Commentary Magazine


Topic: John Kasich

Kasich’s Amendment Gimmick and 2016

Up until his impressive reelection as governor of Ohio, there wasn’t much national buzz about John Kasich’s hopes for the presidency in 2016. But the former congressman, investment banker, and Fox News commentator’s strong showing in what is probably the most important battleground state in the country placed him squarely in the middle of a large field of potential GOP candidates and with better credentials for high office than most of the others. Yet the problem facing Kasich if he really wants to win his party’s nomination goes deeper than the same allergy to Wall Street types that hurt Mitt Romney and may yet sink Jeb Bush. It’s that his stands on immigration and Medicaid expansion make him look like just another big-government Republican/RINO to the conservative base. Kasich has an answer to those criticisms: a crusade for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. But though the idea appears designed to make him appear to be a candidate the Tea Party can love as well as the establishment, Republicans would do well to give it a wide berth.

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Up until his impressive reelection as governor of Ohio, there wasn’t much national buzz about John Kasich’s hopes for the presidency in 2016. But the former congressman, investment banker, and Fox News commentator’s strong showing in what is probably the most important battleground state in the country placed him squarely in the middle of a large field of potential GOP candidates and with better credentials for high office than most of the others. Yet the problem facing Kasich if he really wants to win his party’s nomination goes deeper than the same allergy to Wall Street types that hurt Mitt Romney and may yet sink Jeb Bush. It’s that his stands on immigration and Medicaid expansion make him look like just another big-government Republican/RINO to the conservative base. Kasich has an answer to those criticisms: a crusade for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. But though the idea appears designed to make him appear to be a candidate the Tea Party can love as well as the establishment, Republicans would do well to give it a wide berth.

As Politico reports, Kasich is currently touring the country promoting the idea and, of course, also boosting his visibility for those Republicans looking for a successful governor to support for president rather than the unelectable candidates of the right or the establishment favorites embraced by large donors and moderates. If viewed solely in that context, it’s a serviceable gimmick and can also help engender much-needed discussions about taxing and spending, as Kasich says is his purpose. However, on closer examination, the balanced budget amendment idea sounds better in theory than it is in practice.

An amendment would seemingly prevent the kind of bloated deficit spending and the dangerous expansion of debt that rightly enrages conservatives. Its advocates can also point to the example of the states that have such requirements in their constitutions to show that such a scheme can work to prevent the excesses that are harming the economy. But, as anyone who has ever covered a state budget process knows, the requirement to balance the ledgers is just as likely to work against conservative principles as it is to favor them.

One problem is that the requirement to balance the budget can be just as easily employed as an argument to raise taxes as to cut spending. Indeed, for all of the revulsion against new taxes, we know that cutting budget items, especially entitlements, is an uphill climb under the best of circumstances.

Even worse, the notion that a mere statutory requirement can actually prohibit deficit spending is something of a myth. As the states have proved, the process by which their budgets are balanced generally involves sleight of hand tactics and deceptions as much as it does transparency and sober judgments. At best, it is a symbolic measure that could help deter some of the worst practices of contemporary Washington. At worst, it will be a false panacea that will facilitate more of the same congressional hijinks that produce the sort of Christmas tree measures that fiscal conservatives purport to hate. In short, if you didn’t like the recently passed Cromnibus, you won’t think much of life under a balanced budget amendment.

As for Kasich’s 2016 chances, they are, to be fair, as good or as bad as anyone else in a crowded field. However, as Politico notes, he’s more likely to make an impact if any or the entire favored establishment trio of Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, or Mitt Romney stay out of the race. In the meantime, he can go on peddling his amendment idea and perhaps start some necessary conversations about a future in which Americans will no longer demand a government so big that it can’t stop spending. But no one should mistake his idea for an actual solution that problem.

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The GOP Governors’ 2016 Derby

Chris Christie took a well-deserved victory lap this week at the annual meeting of the Republican Governor’s Association, basking in the glow of a midterm victory that capped off a highly successful year for him as chairman of the group. The New Jersey governor’s formidable fundraising skills played a significant role in the GOP’s victories around the country, including in blue states such as Maryland and Massachusetts. But, as Politico notes, Christie wasn’t getting much love, in terms of his 2016 prospects, from the candidates he helped. That’s not terribly surprising given the plethora of potential candidates, including a bevy of his fellow Republican governors. But the impressive lineup of would-be presidents in attendance at the RGA highlights a key problem for all of these hopefuls: the crowded field in which seemingly none of them has a political or even a geographical advantage renders the talk of the inevitability of a governor being the nominee a piece of useless conventional wisdom.

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Chris Christie took a well-deserved victory lap this week at the annual meeting of the Republican Governor’s Association, basking in the glow of a midterm victory that capped off a highly successful year for him as chairman of the group. The New Jersey governor’s formidable fundraising skills played a significant role in the GOP’s victories around the country, including in blue states such as Maryland and Massachusetts. But, as Politico notes, Christie wasn’t getting much love, in terms of his 2016 prospects, from the candidates he helped. That’s not terribly surprising given the plethora of potential candidates, including a bevy of his fellow Republican governors. But the impressive lineup of would-be presidents in attendance at the RGA highlights a key problem for all of these hopefuls: the crowded field in which seemingly none of them has a political or even a geographical advantage renders the talk of the inevitability of a governor being the nominee a piece of useless conventional wisdom.

As I noted last week, the assumption that governors make better presidents than, say, senators gets a mixed verdict from history. But the current crop of GOP governors do have a strong argument that their distance from Washington dysfunction and records of accomplishment stand them in good stead in any presidential race. The problem is not only that each of them also has their own set of liabilities but also that the sheer volume of contenders with a gubernatorial resume line makes it difficult for any one of them to credibly claim the mantle of the chief non-Washingtonian candidate of good governance.

Christie’s difficult path to the nomination is already well documented. While he may be in the process of putting the Bridgegate accusations behind him, the antipathy of the party’s conservative base for Christie is a formidable obstacle. So, too, is the difficulty of imagining someone with his irascible nature (“sit down and shut up”) and thin skin surviving on the stump amid the intense scrutiny of a presidential race.

But while doubts about the resurrection of Christie’s once high presidential expectations are well founded, the same skepticism ought to apply to the other governors preening for the national press this week. Chief among them is Ohio Governor John Kasich, who seems to be the flavor of the month after his huge reelection victory in perhaps the most crucial swing state in the country. But Kasich, with his equivocal stance on Medicare and ObamaCare as well his more moderate views on immigration is no more likely to be liked by the base than Christie, leaving him competing for establishment support with Christie and a flock of others.

Those others include Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, who will have a stronger claim on the base while also being able to connect with moderates. Indiana’s Mike Pence is similarly situated, albeit without the folk hero status Walker earned among conservatives with his epic battles with unions and the unsuccessful liberal attempt to recall him. But as much as both men are veteran politicians, they are untested outside of their states leaving even their fans uncertain as to how they’d fare in a presidential campaign.

Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal is another smart Republican governor with conservative credentials, but his efforts to edge out onto the national stage haven’t been universally successful. Buying into the notion that an intellectual southern governor/social conservative with as little charisma as he demonstrates can make the leap to the first tier in the primaries requires more religious faith than political acumen.

As for others, we also need to realize that the overlap between these candidates is a big problem. Whether or not you think Texas Governor Rick Perry has a shot at doing better in his second try for the presidency (after a wince-inducing and disastrous 2012 campaign), he is up against the fact that he will be competing for support with another Texan, Senator Ted Cruz, who has much a better chance of exciting Tea Partiers and other conservatives than Mr. “Oops.” Walker, Kasich, and Pence will compete for the title of leading Midwest governor making it difficult for any of them to seize a niche and make it their own.

That’s why outsiders like Carly Fiorina and Dr. Ben Carson are spinning scenarios in their heads about a path to the nomination even if their claims are far more dubious than those of potential competitors. The same applies to would-be establishment standard bearers like Jeb Bush and Christie. Yet Bush would also face competition in Florida from Senator Marco Rubio and Walker must also deal with the possibility that Rep. Paul Ryan, a fellow Wisconsin resident, will run.

Only Senator Rand Paul seems to have a constituency locked up—the libertarian crowd he seems to have inherited from his outlier father Ron—but there is doubt as to whether they will follow him blindly if he continues to edge closer to mainstream views on foreign policy in order to be more presentable.

But Kasich’s recent boomlet should also remind us about what will be the key factor in winnowing this field down to those who have an actual chance: gaffes. Kasich has stayed at home in Columbus the past few years far away from national media centers and earned a reputation as a good governor. But his past as a fast-talking, albeit relatively moderate conservative congressman and then as a sometime replacement host on Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly show makes it more than probable that Kasich will eventually say something that will undermine a presidential campaign. The same is true of the rest of this crowd. If it’s hard to know what will happen in the next year during the run-up to the start of the 2016 primaries, it is because we don’t know which of the candidates will sink themselves with a stray remark.

Seen in that light the competition for the 2016 nomination isn’t so much a cattle call for a bunch of governors as it is a demolition derby that will probably determine the outcome via gaffes and self-destructive impulses. All these governors have a chance but the one that is best at avoiding mistakes is the one who will get a shot at winning.

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After the GOP Wave

Some post-election thoughts in light of the GOPs tidal wave on Tuesday:

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Some post-election thoughts in light of the GOPs tidal wave on Tuesday:

1. The majority of Republicans have reacted to their victories in an impressive fashion. Their rhetoric is restrained, serious, and mature. They know that while they did extremely well in races at every level, they still have a ways to go to earn the trust and loyalty of most Americans (that’s more true of congressional Republicans than those who are governors). Republicans in the Senate and House are signaling a willingness to work with the president if he’s willing to show some flexibility. (The president’s apparent commitment to go forward with an unconstitutional executive amnesty order will be all the evidence we need that Mr. Obama is determined to further polarize our politics and rip apart our political culture.) Speaker Boehner and the next Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, have already put forward their to-do list; so have others. There’s evidence that Republicans–most of them, anyway–have internalized the need to show they’re more serious about putting forward a governing agenda and solving problems facing middle class Americans than “telegenic confrontations” and “volcanic effusions.”  The GOP’s detoxification effort is well under way.

