Commentary Magazine


Topic: 2016 presidential election

Why We’re Still Obsessing About Romney

When Mitt Romney told radio talk-show host Hugh Hewitt that there was a “one in a million” shot that he would run again for president, the 2012 Republican nominee probably thought he was, once again, shooting down speculation about him considering a 2016 run. But by prefacing it with the words “circumstances can change,” Romney gave pundits enough to restart speculation about his intentions. Those claiming that Romney is reconsidering his plans are almost certainly wrong. But the reason why so many are talking about this tells us a lot more about the GOP’s problems than it does about Romney.

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When Mitt Romney told radio talk-show host Hugh Hewitt that there was a “one in a million” shot that he would run again for president, the 2012 Republican nominee probably thought he was, once again, shooting down speculation about him considering a 2016 run. But by prefacing it with the words “circumstances can change,” Romney gave pundits enough to restart speculation about his intentions. Those claiming that Romney is reconsidering his plans are almost certainly wrong. But the reason why so many are talking about this tells us a lot more about the GOP’s problems than it does about Romney.

That even a savvy political junkie like Chuck Todd would bite on this story and say on MSNBC’s Morning Rundown show today that Romney’s statement “opens the door a crack” to a 2016 run illustrates a few things.

The first is that once the Democratic attack machine that spent a solid year sliming Romney shut down it was possible for a lot of people to start noticing that Romney was not the cartoon villain his opponents claimed him to be. His decency, good humor, and competency look even better because of the ongoing disaster that Barack Obama’s second term has been. After a year and a half of ineptitude, scandals, and foreign-policy disasters, the national buyer’s remorse about giving Obama another four years has softened Romney’s image and given him a legitimacy that the president’s cheering section in the mainstream media denied him when he was a candidate.

But it must also be admitted that one of the reasons so many people continue to try and raise Romney’s name is that none of the likely Republican contenders for 2016 have yet eclipsed the 2012 nomine.

Bridgegate derailed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s 2016 juggernaut. Senator Marco Rubio, who seemed the party’s savior at the end of 2012, has had some ups and downs with respect to immigration and sometimes gave the impression that he wasn’t quite ready for prime time. Jeb Bush appears unlikely to buck his mother’s advice and probably won’t run. Governor Scott Walker is in the fight of his life seeking reelection in Wisconsin. Many in the national party don’t take Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal seriously as a presidential prospect. Senator Ted Cruz is loved by the Tea Party but hated by everyone else in the Senate and viewed as likely to be a disaster in a general election.

Rick Santorum would like the GOP to continue its tradition of nominating the runner-up from the previous primary battle, but he’s finding that most Republicans are as apathetic about his candidacy now as they were before 2012.

The one candidate who has gained ground in the last two years is Senator Rand Paul, who has expanded the libertarian base of his extremist father and shown himself to be a savvy politician even if his isolationist policies are being exposed as ill suited to the times by events in the Middle East. But while it must be conceded that Paul has a plausible chance to be the nominee, mainstream Republican opposition to him remains fierce.

All of which leaves some on the right wondering if they might not be better off trying Romney again. In a more rational world, saying that there’s a one-in-a-million shot of something happening would be interpreted as proof that it won’t, but we are discussing politics, not reason. Yet leaving aside the fact that Romney has made it perfectly clear that he won’t run again, there are good reasons why he shouldn’t even if the former Massachusetts governor changes his mind.

First and foremost is the fact that, as Romney has repeatedly said, he already tried and lost. It’s been nearly 50 years since one of the parties nominated a candidate that had already lost a general election to run for president. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen, but the odds are it won’t. Were Romney to start making real noises about running, the new respect he’s earned in the media would evaporate and Democrats would restart their smear campaigns about his faith and his business experience. He may have been right about the threat from Russia and much else in 2012, but don’t expect anyone in the media to remember that if he intended to run again.

More to the point, a Romney candidacy would throw away the one clear advantage the Republicans have going into the 2016 race. Any Republican running against Hillary Clinton is going to seem like a fresh-faced outsider in comparison to that veteran of more than 20 years of Washington political infighting. Anyone, that is, other than Romney. In spite of his ability to raise money and the trust he has earned from many on the right because of his dogged underdog fight against Obama, Romney would come across as a tired, if likeable retread. That isn’t going to be a winning formula against the person who will be touted as America’s potential first female president.

