Commentary Magazine


Topic: Elizabeth Warren

Warren Is Hillary’s Unwitting Collaborator

There is a fair amount of irony buried throughout Maggie Haberman’s entertaining story on how Elizabeth Warren is “vexing” Hillary Clinton and her nascent presidential campaign even without running herself. The story is a good reminder of one reason Warren isn’t likely to run: she doesn’t have to. Left unsaid is the corollary: Warren is a populist on the campaign trail but a heavyhanded wielder of power and a surprising policy lightweight in the Senate. Most of Warren’s appeal is what leftists pretend she could be, not what she really is.

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There is a fair amount of irony buried throughout Maggie Haberman’s entertaining story on how Elizabeth Warren is “vexing” Hillary Clinton and her nascent presidential campaign even without running herself. The story is a good reminder of one reason Warren isn’t likely to run: she doesn’t have to. Left unsaid is the corollary: Warren is a populist on the campaign trail but a heavyhanded wielder of power and a surprising policy lightweight in the Senate. Most of Warren’s appeal is what leftists pretend she could be, not what she really is.

So Warren not only doesn’t have to run to impact the party’s political future; she’s probably better off not running. Her actual policies range from nonsensical to intellectually bankrupt, but her shallow applause lines are perfectly calibrated to what the economic illiterates of the leftist fringe want to hear. Warren can be a hero without ruining the economy, because she won’t have the power to ruin the economy. Put her in the Oval Office and the calculus changes. She would also be exposed further as a suffocating regulator with an academic’s flimsy and theoretical understanding of complicated economics.

Hillary Clinton doesn’t have such an obstacle holding her back, because her fan base doesn’t care about serious policy. The cult of Hillary is powered by pure identity politics, and Clinton is a mainstream figure in Democratic Party governance. That is to say, she intends to be the figurehead of a self-perpetuating bureaucracy, much like Obama has been. Obama’s one major policy “accomplishment,” after all, was a launching pad for newly created regulatory behemoths to make policy that fell outside the intent or oversight of Congress.

When it comes to Hillary, it’s about what (and who) she represents. As an executive, all indications are that she’s a terrible manager, as her time at Foggy Bottom proved. And she’s interested in symbolic politics, not nuts-and-bolts governance–again, her time as secretary of state showed her to be risk-averse and image hyperconscious.

Ideologically, the contrast is interesting. Hillary doesn’t actually believe in anything, so she’s running as a representative of her Wall Street funders who appear to be even writing her “populist” talking points for her. This is one reason Warren won’t go away and wants to at least keep Hillary on her toes. For Clinton, it’s all a game. Nothing has any real significance for how she’d govern. Clinton is coopting Warren’s populist rhetoric for the express purpose of empowering precisely those economic actors Warren is railing against.

So how to handle the contradiction? Warren’s supporters liked the idea of Clinton having to look over her shoulder and see Warren because they knew it meant pushing Clinton to the left. But it really meant pushing Clinton’s rhetoric to the left. In actuality, it allows Clinton to crowd out any space there might be for Warren by mimicking her and then forgetting she and her supporters even exist.

That’s why Clinton’s populist rhetoric is so strained and clumsy. The most recent example was when she made the ridiculous statement that businesses don’t create jobs. It’s not that Clinton actually believes instead that the Job Fairy leaves jobs under the pillows of good liberals. It’s that Clinton has no idea how to play the populist because she doesn’t think along those lines economically and she very clearly doesn’t like interacting with the populace at all.

Haberman is exceedingly generous, calling the gaffe “a misdelivered line about businesses not creating jobs.” That kind of life-raft spin from the media to cover for Hillary will crop up throughout the campaign. But it didn’t cause a bigger splash because the expectations for Hillary’s discussion of policy are so low. Haberman also includes Hillary’s own pushback:

Clinton allies are quick to point out that the woman who was synonymous with the government-led “Hillarycare” effort has a claim on economic populism. She gave a speech discussing the anger people feel in the current economy earlier this year. Her speeches for other candidates this fall have hit the core issues of the new Democratic populism, and she has woven in a message similar to her husband’s from 1992 about raising the middle class.

But she is not yet a candidate delivering her own pitch, and she has shown she is still figuring out the notes to strike.

And that last line gives it away. What jumps out about Hillary’s campaign is the soullessness of it all. She’s still “figuring out the notes to strike” because she doesn’t write her own songs. She’s a cover artist, down at the local pub mangling Mr. Jones and waiting for the next request.

Warren might actually be enjoying all this–though temperamentally, she does not appear to be a person who enjoys anything, ever, and doesn’t want you too either. That’s something she and Clinton have in common. But humorlessness is just another box to check to win the favor of the American left, and Hillary fulfills that requirement. Warren may think she’s influencing Hillary or the campaign, when in reality she’s merely an ornament. The corporatists in her party, who hold the real power, are happy to keep up the charade.

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Hillary’s Fake Populism and Her Fatal Flaw

It didn’t take long for Hillary Clinton’s handlers to start walking back the putative 2016 Democratic presidential nominee’s latest whopper. While campaigning alongside Senator Elizabeth Warren — the Democrat most members of her party’s base really like — Clinton tried to play can you top this with the popular left-winger by telling her audience, “Don’t let anybody tell you that corporations and businesses create jobs.” It’s hard to imagine a more mind-boggling confession of her ignorance of basic economics. But even after her staff tried to explain it as merely opposition to certain tax breaks or “trickle down economics,” it’s hard to explain what she was thinking.

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It didn’t take long for Hillary Clinton’s handlers to start walking back the putative 2016 Democratic presidential nominee’s latest whopper. While campaigning alongside Senator Elizabeth Warren — the Democrat most members of her party’s base really like — Clinton tried to play can you top this with the popular left-winger by telling her audience, “Don’t let anybody tell you that corporations and businesses create jobs.” It’s hard to imagine a more mind-boggling confession of her ignorance of basic economics. But even after her staff tried to explain it as merely opposition to certain tax breaks or “trickle down economics,” it’s hard to explain what she was thinking.

Granted, in a week in which Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz actually said that she agreed with the idea that Republicans are more dangerous than Ebola or ISIS, it must be acknowledged that Clinton’s wacky attack on capitalism isn’t even the most outrageous thing said by a Democrat. But it nevertheless offers us a fascinating insight into her character and inherent weakness as a candidate.

Clinton understands that although Warren has wisely decided to decline to attempt to challenge her for her party’s presidential nomination, her left-wing populism makes her the darling of Democrats. Though she can’t be too worried about a gadfly like Senator Bernie Sanders providing competition in the 2016 primaries, Clinton needs the enthusiasm as well as the support of her party’s liberal core. So when placed alongside Warren, her instincts tell her to not merely echo the Massachusetts senator’s attack on the market economy but to go even further down the ideological road to a place that must surely baffle the Clinton enterprise’s big money Wall Street donors.

This is, of course, the same Hillary who likes to pretend to be the adult in the room on economic as well as foreign policy issues. But as she proved during her time as secretary of state, Clinton is a political chameleon with no core beliefs other than her own personal ambition. Just as she gladly went along with President Obama’s decision to cut and run from Iraq and ultimately from Afghanistan and stay out of Syria even though she supposedly disagreed with much of this, when placed in Warren’s orbit in front of an audience of rabid liberals, Clinton is ready to stake out a position that seems to assert that only government is responsible for job creation.

Rather than a misstatement or a gaffe or even a late life avowal of neo-socialist claptrap her nonsense about corporations not creating jobs is testimony to her inauthentic nature.

In another context, we’d just put her down as an unprincipled flip-flopper but with Clinton it is more than that. After more than 20 years in our national political life, Hillary Clinton has amassed an impressive resume and can count on her party and the mainstream media to treat her quest to be the first female president as being a national crusade deserving of slavish and unquestioned support. But even after all this time in the spotlight, she’s still trying to figure out who she is and what she wants us to think she believes. And she’s ready to say anything, whether tilting to the right or the left to fit the circumstances.

Just as important, all that time spent at the side of our country’s most gifted politician since Ronald Reagan has taught her nothing about how to speak or behave while under scrutiny. Coming after her awful book tour in which she committed gaffe after gaffe (including her memorable claim about being broke after leaving the White House that left out the fact that she had received a multi-million dollar book advance), this attack on the corporations that she hopes will donate money to her presidential bid is just the latest proof that she is a terrible candidate who isn’t improving with age and experience.

Democrats are laboring under the delusion that Clinton is a political colossus who will follow in Barack Obama’s footsteps and sweep aside any GOP opposition in another historic campaign. But this misstep is a reminder that she has never (as Obama knows all too well) beaten a tough opponent in an election and is capable of blowing elections that seem impossible to lose. Even if this doesn’t tempt Warren to try and steal the party out from under Clinton’s nose, it should encourage Republicans who may believe that changing demographics and other problems doom their party to inevitable defeat. Americans can smell a phony from a mile away and this week Hillary proved again that this is her glaring and perhaps fatal weakness.

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Clinton’s Leftist Critics: Still Irrelevant

Imagine the following scenario. The Democratic Party continues to push Hillary Clinton as its nominee for 2016. The women of the party who could challenge her, like Elizabeth Warren, continue showing deference and bowing to reality by staying on the sidelines and supporting Hillary, knowing their turn may yet come. But then, word gets to Warren that an activist with Occupy Wall Street is put off by Clinton’s cozy connections to Wall Street, and wants someone like Warren to challenge her, to be the conscience of the party. Game changer, right?

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Imagine the following scenario. The Democratic Party continues to push Hillary Clinton as its nominee for 2016. The women of the party who could challenge her, like Elizabeth Warren, continue showing deference and bowing to reality by staying on the sidelines and supporting Hillary, knowing their turn may yet come. But then, word gets to Warren that an activist with Occupy Wall Street is put off by Clinton’s cozy connections to Wall Street, and wants someone like Warren to challenge her, to be the conscience of the party. Game changer, right?

