Commentary Magazine


Topic: 2016 presidential election

Hillary’s Rape Case Answer Doesn’t Work

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

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

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

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

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

Clinton told Mumsnet that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Should Hillary Fear Warren? Maybe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hillary Clinton’s Fourth Way?

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the relevant part of the Journal piece:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rubio’s Effort to Modernize the GOP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Is Hillary Ashamed of Her Vast Wealth?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Walker Smear Collapses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Can Being Broke Help Joe Beat Hillary?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Paul’s Isolationism Isn’t a Viable Alternative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Liberals Are Afraid of Scott Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Erasing the “Oops”: Perry Mulls a 2016 Bid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Obama’s in Trouble, But This Isn’t 2010

The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll is proof that the Obama presidency is sliding into irrelevancy. The president’s numbers, which show his personal approval, job approval, and confidence in his ability to manage the economy and conduct foreign policy all sinking to new lows, are clear evidence that the 2008 messiah of hope and change is running out of steam. Moreover, the president’s ratings aren’t merely a standard case of second term-blues. After the last year and a half of scandals in which his absentee management style has exacerbated chronic government problems and the collapse of his “lead from behind” foreign strategies, the Obama presidency is in crisis.

Amid a plethora of negative stats that emerge from the poll is one that ought to send shivers down the spines of Democrats who take it as a matter of faith that Obama’s predecessor was a disaster whose failures always provide a standing excuse for any of the president’s shortcomings. The fact that the public now rates Obama’s competence in managing the government as being lower than that of George W. Bush in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when the war in Iraq was also spiraling out of control illustrates how low the president has sunk in the public’s esteem. That the same poll now shows that a majority of Americans believe the president is no longer capable of leading the country in the right direction shows that with more than two and a half years left in the White House, the tipping point has been reach at which it is possible to assert that Obama’s second-term problems cannot be reversed.

While this is very bad news for the president and the country, which, whether or not you like Obama, desperately needs him to lead both at home and abroad, it is pretty good news for a Republican Party which is heading into the midterm elections with reasonable hopes of winning control of both houses of Congress this fall. But conservatives and GOP operatives who may consider this poll–and the many others that have been published this year that provide similar results–as being definitive proof that they are on the way to a 2010-style landslide need to rethink their optimism. The president’s troubles are serious, but the Republicans have plenty of problems of their own. Though the GOP has a better than even chance of winning control of the Senate and are odds-on favorites to hold the House, the same poll provides data that should encourage Democrats to believe they have a chance in 2014 and are set up to win again in 2016.

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The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll is proof that the Obama presidency is sliding into irrelevancy. The president’s numbers, which show his personal approval, job approval, and confidence in his ability to manage the economy and conduct foreign policy all sinking to new lows, are clear evidence that the 2008 messiah of hope and change is running out of steam. Moreover, the president’s ratings aren’t merely a standard case of second term-blues. After the last year and a half of scandals in which his absentee management style has exacerbated chronic government problems and the collapse of his “lead from behind” foreign strategies, the Obama presidency is in crisis.

Amid a plethora of negative stats that emerge from the poll is one that ought to send shivers down the spines of Democrats who take it as a matter of faith that Obama’s predecessor was a disaster whose failures always provide a standing excuse for any of the president’s shortcomings. The fact that the public now rates Obama’s competence in managing the government as being lower than that of George W. Bush in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when the war in Iraq was also spiraling out of control illustrates how low the president has sunk in the public’s esteem. That the same poll now shows that a majority of Americans believe the president is no longer capable of leading the country in the right direction shows that with more than two and a half years left in the White House, the tipping point has been reach at which it is possible to assert that Obama’s second-term problems cannot be reversed.

While this is very bad news for the president and the country, which, whether or not you like Obama, desperately needs him to lead both at home and abroad, it is pretty good news for a Republican Party which is heading into the midterm elections with reasonable hopes of winning control of both houses of Congress this fall. But conservatives and GOP operatives who may consider this poll–and the many others that have been published this year that provide similar results–as being definitive proof that they are on the way to a 2010-style landslide need to rethink their optimism. The president’s troubles are serious, but the Republicans have plenty of problems of their own. Though the GOP has a better than even chance of winning control of the Senate and are odds-on favorites to hold the House, the same poll provides data that should encourage Democrats to believe they have a chance in 2014 and are set up to win again in 2016.

The problem for Republicans is that as bad as the president’s numbers may be, theirs are just as bad. After years of sinking approval ratings, the party’s negative image is beginning to look like it is set in stone. Part of this is due to the hangover from its disastrous collisions with Obama such as the 2013 government shutdown, but more of it is due to the perception that it is essentially leaderless and being driven by Tea Party activists rather than pragmatic statesmen. Liberal dominance in popular culture has also created endemic problems on issues like the environment, climate change, and gay marriage in which the GOP generally finds itself on the less popular side of many divisive issues. Immigration reform, which pits most though not all conservatives against the wishes of the vast majority of Hispanics, also creates a powerful obstacle to winning national elections.

The Democrats’ ability to portray the GOP as waging a war on women may be more a function of a successful propaganda campaign than fact. But it is nonetheless having a major impact on American politics as women, especially white women, have become the Democrats’ chief bulwark.

When one compares today’s numbers to those of June 2010, you rapidly see that although the Democrats are burdened with a president who is seen as largely incompetent, they are helped by data that shows Republicans to be underwater in ways that they were not four years ago. In particular, the party’s declining support among women and Hispanics as well as the far more negative image of the Tea Party today has altered the political landscape in a way that makes another midterm landslide less likely.

These factors do not change the fact that 2014 will be largely decided in red states where the president’s unpopularity may prove lethal to centrist Democrats seeking reelection. But they may lessen the chances for a midterm avalanche that might otherwise be expected in the middle of such a disastrous second term for the incumbent. It also goes almost without saying that these numbers show the Democrats to be in good shape heading toward the 2016 presidential election.

Throughout 2012 most conservatives and Republicans took it as an article of faith that Obama’s incompetence would lead to a GOP victory in November. They underestimated the importance of the president’s historic status as the first African American in the White House as well as their party’s growing problems among minorities and women. Those same problems may not prevent Republicans from winning back control of Congress this year, but they are enough to doom even a highly competent presidential nominee in 2016 unless something happens to change the way the public regards Republicans. Instead of spending the rest of the year counting their chickens before they are hatched, conservatives would do well to return to the business of trying to expand their base that many rightly concentrated on in the wake of their 2012 defeat. The alternative to such an effort will only lead to a repeat of that disaster.