Republicans, especially conservatives, have good reason to feel some remorse about Romney. Many of them spent most of 2012 trashing him as a RINO instead of doing everything they could to help him beat Obama. That wasn’t the reason he lost. The odds against any Republican going up against the first African-American president were always almost insurmountable and once the economic tailspin in late 2011 turned into the more stable situation of 2012, Obama’s reelection was probably guaranteed. The awful reality of an Obama second term has inspired a surprising amount of nostalgia for Romney’s gallant efforts. But that’s no substitute for a competent and competitive 2016 candidate.

Republicans need to re-focus on their party’s deep bench. All of the possible GOP candidates will be underdogs against Clinton. But there are many with genuine promise and there’s plenty of time for them to hit their stride in the next two years. Romney deserves the love he’s belatedly getting from Republicans, but looking forward rather than backward is the GOP’s only path to victory in 2016.

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Has Rand Paul’s Moment Passed?

This should be the moment when Senator Rand Paul’s rise to the top of the list of 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls should be halted. With foreign terror threats like ISIS that have grown precisely because of an American attempt to disengage from the Middle East, Paul’s neo-isolationist approach has been exposed as hopelessly shortsighted. But the Kentucky senator’s featured appearance on Meet the Press on Sunday revealed him to be, if anything, more confident than ever about his 2016 chances. Is he right?

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This should be the moment when Senator Rand Paul’s rise to the top of the list of 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls should be halted. With foreign terror threats like ISIS that have grown precisely because of an American attempt to disengage from the Middle East, Paul’s neo-isolationist approach has been exposed as hopelessly shortsighted. But the Kentucky senator’s featured appearance on Meet the Press on Sunday revealed him to be, if anything, more confident than ever about his 2016 chances. Is he right?

Paul scored a public relations coup by getting NBC to send a camera crew and reporter to Guatemala to observe him performing free eye surgeries. This kind of publicity is priceless as was the opportunity to draw attention to the senator’s grandstanding on the border crisis while in Central America. He also got the chance to lambaste the government’s sending of heavy weaponry to local police departments that was highlighted by events in Ferguson, Missouri. But the headline of the segment was his boast that the American public now agrees more with him about foreign policy than mainstream Republicans or even Democrats like Hillary Clinton who rightly say that what’s happening in Iraq is the result of the Obama administration’s failure to act in Syria before groups like ISIS had the chance to get going:

I think the American public is coming more and more to where I am, and that those– people, like Hillary Clinton, who, she fought her own war, Hillary’s War, you know, people are gonna find that, and I think that’s what scares the Democrats the most, is that in a general election, were I to run, there’s gonna be a lot of independents and even some Democrats who say, “You know what, we are tired of war. We’re worried that Hillary Clinton will get us involved in another Middle Eastern war, because she’s so gung-ho.”

If you wanna see a transformational election in our country, let the Democrats put forward a war hawk like Hillary Clinton, and you’ll see a transformation like you’ve never seen.

In other words, Paul believes that Americans are so war weary from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan that they are incapable of drawing conclusions from recent events. He’s not alone in thinking that. As Chris Cillizza noted in the Washington Post, a raft of polls taken earlier in the year all support the notion that Americans want a less aggressive foreign policy and are opposed to any further involvement in Middle East conflicts, like the potential wars that a “hawk” like Clinton might get the U.S. into.

Cillizza notes that these attitudes are far less popular among Democrats than Republicans, who, on the whole, remain faithful to their party’s traditional posture that deplores a more “narrow role in world affairs.” But, as Cillizza says, just because the GOP has been the standard bearer for a strong America in the recent past and Democrats the party of retreat, doesn’t mean that will always be the case.

But, as we have noted here before, Paul’s problem is that the Obama administration’s disastrous mistakes abroad have made it far less safe to assume that fears about terrorism and the decline of U.S. influence will no longer dictate attitudes about foreign affairs. While Clinton will, at least in theory, stand to benefit from being seen as someone who can implement a rational course correction from Obama’s path (so long as, that is, voters forget that she was his secretary of state for four years), Paul is actually offering an even more extreme version of Obama’s foreign-policy vision that has left the world a chaotic mess.

