Commentary Magazine


Topic: Bob Dole

GOP Already Tried the Bob Dole Paradigm

Democrats are chortling about the latest round of grousing about the current Republican Party from those associated with its past. Bob Dole’s interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News this past weekend lent weight to one of the White House’s most important talking points about the GOP being in the hands of extremists. He said the Republican National Committee ought to put up a “closed for repairs” sign and blasted the current generation of the GOP as one that wouldn’t have accepted him or even conservative icon Ronald Reagan. But as much Dole deserves our respect for his sacrifice during World War Two and his lifelong service to his country, the idea that he is the sort of Republican politician that current members of Congress should emulate is ridiculous. There is a reason why you don’t see too many Dole-style types in the GOP these days: he was obsolete twenty years ago.

To say that Dole passed his best-used date is not to mock him for his age or infirmity. The fact that he is wheelchair-bound and losing his sight should grieve us all. He is the exemplar of the “greatest generation” veteran who nearly died as a result of his wounds and then spent nearly four decades in public life in the postwar era. He deserves every possible honor that his country can give him. But let’s get real. Dole was also an apt symbol of the failures of the self-proclaimed Eisenhower Republicans in Congress. His get-along-to-go-along style in which compromise always seemed to be the keynote was never going to fix the out-of-control growth of the federal government, it just managed it. As much as the abrasiveness of Ted Cruz makes many of us long for the more easygoing style of partisanship Dole practiced, there was a reason the GOP abandoned it: it didn’t work.

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Democrats are chortling about the latest round of grousing about the current Republican Party from those associated with its past. Bob Dole’s interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News this past weekend lent weight to one of the White House’s most important talking points about the GOP being in the hands of extremists. He said the Republican National Committee ought to put up a “closed for repairs” sign and blasted the current generation of the GOP as one that wouldn’t have accepted him or even conservative icon Ronald Reagan. But as much Dole deserves our respect for his sacrifice during World War Two and his lifelong service to his country, the idea that he is the sort of Republican politician that current members of Congress should emulate is ridiculous. There is a reason why you don’t see too many Dole-style types in the GOP these days: he was obsolete twenty years ago.

To say that Dole passed his best-used date is not to mock him for his age or infirmity. The fact that he is wheelchair-bound and losing his sight should grieve us all. He is the exemplar of the “greatest generation” veteran who nearly died as a result of his wounds and then spent nearly four decades in public life in the postwar era. He deserves every possible honor that his country can give him. But let’s get real. Dole was also an apt symbol of the failures of the self-proclaimed Eisenhower Republicans in Congress. His get-along-to-go-along style in which compromise always seemed to be the keynote was never going to fix the out-of-control growth of the federal government, it just managed it. As much as the abrasiveness of Ted Cruz makes many of us long for the more easygoing style of partisanship Dole practiced, there was a reason the GOP abandoned it: it didn’t work.

Republicans do need to spend time rethinking their strategies this year and as our Peter Wehner and Michael Gerson pointed out in their seminal COMMENTARY article on the subject earlier this year, there is plenty of room for change in the GOP. But whatever path the party ultimately chooses, the last thing they need to do is to channel the spirit Dole. That is, unless they want to repeat his legislative futility or his defeat in the 1996 presidential election.

Dole may still resent Newt Gingrich’s calling him the “tax collector for the welfare state” but the reason why that phrase stuck is that his generation of Republican leaders accepted the premise that their purpose was to work within the existing political structure rather than trying to tear it down and rebuild it. Dole was not the RINO some on the right thought and was, in his own way, as tart a partisan wag as any of his successors in the GOP caucus. But he also represented a spirit of accommodation that went beyond the schmoozing needed to pass legislation when both parties could agree. If the Republican Party moved in a different direction in the early 90’s with Gingrich’s Republican revolution and then later with the Tea Party that rejected the free-spending GOP of the George W. Bush era, it was because there are times when parties need people who will offer a genuine alternative rather than a willingness to compromise principles.

It is also foolish for Dole, or anyone else, to claim that Ronald Reagan would have been rejected by the current brand of Republicans. Reagan was the product of another era and was animated by different key issues such as the need to resist Communism. The paradigm of Cold war conservatism may be able to help today’s Republicans find their way in defending America against contemporary threats but, like it or not, foreign policy no longer defines most politicians. However, it needs to be understood that Reagan took his party as far to the right on domestic issues as he could in his day.

If today’s Republicans are able to articulate a more far-reaching critique of the government leviathan that Reagan despised, it is because they are standing on his shoulders. In Reagan’s days, the party was also divided between more ideological conservatives and the moderates, among whose number Dole was quite prominent. Dole was on the wrong side of that argument. If today’s Republicans reject his style of politics it is not a rejection of Reagan but a continuation of the spirit of conservatism that the 40th president embodied. To claim that he wouldn’t fit in among today’s Republicans makes as much sense as claiming John F. Kennedy or any other figure from the past wouldn’t fit in among today’s Democrats. It’s not so much wrong as it is a non sequitur.

For all of their faults, today’s Republicans, including the Tea Party and its firebrands like Cruz, are willing to articulate conservative principles in a way that can energize the party. If the GOP is ever to win back the White House it’s going to be under the leadership of someone who can tap into that enthusiasm, not a latter-day Eisenhower Republican. The party has already tried that course and failed several times. As much as we should venerate Dole as an elder statesman and war hero, the GOP needs to use his career as an example of what not to do more than anything else.

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The Biden-Hillary Switch: Don’t Scoff

Bob Woodward made news this week by asserting there is talk inside the Obama administration about saying goodbye to Joe Biden in 2012 and nominating Hillary Clinton in his stead as vice president for the Obama reelection bid. This revelation has been greeted with extreme skepticism by Obama-watchers like the Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder and others, who say it is not under consideration; Clinton and Robert Gibbs have issued flat denials. The skeptics say it’s been decades since anything like it was done. Gerald Ford swapped out Nelson Rockefeller for Bob Dole in 1976, but then neither Ford nor Rockefeller had actually been elected; Ford was brought in as veep after Spiro Agnew had to resign; only Franklin Roosevelt traded in vice presidents regularly, inadvertently blessing the country by doing so with Harry Truman in 1944, a decision that not only led to one of the most important and tough-minded presidencies in U.S. history but also saved  the nation from a President Henry Wallace, who proved himself, literally, a Communist stooge when he challenged Truman from the Left in 1948.

Fine, but that something hasn’t been done recently isn’t an argument. If one can say anything about Obama, it’s that he doesn’t follow precedent. And what this says to me is that he will almost certaintly consider something like it if he has reason to believe his reelection is in jeopardy in 2012. He was convinced to pick Joe Biden on the grounds that it would help him with working-class swing voters and because he couldn’t bring himself to pick Hillary in 2008. Biden has not been an asset; he hasn’t proved to be the national comic relief Dan Quayle was for George Bush the Elder, but that’s because the mainstream media are protective of the Obama administration. Biden could supply inadvertent daily hilarity, as he did yesterday by saying he would “strangle” a Republican if that imaginary Republican talked to him about closing the deficit. That he is not a national embarrassment is one mark of the way in which having a friendly media is a help to Obama.

Biden is not even as useful to Obama as Quayle was; Quayle did in fact do Bush some good by shoring up his boss’s support on the social-conservative Right when that could have melted down. Even so, recall that there was serious talk in 1992 of ditching Quayle for somebody else. Given that Bush scored 38 percent in November 1992, that Hail Mary play might have been of marginal utility to Bush, at least in the sense that it would have convinced voters he had a pulse, or wanted to do what it took to win, or wanted to change course, or something.

The problem with anointing Hillary would be the same as in 2008, I suppose; could Bill Clinton be kept from doing mischief? The answer would seem to be yes, since he is now the husband of the secretary of state and doesn’t seem to get much ink or be getting himself in too much trouble.