Of course not. Elizabeth Warren is not going to take her career advice from pseudoanarchist trustfunders who defecate on police cars and shield rapists from legal trouble. Neither is Hillary Clinton, or anyone running the Democratic Party. And so it is in that light that we read about the latest anti-Hillary grumbling from the economically illiterate perpetual freshmen on the populist left. According to The Hill, there is an email group called “Gamechanger Salon,” consisting of about 1,500 liberal journalists, activists, and campaign strategists. Someone leaked the contents of the emails to The Hill. The “Gamechangers” are, of course, reveling in blissful unawareness of their own irrelevance to the 2016 presidential election:

“[A] Clinton presidency undos [sic] all our progress and returns the financial interests to even more prominence than they currently have,” Melissa Byrne, an activist with the Occupy Wall Street movement, said in a November 2013 email.

The progressives expressed an appetite for an alternative to Clinton to teach her — and those from the centrist wing of the party — a lesson.

Liberal Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has repeatedly said she won’t run for president, but some on the left aren’t convinced.

“The establishment Dems need to be punished, and the best way for that to happen is for Warren to beat Hillary in the primary on a populist message,” Carl Gibson, a progressive activist and writer for Occupy.com, wrote in one email.

Even though months have passed since the emails were sent, the sentiment remains.

Mike Lux, a prominent strategist and an active member of the group, told The Hill that the concerns haven’t changed and operatives “are probably more worried at this point rather than less.”

Well sure, naturally they’d be more worried now than less, since Hillary Clinton is closer to her party’s nomination. She’s not just incredibly wealthy herself, with help from her Wall Street speaking clients, but she’s even asking them to help shape her talking points on economic inequality, as the New York Times reported last week:

Fledgling efforts to develop a message are quietly taking place, said the people close to Mrs. Clinton. Without discussing her 2016 plans, she has talked to friends and donors in business about how to tackle income inequality without alienating businesses or castigating the wealthy.

Certainly one can imagine why left-wingers aren’t thrilled to read that Hillary is outsourcing her policy and campaign communications to the people she’s asking for money. And they wouldn’t be alone in that uneasiness were Hillary a Republican. The ads would write themselves, as would the New York Times editorials. (Though to be fair, the Times editorials have already been written; they’d just be recycled with the name changed.)

Speaking of Republicans, what did Hillary’s benefactors and influence seekers tell her to say about economic policy? This might sound familiar:

That message would likely be less populist and more pro-growth, less about inversions and more about corporate tax reform, less about raising the minimum wage and more long-term job creation, said two people with firsthand knowledge of the discussions.

She’s running as Mitt Romney, in other words, but with less management experience and greater dependence on her donors. You can imagine why leftists are just thrilled.

Part of the story, according to The Hill, is lingering discontent over Clinton’s vote in favor of the Iraq war. She has since apologized, seeking proper absolution. But all is not forgiven. One activist told The Hill he wants to see people like Clinton “punished at the ballot box” over the war. But didn’t that already happen? Hillary did, after all, lose in 2008 to Barack Obama, whose campaign really did get a lift from his opposition to the Iraq war.

On the other hand, you can see where these activists are coming from, since Clinton was a more interventionist and hawkish proponent of force in Obama’s Cabinet. The presumption on the part of these activists is that Clinton’s regret over the Iraq war vote is disingenuous to the extent that it hasn’t altered her worldview or her faith in American firepower. They don’t care as much that she regrets the last Iraq war because they think she’d jump right into the next one.

And maybe that’s true. But again, it doesn’t really matter. The “Gamechangers” are anything but. There is still no serious opposition to Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Party, and there does not appear to be any on the horizon. And a progressive email list isn’t going to change that.

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Cuomo Agonistes

Just a few days before Andrew Cuomo’s victory over Zephyr Teachout in New York’s gubernatorial primary, a video of Cuomo at the Labor Day parade made the rounds. It neatly summed up the New York populist left’s relationship with Cuomo: he doesn’t acknowledge they exist.

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Just a few days before Andrew Cuomo’s victory over Zephyr Teachout in New York’s gubernatorial primary, a video of Cuomo at the Labor Day parade made the rounds. It neatly summed up the New York populist left’s relationship with Cuomo: he doesn’t acknowledge they exist.

Here’s the video, originally posted on the New York True website:

Teachout attempts for about a minute to get Cuomo’s attention to say hello to him. She is repeatedly boxed out by Cuomo’s handlers and he doesn’t appear to even notice her, despite her proximity. Eventually, she is crowded out when someone Cuomo does recognize, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, approaches. Although it’s doubtful Cuomo saw and ignored Teachout (unless I missed it), the forced smile pasted on his face and the complete lack of awareness of Teachout made for a pretty accurate description of how Cuomo feels about the Occupy left.

Cuomo won the primary by nearly thirty percent, but Teachout got 34 percent herself, the best primary challenge to a sitting New York governor on record. That left commentators with a kind of strange story to tell: a primary that wasn’t close but was closer than it should have been. It wasn’t a near-upset, but the publicity and support generated by the Teachout campaign (the New York Times even declined to endorse in the primary) were indicative of something not quite significant but not easily ignored either.

In a smart column for the Washington Post, Harold Meyerson tries to tease out the conflict:

Cuomo’s estrangement of Democratic liberals wasn’t due to any social conservatism on his part. In his first term as governor, Cuomo pushed through a same-sex marriage bill and tighter gun-control legislation. But his resistance to some key economic imperatives, allowing New York City to set a minimum-wage rate higher than the state’s and keeping a heightened tax rate on the income of the state’s wealthiest residents (that is, Wall Street bankers), and his unwillingness to campaign for Democratic control of the state Senate, which would boost the prospects for such legislation, angered many of his fellow Democrats. They believed Cuomo was cultivating Wall Street support for a possible presidential bid, an ambition that stood athwart their efforts to mitigate New York’s skyscraper-high inequality.

Cuomo’s vulnerability on economic issues was compounded by his vulnerability on ethical ones. Confronted with the spectacle of a steady stream of legislators moving from Albany to prison after convictions for corrupt practices, Cuomo convened an ethics commission to investigate and reform New York’s business of politics. Earlier this year, however, he disbanded it with its mission unaccomplished — a decision that prompted a federal prosecutor to announce that he was looking into Cuomo’s abrupt change of heart.

This strikes me as exactly right. So it’s worth playing this scenario out a bit. Meyerson compares the liberal angst bubbling up into Teachout’s campaign to that of Elizabeth Warren. The comparison is imperfect, but apt in one way: Warren would only run for president, presumably, if Hillary Clinton isn’t in the race. Clinton is running as a Wall Street Democrat through and through, and there does not appear to be real appetite on the left to take her on.

That’s because at the national level, Democrats are far more interested in winning. The only real friction between Clinton and the left so far, as Ben Domenech points out in this month’s COMMENTARY, concerned Clinton’s career-long opposition to gay marriage, until the polls shifted enough for her to flip flop. At the national level, social issues, and culture-war issues more broadly, get top billing from Democrats.

As Meyerson notes, that’s not true at the state level in New York. Democrats there care about social issues, but in a deep blue state those issues are not nearly so controversial. It’s how Cuomo could tell pro-life New Yorkers that they “have no place in the state of New York because that’s not who New Yorkers are” and still expect to win reelection. Liberals may appreciate Cuomo’s social liberalism (and his mildly totalitarian anger-management issues), but he’s not exactly going out on a limb.

And that’s why Cuomo would essentially have to decide between being a true-blue Democratic governor of New York or being a viable national figure. Since Cuomo has hopes of at least keeping the door to a presidential run open, he’s chosen to be a national Democrat. This has the advantage of not requiring him to have principles, and it’s also not much of a threat to his career as governor: if the best the left can do is keep him at two-thirds of the vote, he’s going to continue pretending they don’t exist.

And yet it may still come back to haunt him. Cuomo’s ethics shenanigans mean the possibility of indictment is unlikely but not nonexistent. If he makes it without legal trouble, people will wonder just how he did so. And if he alienates the left enough–Zephyr Teachout’s campaign had no trouble attracting headlines even outside New York, and she raised money outside the state as well–he’ll have no grassroots bandwagon for a national campaign. (Good luck in Iowa!)

Cuomo knows that it’s difficult to be a New York liberal in a national campaign. Now he’s learning that it’s not so easy not to be a New York liberal in New York. He wanted an uneventful governorship and a shot at the presidency. Both are looking increasingly out of reach.

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Elizabeth Warren Stops Pretending

Yesterday on Twitter, the Senate Democrats sent out a message that seemed to attribute the following paraphrased declaration to Elizabeth Warren: “Remember the government shutdown? That was started by a GOP effort to let employers deny workers access to birth control.” Because it was unclear, and because this statement is so utterly and obviously false, Twitter users were left wondering if Warren could really have said something so outrageously fictitious. It turned out that, yes, Warren made this comment, having finally and fully descended into self-parody.

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Yesterday on Twitter, the Senate Democrats sent out a message that seemed to attribute the following paraphrased declaration to Elizabeth Warren: “Remember the government shutdown? That was started by a GOP effort to let employers deny workers access to birth control.” Because it was unclear, and because this statement is so utterly and obviously false, Twitter users were left wondering if Warren could really have said something so outrageously fictitious. It turned out that, yes, Warren made this comment, having finally and fully descended into self-parody.

The Washington Examiner’s Ashe Schow posted the video and transcript of Warren’s remarks in context. Here is what the senator said:

In 2012, the Republicans tried to pass the Blunt amendment, a proposal that would have allowed employers and insurance companies to deny women access to health care services based on any vague moral objections.

Democrats said ‘no.’ The president said ‘no.’ The American people said ‘no’ to this offensive idea.

But instead of listening to the American people, Republicans in Washington doubled down.

Remember last year’s government shutdown that nearly tanked our economy? That fight started with a GOP effort to hold the whole operation of the federal government hostage in order to try to force Democrats and the president to let employers deny workers access to birth control.

Well, we rejected the hostage-taking. Democrats said ‘no.’ The president said ‘no.’ The American people said ‘no’ to this offensive idea.