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Lessons From Hillary’s Bad Week

Hillary Clinton’s decision to try to clear the Democratic presidential field this far out from Election Day was widely viewed as her best chance to win the nomination. The drawback, however, was that she would put herself immediately under the glare of the media she so overtly detests.

But maybe that’s also a benefit. Hillary’s sense of entitlement and combative, defensive, accusatory nature was always going to result in a series of gaffes and missteps. If this week was any indication, Clinton will try to get them all out of the way long before the “official” campaign begins. Perhaps by the time the real campaign rolls around, they will be long forgotten. Clinton can take solace in the fact that the 24-hour news cycle means the two and a half years until the election constitute a lifetime in politics.

But the real question is whether Clinton will learn from these early mistakes or repeat them. On Monday, Clinton was under fire for claiming–absurdly–that she was broke leaving the White House. Her former spokeswoman defended her by explaining that, well, broke is kind of a relative term, especially for a family like the Clintons. Clinton’s mistake here was thinking that Democrats are being honest when they demonize wealth, when in reality they celebrate making money if you’re getting paid to demonize the wealth of others. Lesson learned?

On Tuesday, Clinton dealt with the fallout from her absolutely horrendous answer on her culpability for the tragedy in Benghazi: “I take responsibility, but I was not making security decisions.” The Washington Post’s media writer took note of the disastrous portion of the interview:

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Hillary Clinton’s decision to try to clear the Democratic presidential field this far out from Election Day was widely viewed as her best chance to win the nomination. The drawback, however, was that she would put herself immediately under the glare of the media she so overtly detests.

But maybe that’s also a benefit. Hillary’s sense of entitlement and combative, defensive, accusatory nature was always going to result in a series of gaffes and missteps. If this week was any indication, Clinton will try to get them all out of the way long before the “official” campaign begins. Perhaps by the time the real campaign rolls around, they will be long forgotten. Clinton can take solace in the fact that the 24-hour news cycle means the two and a half years until the election constitute a lifetime in politics.

But the real question is whether Clinton will learn from these early mistakes or repeat them. On Monday, Clinton was under fire for claiming–absurdly–that she was broke leaving the White House. Her former spokeswoman defended her by explaining that, well, broke is kind of a relative term, especially for a family like the Clintons. Clinton’s mistake here was thinking that Democrats are being honest when they demonize wealth, when in reality they celebrate making money if you’re getting paid to demonize the wealth of others. Lesson learned?

On Tuesday, Clinton dealt with the fallout from her absolutely horrendous answer on her culpability for the tragedy in Benghazi: “I take responsibility, but I was not making security decisions.” The Washington Post’s media writer took note of the disastrous portion of the interview:

Another telling moment came when Sawyer placed before Clinton all the warnings that bad things were afoot in Benghazi. “Did you miss it? Did you miss the moment to prevent this from happening?” Sawyer asked. Clinton’s response started with these two words: “No, but …”

The lesson here seems to be that Clinton bought into the left’s idea that Benghazi is a silly controversy and there’s nothing left to answer for. That’s not remotely true, as Diane Sawyer showed when she pressed Clinton to offer more than a canned one-line dismissal and actually answer detailed questions about what went wrong.

Yesterday, Clinton had yet another difficult interview, this one about her flip-flop on gay marriage. When gay marriage was unpopular, Clinton was opposed. Once it was advantageous in a Democratic primary to support it, that’s where she found herself. It’s a reminder that Clinton is a walking focus group. (Her “memoir has the cautious, polished, poll-tested feel of a campaign speech,” complains the Economist.)

Here’s Politico on Clinton’s interview with NPR:

NPR’s Terry Gross was interviewing Clinton about her newly released memoir, “Hard Choices.” She repeatedly asked the former secretary of state whether her opinion on gay marriage had changed, or whether the political dynamics had shifted enough that she could express her opinion.
“I have to say, I think you are being very persistent, but you are playing with my words and playing with what is such an important issue,” Clinton said.

“I’m just trying to clarify so I can understand …” Gross said.

“No, I don’t think you are trying to clarify,” Clinton snapped back. “I think you’re trying to say I used to be opposed and now I’m in favor and I did it for political reasons, and that’s just flat wrong. So let me just state what I feel like you are implying and repudiate it. I have a strong record, I have a great commitment to this issue, and I am proud of what I’ve done and the progress we’re making.”

There’s more, but that’s probably the worst of it. The lesson here would be that it’s OK with Democrats to have flip-flopped on this. They’ll say you “evolved,” as long as you offer some kind of plausible explanation. Clinton doesn’t have to shy away from her hypocrisy, but she has to avoid getting so defensive that she gives the impression she has something to hide.

Will she learn the lessons of her disastrous week, and get the hang of campaigning? The silver lining for Clinton is that regardless of the answer to that question, this week’s missteps are sure to be ancient history in 2016.

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Hillary’s “Broke” Gaffe and Inevitability

When Bill Clinton was presiding over the American political scene, most observers understood that part of the key to understanding his ability to connect with voters was his legendary ability to “feel your pain.” President Clinton’s ability to make people think he not only cared about them but also actually understood their trouble was a natural talent and a form of political genius. But like most natural talents, this skill can’t really be taught or transferred to another person. Even if that person has been watching Clinton closely for more than 40 years as his wife. It is in that context that we should regard Hillary Clinton’s cringe-inducing statement in the ABC interview with Diane Sawyer that launched her book tour about being “dead broke” when she and Bill left the White House in 2001.

In the strict sense of the word, this statement was true. The Clintons did not have, as many politicians do, inherited wealth. While Hillary was a well-compensated lawyer before she became first lady, other than a brief stint as a law professor her husband hasn’t had an honest job in his entire life since he had been running for office since emerging from Yale Law School. But to speak of the Clintons as broke in 2001 is to engage in the kind of deceit that voters can smell a mile away. Like all ex-presidents and first ladies, but especially those who were both popular and engaged in heated controversies like the Lewinsky scandal, their financial prospects were, to put it mildly, rosy. In the 13-plus years since leaving the White House, Bill Clinton has earned more than $100 million in speaking fees and both made fortunes writing their memoirs. They may have had a temporary cash flow problem in January 2001, but were soon rolling in it. Thus, for her to speak of their plight in 2001 when, as she put it:

We had no money when we got there, and we struggled to, you know, piece together the resources for mortgages, for houses, for Chelsea’s education. You know, it was not easy.

