Commentary Magazine


Topic: John McCain

Is Rubio Not Ready or Just Willing to Think?

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham is not very happy with one of his Republican colleagues. During the course of an interview with the Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes published today in which he floated the possibility of running for president, Graham dismissed the possibility that Florida’s Marco Rubio should also be considered for the Republican nomination. It’s hard to tell if he’s serious about 2016 but his criticism of Rubio, who, as Hayes pointed out, is at least as strong a voice on foreign policy as Graham, deserves a thorough examination.

Read More

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham is not very happy with one of his Republican colleagues. During the course of an interview with the Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes published today in which he floated the possibility of running for president, Graham dismissed the possibility that Florida’s Marco Rubio should also be considered for the Republican nomination. It’s hard to tell if he’s serious about 2016 but his criticism of Rubio, who, as Hayes pointed out, is at least as strong a voice on foreign policy as Graham, deserves a thorough examination.

The possibility of a Rubio candidacy came up in this context because if the Republican Party were really turning back to its roots as a bulwark of support for national security and away from the isolationist wing led by Senator Rand Paul, then Rubio would appear to be one of the obvious choices as leader. While Graham and his pal Senator John McCain have been the loudest voices on behalf of interventionist policies, no one in the Senate has been as eloquent on the need for a coherent and strong U.S. foreign policy than Rubio.

But while McCain praised Rubio Graham gave his younger colleague the back of his hand in his conversation with Hayes:

I asked Graham about Rubio. Hasn’t he been making many of the arguments you’d be likely to make? Graham wasn’t impressed. “He’s a good guy, but after doing immigration with him—we don’t need another young guy not quite ready,” said Graham. “He’s no Obama by any means, but he’s so afraid of the right, and I’ve let that go.”

Graham’s problem with Rubio stems from the fact that after joining the bipartisan group backing a comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2013, Rubio eventually backed away from the legislation once it stalled in the House. While McCain, Graham and the other members of the bipartisan gang of eight that championed the reform package have stuck to their plan, Rubio now says that conservatives who demanded that the border security portion of the bill be done first before any changes in the immigration system — especially the effort to legalize illegal immigrants and/or grant them a path to citizenship — should be implemented.

For Graham, who is being pushed to think about running for president by his friend McCain, this shift by Rubio shows he doesn’t have the right stuff.

Graham is right to note that Rubio hasn’t always looked like a future president in the past two years. While, as McCain notes, his record on foreign policy has been “very impressive,” there have been moments when he looked uncertain and a bit too interested in tagging along with Republican elements who don’t share his views. The beating he took from the party’s hardliners on immigration did take a toll. But Graham is wrong to castigate Rubio for rethinking his stand on the reform bill. If anything, his willingness to react to events and draw conclusions from them rather than doggedly stick to an ideological position that had been mistaken is a sign of maturity, not inexperience.

The surge of illegals over the border in Texas this year showed that rather than fixing the immigration system, the talk of granting illegals a path to citizenship without first securing the border had created a new incentive for people to cross the border. Moreover President Obama’s threats, renewed last night, to act unilaterally to trash the rule of law and legalize illegals shows that this administration can’t be trusted to enforce any immigration law passed by Congress.

By adjusting his position, Rubio opened himself up to charges of being a flip-flopper and abandoning his positions in order to curry favor with conservatives. But in doing so, he also demonstrated an ability to address difficult issues soberly and in a manner that enables him to make decisions based on reality rather than an ideological position. That’s pretty much the opposite of the pattern demonstrated by Barack Obama, that Graham rightly disdains.

Graham’s chances of winning the Republican nomination are virtually non-existent. While he’s part of the GOP mainstream on foreign policy, no one who has spent so much time offending the party’s base is going to be its standard bearer in 2016. By contrast, though Rubio made a lot of enemies because of his immigration stand, as a former Tea Party insurgent, he has a lot better chance of reconciling with the conservative base than Graham.

But what’s really interesting about this discussion is that while earlier in the year it looked as if the GOP presidential field would not have any strong entries that championed a strong foreign policy, now the roster of potential candidates representing that point of view seems to be getting crowded. Potential symbolic candidacies like those of Rep. Peter King and former UN Ambassador John Bolton may be joined by Rubio and Graham as well as Senator Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum, both of whom also share many of the views espoused by McCain and other GOP hawks.

Graham’s carping about Rubio notwithstanding, the real news here is that as the isolationist moment in American politics ends, the GOP’s natural leaders on foreign policy are reasserting themselves.

Read Less

Rand Paul Wants to Know Why All These Straw Men Are So Mean to Him

Rand Paul, in danger of getting tagged with the dreaded “flip-flopper” label, is pushing back on critics who claim he’s been inconsistent on foreign policy. Specifically, the issue revolves around Syria, where he once opposed intervention and now supports it to battle ISIS. On this, Paul is right: the situation has changed, and many of those disinclined to intervene on behalf of the Syrian rebels–several of us here at COMMENTARY among them–believe the emergence of ISIS presents a threat that must be defeated, or at the very least contained. So why is Paul meeting such a tough audience?

Read More

Rand Paul, in danger of getting tagged with the dreaded “flip-flopper” label, is pushing back on critics who claim he’s been inconsistent on foreign policy. Specifically, the issue revolves around Syria, where he once opposed intervention and now supports it to battle ISIS. On this, Paul is right: the situation has changed, and many of those disinclined to intervene on behalf of the Syrian rebels–several of us here at COMMENTARY among them–believe the emergence of ISIS presents a threat that must be defeated, or at the very least contained. So why is Paul meeting such a tough audience?

Indeed, interventionists have reason to cheer Paul’s about-face: he will drag anti-interventionists, kicking and screaming if necessary, along with him because there is no more libertarian first-tier GOP candidate than Paul. But for those who have paid attention to Paul over these last few years, it’s actually quite easy to understand why he doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt more often, and why, specifically, Paul’s previous opposition to intervention was treated as an ideological marker. It’s because Paul has always chosen to present his views in starkly ideological terms while being thoroughly dishonest, repeatedly and unapologetically, about those with whom he disagrees.

In fairness to Paul, here’s his side of the Syria story from an interview he gave to the Federalist:

The thing that I in some ways laugh at, because nobody seems to get this, is that I spent the past five years in public life telling everyone that “hey, I’m not an isolationist” … and when they find out I’m not, they say I’ve switched positions, because I’m not the position they were saying I was. You know what I mean? So for five years they’ve been accusing me of being something that I say I’m not. And then when they find out I’m really not, they say I’ve changed my position. You can see how it’s a little bit frustrating for me.

In the same interview, he also explains his support for striking ISIS as a defense not only of American interests but primarily of America itself:

With ISIS, they’re beheading American citizens, they’ve actively said that if they can, and when they can, they’ll come to New York. They’re within, I think a day’s march or a day’s drive of Erbil and the consulate there. I think that they probably would be repelled in Baghdad, but they could be a threat to Baghdad. I think ultimately if left to their own devices, they could organize the same way Al-Qaeda organized in Afghanistan, and if given a safe haven that they could be a real threat to us at home.

All fair enough, though if anything Paul understates the case for intervention here. But there was an earlier line in his answer that caught my attention. He said: “In general, if you look throughout the Middle East, you’ll find it’s a complicated area with complicated movements on all sides ….” Ah, complexity. Now we’re getting somewhere.

It is complexity that has been absent from the way Paul so often describes his colleagues and ideological opponents. Paul is perhaps the one Republican who can compete with Barack Obama for the obsessive use of straw men. Paul is an intelligent man, but he has written some ostentatiously unintelligent things. Here is how he opens a piece he wrote for National Review Online defending his foreign-policy outlook:

The knives are out for conservatives who dare question unlimited involvement in foreign wars.

In one sentence, Paul deploys the warmongering straw man and displays a petulant sense of victimhood. But it actually gets worse. Here’s the next sentence:

Foreign policy, the interventionist critics claim, has no place for nuance or realism. You are either for us or against us. No middle ground is acceptable. The Wilsonian ideologues must have democracy worldwide now and damn all obstacles to that utopia. I say sharpen your knives, because the battle once begun will not end easily.

Holy moly, that’s some sandwich-board sloganeering right there, sliding into the redemptive politics of messianic paranoia. If only that were the rare outlier. Unfortunately, it’s not. Even after coming around to the fact that the interventionists are right about ISIS, Paul offers this childish dig at those who were right before he realized it:

There’s no point in taking military action just for the sake of it, something Washington leaders can’t seem to understand.

Yes, Rand Paul wants to take military action against ISIS. Many of his colleagues in the Senate want to do exactly the same thing. But Rand Paul, alone among them, has good reasons for it. Everyone else simply likes to bomb things because of how much they love war. Only Rand Paul has a reasonable justification for the war he and his colleagues want. Even when he agrees with other Republicans, Paul just can’t avoid assuming the worst intentions on the part of his colleagues.

He’s also shown a tendency toward indefensibly credulous thinking. At times, this just shows poor judgment, such as the fact that he apparently still buys into a completely debunked rumor about John McCain and ISIS. Other times, it’s conventional anti-interventionist groupthink about what “neocons” are doing with “your money.”

If Rand Paul has begun opening up his worldview to embrace the complexity of global politics, all the better. It might one day prevent him from sanctimoniously attributing the worst intentions even to those he agrees with while maniacally setting fire to fields of straw men. Until that day arrives, his wounded victim act will remain utterly unconvincing.

Read Less

The GOP and the Question of “Experience”

In a clever combination of concern-trolling and hypocrite-hunting, Politico has a story asking if youth and inexperience will be stumbling blocks on the path to the 2016 nominating contest for the GOP’s rising stars. Specifically, the story is concerned about Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz. In trying to make the argument extend beyond “hey, these Republicans are inexperienced and so was Obama,” a bit of goalpost shifting is required:

Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio are each in first Senate terms. None has executive experience. Two are in their early 40s, and one is barely in his 50s. Like Obama before 2008, they have spent too little time in Washington to build a robust legislative portfolio. And yet, like Obama, each is viewed as a fresh-faced star in his party at a time when many voters are looking for something new.

If “robust legislative portfolio” is the standard, then sure. But both Paul and Rubio are more impressive senators than Obama was–especially Rubio, who passed comprehensive immigration reform despite his party being in the minority while Obama, as a senator, famously torpedoed immigration reform. And that might be because of those three GOP senators, only Cruz would be as inexperienced on Election Day as Obama was in 2008. Additionally, it’s pretty silly to compare Rubio, who has been at the forefront of manifold policy reform efforts of late, with Obama, who worked as hard on equivocation as Rubio, Paul, and Cruz do at taking a stand on principle.