Anyway, if Obama needs to throw a change-up, and right now it’s looking like that’s a plausible thing, Hillary-for-Biden is as good a change-up as anything else one can think of. Biden could become a senior counselor or head of the DNC; he couldn’t become secretary of state, because that would be too cute. But then, who cares what Biden would be? Would Biden make trouble on his way out? That’s not his style. He would say it was his idea. He could go write a book, make television commercials, get nice and rich. A fine post-VP life.

Bob Woodward made news this week by asserting there is talk inside the Obama administration about saying goodbye to Joe Biden in 2012 and nominating Hillary Clinton in his stead as vice president for the Obama reelection bid. This revelation has been greeted with extreme skepticism by Obama-watchers like the Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder and others, who say it is not under consideration; Clinton and Robert Gibbs have issued flat denials. The skeptics say it’s been decades since anything like it was done. Gerald Ford swapped out Nelson Rockefeller for Bob Dole in 1976, but then neither Ford nor Rockefeller had actually been elected; Ford was brought in as veep after Spiro Agnew had to resign; only Franklin Roosevelt traded in vice presidents regularly, inadvertently blessing the country by doing so with Harry Truman in 1944, a decision that not only led to one of the most important and tough-minded presidencies in U.S. history but also saved  the nation from a President Henry Wallace, who proved himself, literally, a Communist stooge when he challenged Truman from the Left in 1948.

Fine, but that something hasn’t been done recently isn’t an argument. If one can say anything about Obama, it’s that he doesn’t follow precedent. And what this says to me is that he will almost certaintly consider something like it if he has reason to believe his reelection is in jeopardy in 2012. He was convinced to pick Joe Biden on the grounds that it would help him with working-class swing voters and because he couldn’t bring himself to pick Hillary in 2008. Biden has not been an asset; he hasn’t proved to be the national comic relief Dan Quayle was for George Bush the Elder, but that’s because the mainstream media are protective of the Obama administration. Biden could supply inadvertent daily hilarity, as he did yesterday by saying he would “strangle” a Republican if that imaginary Republican talked to him about closing the deficit. That he is not a national embarrassment is one mark of the way in which having a friendly media is a help to Obama.

Biden is not even as useful to Obama as Quayle was; Quayle did in fact do Bush some good by shoring up his boss’s support on the social-conservative Right when that could have melted down. Even so, recall that there was serious talk in 1992 of ditching Quayle for somebody else. Given that Bush scored 38 percent in November 1992, that Hail Mary play might have been of marginal utility to Bush, at least in the sense that it would have convinced voters he had a pulse, or wanted to do what it took to win, or wanted to change course, or something.

The problem with anointing Hillary would be the same as in 2008, I suppose; could Bill Clinton be kept from doing mischief? The answer would seem to be yes, since he is now the husband of the secretary of state and doesn’t seem to get much ink or be getting himself in too much trouble.

Anyway, if Obama needs to throw a change-up, and right now it’s looking like that’s a plausible thing, Hillary-for-Biden is as good a change-up as anything else one can think of. Biden could become a senior counselor or head of the DNC; he couldn’t become secretary of state, because that would be too cute. But then, who cares what Biden would be? Would Biden make trouble on his way out? That’s not his style. He would say it was his idea. He could go write a book, make television commercials, get nice and rich. A fine post-VP life.

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Whining About Whining

As the President and Vice President whine about the whining of their shrinking “base,” as being insufficiently appreciative of the superhuman efforts to confront our problems, they might remember the old saying that “in times like these, we should remember there have always been times like these.” Victor Davis Hanson writes that the problems Obama has faced have not, in fact, been worse than those that other presidents confronted as they entered the presidency:

A recession and 9/11 were not easy in 2001. And 18% interest, 18% inflation, 7% unemployment, and gas lines by 1981 greeted Reagan. Truman took over with a war … a wrecked Asia and Europe, a groundswell of communism, a climate of panic at home, and a soon to be nuclear Soviet Union … capped off soon by a war in Korea.

The President and Vice President might also reflect on the answer of the prior president, in his last press conference on January 12, 2009, when asked as to when Obama would feel the full impact of the presidency. Bush’s answer was “the minute he walks in the Oval Office,” but that:

… the phrase “burdens of the office” is overstated. You know, it’s kind of like, why me? Oh, the burdens, you know. Why did the financial collapse have to happen on my watch? It’s just — it’s pathetic, isn’t it, self-pity. And I don’t believe that President-Elect Obama will be full of self-pity. He will find — you know, your — the people that don’t like you, the critics, they’re pretty predictable. Sometimes the biggest disappointments will come from your so-called friends. And there will be disappointments, I promise you. He’ll be disappointed. On the other hand, the job is so exciting and so profound …

In Wisconsin yesterday, Obama repeated his constant refrain that he had arrived in Washington to “confront the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression” and blamed his current problems on an “opposition party … determined from the start to let us deal with the mess that they had done so much to create.”

And they figured, if we just sit on the sidelines and just say no and just throw bombs and let Obama and the Democrats deal with everything, they figured they might be able to prosper at the polls.

When politicians start whining about their fate and begin referring to themselves in the third person, it is a sign the campaign is not going well. Just ask Bob Dole, as Bob Dole might say.

As the President and Vice President whine about the whining of their shrinking “base,” as being insufficiently appreciative of the superhuman efforts to confront our problems, they might remember the old saying that “in times like these, we should remember there have always been times like these.” Victor Davis Hanson writes that the problems Obama has faced have not, in fact, been worse than those that other presidents confronted as they entered the presidency:

A recession and 9/11 were not easy in 2001. And 18% interest, 18% inflation, 7% unemployment, and gas lines by 1981 greeted Reagan. Truman took over with a war … a wrecked Asia and Europe, a groundswell of communism, a climate of panic at home, and a soon to be nuclear Soviet Union … capped off soon by a war in Korea.

The President and Vice President might also reflect on the answer of the prior president, in his last press conference on January 12, 2009, when asked as to when Obama would feel the full impact of the presidency. Bush’s answer was “the minute he walks in the Oval Office,” but that:

… the phrase “burdens of the office” is overstated. You know, it’s kind of like, why me? Oh, the burdens, you know. Why did the financial collapse have to happen on my watch? It’s just — it’s pathetic, isn’t it, self-pity. And I don’t believe that President-Elect Obama will be full of self-pity. He will find — you know, your — the people that don’t like you, the critics, they’re pretty predictable. Sometimes the biggest disappointments will come from your so-called friends. And there will be disappointments, I promise you. He’ll be disappointed. On the other hand, the job is so exciting and so profound …

In Wisconsin yesterday, Obama repeated his constant refrain that he had arrived in Washington to “confront the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression” and blamed his current problems on an “opposition party … determined from the start to let us deal with the mess that they had done so much to create.”

And they figured, if we just sit on the sidelines and just say no and just throw bombs and let Obama and the Democrats deal with everything, they figured they might be able to prosper at the polls.

When politicians start whining about their fate and begin referring to themselves in the third person, it is a sign the campaign is not going well. Just ask Bob Dole, as Bob Dole might say.

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Bizarro World

Geraldine Ferraro sounds like Ward Connerly:

As for Reagan Democrats, how Clinton was treated is not their issue. They are more concerned with how they have been treated. Since March, when I was accused of being racist for a statement I made about the influence of blacks on Obama’s historic campaign, people have been stopping me to express a common sentiment: If you’re white you can’t open your mouth without being accused of being racist. They see Obama’s playing the race card throughout the campaign and no one calling him for it as frightening. They’re not upset with Obama because he’s black; they’re upset because they don’t expect to be treated fairly because they’re white. It’s not racism that is driving them, it’s racial resentment. And that is enforced because they don’t believe he understands them and their problems. That when he said in South Carolina after his victory “Our Time Has Come” they believe he is telling them that their time has passed.

