Did you think the seemingly endless 2012 presidential election started way too soon? If so, you weren’t alone. But we may think back on that long slog as a brief interlude long before we get to November 2016. Though the discussion about the next presidential election began even before Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney, the 2016 race may have begun for all intents and purposes yesterday when the first official endorsement was announced. Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill said she was backing Hillary Clinton in an official statement that was posted on the ReadyforHillary.com website. McCaskill’s backing for Clinton is hardly a surprise but the timing may indicate a deliberate strategy on the part of the former first lady and secretary of state. The announcement may be the first of a series of high-profile endorsements that will occur at regular intervals over the course of the next year as Clinton seeks to do something that only incumbent presidents can generally aspire to: clear the field of all serious competition among Democrats.
Clinton’s not the only likely presidential contender making noises these days. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who shapes up as a first-tier candidate for the Republican nod, has been concentrating on his re-election race this year. But this morning on “Morning Joe” he showed he was thinking 2016 by taking a shot at President Obama for what seemed like the first time since Hurricane Sandy when he mocked his belated “charm offensive” with the GOP.
But both Clinton and Christie (whose late night TV appearances have kept him in the public eye even on days when he’s not making news), might want to pause and consider whether their high profile this early in the run-up to 2016 is entirely a good thing. Clinton’s favorability ratings have dropped drastically since leaving the State Department and returning, albeit sparingly, back into the political fray. Indeed, a recent Gallup poll may indicate that the best thing for a 2016 contender would be to keep their profile low at this incredibly early stage of the contest.
The election of 2016 is still a long way off, but that hasn’t stopped pundits and prognosticators (like us) from endlessly debating who may be running in our next presidential election. While Democrats have few reasonable contenders outside of Hillary Clinton, Republicans have had the opposite problem–there’s at least a dozen possible names currently floating around. From congressmen like Paul Ryan to Senators like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul to popular governors like Scott Walker and Chris Christie, the Republican bench is deep and varied. A great deal of vitriol has been written about the latter recently by conservatives, highlighting just how far out of favor the once beloved New Jersey governor has fallen in the eyes of grassroots activists and journalists. That hasn’t caused Christie to shy away from the spotlight, and it may have even been his plan all along to end up in conservatives’ doghouse all along.
There’s a number of contenders vying for the hearts and minds of the conservative grassroots: Rand Paul, who became a darling after his filibuster; Scott Walker, who has publicly, and successfully, taken on public sector unions in his state; and the current darling, I would argue, Ted Cruz, whose “Cruz to Victory” fundraising campaign soared to the top of Twitter’s “trending topics” at the height of its popularity. It’s not easy to make a fundraiser a trending topic, but the enthusiasm of his supporters made the push seem more like a pep rally than a request for donations.
There was a moment two years ago when Representative Michele Bachmann looked like she had a realistic chance to be a first-tier Republican presidential candidate. In the spring and summer of 2011, Bachmann seemed to be the favorite of Tea Party voters and her strong showing at the first debates indicated that she could emerge from the pack as the person who could mobilize social conservatives as well as anti-tax rebels and give mainstream frontrunner Mitt Romney a run for his money. Indeed, when she showed the organizational heft that allowed her to win the straw poll in Ames, Iowa that August she knocked former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty out of the race and seemed poised for a long and possibly significant presidential campaign.
But that was her high point, and from there her candidacy, if not her celebrity, went into a steep decline. Not only did she not win the actual Iowa caucus the following January, she finished so far down in the standings that she dropped out the next day. The Michele Bachmann moment in our national political history was so short that even though it happened less than two years ago, it’s hard even for some political junkies to remember it. The news today that Bachmann won’t run for re-election to Congress next year is a reminder for both politicians and journalists of the enduring wisdom to be found in not getting so caught up in what is happening in each segment of the 24/7 news cycle that they lose perspective on things or people that turn out to be flashes in the pan rather than have staying power. While no one should assume that we’ve heard the last of Bachmann, her exit from office illustrates just how fleeting such moments can be. And that’s something the next crop of GOP presidential contenders, including current Tea Party idol Ted Cruz, should remember.
Why did Bachmann fade so quickly? The answer is simple. There aren’t many hard and fast rules in politics that apply to all situations, but surely one of them is to avoid ridicule.
Pity the poor majority leader. When Harry Reid welcomed the 111th U.S. Congress in January 2009, his party was on the verge of having a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and control of the White House. The Democrats already had control of the House of Representatives, and in July they would get their 60th vote in the Senate as well. The sky was the limit.