2. What ought to encourage Republicans isn’t simply that their ranks have swollen, but the quality of many of the new arrivals, from Tom Cotton and Ben Sasse in the Senate to Elise Stefanik and Barbara Comstock in the House to many others. The GOP does best when it’s seen as the home of individuals with conservative principles and a governing temperament. A winsome personality doesn’t hurt, either.

3. The GOP’s victory was the result of many things, from President Obama’s unpopularity and the awful political environment Democrats faced to the superior quality of the Republican candidates, their disciplined, gaffe-free campaigns, successful fundraising, and the select intervention by various groups into Republican primaries (ensuring that the most electable conservative was nominated). But not to be overlooked is that Republicans did a much better job than in the past with their Get Out The Vote effort, including turnout of low-propensity voters. As National Journal’s Ron Fournier put it:

A review of the RNC’s targeting operation (including a preelection sample of specific projections) suggests to me that the GOP has made significant advances on targeting and mobilizing voters. While the Democratic Party may still own the best ground game, GOP Chairman Reince Priebus has narrowed, if not closed, the tech gap.

A few Democrats saw this coming. “Our side has underestimated the GOP ground game,” Democratic pollster Celinda Lake told me Tuesday morning. “Their electorate doesn’t look like ours, so we don’t recognize or respect what they’re doing.”

4. The most surprising outcome of the evening may have been how well Republicans did in governor’s races around the nation. They were predicted to lose several seats; instead, they made a net gain of three. Among the most impressive was Ohio’s John Kasich, who won by more than 30 points. He carried heavily Democratic counties like Lucas and Cuyahoga. In fact, in a key purple state, Kasich carried 86 of Ohio’s 88 counties and a quarter of the African-American vote. Mr. Kasich has amassed an impressive record as governor–and a popular one, too. He’s one of America’s most engaging and interesting politicians. If he wants to run for president in 2016, he certainly helped his cause on Tuesday.

5. There are plenty of reasons for Republicans to be buoyed. They have very impressive people, including people in their ’30s and ’40s, at every level. Of the two parties, the GOP seems to be the one of greater energy and ideas. The Democratic Party, and liberalism more broadly, seems stale, aging, and exhausted. And of course the GOP has now strung together massive, back-to-back midterm wins. But it’s still worth keeping in mind that Republicans had spectacular showings in 1994 and 2010–and they were defeated by rather large margins in the presidential races two years after those wins. The danger is that a victory like the one Republicans experienced on Tuesday creates a false dawn, a sense of false confidence. Winning midterms elections is important; but midterm elections are different than presidential elections. The GOP still has repair work to do and things to build on. But progress is being made–and the results of this week’s election are the best evidence of that fact.

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Jeb Bush and the 2016 GOP Field

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

I have no idea. And neither do you. 

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Jindal, Brownback, and the State-Led Conservative Opposition

Since the one bright spot for Republicans in this past November’s general election was the party’s performance in gubernatorial elections, it’s no surprise that the states have become battlegrounds for conservative opposition to the Obama White House. The GOP increased its share of the country’s governorships to 30, and well before November had been leaning on those governors for conservative policymaking. The most visible issue was the role and power of public-sector unions, something John Steele Gordon wrote about earlier, but education reform and the battle over state health insurance exchanges as part of Obamacare have been and will continue to be high-profile policy fights as well.

Energized by a string of such victories, Republican governors seem to have identified the next element of President Obama’s big-government agenda to push back on: taxes. A recent USA Today story details plans to cut certain taxes (and in some cases, raise others to compensate) from Virginia’s Bob McDonnell, Ohio’s John Kasich, New Mexico’s Susana Martinez, Florida’s Rick Scott, Idaho’s Butch Otter, and Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal. Today, the New York Times reports on Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s dramatic tax cut plan:

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Since the one bright spot for Republicans in this past November’s general election was the party’s performance in gubernatorial elections, it’s no surprise that the states have become battlegrounds for conservative opposition to the Obama White House. The GOP increased its share of the country’s governorships to 30, and well before November had been leaning on those governors for conservative policymaking. The most visible issue was the role and power of public-sector unions, something John Steele Gordon wrote about earlier, but education reform and the battle over state health insurance exchanges as part of Obamacare have been and will continue to be high-profile policy fights as well.

Energized by a string of such victories, Republican governors seem to have identified the next element of President Obama’s big-government agenda to push back on: taxes. A recent USA Today story details plans to cut certain taxes (and in some cases, raise others to compensate) from Virginia’s Bob McDonnell, Ohio’s John Kasich, New Mexico’s Susana Martinez, Florida’s Rick Scott, Idaho’s Butch Otter, and Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal. Today, the New York Times reports on Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s dramatic tax cut plan:

This month, the largest tax cut in Kansas history took effect, and most of its Medicaid system was handed over to private insurers. The bill introduced this week would pare taxes further, with the goal of eventually eliminating the state’s individual income tax. Mr. Brownback has already slashed the state’s welfare roll and its work force. He has merged government agencies and is proposing further consolidation. He is pushing for pension changes, to change the way judges are selected and for altering education financing formulas.

“I think it is the leading edge of the conservative economic and political movement,” said State Representative Tom Sloan, a Republican representing the area around Lawrence. “As such, it is the example that other state leaders will look to to determine whether the political philosophy can mesh with the expectations of the public.”

The Washington-centric focus of the press and the drama over negotiations between the Republican-controlled House and the Obama White House tend to overshadow the far-reaching economic reforms taking place at the state level. And that focus is exactly what Jindal plans to take aim at in his keynote speech tonight to the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting. Jindal, who has been at the forefront of conservative education reform and is a possible contender for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, plans to argue forcefully against his own party’s concentration on Washington. As the Washington Post reports:

“By obsessing with zeroes on the budget spreadsheet, we send a not-so-subtle signal that the focus of our country is on the phony economy of Washington, instead of the real economy out here in Charlotte, and Shreveport (La.), and Cheyenne (Wyo.),” Jindal is set to say at one point in the speech. At another, he will argue that “Washington has spent a generation trying to bribe our citizens and extort our states,” adding: “As Republicans, it’s time to quit arguing around the edges of that corrupt system.”

It will be interesting to see just how clearly Jindal can pair his critique of Washington with a conservative alternative. On the broad strokes, Jindal is certainly correct: Washington’s buddy system and its self-perpetuating bureaucracy make it ripe both for bad policy and for cronyism that often too easily seduces Republicans as well as Democrats.

But there’s also a trap here Jindal is setting for himself, and his party. Conservatives are on firm ground when they talk of the need to reform Washington, but they should be careful not to treat the capital as incidental. Congress’s approval ratings may be low, and there is certainly a limited amount of policymaking the GOP can do with only one house of Congress and Harry Reid’s refusal to permit even basic Senate business from taking place in the other house. But conservatives should learn the right lesson: they need to be in a position to legislate.

Nothing proved this more clearly than the Obamacare debacle. Republicans didn’t have enough seats in Congress to block it, and then Chief Justice John Roberts allowed himself to be bullied and intimidated into ruling in favor of the president’s constitutionally suspect legislative overreach out of concern for his legacy and his public stature rather than his own best judgment. Roberts is an example of how the conservative movement cannot rely on the courts to protect the country from unconstitutional big-government schemes. Conservatives have the right idea on state-level reform to act as a bulwark against some of the terrible policy coming from the White House. But they also can’t ignore the battles on Capitol Hill.

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The Age of the GOP Governors

Yesterday a landmark event happened in Michigan. The Wolverine State–which is not simply home of the United Auto Workers but in many respects is the birthplace of the modern labor movement–has become the 24th state to ban compulsory union fees. Workers will no longer be required to pay union fees as a condition of employment. And if history–and other states, like Indiana–is any guide, this action will not only grant workers freedom but also attract new businesses to Michigan. (Michigan desperately needs this, since it has the sixth-highest state jobless rate in America at 9.1 percent.) 

This move came after unions once again overshot, having tried to enshrine collective bargaining into the state constitution (through Proposition 2).  

“Everybody has this image of Michigan as a labor state,” Bill Ballenger, the editor of Inside Michigan Politics, told the New York Times. “But organized labor has been losing clout, and the Republicans saw an opportunity, and now the chickens are coming home to roost.”

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Yesterday a landmark event happened in Michigan. The Wolverine State–which is not simply home of the United Auto Workers but in many respects is the birthplace of the modern labor movement–has become the 24th state to ban compulsory union fees. Workers will no longer be required to pay union fees as a condition of employment. And if history–and other states, like Indiana–is any guide, this action will not only grant workers freedom but also attract new businesses to Michigan. (Michigan desperately needs this, since it has the sixth-highest state jobless rate in America at 9.1 percent.) 

This move came after unions once again overshot, having tried to enshrine collective bargaining into the state constitution (through Proposition 2).  

“Everybody has this image of Michigan as a labor state,” Bill Ballenger, the editor of Inside Michigan Politics, told the New York Times. “But organized labor has been losing clout, and the Republicans saw an opportunity, and now the chickens are coming home to roost.”

This victory was important, then, both substantively and politically. And it brought into sharper focus the best news about the GOP these days: Governors. Despite a very disappointing showing at the federal level in November, at the state level things are quite encouraging. Republicans now control 30 governorships–the highest number for either party in a dozen years. (Democrats control 19 governorships and Rhode Island has an independent governor.) 

Moreover, many of the brightest stars in the conservative constellation are governors–people like Mitch Daniels (Indiana), Bob McDonnell (Virginia), Scott Walker (Wisconsin), Bobby Jindal (Louisiana), Chris Christie (New Jersey), John Kasich (Ohio), Susana Martinez (New Mexico), and Nikki Haley (South Carolina), as well as former Florida governor Jeb Bush.

