Commentary Magazine


Topic: 2016 presidential election

Jeb Bush and the 2016 GOP Field

George Will wrote a column in which he said of Jeb Bush, “A candidacy by Florida’s former governor would be desirable” and “[he] does … deserve a respectful hearing from the Republican nominating electorate.”


I agree, partly because I admire Bush, who was a highly successful, reform-minded conservative governor. His record as governor of Florida was, in fact, more conservative in key respects than Ronald Reagan’s record when he was governor of California. (Mr. Reagan signed into law what at the time was the largest tax hike ever proposed by any governor, whereas Bush cut taxes every year he was governor, covering eight years and totaling $20 billion.) Governor Bush also has the ability to appeal to non-traditional GOP voters. For example, he won 61 percent of the Hispanic vote in 1998 and 56 percent of their vote in 2002. (Hispanics are one of the fastest-rising demographic groups in America; in 2012, Mitt Romney won only 27 percent of their vote.)

There are people who have doubts Bush will run and who say that even if he did, he wouldn’t win. Perhaps. For my part, I hope he does run, assuming he can do so with, in his words, “joy in my heart.”

But I also hope many others run in 2016, not only those I’m favorably disposed toward (like Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, and Scott Walker) but also those I’ve been more critical of (including Ted Cruz and Rick Perry). Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee would be formidable figures in a contest; I hope they, too, enter the contest. The same goes for Rand Paul, with whom I have substantial disagreements (he is far more libertarian than I am).

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George Will wrote a column in which he said of Jeb Bush, “A candidacy by Florida’s former governor would be desirable” and “[he] does … deserve a respectful hearing from the Republican nominating electorate.”


I agree, partly because I admire Bush, who was a highly successful, reform-minded conservative governor. His record as governor of Florida was, in fact, more conservative in key respects than Ronald Reagan’s record when he was governor of California. (Mr. Reagan signed into law what at the time was the largest tax hike ever proposed by any governor, whereas Bush cut taxes every year he was governor, covering eight years and totaling $20 billion.) Governor Bush also has the ability to appeal to non-traditional GOP voters. For example, he won 61 percent of the Hispanic vote in 1998 and 56 percent of their vote in 2002. (Hispanics are one of the fastest-rising demographic groups in America; in 2012, Mitt Romney won only 27 percent of their vote.)

There are people who have doubts Bush will run and who say that even if he did, he wouldn’t win. Perhaps. For my part, I hope he does run, assuming he can do so with, in his words, “joy in my heart.”

But I also hope many others run in 2016, not only those I’m favorably disposed toward (like Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, and Scott Walker) but also those I’ve been more critical of (including Ted Cruz and Rick Perry). Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee would be formidable figures in a contest; I hope they, too, enter the contest. The same goes for Rand Paul, with whom I have substantial disagreements (he is far more libertarian than I am).

Why do I hope the GOP contest will include people I’m not wild about? Because I want as many serious and substantial figures in the race as possible, in order to have the best representatives of various currents of thought (and style) within conservatism make their case. These debates can be clarifying, in a healthy way. (Some of us still regret that Governor Mitch Daniels, one of the most impressive minds and political talents in the GOP, didn’t run in 2012.)

In addition, people who look good on paper and sound impressive when being interviewed on Meet the Press don’t necessarily do well in presidential contests, where the scrutiny and intensity are far beyond what anyone who hasn’t run can imagine. Some people you might think would do superbly well in a presidential contest flame out; others who one might think would flounder rise to the occasion. You never know until the contest begins. So my attitude is the more the better, at least above a certain threshold. (Please, no more figures like Herman Cain, Ron Paul, or Michele Bachmann.)


The 2016 presidential contest should be winnable, but it won’t be easy. Democrats have important advantages right now when it comes to presidential contests. Which is why for Republicans to prevail it will take the best the GOP can produce. Who is that individual right now?

I have no idea. And neither do you. 

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OCare’s Milestone and Jindal’s Opportunity

Today’s Washington Post article on Bobby Jindal, by Robert Costa and Amy Goldstein, is a great example of how a newspaper’s reporting can be vastly improved by actually embracing ideological diversity. Costa was recently hired by the Post from National Review, where his access to the right side of the political isle had him running circles around other reporters when it came to conservative politics.

And today’s article is refreshingly free of condescension and peppered with actual information and verifiable claims, unlike the treatment Republican rising stars are used to getting in, say, the Washington Post. For example, the article centers on Jindal’s new health-care reform proposal, and rather than parrot DNC talking points that Republicans have no plans or ideas on offer, we read this:

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Today’s Washington Post article on Bobby Jindal, by Robert Costa and Amy Goldstein, is a great example of how a newspaper’s reporting can be vastly improved by actually embracing ideological diversity. Costa was recently hired by the Post from National Review, where his access to the right side of the political isle had him running circles around other reporters when it came to conservative politics.

And today’s article is refreshingly free of condescension and peppered with actual information and verifiable claims, unlike the treatment Republican rising stars are used to getting in, say, the Washington Post. For example, the article centers on Jindal’s new health-care reform proposal, and rather than parrot DNC talking points that Republicans have no plans or ideas on offer, we read this:

In his 26-page plan, Jindal lays out a lengthy critique of the health law — which he refers to throughout as “Obamacare” — and reiterates his belief that it needs to be entirely done away with. In its place, he sets forth a bevy of ideas that have run through conservative thought for years, in some cases renaming them and in other cases suggesting new variations on old themes.

Indeed, conservatives have been offering ideas–most of them better than the bureaucratic mess and extralegal application of ObamaCare–for years. The article is also interesting for its framing of Jindal within the 2016 presidential landscape. Jindal has long been a favorite of GOP policy wonks and proponents of education reform, but it’s an open question as to whether he could translate that into broader, television-friendly appeal.

The biggest setback to that possibility came when an overly-folksy Jindal delivered the GOP’s response to Obama’s 2009 national address. He was written off, unfairly; after all, Bill Clinton famously cratered at the 1988 Democratic nominating convention only to be nominated himself four years later. But the weakness in Jindal’s delivery was real: he had committed the modern age’s cardinal sin of discarding authenticity in an attempt to be memorable. (He was, but not for the right reasons.)

Jindal seems now to be more comfortable in his own skin:

Putting an emphasis on Jindal’s policy chops has become the latest project for his kitchen cabinet, which includes Curt Anderson, a former political director at the Republican National Committee, and political adviser Timmy Teepell. So is highlighting Jindal’s willingness to articulate an agenda — all while other hopefuls, from Christie to Paul, are making their own strides on the pre-primary stage.

“It’s early, but this is a good time for him to show how he belongs with the rest of those names,” said Charlie Black, a former campaign adviser to Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the GOP’s 2008 presidential nominee.

Jindal has been steeped in the world of health policy since early in his career. In his mid-20s he became secretary of Louisiana’s Department of Health and Hospitals, and then he was named the staff director of a bipartisan commission on the future of Medicare. A few years later, he became an assistant secretary in the Department of Health and Human Services during the presidency of George W. Bush.

Is this a winning strategy? It always depends on the competition, of course, but Jindal is one of the few conservative leaders who could benefit from the enrollment numbers ObamaCare racked up thus far. ObamaCare is far from a success–indeed, even late-night host Jimmy Fallon greeted the “mission accomplished” ObamaCare announcement by noting that “it’s amazing what you can achieve when you make something mandatory, and fine people if they don’t do it — and keep extending the deadline for months.”

But the president’s celebration was telling. The point of the frantic enrollment rush was to try to mitigate what had made the enrollment rush possible in the first place–Obama’s cancellation of Americans’ insurance policies they actually liked–and get them in some way dependent on the state. At the outset, ObamaCare was weakest before it created millions of dependents. That’s the mark Obama was aiming for, not a more serious definition of “success,” which might be well beyond ObamaCare’s reach anyway.

Now the narrative has shifted, and Republicans who want to undo the damage ObamaCare has already done and prevent the damage it threatens to do must concentrate as much or more on the “replace” side of their “repeal and replace” slogan. It’s the first moment, in other words, in the post-2012 election drama that calls specifically for a wonk to step forward, and Jindal has done so. Whether that can enable him to compete with Republicans’ prospective first-tier candidates remains to be seen, but it’s clear he’s at least improved his sense of timing.

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Beware the False Dawn

By almost all accounts, 2014 is going to be a very good political year for Republicans. Even Democrats are conceding that at this point at least, the odds are better than not that the GOP will take control of the Senate. Neutral political observers say there are now roughly 12 Democratic-held seats in danger; Republicans need to pick up six of them. If that occurs, it would be the “tsunami” predicted by the RNC’s outstanding chairman, Reince Priebus, and the second disastrous mid-term for Democrats during the Obama presidency.

Here are two thoughts on this. It may be that Republicans are in relatively good shape these days to make substantial gains in House and Senate races – but the presidency is much more of an uphill climb, including for demographic reasons. (That was certainly true of Democrats in the 1970s and 1980s.) To put it another way: Mid-term elections are a good deal more favorable for Republicans than national presidential elections.

Presidential elections matter more.

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By almost all accounts, 2014 is going to be a very good political year for Republicans. Even Democrats are conceding that at this point at least, the odds are better than not that the GOP will take control of the Senate. Neutral political observers say there are now roughly 12 Democratic-held seats in danger; Republicans need to pick up six of them. If that occurs, it would be the “tsunami” predicted by the RNC’s outstanding chairman, Reince Priebus, and the second disastrous mid-term for Democrats during the Obama presidency.

Here are two thoughts on this. It may be that Republicans are in relatively good shape these days to make substantial gains in House and Senate races – but the presidency is much more of an uphill climb, including for demographic reasons. (That was certainly true of Democrats in the 1970s and 1980s.) To put it another way: Mid-term elections are a good deal more favorable for Republicans than national presidential elections.

Presidential elections matter more.

Second, beware the false dawn. That’s what happened in 2010, when Republicans wiped out Democrats in races for state legislatures, governorships, the House and the Senate. Republicans convinced themselves that the electorate had turned hard against President Obama and his agenda. In 2012, however, Mr. Obama became the first president to achieve the 51 percent mark in two elections since President Eisenhower and the first Democrat to do so since Franklin Roosevelt. 

What we have, then, is what Mr. Priebus calls “a tale of two parties.” Republicans are situated pretty well when it comes to mid-term elections – but they shouldn’t delude themselves into thinking that even if they score an impressive victory in 2014 (and things could still change, of course), it means that Republicans are well-situated for 2016.

The truth is that even if Republicans sweep to victory in 2014 they still have significant repair work that needs to be done – in terms of its agenda and tone, in the mechanics of presidential campaigns and the quality of the candidates we field  – if they hope to win back the presidency.

In my estimation, the GOP is still facing a moment similar to what Democrats and the British Labour Party did in the early and mid-1990s. (It took Bill Clinton and Tony Blair to recast their parties in fairly significant ways, including optically and substantively, on issues like welfare and crime and in terms of a favorable disposition toward individual responsibility and democratic capitalism.)

The problems facing the Republican Party are not transitory or simply candidate-specific; they are more fundamental than that. And so for the GOP to once again become a consistently viable presidential party, Republicans need to put forward a considerably more compelling governing vision than it has, with particular focus on the concerns and challenges facing the middle class and in a way that will win over minority voters. There are some encouraging signs here and there, but it’s simply not nearly where it needs to be. And unless more Republicans accept that fact, and adjust to it, they’ll continue their presidential losing streak.

The 2014 mid-term elections are certainly important; but if Republicans do well and, having done well, once again draw the wrong lessons from them, it will be a Pyrrhic victory. 