Schow explains, in case any readers were foolish enough to believe Warren, how none of Warren’s claim is true. The government shutdown, of course, was not about birth control but about a budget impasse and features native to ObamaCare (which the contraception mandate was not), and their selective enforcement.

Additionally, no one, under any reading of this controversy, was trying to “deny women access” to anything. The only question was whether some companies with religious objections to possible abortifacients would be forced to pay for services that violate their beliefs while still paying for 80 percent of birth control products. But again, that wasn’t the issue over which the government was shut down anyway.

As I have noted, joining the Senate seems to have erased any attempt at seriousness left over from Warren’s previous career as a consumer advocate. Conservatives have been disappointed because the intellectual bankruptcy of modern liberalism has left them with few liberals capable of conducting an intelligent debate on policy. Warren seemed to present a real challenge to conservatives, but she dropped her academic pretensions before she even joined the Senate, having run her campaign not on policy but on fabricated “war on women” victimhood and rants against “Big Oil.”

Warren has revealed herself to be a conventional leftist, and that’s why her made-up storylines about birth control actually matter. As Mary Katherine Ham notes over at Hot Air:

Back in 2013, at the time of the shutdown, she was saying the same thing because the entire strategy for this great, fresh intellectual hope of the Democratic Party is to yell about how no one can achieve anything outside the collective, and unless the collective provides every single necessity for basic living, free of cost, we are cast into the darkest of ages. It makes no difference to her that birth control was readily available to everyone, subsidized and provided free by the government, and covered by almost all employer-based insurance plans before a bureaucrat at Health and Human Services decided to force every employer in America to provide it without a copay, regardless of their religious beliefs. It was even available to Hobby Lobby employees before the Hobby Lobby case was decided and will remain available to them after that decision.

Indeed, the left was overjoyed at the prospect of Warren joining the Senate because it would put a faux-intellectual sheen on their unflinching statist impulses. Warren wasted no time in delivering on that promise, but she has gradually lost the ability to act as though there’s more to her liberalism than increasing and overusing government authority. After a center-left think tank criticized Warren’s Occupy Wall Street populism, she used her perch on the Senate Banking Committee to demand that think tanks disclose their Wall Street donors to discredit any pro-business scholarship and so she would know precisely who in the private sector dared criticize her.

Warren is fighting a battle against reality and good governance in the name of expanded and intrusive government power. She has also, apparently, given up pretending otherwise.

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Will Clinton Run as Elizabeth Warren?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Should Hillary Fear Warren? Maybe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Elizabeth Warren and the Right

While many on the left seem to be pining for a populist 2016 campaign from the likes of Elizabeth Warren, the truth is that a Warren campaign probably has at least as many backers among conservatives. That’s not only because it would mean Hillary Clinton wouldn’t skate to her party’s nomination virtually unopposed (or opposed by Martin O’Malley, which is the same thing). It’s also because Warren was the last hope for the emergence of a serious intellectual liberalism. Yesterday’s Hobby Lobby ruling, however, made it clear such a liberalism is nowhere to be found.

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While many on the left seem to be pining for a populist 2016 campaign from the likes of Elizabeth Warren, the truth is that a Warren campaign probably has at least as many backers among conservatives. That’s not only because it would mean Hillary Clinton wouldn’t skate to her party’s nomination virtually unopposed (or opposed by Martin O’Malley, which is the same thing). It’s also because Warren was the last hope for the emergence of a serious intellectual liberalism. Yesterday’s Hobby Lobby ruling, however, made it clear such a liberalism is nowhere to be found.

On its list of liberal reactions on Twitter to the announcement of the Supreme Court’s decision, Mediaite includes this gem from Warren:

Can’t believe we live in a world where we’d even consider letting big corps deny women access to basic care based on vague moral objections.

Now, those who followed the case know that none of that is true. But just as disconcerting as the complete disregard for the facts is Warren’s dismissive attitude toward Christian belief. Warren sees opposition to abortifacients as “vague moral objections.” There was a time liberals argued that Warren was needed in the Senate to speak up for the people, to advocate for the Americans who weren’t getting a fair shake from their government. It turns out putting Elizabeth Warren in the Senate meant Americans would need protection for their basic freedoms against the government more than ever.

Warren’s delegitimization of religious belief and practice to empower government at the expense of the individual is coupled with her denial of the basic science behind Hobby Lobby’s objections to being forced to provide abortifacients. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Last month, National Review’s Patrick Brennan observed an event at which Warren joined French economist Thomas Piketty to talk about inequality.

Brennan notes that the two discussed some of Warren’s plans for college loan and tax reform, and that Warren’s plans are, from a policy standpoint, distinctly unimpressive. They are liberal crowd-pleasers, not informed and judicious attempts to solve problems. Brennan writes:

Warren’s agenda, left-leaning as it is, isn’t about rigorous progressive examination of what’s gone wrong with our system or how to fix it. It’s about intuitively appealing ideas and pleasing particular constituencies. Of course, this is pretty good politics — as the number of attendees who told me they want Warren to run for president seems to suggest.

But her fan base may end up disappointed.  For one, she was a reluctant Senate candidate, and a Warren for President campaign still seems a far-off dream. And Professor Piketty — perhaps sensing that she’s as good as the left wing of American politics has these days — wasn’t about to say it, but Elizabeth Warren isn’t an economic expert or a progressive policy crusader. She’s a talented populist who sells clever but unserious proposals with a sense of academic sophistication that makes Bostonians feel like they’re clapping for someone whose views are an intellectual cut above Ed Schultz’s. In the end, they’re not.

Conservatives had higher hopes for Warren too, because they believed for a time that she was proof it was still possible for a progressive politician to engage seriously in a policy debate. That ship has sailed.

Of course, it’s all relative. However unserious Warren’s response to Hobby Lobby, it had nothing on Hillary Clinton’s. The former secretary of state was at the Aspen Ideas Festival, where she was asked about the Supreme Court decision. According to the Atlantic, which sponsors the festival, Clinton actually said the following:

“I disagree with the reasoning as well as the conclusion,” Clinton said, almost before Isaacson had his question out. “I find it deeply disturbing.” …

“Part of the reason I was so adamant about including women and girls [in State Department efforts] is that they’re often the canaries in the mine,” Clinton explained. “It is a disturbing trend that you see in a lot of societies that are unstable, anti-democratic, and prone to extremism. Women’s bodies are used as the defining and unifying issue to bring together people—men—to get them to behave in ways that are disadvantageous to women but prop up rulers.”

Now, she said, something similar was happening in the United States, where religion was worming its way into government. “Many more companies will claim religious beliefs. Some will be some sincere, others maybe not. We’re going to see this one insurable service cut out for many women,” she said. “This is a really bad, slippery slope.”

This person is, by all accounts, running for president of the United States. Which makes it easier to understand conservatives pining for a Warren candidacy, I suppose. But conservatives looking for a Democratic candidate willing to have a serious debate on the issues will be waiting quite a while, it appears.

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Brian Schweitzer: First Into the Sea

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

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

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

As the Wall Street Journal reports:

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

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

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

As the Wall Street Journal reports:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Class Warfare Has Its Limits

In his entertaining book on the societal impact of James Bond on Britain, Simon Winder describes the Depression-era part of Ian Fleming’s life as so elite and disproportionately privileged that it seemed less realistic than a Soviet satire of Western capitalism would be. “Fleming wandered through life as a sort of walking reproach to capitalism as a rational system based on competitive Darwinian struggle,” Winder writes. “In many cradles of European civilization it had been okay for at least a hundred and fifty years to carve up people like Fleming and set fire to their mansions as a legitimate form of central heating. Somehow in Britain they survived.”

The lack of sufficient desire to eat the rich earned Britain a stability that eventually played a key role in saving Western civilization. “And if this stability was bought at the price of a few thousand Ian Flemings then that was surely an acceptable price,” Winder writes, adding: “Nobody really wanted Buckingham Palace to become People’s Sausage Factory No. 1.”

We have no such tradition of carving up successful people in America, so the affluent in the U.S. generally have less reason to worry when the non-affluent start getting antsy. But it also means that when they warn of grave societal consequences of extreme class warfare they must reach for comparisons to a bygone era in European affairs, and that means they sound like they’ve taken leave of their senses. That’s happened a couple of times recently, and the latest is contained in today’s Politico story on the rich trying to mitigate the Democrats’ unhinged politics of resentment:

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In his entertaining book on the societal impact of James Bond on Britain, Simon Winder describes the Depression-era part of Ian Fleming’s life as so elite and disproportionately privileged that it seemed less realistic than a Soviet satire of Western capitalism would be. “Fleming wandered through life as a sort of walking reproach to capitalism as a rational system based on competitive Darwinian struggle,” Winder writes. “In many cradles of European civilization it had been okay for at least a hundred and fifty years to carve up people like Fleming and set fire to their mansions as a legitimate form of central heating. Somehow in Britain they survived.”

The lack of sufficient desire to eat the rich earned Britain a stability that eventually played a key role in saving Western civilization. “And if this stability was bought at the price of a few thousand Ian Flemings then that was surely an acceptable price,” Winder writes, adding: “Nobody really wanted Buckingham Palace to become People’s Sausage Factory No. 1.”

We have no such tradition of carving up successful people in America, so the affluent in the U.S. generally have less reason to worry when the non-affluent start getting antsy. But it also means that when they warn of grave societal consequences of extreme class warfare they must reach for comparisons to a bygone era in European affairs, and that means they sound like they’ve taken leave of their senses. That’s happened a couple of times recently, and the latest is contained in today’s Politico story on the rich trying to mitigate the Democrats’ unhinged politics of resentment:

In two-dozen interviews, the denizens of Wall Street and wealthy precincts around the nation said they are still plenty worried about the shift in tone toward top earners and the popularity of class-based appeals. On the right, the rise of populists including Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz still makes wealthy donors eyeing 2016 uncomfortable. But wealthy Republicans — who were having a collective meltdown just two months ago — also say they see signs that the political zeitgeist may be shifting back their way and hope the trend continues.