These men and women are models for governance: conservative, reform-minded, growth-oriented, and interested in what works. They tend to be principled but not ideological. They’re problem solvers, they have to balance their budgets, and they are generally popular in their states. As a general rule they practice politics in a way that doesn’t deepen mistrust or cynicism among the citizens of their states.

This period reminds me a bit of the 1990s, when many of the best reforms (in areas like welfare and education) were coming from governors. That’s certainly the case today. And it’s why many on the right were hoping that in 2012 the best of the current class, Mitch Daniels, had run for president of the United States (he opted for becoming, starting next year, president of Purdue University). For now, Republicans could hardly do better than to turn their lonely eyes to state capitals throughout the country.

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Waiting for Cream to Rise to the Top

Fred Barnes writes:

Why do the potential Republican presidential candidates (with one exception) seem so old, dull, and uninteresting? There are a few simple answers. Most of the candidates are a generation older than most of the new Republican luminaries, compared with whom they are indeed duller and less interesting. At the moment they’re not where the political action is either. They’re not quite irrelevant, but close.

He argues, quite correctly, that at least for the next few months, all eyes will be on Congress:

At this time four years ago, the presidential race was about to take off. But the center of gravity in politics and government has shifted. The big play is now in Congress with Republicans in control of the House and in the statehouses with governors like Jindal, Christie, Perry, and a slew of newcomers like Scott Walker in Wisconsin, John Kasich in Ohio, and Rick Scott in Florida. The presidential contest will have to wait.

But implicit in his analysis is the conclusion that the likely contenders don’t match up all that well against the non-candidate Republicans. Part of the issue is generational, as Barnes points out. But there are other problems with the batch of commonly mentioned candidates.

For one thing, they all seem to have been around forever. Yes, in most cases, they’ve been on the national stage for only a couple of years. Mickey Kaus has called it the Feiler Faster Thesis – the omnipresence of media has sped up the pace of coverage and the pace of politics. A year on the national stage is now like five years in the 1990s. We’ve seen so much of many of the likely contenders (e.g., Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee) that they seem tired and old hat. Is there anything either of them could say that would surprise us? Most likely, only a gaffe.

And of course, each of the likely contenders has not simply small flaws but jumbo problems. Republicans are far more self-aware than the mainstream media give them credit for being. A majority of Republican activists and primary voters know that RomneyCare is quite possibly a debilitating issue for Romney. Many Republicans — Tea Partiers included — understand that Sarah Palin has serious issues with independents and is increasingly obsessed with how the media cover her. (One dig against John McCain was that he was thin-skinned; Palin is quickly developing the same reputation.)

The focus of the country will turn both to Congress and to a slew of new governors. And after a few months, Republicans might discover that one or more of the congressional standouts or one of the governors seems fresher and more capable than the retreads currently mulling a race. So I’d suggest that you ignore the likely candidates and watch the performance of people like Paul Ryan, Mike Pence, Chris Christie, Bob McDonnell, John Kasich, and Bobby Jindal — the best of the lot may wind up at the top of the presidential contender list.

Fred Barnes writes:

Why do the potential Republican presidential candidates (with one exception) seem so old, dull, and uninteresting? There are a few simple answers. Most of the candidates are a generation older than most of the new Republican luminaries, compared with whom they are indeed duller and less interesting. At the moment they’re not where the political action is either. They’re not quite irrelevant, but close.

He argues, quite correctly, that at least for the next few months, all eyes will be on Congress:

At this time four years ago, the presidential race was about to take off. But the center of gravity in politics and government has shifted. The big play is now in Congress with Republicans in control of the House and in the statehouses with governors like Jindal, Christie, Perry, and a slew of newcomers like Scott Walker in Wisconsin, John Kasich in Ohio, and Rick Scott in Florida. The presidential contest will have to wait.

But implicit in his analysis is the conclusion that the likely contenders don’t match up all that well against the non-candidate Republicans. Part of the issue is generational, as Barnes points out. But there are other problems with the batch of commonly mentioned candidates.

For one thing, they all seem to have been around forever. Yes, in most cases, they’ve been on the national stage for only a couple of years. Mickey Kaus has called it the Feiler Faster Thesis – the omnipresence of media has sped up the pace of coverage and the pace of politics. A year on the national stage is now like five years in the 1990s. We’ve seen so much of many of the likely contenders (e.g., Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee) that they seem tired and old hat. Is there anything either of them could say that would surprise us? Most likely, only a gaffe.

And of course, each of the likely contenders has not simply small flaws but jumbo problems. Republicans are far more self-aware than the mainstream media give them credit for being. A majority of Republican activists and primary voters know that RomneyCare is quite possibly a debilitating issue for Romney. Many Republicans — Tea Partiers included — understand that Sarah Palin has serious issues with independents and is increasingly obsessed with how the media cover her. (One dig against John McCain was that he was thin-skinned; Palin is quickly developing the same reputation.)

The focus of the country will turn both to Congress and to a slew of new governors. And after a few months, Republicans might discover that one or more of the congressional standouts or one of the governors seems fresher and more capable than the retreads currently mulling a race. So I’d suggest that you ignore the likely candidates and watch the performance of people like Paul Ryan, Mike Pence, Chris Christie, Bob McDonnell, John Kasich, and Bobby Jindal — the best of the lot may wind up at the top of the presidential contender list.

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Searching

As I noted on Friday, the GOP could use some unifiers who can fuse the Tea Party’s enthusiasm and small-government devotion with the mature street smarts of conservative stalwarts who possess bipartisan appeal. It is not an easy task. The media envision (and egg on) a competition for the soul of the GOP, and the battle for the 2012 nomination — Sarah Palin vs. everyone else. That sort of standoff may play out, but it’s not a useful paradigm if the Republicans hope to capture the White House.

The midterm results illustrate this vividly. Sarah Palin’s Tea Party favorites Joe Miller, Sharron Angle, and Christine O’Donnell all went down to defeat, as did independent Tom Tancredo, whom she backed in the Colorado gubernatorial race. Her critics cite this as evidence that while potent within the conservative movement, she lacks the appeal and political judgment required for the GOP to win in 2012. Her defenders will remind us that she also backed Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Nikki Haley, who all won. The argument for Rubio is not all that persuasive, of course; Rubio didn’t need Palin to win. The concern remains among conservatives: in a presidential race, you need to win not just deep Red States but also ones that are in play in competitive years.

There is another model. If Palin has reinforced doubts about her electability, Haley Barbour has some crowing to do. As head of the hugely successful Republican Governors’ Association, he can claim fundraising prowess and a role in the remarkable sweep in gubernatorial races from Maine to Florida to Wisconsin to New Mexico. The number of e-mails sent out touting his fundraising totals and electoral successes strongly suggests that he is getting his resume in order for a presidential run. But Barbour himself may not be the man to meld the two halves of the party. The image of an older, white Southern male with a successful lobbying career risks alienating the Tea Party contingent, whose enthusiasm and ideological zest led to many of those victories. Read More

As I noted on Friday, the GOP could use some unifiers who can fuse the Tea Party’s enthusiasm and small-government devotion with the mature street smarts of conservative stalwarts who possess bipartisan appeal. It is not an easy task. The media envision (and egg on) a competition for the soul of the GOP, and the battle for the 2012 nomination — Sarah Palin vs. everyone else. That sort of standoff may play out, but it’s not a useful paradigm if the Republicans hope to capture the White House.

The midterm results illustrate this vividly. Sarah Palin’s Tea Party favorites Joe Miller, Sharron Angle, and Christine O’Donnell all went down to defeat, as did independent Tom Tancredo, whom she backed in the Colorado gubernatorial race. Her critics cite this as evidence that while potent within the conservative movement, she lacks the appeal and political judgment required for the GOP to win in 2012. Her defenders will remind us that she also backed Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Nikki Haley, who all won. The argument for Rubio is not all that persuasive, of course; Rubio didn’t need Palin to win. The concern remains among conservatives: in a presidential race, you need to win not just deep Red States but also ones that are in play in competitive years.

There is another model. If Palin has reinforced doubts about her electability, Haley Barbour has some crowing to do. As head of the hugely successful Republican Governors’ Association, he can claim fundraising prowess and a role in the remarkable sweep in gubernatorial races from Maine to Florida to Wisconsin to New Mexico. The number of e-mails sent out touting his fundraising totals and electoral successes strongly suggests that he is getting his resume in order for a presidential run. But Barbour himself may not be the man to meld the two halves of the party. The image of an older, white Southern male with a successful lobbying career risks alienating the Tea Party contingent, whose enthusiasm and ideological zest led to many of those victories.

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney, who on paper might seem well-suited to the times (businessman, successful governor), is hobbled, maybe fatally, by his authorship of a health-care plan that bears a striking resemblance to the one which both Republican insiders and Tea Party activists are determined to obliterate. This is no small handicap.

So what’s the formula for success? Republicans supported and emerged victorious with serious-minded conservative candidates – Rob Portman in Ohio, Dan Coats in Indiana, and John Boozman in Arkansas – while finding new faces (Rubio, Ron Johnson) who avoided the hot-button rhetoric that derailed a number of the Tea Party candidates. Although ideologically not all that different from the Tea Party–preferred candidates, the GOP victors demonstrated how to meld fiscal conservatism with a more accessible brand of populism. They hardly disappointed the Tea Party crowd; but neither did they alienate independent voters.

Are there GOP hopefuls in 2012 who can fuse Tea Party populism with sober conservative governance? Many in the conservative intelligentsia pine for Gov. Chris Christie, who has become a rock star on YouTube; he won in a Blue State and now is battling against the Trenton insiders. And he’s doing it with showmanship that only Palin can top. But he joked that apparently only “suicide” would convince us that he wasn’t interested. I’m thinking he might be serious about not running.