It also has much to do with contrast. The GOP ran two nominees against Obama, John McCain and Mitt Romney. The former had experience in war and in the Congress, the latter in the private sector. Obama had neither, so it’s not surprising that the GOP highlighted that difference in the general election. But the conservative grassroots don’t feel the same way, and they were unhappy with both of those GOP nominees. And that’s why this is less of an issue in the primary. As Politico writes:

Read More

In a clever combination of concern-trolling and hypocrite-hunting, Politico has a story asking if youth and inexperience will be stumbling blocks on the path to the 2016 nominating contest for the GOP’s rising stars. Specifically, the story is concerned about Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz. In trying to make the argument extend beyond “hey, these Republicans are inexperienced and so was Obama,” a bit of goalpost shifting is required:

Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio are each in first Senate terms. None has executive experience. Two are in their early 40s, and one is barely in his 50s. Like Obama before 2008, they have spent too little time in Washington to build a robust legislative portfolio. And yet, like Obama, each is viewed as a fresh-faced star in his party at a time when many voters are looking for something new.

If “robust legislative portfolio” is the standard, then sure. But both Paul and Rubio are more impressive senators than Obama was–especially Rubio, who passed comprehensive immigration reform despite his party being in the minority while Obama, as a senator, famously torpedoed immigration reform. And that might be because of those three GOP senators, only Cruz would be as inexperienced on Election Day as Obama was in 2008. Additionally, it’s pretty silly to compare Rubio, who has been at the forefront of manifold policy reform efforts of late, with Obama, who worked as hard on equivocation as Rubio, Paul, and Cruz do at taking a stand on principle.

It also has much to do with contrast. The GOP ran two nominees against Obama, John McCain and Mitt Romney. The former had experience in war and in the Congress, the latter in the private sector. Obama had neither, so it’s not surprising that the GOP highlighted that difference in the general election. But the conservative grassroots don’t feel the same way, and they were unhappy with both of those GOP nominees. And that’s why this is less of an issue in the primary. As Politico writes:

While Obama’s meteoric ascent to the White House may give each of the Republican senators hope, a relatively thin résumé can be a major liability, especially when the field could include current and former governors, such as Jeb Bush of Florida or Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who can claim executive experience.

In addition, the GOP has a long track record of nominating presidential candidates with established national profiles who are seen as next in line — whether it was Mitt Romney, Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush or Ronald Reagan.

You can see the problem here. The GOP is moving away from next-in-linism anyway, but even if it weren’t, who would be the next in line? Arguably Paul Ryan, a 44-year-old member of the House. As for the field of governors, this is where Politico makes a good point–though the grassroots seem pretty energetically opposed to Jeb Bush, so his inclusion on that list makes less sense.

Indeed, the point is stronger if you exclude Jeb. Including Bush would make it easier for conservative voters to stay away from the “establishment” candidate. Taking Bush out of the lineup blurs the distinction a bit. If anything, the conservative grassroots have been too instinctively suspicious of (congressional) experience. Witness, for example, the quote Paul’s advisor gave Politico: “We have had great presidents who were governors, and terrible presidents who have been governors. Often the problem with senators who run for office is not that they haven’t been here long enough, it’s the exact opposite: Too often, they have been in Washington too long.”

The sense of entitlement is something the Tea Party has fought to root out of the party, and rightly so. The tendency to primary sitting congressmen has been a key expression of this, and a Jeb Bush candidacy would be its perfect target in 2016. But if Bush doesn’t run, the Politico argument is stronger. Neither Scott Walker nor Mike Pence is an establishment figure, certainly not the way Chris Christie was shaping up to be.

Although Pence has among the best resumes of the prospective candidates, I’m not sure his time as governor will have nearly the impact on the conservative electorate that Walker’s would, since Walker’s successful battle against the public unions became a national story and thus a cause célèbre, resulting even in a recall campaign against him–which he won as well.

The “experience” argument on its own almost certainly isn’t a game changer. But if the contest doesn’t include Jeb or Christie, a candidate with executive experience could also be a candidate with appeal to the base, making experience more valuable as a possible tie breaker. But throw in a genuinely moderate establishment candidate, and it could make the experience argument less, not more attractive to the base.

Read Less

George W. Bush, Still Living Rent-Free in Their Heads

Remember that time the George W. Bush administration simultaneously invaded Russia, Iran, China, and North Korea? Apparently, according to the New York Times report today on the Obama administration’s foreign-policy readjustment, a former national-security aide to Obama does. The Times’s article is an in-depth look at how the Obama administration’s naïve worldview has shattered on the rocks of reality. Only they don’t know what to replace it with, because they still seem to think they’re running against George Bush.

The guiding principle of Obama administration strategy, to try to figure out what Bush would do and then do the opposite all the while proclaiming moral superiority, has been a flop. But the fact that they still seem to be haunted by their obsession with him is troubling. And yet we get this, from the Times:

Read More

Remember that time the George W. Bush administration simultaneously invaded Russia, Iran, China, and North Korea? Apparently, according to the New York Times report today on the Obama administration’s foreign-policy readjustment, a former national-security aide to Obama does. The Times’s article is an in-depth look at how the Obama administration’s naïve worldview has shattered on the rocks of reality. Only they don’t know what to replace it with, because they still seem to think they’re running against George Bush.

The guiding principle of Obama administration strategy, to try to figure out what Bush would do and then do the opposite all the while proclaiming moral superiority, has been a flop. But the fact that they still seem to be haunted by their obsession with him is troubling. And yet we get this, from the Times:

The White House was taken by surprise by Vladimir V. Putin’s decisions to invade Crimea, but also by China’s increasingly assertive declaration of exclusive rights to airspace and barren islands. Neither the economic pressure nor the cyberattacks that forced Iran to reconsider its approach have prevented North Korea’s stealthy revitalization of its nuclear and missile programs.

Followed by this:

“We’re seeing the ‘light footprint’ run out of gas,” said one of Mr. Obama’s former senior national security aides, who would not speak on the record about his ex-boss.

“No one is arguing for military action, for bringing back George Bush’s chest-thumping,” the former aide said. At the same time, he said, the president’s oft-repeated lines that those who violate international norms will be “isolated” and “pay a heavy price” over the long term have sounded “more like predictions over time, and less like imminent threats.”

I don’t know who the source is obviously; since it’s in the New York Times he or she is anonymous. (How long until Times bylines are also anonymous? And how much would this benefit Tom Friedman?) But I sincerely hope this person’s view isn’t too widely shared among the Obama inner circle.

It was understandable to run against Bush in 2008. He was the sitting president of the other party, and his approval numbers were low. Additionally, the GOP candidate that year, John McCain, was considered even more hawkish than Bush. At the very least, he was more closely associated with the successful “surge” in Iraq than pretty much anyone except the president himself. Obama (who made a prediction on the surge that turned out to be completely and totally wrong) ran on his opposition to the Iraq war. So the contrast between the two candidates was clear, and it made sense for Obama to play up those differences. He felt he was on the right side of public opinion on them.

But that stark contrast had more or less evaporated by Obama’s reelection in 2012. He ran against Mitt Romney, who was certainly tougher on Putin’s Russia (Obama turned out to be wrong there too, as a pattern emerges) but who was otherwise hesitant to run too far to Obama’s right. Obama even used their debates to taunt Romney for being insufficiently bloodthirsty and too hesitant to blow stuff up. Obama ran as the bold assassin. Bin Laden is dead, or haven’t you heard?

More revealing is the fact that Democrats still slamming Bush aren’t actually criticizing Bush, but instead taking aim at the version of Bush they seemed to invent for electoral purposes but ended up believing was real. The power of propaganda can sometimes be most acutely felt by the propagandist. Bush didn’t bomb Iran in response to its nuclear pursuit, or Russia in response to its invasion of Georgia, etc.

And it’s a testament to the incoherence of leftist foreign policy that we’re also reminded of that by the White House–such as when Bush is portrayed as being too naïve for looking into Putin’s eyes and seeing his soul. It’s no wonder the administration has no idea how to respond to the provocations of rogue states: if they want to do the opposite of Bush, but believe Bush is all over the map on policy, what space is left for them?

Not much. The Obama administration has boxed itself in by not giving up its long-stale and outdated campaign rhetoric. It’s disturbing to have to say this in 2014, but it’s time for Democrats still obsessed with Bush to just let it go.

Read Less

The Flawed Christie-Giuliani Narrative

The political press has picked up the comparison between Chris Christie 2016 and Rudy Giuliani 2008 with gusto. This is a flawed comparison, though one can understand why reporters would be drawn to it. It fits a preexisting narrative and offers superficial similarities. But the problem is not only that the parallels may be weaker than they seem (they almost always are); it’s that the initial frames are wrong to begin with, and the press end up comparing new candidates to former candidates who never really existed.

That’s especially true in Giuliani’s case, since the “first draft of history” written about his campaign is demonstrably false. Yet it has somehow become Giuliani’s story anyway. And it finds its way into even solid stories by knowledgeable reporters. For example, here’s Politico’s latest on the Christie-Rudy comparison. It does a good job debunking many of the supposed similarities, but then we find this, as a red flag:

Read More

The political press has picked up the comparison between Chris Christie 2016 and Rudy Giuliani 2008 with gusto. This is a flawed comparison, though one can understand why reporters would be drawn to it. It fits a preexisting narrative and offers superficial similarities. But the problem is not only that the parallels may be weaker than they seem (they almost always are); it’s that the initial frames are wrong to begin with, and the press end up comparing new candidates to former candidates who never really existed.

That’s especially true in Giuliani’s case, since the “first draft of history” written about his campaign is demonstrably false. Yet it has somehow become Giuliani’s story anyway. And it finds its way into even solid stories by knowledgeable reporters. For example, here’s Politico’s latest on the Christie-Rudy comparison. It does a good job debunking many of the supposed similarities, but then we find this, as a red flag:

There are two constants between Giuliani and Christie – advisers Mike DuHaime and Maria Comella.

DuHaime, Giuliani’s presidential campaign manager, is a senior adviser to Christie since 2009. Comella, a Giuliani presidential campaign press aide, is Christie’s communications director.

DuHaime came under fire for Giuliani’s failed “Florida firewall” strategy, but has since been integral to Christie’s two successful campaigns. Comella is broadly respected and her team has shown the kind of web proficiency necessary in a modern campaign. …

Craig Robinson, a former executive director of the Iowa Republican Party and founder of The Iowa Republican website, argued that Christie’s team needs to show more than they did with Giulian (sic). If they do, he said, “the sky’s the limit” for Christie.

This “Florida firewall” myth has stuck, but it’s just that–a myth. That’s due in large part to Giuliani himself, who wanted to deflect concern about his early primary losses by suggesting he was waiting for Florida to turn the tide. But that’s not actually what happened.

“Rudy Giuliani would bypass early-voting Iowa and New Hampshire on his way to more moderate, voter-rich states like Florida and California, many pundits once predicted,” scoffed the New York Daily News in October 2007. “But a look at the presidential hopeful’s campaign datebook shows the former mayor is hunkering down in the two early battlegrounds far more than in other primary states.”