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Hillary’s Dubious Iran Credentials

Last night Hillary Clinton spoke at a dinner for the American Jewish Congress and continued her effort to attempt to craft a narrative in which her four years at the State Department are depicted as making her uniquely qualified for the presidency. The centerpiece of this argument is that during her time as America’s top diplomat she was a leader in the struggle to stop Iran’s nuclear program. This is a delicate task that demands both exaggerations and outright fibs, especially when it comes to her position on sanctions. It also requires her to both embrace President Obama’s foreign-policy record while at the same time position herself slightly to his right. But while her cheering section may be buying her sales pitch, a closer examination of what Clinton did on the issue undermines any notion that she was anything but an enabler of an Obama policy of engagement that has led to the current diplomatic dead-end.

Clinton’s claim is that her toughness toward Iran and diplomatic skill helped create the international sanctions that brought the Islamist regime to the negotiating table. Though she expressed some skepticism about Iran’s willingness to listen to reason, the former first lady endorsed the interim nuclear deal signed by her successor and agreed with Obama’s opposition to the passage of any more sanctions even if they would not be put into effect until after the current talks fail. But it’s no small irony that Clinton would be bragging about her tough stand on Iran in the same week that the blowup with Russia led to the almost certain collapse of the diplomatic solution that she had banked on.

It was Clinton, after all, who was the primary champion of the comical “reset” with Russia that convinced Vladimir Putin that the Obama administration could be discounted in conflicts involving his ambition to reassemble the old Tsarist/Soviet empire. But even more importantly, the conceit of Clinton’s efforts to build the international coalition for Iran sanctions was that she would be able to harness Russia and China to American foreign-policy objectives. That assumption has been blown out of the water by the conflict over Crimea. Any idea that Russia would stick with the West to pressure Iran to give up its drive for a nuclear weapon or keep them isolated via sanctions is no longer realistic.

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Last night Hillary Clinton spoke at a dinner for the American Jewish Congress and continued her effort to attempt to craft a narrative in which her four years at the State Department are depicted as making her uniquely qualified for the presidency. The centerpiece of this argument is that during her time as America’s top diplomat she was a leader in the struggle to stop Iran’s nuclear program. This is a delicate task that demands both exaggerations and outright fibs, especially when it comes to her position on sanctions. It also requires her to both embrace President Obama’s foreign-policy record while at the same time position herself slightly to his right. But while her cheering section may be buying her sales pitch, a closer examination of what Clinton did on the issue undermines any notion that she was anything but an enabler of an Obama policy of engagement that has led to the current diplomatic dead-end.

Clinton’s claim is that her toughness toward Iran and diplomatic skill helped create the international sanctions that brought the Islamist regime to the negotiating table. Though she expressed some skepticism about Iran’s willingness to listen to reason, the former first lady endorsed the interim nuclear deal signed by her successor and agreed with Obama’s opposition to the passage of any more sanctions even if they would not be put into effect until after the current talks fail. But it’s no small irony that Clinton would be bragging about her tough stand on Iran in the same week that the blowup with Russia led to the almost certain collapse of the diplomatic solution that she had banked on.

It was Clinton, after all, who was the primary champion of the comical “reset” with Russia that convinced Vladimir Putin that the Obama administration could be discounted in conflicts involving his ambition to reassemble the old Tsarist/Soviet empire. But even more importantly, the conceit of Clinton’s efforts to build the international coalition for Iran sanctions was that she would be able to harness Russia and China to American foreign-policy objectives. That assumption has been blown out of the water by the conflict over Crimea. Any idea that Russia would stick with the West to pressure Iran to give up its drive for a nuclear weapon or keep them isolated via sanctions is no longer realistic.

Of course, Clinton’s boasts about her record on Iran sanctions are also misleading. Though it is true, as Clinton said yesterday, that she “voted for any sanction on Iran that came down the pipe” when she was in the Senate, like many of her other stands on Israel-related issues, that changed once she became secretary of state. While the administration now claims that it is these tough sanctions that enabled them to make diplomacy work with Iran, it should be remembered that Clinton and her boss President Obama fiercely opposed these same sanctions when Congress was considering them.

As much as she may be trying to differentiate herself from the incumbent while trying not to sound disloyal, an honest look at Clinton’s term at Foggy Bottom is not flattering. On the two issues that count most today—Russia and Iran—she must bear a great deal of the responsibility for the current mess. Even more to the point, she was as much a champion of Iran engagement as anyone else in the administration, a point that she conveniently omits from her resume, especially when speaking to pro-Israel groups.

A lot can and probably will happen on foreign policy in the two years between now and the 2016 presidential campaign. But the likely Democratic nominee must understand that events may ultimately make her record on Iran and Russia look even worse than it does today. On her watch, Iran moved closer to a nuclear weapon while Clinton earned frequent-flyer miles assembling a coalition in favor of weak sanctions dependent on her Russian reset partner for success. Though Democrats may not care much about her actual record, the facts about Iran and Russia hardly make for the sort of credentials that will enhance her chances of prevailing in a general election.

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Clinton’s Advantage over Biden: She Got Out in Time

The volume of coverage for the 2016 presidential election has put a premium on any analysis that makes an original (but plausible) point. A touch of contrarianism always helps as well, which makes Joel K. Goldstein’s guest column at Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball website intriguing. Goldstein argues that the general assumption that the vice presidency is a poor launching pad for the presidency is based on faulty logic and bad numbers.

He references the current corollary, the belief that Joe Biden–already an underdog against Hillary Clinton–simply cannot win in 2016. Goldstein isn’t attempting to boost a Biden candidacy, but he seeks to correct the basis for skepticism toward American veeps. They have a better record, when we account for various important and mitigating variables, than we tend to think. He writes:

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The volume of coverage for the 2016 presidential election has put a premium on any analysis that makes an original (but plausible) point. A touch of contrarianism always helps as well, which makes Joel K. Goldstein’s guest column at Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball website intriguing. Goldstein argues that the general assumption that the vice presidency is a poor launching pad for the presidency is based on faulty logic and bad numbers.

He references the current corollary, the belief that Joe Biden–already an underdog against Hillary Clinton–simply cannot win in 2016. Goldstein isn’t attempting to boost a Biden candidacy, but he seeks to correct the basis for skepticism toward American veeps. They have a better record, when we account for various important and mitigating variables, than we tend to think. He writes:

Those who dismiss the vice presidency as a good source of presidential candidates often note that only four of the 47 men who have held the nation’s second office were elected president upon the retirement of the chief executive with whom they served. Yet the 1/12 ratio is a highly misleading measure. Nine of the 47 vice presidents became president through the death or resignation of their predecessor. Accordingly, they could not have been elected directly from the vice presidency. Nor could most of the seven vice presidents who died in office or the two who resigned. (Yes, these numbers include George Clinton and John C. Calhoun, who theoretically could have been elected president before serving a second vice presidential term with a new president. But being passed over for James Madison and Andrew Jackson respectively is hardly a disgrace.) Of the remaining 29 vice presidents, 12 (including Biden) were effectively blocked because a president of their party with whom they served sought another term.

Of the 17 other sitting vice presidents, eight were chosen as a national presidential candidate and four were elected. So once the denominator is reduced by eliminating those sitting VPs who essentially could not have succeeded their predecessor by election, some 47% of America’s sitting vice presidents have been nominated for the presidency (8/17), and 24% of the eligible pool were elected (4/17). Of the nine others, some, like Dick Cheney, credibly disclaimed any presidential ambition.

Though the modern era would seem to be less hospitable to sitting vice presidents than some earlier eras, Goldstein writes that this isn’t so: “since 1953, each of the four sitting vice presidents who sought the presidency following the retirement of the incumbent (Nixon, Hubert H. Humphrey, George H.W. Bush and Al Gore) won the nomination and were either elected (Bush) or ran dead-even races for president against formidable opponents.”

Additionally, he writes, we tend to use arguments against the vice president that we don’t against others. We like to say, for example, that Americans are more likely to elect a governor as president. But we don’t talk about all the governors who don’t become president, or the odds that the successful governor-turned-president had to overcome.

I don’t intend to argue with Goldstein’s numbers. But I would say that one aspect of this that directly affects Biden’s chances has to do with the popularity and perceived success of the administration in which the veep serves. Look at the vice presidents Goldstein mentions. Nixon served Eisenhower, who left office (via Gallup) with a 59 percent approval rating. George H.W. Bush served Reagan, who left office with a 63 percent approval rating. Gore served Bill Clinton, who left office at 66 percent approval. Humphrey served Lyndon Johnson, who left with 49 percent approval.

We don’t know where Barack Obama will fall on that list. But he’s struggling now, and this is of particular concern for Biden because his likely opponent, Hillary Clinton, has already left the administration and can thus, in classic Clinton form, ditch unpopular policies and pretend to have had strong strategic instincts from the beginning. Biden cannot.

For example, Biden announced the administration’s “reset” with Russia, which turned out to be an appalling fiasco. But Clinton, as the nation’s chief diplomat, took high-profile stewardship of the reset. The disastrous policy still follows Biden around, as he must survey the wreckage of his administration’s failures and try to contain the damage. Clinton mocked Mitt Romney’s contention about Russia’s geopolitical threat to America, but now, freed from the administration, she can simply pretend she isn’t totally and catastrophically naïve about Russia:

Former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton has urged Canada to forge a unified front with its U.S. neighbour to counter what she portrayed as heightened aggression by Russia in the Arctic.

Speaking to a sold-out crowd in Montreal on Tuesday night, the former first lady and possible future presidential candidate used her podium to denounce Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions not just in Ukraine, but closer to Canada’s borders.

Putin is coming for you, Canada! This comes on the heels of Clinton’s comparison of Putin to Hitler. Such verbal gymnastics are not so easy for Biden, who is still serving in this administration and therefore can’t rewrite his own history the way Clinton can. Which makes him much more likely to go down with the ship, as Clinton and her life raft float off in the distance.

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GOP Doesn’t Live in Scarborough Country

I’ve been resisting even noticing this story line for a while, but now that both The Atlantic and Politico have assisted the trial presidential balloon being floated by Joe Scarborough, it’s time to deflate it and then never mention it again. Scarborough is the former Republican congressman from Florida who has parlayed good looks and a caustic sense of humor into a lucrative gig on MSNBC, and has been telling people he wants back into politics. After trying for years to get anyone to take the idea seriously some in the media have finally picked up on the hints and are giving some lip service to the notion that the star of Morning Joe is a legitimate long shot GOP candidate for president in 2016.

Scarborough was in New Hampshire last weekend to appear at the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference and to sell his latest book. Organizers hoped to inspire a little extra publicity by putting his name on the ballot for a straw presidential poll. But MSNBC demanded that their employee’s name be taken off so Scarborough got the benefit of the buzz from the story without having to actually suffer the indignity of finishing last behind actual prospective candidates like Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, and Rick Santorum and another media-driven personality in the form of Dr. Ben Carson.

But despite the boost the Scarborough-for-president story got from this, anyone who indulges the Morning Joe host’s fantasy for more than a second has taken leave of their senses. While Scarborough is what passes for a Republican, nay, even a conservative, on some days at MSNBC, even he has to know that the overwhelming majority of Republican primary and caucus voters, be they Tea Partiers or establishment types, don’t live in Scarborough country.

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I’ve been resisting even noticing this story line for a while, but now that both The Atlantic and Politico have assisted the trial presidential balloon being floated by Joe Scarborough, it’s time to deflate it and then never mention it again. Scarborough is the former Republican congressman from Florida who has parlayed good looks and a caustic sense of humor into a lucrative gig on MSNBC, and has been telling people he wants back into politics. After trying for years to get anyone to take the idea seriously some in the media have finally picked up on the hints and are giving some lip service to the notion that the star of Morning Joe is a legitimate long shot GOP candidate for president in 2016.