“I hope it’s not working,” Ken Langone, the billionaire co-founder of Home Depot and major GOP donor, said of populist political appeals. “Because if you go back to 1933, with different words, this is what Hitler was saying in Germany. You don’t survive as a society if you encourage and thrive on envy or jealousy.”

There are a great many foolish and irresponsible populist politicians in America, but they are not Nazis and they are not looking to put Ken Langone and his friends in camps. The class warfare, waged mostly by Democrats, is quite harmful enough without possessing any Hitlerite parallels. And certainly the well-to-do will not help their public image by casting themselves as victims.

But if successful Americans have begun to see the tide of class war retreat a bit, as the Politico story claims, perhaps it has something to do with the fact that their accusers on the left must themselves resort to demented behavior to try to sufficiently rile up their base because in America, like in Fleming’s Britain, the people just generally do not feel like murdering their neighbors. And this rhetorical excess does plenty on its own to dull its effects, because Americans are also not lunatics, and so are less susceptible to some of the petty frauds trying to stir up hate on a massive scale in order to remain in power.

Like Harry Reid, for example. Pete has discussed Reid’s McCarthyite campaign to tar politically conservative activists as “un-American”–a very important milestone in the Obama-era left’s use of government to assault the lives and careers of Americans who dare exercise their right to participate in the political process. Reid’s latest bout of conspiracist paranoia was to blame the Koch brothers for the American government’s debate over aid to Ukraine.

And so I have no doubt that, as Politico writes, American business owners are working to defend themselves from the creepy behavior of the Harry Reid/Elizabeth Warren/Bill de Blasio Democrats in power. But I would also submit that such attacks have limited purchase in the United States. There were not enough Harry Reids in Ian Fleming’s Britain to turn Buckingham Palace into People’s Sausage Factory No. 1, and I have enough faith in Americans to believe there aren’t enough Harry Reids here to do the same to the Kochs’ philanthropic empire.

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American Liberalism’s Necessary Fictions

Wendy Davis is not handling her latest controversy very well, but she’s been nothing if not completely predictable. After it was revealed that she fudged details of her biography on her way to liberal stardom, she followed her party’s playbook to the letter. Anyone who followed other recent liberal campaigns knew exactly what was coming next. Rather than simply admit that she misled the public on her personal story, she was almost certain to follow Elizabeth Warren’s example.

When it was revealed that Warren had claimed dubious minority status to take advantage of affirmative action on her way to tenure at Harvard Law, she immediately did two things: she blamed the campaign of her opponent, Scott Brown, and she shamefully accused Brown of sexism, complaining that a female candidate such as herself could never get a fair shake from someone like Brown.

Davis was clearly paying attention. First she absurdly blamed her GOP opponent, Greg Abbott. Then she hit Abbott on identity politics: “I’m not surprised that the Abbott campaign would resort to attacking the story of a single mother who worked hard to get ahead.” Of course, the news was broken by the Dallas Morning News, not the Abbott campaign. And the only “story of a single mother” anyone was criticizing was the part that was made up. But if the facts mattered to Davis, we wouldn’t be having this conversation in the first place.

Nonetheless, to a certain extent you can’t really blame Davis. After all, Elizabeth Warren is now a wealthy, powerful senator. Her biographical creativity helped her get ahead and never caught up to her. And it isn’t as if Warren wrote the playbook; she merely copied it. There’s no question Barack Obama’s back story is both inspiring and in its own way quintessentially American—a living case for American exceptionalism and social progress. But adoring biographer David Maraniss then revealed that Obama’s autobiography consisted of made-up personalities who inspired made-up epiphanies: Obama wrote not so much a memoir as a piece of historical fiction loosely based on the person Obama thought his fellow liberals wanted him to be. As Andrew Ferguson wrote in his review of Maraniss’s book:

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Wendy Davis is not handling her latest controversy very well, but she’s been nothing if not completely predictable. After it was revealed that she fudged details of her biography on her way to liberal stardom, she followed her party’s playbook to the letter. Anyone who followed other recent liberal campaigns knew exactly what was coming next. Rather than simply admit that she misled the public on her personal story, she was almost certain to follow Elizabeth Warren’s example.

When it was revealed that Warren had claimed dubious minority status to take advantage of affirmative action on her way to tenure at Harvard Law, she immediately did two things: she blamed the campaign of her opponent, Scott Brown, and she shamefully accused Brown of sexism, complaining that a female candidate such as herself could never get a fair shake from someone like Brown.

Davis was clearly paying attention. First she absurdly blamed her GOP opponent, Greg Abbott. Then she hit Abbott on identity politics: “I’m not surprised that the Abbott campaign would resort to attacking the story of a single mother who worked hard to get ahead.” Of course, the news was broken by the Dallas Morning News, not the Abbott campaign. And the only “story of a single mother” anyone was criticizing was the part that was made up. But if the facts mattered to Davis, we wouldn’t be having this conversation in the first place.

Nonetheless, to a certain extent you can’t really blame Davis. After all, Elizabeth Warren is now a wealthy, powerful senator. Her biographical creativity helped her get ahead and never caught up to her. And it isn’t as if Warren wrote the playbook; she merely copied it. There’s no question Barack Obama’s back story is both inspiring and in its own way quintessentially American—a living case for American exceptionalism and social progress. But adoring biographer David Maraniss then revealed that Obama’s autobiography consisted of made-up personalities who inspired made-up epiphanies: Obama wrote not so much a memoir as a piece of historical fiction loosely based on the person Obama thought his fellow liberals wanted him to be. As Andrew Ferguson wrote in his review of Maraniss’s book:

Obama himself drops hints of this in Dreams. He writes in his introduction that the dialogue in the book is only an “approximation” of real conversations. Some of the characters, “for the sake of compression,” are “composites”; the names of others have been changed. All of this is offered to the reader as acceptable literary license, and it is, certainly by the standards of the early 1990s, back in the day when publishers flooded bookstores with memoirs of angst-ridden youth and there were still bookstores to flood. Yet the epiphany-per-page ratio in Obama’s memoir is very high. The book derives its power from the reader’s understanding that the events described were factual at least in the essentials. Maraniss demonstrates something else: The writer who would later use the power of his life story to become a plausible public man was making it up, to an alarming extent.

Ferguson reviewed the many such examples and noted: “Obama wasn’t just inventing himself; he was inventing himself inventing himself. It made for a story, anyway.” It certainly did. What it amounted to was that Obama basically took the measure of his fellow American liberals and judged them to be idiots. He was exactly who he said he was and honestly rendered his cultural and political outlook. But he also understood that to Democrats, your opinion is only valid if it matches a certain biography.

In part this is because modern liberalism is so intellectually conformist. Elizabeth Warren’s opinions are a dime a dozen, especially in a place like Harvard. But her opinions took on a sudden value when her employers could pretend she was a minority. So she did, and they did, and everybody won (except, of course, the actual minority whose opportunity she likely snagged).

Wendy Davis understands this all too well. Her pro-abortion extremism, so out of step with the country and especially her state of Texas, is the standard Democratic line. But—as with Warren—the party wants to be able to avoid talking about the issues and instead push a bogus narrative consisting of false accusations and character assassination. For that, Davis—or, rather, the person Davis has claimed to be—was perfect.

And it also explains the outrage these politicians display when being exposed. Like method acting, the necessary fictions are integrated into their everyday selves. “It’s not a lie if you believe it,” George Costanza said, presaging the future of American liberalism.

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Elizabeth Warren Sells Out

The raft of stories over the last week, the latest being today’s piece in Business Insider, about Democratic Party infighting has nicely illustrated something conservatives have known for a while. Complaints over the last few years about the GOP being pulled to the right by conservatives were not about liberals’ desire to meet in the middle and compromise, no matter how much they might decry the supposed extremist drift of the right. What they wanted was their very own Tea Party.

It was the same with Occupy Wall Street: the pseudoanarchist gatherings were far more violent than Tea Party protests (that is to say, containing any violence at all), and Democrats’ support for them contrasted quite sharply with those same Democrats’ condemnation of anti-ObamaCare protesters as “un-American.” What bothered them was not the existence of ideological crusaders on the right but the marginalization of same on the left.

That is not to say that the Democratic Party doesn’t espouse modern American left-liberalism. It’s that modern American liberalism is soulless–it is the ideology of power. That’s why the rumors of a possible Elizabeth Warren run for president stoked such passions on the left. It rejuvenated talk of a liberalism that stood for something besides accruing power to the state and letting bureaucrats run the show: the dilution of self-government to a ludicrous, and intellectually impoverished, degree.

But as I’ve tried to explain, Elizabeth Warren the politician is not Elizabeth Warren the writer and activist and educator. So the question remained: would Warren be a dynamic force for a liberalism of ideas, or would she use her new station in the Senate to practice the ideology of power? Warren has answered that question: it’s about power. As the Wall Street Journal reported last week:

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The raft of stories over the last week, the latest being today’s piece in Business Insider, about Democratic Party infighting has nicely illustrated something conservatives have known for a while. Complaints over the last few years about the GOP being pulled to the right by conservatives were not about liberals’ desire to meet in the middle and compromise, no matter how much they might decry the supposed extremist drift of the right. What they wanted was their very own Tea Party.

It was the same with Occupy Wall Street: the pseudoanarchist gatherings were far more violent than Tea Party protests (that is to say, containing any violence at all), and Democrats’ support for them contrasted quite sharply with those same Democrats’ condemnation of anti-ObamaCare protesters as “un-American.” What bothered them was not the existence of ideological crusaders on the right but the marginalization of same on the left.

That is not to say that the Democratic Party doesn’t espouse modern American left-liberalism. It’s that modern American liberalism is soulless–it is the ideology of power. That’s why the rumors of a possible Elizabeth Warren run for president stoked such passions on the left. It rejuvenated talk of a liberalism that stood for something besides accruing power to the state and letting bureaucrats run the show: the dilution of self-government to a ludicrous, and intellectually impoverished, degree.