Then there is Rep. Paul Ryan, soon to take over the chair of the Budget Committee. He excites many conservatives in and outside the Beltway. He’s brainy and articulate, with a shake-up-the-status-quo approach to entitlement and budget reform. He already matched up well against Obama, arguably winning a TKO in the health-care summit. And he will be front and center in the key legislative battles, in some ways the face of the GOP House majority, for the next two years. While he’s said he’s not interested in a 2012 run, he’s not been Christie-esque in his denials. As for the “rule” that House members can’t make viable presidential candidates, I think the rulebook was shredded in the last few years.

Of course, there is Marco Rubio, the party’s genuine superstar (with an immigrant story and deep belief in American exceptionalism), who proved to be an especially effective messenger of conservative principles. However, both he and his most fervent supporters seem to agree: it’s too soon.

So the search goes on. The good news for the GOP is that they have a slew of new governors (e.g., John Kasich) and senators and some retiring ones (Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels) who understand how to forge the center-right coalition needed to get elected. A few faces familiar to political junkies (Mike Pence, John Thune) are also considering a run, which will test whether a Washington insider can nevertheless take on the mantle of reformer/outsider. Can any from this group of Republicans — who frankly lack magnetic personalities — also engage Tea Partiers? We will see.

So conservatives keep looking and trying to persuade the reluctant pols to throw their hats into the ring. Those who imagine they can win back the White House without full engagement of the 2010 winning formula (Tea Partiers plus traditionalists) should think again. A plan by half of the Republican alliance to overpower the other half is a formula for a second Obama term.

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Swing Away from Obama

Two swing states tell the story of Obama’s radioactive effect on his party. Obama and his wife have been campaigning in Ohio for Gov. Ted Strickland. Here is the result:

Republican John Kasich remains in command of the Ohio governor’s race with a 51 – 41 percent likely voter lead over Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, statistically unchanged from Kasich’s 50 – 41 percent edge October 5, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today, two weeks before Election Day.

Kasich’s lead is built on a 59 – 32 percent margin among independent likely voters, and a 64 – 29 percent spread among white evangelical Christians, according to the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University survey conducted by live interviewers.

President Barack Obama remains unpopular among Ohio voters who disapprove 56 – 40 percent of the job he is doing and say 32 – 9 percent they are less likely rather than more likely to vote for Strickland because the President is campaigning for the governor. Independent voters say 35 – 4 percent that Obama’s campaigning makes them less likely to vote for Strickland.

So why did Obama go? Maybe his massive ego won’t allow him to get out of the way, or perhaps the White House suspected that the race was lost anyway and Obama could do no further damage.

Meanwhile, in the West Virginia race, Gov. Joe Manchin and John Raese faced off. Watching the debate on C-SPAN, I had trouble believing Manchin was the incumbent challenger, while Raese the amateur. The latter was fluid and forceful, mincing no words about his disdain for ObamaCare (“socialism”) and using “Obama” at least once in every sentence. Manchin seemed tepid and defensive, promising that he really, honestly, would be independent of the White House. But if the contest is to see who can be the most independent, Raese won hands down. This exchange was telling:

“I’m not prepared to scrap the entire bill, there are parts that need changed,” [Manchin] said, “but let me tell you, I’m not prepared to tell your child who had a pre-existing condition, that he or she can’t be covered. There’s a lot of good in the bill that basically Democrats and Republicans agree with.”

But not Raese. And he pulled no punches when discussing his issues with the legislation.

“It is pure, unadulterated Socialism, it is the worst bill that has ever come out of the United States Senate and House,” he said.

“I think right now, when you look at the gross domestic product in this country, with Obamacare, you’re looking at the fact that we’re over almost 51 percent of the GDP in this country will be controlled by the federal government, unacceptable.”

If the point is to be the least Obama-like, wouldn’t the voters take the repealer over the tinkerer?

In both these races, Obama’s presence looms large. Manchin pleaded that Obama is not on the ballot. True, but voters in these two states seem poised to do the next best thing and vote for candidates who are unalterably opposed to Obama’s policies.

Two swing states tell the story of Obama’s radioactive effect on his party. Obama and his wife have been campaigning in Ohio for Gov. Ted Strickland. Here is the result:

Republican John Kasich remains in command of the Ohio governor’s race with a 51 – 41 percent likely voter lead over Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, statistically unchanged from Kasich’s 50 – 41 percent edge October 5, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today, two weeks before Election Day.

Kasich’s lead is built on a 59 – 32 percent margin among independent likely voters, and a 64 – 29 percent spread among white evangelical Christians, according to the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University survey conducted by live interviewers.

President Barack Obama remains unpopular among Ohio voters who disapprove 56 – 40 percent of the job he is doing and say 32 – 9 percent they are less likely rather than more likely to vote for Strickland because the President is campaigning for the governor. Independent voters say 35 – 4 percent that Obama’s campaigning makes them less likely to vote for Strickland.

So why did Obama go? Maybe his massive ego won’t allow him to get out of the way, or perhaps the White House suspected that the race was lost anyway and Obama could do no further damage.

Meanwhile, in the West Virginia race, Gov. Joe Manchin and John Raese faced off. Watching the debate on C-SPAN, I had trouble believing Manchin was the incumbent challenger, while Raese the amateur. The latter was fluid and forceful, mincing no words about his disdain for ObamaCare (“socialism”) and using “Obama” at least once in every sentence. Manchin seemed tepid and defensive, promising that he really, honestly, would be independent of the White House. But if the contest is to see who can be the most independent, Raese won hands down. This exchange was telling:

“I’m not prepared to scrap the entire bill, there are parts that need changed,” [Manchin] said, “but let me tell you, I’m not prepared to tell your child who had a pre-existing condition, that he or she can’t be covered. There’s a lot of good in the bill that basically Democrats and Republicans agree with.”

But not Raese. And he pulled no punches when discussing his issues with the legislation.

“It is pure, unadulterated Socialism, it is the worst bill that has ever come out of the United States Senate and House,” he said.

“I think right now, when you look at the gross domestic product in this country, with Obamacare, you’re looking at the fact that we’re over almost 51 percent of the GDP in this country will be controlled by the federal government, unacceptable.”

If the point is to be the least Obama-like, wouldn’t the voters take the repealer over the tinkerer?

In both these races, Obama’s presence looms large. Manchin pleaded that Obama is not on the ballot. True, but voters in these two states seem poised to do the next best thing and vote for candidates who are unalterably opposed to Obama’s policies.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Ben Smith has this right about a new, fantastical Vanity Fair piece: “you can really write anything about Palin.”

Michael Goldfarb has the goods on the “moderate” Ground Zero mosque builders. It seems they won’t condemn Tuesday’s slaughter of four Israelis. This is precisely why Muslim outreach is a flawed and ultimately dangerous exercise — it overlooks and excuses the coddling of terrorists.

Stephen Schwartz has the scoop on the Ground Zero mosque builders’ infighting: “Increasing questions about the character and qualifications of the primary figures in ‘Ground Zero mosque,’ as well as personal rivalries between them, may have accomplished as much for the mosque’s opponents as have protests and disapproving poll results. An offensive concept was presented to Americans by flawed and self-interested individuals; the combination may well guarantee its eventual collapse.”

PPP has the Ohio gubernatorial race going to John Kasich: “Former Congressman and Fox News anchor John Kasich leads Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, 50-40, in PPP’s first poll of likely voters in the race. In the previous survey of registered voters in June, Kasich led only 43-41. President Obama won Ohio by four points in 2008, but the likely 2010 electorate now reports having voted for John McCain by three—a seven-point shift in turnout which mirrors Kasich’s eight-point improvement in the horse race in the last two months.” That same shift is probably happening nationwide.

The GOP has narrowed the gap: “The number of Republicans in the United States grew in August while the number of Democrats slipped a bit and the gap between the parties fell to the smallest advantage for Democrats in five years. In August, 35.0% of American Adults identified themselves as Democrats. That’s down nearly half a percentage point  from a month ago and is the smallest percentage of Democrats ever recorded in nearly eight years of monthly tracking. At the same time, the number of Republicans grew in August grew to 33.8%.” Well, Obama helped a lot.

Pete Hegseth of Vets for Freedom has the numbers: “[Obama] shouldn’t have attempted to weave in an economic message; the words seemed petty and out of place. They were the president’s backhanded way of saying we wasted the last decade on Iraq, rather than fixing our economy. (Minor detail: The president’s stimulus, passed in his first month in office, will cost $100 billion more than the entire cost of the Iraq war.) His economic posturing took the focus off the troops and their accomplishments, and was unnecessary.” Yeah, there’s some perspective.

Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran Tom Mahnken has the impression that Obama would rather be doing something else: “[O]ne could not help to see in the president’s words and mannerisms, a man who was distracted, whose heart wasn’t in it. In a speech nominally devoted to Iraq, he couldn’t help but talk about the U.S. economy. … Whereas Bush exhibited great courage in going against his own military to support the Iraqi surge and sell it to his own party and the American people, Obama has yet to put comparable effort into selling his own Afghan surge. The Oval Office speech was a missed opportunity to do just that.”

The BP oil-spill debacle has not come to end: “The federal judge who struck down the Obama administration’s initial six-month moratorium on deepwater oil-drilling dealt the government another blow on Wednesday. U.S. District Court Judge Martin Feldman denied the government’s request to throw out a suit challenging the drilling halt that had been filed by offshore-oil-service companies. Justice Department lawyers had argued the lawsuit was moot because the Interior Department imposed a new, temporary drilling ban on July 12, replacing a May 28 order that Judge Feldman had struck down in June.”

Ben Smith has this right about a new, fantastical Vanity Fair piece: “you can really write anything about Palin.”

Michael Goldfarb has the goods on the “moderate” Ground Zero mosque builders. It seems they won’t condemn Tuesday’s slaughter of four Israelis. This is precisely why Muslim outreach is a flawed and ultimately dangerous exercise — it overlooks and excuses the coddling of terrorists.