No, I suppose it wasn’t. But somehow with the help of generous donors, publishers, and those eager to pay six-figure fees for the honor of hosting the ex-president, they managed to pay their l’affaire Lewinsky lawyer fees as well as obtain multiple mortgages and houses that Clinton referenced when she used those words in the plural. But then again, Clinton had already gotten an $8 million advance for her memoirs even before her husband’s term ended.

Should this influence anyone’s opinion of her qualifications to be president? Strictly speaking, no. As Seth wrote earlier, her lackluster record as secretary of state, which her backers are furiously trying to rationalize, stands as a rebuke to her efforts to portray herself as ready for the presidency without our having to delve into their finances. The Clintons are now as rich as most of their peers, both Democrat and Republican, among Washington elites and may well be far less wealthy than the likes of John Kerry and John McCain, both of whom married money. But what this gaffe tells us is that while the widespread support for the idea that it is time we had a female president makes her the odds-on favorite for 2016, this Clinton still has the same tin ear for public opinion that hamstringed her 2008 presidential run.

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When Bill Clinton was presiding over the American political scene, most observers understood that part of the key to understanding his ability to connect with voters was his legendary ability to “feel your pain.” President Clinton’s ability to make people think he not only cared about them but also actually understood their trouble was a natural talent and a form of political genius. But like most natural talents, this skill can’t really be taught or transferred to another person. Even if that person has been watching Clinton closely for more than 40 years as his wife. It is in that context that we should regard Hillary Clinton’s cringe-inducing statement in the ABC interview with Diane Sawyer that launched her book tour about being “dead broke” when she and Bill left the White House in 2001.

In the strict sense of the word, this statement was true. The Clintons did not have, as many politicians do, inherited wealth. While Hillary was a well-compensated lawyer before she became first lady, other than a brief stint as a law professor her husband hasn’t had an honest job in his entire life since he had been running for office since emerging from Yale Law School. But to speak of the Clintons as broke in 2001 is to engage in the kind of deceit that voters can smell a mile away. Like all ex-presidents and first ladies, but especially those who were both popular and engaged in heated controversies like the Lewinsky scandal, their financial prospects were, to put it mildly, rosy. In the 13-plus years since leaving the White House, Bill Clinton has earned more than $100 million in speaking fees and both made fortunes writing their memoirs. They may have had a temporary cash flow problem in January 2001, but were soon rolling in it. Thus, for her to speak of their plight in 2001 when, as she put it:

We had no money when we got there, and we struggled to, you know, piece together the resources for mortgages, for houses, for Chelsea’s education. You know, it was not easy.

No, I suppose it wasn’t. But somehow with the help of generous donors, publishers, and those eager to pay six-figure fees for the honor of hosting the ex-president, they managed to pay their l’affaire Lewinsky lawyer fees as well as obtain multiple mortgages and houses that Clinton referenced when she used those words in the plural. But then again, Clinton had already gotten an $8 million advance for her memoirs even before her husband’s term ended.

Should this influence anyone’s opinion of her qualifications to be president? Strictly speaking, no. As Seth wrote earlier, her lackluster record as secretary of state, which her backers are furiously trying to rationalize, stands as a rebuke to her efforts to portray herself as ready for the presidency without our having to delve into their finances. The Clintons are now as rich as most of their peers, both Democrat and Republican, among Washington elites and may well be far less wealthy than the likes of John Kerry and John McCain, both of whom married money. But what this gaffe tells us is that while the widespread support for the idea that it is time we had a female president makes her the odds-on favorite for 2016, this Clinton still has the same tin ear for public opinion that hamstringed her 2008 presidential run.

Making speeches is not quite as easy as simply sitting back and letting your investments make money, as some wealthy folks do. But when most people think of working “very hard,” as Mrs. Clinton described her husband’s task, as well as her own ability to generate more than $5 million in fees since leaving the State Department, they don’t generally mean giving speeches. Taking a first class flight to resorts and other exclusive venues where the hard worker must be subjected to non-stop flattery, luxury accommodations, an appreciative audience for any platitudes he’s prepared to spin before accepting a huge check for his troubles, does take effort and a degree of skill–but it is not exactly working for a living. The same applies to writing a book with the help of staffs and researchers that ordinary authors could never dream of having.

The problem here is that Democrats do best when exploiting the natural resentment that most ordinary Americans feel about the rich. Filthy rich Democrats can play this card as easily as poor ones (see Roosevelt, Franklin and Kennedy, John, to name just a couple) but in order to do so they must never pretend to be anything other than what they are. For a person with multiple mansions, like the Clinton’s humble cottage in Chappaqua, New York to complain about what they had to do initially finance these transactions is, at best, bad form, and, at worst, a clear misreading of public opinion. It is, in short, exactly the kind of a mistake that Bill Clinton would never make.

In other words, this foolish sound bite is a sign that Hillary is still a politician who is capable of the sort of unforced errors that her husband only made when it came to sex. While it is not clear whether this will encourage some intrepid left-wing Democrat to attempt to derail her coronation as her party’s presidential nominee, it should alert Republicans to the fact that Hillary is vulnerable. Though she starts the 2016 cycle as the odds-on favorite, a candidate that could make a mistake like this should never be considered inevitable.

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Clinton’s Task: Spin the Unspinnable

Hillary Clinton’s memoir, Hard Choices, was apparently assembled “with an assist”–according to New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani–from what Clinton calls her “book team.” And if Kakutani’s review is any indication, Clinton’s team was burdened by its task.

The book is understood to be Clinton’s campaign manifesto, and the book’s release–officially, tomorrow–is being treated as a campaign launch. Clinton has been dogged by one question in particular: What did she accomplish as secretary of state? She has even been unable to answer the question herself. And though I (like Clinton, presumably) haven’t read her book, early indications are that her book team was unable to answer it as well.

After an undistinguished and at times dismal term as secretary of state, the book had two basic objectives: show Clinton to have accomplished something–anything really; and dispel the image Clinton cultivated of using the prestigious perch as an Instagram-based travelogue. Readers of the Times review will encounter, early on, the following sentence: “The book itself, however, turns out to be a subtle, finely calibrated work that provides a portrait of the former secretary of state and former first lady as a heavy-duty policy wonk.”