Terry McAuliffe sounds like Rich Lowry (or Bob Dole) on Scott McClellan:

I never like it when someone works for someone and then comes out and writes a book trashing them. . . . I don’t care if it is politics or life. If he was that upset about everything, he should have quit. Remember, Gerald Ford’s press secretary quit when he disagreed with pardoning, Ford pardoning Nixon. If you don’t agree, then get out. And I just, I find it abhorrent the way these people come out and write books about their boss. It made ‘em money, it made ‘em prestige, it gave them all this power, and then they turn around and slap ‘em. I just, I gotta tell you, I just uh, I don’t care who it is — Democrat, Republican — it’s wrong.

And Bill Clinton sounds like Brent Bozell on the Leftwing media conspiracy.

Next thing you know we will find out that “Obama, a University of Chicago intellectual, is in the unlikely position of seeming to have a closed, uninquisitive mind when it comes to Iraq.” In all seriousness, when the Democratic party lurches so far to the left (with the assistance and urging of much of the mainstream media), the political landscape may be so scrambled that the Clintons, Terry McAuliffe and Geraldine Ferraro–exemplars of the Democratic establishment with a political memory longer than a week–start sounding sane in comparison.

Geraldine Ferraro sounds like Ward Connerly:

As for Reagan Democrats, how Clinton was treated is not their issue. They are more concerned with how they have been treated. Since March, when I was accused of being racist for a statement I made about the influence of blacks on Obama’s historic campaign, people have been stopping me to express a common sentiment: If you’re white you can’t open your mouth without being accused of being racist. They see Obama’s playing the race card throughout the campaign and no one calling him for it as frightening. They’re not upset with Obama because he’s black; they’re upset because they don’t expect to be treated fairly because they’re white. It’s not racism that is driving them, it’s racial resentment. And that is enforced because they don’t believe he understands them and their problems. That when he said in South Carolina after his victory “Our Time Has Come” they believe he is telling them that their time has passed.

Terry McAuliffe sounds like Rich Lowry (or Bob Dole) on Scott McClellan:

I never like it when someone works for someone and then comes out and writes a book trashing them. . . . I don’t care if it is politics or life. If he was that upset about everything, he should have quit. Remember, Gerald Ford’s press secretary quit when he disagreed with pardoning, Ford pardoning Nixon. If you don’t agree, then get out. And I just, I find it abhorrent the way these people come out and write books about their boss. It made ‘em money, it made ‘em prestige, it gave them all this power, and then they turn around and slap ‘em. I just, I gotta tell you, I just uh, I don’t care who it is — Democrat, Republican — it’s wrong.

And Bill Clinton sounds like Brent Bozell on the Leftwing media conspiracy.

Next thing you know we will find out that “Obama, a University of Chicago intellectual, is in the unlikely position of seeming to have a closed, uninquisitive mind when it comes to Iraq.” In all seriousness, when the Democratic party lurches so far to the left (with the assistance and urging of much of the mainstream media), the political landscape may be so scrambled that the Clintons, Terry McAuliffe and Geraldine Ferraro–exemplars of the Democratic establishment with a political memory longer than a week–start sounding sane in comparison.

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Re: Clinton, McCain, and Obama: “We Stand United”

As Gordon has noted, today’s joint statement on Darfur, by Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain, places pressure on the next president to address the ongoing slaughter in Darfur come January. Let’s hope the conflict remains a “Day 1 issue”. For as Gordon also pointed out, nowhere in today’s statement, do the candidates refer to a specific plan to end the violence.

They used the term “unstinting resolve,” which would be assuring if countless issued statements on Darfur were not already riddled with such diplospeak. This August 2007 joint statement on Darfur from Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy called for “quick and decisive action.” This January 2007 joint statement issued by the World Health Organization and various UN departments speaks of “solid guarantees.” This joint statement on Darfur from back in 2004 signed by former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer and his New Zealand counterpart Phil Goff calls on governments to act “immediately and effectively.” This 2006 joint statement from Tony Blair and Chair of the African Union, Alpha Konare “strongly urge[d]” militias to stop fighting.

Yet, despite all these pleas, the UN has continued to defer to China, while the U.S. has continued to comply with the world’s request for multilateralism. Which means that nothing has been done. So it’s important to remember that, once upon a time, a genuine Darfur proposal was on the table: Senators John McCain and Bob Dole laid out a six-step course of action in 2006, including the establishment of a NATO-enforced no-fly zone.

Since then, global inaction has led to the slaying of untold numbers of innocents. We know that John McCain has long felt the urgent need to be forceful and decisive about the massacre in Darfur. It remains to be seen if Hillary and Obama feel the same, or are content to pen scathing reviews of the Sudanese government, its Chinese and Russian sponsors, and the Janjaweed militias.

As Gordon has noted, today’s joint statement on Darfur, by Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain, places pressure on the next president to address the ongoing slaughter in Darfur come January. Let’s hope the conflict remains a “Day 1 issue”. For as Gordon also pointed out, nowhere in today’s statement, do the candidates refer to a specific plan to end the violence.

They used the term “unstinting resolve,” which would be assuring if countless issued statements on Darfur were not already riddled with such diplospeak. This August 2007 joint statement on Darfur from Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy called for “quick and decisive action.” This January 2007 joint statement issued by the World Health Organization and various UN departments speaks of “solid guarantees.” This joint statement on Darfur from back in 2004 signed by former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer and his New Zealand counterpart Phil Goff calls on governments to act “immediately and effectively.” This 2006 joint statement from Tony Blair and Chair of the African Union, Alpha Konare “strongly urge[d]” militias to stop fighting.

Yet, despite all these pleas, the UN has continued to defer to China, while the U.S. has continued to comply with the world’s request for multilateralism. Which means that nothing has been done. So it’s important to remember that, once upon a time, a genuine Darfur proposal was on the table: Senators John McCain and Bob Dole laid out a six-step course of action in 2006, including the establishment of a NATO-enforced no-fly zone.

Since then, global inaction has led to the slaying of untold numbers of innocents. We know that John McCain has long felt the urgent need to be forceful and decisive about the massacre in Darfur. It remains to be seen if Hillary and Obama feel the same, or are content to pen scathing reviews of the Sudanese government, its Chinese and Russian sponsors, and the Janjaweed militias.

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The Scandal Lobby

It’s nice to have friends in high places. It’s not so nice to see those friends unfairly pilloried by journalists intent on collecting another scalp.

First it was Obama adviser Samantha Power, who was accused by some on the right of being anti-Israel on the basis of evidence that was, to put it charitably, ambiguous. Now it’s John McCain’s chief foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, who is being labeled as-gasp-a lobbyist. This heinous charge has been hauled out in the New York Times, USA Today, and now the Wall Street Journal.

There is a difference, of course: While Power is not really anti-Israel, Scheunemann really has been a lobbyist. The question is: What’s wrong with that?

All of the reporters who have written about the issue try to insinuate that something nefarious is going on without actually coming out and saying what it is. Today’s Wall Street Journal article by Mary Jacoby is a classic in the genre known in Washington as “appearance of a conflict of interest”-i.e., not an actual conflict but something that can be made to look that way through selective juxtaposition of acts.

Thus Jacoby notes that Randy has lobbied on behalf of Romania, Latvia, Georgia, and Macedonia while those countries were seeking admission to NATO. She then notes that McCain has been in favor of admitting all those countries to NATO. The inference readers are supposed to draw is that there is something untoward going on here. Only in the final line of the article do we get the evidence that dispels these insinuations:

“Sen. McCain’s been for NATO enlargement since the mid-1990s,” said Mr. Rogers, the McCain spokesman. “His record speaks for itself.”

