Eight months after al-Qaeda-linked terrorists murdered four Americans in Benghazi, liberal talking heads, columnists and editorial writers don’t need Hillary Clinton’s State Department mafia or the Obama spin team in the West Wing to give them their talking points about what happened. They’ve figured out on their own that discussion of what led to this disaster and the administration’s furious attempt to deceive the American people afterwards will do more than undermine President Obama’s credibility. The more we learn about this affair, the less invulnerable the person they want to succeed Obama looks. That’s why despite the drip-drip of information leaking out about the prelude, most liberals are still portraying the tragedy as a trumped-up non-scandal that has been blown out of proportion.
It’s true that it is going to be difficult for Benghazi to become a front-burner issue so long as the New York Times editorial page pooh-poohs it as a Republican “obsession” or leading columnists like the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson puts it down as a “witch hunt.” Like legislation, scandals need bipartisan support from all sectors of the media in order to generate the sort of political crisis that impacts the future of politicians. Yet the problem with TIME magazine’s Joe Klein’s “Republicans are chasing their tails” over Benghazi talking point is that there is already enough known about the decisions taken to send Ambassador Chris Stevens to Benghazi or the failure of the United States to have forces available to rescue him and his colleagues, and especially about the politically-motivated lies that were told about the event after the event, to provide fodder for investigators for weeks of future hearings. It may be that congressional Republicans are acting like they smell blood rather than appearing as impartial investigators, but they are no guiltier of that than any other participants in a D.C. inquisition. So long as we have journalists, like ABC’s Jonathan Karl, following up on the work of the Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes about the damaging trail of email evidence about doctored talking points, the pressure for a special committee to investigate Benghazi with subpoena power will escalate.
If Republican primary voters were huddled in a laboratory underground creating their ideal presidential candidate for the 2016 political climate, it’s easy to imagine this candidate’s resume. He would have grassroots bona fides, preferably by defeating an “establishment” Republican in a primary. He would come from a red state with a strong conservative political base. He would be able to blunt the party’s poor reputation among minorities. He would be unafraid to publicly challenge Democrats wherever he could find them. He would be a skilled debater. He would be young and telegenic. He would be connected to major party donors. He would have an Ivy League education. And he would provoke irrational hatred from the media.
He would be, basically, Ted Cruz. This fact is apparently not lost on many on the right, including Ted Cruz. National Review’s Robert Costa is out with a story today on the Cruz-in-2016 buzz. But there are some questions about a Cruz candidacy–aside from the one of his eligibility, since he was born in Canada to an American mother–that are more difficult to answer definitively than they may seem. The first question is: Though the speculation that he’ll run is good for his reputation, would actually running for president in 2016 be good for Ted Cruz’s career? Obviously, if he won the presidency the answer is yes. But because he’s a freshman senator with no real record in office yet, a general-election loss would make him a has-been before his first term is up.
If there’s anything that most of us had drilled into our heads growing up, it’s this phrase: “Listen to your mother.” Mothers aren’t always right, but it’s never a bad policy to listen to the person who gave birth to you and generally has your best interests in mind. So let’s hope former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was watching the “Today” show this morning, when his mother, sister-in-law and two nieces were being interviewed by Matt Lauer about the opening of the George W. Bush Library and Museum in Dallas.
When asked whether her younger son Jeb should run for president, Barbara Bush, already the wife and the mother of presidents, left no doubt about her views:
He’s by far the best qualified man, but no, I really don’t. I think it’s a great country, there are a lot of great families, and, it’s not just four families or whatever. There are other people that are very qualified, and we’ve had enough Bushes.
The immediate reaction from most of the press as well as the other three family members present seemed to be that this was “Barbara being Barbara,” as Bush 41’s wife once again proved she was the most candid and outspoken member of the family. But those promoting the Jeb Bush boomlet should listen to her.
This is a big week for the Bush family as the opening of George W. Bush’s presidential library and museum on the campus of Southern Methodist University has brought the 43rd president’s legacy into focus. The debate over his record has been fierce but, as Peter Wehner noted yesterday a Washington Post-ABC News poll gave Bush supporters some long-needed comfort as it showed his approval rating was roughly equivalent to that of his successor. Some are interpreting this result as an indicator that the day Republicans had waited for had finally arrived as the public finally realizes Bush’s worth while catching on to Barack Obama’s shortcomings.