This sounds promising. A few paragraphs later, however, they will be told: “For readers who are less policy-oriented, there are personal tidbits strewn lightly throughout, like small chocolate Easter eggs.” It is unthinkable that a great many readers will press on past that sentence, instead reaching for the ginger ale to calm the rising tide of nausea that accompanies particularly greasy Clinton-worship. For those who couldn’t tough it out, spoiler alert: there are precisely zero examples in the review of anything that even approaches portraying Hillary “as a heavy-duty policy wonk.”

Oh well. What about Hillary’s other defenders in the press, perhaps those with a steady interest and experience in foreign affairs and issues relating to human rights? Enter Nicholas Kristof. He uses his Sunday column to defend Hillary Clinton’s tenure at State. It is a brutally awkward attempted complement that begins to absentmindedly sound more like a personal indictment. It is the Michael Scott wedding toast of pro-Hillary columns.

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Hillary Clinton’s memoir, Hard Choices, was apparently assembled “with an assist”–according to New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani–from what Clinton calls her “book team.” And if Kakutani’s review is any indication, Clinton’s team was burdened by its task.

The book is understood to be Clinton’s campaign manifesto, and the book’s release–officially, tomorrow–is being treated as a campaign launch. Clinton has been dogged by one question in particular: What did she accomplish as secretary of state? She has even been unable to answer the question herself. And though I (like Clinton, presumably) haven’t read her book, early indications are that her book team was unable to answer it as well.

After an undistinguished and at times dismal term as secretary of state, the book had two basic objectives: show Clinton to have accomplished something–anything really; and dispel the image Clinton cultivated of using the prestigious perch as an Instagram-based travelogue. Readers of the Times review will encounter, early on, the following sentence: “The book itself, however, turns out to be a subtle, finely calibrated work that provides a portrait of the former secretary of state and former first lady as a heavy-duty policy wonk.”

This sounds promising. A few paragraphs later, however, they will be told: “For readers who are less policy-oriented, there are personal tidbits strewn lightly throughout, like small chocolate Easter eggs.” It is unthinkable that a great many readers will press on past that sentence, instead reaching for the ginger ale to calm the rising tide of nausea that accompanies particularly greasy Clinton-worship. For those who couldn’t tough it out, spoiler alert: there are precisely zero examples in the review of anything that even approaches portraying Hillary “as a heavy-duty policy wonk.”

Oh well. What about Hillary’s other defenders in the press, perhaps those with a steady interest and experience in foreign affairs and issues relating to human rights? Enter Nicholas Kristof. He uses his Sunday column to defend Hillary Clinton’s tenure at State. It is a brutally awkward attempted complement that begins to absentmindedly sound more like a personal indictment. It is the Michael Scott wedding toast of pro-Hillary columns.

“When politicians have trouble spinning their own glories, that’s a problem,” he begins. That is correct. He continues:

So it was bizarre that Hillary Rodham Clinton, asked at a forum in April about her legacy at the State Department, had trouble articulating it. That feeds into a narrative — awaiting her memoir on Tuesday — that she may have been glamorous as secretary of state but didn’t actually accomplish much.

In fact, that’s dead wrong, for Clinton achieved a great deal and left a hefty legacy — just not the traditional kind. She didn’t craft a coalition of allies, like James Baker, one of the most admired secretaries of state. She didn’t seal a landmark peace agreement, nor is there a recognizable “Hillary Clinton doctrine.”

Uh-oh. Is it possible Clinton “achieved a great deal and left a hefty legacy” yet that legacy was, at the same time, so subtle as to be unidentifiable even to Hillary herself? Apparently so. But what follows are a series of claims Kristof then, in the next breath, debunks himself.

For example, Kristof says “Clinton recognized that our future will be more about Asia than Europe, and she pushed hard to rebalance our relations.” Yet here’s his very next sentence: “She didn’t fully deliver on this ‘pivot’ — generally she was more successful at shaping agendas than delivering on them — but the basic instinct to turn our ship of state to face our Pacific future was sound and overdue.” She didn’t accomplish her goal, but that’s OK because she recognized, along with everyone else in the entire world, that China is important.

“She was often more hawkish than the White House,” Kristof argues, and notes Clinton’s support for arming Syrian rebels. This was “vetoed” by Obama, Kristof rightly explains, so it’s a bit unclear what part of nonexistent policies established this “hefty legacy” we keep hearing about.

Later, Kristof returns to the well-worn topic of Clinton prioritizing (translation: giving speeches about) the rights of women and girls worldwide. And here’s Kristof’s example: “The kidnapping of the Nigerian schoolgirls in April was the kind of issue Clinton was out front of.” Yes, well, here’s the thing: Clinton wasn’t secretary of state anymore in April; John Kerry was.

It appears Hillary Clinton’s term as secretary of state was so forgettable as to be literally forgotten by her defenders. She is not in office currently, and her impact is, apparently, indistinguishable from when she was actually in office. This is the Clinton “legacy,” such as it is. Even the best “book team” can only dress it up so much.

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Abolish the Vice Presidency

The drama surrounding Hillary Clinton’s prospective candidacy has made writing about the 2016 presidential election nearly unavoidable. But the possibility of a Clinton coronation has led to some expanded predictions: we’re now–in mid-2014–talking about running mates. This was primarily driven by the suggestion that Democrats were positioning San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro for a spot on the 2016 ticket.

That led to speculation over who the Republicans would nominate for vice president, and since in this scenario they’d be running against two “historic” nominees, the question simply becomes one of race and gender identity politics. Not content with Castro, Bloomberg’s Jonathan Bernstein is now fretting over the Democrats’ veep bench for 2016, though Doug Mataconis has an excellent post offering Bernstein some perspective on the matter.

But there’s a way out of this madness, and this is a good opportunity do something that’s made sense for a very long time: abolish the vice presidency.

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The drama surrounding Hillary Clinton’s prospective candidacy has made writing about the 2016 presidential election nearly unavoidable. But the possibility of a Clinton coronation has led to some expanded predictions: we’re now–in mid-2014–talking about running mates. This was primarily driven by the suggestion that Democrats were positioning San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro for a spot on the 2016 ticket.

That led to speculation over who the Republicans would nominate for vice president, and since in this scenario they’d be running against two “historic” nominees, the question simply becomes one of race and gender identity politics. Not content with Castro, Bloomberg’s Jonathan Bernstein is now fretting over the Democrats’ veep bench for 2016, though Doug Mataconis has an excellent post offering Bernstein some perspective on the matter.