In other words, McCain (whose campaign I advise on foreign policy issues) was in favor of NATO expansion long before Randy was lobbying on those issues. Anyone who knows either McCain or Scheunemann would laugh at the notion that their support for the embattled democracies of Eastern and Southern Europe is the result of payoffs from those countries.

Randy represents those emerging democracies because he believes in expanding freedom-something that he has pushed for in other contexts without earning any money for it. He was, for instance, one of the founders of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. Randy has been pushing for NATO expansion since the mid-1990s when he was not a lobbyist at all but Senator Bob Dole’s chief foreign policy adviser.

Unlike some other lobbyists, he doesn’t represent dictatorial or anti-American regimes. And he is so dedicated to McCain that he spent the period between June of 2007 and March of 2008 working as his chief foreign policy adviser for free. Now he has given up his lobbying income to work on the campaign for a fraction of what he was earning.

Again: What is it exactly that he has done wrong? USA Today writes:

While not illegal or a breach of Senate ethics rules, Scheunemann’s lobbying of McCain’s staff as he was advising the campaign comes to light a week after McCain announced a new policy to avoid such conflicts. The new conflict-of-interest policy prohibits campaign workers from being registered lobbyists or foreign agents and bans part-time volunteers from policy discussions on issues involving their clients. Campaign spokesman Jill Hazelbaker said the ethics policy is not retroactive.

So what Randy has done is not illegal. It’s also not unethical under Senate ethics rules or the more stringent ethics rules of the McCain campaign. Now that the candidate has banned lobbyists from the campaign, Scheunemann has stopped lobbying. Which suggests that there is no story here.

Or perhaps that the real story is that reporters are so desperate to bring McCain down a notch that they will try to concoct nonexistent scandals about his aides. The fact that, outside of Mickey Kaus’s blog, there is a notable lack of outrage over Senator Obama picking a major lobbyist to lead his vice presidential search effort only makes the artificiality of this non-scandal all the more apparent.

It’s nice to have friends in high places. It’s not so nice to see those friends unfairly pilloried by journalists intent on collecting another scalp.

First it was Obama adviser Samantha Power, who was accused by some on the right of being anti-Israel on the basis of evidence that was, to put it charitably, ambiguous. Now it’s John McCain’s chief foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, who is being labeled as-gasp-a lobbyist. This heinous charge has been hauled out in the New York Times, USA Today, and now the Wall Street Journal.

There is a difference, of course: While Power is not really anti-Israel, Scheunemann really has been a lobbyist. The question is: What’s wrong with that?

All of the reporters who have written about the issue try to insinuate that something nefarious is going on without actually coming out and saying what it is. Today’s Wall Street Journal article by Mary Jacoby is a classic in the genre known in Washington as “appearance of a conflict of interest”-i.e., not an actual conflict but something that can be made to look that way through selective juxtaposition of acts.

Thus Jacoby notes that Randy has lobbied on behalf of Romania, Latvia, Georgia, and Macedonia while those countries were seeking admission to NATO. She then notes that McCain has been in favor of admitting all those countries to NATO. The inference readers are supposed to draw is that there is something untoward going on here. Only in the final line of the article do we get the evidence that dispels these insinuations:

“Sen. McCain’s been for NATO enlargement since the mid-1990s,” said Mr. Rogers, the McCain spokesman. “His record speaks for itself.”

In other words, McCain (whose campaign I advise on foreign policy issues) was in favor of NATO expansion long before Randy was lobbying on those issues. Anyone who knows either McCain or Scheunemann would laugh at the notion that their support for the embattled democracies of Eastern and Southern Europe is the result of payoffs from those countries.

Randy represents those emerging democracies because he believes in expanding freedom-something that he has pushed for in other contexts without earning any money for it. He was, for instance, one of the founders of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. Randy has been pushing for NATO expansion since the mid-1990s when he was not a lobbyist at all but Senator Bob Dole’s chief foreign policy adviser.

Unlike some other lobbyists, he doesn’t represent dictatorial or anti-American regimes. And he is so dedicated to McCain that he spent the period between June of 2007 and March of 2008 working as his chief foreign policy adviser for free. Now he has given up his lobbying income to work on the campaign for a fraction of what he was earning.

Again: What is it exactly that he has done wrong? USA Today writes:

While not illegal or a breach of Senate ethics rules, Scheunemann’s lobbying of McCain’s staff as he was advising the campaign comes to light a week after McCain announced a new policy to avoid such conflicts. The new conflict-of-interest policy prohibits campaign workers from being registered lobbyists or foreign agents and bans part-time volunteers from policy discussions on issues involving their clients. Campaign spokesman Jill Hazelbaker said the ethics policy is not retroactive.

So what Randy has done is not illegal. It’s also not unethical under Senate ethics rules or the more stringent ethics rules of the McCain campaign. Now that the candidate has banned lobbyists from the campaign, Scheunemann has stopped lobbying. Which suggests that there is no story here.

Or perhaps that the real story is that reporters are so desperate to bring McCain down a notch that they will try to concoct nonexistent scandals about his aides. The fact that, outside of Mickey Kaus’s blog, there is a notable lack of outrage over Senator Obama picking a major lobbyist to lead his vice presidential search effort only makes the artificiality of this non-scandal all the more apparent.

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Klein’s Mad Again

Joe Klein is upset yet again–this time at Senator Joseph Lieberman. The source of his consternation is an interview Lieberman gave to Wolf Blitzer on CNN. When asked about a Hamas spokesman’s endorsement of Obama, Lieberman said that

John McCain obviously knows and has said that Senator Obama clearly doesn’t support any of the values or goals of Hamas. But the fact that the spokesperson for Hamas would say they would welcome the election of Senator Obama really does raise the question “Why?” and it suggests the difference between these two candidates.

According to Klein, Lieberman is

smearing Barack Obama re Hamas. He is entitled to his views about the Middle East, but for the past five years he has taken those Likudnik views a step beyond propriety–saying that those who disagree with him (i.e.–the Democratic Party, which nominated him for the Vice Presidency in 2000) are counseling “defeat” and “surrender.” And now this.  I wish Blitzer had been a bit more dogged and asked: “What could you possibly mean by that, Senator Lieberman–and please be specific. Why do you think Hamas “favors” Obama over McCain? What are you implying here, Senator?

Now one might believe Lieberman is wrong in what he said, but it is hardly a smear. In fact, Lieberman goes out of his way to stress that Obama does not share the values or goals of Hamas. His argument is a completely legitimate one: Obama would pursue policies that would (unintentionally) advance the aims of Hamas. It’s the flipside of an argument I presume Klein endorses: Bush’s policies–from Iraq to Guantanamo Bay to water-boarding–have helped the jihadists cause rather than hurt it.

It’s not a smear to make the argument that the policies of a President will have real-world consequences–in some instances making life easier for our enemies, and in some instances making life harder for our enemies. Is it unreasonable to conclude that the leaders of the Soviet Union were rooting for Carter in 1980 and Mondale in 1984?

Likewise, it’s perfectly legitimate to argue that the policy Barack Obama embraces would lead to an American surrender and defeat in Iraq–just as it’s perfectly legitimate to argue that McCain’s policies would harm American interests. Political campaigns are supposed to be about such matters.

This is all part of what is becoming an increasingly tiresome reflex within the media and which Klein embodies as well as anyone. When Lanny Davis said that Obama’s relationship to Jeremiah Wright was a legitimate, troubling issue, Klein accused Davis of “spreading the poison.” Now Lieberman’s argument that it’s worth asking why Hamas would rather see Obama than McCain as President is a “smear.” And next week if Lindsey Graham criticizes Obama’s willingness to meet with President Ahmadinejad without preconditions, I suppose we can expect Klein to charge Graham with “character assassination.”