But as I’ve tried to explain, Elizabeth Warren the politician is not Elizabeth Warren the writer and activist and educator. So the question remained: would Warren be a dynamic force for a liberalism of ideas, or would she use her new station in the Senate to practice the ideology of power? Warren has answered that question: it’s about power. As the Wall Street Journal reported last week:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) asked big Wall Street banks to disclose financial contributions to think tanks, a request that came several days after a centrist Democratic think tank blasted Ms. Warren’s “economic populism” on issues including Social Security.

Tim Carney had the appropriate reaction: “Warren sits on the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. She’s basically telling the entities whose livelihood her committee controls to stop criticizing her. This is bullying — and it’s the best argument for allowing companies and individuals to anonymously criticize politicians.”

Indeed it is bullying. And it’s worth remembering that this sort of thing began, in one form or another, almost as soon as Warren made the transition to politics as a candidate. When she ran against Scott Brown, she would out-fundraise him while the Democrats would accuse Brown of taking Wall Street cash. So Warren wasn’t taking Wall Street cash? Well, she was–but not that kind of Wall Street cash. Jim Antle responded with the headline: “Elizabeth Warren Wants Good Wall Street Cash.” Antle noted Warren’s reaction to the charge of hypocrisy:

“There are people on Wall Street who actually believe we need better rules, fairer rules,” Warren is quoted as saying. Obviously, the Wall Street people who help fund her campaign “want reform.” She has also attacked Karl Rove, who she says is acting as “Scott Brown’s wing man.” Rove is an adviser to American Crossroads, a conservative group that has run ads in Massachusetts critical of Warren’s support for bank bailouts.

So Warren wasn’t averse to picking winners and losers in the financial sector. And oh by the way, feel free to donate to her campaign if you work on Wall Street and are one of the good guys. Go ahead and put that donation receipt on your doorpost; who knows, your house may just get passed over. If you’re lucky.

In any event, the bullying charge is on-point, and it’s part of a pattern. But it’s also something more. I think Pejman Yousefzadeh gets it right:

I guess that I must be something of an old fogey, but I have serious objections to Elizabeth Warren’s decision to go on witch-hunts against those who have the temerity to suggest that she might be anything less than saintly and wonderful. Further proof of what might be my old-fogeyness might be found in my belief that what ultimately matters is not who is making a particular argument, but what the nature of that argument might be; whether it is weak or strong, deep or shallow, sophisticated or knuckle-dragging, informed or uninformed. Perhaps the public would be better served if Warren took the time to respond to her critics instead of trying to use senatorial power in order to bully them.

It has been difficult for liberals to accept–and some conservatives as well, who were at least looking forward to a spirited public debate–but Warren entered electoral politics and immediately became what she would otherwise claim to loathe. She is now both rich and powerful, and she is using that to stifle the debate and curtail the ability of her opponents to challenge her.

This is not populism, however much it comforts Democrats to use that term. And I doubt it’s what voters thought they were getting when they elected Warren. At least I hope not.

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Scott Brown, ObamaCare, and Regionalism

Scott Brown’s career on the national stage has been a study in contradictions. He is a Northeast Republican with a working class, rather than coastal elite, political identity. He won Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat when the late senator passed away by running against the health-care reform effort that was associated with Kennedy perhaps more than any other politician aside from President Obama. He then accrued broad popularity and high approval ratings, yet lost his reelection bid anyway.

Out of office, the contradictions continued: he declined to run for Massachusetts’s other Senate seat when it opened up, and so he was a popular and skilled politician without office–a gifted campaigner without a campaign to run. Yet passing on the other Senate seat still made some sense, because he could run for governor of Massachusetts instead. That election would likely pit him against less formidable competition for an office to which Bay State Republicans get elected routinely, unlike the Senate. And it would offer him a chance to raise his national profile, in the event that he, like most politicians, was looking downfield.

But then he passed up the gubernatorial election as well. What gives? Perhaps, some wondered, he was actually considering running for the Senate from neighboring New Hampshire. The Granite State is more hospitable for Republicans than Massachusetts, and it would be a boon to any national aspirations he had because Republican support in New Hampshire is not the anomaly it is in Massachusetts. Now, it seems, Brown has taken another step in that direction:

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Scott Brown’s career on the national stage has been a study in contradictions. He is a Northeast Republican with a working class, rather than coastal elite, political identity. He won Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat when the late senator passed away by running against the health-care reform effort that was associated with Kennedy perhaps more than any other politician aside from President Obama. He then accrued broad popularity and high approval ratings, yet lost his reelection bid anyway.

Out of office, the contradictions continued: he declined to run for Massachusetts’s other Senate seat when it opened up, and so he was a popular and skilled politician without office–a gifted campaigner without a campaign to run. Yet passing on the other Senate seat still made some sense, because he could run for governor of Massachusetts instead. That election would likely pit him against less formidable competition for an office to which Bay State Republicans get elected routinely, unlike the Senate. And it would offer him a chance to raise his national profile, in the event that he, like most politicians, was looking downfield.

But then he passed up the gubernatorial election as well. What gives? Perhaps, some wondered, he was actually considering running for the Senate from neighboring New Hampshire. The Granite State is more hospitable for Republicans than Massachusetts, and it would be a boon to any national aspirations he had because Republican support in New Hampshire is not the anomaly it is in Massachusetts. Now, it seems, Brown has taken another step in that direction:

Former US senator Scott Brown will headline the New Hampshire GOP holiday dinner this month, furthering speculation that he is considering a run for the Senate in that state. …

Brown himself has remained coy about his plans. He has changed his Twitter handle from @ScottBrownMA to @SenScottBrown.

Would Brown be viewed too much as a carpetbagger to win in New Hampshire? It’s an interesting question, because it would test the extent to which regionalism can trump localism in Northeastern politics. By that I mean: we are constantly being told that Northeast Republican candidates for national office (usually the presidency) can offset their lack of ideological bona fides by competing for states Republicans don’t usually win during presidential elections.

Mitt Romney was an example of this. No, the thinking went, he can’t win Massachusetts, but maybe he can win New Hampshire. In the end, he could not win New Hampshire, but the idea was only on the table because he hailed from a nearby state. Rarely do we speak of regionalism this way for other areas of the country. It’s true that there is something to being a southerner, but much of that is tangled up in liberals’ evergreen amateurish smears that Republican success in the South means they must be racist. And anyway “the South” is a bit amorphous and far more diverse than it is given credit for, making regionalism a tough sell.

At other times, race and ethnicity do play into regional assessments, but in a more positive way. Republicans may speak of success in the Southwest, for example, in terms of outreach to Hispanic voters instead of, say, being from Phoenix. But the Northeast continues, against all odds, to play this siren song on a loop. In many ways, a Scott Brown Senate run from New Hampshire would be an even better test of this theory than a presidential contest, because it would put state issues front and center and really assess their portability.

But it turns out that were Brown to run in New Hampshire, he might preempt this test by injecting national issues into the race, indicating the limitations of Northeast regionalism. The issue Brown is most likely to raise would be the one that played a role in his initial Massachusetts win: ObamaCare. As the Washington Post reports:

In the FoxNews.com op-ed, Brown focuses on the effects of the federal health-care law in New Hampshire — not Massachusetts, notably — and appears to take a shot at his would-be opponent, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).

“Many other Americans are experiencing fewer medical options as insurers restrict their choice of doctors and hospitals in order to keep costs low,” Brown writes, adding: “For example, in New Hampshire, only 16 of the state’s 26 hospitals are available on the federal exchange, meaning patients must either pay more to keep their current doctor or seek inferior care elsewhere.”

Brown then mentions New Hampshire a second time: “New Hampshire is not alone. Across the country, some of the best hospitals are not available on plans on the exchange, leaving patients with difficult choices and unwanted sometimes, life threatening decisions.”

The irony here is that nationalizing issues was something his Massachusetts opponent, Elizabeth Warren, used against him in her successful bid to turn him out of office. Warren herself was a transplant to Massachusetts, though she arrived in the state long before she had senatorial ambitions. If New Hampshire’s voters dislike ObamaCare enough, they’d probably be open to an out-of-stater who promises to help unburden them. That appears to be Brown’s bet–if he runs, something he has made a steady habit of avoiding so far.

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Is Obama an Obstacle to Clinton’s ’16 Plans?

Politico provides a late entry into the understatement-of-the-year competition for straight news, reporting that Hillary Clinton “is not actively trying to suppress” the speculation that she will run for president in 2016. It’s true enough, but it might be more accurate to note that she is throwing brushback pitches even at non-candidates who have insisted they’re not considering running but have supporters who want them to run, like Elizabeth Warren.

In other words, she is pretty much already running. As Jonathan Martin and Amy Chozick reported over the weekend, the Clintons are working to repair ties with black voters after the 2008 primary competition against Barack Obama. (Though the press would have you think otherwise, it was the Clinton duo, not John McCain, who tried to use Obama’s race against him that year.) In their story, Martin and Chozick–who keep finding genuinely interesting angles to the looming 2016 race–write that the Clintons see black voters as their hedge against any other challenger (though they seem to have Warren in mind) since they won’t be running against Obama again:

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Politico provides a late entry into the understatement-of-the-year competition for straight news, reporting that Hillary Clinton “is not actively trying to suppress” the speculation that she will run for president in 2016. It’s true enough, but it might be more accurate to note that she is throwing brushback pitches even at non-candidates who have insisted they’re not considering running but have supporters who want them to run, like Elizabeth Warren.

In other words, she is pretty much already running. As Jonathan Martin and Amy Chozick reported over the weekend, the Clintons are working to repair ties with black voters after the 2008 primary competition against Barack Obama. (Though the press would have you think otherwise, it was the Clinton duo, not John McCain, who tried to use Obama’s race against him that year.) In their story, Martin and Chozick–who keep finding genuinely interesting angles to the looming 2016 race–write that the Clintons see black voters as their hedge against any other challenger (though they seem to have Warren in mind) since they won’t be running against Obama again:

This task has taken on new urgency given the Democratic Party’s push to the left, away from the centrist politics with which the Clintons are identified. Strong support from black voters could serve as a bulwark for Mrs. Clinton against a liberal primary challenge should she decide to run for president in 2016. It would be difficult for a progressive candidate, such as Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, to rise if the former first lady takes back the black voters she lost to Mr. Obama and retains the blue-collar white voters who flocked to her.