The GOP celebration may, however, be a bit premature. One poll does not constitute a trend and one would think that the last presidential campaign would have cured Republicans of their habit of placing their faith in polls that produced results that pleased them. The timing of the survey, which was taken last week in the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, may also have influenced the numbers as it highlighted the one issue—homeland security and terrorism—on which President Bush always scored relatively well even when his popularity was its nadir.
Let’s assume for the sake of argument that what we’re seeing in the WaPo poll is at least the beginning of a shift in public opinion about Bush 43. As I’ve written before, the opprobrium with which his presidency has been treated since he left office is largely undeserved. He made his share of mistakes but, as Bush supporters are pointing out this week, his defense of the homeland after 9/11 was his greatest achievement and the keynote of his presidency. If the worm is turning on Bush, this might mean the path is clearing for a third member of the family to try for the White House. That’s the conceit of much of the recent coverage of Jeb Bush, whose obvious interest in a 2016 run is also being highlighted by the big party in Dallas. But any assumptions that the uptick in his brother’s poll numbers mean that there is no Bush fatigue in the country are probably unfounded.
Since passing a Senate immigration bill with broad Republican support would vastly increase the chances of the bill passing the House, opponents of the proposed comprehensive immigration reform have been looking for an ally in the Senate GOP caucus to stall the bill. They have settled, it seems, on Ted Cruz. The freshman Texas senator is popular with the base and has consistently sought out ways to make his presence known in the upper chamber. He is also Hispanic, which–fairly or unfairly–makes it easier for him to oppose immigration reform.
But Cruz is not the most important voice in the Senate GOP on immigration–that distinction goes to Marco Rubio, who is crafting and selling the bill. Nor is Cruz the most important Republican outside the “gang of eight” who led efforts to put the bill together. Cruz is an important voice, for the reasons mentioned above. So is Paul Ryan–who plays a key role in House legislation and often serves as a bridge between the base and the House leadership–since the bill would have to pass the House after gaining the Senate’s approval. But those who want to get a sense of the fate awaiting the immigration bill should be watching Rand Paul.
Walter Russell Mead responded to my critique of his post on the GOP and the Bush Legacy. It is revealing, though probably not in ways Mr. Mead had intended. Here are several things to take from it.
1. Mr. Mead says my “attention is fixed on the rearview mirror” and “GOPers who can’t take their eyes off the rear-view mirror will not help their party regain public trust.” This is a curious charge, since it was Mead, not I, who first brought up the Bush legacy. (Mead spends more than 2,900 words on his post about the Bush years–and that only constituted Part One!) Anyone who follows my writings regularly, and particularly since the 2012 election, knows that much of my focus is on the state of the Republican Party and what it needs to do going forward, without reference to the Bush presidency. I was drawn into a “rearview mirror” dialogue because of Mead, not the other way around.
In the last few days Washington experienced what could only be called Hillary Week, as the decision of the former first lady to give her first public speeches since stepping down as secretary of state sent the chattering classes into ecstasy. With 2016 fever already in full bloom only a few months after President Obama’s re-election, the anticipation that Clinton will be the next Democratic standard bearer is intense. While it would be madness for any presidential contender to declare their intentions three years in advance of the race, the presence of a claque of organized cheerleaders bearing printed signs declaring that they were “Ready for Hillary” at her first appearance this week removed much doubt that the formidable Clinton campaign machine was already starting to rev itself up.
However, the assumption that Clinton is the inevitable Democratic nominee is getting some pushback. At the Washington Free Beacon, Matthew Continetti has written a column detailing all the reasons why the notion that Hillary is a can’t-miss candidate may be far overstating her strength, and much of it is both smart and persuasive. As he rightly notes, eight years ago pundits were making the same assumptions about Clinton and the 2008 presidential election which, as we all know, turned out to be somebody else’s historic election.