The Daily News backed up its headline, “Rudy Giuliani defies critics, campaigns hard in early states,” by reporting that Giuliani had spent more time in New Hampshire and Iowa than did John McCain, who eventually went on to win the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. The Daily News was onto something. In January 2008, after the New Hampshire primary in which Giuliani placed fourth, Jake Tapper and Karen Travers reported for ABC News that Giuliani held more events in New Hampshire than McCain, Mike Huckabee, Barack Obama, or Hillary Clinton did.

And it wasn’t just events. Giuliani spent millions on television advertising in New Hampshire–almost as much as McCain and more than Huckabee and Ron Paul combined. So what happened? Tapper and Travers explained:

But after a few weeks, when his poll numbers traveled downward instead of in the preferred direction, the former mayor’s campaign said it would stick with his original plan. In December an anonymous “top Giuliani aide” told The Politico newspaper that the new plan would allow the former mayor’s campaign “to marshal our resources for Florida and Feb. 5, while keeping options open for changes in the early states.”

He was competing and still losing, so he told Politico that he wasn’t really trying, that he was waiting for Florida and letting the other candidates tussle over the early states while he built his “firewall.” And so the “Florida firewall” story was ingested by Politico and remains a fixture of Giuliani-related stories to this day.

And now that Christie employs one of the same Giuliani advisors who was an architect of a plan that ultimately stayed on the shelf, the other comparisons between the candidates come alive, as if Christie would–or even could–run the same kind of campaign Giuliani did.

He can’t, though. Giuliani had to lean on 9/11 to a certain degree because he was otherwise incompatible with Republican primary voters. The former mayor ran as a pro-choice Republican. Christie is pro-life. And though Giuliani proved himself on 9/11 to be the kind of leader the country could count on in a crisis, national-security issues just don’t tend to dominate presidential elections.

Overall, the two candidates have major differences on nearly every subject of consequence. Yes, they’re both from the Northeast. But if political reporters can’t tell the difference between candidates because they hail from states near each other, 2016 is going to be a long silly season.

Read Less

Can John McCain Win a GOP Primary?

The aftermath of the government shutdown hasn’t done much to cool the tempers of Republicans angered by their humiliating defeat at the hands of President Obama. Rather than accept responsibility for the failure of the no-win strategy they steered their party into, Tea Partiers are venting their frustration at the so-called establishment and vowing to try to defeat all those who don’t meet their standards for conservative purity even if that means dooming any hopes for the GOP to retake the Senate. Front and center on the list of the Republicans on their hit list is, of course, Senator John McCain of Arizona. Which is why his announcement earlier this week that he is seriously considering running for a sixth term in the Senate isn’t so much an indication of his desire to hold his seat as it is his throwing down of a gauntlet to a faction of his party that he hasn’t hesitated to describe as “wacko birds.”

It’s not likely that there is a Democrat in the state that has much of a chance to beat McCain either in 2016 when he will be 80 or even six years after that should he wish to keep going. But despite his general popularity, it is an open question as to whether McCain can win another Republican primary. Which means that if he does want another term, Arizona looks to be ground zero in an all-out war between a man who has become the quintessential GOP moderate and Tea Partiers who regard him as the incarnation of everything they dislike about “moderates.”

Read More

The aftermath of the government shutdown hasn’t done much to cool the tempers of Republicans angered by their humiliating defeat at the hands of President Obama. Rather than accept responsibility for the failure of the no-win strategy they steered their party into, Tea Partiers are venting their frustration at the so-called establishment and vowing to try to defeat all those who don’t meet their standards for conservative purity even if that means dooming any hopes for the GOP to retake the Senate. Front and center on the list of the Republicans on their hit list is, of course, Senator John McCain of Arizona. Which is why his announcement earlier this week that he is seriously considering running for a sixth term in the Senate isn’t so much an indication of his desire to hold his seat as it is his throwing down of a gauntlet to a faction of his party that he hasn’t hesitated to describe as “wacko birds.”

It’s not likely that there is a Democrat in the state that has much of a chance to beat McCain either in 2016 when he will be 80 or even six years after that should he wish to keep going. But despite his general popularity, it is an open question as to whether McCain can win another Republican primary. Which means that if he does want another term, Arizona looks to be ground zero in an all-out war between a man who has become the quintessential GOP moderate and Tea Partiers who regard him as the incarnation of everything they dislike about “moderates.”

It should be recalled that the last time he faced the voters, McCain had to tack considerably to the right in order to win another term. After long being identified as a supporter of immigration reform and a path to citizenship for illegal aliens, McCain sang a slightly different tune in 2010, memorably demanding that the government build a wall along the border with Mexico. The shift, combined with a weaker than expected challenge from former congressman and talk show host J.D. Hayworth, worked nicely and the veteran senator won his primary in a walk and coasted to victory in the general election. But it isn’t likely that he can play the same game again or that he would even want to.

After antagonizing right-wingers by being the leading Republican sponsor of the bipartisan immigration reform bill passed by the Senate (though it will die in the House), McCain’s open contempt for Rand Paul’s filibuster about drone attacks, and his even greater disdain for those like Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, who urged Republicans to threaten a government shutdown to de-fund ObamaCare, his relations with the Tea Party can best be described as open warfare.

With the core of the party tilting further to the right there are those who assume there’s no way that McCain could survive a primary. After having antagonized conservatives on issues like campaign finance reform for decades, the dispute over the shutdown may be the final straw. Should a credible conservative, or at least one more credible than the likes of Hayworth, emerge against him, McCain will be in for the political fight of his life. Given his penchant for reaching across the aisle and an internationalist attitude on foreign policy that seems out of touch with many on the right these days, McCain is now routinely described by even as normally sober a politician as Liz Cheney as a “liberal Republican.” Though the label is more than a bit unfair, it means he will have a hard time winning a primary in such a conservative state.

That said, those who are inclined to write McCain’s reelection off as a lost cause should understand that the rules have always been slightly different for McCain. As a bona fide legendary war hero, McCain’s career has always been based as much on biography as it has a willingness to stick to conservative positions. Five years of torture in the Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam War earned McCain a lifetime get-out-of-jail-free card as far as many Republicans have been concerned.

It should also be said that branding McCain as “liberal” is a bit of a misnomer. On most issues of concern to conservatives, McCain is with the base of his party. Indeed, the desire of many on the right to exact revenge on him over the perception that he betrayed them on the shutdown is undermined by the fact that, as he said this week, he fought the adoption of the president’s health-care program tooth and nail before Cruz and Lee were even elected to the Senate.

Though there are issues on which he has disagreed with many Republicans, his image as a moderate is based as much on his negative views of Cruz and company and a desire to work with Democrats as much as possible. As such, no shift to the right on any issue such as immigration will win over his conservative critics the way it did in 2010. If he is to win another term, it will have to be by proving that a centrist, or what passes for one in the GOP these days, can still win a primary in a red state. That’s the sort of a challenge the always-combative McCain may relish. Indeed, given the fact that he has talked about retirement, a desire to smack down the Tea Partiers might be the only reason he is thinking about running again. But it flies in the face of everything we know about the changing face of the base of the Republican Party. While it is always a mistake to underestimate the Navy veteran turned Washington institution, the odds against him sitting in the Senate in 2017 are very long.

Read Less

The One Insult John McCain Can’t Forgive

The part of John McCain’s interview with the New Republic getting the most attention today is where he admits to being conflicted over whether, in a hypothetical 2016 general election, he’d vote for Hillary Clinton over Rand Paul. The article is even headlined “John McCain, Undecided 2016 Voter,” as if to nudge readers along, in case they thought the flames of GOP internecine warfare weren’t being fanned quite enough yet this week.

And of course it is juicy enough in its own way, raising the prospect that the party’s former presidential nominee will jump ship rather than be captained by a libertarian. Nonetheless, though the interview spans foreign and domestic policy, from drones to “wacko birds” to Egyptian coups, one part of the interview caught my attention. McCain was asked about the role Sarah Palin played in the 2008 campaign and her choice of attack lines to aim at the Obama/Biden ticket (“IC” is the New Republic’s Isaac Chotiner, who conducted the interview; “JM” is McCain):

Read More

The part of John McCain’s interview with the New Republic getting the most attention today is where he admits to being conflicted over whether, in a hypothetical 2016 general election, he’d vote for Hillary Clinton over Rand Paul. The article is even headlined “John McCain, Undecided 2016 Voter,” as if to nudge readers along, in case they thought the flames of GOP internecine warfare weren’t being fanned quite enough yet this week.

And of course it is juicy enough in its own way, raising the prospect that the party’s former presidential nominee will jump ship rather than be captained by a libertarian. Nonetheless, though the interview spans foreign and domestic policy, from drones to “wacko birds” to Egyptian coups, one part of the interview caught my attention. McCain was asked about the role Sarah Palin played in the 2008 campaign and her choice of attack lines to aim at the Obama/Biden ticket (“IC” is the New Republic’s Isaac Chotiner, who conducted the interview; “JM” is McCain):

IC: But she also accused Obama of “palling around with terrorists.” It wasn’t entirely positive.

JM: Well, if she attacked Obama and Biden, that is fairly standard.

IC: “Palling around with terrorists”?

JM: With all due respect, you never heard about when John Lewis said my campaign was worse than the Birmingham church bombing? That may have escaped your attention.

IC: It did. I agree, that is bad.

JM: OK, well, that is what he did, when they orchestrated this “racism” effort against me. Maybe Sarah Palin said “palling around with terrorists,” but the things that were said about me and her were far worse. I’ll never forgive John Lewis.

IC: Did you ever talk to Lewis?

JM: No. I would be glad to show you the press release. But we selectively take something Palin said, and the vice president’s job is to attack, and how many people know about John Lewis? I can show you many other comments. For me to complain about it is a waste of time.

This actually quite tragic, and it just reinforces the fact that the false accusations of racism in which the media and elected Democrats traffic is so corrosive to American politics. You don’t hear McCain complain about the fact that the Obama campaign mocked his war wounds or told Hispanic voters that McCain was against immigration reform when it was Obama who torpedoed McCain’s attempt to liberalize the system. Or, for that matter, any of the other more routine attacks.

Politics ain’t beanbag, of course. Campaigns breed all kinds of personal and political attacks, but rarely the kind that can never be forgiven. Tarring a person’s character with the racism charge just to try to win an election is especially reprehensible. It’s reminiscent of Ted Kennedy’s attack on Robert Bork at the latter’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing. “Robert Bork’s America,” the bilious speech claimed, would be a place where “blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters.”

It went beyond the usual character assassination and smear campaigns typical of the left. It forever changed the way judges were confirmed. It broke new ground–even for Kennedy, who had long mastered the politics of personal destruction and turned vapid belligerence into an art form. The confirmation process never recovered, and neither did the courts, membership of which was now available only to those who pretended not to have an opinion about anything. Intellectual discourse was off the table–Kennedy had spoken.

