Commentary Magazine


Topic: Hillary Clinton

Israel’s Critics Shouldn’t Count on Hillary or the Palestinians

In today’s New York Times Magazine, we are invited to pity “liberal Zionists.” These Jews claim to love Israel but hate its government and the conflict with the Palestinians. They long for an American president to save the Jewish state from itself but are always disappointed because those pesky pro-Israel Jews who aren’t as pure of heart as the critics but seem to be better connected with Israel’s voters and American politicians. Which means as they look ahead to 2016, these hard-core Democrats who are often identified with the J Street lobby are hoping a President Hillary Clinton will do what they want and finally hammer the recalcitrant Israelis into shape. But there are two problems with this scenario. The first is that they have no idea what Hillary will do in office. The second is much more serious. It’s that the Palestinians have no intention of making peace no matter what concessions “liberal Zionists,” Washington or the Israeli government offer them.

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In today’s New York Times Magazine, we are invited to pity “liberal Zionists.” These Jews claim to love Israel but hate its government and the conflict with the Palestinians. They long for an American president to save the Jewish state from itself but are always disappointed because those pesky pro-Israel Jews who aren’t as pure of heart as the critics but seem to be better connected with Israel’s voters and American politicians. Which means as they look ahead to 2016, these hard-core Democrats who are often identified with the J Street lobby are hoping a President Hillary Clinton will do what they want and finally hammer the recalcitrant Israelis into shape. But there are two problems with this scenario. The first is that they have no idea what Hillary will do in office. The second is much more serious. It’s that the Palestinians have no intention of making peace no matter what concessions “liberal Zionists,” Washington or the Israeli government offer them.

The Hillary problem is one that every liberal interest group shares with the Jewish critics of Israel. The former secretary of state is a political chameleon who assumes whatever political positions are necessary to advance her agenda. Though a favorite of Wall Street types and someone who is believed to have more moderate and realistic views on foreign policy than President Obama, there are clear signs she will run to the left in the next year in order to steal some of Elizabeth Warren’s thunder and to forestall the liberal favorite from thinking about an insurgent run for the presidency. Though big money contributors will hope that her fake populism (“corporations don’t create jobs”) is just an act, and a poor one at that, they don’t know for sure what will happen if she ever wins the White House. The same is true of the J Street crowd.

As the Times Magazine article notes, Clinton has given them some reason for hope in the past. There was her famous embrace of Suha Arafat after the terrorist’s wife had just accused Israel of poisoning Palestinian children. Hillary also played a key role in some of the nastiest fights with Israel that Obama picked during his first term over issues like settlements and Jerusalem. But they also remember that Clinton ran for the Senate in 2000 as if she was a member of one of Likud’s right wing factions and stuck to that line throughout her time in Congress. And, as the Times points out, Clinton understands that there are a lot more votes to be won and cash to be raised by supporting the Jewish state than by bashing it with the J Streeters even in a Democratic Party with a growing anti-Israel faction.

Which is the true Hillary? Their guess is as good as yours. Privately, Hillary may be a J Street fan at heart. But it’s hard to imagine her or her husband/consigliere going to war with AIPAC, which despite the misleading slanders about it is peopled with a huge contingent of ardent pro-Israel Democrats as well as Republicans,

A more astute observation would be to point out that there is no real Hillary position on any issue, only momentary political advantages to be won so context-free predictions about her behavior if she is elected president are a waste of time.

But the real dilemma facing these “liberal Zionists” has nothing to do with American political calculations.

The reason why their views are so out of touch with most Israeli voters in the past few elections is that the latter have been paying attention to the decisions and actions of the Palestinians during the last 20 years of the peace process while the “liberal Zionists” have been studiously ignoring them. Israelis know they have repeatedly offered the Palestinians peace and have been turned down every time. They may not like the settlements or even Prime Minister Netanyahu but outside of the far-left, few think the Palestinians will make peace in the foreseeable future because they haven’t given up their anti-Zionist ideology in which their national identity is inextricably tied to the war on Israel’s existence.

That’s why most American politicians, Democrats as well as Republicans, are sympathetic to Israel and want no part of J Street plots to pressure it into making concessions that would endanger the Jewish state’s security while not bringing peace any closer.

Though they lament Israel’s turn to the right, their real problem is with a Palestinian political culture and a Palestinian people that won’t play the role assigned them in the liberal morality play in which the Jewish state can make peace happen by themselves. In other words, their focus on getting Obama or Clinton or somebody else to hammer Israel is pointless since even if the ticket of Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni defeat Netanyahu in March, there’s no reason to think the Palestinians will be any more likely to make peace than with the current government.

Just as discouraging for J Street supporters is the fact that they are losing ground among Jewish leftists to less agonized critics of Israel such as Jewish Voices for Peace. JVP has little sympathy for Zionism and enamored the BDS — boycott, divest and sanction — movement that seeks to promote economic warfare against Israel. JVP scorns Israel as a colonial apartheid state. That position has more appeal to some segments of the left where Jewish identity and particularism is also viewed with hostility. Instead of supplanting AIPAC as the voice of the pro-Israel community as they hoped when Obama was elected president, J Street finds itself lacking the clout and support of the mainstream group while being squeezed from the left by open Israel-haters.

In other words, Hillary would be a fool to throw in with a group that is divorced from the political realities of the United States, Israel or the American Jewish community. Though the group and its “liberal Zionist” backers grow more out of touch with the facts on the ground in the Middle East as well as within the Democratic Party they will have to comfort themselves with sympathetic coverage in the Times.

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How a Fugitive Family Bought the Obama W.H., Hillary, and Menendez

President Obama and Democratic Senator Bob Menendez may be on opposing sides of the issue getting the most media attention today–the president’s moves toward normalizing relations with the brutal Castro regime–but they’d surely rather be fighting about Cuba than locked in a co-defense against the other big story of the day. The New York Times reports on a blatant case of political corruption and influence-buying conducted by Obama, Menendez, and Hillary Clinton that is unfortunately being buried by other news. But it is a case study in the greasy, repellent politics Obama promised to do away with.

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President Obama and Democratic Senator Bob Menendez may be on opposing sides of the issue getting the most media attention today–the president’s moves toward normalizing relations with the brutal Castro regime–but they’d surely rather be fighting about Cuba than locked in a co-defense against the other big story of the day. The New York Times reports on a blatant case of political corruption and influence-buying conducted by Obama, Menendez, and Hillary Clinton that is unfortunately being buried by other news. But it is a case study in the greasy, repellent politics Obama promised to do away with.

The crux of the story is fairly simple. As the Times report begins:

The Obama administration overturned a ban preventing a wealthy, politically connected Ecuadorean woman from entering the United States after her family gave tens of thousands of dollars to Democratic campaigns, according to finance records and government officials.

The woman, Estefanía Isaías, had been barred from coming to the United States after being caught fraudulently obtaining visas for her maids. But the ban was lifted at the request of the State Department under former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton so that Ms. Isaías could work for an Obama fund-raiser with close ties to the administration.

It was one of several favorable decisions the Obama administration made in recent years involving the Isaías family, which the government of Ecuador accuses of buying protection from Washington and living comfortably in Miami off the profits of a looted bank in Ecuador.

The family, which has been investigated by federal law enforcement agencies on suspicion of money laundering and immigration fraud, has made hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions to American political campaigns in recent years. During that time, it has repeatedly received favorable treatment from the highest levels of the American government, including from New Jersey’s senior senator and the State Department.

The Times notes that there are essentially two dimensions to this family story. There are the family’s “patriarchs,” Roberto and William Isaías. They ran an Ecuadorian bank until, according to Ecuadorian authorities, they ran it into the ground. They stood accused of falsifying balance sheets in order to obtain access to bailout funds. The Ecuadorian government says this fraud cost the state $400 million. They were convicted and sentenced in 2012 to eight years in prison.

But they are not in prison. They are in Miami. (Yes, there is a difference.) They were sentenced in absentia and won’t be extradited.

Then there is Estefanía Isaías, whose case adds to the intrigue.

Estefanía was working as a television executive. She was also engaged in what American consular officials called “alien smuggling.” She was bringing people into the country under false pretenses so they could work as maids. For that, she was barred from entering the U.S.–and from a job with a major Obama campaign bundler–until recently when her ban was overturned by the Obama administration.

So how are they all free to live in the United States? The answer is as old as time: follow the money. Here’s what the Obama campaign got:

The Obama administration then reversed its decision and gave Ms. Isaías the waiver she needed to come to the United States — just as tens of thousands of dollars in donations from the family poured into Mr. Obama’s campaign coffers.

An email from Mr. Menendez’s office sharing the good news was dated May 15, 2012, one day after, campaign finance records show, Ms. Isaías’s mother gave $40,000 to the Obama Victory Fund, which provided donations to the president and other Democrats. …

In 2012, the Isaías family donated about $100,000 to the Obama Victory Fund. Campaign finance records show that their most generous donations came just before a request to the administration.

And Menendez:

Ms. Isaías’s mother, María Mercedes, had recently donated $30,000 to the Senate campaign committee that Mr. Menendez led when she turned to him for help in her daughter’s case. At least two members of Mr. Menendez’s staff worked with Ms. Isaías and her father, as well as lawyers and other congressional offices, to argue that she had been unfairly denied entry into the United States.

Over the course of the next year, as various members of the Isaías family donated to Mr. Menendez’s re-election campaign, the senator and his staff repeatedly made calls, sent emails and wrote letters about Ms. Isaías’s case to Mrs. Clinton, Ms. Mills, the consulate in Ecuador, and the departments of State and Homeland Security.

After months of resistance from State Department offices in Ecuador and Washington, the senator lobbied Ms. Mills himself, and the ban against Ms. Isaías was eventually overturned.

And Hillary Clinton:

But the case involving Estefanía could prove awkward for Mrs. Clinton, who was in charge of the State Department at the time high-ranking officials overruled the agency’s ban on Ms. Isaías for immigration fraud, and whose office made calls on the matter.

Alfredo J. Balsera, the Obama fund-raiser whose firm, Balsera Communications, sponsored Ms. Isaías’s visa, was featured recently in USA Today as a prominent Latino fund-raiser backing Mrs. Clinton for president in 2016.

It doesn’t get much more straightforward than that.

In declaring his candidacy for president in 2007, Obama took aim at special interests “who’ve turned our government into a game only they can afford to play.” He continued: “They write the checks and you get stuck with the bills, they get the access while you get to write a letter, they think they own this government, but we’re here today to take it back. The time for that kind of politics is over.”