But while I agree with Continetti that Clinton is not a shoo-in to be the next president, I don’t share his skepticism about her chances of winning her party’s nomination. The Democratic Party has become, as Seth wrote last week, a highly disciplined operation with little of the organized anarchy that once characterized it. The reason why many people are speaking of a Clinton candidacy clearing the field of potential challengers is because that is exactly the governing dynamic of Democrats in the age of Obama. If she runs, the odds of a formidable challenger emerging are minimal.
Rand Paul couldn’t be more out of sync with the eight members of the bipartisan group of senators that presented an immigration reform plan in January. While he has little in common with the four Democrats, he is particularly at odds with three of the four Republicans in the group. Paul is already seen as one of the chief rivals of Marco Rubio in the 2016 presidential race. More than that, in the weeks since the plan was unveiled, the Kentucky senator has become embroiled in a public feud with John McCain and Lindsey Graham. Both ridiculed his filibuster about the possibility that the U.S. government could use drone attacks on American citizens and McCain even called Paul a “wacko bird.” But today Paul will announce his support for the key element of their immigration proposal that has drawn the most fire from conservatives: a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
While Paul is not endorsing the gang of eight’s draft, the plan he unveils this morning will be similar on the most contentious elements of the immigration debate. This shows that although Paul appears to be at war with the bulk of the GOP caucus on foreign policy and views the attempt of the Republican National Committee to streamline the presidential nominating process as a direct threat to his candidacy, he is on board with both groups when it comes to a key issue on which many in the party believes it must change if it is to have a chance to win national elections in the future.
The blowback from the right against the Republican National Committee’s autopsy of the 2012 election has begun with a barrage of bitter attacks from supporters of Rand Paul and Rick Santorum. But no one should be under the assumption that the critique of the report—especially its blueprint for revising the 2016 presidential nominating process—has anything to do with better representing the grass roots of the party or enhancing its chances of winning the next election.
As I mentioned earlier today, the RNC’s “Growth and Opportunity Project” is a comprehensive attempt to assess the failings of the party and cited the article by our Pete Wehner and Michael Gerson on “How to Save the Republican Party” in the March issue of COMMENTARY. But it also recommends streamlining the nominating process and making it less likely that well organized minorities can hijack the delegate selection process in some states via undemocratic caucuses and state conventions rather than primaries. While some on the right are curiously uncomfortable with the notion of a methodical look at where the GOP fell short in 2012, some are particularly unhappy with any idea of shortening the process, reducing the number of debates or diminishing the number of states that pick their delegates in a manner that requires the fewest number of participants.
While keeping the system just the way it is makes sense if you are running a campaign that appeals primarily to a narrow ideological faction, it doesn’t make sense if the purpose of the whole exercise is to choose the Republican with the most broad-based support or the best chance of winning in November. That’s why the huffing and puffing about the RNC report, especially from the Paulbots, strikes a particularly disingenuous note.
Republican National Committee Chair Reince Preibus deserves kudos from his party for the exhaustive report produced by his staff about what the party needs to do to recover from its defeat last November. The “Growth and Opportunity Project” is must reading for Republicans who continue to grouse about the party’s problems amid recriminations about Mitt Romney’s loss. It contains valuable insights that ought to be heeded by conservatives about how to win elections in the future. Its sections on messaging, fundraising, voter registration, technology, turnout efforts, outreach to neglected sections of the electorate like Hispanics and youth voters and candidate selection all reflect both an honest assessment of what went wrong and what needs be done in the future to ensure the GOP returns to majority status. Other suggestions like limiting presidential candidate debates during the primaries, streamlining the nominating process and moving up the date of the national convention are also smart.
It’s not clear yet whether ornery conservatives who resent the idea of a party rebranding will now start calling Preibus a RINO for suggesting some things have to change if a Republican is going to win the White House in the foreseeable future. To the extent that they believe–as some speakers at CPAC seemed to suggest–all the GOP needs to do is to ignore the problems and simply be more faithful to conservative ideology, they are part of the problem rather than the solution. As Our Pete Wehner and Michael Gerson wrote in their seminal article on the future of the Republicans in the March issue of COMMENTARY (which was quoted in the RNC report), serious thought must be given to rethinking the way the party approaches elections and some issues without abandoning its principles.