Scarborough was in New Hampshire last weekend to appear at the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference and to sell his latest book. Organizers hoped to inspire a little extra publicity by putting his name on the ballot for a straw presidential poll. But MSNBC demanded that their employee’s name be taken off so Scarborough got the benefit of the buzz from the story without having to actually suffer the indignity of finishing last behind actual prospective candidates like Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, and Rick Santorum and another media-driven personality in the form of Dr. Ben Carson.

But despite the boost the Scarborough-for-president story got from this, anyone who indulges the Morning Joe host’s fantasy for more than a second has taken leave of their senses. While Scarborough is what passes for a Republican, nay, even a conservative, on some days at MSNBC, even he has to know that the overwhelming majority of Republican primary and caucus voters, be they Tea Partiers or establishment types, don’t live in Scarborough country.

The pun is, of course, on the name of his old MSNBC show before the network tilted to the far left and, in an inspired piece of casting, he was paired with the insufferable Mika Brzezinski to anchor the network’s morning entertainment. It’s a good watch and even those who can’t stand the liberal tilt of almost all its talking heads can appreciate why it is has become successful. As Mollie Ball notes, its “air of chummy, Acela-corridor knowingness has made it destination viewing for the political class.”

Last year, the New York Times’s Alessandra Stanley captured the tone of the show better than any of its critics or admirers:

At its best, that rambunctious, fast-talking cable talk show, anchored by Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, can sound like a screwball comedy set in a Washington think tank. On a bad day it turns into a C-Span edition of Eugene O’Neill: Mother is tuned out and the children sip their soup quietly to avoid arousing their choleric father. Mr. Scarborough can be funny and charming, but he occasionally goes on bullying, self-aggrandizing tears that are uninterrupted by a clique of yeasayers that includes Mike Barnicle, Donny Deutsch and Harold Ford Jr. Ms. Brzezinski acts as the foil, but she too often preens for the camera as if it were a mirror.

In the rarified air of Morning Joe, Scarborough’s pontifications are occasional reality checks for liberals, such as his rant about Senate Democrats’ all-night global warming fest that I noted last week. But anyone who thinks seriously about the Republican electorate must also take into account the fact that Scarborough has also spent a great deal of his time on the show not only flaying Republicans for their actual sins of overspending and damaging government shutdowns but also for stands on which they have the support of most conservatives. If he were to run for office again, Scarborough would have a very difficult time explaining to Republicans why he spent most of 2013 ranting about gun control when he was the hero of Vice President Joe Biden and other liberals for spending endless segments of Morning Joe flailing away at the National Rifle Association. No sale.

Scarborough says that if Chris Christie and Jeb Bush don’t run, he could become the establishment favorite in 2016. I don’t think that’s realistic as a host of other potential GOP candidates, including Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, make more sense to represent that constituency. But Scarborough has spent so much time hanging with liberals that he seems to be unaware that his over-the-top anti-NRA rants would make him the liberal RINO, not the establishment guy, in any GOP primary. Which is to say, he has zero chance.

Scarborough’s main selling point these days is that Republicans need to be pragmatic and focused on winning elections rather than engaged in Ted Cruz-style suicide attacks. There is a case to be made for such a point of view, but only if it comes in a package of solid conservative beliefs–and anyone who watches Morning Joe knows that Scarborough has long since become a liberal’s idea of a conservative rather than an actual one. In 2012 we saw exactly what Republicans thought of such a candidate when Jon Huntsman crashed and burned in one of the most embarrassing and costly presidential campaign failures of recent memory, and the former Utah governor was far more plausible than Scarborough, a point that William Kristol recently made on the show.

Ball says that so many former presidential candidates have transitioned from politics to the media that it was inevitable that one should try to move in the opposite direction. But Morning Joe fans shouldn’t worry about the host leaving the show to try his luck in 2016. Joe’s presidential boomlet is a figment of his imagination and his publisher’s business plan. The gap between the MSNBC/Acela axis and Republican primary voters is too great for even as successful a media personality as Scarborough to bridge.

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Hillary’s Russia Problem More Than ‘Reset’

Hillary Clinton, a presumptive contender for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, chose Ellen Tauscher, a former congresswoman, to be a top aide for Clinton’s presumptive run. Tauscher is a long-time loyal ally to Clinton, who brought her in to handle arms control during Clinton’s tenure as secretary of State. As they say in Washington, personnel is policy, as Clinton presumably wanted a Russophile to be her top aide. While working for Clinton, Tauscher was a key advocate for the START agreement.  At the time, John Bolton, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, outlined several concerns, which Tauscher pooh-poohed. After all, Tauscher argued, the Cold War was over and the Russians could be trusted. The need to work with divergent interests and views necessarily constrains government officials. Seldom does anyone have enough power to push his or her views in their entirety over career bureaucrats and political appointees who might have different views. The true test of one’s opinion, therefore, is what they do when they are outside government.

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Hillary Clinton, a presumptive contender for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, chose Ellen Tauscher, a former congresswoman, to be a top aide for Clinton’s presumptive run. Tauscher is a long-time loyal ally to Clinton, who brought her in to handle arms control during Clinton’s tenure as secretary of State. As they say in Washington, personnel is policy, as Clinton presumably wanted a Russophile to be her top aide. While working for Clinton, Tauscher was a key advocate for the START agreement.  At the time, John Bolton, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, outlined several concerns, which Tauscher pooh-poohed. After all, Tauscher argued, the Cold War was over and the Russians could be trusted. The need to work with divergent interests and views necessarily constrains government officials. Seldom does anyone have enough power to push his or her views in their entirety over career bureaucrats and political appointees who might have different views. The true test of one’s opinion, therefore, is what they do when they are outside government.

Tauscher joined the Atlantic Council; there is nothing wrong with that: The Atlantic Council is home to an impressive array of former officials.  Tauscher, however, used her perch to launch a project to push her personal re-set even further. Here is the press release announcing her initiative:

The Atlantic Council and the Russian International Affairs Council today launched a new initiative to help reframe US-Russia relations and get past the Cold War-era nuclear legacy in our relationship, particularly the dominant paradigm of “mutual assured destruction.” The goal is to reconfigure the bilateral relationship towards “mutual assured stability” and refocus arms control and disarmament toward the development of reassuring measures, and thus help promote closer cooperation between Russia and the West.

The problem, in Tauscher’s view, was that President Obama hadn’t gone far enough in pushing détente with Russia. “We are committed to help our respective authorities revitalize US-Russia relations in this direction,” she declared. She did, however, continue in the same statement to praise the Obama administration’s decision to cancel missile defense projects promised to Poland and the Czech Republic.

What isn’t quite as obvious from the statement is the apparent funding for Tauscher’s “Mutually Assured Stability” initiative. She (and the Atlantic Council, at the time chaired by Chuck Hagel, Obama’s subsequent pick to be Defense Secretary) entered into partnership with the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC). That sounds innocuous enough, unless one realizes that RIAC is actually funded by the Kremlin and remains a Kremlin-front. Alas, it would not be that much of an exaggeration to say that the woman whom Hillary Clinton considers her top advisor on Russia, arms control, and perhaps more broadly foreign policy effectively put herself partly in Russia’s pocket. Her actions were legal, but there is a sharp difference between legality and good judgment.

Where does Clinton really stand on Russia? Russia’s invasion of Crimea should be pause to consider what lessons should be learned. Alas, if her reliance on Tauscher is any indication, Clinton’s “re-set” moment was not simply a photo-op gone awry; it is symptomatic of bad judgment and a continuing self-destructive embrace.

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Rubio and Paul Trading Places?

Much has been made about the fact that Marco Rubio struggled last year and has thrived thus far in 2014. But while Rubio never seemed to have a specific rivalry with Rand Paul (who sparred with Chris Christie and more recently Ted Cruz), the two prospective 2016 presidential candidates seem to have their political fates connected in a way others don’t: one’s loss often accompanies the other’s gain. And this year, as Rubio recovers his footing it’s Paul who appears to be struggling. That’s been fairly consistent with the two Republicans’ shared term in the Senate thus far.

When Rubio burst onto the national GOP stage in 2010 in his Senate race against Charlie Crist, conservatives loved his message but fretted that his political persona was too dependent on that one message. The concern was voiced in August of that year by Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes, who wrote: “In every appearance, including my interview with him in late July, he delivers the speech in whole or in part. There’s a reason for this: It’s an awfully good speech. It’s intensely patriotic and focused on how he’d like voters to see the choice they face in the election. It’s better than any speech I’ve heard from a Republican candidate or elected official in a long time. And Rubio delivers it passionately.”

That was all correct, but a question lingered: the right hoped Rubio would run for president sooner rather than later. Would his policy chops catch up, and could he build a record in time? The answer over the last couple of years, but especially this year so far, seems to be: Yes. His biggest setback has been his attempt to reform immigration law, but it showed at least that he wasn’t shy about putting forth detailed plans and advocating for them. Since immigration reform, he’s put out plans to tackle poverty, economic growth, higher education reform, and he hit his stride when attention turned to foreign affairs with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the popular unrest in Venezuela.

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Much has been made about the fact that Marco Rubio struggled last year and has thrived thus far in 2014. But while Rubio never seemed to have a specific rivalry with Rand Paul (who sparred with Chris Christie and more recently Ted Cruz), the two prospective 2016 presidential candidates seem to have their political fates connected in a way others don’t: one’s loss often accompanies the other’s gain. And this year, as Rubio recovers his footing it’s Paul who appears to be struggling. That’s been fairly consistent with the two Republicans’ shared term in the Senate thus far.

When Rubio burst onto the national GOP stage in 2010 in his Senate race against Charlie Crist, conservatives loved his message but fretted that his political persona was too dependent on that one message. The concern was voiced in August of that year by Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes, who wrote: “In every appearance, including my interview with him in late July, he delivers the speech in whole or in part. There’s a reason for this: It’s an awfully good speech. It’s intensely patriotic and focused on how he’d like voters to see the choice they face in the election. It’s better than any speech I’ve heard from a Republican candidate or elected official in a long time. And Rubio delivers it passionately.”

That was all correct, but a question lingered: the right hoped Rubio would run for president sooner rather than later. Would his policy chops catch up, and could he build a record in time? The answer over the last couple of years, but especially this year so far, seems to be: Yes. His biggest setback has been his attempt to reform immigration law, but it showed at least that he wasn’t shy about putting forth detailed plans and advocating for them. Since immigration reform, he’s put out plans to tackle poverty, economic growth, higher education reform, and he hit his stride when attention turned to foreign affairs with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the popular unrest in Venezuela.

Rubio seemed to sputter in 2013 as Paul saw his moment in the sun. Paul’s famous filibuster not only won him plaudits from both sides of the aisle but also got his fellow Republican senators–Rubio among them–to appear on the chamber floor as supporting characters. Then the Edward Snowden affair happened, and Paul appeared to go from potential dark horse candidate in 2016 to the top tier. As the NSA domestic surveillance revelations were easily folded into the broader narrative of President Obama’s intrusive, big-government agenda, Paul took a step toward the front of the pack.

Part of Paul’s appeal was a term and a concept we’ve come to prize in American politics, with its ubiquity of television cameras and endless debates: authenticity. Paul came across as genuine and comfortable in his own skin, and he spoke confidently and fluently to any audience that would hear from him. It was no surprise that Paul and Christie developed something of a (brief) rivalry; neither pulls punches.

