Commentary Magazine


Topic: Scott Walker

Do Early 2016 Polls Matter? For Democrats, Not Republicans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As I wrote last month on Republicans and name recognition:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bobby Jindal: One Wonk to Rule Them All?

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is continuing to write the preamble to his 2016 presidential candidacy. In April, Jindal released a health-care reform plan. Last month, he offered an energy plan. And yesterday, in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, he laid out his approach to defense policy. All of them have one thing in common: Jindal is not just part of the new breed of reform conservatives; he is hoping to be the first conservative wonk to win the Republican presidential nomination.

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Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is continuing to write the preamble to his 2016 presidential candidacy. In April, Jindal released a health-care reform plan. Last month, he offered an energy plan. And yesterday, in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, he laid out his approach to defense policy. All of them have one thing in common: Jindal is not just part of the new breed of reform conservatives; he is hoping to be the first conservative wonk to win the Republican presidential nomination.

Jindal is obviously smart, experienced, and fluent in policy. He’s also taken on the kind of “happy warrior” persona Republicans should embrace: outrage is not the same thing as anger. And seems to understand the importance of perceived authenticity, so he’s dropped the faux-folksiness he once wore on his sleeve and appears more comfortable in his own skin. But for the revenge of the nerds to be successful, Jindal is going to have to overcome the key challenge posed by how Republicans and Democrats see American electoral politics today.

On the Republican side, few if any doubt Jindal’s obvious intelligence and undeniable competence. But in a wide-open race for the nomination, it will be crucial for each candidate to have their own base within the conservative movement. In this respect, Jindal’s identity as a jack of all trades is less beneficial than it first appears.

Jindal’s defense plan is hawkish, but Marco Rubio long beat him to the punch in terms of establishing his political identity as a learned advocate for a robust American presence in the world. If the party’s hawks are to latch onto any prospective candidate, Rubio is likely to be the one. Most of the party’s potential nominees are hawkish and even Rand Paul has embraced the plain fact that President Obama’s unthinking retrenchment has been a disaster. (So have the president’s Cabinet secretaries; no one wants to take any credit for Obama’s colossal mishandling of world affairs.)

The same is generally true of the other major streams of American conservatism, as I’ve written in the past. But Jindal’s official identification as a hawk does not change the calculus.

The other challenge for Jindal here is how the two parties have reacted to the failure of the Obama presidency. When Obama was a candidate, he was built up by the media and his supporters (but I repeat myself) as a very smart, nuanced thinker. When that turned out not to be true, and when it became clear he also didn’t have the intellectual curiosity necessary to remedy his broad lack of knowledge, the right and the left each reacted differently.

Conservatives responded by turning forcefully against the pretensions of the academic elite. Rule by experts was always under suspicion because of the folly of treating people as science experiments and the repellant culture of eugenics so many of the policies seek to legitimize. But with Obama it became perfectly clear that the experts weren’t actually experts. Liberals just pretended to know what they were talking about, and hid behind credentialism when questioned.

Who is better positioned to take advantage of the discovery that the professor has no clothes, someone like Jindal or someone like, say, Scott Walker, the successful reformist governor without even a college degree? To conservatives, the answer seems clear. They will almost surely end up nominating someone more knowledgeable than the current president, just because the bar is so low. But they would take special pleasure in nominating precisely the kind of politician who would be looked down upon by the Democrats but who would nonetheless run circles around their Democratic opponent intellectually.

Liberals responded to Obama’s failure in a different way: by reverting to the mean of left-liberal politics. Democratic Party politics is traditionally a method of organizing a coalition of interested parties in such a way as to reward them for their support. There is not much of a coherent ideological component outside of the extremely ideological character of the party’s positions on social and cultural issues. Ben Domenech touched on this in last month’s COMMENTARY by noting that:

History may ultimately consider Obama’s 2008 nomination as a representation not of progressivism’s resurgent appeal, but as its death rattle—a speed bump along the way to the Democratic Party’s becoming a fully corporatist, Clinton-owned entity. In practice, the party now resembles a protection racket with an army of volunteers, with friends who never suffer and enemies who never relax.

Political science has begun to catch up with this reality as well. In a recent paper, Matt Grossman and his coauthor David A. Hopkins studied the way Democrats and Republicans each seek to govern, and explain that Republicans tend to govern according to ideological principles while Democrats govern by rewarding constituencies. They write:

The partisan asymmetry in the governing style of political elites has its roots in the mass public. Party identifiers in the electorate perceive political choices differently: Republicans are more likely to reason ideologically whereas Democrats are more likely to think of politics as a competition among groups over benefits. This difference is durable over time.

The authors add that “Republican politicians and interest groups thus represent both their partisan base and a wider public majority when they think, speak, and act ideologically, advocating restrictions on government activity in a broad sense. By contrast, Democratic politicians and affiliated interests prefer to stress their advocacy of particular policies that have wider public support and that offer targeted benefits to members of their electoral coalition, placing themselves on the side of social groups favoring government action to ameliorate perceived disadvantages.”

That also helps explain the proliferation of put-upon groups in the constellation of liberal identity politics. If Democrats need more votes, they stoke resentment and create a new category for taxpayer-funded benefits. Their response to the revelation that their experts can’t be trusted, in other words, was to go back to inviting enough voters to raid the treasury to win national elections.

What does that mean for Jindal and the wonks? It means an uphill battle. Republicans believe they nominated a competent managerial technocrat last time around–and lost decisively. And Democrats aren’t particularly interested in intellectual prowess–they simply want to divide and conquer the electorate. Jindal is obviously qualified to be the nation’s chief executive. But it’s lonely out there for a wonk.

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Bridgegate, the Media, and Lessons for 2016

The apparent exoneration by federal investigators of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in the scandal over the lane closures on a bridge last year may be good news for Christie, but other prospective 2016 GOP candidates should take notice. The media’s unhinged obsession with hyping and trumping up the story in an effort to take down a presidential candidate was just a warm-up act. Far from chastened, the media is almost certainly just getting started.

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The apparent exoneration by federal investigators of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in the scandal over the lane closures on a bridge last year may be good news for Christie, but other prospective 2016 GOP candidates should take notice. The media’s unhinged obsession with hyping and trumping up the story in an effort to take down a presidential candidate was just a warm-up act. Far from chastened, the media is almost certainly just getting started.

That means that if Christie really is exonerated–which he has been insisting he would be for months–conservatives should expect the leftist press to choose a new target. Although the coverage of this scandal leaves the mainstream press looking utterly humiliated, they won’t be humbled. A good precedent is when the New York Times concocted false accusations against John McCain in 2008 intended to destroy not just his campaign but his family; after the story was called out for the unethical hit job it was, especially on the right, then-Times editor Bill Keller responded: “My first tendency when they do that is to find the toughest McCain story we’ve got and put it on the front page.”

Getting called out for bias only makes the media more likely to give in to its vindictive instincts. This is the press version of an in-kind contribution, and those contributions don’t go to Republican campaigns.

In January conservative media watchers were passing around the statistics that showed the lopsided coverage the media was giving “Bridgegate” vs. the IRS scandal. One of the charts, which showed dedicated coverage over a fixed period of time, bothered reporters. In one of the unconvincing “defenses” of his fellow journalists, the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza objected:

The comparison made in this chart in terms of coverage is not an apples to apples one.  The IRS story broke on May 10. That’s a full 52 days before the Media Research Center began counting the minutes of news coverage devoted to it. The Christie story, on the other hand, broke in the Bergen Record on Jan. 8, the same day that MRC began tracking its mentions in the media.

What Cillizza actually demonstrated, unintentionally, was a far worse aspect of the coverage that was tougher to quantify but jumps off the screen from Cillizza’s post. And that is the general lack of interest on the part of reporters in digging into the government’s shocking misconduct–you know, practicing journalism. The lack of curiosity has been astounding.

As our Pete Wehner wrote the other day, forget basic reporting: the press ignored a genuine piece of Benghazi-related news when it fell in their laps. That’s how the IRS developments happened too. The initial story was announced in the IRS’s attempt to get out in front of a report that had discovered the abuse of power and was going to detail its findings. The IRS decided to try to spin the news in advance to take control of the story.

And the recent revelations of the IRS’s ongoing strategy of destroying evidence during the investigation were brought to the public’s attention by the group Judicial Watch, which has been filing Freedom of Information Act requests for documents. The latest piece of news, that Attorney General Eric Holder’s office tried to coordinate a strategy with House Democrats to blunt the impact of future revelations about the IRS’s illegal targeting scheme, came to light because Holder’s office accidentally called Darrell Issa’s office instead of Democrat Elijah Cummings.

The difference in media coverage was only part of the story, then. The more serious part was that the media is just not doing their jobs when the target of the investigation is the Obama administration. That doesn’t mean all reporters, of course, or that they’re ignoring all stories. But the pattern is pretty clear: when we learn something about Obama administration misbehavior, it’s generally not from reporters, many of whom eventually get hired by the Obama administration.

The other aspect of the coverage gap is the type of story. Surely Cillizza thinks a staffer closing lanes on a bridge, however indefensible, is a different caliber of story than the IRS, at the encouragement of high-ranking Democrats, undertaking a targeting scheme to silence Obama’s critics in the lead-up to his reelection. Cillizza was right, in other words: conservatives weren’t comparing apples to apples. But he was wrong in thinking that stacked the deck in favor of conservatives’ conclusion; the opposite was the case.

We’ve already seen this with other prospective GOP 2016 candidates. When Wisconsin prosecutors initiated a wide-ranging “John Doe” investigation intended to silence conservative groups and voters in Wisconsin and level false allegations against Scott Walker, the media ran with the story. It turned out that the investigation was so unethical that those prosecutors now stand accused broad civil-rights violations. But the point of the coverage is to echo the false allegations against Walker, not to get the story right. So the media moved on.

And they moved on to Rick Perry, who was the target of an indictment so demented that only the most extreme liberals defended it. The point of the case, though, was to get headlines announcing Perry’s indictment. This one may have backfired because it was so insane that, aside from former Obama advisor Jim Messina, Rachel Maddow, and a couple writers for liberal magazines, the left tried to distance themselves from it. But the fact remains: Rick Perry is under indictment.

The criminalization of politics is part of the left’s broader lawfare strategy. This is the sort of thing repellent to democratic values and certainly should draw critical attention from the press. Instead, they’ve chosen to enable it.

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The Ever-Expanding 2016 GOP Field

The nature of the GOP’s nominating race for 2016 is such that good polls for some potential candidates are also tempting for others not yet included in the polls. For example, the most recent polling on Iowa, which Jonathan wrote about last week, showed Mike Huckabee with a healthy lead. Early polls are about name recognition, so they can only be taken so far. Nonetheless, candidates who have already built name recognition by running in the past can’t help but notice the value of such recognition when some of their strongest competitors are, theoretically, relative unknowns nationwide.

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The nature of the GOP’s nominating race for 2016 is such that good polls for some potential candidates are also tempting for others not yet included in the polls. For example, the most recent polling on Iowa, which Jonathan wrote about last week, showed Mike Huckabee with a healthy lead. Early polls are about name recognition, so they can only be taken so far. Nonetheless, candidates who have already built name recognition by running in the past can’t help but notice the value of such recognition when some of their strongest competitors are, theoretically, relative unknowns nationwide.