Yet it turned out to be, for Reid, a curse more than a blessing. The Democrats had spent most of the previous decade smearing George W. Bush, attacking American troops fighting overseas, and indulging in base conspiracy theories. When given the chance to make their case to the American people that they should be given control of the White House, they ran easily the most vapid presidential campaign in recent memory, built around the Barack Obama personality cult and promising to control the ocean tides. As a result, they were completely unprepared to govern when finally given the chance.
Ask yourself the following question out loud: How will Marco Rubio vote on the current iteration of comprehensive immigration reform? If you’ve been following the immigration debate at all, the question probably sounds pretty silly. Rubio, after all, helped craft the bill after galvanizing momentum for it on the right while putting together a bipartisan coalition to stave off President Obama’s interference.
Rubio was front and center at the bill’s rollout, and he promptly made the rounds on conservative talk radio shows to stand between the reform bill and a very skeptical conservative grassroots audience. But perhaps in a sign of just how far the momentum has begun to swing in the opposite direction, apparently whether Rubio will vote for his own bill is actually up for debate. Buried in Politico’s feature today on the future of the bill is this nugget:
The Wall Street Journal published an editorial responding to claims made by Republican Senator Ted Cruz. The editorial is worth reading for a couple of reasons.
The first is that it offers a useful correction to Senator Cruz’s effort to rewrite history when it comes to his role in the recent gun-control debate. The issue at hand is that Cruz, along with Senators Mike Lee and Rand Paul, wanted to filibuster a bill expanding background checks rather than allow it to come to a vote. The Journal rightly criticized this tactic as self-destructive, since it would allow Democrats to portray Republicans as obstructionists for blocking Senate debate and a vote. Fortunately, the gambit by Cruz & Company failed. The measure was voted on and it went down to defeat. Yet Cruz, in a speech to FreedomWorks, “now wants to take credit for that victory when he opposed the strategy that led to it,” in the words of the Journal.
This is foolish on several fronts, not the least of which is that Cruz’s assertion is so easy to disprove.
We’re far enough away from 2016 that rumors about possible presidential candidacies are all equally true and untrue. Anybody can talk about running and anyone can talk/write about those thinking about running. But the rumors being floated about Ted Cruz have struck a nerve in a way that, say, the scenarios about similar long shots such as Scott Walker or Kirsten Gillibrand do not. Cruz has made himself an usually large number of enemies for a man who has spent only 100 days in the Senate along with the outsized publicity he has garnered for his bare knuckles-style of political fisticuffs that he has displayed in this period.
But although I think Seth makes some excellent points about how a Senate where all the major players have an eye on the White House is doomed to dysfunction, I think it is a mistake to view Cruz as a conventional politician on the make. If there is anything we’ve learned about him, it is that although his Texas-sized ego and ambitions are very much in evidence, he is working off a slightly different playbook than that of potential GOP rivals Senators Rand Paul and Marco Rubio.
One of the obstacles to garnering support for comprehensive immigration reform is the federal government’s poor reputation for enforcing the laws on the books. Advocates for immigration reform correctly point out that the current system amounts to a kind of unofficial, but clear, amnesty for illegal immigrants. While that claim is often deployed in defense of the current immigration reform efforts, it does raise the seeming contradiction of the bill’s proponents acknowledging the government’s underwhelming track record while asking the public to believe the government will get it right this time.
This is a common problem for supporters of any major overhaul. When President Obama talked about offsetting Medicare provider cuts by rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse (that slippery target that perennially plays Road Runner to the government’s Wile E. Coyote), the obvious response was to ask him why they haven’t already simply eliminated the waste, fraud, and abuse if they know it’s there, and why they need a reform bill to do so at all. So it is with “securing the border” and other elements of immigration reform. And Marco Rubio, a member of the “gang of eight” senators behind the current immigration reform legislation, is conceding as much. Politico reports that, because of those concerns, Rubio doesn’t think his own bill could pass the House:
If Republican primary voters were huddled in a laboratory underground creating their ideal presidential candidate for the 2016 political climate, it’s easy to imagine this candidate’s resume. He would have grassroots bona fides, preferably by defeating an “establishment” Republican in a primary. He would come from a red state with a strong conservative political base. He would be able to blunt the party’s poor reputation among minorities. He would be unafraid to publicly challenge Democrats wherever he could find them. He would be a skilled debater. He would be young and telegenic. He would be connected to major party donors. He would have an Ivy League education. And he would provoke irrational hatred from the media.