For a fellow who likes to rip the hide off of his critics, Klein has developed some fairly thin skin. Years ago Bob Dole asked, “Where’s the outrage?” The answer, is appears, can be found in the writing of Joe Klein. Outrage seems to be a perennial state for him these days.

Joe Klein is upset yet again–this time at Senator Joseph Lieberman. The source of his consternation is an interview Lieberman gave to Wolf Blitzer on CNN. When asked about a Hamas spokesman’s endorsement of Obama, Lieberman said that

John McCain obviously knows and has said that Senator Obama clearly doesn’t support any of the values or goals of Hamas. But the fact that the spokesperson for Hamas would say they would welcome the election of Senator Obama really does raise the question “Why?” and it suggests the difference between these two candidates.

According to Klein, Lieberman is

smearing Barack Obama re Hamas. He is entitled to his views about the Middle East, but for the past five years he has taken those Likudnik views a step beyond propriety–saying that those who disagree with him (i.e.–the Democratic Party, which nominated him for the Vice Presidency in 2000) are counseling “defeat” and “surrender.” And now this.  I wish Blitzer had been a bit more dogged and asked: “What could you possibly mean by that, Senator Lieberman–and please be specific. Why do you think Hamas “favors” Obama over McCain? What are you implying here, Senator?

Now one might believe Lieberman is wrong in what he said, but it is hardly a smear. In fact, Lieberman goes out of his way to stress that Obama does not share the values or goals of Hamas. His argument is a completely legitimate one: Obama would pursue policies that would (unintentionally) advance the aims of Hamas. It’s the flipside of an argument I presume Klein endorses: Bush’s policies–from Iraq to Guantanamo Bay to water-boarding–have helped the jihadists cause rather than hurt it.

It’s not a smear to make the argument that the policies of a President will have real-world consequences–in some instances making life easier for our enemies, and in some instances making life harder for our enemies. Is it unreasonable to conclude that the leaders of the Soviet Union were rooting for Carter in 1980 and Mondale in 1984?

Likewise, it’s perfectly legitimate to argue that the policy Barack Obama embraces would lead to an American surrender and defeat in Iraq–just as it’s perfectly legitimate to argue that McCain’s policies would harm American interests. Political campaigns are supposed to be about such matters.

This is all part of what is becoming an increasingly tiresome reflex within the media and which Klein embodies as well as anyone. When Lanny Davis said that Obama’s relationship to Jeremiah Wright was a legitimate, troubling issue, Klein accused Davis of “spreading the poison.” Now Lieberman’s argument that it’s worth asking why Hamas would rather see Obama than McCain as President is a “smear.” And next week if Lindsey Graham criticizes Obama’s willingness to meet with President Ahmadinejad without preconditions, I suppose we can expect Klein to charge Graham with “character assassination.”

For a fellow who likes to rip the hide off of his critics, Klein has developed some fairly thin skin. Years ago Bob Dole asked, “Where’s the outrage?” The answer, is appears, can be found in the writing of Joe Klein. Outrage seems to be a perennial state for him these days.

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The Deceptive Security Of Early Polls

Internal GOP polling shows John McCain leading both of his potential rivals and enjoying a healthy advantage among independents. However–and this is a big however–GOP consultants do not expect this lead to withstand a post-nomination bump in the numbers of whomever the Democrats nominate.

The report suggests the GOP consultants are pleased to see McCain running ahead in a mythical “generic Republican vs. generic Democrat” race. But that’s consultant-think: he has to come out ahead of his real opponent. Poll-wonks are convinced that McCain’s advantage lies in his atypical GOP profile and his personal characteristics: even Democratic polling reveals that McCain’s greatest strength is his reputation as “a man of integrity.”

But herein lies a trap for the McCain team: the temptation to run on biography alone. Biographical campaigns did not treat Bob Dole or John Kerry well. And it seems foolhardy to say “We’ll take the biography; let the Democrats take the issues.” The danger with that is that Americans will end up voting for the candidate speaking to their issues and concerns. (It may also overlook the lesson of Rudy Giuliani’s campaign: sky high early polling numbers for a national hero can melt away overnight.)

Moreover, such a tactic may misinterpret why McCain is ahead, even preliminarily, and why his public approval ratings are high. McCain enraged the Right but endeared himself to others during his career not because of his war record but because of the stands he took on issues. By combining traditional Republican virtues (e.g. spending restraint) with decidedly unconventional positions (e.g. campaign reform, immigration reform and global warming) he carved out an identity entirely apart from his war record. To now revert to a mushy, issue-less appeal would risk discarding that carefully-constructed advantage.

But the race has not yet begun, an opponent has not yet been selected, and the chance for the McCain team to make the race about something still remains. Or they could just re-run the Dole campaign and hope for the best.

Internal GOP polling shows John McCain leading both of his potential rivals and enjoying a healthy advantage among independents. However–and this is a big however–GOP consultants do not expect this lead to withstand a post-nomination bump in the numbers of whomever the Democrats nominate.

The report suggests the GOP consultants are pleased to see McCain running ahead in a mythical “generic Republican vs. generic Democrat” race. But that’s consultant-think: he has to come out ahead of his real opponent. Poll-wonks are convinced that McCain’s advantage lies in his atypical GOP profile and his personal characteristics: even Democratic polling reveals that McCain’s greatest strength is his reputation as “a man of integrity.”

But herein lies a trap for the McCain team: the temptation to run on biography alone. Biographical campaigns did not treat Bob Dole or John Kerry well. And it seems foolhardy to say “We’ll take the biography; let the Democrats take the issues.” The danger with that is that Americans will end up voting for the candidate speaking to their issues and concerns. (It may also overlook the lesson of Rudy Giuliani’s campaign: sky high early polling numbers for a national hero can melt away overnight.)

Moreover, such a tactic may misinterpret why McCain is ahead, even preliminarily, and why his public approval ratings are high. McCain enraged the Right but endeared himself to others during his career not because of his war record but because of the stands he took on issues. By combining traditional Republican virtues (e.g. spending restraint) with decidedly unconventional positions (e.g. campaign reform, immigration reform and global warming) he carved out an identity entirely apart from his war record. To now revert to a mushy, issue-less appeal would risk discarding that carefully-constructed advantage.

But the race has not yet begun, an opponent has not yet been selected, and the chance for the McCain team to make the race about something still remains. Or they could just re-run the Dole campaign and hope for the best.

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McCain’s Dilemma

Others have noted that John McCain faces a challenge staying in the news: he’s fencing with no same-party opponent. This is especially acute for a candidate, like McCain, who does best as a counterpuncher–taking Mitt Romney to task for negative ads in New Hampshire, for example. McCain has nevertheless has tried to respond to every attack. And he’s struggled to keep the heat on his most likely election opponent, Barack Obama.

With help from unlikely sources he has succeeded at this, to some degree. And he’s at it again today. However, the danger of demanding “personal apologies” from Obama for statements made by surrogates is a two-edged sword. It might force McCain to atone for the sins of his off-message associates later in the race. And there is a point at which apology-seeking begins to sound like whining. Petulance has never been an attractive quality in a candidate. If Obama is not “living up” to his ideals, there are plenty of ways for McCain to make the point. (Preferably not Bob Dole’s “Stop lying about my record.”) Pleading for a sorry doesn’t seem especially effective–or presidential.

Others have noted that John McCain faces a challenge staying in the news: he’s fencing with no same-party opponent. This is especially acute for a candidate, like McCain, who does best as a counterpuncher–taking Mitt Romney to task for negative ads in New Hampshire, for example. McCain has nevertheless has tried to respond to every attack. And he’s struggled to keep the heat on his most likely election opponent, Barack Obama.