Because she is already off to the races, she has a challenge: she was a poor secretary of state, and though her term recently ended the only thing many people can remember about it is that aside from her disastrous handling of Benghazi there was nothing worth remembering. And Clinton seems to be well aware of this. In anther Chozick dispatch headlined “Clinton Seeks State Dept. Legacy Beyond That of Globe-Trotter,” Clinton’s supporters fret that the public will correctly remember that all she really did was fly around the world on the taxpayer’s dime:

The struggle to define Mrs. Clinton’s accomplishments at the State Department has intensified in recent days as Mr. Kerry and his latest assertive diplomatic effort — a successful push for an agreement with Iran that would temporarily curb the country’s nuclear program — have drawn tough comparisons with Mrs. Clinton.

Freed of any presidential ambitions, Mr. Kerry appears willing to wade into political minefields. He has taken whirlwind trips to the Middle East, revived peace talks with Israel and Palestine and struck a deal with Russia to remove chemical weapons from Syria. All the activity seemed to provide fresh evidence for those who viewed Mrs. Clinton’s tenure as overly cautious.

In contrast, even when members of Mrs. Clinton’s own party describe her achievements, they tend to point to a lot of miles traveled (956,733 to be exact).

The best part of that story is when Chozick paraphrases Clintonites as follows: “What about her 13 trips to Libya in 2011 to build the coalition that led to the ouster of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, they ask.” If Hillary Clinton really wants to talk about her legacy in Libya, I’m guessing her opponents will be more than happy to oblige.

But all this–contrasting her record with the sitting secretary of state, taking credit for current administration “successes” while deflecting blame for the many failures, trying to rebuild ties with Obama’s voter base–brings up another rather obvious obstacle: we’re less than a year into Obama’s second term. Some toes, then, are being stepped on, as Politico reports today:

Obama needs his party’s attention devoted to helping him salvage the final three years of his administration. But Democratic donors and activists say the growing anticipation around a possible Clinton administration three years out could accelerate the president’s arrival at lame duck status. The more Obama is viewed as a has-been, they say, the harder it could be for him to rally the party to fight for his agenda.

This is quite a reasonable concern from Obama’s side of the issue. He is currently at something of a low point in his presidency, with his signature achievement cratering amid revelations that he’s been purposefully misleading the public on his intention to kick them off their health insurance plans, among other false promises and disastrous effects of ObamaCare. Obama may or may not be able to regain enough political capital to right the ship, but if the Democrats start treating someone with political star power as the new leader of the party, it won’t give the president the space and credibility he needs to rally his administration.

And even worse for Obama, Clinton has some incentive to portray him as a failure. ObamaCare has his name on it, and she was already out of the Senate by the time it was voted on. And distracting the political world from the Obama White House means neutralizing the one advantage Vice President Joe Biden would have over Clinton: incumbency. In truth, she will also lose out if ObamaCare continues to be a total disaster, because it will further erode the public’s trust in the Democratic Party’s big-government world view. But a lame-duck presidency gives her a head start. A resuscitated presidency takes the air out of her tires for a few more years.

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Mythologizing Elizabeth Warren

Noam Scheiber’s story on Elizabeth Warren’s prospects for the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries has touched off this week’s non-Chris Christie related 2016 speculation. Politico followed, with an interesting story on how Warren could push Hillary Clinton to the left even if she couldn’t defeat Clinton for the nomination. Further, if a Tea Party populist like Rand Paul were running a serious campaign on the Republican side, the election would turn up the heat on Wall Street.

But it’s doubtful Wall Streeters are worried yet; Warren is unlikely to run, and any rhetorical shifts Clinton made during the campaign would of course be meaningless, and everyone would know it. The truth is, if you want to understand why the Democratic Party is far more likely to support Clinton (if she runs, of course) than someone like Warren, there are two recent stories that are better indicators of where the “soul” of the party, as Scheiber terms it, are. First, from the L.A. Times:

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Noam Scheiber’s story on Elizabeth Warren’s prospects for the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries has touched off this week’s non-Chris Christie related 2016 speculation. Politico followed, with an interesting story on how Warren could push Hillary Clinton to the left even if she couldn’t defeat Clinton for the nomination. Further, if a Tea Party populist like Rand Paul were running a serious campaign on the Republican side, the election would turn up the heat on Wall Street.

But it’s doubtful Wall Streeters are worried yet; Warren is unlikely to run, and any rhetorical shifts Clinton made during the campaign would of course be meaningless, and everyone would know it. The truth is, if you want to understand why the Democratic Party is far more likely to support Clinton (if she runs, of course) than someone like Warren, there are two recent stories that are better indicators of where the “soul” of the party, as Scheiber terms it, are. First, from the L.A. Times:

Under the chandeliers at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, guests sipped white wine and sampled Vietnamese spring rolls as Hollywood’s power players gathered for yet another fete celebrating Hillary Rodham Clinton, this time for her work with women and girls in Third World countries.

President Clinton, a surprise guest, had popped into Friday night’s VIP reception upstairs to greet industry heavyweights including Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone and Rob Friedman, co-chairman of Lionsgate’s motion picture group. Hillary Clinton was greeted at the gala with a standing ovation and seated elbow to elbow with Jeffrey Katzenberg, whose fundraising network could help lay the groundwork for her presidential campaign.

I’ll leave aside any jokes about the fact that Hillary’s husband was a “surprise guest” at Hillary’s party, according to the Times. The “soul” of Hillary Clinton’s Democratic Party can be found wherever the Hollywood elite have the champagne flowing and the checkbooks feeling heavy.

The other story demonstrating why it’s difficult for someone like Warren in the current Democratic Party is from Politico, and it’s a rather amazingly honest depiction of modern liberalism’s “soul”:

A look at the politics also helps explain why the momentum has stalled on New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s proposal to remove the chain of command from the prosecution of sexual assault cases, considered the most controversial proposal to curb the problem. Women’s and victim advocacy groups want to use the vote as a litmus test that would tie any senator who opposes it to Chambliss’s remark and create a damaging political narrative in the same vein as Akin’s “legitimate rape” comment in the 2012 Missouri Senate race.

But so far, that strategy has produced few results.

Crafting legislation that is ostensibly to help victims of sexual violence but is designed to get politicians talking about rape just so they can be drummed out of office is a perfect example of the utter cynicism that characterizes today’s Democratic Party. Then there’s this:

Some Democrats have even portrayed the vote as one for or against rape victims.

“Especially with some of the Republicans seeing what happened to Todd Akin, people will be running scared on this,” said one Senate Democratic aide who works on defense issues.

This is the kind of campaign Democrats want to run. They want to collect money from special interests to fund advertising campaigns portraying their opponents as “pro-rape.” For that, they have turned to the Clintons. Theirs is the politics of grievance and the ideology of power.

But the larger mistake that hopeful liberals make is assuming that Warren would run an issues-based, reformist campaign. But that’s not her style either. Indeed, that was the tragedy of her Senate campaign, as I wrote in May 2012. Warren is whip-smart with a strong handle on the particulars of the issues and, as a former Harvard Law professor, a gift for crafting a crisp argument. But she doesn’t use any of this in political campaigns.

When she ran for the Senate against Scott Brown, it was revealed she claimed dubious minority status to get ahead in her career–egregious enough for a rich white woman already. But then when called on it she claimed it was sexist to hold her accountable. Why rely on an argument when you can tar your opponent as a sexist? Why engage in a debate when you can disqualify your opponent? That’s the liberal way.

So she pressed the “war on women” narrative, threw in some quite garbled arguments about “Big Oil,” pronounced herself a victim, and called it a day. So when Scheiber says the Democratic Party’s “Soul Lies With Elizabeth Warren,” as the headline of his article announces, he’s right. But it’s not because the left’s soul is the champion of the downtrodden. It’s too busy collecting checks from the One Percent and trying to get the opposition to mutter the word “rape” on camera.

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Christie’s Red Hot But Not in GOP

Chris Christie raised some eyebrows, as well as the expectations of potential supporters, in the last couple of weeks as he traded barbs with Kentucky Senator Rand Paul in a clash of potential Republican presidential contenders. But while a new Quinnipiac poll should encourage those who think the New Jersey governor is the ideal Republican candidate in 2016, it also illustrates his biggest problem: fellow Republicans.

The poll measures the popularity of leading members of both parties in which voters were asked to measure their feelings toward them on a scale of 0 (ice cold) to 100 (red hot). Out of a field of 22 Democrats and Republicans, Christie placed first with a 53.1 percent rating, beating out second-place finisher Hillary Clinton, who had 52.1 percent approval. That’s the good news for Christie. The bad news is that when narrowed down to the 23 percent of the sample that identified themselves as Republicans, he slipped from first to eighth, finishing behind most of his leading rivals for the presidency–even a dark horse like Rick Santorum. While those figures don’t doom Christie’s hopes for the GOP nomination—he still scores a 59.8 percent rating among Republicans and also can point to his first-place standing among independents—it does illustrate the problem of being perceived as the most moderate contender in the field in a party with a base that takes a dim view of such a stance.

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Chris Christie raised some eyebrows, as well as the expectations of potential supporters, in the last couple of weeks as he traded barbs with Kentucky Senator Rand Paul in a clash of potential Republican presidential contenders. But while a new Quinnipiac poll should encourage those who think the New Jersey governor is the ideal Republican candidate in 2016, it also illustrates his biggest problem: fellow Republicans.