But the debate about this necessary report should not overlook one salient fact. No matter how smart the Republicans get in the next four years, they won’t win the presidency back until they nominate a better candidate than their opponents. That may seem to be such an obvious conclusion that it doesn’t merit discussion, let alone debate. But even as Republicans are rightly urged to heed the conclusions of the RNC report, it is still worth remembering.
I’m a little late in doing so, but I wanted to circle back to Jonathan’s post on Jeb Bush, which praised his strengths but also stated “for good or for ill the next Republican presidential nominee will not be a retread. Neither the biggest publicity machine in the world nor the genius of his brother’s guru Karl Rove would be powerful enough to foist another Bush on the GOP in 2016.”
Is it true that Bush is “the GOP’s past, not its future”?
I have a few thoughts to that question, the first of which is that Jeb Bush (unlike some others) seems to me to be genuinely ambivalent about running and may well not. But for the sake of the argument, assume he does. Would he win?
I have no idea. It may well be that others like Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, and Paul Ryan run and would do exceedingly well and that Bush runs and does poorly. Or it may be that Bush does spectacularly well.
If you are one of those political junkies who believe appearances on the Sunday news talk shows are a good barometer of the importance of political personalities, you might be forgiven for thinking that Jeb Bush is the most consequential Republican on the planet this week. Via the miracle of taped interviews, the former Florida governor and presidential son/brother performed the impressive feat of appearing on virtually every one of the network and cable shows yesterday. The motive for this deluge of Jebmania was ostensibly to promote the new book he has written with Clint Bolick on immigration reform. But most of the buzz as well as a good deal of the questions posed to him were about his political future, not his generally thoughtful ideas about immigration or education, two issues on which he has always been among the more insightful members of his party. Yet having pointedly refused to rule out a 2016 run for the presidency, any attempt on the part of his camp to deny that the purpose of this public relations blitz is to start the ball rolling toward another Bush presidency can only be described as disingenuous.
Ironically, the most endearing moment of his big TV morning was also the one that betrayed how out of touch he is with his party’s present, let alone its future. It came in response to a question from Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, in which he was asked about the impact of his brother’s political legacy on his own future. “I don’t think there’s any Bush baggage,” said Jeb who then went on to say “I love my brother, I’m proud of his accomplishments. I love my dad. I am proud to be a Bush.” Loyalty is a great virtue and Jeb, who has long been thought to be the biggest policy wonk of the family, has it in spades. No matter how they feel about the other Bushes, Republicans love that about him. But if he really thinks it is time for the GOP to nominate another member of the patrician family that passes for what is left of what might be called the Republican establishment, then he might not be as smart as a lot of us think he is.
Those who prefer speculating about the next presidential election rather than beating their heads against the wall trying to figure a way out of the sequester impasse got something to think about this week courtesy of former Florida governor Jeb Bush. Bush, who is making the rounds of every news and talk show that will have him this week to promote a new book, generated some genuine buzz when he specifically refused to rule out running for president in 2016. Throughout the prelude to the 2012 election the younger brother of the 43rd president always avoided playing games about his presidential prospects and definitively ruled out jumping in. Thus, his decision to speak like someone who is actively considering a run has led a lot of political observers to jump to the conclusion that he not only is a candidate, but that he would be a formidable contender.
All this has set the tongues of some in the chattering classes wagging about the possibility of a Bush-Clinton rematch in which the 1992 election will be fought between the son of the Republican standard bearer and the wife of the Democrat. A Jeb-Hillary matchup is certainly a possibility. But as much as Jeb Bush is a politician and a policy advocate who deserves to be taken seriously, a dose of skepticism about the boomlet forming for him is very much in order. It is true that many Democrats love the idea of another Clinton in the White House. But if there is evidence of grass roots enthusiasm among Republicans for another Bush, even one as smart as Jeb, I haven’t seen it.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie seemed to have revived the discussion about his weight this week with his humorous appearance on the David Letterman show by pulling a donut out of his pocket. Yesterday, Christie appeared to take a more serious approach to the question of his health, admitting that his doctor has told him his luck may be running out but insisted that any possible problems won’t interfere with his ability to do his job.