With help from unlikely sources he has succeeded at this, to some degree. And he’s at it again today. However, the danger of demanding “personal apologies” from Obama for statements made by surrogates is a two-edged sword. It might force McCain to atone for the sins of his off-message associates later in the race. And there is a point at which apology-seeking begins to sound like whining. Petulance has never been an attractive quality in a candidate. If Obama is not “living up” to his ideals, there are plenty of ways for McCain to make the point. (Preferably not Bob Dole’s “Stop lying about my record.”) Pleading for a sorry doesn’t seem especially effective–or presidential.

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Romney’s Dilemma

Mitt Romney’s campaign would love nothing better than for the Republican base to follow the direction of many of the talk show hosts and conservative opinion makers who despise McCain. But not really. The trap he is in is this: the McCain haters (like Ann Coulter) say that McCain is so bad Republicans should not support him if he is the nominee. Romney can’t and won’t say that. So he winds up having to disavow his new best friends.

It happened again today. The Romney team sent around a clip of James Dobson, the leader of Focus on the Family, being interviewed by Laura Ingraham (she also has been tearing into McCain for, among other things, changing his position on embryonic stem cell research). Dobson ripped into McCain on stem cell research, the Gang of 14, and the like and concluded : “Given these and many other concerns, a spoonful of sugar does not make the medicine go down. I cannot, and I will not vote for Sen. John McCain, as a matter of conscience.” (He clarifies that he would simply not vote, rather than vote for the Democratic nominee.)

I asked Romney spokesman Kevin Madden if by sending the email around he was encouraging others to follow Dobson’s lead. Apparently not. He responded: “Gov. Romney has said he will support the Republican nominee.” So what really is the point? It is fairly plain: to scare conservatives and to ingratiate himself with his base, the angry talk show set.

And on the other Romney gaffe of the day, he apparently did try to call Bob Dole. I assume it was to apologize and not to say ” And I really meant you’re the last guy I’d want supporting me!”

Mitt Romney’s campaign would love nothing better than for the Republican base to follow the direction of many of the talk show hosts and conservative opinion makers who despise McCain. But not really. The trap he is in is this: the McCain haters (like Ann Coulter) say that McCain is so bad Republicans should not support him if he is the nominee. Romney can’t and won’t say that. So he winds up having to disavow his new best friends.

It happened again today. The Romney team sent around a clip of James Dobson, the leader of Focus on the Family, being interviewed by Laura Ingraham (she also has been tearing into McCain for, among other things, changing his position on embryonic stem cell research). Dobson ripped into McCain on stem cell research, the Gang of 14, and the like and concluded : “Given these and many other concerns, a spoonful of sugar does not make the medicine go down. I cannot, and I will not vote for Sen. John McCain, as a matter of conscience.” (He clarifies that he would simply not vote, rather than vote for the Democratic nominee.)

I asked Romney spokesman Kevin Madden if by sending the email around he was encouraging others to follow Dobson’s lead. Apparently not. He responded: “Gov. Romney has said he will support the Republican nominee.” So what really is the point? It is fairly plain: to scare conservatives and to ingratiate himself with his base, the angry talk show set.

And on the other Romney gaffe of the day, he apparently did try to call Bob Dole. I assume it was to apologize and not to say ” And I really meant you’re the last guy I’d want supporting me!”

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At Least We Know Their Priorities

Some saner heads ask of the McCain villifiers: “Don’t they care about the greatest issue of our time anymore?” It’s one thing to try to mount an argument that Mitt Romney would be as strong a commander in chief as McCain (no easy task, which explains why they have stopped trying, but a respectable undertaking), but quite another to say, “Oh, Hillary — who we know wants to scramble out of Iraq — would be just as good a President.” You are left to conclude that the most vocal and frenzied voices simply cannot abide by someone who does not love them, as a commentator candidly observed.

Where is Romney in all this? Romney himself seems lost and dwarfed by the fury he has unleashed. He is, after all, nearly irrelevant to the argument which his nominal supporters are making. He is reduced to denigrating another war hero and conservative (not a great candidate, but undeserving of opprobrium from the likes of a man who cannot decide whether he ever wanted to serve in the military): Bob Dole. A few have kept their heads, but not many.

Some saner heads ask of the McCain villifiers: “Don’t they care about the greatest issue of our time anymore?” It’s one thing to try to mount an argument that Mitt Romney would be as strong a commander in chief as McCain (no easy task, which explains why they have stopped trying, but a respectable undertaking), but quite another to say, “Oh, Hillary — who we know wants to scramble out of Iraq — would be just as good a President.” You are left to conclude that the most vocal and frenzied voices simply cannot abide by someone who does not love them, as a commentator candidly observed.

Where is Romney in all this? Romney himself seems lost and dwarfed by the fury he has unleashed. He is, after all, nearly irrelevant to the argument which his nominal supporters are making. He is reduced to denigrating another war hero and conservative (not a great candidate, but undeserving of opprobrium from the likes of a man who cannot decide whether he ever wanted to serve in the military): Bob Dole. A few have kept their heads, but not many.

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The Voters Will Eventually Have The Last Word

As we wrapped up the day before Super Tuesday, it was an anti-McCain-fest from the Romney camp and his supporters. Talk radio and bloggers kept up the drum beat against McCain, bashing everyone from former GOP Presidential nominee and Senator Bob Dole to respected conservative journalists. The voice of (French) reason could nevertheless still be heard/read. (And yes, there is very little pro-Romney rhetoric being voiced by the McCain foes, perhaps an indication as to why McCain has been able to build a 20 point lead in national polls. It is hard to beat someone with simply a “not him” argument, no matter how loudly one argues.)

Although his own campaign clarified last week that Romney did not support Ann Coulter’s declaration that McCain and Hillary Clinton were politically identical, Romney released his own ad asserting they really were and contending, among other things, that both Clinton and McCain opposed the appointment of conservative judges. (Justices Alito and Roberts, whom McCain vigorously supported, don’t qualify as conservative?) McCain finally hit back with a TV ad pointing out that Romney’s infatuation with Ronald Reagan is of recent vintage.

What to say? There will eventually be a winner and a general election. If McCain does prevail and win the nomination, even some of the harshest critics will reverse course and support the GOP nominee they excoriated. Others will sulk, perhaps denying needed votes in a close general election.

Mostly, the role of much of the conservative new media will be clarified. The distinction between provocative discussion and electoral influence will be laid bare. It is one thing to provide an alternate source of information for conservatives, help shape policy debates and correct imbalances in the mainstream media; it is quite another to assume that a majority of Republican voters will follow ballot box advice. Clarity is important.

As we wrapped up the day before Super Tuesday, it was an anti-McCain-fest from the Romney camp and his supporters. Talk radio and bloggers kept up the drum beat against McCain, bashing everyone from former GOP Presidential nominee and Senator Bob Dole to respected conservative journalists. The voice of (French) reason could nevertheless still be heard/read. (And yes, there is very little pro-Romney rhetoric being voiced by the McCain foes, perhaps an indication as to why McCain has been able to build a 20 point lead in national polls. It is hard to beat someone with simply a “not him” argument, no matter how loudly one argues.)

Although his own campaign clarified last week that Romney did not support Ann Coulter’s declaration that McCain and Hillary Clinton were politically identical, Romney released his own ad asserting they really were and contending, among other things, that both Clinton and McCain opposed the appointment of conservative judges. (Justices Alito and Roberts, whom McCain vigorously supported, don’t qualify as conservative?) McCain finally hit back with a TV ad pointing out that Romney’s infatuation with Ronald Reagan is of recent vintage.

What to say? There will eventually be a winner and a general election. If McCain does prevail and win the nomination, even some of the harshest critics will reverse course and support the GOP nominee they excoriated. Others will sulk, perhaps denying needed votes in a close general election.