And American politics hasn’t truly recovered either. Even the left understands the damage Kennedy and his cohorts (including the current vice president) did to the country. As Joe Nocera wrote in the New York Times in 2011:

The Bork fight, in some ways, was the beginning of the end of civil discourse in politics. For years afterward, conservatives seethed at the “systematic demonization” of Bork, recalls Clint Bolick, a longtime conservative legal activist. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution coined the angry verb “to bork,” which meant to destroy a nominee by whatever means necessary. When Republicans borked the Democratic House Speaker Jim Wright less than two years later, there wasn’t a trace of remorse, not after what the Democrats had done to Bork. The anger between Democrats and Republicans, the unwillingness to work together, the profound mistrust — the line from Bork to today’s ugly politics is a straight one.

And yet the media and Democrats persist in their efforts to call everyone with whom they disagree a racist. Detroit’s bankruptcy is just the latest example, but the trial of George Zimmerman is a reminder of this as well. NBC chose to edit the 9-1-1 call Zimmerman made in order to make it appear as though Zimmerman might be racist, setting off a trial that was suddenly a referendum on racial justice. The press decided to paint Zimmerman as a racist monster, and now the family Zimmerman saved from a car wreck is afraid to speak out publicly on his behalf for fear of “blowback.”

I’m sure there are those who will accuse McCain of sour grapes or unjustly holding a grudge. But he seems to have been able to let the election go. He just can’t quite get beyond the sinister accusation of racism, which became so normalized by the left that virtually every Republican candidate four years later was hit with the same accusation. The damage this is doing to the country is visible and resilient, but as long as Democrats believe it helps them win elections, we can only expect more of it.

Read Less

The Campaign Strategy Hillary Can’t Avoid

One way to tell how much confidence the political world has in Hillary Clinton’s chances in 2016 is that reporters are already writing the stories about her they normally reserve for a politician who has won a major party nomination. For example: in May 2008, Jonathan Martin, then of Politico, wrote a piece titled “Will age be just a number in ’08?” Martin led off the article with another question: “Is John McCain Ronald Reagan or Bob Dole?”

The point was that John McCain was old–but not too old (probably) for voters. A month earlier Steve Kornacki had already written a piece for the New York Observer titled “McCain Is Old Like Reagan, Not Like Dole,” explaining that there’s old, and then there’s old. A candidate can embody energy and optimism at any age. Kornacki seemed to anticipate Martin’s question: age really is just a number.

Martin’s article on McCain’s age was published six months before the presidential election that year. But last week, Martin published the 2016 version of that story in the New York Times. This time it’s about Hillary Clinton–and it was published about 40 months before Election Day. Martin wrote that Republicans were thinking of painting Clinton as old news, especially if they run a charismatic young senator against her. (Hillary has seen this play before.)

Read More

One way to tell how much confidence the political world has in Hillary Clinton’s chances in 2016 is that reporters are already writing the stories about her they normally reserve for a politician who has won a major party nomination. For example: in May 2008, Jonathan Martin, then of Politico, wrote a piece titled “Will age be just a number in ’08?” Martin led off the article with another question: “Is John McCain Ronald Reagan or Bob Dole?”

The point was that John McCain was old–but not too old (probably) for voters. A month earlier Steve Kornacki had already written a piece for the New York Observer titled “McCain Is Old Like Reagan, Not Like Dole,” explaining that there’s old, and then there’s old. A candidate can embody energy and optimism at any age. Kornacki seemed to anticipate Martin’s question: age really is just a number.

Martin’s article on McCain’s age was published six months before the presidential election that year. But last week, Martin published the 2016 version of that story in the New York Times. This time it’s about Hillary Clinton–and it was published about 40 months before Election Day. Martin wrote that Republicans were thinking of painting Clinton as old news, especially if they run a charismatic young senator against her. (Hillary has seen this play before.)

Today, Clinton’s supporters hit back via Martin’s former colleague at Politico, Maggie Haberman. Democrats, Haberman writes, “are confident that giving voters the chance to make history by electing the first female president — by definition a forward-looking act — would trump any argument that Clinton is too 20th century and give her a ‘change’ mantra of her own.”

One rejoinder Hillaryland may deploy in her defense, according to Martin, is–stop me if you’ve heard this one–the precedent set by Reagan. And of course the Republican nominee will almost certainly run as a youthful Reagan Republican, both with his politics and his sunny disposition.

In other words, we may have a 2016 presidential election in which one candidate will claim the mantle of Reagan while speaking the language of Obama and the other candidate will claim the mantle of Obama while speaking the language of Reagan. Confused? Don’t worry, you still have about 1,200 days of these articles to figure it out.

For Clinton, Haberman’s article is both good news and bad news. The good news is that the “historic” nature of her candidacy would be a potent political force. The bad news is that Clinton almost certainly would prefer not to run on her gender.

Throughout Clinton’s career, she has faced a certain amount of skepticism. Any doubts raised by the fact that her husband’s presidency launched her political career were not erased when she leapfrogged several rungs on the political ladder to take a Senate seat in New York where she never faced a tough election before being appointed secretary of state. The 2008 Democratic primary fight was her one and only difficult election, and she lost after squandering a lead and alienating a good portion of her party. Her term as secretary of state was devoid of accomplishments and rife with mismanagement, inattention, and whistleblower accusations of corruption and cover-ups.

Her age, then, is less an indication that she couldn’t handle being president and more a reminder that she’s at the end of her political career without much to show for it. What she would probably prefer is to win a presidential election on the merits–which she certainly has, being among the smartest and hardest working politicos around. Though of course she will never run against Obama, one can easily imagine her dream campaign capitalizing on buyer’s remorse, offering Obama’s progressive values but without the ubiquitous incompetence and smug bitterness of this administration.

She would give Democrats a do-over while reminding wavering independents and liberal Republicans of the perils of putting too much hope in a charismatic but inexperienced senator who is in line more with his party’s ideological wing than the mythical center to which so many voters pretend they belong. She might flatter voters instead of inspiring them, but she’d convince them that they all made the same mistake and all learned the same lesson.

She will not do so. This president has done much for her campaign already by shielding Clinton as much as possible from the fallout of the Benghazi tragedy and by very clearly making it known that he would like her to succeed him instead of his own sitting vice president. And the last thing Clinton should do to prove she isn’t the divisive figure Democrats remember from 2008 is to trash, in any way, her party’s sitting president.

So she may have no other real choice but to ask voters to make history, again, and elect her president. It’s a tired, clichéd strategy, but it’s also probably her best shot.

Read Less

Bill Clinton on Syria: Don’t Rely on the Polls

On Tuesday night I attended a benefit dinner in New York for the McCain Institute at Arizona State University. The star attraction was Bill Clinton, in conversation with John McCain. Like other attendees I was startled to hear Clinton come out in favor of aiding the Syrian rebels, but I wasn’t planning to write about it because the event was off the record. However, Politico has obtained a tape recording of Clinton’s talk and posted an article about it.

The article quotes Clinton as follows: “My view is that we shouldn’t over-learn the lessons of the past. I don’t think Syria is necessarily Iraq or Afghanistan — no one has asked us to send any soldiers in there. I think it’s more like Afghanistan was in the ’80s when they were fighting the Soviet Union … when President Reagan was in office [and] got an enormous amount of influence and gratitude by helping to topple the Soviet-backed regime and then made the error of not hanging around in Afghanistan.”

Read More

On Tuesday night I attended a benefit dinner in New York for the McCain Institute at Arizona State University. The star attraction was Bill Clinton, in conversation with John McCain. Like other attendees I was startled to hear Clinton come out in favor of aiding the Syrian rebels, but I wasn’t planning to write about it because the event was off the record. However, Politico has obtained a tape recording of Clinton’s talk and posted an article about it.

The article quotes Clinton as follows: “My view is that we shouldn’t over-learn the lessons of the past. I don’t think Syria is necessarily Iraq or Afghanistan — no one has asked us to send any soldiers in there. I think it’s more like Afghanistan was in the ’80s when they were fighting the Soviet Union … when President Reagan was in office [and] got an enormous amount of influence and gratitude by helping to topple the Soviet-backed regime and then made the error of not hanging around in Afghanistan.”

Clinton also suggested that any president who refused to intervene simply because it would be unpopular to do so is not acting very presidential: “When people are telling you ‘no’ in these situations, very often what they’re doing is flashing a giant yellow light and saying, ‘For God’s sakes, be careful, tell us what you’re doing, think this through, be careful.’ But still they hire their president to look around the corner and down the street, and you just think–if you refuse to act and you cause a calamity, the one thing you cannot say when all the eggs have been broken, is that, ‘Oh my God, two years ago there was a poll that said 80 percent of you were against it.’ Right? You’d look like a total fool.”

The implication is obvious: Obama is in danger of looking like a “total fool.”

On one level Clinton’s criticism is not terribly surprising since his wife was in favor of aiding the rebels last summer. But Clinton, whatever resentment he may feel toward Obama, has been loyal in public. That he has chosen to break with the White House over Syria is significant. One hopes his comments, which he surely knew would leak, may presage a wider revolt among Democrats in Congress who, like Clinton, are disgusted with Obama’s do-nothing policy on Syria.

Read Less

Russians Think Obama Will Bail on Syria

American cable news stations devoted a lot of airtime today to Senator John McCain’s surprising visit to Syria where he met with the leader of a moderate rebel faction. The trip was supposed to focus attention on the effort to influence the West to aid the rebels, or at least those rebel factions that are not tainted by association with Al Qaeda terrorists. But while McCain restarted the conversation about the need for the U.S. to stop pretending it can ignore the crisis in that war torn country, his venture was actually overshadowed by the Russian announcement that it would persist in its determination to sell air defense missiles to the embattled Assad government.

It is still possible that the West will act to prevent more bloodshed and to make good on President Obama’s prediction. But the Russian decision to stand by their Syrian ally effectively renders McCain’s quest moot. Though Israel has issued a warning to Russia that any such missiles — and by extension the personnel servicing them — could be targeted by airstrikes, Moscow’s willingness to stake its reputation on Assad’s survival is likely enough to deter even the possibility of action by President Obama with the added bonus that doing so humiliates Secretary of State John Kerry after he trooped to Moscow to plead with the Russians not to do it. Though the Russians may not want to tangle with the West or even the Israelis, they seem to be betting that a U.S. president that prefers to lead from behind can be counted on to stay out of any conflict where there is a risk of confrontation. They may be bluffing but it’s hard to argue with their reasoning.