But Paul comes across as genuinely uncomfortable talking about foreign crises where the choice isn’t war or peace but something in the middle. Ukraine has made the contrast with Rubio clear, not just on policy but on the fact that events have shifted onto the latter’s turf. Paul’s TIME magazine piece on the appropriate American reaction to the Crimean crisis has already come in for some tough criticism, for example from National Review’s Patrick Brennan, who called Paul’s ideas “terrible or delusional.” But what caught my attention was more the stylistic clumsiness of the messaging–not that U.S. senators should be graded on whether their prose matches up to Tolstoy’s but to their own. In other words, Paul’s surefootedness is completely absent. For example:

America is a world leader, but we should not be its policeman or ATM.

At the end of the day, I still agree with former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen — the greatest threat to America’s security is our national debt.

Russia, the Middle East or any other troubled part of the world should never make us forget that the U.S. is broke. We weaken our security and defenses when we print money out of thin air or borrow from other countries to allegedly support our own.

Like Dwight Eisenhower, I believe the U.S. can actually be stronger by doing less.

Like Ronald Reagan, particularly regarding Russia, I also believe, “Don’t mistake our reluctance for war for a lack of resolve.”

That’s just a sample, but much of the piece is written that way. It’s unlike Paul to speak without saying something, but he comes close to doing so on Ukraine. More than a week before Paul’s piece was published, Rubio published at Politico an immediate reaction to the crisis, whose applicability showed he was either prepared for the Russian action or he didn’t need to be to know how to react.

The issues underpinning Rubio and Paul’s fortunes demonstrate something else: unlike Christie’s “bridgegate,” which involved his staff, for Paul and Rubio events beyond their control have exerted upward or downward pressure on them–in Paul’s case, the NSA revelations and for both the crisis in Ukraine (and to a lesser extent Venezuela). It shows the degree of uncertainty and luck in the process. But then again, that’s often how it is in the White House too.

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Does Rand’s GOP Think NSA is the Enemy?

In a week in which Americans were reminded that Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney were right and President Obama was wrong about Russia being the primary geo-strategic threat to their country, Senator Rand Paul brought a different perspective on the world to the CPAC conference today. Coming as it did after days of speeches from other conservatives that centered on Obama’s weakness in the face of international terror and Russian aggression as well as concerns about social issues and economic and the need to address the concerns of working people and the poor, Paul changed the subject. In his speech, the Kentucky senator centered on one subject: the threat to civil liberties from an intrusive government. In Rand Paul’s world al-Qaeda and Vladimir Putin are mere annoyances; the real foe is the National Security Agency and its metadata mining.

There are two conclusions can be drawn from this speech that was cheered to the echo by the audience at CPAC. One is that if CPAC activists are a representative sample of the grass roots of the Republican Party (a debatable but not outlandish assumption), there’s little question that Paul has a leg up on the 2016 presidential race. The other is that if those cheers mean that if it’s Rand’s GOP then it is a party with little chance to win in two years no matter what happens in November 2014. As much as Paul’s soaring rhetoric about liberty resonates with the party’s base — and indeed with most Republicans — his obsessive antagonism to national security issues and disinterest in a strong American foreign policy is likely to help doom the GOP to permanent minority status.

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In a week in which Americans were reminded that Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney were right and President Obama was wrong about Russia being the primary geo-strategic threat to their country, Senator Rand Paul brought a different perspective on the world to the CPAC conference today. Coming as it did after days of speeches from other conservatives that centered on Obama’s weakness in the face of international terror and Russian aggression as well as concerns about social issues and economic and the need to address the concerns of working people and the poor, Paul changed the subject. In his speech, the Kentucky senator centered on one subject: the threat to civil liberties from an intrusive government. In Rand Paul’s world al-Qaeda and Vladimir Putin are mere annoyances; the real foe is the National Security Agency and its metadata mining.

There are two conclusions can be drawn from this speech that was cheered to the echo by the audience at CPAC. One is that if CPAC activists are a representative sample of the grass roots of the Republican Party (a debatable but not outlandish assumption), there’s little question that Paul has a leg up on the 2016 presidential race. The other is that if those cheers mean that if it’s Rand’s GOP then it is a party with little chance to win in two years no matter what happens in November 2014. As much as Paul’s soaring rhetoric about liberty resonates with the party’s base — and indeed with most Republicans — his obsessive antagonism to national security issues and disinterest in a strong American foreign policy is likely to help doom the GOP to permanent minority status.

It should be conceded that Paul’s absolutist view of the Fourth Amendment is popular with a lot of Americans who rightly worry about an intrusive big government. That cynicism about the all-powerful state is exacerbated by President Obama’s unconstitutional power grabs on health care, selective enforcement of laws, an out-of-control IRS and spying on the press. His views also resonate with conservatives who like his rhetoric about the party being true to its principles rather than moderating itself in what seems like a vain quest for mainstream approval.

The defense of freedom must always be America’s priority. But what he seems to forget is that the primary element of that defense are not lawsuits against the National Security Agency or paranoia about drone attacks on law-abiding Americans sitting in Starbucks. It requires a strong national defense rather than one gutted by Obama’s cuts that Paul doesn’t seem very upset about. And it also must be based on a robust foreign policy rooted in an understanding that international threats can’t be ignored or wished away by isolationist rhetoric.

The problem with Rand’s vision of the GOP isn’t that Americans think foreign policy is their top concern. That isn’t true even in a week in which foreign news is leading the headlines thanking to Putin’s aggression in the Ukraine. But most Americans know that, for all of their cynicism about government, treating the NSA as the boogeyman is no substitute for an approach for dealing with the world. If Republicans head into the fall of 2016 with Paul as their champion against Hillary Clinton, it will be the author of the comical “reset” with Russia and the person who asked “does it really matter?” about Benghazi that will be seen as the one with the credentials on foreign policy, not the nominee of the party of Ronald Reagan.

Paul’s extreme libertarianism and anti-war approach does offer the GOP a chance to win some votes on the left that will see his foreign policy as indistinguishable from that of liberal Democrats. But it will also concede the vast center of American politics to the Democrats while doing little to bridge the gap with women and minority voters that doomed Mitt Romney in 2012. Conservatives are right to think the GOP must be true to its principles in order to win. Rand’s base has also expanded from the extremists he inherited from his father. But Paul’s foreign policy is not consistent with the traditional Republican attitude toward national defense and it will lose the party votes it can’t make up elsewhere.

A year after his drone filibuster that made him a star, Paul is still basking in the applause from a conservative following that has come to view all government programs — not just the welfare state but national defense too — as the enemy. As other potential front-runners have faltered there is no denying that he is ahead of most of his would-be 2016 competitors. But today’s speech is a reminder to Republicans that a commitment to his agenda could leave them looking foolish when events and the will of the voters obligate them to put forward a view of the world that takes into account America’s real enemies as well as the imperative to fund a viable national defense.

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Foreign Policy is Back and So Is Rubio

The year 2013 was not a good one for Senator Marco Rubio’s presidential ambitions. As I noted in January, it was annus horribillis for Rubio as he went from being seen as the perfect prototype of the Republican of the future to being scorned as a RINO by many of his former Tea Party supporters for his efforts on behalf of immigration reform and being overshadowed on security issues by the rise of Rand Paul and the isolationist wing of his party. But Rubio make a strong start in 2014 with an eloquent address at the Capitol on the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty that rightly sought to lead the GOP toward a new approach to the welfare state that sought to make the Republicans once again the party of ideas. But Rubio’s greatest strength has always been foreign policy. With the Russian seizure of the Crimea from Ukraine refocusing the public of the vital importance of America’s standing in the world, Rubio seems to have not only rediscovered the confidence that he seemed to lack at times last year but reminded a lot of Republicans of the reasons he was on everyone’s short list for president at the start of 2013.

While there’s no telling whether the senator will run in 2016 or if he can succeed if he does, Rubio’s speech to the CPAC Conference today in Washington showcased the senator’s strengths. In a speech that including many of his traditional stump remarks about his immigrant parents and the American dream, Rubio made the best case against the sort of retreat from engagement with the world that Rand Paul has championed that conservatives have heard in a long time. In a political atmosphere in which the sole foreign policy concerns of Republicans was the Obama administration’s violations of civil liberties and trashing of the Constitution it was possible for Paul to dominate the GOP. But now that Russia’s aggression has put foreign policy back on the front burner with most Republicans agreeing that the trouble is due to President Obama’s weak leadership and lack of faith in American principles, Rubio seems to be back as well.

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The year 2013 was not a good one for Senator Marco Rubio’s presidential ambitions. As I noted in January, it was annus horribillis for Rubio as he went from being seen as the perfect prototype of the Republican of the future to being scorned as a RINO by many of his former Tea Party supporters for his efforts on behalf of immigration reform and being overshadowed on security issues by the rise of Rand Paul and the isolationist wing of his party. But Rubio make a strong start in 2014 with an eloquent address at the Capitol on the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty that rightly sought to lead the GOP toward a new approach to the welfare state that sought to make the Republicans once again the party of ideas. But Rubio’s greatest strength has always been foreign policy. With the Russian seizure of the Crimea from Ukraine refocusing the public of the vital importance of America’s standing in the world, Rubio seems to have not only rediscovered the confidence that he seemed to lack at times last year but reminded a lot of Republicans of the reasons he was on everyone’s short list for president at the start of 2013.

While there’s no telling whether the senator will run in 2016 or if he can succeed if he does, Rubio’s speech to the CPAC Conference today in Washington showcased the senator’s strengths. In a speech that including many of his traditional stump remarks about his immigrant parents and the American dream, Rubio made the best case against the sort of retreat from engagement with the world that Rand Paul has championed that conservatives have heard in a long time. In a political atmosphere in which the sole foreign policy concerns of Republicans was the Obama administration’s violations of civil liberties and trashing of the Constitution it was possible for Paul to dominate the GOP. But now that Russia’s aggression has put foreign policy back on the front burner with most Republicans agreeing that the trouble is due to President Obama’s weak leadership and lack of faith in American principles, Rubio seems to be back as well.

It’s likely that many on the right will never forgive Rubio for his support of a bipartisan compromise immigration bill last year. Though the bill passed the Senate with the support of a substantial minority of Republicans, it was dead on arrival in the GOP-controlled House and Rubio bore the brunt of much of the resentment of the party’s grass roots activists for backing a bill that granted a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal aliens in the country. The depth of this opposition as well as the intemperate and often biased language used by some on the right has embittered many Hispanics and created a long-term problem for Republicans. Rubio hasn’t backtracked on his support for the original bill but he understands there is no persuading his party’s base on the issue and didn’t even mention it in his speech today.

But while that conflict has permanently alienated many Tea Partiers who formed the base of his successful 2010 primary challenge to once (and perhaps future) Florida Governor Charlie Crist, the outcomes of elections are as much about the defining issues of the moment as they are about personalities. If, after years of being dominated by discussions of taxes, spending, ObamaCare and immigration, the Republican public square returns to some of its traditional focus on foreign policy, there’s no denying that Rubio’s ability to articulate a Reaganite stance on engagement with the world and defense returns him to the front rank of GOP leaders.

Speaking today about how Obama’s weakness on China, Iran and North Korea has led inevitably to disasters in Syria and Ukraine, Rubio sounded a clarion call for conservatives to stand up for a strong America by telling his audience that “only one nation can stand up to totalitarianism.”

We have a president who believes that by the sheer force of his personality he could be able to shape global events. We have a president that believes that by going around the world and giving key speeches in key places, he can shape the behavior of other nations. We do not have the luxury of seeing the world the way we hope it would be. We have to see the world the way it is.

Paul’s neo-isolationism has expanded its appeal beyond the libertarian base inherited from his father because of the cynicism about government that Obama’s extra-Constitutional behavior has bred in conservatives. But Rubio’s appeal for a foreign policy rooted in support for core American principles is one that still resonates with most Republicans. At a time when the administration is gutting defense and retreating in the face of foreign tyrants, the pendulum may be swinging back toward the pro-defense wing of the party.