Mostly, the role of much of the conservative new media will be clarified. The distinction between provocative discussion and electoral influence will be laid bare. It is one thing to provide an alternate source of information for conservatives, help shape policy debates and correct imbalances in the mainstream media; it is quite another to assume that a majority of Republican voters will follow ballot box advice. Clarity is important.

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Romney Plays Dole

The Fox exit polling reveals some additional good news for John McCain. He tied Romney with 33 percent among those who called themselves Republicans. (There’s a little confusion over this, because the primary was open only to people who registered as Republicans. Every vote McCain received was a Republican vote by the most basic definition. However, some of those who registered and voted as Republicans described themselves as independents to exit pollsters.)

He beat Romney 40-32 among those whose top issue was the economy and he won among evangelicals 30 to 29 (Romney and Huckabee both got 29). McCain won by a wide margin among Cubans and other Hispanics. The more complete data provided by CNN shows that McCain won among those who are “somewhat conservative,” although not among those who are “very conservative.” McCain won narrowly with voters under 65 and by a large margin with those over 65. In short, it was an impressive and broad based win that shows some fundamental strength in McCain’s appeal across different segments of the party.

Mitt Romney obviously spent some time poring over the exit polls as well and did not find much to cheer him up. He appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe show and seemed a bit Bob Dole-ish (“stop lying about my record,” Bob Dole said bitterly on primary night 1988 in New Hampshire when asked by Tom Brokaw what he would say to George Bush, who had just won). Romney spent most of the show complaining about hostile recorded phone messages paid for by the McCain campaign. Not only does this seem to be a case of sour grapes, but it is a bit cheeky for a guy who had a TV ad advantage of 10 to 1 over his opponent to complain about some robo-calls.

On more substantive matters, two things were of interest. First, Romney is genuinely peeved about the accusation that in an April 2007 Good Morning America interview he spoke out in favor of a secret timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. The problem for Romney is that he can spend the next week talking about this, but that will open up the entire issue of his cagey position on the surge and highlight McCain’s strongest issue to the conservative base.

Second, he expressed puzzlement at the exit polling showing he lost on the issue of the economy to McCain. He did not have a good answer to this troubling phenomenon, but it could hardly have come as a surprise, since he lost to McCain on this issue in New Hampshire as well. In general, Romney did not sound like he was entirely confident he could turn this around, acknowledging McCain is “in a good position” and “we will see where the process takes us forward.” It is not easy to figure out how he might slow down McCain, but this was not was not a promising start for his supporters.

The Fox exit polling reveals some additional good news for John McCain. He tied Romney with 33 percent among those who called themselves Republicans. (There’s a little confusion over this, because the primary was open only to people who registered as Republicans. Every vote McCain received was a Republican vote by the most basic definition. However, some of those who registered and voted as Republicans described themselves as independents to exit pollsters.)

He beat Romney 40-32 among those whose top issue was the economy and he won among evangelicals 30 to 29 (Romney and Huckabee both got 29). McCain won by a wide margin among Cubans and other Hispanics. The more complete data provided by CNN shows that McCain won among those who are “somewhat conservative,” although not among those who are “very conservative.” McCain won narrowly with voters under 65 and by a large margin with those over 65. In short, it was an impressive and broad based win that shows some fundamental strength in McCain’s appeal across different segments of the party.

Mitt Romney obviously spent some time poring over the exit polls as well and did not find much to cheer him up. He appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe show and seemed a bit Bob Dole-ish (“stop lying about my record,” Bob Dole said bitterly on primary night 1988 in New Hampshire when asked by Tom Brokaw what he would say to George Bush, who had just won). Romney spent most of the show complaining about hostile recorded phone messages paid for by the McCain campaign. Not only does this seem to be a case of sour grapes, but it is a bit cheeky for a guy who had a TV ad advantage of 10 to 1 over his opponent to complain about some robo-calls.

On more substantive matters, two things were of interest. First, Romney is genuinely peeved about the accusation that in an April 2007 Good Morning America interview he spoke out in favor of a secret timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. The problem for Romney is that he can spend the next week talking about this, but that will open up the entire issue of his cagey position on the surge and highlight McCain’s strongest issue to the conservative base.

Second, he expressed puzzlement at the exit polling showing he lost on the issue of the economy to McCain. He did not have a good answer to this troubling phenomenon, but it could hardly have come as a surprise, since he lost to McCain on this issue in New Hampshire as well. In general, Romney did not sound like he was entirely confident he could turn this around, acknowledging McCain is “in a good position” and “we will see where the process takes us forward.” It is not easy to figure out how he might slow down McCain, but this was not was not a promising start for his supporters.

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John McCain’s Appointment in South Carolina

Sometimes, the Republican party picks a nominee when it’s that nominee’s turn. The person has to be vetted out by a round or two in the presidential race. Ronald Reagan got the nomination in 1980 after losing it in 1976; George H. W. Bush earned the nomination in 1988 after losing it in 1980. Bob Dole was the GOP nominee in 1996 after losing in 1988. We don’t yet know if John McCain is going to the general election, but after the free-for-all of the Republican race so far, a sense of coalescence has set in with his victory in South Carolina.

There are clues to be read amongst pundits and GOP officials that McCain’s failings as a conservative ideologue are no longer of primary importance to his detractors and that his strengths as a leader may be have come center-stage. Recent editorials have tried to deflate any conservative expectations that a great Reagan purist will come to save the party, and McCain is steadily garnering the noticeable support of the top Republican establishment. Something has been conferred upon John McCain that feels unlike any of the “surges” or “moments” of the Democratic frontrunners. It just may be his turn.

Sometimes, the Republican party picks a nominee when it’s that nominee’s turn. The person has to be vetted out by a round or two in the presidential race. Ronald Reagan got the nomination in 1980 after losing it in 1976; George H. W. Bush earned the nomination in 1988 after losing it in 1980. Bob Dole was the GOP nominee in 1996 after losing in 1988. We don’t yet know if John McCain is going to the general election, but after the free-for-all of the Republican race so far, a sense of coalescence has set in with his victory in South Carolina.

There are clues to be read amongst pundits and GOP officials that McCain’s failings as a conservative ideologue are no longer of primary importance to his detractors and that his strengths as a leader may be have come center-stage. Recent editorials have tried to deflate any conservative expectations that a great Reagan purist will come to save the party, and McCain is steadily garnering the noticeable support of the top Republican establishment. Something has been conferred upon John McCain that feels unlike any of the “surges” or “moments” of the Democratic frontrunners. It just may be his turn.

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Hillary: Not Dead Yet

While I share Pete Wehner’s enthusiasm for the possible demise of the Clinton era, I think dancing on Hillary Clinton’s political grave is premature. Yes, the latest USA Today survey has Obama up by a remarkable 13 points. But she is not dead yet. New Hampshire has a long history of embarrassing frontrunners (Gary Hart over Walter Mondale in 1984, Pat Buchanan over Bob Dole in 1996, John McCain over George W. Bush in 2000). Clinton also retains 20-point-plus leads in California, New York, and Florida. Like her once commanding New Hampshire lead, these could evaporate on Wednesday. But don’t forget that she still has more money than anyone in the campaign and deep, embedded support in key states. If, after Tuesday, the race comes down to just Obama and Clinton, we might see a real contest of “new versus experience.” More fascinating will be Democratic organizers scrambling to split their base: Obama’s team driving African American voters, Hillary calling on unmarried women. Judging by the last week alone, it is remarkable that Clinton, with her mix of self-righteousness and unpleasantness ever managed to be the dominant candidate. Yet it also clear from her performance this weekend that she is not giving up quietly. An Obama win on Tuesday may give him strength in Michigan and South Carolina, but the battles in Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and California could be mean, epic Democratic warfare, where Hillary’s experience really does matter.