The crises in the Middle East in which Obama’s follies have played a not insignificant role in exacerbating conflicts in Gaza and Iraq and with the Russian assault on Ukraine proceeding may be just the start. Barring an unlikely complete transformation of the Obama administration over the course of the next two years, the odds are that America’s foreign-policy woes will grow rather than recede. That will make it harder to sell Republican primary voters, let alone the rest of the country, on Paul’s brand of isolationism. The unique moment in history in which an opening for a Republican who was actually to the left of Obama on foreign affairs may have already come to an end.

Nor, as I wrote here last week when discussing Paul’s efforts to present himself as a friend of Israel despite opposing aid to the embattled Jewish state, do polls give Republicans much reason to believe that there will be, as the senator says, a surge of young Democratic voters coming over to their side if Paul is the GOP candidate.

But mainstream Republicans who have observed the way the murder of James Foley and the general feeling of crisis have affected the public mood should not be too confident about Paul’s inability to win the nomination in 2016. As his clever stage management of the trip to Guatemala as well as past coups such as his drone filibuster in 2013 proved, the Kentucky senator is a formidable politician. His willingness to reach out to groups that have little reason to back him such as blacks, Hispanics, and supporters of Israel does more than show his ambition to expand the base of extremist libertarians. It illustrates a political vision that seeks to establish him as a genuine front-runner and plausible option for president.

It is far too early to project how this will play out in 2016. But the point here is that Paul’s ability to generate positive press from even the liberal mainstream media just at the moment when his views about the world are being discredited by events ought to scare his potential opponents. The follies of the Obama presidency may make it safe for conservatives to espouse their traditional support for a strong foreign policy in 2016 in a way that was harder to do in 2012. Yet anyone in the GOP who underestimates Rand Paul’s sheer political talent will be making a big mistake.

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The Walker Smear and the Rule of Law

Back in June, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s Democratic and union opponents took a flyer on an attempt to smear the 2016 presidential hopeful as a lawbreaker. The story quickly collapsed once it became clear that Walker was not actually the object of any criminal probe regarding his state’s arcane campaign-finance laws. But now the same media outlets that trumpeted the original misleading story and then buried the subsequent news that discredited it are back at it again trying to revive the non-scandal with new articles. But the problem with this round of accusations is the same as with the first one. Walker doesn’t appear to have violated any laws.

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Back in June, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s Democratic and union opponents took a flyer on an attempt to smear the 2016 presidential hopeful as a lawbreaker. The story quickly collapsed once it became clear that Walker was not actually the object of any criminal probe regarding his state’s arcane campaign-finance laws. But now the same media outlets that trumpeted the original misleading story and then buried the subsequent news that discredited it are back at it again trying to revive the non-scandal with new articles. But the problem with this round of accusations is the same as with the first one. Walker doesn’t appear to have violated any laws.

The original accusation that Walker had illegally coordinated independent campaign contributions during the 2012 attempt to recall him from office was big news back in June. Publications such as the New York Times and Politico treated the release of some documents from a convoluted litigation stemming from campaign-finance law investigations as damning evidence of Walker crossing the line between legal and illegal activity. The allegations were big political news for a day or two, but were just as quickly forgotten when a closer reading of the facts made it clear that a judge had already halted the investigation as a politicized fishing expedition before the stories were even published. The embarrassment of those who had treated this as a sign that Walker was doomed was compounded a week later when the lawyer for the prosecutors that had tried to pursue the investigation admitted that even if it were allowed to complete its work, Governor Walker was not actually the object of any criminal probe despite claims to the contrary from the press.

So what prompted the news stories that appeared in the New York Times and Politico on Friday? The headlines of the pieces make it seem as if newly released emails prove that Walker is in trouble. But again, once you take the trouble to read the stories, the notion that this is a scandal that has, as the Times helpfully insinuates, “clouded the White House prospects of Mr. Walker” falls flat again.

The emails that were released by the prosecutors talk a lot about efforts to raise money to help Walker, but there is no actual evidence that he broke any laws. Just tidbits from his staff to the governor discussing the efforts to raise money to combat the massive influx of union and liberal money into the state that was aimed at reversing the verdict of the voters in 2010 when Walker and a Republican majority in the state legislature were elected on a platform to reform the state’s finances. The only thing the documents prove is that Walker might have encouraged support for those seeking to oppose the efforts of his opponents. That this might have been so is neither shocking nor evidence of criminal behavior. It is exactly what every other politician in the country does in order to navigate the forest of campaign finance laws that have done nothing to make the system more transparent but have provided plenty of work for lawyers. It is little wonder that a federal judge shut down the investigation as an unconstitutional attempt to suppress the free speech rights of some of the groups involved, such as the Wisconsin Club for Growth.