Take this summer poll from Gallup on the public’s familiarity with 2016 candidates. The only two Republicans to crack 60 percent were Chris Christie and Jeb Bush. Other than those two, the potential candidates who had run presidential campaigns in the past tended to score higher than those who haven’t yet run–a quite logical finding. If he wins reelection in Wisconsin, Scott Walker would be considered among the GOP’s strongest candidates (on paper at least, which is all we have so far for the newbies). Walker was involved in a high-stakes national issue: the fight over public unions. And thanks to that, he was subject to a recall election that saw national press and mobilized national liberal groups. Yet Gallup found Walker with the lowest familiarity of any of the GOP candidates, at just 34 percent.

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

And that poll didn’t even include Mitt Romney, who shows up leading New Hampshire polls for the same reason Huckabee polls well in Iowa. And while a Romney candidacy would certainly have its cheerleaders, Huckabee is talking openly about testing those polls:

The Republican told a group of reporters on Monday over coffee at a restaurant just outside of D.C. that he learned from his failed 2008 bid that he can’t take money and fundraising for granted, even though he is leading in GOP early primary state polls.

Huckabee says he will make a decision early next year about another presidential run but noted he’s in a “different place than I was eight years ago,” due to a lucrative career as a Fox News and radio show host.

That career has also opened the door to meetings with donors he said he wouldn’t have gotten in 2008. Then, they’d say, “Who are you? How do you spell your name?”

In fact, Huckabee said he’s in talks with donors, and, “with a lot of people, it’s [going] pretty good.” He pointed to the nonprofit, America Takes Action, which he recently set up that, he says, has already raised seven figures.

“Not a single person I’ve asked [to contribute to the group] has said no,” he told reporters.

Huckabee had a decent run for an underdog in 2008 and he has a natural constituency, as well as an amiability that translates into votes. The same cannot be said for another retread who is the subject of speculation: former Utah governor Jon Huntsman.

Huntsman has a few things going for him: he’s got gubernatorial experience as well as foreign-policy chops from his time as ambassador to China, and he has considerable financial resources at his disposal. But unlike Huckabee, outside of the media Huntsman has no natural base (and the reporters who love him will vote for Hillary anyway in the general). And also unlike Huckabee, Huntsman is almost shockingly unlikeable for a politician.

Huntsman has a general disposition that is about as pleasant as nails on a chalkboard. He does not like Republican voters, and he does not want them to think otherwise. The feeling is mutual: Huntsman’s numbers from 2012 suggest the pool of Huntsman voters is made up entirely of people who are either named Huntsman or owe him money.

And then there is Jindal, a smart, wonky conservative with executive experience and a strong command of the issues. Jindal’s name recognition is so low that he’s forced to be less coy than others about his possible presidential ambitions:

“There’s no reason to be coy,” Jindal said at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. “I am thinking, I am praying about whether I’ll run in 2016. I said I won’t make that decision until after November.”

Jindal has certain strengths: he’s as smart as Huntsman pretends he is, for starters. And he’s far from insufferable about it: he doesn’t project arrogance, just competence. He’s been twice elected governor of Louisiana, so he has experience on the campaign trail. He’s proved himself in a crisis. And he seems to genuinely like interacting with voters.

But his competition would include another impressive, reformist conservative governor in Scott Walker; other young conservatives with poise and presence, like Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and possibly Ted Cruz; and more experienced social conservatives such as, potentially, Huckabee, Rick Perry, and perhaps Mike Pence. The question, then, is whether Jindal could find some way to stand out from the pack. And with polls like those we’ve seen so far, that roster of rivals is likely to keep expanding.

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The Walker Smear and the Rule of Law

Back in June, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s Democratic and union opponents took a flyer on an attempt to smear the 2016 presidential hopeful as a lawbreaker. The story quickly collapsed once it became clear that Walker was not actually the object of any criminal probe regarding his state’s arcane campaign-finance laws. But now the same media outlets that trumpeted the original misleading story and then buried the subsequent news that discredited it are back at it again trying to revive the non-scandal with new articles. But the problem with this round of accusations is the same as with the first one. Walker doesn’t appear to have violated any laws.

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Back in June, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s Democratic and union opponents took a flyer on an attempt to smear the 2016 presidential hopeful as a lawbreaker. The story quickly collapsed once it became clear that Walker was not actually the object of any criminal probe regarding his state’s arcane campaign-finance laws. But now the same media outlets that trumpeted the original misleading story and then buried the subsequent news that discredited it are back at it again trying to revive the non-scandal with new articles. But the problem with this round of accusations is the same as with the first one. Walker doesn’t appear to have violated any laws.

The original accusation that Walker had illegally coordinated independent campaign contributions during the 2012 attempt to recall him from office was big news back in June. Publications such as the New York Times and Politico treated the release of some documents from a convoluted litigation stemming from campaign-finance law investigations as damning evidence of Walker crossing the line between legal and illegal activity. The allegations were big political news for a day or two, but were just as quickly forgotten when a closer reading of the facts made it clear that a judge had already halted the investigation as a politicized fishing expedition before the stories were even published. The embarrassment of those who had treated this as a sign that Walker was doomed was compounded a week later when the lawyer for the prosecutors that had tried to pursue the investigation admitted that even if it were allowed to complete its work, Governor Walker was not actually the object of any criminal probe despite claims to the contrary from the press.

So what prompted the news stories that appeared in the New York Times and Politico on Friday? The headlines of the pieces make it seem as if newly released emails prove that Walker is in trouble. But again, once you take the trouble to read the stories, the notion that this is a scandal that has, as the Times helpfully insinuates, “clouded the White House prospects of Mr. Walker” falls flat again.

The emails that were released by the prosecutors talk a lot about efforts to raise money to help Walker, but there is no actual evidence that he broke any laws. Just tidbits from his staff to the governor discussing the efforts to raise money to combat the massive influx of union and liberal money into the state that was aimed at reversing the verdict of the voters in 2010 when Walker and a Republican majority in the state legislature were elected on a platform to reform the state’s finances. The only thing the documents prove is that Walker might have encouraged support for those seeking to oppose the efforts of his opponents. That this might have been so is neither shocking nor evidence of criminal behavior. It is exactly what every other politician in the country does in order to navigate the forest of campaign finance laws that have done nothing to make the system more transparent but have provided plenty of work for lawyers. It is little wonder that a federal judge shut down the investigation as an unconstitutional attempt to suppress the free speech rights of some of the groups involved, such as the Wisconsin Club for Growth.

But what is going on here is bigger than the political nastiness inspired by the 2011 effort by union thugs and their Democratic supporters to stop Walker and the Wisconsin legislature from changing laws that allowed state workers to hold the taxpayers hostage. What those behind this effort, ably assisted by the liberal media, are trying to do is no different from what happened earlier this month in Texas when Democrats managed to indict Governor Rick Perry for using his veto power to force the resignation of a prosecutor who had disgraced herself by being caught driving while drunk. In both Wisconsin and Texas, liberals have decided that the only way to derail politicians they can’t beat at the polls is to try and trump up legal cases against them. While no one expects Perry to ever serve a day in jail on such absurd charges and Walker isn’t even in personal legal peril, the point here is not so much to imprison these Republicans but to discredit them. The assumption is that legal trouble of any kind—even when they are the result of investigations with obvious political motives—will be enough to damage them for 2016. In Walker’s case, those behind these cases as well as their media collaborators are also hoping that their smears will make it easier to beat him in what shapes up to be a tough reelection race this fall in a battleground state.

The majority of voters are too smart to be fooled by these smears, and it’s likely that the efforts to take them down by such underhanded means will actually boost the popularity of both Perry and Walker among Republicans. But even if neither man is actually hurt by these cases, both liberals and conservatives should be worried about this political trend.

One of the hallmarks of dictatorships is the use of law to punish political opponents. The thing that has always separated the United States from banana republics and vicious authoritarian regimes such as Vladimir Putin’s Russia is the inability of either political leaders or parties to imprison their rivals. But what we are witnessing in Texas and Wisconsin is the breakdown of the rule of law that should protect us against the kind of savage reprisals against those who would challenge Putin that we see in contemporary Russia.

As the trial of Bob MacDonnell, the former Republican governor of Virginia and the ongoing ethics probe of New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo shows, there are enough real scandals involving abuses of power or corruption to occupy the press and the public. But what is so awful about the attempts to take down Perry and Walker is the willingness of the political left to prioritize their naked lust for power over the rule of law. That a partisan press should seek to aid these efforts to play politics by other means rather than expose them is a disgrace. This is a trend that Americans should deplore no matter what they think about those governors or their ideology.

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The Walker Smear Collapses

Last week I wrote about the way the liberal mainstream media was trumpeting the rather slender evidence that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was in trouble over campaign fundraising. But yesterday, the story collapsed when the prosecutor cited in the original story denied the governor was in any legal peril. Predictably, the same outlets that promoted the first story are now burying the sequel.

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Last week I wrote about the way the liberal mainstream media was trumpeting the rather slender evidence that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was in trouble over campaign fundraising. But yesterday, the story collapsed when the prosecutor cited in the original story denied the governor was in any legal peril. Predictably, the same outlets that promoted the first story are now burying the sequel.

The original accusations that Walker was at the center of an investigation of a criminal probe of violations of Wisconsin’s arcane campaign finance laws was treated as a very big deal by liberal outlets hungry for material to use to discredit the governor. The words “criminal scheme” to describe his actions echoed around the Internet and liberal shows on MSNBC and CNN. As I noted then, the New York Times had the story at the top of its home page when it broke and then plastered it on the front page of their print edition the next day. In the original version of the piece, the paper discussed the allegations in detail but only mentioned the fact that two separate judges—one state and one federal—had already dismissed the charges and halted the investigation in the case.

But the flimsy nature of the story didn’t stop most liberal print and broadcast outlets from treating this as proof that Walker had been discredited as a national political figure. The actions that were alleged to be illegal are, in fact, legal just about everywhere but Wisconsin. Moreover, a Walker email discussing one of his campaign consultants that had been made public was widely discussed as somehow an admission of guilt on the governor’s part even though it was nothing of the kind. While most of those who wrote about the case admitted that it was doubtful that Walker would ever be charged with anything, they gleefully noted that, as TIME’s Michael Scherer wrote, “from a distance” it would look bad.

Walker’s Democratic opponent in his reelection race this year certainly thought so. Mary Burke has already been airing commercials highlighting the accusations in the hope that the charge would turn the tide in what was already a close contest.

But yesterday those counting on this so-called scandal putting an end to Walker’s career got some disappointing news. The lawyer representing the special prosecutors that had been running the now curtailed investigation announced that, despite the misleading headlines, the governor was not the object of any criminal probe. Despite the broad conclusions drawn from the documents uncovered last week, the lawyer said that “no conclusions” had been reached in the effort that has already been dismissed by judges as a politicized fishing expedition.