While I share Pete Wehner’s enthusiasm for the possible demise of the Clinton era, I think dancing on Hillary Clinton’s political grave is premature. Yes, the latest USA Today survey has Obama up by a remarkable 13 points. But she is not dead yet. New Hampshire has a long history of embarrassing frontrunners (Gary Hart over Walter Mondale in 1984, Pat Buchanan over Bob Dole in 1996, John McCain over George W. Bush in 2000). Clinton also retains 20-point-plus leads in California, New York, and Florida. Like her once commanding New Hampshire lead, these could evaporate on Wednesday. But don’t forget that she still has more money than anyone in the campaign and deep, embedded support in key states. If, after Tuesday, the race comes down to just Obama and Clinton, we might see a real contest of “new versus experience.” More fascinating will be Democratic organizers scrambling to split their base: Obama’s team driving African American voters, Hillary calling on unmarried women. Judging by the last week alone, it is remarkable that Clinton, with her mix of self-righteousness and unpleasantness ever managed to be the dominant candidate. Yet it also clear from her performance this weekend that she is not giving up quietly. An Obama win on Tuesday may give him strength in Michigan and South Carolina, but the battles in Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and California could be mean, epic Democratic warfare, where Hillary’s experience really does matter.

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IOWA: HillaryCare Will Save…Hillary?

How ironic it is that, in the wake of her defeat, Hillary Clinton will retreat to the issues of health care and the need for “universal coverage” as the core message of her comeback strategy in New Hampshire. This ad on the subject is getting heavy play in New Hampshire, and it is fair to say that there is nothing else memorable that Hillary is saying to Democrats. It will be rich to watch Obama play the role once owned by Bob Dole, warning voters against Clinton taxes and mandates…

How ironic it is that, in the wake of her defeat, Hillary Clinton will retreat to the issues of health care and the need for “universal coverage” as the core message of her comeback strategy in New Hampshire. This ad on the subject is getting heavy play in New Hampshire, and it is fair to say that there is nothing else memorable that Hillary is saying to Democrats. It will be rich to watch Obama play the role once owned by Bob Dole, warning voters against Clinton taxes and mandates…

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The Politics of Personality

At first, it seems hard to disagree with Peggy Noonan’s op-ed in last Friday’s Wall Street Journal, which argues that in politics, ideas should outweigh loyalty to particular politicians. “It is better to see activists driven by philosophy than by personalities,” she writes. “Better to be faithful to the cause than to individuals with whom you merely have a history.” A long-time Reagan loyalist, Noonan argues that she was simply true to his conservative principles, never really knowing the man.

Yet it’s hard to deny that personality has played a very important—and positive—role in Republican politics. Democratic primary politics have always been about institutions and traditional alliances: unions, teachers, Hollywood, blacks, Jews, women, gays. Even today, Democratic jostling is not really over philosophy, but rather over who is a better voice for the reliable Democratic interest groups.

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At first, it seems hard to disagree with Peggy Noonan’s op-ed in last Friday’s Wall Street Journal, which argues that in politics, ideas should outweigh loyalty to particular politicians. “It is better to see activists driven by philosophy than by personalities,” she writes. “Better to be faithful to the cause than to individuals with whom you merely have a history.” A long-time Reagan loyalist, Noonan argues that she was simply true to his conservative principles, never really knowing the man.

Yet it’s hard to deny that personality has played a very important—and positive—role in Republican politics. Democratic primary politics have always been about institutions and traditional alliances: unions, teachers, Hollywood, blacks, Jews, women, gays. Even today, Democratic jostling is not really over philosophy, but rather over who is a better voice for the reliable Democratic interest groups.

By contrast, Republican primaries have always been a potent mix of big ideas and outsize individuals. Reagan’s popularity surely depended not only on his pithy paeans to smaller government but on his sunny optimism about America—a distinct retreat from the more dour conservatism that preceded him. Their attraction to lone-wolf leaders has made possible the candidacies, however flawed, of Bob Dole, Pat Buchanan, John McCain, and Alexander Haig. Personality is what makes us listen to Fred Thompson’s ideas about what he might do as President.

It is also worth remembering that Republicans have always believed that character—an essential part of personality—really does matter. Many of Clinton’s policy ideas were not that bad, but his character—revealed so plainly in his first campaign for President—made him unfit to serve as our chief executive. We should be happy that the GOP continues to attract quirky, ambitious, colorful, admirable personalities who want to mix it up in the battle of ideas.

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Class War 101

Yesterday the stock market edged up again, with the Dow Jones Index cruising once more toward record highs. This ought to be good news for Republicans entering the presidential season. But is it really? Although Republicans are loath to be candid on this point, a surging stock market really does disproportionately help the rich and the super-rich. The accompanying growth in income inequality is a big, ripe target for a John Edwards, a James Webb, a Barack Obama, and others who want to frame the next election around themes of rich versus poor.

For a Republican party that wants to attract the votes of Bill O’Reilly’s “folks,” extremes in income inequality aren’t getting easier to defend. Private equity deals are now roaring through Asia, often enriching a relatively small handful of the American financial elite. Until Republican politicians know how to speak with confidence about globalization, capitalism, and wealth creation, Democratic calls to punish the rich can be made without fear of rebuttal.

Even with Robert Rubin and Gene Sperling whispering in her ear, Hillary Clinton, with her hand firmly on the pulse of her pollster, remains likely to join the economic populism gang. In 1996, with Ross Perot breathing down his neck, Bob Dole, a life-long trade advocate, suddenly started talking about trade restrictions and offering second thoughts on NAFTA. There is no reason to believe Hillary is more principled.

Of course, it is not clear what exactly the economic populist proposals will consist of. A new tax on the super-wealthy is probably an inevitable plank of their platform. But in his State of the Union response, Senator Webb spoke about how much more a CEO makes than an average worker. Will he unveil a proposal, beyond raising taxes, to fix that?

What aspiring Democratic and Republican presidential candidates alike should bear in mind is that the evidence of whether class warfare “works” as an electoral strategy is mixed. A much-cited paper by a group of Columbia University professors shows it is not easy to assume that wealth or perceived inequality determines voting preferences.

Yesterday the stock market edged up again, with the Dow Jones Index cruising once more toward record highs. This ought to be good news for Republicans entering the presidential season. But is it really? Although Republicans are loath to be candid on this point, a surging stock market really does disproportionately help the rich and the super-rich. The accompanying growth in income inequality is a big, ripe target for a John Edwards, a James Webb, a Barack Obama, and others who want to frame the next election around themes of rich versus poor.

For a Republican party that wants to attract the votes of Bill O’Reilly’s “folks,” extremes in income inequality aren’t getting easier to defend. Private equity deals are now roaring through Asia, often enriching a relatively small handful of the American financial elite. Until Republican politicians know how to speak with confidence about globalization, capitalism, and wealth creation, Democratic calls to punish the rich can be made without fear of rebuttal.

Even with Robert Rubin and Gene Sperling whispering in her ear, Hillary Clinton, with her hand firmly on the pulse of her pollster, remains likely to join the economic populism gang. In 1996, with Ross Perot breathing down his neck, Bob Dole, a life-long trade advocate, suddenly started talking about trade restrictions and offering second thoughts on NAFTA. There is no reason to believe Hillary is more principled.

Of course, it is not clear what exactly the economic populist proposals will consist of. A new tax on the super-wealthy is probably an inevitable plank of their platform. But in his State of the Union response, Senator Webb spoke about how much more a CEO makes than an average worker. Will he unveil a proposal, beyond raising taxes, to fix that?

What aspiring Democratic and Republican presidential candidates alike should bear in mind is that the evidence of whether class warfare “works” as an electoral strategy is mixed. A much-cited paper by a group of Columbia University professors shows it is not easy to assume that wealth or perceived inequality determines voting preferences.

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