But there’s a way out of this madness, and this is a good opportunity do something that’s made sense for a very long time: abolish the vice presidency.

It’s not a new idea, but it’s worth revisiting now that the parties are apparently choosing the next-in-line by playing the matching game. This certainly isn’t an upgrade over the last method, in which presidential nominees placed questionable geographic bets with their veep selections. That at least had the advantage of choosing a recognized and relatively popular–and thus, usually experienced–legislator or governor.

But we don’t need to agonize over how we choose the vice president. We can free ourselves by getting rid of the vice presidency altogether. First and foremost, the vice presidency has strayed–and actually, it did so almost from the very beginning–from the Founders’ idea of the position, which they weren’t exactly wild about to start with. As Arthur Schlesinger wrote in his 1974 Atlantic essay:

The vice presidency was put into the Constitution for one reason, and one reason alone. Hugh Williamson of North Carolina, a member of the committee that originated the idea, conceded at the Convention that “such an office as vice-president was not wanted. It was introduced only for the sake of a valuable mode of election which required two to be chosen at the same time.” This is an essential but neglected point. The theory of presidential elections embodied in the Constitution was that if electors had to vote for two men without designating which was to be President and which Vice President, and if one of these men had, as the Constitution required, to be from another state, then both men who topped the poll would be of the highest quality, and the republic would be safe in the hands of either. …

In 1800 the Republicans gave the same number of electoral votes to Jefferson, their presidential choice, as they gave to Aaron Burr, a man of undoubted talents who, however, was trusted by no one in the long course of American history, except his daughter Theodosia and Gore Vidal. Burr was nearly chosen President, though the voters never intended him for the presidency. The fear of comparable slipups in 1804 led to the adoption of the Twelfth Amendment requiring the electoral college to vote separately for President and Vice President.

The abolition of the “valuable mode of election” canceled the purpose of the Founding Fathers in having a Vice President at all.

Indeed it did. What’s frustrating about the evolution of the vice presidency is that it was not only predictable but predicted. All throughout American history politicians and commentators offered nothing toward the office but acid and pity. (Schlesinger’s own article begins: “We have a Vice President again, and Mr. Ford deserves all our sympathy.”)

The vice presidency gains a fair amount of legitimacy from the fact that, technically, he or she has been elected by national vote. But my goodness that “technically” should not get the office so far. The American people vote for the top of the ticket. The vice presidential nominee is, in the minds of the voters at least, an add-on. When current Vice President Joe Biden ran for the top job, the reaction of his own party’s voters was consistent, overwhelming rejection. He is something like a sixty-point underdog to win his own party’s nomination to succeed the president he now serves.

The electoral legitimacy of the vice president is not only dubious, therefore, but dangerous. What we have is a next-in-line who basically got there by appointment and is often far less prepared to take over than other members of the president’s Cabinet. There are exceptions, of course, but they are just that.

So who would replace the vice president in the line of automatic succession? Anyone else would possess less electoral legitimacy than the current vice president unless it was a leader of one of the houses of Congress, in which case upon presidential vacancy the high office could switch parties without an election, an outcome that should be avoided.

Perhaps someone–the secretary of state, say–could take over on a provisional basis while a national election could be organized. Ideally they would not be considered “president,” but that has its own drawbacks: could they sign bills or treaties? The following election would have to take place relatively soon, which means a brief nominating and general-election period. But that has advantages. After all, we have the opposite now, and we’re left filling time and space by talking, regrettably, about vice-presidential nominees.

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Brian Schweitzer: First Into the Sea

Since the speculation about Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions really ramped up after the 2012 election, two strategies–one from the right and one from the left–have been touted as possible ways to defeat what many expect to be a Clinton juggernaut. From the right, the strategy has been to discourage her from running at all by treating her as if she’s already in the race, forcing her into a bruising pre-campaign campaign. (The Clintons expect the Benghazi hearings to be a piece of this strategy.)

From the left, the possibility has been raised that Clinton is vulnerable to her left because of her close relationship to Wall Street (which Democrats hope to continue to demonize) and her more hawkish views on foreign policy, including having voted for the Iraq war. Both of these strategies seemed to be long shots, especially the idea of a liberal challenger in the race. It’s highly unlikely serious Democratic populists, such as Elizabeth Warren, would run against Hillary.

But now there seems to be a third strategy to avoid another Clinton White House: a combination of the two. Its proponent is former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer. I wrote about his toying with a presidential candidacy back in December, and it doesn’t appear to have faded. Schweitzer’s strategy is to essentially be (l’havdil, as they say in Hebrew) the Nachshon ben Aminadav of the left. The idea is that Schweitzer will combine liberal populism with an attempt to discourage Clinton from running by being the first into the sea. No high-profile Democrat has yet really tried to challenge Clinton in the public arena, and Schweitzer seems to be hoping that if he leads the way the sea will part and open up the path for countless other challengers.

As the Wall Street Journal reports:

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Since the speculation about Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions really ramped up after the 2012 election, two strategies–one from the right and one from the left–have been touted as possible ways to defeat what many expect to be a Clinton juggernaut. From the right, the strategy has been to discourage her from running at all by treating her as if she’s already in the race, forcing her into a bruising pre-campaign campaign. (The Clintons expect the Benghazi hearings to be a piece of this strategy.)

From the left, the possibility has been raised that Clinton is vulnerable to her left because of her close relationship to Wall Street (which Democrats hope to continue to demonize) and her more hawkish views on foreign policy, including having voted for the Iraq war. Both of these strategies seemed to be long shots, especially the idea of a liberal challenger in the race. It’s highly unlikely serious Democratic populists, such as Elizabeth Warren, would run against Hillary.

But now there seems to be a third strategy to avoid another Clinton White House: a combination of the two. Its proponent is former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer. I wrote about his toying with a presidential candidacy back in December, and it doesn’t appear to have faded. Schweitzer’s strategy is to essentially be (l’havdil, as they say in Hebrew) the Nachshon ben Aminadav of the left. The idea is that Schweitzer will combine liberal populism with an attempt to discourage Clinton from running by being the first into the sea. No high-profile Democrat has yet really tried to challenge Clinton in the public arena, and Schweitzer seems to be hoping that if he leads the way the sea will part and open up the path for countless other challengers.

As the Wall Street Journal reports:

He slams Mrs. Clinton for her ties to Wall Street, her courting of corporate campaign cash and her vote for the Iraq war as senator, a jab he delivered during a trip through Iowa in December.