He would be, basically, Ted Cruz. This fact is apparently not lost on many on the right, including Ted Cruz. National Review’s Robert Costa is out with a story today on the Cruz-in-2016 buzz. But there are some questions about a Cruz candidacy–aside from the one of his eligibility, since he was born in Canada to an American mother–that are more difficult to answer definitively than they may seem. The first question is: Though the speculation that he’ll run is good for his reputation, would actually running for president in 2016 be good for Ted Cruz’s career? Obviously, if he won the presidency the answer is yes. But because he’s a freshman senator with no real record in office yet, a general-election loss would make him a has-been before his first term is up.
Since passing a Senate immigration bill with broad Republican support would vastly increase the chances of the bill passing the House, opponents of the proposed comprehensive immigration reform have been looking for an ally in the Senate GOP caucus to stall the bill. They have settled, it seems, on Ted Cruz. The freshman Texas senator is popular with the base and has consistently sought out ways to make his presence known in the upper chamber. He is also Hispanic, which–fairly or unfairly–makes it easier for him to oppose immigration reform.
But Cruz is not the most important voice in the Senate GOP on immigration–that distinction goes to Marco Rubio, who is crafting and selling the bill. Nor is Cruz the most important Republican outside the “gang of eight” who led efforts to put the bill together. Cruz is an important voice, for the reasons mentioned above. So is Paul Ryan–who plays a key role in House legislation and often serves as a bridge between the base and the House leadership–since the bill would have to pass the House after gaining the Senate’s approval. But those who want to get a sense of the fate awaiting the immigration bill should be watching Rand Paul.
In response to my post on Senator Ted Cruz’s confrontation with Senator Dianne Feinstein, I heard from an adviser to Senator Cruz, who believes I provided an inaccurate and incomplete account of Senator Cruz’s views.
What Senator Cruz believes, I was told, is that (a) the weapons Senator Feinstein wants to ban fall under the category of “common use of the time,” which would make her ban unconstitutional; (b) that the itemized list Feinstein proposes raises serious constitutional issues; and (c) the Texas senator is fully aware of the meaning and implications of the Heller decision. I’m happy to relay those clarifications, as well as a link to an appearance on Fox News by Senator Cruz.
In a confrontation that has received a fair amount of attention, Republican Senator Ted Cruz pressed Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein on her bill to reinstate a ban on assault weapons. Mr. Cruz argued that the starting point of the discussion should be the Constitution–and then pressed Ms. Feinstein on whether she would apply regulations to the First and Fourth Amendments (dealing with freedom of speech and the protection against unlawful search and seizure) similar to those she is seeking on the Second Amendment (the right to bear arms).
“The Second Amendment and the Bill of Rights provides that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” Cruz said–and then asked whether the First Amendment should “only apply” to certain books or the Fourth Amendment should only protect certain people from unreasonable searches.
Senator Feinstein reacted sharply, saying, “I’m not a 6th grader. I’m not a lawyer, but after 20 years I’ve been up close and personal with the Constitution. I have great respect for it.” She later said she felt “patronized” by Senator Cruz, whom she called “arrogant.”
As I wrote on Friday, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham didn’t do themselves any good this week when they angrily trashed Senator Rand Paul’s 13-hour filibuster about drone attacks on the Senate floor. Sounding like angry old men telling the kids to get off their lawn isn’t the best way to respond to an event that galvanized the country and inspired admiration from both the right and the left. But rather than turn down the heat, McCain doubled down on his critique when he subsequently referred to Paul, Senator Ted Cruz and fellow libertarian Rep. Justin Amash as “wacko birds” in an interview with the Huffington Post that was published subsequent to his Senate remarks.
It should be understood that the Arizonan firing from the hip in this manner is just McCain being McCain. He doesn’t pull his punches, and, as is well known among those who have worked with him in the Senate, his lack of tolerance for those politicians who don’t measure up to his standards or who just annoy him is legendary.
But at this point that remark will do McCain more harm than it will the targets of his wrath. It will be seen as yet another indication that McCain and others who agree with him just don’t understand why Paul’s filibuster struck a nerve with so many in his party’s grass roots and inspired the admiration of many on the other side of the aisle as well. The word “wacko” signifies a lack of seriousness and the idea that those who fit the description are out of the political mainstream. The problem is that McCain, Graham and others who oppose Paul’s foreign policy views don’t seem to grasp that what is happening now is not merely excrescence of a marginal movement but the beginning of a serious policy debate about what Republicans believe about foreign policy. And the sooner he, and others who don’t want the GOP to drift away from being the party that stands for a strong America on the international stage, stop dismissing their opponents and start engaging them on the issues the better off they and the country will be.