But what is going on here is bigger than the political nastiness inspired by the 2011 effort by union thugs and their Democratic supporters to stop Walker and the Wisconsin legislature from changing laws that allowed state workers to hold the taxpayers hostage. What those behind this effort, ably assisted by the liberal media, are trying to do is no different from what happened earlier this month in Texas when Democrats managed to indict Governor Rick Perry for using his veto power to force the resignation of a prosecutor who had disgraced herself by being caught driving while drunk. In both Wisconsin and Texas, liberals have decided that the only way to derail politicians they can’t beat at the polls is to try and trump up legal cases against them. While no one expects Perry to ever serve a day in jail on such absurd charges and Walker isn’t even in personal legal peril, the point here is not so much to imprison these Republicans but to discredit them. The assumption is that legal trouble of any kind—even when they are the result of investigations with obvious political motives—will be enough to damage them for 2016. In Walker’s case, those behind these cases as well as their media collaborators are also hoping that their smears will make it easier to beat him in what shapes up to be a tough reelection race this fall in a battleground state.

The majority of voters are too smart to be fooled by these smears, and it’s likely that the efforts to take them down by such underhanded means will actually boost the popularity of both Perry and Walker among Republicans. But even if neither man is actually hurt by these cases, both liberals and conservatives should be worried about this political trend.

One of the hallmarks of dictatorships is the use of law to punish political opponents. The thing that has always separated the United States from banana republics and vicious authoritarian regimes such as Vladimir Putin’s Russia is the inability of either political leaders or parties to imprison their rivals. But what we are witnessing in Texas and Wisconsin is the breakdown of the rule of law that should protect us against the kind of savage reprisals against those who would challenge Putin that we see in contemporary Russia.

As the trial of Bob MacDonnell, the former Republican governor of Virginia and the ongoing ethics probe of New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo shows, there are enough real scandals involving abuses of power or corruption to occupy the press and the public. But what is so awful about the attempts to take down Perry and Walker is the willingness of the political left to prioritize their naked lust for power over the rule of law. That a partisan press should seek to aid these efforts to play politics by other means rather than expose them is a disgrace. This is a trend that Americans should deplore no matter what they think about those governors or their ideology.

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Parsing Paul’s ‘Evolution’ on Aid to Israel

Has Senator Rand Paul’s “evolution” on support for Israel and aid to the Jewish state gone far enough? That’s the question the pro-Israel community is asking these days as the 2016 Republican presidential contender attempts to navigate a changed foreign-policy environment in the wake of recent events in the Middle East. But while some credible voices think he should be given credit for moving closer to Israel, skeptics about both his position shifts as well as his ability to bring vast numbers of young voters to his party still have the better argument.

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Has Senator Rand Paul’s “evolution” on support for Israel and aid to the Jewish state gone far enough? That’s the question the pro-Israel community is asking these days as the 2016 Republican presidential contender attempts to navigate a changed foreign-policy environment in the wake of recent events in the Middle East. But while some credible voices think he should be given credit for moving closer to Israel, skeptics about both his position shifts as well as his ability to bring vast numbers of young voters to his party still have the better argument.

One voice raised on behalf of giving Paul a chance to prove himself is Abby W. Shachter, the author of Acculturated, the indispensable cultural blog, who writes in the Pittsburgh Tribune that both left- and right-wing critics of Paul on Israel are mistaken. While acknowledging the doubts about Paul’s sincerity about being a friend of Israel, she thinks friends of Israel shouldn’t consider his longstanding opposition to foreign aid a disqualifying factor. As Shachter notes, his position on aid to Israel has evolved since he began public life as a supporter of his extremist libertarian father’s presidential candidacies. Paul now claims he’s never really advocated ending assistance to Israel and says that even if all foreign aid is eliminated, Israel should be last on the list to be cut and even voted this summer for additional funding for the Iron Dome missile defense system that has saved countless lives from death at the hands of Hamas missiles.