Stephen Schwartz has the scoop on the Ground Zero mosque builders’ infighting: “Increasing questions about the character and qualifications of the primary figures in ‘Ground Zero mosque,’ as well as personal rivalries between them, may have accomplished as much for the mosque’s opponents as have protests and disapproving poll results. An offensive concept was presented to Americans by flawed and self-interested individuals; the combination may well guarantee its eventual collapse.”

PPP has the Ohio gubernatorial race going to John Kasich: “Former Congressman and Fox News anchor John Kasich leads Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, 50-40, in PPP’s first poll of likely voters in the race. In the previous survey of registered voters in June, Kasich led only 43-41. President Obama won Ohio by four points in 2008, but the likely 2010 electorate now reports having voted for John McCain by three—a seven-point shift in turnout which mirrors Kasich’s eight-point improvement in the horse race in the last two months.” That same shift is probably happening nationwide.

The GOP has narrowed the gap: “The number of Republicans in the United States grew in August while the number of Democrats slipped a bit and the gap between the parties fell to the smallest advantage for Democrats in five years. In August, 35.0% of American Adults identified themselves as Democrats. That’s down nearly half a percentage point  from a month ago and is the smallest percentage of Democrats ever recorded in nearly eight years of monthly tracking. At the same time, the number of Republicans grew in August grew to 33.8%.” Well, Obama helped a lot.

Pete Hegseth of Vets for Freedom has the numbers: “[Obama] shouldn’t have attempted to weave in an economic message; the words seemed petty and out of place. They were the president’s backhanded way of saying we wasted the last decade on Iraq, rather than fixing our economy. (Minor detail: The president’s stimulus, passed in his first month in office, will cost $100 billion more than the entire cost of the Iraq war.) His economic posturing took the focus off the troops and their accomplishments, and was unnecessary.” Yeah, there’s some perspective.

Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran Tom Mahnken has the impression that Obama would rather be doing something else: “[O]ne could not help to see in the president’s words and mannerisms, a man who was distracted, whose heart wasn’t in it. In a speech nominally devoted to Iraq, he couldn’t help but talk about the U.S. economy. … Whereas Bush exhibited great courage in going against his own military to support the Iraqi surge and sell it to his own party and the American people, Obama has yet to put comparable effort into selling his own Afghan surge. The Oval Office speech was a missed opportunity to do just that.”

The BP oil-spill debacle has not come to end: “The federal judge who struck down the Obama administration’s initial six-month moratorium on deepwater oil-drilling dealt the government another blow on Wednesday. U.S. District Court Judge Martin Feldman denied the government’s request to throw out a suit challenging the drilling halt that had been filed by offshore-oil-service companies. Justice Department lawyers had argued the lawsuit was moot because the Interior Department imposed a new, temporary drilling ban on July 12, replacing a May 28 order that Judge Feldman had struck down in June.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

There is no hero in this racial food fight.

There is no sign of a Democratic comeback in Ohio: “Little has changed in the gubernatorial race in Ohio this month, with Republican John Kasich continuing to hold a small lead over incumbent Ted Strickland. The latest Rasmussen Reports statewide telephone survey of Likely Voter shows Kasich picking up 48% support, while the current governor earns 43% of the vote. Three percent (3%) prefer a different candidate, and another five percent (5%) are undecided.”

There is no real GOP challenge to Sen. David Vitter in Louisiana, says Stu Rothenberg. “Reporters like to write about Vitter because it gives them the opportunity each time to detail his juicy past problems, but until there is evidence that [Supreme Court Justice Chet] Traylor is making headway in his uphill bid, the Republican primary isn’t much of a story.”

There is no love loss between Alan Dershowitz and J Street. Dershowitz is very mad about J Street’s hit piece, which includes him among its foes (conservative Zionists, of course): “J Street continues to destroy its credibility by posting deceptive and divisive ads of this kind. If they are willing to mislead the public in this manner, they should not be trusted to tell the truth about anything relating to Israel. They are more interested in increasing their own power and contributions than they are in supporting Israel or promoting truthful dialogue. If they want to have any chance at restoring their credibility, they must begin to tell the truth. A good first step would be to remove this ad and admit that it was fraudulent. Otherwise, everyone will begin to understand what the J in J Street stands for: Joe McCarthy.”

There is no inaccuracy in that J Street ad, the New York Times declares! “Nothing is in dispute,” the Gray Lady says. Hmm. Maybe they should talk to Dershowitz.

There is no crime, the Democrats finally admit. Quin Hillyer: “The Bush Justice Department, hamhanded as it became once Alberto Gonzales took over from the excellent John Ashcroft, was guilty of nothing other than political idiocy in its handling of the firing of eight US attorneys. No crime was committed. I await the apologies from the breathless, moronic, biased, leftists in the establishment media who went ape over this almost-non-story in the first place.”

There is no shocker that Laura Rozen, now of Politico and J Street’s favorite scribe (always good for a blind quote on dual-loyalty slams against Jews), was on Journolist whacking conservatives (“Can you imagine if these bozos had won?”).

There is no fond feelings between Obama and House Democrats: “The White House’s appearance of institutional and personal arrogance has left congressional Democrats divided and discontent going into the midterms. It weakens Democratic efforts not only this year, but well into the future. Having once fostered the impression that it’s every Democrat for himself, the president will find it hard to undo the damage when his own name is on the ballot.”

There is no hero in this racial food fight.

There is no sign of a Democratic comeback in Ohio: “Little has changed in the gubernatorial race in Ohio this month, with Republican John Kasich continuing to hold a small lead over incumbent Ted Strickland. The latest Rasmussen Reports statewide telephone survey of Likely Voter shows Kasich picking up 48% support, while the current governor earns 43% of the vote. Three percent (3%) prefer a different candidate, and another five percent (5%) are undecided.”

There is no real GOP challenge to Sen. David Vitter in Louisiana, says Stu Rothenberg. “Reporters like to write about Vitter because it gives them the opportunity each time to detail his juicy past problems, but until there is evidence that [Supreme Court Justice Chet] Traylor is making headway in his uphill bid, the Republican primary isn’t much of a story.”

There is no love loss between Alan Dershowitz and J Street. Dershowitz is very mad about J Street’s hit piece, which includes him among its foes (conservative Zionists, of course): “J Street continues to destroy its credibility by posting deceptive and divisive ads of this kind. If they are willing to mislead the public in this manner, they should not be trusted to tell the truth about anything relating to Israel. They are more interested in increasing their own power and contributions than they are in supporting Israel or promoting truthful dialogue. If they want to have any chance at restoring their credibility, they must begin to tell the truth. A good first step would be to remove this ad and admit that it was fraudulent. Otherwise, everyone will begin to understand what the J in J Street stands for: Joe McCarthy.”

There is no inaccuracy in that J Street ad, the New York Times declares! “Nothing is in dispute,” the Gray Lady says. Hmm. Maybe they should talk to Dershowitz.

There is no crime, the Democrats finally admit. Quin Hillyer: “The Bush Justice Department, hamhanded as it became once Alberto Gonzales took over from the excellent John Ashcroft, was guilty of nothing other than political idiocy in its handling of the firing of eight US attorneys. No crime was committed. I await the apologies from the breathless, moronic, biased, leftists in the establishment media who went ape over this almost-non-story in the first place.”

There is no shocker that Laura Rozen, now of Politico and J Street’s favorite scribe (always good for a blind quote on dual-loyalty slams against Jews), was on Journolist whacking conservatives (“Can you imagine if these bozos had won?”).

There is no fond feelings between Obama and House Democrats: “The White House’s appearance of institutional and personal arrogance has left congressional Democrats divided and discontent going into the midterms. It weakens Democratic efforts not only this year, but well into the future. Having once fostered the impression that it’s every Democrat for himself, the president will find it hard to undo the damage when his own name is on the ballot.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Another reason not to write sentences like: “The city is built on delineations and differentiations, and its particular beauty is owed to its artifice, to its rejection of stillness, to the almost anarchic spectacle of its many relations.” (You have contests started in your honor to guess who wrote such drivel.)

Another reason to doubt the efficacy of sanctions: “The federal government has awarded more than $107 billion in contract payments, grants and other benefits over the past decade to foreign and multinational American companies while they were doing business in Iran, despite Washington’s efforts to discourage investment there, records show. That includes nearly $15 billion paid to companies that defied American sanctions law by making large investments that helped Iran develop its vast oil and gas reserves.”

Another reason why the Israelis, one suspects, will eventually have to take matters into their own hands: “Iran is building a new rocket launch site with North Korean assistance, Israel Radio quoted IHS Jane’s as reporting overnight Friday. … The defense intelligence group said the appearance of the launcher suggests assistance from North Korea, and that it may be intended to launch the Simorgh, a long-range Iranian-made missile unveiled in early February and officially intended to be used as a space-launch vehicle (SLV). SLV’s can be converted to be used as long-range ballistic missiles for military purposes.”

Another reason not to get into 2012 prognostications: we don’t know who is running. “After the midterm election this November, the field of candidates for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 (or later) is going to get bigger and possibly better. The list is long: Mitch Daniels, John Kasich, Meg Whitman, Bobby Jindal, Haley Barbour, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, and Jim DeMint. And [Rick] Perry.”

Another reason for Democrats to be nervous: voters trust Republicans more on eight of ten issues, including the economy, health care, taxes, social security, and national security. “Republicans lead Democrats 46% to 41% in terms of voter trust on the economy. In early January 2009, just before President Obama took office, Democrats held a nine-point lead on this issue.”

Another reason to bemoan the state of higher education (or the intellectual and ethical training of those who partake of it). Peter Robinson on the U.C. Berkeley protests over budget cuts: “We have here the vocabulary of the peace movement, of the struggle for decent conditions for migrants and other exploited workers, and of the civil-rights movement. Yet what did the protesters demand? Peace? Human rights? No. Money. And for whom? For the downtrodden and oppressed? No. For themselves. At a time when one American in 10 is unemployed and historic deficits burden both the federal government and many of the states, the protesters attempted to game the political system. They engaged in a resource grab.”