The poll measures the popularity of leading members of both parties in which voters were asked to measure their feelings toward them on a scale of 0 (ice cold) to 100 (red hot). Out of a field of 22 Democrats and Republicans, Christie placed first with a 53.1 percent rating, beating out second-place finisher Hillary Clinton, who had 52.1 percent approval. That’s the good news for Christie. The bad news is that when narrowed down to the 23 percent of the sample that identified themselves as Republicans, he slipped from first to eighth, finishing behind most of his leading rivals for the presidency–even a dark horse like Rick Santorum. While those figures don’t doom Christie’s hopes for the GOP nomination—he still scores a 59.8 percent rating among Republicans and also can point to his first-place standing among independents—it does illustrate the problem of being perceived as the most moderate contender in the field in a party with a base that takes a dim view of such a stance.

The survey supplies Christie’s supporters with a powerful argument about electability. The New Jersey governor has a unique appeal that transcends the fans he originally won on the right for his YouTube videos in which he berates liberals and unions and plays the kind of tough-guy blunt politician that voters can’t get enough of. Many on the right may never completely forgive him for hugging President Obama in the week before the election last fall during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, but Christie’s ability to appeal to centrists, independents, and even some Democrats could make him a formidable general election candidate. But the fact that he has a 53.2 percent rating among Democrats while no other GOP figure scores higher than 32.9 percent (Marco Rubio) is exactly why a lot of Republicans can’t stand him.

The contrast between Christie’s overall numbers and his also-ran finish among Republicans is not the only interesting tidbit from this poll. The fact that Rep. Paul Ryan is the top-rated figure among Republicans with 68.7 percent might help fuel interest in a presidential run by the party’s 2012 veep candidate. Senator Ted Cruz’s second-place rank (65.6 percent) will also give him a boost. But with that pair and Rubio, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Senator Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, and Rick Santorum also scoring 60 percent or higher, it’s clear that there is no single front runner even if it is obvious that Christie might struggle to win in primaries or caucuses where only Republicans are allowed to vote.

Should Hillary Clinton run, there isn’t much doubt that she will be the Democratic nominee in 2016 and her first-place standing in her party with 77.7 percent exceeds even that of President Obama. What is interesting is that freshman Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts actually ranks third in popularity with all voters at 49.2, beating out Obama with 47.6 percent. Warren trails only Clinton, Obama, and Vice President Joe Biden among Democrats. Should Clinton not run for some unknown reason, Warren’s ability to galvanize the party’s left-wing base could make her an interesting possibility for a long shot upset.

These numbers give us only the broadest possible view of the battle for 2016, two years before the real battle for the nominations will begin. But they do demonstrate that trying to maintain a balance between general election and primary popularity will be even more difficult for Republicans in 2016 than it was in 2012 and 2008 when the GOP wound up nominating a relative moderate to the dismay of much of their base. Conservatives may be wrong to think that Mitt Romney and John McCain’s relative moderation was the reason Barack Obama beat them both and that 2016 is the year to nominate someone who will appeal to their party’s grass roots. But that conviction is not going to be an easy obstacle for someone like Christie to overcome. If, as I wrote last week, the battle between Christie and some of his rivals on foreign and defense policy issues is a fight for the soul of the party, his apparent ability to win in November may still not persuade many in his party to drop their objections to him.

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Scott Brown’s Poll Numbers and the Lessons of 2012

Over the weekend, the MassInc Polling Group released the results of a poll on a hypothetical matchup for John Kerry’s soon-to-be-open Senate seat in Massachusetts. The poll contains some very good news for the possible Republican candidate, Scott Brown, but also offers a reminder of why his support and high approval numbers don’t by any means guarantee him true frontrunner status.

Brown learned that the hard way, of course, in November. He went into his election against liberal class warrior Elizabeth Warren with numbers any incumbent member of Congress, especially a senator, would feel good about. His approval rating was at 57 percent. He was viewed as bipartisan as well–essential to his success as a Republican in Massachusetts. That would normally insulate most senators in a general election (a primary would be another story). But Brown lost, and the good news/bad news disparity in this poll is a good summary of why:

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Over the weekend, the MassInc Polling Group released the results of a poll on a hypothetical matchup for John Kerry’s soon-to-be-open Senate seat in Massachusetts. The poll contains some very good news for the possible Republican candidate, Scott Brown, but also offers a reminder of why his support and high approval numbers don’t by any means guarantee him true frontrunner status.

Brown learned that the hard way, of course, in November. He went into his election against liberal class warrior Elizabeth Warren with numbers any incumbent member of Congress, especially a senator, would feel good about. His approval rating was at 57 percent. He was viewed as bipartisan as well–essential to his success as a Republican in Massachusetts. That would normally insulate most senators in a general election (a primary would be another story). But Brown lost, and the good news/bad news disparity in this poll is a good summary of why:

Brown takes 53 percent support in the poll, over [Representative Edward] Markey at 31 percent. A match-up of Brown against a generic Democratic ballot is considerably closer, but Brown still leads, 44-36 percent….

His decision comes even as Markey has racked up numerous big-name endorsements from prominent Massachusetts and national Democrats, notably Kerry himself and the National Democratic Senatorial Committee. 


Brown has a strong favorability rating with Massachusetts voters, at 55 percent positive, but his numbers in head-to-head match-ups against the Democrats are possibly inflated because voters are unfamiliar with the Democratic candidates.

On the one hand, Brown’s numbers against a sitting Democratic congressman with high-profile endorsements (including from the man relinquishing the seat) are high. On the other, the numbers are much closer against a “generic” Democrat, since so many of the state’s voters are Democrats who would prefer an acceptable Democrat to a “good” Republican.

There are some conditions working in Brown’s favor. First of all, he won the last Senate special election and lost the full election, which took place in a presidential year, with President Obama on the ballot and the high turnout associated with presidential elections. The conditions of this special election, to take place later this year, would obviously resemble the conditions of the election he won more than the one he lost. Additionally, Brown ran against a weaker opponent in the first special election in Martha Coakley; if Markey begins the race with low numbers, it may signal that he is a weaker candidate than others who might want to run against Brown for the seat (hence “generic” Democrat’s lead over Markey).

And paradoxically, his recent election loss could help him find his way back to the Senate. One of the issues that Warren worked effectively during the race was the idea that re-electing Brown could tip control of the Senate to the Republican Party, so that even if Massachusetts voters liked Brown, they should think strategically about who they would empower in the nation at large with their votes. This year, since the Democrats have 55 seats in the Senate (including the two independents who caucus with the Democrats), Brown could not make a noticeable difference–or at least not a significant enough difference to worry Massachusetts voters. One takeaway from November’s election was that the state’s voters seemed to want both Brown and Warren in the Senate if they could so choose; they would–if Brown runs in this election–now have their chance.

However, Brown surely understands that his high approval numbers didn’t save him in November and they might fail to do so again if he runs. Further, Kerry’s seat is up in 2014. That means Brown would only have a year in the Senate to prepare for a general election again. But it also means he won’t have to run for re-election this time in a presidential year. Brown also has a choice: he can run for governor instead. If he chooses that path, he may get to run against Coakley again, and in general it would be easier under normal circumstances for Republicans to win the governorship in Massachusetts–as they have often done–than to win a Senate seat there.

The poll, then, is being reported as the kind of news that would encourage Brown to run for the seat, while instead it contains a reminder of why he may have an easier path back to political office by passing on the Senate seat. The national Republican Party would surely want Brown to choose the Senate seat over the governorship, but they may also underestimate the electoral strength of “Generic Democrat” in Massachusetts. It’s doubtful Brown would make the same mistake.

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Scott Brown’s Choice

Last season, as the Knicks approached their return to the NBA playoffs, they faced a strange dilemma: If they kept winning, they would improve their playoff seed but draw a far tougher opponent in the first round: the eventual champion Miami Heat. In the end, they drew the Heat and lost in the first round. In sports, you generally cannot choose your opponent.

But every so often, in politics you can. And that is what may be tempting Scott Brown to pass on running in the upcoming Massachusetts Senate election to replace John Kerry in favor of running for Massachusetts governor instead. Massachusetts Democrats, according to the Boston Herald, fear Brown is considering doing what the Knicks could not: picking which opponent he’d rather run against. Joe Battenfeld encourages him to do exactly that:

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Last season, as the Knicks approached their return to the NBA playoffs, they faced a strange dilemma: If they kept winning, they would improve their playoff seed but draw a far tougher opponent in the first round: the eventual champion Miami Heat. In the end, they drew the Heat and lost in the first round. In sports, you generally cannot choose your opponent.

But every so often, in politics you can. And that is what may be tempting Scott Brown to pass on running in the upcoming Massachusetts Senate election to replace John Kerry in favor of running for Massachusetts governor instead. Massachusetts Democrats, according to the Boston Herald, fear Brown is considering doing what the Knicks could not: picking which opponent he’d rather run against. Joe Battenfeld encourages him to do exactly that:

Republicans close to the departing U.S. senator said he’s itching to go back to Washington to replace John Kerry, but Democrats are buzzing more about a potential Brown gubernatorial campaign in 2014. It may be tempting for Brown to run in a special election against a vulnerable Rep. Edward J. Markey, but he should reject the easy play and go for the job that really matters — running the state of Massachusetts….

But if you were Scott Brown, who would you rather run against, Ed Markey and the entire Democratic Party, or state Treasurer Steve Grossman or Attorney General Martha Coakley?

Markey already has the backing of Kerry, and as a congressman has acquired campaign experience and connections across the state. Coakley, meanwhile, was the Democrat Brown defeated in the special election to replace Ted Kennedy.

Additionally, the state is no stranger to Republican governors. Mitt Romney was governor of the state before running for president, and he was preceded by a Republican governor as well, Paul Cellucci, who himself was preceded by a Republican governor, Bill Weld. (Who is reportedly considering running for the Kerry seat as well.) That makes the current Massachusetts governor, Deval Patrick, the state’s first Democratic governor since Michael Dukakis.

Brown would be considered a formidable candidate in either election. But his high-profile promise to be a vote against Obamacare in the special election in 2010 helped contribute to his victory and also helped rally the state’s Republican voters. And that issue is, obviously, off the table. The difficulty of winning a Senate seat in Massachusetts as a Republican was demonstrated by Brown’s loss to liberal class warfare icon Elizabeth Warren in November. Brown entered the race with high approval ratings and a moderate, bipartisan voting record to complement his blue-collar appeal and local roots. He lost anyway to Warren, an Oklahoma-born Harvard Law professor with scant knowledge of local issues and no experience running for office.