Even more significantly, the recent controversy over President Obama’s willingness to use aid as a lever to pressure Israel may make Paul’s position on the question more defensible. Many Israelis believe the president’s decision to halt ammunition sales and transfers to Israel at the height of the fighting in Gaza so as to force the Jewish state to buckle to his demands about a cease-fire should force their country to ponder whether the price of this aid is too high in terms of their independence and security. If so, then maybe Paul’s position should be regarded as actually one that is helping Israel rather than a threat to its well-being.

Shachter goes even further and cautions conservative friends of Israel to think long and hard about labeling the libertarian senator as a foe of the Jewish state. She believes his ability to bring more young voters to the GOP has caused Democrats to fear him more than other Republicans. If Paul is spurned, she fears Republicans will rue the day they repelled the youth/libertarian voters that support the Kentucky senator, especially if they back libertarian or fringe candidates in November 2016.

But I’m afraid Shachter is giving Paul too much credit for both his “evolution” on the Middle East and his ability to help Republicans win in 2016.

Let’s first understand that Paul’s attempt to spin his record on Israel is blatantly insincere. If the senator has moved far closer to mainstream views on Israel since his presidential ambitions became manifest, that also illustrates just how far he has had to come from his starting point as a supporter of his father’s hostile attitude toward the Jewish state and the need for a strong American position on the Middle East. While he never explicitly singled out Israel for aid cutoffs, it’s also true that he has always opposed any assistance, a position that he still maintains to a large degree.

It is also true that many friends of Israel are rethinking the value of aid since Obama has used the assistance to pressure Israel to adopt policies that are against its interests. Paul is right when he says Israel would be better off if it were not dependent on the United States for military aid. But the problem is that even after the disheartening spectacle of Washington betraying its sole democratic ally in the Middle East in this manner, Israel doesn’t really have an alternative to this aid, no matter how many strings come with it.

The plain fact is that while Israel has a thriving arms industry of its own, if it is to maintain its qualitative edge over its Arab and Muslim foes, it’s going to need continued help from the United States. Without U.S. funding (started under the George W. Bush administration and continued under Obama), the Iron Dome system would not have been deployed as quickly or in the numbers needed to stop Hamas’s rocket offensive this year. Iron Dome might be the most prominent example of the utility of U.S. military assistance, but it is not the only one. Like it or not, Israel needs U.S. weapons and ammunition, especially when it is forced into shooting wars where resupply of stocks becomes necessary. Seen in that context, Paul’s rhetoric about aid cutoffs being to Israel’s benefit is beside the point, if not completely insincere.

Nor does Paul’s opposition to aid make sense even from a strictly American viewpoint. The U.S. has always gained nearly as much from security cooperation with Israel as the recipients. The U.S. not only benefits from Israeli technology and intelligence but the money is almost entirely spent in the United States. The assistance given is as much aid to the U.S. arms industry as it is to Israel.

As for Paul’s ability to bring in hordes of youthful libertarians who can tip the balance in 2016, that may be more of a myth than anything else. As Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog noted earlier this week, polls give us no evidence of any potential for such a massive swing vote. Young liberals may like Paul’s foreign policy, but not much else about the libertarian. But that shouldn’t recommend him to Republicans because the only reason they do like him is that his views are actually to the left of President Obama’s generally weak posture on foreign and defense issues. Even so, there is little evidence that liberals will back a conservative libertarian for president. Nor is it likely that any defection of libertarians, who have been hostile to every GOP presidential nominee for a generation, would be enough to cost Republicans the presidency.

Thus, while Paul should be encouraged to continue to evolve, his position on Israel is still unsatisfactory. More to the point, his position on aid reflects an even greater desire for an American retreat from the Middle East than that of Obama. In the unlikely event that his views truly change, pro-Israel conservatives should give him a chance. Until then, they would do well to seek an alternative that will both support Israel and have a better chance of being elected president.

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Did the Democrats Just Save Rick Perry?

Yesterday after turning himself in, Rick Perry posed for his mug shot and then treated himself to an ice cream cone. It’s hard to tell which of those activities he enjoyed more.

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Yesterday after turning himself in, Rick Perry posed for his mug shot and then treated himself to an ice cream cone. It’s hard to tell which of those activities he enjoyed more.