Such outspoken criticism of Mrs. Clinton, rare among Democrats, inspires some leaders in the party’s left wing, who are disillusioned with President Obama and soured by prospects of an unchallenged Clinton candidacy in 2016.

Montana has more cattle than people, making Mr. Schweitzer a long shot for the Democratic presidential nomination, should he even try. Complicating things further, the former two-term governor has little name recognition, little money and a big appetite for oil and gas exploration.

But some Democrats say Mr. Schweitzer has a chance at an important role: the maverick who speaks for disillusioned liberals, calls out Mrs. Clinton’s vulnerabilities and, perhaps, prods a more liberal champion into the race.

To be sure, the article mostly treats the strategy slightly differently than I do. It’s pitched here as way to open the path to someone challenging Clinton in the primaries. But I don’t think that’s realistic. I imagine Schweitzer is well aware of just how difficult it would be to defeat Clinton once she’s in the race, and I suspect he is also conscious of the lack of Democrats who could plausibly run on this platform who would also run against the Clinton machine. And he surely well knows that if his own presidential ambitions are serious, he needs Clinton not to run at all.

Additionally, even if more serious populist Democrats ran against Clinton in the primaries, all that would do is pull Clinton’s own rhetoric to the left. Clinton wouldn’t drink a glass of orange juice that hasn’t been focus-grouped and poll tested. If railing against the one percent or some other mindless liberal cliché polls well in the primaries, that’s what she’ll say. Once the nominee, she’ll tack to the center. She won’t lose Democratic base votes no matter what she does: American left-liberalism is guided by the ideology of power with a dash of progressive identity politics. Clinton is their perfect nominee, no matter how many checks she gets from Wall Street.

To wit: Clinton is already responding to Schweitzer’s populist critique as expected. The same Journal story has a quote from her spokesman:

Asked about all of the ex-governor’s criticisms, Hillary Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill said, “She’s proud to have spent a lifetime fighting for equality and opportunity for all people, from jobs and education to health care and voting, and will continue to do so.”

Schweitzer also poses one more challenge to Clinton. Progressive identity politics is bitter and completely humorless. Schweitzer, in contrast to virtually every high-profile Democrat in the country, is funny and charming. Angry populism is something Clinton can mimic, if need be. She can excel at playing the victim. But lighthearted, down-to-earth populism? That’s her Achilles’ heel.

Thus while the odds are still against Schweitzer, he’s probably the right Democrat to make this play. Democrats around the country no doubt expect the sea to swallow him. But they’ll be watching just in case.

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Mrs. Inevitable and the Bored Democrats

Are Democrats bored by the prospect of not having a presidential nomination contest in 2016? That’s the upshot of a statement made by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick yesterday on CNN’s State of the Nation program in which he wondered if the “inevitability factor” would hurt Hillary Clinton’s prospects:

She’s an enormously capable candidate and leader. But I do worry about the inevitability because I think it’s off-putting to the average voter and I think that was an element of her campaign the last time. As an enthusiastic Democrat, I just hope that the people around her pay attention to that this time.

The need to learn the lessons of her disastrous failure to make good on similar predictions of inevitability before 2008 must haunt the Clinton camp. While Hillary doesn’t need Deval Patrick to remind her of this, the truth is, she is hoping that this time the boredom factor will work in her favor. Clinton and her backers haven’t had to do much to discourage other potential Democratic contenders from entering the race and most appear to have taken the hint, including potential troublemakers like California Governor Jerry Brown and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. The Clintons have to think that the unexpected emergence of Barack Obama in 2007 is a once-in-a-lifetime fluke that cannot possibly be repeated this time around and it’s difficult to argue the contrary case. The only other obvious Democratic possibilities for 2016 are Vice President Joe Biden, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, and perhaps an outlier like Vermont Socialist Bernie Sanders or Montana’s Brian Schweitzer.

Neither Biden nor O’Malley—who is being openly mocked for asking Hillary’s permission before starting preparations for a candidacy—appear to scare the Clintons, and Sanders has no chance of being anything more than a gadfly left-wing alternative. Unless something completely unexpected happens, there is no reason to believe the 2016 Democratic race will be anything but a coronation. But the assumption that this will be an advantage in the general election may not be so smart.

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Are Democrats bored by the prospect of not having a presidential nomination contest in 2016? That’s the upshot of a statement made by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick yesterday on CNN’s State of the Nation program in which he wondered if the “inevitability factor” would hurt Hillary Clinton’s prospects:

She’s an enormously capable candidate and leader. But I do worry about the inevitability because I think it’s off-putting to the average voter and I think that was an element of her campaign the last time. As an enthusiastic Democrat, I just hope that the people around her pay attention to that this time.

The need to learn the lessons of her disastrous failure to make good on similar predictions of inevitability before 2008 must haunt the Clinton camp. While Hillary doesn’t need Deval Patrick to remind her of this, the truth is, she is hoping that this time the boredom factor will work in her favor. Clinton and her backers haven’t had to do much to discourage other potential Democratic contenders from entering the race and most appear to have taken the hint, including potential troublemakers like California Governor Jerry Brown and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. The Clintons have to think that the unexpected emergence of Barack Obama in 2007 is a once-in-a-lifetime fluke that cannot possibly be repeated this time around and it’s difficult to argue the contrary case. The only other obvious Democratic possibilities for 2016 are Vice President Joe Biden, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, and perhaps an outlier like Vermont Socialist Bernie Sanders or Montana’s Brian Schweitzer.

Neither Biden nor O’Malley—who is being openly mocked for asking Hillary’s permission before starting preparations for a candidacy—appear to scare the Clintons, and Sanders has no chance of being anything more than a gadfly left-wing alternative. Unless something completely unexpected happens, there is no reason to believe the 2016 Democratic race will be anything but a coronation. But the assumption that this will be an advantage in the general election may not be so smart.

Clinton is hoping that Democrats will enjoy the relative quiet of a non-competitive nomination race to prepare for whoever it is that the Republicans wind up nominating that year. That’s the edge President Obama enjoyed in 2012 as the GOP contenders tore each other apart in a seemingly never-ending series of debates and a bitter primary season leaving Mitt Romney somewhat compromised by the process politically as well as financially.