Read More

American cable news stations devoted a lot of airtime today to Senator John McCain’s surprising visit to Syria where he met with the leader of a moderate rebel faction. The trip was supposed to focus attention on the effort to influence the West to aid the rebels, or at least those rebel factions that are not tainted by association with Al Qaeda terrorists. But while McCain restarted the conversation about the need for the U.S. to stop pretending it can ignore the crisis in that war torn country, his venture was actually overshadowed by the Russian announcement that it would persist in its determination to sell air defense missiles to the embattled Assad government.

It is still possible that the West will act to prevent more bloodshed and to make good on President Obama’s prediction. But the Russian decision to stand by their Syrian ally effectively renders McCain’s quest moot. Though Israel has issued a warning to Russia that any such missiles — and by extension the personnel servicing them — could be targeted by airstrikes, Moscow’s willingness to stake its reputation on Assad’s survival is likely enough to deter even the possibility of action by President Obama with the added bonus that doing so humiliates Secretary of State John Kerry after he trooped to Moscow to plead with the Russians not to do it. Though the Russians may not want to tangle with the West or even the Israelis, they seem to be betting that a U.S. president that prefers to lead from behind can be counted on to stay out of any conflict where there is a risk of confrontation. They may be bluffing but it’s hard to argue with their reasoning.

 There is a case to be made that the time has past when U.S. intervention in Syria could shape events to our liking. Had President Obama acted at the outset of the protests against the Assad regime there was a reasonable chance a moderate government could have been put together to replace the dictator. But two years and 80,000 dead later, the conflict has become a bloody standoff with Al Qaeda types taking an increasingly large role in the rebellion and Assad’s forces being stiffened by Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah “volunteers.” Though I believe Assad’s victory — and by extension the boost that would give Iran and Hezbollah — would be worse for the United States and the region than the creation of Iraq-style chaos if the country disintegrates, it is difficult to argue that either outcome is to the benefit of either the West or America.

The shipment of advanced missiles to Syria may be intended to deter the West from using air power to help the Syrian rebels or even from instituting a no fly zone inside the country. But the wild card here is that Israel has its own priorities and they don’t concern which band of cutthroats is running things in Damascus. What they can’t tolerate is having advanced weaponry placed in the hands of Assad’s terrorist allies.

Of course, it may be as long as year before the missiles can be delivered and Syrian crews are trained to use them. A lot can happen between now and then. But the main point is that Russia is hoping that its intervention will nevertheless serve to keep its friend afloat while frustrating a timorous American administration that would prefer to pretend that its conflict with Islamist extremists is over. The net result is bound to not only keep a butcher in power in Damascus to embolden an Iranian government that is the prime threat to peace in the region.

Read Less

Rubio Welcomes the Immigration Challenge

Two stories illustrated yesterday the (sometimes willful) confusion about where Marco Rubio stands on immigration reform. Hot Air discusses a Media Research Center video taken at a pro-immigration rally in Washington. The MRC’s correspondent noticed that some of the signs held by protesters were directed at Rubio. One said “Mr. Rubio your parents are immigrants,” and the woman holding the sign admitted she did not know, when pressed, who Marco Rubio actually was. The same was true of a woman standing next to her whose sign read “Rubio the time is now.” She told the MRC, “Look, my social worker gave it to us.”

Some of those at the rally were schoolchildren who were given anti-Rubio signs by their teachers. Very few knew who Rubio even was; those who did know him didn’t know much about Rubio’s stance on immigration. (This may have something to do with the fact that, as I wrote about here, liberal “pro-immigration” groups have been calling voters and misinforming them about Rubio’s support for immigration.) The other story was that those who oppose Rubio’s immigration reform plans seized on a story that cast doubt about the enforcement provisions in the compromise that is taking shape. Rubio’s staff, then, has spent the week trying to answer a recurring question: What does Marco Rubio want?

Read More

Two stories illustrated yesterday the (sometimes willful) confusion about where Marco Rubio stands on immigration reform. Hot Air discusses a Media Research Center video taken at a pro-immigration rally in Washington. The MRC’s correspondent noticed that some of the signs held by protesters were directed at Rubio. One said “Mr. Rubio your parents are immigrants,” and the woman holding the sign admitted she did not know, when pressed, who Marco Rubio actually was. The same was true of a woman standing next to her whose sign read “Rubio the time is now.” She told the MRC, “Look, my social worker gave it to us.”

Some of those at the rally were schoolchildren who were given anti-Rubio signs by their teachers. Very few knew who Rubio even was; those who did know him didn’t know much about Rubio’s stance on immigration. (This may have something to do with the fact that, as I wrote about here, liberal “pro-immigration” groups have been calling voters and misinforming them about Rubio’s support for immigration.) The other story was that those who oppose Rubio’s immigration reform plans seized on a story that cast doubt about the enforcement provisions in the compromise that is taking shape. Rubio’s staff, then, has spent the week trying to answer a recurring question: What does Marco Rubio want?

Virtually every move of Rubio’s on the issue has been subject to conflicting interpretations. Depending on which side you hear, the public hearing process Rubio wants to hold on immigration reform is either a ruse to lull Rubio’s critics into a false sense of security or a delaying tactic enabling him to passively sideline the legislation. It has become the worst of both worlds for Rubio, with the left attacking him for advancing their cause and the right suspecting him of selling them down the river.

But as a thorough piece in Politico today explains, it cannot be plausibly argued that Rubio wants immigration reform to fail. He has tied his own political fate, it seems, to that of immigration reform:

Marco Rubio is preparing to go all in to support sweeping immigration legislation, offering himself up as the public face of a bill that will split the Republican Party — but that his allies hope will propel him to the front of the GOP presidential sweepstakes.

After offering lukewarm support until now, Rubio is preparing to fully embrace a measure that is the most significant of his political career so far. The gambit could pay off in spades by crowning a leading presidential contender in 2016, or it could permanently damage the Republican’s brand with conservatives.

Rubio wants a comprehensive bill, despite the pleas from some Republicans to work the process in stages. (Such a process would almost certainly result in the thorniest immigration issue–what to do with the 11 million or so illegal immigrants in the country–left unaddressed.) Rubio, according to the story, wants the illegal immigrants currently in the country to be permitted to apply for citizenship after 13 years and when the border enforcement mechanisms have been established.

Rubio plans to unveil the text of the bill early next week, and at least one major committee hearing will be held on it before Judiciary Committee voting begins in about a month. To assuage concerns that the bill could get jammed through Congress without sufficient conservative input and feedback, Rubio will probably hold separate public meetings on the bill, which he hopes will include immigration experts.

That may not be enough to satisfy skeptics, and in fact it presents its own risks to the bill (which is likely why his committee colleagues won’t agree to official extensive public hearings themselves). Rubio is grappling in many ways with the ghost of ObamaCare. Public hearings and town halls were held on the president’s proposed health care reform and they allowed the public to register voters’ overwhelming opposition to the bill. The result was a disaster: the terrible legislation was shoved through over the opposition of the public via procedural tricks and unseemly trade-offs like the “Cornhusker Kickback” and the bill’s supporters were washed out of Congress in a wave of public outrage.

The immigration hearings have another precedent as well, and it’s not much more encouraging: the town halls held by Republicans opposed to the immigration reform spearheaded by George W. Bush and John McCain that was eventually spiked in 2007. As the AP reported in February, it’s not going much better for McCain this time around.

The public hearings are going to test Rubio’s powers of persuasion, but the whole process will also gauge whether the perceived shift in the GOP stance on immigration, led by the party’s next generation, has been pronounced enough to not only get a comprehensive bill passed but do so with the support, even if grudging, of the grassroots. Rubio is almost surely hoping to find out the answer to the latter before the 2016 GOP primary process renders its own verdict.

Read Less

The Missing Element in Western Aid to the Syrian Rebels

Showing once again the difficulty of keeping any “covert action” truly secret, the news media have been full of stories in recent days about how the U.S. is providing assistance to arm and train the Syrian rebels.

The New York Times actually tracked the flow of aircraft delivering arms bought by Saudi Arabia and Qatar and channeled through Turkey and Jordan with American advice and assistance. The Wall Street Journal, in the meantime, reports that the American intelligence community is sharing information with the rebels, while the Associated Press writes of the CIA training effort going on in Jordan for secular rebels.

Read More

Showing once again the difficulty of keeping any “covert action” truly secret, the news media have been full of stories in recent days about how the U.S. is providing assistance to arm and train the Syrian rebels.

The New York Times actually tracked the flow of aircraft delivering arms bought by Saudi Arabia and Qatar and channeled through Turkey and Jordan with American advice and assistance. The Wall Street Journal, in the meantime, reports that the American intelligence community is sharing information with the rebels, while the Associated Press writes of the CIA training effort going on in Jordan for secular rebels.

These are significant steps in the right direction–toward helping to overthrow Bashar Assad–even if they do raise questions about why the U.S. isn’t maximizing its influence by providing arms directly. There is, however, a large missing element: No one is providing aid to the rebels to stop Assad from bombing them. With the regime having lost control of much of northern Syria, its best bet to keep the rebels off balance and to prevent the establishment of an alternative government on Syrian soil is to use aircraft and missiles to spread indiscriminate terror in rebel-held areas. The rebels lack the capacity to down Syrian aircraft or to stop missile launchings.

In part this is because the U.S. has lobbied its allies not to provide portable anti-aircraft missiles such as the Stinger to the rebels for fear they could wind up falling into the wrong hands. This is a legitimate concern, but if we are not going to allow the rebels to defend themselves, this argues all the more for the U.S. and our allies to take action ourselves to stop the Syrian air force.

This would not be hard to do, the most direct and effective option simply being to create a no-fly zone across the entire country and shoot down any Syrian aircraft that take to the skies. This could be complimented with air strikes on missile launchers and would probably necessitate the suppression of Syrian air defenses. This could be done without significant risk to American and coalition aircraft–witness how easily Israeli aircraft have penetrated Syrian airspace to bomb a nuclear reactor or, more recently, a convoy apparently transporting weapons to Hezbollah.

A less robust approach–but still better than nothing–would be to use Patriot missile batteries in Turkey to enforce a more limited no-fly zone along Syria’s northern border. These batteries could not only stop Syrian aircraft but also Scud missiles. This was the option advocated in a letter sent last week to the administration by Senators Carl Levin and John McCain, who also urged President Obama “to provide more robust assistance directly to vetted opposition groups.”

Such steps are long overdue. Otherwise, the killing will simply continue and Syria will sink deeper into chaos, with extremist groups gaining ever more sway and the conflict spreading ever farther afield.