Obama has not only not changed the culture of Washington, but arguably made it more insular and susceptible to influence-buying, essentially turning the White House into eBay for ambassadorships, for example. If you’ve got your checkbook with you, Obama and Hillary and Menendez are all about constituent services. Obama’s Washington has never been for anyone other than elites and donors. And it’s never been clearer than it is today.

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Why Warren Is a Threat to Clinton

In his New York Times column, “Warren Can Win,” David Brooks writes this:

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In his New York Times column, “Warren Can Win,” David Brooks writes this:

[Hillary] Clinton is obviously tough, but she just can’t speak with a clear voice against Wall Street and Washington insiders. [Elizabeth] Warren’s wing shows increasing passion and strength, both in opposing certain Obama nominees and in last week’s budget fight.

The history of populist candidates is that they never actually get the nomination. The establishment wins. That’s still likely. But there is something in the air. The fundamental truth is that every structural and historical advantage favors Clinton, but every day more Democrats embrace the emotion and view defined by Warren.

That strikes me as right. Senator Warren has a hold on the hearts of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party in a way that Mrs. Clinton does not. And one can imagine that Warren’s anti-Wall Street stand will be in 2016 what Barack Obama’s anti-Iraq war stand was in 2008–an issue that ignites a political fire that consumes Hillary Clinton.

Secretary Clinton is still the favorite to win the Democratic nomination, of course, and it remains to be seen if Senator Warren–if she decides to run–has anything like the political skills Barack Obama possesses. That’s highly unlikely. On the other hand, Mrs. Clinton is quite an average political talent–inauthentic, often stiff and uninteresting, not at all a natural campaigner (as her husband was). And if there’s a compelling rationale for her to run, it’s not clear to me what it is. As President Obama’s longtime political adviser David Axelrod put it, “What happened in 2008 was that Hillary’s candidacy got out in front of any rationale for it. And the danger is that’s happening again. You hear Ready for Hillary — it’s like, Ready for What? And now Hillary’s task is to find what it is she’s running for and running about, and what would the future look like under another President Clinton. … She has to answer that question.”

Mrs. Clinton couldn’t do that in 2008; it’s an open question if she can in 2016.

The current political climate is unusually unstable for both political parties. We’re seeing populist anger from both the left and the right. At this moment it looks to be more on the rise among Democrats than Republicans. And that can’t be good news for Hillary Clinton.

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Warren’s Cromnibus Chaos and Hillary’s Nightmare Scenario

It is fitting that “Cromnibus”–the name given to the spending medley passed by the House yesterday to keep the government running–sounds like a Creature from the Bureaucratic Lagoon, because the chaos it unleashed will haunt Hillary Clinton. Populists on both left and right found things to hate in this spending bill, but the most populist energy was unleashed by Democratic-led opposition to a reform of the Dodd-Frank regulatory scheme. That reform has passed Congress overwhelmingly in the past. But that was before Elizabeth Warren brought a level of anti-Wall Street demagoguery to Congress that is not going away.

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It is fitting that “Cromnibus”–the name given to the spending medley passed by the House yesterday to keep the government running–sounds like a Creature from the Bureaucratic Lagoon, because the chaos it unleashed will haunt Hillary Clinton. Populists on both left and right found things to hate in this spending bill, but the most populist energy was unleashed by Democratic-led opposition to a reform of the Dodd-Frank regulatory scheme. That reform has passed Congress overwhelmingly in the past. But that was before Elizabeth Warren brought a level of anti-Wall Street demagoguery to Congress that is not going away.

Ultimately, Cromnibus passed the House, even after Warren whipped up Democratic opposition. But it was close, and it required the intervention of President Obama to prevail upon his party not to shut down the government and make him look like the world’s biggest hypocrite in the process. That Warren could sow such discord in the House from her perch in the Senate shows she’s been modeling her career on that of Ted Cruz, her conservative counterpart across the aisle. Though she is not nearly the rhetorical talent that Cruz is, she mimicked Cruz’s tactics and strategy to such a degree as to leave one with the impression Cruz is her (unwitting) mentor, if not her (unacknowledged) hero.

So Warren was a big winner last night. Republicans were too. The bill passed the GOP-controlled House despite the revolt. But even if it hadn’t passed, the GOP still benefited. They would have put up a clean continuing resolution to fund the government for another month, at which point they would take over the Senate and Democrats’ influence would be greatly weakened in crafting the next omnibus bill.

The big losers from last night are Obama and Hillary. The president, to borrow Bill Clinton’s quote, may still be relevant here, but not very. Obama had to use his office and his influence and his spokesmen and his advisors just to beat back a freshman senator from his own party, and just barely. Democrats, as Dave Weigel notes in an excellent tick-tock on last night’s mess, “proudly told reporters that calls from the White House — especially calls from Citigroup’s Jamie Dimon — did nothing to move them.”

Obama has dragged his party down enough. The midterms were the end of Obama as the leader of the Democratic Party, because even Democrats now understand they can win by separating themselves from Obama’s toxic legacy. And what about Obama’s chosen successor, Hillary Clinton? The Cromnibus chaos was a nightmare for her.

What the Democrats proved last night was that there exists a significant and restive segment of the base. Being Democrats, they still need someone to fall in line behind; unlike the Tea Party, these restive Democrats prefer to take orders from someone. They just would like to take orders from a different brand of statist. Elizabeth Warren is the one they’ve been waiting for.

Warren’s populism is very different from that of the Tea Party. Conservative grassroots value liberty; Warren argues for increasing state power over its citizens and is not above abusing that authority when she has the opportunity. What Warren wants is power concentrated in her hands. What Hillary’s supporters should fear is the possibility that Warren will pursue her quest for power to its logical conclusion and run for president.

She still seems far from making that leap. But ironically what works against Hillary here is not her own age but Warren’s. If Warren passes on running for president in 2016, she is most likely passing on ever running. If Hillary wins two terms, Warren would be 75 for the 2024 election. She’s not running for president at 75. It’s a stretch even to think she’d challenge a sitting Republican president, if that’s who wins in 2016, after that Republican’s first term, though that’s at least a more realistic scenario.

Additionally, the Clintons are infamous for their lust for political revenge. They hold grudges, and that fact is going to help clear the field of prospective candidates who can bide their time. If Warren chooses to challenge Hillary and loses, the Clintons will retaliate. But Warren is not at the beginning of her career (even though she’s a freshman senator); how much does she really have to lose?

There is also another factor: if Warren runs, she is unlikely to lose. Hillary is a terrible candidate who believes in nothing. What Warren proved yesterday is that she can mobilize and inspire support on a large scale, and that there are far more Democrats who prefer Warren’s statism to the creepy there’s-no-such-thing-as-other-people’s-children statism of Hillary.

American leftists are an angry bunch. Elizabeth Warren matches their anger. And they don’t know the issues well enough to know that Warren isn’t telling them the truth–a fact that the Democratic establishment has tried to point out. Hillary doesn’t exemplify anger; she exemplifies entrenched privilege. In 2008, Democratic primary voters chose anger over privilege. The nightmare scenario for Hillary would come to pass if they have the chance to do so again in 2016.

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Big Labor’s Big Bluff

For interest groups seeking to be courted by political campaigns, there are two avenues to attract the necessary attention from the candidates. The first is to be valuable enough, and more valuable than their competitors, in the service of getting a politician elected. The second is to be convincingly courted by both sides, or to be courting both sides themselves.

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For interest groups seeking to be courted by political campaigns, there are two avenues to attract the necessary attention from the candidates. The first is to be valuable enough, and more valuable than their competitors, in the service of getting a politician elected. The second is to be convincingly courted by both sides, or to be courting both sides themselves.

Plenty of interest groups hedge their bets and court both sides: business, finance, gun-rights groups, etc. But what happens to an interest group that no one believes is on the fence, and which is also highly unlikely to sit out an election? Such is the fate of the unions, if a Politico story on the unofficial campaign of the unofficial Democratic Party frontrunner is right. The subheadline claims that “Union leaders vow they won’t be taken for granted in 2016.”

In fact, they will. Politico reports:

Frustrated by President Barack Obama and wary of Hillary Clinton’s perceived closeness to Wall Street, several leading figures in organized labor are resisting falling in line early behind the former secretary of state as the inevitable Democratic presidential nominee.

Top officials at AFL-CIO are pressing its affiliates to hold off on an endorsement and make the eventual nominee earn their support and spell out a clear agenda. The strategy is designed to maximize labor’s strength after years of waning clout and ensure a focus on strengthening the middle class, but it could provide an opening for a candidate running to Clinton’s left to make a play for union support.

“We do have a process in place, which says before anybody endorses, we’ll talk to the candidates,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in an interview. That could postpone an endorsement until the second half of 2015, he said.

“The big question we want to know is, ‘What’s the agenda?’” added Trumka. “We don’t want to hear that people have a message about correcting the economy — we want to know that they have an agenda for correcting the economy. If we get the same economic [plan] no matter who the president is, you get the same results.”

Let me explain to Trumka how this will play out. His organization will endorse Hillary for the Democratic presidential nomination, and the AFL-CIO will pull out all the stops to help get her elected in the general. Trumka can stomp his feet all he wants, but the only extra attention he’ll get is from his downstairs neighbor.

The unions are not going anywhere, and here’s why. They have become a liberal interest group, and nobody believes they’ll even cast a glance across the aisle. In the primaries, it will make no sense to back a challenger to Hillary because they almost surely won’t win, and the Clintons are infamously petty and vindictive. Death, taxes, and Clintonian grudges are the three sure things in this world. They will retaliate. If Trumka thinks he’s getting a cold reception now, just wait until he tests the Clintons’ patience and their memories.

And no one believes for a moment Trumka’s up for grabs in the general. He could argue, however, that the unions are about more than just money and endorsements. They are a key get-out-the-vote ally, and they can magnify turnout, which has been the key for Democrats in general elections. Trumka can, theoretically, threaten to hold back these efforts, since the midterm election disasters of recent years have shown the Democrats just how important presidential-year turnout is for them.

This won’t happen either. Two of the GOP contenders who would be strongest in a general election are candidates for whom the unions have developed a deranged level of hatred: Scott Walker and Chris Christie. One of the most important unions in Trumka’s organization is currently the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Think they would sit this one out?

And Christie and Walker aren’t the only high-profile candidates with anti-public-union credibility. Bobby Jindal sure looks to be running for president this time around. And those three–Christie, Walker, and Jindal–represent the anti-public-union zeitgeist of the modern Republican Party. One is from New Jersey, one Wisconsin, the other Louisiana. Reining in public unions is not a regional fixation and it is not a fringe position in the GOP. If someone besides those three is to get the Republican nomination, in all likelihood they will press to demonstrate their bona fides on this issue along the way as well.