But what Clinton needs to remember is that while she will be burdened with the disadvantages of incumbency in terms of being tied to Obama’s record and voter dissatisfaction with the president’s policies and the direction of the country, she will not be doing so with the trappings of the commander in chief as the man who beat her in 2008 did two years ago. Clinton will have a compelling, indeed, an unanswerable argument for her election as the first woman major party candidate for the office. But she will also have to deal with the burden of being a relic of the last two Democratic presidents. That’s no real problem for most Democratic primary voters who can’t wait to anoint her as their standard bearer. But the lack of a genuine debate about Clinton’s qualifications in which she can make her case not only in terms of her resume but also as a candidate who can take a punch as well as dish one out won’t help prepare her for the fall campaign.

That’s why the ideal scenario for Clinton is for some not terribly formidable Democrat to oppose her in the primaries without actually mussing up her hair. Seen from that perspective, the best possible scenario would be for Clinton to face off against O’Malley. He wants very much to be president but may see a run as the best way to prove himself in the competition for the vice presidential nod or a major Cabinet post and thus can be relied upon to drop out after a brief fight and then endorse Clinton.

Sanders would give her a much harder time and could not be counted upon to avoid hitting her hard on embarrassing issues such as her lack of achievements as secretary of state. He would also push her farther to the left than is prudent, much in the same way that Romney’s opponents pushed him to the right.

But the real problem with being Mrs. Inevitable in 2016 is that Clinton has yet to prove herself capable of winning a tough election. Should the GOP put up a candidate who will not lead them down a right-wing rabbit hole, Clinton will need to do more than to wave the flag of feminism. The boredom among the Democratic political class as well as among many rank and file voters may ensure that she will not face a stiff primary challenge, but it won’t help gin up enthusiasm for candidacy in the way Obama’s triumph over her did for his presidential hopes. That’s especially true since her success-free tenure as secretary of state has not so much burnished her resume as provided her opponents with more ammunition. While any presidential contender would like to have her problems, the notion that she can merely drift along until it is time to turn on the engine and start running a general election campaign is a mistake she will need to avoid.

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Should Rand Paul Embrace or Downplay the Libertarian Label?

About a year ago, Rand Paul made what may qualify as the prospective presidential candidate’s most defensive comment on his political ideology. “I’m not advocating everyone go out and run around with no clothes on and smoke pot,” Paul said according the Washington Post. “I’m not a libertarian. I’m a libertarian Republican. I’m a constitutional conservative.”

The comment was made in the context of Paul’s efforts to court evangelicals, but revealed a challenge posed by the “libertarian” label. Much of what is said about libertarians in the media is absurdly unfair. Like any political movement, there is a diverse range of opinion about what constitutes libertarianism and how libertarians might approach policy. (I don’t remember recently reading an editorial in Reason magazine, for example, advocating everyone “run around with no clothes on and smoke pot.”)

There is a fascinating debate among libertarians, for example, about abortion and whether the government should enforce the granting of individual rights to a person from the beginning of his life, or whether a person is granted those rights sometime after life begins. Instead of being asked about that, Paul gets told (according to the Post account) by voters that they like much of what he has to say but they hesitate to vote for him because they “don’t like legalizing heroin.”

But he consciously avoids ditching the label altogether. Just a few weeks ago, he offered a slightly different formulation: he’s “libertarian-ish.” His libertarian leanings, if that’s the right word, are not only genuine but also have their own political advantages. The same day CNN ran Paul’s “libertarian-ish” comment, the New York Times ran a prominent story headlined “Rand Paul and Wealthy Libertarians Connect as He Weighs Running.” It opened with a well-chosen anecdote:

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About a year ago, Rand Paul made what may qualify as the prospective presidential candidate’s most defensive comment on his political ideology. “I’m not advocating everyone go out and run around with no clothes on and smoke pot,” Paul said according the Washington Post. “I’m not a libertarian. I’m a libertarian Republican. I’m a constitutional conservative.”

The comment was made in the context of Paul’s efforts to court evangelicals, but revealed a challenge posed by the “libertarian” label. Much of what is said about libertarians in the media is absurdly unfair. Like any political movement, there is a diverse range of opinion about what constitutes libertarianism and how libertarians might approach policy. (I don’t remember recently reading an editorial in Reason magazine, for example, advocating everyone “run around with no clothes on and smoke pot.”)

There is a fascinating debate among libertarians, for example, about abortion and whether the government should enforce the granting of individual rights to a person from the beginning of his life, or whether a person is granted those rights sometime after life begins. Instead of being asked about that, Paul gets told (according to the Post account) by voters that they like much of what he has to say but they hesitate to vote for him because they “don’t like legalizing heroin.”

But he consciously avoids ditching the label altogether. Just a few weeks ago, he offered a slightly different formulation: he’s “libertarian-ish.” His libertarian leanings, if that’s the right word, are not only genuine but also have their own political advantages. The same day CNN ran Paul’s “libertarian-ish” comment, the New York Times ran a prominent story headlined “Rand Paul and Wealthy Libertarians Connect as He Weighs Running.” It opened with a well-chosen anecdote:

Frayda Levin, a New Jersey libertarian activist and former small-business owner, is a woman of many passions: promoting liberty, ending marijuana prohibition and opposing her state’s recent minimum-wage increase. But Ms. Levin has added another cause as well. At gala benefits for free-market research institutes and at fund-raisers for antitax groups, she has urged like-minded donors to help send Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, to the White House.

“I consider that one of my main goals,” said Ms. Levin, who has met with Mr. Paul several times and in February introduced him at a private conference in Florida hosted by the Club for Growth, a conservative advocacy group. “I tell people he’s the Republican of the future. He’s got both the intellectual heft and the emotional understanding.”

A libertarian’s declaration that Paul is the “Republican of the future” is not just good for Paul, but arguably has benefits for the GOP as well. After all, popular libertarian candidates who want to run for president tend to leave the GOP and run on their own ticket. This is, electorally speaking, frustrating for Republicans and counterproductive for libertarians. As staunch libertarian Randy Barnett wrote in 2012, “The Libertarian Party’s effort will, if effective, attract more libertarian voters away from the candidate who is marginally less hostile to liberty, and help hand the election to the candidate who is more hostile to liberty.”

But a libertarian(ish) Republican, if effective, does the opposite: he can galvanize support for libertarian policy objectives without splintering the conservative coalition that remains the only hope of standing athwart the statist project yelling stop. But there’s a catch, and here’s where libertarians get justifiably put off by the right: the Republican Party wants someone like Paul to be just popular enough. It’s up to libertarians to convince the party that he should be the GOP’s standard bearer, and it’s not an easy sell.