Read Less

Rand Moves the Ball on Immigration

Rand Paul couldn’t be more out of sync with the eight members of the bipartisan group of senators that presented an immigration reform plan in January. While he has little in common with the four Democrats, he is particularly at odds with three of the four Republicans in the group. Paul is already seen as one of the chief rivals of Marco Rubio in the 2016 presidential race. More than that, in the weeks since the plan was unveiled, the Kentucky senator has become embroiled in a public feud with John McCain and Lindsey Graham. Both ridiculed his filibuster about the possibility that the U.S. government could use drone attacks on American citizens and McCain even called Paul a “wacko bird.” But today Paul will announce his support for the key element of their immigration proposal that has drawn the most fire from conservatives: a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

While Paul is not endorsing the gang of eight’s draft, the plan he unveils this morning will be similar on the most contentious elements of the immigration debate. This shows that although Paul appears to be at war with the bulk of the GOP caucus on foreign policy and views the attempt of the Republican National Committee to streamline the presidential nominating process as a direct threat to his candidacy, he is on board with both groups when it comes to a key issue on which many in the party believes it must change if it is to have a chance to win national elections in the future.

Read More

Rand Paul couldn’t be more out of sync with the eight members of the bipartisan group of senators that presented an immigration reform plan in January. While he has little in common with the four Democrats, he is particularly at odds with three of the four Republicans in the group. Paul is already seen as one of the chief rivals of Marco Rubio in the 2016 presidential race. More than that, in the weeks since the plan was unveiled, the Kentucky senator has become embroiled in a public feud with John McCain and Lindsey Graham. Both ridiculed his filibuster about the possibility that the U.S. government could use drone attacks on American citizens and McCain even called Paul a “wacko bird.” But today Paul will announce his support for the key element of their immigration proposal that has drawn the most fire from conservatives: a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

While Paul is not endorsing the gang of eight’s draft, the plan he unveils this morning will be similar on the most contentious elements of the immigration debate. This shows that although Paul appears to be at war with the bulk of the GOP caucus on foreign policy and views the attempt of the Republican National Committee to streamline the presidential nominating process as a direct threat to his candidacy, he is on board with both groups when it comes to a key issue on which many in the party believes it must change if it is to have a chance to win national elections in the future.

Many on the right took aim at the autopsy of the 2012 election presented by the RNC yesterday. They were not just mad about the proposed changes to the 2016 presidential race that angered Paul’s supporters, but were also offended by its conclusions that the party must embrace immigration reform if it is to have a chance to win the Hispanic vote. But if a lot of conservatives are still digging in their heels on what they consider an “amnesty” plan put forward by McCain, Graham and Rubio, Paul seems to agree with the so-called GOP establishment that demonizing illegals is not a coherent approach to the problem or good politics.

Paul’s endorsement of a path to citizenship makes sense because the draconian view of immigration taken by many conservatives is at odds with his libertarian principles. It also makes sense for a man who hopes to expand the narrow if fervent following that supported his father Ron’s presidential campaigns. Like other Republicans who are serious about winning the White House in 2016, Paul knows getting Hispanic votes is crucial to his party’s future.

While Paul can’t really compete with a son of Cuban immigrants like Rubio for the love of Hispanic voters, his speech—which will be peppered with Spanish phrases, his love for Hispanic culture and mentions of his own immigrant forebears—shows that he is nonetheless interested in presenting himself as a truly national candidate.

With so many conservatives still unwilling to drop their opposition to a path to citizenship for illegals, this can’t be viewed as a new consensus within the Republican Party. But with Paul putting himself on the same side as his antagonists on foreign policy on this issue, it’s becoming increasingly clear that opposition to immigration reform is the past, not the future of the Republican Party. With the right’s new hero embracing the same position on immigration as the men he described last week in his CPAC speech as being “stale and moss-covered,” Paul has moved the ball on immigration a bit farther down the field.

Read Less

Ayotte and the Future of Conservative Foreign Policy

As Max wrote earlier, there is a growing divide in the Republican Party with regard to foreign aid that reflects a broader philosophical divergence on the right. Marco Rubio and Rand Paul are both Tea Party-generation fiscal conservatives, but in the past they have approached foreign policy from different angles–Rubio from an interventionist point of view and Paul from a pro-disengagement perspective. So it was surely a victory for Paul when Rubio took to the floor of the Senate last week to support Paul’s 13-hour filibuster of John Brennan’s nomination over the use of drones.

But one senator who wasn’t at the filibuster was New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte. Like Rubio, Ayotte is a fiscal conservative who has made her name on foreign affairs. Unlike Rubio, however, Ayotte can’t so easily distance herself from the party’s old guard, which has been openly feuding with Paul since the filibuster. John McCain and Lindsey Graham have sought to portray Paul as outside the mainstream–a “wacko bird,” in McCain’s unfortunate phrasing–further alienating the pair from the party’s conservative base, which rallied to Paul’s defense during the filibuster. McCain and Graham have also been mentors to Ayotte, who seems to have replaced former Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman in the “three amigos.” The Hill today takes a look at Ayotte’s predicament:

Read More

As Max wrote earlier, there is a growing divide in the Republican Party with regard to foreign aid that reflects a broader philosophical divergence on the right. Marco Rubio and Rand Paul are both Tea Party-generation fiscal conservatives, but in the past they have approached foreign policy from different angles–Rubio from an interventionist point of view and Paul from a pro-disengagement perspective. So it was surely a victory for Paul when Rubio took to the floor of the Senate last week to support Paul’s 13-hour filibuster of John Brennan’s nomination over the use of drones.

But one senator who wasn’t at the filibuster was New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte. Like Rubio, Ayotte is a fiscal conservative who has made her name on foreign affairs. Unlike Rubio, however, Ayotte can’t so easily distance herself from the party’s old guard, which has been openly feuding with Paul since the filibuster. John McCain and Lindsey Graham have sought to portray Paul as outside the mainstream–a “wacko bird,” in McCain’s unfortunate phrasing–further alienating the pair from the party’s conservative base, which rallied to Paul’s defense during the filibuster. McCain and Graham have also been mentors to Ayotte, who seems to have replaced former Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman in the “three amigos.” The Hill today takes a look at Ayotte’s predicament:

Ayotte agrees with McCain and Graham on U.S. drone policies, though she didn’t take part in their attack on Paul.

“He and I have a different viewpoint,” Ayotte told The Hill. “I certainly respect Sen. Paul for standing up for what he believes in, but I also very much understand and appreciate Sen. McCain and Sen. Graham’s views that they expressed on the underlying policy.”

Ayotte has built up a fiscally conservative record in the Senate — she has a 92 percent rating from the conservative Club For Growth, ninth highest among senators who served in 2012. She’s a featured speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) this weekend (her picture is alongside Paul’s on a promotional flyer).

Though she gets less attention than Rubio, who is out in front on the immigration issue as well, how Ayotte navigates these two constituencies is likely to be quite consequential for the GOP’s stand on foreign policy going forward. And it may not be as easy as staking out positions popular with the base; as the Hill notes, instead of appearing at Paul’s filibuster Ayotte was taking part in the president’s “dinner diplomacy”–along with McCain and Graham. The optics were enough to draw the ire of conservatives.

Ayotte’s significance on foreign policy is due in part to the fact that she doesn’t have Rubio’s stature as a national figure. Though Ayotte was mentioned often as a possible vice presidential choice for Mitt Romney last year, she is not considered to be one of the young conservatives leaning toward a presidential run in 2016. That means she either ends up on the ticket as vice presidential nominee or she stays in the Senate (providing she wins reelection in 2016), where she will presumably take an expanding role in shaping foreign-policy legislation.

Ayotte was outspoken in her condemnation of the Obama administration in the wake of the Benghazi terror attack and Susan Rice’s time in the spotlight as a possible secretary of state nominee, for which Ayotte earned plaudits from conservatives who wanted their congressional delegations to hold the administration accountable. But she also opposed the defense cuts in the sequester, and wants to see them reversed. That’s important, because Ayotte sits not only on the powerful Armed Services Committee but is also the ranking Republican on a subcommittee that will have influence over how the sequester military cuts are administered. As the New Hampshire-based Daily Democrat reported:

The subcommittee has jurisdiction over military resources and training, as well as depots and shipyards, business management and contracting oversight, and energy security issues….

Ayotte also served as ranking member of the subcommittee last year. Ayotte said she hopes to identify efficiencies and savings in the Pentagon’s budget and guard against “irresponsible cuts” that would leave troops and defense suppliers “less prepared.”

Ayotte, Graham, and McCain together hold the ranking GOP spots on half the Armed Services subcommittees, and McCain is also on the Foreign Affairs Committee (along with Rubio and Paul). Ayotte has been a proponent of arming the rebels in Syria, expressed concern about a too-hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan, and has criticized calls to eliminate foreign aid as “penny wise and pound foolish in terms of protecting our own country.”

The media spotlight, for the next few years at least, will likely stay focused on Rubio and Paul. But Ayotte’s position in the Senate as a bridge between the old guard and the young guns may be just as much an indication of how much of a home conservative internationalism will have in the next generation of Republican leadership.

Read Less

What’s “Wacko” Among Republicans?

As I wrote on Friday, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham didn’t do themselves any good this week when they angrily trashed Senator Rand Paul’s 13-hour filibuster about drone attacks on the Senate floor. Sounding like angry old men telling the kids to get off their lawn isn’t the best way to respond to an event that galvanized the country and inspired admiration from both the right and the left. But rather than turn down the heat, McCain doubled down on his critique when he subsequently referred to Paul, Senator Ted Cruz and fellow libertarian Rep. Justin Amash as “wacko birds” in an interview with the Huffington Post that was published subsequent to his Senate remarks.

It should be understood that the Arizonan firing from the hip in this manner is just McCain being McCain. He doesn’t pull his punches, and, as is well known among those who have worked with him in the Senate, his lack of tolerance for those politicians who don’t measure up to his standards or who just annoy him is legendary.

But at this point that remark will do McCain more harm than it will the targets of his wrath. It will be seen as yet another indication that McCain and others who agree with him just don’t understand why Paul’s filibuster struck a nerve with so many in his party’s grass roots and inspired the admiration of many on the other side of the aisle as well. The word “wacko” signifies a lack of seriousness and the idea that those who fit the description are out of the political mainstream. The problem is that McCain, Graham and others who oppose Paul’s foreign policy views don’t seem to grasp that what is happening now is not merely excrescence of a marginal movement but the beginning of a serious policy debate about what Republicans believe about foreign policy. And the sooner he, and others who don’t want the GOP to drift away from being the party that stands for a strong America on the international stage, stop dismissing their opponents and start engaging them on the issues the better off they and the country will be.

Read More

As I wrote on Friday, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham didn’t do themselves any good this week when they angrily trashed Senator Rand Paul’s 13-hour filibuster about drone attacks on the Senate floor. Sounding like angry old men telling the kids to get off their lawn isn’t the best way to respond to an event that galvanized the country and inspired admiration from both the right and the left. But rather than turn down the heat, McCain doubled down on his critique when he subsequently referred to Paul, Senator Ted Cruz and fellow libertarian Rep. Justin Amash as “wacko birds” in an interview with the Huffington Post that was published subsequent to his Senate remarks.