Christie is cruising to re-election in New Jersey this year and is on the short list of likely Republican candidates for president in 2016. But there are people who believe his ambitions will be derailed because, as his doctor reminds him, obesity is the sort of problem that will eventually catch up to anyone who suffers from it. Some think there is no way a man in Christie’s condition can possibly withstand the rigors of a presidential run. Others may think that even if he survives that ordeal, someone that heavy can’t possibly be elected since ours is a culture that extols fitness and denigrates fat people.
When Barack Obama announced the selection of Joe Biden to be his running mate in 2008, the New York Times, echoing the conventional wisdom at the time, included among Biden’s attributes the following: “it appears unlikely that Mr. Biden would be in a position to run for president should Mr. Obama win and serve two terms. Shorn of any remaining ambition to run for president on his own, he could find himself in a less complex political relationship with Mr. Obama than most vice presidents have with their presidents.”
That was a widely held view and reportedly something the Obama team considered a significant mark in Biden’s favor. And it was sensible of them to do so. Sharing the White House with Hillary Clinton, for example, or a popular moderate Democrat like then-Senator Evan Bayh, would have almost surely meant nominating his successor who would want an agenda and to perhaps even share in the credit for Obama’s legacy. So instead Obama nominated Biden to be his vice president and Hillary Clinton to be his secretary of state. And wouldn’t you know it, they may both run for president anyway, touting their respective legacies and sharing in the glory of Obama’s own legislative victories. The only difference–and what might be the source of endless future headaches for Obama–is that he has a clear preference for Clinton over his own vice president, the latter now launching his own possible bid from the White House and simultaneously in need of restraining.
So what did Obama miss when he nominated this pair of Washington insiders? He forgot about something he really shouldn’t have: the natural ambition of politicians and the way access to the White House only magnifies it. And it’s what makes stories like this National Journal piece arguing against the likelihood of either Clinton or Biden running in 2016 less than convincing:
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal made some headlines with his speech to the Republican National Committee yesterday in which he called out the GOP as having behaved like “the stupid party” in 2012. He is hardly alone in considering the infamous cracks of Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock about rape and pregnancy to be classic examples of stupidity but the main point of his address wasn’t about the perils of nominating idiots for Senate seats. Instead, Jindal put forth a manifesto about how to revive conservatism in the age of Obama. His formula is deceptively simple: opt out of a rigged game focused on how to balance the budget and replace it with a populist approach in which big government is the target.
The idea is a powerful message and is exactly what the Republican grass roots wants to hear, especially the part in which the Washington is put down and state and local governments, such as the one Jindal leads, are lauded. He’s right that the current debate in the Capitol over things like the debt ceiling and the fiscal cliff is being fought on the Democrats’ terms and has, predictably, led to GOP defeats. Jindal is also right that Republicans ought to be more interested in growing the economy than in enforcing austerity. But as much as his talk sounded like a winning approach to the 2016 presidential primaries in which he may be a serious competitor, the problem for his party is that opting out of the current debates on the debt and the budget is easy if your office is in located in Baton Rouge. It’s not an option for a House Republican caucus that remains the only real obstacle to President Obama’s plans for higher taxes and more spending in the next four years.
Senator Chuck Schumer earned some chuckles among Democrats when he said today that the decision by House Republicans to suspend any limits on the national debt for three months was evidence that “The president stared down the Republicans. They blinked.” The GOP chose to remove, at least for a time, any threat of a government shutdown because they knew they were locked in an unequal struggle with the White House and the Democratic majority in the Senate. By backing down on the debt ceiling deadline, the House leadership decided they’d be better off avoiding a confrontation that would lead to them being blamed for damaging the economy while probably not getting the spending cuts and entitlement reform that they rightly know the country needs. But there is at least one Republican in the Senate who thinks Schumer is right and who hopes to gain from making clear his disagreement.