But don’t expect any apologies from the liberals who were burying Walker and speaking of him as a criminal. Needless to say, the same outlets that were screaming bloody murder about Walker’s guilt last week haven’t much to say about this development. The Times buried a story about it inside the paper in contrast to the front-page treatment it accorded the original allegation.

This case was just the latest example of liberal attempts to take out a man whom they fear. Walker was the most successful of all the Republican governors elected in 2010. He achieved groundbreaking reforms that freed his state of the tyranny of state worker unions and their contracts that were burying Wisconsin (and many other states) in debt. That put him in the cross hairs of Democrats and their thuggish union allies that employed intimidation tactics to thwart the state legislature’s ability to function. When that failed they attempted to use a recall vote to throw Walker out of office that was no more successful than earlier efforts.

Liberal hate transformed Walker from a little known county executive four years ago into a conservative folk hero with a legitimate shot at a 2016 presidential run. Thus it was hardly surprising that many of the same people who have been denouncing his reformist policies were quick to seize on anything that would besmirch his reputation. But while liberals had high hopes for this story a week ago, it seems now they can only console themselves with the thought that the endless repetition of the word “criminal” in the same sentence with Walker’s name will have done enough damage to even the odds in the Wisconsin gubernatorial race. It remains to be seen whether the debunking of this “scandal” will undo the harm that the initial reports caused.

Like previous efforts to knock off Walker, this story flopped. Though he’s in for a tough fight to win reelection, liberals have been writing his political obituary almost continuously since he first took office in 2011. It may be that by overreaching in this manner, the left has once again handed Walker a stick with which to beat them. Just as the recall effort drew more attention to the dictatorial hold on the state treasury that unions were seeking to defend than any of Walker’s shortcomings, it may be that this “scandal” may have just served as a reminder to voters of media bias rather than any fault on the part of the governor.

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Liberals Are Afraid of Scott Walker

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has made no secret of the fact that he’s thinking about running for president in 2016. But before that happens, he’s got to win a reelection fight in a polarized state where his opponents have been gunning for him since he took office. He’ll also have to navigate a crowded Republican field including several candidates who will have a head start on him, higher national name recognition, and higher numbers in early poll. But there’s something about the Wisconsin governor that drives liberals bonkers.

That’s the only explanation for the New Republic‘s atrocious hit piece on him this week that sought to label him as a racist. The problem with the piece wasn’t just the false premise. As even many of the magazine’s liberal faithful soon realized as they plowed through the 7,000-plus word effort, that the inflammatory headline—”The Unelectable Whiteness of Scott Walker: A journey through the poisonous, racially divided world that produced a Republican star”—there was absolutely nothing there to prove that Walker was a racist. The best takedown of the article comes—as is only fitting—from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, whose Christian Schneider rightly dismisses Alec MacGillis’s work as the kind of a baloney that smacked of a Google-aided tourist rather than knowledge of the state’s politics.

But the liberal campaign to discredit Walker isn’t limited to TNR’s inflammatory trash. As the New York Times reported this afternoon, there was an attempt by some Wisconsin prosecutors to tie Walker’s recall campaign to illegal contributions. But you have to click on the piece that was trumpeted on the paper’s home page to learn that the case was unproven and, in fact, dismissed by a federal judge and that the story is based on a federal suit that sought to reveal the unsubstantiated allegations in the records of this cold case. In fact, you have to read down to the end of the sixth paragraph of the piece to read, in a quote from Walker’s camp, that “two judges have rejected the characterizations [of the Walker campaign’s alleged illegal activity] contained in these documents.” The Times only mentions the pertinent fact that a federal judge halted the investigation as a politicized fishing expedition in the last sentence of the article.

In other words, there may be as little to this “scandal” as there was to previous efforts to nail Walker via Wisconsin’s draconian campaign finance laws or hit pieces like that published in TNR. All of which must cause political observers to wonder why it is that liberals are expending so much effort to knock off Walker. Could it be that they sense he is exactly the sort of candidate that could give Democrats a run for their money in 2016?

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Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has made no secret of the fact that he’s thinking about running for president in 2016. But before that happens, he’s got to win a reelection fight in a polarized state where his opponents have been gunning for him since he took office. He’ll also have to navigate a crowded Republican field including several candidates who will have a head start on him, higher national name recognition, and higher numbers in early poll. But there’s something about the Wisconsin governor that drives liberals bonkers.

That’s the only explanation for the New Republic‘s atrocious hit piece on him this week that sought to label him as a racist. The problem with the piece wasn’t just the false premise. As even many of the magazine’s liberal faithful soon realized as they plowed through the 7,000-plus word effort, that the inflammatory headline—”The Unelectable Whiteness of Scott Walker: A journey through the poisonous, racially divided world that produced a Republican star”—there was absolutely nothing there to prove that Walker was a racist. The best takedown of the article comes—as is only fitting—from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, whose Christian Schneider rightly dismisses Alec MacGillis’s work as the kind of a baloney that smacked of a Google-aided tourist rather than knowledge of the state’s politics.

But the liberal campaign to discredit Walker isn’t limited to TNR’s inflammatory trash. As the New York Times reported this afternoon, there was an attempt by some Wisconsin prosecutors to tie Walker’s recall campaign to illegal contributions. But you have to click on the piece that was trumpeted on the paper’s home page to learn that the case was unproven and, in fact, dismissed by a federal judge and that the story is based on a federal suit that sought to reveal the unsubstantiated allegations in the records of this cold case. In fact, you have to read down to the end of the sixth paragraph of the piece to read, in a quote from Walker’s camp, that “two judges have rejected the characterizations [of the Walker campaign’s alleged illegal activity] contained in these documents.” The Times only mentions the pertinent fact that a federal judge halted the investigation as a politicized fishing expedition in the last sentence of the article.

In other words, there may be as little to this “scandal” as there was to previous efforts to nail Walker via Wisconsin’s draconian campaign finance laws or hit pieces like that published in TNR. All of which must cause political observers to wonder why it is that liberals are expending so much effort to knock off Walker. Could it be that they sense he is exactly the sort of candidate that could give Democrats a run for their money in 2016?

To be fair, no Republican governor in the country challenged liberal orthodoxy and Democrat interest groups the way Walker did after he took office in 2011. By seeking to reform the state’s finances and prevent state worker unions from continuing to blackmail the taxpayers, Walker stepped on what has always been the third rail of American politics. Yet he won that political battle despite thuggish efforts by Democrats and unions to intimidate Walker and other Republicans as well as an attempt to shut down the Wisconsin legislature (not surprisingly liberals who were outraged at last year’s federal government shutdown had no problem with what Democrats did in that instance). Not satisfied with that fiasco, the unions and Democrats wasted a year of effort and millions of dollars in precious campaign funds on a futile recall election the following year that only served to solidify his status as a GOP star.

While past efforts failed, the coverage in liberal publications of today’s allegations read as if the left thinks they’ve found gold here. The substance of the story is that a senior official of Walker’s recall defense campaign illegally coordinated with outside groups. The laws that this activity allegedly violates are so complicated that not even several paragraphs of prose and Venn diagrams serve to provide a clear explanation of just why this was so terrible. Some, like TIME’s Michael Scherer, are also claiming that Walker “tacitly admitted” guilt in the case in an email in which he boasted that campaign consultant R.J. Johnson was successfully running 9 recall elections and it will be like 9 congressional markets in every market in the state.” But only a rabid anti-Walker partisan can read that statement as anything but applause for an effort in which the local GOP campaigns in the state’s congressional districts were acting in concert. Not even Wisconsin’s absurd maze of campaign finance laws makes that illegal. Nor does another email that refers to Johnson’s work in coordinating spending from various groups prove that he broke any law. It’s little wonder that courts have halted this politicized charade. Scherer admits the law is unclear and that every judge who has ruled on the case has tossed it out. But his point is that “from a distance” the charges will still look bad and besmirch Walker’s reputation.

Though Walker has maintained a steady lead in polls against a Democratic challenger, he has his hands full in a close race in what remains a rare example of a true swing state. But Democrats seem to sense that, despite his lack of experience on the national stage, Walker is exactly the sort of candidate who could give them trouble. He not only is well liked by the entire spectrum of Republican constituencies including Tea Partiers, business groups, and the so-called establishment. His lack of a Washington resume positions him perfectly against a member of the permanent government in Hillary Clinton. His middle class origins also will enable him to appeal to working and middle class Americans who have, as Rick Santorum has rightly pointed out, felt left out by recent GOP campaigns.

But neither Hillary nor any other Democrat will have to worry further about Walker if scurrilous charges of racism or more stray allegations about law breaking help beat him in 2014. As far as Democrats are concerned, it doesn’t really matter whether these stories are based on substance or innuendo. All that counts is if they can put a dent in Walker’s well-earned image as a hard-working reform-minded governor. But they should be wary of overreaching as they did in the 2012 recall. So far, Walker has proved that the more liberals try to destroy him, the stronger he gets. It also strengthens Walker’s popularity among Republicans, which is the last thing that liberals want, since they hope the GOP nominates a candidate who, unlike Walker, will be easily branded as a right-wing extremist.

It’s hard to say whether this latest charge will stick. But the disproportionate effort the left has invested in destroying Walker illustrates how much they fear him.

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Should Rand Paul Embrace or Downplay the Libertarian Label?

About a year ago, Rand Paul made what may qualify as the prospective presidential candidate’s most defensive comment on his political ideology. “I’m not advocating everyone go out and run around with no clothes on and smoke pot,” Paul said according the Washington Post. “I’m not a libertarian. I’m a libertarian Republican. I’m a constitutional conservative.”

The comment was made in the context of Paul’s efforts to court evangelicals, but revealed a challenge posed by the “libertarian” label. Much of what is said about libertarians in the media is absurdly unfair. Like any political movement, there is a diverse range of opinion about what constitutes libertarianism and how libertarians might approach policy. (I don’t remember recently reading an editorial in Reason magazine, for example, advocating everyone “run around with no clothes on and smoke pot.”)

There is a fascinating debate among libertarians, for example, about abortion and whether the government should enforce the granting of individual rights to a person from the beginning of his life, or whether a person is granted those rights sometime after life begins. Instead of being asked about that, Paul gets told (according to the Post account) by voters that they like much of what he has to say but they hesitate to vote for him because they “don’t like legalizing heroin.”

But he consciously avoids ditching the label altogether. Just a few weeks ago, he offered a slightly different formulation: he’s “libertarian-ish.” His libertarian leanings, if that’s the right word, are not only genuine but also have their own political advantages. The same day CNN ran Paul’s “libertarian-ish” comment, the New York Times ran a prominent story headlined “Rand Paul and Wealthy Libertarians Connect as He Weighs Running.” It opened with a well-chosen anecdote:

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About a year ago, Rand Paul made what may qualify as the prospective presidential candidate’s most defensive comment on his political ideology. “I’m not advocating everyone go out and run around with no clothes on and smoke pot,” Paul said according the Washington Post. “I’m not a libertarian. I’m a libertarian Republican. I’m a constitutional conservative.”

The comment was made in the context of Paul’s efforts to court evangelicals, but revealed a challenge posed by the “libertarian” label. Much of what is said about libertarians in the media is absurdly unfair. Like any political movement, there is a diverse range of opinion about what constitutes libertarianism and how libertarians might approach policy. (I don’t remember recently reading an editorial in Reason magazine, for example, advocating everyone “run around with no clothes on and smoke pot.”)