Another reason to believe Secretary Robert Gates is the most valuable member of the administration, and Joe Biden is wrong on pretty much everything: “President Barack Obama has been clear. He wants no new nukes. Pentagon chief Robert Gates has been equally direct, advocating in recent years for a new generation of warheads. … The Obama administration is acutely aware of perceptions that the Nuclear Posture Review has divided senior officials—with Vice President Joe Biden viewed as heading up an arms-control focused camp, and Gates perceived as speaking for a military and nuclear establishment that favors more funding and new weapons programs.”

Another reason not to write sentences like: “The city is built on delineations and differentiations, and its particular beauty is owed to its artifice, to its rejection of stillness, to the almost anarchic spectacle of its many relations.” (You have contests started in your honor to guess who wrote such drivel.)

Another reason to doubt the efficacy of sanctions: “The federal government has awarded more than $107 billion in contract payments, grants and other benefits over the past decade to foreign and multinational American companies while they were doing business in Iran, despite Washington’s efforts to discourage investment there, records show. That includes nearly $15 billion paid to companies that defied American sanctions law by making large investments that helped Iran develop its vast oil and gas reserves.”

Another reason why the Israelis, one suspects, will eventually have to take matters into their own hands: “Iran is building a new rocket launch site with North Korean assistance, Israel Radio quoted IHS Jane’s as reporting overnight Friday. … The defense intelligence group said the appearance of the launcher suggests assistance from North Korea, and that it may be intended to launch the Simorgh, a long-range Iranian-made missile unveiled in early February and officially intended to be used as a space-launch vehicle (SLV). SLV’s can be converted to be used as long-range ballistic missiles for military purposes.”

Another reason not to get into 2012 prognostications: we don’t know who is running. “After the midterm election this November, the field of candidates for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 (or later) is going to get bigger and possibly better. The list is long: Mitch Daniels, John Kasich, Meg Whitman, Bobby Jindal, Haley Barbour, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, and Jim DeMint. And [Rick] Perry.”

Another reason for Democrats to be nervous: voters trust Republicans more on eight of ten issues, including the economy, health care, taxes, social security, and national security. “Republicans lead Democrats 46% to 41% in terms of voter trust on the economy. In early January 2009, just before President Obama took office, Democrats held a nine-point lead on this issue.”

Another reason to bemoan the state of higher education (or the intellectual and ethical training of those who partake of it). Peter Robinson on the U.C. Berkeley protests over budget cuts: “We have here the vocabulary of the peace movement, of the struggle for decent conditions for migrants and other exploited workers, and of the civil-rights movement. Yet what did the protesters demand? Peace? Human rights? No. Money. And for whom? For the downtrodden and oppressed? No. For themselves. At a time when one American in 10 is unemployed and historic deficits burden both the federal government and many of the states, the protesters attempted to game the political system. They engaged in a resource grab.”

Another reason to believe Secretary Robert Gates is the most valuable member of the administration, and Joe Biden is wrong on pretty much everything: “President Barack Obama has been clear. He wants no new nukes. Pentagon chief Robert Gates has been equally direct, advocating in recent years for a new generation of warheads. … The Obama administration is acutely aware of perceptions that the Nuclear Posture Review has divided senior officials—with Vice President Joe Biden viewed as heading up an arms-control focused camp, and Gates perceived as speaking for a military and nuclear establishment that favors more funding and new weapons programs.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Seen the latest ad for Hugo Chavez’s oil company? Lots of happy old people given free oil by the dictator, and then: “In swoops Joe Kennedy II with Citizens Energy and the kind people of Venezuela to lend a hand (or two?) and heating oil enough for everyone. Kennedy’s all smiles but they forgot the part where Hugo Chavez shuts down the media and arrests his political opponents. I guess that would have made the ad too long.” Good thing he didn’t talk about how great families and babies are.

Oh, puhleez. Michael Steele plays the race card: “I don’t see stories about the internal operations of the DNC that I see about this operation. Why? Is it because Michael Steele is the chairman, or is it because a black man is chairman?”

Just a year ago Republicans were declared dead in New England. Now New Hampshire looks awfully Red. Actually, it looks Red all over. Rasmussen shows the GOP with an eight-point lead in the generic congressional poll. And John Kasich has a solid lead in the Ohio gubernatorial race.

The boys sure are obsessed with her: “White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs poked fun at Sarah Palin today, pretending to look to notes on his hand for a reminder during his daily briefing. The gesture was a not-so-subtle shot at Palin, whom reporters spotted using a crib sheet on her hand during a speech this weekend at the National Tea Party convention.” At least Gibbs didn’t talk about her breasts.

Rep. Peter King blasts away at “egomaniac” John Brennan for claiming that Obama’s critics are serving the “goals of al-Qaeda”: “It is ‘the most mindless, self-serving, and irresponsible statement that a homeland-security adviser can make,’ King says. … ‘Brennan is trying to be cute by saying that on Christmas Day he briefed Republicans and Democrats. Leave aside the fact that he didn’t brief me, but he didn’t tell anybody anything that day other than the bare facts that were pretty much known to the public. He said that [Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab] was in FBI custody. Now he’s claiming that that means he told people that [Abdulmutallab] was receiving Miranda rights and no one objected. If that’s what Brennan considers being honest and forthright, then we know that John Brennan is not being honest and forthright.'”

The billboard says “Miss Me Yet?” Why, yes, Mr. President.

Paul Begala or Karl Rove? “Incrementalists, stunned by what they see as overly broad and rapid change, are looking for the brakes. Radicals, depressed about the snail’s pace of progress, are looking for the exits.”

Jeffrey Goldberg spots the Muslim Student Union of the University of California at Irvine condemning the appearance of Israel Ambassador Michael Oren because — but of course! — Israel has been condemned by the UN Human Rights Council. “To the Muslim Student Union, the fact that the UN Human Rights Council has condemned Israel more than all the other countries of the world combined means that Israel is worse than all the other countries of the world combined. To more rational, less prejudiced people, this fact means that the UN Human Rights Council is not a serious organization, but one under the control of dictators and despots.” Remind me why the Obami thought it necessary to rejoin that body?

Oren was heckled, which is no surprise. But it is nice to find a college political-science professor willing to call out the thuggery: “Prof. Mark P. Petracca, chairman of the university’s Political Science department, chastised the protesters, telling them, ‘This is beyond embarrassing. … This is no way for our undergraduate students to behave. We have an opportunity to hear from a policy-maker relevant to one of the most important issues facing this planet and you are preventing not only yourself from hearing him but hundreds of other people in this room and hundreds of other people in an overflow room. Shame on you! This is not an example of free speech.'”

Seen the latest ad for Hugo Chavez’s oil company? Lots of happy old people given free oil by the dictator, and then: “In swoops Joe Kennedy II with Citizens Energy and the kind people of Venezuela to lend a hand (or two?) and heating oil enough for everyone. Kennedy’s all smiles but they forgot the part where Hugo Chavez shuts down the media and arrests his political opponents. I guess that would have made the ad too long.” Good thing he didn’t talk about how great families and babies are.

Oh, puhleez. Michael Steele plays the race card: “I don’t see stories about the internal operations of the DNC that I see about this operation. Why? Is it because Michael Steele is the chairman, or is it because a black man is chairman?”

Just a year ago Republicans were declared dead in New England. Now New Hampshire looks awfully Red. Actually, it looks Red all over. Rasmussen shows the GOP with an eight-point lead in the generic congressional poll. And John Kasich has a solid lead in the Ohio gubernatorial race.

The boys sure are obsessed with her: “White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs poked fun at Sarah Palin today, pretending to look to notes on his hand for a reminder during his daily briefing. The gesture was a not-so-subtle shot at Palin, whom reporters spotted using a crib sheet on her hand during a speech this weekend at the National Tea Party convention.” At least Gibbs didn’t talk about her breasts.

Rep. Peter King blasts away at “egomaniac” John Brennan for claiming that Obama’s critics are serving the “goals of al-Qaeda”: “It is ‘the most mindless, self-serving, and irresponsible statement that a homeland-security adviser can make,’ King says. … ‘Brennan is trying to be cute by saying that on Christmas Day he briefed Republicans and Democrats. Leave aside the fact that he didn’t brief me, but he didn’t tell anybody anything that day other than the bare facts that were pretty much known to the public. He said that [Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab] was in FBI custody. Now he’s claiming that that means he told people that [Abdulmutallab] was receiving Miranda rights and no one objected. If that’s what Brennan considers being honest and forthright, then we know that John Brennan is not being honest and forthright.'”

The billboard says “Miss Me Yet?” Why, yes, Mr. President.

Paul Begala or Karl Rove? “Incrementalists, stunned by what they see as overly broad and rapid change, are looking for the brakes. Radicals, depressed about the snail’s pace of progress, are looking for the exits.”

Jeffrey Goldberg spots the Muslim Student Union of the University of California at Irvine condemning the appearance of Israel Ambassador Michael Oren because — but of course! — Israel has been condemned by the UN Human Rights Council. “To the Muslim Student Union, the fact that the UN Human Rights Council has condemned Israel more than all the other countries of the world combined means that Israel is worse than all the other countries of the world combined. To more rational, less prejudiced people, this fact means that the UN Human Rights Council is not a serious organization, but one under the control of dictators and despots.” Remind me why the Obami thought it necessary to rejoin that body?

Oren was heckled, which is no surprise. But it is nice to find a college political-science professor willing to call out the thuggery: “Prof. Mark P. Petracca, chairman of the university’s Political Science department, chastised the protesters, telling them, ‘This is beyond embarrassing. … This is no way for our undergraduate students to behave. We have an opportunity to hear from a policy-maker relevant to one of the most important issues facing this planet and you are preventing not only yourself from hearing him but hundreds of other people in this room and hundreds of other people in an overflow room. Shame on you! This is not an example of free speech.'”

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The Touch of Political Death?