To note this is not the same thing as assuming that Rubio will be moving back to the front rank of his party’s presidential contenders. But if he is interested in running in 2016, those who assume that immigration has doomed his chances forever may be wrong. If, thanks to Putin, Iran and Obama’s blunders, a strong stance on foreign affairs is again a prerequisite for winning the Republican nomination, Rubio will have a fighting chance.

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Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Putin Problem

Hillary Clinton wasn’t wrong to point out today the loose similarities between Vladimir Putin’s rationale for aggression in the Ukraine and what Nazi Germany did in the 1930s in using ethnic Germans to justify their campaign to overrun Central and Eastern Europe. But overcompensating for something is usually a sign of weakness. Thus, Clinton’s use of language that is far stronger than even that employed by some of President Obama’s fiercest critics raises questions not only about her distancing herself from the administration she served for four years but about whether her record as secretary of state is as much of a political asset as many of her supporters believe it to be.

Let’s start by acknowledging that Clinton has always come across as a lot more clear-headed about Russia and most foreign policy problems than the president or her successor John Kerry, let alone Vice President Joe Biden. But the idea that she is “Hillary the hawk” is a nickname she has earned only by the comparison to the rest of the cast of characters in the Obama administration. This is, after all, the same Hillary Clinton who earned a spot in the all-time foreign policy bloopers reel with her comic presentation of a mistranslated “reset” button to her Russian counterpart and who dutifully carried out the president’s orders to make nice with Putin whenever possible rather than treating him as a regional bully and clear threat to peace. So as much as she may wish to thump her chest a bit today with regards to Russian misbehavior in order to reinforce the notion that she is not an Obama clone on foreign policy, the conflict in Ukraine is a reminder that she will have to answer for more than Benghazi when running for president in 2016.

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Hillary Clinton wasn’t wrong to point out today the loose similarities between Vladimir Putin’s rationale for aggression in the Ukraine and what Nazi Germany did in the 1930s in using ethnic Germans to justify their campaign to overrun Central and Eastern Europe. But overcompensating for something is usually a sign of weakness. Thus, Clinton’s use of language that is far stronger than even that employed by some of President Obama’s fiercest critics raises questions not only about her distancing herself from the administration she served for four years but about whether her record as secretary of state is as much of a political asset as many of her supporters believe it to be.

Let’s start by acknowledging that Clinton has always come across as a lot more clear-headed about Russia and most foreign policy problems than the president or her successor John Kerry, let alone Vice President Joe Biden. But the idea that she is “Hillary the hawk” is a nickname she has earned only by the comparison to the rest of the cast of characters in the Obama administration. This is, after all, the same Hillary Clinton who earned a spot in the all-time foreign policy bloopers reel with her comic presentation of a mistranslated “reset” button to her Russian counterpart and who dutifully carried out the president’s orders to make nice with Putin whenever possible rather than treating him as a regional bully and clear threat to peace. So as much as she may wish to thump her chest a bit today with regards to Russian misbehavior in order to reinforce the notion that she is not an Obama clone on foreign policy, the conflict in Ukraine is a reminder that she will have to answer for more than Benghazi when running for president in 2016.

Clinton is heading toward 2016 in an even stronger position vis-à-vis her potential rivals for the president than the formidable advantage she possessed in 2008. This time there is no Barack Obama-type challenger waiting in the wings to steal the prize from her. After eight years of our first African-American president, the desire to follow that up with our first female commander-in-chief provides a compelling story line to the election that will be difficult for any Republican, let alone a fellow Democrat, to try to override.

But she will discover that running for president as a U.S. Senator who could talk about every issue but had responsibility for nothing is a lot easier than having to defend a less-than-stellar record as secretary of state. Though she spent her four years at Foggy Bottom as an administration cipher with little will of her own as President Obama imposed his own foreign policy views on the department and then left it praising him, things have since gotten complicated. The debacle over Syria and now Ukraine as well as the unraveling of the American position in Iraq and Afghanistan undermines the notion that she was a successful secretary of state. Merely accumulating frequent-flyer miles — her claim to fame as a public official — is no substitute for success.

But the deterioration of American relations with the dictator that Obama promised that he would treat with more “flexibility” if he were re-elected in 2012 poses a unique problem for Clinton. If pictures are worth a thousand words, a viral video must be valued at an infinite number of printed pages. The film clip of Clinton and the “reset” button will be played over and over again in the next three years and, fairly or not, may paint her as even more of a dupe for the Russians than Obama or Kerry.

Calling Putin a new Hitler seems like a smart way to distance herself from a lame duck president who looks weak. Hence, the always-savvy Clinton machine is already rolling into action seeking to demonstrate that Hillary is as tough as she would like us to think she is. But like so much of her 2008 campaign, the chest beating Clinton will always be seen as lacking in authenticity. The stronger she tries to appear, the weaker her supposedly invincible campaign machine may start to look. 

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Dems May Regret More OCare Delays

After dozens of delays of various aspects of ObamaCare, Democrats are still facing a tsunami of voter anger this fall in midterm elections that are looking more and more like a disaster for the president’s party. The administration’s answer to their plight is simple: delay more implementation of the president’s unpopular and misnamed Affordable Care Act.

The Hill is reporting today that the White House is planning on announcing yet another ObamaCare delay:

As early as this week, according to two sources, the White House will announce a new directive allowing insurers to continue offering health plans that do not meet ObamaCare’s minimum coverage requirements. Prolonging the “keep your plan” fix will avoid another wave of health policy cancellations otherwise expected this fall.

The cancellations would have created a firestorm for Democratic candidates in the last, crucial weeks before Election Day. The White House is intent on protecting its allies in the Senate, where Democrats face a battle to keep control of the chamber.

The political motivations for this move are obvious. Prior to the rollout of ObamaCare last fall, Democrats drew a line in the sand on any delay of the president’s signature health care law. Rather than push back the implementation of the legislation a single day, they allowed the government to be shut down for weeks causing untold suffering to the American people. That was a political masterstroke. The mainstream media blamed the GOP for the fiasco since their demands for delaying or defunding the law seen as unreasonable and unrealistic. What a difference a few months makes.

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After dozens of delays of various aspects of ObamaCare, Democrats are still facing a tsunami of voter anger this fall in midterm elections that are looking more and more like a disaster for the president’s party. The administration’s answer to their plight is simple: delay more implementation of the president’s unpopular and misnamed Affordable Care Act.

The Hill is reporting today that the White House is planning on announcing yet another ObamaCare delay:

As early as this week, according to two sources, the White House will announce a new directive allowing insurers to continue offering health plans that do not meet ObamaCare’s minimum coverage requirements. Prolonging the “keep your plan” fix will avoid another wave of health policy cancellations otherwise expected this fall.

The cancellations would have created a firestorm for Democratic candidates in the last, crucial weeks before Election Day. The White House is intent on protecting its allies in the Senate, where Democrats face a battle to keep control of the chamber.

The political motivations for this move are obvious. Prior to the rollout of ObamaCare last fall, Democrats drew a line in the sand on any delay of the president’s signature health care law. Rather than push back the implementation of the legislation a single day, they allowed the government to be shut down for weeks causing untold suffering to the American people. That was a political masterstroke. The mainstream media blamed the GOP for the fiasco since their demands for delaying or defunding the law seen as unreasonable and unrealistic. What a difference a few months makes.

Will Democrats get away with it? Given the unwillingness of the same media that lampooned Republicans for suggesting the same thing only six months ago, they just might. In addition to that, there have been so many delays of the law’s implementation that even those Americans who pay attention to the issue may have lost track of what aspects of the president’s scheme are being enforced.

Liberals may still be pretending that ObamaCare will be popular or that the only problem with its rollout was a glitch-ridden website that was fixed. But in only a few months they have also developed a healthy fear of the consequences of its implementation. Already millions of Americans have lost their insurance coverage or access to their doctors because of the dictates of this new law that branded every policy that did not conform to their arbitrary standards as “junk” insurance. Sticking to that talking point hasn’t been easy for liberal talking heads on television but once more Americans feel ObamaCare’s impact, it will be impossible.

Once the delays are rescinded and the employer mandates are put in place along with the rules for individual policyholders, the results will be far-reaching and serious. At that point, it won’t be possible to deny the fact that the number of Americans who have been hurt by this law may not only equal the total helped but, in fact, may outnumber them.

But Democratic optimism about this underhanded and unconstitutional tactic (since the president does not actually have the power to pick and choose which laws or which parts of laws he will enforce) may be misplaced. The mere fact of so many delays as well as the evidence of the damage already done by the law to so many voters may outweigh any tactical advantages won by the stalling strategy.

Even worse, by putting off so much of the pain until after the 2014 midterm elections, Democrats may be setting themselves up for a really unpleasant time in 2015 and 2016. If the majority of Americans are already unhappy with ObamaCare today, that anger will be even greater next year once more employers and individuals are coping with its costs and hardships. If, as may well happen despite the delays, Republicans win back control of the Senate in addition to keeping the House of Representatives, that will put them in position to do more than delay ObamaCare next year but to send a repeal bill to the president. He will veto it and there’s little chance that the Republicans will overturn it. But with anger about this law rising to new heights just when the country is turning its attention to the 2016 presidential race rather than in 2014, that could create even more problems for Hillary Clinton or any other Democrat who wishes to succeed the president.

At that point, Democrats may look back on this year’s ObamaCare delays and the president’s determination to frontload the benefits and backload the pain with genuine regret.

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Of Course Joe Biden Will Run in 2016

Vice President Joe Biden isn’t just a bloviating cliché machine when on the stump. He inspires the same qualities in all who seek to write about him. Thus, it’s little surprise that “Joe Biden in Winter,” Glenn Thrush’s lengthy profile of the vice president published today in Politico Magazine, would resort to the usual tags of “happy warrior” and “motor mouth” when describing Biden. But the piece, which mixes agonizing detail with some keen insights about this career politician, does get one big thing right about him that most of those commenting on the likelihood of Biden running for president in 2016 generally don’t: there’s no way Biden is passing on his last chance to achieve a lifelong dream.

Thrush’s history of Biden’s ups and downs with President Obama and his inner circle is the kind of inside baseball account that resonates with a certain kind of political junkie. And policy types will be interested in the fact that he has more in common with his predecessor Dick Cheney in terms of influence than he does with Al Gore. But the only really important facts here are the ones that all point toward a Biden presidential bid in 2016. It’s not just that Biden is seen here quoting Dylan Thomas’s poem in which he writes “Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Rather, it’s that every fiber of his still vibrant being has been aiming at a presidency throughout his career. While most of us simply assume, with very good reason, that he has absolutely no chance to beat Hillary Clinton if she decides to run, Biden looks at the situation from a completely different angle. He thinks he should be president. Indeed, he has always thought so and the idea that he would get as close to it as he is now without giving it a try is simply inconceivable if you know anything about him.

After all, there is one pertinent fact about the Biden-Clinton rivalry that virtually everyone seems to forget. Hillary Clinton was the inevitable Democratic nominee in 2008 just as she is in 2016. Leading up to that year, Biden was just a senator, not a heartbeat away from the presidency. And his only previous attempt to win the presidency wasn’t just a flop. His 1988 run was a devastating humiliation that collapsed after it was revealed that he had not only plagiarized his stump campaign speech from British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock but also lied about his law school record and seemingly buried his national ambitions forever. But Biden was undeterred and tried again, assuming it was his last shot at the presidency. If he didn’t shy away from taking on Hillary then, why would he do so now as the sitting vice president?