There is a fascinating debate among libertarians, for example, about abortion and whether the government should enforce the granting of individual rights to a person from the beginning of his life, or whether a person is granted those rights sometime after life begins. Instead of being asked about that, Paul gets told (according to the Post account) by voters that they like much of what he has to say but they hesitate to vote for him because they “don’t like legalizing heroin.”

But he consciously avoids ditching the label altogether. Just a few weeks ago, he offered a slightly different formulation: he’s “libertarian-ish.” His libertarian leanings, if that’s the right word, are not only genuine but also have their own political advantages. The same day CNN ran Paul’s “libertarian-ish” comment, the New York Times ran a prominent story headlined “Rand Paul and Wealthy Libertarians Connect as He Weighs Running.” It opened with a well-chosen anecdote:

Frayda Levin, a New Jersey libertarian activist and former small-business owner, is a woman of many passions: promoting liberty, ending marijuana prohibition and opposing her state’s recent minimum-wage increase. But Ms. Levin has added another cause as well. At gala benefits for free-market research institutes and at fund-raisers for antitax groups, she has urged like-minded donors to help send Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, to the White House.

“I consider that one of my main goals,” said Ms. Levin, who has met with Mr. Paul several times and in February introduced him at a private conference in Florida hosted by the Club for Growth, a conservative advocacy group. “I tell people he’s the Republican of the future. He’s got both the intellectual heft and the emotional understanding.”

A libertarian’s declaration that Paul is the “Republican of the future” is not just good for Paul, but arguably has benefits for the GOP as well. After all, popular libertarian candidates who want to run for president tend to leave the GOP and run on their own ticket. This is, electorally speaking, frustrating for Republicans and counterproductive for libertarians. As staunch libertarian Randy Barnett wrote in 2012, “The Libertarian Party’s effort will, if effective, attract more libertarian voters away from the candidate who is marginally less hostile to liberty, and help hand the election to the candidate who is more hostile to liberty.”

But a libertarian(ish) Republican, if effective, does the opposite: he can galvanize support for libertarian policy objectives without splintering the conservative coalition that remains the only hope of standing athwart the statist project yelling stop. But there’s a catch, and here’s where libertarians get justifiably put off by the right: the Republican Party wants someone like Paul to be just popular enough. It’s up to libertarians to convince the party that he should be the GOP’s standard bearer, and it’s not an easy sell.

Which raises the question: is it easier to make that sell if Paul embraces his libertarianism or downplays it? That will be one question the 2016 nomination race seeks to answer. It’s easy to see both sides of it. It’s possible that the GOP just isn’t ready to go full libertarian at the presidential level, and therefore downplaying his libertarian label in favor of a more conservative-Republican tag might settle some nerves. Yet it’s also possible that by avoiding the term “libertarian” Paul is implicitly reinforcing the idea that libertarianism is an idea whose time has yet to arrive, thus justifying the suspicions of the establishment.

But it’s also important to note that whatever Paul chooses to call himself, he has been branded a libertarian and that is how he will be viewed relative to the other candidates. That is, Paul has essentially emerged as the candidate for libertarians, whether or not he calls himself the libertarian candidate.

It is for that reason that the much-feared “establishment” is only a real threat to Paul in the primary if there is no consensus establishment candidate. The conservative grassroots will not, at least in significant numbers, choose Jeb Bush or Chris Christie over Rand Paul. Many non-libertarian conservatives would prefer Paul over a genuinely moderate candidate. So rather than an anyone-but-Paul movement coalescing against him, he would probably benefit from the reverse.

But what if Bush doesn’t run? Well then Paul has a problem, because the “establishment” will support someone, and there are many palatable candidates on offer. The governors, especially Scott Walker and Mike Pence, would probably easily compete with Paul for non-libertarian voters and get establishment backing. Marco Rubio is another candidate who would appeal to establishment figures but also many conservatives–though his support for comprehensive immigration reform presumably makes him less of a threat to Paul’s base of support.

In such a case, Paul’s best hope is to compete for the “constitutional conservative” label, not differentiate himself from it. He has less to lose if he’s up against a 2016 version of Mitt Romney. So is Paul a libertarian? The best guess right now is: It depends.

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The Tea Party Comes Into Its Own

The main takeaway from recent GOP primaries, which saw the victories of Nebraska’s Ben Sasse and North Carolina’s Thom Tillis, was a continuation of a lesson conservatives have been learning the past few election cycles: the candidate matters. In the past, conservatives have often learned this by losing–see Todd Akin, Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell, etc. Now they seem to be proving it by winning.

Slate’s John Dickerson is always worth reading, and he has another typically thoughtful piece today, asking “Why Is the GOP’s Civil War So Civil?” He notes, correctly, that the returns in North Carolina and Nebraska mean “the grassroots conservatives of the Tea Party and elites of the GOP establishment can both claim victories.” But I think it’s actually part of a larger trend that includes not just recent nominees but also the successful politicians the Tea Party has already elevated. Dickerson writes:

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The main takeaway from recent GOP primaries, which saw the victories of Nebraska’s Ben Sasse and North Carolina’s Thom Tillis, was a continuation of a lesson conservatives have been learning the past few election cycles: the candidate matters. In the past, conservatives have often learned this by losing–see Todd Akin, Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell, etc. Now they seem to be proving it by winning.

Slate’s John Dickerson is always worth reading, and he has another typically thoughtful piece today, asking “Why Is the GOP’s Civil War So Civil?” He notes, correctly, that the returns in North Carolina and Nebraska mean “the grassroots conservatives of the Tea Party and elites of the GOP establishment can both claim victories.” But I think it’s actually part of a larger trend that includes not just recent nominees but also the successful politicians the Tea Party has already elevated. Dickerson writes:

Nebraska is a safe Republican state. Perhaps the forces of the establishment would have jumped in more heavily if the march to the majority in the Senate were threatened. But that’s not a certainty. Sasse is no Christine O’Donnell or Richard Mourdock, two of the candidates often cited as being substandard. Sasse has political skill, an Ivy League education, and credentials as a Bush administration veteran. He will win the general election in the heavily red state and come to Washington as a Rand Paul or Ron Johnson type of senator—what used to be known as simply a good movement conservative.

The reference to Paul and Johnson (and an earlier one to Marco Rubio) provides a good opportunity to check in with the senators who were part of earlier successful Tea Party grassroots efforts. Johnson is far from a firebrand, and he has settled into the Senate nicely without expressing any interest (at least yet) in using it as a platform for a near-term presidential run. But even the ones considering a run for the presidency have–perhaps for that reason–paid a lot of attention to their tone lately as well.

Rubio’s an obvious one, having pushed for comprehensive immigration reform: “It’s really hard to get people to listen to you on economic growth, on tax rates, on healthcare if they think you want to deport their grandmother,” Rubio said after the 2012 election.

More recently, Paul–nobody’s idea of a RINO–did some tapdancing after trying to thread the needle on voter ID. “Everybody’s gone completely crazy on this voter ID thing,” Paul told the New York Times last week. “I think it’s wrong for Republicans to go too crazy on this issue because it’s offending people.” After a bit of an uproar on the right, Paul explained himself to Sean Hannity (via Hot Air’s Allahpundit):

Like I say, I think both sides have made mistakes in…this issue. But it’s mainly in presentation and perception, not in reality. In the sense that, if Republicans are going to go around the country and this becomes a central theme and issue, you have to realize, rightly or wrongly, it is being perceived by some — and this is the point I was making and I think it’s still a valid point, that I’m trying to go out and say to African Americans ‘I want your vote and the Republican Party wants your vote’. If they perceive, rightly or wrongly, that showing their ID is an attempt to get them not to vote because they perceive it in the lineage of a time when it truly did happen through poll taxes and questioning to try and prevent people, if they perceive it that way, we have to be aware that the perception is out there and be careful about not so overdoing something that we further alienate a block of people we need to attract.

After posting that quote, Allahpundit remarked: “That’s basically the same rationale amnesty fans have used to justify comprehensive immigration reform.”

Perhaps, and it’s interesting to see Paul join Rubio in the group of Tea Party rising stars worrying aloud about perception as much as policy. But I think it’s more analogous to the disastrous town hall meetings congressional Republicans called to rally the base against the comprehensive immigration reform favored by then-President Bush (and John McCain). There are legitimate concerns about seeming to incentivize illegal immigration, but those town halls were an angry and, in some cases, offensive escalation of the party’s rhetoric toward immigrants.

In addition to Paul and Rubio, there’s Mike Lee’s thoughtful call for a renewed effort to fight poverty, and–though he’s in a slightly different category than the Tea Party senators–Scott Walker’s explanation of his governing philosophy in an interview with the Washington Examiner: “It’s a phrase I use often: Austerity is not the answer, reform is.”

The civility of the GOP’s “civil war” is part of a broader trend of the party’s conservatives adjusting to the fact they’re often addressing a national audience. That’s especially true for those planning a run for the presidency. Contrary to the left’s hopefully declarations that it has run its course, a Tea Party that vets its candidates and embraces governing is a political force that’s just warming up.

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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:

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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.

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Why Americans Seem So Torn on Foreign Policy

Though comparisons between Russian leaders today and 20th century monsters like Hitler and Stalin are generally–and rightfully–resisted or corrected when used in the U.S., it’s impossible to understand the conflict in Ukraine without making room for the sense of history that hangs over Europe. Der Spiegel reports on German veterans who recognize too much of the scenes in Ukraine from their own time serving there seventy years ago (though the Germans were the invaders that time). And the New York Times notices a once-forgotten Moscow Cold War museum now swamped by visitors “drawn as much by history as by the sense that the combustible, post-World War II conflict between East and West has come roaring back to life.”

This also makes it easier to understand European nerves over American inaction. If they see the possibility of a massive war engulfing Europe’s major powers, they must also see American war-weariness and retrenchment chic as distinct but not tangibly different, for their own purposes, from the American isolationism they remember as well. So in one sense, they could be heartened by the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll which, as Max notes, shows an American public confused and hesitant about America’s role in the world but not isolationist. But that optimism is based on the sense that Americans are open to persuasion on foreign involvement, which leads to the crucial question: who is doing the persuading?

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Though comparisons between Russian leaders today and 20th century monsters like Hitler and Stalin are generally–and rightfully–resisted or corrected when used in the U.S., it’s impossible to understand the conflict in Ukraine without making room for the sense of history that hangs over Europe. Der Spiegel reports on German veterans who recognize too much of the scenes in Ukraine from their own time serving there seventy years ago (though the Germans were the invaders that time). And the New York Times notices a once-forgotten Moscow Cold War museum now swamped by visitors “drawn as much by history as by the sense that the combustible, post-World War II conflict between East and West has come roaring back to life.”

This also makes it easier to understand European nerves over American inaction. If they see the possibility of a massive war engulfing Europe’s major powers, they must also see American war-weariness and retrenchment chic as distinct but not tangibly different, for their own purposes, from the American isolationism they remember as well. So in one sense, they could be heartened by the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll which, as Max notes, shows an American public confused and hesitant about America’s role in the world but not isolationist. But that optimism is based on the sense that Americans are open to persuasion on foreign involvement, which leads to the crucial question: who is doing the persuading?