The Wall Street Journal reports:

The White House is reaching into political races nationwide to urge its preferred candidates to seek election to competitive seats, while helping to nudge weak contenders out of the way, according to party officials familiar with the moves.

It isn’t unusual for a president to pick favorites, but the sense of urgency is heightened this year by Democrats’ sense that a difficult election year lies ahead.

Sometimes this might make sense, as with the effort to push Chris Dodd into retirement and potentially rescue the Connecticut Senate seat that had appeared lost as long as the senator from Countrywide remained in the race. But the danger of White House meddling is three-fold.

First, the appearance on the scene of the White House political hacks has the aura of buzzards circling a bleeding beast. For example:

In Ohio, White House political director Patrick Gaspard has been in conversations with Gov. Ted Strickland, whose approval ratings have slipped and who is facing a challenge from former Republican Rep. John Kasich. Democrats there say the White House is backing Mr. Strickland’s re-election bid but is focused on reigniting the grassroots effort that helped Mr. Obama win there in 2008 and would be necessary for success again in 2012.

Translation: Strickland is in trouble (having gone from a huge double-digit lead to a 9-point deficit in the last Rasmussen poll in his matchup against John Kasich), and the White House has now advertised that to voters and donors alike. No doubt Strickland isn’t pleased to have it known that he’s been paid a visit by the White House fix-it team.

Second, this may not be the year to be the handpicked candidate of Barack Obama. It didn’t do Jon Corzine any good. And that was in a state in which Obama is still relatively popular. Do candidates in Michigan or Ohio really want to be tied to the White House and its agenda? That seemed to work out not at all for Creigh Deeds in Virginia.

And finally, it’s not clear that the White House has the magic touch. It seems that the White House is backing Kirsten Gillibrand against a potential challenge from Harold Ford Jr. (who doesn’t thrill the liberal base), but is Gillibrand really the strongest candidate in the field? (In December, the Quinnipiac poll reported: “New York City Comptroller William Thompson leads incumbent U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand 41 – 28 percent in a possible 2010 Democratic primary race.”) And recall it was the White House, with the keen political acumen of Joe Biden, that convinced Arlen Specter to switch parties and now is backing him in the Pennsylvania primary, though he’s now tied with Republican Pat Toomey in recent polling.

The White House’s triage efforts are understandable. Democrats may be headed for a shellacking in November, so it’s time to pull out all the stops. But it’s not at all clear that candidates selected by the White House will fare any better than those whom Democratic voters, through a normal primary process, may select. Indeed, it’s worth remembering that Democrats are in trouble in no small part because of the White House’s hyper-partisan tone, ultra-left-wing agenda, and fixation on a health-care bill the country doesn’t want. Democrats might do better if they distanced themselves from Obama and found candidates who weren’t propped up by the gang that thought ObamaCare and cap-and-trade were political winners.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

The White House is reaching into political races nationwide to urge its preferred candidates to seek election to competitive seats, while helping to nudge weak contenders out of the way, according to party officials familiar with the moves.

It isn’t unusual for a president to pick favorites, but the sense of urgency is heightened this year by Democrats’ sense that a difficult election year lies ahead.

Sometimes this might make sense, as with the effort to push Chris Dodd into retirement and potentially rescue the Connecticut Senate seat that had appeared lost as long as the senator from Countrywide remained in the race. But the danger of White House meddling is three-fold.

First, the appearance on the scene of the White House political hacks has the aura of buzzards circling a bleeding beast. For example:

In Ohio, White House political director Patrick Gaspard has been in conversations with Gov. Ted Strickland, whose approval ratings have slipped and who is facing a challenge from former Republican Rep. John Kasich. Democrats there say the White House is backing Mr. Strickland’s re-election bid but is focused on reigniting the grassroots effort that helped Mr. Obama win there in 2008 and would be necessary for success again in 2012.

Translation: Strickland is in trouble (having gone from a huge double-digit lead to a 9-point deficit in the last Rasmussen poll in his matchup against John Kasich), and the White House has now advertised that to voters and donors alike. No doubt Strickland isn’t pleased to have it known that he’s been paid a visit by the White House fix-it team.

Second, this may not be the year to be the handpicked candidate of Barack Obama. It didn’t do Jon Corzine any good. And that was in a state in which Obama is still relatively popular. Do candidates in Michigan or Ohio really want to be tied to the White House and its agenda? That seemed to work out not at all for Creigh Deeds in Virginia.

And finally, it’s not clear that the White House has the magic touch. It seems that the White House is backing Kirsten Gillibrand against a potential challenge from Harold Ford Jr. (who doesn’t thrill the liberal base), but is Gillibrand really the strongest candidate in the field? (In December, the Quinnipiac poll reported: “New York City Comptroller William Thompson leads incumbent U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand 41 – 28 percent in a possible 2010 Democratic primary race.”) And recall it was the White House, with the keen political acumen of Joe Biden, that convinced Arlen Specter to switch parties and now is backing him in the Pennsylvania primary, though he’s now tied with Republican Pat Toomey in recent polling.

The White House’s triage efforts are understandable. Democrats may be headed for a shellacking in November, so it’s time to pull out all the stops. But it’s not at all clear that candidates selected by the White House will fare any better than those whom Democratic voters, through a normal primary process, may select. Indeed, it’s worth remembering that Democrats are in trouble in no small part because of the White House’s hyper-partisan tone, ultra-left-wing agenda, and fixation on a health-care bill the country doesn’t want. Democrats might do better if they distanced themselves from Obama and found candidates who weren’t propped up by the gang that thought ObamaCare and cap-and-trade were political winners.

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A New Ballgame, Perhaps

If one looks at the recent polling for senate and gubernatorial races in 2010, it looks like the flip side of 2008. Then it was a sea of blue; now there is a lot of red. In swing states like Ohio, John Kasich is ahead of incumbent Gov. Ted Strickland and Rob Portman has made up ground against potential Democratic opponents in the senate contest. In Connecticut, Sen. Chris Dodd is in trouble, and in Pennsylvania Pat Toomey is running strongly against both Democratic contenders. There are two noteworthy aspects to these and other races (e.g., Nevada and New Hampshire senate contests): the Republicans’ new found appeal in diverse regions and the burden of incumbency, which is currently weighing down veteran Democrats.

The worry for Republicans after the 2008 wipe out was that their base was shrinking to white, religious males from the South. Independents, women, and minorities were falling away. But the victories of Bob McDonnell in Virginia and Chris Christie in New Jersey, as well as the strong standing of 2010 Republican candidates in the Northeast, Midwest, and Mountain West (e.g., the Colorado and Nevada senate races), suggest that voters around the country haven’t permanently shifted loyalties. In 2008 they were miffed at the Republicans, wary of the economic collapse, and willing to give the other party a chance to get it right. If the other party is demonstrating that they can’t get it right either on jobs, spending, entitlements, and the rest, then voters are more than willing to throw them out. Democrats won’t have George W. Bush to kick around or a frantic, crotchety presidential campaign to run circles around. They will have to defend an agenda that is, at least for now, exceptionally unpopular — and an economic record that is utterly undistinguished. Republicans will seek to take their message nationally to voters who in 2008 were not willing to listen to anyone with an “R” by their name.

But what of the power of incumbency? Certainly incumbent governors and senators have the advantage of name recognition, plenty of free media, and the power to sprinkle goodies in key districts. A community center here and a bike path there, they figure, will endear voters to the bearer of the pork. But just as 2006 and 2008 were “throw the bums out” elections, 2010 may be yet another year in which incumbency is a burden, not an asset. If it’s not corruption issues (Chris Dodd) or high unemployment (Ted Strickland), it is the burden of identification with the ultra-liberal president and Congress which candidates like Sens. Mary Landrieu and Blanche Lincoln will have to manage.

But Republicans would be foolish to think that they have a lock on 2010. Just as Democrats over-estimated the staying power of their 2008 gains, Republicans may not solidify the gains they have made or hold their position in the polls. The White House and Congress may shift gears and get off the lefty legislation binge. Unemployment may drift downward. The Democrats fumbled the ball this year by overestimating the public’s tolerance for big-government power grabs. But there is another year before the votes are cast. Republicans should know better than anyone how quickly the political landscape can change.

If one looks at the recent polling for senate and gubernatorial races in 2010, it looks like the flip side of 2008. Then it was a sea of blue; now there is a lot of red. In swing states like Ohio, John Kasich is ahead of incumbent Gov. Ted Strickland and Rob Portman has made up ground against potential Democratic opponents in the senate contest. In Connecticut, Sen. Chris Dodd is in trouble, and in Pennsylvania Pat Toomey is running strongly against both Democratic contenders. There are two noteworthy aspects to these and other races (e.g., Nevada and New Hampshire senate contests): the Republicans’ new found appeal in diverse regions and the burden of incumbency, which is currently weighing down veteran Democrats.

The worry for Republicans after the 2008 wipe out was that their base was shrinking to white, religious males from the South. Independents, women, and minorities were falling away. But the victories of Bob McDonnell in Virginia and Chris Christie in New Jersey, as well as the strong standing of 2010 Republican candidates in the Northeast, Midwest, and Mountain West (e.g., the Colorado and Nevada senate races), suggest that voters around the country haven’t permanently shifted loyalties. In 2008 they were miffed at the Republicans, wary of the economic collapse, and willing to give the other party a chance to get it right. If the other party is demonstrating that they can’t get it right either on jobs, spending, entitlements, and the rest, then voters are more than willing to throw them out. Democrats won’t have George W. Bush to kick around or a frantic, crotchety presidential campaign to run circles around. They will have to defend an agenda that is, at least for now, exceptionally unpopular — and an economic record that is utterly undistinguished. Republicans will seek to take their message nationally to voters who in 2008 were not willing to listen to anyone with an “R” by their name.