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Vice President Joe Biden isn’t just a bloviating cliché machine when on the stump. He inspires the same qualities in all who seek to write about him. Thus, it’s little surprise that “Joe Biden in Winter,” Glenn Thrush’s lengthy profile of the vice president published today in Politico Magazine, would resort to the usual tags of “happy warrior” and “motor mouth” when describing Biden. But the piece, which mixes agonizing detail with some keen insights about this career politician, does get one big thing right about him that most of those commenting on the likelihood of Biden running for president in 2016 generally don’t: there’s no way Biden is passing on his last chance to achieve a lifelong dream.

Thrush’s history of Biden’s ups and downs with President Obama and his inner circle is the kind of inside baseball account that resonates with a certain kind of political junkie. And policy types will be interested in the fact that he has more in common with his predecessor Dick Cheney in terms of influence than he does with Al Gore. But the only really important facts here are the ones that all point toward a Biden presidential bid in 2016. It’s not just that Biden is seen here quoting Dylan Thomas’s poem in which he writes “Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Rather, it’s that every fiber of his still vibrant being has been aiming at a presidency throughout his career. While most of us simply assume, with very good reason, that he has absolutely no chance to beat Hillary Clinton if she decides to run, Biden looks at the situation from a completely different angle. He thinks he should be president. Indeed, he has always thought so and the idea that he would get as close to it as he is now without giving it a try is simply inconceivable if you know anything about him.

After all, there is one pertinent fact about the Biden-Clinton rivalry that virtually everyone seems to forget. Hillary Clinton was the inevitable Democratic nominee in 2008 just as she is in 2016. Leading up to that year, Biden was just a senator, not a heartbeat away from the presidency. And his only previous attempt to win the presidency wasn’t just a flop. His 1988 run was a devastating humiliation that collapsed after it was revealed that he had not only plagiarized his stump campaign speech from British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock but also lied about his law school record and seemingly buried his national ambitions forever. But Biden was undeterred and tried again, assuming it was his last shot at the presidency. If he didn’t shy away from taking on Hillary then, why would he do so now as the sitting vice president?

The point here isn’t just that the thumbnail profile of Biden as a “happy warrior” who can’t conceive of life outside of politics is true. It’s that Biden truly believes he should be president. Biden didn’t run in 2008 simply because he wanted the big desk in the Oval Office. He thought Americans deserved one last chance to do the right thing and make him president, as he thought they should have done in 1988. The fact that they didn’t was, in his estimation, their mistake, not his.

As Thrush correctly notes, Biden was thinking 2016 all through 2011 and 2012, despite the fact that president’s campaign staff refused to let him raise money in Silicon Valley and Hollywood, prime turf for a Democrat. Nor will he be put off by not having a PAC that will be able distribute campaign cash to Democrats who might help him in two years. Being cut out of the budget negotiations in Congress by a jealous Harry Reid hasn’t deflated Biden’s conception of himself as vital to the administration. The same applies to the criticism that has rained down on his head from observers of his often-unhelpful role in shaping U.S. foreign and defense policy during the last five years. Nothing that has happened or could happen will ever convince Joe Biden he shouldn’t be president.

To acknowledge this about him is not to exaggerate his chances of winning the big prize. Even if Clinton doesn’t run, Biden is a one-man gaffe machine and his well-earned gasbag reputation combined with his age (he’ll be 73 during the 2016 primaries) would render him vulnerable to potential Democratic challengers, all of whom will be able to depict themselves as newcomers by comparison. If Clinton does run, his chances of beating her are slim to none. But, as Thrush correctly concludes, that won’t stop him:

The things that make Biden so unfashionable—his affection for politics and the politicians who practice it, his boundless love of bullshitting, the rush he gets from cutting a deal—would, at the very least, offer a stark contrast to Clintonworld’s calculated opacity, palace intrigue and cult of personality.

Biden is the son of a car salesman and has practiced politics like one for over 40 years in public life. Even if he knows he won’t win, he won’t pass up the chance to sell himself to the American people one more time.

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Will the 2016 GOP Nomination Turn on Foreign Policy?

The “trading places” theme of the 2016 presidential election continues, with the latest indication that the Republicans have become the party of internal discord and dissent powered by a younger generation of politicians and voters while the Democrats have become the party of entrenched cliqueocracy. The New York Times reports today on its latest poll, conducted jointly with CBS News, on the political figures each party’s voters want to see run for president.

More than 80 percent of Democrats said they wanted Hillary Clinton to run, with only 13 percent saying they’d rather she not. That is, as the Times notes, “a level of interest in her that no other potential candidates – Democrat or Republican – come close to matching among their party’s voters.” More intriguing are the post-Bridgegate levels of interest in Republican candidates. The support for a Chris Christie candidacy is now ten points underwater. The candidates with the most voter interest on the right–surely having something to do with name recognition–are Jeb Bush and Rand Paul, each at about 40 percent.

The Times continues:

Thirty-two percent of Republicans say they want Senator Marco Rubio of Florida to run, although Mr. Rubio also seems to have fewer detractors than Mr. Bush or Mr. Paul (more do not know enough about him to say). Only 15 percent of Republicans said they did not want Mr. Rubio to run, compared with 21 percent for Mr. Paul and 27 percent for Mr. Bush. Twenty-four percent said they hoped Senator Ted Cruz of Texas would run, compared with 15 percent who said they did not want him to. Fifty-nine percent do not know enough about Mr. Cruz to say.

The poll did not ask about several other potential Republican candidates, including Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. No major candidates in either party have yet declared their candidacy, but several have taken steps indicating that they are seriously considering a run.

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The “trading places” theme of the 2016 presidential election continues, with the latest indication that the Republicans have become the party of internal discord and dissent powered by a younger generation of politicians and voters while the Democrats have become the party of entrenched cliqueocracy. The New York Times reports today on its latest poll, conducted jointly with CBS News, on the political figures each party’s voters want to see run for president.

More than 80 percent of Democrats said they wanted Hillary Clinton to run, with only 13 percent saying they’d rather she not. That is, as the Times notes, “a level of interest in her that no other potential candidates – Democrat or Republican – come close to matching among their party’s voters.” More intriguing are the post-Bridgegate levels of interest in Republican candidates. The support for a Chris Christie candidacy is now ten points underwater. The candidates with the most voter interest on the right–surely having something to do with name recognition–are Jeb Bush and Rand Paul, each at about 40 percent.

The Times continues:

Thirty-two percent of Republicans say they want Senator Marco Rubio of Florida to run, although Mr. Rubio also seems to have fewer detractors than Mr. Bush or Mr. Paul (more do not know enough about him to say). Only 15 percent of Republicans said they did not want Mr. Rubio to run, compared with 21 percent for Mr. Paul and 27 percent for Mr. Bush. Twenty-four percent said they hoped Senator Ted Cruz of Texas would run, compared with 15 percent who said they did not want him to. Fifty-nine percent do not know enough about Mr. Cruz to say.

The poll did not ask about several other potential Republican candidates, including Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. No major candidates in either party have yet declared their candidacy, but several have taken steps indicating that they are seriously considering a run.

It’s certainly true that a complete 2016 preview would include voter opinions on Scott Walker and probably Paul Ryan as well–even though the latter does not appear to be gearing up for a presidential run, he was on the ticket last time and has been a leader of the “reform conservatism” caucus in Congress. But this poll isn’t a zero-sum “who would you vote for” survey, so the results still tell us a lot.

There is more opposition to a Paul candidacy and a Jeb Bush candidacy than to either Rubio or Cruz. In the case of Bush, his last name–as he recently acknowledged–probably has much to do with it. The opposition to Paul is noteworthy. The Kentucky libertarian is far from the divisive figure his father was as a candidate and congressman. Paul’s brand of conservatism has even hinted at a bipartisan appeal, especially on privacy and criminal-justice reform, without earning him the dreaded RINO label.

In fact, the area of Paul’s ideology that would breed concern among the party faithful is his outlook on foreign policy. If that’s the case, it’s significant. Paul’s admirers have always thought the most potent threat within the GOP to Paul’s anti-interventionist foreign policy came from the party elites. That’s one way his supporters have dismissed opposition to his views on foreign affairs: as neoconservative holdovers from the Bush administration.

That’s never really been the case, though. Indeed, if Paul has establishment support in the GOP it’s among the Bakerite realists. There is something ironic about treating a younger generation of conservatives–the George W. Bush team, largely–as has-beens whose old road is rapidly aging while drawing conceptual support and guidance from the prior generation–the George H.W. Bush team, largely. That doesn’t mean Paul’s views are unpopular. They have plenty of support, as evidenced by the fact that while more voters want Christie to sit out this election than run, that’s not even close to true of Paul.

But this does get at one possible obstacle to Paul’s run for the nomination. He is unlikely to have the big-government opponent he’d prefer to contrast himself with. His popularity is due in part to the fact that libertarian economic policy has become more accepted in the GOP in recent years, but that same popularity deprives him of his opposite. Instead, he’s likely to run against a range of candidates who mostly agree with him–and the base–on economic matters but not on foreign policy. It would be a fairly unexpected twist if the post-Iraq and Afghanistan GOP primary turned on foreign policy, but it might just be heading in that direction.

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Walker Scares Unions and GOP 2016 Rivals

This past week Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was the target of a massive assault by the liberal media that sought to inflate a minor story about his administration as Milwaukee county executive into a scandal that could eliminate him as a 2016 presidential contender. The effort fell flat as the issues involved were insignificant and there was no link between the governor and any wrongdoing. Even a fishing expedition into 27,000 pages of emails revealed nothing more damning than an internal debate about whether a former thong model was a suitable candidate for a job. Liberals may have had a brief moment of elation when they thought this would remove Walker from the 2016 picture as effectively as Bridgegate turned Chris Christie’s presidential hopes to ashes. But Democrats would do well to ignore this distraction and instead take a deep dive into a story published today in the New York Times that centers on the real reason why the Wisconsin governor is so important: fiscal reform.

Though the slant of Steven Greenhouse’s lengthy feature is not so much Walker’s record but an attempt to engender sympathy for the unions he defeated in a 2011 legislative showdown, the governor still emerges as the hero of the saga. Wisconsin’s public-sector unions are telling their colleagues around the nation to worry about other states emulating Walker’s efforts to change the balance of power between labor and government. They’re right. Though Walker paid a high price in terms of vilification and a recall effort that failed to drive him from office, the results of his reforms are now apparent. As the Times reports, Wisconsin’s municipalities and school districts have saved more than $2 billion in the last two years. The nation confronts a future in which the costs of public-sector salaries and benefits could push a host of cities off the same fiscal cliff that landed Detroit in bankruptcy and civil ruin. Though the unions that lost their power to raid the public treasury will never forgive Walker, his courage in standing up to them and achieving results provides a compelling story that could very well inspire a run to the White House.

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This past week Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was the target of a massive assault by the liberal media that sought to inflate a minor story about his administration as Milwaukee county executive into a scandal that could eliminate him as a 2016 presidential contender. The effort fell flat as the issues involved were insignificant and there was no link between the governor and any wrongdoing. Even a fishing expedition into 27,000 pages of emails revealed nothing more damning than an internal debate about whether a former thong model was a suitable candidate for a job. Liberals may have had a brief moment of elation when they thought this would remove Walker from the 2016 picture as effectively as Bridgegate turned Chris Christie’s presidential hopes to ashes. But Democrats would do well to ignore this distraction and instead take a deep dive into a story published today in the New York Times that centers on the real reason why the Wisconsin governor is so important: fiscal reform.