It should be understood that the Arizonan firing from the hip in this manner is just McCain being McCain. He doesn’t pull his punches, and, as is well known among those who have worked with him in the Senate, his lack of tolerance for those politicians who don’t measure up to his standards or who just annoy him is legendary.

But at this point that remark will do McCain more harm than it will the targets of his wrath. It will be seen as yet another indication that McCain and others who agree with him just don’t understand why Paul’s filibuster struck a nerve with so many in his party’s grass roots and inspired the admiration of many on the other side of the aisle as well. The word “wacko” signifies a lack of seriousness and the idea that those who fit the description are out of the political mainstream. The problem is that McCain, Graham and others who oppose Paul’s foreign policy views don’t seem to grasp that what is happening now is not merely excrescence of a marginal movement but the beginning of a serious policy debate about what Republicans believe about foreign policy. And the sooner he, and others who don’t want the GOP to drift away from being the party that stands for a strong America on the international stage, stop dismissing their opponents and start engaging them on the issues the better off they and the country will be.

It bears repeating that Paul’s bold gesture in the filibuster inspired admiration because it was a rare example of a Washington figure standing up for the principle of constitutional government with courage and grace. That he did so at the expense of an Obama administration that is so often cavalier about not respecting the Constitution endeared him to many Republicans who are not part of his libertarian base.

But the notion that all this fuss was about the Constitution and the right of due process is a cover for Paul’s basic disagreement with the GOP’s long consensus about foreign and defense policy. Paul spent much of Wednesday speculating about the possibility that an unprincipled future American president could use a drone to kill his political opponents or to punish dissidents of the Jane Fonda variety. That fired the imagination of paranoids on both the right and the left who are always ready to believe Big Brother is about to haul them off to jail. But the cheers Paul received went beyond that limited set to those who are uncomfortable with more than just the theoretical possibility of a drone attack on an America in the United States. It’s important to understand that Paul’s issue is not so much with drones as it is with a policy of what he calls “perpetual war” against Islamist terrorism and the entire concept of a strong U.S. policy to protect our influence, allies and trade in the Middle East.

Instead of venting resentment at the way in which the filibuster rallied conservaties, responsible Republicans should think back on Paul’s foreign policy address given at the Heritage Foundation last month in which he detailed his desire to reboot American foreign policy. That speech received a lot less attention than the filibuster but it showed that his goal is not so much restraint of American power at home as it is in cutting back abroad. Though he calls himself a realist in the mode of the first President Bush or James Baker, his embrace of containment as a strategy would have serious consequences for any hope for stopping Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons or the fight against Islamist terrorism.

Paul’s ideas are not so much “wacko” as they are dangerous. Though they seek to exploit American weariness with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they mistake that understandable emotion for a widespread desire to retreat from the world. Though Paul wisely avoids the sort of rhetoric that marked his father’s isolationist views which seems to treat terrorism as America’s just punishment for its sins, his policies are rooted in the same mindset. Most Americans support drone attacks and don’t wish to contain a nuclear Iran. If Republicans follow Rand Paul and become the party that wishes to stop fighting Islamists while Democrats continue to pose as the killers of Osama bin Laden, foreign and defense policy will become a permanent advantage for President Obama’s party in the future.

No one can blame Republicans for being excited about what Rand Paul did last week, but they won’t win in 2016 or any other year if they become a party whose foreign policy earns the admiration of left-wingers like Ron Wyden. Halting this trend will require more than name-calling. It will require those who oppose Paul’s ideas to make their case on the merits as well as exhibit the same sort of moxie that the libertarian displayed in his filibuster. It is no small irony that McCain and Graham passed on an opportunity to filibuster Chuck Hagel’s nomination as secretary of defense over his views about Iran and containment. They seemed more concerned at that time with not appearing to be as much of a “wacko” as Ted Cruz, who took no prisoners in his attacks on Hagel. If they, and those who agree with them, are to prevail in the coming years and save their party they’ll have to confront Paul’s ideas as well as match his courage.

Read Less

Iron Sharpening Iron

I wanted to associate myself with Jonathan’s insightful post on the response by Senators McCain and Graham to Rand Paul’s filibuster.

Although my views on national security are much closer to those of McCain and Graham, their sneering, bitter attacks on Senator Paul were not only misguided; they have done a great deal to help the Paul-ian cause.

Senators McCain and Graham could have–should have–offered a careful, measured response to Rand Paul’s argument. Instead, McCain in particular has gone on a petty, mocking rant, including referring to Paul and some who supported him as “wacko birds.” Perhaps this is what happens when a maverick is out-mavericked. Read More

I wanted to associate myself with Jonathan’s insightful post on the response by Senators McCain and Graham to Rand Paul’s filibuster.

Although my views on national security are much closer to those of McCain and Graham, their sneering, bitter attacks on Senator Paul were not only misguided; they have done a great deal to help the Paul-ian cause.

Senators McCain and Graham could have–should have–offered a careful, measured response to Rand Paul’s argument. Instead, McCain in particular has gone on a petty, mocking rant, including referring to Paul and some who supported him as “wacko birds.” Perhaps this is what happens when a maverick is out-mavericked.

Rand Paul, in a single stroke, has catapulted himself to near folk-hero status among large segments of the conservative movement and, in the process, two of his main substantive critics have sustained damaging, self-inflicted wounds.

That is, from my vantage point, something of a problem, since Rand Paul’s view of the world is substantially different than mine. But he showed what a skilled, alert, and creative politician could do to rearrange the political landscape.

The libertarian wing of the Republican Party has found its leader. It will be quite interesting to see who among the internationalist wing emerges as a counterweight. And rather than fear these kinds of debates, Republicans and conservatives should welcome them. A party that is off balance and out of power doesn’t need conformity; it needs the benefits of “iron sharpening iron.” Whether we like it or not, a serious intra-Republican and intra-conservative foreign policy debate is about to begin.  

Read Less

The Wrong Way to Answer Rand

Yesterday, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham struck back at Rand Paul’s Wednesday filibuster with bitter attacks on his stand on drone attacks. McCain mocked Paul’s day in the spotlight as “a stunt aimed at firing up impressionable libertarian kids in their college dorms.” Graham was so mad about it that he changed his mind and voted to confirm John Brennan as director of the C.I.A. just in order to send a statement about his support of the drone program that Paul had attacked.

Both McCain and Graham were correct to point out that the filibuster was fought on what is basically a non-issue. As I wrote on Wednesday, while Paul was conducting his filibuster, the Kentucky senator’s real beef is not with the imagined threat of the government ordering a drone strike on a U.S. citizen sitting in a café on U.S. soil. Rather, it is with the war the United States is fighting against Islamist terrorists who continue to pose a deadly threat to the homeland as well as to our friends and interests abroad. Paul’s goal is to withdraw from this conflict and to pretend that it is not one that is being forced upon us by our enemies. That is a dangerous position that deserved the censure of the two GOP amigos.

But it should also be understood that while McCain and Graham were right on the policy, they were dead wrong on the politics. It’s no use pretending that Paul is merely appealing to the margins of the political spectrum as his far more extreme and less politically adroit father Ron did during his presidential campaigns. That Paul’s filibuster was conducted on behalf of a bogus issue doesn’t change the fact that it was an act of political genius that captured the imagination of many Americans who might not ordinarily think much of the senator. Dismissing his achievement only made Paul’s critics look hopelessly out of touch.

Read More

Yesterday, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham struck back at Rand Paul’s Wednesday filibuster with bitter attacks on his stand on drone attacks. McCain mocked Paul’s day in the spotlight as “a stunt aimed at firing up impressionable libertarian kids in their college dorms.” Graham was so mad about it that he changed his mind and voted to confirm John Brennan as director of the C.I.A. just in order to send a statement about his support of the drone program that Paul had attacked.

Both McCain and Graham were correct to point out that the filibuster was fought on what is basically a non-issue. As I wrote on Wednesday, while Paul was conducting his filibuster, the Kentucky senator’s real beef is not with the imagined threat of the government ordering a drone strike on a U.S. citizen sitting in a café on U.S. soil. Rather, it is with the war the United States is fighting against Islamist terrorists who continue to pose a deadly threat to the homeland as well as to our friends and interests abroad. Paul’s goal is to withdraw from this conflict and to pretend that it is not one that is being forced upon us by our enemies. That is a dangerous position that deserved the censure of the two GOP amigos.

But it should also be understood that while McCain and Graham were right on the policy, they were dead wrong on the politics. It’s no use pretending that Paul is merely appealing to the margins of the political spectrum as his far more extreme and less politically adroit father Ron did during his presidential campaigns. That Paul’s filibuster was conducted on behalf of a bogus issue doesn’t change the fact that it was an act of political genius that captured the imagination of many Americans who might not ordinarily think much of the senator. Dismissing his achievement only made Paul’s critics look hopelessly out of touch.

The question is not whether the grass roots of the Republican Party were inspired by his stand. They were. How could they not want to cheer a man who took a courageous stand in that manner while so many of their party’s leaders have lacked the guts or the skill to confront the president on many big issues? The question is what those who understand that Paul is wrong on the issue and that he is poised to drag the party down a path that will lead it to abandon its traditional support for a strong America will do about it. If they don’t think of something, it will be the end of the Republican Party’s long-held consensus on foreign policy.

The lesson of the filibuster is that people want to follow a person who leads publicly and courageously. Irrespective of the wisdom of his stand, that is just what Paul did. The willingness of so many other conservative senators—including those like Marco Rubio who don’t agree with Paul’s approach to foreign policy—to flock to the Senate floor while he spoke and offer him support shows they understood what McCain and Graham haven’t figured out. For the pair to manifest disrespect for Paul’s achievement is political stupidity of the highest order. It also makes their gentlemanly decision to forgo a filibuster on Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be secretary of defense look all the more pusillanimous.

Yet the irony here is that while Republicans are excited by Paul’s stand, any decision to change the direction of the party’s take on foreign policy would contradict their desire to improve their electability after their defeat last November.

As much as Paul’s stand inspired Republicans and even generated respect from Democrats, they need to remember that most Americans support the drone policy. They may be sick of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but they don’t share Paul’s disinterest in fighting the “perpetual war” against Islamists because they know the threat is real. They also know that the idea that the only legitimate fighting is being conducted on battlefields between soldiers is hopelessly outmoded.

Obama won re-election in part by bragging about killing Osama bin Laden and chiding Mitt Romney for his disinterest in the hunt for the arch terrorist. Moreover, if Republicans are foolish enough to follow Paul down the road toward embracing a form of isolationism, they will be branded as the weak party on defense and concede foreign policy as an issue to the Democrats for a generation.

Those who wish to save the GOP from this fate can’t let Paul speak for the party on these issues. But if they are to do it they will have to show at least as much guts as he did this week and avoid sounding, as McCain and Graham did yesterday, like cranky old men telling the kids to get off their lawn.