But what of the power of incumbency? Certainly incumbent governors and senators have the advantage of name recognition, plenty of free media, and the power to sprinkle goodies in key districts. A community center here and a bike path there, they figure, will endear voters to the bearer of the pork. But just as 2006 and 2008 were “throw the bums out” elections, 2010 may be yet another year in which incumbency is a burden, not an asset. If it’s not corruption issues (Chris Dodd) or high unemployment (Ted Strickland), it is the burden of identification with the ultra-liberal president and Congress which candidates like Sens. Mary Landrieu and Blanche Lincoln will have to manage.

But Republicans would be foolish to think that they have a lock on 2010. Just as Democrats over-estimated the staying power of their 2008 gains, Republicans may not solidify the gains they have made or hold their position in the polls. The White House and Congress may shift gears and get off the lefty legislation binge. Unemployment may drift downward. The Democrats fumbled the ball this year by overestimating the public’s tolerance for big-government power grabs. But there is another year before the votes are cast. Republicans should know better than anyone how quickly the political landscape can change.

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Silly Season for McCain

There are several stories today about John McCain’s possible vice-presidential picks. This is absurd for many reasons. Here are a few:

1) It is a 95 percent certainty that McCain will not announce his pick until, at the earliest, a few days before the convention. There is no upside whatever to an early announcement. If it provokes excitement, the excitement will dissipate, leaving the campaign with nothing. If there are any problems, it will be the only subject of discussion surrounding McCain for weeks and weeks and weeks, with the worrisome subtext — Look, here is McCain’s first major decision, and it isn’t going well.

2) There is literally no way of knowing whether most of the people on the supposed short list —  Sanford, Pawlenty, Ridge, Crist, Rob Portman, John Kasich — can actually pass muster. The cardinal rule of the VP pick is — First, do no harm. The vetting process for a VP candidate is brutal. Any personal problem — any — might prove disqualifying. Too many speeding tickets? Too much money spent at the track? A friendship with someone who was later indicted? Marital troubles? A wife with too many speeding tickets? A son caught on a YouTube video sucking on a bong? A daughter who got drunk during Spring Break and is in the background of a YouTube dirty dancing?

Once one of these short-listers becomes acquainted with the horribly intrusive nature of the vetting process, he might just drop out. I know one case of someone who was practically offered the slot many cycles ago who realized an unhappy period in a close relative’s life would surely come to light and therefore turned it down.

The only really vetted people are the ones who have run for president — Romney and Huckabee particularly (though I’m not sure I would entirely count out either Sam Brownback or Duncan Hunter, though they did badly in the primaries). But here we bump up against McCain’s own character. He is a very personal politician. He likes people he likes, and has contempt for people he doesn’t. He really seems not to like Romney, and though Romney would be the most conventional choice, McCain is unlikely to make a choice entirely based on convention and prudence when he has to pick someone with whom he is going to work closely for months and maybe years.

I’ve been joking that McCain might feel differently if Romney were to pony up $75 million for the general-election run. But this too raises the problem with a Romney candidacy — wouldn’t there be intense speculation of precisely this kind of quid pro quo, that McCain effectively sold the VP slot to Romney because of his great wealth?

In the end, the process to pick the Veep will take months, not weeks. There’s a reason people don’t name their pick early. McCain won’t do it either.

There are several stories today about John McCain’s possible vice-presidential picks. This is absurd for many reasons. Here are a few:

1) It is a 95 percent certainty that McCain will not announce his pick until, at the earliest, a few days before the convention. There is no upside whatever to an early announcement. If it provokes excitement, the excitement will dissipate, leaving the campaign with nothing. If there are any problems, it will be the only subject of discussion surrounding McCain for weeks and weeks and weeks, with the worrisome subtext — Look, here is McCain’s first major decision, and it isn’t going well.

2) There is literally no way of knowing whether most of the people on the supposed short list —  Sanford, Pawlenty, Ridge, Crist, Rob Portman, John Kasich — can actually pass muster. The cardinal rule of the VP pick is — First, do no harm. The vetting process for a VP candidate is brutal. Any personal problem — any — might prove disqualifying. Too many speeding tickets? Too much money spent at the track? A friendship with someone who was later indicted? Marital troubles? A wife with too many speeding tickets? A son caught on a YouTube video sucking on a bong? A daughter who got drunk during Spring Break and is in the background of a YouTube dirty dancing?

Once one of these short-listers becomes acquainted with the horribly intrusive nature of the vetting process, he might just drop out. I know one case of someone who was practically offered the slot many cycles ago who realized an unhappy period in a close relative’s life would surely come to light and therefore turned it down.

The only really vetted people are the ones who have run for president — Romney and Huckabee particularly (though I’m not sure I would entirely count out either Sam Brownback or Duncan Hunter, though they did badly in the primaries). But here we bump up against McCain’s own character. He is a very personal politician. He likes people he likes, and has contempt for people he doesn’t. He really seems not to like Romney, and though Romney would be the most conventional choice, McCain is unlikely to make a choice entirely based on convention and prudence when he has to pick someone with whom he is going to work closely for months and maybe years.

I’ve been joking that McCain might feel differently if Romney were to pony up $75 million for the general-election run. But this too raises the problem with a Romney candidacy — wouldn’t there be intense speculation of precisely this kind of quid pro quo, that McCain effectively sold the VP slot to Romney because of his great wealth?

In the end, the process to pick the Veep will take months, not weeks. There’s a reason people don’t name their pick early. McCain won’t do it either.

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Drawing Lines

I just came across these comments from former Congressman John Kasich: “So, Obama says he doesn’t want to vet his pastor. Why not? I mean, I vet my pastor all the time.” And: “Why not just denounce this guy and say this was crackpot stuff?” Well, doing this–assessing the content of your pastor’s character and rhetoric and then denouncing what is hateful and false–would pose two problems for Barack Obama.

First, he might lose support from some African Americans and some on the Left who sympathize with the general sentiments, if not the particulars, of Wright’s sermons. He would risk forfeiting whatever ever street cred he built up by associating with Wright’s church in the first place. Moreover, these Obama supporters would not be pleased and would likely see this as capitulating to his opponents.

But most importantly, this would mean Obama would himself have to draw a moral distinction, to take sides and say “no more.” Every indication we have suggests that he’s not comfortable doing this. He craves acceptance and adulation. (The recent Newsweek cover story on Obama implies he has been on a near-lifelong search for identity and belonging.) He sees his highest calling as being Reconciler in Chief. Indeed, one of the buzz phrases of his campaign is that he will “bring people together.” On “The View” he explained:

Part of what my role in my politics is to get people who don’t normally listen to each other to talk to each other, who [say] crazy things, who are offended by each other, for me to understand them and to maybe help them understand each other.

Hence, it’s not productive for him to dwell on calling out proponents of “crazy” things (a less judgmental way of saying “false” or “morally repugnant”) or to disassociate himself from such people. Likewise, there is no dictator he won’t speak to because his job is not to take sides. He is not interested, you see, in enforcing any criteria for who deserves the attention and status a Presidental visit would entail. His job is bridge-building.

In marriage counseling or labor mediation this attitude is all well and good: the goal there is not for either side to “win” but for both sides to survive and continue in a mutually beneficial relationship. But is the world of geopolitics like that? Sometimes. But there are moments when “understanding” is not the highest calling. We don’t really want to “understand” Raul Castro, for example, or boost his self-esteem so he might survive and flourish. Whether at home or abroad, most Americans really don’t want to tolerate, let alone encourage, those who propound vicious lies about whites, Israel, and America.

If someone can’t and won’t draw any line in the sand (even a relatively easy one), he’ll have a hard time defending America’s interests against those that don’t want to understand us, but destroy us. What he will be very good at is leading the country and the world into a morass of moral equivalence. And maybe that is why so many see great meaning in the Wright affair, and remain deeply troubled by it.

I just came across these comments from former Congressman John Kasich: “So, Obama says he doesn’t want to vet his pastor. Why not? I mean, I vet my pastor all the time.” And: “Why not just denounce this guy and say this was crackpot stuff?” Well, doing this–assessing the content of your pastor’s character and rhetoric and then denouncing what is hateful and false–would pose two problems for Barack Obama.

First, he might lose support from some African Americans and some on the Left who sympathize with the general sentiments, if not the particulars, of Wright’s sermons. He would risk forfeiting whatever ever street cred he built up by associating with Wright’s church in the first place. Moreover, these Obama supporters would not be pleased and would likely see this as capitulating to his opponents.

But most importantly, this would mean Obama would himself have to draw a moral distinction, to take sides and say “no more.” Every indication we have suggests that he’s not comfortable doing this. He craves acceptance and adulation. (The recent Newsweek cover story on Obama implies he has been on a near-lifelong search for identity and belonging.) He sees his highest calling as being Reconciler in Chief. Indeed, one of the buzz phrases of his campaign is that he will “bring people together.” On “The View” he explained:

Part of what my role in my politics is to get people who don’t normally listen to each other to talk to each other, who [say] crazy things, who are offended by each other, for me to understand them and to maybe help them understand each other.

Hence, it’s not productive for him to dwell on calling out proponents of “crazy” things (a less judgmental way of saying “false” or “morally repugnant”) or to disassociate himself from such people. Likewise, there is no dictator he won’t speak to because his job is not to take sides. He is not interested, you see, in enforcing any criteria for who deserves the attention and status a Presidental visit would entail. His job is bridge-building.

In marriage counseling or labor mediation this attitude is all well and good: the goal there is not for either side to “win” but for both sides to survive and continue in a mutually beneficial relationship. But is the world of geopolitics like that? Sometimes. But there are moments when “understanding” is not the highest calling. We don’t really want to “understand” Raul Castro, for example, or boost his self-esteem so he might survive and flourish. Whether at home or abroad, most Americans really don’t want to tolerate, let alone encourage, those who propound vicious lies about whites, Israel, and America.

If someone can’t and won’t draw any line in the sand (even a relatively easy one), he’ll have a hard time defending America’s interests against those that don’t want to understand us, but destroy us. What he will be very good at is leading the country and the world into a morass of moral equivalence. And maybe that is why so many see great meaning in the Wright affair, and remain deeply troubled by it.

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