Which raises the question: is it easier to make that sell if Paul embraces his libertarianism or downplays it? That will be one question the 2016 nomination race seeks to answer. It’s easy to see both sides of it. It’s possible that the GOP just isn’t ready to go full libertarian at the presidential level, and therefore downplaying his libertarian label in favor of a more conservative-Republican tag might settle some nerves. Yet it’s also possible that by avoiding the term “libertarian” Paul is implicitly reinforcing the idea that libertarianism is an idea whose time has yet to arrive, thus justifying the suspicions of the establishment.

But it’s also important to note that whatever Paul chooses to call himself, he has been branded a libertarian and that is how he will be viewed relative to the other candidates. That is, Paul has essentially emerged as the candidate for libertarians, whether or not he calls himself the libertarian candidate.

It is for that reason that the much-feared “establishment” is only a real threat to Paul in the primary if there is no consensus establishment candidate. The conservative grassroots will not, at least in significant numbers, choose Jeb Bush or Chris Christie over Rand Paul. Many non-libertarian conservatives would prefer Paul over a genuinely moderate candidate. So rather than an anyone-but-Paul movement coalescing against him, he would probably benefit from the reverse.

But what if Bush doesn’t run? Well then Paul has a problem, because the “establishment” will support someone, and there are many palatable candidates on offer. The governors, especially Scott Walker and Mike Pence, would probably easily compete with Paul for non-libertarian voters and get establishment backing. Marco Rubio is another candidate who would appeal to establishment figures but also many conservatives–though his support for comprehensive immigration reform presumably makes him less of a threat to Paul’s base of support.

In such a case, Paul’s best hope is to compete for the “constitutional conservative” label, not differentiate himself from it. He has less to lose if he’s up against a 2016 version of Mitt Romney. So is Paul a libertarian? The best guess right now is: It depends.

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Lacking Achievements, Hillary Invents One

Last month, in writing about the challenge Hillary Clinton will face in running for president after presiding over foreign-policy disasters at the State Department, I gave her too much credit. With regard to Iran, I said she’d probably act as though she had been “skeptical of Iranian ‘reform,’” since she didn’t negotiate the naïve deal with the Islamic Republic; John Kerry did.

I suppose I had momentarily forgotten she’s a Clinton. This week she reminded us. She won’t merely pretend to have been privately wary of the Iranians. She will just make stuff up and rewrite history, counting on the media’s investment in her election and fear of crossing her to cover for her distortions. Like the daring woman who dodged a phantom shower of gunfire in Bosnia, Hillary is back casting herself as the heroic defender of freedom she has never been. Josh Rogin reports on Clinton’s speech to the American Jewish Committee this week:

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Last month, in writing about the challenge Hillary Clinton will face in running for president after presiding over foreign-policy disasters at the State Department, I gave her too much credit. With regard to Iran, I said she’d probably act as though she had been “skeptical of Iranian ‘reform,’” since she didn’t negotiate the naïve deal with the Islamic Republic; John Kerry did.

I suppose I had momentarily forgotten she’s a Clinton. This week she reminded us. She won’t merely pretend to have been privately wary of the Iranians. She will just make stuff up and rewrite history, counting on the media’s investment in her election and fear of crossing her to cover for her distortions. Like the daring woman who dodged a phantom shower of gunfire in Bosnia, Hillary is back casting herself as the heroic defender of freedom she has never been. Josh Rogin reports on Clinton’s speech to the American Jewish Committee this week:

Hillary Clinton is now claiming to be the architect of crippling sanctions on the Iranian economy. But during her tenure as Secretary of State, her department repeatedly opposed or tried to water down an array of measures that were pushed into law by Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

Rogin offers a corrective:

What Clinton didn’t mention was that top officials from her own State Department—in conjunction with the rest of the Obama administration—often worked hard against many of the measures she’s now championing. Some bills Foggy Bottom slowed down; others, the State Department lobbied to be made less strict; still others were opposed outright by Clinton’s deputies, only to be overruled by large majorities in the House and the Senate. …

The most egregious example of the administration’s effort to slow down the sanctions drive came in late 2011, when Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez openly chastised top administration officials for opposing an amendment to sanction the Central Bank of Iran that he had co-authored with Sen. Mark Kirk. Leading administration officials including Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman publicly expressed “strong opposition” (PDF) to the amendment, arguing that it would anger allies by opening them up for punishment if they did not significantly reduce their imports of Iranian oil.

Clinton’s top deputies fought the amendment at every step of the legislative process. Clinton’s #2 at the State Department, Bill Burns, even joined an emergency meeting with top senators to urge them to drop the amendment. They refused. The amendment later passed the Senate 100-0. Menendez said at the time that the administration had negotiated on the amendment in bad faith.

The record is quite clear: Hillary Clinton was a powerful obstacle to effective Iran sanctions. It is a tribute to the hard work and determination of those like Kirk and Menendez to be able to get any sanctions through Clinton and Obama’s dedicated obstruction of efforts to use sanctions to stop or slow Iran’s march to a nuclear weapon.

The whole incident is a preview of what 2016 will be like if Hillary does decide to accept her party’s coronation as its new cult leader. The Clinton campaign would indeed be a fairytale ending to a storybook career–just not in the way those terms are traditionally understood. The campaign narrative will be, at best, historical fiction–though closer to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter than the West Wing, in terms of its relationship to the real world.

As Rogin reported, and as ABC News picked up on last night, Kirk is pushing back:

“I worked for months to round-up the votes [in the UN Security Council],” Clinton said. “In the end we were successful… And then building on the framework established by the Security Council, with the help of Congress, the Obama administration imposed some of the most stringent, crippling sanctions on top of the international ones.”

Those sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table earlier this year.

“Secretary Clinton’s comments are a blatant revision of history,” said Kirk, who with Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., co-sponsored several sanctions bills in recent years. “The fact is the Obama administration has opposed sanctions against Iran led by Senator Menendez and me every step of the way.”

It’s significant that Kirk is speaking up, because he is neither a conservative firebrand (he is the moderate Republican holding President Obama’s former Senate seat) nor a serial self-promoter, unlike so many of his colleagues. He is also not contemplating running against Clinton for the presidency in 2016.

He is speaking out, quite simply, because Clinton is selling a self-aggrandizing fantasy to the public in hopes of deceiving her way into the White House. In the process, she is demeaning those really responsible for the sanctions. But the silver lining is that her attempt to rewrite history indicates her awareness of just how out of step she is with the American public.

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