Though the slant of Steven Greenhouse’s lengthy feature is not so much Walker’s record but an attempt to engender sympathy for the unions he defeated in a 2011 legislative showdown, the governor still emerges as the hero of the saga. Wisconsin’s public-sector unions are telling their colleagues around the nation to worry about other states emulating Walker’s efforts to change the balance of power between labor and government. They’re right. Though Walker paid a high price in terms of vilification and a recall effort that failed to drive him from office, the results of his reforms are now apparent. As the Times reports, Wisconsin’s municipalities and school districts have saved more than $2 billion in the last two years. The nation confronts a future in which the costs of public-sector salaries and benefits could push a host of cities off the same fiscal cliff that landed Detroit in bankruptcy and civil ruin. Though the unions that lost their power to raid the public treasury will never forgive Walker, his courage in standing up to them and achieving results provides a compelling story that could very well inspire a run to the White House.

Not everyone in Wisconsin is happy about what happened there in 2011, when Walker pushed through his reform agenda despite the spectacle of union thugs and left-wing activists that descended on the state capitol in Madison in an effort to shut down the rule of law in the state. As Greenhouse writes, the unions that took for granted their right to run roughshod over state and municipal officials bitterly regret their defeat. They took for granted their right to demand and get pay and benefits that most of the taxpayers paying the bill couldn’t dream about. As Walker learned when he was Milwaukee’s county executive, the name of the game was union power. Budget shortfalls were mere details to leaders who would rather see workers laid off and services to the citizens curtailed than make concessions to balance the budget. If those unions are now demoralized, their regret is that they no longer have the whip hand over the government. Walker’s rollback of union power enabled the those elected by the people to function without the sort of union blackmail that make it impossible for mayors and governors around the country to stand up to threats of strikes and political payback.

Just as important, the changes brought about by Walker forces public sector unions to go back to their original purpose: serving their members rather than playing political power brokers. The provisions that force them to recertify compels the unions to demonstrate to their members that they are there to help them rather than to act as the storm troops of the Democratic Party. This accountability dethrones them as the tyrants of the workplace as well as of the public square.

While other Republicans (including Christie) shared his views about reform, it was only Walker who dared to directly take on public sector unions and their political allies. In 2011, the conventional wisdom was that he was a rash politician who tried to do too much and would fail. But where others made incremental gains at best, by carrying out his campaign promises Walker showed both his party and the nation that it was possible to tell the truth about the fiscal peril, do something about it and live to tell the tale.

Just as they did in 2012 when liberals made Walker’s recall a national priority, the left is once again hoping to end the governor’s career by defeating him for reelection this fall. But if he is favored to win in November it is not just because voters remember the irresponsible efforts of unions and Democrats to thwart reform or because Walker is a likeable and able politician. Rather, it is because he has demonstrated the kind of political courage that is very rare in our system today and produced results. While he is still a relative novice on the national stage and could well falter long before 2016, that is a record that should scare potential Republican presidential rivals as much as it does the unions and the Democrats.

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No Bites in the Walker Fishing Expedition

They’ve already taken out one leading Republican presidential contender. Can they destroy another? That’s the only real point of interest about the release of 27,000 pages of emails from the office of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker from 2009 and 2010 when he was still only Milwaukee County executive. The massive information dump ordered by a Wisconsin judge after requests from news organizations led by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has some liberals crowing that the troubles faced by some members of his former staff could sink the governor.

The Nation could barely contain its glee in a story that led with a comparison to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s Bridgegate woes and claimed the data revealed scandals that are “shining new light on the extent to which the controversial governor’s legal, ethical and political troubles will make his transition to the national stage difficult.” That sounds like big trouble for Walker as well as bad timing, considering that he has just been anointed by Politico as one of the two “strongest” 2016 GOP presidential contenders and is also in the middle of a challenging reelection race.

But just because Christie was felled by rogue staffers and friends and will now spend the rest of his tenure in Trenton answering for their bizarre shenanigans doesn’t mean Walker is in similar trouble. The problem for Democrats here is that although liberal media hounds will have great fun sorting through Walker’s communications from the period before he became governor, there’s no reason to believe there’s any scandal here. Though some of Walker’s staff from that time did get in trouble for malfeasance, the theft of campaign funds by one has nothing to do with Walker. The only charge that can even remotely be tied to Walker is the one that resulted in an aide being convicted for conducting political activities on government time. But does anyone, even at the Nation, let alone in the Democratic leadership, think that Americans will be outraged over an aide blurring the division between political activity and governing at a time when the entire Obama White House seems to do nothing but that?

The Walker story isn’t merely a dead end for Democrats. The fishing expedition into his past will, like the ill-fated effort to recall him in 2012, only strengthen him in Wisconsin and endear the governor even more to both the Republican grass-roots and the establishment types who see him as Christie’s replacement in 2016.

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They’ve already taken out one leading Republican presidential contender. Can they destroy another? That’s the only real point of interest about the release of 27,000 pages of emails from the office of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker from 2009 and 2010 when he was still only Milwaukee County executive. The massive information dump ordered by a Wisconsin judge after requests from news organizations led by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has some liberals crowing that the troubles faced by some members of his former staff could sink the governor.

The Nation could barely contain its glee in a story that led with a comparison to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s Bridgegate woes and claimed the data revealed scandals that are “shining new light on the extent to which the controversial governor’s legal, ethical and political troubles will make his transition to the national stage difficult.” That sounds like big trouble for Walker as well as bad timing, considering that he has just been anointed by Politico as one of the two “strongest” 2016 GOP presidential contenders and is also in the middle of a challenging reelection race.

But just because Christie was felled by rogue staffers and friends and will now spend the rest of his tenure in Trenton answering for their bizarre shenanigans doesn’t mean Walker is in similar trouble. The problem for Democrats here is that although liberal media hounds will have great fun sorting through Walker’s communications from the period before he became governor, there’s no reason to believe there’s any scandal here. Though some of Walker’s staff from that time did get in trouble for malfeasance, the theft of campaign funds by one has nothing to do with Walker. The only charge that can even remotely be tied to Walker is the one that resulted in an aide being convicted for conducting political activities on government time. But does anyone, even at the Nation, let alone in the Democratic leadership, think that Americans will be outraged over an aide blurring the division between political activity and governing at a time when the entire Obama White House seems to do nothing but that?

The Walker story isn’t merely a dead end for Democrats. The fishing expedition into his past will, like the ill-fated effort to recall him in 2012, only strengthen him in Wisconsin and endear the governor even more to both the Republican grass-roots and the establishment types who see him as Christie’s replacement in 2016.

The lack of any real scandal here hasn’t deterred much of the mainstream media from acting as if Walker was in genuine trouble. The emails were released as part of the fallout from a case brought against Kelly M. Rindfleisch, Walker’s deputy chief of staff, who was convicted of one count of performing political work for someone other than Walker on county time. Wisconsin has extremely stringent laws about such activity that contrast with those that exist in most of the rest of the nation as well as on the federal level. But, as even the New York Times lengthy story about the affair today noted, the documents show that Walker tried to rein any violations by his staff and is nowhere tied to their activities. Walker was absolved in the state investigations of the case and there doesn’t appear to be anything even amid the deluge of emails that would lead to that judgment being reversed.

So no matter how much liberals keep repeating the refrain about Walker being investigated or tied to a scandal, it’s clear that, unlike Christie, he has no real legal or ethical problem. That’s especially true when you realize that if the same standard were applied to the Obama White House, virtually the entire West Wing would be carted off in handcuffs. The best Democrats can hope for is that somewhere in that mountain of emails there will be some, or even one, in which he says something embarrassing rather than legally troublesome.

But so far the worst the fishing expedition has uncovered are some email jokes that were not sent by Walker and one in which he did participate in which a doctor was fired from a hospital after a discussion about her being a thong model. Not only is that not remotely comparable to the real damage done to the public by Bridgegate, but it also doesn’t contain anything that could even be used in a Democratic attack ad.

Provided that he isn’t defeated for reelection this fall, Walker is in a unique position that justifies Politico’s putting him in the top rank of 2016 contenders along with Rand Paul. Beloved by the party base and Tea Partiers for his successful battle with unions and leftist thugs in 2011 to enact reform measures, he’s also liked by the party establishment that sees him as a mainstream answer to more marginal figures like Paul or Ted Cruz.

Like all politicians, Walker isn’t bulletproof and there is plenty of time for him to commit gaffes or for his staff to go haywire in the manner in which Christie’s did before 2016. But the portrait that emerges from the emails doesn’t appear to do anything to damage the governor’s presidential prospects.

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The Media Competes for Hillary’s Love

This week’s publication of a new Hillary Clinton biography by the respected political reporters Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes brings into stark relief just how much Clinton’s theoretical, but expected presidential campaign affects political press coverage two and a half years out from Election Day. When I wrote last month about how Clinton finally seemed to bestow on us a legitimately perpetual campaign, I had noted only in passing the media dimension, such as Maggie Haberman’s profile in which she wrote that Clinton’s “legacy as the most powerful woman in the history of American politics is already secure”–a claim seemingly dashed off casually but which is not true.

That claim encapsulates the two major flaws of Hillary’s media coverage: reporters are tossing out declarations of world-historical status almost in habit, which is itself a problem, and the claims are also quite often not true–a more obvious, but still prevalent, problem. What it amounts to is worshipful coverage, all the more so because Clinton hasn’t actually declared her candidacy yet. Reporters are jostling for and rewarding access, but since there are no real campaign stories to run yet we’re stuck with the scene-setting pieces. Jonathan Karl’s review, in today’s Wall Street Journal, of the latest book on Hillary leaves the impression it’s a book-length version of the problematic stories:

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This week’s publication of a new Hillary Clinton biography by the respected political reporters Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes brings into stark relief just how much Clinton’s theoretical, but expected presidential campaign affects political press coverage two and a half years out from Election Day. When I wrote last month about how Clinton finally seemed to bestow on us a legitimately perpetual campaign, I had noted only in passing the media dimension, such as Maggie Haberman’s profile in which she wrote that Clinton’s “legacy as the most powerful woman in the history of American politics is already secure”–a claim seemingly dashed off casually but which is not true.

That claim encapsulates the two major flaws of Hillary’s media coverage: reporters are tossing out declarations of world-historical status almost in habit, which is itself a problem, and the claims are also quite often not true–a more obvious, but still prevalent, problem. What it amounts to is worshipful coverage, all the more so because Clinton hasn’t actually declared her candidacy yet. Reporters are jostling for and rewarding access, but since there are no real campaign stories to run yet we’re stuck with the scene-setting pieces. Jonathan Karl’s review, in today’s Wall Street Journal, of the latest book on Hillary leaves the impression it’s a book-length version of the problematic stories:

There is some new reporting, but it’s buried in mixed metaphors and cliché-ridden praise of Mrs. Clinton’s brilliance.

Mr. Allen and Ms. Parnes appear to have fallen in love with their subject. “Hillary knows one gear: overdrive,” they write, adding that she is “like a veteran hitter who remains even-keeled under pressure, her steadiness is born of her experience.” She is “a woman who got up every time the world knocked her down” and is “unwavering in her support of the 21st century statecraft concept.” This is the kind of stuff that would make Mrs. Clinton’s image mavens blush.

Even those around her are described in almost heroic terms. One Hillary confidant is called “tough as a trident missile.” Long-time aide Huma Abedin, referred to throughout the book merely as “Huma,” is described as a “South Asian beauty with political smarts and an uncommonly subtle grace.”

The authors seem to question nothing they are told by the guardians of Mrs. Clinton’s image.

Later in the review, Karl touches on a subject that shows why these hagiographic scene-setting articles–and this case, a book–are so necessary to Clinton’s non-campaign campaign. He writes about how the authors mostly work to absolve Clinton of the blame for the Benghazi attacks. “She was responsible, but not to blame,” Karl quotes the book explaining. It’s a weak exoneration, to be sure, but also a terrible argument for giving someone with her record far more power: either she is neglectful in her executive oversight, or in charge but incompetent.