Trumka will view the upcoming presidential election–especially if Walker is the nominee–as nothing less than a battle for the unions’ very survival. He will say so, and he will use intemperate language in the process. He will emit a blinding rage, and give the impression that he is experiencing some sort of extended meltdown. What he will not do is withhold his support from the Clinton machine, nor will he convincingly pretend to.

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Can Moveon Nudge Warren to Run?

While conservatives eagerly seize on each new Hillary Clinton gaffe as proof that she is not the invincible presidential candidate Democrats believe her to be, the political left is looking at the former secretary of state’s struggles from a different perspective. Tired of being the doormat for their party’s establishment wing led by the Clintons and unhappy with the former first family’s level of comfort with Wall Street, the so-called progressive wing of the Democrats is ready to assert itself. That’s the dynamic that is driving both a new assertiveness on the part of congressional liberals as well as the decision of Moveon.org to try to derail Clinton’s coronation in 2016 by starting a movement to draft Senator Elizabeth Warren to run against her.

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While conservatives eagerly seize on each new Hillary Clinton gaffe as proof that she is not the invincible presidential candidate Democrats believe her to be, the political left is looking at the former secretary of state’s struggles from a different perspective. Tired of being the doormat for their party’s establishment wing led by the Clintons and unhappy with the former first family’s level of comfort with Wall Street, the so-called progressive wing of the Democrats is ready to assert itself. That’s the dynamic that is driving both a new assertiveness on the part of congressional liberals as well as the decision of Moveon.org to try to derail Clinton’s coronation in 2016 by starting a movement to draft Senator Elizabeth Warren to run against her.

The Moveon.org effort may be nothing more than a stunt by a group that has struggled to maintain its once central role in pushing the liberal agenda in recent years. Once George W. Bush left the presidency and was replaced by Barack Obama, his administration, with its top-down culture that squelches disagreement and debate, has dominated the Democrats leaving left-wingers to kibitz impotently on the sidelines. But with Obama moving into the lame duck period of his presidency, the time may have come for the left to get into the fight again as they seek to emulate the success of their Tea Party antagonists on the right, as Politico noted in an article today.

Moveon does have a huge mailing list of what they claim are eight million left-wing activists that belong to their movement. But while that sounds impressive, it has yet to be seen whether Moveon still has the ability to mobilize these people in a coherent way so as to emulate the kind of local grassroots activity that made the Tea Party such a force in 2010 even if its national leadership was far more divided than that of Moveon.

Just as problematic is the question of whether Warren is even interested in running. She has, as her staff again said yesterday, repeatedly told those asking about the possibility that she won’t do it. Whether that was merely a case of a prudent politician not wishing to tilt against windmills by challenging the Clinton machine or a genuine lack of desire for the presidency, we don’t know.

Can Moveon start something that could lead to Warren changing her mind?

It cannot have escaped the Massachusetts senator that Clinton’s post-State Department public appearances have been less than successful. Most of the party is treating Clinton as if she is the presumptive nominee but as everyone remembers from 2008, she is not a brilliant politician. Her string of gaffes during her book tour and subsequent misstatements have not dented her poll numbers when matched up against the motley crew of other potential Democratic presidential candidates. But Warren is someone who, like Barack Obama, can capture the hearts of the party’s liberal base. Moreover, being opposed by an even more liberal woman would rob Clinton of the main narrative of her presidential juggernaut: the effort to elect the first female president.

Any challenge to Clinton would be politically perilous and a savvy operator like Warren is rightly shy about jumping into a fight with a family that plays for keeps. Warren may not be sure that her left-wing support will be enough to compensate for the money the Clintons can raise or their ability to cash in IOUs from politicians around the country. But while waiting her turn seems like the smart play, at 65, 2016 may actually be Warren’s best shot at the presidency, especially if Clinton does run and serve two terms.

In the coming months, Warren will concentrate on leading a liberal guerilla war against moderate Democrats in Congress and hope to become the face of resistance to the GOP majority. But at the same time she will probably stay out of the presidential fray and watch and wait to see if Clinton is still stumbling through 2015 as she prepares for an inevitable run. But if Moveon can provide a viable platform for left-wing resistance to Clinton’s nomination, a Warren candidacy will be made a bit more feasible. Though Moveon isn’t by itself enough to scare Clinton, she should be very afraid of Warren and the passion of an aroused left-wing base. If the senator runs, Hillary will be in for the fight of her life.

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Hillary’s Not-So-Smart Power Empathy

The mainstream media hasn’t devoted any attention to it yet, but the latest Hillary Clinton gaffe in which she calls upon Americans to show “empathy” for ISIS will soon become another one of her greatest hits alongside lines about dodging non-existent bullets in the Balkans, “what difference does it make” about the Benghazi attack, being “broke” after leaving the White House, and corporations not creating jobs. Her defenders will respond to the drumbeat of conservative mockery over this line by saying, not without reason, that it was taken out context and that the former secretary of state did not literally mean for us to show sympathy for terrorists. But even if it’s a cheap shot, the beating Clinton will take over her poor choice of words is one more illustration of a basic truth that contradicts Democratic optimism about 2016: their all-but-certain presidential nominee is just not a very good politician.

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The mainstream media hasn’t devoted any attention to it yet, but the latest Hillary Clinton gaffe in which she calls upon Americans to show “empathy” for ISIS will soon become another one of her greatest hits alongside lines about dodging non-existent bullets in the Balkans, “what difference does it make” about the Benghazi attack, being “broke” after leaving the White House, and corporations not creating jobs. Her defenders will respond to the drumbeat of conservative mockery over this line by saying, not without reason, that it was taken out context and that the former secretary of state did not literally mean for us to show sympathy for terrorists. But even if it’s a cheap shot, the beating Clinton will take over her poor choice of words is one more illustration of a basic truth that contradicts Democratic optimism about 2016: their all-but-certain presidential nominee is just not a very good politician.

Clinton’s call for “empathy” came during a speech last week at Georgetown University in which she repeated one of the talking points that highlighted her term as secretary of state: the use of “smart power.” In theory, the term refers to the use of a combination of military strength, alliances, and partnerships to enhance American influence. Originally meant as a rebuke to George W. Bush’s alleged cowboy diplomacy and unilateralism, in practice it became more cliché than reality as on Hillary’s watch, the Obama administration’s abuse of allies (Israel, moderate Arab states, and Eastern European democracies) and failed attempts to ingratiate enemies (Iran, Russia) rendered it neither smart nor powerful. But having repeated the mantra often enough, Clinton is still convinced that her cipher-like reign at the State Department was a shining example of its use.

But her explanation of how “smart” people approach a confrontation with the enemy didn’t come out sounding quite as smart as she thought. As Fox News reported:

Touting an approach she calls “smart power,” Clinton urged America to use “every possible tool and partner” to advance peace.

This, she said, includes “leaving no one on the sidelines, showing respect even for one’s enemies, trying to understand and insofar as psychologically possible, empathize with their perspective and point of view.”

Of course, a smart commander does respect their opponents and seeks to understand them by getting inside their heads to see what motivates them. But for a would-be president to talk about empathy for ISIS’s perspective and point of view is the sort of thing that is not easily explained especially when the person trying to sound smart by employing this has never demonstrated much in the way of strategic insight except when discussing her political foes among the “vast right-wing conspiracy.”

The point is, even if we concede that Hillary didn’t really mean to say she wants American to empathize with terrorists, this is not the sort of statement a politician who knows what they’re doing will find themselves uttering. Like her characterization of what any non-billionaire would consider a healthy financial situation or her idiotic attempt to channel Elizabeth Warren-style left-wing populism about job creation, the ISIS empathy line is the product of a woman who has no natural feel for politics or genuine convictions. Though Clinton is desperate to show us how smart and in command of the situation she is, what often comes out of her mouth sounds ill considered or intellectually vapid. Even worse, these gaffes are not solely the product of a tendency to go off script but also rooted in her lack of a filter that would enable the would-be president to avoid saying scripted lines that a smart speaker would drop rather than merely read.

In other words, Clinton is a well-oiled gaffe machine who is never going to be able to stop saying things that will either be rightly considered stupid or are just poorly phrased in such a way as to make them sound outrageous even when they aren’t that bad.

Barring a decision by Senator Elizabeth Warren to challenge Clinton, I can’t imagine any gaffe being enough to derail her path to the Democratic nomination. But if she is matched up with a strong Republican candidate, this basic weakness will be crucial. Those who say she can’t be stopped should remember that eight years ago we were saying the same thing. Democrats would do well to ponder that precedent before nominating a gaffe machine for the presidency.

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The Republicans Hillary Fears–And the Ones She Should

In 2008 the early race for the GOP presidential nomination was shaped by the belief that Hillary Clinton was going to be the Democratic nominee. While this certainly did not cost Republicans the election–preparing earlier for Obama would likely not have yielded a different party nominee or changed the outcome of the general election for John McCain–it was evidence of a misreading of the electorate and the challenges ahead. It’s possible now that Hillary Clinton, presumptive favorite for the Democratic nomination in 2016, is making the same mistake.

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In 2008 the early race for the GOP presidential nomination was shaped by the belief that Hillary Clinton was going to be the Democratic nominee. While this certainly did not cost Republicans the election–preparing earlier for Obama would likely not have yielded a different party nominee or changed the outcome of the general election for John McCain–it was evidence of a misreading of the electorate and the challenges ahead. It’s possible now that Hillary Clinton, presumptive favorite for the Democratic nomination in 2016, is making the same mistake.

The Hill reports that Clintonland is preparing for four Republican candidates “who worry Hillary.” They are: Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Rand Paul, and Scott Walker. The act of preparing ahead of time is wise; Clinton does not appear to have a nomination fight on her hands, so she might as well concentrate on defining her possible Republican challenger before he can do so himself. Additionally, she can’t possibly concentrate on every GOP candidate, because to do so would be to concentrate on none.

So she must settle on a group she feels poses the biggest threat to her. Has she chosen wisely? Yes and no. But mostly no.

Bush and Christie are obvious picks for her, because they would, theoretically, be strong general-election candidates. Both have name recognition and would have an easy time raising gobs of money, which is what Hillary will do herself. They are also intelligent, well-versed on the issues (though they’ll have to play catchup on foreign policy against the former secretary of state), and could potentially appeal to minorities in ways other Republicans don’t (Bush to Hispanics, Christie to African-Americans).

And yet, the path to the nomination for either of them seems a long and winding road, to say the least. Bush may not even run, and he might not even be the Floridian Hillary should fear most. Marco Rubio’s name does not appear in The Hill’s story; on paper Rubio matches Bush’s strengths but surpasses him on foreign policy. Christie is almost certainly running, or at least planning on it. Neither is beloved by the conservative base, nor is the field weak enough for a Romney-like candidate to once again jog to the nomination.