Though Rand Paul didn’t set any records in his 13-hour filibuster, there was at least one era-defining moment. It may sound silly, but when fellow GOP Senator Ted Cruz helped sustain the filibuster by reading tweets about the filibuster that used the hashtag inspired by that very filibuster, he marked an interesting notch on America’s political timeline. It was also, as Tim Groseclose pointed out at Ricochet, an interesting “reverse” homage to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
Beyond the social media aspect of it, there was also the relative youth of the senators taking part in the filibuster who went a long way yesterday to solidifying the generational shift currently underway in the GOP. This is not your father’s Republican Party was the very clear message (and not only because Marco Rubio quoted his favorite rap artists at one point). We have been, as have many in the world of political journalism, writing about the 2016 presidential race even as we add the caveat that it is early and things can (and probably will) change. But the basic assumptions outlining those articles have always included Rand Paul and Marco Rubio as two anchors of the opposing sides in the foreign policy debates that would unfold if both men choose to vie for the next Republican presidential nomination. As Rubio showed yesterday by supporting Paul’s filibuster, there will be some overlap in the political positions of the two senators. Paul is not his father; nonetheless, he and Rubio do seem to fundamentally disagree on America’s role in the world.
The effort to confirm Chuck Hagel as the next secretary of defense never seemed in as much trouble than it did this weekend. The Senate failed to pass a cloture measure last Thursday that would have cut off debate about the nomination. A new revelation about yet another offensive statement by Hagel in which he claimed the U.S. State Department was controlled by the Israeli Foreign Ministry not only forced the former senator to issue another unpersuasive and ambivalent disavowal. It also raised the possibility that many of the national Jewish organizations that had been silent about the nomination would now help build pressure on pro-Israel Democrats to abandon Hagel. But the building evidence of Hagel’s unsuitability and incompetence was not the subject of much of the conversation on the weekend cable talk shows and in the opinion columns of newspapers. Instead of Hagel, the liberal talking heads, reporters and columnists were all agog about the supposed beastliness of Senator Ted Cruz.
The freshman from Texas has ruffled a lot of feathers in his first six weeks in office on both sides of the aisle. His rough questioning of Hagel during the committee hearing and subsequent questions about the nominee’s financial records also raised the hackles of some senators and Washington insiders but there’s something slightly suspicious about the over the top reaction to Cruz on the news shows as well as from New York Times and Washington Post columnists. Even if we were to accept their dubious assertion that Cruz’s take-no-prisoners style of political combat is a shocking departure from the traditions of DC politics, the sudden interest in slamming the Texan is nothing more than a transparent attempt to change the subject just at the moment when Hagel’s nomination seems to be hanging in the balance. The herd instinct of liberal journalists is prompting them, as if on cue, to try and gull the public into thinking the real issue at stake here is not the elevation of a prejudiced and unqualified man to run the Pentagon but the supposed bad manners of one of Hagel’s most energetic critics.
Democrats might well be spending the day after the unsuccessful attempt to end debate on the nomination of Chuck Hagel pondering why President Obama and Vice President Biden were so obsessed with shoving an unqualified and incompetent candidate down the throats of the Senate. Politico has a fascinating story about why President Obama and Vice President Biden were unwilling to listen to sense about Hagel and went all in on the nomination even after clear signs of trouble about the former senator were apparent. But owning up to the sorry truth that what the White House likes best about Hagel are exactly the qualities that have made his confirmation such a tough slog — weakness on Iran, hostility to Israel and an unwillingness to stand up for the needs of the department he’s slotted to run — would require liberals to ask some tough questions about the president’s goals for his second term. Instead, the chattering classes are obsessing about the alleged bad manners of one of the newest additions to the U.S. Senate.
The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus speaks for many in the capital today when she slams Texas Senator Ted Cruz for being mean to Chuck Hagel. Cruz had the temerity to demand five years of financial records from the nominee rather than the two he provided. He’s curious as to whether more detailed financial documents will reveal some embarrassing details as to who has funded some of the groups Hagel is involved with or paid for speaking engagements he has undertaken. These sound like reasonable questions to me and probably most Americans who think there’s nothing wrong with more transparency. This is a stand Democrats had no shame in adopting last year when they demanded that Mitt Romney reveal his tax returns and every last detail of his financial existence but as far as the Washington establishment is concerned, Cruz’s questions were a “smear.” They think he’s a bumptious, arrogant right-winger who doesn’t know his place and the chattering classes will do their best to besmirch his reputation until he pipes down. They shouldn’t hold their breath.