Max notes the central contradiction in the results: the pollsters asked Americans what they thought (in addition to a bevy of other issues) about foreign policy, and Americans responded, essentially, that they have no idea. They succumbed to a kind of magical thinking on foreign policy in which they want the U.S. to pull back from the world without creating a vacuum–a logical impossibility. They appear frustrated that when America plays a reduced role in world affairs its influence is replaced by Vladimir Putin instead of unicorns and labradoodles (I’m paraphrasing slightly).

But on some level that confusion is understandable because the president of the United States is arguing out loud with the straw men in his head, claiming that the alternative to toothless sanctions is total world war. Americans at home may see this as the amusing inanity of an ideologue who is losing an argument, but it’s doubtful the Europeans are laughing. It turns out there is some middle ground between treating Putin like Gilly from Saturday Night Live and nuking Moscow, though you wouldn’t know it from the commander in chief.

The fact of the matter is, as I’ve noted from time to time, the president has a unique ability to shape public opinion on foreign policy, more so than on domestic policy. Americans have internalized the president as both the leader of the free world and the commander in chief of the armed forces of the planet’s only superpower. So the public is not going to be easily persuaded on the goodness of American power projection by this administration.

Looking forward, again, Europeans are probably not too encouraged. The Democrats are seeking to succeed Obama with Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state who presided over the failed Russian “reset,” chewed out allies like Israel, and expressed regret to Pakistan–which cooperates with anti-American terrorists and sheltered Osama bin Laden–for past American policy. On the right, the debate looks to be more interesting, not least because unlike the Democrats the Republicans do want to have an actual debate, not a coronation.

Sentiments like those expressed in the poll are reflected in the way the Republican race for the nomination has taken shape so far. The president’s abject failures have opened space for those who can present a serious alternative. That means that Republicans with the most success so far have been those like Scott Walker and Rand Paul, with the former proving conservative governance can fix even deep and costly liberal mismanagement and the latter making a thoughtful case for individual liberty in the face of liberal attacks on basic freedoms.

But the effect on the foreign-policy debate has been muted. Paul advocates retrenchment (though without the apology tour, one suspects) and has warned not to “tweak Russia.” Others like Walker seem to disagree with Paul on foreign policy but as the governor of a Midwestern state locked in a battle with government unions in the midst of the dismal Obama economy, the issue doesn’t exactly come up very often. Indiana Governor Mike Pence, who possesses one of the stronger resumes of the potential 2016 class, has started branching out a bit more into foreign affairs but remains mired in a debate over education policy back home. Others are facing similar circumstances, with the high-profile exception of Marco Rubio. The Florida senator has dropped a bit in the polls recently, but he has not shied away from displaying his fluency in foreign affairs or striking a contrast to Paul’s perspective.

So yes, Americans are inclined toward the maintenance of a peaceable world order, and they are persuadable on the need for America to protect that order with a robust presence on the world stage. But they’re not going to get there on their own.

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Should Scott Walker Get His Degree? Should We Care?

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was asked–again–yesterday about whether his lack of a college degree is an impediment to his (presumptive) presidential hopes. He responded, according to CNN: “I don’t think I needed a college degree to be in the state assembly or to be county executive or to be governor. I don’t know about any other position. But in the end I think most people, for example [as] governor, judge me based on performance and what we’re able to do.”

That’s a fine answer, but it almost certainly won’t put an end to such questions. And that might just be a good thing–not for Walker, certainly, but because it’s a discussion quite relevant to the current higher education bubble and also because it can be revealing about those asking the question. Walker has already somewhat undermined his own defense by claiming he might go ahead and finish up his degree–a suggestion that is unobjectionable but which is difficult to separate from the current discussion about that degree and his presidential hopes.

It’s also logistically problematic to get that degree while running for reelection as governor and then for the Republican presidential nomination. Who would want to grade his papers under such circumstances? Only, one would think, people who shouldn’t be grading his papers. Taking classes in person would be a security nightmare, not to mention a media zoo making it a less than ideal environment for other students. Which raises the possibility, hinted at by Walker himself, that he would participate in a program like the University of Wisconsin’s “flexible option,” which would enable him to study on his own, remotely.

That might take the media circus off campus, but it wouldn’t cure all the headaches involved in Walker getting his degree while also a candidate for high office. The flexible option, for example, allows students to set their own pace. Were Walker’s pace noticeably slow, he would be subject to endless speculation about his intelligence. Were his pace suspiciously brisk, he would be accused of dodging his governing responsibilities or cheating.

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Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was asked–again–yesterday about whether his lack of a college degree is an impediment to his (presumptive) presidential hopes. He responded, according to CNN: “I don’t think I needed a college degree to be in the state assembly or to be county executive or to be governor. I don’t know about any other position. But in the end I think most people, for example [as] governor, judge me based on performance and what we’re able to do.”

That’s a fine answer, but it almost certainly won’t put an end to such questions. And that might just be a good thing–not for Walker, certainly, but because it’s a discussion quite relevant to the current higher education bubble and also because it can be revealing about those asking the question. Walker has already somewhat undermined his own defense by claiming he might go ahead and finish up his degree–a suggestion that is unobjectionable but which is difficult to separate from the current discussion about that degree and his presidential hopes.

It’s also logistically problematic to get that degree while running for reelection as governor and then for the Republican presidential nomination. Who would want to grade his papers under such circumstances? Only, one would think, people who shouldn’t be grading his papers. Taking classes in person would be a security nightmare, not to mention a media zoo making it a less than ideal environment for other students. Which raises the possibility, hinted at by Walker himself, that he would participate in a program like the University of Wisconsin’s “flexible option,” which would enable him to study on his own, remotely.

That might take the media circus off campus, but it wouldn’t cure all the headaches involved in Walker getting his degree while also a candidate for high office. The flexible option, for example, allows students to set their own pace. Were Walker’s pace noticeably slow, he would be subject to endless speculation about his intelligence. Were his pace suspiciously brisk, he would be accused of dodging his governing responsibilities or cheating.

So if he isn’t going to get his degree before running for president, does the debate over his education help or hinder his candidacy? That would depend a great deal on the extent to which the affliction of credentialism has infected the general public. You can sense the conversation shifting as a four-year degree becomes increasingly expensive and the federal government’s loan program continues to inflate the bubble, saddling students with ever more debt even as the job market constricts. But there is still a gulf in earning power between those with and those without a college degree, a fact which understandably causes people to hesitate to discourage Americans from attending college.

There is also a partisan aspect to this. Republicans are aware that the modern American university has become a stultifying atmosphere of intellectual conformity, and so it often confers a degree but not much of an education. (There are exceptions, of course.) Liberals think this actually is an education. Hence you find the strain of anti-elitist populism running stronger on the right than the left.

Last month, Charles Cooke found the liberal website PoliticusUSA using the term “college dropout” as a pejorative description of Walker. After Cooke pointed out just how silly this was, the headline was changed. But this week PoliticusUSA was at it again. On the topic of Walker considering finishing his degree, Sarah Jones wrote that “His lack of a bachelors degree is a selling point among Republican voters,” because “Nothing says winning like hating on education and claiming that you don’t need to know anything to be President.”

Jones was quick to add a caveat to this otherwise fiercely clownish statement by noting that “While it’s true that a bachelor’s degree is not required, nor does it determine in any sense the intelligence or lack thereof of the holder, it is important that a President has a solid grasp of history and civics.” In other words, while not everyone needs a college degree, Walker does, because he is in need of a liberal reprogramming. Jones helpfully adds: “This is a the (sic) Republican Party, where the more misinformed and uneducated one is or seems to be, the more they are liked.”

Jones isn’t wrong that Walker might relish the opportunity to portray such attacks as elite condescension. But it also indicates why a productive conversation about the state of American higher education and preparing American students for the modern job market is probably not, alas, in the cards for the next presidential election.

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Jeb Bush and the 2016 GOP Field

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

I have no idea. And neither do you. 

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Battle for Fiscal Sanity Moves to Illinois

In the past few years, public-sector unions have faced severe challenges to their ability to dictate pension and benefit packages to states and municipalities that are sinking the country in a sea of debt. In Indiana, Ohio, New Jersey, and especially Wisconsin, Republican governors took on the unions with varying degrees of success. But after the victory of Bruce Rauner in the Illinois GOP primary on Tuesday, the prospect of another such confrontation in President Obama’s home base has turned the governor’s race in that very blue state into one of the most interesting elections of 2014.

Rauner is a millionaire businessman who has made reform of the state’s out-of-control spending policies the centerpiece of his campaign to unseat incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn. In order to win the Republican nomination, Rauner had to fend off a tough challenge from a veteran state senator who was the beneficiary of a strategic decision by the unions to try and nip the challenge to their state gravy train in the bud. But unlike other examples in which liberal Democrats have been able to pick their GOP opponents by helping weak Republicans knock off strong general-election candidates (i.e. Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill’s clever gambit in which she helped the hapless Todd Akin become her opponent in 2012), this time the trick didn’t work.

As a result of Rauner’s primary win, Illinois will provide the country with a test case in which we will see whether the Democrats’ effort to make income inequality the central issue of the election can prevail over Rauner’s attempt to clean up a corrupt system in which unions have been able to raid the state treasury at will. At stake is the question of whether the cause of restoring fiscal sanity is one that is powerful enough to overturn the political balance of power in Illinois.

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In the past few years, public-sector unions have faced severe challenges to their ability to dictate pension and benefit packages to states and municipalities that are sinking the country in a sea of debt. In Indiana, Ohio, New Jersey, and especially Wisconsin, Republican governors took on the unions with varying degrees of success. But after the victory of Bruce Rauner in the Illinois GOP primary on Tuesday, the prospect of another such confrontation in President Obama’s home base has turned the governor’s race in that very blue state into one of the most interesting elections of 2014.

Rauner is a millionaire businessman who has made reform of the state’s out-of-control spending policies the centerpiece of his campaign to unseat incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn. In order to win the Republican nomination, Rauner had to fend off a tough challenge from a veteran state senator who was the beneficiary of a strategic decision by the unions to try and nip the challenge to their state gravy train in the bud. But unlike other examples in which liberal Democrats have been able to pick their GOP opponents by helping weak Republicans knock off strong general-election candidates (i.e. Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill’s clever gambit in which she helped the hapless Todd Akin become her opponent in 2012), this time the trick didn’t work.

As a result of Rauner’s primary win, Illinois will provide the country with a test case in which we will see whether the Democrats’ effort to make income inequality the central issue of the election can prevail over Rauner’s attempt to clean up a corrupt system in which unions have been able to raid the state treasury at will. At stake is the question of whether the cause of restoring fiscal sanity is one that is powerful enough to overturn the political balance of power in Illinois.

Rauner’s task in this race is a daunting one. Democrats have an overwhelming registration advantage in Illinois and the GOP has lost the last three gubernatorial elections. Moreover, Rauner poses a direct challenge to the state’s political establishment that will provoke a strong response not only from the unions but a Democratic machine that knows it has a lot to lose if the GOP nominee prevails.