It’s hard to imagine how Hillary ends up facing either Bush or Christie in the general election. Additionally, because they have high name recognition, her early attempts to define them for the voters won’t be as fruitful as they might be against lesser-known challengers.

What about Rand Paul? Although he is popular with conservatives, he too faces a tough road to the nomination (though an easier road, probably, than Bush or Christie would have) that only gets tougher if he doesn’t have Jeb Bush in the race.

In Paul’s favor, however, is his ability to connect with younger voters and his willingness, like Christie, to talk to minority communities instead of at them. Paul walks the walk, too: he supports criminal-justice and sentencing reform, for example. In this, he would pose something of a threat to Hillary. But he would still be an underdog both in the primaries and in the general election, where he would likely run to Hillary’s left on foreign policy and national security. That’s not an easy sell, no matter how “war weary” the voters are.

So there’s an element of rationality in Hillary’s concern regarding Bush, Christie, and Paul, though there’s an opportunity cost in preparing for longshot nominees. Clintonland’s decision to prepare for Scott Walker, on the other hand, is entirely rational and prudent.

We don’t yet know how Walker will play on the national stage. And it’s far too early to label anyone a frontrunner. But on paper Walker is an outstanding candidate. He’s a two-term governor. He’s deeply admired by the base but doesn’t scare the establishment. He is a successful reformer. He hails from a state that supported Obama twice but which he could realistically hope to flip. He proved he can–like Christie–take on the unions and win. And he’s a happy warrior, not a dour scold or a bully.

No one’s a shoo-in, including Walker. But it makes sense for Hillary to try to solve the riddle that has bedeviled the Angry Left thus far. And it also helps in her bid to increase Democratic turnout and fundraising to have someone that has inspired a permanent psychotic break among the liberal base.

But the opportunity cost to preparing for the others is still notable. Ted Cruz has a far clearer path to the nomination than Bush or Christie, and probably Paul as well. So does Rubio. You might even be able to say that about popular social conservatives like Mike Pence and Mike Huckabee. Bobby Jindal is popular enough among the base to make a run at the nomination too (though he, like Cruz, would be a longshot in the general).

It makes some sense for Hillary to prepare for candidates she thinks would be strong opponents. But that has meant, so far, that she’s mostly preparing for candidates she is highly unlikely to face.

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The Ridiculous Controversy Over Hillary’s Speaking Fees

Hillary Clinton has made it clear she would like to be treated as a presidential candidate, even though she has yet to announce and make it official. This has obvious advantages: it signals to those Democrats who might otherwise want to run that the Clintons, famous for their grudge-holding, will be scanning the field for those who would stand between the Clintons and the seat of power. They will be making a list and checking it twice.

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Hillary Clinton has made it clear she would like to be treated as a presidential candidate, even though she has yet to announce and make it official. This has obvious advantages: it signals to those Democrats who might otherwise want to run that the Clintons, famous for their grudge-holding, will be scanning the field for those who would stand between the Clintons and the seat of power. They will be making a list and checking it twice.

But it also has its downsides. For example, Clinton is attracting a presidential candidate’s level of press attention. But there isn’t much of interest out of Clintonland just yet. Hillary will wait to express opinions on the issues of the day until she knows who her sacrificial opponents will be and can run all the polling and focus groups she needs to so she can memorize what she’s supposed to pretend to think. Additionally, the Clinton Global Initiative has taken to keeping reporters in the basement and preventing them from going to the bathroom unattended to make sure they don’t accidentally produce any interesting journalism from the organization’s events.

So what does a 24/7 political press have to write about, then? When it comes to Hillary Clinton, the answer is articles like this, from the Washington Post, on the going rate to get Clinton to speak at your college:

So you want to book Hillarypalooza? For starters, you’re going to need some serious wampum — like $300,000 worth, if you’re getting the “special university rate.” From there, things get somewhat easier, assuming you and your team have easy access to lemon wedges, quadrilateral pillows and hummus.

According to internal communications obtained and published by This Very Publication, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s notable requirements include:

  • A case of room-temperature water (still only — no bubbles)
  • A “computer, mouse and printer, as well as a scanner”
  • A lavaliere microphone
  • Chairs with two long rectangular pillows
  • “A carafe of warm/hot water, coffee cup and saucer, pitcher of room temperature water, water glass, and lemon wed­ges,” onstage as well as in a VIP meet-and-greet room.
  • And diet ginger ale and a platter of crudité and hummus in the green room.

The Post story then goes on to ask the question on everyone’s mind: how do Clinton’s demands stack up next to those of 50 Cent, Meat Loaf, the Rolling Stones, and, of course, Van Halen? The story answers that question, comparing contract riders between Hillary and those acts as procured by the website TheSmokingGun.com.

Of course, the famous Van Halen demand for a bowl of M&Ms with “ABSOLUTELY NO BROWN ONES” was to make sure the hosts actually read the whole document. Presumably Hillary actually wants those lemon wedges, bubbleless water, and chairs with two rectangular pillows.

The inevitable question: who cares?

Well, on the merits, hopefully the answer is: absolutely nobody (aside from those contractually obligated to care about Hillary’s lemon wedges). But it’s news anyway, for two reasons. First, Clinton wanted to be treated as a presidential candidate, and presidential candidates’ current professional contracts are of some interest, especially to reporters with deadlines. Second, it feeds an existing narrative about Clinton.

And that’s where this gets dicey for Hillary. Not dicey in the sense that it would actually swing a single vote. Indeed, it’s dreadfully boring, entirely legal, and perfectly appropriate behavior. But as well all know, the mainstream media does not do complexity very well. They need a narrative, and a simple one at that, if they are to be able to process lots of information.

The current narrative about Hillary is one she intentionally created: that the race for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination should be a coronation, a crowning of the next member of the Democrats’ post-Kennedy royal family. The details likely to be picked up from such stories will conform to that narrative.

To wit: when Clinton gave a speech at UNLV and was paid $225,000 for it, students, “citing the rising cost of tuition,” protested and asked for the money to be returned to the school. But the school didn’t pay for the speech; a nonprofit foundation associated with the school did. And her appearance took in more in donations than the cost of the speech anyway.

At UCLA, her speech was paid for by a private donor. There is literally nothing objectionable about Hillary’s speaking fees. But far juicier to national newspapers than who paid for the speech are details like this: “Top university officials discussed at length the style and color of the executive armchairs Clinton and moderator Lynn Vavreck would sit in,” as well as this: “When university officials decided to award Clinton the UCLA Medal, Clinton’s team asked that it be presented to her in a box rather than draped around her neck.”

Clinton is fair game, and neither her speaking fees nor the stories written about them are out of line. To some extent, she’s walking a mile in Mitt Romney’s shoes. She’s rich and famous and awkward. But unlike Romney, she wants everyone to know at all times how important she is, and that she is to be treated as such. And so the royalty narrative, which she actively feeds, will persist, and it won’t always be flattering. And even when the stories are impossibly dumb and pointless, there won’t exactly be a reservoir of sympathy for the wealthy false populist who wants to be treated like a queen.

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Elizabeth Warren Strikes a Pose–And the Establishment Strikes Back

Thanks to a recent controversy over an Obama administration nominee to serve in a key post at the Treasury Department, two lingering questions about Elizabeth Warren’s place in the Democratic Party have been answered. Warren is the leader of the populist wing of the party, which–faced with the prospect of their party leadership going all-in on the soulless crony capitalism of the Clintons–hope to see a Warren presidential candidacy. But to gauge Warren’s appeal, two questions had to be answered: Does the Democratic establishment see her as a threat or a sideshow? And does her populism have a serious economic foundation or is it airy claptrap?

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Thanks to a recent controversy over an Obama administration nominee to serve in a key post at the Treasury Department, two lingering questions about Elizabeth Warren’s place in the Democratic Party have been answered. Warren is the leader of the populist wing of the party, which–faced with the prospect of their party leadership going all-in on the soulless crony capitalism of the Clintons–hope to see a Warren presidential candidacy. But to gauge Warren’s appeal, two questions had to be answered: Does the Democratic establishment see her as a threat or a sideshow? And does her populism have a serious economic foundation or is it airy claptrap?

Warren has given us insight into those questions with her forceful opposition to President Obama’s nomination of Antonio Weiss to serve as under secretary of Treasury for domestic finance. For this president, Weiss has the one clear credential necessary: he’s a rich Obama donor. It’s unclear whether Obama even saw the rest of the resume.

But Warren did. She saw that Weiss serves as an advisor to the investment bank Lazard. And more importantly to Warren, Weiss was apparently an advisor to the recent merger of Burger King and Tim Hortons, the latter based in Canada. The deal was initially thought to be a kind of tax “inversion,” in which a company relocates in order to escape onerous U.S. taxes. This is entirely rational behavior.

But it does not appear to be what Burger King was doing in this case. As Matt Levine explained in Bloomberg, for U.S. companies the inversion strategy “will vary in direct proportion to how much business you do in the U.S. and how much you do” elsewhere in more competitive tax environments. The majority of Burger King’s business is done in the U.S. and Canada, not tax shelters. And Burger King is not a pharmaceutical company, Levine notes: “You can’t really assemble a burger in Bermuda and then sell it in Canada.”

Levine also points out that “Tim Hortons and Burger King’s effective tax rates are basically the same.” And finally: “This inversion is not all that inverted. Tim Hortons is actually bigger than Burger King, on revenue and net income though not on stock market capitalization. This is not just an aesthetic point.” Indeed, it has important legal implications.

What became clear was that critics of the Burger King “inversion” didn’t initially understand the deal or U.S. tax law. This is understandable; the federal government and especially the IRS would prefer that Americans not understand these laws, because understanding them would result in 1.) outrage at the legalized theft and 2.) a reduction in the amount confiscated in penalties.

But it is not so forgivable for, say, a sitting U.S. senator on the banking committee not to understand it, because that has consequences. Elizabeth Warren does not understand inversion law, the economics of corporate relocation and merger, or how various business taxes are assessed. This is a problem. It also answers the second question about Warren: she is not an expert in her field. She is, rather, an uninformed bureaucrat who spouts vapid populism in a bid to gather ever more power for herself and the government.

Just ask, for example, the Washington Post editorial board:

To the extent we know anything about Mr. Weiss’s actual policy views, they seem consonant with Ms. Warren’s. For example, he is a co-author of a Center for American Progress tax reform paper that called for a more progressive system and $1.8 trillion in tax increases on upper-income Americans over 10 years.

The populists’ case against Mr. Weiss so far amounts to a grab-bag of symbolism and epithets, not a rationale.