Democrats are far from confident they’d beat Brown again, even with Markey. As Slate’s Dave Weigel noted, this is a pessimistic, but not irrational, fear:

They beat Brown this year with a huge turnout, which allowed Elizabeth Warren to run 15 points behind Barack Obama and still win. Brown won 1.17 million votes in the 2010 special election. That rose to 1.45 million in 2012. Martha Coakley won 1.06 million in the special, and Warren won 1.68 million votes in the general. Republicans, somewhat cynically, hope that a special election with lower turnout will mean a proportionately bigger fall-off in Democratic votes. November’s exit polls found that the same electorate that was kicking Brown out gave him a 60 percent favorable rating.

That’s where the trauma comes in. Democrats remember a smooth, likeable Brown running over Martha Coakley, gathering momentum as she stumbled all over the place. The final polls before the 2010 special put Brown’s favorables in the high 50s. In the Senate, where he voted the Democrats’ way on some popular bills (DADT repeal, for example), he only got more popular. In June 2011, Brown led any potential Democratic opponent by nine to 25 points. He led Warren by 15 points.

The Democrats’ “trauma,” as Weigel characterizes it, is quite the opposite for Brown, and it’s hard to imagine he’d rather run against Markey than Coakley. The national Republican Party would almost surely prefer the opposite. They don’t gain much with a moderate Republican governorship, but would love another Senate seat heading into the 2014 midterms. Brown, however, would give his career (and any national ambitions he might have) quite a boost by winning the governor’s seat. And he is only too aware of the temporary nature of Massachusetts voters’ desire to see a Republican represent their state in the Senate.

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Scott Brown’s Future

About a month ago, I noted that moderate Democrat Heath Shuler’s retirement was oddly unnoticed for a liberal media landscape obsessed with the supposed lack of “moderates.” I had mentioned that the retirement of Joe Lieberman, to be replaced by a more liberal Democrat, would be another sign that moderate Democrats were going extinct, and that this didn’t seem to bother Washington’s bipartisanship fetishists. And two days ago, I made the same point with regard to Scott Brown, the moderate Republican Massachusetts senator who was popular and bipartisan but who went down to defeat last night at the hands of a class warfare superstar of the academic hard-left.

So in that way, last night’s liberal victories in Massachusetts and Connecticut were hardly surprising, and the trend they solidify–moderate politicians being unwelcome in the Democratic Party–continues unabated. But while the results were easy to interpret from the standpoint of the victorious Democrats, left unresolved this morning is what the Massachusetts Republican Party will do with Scott Brown.

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About a month ago, I noted that moderate Democrat Heath Shuler’s retirement was oddly unnoticed for a liberal media landscape obsessed with the supposed lack of “moderates.” I had mentioned that the retirement of Joe Lieberman, to be replaced by a more liberal Democrat, would be another sign that moderate Democrats were going extinct, and that this didn’t seem to bother Washington’s bipartisanship fetishists. And two days ago, I made the same point with regard to Scott Brown, the moderate Republican Massachusetts senator who was popular and bipartisan but who went down to defeat last night at the hands of a class warfare superstar of the academic hard-left.

So in that way, last night’s liberal victories in Massachusetts and Connecticut were hardly surprising, and the trend they solidify–moderate politicians being unwelcome in the Democratic Party–continues unabated. But while the results were easy to interpret from the standpoint of the victorious Democrats, left unresolved this morning is what the Massachusetts Republican Party will do with Scott Brown.

Brown, as the Boston Globe notes today, rose quickly to prominence as something of a conservative hero, winning Ted Kennedy’s seat with a mandate to stop the health care bill Kennedy supported. But his victory didn’t stop Obamacare, and now he is headed out of office. The Globe mentions the two most likely scenarios for a near-term continuation of Brown’s political career:

Indeed, few believe Brown’s career is over. He remains a popular figure, even after pounding Elizabeth Warren with attacks and taking a beating from her ads. Republicans Tuesday speculated that if Obama taps Senator John Kerry to serve as the next secretary of state, Brown could run for Kerry’s seat next year. It would be his third Senate run in three years. Brown has also been mentioned as a possible future candidate for governor.

“Defeat is only temporary,” Brown said, sparking loud applause from supporters, some of whom shouted, “Governor Brown!” To his supporters, Brown had done what voters had sent him to Washington to do: serve as a bridge between two parties.

Brown would have to be considered something of a favorite if Kerry’s seat opens up. Brown was popular, and went into the election last night with a 57 percent approval rating. That, combined with his political skill, blue-collar roots, and unmistakable Bay State accent put him in what would normally be a relatively safe reelection campaign. But as the Democratic Party moves to the left nationally, Massachusetts, a deep blue state, has moved with it step for step.

Additionally, Warren utilized the only strategy to beat a popular incumbent: take him out of the conversation about the race. Warren nationalized the race, warning of global warming skepticism by the likes of Jim Inhofe, a GOP senator from Warren’s native Oklahoma who Massachusetts voters probably don’t know but who sounded scary enough to liberals with a choice. Elect Scott brown, Warren said, and you may end up with a Republican-controlled Senate. In the end, Warren’s seat wasn’t needed to prevent a Republican Senate, but ironically this makes it more likely Brown would win another statewide Senate election if held in the near future: not only would the risk of a GOP Senate have dissipated, but Warren ended up manipulating the fears of the Massachusetts electorate unnecessarily.

They liked Brown, but Warren convinced them they needed her. They didn’t, and they still don’t, and they probably still like Brown. The governor’s office might be a bit tougher for him, because that would depend more on his potential opponent. But Massachusetts certainly elects Republican governors (Mitt Romney’s term wasn’t so long ago), and Brown’s moderate politics and steep knowledge of the issues facing his state would make him a strong candidate.

So when the Globe claims, in its headline, that Brown’s star has “set,” they may be jumping the gun. Brown’s victory to replace Ted Kennedy may not have stopped Obamacare, but it still may have launched the career many expected.

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Polls Show Scott Brown Popular, but Vulnerable on Election’s Eve

Elizabeth Warren’s Senate campaign against Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts has sought from the beginning to nationalize the race. Brown is popular and a local Bay Stater with blue-collar roots, and Warren is a tenured law professor from out of state. But she is also a Democrat, in a state full of them. So she has tried to make the race almost solely about control of the U.S. Senate, and has gained some momentum making Brown a stand-in for the national Republican Party.

One sign that this tactic was successful is that on the eve of the election, both the Massachusetts campaigns sound almost exactly like their national counterparts. Brown, like Mitt Romney, is touting his bipartisanship and willingness to bring the two parties together to break the “gridlock” in Washington and get the economy moving again. Warren, on the other hand, is appealing to her party’s base, going almost exclusively negative, and doing the impressive juggling act of trying to advocate for women while also wrapping herself in the legacy of Ted Kennedy–an ironic combination to say the least. Another sign the messaging is working is that the candidates’ supporters are making the same arguments:

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Elizabeth Warren’s Senate campaign against Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts has sought from the beginning to nationalize the race. Brown is popular and a local Bay Stater with blue-collar roots, and Warren is a tenured law professor from out of state. But she is also a Democrat, in a state full of them. So she has tried to make the race almost solely about control of the U.S. Senate, and has gained some momentum making Brown a stand-in for the national Republican Party.

One sign that this tactic was successful is that on the eve of the election, both the Massachusetts campaigns sound almost exactly like their national counterparts. Brown, like Mitt Romney, is touting his bipartisanship and willingness to bring the two parties together to break the “gridlock” in Washington and get the economy moving again. Warren, on the other hand, is appealing to her party’s base, going almost exclusively negative, and doing the impressive juggling act of trying to advocate for women while also wrapping herself in the legacy of Ted Kennedy–an ironic combination to say the least. Another sign the messaging is working is that the candidates’ supporters are making the same arguments:

“Women are equal to men and we ought to get paid the same,” Warren said to a cheering crowd.

Like Democrats across the country, Warren has hammered the GOP, saying the party is waging a war on women, and has used Brown’s votes on several issues affecting women, including equal pay, to try and tie him to his Republican colleagues.

It’s a message that resonated with people in the gym in Lowell, including Laura McLaughlin.

“Why I’m here?” McLaughlin said. “Because I’m a woman. Let me tell you: I am 75 years old, I worked from age 20 to 65. When I was 63, we got equal pay in a community college. [It] took that long to get equal pay.”

And here’s a typical Brown supporter from the same story:

As Brown headed back for his bus, people crowded around him as if they did not want him to leave. Among them was Patrick Manning, who brought his two young daughters in his Ford F-150 pickup truck. Manning, an Army veteran, works for the Department of Public Works in Norwood.

“Scott is a … he is bipartisan. He can work between the two aisles, and when you have so much division up on Capitol Hill and they’re not working together, and Scott’s one of the people that will go in there and he can listen to both sides and do what’s right for both sides and make the best choices for the American people, not what’s right for the party,” he said.

Manning sees the race as much more partisan than Brown’s race against Martha Coakley two years ago.

“Because I believe Elizabeth Warren is much more partisan,” Manning said.

As the Boston Globe reports, the two latest polls of the race are split: one shows a one-point Brown lead, the other a four-point Warren lead. But the Globe also notes that Obama is favored over Romney 57 percent to 37 percent in the state. Warren’s strategy to change the subject every time her name comes up (or Brown’s, for that matter, since he has a solid approval rating) is a strange way to win a mandate to represent your state. But if Warren is as unpopular as she seems to think she is, she may be right that this is her best bet.

Brown, on the other hand, is in normally safe waters for an incumbent: job approval nearing 60 percent one day before an election. But the disappearance of Blue Dog and pro-life Democrats has shown a Democratic Party trending to its extremes and away from the center. In that environment, Massachusetts Democrats may prefer the liberal candidate to the competent, popular one, especially in the polarized atmosphere of a presidential Election Day.

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