Senator Rand Paul made it clear earlier this week that he disapproves of Speaker Boehner’s embrace of Fabian tactics. Instead of trying another Alamo-like last stand such as the GOP’s ill-fated fiscal cliff tactics, Boehner is hoping the GOP will be better off retreating now and living to fight another day. But Paul isn’t the only Republican unhappy about the decision. The 33 Republicans who defected during the House vote on the debt legislation made it obvious that a substantial portion of the party is unwilling to accept anything but a policy of all-out war all the time against the president’s refusal to deal with the debt crisis. Boehner has his hands full in a fractious caucus, but the impulse to rebel against a more cautious approach to their political problem is not limited to the House. Paul’s statement makes it clear that he is auditioning for the role of the party’s insurgent leader.
Back in November, I wrote that Rand Paul’s presidential hopes would be a difficult sale to pro-Israel conservatives and Republicans. Paul’s opposition to U.S. aid to Israel and an isolationist mindset that was highly reminiscent of the views of his extremist father, the former congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul, would seem to make his potential ascent in the GOP a troubling development for Jewish Republicans. While the exchange between us on the question of his attitude toward Israel may not have changed many minds, his recent trip to Israel is a clear indication that the Kentucky senator is serious about running for president.
Paul’s visit to the Jewish state was part of an effort to reposition himself as a friend of Israel, and there are some pro-Israel voices that seem inclined to take him at his word. There’s a lot to like about his criticism of President Obama’s attempts to dictate security policy to the Netanyahu government as well as the fact that he seems to be moving in the right direction on ties between the two countries. Yet it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that anyone inclined to buy into the idea that he should be thought of as a reliable friend of Israel is acting like a very cheap date for the presidential wannabe. Rand Paul may not exactly be a chip off the old block when it comes to the expressions of hostility and willingness to demonize Israel. But his positions on aid and, even more importantly, on broader foreign policy concepts are still far away from anything that the pro-Israel community would recognize as acceptable.
In October 2008, in a highly publicized and eagerly anticipated vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin, Biden said something that would have been notable were it not for his reputation for bluster and braggadocio. When moderator Gwen Ifill asked the candidates about the job description and value of the vice presidency of the United States, Biden said this:
With regard to the role of vice president, I had a long talk, as I’m sure the governor did with her principal, in my case with Barack. Let me tell you what Barack asked me to do. I have a history of getting things done in the United States Senate. John McCain would acknowledge that. My record shows that on controversial issues. I would be the point person for the legislative initiatives in the United States Congress for our administration. I would also, when asked if I wanted a portfolio, my response was, no. But Barack Obama indicated to me he wanted me with him to help him govern. So every major decision he’ll be making, I’ll be sitting in the room to give my best advice. He’s president, not me, I’ll give my best advice.
For several years in the late 1980s and early ’90s, following New York Governor Mario Cuomo’s flirtations with a presidential run became one of the country’s favorite political parlor games. In the end, despite being courted by the liberal press and many Democratic Party insiders, Cuomo never was able to pull the trigger on his candidacy and became known as “Hamlet on the Hudson” for his indecision. But whatever else one can say about his son Andrew, it appears that the current governor of the Empire State doesn’t suffer from the same malady. Any doubts about his intention to run for president in 2016 were dissipated yesterday with a state of the state speech that was a shopping list of liberal talking points and causes aimed at shoring up the governor’s standing with left-wing activists who are the core of the Democratic Party base.
Pandering to the left is always smart politics in a Democratic primary nomination race. Cuomo’s histrionics about guns, global warming, the minimum wage and abortion were exactly what he needs to establish his credentials with liberal donors and those who will be doing the bulk of the voting in Democratic contests that will be held three years from now. But the left-wing laundry list he enunciated yesterday in Albany is not without its risks. Even in a contest that is likely to be one in which the entrants will compete for the affection of liberal interest and constituency groups, the central theme of American politics in the next few years is likely to center on the question of how to deal with the deficit. But, as even a sympathetic article in the New York Times about his speech pointed out, there doesn’t appear to be any conceivable way that the state can pay for all of the new programs and government handouts Cuomo wishes to implement. Seen in this light, his manifesto shows exactly how the nation got in the mess that the president and Congress have been fighting about. This sort of stuff may generate applause in New York, but is the country really ready for another round of taxing and spending that Cuomo wants to initiate?