Or the New York Times’s Andrew Ross Sorkin:

Ms. Warren’s wrath is misdirected, and her understanding of the so-called inversion deal on which she bases much of her opposition appears misinformed. On these issues, as she might say, “Enough is enough.” …

Unless Ms. Warren wants to prohibit all cross-border deals and pursue a nationalism agenda, it is hard to imagine any rule that would have stopped this one. It was not, as she contended, “a tax deal, plain and simple.”

Sorkin’s most enlightening detail was this:

Ms. Warren might have learned some of this if she had been willing to meet with Mr. Weiss, as is the customary process, especially among nominees from the same parties. An aide to Ms. Warren allowed that she would meet with him but that she had told the Treasury Department that she would still vote against him.

Warren didn’t know, but more than that, she didn’t want to know. She chose to remain ignorant of the relevant law so she could make a public show for her populist supporters. Those populist supporters don’t understand economics (in this they have much in common with their fellow Democrats) and therefore their support hinges on making an example out of someone who doesn’t deserve it built on falsifications and distortions. Remaining ignorant probably kept Warren’s conscience cleaner that it should have been while engaging in this behavior.

And it also answers the first question, this time in Warren’s favor. How much of a threat does the establishment perceive her to be? Enough of one to start pushing back on her tendency to demagogue on issues that deserve a fair hearing. The Democratic establishment sees the momentum Warren has and believes–almost surely correctly–that she’s still on her way up. That’s bad news for the American economy and the cause of limited and non-abusive government. But it’s also bad news for the Clinton wing of the party, even if it doesn’t end up posing a threat to Hillary Clinton herself.

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Elizabeth Warren’s Temptation

When Senate Democrats tapped Elizabeth Warren to be their official liaison to their party’s left-wing base last Thursday, it was yet another indication of the Massachusetts senator’s stature as a liberal icon. As Politico reports, that same day Warren was also besieged by those in attendance at a meeting of major liberal donors with calls for her to run for president in 2016. But while Warren and figures close to her continue to insist that she has no interest in opposing presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton, she could hardly be blamed for wondering if her decision to rule out such a race had been premature. Unlike most of the veteran politicians in both parties whose desire for the White House is no secret, we don’t know whether Warren truly wants to be president. But if she does, she may probably never have a better chance.

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When Senate Democrats tapped Elizabeth Warren to be their official liaison to their party’s left-wing base last Thursday, it was yet another indication of the Massachusetts senator’s stature as a liberal icon. As Politico reports, that same day Warren was also besieged by those in attendance at a meeting of major liberal donors with calls for her to run for president in 2016. But while Warren and figures close to her continue to insist that she has no interest in opposing presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton, she could hardly be blamed for wondering if her decision to rule out such a race had been premature. Unlike most of the veteran politicians in both parties whose desire for the White House is no secret, we don’t know whether Warren truly wants to be president. But if she does, she may probably never have a better chance.

Unlike most efforts to persuade a person to run for president, the would-be candidate or friendly media isn’t orchestrating the Warren boomlet. Rather, it seems to be a genuine uprising on the part of many liberals against the impending coronation of Hillary Clinton and what is perceived on the left as her establishment cronies whose loyalty to hard-core liberal ideology on domestic and foreign issues is very much in question.

Moreover, Republicans aren’t the only ones who have noticed that the willingness of most Democrats to assume that she will be President Obama’s successor can’t conceal her weakness as a candidate. Clinton’s book tour was a gaffe-ridden public-relations disaster rather than a triumph. Her interventions in the midterms demonstrated the weakness of the Clinton brand. Even worse, her attempts to play to the left and imitate Warren, such as her absurd suggestion that corporations don’t create jobs, fell flat and once again her lack of authentic convictions.

No sensible politician would take on the Clinton machine blithely. The Clintons have wisely attempted to try and sew up the Democratic nomination so as to avoid the possibility of another charismatic challenger jumping in to take it from her as Barack Obama did in 2008. The strategy seems foolproof if for no other reason that the weak Democratic bench seems to be populated only with gadflies like Bernie Sanders and James Webb or lightweights like outgoing Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. But if there is anyone who can fit the Obama profile of a candidate who has a better connection with the base than Clinton, it’s Warren.

The Warren rationale also could tap into the fact that both party’s bases take it as a matter of faith that it is smarter to run conviction politicians who are true believers than establishment-style moderates. Liberals are convinced that the Democrats lost the midterms because they ran away from Obama and tried to move to the center instead of highlighting left-wing talking points. A Warren candidacy plays right into this belief that Clinton may be a loser in spite of her generally strong favorability ratings because she has spent her career trying to be all things to all people.

Like Obama, Warren’s candidacy could not have been predicted only a few years ago. In just two years, Warren has gone from being an obscure figure whose chief ambition was to lead a new federal regulatory agency (Republicans have long since realized that blocking her appointment as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau backfired) to being a leader in a party that seems to have lost touch with its grass roots and has few other rising stars.

Assuming that she has any appetite for the presidency, and few who are offered a chance for it have the character to say no, there are two key questions to be asked.

One is whether there is an issue on which her candidacy could be leveraged in the same manner that Obama’s opposition to the Iraq War both endeared him to the liberal base and differentiated him from Clinton in 2008. Economic populism would be Warren’s chief issue but while Clinton’s record is weak, there is no equivalent to her vote for the Iraq War to hold against her. Warren could however compensate for that by putting herself forward as a fresh face for a party that may not wish to be dominated by the Clintons and their baggage. A Warren candidacy would also not suffer, as would any male Democrat challenging Clinton, from the idea of stopping the country from electing its first female president.

The other question is whether 2016 really is Warren’s best opportunity. Should Clinton lose to a Republican in 2016, Warren might be the presumptive front-runner for 2020. If she wins, the Democratic nomination wouldn’t be open again until 2024. But here the comparison with Obama argues in favor of her running now. Obama could have waited his turn in 2008 and looked to the future but rightly understood that he would never have a better opening in any other year. Warren could wait but although she is new to elective politics, she is not young. At 65 now, the idea of waiting until 2024 when she would be 10 years older may not be realistic.

But the most important argument in favor of her running is the fact that the grass roots of her party would embrace her. Rather than merely having a liaison to the Democratic leadership to the Senate, most liberals would prefer to be running the show. It’s clear the Democratic base agrees with President Obama’s decision to ignore the verdict of the midterm elections and push ahead with a radical left-wing agenda regardless of the consequences. That same spirit would pump life into a Warren candidacy in which Democrats could swing away at Wall Street without having to worry about offending a key Clinton constituency.

Against anyone else, Clinton would have no trouble in the primaries. But Warren would change the political equation. With Clinton looking vulnerable, Warren still has time to reconsider her decision to stay out of the 2016 fray. If she does, she may find her path to the nomination is not as steep as the Clintons would like us to believe. If she is at all tempted by the presidency, now may be her moment.

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For Dems, All Roads Lead to Hillary

The conventional wisdom on whether the shellacking experienced by the Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections was good for Hillary Clinton’s prospects is shifting slightly. It began even before the elections, when the writing was on the wall. “If Democrats lose the Senate, the 2016 Democratic nominee can run against Congress and Senate Democrats would be poised to recapture it in two years,” a senior Capitol Hill Democrat told TIME magazine’s Zeke Miller for an October 15 story.

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The conventional wisdom on whether the shellacking experienced by the Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections was good for Hillary Clinton’s prospects is shifting slightly. It began even before the elections, when the writing was on the wall. “If Democrats lose the Senate, the 2016 Democratic nominee can run against Congress and Senate Democrats would be poised to recapture it in two years,” a senior Capitol Hill Democrat told TIME magazine’s Zeke Miller for an October 15 story.

Miller continued: “In Democrats’ telling, likely-candidate Hillary Clinton could run on a narrative of Republican obstruction to passing legislation on issues like income inequality, raising the minimum wage, and equal pay for women.” Indeed, President Obama’s attempts to run against a “do-nothing Congress” were always ridiculous, since the Democrats controlled the Senate, shut the GOP out of the process, and everything had to go through Harry Reid (and thus, Obama) to make it to the Senate floor. But once the Republicans actually won the Senate and controlled both houses of Congress, the thinking went, the fiction of a do-nothing Congress controlled by the other side becomes plausible.

After the election turned out even worse for Democrats than expected, this spin held steady. It was argued that when Democrats lost the race to succeed Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, it weakened an already shaky prospective challenger to Clinton. And as one Democratic operative told the Washington Post, Republicans would likely spend the next two years trying to undo some of the Obama administration’s handiwork, enabling Hillary to “both make the case against the Republicans while currying favor with the Obama base.”

As time went on, however, the Democrats’ attempts to spin the loss caused a clash of two self-soothing narratives. The idea that a Republican majority could help Hillary be the savior in 2016 ran up against the White House’s preferred narrative: that the low turnout of the midterms compared to presidential elections meant the Democrats really didn’t have a crisis on their hands. They didn’t need a savior because, they argued, demographics still favored them in presidential years. That meant that not only were they in good shape for 2016, but that a good turnout could give them back the Senate only two years after losing it.

Such consolation was temporary, however, when Democrats realized the implications of their spin: gridlock, not liberal triumph. After all, if they would struggle in midterm congressional elections, it meant they could kiss their emerging Democratic majority goodbye. All of a sudden it didn’t matter quite so much if 2014 was good for Hillary’s 2016 hopes: they already held a built-in advantage in presidential elections. And yet, here’s the situation in which they found themselves the morning after, as the Washington Post reported:

While the GOP is likely to control 54 percent of all Senate seats and 56 percent (or so) of the House come January, it also will now control more than two-thirds of state legislative chambers across the country — as in nearly seven in 10. And given Republicans also won at least 31 governorships, they are basically in control of the state government in 24 states. That could soon hit 25 if they win the still-undetermined governor’s race in Alaska.

That meant, according to the WaPo, “47.8 percent of Americans will now be led by GOP-controlled governments with little/no ability for Democrats to thwart them. …Democrats, meanwhile, will govern unilaterally in states with just 15.6 percent of Americans — less than one-sixth of the country. And that’s with the nation’s biggest state, California, firmly in their back pocket. Without that, they would govern over just 3.5 percent (less than one-25th) of the nation’s residents.”

The new spin was that Democrats had to find some way to animate their base so they could chip away at local Republican dominance. One way to do that would be to draft a challenger to Hillary Clinton from the left. There are not many to choose from after Elizabeth Warren, who almost certainly isn’t running. Jim Webb isn’t a threat to Hillary, and neither is the self-described socialist Bernie Sanders. What to do?