It’s not clear if administration sources that leaked the story that Chuck Hagel had three practice sessions before a mock committee before his actual Senate confirmation hearing were trying to help or hurt the former senator. Hagel’s performance was so shaky that even some of his liberal supporters like Peter Beinart were lamenting on Twitter about his stumbling and bumbling answers to tough questions. That he flopped so badly after being rehearsed speaks volumes about how bad he was. Indeed, he had so many misstatements that it will be hard for news organizations to choose which of them to broadcast in their highlights of the hearings. But as much as his inability to speak coherently and present a plausible defense of his record while under pressure was exposed today, in what was probably the worst showing by a presidential nominee in a confirmation hearing in memory, it was his credibility that took the biggest hit.
Time and again throughout the day, Hagel bobbed and weaved when presented with examples of the contradictions between the voluminous record of votes and statements about Israel, Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah and what he has been saying in public since President Obama nominated him to be the next secretary of defense. Under tough questioning from Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte, Roger Wicker and Ted Cruz, Hagel’s pose as a consistent and ardent friend of Israel and foe of Iran was shown to be nothing but a hastily constructed façade that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
There has been, and will continue to be, buzz around certain young conservative politicians who are expected to be in consideration for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. These young stars, such as Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, and others, have their every statement and every vote examined for its relevance to the 2016 nomination battle.
One reason for this is that the GOP seems to have finally shed its allegiance to next-in-linism, the practice of nominating last cycle’s runner-up or someone with the right pedigree, or even someone viewed as having paid his dues. The party that does not hold the White House is usually in search of an identity. But this is even more the case with regard to the current Republican Party, which has no obvious nominee waiting in the wings, and as such, no obvious leader. But the party’s identity going forward is going to be shaped as much by up-and-coming politicians who aren’t vying for the 2016 nomination as those who are.
Marco Rubio may not be the only Cuban-American thinking about the 2016 Republican presidential contest. Ted Cruz is weeks away from being sworn into the U.S. Senate seat he won last month, but the Texas Tea Party favorite is already starting to fuel speculation that he is thinking about the White House. Politico’s coverage of a Cruz speech this week in Washington takes the position that the incoming freshman senator from Texas’s bold assertion of conservative principles may mean that he’s got bigger things on his mind than getting acclimated to the upper chamber.
To say that he may be getting ahead of himself is fairly obvious. Cruz has yet to demonstrate that he can be a force on the national stage. And even if he does become a leading voice for conservatives, he’ll have plenty of competition with names like Rubio, Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Bobby Jindal, Rand Paul and Jeb Bush, just to name the most prominent possible nominees. However, no one should be laughing at Cruz’s pretensions if indeed he really is already thinking big. As a landslide winner in the nation’s most important red state, the affection of the party’s conservative base and a Hispanic identity, a Cruz candidacy must almost by definition be considered a likely first-tier candidate in GOP primaries. But even if Cruz still has a long way to go before he can think about an elite status, Republicans ought to think about what such a development would mean for their party.
With Democrats defending almost twice as many Senate seats as Republicans in 2014, the GOP has a chance to make up for this year’s dismal performance and retake the Senate. But that also means reforming the National Republican Senatorial Committee to prevent future Todd Akin-esque candidates. Politico reports:
Now, top Republicans are considering splitting the difference between the heavy hand they wielded in 2010 that prompted sharp blowback from the right and their mostly hands-off approach of 2012. Both strategies produced a handful of unelectable candidates, so senators are gravitating toward a middle ground: engage in primaries so long as they can get some cover on the local level.
“We ought to make certain that if we get engaged in primaries that we’re doing it based on the desires, the electability and the input of people back in the states that we’re talking about,” Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran, the incoming National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, told POLITICO. “And not from the perception of what political operatives from Washington, D.C., think about who ought to be the candidate in state X.”
The first-term Moran, who was elected to the spot last week by his Senate colleagues, tapped incoming Texas freshman Sen. Ted Cruz as a vice chairman for grass roots and outreach. The plan, according to party leaders, is to employ Cruz’s tea party star power to help win over activist groups that may be wary of the NRSC and help unify the GOP behind a single candidate in crucial Senate races.