Nonetheless, Karl notes the authors’ recounting of Hillary’s successes:

They run through some of her more meaningful accomplishments: helping negotiate an end to military rule in Burma, building a coalition to support military intervention in Libya. But they seem almost as impressed with the iconic photograph of Mrs. Clinton wearing sunglasses and sitting in the middle of a C-17 reading her BlackBerry. The photo ended up on a Tumblr page called “Texts From Hillary” that—with its amusingly imagined messages from Hillary imposed over the iconic photo—the authors call “one of the most memorable, and politically valuable, episodes of Hillary’s four years at State.” Not the kind of thing that wins you a Nobel Peace Prize.

No, it isn’t. Burma was helpful, but it’s got a long way to go and there may in fact be ethnic cleansing taking place in parts of the country. But the point of the preceding paragraph is that for someone without any real accomplishments–and without question, Hillary Clinton is such a candidate–there is nothing left to run on but image.

Americans have seen this play before. In 2008, Barack Obama had no accomplishments, so he ran one of the most vapid and intellectually shallow campaigns in memory. Rather than serious arguments, voters were given a poster and told to repeat the word “hope” in cultish devotion. Clinton appears ready to run her version of the Obama poster: the image that forms the basis of a Tumblr page called “Texts from Hillary.” And the recent media coverage of Clinton shows that the Democratic candidate won’t be the only one repeating the campaign of 2008.

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Christie Hamstrung By Incumbency

The contradiction at the heart of Chris Christie’s successful reelection campaign was that he needed a convincing victory (or at least a victory) to keep his 2016 hopes going strong, yet an actual second term as governor was bound to be an obstacle to those same presidential aspirations in a host of predictable ways. One example was the fact that as governor, he would be restricted in raising much-needed campaign funds from Wall Street due to pay-to-play rules. This had local media speculating, with some justification, that even if Christie won he would be forced to resign to run for president.

Another, more prosaic obstacle would be the traditional second-term blues that term-limited political executives deal with routinely. The irony of Christie’s popularity in a blue state was that being on the ballot for governor made his ideas and policies more attractive than they might otherwise be in New Jersey. That precipitated a certain amount of cooperation from state Democrats, who were no match for Christie. But without him on the ballot anymore, Democrats in the state legislature could much more easily bog the governor down in every conceivable funding fight since lame-duck status drains politicians of at least some of their political capital.

Even before “bridgegate,” that is, Christie’s second term was likely to be a slog. The bridge-closing scandal, however, is not only adding to it but exacerbating the general weakness of his being in office while the Democrats’ most likely nominee in 2016, Hillary Clinton, isn’t. The headline of the New York Times piece detailing these efforts is a bit obvious: “Democrats Grab for a Chance to Halt Christie’s Rise.” Yes, well, no kidding. But the extent of the effort is illuminating:

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The contradiction at the heart of Chris Christie’s successful reelection campaign was that he needed a convincing victory (or at least a victory) to keep his 2016 hopes going strong, yet an actual second term as governor was bound to be an obstacle to those same presidential aspirations in a host of predictable ways. One example was the fact that as governor, he would be restricted in raising much-needed campaign funds from Wall Street due to pay-to-play rules. This had local media speculating, with some justification, that even if Christie won he would be forced to resign to run for president.

Another, more prosaic obstacle would be the traditional second-term blues that term-limited political executives deal with routinely. The irony of Christie’s popularity in a blue state was that being on the ballot for governor made his ideas and policies more attractive than they might otherwise be in New Jersey. That precipitated a certain amount of cooperation from state Democrats, who were no match for Christie. But without him on the ballot anymore, Democrats in the state legislature could much more easily bog the governor down in every conceivable funding fight since lame-duck status drains politicians of at least some of their political capital.

Even before “bridgegate,” that is, Christie’s second term was likely to be a slog. The bridge-closing scandal, however, is not only adding to it but exacerbating the general weakness of his being in office while the Democrats’ most likely nominee in 2016, Hillary Clinton, isn’t. The headline of the New York Times piece detailing these efforts is a bit obvious: “Democrats Grab for a Chance to Halt Christie’s Rise.” Yes, well, no kidding. But the extent of the effort is illuminating:

Democratic Party operatives have churned out 11 different videos depicting Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey as a revenge-happy gridlock maker who cannot keep his story straight.

They are unleashing attacks on any Republican in the country who dares to defend him publicly, from a potential Senate candidate in New Hampshire to a New York congressman.

And they are coordinating strategy at the highest levels of the party with a new standing agenda item on conference calls: how to undermine Mr. Christie, a top Republican prospect for reclaiming the White House.

As much as Mr. Christie’s current troubles are about the stumbling of a rising star in the Republican Party, they are driven, too, by emboldened Democrats who rue their passivity four months ago as Mr. Christie scored a landslide re-election victory, startling the party by securing support from traditionally left-leaning voter blocs.

Now, sensing a chance to redefine Mr. Christie for a national audience, those Democrats are determined to transform him into a toxic figure, whose name is synonymous with the ugliest elements of politics: partisan bullying and backslapping cronyism.

Christie was long seen by Democrats as the most formidable GOPer in 2016, so this is no surprise. But they’ve made clear that they aren’t taking the scandal’s recent toll on his presidential hopes for granted. Democrats seem to be betting that the scandal’s timing–at the beginning of the term–is giving the attention span-deprived public ample opportunity to forget about it two years from now.

They are also hoping to use it as a national distraction for the upcoming elections. ObamaCare’s disastrous rollout and constant stream of bad news means the Democrats will, for the most part, want to talk about anything else (aside from those who want to tout “fixes” to the law). Some of that will be transparently fabricated and tiresome, like the White House’s manufactured war on women. But in case voters are smarter than Democrats give them credit for, the left will need a backup plan. The bridgegate fiasco is a genuine scandal, as well as one that could still produce revelations.

But the specific focus on 2016 is yet another example of the permanent campaign. Or, as I wrote last month, the “end of the presidential campaign.” I was arguing that the possibility that Hillary Clinton might announce her intentions after this year’s midterm elections means there is no longer any real break in the process. That has relevance to the Christie story as well, because not only are the Democrats seeking to make the Christie scandal about 2016 (understandable, since their localized accusations are falling to pieces), but the fact that the Democrats’ preferred candidate is out of office and being supported by a “shadow campaign” gives them time and flexibility Christie simply doesn’t have as a sitting governor.

Whether they can succeed in making Christie toxic in other states’ races remains to be seen. But it’s no surprise they are exploiting his constraints as a sitting governor to try to prevent him from holding even higher office.

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Why Bridgegate Won’t Clear Jeb’s Path

Chris Christie’s “bridgegate” scandal had such an impact on the emerging 2016 GOP primary field not only because Christie was considered the early frontrunner but because of why he was considered the frontrunner. In addition to his advantage as a governor and his success in getting Democratic and minority votes, Christie was the 2016 candidate who was moderate enough to win prominent establishment backing but still conservative enough to envision winning the nomination.

Thus while the primary fight would no doubt be bruising, it was conceivable that the other categories–libertarian, religious conservative, defiant conservative firebrand, etc.–would be represented by more than one candidate and split the remaining vote. Christie, then, had both no competition and too much competition. I think this scenario always overestimated Christie’s odds at winning the nomination because at some point the competition would thin out and supporters would coalesce around fewer candidates, but there’s no question it made him a strong contender.

If Christie is no longer the frontrunner, that means there’s an opening for a “moderate” with conservative credentials. And that, in turn, means we’ll have a resurgence in speculation over whether Jeb Bush will run. Politico catches the latest, which was Bush’s radio interview yesterday mulling it over:

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Chris Christie’s “bridgegate” scandal had such an impact on the emerging 2016 GOP primary field not only because Christie was considered the early frontrunner but because of why he was considered the frontrunner. In addition to his advantage as a governor and his success in getting Democratic and minority votes, Christie was the 2016 candidate who was moderate enough to win prominent establishment backing but still conservative enough to envision winning the nomination.

Thus while the primary fight would no doubt be bruising, it was conceivable that the other categories–libertarian, religious conservative, defiant conservative firebrand, etc.–would be represented by more than one candidate and split the remaining vote. Christie, then, had both no competition and too much competition. I think this scenario always overestimated Christie’s odds at winning the nomination because at some point the competition would thin out and supporters would coalesce around fewer candidates, but there’s no question it made him a strong contender.

If Christie is no longer the frontrunner, that means there’s an opening for a “moderate” with conservative credentials. And that, in turn, means we’ll have a resurgence in speculation over whether Jeb Bush will run. Politico catches the latest, which was Bush’s radio interview yesterday mulling it over:

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush says he will make a decision on whether to run for president in 2016 at “the right time” — later this year.

“I don’t wake up each day saying, ‘Now what am I going [to] do today to make the decision?’ I’m deferring the decision to the right time, which is later this year,” Bush said in an interview Wednesday with Miami CBS affiliate WFOR.

The brother of former President George W. Bush and son of former President George H.W. Bush said he will make up his mind based on whether he can run an uplifting campaign.

Jeb Bush is also pushing back, ever so diplomatically, against his mother’s comments last year that “there are other families” besides the Bushes, and it’s time to give someone else a turn. After Jeb’s brother, George W. Bush, was asked about the comments by Jay Leno (and said his brother would make a great president), CNN quoted Jeb’s response: “Even when I was a teenager, I’d listen to her respectfully and never always followed what she said, even though she was probably right. And now at the age of 60, I really feel I don’t have to listen to every word she says,” he said, drawing laughs. “At some point you got to make these decisions like a grown up.”

But his name came up on Leno’s show again this week, in a more positive mention:

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner made his first ever appearance on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” on Thursday, just to get some facetime with Leno before he leaves the show on Feb. 6. …

Asked what he thought of the upcoming presidential race in 2016, Boehner said, “I’m not endorsing anybody. But Jeb Bush is my friend and, frankly, I think he’d make a great president.”

Jeb Bush not only has the gubernatorial success and moderate credentials to match those of Christie, but he is also thought to have the crossover appeal to voters outside the GOP’s traditional support blocs that Christie does. So it’s reasonable to assume that Bush, who in fact has picked fewer fights with the grassroots than Christie has, could step into Christie’s shoes. But does that make him, like Christie was thought to be, the frontrunner?

Probably not, because Bush’s path to the nomination would be complicated in a few ways. The most obvious is his last name, and the GOP, with a bevy of young stars, will probably only be more hesitant to nominate Bush now that it appears Hillary Clinton is the Democratic frontrunner. One advantage Republicans would have over Clinton is that she represents a bygone era both for the country in general and the Democratic Party in particular, having already spent eight years in the White House of a president with a very different political agenda than the one she served as secretary of state. It’s doubtful the grassroots, so opposed to the GOP’s history of next-in-linism, would be satisfied with a Bush-Clinton election.

Additionally, Christie wasn’t the only prospective candidate standing in Jeb Bush’s way. The general consensus was that either Bush or Marco Rubio would run in 2016, but not both. They served the same state and would thus split their constituency, most likely ensuring neither would win. Would the party prefer to run Jeb or Rubio? The latter seems the better bet at this point.

Competing with the senators won’t be easy, considering Rand Paul’s popularity and Ted Cruz’s Texas network. And the governors, like Scott Walker and Mike Pence, would thrive against a wounded (or absent) Christie. Luck has never been on Jeb Bush’s side with regard to the presidency: no one doubts his qualifications, experience, intelligence, diligence, or sense of service, to say nothing of his accomplishments in office in areas like education reform. But even with Christie weakened by bridgegate, his path to the presidency is strewn with roadblocks.

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