratic leaders.

And that’s what might actually concern Democratic Party leaders more than O’Malley’s unpopularity: the prospect that there is no A-team. There’s just Clinton. They may get the nominee they want, but as far as Democrats see it, that’s not because she’s their best choice as much as that she’s their only choice.

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