His problems are further compounded by the fact that unlike other successful Republican governors like Mitch Daniels in Indiana, Scott Walker in Wisconsin, John Kasich in Ohio, and Chris Christie in New Jersey, Rauner is a political novice. While he cultivates an ordinary guy persona, as a wealthy businessman rather than a middle-class politician he must also face comparisons with Mitt Romney. As with President Obama’s reelection effort in 2012, Rauner’s wealth plays right into the Democratic playbook in which the GOP can be portrayed as insensitive to the needs of the middle class and the poor. Quinn’s primary night invocation of the minimum wage—Obama’s issue of the moment—indicates that this is exactly how the Democrats intend to take down Rauner.

But in a state whose political class is far more corrupt than most of the counterparts elsewhere, Rauner’s outsider status may prove impervious to the sort of class warfare tactics that have destroyed other Republicans. Moreover, by seizing the issue of taming the public-sector unions and championing lower taxes, Rauner may have found a political sweet spot that will enable him to appeal to middle and working class Democrats and independents. In a year in which big government boondoggles like ObamaCare will be front and center and Obama’s popularity has plummeted, it may be the ideal moment for a candidate who is promising to sweep Springfield clean.

While we are always rightly cautioned about over-interpreting midterm elections, a Rauner win would be a significant and perhaps final defeat for a union movement that has seen its power decline nationwide. Having failed to exact revenge on Scott Walker for demolishing union power in Wisconsin in the 2012 recall vote and with him a favorite for reelection this year, the union movement’s focus will be on stopping Rauner even if means helping a Democrat like Quinn who has not always done their bidding. If they fail, it will not only be a sign that Republicans can win on the issue of clipping back the power of unions even in a state where they have always been powerful, but a significant win for the cause of fiscal reform.

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Will the 2016 GOP Nomination Turn on Foreign Policy?

The “trading places” theme of the 2016 presidential election continues, with the latest indication that the Republicans have become the party of internal discord and dissent powered by a younger generation of politicians and voters while the Democrats have become the party of entrenched cliqueocracy. The New York Times reports today on its latest poll, conducted jointly with CBS News, on the political figures each party’s voters want to see run for president.

More than 80 percent of Democrats said they wanted Hillary Clinton to run, with only 13 percent saying they’d rather she not. That is, as the Times notes, “a level of interest in her that no other potential candidates – Democrat or Republican – come close to matching among their party’s voters.” More intriguing are the post-Bridgegate levels of interest in Republican candidates. The support for a Chris Christie candidacy is now ten points underwater. The candidates with the most voter interest on the right–surely having something to do with name recognition–are Jeb Bush and Rand Paul, each at about 40 percent.

The Times continues:

Thirty-two percent of Republicans say they want Senator Marco Rubio of Florida to run, although Mr. Rubio also seems to have fewer detractors than Mr. Bush or Mr. Paul (more do not know enough about him to say). Only 15 percent of Republicans said they did not want Mr. Rubio to run, compared with 21 percent for Mr. Paul and 27 percent for Mr. Bush. Twenty-four percent said they hoped Senator Ted Cruz of Texas would run, compared with 15 percent who said they did not want him to. Fifty-nine percent do not know enough about Mr. Cruz to say.

The poll did not ask about several other potential Republican candidates, including Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. No major candidates in either party have yet declared their candidacy, but several have taken steps indicating that they are seriously considering a run.

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The “trading places” theme of the 2016 presidential election continues, with the latest indication that the Republicans have become the party of internal discord and dissent powered by a younger generation of politicians and voters while the Democrats have become the party of entrenched cliqueocracy. The New York Times reports today on its latest poll, conducted jointly with CBS News, on the political figures each party’s voters want to see run for president.

More than 80 percent of Democrats said they wanted Hillary Clinton to run, with only 13 percent saying they’d rather she not. That is, as the Times notes, “a level of interest in her that no other potential candidates – Democrat or Republican – come close to matching among their party’s voters.” More intriguing are the post-Bridgegate levels of interest in Republican candidates. The support for a Chris Christie candidacy is now ten points underwater. The candidates with the most voter interest on the right–surely having something to do with name recognition–are Jeb Bush and Rand Paul, each at about 40 percent.

The Times continues:

Thirty-two percent of Republicans say they want Senator Marco Rubio of Florida to run, although Mr. Rubio also seems to have fewer detractors than Mr. Bush or Mr. Paul (more do not know enough about him to say). Only 15 percent of Republicans said they did not want Mr. Rubio to run, compared with 21 percent for Mr. Paul and 27 percent for Mr. Bush. Twenty-four percent said they hoped Senator Ted Cruz of Texas would run, compared with 15 percent who said they did not want him to. Fifty-nine percent do not know enough about Mr. Cruz to say.

The poll did not ask about several other potential Republican candidates, including Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. No major candidates in either party have yet declared their candidacy, but several have taken steps indicating that they are seriously considering a run.

It’s certainly true that a complete 2016 preview would include voter opinions on Scott Walker and probably Paul Ryan as well–even though the latter does not appear to be gearing up for a presidential run, he was on the ticket last time and has been a leader of the “reform conservatism” caucus in Congress. But this poll isn’t a zero-sum “who would you vote for” survey, so the results still tell us a lot.

There is more opposition to a Paul candidacy and a Jeb Bush candidacy than to either Rubio or Cruz. In the case of Bush, his last name–as he recently acknowledged–probably has much to do with it. The opposition to Paul is noteworthy. The Kentucky libertarian is far from the divisive figure his father was as a candidate and congressman. Paul’s brand of conservatism has even hinted at a bipartisan appeal, especially on privacy and criminal-justice reform, without earning him the dreaded RINO label.

In fact, the area of Paul’s ideology that would breed concern among the party faithful is his outlook on foreign policy. If that’s the case, it’s significant. Paul’s admirers have always thought the most potent threat within the GOP to Paul’s anti-interventionist foreign policy came from the party elites. That’s one way his supporters have dismissed opposition to his views on foreign affairs: as neoconservative holdovers from the Bush administration.

That’s never really been the case, though. Indeed, if Paul has establishment support in the GOP it’s among the Bakerite realists. There is something ironic about treating a younger generation of conservatives–the George W. Bush team, largely–as has-beens whose old road is rapidly aging while drawing conceptual support and guidance from the prior generation–the George H.W. Bush team, largely. That doesn’t mean Paul’s views are unpopular. They have plenty of support, as evidenced by the fact that while more voters want Christie to sit out this election than run, that’s not even close to true of Paul.

But this does get at one possible obstacle to Paul’s run for the nomination. He is unlikely to have the big-government opponent he’d prefer to contrast himself with. His popularity is due in part to the fact that libertarian economic policy has become more accepted in the GOP in recent years, but that same popularity deprives him of his opposite. Instead, he’s likely to run against a range of candidates who mostly agree with him–and the base–on economic matters but not on foreign policy. It would be a fairly unexpected twist if the post-Iraq and Afghanistan GOP primary turned on foreign policy, but it might just be heading in that direction.

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Scott Walker’s Political Courage

As Jonathan very correctly observes, Scott Walker’s public-sector union reforms, which he got enacted over extraordinary opposition, scare unions, Democrats, and possible GOP opponents alike should he decide to run for the Republican nomination in 2016. Unions face a massive loss of funds (and therefore political power) if his reforms spread to other states. The Democratic Party faces a loss of those union funds, which go overwhelmingly to that party. And the contenders for the presidency in both parties face the fact that Scott Walker, who comes across in both private and public as a nice, low-key, everyone’s-favorite-uncle sort of guy—a veritable unObama when it comes to self-regard and ego—has proved himself a political mensch of the first order. That could be a very potent combination in 2016.

Scott Walker felt he had to fight the public-service unions, instead of kicking the problem down the road as most politicians are wont to do. That he did so, and succeeded, it seems to me, adds to his political potency in an era when a considerable majority of the people think the political establishment has been avoiding taking on the tough but necessary political jobs—tax reform, legal reform, entitlement reforms, etc.—for purely self-interested reasons, endangering long-term prosperity in the process. The right track/wrong track polling stands at a dismal 30 percent/62 percent and hasn’t been in positive territory for a very long time.

Governor Walker took on reform of public-sector unions not because the crisis would come in his governorship, but because he knew it would otherwise come.

The basic problem here is that the public sector should never have been allowed to unionize on the Wagner Act model that governs private-sector unions, for the private sector and the public sector are two very different economic beasts. FDR—hardly anti-union—adamantly opposed public-sector unionization. The reasons are three.

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As Jonathan very correctly observes, Scott Walker’s public-sector union reforms, which he got enacted over extraordinary opposition, scare unions, Democrats, and possible GOP opponents alike should he decide to run for the Republican nomination in 2016. Unions face a massive loss of funds (and therefore political power) if his reforms spread to other states. The Democratic Party faces a loss of those union funds, which go overwhelmingly to that party. And the contenders for the presidency in both parties face the fact that Scott Walker, who comes across in both private and public as a nice, low-key, everyone’s-favorite-uncle sort of guy—a veritable unObama when it comes to self-regard and ego—has proved himself a political mensch of the first order. That could be a very potent combination in 2016.

Scott Walker felt he had to fight the public-service unions, instead of kicking the problem down the road as most politicians are wont to do. That he did so, and succeeded, it seems to me, adds to his political potency in an era when a considerable majority of the people think the political establishment has been avoiding taking on the tough but necessary political jobs—tax reform, legal reform, entitlement reforms, etc.—for purely self-interested reasons, endangering long-term prosperity in the process. The right track/wrong track polling stands at a dismal 30 percent/62 percent and hasn’t been in positive territory for a very long time.

Governor Walker took on reform of public-sector unions not because the crisis would come in his governorship, but because he knew it would otherwise come.

The basic problem here is that the public sector should never have been allowed to unionize on the Wagner Act model that governs private-sector unions, for the private sector and the public sector are two very different economic beasts. FDR—hardly anti-union—adamantly opposed public-sector unionization. The reasons are three.

1) When a profit-seeking corporation sits down to negotiate with its unions, the two sides are basically negotiating over how to divide the profits that capital and labor, working together, create. Both sides know that if they push too hard it can kill the goose that lays the golden eggs of profit. If capital drives too hard a bargain, it will have a sullen labor force and will lose the best workers to the competition. If labor drives too hard a bargain, management will have to raise prices and business will be lost to the competition. They often get the balance wrong, but market signals will tell them that and be a factor in the next negotiation.

But in the public sector, there is no competition, and therefore no market signals. And they are not creating wealth, they are spending other people’s money (i.e. the taxpayers’). As Milton Friedman explained, no one spends other people’s money as carefully as they spend their own. Management here has effectively no skin in the game, so why fight hard to keep down labor costs? It’s better to ensure labor peace.

2) But even worse, while in the private sector neither side has any say in who sits across the table, in the public sector the unions can powerfully influence whom they negotiate with. They use union dues to contribute to campaigns to get union-friendly politicians elected. Those politicians then give the unions a better deal, providing the unions with more money, which is recycled into campaigns and a vicious circle is established.