Read Less

McCain: Incompetence Is No Disqualifier

Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Senator John McCain signaled that he would no longer hold up his former colleague Chuck Hagel’s nomination after Congress returns. “I don’t believe he is qualified,” Mr. McCain said. “But I don’t believe that we should hold up his nomination any further because I think it’s a reasonable amount of time to have questions answered.”

McCain’s answer does more to sum up what’s wrong with partisanship, comity, and how senators treat national security than any other recent comment. When a cabinet nominee comes before the Senate, senators should consider any number of factors. Before deference to the president’s choice, friendship, or consideration of that nominee’s past or present statements, one question should be considered disqualifying, and that is the question of competence.

Read More

Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Senator John McCain signaled that he would no longer hold up his former colleague Chuck Hagel’s nomination after Congress returns. “I don’t believe he is qualified,” Mr. McCain said. “But I don’t believe that we should hold up his nomination any further because I think it’s a reasonable amount of time to have questions answered.”

McCain’s answer does more to sum up what’s wrong with partisanship, comity, and how senators treat national security than any other recent comment. When a cabinet nominee comes before the Senate, senators should consider any number of factors. Before deference to the president’s choice, friendship, or consideration of that nominee’s past or present statements, one question should be considered disqualifying, and that is the question of competence.

What McCain is, in effect, saying is that he has no personal or professional problem with putting an incompetent man in charge not only of America’s defense but also—because of what falls under the Pentagon’s umbrella—most of America’s intelligence assets as well.

McCain prides himself on being a maverick. How sad it is that in the twilight of his great career, McCain now is so willing to knowingly undercut U.S. national security. How reassuring it must be to Kim Jong-un in North Korea, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon, and Ali Khamenei in Iran that McCain is so willing to help install an unqualified Defense Secretary. The only questions now is not whether the will test the United States, but when and how many U.S. serviceman will die because of it.

Read Less

Is a Hagel Filibuster Still Possible?

Just when it seemed as if Chuck Hagel’s confirmation as secretary of defense seemed almost certain, a crucial Senate Republican may be changing his mind about supporting a filibuster of the embattled nominee. As Politico reports, Senator John McCain is now leaving open the possibility of joining a filibuster of Hagel if the White House continues to refuse to release information about the president’s “actions and orders” on the night of the 9/11 terrorist attack in Benghazi that resulted in the deaths of four Americans.

By joining his friend and colleague Lindsey Graham in demanding more data about Benghazi as the price for removing a hold on Hagel, McCain is moving away from his previous stand that a filibuster of a nominee for a senior Cabinet post is inappropriate. With two Republicans saying they would vote to confirm Hagel and several others agreeing with McCain that an up or down vote should not be denied their former colleague, it had looked as if the president’s choice was certain to be confirmed this week. But by adding his weight to the request for more about Benghazi, McCain may have, at least temporarily, changed the dynamic of the Hagel battle. Since the administration has resisted Senate demands to learn more about the president’s involvement in the Libya fiasco, this could mean that Hagel will have to wait until at least after the President’s Day holiday to get his vote.

Read More

Just when it seemed as if Chuck Hagel’s confirmation as secretary of defense seemed almost certain, a crucial Senate Republican may be changing his mind about supporting a filibuster of the embattled nominee. As Politico reports, Senator John McCain is now leaving open the possibility of joining a filibuster of Hagel if the White House continues to refuse to release information about the president’s “actions and orders” on the night of the 9/11 terrorist attack in Benghazi that resulted in the deaths of four Americans.

By joining his friend and colleague Lindsey Graham in demanding more data about Benghazi as the price for removing a hold on Hagel, McCain is moving away from his previous stand that a filibuster of a nominee for a senior Cabinet post is inappropriate. With two Republicans saying they would vote to confirm Hagel and several others agreeing with McCain that an up or down vote should not be denied their former colleague, it had looked as if the president’s choice was certain to be confirmed this week. But by adding his weight to the request for more about Benghazi, McCain may have, at least temporarily, changed the dynamic of the Hagel battle. Since the administration has resisted Senate demands to learn more about the president’s involvement in the Libya fiasco, this could mean that Hagel will have to wait until at least after the President’s Day holiday to get his vote.

On the surface, Benghazi has little if anything to do with Hagel’s questionable fitness for high office. Many in the Senate have justified qualms about Hagel’s views about Israel, Iran, terrorism and defense cuts but McCain has taken the position that escalating the use of the filibuster to encompass cabinet nominations is a step towards all out partisan warfare that he isn’t willing to take. But McCain seems to agree with Graham and other Republicans that it is vital that the truth about Benghazi isn’t swept down the memory hole by the administration and their complacent media cheerleaders. If linking Hagel to that affair is the only way to drag more information out of the White House, then McCain may have concluded that it is the right thing to do.

It may be that a delay won’t convince Democrats to abandon their party line on Hagel. The strict partisan divide in the Senate Defense committee confirmation vote illustrated the willingness of pro-Israel Democrats to swallow even as unsatisfactory and unprepared a candidate as Hagel if the president demanded it of them. But if McCain feels that the Senate is being stiffed by the White House on Benghazi that may convince him to take actions on Hagel that he might otherwise not think about. With McCain joining a filibuster, finding 40 votes to stop the nomination would still be difficult but not as impossible as it seems today.

As I wrote yesterday, such a filibuster entails risks to the Republicans. But his dismal performance at his confirmation hearing and the transparent manner with which he sought to disavow previous controversial positions undermines the rationale that the president deserves his choice at the Pentagon. Hagel may still be on track for confirmation. But if the White House isn’t forthcoming with the information Graham and McCain want, it’s going to be even more difficult than he might have thought.

Read Less

If You Can’t Insult Ahmadinejad …

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a leading figure in a tyrannical regime that has murdered untold numbers of his own people and which funds international terrorism that has claimed the lives of many Americans, including our soldiers in Iraq. He is a Holocaust denier and, like the government he fronts, is a font of vicious anti-Semitic invective that has repeatedly threatened to destroy the State of Israel. But, according to a Michigan congressman, Americans should mind their manners when speaking of him.

Republican Justin Amash is a second generation Palestinian-American and is apparently under the impression that any comparison of even one of the vilest figures on the international stage to a monkey is a sign of racism against Persians or perhaps prejudice against Muslims and Arabs. Amash lashed out at Senator John McCain today for a humorous tweet in which the Arizona senator made fun of Ahmadinejad’s stated desire to be the first Iranian in space. The Iranians made an unsubstantiated claim that they sent a monkey into space last week and when he heard Ahmadinejad’s comment, McCain, like many other Americans, couldn’t contain his mirth on his Twitter feed:

So Ahmadinejad wants to be first Iranian in space – wasn’t he just there last week? “Iran launches monkey into space” http://news.yahoo.com/iran-launches-monkey-space-showing-missile-progress-003037176.html

When he was told of criticism of his remark, the caustic McCain sent out another tweet:

Re: Iran space tweet – lighten up folks, can’t everyone take a joke?

But Amash doesn’t think taking Ahmadinejad’s name in vain is funny and tweeted the following:

Maybe you should wisen up & not make racist jokes.

Race is the third rail of American politics and any comment that smacks of hatred is abhorrent. But the attempt to depict Ahmadinejad as a victim of Western prejudice lacks credibility. The day that Americans can’t crack wise about a purveyor of hatred is one in which we not only have lost our sense of humor but also our moral compass.

Read More

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a leading figure in a tyrannical regime that has murdered untold numbers of his own people and which funds international terrorism that has claimed the lives of many Americans, including our soldiers in Iraq. He is a Holocaust denier and, like the government he fronts, is a font of vicious anti-Semitic invective that has repeatedly threatened to destroy the State of Israel. But, according to a Michigan congressman, Americans should mind their manners when speaking of him.

Republican Justin Amash is a second generation Palestinian-American and is apparently under the impression that any comparison of even one of the vilest figures on the international stage to a monkey is a sign of racism against Persians or perhaps prejudice against Muslims and Arabs. Amash lashed out at Senator John McCain today for a humorous tweet in which the Arizona senator made fun of Ahmadinejad’s stated desire to be the first Iranian in space. The Iranians made an unsubstantiated claim that they sent a monkey into space last week and when he heard Ahmadinejad’s comment, McCain, like many other Americans, couldn’t contain his mirth on his Twitter feed:

So Ahmadinejad wants to be first Iranian in space – wasn’t he just there last week? “Iran launches monkey into space” http://news.yahoo.com/iran-launches-monkey-space-showing-missile-progress-003037176.html

When he was told of criticism of his remark, the caustic McCain sent out another tweet:

Re: Iran space tweet – lighten up folks, can’t everyone take a joke?

But Amash doesn’t think taking Ahmadinejad’s name in vain is funny and tweeted the following:

Maybe you should wisen up & not make racist jokes.

Race is the third rail of American politics and any comment that smacks of hatred is abhorrent. But the attempt to depict Ahmadinejad as a victim of Western prejudice lacks credibility. The day that Americans can’t crack wise about a purveyor of hatred is one in which we not only have lost our sense of humor but also our moral compass.

The conceit of Amash’s attempt to take McCain to the woodshed is the idea that Westerners see all third world peoples as animals who are less than human and unworthy of respect. But McCain wasn’t trying to imply that Iranians or Muslims are monkeys. He was poking fun at a man whose fantastical utterances and unabashed hate has become the butt of jokes for Westerners for years. Indeed, the problem with Ahmadinejad is that too many Americans don’t take the hatred and the existential threat his regime poses to Israel as well as to the security of the world seriously because he is a comic figure and so easily lampooned. If American comics have dehumanized him, it is not very different from the way Adolf Hitler and his Nazi and fascist allies were depicted in American popular culture before the world learned the tragic truth about the Holocaust. It is a not unnatural reaction for those who are themselves dehumanized by haters to return the favor, if only in humorous context. Although he denies the Holocaust while plotting a new one, Ahmadinejad is not the equivalent of Adolf Hitler. But one has to wonder how anyone, let alone a member of Congress, can muster up much outrage about some comic sniping aimed at the Iranian leader.

Amash is probably trying to use McCain’s tweet to further the popular idea that American Muslims and Arabs are suffering under the burden of prejudice. Though the post-9/11 backlash is more myth than reality, it would have been a terrible thing had McCain actually slurred Muslims or Persians. But he didn’t. He just made a joke about Ahmadinejad and the poor primate that is alleged to have been strapped into a rocket by his terrorist masters.

Americans have always laughed at their enemies. It is a healthy reaction and speaks of our self-confidence as well as our justified contempt for those who despise our democracy and threaten the peace of the world. The only questions about Ahmadinejad’s humanity stem from the hate that he spews, not a silly jest. Amash’s faux outrage about the insult directed at the Iranian president tells us more about his priorities than it does about those of McCain. 

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.