A better idea, as Noam Scheiber points out in a smart piece for the New Republic, is to expand the coalition. That’s what Republicans did to win these midterms so resoundingly. Democrats need to win back some–not all, nor even most, just some–white working-class voters, Scheiber writes. Democrats’ ability to do so has deteriorated because the populism that appeals to some of their voters repels other voters, and the same goes for social issues.

What can Democrats do to solve this puzzle? Scheiber has good news: once again, it’s a problem that is in the process of solving itself. Thus:

there’s a coalition available to Democrats that knits together working class minorities and college-educated voters and slices heavily into the GOP’s margins among the white working class. … The basis of the coalition isn’t a retreat from social progressivism, but making economic populism the party’s centerpiece, as opposed to the mix of mildly progressive economic policies (marginally higher taxes on the wealthy, marginally tougher regulation of Wall Street) and staunchly progressive social policies that define the party today.

Scheiber raises one glaring weakness in this strategy: Hillary’s not a great fit for the role. And that, in the end, tells us why Democrats will end up with Hillary anyway, and that even if she doesn’t give them their permanent majority she’s still their best choice. The Democrats don’t have anyone on their bench who is both a populist firebrand and can win. So we’re back to square one: Democrats can run a populist from Hillary’s left. Hillary will mimic whatever populism she needs to, even though she doesn’t mean it, to win the nomination. And the Occupy Democrats will recede back into irrelevance.

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Hillary Learning Wrong Midterm Lessons

If you thought something important was missing from the extensive coverage afforded the midterm elections this week, you were right. Amid the deluge of interviews and analyses of the stunning Republican victory, there was complete silence from one of the most important political players in the country: Hillary Clinton. The former first lady/secretary of state was presumably in a secure undisclosed Democratic location once the returns started coming in so as to avoid having to say anything about the defeat of her party and some of the people she worked hard to elect. But now that the dust is settling, the “ready for Hillary” crowd thinks it will soon be safe for her to come out of hiding and begin the process of allowing Democrats to coronate her as their next presidential nominee. But, if the report about their thinking in the New York Times is any indication, it looks like Hillary and her acolytes are choosing to learn all the wrong lessons from the midterms.

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If you thought something important was missing from the extensive coverage afforded the midterm elections this week, you were right. Amid the deluge of interviews and analyses of the stunning Republican victory, there was complete silence from one of the most important political players in the country: Hillary Clinton. The former first lady/secretary of state was presumably in a secure undisclosed Democratic location once the returns started coming in so as to avoid having to say anything about the defeat of her party and some of the people she worked hard to elect. But now that the dust is settling, the “ready for Hillary” crowd thinks it will soon be safe for her to come out of hiding and begin the process of allowing Democrats to coronate her as their next presidential nominee. But, if the report about their thinking in the New York Times is any indication, it looks like Hillary and her acolytes are choosing to learn all the wrong lessons from the midterms.

According to this very friendly insider report in the Times, Hillary’s crowd is actually encouraged by this week’s election results. While they indicate that the candidate will take her time and conduct a listening tour of the country to help her figure out what stands and issues to campaign on, they believe there’s no point in delaying the start of her campaign much longer. The Clintonites think having a Republican Congress in power will give her an easy foil to run against in 2016. And though many of her allies were beaten on Tuesday, they are actually taking solace from one of their party’s most humiliating defeats — the loss in deep blue Maryland’s governor’s race — since that can be interpreted as a rejection of outgoing Governor Martin O’Malley, who may challenge Clinton in the presidential primaries.

All three of these conclusions should trouble those who are rooting for Clinton to be elected in 2016.

First, the idea that Hillary will be spending the coming months in much the same way she began her career in elective office when running for a New York Senate seat, reminds us of her greatest weakness as a politician.

Unlike most people who are running for president, Clinton never seems to know what exactly she stands for except her own advancement. Listening is one thing, trying to concoct yet another new political identity on the fly is quite another. Bereft as she is of any political principles, she can never decide whether she is a centrist who can play the adult in the room or an Elizabeth Warren-style left-wing populist. Clinton may believe if she listens to enough smart people and takes good notes, she will learn her lessons and be able to present herself as a plausible president. But as she has repeatedly demonstrated this past year on first her book tour and then her campaign appearances for what Rand Paul’s staff aptly labeled “Hillary’s losers,” the transparent inauthenticity of her approach as well as her lack of the natural campaign skills her husband possesses, inevitably leads to gaffes and embarrassment. Anyone who expects a different result this time is bound to be disappointed.

Second, the facile optimism about the GOP victory being good news for Clinton shows few in her circle are thinking seriously about the results.

It is true that many Democrats think Clinton can profit from running against what they will label a “do-nothing” or “obstructionist” Congress regardless of whether these descriptions are accurate. But the notion that Republicans will remain the sole owners of Washington gridlock in the next two years is a dubious one. If the House and the Senate act in concert, as they should, it will be Obama who will be the one saying “no” via vetoes, not the right-wingers in the House or Senate. That will make it harder for someone who will effectively be running for a third term for Obama to absolve herself and her party of all connection to the nation’s problems.

Just as important, the returns reminded us that without the magic pull of the president at the top of the Democratic ticket, there is no guarantee of the sort of massive turnout of minorities and young people that characterized the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. Clinton may hope the historic nature of her own candidacy will enable her to pull off the same feat as Obama did. But we know Clinton can’t hold a candle to the president when it comes to political appeal. The midterms proved that the Democrats’ reliance on their old memes about the beastliness of the GOP has run out of steam. Hillary will need to think up something new and that brings with it as many dangers as advantages. As Michael Barone writes, the shrinkage of Obama’s blue empire this year may well indicate that Democrats are losing ground. While the 2016 electorate will probably be more favorable for Democrats than that of 2014, it may not be enough to convince voters to allow Obama’s party yet another term in office.

Last, any relief about O’Malley’s discomfit at the Maryland results only serves to reinforce the lack of sense that always seems to characterize Hillary’s camp. O’Malley, the most deferential to Clinton of all her potential Democrat challengers, was never going to be a threat to Hillary. Her real trouble will come from the hard left as Bernie Sanders and the rest of the Elizabeth Warren crowd cheering him on, will push her away from centrist positions if she hasn’t already abandoned them.

Though Hillary Clinton is the certain Democratic presidential nominee and will enter 2016 with considerable advantages, nothing that happened this week should be considered good news for her candidacy. That Clinton’s camp seems incapable of figuring this out as they prepare for another fake listening tour, is a harbinger of trouble for her efforts.

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Democrats’ Pitiful Premature Sour Grapes

Faced with a likely defeat in tomorrow’s midterm elections, some Democrats are in denial and predict an unlikely victory. Others have already started to form the usual circular firing squads, pointing their fingers at either an unpopular President Obama or those politicians that tripped over themselves in embarrassing efforts to disassociate themselves from the administration. But perhaps most telling are those choosing to dismiss the significance of tomorrow’s results even before they happen. Trying to deny the inevitable or to shift blame for it when defeat happens isn’t productive but nevertheless must be termed normal political behavior. The greatest danger for Democrats in the days following their likely loss of the Senate, however, is to pretend that a midterm disaster brings with it no hard lessons for the defeated.

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Faced with a likely defeat in tomorrow’s midterm elections, some Democrats are in denial and predict an unlikely victory. Others have already started to form the usual circular firing squads, pointing their fingers at either an unpopular President Obama or those politicians that tripped over themselves in embarrassing efforts to disassociate themselves from the administration. But perhaps most telling are those choosing to dismiss the significance of tomorrow’s results even before they happen. Trying to deny the inevitable or to shift blame for it when defeat happens isn’t productive but nevertheless must be termed normal political behavior. The greatest danger for Democrats in the days following their likely loss of the Senate, however, is to pretend that a midterm disaster brings with it no hard lessons for the defeated.

In recent days, the New York Times provided its liberal readership with a trifecta of midterm denial. But though these attempts to salve Democratic wounds that had not yet started bleeding were exactly what the paper’s readers want, they are the worst kind of medicine for a political party.

The most absurd was an op-ed by a Duke University professor of public policy and one his students. In it David Schanzer and Jay Sullivan, a junior at the school, argue that it is time to abolish the midterms. According to them, the exercise of allowing the people to have their say about Congress every two years is a nuisance. They say it is a big waste of time that forces members to spend too much time raising money and fundraising. But the real reason they don’t like it is that lately Republicans have done better at them because congressional Democrats don’t motivate the same kind of turnout from those with a marginal interest in politics, as Barack Obama did in 2008 and 2012. Schanzer and Sullivan don’t like the “whiter, older and more educated” midterm electorate so they think the best thing is to extend House terms to four years from two and change senators from having six years in office to either four or eight (!) before they have to face the voters.

Like all efforts to change the Constitution in order to manipulate the system to immediate partisan advantage, this scheme is a farce. The reason why the Founders wanted frequent elections for the House is that they rightly believed one house of Congress should be more reflective of the political passions of the moment while the other would be more reflective of long-term concerns. The pair from Duke wish to sacrifice this laudable aim because it doesn’t currently help the party they seem to favor without remembering that it could just as easily flip to help the Democrats as it has at times in the past. While I don’t think many serious people will pay much attention to this nonsense, it does illustrate the willingness of many on the left to do anything to somehow game the system in their favor.

While that piece was just plain foolish, more destructive was the explanation for the likely Democratic loss from Times columnist Charles Blow. The writer tends to view virtually every issue through a racial lens, so it is no surprise that this extreme liberal thinks the Democrats’ big problem remains racial animus toward President Obama. He agrees with Obama that the reason for criticism of his administration is that there are “some folks who just really dislike me because they don’t like the idea of a black president.” Since black support for Obama has not wavered throughout his presidency, Blow naturally assumes that the dropoff elsewhere must be due to racism, something that is accentuated by the Democrats’ reliance on huge turnouts from African-American voters to remain competitive.

Racism still exists in America but this is, of course, the same president who won clear majorities in two presidential elections in which a lot more white people voted than blacks. But despite these historic victories, he prefers to blame his troubles on irrational hatred rather than face the facts that a lot of people have buyer’s remorse about reelecting him after a record of failure in the last two years. While Democrats have resorted to race-baiting this fall in what may prove to be a futile effort to increase black turnout, the party would be well advised to distance itself from the politics of racial grievance once the dust settles. Playing to your base is important, but, as Republicans have shown us, doing so exclusively is a formula for electoral disaster.