3) Politicians are always short-sighted. They care about tomorrow’s headline and next year’s election, not a future when they will no longer be in office. In a public-sector labor negotiation, both sides of the table are populated by politicians (union leaders are elected after all, and, like all politicians, need to bring home the bacon). So the long-term consequences of any deal are ignored. After all, they’ll be someone else’s problem. By loading most of the increased costs into future entitlements instead of current wages, they also escape current scrutiny by the press.

The result over fifty years (ironically, it was Wisconsin Governor Gaylord Nelson who signed the first bill to allow the first public-service unions, in 1959) is a public sector that is paid more in wages than their private-sector counterparts and enjoys benefits that private sector workers can only dream of, such as free health benefits and generous defined-benefit retirement plans for which public-sector workers pay nothing. If public-sector workers in Wisconsin are now taking home less than they did before reform, that is largely because they are now contributing to their health and retirement plans, just like their private-sector counterparts have to do.

So it’s not simply “anti-unionism,” as unions and Democrats contend, it’s redressing a grossly unfair situation that should never have been allowed to develop in the first place and that was quickly spiraling out of control. How many Detroits can this country take? Three smaller cities in California have also declared bankruptcy because of unsupportable obligations to public-sector workers. Many more across the country are on the brink.

So someone had to be St. George and slay this dragon despite the personal political risks in taking on so formidable an opponent. Scott Walker had the necessary courage. That will stand him in very good stead in the next few years.

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Walker Scares Unions and GOP 2016 Rivals

This past week Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was the target of a massive assault by the liberal media that sought to inflate a minor story about his administration as Milwaukee county executive into a scandal that could eliminate him as a 2016 presidential contender. The effort fell flat as the issues involved were insignificant and there was no link between the governor and any wrongdoing. Even a fishing expedition into 27,000 pages of emails revealed nothing more damning than an internal debate about whether a former thong model was a suitable candidate for a job. Liberals may have had a brief moment of elation when they thought this would remove Walker from the 2016 picture as effectively as Bridgegate turned Chris Christie’s presidential hopes to ashes. But Democrats would do well to ignore this distraction and instead take a deep dive into a story published today in the New York Times that centers on the real reason why the Wisconsin governor is so important: fiscal reform.

Though the slant of Steven Greenhouse’s lengthy feature is not so much Walker’s record but an attempt to engender sympathy for the unions he defeated in a 2011 legislative showdown, the governor still emerges as the hero of the saga. Wisconsin’s public-sector unions are telling their colleagues around the nation to worry about other states emulating Walker’s efforts to change the balance of power between labor and government. They’re right. Though Walker paid a high price in terms of vilification and a recall effort that failed to drive him from office, the results of his reforms are now apparent. As the Times reports, Wisconsin’s municipalities and school districts have saved more than $2 billion in the last two years. The nation confronts a future in which the costs of public-sector salaries and benefits could push a host of cities off the same fiscal cliff that landed Detroit in bankruptcy and civil ruin. Though the unions that lost their power to raid the public treasury will never forgive Walker, his courage in standing up to them and achieving results provides a compelling story that could very well inspire a run to the White House.

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This past week Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was the target of a massive assault by the liberal media that sought to inflate a minor story about his administration as Milwaukee county executive into a scandal that could eliminate him as a 2016 presidential contender. The effort fell flat as the issues involved were insignificant and there was no link between the governor and any wrongdoing. Even a fishing expedition into 27,000 pages of emails revealed nothing more damning than an internal debate about whether a former thong model was a suitable candidate for a job. Liberals may have had a brief moment of elation when they thought this would remove Walker from the 2016 picture as effectively as Bridgegate turned Chris Christie’s presidential hopes to ashes. But Democrats would do well to ignore this distraction and instead take a deep dive into a story published today in the New York Times that centers on the real reason why the Wisconsin governor is so important: fiscal reform.

Though the slant of Steven Greenhouse’s lengthy feature is not so much Walker’s record but an attempt to engender sympathy for the unions he defeated in a 2011 legislative showdown, the governor still emerges as the hero of the saga. Wisconsin’s public-sector unions are telling their colleagues around the nation to worry about other states emulating Walker’s efforts to change the balance of power between labor and government. They’re right. Though Walker paid a high price in terms of vilification and a recall effort that failed to drive him from office, the results of his reforms are now apparent. As the Times reports, Wisconsin’s municipalities and school districts have saved more than $2 billion in the last two years. The nation confronts a future in which the costs of public-sector salaries and benefits could push a host of cities off the same fiscal cliff that landed Detroit in bankruptcy and civil ruin. Though the unions that lost their power to raid the public treasury will never forgive Walker, his courage in standing up to them and achieving results provides a compelling story that could very well inspire a run to the White House.

Not everyone in Wisconsin is happy about what happened there in 2011, when Walker pushed through his reform agenda despite the spectacle of union thugs and left-wing activists that descended on the state capitol in Madison in an effort to shut down the rule of law in the state. As Greenhouse writes, the unions that took for granted their right to run roughshod over state and municipal officials bitterly regret their defeat. They took for granted their right to demand and get pay and benefits that most of the taxpayers paying the bill couldn’t dream about. As Walker learned when he was Milwaukee’s county executive, the name of the game was union power. Budget shortfalls were mere details to leaders who would rather see workers laid off and services to the citizens curtailed than make concessions to balance the budget. If those unions are now demoralized, their regret is that they no longer have the whip hand over the government. Walker’s rollback of union power enabled the those elected by the people to function without the sort of union blackmail that make it impossible for mayors and governors around the country to stand up to threats of strikes and political payback.

Just as important, the changes brought about by Walker forces public sector unions to go back to their original purpose: serving their members rather than playing political power brokers. The provisions that force them to recertify compels the unions to demonstrate to their members that they are there to help them rather than to act as the storm troops of the Democratic Party. This accountability dethrones them as the tyrants of the workplace as well as of the public square.

While other Republicans (including Christie) shared his views about reform, it was only Walker who dared to directly take on public sector unions and their political allies. In 2011, the conventional wisdom was that he was a rash politician who tried to do too much and would fail. But where others made incremental gains at best, by carrying out his campaign promises Walker showed both his party and the nation that it was possible to tell the truth about the fiscal peril, do something about it and live to tell the tale.

Just as they did in 2012 when liberals made Walker’s recall a national priority, the left is once again hoping to end the governor’s career by defeating him for reelection this fall. But if he is favored to win in November it is not just because voters remember the irresponsible efforts of unions and Democrats to thwart reform or because Walker is a likeable and able politician. Rather, it is because he has demonstrated the kind of political courage that is very rare in our system today and produced results. While he is still a relative novice on the national stage and could well falter long before 2016, that is a record that should scare potential Republican presidential rivals as much as it does the unions and the Democrats.

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No Bites in the Walker Fishing Expedition

They’ve already taken out one leading Republican presidential contender. Can they destroy another? That’s the only real point of interest about the release of 27,000 pages of emails from the office of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker from 2009 and 2010 when he was still only Milwaukee County executive. The massive information dump ordered by a Wisconsin judge after requests from news organizations led by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has some liberals crowing that the troubles faced by some members of his former staff could sink the governor.

The Nation could barely contain its glee in a story that led with a comparison to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s Bridgegate woes and claimed the data revealed scandals that are “shining new light on the extent to which the controversial governor’s legal, ethical and political troubles will make his transition to the national stage difficult.” That sounds like big trouble for Walker as well as bad timing, considering that he has just been anointed by Politico as one of the two “strongest” 2016 GOP presidential contenders and is also in the middle of a challenging reelection race.

But just because Christie was felled by rogue staffers and friends and will now spend the rest of his tenure in Trenton answering for their bizarre shenanigans doesn’t mean Walker is in similar trouble. The problem for Democrats here is that although liberal media hounds will have great fun sorting through Walker’s communications from the period before he became governor, there’s no reason to believe there’s any scandal here. Though some of Walker’s staff from that time did get in trouble for malfeasance, the theft of campaign funds by one has nothing to do with Walker. The only charge that can even remotely be tied to Walker is the one that resulted in an aide being convicted for conducting political activities on government time. But does anyone, even at the Nation, let alone in the Democratic leadership, think that Americans will be outraged over an aide blurring the division between political activity and governing at a time when the entire Obama White House seems to do nothing but that?

The Walker story isn’t merely a dead end for Democrats. The fishing expedition into his past will, like the ill-fated effort to recall him in 2012, only strengthen him in Wisconsin and endear the governor even more to both the Republican grass-roots and the establishment types who see him as Christie’s replacement in 2016.

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They’ve already taken out one leading Republican presidential contender. Can they destroy another? That’s the only real point of interest about the release of 27,000 pages of emails from the office of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker from 2009 and 2010 when he was still only Milwaukee County executive. The massive information dump ordered by a Wisconsin judge after requests from news organizations led by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has some liberals crowing that the troubles faced by some members of his former staff could sink the governor.

The Nation could barely contain its glee in a story that led with a comparison to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s Bridgegate woes and claimed the data revealed scandals that are “shining new light on the extent to which the controversial governor’s legal, ethical and political troubles will make his transition to the national stage difficult.” That sounds like big trouble for Walker as well as bad timing, considering that he has just been anointed by Politico as one of the two “strongest” 2016 GOP presidential contenders and is also in the middle of a challenging reelection race.

But just because Christie was felled by rogue staffers and friends and will now spend the rest of his tenure in Trenton answering for their bizarre shenanigans doesn’t mean Walker is in similar trouble. The problem for Democrats here is that although liberal media hounds will have great fun sorting through Walker’s communications from the period before he became governor, there’s no reason to believe there’s any scandal here. Though some of Walker’s staff from that time did get in trouble for malfeasance, the theft of campaign funds by one has nothing to do with Walker. The only charge that can even remotely be tied to Walker is the one that resulted in an aide being convicted for conducting political activities on government time. But does anyone, even at the Nation, let alone in the Democratic leadership, think that Americans will be outraged over an aide blurring the division between political activity and governing at a time when the entire Obama White House seems to do nothing but that?

The Walker story isn’t merely a dead end for Democrats. The fishing expedition into his past will, like the ill-fated effort to recall him in 2012, only strengthen him in Wisconsin and endear the governor even more to both the Republican grass-roots and the establishment types who see him as Christie’s replacement in 2016.

The lack of any real scandal here hasn’t deterred much of the mainstream media from acting as if Walker was in genuine trouble. The emails were released as part of the fallout from a case brought against Kelly M. Rindfleisch, Walker’s deputy chief of staff, who was convicted of one count of performing political work for someone other than Walker on county time. Wisconsin has extremely stringent laws about such activity that contrast with those that exist in most of the rest of the nation as well as on the federal level. But, as even the New York Times lengthy story about the affair today noted, the documents show that Walker tried to rein any violations by his staff and is nowhere tied to their activities. Walker was absolved in the state investigations of the case and there doesn’t appear to be anything even amid the deluge of emails that would lead to that judgment being reversed.