Perry’s booking was a formality, of course, after having been indicted on looney-tunes charges denounced by all corners of the left–traditionally his political opponents–except for the most extreme partisans of the left-wing fringe, such as Barack Obama’s former campaign manager Jim Messina and Esquire’s Charles Pierce. Everyone else, from the editorial boards of the New York Times and Washington Post to liberal bloggers and political activists, opted for sanity and distanced themselves from the Texas Democrats’ textbook example of criminalizing politics.

And so the indictment, which was a vengeful attempt to derail Perry’s possible presidential candidacy, seems to have backfired. But it’s backfired in an interesting way.

Perry was always going to be something of a longshot for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. His last candidacy crashed on the rocks of his memorable debate stumbles, and a first impression on the national stage is tough to shake, even if he’d been a known quantity in Texas. Additionally, Ted Cruz appears to be considering a presidential run in 2016. Not only would a Cruz candidacy erode Perry’s Texas base of support, but it also highlights the trouble Perry has had with the base since 2012. Cruz, after all, beat Perry’s lieutenant governor to win his Senate seat.

Perry is leaving office after three terms, and his squabbles with his right flank seemed to mark him as a has-been in the minds of his erstwhile supporters. But this indefensible liberal witch hunt has rallied them to his side. Just as his previous candidacy was greeted with hashtags playing up his tough-guy Texan image, such as #RickPerryFacts, so too yesterday brought us #UseAMovieQuoteToCaptionPerryMugshot and perhaps the more fitting #smugshot. Perry’s swagger has returned.

And he capitalized on it further by releasing a video on the controversy that pulls no punches:

The indictment looks even worse with the revelation that one of the members of the grand jury that indicted Perry “was an active delegate to the Texas Democratic Party convention during grand jury proceedings” and that she “attended, photographed, and commented on an event with Democratic state Sen. Kirk Watson”–who was a witness on the grand jury–“while grand jury proceedings were ongoing.”

After the mug shot (and the ice cream), Perry was gearing up for a trip to New Hampshire:

Governor Rick Perry, fresh off an indictment and then a brief stop Tuesday at a Texas courthouse to be fingerprinted and released, is shining up his boots to stage a New Hampshire comeback tour this week.

Yet in an odd political twist, Perry’s clash with the law may prove to be a valuable selling point in his bid to run for the GOP presidential nomination.

New Hampshire political scientists say they cannot recall another would-be presidential candidate showing up while under indictment. But many New Hampshire Republicans are rushing to Perry’s defense, talking about what they consider a politically motivated indictment last week, instead of focusing on Perry’s disastrous 2012 run for president.

“It would be in his favor for a lot of Republicans, I think,” said Bill O’Connor, a commercial airline pilot who is chair of the Strafford County Republican Party, which includes Dover and Durham.

It is quite remarkable how the indictment has helped him bounce back and change the conversation. And it’s provided him with a very different kind of momentum from 2012.

When he entered the last race for the Republican presidential nomination, Perry was the frontrunner. Voters saw the GOP field as weak, lacking a candidate with grassroots support, executive experience, and fundraising prowess, as well as a base of support in a conservative stronghold. Enter Perry.

Yet when he flamed out in the debates, that seemed to be the end of it. Now, however, he’s simply replaced the old narrative with a new one: he’s the comeback kid, the unjustly persecuted victim, the resilient underdog they just can’t shake.

He’s still a longshot, of course. But he’s also got nothing to lose, since he’s leaving office anyway and his last run was such a disaster. Before the indictment, he was a prospective candidate in search of a compelling narrative. The Democrats just gave him one.

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Rick Perry and Our Dysfunctional Politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hug it Out? Hillary Shows Weakness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bernie May Drive Hillary Nuts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Return of Senator Hillary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Romney Beats Obama and 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Anti-Rand Paul GOP Primary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who will be competing in the anti-Paul primary?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Will Clinton Run as Elizabeth Warren?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Unions’ Warning to Hillary Clinton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Did Perry Just Boost His 2016 Chances?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hillary’s Rape Case Answer Doesn’t Work

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

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

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

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

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

Clinton told Mumsnet that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Should Hillary Fear Warren? Maybe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hillary Clinton’s Fourth Way?

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the relevant part of the Journal piece:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rubio’s Effort to Modernize the GOP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Is Hillary Ashamed of Her Vast Wealth?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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