But perhaps Nate Cohn in the Times’s Upshot section illustrated the most dangerous variety of Democratic thinking in his piece. In it, he gives us the ultimate sour grapes interpretation by saying that even if the GOP wins in key battleground states outside of their southern comfort zone, it won’t be a big deal if it is a close margin. His point is that since Democratic turnout will inevitably be far greater in 2016, anything short of a GOP landslide means the next presidential election will repeat the pattern of 2010 and 2012 in which a Republican win was followed by an impressive Democratic victory.

While it is true that Democrats have in recent years tended to do better in presidential years, that is mostly the function of a singularly historic figure named Barack Obama. Though the party hopes Hillary Clinton will perform just as well as the putative first female president succeeding the first African-American, her poor political skills (illustrated again last week) make that a chancy proposition. The thing about politics is that it changes all the time. Any assumptions about the next election based on the last few is, in this case, another instance of wishful thinking on the part of the left, not a sober analysis.

What happened this year is that Republicans learned some of their lessons from the past few cycles, nominated good candidates, and stayed on message. Democrats thought they could survive the downturn in Obama’s popularity by playing the same tired themes about a war on women and racism but are finding that it didn’t work as well as the last time. If they lose this week, Cohn’s advice might lead them to think that they have no need to re-evaluate that mistake but should, instead, merely do more of the same in hope of a better audience in 2016.

Whatever happens tomorrow, what the loser must do is to take a hard look at their defeats, and draw the proper conclusions. If Democrats emerge on Wednesday putting it all down to racism or the accident of a midterm, they will be setting themselves up for a far worse surprise in 2016 when conditions and turnout factors may not be as favorable for them as they think.

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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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The Consequences of a “Chickensh*t” Policy

No doubt the gang in the Obama administration have been congratulating themselves for planting some juicy insults aimed at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jeffrey Goldberg’s latest column in The Atlantic. But now that the wiseacres in the West Wing and/or the State Department have done their dirty work the question remains what will be the consequences of the decision to widen as well as to embitter the breach between the two countries. While most of those writing on this subject, including Goldberg, have emphasized the real possibility that the U.S. will sandbag Israel at the United Nations and otherwise undermine the Jewish state’s diplomatic position in the last years of Obama’s term in office, that won’t be the only blowback from the administration’s “chickenshit” diplomacy. Rather than harm Netanyahu, this ploy, like previous attacks on the prime minister, will strengthen him while making mischief for the president’s party in both this year’s midterms and in 2016.

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No doubt the gang in the Obama administration have been congratulating themselves for planting some juicy insults aimed at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jeffrey Goldberg’s latest column in The Atlantic. But now that the wiseacres in the West Wing and/or the State Department have done their dirty work the question remains what will be the consequences of the decision to widen as well as to embitter the breach between the two countries. While most of those writing on this subject, including Goldberg, have emphasized the real possibility that the U.S. will sandbag Israel at the United Nations and otherwise undermine the Jewish state’s diplomatic position in the last years of Obama’s term in office, that won’t be the only blowback from the administration’s “chickenshit” diplomacy. Rather than harm Netanyahu, this ploy, like previous attacks on the prime minister, will strengthen him while making mischief for the president’s party in both this year’s midterms and in 2016.

There is no doubt that Obama’s lame duck years will be stressful for Israel and its friends. As Seth noted earlier today, the administration’s full court press for détente with Iran is setting the table for a strategic blunder on their nuclear quest that will severely harm the balance of power in the Middle East as well as lay the groundwork for challenges to American national security for decades to come.

Nor should anyone discount the potential for severe damage to Israel’s diplomatic standing in the world should Obama decide to collude with the Palestinian Authority and to allow them to get a United Nations Security Council resolution on Palestinian statehood, borders, and Jerusalem. The Palestinians’ drive to annul Jewish rights and to bypass the peace process could, with Obama’s support, further isolate Israel and strengthen the efforts of those forces working to promote BDS—boycott, divest, sanction—campaigns that amount to an economic war on the Jewish people.

This is a dire prospect for a small, besieged country that still relieves heavily on U.S. security cooperation and defense aid. But for all the huffing and puffing on the part of Obama’s minions, the administration’s real objectives in all this plotting are not likely to be achieved. That’s because nothing published in a Goldberg column or leaked anywhere else will weaken Netanyahu’s hold on office or prompt the Palestinians to make peace or Iran to be more reasonable in the nuclear talks. The only people who will be hurt by the attacks on Israel are Obama’s fellow Democrats.

As I pointed out yesterday, Obama’s barbs aimed at Israel haven’t enticed the Palestinians to negotiate seriously in the past and won’t do so in the future. If the Palestinian Authority really wanted a state they would have accepted the one offered them in 2000, 2001, or 2008 or actually negotiated with Netanyahu in the last year after he indicated readiness to sign off on a two-state solution.

The boasts about having maneuvered Netanyahu into a position where he may not have a viable military option against Iran (actually, Israel may never have had much of an option since it can be argued that only U.S. possesses the forces required to conclusively knock out Iran’s nuclear facilities) is also nothing for the U.S. to be happy about since it will only strengthen the Iranians’ conviction that they have nothing to fear from Israel or a U.S. president that they think is too weak to stand up to them.

But Obama should have also already learned that challenging Netanyahu and insulting the Jewish state in this manner has one definite side effect: strengthening the prime minister’s political position at home. The same thing happened after Obama’s attacks on the status of Jerusalem in his first term. The administration thought it could topple Netanyahu soon after his election in February 2009 and failed, but even after his election to another term in 2013 as well as the absence of any viable alternative to him, they are still clinging to the delusion that the Israeli people will reject his policies. But that isn’t likely to happen for one reason. The overwhelming majority of Israelis may not love the prime minister but they share his belief that there is no Palestinian peace partner and that turning the West Bank into a sovereign state that could be controlled by Hamas and other terrorists just like Gaza would be madness. They also oppose efforts to divide their capital or to prohibit Jews from the right to live in some parts of the city.

Netanyahu won’t back down. In the wake of the summer war with Hamas that further undermined an Israeli left that was already in ruins after 20 years of failed peace processing, Netanyahu was clearly heading to early elections that would further strengthen the Likud. Obama’s attacks will only make that strategy more attractive to the prime minister. But whether he is reelected in 2015, 2016, or 2017, few believe Netanyahu won’t be returned to office by the voters for his third consecutive and fourth overall term as Israel’s leader. Though a lot of damage can be done to Israel in the next two years, that means Netanyahu is almost certain to be able to outlast Obama in office and to enjoy what will almost certainly be better relations with his successor whether it is a Democrat or a Republican. Waiting out Obama isn’t a good strategy for Israel but it may be the only one it has available to it and will likely be rewarded with a honeymoon with the next president.

But Netanyahu isn’t the only person who will profit politically from this astonishingly crude assault on the Jewish state’s democratically elected leader.

Foreign policy is rarely a decisive factor in U.S. elections but at a time when Democrats are suffering the ill effects of Obama’s inept response to the threat from ISIS, it won’t do the president’s party any good for the administration to pick a fight with it’s sole democratic ally in the Middle East. Americans have a right to ask why an administration that was slow to react to ISIS and is intent on appeasing a murderous Islamist regime in Iran is so intent on fighting with Israel. That won’t help embattled Democrats seeking reelection in red states where evangelicals regard backing for Israel as a key issue.

Nor will it help Democrats as they head toward 2016. Though Hillary Clinton will likely run away from Obama on his attacks on Netanyahu as she has done on other foreign-policy issues, running for what will in effect be Obama’s third term will still burden her with the need to either actively oppose the president’s anti-Israel actions in the UN or détente with Iran or accept the negative political fallout of silence. Any Republican, with the exception of an isolationist like Rand Paul, will be able to exploit this issue to their advantage.

Those who worry about the damage to Israel from a lame-duck Obama administration that is seething with hatred for Netanyahu and thinks it has nothing to lose are not wrong. But Democrats will be hurt politically by a crisis that was created by Obama, not Netanyahu. They won’t be grateful to the president for having put them in this fix while Netanyahu will probably emerge from this trial strengthened at home and in a good position to repair relations with Obama’s successor.

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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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Do Early 2016 Polls Matter? For Democrats, Not Republicans

There’s a strange asymmetry to the 2016 presidential primary polls. For the Democrats, the polls actually matter, or at least tell us something important. Hillary Clinton’s dominance over her rivals has led to some recalling the “inevitability” narrative in 2008 that was, of course, shattered by Barack Obama. But the polls that showed Clinton ahead in those days weren’t as lopsided, and the path wasn’t quite so clear. It’s true that there’s no such thing as a sure thing, but Clinton’s chances of cruising to the nomination are much better this time around.

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There’s a strange asymmetry to the 2016 presidential primary polls. For the Democrats, the polls actually matter, or at least tell us something important. Hillary Clinton’s dominance over her rivals has led to some recalling the “inevitability” narrative in 2008 that was, of course, shattered by Barack Obama. But the polls that showed Clinton ahead in those days weren’t as lopsided, and the path wasn’t quite so clear. It’s true that there’s no such thing as a sure thing, but Clinton’s chances of cruising to the nomination are much better this time around.

Additionally, the polls tell us something else: Democratic voters are not interested in nominating Joe Biden. That’s significant this time if only because he’s the sitting vice president, and therefore has some claim to be next in line. It also means he has high name recognition, which is the key to leading such early polls. (Although it’s worth pointing out that if this Jimmy Kimmel man-on-the-street experiment is any indication, Biden has lower name recognition than you might otherwise think.)

Name recognition, in fact, is basically both the question and answer to deciphering such early polls. So while it’s the reason polls showing Clinton in the lead are worth paying attention to, it’s simultaneously the reason polls of the Republican side of the equation are meaningless. The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll makes this point pretty clearly:

Hillary Clinton continues to hold a commanding lead in the potential Democratic field for president in 2016, while the GOP frontrunner in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll is a familiar figure – but one not favored by eight in 10 potential Republican voters.

That would be Mitt Romney, supported for the GOP nomination by 21 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. That’s double the support of his closest potential rival, but it also leaves 79 percent who prefer one of 13 other possible candidates tested, or none of them.

But what happens when you remove Romney’s name from contention and ask his supporters the same question? This:

When Romney is excluded from the race, his supporters scatter, adding no clarity to the GOP free-for-all. In that scenario former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul have 12 or 13 percent support from leaned Republicans who are registered to vote. All others have support in the single digits.

As I wrote last month on Republicans and name recognition:

Take this summer poll from Gallup on the public’s familiarity with 2016 candidates. The only two Republicans to crack 60 percent were Chris Christie and Jeb Bush. … If he wins reelection in Wisconsin, Scott Walker would be considered among the GOP’s strongest candidates (on paper at least, which is all we have so far for the newbies). … Yet Gallup found Walker with the lowest familiarity of any of the GOP candidates, at just 34 percent.