So no matter how much liberals keep repeating the refrain about Walker being investigated or tied to a scandal, it’s clear that, unlike Christie, he has no real legal or ethical problem. That’s especially true when you realize that if the same standard were applied to the Obama White House, virtually the entire West Wing would be carted off in handcuffs. The best Democrats can hope for is that somewhere in that mountain of emails there will be some, or even one, in which he says something embarrassing rather than legally troublesome.

But so far the worst the fishing expedition has uncovered are some email jokes that were not sent by Walker and one in which he did participate in which a doctor was fired from a hospital after a discussion about her being a thong model. Not only is that not remotely comparable to the real damage done to the public by Bridgegate, but it also doesn’t contain anything that could even be used in a Democratic attack ad.

Provided that he isn’t defeated for reelection this fall, Walker is in a unique position that justifies Politico’s putting him in the top rank of 2016 contenders along with Rand Paul. Beloved by the party base and Tea Partiers for his successful battle with unions and leftist thugs in 2011 to enact reform measures, he’s also liked by the party establishment that sees him as a mainstream answer to more marginal figures like Paul or Ted Cruz.

Like all politicians, Walker isn’t bulletproof and there is plenty of time for him to commit gaffes or for his staff to go haywire in the manner in which Christie’s did before 2016. But the portrait that emerges from the emails doesn’t appear to do anything to damage the governor’s presidential prospects.

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Why Bridgegate Won’t Clear Jeb’s Path

Chris Christie’s “bridgegate” scandal had such an impact on the emerging 2016 GOP primary field not only because Christie was considered the early frontrunner but because of why he was considered the frontrunner. In addition to his advantage as a governor and his success in getting Democratic and minority votes, Christie was the 2016 candidate who was moderate enough to win prominent establishment backing but still conservative enough to envision winning the nomination.

Thus while the primary fight would no doubt be bruising, it was conceivable that the other categories–libertarian, religious conservative, defiant conservative firebrand, etc.–would be represented by more than one candidate and split the remaining vote. Christie, then, had both no competition and too much competition. I think this scenario always overestimated Christie’s odds at winning the nomination because at some point the competition would thin out and supporters would coalesce around fewer candidates, but there’s no question it made him a strong contender.

If Christie is no longer the frontrunner, that means there’s an opening for a “moderate” with conservative credentials. And that, in turn, means we’ll have a resurgence in speculation over whether Jeb Bush will run. Politico catches the latest, which was Bush’s radio interview yesterday mulling it over:

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Chris Christie’s “bridgegate” scandal had such an impact on the emerging 2016 GOP primary field not only because Christie was considered the early frontrunner but because of why he was considered the frontrunner. In addition to his advantage as a governor and his success in getting Democratic and minority votes, Christie was the 2016 candidate who was moderate enough to win prominent establishment backing but still conservative enough to envision winning the nomination.

Thus while the primary fight would no doubt be bruising, it was conceivable that the other categories–libertarian, religious conservative, defiant conservative firebrand, etc.–would be represented by more than one candidate and split the remaining vote. Christie, then, had both no competition and too much competition. I think this scenario always overestimated Christie’s odds at winning the nomination because at some point the competition would thin out and supporters would coalesce around fewer candidates, but there’s no question it made him a strong contender.

If Christie is no longer the frontrunner, that means there’s an opening for a “moderate” with conservative credentials. And that, in turn, means we’ll have a resurgence in speculation over whether Jeb Bush will run. Politico catches the latest, which was Bush’s radio interview yesterday mulling it over:

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush says he will make a decision on whether to run for president in 2016 at “the right time” — later this year.

“I don’t wake up each day saying, ‘Now what am I going [to] do today to make the decision?’ I’m deferring the decision to the right time, which is later this year,” Bush said in an interview Wednesday with Miami CBS affiliate WFOR.

The brother of former President George W. Bush and son of former President George H.W. Bush said he will make up his mind based on whether he can run an uplifting campaign.

Jeb Bush is also pushing back, ever so diplomatically, against his mother’s comments last year that “there are other families” besides the Bushes, and it’s time to give someone else a turn. After Jeb’s brother, George W. Bush, was asked about the comments by Jay Leno (and said his brother would make a great president), CNN quoted Jeb’s response: “Even when I was a teenager, I’d listen to her respectfully and never always followed what she said, even though she was probably right. And now at the age of 60, I really feel I don’t have to listen to every word she says,” he said, drawing laughs. “At some point you got to make these decisions like a grown up.”

But his name came up on Leno’s show again this week, in a more positive mention:

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner made his first ever appearance on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” on Thursday, just to get some facetime with Leno before he leaves the show on Feb. 6. …

Asked what he thought of the upcoming presidential race in 2016, Boehner said, “I’m not endorsing anybody. But Jeb Bush is my friend and, frankly, I think he’d make a great president.”

Jeb Bush not only has the gubernatorial success and moderate credentials to match those of Christie, but he is also thought to have the crossover appeal to voters outside the GOP’s traditional support blocs that Christie does. So it’s reasonable to assume that Bush, who in fact has picked fewer fights with the grassroots than Christie has, could step into Christie’s shoes. But does that make him, like Christie was thought to be, the frontrunner?

Probably not, because Bush’s path to the nomination would be complicated in a few ways. The most obvious is his last name, and the GOP, with a bevy of young stars, will probably only be more hesitant to nominate Bush now that it appears Hillary Clinton is the Democratic frontrunner. One advantage Republicans would have over Clinton is that she represents a bygone era both for the country in general and the Democratic Party in particular, having already spent eight years in the White House of a president with a very different political agenda than the one she served as secretary of state. It’s doubtful the grassroots, so opposed to the GOP’s history of next-in-linism, would be satisfied with a Bush-Clinton election.

Additionally, Christie wasn’t the only prospective candidate standing in Jeb Bush’s way. The general consensus was that either Bush or Marco Rubio would run in 2016, but not both. They served the same state and would thus split their constituency, most likely ensuring neither would win. Would the party prefer to run Jeb or Rubio? The latter seems the better bet at this point.

Competing with the senators won’t be easy, considering Rand Paul’s popularity and Ted Cruz’s Texas network. And the governors, like Scott Walker and Mike Pence, would thrive against a wounded (or absent) Christie. Luck has never been on Jeb Bush’s side with regard to the presidency: no one doubts his qualifications, experience, intelligence, diligence, or sense of service, to say nothing of his accomplishments in office in areas like education reform. But even with Christie weakened by bridgegate, his path to the presidency is strewn with roadblocks.

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The New Paul Ryan Is the Old Paul Ryan

Following the release of the budget deal Paul Ryan agreed to with Patty Murray, there will be talk of a shift in Ryan’s political principles. The deal is being framed by its authors as a model of pragmatism, which is a good indication that it will conform to the belief that a fair deal is one from which both sides come away equally unhappy.

Policywise, it certainly deviates from Ryan’s past budgets, and in fact there is plenty in this deal for conservatives to dislike–so much, in fact, that it gives us a clue as to why a seemingly pointless deal would be struck by the right’s generally bold reformer. The Politico story on the deal, headlined “The new Paul Ryan,” offers an opening set of paragraphs that manage to get virtually everything wrong, aside from the one kernel of truth smothered by the confusion:

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Following the release of the budget deal Paul Ryan agreed to with Patty Murray, there will be talk of a shift in Ryan’s political principles. The deal is being framed by its authors as a model of pragmatism, which is a good indication that it will conform to the belief that a fair deal is one from which both sides come away equally unhappy.

Policywise, it certainly deviates from Ryan’s past budgets, and in fact there is plenty in this deal for conservatives to dislike–so much, in fact, that it gives us a clue as to why a seemingly pointless deal would be struck by the right’s generally bold reformer. The Politico story on the deal, headlined “The new Paul Ryan,” offers an opening set of paragraphs that manage to get virtually everything wrong, aside from the one kernel of truth smothered by the confusion:

The new Paul Ryan emerged this week.

The House Budget Committee chairman, who has spent years penning budgets fit for conservatives’ dreams, has morphed into a man willing to take modest steps.

The two-year budget agreement he rolled out with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) Tuesday evening is striking for its simplicity: It cuts the deficits by $23 billion, sets new higher spending levels for the next two years and replaces automatic spending cuts set to take effect in 2014.

But in abandoning his years-long quest to re-imagine American society and settling for a bipartisan deal, the Wisconsin Republican took the first steps to emerge as a House power center — a Republican willing to take baby steps to curb the nation’s trillions in debt, normalize the budget process and protect a Pentagon pilloried by cuts.

This is not a “new Paul Ryan,” but the kernel of truth is buried in that fourth paragraph in reference to Ryan emerging as a “House power center.” He is in fact far from the only “Republican willing to take baby steps to curb the nation’s trillions in debt, normalize the budget process and protect a Pentagon pilloried by cuts”–a fact that explains why conservatives have been so frustrated with their congressional representatives.

More importantly, however, these were absolutely not the “first steps” Ryan is taking toward becoming an institution within an institution, rather than a prospective conservative candidate for president. Ryan may still run for president, of course; though if he wants to do so as a moderate from Wisconsin he’ll have to compete with Chris Christie and Scott Walker, the presumptive favorites of the centrists (Christie) and Wisconsinites (Walker)–who are both superior retail politicians.

The truth is, most of Ryan’s career suggests he wants the gavel, not the veto pen. Such a career path, by definition, requires staying put. So the clearest evidence of Ryan’s aspirations was when he passed on running for the open Senate seat from Wisconsin long before he was asked to join the Romney campaign as vice presidential nominee:

“What matters to me is not the title. It’s my ability to impact policy,” Ryan said in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “It would take me, you know, 12 to 16 years in the Senate to get where I am in the House. I don’t want to be in Congress for the rest of my life.”

Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, has gained national prominence in recent months as the budget has become a central issue in Washington. In the last few days, he was contacted by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn about a possible Senate run.

But Ryan told the Journal Sentinel that he was able to make a quick decision because he never wanted to run for Senate. He is in a strong position to become chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee in 2013.

He is not chairman of Ways and Means, but he is quite obviously still the GOP’s point man on budgetary issues as chairman of the Budget Committee. His comment that he wants to impact policy and not be in Congress forever clearly left the door open to other jobs that fit that description–the presidency certainly among them. But Ryan was catapulted to the national stage in 2012 when he joined Romney’s ticket. He did not run for president himself that year, despite numerous entreaties from supporters on the right.

Yet his presence on that ticket did raise the prospect of having to make a choice. He was popular among conservative voters and donors, and had a certain claim to first-tier status as a presidential candidate if he wanted it since he served as the vice presidential nominee in the last cycle. Suddenly, he was presented with the opportunity to claim inheritance of the party’s “standard-bearer” designation, if not the next in line (which used to be an advantage in the GOP, but the very concept now raises suspicion on the right for its presumption of entitlement–and rightly so).

This budget deal was not negotiated by the New Paul Ryan. It was a natural step for the Old Paul Ryan to take because while it wasn’t in line with his other recent budgets, it follows his desire to shape the country’s fiscal course, which he likely considered the first casualty to the prevailing congressional stalemate. It was, however, his first such move since the 2012 presidential election. There is much consistency to Ryan’s compromise, which suggests his heart was with the gavel all along.

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