Similarly, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal–the human résumé–was at just 38 percent. Huckabee was at 54 percent, higher than previous candidate Rick Santorum (but lower than Rick Perry) as well as all the non-previous candidates except Christie, Jeb Bush, and Rand Paul, who was at 55 percent. Huckabee also tied Christie for the highest favorability rating in that poll.

Now look at the new ABC/WaPo poll. There’s Huckabee, along with Jeb Bush and Rand Paul plus Romney at the top. Name recognition still roughly determines the outline of the race.

And that brings up another reason these polls aren’t much help: the actual makeup of the field when the primaries get under way. It’s doubtful Romney will run again. Huckabee is far from a sure thing to run again. Jeb Bush is probably more likely than not to pass as well, considering the fact that Christie still appears to be running and so does Bush’s fellow Floridian Marco Rubio.

Yet according to the ABC/WaPo poll, the top three vote getters on the GOP side are … Romney, Bush, and Huckabee. The pollsters took Romney out of the lineup to get a better sense of where Romney’s support was coming from (leaving Bush and Huckabee still in the top three), but they might have done better taking all three out of an additional question and seeing where the field would be without them. Rand Paul is the top voter-getter among those who either haven’t previously run for president or whose last name isn’t Bush.

After that, it gets more interesting–but not by much. Paul Ryan is a popular choice, but that’s name recognition as well since he ran on the 2012 national ticket. He also doesn’t seem all that enthusiastic about a run for president. If he doesn’t run, that means there’s a good chance three of the top four vote getters in the Romney-free version of the poll aren’t running, leaving Romney’s supporters without any of their favored candidates except Rand Paul.

Here’s another such poll, this one of Iowa voters from last week. The top two choices are Romney and Ben Carson, followed by Paul, Huckabee, and Ryan. Perhaps Romney really is running and Carson is a strong sleeper pick. But I doubt it on both counts. I also doubt Romney would win Iowa even if he ran, no matter what the Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll says.

This is an indication of how wide-open the race is on the GOP side. But not much else. And the polls should be treated that way.

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Syria: What Might Have Been

The Obama administration, like its predecessors, has used strategic leaks to the press to buttress arguments in which officials are (theoretically) hamstrung by secrecy laws. Usually the Obama administration has done so in order to look tougher than critics give the president credit for being, but in today’s New York Times they’ve taken the opposite tack: a leak designed to support the president’s instinctive caution on Syria. Unfortunately for Obama, the attempt to spin his Syria policy merely reveals just how little the president understands about military strategy and the Middle East.

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The Obama administration, like its predecessors, has used strategic leaks to the press to buttress arguments in which officials are (theoretically) hamstrung by secrecy laws. Usually the Obama administration has done so in order to look tougher than critics give the president credit for being, but in today’s New York Times they’ve taken the opposite tack: a leak designed to support the president’s instinctive caution on Syria. Unfortunately for Obama, the attempt to spin his Syria policy merely reveals just how little the president understands about military strategy and the Middle East.

The story in the Times recaps a classified report from the CIA to the president analyzing the success rate of arming rebels in past conflicts. The report, according to the story, greatly contributed to Obama’s reluctance to help the Syrian rebels. But there are two problems with this approach. The first, and obvious, one is that Obama has already given the green light to arming the rebels the administration considers sufficiently moderate. If the CIA report was the reason not to arm them sooner, what’s the reason to arm them now?

The answer to that appears to be: Obama wants to fight ISIS more seriously than he wanted to defeat Bashar al-Assad–though that still doesn’t account for the fact that the president believes it’s a policy with very low odds of succeeding. Indeed, the story itself eventually points out that Obama nonetheless chose the least effective method of helping the rebels:

The C.I.A. review, according to several former American officials familiar with its conclusions, found that the agency’s aid to insurgencies had generally failed in instances when no Americans worked on the ground with the foreign forces in the conflict zones, as is the administration’s plan for training Syrian rebels.

So this arguably raises as many questions as it answers. But the other aspect of this is about the dishonesty with which the administration seeks to push back on its critics, especially those who recently left the administration–Leon Panetta most prominently, but also Hillary Clinton, Michele Flournoy, and former Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford. The Times mentions Clinton, Panetta, and David Petraeus:

The debate over whether Mr. Obama acted too slowly to support the Syrian rebellion has been renewed after both former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and former Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta wrote in recent books that they had supported a plan presented in the summer of 2012 by David H. Petraeus, then the C.I.A. director, to arm and train small groups of rebels in Jordan.

But the tone and nature of this argument coming from the administration is just a repeat of a classic Obama tactic: setting up a straw man and then knocking him down. The administration wants to paint Syria intervention as simply a gunrunning operation, with some foreign training. But the idea that it was either CIA gunrunning or nothing is what the president, were he on the receiving end of this argument, would call a false choice. And it goes to the heart of why Obama’s foreign policy has been so unnerving: he doesn’t seem to really understand the issues at play.

Arming and training the Syrian rebels was indeed a key part of interventionists’ early argument. But it wasn’t the whole argument. A more comprehensive intervention that still stopped shy of an American ground war included territorial carve-outs to secure parts of the country in the hands of certain rebels; a no-fly zone (or more than one) to enforce the boundaries of the new carve-outs; large on-site training programs; and humanitarian corridors to those territories from neighboring friendly countries, like Jordan and perhaps Kurdish positions in Iraq and Turkey.

This would also allow intelligence from Israel to be better coordinated and utilized, at least for air support and the tracking of enemy forces, and would improve and streamline recruitment efforts. And it would protect segments of the disappearing borders of these countries, to make it more difficult (though far from impossible) for Islamist terrorist groups to take advantage of porous borders, especially between Iraq and Syria. It would also go some way toward protecting at-risk minorities from groups like ISIS, and it would force ISIS to either defend more territory (instead of almost always being on offense) or leave forces behind in territory through which it marches virtually unopposed to hold that territory, spreading its resources thinner and disrupting its communications and supply lines.

Obama seems to think that the fragmented nature of the Syrian rebels and the weakness of the Syrian state and the Iraqi army vindicate his reluctance to help the Syrian rebels. But the opposite is the case. There were better options available to the president than simply gunrunning in Syria. Had he taken those options, it’s likely the situation would be better today than it is. But that would require the president to first admit that those options even exist.

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Marylanders to the Rest of the Country: Beware Martin O’Malley

What does Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley have in common with self-described socialist Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders? The same percentage of Maryland Democrats want them to be the next Democratic presidential nominee. That would be 3 percent. It’s just one of the many data points to come out of the latest Washington Post/University of Maryland poll to support H.L. Mencken’s contention that “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.”

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What does Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley have in common with self-described socialist Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders? The same percentage of Maryland Democrats want them to be the next Democratic presidential nominee. That would be 3 percent. It’s just one of the many data points to come out of the latest Washington Post/University of Maryland poll to support H.L. Mencken’s contention that “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.”

Although, in the interest of basic compassion, it might be unkind to claim Maryland residents–or anyone, really–deserve to get two terms of Martin O’Malley.

And, to their immense credit, Marylanders don’t want the rest of the country to bring Martin O’Malley upon themselves. The message from Marylanders to the nation at large is: Don’t let our years governed by O’Malley be in vain; let something good come out of all of this. And that something good appears to be a national future unencumbered by Martin O’Malley as the nation’s chief executive.

But there are worse numbers in the poll for O’Malley than Democratic voters’ resounding declaration that they don’t want him representing their party in the next presidential election. That at least can be spun away. After all, if Democrats are asked to pick one politician to be their next presidential nominee, it’s no surprise that so many–63 percent–chose Hillary Clinton. (Although it is somewhat humorous that “Other/no opinion” polls nearly five times as well as O’Malley. They say you can’t beat something with nothing, and O’Malley appears to be the exception that proves the rule.)

No, the most unflattering portion of the poll is probably when registered voters are asked “Do you think Martin O’Malley would make a good president, or not?” The response: 14 percent said yes; 70 percent said no. The poll contrasts that with the result when the same question was asked in October 2012. At that time, the numbers were only slightly better–22 percent said yes; 62 percent said no–but still so far underwater as to be invisible from the surface.

There are more bad numbers–really, the whole poll is just an opportunity for Marylanders to unload on their horrendous governor. As the Post reported in an accompanying story, his “job-approval rating has fallen to an eight-year low of 41 percent, with his biggest defections coming from fellow Democrats.” What happened? The Post offers some suggestions:

Although O’Malley is not on the ballot this year, his policies in Maryland — particularly a string of tax increases during his tenure — have come under heavy fire from other candidates. Months of attacks, including some from fellow Democrats, appear to have taken their toll, some analysts say.

Other observers suggest that the time O’Malley has spent crisscrossing the country, seeking to gain national exposure, has alienated some constituents in Maryland.

Plausible. But it might be worth delving a bit more into his policies. The lesson might not be one national Democrats want to learn:

His legacy will include legalization of same-sex marriage, a sweeping gun-control bill, repeal of the death penalty, several measures expanding immigrant rights and an increase in the minimum wage. He has also overseen multiple tax hikes during his tenure, including increases in personal income taxes paid by high earners, the corporate income tax, sales tax, gas tax, tobacco tax and alcohol tax.

All politics is local (though not as local as it ought to be), so I doubt it’ll worry Democrats too much. Some of this might be personal; O’Malley is, after all, deeply unlikeable. But his agenda is also very liberal in a pretty liberal state, and voters don’t seem to love the results. It’s a common feature in American politics: there’s only so much liberalism even liberals can take.

And part of that could be the impression of the stereotype come to life. Reread that list of O’Malley tax increases, and you not only understand the O’Taxey nickname but get the sense the governor is to taxes what Bubba Blue is to shrimp.

Democrats may counter all this by pointing out that O’Malley is terrible at his job, and Democrats who aren’t terrible at their jobs will not suffer the same poll numbers. That’s true. But an element of O’Malley being terrible at his job is that, when it comes to issues like taxes, he cranks his liberalism up to eleven.

The other phenomenon here is just how “Ready for Hillary” national Democrats are. They don’t want a divisive nomination fight, and they don’t want a battle over ideas, in part because they want to nominate Hillary instead of a candidate who has ideas. So they’re not much interested in even having this conversation. And you almost can’t blame them: O’Taxey, a Vermont socialist, Joe Biden–the alternatives to Hillary aren’t exactly a sparkling A-team of Democratic leaders.

And that’s what might actually concern Democratic Party leaders more than O’Malley’s unpopularity: the prospect that there is no A-team. There’s just Clinton. They may get the nominee they want, but as far as Democrats see it, that’s not because she’s their best choice as much as that she’s their only choice.

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